The World Cup, a colossal stake for Iran

The World Cup is more than sport. It is also a theater where countries settle their political differences or nourish their national romance. What are the stakes for the Iranian team, which is playing its first match (against England) on Monday, when the country is at breaking point? Author of the book Geopolitics of sportJean-Baptiste Guégan answers questions from The Press.

The presence of Iran at the World Cup does not go unnoticed, given the social crisis in this country… Is there a stake?

Media, that’s for sure. Politically too. There are national team players who have already spoken openly and publicly in favor of regime change on women’s rights. [notamment Sardar Azmoun]. Add to that there is an Iran v. United States [29 novembre] and that we are in Qatar, which is the only Gulf country to have close relations with Iran, because they exploit the same deposit [offshore de gaz naturel] of the North Dome. So, yes, the stakes are colossal.

Can we expect the players of the Iranian team to take the opportunity to send a message?

It is not excluded. I would love for that to happen, but I’m lucid. We are not in an ordinary friendly match, we are in a World Cup match with maximum visibility. The risk for power will be substantial, so the entourage of the national team will be extremely secure. Any individual who does so in this context would see his family, loved ones and himself threatened. On top of that, FIFA [Fédération internationale de Football Association] is hostile to this type of position.

The Iranian team, however, wore a black tracksuit, recently, at the start of a preparatory match, to show its support for the demonstrations.

The Iranian selection is aware of things. But after they wore this black tracksuit to show their solidarity with women, they quickly fell silent and we couldn’t go any further. If there is something during this World Cup, I think it will be more symbolism without words. Either a rapprochement with the American team on the ground, or a display on a jersey. Rather, it is the former players who speak out, as Ali Daei, Iran’s all-time greatest goalscorer, did.

This match against the United States will be important?

Everyone has an interest in Iran, a theocratic, authoritarian and repressive state, becoming more flexible. This match is an opportunity to show it, first with an image, that is to say with the two selections next to each other. There will be, I believe, this will on the part of the United States to do what already happened in 1998, when the two teams had come together on the ground, where they had mixed for the photos.

Sport instrumentalized for political ends…

I go even further. Sport offers opportunities for encounters [politiques] at a high level that you don’t have in any other setting. I would not be surprised if around Doha, American and Iranian players meet under the aegis of the Qataris. You have the opportunity to conduct a parallel diplomacy. Alongside official diplomacy, you have people who cross paths, who know the entourages, who are close to power, but who cannot wet their governments, given the number of journalists on site. This would also allow Qatar, which presents itself as a mediating power, to take advantage of it.

Some politicians have called for Iran to be banned from the World Cup. Ukraine, among others, because Iran allegedly sold arms to Russia. Others will also boycott matches against Iran, such as Welsh Sports Minister Dawn Bowden on November 25. What do you think ?

There are many political actors who will try to use these events for their own personal communication. This does not prevent having convictions. But that only adds value to your action on the domestic national scene. And the sports boycott poses a problem: you prevent athletes from living their childhood dreams…

Other matches to follow for political reasons

England v. United States (November 25)

Two years after the entry into force of Brexit, the free trade agreement between the two countries, however promised by Boris Johnson, is still pending. This will be the occasion to recall it.

All Qatar matches in the first round (November 17, 25 and 29)

An issue of soft-power for the small Gulf country. “We are going to see Doha on television, we are going to see what Qatar looks like, we are going to see the territories and the monuments. But the only images that people will have of the Qataris are the players of the national team, ”sums up Jean-Baptiste Guégan.

France vs. Australia (22 November)

A year after the submarine crisis (promise to purchase from France not kept by Australia), the two countries clash on another ground. “These are matches that have a great capacity for evocation because they mobilize the national novel of each country”, explains Mr. Guégan.

All Denmark, Germany and England matches

These three selections have promised to wear a One Love armband to denounce discrimination against homosexuals in Qatar. FIFA did not allow it. Neither prohibited. Will they put it?

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button