How might enjoying our favorite sports and supporting our most cherished teams and athletes make us accomplices in the world’s most heinous atrocities ever committed? Award-winning journalist and podcaster Andrew Gold joins us for this Skeptical Sunday to explore the PR tactic of sportswashing, in which authoritarian regimes use sports to improve their image on the world stage. (And don’t worry, David C. Smalley fans! David will return soon for future installments of Skeptical Sunday!)
On This Week’s Skeptical Sunday, We Discuss:
- Sportswashing is a PR tactic used by countries with poor human rights records to improve their image and legitimize their atrocities through sports.
- Western countries and their businesses are complicit in sportswashing due to the financial incentives they receive.
- Despite the harm caused by sportswashing, it is difficult to stop due to the lack of accountability and the willingness of individuals and organizations to participate.
- Golfers have been divided over whether to participate in Saudi Arabia’s LIV golf invitation series, leading to a civil war in the sport.
- Countries with questionable human rights records are increasingly buying sports clubs and sponsoring sports teams, making it important to be aware of where and how we consume sports.
- Connect with Jordan on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. If you have something you’d like us to tackle here on Skeptical Sunday, drop Jordan a line at email@example.com and let him know!
- Connect with Andrew on Twitter and Instagram, and check out On the Edge with Andrew Gold here or wherever you enjoy listening to fine podcasts!
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Resources from This Episode:
- The Most Watched Sporting Events in the World | Roadtrips
- How Many People Watch a World Cup Final? Record Global Audience Set to Tune In for 2022 via TV and Streaming | Sporting News United Kingdom
- Word of the Day: Sportswashing | Editorial Words
- Qatar | Human Dignity Trust
- The ‘Beautiful Game’ Turns Ugly: New Mob Museum Display Explores Corruption of FIFA | The Mob Museum
- 2015 FIFA Corruption Scandal | Britannica
- Budweiser Says It Will Give Unused Qatar World Cup Beer to Argentina | MarketWatch
- World Cup 2022: The Players Who Crossed Borders for Football | Quartz
- The Olympics Have Always Been Political | The Atlantic
- The Olympics | Skeptical Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- When Argentina Used World Cup Soccer to Whitewash Its Dirty War | History
- Welcoming War Crimes: The Normalization of Henry Kissinger | The Harvard Crimson
- Truth behind the Death of Suffragette Emily Davison Is Finally Revealed | The Guardian
- The Cheap Seats: Why the Saudi Arabia-Backed LIV Golf Tour Has Led to Ethical Concerns, Rivalry with PGA Tour | The Dartmouth
- Collision In Korea: Wrestling’s Bizarre Political Game in a Land of War | Pro Wrestling Stories
829: Sportswashing | Skeptical Sunday
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is sponsored in part by Hyundai. The Hyundai Tucson comes with America's best warranty, including 10 years or a hundred thousand miles. The Tucson with America's best warranty. It's your journey. Test drive the Tucson at your nearest Hyundai dealer, or learn more at hyundaiusa.com. Call 562-314-4603 for complete details.
[00:00:18] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:21] Andrew Gold: Remember, homosexuality was only legalized in the UK in 1967, and it was still illegal in parts of the States until 2003. Can we really go about lecturing others on their morals when we only just cleaned up our own act? I talked about the death penalty being barbaric, but that's how the UK treated one of our greatest heroes. Alan Turing, who cracked the German codes in World War II, saved millions of lives and was ostracized and criminalized for being gay. And he appears to have committed suicide as a direct consequence.
[00:00:56] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger and this is Skeptical Sunday, a special edition of The Jordan Harbinger Show where journalist and podcaster Andrew Gold and I break down a topic that you might never have thought about, open things up and debunk common misconceptions — topics such as why the Olympics are kind of a sham, why expiration dates on food are mostly nonsense, why tipping makes no sense and is possibly racist, recycling, banned foods, toothpaste, chemtrails, and a whole lot more.
[00:01:22] Normally, on The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We have long-form interviews and conversations with a variety of really amazing folks, from spies to CEOs, athletes, authors, thinkers, and performers. And if you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about the show, I suggest our episode starter packs as a place to begin. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topics to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on this show — topics like persuasion and influence, disinformation and cyber warfare, scams and conspiracies, crimes and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start, or take a look in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:02:06] Today on this episode of Skeptical Sunday, we are looking into the nasty practice of sportswashing. This is something that most of us had never heard of, but this is something that's starting to make headlines around the globe, particularly after this Soccer World Cup was held in Qatar, a country heavily criticized for its human rights abuses. I paused after soccer because it's football and other places and whatever. Now, the concept of sports is a good thing and washing is definitely a good thing. So what is so bad when those two terms are sandwiched together, Andrew?
[00:02:37] Andrew Gold: You make a good point. I guess the bad thing about the concept is conspicuously absent from the word describing it.
[00:02:45] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yet the word sportswashing has been washed. It's been sports-wash washed.
[00:02:50] Andrew Gold: It has, and I suppose it's a little like brainwashing because brains are good. Washing, as we've established, is good in moderation.
[00:02:56] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:02:57] Andrew Gold: But the absent concepts in brainwashing are manipulation and coercive control. Well, with sportswashing, the silent ingredients are nefarious regimes and dictatorships using the popularity and tribalism of sports to clean up their public image.
[00:03:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Sportswashing may contain traces of human rights, abuses, slavery, torture, and death.
[00:03:16] Andrew Gold: That's the long and short of it.
[00:03:18] Jordan Harbinger: So where does the word come from and when did we even start using it?
[00:03:22] Andrew Gold: Yeah. Well, the word has an interesting etymology because it appears to have been coined by Twitter users in the early 2010s. It was a play on the term greenwashing.
[00:03:31] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so that sounds like it could mean money laundering, just washing them greens.
