The blog was began with an eye on the first World Cup in Africa. It was intended to serve as a complement to my research on the African Disapora and football. A place to practice. A training ground. And a place to say what needs to be said. A terrace. The research has been slow, but it is beginning to take shape.
When I started, and as far I could tell, there were few blogs like it. Now, there are many useful contenders. The quality of FIFA’s coverage has also dramatically improved. FIFA’s site is now both comprehensive and packed with interesting, well written stuff. Well done them.
Unfortunately, the prism through which many view their football remains narrow and hyped. I hope the back to the roots experience in the upcoming tournament in Africa will help liven people’s football brains.
I am now throwing the blog open. I hope it can be a place those of you who know me and others out there can exchange views on football. As such, I will be inviting discussion and focusing more on the South African 2010 qualification process.
The South African government announced today the Dalai Lama would not be welcome until after the 2010 World Cup.
The decision followed the postponement of a peace conference that had been scheduled to take place in Johannesburg on Friday. The peace conference was to be an opportunity for a range of characters including Nobel laureates and Hollywood celebrities to come to South Africa to discuss how to combat racism and how sport can unite people and nations.
Opinion is obviously divided.
Presidential spokesman, Thabo Masebe said, "South Africa would have been the source of negative publicity about China…We do value our relationship with China.” Masebe went on to say, “You can't remove Tibet from the Dalai Lama…that becomes the issue and South Africa is no longer the issue.”
But Kjetil Siem, chief executive officer of South Africa's Premier Soccer League, responded by saying, "When it comes to peace conferences ... it has nothing to do with the government." Siem also said the conference was a chance to show what South Africa had accomplished. Football was once as segregated as the rest of South African society, with four race-based leagues. Today, the nation is proudly united behind the upcoming World Cup.
Masebe noted the spiritual leader had been welcomed twice previously in South Africa and would be welcome again in the future — but "not now, when the whole world is looking at South Africa."
I expect Richard Gere and Co. to be outraged. But before you decide to polish off your Tibetan chanting bowl and start a Barney with the South African government, I recommend reading an excellent letter by Slavoj Žižek published in the London Review of Books last April. If you’re down with the Dalai Lama and prefer Gucci shoes to Baydan 271s, then I think you may be in desperate need of a dollop of the following rigourous analysis. Take it away, Professor Žižek:
The media imposes certain stories on us, and the one about Tibet goes like this. The People’s Republic of China, which, back in 1949, illegally occupied Tibet, has for decades engaged in the brutal and systematic destruction not only of the Tibetan religion, but of the Tibetans themselves. It is the duty of all of us who love democracy and freedom to put pressure on China to give back to the Tibetans what it stole from them...What will our governments do? Will they, as usual, cede to economic pragmatism, or will they summon the strength to put ethical and political values above short-term economic interests?
There are complications in this story of ‘good guys versus bad guys’. It is not the case that Tibet was an independent country until 1949, when it was suddenly occupied by China. The history of relations between Tibet and China is a long and complex one, in which China has often played the role of a protective overlord: the anti-Communist Kuomintang also insisted on Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Before 1949, Tibet was no Shangri-la, but an extremely harsh feudal society, poor (life expectancy was barely over 30), corrupt and fractured by civil wars (the most recent one, between two monastic factions, took place in 1948, when the Red Army was already knocking at the door). Fearing social unrest and disintegration, the ruling elite prohibited industrial development, so that metal, for example, had to be imported from India.
Since the early 1950s, there has been a history of CIA involvement in stirring up anti-Chinese troubles in Tibet, so Chinese fears of external attempts to destabilise Tibet are not irrational. Nor was the Cultural Revolution, which ravaged Tibetan monasteries in the 1960s, simply imported by the Chinese: fewer than a hundred Red Guards came to Tibet. The youth mobs that burned the monasteries were almost exclusively Tibetan. As the TV images demonstrate, what is going on now in Tibet is no longer a peaceful ‘spiritual’ protest by monks, but involves the killing of innocent Chinese immigrants and the burning of their stores.
It is a fact that China has made large investments in Tibet’s economic development, as well as its infrastructure, education and health services. To put it bluntly: in spite of China’s undeniable oppression of the country, the average Tibetan has never had such a high standard of living. There is worse poverty in China’s western rural provinces: child slave labour in brick factories, abominable conditions in prisons, and so on.
In recent years, China has changed its strategy in Tibet: depoliticised religion is now tolerated, often even supported. China now relies more on ethnic and economic colonisation than on military coercion, and is transforming Lhasa into a Chinese version of the Wild West, in which karaoke bars alternate with Buddhist theme parks for Western tourists. In short, what the images of Chinese soldiers and policemen terrorising Buddhist monks conceal is a much more effective American-style socio-economic transformation: in a decade or two, Tibetans will be reduced to the status of Native Americans in the US. It seems that the Chinese Communists have finally got it: what are secret police, internment camps and the destruction of ancient monuments, compared with the power of unbridled capitalism?
One of the main reasons so many people
in the West participate in the protests against China is ideological:
Tibetan Buddhism, deftly propagated by the Dalai Lama, is one of the
chief points of reference for the hedonist New Age spirituality that
has become so popular in recent times.
Tibet has become a mythic entity onto which we project our dreams. When people mourn the loss of an authentic Tibetan way of life, it isn’t because they care about real Tibetans: what they want from Tibetans is that they be authentically spiritual for us, so that we can continue playing our crazy consumerist game. ‘Si vous êtes pris dans le rêve de l’autre,’ Gilles Deleuze wrote, ‘vous êtes foutu.’ The protesters against China are right to counter the Beijing Olympic motto – ‘One World, One Dream’ – with ‘One World, Many Dreams’. But they should be aware that they are imprisoning Tibetans in their own dream.
The Tibet Football Association was founded in 2001, though it is not recognized by FIFA. The team has played about a dozen games mostly in India and Europe, against opposition as varied as the Republic of St. Pauli, a German anarchist outfit from Hamburg, hosts of the inaugural Football Independents World Cup in 2006, and AS Monaco.
The Tibetans first game was against Greenland. The game took place in Denmark and the team was followed by a documentary crew who produced the film, “The Forbidden Team.”
China objected to the match taking place and threatened to cut off all trade with Denmark. Is this a cue for a discussion about Danish colonialism in the circumpolar artic region? Or should I maintain a thread about the passion Tibetans have for football?
Opinions differ as to what constitutes beauty. Some folk just love the baby Jesus, blush cheeks and swaddling-clothes. Me: I can think of nothing more beautiful than a boy called Manuel dos Santos, crooked legs and an eye for goal.