Category Archives: Sports

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.

Deadly Games: The Labour Casualties of Qatar’s World Cup

A sordid enterprise, nasty, crude and needless.  But the World Cup 2022 will be, should anyone bother watching it, stained by one of the highest casualty rates amongst workers in its history, marked by corruption and stained by a pharisee quality.  The sportswashers, cleaning agent at the ready, will be out in force, and the hypocrites dressed to the nines.

From the start, the link between the world’s premier football (or soccer) competition and the gulf state was an odd one.  Qatar and the World Cup are as connected in kinship as gigantic icebergs and parched desert sands.  But money was the glue, prestige the aim, and there was much glue to go around when it came to securing the rights to host the competition.  What was lacking was a football tradition, an absence of sporting infrastructure, and the presence of scorching weather.

The central figure in this effort of bald graft over distinguished merit was Mohamed Bin Hammam, Qatar’s football grandee and construction magnate.  From his position as a member of the executive committee of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), he is said to have acted, on occasion, more like “the head of a crime organisation” than a mere board official.  All the time, he risibly claimed that he was a fan of reform, calling for “more transparency in FIFA.”

There was little evidence of transparency when it came to Doha’s bid.  With manoeuvring and cash incentives, the votes fell Qatar’s way in December 2010.  FIFA’s own comically named ethics committee cleared the country’s officials of any misdemeanour (it was “verified internally” that no secret plots had been made leading up to the award), while also having harsh words for other bidders, notably England.

The body also commissioned a 430-page report from lawyer and ethics investigator Michael Garcia that put the officialdom of both Russia and Qatar at ease.  For one thing, Garcia seemed mild in noting that, “A number of executive committee members sought to obtain personal favours or benefits that would enhance their stature within their home countries or considerations.”  With specific reference to Qatar, Garcia mentioned the country’s Aspire sports academy, alerted to it being used to “curry favour with executive committee members”.  This gave “the appearance of impropriety.  Those actions served to undermine the integrity of the bidding process.”  But not enough, it would seem, to invalidate the choice.

In all the scrounging, haggling and dealing, the fate of tens of thousands of migrant workers have fallen into the void, showing that sporting choices, even if nourished by a grossly unethical base, will still be tolerated.  Despite this, the reports about the appalling treatment Qatar affords its imported labour have not stopped coming.  For one thing, 2 million workers retained to build the various stadia, a new airport, roads, the metro system, not to mention providing a range of other services (restaurants, transport, in some cases, even security), would generally count as indispensable.  The problem with modern trafficking and slave practices lies in the fact that they will, when the time comes, be dispensable.  The pool is large and constantly replenished.

The years since Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup have seen a degree of ugliness that would make the hair stand on the back of any labour and human rights activist.  Much of this predates the commencement of work upon the facilities needed for the sporting event, a legacy shaped by the Kafala system.  The system of sponsor-based employment effectively indentures the worker to the employer, or kafeel, trapping the employee by restricting mobility, choice of employment and visa status.

In 2017, Qatar reluctantly signed an agreement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) giving an undertaking to combat labour exploitation and “align its laws and practices with international labour standards”.

Despite such undertakings, The Guardian revealed in February 2021 that 6,750 migrant workers hailing from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had perished in Qatar since December 2010.  Such a total would be further inflated were it to account for other source countries of migrant labour, including Kenya and the Philippines.

The circumstances behind each death vary from suicide to being killed in shoddy worker accommodation.  But the authorities have done their best to relay the causes in murky terms, often aided by a reluctance to conduct autopsies.  “Natural deaths” tops the list as a favourite, with respiratory and acute heart failure featuring strongly.

In May this year, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FairSquare, and a number of international migrant rights groups, labour unions, business and rights groups, along with football fans and abuse survivors, made a plea to FIFA.  In a letter addressed to its President Gianni Infantino, the collective writes of “hundreds of thousands of migrant workers” who had yet to receive “adequate remedy, including financial compensation, for serious labour abuses they suffered while building and servicing the infrastructure essential for the preparation and delivery of the World Cup in Qatar.”

In urging Infantino to work with the Qatar government, trade unions, the ILO and other relevant bodies to address labour abuses, the collective acknowledges various modest improvements.  But minor labour reforms and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Initiatives came “too late”.  The various reforms have also been unevenly enforced.  Many workers essential to the World Cup enterprise also fall outside the remit of the Supreme Committee’s initiatives.

This whole endeavour, in short, remains plagued and blotted by institutional callousness.  But a good deal of this will be forgotten come the opening ceremony and lost among the hordes of politically illiterate fans.  The sporting show will go on, and anyone wishing to protest its merits will risk five-year prison sentences and a fine of 100,000 Qatari riyals (US$27,000) for “stirring up public opinion”.  That’s mightily sporting of the authorities.

The post Deadly Games: The Labour Casualties of Qatar’s World Cup first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia’s Sportswashing Emissary

As with previous breakaway religions thrilled by the prospect of the new, breakaway sporting competitions offer a chance to reassess doctrine, administration, and philosophies.  It has happened in football, cricket, and rugby, often controversially, and almost always indignantly.  The attempt to create a rival competition is now taking place in a sport famously described as the spoiling of a good walk.

The LIV Golf Invitational Series is set to run from June to October and promises to be an extravaganza played on three continents.  The chief executive of the enterprise is the man of the eternal tan, golfer turned businessman Greg Norman, while LIV Golf Enterprises is itself majority owned by the Public Investment Fund, which operates on behalf of that inglorious institution known as the Saudi government.

Norman claims to have sent invitation letters to 250 players of the top-ranked players to compete in the tournament.  “Our events are truly additive to the world of golf,” he claims in justification.  “We have done our best to create a schedule that allows players to play elsewhere, while still participating in our events.”

Opposition to such schemes from the traditional golfing establishment has never been in short supply.  Norman had previously pitched the idea of a World Golf Tour in November 1994, which would have featured eight events with $3 million on offer to the top 30 players in the rankings.  Despite being initially outmanoeuvred, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem retaliated by appropriating the breakaway challenge, announcing the creation of three $4 million World Golf Championship events in 1999 and a fourth the following year.

