Cup - the month-long competition taking place throughout Germany
beginning June 9 - is by sheer numbers the most important sporting
event on earth. Football - or soccer, as Americans insist on calling
it - is by far the world's most popular sport, and the World Cup
creates a near-united global audience. Approximately one in four
human beings will view this year's final game. That means basically
anyone who has access to a television will be watching - though
probably fewer in the United States, where "soccer" is still viewed
in some quarters as a plot to create a one-world government.
cannot be separated from the World Cup any more than it can be
from the Olympics. Sometimes this is for the best: For example,
Africans throughout the continent exulted in Senegal's shocking
upset of its former colonizer, France, in the first game of the
however, German and US politicians have seized on the tournament
to intensify the saber rattling aimed at Tehran. Citing Iran's
efforts to develop a nuclear program and the anti-Israel pronouncements
of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, several leading politicians
in both countries have called for the Iranian team to be banned
from the World Cup. In this spirit of tolerance and peace, Berlin's
liberal daily Der Tagesspiegel ran a cartoon in February that
depicted Iranian soccer players as suicide bombers.
conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel has further stoked this
sentiment by likening Iran's nuclear plans to the threat posed
by the Nazis. Italian reform minister Roberto Calderoli of the
anti-immigrant Northern League called on the international soccer
federation (FIFA) to exclude Iran and other "rogue states" and,
in recent weeks British Conservatives - perhaps distraught over
their own team's dwindling prospects, after an injury to their
best player - have gotten in on the act.
Back in Germany,
some Christian Democrats have further upped the ante by invoking
the specter of Iranian terrorism at the games, asserting that
Tehran will slip some suicide bombers disguised as regular fans
into a game. Calls for a ban, or at least for a travel ban against
the Iranian president, have intensified in Germany as the games
approach. Leading Conservative and Social Democratic officials
are now quoted almost daily decrying a possible visit by Ahmadinejad.
And in early May, a German newspaper reported that officials of
Germany, France and Britain are hoping to orchestrate a travel-ban
scheme through the European Union that would prevent high-ranking
Iranian officials from attending any of the games.
hypocrisy of this quasi-extortion
is overwhelming: Iran should be
banned because its leaders indulge
in belligerent rhetoric and attempt
to develop a nuclear program,
yet no one advocates the exclusion
of the United States, even though
it is engaged in two military
occupations, in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and President Bush has refused to
rule out a nuclear strike on Iran.
In the most
recent gambit, on May 12 a group of European Union representatives
presented a letter to FIFA demanding that Iran be evicted from
the games. The hypocrisy of this quasi-extortion is overwhelming:
Iran should be banned because its leaders indulge in belligerent
rhetoric and attempt to develop a nuclear program, yet no one
advocates the exclusion of the United States, even though it is
engaged in two military occupations, in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and President Bush has refused to rule out a nuclear strike on
drive to demonize and isolate Iran, the United States has been
slower than its German counterparts to use soccer in this campaign,
given the sport's relative obscurity here. But a few politicians
have craftily picked up on it. On April 6, Senator John McCain,
Mr. Maverick, introduced a resolution to the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee advocating a World Cup ban on Iran - a resolution that
is sure to go nowhere. To its credit, FIFA has rejected all of
these demands, and seems unlikely to budge. But much of this anti-Iran
campaign has less to do with the unrealistic goal of banning the
top-level Middle Eastern team than with grooming public opinion
president seems less of a threat to Israel or to anyone else than
to the rights and welfare of his own people. Middle East expert
Juan Cole pointed out in a May 3 post on his blog that Ahmadinejad's
overheated oratory is hardly the gravest threat to world peace.
"Ahmadinejad is a non-entity. The Iranian 'president' is mostly
powerless. The commander of the armed forces is the Supreme Jurisprudent,
Ali Khamenei [who, by the way, just reinstated a ban on women's
attendance at soccer games that Ahmadinejad had reversed in April].
Worrying about Ahmadinejad's antics is like worrying that the
US military will act on the orders of the secretary of the interior.
Ahmadinejad cannot declare war on anyone, or mobilize a military.
So it doesn't matter what speeches he gives. Moreover, Iran cannot
fight Israel. It would be defeated in 72 hours, even if the US
didn't come in, which it would... What is really going on here
is an old trick of the warmongers. Which is that you equate hurtful
statements of your enemy with an actual military threat, and make
a weak and vulnerable enemy look like a strong, menacing foe.
Then no one can complain when you pounce on the enemy and reduce
his country to flames and rubble."
people are even more enthusiastic about soccer than most of the
rest of the world. Iran even held a national day of celebration
when its team qualified for the Cup, and Iranian soccer fans look
forward to cheering their team on as it attempts to survive a
difficult first round against Portugal and Mexico. Perhaps the
Iranian team will have an opportunity to repeat the squad's upset
of the United States in 1998. But this would be little consolation
if the Cup is used as a platform to further threaten their nation
with invasion or occupation.
rather people built a clear wall between sport and politics,"
Iran's Croatian-born coach Branko Ivankovic has said. But the
Iranian people are being reminded that, while soccer may be a
beautiful game for them, it's little more than a political weapon
John Cox is an assistant professor of History at Florida Gulf
Coast University and a supporter of FC Barcelona. Dave Zirin's
new book, "What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United
States," is now in stores. You can receive his column, Edge of
Sports, every week by emailing edgeofsports-
[email protected]. Contact him at [email protected]
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