Archive for August 2007

The Argument, in Complete Form

August 22, 2007

As promised, I’ve compiled the twenty major posts on the blog that went up between August 5 and August 18 into a single word document, linked below. Together these posts are intended to present both a thorough overview of the key moral and political issues surrounding Thaksin’s takeover at Manchester City. In the process, I present an overarching train of thought on what it all means, both from the point of view of Thailand and its prospects for democracy, and from the standpoint of City supporters.

Enjoy!

thaksin-blog-in-book-form.doc

Inside Story on City Takeover; An “Egalitarian” Take on Thaksin

August 22, 2007

Couple of interesting reads that are the product of City supporters, or perhaps erstwhile City supporters.  First, David Conn at the Guardian has delivered an informative story on the role of agent Jerome Anderson in Thaksin’s takeover, along with some quotes about the PR benefits the former prime minister is reaping around the world.

Second, Manchester City supporter and Thailand resident “egalitarian” has passed on his own account of the coup last September and the events leading up to it, which is interesting reading. And, for a really sad read, click on the “diary” section of his blog.

BBC Profile of Thaksin

August 21, 2007

With the passage of the constitutional referendum in Thailand Sunday as well as Manchester City’s big win over Manchester United, there has been plenty of interesting writing and commentary about Thaksin, his political future, and how his owning a football club fits in over the last few days. Later in the week, we’ll attempt a round-up of the best and most pertinent articles.

In the meantime, BBC  News has run an extended profile of Thaksin that does a nice job touching on all the key issues; it even includes an interview with a Thai soccer star who thinks Thaksin’s investment in Manchester City would have been more appropriately spent in his homeland. Go to minute 33 of the linked clip to see the report.

City 1, United 0

August 19, 2007

A deflected strike from Geovanni and a resolute defensive performance anchored by the sensational Micah Richards were enough to hand a famous victory to the blues in the Manchester derby on Sunday. It’s now 9 points from 9 for City, who find themselves some seven points clear of the defending champions.

It’ll be interesting to see how this news plays out in Thailand, where voters spent their Sunday giving the thumbs up or thumbs down to the proposed new constitution. Few blues in Manchester will care at the moment, preferring instead to enjoy City’s fourth victory in the last six home derbies and the club’s unexpected position at the top of the league table.

A Final Word…

August 18, 2007

In the preceding two weeks, we’ve presented an overview of the controversy surrounding Thaksin Shinawatra’s takeover at Manchester City, as well as an argument about what it all means. On Monday we’ll provide a guide to the main posts for anyone new to the blog wanting to walk through the argument and analysis step by step, and also collate all those posts into a single file in case anyone’s inclined to read them all in one sitting.

I’d like to leave the exclamation point, however, to long-time City supporter Colin Rudd, author and performer of the fantastic “Eighty Years at Maine Road.” Not long ago Colin weighed in on a City message board with his own view on the takeover, which, at the end of the day, closely matches my own feelings about the events at City of the last several months. Colin’s given me permission to reprint what he had to say:

I’m the guy who wrote “80 years of football at Maine Road” and “Marc Vivien-Foe” if anyone is familiar with them. I loved Maine Road with a passion but now it’s gone. I admired Marc and was broken hearted when he died but he’s gone. I dreamed of a fair socialist world but the dream has died… football is corrupt as are most things these days…“money doesn’t talk, it swears”

There’s no purpose in arguing about Thaksin’s dirty money or Sven’s obscene salary or for that matter the player’s disgustingly extravagant wages….. that’s not what supporting a club means to your average fan.

It’s more child-like, tribal and wonderful when your team plays great football and that’s what people want…. the debate is over and if Thaksin is finally caught out, well that’s what you get if you play rough.

Every football chairman is corrupt so forget them!… the game lives on and when the ball hits the back of the net I don’t think….I feel!

Shinawatra, Swales, Lee, Wardle can all go to hell for all I care, I just love the colour sky-blue…. “The beauty of my childhood still burns inside of me” and rich bastards can’t take that away from me. True fans live the dream and escape from the reality so let’s stop mixing the two things up.

We can support City and laugh at the crooks at the same time… they won’t care as long as they have the power but PLEASE!.. DON’T GIVE THEM ANY RESPECT!

“We’ve moved on to Eastlands
The start of something new.
The crowd will still be roaring …
AND THE SHIRTS WILL STILL BE BLUE”

Superbia in Proelio? The Dilemma of Supporting City in the Thaksin Era

August 17, 2007

Suppose then one accepts the general argument offered in the previous post, that one can support a football team whose owner is likely to have done bad things, without thinking one’s self complicit in moral wrongdoing.

