A couple of years ago, before I learned better, I was on a BBC radio broadcast in which they had a reporter on the scene in Tehran reporting on big riots in Tehran following a soccer game. The BBC woman in London asked me what I thought about it all, and I said it was a sign of discontent with the regime.
She commented, “But we have soccer hooligans in England, too, don’t we?”
And I said, “yes, but they aren’t burning effigies of Tony Blair. The Iranians are burning pictures of Khamenei and Rafsanjani.”
It was a wasted effort, of course, and I have since decided to decline the BBC’s various invitations to legitimize their propaganda network. So it was deja vu when I noticed that the International Herald Tribune, the sly voice of the New York Times in Paris, had refused to see what is in front of everyone’s eyes, instead treating the latest anti-regime demonstrations in Iran as a sporting event. Written by their soccer maven, Rob Hughes, the article doesn’t even hint at a political component to last week’s street battles:
The fullest range of human emotions, from triumphalism to national humiliation, are inevitably stirred when 80 countries around the globe compete over a weekend for places in the 2006 World Cup.
But all of the reactions are reduced to almost nothing by reports coming out of Tehran, where they are still counting the dead following Friday night’s 2-1 victory for Iran over Japan in the Asian qualifying zone.
At the time of writing, the [Iranian News] agency had confirmed that five people had been trampled to death and at least 40 injured, some of them seriously, in the rush of 100,000 people to leave the Azadi Stadium in the Iranian capital.
We have seen this before. Europe is approaching the 20th anniversary of the Heysel Stadium tragedy in Brussels, where 39 spectators, mostly Italians, were crushed to death by a collapsed wall before the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool.
If he had been interested, Hughes could have seen pictures of Iranian security forces closing in on the “fans,” both inside the stadium and out on the streets, where women–who are barred from attending athletic events in the Islamic republic–were singled out for special brutality. And if he had checked some of the Iranian blogs, he could have discovered that demonstrations were going on all over the country, not just at the Azadi (“Freedom”) Stadium.
There really is no excuse for that sort of disinformation, and both Hughes and the Trib owe their readers a fulsome apology.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, at an event obviously staged by the hegemonic Bush administration, ethnic peace was accomplished at another soccer game. From the Corriere della Sera:
Never before had an Arab saved the Israeli national team. The savior was Suwan Abbas, who scored the tying goal [1-1] in the first minute of penalty time in the game against Ireland. Abbas is the captain of Sakhnin, the only mixed [Arab and Jewish] team in the Israel championship.
“Yes, it was very moving to hear forty thousand people chant my name. The goal”–said Suwan, called an “Israeli hero” on the front page of the daily Yedioth Aharonoth–”is dedicated to everyone in Israel. Enough with all this talk about Jews and Arabs, we are a single people…”
Interesting how soccer in Israel has profound political implications, but soccer in Iran, well, it’s just soccer.
Oh, and by the way, remember that great line of the president’s, something about promising the Iranian people that if they showed their desire for freedom, we would stand with them?
Well, they certainly showed it–indeed, there is hardly a day they don’t show it–and, so far as I know, we haven’t given them any support.
Or is it all about soccer?