TORONTO (Dispatches) --
Canada Soccer has cancelled a friendly between the men’s national team and Iran next month, the national governing body said on Thursday, following widespread pressure by the Canadian government as well as Zionist and anti-Iran lobbies.
No reason was given for the cancellation of the game that was set to be played on June 5 in Vancouver and would have marked the first for Canada on home soil since March when they qualified for the Nov. 21-Dec. 18 World Cup in Qatar.
The game had drawn opposition from pro-Israeli politicians. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said he felt it was “a bad idea” to invite the Iran team to Canada.
“Over the past week, the untenable geopolitical situation of hosting Iran became significantly divisive, and in response, the match was cancelled,” Canada Soccer said in a statement.
“While we considered the external factors in selecting the optimal opponent in our original decision-making process, we will strive to do better moving forward.”
Canada Soccer also said it will conduct a review of its process for the hosting of international matches and that it is working to find an alternative opponent.
The decision disappointed many football fans in Iran and drew condemnation by the country’s officials.
“Canada’s decision to call off a friendly with Iran is testimony to the fact that the so-called Land of the Free can’t keep politics off the pitch,” Secretary General of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights Kazem Gharibabadi tweeted.
An official of Iran’s sports ministry said the country’s football federation will seek $10 million in damages from the Canadian soccer body for canceling the friendly match.
“The unilateral cancelation of the Iran-Canada match by Canada Soccer once again showed that the motto of non-political athletics is a cover towards [realization of] Western countries’ interests,” Sina Kalhor, Iran’s deputy minister of sports and youth affairs, tweeted late Thursday.
The compensation will be sought through legal channels, he added.
More than 40,000 tickets had been sold for the match at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.
Iran, which ranks 21st in the world, has been pitted against the U.S. and England and one of Ukraine, Scotland, or Wales in Group B in the preliminary round of the World Cup.
Canada is in Group F along with Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco.
Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis had said Iran was chosen as an opponent because the team has a “similar style” to Morocco – a team that Canadians will face at the World Cup.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused Canada of politicizing the match and warned that Canada Soccer would be held responsible for any violations of its agreement with Iran’s football federation if the match was canceled.
“Unfortunately, contrary to the theatrical claims, the most sporting issues seem to have become a plaything of partisan orientations and political partitioning within Canada,” Khatibzadeh said.
“The negative stances and statements of the Prime Minister of Canada and some others indicate the predominance of a purely political and partisan view in all aspects of governance in Canada, and therefore the behavior of the Canadian authorities in public easily becomes a plaything of opposition and Iranophobic groups.”