I have thought a lot about this moment and the other images of USA players consoling emotional Iranian players immediately following Tuesday’s World Cup match.
We will never truly understand what these young Iranian men went through and were put through by an oppressive dictatorship that has killed their peers, threatened them and their loved ones if they didn’t “behave” and did everything in their power to hijack what should have been a beautiful moment in their lives.
Sports are usually a nice escape from reality but sometimes it can serve as a necessary platform for a reality we can not and should not ignore. The tears shed by Iranian players after the match against the USA had nothing to do with the result but the reality that they must now return to a home that no longer feels like home. It’s hard to imagine a team playing under more pressure and it was clear Team USA saw that firsthand for the first time in the way they embraced their newfound brothers after the game. This was larger than sports.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about the match as an Iranian-American. I have been conflicted this entire World Cup. I love these young Iranian players. They are heroes but I hate the Islamic Republic they were forced to represent. There was sadly no way to separate the players from the oppressive dictatorship backing them.
I hope sports can one day again be an escape but it wasn’t Tuesday and it likely won’t be for awhile. It is my hope that my brothers and sisters won’t be conflicted the next time Iran is in the World Cup, this time as a free country.