Go with a smile!

Monday, July 28, 2014


One of the more interesting things I’ve read in the last year is the first few chapters of Tony Judt’s “Postwar”, in which he mentions that one of the biggest effects of WWII was the displacement of millions of people right after the war. The most extreme example was the Jewish community, and most of them moved to Palestine right after the war, and started to displace the Arabs, with consequences being felt right up till today.

There used to be communities of minorities living side by side with other people, but they had to move. The Germans in Czechoslovakia. The Hungarians in Romania. Eventually, the nations became more homogeneous, as the people in their communities moved to areas where they were the majorities.

A lot of WWII, especially in the former Yugoslavia, was actually a civil war between different races and groups. And there were a lot of similarities to what’s going on today in Syria and Iraq, and what would take place 50 years later in the bloody Yugoslavian conflicts of the 90s.

At the same time, you see a lot of sectarian violence in places in Africa as well. You saw it in the partition of India and Pakistan. So that leads me to wonder if the foundation of the modern nation state necessitates some form of a genocide where we reach the end state of a nation that sees itself as an imagined community, in Benedict Anderson’s words. But in order to get to that imagined community, sometimes violent means are achieved. There’s a lot of ethnic cleansing that’s done, possibly even genocide. Whole communities are uprooted and shifted around.

When people talk about modern “nations” like Iraq and Syria, we can talk about the undesirability of the existing national borders. But weren’t national borders also undesirable in places like Europe, where you can’t always blame it on a conqueror from another continent? I think there is a more general dynamic involved. This is not an issue of colonialism. This is an issue of empire. When the Austro-hungarian empire, and the Ottoman empire collapsed, this caused a lot of problems, especially in the former Yugoslavia, where there was a boundary between these two empires.

At the same time, we can consider the problem of racial harmony. There are a few instances where different communities have lived side by side for many years, even centuries. I think about places like Andalucía, where Jew, Muslims and Christians lived side by side for many years until the inquisition. There was Palestine, where the Jews and Arabs lived side by side in an uneasy truce until this bullshit about Zionism. Perhaps the situation is more hopeful for relations between the Chinese, Malays and Indians of Malaysia and Singapore. But the new influx of new immigrants, many of them mainland Chinese, has the potential to stir up big problems in Singapore and maybe even Malaysia.

Maybe in the Middle East, this latest set of big chaos can be seen as naturally occurring phenomenon. It is a bit like how forest fires are a natural part of the system of some ecological systems. Maybe Iraq is overdue for a rearrangement. Maybe a lot of the states have not gone through the process of being organically attached to the nations that underpin it. Maybe they are seen as a continuation of a colonial administration structure and therefore it lacks legitimacy. Any properly functioning nation state has to have a sufficiently large population acknowledging that they represent the people. And therefore a nation state cannot govern a nation made of disparate peoples unless all the groups agree that the government speaks for them. This is something that had been sorted out over centuries in Europe, and most recently in WWII. But it is indeed distressing to think that this extremely violent process is necessary component of nation building.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Did I like the outcome of the World Cup?

Sometimes I wonder whether World Cups throw up the outcome that the team that you back eventually wins it.

In 1982, the first world cup that I was vaguely aware of (probably some Panini stickers floating around that time in Ovaltine tins) I didn’t follow it, but years later I read that Brazil had an extremely talented team which played football the way it was meant to be played. And they were the hot favourites going into a latter stage group. In an eerie parallel with the Maracanaza, they only had to draw against Italy, but Italy had to win. But Italy won, all the same, after sleepwalking through the group stages. In the end, Brazil were the team of the first half of the tournament, and Italy, the team of the second half of the tournament. That defeat probably inflicted a permanent psyche damage on Brazil because it was the last time a team tried to win playing like that. The Brazillian team reached a nadir in 1990 and then they rejuvenated in 1994 – but more about that later. The Italians were not fancied to win that tournament but they did. And in a way it could have been worse – their opponents in the final, Germany, was one of the most reviled teams of all time. Verdict: no

In 1984, France won the Euros for the first time, and I’m told that that win was celebrated by most people, so I’ll take it on faith that Platini, Tigana and company were hot favourites. Verdict: yes

In 1986, Maradona and Argentina swept all before them. This was probably the one world cup which was so dominated by one player – even Pele had other great players to play with. I’m told that there were a few matches which were pretty exciting, like Brazil vs France.

Truth is, I’m not sure who I’d have preferred to win this one – the Germans, who apparently weren’t that great to watch, or the Argentines, who combined the sublime skills of Maradona, with a player who was a blatant and unrepentant cheat. Maradona always does something clownish and outrageous at the World Cup, but this was also the one and only time when his great abilities overshadowed his clownishness rather than the other way around. The French and Belgian teams, - the beaten semi-finallists would probably have been more favoured in this tournament. Verdict: sorda

In 1988, everybody willed Netherlands to win, and they won their one and only major tournament, and probably that made up for their 1974 final lost to W Germany. Their success coincided with the club level success of the great Rikjaard-Van Basten-Gullit axis that saw AC Milan sweep everything before it and win two consecutive European Cups. Verdict: yes

In 1990, the tournament was a disaster, in terms of the level of excitement, and the number of goals scored, and the fouling. Maradona somehow got Argentina into the final at the expense of Italy, and I think that even though people were unhappy that Germany won because of a Juergen Klinnsman dive, they weren’t that keen for Maradona to have another world cup either. The only bright spot was that England reached the semi-finals, and Camaroon was the romantic dark horse. Verdict: no

In 1992, just as the world got tired of Germany being extremely successful and always reaching the latter stages of tournaments, in came a dark horse, Denmark, who hadn’t even qualified for the tournament, and they won it. I suppose that was pretty OK result. Verdict: yes

In 1994, apparently that was a tournament where everybody was willing Brazil to finally win it, now that they had a great strike force in Bebeto and Romario. But elsewhere in the team, they won ugly. And if people were complaining that 1990 was the first tournament where the final was settled by a penalty, it got even worse this time, when the tournament was settled by a penalty shootout.