[00:03:36] Andrew Gold: It does sound like that, and I thought it could be that, but green in this sense symbolizes clean energy or the environment. So greenwashing is a term used to criticize companies who perform cheap public acts of environmentalism to hide the huge levels of pollution, for example, that they are creating.
[00:03:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yes. We've actually done a show on this Spencer Roberts, that was episode 599.
[00:03:56] Andrew Gold: I must check that out. So washing in this sense is all about creating a socially acceptable and conscious image to hide the bad stuff deep down. Individual humans do this kind of thing, just think of the predator and molester, Jimmy Savile, a comedian who befriended the Royal Family and did a huge amount of work for charity to hide the horrifying abuses he carried out on children. Scientology is another example that uses the friendly and famous faces of Tom Cruise and John Travolta to hide its own countless abuses. As Shakespeare wrote, "And thus, I clothe my naked villainy and seem a saint, when most I play the devil.
[00:04:34] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Did you just memorize that in your head?
[00:04:36] Andrew Gold: No. No. I went with my fiance to Shakespeare's birthplace last week and happened to see the quote on a t-shirt in a museum, right while I was researching sportswashing.
[00:04:46] Jordan Harbinger: So who could have known that hundreds of years after his death, Shakespeare would be scoring sports-related points against human rights abusers?
[00:04:53] Andrew Gold: It's a surprise to all of us, but it's no surprise that sports has become the go-to place for this image laundering that we call sportswashing. Because sports is simply one of the most popular and beloved realms of our lives. Worldwide, soccer is the biggest pull in that sense, and 3.5 billion people tuned in to watch the matches at the latest World Cup, 1.1 billion of whom watched the final.
[00:05:15] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:05:15] Andrew Gold: So half the population of the whole world watched at least one game at the World Cup. Perhaps more surprising to Westerners, particularly to Americans, is the fact that 2.5 billion watched the Cricket World Cup.
[00:05:28] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny because we sometimes get the impression in the States that our sports are more important, like how we refer to baseball as the World Series. But then you hear those figures about cricket and soccer, which aren't even really that popular over here, particularly cricket. I don't know anybody that watches cricket. Sometimes I see Indian or Pakistani dudes playing it in the park nearby. But that's pretty unusual and it's quite incredible. Those numbers are huge.
[00:05:51] Andrew Gold: Yeah, it is. And look, every country has their own exceptionalism, so there's so much around the world that we don't even realize. The cricket stats surprise me too because even though it is big in England, I don't watch it or play it, but it just shows how densely populated the big cricket countries like India and Pakistan are. But American sports still have a huge global pull. The Super Bowl still brings in a hundred million viewers worldwide, which is pretty remarkable for a competition contested between teams in just one country. But yeah, back to soccer, the Champions League contested between teams in Europe gets 380 million viewers, while some parts of boxing, cycling, and the Olympics get even more. So think not only of the advertising opportunities for brands, but the branding opportunities for countries notably regimes.
[00:06:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So it's like, "Hey, come visit us. Come invest in us. We're a fun soccer-loving nation. We're not an abusive, autocratic, authoritarian regime." So do you get the feeling that sportswashing is only becoming more extreme now?
[00:06:49] Andrew Gold: Yes. As sportswashing became more egregious and prominent in our hive mind, we started hearing it more and more. It was, for example, the word of the month for Britain's Prospect Magazine in September 2022, just before the Qatar Soccer World Cup that you mentioned earlier. Now, Qatar is a tiny oil-rich country in the Middle East, that, to be honest, relatively few people knew much about until it was announced as host of the Soccer World Cup 2022. I wonder how much good it has really done Qatar because although the world is now talking about them, the country is now synonymous with human rights abuses, bribery, fraud, and sportswashing. So time will tell.
[00:07:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. China was like, "Thank you, bro. I really needed a break from this image." I could see the very thing Qatar wanted to wash has been brought to light since they became the World Cup hosts. So what are some of the abuses that Qatar has been accused of and are trying to wash away by hosting sporting events like the World Cup?
[00:07:48] Andrew Gold: Well, the country operates under a form of Sharia law, which is basically a rule book for certain Muslims. So to start with, homosexuality is not allowed. In fact, it is punishable by the death penalty, which is pretty barbaric.
[00:08:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:08:03] Andrew Gold: An official ambassador for the Qatari World Cup said homosexuality was damage in the mind. A former Qatari footballer or soccer player said it was haram, which means not permitted in Islam and repeated that it was damage in the mind. Meanwhile, women are second-class citizens in Qatar. They have male guardians who have to agree to let them marry, travel, work, or even make decisions about their own children. And that's not to mention the absence of workers' rights, lack of a free press, and the countless, literally countless, because no one can agree on a figure, construction workers who died building the stadia graced by our favorite sports stars.
[00:08:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that sounds pretty awful. And it sounds like they didn't even have the soccer stadia before. So how did a country like Qatar get to host the World Cup? It makes no sense. How is that even decided?
[00:08:51] Andrew Gold: So there's a process and the football association of each nation can put themselves forward and present their case based on their infrastructure support, fans, and soccer culture. It's an expensive and complex route, but countries want to benefit from the PR boost, the influx of tourism, the national pride and cheer, and the fact that a lot of teams are willed on to win the tournament in their own country. To be host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar, a country with no real history in soccer, competed with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the United States, all nations with a far richer soccer history, who also had the facilities in terms of stadia and infrastructure to host such a big tournament. So it was thought that Qatar didn't have much chance going into this.
[00:09:38] Jordan Harbinger: That's really saying something when you say the United States was in the mix and they have a far richer soccer history because when I think professional soccer history in the United States, I'm coming up fairly dry. You know, we had the World Cup a million years ago. It was spread out all over the place. It's not like, oh, well we needed to have an actual baseball world series, so we had it in the United States, that would make more sense to me or football. So the fact that Qatar has less of a soccer history than the US and they still ended up winning makes kind of no sense.
