You Did Ask For More Political/Current Events Posts


It’s funny where the line ends up being drawn and where we decide that things are truly outrageous. Let’s face it, most of the people who howled with fury at the willingness of Brazil to slash social services and jack up public transportation fees are the sort of lefty intellectuals who are unlikely to watch the World Cup in the first place. Or are the sort of leftists who rage fearsomely on Facebook and then bugger off and watch the football anyway.

And this is how these things work. World Cups. Olympics. They’re all the same basic principle - shift the infrastructure costs aggressively onto the public sector, and then private concerns take all the profits. Why, one might reasonably ask, would anybody sign up for such a rotten deal?

The clue comes in FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s plea in the wake of this summer’s protests against the World Cup’s precursor tournament, the Confederations Cup. “I can understand that people are not happy,” he said, “but they should not use football to make their demands heard.” The obvious response to this is, of course, “why not?” And this gets into the sick heart of these sorts of celebrations.

It’s an interesting fact that FIFA rules declare that football must be entirely above politics. Any sort of political meddling in the administration of national football teams results, in theory, in the expulsion of the national team from all competitions. It’s not entirely clear how that works in the case of a country like North Korea, where it is outright inconceivable that there’s no political interference with football or, for that matter, with anything else. (I mean, this is the country that asserted that its Supreme Leader was relaying advice to the manager via a hidden phone link.)

And anyway, the idea that politics and football aren’t intertwined is ridiculous on the face of it. When public money is a key part of how your business is conducted, you can’t be separate from politics. No, what’s key is that football is invulnerable to politics; that the political concerns of any given country cannot be allowed to affect football at all. Football is holy and all encompassing. Its official policy is that it’s more important than anything else. Hence the breathtaking arrogance of suggesting that people shouldn’t bring it into their protests. After all, don’t they realize football is far more important than silly little things like whether they can afford to eat?

So why would anyone sign up to it? Because there are benefits to the invulnerable absolutism of sports. You get to, as the UK did for the 2012 Olympics (essentially indistinguishable from the World Cup), normalize the imposition of martial law in your largest city and put missile batteries on top of residential buildings. Or Brazil’s use of the World Cup to drive tanks around its slums to aggressively clean them up. Not all the slums, of course - just the ones tourists might see.

The rhetoric here is exactly what you’d expect. The Olympics are necessary. Necessary in ways that the welfare state isn’t. Making sure people have homes and don’t starve? Up for debate in the austerity era. Nine billion pounds for a sports event? (Nearly twice the annual spend on the jobseeker’s allowance) Necessary. Patriotic duty, even. I’d say that it’s a pity Chicago didn’t get the 2014 games, since the necessity of funnelling money towards it would probably have ended the budget stalemate, but let’s face it; Olympic spending is like grabbing people’s crotches at the airport: an essential function of government.

This is the logic underlying our big games. They function by being the most important thing imaginable. Hence the suggestion given, in all seriousness, about what gay athletes and supporters should do at the 2022 World Cup, which is held in Qatar, where same sex relationships are a crime. The answer? “Refrain from sexual activities.” Similarly, the IOC is dead silent on the various possible issues involving the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, where anything viewed as “supporting” homosexuality is a crime.

All of this is the price we pay for having global sporting competitions. Just like, on the local level, we subsidize the for-profit businesses that run sports teams, often going so far as to bail them out when they go bankrupt. Nobody really gets angry at this. We let it happen.

We’re good at letting it happen, in fact. It’s a necessary skill to learn if you live in the privileged portion of the world. When it’s nearly impossible to get dressed or eat without supporting the exploitation of workers, and when a significant portion of every paycheck goes to funding the police state, one has to learn not to care too much about the consequences of your day-to-day life. It’s outright impossible to care about every fleck of blood on your hands.

And then there’s the construction of the stadiums for the Qatar World Cup. The selection of Qatar for the World Cup was always a bizarre one. That it was a selection tainted by massive amounts of bribery and corruption within FIFA was a given, but again, one of those givens we clearly haven’t let stop us yet. Similarly, the fact that Qatar imports what is basically slave labor from Nepal has been public knowledge for years, so nobody can be surprised, as such, that the death toll for people working on the World Cup stadiums for 2022 is already at seventy, with estimates that as many as four thousand construction workers could die if current conditions continue.

And yet even given all of this context, there’s something shocking about Sepp Blatter’s most recent round of comments about it, in which he flat out said that there was nothing FIFA could do about the working conditions in Qatar, and that it “is not Fifa’s primary responsibility.” Which is, by any measure, shocking. They could, for instance, have considered not giving the World Cup to a country that effectively used slave labor. They could take the World Cup away from said country and give it to, you know, one of the myriad of countries that would be willing to settle for the levels of corruption and authoritarianism we all know and love.

But no. The official position of FIFA is apparently that mass worker deaths is an acceptable price to pay for our beloved and above politics game of football. As I said, it’s funny where we draw the line. Systemic corruption, literally bulldozing the poor, seventy deaths and counting… and yet nobody seriously believes the 2022 World Cup will be boycotted by anyone. Nobody seriously believes that anything will delay or alter it. The World Cup will go on in Qatar, and hundreds of people will die in the course of it.

And that, perhaps, is the really horrific line that we draw. The one we don’t draw at all.


Sean Case 7 years, 3 months ago

Politics cannot interfere in football, but football (and the Olympics) can interfere in politics. Host governments are required to enforce rules against ambush marketing, for instance.

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jane 7 years, 3 months ago

That's more like it! A far better subject for breakfast than whether or not some old tv episodes were recovered or not. Really puts it in perspective, and the fire helps to cook my eggs.

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Jesse 7 years, 3 months ago

"A city tapped to host the Olympics is like a nation-state operating under wartime conditions: It has a license to do things that might otherwise be blocked."

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Ann Song 7 years, 3 months ago

We really need to just seed Qatar and Sochi with vuvuzelas. Totally effective way to actually keep people from watching. Or maybe we could all buy Theremin Mini-Kits from ThinkGeek and go play them there.

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Ann Song 7 years, 3 months ago

If you like that plan, I have one to end the shutdown that involves Matthew Waterhouse manacled to a wall, Block Transfer Computation, and possibly a Concorde.

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Theonlyspiral 7 years, 3 months ago

I HATE subsidized sporting events. All the way down to the municipal level. The idea that public money goes straight into the coffers of the already wealthy is maddening. It gets me frothing at the mouth. In term of national level sports (NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL, CFL) what really needs to be said? We should not pay them a red cent to build arena’s or maintain a presence in our cities. They make plenty of money and the owners of these teams are often very wealthy with local businesses independent of sporting.

International events are just terrible. There is no value there for anything more than business interests. As you have pointed out, the poor and disenfranchised are relocated and held to the convenience of those in charge. Local services those people need are often the first to go, in order to prevent them from gaining traction against newer and more organized oppression. To the inevitable commenters who will say that this does not happen in the west…of course it does. During the lead up to the Vancouver Olympics large groups of the homeless were rounded up and kept from wandering over to the places where the beautiful people were. Of course this is bad for the regular joe on the street as well. Most of these events end with local municipalities spending large amounts, to not recoup costs incurred. Of the last 20 years of Olympic games 3 made a profit (With one of those being dependant on trusting the numbers given to use by the Chinese government), and 4 operated at a loss. Of course if you take the additional costs to London and Vancouver for security, site conversion and transportation spending both hit the loss category as well.

And yet people remain quiet. It’s like they’ve forgotten to be angry. They have forgotten that spending money on giving funds to businessmen while people starve should get them banging down the doors of their politician’s offices. They should be boycotting, marching and fighting. That we sit and watch millionaires play games while several blocks away you have people who don’t have anything to eat should set the blood of the masses boiling. These men put themselves and their business above politics, above the welfare of the people who pay them. Because we let them. Because we have forgotten that we have a basic moral obligation to our fellows. Because we have been given bread and circuses to placate us.

You were wrong on one thing Phil; we’re not paying taxes to the Police State, we’re paying them to a new Roman Empire.

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storiteller 7 years, 3 months ago

This reminds me of a conversation I had in graduate school over the Beijing Olympics. We were supposed to give a presentation on the sustainability aspects of it and I looked specifically at the social consequences, which were quite horrific. Basically, the Chinese government was bulldozing entire neighborhoods without seeming to care at all about the residents there, leading to a number of people committing suicide out of shame and despair. But my classmates' response to my research was basically, "But the swim center is so environmentally friendly!" And these were world-class future researchers and policymakers. I was absolutely boggled by their complete, unquestioning buy-in to China's greenwashing of the whole event.

As for this year's Olympics in Russia, I know it won't make a difference, but I'm going to purposely not watch it. I can't endorse an event that the organizing committee literally lies about the potential negative consequences to LGBTQ athletes, fans, and local community members.

