Anti-Americanism the Loser in Iran’s World Cup Exit

Published: Dec 1, 2022  |  

Author and winner of the Orwell Prize for Books

After being goaded and insulted by journalist stooges of the barbaric theocrats who abuse women and rule Iran with an iron fist, the United States soccer team delivered the sweetest of World Cup ripostes.

By sending the Iran team back to Tehran with a hard-fought 1-0 victory, the U.S. let their soccer do the talking and showed they would not be intimidated by the anti-American agitprop they had been subjected to in Qatar the previous day.

In one of the more surreal sports press conferences of recent years, Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. head coach, and Tyler Adams, team captain, and a Leeds United midfielder, showed remarkable restraint and equanimity as they were peppered with preposterous questions that had nothing to do with the World Cup. Berhalter was told that Americans cared more about inflation than his team and pressed to explain why he had not asked the U.S. government to “take away its military fleet from the Persian Gulf.” He was reduced to pointing out: “I don’t know enough about politics. I’m a soccer coach.”

But it was Adams, just 23, who stole the show, gently neutralizing an Iran state media reporter who had mocked him for incorrectly pronouncing Iran as “Eye-Ran” and asked: “We saw the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few years. Are you OK to be representing the U.S. [while] meanwhile, there’s so much discrimination happening against Black people in America?”

Adams, who was born and raised by a White single mother, responded: “My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. There’s discrimination everywhere you go.

“One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years, and having to fit in in different cultures and kind of assimilate into different cultures, is that in the US, we’re continuing to make progress every single day. Growing up for me, I grew up in a White family with obviously an African American heritage and background as well.”

He spoke about assimilation, different cultures, and education with a maturity that sloganeering politicians would do well to learn from.

For all the self-flagellation within the American body politic, Adams communicated that he felt proud to be a U.S. citizen and grateful he had been able to experience the freedom to build his own life and reap benefits from his natural talents and dedication. Imperfect as it is, the U.S. is a raucous, thriving democracy constantly striving to improve itself.

That is not, to put it mildly, the case in Iran, where an estimated 451 people have been killed and 18,000 detained during nationwide protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in police custody. Amini had been arrested by the Iranian police for not wearing a headscarf correctly.

In the four-plus decades since the Iranian revolution of 1979, one of the principal exports of the Islamic State has been terrorism. As well as oppressing women, Iran forces all men to serve 18 months as conscripts in its armed forces. Hatred of the so-called “Great Satan” of America has been at the core of the mullahs’ regime since the beginning of the revolution in 1979 when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was stormed by regime-backed thugs and 52 American hostages held for 444 days. When eight Americans died at a remote desert staging post during the failed Operation Eagle Claw rescue attempt in April 1980, their charred bodies were transported to Tehran, where they were desecrated by Iranian officials.

One of the ironies of the Qatar press conference was that the Americans treated the Iranian reporters as if they were legitimate journalists. In fact, there is no free press in Iran.

When I traveled there for the Daily Telegraph following the devastating Bam earthquake of December 2003, I was immediately assigned a government minder, a dour goon who sought to track my every move. After reporting from Bam, I headed back to Tehran, where I was repeatedly accosted on the streets by desperate Iranians begging me to help them by arranging a visa or delivering a letter to Tony Blair or George W. Bush.

Like any decent journalist in this position, I wrote about what I saw and what people told me. As a result, the Iranian regime banned me from being granted a visa again. Apparently, the regime had expected me to write about its heroic efforts in Bam and overlook the human rights catastrophe across the country.

The racial provocation in the press conference was a standard Iranian play. During the 1979 to 1980 hostage crisis, the regime sought to divide Americans by freeing Black hostages on the grounds, in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, that blacks for a long time have lived under oppression and pressure in America.” During the 1960s, Soviet-backed North Vietnam adopted a similar strategy.

Such tactics seldom work, and in Qatar this week, they may well have backfired. Iran’s players had refused to sing their national anthem before their opening match against England in a brave act of defiance against their government. Their reward for that was to be threatened with imprisonment and torture they fail to “behave” before the U.S. match.

This time, the Iranian players did sing the anthem. But their hearts were clearly not in it. Their despondent mood appeared to translate into their performance in the first half, where they appeared to lack the will to win. They improved in the second half, but by then, it was too late.

The Iranian players are likely to face the wrath of a regime that is lashing out against its own people to prevent it from being overthrown. The prominent former Iranian national team player Voria Ghafouri, was arrested for “dishonorable and insulting comportment” after he endorsed the protests.

Current Iranian captain Ehsan Hajsafi may well face repercussions for saying in Qatar: “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” adding that families of those killed “should know that we are with them, we support them and we sympathize with them.”

One senses that Ghafouri, who plays club soccer in Greece for AEK Athens, and Tyler Adams would have much in common off the pitch. The tragedy for Ghafouri is that he was born in Iran while Adams had the good fortune to be born in the United States. 

The Iranian regime’s crude anti-Americanism failed to psych out the U.S soccer players and perhaps demoralized its own team in the process. Autocrats may try to manipulate major events like the World Cup, but the lesson from Qatar is that global sports events can rise above such power plays.

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