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Christopher Ahl, Play the Game

"An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Attack on Gaza by Saudi Royal Appointment (JMD quoted on Huffington Post)

Attack on Gaza by Saudi Royal Appointment

Posted: Updated: 
There are many hands behind the Israeli army's onslaught on Gaza. America is not unhappy that Hamas is getting such a beating. As footage of the scenes of carnage on the streets of Shejaiya was coming through, John Kerry said on NBC's Meet the Presson Sunday that Israel had every right to defend itself and the US ambassador Dan Shapiro told Israel's Channel 2 news that the US would seek to help moderate forces become stronger in Gaza, meaning the Palestinian Authority.
Nor is Egypt overcome with grief. Its foreign minister Sameh Shoukry held Hamas responsible for civilian deaths after their rejection of the ceasefire.
Neither matter to Netanyahu as much as the third undeclared partner in this unholy alliance, for neither on their own could give him the cover he needs for a military operation of this ferocity. And that can come not from a handwringing but impotent parent like the US. Such permission can only come from a brother Arab.
The attack on Gaza comes by Saudi Royal Appointment. This royal warrant is nothing less than an open secret in Israel, and both former and serving defense officials are relaxed when they talk about it. Former Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz surprised the presenter on Channel 10 by saying Israel had to specify a role for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the demilitarization of Hamas. Asked what he meant by that, he added that Saudi and Emirati funds should be used to rebuild Gaza after Hamas had been defanged.
Amos Gilad, the Israeli defense establishment's point man with Mubarak's Egypt and now director of the Israeli defense ministry's policy and political-military relations department told the academic James Dorsey recently : "Everything is underground, nothing is public. But our security cooperation with Egypt and the Gulf states is unique. This is the best period of security and diplomatic relations with the Arab."
The celebration is mutual. King Abdullah let it be known that he had phoned President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to approve of an Egyptian ceasefire initiative which had not been put to Hamas, and had the Jerusalem Post quoting analysts about whether a ceasefire was ever seriously intended.
Mossad and Saudi intelligence officials meet regularly: The two sides conferred when the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was about to be deposed in Egypt and they are hand in glove on Iran, both in preparing for an Israel strike over Saudi airspace and in sabotaging the existing nuclear program. There has even been a well sourced claim that the Saudis are financing most of Israel's very expensive campaign against Iran.
Why do Saudi Arabia and Israel make such comfortable bedfellows? For decades each country has had a similar feeling in their gut when they look around them: fear. Their reaction was similar. Each felt they could only insure themselves against their neighbors by invading them (Lebanon, Yemen) or by funding proxy wars and coups (Syria, Egypt, Libya).They have enemies or rivals in common - Iran, Turkey, Qatar, Hamas in Gaza, and the Muslim Brotherhood. And they have common allies, too - the US and British military industrial establishments, Fatah strongman and US asset Mohammed Dahlan who tried to take over Gaza once, and will probably be at hand when next required.
The difference today is that for the first time in their two countries' history, there is open co-ordination between the two military powers. Abdullah's nephew Prince Turki has been the public face of this rapprochement, which was first signaled by the Saudi publication of a book by an Israeli academic. The prince flew to Brussels in May to meet General Amos Yadlin, the former intelligence chief who has been indicted by a court in Turkey for his role in the storming of the Mavi Marmara.
It could be argued that there is nothing sinister about Prince Turki's wish to overcome ancient taboos that his motives are both peaceful and laudable. The prince is a staunch supporter of a laudable peace initiative proposed by the Saudi King Abdullah. The Arab Peace Initiative supported by 22 Arab States and 56 Muslim countries would indeed have been a basis for peace had Israel not ignored it some 12 years ago.
Prince Turki waxed lyrical about the prospect of peace in an article published by Haaretz. In it he wrote:
And what a pleasure it would be to be able to invite not just the Palestinians but also the Israelis I would meet to come and visit me in Riyadh, where they can visit my ancestral home in Dir'iyyah, which suffered at the hands of Ibrahim Pasha the same fate as Jerusalem did at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Romans.
Its the means, not the end, which expose the true cost of this alliance. Prince Turki's promotion of the Arab Peace Initiative comes at the cost of abandoning the kingdom's historical support of Palestinian resistance.
The well connected Saudi analyst Jamal Khashogji made this very point when he talked in coded language about the number of intellectuals who attack the notion of resistance:
Regrettably, the number of such intellectuals here in Saudi Arabia is higher than average. If such a trend continues it will destroy the kingdom's honorable claim to support and defend the Palestinian cause since the time of its founder, King Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud.
Peace would indeed be welcome to everyone, not least Gaza at the moment. The means by which Israel's allies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt are going about achieving it, by encouraging Israel to deal Hamas a crippling blow, calls into question what is really going on here. Turki's father King Faisal bin Abdulaziz would be turning in his grave at what the son is putting his name to.
This Saudi Israeli alliance is forged in blood, Palestinian blood, the blood on Sunday of over 100 souls in Shejaiya.






Iran-Russia oil barter deal not in Iran’s interest (JMD quoted on Azernews)

Iran-Russia oil barter deal not in Iran’s interest

By Sara Rajabova
Iran and Russia's commitment to continue negotiations on oil barter deal has sparked concerns in some countries, especially the United States.
Some experts said such a deal would not be beneficial for Iran and even would damage the nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1 on Tehran's nuclear energy program.
However, a senior Iranian official said Tehran and Moscow are in talks to finalize the oil agreement irrespective of Tehran's nuclear talks with six world powers.
Commenting on the issue, James M. Dorsey, Senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told AzerNews that a barter deal with Russia won't impact the nuclear negotiations.
"It would hedge Iran to some degree Iran against a potential failure of the nuclear talks and it would serve Russia's interest by positioning it in Iran in advance of a competitive rush should the talks succeed," Dorsey said.
Another expert believes that oil barter deal between Iran and Russia isn't in the interest of Iran.
Professor of economics at U.S. Northeastern University, Kamran Dadkhah said such a deal is quite against Iran's interest.
"On the surface it may seem that Russia is helping Iran to bypass international sanctions. But in reality it is Russia that is taking advantage of Iran's weak position to benefit economically. Russia is the third largest oil producer (after Saudi Arabia and the United States) and second largest oil exporter (after Saudi Arabia). Therefore, it cannot use the half million per day barrels of oil domestically; it has to sell it to its international customers. Therefore, Iran will be forced to accept a price far below the prevailing international oil price. On the other hand, Iran has to buy Russian goods at the market price. But because this is a barter trade (no international money involved) Russians will limit Iran to certain items and indeed to lower quality goods. Iran has had the same experience with China," Dadkhah said.
Earlier in April, Reuters reported that Iran and Russia were close to sealing a $ 20-billion oil-for-commodities deal.
Under the agreement, which is yet to be finalized, Russia will buy 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil per day in return for Russian goods needed by Iran.
Washington said such a deal would go against the terms of the interim nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran.
Earlier, U.S. Senators threatened to reinstate Iran sanctions that were eased under the Geneva deal in case Russia and Iran sign the barter deal.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said in April that Tehran is determined to raise the volume of its economic transactions with Russia under long-term deals.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who co-chairs the permanent Russian-Iranian Commission on trade and economic cooperation, said the agreement on trade and industrial cooperation with Iran is expected to be signed in September, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
However, Novak did not specify, whether the oil-for-goods deal would be included in the agreement or not

Saturday, July 19, 2014

P5+1,Iran unlikely to reach deal before July 20 deadline (JMD quoted on Azernews)

