Phil Haigh ✍️
Hossein Vafaei wore a black armband during his impressive UK Championship win over Mark Selby on Tuesday, saying afterwards: ‘This is for my people.’
The world number 20 beat the four-time world champion 6-4 at the Barbican in York, making it back-to-back UK Championships at which he has ousted Selby.
The 28-year-old has spoken of how hard it has been for him to compete this season with the civil unrest going on in his home country of Iran, where protests against the government have been raging for weeks.
The dissent was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been detained for wearing her headdress ‘inappropriately’ and hundreds have died since, with thousands detained.
Asked about the symbolic black armband after the match, Vafaei told the BBC: ‘I’m not going to explain too much. My people know that I respect them, they respect me.
‘This is for my people, they know it. This is something for my people.’
After coming through qualifying, Vafaei explained that it has been a struggle to concentrate on snooker given what is going on in Iran.
‘To be honest with you, knowing what is going on in my head, I don’t know how I’m playing,’ Vafaei told Metro.co.uk. ‘I don’t want to celebrate, I don’t want to say I’m happy when I win because of my people.
‘Some of them text me saying I shouldn’t play now, I shouldn’t play out of respect, but what should I do? I need to have my life as well, life goes on. I am supporting my people, I am with them, but what can I do?
‘This is not in my hands, there’s nothing I can do but be a voice for them. I’ve done my best for them, I don’t know what to do more.’
Asked if he is finding it hard to focus in York, he said: ‘I don’t know, I’ll have to see. I hope I’ve done my best for my people, to make them happy. This is all I can do, all I can say.’
On the match itself, Vafaei looked good, making a century and two more breaks over 80 as he beat Selby despite the Jester from Leicester playing pretty well himself.
Iran’s greatest ever player is not entirely happy with his own game, but is fighting to succeed, partly to put smiles on faces at home.
‘It was tough, it was very tough,’ he said. ‘I was trying not to show any emotion. I know how Mark Selby sees something and takes advantage, so I was trying to stay calm and cool and just I was focussed.
‘I wasn’t happy with my technique today, I don’t know what’s wrong, I’m getting results but I’m not happy, I don’t know what it is, maybe I have a mental problem.
‘I was fighting, I was fighting for my people in Iran. In the interval I checked my phone and got, oh my God, so many messages. After that I got a little bit of positive energy and went back more positive. After the interval I started playing well.’
Vafaei takes on Jack Lisowski in the last 16 at the Barbican and has the added carrot of a place in the Masters if he can reach the semi-finals this week, and other results don’t scupper him.
‘If I manage to go there it’s such a big achievement for me and my country and my people,’ he said. ‘I’m trying my best to get there, to make them happy and make them proud.’
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