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Pondering my imminent death over a coffee, Leila tapped my hand seeking my attention. ?It?s not as bad as you think. You could always...disappear? She said with a flourish of her hands. ?Plenty of places to hide in Iran.? She finished with a gleaming grin.
?No, we could win this. In fact...we must. Even if it means the Islamic Revolution is put on hold. Even if it means...?
?You are brave... or foolish. More likely both but nothing will be achieved by sipping latte and waiting for the first snow falls.? She leaned over and whispered a plan...
?I have another that I must try first?
With that we parted.
I couldn?t help but summarise my situation. Here I am in Iran. An inexperienced coach, coaching inexperienced players. Politics permeates even the air that is breathed. It?s in-grained into every aspect of life. It goes against everything I believe in with regards to sports though, I must admit that internally at least, every club has political issues. Within the team I kept an eye on the internal politics since learning that at any time the team could implode through sheer political ideologies. I couldn?t pretend I had my head around it and I was rued to try and sort it out. At least back in Australia, for 80 minutes, as a fan, we can forget about everything from politics to even home issues.
This is here and now. Pre-revolutionary Iran.
Although Leila?s plan was sound I was not going to leave Iran with a legacy of being a mediocre coach. I certainly wanted to make some small difference with regards to a bit of Rugby League culture.
The week leading up to the friendly with Iraq we practiced real game situations. The team had come a fair way with the basic skills and some simple set plays. We concentrated in ways of keeping possession and making quick movements down the field. The team were very keen on defence and tackling was approached with fervent enthusiasm.
On the eve of the game I held a team meeting. Ali translated.
?Gentlemen. I am considering forfeiting the game? Ali hesitated the translation but I urged him to continue. An uproar ensued. They pleaded with the little English they new mixed with no doubt Iranian expletives.
?I?m sorry but I do not think we are ready? More uproar. Ali relays that the team thinks I was wrong and that we would be denying them an opportunity of a life time.
?True... but with the current situation between some members of the team I cannot let you play Rugby League.? I allowed Ali to translate and sink in. ? You see, unless you can prove to me by tomorrow morning that we are together, we are one then I will not be able to call this a Rugby League team and that you will be denying ME the opportunity of being a coach. I want you to prove to me by tomorrow morning that Allah and politics will be forgotten for 80 minutes tomorrow and that when you look a team mate in the eye you will not be seeing A Sunni or a Shi?ite, a pro or a con revolutionary. Prove this to me and we will play. I have called a press conference for 9am tomorrow and I will be giving them an answer one way or the other?
I walked out amidst a cold silence, giving me enough time to contemplate the religious connotations of Rugby League clubs back home. The Catholic Cardinal Red of Souths completed with the Irish Myrtle of its lush hills. Canterbury too we?re well connected with the Catholic Church before it?s more recent Muslim connotations and you cannot go past the iconographic Christian logo of the St. George slaying the Dragon.
Perhaps I was being a hypocrite to an extent. Perhaps Religion and politics were not to far removed back home either and for eighty minutes every weekend I was deluding myself.
The point is however, is that when the CFMEU recently took up some half-time space during a Canberra club game to spruke their message, the NRL as a whole, took one small step towards an extreme taken for granted in places like Iran, South America and even Europe.
No thanks, let?s leave overt politics out of Rugby League.
(The game ended prematurely at 12 all when the pitch was invaded by the crowd. Courtesy of Leila)