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Argentina v South Korea: The long shadow of imperialism

I was surprised to find that that South Korea is ranked only 29th out of the 32 countries by ‘Who should I cheer for’ below even England and only two places above the US! The issue South Korea really loses out in the ranking is the amount it spends on the military (as well as its high carbon dioxide emissions). South Korea spends on weapons 2.6 times the amount that Argentina does and emits 9.7 tons of  carbon dioxide per person compared to just the 3.7 tons per person which Argentina emits.

With a nuclear armed North Korea as a neighbour, perhaps this high military spending is understandable? After all it is easy to put the blame on North Korea with the many horrendous human rights abuses committed by the fascist regime of Kim Jong-il. But to understand how we ended up in this precarious situation of a Korea split in to two heavily militarised states; which are still officially at war it is necessary to understand the history of the division. Korea was liberated in 1945 from Japanese rule, in the south of the country by the US and in the north by the USSR.

It is often held that the Korean War was started by the war mongering North Korea simply invading the South. This ignores the complexities of the issue. In his insightful book, Rogue State, William Blum highlights that under US occupation their progressive wartime allies (who were extremely popular) were violently suppressed and the US instead supported the conservatives who had collaborated with the Japanese. This made unification of Korea near impossible and essentially made the Korean War, in which 2.5 million civilians were murdered, inevitable.

The war would see many war crimes and not just ones committed by the North, which had a policy of assassinating all intelligencia located in the South. Just as horrific was the South’s mass killing of anyone suspected of being a communist sympathiser which led to up to 100,000 bodies being dumped in trenches, mines and the sea. The US too committed many war crimes. For example, concerned that there might be some northern soldiers mixed in with group of 400 civilians they decided to machine gun all of the unarmed civilians and massacred hundreds more by happily blowing up bridges packed full of fleeing refugees. Not only did the US repression cause the Korean War and cost nearly four and a half million people their lives, it also led to a long line of corrupt, reactionary, and ruthless dictatorships in South Korea.

The blame must be layed squarely at the door of the US, UK and other NATO countries, but given the memory of the dead and the many fears for the future; I will find it hard to cheer for anyone during the games which either of the Koreas are playing in.

Posted in: Argentina, Matches, South Korea, Teams

Alex is the campaigns and policy assistant. Although not a natural runner he was known as the Roy Keane of his childhood football team (which often lost by double digits). Alex is a Man United fan but he at least has the good grace to be embarrassed about it, given that he's from the South Coast.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Chile v Honduras: Chile con Carnival of Football

In what has the potential to be quite an interesting group (despite the presence of Switzerland) Honduras sit astride the Who Should I Cheer For? rankings like a veritable colossus. Chile, on the other hand, rank the lowest of any of the South American countries and lie a lowly 23rd. However, these bare statistics cover a multitude of subtleties.

On the footballing side, Chile finished second only to Brazil in South American qualifying, cutting a swathe through the continent with their ultra attacking line-up, starring play-maker Matias Fernandez, the twinkly Alexis Sanchez and tubby goal machine Humberto Suazo. And thats without even mentioning one of the greatest of a long line of flop Liverpool wingers, Mark Gonzalez. In a frustratingly cagey tournament thus far, Chile, with their 3 at the back formation and commitment to pouring numbers forward, bear a weight of expectation, and unlike many of the teams in the past week, will be eager to get a victory under their belt in the opener, with tougher games to come.

Honduras passage to the finals was somewhat less stylish, edging out Costa Rica in the CONCACACACACAF section, but they will be hoping to prove the doubters wrong over the next few weeks. The three Palacios brothers, including star midfielder Wilson, add a touch of pathos to the team, having discovered last year that their younger brother Edwin, who had been held hostage by a gang in Honduras for 2 years, had been found dead.