A disgusted Norman could only rue his defeat before such unsportsmanlike devilry.  “I think there is only one word for it and that is control.  Now control is there, in their mind, and let them have it, let them go with it, let them see what they can do.”  Dreams of revenge at these closed shop operators were entertained.

This time around, the Tours are again readying their weapons and options.  Retribution against the usurpers, they promise, will be severe: banning players who sign up, restricting entry into the majors, and preventing participation in the Ryder Cup.  Lawyers will be smacking their lips at the prospect of legal challenges and bloated briefs.

The more troubling picture in the grand scheme is the sports washing hand of Saudi Arabia.  The kingdom has become an aggressive strategic investor in sports events, hosting Formula One motor racing, boxing events, purchasing European football clubs and promoting wrestling. With each encroachment, human rights considerations and a regime’s brutality blur and eventually vanish before the size of the wallet.

This rebranding of the blood-stained image of Saudi Arabia using sports has been spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, palace coup plotter and figure behind the butchering of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.  A good number of golfing officials have preferred to overlook that nastier side of the surly Crown Prince, not to mention such blemishes as the war in Yemen.  In the words of European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, the Kingdom’s “goal to make parts of the country more accessible to global business, tourism and leisure over the next decade” was to be appreciated.

Pelley is not the only ethically challenged enthusiast for Riyadh’s ventures.  From the other side of the competition, Norman, otherwise known as the Great White Shark, shows no sign of having a moral compass.  All he sees is golf and opportunity, promising his Saudi investors that the country will become a powerhouse of the sport under his guidance.  As for Saudi Arabia, he sees cashed-up reforms, star studded progress.  “It’s an eye opener to see how the country is investing into their people and opportunities from a health and wellness perspective, from a sporting perspective, from an education perspective,” he bombastically, and inaccurately told Arab News last year.

Attacks on his recruitment as Saudi Arabia’s sportswasher-in-chief are parried.  “Look, I’ll be honest with you, yes, the criticisms have stung a little bit, but I’m a big believer that you can’t run through a brick wall without getting bloody,” he told The Telegraph last month.  “I’m willing to run through this wall because I’m a big believer in growing the game of golf on a global basis.”

Such statements do not merely betray a crass insensitivity but a naked adoration for the agents of Mammon.  When asked about the fortune he is being paid by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund – some put the figure at $50 million a year – he retorted with a question.  “What’s the definition of a fortune?”

Despite acknowledging the brutal murder of Khashoggi, having previously called it “reprehensible”, he found comfort in the passage of time.  “Every country’s got a cross to bear.”  There was much guilt to go around.  “I am the type of person who looks into the future, not out of the past, and see what Saudi Arabia has done in a very short time to invest in the game.” Well done, Crown Prince, you’ve certainly got an ally there.

On the issue of hypocrisy, Norman is quick to identify his archenemies in the PGA Tour as monumental culprits.  While they had not specifically accused the entrepreneur of “sportswashing”, they had certainly gotten others to stump for them.  “Yes, it’s ok for them to go into China, with the Uyghurs?  Seriously?  Step back and take a really good, honest, hard look at the facts and then you’ll see, ‘Hey, Greg Norman is not such an ogre after all.’”  Not an ogre, but a most useful dolt for the House of Saud.

The post Greg Norman: Saudi Arabia’s Sportswashing Emissary first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Letters From Moscow Across the Class Divide

What follows is a series of emails from a comrade, HCE. He is a Russian citizen and has lived and worked in Moscow for many years. He is a Marxist-Leninist. The questions we asked him are in bold.

Dear Bruce:

Thank you for your email and interest. The subjects that you have mentioned in your questions have been in my thoughts for some time. I will try to answer them in a straightforward manner and keep things as transparent as possible. Once again, I would like to state that these are just my opinions and impressions with no pretenses whatsoever. Some of the questions remind me of my youth when I was just 15 years old and full of romantic ideas about the world revolution, of fighting on the barricades with a red flag in my hands. Then I started organizing in a working-class district and I was presented with nearly some of the same questions that you have posed. I began to understand that the revolution was about understanding many things, including nationalism and sports.

How has each of the four classes (upper, upper-middle, middle, and working class) been affected by the departure of Yankee businesses (McDonalds, Pepsi, auto, and gas companies)?

According to my knowledge, a number of the fast-food companies, although following the official US line, have left some room for maneuvering. For example, McDonalds left a two months’ salary for their employees, leaving some bridges intact. The loss of jobs in places like these would affect the working class. The shelves in supermarkets are still loaded with Coca Cola and Pepsi. But even before events in Ukraine, US fast-food has a strong competitor in the local grill in Mid East fashion. The main criteria are quality versus price and how quick you can get it and head for the job or auditorium.

There would be serious implications in the closing of plants that are involved in big projects like the auto industry, which would lead to loss of jobs for the whole spectrum, from the working class till the upper-middle class. But as far as I know the US does not have such projects in Russia. American cars are not popular in Moscow. You may see a pickup now and then. Otherwise it is Korean, Japanese, French, and German cars that dominate beside Russian cars. For the French car company Renault, their sales in Russia are second only to their French market.

All that being said, what is critical is THE OIL AND GAS companies. This is where things get murky. Let us use as an example a US oil company that owns shares in a big oil project. They may declare that they will follow sanctions, then come back the next day and declare that this concerns the operational side only. I am sure that many Americans will be surprised if they start digging to find out who are the shareholders of a significant number of Russian oil and gas companies. In my opinion the oil industry is so intricate, there are so many loopholes in contracts and legal issues that I think the sanction process will proceed slowly. This is where all the classes and the state will be affected. Please note that according to the laws of the Russian Federation, foreign companies can sell their shares only after obtaining the approval of the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation.

How have the sanctions from the US affected the everyday life of each class?

At the present, it is hard for the average Muscovite to notice any change in the daily routine of his life. The cost for food, his apartment and bills for electricity, water, internet are the same. Prices are maybe slightly higher. This is also true for clothes. The upper classes may yearn for foreign foodstuffs, and their holidays in Europe and buying their clothes from Milan and Paris, but the average Muscovite is satisfied with spending his holidays in Russia, Crimea, Turkey, and Egypt.

