Iran’s record international goalscorer Ali Daei said on Monday that he refused an invitation to attend the World Cup in Qatar next week to stand in solidarity with Iranian protesters.
“I rejected the official invitation of FIFA and Qatar Football Federation to attend the World Cup with my wife and daughters,” he wrote on Instagram.
“I prefer to be next to you in my homeland and express my sympathy with all the families who lost loved ones over these days,” added Daei.
The 53-year-old Iranian football legend scored 109 goals for Iran between 1993 and 2006, a record broken by Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo last year.
Daei has been a vocal supporter of the nationwide protests across Iran, which broke out when 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini died in September after getting detained by Iran’s morality police.
“Instead of repression, violence and arresting the Iranian people, solve their problems,” Daei wrote in another Instagram post in September.
CNN has reached out to Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy for comment.
Former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf commended Daei’s decision to not go to Qatar.
“You are a real spiritual leader for your people my friend,” said Seedorf said in a comment on Daei’s post on Monday.
“I admire you courage, kindness and leadership. Peace is what I wish can be reached asap. Much love you and family and all the brothers and Sisters in Iran.”
An activist group, United for Navid campaign, had told CNN that Daei’s passport was confiscated for his vocal support for the protests. CNN could not verify that claim.
Daei is not the only Iranian athlete protesting the government.
Last month, a law firm sent a letter to FIFA on behalf of a group of former and current Iranian sports figures urging soccer’s governing body to suspend the Iranian Football Federation (FFIRI) and ban it from participating at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
The letter says the actions of Iran’s football federation violate FIFA statues and regulations.
“Iran’s brutality and belligerence towards its own people has reached a tipping point, demanding an unequivocal and firm disassociation from the footballing and sports world,” a press release issued alongside the letter reads.
The letter was signed by, among others, Mohammad Reza Faghani, a FIFA-licensed referee, Vahid Sarlak, Asian Judo champion and Iran National Team member, and Shiva Amini, former National Women’s Futsal Team player.
Elsewhere, after scoring a goal in the Emirates Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup final, Saeed Piramoon imitated cutting his hair – a move signaling support for nationwide protests in the country by calling for greater freedoms for women – an act that Iran’s football authorities have vowed to deal with.
Football player Sardar Azmoun also potentially risked missing out on being selected for the World Cup after criticizing the government.
“That is worth sacrificing for one strand of Iranian women’s hair,” Azmoun wrote in an Instagram story. “Shame on you who kill people so easily. Long live Iranian women.”
However, Azmoun was named in Iran’s World Cup squad on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Azmoun suffered a calf muscle calf while warming up for Bayer Leverkusen’s Champions League game against Porto on October 4 and hasn’t played since for the German club.
Azmoun was expected to be sidelined for between six and eight weeks, according to Leverkusen.