Thursday, June 22, 2006

Angola go down in an explosive game - not metaphors for some left at home.

Iran 1 - Angola 1

Mines warning sign (c) Mines Advisory GroupThis turned out to be the final appearance at Germany 06 from two teams that it is hard not to love. Angola's attraction stems mainly from their deafining travelling support, who come equipped with horns so loud one can only assume that hundreds of Luanda-based container ships are recklessly operating recklessly without their normal signalling equipment this month.

Iran, meanwhile, continue to pursue the charm offensive that so embarrssed the USA in 1998, when the American captain arrived in the centre circle to be presented with a mountain of gifts and flowers, only to have to admit that he, um, hadn't got Ali Daei anything at all. Iran's generosity has been scaled back somewhat, but a framed Persian rug and an expensive-looking silver dish still beats a cheap pennant any day of the week.

It is possible that the enthusiasm shown by these nations for the game stems in part from the horrible reality that many football careers in both Angola and Iran are cut short by events far crueller than a scout's indifference.

Iran and Angola are the world's second and third most-landmined countries, with a total of almost 30 million mines between them. Both countries - but Iran in particular - also face the threat of unexploded ordnance (UXO) - live but undetonated bombs that become landmines in all but name.

Anti-personnel mines are designed to destroy feet and legs, so it's unsurprising that sport, and football in particular, has become totemic in the anti-landmine campaign as a symbol of what mines take away, as well as of what good treatment and prosthetics can give back.

We were reminded of the first of those last April, when an unexploded bomb that was being used as a goalpost killed five children and injured 16 others during a game of football in Ilam in Iran. The bomb was dropped during the Iran-Iraq war, which ended in 1988. International law prohibits military action which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants - when landmines and UXO can't even hit the right decade, it's hard to imagine how countries like the USA, Libya and Iran themselves still haven't signed the Mine Ban Treaty. Or how cluster bombs, the British version of which leaves an average of 16 brightly-coloured unexploded bomblets per bomb on the ground to attract inquisitive children, are not included in the ban.

Angola, which suffered three decades of civil war, egged on by Cold War powers with too much time and money on their hands, is gradually producing happier stories. The country ratified the Mine Ban Treaty last year, taking on the obligation to clear all landmines in its jurisdiction by 2013. Football here provides inspiration to survivors of landmine injuries, with the national team training with amputee footballers in a gesture both trivial and powerful.

If Angola's boisterous fans are any guide, the hope and passion is there to rebuild Angola. Their generous Iranian opponents, on the other hand, retain their mines in fear of being the next victim of superpower posturing.

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