Category Archives: Sports

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.

Why is the Top Chinese Swimmer not at the Tokyo Olympics?

Primary players and acronyms:

FINA – Fédération Internationale de Natation (International Swimming Federation). Established 1908.

WADA – World Anti-Doping Agency. Established in 1999. Based in Montreal, Canada.

CAS – Court of Arbitration for Sport. Highest court for adjudicating international sport. Established in 1984. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

IDTM – International Doping and Test Management. Swedish company that merged with US based Drug Free Sports in September 2018.

ADRV – Anti-Doping Rule Violation. Official name for doping offense which leads to sanction (ineligibility) for some time.

ISTI – International Standards for Testing and Investigation. Initiated by WADA in 2004.

DCO – Doping Control Officer. Doping test team leader.

BCO – Blood Collection Officer. Medical staff who draws blood sample.

DCA – Doping Control Assistant. May act as “chaperone” to verify urine collection.

Introduction

Why is the all-time greatest Chinese swimmer Sun Yang not at the Tokyo Olympics?  The short answer is that he has been banned from competitive swimming for four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).  He has been banned for four years NOT for doping, but for a “doping rule violation”.

What lies behind this? What are the essential facts? Was the decision just or biased? This article will review the case and offer suggestions to improve the process.

CAS Panel admission and decision

The Court of Arbitration for Sport decision about Sun Yang came very recently, in mid-June.  At the very end of the 88-page decision, there is a crucial acknowledgment:

The Panel considers it pertinent that there has been no allegation that the Athlete was doped on 4 September 2018. Indeed, given that Mr. Sun tested negative eight times in the prior two weeks, the likelihood that he would have tested positive, had the samples of 4–5 September 2018 been analyzed in Beijing, appears remote.

Despite this acknowledgement, the CAS Panel decided that Sun Yang was guilty of an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV).

The controversial and aborted test

The controversy involves an aborted attempt to take blood and urine samples from Sun Yang on the night of September 4, 2018. Sun Yang arrived home late at night after travelling all day from Jakarta Indonesia where he had competed at the Asia Games.  He was about to commence a one-month vacation.

A doping test team from the Swedish American company, International Doping Tests & Management (IDTM), met Sun Yang and said they wished to take an “out of competition” blood and urine sample. There was a female Doping Control Officer (DCO), a female Blood Collection Officer (BCO) and male Doping Control Assistant (DCA).

There are conflicting reports about what transpired over the next few hours, but these are essential facts:

* After seeing the Doping Control Assistant surreptitiously taking photographs of him, Sun Yang became suspicious and asked to see the authorization papers of the test team.

* The DCO did not have paper IDTM accreditation but did have an image on her cell phone.  The BCO and DCA had no proof of authorization from IDTM.  Nor did they have paperwork to authorize this specific out of competition test. All they had was a generic annual authorization for IDTM to do testing for the International Swimming Federation (FINA).

* Sun Yang consulted his doctor and Chinese swim team leader asking what to do. Both said the test should be stopped until the test team can provide proper documentation.

* The DCO consulted with her supervisor in Sweden. They then said to Sun Yang they could not leave the equipment behind.  A member of Sun Yang’s group broke the container holding the blood vial so the IDTM team could leave with their equipment. The blood vial was preserved and is still under refrigeration at the doctor’s hospital.

* Over the next days, Sun Yang reported that the test was aborted because the test team lacked accreditation. The leader of the test team, the DCO, reported that Sun Yang had committed a “Refusal to Comply” with the test.

The FINA Doping Panel 

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) convened a Doping Panel to examine the events and determine whether Sun Yang had committed a doping rule violation.  They held the hearing and issued their decision in early January 2019. They determined that “Sun Yang has not committed an anti-doping rule violation” because the test team did not have the required accreditation documentation to take blood and urine samples from the athlete.

The FINA Doping Panel also faulted the test team leader for not making the athlete (Sun Yang) aware that she would consider this incident to be a “Failure to Comply” and thus a potential Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV).

WADA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)

For whatever reasons, the Canadian-based World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) strongly objected to the FINA Doping Panel decision. They filed an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against Sun Yang and FINA.

In November 2019, the first CAS Panel held a public hearing about the case.  In February 2020, CAS issued their decision that Sun Yang DID commit a doping rule violation and was to be banned from swimming for eight years.  Some western competitors and sports media cheered this decision. Others were more objective and thoughtful. The decision was criticized in articles here and here.

Based on evidence revealed in the article, “Why the Sun Yang Decision Should be Overturned“, Sun Yang’s attorneys won their appeal to the Swiss supreme court. There was compelling evidence the CAS Panel chairman was biased if not racist.

Although the CAS decision was annulled, WADA decided to continue. A new CAS panel was created.

The second CAS Panel had new members but all the same background. All three jurists were senior white western European men. Additionally, they all have strong ties to the United States.  Although the second panelists claim they were not influenced by the decision of the first CAS panel, their decisions are essentially the same: they say Sun Yang is guilty of an Anti-Doping Rule Violation. With relaxed punishment requirements, he is now banned for 4 years, three months beginning February 2020.

FINA Doping Panel vs CAS panels

Why did the FINA doping panel conclude that Sun Yang did not commit an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV) while the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that he did?

Here are the essential differences:

1) Was the test team legitimate? 

CAS says they were, even though two of the three test team members had no proof that they were authorized by the test contractor, International Doping and Test Management (IDTM). CAS said that only the test team leader, the Doping Control Officer, needed proof of accreditation.

