Iran and the United States, the illusion of soccer diplomacy

While thousands of Iranian women and men have been demonstrating at the risk of their lives for several weeks in Tehran against the obligation to wear the veil, do the streets of the capital still remember that they were the scene, twenty-four years ago, of happier celebrations? On Sunday, June 21, 1998, the Iranian national team defeated its American counterpart in the World Cup match that was held in Lyon. It was 1:30 a.m. on Monday in Tehran when the referee signaled the end of the match. Write next the scientist. The capital has turned into a party arena. »

In Doha in 2022, fate was exciting because it presented the history of the World Cup with a second match between Iran and the United States, which will be decisive in qualifying for the round of 16, on Tuesday, November 29, at Al-Thumama Stadium.

In 1998, Tim E. Mele’s 2-1 win, their first in a World Cup, was more than just a footballing success. It’s political, even if the weather seems to have calmed somewhat between the two rival countries. “The powerful and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat.”The conservative guide of the Islamic Republic, Ali Khamenei, is proud. “Victory is a symbol of national unity”, Comments, more sober, President Mohammad Khatami.

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Years later, the Supreme Leader, not known for his love of football, made this confession to one of the Iranian strikers, Hamid Reza Estelli, and kissed him on the forehead: “I didn’t want to stand up and watch the game. It was too late. But when I saw the first few minutes, I decided to watch it to the end.”

reconciliation between the two countries

At the beginning of 1998, President Khatami worked on a rapprochement between the two countries for the sake of Breaking down the wall of mistrust. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who was present at Gerland Stadium the morning of the game itself, confirmed that the United States could Consider the possibility of a very different relationship with Iran since the changes in 1997..

Opportunistically, FIFA then tried to capitalize on a unified football image that would overcome diplomatic barriers. The protocol has been modified to allow the two teams to take the traditional photo before the match. World football’s governing body decides on a “fair play day”: every Iranian player presents an opposing player with a bouquet of white flowers.

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Before meeting in Lyon during the summer, the Iranian federation politely declined an invitation to play preparatory matches in California, where there is a large community of Iranian descent; “The calendar is too full, the distance is too long”Its leader, Mohsen Safaei Farahani, excuses himself.

Instead, Iranian footballers had a training period in Brittany in March 1998. Franco-Iranian director Jamshid Golmakani shoots the first documentary, Iran, football and businessIt depicts the belly dancing of some locals who hope to strike business deals with the ambassador of the Islamic Republic. During the World Cup, he directed a second film in Yssingeaux, the base camp of the Iranians: Iran, football, is an issue for everyone.

For Golmakani, the geopolitical aspect of this is Iran and the United States “It concerned neither the fans nor the players, but the two countries and the two governments, with their usual political game.” The director collects the sayings of Iranian exiles: “Football does not interest us. We are here to say to the Western media: “Do not portray Iranians every time as fundamentalists, murderers, terrorists.” »

Iranian dissidents will not let the political platform before them slip away. In Lyon, on the day of the match, seven sympathizers of the Iranian opposition movement People’s Mojahedin were arrested. In the morning, about thirty more were denied entry into French territory. The main opposition group abroad, Khalq-ul-Mujahideen [peuple] Show a secretremembers Jamshid Golmakani. Some got into the grass. They waved a picture of their leader and during the meeting chanted slogans against the ayatollahs and the authority in Iran. »

The 1998 Champions became the subject of publicity

Thousands of miles away, in San Jose, California, an 11-year-old boy is watching the game with his family. He is American, his parents are Iranian. Fifteen years later, Stephen Petachor, 35, will be the first Iranian-American to don a Tim-e melli jersey. “It was a fun and exciting game. For me it was a winThe person who has been a professional soccer player since 2007 smiles. It was the beginning of the international recognition of Iranian football. Some have made impressive careers like Mehdi Mahdavikia [à Hambourg et Francfort]. »

In 2014, Petachor will be called up by Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz to compete in the World Cup in Brazil. The Californian received a standing ovation in his first match – a friendly – in Iran, when he was a substitute. Get off the stands “Welcome to Iran” and the “Put a petashore”. “I haven’t experienced this before.He says. It was an honor to see these guys sing my name. »

Petachor’s adventure, while fascinating, was short and short-lived. He did not play a single minute in Brazil and did not attend selection again. On the contrary, the winners of 1998 became heroes and subjects of publicity.

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Khadad Azizi or Ali Daei – who today supports the Iranian women’s rebellion – has been taken over by the Iranian regime. This type of political Islamic propaganda is used to great effect by the ayatollahsGolmakani analyzes. After qualifying for the 1998 World Cup against Australia, they organized a pilgrimage to Mecca on a private plane for the team. »

The coach of this famous victory, Jalal Tabli, has returned to anonymity. When he replaced Croatian Tomislav Ivic on short notice a few weeks before the World Cup, he had already lived since 1983 … in the United States, with his family.

Sometimes overstated, this football diplomacy often does not go beyond symbolism, communication or propaganda. This new World Cup match between Iran and the United States – whoever wins – will never replace real negotiations. In June, Americans and Iranians met in Doha to discuss the thorny nuclear issue. Six months later, the Tim-e-Melli and Team USA captain will no longer be talking about uranium enrichment or repression in Iran, but simply about soccer.

The Iranian flag is a subject of tension

Sunday, November 27, two days before the Iran-US match, bickering between the two countries witnessed a new episode: The Iranian Football Federation protested against its American counterpart, which removed the Iranian flag emblem representing the word of God in social communication. Media publications. The Iranian Football Federation sent an email to FIFA [la Fédération internationale] to demand that a serious warning be directed to the American Federation.”, IRNA indicated the official agency of the situation. The American Federation justified its decision by saying that it was “minute gesture”And the to display [sa] Solidarity with women in Iran ». Later that day, a company spokesperson said the controversial social media posts had been taken down.

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A selection of articles on the 2022 World Cup

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About the Author: Aldina Antunes

"Praticante de tv incurável. Estudioso da cultura pop. Pioneiro de viagens dedicado. Viciado em álcool. Jogador."

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