On the Eve of the World Cup: Praise the Women and May FIFA Burn

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup starts next Saturday, and it’s a tournament in which the United States has finished no less than third place since its founding in 1991.  Despite the fact that the US has a very high chance to win its third WC title this year, you’ll find that not many Americans will care.

Why is that?  Is it really just because of the sexist notion that women–not men–are playing and therefore it is more boring?  That’s a huge problem and a large part of why the average TV-watching-putty-brained American is not going to tune into the world’s biggest sporting event.  I suspect that another big reason is stubborn stupidity.  The US likes to scorn sports that it did not itself invent, especially those that England did.  Cricket, Soccer, Rugby, etc., all do not have a strong fan base here in the States.  Scorn might be too strong a word, however, because the development and playing of sports is much more a cultural phenomena than a political one.

To that end, I cannot condemn the US public of not liking the sport of soccer too much.  Baseball, basketball, and American football are all essential to US identity and culture, whether you accept it or not.  Soccer, on the other hand, does not have a rich history here.  That is the extent of my forgiveness.  If you’re a US soccer fan but don’t watch the women’s WC, you are a misogynistic hypocrite.


Two days ago nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives were arrested on corruption, fraud and laundering charges.  The lawyers in charge of the investigation?  The US Justice Department.  With the help of the FBI and Swiss police US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was able to get the ball rolling on cleaning up the world’s most corrupt sports organization.

Before I continue, let me say that this is AWESOME and a REALLY BIG DEAL.  Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and there is a tremendous amount of money and labor involved.  The amount of dubious money and human rights violations floating around its governing body is horrific and masked behind glamorous entertainment.  I am thoroughly pleased that there is finally some sort of effort to weed out corruption.

That said, the only reason that a 24 year long investigation (same number of years that the women’s World Cup has been AROUND) is finally bearing some fruit is most likely because Russia and Qatar won the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting bids respectively with bribes and kickbacks.  Everyone and their aides at the 2022 WC hosting bids election thought that the US was going to win and when Qatar took it, the stunned looks on people’s faces said it all.  It was, as Nate Silver said, an inexplicable decision.

Qatar, with no soccer history and brutally hot summers, is ill equipped to host something as large as the WC.  To put their infrastructure into perspective, they have no stadiums ready and the city in which they are going to host the championship game doesn’t even exist yet.  Think of the labor, the manipulation, the time, the exhaustion, etc. that goes into building those kinds of things.

And THAT is the crux of the issue.  Ignore all the blurred lines and stream of conscious thoughts I’ve had leading up to this point, because we’ve arrived at the most important point:

FIFA corruption matters because FIFA’s actions keep killing people. There is a clear line connecting FIFA officials to the murders of whistle-blowers in South Africa, to the bulldozing of schools and poor neighborhoods (so tourists won’t have to see any unpleasantness), to widespread accusations of the misuse and theft of public funds, to the clearing out of Brazilian favelas, to the violent suppression of dissent by governments that weren’t phenomenally good at tolerating dissent in the first place. This is why you should care about FIFA corruption: not because it’s the equivalent of NCAA-type malfeasance (which is bad enough), but because it’s spreading human misery and death on an international scale.

Those words, which are written by Grantland’s Brian Phillips, are the only thing I can find in the coverage of the most recent scandal so far that recognizes the real problem.  The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that four thousand workers will die in the upcoming Qatari construction projects.  And for what, my entertainment?  Fuck that, how about the 2022 World Cup gets hosted in the United States where there won’t be human rights violations?

*Cough*  Like there are not human rights violations going on down my road right now.  And yes, I am bitter the US lost the bid to Qatar, but seriously, killing thousands of people to host a sporting event is the kind of thing that humanity needs to fix, or we risk apocalypse and becoming like the people Mad Max fights in George Miller’s franchise.

“I can’t believe this is live!  This is incredible.”

That was my dad’s reaction when I started watching Sports Center’s three plus hour long coverage of the FIFA elections this morning.  He drew attention to America’s apathy of soccer by being incredulous that it was getting so much air time while simultaneously reacting to the gravity of the situation.  Too bad the anchors and analysts never explicitly drew attention to FIFA’s human rights violations and only hinted at the desire to see FIFA president Sepp Blatter lose and the 2022 WC host election re-held.

While I was watching Blatter plea to the delegates to reelect him, I thought of humanity’s tendency to drift towards power, greed and corruption.  In the end, those are the inevitable venomous sins that universally poison our ability to govern efficiently and justly.  Blatter is a “bloated eel” who knows how to control the system, a system that doles out money and favors to those that add to his power.  I also saw him sweat a little, a testament to the recent scandal and the most contested election in well over a decade.  One can only hope that this wave of arrests leads to more whistleblowing and more revelations, because honestly, I don’t care if there’s another WC held in the US in my lifetime.  I just don’t want to hear about people dying so that the rich can get richer or that some fan can experience that fleeting sense of glory.  Victory does not have to be bloody.

Take your victories, whatever they may be, cherish them, use them, but don’t settle for them. — Mia Hamm


State of Emergency? No Shit!

For Baltimore, this was going to happen eventually.  When I read the Baltimore Sun’s story about systemic police brutality back in September I was unsurprised given the history of my beloved home state’s most cherished and infamous Gotham equivalent.  Crime, the socioeconomic disparities, the corruption, the endemic racial atrocities, all of it was going to boil over.  Especially in reading the story in the wake of Mike Brown’s murder a month prior, I became convinced that we had entered a new chapter of United States human rights history.

One of the biggest pet peeves for me when discussing history is the argument that it’s 2015 or whatever, as if the year that we live in is symbolic of a more equal era.  In many ways it is, but just because we live in a certain year doesn’t mean that racism, poverty, homophobia, etc. are magically gone.  This is so far from the truth that it’s hard to keep my cool and keep the discussion reasonable.  Then some people argue that we’re no longer separate but equal but then forget that most people who participated in the civil rights movement of the 60s and those who opposed it are still alive.  That’s how young this country’s history is.  It’s a work in progress.  “But, but Obama is President!  Racism is over!”

If you strip away that argument and look at the sentiments behind it, you discover the perception that the US has progressed enough and therefore racism is not a problem.  The flawed belief fueled by patriotic pride that we are better than this.  This precise dogma of American exceptionalism is a key component in the argument of how to properly respond to these police brutalities.

Those who think that protests should be peaceful are in denial of a system that protects them and is harmful to others.  They cite Martin Luther King and the 60’s movement as a precedent for the progress that we can make with that political strategy.  They blindly put the US on top of the pedestal of human rights, believing that we are better than everyone else.  They see the destruction of police cars and stores but not the destruction of lives.

Those who are fine with windows getting smashed and rocks being thrown also believe in American exceptionalism.  They also put the US on the pedestal, except that they hold it accountable.  They do know we are better than this and they hold us to higher standards.  They are also frustrated that we have not improved.

I cannot speak for Black lives, but I cannot condemn a person for lashing out against a system that is almost always racist, usually brutally violent, and sometimes murderous.  I condemn all of the violence done to minorities as well as the violence during the protests.  But maybe that is the only way ground can be gained on this anymore.  Maybe it is past the point of patience.

The issue of police brutality has finally become a national issue, and for better or worse, our democratic process has been slowly and painfully made aware of it.  Maryland Governor Larry Hogan called for a state of emergency last night, but that is among the weakest of all possible responses to the troubles going on in Baltimore and across the nation.  The government has ignored the problem of systemic racism for far too long and it will only get worse until progress is made.

“While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.  And I don’t think there’s anyone… (who wouldn’t) accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.” -Donald Rumsfeld