It’s never too late to grow a con­science

The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - SPORT -

CUL­TURAL and sport­ing boy­cotts work. They re­ally do. All you have to do is to look at the con­sis­tently fu­ri­ous re­ac­tion of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment against the BDS – boy­cott, di­vest, sanc­tion – move­ment to know.

If it didn’t mat­ter the Is­raelis sim­ply would shrug it off and move on. In­stead they know the power of sym­bol­ism and fear the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of iso­la­tion. Prob­a­bly more than any­thing else they fear di­rect com­par­isons with apartheid South Africa and the boy­cott of the late sev­en­ties and eight­ies.

To a lot of us those com­par­isons seem com­pelling and valid. Is­raeli gov­ern­ment pol­icy (with will­ing and ac­tive com­plic­ity from Wash­ing­ton) seems de­signed to un­der­mine the pos­si­bil­ity of a two-state so­lu­tion, which leaves us with a de facto sin­gle-state so­lu­tion.

In that sin­gle state there is a large dis­en­fran­chised mi­nor­ity Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion (soon to be the ma­jor­ity if de­mog­ra­phers are to be be­lieved). That’s a tragedy for both those peo­ple and a tragedy for the state of Is­rael too if you be­lieve in a Jewish state for Jewish peo­ple as it’s sim­ply an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion in the long term.

Events like next year’s Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test in Tel Aviv of­fer Is­rael a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity – it’s ar­guably the big­gest TV show on the planet – to shape the nar­ra­tive about their coun­try. The Ir­ish cer­tainly used it to good ef­fect in the nineties.

With that golden op­por­tu­nity in their hands the last thing the Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties want is for BDS to rear its head, to turn at­ten­tion to those places it doesn’t want it to go and to those peo­ple they’d pre­fer we forgot about al­to­gether.

The fa­mous South African boy­cott drove the apartheid gov­ern­ment up the walls. Yes there were eco­nomic and diplo­matic strands to it, but sport and cul­ture were a huge part of it too.

Sport, you see, has the power to le­git­imise or to dele­git­imise. That’s why non-demo­cratic and au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes tend to in­vest so much in it. The petrodol­lar-rich gulf states – Qatar in par­tic­u­lar – has em­braced and pi­o­neered a sort of sport­ing diplo­macy in the twenty first cen­tury.

The de­ci­sion to award the World Cup to Qatar was the crown­ing achieve­ment of this decades long push by the tiny emi­rate.

That it’s ut­terly lu­di­crous to host the World Cup in the desert (even in De­cem­ber) is be­sides the point for the Qataris, that it’s go­ing to be the most ex­pen­sive World Cup ever equally so, the mere fact that they’re host­ing it, that the world is go­ing to come and do homage, is the point.

FIFA, which de­cries the mix­ing of sport and pol­i­tics, has al­lowed it­self be used as the ul­ti­mate pro­pa­ganda tool for the last two World Cup cy­cles in suc­ces­sion (in­clud­ing this year’s visit to Valdimir Putin’s Rus­sia).

These au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes have spot­ted our great­est weak­ness and ruth­lessly ex­ploited it – our greed. The money is sim­ply too good for too many of our sports peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions to turn down – even the GAA has been spon­sored by Ethiad Air­ways, the na­tional car­rier of the (re­pres­sive) United Arab Emi­rates.

It cer­tainly seems as though the money is too good for the Euro­pean Tour to turn down as, de­spite an out­cry in the wake of Ja­mal Khashoggi’s bru­tal mur­der in the Saudi Ara­bian em­bassy, they press ahead with plans for a tour event in the king­dom in Jan­uary.

In a way you can kind of see their point of view. Why should they turn down the cash? What’s so dif­fer­ent about Saudi Ara­bia now than a cou­ple of months ago? Is the mur­der of one jour­nal­ist re­ally worse than the con­tin­u­ing atroc­i­ties in Ye­men?

If For­mula One went ahead with an event in Bahrain dur­ing the Arab spring (dur­ing which Saudi troops were in­volved in a vi­cious crack down on Bahraini pro­test­ers) why shouldn’t the Euro­pean Tour – or For­mula E, which is due to hold an e-Prix in Riyadh next month – now?

Pádraig Har­ring­ton spoke out last week largely – al­though with cer­tain reser­va­tions – in favour of the event go­ing ahead at the new Royal Greens Golf & Coun­try Club in the King Ab­dul­lah Eco­nomic City.

“It’s an age-old ques­tion and prob­a­bly for a lot more qual­i­fied peo­ple than me to know if it’s a good or a bad thing,” he said. “There is no doubt by us be­ing there it opens up so­ci­ety all the more, ob­vi­ously that’s what the Saudis would like.

“I think the Euro­pean Tour have taken the at­ti­tude at this stage they can be more of a pos­i­tive force than a neg­a­tive one.”

For­give us our scep­ti­cism, but that’s shock­ingly naive by the three-time ma­jor win­ning golfer. A regime that mur­ders a jour­nal­ist for ask­ing ques­tions sim­ply isn’t in­ter­ested in open­ing up so­ci­ety.

If Har­ring­ton’s in­ter­est lies in help­ing the Saudi peo­ple and Saudi so­ci­ety he’d be bet­ter off lead­ing a push to boy­cott Jan­uary’s event. As for those ques­tions stated above, the an­swer is sim­ple – bet­ter late than never.

If the mur­der of one man does more to prick our col­lec­tive con­science than the slaugh­ter of thou­sands so be it. If there’s hypocrisy in that – and there prob­a­bly is – so be it. The time to act is now and, yes, that most cer­tainly in­cludes you


Damian Stack looks at some of the sto­ries mak­ing back­page news over the past seven days

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