Iran to send gamers to Israel for international e-sports competition

Other countries without ties with Israel such as Indonesia and Malaysia have also expressed interest in coming, should they qualify in the upcoming tournament for their region.

The Paris Legion get ready to battle the London Royal Ravens during the Call of Duty League Launch Weekend at The Armory. (photo credit: BRUCE KLUCKHOHN-USA TODAY SPORTS REUTERS)
The Paris Legion get ready to battle the London Royal Ravens during the Call of Duty League Launch Weekend at The Armory.
Iran will send representatives to compete in the international e-sports world championship in Eilat this February, representing a significant departure from its longstanding policy.
Organized by the South Korea-based International e-Sports Federation (IESF) as well as with Maccabi World Union and the Culture and Sport Ministry, the decision for the tournament to be held in Israel was a closely guarded secret for months, and was the result of efforts made by Ido Brosh, chairman of Israel's representative organization in the IESF, the Israeli e-Sports Association (IESA) and a member of the IESF's board.
At the time the original announcement was made, Iran, alongside other nations that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel such as Indonesia, had expressed disappointment, as it seemed they wouldn't be able to compete. And while some countries in the region such as Lebanon and Syria did not agree to come, Iran did, after its teams won their regional qualifying tournament yesterday for eFootball PES Series, one of the three official games played at the event.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Brosh said they were excited to welcome Iranian representatives to their country, and explained that e-sports is a very effective means of bringing people together even when a lack of normalized ties could get in the way.
"E-sports is a tremendous bridge between people," he explained.
"Over the Internet, you have access to a lot of different cultures, and just as we get access to them, they get access to us."
Brosh managed to secure guaranteed approval from the Interior Ministry for the Iranian gamers to come to Israel, with the visa logistics being handled in by both the Interior and Foreign ministries.
Iran's participation in the event represents a stark departure from its traditional policy regarding international competitions with Israeli teams. This is notably seen with Iranian players and athletes being forced to resign from the competition should they be put up against an Israeli, as was seen when its judoka Saeid Mollaei was forced to quit a tournament rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki.
However, for Brosh, while unexpected, it was not totally unsurprising.
"On their side, many of the officials in the other member organizations within the IESF are friends of mine, and they're very excited for the opportunity to come," Brosh explained.
It is for this reason that other nations who lack ties with Israel, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, have both expressed interest in coming, assuming they qualify in the upcoming tournament for their region.
However, the logistics remain up in the air, as while further lessening restrictions on travel seem to be in the near future, the coronavirus pandemic leaves the future of international travel unclear. The virus had already forced the competition to be delayed to February, with its size expected to be smaller as a result.
The use of e-sports as a diplomatic tool isn't too surprising, as since 2019, Brosh has already sat on the board with his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Bin Sultan Al Nahayan, a member of the Emirati royal family.
"The people from the UAE were always very warm and welcoming to us even before the ties were normalized," Brosh explained. "I'm super happy to invite Sheikh Sultan Bin Khalifa Bin Sultan Al Nahayan to visit Israel but even if he can't come, since he's very busy after all, someone will, and we'll be happy to host them."
Based in South Korea, the IESF spans dozens of nations across the world and has become one of the world's largest e-sport organizations. Its world championships are considered among the most prestigious of its kind and are watched by over 200 million people worldwide.