Usatoday - Nike responded defiantly on Sunday following criticism over its refusal to provide cleats for the Iran World Cup team – due to United States sanctions against the country.
Shortly before the tournament, the Iranian team said Nike had pulled out of a commitment to supply its cleats. Following its dramatic opening game victory over Morocco, several players and head coach Carlos Queiroz criticized the American sportswear giant over its stance.
However, in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports, Nike claimed that it had been “complying with this legal requirement for many years,” and emphasized that due to government restrictions, being unable to send footwear to the squad was “not a choice.”
“US sanctions mean that, as a US company, NIKE cannot supply shoes to players in the Iranian National team at this time,” a statement from Nike’s media relations team read. “Sanctions applicable to NIKE have been in place for many years and are enforceable by law.”
The saga has reflected poorly on Nike, leading to heavy criticism internationally, yet the company feels that the full story has not come out. Nike’s e-mail added that there had been no sudden change in its policy towards providing product to Iran and that “suggestions otherwise are misleading.”
Iran’s squad has been incensed by the situation and the story line has been the biggest talking point surrounding the team’s campaign.
“What Nike did to us was very wrong," forward Karim Ansarifard told ESPN. “I can tell you, as a footballer, we don't compare diplomatic and political problems to sports.”
Queiroz has long highlighted the struggles faced by the Iran team, which has a competitive and travel budget far lower than many teams in the tournament.
“Let them enjoy football like all the other football players in the world,” Queiroz said. “They are not against nobody or against nothing. They just want to express themselves and play football. It is totally unfair to 23 boys who just want to play football. They deserve to be treated like all the other players in the world.”
Political sanctions against Iran have long been in place, but there have been reports of them being implemented more rigorously in recent years. However, Nike was clear that its approach towards Iran had nothing to do with the Trump administration, as the relevant sanctions were implemented before the last election.
Nike pointed out that any player can buy Nike products, and that the company is also permitted to sponsor Iranian athletes who don't live in their homeland. Nine members of the squad play in Iran, while the rest play for clubs abroad.
Iran’s World Cup jerseys are provided by German-owned Adidas. That company’s CEO, Kasper Rorsted, said Iran is one of 12 teams it sponsors.
“We equip the Iranian team because a lot of Iranians love football, and at the end of the day we believe in sport,” Rorsted told Russia’s RT.com. “We believe that through sport we have the power to change lives.
"If we start being a political engine then we don't actually have the freedom to do what we want to do and that's really making people's lives better.”