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How is President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal related to the FIFA World Cup?

I admit I was disappointed picking Iran in the office World Cup sweepstake. I was even more disappointed when I then discovered the national side had not been supplied with their usual Nike football boots shortly before the tournament.

Nike withdrew their supply of boots to Iran due to US sanctions. In May 2018, Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers. When doing so, he re-imposed the economic sanctions that had been waived when the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. Events on the global stage have resulted in Iranian footballers having to find alternatives, using boots they are not used to playing with and causing frustration across social media.

Nike have been quick to point out they are simply complying with legal requirements and a breach of such sanctions would result in significant fines. Yet this does not seem to concern Iranians as #NoToNike has been used across Twitter, and following the team’s 1-0 win against Morocco, a witty ‘We Just Did It, Without You’.

Strangely, the company’s reputation appears to have been tarnished despite following the law. CEO of German based Adidas, Kasper Rorsted has seized the opportunity as he responded to Nike’s actions, clarifying that Adidas is not a “political engine”.

Are politics and football inseparable? The Iranian players have recognised this relationship and believe they should be separate. Forward Karim Ansarifard commented:

“what Nike did to us was very wrong. I can tell you, as a footballer, we don’t compare diplomatic and political problems to sports”.

Winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh went further saying:

“what they have done is a little bit disrespectful…politics has nothing to do with sport and with football, such a beautiful game. You don’t have to involve this kind of thing with this game. That is something that unfortunately this brand did and, well, it’s their responsibility to do such a thing but the image they have [projected] at least for 80 million people in Iran is not a really nice image.”

Perhaps this is hypocritical as Iran has historically chosen to merge football and politics. Iranian athletes are banned from competing against Israelis as Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and wants the removal of the Jewish state. This is strictly enforced as earlier this year Iran banned two players for life after they played for their Greek club against an Israeli side. Football does not take place in a vacuum. Politics and sport have always had an uneasy relationship and the global political context has often influenced sporting events, for example, the Cold War boycotts of Moscow 1980/Los Angeles 1984.

Iran drew with Portugal on Monday and are now out of the competition. Unfortunately this marked the end of my World Cup sweepstake hopes. Perhaps if Nike were to have supplied their boots, they would have found that extra goal they needed to progress to the knockout stages…

© Copyright 2020 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLPNational Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 178

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