Canada-Iran soccer friendly at Vancouver's BC Place cancelled
Canada-Iran soccer friendly at Vancouver's BC Place cancelled
Canada Soccer gave way to mounting criticism Thursday, cancelling a planned friendly against Iran and acknowledging “we will strive to do better moving forward.”
The June 5 game in Vancouver was supposed to be a showcase event, the first step forward for John Herdman's popular side since a stellar World Cup qualifying run that saw the Canadian men book their ticket to the sport's showcase for the first time since 1986.
Instead the choice of Iran as opponent sparked a firestorm with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Conservative MPs and B'nai Brith Canada among those decrying the game.
Of significance, the Canadian players were also part of the debate, with a player representative emailing a senior Canada Soccer official in the 24 hours before the game was nixed. The message was the team had concerns about the opponent.
At issue is whether Canada should host Iran given the Canadians who died on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it was shot down on Jan. 8, 2020, minutes after taking off from Tehran, by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. The Canadian government says 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents were among the 176 people killed.
On Thursday morning, Canada Soccer called off the game via a one-paragraph statement. It fleshed out its reason for doing so in a second release later in the day.
“Canada Soccer has the best intentions in striving to ensure that the men's national team gains important experience against FIFA World Cup teams in preparation for Qatar 2022,” said the second statement.
“Over the past week, the untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran became significantly divisive, and in response, the match was cancelled. While we considered the external factors in selecting the optimal opponent in our original decision-making process, we will strive to do better moving forward.
“Canada Soccer will be conducting a thorough review of our processes for the hosting of international matches to ensure no stone is left unturned in our pursuit of excellence both on and off the pitch, including consultation with all stakeholders. We are committed to creating respectful and inclusive environments for teams, players, and fans.”
The governing body said it was working “diligently” on a replacement opponent for June 5.
More than 40,000 tickets had been sold for the Iran game. Ticket-holders will get a refund and be offered a discount for the June 9 game against Curacao in Vancouver.
The Iranian team was slated to arrive in Canada next Wednesday. Iran, ranked 21st in the world, is also headed to the World Cup in Qatar in November.
Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis said Iran was chosen as an opponent because the team had a “similar style” to Morocco, a team the Canadians will face at the World Cup.
“The issue of the geopolitical situation was considered, of course,” he said in an interview
But perhaps not fully understood.
Bontis acknowledged that Canada Soccer, moving forward, can do better in being “a little more comprehensive in our political assessment of a match opponent.”
“But I just want to reiterate that we're a footballing organization,” he added. “And ultimately the political side of the teams that we choose to play against, those opinions are held by politicians, not football administrators.”
Trudeau said last week the game “wasn't a very good idea,” pointing the finger at Canada Soccer. The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims had called for Canada Soccer “to cancel the game immediately.”
Association spokesman Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752, welcomed Thursday's news while saying the game should never have been contemplated.
“I think the right decision has been made,” he said in an interview.
He thanked all those who had spoken out or written letters to protest the Iran game. He said Canada Soccer had not responded to his association's entreaties, even before the match was officially announced.
Esmaeilion had noted the Iranian team would be accompanied abroad by intelligence and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers, saying the IRGC is “the same entity that downed PS752.”
On Thursday, he called on the federal government to place the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on a terrorist organization list.
“Then it makes it clear for everyone that any organization related to the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, it's a big no to sign a contract with them. If they show they are serious about justice and truth for the families and the victims, I think it would show the world what we think about the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Conservative MPs spoke out against the game Wednesday. And the PM said this week that it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency whether the Iran team is allowed into the country.
Ralph Goodale, Canada's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, added his voice Wednesday to the rising chorus of disapproval.
“This behaviour by Canada Soccer is repugnant. It calls into question both the competence and the values of the organization,” he tweeted.
In March 2020, Goodale became a special adviser to the PM “for Canada's response to Iran's shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752.”
CBC, citing comments by Iran team director Hamed Estili to Iranian state-affiliated media outlet Tasnim, said Iran's soccer federation was being paid $400,000 to play the Vancouver game.
Match appearance fees are common in soccer with popular teams like Brazil able to command huge amounts to play friendlies abroad. But with Canada Soccer noting an increase in support from Sport Canada and Own The Podium in its recently released 2021 annual report, the link between government funding and paying Iran to play offered more fodder for critics of the match.
“Simply put, this match was insulting. I am beyond relieved to hear it was cancelled, as ultimately, it was the right decision,” said Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton Riverbend).
Canada Soccer said it could not comment on its agreement with its Iranian counterpart, citing a confidentiality clause.
“However what we can tell you is no appearance money has been paid to Iran,” said Bontis
B'nai Brith Canada, an independent Jewish organization dedicated to combating racism, anti-Semitism and hatred, says it filed this week in Federal Court for an order seeking to prohibit Canadian funds from going to the Iranian Soccer Federation.
The Iran game was to be the first of a two-game Vancouver homestand. The 38th-ranked Canadian men open CONCACAF Nations League A play there against Curacao on June 9 before closing out the FIFA international window with another CONCACAF Nations League game against Honduras in San Pedro Sula on June 13.
For Canada Soccer, the Iran contest was seen as a rare chance to test the Canadian men against a team outside of their CONCACAF confederation, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The Canadians have played just two teams from outside their region since John Herdman took over as coach in January 2018: a 1-0 loss to Iceland in January 2020 and a 1-0 win over New Zealand in March 2018.
Instead the game became a political albatross, tarnishing the Canadian's men's feel-good road to Qatar.
And with the World Cup looming and an already congested soccer schedule, warmup games are hard to squeeze in. After June, there is just one more FIFA international window with Canada likely to play in Europe in September.
The June window opens Monday, with players arriving from their clubs from around the world.
Canada has not played on home soil since qualifying for the World Cup in a 4-0 win over Jamaica at Toronto's BMO Field on March 27. The Canadian men last played at B.C. Place in March 2019 when they beat French Guiana 4-1 in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.
The Canadians topped the final round of CONCACAF qualifying with an 8-2-4 record. Their last game was a 1-0 loss in Panama on March 30.
Canada has a 1-2-0 all-time record against Iran, winning the most recent encounter 1-0 in April 2001 in Cairo. Iran posted 1-0 wins in 1997 and 1999 games in Toronto and Edmonton, respectively.
Canada opens World Cup play Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Many Canadians remain unaware of the involvement of forced child labour in the products they buy, according to non-profit agency World Vision Canada.
Hundreds of protesters descended on the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday to denounce the justice's decision to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.
As Pride festivities kick off around the world, many refugees are celebrating the LGBTQ2S+ community for the first time.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau headed to the G7 summit in Germany on Saturday without a consensus from the Commonwealth to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but with a chorus of countries calling for help to overcome the fallout of the war.
The World Health Organization said the escalating monkeypox outbreak in nearly 50 countries should be closely monitored but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, protesters and supporters of the ruling gathered at the high court's building in Washington, D.C., and in other cities nationwide.
With the nation's capital bracing for anticipated anti-mandate 'freedom' movement protests during Canada Day weekend, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen says her MPs are free to attend.
A barge that ran aground near Vancouver's English Bay last year quickly became an accidental attraction, drawing selfie-seekers and inspiring T-shirt designs. But after seven months, residents seem to have grown weary of its hulking presence on the shoreline.
Ukraine's largest LGBTQ rights event, KyivPride, is going ahead on Saturday. But not on its native streets and not as a celebration.
A 15-month dispute in British Columbia's film and television industry has ended with the ratification of a new contract for creative and logistical staff working on productions shot in the province.
All ferry sailings between two of B.C.'s Discovery Islands have been cancelled Saturday because of a lack of crew.
When Tabi Henry was little, she never questioned why everyone celebrated her birthday in costume. Until she realized Oct. 31 was also Halloween.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 321 yards and Malik Henry scored a third-quarter, go-ahead touchdown for the Calgary Stampeders in a 30-23 win over the visiting Edmonton Elks on Saturday.
Nearly 100 Ukrainian members of Calgary’s community marched in protest calling for the release of Azovstal Iron and steel workers, defending Mariupol from Russian attacks.
