Category Archives: football

Cultural Warriors: Why Palestine’s Sports Victories Should Inspire Us 

The Palestine National Football Team has, once more, done the seemingly impossible by qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. By any standards, this is a great achievement, especially as the Palestinians have done it with style and convincing victories over Mongolia, Yemen and the Philippines, without conceding a single goal. However, for Palestinians, this is hardly about sports.

This accomplishment can only be appreciated within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In November 2006, the Israeli military prevented all Palestine-based footballers from participating in the final match of the Asian Football Confederation qualification group stage. The news had a major demoralizing effect on all Palestinians. Even rare moments of hope and happiness are often crushed by Israel.

As disappointing as the Israeli decision was, it was hardly compared to the collective shock felt by Palestinians everywhere when, in 2007, Palestinian players were not allowed to participate in a decisive World Cup qualifying game against Singapore. Instead of showing solidarity with Palestinians and condemning Israel, the International Football Association (FIFA) decided to award an automatic victory to Singapore of 3-0.

This is why Palestine’s latest qualification is historic, as it is more proof that Palestinian resilience has no bounds. It sends a message to Israel as well, that its unjust draconian measures will never break the spirit of the Palestinian people.

The latest achievement should also be placed within another context. It is the third time in a row that the Palestine national team qualifies for the Asian cup finals, thanks to an impressive squad that represents all Palestinian communities, at home and in the Diaspora.

This moment, however, is bittersweet. Many Palestinian footballers, who should have been present in the Sports Center Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – where the qualification rounds were held – were missing. Some are in Israeli prisons, others are maimed or killed. Much of the killings happened in 2009.

Indeed, 2009 was a terrible year for Palestinian football.

In January 2009, three Palestinian footballers, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtaha, were killed during the Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip. All three were seen as promising athletes with bright futures.

Two months later, Saji Darwish was killed by an Israeli sniper near Ramallah. The 18-year-old was slated to become a big name in Palestinian football, too.

In July of that same year, the tragedy of Mahmoud Sarsak began. Sarsak had only been a member of the Palestine National Football Team for six months when he was arrested and tortured by Israel in a painful saga that lasted for three years. He won his freedom after undergoing a hunger strike that lasted for over 90 days. The permanent health issues Sarsak was left with, however, meant that his once-promising sports career was over.

Arrests, torture and killings of Palestinian footballers became a regular headline in Palestine. This includes the killing of former Palestinian football star, Ahed Zaqqut, in 2014, and the deliberate shooting of the feet of Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd Al Raouf Halabiya, 17. The two players were attempting to cross an Israeli military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank to return home after a long training session.

These are but mere examples. The targeting of Palestinian sports is a constant item on the Israeli military agenda. Palestinian stadiums are often bombed during Israel’s brutal wars on Gaza. In 2019, the Israeli military attacked Al Khader Stadium in Bethlehem by lobbing tear gas at players during the match. Five players were hospitalized, as hundreds of fans rushed out of the stadium in panic. In 2019, Palestinians couldn’t hold the much-anticipated Palestine Cup final match, because Israel prevented the Gaza-based Khadamat Rafah team from traveling to the West Bank to compete against the FC Balata team. And so on.

Like every aspect of Palestinian life that can easily be disrupted by Israel, the Palestinian sports community learned to be resilient and resourceful. The Palestine National Football Team is the perfect example of this tenacity. When Gazan players are prevented from traveling, West Bankers come to the rescue. And when West Bank players suffer a setback of their own, Palestinian players in the Diaspora are dispatched to take their place. Luckily, Palestinian footballers, the likes of  Oday Dabbagh, are now gaining prominence in the international arena, giving them the chance to be available whenever duty calls.

When Palestine defeated Mongolia 1-0 in the Asian Cup qualifiers on June 8, Palestinian media reported about the sense of euphoria and hope felt throughout Palestine. But when the Palestinian team, known as the Fida’i – meaning the freedom fighter – won two more games with convincing victories of 5-0 and 4-0, hope turned into a real possibility that Palestine could perform well in the Asian Cup finals scheduled for June 2023. And maybe, the Fida’i could have a chance at World Cup qualifications for 2026.

For Palestinians, sports – especially football – remains a powerful platform of cultural resistance. Every aspect of a Palestinian football match attests to this claim. The names of the team, the chants of the fans, the images embroidered on the players’ jerseys and much more, are symbols of Palestinian resistance: names of martyrs, colors of the flag and so on. In Palestine, football is a political act.

While Israel uses sports to normalize itself and its apartheid regime in the eyes of the world, Tel Aviv does everything possible to impede Palestinian sports because Israel understands, and rightly so, that Palestinian sports is, at its core, an act of resistance.

It is heartbreaking to think that Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe, Wajeh Moshtaha, Saji Darwish and others were not there to witness the celebrations of their beloved team’s qualification to a major international tournament. But it is the spirit of these valiant cultural warriors that continues to guide the Fida’i in their struggle for recognition, their fight for dignity and their quest for glory.

The post Cultural Warriors: Why Palestine’s Sports Victories Should Inspire Us  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Politics and Sports Do Mix: On FIFA’s Hypocrisy in Palestine and the Need to Isolate Apartheid Israel

Israel’s war on Palestinian sports is as old as the Israeli state itself.

For Palestinians, sport is a critical aspect of their popular culture, and since Palestinian culture itself is a target for the ongoing Israeli attack on Palestinian life in all of its manifestations, sports and athletes have been purposely targeted as well. Yet, the world’s main football governing body, FIFA, along with other international sports organizations, has done nothing to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against Palestinian sports.

Now that FIFA, along with UEFA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and others have swiftly joined the West’s anti-Russia measures as a result of the latter’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Palestinians and their supporters are puzzled. Years of relentless advocacy to sanction Israel at international sports competitions have paid little or no dividends. This has continued to be the case, despite the numerous documented facts of Israel’s intentional targeting of Palestinian stadiums, travel restrictions on athletes, the cancellation of sports events, the arrest and even killing of Palestinian footballers.

Many Palestinians, Arabs and international activists have already highlighted the issue of western hypocrisy in the case of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine by apartheid Israel within hours of the start of the Russian military operations. Almost immediately, an unprecedented wave of boycotts and sanctions of everything Russian, including music, art, theater, literature and, of course, sports, kicked in. What took the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa decades to achieve was carried out against Russia in a matter of hours and days.

Palestinians are justified to be baffled, since they have been informed by FIFA, time and again, that “sports and politics don’t mix”. Marvel at this hypocrisy to truly appreciate Palestinian frustration:

The FIFA Council acknowledges that the current situation (in Palestine and Israel) is, for reasons that have nothing to do with football, characterized by an exceptional complexity and sensitivity and by certain de facto circumstances that can neither be ignored nor changed unilaterally by non-governmental organizations such as FIFA.

That was, in part, the official FIFA position declared in October 2017, in response to a Palestinian request that the “six Israeli football clubs based in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories should either relocate to Israel or be banned from FIFA-recognized competitions”.

Two years later, Israel so callously canceled the FIFA Palestine Cup that was meant to bring Gaza’s top football team, Khadamat Rafah Club, and the West Bank’s FC Balata together in a dramatic final.

Palestinians perceive football as a respite from the hardship of life under siege and occupation. The highly anticipated event would have been a moment of precious unity among Palestinians and would have been followed by a large number of people, regardless of their political affiliation or geographic location. But, and “for no apparent reason”, as reported in The Nation, Israel decided to deny Palestinians that brief moment of joy.

Even then, FIFA did nothing, despite the fact that the event itself carried the name ‘FIFA’. Meanwhile, outright racist Israeli football teams, the likes of Beitar Jerusalem Football Club, are allowed to play unhindered, to travel unrestricted and to echo their favorite racist cheers, “Death to the Arabs,” as if racism in sports is the accepted routine.

FIFA’s double standards are abhorrent, to say the least. But FIFA is not the only hypocrite. On March 3, the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) went as far as denying athletes from Russia and Belarus the right to compete at this year’s Winter Paralympics held in Beijing. The decision was justified on the basis that having these athletes participate in the Games was “jeopardizing the viability” of the events and, supposedly, making the safety of the athletes “untenable,” despite the fact that the Russian and Belarusian athletes were, due to the political context, set to take part as ‘neutrals.’

Not only are Israeli athletes welcomed in all international sports events, the mere attempt by individual athletes to register a moral stance in support of Palestinians, by refusing to compete against Israelis, can be very costly. Algerian Judoka Fehi Nourine, for example, was suspended along with his coach for 10 years for withdrawing from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to avoid meeting an Israeli opponent. The same course of action was taken against other players and teams for displaying symbolic solidarity with Palestine, or even fans for merely raising Palestinian flags or chanting for Palestinian freedom.

Mohammed Aboutrika, the former Captain of the Egyptian National Football Team, was censured by FIFA in 2009 for merely displaying a shirt that read, in both Arabic and English, “Sympathize with Gaza”. For that supposedly egregious act, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – a branch of FIFA – warned him against “mixing politics with sports”.

About the double standards of FIFA, Aboutrika recently said in a media interview that the “decision to suspend Russian clubs and teams from all competitions must be accompanied by a ban on those affiliated with Israel (because Israel) has been killing children and women in Palestine for years.”

It must be stated that the hypocrisy here goes well beyond Palestine and Israel, into numerous situations where those demanding justice and accountability are often affiliated with poor nations from the Global South, or causes that challenge the status quo, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, among others.

But there is much more that can be done aside from merely delineating the double standards or decrying the hypocrisy. True, it took the South African Anti-Apartheid movement many years to isolate the racist Apartheid government in Pretoria at international sports platforms around the world, but that seemingly impossible task was eventually achieved.

Palestinians, too, must now use these channels and platforms to continue pushing for justice and accountability. It will not take days, as is the case with Russia and Ukraine, but they will eventually succeed in isolating Israel, for, as it turned out, politics and sports do mix after all.

The post Politics and Sports Do Mix: On FIFA’s Hypocrisy in Palestine and the Need to Isolate Apartheid Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Sportswashing at Tyneside: Saudi Arabia moves into English Football

The recent acquisition of the Newcastle United football club by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, along with financier Amanda Staveley and the billionaire Reuben brothers, was a source of much excitement for some former players.  Old boy Alan Shearer did little to conceal it.  “We can dare to hope again,” he rejoiced.

In The Guardian, Barney Ronay was less enthusiastic, notably at the appearance of the House of Saud in English football.  “Welcome, Mohammed bin Salman, to the billionaire boys club.  No need to wipe your feet.  Although maybe, on reflection, do wash your hands.  Those damned spots, eh?”

Hatice Cengiz, fiancée of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi so brutally carved up in his country’s Istanbul consulate in October 2018, spoke of her heartbreak.  It was “a real shame for Newcastle and for English football” that the club was now in the hands of “the person responsible for the murder of Jamal.”

The CEO of Amnesty International UK, Sacha Desmukh, described the deal as “an extremely bitter blow for human rights”.  Great football clubs, she claimed, were “being used to sportswash human rights abuse.”  Saudi Arabia had undertaken this move as part of an “aggressive move into sport as a vehicle for image-management and PR plain for all to see.”

The deal had been reached in April last year but stalled after Qatar-based beIN Sports voiced opposition. The broadcaster, holding broadcasting rights to the EPL for audiences in the Middle East and North Africa, was banned by Saudi Arabia in 2017 as part of the Kingdom’s effort to blockade Qatar.

Relations between the states have since thawed.  “Following completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect,” the EPL confirmed in its October 7 statement.  The body had also been given “legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”  This is much wishful thinking, given that the PIF is personally chaired by the crown prince and governed by a board stacked by Saudi government ministers and royal favourites.  And just to make matters that much darker, the fund was behind the purchase of a company which owned the two private jets used by the death squad responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.

The fanbase had other priorities: the celebrated departure of the detested Sports Direct billionaire Mike Ashley; the closing of a dark chapter lasting 14 years; a shell of a club that could be revived.  Under Ashley, the club went into decay, suffering two relegations and the estrangement of its supporters.

They gathered in number, cheering the announcement, sporting Saudi flags and, rather disconcertingly, donning masks of bin Salman.  One fan, Paul Loraine, claimed that there was “not a lot we can do about the human rights stuff”.  He reflected upon the clothing “borne out of sweatshops in countries with human rights issues.  The moral compass is always a strange one in times like this.”  Strange, and relativised to such a point that Ben Machell of The Times could suggest an off-colour joke regarding the unpopular manager, Steve Bruce.  “Hope Newcastle United’s new owners don’t have Steve Bruce strangled and dismembered”.

While topflight football has a habit of drawing out bleeding heart sentimentalism, the Saudi role provided suitable distraction from a competition that long ago ceased being concerned with human rights or the moral compass.  The acquisition was merely another move that has become common in the English Premier League, a form of soft power at play, a place to park dirty money and forum for blood-soaked finances.

Even Shearer had to admit that the sport had faced a number of sketchily drawn lines in the sand, making any claims to moral fibre weak.  “Maybe it was Russian involvement in the Premier League, China or Abu Dhabi.  Maybe it was Americans using the club’s own money to help complete their purchase of it.” Qatar was set to host the World Cup while Saudi Arabia had invested “in all kinds of businesses in this country and a variety of sports worldwide.  It was only a matter of time before it turned to football.”

Fans of a club such as Manchester City, having tasted the sort of success in recent years Newcastle United has only dreamed of, would also have to face these lines.  In June 2007, Thailand’s former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra purchased it for £81.6 million.  Affectionately known to fans as Frank, he promised much, delivering a coach in the form of Sven-Göran Eriksson and a number of top shelf players.  But during his time in office, the human rights record of the country was severely blotted.  Between January 2001 and January 2005, eighteen human rights defenders were assassinated; one was disappeared.  In February 2002, the Thaksin government commenced its own version of the “War on Drugs”, which saw over 2,700 extrajudicial killings.

With Sheikh Mansour of the United Arab Emirates taking the reins at Manchester City through the Abu Dhabi United Group just over a year later, a corrupt, sanguinary owner had been replaced by a member of an absolute ruling family.  “City fans knew that the UAE had a dodgy human rights record. But many of us preferred to turn a blind eye,” recalls Manchester City follower and writer Simon Hattenstone.

In 2020, Amnesty International noted the continuing UAE practice of banning political opposition and imprisoning those seeking a change of government.  To this could be added the conduct of trials marked by forced confessions and the incommunicado detention of accused parties.  In terms of labour conditions, the UAE’s kafala sponsorship program for migrant workers remains famed for its brutal conditions and lack of protections.  The Gulf state has also been a co-leading member of the coalition with Saudi Arabia in the brutal conflict in Yemen and supplier of arms and drones to the rebel Libyan National Army.

In a singular mark of cognitive dissonance, the Sheik’s ownership of the club could somehow sit alongside the wearing of a yellow ribbon by club manager Pep Guardiola, worn in solidarity for political prisoners jailed for campaigning for Catalan independence.

In turning over a new leaf, Newcastle United has placed its faith in a theocracy that does away with its dissidents using bone-sawing death squads.  A support base long starved of success is already looking the other way, while the city will be looking for Saudi money to fuel investment.  The ghosts of Khashoggi and other victims will be, at least for a time, passed over as needless distractions.

The post Sportswashing at Tyneside: Saudi Arabia moves into English Football first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Stadio Olimpico: Can Sports Heal the World?

Amid chaotic politics and anti-immigrant and refugee sentiments, Stadio Olimpico in Rome seemed like an oasis of social and cultural harmony. AS Roma and Raja Casablanca fans gathered in their thousands on a hot Saturday evening to cheer for their teams in a friendly match, the first in the Olimpico for nearly a year and a half.

The guest team is a Moroccan football powerhouse and an African champion par excellence. AS Roma, though it had a tough season last year, seemed ready to reclaim its past glory, especially with Jose Mourinho now leading the squad.

The match was Roma’s final ‘friendly’ before embarking on the difficult task of reclaiming their strong standing in Serie A. Relegated from both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, Roma is forced to play in the less prestigious Conference League. Neither the team nor the fans, however, seemed shaken by the setback. On the contrary, the team’s Ultrà were, once again, back in the stadium, in their fixed spot in the Curva Sud, with their massive flags and melodious chant, “Roma, Roma, Roma …”

Raja Casablanca’s fans, although fewer in number, were still far more animated and, sometimes, rowdy. They danced in unison amid the occasional flares, fireworks and massive clouds of colored smoke.

As someone who has written and reported on issues pertaining to human rights, socio-economic inequalities and political discord in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, the spectacle was atypical. Italians, Moroccans and other Arabs seamlessly mingled as friends, or friendly rivals.

Muslim women, some in their traditional attire and headscarves, others without, some speaking Italian, others Arabic or French, looked comfortable, free from judgment, harassment and unfriendly looks.

The children, however, took center stage. A 10-year-old Roma fan, sitting alongside his father while wrapped in a Roma flag, bellowed screams of joy and anger and, quite often, specific instructions at Roma players who, starting in the middle of the first half, dominated the game.

Two Italian-Moroccan boys wore green and white jerseys with this Arabic inscription at the back: “Rajawi Falastini” – Palestinian Rajawi – the typical homage to Palestine and her people, often exhibited by Raja Casablanca and its loyal fans. The two children remained hopeful that their team could still stage a comeback, despite Roma’s victory almost being assured well before the end of the game. The two boys chatted in Italian, spoke to their parents with a distinct Moroccan accent and yelled at the players, in French, to play better or to move faster.

In fact, the intermingling of languages was omnipresent throughout the entire event. Raja’s Ultras chanted in several languages, including Italian, and held large banners, communicating messages of a political nature, written mostly in French.

Most amusing, especially for those of us sitting in the Tribuna Tevere – at an equal distance between both ultras – was the shouting match, through songs, chants and, occasionally, whistles between the two sides.

For me, personally, the game, although ‘friendly’, was one of the most difficult matches to watch. A loyal Roma fan for years, my heart was also with the Moroccan side. At times, it seemed that I was cheering for both teams and regretting missed opportunities on both sides. While it was clear that Roma was easily winning the match, I desperately hoped for a Moroccan goal or two.

By the end of the match, as the large crowd – still giddy by the fact that they were able to attend a large sports event despite the deadly COVID-19 pandemic – dispersed, I walked around the Foro Italico, the sports complex which hosts Stadio Olimpico, among other edifices. The contradictions were palpable.

This towering sports monument was once called Foro Mussolini, one of the starkest celebrations of fascist Italy in the twentieth century. Fascists, under the leadership of Benito Mussolini, labored to harness the popular appeal of sports to communicate the message that fascism exists to celebrate the power and vigor of the Italian race, one that is, supposedly, superior to all others.

Although the complex’s name eventually changed, many of the inscriptions dating back to the Fascist era are still in place. The most obvious of these references is the Mussolini Dux, a 50-foot obelisk that still towers near the entrance.

Fascism, which is rearing its ugly head once more in various European societies, cared little for social justice, for racial equality and for cultural harmony. Yet, this very stadium, one of the greatest architectural achievements of Italy’s Mussolini, is now a venue for various peoples, cultures and languages to intermingle. Several Muslim women, donned with beautifully colored hijabs, sought respite from the heat and humidity under Mussolini’s Dux obelisk, possibly unaware of the irony.

News outside the stadium that day told of horrific stories from Greece and Belarus regarding the mistreatment of refugees and the targeting of migrants. Muslim European communities are constant subjects for political ‘controversies’, merely for living their lives and practicing their religions or covering their heads. However, for approximately two hours, in Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, August 14, none of this seemed to matter. The world outside may bring the worst in us, but, for now, we are only defined by our love for football, and hopefully, someday, for each other.

The post Stadio Olimpico: Can Sports Heal the World? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

When Football Did Not Come Home

They were in with a shot.  The English team, deliriously floating on chants of Football’s Coming Home, had made it to their first major Ttournament final since 1966.  The UEFA European Football Championship would be decided at Wembley against an Italian side unblemished by defeat since September 2018.  But the English, coached by the much admired Gareth Southgate, succumbed in that most cruel of deciders: the penalty shootout.

In English footballing history, the penalty shootout has been responsible for a string of famous defeats.  In 1990, the national side lost to the West German juggernaut in the semi-final of the World Cup.  In the European Championship in 1996, the result was repeated, with the Germans again winning.  Southgate will have particularly vivid memories of that: he was one of the players who missed.  The shelf of defeat was beginning to sag.

Then came the European Championships of 2020, delayed by the global pandemic.  England were fortunate in their draw and, unlike many of their opponents, played most of their matches on home soil.  But their record proved impressive, with Southgate’s side keeping a clean sheet till the semi-final against Denmark.  It became clear that Southgate had created a team unit as opposed to a team of stars bristling with contesting egos.   Previous footballing practices extolled celebrity within the team, with predictable consequences.  “Beckhamisation”, named after the recognisable former England captain and Manchester United player David Beckham, did much to create estrangement within the ranks between the celebrities and the foot soldiers.

The success of Southgate’s team also did much to tease out discussions about English identity and a supposedly new form of progressive Englishness. “In England we have spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is,” observed Southgate prior to the 2018 World Cup.  “I think as a team we represent that modern identity and hopefully people can connect with us.”  The UK Migration Museum even declared that, “Without players with at least one parent or grandparent born overseas, England would be down to just 3 players.”

The draining final played on July 11 finished with each side having scored a goal.  In the penalty shootout, the steely discipline of the Italians resolved the match in their favour.  Pundits spent hours debating England’s tactics against the Italian goalkeeper, as if it mattered.  Should the tender-aged Bukayo Saka have taken the fifth penalty kick as opposed to a more seasoned player?  Was Southgate being too bookish in sticking to the original line up of players?

But the defeat did more than produce the usual rivers of commentary on tactical slips and fortuitous blunders.  Darker demons were released from the froth of despair.  Vengefully, they focused on matters of race, scalding and unsparing about those who had failed to score.  A torrent of abuse was released upon Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Saka, a vicious, smouldering kind that has come to typify social media commentary.  Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover and Deal, heaped scorn on Rushford in a private WhatsApp group.  “They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest that Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics?”

A mural of Rashford in Withington, Manchester, was defaced with obscenities.  In appealing for information on the incident, Chief Superintendent Paul Savill warned that hate crime would not be tolerated and was “not welcome in this city.”  Notes of support were placed across the mural like plastering bands of reassurance across cuts and bruises.

Team captain Harry Kane took to Twitter to praise the three players who had the courage to take the penalty and should be celebrated for that fact. “They deserve support & backing not the vile racist abuse they’ve had since last night.  If you abuse anyone on social media you’re not an @England fan and we don’t want you.”

On the issue of condemning racial abuse, certain players found the messages from the Johnson government jarringly insincere.  The pot of identity was again being stirred and the result was increasingly ugly.  Home secretary Priti Patel received a sharp barb from English footballer Tyrone Mings for having previously refused to condemn fans who had booed the England team in taking the knee in protesting against racism.  In his opinion, Patel had undercut her own case. “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

It was not just that the home secretary had voiced her view against such displays of “gesture politics”.  She also saw little problem in the conduct of the fans: “That’s the choice for them, quite frankly.”  The hordes were duly summoned.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been known to dabble with the race card, penning pieces of some notoriety and doing his bit of stoking from time to time.  London radio presenter James O’Brien noted one article in particular mocking Islamic dress.  “In the three weeks after the ‘letterboxes’ article was published in August 2018, 42 per cent of offline Islamophobic incidents reports ‘directly referenced Boris Johnson and/or the language used in his column.”

Labour’s opposition leader Keir Starmer was even more explicit in Parliament, accusing Johnson of giving racism “the green light” and engaging in his own culture war.  “And I’ll tell you the worst kind of gesture politics, putting an England shirt on over a shirt and tie whilst not condemning those booing”.

Johnson has promised to take “practical steps to ensure that the Football Banning order regime is changed so that if you were guilty … of racist abuse online of footballers then you will not be going to the match, no ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses.”

The government was also seeking other handy alibis.  As usual, social media platforms were walked into those roles to provide ammunition.  Johnson claimed to have had a firm word with representatives from social media at his Downing Street residence on July 13, warning that he would “legislate to address this problem in the Online Harms Bill, and unless they get hate and racism off their platforms, they will face fines amounting to 10% of their global revenues.”  The more astute comment in this move was made by former Premier League player Anton Ferdinand: sort out your own house first.  And that house is in severe need of tidying.

The post When Football Did Not Come Home first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Greed and the European Super League

Suffocating the grassroots.  Mocking the working class origins of the game.  World football, and primarily European club football, has long done away with loyalties in favour of cash and contract.  The professionalization of the game has seen a difficult relationship between fan, spectator and sporting management, none better exemplified than the price of tickets, the role of branding and sponsorship.

The apotheosis of this has arrived in the form of a proposed breakaway European Super League.  Like a mafia-styled cartel, twelve of Europe’s elite football clubs have banded together to create their own, sealed competition.  The English contribution will be Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.  Juventus, AC Milan and Inter provide the Italian contingent; Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletico Bilbao supply the Spanish element.  To these will be added three as yet unconfirmed founding members and five annual qualification spots. The competition itself will feature two small leagues of ten clubs each, with the highest finishers facing each other in an elimination phase to eventually reach a deciding final in May.

The decision reeks of smoky, backroom secrecy, and promises to supplant the UEFA Champions League.  Initial infrastructure payments between the clubs will be 3.5 billion euros, followed by 10 billion euros for an initial period of commitment.  As with any such decisions made in the stratosphere of corrupt, gold crazed management, the foot soldiers, front line workers and fans are merely incidental.  In some cases, not even coaches were consulted.  Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp was left dumbfounded. “I heard for the first time about it yesterday,” he told Sky Sports.  “We are not involved in any process, not me or the players.”

For Klopp, accepting the proposal was tantamount to rigging the competition, creating a closed shop where the relegation and admission of clubs would be impossible.  “I like the fact that West Ham might play Champions League next year.  I don’t want them to, because I want us to be there, but I like that they have the chance.”  For Klopp, “the Champions League is the Super League, in which you do not always end up playing against the same teams.”  His nightmare: a perennial bout of competition between the same football clubs, a franchise model, in other words, commonly accepted in US sports.  (Consider Major League Soccer, NBA basketball and NFL gridiron football.)  “Why should we create a system where Liverpool faces Real Madrid for 10 straight years?”  Klopp’s observations impressed former Manchester United footballer turned commentator Gary Neville.  “He’s destroyed his owners on national television.”

Traditional football officialdom is also furious at the move.  UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin cast a withering eye over the idea, focusing his ire on Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.  Woodward, the furious president claimed, had expressed his satisfaction with the existing stable of UEFA reforms in a phone call.  But it was obvious that “he had already signed something else.”  Agnelli, however, took the crown, being “the biggest disappointment of all.  I have never seen a person that would lie so many times, so persistently as he did – it is unbelievable.”

On April 18, UEFA, the English Football Association and the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and LaLiga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A issued a joint statement of condemnation.  Were the Super League to be established, the various bodies, including FIFA, would “remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project,” one “founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.”  Judicial and sporting measures were promised.  Bans on the clubs will be implemented, affecting playing at all levels: domestic, European or global.  Participating players will not be able to represent their country.

With some of these governing bodies, virtue has been a difficult thing.  FIFA has a lengthy record of diddling finances, resorting to bribery and greasing backdoor deals.  Over the years, multinational investigations have been conducted into various executive members of the organisation and associated bodies, including former chief Sepp Blatter.  But on the matter of the Super League, the righteous were proving noisy, with the organisation keen to “clarify that it stands firm in favour of solidarity in football and an equitable redistribution model which can help football as a sport, particularly at the global level”.

Attempts to punish the renegades may not be as fruitful as detractors of the Super League think.  Memories seem to have been rinsed on that score, but the English Premier League itself broke away from the English Football League in 1992.  Officialdom, as it was bound to be, was enraged, as were the fans.

The Super League proposal is drawing attention to an already decaying structure, one that sees little by way of revenue returning to the lower leagues and clubs that were already struggling prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  With that in mind, it is hard to take the views of Prince William, who is president of England’s Football Association, too seriously.  Well it is that “we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness,” but that project is hardly flourishing as things stand.

Astronomical transfer fees already keep the top clubs in the clouds, meaning that the Champions League already resembles, on some level, Klopp’s nightmare of repetitive competition.  What the franchise Super League model proposes to do is take it that one step further, creating a closed shop.

Commentary abounds on whether this play is part of a negotiating tactic to better improve the financial standing of the twelve clubs.  With so much football already being played, a mid-week Super League fixture seems like exhausting surfeit.  But for those keeping an eye on football politics, the idea of a reformed European league has been on the table for some years.  In October 2020, the notion of a European Premier League, sponsored by JP Morgan and comprising 18 clubs, was already being mooted.  Alarm was sounded by the words of Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who claimed in his resignation statement that the club had “accepted a proposal to participate in a future European Super League”.

Were this league’s establishment culminate in savage retributions – bans, relegations, prohibitions – as promised by the authorities, a standalone creation, hoovering up sponsorships and broadcasting revenues, may well be the default outcome.  Little wonder that the finance wonks suggest keeping the selfish twelve within the tent rather than letting them scamper off.

The post Greed and the European Super League first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Spirit of Washington Redskin Fundamentalism

Since the events of 9/11, the Corporatist Sportsworld in general, and the National Football League in particular, have increasingly promoted the brand of American Militarism. For example, if you took a shot of whiskey every time an Armed Services recruitment ad aired during a typical NFL game telecast, you would probably be drunk by Halftime. Then there are those thrillingly gratuitous military jet overflights of fan-packed stadiums, which are not included in the high prices of the tickets; those are tax-dollars searing the air overhead. Or consider the “live look-ins” at soldiers based in Afghanistan, especially during the Holiday Season, as even the Holidays become more and more militarized: Jim Nantz never questions why our “brave American men and women in uniform” are still stationed over there, nearly two decades after their initial insertion. It’s like a never-ending War Zone celebration dance that Nantz narrates: all part of the fun and spirit of the Game!

Nevertheless, despite all manner of “surges” and End-Game tactics, the Taliban QB–or, quarterback–always eludes our latest “blitz package”–as if the average citizen-fan never tires of watching the same “replay” over and over again. Indeed, the war cry in Afghanistan now seems to be: “We’ll get’em next replay!” Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen–maybe a “TBA” with Iran? Certainly, the “Great Game” in Afghanistan has gone terribly deep into “overtime,” as if the referees are either dead, or simply lost the ability to blow a whistle.

