Iran is planning to give foreign football players including Cristiano Ronaldo who travel to Tehran a special SIM card that allows them to access the internet without restrictions.
This is in contrast to Iranian citizens, who are subject to heavy internet censorship.
The move has angered some in Iran, who see it as a double standard. They argue that if foreign athletes are allowed to have unfiltered internet access, then so should all Iranians.
The decision to give foreign football players unfiltered internet access was made by the president of Persepolis FC, the football club that will face Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr in an AFC Champions League tie next week in Tehran.
Reza Darvish said that he made the decision because he did not want foreign players to be told not to come to Iran because they would not have access to unfiltered internet.
“I have spoken with the CEO of [major mobile carrier] Irancell, and I told him we want to give players and personnel Irancell SIM cards with unrestricted internet so they can use it from the time they enter Iran till the time they leave,” he said.
The internet in Iran is heavily restricted, and tens of thousands of websites and all major global messaging and social media platforms are blocked.
The restrictions were only significantly ramped up after mid-September 2022 when the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody sparked protests across the country that lasted for months.
At the time, authorities argued that foreign platforms, which cannot be locally supervised, were being used to endanger the national security of the country as foreign powers were accused of supporting “riots” across Iran.
That is when WhatsApp and Instagram, the last two major unfiltered platforms in Iran, were also blocked.
Tens of millions of Iranians regularly use virtual private networks (VPNs) that mask users’ location to circumvent local restrictions, but the authorities have heavily clamped down on these tools as well since last year.
Users now often have to resort to using several VPNs and switching connections regularly amid the restrictions, a time and energy-consuming process that also drives up the cost of using the internet.
Since last year, authorities have maintained that they will only unblock major foreign apps when their parent companies agree to open offices in Iran and position permanent representatives who would answer state inquiries when needed.
No company has acceded to this demand so far.