10 June 2005

Soccer Stadium Politics

Two interesting political developments happened in the seating areas of football/soccer stadiums in Bangkok and Tehran.

In Bangkok, the stadium was eerily silent and empty as during the World Cup match between North Korea and Japan. (Japan won 2-0.) Live spectators were banned this time, and the venue was moved to neutral territory, after North Korean fans ran amok when their team lost a World Cup game to Iran in Kim Il-sung stadium in Pyongyang in April.

In Tehran, despite postgame riots when Iran beat Japan (2-1) in March, the stadium was full and the fans were raucous for other reasons.
One of the victories scored at Azadi Stadium Wednesday evening was Iran's soccer triumph over the island nation of Bahrain, an easy 1-0 win that guaranteed Iran a slot in next year's World Cup and set off dancing in the streets of the capital.

Another sort of victory came about 90 minutes before the game, when female soccer fans pushed their way past guards posted outside the stadium.

Defying a rule that has banned women from soccer matches for more than a quarter-century, the young activists demanded seats in the sports complex that Iran's religious rulers named Azadi, or "freedom."

"We were just insisting on our rights," said Laila Maleki, one of the young women. "We're part of no campaign."

Of the 100 or so women in the Special Grandstand on Wednesday night, most were invited by Iran's minister for sports, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, who is also one of the country's vice presidents. An advocate of equal participation for women and a presidential candidate, Mehralizadeh has in recent months arranged for women to attend national soccer games.
By the standards of football hooliganism, North Korean fans are the normal ones. They tend to riot against foreigners when their own team loses. Whereas Iranian fans are bipolar: Their joy at winning tends to turn into anger at their own government.

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