By Sara Rajabova
As the July 20 deadline for clinching a comprehensive deal on Tehran's long-lasting nuclear dispute is approaching, Iran and the P5+1 group is mulling on extension of negotiations.
Despite the optimism shown by some parties towards the chance of an agreement being reached, the two sides still remain at loggerheads over the main issues in the nuclear talks.
Reuters quoted Western diplomats as saying on July 16 that an announcement on the possible extension of the talks between Iran and P5+1 may come on July 18.
The officials from Iran and six countries, as well as the experts didn't rule out extending the talks as no tangible progress has been made at the ongoing nuclear negotiation.
James M. Dorsey, Senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies believes that the chances for reaching final nuclear deal before July 20 are low, but not impossible.
"The negotiators still have some tough issues to resolve. The likelihood of achieving that before July 20 is low although not impossible. The real question is whether negotiators believe the issues can be resolved. The answer to that question is a function of one's assessment of the balance of power in Iran between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Iran's Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards," Dorsey told AzerNews.
He went on to note that if the talks fail, it can lead to harsher sanctions for certain. "The West would likely feel diplomacy has for now run its course. Otherwise, there would be every reason to continue negotiations beyond July 20," Dorsey said.
Iran and the six world powers kicked off their sixth round of talks this year in the Austrian capital, Vienna, on July 3 to discuss drafting a final nuclear accord.
The P5+1 and Iran reached an interim pact last November under which Iran won some relief from economic sanctions in return for reining in some of its nuclear activities.
Their goal is to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement by July 20 that will lay to rest Western concerns about the Iranian program and ease all the sanctions on Tehran.
Commenting on the issue, professor of economics at U.S. Northeastern University Kamran Dadkhah also ruled out clinching a nuclear deal before the deadline.
"It is very unlikely that Iran and the P5+1 will reach a final agreement by July 20. But based on statements made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama on July 16 (when he imposed new sanctions on Russia), we can be sure that the deadline will be extended and discussions will continue," Dadkhah told AzerNews.
Noting that real progress has been made in several areas, Obama said the talks might continue beyond the deadline under the interim deal. He added that there was "more work to do."
He said the U.S. government would consult with Congress as it decided whether additional time was needed to complete nuclear talks beyond the July 20 deadline.
On the possibility of fail in talks, Dadkhah also expects new sanctions on Iran.
"Most likely there will be a combination of new sanctions and continuation of diplomacy and discussions. Because the alternative would be military action and so far President Obama has shown that he is not going to take that route," Dadkhah said.
The negotiators from Iran and P5+1 group cannot come to an agreement over the major issues that paves way to discussion on the extending the talks.
The two sides have made no announcement on any continuation of negotiation, at the same time they didn't made remarks on stopping the negotiation if talks fail.
Delay in the talks is not for the hands of neither Iran, nor the Western countries. Thus, the six world powers have made big progress to solve nuclear dispute with Iran and is very close to reach deal. Suspension of negotiations would mean to cross a line on all efforts of the sides.
On the other hand, it is also detrimental for Iran, as the country would again struggle with sanctions and experience the same economic difficulties as it was before.
Therefore, the continuation of talks and resolving the nuclear dispute will be beneficial for all.

"Rassistich und Ant-Arabisch" (JMD on Deutschlandfunk in German)

"Rassistisch und antiarabisch"

James Dorsey im Gespräch mit Marina Schweizer
Nach der Beerdigung des ermordeten palästinensischen Jugendlichen kam es in Ostjerusalem zur Protesten.
Nach der Beerdigung des ermordeten palästinensischen Jugendlichen kam es in Ostjerusalem zur Protesten. (dpa / Abir Sultan)
In Israel sind nach der brutalen Ermordung eines palästinensischen Jugendlichen sechs Tatverdächtige festgenommen worden. Möglicherweise gehören sie "La Familia“ an, einer Fangruppierung des Fußball-Erstligisten "Betar Jerusalem“.
"Vor allem Palästinenser mit israelischen Pässen spielen eine wichtige Rolle im israelischen Fußball", beschreibt der Journalist und Fanforscher James Dorsey die Fußballszene in Israel. "Ohne palästinensische Spieler wäre der Fußball in Israel nicht da, wo er heute ist", berichtet der Co-Direktor am Institut für Fankultur der Universität Würzburg im Deutschlandfunk. Alle Clubs hätten palästinensische Spieler, mit der Ausnahme von "Betar Jerusalem".
Der Club komme aus dem revanchistischen Flügel des Zionismus. Der Vereinsvorstand, so Dorsey, sei nicht glücklich mit dem Fanclub "La Familia". Maßnahmen gegen diese Fans wie Stadionverbote habe man aber bisher nicht vollzogen.
"Ob 'La Familia' an dem Mord beteiligt war oder nicht, der Vorfall wird eine Seelensuche in Israel verursachen", erklärt Dorsey weiter. "Die Tatsache, dass israelische Juden einen palästinensischen Jugendlichen so brutal ums Leben gebracht haben, ist  etwas, was in der israelischen Gesellschaft sehr viel Schmerz und Diskussionen ausgelöst hat." Das Resultat werde sein, dass künftig schon eine andere Haltung gegen "La Familia" eingenommen werde. 
Das vollständige Gespräch können Sie bis mindestens 12. Januar  2015 als Audio-on-demand abrufen.
Click here to listen to mp3

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The truth cannot be concealed (JMD quoted on Play the Game)



The truth cannot be concealed


Ivan Bandura/flickr
Fascination rather than a critical approach dominates sports journalism. Photo: Ivan Bandura/Flickr.
07.07.2014
By Lars Andersson
Investigative journalism is scarce in the sports world. A few lone wolves are breaking away from the pack – but not without considerable personal and economic consequences. In the first of two articles on investigative journalism in sport, freelance writer Lars Andersson portrays three journalists who regularly challenge sport’s self-image.
They are few and far between, but they are there nevertheless…
The tradition of investigative journalism is largely absent from the sports world. Perhaps it is because international sports organisations have the monopoly on sport. But over the last 20 years we have seen the occasional ground-breaking news story emerge that has shaken sport’s otherwise mythical and captivating world. Most often the sources are lone wolves who have not been able to conceal the truth. And most of the time they are delivering the information under harsh conditions and with significant personal and economic costs.
“The common trait that has characterised these ground-breaking journalists and whistle-blowers is that they have all been lone wolves,” says Jens Sejer Andersen, international director at Play the Game, who has followed critical journalism for decades.
“They work under harsh conditions. Consequently, they expose themselves to tough situations, and so does the outside world,” Andersen continues.

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Laura Robinson _Sondergaard _280pix
LAURA ROBINSON:
A Canadian journalist who has worked for decades as a freelance journalist. Winner of a number of journalism awards, including the Robertine Barry Prize in 1992 for an article about eating disorders among elite female athletes, an Investigative Researchers and Editors Award in 1993 for ‘Crossing the Line’ and the Play the Game Award in 2002.
Robinson has primarily written on ‘violence and sexual assault in icehockey’, ‘women, sport and sexuality’ and ‘the treatment of First Nation people in Canada’.
You can read Laura Robinson’s story on John Furlong here.
And support her through her defense fund.
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One of them is Canadian journalist Laura Robinson, who is currently involved in a gruelling defamation suit with John Furlong, the former CEO of the Vancouver Organising Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), because of an article about his past as a teacher – and allegations of violent and repressive conduct against First Nation children.
“My partner and I have paid 160,000 Canadian dollars so far. My lawyer has advised me we will probably spend another 160,000 by the end of the trial. But this is the only way I can prove that my story is based on truth and responsible journalism,” says Robinson, who has literally paid a price for telling the painful story of Canada’s dark past.
But it has not only been her personal finances that have come under pressure. The personal strain has also been arduous:
“My partner has been incredible and has footed most of the bill. Friends, family, colleagues and people I do not know, but who believe in freedom of expression and the telling of truths, have been extraordinarily generous. But for my partner John this has also meant that he feels he cannot take time off work, cannot go anywhere for a holiday and will have to work for several years past his retirement, which was supposed to happen in the next couple of years. Because he has the greatest financial burden and can’t look forward to retirement like he used to, I believe he suffers more stress than I do,” she says.
The personal costs
It is not the first time that Laura Robinson has been the instigator of strong, controversial articles. Her work in uncovering sexual abuse in Canada’s national sport, ice hockey, brought not only accolades, such as the first Play the Game award in 2002, but also several enemies.
“Of course I feel at risk. I am very careful about where I live because ever since I starting writing about sexual abuse in hockey, there have been men who have been extremely angry at me. I read similar things about myself in certain blogs about the Furlong story. So of course I feel at risk,” she says.
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Jens _Weinreich _Sondergaard _280pix

JENS WEINREICH:

A German journalist, who first worked as a journalist for leading German media and later began to work freelance. He quit a job as editor to focus more on the topics rather than “losing 90 percent” of his time to discussions and meetings. Winner of a number of journalism awards, including the Play the Game Award in 2011 and Sports Journalist of the Year in Germany in 2009 and 2013.

Weinreich has written for many decades on corruption, lack of democratic transparency and nepotism in international sports organisations, as well as the International Olympic Committee as a specialised association.

You can follow Jens Weinreich on his website. www.jensweinreich.de.

------
German journalist Jens Weinreich also knows about the personal costs of investigative journalism. For decades he has followed and written about international sports organisations’ conduct in a market that has gradually evolved into ‘big business’.
“My job dominates my life. But it is a duty; an obligation. In democratic countries journalists must fight without any excuses. But human pressure is always there. You must learn to live with it. Sometimes it’s difficult; other times it’s easier. Legal attacks always cause agitation,” says Weinreich, who has also been subject to legal attacks.
“For example I had a juridical fight in 2008/2009 with the then president of the German Football Federation (DFB) and now FIFA Executive Committee member, Theo Zwanziger. For a half a year this fight was quite a topic not only in social media, but also in old media. There were six court decisions at the end – I ‘won’ all six. Then we made a settlement simply because the other side had split the case into three different cases and was ready to go to the highest court in all three cases – DFB has money enough,” tells Weinreich, who at that time owed his lawyers 20,000 euro.
“I could not pay, so what happened? I asked the readers of my blog. They paid; it became a wonderful crowd funding lesson. Within a few days, I could pay the bills and I had more than 3,000 euro left – I donated the money to a journalistic organisation for freelance journalists. Why did people pay? I think the main reason was that I have made the whole procedure of the court cases public from the beginning. I published all decisions on my blog. This kind of transparency can help freelancers against bigger opponents. It was a great experience,” says Weinreich.
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James Dorsey _Sondergaard _280pix


JAMES M. DORSEY:

Senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and co-director of the Institute for Fan Culture at the Institute for Sport Sciences at Würzburg University in Germany.

Dorsey is a Singapore-based journalist who has won a number of international awards. For decades he has focused on ethnic and religious conflicts in several parts of the world, including the Middle East, Africa and Asia. He has been a correspondent for a range of leading American media. In his blog, ‘The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer’ he writes about the political implications of football in the Middle East.


You can follow James M. Dorsey on his blog.

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In Singapore, James M. Dorsey, who has primarily worked with football’s political landscape in Asia and the Middle East, has also gone through gruelling litigation cases. The most recent of which has been with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), when he revealed “severe irregularity in AFC management and financial dealings” under Mohamed Bin Hammam’s leadership.
“Obviously, legal costs are high and that can create financial pressure. The stress factor differs from case to case and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Singapore (his latest case, red.), that meant for a period of time the threat that my computer and files could be confiscated and one needed to take precautionary measures,” he says, continuing:
“But to be fair, my last case that I won in a landmark decision in Singapore earlier this year was the first case where I was not backed by a media organisation and therefore had to manage my lawyers and fund the case without support.”
Financial 'brakes' bring journalists to a halt
Robinson, Weinreich and Dorsey all identify the enormous financial risks involved in their work as the independent investigative journalist’s worst enemy:
“Financial risk is the biggest problem. As a freelance journalist in Germany, I have no financial safety net when it comes to legal clashes. So opponents always know how they can threaten and silence freelance journalists – even if the journalists make no or only minor errors,” Weinreich explains.
But he carries on regardless of the threats:
“Because I love the profession. Because the topics I have been working with for more than 20 years fascinate me. Because I do not get bored with my work. Because I know that I can only tackle and handle a fraction of what a journalist could work up. And because, from my point of view, investigating, revealing, publishing scandals, etc., are the main tasks of journalism,” Weinreich says and is backed up by Robinson:
“I realised early on in my journalism career that writing about the dark side of hockey wasn’t going to win me powerful friends in a country where it is the national religion. There is a blind spot here. No matter how many cases come forward about sexual assault in hockey, the arena is still a shrine,” she says.
Dorsey echoes the others’ motivation to keep pursuing the profession they love:
“I deal with issues that fundamentally interest me and have the luxury of occupying a front seat as history unfolds. I would like to think that I am able to give my readers the tools and insight they need to understand situations and put events in a context. I would like to also believe that it allows me to inform the formulation and execution of policies and give a voice to those who often are not heard,” Dorsey says.
However, despite their drive to defy the risks associated with their work, all of them are experiencing that the conditions are generally getting more and more difficult:
“From 1990 to around 2007 there was quite a bit of freelance work. But like everywhere else, traditional media outlets are squeezed now. Adding the huge legal bills and travel costs, it means I am in a serious financial position. Since the lawsuit commenced in the fall of 2012, work for me has virtually dried up. I was asked if I would cover Sochi from Canada, but had to do it as a ‘ghost-writer’,” Robinson says.
“But I have never believed that any other profession would be easier than a really hard race and of course, really well investigated stories are just as difficult as an elite level of sports competition. I believed I should research at the same level I trained at as an athlete. But even more importantly, I have a deep respect for all of those who fought for freedom of expression in history. So many voices were silenced in the past because writers and journalists were killed. They are still killed today. And I know that I pay my respect to those people by doing the best job I can do as a journalist,” she states.
An uncertain future for investigative journalism
But for how long can they do it? As Laura Robinson’s case illustrates, investigative journalism in the sporting world can bear huge personal and financial costs.
“I am very worried about sports journalism and journalism in general. Sports journalism is nearly entirely an oxymoron. There is little to separate ‘journalism’ for PR now. I hope out of Play the Game comes an organisation of investigate sports journalists. We really do have to work together,” she says.
Jens Weinreich is also concerned:
“The decisive question, again, is: How do we finance our work? It costs money. The old media don’t do that with necessary concentration, professionalism and radicalism. But where are the solutions? There is a lot of money on the table for international scientific co-operations and projects in the field of sport – but not for the hard hitting and digging journalistic work. It’s a shame. I do see just two ways: Crowd funding on a regular basis – if this is not possible, there will be no digging journalism anymore. Or a patronage like the Pierre Omidyar has shown with his new First Look Media project.”
Pierre Omidyar is an Iranian-American businessman and philanthropist who has actively chosen to support independent investigative journalism. In October 2013 he founded First Look Media and in February 2014 he launched its first online publication, The Intercept, which initially dealt with Edward Snowden’s disclosed documents and now aims to “produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues”.
So there still appears to be some hope, but Dorsey is not convinced:
“On the one hand I am not optimistic. We live in a period in which the role of the fourth estate is being undermined and journalists are targets. On the other hand, the responses I get to my coverage are encouraging. They tell me that there is widespread interest, that others are picking up the ball and that policy and decision makers are unable to ignore solid reporting. The impact of The Guardian on the plight of foreign workers in Qatar is an obvious example,” he says.
Or, as Weinreich concludes his thoughts on journalism’s future:
“Once again: It is not about some single projects every few years when it comes to mega-events. It is about following a global business every day, every week, every hour. If you don’t do that – you don’t get your work done; you don’t have a clue about the real things going on.”
“I cannot accept mendacious excuses… In democratic countries journalists must fight without any excuse…”
Lars Andersson is co-editor of the Danish sports political magazine Sport Executive, www.sportexecutive.dk. Photos: Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game

Soccer pitches: An emerging battleground for control of Iraq

ISIS militant plays soccer with Syrian children

By James M. Dorsey

Iraqi soccer pitches have emerged as an alternative battleground in the struggle for control of Iraq between the Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls chunks of northern Iraq, and embattled Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Iraqi officials said the broadcasting last Sunday in Baghdad's Al-Shaab International Stadium of the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina was intended as a show of defiance against the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), which has banned soccer in territory it controls and reportedly ordered the closure of sports facilities and forbidden the wearing of shirts with images imprinted on them, including soccer jerseys.

