American sports brand Nike pulled out of providing cleats to the Iran national soccer team, just a week before the world cup is about to commence in Russia.
The move landed the Iranian team scrambling to find sponsors quick enough to practice with the new spikes, in a sport where even the smallest of gear changes completely alter the game play.
Nike’s late decision to back out of the deal cites President Donald Trump’s backing out of the Iran nuclear deal and the restoration of trade sanctions.
And even though there is a huge question mark over Iran’s advancement further into the tournament after being placed into a rather difficult group consisting of Portugal, Spain, and Morocco, the decision still is huge indication that the world’s biggest tournament is not exempt of political influences.
With Nike and Adidas fighting for the crown of soccer supremacy, the decision probably comes to fend off potential blowback that might come from sponsoring the Iranian team in a market that generates billions of dollars annual worth in retail sales. Even Adidas, who would normally sponsor any team wearing its designs, only sells kits and player apparel to the federation at a deep discount.
However, the political aspect of the decision cannot be ignored. The decision by the sporting giant came as a way to show alliance with the Trump administration: Nike decided to rather face backlash from the cleat switch situation than Trump.
The National Iranian American Council’s Jamal Abdi was furious with the American sports giant’s decision but directed his rage particularly at the Trump administration. He stated the decision comes as a stain to a unifying global tournament, both in the form of “geopolitical tensions” and a “sporting double standard.”
“This flies in the face of any claims by the Trump Administration that it is targeting the Iranian government and not the Iranian people. We are well aware that the President’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has openly called for the U.S. to take steps to target even sports exchanges with Iran and may relish this shameful situation,” Abdi said in a statement. “Governments that drag politics into international sporting events, including Iran itself when it boycotts matches with Israel, face well-deserved admonishment. This situation is unfortunately no different.”
However, sporting events have always been used, in one way or another, to express political views and sometimes, condemn social injustices.
Only last week, Argentinean soccer team, one of the front-runners to win the world cup, canceled a friendly match against Israel in rebuke of the Gazan killings at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces, as Trump decided to move the U.S. embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“The stuff that happens in those places, where they kill so many people, as a human being you can’t accept that in any way,” Argentina Football Association vice president Hugo Moyano said.
Israelis, over this step, called for Argentina to be kicked out of the world cup entirely.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva