Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer


Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”


Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Globalist’s Top 10 Books of 2016


10.The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer By James M Dorsey (Oxford University Press)


Excerpt:
The “Boytrap”: When the Islamic State Goes to Play Soccer | With mosques under surveillance, IS turns to soccer for recruitment.

December 28, 2016

The Globalist's Top 10 Books of 2016

The ten best books on key global issues we presented on The Globalist Bookshelf this year.

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/1.gifGlobal Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization

By Branko Milanovic | Excerpt: Can Inequality Be Reduced?

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/2.gifChoked

By Pallavi Aiyar | Excerpt: Choked — Delhi’s Pollution Crisis

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/3.gifCrouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World

By Peter Navarro | Excerpt: Vietnam Dangles at the Tip of the Chinese Spear

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/4.gifConnectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization

By Parag Khanna. Reviewed by Sanjeev S. Ahluwalia. | Review: Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/5.gifFailure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy

By Edward Alden | Excerpt: America’s Home-Made Raw Deal for Workers

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/6.gifModi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister

By Sreeram Chaulia | Excerpt: How Modi Mobilizes the Indian Diaspora

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/7.gifThe “Conspiracy” of Free Trade

By Marc-William Palen | Excerpt: Trump and the Return of American Economic Nationalism

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/8.gifAge of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance

By Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna | Excerpt: Future of Globalization: Why the Renaissance Mindset Matters So Much

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/9.gifPerilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos

By Hardeep Singh Puri | Excerpt: Yemen as a Saudi Target

http://www.theglobalist.com/images/Dropcaps/Num/10.gifThe Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Towards a New World Order in Eurasia? The Role of Russia and China


RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: RSISPublications@ntu.edu.sg for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 


No. 310/2016 dated 22 December 2016

Towards a New World Order in Eurasia?
The Role of Russia and China
By James M Dorsey

Synopsis

A new Russian-led, China-backed Eurasia-centred world order may be in the making against the backdrop of alleged Russian cyber warfare against the US and Europe. Analysts see a pattern in Russian moves that could serve China’s interests should US president-elect Donald Trump adopt a more confrontational approach towards Beijing.

Commentary

SUGGESTIONS THAT Russian President Vladimir Putin is bent on creating a new Russia-led and China-backed Eurasia-centred world order by undermining Western democratic institutions may be a crackpot conspiracy theory. Yet that may not be so far-fetched against the backdrop of US allegations of Russia’s waging cyber warfare against the US, German intelligence sounding the alarm bell, East European leaders having their fears confirmed and Moscow and Beijing reaching out to Western supporters of the idea.

Whether conspiracy theory o
r not, western intelligence agencies and many analysts see a pattern in Russian moves that would serve Chinese interests, particularly if US president-elect Donald J Trump adopts a more confrontational approach towards Beijing. The analysts believe that the sum total of Russian activity amounts to an attempt to undermine trust in democratic structures and manipulate elections.

Turkish Approach to Eurasia


Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly subscribed to conspiracy theories alleging Western backing for the failed coup attempt in July against his government and a mysterious international financial cabal seeking to undermine the Turkish economy. In response, Erdogan has applied for Turkish membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that groups Central Asian states with China and Russia.

Bent on enhancing his personal power, Erdogan is not about to fully rupture relations with the West but is happy to play both ends against the middle by publicly aligning himself with concepts of Russian-backed Eurasianists.

A left-wing secularist, Dogu Perincek, who spent six years in prison for allegedly being part of a military-led cabal to stage a military coup, was long a fringe voice calling on Erdogan to break ties with the West and align himself with Russia and China. Per
incek’s worldview -- one that envisions an alliance between Russia, China and Turkey that would replace the US-led international order -- is gaining currency in Ankara, Moscow and Beijing, according to a prominent Turkish intellectual, Mustafa Akyol and other well-known pundits.

The rise of Perincek’s Homeland Party, dubbed the Russian lobby by Akyol in an article in Al-Monitor, comes on the back of its ability to backchannel a reconciliation with Russia following a rupture in relations and a crippling Russian economic boycott in the wake of Turkey’s downing in 2015 of a Russian warplane.

Perincek, together with deputy Homeland leader Ismail Hakki Pekin, a former head of Turkish military intelligence with extensive contacts in Moscow including Putin’s foreign policy advisor Alexander Dugin, mediated the reconciliation with Erdogan’s tacit approval. They were supported by Turkish businessmen close to the president who were severely affected by the boycott, and ultra-nationalist Eurasianist military officers.

Making Inroads

Several factors have worked in favour of the Eurasianist idea. The first is the increasingly strained relations between Turkey and the West over the latter’s perceived lack of support following this summer’s failed military attempt to topple Erdogan. The second is a Western refusal to crack down on the Hizmet movement led by exiled imam Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey holds responsible for the unsuccessful coup. The third is Western criticism of Erdogan’s wholesale crackdown on his critics. Differences over Syria have intensified the pro-Eurasianist thinking.

Erdogan’s purported alignment with the Eurasianists fits neatly into an apparently larger Russian effort to fuel populist and right wing sentiment in the West and interfere in the affairs of former Soviet states. Together with China, whose One Belt, One Road initiative seeks to tie Eurasia together through infrastructure and trade, Russia seeks to reach out to Western intellectuals and politicians whose views stroke with Moscow’s ambition.

Outgoing US President Barack Obama has blamed Putin personally for hacking into Democratic Party computers to undermine Hilary Clinton’s presidential bid. A New York Times investigation concluded that Russian cyberwar had played a key role in defeating Democratic candidates in local races for the House of Representatives.

Germany’s head of foreign intelligence Bruno Kahl warned last month that Russia might try to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel in upcoming elections. “We have evidence that cyber attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty. The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, regardless of who that ends up helping. We have indications that (the attacks) comes from the Russian region,” Kahl told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Russian Funding

German media reported earlier this year that the Russian embassy in Berlin had co-funded a security policy seminar hosted by the Alternative for Germany party that is riding a populist wave with its anti-immigrant and anti-European Union positions. In France, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, a frontrunner in presidential elections, stands accused of being beholden to Moscow because of a US$10.2 million Russian loan to her party.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek warned that Russia was pursuing a “divide and conquer” policy in Europe by trying to boost Eurosceptic populists. Officials of former Soviet states say their long-standing warnings of subversive Russian activity were ignored by the Obama administration.

To be sure the US and the West too have a long history of waging disinformation and destabilisation campaigns. As a result this may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, yet one wrong doesn’t justify another.

For their part Moscow and Beijing have been reaching out to Western intellectuals and journalists who have been charting Eurasianist advances. Prominent Turkish journalist Murat Yelkin warned recently that Perincek’s group was exploiting its “close access to Erdogan” to promote an “elaborate plan” that would rupture Turkey’s relations with the EU. This it would do by reintroducing the death penalty, something the Turkish leader has advocated, and reversing restrictive EU regulations adopted by Turkey.

None of this amounts to incontrovertible evidence of a Russian-Chinese plot. The West however risks ignoring at its peril what could be a pattern rather than a string of unrelated incidents that foreshadows a new world order that ranges across the Eurasian mega continent.


James M Dorsey PhD is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of University of Wurzburg, Germany.


Click HERE to read this commentary online.


Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B3, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798
Tel: +65 6790 6982 | Fax: +65 6794 0617 | www.rsis.edu.sg

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trump’s Middle East: Back to the Future



RSIS Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary and analysis of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views of the authors are their own and do not represent the official position of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU. These commentaries may be reproduced electronically or in print with prior permission from RSIS and due recognition to the author(s) and RSIS. Please email: RSISPublications@ntu.edu.sg for feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentary, Yang Razali Kassim. 


No. 304/2016 dated 15 December 2016

The Rise of Trump and Its Global Implications


Trump’s Middle East:
Back to the Future

By James M. Dorsey

Synopsis

President-elect Donald J. Trump’s clearest indication yet of his policy approach towards the Middle East and North Africa was tucked into a recent thank-you speech in Cincinnati. It is a transaction-based return to support of autocracy that is likely to tie him into knots and reinforce drivers of militancy and political violence.

