Canada’s national men’s football team has withdrawn from a football match with Iran scheduled for June 5, 2022. after pressure from the Canadian government and the families of a passenger flight downed over Tehran in January 2020.
Canada Soccer, the footballing body that organised the June 5, 2022, World Cup warm-up match, noted in a statement that the game was cancelled because “the untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran [had become] significantly divisive”. The statement further noted that “While we considered the external factors in selecting the optimal opponent in our original decision-making process, we will strive to do better moving forward”.
What Accounted for the Decision?
On January 8, 2020, Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 departed from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran (Iran’s capital) when it was targeted by two missiles fired from an air defence battery operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
According to Iran’s authority, the incident occurred due to “human error” during a state of alarm that followed its missile attacks on United States bases in Iraq in retaliation for the US assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani. According to the Canadian government, about 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people who were killed as a result of the attack.
Hamed Esmaeilion, the Spokesperson for the Association of Families, in an op-ed (a newspaper page opposite the editorial page, devoted to personal comment, feature articles, etc) earlier this month (May 2022) stated that “Like many other activities in Iran, soccer [football] there is controlled by the IRGC, which is expected to send members to accompany the Iranian team to Canada for the exhibition game”.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and several other politicians denounced the decision to host the Iranian team. Trudeau said last week that the game “wasn’t a very good idea” and put the responsibility on Canada Soccer to make a final decision.
“And in terms of the ability of those players to come to Canada and the teams to come to Canada, the border services agencies make professional and independent decisions on eligibility for people to come to Canada.”Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau
The Canadian government on Thursday, May 26, 2022, showed its approval for the decision to cancel the match as Sports Minister, Pascale St-Onge, welcomed the move. When asked by the media, a Spokesperson for the Sports Ministry refused to comment on the political aspects of the case, pointing out that Canada Soccer should comment as the organiser. Canada Soccer is yet to respond.
Iran to sue for $10m
Per reports, the match’s cancellation is likely to carry more long-term ramifications, as there were also financial aspects to consider. Sina Kalhor, a Deputy Iranian Sports Minister, announced in a tweet that the Iranian Football Federation would sue its Canadian counterpart for $10m as it made the decision to cancel the match unilaterally in a contract violation.
“The unilateral cancellation of Iran and Canada’s match by Canada Soccer once more showed that the slogan of not politicising football is only a cover for the interests of Western countries.”
Earlier this week, the Spokesman of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, intimated that the Ministry expects Canada to refrain from politicising the match, adding that the Canadian government and Football Association would be responsible for any contract violations.
What is Mounting the More Pressure?
Pressure on Canada Soccer to cancel the match also mounted after reports emerged earlier this week that the organisation would pay Iran’s Football Federation $400,000 as part of a standard practice to cover extra expenses such as travelling costs. Canada Soccer has not publicly discussed the specifics of its contract with the Iranian counterpart, citing a confidentiality clause, but its President, Nick Bontis, told Canadian media that “no appearance money has been paid to Iran”.
“This behaviour by Canada Soccer is repugnant”, Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Ralph Goodale, a former Special Adviser to Trudeau on the PS725, tweeted earlier this week, adding that “It calls into question both the competence and the values of the organization”.
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