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  2. 45 years today since John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s black power salute on the podium in Mexico City. Here’s a doc that’s worth watching from 2008. And here are Dave Zirin’s reflections on the anniversary, published on The Nation site today:

    October 16 marks the forty-fifth anniversary of the day two young athletes brought protest to that most unlikely of places: the Olympic Games. After the 200-meter dash, John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black gloved fists to the heavens, with Australian silver medalist Peter Norman standing in solidarity and creating an image for the ages.

    We may know that medal-stand moment. But it was more than a moment. It was a movement called the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Carlos, Smith and Norman all wore patches with those five simple words. Today, in 2013, the issues have certainly changed, but the need to revive, rebuild and relaunch an Olympic Project for Human Rights has never been more urgent.

    In 1968, the main demands of OPHR centered around the removal of open bigot “Slavery” Avery Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee, ceasing participation of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, hiring more African-American coaches and restoring Muhammad Ali’s boxing title, stripped over his resistance to the United States’ war in Vietnam. Today, Avery Brundage, Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa are thankfully in history’s dustbin, African-American coaches are hired without controversy and Muhammad Ali has become a living saint.

    Yet the intersection of the Olympics and injustice remains if anything more pungent than in 1968. Today, the Olympics arrive on the shores of a host-nation like a neoliberal virus, displacing the nation’s poorest residents in the name of massive construction projects. Global corporations, with exclusive International Olympic Committee seals of approval, force local businesses to shut down as they brand the festivities like it’s a NASCAR event. The poor of a city are herded off, jailed or even disappeared in the name of making an Olympic city pristine for visiting dignitaries. Today, we are witnessing the mass evictions of thousands Rio de Janeiro’s poorest residents in the name of the 2016 games, and, as in London in 2012, the introduction of surveillance drones to monitor the proceedings. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has outlawed demonstrations for sixty days before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics amidst both a shocking attack on the nation’s LGBT population, as well as an unprecedented carnival of graft.

    The idea of a new Olympic Project for Human Rights could have demands that directly address these issues. No involuntary evictions. No pre-emptive arrests of citizens. No awarding the games to countries that violate internationally recognized standards of human rights. No punishing athletes for speaking their minds and using the Olympics to take a stand for something other than McDonald’s and Pepsi.

    Would athletes be taking one hell of a risk by speaking out? Absolutely. Look at what Carlos, Smith and Norman suffered. First, there was the media barrage as the Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute” and the Chicago Tribune called their actions “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” But the most shameful display was by a young reporter for the Chicago American named Brent Musburger who called them “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers”, a slur for which he has never apologized.

    Then upon returning home, Carlos, Smith and Norman faced the daily struggles of being pariahs and having to scrap just to survive. As Dr. Carlos said to me in 2003, “I don’t feel embraced, I feel like a survivor, like I survived cancer. It’s like if you are sick and no one wants to be around you, and when you’re well everyone who thought you would go down for good doesn’t even want to make eye contact. It was almost like we were on a deserted island. That’s where Tommy Smith and John Carlos were. But we survived.” This sacrifice of privilege and glory, fame and fortune, for a larger cause is something they never regretted. The best way to honor their sacrifice is not just to learn their story, praise their courage and pat ourselves on the back that we no longer face the specters of Avery Brundage and Rhodesia. It is to make the history come alive and demand justice from an International Olympic Committee that now has more in common with a criminal cartel than a guardian of what is best about sports.