The CAS decision says, “ISTI imposes a specific threshold for notification. The threshold seeks to ensure that an athlete understand that a demand for his samples is legitimate and duly authorized—all the while avoiding the imposition of unnecessarily burdensome administrative criteria or the creation of yet more opportunities for gamesmanship by bad actors. “

In contrast, FINA said that all members of a test team need to be trained, accredited, and have proof.  “FINA members (swimmers) must know with certainty under whose authority they are being tested and that every official attending at the sample collection session has been properly trained, appointed and authorized by the Sample Collection Agency.” 

Which is right? The ISTI is ambiguous and can be interpreted both ways. ISTI Annex H says, “Sample Collection Personnel requirements start with the development of the necessary competencies for Sample Collection Personnel and end with the provision of identifiable accreditation.”  There was debate over whether “personnel” was singular or plural.

One thing is certain: the Doping Control Assistant was not properly trained. The controversy was sparked because he took personal photographs which is a significant violation of protocol and the athlete’s privacy.

2) Did the test team show adequate proof they were authorized to conduct the test?

CAS says yes; it was sufficient to show the annual authorization paper from FINA to IDTM, nothing more.

FINA said no; there needs to be more than an annual authorization. The test team must show evidence that they are authorized to carry out this specific mission.

Which is right? Again, the ISTI is ambiguous. It seems reasonable to require a test team entering a person’s personal space to show proof of the fact they have authorization to collect bodily fluid samples from that individual at that time.  The test team must have a mandate to go to the Athlete’s residence and collect the samples. Why not show it to the athlete to confirm this is a legitimate intrusion?

3)  Was the Blood Collection Officer (BCO) qualified to draw blood from the athlete?

CAS says yes, even though the Blood Collection Officer only had an old junior nurse certificate in her possession.

FINA said no. They explain, “What is certain is that she did not produce unequivocal evidence of her qualifications to draw blood from the athlete, as required in the ISTI.”

The ISTI clearly states the blood collection must meet local standards and regulatory requirements.

4) Did the Doping Control Officer warn the athlete that his actions could be considered a Refusal to Comply as required?

FINA says no. The DCO did not make that clear and to further complicate things, she signed a statement of events written by Sun Yang’s doctor.

“The ISTI is clear in Annex A 3.3.a) that the DCO must tell the Athlete, in a language he can understand, the consequences of a possible Failure to Comply. Explaining the risks that certain conduct might lead to a violation is not sufficient. The DCO must go further and clearly articulate that she is treating the Athlete’s conduct as a Failure to Comply and that the following consequences will apply.”

CAS says the DCO warned the athlete sufficiently. They claim the DCO told the athlete the consequences of “Refusal to Comply”.

CAS says, “Nothing in Annex A.3.3(a) requires a DCO, on the spot, to proclaim a definitive anti-doping rule violation. The Panel therefore has no hesitation in disavowing this artificially high threshold. It is enough for Sample Collection Personnel to tell an athlete, in language he can understand, the consequences of a possible failure to comply. As to whether an actual violation has occurred, this is for the Testing Authority to determine and prosecute; such a proclamation is not within any DCO’s competence.”

Which is right? One thing is clear: the ISTI wording is poor and misleading.  All athletes know the consequence of a Refusal to Comply is an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.  This is comparable to a policeman telling a civilian the consequences of a crime (you go to prison) instead of telling them they are being charged with a crime.

Under ISTI regulations 5.4.8 and 7.4.6, the DCO is supposed to document what happened. The DCO did not document the events as required. Promoting more confusion, she signed the statement by Sun Yang’s doctor.  If she was only signing the statement as a witness, it seems that should have been explicitly indicated.

Summary of Differences: FINA Doping Panel vs CAS Panel  

In summary, the FINA doping panel emphasized that all test team members must be authorized.

In contrast, the CAS Panel advocated fewer requirements for a doping test team. Only the test team leader needs to have credentials and they do not have to show proof that their specific visit is authorized. The blood collection nurse does not need to prove she is qualified. CAS expressed preference to avoid “burdensome administrative criteria” and a concern for “gamesmanship by bad actors”.

The WADA Guidelines regarding Blood Collection support the position of Sun Yang in various respects. Dismissing this, CAS says “Guidelines are recommendations, not law, and they do not alter the minimum requirements of the ISTI”.  They ignore the fact that Blood Sample Collection Guidelines have “ISTI” prominently printed on the cover.

Questions and Observations about this case

At the November 2019 public hearing, Sun Yang said he thought there were “dark forces” behind the effort to ban him. He did not say much more, but the suggestion was clear enough. Having studied this case in some depth, I believe his concerns are warranted.

If there is a “bad actor” here, it might be the private test contractor, IDTM. At each step of the events, they seem to have provoked rather than resolved the dispute. They selected as DCO a person who Sun Yang had complained about when she was DCA on a previous test. They chose to go to Sun Yang’s residence very late at night knowing he was returning from all day travel from Indonesia. They brought an improperly trained DCA who proceeded to surreptitiously take photographs. They declined to get a substitute DCA. They declined to postpone the test until the next day. They falsely claimed they needed to take the test equipment. They did not tell Sun Yang that they would file a Refusal to Comply.

The DCO was a Chinese woman who lives abroad. She was a DCO for less than a year.  Her supervisor in Sweden, Romanian Tudor Popa, had only nine months experience at the time of the incident. He is now Vice President of International Testing at IDTM.

For the past 30 months, WADA has pursued this case against Sun Yang at great cost in time and resources.  It is fair to ask why they have done this. It is not as though Sun Yang was avoiding being tested or making a habit of objecting. He is one of the most tested athletes in the world, on average every two weeks. Nearly all tests have been performed without any problem at all. Logic would dictate that Sun Yang had no motive to take performance enhancing medications. At the Asia Games, where he was tested six times, he won four gold plus two silver medals. Also, he was about to start a one-month vacation and rest period from swimming.  It was not like he was a struggling swimmer who might be tempted to get some little extra advantage.

Would WADA have pursued this case if the swimmer had been an American, British, Canadian, or Australian? It was a huge investment of time and resources.  In the end, they “achieved” the elimination of the Chinese athlete even though he was not doped.  What kind of achievement is that?

The bias of the first CAS panel was acknowledged by the Swiss Federal Court.

Was the second CAS panel any less biased?  Their decision suggests no. At each critical point, they favor minimizing requirements for the test team contractor. They hint that an athlete who is concerned with the test integrity may be a “bad actor”.  They critique the FINA Doping Panel decision as showing “leniency” towards Sun Yang and “stringency” toward the testing process.

The CAS panel considers that requiring each test team member to have identifiable credential would be “unnecessarily burdensome administrative criteria”. Making this a requirement might give “opportunities for gamesmanship by bad actors”.

It should be noted that WADA had a serious conflict of interest in this case. They were the expert witnesses while also being the appellant.

Suggestions to improve the process

The World Anti-Doping Agency has become an influential force in global sport. They say they are “impartial, objective, balanced and transparent.” They publicly ask for feedback.

Here are some suggestions considering the Sun Yang case:

* WADA documentation including the Guidelines and ISTI should be critically reviewed, and areas of ambiguity cleared up.

* A genuine mix of international athletes should review the requirements for a test team. Should it be confirmed that all members of a test team are trained, accredited, and have proof?  Should it be confirmed that an “out of competition” test team intruding in an athlete’s personal space needs to show authorization for this mission?

*  An athlete should be given a written warning if a test team is going to report a potential “Refusal to Comply”.  There should be a standard “Refusal to Comply” form. Such notices or warnings are standard in society. This simple measure would probably have avoided the entire costly controversy with Sun Yang.

* The composition of WADA should be more diverse to avoid appearing or in fact being biased.

Conclusion

The FINA Doping Panel was correct and Sun Yang should be competing in the Tokyo Olympics.

The post Why is the Top Chinese Swimmer not at the Tokyo Olympics? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Politics of Cheering and Booing: On Palestine, Solidarity and the Tokyo Olympics

When the Palestinian Olympic delegation of five athletes – adorned in traditional Palestinian attire and carrying the Palestinian flag – crossed into the Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium during the inauguration ceremony on July 23, I was overcome with pride and nostalgia.

I grew up watching the Olympics. All of us did. Throughout the month-long international sports event, the Olympics were the main topic of discussion among the refugees in my refugee camp in Gaza, where I was born.

Unlike other sports competitions such as football, you did not need to care about the sport itself to appreciate the underlying meaning of the Olympics. The entire exercise seemed to be political.

However, the politics of the Olympics is unlike daily politics. Indeed, it is about something profoundly deeper, related to identity, culture, national struggles for liberation, equality, race and, yes, freedom.

Before Palestine’s first Olympic participation in 1996, with only one athlete, Majed Abu Marahi, we cheered – we still do – for all the countries that seemed to convey our collective experiences or share part of our history.

In our Gaza refugee camp, in a small, often hot, simply furnished living room, my family, friends and neighbors would gather around a small black and white television set. For us, the opening ceremony was always critical. Though the camera often allocates mere seconds to each delegation, a few seconds were all we needed to declare our political stances regarding each and every country. It was no surprise, then, that we cheered for all African and Arab countries, jumped in joy when the Cubans came marching in, and booed those who have contributed to Israel’s military occupation of our homeland.

Imagine the chaos in our living room as a small crowd of people made loud and swift political declarations about every country, making a case of why we should cheer or boo, all simultaneously: “The Cubans love Palestine”, “South Africa is the country of Mandela”, “The French gave Israel Mirage fighter jets”, “The Americans are biased towards Israel”,  “The president of this or that country said the Palestinians deserve freedom”, “Kenya was occupied by the British too”, and so on.

The judgment was not always easy as sometimes none of us would be able to offer a conclusive statement to make a case for why we should cheer or boo. For example, an African country which normalized relations with Israel would give us pause: we hated the government but we loved the people. Many such moral dilemmas were often left unanswered.

These dilemmas existed even before I was born. The previous generation of Palestinians also struggled with such pressing quandaries. For example, when African American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists during the award ceremony in the October 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, that, too, must have been a difficult philosophical question to be readily answered by the residents of my refugee camp. On the one hand, we loathed the historically devastating role played – and continues to be played – by the US, in arming, funding and politically supporting Israel. Without such support, Israel would have found it impossible to maintain and profit from its ongoing system of military occupation and apartheid. On the other hand, we supported, as we continue to support, African Americans in their rightful struggle for equality and justice. In these situations, it is often resolved that we should support the players while still rejecting the countries they represent.

The ongoing Tokyo Olympics were hardly the exception of this complex political system. While much media coverage has been placed on the Covid-19 pandemic – the fact that the games were held in the first place, the safety of the players and so on – the politics, the human triumph, the racism, and much more were also still present.

