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The World Cup: U.S.-Iran Matchup Has Much Ugliness

People watch sports for the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. The thrill of oppression, the agony of torture? Not so much.

As readers will know by now, Iran has recently been providing an object lesson in the downsides to extremism. On Sept. 16, Mahsa Amini was wearing her hijab in a manner that left some of her hair visible. The Guidance Patrol, which is the Iranian force charged with policing religious morality, arrested Amini and beat her to death while she was in custody. There have been ongoing mass protests in Iran ever since, in which many women have flouted the hijab rules. This would seem to be the opposite outcome from what the morality cops were going for. Unfortunately, at least 300 people have been killed by the Iranian government during the unrest. And that number is probably low, since Iranian security forces have developed a habit of opening fire on crowds, and letting the bullets (and bodies) fall where they may.

This is the background for the World Cup match being staged between the United States and Iran today. These nations are not exactly the best of friends as it is, and the behavior of the Iranian regime has not helped things. This weekend, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), looking to signal its solidarity with the protesters, fired up a copy of Photoshop and removed the emblem of the Islamic State from the Iranian flag. Throughout the weekend, the USSF used the doctored flag in social media posts about the match. The government of Iran is hopping mad, which is hardly a surprise. After all, imagine the response in the U.S., particularly in certain states that rhyme with Vex Us, if the Iranian Soccer Federation had defaced the American Flag. Iran's leaders want the U.S. to be tossed out of the tournament, though FIFA has declined to take any action.

It is understandable why the folks at the USSF made the choices they did, since nearly everyone except the government of Iran stands with the protesters. That includes... the members of the Iranian national team. Those players declined to sing the Iranian national anthem prior to their game against England. This did not go over well with Iranian authorities, as you might imagine. So, members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had a chat with the Iranian players, and advised them they better sing today and mean it. If not, their families will face "violence and torture."

These international sporting events were conceived as a way to foster international understanding and cooperation. It does not seem to be working. Maybe there is something to the notion that if a country can't meet a certain base level of regard for human rights, they can't come to the party. Or host the party, for that matter. (Z)

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