|A game of manifold metaphors: Football in the Islamic Republic of Iran||
Human characteristics are best displayed when people, framed in time and place, are put to test in different situations as they come face to face with those they call ‘others’, others who are also challenged by and along with them. It is in the process of human play of life with others that the shape of our unique and individual approach to existence begins to become seriously meaningful. True, in the spirit of the game, we fight, we blend, we resist and we succumb but more than anything we are bound to make human contact with one another and hopefully become humane as a result of it.
Football is perhaps one such game. It is universally played almost anytime and anywhere but takes on a local color and flavor too when it is integrated into culture and social norms of every land. In Iran, it is the most popular and well-known sport, above wrestling and volleyball and it is played in alleys and on streets, in schools and universities and in the back or front yards of houses. Seeing children play football with the popular plastic ball was not an uncommon a decade ago. The ball could be easily purchased at any grocery store for something like 5 cents. The kids would then tear up on plastic ball and place another one inside it. This was done to expand the life of the ball for future games. A few stones to mark the goal for each team and there it was! You had street football. It is almost the same now. The only difference is that those affordable plastic balls are extinct and replaced with better quality material and even ones with brands.
Football was never off the table when it came to discussions at schools. Everyone was categorized by their favorite team color. The question was: What are you, red or blue? Perspolis team is red and Esteghlal is blue. That was how some friendships were formed outside the classroom. Everyone wanted to defend their likes and dislikes. So they would sing: ‘Blue is the color of the sky’ or ‘Red is the color of blood’ and ‘It’s a color on the flag’. At home, there was even more football. It was in the movies, on the news and in popular culture in general. There was even a Japanese animation series, Capitan Tsubasa (known as the Footbalist-ha cartoon in Iran) that was broadcasted daily all through summer days of our childhood. Football was and still is everywhere.
When there is a match announcement, there is football fever across town and it is contagious. The night of the game people are eager to drive home earlier and when the game begins, the city looks less crowded. Those who want to watch from a different distant will buy tickets to the event. Some even travel from far provinces only to be present and cheer their favorite team. Others will arrive a day before the match and put up tents outside the stadium gates or just go off to sleep in their cars and wait for the morning light to wake them up to their dream.
It is not just the game but also the consequences and the sidelines that matter too. It is like a feast where sometimes the soup and side dishes are more fulfilling than the main course. People become more interested in the ‘before; and the ‘after’ rather than the main incident. They want to know everything: the personal, the public and the personal within the public.
Football has always been likened to many things: life, politics, religion and even philosophy and it has somehow grown into and evolved by all of them. It is a game of honor that can easily become an obsession. One could even call it a game of animated ‘chess’. There is instant planning, flexible strategy, agile responsiveness and of course what every human condition craves, hope. Anything can be expected till the hands of the clock tick 90 minutes. Even the last few seconds do count.
Rarely any team member in football is numbered zero. If you are already in the game you must be somebody and as a celebrity, you are expected to be the epitome of ethics and etiquettes, to become what you say and what you do, to display the same iron will power and passion outside the football ground. They say if you love your job, it is all play and no work but football is indeed an army where the body and the soul of the players are trained to represent and display feelings and reflections of the common human face: free will, destiny, passions, thoughts, joy, dismay, triumph, loss, hope and even more hope…
If previously football was all about love, now it is also an economy. Like any other meaningful game, enjoyment and necessity have made a creative combo. Football is now a blend of emotions and money. For love, fame and the good income, many young dreamers crave to enter the football industry. Many players start their own line of sport accessories like shoes and clothes. Many become coaches to the beginners and pass on their experience of losses and wins once they retire from the field. When you are into football, you are never idle on or off the ground. After all, football is not just a game. It is a social, political and economic gambit.
Not just champions, but men of higher principles
In the forever watchful and evaluative eyes of the public culture, ethics and issues of general morality rule the realm of any recognition. Regardless of the numbers of your achievements and the extent of your future strengths you should never face the misfortune of having to sink below the public moral bar. The line between the public and the personal is a very thin one for the famous. Here, it does not come to much if you are somebody. First and foremost, you should be a great human being.
Football in Iran is also not excluded from the ever conscious borders of morality. In fact, there is a popular idea in the Persian language that distinguishes between the two concepts of ghahreman (championship) and pahlevan (a champion or a hero who is virtuous and observant of ethics). The mob of course demands the latter in the form of perfection or at least nearly perfect. In Iranian culture, parvaresh (mental and moral growth and nurture) comes before amoozesh (education). In fact, the well-known motto of the first football club in Tehran, Shahin, back in 1942 was ‘first ethics, second education, third sports.’
So, it is not surprising after all that the Iranian football moral charter which celebrates the reconciliation of Iranian football with Islamic culture was written and approved by the Iranian Football Federation in 2009. The intro of the charter regards the ball, the net, kits and all things and terms related to football as cultural elements. Football is assumedly a game that is incorporated into everyday culture and its reverberations could impact the society as a whole. The charter does not exclude anyone. Football clubs, teams, official representatives, players, referees, photographers and even sports journalists are subject to the statements of the charter. In short anyone, anything or anywhere that has to do with football is encompassed by the moral codes. According to the federation those who do not meet the requirements and stated principles of the charter can be officially banned from the soccer scene. Similarly, high moral team members, virtuous coaches and personalities of football are selected and rewarded every month and game season. The main focus of the charter is to integrate Islamic rules and regulations like modesty in attire, honorable conduct and speech, honesty, respect for authority and others into the norms of the football scene.
