Soccer fan Navid Sorkhou had already purchased plane tickets from Calgary to Vancouver to watch the highly anticipated Canada-Iran soccer game at B.C. Place next weekend.
The match was a “lifetime opportunity,” said Sorkhou, who splits his time between Vancouver and Golden where he works as an engineer. But he said Soccer Canada’s decision to cancel the international match scheduled for June 5 was the right decision.
“I cannot lie. We are all disappointed the game isn’t going to happen, but the way it was going to happen was disrespectful to the families of the victims of that horrific act.”
Families of Canadians on board Ukraine International Flight 752 — which was shot down by Iranian air defences in January 2020 shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing 176 including 55 Canadians and 30 permanent residents — have publicly denounced the game.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said the game “wasn’t a very good idea,” while a victims’ family association had pleaded with Canada Soccer to cancel the match.
On Thursday, Canada Soccer released a statement saying it cancelled the two-game friendly after “the untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran became significantly divisive.”
Sorkhou, whose close friend Ardalan Ebnoddin-Hamidi died on the flight along with his wife and son, soured on the match after he found out members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps would be accompanying the players.
“These are murderers and extortionists. They have no business coming with the players. We don’t want them in this country.”
Hamed Esmaeilion, a spokesman for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, told The Canadian Press the Guard Corps is “the same entity that downed PS752.”
The game should never have been scheduled in the first place, said Esmaeilion, an Ontario resident whose wife Parisa and young daughter Reera were among those who died on Flight 752.
“I think the right decision has been made.”
Soccer Canada said it will conduct a “thorough review” on how it hosts international matches in future. “While we considered the external factors in selecting the optimal opponent in our original decision-making process, we will strive to do better.”
It is working to find an “alternative opponent” and has informed ticket holders about the cancellation and that a refund is on the way.
The Iranian soccer association wasn’t pleased with the turn of events — they’d been set to collect $400,000 to play the game — and media reports have them seeking $10 million in damages.
The Canada-Iran game was a rare chance for Canada’s squad to play a team outside of the CONCACAF association before playing in the FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year. Iran is also set to play in Qatar.
The initial decision on Iran as a warm-up game for the World Cup and their Nations League game later that week at B.C. Place against Curaçao was a logical one — from the sporting side of it. The greater political ramifications of the game did not occur to the decision makers inside the CSA.
Iran is ranked 21st in the world, and is heading to the World Cup. The U.S. is in a group with Iran in the preliminary round in Qatar, and would use the chance to scout their opponent — just as Canada will do when the U.S. hosts Morocco in a friendly on June 1. Morocco was drawn into the same group as Canada.
Canada’s Nations League games — a regional tournament including North American, Central American and Caribbean teams — don’t provide the same level of competition. Canada’s next two games are against Curaçao (79th) and Honduras (82nd).
“It is what it is, I guess, just the circumstances of how it went,” said Canadian national team member and Vancouver Whitecaps striker, Lucas Cavallini.
“But I was looking forward to playing two games here and at home and giving the fans another game to take part of and cheer us on, and prep us for a World Cup. At least we’re gonna play one match here and keep the fans happy.
“It was great that we were gonna play a World Cup qualifying team, but there’s still time to prep with friendly matches before the World Cup. There’s a camp in September, there’s probably a camp in October, so we’ll have time to prepare something and get a taste of what the World Cup is about.”
With files from J.J. Adams
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