TIME Switzerland

This Picture Shows What’s Wrong With Switzerland’s Anti-Immigrant Hysteria

Without multiculturalism, the Swiss would not be at the World Cup

By the smallest of margins, Swiss voters passed a controversial anti-immigration law by referendum on Sunday, which returns strict quotas on migration from the European Union in spite of existing trade and labor agreements with Brussels. The verdict has been met with dismay by the Swiss government and business leaders, as well as E.U. officials who may now seek reciprocal, punitive measures that affect the importation of Swiss goods into the European market. “It means that Switzerland wants to withdraw into itself,” lamented French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Migrants make up roughly a quarter of Switzerland’s population and increasing fears over overcrowding and cultural dilution have led right-wing groups to push back using the country’s unique system of direct democracy. The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has spearheaded earlier initiatives to ban burqas and the construction of minarets in the country; it championed the yes vote in this referendum. The SVP’s thinly veiled racial prejudice has raised eyebrows before, but its current success may embolden other ideologically similar Euroskeptic parties across the continent.

Still, many are not impressed. Not long after news of the referendum’s verdict emerged, a satirical German news site released this image in a blog post, which soon spread across social media. It shows what the highly regarded Swiss national soccer team would look like were it unable to select players from immigrant backgrounds.

The Swiss team qualified first in its group for the 2014 World Cup and ranked, surprisingly, as one of the top seeds going into the tournament. Its triumphant form is in large part due to a new generation of young, immigrant talent — including the ethnically Turkish midfield general Gökhan Inler and Xherdan Shaqiri, a budding superstar of Albanian descent born in the former Yugoslavia. The dynamic core of Swiss football is a direct product of outward-looking policies that accepted migrants and embraced the refugees of the 1990s Balkan wars. A thin majority of the country may resent the inroads made by traditionally non-Swiss groups in their society, but you’ll find few complaining when Shaqiri, Inler et al line up in their nation’s colors.

MORE: As Europe Reels, Switzerland Builds New Barriers Against Immigrants

TIME Food and Beverage Industry

South Koreans Slam Down 11.2 Shots of Hard Liquor Each Week

When it comes to hard drinking, they rule

According to analysis by the global marketing-research firm Euromonitor International, South Koreans are the world’s biggest consumers of hard liquor, at 11.2 shots a week on average. They make the world’s second largest consumers, the Russians, seem like lightweights at a mere five shots a week.

The caveat that might restore some Slavic pride? Soju, the South Korean liquor that accounts for 97% of the country’s sales, has an average alcohol percentage half of vodka.

Depending which set of data you’re looking at (the study is reported in both Business Insider and Quartz), there is variation over who makes it to the third, fourth and fifth spots, but Thailand and Japan are in both top fives, with honorable mentions to the tipplers of the Philippines, Bulgaria and Poland.

[BI, Quartz]


China and Taiwan Are Having Their Highest-Level Meeting Since 1949

Wang Yu-chi, minister of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, speaks during a press conference in Taipei in January Sam Yeh / AFP / Getty Images

Things are warming up across the Taiwan Strait

Correction appended: Feb. 11, 2014

They’re talking. China and Taiwan will today hold the highest-level meet since they split 65 years ago. Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, is scheduled to meet Zhang Zhijun, of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, for a two-hour meeting in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing. Chinese state media hailed the meet-up as a “landmark.”

This type of talk once seemed impossible. The People’s Republic of China and Taiwan have been at odds since 1949, when Nationalist forces retreated across the strait. China’s ruling Communist Party claims Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to use force should Taiwan declare independence. The U.S. is bound by law to protect the island should this occur.

But cross-strait ties are the best they’ve ever been. The thaw started under former Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is credited with adopting a less confrontational approach. In 2008, Taiwan’s current President, Ma Ying-jeou, swept to power in a promise to deepen ties, starting with economic integration.

(MORE: Quiet Reception as Taiwan Opposition-Party Heavyweight Visits China)

He delivered. Soon after Ma’s election, air, shipping and mail links were restored. In June 2010, he signed a landmark trade deal aimed at attracting investment and tourists from the People’s Republic and making it easier for Taiwanese businesses to operate in the mainland. Trade between the two sides doubled to $197.2 billion in 2013. Mainland tourists are now a common sight in Taipei.

