When the six best men’s volleyball teams in the world — Brazil, France, Iran, Poland, Russia and the USA — converged July 10–14 in Chicago, each had its own cheering section. The Iranian team drew the loudest applause.
Max Holt, a middle blocker for the U.S. team during the tournament, watched the Iran-Brazil match from the sidelines. “It felt like we were in Tehran,” Holt said. “Iran had a ton of fans here. Their fans travel everywhere.”
Current U.S. sanctions on the Iranian regime are designed to minimize harmful effects on the Iranian people. In addition to exemptions for food, medicine and disaster relief, athletic and cultural events such as this one are exempt from U.S. sanctions.
“As a representative of the U.S. hosting the [Volleyball Nations League] finals,” said U.S. coach John Speraw, “my biggest hope for the event was that it would be a great experience for the players.” After witnessing the energy of the fans, Speraw said, “I hope the Iranians keep coming back.”
The Chicago games of the International Volleyball Federation, commonly known by the acronym FIVB, marked the first time aside from the Olympics that the U.S. has hosted a major men’s volleyball event — and the first time since 2015 that an Iranian volleyball team has competed on U.S. soil.
One Iranian American traveled by train 467 kilometers from St. Louis to see the game. His friend drove 1,580 kilometers from Boston to support the team. “Compared to the Brazilian fans, our cheers were louder,” he said through an interpreter. “We were screaming and cheering with all of our might. The Iranian fans were full of energy.”
Iranian-American men and women cheered side by side in the arena. Some women wore headscarves, some did not. They were from different parts of Chicago and all over the United States. What they had in common was a love of the team.
Volleyball has rapidly gained popularity in Iran, and the men’s team is among the best in the world. Veteran middle blocker Seyed Mohammad Mousavi told Volleyball Nations League reporters that around 40 million viewers follow televised games in Iran. Mousavi has more than 1 million followers on Instagram.
Iran’s match against the Brazilian team July 12 was a tournament highlight. Both teams had lost to the Polish team and so were playing to avoid elimination.
Full of furious megarallies, the match saw Brazil take the first two sets, with Iran coming back to take the third and fourth, setting up a tiebreaker that ended in a narrow loss for Iran.
Milad Ebadipour, Iran’s outside hitter, is looking to the next step for his teammates, their Olympic qualification match against the Russian team that emerged victorious in Chicago. “It will be a tough game, but we want to show everyone we’re one of the best teams in the world,” Ebadipour said.
“Kudos to all of the Iranian people,” Ebadipour said. “They really supported us well here. Kudos to them. I kiss their hands.”