The present piece was written in the recent past, 2014, concerning the mild uproar, at that time, over the insulting nature of one NFL franchise’s brand image: the Washington “Redskin.” Although I suggest an alternative logo during the article, upon further reflection, perhaps the “Washington Pentagons” would be the better name for the professional footballers from DC? Otherwise, none of the issues discussed below have moved one inch in 5 years–and they say that it’s a “game of inches…”

*****

It’s September again, and that means that the Roman Circus of the National Football League is back in session.

For the most part, it’s business as usual: “broken plays” and broken bones; “blown coverages” and blown-out knees. However, back in May (2014), ten members of the Congressional Native American Caucus scored several headlines by threatening legal action against a Pro Football franchise, the Washington Redskins. These congressmen contended that the Washington mascot, the “Redskin,” constitutes a racial slur; moreover, they made legislative motions to force the franchise to change its name. Indeed, the “Redskin” controversy garnered almost as much attention as the state of (then) star quarterback RG III’s wounded knee.

Such a name-change, reflecting prevailing cultural sensibilities, has a recent precedent in the DC Pro Sportsworld. The basketball “Bullets” turned into the “Wizards” in 1997, due to the connotation of violence in the name “Bullets.” “Bullets” owner Abe Polin decided to change the team’s name when his longtime friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was gunned down in 1995.

Daniel Snyder, the impish owner of the Redskins, however, has been consistently defiant on this issue. Sticking to his guns, so to speak, Snyder has publicly vowed: “We’ll never change the name…it’s that simple. Never–you can use caps!.” One is tempted to ask: “CAPS as in bullets, Mr. Snyder?”

For my part, I’ve always thought that the Washington franchise should change its name. Given the absolute lack of players and coaches of Native American origin, I believe that the “Redskin” logo is patently misleading. Instead, I would propose the name “Washington Black-and-Whiteskins,” as both more appropriate and entirely accurate, in light of the preponderance of black and white players–year in and year out–on the team.

Of course, such a logical re-branding of the Washington team might undermine the Sporting World’s official policy of lip-synching racial harmony by promoting an actual image–however verbal–of the same, rendering it too “black and white,” you could say–and, on the hallowed ground of the team concept, no less! Incidentally, as our corporate overlords and managers are ever fond of reiterating: there’s no “I” in team, which explains why team is blind–but that’s another deal…

Back to the case at hand: Some “whites” would object, no doubt, to the “black” preceding the “white” in the logo “Black-and-Whiteskins,” even though the reverse arrangement, “White-and-Blackskins” would be rather dyslexically awkward, causing a chronic case of headache amongst the fan-base, perhaps, like reading “The Last of the Mohicans” upside-down, or right-to-left.

The “and” itself, naturally, might generate its own controversy, with its radically conjunctive note of equivalency. Your garden variety white supremacist, for example, would insist that the “white” be positioned above the “black” on the helmet, which only recapitulates the previous dyslexical white objection, if only in more openly racist form. On typographical grounds alone, the supremacist’s perspective is clearly out-of-bounds. As for the mere white separatist, you would think that an ellipsis–or very long dash mark–would do the trick, making the “Washington Black-and-Whiteskins” a more attractive label–except that the concept of ellipsis eclipses the separatist’s grasp of reality, in all probability. Even a hint of juxtaposition can be enough to turn the separatist’s white skin…red.

Beyond the marginal, fringe constituency that the white supremacist-separatist fan-base is said to embody, let’s consider the more common core, traditionalist view: that of the Red, White, and Blue-blooded Redskin Fundamentalist, represented by the Scrooge-like owner, Mr. Snyder.

The Redskin Fundamentalist believes that his team’s logo transcends the vicissitudes of time, place, opinions, and fashion. Only what is best, and noblest, is preserved in the indelible icon, reflecting the virtuous victory of civilization in its oft cruel confrontation with the miscreant Savage (sometimes referred to as “Labor”…). For the traditionalist, the “Redskin” logo symbolizes preservation without reservation. The beauty of the iconic “Redskin” image lies in the fact that it sublimates and whitewashes the Savage, cleaning him up for civilized consumption–thereby ennobling him, as it were…

And this is precisely the issue. The “Redskin” on the Washington football helmet represents nothing less than a trophy of the historical hunt: a sporting testament to the subjugation and, in many cases, extermination, of an entire group of indigenous, continental people. The reservation system itself has always been a bit of genocide on the installment plan

Indeed, it is one of the enduring paradoxes of the American Tradition that we, who claim to love Freedom the most, held on to Slavery the longest. The so-called “Redskins” themselves, as a conquered and incarcerated people, also embody this obviously ignominious side of our legacy. Put another way: We thugged the original North Americans out of their lands–and not “their lands” in the sense of “Property,” which is a white Western legalism–then slapped their disenfranchised likeness on a football helmet.

So, on second thought, maybe the “Redskin” icon should stay? It stands as both an ironic symbol and powerful reminder of the domination of an indigenous people, the “Native Americans”: or, How the West was really won. To the smug Scrooge Snyder I say: “Bah, hum-thug!” In the case of the Washington Redskin, there’s more mask of thuggery to the mascot than meets the culturally conditioned sporting eye; seen more clearly, it represents centuries of a Big White Lie.

