Nike withdraws Iran World Cup squad's supply of boots due to sanctions
MOSCOW -- Iran's national team was always going to face a difficult challenge in trying to compete with more established nations at the World Cup, but suddenly there is a new obstacle for its players: what to put on their feet.
With just days until their opening match against Morocco, the Iranian players are scrambling to settle their footwear situation after Nike, which had previously supplied the team with boots, said it would not do so for this tournament because of global economic sanctions against the Asian country.
The backdrop to the development is the Trump administration's recent decision to withdraw from the international nuclear deal made three years ago, and to intensify the restrictions against Iran.
In a statement, Nike said, "U.S. sanctions mean that, as a U.S. company, Nike cannot supply shoes to players in the Iranian national team at this time," though the company also admitted that: "Sanctions applicable to Nike have been in place for many years and are enforceable by law."
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That second part has left Iranian federation members confused -- and frustrated -- with the timing of the decision since Nike had been supplying the team previously, including at the 2014 World Cup when similar sanctions were in place.
In an attempt to clarify the situation, the Iranian soccer federation sent a letter to FIFA asking for an explanation, as well as assistance in resolving the issue. FIFA did not respond to an ESPN request for comment on the letter or its potential response.
Iran's coach, Carlos Queiroz, was exasperated by the move, telling reporters: "Players get used to their sports equipment, and it's not right to change them a week before such important matches."
With little time to react, Iran's players have taken varying steps to make sure they will be equipped to play: Some have asked non-Iranian players on their club teams to loan them boots, according to one team official, while others have had friends acquire them or have simply gone out and bought their own footwear at stores.
It is hardly ideal though; most teams at the World Cup which do have footwear sponsors have multiple options on-hand for each player, so that a player can change his footwear depending on the weather, the field conditions or simply personal comfort, sometimes even switching in the middle of a game.
Iran's jerseys are made by rival manufacturer Adidas, though the German company does not sponsor the team; it sold the uniforms to the Iranian federation.
The concern about boots is just one of many logistical issues that Iran's team has faced as it prepares to participate in its fifth World Cup. A warm-up exhibition match with Greece was cancelled at the last minute due to political concerns and basic tasks, such as booking hotels and flights or doing anything that involves transferring money, require workarounds because of the sanctions.
Iran's first match is on Friday against Morocco. Team Melli, as they are known, will also face Spain and Portugal as they try to advance out of Group B.
Sam Borden is a Global Sports Correspondent for ESPN, also covering soccer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamBorden.