It is a general sentiment among people that politics and sport should not go together. But they often do.
In the wake of the new Iranian movie, Execution of the Pharaoh , which paints former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat as a traitor for signing the 1978 Camp David accords, and his assassin a martyr, Egypt’s reaction has included summoning a senior Iranian diplomat in Cairo for a dressing down, stinging criticism from the state and opposition press, coming up with its own movie criticizing Ayatollah Khomeini, and closing down an Iranian television channel s Cairo bureau.
That should have been enough punishment but sports had to be involved. Cairo canceled a friendly football match with Iran that was set for August 20 in the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt has every right to protest against the movie. If Iran is entitled to its own opinion, so are we. But why should sport be a victim? Just because they are not necessarily in line, a country s policy towards another should not prevent a sports event from taking place.
At the height of the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union made the Olympics their personal little vendetta. Pakistan and India have fought wars over Kashmir but on occasion do battle in cricket. Despite their off-off relations, Iran and the Great Satan faced each other in the 1998 World Cup. The US meddles in our affairs all the time but that has never stopped the two from sports engagements.
Still, sport has always been tainted by political influences. Even in the best of times, sport has never been insulated from political impact, whatever be the means and modes advocated by the father of modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
In more than one essay, the Baron feared the Games he revived in 1896 would be hijacked by political bosses, or commercial interests. His fears proved true when Adolf Hitler used the Games to project the Aryan supremacy in 1936 in Berlin. The Baron visualized the shadow of Hitler looming large on sporting activities even in the early 30s.
Examples of politics getting in the way of sports are numerous, the most famed being the US-led boycott of 62 countries of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, after which Russia returned the favor four years later by having 14 countries of the Soviet bloc boycott the Games in Los Angeles. The biggest and only losers were the athletes.
But if we are to allow sports to consistently act as a political tool, then there wouldn’t be too many international tournaments. Many would like to see a boycott of the World Cup in South Africa in two years time because of the support that Thabo Mbeki, the president of the country, has towards Zimbabwe s Robert Mugabe. Many would like to see the upcoming Olympics in Beijing boycotted because of alleged Chinese human rights violations, their policy towards Tibet, and their possible involvement in Darfur.
The timing of Execution of the Pharaoh is odd, nevertheless, coming as it does after relations between Egypt and Iran had recently warmed, with both countries signaling a willingness to restore ties.
The film will certainly opens wounds which never permanently healed.
Diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran were severed in 1980, a year after the Islamic revolution, in protest at Sadat providing sanctuary to the deposed Shah (who was buried in Egypt), Egypt s recognition of Israel, and Cairo’s support for Iraq during its 1980-1988 war with Iran.
In turn, Cairo has said a Tehran street named after Sadat s assassin should be changed and murals in the Iranian capital of the assassin removed.
The film definitely represents a setback in attempts to normalize relations.
On the other hand, the scrapping of the football match represents nothing.
The concept of nationalism being what it is, passions get the better of reason and sport.
The Iranian Football Federation says it will complain to football’s world governing body FIFA over Egypt s decision, arguing this was a political issue and that it will tell FIFA that the Egyptians are mixing political issues with sports.
We do not know what action, if any, FIFA will take, but FIFA is inherently opposed to politics getting in the way of sports.
Mixing sports and politics is a risky proposition. Is mixing politics with anything a good idea?