The World Cup Spotlight: (The Lack of) Women in Charge

(see previous posts in this series herehere, here, here, and here)

Plenty of issues plagued the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) before and during the Women’s World Cup earlier this month. From field conditions to unequal prize money to FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s absence from the final game for the first time in twenty years, it seemed that each day brought negative attention to international soccer’s governing body.

Of course, these issues are just symptoms of a bigger problem: the corruption that has permeated FIFA for years. Various groups, including the U.S. and Swiss governments, are now taking a closer look at how the nonprofit FIFA functions. The U.S. Department of Justice issued indictments for fourteen FIFA officials in May of this year; the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing today on the governance and integrity of international soccer.

Isha Johansen (photo credit)

Isha Johansen
(photo credit)

What hasn’t been mentioned much, if at all, is the lack of female representation at FIFA and in international soccer generally. The FIFA Congress, which elects the President, approves the annual report, and elects the members of the Executive Committee, is made up of representatives of the affiliated member associations. Of the 209 associations, only Sierra Leone (Isha Johansen) and Turks & Caicos (Sonia Bien Aime) have women occupying the position of association president.

Sonia Bien Aime (photo credit)

Sonia Bien Aime
(photo credit)

Lydia Nsekera (photo caption)

Lydia Nsekera
(photo credit)

The main decision making body at FIFA is the Executive Committee, which is made up of the president, eight vice presidents, fifteen appointed members, and one female member elected by the FIFA Congress. Currently, the Executive Committee includes only three women:

Moya Dodd (photo credit)

Moya Dodd
(photo credit)

  • Lydia Nsekera (Brundi) – Member
  • Sonia Bien Aime (Turks & Caicos) – Member
  • Moya Dodd (Australia) – Co-opted Member for special tasks

In an era where the Women’s World Cup broke viewing records and where some people posit that FIFA would be less corrupt of there were more women at the helm, FIFA and the 209 soccer associations could stand to reevaluate the level of female participation in the governance of the world’s most popular sport, and how women might be able to turn the current corrupt structure around.

On Art! Geeta Patel Tackles Religion and Culture Through Film

Geeta V. Patel certainly isn’t the only person in Hollywood using the big screen to tackle serious issues. That she does this across genres, however, makes her stand out. The Indian-American writer, director, and producer has already made a documentary about the conflict in Kashmir, a romantic comedy about modern arranged marriage, and is currently working on a film that promises to change the face of action movies. She was also selected as one of 29 filmmakers to represent the United States abroad in a US State Department initiative in the arts.

In her 2008 documentary, Project Kashmir, Geeta deftly grappled with thorny issues like war, borders, and religion. She, along with a Pakistani-American friend, traveled to Kashmir to investigate the long-standing conflict between the Hindu-Kashmiris and the Muslim-Kashmiris. In the film they confront their conflicting personal perspectives about the conflict and attempt to foster dialogue between these two groups.

Geeta then inadvertently began filming a movie that looks at semi-arranged marriage. While she was fiddling around with a new video camera one day, Geeta’s recently-single brother, Ravi, wondered aloud whether the system that worked for their parents might also work for him. Thus, Meet the Patels was born, and follows Ravi’s journey through this process, which he embarks on with his parents and sister in tow. Despite being a romantic comedy, the film, currently on the film fest circuit, addresses universal questions about finding and keeping love.

Geeta’s latest project, an action movie called Mouse, not only introduces a new form of martial arts, but uses action to tell a story about love, freedom, and the incredible power of consciousness. And, perhaps most interestingly, Geeta says she is using the action movie genre to inspire nonviolence.

Looking forward to seeing what stories my friend of two decades tells next.



Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Discusses Juvenile Justice Issues

IACHRThis past Tuesday, October 21, Inter-American Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz spoke at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver as part of a tour through the United States to learn about the U.S. juvenile justice system. As the IACHR‘s Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Commissioner Ortiz primarily spoke about the Commission’s report, Juvenile Justice and Human Rights in the Americas.

The report, as its title implies, assesses the plight of children and adolescents throughout the region who are caught up in the web of their country’s criminal justice system. She highlighted the toll that confinement takes on children and the lamented the number of countries in the Americas that allow prosecution of children under the age of 12 (the internationally accepted minimum). In her recommendations, Commissioner Ortiz urged the United States to focus on specialization for judges, attorneys, and police, meaning particular training in dealing with children and adolescents for people in these positions. The full report may be accessed here. Learn more about the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights here.

20 Years of VAWA

Twenty years ago, on September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed into law a bill that included the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Act afforded greater protections to victims, brought the issue out of the private sphere and into the public domain, and resulted in a 64% drop in the intimate partner violence rate. Yet, recent news reports have once again thrust the issue front and center here in the United States, where domestic violence accounts for 0ver 20% of all violent crime.

The occasion of the twentieth anniversary of this vital legislation provides an opportune time to consider these sobering global statistics:

Legislation like VAWA is a powerful tool for combating violence against women domestically, and organizations working to prevent this violence and address root causes also effect change. International treaties including the Council of Europe’s Convention on Preventing and Comabating Violence Against Women, which entered into force just last month on August 1, the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women, and numerous other documents together evidence the depth and breadth of the global support regarding the right for women and girls to live without violence. Change happens slowly, but with all these instruments at our disposal, we have reason to believe it will happen.

Founder of the Abuelas Identifies Her Grandson

At long last, Estela Carlotto has identified and been acquainted with her grandson.

The founder of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group dedicated to locating the some 500 children who were either born in captivity or disappeared along with their parents during Argentina’s Dirty War (1976-1983), has been searching for her grandson for thirty-six years, all while watching – and celebrating – as over 100 other grandmothers were reunited with their grandchildren. Last week, the results of a voluntary DNA test confirmed that Ignacio Hurban was born to Carolotto’s daughter, Laura, while she was in captivity in the La Cacha clandestine detention center in the province of Buenos Aires.

Carlotto with her grandson Ignacio (photo credit)

Carlotto with her grandson Ignacio
(photo credit)

As yours truly has written before, children either born in captivity or disappeared along with their parents were often placed with childless families that supported the dictatorship. In addition to the Abuelas‘ efforts to identify these (now adult) children, prosecutors across the country are charging people suspected of stealing babies during the dictatorship. Each discovery of one of these children raises several issues and questions:

►Were the families that raised them complicit in the circumstances of their arrival, or were they innocent third parties? What level of knowledge would be enough for a prosecutor to bring charges?

►Does the grandchild want to be identified? In Carlotto’s case, Ignacio chose to provide his DNA after wondering if he might be one of the grandchildren the Abuelas were working to find, but others in the same situation prefer to retain their privacy.

►What is the scope of the right to an identity; relatedly, what is the scope of the right to the truth?

Thirty years after the dictatorship ended, these and other questions remain. Carlotto will continue fighting on behalf of the Abuelas, saying that “there is still a lot to do.”

The World Cup Spotlight (Concluding Thoughts): A Woman’s Game?

Last month, thirty-two soccer teams began their quest to win the World Cup. Some results worth noting:

►Chile lost in the round of 16 to Brazil.

►Brazil, host of the tournament, lost in the semi-finals to Germany.

►Argentina lost in the final game to Germany.

►Germany won it all.

What do these counties have in common, other than a love for soccer and a desire to win it all?

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff  (photo credit)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
(photo credit)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (photo credit)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (photo credit)

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner (photo credit)

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner
(photo credit)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (photo credit)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
(photo credit)

Their heads of state are female: Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Cristina Kirchner (Argentina).

According to the Centre for Women and Democracy, there are currently eighteen women around the world who occupy the position of president or prime minister. This means that over 20% of them were represented at the Cup, and that the final game pitted two countries with female leaders against each other, in a country also governed by a female leader.

Looks like women were the real winners here – Parabéns! Felicitaciones! Glückwunsch!

The World Cup Spotlight (Part III): Considering Human Rights in Host Selection

(Previous posts in this series here, here, and here.)

Any country that puts itself in contention to host a major event like the World Cup necessarily puts itself in the spotlight, warts and all. As soon as a new host country is selected, journalists, activists and other interested parties immediately focus on that country and – inevitably – its flaws. The human rights record of the country is investigated thoroughly by the media, who then wonder whether the country should have been allowed to play host.

Germany, which won the World Cup tonight and hosted in 2006, faced criticism for racism and xenophobia as well as sex trafficking. The 2010 host, South Africa, was attacked for “relocating” homeless people during the event. This year’s host, Brazil, confronted angry protesters questioning why the billions spent to host a soccer tournament weren’t used instead to address the immediate needs of the impoverished. And the next two World Cup hosts, Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) are already coming under pressure from human rights groups for their anti-homosexuality and labor laws.

The selection of Qatar to host in 2022 has by far been the most controversial selection of late. As brought to light first by The Guardian and then by ESPN, kafala law in Qatar governs migrant workers and essentially ties them to their boss, who controls their immigration status. The migrant workers often live in sub-standard housing and are forced to work long hours in the blistering sun. So far, nearly one thousand migrant workers have died while working on World Cup-related projects.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter (photo credit)

FIFA President Sepp Blatter
(photo credit)

Not surprisingly, FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, has come under intense criticism for its selection of Qatar. The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has stood by the decision, stating only that it was a mistake to select Qatar because temperatures can reach as high as 117°F (47° C) in the summer, when the World Cup is traditionally played. Yet FIFA is considering new bidding rules for host selection that would take into account a country’s human rights record. It is unclear, however, how exactly these new bidding rules would work, should they be approved.

Moreover, a vital question that must be considered is whether using human rights as a criterion for host selection is even a good idea. When a country is selected to host the World Cup and subsequently sees its dirty laundry aired, it may be motivated to confront its problems: Qatar is reportedly in the process of reforming its kafala laws due to international pressure. If FIFA had considered human rights when selecting the 2022 host, would it still have chosen Qatar? When a country is thrust into the spotlight, international pressure can catalyze change. If Qatar hadn’t been selected, the kafala reforms may never have been proposed. We simply need more information about these new bidding rules in order to be able to evaluate their potential value is. Unfortunately, with FIFA’s lack of transparency and secretive voting practices, we may never get this information.

The World Cup Spotlight (Part II): In the Shadows of National Security

(Previous posts in this series here and here.)

Argentina celebrates win over Switzerland (photo credit)

Argentina celebrates win over Switzerland (photo credit)

Blogging from Argentina, where World Cup expectations are at an all-time high and where nearly everything stopped for two hours yesterday afternoon for the Argentina-Switzerland game (even schools either showed the game or let children go home temporarily to watch it).

Yet, for some Argentines – as well as likely for some Brazilians – a World Cup in South America conjures up memories they’d rather leave alone. Argentina hosted and won (though not without controversy) the Cup in 1978, two years into its brutal military dictatorship and fourteen years into Brazil’s. Under the guise of national security, both governments tortured and disappeared their own citizens in an effort to quell left-wing dissent. In Buenos Aires, one of the most infamous torture centers was just a few blocks from the stadium where the final game between Argentina and the Netherlands was played, and former prisoners recall hearing the jubilant crowds cheering while they were rotting in tiny cells awaiting the next torture session or worse.

National security was once again in the headlines in Brazil in the past year leading up to the World Cup. As is protocol for the country hosting the next Cup, Brazil also played host for the Confederations Cup a year ago, a trial run for the bigger tournament happening now. Brazilians angry with the government’s disconnect with the plight of the poor used the tournament as a stage on which to air their discontent. Protestors were sprayed with rubber bullets and arrested under Brazil’s national security law.

A counter-terrorism bill now before the Brazilian National Congress has given some people pause due to its vague wording as it could conflate protestors and terrorists, though proponents say that the law is necessary given Brazil’s growing international profile. Among other provisions, the proposed bill calls for a penalty of 15-30 years in jail for “causing or inciting widespread terror by threatening or trying to threaten the life, the physical integrity or the health or liberty of a person.” Drafters have said that they will amend the text to clear up ambiguities, but a major concern is that  the law, if passed, will criminalize freedom of expression. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, herself a former guerrilla who was tortured during the military dictatorship, likely sees the potential harm in the imprecise bill, nicknamed A1-6 after the A1-5 law that was in effect during the dictatorship, and has declined to sign it – so far.

It remains to be seen how these soccer-loving countries will reconcile their unease with national security and terrorism laws with their growing presence on a global stage. And the World Cup, while capturing the interest of much of the world, will also bring the participating countries’ uncomfortable pasts into the spotlight. As Brazil tries to best Colombia on Friday and Argentina takes on Belgium on Saturday, not everyone will be glued to a television; some will be purposely avoiding the tournament so as not to relive their experiences in 1978.








The World Cup Spotlight (Part 1): At What Cost?


Graffiti by Paulo Ito (photo credit)

Graffiti by Brazilian artist Paulo Ito (photo credit)


The cost of hosting the World Cup has made headlines in recent years. When South Africa hosted in 2010, it spent roughly $3 billion to put on what was at the time the most expensive World Cup in history. Brazil, however, has taken spending to a new level; it is estimated that the Cup will cost the country at least $11 billion. Russia, host of the Cup in 2018, has announced plans to spend approximately $13 billion. These amounts are dwarfed, however, by the predicted cost for hosting the 2020 World Cup in Qatar – a staggering $200 billion.

Add to these totals the profit that non-profit FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the governing body for international soccer) makes from each tournament (approximately $1.4 billion in TV and marketing rights alone in 2006 – all tax-free by FIFA requirement), and the protests that have been ongoing in Brazil for over a year are unsurprising. Initially the Brazilian government stated that no money for the World Cup would come from public coffers, but construction delays and overspending resulted in $3 billion being diverted from various public programs, including those focused on indigent relief. Many Brazilians have responded by protesting in the streets, calling for more money towards healthcare, education, and affordable housing, and less money toward the many stadiums that were built specifically for the World Cup.

Arena da Amazônia (photo credit)

Arena da Amazônia (photo credit)

In fact, there are at least two brand-new stadiums in Brazil that will likely not be used often once the World Cup ends next month. The first, Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brásilia, is now the second most expensive soccer stadium in the world (after England’s Wembley Stadium). Despite the fact that nearly ten percent of the World Cup budget was spent on Mané Garrincha, the stadium is likely to remain unused as Brásilia doesn’t have a professional soccer team. Neither does the city of Manaus, where the U.S. team played -and won- its first game last week. Many of the materials needed to build the Arena da Amazônia there were brought in by boat via the Amazon River to this remote city of two million people. Changes to existing stadiums have also proven controversial: Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã, one of the most famous stadiums in the world, was modified to include more seats where fans used to stand. In a country known for its passionate soccer fans who sing and dance and cheer their way through games, adding seats changes the tenor of the stadium completely.

All of this spending naturally raises the question of whether all this money would have been better spent on social services needed by the more than 20% of the population who live below the poverty line in Brazil than on a soccer tournament whose ticket prices make it difficult if not impossible for many locals to attend. Soccer has historically been an equalizer between the rich and the poor and yet people living in countries hosting the most popular sporting event in the world may be shut out from that experience.

There is no doubt that the World Cup, like any major sporting event, can bring increased revenue from tourism and raise a country’s profile, but at what cost to the people who live there?


The World Cup Spotlight (Introduction)

By now, Brazil’s lack of adequate preparation for the World Cup soccer tournament is well documented (see here, here, and here, among others). As the month-long competition kicks off tomorrow, it is likely that roads, transit lines, and stadiums throughout Brazil will still be under construction. Yet, insufficient infrastructure is but one of the myriad issues that may potentially plague this and other World Cups. Legal-political issues such as sex trafficking, forced migration, slavery, questions about the amount of public money spent on this quadrennial event, and national security concerns all threaten to mar the glossy surface of the world’s most popular sporting event.

This series, The World Cup Spotlight, will examine some of the effects this quadrennial event has on the host country and beyond.