[00:10:05] And also, I just want to pause and thank you for reminding us that the plural of stadium is stadia and not stadiums. I've only been getting that wrong for 43 years.
[00:10:15] Andrew Gold: It's one of those things where if you get it right, people will think you are a snob, right? But if you get it wrong, they'll write in to tell you.
[00:10:21] Jordan Harbinger: Definitely.
[00:10:22] Andrew Gold: The US does have some history, particularly modern history of soccer now, and I think most soccer or we'd say football fans could name quite a few American players. Just coming to mind right now, Brad Friedel, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey is another one. So they've got some history there and some players who play all around Europe and stuff. Qatar had none. But anyway, the problem is that FIFA, the organization in charge of soccer worldwide, is known to be one of the most openly corrupt and unchallengeable mafias in history. If you think that's an exaggeration, go to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. And you'll find an entire section dedicated to FIFA.
[00:11:02] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:11:02] Andrew Gold: So Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the States were wasting a lot of time, effort, and money in their campaigns. Qatar was announced as the winner. At the same time, Russia were made host of the 2018 World Cup that had been contested by England, Portugal, and Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands. David Beckham and Prince William even ran the campaign for England but got just two votes out of 22.
[00:11:26] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:11:27] Andrew Gold: While Russia ran away with it. So after a decade-long investigation, the US Department of Justice announced for the first time, just in December 2022, that they had evidence that representatives of Qatar and Russia bribed FIFA officials.
[00:11:41] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:11:41] Andrew Gold: I should add that back in 2015, more than two dozen FIFA executives were arrested and charged with bribery and fraud on a huge scale. So this is a real scary mob.
[00:11:52] Jordan Harbinger: It makes sense now. Like how did Russia win against all these? Well, they paid off the people who do the votes. Got it. So Russia actually has some history in soccer, and it's not completely ridiculous. I can't see why it would be the likes of England and Spain so resoundingly. But it's not that left field. The Qatar vote though, seems objectively crazy. I mean, it's really so obvious. To play devil's advocate, are there any reasons they could have won fairly any reasons that the world of soccer might benefit from having a tournament held in the middle of a freaking super hot hundred-plus degree Fahrenheit desert?
[00:12:25] Andrew Gold: Okay, so I racked my brains for this one, and I thought, okay, let's hypothetically be really fair, fairer, perhaps than necessary.
[00:12:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:32] Andrew Gold: Qatar was the first Arab state to bring the World Cup to that area. Sports is supposed to be a great equalizer in the sense that it can make very poor people with the right abilities, very rich, and that the game is supposed to belong to everyone. Just as it was fantastic to see South Korea and Japan, or South Africa in previous World Cups, host those tournaments and showcase their traditions to the world. Soccer fans from the Middle East also deserve a piece of that. And to see their sports idols up close.
[00:13:01] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, so once they got the tournament, did Qatar try to change its customs to go with the new image that they wanted to give to the world? Because I know they kind of sold it as, "Look, we want to become part of the international scene here. We want to open up." This is going to be an international event with international rules and an international feel.
[00:13:17] Andrew Gold: Well, they said they would. For example, there were murmurings about them relaxing their strict rules against public affection, alcohol consumption, but that changed quite suddenly, just days before the tournament started. An added complication in all of this is the internal politics because there appears to be a culture clash within Qatar, between the progressive and conservative factions of their royal family.
[00:13:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:13:40] Andrew Gold: Then there's a culture clash with the world.
[00:13:43] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:13:43] Andrew Gold: Which brings up all sorts of philosophical questions. To what extent is the West justified in telling other cultures to fall in line with our own values? And to what extent would that just be a modern version of orientalism or colonialism? Who are we to believe that our laws, beliefs, and practices are more inherently good than those elsewhere? For example, a lot was made of the fact that alcohol wasn't allowed. In Western culture, we like to drink at our games, but if another culture wanted to come to our countries and snort cocaine in the stadia, that might sound like a lot of fun to some listeners, but our authorities wouldn't permit it. For the most part, the same goes from marijuana.
[00:14:21] Jordan Harbinger: The authorities wouldn't permit it probably in public, but they would be joining them in the bathroom. Continue.
[00:14:26] Andrew Gold: Well, that is true, but even so wouldn't be officially allowed.
[00:14:28] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:29] Andrew Gold: So I don't see the ban on alcohol consumption as such a big deal. The problem was they said yes to Budweiser as official sponsor and then withdrew permission at the last minute. So Budweiser had untold quantities of beer, which they say they gave to the World Cup winner Argentina.
[00:14:44] Jordan Harbinger: What the hell is Argentina, the sports team going to do with all that beer? Also, it's Budweiser like giving someone a million servings of Budweiser is like telling someone they've won a dog that isn't housebroken and bites everybody who gets near it, it's just more trouble than it's worth. Oh, and also you have to bring it home from Qatar, right around the corner.
[00:15:02] Andrew Gold: Yeah. I don't know how that's going. I don't know how Budweiser got it to them, but that's why I find that all a bit difficult to believe, but it's a whole marketing thing, you know?
[00:15:11] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:15:11] Andrew Gold: Anyway, things get much darker when we talk about women's rights and homophobia. By Western standards or any right-thinking person's standards, the ban on homosexuality is cruel and abhorrent. But what some commentators from the Middle East have been saying is, remember homosexuality was only legalized in the UK in 1967, and it was still illegal in parts of the states until 2003. Can we really go about lecturing others on their morals when we only just cleaned up our own act? I talked about the death penalty being barbaric, but that's how the UK treated one of our greatest heroes. Alan Turing, who cracked the German codes in World War II, saved millions of lives and was ostracized and criminalized for being gay, and he appears to have committed suicide as a direct consequence.
[00:15:56] Jordan Harbinger: You know, where you can put some of your money that won't support a genocidal regime? The fine products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
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[00:17:12] Now back to Skeptical Sunday.
[00:17:16] Okay, I understand a little bit of that argument, but some parts of this being illegal until 1967. That was 60 years ago, and some parts being illegal in the United States until 2003. Okay. But was it enforced? And also was it enforced with the death penalty? And also are those places backwards? And even the people there were like, "Yeah, it's probably about time we changed the laws around this." And that was 20 years ago. It's far different than, "Yes, we're currently still enforcing this because this is what we believe, and also it's illegal to the point of, we might kill you if you do it." It's like, yeah, you're still wrong. You're still super, super wrong and you're still doing it now. It doesn't make Qatar an ideal place to host the most popular sports competition in the world. The fact that my wife or any gay people I know, literally wouldn't be able to attend, put something of a damper on it. And I know that sounded odd, but I'm not saying my wife is gay. That was two separate points about women and gay people not being welcome at the games in Qatar.
[00:18:13] Andrew Gold: Correct. And it doesn't change the fact that Qatar simply didn't have the facilities or infrastructure, which really should be a key part of winning bid to host the World Cup, and they rushed to build state-of-the-art stadia. Killed countless construction workers in the process. They also realized halfway through that it'd be too hot in summer. Somehow, nobody had talked about this before when they won the bid. So they had to move the World Cup, and this was unprecedented for the first time to November, cutting the domestic seasons like the Spanish Laliga or the English Premier League around the world in half and causing chaos, risking injury to overworked players who had no break and muting the excitement around the tournament. And they had to build stadia with air conditioning, which was awful for the environment.
[00:18:59] So I personally can't see how those in charge of soccer could have voted for Qatar without some other incentive. And the answer to your question, no, it doesn't add up and it should never have been played there. But here's the problem and here's why sportswashing is so effective. I decided not to go to watch any of the games. Despite being an avid soccer fan, because as you said, I'm not going to go to a country that would treat my girlfriend like a second-class citizen that would literally kill somebody based on their sexuality. But I still watched the games on TV and billions of us did, and the Qatar World Cup was a success. The games were electric. The sober fans behaved far better than in previous tournaments in Russia or England, marred by drunk hooligans.
[00:19:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:19:40] Andrew Gold: And while Qatar might now be associated with sportswashing and a cute turbine mascot that they had, it's also known to investors as a major player who put together the world's biggest competition in just a few years, their team didn't even have any players when the results were announced in 2010. 12 years later, they were able to field a team that lost their games but did okay.
[00:20:02] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:02] Andrew Gold: In which, by the way, has raised other concerns about child trafficking as they went to various countries to take talented kids in the hope they'd turn out to be good players. But months on from the games, it was a success in the eyes of Qatar and its future investors.
[00:20:17] Jordan Harbinger: Wait, they took children from other countries in the hope that they'd turn out to be good players and they brought them to Qatar to play soccer in the World Cup. Really? That's insane.
[00:20:25] Andrew Gold: They went around to mostly African countries and scouted young players, you know, so eight to 12 years old, that kind of thing.
[00:20:34] Jordan Harbinger: Whoa.
[00:20:35] Andrew Gold: So, they knew the tournament would be in 12 years, so they had to get kids who were the right kind of age and loads went there. And some of them, a very, very small percentage actually made the team in the end. But the vast majority, no one knows what's really become of them.
[00:20:48] Jordan Harbinger: I assume, hopefully, they were returned home safe and sound. That's really, really crazy. Wow. So that, my friend, is sportswashing 101. I presume Qatar is not the only nation to garner influence through sports. I know we're picking on Qatar here.
[00:21:00] Andrew Gold: Yeah, yeah. Far from it. It's actually fascinating how something as simple as a bunch of athletes kicking or throwing a ball around can have real effects on the world's stage. Russia's long-reigning president, Vladimir Putin, has always been acutely aware of the power of sports. Russia hosted the 2014 Olympics as a show of strength to the world, but was later found to have doped more than a hundred of its athletes.
[00:21:23] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, but here's what I'm wondering. To put in this much time and energy, it costs hundreds of millions to put on global sports events. Is there any evidence that sportswashing works long-term? Outside of the Qatar example, are these countries more profitable afterwards? Are they happier people? Are they more successful in other ways?
[00:21:41] Andrew Gold: I think it's just too abstract to really be measured, but it can certainly embolden tyrants. That's one thing we know as the Sachi Russia Olympics came to a close in February 2014, Russian troops were already capturing Crimea.
[00:21:54] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:21:55] Andrew Gold: The Berlin Games in 1936 were an international advertisement for Hitler's Germany. Like Putin, after news broke of Russia's doping scandal, Hitler was left red-faced when African American, Jesse Owens won four gold medals and embarrassed the furor, but still, just three years later, he invaded Poland and started World War II.
[00:22:14] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:22:14] Andrew Gold: Going back to that soccer-owning Mafia FIFA, we may talk about Qatar and Russia as the bad guys, but FIFA have a long history of allowing and even encouraging sportswashing. They allowed the World Cup to take place in Argentina in 1978, basically to enable dictator Jorge Videla to hide the horrors of his cruel regime from the world and from the country's own people. He didn't even like soccer, but he knew the Argentine people really did. So while the country was under martial law and curfew with inflation rates at 300 percent, and while random citizens were picked up and thrown into the ocean from helicopters, while your neighbors family members and friends were disappearing at an alarming rate never to be seen again, the country hosted a soccer tournament for the world. We talk of sportswashing. The military hunter actually hired an American PR firm to clean up their image during the cup, and it did work because they managed to convince many of their own people that the clamors for boycott from around the world were anti-Argentine. It was an anti-Argentine sentiment, and that fostered support for the dictatorship.
