Football and the Olympics have become geopolitical bargaining chips

Johnny Watterson: Affronts come so fast that we lose the ability to react accordingly

 

Should you be interested, my constant state of being has been firmly set all week. The state is unchanging and could be described as misanthropic, cynical, scornful and sneering.

Agreed, it is not a pleasant look. And all those facial lines keep deepening and entrenching. The rising disdain and contempt chills all the good sporting feelings that are coming less often than ever. Please pass the laudanum.

It began after listening to Erin Burnett in ‘Outfront’ on American cable channel CNN this week.

“You know Evelyn,” says Erin. “One of the videos they put out and again Putin does all this on purpose, right, showing the alliance between China and Russia, these exercises they are doing together.”

“China is denying a report tonight that it may have asked Putin not to invade Ukraine during the Winter Olympics. Putin is scheduled to go to the Olympics. How do you see this Evelyn? Would Putin invade during the Olympics? Is this something that plays into his timeline?”

“It’s really interesting that you brought that up,” says Evelyn in Kiev. “That’s exactly what I’m thinking in terms of this question of ‘imminent.’ I do think it is more likely that Putin would strike now rather than during the Olympics or even after the Olympics because he would have to sustain this high level of readiness all the way through almost the entire month of February.

“The Chinese probably didn’t ask Putin not to invade right now because they don’t have to. Vladimir Putin knows full well President Xi would be mad to have Russia distracting the world from the Olympics during that time frame. I think he knows he either has to go now or he has to go later.”

Are the Olympic families not dotes. A possible stay on the mass killing of Ukraine civilians so the world can fully focus on the splendour of Beijing and the Winter Olympics. It is like a week goes by and a new world order forms with IOC president Thomas Bach one of the guys who have been put in charge.

“Are the Olympic families not dotes. A possible stay on the mass killing of Ukraine civilians so the world can fully focus on the splendour of Beijing and the Winter Olympics.” Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
“Are the Olympic families not dotes. A possible stay on the mass killing of Ukraine civilians so the world can fully focus on the splendour of Beijing and the Winter Olympics.” Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

On Tuesday Bach met Xi in what was reported as a ‘rare in-person encounter.’ The IOC president is the first foreign dignitary to have met the Chinese authoritarian ruler since March 2020 when Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi arrived, airborne, to discuss fighting the coronavirus.

“We are fully confident of ensuring the health and safety of participants, relevant personnel,” Xi told Bach, relevant being the operative word.

Soon Putin will be there in the Zhangjiakou ski zone marching through the synthetic snow, maybe stripped to the waist exhorting ‘squeeze my nipples, see they are harder than the armour on a Vezdekhod tank.’

Because, it’s not about sports and politics mixing anymore. Sport is politics. Politics is sport and in that transition they have cast aside our natural dispositions of outrage and fury. How ugly it has all become as this year takes off.

And what a splendid canvas 2022 promises to be bookended at the front by Djokovic’s warm up routine and now the Xi staged Olympics and at the backend by Fifa’s greatest laugh on reason, the World Cup in Qatar.

Let’s face it, the one time blockaded by their Middle eastern neighbours, Qatar, were seen as likely to win the World Cup bid as they are to win the World Cup event. Yet here we stand purse lipped and pragmatically just getting on with it.

It was also this week a year ago the Guardian broke the now forgotten story of how a country with just more than half the population of Ireland built the stadia for football’s greatest stage.

It reported then that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in the country since it won the right to host the event over 10 years ago.

The findings, which were compiled from government sources, showed an average of 12 migrant workers from the five south Asian nations had died each week since Fifa declared Qatar winners and celebrating crowds spilled into the streets of Doha.

The paper reported that data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka showed that there were 5,927 deaths of workers in the period 2011-2020. Separately, data from Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths of Pakistani workers, between 2010 and 2020.

The entire report came with a caveat. The overall death toll was certainly higher as the figures did not include deaths from a number of countries that had also sent large numbers of workers, including the Philippines and Kenya.

It appears to be the price that Fifa is only too willing to pay. The indentured, the slaves, the baked to death desperate, they were never going to be deal breakers in a world where football and the Olympics have become geopolitical bargaining chips.

A wave of the hand, a hoary old platitude from the cosy three, Xi, Putin and Bach and it becomes so let’s halt an invasion. Add Fifa’s megalomaniac, two-world-cups-a-year president Gianni Infantino explaining, straight faced, to the Council of Europe that biennial tournaments would be about saving Africans in the Mediterranean not profit.

The affronts have arrived so thick and fast, that like tails, small jaws and the appendix, our gag reflex for the odious has become like some dysfunctional, evolutionary leftover.

In its place is the scorn, the cynicism and a sneer.

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