Wed, May 24, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Iran prepares for the worst in case of victory


A young Iranian woman uses her mobile during a concert to encourage the Islamic republic's national soccer team at the prestigious Revolution sports club in the northern suburbs of the capital, Tehran, on Monday. Iranian police are gearing up for what may be one of their biggest ever public security operations: a sudden eruption of street parties should Iran enjoy a successful World Cup campaign.


Iranian police are gearing up for what may be one of their biggest ever public security operations -- a sudden eruption of street parties should Iran enjoy a successful World Cup campaign.

Residents of the soccer-mad Islamic republic are likely to be glued to their screens for the duration of the tournament, which opens for Iran with a crucial match against Mexico on June 11.

And if previous events are anything to go by, any Iranian victory or even draw is likely to prompt dancing on the streets -- a nightmare scenario for police who usually prefer for large public gatherings to be pre-organised affairs.

But the head of Tehran's police spokesman, Mohammad Torang, told reporters that he was optimistic that any partying will pass off well.

"The police has always considered themselves a part of the great Iranian nation, and we'll be participating," said Torang, indicating that his forces won't even bother trying to engage in their usual crowd control tactics.

In previous years, Iranian soccer victories have brought gridlock to cities and prompted men and women to start dancing amid a cacophony of klaxons and firecrackers.

"Having fun is the right of the people," Torang asserted, adding that police also shared public ambitions for the national team. "Of course there will be some traffic restrictions in some of Tehran's main streets or squares, but all in all it will be to facilitate fun."

At the outset of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, the new authorities viewed soccer with disinterest. But progressively, senior officials have been getting in on the act.

Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently decked himself out in a soccer kit to have a kick-around with the national side, telling the squad that "the prayers of 70 million Iranians" are behind them.

Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, has also reportedly awarded each player 180 million rials (US$19,700) for making it to the World Cup.

For the first time ever, Tehran's municipality has also erected giant screen televisions in several major squares across the city of more than 10 million people.

"I'll certainly be watching all of Iran's matches," Iran's usually composed foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, also told reporters.

"I'm not a kind of person to go out on the streets and celebrate, I'm getting too old for that. But if my kids want to go they can, and maybe I might go," said Asefi, who also sits on the board of the Iranian Football Federation.

An indication of public interest is also television sales.

"Every four years there's a surge in TV sales," revealed a sales manager working for an Asian eletronic goods manufacturer. We're having a very good run on televisions, especially the big LCD ones."

"It's the big televisions, more than 29 inches, that are selling well," added Hojjat Mokhlesabadi, a spokesman for the Iranian TV maker Sanam.

Iran is in Group D with Mexico, Portugal and Angola and has chosen the southern German city of Friedrichshafen as their World Cup base.

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