A planned friendly game fit between the national soccer teams of Iran and Canada on June 5 in Vancouver was intended to ease tensions between the two countries. Instead, it aborted after launch firestorm the criticism, which adds to a litany of grievances between Iran and Canada.
The game was in line with the upcoming Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifiers, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had criticized the Canadian Foccer Federation’s decision to hold the event. “I think it wasn’t ideal to invite the Iranian soccer team to Canada. But the organizers have to explain that.” Trudeau said on 17.5.
On May 26, the Canadian Football Association announced termination via social media without giving reasons.
The main reason for the controversy is the still unresolved issue of the Iranian shooting down of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 as it took off from Tehran on January 8, 2020. The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) later admitted firing the missile that shot down the plane, claiming it was a confounding accident following an Iranian attack on US forces in Iraq following the IRGC’s assassination -General Qassem Soleimani by the US. A speaker for the Association of the Victims of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 had criticized the game, saying that “families who had lost loved ones viewed the game as a slap in the face”. All 176 passengers and crew, including fifty-seven Iranian-Canadians, died in the crash.
Iranian government opponents launched a large-scale campaign in support of the revocation of the game. The Iranian opposition argued that taking in the Iranian team was tantamount to taking in terrorists in Canada. Meanwhile, many in the Iranian-Canadian community welcomed the competition and more than twenty-seven thousand tickets were sold in just the first hour.
A prominent opponent of the Iranian government also posted Twitter a photo showing the head coach of the Iran national team with an Iranian intelligence officer, suggesting that this person may be related to the Iran national football team. Mahmoud Khazein was wanted by the FBI last year for trying to kidnap an Iranian women’s rights activist in New York. The photo was allegedly taken during a birthday party in Tehran and it also features a famous Iranian performer and actor, which shows that many celebrities were present at the party, and does not necessarily mean that there is a systematic connection between Iranian football and Iranian intelligence agencies.
The Football Canada Association initially defended its decision to host the game: “At Football Canada, we believe in the power and wonder of sport to bring people from different cultural backgrounds and political beliefs closer together. Iran is a member of FIFA and one of the thirty-two teams present at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Accordingly, the Football Canada Association will follow all international rules for conducting this event [friendly] fit.”
But with the recent decision of the association it is clear that it eventually gave in to pressure from the Iranian opposition and supporters.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government has closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran 2012who described Iran as “the most important threat to world peace and security”. Trudeau promised to reopen the embassy in its first campaign in 2013, but has not done so.
The Canadian government also closed the Iranian embassy in Ottawa in 2012, claiming that the Iranian embassy was trying to recruit Iranian-Canadians. “The Iranian embassy should not interfere in their decisions. Canadian security organizations will act to prevent threats and intimidation against Canadians,” a spokesman for Secretary of State John Baird said in a expression. Kambiz Sheikh HassanIran’s then charge d’affaires in Ottawa said in a statement at the time: “We firmly reject baseless allegations [some] media that [the] ‘The Iranian embassy recruited ethnic Iranians in Canada to serve Iran.’”
Criticize Regarding the previous administration’s policy of severing diplomatic relations with Tehran in October 2016, Trudeau said: “It is clear that this case would have been much easier to handle if the previous administration had not closed our embassy in Iran for political reasons.”
The “political reasons” Trudeau spoke of seem to relate to the closure of the British Embassy in Tehran in 2011 after an attack on the embassy by an Iranian mob angered by British sanctions against Iran central bank. Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran in 2015 when Iran negotiated a nuclear deal with world powers but Canada did not.
When asked about the ongoing impasse, the Canadian government official responded answer is “Security Concerns”. According to latest statistics, the Iranian community living in Canada numbers more than two hundred thousand. A significant percentage of these people are students and researchers who regularly travel to Iran to visit their families and could benefit from a resumption of Canadian consular services in Tehran.
Restoring ties would also facilitate direct diplomatic talks between Iranian and Canadian officials to resolve the matter compensation for the victims of Flight 752. It would allow Iran to prosecute cases involving people who were calculated accused of corruption and embezzlement in Iran and 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 to comply with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal the Trump administration canceled in 2018 returns that the Biden administration is trying to revive.
The lack of diplomatic ties has deepened distrust and misunderstanding between Iran and Canada, creating a strain on Iranian Canadians. The football match between Iran and Canada was an opportunity to repair the damage, but now it’s just another missed opportunity.
Abbas Kaidari is a researcher in international security and defense policy. Follow him on Twitter: @AbbasQaidari.
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