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From Super Bowl to Liverpool: Extreme Capitalism on Both Sides of the Ocean

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In the United States the Super (Stupor) Bowl came and went last Sunday, leaving me in a stupor as always, over the excessive commercialism and heavy drinking that characterizes America’s biggest (!) holiday. The Carolina Panthers were upset by the Denver Broncos in the only game on earth where an off-hand (or maybe not so off-hand) post-game comment can net a business 13.9 million dollars in just hours. It is also the only game on earth where workers are paid 13 dollars an hour to…serve 13 dollar Bud Light beers—one step above (or below, depending on your level of taste and health-consciousness) water—to people who have paid up to 10,000 dollars a ticket.

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It may look like an Eastern European bread line but no, it is just people trying to get home after spending their day trying to eek out a living. Image Courtesy of: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_grind/2016/02/i_sold_beer_and_hot_dogs_at_the_super_bowl_and_got_paid_a_pittance.html.

And it is also the only game in the world that can—despite its disgusting embodiment of extreme capitalism in its most repulsive form—distract people from that same gut-wrenching exploitation in the name of…race?! Apparently, it can. The halftime show this year, a musical performance that half of the spectators don’t remember for too much alcohol consumption and half remember all too well for living up to its sideshow nature (Janet Jackson’s nipple anyone?), stole the show again but not for such titillating (!) reasons as Ms. Jackson’s did in 2004.

This year the star was Ms. Beyonce Knowles, the former Destiny’s Child star and now Mrs. Jay Z. Apparently her half-time performance, which featured a Black Panthers’ salute, rubbed some people the wrong way. Indeed, it even divided the black community. Dianca London notes that “Beyonce’s capitalism [is] masquerading as radical change”, and she further reminds readers that

“Beyoncé’s music is created to generate profit much like Super Bowl 50 and its countless ads so many of us consumed on Sunday. Sure, pop music can be influential on an individual and communal level, but it is dangerous when we fail to consider the ways in which songs such as “Formation” or last year’s “Flawless” are essentially an advertisement for Beyoncé’s brand — making her forever evolving activism (and the public’s eager consumption of it) a self-sustaining cache cow with limitless potential…it is alarming how we as a community unabashedly endorse without question or pause the soft politics of pop icons. It’s problematic to consume without caution, even if we see a reflection of ourselves, our mothers or sisters in their narratives. As much as we might feel empowered by the grace of their choreography and the back beats of their latest anthems, we as black Americans should allow ourselves the space to question the messages we are given, even if those messages are tailor-made for us.”

Others were not so cautious. While praising Beyonce Tamara Winfrey-Harris is unable to ignore the fact that Beyonce’s role in—and support of—extreme capitalism is contradictory to her message: “Racism is not just a social ill. It is baked into the American economy. It is a business. Capitalism is a root of the tragedy of Katrina and the biased American penal system and the continuing primacy of European beauty standards. And getting rich is not anarchy.”

Still, however, Ms. Winfrey-Harris buys into the hype Ms. London refuses to accept: “What is undeniable, though, is that popular culture is powerful. It changes minds. An expression of unapologetic Blackness by Beyoncé, arguably the biggest star in the world, is important. Pointing out the beauty in the sort of Blackness society views with revulsion is revolutionary.”

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Beyonce seems out of place. Image Courtesy of: http://hellobeautiful.com/2016/02/08/beyonce-formation-revolution-pop-culture/

As I wrote following the Baltimore riots, the American obsession with race misses the point completely. What a millionaire star does (regardless of whether they are black, white, or green) in ten minutes should not erase the incredible injustice of people—black, white, or green—who are working for 13 dollars an hour to serve 13 dollar beers. It is…insane. And it is a symptom of a global greed that, quite honestly, knows no color. That is why I, like Ms. London, am cautious of putting too much of an emphasis on any “message” a millionaire star might send. Perhaps a better message would have been sent by paying the workers volunteers who set up Beyonce’s halftime show, since—as Mr. Gabriel Thompson revealed—they are paid nothing to “lug the pieces of the stage onto the field for the halftime show, [putting] in at least 34 hours of rehearsal time [for] two weeks” as “unpaid labor, a subsidy of sorts for the Pepsi-sponsored halftime extravaganza”. Remarkable…but true.

On the day before the Super Bowl, on February 6 2016, across the ocean (it might as well be a galaxy far far away to many in the United States) in the United Kingdom, that other world the NFL is trying to get a foothold in, protests against social injustice characterized by greed took a different—and much more effective—form. Ten thousand Liverpool supporters walked out (and certainly they did not walk alone!) for the first time in the team’s 132 year history during the 77th minute of their team’s match against Sunderland. The reason? To protest the raising of the maximum ticket price to 77 Pounds from 59 Pounds. Of course, the fact that prices were raised should not come as a surprise when you know the owners of Liverpool FC are America’s Fenway Sports Group, who refused to respond to fans’ concerns. After all, they also own the Boston Red Sox…home to America’s highest priced Baseball tickets at just over 52 dollars on average.