[00:23:19] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, this is insane. And that's right. Henry Kissinger turns up praises the government. So that's actually pretty consistent given his history of welcoming and normalizing war crimes. After backing a massacre, committing Pakistani government, installing the deadly Pinoche regime in Chile, and then supporting an Indonesian despot, it's amazing he had time to stop by for a bit of military soccer.
[00:23:40] Andrew Gold: Yeah. Dictator Videla entered the opening ceremony backed by a military band for the world to venerate. In a naval base, less than one mile from the ceremony, thousands were being tortured and murdered.
[00:23:52] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God.
[00:23:52] Andrew Gold: Argentina won the tournament, of course, in one game with Peru. They had to win by several goals in order to progress, and they did so and it's one of the most commented-on games in soccer history. Because the Peru players were kept up all night. Their bus got lost several times on the way to the game, and Videla even entered the Peru changing rooms before the game, telling them they had to cooperate, which really means lose to Argentina. They were also offered huge bribes.
[00:24:20] Jordan Harbinger: What? That's insane. So he rolls in and goes, "By the way, I know you were kept up all night and you got lost," and they're all pissed off and tired and he is like, "You are going to each get, you know, whatever, $500,000, but you're going to lose this game, otherwise you might not go home."
[00:24:34] Andrew Gold: Yeah, exactly. So it was like the money was an—
[00:24:36] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:24:36] Andrew Gold: —additional incentive. It's not clear where the money came from. Several Peruvian players have spoken about it, while others have denied that they were offered bribes. So this is a really contentious issue with them being kept up all night basically, normally, there are police to prevent Local fans from keeping people up. And the police mysteriously weren't there that evening. So the Argentine fans could all go and sort of keep all the Peruvian players up, but the consensus is that they were bribes, the players, and also threatened.
[00:25:08] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:25:08] Andrew Gold: It's absolutely crazy. And even today, I mean, Argentina still talks about, I think, it's now three World Cups, because they just won the recent one, and they include that one. And I understand why they do but it's also a bit of looking the other way. I suppose it's sportswashing that's still in action 50 years later.
[00:25:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's crazy. That to me is, it's a little wild. Also though I can understand the temptation to do so, it's like, "Hey, we don't have a whole lot to brag about from the '70s because we had this terrible regime that murdered a bunch of people. So if we talk about how we won the World Cup, maybe we don't mention the part where the players were threatened and it was just part of the least concerning bit of corruption and shady stuff that was going on with the government at that time.
[00:25:47] Andrew Gold: Yeah, yeah. Well, that's the football fans and then the non-football fans. Not that there are that many in Argentina, you know, often talk about that regime just because, I mean, I used to live there and it was just such a horrible moment for all of them. So many people lost children, parents, and just never to be seen again.
[00:26:02] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. The helicopter ride over the ocean thing. Not a joke, by the way, right? He would take students who said, "Hey, the government is bad. We should have something better," and they would throw them out of a helicopter into the ocean while they were alive. It's terrible.
[00:26:15] Andrew Gold: Well, it was, as you say, mostly that kind of thing. There's just been a big film out in Argentina about it, and you can really go through each step as they got worse and worse, the military dictatorship. But it wasn't even just people who had criticized them. It was people who belonged to groups and teams whose names sounded similar to ones that opposed them.
[00:26:34] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, wow.
[00:26:34] Andrew Gold: So there were all sorts of, I can't think of right now what they were, but there were all sorts of mistakes where people were taken because they belonged to like the dog supporter group, and it sounded like the dictator hating group or something like that. You know, they would just take whoever.
[00:26:48] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:26:50] Andrew Gold: It was absolutely mad.
[00:26:51] Jordan Harbinger: That sounds like North Korea-type stuff. Like you folded the newspaper with the leader's face on it, and you're like, "But I can't see. I'm blind. I have cataracts." "Oh, well, we still have to kill you."
[00:26:59] Andrew Gold: Yeah, exactly that. And one of the worst moments during that World Cup sportswashing thing, the guards at the nearby naval base where people were being tortured, took some of the prisoners out to witness the euphoria on the streets after Argentina had won the World Cup. And it was as if to show them that this was Argentina, the one with them locked up and it was happier without them. And it's been reported that the prisoners, their first time outside in the light for years stood pale and shaking while their compatriots cheered around them, ignorant of who they were, of course. And then they were put back in their cars and taken back to the torture chambers. Many of them never—
[00:27:32] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:27:33] Andrew Gold: —get out again.
[00:27:34] Jordan Harbinger: Horrible. Again, this isn't what, the '70s and early '80s in Argentina.
[00:27:38] Andrew Gold: Yeah. The Dirty War, they call it.
[00:27:40] Jordan Harbinger: Whew. That's awful.
[00:27:41] Andrew Gold: Yeah, awful. But I would just like to add in the name of fairness and self-awareness that it's not only far-flung nations who engage in sportswashing because Western countries do the same thing. Most notably my own country of England. The greatest moment in English soccer history was winning the World Cup in 1966, which when I was a kid, didn't seem that long ago, but now seems almost as close to the 1800s as it is to present day. But there is a blip on that record because all of the African teams boycotted that tournament to protest the fact they had not really been given any allocations to qualify for it. And this was further complicated by FIFA's decision to allow Apartheid South Africa to potentially join. They didn't qualify, but had they played, that would've been major sportswashing by England and FIFA.
[00:28:26] Jordan Harbinger: Geez. At the same time, I imagine that hosting events, it doesn't always lead to war or embolden dictators, right?
