World View:* The Coming Balkan Conflict?* Inside the sports industry
Two years after NATO and the UN moved into the former Yugoslavia to police a region beset by conflict since the Balkan break-up of the early 90s, a new conflagration threatens. Macedonian troops have clashed with Albanian rebels on the Kosovo border and, on the Serbian border, Albanian nationalists have launched attacks against Serb police positions.
Along the Kosovo/Macedonia and Kosovo/Serbia border, former members of the KLA have formed into guerrilla units intent on creating a “Greater Kosovo”. In the south of Kosovo the small and nascent Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) aims to annex north and eastern Macedonia, whilst on Kosovo’s eastern border, a sister organisation, the UCBMP (Liberation Army of Prosevo Medvedja and Bujanovo)—all towns in the southern part of Serbia with an Albanian ethnic majority—is demanding border changes so that 70,000 ethnic Albanians living in Serbia are included in Kosovo.
Whilst the nationalist insurgents would have it that a “Greater Kosovo” is at stake, that includes the ethnic Albanian populations of Serbia and Macedonia, others envisage a “greater” Albania, an Albania merged with Kosovo which would become the largest state in the Balkans, if not the most impoverished. Control of the borders is also allegedly a reason for the recent wave of unrest, for whoever controls these also controls the lucrative and illicit trade in drugs and arms and “illegal migration”.
The UCBMP have caused such much mayhem in the Presevo Valley that NATO has handed back part of the border buffer zone to Yugoslav military control, to special units of the 7th battalion of the Yugoslav army created by former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. In other words, the West has sided with forces that battled for a Greater Serbia and only two years after NATO supposedly went to war with Serbia on behalf of Kosovo Albanians.
Once thing is certain—the West has clearly underestimated the threat of Albanian nationalism and indeed dissipated the once popular belief in Kosovo and Albania that NATO was an ally of Kosovo Albanians. There is also a lack of any consensus between NATO and the UN about the shape of any final Kosovo settlement, and US policy is still out of step with the other NATO allies.
Whilst UN officials see in KLA violence a game plan intended to provoke a swift retaliation from Macedonia (home to 600,000 ethnic Albanians) which will in turn incite Kosovos, Stratfor (the US Security consultants) sees the “primary motive for the [UCPMB] campaign in the Presevo valley [to be the desire] to provoke a harsh response and thus damage relations between the new Yugoslav government and K-For”. The UCPMB plan—if indeed it was a plan—has turned sour. The demilitarised Zone is now being policed by Serbian troops under the watchful eye of NATO and the US wishes to settle the Kosovo problem peacefully and to integrate Yugoslavia into a plan for long-term regional stability.
All the signs are that NATO’s Frankenstein is up and walking, fed on the same raw nationalism that has brought so much bloodshed to the Balkans this past decade, bent on carving out a greater Albania from Albania, Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian regions of Macedonia and Serbia. But they face repeated obstacles: not least is the desire by Western powers to cement relations with new President of Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica.
K-FOR (the Western peace-keeping force set up to police the region) failed to disarm the KLA, which went on the initiate a criminal network safe in the knowledge they had the backing of US Intelligence. And as the Observer reported on 11th March, that the CIA encouraged KLA fighters to mount a rebellion in southern Serbia to undermine support from President Milosevic. As one K-FOR battalion commander pointed out:
“The CIA have been allowed to run riot in Kosovo with a private army designed to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic. Now he’s gone, the US State Dept. seems incapable of reigning in its bastard army.”
One Foreign Office analyst observes:
“We are not looking at a repeat of the circumstances when Yugoslavia began to disintegrate at the beginning of the 1990s. The people we are now dealing with are the fanatics who became wealthy out of national politics, crime and war. They feel that their power is being eroded and they will fight to survive” (Guardian, 3 March).
Elsewhere, to the west of Kosovo, nationalists in Montenegro, lulled by the US into believing it would be permitted to split from Serbia once Milosevic was ousted, have been told to put aside these aspirations and re-forge ties with Serbia—news that is already inciting the nationalists of Montenegro. Meanwhile, Croat nationalists allied to Bosnian Croat leader Ante Jelavic are denouncing the government of the Muslim-Croat Federation, threatening to unravel the 1995 Dayton agreement which partitioned Bosnia along ethnic lines. Suddenly, Spring-time in the Balkans looks set to see war once again blossom.