There were Cinderella teams everywhere, from the Irish who upset Italy to Sweden, Romania and Bulgaria, who got to the latter stages in spite of being unheralded. But the team that everybody wanted to be the Cinderella – Colombia – drastically underperformed. They were redeemed later when it turned out that they had been receiving death threats all through the group stage – no wonder it was difficult to concentrate on the football. Oh yes also there was the matter of Andres Escobar. Verdict: yes

In 1996, I will remember this as being the time when England had a golden opportunity to win on home soil. And in the early stages they played well enough to suggest they could do that. However, eventually they lost to Germany in the semi-finals. If they had gotten past Germany, there would only be the Czechs standing in their way of the European championship. So this was a great shame. Verdict: no

In 1998, I remember that the outcome of the final was a bit of a shock, because most people were backing the Brazillians to win. The best player was fat Ronaldo – the Ronaldo that everybody loves (as opposed to the Portuguese one that everybody hates). But somehow he had a psychological collapse in the final. We hadn’t heard that much about France and Zidane and company, but in retrospect, they were a great team. They were starting to come into their own as a great team. So 1998 was probably one of those nice finals where I would have backed either team to win. Verdict: yes

In 2000, almost the same France team won, so yay for them! Verdict: yes

In 2002, two of the favourites for the tournament – Argentina and France – were dumped out quickly. I wonder sometimes about an alternate reality where the favourites played deep into this tournament instead of getting kicked out early. Portugal might have gone far too. Instead the lunatics took over the asylum, with South Korea, Turkey, Senegal, Germany and the USA reaching far into a tournament many thought they didn’t have the capability to do so. Brazil might have been underestimated because their qualification was far from smooth. But any team with Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho in it had to win the whole thing. Verdict: yes

In 2004, it was a curious thing. Was it romantic that the Greeks won? Yes. But the manner in which they won was pretty ugly. It was a great triumph of ugly football. Somebody should have stopped them along the way. The Czechs? The French? I would have preferred Portugal and their golden generation to win. Instead they lost in the final, just like Brazil in 1950. Portugal’s golden generation would not ever win a trophy, although they did at least reach a final and a world cup semi-final. Compare that with England’s “golden generation” of Rooney, Lampard, Beckham and Gerrard. Verdict: no

In 2006, it was a curious final. France in their Indian summer, reaching the final in spite of being coached by Domenech. Italy had gotten this far in the match while having an extremely defensive match. As usual, the final was tight. Come to think of it, since 1990 all the finals were tight ugly affairs, except maybe France beating an out of sorts Brazil in 1998 and Brazil beating a Germany surprised to find itself in the final in 2002. I would on balance have preferred that the vintage France won this trophy and bowed out with a great triumph, although Zidane reaching the final with all the old timers is already quite a triumph. The Italy team probably had a lot of great players. They had Grosso, Cannavaro, Zambrotta and Materazzi in defence. They had Gattuso and Pirlo in midfield, and Totti upfront and Del Piero coming on as a substitute. They look like a winning side. But I don’t like a team to win a World Cup based on a great defence. I would rather any of the other three semifinalists - Portugal or France or the young Germany side – to have won it. Verdict: no.

In 2008, 2010 and 2012, the all-conquering Spain side won three trophies in a row, a feat that’s unprecedented and should probably confirm them . Verdict: yes, yes and yes.

In 2014, we had a German side who had captured the hearts of a nation in 2006 but narrowly lost to Italy. They reached the semifinals in all the tournaments since, so I think this was their turn to win it, even though they had to endure a tight match against Argentina to do it.

So it's nice to have quite a few tournaments in a row where you feel that there is a moral victory for the side. I remember coming out of Euro 2008 feeling quite pleased that Spain had won their first major tournament in 44 years. And they topped it off by winning the World Cup for the first time ever - technically that was the first time in 80 years.

I’m here wondering which team is going to win it in 2018 when it occurred to me that the Germany side that just won had already existed in 2010. And barring a Spain-type disaster, they would very likely be contenders in the next Euros and the next World Cup.

In the last blog post I wondered about whether or not there was going to be a change of power in the next World Cup. Looks like other than Costa Rica, all the teams who reached the quarter finals are from Europe or South America. This year’s winner, like 2010’s winner had a team with quite a few great talents who were cultivated since young. There was a system. Many of them played in the same clubs together. The World Cup is a quite a unique competition. It’s a team game where the participants are nations. It’s not a club vs club thing, where the club which attracts the best talents will win. The only person who doesn’t have to be from that country is the coach, although the coach is part of the national system. Which means that power is often wielded by relatively few nations. We’ve had 8 different winners in 20 World Cups. Maybe that's not that bad, countries winning it an average of 2.5 times each.

European supremacy – there are 5 former European winners and 3 former South American winners. At the time when Brazil last won the World Cup the South Americans won 9 and the Europeans won 8. Now the Europeans have overtaken South America to win 11. And they show no sign of stopping. There are 4 European sides who are super powers (England lol), and 2 South American sides who are super powers. There’s Holland, the only main contender who still manages to contend on a regular basis.

Outside of these, what else is there? I can think of countries which drop out of being world powers - I'm thinking Uruguay, Hungary and Austria. But I can't think of countries moving in the opposite direction, becoming world powers. Maybe in the long run, China and the USA can get their shit together. Or maybe they never will.

Costa Rica have a good, decent team, and Colombia’s future is bright. Maybe those two will fly the flag for the Americas. If the US can progress from here, they might be contending for the semifinals in the future. Belgium are seeing the beginnings of a golden generation and they’ll be talked about for the next few tournaments. France have regained some of their lost pride.

England and Italy will be down for quite a while. Spain can still contend if they pick up the pieces, but where are their next great players going to come from? The big question marks here are Brazil. You can always talk about the great Brazillian players of every generation. They are the nation of Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Jairzinho, Gerson, Zico, Socrates, Eder, Falcao, Romario, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo. Now they only have Neymar and maybe Oscar. The most talented Brazillians of the last few years – Adriano, Robinho and Kaka have managed to squander their talents. The Brazil side of 1982 was the last major side to have most of their stars play in Brazil. From the 80s onwards, the big money of the European sides started to pull over the stars from Brazil. Romario, Bebeto and Ronaldo were playing for the big European sides. It would be difficult to co-ordinate players to balance between club duties and national duties.

How did the most impressive talent production system in the world run dry? I don’t know the answer to that. I can only hope that by the time the next World Cup comes around, the next generation of South Americans would have been born. It’s nice to see Colombia and Chile make progress but I can’t imagine them being major contenders for the World Cup. Colombia might still surpass their best ever team which had Valderrama, Rincon, Higuita and Asprilla.

But the last decade was something of a disappointment in terms of a new power being able to ascend to the world stage. The only new power was Spain, somewhat of an old power, since it already had, in Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the most powerful sides in the world. It was hoped that Asia would play a greater role at the World Cups. After years of Australia + South Korea + Japan + AN Other, this stability did not help them. Australia have lost their golden generation but maybe they could still get another one. The golden generation of Ivory Coast, having played in three consecutive World Cup finals is about to retire. Ghana’s world cup was farcical. Nobody expected the Nigerians to be the only Africans still in the tournament. For whatever reason, it seems that Africa is on the wane. For me the high point was Chelsea winning the Champions League with a lot of west Africans in their ranks. After that, I’m beginning to suspect that the West African talent pool, like the Brazillian talent pool is about to dry up. But I’d be glad to be wrong. For an African team to reach the semi-final, or for a team from Central or North America to reach the semi-final, or for an Asian team to reach the semi-final without dubious refereeing, all that would be an achievement. Then there are the Cinderella sides of the past who never managed to go on and establish themselves as a great power. Peru and Poland of the late 70s. Belgium and Denmark of the late 80s. Cameroon 1990, Sweden, Bulgaria and Romania of 1994, Croatia of 1998, Turkey of 2002, Portugal of 2006, Uruguay of 2010. Who knows what will happen to the 3Cs of 2014 – Costa Rica, Colombia and Chile?

I think that success in football requires that you have a structure, an organization, as well as a good coach. Whenever South Americans have succeeded in the past, it was due to superior talents: in their astonishing run from 1958 to 1970 when they won three out of four, in 1978, when they were on home soil, in 1986, when they had Maradona, in 1994 when they had Romario, and in 2002 when they had the 3 R’s. But it wasn’t about superior coaching, or superior organization, or superior facilities, or superior clubs. To some extent it was about the fact that the countries that were more populous than Brazil – Indonesia, USA, India and China – are not great footballing powers. Brazil will have to adapt with the times, and probably have to figure out how to nurture their best talents. Likewise Argentina, who does have great talents in Mascherano, Messi and Di Maria, will have to figure out how to set up a coaching system which harnesses the best. Messi was one match away from the World Cup. Maybe this is as good as it gets. The World Cup in 2010 was a missed opportunity for Argentina because Maradona was out of his depth as a coach. He had a squad as talented, if not more so than the 2014 edition.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Brazil laosai vs Germany

That was unexpected. Brazil got whacked 7-1. Every tournament has had a moment that got everybody talking, and I think that has to be this tournament’s. To recap, here are the ones from previous tournaments.

1974 – crazy Zaire player kicked the ball away before Brazil had the chance to take its free kick. Also, the Holland final.
1978 – World Cup taking place while Argentina is being ruled by a military junta
1982 – Algeria getting knocked out of the World Cup because Germany and Austria fixed the last match of the group stage between themselves so that they got a result that would see them both get through and Algeria getting knocked out. Also the great 10-1 defeat of El Salvador.
Also one of the greatest Brazil sides gets kicked out by Italy who unexpectedly goes on to win.
Also a German goalkeeper beats a French attacker into concussion.
1986 – Maradona’s hand of God, and then his greatest ever goal.
1990 – Rudi Voeller and Ruud Gullit spitting incident. Cameroon’s Cinderella story. Klinnsman dive.
1994 – Andres Escobar murder. Maradona failing drugs.
1998 – Ronaldo having a seizure before the final.
2002 – South Korea’s improbable march to the finals. Portugal, Argentina and France out in the first round.
2006 – Zidane head butt.
2010 – Luis Suarez hand of God part 2. The lack of sportsmanship in the final.

I think that Brazil’s loss 7-1 to Germany would qualify to be this tournament’s sensational moment. That’s for sure. It isn’t about a team you previously thought was strong losing. Spain losing 5-1 to the Netherlands in a repeat of the 2010 final was pretty sensational. But this was worse because it was a thrashing that took place in front of their own fans.

This brings back memories of 1950, and before this World Cup had begun, a lot of Brazillians were talking about 1950. Everybody thought that Brazil was going to win. They had won their last few games handily. And they had come into the tournament on the back of thrashings of Spain and Sweden. But they came up against a more determined Uruguay, who beat them to clinch the title. This event was supposed to be so traumatic that it’s an incident which haunts Brazil all the way up till today.

This was traumatic because people thought that Brazil was going to win, and it was merely a victory procession. They only needed to draw the match to become world champions for the first time. But they managed to lose against Uruguay. And this was in front of a watching audience of 200000 people, in a stadium – possibly one of the greatest football stadiums in the world, specially built for Brazil to be crowned champions. It happened in the one nation that was more crazy about football than any other place on earth. And part of the trauma was that everybody had assumed that victory was such a foregone conclusion that they even printed out a lot of brochures proclaiming Brazil as world champions before the game.

To be fair, people always recognized that with this current crop of players, it would be a stretch to win the World Cup. There was talk about Brazil being the hot favourites for this World Cup, simply because Brazil had defeated Spain in the Confederations Cup. The problem is – it’s not that difficult to defeat Spain, as we now know. Even Chile – with all due respect – even Chile can do it.

Which is why I was wondering whether it was actually better for Brazil to not knock out Chile (which it did by the narrowest of margins). Instead maybe it ought to have just bravely fought but lose to Chile in an earlier round, rather than to get to the semis and get royally fucked by Germany. When I saw Brazil narrowly get past Chile, I was thinking, “what doesn’t knock you out today merely postpones the inevitable”. I did not expect these words to ring so true.

Great runner ups.
There has been a tradition where people remembered the great runner ups of the World Cup. There were the great teams who probably should have won the World Cup, but they fell at the last hurdle. The most famous of these teams was Brazil, when they were hosting the cup in 1950. That was the first and only time that the finals was decided by a group round robin. Ostensibly it was done so that the finals would not be decided in such a dramatic fashion. But as it turned out, it didn't achieve its intended objective.

But there was also the great Hungary side of 1954, who had even met their opponents earlier in the tournament. They had thrashed a weakened Germany side 8-3. The Germans didn’t need to win and was resting their players for a more important match. That Hungary side had played 4 matches and won them all with an aggregate score of 25-4. But they lost that last match to Germany. That was a great tragedy because Hungary’s great football side disbanded in 1956 after the Soviets took over, and they never again came anywhere to being the great side that they were.

And last of all there was one of the most unique sides in all of football – the Dutch in 1974. They were imperious, and they had the core of the Ajax side who had won three European Cups from 1971 to 1974. But they tried to screw around with the Germans in the final and they lost. And to be fair to the Germans, they were probably the other great team at that point in time. Then there was the Brazil side of 1998, who had the best player in the world at that time, and a pretty handy team. And everybody thought they were going to win. But France had a team of what in hindsight were great players. In fact, in the next World Cup, their fortunes were reversed when Brazil won and France got dumped out of the first round.

Attack vs Defence
Well there are two matches left and we are 4 goals away from this being the World Cup with the most number of goals. The previous record was 1998, the first time the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams. At that time, people complained that when you expand the number of teams, the football quality goes down. But this world cup had two nice surprises. First surprise is that almost everybody who qualified deserves to be here. Of course there are a few killjoys like South Korea, Cameroon, Russia, Japan, Honduras and Greece. Their job is to stop people from playing. But there were no whipping boys, Honduras and Cameroon aside. Everybody who qualified for the second round fully deserved it, other than Greece. And there are many sides who didn’t make it past the first round that I have time for: Ghana, Ivory Coast, England, Portugal, Italy, Spain. I don’t think 32 nations is too huge. Also there were the Cinderellas – Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile and Belgium.

I had drafted an article 2 years ago concerning the size of a major tournament, and back then they were talking about expanding the Euros to 24 teams. I’m going to publish it soon. Back then I would have approved of it, but seeing as it is that Europe’s sides are actually going backwards, maybe I might revise my opinion that a 24 team Euros is actually good.

So the pleasant surprise for the group stage is that the tournament has had plenty of nice high scoring matches, in spite of the near absence of whipping boys. Instead of having whipping boys, many of these nations have progressed to the next level – being fairly incoherent but good at defending.

I think there has been a change in football tactics. From the 60s onwards, football became much more negative because of the prevalence of catenaccio and dogged defending. But the success of attractive sides like 1970’s Brazil – still one of the best sides today – the total football of Holland 1974, and the classic 1982 Brazil side were quite well beloved. It was basically a battle between pretty football and brutal defending. However the 1982 Brazil side getting knocked out in the quarters was probably a turning point. There would still be great sides like the France side of the 80s, or the Danish or the Belgians. But by 1990, the game had reached its nadir and they had to make a few more changes to the rules to favour the attackers – first 3 points instead of 2 for a win, and secondly the outlawing of the back pass. As well as some tweaks to the offside rule.

However by the turn of the millennium, there was an erosion of the traditional 4-4-2 approach in favour of some systems that shared players between midfield and attack. This also had a more stifling effect on the game, because often there was only one out-and-out striker, and the game became more European and tactical. Games became bore draws / low scoring affairs. For the World Cups in 2006 and 2010, 7 of the 8 semi-finallists were from Europe.

However there have been positive developments in football strategies recently. First, in spite of the greater emphasis on systems, we haven’t been short of great players. In the last 20 years, Romario, Ronaldo, Gheorghe Hagi, Hristo Stoitchkov, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho and Messi are contenders for greatest of all time. Second, there has been the rise of the great Spain / Barcelona team between 2009 and 2012, engineered by Luis Aragones and Pep Guardiola. Tiki taka football may not be extremely high scoring, and opinion on it is divided between those who think that it’s the most boring thing ever, or those who marvel at how wonderfully engineered it all is. But they deserve their place as one of the best sides ever. Also, the high scoring Bayern Munich side which has taken Barcelona’s place as the greatest club side in Europe is not too shabby either. The last few seasons in the EPL have produced good club sides who love to attack, in Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal. In particular, the 11-12 and 13-14 seasons have been pretty good. Liverpool have disproven the adage that you can’t build a title challenge without a good defence, even though they lost out on the title in the end.

It’s hard to pinpoint why the balance has tipped towards attacking in recent years. Possibly there is a lack of great defenders. After Cannavaro, John Terry and Ashley Cole maybe there haven’t been a lot of great defenders. I would struggle to think of any defences I would call great these days. The last great defensive partnership in the EPL – Ferdinand and Vidic – petered out quite some time ago.

Perhaps another issue is how much more effective attacking football has been. Perhaps the passing has been more accurate, perhaps tactics have improved so that people know better where all the weaknesses in all the defences are to be found. The lone striker football has been in existence so long that a lot of teams in the EPL did not really know how to deal with a strike force like Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge team like 2013-14 Liverpool. The number of goals scored per match has been creeping upwards. In any case, this is great news. Long may it continue.

It’s possible that sports science and analytics can help managers better pinpoint the weakest portions of the opponent’s defence. It’s possible that attacks can now be more intricately choreographed so as to get past the most determined defences. Although the main story of football is that it has always been about an arms race between defence and attack.

