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What We're Watching: Suga's post-Olympics approval, Taliban take capitals, Mozambique and Rwanda vs jihadists, US offers Brazil NATO partnership

Suga's collapsing popularity: For the past 18 months, debate within Japan and around the world has raged over whether Japan could and should stage the Olympic Games amid a pandemic. For better and for worse, the Games were held and are now closed. So, what's the political fallout for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has governed in a state of near-constant crisis, and for his government? The good news for them is that a new poll from Asahi Shimbun, released last weekend, found that 56 percent said it was a good idea to hold the Games, and just 32 percent said it was a mistake. The bad news is that approval for Suga's government has fallen to just 28 percent, the lowest of his time in office. A slow vaccination rollout continues to cost him.This fall, Suga's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will decide when to hold both its party leadership race and the next national general election. The LDP will likely remain in power, but Suga's future is now very much in doubt.

Taliban take key capitals: As the US continues to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban are overrunning ever-wider swaths of territory, including urban areas that they haven't controlled in decades. Over this past weekend alone, the jihadist insurgents swept through no fewer than six provincial capitals, including the strategically important northern city of Kunduz. The US has mounted fresh airstrikes — including with a few old B-52s — to help the beleaguered Afghan security forces hold the line, but with that support reportedly scheduled to stop at the end of August, the writing is on the wall: the Taliban are on their way back to controlling Afghanistan. As we recently wrote, Afghanistan's neighbors are bracing for a growing rush of refugees fleeing the war-ravaged country, and the EU, just a few years removed from the last refugee crisis, is watching warily as well.

Mozambique and Rwanda retake jihadist hotspot: Mozambican and Rwandan troops this week gained control of the gas-rich port city of Mocimboa da Praia in northern Mozambique. For more than three years, Islamist fighters loosely aligned with the Islamic State, have waged a brutal insurgency in the northern Cabo Delgado province. Mocimboa da Praia, the site of one of Africa's biggest liquefied natural gas projects, has become a jihadist hub in recent years. Fighting has killed more than 3,100 Mozambicans and displaced 800,000 more. Last month, Rwanda sent 1,000 troops to support Mozambique's army, and the military alliance — which also includes support from Zimbabwe, Angola, and Botswana — managed to retake control of the port, airport, and hospital in Mocimboa da Praia. This massive feat comes after the European Union said last month that it will establish a new military mission in Mozambique to help the government push back against the increasingly brazen Islamic insurgency. Still, analysts warn, the Mozambican government needs to remain vigilant because the militants might still regroup in the months ahead.

US offers NATO partnership to Brazil? During a visit to Brazil last week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reportedly told President Jair Bolsonaro that if he bans the Chinese tech company Huawei from building 5G networks in his country, the US would push for Brazil to become a NATO global partner. That's not quite full membership, but it would give Brazil preferential access to arms purchases and other security perks with the world's most powerful military alliance. According to the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo, which broke the story, the move is a bid by Washington to get Brazil on its side in a global push to squeeze Chinese tech firms out of 5G infrastructure. But Folha also reports that there are deep divisions within the Brazilian military about this: some higher-ups are implacably hostile towards China, while others say that Brasilia shouldn't ruin relations with Brazil's largest trade partner. Currently the only Latin American country that enjoys a NATO partnership is close US-ally Colombia.

Politics, protest & the Olympics: the IOC’s Dick Pound

With COVID rates rising globally, this year's Olympics faced some major hurdles. But the pandemic was only part of the picture. The Tokyo Games played out against a backdrop of mounting global tension surrounding gender equality, racism and human rights, leaving many people to examine the place of politics on the playing field and podium. On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer looks at the long history of protest at the Games with Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee and a former Olympic athlete himself. Plus: the US Women's National Soccer Team is the most decorated team in the sport, but are they paid as much as their male counterparts? A look at what equal pay for equal play means.

The new Olympic spirit of protest

Politics at the Olympics are nothing new. In 1968, two black athletes who won medals in the 200m race raised a fist to protest racial inequality, a move that got them banned from the Olympics for life. A few years later, the IOC introduced Rule 50, which reads: "It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference." As this year's Tokyo Games wrap up, they'll be remembered not just for the pandemic, or the heated local battles over whether they should happen at all. They are also a moment when Rule 50 got squishy. Whether it was soccer players taking a knee, German gymnasts in full body leotards, or Australian athletes holding up an indigenous flag, there's been a lot of protesting going on. And to some extent, the rules have been relaxed - though not everyone agrees they should be.

Podcast: The IOC's Dick Pound on how sports and politics should mix

Listen: On the GZERO World Podcast, a look at the long history of protest at the Games with Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee and a former Olympic athlete himself. With COVID rates rising globally, this year's Olympics faced some major hurdles. But the pandemic was only part of the picture. The Tokyo Games played out against a backdrop of mounting global tension surrounding gender equality, racism and human rights, leaving many people to examine the place of politics on the playing field and podium.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.


Dick Pound: Olympics successful despite COVID tensions

Before the Olympics, most Japanese people were against the Games due to fear of COVID. As the tournament got on, the International Olympic Committee's Dick Pound says that most resistance vanished, but some resentment still lingers among Tokyo's residents. "There's that tension, that still exists, but it's not interfering with the sport," Pound tells Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch this episode on US public television - check local listings.

The Graphic Truth: Who's done better than projected at Tokyo?

We expect the usual suspects — US, China, Russia — to dominate the Olympic medal tally. But how should the performances of large, well-resourced countries really be assessed? Drawing on a model first developed by a team of labor economists, the Financial Times looks at a range of factors — including past medal hauls, population size, and GDP per capita — to determine whether nations have surpassed or failed to meet expectations at the Tokyo Games. We take a look at the biggest under-performers and over-performers per the model, and whether people in these countries really care about the Olympics at all.

Olympics corner: Independence Day bronze

Whenever Burkina Faso is in the news, it's often about how the crisis-ridden country has got caught up in the crosshairs of horrific jihadist violence plaguing the Sahel.

But this week, the nation of 20 million was celebrating because Hugues Fabrice Zango won its first-ever Olympic medal after finishing third in the men's triple jump in Tokyo.

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How should athletes protest at the Olympics?

For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

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