In a move well beyond posting a cliche quote in the locker room, the US Soccer Federation angered Iran by publicly airing its support for Iranian protesters—two days before the nations' teams meet in the World Cup. The US federation posted Iran's flag on social media in a graphic without the emblem of the Islamic Republic—four curves with a sword between them—which means, "There is no God but Allah," the Wall Street Journal reports. The US federation confirmed Sunday that the alteration was intentional, per Yahoo Sports, made to show "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights." Iran's supreme leader told the country Saturday that the protesters are being used by the US.
Iran's soccer federation complained to FIFA's ethics committee, quoting what it said is a rule calling for anyone "who offends the dignity or integrity of a country" to be suspended for at least 10 days or face other discipline, per the Guardian. After reactions began surfacing, from Iran and other places, US soccer officials discussed the matter and decided Sunday evening to delete the posts. They had consulted Iranian American experts before posting the altered flag but not the US team or government, per Yahoo. A spokesman said the US federation nonetheless stands by its support of the protesters.
At a press conference Sunday, the US players fielded as many questions about the flag as they did about soccer. The Americans said repeatedly that they empathize with the people of Iran but are focusing on preparing for their next match. The protests have been an issue at the World Cup for Iranians, as well. Players didn't sing the national anthem before their first match in Qatar, and Iranian fans in the stands booed as it played. Some Iran fans have displayed flags with the emblem of a previous ruler, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and have carried signs reading "Women, Life, Freedom" at the tournament. FIFA and Qatari officials have declined to provide assurances that fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan will not be kept out of the stadium Tuesday. (Read more 2022 World Cup stories.)