The US Soccer Federation briefly displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the Islamic republic’s emblem, saying the move supported protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations.Match Tuesday.
Iran’s government reacted by accusing the US of removing God’s name from its national flag.
The USSF’s decision added yet another political firestorm to the Middle East’s first World Cup, one the organizers had hoped would avoid off-the-field controversies.
It came as the US prepared to face Iran on Tuesday in a decisive World Cup match already fraught with decades of animosity between the countries and Iran.Challenging the religious government of Tehran.
The USSF said in a statement on Sunday morning that it decided to take down the official flag on social media accounts to show “support for women fighting for basic human rights in Iran”.
The US men’s team’s Twitter account displayed a banner with the squad’s matches in the group stage, with the Iranian flag only in its green, white and red colors. The same was seen in a post on his Facebook and Instagram accounts stating the point total in his group so far.
By Sunday afternoon, the normal flag with the symbol had been restored to the Twitter banner and Facebook and Instagram posts featuring the changed flags had been removed.
“We wanted to show our support for women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours,” the federation said.
Federation spokesman Neil Buethe would not say whether the original decision was approved by USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player.
“It was a decision within the federation,” he said. “I’m not going to get into who knew and who didn’t.”
Asked whether discussions have taken place with diplomatic bodies, Buethe said: “There have been certain times. I’m not going to talk about them, but again, it’s our decision and not anybody else’s or someone else’s pressure.”
The USSF displayed the official Iranian flag in a graphic showing the Group B standings on its website.
The symbol’s brief absence came as months of demonstrations challenging Iran’s government followed the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the country’s morality police.
At least 450 people have been killed since the protests began, with more than 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group following the demonstrations.
Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and, without providing evidence, has alleged protests by its enemies abroad, including the US.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Tehran has also restricted media access and detained more than 63 journalists and photographers since the demonstrations began, making the unrest 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 the comments sparked protests online, Iranian state television described the US association as “removing the symbol of Allah” from the Iranian flag.
Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Safiullah Faghanpour, an advisor to the Iranian Football Federation, as saying that “the measures taken with regard to the Islamic Republic of Iran flag” of FIFA competitions are against the law.
“He should be held responsible,” said Faghanpour. Obviously, by doing so, they want to influence Iran’s performance against the United States.”
The Islamic Republic emblem, designed in 1980, consists of four curves with a sword between them. It represents the Islamic proverb: “There is no god but God.” It also resembles a tulip or a lotus.
There are also 22 inscriptions on the top and bottom of the flag, “God is Great”, honoring the date on the Persian calendar when the Islamic Revolution took hold.
The flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup. Apparently pro-government supporters waved it while shouting at people demonstrating over Amini’s death. Others at matches have flown the flag of Iran’s lion and sun, a symbol of its former ruler, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
More security could be seen at Iran’s last match against Wales. In the capital Tehran, riot police – the same ones who were cracking down on the protests – waved the Iranian flag after Wells’ victory, angering protesters.