Despite relatively high levels of inequality, Hondurans desperately low national income, high numbers of chronically hungry, low carbon emissions and low levels of military spending means that they are ranked highly in the supportability stakes. However, it should be borne in mind that the current president was elected under the conditions of a military coup dtat last year, and many countries around the world, including those of MERCOSUR have refused to recognise the results.

Leftist President Manuel Zelaya had been ousted by the military after a constitutional dispute with the Honduran Supreme Court, and the national teams qualification for the World Cup last year was achieved against a background of the suspension of human rights.

Chile offer quite a contrast to this turmoil. In the twenty years since the military junta of General Pinochet was ended by plebiscite, Chile, thanks to stable government and sensible economic policies, has prospered. From the depths of poverty in the middle of the last century, Chile is now one of the most prosperous nations in South America, and last year became the first country in the region to join the OECD.

Poverty has been reduced from 45% in the 80s to below 14% today, and Chile is a net creditor rather than a debtor, a remarkable achievement.

This has been achieved under a series of centre left governments, culminating with the 4 year term of Chiles last president, Michelle Bachelet. The first woman in Latin America to hold such an office, Bachelet is a qualified paediatrician and epidemiologist, an avowed agnostic, and in 2008, was voted 15th in Time Magazine’s list of the worlds most influential people.

Furthermore, her father was tortured to death under the Pinochet regime, and she pledged her presidency to eradicating poverty in Chile, and reducing one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. She built huge numbers of crches for poorer children, established a minimum state pension, significantly extended free healthcare, and abolished the last of the slums with an enormously subsidised housing programme, ending her term earlier this year with approval ratings of 84%. That said, the less said about her Harvard-educated right-wing billionaire successor the better.

The already impoverished Honduran people have had a lot to put up with in the past 12 months, and their underdog credentials are undeniable, but while the Who Should I Cheer For? rankings may give the impression that this match is a cut and dried affair, Chile’s achievements in escaping from poverty and despotism should nonetheless be celebrated. And if they bring their form from the qualifiers to South Africa, their football could be similarly fted by a worldwide audience starting become jaded by footballing conservatism.

Posted in: Chile, Chile-Honduras, Honduras

Carl works for the Irish Ombudsman for Children's Office in Dublin. When not crying bitter, resentful tears over Ireland's elmination from the World Cup and their subsequent lack of dignity, he is busy admiring Xavi and Iniesta's spearheading of a golden era of Spanish football.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Spain v Switzerland: the F word

At my primary school only boys were allowed to play football. At the age of 8, I remember feeling like this was a terrible injustice, because I hated netball. My secondary school was a girls’ grammar school where all sports except football were taught, including rugby and cricket.

If I had the opportunity to play football at school, would I feel more of an affinity with the sport now? Try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a man’s game and has very little to do with me.

In the public arena, it is still a man’s game, even if it’s changing slowly. Now, the girls at my old secondary school play in football leagues, and it’s pretty much the norm for girls to play football at school. Will this eventually lead to women’s football being as popular as men’s football? I wonder.

In 1921, women’s football was banned by the FA on the ground that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” The ban was only lifted in 1971. Women footballers had to wait until 1991 for the first Women’s World Cup.

Many international women football players have to work full time to subsidise their football careers because they don’t get paid enough. Is women’s football still sidelined and devalued because it is deemed to be “unsuitable for females”?

In the new UK coalition government, one would be forgiven for thinking that those in charge see politics as unsuitable for women. 75.5% of elected MPs are men, with only one female cabinet member. And perhaps it’s not just those in charge.

The day after the recent UK election, I had a conversation with a politically far-left-leaning man. His explanation for the lack of women in government was that “maybe it’s because women don’t want to get involved with a bunch of slimy politicians. They’re probably wise to stay out of it.”

I wonder if that’s what men in Switzerland thought during the referendum in 1959 where the majority of men voted ‘no’ to oppose women’s suffrage. And if that’s what the conservative women’s group ‘Federation of Swiss Women against Women’s Right to Vote’ were thinking.

