As a former competitive - and now not so competitive, although active nonetheless - soccer player, I love it when I get to mix the beautiful game with the not so beautiful game, i.e. work.
Dan Murphy had a great article in theChristian Science Monitoryesterday on soccer in Iraq and the greater Middle East. He starts with some subtle snark: "The new Iraq that America's 'neocons' once dreamed of – undivided by sectarian animosities and proudly looking toward the future – was finally on display at a soccer match."
Here are some highlights from Murphy's piece:
Flags waved amid a sea of Iraqis Saturday night. A middle-age Shiite shop-owner and the Rolex-wearing Sunni businessman sitting next to him joined the throng in the latest chant of "We'd give our blood so you can live, Iraq."
Hamid Shukri, a doctor from Baghdad, leaned over to me when he realized I'm an American. "Don't worry," he shouted above the din, grinning ear to ear. "There are no terrorists here."
But on nights like Saturday, the exiles' shared common plight allows them to set aside whatever sectarian animosities that might linger below the surface and just be Iraqis. "Shiite, Sunni, no one cares here tonight," says Mohammed, who asked that his full name not be used. He is from just outside Baqubah, Iraq, which has been the scene of major sectarian cleansing in the past few years.
Soccer is so complex in that it can unify nations and people but also intensify nationalism and patriotic sentiment. We miss out on so much of it here in the U.S., but elsewhere in the world soccer and politics are inextricably interwoven. Intrigue, betrayal, heroism - these are words that describe the sometimes overwrought but always addictive realm of soccer and politics abroad.
Although I haven't seen it yet,Offsideis a new movie by director Jafar Panahi about six Iranian women who try to sneak into a World Cup qualifying match in Tehran (read a review on Alternethere). Women are expressly forbidden from entering sports stadiums in Iran.
Finally, I highly, highly recommendThe Other Final, "a film about love, football and a faulty loudspeaker." This awesome documentary chronicles a game between Bhutan and Montserrat, the bottom-ranked teams in the FIFA world rankings at the time it was filmed (202 and 203, respectively). My college coach made us go watch it in what we thought would be another corny team outing, but we actually enjoyed it and some of the funnier catchphrases even supplantedOld SchoolandAnchormanfor awhile.