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Basketball and Soft Power

By Matthew Yglesias on October 19, 2006 at 3:35 pm

"Basketball and Soft Power"

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Via Henry Abbott, I learn:

US treasury officials are investigating whether American basketball players who were paid to play for Iranian teams have violated US sanctions. Under the sanctions regime, a special licence is required by any American citizen providing services to Iran… Last year, 20 Americans were contracted to play for Iranian teams. They could now face fines of $50,000 (£26,700). Basketball is a popular sport in Iran, and many saw the Americans’ involvement as a rare example of sport overcoming political tensions. However, this co-operation looks set to end, and there are now only two American players left in Iran.

This seems misguided to me, but whatever. I’ve had the following, probably deeply unoriginal, observation on my chest for weeks now and this seems like a reasonable pretext for unloading. If you look at where baseball is popular outside the USA — primarily Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Caribbean basin — you’re basically looking at a sport that’s spread on the coattails of American “hard power” to regions of the world where there have been large US military deployments. Basketball, by contrast, is most popular in the areas where we haven’t based troops — Brazil and Argentina in Latin America; mainland China in Asia; Eastern and Southern Europe. And, apparently, Iran. What this signifies, I couldn’t say.

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