Tag Archives: human-rights

Playing football with BRICS

For anyone unfamiliar with the term, BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (why it’s not BRICSA is not exactly clear, but it helps the pun in my title) who are grouped together because they supposedly represent emerging economies which will have a significant impact on the future of the global economic landscape. Obviously such groupings are always largely arbitrary, and until recently South Africa was excluded from the group and they were known as BRIC. One commentator has joked that the addition of new states to this group will soon make it BRIIICTSS, which would really screw up that title pun I have going on there.

Between 2010 and 2018 three of the BRICS states will host the football World Cup (2010 was in South Africa, and the 2014 edition in Brazil will be followed by the 2018 one in Russia), and the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar. While it’s not BRICS member or even a BRIIICTSS(?) member, Qatar is a rapidly developing economy of potential global importance. This post will look at what the preparation and execution of these world cups can tell us about the challenges and issues facing the engagement of the BRICS and other emerging economies with the broader global market and international community as a whole. Not all the issues I identify will be equally applicable to all BRICS or emerging economies, but they are all significant points nonetheless.

Transparency and corruption: The allegations of corruption following the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups have been widely publicised but the focus has primarily been on the place of FIFA in this, not the bidders themselves. However it takes two parties to instigate corruption and the fact that these allegations exist does not look good for Russia or Qatar if they hope to attract more investment and foreign business. Brazil, too, has been dealing with its own corruption saga surrounding the 2014 World Cup preparations. Interestingly, Qatar is  perceived to be the 22nd least corrupt country in the world, Brazil the 73rd, and Russia a lowly 143rd. South Africa had corruption allegations associated with its World Cup too, and is ranked 64th on the same index (more data on corruption and transparency is available from here).

Safety and security: The safety and security of foreign visitors at the 2010 World Cup was a major concern before it started, but did not prove to be an issue after all. Similar safety concerns have been raised about Russia and, to a lesser extent, Brazil. Only time will tell if these worries are more accurate than those about South Africa but if the BRICS and other emerging economies want to establish themselves as global leaders then they must first be able to ensure the safety and security of foreign nationals visiting their countries. Obviously the World Cup is an extreme example of this because of the sheer size of the event and the unsavoury actions of a minority of football “fans” but the fact remains that these concerns were not raised at relatively recent football World Cups held in the USA, Japan, South Korea, France or Germany.

Human rights: This one in particular applies to Qatar, where homosexuality is against the law and punishable by death. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter was one of the people who did not seem to have a problem with this (for a quick rundown on the sort of chap he is, check out this list of quotes from him) , but plenty of others are outraged at it. The controversy surrounding this issues is likely to grow even louder the closer the event becomes. Russia can also probably expect protestors to use the World Cup to highlight its human rights abuses, although these may not affect the visiting fans themselves. This issue is important to BRICS and emerging economies because if they want soft power to match their rising economic power (as Qatar clearly does) then they will presumably be expected to adopt similar human rights norms as those parts of the world which currently wield the most soft power, namely the EU and USA. However, as always with human rights, it is important to note that those states themselves do not always have the best records despite the impression they like to give.

Managing growth: As Brazil has begun construction on stadia and other infrastructure for the World Cup, up to 1.5 million families may be made homeless by these projects, an issue which ties into the appalling conditions in the flavelas, the shantytowns of Sao Paulo and Rio. This highlights a problem facing all rapidly growing economies: making sure that people don’t get left behind by the development and rising wealth. In order to stop this happening, governments need to ensure poor people are protected from the side effects of major development projects, and that cities are managed to provide the best standard of living for their citizens as economic drives rapid urbanisation.

Emerging economies and states which wish for a bigger influence in global affairs face a range of challenges. How Brazil, Russia and Qatar manage the World Cups they are hosting will reflect on them in a number of ways, and may well highlight some of these issues. South Africa’s World Cup was widely regarded as a success and I would suggest that most people’s attitudes towards South Africa improved as a result of the World Cup (although not all aspects of their culture came across positively). The next three hosts will be hoping and striving for a similar outcome. Whether that is the case remains to be seen.


Cuba stays at home watching the Vampire Diaries… while the other countries party

So I can’t help but think of high school politics when looking at the recent Summit of the Americas. Seems like all the kids had a party but deliberately snubbed one kid (Cuba) because the big bullying jock (the USA) and his sidekick (Canada) have a problem with him, while the other kids aren’t happy about it they aren’t really in a position to do anything, except maybe skip the next party themselves. Obviously the complexities of the Cuba-US relationship are deeper than those of a bunch of hormonal teenagers, but the whole situation got me thinking that perhaps the US needs to rethink its approach to the Cuban regime. While the days of planting exploding cigars to blow up Fidel Castro might be gone, the US still maintains its embargo on Cuba. Obama might claim this is because Cuba has a poor human rights record and has not made steps towards democracy, but that position is laughably hypocritical when you consider how close the US is with Saudi Arabia, a country whose human rights record is surely among the worst in the world  – especially if the definition of human rights is one taken from a liberal Western standpoint (which I will assume Obama’s definition is).

Anyhow, I was wondering if the embargo and isolation approach is even a good idea if the US and its allies want Cuba to democratise. Obviously this approach hasn’t worked for over half a century so maybe a change of tact is needed. If Cuba was opened up to US trade, the resulting wealth and increase in American soft power due to an increase in American firms and products in the country might force the country’s leaders to embrace free market reforms themselves as the pressure grows from a swelling middle class. After all, this basic model of democratisation following economic growth is widely accepted, and an increase in trade with the US could only bolster Cuba’s economy.

Food for thought… and even some mainstream pundits in the US are thinking the same way. After all, I think the US can safely claim it won the Cold War: no need to be scared of commies anymore! These days it’s the Chinese and/or the Muslims everyone’s afraid of (except Mitt Romney).

Being worried about communism is so last century.

Human rights – this is a tricky grey area

One thing that always strikes me about discussions on human rights is how the lines end up being drawn. Why, for instance, is it widely considered a violation of human rights for African tribes-people to mutilate the genitals of their young girls but it is ok for affluent white people to do similar things to young boys, sometimes even for simply aesthetic reasons? If everyone has the right to participate in free elections, why can some people not vote until they are 20 (Japan) but others can vote at 16 (Isle of Man) – are Japanese teenagers having their human rights violated for 4 years? Why do some countries have freedom of expression/speech laws but ban hate speech – who gives the government the right to define what is hate speech and what isn’t? Answering these kind of questions is vital if you want to create some sort of absolute standard of human rights, which organisations like Amnesty International clearly do. Not tackling them just leaves the door wide open for cultural relativist defences of horrible acts, and undermines moral legitimacy. If you can’t define what you are defending then how can you defend it?

Other aspects of human rights are tricky too – Article 23(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” Ignoring the sexist language, what is a standard of living adequate for health and well-being? What if you can’t afford to heat your house in winter, should the government pay? Probably, but would they? Probably not.

Discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and so on is widely regarded to be wrong, with good reason. But what about discrimination on the grounds of intelligence? Have a look at the Wikipedia discussion of social outcomes related to IQ scores and consider the fact that people have as much control over being smart as they do over being black, or a woman. Yet good luck finding any broad debate about ways to ensure unintelligent people aren’t discriminated against!

And don’t bother asking the UN’s Human Rights Council about these problems – despite being “responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and mak(ing) recommendations on them” current membership includes such bastions of human rights protection as Saudi Arabia and China. Obviously they have some tricky grey areas of their own.