In preparation for the upcoming World Cup soccer championship, Costa Rica has faced countries such as France and South Korea in non-consequential, warm-up matches. These games have stirred the nation’s passion for the sport and brought enthused fans to their feet in homes and bars around the country.
Costa Rica’s next game, scheduled for Wednesday, brings the national soccer team to Tehran, Iran, to play against that country’s national team – and not all are pleased.
An editorial published Monday in the country’s most influential daily, La Nación, entitled “An Unsuitable Visit,” called on the Costa Rican Soccer Federation (FEDEFUTBOL) to cancel the visit for political reasons.
The same day, Social Christian Unity Party legislator Aida Faingezicht sent a letter to the president of the federation citing the editorial and calling the visit “inappropriate” and “a dreadful message to the international community.”
Iran has been criticized – particularly by the United States, Israel and some European countries – for its human rights record and nuclear power program, which some believe is intended for the eventual production of nuclear weapons. Tensions heightened after conservative Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted in October as saying “Israel must be wiped off the map,” and calling the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed in Nazi Germany, a “myth.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister recently said the nation’s leader had been misunderstood, however, and acknowledged the Holocaust and said the anti-Israeli remarks were only a reference to that nation’s government, which Iran believes to be illegitimate.
In its editorial, La Nación said that FEDEFUTBOL had “committed a grave error” in accepting the match, and the soccer team’s visit to the country could be seen as “a tacit acceptance, on our part, of a regime that deserves universal condemnation.”
Faingezicht, in her letter, cited Iran’s support of “Islamic terrorist movements,” its “disrespect” toward women’s and civil rights and its intentions to “destroy the state of Israel,” as reasons why the Tico team, known as La Selección Nacional or La Sele for short, should not play in the game.
“As the daughter of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust… as a woman born in this land of peace, liberty and respect for human rights, I raise my voice before you in protest and opposition to the soccer selection, raising high our national flag, going to Iran and, with its presence, approving the politics of that fundamentalist and transgressor government,” Faingezicht wrote in the letter.
FEDEFUTBOL responded to both the letter and the editorial with a statement posted the same day on its Web site (www.fedefutbol.com) saying it would not cancel the match.
“Soccer is above any political problem, religious or racial discrimination,” the federation said in the statement, and called on politicians to stick to politics while sports prevails over differences.
“I sympathize with Doña Aida’s reasons,” FEDEFUTBOL president Hermes Navarro said. But, he added, “If we act on the basis of these prejudices and mix race and politics, I believe we would not be able to play against the United States, Communist China or Russia. We wouldn’t even have been able to participate in the (World Cup) eliminatory – remember we began playing Cuba, in Havana.”
The game between Costa Rica and Iran was coordinated by an authorized agent of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, and as part of the deal the Iranian hosts will pay FEDEFUTBOL $100,000 and cover all its costs, Navarro told The Tico Times. He said $100,000 is what Costa Rica usually requests when playing abroad.
“We know there will be a lot of security, because the eyes of the world will be on this game,” Navarro said.
Head coach Alexandre Guimaraes on Tuesday announced his choice of 16 players for the March 1 match, including Paulo Cesar Wanchope, 29, one of Costa Rica’s most celebrated forwards. The delegation, scheduled to depart Sunday afternoon with a stopover in the United States, will include seven others, including Guimaraes, trainers and a masseur.
President Abel Pacheco, when asked about the controversy following his weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday, said he and Navarro have an agreement: “He doesn’t get involved in politics and I don’t get involved with soccer.”
Faingezicht, however, dismissed this reasoning. “Political and ideological reasons can be differences, but when we’re talking about crimes against humanity… We have differences we cannot go beyond,” she told The Tico Times.