However, being an old hand at sanctions I know how demoralizing they can be in the long run, when the struggle for survival leaves no room for anything else. My heart goes out to all the Russian people, especially the elderly. They have suffered and been through so much. Now at last, when they should have some peace, they have to worry about every ruble of their modest pension.

Russia of course is not Iraq or Syria; it is a self-sufficient country, and in spite of sanctions, embargoes, and Russo-phobia it will not budge. There is a certain inherent flaw in the Western attitude towards Russia and Russians that I always warn westerners about; never, ever underestimate the Russians. You do this at your own peril.

My latest impression about these sanctions is that the Western governments (US, EU, Canada, Australia) are running around burning every bridge and closing the smallest door (private companies are sometimes reluctant to follow their lead) thereby creating a superficial situation that ignores the reality. It is the reality that you cannot isolate a country that possesses the largest landmass and vital raw materials and is capable of full self-sufficiency.

To sum up briefly: on a personal level the first to be hit in later stages will be the working and middle class, pensioners, and students on their own. The upper and upper-middle class may lose some of their luxuries, but I do not see them having any difficulties at all.

To what extent is there a housing crisis in Russia in terms of the cost of rent and/or the cost of buying a home?

I have to begin with a statement that seems far from rent. It has to do with the collective memory of the Russian people. They are aware that during Soviet times, the state provided an apartment after you had worked at the plant, factory, research institute …etc. for three years. Education was free, so was health care. So, in spite of switching to another system, the people have this residual memory in their mind that takes the service of the state for granted.

I do not think that there is a housing crisis in Russia. There is also something here that is rarely found in the West – namely that members of a family are willing to move over and let their children or grandchildren live with them. Grandmothers and even grandfathers are an institution in Russia. They consider it is part of their duty to take care of babies and toddlers while their parents’ work.

We have to be very specific when discussing housing and rent. Thus, we will be talking about Moscow, where salaries and rents are high. The majority of the city population live in apartments. The prices of these apartments steeply increase as you head from the outskirts to the center of the city. The price depends on the quality and area of the apartment. However, the Soviet planning of huge living complexes that include living quarters, kindergartens, schools, supermarkets. that surround the old Moscow remains in place.

What is characteristic of modern times is that large areas of industrial plants located in Moscow were closed down after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The construction companies took over the land for pennies and built living quarters and business centers in their place.

Average Rent Prices – 1USD = 75.88 rubles, as per April16/2022 for a one-room apartment is as follows.

–  “Old Moscow” around the center of the city is 111,695 rubles per month. This translates as $1,472 dollars per month.

– Middle area between Old Moscow and the outskirts is 33,024 rubles per month. This translates as $435 dollars per month.

– Outskirts 24863 rubles per month. The translation to dollars is $328 per month.

Statistics from the following reference (in Russian). https://www.mirkvartir.ru/journal/analytics/2020/02/13/rejting-rajonov-moskvy-po-stoimosti-arendy-kvartir/

(Editor’s note: average rent for a studio apartment in New York City is $3,237.)

Homes within the Moscow administrative borders are a luxury that only the super-rich of the upper class can afford. However, when moving out of this Moscow administrative circle, there are closed blocks of homes for the rich of the upper classes. When moving further away from the center we get into an area of mingled upper-class, middle-class homes as well as temporary dachas (summer houses). These were built by working class and middle-class people who got their land as a grant from the state during the Soviet period.

How much is homelessness a problem in Russia. Are the homeless concentrated in certain parts of the city? Are there enough places to house them?

Dear Bruce, since I am writing about Moscow and have lived here for many years I will continue to do so and will not generalize for a huge country. According to the official statistics of the Moscow Department of Labor and Social Protection, the number of homeless in Moscow is around 14,000. Bear in mind that Moscow’s population is 12,641,000 as of 2022. I have not seen any concentration of homeless in any parts of the city. In a megapolis like Moscow you can go on with your business for weeks without meeting a homeless person. You may find some homeless persons loitering near churches especially on Sundays or religious holidays.  Otherwise, it is not common. I found that there are 34 lodging centers for the homeless in Moscow itself and 38 in Moscow district.

(Editor’s note – New York City has a population of 18,823,000 with five municipal shelter systems for 48,413 people experiencing homelessness.)

Kindly find a link below, there is a table in detail describing each lodging center, its telephone number and the services provided, including food and medicine. Unfortunately for non-Russian speakers, the statistics are in Russian.

https://upch.mosreg.ru/deyatelnost/pravovoe-prosveshchenie/24-01-2021-20-23-06-spisok-adresov-uchrezhdeniy-v-moskve-i-moskovskoy

What kind of sports are the different classes interested in? Are there professional teams that people follow?

To end this letter, I have picked this question so as not to be too officious and stuffy and I admit the question is near to my heart.

Dear Bruce, I remember that in a number of your articles you raised the subject of how the left has not evaluated sports properly, thereby losing what could have been a strong weapon in their hands.

The sports that are popular in Russia are:

  • Soccer
  • Ice Hockey
  • Skiing and biathlon
  • Figure Skating
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial Arts, Boxing
  • Tennis
  • Bandy
  • Track and Field (athletics)

The interest in a definite sport or sports is not only according to class. That would be too simplistic. There is also gender, nationality, and the preferences of those in power. There are professional leagues in soccer, ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, handball, and other sports. There are all the attributes that go with professional sports: big money, corruption, fan clubs, and politics. Anything that you see in US professional sports has its twin in Russia. There are differences in preferences between Russians and Americans. For example, the Biathlon in Russia has a big following and you see people glued to the TV when it is on. I don’t think this is the case in the US. This is also true for skiing. During the long winter season you can see hundreds of Muscovites skiing, and there are, of course, professionals and semiprofessionals.

All classes follow soccer, but it is followed by more of the working class. There are clubs with a long history and there is very big money and political prestige at stake. In spite of this the Russian national team is below average, and the Russians throw their hands up in despair when the national team is mentioned. All that is unattractive to soccer fans all over the world is present in Russia, too. There are quite a few foreign players playing for Russian clubs, mostly mediocre, no superstars.

There is a different attitude towards ice hockey. The Russians take it as a personal tweaking of their nose if their national team loses because there is a lot of talent all over the country. It is also followed by all classes as far as I can tell. There is a professional league and it has support from sponsors and the government.

