Thursday, February 7, 2013

'Fifa and Uefa Cannot Avoid Their Political Duties'

If only Fifa's ethics were at least half decent
Two years is something of a lifetime in internet terms, and presumably most casual visitors passing through have presumed this blog to be long since dead, like millions of other digital diaries and documentations  founded upon the best of intentions. Random work and life events quickly caught up with us after an initial burst of righteous enthusiasm, but the thorny political issues around the coming World Cups are still there to be addressed. The human rights situation has not significantly improved in either Russia or Qatar (in fact in Russia it's probably getting worse), and the discussion is not going quieten down as those tournaments approach, no matter how much Fifa tries to dodge, fudge or ignore the pertinent questions. Still, at least Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner have cleared their desks, even if they only served as fall guys for the inherent corruption and cronyism that must still be purged from Zürich and its satellite confederations.
Until we start posting more coherently again, here's a piece posted today at the When Saturday Comes website entitled 'Fifa and Uefa Cannot Avoid Their Political Duties'. Sample passage:

"UEFA is apolitical," its president, Michel Platini, claimed when responding to criticism of their decision to award the 2013 European Under-21 Championship to Israel. Perhaps Israel was not a wise choice for a body that wishes to stay clear of politics. Given that he's tipped as the man to take over the Sepp Blatter's FIFA mantle in 2015, Platini should get used to the idea of politics interfering with sport. With Russia and Qatar as his first two World Cup hosts, political issues will be thumping on to his desk with the force and regularity of a riot policeman's cosh.

Most football fans hope that somewhere there exists a smoking gun that will cause FIFA to reverse its decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. But despite the 15-page feature in France Football last week that once again threw into question the legality of the bidding process, and numerous well-documented reasons why Qatar is an execrable choice, we're stuck with the unlikely Middle East venue. As long as that remains the case, the focus will begin to shift towards what can only be described as political issues...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blazer Hits Out At FIFA Bidding Process – 3 Months Too Late

Chuck all use: Blazer shows his balls way too late
The FIFA Executive Committee’s hairiest and most huggable member, Chuck ‘All’ Blazer, has slammed the World Cup bidding process in an interview with the worthy but dull monthly football magazine, World Soccer. A mere several months too late, Blazer declared in the magazine’s March issue that “the whole process would probably be better if a concerted inspection was done prior to anyone being accepted as an eligible candidate”. What a brilliant idea! Why did no one think of this before?

Recommendations from the FIFA five-man inspection team were “ignored completely”, says Blazer. Well, we knew that as soon as the winners were announced. Blazer also says that fellow members of the ExCo were unwilling to properly discuss the inspections team’s concerns, and that many were swayed by vague promises of a “legacy” from potential host countries. Chuck says ‘legacy’. A cynic might say ‘bribe’.

Why didn’t Blazer go public with these concerns last year while the bidding process was still under way? And while we’re at it, would Blazer consider a “concerted inspection” to factor in a country’s human rights record? Probably not, judging by the happy half hour he spent with his “friend” Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, so breathlessly documented on Chuck’s jetsetting blog shortly after he returned from Moscow.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tackling Rio's Rotten Cops

Drugs and guns: don't trust Rio police with these items
As Brazil starts clearing its shanty towns of gangsters and drug barons in time to make things look nice and pretty for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, it’s being forced to tackle another long term internal problem – the corruption and violence of its own police force complicit in the drugs trade. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that an anti-corruption sting in Rio de Janeiro resulted in the arrest of 30 officers, following which the head of the Rio state’s investigative police, Allan Turnowski, resigned.

Turnowski’s former deputy, Carlos Antonio Luiz Oliveira, “was one of the officers arrested and charged with corruption, theft, and collaboration with drug traffickers”, the AP reported. Two of Turnowski’s predecessors over the past five years were also arrested at various times. With a police force this rotten, it must be tough to know where to start, with the 30 arrested officers “accused of selling heavy weapons to gangs, tipping off gangs about police raids, and stealing and selling drugs, money and weapons confiscated by police”. There’s also the staggering statistic from the 2009 Human Rights Watch report on Brazil stating that Rio police kill one in every 23 people they arrest.