After the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away constitutional protections for abortion Friday by overturning Roe v. Wade, NDP Leader Rachel Notley demanded that everyone running to become the next leader of the UCP clarify their stance on the issue.
Fans leaving the Garth Brooks concert at Commonwealth Stadium Friday night were happy and smiling, despite some logistical issues that delayed the show and frustrated some.
A Member of Parliament from rural Alberta went live on Facebook Friday to celebrate a United States Supreme Court vote to end constitutional protections for abortion.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Edmonton City Hall Saturday to celebrate the first large Pride event in the city in four years, and the first one in Churchill Square in eight.
Dozens of people gathered outside the U.S. consulate in downtown Toronto Saturday to protest a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn constitutional protection for abortion rights.
Office workers are returning to Toronto but foot traffic on Mondays and Fridays hasn’t bounced back. Will it ever?
More people are commuting to offices downtown than at any point since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but the recovery hasn’t been equal across the board, with both GO Transit and the TTC reporting fluctuations in ridership as many workers choose to work from home at the beginning and end of each week.
Every Monday, Mark Powell drives to the Burlington, Ont., pork plant where his wife died to give water to pigs on their way to slaughter.
Paramedics in Greater Montreal are stretched particularly thin this weekend, with nearly half the territory's ambulances parked due to a staffing shortage.
Police on Montreal's South Shore has located the suspect vehicle they say was involved in a hit-and-run that left a woman dead.
Friends and family of a 17-year-old girl who died in what police are calling an accident on the shore in LaSalle gathered Saturday to remember the Montreal teen who her mother said was 'was full of life.'
Using a trailer or an RV is an easy way for people to get out of the city and into the outdoors, but with soaring gas prices, the cost of driving with one has gone up drastically.
Winnipeg was once again pummelled by rain on Friday and the city came close to setting a rainfall record.
No one was injured but one pet died after an early morning fire Saturday.
When Ennio Muzzolini walked into Christies Mayfair Bakery in 1965 interested in purchasing the small bakery on 33rd Street, he never imagined he’d one day be looking on as hundreds of people lined the block to get their hands on a baguette, cinnamon bun or wood-fired pizza.
Organizers have decided to cancel the Elk Ridge Open due to an “inordinate amount of rain.”
A Saskatoon man whose family helped to build the Waterhen Lake Church is planning to help rebuild the church.
Over 400 people contributed to the Field of Dreams project, which led to the purchase of a large track of prairie grasslands for preservation.
The Saskatchewan NDP will elect its next leader at a convention on Sunday.
Saskatchewan RCMP are investigating after a two-vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 5 in Wadena.
An Amber Alert issued by Cape Breton Regional Police on Friday has been cancelled, as the missing youth has been located safe early Saturday morning says police.
The inquiry into Nova Scotia’s 2020 mass shooting, says four pages of handwritten notes that sparked a political firestorm in Ottawa this week, weren’t immediately submitted when subpoenaed by its investigators.
'It’s in shambles': RCMP 'architects of own demise,' says criminologist after complaints in N.B. and N.S.
After a week of criticism and anger at the Mass Casualty Commission in Nova Scotia, and outcry in a rural area of New Brunswick, there are questions about the RCMP’s role in community policing.
A motorcyclist was airlifted to the hospital with unknown injuries Saturday morning following a crash in Bayham, Ont.
The identity of a pedestrian who died after being struck by a vehicle on Walpole Island has been released by police.
The Chatham-Kent police Major Crime Unit is working alongside the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office to determine the cause of a house fire after a body was found inside the home.
Nipissing-Timiskaming Liberal MP Anthony Rota said he was shocked by Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
With hundreds of students from India who attend Northern College, and other professionals from India who've moved to the city to work, organizers said they felt it was time to bring everyone together to celebrate their culture with the rest of the community.
A group of friends doing work on a camp in MacGregor Bay helped contain what could have been a devastating fire in Killarney Provincial Park.
A fire at a townhouse complex in Kitchener Friday night has resulted in extensive damage.
Many in Waterloo Region are reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and what it could mean for Canada.
Norfolk County OPP are investigating after they say a pedestrian was found on the side of a road and had to be airlifted to hospital.