Saturday, June 14, 2008

Soccer, Development and Decision Making in Iran

To contradict those who argue there is one single will in Iran one only needs to follow the news of soccer in this land of footballers. It is the most popular sport in Iran with fans from all ranks of society, all walks of life and both genders, with female fans still banned from attending the games in the stadiums and yet they go disguised as boys or behind the fences to see their favorite teams play. Its popularity is so widespread that even President goes to national team’s exercises and all of its affairs are followed very closely by most enthusiastic of fans. And may be it is because of that, its confederation IRIFF, the players and the coaches have gained a certain space of maneuverability.

While the world of soccer is watching Euro Cup 2008 Iran’s national team is going through qualification for the World Cup. After much debate Ali Daee, former team captain and Asia's best player in 2000, has become team's manager and coach. The other potential candidate Afshin Qotbi was put aside, although he led his team, Persepolis, to become the champion of Iranian league. Like any other coach Ali Daee prefers some players to the others. It is not a secret that he does not like Ali Karimi, Asia’s Best Player in 2004 and one of Iran’s most celebrated footballer.

Karimi was banned from playing in the national team after he made numerous criticisms towards the IRIFF. And obviously Ali Daee did not feel obliged to include him in the team. Figures such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of Islamic Republic intervened to have him reinstated. Although IRIFF officially has pardoned him, the coach of national team does not feel obliged to field him yet. Something odd in a country where people are supposed at least to seem that they follow the official lead.

It is interesting to notice that soccer is the first place where President Ahmadinejad found his opponents to be too formidable. Last year after a long and politically charged debate as to who should lead IRIFF he had to ask Mr. AliAbadi the chairman of Iran’s Sports Organization to step down as a candidate. FIFA had threatened to boycott Iranian teams from international competition if the government would not have withdrawn its candidate from the election for the IRIFF chairmanship, which is considered an NGO. The prospect of having Iranian teams banned from international fields proved to be too terrifying even for the current cabinet.

Looking at this example one is obliged to think that may be popular support and interest is what plans to achieve sustainable economic development lack in order to succeed in Iran.
Where soccer teams succeed to divert policies that hurt their chances to attend international competitions, Iran’s industrialists and economists fail to convince politicians of the benefits of globalization and free competition. Where national team coach exercises a free hand in choosing his players and is chosen by an NGO, Iran’s manufacturing sector is mainly run by the government appointees and its private sector has to yield to the government’s influence and interfrence from time to time. The contrast could not have been greater. May be after all what development lacks in Iran is some soccer fans!

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