There remains one further question: would one want to support a team with an owner one views in such a negative light?

After all, the formula described above—support the club, distrust the owner, and be willing to accept justice if someday that owner is convicted in a court of law—is a recipe for continual cognitive dissonance. That’s especially true in City’s case, as the early evidence is that Thaksin will be seeking to associate himself with the club in quite a visible way, and it’s undeniably the case that the better City do, the more credit he will get. And while perhaps this cognitive dissonance will have the effect of producing a greater good, if it keeps Thaksin focused on football and away from the reins of leadership in Thailand, it’s not certain that that will be the case. City might in the end be played as dupes, used as simply a glittering, politically efficacious tool in Thaksin’s sprawling business empire.

Supporting City under those circumstances might give one more headaches than pleasure. Sports fans associate their teams with the purest of loves, the full blossom of innocent childhood attachment re-enacted every Saturday at 3 p.m. But if one’s club has sold itself to an alleged human rights abuser, at the end of the day for some filthy lucre, then that love may come into question. Continuing to support the team may feel more like stitching back together a romance with a partner who has cheated on you rather than the blissful flush of new love. And if that blissful flush isn’t there, what’s the point?

There is no way to provide an objective answer to this set of questions; all one can do is pose them. Ultimately, individuals must decide for themselves. Some City fans who feel negatively about Thaksin have foresworn support for City altogether. Others have said they will continue to support the team and coaches, but won’t give any of their money to the owner and hence have canceled season tickets. Others may carry on as before, but with a more cynical attitude towards the club as an institution and football in general, supporting the team but quietly hoping the owner one day gets his come-uppance.

And still others are playing a wait-and-see game—continuing with the same habits of fandom, and waiting to gauge what’s own gut reactions will be to seeing the new City play.

In the end it would be naïve in the extreme to deny that if City do well on the field, more of the fence-sitters and ambivalent will come back into the fold. That’s the way human nature works.

In my case, what’s unsettling in trying to think through this question is that on the football side of things, I could not be more pleased with the changes since last season. Sven Goran Eriksson commands a lot of respect in my book and brings a high degree of professional clout as well as a renewed passion to proceedings. The team he’s assembled looks very promising, with the new players themselves reasonable blokes that one can enjoy cheering for. Joey Barton has gone. There’s a sense of hopefulness; after a couple of years in the doldrums, the dream of winning a trophy is back on.

And yet, the thought lingers: are the premises for this all wrong? Can one really feel pride in a football club owned by someone on Amnesty International’s hit list? I may admire Sven’s accomplishment and the team he builds as a footballing achievement, and may be emotionally drawn to them by their blue uniforms, but can I actually be proud of them? For fans of a club whose motto is “pride in battle,” it’s an important question, and one all City fans concerned about the charges against Thaksin will have to work out for themselves.

Personally, I think and hope I can feel pride in Sven’s work and the players and team he’s assembled. That the money itself will be called tainted does not bother me; Thaksin may have used his political positions unethically to bolster the family fortune, but I’m enough of a Marxian to believe that the effort to precisely separate out “clean” from “tainted” capitalist profit is in the end a fruitless one.

In the end it’s all social surplus, created by workers somewhere, that this particular capitalist has been given the legal right to control. It doesn’t bother me than that the money itself came from Thaksin as opposed to some other wealthy, politically connected capitalist who might have bought the team instead; in the end, I don’t see that much difference between the two cases. If he is legally guilty of corruption, than justice should be served, but the doctrine of rejecting all “tainted” money is not one capitalist enterprises can be reasonably expected to live by within a capitalist system. (This is not to praise or endorse capitalism; just to state the facts.)

The more pertinent objection is not Thaksin’s money but Thaksin himself, the acts he is alleged to have been a willing party to as a prime minister rather than the fortune he accumulated. Now, as we have argued before, there is a good case to be made that it actually will be a good thing for Thailand and the future of democracy there if Thaksin spends his time playing with his football club toy rather than angling for a return to political power (if we take him at his word on that one).

What is most galling is not so much in the end, then, that City accepted Thaksin’s investment; it’s that there is no evidence club officials even thought twice about the human rights charges raised by credible organizations against Thaksin, no evidence that its officials employed any higher standard that than of what would be best for City in the financial sense.

The only consolation is that in all likelihood, none of the other 19 Premiership clubs would have behaved any differently in City’s shoes. The top tier of English football long ago put the god of mammon ahead of any rigorous standard of moral integrity. If one systematically catalogued the various misdeeds of the league’s sponsoring companies—you can check out what Human Rights Watch has to say about working conditions in the United Arab Emirates, whose national airline was allowed by the league to advertise on referees’ jerseys–you’d probably have a pretty lengthy list.