In terms of national-level sports, my favorite sports team is the Green Bay Packers. I don't really care about American football, but I do very much like that they are the only NFL team that is a non-profit actually owned by the fans and the community itself ( As a result, they are guaranteed never to leave the city- a leverage point a lot of teams use to force cities to pay for their stadiums - and aren't nearly as profit-driven as most teams. Unfortunately, the NFL actually changed the ownership rules so that no team can follow their pattern again. Which is stupid, because the sports and communities would be far better off if they could.

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Daibhid C 7 years, 3 months ago

Football is holy and all encompassing. Its official policy is that it’s more important than anything else.

The Shankly Doctrine.

Before the 2012 Olympics, the UK government went on and on about the great sporting legacy it would leave. As far as I can tell, the legacy of the 2012 Olympics was that sports we didn't medal in were punished by having their funding cut.

(I'm boycotting the Russian Olympics in the sense that I'm not watching the opening and closing ceremonies, which are the only bits I ever watch anyway.)

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othemts 7 years, 3 months ago

It's sad, because I do enjoy the World Cup and the Olympics and think they have an important cultural role as well as something that can unite disparate peoples. There's got to be a better way to stage these events than the exploitation that currently takes place.

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Theonlyspiral 7 years, 3 months ago

What Cultural Role? What concrete steps do they take to Unite people? That's propaganda speaking.

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Martin Porter 7 years, 3 months ago

The Olympics are squeaky clean compared to football.

When was the vote to give it to Russian in 2018? November 2010, a few days after a BBC documentary on corruption in FIFA. Only one other country voted for us, bu afterwards three different counties came forward and said it was them...


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Bennett 7 years, 3 months ago

The rot extends down to the grassroots level. The small town I live in venerates boys who grow up to kick an ellipsoid around a field for a living as the town's "favourite sons".

There's no celebration of those who become engineers or health care workers or public servants. There are almost no "favourite daughters".

It's sickening. Particularly when you’re trying to teach useful skills to the town's youth, for whom ambition outside of sport is a foreign concept.

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liminal fruitbat 7 years, 3 months ago

Depends whether you count "everyone* looks at the same thing for n hours" as unity or not.

(Alternatively there's Terry Pratchett's claim in Unseen Academicals that being in the crowd at a football game produces a transcendent state that breaks down the ego-barriers of all those present, but there are more fun ways to meditate, frankly.)

*For a sponsor-approved value of "everyone"

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Matthew Blanchette 7 years, 3 months ago

Fuck that noise! It's REAL! IT'S REAL!!! THEY'VE FOUND MORE!!! :-D

*giddily jumps up and down, whooping and hollering*

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Kit Power 7 years, 3 months ago

I still like a description I read of a rock show (one of you will know the source, I can't remember) "It's just like a football match, only everyone's on the same side". Neatly encapsulates why I love big rock shows and pretty universally despise sports.

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Ross 7 years, 3 months ago

That's also why I like craps and hate poker.

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Martin Smitherman 7 years, 3 months ago

If there was Martial Law in London during the Olympics i didn't see any evidence of it. I was there for 4 days and it was brilliant. Was there extra security. Yes. But it only happened that the Army stepped in was because the security firm hired to provide the security failed to get their staff trained in time and had to withdraw their service leaving the Metropolitan Police to fill the void. Not willing to reduce policing levels around the country to a dangerously low level, the Army provided extra security. I was there for 4 days and saw the soldiers once at one of the lesser venues (Earls Court where the Volleyball was taking place) and outside of the venues themselves, the only time i saw the Police in any number was at Tube stations near to a venue. The rest of London was as normal as ever - well as normal as can be given it was hosting the largest sporting festival ever. Oh and i got to act like a Dalek and trundle over Westminster Bridge.

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othemts 7 years, 3 months ago

Participants and spectators visit other countries and meet people from around the world, find common ground, and cultural exchange occurs. It happens all the time at big international sporting events. That and the spectacle of games played by the best athletes in the world are the reasons I still love sports despite all the corporate, nationalistic, and otherwise nasty stuff that has accumulated around these events. The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, summed up the ideal that's worth preserving when he said:

"To ask the people of the world to love one another are merely a form of childishness. To ask them to respect one another is not in the least utopian; but in order to respect one another, it is first necessary to know one another."

A friend of mine wrote a series of 10 feminist reasons why she remains a sports fan despite all the bad things about sports that have been well outlined in Phil's post and in the comments. I think it's worth a read:

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