chapter  8
22 Pages

The World Cup and Iranians’ home-coming’: a global game in a local Islamicized context

This chapter focuses on the popular response in Iran to the World Cup tournament in order to examine the interplay between football as a globally defined game and its local reception in a play. Thus, from a paradigm of competition (a set of rules that determines what is a win and what is not), football is transformed into a deep’ play in a local context where the relationship between football (signifier) and its audience (signified) assumes an indeterminate, ambiguous character. Against this ambiguity and the alternative interpretations for action to which it gives birth, this chapter argues that celebrating Iranians redefined their relationship with the Islamic state. Within the ambiguity-ridden, carnivalesque space of play, Iranians subverted the Islamic juridical rule which is geared to tight control over space and the body. The juridical rule, through the textual construction of the Muslim community {ummat) is the outcome of the state's negation of civil society which sustains the notion of legality. This chapter seeks to tease out the implications of their play in terms of a re-investment by Iranians in the territory they inhabit, with a specifically cultural import which maintains their position as a unique people-nation interacting with other equally unique people-nations. The Islamic state, although relying on territory as its power base, has refused to recognize the culturally specific terms in which Iranians define their relationship with this territory as a place, home. Unlike the modern state which, irrespective of its representative character, seeks to forge, through recourse to the notion of culture, an identity with the nation over which it presides, the Islamic state's juridical rule which is based on an universal religious allegiance, abolishes the mediation of culture. As with society, culture interrupts the Islamic state's textual construction of the Muslim community in which the body and space are tightly controlled. The global game of football offered Iranians the opportunity to slacken this control by rallying behind the iconic football

players who represented them, through the global media, as a distinct people-nation. The massive World Cup celebration by Iranians is seen, therefore, as a temporary re-occupation of the space in which they, by and large, construct their national identity through secular pilgrimages’. As Gramsci put it:

This contrast between thought and action, i.e. the co-existence of two conceptions of the world, one affirmed in words and the other displayed in effective action, is not simply a product of self-deception. Self-deception can be an adequate explanation for a few individuals taken separately, or even for groups of a certain size, but it is not adequate when the contrast occurs in the life of great masses. In these cases the contrast between thought and action cannot but be the expression of profounder contrasts of a social historical order. It signifies that the social group in question may indeed have its own conception of the world, even if only embryonic; a conception which manifests itself in action, but occasionally and in flashes – when, that is, the group is acting as an organic totality.