Is women’s representation in government really just about whether women are interested in politics, just as, I ask, is the lack of coverage of women’s football really about not enough people being interested enough to watch it? Surely it’s more about a society’s lack of encouragement and commitment to equal opportunities?

Today, only 14.3% of Switzerland’s government are women. It sounds worse if you look at it in another way: 85.7% of people in government are men. It’s hardly surprising given the long struggle for women’s suffrage in Switzerland. Switzerland was the last country in Europe to grant the vote to women; women didn’t gain the right to vote in federal elections until 1971.

If politics is a dirty game and women can act as atrociously in power as men, some ask whether having more women in politics would necessarily bring about a fairer world? The president of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is a self-avowed feminist and thinks it does matter – on  principle of fairness and equality.

“One thing that really awakens my rebellious streak is 20 centuries of one sex dominating another”, he said. “We talk of slavery, feudalism, exploitation, but the most unjust domination if that of one-half of the human race over the other.”

Zapatero was elected in 2004 in part on his promise to improve women’s position in society, in what is still a machismo culture. Now, because of a gender equality law, 50% of people in Spain’s parliament are women. It wasn’t difficult to get 50% representation, it just took political will at the top.

So, that’s why I’m cheering for Spain. My own disenfranchisement from football at school and the lack of representation by my own sex in the UK parliament means I have little interest in supporting England in the Men’s World Cup 2010. And besides, Spanish players are better looking. Oh, and a tip for those thinking of making a trip to the bookies: I have it on good authority that Spain are going to win.

Posted in: Global injustice, Matches, Spain, Switzerland, Teams

I'm the World Development Movement's fundraising and communications officer. My feelings about football usually range from dislike to apathy - but this World Cup, for some strange reason, I'm starting to like it. Let's just say, I'm training my eye on the thigh.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Serbia v Ghana: European pariah vs top dog of the under dogs

I am a soft touch when it comes to underdogs: I wear a badge that says: ‘I heart migrants‘; I buy the Big Issue; and I work for the World Development Movement to combat the injustice that is rife through out the world. And now I am faced with a choice between Ghana – the top dog of the underdogs according to Who Should I Cheer For?; and Serbia – the country that shot to fame in the 1990s as an international pariah. So for most people, the choice of which team to cheer for based on ‘underdog’ criteria would be simple. For me, not so simple.

But life, politics and war is never simple. Let me announce my bias: my father’s family is from Serbia, from a city called Kragujevac, which is known for a massacre of up to 5000 people in 1941 at the hands of the Nazis. My grandfather fled the country and walked across Europe with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Massacres and deeply held resentments have been prominent in the former Yugoslavia’s turbulent history for centuries and the war crimes that took place at the hands of the Serbs in the 1990s are clear to everyone. And now to the Serbs themselves, who because of the propaganda pedalled by Milosevic and the closure of independent media, did not know of the true extent of the genocidal war that was being waged in their name.

But what they did know is that they were under attack from sanctions, from NATO bombing and economic collapse. By the year 2000, Serbia was the poorest country in Europe. It was the year that I went to visit my family in Kragujevac and saw the embarrassment and anger in my cousin’s face when admitted that she had been ‘paid’ in eggs that week.

This was also the year that Milosevic was finally forced from power.  The Milosevic regime’s tactics to stay in power were violent and omnipotent, including hundreds of thousands of fake ballot papers, the arrest, detention and ‘diasppearances’ of journalists, opposition activists and judges who sympathised with the opposition. One judge was murdered when he refused to issue an arrest warrant for two opposition leaders. And the disappearance and death of Ivan Stambolic, the former Prime Minister, who turned against Milosevic and gave support to the leader of the opposition party, Vojislav Kostunica.

Kostunica was leading a shakey coalition of 18 opposition parties, and despite Milosevic’s repression, they organised election monitors, mobililsed people, and collaborated with the powerful student movement, Otpor.  After the contested election of September 2000, a month of mass strikes and one million people descended on Belgrade from across the country, including elderly  farmers on tractors and bulldozers. They broke through police lines and faced tear gas and stormed parliament forcing Milosevic’s resgination on October 5th.

