…from an academic perspective. I have a book called Being Modern in Iran, which I bought at the Cairo Book Fair this year; I was leafing through it the other day and happened upon this quotation:
In some ways, the importance of physical activities in Iranian society is not entirely new. Imam Ali, the subject of devotion for all Shia Muslim believers, himself excelled in vigour and good looks. He remains the model par excellence for all sportspeople, and it is his name that they shout during a contest…. In former times the ‘houses of strength’ (zur-khâneh), where people practised a form of martial art, was a central place for sociability, the special area for the javânmard, who might either be skilled in the sport himself or, in his later yeas, a sponsor of it. Today, the tradition of the zur-khâneh has lost much of its lustre. Many ‘houses of strength’ have disappeared or been turned into sports centres. It is true that others have been started recently, but they are hardly visible at all, being submerged in the boom of modern sports. Most of them tend to become quaintly traditional, having ceased to be places of references in the neighbourhood or the bazaar; as zur-khâneh adepts say, they have hardly any ‘authenticity’ now, having sacrificed too much to the needs of public events and competition. Above all, that ‘ancient sport’ (vazesh-e bâstâni) cannot rival the attendance at mass sports such as football, even though it is an integral part of Iran’s cultural heritage and in international competitions Iran only does well in sports derived from the ancient one–weight lifting and wrestling–although the latter are only very modestly funded.
From “Looking After Number One: A Competitive Society” in Being Modern in Iran by Fariba Adelkhah, translated from the French by Jonathan Derrick (Hurst & Company, London, 1999).