Given that background, the arrests at least represent a scantling of good news, depending on how deeply police corruption has infested Rio. For a somewhat depressing overview of what Rio de Janeiro is facing as a city in the run-up to the big sporting events, read resident Dr. Christopher Gaffney’s blog post from the end of last year, Laws, Evictions and Demolitions.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quote of the Month - Vaclav Havel

Havel: has experience overcoming dictatorships
"However, most important is that if [Western] relations with Russia are to be friendly, they must be open and sincere, otherwise there can be no friendship at all. That means one should be able to speak openly about everything at meetings and conferences. It shouldn’t be that we can’t discuss the killing of journalists in Russia, or the suppression of human rights, or all the warning signs surfacing in Russia because of oil and gas or other economic reasons. It's a big problem, but it's the same in Western relations with Arab states. There's a dilemma over how to balance concrete economic interests with critical opinions on the state of human rights. It's the human rights that suffer, and that's a great price to pay."

Czech playwright and former President Vaclav Havel, interviewed by Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe ahead of his first feature film, due out next month.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Democracy In Qatar by 2022?

Qataris - free to celebrate, but not to demonstrate
Could Qatar be a democracy by the time it stages the 2022 World Cup? With the near-revolution in Egypt, the fall of Tunisian dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and Gulf state dictatorships being forced by the increasing power of public will to take a long, hard look at how to go about saving their own asses, Gulf pro-democracy activists have called on the region’s monarchies to give some thought to political change.

“We hope that the ruling families in the Gulf realise the importance of democratic transformation to which our people aspire,” said a statement signed by the coordinator of the Gulf Civil Society Forum, Anwar al-Rasheed, as reported by Agence France Presse. It also called for the ruling families to “understand that it is time to free all political detainees and prisoners of conscience, and issue constitutions that meet modern day demands.”

Well, you can always ask.

“The Gulf peoples look forward for their countries to be among nations supporting freedom, the rule of law and civil and democratic rule which have become a part of peoples' basic rights,” the statement also said. The Forum, according to AFP, is made up of “liberal intellectuals, academics, writers and rights activists drawn from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.” The six GCC states are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Quote of the Week - Nemtsov Calls For Sanctions Against Russian Leaders

London knows best, little man...
“I have an idea for you [the West] how to help democracy in Russia. Let you implement sanctions against people who break [the] Russian constitution [and]… agreements on human rights and democracy, like you did with [Belarussian President Alexander] Lukashenko.” Former Russian deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, a liberal opposition leader who last month spent two weeks in jail for participating in a political demonstration, talking to Stephen Sackur of BBC’s HARDTalk.

The programme should be re-christened RUDETalk judging by Sackur’s attitude in this interview. He has perfected the BBC’s plummy-voiced sneer that is apparently required nowadays to show what a tough, uncompromising journalist you are, although in reality he ends up just sounding like a supercilious prick when he asks Nemtsov, “And you think that’s a serious proposition?”

“I’m talking about sanctions not against the state, but against persons who break and who destroy peoples’ rights in this country,” Nemtsov clarifies for the hard-talking hack. He continues by asking, “What’s the difference between Putin and Lukashenko?” The snippet ends there, so we don’t get to hear Sackur’s doubtless erudite and cogent riposte. Remind us again why the BBC’s respected around the world for its high standards of journalism?

Meanwhile, The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Luke Harding has been refused re-entry to Russia, and was told by a airport security, “For you, Russia is closed.” If you’re wondering why, one of Harding’s apparent offenses has been to report on the contents of the WikiLeaks US embassy cables. One of his pieces from late last year opened with the line:

“Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a “virtual mafia state”, according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower.”

Apparently that kind of analysis doesn't go down very well with the Kremlin. And if it's diplomatically unfeasible to expel US embassy staff, target the messenger instead.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Russia Narrows Gap Between Church And State

“In order to strengthen social stability today …(the state and the Church), probably like never before, need to act together,” Russian President Dimitry Medvedev said on Thursday, welcoming a decision by the Russian Orthodox Church to allow its clergy to stand for political office if it feels that the church's interests are threatened. When might that be? They don't specify.

