The Litmus Test
The sixth (after a long haitus) in my series of short summaries about the culture and politics of football.
The American poet and teacher June Jordan once remarked: "There are two issues of our time, really, that amount to a litmus test for morality: … One, is what you're prepared to do on behalf of the Palestinian people. And the other is what are you prepared to do on behalf of gay and lesbian people." Over the last few weeks, Israel, following Hamas’s attack on October 7th in which 1,200 Israelis were killed, in a fit of vengeance, killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, a large number of them children. Since then, it has also become clear that global public opinion - especially outside of Western elites and Western governments and their allied institutions - has shifted considerably. Too many people, especially the young, don't believe the propaganda anymore to tar any support or sympathy for Palestinians and to oppose Israeli apartheid and war crimes as antisemitism. The calls for a ceasefire have taken over the streets, stadiums, and on social media. But there is still work to do. The silence of the world's top non-Muslim and non-Arab players in calling or campaigning for a ceasefire or the end of occupation is, to say the least, disappointing. It reminds me of when Lilian Thuram asked why black footballers always have to lead anti-racism calls. And remember when this past summer, Orlando Pirates of South Africa and Bournemouth FC from England played a series of friendly matches against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Spain. The most principled footballer in the last few weeks has been Anwar El Ghazi of the Netherlands. After he was dismissed by FSV Mainz 05 in the German Bundesliga for posting solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza (delegitimizing Palestinians feels like Germany’s perverse attempt to get some kind of absolution for the legacies of the Holocaust and the Nazis), El Ghazi posted on his social media platforms: "Stand up for what is right, even if it means standing alone. The loss of my livelihood is nothing compared to the hell being unleashed on the innocent and vulnerable in Gaza. Stop the killing."
Two months ago, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who led a violent Bantustan regime and managed a proxy war for Apartheid South Africa's whites-only government, died of old age. Elements in the country's mainstream media quickly declared him a "statesman," like News24, the country's most popular news site. But those affected by his violence didn't. In 2010, South Africa hosted the World Cup. The men's national team captain was Aaron Mokoena, who was then playing for Portsmouth in the English Premier League. Mokoena was born in Boipatong, the site of a pre-election massacre in 1992. 46 people were murdered by armed gangs who swore allegiance to Inkatha, Buthelezi's party. It later emerged they were accompanied by white policemen who darkened their faces. Aaron Mokoena was 12 years old. When Buthelezi died, Mokoena told the same News24 that his community had to protect them against their attackers: "They [the community] took in a lot of Boipatong residents, especially young boys and girls, into that community hall to get better protection as the war was going ahead. My mom played a big part in my safety. As they [the IFP] were killing young boys, I had to wear my sister's dresses [as a] disguise. The rest is history."
Earlier this year, the Dutch governing coalition experienced a brief crisis. One of the potential prime minister candidates was Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius. She is the daughter of Kurdish refugees from Turkey, who is primarily a media creation and is also the most dangerous of the serious candidates to replace incumbent Mark Rutte. He managed to stay on, but we certainly won't hear the last of Yeşilgöz-Zegerius. She is another in a long line of Muslim, brown, or black rightwing politicians in the West who try to outdo their white colleagues with their offense and who get success for that reason. The only reason I mention her here is because she is an Ajax fan and the partner of Ajax Amsterdam director René Zegerius.
After the World Cup, with all the news of Spain's women's national team, who should have been reveling in their victory but instead had to fight their FA over basic decency and respect in their sport, I kept wondering about the various outcomes for the grievances of the women's teams of Nigeria, South Africa (for both pay and bonus disputes), and Zambia (sexual abuse by the manager). We now know the answer: Nothing.
Nigerian league shenanigans: In Nigeria, one club loaned a player to another, who sold the player.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Pepe Reyna story from the end of last season: Reyna (former Liverpool and Napoli goalkeeper), who is on the verge of retirement, played for Villareal in La Liga last season. In May 2023, in a match against Raya Vallecano, near the end of the season, Vallecano fans ironically chanted: "Pepe Reina is a communist." Reyna is known for his right-wing views. A COVID-19 denialist, he also once called the Spanish left-wing party Podemos "the worst thing that has happened to Spain in the last 40 years." Reyna played the victim and went to complain to the referee.
Rest in peace to Simon Hodnett, a world-class track and field coach.
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