Sunday, June 15, 2014

There's a World Cup - and what else is happening in the world?

According to the Economist's report on the tournament in last week's print edition, half of humanity will watch some part of the World Cup.  Yes, around three and a half billion people on the planet will tune in to watch 22 men run, feint and dive after a ball; many will tune in several times.  Which, of course, still leaves three and a half billion or so who won't including, it seems, the bulk of the populations of the globe's three most populated countries - China, India and the United States.

World Cup fever in England has been slightly suppressed by the relatively modest expectations fans have of England's eventual performance, and their 2-1 loss to Italy will have done nothing to uplift those, even if one assumes she was always going to be outclassed by Italy anyway.  Brazil, however, has offered a far more interesting picture in the run-up to the competition she is hosting.  World Cup fever in the football mad nation has been severely tempered by high levels of anger and opposition to the government's expenditure of so much money on the contest, the continuing levels of vast inequality in the country at large, and not helped either by the wretched corruption of Sepp Blatter's organising FIFA.  Blatter is surely a figure from a cartoonist's mind, so ridiculous and out of touch is he now.  A sort of blinkered, hugely corrupt, madly delusional Mr Magoo type character, he could yet win a fifth term as FIFA president and then preside, I guess, over the immense nonsense that is the staging of the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Outside of the World Cup, a competition designed to bring us all together but which, in reality, simply exacerbates our divisions, the world seems to have entered a yet more dangerous and unpredictable phase, even though President Obama can see some case for suggesting that the world is less violent than it has ever been, taken as a whole.

Iraq dominates global news as the insurgent group ISIS seeks to dismember that unhappy nation, and shows some signs of success in so doing.  This chapter of the Middle East story still has a long way to go, combining as it does the Syrian civil war with the ambitions of Iran to be the regional superpower, and you get the impression sometimes that, for all the weaponry and technology at his disposal, the American president may just be a bit-part player in this unfolding scenario, as much by choice incidentally as by circumstance.

The tragedy of the Syrian civil war continues on its murderous course, despite the macabre election victory of President Assad the other week, and though the Assad regime seems to be gaining the upper hand, that is still a far cry from being able to bring any sort of resolution to the crisis.  Especially with ISIS on its roll in neighbouring Iraq (and ISIS stands, of course, for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - or the Levant).

Pakistan - whose prime minister Nawaz Sharif unprecedentedly attended the swearing in of Indian Prime Minister Nahendra Modi recently - suffered a terrorist attack at Karachi airport, but is now striking back, having announced a bomb drop on North Waziristan, the presumed home of the Taliban, which Pakistani authorities say killed some 50 Taliban fighters.

Brazil may be trying to reconcile the joys of hosting the World Cup with the undercurrent of protest, but its fellow South American mega state, Columbia, is itself in the final days of a presidential election which will determine how it approaches its ongoing problem with FARC guerrillas.  Incumbent president Juan Santos has been engaging in peace negotiations with FARC which he says could soon bear fruit.  His opponent, Oscar Zuluaga (backed by popular former president Uribe) says a hard line is the only way to deal with FARC.  Colombia decides which way it wants to go on Sunday.

Israel is gripped by the news of three teenagers who have been allegedly kidnapped in the West Bank, and although no group has claimed any responsibility, prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu, in his customarily emollient way, has pointed the finger squarely at the Hamas group, about to enter government in the Palestinian state alongside Mahmoud Abbas.  The teenagers - whose fate is dominating Israeli news - went missing in Israeli controlled territory however.

Meanwhile, is President Obama in the closing stages of an unsuccessful presidency?  Breitbart commentator Mike Flynn thinks so, as he considers the dipping of the president's personal ratings in the latest polls.  Maybe Obama was oppressed from the word go by the enormous weight of expectation that greeted his election; maybe a man who inherited both an unpopular war and a deep recession, and had a far-reaching liberal healthcare reform to pursue, was always going to have a difficult job maintaining any sort of high level of popularity.

So, there's a World Cup on.  But as that white ball gets kicked around half a dozen stadiums in the fetid heat of a Brazilian summer, the world continues to turn in a rather less happy manner.




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