Though an agenda for today’s talks has not been released, Wang and Zhang are expected to discuss trade issues, as well as the possibility of official liaison offices on each other’s territory. Though the talks barely made headlines on the Chinese mainland, they are likely to cause a stir in Taiwan, which remains deeply split on the issue. President Ma’s second term is half over and there is a growing sense that, when it comes to cross-strait ties, the winds may yet turn.

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Zhang Zhijun’s agency. It is the Taiwan Affairs Office, not the Taiwan Affairs Council.

TIME olympics

Beer Fridge Cheers Canadian Olympians at Sochi

Molson beer refrigerator offers free brews when Canadians scan their passports

Canadians competing at Sochi have a leg up on their rivals, at least when it comes to beverages: A beer fridge has reportedly been installed in country’s Olympic House. Canadians love their beer so much that beer company Molson Canadian made a vending machine that made sure nationals could get a free brew at any moment, just as long as they have their passports. Also spotted last year in London and Brussels, the beer fridge works by taking a photo of people’s passports to verify their authenticity, then doling out a cold brew.

Canadian have plenty to toast at the games, too. As of Monday night, they were in a three-way medal tie with Norway and the Netherlands, with seven medals each.

TIME olympics

Meet the Russian Figure Skater One Bad Fall From Paralysis

Russia's Yevgeni Plushenko reacts after performing the Men's Figure Skating Team Free Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 9, 2014. Yuri Kadobnov / AFP / Getty Images

It's crunch time for Evgeni Plushenko, a Russian Olympic figure skater and beloved athlete, who had the 13th major spinal surgery of his career last year and nearly had to sit out this year's Games. But he dared to skate, and grabbed a gold

The Olympic figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, one of Russia’s most beloved athletes, was nearing the end of his performance at the Winter Games in Sochi on Sunday night when he felt a sharp pinch in his spine. Few in the packed stands of the Iceberg Arena, whose audience that night included Russian President Vladimir Putin, noticed the subtle change in the skater’s posture at that moment. But his trainer, Alexei Mishin, froze as Plushenko came out of his two final jumps. “They were flawed,” he told TIME afterward. “You could tell he was hurting.”

Hardly a year has passed since Plushenko, the home-crowd favorite of the Games in Sochi, had major surgery on his spine—the 13th operation of his career—which left him with debilitating pain through much of his Olympic training. Although he won a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, he is, at 31, now in the twilight of his career, and his wife has warned that another bad fall could paralyze him.

But none of that has kept him from competing. On Sunday, after his performance in the team figure skating event, Russia finally won its first gold medal. It was the highlight of an Olympic showing that has so far given the host country little to celebrate. Team Russia now stands at sixth place in the overall medals tally, one spot behind Germany, and of all the athletes it needs to help the country pull ahead, none have quite as much pressure on them as Plushenko.

For two years running, national surveys have found him to be Russia’s favorite athlete, well ahead of his peers in more mainstream sports like tennis and boxing. Off the ice, his reputation as a prima donna has also given endless fodder for the tabloids, which never seem to tire of featuring his blond mullet and shimmery suits on their covers. In 2010, when his performance fell just shy of the gold medal at the last Winter Games in Vancouver, Plushenko threw such a tantrum that Putin felt obliged to assuage the skater’s ego in a personal telegram which declared: “Your silver is worth gold.” Plushenko’s big chance to make up for his loss in Vancouver was always meant to come in Sochi.

So in December, when he lost a key qualifying round for the Sochi Olympics to a 19-year-old newcomer, a national scandal broke out. “Everybody was like, ‘What? How could that be? How could we have the Olympics in Russia without Zhenya,” says Yana Rudkovskaya, his wife and manager, using a pet name for her husband. To make matters worse, Plushenko refused to compete in the final qualifying round for the Sochi Games—the European figure skating championships—explaining with his typical aplomb that he was too busy training for the Olympics to compete in any more Olympic qualifiers.

That presented Russia’s Olympic officials with a serious dilemma. They could either bend the rules and give Plushenko another chance to join Team Russia, or they could risk angering his legion of fans by keeping him out of the Games. After much debate behind the scenes and in the press, Plushenko was allowed to perform a special “control run” for a committee of Russian officials and figure skating experts. The performance was held behind closed doors only two-and-a-half weeks before the Olympics commenced, and it has never been shown to the public. But whatever Plushenko did on the ice that day, it secured him a ticket to Sochi.

