More than just a game? Social meaning of the World Cup for Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Despite its inescapable past, Bosnia-Herzegovina writes new chapter” (Wilson, J., 2014); “The country has been through a lot of tough times, there’s no secret about that, but this is the first major tournament for myself, and for Bosnia, it’s all new and it’s going to be great” (interview with Asmir Begović, Bosnian goalkeeper: Wilson, P., 2014). These were just some of the comments expressing excitement about the debut qualification of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. However, their meaning extends beyond a normal pre-World Cup craziness; the World Cup bears a much bigger potential for the young country, torn by the 1992‒1995 conflict and struggling with inter-ethnic divisions, terrible economic and social situation and stagnated accession process towards the EU membership. Although to be able to answer the question “What is the social meaning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup for BiH?” the World Cup needs to start first, I will try to make some conclusions before the games actually begin. And no doubt, there will be some more posts about Bosnia since this is my dissertation topic, yay 🙂


Role of football in Bosnian society

Sport, particularly football as a favourite sport of the constituent nations, plays an ambiguous role in Bosnian society. In Yugoslavia, sport was an important tool for reinforcing the state and strengthening the multi-ethnic Yugoslav identity. Towards the end of 1980s, football underwent a strong politicisation and was used by nationalists for personal enrichment, construction of power at local level and political self-legitimisation. When the war started, each ethno-national group organised its own separate football federation and football league. The Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats identified with Serbian and Croatian national teams respectively, and not with BiH representative team, which was controlled politically by the nationalist Bosniak party SDA (Sterchele, 2007; Gasser and Levinsen, 2010). Under strong pressure and conditionality of FIFA and UEFA, Croatian and Bosniak federations merged in 2000, and the Football Federation of Republika Srpska joined them in 2002, when one united Football Federation of BiH (Nogometni/Fudbalski savez Bosne I Hercegovine – NFSBiH)[1] was established. One common Premier league was established, although the lower divisions remain ethnically separated at the entity and cantonal levels. The structure of the federation was based on a tripartite presidency and a seats-rotation system between the representatives of each ethno-national sub-federation, following the Dayton political structure. Such governance model was considered non-democratic and inefficient by UEFA and FIFA, which suspended NFSBiH from their membership and all Bosnian teams from international competition in April 2011. NFSBiH was replaced by a normalisation committee that dismissed the past officials and amended the statue by replacing the tripartite-rotational structure with a single-member presidency, based on competence instead of ethnicity (Sterchele, 2013; NFSBiH 2014). “While political institutions have remained wedded firmly to the post-war principles of division, rendering much of the state apparatus unworkable, the Bosnian Football Association has demonstrated that even the most entrenched of bureaucracies can make progress” (Kinder 2013, 161).

The world of football has lead towards partial integration of all Bosnians in a single sports community (Sterchele, 2007).  The unified Bosnian Premier league has increased travelling of football fans to away matches in ethnically different towns and there have been a lot of renewed encounters of people, who had known each other before, but were separated by the conflict (Sterchele, 2010). Furthermore, “Telecom Premier League of BiH has long ago, but particularly this year, showed that football in Bosnia and Herzegovina has overcome national and entity divisions” showed a survey by the Bosnian press agency Patria ( 2014). Namely, in the majority of the Bosnian clubs, the players come from all ethnic backgrounds and are selected on the basis of their performance rather than ethnicity, which was not always the case. As well, the Bosnian national team has become more multi-ethnic over the last decade and an increasing number of Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats support it (Kinder, 2013). On the other hand, a lot of football matches in the Premier League, but mainly in the lower divisions, are still characterised by riots, violence and slogans and offences based on the use of war symbolisms. Serbs fans are called ‘četnik’ by the Croat and Bosniak opponents, while Croats are called ‘ustaš’ and Bosniak are insulted with the word ‘balija’.[2] Although national and war symbolisms are used also by Bosniaks against Bosniaks, Serbs against Serbs or Croats against Croats and are therefore used not only to express somebody’s ethnic belonging, but rather to provoke football opponents as much as possible, it seems that the memory of the war is far from gone (Sterchele, 2010). According to Azinović et al (2012), football hooliganism is one of the main factors for fuelling nationalism and inter-ethnic violence, especially because football clubs are used instrumentally by political elites and young people are easily mobilised for violence and riots as a form of their collective expression of dissatisfaction (juvenile delinquency is very high as a result of lack of opportunities, failing education system and ineffective political and economic reforms).

