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opinion

Avideh Motmaen-Far is the president of the Council of Iranian Canadians.

Right now, tens of thousands of soccer fans from around the world are gathered in Qatar to watch the World Cup – one of the globe’s premier sporting events. The power of seeing countries assemble to compete in passionate but friendly matches is an inspiring sight and a meaningful example of what could be in a world yearning for peace.

But it is an injustice to ignore that some seek to use sports as a veneer to cover up human-rights abuses at home. One such case is the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for murdering more than 400 protesters, including 50 children, since its citizens rose up against the theocratic regime in September in mass protests.

However, carefully choreographed displays of sportsmanship at the World Cup lull the casual viewer into the assumption that Iran is a normal country. When its national team competes in exciting soccer matches against England or Wales, it is easy to forget that the Iranian regime is one of the world’s most violent and oppressive states. Tehran desires this false perception, and we must challenge it.

The Islamic Republic allows no freedom of expression, subjects women to a second-class existence and has no tolerance for religious or political dissent. Those who object to the regime in any capacity face persecution, torture and execution.

Iran has no regard for global stability; it is as a malign actor with a stunning disregard for international law. It sends deadly drones to pariah state Russia, supports the brutal Assad regime in Syria, arms terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, hijacks ocean liners and even shot down a civilian airliner in 2020. Dissidents are terrorized abroad, and no country is immune to its destabilizing acts. The Middle East is much more volatile because of Iranian provocations and Tehran’s intermittent pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Iranian-diaspora groups in Canada work diligently to ensure this regime is never normalized. Despite our continued efforts, we face stiff and dangerous opposition. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – a designated terrorist organization in many jurisdictions, including the United States – works to silence threats to Tehran’s ironclad rule domestically and abroad. It dominates Iranian society and exerts considerable control over the Iranian Armed Forces.

The IRGC is responsible for shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in 2020, which resulted in the deaths of 176 innocent civilians, including more than 50 Canadian citizens. Inexcusably, Ottawa still refuses to designate the IRGC a terrorist entity, despite the group’s perpetration of numerous terrorist acts and a 2018 parliamentary motion passed by the House of Commons demanding the federal government act.

Earlier this month, a CBC report revealed that Canada Soccer communicated with the federal government in the lead-up to last summer’s scheduled “friendly match” between Iran and Canada in Vancouver. The soccer federation actively sought special visas for Iranian players and officials. These visas could have easily ended up in the hands of IRGC members, granting them admission into Canada.

Canada Soccer cancelled the match after the public rightfully expressed its outrage. But the fact the government and federation officials even considered hosting Iran in the first place is testimony to the blinding power of sports.

Designating the IRGC a terrorist entity would require the federal government to act more diligently. It would also serve as an additional barrier to future sporting matches and force the government to combat potential IRGC infiltration in sporting delegations.

Likewise, national soccer federations involved in matches against Iran at the World Cup – all eyes will be on its game against the United States Tuesday – have an obligation to make clear that they reject Iran’s brutal regime in order to ensure that fans remain informed and to avoid normalizing the country’s human-rights abuses.

Powerful protests continue to envelop Iran as citizens, particularly women, demonstrate for fundamental rights and freedoms. We owe them our support based on our shared desire for a free and democratic world. It is essential that this evil regime’s human-rights violations do not go unnoticed.

Millions of Iranians worldwide eagerly await the day we can sing the national anthem with pride, knowing Iran is a free country.