Ha'aretz is running this intriguing tickertape newsflash banner this evening:
U.S. to send badminton team to Iran as part of bid to engage Iranian people
Well, I know President Obama's keen on that sort of high energy team sport. The clip above tells you more than you probably want to know about the centrality of basketball in his life story. And he's said to have asked for a basketball court to be installed in the White House so he can go on playing.
I wondered if badminton had been chosen instead of basketball so as to make this breakthrough gesture look less like a bit of US cultural imperialism.
Then I found the full AP storyfrom which Ha'aretz' headline was taken.
What do you know? It seems it's a women's badminton team which is going to be sent out to engage the good people of Iran. Is this a masterstroke, a superb bit of cultural finessing by Obama, in which he sidesteps potential accusations of sexist sports orientation by showing that both US and Iranian women can excel in the most macho of court sports?
Er, probably not. Because what's clear is that these exchanges have been going on since January 2007. That's right, since deep into the presidency of-- George W. Bush, the supposed pariah of the old politics which Obama Is going to sweep away with Change We Can All Believe In.
What's more, during this period of the Bush presidency, 32 US athletes were sent to Iran and 75 athletes brought to the US, including weightlifters and wrestlers, basketball, table tennis and water polo players, all organized by the supposedly neo-con dominated Bush State Department in co-operation with the Iranian authorities.
But the spin being put on this latest exchange is that it's part of a broad bid to engage the Iranian people through cultural and educational exchanges. I can't quite work out what's meant to be different about this particular trip that'll engage the Iranian people in a way they weren't previously engaged before.