From the Soccer Field to the Political Arena

A young Russian soccer fan shows his skills outside the Cathedral of St. Theodore Ushakov near the FIFA Fan Fest in Saransk, Russia

By Oliver Philipp
BERLIN, Jul 6 2018 (IPS)

Was your childhood room not adorned with posters of Gerd Müller or Zinedine Zidane? Were Willy Brandt or Mikhail Gorbachev the idols you looked up to in your youth?

And is the World Cup the worst time of the year for you, and are you already thinking about what remote place to flee to for four weeks to get away from the football frenzy? There’s no need to. We are about to tell you why the World Cup, now in its final stages, could be interesting to you, too.

Football is football and politics is politics. This statement does not always hold true, as demonstrated recently by the debate about the photograph of German national team members Ilkay Gündogan and Mesut Özil posing with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Football just can’t get away from politics. 60 members of the EU Parliament demanded a boycott of the World Cup in Russia in an open letter, and the debate about Putin’s politics will be a constant fixture over the next four weeks. The statements from the German national team were rather predictable. Coach Joachim Löw said that taking part in a World Cup does not equate to ‘associating with a system, regime or ruler’, and no matter where the German national football team plays, it always advocates its values of ‘diversity, openness and tolerance’.

Oliver Philipp

The business manager of the German national team, Oliver Bierhoff, even emphasised that his players were mature and allowed to have an opinion on politics. According to common clichés about footballers, those who are skilled with a ball are not usually skilled with words.

In Germany, you always had to decide at an early age whether you wanted to be famous, enjoy social recognition, have millions in the bank and keep in shape – or go into politics. The examples of Rhenania Würselen 09 defender and former German Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz and striker Gerhard Schröder, former German chancellor, show that football missed out on promising talents because they chose to go into politics.

It looks like it might be a while before the next German top politician with international football experience emerges. Other countries have made some more progress in this regard.

A former World Player of the Year is now head of state in Africa, and in Brazil, the idol of an entire generation has traded in his position on the right wing of the football field for the same position in the political arena. We would like to present four footballers who tried their hand at politics after their active career in football.

A president, an exiled Erdoğan critic and a Brazilian senator

Let’s start with what is perhaps the most prominent example: George Weah. Football fans in Paris and Milan celebrated him for his goals, and FIFA nominated him as the first and, to date, only African World Footballer of the Year in 1995. Weah was celebrated once more in 2017, this time by followers in his home state of Liberia. He won the presidential elections and brought the first peaceful change of government since 1944.

By contrast, the political career of Hakan Şükür could be subsumed under the title ‘From football star to enemy of the state’. Being one of Turkey’s golden generation that unexpectedly won third place at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, he is one of the most well-known and popular Turkish footballers. He took advantage of this popularity at the presidential elections in 2014, when he took a seat on the Turkish parliament as a member of the AKP.

However, he declared in 2016 that he was leaving Erdoğan’s AKP and accused the party of taking hostile steps against the Gülen movement. He was subsequently indicted for insulting the president in an alleged tweet about President Erdoğan and investigated for ‘membership in an armed terrorist organisation’. Şükür has been living in the USA since 2015 and was forced to watch from afar as his membership with Galatasaray Istanbul, the club with which he won eight Turkish championships and even the UEFA Cup, was revoked.

Brazilian football star Ronaldinho has received the title as World Player of the Year twice. There was hardly another footballer who’s dribbling skills we enjoyed watching more than those of the ponytailed Brazilian.

It was therefore not only the world of football that was shocked when headlines such as ‘The World Player of the Year and the fascist’ appeared this year. These headlines emerged in light of Ronaldinho’s announcement that he intended to support Jair Bolsonaro, an open racist and candidate to be reckoned with in the presidential elections in October 2018.

But there are other examples from Brazil. Romario, for example, who was also once nominated as World Player of the Year and won the World Cup, is now a member of the Brazilian Congress as senator for Rio de Janeiro, where he is fighting corruption and advocating for the equality of people with disabilities.

It looks like the World Cup has something to offer even to the biggest football grouches and politics nerds. For who knows what future head of state we will be watching on the field. We hope that all the others who want to let politics be politics during the World Cup will forgive us for writing these lines.

Ocean Conservation Is an Untapped Strategy for Fighting Climate Change

Eliza Northrop is an Associate in the International Climate Action Initiative at World Resources Institute.

