Cancellation of football ‘friendly match’ fuels enmity between Canada and Iran
A scheduled friendly match between the national soccer teams of Iran and Canada in Vancouver on June 5 was meant to reduce tensions between the two countries. Instead, it ended up being canceled after unleashing a firestorm of criticism, adding to a litany of grievances between Iran and Canada.
The match was in line with the upcoming Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had criticized the Canadian Football Federation’s decision to stage the event. “I think it was not ideal to invite the Iranian football team to Canada. But that’s something the organizers will have to explain,” Trudeau said on May 17.
On May 26, the Canadian Soccer Federation announcement cancellation via social media without providing any clarification.
The main reason for the controversy is the still unresolved issue of Iran’s shooting down of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 as it took off from Tehran on January 8, 2020. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Iranian later admitted to having fired the missile which shot down the plane. , alleging it was a confusing accident following an Iranian attack on US forces in Iraq following the US assassination of IRGC General Qassem Soleimani. A spokesperson for the Association of Victims of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 had criticized the match, saying that “families who had lost loved ones viewed the match as a slap in the face”. All 176 passengers and crew, including fifty-seven Iranian-Canadians, died in the crash.
Opponents of the Iranian government have launched a full-scale campaign to have the game revoked. The Iranian opposition argued that welcoming the Iranian team was tantamount to welcoming terrorists to Canada. During this time, many members of the Iranian-Canadian community hosted the competition and over twenty-seven thousand tickets were sold in just the first hour.
In addition, a prominent opponent of the Iranian government posted on Twitter a photo showing the head coach of the Iranian national team with an Iranian intelligence officer, suggesting that this person may be linked to the Iranian national football team. Mahmoud Khazein was wanted by the FBI last year for attempting to kidnap an Iranian women’s rights activist in New York. The photo is said to have been taken at a birthday party in Tehran and it also features a famous Iranian artist and actor, which shows that many celebrities were present at the party and does not necessarily mean that there is a systematic link between Iranian football and Iranian intelligence. community.
The Canadian Football Federation initially defended its decision to host the match: “At the Canadian Football Federation, we believe in the power and miracle of sport to bring people of different cultures and political beliefs together. Iran is a member of FIFA and one of the thirty-two teams present at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Therefore, the Canadian Football Federation will follow all international rules for the holding of this [friendly] match.”
But, with the recent decision of the federation, it is clear that he eventually succumbed to pressure from the Iranian opposition and supporters.
Relations between Iran and Canada have been troubled for nearly two decades following the killing by intelligence agents of Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian photographer, while she was in prison.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government closed the Canadian Embassy in Tehran in 2012, calling Iran “the most significant threat to global peace and security.” Trudeau promised to reopen the embassy during his first campaign in 2013, but did not.
The Canadian government also closed the Iranian embassy in Ottawa in 2012, saying the Iranian embassy was trying to recruit Iranian-Canadians. “The Iranian Embassy should not interfere in their choices. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation of Canadians,” a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a statement. Kambiz Sheikh Hassan, then Iran’s Chargé d’Affaires in Ottawa, said in a statement at the time: “We strongly reject the baseless allegations of [some] media that [the] “The Iranian Embassy recruited ethnic Iranians in Canada to serve Iran.”
Criticizing the previous administration’s policy of severing diplomatic ties with Tehran in October 2016, Trudeau said: “It is clear that this case would have been much easier to deal with if the previous government had not closed our embassy in Iran. for political reasons.
The “political reasons” Trudeau was talking about appear to refer to the closure of the British embassy in Tehran in 2011, following an attack on the embassy by an Iranian mob angered by British sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran. Iran. Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran in 2015 as Iran negotiated a nuclear deal with world powers but not Canada.
Asked about the current stalemate, the Canadian government’s official response is “security concerns”. According to the latest statistics, the Iranian community living in Canada numbers more than two hundred thousand. A substantial percentage of these people are students and researchers who regularly travel to Iran to visit family and who could benefit from a resumption of Canadian consular services in Tehran.
Restoring relations would also facilitate direct diplomatic talks between Iranian and Canadian officials to resolve the issue of compensation for the victims of Flight 752. This would allow Iran to pursue cases involving those accused in Iran of corruption and embezzlement and who have fled to Canada. .
Canada and Iran could also engage in dialogue and cooperation on common security issues in the Middle East and restore economic ties if Iran returns to comply with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal that the Donald Trump administration scrapped in 2018 and the Biden administration is trying to revive.
The lack of diplomatic relations has deepened mistrust and misunderstandings between Iran and Canada and created a burden for Canadians of Iranian descent. The soccer match between Iran and Canada was an opportunity to undo the damage, but now it is just another missed opportunity.
Abbas Qaidari is a researcher in international security and defense policy. Follow him on Twitter: @AbbasQaidari.
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