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FIFA Corruption: The Globalist Model for a Brave New “World Society”?

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I have written before about the theories regarding the U.S. government’s corruption case against FIFA, the governing body of world soccer. Although the U.S. attempt to clean up the game may have been positive, it is clear that there was also some geopolitical wrangling going on at the time.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama was not able to bring the World Cup to the United States because, ultimately, Qatar won the prize. Yet the fact that disgraced former FIFA President Sepp Blatter recently admitted to calling Mr. Obama before the final decision was made public suggests that there was more that a little politics involved in FIFA’s “choice” to award the world’s most prestigious tournament to Qatar, itself a country with very little footballing history.

One of the themes emerging from Mr. Blatter’s revelations is just how deep the corruption goes—both financially and, unfortunately, politically. Mr. Blatter might have seen it as a purely financial transaction, which is to be expected in the era of industrial football: “America is very good for us [. . .] The sponsors, the broadcasters, the fans. It would help football there after 1994, almost 30 years, and that is good for football.” Here Mr. Blatter is merely invoking the logic of industrial football. Yet, somewhere along the line, politics got in the way. According to ESPN’s story, the former corrupt leader of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, is “under investigation in his country for his part in the bid process. Blatter has previously alleged Sarkozy applied pressure on [UEFA President Michel] Platini to change his vote [on where the World Cup would go] in a meeting also attended by Qatar’s crown prince.” Why political leaders should get involved in a footballing decision is a question that all football fans should be asking.

As other media outlets have outlined, FIFA’s corruption is undeniable (here and here). It seems that, sometimes, the globalist logic is what runs world football: In a fake bid to create “multiculturalism” and “diversity”, world football has given the World Cup to an Arab country because it is “their turn”. For real football fans, however, the reality should be apparent: in order to line their pockets, many FIFA officials knew that they could take Qatar’s money while also looking like they were somehow contributing to the globalist zeitgeist of “multiculturalism” and the continual attempts at a global shift away from the “West’s” domination of the global culture industry. To put it bluntly, it is one of the most blatant marriages of football and politics in the history of the world—and on a global scale.

While the United States has wasted over 300 billion dollars in the Middle East between the end of WWII and 2010, it is clear that throwing money at the region solves nothing in terms of “bringing it in line” with the interests of global (and extreme) capitalism. It is also clear that Qatar is involved in their own attempts—perhaps sanctioned and even encouraged by the West, since Qatar is intimately tied to global financial flows—to achieve a regional hegemonic position in the Middle East. This has been most clearly evidenced by the country’s recent investments in Turkish sports and the political fall-out with regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt (which have hitherto resisted the forces of extreme—Western style—capitalism). This is because the World Cup is an amazing coup for Qatar in terms of increasing their “soft-power” in the region while also cementing the country’s standing within the existing neoliberal order.

 

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Just Think About How Much of This Money Could Have Been Spent on Bettering the Lives of Both Americans And Middle Easterners? Perhaps Infrastructure Spending Vs. Meaningless Wars and Imperialism in the Name of Extreme Capitalism? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/us-aid-middle-east_n_3779275.html

 

Most importantly for football fans—and the average citizen all over the world—is that FIFA’s corruption shows clearly what a globalist regime in charge of the world would look like. This case highlights all of the dangers that a technocratic and bureaucratic ruling elite—on a global scale—would present to the world. This is because a globalist ruling class would:

 

  • Disguise corruption and increasing inequality as “equality”;
  • Further enrich the super-rich at the expense of the poor (Who is building Qatar’s stadiums?);
  • Inject itself into every aspect of our lives, controlling even our leisure time, a time that should be exempt from the concerns of economics and politics, in a crude attempt to regulate even our most basic human emotions, such as our support for sports.

 

Globalism (the ideology) and globalization (the process it supports) are both inherently corrupt and exploitative systems; it is up to us as citizens—of whatever country we live in—to hold our leaders accountable in order to resist it.

 

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Qatar’s Stadiums Under Construction. The Scene Reminds Me Of the Construction Workers in the Lego Movie (Itself a Criticism of Extreme Capitalism in the Modern World). Everything is Awesome (For Qatar, But Definitely Not For the Workers). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/world-cup-2022-qatars-workers-slaves-building-mausoleums-stadiums-modern-slavery-kafala-a7980816.html
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Lig TV is Gone as Qatar Enters Turkish Football Market

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The Iconic Lig TV  brand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/657907/Lig_TV_nin_adi_degisiyor.html

 

Thursday 13 January 2017 will be the last day that Turkish football will be played on Lig TV as the channel’s name is being changed to beIN Sports. As someone who has fond memories of watching matches on Lig TV, I admit that I have a nostalgic love for the channel’s name. Interestingly, for a lesson in how the media can spin things, neither the above mentioned piece in the opposition daily Cumhuriyet, nor pro-government Sabah and CNN Turk, add the detail that the leftist Sol gives: That the name change is due to the fact that Turkey’s main pay TV service, Digiturk, was bought by Qatar!

Of course, the price of the sale was never released to the public, but the name change is a blatant attempt for the Qatari company close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), beIN Media, to stamp their ownership on Turkish football. It is also a product of Qatar’s quest for soft power in the region that has been characterized by large investments in football-related fields (the World Cup anyone?); for more on this please see the interesting articles on James Dorsey’s blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

It is part of a wide ranging number of Qatari investments in Turkey, likely necessitated by the the rising instability that has scared Western money away from Turkey. Interestingly, as the Cumhuriyet daily notes, many Turkish companies such as the Doğuş Group, the Ciner Group, and Türk Telekom (owned 55% by Saudi Arabia’s Oger Telekom but 45% by the government and public) wanted to buy Digiturk yet were not allowed to. Why? Is it because, as Cumhuriyet implies, the Qatari Emir visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the day before the sale was announced? If this is the case, then (as the paper argues) why not announce the sale price? It is just another example of the extreme neoliberal policies of the AKP, who sell to the highest bidder and line their pockets in the process (after all, by not announcing the sale price it allows a chance to skim more off the top). The Financial Times estimates the deal to have been between $1bn-$1.5bn.