By Eliza Northrop

The ocean contributes $1.5 trillion annually to the global economy and assures the livelihood of 10-12 percent of the world’s population. But there’s another reason to protect marine ecosystems—they’re crucial for curbing climate change.

2018: A Year for the Ocean and Climate Action

This year is shaping up to be a critical one for ocean action. The 53 member countries of the Commonwealth adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter on Ocean Action earlier this year, a plan to protect coral reefs, restore mangroves and remove plastic pollution, among other actions.

A new United Nations assessment has found the world’s oceans to be in dire shape. Credit: Shek Graham/CC-BY-2.0

Ocean conservation was a centerpiece of the G7 meeting resulting in the ‘Charlevoix Blueprint for Healthy Oceans, Seas and Resilient Communities’ which commits the G7 to supporting better adaptation planning, emergency preparedness and recovery; support innovative financing for coastal resilience; and launch a joint G7 initiative to deploy Earth observation technologies and related applications to scale up capacities for integrated coastal zone management.

In addition, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the European Union agreed to tackle ocean plastic in the ‘Ocean Plastics Charter.’ Such action lays important groundwork for substantial negotiations for the first ever international treaty for conservation of the high seas to begin in September. The negotiations will last 2 years, culminating in 2020. The high seas cover nearly half the planet and are filled with marine life, from fish to plankton that are crucial to generating oxygen and regulating the global climate.

Approximately 40 percent of all CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels is absorbed by the ocean. The new treaty will be negotiated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, joining other agreements that govern sea bed mining and highly migratory fish stocks. It has been dubbed the “Paris Agreement for the Ocean”, potentially enabling the creation of large marine protected areas in the high seas that have long been called for as crucial to curbing the decline of global fish stocks and other marine life.

Speaking of the Paris Agreement, this year is also a turning point for international climate action. The first stocktake of progress under the Paris Agreement on climate change, known as the Talanoa Dialogue, is currently underway, and is expected to highlight tangible opportunities for countries to further advance climate action. Countries are also expected to agree later this year on a rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement.

The ocean and coastal ecosystems provide an untapped, nature-based climate solution that needs to be part of both conversations.

The Ocean as a Climate Solution

“Blue carbon” ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and kelp forests are 10 times more effective at sequestering carbon dioxide on a per area basis per year than boreal, temperate, or tropical forests and about twice as effective at storing carbon in their soil and biomass. They also play a crucial role in protecting coastal infrastructure and communities from climate impacts, including extreme weather events.

• Mangroves are found in 123 countries and territories and are estimated to cover more than 150,000 square kilometres globally. Mangroves buffer coastal communities from wind and waves, acting as a frontline defense against storms and sea level rise.
• If the world halted just half of annual coastal wetlands loss, it would reduce emissions by 0.23 gigatonnes, Spain’s total annual emissions in 2013.
• Restoring coastal wetlands to their 1990 extent would increase annual carbon sequestration by 160 megatonnes a year, equivalent to offsetting the burning of 77.4 million tonnes of coal.

National Climate Commitments: An Opportunity to Advance Action on Climate and the Ocean

Commitments made by countries to advance climate action in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement are a vehicle to advance action on both agendas. Known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the ocean and coastal ecosystems are currently underrepresented in these commitments.

There are a number of policy options for incorporating blue carbon ecosystems into NDCs. These include:

• Creating or protecting blue carbon ecosystems (including through Marine Protected Areas). This includes establishing buffer zones to reduce impacts from adjacent land-use and allowing mangroves to migrate inland in response to sea level rise.
• Reforesting or rehabilitating degraded blue carbon ecosystems.
• Introducing incentives to create new or protect existing blue carbon ecosystems on privately owned land, including through access to carbon markets.
• Ensuring the mitigation potential of blue carbon ecosystems is included in national greenhouse gas inventories.

Recognizing the Blue Carbon Economy

Of course, curbing climate change isn’t the only reason to invest in ocean and coastal ecosystem protection. Coastal ecosystems can also but the resilience of coastal communities to natural hazards—including storms (mangroves absorb the energy of storm-driven waves and wind), flooding, erosion and fire. Wetlands provide nurseries for the many species of fish that support economies and improve food security. And marine protected areas can also protect biodiversity.

Fighting climate change is just yet another benefit the ocean provides us. It’s time to start recognizing its protection as a climate change solution.