Tuesday, January 17, 2006

“Women can watch the game on TV”

Right now we are having a “soccer-gate” here in Sweden. On Wednesday we will play a friendly against Saudi Arabia, and initially women were not to be allowed to see the game at the Prince Faisal Bin stadium in Riyadh.

Sweden’s deputy head coach, Mr. Roland Andersson, declared that he did not regard this as a problem since women then “can see the game on TV”. After some justified protests and a minor outcry, the Saudi hosts changed their mind. Women are now welcome to see the game.

But one individual who has not changed his mind is Mr. Andersson, who used to be a soccer coach in Saudi Arabia. Now he is saying that we ought to respect traditions that dates back a thousands years.

This of course a stupid statement, why should we accept a form of gender apartheid just because “they always have been doing so”? After reading Sweden’s number one soccer magazine, Offside (#5/2005 pp. 84-90), I thought more highly of Roland Andersson. According to that interview he is an old lefty, and his nick-name for players in the Swedish national team who is always good at supporting others out on the pitch is “Per-Albin” (Sweden’s Social Democratic Prime Minister 1932-1946).

Hopefully Mr. Andersson will understand that his line of reasoning does not hold any water, and I will make a contribution through quoting C.J. Cregg in an epsiode during season three. Yeah, it has been a lot about The West Wing on this blog lately, but I just want to help Mr. Andersson understand why his statments are stupid.

So: Right before a press conference, C.J. learns about a press story saying that some school girls in Saudi Arabi were not allowed to leave a burning school since they were not dressed properly enough for the “religious police” (as often in The West Wing, this is a true story, read more about it here). When C.J. is asked about this during the press briefing she has not checked the official line with the others in the Bartlet administration, but she goes on and speaks her mind in the follwing way:

"Outraged? I'm barely surprised. This is a country where women aren't allowed to drive a car. They're not allowed to be in the company of any man other than a close relative. They're required to adhere to a dress code that would make a Maryknoll nun look like Malibu Barbie. They beheaded 121 people last year for robbery, rape, and drug trafficking. They have no free press, no elected government, no political parties. And the Royal Family allows the Religious Police to travel in groups of six carrying nightsticks and they freely and publicly beat women. But 'Brutus is an honorable man.' 17 schoolgirls were forced to burn alive because they weren't wearing the proper clothing. Am I outraged? No. . . . That is Saudi Arabia, our partners in peace."

This is, of course, the real problem. But when it comes to this "soccer gate", I think Sweden ought to play soccer againt all nations who are members of FIFA and not on the UN boycott list, given that no very special circumstances exist. Soft power and exchanges through sports are important in order to spread the values of democracy and human rights. But if a nation behaves like one thousands year old pigs ALSO when dictating who can watch the game, we ought to protest, and not defend their discriminating old traditions. Better speak your mind, like C.J. did. Don’t you agree, old lefty Mr. Andersson?


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