The World Cup. Falling foul of the rules (and we're not talking offside)
I have been known to complain bitterly to my colleagues when we look at what’s in the media each day about the prominence of what I describe as “sport purporting to be news”.
The one that really got to me was Pakistan cricket in the summer – I just couldn’t understand why the betting scandal – it wasn’t even match-fixing – was leading news bulletins for days when it didn’t seem to have any consequences for anyone beyond those involved. Or even any interest or entertainment, but that may be just me.
Today even I found myself talking about the football World Cup. I can’t help thinking that we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money (about £15 million apparently) if we’d known at the outset that England didn’t have a chance of hosting the finals in 2018.
People’s disappointment at England’s derisory two votes is matched by their amazement that the 2018 finals go to Russia and the 2022 finals to Qatar, neither great footballing nations and the latter holding a dubious record when it comes to freedom of expression and other human rights. One of my Amnesty colleagues has already been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live about Qatar (follow this link and the item is one hour 43 minutes into the programme) but what about Russia?
Grab your copy of Amnesty’s global report and, after noticing how conveniently close together the Qatar and Russian Federation sections are (only Romania lies in between), you’ll see the summary for Russia lists concerns such as physical attacks against human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists and impunity for those committing these crimes, torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects, a failure to uphold fair trial standards and regular racist attacks.
That’s not to say that Qatar – with a population just one percent of Russia’s – doesn’t have issues of its own. Indeed, the thrust of the 5 Live interview was that visiting football fans may find themselves unwittingly falling foul of Qatar’s laws. Indeed, they wouldn’t be the first foreign nationals to do so.
Last year at least 11 were convicted of blasphemy, including a Syrian man convicted of “insulting Islam in a fit of rage” for uttering a blasphemous word when the credit on his mobile phone ran out during a conversation. And at least 18 people, mostly foreign nationals, were sentenced to flogging of between 40 and 100 lashes for offences related to “illicit sexual relations” or alcohol consumption.
If nothing changes in Russia and Qatar, there may be lots to fill the news as well as the sports pages.
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