Dodging Bullets with Syrian Rebels Who Love Soccer and Adolf Hitler
As he does every morning, Amir wakes me by asking if I would like to die with him. “I can take you to Damascus, but we won’t survive. We’ll go to Allah together, you and me, as martyrs,” he says, grinning as though we both had nothing better to do today, or any other day, than buy the farm.
“Forget it, Amir,” I say. “I’m not in a dying mood.” It was a long night of soccer—Dortmund vs. Malaga. I shake my head and try to shake the pins and needles from my limbs. “Not today!”
Sooner or later, I want to see Damascus. But I want to see it alive. Amir is 22 and hates waiting. He is always thinking of things to do. “I want to show you something!” he says, hopping excitedly from one foot to the other. “Get up! Get up!” A field trip? Why not? Almost anything beats spending the day in a semi-trance state on a mattress covered with stains.
More Chaos in Rio de Janeiro: Rubber Bullets Fly Outside the Confederations Cup Final
On Sunday, Brazil’s national men’s soccer team dismantled defending World Cup champions Spain 3–0 in the final of the Confederations Cup in Rio de Janeiro. In a soccer-crazed country like Brazil, you’d expect the buildup to such an event would be massive. And it was—but not for the love of the game. Thousands took to the streets adjacent to the soccer stadium where the match was played to continue to voice popular disdain for what protesters believe are the misplaced priorities of the national government: choosing to fund massive international sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics instead of investing in health care and human development.
Starting at noon on Sunday, the neighborhood of Tijuca was a fortified by around 6,000 police officers, members of the Federal Highway Police, National Force, Army, and Home Guard. A so-called FIFA perimeter was established, surrounding a two-mile radius around the stadium, only those who had tickets could pass, and locals could only enter after presenting proof of residence. The numbers were less significant than in the previous week’s demonstrations, and little more than 5,000 people were in the area until game time.
INTERNATIONAL SOCCER OUTCASTS FACE OFF IN KURDISTAN
By Miguel Pazcabrales
Photos By Safin Hamid/Metrography
Kurdish fans came out in full force to support the home team.
This summer most of the developed world excitedly watched Euro 2012 and qualifying matches for the World Cup in the comfort of air conditioning, guzzling pints and releasing beer farts into couch cushions. But in Darfur, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, Western Sahara, Northern Cyprus, the Provence region of France, and a handful of other places, all eyes were on Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where the fifth VIVA World Cup was held in June.
The event is a biennial soccer tournament organized by the Non-FIFA board (better known as the NF Board) and the top competition for teams not recognized by the international soccer establishment. Twenty-seven of the NF Board’s members hail from autonomous countries, but the majority represent stateless nations.
The VIVA Cup, like many international tournaments, is ostensibly about unity, peace, and goodwill, but the athletes are also enormously proud to represent their micronations and regions. And while everyone can agree that good feelings are nice, winning is much better. Impressively, Darfur’s team of refugees qualified to compete in the tournament (and though they lost their first two games by a combined score of 33–0, they did score a goal against Western Sahara). In the final, Kurdistan beat Northern Cyprus 2–1.
A month after the games concluded, I spoke with Muhammed Askari, a die-hard Kurdish fan, and Mark Hodson, the head coach of Darfur United, to see how they felt about the games, soccer, and national pride.
A player for Kurdistan shoots against Darfur United.
Muhammed Askari is a 26-year-old journalist from south Kurdistan.
VICE: Were you excited when Kurdistan was named cup host? Muhammed Askari: Of course! I think every Kurd was psyched to host the cup and to welcome the visiting nations. There were nine teams this year, more than ever before. Most were from Europe, but since word went out that we’d be hosting, we knew we had to win, especially since we lost to Padania in 2010.
What was the atmosphere like at the games? All the Kurds went wild. To hear our own team sing our anthem, wear our uniform with the flag on it and everything… it’s every Kurd’s dream. I personally don’t identify myself as an Iraqi and I think a lot of Kurds abroad—we’re in four countries in the Middle East—feel the same thing. It’s kind of a bummer.
Do you think this is the beginning of a more internationally recognized Kurdistan? It’s the beginning of something big for Kurdistan and for the soccer team. Myself, I’d like to think FIFA will take this as a chance to welcome Kurdistan into international play, in the same way Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have been.
That seems totally reasonable. Yeah, Kurdistan is different from Iraq. It’s trees, rocks, nature; Iraq’s all desert. We’re happy to have hosted the tournament—we love visitors and tourists. Kurdistan has been a self-sufficient region for a couple decades now; we’ve got our own government and security forces. Unlike our Muslim neighbors, we don’t have a specific religion. We’re very open.
The way politics work out on the field is kind of odd—some players on the Kurdish team also play for Iraq, right? Well, Halgurd Mulla Mohammed, who I think was the best player in the tournament, also played for the Iraqi national team. It’s the same with Khalid Mushir. But I feel like they’re more psyched to represent Kurdistan than Iraq, and the same goes for the rest of the team. They played with passion, since they knew they wouldn’t have another chance to represent their country at home. They made the home fans happy.
