Iran got the boot from Nike, with the sports equipment giant announcing Friday that it will no longer provide soccer cleats to the Islamic theocracy's national soccer team for the upcoming World Cup.
The Washington Post reports that Nike will drop its sponsorship deal with Iran in order to comply with American sanctions.
Those sanctions have existed for decades, but Nike's announcement follows the Treasury Department's stern warning to allies that they will "face substantial risks" if they are found engaging in business with Iran. Last month, as President Donald Trump announced he was ditching the Iran nuclear deal, the Treasury Department said it would resume imposing the U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that were lifted as part of the Obama-era agreement.
In a speech last week, Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker indicated that steps to prevent Western resources from being "exploited" by Iranians must also be taken by private companies, which could explain Nike's sudden change of heart, especially since the threat of sanctions did little to deter Nike from clothing Iran's team in the past.
"Those risks are even greater as we reimpose nuclear-related sanctions," Mandelker said. "We will hold those doing prohibited business in Iran to account."
Knowingly violating these sanctions could result in a penalty of up to $1 million and 20 years behind bars, so Nike taking leave of the Iranian team is unsurprising.
The company's withdrawal is a reminder that there's more at stake than just Iran's nuclear program. Sanctions also prevent Iranians from peaceably engaging with Americans through commerce. In a country rife with poverty and in desperate need of foreign investment, U.S. sanctions will only give the authoritarian regime material for anti-Western propaganda and breed further hatred towards liberal ideas. The U.S. should allow for the free flow of capital into Iran to stop the needless punishment of civilians in what is clearly a conflict between governments.
If a modern, democratic Iran is the goal, we should take a lesson from the Cold War and recognize that culture ultimately prevails, not punitive economic measures. Just as Reason's Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch noted in a piece for The Washington Post, "For all the talk of boycotts and bombs, if the United States is interested in spreading American values and institutions, a little TV-land may go a lot further than armored personnel carriers." Instead of penalizing people who have nothing to do with their government, we should encourage them to be a part of the global cultural revolution that technology and free trade has enabled, whether it's watching reruns of Seinfeld or participating in the World Cup.