As unrest has been stirring at home, Iran has received particular international attention as its national soccer team played in the World Cup in Qatar.
There were reports that the Iranian government threatened families of team members ahead of the match between Iran and the U.S. on Tuesday, warning the players to not disrespect Iran as they played on the international stage.
Now, in the aftermath of the 1-0 loss to the U.S., there are predictions that the team might even face harsh treatment upon their return home.
In light of the tensions both inside Iran and also between Iran and the U.S., security experts weighed in on the issue, the New York Post reported.
The Post spoke to Mike Baker, a former officer at the CIA, who predicted that after the Iranian loss to the U.S., the authorities might punish players with fines or, perhaps arrest, when they return home.
“Given what we’ve seen from the Iranian regime … they’ve shown themselves to be brutal and there’s no reason to believe they’re going to suddenly become rational,” Baker told the Post.
“The regime would have used them for their own purposes. They would have spent all the focus on the victory, defeating ‘The Great Satan’ or whatever clever phrases they come up with,” Baker added.
Before the loss to the U.S., the Iranian team had already stirred up controversy by not singing the national anthem as it was played ahead of its first 2022 World Cup match against England on Nov. 21. This act was broadly interpreted as a sign of protest from the players against the Iranian government and how it has handled recent unrest at home, Variety reported.
According to Kenneth R. Timmerman, an Iran expert who also spoke to the Post, that alone might have been enough to get the players in serious trouble, even if they had been able to beat the U.S. later.
“I would be afraid of arrest. Even if they had won, they would have been arrested, soundly beaten, and warned, ‘Don’t ever do this again,'” Timmerman said.
Protests in Iran were first sparked in September after the young woman Mahsa Amini was arrested for not wearing a hijab properly. She later died on Sept. 16. Her family claimed that her death came after she was beaten in detention, the Council on Foreign Relations reported.
Though Iranian officials denied this, widespread protests broke out in the country. It has been estimated (and even noted by an Iranian general) that hundreds of protesters have been killed in the past several weeks, the Associated Press reported.
Thus, when Iran’s soccer team did not sing the anthem before its first match, it was widely remarked upon.
Videos of the players singing before the U.S. match especially caught international attention and spread across social media.
WATCH: #BNNIran Reports.
The Iranian national team sings the national anthem in their second match of the Football World Cup in Qatar, after declining to sing it in their first match. #Iran #WorldcupQatar2022 #Football pic.twitter.com/5Zqa9lnKne
— Gurbaksh Singh Chahal (@gchahal) November 25, 2022
Ahead of the match, though, a report circulated that the Iranian players’ families had actually been threatened with cruelty if the soccer players did not “behave,” a source told CNN.
CNN’s source reported that the players had actually met with personnel from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps after the Nov. 21 match when they did not sing the national anthem.
“The source said that they were told that their families would face ‘violence and … torture’ if they did not sing the national anthem or if they joined any political protest against the Tehran regime,” CNN reported.
But even though they sang the national anthem, Baker predicted that the loss against the U.S. could still put the players in hot water with the Iranian authorities.
Though Iran won the game against Wales on Nov. 25, 2-0, the Nov. 21 loss to England, combined with Tuesday’s defeat from the U.S., put Iran (and Wales) at the bottom of their group and at the end of their World Cup journey.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.