US Soccer’s social media post showing a modified Iranian flag sparked a furor ahead of a critical Group B match.
Doha, Qatar – Iranian and American soccer fans in Doha criticized a US Soccer social media post showing a modified Iranian flag and sparked an outcry ahead of a crucial World Cup match between the two teams.
The dispute erupted on Saturday after the US Soccer Federation posted a graphic of the Iranian flag without the word “Allah” written on its social media channels.
The Iran Soccer Federation condemned the move and filed a protest with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), demanding sanctions against the US team.
By Sunday afternoon, the standard flag with the emblem had been restored to the US Soccer Twitter banner, and Facebook and Instagram posts featuring the altered flag had been removed.
US Soccer said the post was a show of solidarity with “women in Iran fighting for basic human rights” following the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in police custody.
“We wanted to show our support for women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours,” the federation said.
On Monday, Team USA coach Gregg Berhalter apologized for the scandal and said his staff were unaware of the posts.
“All we can do is apologize on behalf of the players and staff, but it’s not something we’re a part of,” he said.
Fans in Doha, however, said they thought the original posts were in poor taste and added unnecessary heat to an already politically charged atmosphere surrounding the game. Iran and the United States are geopolitical enemies and have not had diplomatic relations for more than four decades.
Gholam, an Iranian fan in Doha who will attend Tuesday’s game, criticized the move, accusing the United States of trying to “light fire” before the game.
“They [the US] they are willing to take every opportunity to mislead people about Iran. It’s hypocrisy.
“Before criticizing others, they should look at what is happening in their own country. They have mass shootings every other day, they ignore the problem of racism, but these are very serious problems.”
Vicky, a US citizen living in Qatar, said the World Cup has brought people together and has raised concerns that US Soccer’s publications were misjudged and could fuel divisions.
“The spirit of such a tournament must be one of inclusion and grace, and politics must be kept out of the game,” he told Al Jazeera on Monday.
“There are so many countries trying to take a position on certain issues and not always doing it the right way. For the United States to mess with the flag of a country is not funny.”
The two nations have met on three previous occasions. Iran won the most recent meeting 2-1 during the 1998 World Cup in France.
Gholam said he expected the United States to face the same outcome in Tuesday’s march, where a place in the tournament’s round of 16 is at stake.
“The Americans used the same tactics before the game in 1998, and look what happened? We won. We will do the same tomorrow.”