James Dorsey

91 Articles

James M Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg.

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Latest by James Dorsey


Kuwaiti rulers fight it out on the pitch

Disputes in Kuwait’s ruling Al-Sabah family, which sparked international sports sanctions against the Gulf state, came to the forefront this week with one branch of the family suing International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA executive committee member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the most powerful men world sports, and his brother Talal, on charges …

James Dorsey

Saudi Arabia uses football to isolate Iran

  Saudi Arabia is using football and its influence in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to expand its campaign to isolate Iran, complicate Iran’s return to the international fold in the wake of the nuclear agreement, strengthen Iranian hardliners in advance of next month’s crucial elections in the Islamic republic, and deflect attention from mounting …

James Dorsey

Soccer highlights domestic drivers in Saudi-Iranian dispute

Saudi Arabia and Iran, highlighting the domestic drivers of mounting tension that threaten to deepen and complicate the sectarian and the multiple other regional conflicts, have taken their fierce tit-for-tat battle from the realm of traditional diplomacy to the world of public spectacle. The past few days have seen a dizzying sequence of events that …

James Dorsey

Trade unions test Qatari sincerity with demands for labour reform

International trade unions have stepped up pressure on Qatar with a series of demands, a majority of which the Gulf state could implement, without having to reform its autocracy or threaten the privileged position of its citizens, who account for a mere 12% of the population. They fear the change could cost them control of …

James Dorsey

Fearful of protests, Egypt keeps stadia closed

Egyptian law enforcement authorities and the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), in a reflection of fears that stadia in Egypt could once more emerge as platforms for anti-government protest, have extended a ban on spectators attending matches that has been in place for much of the last five years. The decision dashed expectations that the ban …

James Dorsey

Qatari labour reforms: Words but no actions

Words but no actions. That is Amnesty International’s evaluation of promised Qatari labour reforms five years after the Gulf state was awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar’s failure to enact wide-ranging reforms heightens the risk of its hosting rights being called into question against a backdrop of legal investigations into the …

James Dorsey

Breeding intolerance: Turkish football fans disrespect ‘Islamic State’ victims

Twice in two months, Turkish fans disrupted the moments of silence for victims of “Islamic State” (IS) attacks in Ankara and Paris in a demonstration. It showed a kind of intolerance bred by religiously-cloaked authoritarianism in countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The fans demonstrative support with IS was clear when they shouted “Allahu Akbar” …

James Dorsey

Bahraini players’ support for Salman raises more questions than answers

  In recent statements, Bahraini football players sought to absolve Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president and world football body FIFA presidential candidate Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, who is a member of Bahrain’s ruling family, of any moral or direct responsibility for the arrest, dismissal, and abuse of hundreds of sports executives and athletes accused …

James Dorsey

Embattled World Cup host Qatar sends mixed messages

The embattled World Cup host Qatar is sending contradictory messages as it struggles with demands to improve migrant labour conditions, answer the mounting questions about the integrity of its successful FIFA bi, confront the fall-out of dropping energy prices, and seek to project itself as both a key Western ally and a useful conduit to …

James Dorsey

Targeted Paris stadium symbolises pitfalls of war against “Islamic State”

Zouhair, a security guard of immigrant background, was one of several security officers who on Friday prevented three of the Paris suicide bombers from entering the city’s Stade de France stadium. The bombers were forced to blow themselves up outside the stadium and at nearby McDonald’s. Little is publicly known about the background of Zouhair, who described …

James Dorsey

UAE chairman of Manchester City pressures UK to crack down on Muslim Brotherhood

Khaldoon Al-Mubarak, chairman of Manchester City, one of Britain’s most popular football clubs and a close business associate of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, has warned the UK that his country would block multi-billion dollar arms deals, halt investment in Britain and suspend intelligence cooperation if Prime Minister David Cameron …

James Dorsey

AFC Salman’s FIFA candidacy puts integrity checks to test

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa’s candidacy for the presidency of world football body FIFA is likely to serve as a litmus test for newly introduced integrity checks on the group’s executives. Sheikh Salman was a former football player and consistently refused, like other members of his ruling family, to respond …

James Dorsey

Egyptian football fans put youth disillusion with elections on public display

As Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi struggled this week to get Egyptians to cast their vote in parliamentary elections, militant football fans put widespread youth disillusionment with the president’s autocratic rule on public display. More than 10,000 fans rushed in response to a call by Ultras Ahlawy, the militant support group of storied Cairo club …

James Dorsey

OECD holds FIFA responsible for Qatari World Cup-related labour conditions

  A Swiss government-sponsored unit of the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has defined world football body FIFA as a multi-national bound by the group’s guidelines. As a result, the group concluded that FIFA is responsible for the upholding of the human and labour rights of workers employed in Qatar on 2022 …

