Iran state media has called for the US to be kicked out of the 2022 World Cup after the United States Soccer Federation changed Iran’s flag on its social media platforms to show support for protesters in Iran.
The federation had temporarily displayed Iran’s national flag on its official Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts without the emblem of the Islamic Republic. A now-deleted graphic of the Group B standings posted on Saturday displayed the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white and red colors.
US Soccer told CNN on Sunday that it wanted to change the official flag for 24 hours to show “support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights” but always planned to go back to the original flag.
The change “was a one-time graphic,” US Soccer told CNN. “We have the main flag on our website and other places.” The emblem is currently back on the flag on US Soccer’s social media channels.
A spokesperson for the State Department told CNN it did not coordinate with US Soccer in the sporting body’s decision to change Iran’s flag on its social media accounts to show support for protesters in Iran.
“We look forward to a peaceful and competitive match on the field. The United States continues to find ways to support the Iranian people in the face of state-sponsored violence against women and a brutal crackdown against peaceful protestors,” the State Department told CNN.
Iran state media reported Sunday that the United States should be immediately kicked out of the tournament and suspended for 10 games for a “distorted image” of the country’s flag.
“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,” Iran state-aligned Tasnim news agency wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Team #USA should be kicked out of the #WorldCup2022.”
FIFA did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Iran and the US play each other on Tuesday in a crucial Group B match. It is a must-win tie for the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) if it is to progress to the knockout stages.
On Monday, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said the team “had no idea what US Soccer put out” but did apologize for the display.
“The staff, the players, we had no idea … Our focus is on this match and I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring by saying that,” said Berhalter in a regularly scheduled news conference on Monday.
“Of course are thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone. But our focus is on this match.
“Sometimes things are out of our control,” added Berhalter. “We believe that it’s going to be a match that the result will depend on who puts more effort in and who executes better on the field.
“We’re not focused on those outside things and all we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and the staff, but it’s not something that we were a part of.”
Berhalter insisted any noise surrounding Tuesday’s match was not impacting the preparation of the US players.
“What I see from this group is this tremendous amount of focus,” said Berhalter. “There is no real distractions. I know there is a lot going on here but the group is focused on how to get a win.”
Iran is appearing at this World Cup under the shadow of domestic turmoil. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief, Volker Turk, has said that the country is in a “full-fledged human rights crisis” as authorities clamp down on anti-regime dissidents.
Protests, referred to by experts as the most significant since the establishment of clerical rule following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and violence have rocked Iran in recent months and threatened the very nature of the country’s regime, which has been in power for more than 40 years.
It was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by Iran’s morality police, allegedly for not abiding by the country’s conservative dress code. Iranian security forces have unleashed a violent response.
Klinsmann comments branded ‘outrageous’
The latest controversy comes after a day of issues ahead of the two teams’ Group B clash in Doha at the Al Thumama Stadium.
US Soccer’s decision came on the same day the former USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he will try to speak with Iran’s manager, Carlos Queiroz, to “calm things down” after Klinsmann’s comments about Iran’s culture were branded “outrageous remarks.”
Following Iran’s 2-0 victory over Wales on Friday, Klinsmann discussed Iran’s attitude toward the game of soccer, led by Queiroz, during a panel discussion on the BBC.
“That’s their culture and that’s their way of doing it and that’s why Carlos Queiroz, he fits really well in the Iranian national team,” Klinsmann said.
“He struggled in South America. He failed with Colombia to qualify then he failed with Egypt to qualify as well and then he went back right before the World Cup now and guided Iran where he worked already for a long, long time.
“This is not by coincidence. This is all purposely. This is just part of their culture. That’s how they play it and they work the referee.
“You saw the bench always jumping off, always working the fourth, the linesmen and the fourth referee on the sideline, constantly in their ears. They’re constantly in your face on the field.”
The 1990 World Cup winner continued: “This is their culture and they kind of make you lose your focus and make you lose your concentration and what’s really important to you.”
In a tweet on Monday, Klinsmann clarified that his comments were “purely football related.”
“Unfortunately, this was taken out of a footballing context,” he added. “I have many Iranian friends and was always full of compliments for their people, culture, and history. I wish them only the best for the tournament.”
On Saturday, Queiroz responded to Klinsmann’s comments on the BBC in a series of tweets.
“Even not knowing me personally, you question my character with a typical prejudiced judgment of superiority,” Queiroz wrote. “No matter how much I can respect what you did inside the pitch, those remarks about Iran Culture, Iran National Team and my Players are a disgrace to Football. Nobody can hurt our integrity if it is not at our level, of course.”
Queiroz added: “As American/German, we understand your no support. No problem. And despite your outrageous remarks on BBC trying to undermine our efforts, sacrifices and skills, we promise you that we will not produce any judgments regarding your culture, roots and background and that you will always be welcome to our Family.”
The Iran Football Federation, in a statement, demanded Klinsmann apologize and resign from his Qatar 2022 Technical Study Group position with FIFA. Iran said it has asked FIFA “for immediate clarification on this matter.”
CNN has reached out to FIFA for comment but did not get a response at time of publication.
On Sunday, Klinsmann said on BBC Breakfast: “There was stuff really taken out of context. I will try to give him a call and calm things down. I have never criticized Carlos or the Iranian bench. Some even thought I was criticizing the referee because he didn’t do anything about the way they were behaving on the bench.
“All I described was their emotional way of doing things, which is actually admirable in a certain way. The whole bench lives the game. They’re jumping up and down and Carlos is a very emotional coach. He’s constantly on the sidelines trying to give his players all his energy and direction.”
The federation invited Klinsmann to visit Team Melli Camp in Doha and “for a lecture on the millennial Persian culture and the values of football and sport.”