Adidas and Sports Corruption

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Even as the every-fourth-year World Cup football spectacular is set to kick off
in Brazil later this week, there has been a wave of increasing concern about the event’s scheduled host for 2022, the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. This has largely been prompted by the eminent British newspaper The Sunday Times, which has somehow gotten its hands on a treasure-trove of internal e-mails and documents relating to what appears to be the concerted effort spearheaded by the Qatari businessman (and former FIFA vice-president) Mohamed Bin Hammam to buy Qatar the 2022 World Cup outright via the judicious parcelling-out of up to $5 million.

Taking a page from the work of Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald with the NSA documents, The Sunday Times is drawing out its revelations over a period of weeks, rather than dumping all of what it has learned on the public at once. Nonetheless, even what is has revealed so far has prompted some notable reactions. One of the latest was that of one of FIFA’s main World Cup sponsors, SONY, expressing its concern over the Qatar revelations. Then SONY was recently followed in that by the famous German sportswear firm Adidas. (That last link is to a Sunday Times piece – remarkable since usually they are inaccessible behind a paywall.)

But Adidas itself knows quite a bit about corruption in sports – as is apparent from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt with an article it republished from Die Zeit a little less than two weeks ago:

Adidas
That tweet reads “Adidas: The inventor of modern sports corruption,” with a question mark. But it is not really a question; in the article itself that title appears without any question-mark, and writer Oliver Fritsch’s purpose within the seven pages over which the piece is divided is to show how that is the case. As he writes:

“For decades the company has influenced sports-politics decisions such as marketing contracts, tournament expenses and personnel. The company’s methods are controversial. And that just not as of yesterday.”

You can tell that Adidas is a big player at least in the German sporting goods market from the fact that it is the official supplier to both the German National Football Association (and therefore to the national team, which first goes into action in Brazil against Portugal next Monday) and to German football power-house Bayern München. And you can similarly tell that Horst Dassler, son of the company’s founder Adi Dassler, was some kind of evil genius from the fact that he gets his very own chapter in the exposé-book recently written by Thomas Kistner, Fifa Mafia (unfortunately available only in German). (more…)

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Is Germany Allowed to Win?

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

As much as everyone may desire it, it may ultimately prove impossible to separate the Euro 2012 Football Championship from wider political matters of the real world. We already saw last Friday, with Germany-vs.-Greece, a football game already fraught from being a tournament quarter-final, after which the loser would be sent home, gain even more of an edge from geopolitical considerations, as the Greeks were especially anxious to gain a bit of revenge against the country whose financial hard-heartedness many of them see as responsible for their current economic meltdown.

Alas, they did not get their wish. But consider: now that we know the results of the first semi-final it is clear that, having already beaten Greece, the German team’s path to the European championship now lies in beating Italy, and then beating Spain in the final – “PIGS” countries all of them! These are the post-WWII Germans, though, you must remember, so that inevitably the question is arising: Given these circumstances, should Germany be allowed to win the 2012 European football championship even if it can?

Patriotismus-Debatte: Darf Deutschland Europameister werden?… http://t.co/nMRN8LhD

@SPIEGEL_Politik

SPIEGEL Politik


That’s literally the question Spiegel writer Jan Fleischhauer poses in the title to his opinion-piece. His lede:

The Left is again afraid that foreigners don’t find the Germans nice enough. Some even wish for a defeat of the national football team against Italy. But Germans are much more popular with foreigners than most think.

Yes, apparently this continued feeling of shame and unworthiness is to be found primarily among Left- and Green-inclined German voters, some of whom have taken to stealing German flags sticking out of cars and leaving behind notes accusing those drivers of fostering nationalism.

This is comical stuff, although it does seem to be really happening. But it’s so unnecessary because, as Fleischhauer points out, in reality Germans are currently riding an extraordinary wave of popularity (which apparently goes for the kind of football they play as well). He cites a recent Pew Research Center study showing that Germans are admired by all other Europeans for their honesty and hard work. Chancellor Angela Merkel has profited from this to become rather popular throughout the continent herself – other than among the Greeks, that is.

But there is a larger point here, and once again it relates to “real life,” specifically the enormous financial crisis with which the continent is now wrestling. Everyone is now earnestly looking to Berlin to fix it! What, should we instead turn to Paris and François Hollande? Perish the thought! No, if anyone holds in their hands the solution to this financial turmoil and uncertainty, it’s the Germans (largely by being willing to pay to clean up other countries’ messes, it has to be acknowledged!). For Heaven’s sake, let them step up and do that – and should they win Euro2012 along the way, then that is no problem.

UPDATE: It’s no problem, alright: Germany 1, Italy 2!

One could opine that the clear assumption in Fleischhauer’s article that the German team would of course win the semi-final and go on to face Spain in the final reflected a certain German arrogance. But then we would be dealing here with a strange mixture of arrogance (“Of course we’ll win”) and humility (“But should we be allowed to?”).

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Big Brother at the Football Match

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Allow me to bring up an interesting article, plucked from my incoming Twitter-feed, that has languished a while among my bookmarks. It’s from the website of Ekonom, the weekly economy/business magazine affiliated with the leading Czech business newspaper Hospodářské noviny; entitled How Hooligans Are Caught, it describes an episode of Czech export success of a quite unexpected sort, from a firm with the rather funny name (even in Czech) of Integoo – namely providing anti-hooligan security at football stadiums.

I suppose what Integoo is selling fairly describes every stadium-manager’s dream, as this security system has at its core a combination of video-cameras and software that enables fairly precise facial recognition. Most soccer/football clubs these days (at least in the Western world) operate on the basis of “club cards” or “season tickets” held by their established set of fans, who are expected to attend a majority of games, with only limited tickets for each match left over for casual visitors. So when you apply to get your club card, you have to provide a photograph of yourself; that then enables the Integoo security system, when someone tries to go past the stadium turnstiles for a match, to match up the face of the person holding the ticket with the face of the person on record – and to block the turnstile either if the faces do not match or if that face has become officially undesirable due to past bad behavior.

Only the Krakow club KS Cracovia is benefiting from purchasing and installing this system as of yet, according to the article. So it’s obviously a sort of guinea-pig for the technology, which will presumably spread far more widely, and quickly, once it has proven itself there.

Make no mistake, Polish football needs something of this sort of technology, for at least two reasons: 1) Polish football hooligans are a real problem! (Everyone hears about English hooligans – or did, until a few years ago when the problem seems largely to have died down – but their Polish counterparts have long been a serious societal scourge.) And 2) You might have heard about that Euro 2012 football tournament coming up, to be held in Poland and the Ukraine (if the latter can actually get its act together in time) – football stadiums hosting those games will have to deal with hooligans from all corners of the continent!

Then again, there’s more than a whiff here of all the bad associations conjured up by the mention of George Orwell’s title “1984.” On the one hand, it’s understandable why this is happening here from these lands’ recent pasts under oppressive Communist governments, which would have lept to implement such technology – for purposes way beyond just football – had it been available then. On the other, it’s hard imagining the Czech Republic as being the locale for this sort of pioneering technology – but I guess that just unfairly maligns that country, which actually boasts inter alia considerable programming talent, as evidenced by world-class anti-virus software companies and the like. Still: Is this sort of face-recognition set-up all that pioneering? Surely something similar has been implemented already elsewhere, somewhere in the world?

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FIFA Loses the American Market

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Remember the Hand of Henry? You do if you’re Irish. That refers to the blatant handballs committed by star Barcelona striker Thierry Henry, playing last month on the French national team in a World Cup playoff game, that enabled the winning goal to be scored and sent the French to South Africa instead of the Republic of Ireland. These fouls were evident enough to the millions watching the match on TV, but not to the crew of officials actually in charge of the game, and this result which robbed the Irish of their World Cup 2010 participation was allowed to stand.

Now down in the Southern Hemisphere, the French team isn’t doing very well and will probably fly home after only the three games of the tournament’s first round, but that is not the point. The point is rather the continued refusal by FIFA officials (i.e. from the international football organization in charge of the World Cup) to install any sort of modern technology (e.g. televised replay review) to ensure that officiating travesties like what happened to the Irish can never happen again. This only ensures, of course, that such a thing will happen again, at least one more time, and this during that organization’s signature event that draws the sustained attention of billions of spectators from all over the world – a substantial portion of whom tune in to cheer on their own nation’s team.

Sure enough, another such travesty has come along on cue, namely the denial yesterday to the United States team of a perfectly-valid third goal which would have capped a tremendous rally from a 2-0 deficit by half-time with a glorious win. Instead, the US team earned a 2-2 draw, which gave them a mere one point towards advancing further in the tournament rather than the full three to which the victory they deserved would have entitled them. (more…)

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The African Cup in Angola: Hoping for a Miracle

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Football fans out there among you (that is: “soccer”) might be aware that this upcoming Sunday marks the start of the African Cup of Nations tournament, between that continent’s best national teams. An event that happens in January/February every even-numbered year, the African Cup is said to be sure to draw more world-wide interest this time than ever before because, after all, the first-ever World Cup tournament to be held in Africa will follow soon afterwards, in June. That certainly seems to be so, as we have no less than Christian Henkel of the Financial Times Deutschland writing a piece about it, specifically about host-country Angola (Africa Cup: Hoping for Angola’s Art of Improvisation).