Home colors and rainbows of victory: Red versus Blue
There are two major football clubs in Iran that have sent waves of excitement among their fans for years: Pirouzi and Esteghlal. Both clubs are based in Tehran and are of course arch rivals, each popularly known for their kit colors: red and blue. Pirouzi (literally meaning victory) and Esteghlal (literally meaning independence) were known as Perspolis and Taj in the initial years of their foundation. Pirouzi still continues to be widely called by its original name by its fans. This is probably because it takes its name after the historical Persian city, Persepolis. The club logo incorporates elements from the remnants of this historical location. It is also nicknamed as the ‘Red Army’ (artesh-e-sorkh) or ‘The Reds’ (ghermez-ha) due to the color of their kit which is predominantly red. Established in 1963 by a boxing champion named Ali Abdo, Persepolis has won the most Iranian championships than any other club. According to the Asian Football Confederation, Persepolis is the most popular and in fact number one football club in Asia. Many team members have been transferred to European clubs through the years.
The opponent team, Esteghlal has nicknames like ‘The Blues’ (aabi poushan), ‘Es-Es’, ‘Asia’s Blue Boys’ (pesaran-e-abi-e-asia) and ‘Galaxy’ (kahkeshan). The titles of course stem from the color of their traditional kit which is royal blue. The club was initially founded in 1945 by three Iranian military officers who were mostly interested in cycling of all forms of sports. Therefore the club’s original name was Docharkheh Savaran (The Cyclists). The club which played its first official match in 1946 changed its name to Taj in 1949 and after the Islamic Revolution, the name changed once again to Esteghlal. This was probably because Taj (literally meaning crown) was a symbol of monarchy and had no place even as a name in the new republic.
After the Islamic Revolution both clubs came under the control of the Physical Education Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Matches between Perspolis and Esteghlal are closely followed by fans. The announcement of every new match creates ripples of enthusiasm among fans. Depending on the victory, red or blue banners are displayed across the city and songs of triumph about the winning team are sung.
The Other Side: Football, a passionate but genderless game Introduction to football for Iranian women began in the early 1970’s when they started entering local teams and playing in the alleys and streets along with men. It was during this time that sport institutions started considering women athletes. Taj Football Club (presently Esteghlal) was the first institution to conduct training for women. Then other football associations opened their doors to women and soon female football players were the new fever in town. When the number of sportswomen increased, founding a women’s football association seems only reasonable. After the Islamic Revolution and the years of Iran-Iraq war (Iraq’s imposed war against Iran in the 1980s), women’s football waned but in 1993 football came alive with the announcement of a futsal match in Alzahra University (the only all-female state university). After this women football tournaments were held in universities across the country.
Iran’s women national football team which is controlled by the Islamic Republic of Iran Football Federation (IRIFF) was, however, founded in 2005. Presently the head of Women’s Football at the IRIFF is Farideh Shojaei. Iranian women football players wear a special uniform to observe hijab as Muslim women. The kit consists of T-shirt, pants and a headgear to cover the hair. Also, an all-female stadium named Azadiyeh was constructed in 2009. The place which has a capacity of 40,000 seats and is covered with a roof for the convenience of women was purposely built for the women’s national team and to host the Women’s Islamic Games tournaments which are held in Tehran.
1- Football was introduced to Iranians and played as early as 1898. The first official institution, however, known as Tehran Football Association Club was established in 1907.
2- The first official Iranian player was Karim Zandi who played from 1908 to 1916. He was the reason other Iranians became motivated and interested in the sport. Hossein Sadaghiani was the first head coach of the Iranian national team. The first match that the Iranian national football team played was on January 1, 1941, away at Afghanistan.
3- Iran has won the Asian Cup in 1968, 1972 and 1976, the 1974 Asian Games football tournament. The national team has also qualified for the 1964, 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games and most importantly qualified for World Cup 1978 in Argentina, the 1998 Football World Cup and the 2006 tournament in Germany. The first win ever in World Cup was against the United States in 1998.
4- The largest venue for Iranian football (soccer) is the Azadi Stadium with a seating capacity of 100,000. Azadi is also the world's 4th largest soccer stadium. In addition, there are also more than 20 major football stadiums across the country.
5- Although young girls and women in general are great fans of football and follow football news probably even more than their male counterparts, women in Iran are still banned from entering football stadiums. The government has considered lifting the ban in different periods. There is no ban, however, for women to enter volleyball stadiums.
6- Iran home matches (both qualifiers and friendlies) are shown live on Channel 3 and satellite television network Jam-e-Jam 2. All matches are broadcast with pre and post analysis with full commentary.
Bizarre Buzz! : Iranian football juggler, now officially amazing!
How and for just how long can you juggle anything? The thirty year old Iranian sportsman, Mehdi Hobbedarvish, who is in love with fighting gravity set a Guinness World Record on January 15, 2010 (in Dubai Mall, UAE) when he displayed the longest time spent controlling a tennis ball by using his feet. Although the guidelines stated that he must achieve at least 60 touches in a minute to claim the record, Hobbedarvish kept the tennis ball off ground with 144 touches in one minute. Keeping things off ground seems to be in his blood. He has so far practiced the same with football, Ping-Pong balls, mini tennis balls and even coins, marbles, keys and ball bearings. Hobbedarvish can control and keep a tennis ball nonstop off the ground for 14 hours. He can also keep marbles and Ping-Pong balls off ground for 10 and 8 hours respectively. He now plans to set the bar even higher in the future and control the ball off ground for 24 hours nonstop.
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|Last Updated on 10 October 2011 13:17|