The knockout rounds, other than the 7-1 massacre, have been pretty bleak in serving up number of goals. The finals could possibly be a bleak affair, especially if Germany scores early. However, these teams are perfectly capable of serving up a lot of entertainment, as we can see in the Germany – Ghana match. If only Argentina had a world class coach who could best harness the abilities of Messi, Higuain, Aguero and Di Maria, I’d have more confidence in them. Fourth place matches are usually high scoring affairs, because everybody’s tired, and they don’t have to play catannacio anymore because progression is no longer at stake. Hopefully we will set a new record, but it was disappointing to have to stagger over the 171 mark.


Expansion of the Euros to 32 teams

This post was written shortly after Euros 2012

There has been a little bit of hoohah about expanding the Euros to 24 teams. People were praising the quality of this tournament, saying that there hasn’t been a dull moment (except when England is playing) for this entire tournament. And they pointed out that the World Cup, after it got expanded to 32 teams, turned out to be dull, dreary affairs with a lot of defensive playing. Unfortunately, the world cup 2010 turned out to be a very dull affair, but that was mainly down to the lousy quality of the ball. USA 1994 turned out to be the last best world cup for quite a while. But I think we have to look forward. What’s happened since 1998 is that Asian football has been on the rise. In 1994, we expected them to be the whipping boys. In 2002, due to a combination of a better than average team and extremely fortuitous refereeing (maybe they sent some Korean chicks to entertain the referees) South Korea reached the semi-finals. Japan were unfortunate not to get to the quarter finals of the world cup after they lost to Paraguay on penalties. Turkey reached the semi-finals once. Ghana would have reached the semi-finals if Luis Suarez hadn’t got himself sent off, although you had to say that that Uruguay team deserved to reach the semi-finals. And the Uruguay team itself would not have qualified if not for the expanded format.

Then there was the 2002 world cup, which in retrospect represented the changing of the guard. Of the teams which reached the quarter finals, only Brazil, Germany and maybe England could be considered to be a great power. The Spain side was still the Bad Old Underperforming Spain. It wasn’t a fantastic World Cup, but it showed you that World Cups aren’t just about the traditional powers.

The thing is, when the tournament expands, there will be a period of time when a lot of teams that don’t deserve to be there turn up. But after that, when more countries have the opportunity to qualify for the World Cup, they’ll see an improvement in quality.

Second, Europe is probably the only continent which can regularly produce around five sides which are regular contenders for the World Cup. For the rest of the continents, there will always be one or two giants which dominate. For Asia, for many years it was always South Korea and one other Arab country. For South America, Brazil and Argentina will always qualify. For North America, it’s always USA and Mexico. Perhaps Africa are the other continent where it’s never clear who dominates football. You’d think that Egypt and Ghana would be powerhouses, but they don’t qualify often enough.

If you expand the number of countries playing in the World Cup, some of those countries which are in the shadow of these giants would get a shot. True, New Zealand’s football is really not exciting to watch, but they were the only team in 2010 which never lost a match, which sounds like a great achievement until you remember that they didn’t win any matches either and crashed out of the first round. Unfortunately for Asia, Australia, Korea and Japan will always be qualifying for the World Cup, so if you have only 4/5 berths, that only leaves room for 1 or 2 more. The issue is, you’d need the Asians and the Africans, and maybe USA to be qualifying for the quarter finals more often in order to justify the inclusion of more teams in the World Cup. I think that the number of teams in the World Cup will be 32 for quite a while while these other continents strive to keep up.

At the same time, there are a higher number of Asian players which feature for top European sides. We already can name Park Ji Sung, Shinji Kagawa, Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinsuke Nakamura as players who are not merely there to make up the numbers, but are vital squad members for top European teams. As of now, Arab football is on the wane, but sooner or later there will be a few Arabs playing in top European sides, and not just Ali Al Habsi of Wigan.

At the same time, the non-European leagues are with varying degrees making their presences felt. MLS is rapidly becoming a “retirement” destination for former big stars, just as its predecessor was a place for the Indian summers of Pele, Cryuff and Beckenbauer. It already has Beckham, Henry and Robbie Keane. Shevchenko could be next. Chelsea Football Club used to be called “the pensioners” in the first stage of its revival from washed up former great club, and later on, on the back of Roman Abramovich’s billions, it went on to become great. So it’s not that shameful to start off as a retirement home. Leagues in Qatar and UAE are getting former stars to play for them as well. Most notably, Nicholas Anelka and Didier Drogba are in Shanghai and one wonders if they will have a big impact on Chinese football. China has a great population, and are even more keen on football than the Americans. But they don’t have good players. Elsewhere, in recent years Russia and Turkey have found success in the Europa League.

As for Europe expanding into 24 teams, the reasons are more dodgy. When you had 16 teams, it happened a few years after the Cold War, when a lot of new nations were formed. “Yugoslavia” suddenly became 6 teams (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, and I don’t know whether Kosovo will ever become a new state). Czechoslovakia split into two. “Europe” has expanded to include many new states from the old Soviet Bloc, like the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Estonia. So it became a large federation. There are a lot of teams which would probably qualify when there are 8 new berths, such as Finland, Estonia, Bosnia and Turkey. Romania, Israel, Slovakia, Serbia and Bulgaria would have chances to play. There are a fair number of competent, if not great sides which could conceivably give a good show at the main tournament. So I was a little surprised when people blasted the plan to expand the Euros.


About that Vincent Wijeysingha allegation

Lately I’ve read a few conservative commentators – and a few of them are friends on Facebook. They have been complaining about the way that they’ve been treated by the pinkdot gang. They almost sound like they’re the victim here. One or two are even moaning about how their kids are becoming more progressive than they are. I say more power to their kids man.

There’s a parable here to be told. There’s this guy, he walks into a crowded shopping mall. And then he says everybody’s looking at me with fear and hate in their eyes. All the security guards are after me. What the hell is going on? Well, what’s going on is that he’s holding a loaded gun in his hand. That’s the thing. That’s the part of the situation that he doesn’t really appreciate. Why is everybody so hostile towards you? Maybe you should start examining yourself and trying to figure out whether or not you’re holding that gun. There are a lot of articles on both sides of the camps but neither of them really address the issue of how we’re going to reach consensus.

