FIFA President Sepp Blatter isn't the most-respected sporting figure around, and he seemingly doesn't know when to shut up. Just as the furor in the United States at the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was dying down, Blatter happened to remind the world of another problem with Qatar's bid.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, which apparently doesn't matter to FIFA because, hey, those pre-game speeches are only about racism. God forbid any other minority group be persecuted. Here was Blatter's solution for gay fans worried about attending the event:
They [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities."
Former NBA player John Amaechi, who famously came out in 2007, told the BBC 5 radio that, "It's not about people having sex in public and being sanctioned for it, it's the fact that Qatar was one of 79 countries to sanction executing gays at the United Nations." Here's what FIFA's official mission says, under "What We Stand For":
...Unity. We believe it is FIFA's responsibility to foster unity within the football world and to use football to promote solidarity, regardless of gender, ethnic background, faith or culture."
Whoops, forgetting something?
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Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010 represent some of the brightest minds in the world today. Reuters' Chrystia Freeland, in partnership with FP, sat down with a number of them to hear the ideas that put them on the list. Nouriel Roubini, who came in at No. 12 on our list, told Freeland that, contrary to conventional wisdom, financial crises in modern-day capitalism are not rare events -- and that they're becoming more frequent, more violent, and more damaging.
FIFA today announced that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup and … Qatar … would host the 2022 Cup. Obviously this is shocking news across the sporting and football worlds.
So why Russia and Qatar?
Russia, actually, makes a certain amount of sense. In the end, it seemed like the choice had come down to Russia and England. (The reports that England finished fourth out of fourth for 2018 bidding are stunning, and if true, really demonstrate an … interesting mindset on the part of the FIFA commissioners.) Russia is still largely untapped by football. The Russian Premier League is not yet at the level of La Liga, Serie A, or the English Premier League, but it certainly qualifies as a middle tier European football division.
Moreover, there's a sense that football is growing in popularity in the country, and there is money to be made in the market. Logistically, brand new stadiums, and enough viable locations for them, are something FIFA salivates over in the bidding process. Russia can provide that. Despite being heartbreaking for England (and the joint bids of Spain/Portugal and the Netherlands/Belgium), Russia has the potential to host a strong Cup.
The 2022 decision is more mystifying, but there are a few legitimate enticements Qatar offered. The idea of hosting the Cup in the Arab world is a plus, and by all accounts Qatar's bid presentation was astonishing -- promising to build 9 completely new stadiums, renovating three others, then donating them to third world countries after the tournament, and guaranteeing a Green Cup. But there's a reason why FIFA labeled Qatar's bid "high risk."
(Puzzling, England was recognized to have the best presentation, but that didn't factor into the 2018 decision. The corruption questions are already swirling -- and have been for some months. The New York Times' Jére Longman wrote up a good overview on Nov. 30. )
Qatar presents two major logistical problems that FIFA faces. Qatar is alleging their new stadiums -- open-air, a FIFA requirement -- will be equipped with advanced air conditioned technology, allowing for adequate playing conditions. But where will the players train? 12 stadiums isn't hardly enough. Unless the plan is to build a giant air-conditioned dome above the country, the heat factor -- consistently over 100 degrees farenheit in summer -- is a massive challenge.
Additionally, Qatar's lack of viable summer activities outside the games -- compared to its competitors -- is sigificant, and will deter a large amount of fans from making the trip. That is, after all, the ultimate purpose of the tournament -- promoting diversity and celebrating the fact that, for at least two months, we can put aside our differences and celebrate an event with universal interest. That's not possible with empty stadiums.
As a devoted United States soccer fan, greatly interested in the domestic (I actually watched the MLS playoffs in the last two seasons, and can say the 2009 championship game was arguably the most epic sporting event I've seen) and international game, this is a crushing blow to take. I am old enough to remember the passion of 1994, and young enough to come of age in an era where soccer took off in the United States. While there's no risk that my interest in soccer will wane, there is a chance that many casual followers will, if not tune out, be less engaged with the sport. It's impossible for me to separate that fact from my analysis -- I, like all other U.S. soccer fans today, feel gutted.
It had long been expected that the 2022 tournament was the United States' to lose, and for good reason: the 1994 World Cup was the most successful in the history of the competition (by far), soccer is growing leaps and bounds in the country and its domestic league has just finished its 15th year and is expanding. The country with the most tickets bought for the 2010 World Cup (besides host-country South Africa) was the United States, again by some margin. No infrastructure construction is required (and a number of new stadiums will be built anyway in the next 12 years), there are a huge amount of viable locations to host games, and, despite its struggles, the United States national team has proved itself a legitimate player in international tournaments. (Lest we forget that the United States, in the 2009 Confederation's Cup in South Africa, beat future World Cup winners Spain 2-0, ending their 35 game unbeaten streak?) Furthermore, the United States has qualified for the last six World Cups, a feat that only powerhouses Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Spain can match.
Qatar is 113th in FIFA's world football rankings. There's no history nor tradition of the beautiful game in the country. It has never qualified for a World Cup, finished 8th in the Asian Football Confederation's final qualifying round for 2010 -- and will receive an automatic bid for 2022. It has very little infrastructure in place, and that which will be built will be constructed by migrant laborers with very few rights. As recently as 2008, Qatar was in the lowest country tier in the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report.
FIFA also made another, more practical, mistake -- the United States is a huge market, the growth potential of the sport is enormous in the country, and there's, ultimately, a massive amount of money to be made. The Arab world already loves football -- there are few regional viewers to gain.
Finally, following the 2010 and 2014 (South Africa, Brazil) Cups with two more question marks is a gamble. Now, China, rumored to have interest in hosting the 2026 Cup, will likely not have the chance to do so until 2036 (the same confederation can not host two Cups in a row). And if there are any slipups in the run-up to either 2018 or 2022, you can bet that Brits and Americans will be screaming, "I told you so."
On the bright side, I'd bet everything I have on the United States getting the 2026 or 2030 World Cup.
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"Hello beautiful world. I would like to thank all my followers, We've passed the million mark! Woo-hoo!."
For comparison, U.S. President Barack Obama has almost 6,000,000 followers, though his account has been open for a much longer period of time. (Note: The White House has 1,800,000 followers -- the above figure is Obama's Organizing for America account, which was previously his campaign Twitter profile.) Dmitry Medvedev's official English Kremlin account, however, has a mere 50,000 followers. (And the Russian version has only 111,000 followers.)
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Violence has engulfed Karachi since Oct. 16, with close to 90 dead across the city. An Oct. 17 special election to replace assassinated Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) legislator Raza Haider boiled over long-held tensions between the MQM and the Awami National Party (ANP). Haider was shot dead at the Jamia Mosque in Nazimabad, a suburb of Karachi, on Aug. 2.
Street violence is nothing new to Karachi; the army was forced to restore order in the 90's, and clashes have oft-occurred in the last few years. After Haider's death, MQM leaders insinuated that the ANP was responsible, sparking street clashes which left dozens dead. (The MQM and ANP, along with the Pakistan People's Party [PPP], rule Sindh province in a coalition government; on the national level, the PPP and the MQM rule together.) The MQM retained the seat as the ANP boycotted the poll.
While affairs in Pakistan's northwest grab the Western headlines, the street battles in Karachi are more important to the Pakistani state. The MQM-ANP violence is not merely political, but carries ethnic undertones. The MQM is largely composed of muhajirs, Urdu-speakers who fled India during the 1947 partition, while the ANP is backed by Pashtuns. Karachi has long been overwhelmingly muhajir, and politically dominated by the MQM, but Pashtuns -- including Afghan refugees and internally displaced Pakistanis, as well as economic migrants -- have entered the city in increasing numbers over the last three decades. Apparently, familiarity does breed contempt in Pakistan's most important city.
Karachi has been spared the widespread suicide bombings that have hit cities like Peshawar and Lahore, but the MQM has blamed increasing levels of violence on Pashtun migrants, alleging that they've both brought Taliban elements with them and are not doing enough to prevent the "Talibanization" of Karachi. The ANP, not suprisingly, disputes this. (For an example of MQM feelings towards the ANP, read this press release on the recent violence from its head, Altaf Hussain -- the ethnic code isn't very subtle.)
So while the attention paid by the U.S. military, politicians, and media to Pakistan focuses almost solely on the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), it is ethnic conflict, not militant Islam, that is a bigger danger to the stability of the Pakistani state. For now, the killings are alleged to be targeted -- though this round-up from Dawn seems to point to randomized violence as well. Karachi was entirely shut down Wednesday, and Pakistan can ill afford a situation in which its most vital economic hub is cut off.
