The Foreign Service Journal, January-February 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2023 13 TALKING POINTS Soccer Diplomacy T he group stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament, which drew to a close in early December, not only served up world-class athletics, but also highlighted geopolitical competition and domestic turmoil off the pitch. In a face-off that many compared to the Cold War “Miracle on Ice” hockey match between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union in 1980, the Nov. 29 soccer match between the U.S. and Iran came amid heightened tensions between the two countries. Following the refusal of Iranian play- ers to sing their national anthem at the beginning of their match against England on Nov. 21—a gesture of solidarity with anti-government protesters at home— CNN reported that the families of team members were threatened with imprison- ment and torture by the Iranian National Guard if the players failed to “behave.” Ultimately, Iran was knocked out of the competition by the U.S. team. But scenes of American players consoling their opponents after the final whistle brought a measure of humanity to the tenseness of competition, wrote Yahoo Sports. In a match that highlighted ethnon- ationalism in the Balkans, Serbia’s 2-3 loss to Switzerland sparked offensive epithets from Serbian head coach Dragan Stojkovic against two Swiss players who have ethnic Albanian roots and fam- ily ties to Kosovo. FIFA has announced a probe into the alleged misconduct, including “racist actions of Serbian fans,” according to Radio Free Europe. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Doha to attend the tourna- ment, using the trip to launch a bilateral dialogue with Qatari officials. Yet despite the country’s role as a strategic U.S. partner, hosting a large number of American troops at the Al- Udeid Air Base, which is the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Air Force Central Command, the setting itself remained mired in con- troversy and human rights criticisms. In a press release on Nov. 17, Human Rights Watch announced it was joining migrant workers and their families in demanding compensation from FIFA and Qatari authorities for “abuses, includ- ing unexplained deaths, that workers suffered preparing” infrastructure for the tournament. Afghanistan Report Questions State, USAID I n its 57th quarterly report to Congress, released in October 2022, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Recon- struction (SIGAR) found that the U.S. has providedmore than $1.1 billion in assis- tance to Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. But how the funds were spent remains somewhat unclear. SIGAR says that, for the first time in its history, it is “unable to provide … a full accounting of this U.S. government spend- ing” because USAID and the Treasury Department “refused to cooperate with SIGAR in any capacity, while the State Department was selective in the infor- mation it provided … sharing high-level funding data but not details of agency- supported programs in Afghanistan.” The State Department and USAID deny the allegations. One spokesperson told Government Executive in late October that “the State Department has provided SIGAR written responses to dozens of questions, as well as thousands of pages of responsive documents, analyses and spreadsheets describing dozens of programs that were part of the U.S. government’s reconstruc- tion effort in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the U.S. stopped providing assistance for the reconstruction of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August 2021.” USAID offered a similar statement. On Oct. 25, House Representatives James Comer (R-Ky.) and Glenn Groth- man (R-Wis.) sent a letter to SIGAR Director John Sopko that accused the Biden administration of “obstructing [SIGAR’s] work by failing to produce required information.” The letter, which serves to highlight how the withdrawal from Afghanistan has become steeped in partisanship, requests a briefing on oversight efforts. As for the SIGAR report itself, one section is devoted to the suppression of one of reconstruction’s most impor- tant achievements in the country: the development of an independent Afghan media. Since the Taliban takeover, the —Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, after Iran’s loss to Team USA, in a Nov. 29 tweet. Contemporary Quote