Soon they'll let you have a hat like that too, Dmitry
Surprising developments, given that the church and state are officially separated in Russia. Then again, perhaps it’s less surprising when you think that both institutions are characterised by their conservative, reactionary, and authoritarian nature. Both openly support Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, for example.

Still, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s enthusiasm for a calendar of scantily clothed students published to mark his 58th birthday might not have gone down so well with Church clergy who believe in a medieval dress code for Russian women, because the sight of bare flesh makes them… well, who knows what it does to them. Opens their minds more than they can cope with?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Western Celebrities Cuddle Up To The Kremlin

Hmm, I think the Chechen people need a little pleasure
First, the highly principled football player. Former Dutch great Ruud Gullit is heading for the Russian first division to coach Terek Grozny, a club whose president, by a happy coincidence, is Moscow’s Chechen henchman Ramzan Kadyrov. The unelected, authoritarian President of Chechnya has a big reputation in the Northern Caucacus, though unfortunately it’s mainly for reported human rights abuses. Under his regime, dissenters disappear, opponents are assassinated, women must wear headscarves, and houses belonging to the innocent relatives of insurgents mysteriously burn down in the night. Moscow doesn’t have a problem with this, and neither, it seems, does Gullit.

In fact, he draws an apposite parallel, likening his move to Grozny with the decision of the Dutch team to take part in the 1978 World Cup, hosted by the brutal Argentine military junta. “There was a lot of discussion in 1978, but the Netherlands went then for sport,” Gullit told the Dutch daily De Volkskrant. “This is exactly the same. You will always have people for and against. But I don't want to be involved in politics, I want to concentrate on the sport and give the people there a little pleasure in their lives again.”

How noble of Gullit to think of the pleasure that he can bring to others. Anyone being held in one of Kadyrov’s illegal prisons, where torture is allegedly routine, will look forward to their release so they can nip down to the local stadium and forget their forced confession by watching a suave former European Footballer of the Year shouting out instructions to his team.  

Second, the gnat-brained British model, Naomi Campbell, who has done investigative journalism the service of interviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin for GQ magazine.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Worker Discrimination At Asian Cup in Qatar

Empty seats, but still no room for migrant workers?
The majority of Qatar's immigrants, making up an estimated 70 per cent of the country's one million population (according to this piece at the Canadian site Maclean's), come from South Asia and work in either the domestic or the construction industries. The website reports that many workers are paid $2,200 per annum for 12-hour days, and quotes Human Rights Watch researcher Samer Muscati as saying that their working conditions are the equivalent of "forced labour".

Is there any reason to believe that the oil-wealthy nation will improve those conditions for workers employed to build the eight World Cup stadia? Perhaps, with some pressure from FIFA. Georgetown University, the Washington DC-based educational establishment with a campus in Doha, lobbied for better working conditions on its newest construction site in the Qatari capital, so there's already a precedent for football's governing body to follow.

There's a telling anecdote from a Qatar resident in the comments section to the piece about how he went to a game between Australia and South Korea at the current Asian Confederations Cup and saw five Nepalese migrant workers refused admission to the stadium on the grounds that there were only tickets left for the stadium's Family Section:

"My friend and I were in the 'family' section, where there were several groups of Arab and Western men. Our supposed 'family section' was not a family section at all. It was a general seating area. So, why on earth would five workers be denied entry into a stadium with 10,000 empty seats? Because that is the way things work in Qatar. That is the way it is in malls, in parks and anywhere else that labourers are not wanted. These young men are the very ones who will be building the stadiums, the roads, the infrastructure needed to put on the World Cup when Qatar hosts it in 2022. But, will these workers be allowed into the stadiums? They work long hours in brutal conditions, live in squalid conditions and tend to earn very low wages. Often, their passports are taken away, and they are subject to a system that essentially makes them slaves to their employers."

