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Scifi / Fantasy News > WorldCon: controversy over site selection

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message 1: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1190 comments (Comment copied over from the quick burns thread)
Members are currently voting on the site for WorldCon 2022, and the options are either Chicago, Illinois, or Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Leaving aside the security concerns about the US (WorldCon 2021 is set for Washington, DC, which could potentially be... interesting), concerns have been raised about Kingdom’s repressive laws around eg atheism, alcohol, women’s rights, and homosexuality.
UK grimdark fantasy author Anna Smith Spark is organising a letter of complaint to the WorldCon committee via her social media, here’s a link to one of her tweets on the subject: https://twitter.com/queenofgrimdark/s...
There are also some concerns about the bids for 2023, especially as Nice, France has just dropped out of the running, leaving the options as Memphis, Tennessee... or Chengdu, China (yes the same Chengdu where the US consulate has just closed).
Personally, I’m looking forward to the 2024 WorldCon, which will probably be in Glasgow, UK... or possibly Glasgow, Republic of Scotland. I’ll just have to hope that they don’t institute strict border controls to keep the English out.


message 2: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1190 comments adding to this: since the start of the century WorldCon has been held in the US 12 times, Canada and the UK twice each, and Japan, Australia, Finland and Ireland once each. This year it was supposed to be in New Zealand, but it’s been moved to online-only for obvious reasons.
Some have suggested that it should be in NZ next year or the year after, but I think the bidding process was already too far along for that to happen. (I’m not sure exactly how it all works)
Anyway, SF fans in the Middle East don’t get a lot of fun stuff coming their way, so arguably they deserve a convention in that region - but Saudi Arabia is simply not a viable travel option for a lot of people so a Saudi WorldCon would be an interesting choice to say the least. There were similar issues around the selection of Qatar as the host nation for the 2022 football World Cup, although I’d say that a science fiction convention has a lot more issues around free speech than a sporting event.
(As in, while you can - at least theoretically - play football without making any statement at all about religion or politics or sexuality, the same is not true of talking about science fiction!)


message 3: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1614 comments I had just posted this in the Hugo Nominations thread before Ruth started this up. So I think I'll copy it here, and edit that to not cause any confusion.

After doing a bit of reading, it doesn't sound like Saudi Arabia has much of a chance of getting this, unless a puppy style strategy is employed. The leadership for this didn't campaign at previous Worldcon's, do not seem to have much experience hosting conventions, and then there is the stipulations that would go for those attending that have not fully been addressed publicly. While I love the idea of expanding the tent of those participating in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and doing that by promoting conventions in non typical locations is a great idea. But the limitations required of foreign attendees in Saudi Arabia would be too much. My limited understanding is that there are other Muslim countries that are more tolerant of western and other cultures, and maybe one of these will propose a bid in the future.

The vote for Chengdu, China is still a year away, and it is possible another group will bid besides them and Memphis, although I think this is unlikely at this time. Unless the group from NZ chose to after handing off duties this year to next years committee. But even the virtual event of this year must be a ton of work, so maybe they are not interested in doing that so soon. The Chengdu bid group have at least been going about this in a more organized and traditional to Worldcon manner, they are campaigning for multiple years before the vote. I would agree that politically and even morally that some of the things China has done, and are still doing some pretty bad stuff, but being from the US I have a much harder time throwing stones recently. This may be a better opportunity to do some of that bridge building and connecting of cultures that I mentioned in the quick burns thread. I don't know. I may be back voting next year, so I guess I may have to make that decision then.


message 4: by Silvana (last edited Jul 27, 2020 12:22PM) (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments I have not purchased membership for 2022 and the first time I heard about Jeddah was surprise and the thought that, oh finally it is not in US or Europe and slightly closer to my region. The fact that it is in Saudi Arabia does not bother me except maybe it would require more research on local customs.

As for Chengdu, I would not hesitate to vote for them and attend myself having read an increasing number of Chinese SFF works, became a fan of some authors, and they do have a burgeoning SF communities (three SF organizations at least).

I don't know, judging a country while my own country is not perfect does not seem fair. What I care the most is whether they have the capacity to organize a World Con and whether I could learn many from their local SF communities. Being closer to or in Asia is a plus.


message 5: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4151 comments FWIW Saudi Arabia is undergoing a modernization, or at least Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing once since 2017. I applaud his efforts. That's not the same as wanting to travel there myself.

Mobility issues mean I wouldn't even try to go to a Worldcon outside of a day's drive from Southern California, so in a sense it's moot for me. In a more abstract sense, when I could walk more easily I enjoyed Worldcon's in the US, and might have gone to one outside the US if time, money and vacation all lined up. Perhaps if I bought one of those multi-thousand dollar foldable mobility scooters (been thinking about it.) Dublin? Sure. Australia or New Zealand? Harder, but doable. London? That would be a dream convention, although affording it would be another question. Asia? Sounds like fun, although again, if it's Tokyo there's questions of affordability. China, my concern would be more the government than the travel.

