World-2022: before United States – Iran, the five most political matches in the history of sport



Apart from their international dimension, sport and geopolitics have a priori nothing in common. And yet, “it is obvious that global politics influences sport and vice versa”, writes the Polish researcher Michał Marcin Kobierecki in an academic article on the subject.

Meetings between rival countries, such as the match between Iran and the United States, which takes place on Tuesday November 29 as part of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, therefore have a particular resonance.

“These kinds of oppositions can be used by states to show their supposed superiority over their rivals, continues Michał Marcin Kobierecki. Victories against ideologically competing states are therefore particularly valuable. » From the clash between Nazi Germany and America to the Cold War, there have been many tense geopolitical confrontations over the past century.

► Iran – United States, a repeat of 1998

Iran and the United States had already faced each other in 1998, during the Football World Cup organized in France. The president of the American federation had described this meeting as “father of all matches”. The Islamic Republic team wins 2-1. “Our adversary, strong and arrogant, has tasted the bitter flavor of defeat”, reacts at the time the supreme guide Ali Khamenei.

On the field, however, the players show restraint and congratulate each other at the end of the game. In addition, the president is then Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who seeks to appease relations with the West.

Today, the situation is much more tense. Power is held by hardliners, Iranian drones in Russian hands have plunged Ukraine into darkness, and violent protests have rocked the country for months.

► Ping-pong diplomacy

Until the 1970s, the United States did not recognize the Communist government as representing the Chinese people. They continue to support the nationalist leaders, exiled on the island of Taiwan following their defeat against the Red Army in 1949.

A team of American table tennis players finally brought the two countries closer together in cold weather by setting foot on Chinese soil in April 1971. Prime Minister Zhou Enlai received them warmly, hoping that this visit augured “a new page in the relations between the American and Chinese peoples”. In the process, Richard Nixon announced the withdrawal of certain measures preventing the movement of goods and people between the two nations.

The following year, the American president in turn visited the country, and diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing were restored in 1979, after thirty years of freezing.

► Joe Louis against Max Schmeling, a black American against Nazi Germany

Considered one of the most talented boxers of his generation, Joe Louis symbolized in 1930s America the possibility for African-Americans to escape poverty. A particularly important figure as the Ku Klux Klan continues to plague the southern states of the country. He faced in 1936 then in 1938 the German Max Schmeling, representative of the Third Reich, although he was personally an opponent of the Nazi party.

The two rival governments, which would clash brutally a few years later, get involved in the fight. “Joe, we need muscles like yours to knock Germany down,” says US President Franklin Roosevelt to his champion. Adolf Hitler is said to have sent messages to Schmeling, warning him that the prestige of the Third Reich depended on his victory. He will win the first confrontation, before being defeated in 1938.

► The “miracle on ice”

The most tenacious rivalry of the 20th century remains that which pitted the communist USSR against capitalist America. “These two countries, which have nuclear weapons, have no interest in opposing each other with arms. We must therefore find other fields of competition: sport, alongside the space and arms race, has become one of them. analyzes specialist Michał Marcin Kobierecki.

One of the most famous clashes between the two rivals remains the Olympic ice hockey tournament at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, USA. The American team wins to everyone’s surprise against arch-favorites Soviets. On the occasion of its centenary, in 2008, the international ice hockey federation describes this event as the most important in its history.

► The diplomacy of cricket

Cricket, the second most popular sport in the world after football, has also served to bring enemy nations closer together. In 1987, while Indian and Pakistani troops were massed on both sides of their common border, Muhammad Zia Ul Haq, who led Pakistan, traveled to India to watch a match between the two nations.

According to the BBC, he takes the opportunity to remind Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that his country also has atomic weapons. In the process, the two governments sign an agreement providing for the withdrawal of their soldiers.

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