The Pakistani military seems to have come to the conclusion that if they can keep the Afghan Taliban onsides by neglecting to crack down, they're willing to pay the cost of whatever the Pakistani Taliban -- at the moment, outside their nominal control -- dishes out. But the ethnic conflict exploding on the streets of Karachi this week may turn out to be the far more serious threat.
The awards keep piling up for Foreign Policy's own Tom Ricks and his Best Defense blog. Having already snagged the 2010 Digital National Magazine award for best blog, Ricks has now added Military Reporters and Editors award for best online content to his trophy case. Military Reporters and Editors explained their decision:
The Best Defense, Tom Ricks' blog at ForeignPolicy.com, is what he calls "sequential journalism -- incrementally advancing lines of inquiry by interacting with readers, sources and the news cycle." His sparkling, sometimes angry, prose coupled with reporting that on occasion is ahead of the rest of the media make this a must-read for anyone interested in national security.
Congratulations, Tom, for this well deserved win!
Makers of the video game Medal of Honor announced today that they were removing the option of being a Taliban soldier in online multiplayer. Electronic Arts had come under fire for the insensitivity of creating a virtual world in which gamers could act as virtual Taliban and shoot virtual U.S. troops.
Of course, EA isn't actually removing the option of playing as Taliban, they've merely renamed them to "Opposing Force." Wow, a game set in Afghanistan, an opposing force -- hey, EA's letting you play as al Qaeda, too!
It also should be noted that gamers have long had options of playing as terrorists long before Medal of Honor came around. The issue was ignored because ultimately there were a lot more pressing problems.
The United States doesn't always do the best job of promoting itself abroad. Lots of people in lots of different places like to burn American flags and chant anti-U.S. slogans. It's stock footage at this point.
But yesterday the New York Times highlighted an encouraging U.S. cultural diplomacy effort in a pretty unexpected area: French banlieues.
Obviously the U.S. image is a bit worse in other parts of the world, so why do outreach in France instead of FATA? For one, terrorist plots are increasingly being launched by disaffected Muslim youth in western countries who have been shunned by their new societies. Demonstrating that they can actually have a future in the west is thus both good on a social and security level. And if there were any western country in which to combat the ill-effects of racism and bigotry, it's France, which has totally abrogated any responsibility of caring for its growing immigrant population.
President Barack Obama's election certainly played a role in silencing the once ubiquitous anti-American voices in the banlieues (hey, look! It still means something!), but just as important has been the substantial engagement attempts on the part of the U.S. Mission to France:
The United States Embassy in Paris has formed a network of partnerships with local governments, advocacy groups, entrepreneurs, students and cultural leaders in the troubled immigrant enclaves outside France’s major cities...
Residents “have the sense that the United States looks upon our areas with much more deference and respect,” said Mr. Roger, the Bondy mayor.
The embassy also runs an International Visitor Leadership Program that brings 20-30 up-and-coming French entrepreneurs and politicians to the United States each year, and at least one participant raved about the program:
A Moroccan-born Muslim, Mr. Senni traveled to the United States in 2006 as a participant in the visitor program. He was effusive in his praise for the outreach and the optimism it has spread. “Never has France had this type of approach,” he said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a history of dealing with Parisian suburbs, and it's not particularly flattering. During the 2005 banlieues riots, then-Interior Minister Sarkozy infamously called the rioters "scum" and that they should be "hosed down." Surprisingly, his comments only made the rioters angrier.
Nowadays when Sarkozy ventures out to the suburbs he's accompanied by a major police presence and spends his time focusing on law enforcement issues, and not on the myriad social and economic complaints of the locals. He said in 2007 that the riots were the result of "thugocracy," which sounds like a brilliant future title of a 50 Cent album, and not social issues.
The embassy also brought Samuel L. Jackson to the banlieues to connect with local youths, and I believe he told them that, "I've had it with this mother-******* unemployment in these mother-******* banlieues." Seriously.
The U.S. is freaking out over qurans, shariah law, and Manhattan community centers, but at least some of our diplomats get the importance of engaging on a human level. The U.S. Ambassador to France, Charles H. Rivkin, sums it up: "It’s easier to hate something you don’t understand."
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