Eleventh Zarathusti Games held in San Diego
On July 2, 2008 roughly 600 athletes gathered on the campus of the University of San Diego to take part in the 11th Zarathushti Games. What makes this gathering unique is that it brings together a large number of Zoroastrians – members of one of the oldest and first monotheistic religions in the world – from across the globe every two years to take part in what has become a valued tradition amongst the Zoroastrian community.
The Zarathushti Games are organized by the Zoroastrian Sports Committee (ZSC), the idea for which was conceived over 20 years ago at a Persian wedding party as a means for pulling together Zoroastrian youths who were fast assimilating into their surrounding cultures. The founder of ZSC, Bijan Khosraviani says: “How many times can we take our youth to religious conferences and make them attend lectures on Zoroastrianism and hope that they can bond and begin to feel a sense of unity with other Zoroastrians? That’s only effective to a certain extent. We needed something that the younger generation would be really interested in and something that would be fun for them. I couldn’t think of anything better than a sports competition.
Hence, the first Zarathushti Games were held in 1988 on the campus of Taft High School in Los Angeles with thirty-three athletes participating in basketball, volleyball and table tennis. Despite the relatively small number of participants, the Games were a huge success, so much so that ZSC was established as an ad hoc committee under an umbrella organization called the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America (FEZANA). ZSC holds the Zarathushti Games on the 4th of July weekend of even years, and the event has been growing exponentially. Twenty years after the 1st Games, over 1,200 people –athletes and fans – attended the 11th Zarathushti Games, making it the biggest event in ZSC’s history. Athletes competed in basketball, volleyball, track and field, tennis, swimming, and table tennis for bronze, silver, and gold medals.
Zoroastrians who originate from Persia follow the guiding principles of “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds,” as exemplified by Zarathushtra (sometimes called Zoroaster) about 3,737 years ago. Though their numbers have seemingly dwindled through the centuries – mostly due to war, conquests, and Zoroastrians being forced to live in self-contained communities – they have succeeded in keeping their community and their beliefs alive. Although currently scattered all over the globe – with relatively large communities in Iran, India, the United States, Canada, and Europe – there is some evidence that the population of Zoroastrians is fast growing as a result of many factors, including globalization and the relatively recent acceptance of converts.
“I think there is a lesson to be learned for many diaspora communities here,” says Niaz Kasravi, the current president of ZSC and the Director of Community Relations at PAAIA. “What ZSC did was visionary. It went beyond the usual boundaries and created something new and interesting for the youth to get excited about. Iranian Americans in general face many of the same challenges as Zoroastrians do: we are scattered across the country, our youth – though they are proud of their heritage – are assimilating into the larger community, and we have found it challenging to create a united voice and image for ourselves.”
This year alone participants at the Zarathushti Games came from 16 states in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and Tajikistan, proving yet again that with the right vision and the right organization a community can be united across borders and great distances, barriers that can indeed be overcome.
We would like to acknowledge and thank Mr. Dariush Jamasb and Mr. Fereydoon Demehri for their contribution of photographs for this article.