Olympic Blatter: boycott on the brain

Sepp Blatter is going to Sochi. So the FIFA president declares in a recent issue of FIFA Weekly. The magazine includes a two-page selective history of boycott movements. In his “presidential notes” accompanying this weird article, Blatter characterizes the boycotter as “running away” from the problem rather than confronting it. He makes a vague gesture towards FIFA’s even more vague stand against the unpleasantness of “discrimination.”

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He can’t bring himself to write words like “homophobia,” or “gay.” It’s OK to acknowledge that racism is bad. But sexism and homophobia? Not fit for print. He says that he is an advocate for social inclusion and participation, but that commitment does not extend to the words one uses in such a “conversation” about said advocacy.

There is no reference in this FIFA Weekly article to Russia’s psychotic anti-gay laws, not one use of a word associated with homosexuality (e.g. “gay,” “anti-gay”) in the FIFA Weekly story on boycotts and the Olympics. Not one. Furthermore, in this piece of half-hearted propaganda, FIFA editors almost exclusively reference the US/Soviet Olympic boycotts as evidence of how boycotts don’t work. There is not one mention of the most famous boycott movement of the twentieth century, one which had a big impact on both the Olympics and the World Cup – and, indeed, the make-up of FIFA: the boycott and divestment movement against apartheid South Africa. Members of the Confederation of African Football and the Asian Football Federation boycotted the 1966 World Cup in response to FIFA’s aggressively colonialist policies limiting African and Asian participation in the tournament; CAF nations in particular also linked their boycott to FIFA’s apologist behavior toward South Africa and Rhodesia. (See, for example, Two Hundred Percent‘s overview of this period.)

That boycott moved African and Asian participation in the tournament forward, and it brought about the end of apartheid South Africa’s recognition by FIFA. This movement was led not by government leaders, but by the people – by students and activists all over the world. South Africa’s invitation to participate in the 1968 Olympics was one of the platforms for the Olympic Project for Human Rights (and that invitation was revoked, in response to political pressure). That movement led to one of the most enduring images in all of sports history (the raised fists and bowed heads of Tommie Smith, John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics). Black athletes in 1968 were fighting for human rights – boycotting events in South Africa, and divesting from South African institutions and companies was a major part of that.

How anyone could have a conversation about boycotts and not mention South Africa is beyond me. That Blatter would describe boycott movements as cowardly (as “running away from the problem”) is despicable. Read that “presidential note” if you want a refresher course on why, whenever Blatter appears in a tournament stadium, crowds unite in a chorus of jeers.

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