The Weekly Wrap for Saturday, 12 August 2017

By Tom Wharton
Welcome back,

Here's everything you need to know but may have missed this week.

There have been some big sports stories recently so we'll start this issue with a dive deep into the nexus of sport and business. Next, we'll head over to Yemen. Then a quick flight over the simmering Korean Peninsula.

And of course, we've also got The Trumpeter, plus recaps of the best and the worst news of the week. 


Happy reading. 

- Tom

 
DEEP DIVE
Beyond necessities like shelter and food, sport is perhaps one of the few genuinely universal human pursuits. We've been watching it, critiquing it, and competing in it for millennia. Whether it's the world-bestriding Olympic games, or more esoteric competitions (read: sheep-shearing in rural Australia); we as a species are enthralled by the drama, skill and elation of victory.

But there is one uniting facet of sport that now looms over all the rich history, cultural importance, and modern diversity of sport: money. It manifests in betting, sponsorships, corporatisation, technological innovation, bribery, cheating, advertising, black markets, white markets, prizes, fines, fire sales, political interference and plain old greed. 

Let's look at the money behind this week's jaw-dropping sports headlines.
Are this man's services really worth €222m?
The most sensible place to start is at the staggering sum floated this week in 'the world game'. 25-year-old Brazilian sensation Neymar da Silva Santos Junior (Neymar to his friends) moved from Spanish powerhouse F.C. Barcelona to France's resurgent Paris Saint-Germain FC. The transfer price was an eye-popping €222m. Following the announcement Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge quipped that he would rather have bought a stadium.

Neymar himself said, "I wanted a new challenge. This was about ambition... I was never motivated by money". Indeed, the vast majority of that transfer fee (a quarter of a billion dollars in US currency) will not go to Neymar. The young champion will only earn some €27m per year, or €500,000 per week at PSG. The rest is for Neymar's former owners. We use the word 'owners' in this context with all the discomfort that it should perhaps engender, but doesn't. In the world of international football, players are routinely viewed as assets, not employees. They are traded, sold, dumped or elevated at their clubs' discretion. And yet, Barcelona's president said that Neymar was disloyal.

To understand how such an astronomical transfer fee (more than double the previous record) came to pass, one must know not only the player but also the buyer. Since 2011 PSG has been owned by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment, a group based in the oil-rich state's capital of Doha. Like its neighbours in the United Arab Emirates, Qataris have learned that investment in sports can be a quick route to legitimacy and status. Remember, Qatar essentially bought the 2020 World Cup rights as well. 

Meanwhile, Barcelona angled hard for another Brazilian to replace Neymar, Liverpool FC's Philippe Coutinho. In what's now a common practice amongst clubs, a war of misinformation broke out this week. Reports to the media stated that Coutinho was close to a deal (he wasn't). After Liverpool rejected an offer just shy of €100m for the attacking midfielder, still more deceptive stories surfaced. Finally, Liverpool's frustrated manager Juergen Klopp announced, "we will not sell Philippe Coutinho at any price". 

The business of sport clearly holds sway over the world of football, but it's no less of a factor in other arenas. Right now the IAAF World Championships of Athletics is underway in London. It's been full of controversy. The British press slammed James Gatlin after he beat Usain Bolt and Christian Coleman to win gold in the 100m sprint. Gatlin, who was booed at the medal ceremony, is described as a two-time drug cheat (he's not) and has been cast as the villain of international athletics.

To cast Gatlin as the true villain requires an extraordinary amount of contortion. He is but one example among a veritable sea of athletes bending the rules for success, fame and wealth. His is in fact a minor role when compared to the International Association of Athletics Federations itself. Like its sister organisations FIFA and the IOC, the IAAF is as corrupt as they come. Graft, nepotism and bribery are integral parts of how each organisation retains power and influence. The evidence against them literally fills books. And let's not even get started on Russia's official doping program.

But we digress, so we return now to the legendary Usain Bolt who said this week that he had "done his time". Despite finishing a quiet third in his final race, Bolt will be remembered as one of the greatest runners of all time. An honour was invented just to describe his achievements: the 'triple triple'. Bolt won gold medal in the 100m, 200, and 4x100m relay at three Olympic Games in a row (Beijing, London and Rio). No wonder he stands to make in excess of $30m from brand endorsements this year.