Figure skating is very popular, especially with the Russian ladies, and the skaters are household names. There is a strong movement against the domination of Russian girls. Methods are not always honest. The majority of Russian ladies from all classes are followers of the sport. I sometimes think that there isn’t a single Russian mom who hasn’t taken her daughter to a figure skating or rhythmic gymnastics coach when she was just 5 years old.

Basketball is especially popular with the middle class. There is a professional league with decent local players and quite a lot of foreign players, including African-Americans (this was before the sanctions). The African-Americans left a good impression as players and people. I watched them on TV and even went to the stadium twice. The sanctions will affect the level of basketball since most of the foreigners will leave if they have not already left.

Volleyball is a national game. You see people of all ages playing volleyball throughout the tough winter season, even on snow. There are strong Russian women’s and men’s leagues, with good foreign players coming to play. They are followed by all classes and were very popular during the Soviet period.

Gymnastics is considered by Russians as their sport, everybody else is a newcomer. The Japanese were the first to arrive to the then Soviet Union in the 1950s with their cinema cameras to take films of the Russian gymnasts. All kinds of martial arts and all types of boxing are popular with the Russians, especially for the people from the Caucasus region, Chechen, and Dagestan. There is an upsurge in these sports because they are patronized by the president.

Tennis is a sport that is followed mainly by the middle class and upper-middle class. The tournaments in Russia are not popular with top players. I cannot recall if any of them have ever visited Russia. The prize money probably is not tempting nor are the points for rating. People watch on TV the ATP and WTA games as well as the grand slams. The sport is very cosmopolitan. Probably the only time when tennis players gather as a national team is the Davis Cup and the Olympics.

Bandy is played in Russia and the Scandinavian countries. It used to be much more popular during Soviet times. There is a professional league, and its followers are mainly working and middle class. (Editor’s note – Bandy is a game similar to ice hockey.)

Track and field in Russia has been virtually isolated and demonized since some 5 years ago. I think it is important that I mention the war waged against Russian athletes by Western sport bureaucrats, the media, all the doping agencies, the Olympics authorities, and federations of various kinds of sports. This is especially true for the track and field federations. This tendency became much worse after the conflict in Ukraine. These organizations have virtually isolated Russian sports, and the way they treat a tennis or hockey player by demanding from them that they denounce their country is truly shameful.

I am sure that an American reader may wonder, “what about baseball and American football”, the two most popular games in the US? It was only in recent years that I found out that there is the American Football League. I confess that I am a fan of this game and I follow the NFL on TV. A couple of years ago I was wearing a baseball cap of my favorite team, The Seattle Seahawks. I was in the supermarket in the cashier que, and there was this huge guy staring at me. I tried to be friendly and smiled. He smiled back and pointed to my baseball cap. I asked him if he liked it, and he replied that he had one like it and that he was a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, too. I found out then about the Russian League and that he had played as a linesman when younger (he was about 40 years old). Of course, we started talking about the NFL, the woes of the Seattle Seahawks, and we became acquaintances.

Just imagine, me – a person of Middle East origin – and this Russian guy talking about the NFL in Russian together in Moscow! This is the strength of sports! And it should be utilized to bring people together, in spite of all of us being well aware that capitalism corrupts sports to the core.

With affection and respect,

HCE

First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Letters From Moscow Across the Class Divide first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Kamila Valieva and Eileen Gu:  Young Women Athletes as Enemies of Empire

Kamila Valieva

As one who has followed Olympic women’s figure skating, especially since Michelle Kwan (ironically a Chinese-American), I was—as an egalitarian feminist when it comes to sports—excited to learn that there was a 15-year-old Russian woman skater, Kamila Valieva, who could do effortless quad jumps.  Waiting in anticipation of her first Olympic performance, I listened to commentators and former US skaters Tara Lipinsky and Johnny Weir rave about her spectacular talent.  They told the audience that we were about to see “the best skating in the world”…that “a talent like this comes around once in a lifetime.”  They found her first performance in the short skate “incredible… flawless… perfect in every way.”  It was, they said, a rare privilege to watch her perform:  “she will have an amazing legacy.”  Days later they would say nothing watching her perform.

Weir and Lipinski were disgusted.  They said she should not be there.  It was so unfair to the other skaters.  They were too sickened to even watch her.  What happened?  The Empire and its allies, based on a highly questionable positive drug test, declared her a “doper.”  She was booed, harassed.  And she finally (literally) fell.  The Russians should obviously not have the first female Olympic quad jumper.  The Russians were taking far too many gold medals.  This whole spectacle was an intersection of hegemonic American world politics and ruthless patriarchy.  Women athletes had become enemies, and thus victims, of Empire. USA!  USA!

The US has always had a need to be first—to put it mildly.  Any coverage of Olympic or international games I’ve ever watched features US athletes and almost never anyone else.  President Jimmy Carter got the ball rolling with his 1980 boycott of the Olympics in the Soviet Union.  Under Carter the Cold War had worsened because of factors like American criticism of Soviet alleged abuses of human rights and the Afghan crisis—therefore the controversial move to ignore the Olympics’ so-called non-political philosophy.  American views of Russian athletics did not improve:  the alleged Russian Doping Scandals began around 2008 and are still going. In 2008, Russian track and field athletes were suspended from competition because of supposed doping, cheating, cover-ups, even “state-sponsored” doping.

A 2015 New York Times article cited an ex-chief of a so-called Russian anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, who claimed that samples were doctored so that several Russian gold medal winners in the 2014 winter games in Sochi could be victors.  Members of the Russian Sports Ministry thought it an April Fools’ joke, done for “purely political reasons” and threatened to sue the Times. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had asked the accuser, Mr. Rodchenkov, to resign years before, for taking bribes, and since 2012 he had lived in L A.  Because of such allegations, the World Athletics Federation suspended the Russian Athletic Federation in 2015, but let “clean athletes” participate under “neutral status”:  no Russian flags or anthems.  In 2019, 2020 and 2021, more accusations were brought against various Russian sports officials for “falsifying documents” and etc., and thus the suspensions continued.

