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The Geopolitically Pivotal Border Town of Palomas, Mexico

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Driving south from Albuquerque on I-25 is a surprisingly relaxing experience; unlike in Texas or Florida one can drive with the window down without breaking into an uncontrollable sweat. The desert landscape has a calming effect as I keep to the 75 mile-per-hour speed limit, blaring the country music (as always). In my mind, I laugh about the ridiculousness of driving four and a half hours to Puerto Palomas, Mexico. After all, it is a town that will likely be completely as advertised; it is a gritty, dusty, border town, one that a shoddily done Chinese documentary warns is becoming a “ghost town”. Still, due to my love for pivotal geopolitical regions, I know that I have to see it for myself.

 

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Southbound I-25. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Staring out into the stark desert landscape while keeping a rented Nissan between the lines I realize that this is a good chance for me to clear my head after taking care of my father for the last month following his heart surgery. I liken this drive to one I took six years ago from Austin Texas to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, after feeling the need to get away from it all for different reasons. For generations, Mexico has provided an escape from reality for Americans and today I am no different than Jack Kerouac. This famous “escape from reality” has been embraced by country music stars who often sing about Mexico’s border towns in terms of “escape from reality” (Kenny Chesney’s Beer in Mexico and Charlie Robison’s New Year’s Day are two good examples of this phenomenon).

Even if heart surgery and aging parents are the reality, I reason that my journey might also be an escape from banality itself. Albuquerque, New Mexico is—like all the towns I’ve lived in in the United States (Providence, RI; Boulder, CO; Austin, TX; or Gainesville, FL)—full of the familiar sites of extreme consumption that all Americans know: the one street lined with a Target, a Wal-Mart, a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and maybe a Home Depot or a Wendy’s thrown in for good measure. In the end, however, it makes the outskirts of many American cities indistinguishable from one another. While this offers a sense of security for many—which I understand—it is also extremely boring (to me at least). Perhaps this is why I have always sought out the oddest of destinations in my life, from Tashkent to Tangier . . . and now Palomas.

Of course, escaping banality (or reality) comes with a price: the sense of “danger”, whatever it may mean. The United States Department of State “warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas,” specifically:

 

Chihuahua (includes Ciudad Juarez, the city of Chihuahua, Ojinaga, Palomas, Nuevo Casas Grandes and Copper Canyon): Criminal activity and violence remains an issue throughout the state of Chihuahua and its major cities. Travel between cities only on major highways and only during daylight hours.

 

On 7 July 2017, the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, said “There is a likelihood of additional violence among drug cartels in the areas of Palomas, Janos, and Nuevo Casas Grandes. Information indicates this uptick in violence is likely to continue through the near future.” Interestingly, the department of state has a similar warning for my other country, Turkey: “Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism”. Of course, to me this sounds comical. Yet, this kind of fear is a reality for many in the United States. I recall my dentist, as well of one of my father’s nurses in the hospital, inquire as to whether or not I was afraid to travel to Turkey to do research for my PhD because “it is so bad over there”. This kind of detachment from the world—from “reality”—is harmful to Americans (something I have written about in the past), and thinking about the similarities between Palomas and Turkey (in the eyes of the U.S. Department of State) makes me chuckle as I drive past the exit for Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It is a fitting name; if the warnings of danger are the “truth”, what will the consequences be?

 

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Truth…Or Consequences? Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

These are my thoughts as I exit off I-25 to Hatch, New Mexico, home of New Mexico’s famous green chiles, before continuing on to Deming and, ultimately, the border. After crossing under the I-10 underpass and passing through Deming I realize that I am the only car heading south on two-lane U.S. route 11 to Columbus, NM. The vast amount of emptiness is shocking and I wonder how people can live in the glorified no man’s land that follows the length of the U.S./Mexico border.

 

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Its a Half Mile to Mexico Amidst the Emptiness. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

As I near the border I head into a small parking lot that (apparently) used to serve a duty free shop; it looks all but abandoned now. Outside sits a golf cart adorned with an American flag, waiting to carry travelers across the border. The clientele waiting for the ride says a lot about the broken healthcare situation in the United States, since one of Palomas’ main draws is the availability of cheap prescription drugs and cheap dental care. Judging by the enduring lure of Palomas, Obamacare has not been as successful as its proponents may claim; that American citizens should seek dental care in another country—to combat the rising insurance costs in the United States—is unfortunate to say the least.

 

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Derelict Duty Free. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

I cross the border into Mexico with little fanfare, no one seems interested in me as I emerge onto what is…a dusty main street. Somehow, I am not surprised. Palomas is basically a single street headed south, the side streets branching out to the left and right give way to sandy desert after a couple blocks, constrained by the border fence (which is not quite a wall). Crossing the border the first thing travelers see is the Pink Store, an emporium of hand-made Mexican souvenirs that also doubles as a cross-border cultural exchange according to the Albuquerque Journal. Unfortunately, due to border violence from 2009-2011, most of the other stores in Palomas seem to have fallen on hard times.

 

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The Borderline (Top); The Pink Store (Middle); A Dusty Border Town (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

I walk down the dusty main drag for a few blocks, past pharmacies and discount dental offices, before returning toward the border in order to exchange twenty dollars for Mexican Pesos. Local money in hand, I go to indulge in the kind of cultural exchange I came for: Mexican food. I head down the first side street headed west, parallel to the border fence, and find a small taco stand. I order off the chalkboard menu in my rudimentary Spanish—learned in West San Antonio—which fails miserably. Luckily a patron asks me, in English, what I would like and kindly translates for me. Apparently they have run out of barbacoa, so I choose a bean and cheese taco instead. As I wait I learn that the lady who translated my order lives in both Columbus and Palomas; though she is clearly Mexican the blonde blue eyed little girl with her looks like what many would call “American”. It is an example of the population mix that makes border areas so fascinating.

 

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Pharmacies and Decaying Buildings Define Palomas, as Well as Some Interesting Street Art. Such Is the Melting Pot of the Border Town. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Sitting down to enjoy my taco with a view of the border fence, I can’t help but think about the illegal immigration debate in the United States. On 5 June 2017 CNN reported that two thirds of the 700 children at Columbus elementary school—on the U.S. side of the fence—live in Palomas. They are children of illegal immigrants who were born in the U.S. before their parents got deported. Because of New Mexico’s state constitution which provides a free education for all U.S. citizens, these children are bussed across the border every day for school. Given the current political climate, outlets like The Atlantic are worried that the election of Donald Trump will change everything on the border.

