Football legend Ali Daei rejects World Cup invitation amid protests in Iran

Iran football legend Ali Daei has said he has rejected an invitation to the World Cup in Qatar in order to stay in his home country, where anti-government protests are taking place.

The 2022 Fifa World Cup begins on Sunday (20 November), as hosts Qatar face Ecuador in the opening game of the first winter edition of the tournament. Daei, however, will not be present as his nation competes in Group B with England, Wales and USA, with the 53-year-old having elected to ‘express sympathy’ with his compatriots instead.

Protests broke out in Iran after Mahsa Amini died in custody on 16 September, after the 22-year-old was arrested by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly.

“Greetings to my dear and honorable compatriots,” Daei wrote to his 10.7 million Instagram followers on Monday (14 November).

“In these days when most of us are not feeling well, I answered no to the official invitation of Fifa and the Qatar Football Federation to attend the World Cup with my wife and daughters, to be with you in my homeland and express my sympathy.”

Daei, who was the top-scorer in the history of international football until Cristiano Ronaldo broke his record last year, dedicated to his message to the “families who lost their loved ones in these days”.

“Hoping for bright days for Iran and Iranians,” he added.

Daei’s post received two million likes within hours of being posted, despite Iran’s ongoing Instagram ban and internet crackdown.

Former striker Daei retired from playing football in 2007 and has since worked as a coach.

Iran face England in each team’s World Cup-opener on Monday (21 November).