A day before a critical World Cup match with abounding political and competitive ramifications, players and coaches on the U.S. national team on Monday distanced themselves from social media posts made by their soccer federation that showed support for the women of Iran by doctoring that country’s flag.
Gregg Berhalter, the American coach, said Monday that neither he nor any players were involved with the decision to remove Iran’s official emblem and two lines of Islamic script in posts on Twitter and Instagram.
“We had no idea about what U.S. Soccer put out. The staff, the players, had no idea,” Berhalter told reporters Monday.
He added: “Our focus is on this match. I don’t want to sound aloof or not caring by saying that, but the guys have worked really hard for the last four years. We have 72 hours between England and Iran, and we really are just focused on how to get past Iran and go to the knockout stage of this tournament. Of course, our thoughts are with the Iranian people, the whole country, the whole team, everyone, but our focus is on this match.”
The Americans, after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, can advance to the knockout rounds from Group B by defeating Iran, which would also progress with a victory.
Iran condemned U.S. Soccer’s decision to use an incorrect flag. It said it violated the statutes of FIFA, world soccer’s global governing body. The American federation deleted the posts Sunday and said it would use only Iran’s official flag going forward.
“The intent of the post was to show support for women’s rights,” Michael Kammarman, a U.S. Soccer spokesman, said at a news conference Monday. “It was meant to be a moment. We made the post at the time. All of the other representations of the flag were made consistent and will continue.”
Over the past few months, and certainly at this World Cup, the Iranian team has become entangled with its country’s harsh treatment of women and its crackdowns on personal freedoms under theocratic rule. The team engaged in protests of its own after the September death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested on charges of violating a law requiring head coverings for women.
After refusing to sing the national anthem before its opening match, against England, the Iranian team appeared to join in before its next game, against Wales, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment.
“We can’t speak for them and their message,” U.S. defender Walker Zimmerman said. “We know that they’re all emotional. They’re going through things right now. They’re human, and, again, we empathize with that human emotion. So we completely feel for them.”