As Palestinians, this time around, we have more to cheer for than usual: our own athletes. Dania, Hanna, Wesam, Mohamed and Yazan are making us proud. The story of each one of these athletes represents a chapter in the Palestinian saga, one that is rife with collective pain, besiegement and ongoing Diaspora, but also hope, unparalleled strength and determination.

These Palestinian athletes, like athletes from other countries who are enduring their own struggles, whether for freedom, democracy or peace, carry a heavier burden than those who were trained under normal circumstances, in stable countries that provide their athletes with seemingly endless resources to reach their full potential.

Mohamed Hamada, a weightlifter from the besieged Gaza Strip, competes in the 96 kg men snatch. In actuality, the 19-year-old is already carrying a mountain. Having survived several deadly Israeli wars, a relentless siege, lack of freedom to travel, to train under proper circumstances and, of course, the resulting trauma, by taking his first step in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium, Hamada was already a champion. Hundreds of aspiring weightlifters in Gaza and throughout Palestine must have watched him in their own living rooms, filled with hope that they, too, can overcome all the hardship, and that they, too, could be present at future Olympics.

Yazan al-Bawwab, the 21-year-old Palestinian swimmer, embodies, despite his youth, the story of the Palestinian diaspora. A Palestinian, who grew up in the United Arab Emirates, now living in Canada while carrying dual Italian and Palestinian citizenships, he represents a generation of Palestinian youngsters who live outside the homeland and whose life is a reflection of the constant search for home. There are millions of Palestinian refugees who were forced by war, or circumstances, to constantly relocate. They too, aspire to live a normal and stable life, to carry the passports of their own homeland with pride and, like al-Bawwab, to achieve great things in life.

The truth is, for us, Palestinians, the Olympics are not an ethnocentric exercise. Our relationship to it is not simply inspired by race, nationality or even religion, but by humanity itself. The dialectics through which we cheer or boo conveys so much about how we see ourselves as a people, our position in the world, the solidarity that we wish to bestow and the love and solidarity that we receive. So, Ireland, Scotland, Cuba, Venezuela, Turkey, South Africa, Sweden and many more, including all Arab countries without exception, can be certain that we will always remain their loyal fans.

The post The Politics of Cheering and Booing: On Palestine, Solidarity and the Tokyo Olympics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Kneeling against Racism: Solidarity in EURO 2020 Should Not be “Controversial”   

Another football ‘controversy’ has started when football players participating in the ongoing ‘UEFA Euro 2020’, kneeled down during national anthems to protest racism, a serious problem that has plagued football stadiums for many years.

Yet, while some players chose to kneel down, others opted not to, offering flimsy excuses as “players weren’t ready”, and “politics should stay out of football”. Racism in sports is real, though it cannot be separated from racism within society. In fact, the reactions to the moral stances taken by some players were reflections of how rightwing, populist and chauvinistic movements wield such massive influence over various European societies, to the extent that these movements often define mainstream political sensibilities.

For example, the French national team, comprising largely black and Muslim French players, came under attack led by right wing politicians and media outlets to the point that, on June 15, the entire team decided not to take a knee at the start of their matches, likely fearing racist repercussions.

In the French example, racism in sports prevailed over the anti-racism sentiments. Worse, the country’s highest football association, the French Football Federation (FFF) does not even acknowledge the necessity to discuss the issue. FFF president, Noel Le Graet, was quoted as saying that racism “does not exist”, following an incident last September during the Marseille-Paris Saint Germain game, when the Brazilian Neymar was called a  ‘monkey motherf—er’ during a scuffle.

Not only are racist incidents in football games on the rise and well-documented in France and elsewhere, the ‘monkey’ slur is particularly popular among European football fans who, sometimes in groups, carry out what is known as ‘monkey chanting’, which specifically target black and other dark skin players. When the despicable practice in Italy finally received national attention, an Italian court dismissed the case as ‘unfounded’, and fans who were caught ‘monkey chanting’ on camera were ‘unconditionally acquitted.’

This in mind, it was unfortunate that only half of the Italian team took a knee during their game against Wales on June 20, and eventually, they decided not to kneel down at all in a later game. It is telling that, while racism in sports continues to prevail, anti-racist gestures are considered unnecessary and divisive.

The truth is that football, like any other sport, is a reflection of our societies, our unities and divisions, our economic privileges and socio-economic inequalities, our strong communal bonds and, yes, our racism. Instead of attempting to fully understand and, when necessary, alter these relationships, some conveniently opt to ignore them altogether.

Assertions such as ‘sports and politics must not mix’ are not only wishful thinking – as they ignore the fundamental premise that sports are a direct expression of reality – they are also underhanded as they are meant to divert attention from core issues that should concern everyone.

This misleading logic falls within the same category of the phrase “all lives matter” in response to the legitimate outcry for racial justice under the banner, “black lives matter”. The latter is meant to illustrate – in fact, challenge – racism and violence, which disproportionately target black people in the United States specifically because of their skin color; while the former, although technically accurate, is meant to delude and undermine the urgency of confronting systemic racism.

When American football player, Colin Kaepernick, kneeled down in 2016 to protest racial injustice, he did mean to be disruptive, not to ‘disgrace’ American ‘values’ and ‘symbols’, but to force millions of people out of their comfort zone to contend with far more consequential questions than winning or losing a football match. His statement was an act of protest against the mistreatment of black communities across the US. As a black man with access to media platforms, it was his moral duty to speak out. He did. But that wholly symbolic, non-violent act was perceived by many in government, media and society as a treasonous one, which ultimately cost the athlete his career.

