Doug Klein

Zionist’s Guide to the World Cup – Whither Iran?

After four long years, the Zionist Guide the to World Cup (ZGWC) returns to the scene, like a cloying, know-it-all relative.  The ZGWC recommendations as to what teams to root for in next month’s FIFA World Cup will be available in the coming days.  Try to stay calm in the interim.  If possible.

In the meantime, a movement to ban the Islamic Republic of Iran and its national soccer team from participation in the World Cup has arisen.  I doubt such a ban is even a remote possibility–given both the late hour of the attempt and the historically supine nature of international athletic organizations in response to instances of outrageous Iranian misconduct.  Nevertheless, the drive to ban the Iranian national soccer team from the 2022 World Cup does raise an interesting dilemma.

If the ultimate goal is to cause the current regime to collapse, then a colorable case can be made that Iranian national soccer team should actually be allowed to compete.

The Iranian people are devoted to their national sports teams — especially in soccer, wrestling and judo.  This support has been so fervent that — for many years — I have felt that a simple avenue to apply pressure to the regime would have been to institute an international sports ban based on their unsporting conduct towards Israeli athletes.  Perhaps such a ban could have forced the Iranians to take more flexible negotiating position, say, if someone wanted to conduct negotiations about the future of their nuclear weapons program.

In the current context, though, it has become clear that many Iranian athletes are not supportive of the current regime.  There have been numerous episodes where world class Iranian athletes have expressed dissent from their government’s policies and practices.  Moreover, such displays of dissent have taken on extra significance in the context of the ongoing civil unrest in Iran following the murder of Mahsa Amini.

In particular, Team Melli (as the Iranian national soccer team is commonly known) may have staged a protest during the national anthem during a September friendly against Senegal.  Several Iranian players posted statements on the internet in support of the ongoing demonstrations.  As such, there is a strong suspicion that Team Melli is largely composed of anti-regime elements.

Iran has never qualified for the knockout rounds of the World Cup.  They came very close in 2018 to doing so.  For this World Cup, Iran is in a group with England, Wales, and the United States.  Given the relative strength of this group, Iran is not expected to advance.  But it is soccer, after all, and anything is possible.


WARNING:  The following analysis is contingent on several major “IF’s” and should be understood accordingly.  

If members of Team Melli are indeed opposed to the current Iranian regime; and

If the current protests in Iran are ongoing during the World Cup; and

If Iran obtains good results in their first two games against England and Wales such that the team has a legitimate chance to advance to the knockout rounds…

…Then the Iranian team, both individually and collectively, would be national heroes, celebrated in the streets across all of Iran.  In the context of the World Cup, it might prove very difficult for the Iranian authorities to suppress their national’s team’s political gestures.

Picture the scene for the third and final group game against the United States.  The whole world would be watching.  The opposing teams would walk onto the pitch, and the teams would stand in single file as their national anthems are played.  Imagine that during the playing of the Iranian national anthem, the Iranian players each unfurl previously concealed pictures of Amini, Nika Shakarami, and others recently murdered by the current government.

What would be response to such a dramatic protest?  How could the mullahs effectively respond to such a statement?  It might even make the ZGWC root for the Iranians.

About the Author
Doug Klein is an attorney in Chicago and the wrestling coach at Ida Crown Jewish Academy.
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