A football match next month in Vancouver between Iranian and Canadian teams has angered those who lost loved ones in Iran’s downing of an airliner in 2020.
Hamed Esmaeilion, the chief spokesperson for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, in his opinion piece for Canada’s Globe and Mail Tuesday said that that soccer in Iran is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) which is expected to send members to accompany the Iranian team to Canada for the exhibition game and said it is shocking that Canada Soccer is inviting the Iranian national team.
The invitation, he said, is a “slap in the face of everyone who has been affected by the January 8, 2020 downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752.” The invitation is also “ignorant of the security and safety of Canadians who have been frequently harassed by Iranian security agencies for years, including the families of victims,” he said.
Esmaeilion, a Canadian-Iranian citizen, lost his wife and daughter in the tragedy which claimed the lives of all 176 onboard. “There are many other opponents Canada Soccer can play instead, if they wanted to keep politics out of sports,” Esmaeilion, who has tirelessly campaigned against the Islamic Republic since the tragedy, said.
The airliner was shot down by two air-defense missiles fired by the IRGC, as it took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Only hours earlier, the IRGC had fired more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops in retaliation for the killing of the IRGC Qods Force Commander Ghasem Soleimani who was targeted and killed in Baghdad by a US drone strike just five days earlier.
Iran failed to explain the plane’s destruction for three days and subsequently attributed it to human error. Some of the families of those who died on the flight have contested the claim that human error was responsible.
Hamid Estili, the Iranian national soccer team’s manager, has told Tasnim news agency in Tehran that the Canadian side will be paying $400,000 to the Iranian Football Federation and cover the team’s expenses during their stay. According to Estili the Federation will only have to spend half of the sum paid by Canada Soccer and can save the rest.
Canada’s The Star has polled its readers about the event. The majority of around 13,000 voters to the poll (85%) by Friday said the invitation was an inexcusable decision.
When asked about the issue Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this was a choice by Soccer Canada but added that he thought it wasn’t a good idea to invite the Iranian team. ‘But that's something that the organizers are going to have to explain.”
Following Trudeau’s remarks, Canada Soccer in a brief statement defended its decision, arguing that sports events can bring people from different backgrounds and political beliefs together.
Esmaeilion who is campaigning for the cancellation of the match argues that the Islamic Republic uses such events as a political tool to paint itself in a normal light and divert attention from the suppression of its citizens.
While many have supported Esmaeilion arguments on social media, others say sports and politics should not be mixed.
Abdolreza Davari, a hardliner politician, in a tweet Friday criticized those who object to the soccer match on political grounds and accused them of hypocrisy. “They are the same people who condemned Iran for refusing to compete with Israel at sports events and said sports should be non-political.’
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has banned any games with Israeli athletes at international sports events.