Tehran, Iran – Canada’s men’s national soccer team has pulled out of a soccer match with Iran scheduled for June 5, after pressure from the Canadian government and families of a passenger flight shot down over Tehran in January 2020.
Canada Soccer, the football body that staged the June 5 World Cup warm-up match, said on Thursday the game was called off because “the untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran [had become] considerably divisive”.
“While we considered external factors in selecting the optimal opponent in our initial decision-making process, we will strive to do better in the future,” he said in a statement.
On January 8, 2020, Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 had just taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran when it was targeted by two missiles fired from an air defense battery operated by the Revolutionary Guard Corps Islamic (IRGC).
The elite force said the incident happened due to ‘human error’ during a state of alarm following its missile attacks on US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the American assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani.
The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.
The families of the victims had also alleged that if the friendly match with the Iranian team was allowed, the IRGC members would enter Canadian soil under the guise of the national team.
“Like many other activities in Iran, football [football] it is controlled by the IRGC, which is expected to send members to accompany the Iranian team to Canada for the exhibition match,” Hamed Esmaeilion, the families association spokesman, said in an op-ed earlier this month. this month.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and several other politicians had denounced the decision to host the Iranian team. Trudeau had said last week that the game “wasn’t a very good idea” and had given Canada Soccer the responsibility of making a final decision.
“And with respect to the ability of those players to come to Canada and teams to come to Canada, border services agencies make professional and independent decisions on the admissibility of people to come to Canada,” he added. .
The Canadian government showed its approval of the decision to cancel the match on Thursday, while Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge welcomed the decision.
Asked by Al Jazeera, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Sports declined to comment on the political aspects of the case, saying Canada Soccer should comment as the organiser. Canada Soccer has not yet responded to a request for comment.
Iran sues for $10 million
The cancellation of the game is likely to have longer-term ramifications, as there were also financial aspects to consider.
Sina Kalhor, Iran’s deputy sports minister, announced in a tweet on Thursday that the Iranian Football Federation will sue its Canadian counterpart for $10 million because it took the decision to unilaterally call off the match in breach of contract.
“The unilateral cancellation of the match between Iran and Canada by Canada Soccer showed once again that the slogan of non-politicization of football is only a cover for the interests of Western countries,” he said. -he writes.
Earlier this week, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the ministry expected Canada to refrain from politicizing the game, adding that the Canadian government and the association of football would be liable for any breach of contract.
Pressure on Canada Soccer to call off the game has also increased after reports emerged earlier this week that the organization is paying the Iranian football federation $400,000 as part of a standard practice to cover up additional expenses such as travel expenses.
Canada Soccer has not publicly discussed the details of its contract with the Iranian counterpart, citing a confidentiality clause, but its president Nick Bontis told Canadian media that “no appearance fee has been paid to the Iran”.
“This behavior by Canada Soccer is repugnant,” tweeted Canadian High Commissioner to the UK Ralph Goodale, a former special adviser to Trudeau on PS725, earlier this week. “It calls into question both the competence and the values of the organization.”
Iran, Canada and the World Cup
The match against the Iranian national team would have been a rare chance to test the Canadian team outside of their CONCACAF confederation, which covers the Americas and the Caribbean.
They have only played two matches against non-CONCACAF teams since 2018.
The Canadian team, which ranks 38th in the current FIFA World Football Rankings, secured a World Cup berth for the first time in 36 years, becoming the surprise winners of their regional qualifiers, ahead of Mexico and United States.
Canada Soccer said it chose Iran because the team had a similar style of play to Morocco, one of Canada’s opponents in the Qatar tournament.
Iran currently ranks 21st in the world men’s football rankings, ahead of all other Asian teams. The 2022 tournament will mark his third consecutive World Cup appearance and sixth appearance overall.
Iran have earned a place in Group B of international football’s most important competition, after being paired with the United States and the United Kingdom, two of the country’s bitterest political enemies. They will be joined by Scotland, Wales or Ukraine.