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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Soccer papers take center stage in battle for press freedom in Sudan





By James M. Dorsey

Sports and particularly soccer is taking center stage in a battle for press freedom in Sudan.

The soccer-crazy country’s National Press Council said it was suspending six sports newspapers and has issued warnings to three others for allegedly encouraging violence between rival soccer teams. The suspensions as well as planned legal action against sports journalists are the latest move in a crackdown on a media landscape in which sports publications outstrip political media in circulation.

The council’s secretary general, El-Obeid Ahmed Morawah, said the suspensions were justified because the newspapers had failed to adhere to journalistic standards and were damaging Sudan’s reputation. Mr. Morawah insisted that the measure did not violate constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press.

Sensational reporting in which soccer executives and journalists of rival papers see their private lives exposed is par for the course in the fierce competition between the papers. Reporters are believed to be on the take and allegedly often seek to bribe soccer players and executives.

The crackdown on the sports media comes ten days after world soccer body FIFA forced the Sudanese Football Association to rerun its first presidential elections in a bid to avoid being banned from international soccer. FIFA charged that the government had interfered in an earlier election by preventing some candidates from standing and imposing prohibitive fees on nominees.

FIFA endorsed the election after the incumbent president, Kamal Shaddad,  who had been barred from re-election by the government in the initial vote on July 26, withdrew his nomination and did not attend the vote.

As a result, the same two candidates as in the initial vote ran in the re-run, which Mr. Shaddad’s deputy, Mutasim Jaafar won.

That apparently was good enough for FIFA. “This assembly has met FIFA’s requirements,” said Taha Ismail, one of the FIFA representatives monitoring the vote.

James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

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