President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government have strongly denied the allegations, calling them a political weapon of the West.  Any appeals from Russian athletes have been denied.  Some argued all countries cheated, why single out Russia?  Others thought the Russians were being framed to keep their very strong athletes from competitions.  It does seem odd that once your athletes were so scrutinized you would be careful to stop “doping.”  In fact, the stated goal of the Russian Sports Ministry at the end of 2021 was –once again—to have the Russian Athletic Federation and Anti-Doping Agency reinstated.  The “West” has remained hostile toward Russian athletics.  And this most certainly included Russian ice skaters:  a sport where Russia has been at the very top for years.

Kamila Valieva had to skate under the same restraints that all Russian athletes face.  But because she was so incredibly good, the skating world simply had to acknowledge her.  In looking at her biographical data—there’s not much!  She’s only 15; born in April of 2006 in Kazan, Russia.  And she has a Pomeranian named Lena, a gift from a fan.  Before she was five years old, her mother had her in gymnastics, ballet and skating, but after age five, it was only skating.   In her first season out of junior ranking she had risen far above her opposition.  She is the fourth woman to land a quadruple jump in competition and the first to do it in Olympic competition.  Valieva set world records on her path to Grand Prix titles in Vancouver and Sochi, and the European Championships in Tallinn in January of this year.  In Beijing the expectations for Kamila Valieva were very high.  As one Russian journalist put it, she was so good in her short skate routine in Beijing that “even some western media outlets often so begrudging with their praise of Russian athletes were forced—perhaps through gritted teeth—to lavish praise on Valieva.” And when she competed next, for the Russian team, she did become the first woman to land a quad in Olympic history. But very soon after that, it was rumored there were “doping allegations” against Kamila Valieva.  A test taken in December was only revealed just then—in the midst of the March Olympics.  It seemed the Russians may not fare so well after all.

Of course, the US also insisted on besting the Chinese athletes in Beijing, but added a nasty political narrative about their host.  Sports analysts like Mike Tirico were pressed into service as experts on alleged Chinese abuses vs. Uyghurs (abuses debunked by reporters like Max Blumenthal), their “authoritarian” government, misguided Covid protocols, etc.  American politicians and media had already prepped the US audience to be anti-Asian generally, by these supposed abuses and the potential of China becoming an even greater economic power—and unapologetically socialist as well.  The COVID pandemic was their fault too; President Trump calling it “Kung Flu” or the “Chinese virus.”  It was embarrassing to listen to the vitriolic commentary by US “analysts” with their long recanting of Chinese faults and crimes.  Our ugly history with China started with the US involvement in the Opium War through the dangerous gradual encirclement of present-day China with US warships and bases placed on numerous unwilling Pacific islands, as John Pilger’s brilliant film The Coming War on China illustrates.   And the US had tried to help their bad faith anti-China Olympic campaign with a “diplomatic boycott” (which didn’t really catch on).

Eileen Gu

Another young woman athlete, Chinese-American Eileen Gu, also became a victim of the Empire’s anger.  Gu is 18; she has a Chinese mother and was raised in San Francisco.  A brilliant world class freestyle skier, she has medalled in X Games, the World Championship and the Youth Olympics.  Gu announced in 2019 that she would represent China in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.  But she wasn’t called a traitor until the Olympics drew near.

Gu has said that she welcomes the opportunity to draw people to winter sports.  The Chinese cheered her everywhere, but Americans not so much.  She was derided for taking advantage of “premier training” in the US and then abandoning the US for China.  Tucker Carlson said she had betrayed her country and “renounced” her citizenship.  The New York Times portrayed Gu as an “anti-hero of the feminist ideal” since she chose China which supposedly oppresses women.  At the other end of the political spectrum, right-wing social media echoed Carlson’s sentiments in calling for Gu to leave the country for her betrayal.  Gu won three Olympic medals in freestyle skiing, two gold and a silver.  Unfortunately for USA her three medals added to China’s total of 15 (with nine gold), best ever for China in a winter Olympics.

Eileen Gu also faces anti-female prejudice since extreme sports has always been male-dominated, although women do compete alongside the men.  Gu thinks “as a young biracial woman, it is super important to be able to push boundaries. . . those of the sport and those of the record books because that’s what paves the paths for the next generation of girls.”  So why does the country where she lives give her an incredibly hard time?  As professor of sport Simon Chadwick said, “Her success is being weaponized and used for geopolitical purposes.  This is incredibly unfair because she’s an 18-year-old athlete with a dual heritage family who just wants to try her best and make her parents proud, and yet she’s being turned into a geopolitical weapon.”  Journalist Danny Haiphong has argued that Eileen Gu has chosen the “wrong” side by choosing to compete for a non-white, communist country.  She is assaulting “American exceptionalism” –being a traitor to the “empire’s civilizing mission.”  She should not be skiing for the “Chinese devils.”   But Gu insists (on her Instagram) she hopes “to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication, and forge friendship.”  And she has said:  “I am also a teenage girl.  I do my best to make the world a better place, and I’m having fun while doing it.”  Not what the Empire is about.

Vietnamese-American Haiphong also has pointed out that some American athletes were not going for the Empire’s narrative that the Chinese were being bad hosts—inferior food, lodging, unreasonable COVID protocols, and so on.  Snowboarder Tessa Maud refuted American media’s narrative and talked of the warm welcome she’d received by Chinese volunteers and how she loved the local cuisine.   Skier Aaron Blunk went so far as to criticize American media coverage of the games on Twitter as often “completely false.”  He called Beijing one of the better Olympics he’s been in, including the COVID protocols, the hosting:  “It’s been phenomenal.”  So Twitter suspended his account.  As Haiphong put it:  “Humanizing China represents a direct threat to the new Cold War Agenda.”  The US must control the narrative, and that included not allowing China, or Russia, to shine.

The Empire certainly succeeded in taking the shine from the great Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva.  Commentators Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who had just called Valieva the “best skater in the world” with a “talent that comes once in a lifetime,” were about to change their minds.  At Beijing, Valieva’s performance in the short skate was “a thing of great beauty.”  Weir and Lipinski thought it “incredible.”  Weir gushed about the interview he had been granted by the young Valieva.  Her second performance was a free skate for the Russian team.  She fell once but the skate was historic because as noted, she became the first woman in history to land a quad at the Olympics.  She finished 30 points ahead of second place Kaori Sakamoto.  Weir and Lipinski could not find enough superlatives.