NFL Plantation Owners Ban Uppity Quarterback

To watch America’s structural racism at work, one need look no further than the National Football League (NFL) and its treatment of nonviolent unorthodoxy as expressed by Colin Kaepernick going to one knee during the national anthem in support of the unacceptable thought that black lives should matter as much as anyone else’s. Of course, that’s still a relatively new idea in the United States, dating from 1863 in law and still not fully accepted in much of the country.

Colin Rand Kaepernick, who turns 30 in November, is a proven professional football quarterback who chose to become a free agent after the 2016 season. He led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in 2012. He is good enough to play for most any of the NFL’s 32 teams, but none have signed him. A year ago, when unarmed black men shot by cops were getting heavy news coverage and while presidential candidates Clinton and Trump disparaged Black Lives Matter, Kaepernick undertook a solo protest, sitting during the national anthem before the first NFL pre-season game. In subsequent games, Kaepernick went down on one knee in silent, respectful protest during the Star Spangled Banner. Asked by an NFL Network reporter why he was doing that, Kaepernick said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder….This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…. If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

At the time, official football – the league, his team, his coach – all spoke carefully about respecting Kaepernick’s “right as a citizen,” without engaging the issue he was raising. Kaepernick is bi-racial. He was adopted by white parents and raised in Wisconsin with white siblings.

Zeitgeist signals: Kaepernick blacklisted, Arpaio pardoned

In November 2016, a Miami Herald reporter asked Kaepernick about a shirt he had worn showing Fidel Castro and Malcolm X with the caption: “Like Minds Think Alike.” In discussing the shirt, Kaepernick reportedly said: “One thing that Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here, even though we’re fully capable of doing that.” That sort of truth, spoken out loud, does not endear one to the overlords of the NFL or other American authorities, especially the ones who created and profit from the unaddressed, unending scandal of prisons for profit.

A year after he first spoke out by kneeling in silence, Colin Kaepernick is unemployed. Unarmed black men are killed by cops at a faster rate now than in 2016, but it’s not news so much any more. Kaepernick had his free speech, now he’s paying the price. The country has moved on to a more ardent defense of free speech by Nazis, white supremacists, the KKK, anti-Semites, and other bigots.

The Trump administration is contributing to social calm and order by setting out to give local police more military weapons, from armored troop carriers to grenade launchers.

The ugliest sign of the country’s darkening racial zeitgeist is President Trump’s pre-emptive, unprincipled, unconditional pardon of one of America’s most notorious police bigots, former sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, a man who spoke proudly of his brutal and deadly prison system as a “concentration camp.” Arpaio was awaiting sentencing when the President interdicted the judicial process with a hasty pardon, granted without any of the usual review and consideration. The brief White House announcement concluded with these lies:

Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.

Arpaio’s record is reasonably clear that he did little protecting of the public or the Constitution. His office operated with racist standards that encouraged police brutality and led to prisoner deaths from violence and neglect. Arpaio’s service as sheriff was not admirable but self-serving, obsessed with targeting Latinos regardless of guilt, while ignoring real criminal offenses, including domestic abuse and child abuse.

Kaepernick and the Star Spangled Banner of American irony

Some say Kaepernick is the victim of a blacklist. Others deny what seems obviously true. One of the deniers makes much of a few other players making similar gestures without consequences. But he leaves out critical facts: that these are players currently under contract and that they have a union to defend them. He makes a point of saying that “NFL rosters are 70 per cent Black,” without wondering why NFL rosters are close to 100 per cent without any expressed social conscience. He does not mention that NFL owners would be 100 per cent white but for some limited partners like Reggie Fowler of the Minnesota Vikings.

American racism is structural, institutional, shameless, and intractable. Electing Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t make the country a post-racial society any more than electing Donald Trump in 2016 makes the country a post-sane society. The abiding ambiguity of American madness can be seen in our “national anthem,” which has been our national anthem less than 100 years (adopted 1931).

The Star Spangled Banner celebrates the defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor in 1814 in Maryland, a slave state. The attacking British force included numbers of escaped slaves fighting for the British on the promise of earning their freedom. Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner, was a lifelong slave owner. A lawyer who served as US Attorney, Key used his office to prosecute abolitionists. In an 1837 prosecution of abolitionist Dr. Reuben Crandall for instigating a slave rebellion, Key said in his summation to the jury:

Are you willing, gentlemen, to abandon your country, to permit it to be taken from you, and occupied by the abolitionist, according to whose taste it is to associate and amalgamate with the negro? Or, gentlemen, on the other hand, are there laws in this community to defend you from the immediate abolitionist, who would open upon you the floodgates of such extensive wickedness and mischief?

Rendered in modern language, these are the same sentiments the racists of Charlottesville expressed in their exercise of free speech. In 1837, the jury acquitted Dr. Crandall. On the Charlottesville hordes, the jury is still out.

Maybe, should our public consciousness come to grips with the reality that our national anthem is a slave owner’s paean to the defense of a slave state, we might think more seriously about kneeling ourselves. That might be a better way to express our hope to become, truly, the land of the free and the home of the brave.