The entire episode, which reverberated across the world and the violent, often racist, responses to it were all political, unwittingly proving, once more, that the relationship between politics and human rights, on the one hand, and sports, on the other, are impossible to separate. Interestingly, those who insisted that Kaepernick has violated the sanctity of sports have no qualms with other, essentially political acts throughout football: the national anthem, the endless display of flags, the nationalist chants, of soldiers being honored for their services in various wars and, at times, of air force fighting jets flying overhead, intoxicating the crowds with the might and power of the US military. Why are nationalistic politics acceptable while a single black man kneeling down to shed light on the plight of the innocent victims of police brutality is perceived to be an act of treason?

Whether it is convenient or not, sports is rife with political symbols and is a reflection of existing realities: inequalities, racism and more. It can also be a source of harmony and unity. In fact, sometimes it is, as was the heartwarming exchange between Portuguese international player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Iranian footballer, Ali Daei, when, on June 24, Ronaldo  equalized the international goal record of Daei. It can also be a reflection of rooted socio-political ailments, such as racism.

Racism is a political disease, like cancerous cells spreading across the body, or body politic of society. It has to be stopped, on and off the field. While taking the knee will not end racism, it is meant to serve as a conversation starter, a moral stance by players and a meaningful gesture of camaraderie and humanity.

The post Kneeling against Racism: Solidarity in EURO 2020 Should Not be “Controversial”    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.

Safe Ballpark?  SF Giants Demanded “Release of Liability” for COVID Infection from Food Service Workers

The San Francisco Giants Opening Day was Friday, April 9.  The Giants had been doing a full court press (sorry to mix in basketball metaphors) for days on end about how safe the stadium would be for the fans’ first game back to the stadium since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But, on Wednesday evening, the Giants’ food service subcontractor Bon Appetit emailed food service concession workers a directive to “Please be sure that you complete this 2021 Release of Liability before arriving at Oracle Park.”

Some choice words from this release:

…I agree that, on behalf of myself and my personal representatives, heirs, spouse, guardians, executors, administrators, successors, assigns and next of kin, I and they hereby waive, release, discharge, hold harmless and agree not to sue the released parties noted below with respect to any claim, liability or demand of whatever kind or nature, either in law or in equity (including, without limitation, for personal injuries or wrongful death) that may arise in connection with, or relate in any way to, exposure to or contraction of COVID-19 following my use of a credential, during the providing of my services, or during my participation in any related activities arranged, promoted and/or sponsored by the released parties, including, without limitation, those claims that arise as a result of: (I) the negligence of any of the released parties, and/or (II) the inherent risks associated with visiting any venue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whew.

That was written in ALL CAPS, just in case somebody might not have gotten the point that food concession workers — and all their friends, families and acquaintances – would be on their own if they came down with COVID-19 from working at the ballpark.

And who are the “released parties?”

  • The office of the Commissioner of Baseball.
  • Each of the Major League Baseball (MLB) Clubs.
  • Every director, officer, owner, stockholder, trustee, partner, employee, agent, independent contractor and consultant of the above.
  • The owners and operators of the venues in which games in 2021 will be played, and all of their sponsors, contractors, vendors, operators, agencies and advertisers.
  • Licensees and retail, concession, broadcast and media partners of MLB parties.
  • Press and other media.
  • Vendors that may provide testing or medical services.
  • Entities and individuals providing accommodation and transportation to or from baseball venues.
  • Other entities and individuals who enter baseball venues.
  • The parent, subsidiary, affiliated and related companies and officers, directors, employees, agents, licensees, contractors, sub-contractors, insurers, representatives, successors, assigns of each of the foregoing entities and persons.

About the only entity not covered by this release would be little green men landing on the field in a space ship in the middle of a game.

And by the way, the signers of this release were expected to acknowledge that there may be issues that they do “not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release,” but that’s just the way it goes.

Oh, sure, no problem, right?

That’s not the way the leadership of UNITE HERE Local 2, the union which represents most ballpark food concession workers, saw it. On Thursday, the day after workers got this release and the day before Opening Day, Mike Casey, the former President of Local 2 and  current President of the San Francisco Labor Council, made some calls to Giants and Bon Appetit biggies, letting them know that their demand for this release of liability was about to become a very public issue.

Ballpark workers, after all, are working under a contract with Bon Appetit that is supposed to protect them from the “negligence” of their bosses. All these workers were being asked to do was to throw their contract in the trash can when it came to anything to do with protecting them from disease and death.

Can you imagine how it would go over if the Giants demanded that fans attending the game had to sign such a release?

Fortunately, Casey was able to convince the powers-that-be that this was a fight they did not want, and that the wise course of action was to dump the release, stop asking workers to sign it, and to trash any releases that had already been signed.

Case closed? Not really. This attempt to try to slip a fast one over on us only demonstrates the utter disrespect that Major League Baseball, the Giants and our bosses too often show to their workers.

It also reminds us that the Giants tried to fire us during the pandemic, only to be beaten back and forced to apologize. It also calls to mind how sports team owners made billions during the pandemic, while doing next to diddly-squat for their laid off workers.

Clearly there are struggles ahead, especially as we try to negotiate a new ballpark contract in the coming months.

Not to mention the upcoming reopening of the Warrior’s Chase Center, where Bon Appetit also runs the food service concessions, and where workers have yet to achieve a first contract.

Play ball.

• First published by 48 Hills.

