After briefly changing the icon of the Iranian flag on its social media accounts in support of the protests occurring in the nation, Iranian state media has called for the United States World Cup soccer team to be disqualified from the 2022 competition in Qatar.
The flags of the nation’s competing in Group B, which includes a match between the United States and Iran on Tuesday, were highlighted by the United States Soccer Federation in social media posts over the weekend. The Iranian flag icon in the posts only displayed its red, white, and green stripes; the Islamic Republic of Iran’s emblem was absent.
A crucial game on Tuesday has already attracted political overtones. The winner advances to the knockout rounds.
Iranian media reacted quickly, with the official Tasnim news agency demanding that the American team be eliminated from the competition.
The Iranian Football Federation’s legal counsel stated in a subsequent tweet that the sports organization would complain to FIFA’s Ethics Committee about the US Men’s National Soccer Team for disrespecting the Islamic Republic of Iran’s national flag.
In a statement to CNN, the U.S. Soccer Federation stated that the change was made for a 24-hour period to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights,” but added that the change was always intended to be permanent.
The official Iranian flag and the abbreviation “IR Iran,” which stands for Islamic Republic, were displayed in an Instagram post from the U.S. Soccer men’s national team on Sunday promoting the Iran-U.S. match.
Elica Le Bon, an Iranian activist based in the United States, made a comment on the American team’s action on Instagram “By removing the emblem from the flag of the fictitious Islamic Republic—which has come to represent torture, suffering, and oppression for Iranians—the United States made a significant political statement. NOT our flag, this. I appreciate you so much.”
“I think this is ultimately not productive in its impact on the regime, but it’s nonetheless symbolically important and appreciated by millions of Iranians,” Soraya Beheshti, an Iranian national who lives in Dubai, told CNBC.
Since mid-September, there have been protests across the country, shaking the government and posing what many are calling the biggest threat to the Islamic Republic in decades. The Iranian team chose to remain silent during the playing of their national anthem prior to their first World Cup match on November 21 against England.
The protests started after Mahsa Amini, 22, passed away in police custody. Iranian woman of Kurdish descent named Amini was detained on suspicion of violating Iran’s stringent laws regarding the hijab, the Islamic head covering for women. Although Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing condition and refute any claims of police brutality, she reportedly suffered multiple blows to the head.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the team captain, previously stated that he and his teammates would decide collectively whether to make any sort of statement or take any action during the anthem in support of the anti-government protesters within their nation.
Jahanbakhsh made a public statement following the England game in which he expressed sympathy and sorrow for Iranians who had lost loved ones during the protests and noted that the situation in Iran was not good. But the team sang the Iranian national anthem prior to its match against Wales on November 25. It is unclear if government or outside pressure contributed to the change.
The female-led protest movement in Iran has grown to the point where many Iranians are openly calling for the fall of the Islamic Republic. In response, Iranian authorities and police are arresting and killing demonstrators in a violent crackdown.
Ever since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in 2018, which resulted in harsh sanctions being re-imposed on the Islamic Republic, tensions between Washington and Tehran have been particularly high. Due to the sanctions being lifted as a result of the agreement, which gave Iran economic relief in exchange for limits to its nuclear program, the country’s economy has sputtered under them.
While talks to resurrect the agreement under the Biden administration have stalled for months, Iran is currently enriching uranium at its highest levels ever.