Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mugabe, Soccer and the World Cup


As many know, the runoff election in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe and it's social and political implications have caused a wide amount of fervor in the world press.

Many see the runoff election against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as a front, citing the violence and intimidation tactics used by Mugabe's supporters as a testament to the ruined democracy in the former Rhodesia.

The violence became so bad that Tsvangirai dropped out of the race last week, saying the runoff election was a joke and that his dropping out would prevent the deaths of many more people.

It's a very sad situation in Zimbabwe these days. So what does soccer have to do with all this?

Think of the protests taking place in Tibet and around the world in opposition to the Chinese human-rights record ahead of the Beijing Summer Olympics and you get an idea where we're headed with this.

Here, an Op-Ed article that appeared in this Tuesday's New York Times where author Peter Godwin argues that maybe 'Zimbabwe should become to the South Africa-hosted World Cup what Tibet has been to the Beijing Olympics — the pungent albatross that spoils every press conference and mars every presentation with its insistent odor.'

He makes an interesting, thoughtful point. Take a read at the article here or click the link above for the enlightening read.

Soccer 1, Mugabe 0

by Peter Godwin

IN these last few weeks, the full nature of Robert Mugabe’s repressive regime in Zimbabwe has been cruelly exposed. With his increasingly brazen resort to torture and hit squads to terrorize his own people, Mr. Mugabe has crossed a moral line. Some United Nations lawyers now say there is enough evidence to charge him with crimes against humanity.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and Mr. Mugabe’s opponent in Friday’s runoff presidential election, had little choice but to pull out of the race. (Mr. Tsvangirai has taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare.) Proceeding with elections would have ensured the murder of even more of his supporters. Any middle ground in this conflict has disappeared.

Standing amid the ruins of Zimbabwe looms the vacillating, dithering, morally compromised figure of Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa — hitherto the point man in the region — who was supposed to help ensure a free and fair outcome in the Zimbabwean election. Even at this late stage, with death squads on the move, Mr. Mbeki is still trying to persuade the Movement for Democratic Change to participate as a junior partner in some sort of Kenya-style unity government.

Mr. Tsvangirai and his followers — who have remained nonviolent, participated in three rigged elections and tried to inhabit “democratic space” as it diminished to a sliver — are understandably loath to join in an administration with the very people who have been attacking them. What’s more, joining would only reward Mr. Mugabe for his violent repression. The solution for Zimbabwe is simple: a free and fair election.

The international community has no choice but to delegitimize Mr. Mugabe’s regime. For a start, the “results” of Friday’s election should not be recognized. In effect, the world should no longer acknowledge Mr. Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s president. And should the opposition set up a government in exile, the West should move to deal with that government instead, based on the results of the March election, in which Mr. Tsvangirai drew more votes than Mr. Mugabe.

Of course, South Africa could use its economic power to draw Mr. Mugabe’s rule to an end in weeks rather than months. Yet Mr. Mbeki has steadfastly refused to act, providing a protective cloak for Mr. Mugabe’s repression. And just a few weeks ago, even as opposition members were being tortured, Mr. Mbeki visited Zimbabwe, allowing himself to be garlanded at the airport and displayed on state-run TV with a broadly grinning Mr. Mugabe. In the United Nations Security Council, where South Africa currently has a seat, Mr. Mbeki has opposed attempts to put the political situation in Zimbabwe on the agenda.

If Mr. Mbeki’s cost-benefit calculus has been such that he hasn’t seen it necessary to take tougher action, perhaps it’s time to change that calculus. Perhaps, for example, now is not the time for you to book a safari to South Africa. Or for you, or any institution that manages your funds, to make new investments in the country.

Most important, there is the FIFA soccer World Cup, for which South Africa is to act as host in 2010. That may seem like a long way off, but South Africa is already investing huge amounts both financially and politically, for what is supposed to be its triumphal coming-out party. Maybe Zimbabwe should become to the South Africa-hosted World Cup what Tibet has been to the Beijing Olympics — the pungent albatross that spoils every press conference and mars every presentation with its insistent odor.

Perhaps it’s time to share the Zimbabweans’ pain, to help persuade Mr. Mbeki to bear down on its source by threatening to grab the world’s soccer ball and take our games elsewhere.

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