A Spanish man trekking from Madrid to Doha, Qatar, for the 2022 World Cup has not been heard from since the day after he crossed into Iran three weeks ago, his family said on Monday.
Santiago Sanchez, an experienced trekker, former paratrooper and fervent football fan, was last seen in Iraq after hiking through 15 countries and extensively sharing his journey on a popular Instagram account over the past nine months.
The 41-year-old had previously said his intention for his trip to Qatar was to learn how others lived before reaching the first World Cup host country in the Arab world, in time for Spain’s first match on Nov. 23.
“The idea of the journey is to motivate and inspire other people to show that they can go very far with very little,” he told the AP from Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish city in northeastern Iraq.
However, Sanchez’s family last heard from him in an audio message on Oct. 2, a day after he crossed the Iraq-Iran border. He planned to go to the Iran’s capital, Tehran, where a television station wanted to interview him. His next step would have been Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran, where he would travel by boat to Qatar.
“We are deeply worried, we can’t stop crying, my husband and I,” his mother, Celia Cogedor, told The Associated Press.
Sanchez’s parents reported him missing on Oct. 17, and they said Spain’s police and diplomats were helping the family.
“After a few days, we didn’t worry about him not posting; it matched what he had said. But after eight or nine days, my daughter and his closest friends … we already began to think that we had to report his disappearance,” his mother said.
Spain’s Foreign Ministry said it had no information about Sanchez’s whereabouts, adding that the Spanish ambassador to Tehran was handling the matter. Calls to the Iranian Foreign Ministry seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Sanchez previously spent time in Iran in 2019, when he biked a similar route to get from Madrid to Saudi Arabia.
“He has not been making propaganda, neither for nor against any situation,” his parents added. “The only thing that moves him is supporting Real Madrid — and walking to get on time to the World Cup in Qatar.”