Sport and politics are often said to go hand in hand. Sometimes they go arm in arm, as Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Yankees Manager Joe Torre illustrated at the end of last night’s baseball game at Yankee Stadium. While the Yankees celebrated at the plate, the mayor and manager hugged. Who needs the symbolic alliance between politics and sport when you can have the real thing, although the idiot producers at Fox seemed to think the union demanded another set of ads and promptly cut short the dramatic moment.
But politics and sport don’t always produce good feelings. Sometimes they exacerbate political differences. India and Pakistan, for example, have not resolved their differences over Kashmir by playing cricket. Last Friday, a soccer match in the Middle East hardly quelled the mutual distrust between two of the region’s most powerful states, although it did suggest that when it comes to hooliganism, Iran and Western Europe have something in common. Over 100,000 people attended a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Iraq, played in Tehran’s Azadi Stadium—and while not all the spectators were Iranian, those who celebrated at the end of the game most certainly were. Iran won 2-1 and will in all likelihood attend next summer’s World Cup competition in Japan and Korea. The reaction to the Iranian victory would be familiar to any European who has followed soccer in the last 25 years: a bit of rioting and much wildness in the streets. As the BBC reports: “Iranian police fired teargas and arrested dozens of football fans during clashes in Tehran after the match, the AFP news agency reported. Police moved in after supporters attacked a bank and cars in the Hafthoz neighborhood of the city’s eastern Narmak area. Riot police had earlier clubbed dozens of soccer supporters of all ages and made a number of other arrests after more than 20,000 people gathered in one of Tehran’s main squares—Nur Square—to celebrate the win. … In the disturbances after the match, children and elderly people were forcibly rounded up apparently without reason as well as some troublemakers. Most fans in the streets were heard chanting ‘Iran, Iran’ but no political slogans.” Perhaps European police chiefs could offer their expertise in crowd control so that their Iranian counterparts could avoid similar scenarios.
Meantime, pity the Iraqi side. As one news report says: “Senior members offered their resignation to FIF [Iraq’s football federation] president Uday Saddam Hussein, the eldest son of Iraq president Saddam Hussein. The letter of resignation, which was published on the front page of the Al-Baas Arriyadhi newspaper, was addressed to Hussein and FIF members by first vice-president Acil Tabra. ‘We ask your excellency to accept our resignation in order to allow others to achieve what we have failed to achieve,’ Tabra said in the letter.” That noble resignation, honorable it may be, might not be enough to save Tabra a far worse fate. Last November, after Iraq lost a game to Japan, three Iraqi players were tortured on Uday Saddam Hussein’s orders.