In addition, Iraqi Football Association (IFA) officials announced that they would be organising soccer matches across areas of Iraq under government control in protest against the Islamic State’s targeting of players and fans. They said they would focus on areas that have been attacked by the Islamic State including:

  • Diyala province where five people were killed and 17 wounded by a bomb planted under the seats of a stadium in Ballour as boys aged 10 to 17 were playing;
  •  
  • Al Nahrawan where nine people were killed and 21 wounded in a bomb explosion during a soccer match;
  •  
  • Al Madaen where a bomb in a stadium killed one and wounded six others, including an Iraqi member of parliament;
  •  
  • Al Zafaaraniya  where a bomb killed four people, including three players, and wounded 11 others;
  •  
  • Al Qalaa where a bomb in a stadium killed one and wounded 11;
  •  
  • Kirkuk where two players were killed and four others wounded;
  •  
  • Al Qaim where police foiled a stadium bombing by discovering a vehicle rigged with explosives.

The Islamic State further signalled its dim view of soccer in a purported letter to world soccer governance body FIFA demanding that the group deprive Qatar of the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

The Islamic State has positioned itself with the spate of attacks and its letter to FIFA squarely in the camp of those jihadists and Salafists, puritan Muslims who want to emulate life at the time of the Prophet Mohammed and his immediate successors, who oppose soccer as an infidel creation intended to distract the faithful from their religious obligations.

Attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya spiked during the World Cup with both groups targeting venues where fans gathered to watch matches on huge television screens.

The anti-soccer jihadists are strengthened in their resolve by fatwas or religious opinions issued by one segment of the Salafist clergy opposed to any form of entertainment which they view as a threat to performance of religious duties. The views of those clergymen are opposed by other Salafist imams who argue that the Quran encourages sports as long as it is in line with Islamic precepts.

They are also opposed by those militant Islamists who recognize the recruitment and bonding advantages of soccer and unlike groups like the Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al Shabab attribute some importance to garnering public support rather than seeking to impose puritan Islamic rule by sheer force.

“In Nigeria, football is a religion. It is one of the few things that brings the country together across ethnic and religious lines… Football is often an escape from the ugliness of everyday life, and that is even more true in a region under a cloud of insecurity for the last few years… (Terrorism) forces a change in lifestyles. Public gatherings in North Eastern Nigeria, even to celebrate a festival of football…are likely to attract a high price. You cannot watch a game without looking around nervously from time to time,” said Nigerian journalist Joachim MacEbong.

Mr. MacEbong could have said the same of Iraq or East African nations where soccer fans are targets.

The Islamic State, despite its anti-soccer campaign has not shied away from using soccer in recruitment and propaganda videos.

And there are signs that opinion about soccer is divided even within its own ranks as well as within the larger community of those who empathize with the views of the likes of the Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al Shabab.

The mosque in Mosul, the major Iraqi city occupied by the Islamic State, where self-declared caliph Ibrahim Bin Awad Alqarshi aka Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who as a student was known as a talented soccer player, made a rare public appearance earlier this month was packed with men, many of whom were sporting soccer jerseys

Similarly, an online review by Vocativ of jihadist and militant Islamist Facebook pages showed that many continue to be soccer fans. They rooted for Algeria during the World Cup but switched their allegiance to Brazil, Italy, England and France once the Algerians had been knocked out of the tournament despite their condemnation of the Europeans as enemies of Islam.

“Jihadis are in some ways like any other fans – they support the local favourites,” wrote Versha Sharama, who conducted the review.


James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.