BiH-slaviHowever, the recent qualification to the FIFA World Cup has witnessed people from different ethnic backgrounds coming and celebrating together. Bosnian national team, the country’s first truly multi-ethnic organisation, inspired by starts such as Edin Džeko and Asmir Begović (ethnic Bosniak), Zvjezdan Misimović (ethnic Serb) and Boris Pandža (ethnic Croat) sends a strong message of unity and cooperation and presents a source of national pride. While BiH “is at a standstill in the European integration process while other countries in the region are moving aheadˮ (European Commission 2013, 1), its emergence as a footballing nation and its participation at the 2014 World Cup have significantly increased its presence on international stage. What is therefore the social role of the World Cup for such a complex society that seems to be on the margin of international affairs?

The FIFA World Cup, national identity and international recognition

Although the membership in the United Nations (UN) is de facto recognition of state’s sovereignty and its independent existence in the international community, being admitted to FIFA (or comparably, to the IOC) is a clear signal that a country has been accepted as a nation state by the international community. Despite FIFA’s claim that granting the membership to a national football association is guided by decisions already taken by the UN, BiH and Palestine for example were given provisional membership of FIFA before their status as sovereign nation states had been recognised by the UN General Assembly (Sugden and Tomlinson, 1998), and The Faroe Islands (Denmark) and Bermuda (England) compete independently although they exist under the umbrella of their parent sovereign states (Wiztig, 2006). Becoming a member of FIFA, “the United Nations of Football”, which has more members than the UN itself (FIFA, 2014b), becomes a medium for newly independent states and/or small and resurgent nations to register their presence in the international arena both on and off the football pitch (Sugden and Tomlinson, 1998; Tomlinson and Young, 2006).

Furthermore, the FIFA membership is important because it gives the national teams the right to play international matches and to take part in international competitions. International football is a part of the process through which modern nation-states have been made and proclaimed. ‘Our team’ at an international match intrudes in our daily routine, reminding us of with whom we stand with regard to our fellow nationals (Sugden and Tomlinson, 1998). Sport is a carrier of identity (identities) because it draws on emotions of a person. It is an important platform for expressing collective identity, which is on one hand inclusive for the members of a certain imagined community (Anderson, 1983), yet exclusive because it creates a high degree of social stratification, national and ethnic divide and therefore cross-community conflict. Especially differing and contrasting views on what constitutes a nation and/or a state make the role of sport in inter-community relations and nation-building even more problematic (Nieman et al, 2011; Sugden, 2010). This is quite the case in BiH, where the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Croats prefer to identify with their respective countries of ethnic origin more than with the Bosnian state. However, according to the FIFA Statute,[3] only one association is allowed to be recognised in each country, meaning there is only one association (NFSBiH) presenting BiH in global football.[4] Such a unified representation of BiH internationally widens the imagined community of all Bosnians, regardless of their ethnicity ‒ The FIFA World Cup namely generates a number of occasions “when nations are embodied in something manifestly real and visible” (Smith and Porter, 2004, p.1). National identification and unification are stronger when the imagined community (Anderson, 1983) participates at an important and internationally broadcasted international event. Such a unified representation of BiH at the World Cup will be enhanced due to the multi-ethnic composition of the national team, which has become one of the greatest promoters of BiH in the world (Šarčević, 2013).

