Economy

Soccer Scandals: Locals Want Zurich To Give FIFA The Boot

A pair of city councilors is urging Zurich to cut its decades-old ties with FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing association. Not only do they say scandals have made FIFA bad for the city’s image, it’s also a waste of money.

The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
Peter Aeschlimann

ZURICH -- The view of Zurich from up here is magnificent. The blue and white FIFA flag -- "For the game, for the world" -- flutters over this little corner of verdant paradise known as Sonnenberg. Right now, the soccer field is empty, the wurst stand closed, so all you hear aside from the faint hum of traffic in the city below is the clatter of pots and pans in star chef Jacky Donatz's eatery. That, and the sonorous voice of sports reporter Walter de Gregorio talking on his cell phone.

De Gregorio is standing in the parking lot between a Maserati and a Smart car, smoking. His stint as consultant to FIFA President Sepp Blatter ends at the end of September. His job is to give Blatter input about how the soccer association could communicate better. "There has to be a systematic clean-up," de Gregorio is saying into the phone. "Zero tolerance!"

Wherever that's going, it comes too late for Jacqueline Badran and Balthasar Glättli. As far as the local Socialist and Green Party politicians are concerned, they're through with FIFA. The duo has presented a motion to Zurich's city council that would require FIFA to clear out. "FIFA under Blatter is not an institution that deserves to get preferential treatment from this city," says Glättli. And Badran adds: "FIFA damages Zurich's image."

The not-for-profit organization has been headquartered in Zurich since 1927. In 1996, FIFA leased the Sonnenberg site from the city for 60 years with a right to build. Later, however, it moved its offices into larger premises. Since 2006, it has been using the Sonnenberg property as a convention center and pays the city 200,000 Swiss francs (about 250,000 dollars) in interest a year. Badran thinks this is far too little; in a location like that, you could easily ask for four times as much. And over the length of the contract, it means a loss of 30 million francs (37 million dollars) income for the city.

"It's just not acceptable for the city to be subsidizing FIFA. It may be a not-for-profit, but it's one that earns billions and benefits from significant tax relief," says Badran who grew up on the Sonnenberg and learned to read here, with the help of her sister, sitting under an apple tree. Badran stresses that her concern is not a campaign against Sepp Blatter but a fight for what's just and right.

"Now nobody's happy"

Fifteen years ago, it all looked very different. The hotel that had been on Sonnenberg for 100 years and the Sonnenberg restaurant were in severe need of restoration. The city of Zurich didn't have the 13 million francs (roughly 16 million dollars) it would have taken to undertake the project. With the approval of 70% of voters, FIFA came to the rescue. But the situation changed by the mid-90s, Glättli says. Glättli calls this a perfect example of the way politics should not be conducted. "Because they needed money, they were looking for a quick fix. Now nobody's happy, and that could stay the case for several more decades."

The reason for the dissatisfaction about the present situation among "regular folks," says Glättli, is that while the food in the Sonnenberg restaurant is great, it's not affordable for most people. And yet that was one of the stipulations in the 1996 building contract: the renovated Sonnenberg restaurant had to be within the means of the many. One glance at Jacky Donatz's menu is enough to know it's not. Starters like Sonnenberg lobster salad cost 56 francs (69 dollars). The goose liver tartlets with blackcurrant jelly sell for 39 francs (48 dollars). A small veal cutlet at Jacky's runs 62 francs (77 dollars), a larger one 89 francs (110 dollars). The lowest-priced thing available is a 26-franc (32-dollar) bratwurst with potato rösti.

Under pressure from the city, Donatz did opened a "Wurscht-Corner" in the spring of 2007, where a bratwurst, roll and mustard cost only 6.50 francs (8 dollars) – but for Glättli this "bratwurst compromise" doesn't even begin to cut the mustard.

So the motion that he and Badran have put before the city council recommends an investigation into how the contract with FIFA could be dissolved, and how the Sonnenberg could be put to less exclusive use. Either that, or the city needs to find a way to earn better money from it. Glättli himself is thinking in terms of making it the headquarters for the local chapter of an organization like the WWF, or an organization that works to further social causes. Badran says she has no problem with the idea of a business occupying the office space; it would at least be lucrative, she says, whereas the present arrangement with FIFA is "garbage."

FIFA presently pays 1.7 million francs (2.1 million dollars) in taxes on a billion francs (1.2 billion dollars) worth of equity. The organization's profits are not taxed. According to canton of Zurich tax authorities, if FIFA were a business it would have paid 57 million francs (71 million dollars) worth of taxes last year.

"It's galling that we have to try to save money by cutting food budgets at old peoples' homes while we're subsidizing FIFA," says Badran. Adds Glättli: "We're throwing money at FIFA, which is a global concern completely lacking in transparency."

Read the original story in German

Photo - Ed Coyle Photography

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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