Canada Soccer cancels men’s friendly vs. Iran scheduled for June 5 in Vancouver

Canada Soccer canceled its upcoming men’s team’s friendly with Iran, the organization announced Thursday. The match was scheduled for June 5.

“Canada Soccer will be conducting a thorough review of our processes for the hosting of international matches to ensure no stone is left unturned in our pursuit of excellence both on and off the pitch, including consultation with all stakeholders,” Canada Soccer said in a statement on Thursday.

Canada was set to host Iran in Vancouver before hosting Curacao (also in Vancouver) and traveling to Honduras for Nations League matches on June 9 and 13, respectively.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier in May that he thought the planned matchup “wasn’t a very good idea” as the nation is still coping with the loss of 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents after Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile Jan. 8, 2020.

“This was a choice by Soccer Canada,” he said of the decision to schedule the game, according to The Associated Press. “But that’s something that the organizers are going to have to explain.”

In a statement last week, Canada Soccer said it “believe(s) in the power of sport and its ability to bring people from different backgrounds and political beliefs together for a common purpose.”

“Iran is one of 32 participating member associations at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and Canada Soccer continues to follow all international protocols in staging this match,” it added.

Canada’s roster for the matches was announced Wednesday, headlined by stars Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David and Atiba Hutchinson.

(Photo: Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

What was the response when the match was scheduled?

Joshua Kloke, Canada staff writer: There was plenty of blowback from some national media outlets in Canada regarding this match, as well as politicians from both sides of the political spectrum in Canada.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated publicly that Sport Canada, a branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage that develops federal sports policy and provides funding programs, did not deliver any funding to schedule this match. This only painted Canada Soccer in a more negative light.

Furthermore, the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims also called for the match to be canceled.

Is there any potential fallout from the cancellation?

clock: plenty. Canada Soccer will need to answer questions about why this match was scheduled in the first place, considering that very little has changed between when this match was scheduled and when it was canceled. The blowback was always going to happen, and the lack of foresight regarding this match being scheduled given multiple factors is evident.

Though it’s difficult to set politics aside, the cancellation of this match hurts the men’s team in their preparations for the World Cup. Iran is a strong opponent, and Canada needs opponents outside of CONCACAF to attain a better understanding of the challenges awaiting them in Qatar. This was going to be a crucial opportunity for men’s team head coach John Herdman to see how his players respond to a new opponent.

Explaining why this match was scheduled in the first place will be a priority for Canada Soccer, but so too will be arranging a new opponent, if possible, on tremendously short notice.

What does this mean for Iran’s national team?

Alexander Abnos, North American soccer managing editor: From a pure soccer perspective, this cancellation leaves Iran in a very difficult yet somewhat familiar spot. The team has historically had trouble scheduling pre-World Cup friends against quality opponents, which can be chalked up in some measure to both the Iranian Football Federation’s ambition and many other federations’ reluctance to deal with potential political consequences.

That seemed to have changed with this friendly against Canada and another against Ecuador that was due to be played in Toronto on June 11 — by far the strongest duo of pre-World Cup opponents in Iran’s recent history. The Ecuador game was called off days ago when a suitable venue could not be arranged, and Iran is now set to play Senegal in Tehran on that date.

This cancellation of the game vs. Canada not only leaves Iran scrambling to find another last-minute opponent, but also deprives the team of a chance to test themselves against a team that in many ways resembles one of their World Cup opponents: the United States.

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