FIFA and the World Cup

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA

There have been a number of comments in the media in the last few days about the possible re-election of Sepp Blatter as the President of FIFA. Mr. Blatter is no stranger to controversy and speculation but even by his standards the degree of hyperbole has been quite alarming.

The cause of the commentary is that Mr. Blatter stated in 2011 that he would not seek re-election, but it would appear that he may well have changed his mind. The Chairmen of the football associations of England and the Netherlands have urged Sepp Blatter to honour his previous statement and thus not seek this fifth term of office.

The root cause of their objection is not exclusively based on a possible reversal of opinion but rather that FIFA is struggling to maintain public confidence after a string of incidents in the last few years, which would include accusations of bribery and corruption associated with the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and the subsequent issues that have arisen from having awarded the competition to this country that enjoys such extreme summer weather and an apparent disregard for the health and safety of the workers employed to build the stadia.

However, even as these European countries call for Sepp Blatter to stand down rather than seek re-election, some of the other football federations have risen in support of their President, the more so after he explained the increased revenues that will be awarded to the eleven Oceania countries from the increased profits that will be garnered from the forthcoming 2014 World Cup in Brasil.

Yet we cannot ignore the fact that money is a two-edged sword. Two of the major FIFA sponsors have openly called for a full investigation into the accusations of corruption and bribery and these are calls that simply cannot be denied.

In the interests of fairness, and to quickly dispel any notion of “trial in the media”, I consider that the fairest approach at the moment would be to delay any vote on the election process until after an independent inquiry has been conducted. That inquiry ought to continue the work that has been conducted by FIFA’s internal ethics committee. The independent inquiry ought to report all findings openly and publically in the shortest possible period of time. Once that report has been published FIFA could then hold elections based upon clear evidence rather than against a backdrop of tarnished reputations, speculation and conjecture.

Football may well be a sport but it has rules. Its governing body, FIFA, also has rules and must be seen to be adhering scrupulously to those rules otherwise what future does this magnificent game have to offer to the millions of supporters around the world; for whom many watching soccer is a release from the drudgery of their fatigued and constrained lives.

 

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A Time for Change.

The Times on Friday 30th May carried an editorial entitled “Cruel and Archaic” in which the editor responded to the fact that on Monday Meriam Yehya Ibrahim gave birth to a baby girl in Khartoum. The editorial explained that this birth was unusual in that it took place while the mother was in chains in a prison in Khartoum. Worse, the mother, a twenty seven year old woman, was recently condemned by a Sudanese court to receive one hundred lashes for adultery and will then be hanged for apostasy.

The editorial cites Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris in 1948, that grants all citizens the right to choose their religion and to even change their religious beliefs if that is what they wish to do. However, Sudan appears to view the concept of Law differently to that espoused by the international community and yet that same international community appears to resist the right to intervene except for Amnesty International that is calling for sanctions to be imposed against Sudan.

Yet in truth, Sudan is not the only Muslim state that appears to be usurping the freedom of women and to suppress the practice of religious freedom. Only this week a young pregnant woman was stoned to death in front of the High Court in Lahore, Pakistan. The perpetrators were members of her own family who had exercised their right to kill her, because they did not approve of her marriage. The mere mention of an “honour killing” evokes a strong sense of antipathy within me and it is difficult to comprehend that such practices are continuing in the Twenty First Century and we are by and large silent for fear of being perceived of as being racist.

Recent trials in the United Kingdom have highlighted the fact that “honour killings” have occurred in Muslim communities in England and, perhaps even worse, Sharia Law has been requested as a means of Muslims having access to their own religious law inside the United Kingdom. I hope that this request is never met, as indeed a request for a trial based upon English Law would hardly be granted in Saudi Arabia or in the Sudan.

