Iranian soccer player Voria Ghafouri arrested amid World Cup scrutiny


A prominent Iranian soccer player was arrested Thursday on charges that included destroying the reputation of the country’s national team, which is competing in the World Cup, state-linked Iranian media outlets reported Thursday.

The player, Voria Ghafouri, is a former member of Iran’s national squad and a frequent critic of the government. His arrest occurred at a moment in which Iranian soccer players are under close scrutiny for their statements about a nationwide uprising in Iran that has continued for months.

Iran’s World Cup team silently nods to protests at home

Iran’s national team, during a match against England on Monday, declined to sing during the playing of the country’s national anthem, in what was widely seen as a silent acknowledgment of the protests. Iran’s national broadcaster showed select images of spectators cheering for Iran during the match, but not the political signs carried by some.

Protest in Iran began in September after a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody. The uprising against Iran’s clerical leadership has spread across the country and sparked a fierce and deadly crackdown, including in ethnic Kurdish areas, where human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed in recent days.

The UN Human Rights Council in a vote On Thursday launched an investigation into alleged rights violations in Iran’s response to the protest movement. “Today’s session leaves no doubt that the HRC’s membership recognizes the gravity of the situation in Iran, and the fact-finding mission established today will help ensure that those engaged in the ongoing violent suppression of Iranian people are identified and their actions documented,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Rights groups say Iran is escalating crackdown in Kurdish areas

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, has criticized government officials on social media in the past, and recently posted messages on Twitter condemning the killing of Kurds. Iranian news reports did not specify the reasons for his arrest but said the charges included “spreading propaganda against” the Islamic republic.

He has been called up to play several times over the last decade on the national team, and has played for several Iranian club teams including Foolad Khuzestan, his current squad. ISNA, a semiofficial news agency, reported Thursday that Hamidreza Garshasbi, the CEO of the team, had resigned, and said the reason for his resignation had not yet been announced.

Even before the start of the World Cup, some Iranians had called for FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to ban the national team, known as Team Melli, as a sign of support for the protests. Others argued that Iran attending the World Cup was a boon to the uprising: a high-profile event that provided players and spectators an opportunity to voice dissent, with international media watching.

Iran is set to play Wales on Friday.

World Cup in Qatar

Live updates: The last eight teams to make their debuts in Qatar take the field Thursday in Group G and Group H games. Follow along for the latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team will face a taller task Friday against Group B favorite England, which demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier Monday.

Qatar controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were refusing entry into World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the emblem.

Groups guide: The US men’s national soccer team, led by Coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a close look at how all of the teams in each group stack up.

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