The Winter Olympics, Empty Stadiums, and the Redrawing of Russian Football History

By Domm Norris

More so than any other nation across Europe, politics is a powerful beast in Russian society, and its influence has had a significant impact upon the way in which football has evolved throughout the post-Soviet era. Recent reports of political strength may have been focused on the Black Sea, but such developments also look set to inflict further lasting damage upon the face of football. Kuban Krasnodar are currently under the spotlight as reports surface of a radical reshaping of football in the city, which is as much about filling expensive voids in far-off locations, as working to protect the future of one of the country’s most beloved clubs.

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Taxing Times in Ligue 1

By Will Giles

When François Hollande won the French presidential election in May 2012, it marked the first time in 20 years that the increasingly right-leaning country had voted for a left-wing leader. However, for a president seeking to reduce the gap between the wealthy and the not-so wealthy, Hollande’s plans are certainly threatening to compound the economic inequality in France’s premier domestic league.

One of the key policies in the socialist’s manifesto was a 75% tax on annual earnings above one million euros (£850,000), and it was one that struck a chord with a public frustrated by Nicolas Sarkozy and his tax breaks for the rich.

Seven months after Hollande’s election, however, his flagship ‘supertax’ was deemed unconstitutional in court. Having championed it so fervently during campaigning, it came as no surprise that Hollande opted to revive the tax, reworking it as opposed to discarding it.

The restructured legislation will, if passed, take responsibility away from the individual and place it with the employer, making companies pay the 75% tax rate on their employees’ earnings. Despite retaining its popularity in public opinion polls, Hollande’s amended supertax has unsurprisingly drawn criticism from the larger corporations, with some of the strongest displeasure coming from France’s leading football clubs.

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Exploitation and Abuse, Qatar 2022

I have not seen a single slave in Qatar. I don’t know where those reports come from. I have been to Qatar many times and therefore have a different view, which, I believe, is more realistic." - Franz Beckenbaurer

Franz, it might be time to rethink that position. The ongoing exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar is an established fact at this point, and a recent report by Amnesty International further confirms what we already knew: Qatar is a nation whose explosive growth has been based on the systemic exploitation of migrant workers. Whether it’s the latest hotel in Doha, a man-made luxury island, or a stadium fit for a World Cup Final, odds are, it’s been built on the back of a maltreated and underpaid slave workforce. 

Here are some highlights from Amnesty International’s report

  • There are 1.35 million foreign nationals working in Qatar
  • Migrant workers now make up some 94 per cent of the total workforce in the country
  • 90% had their passports held by their employers
  • 56% did not have a government health card, essential to access public hospitals
  • 21% “sometimes, rarely or never” received their salary on time
  • 20% got a different salary than had been promised
  • 15% worked in a different job to the one promised

And that’s just scratching the surface.

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Low Football: Finding Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian diversity through lower-league football

In the midst of ongoing turmoil that never seems any nearer to a solution, it can be tempting to assume that Israel is a nation so enveloped by cultural conflict, that every interaction between Israelis and Palestinians is colored by an underlying tension that prevents any sort of mutual understanding. But while political rigidity and cultural stress dominate the headlines, there are nevertheless outlets wherein both populations can not only set aside their differences, but celebrate the diversity of their cultures. 

Gad Salner, an Israeli photographer covering Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian diversity, recently alerted us to his project, ’Kaduregel-Shefel,’ which roughly translates as ‘low football.’ From the forgotten Arab villages of the north to the dusty Jewish neighborhoods of the south, Salner took in lower-league football matches where the seemingly ever-present tension between cultures evaporated. 

From a Jewish -Romanian keeper who led a Muslim Bedouin village to promotion, to the Jewish captain taking part in an Arab ‘clasico,’ or the Arab fans who design their banners in Hebrew, the reality of everyday life in Israel is far more complicated, and far more diverse, than one would assume. 

To learn more about Gad’s project, be sure to visit his website: Kaduregel-Shefel[Posted by Maxi

What did we learn from Brazil’s dress rehearsal for the World Cup?

By Anthony Lopopolo

The player of the tournament was Neymar, but the smell of tear gas was just as unmistakable. Even though the actual gas did not pass into the stadium, one person wore a mask and real FIFA officials at the start of the Confederations Cup final scrambled for cover. These are the reports.

The damn thing stung the eyes, all the way over there, hundreds of yards away from the ring of small chaos around the Maracana where thousands of protesters clashed with police once more. There, Brazil beat Spain – the greatest team of its era – so convincingly that we all thought the era was coming to an end, and the parties outlasted the protests deep into the night on Sunday.

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The World Cup and the world’s protest in Brazil

"Everything in Brazil is a mess. There is no education, health care — no security. The government doesn’t care. We’re a rich country with a lot of potential but the money doesn’t go to those who need it most.” - 26 year old Brazilian photographer Manoela Chiabai, speaking to the AP.

The pre-match pleasantries exchanged before each Confederations Cup match belie a dark reality: the people of Brazil are boiling over, and soccer fans and social media mavens worldwide are facilitating their distress.

Over $13 billion has been spent by the Brazilian government on stadium infrastructure and investments related to the World Cup; $13 billion in a country where the income of the average Brazilian hovers around $400 per month. Add in the destruction of historic favelas to make way for a safer Brazil, a dubious stadium bid process and misused government grants, and you have a World Cup more accurately defined by corruption, gentrification and a suppression of the real issues plaguing Brazil, than any sort of sporting spirit.

Brazilian scholar Fabio Malini told the New York Times that “The largest protests are happening in cities which will host World Cup games. Brazilians are mixing soccer and politics in a way that is new, and minority voices are making themselves heard.”

Of course, this isn’t to say that the nearing World Cup is at the root of the ongoing social and political concerns which have led to friction amongst the Brazilian population. Inflation and unemployment are high, the disparity between social classes is expanding, and the poor are bearing the brunt of a new-found focus on globalization and international image; the World Cup is just a spark to long-brewing frustrations. People are suffering, and nothing could seem further from resolving their ills than oppressive concrete stadiums and soon-to-be abandoned hotels.

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Turkey’s Women Lead a Regional Transition
“We’re focused on sports, not politics. We don’t deny that we are Kurds. But when we play, we never say, ‘We are Kurds and they are Turks.’” - Tahir Temel
Sitting in an especially tense region of Southern Turkey, Hakkari is a province trailed by hardships. From widespread unemployment to ongoing clashes between Kurdish and Turkish forces, life is precarious. More so, for women who reside in the region, one in which stories of forced marriages and honor killings are not unusual. And yet, despite these hurdles, a group of women have found empowerment through soccer. Since debuting in 2008, Hakkari Power, a team filled with local women, has sped through promotions, last season becoming the only team in the entirety of Turkey to finish their year without conceding a goal. More importantly, women have from the side have found opportunities through the club, one in which ethnicity and cultural background are insignificant, with several gaining roles in Turkey’s national youth team and more finding scholarships with local universities. 
In this article from Time Magazine, Piotr Zalewski discusses the ways in which these women are leading a change not only for female soccer players, but for their region as a whole. [Posted by Maxi]  

Turkey’s Women Lead a Regional Transition

“We’re focused on sports, not politics. We don’t deny that we are Kurds. But when we play, we never say, ‘We are Kurds and they are Turks.’” - Tahir Temel

Sitting in an especially tense region of Southern Turkey, Hakkari is a province trailed by hardships. From widespread unemployment to ongoing clashes between Kurdish and Turkish forces, life is precarious. More so, for women who reside in the region, one in which stories of forced marriages and honor killings are not unusual. And yet, despite these hurdles, a group of women have found empowerment through soccer. Since debuting in 2008, Hakkari Power, a team filled with local women, has sped through promotions, last season becoming the only team in the entirety of Turkey to finish their year without conceding a goal. More importantly, women have from the side have found opportunities through the club, one in which ethnicity and cultural background are insignificant, with several gaining roles in Turkey’s national youth team and more finding scholarships with local universities. 

In this article from Time Magazine, Piotr Zalewski discusses the ways in which these women are leading a change not only for female soccer players, but for their region as a whole. [Posted by Maxi]  

“It’s like a lover has returned”
Gesturing toward the sea of people and the thousands of fluttering black, red and white Iraqi flags, Mr. Shamki said: “You don’t know who is Sunni or Shia or Christian. They are just chanting for Iraq.” The fans also cheered for something more, at one point breaking into the chant, “Sunnis and Shiites, we are all brothers!”
In the midst of ongoing turmoil, Iraq experienced a few hours of calm this past weekend, meeting Syria in only the second match played in Baghdad since the outbreak of war in 2003. For a few hours, there were no divisions, no sides, no turmoil; Iraqis were just that, Iraqis. In this piece recently published by the New York Times, Tim Arango wrote of the emotional impact of the game on a population that has faced a constant struggle. Welcome back, Iraq. [Posted by Maxi]   

“It’s like a lover has returned”

Gesturing toward the sea of people and the thousands of fluttering black, red and white Iraqi flags, Mr. Shamki said: “You don’t know who is Sunni or Shia or Christian. They are just chanting for Iraq.” The fans also cheered for something more, at one point breaking into the chant, “Sunnis and Shiites, we are all brothers!”

In the midst of ongoing turmoil, Iraq experienced a few hours of calm this past weekend, meeting Syria in only the second match played in Baghdad since the outbreak of war in 2003. For a few hours, there were no divisions, no sides, no turmoil; Iraqis were just that, Iraqis. In this piece recently published by the New York Times, Tim Arango wrote of the emotional impact of the game on a population that has faced a constant struggle. Welcome back, Iraq. [Posted by Maxi]   

Brazil, it’s time to catch up in the race to 2014

"[Brazil] will be ready because it is the World Cup and no one can afford not to be ready for the World Cup." - Sepp Blatter

Sepp, that’s just not how things work. The timetable of preparedness for the World Cup is against Brazil. We’re all going to try to go to the World Cup regardless of the levels of chaos, but we’ve all spoken with our Brazilian friends. The response from the World Cup hosts’ countrymen / voices of reason is the same: it’s going to be a mess.

Now, you expect a mess when the whole world throws a party for a month straight, but it’s rarely been this bad this close to the tournament. Only two of six stadiums are ready for the Confederations Cup in June.

Most recently, the Brazilian government has called upon the United Nations to assist with meeting deadlines for construction. As Reuters reports, "The Brasilia government signed this week a 35 million reais ($17.61 million) agreement with two U.N. agencies under which they will procure services and items such as tents, generators and security cameras for the stadium… The U.N.’s main advantage: It can acquire goods and services without going through the complex and lengthy procurement process required by the Brazilian government."

Calling upon the UN is a desperate measure, but hopefully one that finally motivates the South Americans to get their act together. Brazil wants to truly showcase its standing as an emerging power, and - perhaps unfortunately - we’re all watching closely. [For more on the progress, or lack thereof, in Brazil, be sure to give our friend Chistopher Gaffney (Academic Geographer and Investigative Journalist) a follow. Posted by Eric]

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