True, I’ve often pooh-poohed consensus over conflict in the past. But my formula is different. I think that there should be consensus and there should be conflict, and both of them are related like yin and yang. They give rise to each other. There should be conflict because the world is dynamic and power structures change all the time. But the conflict should after that be resolved.

Anyway, let’s go to the main topic of this blog post. This concerns an article that Vincent Wijeysingha wrote on Facebook, where he criticizes the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse that he received as a youngster.

Now if you remember, Vincent Wijeysingha was supposed to be one of the shining stars of the opposition, up till the time when he quit the opposition party. He’s one of the more articulate and charismatic figures, for sure. But he’s made a few missteps in the past. First, there was the printing of the election posters during the Punggol East by-election. Then there was this time when he was caught on Facebook sneering at Jeraldine Phneah and calling her a bimbo. Then now this pretty arbitrary attack on the Catholic Church.

For clarity’s sake, I should probably say that I don’t know whether to believe that the molesting incident took place, or to believe that it didn’t. I absolutely cannot rule out that it has. Of course, I can believe that it was pretty difficult for him to file a police record if it happened. Who’s going to believe that a person has molested you? What proof do you have? These things only come to light when a lot of people come out and all of them point their finger at the same person. And if you’re the only guy that person has molested, then I suppose you’re out of luck.

I don’t know what the Catholic Church has done about this incident. Possibly they would know that it is plausible. The NMP Eugene Tan has called upon Wijeysingha to apologise to the Catholic Church. Well that’s probably a politically motivated statement. There’s no need for Wijeysingha to apologise because I think the Catholic Church might not want to sue him for defamation. That’s the thing about suing for defamation – it’s a double edged sword. You don’t really want to be like TT Durai who sued for defamation one time too many and ended up losing everything that he ever had. So this is as good as it ever gets for the Catholic Church. Nobody really knows whether what Wijeysingha said is true or not. You don’t ever want to sue, and then 100 other people appear out of the woodwork and make similar allegations about the Catholic Church priests. That would not be good.

What Eugene Tan said is pretty cunning. Because you know and I know that if Wijeysingha were to sue the Catholic Church for a molestation case that took place 20-30 years ago in his youth, most likely the verdict would be “not guilty”. As in, there wouldn’t be enough evidence for Wijeysingha to make his case. And then that “not guilty” evidence would be a presumption of innocence. And Wijeysingha would have to make a turnaround.

But the thing is – if what Wijeysingha said was true, there would be a lot of people out there who have been molested by errant priests. And they can’t ever say anything. They can’t ever do what Eugene Tan proposed for him to do. (Which is presumably why Eugene Tan asked him to do it. Eugene Tan knows that Wijeysingha has talked himself into a trap.) And they don’t really have a choice about the getting molested. You have to shut the hell up and suck it up.

There are other reasons why Wijeysingha would not want to sue the guy who molested him. He may be dead. Or he may be destitute, and that would look pretty bad.

I don’t know why Wijeysingha would bring this issue up. Maybe he didn’t think through it properly. Or maybe he did, and he just concluded that the ordinary person would come to the same conclusions that I have – that there is absolutely no way to figure out whether or not such an incident did or did not occur. Such is the faith that people have in our justice system nowadays.

So that’s the problem with the justice system. It doesn’t ever bring down a person in power unless whatever was committed was so egregious that even the courts can’t protect him (as in the TT Durai case). And while it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the justice system is unfair, the burden of proof on the plaintiff is pretty damn high.

The other reason I can think of that it's a bad idea that Wijeysingha complained about this is that it gives people the ammunition to say that people turn gay as a result of sexual abuse as a youngster. For a person who's a public figure and a gay rights activist, he should have thought about that first.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would Vincent bring it up if it were not true? You can be implying he made the whole thing up? It's quite embarrassing to him too and it's not as though we all don't know theCatholic Church has been covering up their child abuse for years and allowing their priests to repeat their crimes in other parishes and the hundreds of defrocked bishops and thousands of others censured must be only the tip of the iceberg

I was almost molested by my Protestant pastor as a child.After that I observed this pastor as he went after other children in the church. His name appeared in the STraits Times 20 years later when he was finally caught.

6:11 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

I don't know which part of this article you didn't understand.

The part which I said that I didn't know whether he made this incident up, or the part where I said that I'm only talking about this incident.

Recently the pope has acknowledged that child abuse is going on. In fact he goes as a far as to say that 2% of priests are paedophiles.

Just so that we're clear, let's talk about what I'm not saying. I'm not saying that Vincent Wijeysingha's allegation is false. I'm only saying that it's impossible to tell whether it's true or false.

And even if I were to say that Vincent Wijeysingha was not molested, I'm not saying that nobody was molested. Because I'm only referring to a very specific allegation about a very specific incident. ie "Vincent Wijeysingha's allegation is false" means that "Vincent Wijeysingha was not molested".

So relax, calm down, nobody is saying that all this molestation incidents is not taking place. Personally I would find it hard to believe that nobody in Singapore has ever been molested by a priest.

As for why Vincent Wijeysingha would make a false allegation, I can think of at least one reason: he knows that everybody knows that some Catholic priests are molesters, and he knows that if he were to make this allegation, it would be believable. And therefore he's using it to score points.

7:53 AM

Blogger 7-8 said...

Also want to add - I'm a former molest victim. I was 12, in a toy shop, this pervy looking guy came over, stroked his hands over my balls a few times. I was shocked but not overly traumatised. No, this is not like kids on the playground kicking each other in the balls for fun. This was real molest. After that, to my surprise I didn't think about it much. Life goes on.

Personally if I'm traumatised about anything it's probably that I didn't have a great social life in JC or whatever.

I'm not saying that molest is right or whatever. But different people are affected differently. C'est la vie.

8:10 AM


Monday, July 07, 2014

Pink Dot vs Religious Conservatives Confrontation

It has been very interesting Pink Dot session. Earlier on I had written a piece about why I thought that LGBT groups were taking the wrong tack.

