While we awake this morning to more press on how US fans are making themselves known on the world stage, reports have also come in from other countries where fans are not allowed to watch the matches and are even being shot. Though the Somali faction controlling the capital now denies there is any effort to stifle viewing of the World Cup, other Islamic clerics as also speaking out against watching.

Though still foreign to some Americans (less and less each year!), soccer is the World’s game, followed by enthusiastic fans everywhere. However, it seems that more and more fundamental Islamic groups and governments are trying to suppress interest in sports, especially soccer. While some complain that watching the World Cup exposes citizens to immoral western values and activities like alcohol consumption, etc., it seems to go deeper. Last Kick, a blog covering Iranian soccer, has highlighted the difficulties for Iranian women wanting to watch matches. Under pressure from inside and outside Iran, their President finally relented, allowing women to watch matches from a special section of the stadium.

What is it about soccer that has the fundamentalists so worried? While it is often dominated by teams from democratic countries, you still see teams such as Saudi Arabia and Iran in the World Cup. In Muqtada Sadr’s fatwa, he clearly feels soccer is a western tool to distract Muslims from their devotion to God:

Habeebi, the West created things that keep us from completing ourselves (perfection). What did they make us do? Run after a ball, habeebi… What does that mean? A man, this large and this tall, Muslim- running after a ball? Habeebi, this ‘goal’ as it is called… if you want to run, run for a noble goal. Follow the noble goals which complete you and not the ones that demean you. Run after a goal, put it in your mind and everyone follows their own path to the goal to satisfy God.

Yet clerics in Iraq are hassling shopkeepers who display flags from World Cup teams because they feel it hurts their nationalism. That strikes me as a contradiction. Soccer can unify a country, especially if your national team is playing in a prominent event. Even if they aren’t, other Islamic based teams are. So why stifle it?

I spent a fair amount of time Googling for information about soccer and Islam, but came up relatively empty. Perhaps the events linked above are just outliers and that overall soccer is still embraced by fundamentalist Islamic countries. But it seems like a pattern is emerging and while it may be simply due to overzealous religious police, it could be the sign of something more troubling. I simply found it curious. Do you think it is just a collection of random events or something becoming more common?