So far, he has used it to fine effect. His four-minute solo performance on Sunday helped push the national figure skating team to the top of the podium, even though, according to his trainer, Plushenko was holding out. “He didn’t go out there to show his full power,” Mishin said Monday. “He did just enough to get the right team result.”

Minutes after that result earned a gold medal for him and his nine teammates, Plushenko announced that he would be performing for another one in the men’s singles event on Thursday. And what about that whole back problem? The pins surgically implanted in his spine? The risk of paralysis? “There are no healthy athletes in the major leagues,” Mishin said. “Everybody hurts.”

Though her tone is a bit less cavalier, Plushenko’s wife and manager agrees that it would have been wrong to pull out of the Olympics because of her husband’s health. While driving on Monday to the medals ceremony to see him on the podium, she told TIME by phone that, because of the pain, “He could have decided to ask for a replacement. And he didn’t do that. He decided to compete to the end like a real man, a real athlete. Who could fault him for that?”

Well, maybe his doctors. But certainly not his fans.

TIME celebrities

Wacky Rumor of the Day: French News Sources Think Obama and Beyoncé Are Having an Affair

Obama and Beyonce
President Barack Obama and Beyonce at the Inauguration on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Rob Carr / Getty Images


Ring the alarm! A French paparazzo is spreading the rumor that Barack Obama is having an affair with — wait for it — Beyoncé. Yes, that Beyoncé.

The photographer Pascal Rostain believes that the news of the high-profile affair will run in the Washington Post tomorrow. His comments were published by Le Figaro, a reputable French newspaper:

“You know, at this time, in the United States, there is something big that is happening. It’ll go out tomorrow in the Washington Post — we can say that it is not the gutter press — an alleged affair between President Barack Obama and Beyoncé.”

The Washington Post clarified to Poynter that they will be publishing no such report. Obviously.

So where did this rumor originate? Another quote from Rostain gives us a bit of insight:

“First, there are still or television images of the Obama couple becoming a little distant. It is legitimate to ask questions. We found the same thing, always through images, between [French President] Hollande and [his partner Valerie Trierweiler]. Afterwards, there was the rumor. Same for Obama and Beyonce, for example. Just because it’s a rumor doesn’t mean that one should not go in the field to check. We should not forget Marilyn [Monroe] or Monica Lewinsky.”

Right, sure, okay.

It’s worth noting that this rumor emerges the same week the French President Francois Hollande visits the White House; Hollande has spent the last several weeks embroiled in his own media frenzy surrounding his high-profile affair with French actress Julie Gayet.

Ever since that funeral selfie with Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the world really seems to want to see discord between the Obamas — but unfortunately for the international paparazzi, my guess is that there will be some great show of cuteness in the West Wing for Valentine’s Day this week. I mean, just look at their Instagram:

As for Beyoncé and Jay-Z? I don’t think their flame is going out anytime soon.

Sorry, Hollande. You’re on your own.

TIME Sports Biz

Medals Aren’t Enough: Female Olympians Still Have to Sell Sexiness

Sochi stars sound off on the fine line between marketing their beauty to get much-needed sponsorship money and being taken seriously as athletes

Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, Julie Chu, Lolo Jones. These women will become household names this month at the Sochi Olympics before fading again out of the nation’s imagination. During the two weeks of the games, female athletes will get more screen time than they usually do—the rest of the year, all but four percent of airtime is dedicated to male athletics. In that short period of time, each Olympian needs to capitalize on media exposure and endorsements to fund the next four years of training. For women this has traditionally meant playing up sex appeal.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a double standard,” says Kevin Adler, Chief Engagement Officer at Chicago-based sports marketing agency Engage Marketing. “For male athletes, it’s primarily about their performance. And for female athletes it’s definitely as much about their looks as it is about their performance.”

The double standard ranges across women’s sports: the WNBA offers makeup seminars to rookies in hopes of attracting a larger male audience; athletes even in the less sexy sports like skiing or golf are posing in bikinis or less in magazines; and women who compete in sports that require helmets are spending 30 minutes in front of the mirror putting on makeup before competition preparing for their HD close-up when that helmet comes off at the finish line.

These efforts can earn sponsorships—though not nearly as many as the men get. Even though most female athletes make the bulk of their money from endorsements, Sports Illustrated’s 2013 list of the 50 highest earning athletes didn’t include a single woman.