     

  3. Film: “Thierry Henry—1:1”

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    Finally got around to watching this film, ostensibly a profile of Thierry Henry’s career. The promo material is written in breathless prose: “Who is the personality hidden in this dream career? … What are his ideals? What goals does he want to reach? … Thierry Henry is a world star torn between past and present.” This is all false advertising as nothing is really at stake in this film. Thierry Henry’s number is 14. The “1:1” of the title doesn’t make sense as what is marketed on iTunes as a film about the career of Henry—the highest scorer in the history of Arsenal, before he joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010—is really a 52-minute PR video made for the benefit of the Red Bulls, the MLS and their sponsors (the film is produced by Red Bull Media House). Stock images of the tourist parts of Manhattan, central Paris and London, are intercut with Henry prepping for two meaningless matches—the 2011 MLS All Star Game (the best of the MLS vs Manchester United’s summer team in New Jersey) and the “Emirates Cup” (Red Bulls vs Arsenal), a few days later in London. In the Emirates Cup game, a draw means Red Bulls win and for Henry to receive a meaningless trophy. The filmmakers act like these matches mean something. They even rope in Hans Backe (former Red Bulls coach) to speak about tactics while riding on the team bus. To his credit Henry comes across as bored. He only shows real concern when asked about whether he would like to visit Highbury (Arsenal’s old stadium). Here Henry seems genuinely emotional speaking at the stadium where he played 7 of his 8 years contracted to Arsenal while scoring 288 goals for the club. It’s the one moment Henry comes across as human. Henry is not sure he can handle going to Highbury.  But the directors move on to other stock shots. While the film discusses Henry’s upbringing (he talks about his dad as a major influence) and the beginnings of his career (Monaco where he met Arsene Wenger and Juventus, where he did not do so well), this is done with no actual footage, except a few still photographs. This all adds up to an unsatisfying viewing experience which actually does a disservice to Henry’s legacy. Unfortunately “Thierry Henry 1:1” is prove what happens when the marketing men make films about football. Here’s the trailer:

     
  4. UEFA may not have realized, but Palestine have already scored several goals in this season’s Champions League.

    Africa’s best striker was widely hailed as the outstanding player on the pitch in the Champions League game at Stamford Bridge a couple of weeks ago — and no, it wasn’t Samuel Eto’o. Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah has arrived on the global stage with Swiss club FC Basel, and he’s so talented that everyone is just going to have to put up with him regardless of what they think of his politics. You see in the past year Salah scored plenty of goals for Egypt (six in World Cup qualifying so far) and it turns out he also scores goals for another nation — Palestine.

    When Salah curled in Basel’s equalizer vs Jose Mourinho’s lackluster Chelsea earlier in the month  (the Swiss side went on to win) it will have been uncomfortable viewing for his many critics.

    Here’s the story from last month when Basel played Maccabi Tel Aviv in the qualifying round:

    [Salah] played an important part in [Basel’s] qualification for the Champions League, but it was not without controversy. At their home fixture against Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv, he refused to shake the opposition players’ hands for political reasons, busying himself with his shoelaces instead. Then he indicated he did not want to play the return fixture at all. 

    Basel management insisted on Salah’s turning out, and he gave in, albeit grudgingly so. "Football is more important than politics, and it is my job. In my thoughts, I am going to play in Palestine and not Israel, and I am going to score and win there,” he said at the time. “The Zionist flag will not be shown in the Champions League.” 

    His prediction came true when he scored Basel’s second goal in a 3-3 draw. Maccabi Tel Aviv were beaten 4-3 on aggregate. And about those handshakes? Salah fist-bumped instead. 

    Unsurprisingly, Salah’s protest drew plenty of criticism from different parts of the Israeli press, as well as from 101GreatGoals, a hugely popular website that we like for their relentless and often witty coverage of the game around the world (and their ability to mine the internet for videos of goals), but which seems to get it all wrong when it comes to politics (they’ve also dabbled in pubescent-style misogyny now and again). They ranted

    Will UEFA investigate this shocking lack of sportsmanship from the Egyptian?

    After the first game, in which Salah had tied his laces to avoid shaking the hands of the Maccabi players, 101GreatGoals called it an “unsavory incident" and again called for UEFA to investigate. Investigate what exactly?

