A project of underground music journalism, fringe commentary and everything in between, by James Lamont.
Monday, May 22, 2006
World Exploitation Cup The tournament taking place in Germany next month is a catalyst for injustice.
In 2003, David Beckham earned £15.5 million by endorsing companies such as Adidas. The workers in Indonesia producing Adidas clothing earn $60 per month(1). Adidas, along with McDonald’s, Gillette, Yahoo!, Coca-Cola and Hyundai, to name but a few, is one of the official partners of World Cup 2006, and are no doubt making a killing, having jumped on the bandwagon as much as 3 years ago(2). Burger King were not so lucky(3). Across England, every shop and stall is bulging with official patriotic FIFA merchandise in preparation for our national sport’s biggest event, but you would be hard pressed to find any that was supporting workers in England rather than sweatshop owners in China(4).
Of course this is just the start of it. For years Nike, Barclays and friends have practically owned the game, the stadiums and the players. Only when there is the most stupendous uproar about awful working conditions, such as the cases of children as young as 10 in India and Pakistan stitching footballs together, does anyone seem to notice(5). But the World Cup is an advertising and endorsement opportunity that would make any CEO salivate. In Japan and South Korea in 2002 an estimated 300 million people tuned in(6), or, if you deal in individuals viewing, 32 billion(7). Aside from an upsurge in the sale of plastic flags, what else does it magnify?
The number of football fans expected to arrive in Germany in the next few weeks is 3 million, from at least 108 different countries(8), including 100,000 England supporters(9). With the airlines ever-dropping ticket prices, we can’t expect many people from outside continental Europe to be arriving by boat. FIFA seem to be aware that people are getting more concerned about the environment, and have implemented a World Cup 2006 project entitled Green Goal(10). Some of the measures outlined on the website are admirable, such as the increased use of rainwater to maintain pitches, but most of it reads like it was overseen by the BP greenwash department. Whilst there is a lot of talk of reducing transport emissions by 20% (it’s not clear from what), the only city that seems to have even vaguely overhauled its public transport is the city of Gelsenkirchen(11). Given that only 5 of the 64 games are taking place there, it’s not a good start. The goal is to persuade half of the 650,000 people travelling in and around the city to leave their cars at home. They seem to think this is an ambitious target, as around 70% normally travel by car, but presumably many tourists will have left their cars at home in the first place, and the city only has a population of 278,000. The plan “encompasses fans who still choose to travel to the Ruhr city by car” by having free parking; The best way to cut car use is to cut the availability of parking spaces, and instead invest in more trains and busses. But Hyundai may not have liked that proposal.
There is absolutely no mention of the impact of people travelling into the country, rendering the projects claims to be climate neutral absurd. It’s willingness to accommodate motorists outweighs it’s dedication to cycling: Several thousand free parking spaces will be provided in Gelsenkirchen, but in the city of Berlin, which has over 12 times as many inhabitants, a mere 700 bicycle spaces(12). There is a claim that the matches themselves will be carbon free, the lighting powered by hydroelectric dams(13). However, by the projects own admission this is simply power purchased from Switzerland being fed into the national grid, and only “offsets” the emissions of 4000 houses over the space of a year. The games are not actually carbon free, they just take capacity away from another country, a one off purchase that won’t encourage any further investment, as Switzerland already gets 16% of its energy from hydro power(14). Sporting events, paradoxically, have very little to do with health when it comes to watching them, so we can expect people to hop into Germany’s endless supply of taxis despite their relative expense(15), not to mention the internal flights between the major population centres. Given that the matches take place in 12 cities in all corners of the country, the amount of pollution from travel will skyrocket.
When it comes to hooliganism, England is still infamous for exporting it, and the World Cup brings fans together, including the small minority of fans who ruin it for everyone else. Although a problem throughout European football, a recent poll showed that 54% of Germans would select English fans as the worst troublemakers(16). In 2002 a prominent German newspaper published articles that would make the lead columnists of the Daily Mail blush, that according to the organisation Kick It Out portrayed World Cup co-hosts South Korea as “workaholic, alcoholic, dysfunctional dog-eaters”(17). Despite their distance from the tournament, Combat-18, the BNP and their associated thugs still managed to cause racist chaos on the streets of Britain 4 years ago(18), so are no doubt delighted that Germany is so comparatively near. Spurred on by the “we should never have taught them [Africans] to play football” comments of the Danish coach(19), the BNP published an article which claimed Denmark’s 2002 victory against France was due to it’s overbearing whiteness(20) (Denmark was subsequently beaten by an England team made up of black and Jewish players). The number of extremists and neo-Nazis in Germany is estimated to have risen in recent years, and a former government advisor has warned against non-white supporters visiting certain parts of East Germany following a racially motivated attack on a Turkish-German MP(21). With some African teams playing former European colonists, and the presence of Iran, the far-right will need holding down.
Perhaps the gravest consequence of such a biblical event is the overshadowing of other news. Whilst not responsible at the best of times, we can expect our newspapers to block out anything short of a nuclear war that is taking place outside Germany for a solid month. Front page news at the Daily Express focuses on the Africans coming here via boat who are not trying to see international stars, but escape grinding poverty(22). One can only imagine what they’ll be saying if The Hamburglars – a group of Robin Hood types currently invading classy restaurants in Hamburg(23) – manage to steal the spotlight away from this ludicrously over-reported tournament. 15,000 journalists will be in Germany covering it(24). Already the UK is applying the football blinkers. In the past month a democratic revolution has taken place in Nepal(25), the EU and US have removed all foreign aid to Palestine(26) and the so-called Octagon consortium has managed to extract £95 million of taxpayer money from a hospital scheme in Norfolk and Norwich(27). The tabloids are far more willing to accommodate page 3 girls in children’s England strips than a big awareness campaign about the high increase of illegal sex trafficking likely to take place during the event(28). However, if you ask the average person in the street about any of this, they are more likely to know about the size of the genitals of certain contestants on Big Brother 7(29).
I hate to rain on anyone’s good time, and acknowledge that football, being perhaps the world’s most popular sport, bonds people in a way nothing else can. If you go to an urban Ethiopian slum you are likely to find fans of Roy Keane(30). But a simple game that was not so long ago played by part-timers in England is now a multi-billion pound business, to be profited from whatever the consequences. Based on the evidence, it seems the beautiful game could stand to be a lot more beautiful.