Jesse Owens, the renowned American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist, once said, “Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.” In that spirit of friendship, Team USA Volleyball with support from the U.S. Department of State, is hosting the Iranian National Men’s Volleyball Team for a series of four friendly matches in southern California between August 9 and 16. While some might be surprised to hear about this series of friendly matches, the U.S. Department of State has long supported sports diplomacy as an effective means to promote understanding in even the most challenging relationships, and sees sports diplomacy as a way to promote understanding and good will.
The Iranian team arrived in the United States on August 7, and was greeted at the airport in Los Angeles by State Department personnel, local officials, and representatives of USA Volleyball. Some lost luggage and jet lag later, the team joined Team USA for their first simultaneous practice.
This is the first time in recent memory that the Iranian Volleyball Team has visited the United States, but it’s not the first time that the teams have met. The teams first met in November 2006 at the World Championship in Japan, where the U.S. team swept the match 3-0. Team USA repeated this performance last month at the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) World League Finals in Florence, Italy, where they again swept the Iranians 3-0. But in November 2013, at the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup in Tokyo, Iran scored a dramatic five-set victory over the United States, the first and only time that Iran has beaten the U.S. team in a FIVB competition. With the U.S. Men’s team ranked 4th in the world, and Iran ranked 11th in the world but currently holding the Asian Championship, both teams are eager for a chance to test their skills against each other in preparation for the FIVB World Championships in Poland starting August 30.
The first game of the four friendly matches, played at the Galen Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, on August 9, saw two tough teams battling it out in front of a huge crowd of supporters of both teams. The U.S. team took the first two games, 27-25, and 25-21. Then, with the large crowd of expat Iranians and Iranian-Americans rallying behind them, the Iranian team took the third game 29-27. But the U.S. team managed to put the match away in the fourth game, 25-17. U.S. hitters Matt Anderson (West Seneca, New York) and Murphy Troy (St. Louis, Missouri) led the U.S. team on points, with Amir Ghafour leading the scoring from the Iranian side.
This is not the first sports diplomacy activity between the United States and Iran. The U.S. National Wrestling Team participated and won bronze in the World Cup of Freestyle Wrestling in Tehran in February 2013. Iran’s Freestyle Wrestling Team competed in the United States in May 2013 in New York and February 2014 in Los Angeles. The Department of State supports exchanges between the American and Iranian people in arts, culture, sports, and education as a way of promoting understanding and good will between our two nations.
The final three matches will be played on August 13 at the Anaheim Convention Center, August 15 at San Diego State University, and August 16 at University of California, Irvine. All games are being broadcast live on VOA Persian Service, and can be live streamed on the VOA Persian Service site and the Team USA site. And be sure to follow along on Twitter with hashtag #usavcup. We wish the Iranian team a successful and enjoyable visit, and look forward to future exchanges between the American and Iranian people.
About the Author: Samuel Werberg serves as the Press and Public Diplomacy Officer in the Office of Iranian Affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
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