And then there’s the inevitable backlash: a woman athlete’s beauty can also be used against her, as famed 22-year-old figure skater Ashley Wagner found out last month when she was accused by several members of the media of earning her spot on the Olympic Figure Skating team based on her looks rather than her talent. Though figure skating has always been a sport focused on aesthetics, such focus on beauty undercuts women athletes’ achievements across other sports too.

“I feel like the media and society in general—because it’s easy—put female athletes into two boxes,” Ashley Wagner says. “You’re either a very pretty athlete or you go to the opposite end of the spectrum and you’re very sexy.”

Not attractive is not an option.

Despite all the progress women’s athletics have made since Title IX in 1972, the law that required girls and women’s sports to get equal public funding, female athletes are still asked to walk the narrow line between empowered and sexy in order to earn endorsements.

Getting Naked

Gretchen Bleiler
Gretchen Bleiler on the cover of ‘s 2011 Body Issue ESPN the Magazine

When initially approached about posing naked for ESPN the Magazine’s Body Issue, which features naked athletes, U.S. Women’s Hockey forward Julie Chu was skeptical. “I think there are some that look at that issue, and their initial reaction is anything done posing nude has to be trying to sell sex or a certain image,” she says. But once she understood that the issue (which includes both men and women) was about strength not sex, she agreed.

“I don’t know if it was the first issue if I would have done it, but…I think that issue really highlights that there’s a lot of different types of bodies for elite athletes, and all of them can be beautiful and strong and confident,” she says. The bodies ESPN the Magazine features stray from the skinny, large breasted women you typically see on the covers of magazines in grocery stores. “For hockey players, we have big legs. We’ve got to be able to motor on the ice and have balance. But we can still have more muscular body types and be beautiful in our own right.”

She was reassured when her mom saw the picture. “When the image came out, I asked my mom, ‘So, mom, what do you think about it?’ And she said, ‘The first word that came to my mind was powerful.’”

Many other winter Olympic athletes have posed for the Body Issue, including snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler (on one of the 2011 covers above). Twenty years ago, most moms would have balked at even the suggestion of such a picture. It’s a testament to the growth of American popular culture that we can accept a naked female as an empowering picture that can bolster young girls’ body image.

But Chu’s initial skepticism wasn’t totally misplaced. Female athletes who strip down still undergo media scrutiny.

When I spoke to Kevin Adler, he happened to be flipping through a spread on America’s favorite skier Lindsey Vonn in the newest issue of Red Bull Magazine. “All the pictures are of her in super skimpy outfits with almost, you could argue, a little bit of an S&M theme with high heels. And then I flip through the rest of the magazine, and all the male athletes are depicted in a completely different way,” he says. (Vonn won’t be competing in this year’s Olympics due to a knee injury.)

Though some feminists may look down on Vonn for agreeing to pose for such a photo because it draws attention away from her athletic achievements, Adler argues that consumers shouldn’t blame the player but the game. “It’s a basic pragmatic issue that that’s the way the game is played, and you’re an athlete that has the ability to cash in on that game, then I suppose you might as well.”

He points to someone like Anna Kournikova, who was as (or more) famous for her body as she was for her tennis skills. Kournikova racked up $15 million despite never winning a major title. She did, however, practically break the Internet when an email that lured people to open a link by promising sexy photos of her crashed computers across the world in 2001. USA Today sports reporter Christine Brennan wrote a satirical column about the best-looking male tennis player who has never won a major during Kournikova’s heyday (spoiler alert: you’ve never heard of him).

Summer Olympian and hurdler Lolo Jones—who is competing now in the Winter Olympics as a bobsledder—has also been accused of leveraging her looks for fame. A carefully cultivated social media following earned her deals with McDonald’s, Aesics and Red Bull. But a scathing New York Times article accused her of getting media attention “not based on her achievement but her exotic beauty and a sad and cynical marketing campaign.” Some even said Jones should give the sponsorship money back when she didn’t medal at the London Olympics.

Jones fired back in the ESPN Nine for IX documentary, Branded, “I have a chance to get sponsors every four years, and that money has to last. If you know anything about the Olympics, in between—those four years in between—it’s like the desert [financially speaking].”

