Iran’s National Football Team: The Smaller Iranian Society

Madi Jahangir * – On the sidewalk there was a guy painting faces of children and adults with the 3 colors of Iranian flag while tens of waving Iran flags were seen on every corner of street. A group of young guys had made a human tunnel, letting cars pass through if only drawing ‘Iran’ on the back of the cars by snow sprays. Crowd was chanting:” Iran, Iran!  Brazil here we come!” 

As good things for this country happen one after the other, Iranians took to the streets twice the other week, once as a result of their 74% participation in the 11th Iran’s presidential election and Hassan Rouhani’s victory and for the second time in days on Tuesday as an excuse for Iran’s confirmation onto World Cup 2014 which will be held in Brazil. Iran won South Korea 1-0 and finished top of the Asia’s group A. It took hours until people decided to go back home that night. The traffic was very heavy in most main streets but nobody seemed anxious as a result. The faces were happy & relieved.

Nationwide street rally is not such an unfamiliar scene in Iran. Iranians like to celebrate political and religious events in the streets. However three times in the history of Islamic Republic the street parties were held solely for the victory of Iranian national football team. Iranians are zealous fan of  football and take pride in their national team. For that matter, the victory and defeat of Iran’s national team can burst great happiness or depression in the society. Nowadays Football beside religious & political ceremonies are the main reasons that can make such huge celebrations in Iran. Most of the time the celebrations are a mixture of them all: Religious chants at a football celebration with political motivation!

As an example the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifier (AFC – OFC play-off) in November 1997, Khodadad Azizi scored the equaliser against Australia and sent Iran into France 98. Iranian team which was 0-2 behind, could score two quick goals and  progressed on away goals. The match which is considered by many Australians as one of the most tragic moments in their sporting history, caused wild celebrations in the streets of Iran and once again proved how unpredictable Iranian nation is.

The other example is Iran’s first World Cup victory but guess against whom! Iran won against the United States 2–1, with Estili and Mahdavikia scoring goals for Iran. The game came into such an excitement due to the long term political struggles between governments of the two countries and each country’s political stance after the Iranian revolution. Two national teams presented each other with gifts and flowers in an act of showing off fair play and not involving politics in sports.  However the victory was celebrated as a relief and national party in Iran after decades of enduring sanctions and war led by the US government. Iranians once again honked their car horns and danced in the streets.

The most recent victory was on 18 June 2013 when Iran defeated South Korea 1-0 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification. Some suggest that comments of the Korean manager Choi Kang-Hee encouraged Iranians more to finish the game with full score. Choi had made a personal attack against the Iranian team and that he would do anything to beat Iran and help Uzbekistan to become the second qualified team. Queiroz, the Portuguese manager of the Iran national football team showed his anger and his satisfaction of Iran’s victory over South Korea at the Choi’s unprofessional comments. For sure, he did make himself a national hero for Iranians!

Iranian nation is interested in the positve image they offer to the world. Maybe knowing this fact is the main reason that the mainstream media portrayal of Iran is unfair and stereotypical. And maybe that is also one of the reasons that makes Iranians united in happy and sad times. Iran’s national team in fact represents a smaller Iranian society as Iranian footballers come from across the country and from different religious and ethnic background as a sign of unity in the multi cultural and multi ethnic Iran. If they are supporter of blue, red, green and yellow local teams, when it is about national team, Iranians inside the country and abroad are all united under one Iran flag.

“This week is Iran’s week.” Said a little girl holding Iranian flag. As a reaction to Iran’s qualification just like the presidential elections, right after the referee blew the final whistle, millions of Iranians across the country took to the streets showing off their pride and love for the homeland. The street parties broke out while drivers honked horns & women and men clapped, sang and danced. This time Samba, but Iranian style!

 * Madi Jahangir is an Iranian blogger and social media activists. She is project manager at Dream of Iran

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