Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, like Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Samardzija, has a surname I will never fail to copy and paste, was hoping a recent World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia would help him curry favor with voters. However, Iran squandered a late lead and lost the home match, 2-1. Ahmadinejad then quickly moved against head coach Ali Daei:
Ahmadinejad had hoped a victory would bring him political capital before the presidential poll in June. The desire to score a propaganda coup even prompted the president’s fans to credit him when Iran took a 1-0 lead. But the euphoria evaporated in the last 12 minutes and Daei’s fate was sealed as a mass mobile phone text to Ahmadinejad’s supporters went out, reading: “Due to the importance of national public opinion to Dr Ahmadinejad, Ali Daei has been forced out.”
Fairly pedestrian stuff for a tyrant, and at least he’s not pulling an Uday on his disgraced footballers. What’s interesting, though, is whether FIFA, which strictly bans political meddling, will suspend Iran for a second time.
We know soccer can hasten the march to war, but can it also, much like ping pong, encourage detente? That’s the hope for an upcoming U.S. tour by two prominent Iranian soccer teams. The two teams–bitter rivals in Iran–will play at least one friendly in a major American city to be determined (maybe Los Angeles). Perhaps, on the heels of President Obama’s overtures, this means something.
Had the Iranian Revolution never happened, Yu Darvish might have grown up in America. The WSJ explains how Darvish’s Iranian father landed in Japan for good …
Japan’s rising star might not have been raised there at all had it not been for the hostage crisis at Tehran’s U.S. Embassy that started in 1979. Mr. Darvishsefad, the son of a travel agent, left Iran for the U.S. as a 17-year-old aspiring soccer player and met his Japanese wife-to-be when they attended the same college in Florida. They moved to Japan, but he expected to spend only two years there before returning to the U.S. to get a Ph.D. — until the rupture in U.S.-Iran relations led him to worry about increasing hostility there.
In October of 2007, Josh Moore, a University of Michigan product who previously spent a few months with the Clippers, signed a contract with BEEM Mazandarin, an Iranian professional basketball club. Needless to say, Moore’s decision to play in Iran was a controversial one. Recently, however, his stint in Iran ended, and he reflected upon his time there with an Iranian blogger. Some excerpts …
What people around the world need to understand is that there is a major difference between the feelings of the American general public and the views expressed by a few talking heads on American television and U.S. government. I really didn’t have any concern about how my trip would be received back home in the United States because I knew that the American public was hungry to hear a different perspective about Iranian people that wasn’t tainted by larger influences.
President Obama talks about diplomacy with Iran and Secretary of State Clinton has said that its her top priority but what both of them fail to realize is that the diplomacy that need to take place between Iran and America needs to happen between the common house wife and average everyday underpaid worker. Those people need to understand that their lives are not much different and that their worries are practically the same. Those people have to make a conscious effort to understand each other without foolish apprehensions or destructive tribal behavior that segregates them from everyone else. I really believe that it’s the Iranian tribal mentality that doesn’t allow people to get to know them not an anti-Iranian sentiment.
And best of all …
Iran is an extremely vibrant society that in some ways is very misunderstood. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done within Iran but that’s not the job of the American military or government, it’s the job of the Iranian youth to create a society better than the one they received.
It goes without saying that Iran constitutes one of the U.S.’s thorniest foreign-policy challenges. Nuclear ambitions, a leader prone to eschatological daydreaming, a stated hostility to Israel, complicity in the ongoing upheaval in Iraq–Iran, like any good Islamic theocracy, is a troubling and dangerous presence in the world today.
The good news, at least from the American perspective, is that we seem to be toning down the brinkmanship. Perhaps because the Bush Administration has been able to bring North Korea to heel without using or even seriously threatening force, they’re now taking a similar tack with Iran. That’s a good thing.
There’s a strong indigenous desire for democracy in Iran, but taking military action would only drive Iranian citizens back into the captive embrace of Ahmadinejad and the mullahs. Better to encourage those restive elements from afar. Do that, and Iran’s “Prague Spring” will come soon enough.
Topically enough, sports will be a part of our charm offensive. This from Undersecretary of State William J. Burns’ recent testimony before Congress:
Partnering with the U.S. Olympic Committee, we invited 15 members of the Iranian table tennis national team to the States last week. This group included the first female Iranian athletes who have ever been to the U.S. on this program. In cooperation with the NBA, we will bring 25 members of the Iranian Olympic Basketball Team here next week for the NBA Summer League. We also hope to bring the Iranian soccer team to the U.S. later this year. Over the long-term, we hope to build connections among our people through educational, cultural, and other exchanges which can overcome 30 years of estrangement that has severed links between our societies.
Unless you’re one of those who’s spoiling for an unnecessary fight, these are encouraging developments. Welcome the athletes, expose them to our way of life, and let the games we play galvanize us. Given our present military entanglements, that’s the only tenable way to undermine the menaces in power in Iran.