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SBD Global/November 11, 2013/International Football

Spanish National Team's Upcoming Equatorial Guinea Friendly Sparks Controversy

Human rights activists have condemned the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and Spanish national team for "arranging their upcoming friendly in Equatorial Guinea," where the country's president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been "accused of torturing his political opponents and stealing money from the country’s coffers," according to Tom Conn of INSIDE SPANISH FOOTBALL. Following the announcement that Spain had agreed to play Saturday's friendly in Malabo and forego the "customary financial compensation as a means of strengthening relations with the former Spanish territory," Equatorial Guinea Minister of Youth & Sport Francisco Pascual Obama Asue issued a "statement of excitement and revelry." However, not everyone is "happy about the friendly, as human rights groups feel that by scheduling the friendly," Spain is essentially "endorsing the 'authoritarian regime' of Obiang" (INSIDE SPANISH FOOTBALL, 11/9). In London, David Smith reported human rights group EG Justice Dir Tutu Alicante criticized Spain for "overlooking democracy and human rights concerns." Alicante: "I cannot imagine England deciding to play a friendly against the Zimbabwean national team while [Zimbabwe President] Robert Mugabe is in power. Using huge sporting events like this one, or bringing Julio Iglesias to sing (which Obiang did last summer), or organizing multimillion-dollar beauty pageant competitions are the kinds of magnanimous distractions that dictators like to use to keep poor people happy" (GUARDIAN, 11/8).

CONTROVERSIAL FRIENDLY: In Madrid, Gómez & Blanco reported the upcoming friendly is "opening a controversy: should football be neutral before dictators?" The RFEF is "arguing that the motive is to support football in a country that is very athletically modest." Ecuatorial Guinea, however, "is not just any country." The country has "been under Obiang's dictatorship for 34 years and his family, which is one of the most corrupt regimes in the world, has crushed dissent and few people receive the billions of euros that come from the country's oil." UEFA President Michel Platini said after groups threatened to boycott the 2012 Euro in Ukraine, "We will never be politically involved in religious or racial politics. We are a non-political association, and our focus is developing football." The RFEF "decides which national teams La Roja plays against based primarily on sporting criterion." Spain "maintains a relationship with Equatorial Guinea, has an embassy there, and is the country's third-biggest commercial client, behind the U.S. and Italy" (EL PAIS, 11/8).
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