Before anybody launches forth with accusations that my opinions are racist, let me state at the outset that such is not the case. My views are based upon the fact that many countries around the world have tried hard to implement the Declaration of Human Rights. Those that have done so have, by and large, provided a democratic framework in which all citizens are free and if they have transgressed the Law then they will be tried in open court, with full representation and with the possibility of receiving an impartial verdict. What we are witnessing in a significant number of countries around the world, which would include many Muslim countries, is not at all in harmony with the Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, in such countries as Pakistan, Sudan and Afghanistan, verdicts appear to be often nothing more than agreements between people who hold subjective points of view and are often closely related to the victim and without a process of appeal that militate against the possibility of imprudent verdicts being enacted.
My knowledge of the Holy Koran is not profound enough to stand examination, but my understanding is that Islam is the religion of peace. Yet the cruel and archaic practices that we are witnessing by some Muslims (which would include “honour killings”, acid attacks on women, girls kidnapped from school and forced marriages) tends to portray Islam in a rather different light; perhaps one that many modern Muslims are equally eager to see changed.

I recall the impact that Malala Yousafzai had when she stood up to the terrorism of the Taliban and her bravery in denouncing their outmoded beliefs. Yet what has changed since she addressed the United Nations? Not as much as may have been hoped for. The truth is that nothing will really change until such time as economic and political sanctions are imposed on countries that continue to offer jurisprudence that is largely based on medieval concepts of revenge and reprisal rather than on the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights.

Clearly imposing sanctions on states such as Brunei, Pakistan or on Saudi Arabia would be problematic, but is that not why the United Nations was created; so that countries that were disposed to operate in a manner that was not in harmony with the global community would be provided with a comprehensive framework to modify practices that indeed were cruel and archaic. Failure to do so would be to risk becoming subject to sanctions that would isolate them from the international community until such time as they renounced the past and sought to live in the contemporary world such as Bosnia has managed to do so successfully with its majority Muslim population.

I suppose it requires the international community to act even though it may well engender strident opposition in the first instance. But in my opinion it is better to face that possibility than to continue to deny women in many parts of the world the support that they so earnestly require if they are to live freely and at peace.

Time for Senators to Review What Is Really Important

I was taken aback two days ago when I read an article on the BBC website that reported that on Wednesday 21st May, 49 Senators (48 of them Democrats and 1 Independent) had written a letter to Mr. Roger Goodell in his capacity as the Commissioner of the National Football League urging him to order the owner of the Washington Redskins to change the club’s name as it represents a “racial slur”. This demand was made in light of a recent action by the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver, who imposed sanctions on the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers for has apparent racism.

The letter from the Senators stated that the League can “no longer ignore” calls from Native American groups and expressed support from none other than President Obama himself for the required change of name. The owner of the Washington Redskins, Daniel Snyder, is not keen to make the change, claiming that the name of the club actually “honours Native Americans” as well as being supported by many of the public as well as supporters of the football club.

What caught my attention was the sheer hypocrisy of these politicians. This is such an obvious example of sensationalism that it engenders a series of questions about the judgments and political priorities of such representatives. Given the indebtedness of the USA at this time, the clear evidence of draconian problems as the result of futile wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone pressing domestic issues related to poverty, hunger and disenfranchisement, these honourable men take the time to launch a campaign against the name of a football club! Will their myopia now direct them to demand that the home of the President is no longer called the “White House” or will they instead address the urgent need to curb the National Rifle Association to prevent yet more children being killed by guns? Or might they actually find a modern day method of assessing the real outcomes of formal education, which the outmoded SAT does not?

We will just have to be patient and wait to see what these fine men deem important.

The passing of Nelson Mandela

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So the world mourns the passing of a man.  Not just any man, but somebody rather special; Nelson Mandela.  The corroboration of his acceptance as a leader and inspirational figure can be found in the abbreviation of his name.  To many around the world he is simply “Mandela” and to those in his beloved South Africa he was referred to affectionately as  “Madiba”.

