Sport might not be a topic too often blogged about on this blog, but this is different. For the uninitiated, Luiz Felipe Scolari has been a very successful manager. FC Bunyodkor is a Uzbek football club. The Uzbekistan league is a low profile league. So, is this is a case of a 'big' manager going to a small club? Yes, but there is more to the story than that.
Four years ago Bunyodkor did not exist. They won promotion from the amateur second division at the first attempt, finished runners-up in cup and league next time out, and in their third season won the double, with a run to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League to boot. They have a former World Cup winner in the team, alongside the Asian footballer of the year. Now they are getting serious.
The success of the team is straightforward, it is due to its ownership. Gulnara Karimova controls the club. She is the daughter of Islam Karimov, the brutal dictator of Uzbekistan, and is thought to be his likely successor. The purpose of the club is to perform as a PR vehicle for the Karimov regime. The Karimov regime, which Britain supports, is brutal and repressive.
There are over 6,000 political and religious prisoners in Uzbekistan. Every year, some of them are tortured to death. Sometimes the policemen or intelligence agents simply break their fingers, their ribs and then their skulls with hammers, or stab them with screwdrivers, or rip off bits of skin and flesh with pliers, or drive needles under their fingernails, or leave them standing for a fortnight, up to their knees in freezing water. Sometimes they are a little more inventive. The body of one prisoner was delivered to his relatives last year, with a curious red tidemark around the middle of his torso. He had been boiled to death. His crime, like that of many of the country's prisoners, was practising his religion. [...]
An Islamist terrorist network has been operating there, but Karimov makes no distinction between peaceful Muslims and terrorists: anyone who worships privately, who does not praise the president during his prayers or who joins an organisation which has not been approved by the state can be imprisoned. Political dissidents, human rights activists and homosexuals receive the same treatment. [...]
Uzbekistan is seen by the US government as a key western asset, as Saddam Hussein's Iraq once was. Since 1999, US special forces have been training Karimov's soldiers. In October 2001, he gave the United States permission to use Uzbekistan as an airbase for its war against the Taliban. [...]
[F]ar from seeking to isolate his regime, the US government has tripled its aid to Karimov. Last year , he received $500m (£300m), of which $79m went to the police and intelligence services, who are responsible for most of the torture. While the US claims that its engagement with Karimov will encourage him to respect human rights, like Saddam Hussein he recognises that the protection of the world's most powerful government permits him to do whatever he wants. Indeed, the US state department now plays a major role in excusing his crimes.
Due to the club's wealth, people and organisations have been clambering to be involved with F.C. Bunyodkor. Luiz Felipe Scolari's association with the club looks as though it is just the latest landmark in a continuing trend of FC Bunyodkor's progress. Meanwhile, due to its geographical proximity to key natural resources, it looks as though Britain and the U.S. will continue to support Karimov's regime.