MONTREAL (AFP) – Canada’s football authorities canceled an upcoming friendly against Iran on Thursday after a backlash against the game led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canada’s match against World Cup qualifiers Iran on June 5 in Vancouver was seen by Canada’s football authorities as a crucial preparation for this year’s finals in Qatar in one of the few remaining international windows of 2022.
However, the game sparked a storm of controversy, with Trudeau speaking out against the game, calling it a “bad idea” this week.
Harsh criticism also came from the families of the passengers killed when Iranian forces shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 after takeoff from Tehran on January 8, 2020.
85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents were among the 176 people who died in the tragedy, which Iranian forces later described as a mistake.
“Canada Soccer has canceled the international match against Iran scheduled for June 5, 2022 as part of the men’s national team’s preparations for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” Canada Soccer said in a brief statement on Thursday.
The cancellation was welcomed by the Canadian government.
“We congratulate Canada Soccer on this decision and look forward to cheering on our men’s soccer team during the 2022 World Cup,” said Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge.
– ‘Bad idea’ –
In a statement to Canadian media on Tuesday, Trudeau indicated that the delegation of players and officials from Iran may not have been allowed into the country.
“I have expressed concern that I think this game is a bad idea. I can assure you that Sport Canada did not provide any funding for this game,” Trudeau said.
“And in relation to the ability of those players to come to Canada and teams to come to Canada, Border Patrol agencies make professional and independent decisions about eligibility for people to come to Canada.”
Pressure on Canada Soccer had intensified throughout the week, particularly after reports emerged that the Canadian FA paid Iran $400,000 for its participation in the game.
“This behavior by Canada Soccer is appalling,” Canada’s High Commissioner to the UK, Ralph Goodale, wrote on Twitter.
“It calls into question both the competence and the values of the organization,” added Goodale, a former special adviser to Trudeau on the PS752 tragedy.
Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, meanwhile, accused authorities of making the families of PS752 victims “relive the grief and trauma” by inviting Iranian footballers to Canada.
“The last thing our country should do is engage in a heartfelt dialogue with an oppressive and dangerous regime,” Lantsman wrote.
Lawmakers welcomed the decision to cancel Thursday’s game.
“A long overdue but welcome decision on the road to justice,” Lantsman wrote on Twitter.
“Canada’s policy towards the dangerous Iranian regime is one of controlled engagement. Sportswear from the regime – it’s not.”
Canada’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup in March for the first time in 36 years, emerging as a surprise package of regional qualifiers to reach the tournament in Qatar ahead of Mexico and the United States.
Canada’s only other World Cup appearance came at the 1986 finals in Mexico.