 

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Tacos With a View Of the Border Fence. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

To me, the entire debate about illegal immigration seems absurd to say the least. After all—as Palomas shows so clearly—nations have boundaries. I was not able to order my tacos in English because…Spanish is the language in Mexico; it is not the United States. And that is ok, because Mexico is its own sovereign nation. That nations should enforce their boundaries seems—to me at least—very normal. Some accuse people like me, who believe in borders, of being “cruel” or “lacking compassion”. To me such claims lack validity not only because the term “compassion” is relative, but also because in order to understand the situation on the border people must actually visit, interact with people, and be able to empathize. To opine on (southern) border politics from Boston or Seattle (both extremely liberal cities by U.S. standards) is useless, it is an exercise in building moral superiority at best. Two AP journalists who travelled the length of the U.S./Mexico border put it well:

 

What we’ve found, from the near-empty migrant shelters of Tamaulipas state in Mexico to the drug-running corridors of the Sonoran desert, is a region convulsed by uncertainty and angst, but rooted in a shared culture and history unlikely to be transformed by any politician, or any barrier man can construct.

 

Borderlands certainly do have a mind of their own and it is unlikely that a single politician can change that. One of my favorite trips to a border town was to Yuksekova in Hakkari province in southeast Turkey. As the biggest town in a province that borders both Iran and Iraq, Yuksekova represents the meeting point of Turkish, Persian, and Arab culture (not to mention the ethnic Kurdish majority in the province). It is the kind of real diversity that has survived the Ottoman and Safavid empires as well as the modern nation states of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq; it is not the kind of manufactured diversity that typifies urban areas in “Western” civilization. In a sense, Yuksekova—like so many borderlands—is a timeless place. Palomas is no different, but to understand it one must understand people. And that means empathy.

 

While the fact that students from Palomas (who are American citizens) are educated in schools across the border is celebrated by media outlets like CNN and The Atlantic, there are others who disagree, and for good reason. American taxpayers are paying money to educate students from Palomas while the families of the students from Palomas are . . . not paying anything (since they live in another country and are not required to pay taxes to the United States). Of course this is an absurd situation, and one that residents of towns on the U.S. side of the border have every right to be upset about. That this situation is absurd should not be a surprise to anyone, it just takes a little bit of empathy to see things from the perspective of taxpayers in towns like Columbus, NM and Deming, NM.

Similarly, the debate about illegal immigration often devolves into an inquest on the morality of those who dare oppose it. Personally, I believe that illegal immigration is unfair to everyone, not only to residents of the United States, but also to legal immigrants to the United States regardless of their country of origin since illegal immigrants essentially “cut in line”, so to speak. But these are not the only two groups who are treated unfairly by illegal immigration: the illegal immigrants themselves are also treated unfairly. A tragic news story from 24 July 2017 details how ten illegal immigrants savagely died in the back of a truck while being smuggled/trafficked into the United States. If laws regarding illegal immigration in the United States were more strict—and if sanctuary cities (like San Antonio) did not exist—it is possible that this needless tragedy could have been avoided. Had the likelihood of apprehension—and subsequent deportation—been apparent, it is possible that ten human lives would not have been needlessly lost in the back of a semi parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Sadly, the politicians are not asking the right questions and we are likely to see more needless deaths in the name of “diversity”; no-one can try to empathize with those in the truck in order to see why encouraging illegal immigration is far from the moral high ground.

After finishing my up my taco I pay and the lady says, with a voice of resignation, “its cheap here”. I can’t help but feel for her and this broken community. I ask her about sites to see in Palomas and she directs me to the museums on the American side, in Columbus, because Palomas’ museum has closed down, likely because of the violence. Disappointed, I ask for a restaurant recommendation and I am directed to an amazing place. Although some patrons laughed at my West San Antonio Spanish when I ordered, I can honestly say that the steak quesadilla was one of the best I’ve ever had—on either side of the border.

 

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If You Every Find Yourself In Palomas, Support Local Businesses and Find Yourself Eating Here. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Walking away from my meal I am disappointed that border violence keeps travelers away from Palomas; without traveling people will never be able to empathize with the hard working individuals whose lives depend on a functioning border culture. Without traveling, these same people will be left dependent on the news of CNN and The Atlantic, who look to sell a story by capitalizing on the tears of a little girl without acknowledging how illegal immigration and drug violence hurt both the United States and Mexico: Mexico gets rid of its lower classes, sending them to the United States, while the United States benefits from an influx of cheap labor. Unfortunately, this kind of illegal immigration does nothing but harm to the honest working class people on both sides of the border; both Mexicans and Americans are hurt by the failure to enforce border security. As if to prove my point, the abandoned shell of an aborted casino appears in front of me, its construction abandoned due to instability. As I explore the rain starts to come down and the streets of this dusty border town begin to turn to mud. I decide to cross back to the United States, passing the Mile 0 sign.

 

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The Aborted Casino (Top); The Once Dusty Streets Turn Muddy (Middle); Mile 0 and Speed Limit 5(!) (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Inside the Customs and Border Patrol building I am the only traveler subject to interrogation.

“Where are you going?”

“Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Rhode Island.”

“That’s a long way…why did you come here?”

“Pure…curiosity.”

“Curiosity? What’s in that bag? Did you purchase any drugs, alcohol, or tobacco?”

“No sir…its just some souvenirs from the Pink Store.”

The customs official has heard it all before and he waves me through. As I amble to the parking lot I take one last look at the border fence. After this short interrogation at the border, it surprises me that the idea of a “wall” should be so strange to people. Then again, I realize that most who opine on the subject—and who do not believe in borders—have likely never set foot in a gritty border town.

 

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Welcome Back…and a Rainbow. Because…why not? Images Courtesy Of the Author.
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America’s Immigration Policy Prompts Response from Footballer Michael Bradley as Terror Hits Quebec

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When American footballer Michael Bradley was asked for his thoughts on President Donald Trump’s executive action banning travel to the U.S. for citizens of seven Muslim countries for 90 days, he didn’t mince words on his Instagram account:

A few hours ago ago I gave an interview to Grant Wahl. After 15 minutes of an interview that was centered around soccer and our national team, he asked me my thoughts on President Trump’s ban on Muslims. [A very fair question. But one that caught me totally off guard. Uncomfortable giving such strong thoughts without really being able to think them through,] I gave an answer where I tried to make it clear that while I understand the need for safety, the values and ideals of our country should never be sacrificed. I believe what I said, but it was too soft. The part I left out is how sad and embarrassed I am. When Trump was elected, I only hoped that the President Trump would be different than the campaigner Trump. That the xenophobic, misogynistic and narcissistic rhetoric would be replaced with a more humble and measured approach to leading our country. I was wrong. And the Muslim ban is just the latest example of someone who couldn’t be more out of touch with our country and the right way to move forward.”

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Michael Bradley. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jan/29/michael-bradley-donald-trump-travel-ban-sports

 

Of course The Guardian’s article missed the portion [in brackets] but that is to be expected; Mr. Bradley did the best he could in a difficult situation. Indeed, Mr. Trump’s actions have been problematic for the American sports world, as the National Basketball Association (NBA) has been scrambling to understand how the order will affect their players. While Yahoo’s sympathetic portrayal of the NBA shines through in this article, the NBA’s neo-colonialism should not be ignored; the culture industry of American sports cannot be both “pro-immigration” and exploitative at the same time (despite how much American media tries to emphasize the former while downplaying the latter):

The NBA has several global initiative programs, including Basketball Without Borders, that recruit, develop and invest in Sudanese players. Several top Sudanese players are attending American high schools and colleges on visas and could become NBA draft picks.

There can be no denying that the implementation of Mr. Trump’s executive order was flawed. After all, you cannot turn away those who have had visas approved—and those who have received green cards and permanent residency in the United States—without warning. This is the kind of off-the-cuff policy that leads to the embarrassing chaos experienced in airports across the United States. Yet, at the same time, Mr. Trump is merely doing what he promised to do (which is normal, since he is—in a democracy—accountable to the people, theoretically). And there is also a very real conflict going on in the world despite what people want to claim. Just one day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced (on 28 January 2017) that Canada would take the refugees banned by the United States, there was a shooting at a Quebec Mosque on 29 January 2017 that left six dead and eight injured. Either this is some sort of a twisted coincidence, or it is the kind of event that should show the Western world that there clearly is a problem that must be addressed.

 

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Is Learning that Talk is Cheap. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/trudeau-canada-refugees-banned-u-s/

 

Of course the media aimed to spin it in different directions (another reason we should be skeptical of all media) with some claiming the attacker was a Muslim and CNN describing the attacker as a White student. As a Turk, I am more than aware of the dangers of radical Islamic terrorism and am therefore not concerned with the media’s attempts to shape public opinion (the head of general security in Dubai also had no problems with Mr. Trump’s policies): I repeat that there is a very real problem and I am also happy that Mr. Bradley, Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trudeau have at least started to talk about it (regardless of their positions on the subject). After all, without talk there can be no progress. Unfortunately, the fake news and odd fact-twisting stories proliferating on the internet only serve to create more problems; former President Barack Obama’s weighing in on the issue—after it was his flawed policies that created the problem in the first place—is even more ridiculous but that is for another time.

 

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Odd fact-twisting at its best. Although refugees as a group are certainly not mass murderers by any means, it would be erroneous to argue that there have not been problematic attacks perpetrated by refugees, as “uberfeminist” points out in this impassioned tweet. I will also agree that CNN could do a little better with their reporting, although I will not use the same kind of language. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/uberfeminist/status/825963414316937216

 

In the end, the Western world must realize that the root cause of “refugees” or “migrants” does not really have to do with any qualities inherent to “Muslim” countries. The truth of the matter is there would be much fewer “migrants” or “refugees” had the Western countries not meddled in Syria (and the wider Middle East) and stoked (created?) a civil war in the first place. I also believe that, having spoken with Syrian refugees in Greece last year, such people would prefer to live in their own countries and not in the United States or Canada. And I can understand the sentiment; both the United States and Canada are (like most industrialized countries) societies that emphasize the individual over the collective. It is the kind of society that can be alienating to people who come from more collective societies (such as the type found in many Middle Eastern countries). In light of Mr. Trump’s poorly-implemented policy we must recognize that the current crisis is one almost single-handedly created by the West (even if Senator Mr. Chuck Schumer’s pathetic crocodile tears tried to show a modicum of “compassion”). Despite what proponents of globalism and globalization might say, I don’t think any one truly wants to live outside of their country and away from their families, friends, culture, and language. Instead of looking to create a homogenous world we would be better off recognizing—and most importantly respecting—a heterogeneous world. Regardless of where we are from we are all people who want to live in peace; this does not, however, mean that we must be forced to live together or in the same way. Respect for different cultures is important, and any policies aiming for homogenization are doomed to failure since they are inherently disrespectful of difference.

We must realize, as Robert Kaplan does, that the United States’ strength is rooted in its geography. The fact that it is separated from the rest of the world by two oceans means that it need not be engulfed in the conflicts of the world. At the same time, as Kaplan notes, the United States cannot fully disentangle itself from the globalization it itself created. But it can, I argue, negotiate the flows of globalization on its own terms; the sooner we recognize the perils of globalization, by taking a critical position on it, the better off we all will be.

Football and Geopolitics: A UEFA Recognized League Starts in the Crimea as (Geo)Politics Meet Industrial Football

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On Sunday August 23, 2015 a UEFA-backed league of eight teams started play in the Crimea with SKChF Sevastopol and TSK-Tavria Simferopol playing to a 2-2 draw. The Associated Press story offers few words and no analysis of what is, actually, a groundbreaking event. I have written before on the footballing situation in Ukraine’s Crimea, when Russia attempted to bring the clubs playing on the peninsula into Russia’s footballing structure by placing them in the Russian second division albeit with changed names; it was a bold attempt to solidify their annexation of the territory in the sporting realm. UEFA did not allow that to happen and the teams were dropped from Russia’s second division—it must have been too bold a move for Michel Platini and the rest of the UEFA hierarchy to stomach. Yet they have now, surprisingly, allowed the annexed territory to have their own league separate from Ukraine’s. It sets a dangerous precedent, and seems to be at odds with UEFA’s own stance of staying clear of politics.

Eurasianet has noted before that “Russia is hoping football can become an instrument that it can use to help legitimize its annexation of Crimea.” František Laurinec, the former president of Slovakia’s Football Association and head of a UEFA delegation that visited Crimea in March of 2015, justified UEFA’s approach in sporting terms. It was certainly a harbinger of things to come: “I hope our mission will not undermine the EU’s sanctions against Russia. We only want to prevent the death of football in this part of our Europe. To be pragmatic, we have to say that Crimean clubs are not even currently an active part of Ukrainian football. UEFA wants to help save football in Crimea, especially youth and grassroots [development]. This is a core of our mission and we try to find solutions.” The words are well meaning as they stand, but they are still only words. The reality is that a European entity, UEFA, is tacitly accepting Russia’s land grab in the face of opposition from the European Union and the United States.

Hardcore “Ultras” in Simferopol, one of the cities represented in the new Crimean league, will not be pleased with this development. Oleg, a 23 year old fan quoted by The Guardian, explains that “when the protests in Ukraine started ultras from Tavriya [Simferopol] attended a meeting with hardcore fans from other Ukrainian clubs and agreed there should be a truce: ‘Most ultras are nationalists. We are Ukrainian and we are for a united Ukraine. It was obvious that fighting the authorities was more important than fighting each other’.” The fight will have to go on a little longer, however, following the UEFA decision.

What makes UEFA’s move more puzzling is the fact that European football’s governing body has treated other disputed territories in Europe very differently in the past. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 2008 but still doesn’t have an independent league recognized by UEFA, despite the fact that its independence is recognized by 23 of the 28 members of the EU. What the difference between UEFA’s “recognition” of the new Crimean league compared to their stance on Kosovo, however, has not yet been explicitly stated by UEFA. Despite UEFA’s opposition to recognizing domestic Kosovar football their national team was allowed to play a FIFA sanctioned friendly against Haiti in March of 2014…in the city of Mitrovica—home to a large amount of Serbs and NATO peacekeepers—no less.

Even more complicated is the case of Gibraltar. The British Overseas Territory is, interestingly enough, recognized by UEFA (a step above Kosovo) but not by FIFA (there they are in the same boat). Still, the territory is lobbying hard for recognition from FIFA despite an abysmal record in qualifying for the 2016 European Championships, which they have been able to participate in after UEFA granted them membership in 2013 over Spanish (and Belorussian) objections. The 16-year history of Gibraltar’s travails to join UEFA is documented in part here.

So what can we understand from UEFA’s politicking regarding the legitimacy of football in countries and territories with varying levels of international recognition? Sadly, as with so much in the industrial football world, it all comes down to money—the same thing that brought hammer of the United States Department of Justice down on FIFA. UEFA does not want to run afoul of Moscow with FIFA having already awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia. Therefore they are tacitly accepting the annexation of Crimea under the guise of “keeping football afloat on the peninsula”. And, because Russia holds so much influence in FIFA—and thereby UEFA—European Soccer’s governing body cannot accept Kosovo since that would offend Russia’s long-time ally, Serbia. Plus, the Kosovo Superleague isn’t exactly a money making machine. On the other side, Gibraltar has the clout of being a British Overseas Territory—in the first round of voting on Gibraltar’s UEFA accession England, Scotland, and Wales were the only countries to vote for their inclusion in European football. But those three are still influential countries. Spain squawked, but they would never have withdrawn from European competition or allowed Barcelona and Real Madrid to lose out on Champions League revenue over Gibraltar.

And so Gibraltar and its club teams can appear in UEFA competitions while Kosovo’s can’t and the Crimean teams will stay somewhere in limbo, just like the territory they represent. It seems that when it comes to football these days it is money—and not principles—that talk. Just look at some of the Simferopol fans interviewed by the Guardian, who have high hopes for their team’s future under Putin. Vitaly Grenyov says “I think there will be good times ahead for the club. The whole world is going to look at what Putin does with Crimea,” while a Crimean Tatar identified as “Server” hopes that Tavriya become a “showcase” project for the Russian annexation: “I remember from reading in school about tsars and shahs that they always have to provide the people with two things: bread and circuses.” With the focus solely on money, UEFA’s actions are indeed be-fitting of a circus act.

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UEFA President Michel Platini Running Off With a Stylish European Leather Satchel of Cash. Image Courtesy of UEFA Awareness at http://uefaawareness.tumblr.com/post/12813829566/bosnians-mock-platini-via-uefas-financial-fair

Sevastopol Fans

“A fan of FC SKChF Sevastopol (СКЧФ Севастополь), formerly FC Sevastopol of the Ukrainian Premier League, holds a team scarf with the colors of the Russian flag and written in Cyrillic ‘Sevastapol – Hero City,’ which refers to the Soviet-era status bestowed upon the port city following World War II”. Image and Caption Courtesy Of: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/72601

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Tavriya Simferopol’s Ultras. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/22/crimea-ukraine-football-ultras

The Varying Roles of Turkish Airlines: From Football to Foreign Policy

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A few weeks ago I boarded an early summer Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Izmir and, like weary travellers all over the world, slumped into my seat. My first task was to explore the seat-back pocket in front of me. Not currently in need of any Davidoff or Hermes products I eschewed the in-flight shopping magazine and dug into the airline magazine Skylife instead. Alongside the usual articles about cities to visit (Mardin, Brugges, and Sochi, in this case) and interesting foods I stumbled upon one piece focusing on football. Curious, I dug in. It was an interview with Besiktas’s prolific Sengalese striker Demba Ba. The short interview had just twelve questions, mainly standard ones focusing on the player’s past exploits and favorite players—the (now) standard Messi or Ronaldo question, for instance. None of this was remotely surprising. What was surprising, however, was the focus on Islam and religiosity. A quarter of the interview—three questions—focused on the player’s religious views, two of which have no relation to football whatsoever. I have provided these three questions below for reference purposes courtesy of Skylife; the bold sections are the questions put forth by the interviewer:

Though you’re born in France, you’re deeply attached to the Senegalese culture and Islam. Did this play any part in your decision to come to Turkey?

I try to be a good Muslim; this definitely had an effect but it wasn’t the only reason. The fact that Turkey was mostly a Muslim country was very important and it enabled me to live easily.

Recently, you’ve made a donation for a mosque in Senegal, Koussanar, where your mother was born. What do you think about the mosques in Istanbul? Which one impresses you the most?

Istanbul is home to many beautiful mosques. My favorite is the Mimar Sinan Mosque in Ataşehir. It’s rather new but has a very impressive design. My favorite among the historical ones is the Blue Mosque.

What do you think about Islamophobia? It has been a fast-spreading phenomenon in recent years.

Islam is a 1,400-year-old religion and can’t be besmirched by foul mouthing. If there’s such a widespread feeling towards Islam, we should look ourselves in the mirror and try to find the reasons why. We have to try to promote Islam in a better way.

 

Obviously, these questions seemed out of place to me and stuck out due to the shear number of them. The interviewer goes from asking about penalty shots and how it felt to leave Chelsea to…discussing Islamophobia? It is a strange melding of sports and ideology. But, then again, not so strange given the fact that this is Turkish Airlines. In its quest to become a major global airline Turkish Airlines has paid great attention to the world’s game. They have become the official sponsors of, among others, FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and the UEFA Champions League. They are also official shirt sponsors of French club Olympique Marseille and in the past they also sponsored Manchester United FC.

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Turkish Airlines also profit from Marseille’s celebrations. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sportbuzzbusiness.fr/turkish-airlines-om-2014-2015-sponsoring-dos.html

Turkish Airlines planes often sport livery advertising the clubs they sponsor:

during the departer to the UEFA Champions League Final in London at airport Dortmund on May 24, 2013 in Dortmund, Germany.

during the departer to the UEFA Champions League Final in London at airport Dortmund on May 24, 2013 in Dortmund, Germany.

Borussia Dortmund. Image Courtesy Of: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/19/business/airlines-football-aeroflot-manchester-united/

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Manchester United FC. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=798106&page=2

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FC Barcelona. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.airliners.de/turkish-airlines-will-in-die-bundesliga/20751

In any given issue of Skylife it is also easy to find a picture of either (or if you’re lucky, both) Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu or President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the context of inaugurating new projects; in this case the new Ordu-Giresun Airport. The magazine’s online version of a similar story omitted their photos this month but a picture of the in-print version of the same article is provided below for comparison’s sake. In fact, Skylife sometimes reads like a piece of government propaganda—and this is the category that the aforementioned article falls under, at least for me. To explain we have to look deeper into what Turkish Airlines as a business entity means to Turkey.

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Online. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.skylife.com/en/2015-06/the-first-airport-on-land-fill-in-turkey-and-europe

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In Print. Author’s own Photo.

 

Two years ago Turkey analyst Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy mentioned Turkish airlines in an article he wrote about the contradictions inherent in Turkey’s economic growth and simultaneous rising political conservatism. He said that Turkish Airlines is:

“[A] publicly owned company whose ascent exemplifies the new and economically rising Turkey. The airline flies to more than 200 destinations from its hub in Istanbul, up from about 75 in 2002. It twice has been voted Europe’s best airline….Today, [their flights] are full of Europeans flying to Istanbul for connections across Turkey and Eurasia. But even as Turkey’s supercharged economy propels the airline forward, parochial conservatism is pulling it in another direction. The company recently announced that it will ban alcohol from most of its domestic flights. If Turkish Airlines aspires to be a global brand, it needs to stop acting like the Muslim airline for a Muslim country.”

That was in March of 2013. Since then the alcohol ban has been enforced, but that isn’t the only prohibition. The Airline made headlines again two months after that in May of 2013 when it banned flight attendants from wearing red lipstick. This was after the company had already banned flight attendants from sporting dyed red hairstyles, bleached platinum blonde hairstyles, and silver make-up. Later, in December 2014, a Turkish Airlines flight attendant was fired for “sexy” photos and videos that surfaced of her that were taken while she was off the job. The president of the airline’s labor union said that it was “totally down to Turkish Airlines management’s desire to shape the company to fit its own political and ideological stance” since Turkey was becoming “more conservative and more religious”. It is these motives also led to an attempt to change the cabin crew’s outfits earlier in 2013 which, thankfully, never came to fruition (I say that as someone with a modicum of fashion sense, and many designers agree. The outfits in question are below).

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1974. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/world/europe/new-uniforms-for-turkish-airlines-create-uproar.html?_r=0

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In 2013 it was back to the….(Ottoman) Past? Images Courtesy Of: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/25/world/europe/new-uniforms-for-turkish-airlines-create-uproar.html?_r=0 AND http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/new-turkish-airlines-uniforms-raise-eyebrows.aspx?pageID=238&nID=40810&NewsCatID=341

 

It is clear that Turkish Airlines, despite being partially privatized, still receives massive amounts of government support—a third airport is being built in Istanbul just so that the national carrier can continue its unprecedented growth as one of the world’s top airlines. What separates Turkish Airlines from the other airlines on the list, however, is the work it does for the government in the shadows.

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Turkish Airline’s Unprecedented Growth from 2003-2013. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.economist.com/news/business/21649509-advance-emirates-etihad-and-qatar-latterly-joined-turkish-airlines-looks-set

 

Back in November of 2011 the victims of a Mogadishu suicide bombing were flown from the Somali capital to Ankara on a Turkish Airlines plane in order to receive treatment. It was part of the beginning of what the BBC termed an “unlikely love affair” between the two countries. For Turkey’s ruling AKP party it seemed to have grabbed the low hanging fruit; reaching out to an impoverished Muslim country forgotten by the west allowed Turkey to step into an unoccupied vacuum and gain influence in the horn of Africa—a strategic geopolitical location.

The move hasn’t made Somalia a top tourist destination yet, however, and many Somalis used the opening Turkey provided to travel to Europe on fake passports, something that Turkish officials were either unaware of or turned a blind eye to. After all, before Turkish Airlines, no major airlines flew to Somalia; they had a monopoly.

In May of 2014 the problems with Turkey’s vision of Muslim solidarity hit hard when a Turkish Airlines security official was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Mogadishu. This followed a July 2013 attack by al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab militants on the Turkish embassy in Mogadishu that left several special-forces police injured. Pro-government writers in Turkey claimed that it was Western powers backing al-Shabaab out of jealousy for Turkey’s new role in Somalia that led to the attack. In January of 2015 Turkish nationals were again targeted in Mogadishu days before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was set to visit.

All the violence suggests that Turkey’s attempts to woo Somalia haven’t been accepted by all parts of Somalian society, despite the best of support from Turkey’s national airline. Still, four years on, this partnership is continuing in the name of “muslim solidarity”. Jason Mosely, from the think tank Chatham House, explains that “Turkey’s efforts in Somalia are much different than the Western approach in the country. It has much more legitimacy and popularity…Turkey has the support of the grassroots of Somalia. They have appreciation because Turkish involvement is only business, no counter-terrorism or anything else.”

Meanwhile just across the horn of Africa, in the sands of another impoverished and country forgotten by the West, Turkish Airlines is serving their country. The place this time? Yemen. On February 10 2013 Yemen and Turkey mutually lifted the entry visa requirement for their citizens travelling between the two countries. With the conflict in Syria raging, it was certainly interesting timing. Before that, in October of 2012, Turkish Airlines started flying four flights a week direct from Istanbul to the cities of Aden and Sana’a—hardly high volume international tourists destinations. Even without Business Insider explicitly stating the connection, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots. It seems that Turkey’s national flag carrier was transporting young Jihadis from Yemen to Turkey, where they made the trip overland to fight in Syria against the Assad regime that Turkey had—and still is—taking a hard line against. These flights were stopped in April 2015 following unrest in Yemen, but it all amounts to too little too late. The damage has already been done.

Turkey’s main geopolitical rival in the region, Iran, also focused on Turkish Airlines and through the Fars News Agency published stories claiming that weapons were being delivered to Yemen under the guise of humanitarian aid and that Taliban fighters were being transported from Pakistan to Turkey’s border with Syria. Although Fars News is known for its sensationalism, these stories did not come out of a vacuum. In February of 2015 some Arab commentators also noted that the reverse has started happening, with Turkey transporting Sunni fighters from Syria to Yemen in order to fight Iranian-backed Shiites:

“Media in Yemen recently reported that Turkey is using this process to repeat the scenario that played out in Syria, when it helped in bringing extremist Sunnis to fight Bashar al-Assad. Now Ankara is trying to do so under the pretext of trade and tourism exchanges in Yemen. Abdullah al-Shami, a senior politician in Yemen, said that Turkey is trying to take advantage of the current political vacuum in southern Yemen to help terrorist organizations operating in its territory.”

The veracity of such claims is, of course, debatable. In the world of Middle Eastern politics events are rarely clear, and the competing interests of those involved mean that reporting is often biased. What is clear—at least for me—is that Turkish Airlines is actively serving the interests of the Turkish government above and beyond its role as a partially privately owned business. Even in an airline magazine’s harmless interview with a football player the subtext is clear: The image of Turkey that is to be presented to the outside world is that of a conservative Muslim country that also likes its football. Unfortunately for the Turkish Airlines security official that lost his life in Somalia al-Shabaab’s terrorists did not accept that image…

Football and Geopolitics: Behind the FIFA Scandal

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May 27 2015 will prove to be a day that lives in infamy—the day scandal rocked world soccer’s governing body, leaving 14 FIFA officials under arrest in Zurich, Switzerland. This is, of course, old news. I’ll try to make it interesting by putting the whole surreal event in a geopolitical context. Lets start with the basics. It was the United States Department of Justice that spearheaded the operation in a 164-page 47-count indictment. In some ways it felt like turning back the clock; the United States of America emerging from its isolation to ostensibly “save the world” by crossing the oceans as in World War One and World War Two. Of course, there were reasons for this particular move since parts of the scandal pertained directly to the United States of America; the Economist outlines them nicely. A video version for those averse to reading is available courtesy of CNN.

The United States has, since World War Two, controlled much of the world system indirectly through both formal and informal international organizations, befitting its hegemonic role. Financially it was initially through the Bretton Woods system, since then it has been the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Politically control came first through Woodrow Wilson’s brainchild the League of Nations, now there is the New York headquartered United Nations. Culturally the United States has been able to influence the world to a great extent as well; first through Hollywood and music, now it is through technological advancements such as iPhones and iPods, Google, Facebook and Twitter that American culture is felt the world over.

The one sphere in which the United States has failed to make a global impact is, arguably, the world of sports. Indeed the results of a 2014 Harris poll, which has asked Americans aged 18 and older the simple question, “What is your favorite sport?” every year since 1985, tell us that Americans are very USA-centric when it comes to sport.

 

America’s Favorite Sports in 2014 (Courtesy of ESPN)

The National Football League (NFL)(Professional [American] Football): 35%

Major League Baseball (MLB) (Professional Baseball): 14%

College Football (NCAA): 11%

Auto Racing: 7%

National Basketball Association (Professional US Basketball): 6%

National Hockey League (Professional Hockey): 5%

College Basketball (NCAA): 3%

 

The top three vote getters—and more than half of the entire poll’s respondents and 60 percent—listed sports played almost entirely in the United States as their favorite sports. The next highest sport listed is Auto Racing. Although this is a global sport—think of Formula 1 and Rally cars—I personally believe that responders had NASCAR (Again, very American) in mind when answering this question. That leaves the NBA and the NHL—just 11 percent of all respondents called these two their favorite sports—as the only ostensibly international sports to make the list. I say ostensibly because although basketball is played all over the world—and the NBA has been making itself more international with each passing year—it is still a very different game than FIBA’s Euroleague, to name one. Hockey is international in the sense that the NHL has 7 Canadian teams (alongside 23 American teams), but I’m sure very few responders cited in this poll had ever watched a game from Russia’s KHL. Hockey also has a fairly small fan base, limited to those living in northern climates along a belt stretching from Vancouver to the steppes of Central Asia and going only as far south as, perhaps, Zurich, along that belt outside of the United States.

Soccer is certainly the one place in world sport—and world culture, for that matter—that the rest of the world has a chance to best the United States. And it is this chance for “the rest to beat the best of the West”—the battle between the global South and global North played out on the pitch—that gives international football, and the World Cup in particular, its unparalleled allure. The recently departed Eduardo Galeano’s masterpiece Soccer in Sun and Shadow explains the phenomenon well without explicitly saying it (and therein lies the book’s genius, at least for me). So why did the United States focus its power on FIFA, what I explained in my thesis was arguably the first international organization and the globe’s first foray into global civil society, when the US isn’t even interested in the sport? The answer may lie in the organization’s history. FIFA was founded in 1904 in the midst of a different era, the era of empires when the hegemonic power base was located in colonialist Europe and old world territorial powers such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russian Empire, and Ottoman Empire were in decline. Fledgling nations rushed to achieve FIFA membership in order to affirm their independence—to states such as Lebanon, Syria, and others, emerging from the ashes of empires that had long controlled them as dusty peripheral provinces from lavish imperial palaces in far-off capitals, FIFA Membership was what NATO membership now means to Georgia, what European Union membership now means to Ukraine and Serbia. Membership to FIFA was a bold statement to the world: We Have Arrived! And this feeling has not gone away. Today there are 209 members in FIFA. Compare that to the 193 official member states of the United Nations. Look at Palestine’s attempts to push Israel out of FIFA if you don’t believe that FIFA membership can provide succor to those unable to get a seat at the United Nations at which to air their grievances. Perhaps the United States moved to strike a blow at an international institution that had strayed from its original goal of bringing together nations in fair play for everyone’s benefit; it was not founded to line the pockets of a few corrupt officials after all. So, like the American interventions in both World Wars, this can be looked at as another benign intervention by the world’s superpower in order to save the (sporting) world from itself. But there are other theories as well.

As many know, the nexus of the FIFA scandal lies in the bribes received by officials in return for, among other things, votes in choosing World Cup hosts. The hosts of the next two World Cups—as chosen by the aforementioned officials—are Russia (in 2018) and Qatar (in 2022). Both of these countries have something else in common—they are, on some scale, geopolitical rivals of the United States. And both won the right to host their respective World Cups over the United States’ interests; chief US ally England lost out to Russia in 2018 and Qatar beat out the United States’ own bid for 2022. Clearly, the United States could not sit idly by when the chance at winning a considerable amount of soft power influence in the world for themselves and their ally went by the way side. Russia has long been a geopolitical rival to the United States; Qatar is using the confusing situation in the Middle East to cement their role as a regional power in a region key to the United States’ foreign policy interests and hope that hosting a major sporting event such as the World Cup can add to their influence in the region. South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula represents another voice from the global South who criticized the U.S. move by mentioning the U.S./British alliance, saying that it is “for the United States and Britain to fight their own battles: ‘We have fought colonialism and defeated it and we still fight imperialism and we will fight it whenever it manifests itself.’

With the stakes this high, the United States’ move may still pay off. Although FIFA insists that there will be no re-vote for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups, signs are showing that nothing is certain. Human rights groups have called on Qatar to publish the death figures for workers building stadiums for the tournament and it is estimated that 1200 migrant workers have died in the construction since 2014. Long-time FIFA president Sepp Blatter—who was reelected days ago despite the scandal—resigned on June 2 from his position at the head of Soccer’s governing body. These events—along with UEFA president Michel Platini’s long standing issue with the 2022 World Cup’s potential to affect the European football season—signal to me that a re-consideration may be on the cards.

In such a globalized world—where the World Cup has become bigger than ever—it is only fitting for the world’s sole superpower, the United States, to take a leading role. And in this increasingly interconnected world it is equally fitting that geopolitics is intimately linked with cultural and sporting events.

I find it refreshing that some action has been taken against corruption in world football. But there is still more to be done—the Economist warns that the endemic corruption in sports goes beyond just Sepp Blatter because “sports corruption is a reflection of wider problems—sport merely being an organism to which criminal succubi attach themselves—it is too formidable for sporting organisations to tackle alone.” For the sake of the game we all love let’s hope the United States’ intervention keeps the game from turning into a vehicle to make the rich richer. In David Goldblatt’s words, “the entire football industry has traded on the notion that the game really is the most global cultural practice in the world, a rare form of universalism on a divided planet. That, if nothing else, is worth salvaging from the wreckage.” I can only agree.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://pulse.ng/sports/football/sepp-blatter-resignation-sepp-blatter-resignation-the-football-world-reacts-id3822195.html

Football and Geopolitics: The International Aspects of Domestic European Football

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In the wake of a “Catalan referendum” on November 10, 2014 where 80 percent of the two million voters voted for Catalan independence from Spain in what was a symbolic vote, The Guardian’s Sid Lowe asked a pertinent question for those of us interested in football and politics: Where will Barcelona and Espanyol play if Catalonia gets independence?

This is, of course, a complicated question. Former Barcelona coach and player Pep Guardiola cast his vote, along with Barcelona players Xavi Hernandez, Sergi Roberto, and Martin Montoya. Barcelona’s past and present presidents, Sandro Rosel and Joan Laporta, also did their civic duties. As Mr. Lowe outlines, the situation regarding the two biggest clubs in Catalonia is complicated:

“While Barcelona’s commitment to political Catalanism is more shifting and nuanced than is sometimes imagined, the two clubs’ histories and identities are different. Soon after the civil war, Marca wrote of Español as a club run by people ‘well known for their [Spanish] patriotism’ and of Barcelona as an institution that ‘used sport as a mouthpiece for an insufferable region.’ But Espanyol, whose name, contrary to the usual assumptions, was not chosen as a Spanish rejection of Catalanism or Catalonia, have used the Catalan spelling for almost 20 years and insist that if Barcelona is more than a club, so is Catalonia. Yesterday, their president Joan Collet voted too. During their game against Villarreal there were Catalan flags at the stadium. But there were Spanish flags too, and possibly more of them.

He goes on to explain:

“Barcelona [has been put] in an awkward position, one that forces them to confront uncomfortable issues. So mostly they have chosen not to confront them at all; the difference between the current board and that led by Laporta, whose convictions were far clearer, is striking. There has been silence, a veneer of apoliticism, an implicit wish that the trouble would just go away. It took the club a long time to publicly back the Catalans’ right to have the vote. And a week ago, Barcelona refused to authorise the unfurling of a banner that declared Catalonia Europe’s next state.”

But he points out clearly that “the sponsor on their shirts and all over the stadium reads ‘Qatar’. Their focus is increasingly international; both in terms of signings and supporters.” This is the most important point.

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Image Courtesy of: http://gulfbusiness.com/2013/09/united-arab-bank-signs-three-year-fc-barcelona-deal/#.VNP_r5XRe0s

 

Barcelona are now an international team, attracting supporters from all over the world, like their rivals Real Madrid. Perhaps this explains the odd situation where Spain—a country that arguably experienced the worst of the European Economic crisis—is home to both of Europe’s richest football clubs: Real Madrid is worth 3.44 Billion USD, Barcelona is worth 3.2 Billion USD. Of course this belies Spain’s economic state. Meanwhile the largely uncompetitive nature of the rest of La Liga—even making an exception for Atletico Madrid (who are also internationally sponsored, in this case by Azerbaijan, by the way)—is full of dull matches between the haves and have nots.

 

 

After reading Mr. Lowe’s article I decided to do some research on a topic I am familiar with, and the results are worth sharing. What many readers may not know is that Europe is full of clubs playing in leagues outside of their home countries. Some clubs are well known, others are minnows, but the concept of playing domestic matches “internationally” is hardly unprecedented, especially in Western Europe (as Mr. Lowe mentions, there is a provision even in Spain for clubs from Andorra to play in the league system: Sixth tier FC Andorra take advantage of this).

 

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Seen Here Lining up During the 1999-2000 Season in a Striking Umbro Kit. Image Courtesy of: http://www.fotoequipo.com/equipos2.php?Id=736

 

 

Perhaps the most well-known of the European clubs playing in a foreign league is AS Monaco, the “French” Monegasque side that has won seven Ligue 1 titles and were runners up in the 2004 European Champions League. The team hails from the Principality of Monaco, a minute city-state on the French Riviera home to 36,371 residents packed into just 0.78 square miles. As a sovereign state Monaco has been a member of the United Nations since 1993 but there is domestic football league so the team plays in France. The principality has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297; the family own 33.33 percent of the football team as well (The remainder is owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, one of the many examples of the rising internationalism of the football business that frees teams from the constraints of political boundries to some degree).

 

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We’re Serious—We May Play in France But We’re Not French! Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dmarge.com/2014/05/monaco-fc-reveals-201415-home-kit.html#show_image=1

 

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Of Course, We’ll Still Use the French (Monegasque) Riviera as a Backdrop. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2014/05/new-nike-as-monaco-14-15-kit.html

 

 

The United Kingdom is full of examples as well. The most prominent sides that come to mind are current English Premier League members Swansea City and former members Cardiff City. Swansea City have played in the English League system since 1913 and reached the Premier League in 2011-12—the first Welsh team to reach the top flight since the top flight’s rebranding in 1992, as well as the first Welsh club to represent England in European competition after winning the 2012-13 Football League Cup.

 

SSC Napoli v Swansea City - UEFA Europa League Round of 32

Swansea City Line Up to Represent England in the Europa League With International Finance Company Goldenway’s Backing. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fiveyearplanfanzine.co.uk/features/5129-eye-on-the-opposition-swansea-city-a-29-11-2014.html

 

Cardiff City from the Welsh capital is currently in the second tier but remain the only club from outside England to have won the FA Cup (the triumph came in 1927)—the entity is named Cardiff City FC Limited, a member of the Football Association of Wales.

 

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Cardiff City and the FA Cup. Image Courtesy of: http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/Cardiff_City/Cardiff_City.htm

 

The third Welsh team playing in England’s top four leagues—therefore under the jurisdiction of the English FA for disciplinary and administration purposes—is Newport County AFC, playing in the Football League Two. See More about their history in this interesting blog, The Beautiful History.

Wrexham, Merthyr Town, and Colwyn Bay are the other three Welsh sides currently playing in the English league system. Since they are currently outside of the top four leagues they are under the jurisdiction of the Welsh FA but are eligible to play in the (English) FA Cup. One little fun fact: Chester FC’s Deva Stadium, the first British stadium to fulfill the Taylor Report’s safety recommendations following the Hillsborough disaster, is located in two countries! The pitch is in Wales, the club offices are in England (and the team plays in the English League system).

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://stadiums.football.co.uk/NonLeague/Deva-Stadium.htm

 

 

Outside of these well known clubs there are still other examples in Europe. Some stem from geography, others from politics. Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries and therefore has no domestic league. Teams from Liechtenstein compete for a national (Liechtensteiner) championship by playing in the Liechtenstein National Cup (The winners qualify for European competition), but they play their league football in the Swiss Football League. The most famous of these clubs is FC Vaduz, currently playing in Switzerland’s top flight, the Swiss Super League, but they cannot qualify for European competition via the Swiss League System.

 

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FC Vaduz Lift the 2013 Liechtensteiner Cup. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.uefa.com/memberassociations/association=lie/news/newsid=1947329.html

 

Despite having its own league (The Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio), the small nation of San Marino boasts one representative that plays in the third tier of Italian football, the Lega Pro: San Marino Calcio is the only Sanmarinese club to play in Italy.

 

SAN-MARINO

Probably Not a Coincidence That Club and Country Share the Same Colors. Image Courtesy of: http://www.taringa.net/posts/offtopic/18439109/Me-voy-a-San-Marino-y-te-cuento-porque.html

 

In Finland and Sweden there are also a few examples of teams plying their trade in leagues from across their borders—the Finnish side Lemlands IF currently play in the Swedish seventh tier as they are from the Åland Islands—an autonomous region of Finland with an ethnically Swedish population. For more examples from outside of Europe, please see Wikipedia’s page.

 

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Who Knew They Played Football Here? Image Courtesy Of: http://truthfall.com/oceanx-team-new-expedition-to-the-baltic-anomaly-sets-sail/aland-islands-baltic-sea/

 

 

In the Republic of Ireland there is the example of Derry City FC, a team that plays outside of their home country due to domestic political problems; the well-supported team currently play in the Republic of Ireland’s Premier Division but it wasn’t always so. Despite everything the very fact that the team still exists almost one hundred years after their founding in 1928 should give faith to those worried about Barcelona and Espanyol. For more than forty years the team played in the Northern Irish league, even winning a title in 1964-65, before political developments literally tore the team away from the city (Derry or Londonderry?).

 

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There is alot In a Name. Image Courtesy Of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derry/Londonderry_name_dispute#mediaviewer/File:Signpostinstrabane.JPG

 

At the start of the Troubles the republican areas around Derry City’s Stadium, Brandywell, fell victim to the violence and unionist teams did not want to visit. The Royal Ulster Constubulary, Northern Ireland’s police force, deemed the area around the stadium unsafe meaning that the team had to travel thirty miles away to play home matches in Coleraine. The arrangement lasted a year before dwindling crowds and increasing violence forced the club to apply for a return to Brandywell. The proposal went to a vote among fellow Irish league teams and it fell by a lone vote, forcing the team withdrew from the league on 13 October 1972 since they effectively had no home stadium.

From 1972 to 1985 the club suffered through “the wilderness years” without a senior club or a league to play in as their continuing applications to use Brandywell as a home ground were rejected. Many believe these rejections stem from the club’s identity as a nationalist/Catholic team coming from a nationalist/Catholic neighborhood of a mainly unionist city. With re-admission into the Northern Irish league looking unlikely the team applied for admission to the League of Ireland (the name of the Republic of Ireland’s league) and were accepted as semi-professional members of the first division in1985. Success came quickly and, in 1987, Derry City won promotion to the premier division where they have been ever since. The team has seen some success in the Republic’s football structure, winning the Premier League title in 1988-89 and 1997-97 as well as four FAI Cup titles in 1989, 1995, 2002, and 2006.

During the team’s time in Ireland financial struggles have been ever-present, with the team being expelled from the League of Ireland in 2009 due to large debts. The team has since been reformed as a “new” Derry City, entering the First Division in February 2010 and winning promotion back to the Premier League in October of the same year. Interestingly when the threat of bankruptcy loomed in 2003 it was, among others, FC Barcelona who came to the rescue by arranging a friendly so as to provide much needed cash for the struggling Derry City. Recently, on February 5 2015, the Londonderry Sentinel reported that the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Tom Elliot suggested that Derry City return to the Irish League in Northern Ireland. Carál Ní Chuilín, the Minister responsible for sports in Northern Ireland, stated “it is up to Derry City where they play, who they play with and who they play for.” It is certainly a development worth following in terms of the Republic’s relations with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Derry-City

The Derry City Faithful in Action. Image Courtesy Of: http://backpagefootball.com/an-aussie-abroad-derry-city-fc-my-new-favourite-club/65121/

An Interesting Derry City Documentary: 

The Most Famous Derry City Song: The Undertones-Teenage Kicks:

 

In the past we have also seen teams play in the leagues of different countries, mainly as a result of international political conflicts. Most famously Germany’s 1938 Anschluß with Austria led to the Austrian league’s incorporation into the German football structure until 1944; Rapid Vienna even won the German title in 1941!

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Rapid Vienna’s 1941 Title Lives on in Sepia After the Fall of the Reich. Image Courtesy Of: http://medienportal.univie.ac.at/presse/aktuelle-pressemeldungen/detailansicht/artikel/tagung-fussball-unterm-hakenkreuz/

For more details on teams from Czechoslovakia, France, Poland, and Luxembourg that joined the German football structure following the territorial irredentism of the German Reich during World War Two please see the RSSF’s stunningly detailed archive here.

Following the installation of a military junta in Greece the concept of enosis gained followers and in a bid to strengthen the union between Greeks in Cyprus with Greeks in Greece the champion of the Cypriot football league was promoted to the Greek first division from 1968 to 1974. Before the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 ended this practice Olympiakos Nicosia, AEL Limassol, EPA Larnaca, AC Omonia Nicosia, and APOEL Nicosia FC (UEFA Champions League participants in 2014-15) all appeared in the Greek football structure.

 

Most recently we have seen the effect of geopolitical conflict on football in Ukraine. Two top flight Ukrainian clubs from the Crimea—the territory recently annexed by Russia—SC Tavriya Simferopol and FC Sevastopol (the latter whose Ukrainian League match with Dynamo Kiev I watched in Kiev two summers ago) have been admitted into the Russian football structure’s third tier with different names (FC TSK Simferopol and FC SKChF Sevastopol, respectively) so as to, at least nominally, be different teams. A third team from the Crimea, FC Zhemchuzhina Yalta, formerly of the Ukrainian Second Division, was also admitted into the Russian third tier for the 2014-2015 season. On 22 August 2014 UEFA stated that “any football matches played by Crimean clubs organised under the auspices of the Russian Football Union (RFS) will not be recognised by UEFA until further notice.” It seems like football in the Crimea will stay in limbo for some time to come.

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Tavriya Simferopol Ultras Voice Their Opinion. Image Courtesy Of: http://z6.invisionfree.com/UltrasTifosi/ar/t28786.htm

The situation regarding Barcelona and Espanyol in Catalonia should solidify in the future, but—as can be seen—there are many other interesting cases throughout Europe that are worth keeping an eye on as well, even if they do not involve such famous clubs.