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Liverpool fans fly black flags instead of the traditional red flags as they exit Anfield Road. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/06/liverpool-fans-walkout-thousands-ticket-price-protest

The issue of rising ticket prices—and frustration with American owners bringing their brand of extreme capitalism with them—is nothing new in the English Premier League, as evidenced by Jim White’s 2012 article in The Telegraph. It is part and parcel of the industrial football that is re-defining sports in Europe.

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Three years ago Liverpool fans vented their frustrations against the American owners—and their extreme capitalism. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/columnists/jimwhite/9039432/Jim-White-Love-affair-Premier-Leagues-mega-rich-stars-have-lost-touch-with-their-disillusioned-supporters.html

Protests against this type of greed are now spreading. The Football Supporter’s Federation in England is now discussing a wide-spread walkout of all Premier League games this coming weekend, and this article from The Telegraph has a good graphic detailing ticket prices of all Premier League Teams. Ironically, the cheapest tickets—at 22 pounds—are to be found at Leicester City, the odds on favorites to win the championship. Let’s hope they do. In Germany Borussia Dortmund fans skipped the first twenty minutes of their 9 February 2016 German Cup match against VFB Stuttgart over Stuttgart’s 70 Euro ticket prices for the cup tie. The “Yellow Wall” didn’t leave it at that; they rained tennis balls down on the pitch as part of their protest.

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“Football Must Be Affordable”. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102

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Why Tennis Balls? The BBC Explains: “According to Dortmund fan Marc Quambusch, fans were being ironic. He says Germans use the expression “great tennis” to describe something very good.” Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35464102

On two continents extreme greed—fuelled by extreme capitalism—is threatening sports. As fans have said in both England and Germany, enough is enough. In Liverpool’s case, it may have just worked. On Thursday 11 February 2016, the team’s owners announced that ticket prices will be frozen at this year’s level, 59 Pounds for the most expensive seats. It seems that the protest—perhaps backed by British PM David Cameron, worked. Of course, the team also learned a lesson on the pitch. When the fans left at the 77th minute Liverpool were up 2-0…after the fans left, the team conceded two late goals and drew Sunderland 2-2. Were the two lost points worth the proposed rise in prices? I would argue no, since it is good results that garner more money in the long run. For now, Fenway Sports Group did well to back down.

But it still doesn’t change the fact that across the world greed is governing business more and more. Whether in England, Germany, or the United States, there is too much emphasis on money, and it is slowly taking sports over as well. In the United States we should not be blinded by issues like race—which has lowered the societal problem of economic inequality to its lowest common denominator—because it hinders our ability to see wider issues. Sports is a big business, and if we do not stand up against this greed then we all lose—it does not matter if we are black or white for there is no color in being a sports fan. The fact that the biggest story from the Super Bowl was about race goes to show that people are at risk of missing the larger point. Football—and sport in general—is better with fans. Not consumers. Otherwise, there is no passion. And I would hate to live a life without passion.

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Image Courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/08/fsf-premier-league-clubs-walkout-ticket-prices

Football Clubs Continue to Respond to the Soma Mine Disaster in Turkey as the Government Weighs In

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Since news of the Soma mine disaster broke last night there have been many responses, both from football clubs and from government officials in Turkey. Sadly, the latter have been less than encouraging. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had an opportunity to win over his detractors by taking a conciliatory tone in the wake of disaster. Unfortunately he decided to stick with his harsh and unrelenting rhetoric, which does not bode well for the country’s future.

As the death toll rose to 274—the biggest industrial disaster in Turkish history–Erdogan made his move in an interview with the Soma municipality. Perhaps, in fact, Reuters wrote it best:

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” he [Erdogan] said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.

Reel off he did. Hurriyet.com carried the Turkish version here from which I got the italicized portions below. His comments were, frankly, embarrassing. A sampling is below, taken from what I assume to be the interview with reporters at the Soma Municipality (so as to excuse the grammatical errors even in the Hurriyet transcript):

The video is here starting from 14:00:

 

İngiltere’de geçmişe gidiyorum, 1862 bu madende göçük 204 kişi ölmüş. 1866 361 kişi ölmüş İngiltere. İngiltere’de 1894 patlama 290. Fransa’ya geliyorum 1906 dünya tarihinin en ölümlü ikinci kazası 1099. Daha yakın dönemlere geleyim diyorum, Japonya 1914’de 687. Çin 1942, gaz ve kömür karışmanın neden olduğu sayılıyor ölüm sayısı 1549.

 Değerli arkadaşlar yine Çin’de 1960 metan gazı patlaması 684. Ve Japonya’da 1963’te yine kömür tozu patlaması 458. Hindistan 375. 1975’te metan gazı alev aldı, maden çatısı çöktü ve 372. Bu ocakların bu noktada bu tür kazaları sürekli olan şeyler.