Jones’ point rings true for most female athletes, all of whom spend precious little time on television. A study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Feminist Research found that men’s sports receive 96 percent of airtime on local affiliates for NBC, CBS and ABC. And Olympic athletes only make national news about once every four years. So it’s not just a once-in-four-years chance at a medal, it’s a once-in-four-years chance to land ads that can fuel years of training.

And even athletes who get more screen time year round like NASCAR driver Danica Patrick know that their appeal as females is often limited. To those who say she discredits her work by signing on to do salacious GoDaddy commercials that usually feature her in a towel, she says: “I’m going to use what I can to get money, to get a ride because I feel like it’s opening a door. All it does is open a door to get inside and show what I can do,” she said in a clip from Branded.

Pretty Still Matters

But while Danica Patrick has earned millions from her GoDaddy commercials—and therefore earned much of the scrutiny that was bound to accompany those ads—Ashley Wagner found herself at the center of a media frenzy about her looks without solicitation.

A reporter at the Wall Street Journal accused U.S. Figure Skating of giving Wagner (one of the most heavily-endorsed athletes of the games and the face of CoverGirl cosmetics) a spot on the team because of her appearance, not her skill. And he did it using language that reveals a lot about how female athletes are portrayed in the media even when they’re not in an ad.

“Wagner’s flowing blond hair, bellflower-blue eyes and sculpted features mark her as a sporting archetype: She’s the embodiment of the ‘golden girl’ the media has extolled…a marketer’s dream who’s already signed up tent-pole sponsors like Nike, Pandora Jewelry and CoverGirl, which assessed her Teutonic beauty as being worthy of serving as one of their global faces…[W]ith Wagner, silver winner Polina Edmunds and gold medalist Gracie Gold (talk about central casting fantasies!) the U.S.A. will be taking to the ice with a porcelain-skinned, blond-tressed triple-threat…”

U.S. Figure Skating denied that race or beauty played any role in their decision (rather, they judged her based on her body of work), and Wagner herself could not understand why she became the target of vitriol on Twitter. “I’m not the one who put myself on the team,” she says. “It’s not like I walked in and voted for myself.”

But, more importantly, the debate over whether Wagner earned her spot based on her looks would not even have happened had she been a man. “The fact that this conversation is even taking place in the public discourse is such a discredit to Ashley as an athlete. Because if this were a conversation about male athletes, the fact that one of them was better looking than the other wouldn’t even come into play,” Adler says. He couldn’t remember a single time when there had been speculation that a man had lost out on an athletic opportunity because of his looks.

Skating has always been about aesthetics to some degree and Wagner is the face of a popular makeup brand. But the discussion about Wagner’s hair and eye color distracts from conversations about her actual routine, which Wagner hoped would stand out because of its empowering message. “This year, I’m skating to ‘Shine On You, Crazy Diamonds’ by Pink Floyd. Super, super strong music,” she says. “It’s not something overly sexual, and it’s definitely not just pretty. It’s about me on the ice, confident in what I’m doing—fierce and powerful. That’s the role model I’m trying to be.”

Even in sports that aren’t traditionally judged based on looks, athletes are feeling pressure to doll themselves up. Skier Mikaela Shiffrin told the Today Show (in a segment called “How Skier Mikaela Shiffrin Conquered Pull-Ups, Splotchy Skin, and More”):

“With the Olympics coming up there are cameras everywhere, and I’m more aware of my beauty habits. On the hill, under the helmet, nobody sees your face or hair, but then you take it off and they do—that’s part of what I’m nervous about. Now I literally spend 30 minutes in the bathroom every morning…I never thought makeup had a place in athletics, but now I do.”

P&G, which owns CoverGirl and sponsors dozens of athletes, even has set up a “Beauty Challenge” sweepstakes in which women can be “inspired by” athletes’ beauty tips and submit their own glamorous photo. The athletes featured in the campaign, including Vonn and Wagner, are labeled “goldgetters.” (Things are even worse for the Russian female Olympics athletes.)

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Strong, athletic women ought to be allowed to be feminine too—especially when fans at home are seeing close-ups of their faces on HD TVs. But a 30-minute makeup routine will not be the part of most male athletes’ rituals—and certainly not a part of their interview. And those kinds of articles are popping up more and more (and not just in women’s magazines). So can women who don’t worry about hair or makeup—whether it be on or off the court—compete for endorsements?