So, once FIFA has been assured that slave labour working conditions have been eradicated, there's a second Fair Play issue for it to work on the next time it sends a delegation to Qatar. If football is the great leveller that it claims, no one should be turned away at the gates on the grounds of race and class. And especially not at a FIFA-sanctioned tournament like the AFC.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Russia 2018: Expect To Be Checked, Wherever You Go

Grozny, 1995: key component to a Russian cycle of violence
The deadly terrorist bomb attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport this week prompted domestic reactions as predictable as the rise of the morning sun. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised that state retribution was “inevitable”.  The head of the Russian Orthodox Church denounced it as “the horrifying scowl of sin”. And President Dimitry Medvedev pledged stronger security measures ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup.
Let’s take Putin first. It seems no politician is capable of reacting to a terrorist attack without the tedious tough guy stance. We’ll crush them. We’ll hit back. An examination of the reasons why a state is being attacked from within is never in question. They can only be vicious, murdering enemies acting in isolation as crazed killers, and they must be wiped out. Never mind that as long as you stay on the cycle of violence, there’s no getting off. Never mind the context of Russian aggression that started by razing the city of Grozny to the ground in the first Russia-Chechen war in the mid-1990s, when Russian forces committed human rights atrocities and thousands of civilians (including many ethnic Russians) were killed in ground and air attacks, and that continues today with the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader and human rights violator Ramzan Kadyrov.
Then there’s the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill I, with the obligatory smoldering rhetoric from the safety of a pulpit. He has God on his side, and therefore truth and righteousness too. Go on, denounce violence, it’s easy. We can do it too, because obviously a bomb planted in an airport that kills 35 innocent people and injures a further 150 is abhorrent and cowardly. But how do we stop it, moral leader? Any answers?
Finally Medvedev, after blaming poor security and sacking a few people, promises stronger measures in the future. People in the US and western Europe are familiar with what this means - tiresome, lengthy, inconvenient checks for millions of travellers, at huge expense, with absolutely no guarantee that different kinds of future terrorist attack will be prevented as long as we’re busy promoting democracy by dropping bombs on Muslim countries.
All the clampdowns, violent retaliation, the verbose posturing, and the uniformed patrols and checkpoints won’t change a thing. These terror attacks are one consequence of past human rights abuses, and the only way to prevent them in the long term comes through non-repressive political solutions that are satisfactory to all parties – an ABC historical lesson you’d think a simpleton could heed. We wonder exactly how little attention FIFA ExCom members paid to recent Russian history when they awarded the 2018 tournament. Was it barely none, or absolutely none at all?
Personally, we wouldn’t advise going near the 2018 World Cup until an independent Chechnya is governed without Russian interference, and people of non-Russian origin can walk freely around Moscow without fear of being lynched by nationalist thugs. In the current climate, those are distant prospects.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Human Rights Watch 2011 Report – Russia

The following are extracts from the Human Rights Watch 2011 World Report that pertain to the 2018 host of the FIFA World Cup, Russia. The full HRW report on Russia can be read here.

Olympic spirit - workers' rights abused, property seized
“In 2010 Russia demonstrated increased openness to international cooperation on human rights, but the overall human rights climate in the country remained deeply negative. President Dmitry Medvedev's rhetorical commitments to human rights and the rule of law have not been backed by concrete steps to support civil society. The year 2010 saw new attacks on human rights defenders, and the perpetrators of brazen murders in the previous year remained unpunished.”

“The Islamist insurgency in the North Caucasus republics remained active in 2010. In countering it, law enforcement and security agencies continued to commit grave violations of fundamental human rights, such as torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings.”

“To date the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has issued more than 150 judgments holding Russia responsible for grave human rights violations in Chechnya. Russia continues to pay the required monetary compensation to victims but fails to meaningfully implement the core of the judgments, in particular conducting effective investigations and holding perpetrators accountable. The Russian authorities have also failed to take sufficient measures to prevent the recurrence of similar abuses and new complaints are lodged with the ECtHR every year. The failure to fully implement the court's judgments denies justice to the victims and fuels the climate of impunity in Chechnya.”

Human Rights Watch 2011 Report – Brazil

More required reading at FIFA HQ
The following are extracts from the Human Rights Watch 2011 World Report that pertain to the 2014 host of the FIFA World Cup, Brazil. The full HRW report on Brazil can be read here.

“Most of Brazil's metropolitan areas are plagued by widespread violence perpetrated by criminal gangs and abusive police. Violence especially impacts low-income communities. There are more than 40,000 intentional homicides in Brazil every year. In Rio de Janeiro hundreds of low-income communities are occupied and controlled by drug gangs, who routinely engage in violent crime and extortion.”

