Tag Archives: Soccer

Thailand, Political Unrest, and Soccer

As you may have heard, things aren’t going so well in Thailand these days. What’s notable is that the man at the center of the upheaval, exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, has strong ties to soccer.

After Thanksin was deposed in a 2006 coup, he regrouped and purchased the Manchester City football club–after previously trying to buy Liverpool and Fulham. The purchase was widely seen as an effort to curry favor back in Thailand:

“This is all public relations. He fears he is losing his political power and he is fighting back,” said Wanchai Rujawongsanti, a sports columnist with the Bangkok Post.

“He wants his job back and he’s using Thailand’s love of football to maintain his high profile here,” he said.

Indeed, Thaksin pumped money into his club and revamped Manchester City’s player-development network. However, after his assets were frozen back in Thailand because of corruption charges, Thaksin was forced to sell the team to a Dubai consortium.

Now, Thaksin is being scrutinized for his role in the violent protests back in his native country. Is he pulling the marionette strings from afar? Considering the bloodshed and economic fallout, Thaksin’s role in the counter-coup will likely have consequences.

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Obama and the World Cup

President Obama, who’s set to aid and abet Mayor Daley’s latest, costliest vanity project, is also now throwing his weight behind the U.S.’s bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup:

“Soccer is truly the world’s sport, and the World Cup promotes camaraderie and friendly competition across the globe,” Obama added in the letter, a part of which was released to The New York Times by the United States Soccer Federation with permission from the White House.

“That is why this bid is about much more than a game,” he added. “It is about the United States of America inviting the world to gather all across our great country in celebration of our common hopes and dreams.”

Given Obama’s global popularity, this must be seen as something more than a vacant political gesture. It might just make a difference.

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Ahmadinejad’s Soccer Power Play

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, like Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Samardzija, has a surname I will never fail to copy and paste, was hoping a recent World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia would help him curry favor with voters. However, Iran squandered a late lead and lost the home match, 2-1. Ahmadinejad then quickly moved against head coach Ali Daei:

Ahmadinejad had hoped a victory would bring him political capital before the presidential poll in June. The desire to score a propaganda coup even prompted the president’s fans to credit him when Iran took a 1-0 lead. But the euphoria evaporated in the last 12 minutes and Daei’s fate was sealed as a mass mobile phone text to Ahmadinejad’s supporters went out, reading: “Due to the importance of national public opinion to Dr Ahmadinejad, Ali Daei has been forced out.”

Fairly pedestrian stuff for a tyrant, and at least he’s not pulling an Uday on his disgraced footballers. What’s interesting, though, is whether FIFA, which strictly bans political meddling, will suspend Iran for a second time.

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Israel Soccer’s Raw Deal

After a crushing loss to Greece, it’s almost certain that Israel will once again fail to qualify for the World Cup. Israel is by no means a soccer power, but their qualifying road is harder than it should be.

For years, Israel competed within the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because doing so made perfect geographic sense. Israel is, after all, an Asian nation. Eventually, though, Arab states hostile to Israel, starting with Kuwait at the 1974 Asian Games, refused to take the pitch against them. Rather than award forfeit victories to Israel, the AFC capitulated and expelled Israel from Asian football. As a consequence, the Israeli national team was–to borrow the obvious yet fitting metaphor–forced to wander the soccer wilderness for years.

In the 1980s, this led to the absurdity of having Israel compete in the Oceania qualifying group against distant countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Finally, in the early 1990s, Israel became a member of UEFA, which meant toiling against the august European powers of the sport. And those are Israel’s unenviable straits today.

For the 2010 qualifiers, FIFA placed Israel in a group with Greece (FIFA world ranking: 19), Switzerland (22), Latvia (71), Moldova (98), and Luxembourg (121). Had Israel not been exiled from the Asian football circuit–where they logically belong–they’d be presently competing with AFC Group A teams like Australia (ranking: 32), Japan (35), Bahrain (67), Uzbekistan (74), and Qatar (87); or AFC Group B teams like Iran (42), South Korea (44), Saudi Arabia (55), North Korea (107), and UAE (116). Israel, who’s ranked 18th, would’ve had a measurably easier route to the World Cup had they been allowed to compete on their own continent.

If nothing else, the Israeli athletes deserve a fairer shake.

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Kissinger and the World Cup

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is now throwing his considerable powers behind the effort to bring the World Cup back to the U.S.:

In a news conference Monday, Kissinger stressed how the World Cup drew record crowds in the United States. But there is a geopolitical drawback to American hopes: the international soccer federation, known as FIFA, has committed to placing the quadrennial tournament around the globe — first in South Africa in 2010, then in Brazil in 2014.

Ever the realist, Kissinger suggested that Europe would somehow snag the 2018 Cup but that the United States could win for 2022. Both hosts will be chosen at the end of 2010.

No word on how the Chile delegation will vote.

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Soccer Diplomacy – Brazil

As Brazil angles for a seat on the UN Security Council, the nation’s footballers are being drawn into the fray. Brazil recently played a friendly in downtrodden Haiti, a gesture to curry favor with UN decision-makers. However, a number of notable Brazilian soccer stars weren’t able to attend because AC Milan and Bayern Munich refused to release them for the match. President Lula Da Silva was livid, and the five players in question wound up being suspended for matches against Germany and Bolivia. Did the orders to suspend trace back to President Da Silva, or were they made independently of him?

That’s the question–and the controversy–facing Brazilian soccer as they begin World Cup qualifying play. And now it appears President Da Silva is moving against the Brazilian Football Association by introducing strict term limits to the higher offices.

As for Brazil’s bid for the Security Council, they won’t be joining the ranks anytime soon.

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Ivory Coast Fallout

Following the deaths of 19 soccer fans at an Ivory Coast stadium (originally reported as 22 dead), people are asking: what happened? What’s known is that there was a stampede to get inside the stadium before the start of a World Cup qualifying match against Malawi. What’s less certain is who’s to blame.

Some say spectators without tickets tried to force their way into the stadium. Others say the fatal crush began when police officers and football federation officials began letting in those fans without tickets in exchange for bribes. That, in turn, angered fans with tickets.

FIFA has requested a full inquiry. Ivorian players, meanwhile, are using the tragedy as a rallying point, and organizers of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa are busy assuring everyone that such disorder isn’t possible at their venues.

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