Arab or Persian? Islamic Games shelved in "Gulf" row
Mon Jan 18, 2010 9:22am EST
By Asma Alsharif
RIYADH (Reuters) - A Saudi-based body organizing the world's second Islamic Solidarity Games has canceled the sports event planned for Iran amid a dispute over whether the Gulf waterway is "Arab" or "Persian."
The Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, an affiliate of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference based in Saudi Arabia, said after a meeting on Saturday it decided to scrap the games which had been set for April.
The federation said Iran had taken "unilateral measures concerning logos used on printed material and medals," a statement sent to Reuters on Monday said. Secretary-General Muhammad Qazdar said that was in reference to Iran's planned descriptions of the Gulf.
Designation of the key waterway for global oil and gas supplies has long been a touchy issue among the countries bordering it -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iraq and Iran.
Iran says it is the Persian Gulf, the Arab states say it is Arab. Foreign language descriptions can offend either party if they use one name or the other, or sometimes if they avoid an adjective altogether.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Monday the federation should reconsider its decision but insisted the waterway was Persian.
"The logo and naming should be done correctly, based on international norms and regulations and the naming by the United Nations," he told reporters on Monday.
"So basically the board of directors did not have the right to just interfere in such a process... We hope they will reconsider," he added.
The sports federation said a dispute over television rights and Iran's failure to provide information over steps to contain H1N1 flu also contributed to the decision to cancel the event.
The dispute comes amid tensions between Sunni Muslim-led Arab countries and non-Arab, Shi'ite Iran over increased Iranian influence in the region through its allies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally which sees itself as the leading Sunni state, is trying to rally Arab countries to challenge Iran, who it fears wants to obtain nuclear weapons and win U.S. recognition as the region's leading power.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are also at odds over a Shi'ite revolt in north Yemen. Riyadh has been fighting the rebels since a cross-border raid into Saudi territory in November, while Tehran says the fighting should be brought to an end through talks.
The Islamic Solidarity Games were first held in Saudi Arabia in 2005 with the participation of 55 countries, including Iran. They were delayed from October last year over flu concerns.
(Reporting by Andrew Hammond in Dubai and Asma Alsharif in Riyadh; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Dominic Evans)