For almost a century, this journal has been consistent in its opposition to nationalism, in the belief that nationalism is a killer epidemic, creating conflict from which those with the least to gain have the most to lose. Whatever cause and victory the misinformed defenders of nationhood believe they are fighting for, it pales into insignificance when compared to the real war that needs to be waged on the battlefield of ideas and against an elite who perpetuate the myth of nationhood for their own ends and always to our detriment.
We maintain that, regardless of the supposed “century-old hatreds” the real problem is that the Balkans is a cockpit for the Great Powers and their local client states and their states-in-waiting. Despite their cultural, historical and religious differences, there is more that unites Muslims and Christians, Albanians and Serbs, than can ever divide them. Their real needs—needs people the world over identify with—can only ever be fulfilled in a world devoid of borders or frontiers. We can only hope it is not too long before the long-suffering people of the Balkans come to realise this.
On the night of Saturday 16 December 2000 the crowd at the Sheffield Arena must have been stunned when Paul Ingle’s corner forced him back to the centre of the ring to be savagely crushed by his opponent Mbulelo Botile of South Africa. Even one of the commentators remarked that the decision of Ingle’s managers was shockingly unreasonable. Not unexpectedly, Ingle was carried unconscious to hospital with brain injuries. At the end of round 11 everybody, more especially Ingle’s corner, knew he had lost the bout.
The question on the lips of many was why the towel was not thrown in. But how could they do that when they were playing according to the rules of today’s international sports—the cash and fame first before the contender. In fact Ingle’s corner callously hoped that their man could miraculously pull a knock-out.
Gone are the days when games were organised with a view to merely entertaining the audience. In our day the motive behind any activity sports included, is profit. If, in the process of any sporting activity people get entertained, it is an unintended outcome of a purely business-oriented venture. In reality sport is now a multi-billion dollar industry masquerading as an entertainment agency. It has become an industry dominated and controlled by corporate bodies.
Sporting activities are organised mainly by IOC, FIFA, CAF, JBF, WBC, etc. The funds with which these bodies organisc games are provided, in the main, by big business. Since business concerns will only spend money if they will make a profit, one can easilv understand why they provide the funds—they are financially interesting.
Advertising is an essential ingredient in all profit-oriented activity. Getting people to become aware of one’s products is a vital competitive move. Corporate groups sponsor IOC and Co in exchange ttr the right to advertise their products on radio, TV jerseys, shinguards, gloves, and soon that is why you can never see World Socialist Movement or World Of Free Access or SPGB printed in bold characters and lined up around playing fields on stadiums. What you see is Coca Cola, Amstel, Visa, MasterCard, Western Union Money Transfer, Motorola, Ericsson, etc.
In the same vein other businesses deeply involved in the promotion of commercialised sports are the media houses. TV magnates are able to pay and have a stranglehold monopoly of coverage. They reap huge profits when they “sell” their “product” to other media groups.
Since today’s sports is a matter of business due to its profit-oriented nature, it is always spiced with the not uncommon shady deals. Business is nothing but legalised stealing. Its main rule is “grab-as-much-as-you-can”. International sports is therefore plagued with such inevitable phenomena as bribery, corruption, match-fixing, gambling, betting, pools, etc. In fact most many sports ministers, members of IOC, FIFA (the chief organisers of international sporting activities) siphon away huge sums of money in the process of organising games. A typical example can be seen in the famous Salt Lake City scandal which not only exposed but also shattered the credibility of the IOC and blew apart its five interlocking rings. Again, quite recenily some German sportswriters have alleged that the German government and some corporate groups bribed Thailand, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to vote for Germany to host the 2006 World Cup. The multinational corporations mentioned were Daimlcr Chrysler, Bayer, BASF and Siemens (Gambia Daily Observer 21 November 2000).
Wealth (goods and services) is created by labour. In the sports industry the creators of service (entertainment) are the sportsmen and women. These (most1y) youth are by no means different from workers in the factory; clerks in the bank; teachers in the classroom, etc. Sportsmen and women sell their labour power (i.e. their ability to run, jump, kick, swim, etc) to the owners of the means of production and distribution of the services produced. In sports the means of producing and distributing entertainment include the stadiums, the factories the assorted sporting gear, the media houses, etc. These are owned by corporate bodies, states, local councils and the like. The youth use these facilities to entertain society, who pay money that goes to the owners of these means. The sportsmen and women arc then paid wages by the owners (the employers).
