The moral labyrinth of football malice

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Are we putting too much responsibility on football? After all, the game we recognize today began as a frivolous competition for English factory workers to let off steam at the end of a miserable, emotionally thankless and thankless week of work at the 19e century. Yet this futile ball game in which 11 adult men attempt to point a bloated ball in one direction while 11 others attempt to stop them, has, over the course of the 20e century, has gained worldwide fame.


The relationship between football and populism

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There isn’t a country on earth where citizens won’t know the names of at least three football teams, wear club badges, and watch, play and bet on football. About 3.5 billion people watched part of the 2018 World Cup, of which 1.12 billion watched for at least one minute, according to FIFA, the world’s governing body for sport.

With more than 3.5 billion fans, football’s faithful are comparable to those of a major religion, such as Christianity (2.38 billion) or Islam (1.9 billion). But unlike religions, football, like other sports, shouldn’t speak out on torture, gay rights, labor exploitation, freedom of speech, or any other moral issue of the day. The problem is, it does.

Global Inclusion Society

The moral philosophy of football seems clear. FIFA expressed its two key directives in its policy document, “Making football truly global: the 2020-2023 vision” as “Combating racism and all other forms of discrimination” and “Protecting human rights” . To demonstrate its sincerity, in June 2020 the English Premier League approved football players kneeling before matches to show committed opposition to racism following the murder of George Floyd by police in the United States.

Other major sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the National Football League (NFL) in the United States, categorically refused to allow the gesture, acknowledging that it would undermine the traditional stance on political actions. and partisans. Football was one of the first to take a “common sense approach” to the controversial ritual and remains an enthusiastic supporter despite objections, some from black players. Other sports reluctantly agreed to kneel down, in large part due to pressure from players. The NFL finally changed positions last year and the IOC before the Tokyo Olympics.

Football continued without scruple. “We remain resolutely committed to our singular goal of eradicating racial prejudice wherever it exists, to build a global society of inclusion, respect and equal opportunity for all,” a statement said in August. “The Premier League will continue to work with our clubs, players and football partners to make tangible changes to remove inequalities from our game.” Yet two recent developments suggest that practical considerations complicate principles.

Eighteen months ago, an attempted consortium buyout of Newcastle United collapsed after the Premier League decided that if the deal had been cleared Saudi Arabia would effectively have become the club’s owner . The Gulf State would be subject to the test of the owners and administrators of the league. Failure of the test means that potential buyers can be arrested if they have committed an act in a foreign jurisdiction that would be considered a criminal offense in the UK, even if the act is not illegal in their territory. ‘origin.

Initial potential buyers withdrew, with the popular hypothesis at the time being the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Saudi agents were widely reported to be responsible for the murder.

However, it emerged that the real stumbling block was Saudi Arabia’s apparent involvement in a television network that broadcast Premier League games. Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports had spent billions to acquire the territorial rights to the games, but the Saudis “permanently canceled” its license and suspended its channels in 2017. Reduced to its essentials, the deal was stalled because of money. So when the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia was settled earlier this year, the deal was revived.

Sports wash

The completed sale of Newcastle United Football Club to the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is widely believed to be responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, has horrified and disgusted critics. Amnesty International said the Saudi authorities “are washing away their appalling human rights record with the glamor of top-level football”. Sportswashing is an attempt by odious political regimes to clean up their international image by partnering with prestigious sporting events or competitions.

Amnesty says Saudi Arabia routinely violates human rights in a variety of ways, including using torture as punishment, banning freedom of speech and expression, and subjugating women. The Saudi government denies the claims of rights violations and says its apparent excesses are designed out of national security concerns. Presumably the Premier League – and perhaps football in general – accepts it.

Saudi Arabia’s Gulf neighbors, all of whom have questionable human rights records, have already acquired major football clubs: Qatar Sports Investments owns Paris Saint-Germain; Sheikh Mansour, a royal from Abu Dhabi, owns Manchester City. Qatar is set to host the FIFA World Cup next year.

The timing of the recovery is hardly right. In Saudi Arabia, women have essentially the same legal status as children, and must rely on their husbands or male relatives to make almost all decisions in their lives. A large part of the workspaces in the territory are gender specific. In 2019, Saudi Arabia was ranked the fourth most dangerous place in the world for gay travelers by Forbes magazine, which reported that the country “applies the death penalty for consensual homosexuality under its law. interpretation of Sharia ”.

Football ostensibly advocates freedom, equality and openness while engaging in island regimes that encourage practices that it officially denounces. In the 1970s, Commonwealth countries banned sports contacts with South Africa, enforcing a constitutional policy of racial segregation known as apartheid. The Gleneagles deal, as it was called, effectively ended South African sport. Non-Commonwealth countries have shown solidarity in supporting the ban, which was not relaxed until the end of apartheid in 1990. No one has dared to suggest a comparable ban for the Gulf states.

Freedom or dereliction of duty?

But that’s not the only dilemma football has faced in recent weeks.

West Bromwich Albion player Callum Robinson is among an unknown but possibly significant number of professional football players who choose not to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Robinson deserves attention because he has contracted COVID twice, survived (obviously), and presumably decided that the dangers of the virus outweigh the potential side effects of the vaccine.

He is not, to our knowledge, an affiliate of QAnon, subscribes to any known conspiracy theory, and has aligned himself with anti-vaccination activists. He has the support of some teammates and not others. He’s 26 and probably expects to play competitively for another 10 years, maybe more, if he avoids injury. His decision angered Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who said footballers “are role models in society”. Currently, 16-29 year olds are the most vaccine-reluctant demographic in the UK and elsewhere; Klopp is 54 years old.

We can only use educated guesswork to guess the reasons why so many professional athletes choose not to get the shot. Their bodies are, in a sense, the tools of their trade and they presumably performed a cost-benefit calculation, recognizing that, given the brevity of vaccine development and testing compared to other pharmaceuticals, the means to long term, long term side effects are unknown and, without the benefit of a time machine, currently unknowable.

In the United States, the National Basketball Association (NBA), facing a similar percentage of reluctant players, has forced them to either get the shot or face an unpaid suspension. The order worked: 95% of NBA players are now vaccinated. Football governing bodies have avoided this approach. Instead, FIFA issued a statement saying that “we encourage vaccinations against Covid-19”.

Depending on your point of view, this is either an admirable defense of freedom of choice or a dereliction of duty. Those who believe in the latter are enraged by the indecision of football, if that’s right. They see public health as a priority over personal freedom.

If FIFA had blocked the Newcastle takeover, people would likely accuse football of favoritism, pointing fingers at Manchester and Paris properties. If he followed the NBA’s mandate, people would accuse him of restricting freedom of choice. But football’s own piety invites such criticism. Other sports do not see the need to make their moral philosophy so public, at least not with so much ostentation or complacency. Why football?

No sport has fought racism so painfully and for so long, and no sport has witnessed spectator violence of comparable magnitude or duration. Bribery and corruption were once rife in boxing, but a 2015 revelation revealed the epic story of football’s venality and led to the impeachment of FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter .

Child abuse was once thought to only exist in gymnastics, but a recent survey found that it has been around in football since at least the 1970s. Australian female players have recently complained of a ‘culture of harassment sexual ”.

No other sport in history has been as popular as football or, alas, has exhibited so many pernicious and multifaceted misdeeds. Football constantly struggles to get out of a maze of malevolence. Perhaps his visible attempt to occupy moral ground is football’s attempt to place itself above suspicion, to make its morality clear to everyone. It’s a bold move, but with serious drawbacks. This highlights the hypocrisy of football.

[Ellis Cashmore is a co-editor of Studying Football.]

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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