Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Soccer highlights domestic drivers in Saudi-Iranian dispute

James Dorsey,

image from


Saudi Arabia and Iran, highlighting the domestic drivers of mounting tension that threatens to deepen and complicate sectarian and multiple other regional conflicts, have taken their fierce tit-for-tat battle from the realm of traditional diplomacy to the world of public diplomacy.
Following a dizzying sequence of events, including the Saudi execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr together with 46 others, the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the breaking off by the kingdom of diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iran have expanded their fight to the soccer pitch. 
Several Saudi clubs, including Al-Ahli FC, Al-Hilal FC, Al-Ittihad FC and Al-Nasr FC, issued statements on their websites in the wake of the ransacking of the embassy demanding that they play Asian championship matches against Iranian squads scheduled for February in neutral venues.
The clubs were expected to ask the Saudi Arabian Football Federation to officially request the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to move the games away from Iran.
Soccer pitches have long been flashpoints in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran on which not only tensions between the two countries but also domestic issues related to their strained relations manifest themselves. 
Pitches have also served as barometers and early warning signs of mounting tensions between the kingdom and the Islamic republic, which by its very nature challenges the ruling Al Saud family because it constitutes an alternative form of Islamic government that despite being a theocracy also recognizes some degree of popular sovereignty.
Iranian officials saw Saudi Arabia’s hand last April in clashes between soccer fans and security forces in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, home to Iran’s Arab minority and the capital of oil-rich but impoverished Khuzestan province. Ethnic Arabs have long complained that the government has failed to reinvest profits to raise the region’s standards of living.
The Iranian assertions were fuelled by Arab pundits who called for the liberation of the five million Arabs in Khuzestan. Some pundits described the Iranian province as Arabistan.
The Saudi soccer clubs’ demand for moving matches away from Iranian venues in effect amounts to support for the government’s escalating confrontation with the Islamic republic. That comes hardly as a surprise with two of the four Saudi clubs that put forward the demand being headed by members of the kingdom’s ruling family. ... 

No comments: