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“Human Rights” as Justification for Continued Western Imperialism with a Kinder Face: The Case of Euro 2024

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On 27 September 2018 Turkey lost their bid to host UEFA Euro 2024, Europe’s biggest football tournament. Germany, the hosts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, will be the host country, winning a bid where “realism” won out in the face of “romance”. In typical fashion, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shrugged the loss off by pointing out that Turkey evaded the costs. While I am sure Mr. Erdogan himself was a little disappointed—after all, EURO 2024 was going to be the tournament in which Turkey’s shiny new stadiums could be showcased after Istanbul lost the bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics—he was very right when he pointed out that “it is always in the same country”. Indeed, it always seems that Western countries end up hosting most major football tournaments, no doubt because—in many cases—they have the requisite infrastructure. Yet, what makes this case different, is that the entire debate surrounding the bid decision focused on one very particular facet of Western foreign policy: the case of “Human Rights”.

 

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Ms. Merkel Seems Unable to Recognize Her Own Nation’s Football Shirt (!). Image Courtesy Of: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/euro-2024-bid-germany-turkey-realism-romance-mesut-ozil-a8554776.html

 

I put the aforementioned term in “quotations” not because I find it frivolous, but rather because I remember the many injustices which have been committed in the name of furthering or protecting these “human rights”; the war in Iraq and interventions in Libya and Syria come most readily to mind in this context. The German public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle brought this issue to the fore in a 26 September 2018 article by Felix Tamsut entitled “Human rights in the spotlight for Euro 2024 host bid”. According to Deutsche Welle:

 

For the first time ever, UEFA has included clauses related to the human rights situation in the hosting country as part of its bidding process. In its announcement, UEFA said the bidding country has to “culturally embed human rights,” as well as “proactively address human rights risks.” The term “human rights” was mentioned 11 times in UEFA’s final evaluation report of both Germany and Turkey, which goes to show the importance of both countries’ record in the field. For comparison, the same report released ahead of Euro 2020 did not contain that term at all.

 

To any reader, this should itself stand out. How could it be that “human rights” comes to the fore when Turkey is involved? I would argue that this newfound interest in “human rights” is more a result of Western virtue signaling—in the name of a kinder form of imperialism—than it is a reflection of Turkey’s own human rights record. This is not to say that Turkey has not presented the world with a very real contradiction in terms—as an authoritarian neoliberal state—but, I believe, the “human rights” records of other recent hosts of football’s major tournaments have not been held to the same standard, leading this observer to believe that something else is behind this form of opinion shaping emanating from the global “West”. For a moment, lets look at the cases going back from the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa (Indeed, a cursory Google search of “Human rights Germany World Cup” or “Human rights France Euro 2016” reveals nothing, either a result of Google’s own censorship policies or—more realistically—a result of the fact that the issue of “human rights” was never brought up in the context of these “Western” bids).

 

FIFA World Cup 2010: Hosted by South Africa

A 4 June 2010 report by Amnesty International ahead of the 2010 World Cup entitled “Human Rights Concerns in South Africa During the World Cup” points out that:

 

There has been an increase in police harassment of informal traders (hawkers), homeless South Africans, and refugees and migrants who are living in shelters or high density inner city accommodation.

This harassment has included police raids, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and extortion, as well as destruction of informal housing.

The tearing down of informal housing has taken place without prior notice, provision of adequate alternative housing or compensation and in violation of domestic law prohibiting forced evictions.

Regulations created to comply with FIFA World Cup requirements in host cities are being used by police to expel homeless people and street traders from “controlled access sites” and exclusion zones around World Cup venues. Penalties for offences under the regulations include fines of up to Rand 10,000 {$1,300] or imprisonment of up to six months.

 

Of course, this emphasis on sheltering the world from the realities of poverty in South Africa—especially by destroying informal housing—is hardly unique to the South African case. Indeed, it is part and parcel of the trend for international sporting events to deflect attention from the reality of urban poverty in the non-Western world so as to present a utopian vision of society by sweeping the problems under the proverbial rug. Indeed, the Brazilian World Cup suffered from a similar tendency.

 

FIFA World Cup 2014: Hosted by Brazil

On 4 April 2014, Amnesty International published a report entitled “Brazil: Human Rights Under Threat Ahead of the World Cup”, showcasing the words of Atila Roque, the director of Amnesty International Brazil:

 

The excessive use of force by Brazilian police in response to the widespread protests last year resulted in many people injured. Rather than training the police in how to deal with peaceful mass protests, the government’s response has been to criminalize protesters giving the security services carte blanche to arrest and detain people at will. New laws have been proposed that threaten the right to freedom of expression. This is not just about the World Cup but will have long-term consequences for any future peaceful protests.

 

Indeed, the Guardian (surprisingly) was one of the Western news outlets to report on the widespread “social cleansing” of Rio de Janeiro’s “favelas”. According to the 2013 story, “At least 19,000 families have been moved to make way for roads, renovated stadiums, an athletes’ village, an ambitious redevelopment of the port area and other projects that have been launched or accelerated to prepare the city for the world’s two biggest sporting events [the Olympics and FIFA World Cup]”. Predictably, of course, the government justified the forced eviction of the country’s poorest citizens as “necessary to modernize the city”.

 

FIFA World Cup 2018 Hosted by Russia

 Even before the summer of 2018, Human Rights Watch published a piece on 21 March 2018 readying viewers for the “World Cup of Shame” to be hosted by Russia, noting that there is no better way for countries to “exercise soft power than hosting the top tournament of the world’s most popular sport”. Indeed, after the tournament, the same news outlet claimed that “the human costs” of Russia’s “bloody World Cup” were high, citing the death of at least 21 workers involved in stadium construction and the country’s ongoing discrimination of its LGBT citizens. Yet even Russia’s “human rights” abuses are nothing when compared to Qatars.

 

FIFA World CUP 2022 Hosted by Qatar

Amnesty International’s piece “Qatar World Cup of Shame” details the plight of Qatar’s migrant workers who have been imported to help construct the country’s new stadiums, detailing the (often) forced nature of their labor and appalling working conditions. The graphic below provides some important context of the argument against Qatar 2020.

 

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Its a Numbers Game. Image courtesy of https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/

 

This is how we now arrive at the Euro 2024 bid, where Turkey—despite boasting a strong football infrastructure, as well as offering beautiful tourist sights and a vibrant culture full of hospitable locals—loses its bid to Germany on the basis of “human rights”. If such things truly mattered for hosting international football tournaments, then South Africa and Brazil would not have been able to cleanse urban areas of their unwanted urban poor while Russia and Qatar would not have been able to build their infrastructure through poorly regulated labor contracts which—in the case of the latter—border on slavery. Yet, all four of these countries were able to abuse human rights while successfully sanitizing urban areas to better fit the consumerist ethos of modern sports.

 

And this is where we get to the real reason that Turkey was not chosen to host UEFA Euro 2024. It is not about human rights, nor is it about Turkey’s perceived ability (or inability) to host a major tournament; Turkey would make a fine host. But instead, it is about consumption. Since the Turkish Lira has lost 40 percent against the U.S. Dollar in the past year, many economists fear that the country’s economy is heading into recession. If this happens it will mean that Turkish consumers will not be able to consume as much as they would in a stronger economy; thus—for the sports marketers who (behind the scenes) ultimately decide the location of international sporting events—Turkey is not the best choice of venue. Make no mistake, the rhetoric behind the “human rights” argument is just a veneer of Western virtue signaling which does not stand up to empirical scrutiny when the cases of Qatar, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa are considered. Of course, it is also worth noting that the aforementioned four cases also were chosen at a time when globalism was ascendant; with this disastrous global ideology seemingly on the back foot it seems that Europe is circling the wagons to ensure that—at least—the European Championships stay in the heart of Europe as we end the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Of course, the ethno-centric nature of UEFA’s decision to award Germany the bid will also be obscured by the “human rights” discourse, pointing to yet another way that virtue signaling serves to discourage the search for alternative explanations which both stray from the dominant media narrative, but which also might be closer to the truth.

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European Success Comes at Africa’s Expense: Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s First Major Post-Presidential Speech Focuses on Football but Misses the Mark

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Former U.S. President Barack Obama chose to make the focus of his first major post-presidential speech football, and in so doing proved (as has become the norm for globalist figures) his distance from the people. At an event in South Africa celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, Mr. Obama praised the French national football team as an example of “inclusivity”. Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, however, his speech missed the mark on many levels.

As I have written before, the FIFA World Cup—particularly the 2018 incarnation of it—has become a propaganda tool for globalist interests. Predictably, Mr. Obama’s speech followed the globalist logic. Mr. Obama noted that the “multicultural” French squad confirmed Mr. Mandela’s “principle that we are bound to a common humanity”, and that this is a

 

truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people. And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. Because not all of those folks – not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French. They’re French.

 

While Mr. Obama may have wanted his “observation” to be interpreted as one in favor of multiculturalism, instead it seems that he has not abandoned the race-baiting tactics which have so disastrously divided the United States; indeed, the focus in this statement is not on the caliber of play but instead on the physical appearance of the French team. And that is something that someone as “tolerant” as Mr. Obama should have recognized before making such a ludicrous statement.

 

Yet Mr. Obama was not done. He continued by saying:

 

Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage.

 

Here I am forced to ask who—aside from, perhaps, Google—would ever claim that being proud of one’s heritage means denigrating those of different heritage? Mr. Obama seems to be going by the bizarre logic of Google, which equates xenophobia with nationalism, that I criticized on 10 July. It is a shame that Mr. Obama is so caught up in the narrative he is trying to spread that he cannot see the problems inherent in his effusive praise of the French side.

 

While the French side deserve all the credit in the world for winning a physically and mentally taxing tournament like the World Cup, the image of the “multicultural” French side may not be as rosy as some commentators seem to assume. As I have written about previously, globalization is essentially imperialism with a kinder face. In France’s case, their “multicultural” football team may be less a reflection of their “tolerant” society (which, in actuality, is fairly racist), and more a reflection of neo-colonialism; the team is the fruit of past imperialism! France’s team won the world cup with a squad featuring a many players of African descent; according to Yahoo Sports, there were players of Congolese, Guinean, Nigerian, Cameroonian, Algerian, Mauritanian, Senegalese, Malian, Tologlese, Angolan, Zairian, and Moroccan descent in the French squad. Yet, at the same time, this World Cup saw the worst performance for Africa, as a continent, since 1982; it was the first time in 36 years that an African side failed to appear in the tournament’s second round, and the African contingent’s 15 games resulted in 10 losses, two draws, and just three wins.

Comically, the BBC asks, rhetorically, “What Went Wrong for Africa in 2018?”, and they suggest VAR and “bad luck” as possible answers. Readers who expect honest reporting—rather than globalist rhetoric—from journalists would do well to avoid the BBC, because the answer is quite clear: What went wrong for Africa is that some of Africa’s most talented footballers are currently playing for European countries! If Mr. Obama actually cared for Africa—as he continually claims to do—he could have addressed the neo-colonialism of the French football team while also praising it. Or he could have praised Croatia, who—despite their small size—showed what a team can do when both players and fans are united with a strong sense of national identity and national pride. In the end, however, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. It has no basis in reality, and merely represents another form of globalist propaganda. Meanwhile, I am hoping for a true African success at the next World Cup. After all, that is likely what Nelson Mandela would have truly wanted: the sons of Africa playing under an African—and not a colonial—flag.

 

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For Instance, Didier Drogba didn’t play for France…He Played for the Ivory Coast. Image Courtesy Of: https://fr.starafrica.com/football/articles/mondial-2018-drogba-revient-sur-lechec-de-lafrique/

Globalization as Imperialism with a Kinder Face: The Case of the Sports World

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After discussing the recent 2017 IAAF World Track and Field Championships held in London with a friend, I was struck just how clearly the sports world shows that globalization is imperialism with a friendlier face. Just as Michel Foucault argues in Discipline and Punish, changing forms of punishment—from violent torture to confinement in modern prison systems—made punishment less barbaric while simultaneously further legitimizing it, globalization makes imperialism more palatable to the “modern” mind. Exploitation of the global south by the global north, and poorer countries by richer countries, continues unabated in the globalist world.

Reviewer David J. Rothman notes that, for Foucault, systems like schools, factories, hospitals, and prisons:

 

expanded the scope of discipline and legitimized it. It turned the individual into a “case,” which simultaneously helped to explain his actions and to control them. The very concept of the individual as a case represented a “thaw” that liberated scientific knowledge (to think of the patient as a case was the beginning of medical innovation), and at the same time expanded institutional means of control (for example, the right of the hospital to confine the mentally ill). Thus, a case approach “at one and the same time constitutes an object for a branch of knowledge and a hold for a branch of power.”

In the instance of the prison, this case orientation encouraged the expansion of knowledge in such disciplines as criminology, psychology and eventually psychiatry. Concomitantly, it legitimized incarceration in the name of treatment. Since the institution could cure, it was proper to confine.

 

With the advent of modern prison systems punishment was refined and, in the process, became more pervasive. This is no different than the evolution of international power structures from those represented by imperialism and colonialism in the past and those created by globalization in the present.

Emin Colasan, a Turkish columnist, wrote an article on 12 August 2017 regarding “Devsirme” Turkish athletes. The term itself is from Ottoman history, once used to refer to the Janissary Corps, but now used to refer to naturalized foreigners, particularly in sports. Mr. Colasan notes that Turkey’s two medalists in the recent IAAF Track and Field Championships were not in fact Turkish at all: Cuban Yasmani Copello won a silver medal in the 400 meter hurdles while Azeri Ramil Guliev won gold in an upset victory in the 200 meter event. While this is of course an unbelievable achievement for these two athletes (as a former track and field athlete myself, I know the hard work the sport requires), it would be wrong to characterize it as an achievement for Turkish sport itself since these athletes were not products of Turkish sporting infrastructure. Mr. Colasan provides another example in the Turkish National Women’s Basketball Team, where Americans like Quanitra Hollingsworth represent Turkey in international competitions. For Hollingsworth it is a “business arrangement” (https://aroundthehorns.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/quanitra-hollingsworth-turkish-citizen-olympian/ that will ultimately help her career—but it won’t help the careers of native Turkish basketball players who may hope to one day represent their country.

 

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The Internationalization of Turkish Sport, from Ramil Guliev to Quanitra Hollingsworth. While this is of course a positive development for these two athletes in particular, it might not be as positive for native athletes. Images Courtesy of: http://www.pressherald.com/2017/08/10/world-track-championships-surprise-victory-for-turkeys-ramil-guliyev-in-200/ (TOP) and https://alchetron.com/Quanitra-Hollingsworth-620347-W (BOTTOM).

 

The importing of foreign sports stars is something that Qatar, among other oil rich gulf states, is notorious for. Deutsche Welle, writing about Qatar’s 2015 success in handball, notes that only four of Qatari team was actually from Qatar. The team made up of players from Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, France, Spain, and Cuba “had been enticed to play for the Gulf state thanks to six figure winning bonuses. They were also guaranteed a life long pension, if the team reached the semifinals”. Deutsche Welle offers a thinly veiled defense of Qatari actions, calling it true globalization and further justifying it by comparing it to the actions of major European football clubs:

 

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The Newest Qatari, Danijel Saric (Formerly of Serbia). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dw.com/en/qatar-buying-their-way-to-sporting-success/a-18233576

 

Qatar’s approach in this instance is no different to the way that big European football clubs operate. They search for talent worldwide, then sign them up and then train them. It’s just that Qatar’s sheikhs are doing it at the national team level, not for a club.

Some people might find it immoral, and maybe it is. But in high-level professional sport, where lots of money is involved and success is the most important currency, the approach is pretty common.

 

Again, it is the importance of “money” that drives Qatar’s—and Turkey’s—desire to obtain foreign athletes. Unfortunately, it is the kind of short-sighted policy that defines the actions of globalist leaders the world over. Rather than develop their own sporting cultures and infrastructure countries are trying to buy success; rather than develop indigenous technologies and businesses countries would rather privatize existing state run industries and import from multinational corporations. Such policies do little to encourage long term home-grown economic growth and the profits stream out of developing countries to the home-countries of multinational corporations based in the developed world.

What Deutsche Welle also misses—by comparing Qatar’s actions to those of “the big European football clubs”—is that the actions of those clubs is also imperialism disguised as globalization; footballers are imported to Europe from poorer countries in Latin America and Africa in a modern day exploitation of the global South in sports. The results have not been great for Latin American clubs, as a courser look at the history of the FIFA World Club Championship (later FIFA Club World Cup) shows: While the competition was roughly equal in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (South America won 6 championships to Europe’s 4 from 1960-69 while Europe won 7 championships to South America’s 11 from 1970 to 1989) the advent of globalization changed the balance from 1990 onward. From 1990 to 2004 Europe won 10 championships to South America’s 5 and after the start of the FIFA Club World Cup in 2004 South America has won just 3 competitions to Europe’s 9 (the last time a South American participant won was 2012). Because of the globalization of sport poorer countries have no incentive to develop sporting infrastructure. South American and African clubs will sell young players off (the raw materials of world football) at cheap prices for them to be refined at major European clubs; countries like Turkey and Qatar will just buy sporting success in lieu of developing their sporting infrastructure. In this respect human beings become commodified; both processes are similarly short cited and create a vicious cycle in terms of both sporting and economic development.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of imperialism and sports can be found by looking at the make up of international football teams. The French national side of the 1980s (immediately following decolonization) was mainly a European team. The team that represented France at the 2016 European Championships was mainly an African team, the results of years of French Colonialism. Belgium is no different, and King Leopold’s horrific actions in the Belgian Congo will not be erased by Vincent Kompany’s success on the pitch representing Belgium any more than French domination of Algeria was erased by Zinedine Zidane’s brilliance. That European countries still reap the benefits of colonialism is shocking; that European neo-colonialism—under the guise of sporting globalization—continues unabated is disappointing.

 

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The French Side at the 1984 European Championships. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.lalsace.fr/sport/2016/06/07/france-des-entrees-en-lice-qui-donnent-le-ton

 

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The French Side at the 2016 European Championships. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2016/06/10/euro-2016-on-friday-kick-off-times-tv-channels-and-team-news-ahe/

 

As I have argued, the current globalized world is one that puts a kinder face on imperialism, masking some real issues. While it is certainly a positive development that Belgium has started to recognize the footballing success of African footballers specifically, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if these players could represent Congo instead of Belgium. If African football is to develop—and an African team is to win a World Cup—the best players cannot be continually outsourced to Europe. Such policies serve to continually retard the growth of African football.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: https://onedio.com/haber/iyi-birey-iyi-vatandas-ve-iyi-futbolcu-yetistirmek-icin-adanan-fikirlerin-eseri-altinordu-615891

 

I hope that more clubs take a suggestion from the Turkish second division club Altinordu, whose motto is “A good person, a good citizen, a good footballer”. Founded in Izmir in 1923, Altinordu deliberately took a Turkish name (literally “Golden Horde”) so as to represent Turkish nationalism following the founding of the Turkish Republic in the same year. As the team’s motto shows, there is a real nationalist undercurrent that puts citizenship and individual character before being a footballer. Most importantly, the team’s policies are actually positive for Turkish football. The club will not sign non-Turkish players, and puts an emphasis on nurturing homegrown talent instead. The team narrowly missed promotion to the Turkish Super League last season with a roster whose average age was less than 23. The team’s chairman Mehmet Seyit Ozkan made headlines last year when he said “Even if [Argentine star Lionel] Messi wants to play for Altinordu for free, I would definitely reject him”. Mr. Ozkan underlined “I believe in our young Turkish players. I’m giving chances to them”. This kind of policy can only help Turkish football in the long run since one contributing factor in Turkish football’s recent decline has been the rising number of non-Turkish players; clubs have no incentive to develop home grown talent because a 2015 rule change allowed Turkish teams to field an XI made up entirely of foreign players. In 2016 the Turkish Super League was made up of 47.5 percent non-Turkish players; it is a similar situation to what is seen in the English Premier League (and we all know what year it was the last time England won a major football tournament (!).

Whether football fan or not, we should all be concerned about the negative effects of globalization and be prepared to discuss different perspectives. Even if it seems to be more humane, the current system is reminiscent of the bold faced imperialism and colonialism of the past, benefitting the global north at the expense of the global south. In order to encourage long term growth worldwide—both culturally and economically—it is prudent to recognize that globalization is far from an unequivocally positive trend.

 

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Globalization Has In Fact Exacerbated Inequality In The West. Image Courtesy Of: http://marketbusinessnews.com/financial-glossary/economic-globalization/

 

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An Amusing Picture Describes the Thin Line Separating Cultural Imperialism from Globalization. Image Courtesy Of: http://f10cmc100-2.blogspot.com.tr/2010/10/globalization-versus-cultural.html