In the intervening years that followed, it seemed that a lot of water had flowed under the bridge. And it does seem that my earlier article had overestimated the extent to which the government was willing to remain neutral on this issue. There was a time when Goldman Sachs held a recruitment talk for LGBT and Chan Chun Sing criticized it for not respecting the “norms” of society. I can understand if people thought that something like that overstepped the line: it’s actually a little discriminatory, even though there are such things as outreach programs to selected minorities. But that was something that was very easy to whack: you had an MNC that was probably unpopular and reflected foreign values. But it said something that CCS chose to whack them. IT meant that it was still OK to whack gay people in Singapore.

And Obama made that famous statement around one year ago, that he approve of gay marriage. He wasn’t the first to say that – it was Joe Biden’s big mouth that forced his hand. But he also said that his thoughts on the issue were evolving. And Hillary Clinton has also affirmed that she was going to be proclaiming the issue of gay rights around the world as part of US foreign policy.

Not long after that, the backlash began. India had 377 repealed for a while, and then it got overturned by the Supreme court of India. Vladimir Putin unfolded a series of harsh laws against gays in Russia. LGBT people in many African countries faced the death penalty. (In certain cases this may be related to the prevalence of AIDS on the continent). And in Singapore, many people were starting to organize a big backlash. There was the big “Wear White” movement among the Muslims. Then the archbishop of Singapore made this big statement of “we’re not discriminatory against gays but we think it’s wrong” (yeah right). The internet was abuzz with quite a bit of chatter.

Gay Lifestyle
As before, I said that the message was wrong. You shouldn’t really talk that much about “the freedom to love”. IT’s the freedom to love that the conservatives fear the most. They already talk about the gay lifestyle. Instinctively they reject anything outside very strict norms: one man, one woman, bound to each other for life. Instinctively they feel that the gay lifestyle is a rejection of their values. When they think of gays, they can’t help but think of gay sex, promiscuity and disease.

They conservative Christian view of LGBT is that gays choose their own lifestyle. That it is against the natural order of things (or depending on the doctrine, it’s against God’s chosen path – the Judeo Christian values isn’t exactly that respectful of Mother Nature). That condoning gay couples is exactly the same thing as condoning wanton behavior, promiscuity and anti-family values. That although it’s important to “hate the sin”, it was important to “love the sinner”. I’m not a Christian although I cringe at the glibness of this statement.

And they equate the “Christian position” with the conservative position, conveniently forgetting that Jesus himself was a liberal. There is a small but important group of gay rights activists who are conservative.

The funny thing, though, is that I read what Christians say about the topic and have to think through their warped world view. They actually feel kinda hurt that other people are accusing them of being hateful and unjust. But they have to cling on to their views even if it kills them, because that’s what faith is, isn’t it? The ability to soldier on even though everybody tells you you’re wrong. The more people tell you you’re wrong, the more God is testing your faith. And they tell of suffering, of having doubts because they see all those people who are gays and they’re so normal and unremarkable. But what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. And they feel so brokenhearted when their children embrace progressive causes. I mean it’s hard not to feel bad for them when they say that but at the same time it makes me glad that I’m not party to all that insane nonsense!

And I’ve had a few run-ins with a lot of friends of mine from school. It’s very interesting to be on Facebook and finally meet up with your friends from school, and realize what their political opinions are. It’s just as well that we weren’t free to talk about our political opinions, and we never got to realize that certain people were on the opposite side of the political spectrum from us. I’m actually glad that I got to know them as human beings first instead of being overly focused on our political differences. But then again it’s also pretty disturbing to me that all these guys who are nice and look normal actually subscribe to so much nuttiness.

There was this time when I was having this serious duel with a guy I knew from way back. He was talking about “having a common platform” on which we could agree on. I’m not sure what he meant. Did he mean that we adopt the premises that he started off with? But if that were the case, we would simply converge upon the “right” conclusions. IT’s hardly a compromise at all. And the problem is that the conservatives would simply treat the plurality of viewpoints as a weakness in the argument, rather than a strength that an argument lends itself equally to people of all spectrums. He actually said something like “are we so directionless as a society that we can’t find that much to agree on?” Almost as though it were unthinkable that ordinary decent people would ever find something to disagree with him on.

There was this story that might shed some light on how Christians might think. Jesus was tempted on his crucifixion by the devil, and vision appeared of him, and it was the work of Satan trying to tempt him into turning away. In that vision Jesus was just living the ordinary, happy life of a man raising his family and kids, trying to get by. Now if something like that can be transformed into the work of a devil, you have to think about – like they don’t trust their own personal feelings about matters. They don’t trust their intuition at all. They just need to get told about what is right and what’s wrong.

A lot of them talk about the consequences of having a policy that goes against what conservatives believe in. But that’s the problem with them: they put down a principle, and they don’t understand what happens when that principle is used against them. What is the consequences of having a policy (377A) which goes against what liberals believe in? Then that argument would fail! I’m starting to believe that there must be some inherent evolutionary advantage in being conservative. Because there has to be something that makes up for their lack of brains.

I’m very wary of having an argument with conservatives over this. Because I know that I’m pretty firm in my stand about LGBT, and I know that they’re also pretty firm, and the net result is that we’re going to be screaming past each other and nothing ever gets achieved. I would be open to talking to centrists about this, to try and reason with them to side with me and not the conservatives. With the conservatives, it’s just more important to just be mindful of maintaining relationships and not engage in a mode of behavior that can only lead to harm.

It’s a more useful thing to try and tear down their arguments which can be proven to be – if not totally bogus, then pretty dodgy.

1. The acceptance of gays is a reflection of the westernization of society.
False. Why? Because 377 was a colonial legacy left behind by the British and by the way the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth 2 does not think there is anything wrong with being gay. So the rejection of “excessive westernization” is highly selective and not valid.

2. The acceptance of gays is a reflection of the modernization of society.
False. People since antiquity have been gay.

3. Gays cannot serve in the military.
False. Alexander the Great, one of the best generals of all time, was gay.

4. Gayness is acquired, and people have a choice in this matter.
My belief is that same sex attraction is not voluntary, mostly. My opposite sex attraction is not voluntary and I don’t see why it’s different for gays. They’ve done a lot of studies and they’ve found that it’s possibly due to womb chemistry or something. Or maybe somebody’s found a gay gene.

