Iranian players Karim Ansarifard and Alireza Jahanbakhsh weren’t shy in calling out of the brand following their team's 1-0 group stage win against Morocco.
‘What Nike did to us was very wrong,’ said Ansarifard. ‘I don't want to comment too much on it. But I can tell you, as a footballer, we don't compare diplomatic and political problems to sports.’
Jahanbakhsh echoed his peer’s sentiments.
‘What they have done is a little bit disrespectful,’ he said. ‘In my opinion — and we spoke with the other players in the team as we had a meeting about this — politics has nothing to do with sport and with football, such a beautiful game. You don't have to involve this kind of thing with this game. That is something that unfortunately this brand did and, well, it's their responsibility to do such a thing but the image they have [projected] at least for 80 million people in Iran is not a really nice image.’
We just did it without you @Nike#Nike_unfair_play #IRN
— Iran (@Iran) June 15, 2018
Amid the saga, Nike responded in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports, claiming that it had been ‘complying with this legal requirement for many years,’ and stressed that the move to not send Iranian players boots 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,’ said Nike’s statement. ‘Sanctions applicable to NIKE have been in place for many years and are enforceable by law.’
On the flipside, Iran’s jersey and apparel sponsor adidas continues to stock up the squad with gear. CEO Kasper Rorsted recently explained the German company’s reasoning to Russian media outlet RT.com.
‘We equip the Iranian team because a lot of Iranians love football, and at the end of the day we believe in sport,’ said Rorsted. ‘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.’