The post Safe Ballpark?  SF Giants Demanded “Release of Liability” for COVID Infection from Food Service Workers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Attacks On The Rights Of Transgender People Are Rising; Fight Back

A growing and coordinated attack on the rights of transgender people is taking place through state legislation and sadly it is receiving support from people across the political spectrum. The attack is successful because its proponents are using myths about transgender people to cloak their efforts under a veneer of feminism and concerns about children’s health. In reality, this attack is anti-feminist and threatens the well-being and lives of not only the transgender community, particularly the youth, which is one of the most vulnerable communities in our society, but also of all of us.

It is necessary to understand where this attack is coming from and the facts that dispel these myths so we can all take action to protect the rights of transgender people. The media is largely silent about what is happening. We need to raise awareness and halt these bills. Solidarity is critical to stop the assault and protect us from being divided against each other at a time when we need to struggle together for our People(s)-Centered Human Rights.

This week, I interviewed Chase Strangio, a lawyer with the ACLU who is a national leader in the fight for the rights of transgender people, on Clearing the FOG (available Monday night). We discussed the state bills, the impact they will have if they are made into law and how to stop them.

Anatoliy Cherkasov/SOPA Images/Getty.

A coordinated attack on transgender rights in the states

The number of states that have introduced bills restricting the rights of transgender people has increased from 20 states in 2020 to 26 states so far in 2021. The bills range from those that prevent transgender people from participating in sports, using gender-appropriate facilities or obtaining identification documents to ones that make providing health care to transgender youth a felony and allow religious discrimination. You will find a list of the states, the bills and their current status here.

One bill that is imminent in Alabama would make it a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine for health professionals who provide hormone therapy, hormone blockers or surgery to transgender youth. The bill also requires school staff to inform parents if a student has the “perception that his or her gender is inconsistent with his or her sex.” A version of the bill recently passed in both the Alabama House and the Senate. Sixteen other states have introduced similar legislation.

Both of these measures put transgender youth at a serious risk of lifetime harm or suicide if they are not able to receive appropriate medical therapy during puberty or are outed to parents who may not support them. A study from 2018 finds that suicide, the second leading cause of death in teenagers, and self-harm rates are higher in transgender adolescents than cisgender teens. In the Minnesota study of teens aged 11 to 19, nearly a third of transgender girls and more than half of transgender boys had attempted suicide, two-thirds had suicidal thoughts and more than half had injured themselves. The National Center for Transgender Equality finds that of the 1.6 million homeless youth in the United States, 20 to 40% of them are transgender youth while transgender people are less than 1% of the overall population. They face family rejection, denial of access to spaces in homeless shelters that are consistent with their gender and discrimination when they seek to rent or buy a home.

The bills also run counter to standard medical practice. After more than 100 years of work to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender youth and adults, this area of medicine is well-documented and supported by major institutions such as the American Association of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society and the American Psychological Association. At a time when the medical establishment is working to improve care for transgender people in all settings, these state bills would be a huge impediment to that progress.

Another major set of bills currently present in 26 states would prohibit transgender students from participating in school sports on the same teams as their cisgender peers. As the ACLU writes, these bills are less about sports and more about “erasing and excluding trans people from participation in all aspects of public life.” The fight to exclude trans people from restrooms that are consistent with their gender failed, so this is the new tool to attack their rights.

Transgender girls and boys and women and men already compete in sports all over the world and their participation is supported by major institutions such as the Women’s Sports Foundation, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education and the National Women’s Law Center. Nearly two dozen organizations signed onto a letter supporting the full inclusion of transgender people in athletics. Depriving transgender youth of the right to participate in sports harms their physical, social and emotional well-being. Transgender youth already face obstacles to being accepted in society and not being allowed into sports worsens that while preventing them from crucial areas of their development such as being part of a team and discovering their physical capabilities.

Creating barriers to participation in sports harms everyone, but especially women who as a group already face discrimination over their gender and attempts to control their bodies. In order to exclude transgender people from sports, all participants will be required to ‘prove’ their gender. As the National Women’s Law Center states, “The law allows anyone, for any reason, to question whether a student athlete is a woman or girl, and then the student has to ‘verify’ her gender by undergoing invasive testing.” They add that by “allowing coaches, administrators, and other athletes to become the arbiters of who ‘looks like’ a girl or a woman,” the  laws “will rely on and perpetuate racist and sexist stereotypes.”

Chase Strangio and Gabriel Arkles dispel four of the common myths about transgender athletes. They point out that the effort to exclude transgender women from sports is being done in a way that “reinforces stereotypes that women are weak and in need of protection. Politicians have used the ‘protection’ trope time and time again, including in 2016 when they tried banning trans people from public restrooms by creating the debunked ‘bathroom predator‘ myth.” These myths are being spread widely, so it is critical that we understand the facts so we can stop them.

Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman via Getty Images file.

The groups behind the attacks on the rights of transgender people

There are a host of right-wing and conservative groups behind the attacks on transgender people. The major players involved in the state legislative efforts are the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation and ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council). The Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative Christian group formed in 1994 that does legal advocacy against women’s right to an abortion and for discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender people. It is a well-funded ($35 million budget) and powerful group that trains “future legislators, judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and other government lawyers.” It is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its support for the criminalization of same sex marriage, sterilization of transgender people and bigoted beliefs.