Bakın Amerika. Teknolojisiyle her şeyiyle. 1907’de 361.

My translation:

I go to the past in England. 1862 in a mine there was a cave in 204 people died. [In] 1866 361 people died [in] England. In England in 1894 [there was an] explosion 290 [died]. I’m coming to France, [in] 1906 [was] world history’s second most deadly accident, 1099 [died]. I say we should come to more recent history, in Japan in 1914 687 [died]. China 1942, because gas and coal mixed the death count was 1549.

My dear friends again in China in 1960 a methane gas explosion caused 684 [deaths]. And in Japan in 1963 again a coal dust explosion [caused] 458 [deaths]. In India 375 [deaths]. In 1975 methane gas caught fire, the roof of the mine collapsed and 372 [died]. In these places in coal mines these kinds of accidents are things that constantly happen.

Look [at] America. With its technology [and] everything. In 1907 361 [died].

 

I can only shake my head. I don’t need to go into the details of the history of Turkish industrial accidents—Reuters has that covered. But the fact that the leader of a country that is listed as one of the world’s leading economic powers—a founding member of the OECD and G20—should resort to statistics from two centuries ago is astounding. Does he mean to say Turkey is comparable to England in 1862 and the United States in 1907? This is an insult to the development Turkey has seen under the AKP and to its standing in the world today. Given these words, it does not surprise me that protests broke out across Turkey today . After all, this is symptomatic of the rampant privatization that has occurred under the AKP government—unions argue that “safety standards were not improved once formerly state-run facilities were leased to private companies”  (the mine in question in Soma is privately owned). Corruption isn’t only morally wrong, its dangerous.

I write this because I believe that Prime Minister Erdogan, as the leader of a democratic country, should have been more conciliatory in the wake of tragedy instead of dredging up numbers from the distant past in order to provide context for a terrible tragedy. That said, I prefer to let the dust settle and allow families time to grieve before pointing fingers of blame (even if the direction those fingers will point in is fairly obvious). With that, I present some heartwarming news from the football world, which Hurriyet.com has collected (http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26418723.asp and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26414735.asp ).

Many teams have started a #TribunHasilatlariSomaya campaign, and there have been many responses:

–       The proceeds from this week’s Kardemir Karabukspor match with Sivasspor will be donated to those affected by the tragedy.

–       The supporter groups of Ankaragucu—themselves a team formed by workers at a munitions plant during the Turkish war of independence—will donate money they collect to the families of those who lost their lives in Soma.

–       The proceeds from Besiktas’s match with Genclerbirligi will be donated to those affected by the tragedy.

–       Galatasaray will donate the proceeds from an upcoming friendly to the victims and their families as well.

–       Fenerbahce’s fans at 12 numara.org have also started a campaign to raise money to help those affected.

 

Also internationally Barcelona added their voice of support to Liverpool’s.

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From England (whose mining tragedies were listed by the Prime Minister) condolences came from Chelsea and Sheffield United.

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Schalke 04 from Germany, a miners club themselves (their nickname is Die Knappen—the Miners) from Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia, added their voice as well in a meaningful show of solidarity.

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Respect to all these clubs for bringing international recognition to this tragedy that may well have repercussions for Turkish politics in the not so distant future.

Football Clubs React to Soma Mine Explosion in Turkey

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There are times that a nation turns its teary eyes in unison to disasters so horrific that it seems nothing else matters. Today is one of those days in Turkey. At the latest count at least 201 miners have been reported dead in a mine explosion in Soma, a city in Western Turkey’s Manisa province. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz (of cat fame) reported that of the 787 miners who had been inside (2 Kilometers—1.2 Miles—below the surface) at the time of the explosion, just 360 have been accounted for.

Days like this are also ones where sport can help bring people together in the face of tragedy, regardless of nationality. The major Turkish football clubs sent their condolences immediately and the most interesting message came from Liverpool FC in England. Following the Hillsborough disaster the team is no stranger to tragedy, and it is refreshing that the team should reach out to Turkey in a show of empathy. Turkish media reports that Liverpool’s official Facebook account posted this message of solidarity with the miners and their families (http://www.sporx.com/futbol/dunya/ingiltere/liverpool-acimizi-paylasti-SXHBQ385130SXQ and http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/spor/futbol/26414735.asp)

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Liverpool FC-Turkey’s Twitter account showed a shortened version of the same message.

While it will take some time for things to settle in Turkey and for the blame game between the opposition and the ruling party to subside (since this kind of thing should never happen in a developed country where mining is so prevalent)—it is refreshing to see humanity at its best as reflected through football clubs. No matter where you live or how you live, human life matters.

Below is the amateur football team Soma Spor Kulubu’s website which today displays their badge on a coal black background. My thoughts and prayers go out to the miners and their families on this dark day. Herkese başsağlığı diliyorum.

yas

Courtesy of: http://www.somaspor.com