USA vs Iran 2-0?
The World Cup, much like the Olympic Games, is always an inherently political affair. It’s impossible to gather so many nations in one place for an event without some geopolitical issues in the background that transcends sport and casts a shadow over the event. Even so, the critical deciding game between USA and Iran on Tuesday has gone to a whole new level.
In the lead up to the game there is virtually no focus on soccer. This has become a global political battle playing out on sports’ brightest stage, and it’s a total mess — regardless of what happens on Tuesday. So let’s try to understand the background and impact of why this game is so much more than just soccer.
A history of icy relations
It goes without saying that relations between the United States and Iran have been frosty for the better part of 75 years. The United States were a key player (along with the United Kingdom) in the 1953 coup to ensure the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, a move which was met with resentment by a significant portion of Irani citizens. Pahlavi was deposed during the Iran revolution of 1977, and relations between the U.S. and Iran took its darkest turn in 1979 when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized, leading to a hostage crisis which lasted over a year. As a result Iran has been under some form of economic sanctions for the last 43 years.
The 2022 protests
Without retracing the last four decades of the diplomatic rollercoaster between the U.S. and Iran, we can fast-forward to 2022. Relations between the nations have been in sharp decline for much of the year, with the State Department issuing multiple statements of condemnation ranging from petrochemical sales by Hezbollah, to additional sanctions against Iranian individuals who supplied Russia with drones for their invasion of Ukraine.
Things really came to a head in September during the Mahsa Amini protests, which are still ongoing. Amini, a 22-year-old woman, died after being detained by Iran’s “Guidance Patrol,” which serves as the law enforcement arm of Islamic law in the country, for wearing an “improper” hijab, or head scarf. Amini’s death set off widespread protests across Iran, with thousands of people, predominantly women, removing their hijabs and calling for social change as a result.