Tag Archives: football

Could the World Cup be fixed?

… and what about the German fans who blacked-up? Racists?

Q: That question in the headline: you’re kidding, right?
A: Who knows? If you saw the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme earlier this week, you’d wonder if anything in football is genuine. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned how Fifa, the organization that runs the game, is corrupt and many of its officials have taken bribes. We also know that referees have been straightened in Europe and probably beyond. Add to this the stories involving Asian betting syndicates, players who have taken money and managers who have taken “bungs,” and you get the picture: this is not a sport where fair play rules.
Q: But surely not at the World Cup?
A: It’s devastating to think that the most prestigious tournament in the sport would be susceptible to corruption, but ask yourself how difficult it would be to do it. The team that wins the World Cup needs to play a total of six games. That means that you would need to straighten six referees. A penalty, a red card, a disallowed goal. It’s not inconceivable that a few key decisions can influence the destiny of the trophy.
Q: That’s preposterous. Referees are upright people.
A: Referee Robert Hoyzer wasn’t: in 2006, he confessed to taking bribes. He actually went to prison as a result. It’s naive to assume he is the only one. And the Italian scandal that resulted in some big clubs, including Juventus, being punished, exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in football. So even if the vast majority of referees are honorable people, it only takes a few to destroy the entire spirit of fair play.
Q: You seem to take delight in spoiling it for us football fans; I mean, you’re always putting a damper on things.I’ve been reading your new book Football’s Dark Side in which you and your co-author Jamie Cleland take apart the sport piece-by-piece and show that’s it’s corrupt, pockmarked with racism, homophobia and violence. Why?
A: Because I’m a realist: I don’t get carried away with myths and fairytales: football is a professional game and wherever there’s money, there’s corruption. That’s as sure as night follows day. If you and fellow sports fans want to believe the fantasy that sport is pure and untainted, go ahead. But I have pretty convincing evidence that that isn’t reality. I prefer truth to falsity.
Q: OK, while we’re on the subject of football, what did you make of the German football fans who blacked-up when Germany played Ghana?
A: It shows you just how behind-the-curve some nations are. For some reason, these white fans thought they were being amusing by blacking their faces like the old minstrels. Maybe they didn’t understand how crude, insulting, offensive, abusive, objectionable and provocative their behaviour truly was. I know we always see fans ribbing each other and this is part of the cut-and-thrust of football; but this wasn’t amusing; it just caused other people, particularly black people, to feel resentful, annoyed and justifiably upset.
Q: Oh, you’re taking this too seriously.
A: If you think that, ask yourself: what’s funny about it? I doubt if any of the African nations, their players or fans, thought this was anything but an insult.@elliscashmore

 

Should taxpayers pay for football clubs?

Q: I notice Coventry City Football Club has been involved in a long-running legal case to determine whether a £14.4 million Coventry City Council loan to the 32,000-seat Ricoh Arena operators ACL amounted to unlawful state aid. What’s all this about?
A: Coventry City was formed in 1883 by workers at Singers’ cycle factory and is now owned by a company called Sisu, which bought the financially troubled club in December 2007. Presumably, the company believed that the club could win promotion to the Premier League and would then start prospering. The club’s previous owners had sold the club’s old Highfield Road ground but then spent all the proceeds. So Sisu club rented the Ricoh stadium in Coventry, which is run jointly by Coventry City’s council with the Alan Edward Higgs Charity as Arena Coventry Limited (ACL). The council spent £14.4m of council taxpayers’ money building the arena. So all parties were satisfied with the arrangement: Sisu could afford the rent, the city got a revenue stream, and the citizens of Coventry got a club playing at a terrific brand new stadium. But things didn’t go according to plan and Sisu lost about £36m on players’ wages, transfer fees and other losses. Then worse: the club got relegated from the Championship. Then the £1.2m annual rent for using the Ricoh started to feel unaffordable and Sisu went back to the council to ask for a renegotiation. These took place with ACL and the Higgs charity, but no deal was done. Then in March 2012, Sisu said it couldn’t afford to pay the rent and just stopped paying it.  To stabilize the position, the council borrowed money to pay off ACL’s mortgage, effectively becoming ACL’s banker itself. Here’s where it gets complicated: Sisu actually sued the council, arguing it had acted illegally.  This claim was thrown out when the judge said Sisu “had caused rent to be withheld as a means of exerting pressure [on ACL] in their commercial negotiations”. ACL sued for the £600,000 owed; then, when Sisu still did not pay, applied for the club to go into administration. Sisu were by far the largest creditor due to the hedge fund millions they had put in as loans, and so were able to buy the club back from administration. Last year, ACL offered Sisu dramatic rent reductions, but Sisu refused and instead decided to move Coventry City to Northampton where it rents a smaller ground for its home games.
Q: Hang on! So Coventry City has been playing its home games in Northampton, which is 35-miles away?
A: Yes. And the fans have been boycotting them. With attendances plummeting from an average of 10,900 at the Ricoh Arena to 2,348 at Northampton, the financial losses are punishing. I hear the club has committed itself to playing at least two more seasons there.
Q: So the club will go under, right?
A: Not so quick: we’re now waiting for a legal decision that will determine the future of the club. Sisu have requested the judge orders another hearing to allow the club to seek damages from Coventry City Council. There’s just been a three-day hearing at Birmingham High Court to determine whether the £14.4million Coventry City Council loan to Ricoh Arena operators ACL amounted to unlawful state aid. Taxpayers could be hit with a bill for millions of pounds if the owners of the Sky Blues have successfully proved their case.
Q: But why should taxpayers get stung for the bill if the football club loses money?
A: Well perhaps they shouldn’t: if you think the club is just like any other business, it should stand on its own two feet. If, on the other hand, you think a football club is an organic part of the local community and contributes to the cultural life of the city, then you could argue that the residents should chip in.
Q: I’m guessing people who take the latter position would point to the jobs created by a football club, the tax revenues it generates and the civic pride it brings. Is this a legitimate argument?
A: Again, it depends on your perspective. In the USA, cities clamour for prestigious sports clubs and are often willing to build state-of-the-art stadiums and training facilities to attract them. And we’ve seen something like this in Manchester where the stadium built specifically for the Commonwealth Games was rented out to Manchester City at a knockdown rate. Nobody in Manchester has ever complained about this, presumably because the city has thrived and the club has won the Premier League title a couple of times. In fact, Manchester City are the current champions. You can imagine this row in Coventry wouldn’t be happening had the club gone from strength to strength. But it’s grown weaker. That’s happened in many American cities where taxpayers have discovered their hard-earned money has just been sucked into a black hole of debt. Aggravating the situation is the fact that the players, whether baseball, football, basketball or hockey players, all earn huge wages, whether the club loses money or not.
Q: I’m still not getting a straight answer from you. Should taxpayers contribute to a football club?
A: Sorry to be evasive. I guess my answer is: ask the citizens. We’re going to see a referendum in Scotland soon, so it seems logical to stage a vote among taxpayers for a direct decision. You could ask, for example, are you willing to have an extra £5 per week added to your council tax if we promise to spend it on the football club?
Q: A Sky Blues Tax?
A: Effectively, yes. You can’t assume everyone would vote in favour. Sport is popular, but maybe not as popular as we think. I mean, we all loved the London Olympics. But I wonder how we would have voted if, we had been asked in, say, 2002: are you prepared to pay £200 to bring the Olympics to London? That’s about what it cost taxpayers. I’d like Coventry to get its club back. I think the club has been part of the city’s identity and I can remember back in 1987 when the club won the FA Cup. But equally, I’m not from Coventry, I don’t live in Coventry and I don’t pay my taxes to the city; so I don’t count. I think it’s the responsibility of the club’s owners to run the club in a way that doesn’t lean on taxpayers. Equally, I think the Ricoh owners have to be realistic and realize that the club is struggling so badly that it needs an even bigger discount on the rent, even if only for the short term. One thing is for sure: the club can’t possibly survive for much longer if it continues to play its home games at Northampton. Fans are alienated already and are showing no signs of changing.                                                                                          Q: Knowing what a media whore you are, I’m surprised you haven’t been on tv talking about this subject.
A: Er, I’m afraid you spoke too soon. I’m on this week’s Sunday Politics at 11.00am on BBC One, Sunday 22 June 2014. Sorry about that.

Sponsors care about Fifa’s corruption. Do fans?

FOOTBALL IS MORE ADDICTION THAN ATTRACTION

Qatar 2022: Fifa partner Sony call on governing body to investigate World Cup corruption claims

Q: Sony is demanding that Fifa “appropriately investigate” the corruption claims that have been flying about lately. What authority has Sony got?
A: The authority that comes when you pump $305 million per year into football, that’s about £182 million, enough to buy a pretty decent Premier League club, every year. So Fifa will take notice of this.
Q: I guess Fifa depends on corporations like Sony for sponsorship money then, eh?
A: And how. Coca-Cola and adidas have pumped money into Fifa for years. And more recently credit card giant Visa and Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, and Hyundai, the car manufacturer have joined them. They each sponsor Fifa. Collectively, they contribute probably close to £1 billion per year. The World Cup alone is expected to fetch Fifa $730 million, or about £445 million, in sponsorships. So Fifa will not want to get on their wrong side.
Q: But the sponsors have made noises before, haven’t they?
A: Yes. In 2011 when Fifa was in the middle of another corruption scandal, Visa said: “The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that Fifa take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised.” Coca-Cola, the single biggest sponsor, released a statement: “We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.” That was three years ago, remember. So they must be thinking Fifa have not just failed to resolve the matter, but have become involved into an arguably more serious episode — this one, as we know concerning the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. There could come a point at which the likes of adidas and Hyundai ask themselves: “Are we doing the image of the company any good by associating ourselves with a sport that is tainted?
Q: I suppose so, but, so far, only Sony has spoken up and the electronics giant hasn’t threatened to pull its money, has it?
A: No. That’s because Sony, Coca-Cola and the others are confident football is so incredibly popular that, by the time the World Cup is over, everyone will be feeling so jubilant that they’ll have forgotten about how dirty Fifa is.
Q: Are they right?
A: I suspect they are: Fifa has a habit of riding out these scandals and stay in tact. The reason is simple: fans don’t much care.
Q: You’re kidding, right? Fans surely care that the game they love is riddled with corruption, bribery, matchfixing, bungs and all sorts of other skulduggery.
A: Well, they know association football is endemically bent. But I’m not sure they care that much. I mean, once the big games start on Thursday, this crisis will vanish and all the fans will care about is the tournament. Tom Peck, of the Independent, wrote a biting story the other day, in which he suggested: “When the whistle finally blows in Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on Thursday night, a football-addicted planet will get its first sweet quadrennial pull on the World Cup crack pipe and all will be right again.” And I think he’s right. I’m not sure his conclusion is accurate: “It is this addiction that hides from the football fan the extraordinary truth.” Fans know the truth; they just don’t care that much.
Q: That’s a bit of a compliment with a criticism inside it, isn’t it?
A: Let’s put it this way: fans are clued-up, they know about the politics of the sport; but they also realize that, in practical terms, there isn’t much they can do about it.
Q: But, as we both know, there is.
A: I see what you’re getting at. Imagine if football fans decided to boycott, say, Budweiser beer, McDonalds, or Johnson & Johnson products. They’re all sponsors and stand to benefit from football’s greatest tournament. They could force change in the way in which the global game is run. Sony is probably aware of the potential impact of negative publicity and that’s why it’s put out this statement. Remember: some sponsors are quick to sever links with athletes who are convicted of doping offences: they think their brand will suffer by association. Others just ride out the storm, assuming sports fans are just not motivated enough to put their convictions into action. Are they really going to stop buying adidas gear or scissor their Visa cards?
Q: I’m asking the questions … are they?
A: No. I’m afraid I agree with Peck: football is more of an addiction than an attraction. I hate to say it, but I think this scandal will have been forgotten by the time the whistle blows to end England’s first game. All the same you have to wonder if anyone benefits from all this. I bet Nike, Pepsi, Toshiba, Burger King and the other rivals of Fifa’s main sponsors are having a quiet laugh. Nike, in particular, has opted to capitalize on the World Cup and other Fifa tournaments with ambush marketing and sponsoring national teams, like Brazil’s. But, as Nike has no direct link to Fifa, it won’t incur collateral damage. The others’ reputations are vulnerable.

Is it time for football to dump Fifa?

Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice, say fans


World Cup: FIFA in spotlight at first conference since corruption claims

The latest scandal to engulf Fifa is the most damaging in a long series of calamities that has underlined what most people already knew: that this is the most corrupt, venal, amoral, unprincipled sports organization in the world, staffed by mendacious, self-serving officers who prioritize their personal interests over those of the most popular game in the world – a game they are meant to govern with integrity.

