World Cup Group F: dying for freedom

By Martin Smith | 15 June 2014

The great Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly once said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

A great quote but not true. For many people living in the nations playing in Group F are literally dying for freedom. Included in this group is Iran, where the state still executes on average one person a day and Nigeria, where over 100 million people live below the extreme poverty level.

Each day this blog takes an alternative look at the countries that make up each World Cup group. Below are links to the other groups:

Group A
Group B
Group C
Group D
Group E

As usual, all the civil rights reports here are taken from Amnesty International reports of 2012 (unless otherwise stated). All the economic ranking statistics come from the World Bank (unless otherwise stated).



FIFA World Ranking: 5

Place in world economic league table: 26

Civil rights issues:

“Indigenous communities continued to be threatened with eviction, despite a blanket ban on such evictions until November 2013 pending completion of a nationwide survey of Indigenous territories. Following his visit to Argentina in November, the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people expressed his concern about the number of forced evictions, the failure to put in place real protection of rights to land ownership, and the need for a mechanism to consult communities on projects that affect them.”

Death penalty: NO

“Mobile phone images of the torture in 2010 of two prisoners by prison guards in San Felipe prison, Mendoza province, came to light. Prisoners Matías Tello and Andrés Yacante, who were suspected by prison officers of involvement in circulating the images, received threats and were transferred to Almafuerte prison where they alleged that they were tortured.”

Rich and poor:

Argentina has seen an increase in the gap between rich and poor from 1990 to 2009. In 2012 Argentina’s richest 10% own 41.7% of income going and the bottom 1.1% own just 10%.

Poverty in Argentina in the last quarter of 2013 again increased and reached 27,5% of the population and 17.8% of households, according to the latest report from the Catholic University Social Debt Observatory, UCA.

Maradonna's famous "Hand of God" goal against England in 1986

Maradonna’s famous “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup.


Argentina’s biggest unions closed down metro, train and bus services and blocked the main entrances into the capital to protest rising prices and crime in April 2014. The Bloomberg magazine reported:

“Trash started to pile up in downtown Buenos Aires as garbage collection was suspended and union members blocked Corrientes, one of the main thoroughfares with a sign that read “enough economic adjustments,” a reference to a 19 percent devaluation in January and a sharp increase in interest rates. Other unions from metal to oil workers didn’t join the strike, according to a statement published in Cronista Comercial by the Labor Ministry.

“President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is facing rising social discontent after devaluing the peso to encourage grain exports and cutting government subsidies as she attempts to shore up international reserves that have fallen near a seven-year low. The 24-hour nationwide strike includes port workers, waiters and some teachers and affects urban transport and flights, the General Workers Confederation, or CGT, said in a statement.”

Player to watch: Lionel Messi (forward)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

FIFA World ranking: 21

Place in world economic league table: 101

Civil rights issues:

According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, almost 8,600 people still lived in 159 collective centres or other temporary accommodation 16 years after the civil war ended.

The European Commission reported in 2011 “widespread discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people, threats and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists, and hate speech and intolerance towards the community by media and politicians.”

The EC also found widespread discrimination against Jews and Roma.

Death penalty: NO

Rich and poor:

Bosnia and Herzegovina (and Manchester City) striker Edin Dzeko. Pic credit: Jon Candy

Bosnia and Herzegovina (and Manchester City) striker Edin Dzeko. Pic credit: Jon Candy

One in five people live below the European poverty threshold.

With unemployment ranging from the central bank estimate of 27.5% to the statistical agency’s 44%, the Balkan country’s unemployment rate is easily among the highest in Europe.

Bosnia’s citizens are among the poorest in Europe, with an average monthly salary of €420.


The failure of Bosnia’s political leaders to address grinding poverty and growing unemployment prompted the first violent protests since the 1992-95 war, in February 2014.

Starting in the northeastern industrial hub of Tuzla , the protests spread across the country, turning into riots that left hundreds injured and government buildings in flames.

The media called the uprising the “Bosnian Spring” – but it was notable for raising working class demands. The movement eventually fizzled out.

Player to watch: Edin Dzeko (forward)


FIFA world ranking: 43

Place in world economic league table: 30

Civil rights issues:

“The authorities maintained the tightened restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly imposed before, during and following the 2009 mass protests and sought to impose further restrictions.”

Mass protests in Iran followed the 2009 elections. Pic credit: Milad Avazbeigi

Mass protests in Iran followed the 2009 elections. Pic credit: Milad Avazbeigi

“Security officials continued to arrest and detain government critics and opponents arbitrarily, often holding them incommunicado and without access to their families, lawyers or medical care for long periods. Many were tortured or ill-treated.”

