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Jan. 17, 2016 — Of FIFA, the IOC, and perhaps two television networks

They announced the shuttering of al-Jazeera America last week, less than three years after the backers of the network, the Emir of Qatar, had spent an estimated $2.1 billion on starting the news channel.

But while there was much chatter about the reasons for the closing of the network — everything from miniscule ratings to mismanagement of staff, from a mistargeted sports doping documentary to a lawsuit claiming sexism and anti-Semitism — there is one factor that led to the closure of the network.

And that factor can be found in the Brent Crude trading numbers on the very day that the annoucement was made.

For during the day, the price of oil fell as low as $29.96 a barrel.

Oil has fueled economies in what are often called the “petroauthoritarian” states of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Brazil, and Venezuela. Many of these states have tried to use that economic leverage in not only keeping oil prices high, but in lavish spending by the very rich in these countries.

As it turns out, some of that spending and economic power has been used in the sports world. Olympics, Formula 1 events, and FIFA World Cups have taken place or are scheduled to take place in many of these petroauthoritarian states.

In Qatar, especially, the choice of the emirate to host the 2022 men’s World Cup has been seen as a disastrous decision made by men in suits with envelopes of cash. If the ongoing FIFA investigations aren’t the trigger to stop all World Cup preparations, an economic recession will.

For Qatar’s economy — and that of many others — depends on not only oil at more than $100 a barrel, but it also depends on that oil being sold by that particular country while its oil reserves are plentiful. None of the states currently pumping out as much oil as they can ship want to be the first to cut back on production.

The slump in the price of oil has turned boom towns like Williston, N.D. into places where workers, attracted by the jobs that hydraulic fracking promised, no longer have the income to stay in a place where rents have risen dramatically over the last three years.

But if there’s one petroauthoritarian regime which will be hurt the most, it’s Brazil. The country hosted the World Cup a year ago, and have several stadiums which remain unused. The nation is hosting the Summer Olympics in Rio, but it’s under a cloud of pessimism. An economic decline, thanks to the price of oil, has created a recession in Brazil that has not been seen since the 1930s.

President Dilma Yousseff is under impeachment proceedings for mismanagement of Petrobras, the state-owned oil company. Indeed, investigations have yielded corruption charges that have swept up some 232 companies, including Rolls-Royce.

What’s suffered in this economic decline are preparations for the Olympics. Many of the deliverables are well behind schedule, and the water being used as the competition surface for events such as rowing and white-water kayaking have reportedly made some competitors sick.

It makes one wonder how or why the International Olympic Committee decided to hold the Olympics in Brazil in the first place. Especially now that oil money is much less profligate than it is now.

It’s a scene we’ve seen before, with the spending of money on very poor construction of venues at the Sochi Olympics in Russia (yep, another petroauthoritarian state) in 2014. The central Russian state bank Vnesheconombank is on the hook for about 200 billion rubles’ worth of hotels and ski resorts that they’re going to have to manage.

And given the fact that two of the playgrounds for Russian oligarchs are now off-limits — Turkey and Egypt — they’re going to have to keep them open for a while.

But back for a moment to al-Jazeera America. While there have been announcements made as to the shuttering of the American network and a similar enhancement of the network’s digital presence, AJ+, there is one part of the Qatari television presence of whom nothing is being uttered.

And that is beIN Sports. Launched in 2012, the international sports network currently has a foothold in about 17 million households. Compare that to al-Jazeera America, which was considered an abject failure at 60 million households.

While the sports network shows mostly sporting events, few are produced by beIN. A number of the events contested in Qatar, such as a golf tournament and a bicycle race, get heavy promotion.

BeIN has news and opinion shows, but the lack of criticism of the Qatar 2022 bidding process and the role of former Asian Football Confederation President Mohammed bin Hammam has been noticeable.

Indeed, I find it interesting that the documentary “The Dark Side,” linking North American professional athletes to doping, was not shown on beIN, but instead on al-Jazeera America.

Goes to show you the Qatari royal family’s priorities. And certainly sports journalism is not one of them.


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