Soccer match first step to political progress

LOS ANGELES, (U-WIRE) — This past Sunday, Iran played America in a soccer match at the Rose Bowl.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Let’s try that again: This past Sunday, Iran played America in a soccer match at the Rose Bowl. The game ended with two nations coming one step nearer to ending nearly a quarter of a century of icy relations.
It was impossible to ignore the political circumstances of the match and not dwell on the hype surrounding the soccer game. Iranians both in their homeland and abroad knew very well what the game meant. Though not nearing most Iranians’ level of interest, Americans, too, seemed aware of the match. Certainly many televisions in Washington, D.C. were tuned to the game.
Iran’s tour of the Americas began with little fanfare. The Iranian community watched the team closely as it played Mexico and Ecuador in the week prior to the U.S. game. Both of those matches, also played in California, were considered warm-ups for the rematch of the 1998 World Cup game with the United States. It doesn’t matter that Iran lost to Mexico and beat Ecuador; the game that counted was this past Sunday.
For many Iranians, this game was a glimpse of things many hope for in the future. With much of the Western world having turned its back on Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranians are eager to again become accepted as a respected national entity throughout the world. Slowly, Europe and Asia have come to understand this different, theocratic Iran. Yet the biggest hurdle to normalcy — resuming friendly relations with the United States — still remains.
Accordingly, Iranians showed their enthusiasm for the game and for their national team. More than 50,000 Iranians attended the game. Many flew in from other parts of the United States.
Some even came from Europe. A devoted crowd followed the team from Iran. Yet the overwhelming majority was from the more than 500,000 Iranian-Americans living in the southern California area, people who, culturally speaking, crossed the two national borders.
The game meant the most to these people. Many left their homeland after the Islamic Revolution and re-established themselves here, in the United States. Through the years, roots from this new nation grew alongside those of their mother nation. A mixture of Iranian heritage and American culture, these people are torn between two politically and ideologically divided nations.
Normalization of relations with Iran would mean a unification of the split identity many Iranian-Americans feel. Living a sort of temporary life in cultural limbo, Iranian-Americans are not sure of with whom to ally themselves. They like this new nation, but also long for the familiarities of Iran. If things remain the way they are, many Iranian-Americans in this situation will remain in this “temporary” state permanently.
That’s precisely why things cannot remain the way they are. For more than 20 years, many of these people have been at the mercy of political uncertainty. Iranian-Americans want to know what the future holds for them and their children. This soccer game gave them an inkling of what may be to come.
During the past year, several American teams have traveled to Iran. The Saturday before this soccer game, an assortment of American wrestlers arrived in Tehran to compete in a week-long tournament. One can only hope that this sports diplomacy will lead to more meaningful political exchanges.
Progress has been slow thus far, but it has also been steady. Just before Sunday’s game, Iran’s governing body of soccer officially invited the American soccer team to Tehran for a match in March 2001. All indications seem to point to the United States accepting this invitation.
Hopefully before the next soccer match, political maneuvering between Washington and Tehran can yield some scores of its own. Leaders of both nations seem willing to meet. The overture needs only be made; an acceptance seems imminent.
It is best that Iran and America are going head to head on the soccer field rather than the battlefield. If form holds and future exhibitions between the two nations yield similar friendly results, the final score will not be of consequence, as everyone will come out a winner.
Paymann Moin’s column originally appeared in Wednesday’s University of Southern California paper, the Daily Trojan.