Iran isn’t really into free speech or people being critical of the government. And over the past couple weeks, over 70 Iranians have been killed protesting the country and its police after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in custody for allegedly wearing a loose Hijab.

The protests are a tipping point for Iranians, and especially Iranian women, who feel they have been oppressed by the nation for way too long.

With the FIFA World Cup coming up in less than two months, even though FIFA (and especially Qatar) would like players to be apolitical, it’s a worldwide platform for players to shine a spotlight on what’s going on in their nation. And that’s what the Iranian men’s national team did in a friendly against Senegal in Vienna, Austria.

The team wore black jackets that covered up any Iranian emblems during the national anthem and kept their jackets on until just before kickoff.

Iran went further as goalscorer Sardar Azmoun refused to celebrate his 64th minute goal. This coming a few days after the Bayer Leverkusen forward posted (and deleted) an Instagram story saying that players were forbidden from speaking out and said that being kicked off the national team is a “small price to pay” and said, “Shame on you for easily killing the people and long live women of Iran.”

On one hand, if everyone on the team is united, they can’t possibly replace everyone just a couple months to the World Cup. That being said, while there haven’t been any reports of this happening, it wouldn’t be a surprise that fear of what would happen to their families currently living in Iran may result in them falling in line.

At least this brave act didn’t go unnoticed.

And while some say this is an empty gesture and that they shouldn’t have played the game, that small number of people saying that is missing the point. Full disclosure, maybe three people had that sentiment in over five minutes of scrolling for responses. Sure, they could always do more, but these players are forcing the entire world to look at what is going on in Iran in a way that not even news people can do. The news can report what’s going on, but that can be tuned out if you try hard enough. But if you’re watching a soccer game that has players wearing all black to support the protests, maybe it means others become aware and support the cause.

About Phillip Bupp

Producer/editor of the Awful Announcing Podcast and Short and to the Point. News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @phillipbupp