Should we be surprised? Only if we are pathologically gullible. Fans are certainly not. My recently published book, with Jamie Cleland, Football’s Dark Side collects the views of over 10,000 fans on a variety of football related subjects, particularly corruption and bribery in the sport. Their conclusion is “Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice.”
With this in mind, fans have little hope that Fifa can ever reform. Is it beyond redemption? The timing of the latest leak could not be more damaging for Fifa, coming as it does barely a week before the opening of arguably the most prestigious tournament this side of the summer Olympic Games.
Illicit payments and underhand accounting involving present and former Fifa officials have now become commonplace. Fans have practically accepted that men they despise run the sport they love. But the latest vote-rigging story is breathtaking. Think about it: if true, it means that the destination of the World Cup is decided by a group of people, many of whom weigh up the alternatives purely by asking one question: “What’s in it for me?”
Everyone in and out of football knows that Qatar is wholly inadequate for staging a tournament such as the World Cup, no matter what time of the year. Russia too is woefully inappropriate in the light of its antigay legislation, which sits oddly and contradictorily with Fifa’s own equalities policies. Evaluated objectively and with a rational mind, neither bid would have progressed any further than the first round.
Now Fifa faces the prospect of re-voting. The likelihood of this happening is, actually, remote. After all Fifa is not subject to any overarching judicial panel or answerable to any other organization: it is a self-perpetuating club and can, if it wishes, ignore the scandal. Fifa’s President Sepp Blatter is well versed in the art of scandal management: he has navigated his way through many calamities over the years and emerged with his reputation in ruins, but his power base intact.
But this time is slightly different: he faces the probability that Fifa itself is shown to unequivocally corrupt. Even in the administration of its most prized tournament, it has abandoned integrity and awarded the tournament to the country that has greased most palms.
Of course the official report will not be published for about seven months and we should remind ourselves that we are dealing with leaked information. As such this information is still conditional. But the likelihood is that the leak is reliable and that Fifa will have to respond quickly. Resignations, forced or voluntary, are most probable. Blatter himself could theoretically order another vote. But what rational voter would change? It would almost be an admission of guilt. Chances are the voting would still yield the same result.
One thing is certain: Fifa is not, to use a phrase of today, fit for purpose. Other sports have created new governing organizations either to replace or as alternatives to existing regulators and this is possible. But the omens are not good: think about boxing, which now has several competing governors, all with their own champions. Tennis too has threatened to splinter at some points in history. Frankly, any organization that rose up in the wake of the latest scandal would be welcomed. But corruption follows money with the same inevitability as night follows day. It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine any organization charged with the responsibility of governing a major professional sport in which revenues are measured in billions will remain pure for long.

Have Fifa and Qatar done the rest a favour?

Qatar World Cup 2022 ‘revote’: Now Australia’s bid could face ethics investigators as Fifa rocked by corruption allegationsShould it go ahead the proposed World Cup will cost Qatar more than US$200 billion. Read it again: $200 billion, that’s £120 billion, or 147 billion euros. This by far eclipses the record-busting $57 billion Russia spent on the recent Sochi Winter Olympics. Even allowing for the fact that Qatar’s climate and its lack of football stadiums means additional spending, a World Cup tournament would cost any successful bidder about the same as the total trade between China and Africa for 2014.There is a widespread myth that global tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympic Games are valuable to a nation. Correction: they are valuable to strategically placed people who stand to profit either in terms of personal prestige (like Lord Coe) or from the political uplift (David Cameron et al.) and the heads of corporations, including construction companies, hotel chains and, of course, the media organizations that carry the events.But since 1976, when Montreal hosted the Olympics – and incurred a debt that took 30 years to pay off – global sports tournaments have hurt rather than helped the economies of host nations. Athens, for example, went broke shortly after the 2004 Olympics and needed the scale back dramatically spending on hospitals, schools and roads.The London Olympics cost … well, actually no one knows for certain, probably not even Lord Coe; but the most recent estimates suggest about £9 billion – an appreciable amount, but still only 4.5% of the 2022 World Cup. Host nations can’t possibly get close to breaking even and, even if sports fans argue there are intangible benefits, such as national pride, export boosts, infrastructural improvements and that old saw the “feelgood factor,” the price is often ruinously high. Add to this the security issues typically associated with high-profile events such as World Cups and you begin to understand why the negatives far outweigh the positives.So maybe the Aussies, Americans and English should be thankful that they were the victims of what now appears to have been a seriously flawed and apparently corrupt bidding process. Sometimes a cynic like me is forced to wonder if there is divine retribution.

WORLD CUP WILL BE A MONTH-LONG ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Q: What’s this? The first World Cup ad?
A: Yes, adidas has launched the first commercial of its campaign and, as you can see, it’s provocative.
Q: Why provocative? I can recognize Kanye West on the soundtrack, but so what?
A: Because adidas have edited the track so that the references to “cocks” and “muthfuckas” and so on have been expunged.
Q: Perhaps that will make adidas appear edgy and appeal to the demographic they want. But, hang on a minute: doesn’t Kanye do something similar for adidas’s arch rivals Nike?
A: He did. Last year, he switched to adidas: the terms of the new deal mean that, just after the World Cup, there will be a new lines of shoes and apparel bearing the Kanye West imprimatur.
Q: Eh? What’s an imprimatur?
A: A sort of personal guarantee. West licences out his name. Most A-list celebs do this sort of thing nowadays. It’s pretty standard practice: you’ll notice Kanye West-themed adidas gear everywhere.
Q: I can see the logic of this if an athlete endorses the clothes and shoes. I mean, Nike and Michael Jordan was the most productive marketing tie-up in history. But Kanye West is a musician. What’s he got to do with sportsgear?
A: The only thing that matters is that consumers know and identify with West. Precisely what he’s known for is irrelevant. Sports stars are used to advertise all sorts of products that have nothing to do with sport. Musicians can reverse the process. Anyway adidas has done its homework: the company will know its customers like and follow West.
Q: It’s clever marketing for West too, I suppose.
A: Definitely. He’s trailing the new track “God Level” in an ad that is going to be seen and heard globally. So it’s effective advertising for him as well as adidas. It’s called cross-promotion. Advertising today combines products in such a way that the consumer isn’t expected to know it’s actually an ad at all: they just immerse themselves in the video. In this sense, I think you’d have to conclude the new ad is successful.
Q: This is the first seriously big ad campaign, isn’t it?
A: Yes, over the next couple of months, we are all — and I mean everybody in the world — going to be bombarded with ads for so many products it will make our heads spin. The World Cup is, on one level, a sports tournament; on another level, it is an marketing extravaganza. It has become such a globally popular event that advertisers know they can get the attention of literally millions. Fifa has been criticised for inflating viewing figures, but there is still nothing to touch the World Cup when it comes to bringing viewers to their screens; and remember people will be watching on portable devices too this time. You also have to remind yourself that the advertising doesn’t stop when the whistle goes. Hoardings will display ads for the whole game, players will wear branded footwear and, on commercial tv, halftime breaks will be crammed with advertising. Britain’s ITV will probably charge £300,000 for 30-second slots during the pregame, halftime and postgame intervals.
Q: I hate to bring this up, but it strikes me that when we are watching the games, the advertising will still be working on us.
A: Which leads us to ask: are we being entertained by the competition, or are we being sold stuff? The answer is, as you’ve already guessed: both. Everything comes with a price tag, right? Even watching a game on commercial-free BBC will implicate you in an advertising interaction. Consumption doesn’t just mean buying products for their use: it’s become a relationship through which we gratify ourselves and, strange as it seems, make our selves. Things are parts of our identities. adidas may sell products, but they also provide identity accoutrements.
@elliscashmore

 

L’affaire Anelka draws towards a climax

Nicolas Anelka’s case to be heard next weekThe three-man independent regulatory panel’s hearing is expected to last several days. West Brom’s French striker faces a minimum five-match ban after being charged by the FA with performing an alleged anti-Semitic gesture during his club’s match against West Ham on December 28. The 34-year-old has denied the gesture was anti-Semitic and requested a personal hearing. I wrote a blog on L’affaire Anelka a few weeks ago. Now, as the case draws towards a climax, I reproduce it …

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It’s often assumed that people who are part of a group victimized by history are somehow immune from the bigotry that drives their assailants. A naive assumption, perhaps, but one with enough plausibility to make us think twice about accusing people who have been on the receiving end of racism of dishing it out. Of course, we don’t know whether Nicolas Anelka, the French footballer with parents from the Caribbean island Martinique, has ever experienced racism firsthand; but, as a black man, he would surely have been uncomfortably familiar with its effects in Europe and elsewhere. And, having played in England on-and-off since aged 17 (he signed for Arsenal in 1997), he would be aware that racism has been one of the most bedevilling problems in English and, for that matter, European football for several years. Yet he stands accused by the Football Association (FA) of an offence, which, if not exactly the same as racism, is certainly on the same continuum. In the unlikely event that some readers are not au fait with the Anelka affair, let me offer a brief summary: Anelka is a personal friend of a Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a French comedian who is also black and is notorious for what some believe is antisemitic humour. Last December, Anelka, playing for West Bromwich Albion, celebrated scoring a goal by making a a gesture in which he thrust out his right arm and tapped it with his left hand (see the photograph above). No one in England knew the meaning of the behaviour, but it soon came to light: it is called a quenelle and has been popularized by Dieudonné. The probability is that Anelka gestured to show his solidarity with his controversial friend, currently under pressure from French authorities. The Football Association has been sorely exercised for the past two years by the reappearance of racism in football and decided to investigate the possible meanings of Anelka’s signal.  After three weeks of deliberations, the FA charged Anelka with making a gesture that is “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper.” We don’t yet know the full content of the accusation or Anelka’s apparent rebuttal, but it seems fair to conclude that Anelka will resist any claims that he intended to make a sign that would be offensive to anyone, including Jews, and he was signalling a more common attitude of defiance against authority, or what many people call the establishment.

“The object Dieudonné’s satire is an Establishment dominated, as he sees it, by Jews, who have secured positions of power and insulated themselves against criticism

Before we go further, let’s pause to consider this term establishment. It typically takes a capital E and refers to a group in society exercising power and influence of matters of policy, or even taste, and seen as resisting change. The concept of an Establishment was popular in the 1960s when a rebellious spirit coursed through society, leaving no aspect of life unchanged. Figures such as Martin Luther King (1929-68), James Dean (1931-55), Che Guevera (1928-67) could all, in very different ways, be described as anti-Establishment. Dieudonné would presumably align himself with comedians like Lenny Bruce (1925-66) and Bill Hicks (1961-94), both of whom achieved a kind of infamy. But the object Dieudonné’s satire is an Establishment dominated, as he sees it, by Jews, who have secured positions of power and insulated themselves against criticism. This is not a worldview derived from conspiracy theories, though it’s not totally inconsistent with theories, such as those promulgated by the Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion, an monstrously spurious document that purported to reveal a plan for world domination. Anelka has followed Dieudonné in rejecting accusations of antisemitism, by which he presumably means he has no hostility towards Jews. Dieudonné is, on his own account, critical of Zionism, which was originally a political movement, launched in 1897, for the establishment and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. It’s predicated on a distinct Jewish identity and culture and, in some versions, opposes integration. Its critics interpret this exclusivity as a form of racism. So the complexities of the Anelka case multiply: a black man is accused of issuing a gesture that may be antisemitic, but which he claims is anti-Establishment. On closer examination, the Establishment he opposes appears to be a particular arrangement rather than the more generic society.  Anelka has used Facebook to defend himself, marshalling the support of prominent Jewish leaders to argue the quenelle is not an antisemitic gesture and that he didn’t intend them to be interpreted as such.

“Very few people own up to being antisemitic, anti-Islam, anti-Arab or anti-anything

My fellow member of  the British Sociological Association’s Race & Ethnicity Study Group/Forum Leon Moosavi, of the University of Liverpool, accepts this and points out that the gesture is not imbued with what he calls a “coherent meaning.” It’s a fair point. But gestures, signs and symbols can acquire coherence if they are used in a particular way and, however ambiguous the gesture might have been, there is no denying the quenelle has been used outside synagogues, at Auschwitz, in front of the Jewish school where Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah killed three children, by signs for rue du Four (Oven Street) and rue des Juifs (Jews’ Street) and in front of the trains that transported French Jews to the concentration camps. Even in the improbable event that Anelka was not aware of the antisemitic connotations of the sign, is his intention a defence? Forum member Brendan McGeever, a doctoral candidate at University of Glasgow, thinks that, while intent should be considered, the reception of signs, representations and so on is just as if not more important. Author Tom Wengraf is even more dismissive of Anelka’s stated intentions because very few people own up to being antisemitic, anti-Islam, anti-Arab or anti-anything. But that “doesn’t mean that we can’t claim (with good evidence)  that they are, despite their occasionally sincere words.” Deeds are more powerful than words in this instance, reckons Wengraf. Aaron Winter, of the University of Abertay, points out that, while the term anti-Establishment historically has associations with rebelliousness and insurgency and sounds progressive, even revolutionary, the term has “floated to the right.” In other words, the term is vulnerable to hijacking by groups that have far-from revolutionary agendas. Criticism can be easily absorbed and turned into evidence. So groups that believe powerful minorities control society have a tendency to explain attacks against their own views as proof of the validity of those views; so there is a kind of self-corroborating logic at work. Anelka is not the first prominent black figure to be involved in an incident like this. In 1986, US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (1941-), who had campainged alongside Martin Luther King, was embarrassed after making offensive remarks that purportedly poked fun at Jews. Al Sharpton (1954-) has had to defend himself several times against accusations of antitsemitism. Louis Farrakhan (1933-), the Black Muslim leader, became notorious in 1984 when he spoke of Judaism as “a dirty religion.” Anelka himself converted to Islam in 2004 and bears the Islamic name Abdul Salam Bilal Anelka, though he has no known affiliation with Farrakhan’s organization.

“Issues of race, religion, culture and multiple prejudices will be addressed

Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley has criticised both the FA and West Bromwich Albion for their lack of quick action. The club perhaps might have asked Anelka to clarify his intentions in public, but has otherwise acted properly in refusing to react in a way that could have prejudiced subsequent investigations. And the FA has sensibly taken time to gather evidence and seek advice before deciding to charge Anelka. This is a much more complicated case than those that ended in the punishment of John Terry and Luis Suárez. It is a tangle of thorns; many people will get spiked.  If — as we expect — Anelka is fined and suspended for eight or more games (Suárez was banned for eight games and fined £40,000), he will likely appeal and implicate the FA in an unseemly legal conflict that is sure to outlast Anelka’s stay at his present club. The conflict will be forced to address issues of race, religion, culture and multiple prejudices.

images@elliscashmore

 

 

 

Sir Alex’s torment

“The big problem for me … he fell in love”

I remember getting a call in my hotel room in Manchester in February, 2003. It was from a radio station that wanted me to go on air to talk about David Beckham’s fraying relationship with the then manager of his club Manchester United, Alex Ferguson. “Why? What’s happened?” I asked. “Apparently Ferguson has cut Beckham’s eye.” It became known as the “flying boot incident.” Ferguson had vented his rage at Beckham after an FA Cup tie against Arsenal and, for some reason, kicked a stray boot, which flew through the air and collided with Beckham’s face. With his typical flair for dramatizing small incidents, Beckham wore his hair fastened back with an Alice band so that the wound – treated with steri-strips – was clearly visible. The professional relationship between the two men had probably been deteriorating for a while, but this was the first tangible evidence. I could only speculate on radio that this was probably the beginning of the end. Ferguson was irritated that the player had become a focus of more media attention than Manchester United. One can only imagine what torment Victoria caused him: it seems she was pulling her husband in many directions, all of them wrong from Ferguson’s perspective. If she wasn’t taking him to Lenny Kravitz’s birthday bash, she was displaying him on the front row of Giorgio Armani’s new launch or introducing him to her friends Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. For the hard-bitten Glaswegian, it must have been purgatory.

Ferguson’s new autobiography confirms what we all knew about his loss of patience with Beckham, though at the press conference to accompany the book’s publication, Ferguson let slip arguably an even more interesting insight: “The big problem for me [was] he fell in love with Victoria and that changed everything.” Read that again: the big problem for Ferguson was that Beckham fell in love with Victoria. This is exactly the kind of blunderingly insensitive remark that earns Ferguson respect from many people, who regard him as a kind of master of the dark arts of psychology. But is he?  He’s a good … no great football manager, perhaps the best there’s ever been, but he can also be boorish, crass and frequently shows no feeling or concern for others. How unfortunate for Ferguson that Beckham met a woman, fell in love, had children and became a celebrity athlete on par with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Beckham, writes Ferguson in the book, thought “he was bigger than Sir Alex Ferguson.” The very idea, eh? “The name of the manager is irrelevant. The authority is what counts.” Football fans might argue that successful managers have to be authoritarian in the sense that they need obedience from players at the expense of personal freedoms. But this statement sounds like it comes from someone who can’t bear the prospect of one of his minions having the temerity to challenge him or even occupy other people’s attention. When Ferguson writes, “I could see him being swallowed up by the media or publicity agents.” You wonder what irked him more: the fact that Beckham was distracted by the lure of celebritydom, or that global interest in Posh and Becks, as the couple was then known, eclipsed interest in either the club or Ferguson. There was clearly a clash of egos at the club and, with no prospect of limiting Beckham’s celebrity ambitions or prising him away from Victoria, Ferguson’s only option was to release him. Beckham transferred to Real Madrid within months of the flying boot incident. Ferguson regards this as a “shame because he could still have been at Manchester United when I left. He would have been one of the greatest Man United legends.” We’re all sure he could too. But instead he became just a common or garden global icon.

 

Should we boycott next year’s Winter Olympics?

Stephen Fry up

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected actor Stephen Fry’s request to boycott next year’s Winter Olympics in protest at Russia’s homophobic laws.

Vladimir Putin’s new legislation allows for the imposition of heavy fines for anyone providing information about homosexuality to people under the age of eighteen. The Russian city Sochi hosts the games.  Athletes have been warned they’ll be penalized if they “propagandise” on the issue.  The probability is that there will be no boycott and that the controversy will resurface again as we approach the 2018 football World Cup, which will be held in Russia.  By then it’s probable there will be several openly gay footballers.

As with any boycott, there is a balance of interests.  Athletes aiming to compete at next year’s Games will be training hard and dedicating themselves to winning a medal.  Clearly, none of them – straight or gay – would want to sacrifice their chances.  Any protest over political, social or moral issues risks casualties of this kind. Individuals have their own interests at heart and there is nothing wrong with this.

On the other side of the balance sheet are collective issues, in this case one concerning fundamental human rights.  Gay people are currently stigmatized in Russia.  Like all international sports tournaments, the Winter Olympics presents an almost natural forum for events far removed from sport.

Some people, like Cameron, prioritize individuals’ interests over all others.  He believes it would be wrong to prevent athletes competing in what will probably be their career-high tournament. Fry’s call for a boycott suggests he thinks, if Russia is allowed to proceed in an uninhibited way, the effect will be to condone its attitude towards gay people.

So who is right? The first lesson history teaches us is that sporting protests do work: they force issues often involving prejudice and inequality to the attention of the world and concentrate pressure on offending nations to reconsider their policies, laws and sometimes ideology.

The Gleneagles Agreement of 1977 was instrumental in the eventual fall of South African apartheid in 1990: it effectively ostracized South Africa by prohibiting sporting contacts.

Boycotts usually make headlines and attract the rhetoric of interested parties who talk regretfully about how unfortunate is it that sport and politics have become mixed-up.  In fact, sports and politics are not just mixed-up, but entwined so closely that they will never be separated: sport is an effective vehicle for promoting or publicizing causes, principles and aims, aswell as full-blown ideologies. Presumably, this was on the minds of Black September when it planned what turned into a bloodbath. The group’s demands for the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners were not met, precipitating a sequence of killing at the Munich Olympics of 1972. The massacre was horrific and condemned almost universally, but it made the condition of Palestinians known to the world.

Earlier at the 1968 Olympics, there had been an iconic moment when African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos wore black berets and gloves and bowed their heads on the victory rostrum while the US national anthem played. At the time they were decried as unpatriotic and hounded out of sport.  Now they are revered as the men who made America’s prejudice against black people known to the world and in their own way made their imprint on history.

There are those who will argue that we could find fault with the host of practically any major sports competition.  Remember, Britain, which held last year’s Olympics, is not without critics. So when we consider protests, we have to think in terms of a political or moral triage, assigning degrees of urgency to issues, some of which demand more immediate attention than others.  The gay issue in Russia does, in my opinion, require attention.  Gay people are, we understand, habitually persecuted in a nation with a population of 143 million, and where the attitude towards homosexuality is basically the result of a hangover from the Soviet Union combined with Putin’s crass and populist ideology.  I respect the rights of the athletes who will defend their freedom to choose whether or not to attend and compete in the games.  But they should ask themselves whether they would be complicit in perpetuating a social and political arrangement that is morally repugnant.