One way that conservative groups have gained credibility with liberals is by portraying their work as in the interest of women’s rights. They project a zero sum view that somehow advocacy for the rights of transgender women takes away from the long struggle for ciswomen’s rights, as if transgender women and men have not struggled for recognition and for their rights for a long time too. They falsely argue that transgender women spent part of their life as ‘privileged’ males and so they either cannot understand what women have experienced or they are bringing patriarchal views into women’s spaces. This view conflicts with the reality that transgender women experience greater discrimination and violence than cisgender women. They are hardly a privileged group. Similarly, they falsely portray transgender men as ‘victims of patriarchy.’

This bigotry has entered some radical feminist spaces that actively exclude transgender woman and portray them as threats to their safety. Left Voice provides a history of the rise of what is called “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” or TERFs,” their violence against transgender women and their alliances with the alt-right. Katelyn Burns explains who some of these groups are and their attempts to dominate political space in the United Kingdom. Fortunately there is not much support for them in the United States, but it does exist.

Trans-exclusionary groups use fear as a weapon against transgender women by portraying them as threats to the physical safety of cisgender girls and women without solid evidence to back this claim. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence finds that around half of transgender and nonbinary people have been sexually assaulted and more than half have experienced domestic partner violence. This is far less than the 18% of cisgender women who are victims of sexual violence. This use of a concocted threat of violence to discriminate against transgender women is similar to that used to justify repression against Muslims, immigrants and Black people.

Penelope Barritt/Rex/Shutterstock.

Building an inclusive society

The increasing attacks on the rights of transgender people in the United States needs to be a concern to all of us. We cannot create an inclusive society that supports the healthy development and rights of all people if we remain silent as the most vulnerable among us are targeted with damaging and deadly discrimination. We cannot teach our children tolerance if they see their friends being prohibited from basic childhood activities such as participation in sports. We cannot deny people the right to determine who they are and to live in ways that support them. Transgender people are our neighbors, our friends and our family members.

Chase Strangio describes five specific ways we can take action to end discrimination against transgender people and to affirm them as members of our communities. There is something for everyone to do no matter where you are. We can all strive to point out and correct bigotry where we see it, work to educate people around us and donate to groups doing this work that are led by transgender people. If you live in a state where these bills are introduced, contact your state lawmaker and let them know of your opposition to them. You can also join local groups to advocate for the rights of transgender people.

Let’s stop the attack on transgender people in the United States before it is allowed to escalate further.

The post Attacks On The Rights Of Transgender People Are Rising; Fight Back first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Morons, Vaccines and Tennis: Booing at the Australian Open

It was a fittingly poor conclusion to a tournament that risked being cancelled, run to ground, or even rendered stillborn.  The tennis world number one, Novak Djokovic, had captured his eighteenth grand slam against would be usurper Daniil Medvedev, whose winning streak of twenty matches was conclusively blotted.  The victory was achieved before a crowd filled with vocal Serbian supporters, flags fluttering, a number sporting the šubara, a rather odd thing to wear given the warm temperature (symbolism will resist climate) and the šajkača cap with insignia associated with the Chetnik irregulars who fought in the Second World War under the monarchist banner.

With sport, history, and battle motifs entangled, supporters awaited, impatiently, for their hero to take the cup.  The necessary formalities had to be settled.  Tennis Australia president Jayne Hrdlicka gave an unremarkable speech, and felt it necessary to mention the difficulties that had come with staging the tournament.  “It’s been a time of heartfelt challenge.  It’s been a time of deep loss and extraordinary sacrifice for everyone.”  But there was some reason to cheer. “With vaccinations on the way, rolling out in many countries around the world, it’s now a time for optimism and hope for the future.”

Boos, hissing and jeering followed.  These were also repeated when thanks was offered to the Victorian government.  Having endured a 112-day hard lockdown with strict limits on movement last year, and a snap five day lockdown that also ate into the tournament schedule, many of the spectators were weary and disgruntled.  Hrdlicka was diplomatic.  “You are a very opinionated group of people.”

Novak’s own reaction was one of ginger caution, tiptoeing through a potential minefield.  The AO, he concluded in his speech, was a tournament of various feelings coloured by the quarantine experience of players, their training facilities (or lack of), and the mental adjustments of playing to empty stands.  “There are a lot of mixed feelings about what happened in the last month or so, with tennis players coming to Australia.”

He had to concede, despite initial reservations, that the report card of the organisers merited a high grade.  “But I think when we draw the line in the end it was a successful tournament for organisers … it wasn’t easy, it was very challenging on many different levels, but they should be proud.”

As a cipher of sentiment among tennis players, and a nationalist symbol for his country, Djokovic’s words and actions receive extra magnification.  Good intentions can be misconstrued; heartfelt notions are mocked for their cock-eyed naiveté.  Supporters await cues on what sort of conduct to emulate: What changes to his diet will be made, and which foods will he endorse or condemn?  His politics is scrutinised, his world view deconstructed and interpreted.

With 72 players being placed in hard quarantine on arriving in Australia prior to the tournament, Djokovic was derided for listing six demands made by players to make conditions less stringent.  These included reduced periods of isolation, improved food and the movement of players to private housing with appropriate tennis courts.  “Djokovic,” tweeted the reliably temperamental Nick Kyrgios, ranked 47 in the world, “is a tool.”  The brats had spoken, and the Serbian player took the fall.

The case with vaccines was particularly salient.  Djokovic’s reported opposition to vaccinations has become something of a millstone.  In a nightmarish year which saw his efforts to keep the pulse of tennis going during a pandemic with the Adria tour in the Balkans, Djokovic became a figure to be admired and reviled in the coronavirus wars.  The tennis event held in Serbia and Croatia in June saw Djokovic, other players and staff, contract COVID-19.  Social distancing measures were ignored.  As a consequence, the tournament was abandoned.  As he explained in the aftermath of the disaster, the tournament had been organised “with the right intentions.”  There were “steps that could have been done differently, but am I going to be then forever blamed for doing a mistake?”