Saudi Arabia wouldn't make my top ten or even top fifty. Parts might be trying to modernize. There's still laws against women driving, voting, having jobs, you name it. I don't even want to touch Saudi Arabia's issues with gay or trans people. Just don't go. Trying to modernize is not the same as being modern. I would question the safety of a significant fraction of the regular Worldcon attendees in Saudi Arabia. Nice try, I appreciate the desire, but no.

Here's a few links on Saudi Arabia's modernization attempt, for those interested. Plenty out there with a casual search.

https://www.pacificcouncil.org/newsro...

https://www.jns.org/opinion/saudi-ara...

https://www.icwa.org/saudi-arabias-mo...


message 6: by Silvana (last edited Jul 28, 2020 12:32AM) (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments Just quickly browsed through the schedule, speakers and attendees, there are at least three from SA (there's a session on Arabic SF) as well as a bunch of Chinese SF sessions, so yay 😉


message 7: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Chernobyl. Let’s do it.


message 8: by Rick (last edited Jul 27, 2020 01:47PM) (new)

Rick | 2879 comments
FWIW Saudi Arabia is undergoing a modernization, or at least Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing once since 2017. I applaud his efforts.


Yes, the murder and dismemberment of a journalist, the issue that women need permission from their male guardians to do things... very modern. Also, do let's ignore the death penalty for LGBT folks. I mean MBS *says* he's modern and it's what he says that matters, right?


message 9: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4151 comments Rick, did you even read my post?


message 10: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2879 comments Yes.


message 11: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments File770 wrote something about it back in February.
Comments are interesting.
http://file770.com/a-worldcon-in-saud...
I wonder why Anna Smith only made a move a few days before the vote closes.


message 12: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1190 comments Silvana wrote: "File770 wrote something about it back in February.
Comments are interesting.
http://file770.com/a-worldcon-in-saud...
I wonder why Anna Smith only made a move a few d..."


Thanks for the link.The comments are interesting, not least because the countries suggested by some of the commentators as ‘more liberal’ options (like Tunisia or the UAE) nonetheless also have laws against homosexuality. According to this article from The Week : https://www.theweek.co.uk/96298/the-c...
the only countries in the Middle East where homosexuality is legal are Bahrain, Jordan, and Israel.

As for why Anna Smith Spark is only just now making a move, I guess she’s only just become aware of the bid? Or was previously hoping that they would withdraw? Better late than never I guess.


message 13: by Silvana (last edited Jul 28, 2020 09:18AM) (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments Guardian has picked it up https://www.theguardian.com/books/202...
Heh, some panels have become more interesting....


message 14: by John (Nevets) (last edited Jul 28, 2020 10:34AM) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1614 comments I still think people are playing with a bit of fire here by making as big a deal about this when they are. I'm not saying they don't have legitimate concerns, and ones I frankly agree with. But with the way voting is done for location, all it takes is money to game the system, and that is one thing SA has plenty of.

This is a bit conspiracy theory ish, but if the royal family start to see this as a big enough slight, I could see a possibility where 1000 supporting memberships are bought, and the convention goes there.

The way the bylaws are written it would take 2 years to make any change that would avoid this. But maybe that is something to consider, putting in place a rule that any location bidding for a future worldcon must be lbgt friendly, or not in the bottom 20 of the "Freedom House list" (China would also be cut out of this, but just) . Doing this in conjunction with making a bigger deal about the lack of experience and time frame for the bid by SA, may have been a smarter move.

By the way are they doing business meetings this year at the convention? In the past you had to physically be there to do any voting for bylaw changes, so I wasn't sure.

Edit: meant to add this link. https://freedomhouse.org/countries/fr...


message 15: by Ruth (new)

Ruth | 1190 comments The basic problem seems to be - as with the Sad Puppies thing a few years ago- is that the constitution hasn’t been made fully robust against the possibility of people acting in bad faith and/or in ways which are inimical to many of the WorldCon membership. I’m hoping that this publicity will lead to an amendment to take the human rights record and legal structure of future bid countries into account.


message 16: by Tassie Dave, S&L Historian (new)

Tassie Dave | 3640 comments Mod
John (Nevets) wrote: "This is a bit conspiracy theory ish, but if the royal family start to see this as a big enough slight, I could see a possibility where 1000 supporting memberships are bought, and the convention goes there."

I don't even think they would need to feel slighted. If they want it they will "buy" it.

Qatar bribed FIFA officials to get the 2022 World Cup and even when the corruption was uncovered, managed to hold onto it.


message 17: by terpkristin (last edited Jul 28, 2020 04:33PM) (new)

terpkristin | 4204 comments Having been to UAE, it may be more liberal than places like Saudi Arabia, but I still felt nervous the entire time I was there. It was beautiful (where I went, anyway, in Abu Dhabi; I hear Dubai is very different but I didn't get out there in my time), but I take medications that aren't strictly "allowed" there without paperwork that my job didn't figure out in time before they sent me (and I don't know how I could get as a civilian, if it came to it). My job basically went with "if you get arrested for some reason, tell them to call the company you're there to see (owned by the UAE military) and call our corporate lawyer". Abu Dhabi is the only place I've traveled that I had my bags scanned after clearing customs (i.e. so I was in the country officially). I have normally-visible tattoos (that I covered up using strategic bracing) and of course long skirts/pants. I couldn't relax the entire time that I was there. I don't know if I could get into the mindset for an event like WorldCon there, much less somewhere more restrictive.

If you want to see the absolutely gorgeous Grand Mosque, though: https://www.flickr.com/photos/terpkri...

Edit to add: fun story, though. The customs guy asked me if I played rugby. I had a splint on my wrist to cover a tattoo, so he assumed I hurt myself playing some sport. It was kind of funny.


message 18: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1614 comments Those are some some beautiful pictures of the mosque. Also looks like you traveled quite nicely as well. ;-) Thank you also for sharing your experience, gives more perspective. I can't remember (although I think you've answered before) are you involved with next years worldcon or not? With your experiences both attending and working behind the scenes, I'm sure you would be an asset for them.


message 19: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments I’ve had friends visit Saudi Arabia who have had people throw rocks at them for being “immodestly dressed”. Literally being stoned by the locals because they didn’t look like everyone else. These were not folks wearing bikinis in public; one was my retired friend whose head scarf had been dislodged by the wind. It was like the boys were just carrying around rocks just waiting for something like that.

You could pay me to visit Saudi Arabia, but it would cost you a pretty penny. As in “I’d be buying a Ferrari as soon as I got home” kind of pennies.


message 20: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments The presentation of both Chicago and Jeddah as well as Q&A. Go straight to min 26 and min 45 for Q&A on restrictions if you want to skip the presentations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTRDx...

I was most surprised about the temperature. 50 degrees Celsius. WHAT. I am already screaming when temp here reaches 36!


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2898 comments terpkristin wrote: "Having been to UAE, it may be more liberal than places like Saudi Arabia, but I still felt nervous the entire time I was there. It was beautiful (where I went, anyway, in Abu Dhabi; I hear Dubai is..."

The mosque is pretty, kinda flashy. What I can't get over is that first class airplane setup. WOWZA. I went to the website to see what that would cost me, just for kicks, but foolishly I temporarily forgot that nobody can leave the United States. Hahahaha.

So WorldCon right as we speak is holding its conference virtually with panels and game nights and everything except the drinking (although I'm sure some are doing that too.) In a "science fiction" landscape I'm surprised they aren't just exploring the scenario of holding it virtually from this point forward and stop moving it around.


message 22: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Silvana wrote: "I was most surprised about the temperature. 50 degrees Celsius. WHAT. I am already screaming when temp here reaches 36!"

But it’s a dry heat.


It was 100 here on Monday. 37.7C. If I hadn’t trailerpark-engineered an umbrella set-up the last time it hit triple digits, the hummingbird water would’ve been boiling again. I don’t know how people stand it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBoBakEBm...


message 23: by terpkristin (new)

terpkristin | 4204 comments John (Nevets) wrote: "Those are some some beautiful pictures of the mosque. Also looks like you traveled quite nicely as well. ;-) Thank you also for sharing your experience, gives more perspective. I can't remember (although I think you've answered before) are you involved with next years worldcon or not?"

I did indeed travel quite well. My company pays for business class when the flight is more than 10 hours and while in the lounge, I got upgraded to first when my travel partner got upgraded. The experience was...insane. In a good way, but just crazy and nothing like I expected. I've flown business to Europe but Etihad was a different level entirely, and then first...

I'm not involved with WorldCon but you raise a valid point that I'm experienced working cons and it's kind of in my backyard. Thanks for reminding me, I'm going to see what kinds of opportunities they have/if there's something I might do. Assuming the world is a different place next year...

Side note, when I was in UAE (July 2016), the high temp was about 40. But Abu Dhabi is right on the water and is surprisingly humid. Jeddah appears also to be right on the water so I'd expect similar humidity is possible there. If their cars are similar to UAE, though, they don't need to "warm up" to get to get cold. The A/C comes on full blast right away, which is nice. Probably terrible for the environment but nice when the car's been outside all day.

I should say, my time in Abu Dhabi was nerve-wracking for me, but the people I was working with and the people I interacted with in the markets and stuff were very nice. At the time, they were keen on asking me if I thought Trump was going to win the election. They seemed agog that he was nominated. But because of my medications and tattoos, I was always afraid of "slipping" or somehow getting in trouble.


message 24: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments So it’s to be in Chicago. What does one do at Worldcon?


message 25: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments From what I heard, lots of drinking.

Jeddah is now bidding for 2026. Their organizers have been great in responding questions in the WC Discord channel. Hence, more WC attendees from what I saw in there are not as against them organizing as Anna Smith and co, tend to be supportive even.

Interesting that one of the Jeddah letter's signatories gave a statement that they have no idea how their group appeared as a signatory to the Jeddah letter.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/23881...


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2898 comments Trike wrote: "So it’s to be in Chicago. What does one do at Worldcon?"

The only rule of WorldCon....


message 27: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "Trike wrote: "So it’s to be in Chicago. What does one do at Worldcon?"

The only rule of WorldCon...."


I saw an old tweet the other day that made me laugh:

Was late to my first Fight Club last night so missed the intro rules. Still, Fight Club was brilliant and I'd highly recommend Fight Club.

— Josh Howie (@joshxhowie) November 9, 2014



message 28: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2879 comments Silvana wrote: "Hence, more WC attendees from what I saw in there are not as against them organizing as Anna Smith and co, tend to be supportive even...."

Sigh. They can't be that stupid, can they? "Oh these people seem decent, maybe the repressive regime isn't that bad"??


message 29: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (matthewdl) | 351 comments Rick, I think that Saudi politics speak for themselves. The voices that I'm seeing as the MOST supportive still are not unequivocally supportive. There's a lot of "...but hopefully they're moving in the right direction" and "...if you stay at the hotel it should be alright".

I think the more important question is the people organizing the event. Theres a chance that attending the event may be supporting people who fully embrace the worst aspects of the "Saudi problem". But maybe there's also a chance that we could share an experience with people who are eager to create a more liberal environment even if it's just a small pocket for a short time.

It's unfair to call anyone considering it stupid. Just like it would be unfair for people to boycott an American event because Trump's a fascist who lies, bullies, sexually assaults, implicitly condones rascism and evidently has nocturnal emissions dreaming of the Saudi Regime.

Attending a WorldCon in the US is not the moral equivalent of marching in Charlottesville with a tiki torch. We should allow the same nuance to other countries. That being said, I'm unlikely to travel to Saudia Arabia any time soon.


message 30: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2879 comments You're making a category error when you equate a given leader (Trump) with a regime that has for decades been one of the most repressive on Earth.


message 31: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (matthewdl) | 351 comments But Trump was elected democratically whereas the Saudis are a royal family. So it would be more appropriate to punish Americans for Trump than Saudis for their royal family. For the record, I'm not suggesting either is a good idea.

I'm not a Saudi apologist and I'm not trying to dump on the US. If someone does their homework and finds the organizers are as stained as the regime under which they live then I'd be inclined to agree with you. Until then I think it's wrong to be so dismissive.


message 32: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1614 comments Take this with a grain of salt, since I have never been to a worldcon, or know as much as I probably should about SA. But, even if they look the other way for guests staying at the hotel regarding strict Islamic law, isn’t the point of having the convention at different places, to see those other places? I know they usually make a big deal about sights to see around the convention, usually with interests that coincide with fans of sci-fi and fantasy. I mean wasn’t Veronicas whole reason for going to Ireland to see the dire wolves? ;-) What I’m trying to say is if the only safe places are at the hotel and convention center, doesn’t that eliminate a big part of the reason to have it there?


message 33: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments If I didn’t live in the US I wouldn’t want to visit here, to be honest.

Just yesterday in Florida a woman complained that the line in a fast food place was too long. The 22-year-old worker apologized and returned her money. She went home and got her husband, who then shot and killed the kid. It was his first week on the job.

That is America in a nutshell right there.

Plus the pandemic, which a quarter of the population doesn’t even think exists. It’s going to take us years to correct course. I hear New Zealand is nice.


message 34: by Silvana (new)

Silvana (silvaubrey) | 1663 comments Niallo wrote: "I was really disappointed by the discussion about Worldcon. I don't know the answer to the questions they posed about governments like Saudi Arabia and China, but it literally made me wince to see ..."

I believe we are allowed to have a different opinion. I too winced at the mention of potential places.

This might not be related but there's a discussion in Chengdu bid discord panel about the language concern and the organizers ability to speak English (which they can, duh), and there's somebody who suggested: hey instead of repeatedly asking about the language part, why not make friends with a Chinese attendee who speaks English? ... Might be more in the spirit of WORLDcon than anything in the con itself."

So basically there were questions that might militate against non-English-speaking country cons. If the majority of the congoers think like that, my dream to organize a WorldCon in Indonesia someday is totally useless. Oh, and we still have human rights violations too.


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