Thursday, March 17, 2011

I'm Feeling Good

I received an email today that made me feel pretty damn good about myself. I didn't do much, I just signed an online petition about something that I found atrocious a few months ago.

Look what we accomplished:

"Dear Justin,

A small group of lesbian activists from the poverty-stricken townships of Cape Town walked into South African parliament on Monday and convinced their government to finally start fighting the country’s decades-old scourge of "corrective rape" -- where men rape lesbian women to "turn" them straight. You made that moment possible.

Late last year, these activists called on the world to help them pressure their leaders to take action on corrective rape. We answered their call, and more than 170,000 members from 163 countries joined with them, making this the largest campaign of all time on

Three and a half months later, they succeeded. Teaming up with 23 major South African organizations, they got some of the most powerful officials in the country to agree to bring together various government arms and civil society groups to develop and implement a national action plan to combat corrective rape.

The ministry officials asked for details of specific cases in need of immediate attention, committed to a series of meetings beginning in six weeks, and promised to present concrete proposals to prevent corrective rape by the next meeting.

It’s an astounding victory, far beyond what we ever could have imagined when we set out late last year. Now these activists need your help holding the government accountable for its commitments.

If there was any question about the effect you had, the chief of staff himself confirmed it: At one point in the session he explicitly said, in a pleading voice, "Please don't petition us again."

But that’s exactly what we need to do. The government is making a series of urgent decisions on sexual violence legislation in the next few weeks, and South African activists need your help in pressuring them to follow up their words with tangible action:

Your work led to overwhelming international press coverage of the campaign, taking corrective rape from an unspoken epidemic to a prominent international issue. In the last two weeks alone, the campaign against corrective rape has been covered by Time Magazine, the Washington Post, USA Today, Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Seattle Times, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, Fox News, MSNBC, Dan Rather, Forbes, Yahoo! News, Salon, and dozens of global outlets from Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Spain, and even a Finnish tabloid.

An elated Luleki Sizwe Founder Ndumie Funda (pictured to the right, alongside the chief of staff from the Ministry of Justice) called it "an incredible achievement…I humble myself to the 170,000 people from all over the world who made this possible. It was about time this happened."

There is still much to be done, but every member should be proud about what has been accomplished here. In just 100 days, a tiny group of township activists have managed to mobilize more than 170,000 people from 163 countries and engaged the highest levels of government to address their demands. That’s incredible.

Thanks for lending your voice.

- Weldon and the team"

I may have been one of 170,000 people, but because 169,999 other people all did the same as me, we helped make a genuine change and improve the lives of people we've never met.

I love the internet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Not-Very-Champion League

I love football. I grew up with it.

But I hate the Champions League.

This is not just the spiteful sour grapes of the outsider, standing out in the cold, with my nose wistfully pressed up against the window, watching the bloated, drunken, over-fed hogs self-congratulatorily rolling around in the swill. Though, that's certainly part of it, but not for quite the reason you might expect.

However, let's begin at the beginning. The Champions League. A league of champions, yes? And yet, how many of the teams that are in the tournament are actually champions of anything? At today's date, the international distribution for Champions League qualification for the 2012/13 season is as follows: England, Spain & Germany - 4 teams; Italy, France & Portugal - 3 teams; Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, Denmark, Belgium, Romania & Scotland - 2 teams; 37 other countries - 1 team.

By my calculations, that gives us a total of 76 teams. Of those, 52 will be champions of their national league. That means that 24 of the competing teams are champions of, well, nothing at all. Almost a third of the teams competing.

More than that, the teams who get more representatives are, by definition, seeded more highly. This means that many of the teams that were actually champions of their league are culled in the early stages of the competition. So by the time the competition reaches the group stages, the proportion of actual champions is inevitably smaller again.

So there you go. Reason number one that I hate the Champions League: it's a total misnomer. In 1999, when Man Utd beat Bayern Munich in an incredible, injury time turnaround, neither team was the reigning champion of their national league. They were both runners-up.

It makes a mockery of the competition. It's no longer about them being champions, as it always was under the European Cup. The prestige is gone. It's not about being the best of the best anymore. It's about being the best of the richest.

Money. That's what it comes down to. The Champions League is a format designed to help the rich clubs get richer and to keep it as exclusive a club as possible. It is no mistake that most of the clubs who repeatedly appear in the latter stages of the competition are those who were qualifying for it when the European Cup was sacrificed at the altar of filthy lucre. Because they got the benefit of the extra cash in those early seasons, which allowed them to outspend the rest and keep themselves at the top of their leagues. The exceptions are those, like Chelsea, who have had a financial benefactor come in and throw money at them.



Football used to be about sport. It used to be about teams punching above their weight and winning a trophy unexpectedly. My own team, Aberdeen, did this with the Cup Winners Cup in 1983. But the big clubs, and most importantly, the sponsors, didn't want that happening. They want the biggest teams playing each other as often as possible, so as to generate the biggest TV audiences possible. So European competition has been redesigned to benefit the biggest teams. How else can anyone explain the ludicrous situation where the third team in the group stages of the CL gets to drop into the "Europa League". That's nothing but a golden parachute, designed to help those teams who finish third to still make some more money and, thus, continue to outspend their competition.

Last night, Arsenal were on the wrong side of a terrible refereeing decision against Barcelona. It didn't necessarily cost them the game, but it certainly raised questions of whether the "authorities" have teams they prefer to get through to the latter stages to guarantee the biggest crowds and therefore to keep the advertisers happy.

There is no question that they do. The whole of European competition has been designed to make it as difficult as possible for an unfashionable team to succeed.

It's not about sport anymore. It's about revenue.

That's why I hate the Champions League.