Now, Nasser Al-Khelaifi (also the chairman of Paris Saint Germain football club) is the owner of Turkey’s main sports broadcaster, representing Qatar’s financial goals. As the Financial Times explains:

 

Rejecting global criticism of its hosting of the 2022 Fifa World Cup, Qatar is pushing ahead with investments abroad. Less susceptible than its regional peers to the slump in oil prices, the country has been using its formidable financial firepower to snap up assets from corporate blue-chips to sporting franchises.

This latest blow from industrial football stings because it means that another Turkish business has been sold off only to line the pockets of corrupt politicians. It also may be a sign of the Turkish economy’s increasing fragility; as the West is scared off by increasing political instability the country seems to be turning East for investment. Unfortunately, history has shown that relying on Petrodollars is not the soundest of strategies.

 

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Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the New Owner of Digiturk. Also Chairman of France’s Paris Saint Germain Football Club. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/afp/2016/08/qatar-turkey-television-bein-digiturk.html (Top) and https://t24.com.tr/haber/akpye-yakin-katarli-sirketin-aldigi-digiturkun-satis-fiyati-neden-aciklanmiyor,302953 (Bottom)

Qatar’s Mercenaries Bring a Whole New Meaning to “International” Football: Qatar Home Shirt 2014-2015

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Qatar has become somewhat of a target ever since securing the right to host the 2022 Word Cup and the bull’s-eye on the team—and country’s—collective backs has only grown larger since the FIFA scandal exploded at the end of May. A friend of mine recently gave me a Qatari national team shirt as a gift so I thought it would be prudent to present my thoughts on the Arab nation’s footballing practices along with the shirt.

The shirt itself is a standard Nike design, similar to the Turkish and American national team shirts. The only unique feature of this shirt is the Qatari flag on the inside of the collar and the badge; the Arabic script makes an otherwise basic shirt visually interesting as well as reminding the viewer of the 1994 Adidas World Cup Ball. I wonder if Nike paid attention to that?

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.soccer.com/channels/worldcup-ball-collection/

Regardless, Nike tries to outfit the best in world football and Qatar are seen by many as a rising star—even if the football played on the pitch often leaves much to be desired. In a recent friendly in Crewe, England—one under-reported by world media—Qatar played to a draw with Northern Ireland in front of a little over 3,000 fans, enduring many jeers in the process. Personally, I understand the jeers but not for the traditional reasons. For me the issue is that Qatar’s football federation has pursued a policy of “employing”, for lack of a better word, mercenaries; half of the team were neither born nor raised in Qatar. Most of the players are of African origin, born in either Africa or France, yet they represent Qatar in international football. To understand what this means it is helpful to look at the bigger picture, where politics inevitably comes into play.

Qatar has been harboring ambitions to be a regional power in the Middle East for a long time, looking to capitalize on the regional fissures exposed by the Arab Spring. One route by which Qatar has tried to gain influence is through sport, specifically football, which Professor James Dorsey has written about extensively. Ever since the colonial days of the last century Africa has been a place empire builders have looked to exploit as a resource-rich periphery; then the search was for raw materials to support industry, now the search is for impoverished youths with athletic ability that have become the commodity in what some have termed “the new slave trade”. Qatar has mirrored the Europeans and, through a sports academy called Aspire, the country has been gobbling up young African talent. The “brawn drain” is not just limited to football and the rich Gulf state has also bought Africans to represent them in international track and field competitions.

What is worrisome is that Qatar’s search for mercenaries goes outside of the sporting realm: it extends to the political realm as well. The large labor force Qatar has imported from South Asia in order to support the country’s industrialization—and World Cup related construction projects—have been called mercenaries, although “mercenary” seems to be a kind word; they could be more accurately termed construction fodder as their high rates of death and injury are consistently ignored by the state. Although the Qatari business magazine cited above claims that “Qatar’s expatriates don’t carry swords; but hammers and briefcases.” the truth is that they also carry guns. It is estimated that Qatar has provided over 3 billion USD to rebels in Syria and, as one rebel officer in Syria interviewed by the Financial Times says, “Qatar has a lot of money and buys everything with money, and it can put its fingerprints on it.”

It should be noted that lately Qatar’s mercenary schemes have backfired with the FIFA scandal threatening the Qatari World Cup—the worker’s high death rates provide a convenient humanitarian excuse for its cancellation—and with the Syrian conflict becoming intractable despite Qatar’s unwavering support of the opposition. We can only hope that in footballing terms Qatar’s mockery of international football fails as well. Of course the subject of what “nationality” truly means in a footballing sense is tricky (in fact some pundits hate international football) and ESPN’s Gab Marcotti wrote a thought provoking piece about it in the context of dual nationals. But Aldo Simoncini, the goalkeeper for San Marino (one of European football’s minnows and a country that has no real hope of scoring a goal—let alone winning—every time they step on the pitch) offers a healthy interpretation. The man who has conceded over 120 goals while representing his country was asked in an interesting interview how it feels to play with no real hope of victory or even a respectable outcome. His reply? “Nobody pays us to play: We do it patriotically and Europe understands this.”

For me Mr. Simoncini’s spirit is the spirit of international football. It is a privilege—not a right—to represent one’s country in any form, and knowing that is what provides strong results in football and in life. There are some things money can’t buy; its something that Qatar is learning the hard way both on and off the pitch.

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