FIFA, feminism and the axis of evil

The Iranian ladies' football team, whose dress has been deemed "haram" by FIFA

Reuters runs some great stories every day under the banner of Oddly Enough, collecting all that is weird and wonderful on the newswires and putting it together.

I often wondered if the editors worry that the constant stream of tales of cats driving dumper trucks will ever dry up, but what is truly amazing is that more straight news stories don’t wind up under the heading.

And viewers of the recent FIFA congress will wonder how it doesn’t have its own special section there, such was the bizarre behaviour around the re-election of blusterer-in-chief Sepp Blatter.

That corruption exists within FIFA is in the “dog bites man”field of news, in that everyone knows it – that someone was almost on the verge of doing something about it turned the tables, albeit for a very short while.

Then we have the latest FIFA ruling on Islamic dress for Iranian female soccer players, one of those wonderful stories where no-one comes out of it with any credit whatsoever.

Now you could say the onus is on the women to throw off the shackles of oppression and refuse to wear anything other than a normal kit, but in doing so you’d be as wide of the mark as a cross from Aiden McGeady. What they do or do not wear is their own business and irrelevant as long as they aren’t a danger to themselves or others.

The big “dog bites man” article here is the seemingly boundless stupidity of Iran, FIFA and all points inbetween.

Let’s deal with Iran first. It’s been said that if, after ten seconds at a poker table you haven’t worked out who the sucker is, then it’s you.

With secular uprisings taking place throughout the Arab world one would have thought that Iran might be about to drop the charade and get on with moving into the 20th century in the way they run their affairs, especially where they relate to women.

But no. Still, the “revolution” continues, as blatantly corrupt and morally bankrupt as it ever was.

Which brings us nicely on to FIFA, which has ruled that a compromise football kit consisting of a kind of tracksuit and hijab that covers the hair, ears and neck is illegal. Why? Let’s let FIFA themselves answer that:

“Fifa’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable.”

Working in journalism, I get to witness an immense amount of stupidity at close hand, but this is a brilliant example of idiocy taken to its illogical conclusion. We will stop women playing football because we don’t quite agree with what they use to cover their heads.

No reader needs me to explain how ridiculous this is; no reader needs me to explain how wrong it is that in the 21st century, we are still having discussions about women’s rights that we should have left behind when we left the caves and invented fire. FIFA is not based in Tehran, but in Switzerland. From a ruling like this you’d never guess.

All this sorry episode proves is that, once again, the chauvinists in Iran and the idiots running FIFA have no balls. But – oddly enough – they have some neck.

Unless everyone accuses you of bias, you’re doing it wrong

Enda gives Obama a rhetorical lesson- or is it the other way round?

“The only way you’ll ever know an article on the Middle East is correct is if everyone on all sides hates it”.

So spoke a journalism professor to a seminar I attended on bias in news reporting. It’s a great process of elimination – if everyone hates it equally, then you’ve remained impartial.

There are those who argue that it is one of the functions of the media to be biased, to provide comment which balances the output of corporations and government, and in many cases that’s true.

This blog, for instance, gives me an outlet for my own opinions which, due to the nature of my work, have no place in straightforward reporting of news, politics or sport. The comment and op-ed pages in our newspapers are valuable vehicles for debate and ideas.

The problem arises when comment starts to masquerade as news.

Take Enda and the “plagiarised” lines from Obama at College Green this week, about which Colin Murphy provides an excellent explanation over at

I’m usually the first to give Enda a good kicking in these pages, but not this time.

This time, he didn’t “plagiarise” anything – he engaged in a simple, respectful and powerful rhetorical device, and to interpret it otherwise is disingenuous.

But of course, in Irish media it was reported as “plagiarism”, instead of the skilful piece of  political theatre performed before a master of the art that it actually was.

As most people are aware, plagiarism is a terrible crime in both journalism and academia, and those accusing Enda Kenny of it knew exactly what they were doing, regardless of their political colours.

Whether they are disappointed with him for dragging his feet over how to make the poor poorer, or cut thousands of jobs from the civil service, essentially they wished to paint the Taoiseach as a fraud and a gombeen.

They wanted to give the impression of a man stupid enough to steal the words of the American President and then repeat them in front of him.

I disagree with some of Colm’s conclusions, in that I don’t think speed or social media has anything major to do with such distortions. For me it’s more a simple lack of humility and respect on the part of those reporting the events.

Just as economists have become our newest celebrities, it is far too easy these days for the reporter to become the story.

We all know who Charlie Bird and Anne Doyle and Ingrid Miley and Kay Burley are, but that is something that doesn’t matter – what matters is what they are reporting and how.

Because most of us want to make up our own minds, what we want is news based on facts, not hearsay or opinion from someone with no respect for or knowledge of the subjects with which they are dealing.

With the possible exception of the staggeringly ill-informed Burley, there are far worse culprits out there than those named above.

The reason I always wanted to work for the Reuters news agency was because of the principles and strict guidelines that cover how we report- these apply to every journalist, including freelancers like me. It’s not just that they make it easier for us to be unbiased in our reporting – they demand it.

Some might find it difficult to work under such circumstances, but I feel the opposite – it moves journalism out of the shadows, liberating its practitioners to do their best work. It also reminds us that it is what we are reporting – and not we who report it – that is important.

Which is why I’m looking forward to next week. Despite the fact that I find most of the professional athletes I meet boorish and unapproachable, I’ll write another article about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Swedish national team, and then sit back and wait for the mails to come in.

And as soon as I’ve had complaints from the fans of Malmö, Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, Sweden, the former Yugoslavia and anywhere else you care to mention, I’ll know I’ve gotten it just right.