The field of International Relations (IR) has in recent years begun accommodating non-Western approaches to understanding international politics. This article contributes to this emerging body of scholarship in the field by focusing on one such non-Western actor, Iran. More specifically, it examines the role of concepts and narratives related to games, play, competition, and sports in the construction of the Iranian strategic culture. It argues that such concepts emanating from Iranian culture, literature, history, and religious traditions (particularly Shiʿa Islam) have contributed to the formation and evolution of the Iranian strategic culture and ways of war in the last four decades. The article unpacks three such (sets of) concepts that are indispensable to understanding Iranian strategic culture, namely: (1) “victorious underdog,” (2) the two concepts of “stoic resistance” and “heroic flexibility,” and (3) the three interrelated concepts of sar-bāz (soldier), jān-bāz (being a disabled war veteran), and shahādat (martyrdom). The article concludes with some thoughts on further researching the role of such game-related concepts in understanding strategic cultures.

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