PARIS (AFP) — An Iranian beach soccer player was on Monday hailed as a hero on social media but risked sanctions at home after an apparent gesture in solidarity with the anti-regime protest movement at an international tournament.
The Iranian team on Sunday won the Emirates Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup in Dubai 2-1 against Brazil thanks to a goal from Saeed Piramoun.
Rather than celebrating his strike, Piramoun stopped and made a clear scissor-like gesture above his head with his fingers to mimic cutting his hair, according to several videos posted on social media.
Hair cutting, in and outside Iran, has become a symbol of solidarity with the protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini. She had been arrested by the morality police for allegedly flouting the Islamic Republic’s dress rules.
The beach soccer team had already been under scrutiny after apparently not singing the Iranian national anthem before their semifinal, images showed. That gesture prompted state television to cut the livestream, TV channels based outside Iran said.
And the team did not celebrate when awarded the cup for winning the title Sunday, instead standing sternly with their arms crossed.
سعید پیرامون بازیکن تیمملی فوتبال ساحلی ایران پس از زدن گل به برزیل در مسابقات فینال جام بین قارهای حرکت نمادینی انجام داده که مورد توجه قرار گرفته است.
او به صورت نمادین موهای بلند خود را قیچی میکند pic.twitter.com/EJ4FEDSxSO
— BBC NEWS فارسی (@bbcpersian) November 6, 2022
Piramoun’s haircut gesture immediately prompted a cascade of memes on social media, where the player was applauded for his courage.
“This game and this win may be forgotten, but this gesture cannot be forgotten. More important than the championship was the honor you showed,” tweeted former Iranian international player Mehrdad Pooladi.
“An Iranian national team with honor,” tweeted former Iranian footballer and ex-Bayern Munich star Ali Karimi who has been an impassioned supporter of the protests, posting a video of Piramoun’s gesture.
Without naming Piramoun, Iran’s football federation said it would discipline all those deemed to have failed to keep politics out of the field of play.
“Based on the regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran and FIFA regarding avoiding political behavior in sport, those who have not followed professional and sporting ethics must be treated in accordance with the rules,” it said in a statement.
Iranian players refuse to sing along with Islamic Republic’s “national” anthem in Beach Soccer Cup Dubai games.
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) November 6, 2022
Government newspaper Iran criticized the Emirati police who it said had taken “no measure” against spectators who, it said, had chanted “anti-Islamic Republic” slogans after the match.
Dubai is home to a major community of Iranian exiles, and in September Iran welcomed back the UAE ambassador after a six-year downgrading of ties.
But the paper said: “If this country (UAE) does not react appropriately, it will have to accept the consequences of this action that is hostile to Iran.”
Sports has become a hugely sensitive arena in the protests, especially ahead of Iran’s participation in this year’s football World Cup in Qatar.
Sports climber Elnaz Rekabi caused a sensation last month when she climbed without a headscarf — obligatory for all Iranian women even while competing abroad — at a competition in South Korea.
On her return to Iran she apologized and said the hijab had fallen off by accident. But activists argued her gesture was deliberate and she had been pressured by the authorities into expressing regret.
Earlier this month, top Tehran football side Esteghlal also refused to celebrate after winning the Iranian Super Cup with its footballer Siavash Yazdani in a post match interview dedicating the victory to “women and those who lost loved ones.”
Making no reference to the controversy, President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday congratulated the beach soccer team for showing “an example of a brilliant and strong Iran on the international arena.”