Sports | November 28, 2022 11:41 am

Why Does Iran Want the US Kicked Out of the World Cup?

Tensions are riding high ahead of Tuesday's climactic match

Representatives from Iran hold the national flag before a World Cup game against England.
U.S. Soccer posted a doctored version of Iran's tricolor to its social media accounts this weekend.
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

In order to advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup, and lock in a date with the Group A winner (likely The Netherlands, potentially Ecuador) next Saturday, Iran has to beat the United States tomorrow in Doha. But if the nation’s soccer federation had any say in the matter, Team Melli shouldn’t even have to show up for the match.

Representatives from Iran are reportedly irate over a doctored image that the USMNT posted to Twitter this weekend: an update of the Group B standings, with the caption “All eyes on Tuesday,” featuring a conspicuously empty Iranian flag. It’s missing the Emblem of Iran and the usual 11 lines of the takbir, instead only presenting green, white and red bands.

For decades, demonstrations against the Iranian regime have sourced a doctored version of the tricolor flag, or rallied around Persian symbols like the Lion and Sun. And sure enough, U.S. Soccer confirmed that was no social media intern’s error — the post was in solidarity with the ongoing Mahsa Amini protests.

USMNT has since deleted the offending Tweet (and Instagram), but Iran’s state-affiliated media is calling for a 10-game suspension…which would take the Americans literal years to serve. (It’s worth pointing out that Tasnim News Agency, which posted the outraged tweet above, went with an image of people burning an American flag for its cover photo on Twitter. Hmm.) Will FIFA actually discipline the States for its controversial post, though?

A legal adviser to Iran’s soccer federation, named Safia Allah Faghanpour, seems to think they have a case: “Respecting a nation’s flag is an accepted international practice that all other nations must emulate,” he said to state media. “The action conducted in relation to the Iranian flag is unethical and against international law.” Iran is citing a specific clause in FIFA’s charter, which promises penalties for anyone “who offends the dignity or integrity of a country, a person or group of people through contemptuous, discriminatory or derogatory words or actions (by any means whatsoever).”

That said, there is no chance FIFA addresses this dust-up. For one, U.S. Soccer officials seem to have handled it internally, deciding they’d rather not create unnecessary distractions for Gregg Berhalter’s side ahead of tomorrow’s game. (The decision to take down the post came without any influence from FIFA.)

And besides, FIFA refuses to be “dragged” into “political battles” — to quote from a tone-deaf letter the governing body’s president, Gianni Infantino, addressed to the 32 competing nations in the days leading up to the World Cup. It would rather pretend these issues don’t exist than weigh in on them…whether in support or punishment of protesting parties. (Fans carrying pre-revolutionary Iranian flags, for instance, have been told to discard them if they want to enter Qatar’s arenas.)

Ultimately, FIFA would rather keep its battles on the field. And USA vs. Iran is a big enough battle without the added intrigue of social media spats, to say nothing of decades of geopolitical tension. After all, the match will anoint one side the Group B runner-up (barring an England collapse against Wales), and send the other one packing.

Iran won’t take this one by forfeit, to the chagrin of Tasnim News, but good luck finding an Iranian player who’d want that result anyway. The team has already protested the violence in their country multiple times themselves, wearing black jackets to obscure their nation’s logos, offering words of support for the movement and refusing to sing the national anthem in their opener against England. According to the latest tally, Iranian forces have killed 416 civilians — including 51 children and 27 women — in the protests.