Football and the Contestation of National Identity in Iran


This study thus examines a particular form of ethnic resentment, namely the use of sport as a medium of expressing repressed ethnic feelings, when a sports club going beyond mere entertainment and athletics becomes an important centre for disseminating ethnic sentiments. It seeks to explore the place of Tractor, a football club founded in Tabriz and supported by Azeri ethnic minorities, in the construction, consolidation and expression of Azeri identity in Iran, to shed light on how otherwise a neutral avenue such as football develops a political and cultural dimension in a politically closed environment. This paper argues that much of the affection for Tractor is owed to the fact that it offers arenas for representing the idea of ethnic or even national distinctiveness for Azeris. It provides the fans with an effective vehicle for a form of cultural resistance to celebrate an alternative identity, different from and opposed to the Persian-centric narrative of Iranianness. For many Tractor fans, the club is the most significant single ‘ethnocultural focus’ as it provides the social setting and set of symbolic processes and representations through which their distinct sense of identity is sustained. By providing the Azeris with a) a distinguishing symbolic reservoir of tales and memories of victorious, outstanding events, b) an idealized image of a distinctive and original public culture; c) a narrative of the ‘other,’ as defined in different to Azeri ‘us,’ the club helps to define and maintain a distinct Azeri identity.


Ehsan Kashfi
Student, PhD, University of Alberta, Alberta, Canada


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2023 Special Focus—The Impact of Professional Sport on Community


National Identity, Football, Iran, Minorities

Digital Media

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