The last decade has not been easy for Serbs. The chasm between the rich and the poor has widened. Although, there’s no data available in government numbers for the clever people behind whoshouldicheerfor.com to crunch, inequality has increased after the IMF imposed its usual draconian economic conditions, like privatisation of electricty, education and health care, in return for loans.

The poorest people in Serbia (and Eastern Europe) who have suffered greatly are the Roma population. Roma people are widely discriminated against, are the target of racist attacks and fail to access public services. Currently, in Serbia the situation of Roma people is particularly worrying with 30 per cent of the population living on less than $2 a day; entire communities unable to access health care, education and live in shanty towns. It’s my bet that data for the Roma population is not included in official government stats, because Roma people tend not to have birth certificates, ID or permanent addresses. If the stats for Roma people were available to us the maternal mortality, hunger and life expectancy results would be a lot worse.

So I will be cheering for Serbia: for the Roma people – the underdogs of Europe; for the Serbs who bravely and peacefully overthrew a genocidal dictator; and for my family, and all families, who are still struggling to get by.

p.s. Amnesty International is running a campaign to stop forced evictions of Roma communities in Serbia, please do get involved.

The symbol of Otpor's resistance against the Milosevic regime, it appeared in badges, stickers, posters, banners, graffiti, t-shirts and as a tattoo on my colleague, James' arm!

Posted in: Ghana, Global injustice, Serbia, Serbia-Ghana, Teams, Who am I cheering for?

Kate is WDM's press officer and is currently trying to get journalists to love whoshouldicheerfor.com as much as we do! This project has made her realise that her penchant for revolution and the use of tractors in demonstrations is in her genes. She is cheering for Serbia.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Uruguay v France: WAGs and WIGs

Earlier this week at WDM we had a very interesting meeting about gender, considering how best to ensure that our practice and campaigns contributed to a post-patriarchal politics. It was intelligent, sensitive and radical.

Then we came to set a date for the next meeting; 2pm on Wednesday the 23rd of June was suggested; and all hell broke loose. Various attendees at the meeting were deeply concerned that this would cause them to miss the start of England’ s third group game, against Slovenia. Would it surprise you to learn that these attendees all belonged to the same gender?

You will be pleased, I am sure, to hear that a compromise was reached and duties to both In-ger-land and the campaigns function meeting will be met in full. But it served to illustrate that even in the most consciously progressive environments, the gender divide is alive and well.

I mention this because this match features two countries with an interesting story to tell about women in government.

Uruguay is one of only two nations in the tournament with no women in its government. Not one. Zero. This despite the fact that Uruguay achieved universal women’s suffrage 12 years before their supposedly revolutionary opponents (1932 vs 1944), not to mention before Portugal, Greece, Italy, Japan, Australia and Canada, and long before infamously backward Switzerland (1971).

France has if anything an even more troubled relationship between women and politics.

The role of women in the Revolution was critical. The Women’s March on Versailles, for example, was arguably responsible for turning the Revolution from a Cromwellian middle-class hissy fit into a working-class movement. Despite this, the first Republic never did grant women the same citizen’s rights as men, and as mentioned it took until the last years of the Second World War for Frenchwomen to get the vote.

Among the British stereotypes of France is that its culture is particularly highly gendered – many even see it as an idealised gender landscape, populated by cool, arrogant alpha-males and coquettish, impossibly stylish women. Certainly this is a stereotype that the First Family does little to dispel.

Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, France’s recent record of women in politics is, though objectively poor, no worse than its near neighbours. With women making up 17% of minsters, it matches the Brown government and outperforms the ConDem coalition by 2%. And Sarkozy himself won the Élysée by only 6% from Socialist leader Ségolène Royal.

Our own country’s politics, particularly within the Labour Party, is now raising fascinating questions about how to deal with this imbalance.