All awaited what would no doubt be another historic performance by Valieva in the ladies singles event.  But then rumors began that the medal ceremony, with Russia winning gold and the US silver—would be delayed.  And then that “a Russian skater” had a positive doping test.  Then it leaked it was Kamila Valieva, in spite of IOC rules that any accusation against a “minor” must remain secret.  A test taken on December 25, sent to a Swedish lab, showed minute traces of trimetazidine, an “illegal” heart drug which may have some positive effect on athletic performance, although many argue it would not help skaters.  Valieva’s family and coaching team believed she may have been exposed to it through her grandfather, who took the drug.  The Russian team also said she had repeatedly tested negative before and after the positive sample.  They said she was innocent.  The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel ruled she would not be suspended from the competition.  A further investigation would happen later, now scheduled to conclude by mid-August.

Kamila Valieva rallied to lead the field in the ladies short program.  This was when stalwart patriots Lipinski and Weir were too disgusted to watch.  I remember these stalwarts as being very nasty in speaking of the Russian skaters both during the Sochi (Russia) Olympics in 2014, and the 2018 PyeongChang  (South Korea)  games (where “cleared” Russians could skate).   Some observers found them “a breath of fresh air,” but others as “mean, obnoxious, distracting.”  At any rate, they were outraged Valieva was allowed to perform.  She was “ruining everything.”  Their only comment after her performance was “she skated.”  Getting their wish for her downfall, the scandal finally impacted her free skate and she finished fourth after stumbles and falls.  Unfortunately for USA! Russian Alexandra Trusova won silver.  Former Russian ice dancer champion Alexander Zhulin has said that international sports authorities will have to live with “ruining” Kamila Valieva’s Olympic dreams.  He had never “seen Kamila so lost.”  The IOC and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) “destroyed and removed the biggest star of figure skating.”  The December 25 test was revealed after team Russia’s brilliant performance, capped by Valieva’s skate, won gold.  It does seem like an American Empire kind of move.

Valieva’s coact Eteri Tutberidze, who, along with Kamila’s team, was (incredibly) criticized by the IOC’s Thomas Bach, for being “too cold.”   Tutberidze said Kamila was “our star.”  “Those who smiled yesterday—today left the stands demonstrably ignoring and pouncing like jackals.”  There were reporters, especially the British, who followed her around at practice, yelling “Are you a doper?”  Valieva addressed her Beijing experience in two “emotional instagrams” in late February.  She thanked her coaches for “helping me to be strong.”  And she thanked all who “were with me during this tough period . . who did not let me lose heart. . and who believed in me.”  A few weeks later she was on the ice again.

Kamila participated in the “Channel One Cup”  Russian skating (competitive) exhibition, since Russian skaters were banned from the Worlds.  Valieva skated a “simplified” program, but said the experience of being out on the ice was “exhilarating.”  Anna Shcherbakova won the women’s event.  Valieva has said that the Olympics should not be “idealized” and her “journey is just beginning.” In a recent interview with “People Talk” she said she can be “cocky, obnoxious, stubborn, insecure.”  But also “sociable, cheerful, active, and of course, romantic…”  In skating programs, her coaches see her in “lyrical images,” but she wants to be “different in programs:  a hooligan, daring, bold.”  She is a typical teenager, but also very intelligent, a brilliant athlete and a targeted enemy of Empire.

Sportswriters can be very effective operatives for Empire.  My favorite is probably Christine Brennan.  I had admired Brennan as one of the team of reporters on HBO’s “Real Sports,” although unfortunately now they seem more apt to take a corporate line than do the critical reporting they used to do.  Brennan accused Valieva, and Russia, of turning the Winter Games “into a bizarre and troubling fiasco” because of their “state-sponsored doping.”  She said Valieva “would have been favored to win” the Worlds in Montpelier, but she “crumbled under the scrutiny of her positive drug test.”  When Americans won the pairs skating title at Worlds, their first since 1979, Brennan wrote:  “No Russia?  No China?  No problem.”  And “few will miss them.”  The Beijing medal count had USA with 25 medals, behind Norway, Russia, Germany and Canada, much like their finish at PyeongChang.  The Russians had 32 medals, with six gold; the Chinese had 15, with nine gold; USA! had a paltry 25, with eight gold, well behind Russia.  Totally unacceptable.

Of course, by the World Championships, more than Valieva and her fellow skaters were ousted from competition.  It was all Russia, all the time—everyone Russian was out because the World Federations of all the sports, influenced and/or bludgeoned into it, had banned them all because of the Russian military action in Ukraine.  This was the Russian response to being encircled with troops and NATO forces, and a Nazi-led government provided by the US in Ukraine in 2014, which had been attacking the Russian-language population of eastern Ukraine since that 2014 coup.  An unprecedented campaign of Western propaganda and lies is in full swing, definitely McCarthyite in its depth and with parallel lasting and dangerous results to come.  In the 1950s Ethel Rosenberg was executed for being a communist wife—a wife who either evilly influenced her husband Julius to reveal atomic secrets to the Russians or did not, as was her duty, stop him from doing so.  Julius Rosenberg, executed with his wife, was reputedly worried that if the US gained too much power without a balance from the Soviets, it would lead to a dangerous situation.  And he was right.  The US government has become an Empire that will tolerate no state competitor, nor even states who will not line up and stay with the American Empire’s plans.  This is very clear in the world of sport—certainly in the supposedly apolitical Olympic world.

To punish Russia, the US/Europe have gone totally insane with their bans and sanctions.  Many sanctions such as Russian energy, will only punish Europe; others involve outright piracy as in US allies helping themselves to Russian yachts.  The list goes on, but in the world of sport—athletes from Russia and its close ally Belarus are banned “until further notice” from international skiing, track and field events, tennis, basketball, aquatic sports, volleyball, curling, hockey, rugby, football (soccer), and of course, skating.  Many of these sports have Russian champions, and they, as Christine Brennan put it, “will not be missed.”  A few officials have objected, and paid for it.  Russian sports officials say they will “temporarily” develop their own competitions, with foreign athletes.  They say the western world is committing “sporting genocide” against its athletes.

