US soccer briefly removes Iranian flag emblem from World Cup posts
The US Football Association briefly displayed the Iranian national flag on social media without the Islamic Republic’s emblem, saying the move supported protesters in Iran in front of the two nations. World Championship Game Tuesday.
The Iranian government responded by accusing America of removing the name of God from its national flag.
The USSF decision added another political firestorm to the first World Cup in the Middle East, which organizers had hoped would be spared off-field controversy.
It came as the US prepared to face Iran on Tuesday in a crucial World Cup match already fraught with decades of enmity between the countries and the US nationwide protests Challenging the theocratic government of Tehran.
The USSF said in a statement Sunday morning it had decided to refrain from displaying the official flag on social media accounts to “show support for the women of Iran who are fighting for basic human rights.”
The USA men’s team’s Twitter account featured a banner showing the team’s group stage matches, with the Iranian flag sporting only the colors green, white and red. The same was seen in a post on his Facebook and Instagram accounts detailing his group’s past scores.
By Sunday afternoon, the normal flag with the emblem had been restored to the Twitter banner and the Facebook and Instagram posts with the altered flag had been removed.
“We wanted to show our support for women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours,” said the association.
Federation spokesman Neil Buethe declined to say whether the original decision had been endorsed by USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former international.
“It was a decision within the federation,” he said. “I won’t go into who knew and who didn’t.”
When asked whether there had been talks with diplomatic authorities, Büthe said: “There were certain times. I won’t talk about it, but again, this is our choice, not someone else’s or someone else’s pressure.”
The USSF displayed the official Iranian flag in a graphic with the Group B rankings on its website.
The emblem’s brief absence came as months of demonstrations challenged the Iranian government following the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s vice squad.
According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a post-demonstration advocacy group, at least 450 people have been killed and over 18,000 arrested since the protests began.
Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and claims without providing evidence that the protests were fomented by its enemies abroad, including the US
Tehran is also restricting access to the media and has arrested over 63 reporters and photographers since the demonstrations began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making reporting the unrest much more difficult.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations and its football federation did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. As online comments raged, Iranian state television described the US federation as “removing the symbol of Allah” from the Iranian flag.
Iran’s semi-official news agency ISNA quoted Safiollah Fagahanpour, an adviser to the Football Association of Iran, as saying that the “measures taken regarding the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran violate the law” of FIFA competitions.
“They must be held accountable,” said Fagahanpour. “Obviously they want to influence Iran’s performance against the US.”
The emblem of the Islamic Republic, designed in 1980, consists of four curves with a sword between them. It represents the Islamic proverb: “There is no god but God.” It also resembles a tulip or a lotus.
There are also 22 inscriptions at the top and bottom of the flag that read “God is Great”, honoring the date in the Persian calendar when the Islamic Revolution took place.
The flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup. Apparent government supporters have waved it and shouted at the protesters over Amini’s death. Others have waved Iran’s lion and sun flag, an emblem of its former ruler, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, at games.
More security guards were seen at Iran’s last game against Wales. In the capital Tehran, riot police – the same ones who crack down on protests – waved the Iranian flag after Wales’ victory, angering protesters.