Commentary

IN A little-noticed thank you speech in Cincinnati, a stop on his tour of battleground states that secured his electoral victory, President-elect Donald J. Trump recently vowed to break with past United States efforts to “topple regimes and overthrow governments” in the Middle East and North Africa. Trump was likely referring to costly US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq that toppled the Taliban and Saddam Hussein but failed to produce stable regimes while giving half-hearted US support for democracy and the strengthening of civil society.

“Our goal is stability not chaos... We will partner with any nation that is willing to join us in the effort to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism… In our dealings with other countries, we will seek shared interest wherever possible and pursue a new era of peace, understanding and goodwill,” Trump said. In effect, the president-elect was reiterating long standing US policy without the lip service past US presidents paid to US values such as democracy, human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Traumatic Consequences


It was a policy that backfired with traumatic consequences for the US. President George W. Bush, in a rare recognition of the pitfalls of decades of US policy in the Middle East and North Africa, acknowledged within weeks of the 9/11 attacks that support for autocratic regimes that squashed all expressions of dissent had created the feeding ground for jihadist groups focused on striking at Western targets.

That was no more true then than it is today with significantly stepped-up repression across the Middle East fuelling civil strife, humanitarian catastrophes, and the swelling the ranks of militant and jihadist groups.

If anything, Trump’s seemingly status quo-based, transactional approach to the Middle East and North Africa risks exacerbating the drivers of violence and militancy in the region and threatens to enmesh his administration in a labyrinth of contradictory pressures.

One lesson that emerges from post-World War Two North Africa and the Middle East is that the region will go to any length to ensure that it is a focus of attention. US administrations come to office with lofty goals and ambitions, only to see their agenda driven by acts on the ground in the region. The Trump administration is unlikely to fare any better.

Multiple pitfalls

The pitfalls are multiple, as follows:

Syria: Backed by Russia and Iran, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad may be gaining the upper hand in the country’s brutal six-year war, but that is likely to prove a pyrrhic victory. The likelihood of Syria returning territorially and politically to the pre-war status quo ante is nil. Al-Assad’s Alawites like Syrian Kurds will not see their safety and security guaranteed by a Syrian state dominated by remnants of the old-regime.

Al-Assad, with a long list of scores to settle, moreover will be damaged goods for whom the knives will be out once the guns fall silent. And that silence will at best be temporary with foreign forces covertly and overtly continuing to intervene. Not to mention the fallout of an angry, disillusioned generation that has known nothing but brutality, violence and despair and has nothing to lose.   

Russia: A partnership with Russia may initially reshape Syria but will be troubled by radically different views of Iran. While Russia backs Iran, Trump has promised to take a harder line towards the Islamic republic even if he stops short of terminating the nuclear agreement concluded by the Obama administration and the international community.

Islamic State: Bringing Russia on board in a concerted allied effort to destroy IS will contribute to depriving the jihadist group of its territorial base in Iraq and Syria but will do little to help put the two countries back together as nation states. Nor will it address underlying drivers of jihadist violence fuelled by disenfranchisement, marginalisation, repression, regimes that fail to deliver economic and social goods, and the unilateral re-writing of social contracts.   

Egypt: Blinded by a focus on the fight against jihadism, support for general-turned-president Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, one of the country’s most repressive rulers, could prove to be an example of the pitfalls of uncritical backing of autocracy as dissatisfaction mounts with failed economic and social policies.   

Israel and Palestine: A policy that is less critical of Israeli policy towards the West Bank and Gaza and that moves away from support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state will complicate relations with the Arab and Muslim world. It will also further undermine the pro-peace faction led by President Mahmoud Abbas and strengthen Islamist groups such as Hamas.

Quintessential Approach

In many ways, Trump represents a quintessential approach towards foreign policy expressed by a US diplomat 40 years ago as he defended autonomy agreed at the time by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as the response to Palestinian aspirations. Questioned about the viability of the concept, the diplomat said with no consideration of the consequences and cost of failure: “We Americans are very pragmatic. We keep on trying. If one thing doesn’t work, we try something else.”

To be sure, Trump has yet to articulate a cohesive Middle East policy. The president-elect has nonetheless promised “a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past.”

In many ways, Trump’s statements hold out the promise of harking back to a policy that was first seriously dented by the 9/11 attacks and ultimately punctured by the popular Arab revolts of 2011 and their aftermath.

Trump’s foreign policy and national security line-up raises the spectre of an approach to the Middle East and North Africa that will further stir the region’s demons and set the scene for an administration policy that is driven by events on the ground rather than a cohesive, thought-out strategy.


James M. Dorsey PhD is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of University of Würzburg, Germany.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.


Nanyang Technological University
Block S4, Level B3, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798
Tel: +65 6790 6982 | Fax: +65 6794 0617 | www.rsis.edu.sg

Monday, December 12, 2016

Istanbul bombings: Soccer in the bull’s eye


By James M. Dorsey

Twin bombs in central Istanbul may not have targeted Besiktas JK’s newly refurbished Vodafone Arena stadium, but underscore the propaganda value of attacking a soccer match for both jihadist and non-jihadist groups. They also raise questions about counter-terrorism strategy.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, a splinter of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), claimed responsibility for Saturday’s blasts that targeted police on duty to maintain security at a match between top Turkish clubs Besiktas and Bursapor. Thirty-eight of the 30 people killed in the attacks were riot police.

Unlike the targeting of stadiums by jihadist groups such as the Islamic State’s attack on the Stade de France in Paris in November last year and its reportedly subsequent foiled attempts to bomb international matches in Belgium and Germany, the Falcon’s operation appeared designed to maximize police casualties and minimize civilian casualties.

American-Turkish soccer scholar and writer John Konuk Blasing reporting from Istanbul during the blasts noted that the attacks occurred two hours after the match attended by more than 40,000 people had ended. Mr. Blasing argued that the timing called into question President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to capitalize on the attacks by asserting that they had been “aimed to maximise casualties” irrespective of their identity.

Mr. Blasing reasoned that “the target of the stadium was chosen in order to send a message, a twisted and violent message that says: ‘We can do worse damage if we wanted to. Right now, we are attacking the state, not citizens. But if we want to target citizens, we can do that too.’”

With other words, Kurds much like the Islamic State or Al Qaeda in the past, Boko Haram in Nigeria or Al Shabab in Somalia could one day also target soccer matches that maximize the publicity effect of their operations because the games are often broadcast locally, regionally and internationally.

Mr. Erdogan’s assertion that the Istanbul attacks sought to cause random casualties served two purposes: to lump together all forms of political violence, jihadist attacks that seek to cause maximum civilian casualties, and in the case of militant Turkish Kurdish groups, the targeting of a state that long suppressed Kurdish political and cultural rights and cynically derailed promising peace talks in June 2015 when it served the electoral needs of the president’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The breakdown in the talks occurred as Mr. Erdogan was preparing for a second round of elections in November of that year after June polls had produced a hung parliament.

To be sure, the government and the PKK share equal blame for the collapse of the six-year old peace talks that followed the killing by the PKK of three Turkish policemen in June 2015. Similarly, south-eastern Turkey continued to experience sporadic violence during the ceasefire agreed upon at the outset of the talks and the PKK had not fully lived up to its commitment to disarm and withdraw from Turkish territory.

Nonetheless, analysis with a supercomputer of two years’ worth of geospatial data that sought to establish how militant Kurdish groups perceived threats suggested that the ceasefire on Turkish soil had been largely successful prior to the killing of the policemen. International relations scholar Akin Unver, who conducted the analysis noted that the PKK had focused its military activity in 2014 and early 2015 on fighting the Islamic State in Syria in a bid to further the national aspirations of its Syrian Kurdish brothers.

Amid Turkish and Kurdish doubts about the sincerity of their interlocutors in the peace talks, PKK support for the Syrian Kurds challenged Turkish policy that often was far more focussed on stymieing the rise of Kurdish nationalism and the emergence of Syrian Kurdish entity than on defeating the Islamic state that it at times viewed as a bulwark against the Kurds. The killing of the Turkish policemen was the convenient straw that broke the camel’s back.

“There is only one thing both sides agree upon: in the months before the collapse there was not much negotiating going on. Our data show there was not much fighting either,” Mr. Unver wrote in an article in the Financial Times.

Mr. Unver warned that the renewed hostilities with the Kurds coupled with Mr. Erdogan’s crackdown on the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (HDP) whose leaders and members of parliament have been targeted and/or detained in the wake of July’s failed military coup, “serves as fodder for disenchantment and radicalisation” among the Kurds.

Mr. Unver’s analysis has a bearing on Mr. Erdogan’s effort to lump all political violence together. To be sure, distinctions do not justify the use of violence, nor does the targeting of police officers rather than civilians give it any greater moral value.

The distinction is nonetheless significant in establishing the facts on the basis of which strategies to prevent escalation and the further shedding of innocent blood can be prevented. More than 30 years of armed confrontation between the Turkish military and Kurdish militants in which upwards of 40,000 people have been killed have failed to resolve the conflict.

Mr. Unver’s analysis suggests the pursuit of a negotiated, political solution, however fraught, may have been a more promising approach at a time that political violence perpetrated by multiple groups has wracked Turkey. Not counting devastating jihadist attacks, Saturday’s bombings were the sixth Kurdish operation this year.

“It is chilling that this may only be a prelude to much worse in Turkey,” Mr. Blasing noted. Much worse does not bode well and could increasingly turn soccer pitches among others into prime targets.


Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Has the Gulf cleaned up its act before Qatar 2022? (JMD quoted in The World Weekly)


 A lack of transparency persists when it comes to migrant workers’ rights, a new report has found. But who is to blame?
The plight of migrant workers in Gulf Arab countries was thrown into the spotlight several years ago when investigations revealed how dismal the working and housing conditions were for those building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Countless human rights violations were reported, revealing a dark side to the ‘beautiful game’. 
The kafala sponsorship system, which is in place throughout the region, is widely seen as a source of exploitation. Migrant workers have reported confiscated passports, held back wages and employers’ refusal to grant exit visas. 
Under heightened public pressure, governments and companies pledged to improve the situation. The emir of Qatar approved new rules to the sponsorship system, supposed to make it easier to change jobs and being able to leave the country. How much has really changed?
A new report on construction companies in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, both major employers of migrant labour with large infrastructure projects underway, indicates the problem persists. “Construction companies operating in the Gulf are failing to protect migrant workers from abusive working arrangements, showing a concerning lack of transparency on the safeguards they have in place,” the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said. Out of 100 companies, only 22 responded to a survey regarding the measures they are taking to stop the exploitation of migrant workers. Less than half of them had publicly available human rights commitments. 
Speaking to The World Weekly, the NGO’s press officer, Joe Bardwell, was unequivocal about the importance of transparency, calling the fact that companies are not demonstrating their commitment a “major problem”. 
“Transparency on human rights issues has been an important driver of progress in other sectors,” the report notes, pointing to the establishment of best practices. Several of those who failed to respond are involved in the construction of World Cup stadiums and three had received an award for excellence in labour relations in the UAE.
The lack of engagement “indicates not much action has been taken”, Mr. Bardwell said. This did not mean that there aren’t companies that are taking action and are not sharing it, he added, while stating that some companies were indeed leading the way in establishing best practices.

The suicide in September of an Indian construction worker at a building site in Qatar weeks after asking his employer to pay outstanding wages showed once again how precarious the situation of many migrant workers remains, especially amidst a downturn in oil prices hitting the energy-dependent countries in the Gulf.
For Dr. James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, it was clear that companies don’t feel compelled to engage, as there was “little pressure” on them, not least from FIFA in the case of World Cup host Qatar.
Both the UAE and Qatar were the countries that have taken the most steps in the region to address migrant workers’ rights, Dr. Dorsey, who runs a blog on the entanglement between football and politics in the Middle East, noted. Nevertheless, a lack of implementation in Qatar showed that neither the government nor FIFA have applied sufficient pressure to enforce mandated standards. The situation in the UAE was similar, he said.
For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare.”
 Salil Shetty , Amnesty International secretary general
As violations of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar and allegations of corruption made the headlines, the international football body faced increasing pressure to act; some even called for Qatar’s hosting rights to be suspended.
While seeing the government as the body primarily responsible for creating and implementing rules, Dr. Dorsey said FIFA had a responsibility as well. The organisation, mired by corruption scandals, earlier this year endorsed a report by John Ruggie, a former UN special representative for business and human rights. “FIFA is fully committed to respecting human rights,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, thanking Professor Ruggie for his recommendations on how to improve the body’s human rights record. 
Despite these assurances, news broke this week that legal action against FIFA was filed in a Swiss court on behalf of a Bangladeshi migrant worker. “The Swiss court is asked to rule that FIFA acted wrongfully by selecting Qatar for the World Cup 2022 without demanding the assurance that Qatar observes fundamental human and labour rights of migrant construction workers, including the abolition of the kafala system,” a statement by the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation read.
Mr. Bardwell saw companies as responsible, while also highlighting that there had not been enough pressure from all sides. 
“The awarding of the World Cup has already induced change,” Dr. Dorsey said, stating that Qatar was the only state in the Gulf region that had engaged with its critics. While praising the Qatari foundations for the policies they have adopted on migrant workers as a “start”, he urged that more needs to be done. 
In the current global environment where labour rights are being put on the back burner, progress going forward looks doubtful, he concluded. 
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre expected more engagement after the release of the report. “Scrutiny is only going to increase,” Mr. Bardwell told The World Weekly.
Manuel Langendorf

The World Weekly


08 December 2016 - last edited 08 December 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trade unions challenge FIFA and Qatar World Cup in Swiss Court


By James M. Dorsey

Two Bangladeshi and a Dutch trade union have sued FIFA in a Swiss court in legal proceedings that challenge the world soccer body’s awarding to Qatar of the 2022 World Cup because of the Gulf state’s controversial labour regime. The case could call into question group’s status as a non-profit and, if successful, open the door to a wave of claims against FIFA as well as Qatar and other Gulf states who employ millions of migrant workers.

The legal proceedings come at a crucial moment in efforts by trade unions and human rights groups to work with Qatar on reforming its kafala or labour sponsorship system that puts workers at the mercy of their employers.

Those efforts, a unique undertaking in a part of the world in which governments by and large refuse to engage and repress or bar their critics, have already produced initial results. The question is how far Qatar intends to push ahead with reform and to what degree it will feel the need to do so in a world in which the rise of populism has pushed human and other rights onto the backburner.

Trade unions and human rights argue that Qatar since winning World Cup hosting rights six years ago has had sufficient time to bring its labour system in line with international standards and that its moves so far fall short of that.

A key milestone alongside the trade unions’ legal action and a separate Swiss judicial inquiry into the integrity of the Qatari World Cup bid is a looming deadline set by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for Qatar to act on promises of reform that it has made.

The ILO warned last March that it would establish a Commission of Inquiry if Qatar failed to act within a year. Such commissions are among the ILO’s most powerful tools to ensure compliance with international treaties. The UN body has only established 13 such commissions in its century-long history. The last such commission was created in 2010 to force Zimbabwe to live up to its obligations.

The Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV), supported by the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress (BFTUC) and the Bangladesh Building and Wood Workers Federation (BBWWF), filed their complaint against FIFA on behalf of a Bangladeshi migrant worker, Nadim Sharaful Alam.

Mr. Alam was forced as is the norm in recruitment for Qatar to pay $4,300 to a recruitment agency in violation of Qatari law and FIFA standards that stipulate that employers should shoulder the cost of hiring. To raise the money, Mr. Alam had to mortgage land he owned, according to FNV lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld. Mr. Alam is also demanding compensation for being the victim of “modern slavery,” Ms. Zegveld said.

The FNV said in a statement that it wanted the court to rule that “FIFA acted wrongfully by selecting Qatar for the World Cup 2022 without demanding the assurance that Qatar observes fundamental human and labour rights of migrant construction workers, including the abolition of the kafala system.” FIFA is a Swiss incorporated legal entity.

The trade unions’ further demand that the court order FIFA to ensure that in the run-up to the World Cup workers’ rights are safeguarded by pressuring the Gulf state to enact and implement adequate and effective labour reforms takes on added significance following the group’s decision to take over responsibility for preparations of World Cups starting with the Qatar tournament.

A Swiss government-sponsored unit of the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which groups 34 of the world’s richest countries, last year defined FIFA as a multi-national rather than a non-profit that was bound by the OECD’s guidelines. The decision meant that the soccer group would be responsible for upholding of the human and labour rights of workers employed in Qatar on World Cup-related projects. A court ruling upholding that principle would reinforce FIFA’s status as a business rather than a non-governmental organization.

FIFA has repeatedly said that it was “fully committed to do its utmost to ensure that human rights are respected on all FIFA World Cup sites and operations and services directly related to the FIFA World Cup.” FIFA has recently included provisions for labour standards in World Cup contracts that kick in with the 2026 tournament.

The decision to take on responsibility for World Cups means that FIFA no longer can hide behind assertions that it has no legal authority to impose its will on host countries. In a letter to Ms. Zegveld and the trade unions’ Swiss lawyers date 16 October 2016, FIFA Deputy Secretary General Marco Villiger asserted however that “FIFA refutes any and all assertions…regarding FIFA's wrongful conduct and liability for human rights violations taking place in Qatar.” Ms. Zegveld noted that FIFA had refrained from denying the violations themselves.

A recent survey of construction companies involved in World Cup-related infrastructure projects in Qatar called into question whether the Gulf state and FIFA were doing all they could do to enforce international labour standards.

Less than a quarter of the 100 companies approached for the survey by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre deemed it appropriate to respond. Less than 40 percent publicly expressed a commitment to human rights and only 17 percent referred to international standards. Only three companies publicly acknowledged rights of migrant workers.

A human rights researcher with extensive experience in studying recruitment of migrant labour in Asia said the system was controlled by an international crime syndicate that benefitted from collusion between corrupt senior government officials, company executives, and recruitment agencies that cooperated across national borders at the expense of millions of unskilled workers. “Billions of dollars are involved, all off the books, not taxed that come from migrant workers,” the researcher said.

A trade union court victory could open the door to an avalanche of cases by migrant workers demanding compensation for illegal recruitment practices as well as being victims of a system that curtails freedom of contract as well as basic human freedoms and workers’ rights. Those cases could target not only FIFA but also Qatar and other Gulf states that operate a kafala system. “This could just be the beginning,” said a trade union activist.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Qatari and FIFA pledges on worker rights have little impact on construction companies


By James M. Dorsey

A recent survey of construction companies involved in World Cup-related infrastructure projects in Qatar raises questions about whether the Gulf state and world soccer body FIFA are doing all that could do to enforce international standards for the living and working conditions of migrant workers as well as adherence to human rights.

The issue of Qatar and FIFA’s sincerity is underscored by the fact that a majority of 100 companies operating in Qatar as well as the United Arab Emirates, which prides itself on enacting the region’s most advanced labour-related legislation and regulation, felt no need in a recent survey to be transparent about their commitment to labour and human rights. The apparent lack of pressure on companies suggests that Qatar and FIFA have so far passed on opportunities to enforce adherence to standards.

Both Qatar and FIFA have been under pressure from human rights groups and trade unions to reform the Gulf state’s onerous kafala or labour sponsorship system that deprives workers of basic rights and puts them at the mercy of their employers. The pressure on Qatar coupled with economic difficulties as the result of tumbling energy prices have prompted virtually all Gulf states to tinker with their labour regimes.

To be sure, Qatar has responded to the pressure by becoming the only Gulf state to engage with its critics. It has also promised to legislate initial reforms that fall short of activists’ demands by the end of the year. Several major Qatari institutions, including the 2022 World Cup organizing committee and Qatar Foundation, have adopted standards and model contracts that significantly improve workers’ living and working conditions.

Those standards have yet in their totality to be enshrined in national legislation. Even that however would not resolve all issues, first and foremost among them the requirement of an exit visa to leave the country.

An Amnesty International report published earlier this year charged that migrant workers involved in World Cup-related infrastructure were still subjected to “appalling” human rights abuses six years after the hosting of the tournament was awarded to Qatar and at the halfway mark since the hosting rights were awarded to the Gulf state. The 2022 Qatari committee has said issues in the report have since been addressed.

Qatar moreover recently announced that a major international union, Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), would be included in inspections of World Cup construction sites in the Gulf state. Italian company Salini Impregilo, one the companies surveyed, earlier signed an agreement with BWI and Italian construction unions to promote and respect human rights and has allowed BWI to visit its worker accommodations in Qatar.

The onus on FIFA to ensure adherence to workers and human rights meanwhile is about to increase with the soccer body’s decision to take over responsibility for preparations of World Cups starting with the Qatar tournament.

FIFA earlier this year endorsed a report it had commissioned from Harvard international affairs and human rights professor John Ruggie, a former United Nations Secretary-General special representative for business and human rights. Mr. Ruggie provided advice on how FIFA should embed the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights into everything it does.

Less than a quarter of the companies approached for the survey by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre deemed it appropriate to respond despite FIFA and Qatar’s public commitments to workers and human rights. Less than 40 percent of the companies approached publicly expressed a commitment to human rights and only 17 percent refer to international standards. Only three publicly acknowledge rights of migrant workers.

The survey noted that three UAE companies - Arabtec, BK Gulf (a subsidiary of UK-headquartered Balfour Beatty), Habtoor Leighton Group, and Al Jaber Group – that had failed to respond to the survey were recipients of the Emirates’ 2016 Taqdeer Award for excellence in labour relations.

Similarly, none of the companies with headquarters in Asia -- China, India, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea – responded.

“The lack of response represents a missed opportunity to demonstrate the actions they are taking to adhere to the Workers’ Welfare Standards of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy,” the 2022 Qatari committee, the survey noted.

The survey singled out several companies that had taken steps to improve safeguards for migrant workers. Those companies include Vinci (QDVC), a joint venture between Qatar Diar Real Estate Investment Company, a subsidiary of the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, and France’s VINCI (QDVC) Construction Grand Projects. Ironically, Sherpa, a French human rights group, accused VINCI last year of employing forced labour and "keeping people in servitude." VINCI, which employs 3,500 people in Qatar, denied the charges and threatened to sue Sherpa.

The survey said the willingness of companies to publicly detail their commitment to workers and human rights was important because “transparency on human rights issues has been an important driver of progress in other sectors. It generates examples of best practice that can be shared publicly with others and replicated, and enables accountability such that civil society, investors and others can hold companies to their stated actions, or call them out for inaction.”

Beyond health, safety, worker accommodation and timely payment of wages, the survey identified fair recruitment based on the principle of the employer pays, freedom of movement, worker input, and supply chain accountability as key issues that companies needed to address. The survey noted that the most progressive companies had found ways to circumvent Gulf restrictions on freedom of association and collective organisation.

Best practices included personal storage compartments in workers’ living quarters provided by Vinci (QDVC) and Laing O’Rourke to ensure that workers have sole custody of their passports in a country in which employers often illegally confiscate travel documents.

Vinci (QDVC) alongside Laing O’ Rourke, Multiplex, Salini Impregilo, SNC-Lavalin ensure that recruitment companies that illegally charge workers exorbitant fees reimbursed those recruited. Workers often arrive in Qatar and other Gulf states heavily indebted as a result of recruitment fees even though they are banned by law in Qatar and the UAE.

Carillion, Laing O’Rourke and Salini Impregilo said they supported the principle of freedom of association by providing workers in the Gulf with alternative means of expression and collective organising through worker welfare committees.

“Committed and concerted action by the construction industry holds the potential to prevent exploitation and drive genuine improvements in the lives of millions of workers around the world. While our outreach has identified some promising leading examples, the entire sector has a long way to travel to fulfil its human rights commitments,” the survey concluded.


Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.