Christian values are acquired and people do have a choice whether or not they’re Christian. And I don’t see people complaining about that.

5. Acceptance of gays is down to an extremely small minority.
That’s what gay marches are for. It’s a chance for this myth to be dispelled. And people hope that many who voice their support for gay rights would trigger sympathisers who would otherwise have remained silent to lend their voices.

6. Gays are against family values.
Gay people are perfectly capable of raising kids as well as straight couples. Meaning they are no better or worse. There are a lot of people who have been raised by gay couples and they can testify that there’s nothing wrong with gay couples. But the problem is that as with straight parents, there are also problematic gay parents, and these black sheep are just going to provide you with a stick to beat them with.

Conversely I wanted to speak out against the way that people put up pictures with their family in the name of “promoting family values” and speaking up against the gay scourge. That really took the cake. Leave your kids out of this. Using pictures of your kids to promote hate speech is just deeply offensive.

7. Gays are the equivalent of pedophilia.
Although I can personally fight for gay rights, there’s no way I’m going to condone pedophilia. Yes, some of the arguments are the same. Pedophiles have an inborn predisposition towards sexual feelings for children. It’s probably a big struggle to overcome it. Also pedophilia is not rape unless you act on it. But that’s where the similarities end. The crucial difference between pedophiles and gays is that a long lasting union between gay people is possible, and the same with a pedophile and a child is not. What happens when the child grows up and is no longer desired by the pedophile? If the child has sex with the pedophile, even though it’s with consent, does he have the maturity to make this decision?

8. The acceptance of gays is a symbol of moral laxity
It’s easy to assume, once you have decided that being gay is a sin, that people accept homosexuality because they’re lowering their moral standards. Gay rights advocates do not think that way. They don’t think “well it’s sorda a sin but we should be more forgiving towards them”. Instead it’s more like “being gay is not a sin. But being homophobic is a sin”. Which means that protecting the rights of gays is more of a moral imperative. In other words, when we are decrying the prejudice against gay people, we are also decrying sin. Your sin.

9. The acceptance of gays is synonymous of the over-sexualisation of society
To be fair, a lot of gay pride people bring upon themselves problems. Gay sex, no matter how you paint it, is about fucking somebody in the ass. And it is, will always be, associated with a certain aesthetic that some people will find objectionable. And numbering amongst the gay rights activists will always be a few people who not only advocate for gay sex, but also advocate the gay lifestyle. Which is not only about acceptance of gay people, but also about a promiscuous lifestyle. Personally I’m agnostic about that. But what is clear to me is that this makes it much more difficult for people to swallow or accept gay rights. And they’re really going to lose a lot of friends if they were to go down that route of “free love”. This really has nothing to do with gay sex or whatever. Straight people are perfectly capable of misbehaving. This actually has more to do with drawing tribal lines and rubbing peoples’ faces into the dirt than anything constructive.

Also, I want to bring attention to a guy whose views have been quoted at length by the anti-gay brigade. This guy is a tool. Luckily he's not in charge of the LGBT movement. He doesn't have a strategy. He only wants to say provocative things that offend conservatives without considering how they're going to get alarmed and fight back.

He charges the organisers of Pink Dot with not allowing condoms to be distributed at the event. To me this is a very sensible thing. You want to be controlling the messaging, and the messaging you want is to dissociate people from thinking that LGBT is all about casual sex. He charges them with organizing security. Well of course you want to have security measures. Last thing you need is for there to be a riot at Pink Dot and all permissions for rallies at Hong Lim Park get cancelled. And he complains about how Pink Dot doesn’t allow for a plurality of views, and I’m like, why don’t you organize your own fucking gay march?

You want your messaging to appeal to average Singaporeans. Make it nice, warm, fuzzy, not threatening to family values, cute. That is the approach that has the best chance of succeeding. The colour pink is not an accident. It is a mixture of red and white – the colours of the Singapore flag, even as it is the traditional colour of the gay rights movement. Notice that they did not put up the rainbow. Cosmopolitanism is not such an in thing these days. Singaporeans still prefer their old national identity. The glittering dot reminds your of those old National Day parades. It’s something warm and familiar. It has to be contextualized as something that Singaporeans can identify with – a happy day out with your friends. It has to be a Singapore friendly image. Is that too much to ask?

People instinctively think that you have to discuss things, and that differences have to be resolved. Perhaps. But these things are only useful when people are willing to listen. Where it is useful is when people know they can make compromises and learn not to step on each other’s toes. But there are some fundamental irreconcilable differences.

If there is anything that the past few months have shown us, it's that the battle for civil rights is a constant one. One year has passed since Obama's statement on gay marriage, and already the backlash has started. Putin has passed more stringent anti-gay laws. There is death for gay people in East Africa.

Everything can slide back, especially when it comes to progressive causes. Put in universal suffrage in the Civil Rights Act, and somebody will come up with a new way of disenfranchising black people. Set up a union and somebody will come up with a way to clamp down on it. Start a war on poverty and somebody will find a way to screw it up and close it down.

Progressing forward is only one half of the story. The other half is how are you going to reconcile with and meet halfway the political adversaries? They are going to be around for a long time. How do you come up with a solution that is satisfactory for all parties concerned? How are you going to convince a bunch of nutcases that repealing 377A doesn't mean that everybody is going to take their trousers off and start screwing each other?

When you look at the other people across the barricades, you can see that they aren't half bad people a lot of the time. They stand up for what they think is right. They are often but not always kind to their friends and family. There is so much I have in common with them - I think that life has to have a purpose, I believe in family and friends, although probably to a smaller extent than they do. But when you read all the crazy shit they're writing on the internet, you know that they live in a different moral universe than yours. You know that you have views that they would find crazy, and they have views that you would find crazy. It would be easy if we could progress to a point where the critical mass of people agree that gay sex is perfectly OK, and they found themselves in an outmoded minority, just like the KKK and racism. But I don't know if we'll get to that point.