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Welcome to Sports Politika
After years of covering the intersection of sports and politics for mainstream outlets like The Guardian and The New York Times, investigative reporter Karim Zidan is launching his own newsletter.
The year 2022 – which began with the Olympic Games in Beijing and ended with the World Cup in Qatar – was a great year for authoritarian regimes looking to cover up their atrocious human rights records.
Over the course of a 12-month period, countries such as China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have been criticized for harrowing human rights violations, used prestigious sports events to polish their public image on an international stage. This process is known as sportswashing, a term that describes the use of sports by oppressive governments to legitimize their regimes and distract from their human rights abuses. Traditional examples of sportswashing include the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin under the Nazi regime, which Hitler hosted in an attempt to showcase German and Aryan superiority.
While sportswashing has long been a popular tactic, 2022 was a particularly concerning year because both the Olympic Games and the World Cup – the two most-watched sporting events in the world – were hosted in countries with markedly oppressive regimes. This growing trend of authoritarian involvement in international sports is part of the reason why I have decided to launch my own newsletter to better handle the mounting coverage on the intersection of sports and authoritarian politics.
If you’ve enjoyed reading my work on the intersection of sports and politics, please consider joining the Sports Politika community by becoming a paid subscriber.
As we are now several months into 2023, there are countless other concerning sportswashing affiliations to consider, including the Ultimate Fighting Championships’ troubling links to Chechnya’s dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, the NBA’s blossoming relationship with Rwandan autocrat Paul Kagame, the NFL’s ongoing partnership with China, and Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding investments in sports and gaming.
Each of these aforementioned examples highlights the growing trend of authoritarian countries using prominent and established sports entities as platforms for propaganda and sportswashing campaigns. This strategy has proven to be remarkably effective in overhauling these states’ public images and legitimizing their regimes.
This is why I need your help.
If you’ve enjoyed reading my work or learned from my reporting on the intersection of sports and politics over the past decade, please consider joining the Sports Politika community by becoming a paid subscriber. By doing so, you would be helping me continue to provide in-depth features and timely coverage of the sports-politics landscape during this critical time.
Readers can subscribe to the Sports Politika newsletter for just $5 a month or $50 annually.
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Over the past decade, I have made it my professional mission to document the various regimes that had weaponized sports for political gain. My reporting spanned more than two dozen countries in six continents, covering everything from the beautiful game to the sweet science. I wrote about the oligarchs looming over Russian sports, the oil sheikhs turning football into their personal plaything, and the warlords with a penchant for cagefighting.
Your support will allow me to continue to hold the powers that be to account and provide the sort of exceptional coverage that you have come to expect from me over the years.
I will not let you down.