[00:28:33] Andrew Gold: Well, as I was saying, the positive effect is often difficult to measure. When London hosted the Olympics, I can tell you from experience that there was a huge swell in public feeling. Nationalism, pride and general happiness. But I think a lot of people wonder now about the legacy of hosting that competition. Did we really go on to invest in young athletes and infrastructure? Were stadia and other buildings reused or just abandoned? The same goes for Brazil after the 2014 World Cup and Greece after the 2004 Athens Games where many locals are skeptical about the positives of having hosted those huge competitions. But hosting a tournament is a long and unpredictable strategy in sportswashing.
[00:29:11] Now, nations are buying and investing in teams. It's a far more permanent and wide-reaching tactic. It's not always direct. Think of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who bought Chelsea, a soccer team in London and invested so much money into them that he effectively changed the financial landscape of soccer around the world. He was known to be friendly with Putin and had to step down as owner after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now, Manchester City, another team is owned by Sheikh Mansour of the United Arab Emirates. Paris Saint-Germain, obviously, Paris's big team is owned by Qatar, and a Saudi Arabia-led consortium just bought Newcastle United, a team in the north of England. When they bought Newcastle, many fans and journalists were appalled as they saw it as a way to put a sporting face on the atrocities carried out by the Saudis, such as the recent torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But just like I continued to watch the games at the Qatar World Cup, Newcastle fans aware that their decades-long underperforming team would soon be one of the world's best embrace the change, even wearing tea towels. What did you call tea towels, Jordan?
[00:30:23] Jordan Harbinger: I think a tea towel is a dish towel in the United States.
[00:30:25] Andrew Gold: Dish towel on their heads in the stadium to represent Arabic headdresses. Yeah.
[00:30:30] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:30:31] All right folks. I can't get you eight million gallons of free Budweiser, but I can get you a great deal on some of the products and services that support this show. We'll be right back.
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[00:31:37] Now for the rest of Skeptical Sunday.
[00:31:40] Wow. Okay. I'm not sure who should be more offended. Human rights activists appalled by the Saudi sportswashing or Saudi Arabian appalled by the dish towels that fans are wearing on their heads, but also like soccer fans not necessarily known for tact and decorum, generally speaking. So it's kind of the least troubling thing that happens at most soccer games.
[00:32:01] Andrew Gold: Of course. Yeah. And while there are, I am sure some Newcastle fans who stand in opposition to the sportswashing most, I imagine are just excited about where their team might go. They didn't even mind the Saudi consortium changing the colors of one of their kits to green and white to represent the Saudi colors.
[00:32:18] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So they're not even subtle about the sportswashing. It's not like he owns it through some shell corporation and nobody's supposed to know. It's just like, "Nope, we're changing the colors to the Saudi colors, and this guy's going to be on the sidelines at every game in full regalia and publicizing it everywhere." Well, that's the point though, right? That's the sportswashing. That's the point, is everybody knows.
[00:32:36] Andrew Gold: Yeah, exactly. Why would they hide it? I mean, nobody cares enough to do anything. Think of that Qatar World Cup. Fans, players, and coaches made a few noises when it was first announced and then did so again in the months leading up to the tournament. But if the football associations of just a few countries, say the US, England, Spain, Germany, France, and the Netherlands stood firm and refused to play in Qatar from the beginning, FIFA would've been forced to change it.
[00:33:01] Jordan Harbinger: Hmm.
[00:33:02] Andrew Gold: The associations of the countries had 10 years to do something. All they managed was a few zero-cost virtue statements. For example, the England team got these armbands saying "one love."
[00:33:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's so vague. I saw that. I'm like, what does one love mean? It literally means nothing. A dictatorship might take that to mean that the one love is a man and a woman, or it could actually support homophobia. I mean, did this do anything at all?
[00:33:29] Andrew Gold: No. The players backed down and didn't wear them.
[00:33:32] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man.
[00:33:32] Andrew Gold: FIFA threatened to give players wearing the armband yellow card, which isn't the worst thing in soccer. You can still play, but you are at a bit of a disadvantage and the World Cup's a big thing that doesn't come around that often. You don't want to play the whole game with a yellow card. And the England team and other teams backed down and didn't wear them. And that's the thing. Real activism is hard. Real activism, the kind that changes things and doesn't just serve the activist's ego is rarely zero cost.
[00:34:00] Perhaps the best example of this in the history of sports was when Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison ran in front of a racehorse owned by the king. The racehorse was a form of sportswashing itself as the king basked in the triumph and glory of his majestic creature. Emily Wilding Davison died from her injuries, and I'm not suggesting that activists go so far as to risk their lives, but there's got to be a middle ground between literally dying for a cause and giving up on a cause because you would've gotten a yellow card.
[00:34:28] Jordan Harbinger: Suffragette, so she wanted women to have the right to vote. She got trampled by a racehorse. Wow. If your activism only stretches as far as the first threat of a yellow card, just saying maybe you don't deserve to plot it. I agree. You have to risk something. Most of us aren't even willing to risk a loss of capital, cash, a shot at a cup, even a freaking yellow card. And despotic regimes, they know this. So they realize there's going to be basically zero accountability for their actions, and that just encourages more of this behavior and helps make sportswashing work, which is really frustrating. But has any good ever come from sportswashing generally?
[00:35:06] Andrew Gold: Well, that's an interesting question, particularly regarding the dynamic of the Gulf States right now. Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia have had a bit of a tumultuous relationship over the years, but it appears the World Cup in Qatar has brought them together as was emphasized by the images of an embrace between former sworn enemies, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, whether that's good for the west or the rest of the world, however, remains to be seen.
[00:35:37] One thing that does seem clear is that it won't be easy to stop sportswashing. The biggest fight to stop it that I've seen has come in the world of golf. Saudi Arabia set up their LIV Golf Invitation series, and they've been trying to entice the best and most famous golfers in the world to come and play. The golfers have been receiving huge sums of money just to perform, let alone win. And that far outstrips what they can earn on the traditional PGA Tour. But this has started something of a civil war where the PGA has said that any golfers who play in the Saudi competition are not welcom in their tournaments, and golfers are picking size and calling each other out. And I have sympathy with the golfers.
