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Another great World Cup

Don't think too hard. Take it as it is

June 24, 2002
The Iranian

It's that time again when football, in its truest form, takes center stage in every part of the world and hundreds of millions of people become glued to their TV sets as the teams from around the world battle it out.

Here, in the opposite end of the world, I am struggling to stay up. The tea has been brewing, ready to keep me up through a long world cup night. It's now time to watch Korea battle out Spain in World Cup quarterfinals.

I have been a diehard soccer fan since I was a little kid. My first soccer game was in grade 1 playing a bunch of fifth grade bullies in our elementary school. Our school had a big bully with the last name of "Etehadieh" who was in fifth grade. He was the big cheese, the big guy that everyone in school was scared of.

One day, for a reason I do not recall anymore, we played the fifth grade kids and lo and behold, in my first soccer game ever against the big cheese, I scored and I never looked back. The feeling of overcoming a challenge and taking one for the good guys was so good that I fell in love with the "beautiful game" instantly.

Later, watching the World Cup around the same time forever entrenched the love for the game in my heart. From then on, the passion never withered and was only magnified with every game on the field and on TV.

In Iran, football was my way of keeping in touch with my roots. I wanted to be out there with ordinary people and accepted by all, as just the soccer player next door or just me. And through the years of migration and relocation, the world's game always came handy.

Playing it at an acceptable level meant respect in Germany, where respect is so hard to find for a foreigner. Playing it in Canada where back then, unlike today, soccer was not a big participation sport, meant the opportunity to lead, to take charge and to gain friends of all cultures and backgrounds.

As I grew older and through my tumultuous teenage years, I began to think of the beautiful game as a great unifier, as a way to bring our world closer together. Afterall, every team I played for or organized was diverse and multicultural. But then, little by little, the not so beautiful side of the beautiful game crept in and showed its face.

As I played in various leagues, I realized how people have used my beautiful game to enforce and carve up more lines, have promoted their prejudices and have deepened divisions within the people involved in the game. The English, the Scots, the Italians, the Arabs, the Ethiopians, the Iranians, the Jews, had become more distinct than united as far as I could see in my leagues.

As I watched the World Cup, North American style, I found it strange and bizzare that a third generation person of Italian background who has hardly ever played the game or who has never tried to promote the game in this part of the world and who could not even speak Italian, all of a sudden had become Italy's #1 fan, waving flags and blocking roads after every Italian win! Watching so many bandwagon fans more often than not left me bewildered.

As I followed the game more closely, I learned of how Havalange and Blatter created the most corrupt sporting empire around my game. The simple game of past was now filled with ego-centric multimillion dollar athletes and so many corrupt federations and organizations. The simple game of past now had to live with the burden of sweat shops in some third world nations as multinational corporations vied for every inch of this lucrative market.

As I followed every tournament more closely, I began to detest so many countries who have been making a mockery of a tournament like the World Cup by stealing and naturalizing players from any country with the slightest link to them.

And as I went through another long night of football fever, I was saddened that dubious referee calls and outrageous diving and faking, have become a standard practice in my game. The whistle was blown. The game was now over. South Korea has now become the first Asian nation in the final four, although not without a lot of controversy.

As I sat there, I began to ponder where my beautiful game is going to. Would this game be still beautiful when it gets to the my kids and the next generation? Would the concept of national soccer team even exist 40 years from now? Would the beautiful game break barriers in the years to come or is the thought of removing barriers just a mere fiction in the minds of the idealist?

Would people take it as what it is, just a simple beautiful game or would it still cause national euphoria and make people feel that they belong to something great for a moment or two? Would the concept of a bunch of corrupt cheating bureaucrats fighting cheating or "simulation" as they call it ever sell?

I was too tired to think and in the spectrum of all serious real life questions, these seemed rather minor questions. Sometimes it is better to let time answer the questions. And this time was indeed one of those. Time to turn the TV off and just take it as what it was, another great World Cup game.

By Ali Khalili

Khalili's features index


Just another soccer widow
I had no intention of being replaced by a game of football By Parissa Sohie

Do people play football? Of course not! By Alidad Vassigh

Nothing to lose Hoping this Cup will be that of the Third World and the underdog
By Assal Badrkhani

Civil war
Photo essay: World Cup


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