Even so, the failure of City to employ any higher standard than the financial bottom line is disappointing, and a blow to those of us who identified the club with the never-say-die underdog, those of us more interested in beating the soulless behemoths of English football than joining them, those of us who indulged the perhaps quaint belief that City stood for something a bit more purer than the rest of the modern game.

 

Some fans, it appears, are still able to City in that fond light, but for me at least and I suspect numerous others, it’s more of a struggle. I’ll continue to support the team, especially so long as the academy youngsters are playing such a prominent role, and continue to cheer the goals, continue to admire the effort of the players and passion of the loyal supporters.

But I’ll be forced to do so shorn of the illusion that in cheering for City I’m supporting something more noble and a meaningful than a professional football club that happens to wear beautiful sky blue shirts—“without a dream in my heart,” you might say.

To be sure, I may not feel like the club has left “me standing alone” all the time, and there will be times and moments, perhaps, when I’ll be able to put Thaksin and the controversy out of mind just long enough to enjoy the football.

For now, though, there is disappointment and disillusion, and a feeling of loss that I can’t embrace my identity as a Manchester City supporter quite so enthusiastically, quite so pridefully, quite so innocently as before.

Blue moon, indeed.

Manchester City and the Moral Conscience

August 17, 2007

Now we come to the key question for City supporters disturbed by Thaksin’s takeover of the club. Can one continue to support Manchester City under Thaksin’s ownership in good conscience, while at the same time believing (if one chooses to) that the new owner is probably culpable for, or at least complicit, in significant human rights violations, and that efforts by future Thai governments to investigate those charges would be fully justified, even welcome?

Several considerations are in order here. First, the act of investing in a football club is in itself, obviously, not a violation of anyone’s human rights.

Second, quite clearly, no one on the playing, managerial, or administrative staff at Manchester City outside allegedly the chairman is accused by anyone of being complicit in anything that happened in Thailand. Neither are any of the supporters.

Third, the doctrine of guilt by association is one that no one can bear and should be rejected. The fact that someone might have a common interest or association with another person does not make one responsible for that other person’s deeds and misdeeds. It is simply not possible to function in the modern world without associating and dealing with persons who have at some point done bad things.

Fourth, it is possible for “bad” persons and bad entities to do good things, even if they are being done for self-serving reasons. Large corporations around the world that can properly be described as nefarious in their business dealings also fund educational, arts, and other worthy institutions. My own employer accepts money from a corporation (Philip Morris) whose products have killed many, many more people than anyone dreams of attributing to Thaksin. Personally I wish this were not the case, and suspect that corporate charitable donations are a ruse to protect those entities from political challenge. Yet the money can do some good. As the saying goes, “the problem with tainted money is there ‘taint enough of it.”

This is not to compare Manchester City to a university; it is to say that a standard by which the club only accepts “pure” investment is practically unworkable under the conditions of modern global capitalism. (Moreover, describing City as morally pure prior to the Thaksin takeover would also be an implausible reach; remember that right-wing media magnate Rupert Murdoch and Sky formerly owned nearly 10% of the club.)

All these considerations tend to the view that supporting City, even now, does not implicate one in alleged human rights violations. This point might be easier to see if we look at others clubs: no one holds the Chelsea fans responsible for Roman Abramovich’s possible misdeeds, or Liverpool fans for the political activities of their right-wing American owners.

And there is one more, even more powerful consideration: the moral conviction and practical reality that it is the fans that constitute football clubs as the enterprises they are, not the owners, and that no matter who signs the checks and collects the profit, the club belongs to the fans. This conviction rings especially true at City, where fans stood behind the club—“laughed in the face of catastrophe,” as the Wizard of Oz might put it—through the indignities of the third division and the horror show of inept management that brought the club there.

That support, plus Paul Dickov’s right foot, resuscitated the club and laid the path for a long-term return to the Premiership. In the process, the club provided a source of community, identity, meaning, and fellowship to its supporters, a cause for joy and grief, consternation and unexpected surprise. To be a City fan is to be willing to get on the roller coaster, go down blind alleys into the highest of peaks and lowest of depths, perhaps getting a little sick in the stomach, then get off and queue up to go back on again.

A new owner with a questionable past and ongoing political legal travails should not deprive City fans of all that, least of all the club’s most conscientious and most loyal fans, those who would support the team whether they were lining up in the Champions League or in League One with equal fervor. The club belongs to the fans who will still be there long after Elano and Sven and Thaksin are gone.

