Ali Daei, an Iranian football hero, has decided not to travel to Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He is doing this out of sympathy with those who are taking part in anti-government rallies, which have continued for eight weeks despite a crackdown and limitations on internet access.

The former player, who is 53 years old and one of the most recognizable sports figures in the country, wrote to his 10.6 million followers on Instagram late on Monday night that he had declined an invitation by football’s governing body FIFA and the Qatar Football Federation to travel with his wife and daughters “in these days when most of us are not well.” He explained that he made this decision because “most of us are not well.”

In a post that received two million likes in a matter of hours despite a ban on Instagram in the midst of a nationwide throttling of the internet, Daei, who is now a football manager and businessman, said he did it to “be by your side in my homeland and express my sympathy with all the families who have lost loved ones these days.” Daei said he did it to “express my sympathy with all the families who have lost loved ones these days.”

After the death in jail on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been arrested in Tehran by the morality police for reportedly wearing her hijab improperly, protests broke out all over Iran. Mahsa Amini’s death sparked widespread outrage.

Daei, who at one point held the record for most goals scored by a player for their country in international competition with 109 goals before Cristiano Ronaldo broke it the previous year, has also previously shown support for the protesters.

Shortly after the demonstrations began, he sent a message on Instagram in which he urged authorities to “instead of suppression, violence, arrests, and accusing the people of Iran of being rioters, fix their problems.” His message was accompanied by a photograph of a young woman removing her headscarf, similar to what many others have done while participating in the demonstrations.

The former captain of the Iranian national football team and ex-Bundesliga player was also at war with authorities last month when he contradicted an official claim that a female school student in his hometown of Ardabil had died of pre-existing problems in a case that officials maintained was unrelated to the protests despite media reports to the contrary. The official claim stated that the death of the student had occurred in a situation that was unrelated to the protests.

An image of Daei that looked to show him in the neighborhood of the Dey General Hospital in Tehran, which is where the detained activist Hossein Ronaghi is reported to have been transported as his health deteriorated, was circulating on social media late on Sunday night. Multiple films that can be found on the internet showed protesters gathering around the hospital.

As a result of speaking out against the crackdown on the protests, during which hundreds of people have been arrested and scores of people have died, Ronaghi was taken into custody and arrested. There is currently no official count of casualties available.

Following this, the Iranian judiciary displayed an image of Ronaghi meeting his mother as he was lying in a hospital bed, and he was then transferred back to prison.

The Iranian national team, which finalized its lineup late Sunday night, began practicing early Tuesday morning after arriving in Qatar the previous day (Monday).

A few hours before departing for the World Cup, members of the team traveled to Tehran to meet with President Ebrahim Raisi and other authorities in the Iranian government. They were accompanied by head coach Carlos Queiroz.

“There are those who seek to divert your attention because they are opposed to the achievement and victory of Iran’s younger generation. The president cautioned them to “exercise extreme vigilance” regarding this matter.

A large number of athletes have shown their support for the demonstrations. In the meantime, allegations have been made that Tehran has supplied Russia with weapons for the conflict in Ukraine. As a result, activists both inside and outside of Ukraine have called for the elimination of Squad Melli, Iran’s national football team, from the competition.

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