IRAN, SAUDI ARABIA: Islamic Solidarity Games in Tehran canceled over ‘Persian Gulf’ spat


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It’s an old semantic argument, but one that continues to raise hackles.

The Islamic Solidarity Games Federation, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has canceled this year’s event, which was scheduled to be held in Tehran in April, because its Iranian counterpart refused to remove the phrase ‘Persian Gulf’ from the event’s promotional material and medals. ‘Regrettably and without presenting any logical reasons, the [Islamic Solidarity Games Federation] committee decided not to hold the games with Iran as the host,’ the Iranian committee said on its website.


The committee in Riyadh, in turn, accused Iran of taking unilateral decisions ‘by writing some slogans’ on the medals and pamphlets.

There was no indication the games’ cancellation was related to Iran’s recent political unrest or rising tensions over Saudi-Iranian interference in Yemen.

Created in 2005 to help bolster relations between Muslim countries, the games had already been pushed back from October 2009 to April 2010 amid conflicting reports of fears concerning swine flu and tensions about the words ‘Persian Gulf.’

The debate between Arabian Peninsula countries and Iran over what to call the body of water that lies between them goes beyond cartography. Experts say it mirrors a regional power struggle that has raged for close to 50 years and continues to be played out in international bodies and on college campuses around the world.

Alternative names that have been proposed include ‘The Gulf,’ ‘The Arabo-Persian Gulf’ and ‘The Islamic Gulf.’

The Los Angeles Times and most American newspapers use ‘Persian Gulf’ in accordance with long-established style guidelines.

Ironically, the news of the games’ cancellation coincided with the launch of the 19th annual International Conference on the Persian Gulf in Tehran, which launched today with participants from 15 countries including Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon and Egypt.

The conference is aimed at ‘demonstrating Iran’s potential and capabilities in resolving regional problems through cooperation with other regional countries’ according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut