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Turkish and Egyptian ultras fight for their existence

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Besiktas fans invade the pitch
By James M. Dorsey
Much like the Muslim Brotherhood, militant soccer fans in Egypt and Turkey are fighting for their existence.
Turkish police raided the homes of and arrested 72 militant supporters of Istanbul’s top clubs – Besiktas JK, Fenerbahce FC and Galatasaray SK -- after a derby between Besiktas and Galatasary was abandoned because fans invade the pitch. Penalizing Besiktas, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) ordered the club to play its next four games behind closed doors.
Critics of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suspect that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) engineered the incident in a bid to further repress Besiktas’ popular militant fan group, Carsi that played a key role in mass anti-government protests earlier this year. They point to the fact security was lax at the match and that a youth leader of the AKP boasted on Facebook how he had obtained a free ticket to the Besiktas Galatasary derby and was one of the first …

Harsh Qatari labor conditions move center stage as FIFA debates World Cup

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By James M. Dorsey
Controversy over conditions for unskilled and semi-skilled workers in Qatar involved in the construction of World Cup-related infrastructure as well as for flight attendants of Qatar Airways, the 2022 tournament’s likely official carrier, has moved center stage as world soccer body FIFA prepares to debate next week the Gulf state’s hosting of the 2022 soccer tournament.
FIFA’s focus is on whether to move the tournament from summer to winter because of Qatar’s harsh summer temperatures that can exceed 40 degrees Celsius. FIFA however will find it difficult to maintain a narrow concern for the welfare of players with no regard to the army of workers involved in constructing billions of dollars in World Cup-related infrastructure. Beyond reputational damage, the debate over workers’ rights and conditions increases the risk of FIFA being pushed to entertain depriving Qatar of its hosting rights, a move that would be perceived by much of the Muslim world as anti-Arab an…

Turkish soccer pitches re-emerge as political battlefields

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By James M. Dorsey
Turkish soccer pitches have reasserted themselves as political battlefields following the death of a protester and the emergence of pro-government football support groups in the wake of mass anti-government demonstrations in June.
The revival of the soccer battlefield signals the initial failure of government attempts to regain political control of the pitch by imposing restrictions on political expression during matches, tacitly supporting  pro-government support groups, legal actions against anti-government fans and a public affairs campaign that projects protest as a precursor of terrorism.
Clashes during an Istanbul derby this weekend between rival fan groups as well as with the police cemented soccer’s role in Turkey’s political power struggles, fuelled suggestions that the government was employing its football support groups to create pretexts for further measures against Carsi, the militant left wing fan group of storied Istanbul club Besiktas JK and strengt…

Decision to change date of Qatari World Cup risks political and legal rows

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By James M. Dorsey
A pending decision in early October by world soccer body FIFA on whether to move the Qatar 2022 World Cup from summer to winter threatens to open debate on whether to deprive the Gulf state of its right to host one of the world’s two largest sporting events and could spark allegations of an anti-Arab bias.
The debate about the Qatari World Cup also focuses the spotlight on the incestuous relationship between politics and sports, a relationship that FIFA president Sepp Blatter in a rare acknowledgement, confirmed by charging that politics had prompted the eight European members of his 24-member executive committee to deliver eight of the 14 votes cast in favor of Qatar. The acknowledgement highlights the need to end denial of a fact of life and move to some form of governance of the relationship between sports and politics.
The debates have intensified as the FIFA executive committee prepares to discuss on October 3 and 4 a shifting the Qatari World Cup to winter be…

Middle Eastern investors target lower tier European clubs

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By James M. Dorsey
Middle Eastern investors have adopted a new strategy of buying low and selling high with a series of acquisitions of second and third tier European soccer clubs.
In the most recent acquisition, Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad, the billionaire former president of Saudi Arabia's most successful club Al Hilal and founder and chairman of the publicly-listed Saudi Paper Manufacturing Group, the largest paper tissue manufacturer in the Middle East, bought a 50 per cent stake in Sheffield United with the aim of helping the club graduate from the third league to England’s Premier League. "This is the best way to make profit if the club rises to League One and then the premiership," the prince, the first member of the Saudi ruling family to invest in a foreign soccer team, said.
Prince Abdullah’s statement echoed earlier remarks by Bahraini investors who late last year bought storied second tier English club Leeds United for $82.5 million. GFH Capital was the…

Saudi Arabia mulls granting women access to stadia

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Source: Al Arabiya
By James M. Dorsey
Saudi Arabia’s secretive ruling family is mulling allowing women to attend soccer matches. No Saudi official has suggested that the controversial issue is under discussion but if past experience is any indication, a series of statements and denials suggests that a debate is underway.
The debate would be a revival of closed door discussions that has been waged on and off for the past two years. Attempting to assess debates within the secretive family is not dissimilar to Kremlinology, the speculative science analysts developed in an effort to understand the inner workings of the Soviet leadership.
Granting women sporting rights in the kingdom that in most parts of the world would be taken for granted takes on added significance with the Saudi Football Federation’s recent suggestion that the kingdom will compete against the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Thailand and Iran for the right to host the 2019 Asia Cup; hints that Saudi Arabia ma…

Wahhabism vs. Wahhabism: Qatar Challenges Saudi Arabia (Part 1)

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The RSIS Working Paper series presents papers in a preliminary form and serves to stimulate comment and discussion. The views expressed are entirely the author’s own and not that of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. If you have any comments, please send them to the following email address: Rsispublication@ntu.edu.sg  Unsubscribing If you no longer want to receive RSIS Working Papers, please click on “Unsubscribe.” to be removed from the list.




No. 262


Wahhabism vs. Wahhabism: Qatar Challenges Saudi Arabia



James M. Dorsey


S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Singapore



06 September 2013