Games People Play
From the life or death games of the Mayans to the nationalistic fervor of the soccer World Cup, individuals and nations have used competitions to define their world. In this Olympic year, the Summer 2012 World Policy Journal explores how sports and games transform societies, hurdle borders, promote security, and tax resources.
In London’s massively expensive stadiums, elite athletes will push the limits of the human body. Given the time, energy, and money invested, we explore the underlying question: Why do we care? In Gaza, Palestinian and Israeli surfers ride the waves together, overcoming obstacles from Hamas and the Israeli government. For our Conversation, World Policy Journal sits down with arguably the world’s greatest chess player and the once and potential future Russian presidential candidate Garry Kasparov. Meanwhile, China makes calculated diplomatic moves to build sports stadiums to win the hearts (and resources) of the developing world.
This issue also showcases dissident—even violent—Chinese cartoons, investigates the harsh lives of displaced families and fighters in Syria and Afghanistan, probes the quiet battle between Vietnam and China for influence in Cambodia, examines the obstacles faced by entrepreneurs in the developing world while suggesting solutions, and traces the consequences of India’s language wars.
In this edition of the Big Question, we ask our panel of global experts to weigh in on how sports have transformed their communities and societies. From basketball in Lithuania to women’s cycling in Iran, sports themselves have become crucial arenas where national identities, traditions, and histories are contested and formed.
As sports editor for the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times, Peter Berlin has covered four summer Olympics. He’s monitored first-hand the thrill of victory and agony of defeat, but despite the spine-tingling theater of the Games, he argues that the economic and social costs borne by Olympic cities should be a cautionary tale for all those considering hosting a sports mega-event.
The evolutions of board games reveal the arcs of history. Backgammon spread and morphed to the east and west along the Silk Road, while Parcheesi followed the tentacles of British colonialism.
The idea is simple: “People who surf together can live together.” But Matthew Olsen, founder of the Gaza Surf Club, elaborates on the barriers Palestinian and Israeli surfers face just to ride the waves and how a simple sport can bring them together in the interests of peace and understanding.
RAND Corp’s top war game designer Bruce Bennett diagrams a nuclear battle scenario on the Korean Peninsula—how, step by step, armies learn the tactics, strategy, and logistics of defeating an attack that can quickly escalate to deploying weapons of mass destruction.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
World Policy Journal speaks with Garry Kasparov about the nexus of games and politics. The Russian chess grandmaster examines the state of his beloved game, analyzes the role of social media in popular uprisings, and predicts a quick and bitter end for President Vladimir Putin.
With few immediately visible strings attached, China is building sports stadiums in resource-rich and politically strategic developing countries, seeking to win favors and minerals that can help power China’s rise. Western nations, says Rachel Will, will need to compete with more and sustainable infrastructure aid that’s free from expectations.
Chinese artist Wang Bo—known by his nom-de-plume Pi San—takes on the Chinese establishment with a daring graphic novelette composed of images from his animation “Little Rabbit Be Good.” Thinly disguised as a children’s story, this vicious satire of the 2008 melamine milk scandal lampoons the humorless government that tried to silence the story. In Pi San’s bold cartoons, the victims rise up in a bloody revolt. And Beijing-based writer Brook Larmer highlights the importance of Pi San’s contributions to free speech in the People’s Republic.
The ongoing massacres are pushing thousands more Syrians across the border to Turkey every day. After supporting Bashar al-Assad for years, Turkey has jettisoned its one-time ally and is now aiding the revolutionaries. Veteran journalist Jenna Krajeski travels to this volatile border to explain how Turkey should position itself to maintain a central role in the restructuring of its neighbor in a post-Assad world.
Afghans fleeing NATO bombing and Taliban violence have found themselves hungry, freezing, and dying in squalid urban camps they hoped might be sanctuary. Barred from official refugee status, neither the international community nor the Afghan government is providing them with enough food or clothing. Rebecca Stewart explains how unless Kabul allows more aid to flow to these forgotten victims, they risk becoming easy targets for al-Qaida recruiters.
Cambodia is literally giving itself away, especially to two rivals—China and Vietnam. As these two neighbors vie for influence with lucrative offers to the Cambodian government, other nations lose leverage, and thousands of Cambodians are evicted to make room for foreign controlled companies. Laura Murray argues that to retain any sway, OECD countries should take a page out of the playbook of Hanoi and Beijing and establish stronger trade agreements with the country that now heads ASEAN, Southeast Asia’s powerful regional alliance.
Phnom Penh Post business editor Tom Brennan chronicles how one Cambodian faced down death threats to create one of Asia’s most efficient water management systems.
Elmira Bayrasli examines the rise of a new breed of entrepreneurs in the developing world, and how they blaze paths for investment in the most disadvantaged regions. In many such nations, she argues, aid should be phased out and replaced with venture capital, cultivating entrepreneurs who will break the cycle of poverty.
Scholar Ananya Vajpeyi traces the evolution of Hindi from its roots in Hindustani to the “Hinglish” of today, arguing that a language of 500 million people needs to develop a richer vocabulary of social science and self-confidence to stand up to English. To do this, she advocates an academy, much like the Académie Française, to stave off linguistic pollution.
World Policy Journal editor David A. Andelman explores the world’s rich-poor divide—which countries are most successful in helping their least advantaged succeed and which are merely lining the pockets of their 1 percent.