Showing posts with label Qatar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Qatar. Show all posts

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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

“A Fair Shake for the Sheikh,” or “Cut Qatar Some Slack”: On World Cup 2022



My photo at a Qatar Stars League double header in March 2016: Empty stands tell the tale of native public interest in football.  However, Prof. Susan Dun reported that populous foreign laborers do pack matches for the leagues they follow: another piece of the untold story in Qatar.

I was just in Oxford, UK, for “Sport 5.”  (The full name of the conference, sponsored by Inter-Disciplinary.Net, is in the previous post about my contribution there.)  I tweeted some of the highlights of Sport 5 (link to Twitter from the ribbon atop this page, Sept. 13-15, 2016).  I want to share a bit more about one paper at Sport 5 that stood out for its unconventional thesis.  The paper came from this year’s conference coordinator, Professor Susan Dun, a communication scholar at Northwestern University in Qatar.

I don’t want to steal Dun’s thunder or evidence, so I’ll give only cursory treatment to her thesis and outline three rationales that I found persuasive.  My own impressions have mixed with recollection, so blame me for any misstatements.

In essence, Dun posited that however much Qatar deserves condemnation for corrupt dealings with FIFA (see generally Blake & Calvert’s The Ugly Game), the ills of the kafala labor system, or dreams of air-conditioned desert stadiums, the regime is not getting a fully fair shake in global perception.  She made a compelling case, and activists, journalists, and scholars investigating the social and economic implications of the upcoming World Cups in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022—myself included—should take note.

First, Dun placed the Qatari bid for 2022 in the context of Qatar’s ambitious struggle for political legitimacy through soft-power sport.  In its rush onto the world stage, Qatar was not ready for intense scrutiny and scathing criticism that accompanied the award (and then was amplified by the FIFA corruption fiasco, pointed out David Storey of the University of Worcester, who, by the way, presented a fascinating paper on the GAA).  Within Qatar, criticism of Al Thani leadership is not just legally problematic, but socially taboo.  So Qataris were utterly ill equipped to respond to an external public relations crisis in a way that would have seemed natural to Western observers—with press conferences, collaborative inquiries, and affirmative information dissemination.  Instead Qatar took an outmoded defend-or-deny stance, which only bloodied the waters.

Second, Dun explained that Qatar actually implemented a great many reforms to redress exposed deficiencies, for example, illegalizing passport retention and improving living conditions for foreign laborers.  The communications failure has meant that reform stories have not gotten much play.  Meanwhile, reform has been slowed by understandable challenges.  Employers might still seize passports.  Wrangling the middlemen is a laborious process in part because rapidly developed Qatar lacks regulatory and enforcement mechanisms that Westerners take for granted in key areas, such as workplace safety and banking.  Communications failure again means that these impediments are not explained.  Reform is necessarily incremental, but unresolved problems on the ground are misconstrued to signal government indifference, if not malice.

Third, Dun documented a media affection for criticism of Qatar.  In part the penchant seems driven by ignorance.  Journalists, bloggers, et al., tend not to be familiar with Qatar, so are more likely to republish judgmental commentary without critical analysis for fairness and accuracy.  I suspect that hostility toward a wealthy Islamic state in the post-9/11 era also plays a role.  Again, communications failure exaggerates the problem.  Dun gave evidence that even Russia is more likely than Qatar to get a fair shake in media coverage.  I can attest that in my own research, I only recently read about changes in Russian labor law—allegations not unlike those that have plagued Qatar for years—to hasten World Cup infrastructure development at the expense of worker rights.  (See Martin Müller, How Mega-Events Capture Their Hosts: Event Seizure and the World Cup 2018 in Russia, Urban Geography, 2015, doi).

Dun got push-back in discussion with Sport 5 attendees, but she held firm.  To be clear, Dun makes no motion whatever to justify human rights abuses; quite the contrary.  She simply laments that the whole story of Qatar's reform is not being told.  It would be a mistake to pull the World Cup from Qatar, she says, because there are desirable reforms occurring that should not be undermined.  (This is happily consistent with Benavides and my extension in World Cup Dreaming of Jeremiah Ho's incrementalist theory).  She makes that case well enough that those of us who fancy ourselves objective observers should pay attention.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The World Cup of Human Rights?



I prepared this map for the Inter-Disciplinary.Net conference, Sport: Sport Places, Money, and Politics, the 5th global meeting of the Sport Project: Probing the Boundaries, this week at Mansfield College, Oxford. The map shows the movement of the FIFA Men's World Cup since the United States in 1994, illustrating FIFA's deliberate campaign to globalize the tournament and the sport.

In my talk yesterday, I traced the marriage of FIFA and human rights from Football for Hope investments in World Cup 2010 South Africa, to World Cup 2014 Brazil; on to World Cup 2018 Russia and World Cup 2022 Qatar; and at last, to a World Cup 2026 that might embrace the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the manner proposed by Professor Ruggie.

Daunting challenges are presented with respect to international legal norms on housing, labor, sexual identity, racism and equality, due process and criminal punishment, and religious and expressive freedom. FIFA's extreme demands on host countries for infrastructure development, commercial protectionism, and security have made tournament hosting more easily the province of authoritarian regimes than of Western-style democracies, and that tendency works at cross-purposes with the incorporation of human rights norms in the Western legal tradition.