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March 18, 2013

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When it is More than a Game: Football Violence in Egypt

March 10, 2013 by

Egyptian riot police stand guard in Cairo Stadium during the first half of a match between Zamalek and Ismaili clubs in Cairo on February 1, 2012. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images via Foreign Policy

It is frenzied and continuing, but the riots in Egypt have become so regular as to suggest that the Arab Spring never stopped. The country, even post-Mubarak, is seething with insurrection. And the outlets of dissatisfaction, expressed via social media and the more physical aspect of sport, are everywhere.

The violence during the week in Egypt might be termed “football violence”, but the term is deceptive. Protests have taken place in Cairo near Tahrir Square and in Port Said, while demonstrators have attempted to block the Suez Canal. But initial accounts that they were all linked to football have become unreliable. What is certain is that a good portion of it has left a police station in flames, the headquarters of the Egyptian Football Federation in ruins and two people dead, being a response, in turn, to the violence that took place in February 2012 in Port Said stadium.

The trigger came in a Cairo court’s decision to uphold the death sentences of 21 fans accused of sparking riots that left 74 people, mostly Al-Ahly supporters, dead. Two senior policemen – former head of police security General Essam Samak and Brigadier General Mohammed Saaed – were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Saaed’s claim to infamy was his refusal to open the stadium gates as the riots broke. He was the man who stood idle with the keys.

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Prejudice, Race and Football: Why we are all Monkeys Now

October 20, 2012 by

England’s Danny Rose. Image via Sky News

“Behind the liberal veneer, those outbursts against uncouth fans are only a slightly more erudite version of throwing bananas against people you fear and loathe.”

– Brendan O’Neill, “An Acceptable Hatred,” The Spectator, Feb 4, 2012

The scene was an ugly one. It was an Under 21 football match between Serbia and England in the Stadion Mladost in the town of Kruševac. An England victory was registered – at some cost. Primate calls and chants from the stand made to a black player in England colours, Danny Rose. Supporters of the Serbian side, ecstatic to see a player sent off who had kicked the football into the crowd in disgust in response to the racial tide. Flying projectiles directed against the England visitors. Bedlam and calls for Serbia’s sporting censure.

Such logic, in its own contorted way, reaffirms itself in violence – a man, derided for his skin colour, retaliates and simply confirms the primate premise he is saddled with. Having scored a victorious goal, he feels a justification and reacts accordingly. Prejudice, in other words, is self-contained, immune to reason. It only makes all concerned with it ugly, and, frankly, primate in disposition.

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The Abramovich Victory: The Oligarch Machine in Action

September 3, 2012 by

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. Image via the Daily Record

Neither oligarch came out spruced and cleansed, but there is little doubt that Boris Berezovksy emerged the poorer, both in terms of the time spent and effort to target Roman Abramovich. Abramovich, in contrast, won what is probably the biggest private court case in history, a bruising $6.5 billion battle that rumbled through the British legal establishment.

Berezovsky’s claim that the owner of Chelsea FC had bullied him into parting with shares in Sibneft, an oil and aluminium joint stock company he helped found, was dismissed by Mrs Justice Gloster as a contention born of delusion. The huge claim was laughed out of court. “On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes.”

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Purging Sports and Humbling Men: The Lance Armstrong Affair

August 28, 2012 by

American cyclist Lance Armstrong. Eliel Johnson/Flickr

“The entire decade was one big bluff”

– Filippo Simeoni, on the Tour de France

He was the superman of the sport, the untouchable product of well honed athleticism. Precisely because he seemed to hum into cycling history, to purr onto the podium with feline ease, the critics grew in number, as did the questions. Was Lance Armstrong taking something?

“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ For me that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1997.”

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The Question of the Salute: Rehabilitating Peter Norman

August 20, 2012 by

“I believe that every man is born equal and should be treated that way.”

– Peter Norman, Australian sprinter, quoted in The Independent

Rehabilitation was the term used to restore the reputations – often posthumously – of those who were wrongly accused, condemned and executed by various regimes during the Cold War. Ideology has a habit of filling the morgues with its followers. In notional democracies, persecution has tended to be of a milder sort, though victims still abound. In 2006, the Australian runner and athlete Peter Norman died, having been, it has been argued, a victim of ideological mania – at least at the hands of the sporting establishment.

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When the 2012 London Olympics made Iran Proud

August 20, 2012 by

Iran’s Reza Ghasemi running in the London Olympic Games. Marc/Flickr

For the Iranian people, the 2012 Olympic Games in London which wrapped up earlier on August 12 was thoroughly different from the previous editions of the summer Olympics. This year’s games came on the heels of a set of biting sanctions by the United States and European Union against Iran’s banking, insurance, transportation and oil sector which have dramatically crippled Iran’s economy and severely affected innocent civilians.

While Israel, Iran’s traditional arch foe, has been intensively lobbying to convince the U.S. Congress to adopt more backbreaking economic sanctions on Iran and further isolate it over its nuclear program, the successful and unprecedented performance of Iranian athletes in London effectively appeased the country’s innumerable excruciating wounds.

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Medal Madness and Sporting Myopia: Australia’s Misery Continues

August 6, 2012 by

Australian women’s basketball team during a match against Russia. &DC/Flickr

A certain disease has taken hold of the sporting consciousness in Australia. Some might argue that it was jaundiced to begin with, obsessive, narcissistic, and, in spates, self-loathing. But the recent ‘silver’ performance of the Australian athletes, most conspicuously in such sports as swimming and rowing, has triggered a sentiment that needs not only reining in, but culling.

Consider, for instance, the remarks by John Coates, Australia’s Olympic poo bah. In May 2010, the Australian Olympic Committee was told that the government would increase funding to elite sports, with an Olympic focus in mind. “It would’ve helped if the government had moved quicker and the funding been available at the commencement of this Olympiad”. Cash for gold medals is evidently the AOC’s motto.

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The Greatest Show on Earth

August 4, 2012 by

Olympics opening ceremonies in London. Image via NBC Sports

To sum up the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in one word: kitsch.  To sum up the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in two words: wonderful kitsch.

Honest disclosure: I am an Anglophile.

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Let the Muddle Begin: Opening the London Olympics

July 28, 2012 by

Tower Bridge with Olympic Rings. Katharine Hunter/Flickr

It has begun. Oscar-winning Danny Boyle is one of the artistic gatekeepers who was commissioned to deal with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and was given £27m to do it. There was Mary Poppins, the Red Arrows, there was the Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, decked in yellow jersey in front of the Olympic bell.

There was historical context thrown in, idiosyncratic twists and turns. If people find hope and happiness in such saccharine nonsense, well and good. There was certainly some bafflement to be had.

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Missiles in the Metropolis: Militarizing the London Olympics

July 13, 2012 by

Olympic rings passing Tower Bridge in London. Geoff Caddick/EPA

“We’ve been universally very much impressed with everything we’ve seen. As far as I can see they [London’s police] have done an excellent job preparing all their forces.”

– Commissioner Raymond Kelly, NY Police Chief, May 23, 2012

Let this Orwellian madness commence. As the Olympics approaches, London is facing the spectacle not merely of travelling chaos in the city’s Tube system but that of militarist mania. Weapons and heavily armed personnel are being placed across the city in anticipation of potential attacks from any number of unspecified candidates.

In early April, Jules Boykoff argued that security officials have been “exploiting the Olympics as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to multiply and militarise their weapons stocks, laminating another layer on to the surveillance state.”

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