This question is especially pressing for young athletes who are happy just to have endorsement offers at all. “When I was first approached by different sponsors, the concept of being sponsored, it was amazing that someone wanted me to represent their brand or their product just because I was doing something I love—skating,” says Gracie Gold who at a tender 18 is the number one ranked figure skater in the U.S. and the country’s best hope for a medal in skating. “It was kind of just living in a dream—I have an agent, I have commercials—that’s crazy!”

Marketing Female Empowerment

There is another option for advertisers: marketing empowerment. Advertisers have long known that Title IX sells. In 1999, the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup for the first time after an intense shootout against China. It is still the most-watched women’s sporting event in history, and the most-watched soccer match (played by men or women) ever in the U.S. “There were 20 women in baggy shorts and soccer jerseys and long socks and soccer cleats who just captivated the nation in a way we’d never seen before from women dressed that way,” Brennan says. The story was the first in history to make the cover of Time, Sports Illustrated and People magazines.

That team inspired a generation of female athletes. Chu lists famed soccer player Mia Hamm (who led the U.S. women’s soccer team that year) among her role models and recalls a 1997 Gatorade commercial in which Hamm and Michael Jordan compete at various sports to the tune of “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.” The ad ends with Hamm throwing Jordan over her shoulder—an image that probably wouldn’t have made the cut in an ad just a few years before.

“The 1999 World Cup—I remember that so clearly, and then Mia Hamm’s Gatorade ad… That was such a special moment because at the time, women athletes weren’t really in predominant ads like that. That really set the bar.”

Empowering ads like Hamm’s set the groundwork for Olympic commercials celebrating women’s achievements you will see this week on TV, like the Visa ad that dubs Amelia Earhart’s voice over a commercial starring ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson. This is the first year women will be able to compete in the ski jump at the Olympics after a long battle for a women’s version of the event. Nineteen-year-old Hendrickson made Team U.S.A. despite suffering a serious injury in August when she crashed in training, tearing her ACL, her MCL and her meniscus. She had surgery and rehabbed her legs at an unprecedented pace to make Team U.S.A. Even those who don’t know that story know from her commercial that she is the face of women’s progress: “I am woman. Watch me fly,” it reads.

“People are like, ‘Well, you’re so young, you’ll have other Olympics,’” Hendrickson told the New York Times Magazine in November. “And it’s like: ‘No, you just don’t understand. For women’s ski jumping this is the year to compete.’…I see myself at the top of the ski jump in Sochi,” she says. “I see myself walking into the opening ceremony.”

Commercials like these suggest that things have gotten better for women athletes in the marketing world. “I’ve been covering this kind of thing for about 20 years, and I think things are better for women,” Brennan says. Even Danica Patrick (the fifth-highest earning female athlete this year) donned a muscle suit rather than a bikini for this year’s Super Bowl GoDaddy ad after female business owners complained about the sexist marketing campaign. And some athletes who refuse to play the into feminine stereotypes, like basketball all-star Brittney Griner, are being featured in high-profile ads. Griner models men’s clothing for Nike, but as the most talented player in the WNBA, you can’t ignore her. She’s the exception to the rule.

Athletes in sports with the highest TV viewerships tend to get the most money. It’s no mistake that eight of the 10 athletes on that Forbes best-paid female athletes list are competing in highly feminized sports like tennis and ice skating. Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams topped the list this year, and while both women are certainly talented and embody a powerful image, they both play in skirts.

The conversation about women’s looks isn’t over yet. As long as more men than women watch sports, report on sports and create sports ads, we will continue to talk about female athletes’ looks. (The objectification is so prevalent, it’s now an Onion headline.) Here’s hoping my peers—male or female—who watched the 1999 World Cup with their elementary schools soccer leagues and were inspired by those women go on to become athletes, advertisers, reporters and network executives.


Iran’s Rouhani Blocks Missile Test, Fights Hardliners

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
President Rouhani during interview with Swiss TV station at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Jan. 23, 2014. SIPA

As he seeks harmony with the West, Iran's president Hassan Rouhani flew in the face of conservative hardliners at home when he blocked a planned military test by pulling its funding

Two dozen conservative Iranian lawmakers are complaining that President Hassan Rouhani canceled a military missile test by withholding funding required for it. The complaint, reported by the semi-official news agency IRNA on Sunday, is the latest public display of the intense push-and-pull between the new president elected on promises to moderate Iran’s troubled international image and the fundamentalist ideologues responsible for its isolation.

