Sunday, March 27, 2022

Sportswashing and what is to be done

The economist Daron Acemoglu (MIT), writes that “As in many other kleptocratic regimes, Putin’s power is based on a deal between an autocrat and oligarchs. The autocrat rules the country however he wants and enriches his allies, who make huge fortunes from the country’s natural resources or through regime-sanctioned monopolies.
But there is a catch: As the oligarchs’ coffers grow, they become more concerned about the autocrat’s power to seize their assets or harm their families. They are left with two options. The first is to develop formal and de facto institutions to constrain the autocrat, perhaps even paving the way for much-needed structural reform. The second option is to move their assets and their families abroad, so that they can avoid the fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the leading Russian oligarch whom Putin expropriated and imprisoned in the early 2000s.
Gabriel Zucman of the University of California, Berkeley estimates that at least 8% of global financial wealth (more than $7.5 trillion) is now held in tax havens – a figure that does not include the other forms of dark money residing at the heart of the Western financial system. Not surprisingly, autocratic regimes account for a disproportionately large share of these dark-money activities. Zucman finds that some 52% of all household wealth in Russia – and even greater shares in the Gulf states – is held offshore.
While the world’s kleptocrats have amassed vast, illegitimate fortunes – and while Western elites have gotten in on the action – Western governments have been unable to generate tax revenues from the rich. As a result, welfare-state institutions and services have been cut back, and existing inequalities have deepened.”
You can read the full article here.
The journalist David Goldblatt (The Guardian, author of “The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football and The Game of Our Lives”) writes
“Russia is not alone in this. In the past 20 years, football, never short of political suitors, has in much of the world been colonised by political power and projects. Why have the world’s states, politicians and political movements shown such an unprecedented interest in the game?
The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who each own a major European football club, are spending heavily on football sponsorships and carry considerable influence at Fifa, Uefa and in Asian football too. In Qatar, the game is the single most important instrument in the state’s programme of economic and urban development and the most powerful plank in its foreign policy of visibility.
What appears so remarkable about this is that, like Abramovich’s arrival at Chelsea, it has, for the most part, been waved through, even welcomed, nowhere more obviously than the Premier League’s acceptance of Saudi state ownership at Newcastle United while the brutal war in Yemen continues to rage.
So what is to be done? We could start with a shift to the social ownership of all football clubs. We could insist on the strictest financial and legal regulations of football institutions. We could demand real transparency and accountability from national and international football federations, the empowerment of players and supporters and their deeper democratisation. Politics is not leaving football in the near future. The question is: what kind of politics do we want?
You can read the full article here.
The proposals of Goldblatt are not very realistic: transparency and regularion of a global market are difficult in the absence of a global federal government. They may not be sufficient: the social ownership of clubs, at least in Barcelona, has done little to promote financial accountability. They are also contradictory: the empowerment of players can be to the detriment of the empowerment of fans. And they may not be desirable, at least in the absence of further details: deeper democratisation without global rules, may lead to a Berlusconi at global scale. But without forgetting to fight for elements of a global legitimitate federal government (at least in sports) something should be done, perhaps enhancing the cooperation between the EU, the US and other democratic jurisdictions to stop and reverse the oligarchic takeover of some sports industries.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Neutrality and complexity in a war

In a teacher's meeting last friday, we discussed whether teachers should stay neutral in the current war in Ukraine. Someone said that things were so complex that we shouldn't even raise the issue in class. The context is of teachers in an international program for foreign students in Barcelona.

I defended that neutrality should not be an option when the fight is between agression by an autocrat and a democracy. I argued that neutrality of foreign governments is what killed democracy in Spain in 1939. I know things are complex. I also know that the war in Ukraine is very different from the Spanish Civil War, but then as now the agressor was well identified, as were the victims. And then as now there are things in the "good side" that make us (or at least me) feel uncomfortable. I wouldn't have liked the weight of stalinism among the Spanish Republicans, and I don't like to defend Ukraine's democracy in the name of a Ukrainian nationalism that signs the national anthem at any occasion. Defending democracy in the name of nationalism only plants the seeds for the next war, in my modest view.

But the truth is the truth, and those who are suffering in millions now are the citizens of Ukraine, and they deserve all the solidarity of people who could be like them in other European cities, and beyond. It should also be a reminder that making Molotov cocktails is an act of defense in Kiev as it is in Gaza. And that if Abramovich is an oligarch (he is), Egon Musk and other Western tax-dodging billionaires belong to the same category.

Teachers (especially in international programs) should get ready to discuss the war with students. That does not mean that we "explain" the war to them, but that we give them tools to use it as what it is, a tragic learning opportunity.

In war and peace, truth does exist. Teachers must be neutral between sports clubs, or even between different democratic ideologies. But we must teach the difference between fascism and freedom, as much as we must teach that evolution is science and creationism is not. At the same time, we must encourage critical thinking, and care in the reading of news (and the use of social media), especially in a war. This is not incompatible with solidarity with the victims (including in this case the Russian citizens who suffer an increasingly paranoid dictator at home).