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Power and the passion: Politics won't be sidelined at this World Cup

Sunday 01/July/2018 - 01:54 PM
Sada El Balad
"The Sydney Morning Herald" newspaper- By "Tim Boyle":

It’s impossible to not be in awe of the world game and how it appears at the World Cup in all of its glory and symbolism. Everywhere there is drama. There are geniuses on the pitch. There is emotional torment and national fervour. There is Diego Maradona unfurling his own image in the stands at Argentina’s matches. There is money and corruption. And there is politics.
The best sports event in the world is being hosted by one of its greatest provocateurs – a carnival of nationalism in the period of Putin’s international subterfuge، Trump’s deportation policy and the anti-immigrant sentiment of Brexit.

The political backdrop for this World Cup is one of the most complicated and bizarre in recent sporting history. The tournament is itself a political paradox، a celebration of what separates nations and also what unites them on the pitch. But this is a tenuous era for borders، and indeed for expressing nationalism. Stirring is an ideological conflict between patriotism، Western values، and what some people consider a natural evolution towards an open-borders philosophy.
Britain، for example، has decided to fly St George’s flag over 10 Downing Street during England’s remaining matches at the World Cup. Since the Brexit referendum، some people have interpreted patriotic gestures such as this one as being hostile to foreign ideas، namely from migrants and refugees.

As part of its effort to separate football and politics، FIFA warned English fans this week against singing Brexit chants during their country’s match with Belgium. And in response to this، The Spectator – a conservative UK publication – ran a series of suggested chants for English fans to try on، one of which included Michel Barnier، the French negotiator of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
“He’s here، he’s there! He’s a citizen of nowhere: Barnier، Barnier!”

Its author and editor of Spiked، Brendan O’Neill، was imploring FIFA to let fans express their national pride through whatever means they choose.“This World Cup،” he wrote، “has exposed how much of a problem some people have with national pride these days. Ours is an era in which every identity is celebrated except the national one.”

The national head of football police told English fans before the tournament to not take flags to Russia because they appear “almost imperialistic”. These are very loaded themes to be associated with a sports event، even the World Cup.
But even with this turbulence the football itself has produced some wonderful moments of national pride. Mexican fans chairing Koreans outside the stadium، for instance، and at the Korean embassy in Mexico، singing “Brother، now you’re Mexican” after Korea salvaged Mexican hopes by upsetting the German champions. Consider that scene at the Korean embassy in Mexico، and compare it the hostile rhetoric of Trump’s US-Mexico border policy، and his desire to impose deportation.

“If you don’t have borders you don’t have a country،” Trump said، defending the excesses of policies that saw migrant children separated from their parents at the border. Trump also referenced Germany، of course، and the debated aftermath of Angela Merkel’s decision to accept an influx of refugees، the resistance to which was part of the success of the Brexit vote in Britain.

In this era of forced migration، nationalism is an incredibly sensitive topic، and one that makes a subtle path through sport. At the World Cup there is a warm display of national pride among fans، but there is also a more severe political undercurrent using the tournament to distract from other controversies and injustices.

Consider the Kremlin’s alleged role in meddling with recent US elections، its annexing of Crimea from Ukraine; its shadow position in the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine; the support it has offered the Syrian government during its civil war; the suggestion from an MI6 report that Russia traded an oil deal for votes in World Cup bidding، or the recent poisoning of a spy in the UK.

No wonder Putin was so quick to congratulate FIFA on its effort to separate football from politics before the tournament. “Russia has always been committed to that idea،” he suggested. It’s hard to imagine saying that out loud after the public exposure of Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal.

These days، when a person in power tries to separate politics and sport it is usually a red flag that signifies a desire to keep people quiet، or retain the status quo. Trump used the tactic last year in the US، deriding the NFL players who chose to kneel during the national anthem. Even Tony Abbott suggested it best to keep politics from sport after the NRL grand final entertainment، when Macklemore supported gay marriage during his performance.FIFA، somewhat understandably given the climate، has also tried to discourage political gestures from the pitch and the stands at the World Cup، so far with mixed results. This week it issued $10،000 fines to two Kosovo-born Swiss footballers، after both made Albanian eagle symbols when they scored goals against Serbia. Leaders in Albania and Kosovo opened online accounts for people to contribute money in order pay the fines.

Kosovar Commerce and Industry Minister Bajram Hasani told reporters he had donated his monthly salary، about €1500 to the account. “They did not forget their roots،” he said. “Money cannot buy the joy that Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri brought us by celebrating with the eagle sign.”

You have to test the air with politics and sport to decide for yourself whether something is being used for propaganda، or to express genuine pride، like Hasani’s.

Edited by Rasha Mohamed

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