Canada’s World Cup friendly against Iran sparks controversy

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A soccer game between Iranian and Canadian teams next month in Vancouver has angered those who lost loved ones in Iran’s 2020 downing of an airliner.

Hamed Esmaeilion, the main spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, said in his opinion piece for Canada’s Globe and Mail Tuesday that football in Iran is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who are expected to send members to help to accompany Iranian team to Canada for exhibition game and said it is shocking that Canada Soccer invite Iran national team.

The invitation, he said, was a “slap in the face to everyone affected by the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 on Jan. 8, 2020.” The invitation was also “unaware of the safety of Canadians who have been subject to frequent harassment by Iranian security agencies for years, including victims’ families,” he said.

Esmaeilion, a Canadian-Iranian national, lost his wife and daughter in the tragedy, which killed all 176 on board. “There are many other opponents that Canada Soccer can play against instead if they want to keep politics out of the sport,” said Esmaeilion, who has campaigned tirelessly against the Islamic Republic since the tragedy.

Hamed Esmaeilion, the main spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims

The airliner was shot down by two anti-aircraft missiles fired by the IRGC as it took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Just hours earlier, the IRGC had fired more than a dozen rockets at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition forces in retaliation for the assassination of IRGC Qods Force commander Ghasem Soleimani in Baghdad just five days earlier had been attacked and killed by a US drone strike.

Iran could not explain the plane’s destruction for three days and subsequently blamed it on human error. Some of the families of those who died on the flight have disputed claims that human error was to blame.

Hamid Estili, the manager of the Iran national soccer team, told Tasnim news agency in Tehran that the Canadian team will pay $400,000 to the Iranian soccer federation and cover the team’s expenses during their stay. According to Estili, the federation only has to spend half of the amount paid by Canada Soccer and can save the rest.

canada The star polled his readers about the event. The majority of around 13,000 voters (85%) in Friday’s election said the invitation was an inexcusable decision.

When asked Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was a decision by Soccer Canada, but added that he didn’t think inviting the Iran team was a good idea. “But the organizers have to explain that.”

Following Trudeau’s comments, Canada Soccer issued a brief statement defending its decision, arguing that sporting events could bring people from different backgrounds and political beliefs together.

Esmaelion who is Campaign for the cancellation of the game argues that the Islamic Republic uses such events as a political tool to normalize itself and divert attention from the oppression of its citizens.

While many have supported Esmaeilion’s arguments on social media, others say sport and politics shouldn’t be mixed up.

Abdolreza Davari, a hard-line politician, in a tweet on Friday those who oppose the game of football for political reasons, accusing them of hypocrisy. “These are the same people who condemned Iran for refusing to compete with Israel in sporting events and said sport should be apolitical.”

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei has banned all matches involving Israeli athletes at international sporting events.

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