Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Match fixing in Egypt: the Great Revolution Swindle

Living up to my name and true to my profile I like sumo, the Japanese version of wrestling. In fact, I like men stepping into a ring and fighting it out in a civilized, ritualized way. My affection for the martial arts started long ago. From boxing great Marvelous Marvin Hagler, whose motto despite of all his marvelousness was "destruct and destroy", to the sly and swift Asashoryu, the first Mongolian wrestler to be awarded with the honorable title of Yokozuna, the highest rank in sumo, I always enjoyed watching an honest fight.

Sumo is in a deep crisis now. So is Japan, which just has been overtaken by China as the world's second largest economy. It's the revealing of match fixing that has brought sumo down to its knees - maybe for good - and has led to the cancellation of next month's spring tournament in Osaka, the first time since 1946 that a "basho" was canceled.

Match fixing, fixing the outcome of a fight in advance, is common in sumo, it has happened before. But this time it seems it is the final nail into a coffin of an already weakened sport and tradition. 

In sumo, like in many other sports, it's money that matters. Sumo is a business. A business in the hands of the Japanese mafia, as some pretend? The ties are not that clear, but according to an article in the Guardian, senior members of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan's most powerful crime syndicate, have regularly occupied the most coveted ringside seats to be visible on TV broadcasts, thereby boosting the morale of their fellow gangsters watching the fights from their prison cells.

The world is changing in Japan. Foreign wrestlers are becoming increasingly dominant in sumo. As Asashoryu explains it: "I think a lot of the younger Japanese wrestlers lack toughness." But: "Non of these scandals would happen, if sumo didn't pretend to some higher purpose", writes sumo analyst James Hardy in the Daily Yomiuri. "Setting yourself up as a semi-ascetic, morally impeachable, quasi religious cultural asset is always going to cause trouble when the reality is a lot more prosaic."

A changing world, deals behind closed doors and match fixing: sound familiar? The Egyptian revolution was a swindle! Actually not a lot has happened last week. A relatively small crowd of 300'000 people on Tahrir Square in Cairo (out of 80 million Egyptians; remember: there were 1 million out of 4 million Lebanese on Martyr Square in Beirut on March 14 2005 for the Cedar revolution) demanded the removal of a man whose way out had already been decided before: Hosni Mubarak. His trying to impose his son as his successor on the presidential throne was a huge step over the line. The army never got used to the idea that an outsider would take the top post of Egypt, that Mubarak wanted to establish a family dynasty between the pyramids and the Nile. In a way, and I'm following the argument of Stratfor's George Friedman here, it was Mubarak who was trying to overthrow the regime. And the regime struck back. What happened was not a revolution. The demonstrators never brought down Mubarak, let alone the regime. What happened was a military coup that used the cover of protests to force Mubarak out of office in order to preserve the regime. 

The Yokozuna of Cairo: General Tantawi

Mubarak must have sensed that things would turn sour. I wonder how much of his assets (billions of dollars, ripped off the Egyptian people) are yet to be frozen in European banks. There are many rumors, maybe even facts, that many bags of money had already been moved to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states well ahead of February 11.

I don't want to kill anybody's joy about the Egyptian revolution here, but I think the hopes of a multi-party democratic system won't be fulfilled that quickly. A political culture in Egypt, a political participation of all Egyptians has yet to be developed. Even Twitter activist @sandmonkey (Mahmoud Salem in real life) struggles with the design of a democratic Egypt. In his tweets of February 14 he asks himself if the Turkish model could be the future for Egypt, with a democracy brought upon the Egyptians by the army, with Islamist parties not being allowed in the political field and with the military giving themselves "coup power" if they don't like what they see. Sandmonkey then goes on - almost rhetorically - contemplating if "supporting democracy always means supporting what the majority wants or if it is supporting the democratic process instead, even if the majority is against it?" Well, I live in a democracy myself and I know these questions. Democracy can be a drag!

The Egyptian revolution was hijacked. By Google, Facebook, Twitter, the international media and now by the Egyptian army. To quote Stratfor again: "An 82-year-old man has been thrown out of office, and his son will not be president. The constitution and parliament are gone and a military junta is in charge. The rest is speculation."

For the boxing fans among you: see the classic Marvin Hagler - Tommy Hearns bout of 1985. It's tough, it's bloody, it ends with a knockout. It's real life.