[00:36:18] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:36:18] Andrew Gold: Because they are individuals. They're not all stinking rich. They can only play sports for a limited time in their lives, and they're being offered life-changing money just to go and play. Golfers who play in Saudi Arabia are being asked by journalists in press conferences if they considered the families of victims of 9/11 and things like that. And it's hard because these are individuals, not companies, and while they say they do sympathize with the victims of 9/11, they also are probably thinking primarily of themselves and their families. Tiger Woods stood firm against Saudi Arabia, but most golfers don't have his wealth and fame, so it's easier for Woods to say no.
[00:36:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Turning down a couple of million dollars is a lot easier when you already have a billion dollars.
[00:37:01] Andrew Gold: Yeah. When you're Tiger Woods, and that's that thing about zero cost. You know, for Tiger Woods turning down Saudi Arabia, maybe it's like a one percent cost. For someone else that might be like 90 percent, and then your activism is like, "What do you do with that when you go home and you don't have any money?" You're like, "Oh, I at least I didn't go to Saudi Arabia."
[00:37:16] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:37:17] Andrew Gold: You know, it's hard. Humans are difficult. Humans are complicated. Ultimately, this extends beyond golf, beyond the Olympics, and beyond soccer. This year, 2023, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is being held partly in the Philippines, led by the Marcos family dictatorship who kill and torture anyone who seems to oppose them. Big tennis tournaments have frequented the likes of Qatar, China, Russia, and Apartheid South Africa National rugby teams were welcomed to the communist regime of Romania, the Apartheid state of South Africa and military hunter Argentina and other rugby teams welcomed Fiji's national side during their military dictatorship. The Racing Grand Prix and professional cycling have been just about everywhere as has boxing and even the WWE, that's wrestling, has gone to North Korea.
[00:38:06] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:38:06] Andrew Gold: Muhammad Ali went on that tour and WWE twice visited Saudi Arabia.
[00:38:11] Jordan Harbinger: North Korea professional wrestling in North Korea, I actually have never heard about that at all, and I can only imagine how bizarre that was. And for those that don't know, I'm a bit of a North Korean nerd. I've been there a bunch of times, producer, Gabriel Mizrahi and I did a couple of episodes where we talked about our time in North Korea. So definitely search the website for those. I think one of the episodes is 435 and there's just not a whole lot there, right? So getting the right food, being in the right hotel, having all a bunch of wrestlers go there and then having a bunch of North Korean fans watch this. I mean, they already think America's weird. I can't even imagine what they thought of America when they're watching wrestling. And that is just so freaking weird. That's weird on top of weird.
[00:38:50] Andrew Gold: There's like a specific type of American sports or I don't even know what I'd call it that, that North Korea do seem to like, because there's that basketball player isn't there, who's also quite friendly. Do you know how I mean that?
[00:39:03] Jordan Harbinger: Dennis Rodman. Yeah. They like kitschy weird-ass stuff, which is maybe not totally surprising, but also just kind of it's extra weird.
[00:39:11] Andrew Gold: Increasingly, countries with questionable human rights records are buying up billion-dollar sports club-like properties in a game of Monopoly. In fact, I should say there's a lot of news at the moment because firstly, Manchester United seemed to be being approached by Qatari investors. Qatar is also trying to get a cut of Tottenham.
[00:39:28] Jordan Harbinger: Tottenham for you, Americans, us, Americans.
[00:39:31] Andrew Gold: Tottenham.
[00:39:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:39:32] Andrew Gold: As Americans sometimes say that? That's my club. So whenever I'm telling Americans I have to say Tottenham or Spurs. Spurs or something like that, you know, they're looking to do that. Oh, and also, I should mention actually what, you know, I was researching this and did you hear, Jordan, about the whole controversy of Manchester City this week?
[00:39:46] Jordan Harbinger: I did not because me following the news is not really a thing and me following the sports news is certainly not a thing. And me following the sports news when it comes to soccer is absolutely not a thing. No.
[00:39:56] Andrew Gold: Right. So it's one of the biggest news stories to come out of the Premier League, which is the top division of English soccer. And basically, what it is, there's something called like financial fair play, and it means that you are only allowed to spend a certain like ratio of the amount you earn, as in like income from selling merchandise, from winning tournaments and stuff like that. And it has emerged that Manchester City over the past 10 years have allegedly inflated their earnings by doing all sorts of dodgy dealings. So this is Manchester City, owned by United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mansour. And yeah, for 10 years they've been inflating, so they would pretend they were paid more than they were for certain sponsorship deals and all sorts of things. This is all alleged at the moment, and it's a huge story because it would mean that they basically won everything the last 10 years. They've won almost every league, every cup. They've been the best team in the world for years now. And if proven true, these allegations, and it feels like the Premier League would not have announced them if they didn't think they had a very good chance of proving them true, Manchester City might be expelled from the legal together or perhaps relegated, and they might lose all of their trophies over the last 10 years.
[00:41:05] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So that's a huge deal. That's not like a fine or that's a huge deal.
[00:41:10] Andrew Gold: Oh yeah.
[00:41:11] Jordan Harbinger: Nothing.
[00:41:12] Andrew Gold: No, because you can't find them. Because a fine means it just means nothing to them. Yeah. So this is it. I mean, we've seen some things with like match fixing and stuff like that in the Italian league where the team Juventus, one of the biggest teams there, they were relegated to the division below. But what's happening with Manchester City could be even more than that. And there's a big sort of war going on where the other 19 clubs in the league are all getting very upset about Manchester City.
