I am all for taking ethical stands, but if you are going to do so it does help to show a little bit of consistency. Today, Argentina cancelled its World Cup warm-up game against Israel in protest, it seems, at Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. According to striker Gonzalo Higuain, the players ‘have done the right thing’ in refusing to play – and have been warmly applauded by the Palestinian Football Association.
So, the Argentinians will miss out their proposed stop in Israel and proceed directly to the World Cup in, er, Russia. Yes, Russia, the country which four years ago annexed the territory of another state, Ukraine, and which, just three months ago, has been implicated in the attempted assassination of a double agent on another country’s soil. If Argentinian football players really want to make a stand on human rights why on Earth are they turning out for the World Cup at all?
Come to think of it, why are they happy to represent Argentina on the football field? I am not making a comment here on the country’s reputation for cheating on the field of play – though the country will forever be sullied by the fact it owes one of its two World Cup victories to a ball thumped in the back of the net with the fist of a supposed great player (I reckon even I could be a passable footballer if the ref granted me alone the right to handle the ball). I was thinking more of Argentina’s recent record on human rights.
According to Human Rights Watch 'Argentina faces long-standing human rights problems that include police abuse, poor prison conditions, endemic violence against women'. It also criticises 'vaguely defined criminal provisions that undermine free speech, and delays in appointing permanent judges are serious concerns.' There are enough grounds there, surely, for Iceland’s footballers to refuse to turn out for their opening game against Argentina on 16 June.
There is an alternative explanation for the ethical inconsistency shown by Argentina’s footballers: that they are not so much motivated by morals or politics as by threats by the Palestinian Football Association to burn replica Argentinian shirts if the country’s football team dared to show up in Israel. In which case, their non-appearance in Israel is less a case of taking an ethical stance as moral cowardice.
Either way, they would have done themselves a favour by either turning up for the Israel match as planned – or by boycotting the World Cup altogether. It is the selective nature of their ethical stance – which is concentrated, like so many people’s moral stances, on Israel alone – that begins to look sinister and unpleasant.