I think of a movie I just saw, an Iranian movie titled, "Offside." This comedy-social commentary on Islamic values follows a half-dozen girls in their attempt to watch Iran play a World Cup soccer qualifier against Bahrain. Females are not allowed to go to games with men in Iran, so the girls try to sneak in dressed as boys. They are quickly arrested and taken away to be punished by the vice squad. But when Iran beats Bahrain to qualify for the World Cup, the city is so swept up with joy that their guards let them go to celebrate and dance and shoot off fireworks. Although fictional, the movie was filmed at the stadium during the actual game when women did protest the ban by forcing their way inside. And last spring, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dropped the ban on women at soccer matches.
Unfortunately, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, overruled the decree. Sports can be a powerful instrument of change, but it has obvious limitations.
So, is Dubai a road map for the future or just a temporary oasis of Western lifestyle? Does it seem far-fetched to picture Sheikh Mohammed one day lighting an Olympic torch? Probably from where you sit. But over here -- and granted, maybe it's just all the hookah smoke going to my head -- nothing seems too farfetched in a land where robots race camels, buildings climb into the clouds, snow falls on 100-degree days and horses fly against an indigo desert night sky.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is back up at a slightly different address, jimcaple.net, with more installments of 24 College Ave. In addition to "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," Caple's new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.