Geopolitics

Super Bowl Global: American Football's Worldwide Push

Sri Lankan gridiron
Sri Lankan gridiron
Julie Farrar

LONDON — It’s that time of year again, and Super Bowl fever is definitely NOT spreading across the planet. Still, the rest of the world is slowing warming to American football, and the game will be broadcast live Sunday in more than 180 countries and in more than 30 languages, mostly on cable and satelite networks. The bigger dream of seeing the proverbial pigskin take root abroad requires more than just the once-a-year novelty of the championship game. So here is a quick tour of American football's slow rise around the globe.

UK
The NFL has long had high hopes of establishing a European franchise, with a regular season game scheduled in London since 2007. But for the first time this season, two games were played on the opposite side of the Atlantic thanks to demand. In 2014, this will increase to three.

"It is a sign that the game is growing globally," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told NFLUK.com. "I think the message is clear. There are passionate fans who love the NFL in the UK.”

AUSTRALIA
On American Independence Day in 1942, a football game was played by American servicemen in Adelaide, and it managed to attract an impressive crowd of 25,000. Still the game didn’t take hold after the war ended, unable to unseat the padding-free Australian Rules Football.

Still, the American version of the game began to gain popularity in the 1980s and early ‘90s with the formation of leagues. Currently there are 70 teams with more than 2,500 players.

INDIA
The aim of the EFLI is to introduce American football to the Indian market and its large consumer base. The organisation's management team consists of both United States and Indian business and entertainment executives as well as several United States sports figures.

Prominent investors include Brandon Chillar, an Indian-American linebacker from the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers, former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, and former NFL quarterbacks Ron Jaworski and Kurt Warner. Investors outside of the sports community include U.S. actor and entertainment producer Mark Wahlberg.

The EFL alliance aims to usher in a new era for sports in India, incorporating teams from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and a certain American mythology of the game: “On the field, all are equal; player, team, coach and fan united in an energy unparalleled by any other game.”

KENYA
An American Football team plays at the University of Nairobi, backed by an American diplomat. Kenyan Daniel Adongo, a former rugby player, who now plays in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts, seems to have inspired the students. He makes more than $5,000 a week and the students hope that some day, their time will come too.

There are many challenges in acquiring equipment, which must be shipped from abroad. The team hope to be first to represent Kenya in the upcoming American Football World Cup in Sweden in 2015.

RUSSIA
In just two years, the number of teams competing has more than tripled in Russia. The sport, however, doesn’t get much exposure. If Russians played collegiate football in US that would help exposure, says RT expand=1].

No state funding is awarded, so each team relies on sponsorship. Players often fund their own playing and travel expenses. There are only about 500 players at who compete at the highest level, but still, they’re all amateurs and must down anther job as well.

Vasily Dobryakov, coach for the Moscow Patriots said: “It’s a contact sport, team sport. Good-looking guys playing a touch game. It’s what we’re looking for.”

BRAZIL
American Football in Brazil began on the Copacabana beach, or so the legend goes. And it’s not just the men who have taken to the sport — the women of Rio de Janeiro are playing too.

ITALY
Soccer might be the beautiful game, but for some Italians, American Football is getting a second look. In Italy's mostly amateur league, the coach and quarterback are typically American. In 2013 former Broncos & Jets QB Tim Tebow was offered a job with the Milano Seamen, in a holy attempt to promote the sport in the country.

Photo by Italian Football League via Twitter

JAPAN
The winner of first and second American Football World Cup was, in fact, Japan. Called the X-League, it’s amateur — like in Russia — so practices are shorter and fewer than in professional leagues.

The winner of the X-League plays in the Rice Bowl, an annual game on January 3, pitting the X League champion against the national college champion in Japan. Current champions are the Obic Seagulls.

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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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