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June 16, 2009

“How Soccer Explains the World”…except Iran?

Ghotbi inTehran Iran’s qualifying match for the World Cup is tomorrow. As Franklin Foer says in his book, “How Football Explains the World” when Iran qualified for the World Cup for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic back in 1997, “Their joy led them to dispense with official morality…dancing, drinking, and western pop music became the stuff of public celebration.” He goes on to say that women even began to throw off their hejabs and the Basij, who were supposed to calm the crowds, were actually overcome by joy and joined the crowds.
Now, their frustration and anger has already led Iranians to the streets. If Iran loses, and assuming the success of the team reflects the success of the country, will Ahmadinejad or Khamenei succumb to the pressures of change, further inciting the protesters and dividing the people? Seeing as people are already out in the streets, if Iran wins, even more people will pour out perhaps causing chaos which will surely be hard to quell. Will the win be a uniting force?
I find it very interesting that after Iran lost 2-1 versus Saudi Arabia on March 28 they fired the coach, Iranian Ali Daei and brought in Iranian-American Afshin Gotbi to salvage their bid. Was the loss a precursor of the current loss of stability in Iran? Perhaps they didn’t devote enough resources before, and by bringing in Gotbi they can re-energize the players and the game. Although he probably doesn’t see himself as so, but if the clean-shaven Gotbi, representative of the “West,” leads the team towards victory, will this be a signal to the Iranian government to open up towards the West and as Obama asked “unclench their fists?”
Under normal circumstances, sports newspapers would be sold out and people would be forecasting and preparing to watch the Iran v. S.Korea match. But in a couple of hours, Iranians aren’t predicting the outcome of the game, but the future of their country…all the while, the world is watching.

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