Showing posts from February, 2014

The Iranian Nuclear Deal: Rewriting the Middle East Map (JMD in Insight Turkey)


Egyptian autocrats struggle with soccer’s political pros and cons

Zamalek ultras storm stadium in protest against ban on spectators
By James M. Dorsey
An Egyptian government initiative to build more than a thousand new soccer pitches to “keep youth off the streets” against the backdrop of a rising number of clashes between fans and security forces and a likely extension and expansion of the ban on spectators attending matches highlights the opportunities and threats the beautiful game poses for Middle Eastern and North African autocratic rulers.
A youth ministry official told, a news website operated by the US military’s Central Command, that the government was investing $93 million in 1,100 pitches across soccer-crazy Egypt that would be built by the end of this year. An Egyptian Football Association official told the website that the pitches would help produce a new generation of professional soccer players.
The decision to build the pitches came as 25 policemen were injured in clashes with militant soccer fans, a court sentenced 15…

Mounting workers’ deaths increase pressure on Qatar, FIFA and Asian countries

By James M. Dorsey
A mounting number of reports of deaths of foreign workers in Qatar increases pressure on the Gulf state and world soccer body FIFA to urgently address their security and working conditions. While the reports leave questions unanswered they also point to lax efforts to ensure that workers are not exploited by corrupt middle men and human resource managers and are mentally and physically prepared for work in high summer temperatures and often sub-standard conditions.
Pressure mounted this week with the first confirmation that high death rates are prevalent not only among Nepalese workers in Qatar – the focus of international trade unions and human rights groups until now – but also in other communities. The Indian embassy in Doha reported that more than 500 Indian workers had died in Qatar in the last two years. Indians account for 22% of the estimated 1.2 million workers in Qatar – a number that is expected to increase substantially as work begins on infrastructure …

Murky Turkish soccer politics mesh with massive corruption scandal

Fenerbahce fans protest
By James M. Dorsey
Always murky, Turkish soccer politics have become even murkier as a politics-laden match-fixing scandal meshes with a corruption investigation that targets Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his closest associates.
Defendants in both scandals – Mr. Erdogan and the management of one of Turkey’s most storied clubs – portray the allegations against them as part of a power struggle between the prime minister and a self-exiled preacher who heads one of the world’s most formidable Islamist movements.
To tens of thousands of anti-government protesters mobilized last Sunday by fans of Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Spor Kulubu for the largest anti-government demonstration since last June’s Gezi Park protests on Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the two scandals are expressions of a growing rot in Turkish politics and society. The protesters called for justice not only for Fenerbahce but all of Turkey, expressed support for Fenerbahce chairman Aziz Yildirim who …

Qatar unwittingly forces potential improvement of soccer governance

FIFA executive Theo Zwanziger addresses the European parliament
By James M. Dorsey
This is hardly how Qatar would have wanted to do it, but the Gulf state has unwittingly contributed to a potential improvement in the governance of soccer and word sports as a result of mounting controversy over its labour standards. .
The controversy in which Qatar has sought to evade political demands for granting workers full political rights, including the right to organize freely and bargain collectively, by adopting significantly improved standards for their living and working conditions is forcing international sports associations to make human and other rights part of their criteria for awarding in future a country the right to host a mega sporting event.
"We need to rethink this and give human rights a much higher status," Theo Zwanziger,  speaking on behalf of world soccer body FIFA, told a European parliament hearing on Qatar this week.
Mr. Zwanziger’s statement follows last year’s …

Workers’ welfare in Qatar: Navigating a minefield

By James M. Dorsey
Qatari organizers of the 2022 World Cup -- in a bid to fend off criticism in the European parliament, convince world soccer body FIFA of progress made in improving conditions of foreign workers, and side line political demands by international trade unions – has issued the Gulf state’s most detailed workers welfare standards to date.
The 50-page document to be included in all World Cup-related contracts was issued two days before a hearing in the European parliament at which FIFA executive Theo Zwanziger is expected to testify on Qatar’s progress.
Qatar has been under pressure by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and human rights groups since winning the World Cup hosting rights to address concerns about the living and working conditions of foreign workers, who account for a significant majority of the Gulf state’s population. Critics noted that the standards do not apply to a majority of vast infrastructure projects that don’t fall under the purv…

Saudi soccer debates broadens over women’s rights and nationalism

Female US Congressional staffers in Riyadh's King Fahd Stadium
By James M. Dorsey
A Saudi debate about the societal role of soccer expanded this week with controversy over a group of female American Congressional staffers being allowed to watch a match in a Riyadh stadium from which Saudi women are barred and a video in which a teacher encouraged his students to chant slogans for a soccer club rather than the national anthem.
The expanded debate hooks into a broader debate about women’s rights in a country that upholds gender segregation; bans women from driving, attending sports matches and forces women’s soccer clubs to operate in a legal and social nether land; and in general provides few sporting opportunities for women. A Saudi student allegedly died earlier this month after officials at King Saud University refused to allow male emergency responders entry to the women only section of the campus to apply first aid.
In the latest twist of the debate on women’s rights, Saudi …

Saudis debate societal merits of soccer

A Saudi father says the defeat of his son's soccer team is a reason to keep him at home
By James M. Dorsey
Saudi parents have joined the country’s clergy in debating the societal merits of soccer in a deeply religious and fundamentalist country, which has long been ambiguous towards what is the kingdom’s most popular sport out of concern that it poses a serious challenge to Islam.
The broadening of the debate on social media, increasingly the only public space where Saudis can engage in discussions and express dissenting views, was sparked by a father’s decision not to send his 10-year old son to school for several days after his son’s team, Al Hilal FC (The Crescent), lost a derby with its arch rival, Al Nasr FC, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The father said he wanted to spare his son heckling by classmates who support Al Nasr. Al Nasr’s 2:1 defeat of Al Hilal ended Al Hilal’s six year winning streak.
The online debate constitutes one more example of the growing importance of …

Qatar’s sports-focused public diplomacy backfires

By James M. Dorsey
A perceived lack of real progress in the improvement of conditions for foreign labour, aggravated by a Qatari reluctance to engage in public debate beyond platitudes, is undermining the soft power goals underlying the Gulf state’s sports strategy.
The silver lining in the public relations beating Qatar is taking is that it forces international sports associations like FIFA, the world’s governing soccer body, to include issues of labour and other rights in their policy towards hosts of mega events like the 2022 World Cup. That was already evident last year when the International Olympics Committee (IOC) rejected Qatar’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, in part, according to labour activists, because of workers’ material conditions.
FIFA, in its latest response to persistent media reporting on onerous living and working conditions of foreign workers who constitute a majority of the Gulf state’s population and are building vast infrastructure projects some of which are …