By Rohith Nair
AL RAYYAN, QATAR (Reuters) – Iran’s Karim Ansarifard and Morteza Pouraliganji refused to answer questions on solidarity with women in their country on Friday, a day after Alireza Jahanbakhsh suggested the questions were a ploy to distract them before the World Cup.
Several Iranian sportsmen and women have used international competitions to show their support for the protests that have rocked the country since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police in September.
Jahanbakhsh had accused the English media of distracting the Asian side ahead of Monday’s Group B opener against England and Ansarifard jumped to his defence at a news conference, repeatedly stressing team unity.
“It’s my professional duty to play football and your professional duty to ask questions, but we all need to do things appropriately in our profession,” Ansarifard told reporters through a translator at Iran’s training camp at Al Rayyan.
“This is why we always defend each other and say the truth… Yesterday there was a question asked of Jahanbakhsh, more or less the same question.
“What we say is interpreted another way in the media. Personally I came here out of respect. Because of what happened, what I say will be interpreted differently.”
When the question was posed to Pouraliganji, the co-ordinator stepped in and requested questions on the World Cup only.
But when pressed on the issue and whether he had a message for female fans hoping to attend matches at the World Cup, Ansarifard said they play for “all men and women” in Iran.
“It’s an absolute honour regardless of who comes to the stadiums, whether it’s our fathers, our brothers, our men or women,” he added.
“We play for all men and women of our country. When I say people of our country, there’s no exception. That includes all men and all women.
“We have respect for all fans round the world. Iran has some of the best fans… We’ve got passionate fans who are very loyal. We’re famous for it and we’re very proud of them.”
Ansarifard is playing at his third World Cup and the 32-year-old, who spent a year at Nottingham Forest, said he would bank on all his experience to help Iran qualify for the knockout stages for the first time.
“We are here to qualify for the knockout stages. Hopefully until the very last second of our third group game, we will fight until the very end to fulfil this huge dream,” he said.
“I’m relatively familiar with English football… England has one of the best leagues and some of the world’s best players. I’ve always tried to pass on my interpretations of English football to my team mates.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Doha; Editing by Christian Radnedge)