Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.

Monday, May 4, 2020

UK football letter roils world sport, and real world, too

Letter posted on Twitter by the AP's Rob Harris
The English Premier League football (soccer) organization wrote to the U.S. Trade Representative in February urging that the United States put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the "Priority Watch List" of countries that fail to protect intellectual property (IP) rights.

The letter has been widely reported beyond the football world for its potential implications in foreign affairs.  Where the United States is concerned, IP piracy is regarded as a critical contemporary problem, on par with national security.  Much of that regard is warranted, as countries such as China, at least historically, have been linked to IP theft as a means to unfair economic advantage, to the detriment of American enterprise.  Some of the sentiment derives from the capture of Washington by IP-wealthy corporations, to the detriment of intellectual freedom.  Regardless, the gross result has been a paper war with nations that countenance IP piracy.  To put Saudi Arabia in those U.S. crosshairs adds a layer of complexity to our already impossibly complicated love-hate relationship with the KSA—read more from James Dorsey just last week—with ramifications from Yemen to Israel.

The letter has potential ramifications within the Middle East, too.  The Premier League's indictment calls out specifically a Saudi-based pirate football broadcaster that calls itself "beout Q" and seems to operate in a blind spot of Saudi criminal justice, even distributing set-top boxes and selling subscriptions in Saudi retail outlets.  The name seems to be a thumb in the nose of beIN Sports, a Doha-based, Qatari-owned media outlet with lawful licensing rights to many Premier League and other international sporting matches.  Saudi Arabia has led the blockade of Qatar since the 2017 Middle East diplomatic crisis, a high note of previously existing and still enduring tensions between the premier political, economic, and cultural rivals in the region.

A 2016 Amnesty International report
was not flattering to Qatar or FIFA.
Football and international sport are weapons in this rivalry.  Qatar has long capitalized on sport as a means to the end of soft international power, winning the big prize of the men's football World Cup in 2022, if by hook or by crook.  Saudi Arabia has more lately taken to the idea of "sportwashing" its image, especially since the Jamal Khashoggi assassination and amid the ceaseless civil war in Yemen.

The letter roiled the world of football no less, as Saudi Arabia has been in negotiation to acquire the Newcastle United Football Club.  That purchase requires Premier League approval.  So everyone and her hooligan brother has an opinion about what it means that the league is so worked up about Saudi IP piracy as to write to the United States for help.

This unusual little letter is a reminder of a theme, known to social science and as old as the Ancient Olympics, that, more than mere diversion, sport is a reflection of our world.

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