But there is an important caveat to this train of thought: it should be clear that in supporting the club, one is supporting Manchester City, not the political ambitions or legal battles of Thaksin Shinawatra. Moral and political integrity demands that one not paper over the serious complaints against Thaksin or pretend that they are all politically motivated charges generated by the junta.

To be fair, one can point to some of the complexities noted on this site—for instance, the likelihood that for all the problematic aspects of Thaksin’s rule, his regime was preferable to that of an explicitly anti-democratic military junta; and one can point out that he hasn’t been convicted yet of anything in a court of law. But if a democratically elected government in the future does bring legal charges on corruption or human rights violations against Thaksin, one should hope that justice is served, whatever the consequences (good or bad) for Manchester City.

Likewise, if the Premier League or the government should at some point revise football’s “fit and proper person” test so as to include human rights considerations, I at least won’t complain, whatever the consequences for City. If the League decides that allowing owners with human rights allegations against them to own the club sends an inappropriate message (on the “expressive” account of moral sensibilities discussed in a previous post), that is their prerogative. It would be an eminently reasonable policy that could spare the league, clubs, and their supporters endless headaches in the future.

In short, in my judgment it’s fine to support Manchester City so long as one doesn’t allow affection for City to cloud one’s judgments about Thaksin and the charges against him.

Psychologically, that’s a tall order. Fans understandably want to think their owner is at least a reasonable guy, and will be inclined to interpret evidence and arguments in ways that put their owner in the most favorable light, especially when the owner in question has the easy charm and intuitive sense of what people like that Thaksin clearly possesses. Believe it or not, it’s an impulse I feel myself. But it’s an impulse that can be resisted by my maintaining a critical consciousness.

To sum up: in so far as supporting Manchester City is in itself an innocent act, it should carry no connotation of guilt; the possible acts of one man do not implicate all those with whom he is associated. But making the success of Manchester City the sole center of one’s moral compass would be a moral mistake. If justice, or the collective moral sense of English football (if there still is one), demand that Thaksin face consequences for past activities, City fans and the club itself must not obstruct justice or delude themselves into thinking it’s all just a witch hunt.

But City supporters have one further positive responsibility beyond this: to ensure that the club is not turned into a political football used to advance Thaksin’s possible political ambitions. There may at the moment be a happy coincidence between Thaksin’s personal interests and those of most of the club’s supporters, namely an interest in seeing the team do well on the pitch.

But City fans and City as an institution has no stake in attempts by Thaksin to shape the future of Thai politics, directly or indirectly. I can support City on the pitch, and be glad City have been provided the resources to acquire Elano so he could set up Bianchi to score, but totally oppose Thaksin’s political ambitions.

The same would be true if it were not Thaksin who had bought the club, but John Major or Margaret Thatcher. In those cases, no one would dream of saying that because I support City, I also vote Tory. And no one would dream that is appropriate to use City’s name and resources to advance Tory political interests.

That same logic applies here. Thaksin’s legal problems and political schemes are his business, and have nothing to do with the interests of Manchester City Football Club and its supporters. Supporters have an obligation (for our own sake) to assure that’s the case, to make sure a firm line is drawn between football and Thai politics. City must not become the UK branch of the Thai Rak Thai party.

Some may say this is a quite naïve line to take. Already City are headline news in Thailand, and Thais will be watching the club’s success (or failure) with an eagle eye. That in itself , it could be argued, is a propaganda coup for Thaksin. And, to push this line of thought further, if City do well, Thaksin’s glory will only expand.

Fair points—which is precisely why it’s so vital that City supporters hold Thaksin to his repeated promises that he is done with politics. If Thaksin, or his wife, attempt to re-enter Thai politics as candidates, he should be pressured to sell the club or turn it over to a blind trust, rather than be allowed to use the club as a tool for his political purposes.

In the meantime, City supporters concerned about Thaksin can take this stance: support the club but don’t glorify the owner or sacrifice one’s critical consciousness about the man, his actions, and his motivations.

This, actually, is not as hard as it might sound. Most folks do this all the time in some aspect of their lives. You can be proud of the company you work for or the work you do and distrust your boss. You can be committed to your church even when your minister does wrong or is accused of doing so. You can love your country even when your president or prime minister does terrible things that cost lives.

And you can love a football club to which you are deeply attached while still being profoundly worried about its leadership, skeptical of its motives, and clear-minded that if the interests of the club or its owner conflict with the demands of justice, one’s parochial interest in seeing a football team do well must give way.