Police abuse, including extrajudicial execution, is a chronic problem. According to official data, police were responsible for 505 killings in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone in the first six months of 2010. This amounts to roughly three police killings per day, or at least one police killing for every six ‘regular’ intentional homicides.”

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Naked Flesh Disturbs Desires Of Russian Archpriest

Some ideally dressed Russian women, yesterday
In any country where human rights are under attack, you can always be sure that some religious authority will be waiting in the wings to exploit the climate of suppression and take the chance to tell people how they should be leading their lives. In the country of the 2018 World Cup, this has come in the form of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Archpriest Vsevolod “Charlie” Chaplin, who has posited the idea of an all-Russian dress code to get women to cover up their legs.

Translation: every time I get a hard-on, I fear that God is watching and I can’t cope with it. Chaplin has publicly slammed women who leave the house “painted like a clown”, who “confuse the street with striptease” (yes, we’ve all done it – stopped half way across the road and simply cast off all our clothes), and who wear mini-skirts that “can provoke not only a man from the Caucasus… but a Russian man as well”. If she happens to enjoy a drink and then get raped, well then “she is all the more at fault”. So, a lovely chap who ticks all our boxes by managing to be egregiously sexist and racist at the same time as wanting to deprive others of their rights because he fears his own body’s reaction to naked flesh. Perhaps he should stay home locked in a dark cupboard, for everybody’s sake.

There’s more. According to Chaplin, reportedly a “close associate” of Patriarch Kirill I (another big shot in the ROC, who also supports Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko), provocatively clothed women cause “short-term marriages, which are immediately followed by rat-like divorces, to the destruction of children’s lives, to solitude and madness, to life-catastrophe.” Damn those wenches and their long shapely legs! Not to mention those divorce-loving rats (when will rodents understand the sanctimony of marriage?). But the Arschpriest has an answer: save society, and no doubt the world, by refusing to admit scantily clad dames to public venues. And men with tracksuits too, but that sounds like a separate issue.

This all sounds familiar. Now let me think, where else do religious strictures dictate to women what they should wear and forbid them to show their lust-igniting skin in public? Mr. Chaplin, your VIP box tickets for the 2022 World Cup final in Doha are secure. And may you enjoy a stroll around town afterwards without the embarrassment of a bonk-on sprouting beneath your godly robes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quote Of The Day - Sham Of Middle East Civil Rights Forum

The people's will - coming soon to Qatar
" 'The Arab foreign ministers,' as one prominent figure in the democracy-promotion world said to me, 'have learned from these meetings exactly how to thwart democracy, not how to help it.' The sessions have taught local leaders the dangers of Western-supported and genuinely autonomous NGOs, and regimes across the Arab world have cracked down on them. Many human rights groups have been hounded out of existence; only the most reliably docile ones are permitted inside the forum’s doors."

James Traub writing in Foreign Policy Magazine on last week's Forum for the Future in Doha. The Forum was the initiative of George W Bush and the G-8 nations, and was founded in 2004 with the aim of promoting democracy and civil rights in the Middle East and North Africa, but Traub now says it achieves the exact opposite. He calls for the Forum's abolition and for the United States to align itself "more clearly and convincingly on the side of those who clamour for change".

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quote of the Week - Arch Puddington, Freedom House

"Questions about freedom? Sorry, can't hear ya!"
"It is often observed that a government that mistreats its people also fears its people. But authoritarian regimes will have a much freer hand to silence their domestic critics if there is no resistance from the outside world. Indeed, if the world’s democracies fail to unite and speak out in defense of their own values, despots will continue to gain momentum." Arch Puddington (great name, it has to be said), Director of Research at Washington, DC-based Freedom House, upon publication of the body's report published Thursday outlining decreased levels of freedom for the fifth successive in the world's nations.

The organisation also highlighted Russia as one of "the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes [acting] with increased brazenness in 2010.  Russia’s leadership showed blatant disregard for judicial independence in its handling of, among other cases, the sentencing of regime critic and former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky after a trial that was widely considered fraudulent." Not to mention ongoing unsolved attacks and assassinations targeting investigative journalists and human rights advocates, and almost total state control of the media.