Beyond the World Cup Headlines

Deji Bryce Olukotun

Deji Bryce Olukotun is the Ford Foundation Freedom to Write Fellow at PEN American Center. He founded PEN’s digital freedom program and manages PEN’s capacity building work in Myanmar, South Africa, and Haiti. He graduated from Stanford Law School and currently focuses on human rights and technology. His novel “Nigerians in Space”, a thriller about brain drain from Africa, was published by Unnamed Press in 2014.

The group stages of the World Cup are largely considered boring affairs in which fans get a glimpse of the more exciting matches to come during the knock-out stage, when every game makes the difference between continuing in the tournament or returning home early.

Not so at this World Cup. Three giants of world soccer have exited: Spain, Italy, and England. And the world has been transfixed by replays and clever animated GIFs of Uruguay striker Luis Suarez biting everything from cupcakes to ship captains after he bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini. South African cartoonist Zapiro, who has himself been threatened for his cartoons multiple times, lampooned FIFA’s treatment of Suarez here

But there are other stories beyond the headlines about free expression and human rights. Three people were arrested in Iran for their role in making a video that supported the national soccer team. FIFA also declined to sanction fans from the Mexico national team after allegedly chanting homophobic slurs during their march to the second round.

Three people were arrested in Iran for taking part in this video cheering on the national team.  Click on the image to see the video

Three people were arrested in Iran for taking part in this video cheering on the national team.
Click on the image to see the video

Attending games in person has sadly remained impossible for most Brazilians, so the organization Football Beyond Borders organized a Favela World Cup to invite members of shantytowns to form their own game. Similarly, the town of Östersund, Sweden hosted a tournament for countries that don’t exist, such as Padania, Tamil Eelam, and Occitania. 

For the first time since 1986, the FIFA World Cup fell on Ramadan, prompting questions amongst Muslim players about whether to observe the holiday. The Kuwaiti team famously chose to observe Ramadan in its final group match against England in 1982, but the coach noted that it only affected its performance “a little bit.” 

For those of you utilizing the service Aereo in the U.S. to stream matches, you are now out of luck, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the technology employed by Aereo infringes upon copyright. You’re luckier if you have been watching the tournament on your mobile phone, because the same court held that authorities now require a warrant to search your device.  

But don’t get too excited. The activist research team at Citizen Lab released this frightening paper about how government authorities around the world have been stealing mobile phone data using software developed by the Italian firm Hacking Team. 

If you prefer to avoid watching the tournament altogether this weekend, then consider attending the IndieWebCamp in New York, which celebrates independent websites and creator-owned content.

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