Then again, perhaps Henkel’s interest here is more of the rubbernecking variety, the irresistible attraction to passers-by of a ten-car highway pile-up, since Angola’s hosting does seem to be a disaster in the making. In the middle of his piece he mentions the “open secret” that none of the other participating African nations really wanted Angola to be the host. Why? Mainly because – according to Henkel – Luanda, the capital city, has ranked as the world’s most-expensive capital since 2008. Twelve euros for a double cheeseburgers; more importantly, three hundred-euro per night as the cheapest room-rate at any passable hotel. The latter naturally impacts directly on the other national teams that will be spending time in the country to compete, but it also means that precious few of their fans will be able to travel along with them. Those fans will also suffer from the country’s “catastrophic” transportation infrastructure as they try to get around to the various games, with no formal system of taxicabs and no real public transportation. That’s where the “improvisation” in the title comes from: that hope is all that both organizers and participating teams have left to clutch at towards a four-week tournament that won’t end up making everyone (other than the hosts) penniless and insane. (Ticket prices for the games, however, are said to be quite reasonable.)

Perhaps you’re asking “How could a country that just emerged from a long civil war [it ended in 2002] be so expensive?” The answer is oil, as well as diamonds, which together have made the economy quite fast-growing, but really only for a few. Henkel cites one figure that, while some can afford the €12 double cheeseburgers, 70% of Angola’s population still subsists on less than €1.50 per day. The Africa Cup tournament is in the minds of some – somehow – supposed to help heal this divide; in the words of the Angolan Minister for Youth and Sport, Gonçalvez Muandumba*, “The Africa Cup should kindle enthusiasm for sport in our population and thereby further social integration.”

* With apologies to Dave Barry, I hasten to assure you that I did not just make that name up!

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Reckoning Coming for Iranian Football Team

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

The Iranian national football (i.e. soccer) team caused some comment during their World Cup qualification game against South Korea last Wednesday when a couple of them wore green wristbands, apparently as a gesture of support to the opposition movement behind Mir Hussein Mousavi. They wore them at least during the first half of the match, which ended in a 1-1 tie that took Iran out of World Cup qualification; the wristbands were gone as the players emerged on the field for the second half.

Now there is a report in the Dutch newspaper Trouw that some form of punishment is headed the team’s way. No less than the Iranian parliament today demanded an explanation from the Iranian football association and threatened the team with sanctions of some kind.

On the other hand, this news report, while somewhat short, nonetheless manages to mention twice that the Iranians were playing against Japan, when it was really the South Korean team. Should we therefore believe anything else it says? I recommend “Yes,” as Trouw is really usually among the better of the Dutch dailies. For what it’s worth, this piece is sourced to the Dutch national news agency ANP, anyway.

UPDATE: Yes, you better believe: via Andrew Sullivan’s weblog, word comes from the Guardian that four of the six players who dared to wear the green wristbands have been “retired” from football.

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Triumph of the Vuvuzelas

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

090617_spo_vuvuzela_dpaA bit of attention now, if you please, to the FIFA Confederations Cup, the tournament of national teams currently going on in South Africa. Of course, a rather bigger tournament, namely the World Cup itself, is scheduled to take place a year from now in that same country, in those very same stadiums as are being used now. As such, then, this Confederations Cup tournament is useful to the world governing football organization, FIFA, as a “trial run” for that much more important 2010 event; among the problems that have cropped up so far is that of the half-empty stadiums, suggesting either a lack of enthusiasm for football among South Africans (highly unlikely) or else inappropriate ticket-pricing.

And then there are the vuvuzelas. Perhaps, you may ask, that’s the nickname of the team and/or the supporters of one participating nation? No, those are the cheap plastic trumpet-like things that many fans are using to set up an ear-splitting racket to accompany the game they are watching live – devices which “remind one of the wind instruments heralds used at tournaments in the Middle Ages,” according to an article on this vuvuzela problem in the Frankfurther Rundschau.

Yes, when blown they apparently emit a dreadfully loud noise, which the FR article describes as “deafening” and an “elephant sound.” They have already prompted some public complaints among players and even from Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, FIFA president, who admitted to the press “They do make a lot of noise. FIFA is quite concerned about the noise, that also can constantly be heard in the TV [broadcasts].” On the other hand, the fundamental fact remains that FIFA explicitly approved the vuvuzelas for this Confederations Cup, so the players and everyone else will just have to endure them (perhaps with the aid of earplugs?) throughout. But for next year? Despite the ringing in his ears, Blatter seems not inclined to change the policy for 2010, either: “When you go to Africa,” he observed, “it’s simply loud. I have always said: football is drumming, rhythm, dancing.”

And whether elephantine or not, that sound is music to the ears of German businessmen Frank Urbas and Gerd Kehrberg. They’re still back in Düsseldorf, but they gained the license to manufacture and sell these vuvuzelas to European fans headed for the World Cup next summer.

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Through Recession with Dutch Luck & Pluck

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

It’s coming on Christmas, but it’s also coming on the end of 2008, and so it’s time to look ahead to 2009. Economically, things do not look good. The leading Dutch business newspaper Het Financiële Dagblad has already picked up on remarks from Vice President-elect Joe Biden that will be televised later today on This Week with George Stephanopoulos that the US economy is in danger of “absolutely tanking.” (You can get the run-down in English plus a brief video of their interview here.)

Right, but what about closer to (the €S) home, what about the Netherlands’ economy? Also from Het Financiële Dagblad, we get some good news straight from the Dutch premier Jan Peter Balkenende that he is confident that the strong character of the Dutch will get them through the hard times. (more…)

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A New Meaning for “Football Strip”

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Followers of European football’s Champions League will be aware of the hard assignment awaiting the Italian club A.S. Roma next Wednesday. Having lost to English Premier League leaders Manchester United 2-0 at home last Tuesday, Roma – because of the away-goals rule – need to go to Manchester and score at least three goals with no reply (or four goals if Man. United score one, etc.) to go on to the Champions League semi-finals.

It’s going to be tough, but the club at least has gotten a helping hand from one of its more rabid fans, the Italian actress Sabrina Ferilli. As the Czech News Agency ČTK reports in the daily Lidové noviny (For Progressing the A.S. Roma Footballers Are Promised a Strip-Tease), Ferilli has promised to take her clothes off for the delectation of Roma’s players – and their other fans – if the team beats Man. United sufficiently to make it through to the next round. And while the article notes towards its very beginning that Ferilli is now 43 years of age, the embedded video profile (apparently a report from an Italian news channel) also shows very clearly that she still has quite a lot to offer any viewers. (Don’t worry, though, the video would rate no more than “PG” under the American movie rating system, if even that.) (more…)

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Football as Nationalism, as Religion

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

For those of you who live outside the “Old World” and so who may fail to grasp the fact: Yes, the currently on-going “Euro2004” European football championship is a big deal over here, routinely re-directing daily life with its schedule of football broadcasts and calling forth floods of uniformly-colored crowds in central cities throughout the continent. So it should be no surprise when press coverage takes a step back from the “trees” of the action and results of individual games to contemplate the wider “forest” of what it all means. Often this stepping-back goes no further than attempts to find a secret formula to unlock football-championship success, which are interesting enough in themselves. But lately some analysts have gone even further than that. (more…)

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Dutch Bounty-Money for the Czech Football Squad?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004

Unprecedented! As is being reported today on Sport.cz, an on-line magazine owned by the Czech daily newspaper Právo, a group of Dutch firms operating in the Czech Republic are offering to pay the Czech national football team €4 million as a reward if they beat the German team tonight in the final qualifying round of the on-going Euro2004 football tournament in Portugal. Why would they want to do that? Well, the Dutch play the team from Latvia tonight, and must not only beat them to advance to the quarter-finals, but must also rely on the Czechs to win over the Germans to gain that result. But the Czechs themselves don’t have much motivation going into their game with the Germans; with two wins achieved, they are already assured of advancing, and in fact ordinarily could be expected to leave their key players out of the line-up tonight, to let them rest up for when the games start getting serious again. (more…)

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Something Rotten in Czech Football

Thursday, May 20th, 2004

We go today to the Czech press, and specifically to the commentary weekly Respekt, for news about a shocking development there that I somehow missed. Apparently, the Czech national football league (that’s “soccer” to some of you) has been revealed as deeply corrupt. Of the sixteen teams that make up the Czech first division, fourteen were implicated, in investigative articles published late last week, in the practice of bribing referees to influence the results of games. As Respekt’s article (Czech Football: End of the Illusion) details, these payments didn’t even feature the twisted elegance of being made to secret accounts in Switzerland or the Caribbean; they were made in cash, “from hand to hand behind the gas pump or in underground garages.” As a result, in that paper’s opinion, “after May, 2004, no one can believe anymore in the cleanness [cistota] of Czech football.” (more…)

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German Angst Before Group D

Thursday, December 4th, 2003

Today we finish up our look at the Euro 2004 Group D (“Group of Death”) reactions, this time out of the German press. And there’s certainly plenty there – aided by the fact that the German on-line newspapers, helpfully, don’t follow the practice of enclosing their articles behind for-pay barriers once they get the least bit old.

Die Welt probably has the most complete coverage, headed by an article eloquently entitled Ausgerechnet Holland, or “Of All Teams – Holland!”, complete with a photo at the top of German national team coach Rudi Völler looking very anxious. (more…)

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Of Gloom, Expensive Hotels, and Transport Problems

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2003

We’re back to Euro 2004 Group D: “Group of Death” analysis today, and it’s the turn of the Czech press, featuring an interview with Czech national team coach Karel Brückner, plus one with Czech team captain Pavel Nedved – plus more individual quotes from various figures. But the thing that I really wanted to show you I can’t, because it’s a copyrighted picture, capturing Brückner at the moment of last Sunday’s drawing, which appeared on the front page of Monday’s Mladá fronta dnes: He is shown there in Lisbon in his suit, with his FIFA badge around his neck, clutching his head in disbelief and amazement (although still smiling), and the caption reads “Ajajaj!” – which is Czech for Mexican, if you get what I’m saying. (more…)

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The Group of Death: Dutch Reactions

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003

As many of you know by now, the drawing for the Euro 2004 match-pairings was held last Sunday in Lisbon. Nearly every such football tournament, whether it be for the World Cup or for the European Cup, can be counted on to produce in its run-up the so-called “Group of Death”: i.e. the matching of four national teams in a preliminary group which are of such a high quality that it’s a shame that only two of them will be able to advance further into the knock-out stages of the tournament. (The international football organizations that run such tournaments – FIFA and UEFA, respectively – do their best to pre-cook such drawings with “seeding” arrangements. These are supposed to ensure that each group has a proper mix of teams that are expected to do very well and teams that are not. Of course, one aspect of the charm of such events is that at least one team which, prior to the tournament, had not really been expected to advance, actually ends up doing so, meaning that at least one team that had been expected to do so does not. This generally results in national embarrassment and gnashing-of-teeth, and always in a coaching change.)

Sure enough, the Euro 2004 tournament coming up next summer in Portugal has its own “Group of Death.” Appropriately, that is group D (for “Death”), in which the teams from Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Latvia will play each other in a round-robin arrangement. Germany was the runner-up in 2002’s World Cup competition, only losing to Brazil; and the Dutch and the Czech teams are both highly regarded. (That’s true even though, strangely, both failed to qualify to play in that World Cup tournament in 2002. But the Dutch recently sent the Scottish team packing in a playoff with a 6-0 score. And it was the Czechs who defeated the Dutch and sent them into that playoff in the first place.) For its part, Latvia comes in last in the list of countries expected to win the European Cup compiled by those experts with their financial derrières on the line, namely the book-makers. Still, Turkey was a team that was supposed to be at this tournament, and the fact that they are not is directly attributable to the Latvian team (who no doubt caused substantial losses for the book-makers with their remarkable feat).

As it happens, I have the familiarity with the languages involved to shed some light on the domestic reactions to that “Group of Death” drawing from Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Let’s head off to the Internet, shall we?, on the hunt for football insights which go beyond the standard line of “Yes, it’s a tough group; and we can’t afford to underestimate Latvia.” The Dutch press will be first on our list. (more…)

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Manchester United in the United States

Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

Here’s a great article in the Guardian that should appeal to football fans (that’s “soccer” in the States) interested in the “Gulliver’s Travels” quality of Manchester United’s recent trip across the Atlantic to try to build up interest in the game there. Superstars like Ruud van Nistlerooy and Ryan Giggs able to simply walk out of their hotels and check out the city, unharrassed, because nobody over there even recognizes them! (Strangely, the most-recognized player on the Manchester United team was Tim Howard, the new second-string goalie who’s redeeming feature was that he happens to be American himself.) And about how, often enough, their “checking out the city” was highlighted by visits to the excellent local strip joints – just enough excitement and aesthetic reward, it seems, for the lads who otherwise had to suffer through a tour of four games (all won handily) in a country whose fans and whose journalists still, it seems, don’t really understand or appreciated their sport – and so, by extension, their team.

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