“Torture and other ill-treatment in pre-trial detention remained common and committed with impunity. Detainees were beaten on the soles of the feet and the body, sometimes while suspended upside-down; burned with cigarettes and hot metal objects; subjected to mock execution; raped, including by other prisoners, and threatened with rape; confined in cramped spaces; and denied adequate light, food, water and medical treatment.”

“Women were discriminated against in law and in practice, including by a mandatory dress code.”

“People accused of same-sex sexual activities continued to face harassment and persecution, and the judicial punishments of flogging and the death penalty.”

Death penalty: YES

According to Amnesty International:

“Hundreds of people were sentenced to death. At least 360 executions were reported by official sources, although other credible information suggested over 274 other executions, with many prisoners executed secretly. Up to 80 per cent of executions were for alleged drug-related offences, often imposed on people living in poverty and marginalized communities, particularly Afghan nationals.

“Sentences of flogging and amputation continued to be imposed and carried out. Sentences of blinding were imposed.”

Rich and poor:

Iran ranked 6th in 2013 Wealth-X list for the Middle East’s wealthy people; there are 15 people whose wealth is more that one billion dollars.

The World Bank says that 28% of Iran families (9.5 million) live below the poverty line.


Despite the brutality of the Iranian state, workers and students are organised and fight to improve society. Here is a list of strikes and protests last month.

  • In Tehran, around 3,000 steel sellers struck against high taxes.
  • Workers at Iran Tire Company also staged a protest in the factory lot against the sacking of a number of workers, reduction in wages, and an increase in the working hours from 8 to 12.
  • In the city of Najafabad, butchers have also gone on strike and shut their shops in protest to extortion through taxes.
  • In Isfahan, stone cutters walked out on strike.
  • In the city of Bafq, a strike by 5,000 iron miners in protest to privatization of this mine.
  • In the city of Shahr-e Kord, 1,000 bakery owners went on strike to protest an increase in the price of flour. The sandwich shops are closed.
  • In the city of Behbahan, Iranian regime functionaries were forced to pay the delayed wages of municipal workers after the workers’ protest of several days.


Player to watch: Reza Ghoochannejhad (winger)


FIFA world ranking: 44

Place in world economic league table: 37

Civil rights issues:

Anti Corruption protest Nigeria

Anti Corruption protest Nigeria. Pic credit: Tonero photo agency

“Police operations remained characterized by human rights violations. Hundreds of people were unlawfully killed, often before or during arrests on the street. Others were tortured to death in police detention.”

“There were consistent reports of police routinely torturing suspects to extract information. Confessions extracted under torture were used as evidence in court, in violation of national and international laws.”

“Communal and sectarian violence continued in Nigeria’s middle belt throughout the year. The authorities’ failure to prevent violence and protect people’s right to life caused violence to escalate. More than 200 people died in clashes in Plateau State alone.”

“Domestic violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls by state officials and individuals remained rife. The authorities consistently failed to prevent and address sexual violence, or to hold perpetrators to account.”

Death penalty: YES

Amnesty’s 2012 report says:

“Seventy-two people were sentenced to death. There were 982 people on death row, including 16 women. Fifty-five people had their sentences commuted and 11 were pardoned. No executions were reported. Many death row inmates were sentenced following blatantly unfair trials or after more than a decade in prison awaiting trial.”

Rich and poor:

Poverty has risen in Nigeria, with almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 (£0.63) a day. The National Bureau of Statistics said 60.9% of Nigerians in 2012 were living in “absolute poverty” – this figure had risen from 54.7% in 2004.

There are between 3–4 million cases of malaria each year Nigeria it is also one of the last countries in the world (along with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) where polio remains an annual threat


There is an important strike by Nigeria’s education workers. Here is an extract from Nigeria’s Premium Times.

“The striking lecturers of Nigeria’s polytechnics and colleges of education on Tuesday held a protest at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja to press home demands for better welfare for their institutions, a stop to the discrimination between their students and university graduates, and the removal of the Supervising Minster of Education, Nyesom Wike.

“The aggrieved protesters also demanded that the government meets their demand so they can call off their strike action. The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP, and Colleges of Education and Academic Staff Union, COEASU, have been on an eight-month and five-month strike respectively. Hundreds of students also joined their lecturers for the protest.

“About one hour after the rally started, police officers fired tear gas at the protesters. This, however, did not deter the protesters. Even angrier, they carried their placards, shouting harder- “Wike is weak, we do not want him again. Wike must go”.

Player to watch: Vincent Enyeama (goalkeeper)

>> Read all our alternative World Cup posts


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