Meet the Chinatown Soccer Club, one of the most original and inspirational football clubs in New York. Founded back in 2002 after Adidas invited a bunch of downtown crews and personalities to take part in the first installment of the annual Fanatic soccer tournament, the CSC is one part soccer crew and one part creative collective.
In the early days there was just a simple email list to call games, but over time, the CSC grew, embracing friends and acquaintances from the downtown creative community. Nowadays, the club is also a platform by which its members are able to collaborate and express themselves creatively via self-published photo books, a haphazard clothing line, and a limited run of soccer scarves and stickers.
The BBC’s Panorama programbroke the news that Poles are all massively racist. What were we even thinking of letting those bigots host the Euro 2012 soccer tournament? In response, the British press has been rumbling and wrangling away at people about it in that way the press does when it has nothing else to talk about. What the BBC have willfully ignored, however, is whether any other country in Europe is actually any better.
We at VICE are more scientific than that, so we cast a quick glance around the continent for racists.
The Tag The home of enlightened progressive thought and bending-over-backwards cultural deference.
The Evidence FACT Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a research center for racial biology—in the town of Upsalla. It was there that the idea of forced sterilization of the mentally ill, the physically disabled, the gay, or people suffering from ethnic minority-ness first found scientific credibility. Incredibly, this tactic was approved by the government and was still technically legal under Swedish law until fairly recently. Before 1975, if you were caught with a red hot pair of scissors in the vicinity of a gay Somali’s testes, legally-speaking, there was nothing the police could do.
FACT A recent survey showed that job-seekers in Sweden have a 50 percent higher chance of being called up for an interview if they have a Swedish-sounding name rather than an Arab-sounding one.
FACT Earlier this year, Swedish Minister for Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth decided that she should do more to promote cultural harmony for World Art Day. So she ceremonially cut open a cake. This was the cake:
That’s her with the plate, by the way. Not the one lying down. Note all the people in the background going, “Go on, Lena, keep grinning, that’s it, yeah, God, this pic is gonna look great on Facebook when I do a witty caption about the end of your career.”
Verdict Swedes are a nasty bunch of CV-binning cake-baking race haters, for whom tying the tubes of anyone who doesn’t fulfill their eugenicized national ideal is as natural as tying their shoelaces (though we have to admit that all that eugenics has left them extremely good looking).
Travel Advice Avoid if you are anything up to and including a Norweigan, have one tooth a little bit twisted or suffer from occasional eczema: you will be taking a Zyklon B power-shower within minutes of landing.
Racism Rating 5/5
The Tag “Stay at home, watch it on TV. Don’t even risk it… because you could end up coming back in a coffin.” - Sol “Factually Accurate” Campbell
The Evidence FACT In mid-2011, a large group of Polish football supporters unfurled a banner proclaiming: “Death to the Hooked-Nosed Ones,” illustrated with a picture of a Jew with a large crooked nose, at a stadium in Rzesow. The game was not televised. There were no players of Jewish origin on the pitch at the time. And, given that Poland’s Jewish population is vanishingly small, it is not particularly likely there were even any Jews in the stadium at all.
Which doesn’t make it any better, obviously, but it does, in fact, make the Poles in question seem even more unnecessarily pathetic.
Verdict In a country which is 98 percent ethnically Polish, Poles have had to resort to being racist against people who don’t exist. They probably maintain a sort of internal fantasy football league of race-hate, acting out this pitiful shadow-boxing in the absence of genuine targets. It is likely that, when no one else is around, Polish neo-Nazis force each other to dress up as Arabs in crude tea-towel and bath-sheet costumes, then beat each other with sticks just for the release.
Travel Advice In terms of race-hate, wet-behind-the-ears Poles have never even taken off the training-wheels. Safe for travel, so long as you are not an Invisible Imaginary Jew.
You lot over the pond don’t really do campaign songs, do you? Sure, you might have a coiffured Democratic candidate pumping his fist to “Born In The USA” at a New Hampshire primary, or his Republican rival kissing babies to “Sweet Home Alabama,” but you don’t write songs specifically for campaigns. You just sort of steal ones that are already in existence.
In the depraved old world of Europe on the other hand, it’s somewhat of an art-form. And many of the medium’s finest examples are inspired by one of our exports that you seem least interested in—football. And when I talk about football songs, I don’t mean whooping and hollering along to Gary Glitter songs at Giants games, I mean music explicitly about football tournaments.
Instead of trying to make you love the beautiful game through a carefully weighed-up and persuasive argument, I thought I’d try to explain it through the medium of music. Music about football.
New Order - “World In Motion”
That’s right, one of England’s hippest bands and most credible musical exports wrote a novelty track for the 1990 Italian World Cup campaign. The forefathers of the Manchester rave scene performed a patriotic song with some athletes. Try and get your baseball capped heads around that.
Imagine LCD Soundsystem doing a song for the Superbowl with Tim Tebow on vox, that’s what it was like watching John Barnes standing where Ian Curtis used to be.
The video also features an appearance from actor/professional drunk person Keith Allen, a man who’s kind of the Brian Eno of the genre, a creative sorcerer who sprinkles his little-understood magic on all of football music’s finest moments.