American football alters Iranian flag to support women’s rights movement, then backtracks amid backlash

A soccer fan holds an Iranian flag ahead of the World Cup Group B soccer match between Wales and Iran, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Friday, November 25, 2022. ( AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

DOHA, Qatar – American football has unleashed a geopolitical storm here in World Cup 2022 by edit iran flag in social media charts ahead of a meeting between the two nations in a Group B decisive game.

US Soccer said on Sunday the changes – which removed the Islamic Republic’s emblem from the green, white and red flag – were intentional and a show of “support for women in Iran who are fighting for basic human rights.” man”. They were thanked on social media by citizens fighting for these rights, but rocked the Iranian regime days before Tuesday’s game.

When Iranian authorities got wind of the graphics, backlash began to spread, mostly in online comments, but also in official circles. And on Sunday evening, as tensions mounted hours before a Team USA practice, after what a US football spokesperson called “internal” discussions, the posts containing the graphics were deleted .

They were first displayed amid ongoing protests that have swept Iran since September Death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a young woman of 22 years who had been arrested for would have worn her scarf too loosely. The almost unprecedented wave of dissent against Iran’s oppressive regime and for women’s rights has prompted a swift crackdown by the country’s security forces. At least 450 citizens have been killed and more than 18,000 arrested since the protests began, according to the advocacy group Iran Human Rights Activists.

U.S. soccer officials chose to express solidarity without consulting U.S. players or men’s national team head coach Gregg Berhalter, a U.S. soccer spokesman said. They consulted with Iranian-American experts, but did not consult with the US government, two sources told Yahoo Sports. A US State Department spokesperson confirmed in a statement that there was “no coordination on this action”.

The modified flag appeared in Twitter and instagram posts less than two hours after Friday game against England. It featured the tricolor scheme of the Iranian flag, but cleaned up the emblem that is usually found in the center of it. At least one graphic has also appeared to erase the “takbir”, the white writing below the green and above the red on the flag, which translates to “God is greatest”.

This friction has angered some Iranians. US Soccer has not heard directly from the Iranian authorities, but the Iranian official Tasnim news agency reported that the Iranian soccer federation would file a complaint against US Soccer with FIFA, claiming that the American federation “disrespected the national flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran”. (FIFA did not respond to a request for comment.)

Other Iranian state-affiliated media have accused US Soccer of “removing the symbol of Allah” from the flag.

On Sunday afternoon in Qatar, US Soccer had restored the official flag to its Twitter banner photo, which previously displayed the altered flag. A US football spokesperson said that – only temporarily using the modified flag – had been the plan all along.

But on Sunday evening, the federation seemed to have the damage under control. Communications manager Neil Buethe paced outside the team’s training center in Al-Gharafa, talking on the phone, an hour before two players met reporters at a press conference.

Shortly before the press conference, which was delayed, federation officials decided to delete the posts. A spokesperson, however, said they stand by their message of support for women fighting for rights in Iran. When asked why the posts were deleted, the spokesperson said: “I’m not going to go into details. We’ve made the decision.”

The spokesperson said the USMNT players and Berhalter were not involved in the decision to remove the posts. When asked at a press conference if that was true, defender Walker Zimmerman replied: “That’s right. We didn’t know that until now.”

Berhalter, however, is often consulted on many non-football decisions regarding the squad, including those relating to media coverage, and notably this month in Qatar. He is due to speak at a press conference on Monday.

The atmosphere at Sunday’s press conference was tense. Zimmerman and fellow defender Tim Ream chose the words carefully. They were asked half a dozen questions about football, but also half a dozen questions about the federation’s social media posts and the situation in Iran. They have repeatedly said that they “support women’s rights”, as Ream said, and that they “seem” with the people of Iran, but they are focused on “preparing for what is a match.” crucial”.

At one point during the press conference, Iranian journalists in the front row with their hands raised accused USMNT press secretary Michael Kammarman of silencing them by not calling them. When one of them finally received a question, the last of the press conference, he said: “I just want to emphasize that the media officer for the United States national football team should respect the media internationals. It’s the World Cup, it’s not the MLS Cup.”

The jitters continued as the USMNT’s 8:30 p.m. training session began. At the end of the open game, one member of the communications staff yelled at another. It’s unclear whether the tension penetrated the players’ bubble, but the atmosphere around them was worried.

Berhalter has largely avoided talking about politics and human rights at this World Cup. When asked about the rainbow armbands ahead of the England game on Thursday, he vaguely cited a team-wide social justice campaign, then said: “In all honesty, at the moment, when we are in the heart of the tournament, we are in the office all day, working and preparing.Now for us the focus is on the game, that is: how to beat England?

After Friday’s 0-0 draw, when asked about the political context of the game against Iran, he said: “I imagine the game will be very close for the fact that both teams want to go to the next round, not because of politics or relations in our country. We are footballers. We will compete, they will compete, and that’s it, really.

The game kicks off at 10 p.m. local time on Tuesday (2 p.m. ET, Fox/Telemundo), with the United States needing a win to advance to the Round of 16.

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