Team Canada players raised 'concerns' about match with Iran before it was cancelled: Canada Soccer

Players on Canada's men's soccer team raised concerns about a controversial friendly match against Iran — and Canada Soccer confirms that pushback factored into its sudden decision to cancel the event.

Iran is seeking penalties through FIFA for cancellation of game

Players on Canada's men's soccer team raised concerns about a controversial friendly match against Iran — and Canada Soccer confirms that pushback factored into its sudden decision to cancel the event.

"Canada Soccer heard those private concerns and took them into consideration as part of the decision-making process," wrote Canada Soccer in a media statement.

The organization also said it hasn't paid any fees to Iran's team. Iranian officials had told state-affiliated media that Canada Soccer would pay them $400,000 for the exhibition game, which reportedly would have allowed Iran's team to turn a profit off a friendly match for the first time in more than two decades.

Now, the Iranian soccer team says it will pursue damages through FIFA from Canada Soccer for cancelling the game. Iran's deputy minister of sport announced the team is seeking $10 million in penalties.

"[Canada Soccer] simply sent us a letter announcing the termination," spokesperson for Iran's soccer team Mohammad Jamaat wrote in a rare response to CBC News. "We are not provided with specific details."

The match was called off abruptly Thursday morning in a terse two-line tweet from Canada Soccer.

The organization issued a statement that evening saying it had the best of intentions and organized the match to prepare the men's soccer team for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.

The "untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran became significantly divisive" over the past week, Canada Soccer wrote.

WATCH/ Canada Soccer cancels controversial match against Iran 

Canada Soccer cancels controversial match against Iran

1 year ago
Duration 2:08
Officials at Canada Soccer have cancelled an exhibition game against Iran’s team that was scheduled for Vancouver in June, saying it’s become ‘significantly divisive’ after families of the victims in Flight PS752's downing urged the organization to call off the match.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative MPs and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart all objected to the planned match. B'nai Brith Canada, an independent Jewish human rights organization, said it filed an order in Federal Court this week to prohibit any transfer of Canadian funds to the Iranian soccer federation.

The families of those who died in the destruction of Flight PS752 were particularly outspoken. They called the game a slap in the face because their loved ones were killed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The IRGC shot down the commercial plane in 2020 — killing all 176 passengers and crew members, including 85 Canadians and permanent residents.

Experts say sports and politics are intertwined in Iran and the IRGC has ties to the team.

Iranian news outlets say team manager Estili was in Turkey to pick up the team's Canadian visas on Thursday when Canada Soccer announced it had called off the match.

Jamaat said Canada Soccer sent the Iranian soccer team a letter about the cancellation.

"It was a very strange and unusual event for us, which can be said to be unprecedented," said Jamaat, who added the team is now considering its options.

Soccer journalists have said that Iran has struggled to book friendly matches in the past ahead of the World Cup and that Canada Soccer should have anticipated a negative response.

Neither Canada Soccer nor Iran's team would provide CBC News with a copy of the contract for the game, saying it's confidential. 

More than 40,000 tickets had been sold for the match. Those ticket-holders will be reimbursed, said Canada Soccer. 


  • A previous version of this story contained a photo of the head of the Iranian national soccer team, Hamid Estili, and Mahmoud Khazein, a man who is wanted by the FBI. The story incorrectly stated 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 12:49 PM ET


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/