[00:41:35] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:36] Andrew Gold: Because they're saying, "Oh, this is not a level playing field." So yet again, in this case, the United Arab Emirates, the sportswashing is being mixed up with sort of this sense of cheating and injustice and that kind of thing. So again, it remains to be seen. I think that they are probably right in knowing that even the cheating and all that stuff, it's still going to be good for them. They can still sponsor all their airlines and things like that and do well, so they sponsor the team shirts as well. A lot of the sportswashing nations and stuff, the names draped the titles of airlines and they provoke civil wars between golf players and for us to stop it is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world.
[00:42:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, but well, don't stop listening to this podcast.
[00:42:15] Andrew Gold: No. Stop watching sports games run by dictators, but keep on listening to Skeptic Sunday on The Jordan Harbinger Show for both sides of the story with a healthy side of skepticism. Also, if you want to know more about—
[00:42:25] Jordan Harbinger: There we go.
[00:42:25] Andrew Gold: —the crimes of FIFA in particular, as there is a lot more on their atrocious record, check out episode 191 of my podcast On the Edge with Andrew Gold, where my guest is a FIFA expert.
[00:42:37] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you so much, man, and thank you all for listening. I do hope you'll think twice before going to North Korea to watch a wrestling match, although it would be so tempting and please avoid all soccer games within a mile of any torture chambers. I joke, but it's really, that stuff is really, really sad and cruel and especially like, "Oh, they're going to threaten you with a yellow card." "Well, now I got to watch it." It's crazy to me that you almost have no leverage, because FIFA, everybody knows they're corrupt. And yet, they're kind of like, "Yeah, and what are you going to do about it?" And the answer is nothing because you still want to watch the World Cup.
[00:43:09] Andrew Gold: Yeah.
[00:43:09] Jordan Harbinger: And there seems to be no hope in cleaning it up because there's no incentive to really clean it up. That just—
[00:43:14] Andrew Gold: Yeah.
[00:43:14] Jordan Harbinger: The incentive is keep the money flowing.
[00:43:16] Andrew Gold: You know what's sad for me, like because football is like, it's my passion really, and it's the most important—
[00:43:20] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:43:21] Andrew Gold: —of all the unimportant things, right? So, to see that happen to the game and for it to have been happening for so many decades, and there's no one you go to like to clean that up. What can the fans do? And there's just nothing.
[00:43:32] Jordan Harbinger: No. All the countries would've to get together and be like, "Hey, we need to stop being corrupt in dealing with these corrupt bastards," which is not likely because the point is countries like Russia, Qatar, whatever, are going to be corrupt and bribe the FIFA officials. Like that's the point. So if you have one country that's going to do that, It's a prisoner's dilemma.
[00:43:51] Andrew Gold: Yeah.
[00:43:51] Jordan Harbinger: They can just do that. And if everybody else says, "Hey, we're not going to do that. Fine. We'll just hold it in sh*tholes constantly," right? "We will hold the next one in North Korea because they're the ones who are going to pay us to do it." The end. You're right. It seems pretty hopeless, at least as far as FIFA's concerned. With the rest of it, I mean, what do we do? Do we just pay attention to countries and events? I know like for example the Beijing Olympics, a lot of people said, "I'm not going to watch the Olympics." And I was one of those people that was a little easier to just not watch the Olympics because I didn't want to support the Chinese Communist Party in a commercial endeavor and I didn't want to go. I was thinking about going and I was like, no, I don't want to do that. And I mean really? What do you do? Just withhold your ticket sales, don't go?
[00:44:31] Andrew Gold: There are times, I guess, in society where, you know, it's a little bit like voting, for example, where like everyone has to do it or it's stupid, or recycling like—
[00:44:40] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:44:40] Andrew Gold: You know, everyone has to do it, including huge companies and things like that. So it is frustrating because you can turn your back to it. You'll hear it in your next-door neighbor's room, particularly the soccer, particularly if you're somewhere like Argentina. And there are a lot of countries, and I don't mean this in a patronizing sense, but this wasn't really a big story. I know a lot about Argentina just because I've got family there and stuff, it was mentioned, of course, it was quite often, but it wasn't a huge story there. It was more focused on the football because they've got other things to worry about, you know? So I don't think it was such a huge story around the world. I don't think people are that bothered about the sportswashing outside of some of the Western countries. Germany did some protesting stuff, but then they were made fun of cause they lost every game and it was sort of like—
[00:45:21] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:21] Andrew Gold: —people were saying, focus on the football, you know, rather than making that statement. Holland tried to say something or rather. Hopefully, if I can be optimistic here, the nations will have learned their lesson because they all got a bit of bad press and I think they all found themselves in a position 10 to 12 years after the announcement that it was going to be in Qatar, where they were like, "Oh, we should have all done something a bit earlier," and hopefully—
[00:45:43] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:44] Andrew Gold: But look, money talks and who knows how far that goes? It took 10 years to prove any connection between Russia, Qatar, and money with FIFA. So who knows how far that actually extends to the US, to England and to other countries. We just don't know.
[00:46:00] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you very much.
[00:46:01] Andrew Gold: You're welcome.
[00:46:03] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks again for listening. Any topic idea, always welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org is how you can reach me and if we got anything that's way, way off, definitely let me know that too. A link to the show notes for the episode can be found at jordanharbinger.com. Transcripts are in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. You can find Andrew Gold on his podcast On The Edge with Andrew Gold, anywhere you get your podcasts.
[00:46:28] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogerty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Our advice and opinions are our own. And I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. Share the show with those you love. And if you found the episode useful, please share it with somebody else who needs to hear it, maybe a FIFA fan, a soccer fan, somebody who went to the genocide games at the last few Olympics now. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:47:07] This episode is sponsored in part by Hyundai. The Hyundai Tucson comes with America's best warranty, including 10 years or a hundred thousand miles. The Tucson with America's best warranty. It's your journey. Test drive the Tucson at your nearest Hyundai dealer, or learn more at hyundaiusa.com. Call 562-314-4603 for complete details.
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