James Dorsey

Israel suspends Israeli-Palestinian encounters on the pitch

The Israel Football Association (IFA) acting on orders of the police has suspended what it calls ‘sensitive’ matches, a reference to professional and amateur games between Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian squads. Police said the suspension on football pitches that have long signalled mounting tensions, violence, and racism in Israeli society was because their forces …

James Dorsey

Racist Israeli football fans in the firing line

  Israel’s most notorious football fan group, La Familia, known for its militant racism against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, has put itself in the firing line as Israeli-Palestinian confrontations threaten to spark a third Intifada or popular Palestinian uprising on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Members of La Familia, supporters of storied …

James Dorsey

Syrian football: Succeeding against the odds

  By James M. Dorsey Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s political fortunes are looking up on more than one battlefield. Even as Russian military intervention appears to have given Al-Assad’s government a new lease on life, sending its football team out to play World Cup qualifying matches allows it to project an image of normality, despite four …

James Dorsey

Staunch Al-Sisi supporter calls for opening of stadia and dialogue with ultras

A staunch supporter of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris has called on the government to allow football fans, a pillar of anti-government protest, back into stadia that have largely been closed to the public for nearly five years. Sawiri’s request on the eve of two African Confederation Cup semi-finals in Cairo in …

James Dorsey

FIFA to rescue troubled Saudi King Salman

Palestine is a headache Saudi King Salman doesn’t need as he confronts rare demands from members of his ruling family that he and his son be removed from power, growing unease about a seven-month old devastating military campaign in Yemen that has caused devastation and mounting civilian casualties, widespread criticism of the kingdom’s handling of …

James Dorsey

Saudi Arabia’s reach in Yemen: Fighting for regional dominance

The war by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies against Houthi rebels in Yemen has become a debilitating sectarian conflict, that has reduced large parts of the impoverished country to rubble and potentially destabilising the region. The kingdom has framed its approach in stark sectarian terms that has sparked intolerance towards minorities, first and foremost …

James Dorsey

Middle Eastern conflicts spill onto Spanish football pitch

Inevitably, the mass exodus of refugees from conflict areas was going to provoke the spilling into Europe of multiple disputes in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Spanish football is the first to feel the weight of the baggage that has turned vast numbers into destitute refugees. Kurdish rebels have accused a Syrian coach …

James Dorsey

Religious support for Qatari labour reforms puts Gulf states on the spot

  A panel in Doha of religious scholars, officials of Qatar’s government-sponsored human rights committee, and international labour activists has called on Qatar to radically alter its controversial labour policies. The call serves to support Qatari government promises of labour reform in response to World Cup-related international criticism, and increases moral pressures on Gulf states …

James Dorsey

Militant football fans are on a roll across Eurasia

Militant football fans are on a roll in the Middle East, Europe and Southeast Asia. Fans in Turkey and Egypt have defeated legal efforts to criminalise them as terrorists while Malaysian ultras are tackling corruption in and mismanagement of their country’s football association. In Germany, the pitch anticipated the government’s shift in policy towards the …

James Dorsey

Egypt throws the dice with partial lifting of stadia ban

  The Egyptian interior ministry, in a potential signal that the country’s military-backed regime recognises that its choking off of all public space could backfire, has agreed to allow fans to attend international matches played by the national team and Egyptian clubs. In doing so, the ministry de facto acknowledged that it has put itself …

James Dorsey

Israel’s fault lines spill onto the football pitch

Israel’s multiple fault lines – secular vs religious, Jewish vs Palestine, and controversial calls for a boycott of the Jewish state – are exploding on the football pitch. The spill-over comes as President Reuven Rivlin warned in a recent speech that Israel was being fragmented by four tribes that view each other’s worldview as a …

James Dorsey

The Middle East: Who says the popular quest for change has been quelled?

A series of recent mass protests in several Arab countries have called into question suggestions that civil wars, brutal crackdowns and military coups and interventions have quelled popular willingness to stand up for rights in the Middle East. The protests, although focussed on specific social and economic demands, fundamentally have the same objectives as popular …

James Dorsey

Turkish football supports Erdogan’s war against the Kurds

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF), in a demonstration of the inseparable ties between sports and politics, has effectively declared its support for renewed Turkish-Kurdish hostilities designed to enhance the prospects of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party in forthcoming snap elections. With armed Kurdish youth effectively taking control of at least one predominantly Kurdish city …

James Dorsey

Saudi Arabia and Iran: Volatile political geography of oil and minorities

The fact that dissatisfied minorities populate the oil-rich regions of Iran and Saudi Arabia creates an ironic parallel, in which in the rivalry between two of the Middle East’s larger powers often amounts to the pot calling the kettle black. Rather than recognising that protests and mounting incidents of violence are the result of government failure to address legitimate grievances, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have blamed each other for the unrest in their strategic backyards

James Dorsey