It’s never too late to grow a conscience
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 toQatarwasthe 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