It is interesting how international football tournaments do reflect major issues facing participating nations every now and again, unlike cricket where the games and the players appear sanitised from the world around them. The Iranian team at the World Cup in Qatar made a powerful statement by not singing the national anthem, in a sign of solidarity with the protesting women in Iran. The entire team stood silent as the anthem was played, making it clear that while they respected their flag and their country they stood in solidarity with their women who have been killed during the protests with almost 17000 now in jail for daring to raise their voice against the hijab.

The unrest in Iran began in September when 22 year old Mahsa Amin died in custody of the moral police for not wearing a hijab. The protests have only spread with the brutal crackdown that has killed hundreds,unable to quell the growing anger across the country. The Iranian football team has registered its support earlier as well when in late September the players wore black jackets over the Iranian colours in their friendly against Senegal.Iranian water polo, basketball and beach football teams have also refused to sing the national anthem since the protests began.

In fact Iranian defender Ehasan Hajsafi publicly spoke out in support of the protests at the World Cup."They should know that we are with them and we support them and we sympathise with them regarding the conditions," he said according to media reports. Iranian football fans also wore T Shirts supporting the women even though there were some who appeared to support the regime. However, the larger message sent out from the football field in Doha was that the women have widespread support in their own country with more and more people standing up for their rights.

Significantly England also made a strong gesture for inclusivity and diversity by taking the knee in protest against racism and inequality. The team has reportedly decided to take the knee ahead of every game they play at the World Cup. The team has full support of the management in this case with England manager Gareth Southgate saying, "we think it is a strong statement to go around the world for young people in particular to see that inclusivity is very important."

Southgate is right, as these statements by the football teams will go a long way to influence the young fans for whom the players are idols. It will mean a lot to the protesting women in Iran as the act of solidarity will give them the courage to continue the fight for their rights, and strengthen the resolve of the struggling women of the world to stand up to autocracy and repression. It will send out the message of respect and dignity to the youth, a clear signal that there is no place for inequality, racism, oppression in this world and all should unite for a free and equal world.

There is no place for politics in sports is right, as players and teams are not expected to carry their political bias on their sleeve. They are not in place to support one or the political party, or carry their voting preferences into the arena. But support for causes such as women rights and against racism are large issues that need to be flagged for a sustained battle. When teams make a respectful and yet firm statement of the kind witnessed at the World Cup they turn the global spotlights on the concerned issues, and bring succour perhaps to the protestors in the larger context.

There can be no two views about the fact that women should be given the freedom of choice and their rights and equality respected; and that racism and communalism and discrimination has no place in society and cannot become government policy. People of the world, particularly the younger generation, have to learn to stand up for unity and equality and the football teams from Iran and England have done great service to humanity by flagging these important issues.