It is a common business practice to fire workers who are considered to be not too productive. In the same way sportsmen and women who do not move mountains to prove, maintain and improve upon their competitiveness risk being booted out of employment. Even the language used by employers, especially owners of football clubs, clearly smacks of the business element in sports. Football clubs who hire the services of footballers are often heard talking of “buying”, “selling”, or “giving out on loan” such-and-such a player. Indeed one sometimes gets the impression that the players are not just wage-earners but real commodities! In one report by Reuters carried in the 6 November Daily Observer (Gambia), entitled “Pele attacks ‘slave trade’ in young players”, the Brazilian Sports Minister decries the ahnost slave-like ownership of young footballers from Africa, Brazil and Argentina in particular. A very recent example is the case of Kanu Nwanko whose masters, Arsenal, refused to release him (from their bondage) to go to play for his “national” team during the just-ended Sydney Olympics.
Having been considered as “commodities” whose price is influenced by market forces, sportsmen and women are constantly engaged in fierce competition with each other. Competition is an unhealthy phenomenon but in sports it is even worse. The use of drugs to enhance performance is a direct result of the unwholesome profit-oriented practices. In the final analysis these people who use the drugs suffer and get disgraced when they test positive. By contrast the organisers and drug dealers, sitting behind their dark sunglasses at the VIP stands get away with their dirty profits.
But perhaps the most serious effect of this dubious U-turn in sports from entertainment-oriented to profit-oriented can be seen in the growing number of serious and in some cases fatal incidents involving sportsmen and women. The story of the British boxer Paul lngle has already been mentioned. No-one is unaware of the world-famous pugilist, Mohammed Ali. There is also the tragic fate of Michael Watson, another British boxer. A Colombian defender, Escohar, was gunned down in Bogota when he madvertently scored an own goal during the 1994 World Cup. He met this unfortunate death not because Colombia could not go ahead to win the cup but because, as it was generally believed, some big business people had lost huge sums which they staked in a betting game.
Sports and politics
Another interesting aspect of sports is that it is very much encouraged by governments especially in poor countries. The main reason for this support is the mind-numbing power of sports. A lot of money is spent to get people hooked to and addicted to sports. In fact sports plays the same role as religion, alcohol and the like. Commentators, sportswriters and the like are trained to be able to present the dullest of events or matches to appear to be the most interesting ones to listeners and readers. Sporting activities, as such, are organised constantly and at short intervals—from community through national to international levels. As people’s interest in games soars so is their attention diverted from the mismanagement of social wealth that goes on in the corridors of power. In fact the revolutionary consciousness of people addicted to sports is usually completely blunted.
On this same political front, one notes the narrow-mindedness of so-called sports analysts when they opine that sports encourages togetherness and even has the magic of bringing peace to rival nations. This view dates back to the days of the “Cold War”. These analysts considered the participation in international games by the “West” and the “East” as a positive step towards defusing tension in their world. But a deeper insight into the role of sports in the relations between nations or countries reveals the exact opposite of the claims of these sports experts. Modern capitalist sports is organised with a view to realising profit. Profit-making thrives best when people are kept divided. There is no way then that sports as it is organised today can bring peoples of the world together as one. In reality sports entrenches petty, myopic nationalism and chauvinism. Witness for instance the violence of the famous “English hooligans” during football matches in Europe. There are always running battIe in the streets of towns and cities all over the world during games especially football. Each country sees the other as an enemy. People competing under national flags only helps in keeping them disunited. But we need a single world without boundaries.
Yet sports, at all levels, can be made to achieve its original objective—to entertain both participants and spectators. This however can only materialize when it is freely organised by all persons interested in it—and not only by those who have money. But this possibility is itself dependent on the level of consciousness of humanity When the majority of people come to understand that a society that undertakes every venture with a view to making profit is bound to he plagued with shortcomings. “Money is the root of evil”, as the saying goes. So it is only when the stadia and the factories producing sports-ware are commonly owned by all people, and when the present artificial boundaries dividing them and nations are dismantled that the present violence-prone, drug-infested activity called sport coupled with the slave status of most sportsmen and women can be eliminated. Then sports and games in general can play their unalloyed role of entertaining humankind free of charge.