Politics

Conservatives call on Canada Soccer to cancel match with Iranian team

Conservative MPs say Canada Soccer's payment to the Iranian team is 'unacceptable'

Posted: May 25, 2022
Last Updated: June 03, 2022

South Korea's Son Heung-min, right, watches his goal against Iran during the final round of the Asian zone group A qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at Seoul World Cup Stadium in Seoul, South Korea on March 24, 2022. (AP)

The Conservatives are joining a growing number of calls for Canada Soccer to cancel a controversial exhibition game against Iran set for next month in Vancouver.

The families of those who died aboard Flight PS752 when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the plane in 2020 — killing all 176 passengers and crew members, including 85 Canadians and permanent residents — say they plan to protest outside the stadium if the match goes ahead.

The families say they see the exhibition match as an insult because they want justice for their loved ones — especially given persistent concerns about the IRGC's possible ties to Iran's team.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it was a bad idea for Canada Soccer to invite the Iranian soccer team to B.C. Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart also has condemned the match. Canada's high commissioner to the U.K. and former special adviser on Flight PS752, Ralph Goodale, tweeted Wednesday that Canada Soccer's behaviour is "repugnant" and "calls into question both the competence and values of the organization."

Now, Conservative MPs Matt Jeneroux and Richard Martel are calling on Canada Soccer to scrub the nearly sold-out match.

"Hosting the Iranian national soccer team as victims of Flight PS752 are still suffering and seeking compensation is reprehensible and will only further serve to legitimize the Iranian regime," the MPs wrote in a media statement.

CBC News reported this week that the head of Iran's soccer team said it would make a profit off the friendly match for the first time in 22 years.

The team's director, Hamid Estili, told Iranian state-affiliated media that Canada Soccer is paying Iran's soccer federation $400,000 for the friendly match on June 5.

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WATCH | Canada Soccer paying Iran's team for match:

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There’s growing controversy around a planned exhibition match between the Canadian and Iranian soccer teams set for Vancouver for June. CBC News has reported that Canada Soccer will pay $400,000 to Iran’s soccer federation for the game — and that the head of Iran’s team attended a party with a man wanted by the FBI in relation to an alleged plot to kidnap international targets.  2:04

Canada Soccer did not confirm the quoted sum but said it's standard practice in international soccer to pay visiting teams an appearance fee to cover travel expenses.

Estili said that after the team covers its expenses, it expects to bank $200,000.

"Paying the team $400,000 as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — which the House of Commons has called on the Trudeau government to list as a terrorist entity — has directly and indirectly taken over sports clubs in Iran over the past 20 years is simply unacceptable," wrote Jeneroux and Martel.

Canada has only placed a part of the IRGC on its terrorism list — despite a 2018 Commons resolution that called on the federal government to designate the IRGC in its entirety as a terrorist entity.

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The news outlet Politico reported Tuesday that U.S. President Joe Biden has now finalized his decision to keep the IRGC on the United States' terrorist blacklist.

The association representing Flight PS752 victims' families recently wrote a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino citing concerns about their safety.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has confirmed that victims' families have been harassed, threatened and intimidated by proxies of the IRGC. The letter suggests that IRGC members could travel with the team to Canada disguised as doctors, physical therapists or others handling logistics for the team.

Trudeau said Tuesday that it will be up to the Canada Border Services agency to determine if Iran's soccer team is allowed to enter the country. 

Speaking with reporters in Tehran on Wednesday, Estili said that the team does not yet have its Canadian visas. He said the team is making last-minute preparations and is experiencing difficulties in organizing the trip and covering expenses. He also said that the visas will not be issued if they are not picked up at a specific time in Turkey.

WATCH | Victims' families want match called off:

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The families of the victims in the downing of Flight PS752 are demanding Canada Soccer cancel a planned game with Iran’s soccer team, saying they feel betrayed by the move.  2:04

According to an Iranian state media outlet, Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry, on Tuesday accused Canada of politicizing the upcoming match.

Khatibzadeh told Press TV that Iran's football federation has made arrangements for the game and Iran will hold Canada responsible for any violations of its agreement with Canada Soccer.

While some in the Iranian-Canadian community have called for the game to be cancelled, several people have contacted CBC to say they welcome the match. 

Iran is ranked 21st in the FIFA men's world rankings. Canada is ranked 38th. 

Longtime sports journalist and CBC News contributor John Molinaro said it appears Canada Soccer only viewed the game as a way for Team Canada to prepare for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and didn't consider the public relations fallout. 

The federal government gave Canada Soccer more than $3 million in funding for this fiscal year, but says none of the money went to the men's team or to this game.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story contained a photo of Hamid Estili, head of the Iranian national soccer team, and Mahmoud Khazein, who is wanted by the FBI. The story incorrectly stated that the photo was taken this year. In fact, the photo appears to have been taken in 2018, and the extent of any relationship between the two men is unclear. The photo has been removed along with a reference to it in the story.
    Jun 03, 2022 1:16 PM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke
Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca