DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The United States Soccer Federation briefly displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the Islamic Republic’s emblem, saying the move supported protesters in Iran in front of both nations. world Cup game Tuesday.
The Iranian government responded by accusing America of removing God’s name from its national flag.
The US Soccer Federation’s decision adds another political storm to the Middle East’s inaugural World Cup, a cup that organizers hoped would be spared controversy off the pitch.
It also comes as the United States takes on Iran in a decisive World Cup match, which was already fraught with decades of enmity between the two countries and domestic protests now challenging the theocratic government in Tehran.
The United States Soccer Federation said in a statement Sunday morning that it had decided to drop the official flag on social media accounts to show “its support for women in Iran who are fighting for basic human rights.”
The US men’s team Twitter account displayed a banner with the team’s group stage matches, with the Iranian flag sporting only its green, white and red colors. The same could be seen in a post on his Facebook and Instagram Accounts outlining the point totals so far in his group.
By Sunday afternoon, the normal flag with the emblem had been restored to the Twitter banner as attention grew.
“We wanted to show our support for women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours,” the federation said.
The American Soccer Federation flew the official Iranian flag in a graph showing the Group B ranking on its website.
The emblem’s brief absence comes as months-long protests have challenged the Iranian government since the death on September 16 of Mahsa Amini, 22 years oldwho had been detained by the country’s vice squad.
The protests have seen at least 450 people killed since they began, along with more than 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group that tracks the protests.
Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and alleges without providing evidence that the protests were fomented by its enemies abroad, including the United States.
Tehran is also restricting press access and has detained more than 63 journalists and photographers since the protests began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making coverage of the unrest all the more difficult.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations and its soccer federation did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. As comments raged online, Iranian state television described the US federation as “removing the symbol of Allah” from the Iranian flag.
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Iran Football Federation adviser Safiollah Fagahanpour as saying that “the measures taken regarding the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran are against the law” of FIFA competitions. .
“They must be held accountable,” Fagahanpour said. “Obviously they want to affect Iran’s performance against the United States by doing this.”
The emblem of the Islamic Republic, designed in 1980, is made up of four curves with a sword between them. It represents the Islamic saying: “There is no god but God”. It also looks like a tulip or a lotus.
At the top and bottom of the flag there are also 22 inscriptions of “God is great”, which honors the date in the Persian calendar when the Islamic revolution took hold.
The flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup. Apparent pro-government supporters waved it, shouting at those protesting over Amini’s death. Others at matches waved Iran’s lion and sun flag, the emblem of its former leader, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
More security forces could be seen in Iran’s last game against Wales. In the capital Tehran, riot police – the same police cracking down on protests – waved the Iranian flag after Wales’ victory, angering protesters.
Associated Press writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.