Moment of the Year: Vafa Hakhamaneshi refuses to 'shut up and dribble'

Vipin Pawar/Focus Sports/ ISL

As a memorable 2022 draws to end, ESPN India picks ten images that tell the story of the most extraordinary Indian sports moments witnessed over the year. In this fifth part, we write about a powerful goal celebration from Iranian Vafa Hakhamaneshi in the Indian Super League (ISL).


The message on Vafa Hakhamaneshi's shirt after his winner for Chennaiyin FC against East Bengal mattered for much more than the three points the goal brought his team on the night.

It was a message to stand with the people of Iran, who were the subject of a crackdown from the government, after nationwide protests against the country's morality police. On September 16, a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini died in custody after being detained by the Iranian morality police for her clothing. The protests that followed saw people from all walks of life joining in. There was a brutal crackdown on the protests as well, but that didn't break their resolve.

Speaking to ESPN after the match, Hakhamaneshi said his gesture was his way of telling the people in India about the situation in Iran, to show the plight of his people to a wider audience.

'This goal is for my people' - Vafa Hakhamaneshi sees red after message of solidarity with Iranian protesters

His people mattered, making their voices heard in a foreign land mattered, consequences be damned.

"I'm not even scared of this,' he told ESPN.

Why this message was also significant is the messaging that has come from FIFA around the World Cup in Qatar. The world governing body implored its members to separate politics from sport, but for Hakhamaneshi, the sport was the stage to make his voice heard. FIFA's Chief of Global Development Arsene Wenger courted controversy as well, by saying that teams who focused on football performed better than those who were focused on political demonstrations during the World Cup.

Hakhamaneshi clearly had a different view of things. His people came first. Their message needed to come out to the world. There was no better time to do it, than when he was doing what he does best. 'FIFA, Monsieur Wenger: it doesn't work the way you think', was the untold message from the big Iranian. For Hakhamaneshi, nothing else mattered apart from being the carrier of Iranian voices in a foreign land. He knew he would receive a red card, having already been booked in the match, but sometimes, some things are worth more than missing a game or two. At the end of the day, Vafa Hakhamaneshi stood tall, that 6'6" frame feeling a couple of feet taller.