Iranian reporters grill USMNT at World Cup conference

DDuring a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup game between Iran and the US, Iranian reporters posed a series of political questions to the leaders of the US team.

U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter and captain Tyler Adams asked questions about government relations between the two countries, as well as their personal views on the subject, in a press release that deviates significantly from routine pre-match discussions. Berhalter and Adams responded thoughtfully, emphasizing that they were focused on the game ahead and had no influence over decisions made by U.S. football officials or the U.S. government.

“We support the Iranian people and the Iranian team. But having said that, we are focused on this match, just like them,” Adams said during Monday’s press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center.

Read more: Tyler Adams is the World Cup captain that Team USA desperately needs

In a remarkable conversation, an Iranian journalist from PressTV corrected Adams’ statement of “Iran” (Adams had said “eye-ran” rather than “ee-rahn”) before asking him about racism in the US.

“First of all, you say you support the Iranian people, but you mispronounce the name of our country. Our country is called Iran, not Iran. Please let’s get this straight once and for all,” said the journalist from Iran’s state-owned Press TV. “Second, are you okay with representing a country that has so much discrimination against black people on its own borders?” continued the state reporter.

Adams immediately apologized for mispronouncing the country’s name and offered his perspective as an African American who grew up in a white family.

“There is discrimination everywhere,” he said. “In the US, we continue to make progress every day… through education, I think it’s super important. Like you just taught me about the pronunciation of your country. It’s a process. As long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing.”

At one point, an Iranian journalist asked about a social media post from the US Soccer Twitter account that controversially contained an edited image of the Iranian flag without the symbol of the Islamic Republic. (The account deleted the post and has since flagged it unedited.)

“The players and staff knew nothing about what was being posted,” Berhalter replied. “Sometimes we can’t control things. We believe it will be a match [in which] the result will depend on who puts in more effort, who performs better on the pitch, and we’re not focused on those external things. And all we can do on our behalf is apologize on behalf of the players and staff.”

The opposition questions continued. A reporter claimed that due to “the high inflation and economic problems” there was “no support from your team” in the US (In response, Berhalter mentioned the approximately 20 million people who attended the game between the US team and England.) A reporter mentioned the US team “unprofessional” for shutting down practice after 15 minutes to the press the night before, though that is widespread and in line with FIFA rules. Someone even asked Berhalter why he had not pressured the US to remove a specific naval presence near Iran.

The Iranian journalists present were a mix of state media representatives and other sources. All media in the country face strict government regulations and restrictions – in its 2022 Press Freedom Index, the international group Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran 178th out of 180 countries. Since mid-September, Iranian demonstrators have been demonstrating against the government and its abuse of women’s rights.

Tuesday’s game between the US and Iran will determine which team will advance to the Round of 16. The US will need to win to advance, while Iran will need to win or draw.

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Write to Julia Zorthian at [email protected]

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