    Predictably, there were those who criticized Salah for bringing politics into football, which is supposedly non-political. Those people need to go read Laurent Dubois’s recent blockbuster piece on the history of the World Cup and have a serious rethink. The sportsmanship and mutual understanding supposedly expressed through the ritual of pre-match handshakes is just one of the many circumstances in and around a football match where the sport takes on a political significance. (Remember when both Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand, in separate incidents, refused to shake the hands of opponents who had racially abused them?)

    Of course Salah was accused of pettiness, and he certainly risked appearing juvenile with the two schemes — tying his shoelaces and fist bumping. All this shows is how narrow the opportunity for political protest was for him, and how well he used it — those fist bumps come to look almost like a series of black power salutes (check the replay). 

    Nowadays everybody loves Tommie Smith and John Carlos even though in 1968 the IOC kicked them out of the games and the white American establishment treated them as unsporting pariahs. Like Salah, Smith and Carlos chose a ritual moment outside of the contest itself to make their protest, and it’s worth remembering that Tommie Smith regarded his salute principally as a “human rights salute”. Salah wasn’t at the Olympics, but his courage and conviction shouldn’t be dismissed.

    Clearly the fact that he scored a crucial goal definitely helped — they say you should do your talking on the pitch rather than off it, but fortunately Salah can do both.

    We applaud Salah, who at the young age of 21 has realized that not only can there be no neat separation between football and politics, but also that football can provide the venue for meaningful moments of political dissent. Salah joins other leading African players like Mohamed Aboutrika and the Malian forward Frederic Kanoute who have shown their solidarity with the Palestinian people while on the football field, and long may this continue.

    Egypt’s coach Bob Bradley says Salah is “the future of Egyptian football”. Bright future.

     
  5. West Bromwich Albion’s African all-stars celebrate Burundian Saido Berahino’s stunning winning goal vs Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier today. That’s Nigeria’s Victor Anichebe and DRC’s Youssuf Mulumbu in shot, and doubtless Benin’s Stephane Sessegnon isn’t far away.

    Reminds us of the West Brom team of the late 1970s, when Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis (French Guianese) and Brendon Batson (a Grenadian) became known as “The Three Degrees”. Check out the WBA section of ITV’s recent (and fantastic) documentary, the Laurie Cunningham Story.

     
  6. Marseille is (still) an African country.

    It’s 20 years since Marseille became the first and only French club to win the European Cup in 1993, with a team that starred legendary Ghanaian-French defender Marcel Desailly, Abidjan-born Basile Boli (45 caps for France) and of course the great Abedi Pele.

    There’s a roof on Stade Vélodrome these days, but Marseille’s strong African connection has continued over the past two decades (think of Didier Drogba, Steve Mandanda, Ibrahima Bakayoko, Titi Camara, Djibril Cisse, Charles Kabore, Souleymane Diawara). Their team vs Arsenal tonight includes Mandanda, Nicolas N’Koulou, Rod Fanni, Alaixys Romao, Giannelli Imbula (who the French look like pinching from DRC for the national team), and of course Dede Ayew, African Player of the Year in 2011 and the son of Abedi Pele. Dede’s little brother Jordan is on the bench (and both brothers are the spitting image of their dad in the picture above).

    The history of Marseille and Africa goes way back. Like many West Africans, Ousmane Sembene worked on the docks there in the 1950s, an experience which inspired his astounding novel Le Docker Noir (1956). Claude McKay’s best known work, Banjo (1929) recounts the experiences of black seamen in the city (it’s also thought McKay met the towering Senegalese intellectual Lamine Senghor there in 1926).

     
  7. Among the players at Portsmouth, it was well known Kanu never trained. “King”, as we called him, never even walked up a flight of stairs. We only had one flight of stairs at Portsmouth’s training ground, but Kanu would always wait for the lift. He was practically incapacitated, but on the field of play he could do amazing things. I remember one match against Middlesbrough, Kanu came on, ran three-quarters of the length of the pitch, scored – and then travelled home in a wheelchair.

    David James, February 2012

     
  8. afootballreport:

    Reclaiming the Institution: The Best and Worst of the World… Cup

    "We should remember that, in the end, the game exists for us and because of us, and that we have the right to demand that it be carried out with ethics and for the greater good, as the World Cup founder Jules Rimet believed it could and should be." - Laurent Dubois

    Read More

     
  9. Here’s a tiny taster from a brilliant and moving essay by the historian Laurent Dubois on the cultural history of the World Cup. It’s a must-read piece, ranging from the history of how football spread across the world, to the corporatisation of the sport under FIFA’s profiteering leadership, to his vivid memories from the 2010 tournament in South Africa (he was in the stadium for Ghana’s traumatic loss to Uruguay and for the final itself) and finally to the question of whether next year’s bonanza could hold the promise of change for both Brazilian society and the sport itself. Read the whole article here (it’s the first in a special series of global football writing called “The Far Post” that I’m editing for Sports Illustrated and Roads & Kingdoms).

    … the unique and somewhat mysterious thing about soccer, among the world’s sports, is how rapidly it spread. Other games often remained roughly contained within imperial boundaries — cricket is the most obvious example — but soccer didn’t. By the end of the nineteenth century, it was being played in Europe, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and throughout much of Africa. Though invented in the rather peculiar context of English schools, the sport has also shown a remarkable capacity to become indigenous nearly everywhere it took root. Played in Senegal, it seems as completely Senegalese as any other form of local culture. Soccer is absolutely German. It is absolutely Argentinian. It is absolutely Haitian. And of course it is, perhaps above all, absolutely Brazilian. In fact, the English often have to remind the rest of us that they were the ones who invented it — a reminder that is often brushed off with a yawn and a “yes, we know.” As perpetually beleaguered English fans know, when it comes to global competition at least, having invented the game doesn’t seem to give them any particular advantage.

    […]

    When we’re not fighting a war, these nations of ours are often rather abstract things. We participate in elections if we are lucky enough to be able to. We learn our nation’s history in school. We fly a flag sometimes, or sing an anthem. But nothing provides us a direct and tactile representation of the nation the way an athletic team taking to the field in its colors do. And rarely, too, do we get to see the fates of nations worked out so clearly and vividly. One action by one player can change everything in a World Cup. There it can seem like the point of entire lives, entire histories, was to lead to the moment when a player scores a goal and wins a game. There is Diego Maradona’s road from a shantytown outside Buenos Aires to the moment when he used his hand, and then his foot, to defeat England in the 1986 World Cup. Or Zinedine Zidane’s road from his parents’ colonial-era migration to France to the concrete plaza in his Marseille projects, where he played all day long but never liked to head the ball, to the moment when he scored two headers against Brazil to win France its first World Cup in 1998. In those instants, a nation and an individual seem to merge. Maradona becomes Argentina, and all Argentinians; Zidane becomes France, and all the French. That crossroads between a player, a moment, fans, and a nation is what makes the World Cup into the unforgettable global spectacle it has become.

     
  10. As a new campaign launches to fight homophobia in English football, it’s a good time to remember Justin Fashanu, the first footballer in England to come out. The child of Nigerian and Guyanese parents, Fashanu was also the first black player to have a £1 million transfer.

    What follows is a brilliant and moving article written by the great activist Peter Tatchell back in 1998, shortly after Fashanu’s death:

    Justin Fashanu was a trail-blazer. He was Britain’s first million pound black footballer, and the first (and only) professional player in Britain to come out as gay.

    But trail-blazing cost him plenty of heartache. In 1980, aged 19, he was signed to Nottingham Forest football club for £1 million. The expectations of Justin were huge. There was the pressure to deliver goals and to become a black spokesperson. He found his sudden celebrity-status both a flattery and a great burden.

    Back then, in 1980, Justin was not open about his homosexuality. Indeed, he didn’t come out until 10 years later. During that decade of closeted double-life, he found it immensely difficult to cope with the strain of hiding his gayness in the macho world of football - not to mention the stress of living a secret gay life while constantly in the media spotlight.

    Homophobia was not his only problem. Like many black footballers in those days, Justin suffered racism too. He was subjected to frequent racist taunts by fans from rival teams. They would make monkey noises and gestures, and throw bananas onto the pitch. But it was anti-gay prejudice that ultimately dragged him down.

    "A bloody poof!" That’s how his manager at Nottingham Forest football club, Brian Clough, described his £1 million star player, Justin Fashanu. Homophobic attitudes like that unsettled Justin. Although he laughed them off, Clough’s sneers hurt inside, making it hard for him to concentrate on playing ‘the beautiful game’. No wonder his football career nose-dived.

    Justin and I met at the London gay night-club Heaven in 1981, soon after he realised he was gay. I had been selected as the Labour candidate for Bermondsey, and he had recently transferred from Norwich to Nottingham Forest. We became good friends for the next ten years.

    During that time, Fashanu confided to me about the problems he was having at Nottingham Forest. “Clough doesn’t respect or support me”, Justin complained more than once. Although Fashanu was not at that stage open about being gay, Clough appears to have long suspected he was a “poof”.

    In his autobiography, Clough recounts a dressing down he gave Fashanu after hearing rumours that he was going to gay bars. “‘Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?’ I asked him. ‘A baker’s, I suppose’. ‘Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?’ ‘A butcher’s’. ‘So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?”’

    In that hostile, stressful atmosphere, anyone’s performance would suffer. Unsurprisingly, Justin failed to score goals.

    The pressure Fashanu was under from Clough made it extra hard to come to terms with his sexuality. When we first became friends, he was only 20 and just starting to realise he was gay. Justin had considerable difficulty in accepting his sexual orientation, but through our talks - often late at night on the phone from his hotel in Nottingham - he began to feel good about his gayness.

    Although he had not publicly declared his homosexuality in the early 1980s, I was already partly out. Despite the evident risk of his own exposure by association, Fashanu thought nothing of going out with me to night-clubs, parties, family celebrations and high-profile events where he was the guest of honour. He knew journalists and photographers would be there. It was almost as if he wanted to be outed by the press to end the pretence and pressure of leading a secretive double-life.

    All this was happening in the run-up to the Bermondsey by-election in 1983, when I was standing for election to parliament. I, too, was in the media spotlight; with prominent press reports about my advocacy of lesbian and gay human rights. Indeed, I was often tailed by tabloid journalists eager for a scoop on my private life. Justin was, to his great credit, determined that our friendship would not be compromised by the threat of newspaper exposure. I was more cautious and protective. So, when we planned a night out together, I resorted to devious means to lose the tabloid reporters that often trailed me. They never did catch us.

    Around late 1982, Justin seriously considered coming out. He was fed up living a lie. We talked through the pros and cons many times. It was I who advised him to wait until he (hopefully) sorted out his problems with Brian Clough and got his football career more firmly established.

    Sadly, the clash with Clough was not resolved. Their relationship turned from bad to worse. Justin’s performance went into a tail-spin. With no long-term gay partner, he was desperate for emotional reassurance. He turned to evangelical Christianity. Although that did give him a period of stability, it didn’t last.

    Becoming a born-again Christian screwed up his life. With his Church damning homosexuality, he became very confused and unhappy about his sexual feelings. Desperate attempts at relationships with women failed. His longing for the love of men never went away. While publicly proclaiming Christian celibacy, he ended up resorting to furtive gay sex. That made it impossible for him to have a stable gay relationship. Caught between God and gayness, he suffered terrible emotional and psychological turmoil.

    The combined homophobia of the football profession and Christian fundamentalism was an unbearable strain, sending Justin’s career into free-fall. Things were made worse by a knee injury that would not heal (the pressure he was under may well have compromised his immune system and contributed to the lingering infection). He became erratic and unpredictable, on the pitch and off it.

    His major league football career was already over when Fashanu finally came out in 1990. He was distressed by the tragedy of a 17-year-old gay friend who had been thrown out of his family home by homophobic parents, and who subsequently committed suicide. “I felt angry at the waste of his life and guilty because I had not been able to help him”, Fashanu wrote in the book Stonewall 25. “I wanted to do something positive to stop such deaths happening again, so I decided to set an example and come out in the papers”.

    Justin was the first and last professional footballer to be open about his homosexuality. That took courage. Others have not shown similar honesty and bravery. At the time, he and I knew of 12 top footballers who were either gay or bisexual. None have followed Fashanu’s example of openness.

    Although he later said that he “never once regretted” coming out, the hostile reaction from many in the black community hurt him deeply. He thought that his fellow black people - who know the pain of prejudice and discrimination - would be understanding and supportive. Some were, but many denounced him for bringing “shame” on their race. Still, to this day, Justin is the only prominent black person in Britain to come out as gay.

    The manner in which Justin came out in The Sun newspaper was condemned by the black weekly, The Voice, as “an affront to the black community…damaging…pathetic and unforgiveable”.

    "We heteros", wrote The Voice columnist Tony Sewell, "are sick and tired of tortured queens playing hide and seek around their closets. Homosexuals are the greatest queer-bashers around. No other group of people are so preoccupied with making their own sexuality look dirty".

    "Even if Fashanu had chosen to come out in The Voice rather than The Sun, I doubt his reception would have been any more sympathetic", noted Gay Timesmedia columnist, Terry Sanderson. "Rejection by his own community was profoundly damaging to him".

    Even worse was to follow. Justin’s own brother John publicly denounced him: “My gay brother is an outcast”, John told The Voice. Although John later apologised, Justin never fully got over what he saw as betrayal by a brother he loved. Who can blame him for confiding that there were moments during his coming out saga when he felt “incredibly, almost suicidally, lonely”.

    Fashanu’s sometimes bizarre, indefensible behaviour can only be fully understood in the context of a potentially brilliant football career cut short, largely by homophobia.

    There can be no denying that he progressively disappointed many people who put their hope and trust in him as a role model. He became trapped in a downward spiral of declining football performance, bad debts, false claims about sexual affairs with leading politicians, unreliability and desertion of long-standing friends.

    At the time of his death, Justin had embarked on a new career coaching the US football team, Maryland Mania. The team president, A J Ali, is quoted as saying that Fashanu was “happy here”: “He had lots of friends here. He was helping literally thousands of players. He had a tremendous amount to offer the soccer world”.

    Those hopes were shattered in April 1998 when a warrant was issued for Justin’s arrest on charges of sexual assault against a 17 year old youth. Fashanu’s suicide note denied the charges, claiming that he was being blackmailed by his accuser.

    Whatever the truth about these particular allegations, Justin had - like all of us - his share of failings. Without excusing these mistakes, they were the culmination of a lifetime of rejection. That rejection began when, as a young boy, he was given up by his parents and put in a Barnardo’s Children’s Home. It was compounded by the racist jibes he suffered on the football pitch, and by the homophobic abuse inflicted on him at Nottingham Forest by his manager Brian Clough. When he turned to the Church for solace, it piled on more rejection, condemning his gay lifestyle and demanding that he renounce his sexuality. Then, when he came out as gay, he was rejected by much of his own black community, including his dearly beloved brother, John. Not one prominent black leader supported Justin when he was being crucified in the black press.

    Nevertheless, despite all the rejection he endured, Justin had a remarkable, praiseworthy capacity for forgiveness. Talking of the hurt inflicted on him by others, and acknowledging his own errors of judgement, Fashanu wrote in 1994: “I don’t think you ever forget those mistakes, or the mistakes that other people make that wound you, but it is important to forgive”.

    Justin Fashanu was a bright shining star - not a flawless star - but a star nonetheless. And I am proud to have counted him as my friend.