The United States and Iran are playing a World Cup soccer match Tuesday with tournament survival on the line ― but Iranian reporters were determined to go further afield at a news conference a day earlier. (Watch the video below.)
The journalists asked U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter why he hasn’t told the U.S. government to pull a Navy ship away from Iran, USA Today’s Nancy Armour reported.
“I don’t know enough about politics, I’m a soccer coach,” Berhalter replied, per the New York Post.
A journalist reprimanded U.S. team captain Tyler Adams for mispronouncing Iran, and then asked him if it was “OK” for him to represent a country that discriminates against Black people.
Adams, who is Black, apologized for incorrectly saying “Eye-Ran” instead of “Eeh-Rahn,” and scored diplomatic points with his response about racism.
“There’s discrimination everywhere you go,” Adams said. “One thing that I’ve learned, especially from living abroad in the past years and having to fit in in different cultures ... is that in the U.S., we’re continuing to make progress every single day.”
According to a partial transcript shared by soccer reporter Grant Wahl, the journalists also asked how much of the world is siding with the Americans in the match, and also linked high U.S. inflation and economic problems to the level of support for the squad.
The politically charged turn of the news conference should come as no surprise. On social posts just days earlier, U.S. Soccer temporarily scrubbed the Islamic Republic emblem from the Iranian flag in solidarity with protesters in Iran fighting for women’s rights. A woman died in police custody in September after reportedly being arrested for wearing her hijab too loosely, touching off demonstrations and harsh government suppression.
Berhalter said players and staff were not aware that U.S. Soccer was going to alter the image of the flag, but said his thoughts were with the people of Iran.
Iran’s state-run news agency Tasnim called for the U.S. to be ejected from the World Cup over the flag controversy.