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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