Top countries of 2014 that we didn’t see coming

Iran, China, North Korea, Greece, Syria, blah blah. These are the usual suspects, countries that everyone knew would be interesting this year. But there are 196 countries in the world, most of which don’t get mentioned in the global media. This year, however, a few unsuspected countries, countries that no one expected to be on the map, did get the world’s attention. Not always for good reasons, of course, but then again, unfortunately, it’s the bad news that gets our attention. Here are some of the most interesting ones:
  1. Guinea – Ebola put this African country on the map. I use the word map loosely, as most Americans assumed that all Africans had Ebola and started discriminating against all Africans.
  2. Ukraine – Putin’s antics made Ukraine the new keyword for geopolitical tension.
  3. Estonia – This little Baltic country launched the revolutionary e-Identity concept, where foreigners can get digital citizenship in the country without living there.
  4. Malta – This little European country had less tech-savvy citizens than Estonia, so instead just tried to sell traditional passports to rich foreigners, to EU’s chagrin.
  5. Romania – This Eastern European country also had tech-savvy citizens, but used its powers for evil instead, and became the cybercrime capital of the world.
  6. Luxembourg – This little sleepy European country was shaken by the world’s big countries suddenly cracking down on tax havens, a few decades too late.
  7. Qatar – Hey, let’s have the World Cup in the Gulf summer! It’s only 50 degrees celsius in the shade! And hey, while we’re at it, let’s get tens of thousands of illegal migrant laborers and work them to death to build the stadia! Thanks, Qatar.
  8. Colombia – This former murder capital of the world had a more positive turnaround and became one of the start-up capitals of the world.
  9. Tunisia – Suddenly, there was only one country left standing after the Arab Spring. Tunisia holds the torch as the only hope of the Middle East.
  10. Mongolia – For five seconds, this was the fastest growing economy in the world. Then, they succumbed to the usual resource curse.

Sports is politics

I’m not a sports fan by a long stretch, but I do find it sad that for each event recently, they just keep getting more and more political. Sochi, the most expensive games in history, were deeply corrupt and served as pure geopolitical PR (and then became just a warm-up for the invasion of Crimea). The Brazil World Cup this summer has seen deaths, and is overshadowed by protests that started last year and are now taking a clever, viral turn. Today a report came out on Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, which is now being called a humanitarian crisis, with migrant workers dying in mass to build the infrastructure and stadia.

You could argue that sports always has been mired in politics, from Pheidippides, the first marathon runner to Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. But things seem to be taking a more ominous turn. Perhaps it’s related to the fact that these days, it’s mostly the less democratic countries that have enough money to put on these huge spectacles.

FIFA, which for long has had a bad reputation, needs to act on reports such as this. And perhaps it’s time to scale down these events. By having smaller events, there’d be less room for corruption, humanitarian crimes and disasters.