International law professor talks political ramifications of flag change during US vs. Iran match

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M – There were plenty of high-fives and hugs Tuesday from soccer fans across the country — the United States’ World Cup run is not over yet.

The U.S. defeated Iran in a 0-1 match and fans went nuts. But, this was more than a game, politics clearly crossed into the pitch, and one international law professor says there could be real world consequences.

“Iran is going through a very challenging time,” said Paul Figueroa, UNM International law professor. 

The match against Iran is happening amid Iranian women’s rights protests, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.

He says the U.S.A. team may have had a misstep before the game began.

“Unfortunately, I have to say this, the U.S. Soccer Federation’s move is playing a bit into the Iranian government’s hand,” said Figueroa. 

It’s changed now but the U.S. men’s soccer team’s Twitter page showed an altered Iranian flag in the banner – without the emblem in the center of their flag.

In a statement the U.S. Soccer Federations says they changed the flag to show support for the women fighting for basic human rights.

Figueroa says it helps some feed into the anti-American sentiment, and it’s possible the game could have real world consequences.

“If Iran loses the game, unfortunately it may lead to more government oppression. In the lead up to the game the Iranian government released some political prisoners, and it kind of in a way to support the team,” Figueroa said.

He agrees with the fans that say the World Cup is meant to bring people all over the globe closer together.

“Oh, that’s the beauty about it. It’s just this– it’s one of those few sports that really ignites the whole world,” said Billy Anthony. 

The United States will play the Netherlands on Saturday, and they will be the underdogs in another win-or-go-home match.