Progressives conscious of the dearth of both black people and women in senior roles are faced with the dilemma of the candidacy for London Mayor of a black woman – Oona King – whose politics arguably represent those aspects of the Labour Party that the self-same lefties find so disappointing.

Another black woman – the first in Parliament, Diane Abbott – makes history again by becoming the first black person to run for Labour leader, but it’s hard to shake the impression that her candidacy is being treated as tokenistic window-dressing by swathes of her party. Should she really be the “black woman candidate” when the fact that she is the “only left-wing candidate” seems to this author so much more important?

And the second woman ever to lead the Labour Party – though like her predecessor Margaret Beckett she is allowed a temporary appointment only – has proposed a rule change to require 50% women in the Shadow Cabinet. Spain enacted legislation stipulating the same for its ministerial posts, and as a result boasts the only 50-50 government at the World Cup.

Far from uncontroversial in feminist circles, the proposal has at least served to highlight a bigger problem than Labour’s internal elections – women’s representation in parliament is so poor that in order to make 50% sound feasible, Harman has also had to propose that the Shadow Cabinet is reduced in size. And this in the parliamentary group with more women than any other, aside from the Greens’ all-female delegation of one.

However the problem is addressed, France’s 17% record on women in government cannot be allowed to remain a perfectly respectable mid-table performance. By the time we do all this again in Brazil in 2014, I hope to see more WIGs than WAGs in the VIP boxes, and neighbouring Uruguay must at least drag itself out of the relegation zone.

Oh, and for the record, I didn’t care when the campaigns meeting was. But then I’m not English, and nationalism is a subject for another post.

Posted in: France, Uruguay, Uruguay-France

Gary Dunion is Campaigns Officer for WDM, where he is developing a new campaign to stop financial speculation driving up food prices for the poorest. A Scot of Italian extraction, he'll be cheering for La Patria despite them being hated both by football fans (with which he takes exception) and social justice fans (well, fair enough).

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

Team-by-team: Groups G & H

Group G

Brazil

Brazil’s major worry coming into this tournament is, almost unbelievably, a lack of creativity. Without an in-form superstar in their attacking line-up, a weight of expectation is on the shoulders of Kaka, who has spent much of the last 12 months alternating between injured and out of sorts. With Julio Cesar, Lucio and Maicon in their back five, it is defensive solidity that is their strength this time around, much to coach Dunga’s delight presumably.

Despite 7 years of the left-wing Lula administration and social programmes such as the Bolsa Família aimed at eradicating hunger, Brazil nonetheless enter the World Cup firmly in mid-table in the Who Should I Cheer For league, thanks in part to a persistently high level of income inequality.

Ivory Coast

Like Didier Drogba’s arm, the Ivory Coast’s health system appears to be comprehensively broken, with maternal mortality figures through the roof at 944 per 100,000 births. Despite this, low national income and extremely low carbon emissions lead Cote d’Ivoire into 4th place in the Who Should I Cheer For standings.

Drogba, despite his infuriating on-field personality, is actually one of football’s most prominent champions of the poor. He is a UNDP goodwill ambassador, and once donated his £3m fee from a sponsorship deal to the construction of a hospital in his hometown Abidjan. Nonetheless, about a quarter of the population live below the $1.25 a day international poverty line, and in a group of death, and potentially without their inspirational captain, they may not gain much succour from this tournament.

North Korea

Well, what can you say really? Even the most avid of contrarians will struggle to get behind a team representing one of the most repressive regimes in the world. While their audacious attempt to sidestep FIFA’s silly mandatory three goalkeepers rule was both amusing and admirable, it is nonetheless indicative of the disconnect between incredibly strict rules at home and a cavalier disregard for international standards. With approximately 900 people per 100,000 held in prisons or labour camps, I dread to imagine the consequences of defying any of the Supreme Leader’s goalkeeping-related regulations back in Pyongyang.

Portugal

Portugal’s main failing during their recent ‘golden generation’ years has been a lack of killer instinct, which belies their curiously high military spending. Similarly, their often generous defending fails to reflect their significantly less generous 0.21% of GDP given in international aid, placing them comprehensively to the bottom of our standings, if not the FIFA world rankings.

Nonetheless, their appetite for a major trophy reflects the 6% of the country that remain chronically hungry, and with the poor form of the team under Carlos Quieroz mirroring an economy described by the Economist as “the new sick man of Europe”, riddled by both debt and corruption scandals, it’s not looking great for either.

Group H

Chile

Chile’s hosting of the World Cup in 1962 is a case in point for the often vexed intersection between football and poverty. The 1960 earthquake had devastated the country, yet Chile vowed to press on: “Because we have nothing, we want to do everything.” While it is arguable that resources for rebuilding may have been better directed elsewhere, one should not underestimate the effects of football on national morale, and a successful World Cup, coupled with an impressive third place for the hosts had a deep restorative effect on the country.

Despite sitting at a lowly 24th in the most supportable country stakes (largely due to somewhat extravagant military spending), after another enormous earthquake this February, the damage for which has been estimated at around 10-15% of GDP, Chile may be a great deal more sympathetic than it would appear.

This is without even mentioning their cavalier attacking football, typified by the free-scoring Humberto Suazo, that brought them to second place behind Brazil in the qualifiers, and may well see them get out of the group.

Honduras

After scraping through to the World Cup from a poor CONCACAF qualifying tournament, the Hondurans appear set to be the most whippingest of whipping boys, despite the presence of Premier League talents Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios. A desperately poor country, the Hondurans’ delight last year at qualifying for their first World Cup since they took a point off Spain in 1982 occurred during a constitutional crisis that resulted in left-leaning president Manuel Zelaya being removed and exiled in a military coup d’état. The subsequent election has been condemned as illegitimate, with most of Latin America and much of the rest of the world refusing to recognise the election of Porfirio Sosa.

2009 also saw a period where freedom of expression, movement and habeus corpus were all suspended, somewhat belying their position at number 3 in the Who Should I Cheer For? standings, albeit perfectly encapsulating the tension between whether you would be cheering for the people, or the State.

Spain

Having posted the best inter-World Cup set of results of any international team ever, it would seem that Spain are deserved favourites. With a superabundance of attacking talent at their disposal, a world class goalkeeper in Casillas, and a surprisingly resilient defence that benefits from the opposition almost never having the ball, surely only injuries can dent Spain’s chances of finally joining the elite of World Cup winning nations. Football being football however, come the latter stages (and Spain have a relatively tough route to the final) nothing is a certainty.

Nonetheless, one can but applaud the quality of football they play, and, for a European country, a fairly respectable 8th place in our standings (thanks to low military spending, and an incredibly high rate of women in parliament) mean that Spain are a very attractive proposition for the neutral indeed.

Switzerland

Low income inequality, low military spending (surprise) and relatively low carbon emissions mean the Swiss occupy a reasonable 10th position in our standings.

While legendary coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has offered them new attacking impetus, for a famously neutral country, their team is remarkably poor at attracting neutrals of the footballing variety. Specifically, that 10th place fails to take into account their 0-0 draw with the Ukraine in the last 16 of World Cup 2006, which, though it has yet to be put to a vote at the UN, can only be described as a crime against humanity.

After a controversial plebiscite banning the construction of minarets was passed last year, liberals, Muslims and fans of enjoyable football alike may find it difficult to forgive and forget this summer.

Posted in: Brazil, Chile, Cote d'Ivoire, Group previews, Honduras, North Korea, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland

Carl works for the Irish Ombudsman for Children's Office in Dublin. When not crying bitter, resentful tears over Ireland's elmination from the World Cup and their subsequent lack of dignity, he is busy admiring Xavi and Iniesta's spearheading of a golden era of Spanish football.

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.

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