Iran is calling for the U.S. to be thrown out of the World Cup after flag change

Ahmad Nourollahi of Iran in action during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England and IR Iran at Khalifa International Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

Richard Sellers | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Iranian state media is calling for the U.S. World Cup soccer team to be thrown out of the 2022 tournament in Qatar after it briefly changed the icon of the Iranian flag on its social media accounts in support of protests taking place in the country.

The United States Soccer Federation, in its social media posts over the weekend, featured the flags of the countries competing in Group B, which includes a match between the U.S. and Iran on Tuesday. In the posts, the Iranian flag icon was missing its Islamic Republic emblem, and only showed its red, white and green stripes.

Tuesday’s match is a crucial one that already has drawn political undertones. Whoever wins will proceed to the knockout stages.

Iranian media reacted swiftly, with state media agency Tasnim calling for the U.S. team to be booted from the tournament.

“By posting a distorted image of the flag of the Islamic Republic of #Iran on its official account, the #US football team breached the FIFAcom charter, for which a 10-game suspension is the appropriate penalty. Team should be kicked out of the #WorldCup2022,” Tasnim News Agency wrote in a post on its official Twitter account.

In a follow-up tweet, it added: “The legal advisor of the Iranian Football Federation says the sports association will file a complaint against the US Soccer Team to FIFA’s Ethics Committee after the US Men’s National Soccer Team disrespected the national flag of Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation, in a comment to CNN, said it changed the flag for 24 hours to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights,” but added that it always intended on changing it back.

In an Instagram post from the U.S. Soccer men’s national team on Sunday promoting the Iran-U.S. match, the official Iranian flag was featured along with the designation “IR Iran,” which stands for Islamic Republic.

U.S.-based Iranian activist Elica Le Bon commented on the U.S. team’s move in an Instagram post, saying, “The U.S. took a huge stand here by removing the emblem from the fraudulent Islamic Republic’s flag that has become for Iranians a symbol of torture, suffering, and oppression. This is NOT our flag. Thank you thank you thank you.”

A protester holds a portrait of Mahsa Amini during a demonstration in support of Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being arrested in Tehran by the Islamic Republic’s morality police, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on September 20, 2022.

Ozan Kose | AFP | Getty Images

Soraya Beheshti, an Iranian national living in Dubai, told CNBC: “I think this is ultimately not productive in its impact on the regime, but it’s nevertheless symbolically important and appreciated by millions of Iranians.”

“It’s a nice way to show solidarity with the protesters in an appropriate way without disrespecting the players, who clearly support the revolution too but are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that “any measure of support that can be given should be given to the Iranian people, be it official or unofficial,” as they have been “bravely protesting for over two and a half months.”

The Iranian government vociferously opposes the demonstrations, and has blamed them on what it says are foreign instigators including the United States and Israel. It has not provided evidence for these claims.

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