 

Ill health over the last decade and the numerous periods of care in hospital has provided the world’s press corps and heads of state with ample time to prepare Mandela’s obituary and if anybody has earned such an array of compliments and fond memories it would be hard to imagine who that might be.  For Nelson Mandela was such a key figure in world events that he is synonymous with the transition from white rule in South Africa to the creation of the democracy that is known as the “rainbow state”.  Yet, he could so easily have escaped world recognition other than as a name in a prison register of terrorists executed in South Africa during the period of time of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela escaped the hangman’s rope but spent a significant part of his life behind bars, isolated from his family and from the apparent immediacy of the political struggle against white rule.  His eyesight suffered from the reflection of the glaring sun in the limestone quarry and he was subjected to a constant barrage of abuse.  Yet he sustained himself with his beliefs and by his friendship with his closest friends, who were also imprisoned in the same prison block on Robben Island and subsequently in Pollsmoor Prison before being released in 1990 from Victor Verster Prison.

Such harsh treatment, such a protracted period of incarceration and the consequent,  inevitable, deterioration in his health may well have caused Nelson Mandela to be bitter towards the South African government and to have sought revenge through a campaign of violent protest against what apartheid meant for the black South African population.  Yet such thoughts played no part in how Mandela viewed his future nor that of his country.  Mandela saw the future of South Africa through the eyes of reconciliation and trust, concepts that Bishop Desmond Tutu, a long-term friend, had discussed with Madiba.  This perspective is difficult for most people to contemplate and perhaps the single thing that separates Mandela from everybody else; his belief in humanity and the essential goodness of people.

Certainly there were detractors who watched carefully as he assumed his role as President of South Africa in 1994, waiting to see how his words and his policies would align.  Yet the essential spirit of reconciliation and development was retained from the very beginning as de Klerk was installed as First Deputy President; a signal of tremendous potency for South African as well as for the rest of the world.  When Bishop Desmond Tutu was appointed to Chair of Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, further evidence was garnered of a desire to open the wounds of the past, excesses carried out by the ANC as well as the white police force and vigilante groups, but not for vengeance, rather for forgiveness.  What could so easily have become a blood bath became instead a beginning of a new country symbolized so graphically by the black President of South Africa, sporting a previously hated Springboks jersey, handing the rugby world cup to Francois Pinenaar to tumultuous applause amidst the plethora of the newly created national flag being waved euphorically by blacks and whites present in the stadium.

Nobody knows how South Africa will fare in the future in this complex contemporary world.  Suffice to state that there are many problems within the country and there continue to be accusations of corruption in all sectors of regional and national and government as well as examples of the continuing brutal suppression of the basic rights of workers who are disposed to protest their plight.  Yet somehow none of this is directly laid at the feet on Madiba.  Rather the name “Nelson Mandela” continues to represent hope rather than accusation and promise rather than neglect.  For he was an extraordinary man; a man who knew the lasting power of a benign smile over the short-term success of the gun and he used his natural grace to good effect.

Mandela, although born into the Thembu tribe as a royal councillor, was ostensibly a man of the people and was clearly seen as a leader who was interested in the development of all of his people.  He had that common touch while retaining an extraordinary “presence” that was felt by everybody that he came into contact with.  In short, he was loved for the man that he was as much as for the promise that he offered.  In a world that appears to be focused on the acquisition of personal wealth, Mandela’s decision to donate one third of his salary as President of South African to a children’s foundation demarks him as different and his quest for reconciliation stands testimony to that difference when compared to other world leaders who are disposed to use the force that they command with little regard for the people who will certainly suffer most.

Mandela is, for many, a symbol of the incredible transition that occurred in South Africa and what may well be possible in the future.  For me his name portrays a hope that we all have within us the power to resist that which is wrong and the desire to do good rather than not.  To be caring of others and to value them equally, or even more, than the value that one places on one’s own life while actively seeking for justice and peace around the world.  Nelson Mandela touched so many people including the millions who never had the good fortune to meet him personally.  Yet his famous smile kindles within us a desire to be more like him and to have the courage to question our ethics and the values of our leaders when they stray too far from the path that we know to be wrong.

It is with sadness that we contemplate the fact that Nelson Mandela has left us, but I would argue that Mandiba lives within each of us, arm raised in joy and that benign smile encouraging us to strive and to continue to care.  The question is, do we have the same strength of conviction to follow his spirit or would we prefer to choose the easier route that is afforded those who find success measured in acquired wealth and prestige?  Only time will tell…