So far, Rouhani has been holding his own, though the strain is evident. On Wednesday night, after a live interview with him on state television did not begin as scheduled, Rouhani turned to Twitter to blame by name the head of state broadcasting. The flap was reportedly over who would interview him–a reporter sympathetic to his moderation effort or a hardliner. When the program finally began, 90 minutes late, he ended up taking questions from both.

It was a fitting compromise. Rouhani himself has a foot in each camp, and Iran is of two minds about the potential new era heralded by the interim deal on the Iranian nuclear program that was forged in Geneva last year. The deal itself appears to enjoy broad backing. While Tehran’s most fundamentalist elements dubbed it a “nuclear holocaust,” conservative power centers including the Revolutionary Guards have praised it. “The diplomatic apparatus has met the aspirations of every single Iranian,” said a recent statement from the Guards, whose extensive economic holdings stand to benefit from an easing of the U.S.-led sanctions under the pact.

Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei made clear on Saturday that Rouhani – who served for years as his national security chief – should have room to maneuver after only “a few months” in office. “Authorities should be given the opportunity to push forward strongly,” the Leader told an audience of air force officers. “Critics should show tolerance towards the government.”

Khamenei himself has withheld comment on the interim pact, a reticence that’s actually typical. Rouhani has written that the Leader declined to weigh in even privately on the last nuclear agreement, signed with European powers in 2003 – but later interceded to discard the deal. Khamenei’s current silence may again permit him the freedom to at some point halt the talks without appearing to reverse himself. But it also reflects the realities of a new situation that, from Iran’s point of view, is complex even by the fluid standards of a government that communicates constantly via Twitter, a service it still blocks inside the country.

“We struggled during Pahlavis’ repressive times,” Khamenei said in Feb. 4 tweet, referring to the country’s American-backed monarchy that was toppled in the 1979 Revolution. “Today we struggle against bids of aberration in the world, a more complicated struggle.”

Iran is treading a thin line. On the one hand, Khamenei seeks removal of the economic sanctions that the Carnegie Endowment for Peace estimates have cost the country north of $100 billion. Yet the Leader also remains deeply skeptical of a wider rapprochement with The Great Satan. “American officials publicly say they do not seek regime change in Iran,” Khamenei also said Saturday. “That’s a lie. They would not hesitate a moment if they could do it.”

And so, the commander of Iran’s northern fleet announced Saturday that warships were headed for the U.S. coast, a symbolic if militarily inconsequential bit of gunboat diplomacy that could be framed as the reply of a proud nation to frequent U.S. naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, the Mehr news agency reports that lawmakers also complain of Rouhani’s Foreign Minister preventing foreign military advisers from helping Iran with its missile technology – potentially a significant development: Iran’s most formidable missiles are from North Korea, and would deliver the nuclear weapon its critics fear Iran is developing. Like the Leader said, “a more complicated struggle” indeed.

TIME animals

Marius The Giraffe Is Not The Only Animal Zoos Have Culled Recently

A lion in Copenhagen Zoo eats the remains of young giraffe on Feb. 9, 2014.
A lion in Copenhagen Zoo eats the remains of young giraffe on Feb. 9, 2014. Kasper Palsnov—AFP/Getty Images

The killings of animals including zebras and pygmy hippos are necessary for conservation, zookeepers say, leading to mandatory euthanization in an effort to ensure there's room for other species, especially ones that need special protection

The killing of Marius the giraffe at a zoo in Copenhagen surprised many people around the world — and shocked quite a few — but it was no isolated incident. Also put down by European zoos in the name of genetic diversity in recent years: Zebra, antelopes, bison, pygmy hippos, and tiny Red River hog piglets.

Although zoo officials may not publicize the fact, culling is often a normal part of a zoo’s breeding program and conservation efforts. But as those breeding programs become more successful — especially with popular animals like giraffes — euthanasia is also becoming more controversial.

“As a conservation organization, we realize that there’s a crisis in the natural world, and that we have an obligation to protect species in the wild from human actions,” says David Williams-Mitchell, communications and membership manager for the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). “One of the ways we do that is through breeding programs. But we have limited space within EAZA to carry out that, and we need to prioritize animals that can contribute to future of the species.”

