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World Cup 2022: US team distorts Iran flag ahead of football clash

Iran's football body official says complaint will be filed to Fifa over 'unethical and illegal' omission
Iran's fans celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on 25 November 2022 (AFP)
Iran's fans celebrate at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on 25 November 2022 (AFP)

Iran's football federation will file a complaint to Fifa against the US team for removing Iran's emblem from the flag in an online post, the football body's legal adviser said on Sunday.

The banner of the US football team's Twitter account briefly displayed the flag of Iran, who they are set to play against on Tuesday in a vital World Cup clash, with the red, white and green stripes but without the central emblem that reads "Allah", a symbol associated with the country's 1979 revolution.

The same distorted flag was used on official Twitter and Instagram posts published on 25 November. The Twitter banner restored Iran's official flag on Sunday afternoon and the posts were removed after criticism was mounting online.

Screenshot of now-removed Twitter post by
Screenshot of deleted Twitter post by @USMNT published on 25 November showing a distorted Iran flag (MEE)

Safia Allah Faghanpour, the legal adviser of the Iranian football federation, said the emblem omission was "unethical", according to the Iranian news agency Tasneem.

"Respecting a nation's flag is an accepted international practice that all other nations must emulate. The action conducted in relation to the Iranian flag is unethical and against international law," Faghanpour said.

It was not immediately clear on what basis the complaint will be lodged.

The semi-official agency Tasneem cited section 13 of Fifa's disciplinary code which states that offence to "the dignity or integrity of a country" is punishable with a "suspension lasting at least 10 matches or a specific period, or any other appropriate disciplinary measure". 

The typography of the "Allah" emblem in the current Iranian flag is designed to look like a sword, which represents strength and patriotism. Some also believe the five parts of the emblem symbolise the five pillars of Islam, as well as a tulip, which is a symbol commonly used to remember those who died for Iran.

The symbol was added to the flag in 1980, replacing the Lion and Sun emblem used in the flag before the Islamic Revolution, and today invoked by opposition groups and anti-government protesters.  

Mind games

The US football federation, the USMNT, said in a statement that it changed the flag for 24 hours to show "support for the women in Iran fighting for basic human rights", according to the Associated Press.

Iran has been engulfed in two-month-long protests that were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody after they stopped her for allegedly wearing her headscarf "inappropriately".

Iranian authorities have responded with heavy force. An estimated 300 people have been killed in the unrest so far.

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Iranian players have previously accused their adversaries in the World Cup group of using the protests to play mind games and put them under pressure ahead of matches.

Before the opening match against England, Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh accused British media of playing a 'mental game' by asking players to comment on the protests.

After a pre-match press conference last week, Iran's coach Carlos Queiroz confronted a BBC journalist over questions asked to Iranian players about the unrest back home.

He asked if it was fair to put political questions to football players of Iran but not other countries.

"Why don't you ask the other coaches? Why don't you ask [England manager Gareth] Southgate: 'What do you think about England, the United States and [pulling out of] Afghanistan?" he said.

Iran is set to play the US on Tuesday in a decisive winner-takes-all match that could see Team Melli reach the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in history.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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