The US Soccer Federation decided to forego Iran's official flag on social media accounts to show support for protesters, which sparked anger online as Tehran accused Washington of removing the name of God.
The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has briefly displayed Iran's national flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic, saying the move supports protesters in Iran ahead of the two nations' World Cup match.
On Saturday, the Twitter account of the US men's team displayed a banner with the squad's matches in the group stage, with the Iranian flag only bearing its green, white and red colours.
The same could be seen in a post on its Facebook and Instagram accounts laying out the point totals so far in its group. But the USSF displayed the official Iranian flag in a graphic showing Group B standings on its website.
As comments raged online, Iran's government reacted by accusing the United States of removing the name of God from their national flag.
Iran's ISNA news agency quoted Safiollah Fagahanpour, an adviser to the Iranian Football Federation, saying that the “measures taken regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran flag are against the law" of FIFA competitions.
"They must be held responsible,” Fagahanpour said. “Obviously they want to affect Iran’s performance against the US by doing this.”
The decision by the US Soccer Federation adds yet another political firestorm to the Middle East's first World Cup, one which organisers had hoped would be spared of off-the-field controversies.
It also comes as the US faces Iran in a decisive World Cup match on Tuesday, which was already freighted by the decades of enmity between the two countries and the nationwide protests now challenging Iranian government.
US Men's National Soccer Team's IG and Twitter accounts (@USMNT) have removed the Islamic Republic emblem from the Iran flag in anticipation of the #FIFAWorldCup USA versus Iran game on 11/29.— Holly Dagres (@hdagres) November 26, 2022
(Iranians are posting thanks on IG)#MahsaAmini pic.twitter.com/9As8xuDyK9
Support or sacrilege?
Iran's emblem, designed in 1980, is four curves with a sword between them. It represents the country saying: “There is no god but God.” It also resembles a tulip or lotus.
At the top and the bottom of the flag, there are 22 inscriptions of “God is Great” as well, which honours the date on the Persian calendar when the Iranian Revolution took hold.
The absence of the emblem comes as months-long demonstrations have challenged Iran's government since the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country's morality police.
The protests have seen at least 450 people killed since they started and over 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI), an advocacy group following the demonstrations.
Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and alleges that the protests have been instigated by its enemies abroad, including the US.