The killing of animals under the protection of zoos is the ironic price of success: a zoo whose breeding program manages to produce enough healthy offspring may find itself having to put down some of those individuals in order to make room for species in greater danger of extinction. Zoos, after all, only have so much space. “You have to understand that zoos today are in a position to go deeper into conservation,” says Friederike von Houwald, curator of Switzerland’s Zoo Basel. “We can very precisely identify not just an entire species, but a particular line of species that needs protection.”

Marius was not from one of those lines and that sealed his fate. But he is hardly alone. Although considered a last resort (“we don’t do it even once a year,” says von Houwald of her zoo), euthanasia is a regular tool for biodiversity and population management in many European zoos. In the past few years, river hog piglets, pygmy hippos, tigers, antelopes, bison, and zebra have all been put down in European zoos for biodiversity reasons. Although EAZA has figures from recent years, it does not release them because of their sensitivity. “We’re not ashamed of euthanizing animals,” says Williams-Mitchell. “But we don’t want to publicize it either.”

Although Marius was the first giraffe to be put down at the Copenhagen zoo, members of other much-loved species have been euthanized. In the spring of 2012, the zoo put down, via lethal injection, two leopard cubs whose genetics were over-represented. “We cull antelopes and wild boar at the zoo every year for the same reason,” says Bengt Holst, the zoo’s scientific director. “I don’t understand the outrage.”

But as breeding programs meet ever greater success, outrage is increasingly the reaction to these policies, especially when the animal being put down is popular or especially adorable. In 2010, the decision by officials at Edinburgh zoo to put down two hog piglets named Sammi and Becca sparked protests. That same year, a court in Germany ruled that the Magdeburg zoo director and three workers were guilty of violating animal rights law for putting down three tiger cubs. Marius’ death also provoked ire from animal rights organizations and social media exploded in rage and sadness, as people around the world criticized the zoo for callously disregarding the animal’s welfare. Nearly 30,000 people signed an online petition asking that the young giraffe’s life be spared.

Yet zoo experts maintain that euthanasia — even of a healthy animal — is frequently the most responsible course. Neutering and contraception prevent the animal from performing behaviors that are critical to its sense of well-being — namely reproduction and parenting. And even separating males and females for a length of time can have unpredictable outcomes: rhinos who have been prevented from mating for a few years have not been able to reproduce once the males and females were reunited.

Other alternatives are similarly problematic. “Releasing a giraffe that had spent his entire life in captivity into the wild would have been a death sentence,” says Williams-Mitchell. “It may sound counter-intuitive; why not let the giraffe take its chances? But it seems needlessly cruel to ship an animal thousands of miles, only to release it to what is the same outcome it would have at home.”

Nor does space in another zoo necessarily equal a solution. In Marius’ case, one of the zoos that offered was rejected because, as a member of EAZA, it faced the same genetic over-representation as Copenhagen. Another was not an EAZA member, which is a problem in its own right: there was no guarantee that the new zoo complies with animal welfare standards. That same problem applies to individuals who have offered to help, including the anonymous person who offered 50,000 euros for Marius.

“We had the same thing happen with one of our zebras a few years ago that we planned to euthanize because of overrepresentation,” says von Houwald. “Someone wrote to say, ‘I can take the zebra because I have room in my horse stable. But as a zoo you have a huge responsibility to make sure this living creature is properly cared for. A zebra isn’t the same as a horse.”

That zebra, like Marius, became lion food. Another thing many people don’t realize about zoos: most euthanize animals regularly for meat to feed their carnivores.

One of the things distinguished Marius’ case was the Copenhagen zoo’s openness about it. Although the giraffe was anesthetized and shot in a private area of the zoo, his autopsy was held outdoors, in an area specially opened for visitors who wished to observe the procedure. Although some critics saw this as further evidence of a lack of empathy, the zoo itself has said it was important to opt for transparency.

That’s a sentiment with which EAZA agrees. “[The euthanasia] is a reminder of the cost of human actions,” says Williams-Mitchell. “The reason that zoos have to protect species in the first place is only partly due to poaching and illegal trade. It is also because of climate change and the wholesale pillaging of these animals’ natural habitat. Until people start to take responsibility for their actions and their lifestyle decisions, scientists who want to protect animals like Marius will continue to have to make hard decisions.”

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