As for vaccines, Djokovic attempted to shuffle his position for the New York Times in August last year.  His opposition to jabs had been “taken out of context a little bit”.  The issue he had was with “someone forcing me to put something in my body.  That I don’t want.  For me that’s unacceptable.” Djokovic professed to not being “against vaccination of any kind, because who am I to speak about vaccines when there are people that have been in the field of medicine and saving lives around the world?”

The reaction from the tennis punditry and press corps to the irate spectators proved savage. Stuart Fraser of The Times was impressed by the successful conclusion of the Australian Open.  “But between players giving tournament director Craig Tiley ‘significant abuse’ and spectators booing the mention of vaccines at the trophy ceremony, it really has brought out some morons.”  George Bellshaw of Metro called it “bonkers” while Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times kept his reaction raw: “It was a weird-ass five weeks in Australia, tennis.”

The Daily Mail Australia thought it could offer a deeper insight.  “Rowdy Australian fans were not booing the coronavirus vaccine rollout, but were instead protesting Melbourne’s three lockdowns.”  The Mail can never be accused of being anthropologically sharp and did not disappoint with its observation that the “boos” were “few” and “were eventually drowned out by cheers and applause.”  Federal Senator Matt Canavan thought it traditional that Australians at sporting tournaments “boo politicians”.  It only took a few for others to “join in and that is mob behaviour”.  Those in the crowd were “just having a bit of fun.”  So much for the profound analysis.

At stake here is a more complex picture for Australian authorities at both the state and federal level.  Ill-tempered views and suspicions about vaccination exist, though these are impossible to measure with certainty.  Within the patchwork multi-ethnic country, sceptics and rumours circulate, questioning government intentions and competence.  Protests against the impending vaccine rollout have taken place.  A greater challenge than hosting a successful international tennis tournament awaits.

The post Morons, Vaccines and Tennis: Booing at the Australian Open first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Super Bowl for Sports Team Billionaires: SF Giants owner rakes in $815 million during the pandemic

Oracle Park

The assets of Charles Johnson, the controversial chief owner of the San Francisco Giants, increased by $815 million during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, his net worth was a mere $4.2 billion dollars. By January 2021 he commanded a fortune of $5.015 billion, an increase just short of 20%.

Workers at Oracle Park, where the Giants play, have been taking it on the chin during the pandemic, but the pandemic apparently hasn’t taken any skin off Johnson’s nose.

These numbers come from a February 2021 report by the Institute for Policy Studies (ITEP), aptly titled Pandemic Super Bowl 2021: Billionaires Win, We Lose.

The ITEP report states that “No matter who wins Super Bowl LV, the big winners in our COVID-ravaged economy include dozens of billionaire sports-team owners.”

Sixty-four sports billionaires, the owners of 68 professional sports teams, “have seen their wealth increase by over $98.5 billion, or 30 percent, over the last 10 months,” based on data from Forbes Magazine.

If that isn’t shocking enough, the report drives the point home even further:

The wealth increases of billionaire sports-team owners is just part of the dominance of a national dynasty of 661 U.S. billionaires whose wealth has grown by $1.2 trillion, or 40 percent, during the pandemic, climbing from $2.9 trillion… to $4.13 trillion.

The old adage about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer has never been more true.

Johnson’s wealth has ballooned even though he donated FIVE TIMES as much as any other single sports team owner to the Republicans during the 2016-2020 election cycle, almost $11 million dollars, giving aid and comfort to some very crazy Republicans, as well as to “Dark Ages” Donald Trump as he was preparing to send his fascist mob into the halls of Congress.

Back home in San Francisco, the last time food concession workers like myself had a raise at the Giants ballpark was March 2018, nearly three years ago. Our UNITE HERE Local 2 contract expired in March 2019, a year before the pandemic shut the place down. Of course, almost everybody has been laid off for the last year, and your guess is as good as mine as to when we will be going back to work, and how many of us might get that opportunity.

The Giants, in their magnanimity, granted us $500 checks back in April 2020. I hope that didn’t put out Mr. Johnson too much.

In August, Local 2 held a couple of well-attended demonstrations at the ballpark, demanding that the Giants do something more for their laid-off workers, many of whom have worked at the ballpark, and Candlestick Park before that, for decades. The San Francisco Labor Council also sponsored a Labor Day march and rally that ended up at the ballpark.

Despite all, the Giants refused to even talk to Local 2. Perhaps Johnson was too busy counting his ever-growing pile of dough.

The Giants are building a massive development project just south of the ballpark, on what used to be the main parking lot. They are expected to make umpteen millions from new office buildings and homes there.

A few days ago the Giants announced, as part of their media blitz around Black History Month, that they are going to name a couple of streets in this new development after Black folks. One of these streets will be named for Maya Angelou, the famous writer, poet and civil rights activist. The other will be named for Toni Stone, who played in the Negro Leagues and was the first woman to play on a professional men’s baseball team.

Naming streets after Black leaders is great, but it won’t put any food in the mouths of the many laid-off Black workers at the ballpark.

Mr. Johnson, can you spare a dime?

• This article was first published by 48 Hills.

The post Super Bowl for Sports Team Billionaires: SF Giants owner rakes in $815 million during the pandemic first appeared on Dissident Voice.