Players on Canada’s men’s soccer team raised concerns about a controversial friendly match against Iran — and Canada Soccer confirms that pushback factored into its sudden decision to cancel the event.
“Canada Soccer heard those private concerns and took them into consideration as part of the decision-making process,” wrote Canada Soccer in a media statement.
The organization also said it hasn’t paid any fees to Iran’s team. Iranian officials had told state-affiliated media that Canada Soccer would pay them $400,000 for the exhibition game, which reportedly would have allowed Iran’s team to turn a profit off a friendly match for the first time in more than two decades.
Now, the Iranian soccer team says it will pursue damages through FIFA from Canada Soccer for cancelling the game. Iran’s deputy minister of sport announced the team is seeking $10 million in penalties.
“[Canada Soccer] simply sent us a letter announcing the termination,” spokesperson for Iran’s soccer team Mohammad Sabz Ali Jamaat wrote in a rare response to CBC News. “We are not provided with specific details.”
The match was called off abruptly Thursday morning in a terse two-line tweet from Canada Soccer.
The organization issued a statement that evening saying it had the best of intentions and organized the match to prepare the men’s soccer team for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.
The “untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran became significantly divisive” over the past week, Canada Soccer wrote.
WATCH/ Canada Soccer cancels controversial match against Iran
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative MPs and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart all objected to the planned match. B’nai Brith Canada, an independent Jewish human rights organization, said it filed an order in Federal Court this week to prohibit any transfer of Canadian funds to the Iranian soccer federation.
The families of those who died in the destruction of Flight PS752 were particularly outspoken. They called the game a slap in the face because their loved ones were killed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The IRGC shot down the commercial plane in 2020 — killing all 176 passengers and crew members, including 85 Canadians and permanent residents.
Experts say sports and politics are intertwined in Iran and the IRGC has ties to the team.
CBC News also reported that the head of Iranian national soccer team, Hamid Estili, recently attended a party with Mahmoud Khazein, a man wanted by the FBI in relation to a plot to kidnap international targets, including three people in Canada.
Iranian news outlets say Estili was in Turkey to pick up the team’s Canadian visas on Thursday when Canada Soccer announced it had called off the match.
Jamaat said Canada Soccer sent the Iranian soccer team a letter about the cancellation.
“It was a very strange and unusual event for us, which can be said to be unprecedented,” said Jamaat, who added the team is now considering its options.
Soccer journalists have said that Iran has struggled to book friendly matches in the past ahead of the World Cup and that Canada Soccer should have anticipated a negative response.
Neither Canada Soccer nor Iran’s team would provide CBC News with a copy of the contract for the game, saying it’s confidential.
More than 40,000 tickets had been sold for the match. Those ticket-holders will be reimbursed, said Canada Soccer.
WATCH / Canada to pay Iran’s team $400,000 for Vancouver match, according to Iranian official