An awkward moment greeted a US pre-match conference as an Iran reporter took on US player Tyler Adams.
Iranian reporters seemed to divert from usual soccer-related questions and hammered on controversial political issues that have severed the relationship between the two countries.
The journalists quizzed US head coach Gregg Berhalter and player Tyler Adams
on American racism and military presence in the Persian Gulf.
While seeming a bit uncomfortable about the topics the reporters chose, Berhalter and Tyler Adams did their best to answer the queries as decently as possible.
However, Berhalter unsuccessfully tried to return the conversation to football after the Iranian journalists had hijacked press conferences and plumbed sensitive areas such as how the players felt “representing a racist country”.
Another journalist also reprimanded Tyler Adams for claiming to support the Iranian people when he could not even pronounce the name of the country.
They had no interest in discussing the match between the USA and Iran, as they quizzed Berhalter and Adams on irrelevant issues, including strict visa rules by the US government against Iranians and the presence of American warships in the Persian Gulf.
The tone for a highly-charged encounter was set when a reporter asked Berhalter: ‘What percentage of the world’s population will be happy if Iran wins this match [versus a U.S. national team (USMNT) victory]?’ forcing the coach to try and mediate the tension.
‘For us it’s a soccer game against a good team – it’s not much more than that,’ Berhalter responded to avoid the obvious political implications of the question.
The journalist ignored Berhalter’s attempt to refocus the question on football.
A few minutes later, another journalist said:
‘First of all, you say you support the Iranian people, but you’re pronouncing our country’s name wrong. Our country is named Iran, not ”aye-ran”…
‘Second of all, are you okay to be representing your country that has so much discrimination against black people in its own borders?’ he asked pointedly.
Adams, whose mother is a White American but whose biological father is African-American, responded cordially: ‘My apologies on the mispronunciation of your country. That being said, there’s discrimination everywhere you go… in the U.S. we’re continuing to make progress every single day… as long as you make progress that’s the most important thing.’
Other journalists tried to pull the conversation back towards the clash on the pitch, with one U.S. reporter specifying he intended to ask a ‘soccer question’ to offer a brief reprieve.
But the next question from Iranian media immediately pulled back to the political issues, asking: ‘Sport is something that should bring nations closer together, and you are a sportsperson. Why is it that you should not ask your government to take away its military fleet from the Persian Gulf.
‘I agree, sport is something that should bring countries together… you get to compete as brothers’ Berhalter said, drawing comparisons between the Olympics and the World Cup, but refused to touch on the fraught bilateral relations between U.S. and Iran.
As the press conference neared its end, Berhalter had gotten increasingly uncomfortable with the choice of questions after giving a blizzard response to a query on strict U.S. visa laws for Iranian citizens. He said;
‘I don’t know enough about politics, I’m a soccer coach.
‘I’m not well versed on international politics so I can’t comment on that.’
The press conference clash is coming after the U.S. soccer federation displayed Iran’s national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations’ World Cup match scheduled to kick-off at 20:00 on Tuesday.
Iran’s government reacted by accusing America of removing the name of God from their national flag and called for FIFA to kick the USA out of the World Cup with a 10-game ban from soccer. Tasmin news agency – associated closely with the Iranian regime – says Iran’s soccer federation will make the request to FIFA, soccer’s governing body of the world.
The symbol was later returned to the flag on the USA’s website but the move by the US Soccer Federation adds yet-another political firestorm to the Middle East’s diplomatic crisis with the first World Cup countries.
The US plays Iran in a decisive World Cup match that will wrapped off the group games, in the middle of decades of conflict and faceoff between the two nations.
The US Soccer Federation said in a statement on Sunday that it decided to forego the official flag on social media accounts to show ‘our support for the women in Iran with our graphic for 24 hours.’
The USMNT sits third in the group with two points after tying Wales 1-1 and then England 0-0 in an impressive defensive effort. The top two teams will advance to the next round.
England has four points, Iran has three and Wales sits last with one point but is still alive in a long-shot scenario.
Getting a goal, much less a victory, will be a challenge for the United States since Iran only needs a tie to advance as long as Wales does not upset England.