Over the next year many prominent sporting events will be held in utterly repressive societies. Here's a few of them and some information on the horrible dictators who will be playing host.
1. 2014 Winter Olympics
Easily the most important of the sporting events being brought to you by tyrants in the coming year, the next Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia in February 2014. While it is true that Winter Olympics tend to get considerably lower ratings than their summer counterparts, certain events catch my eye every year.
My personal favorite in winter every four years is hockey. Bleacher Report has compiled a list of potential breakout stars to watch. In addition to the internationally known names who generally wear America’s red, white, and blue, Canada’s red maple leaf, or the (also) red, white, and blue of the host country, several potential breakout stars will be wearing the sweaters of Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia and the Czech Republic.
Also, curling. Who doesn’t love curling?
What can be said about good old Vladimir that hasn’t already been said? How about his startling resemblance to a Bond villain? How about the absolute necessity that he takes his shirt off to ensure ultra-manliness as often as possible? Luckily, The Week has already been nice enough to catalogue his absurd publicity pictures.
When Putin returned from his constitutionally mandated four-year absence from the Kremlin, he “immediately imposed greater restrictions on public assemblies, nongovernmental organizations, and the internet, seeking to squelch the…protest movement that had arisen in response to fraudulent December 2011 parliamentary elections. [He] criminalized a variety of activities, including ordinary interactions with foreigners… and launched anticorruption investigations during the year, exposing high levels of fraud in state spending, but as with past anticorruption drives, actual arrests were limited to lower-level officials rather than members of the elite.”
Thanks to the upcoming Olympics, increased attention has also been given to the country’s vicious ban on “homosexual propaganda.” Luckily, Putin has assured those worried that gay athletes will not be punished during their time in Russia. "I assure you that I work with these people, I sometimes award them with state prizes or decorations for their achievements in various fields. We have absolutely normal relations, and I don't see anything out of the ordinary here." Putin went as far as to discuss famed Russian composer Tchaikovsky, rumored to be gay. "Truth be told, we don't love him because of that, but he was a great musician and we all love his music.”
That’s a load off. Not only will gay athletes not be punished, some of Putin's best friends are gay!
In reality, despite the propaganda-driven image of Putin as macho Russian stereotype who does a great job drawing laughs on late-night shows in the West, he is every bit a tyrant and a scourge on world politics.
(Image note: The pair pictured has vociferously denied that it was protesting anti-gay Russian policies, but perhaps come time for the medal awards in Sochi there will be athletes who choose to protest.)
2. Anything in the United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates, fashioning itself as an international hub for business, sports, and leisure, will be hosting a number of prominent international sporting events this year. Three of the most important that will be taking place over the next year are the U-17 World Cup, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Just over a month away, the U-17 World Cup will take place throughout the UAE in six spectacular stadiums across the Emirates. Notably, this tournament marks the first time the United States has failed to qualify, having previously qualified for a remarkable 14 consecutive U-17 World Cups. Among the story lines will also be a potential repeat for 2011 champions Mexico and a rebound for the emerging Nigeria, who were runners up in 2009 and champions in 2007 but failed to qualify in 2011.
The Mubadala World Tennis Championship and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship both annually feature some of the world’s best players. Novak Djokovic, the current number one in the world, will be attempting to threepeat in the sixth annual edition of the Mubadala this December while the HSBC Golf Championship will feature three of the world’s top 11 players in January, including Rory McIlroy.
The UAE has a complex system of governance with an exaggerated federal system holding nearly all of the power within the country. Luckily for analysis (and unluckily for residents and visitors), all of the Emirates are repressive.
In the last year the government passed an extremely restrictive cybercrimes law that allows authorities to crack down on dissent on the internet, including social media. This is the latest in a long history of a complete intolerance for dissent, including a full ban on political parties.
In addition to the lack of tolerance for dissent, the UAE has come under fire in recent months for its particularly harsh treatment of women. Just this March a Norwegian tourist was raped in Dubai and upon reporting the rape to authorities, she was jailed for sex outside of wedlock. After trial, the woman was given 16 months in prison while her rapist was only given 13. After international outrage reached a fever pitch the woman was pardoned, allowing her to return home.
This horrific incident highlights the country's struggles to become a Western-friendly international center while still maintaining its repressive values. Should the country wish to further improve its relations with the West, it will (hopefully) be forced to liberalize, tolerate some dissent, and treat women as equals.
3. Bahrain Grand Prix
While the 2014 schedule for Formula One is yet to be released, insiders are reporting that the season will either open in Melbourne or Bahrain. Whether or not the season opens in the tiny Gulf state, the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix will be a staple on the F-1 calendar, just as it was from 2004 through 2009 and again in 2012 and 2013, with a brief break for widespread in-country and regional protests.
The event is held in the Bahrain International Circuit, an impressive construction project in Sakhir that cost approximately $150 million. The facility seats 50,000, nearly 4% of the country’s entire population.
The al-Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain for more than two centuries and is one of the few true monarchies left in the world. Upon ascending to the throne in 1999, King Hamada Bin Isa al-Khalifa attempted to turn the country into a European-style constitutional monarchy, but that effort set off a theme in his rule of small, cosmetic changes to an utterly repressive society. As the country has experienced near-nonstop civil unrest over the last few years, the king has responded by giving greater oversight powers to Parliament, which have in turn been dismissed as not nearly enough by the country's majority-Shiite population (the ruling family is Sunni). Additionally, Parliament has used its newfound robustness to pass new, stricter laws forbidding dissent and protest. Bahrain’s crown prince (and the honorary head of the Bahrain Motor Federation) will take power upon the abdication or death of the king.