Voria Ghafouri challenges for a ball with Chile's Alexis Alejandro Sanchez.

Iran arrests top soccer player Voria Ghafouri for criticising the government

Iran has arrested a prominent former member of its national soccer team over his criticism of the government as authorities grapple with nationwide protests.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandising against the government”.

Ghafouri — who was not chosen to go to the World Cup — has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career.

He objected to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.

More recently, Ghafouri expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death in the custody of Iran’s morality police ignited the latest protests.

In recent days, he also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdistan region.

The reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales.

Voria Ghafouri (right) objected to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches.(AP Photo: Kamran Jebreili/File)

At Iran’s opening match — a 6-2 loss to England — the members of the Iranian national team declined to sing their national anthem and some fans expressed support for the protests.

The protests were ignited by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman arrested by the morality police in the capital, Tehran.

They rapidly escalated into nationwide demonstrations that called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

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