x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Waiting for the beach volleyball on Tehran TV? Don't hold your breath …

Iran would easily win Olympic gold if there were a medal for one of its most popular sports: bashing Britain.

Iran would easily win Olympic gold if there were a medal for one of its most popular sports: bashing Britain.

While cheering on Iran's athletes at the London Games, hardline media in Tehran have cleared ample space to portray the "colonial old fox" as a menacing police state unfit to host the Olympics.

"London is more like a city preparing for war than an international peaceful event," sniped Iran's state-run English language channel Press TV, always first off the block to lambast Britain.

Until the hosts finally struck gold yesterday, Iran was scoffing at Team GB's failure to satisfy the British public's hunger for sporting glory on home turf. And there has been wide coverage of the empty seats at Olympic events.

Not since the riots in English cities last summer have Iran's state-run and semi-official media had such an opportunity to blast Britain with so much self-serving gusto.

Britain, they maintain, is using the Olympics as a "pretext" to crack down on widespread social, economic and political discontent, and to oppress religious and ethnic minorities.

The conservative Hemayat newspaper suggested the Olympics provided an ideal opportunity to try the British "regime" for "crimes against humanity and ignoring human rights".

At home, Britain had "pressurised Muslims and coloured people in recent months", the daily claimed. Abroad, London had participated in the suppression of "innocent people in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia".

Such acts "are inconsistent with the humanitarian principles and frameworks of the Olympic Games", Hemayat pontificated.

The irony of Tehran's holier-than-thou stance is not lost on the hundreds of thousands of Iranians involved in a peaceful pro-democracy uprising in 2009 that was brutally crushed.

Some reformist newspapers have bucked the bad news trend. The Shargh daily risked the wrath of Iran's viscerally antimonarchy hardliners by praising Queen Elizabeth's turn in Friday's opening ceremony, when she appeared in a film clip greeting James Bond, played by Daniel Craig.

The Queen had descended from her "out-of-reach position" to rival the late Princess Diana as "the queen of hearts", Shargh enthused.

Tehran has a historical grievance against "perfidious Albion" dating to the British imperial meddling in Iran in the 19th and 20th centuries. Relations hit a new low last November when London closed its embassy in Tehran after it was stormed by hardline Iranian student members of a pro-government militia.

Iran's reformist press, along with sports outlets, are mostly ignoring politics to focus on their country's hopes of winning medals in events where their athletes have a strong chance, such as weightlifting, wrestling and taekwondo.

Iran, which first took part in the Olympics in 1948 in London, has sent 54 athletes to the Games. Among them are eight women competing in events such as rowing, archery and table tennis. These are activities in which the need to keep the female body well-covered under Iran's strict dress code is not a serious hindrance to performance.

At home, sports-mad Iranians without access to illegal satellite dishes have criticised their state broadcaster, IRIB, for failing to provide much live coverage.

Even if IRIB bows to popular demand, there is one event it will never broadcast: women's beach volleyball.