So Kamila Valieva and company will skate at home, and Eileen Gu will still be considered a traitor by many Americans.  The hate expressed by Tara Lipinski and Christine Brennan is too easily tapped by the American sports world.  Here is hegemonic politics, and ruthless patriarchy and racism, coming together.  And here are two remarkably strong and level-headed young women athletes who are braving the results of being who they are.  In its overwhelming power, the US Empire has made evil all things Chinese and Russian, and women athletes have not been spared the weaponizing of that hate.

The post Kamila Valieva and Eileen Gu:  Young Women Athletes as Enemies of Empire first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Gender and Sports

The ongoing gender-related disputes about who should be allowed to participate in sports competitions can be solved very simply. The process of creating sensible competitive guidelines has evolved over decades, and will continue to evolve. The “trans” crisis in sports can be easily handled with no further blood spilled, jaw grinding, or panties in a twist.

There usually is some logic to what sports categories we create. We have various games for people in wheelchairs. You’re either bound to a wheelchair or not. Being on a Harley doesn’t pass the test. There are basketball leagues for those under 6’. If you’re 6’1” but slouch, no dice. We have “senior” circuits. If someone is 45 but feels like he/she is 70, they can’t compete with the codgers. We simply check their birth certificate to decide. We have weight classes in many sports. A boxer who weighs 225 lbs may move like a fairy-dusted ballerina, floating across the ring as if he were a feather being blown by a breeze. But sorry. He’s not going up against a featherweight, except maybe to play billiards. Most paradigm-shifting of all, the creation of the Paralympics continues as a brilliant innovation, which has so many benefits and bonuses, they’re too numerous to recount here. But stubbing your toe or being dyslexic is not going to get you into the Paralympics 400-meter race. There are clear rules.

All of this categorization is purposeful and comprehensible. It keeps the playing fields level, precludes unfairness or unfair advantage, fosters identification and camaraderie, and keeps the various sports interesting for the spectators.

So here’s my solution . . .

No more men’s teams. No more women’s teams. No more boy’s sports. No more girl’s sports.

We have XY competitions and XX competitions.

Submit some DNA, we’ll tell you which stadium to report to.

QED.

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Give Me that Flipper Shane

For more terrestrially grounded people, writing about cricket can be seen as an exercise in distant planetary speculation.  The Nobel laureate Harold Pinter did not think so, calling this old English game “the greatest thing that God ever created on earth.”  Others might disagree with mild disgust, finding it archaic, jargon heavy and slow.

In the early 1990s, one figure broke through the stuffiness of willow bats, pads, leather balls and white flannel.  When life left the overly worked body of Australia’s Shane Warne, who expired in Thailand at 52, the reaction was global.  In India and Pakistan, hundreds of millions mourned.  This most celebrated of error-prone buffoons was, as the emperor Vespasian might have said, becoming a god.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, on March 30, became the venue for one such occasion: a state memorial service held in honour of the cricketer.  For a brief spell, a sporting stadium had become a cathedral, the occasion heavy with solemnity.  In it, Warne’s followers and admirers communed.

When Sir Elton John appears to commemorate you, the celebrity value is bound to inflate and discombobulate.  There were others from the Hollywood set with recorded speeches (fittingly, Warne, with his peroxide hair, ear adornments and lifestyle had been given the name of “Hollywood”).  The more cynical observer might wonder whether these people would necessarily know what a cricket pitch looked like, let alone what Warne’s expertise entailed.  But sport in this era can enable a figure to move beyond fringes, catapulted to permanent, social media dissemination. Even prior to the advent of the tech giant platform, Warney had already broken the mould.

Nothing can be taken away from his expertise, in so far as it was practised on the cricket ground.  The smell of leather whirring and whizzing upon flattened grass.  Deception and guile, packed into the movement of the delivery.  A mastery of tactics, field placements, with a sublime ability that enabled him to execute the “ball of the century” in 1993 against England’s bemused Mike Gatting.

Memorials, however, always risk going too far, slipping into soppy hagiography.  Malcolm Knox tearily glistens by claiming that the cricketer was “a force of nature and an everyman”.  Writing like a starstruck admirer, Knox is dewey.  “If you ever walked behind Shane Warne through a crowded place, you might get an idea of what it was like.  Some deferred by looking away again.  Others grappled with their phones to take a quick shot.”

Another admirer of Warne’s, sports commentator Sam Newman, was aghast about Warne’s other, lesser-known activities.  It came out during the memorial service itself.  Warne, Andrea Egan of the UN Development Programme revealed, had joined its wildlife fund, Lion’s Share, in 2021.  Her address seemed to transform the late sports figure into a modern incarnation of St. Francis of Assisi.  She explained how his legacy lived on “in the people of Sri Lanka promoting sea turtle conservation, in an all-female anti-poaching unit in South Africa and the team of the Byron Bay hospital, who were supported in the wake of the bushfires.”

Egan’s appearance stunned Newman. “They had a representative from the United Nations!  I tell you what, if that man has not taken all before him, I’d like to see someone who can top that.”  It’s not often you hear a good word about the UN in these circles – Newman is as parochially soaked as they come – but he had to concede that Warne’s involvement, and the acknowledgment, “nearly blew me out of the water”.

Memorial services also serve to iron out wrinkles and add cosmetic touch-ups.  Brilliance, or genius, can be mistaken as being broad rather than confined, somehow seeping into other areas of life.  Unless you have a particular affection for laddish and occasionally loutish behaviour, for acts of spectacular stupidity in public life, cricket remains the throne upon which Warne sat most comfortably.  But when he got off it and wandered around without orb and sceptre, the messiness began.

Warne made no secret of this tendency, though he proved unapologetic about it.  In one of his three ghost written autobiographies, No Spin, he conceded to having “made a number of mistakes in my life and I will continue to make them. This is what it means to be human.”

With that standard in mind, Warne proved particularly human in accepting $5,000 in 1994 during a one-day tournament in Sri Lanka from a shady Indian bookmaker by the name of “John”.  This was a stroke of good luck – Warne had frittered away about that same amount at the hotel’s casino in Colombo.  This “gift” with “no strings attached” transpired because Warne’s own Australian teammate, Mark Waugh, had received $4000 from “John” for supplying weather and pitch reports.

In reflecting upon this incident, Warne gave one of his famously baffling reasons.  He did not wish to insult John, who was offering the money to a figure he described as “a great player”.  He would recall that this was “the sort of conversation I might have had with my dad and brother.”  This dubious family analogy did not extend to the Pakistani cricketer Saleem Malik, who, fortunately for the slow bowler, failed in an attempt to make Warne throw a match for $200,000.

Family, however, makes an appearance again in 2003.  The occasion was the injudicious taking of tablets, which pushed Warne, and Australia, into the less than flattering light of sports doping.  That year, Warne was found to have taken a banned diuretic.  Like many an idiot son in the lurch, he blamed his unwitting mother, who wished him to look “nice” when facing the media.

At the time, Dick Pound, former vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, found that explanation incorrigible, “laughable” and on par with the excuse, “I got it from the toilet seat”.  In February 2003, the Australian Cricket Board drugs panel imposed a twelve-month ban.

An unrelenting Pound would continue to find Warne’s account dubious.  In his 2006 book Inside Dope, the former sporting administrator is withering to the cricketer.  Pointing the finger at his mother for wishing to see a more streamlined version of her son before the cameras concealed the fact that Warne was nursing a shoulder injury.  “The diuretic was a masking agent that could have hidden the possible use of steroids that would help the injury cure faster.  He had returned to play almost twice as quickly as the experts had predicted.”

With Warne’s entry into the pantheon of cricket’s immortals, ethicists and philosophers will have no reason to lose sleep.  Dick Pound will remain unconvinced.  The most profitable exercise will be to regard the player’s talent on the field with admiration, and his ability to command loyalty as remarkable.  Keep him on cricket’s throne.  He looks best there.

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Ukraine, Russia and the Sporting McCarthyites

The cultural vandals and iconoclasts have been busy of late, removing Russians from the stables at short notice and demanding what might be called a necessary affirmation of disloyalty.  It’s all good to talk about world peace and the resolution of disputes, but that will hardly do for the flag bearing choirs who have discovered their object of evil.  Do you hate Vladimir Putin?  If so, good.  Do you love freedom?  Well, of course, as everyone does with squeaking enthusiasm, even if they cannot define it.

The main interest is never in the second answer, but the first.  Putin must be condemned and banished from your conscience, your mind and history.  Ignore the fact that he is the elected leader of a country – he remains a tyrant to be condemned to liberal democratic execration.  Best go about punishing people innocent of this fact.

Such a cringeworthy approach has seduced and trapped some able minds over the years.  During the Cold War, the division of camps and ideologies demanded unthinking loyalty, not so much to truth but a version of it long lost in political drag and the hypocrisy of appearances.  On September 22, 1947, delegates from Communist parties across the European spectrum heard the infantile ravings of the main Soviet delegate Andrei Zhdanov, who suggested with nether clenching tediousness that the world was divided between the “imperialist and democratic camp”.  The US, allied with Great Britain and France, made up the former.  “The anti-fascist forces comprise the second camp”, rooted in the USSR and its various, anomalously named “new democracies.”

In the United States, divisions were also being marked by the mind ravaging nature of ideological conformism.  Executive Order 9835, issued by President Harry Truman, focused on whether “reasonable grounds exist for belief that the person involved is disloyal” with any organisation designated by the Attorney General to be “totalitarian, Fascist, Communist, or subversive”, or advocating or approving the forceful denial of constitutional rights to other persons or seeking “to alter the form of Government of the United States by unconstitutional means.”

The President’s Temporary Commission on Employee Loyalty (TCEL), packed with representatives from six government departments overseen by Special Assistant to the Attorney General A. Devitt Vanech, dealt with assessing federal loyalty standards and developing procedures to expunge or disqualify “any disloyal of subversive person” from federal service.

In this atmosphere, the vulgar and coarse Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy operated, at least for a time, with pugnacious impunity, claiming in his infamous Wheeling, West Virginia speech that 57 communists had found their way into the US State Department. The House Un-American Activities Committee also worked aggressively to advance the spirit of demonisation, ruining careers and blackening reputations.  The stupid tend to linger in political accusation.

The Ukraine War is now making Russian citizens, at the behest of various quarters, undertake acts of purification in various foreign theatres.  They are being told to engage in crude demonstrations of loyalty (or, in some cases, disloyalty).  Admit you hate Putin, and you can attend a tournament to earn your crust.

UK Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has taken a keen interest in this daft effort, hoping to encourage the organisers of Wimbledon, the All England Law Tennis Club (AELTC) to take a more severe approach to players from “pariah states” as long as they do not include such angelic wonders as Saudi Arabia.  Before a select parliamentary committee, Huddleston noted that, “Many countries have agreed that they will not allow representatives from Russia to compete.  There are also visa issues as well.  When it comes to individuals, that is more complex.”

Complexity and Huddleston do not get along.  “We need some potential assurance that they are not supporters of Putin and we are considering what requirements we may need to try to get some assurances along those lines.”

Tennis player Daniil Medvedev and his colleagues are facing the prospect that not engaging in public denouncement of the Kremlin will be insufficient to enable them to compete.  They are already not permitted to compete under the Russian flag, and they are being told that a Russian winning Wimbledon would be unpardonable for the glorious British tournament.  Their country has already been banned from competing in team events such as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King tournaments.

Across the sporting world, players from Russia now see their country barred by the International Ski Federation, Formula One, hosting the European Champions League Final, the indefensibly boring European curling championships and the International Biathlon Union.

Such expectations are so extreme as to remind one of Cold War parallels.  An occasional voice of reason can be found, even if they come from an individual who has no reason to fear repercussions himself.  Australian tennis commentator and former player Todd Woodbridge told Nine’s Sports Sunday that this line of reasoning placed one on “slippery and dangerous ground.”  Everyone knew “they have families back in whatever part of Russia they are from, and you do not want to be on the wrong side of that, because your family will pay the price.”

Woodbridge is a reliably unworldly sort, but these are sensible, humane words lost in the feverish hysteria that will cake and cloak discussion in this field for months.  From culture to sporting fixtures, the smug, Putin hating establishment, under direction from their various advisors, are being told that denigrating and cancelling the representatives of Barbarian Rus is the way to go.  Individuals will be crucified.

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