Also joining Bolt in retirement this week was three time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador. The Spaniard known affectionately as El Pistolero retired with just two of his three trophies intact (the third was stripped after a doping ban). Cycling of course is yet another sport with big money, big stars, and big cheats
WORLDLYWISE
People smuggling across the Gulf of Aden is equal parts economics and barbarity.
Mass drownings off Yemen - Aid organisations in southern Yemen are overstretched responding to an incident in which hundreds of refugees were thrown into the Gulf of Aden. Mid-week reports emerged that 180 Somali and Ethiopians were forced into the sea along the popular smuggling route when smugglers spotted a naval vessel. Despite the relatively short trip across the Gulf, hunger and exhaustion had weakened those onboard. At least 55 drowned. But less than 24 hours later another alert went out that another 200 refugees were again in the water in an identical incident. Rescue efforts are still underway but it's believed several dozen more have drowned.

Those making it ashore in Yemen are hardly escaping the shocking conditions hanging over the Horn of Africa. The country is riven with civil war. Millions upon millions of Yemenis (overwhelmingly the young, old and women) are at risk of death from famine and now also from cholera. And Saudi Arabia's vicious air war against Houthi rebels has degraded the country's medical capacities. Just this week the national blood bank in Sana'a has announced it is running out of supplies.

Those who are currently sick in Yemen will likely die there because the ports and main airports are blockaded by Riyadh's jets and warships. The health ministry believes as many as 10,000 have succumbed to preventable deaths due to the closures.
Pyongyang won this week.
North Korea defiant - The world's only superpower threatened this week to unleash biblical devastation on the Korean Peninsula. But that threat served only to prompt the hermit regime in Pyongyang to up its own rhetoric.

From the seat of his luxury golf course in New Jersey US President Donald Trump channeled former US president Truman as he laid the intimidation on thick. But his equally bombastic addressee threatened instead to bomb the US military facility on the Pacific island of Guam. Not the sort of exchange you want to hear on the anniversary of America's annihilation of Hiroshima.

It's been a fearful week. Much of the news media has been giddily nihilistic, painting pictures of all-out nuclear war between the North and South, and of entire cities disappearing under mushroom clouds. To the dismay of serious analysts everywhere, bellicose cretins like Sebastian Gorka have been given free rein to thump their chests on cable TV. 

The reality however is that North Korea has already achieved its primary goal: to pair an ICBM with a miniaturised nuclear warhead. Decades in the making, Pyongyang's outlook never wavered: they felt they needed a deterrent for America's nuclear weapons and overwhelming military presence in the region, and now they have one. Western threats, sanctions and negotiations all failed to stop them.

Which is why, despite Trump's sound and fury, many view this episode as yet another example of Washington's waning influence in Asia.
 
THE TRUMPETER:
All of the facts, none of the spin.
1. Trump and Kim Jong Un traded threats
2. Gorka and Tillerson butted heads
3. Trump denied being on a 17-day holiday
4. He said McConnell should "go back to work"
5. Transgender soldiers filed suit against Trump
6. His 'propaganda briefings' were revealed
7. The Dow soared to nine-straight record closes
8. US declared its opioid crisis an emergency
9. A damning climate report emerged
10. Blackwater came in from the cold
 
THE BEST OF TIMES...
This is great.
Who's a big boy then? We have a new heavyweight champion in town: the aptly named Patagotitan. Back in 2012 enormous fossils were unearthed in southern Argentina. Five years on, fervid speculation that the find constituted the largest dinosaur ever has now been confirmed. This plant-eating behemoth weighed 69 metric tons (as much as a space shuttle) and was 10% larger than the previous record-holder, Argentinosaurus. Cool.

Speaking of old stuff... The ancient Egyptian pyramids at Giza just keep getting better. Using infrared thermography researchers have confirmed the existence of a secret chamber hidden in the Great Pyramid. It could be another burial chamber. It could be a trap. And if Hollywood has taught us anything, it could also contain zombie mummies with insatiable sex drives.
THE WORST OF TIMES...
Monsanto is in the news for all the wrong reasons (surprise).
Weed (and human) killer - Gaia's least favourite company was hit with a double-whammy this week. Old documents revealed that the American agrochemical giant had sold dangerous chemicals years after they were banned. Then it was revealed that the company had also paid for 'independent' scientific reviews that would give a tick to other products it knew were dangerous. 

No longer news - While the rest of the world is focused on the nuclear frenzy in East Asia, the savage battle for Raqqa in Syria grinds on. It's a shocking fact that in 2017 the death of 29 civilians in an errant US airstrike barely even registers in the 24-news cycle. Stop. Read this. Remember that it's happening right now.
P.S.
Your weekend long read... This is a fantastic piece from Foreign Policy that delves into the confluence of religion, geopolitics and tourism in the restive Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Read on.

We should note that articles from the FP like the one above are only available on inkl Premium. So if you'd like to read all of inkl's premium content for just $15/month or 10c per article, and to support the work of the world's greatest newsrooms, please head to inkl.com to subscribe. 

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