13 Aug

Also from Andrew Sullivan:

When Sport Is Culture


by Chas Danner

Iran has cleaned up at the Olympics in weightlifting and wrestling, so far taking home 4 gold and 7 overall medals in the sports. Max Fisher takes a look at how Persian history has played into this success:

The surprisingly rich academic literature on Iran’s impressive records at wrestling, weightlifting, and tae kwon do consistently connects all three to an ancient Persian sport called Varzesh-e-Bastani [PDF], which literally translates to “ancient sport.” To Westerners, Varzesh-e-Bastani might look like an odd combination of wrestling, strength training, and meditation. Though there’s no known link between Varesh-e-Bastani and yoga, it might help to think of it as something like a Persian version of this athletic practice that’s also a method of personal and community development — and a symbol of cultural heritage.

Though Western cultures typically treat wrestling as an aggressive, individualistic, and deeply competitive sport, traditional Persian Varzesh-e-Bastani emphasizes it as a means of promoting inner strength through outer strength in a process meant to cultivate what we might call chivalry. The ideal practitioner is meant to embody such moral traits as kindness and humility and to defend the community against sinfulness and external threats. The connection of weightlifting with character development might sound odd, but it’s perhaps not so different from, for example, the yogic practice of Shavanasa, a meditative pose meant to bolster the spiritual and mental role of yoga’s stretches and poses.

Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s Saeed Kamali Dehghan looks at how the Olympics have played out back in Iran, including the reactions of ordinary Iranians:

The country’s success at the Olympics comes at a time of financial stringency and threats of war. But it is lifting the spirits of a nation gripped by sorrow and anxiety. “Despite all the pressure, there’s at least something positive out there to talk about and that’s the Olympics,” [a college student named] Reza said. His comments are echoed my many of his countrymen. “It’s so nice to see people discuss our success on public transport and share some joy,” said Ameneh, a 22-year-old Iranian student. “It’s also nice to see Iran’s name mentioned in some positive context. In the middle of all these financial difficulties, we have almost forgotten how to be happy,” she said.

(Photo: Yunior Estrada Falcon of Cuba (blue) wrestles against Ghasem Gholamreza Rezaei of Iran in the Men’s 96kg Greco-Roman Quarter-Final on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 7, 2012 in London, England. Rezaei subsequently won the Gold for his weight class. By Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)



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