Mourners attend an outdoor vigil for the victims of Ukrainian passenger jet flight PS752 which was shot down two years ago over Iran, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

By Ahmad Rafat

A recent campaign by the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims forced the Canadian Football Federation to cancel a preparatory match for the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup Qatar 2022 between the Canadian and Iranian national football teams scheduled for June 5 in Vancouver.

Ukrainian commercial flight PS752 was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) air-defense missile system near Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Jan. 8, 2020,

killing all 176 people (167 passengers and 9 crew members) on board.

According to Iranian state media, Canada canceled the match after its national football team players refused to play against the Iranian team.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Football Federation has demanded $1 million in damages from its Canadian counterpart.

“The Canadian Football Federation released a brief statement saying it had canceled the match and promising to give all ticket holders information on how to get a refund soon,” Hamed Esmaeilion, the spokesperson for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, told Kayhan Life. “The Islamic Republic always tries to defend its actions by spreading baseless rumors. Its goal is to agitate public opinion and hide the truth. They [Iranian authorities] want everyone to forget about this crime and the murder of Iranians and Canadians.”

A few days before the Canadian Football Federation canceled the match, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said inviting the Islamic Republic “was not a good idea.” However, the Canadian government has not given a solid explanation for the invitation.

“We expected the Canadian government to respond to the Islamic Republic which had killed its [Canadian] citizens in the same way it did to Russia after it attacked Ukraine,” Mr. Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and daughter in the downing of Flight PS752, said. “The problem is that a lack of coherent policy by the Islamic Republic allows the football federation and lobbyists for the Islamic Republic to impose their views on the Canadian government.”

“The [Islamic Republic] committed those crimes two and a half years ago,” Esmaeilion noted. “We urge the [Canadian] government to meet our demands by adding the IRGC to its list of terrorist organizations, enforcing the Magnitsky Act, imposing targeted sanctions, and referring this case to international courts. I do not think the Football Federation would have invited the Islamic Republic national football team if the Canadian government had responded to our requests.”

The Magnitsky Act was a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012. It aimed to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.

The Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 authorizes the U.S. government to sanction foreign government officials globally who are thought to be human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.

“We have been trying to give the Canadian government a broader view of events in Iran, so they realize that protesters in [the southern province of] Khuzestan and other cities represent a true picture of Iran and people’s anger. These people live with eternal anger and grief,” Esmaeilion explained. “We must force Western governments to hear the voices of the Islamic Republic’s victims and stop supporting the regime.”

“Some progress has been made regarding disseminating information,” Esmaeilion noted. “Some 85 percent of people who took part in the Toronto Star newspaper’s opinion poll supported the cancellation of the [football match], which shows Canadians have heard the voices of Iranian people.”

Asked about the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims being accused of mixing politics with sports, Esmaeilion said: “I agree that politics and sports should remain separate. However, the same people who organized the match tainted the sport with politics. We must expose the lobbyists’ motives for organizing this match. The Islamic Republic wanted to use the match against the Canadian national football team as a two-week circus act, running from Vancouver to Toronto, to bury the crime it committed two years and five months ago, which killed 176 people.”

“We don’t oppose people, football players or spectators, but only those who wanted to play this political game. The Canadian Football Federation made a mistake but ultimately corrected it by canceling the match,” Esmaeilion said.

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