TEHRAN (Iran News) – Sport not a ring of hatred. In a brief note, President of Iran National Olympic Committee Seyed Reza Salehi Amiri highlights the important role of sport as a tool to expand peace and friendship.
One of the functions of sport as part of public diplomacy is to spread peace and friendship among nations. Unlike political diplomacy, which is based on the power, competition, and interests of states, in public and cultural diplomacy, it is the nations which matter. The actors in this diplomacy are not politicians and statesmen, but elites, athletes, and artists.
Traveling to Saudi Arabia and playing in Riyadh was not the choice of Foolad Khuzestan team, and in the case of hosting the Asian Champions League, the rights of this team and other Iranian clubs were ignored. However, the next events, including the reception given by the Saudi football officials to the Foolad Khuzestan delegation should be considered auspicious.
The fact that Saudi football managers meritoriously welcomed members of an Iranian team at Riyadh airport raises hopes that after nearly five years, tensions between the two nations will ease and be replaced by friendship and peace. Governments change over time, politicians shift, and these shifts impact policies, but cultural diplomacy endures.
The two nations of Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot eternally live in an atmosphere of tension and conflict. Today we have a political difference with Saudi Arabia. In recent years, tensions have sometimes reached the highest level, but we cannot ignore the fact that the two nations have much in common culturally. At the same time, we should not forget that during the time of the late Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani and King (Amir) Abdullah, the two countries had friendly and constructive relations. Repeating the experience can help bring peace and tranquility to the region.
The question may be asked whether the resumption of sports relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia can also affect political relations? My answer to this question is definitely yes. Take a look at the photos posted by Iranian and Saudi users on social media since yesterday. The images tell us that hostility and nervousness have given way to bouquets and smiles. Let’s not forget that in the last 5 years that our relations with Saudi Arabia have been strained, we have never sought to involve politics in sports. We have never sought face-to-face games with Saudi athletes on neutral fields. We have repeatedly emphasized that we will host our competitors in complete security, away from political excitement, and in a fair atmosphere.
Iran has always protested against the violation of its athletes’ rights in international arenas. Just a few weeks ago, we denounced the reckless behavior of the Asian Football Confederation in depriving Iranian national football team of hosting and gifting it to Bahrain, but at the same time, we stressed that despite the propaganda, we are ready to host all contenders, including Bahrain, in a safe and peaceful atmosphere. Our position is respect and friendship based on observing mutual rights. In any case, with the visit of Foolad Khuzestan team to Saudi Arabia, Iranian sports took the first step to restore friendly relations between the two nations. We expect Saudi teams to travel to Iran in a similar manner, regardless of political affiliation. The nations of our region have deep religious, cultural and civilizational commonalities. With rationality and relying on these commonalities, we can once again introduce the image of the great Islamic civilization to the world. The Iranian nation is always open to embrace the neighboring nations.