Grèka - BiH

The role of global media in imaging the nation

FIFA World Cup is one of the most dramatic and high profile spectacles in global sports and therefore a platform for national pride and prestige. It is also one of the major global media events, producing discourses of identity and globalisation and transmitting information and representations about the participating states to billions of people (Tomlinson and Young, 2006; Horne and Manzenreiter, 2006). Huge media coverage of the World Cup therefore has the power to change foreign perceptions about a state, improve its image by emphasising its good sports performance and therefore help the country reposition itself in the international community (Lincoln and Monnington, 2002). In the case of BiH, international media seems to be keen in portraying BiH as a country that has risen from the ashes and is leaving its past behind; its players are represented as “the children of the war” who are now Bosnia’s golden generation, “uniting a once bitterly divided nation” (Beanland, 2013):

“/…/ for the first time in 20 years, this victory and this team brought together a nation torn apart by economic turmoil and political and national differences for so long. These young men showed that a united Bosnia can stand tall and proud and take its place as an equal among equals at the world stage” (Cubicle No More, 2013).

Once I stood in soccer field-turned-graveyard in Sarajevo. Now free Bosnia qualifies for World Cup for the first time. Congratulations!” (a comment by the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, who used to report on the war in BiH, on Al Jazeera: Fadilpasić, 2013).

Especially the debut participation at the FIFA World Cup, with the help of global media, therefore a) increases a state’s visibility in international affairs and b) changes foreign public’s perceptions and its international reputation. This is especially important for small or less powerful states that don’t appear in the world news headlines often. An example is Croatia, which “arrived for their maiden shot at the FIFA World Cup in 1998 as virtual unknowns” (FIFA, 2014c), just seven years after its declaration of independence, and registered its international presence through securing the third place in the tournament. A small, post-war country from the Balkans therefore became a world football-superpower in the eyes of the international public. Emerging and small states are much more excited when they make the international news and often cite the international media in their own national or local news report – being mentioned in internationally renowned media becomes news in itself. Slavica Pecikoza, the spokesperson at the NFSBiH, confirmed an increasing interest of international media in the Bosnian national team: “For the preparations of our team in Sarajevo between 15 and 27 May, 92 journalists, cameramen and photo-reporters from all around the world have been accredited. We don’t even count anymore, how many there are. We have a lot of work, but we are all proud that BiH is in the media centre of the world attention, and this time for beautiful things” (Al Jazeera Balkans, 2014). Being in the centre of the global attention therefore represents a source of national pride and self-confidence, which Bosnians lack otherwise.

While foreign media keeps portraying Bosnia’s participation at the World Cup as a source of the national unification, the analysis of national and local media shows a bit contrasting and more complex results. While international media claimed that the massive celebrations across BiH on 15 October, when BiH defeated Lithuania and qualified for the World Cup in Brazil, were attended by all three ethnic groups, some of the comments on local news websites negated such perception. Bosnian Serb official television RTRS did not even broadcast the match between BiH and Lithuania, choosing to show Serbia’s qualifier with Macedonia instead (SuperSport 2013). “In Republika Srpska, the victory was accompanied with a mood that was ‘colder than cold’” (Slanjakić 2013). I have done some media analysis to understand a) how media maintains or tries to change inter-ethnic relations; b) to see the readers’ comments and try to get some basic insight into how ‘normal’ people from different ethnic backgrounds see Bosnia’s participation at the World Cup. I will not share all of it here (I need to save it for my diss), but to sum up the findings I would say that there is still a lot of nationalism and inter-ethnic hatred. Bosniak Serbs’ and Bosniak Croats’ media has been reporting on the Bosnian team relatively neutrally, and not much differently from reporting on other teams. Reactions by the readers have been more diverse. Some Bosnian Serbs or Bosnian Croats claim their support for Serbian team (which is not at the World Cup so some of them feel they will have no team to support) or Croatian team. On the other hand, there are also many Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs congratulating BiH and even encouraging their friends to stop enhancing the old divisions. While the Bosnian team seems to be a great source of pride for Bosnians, the majority of Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats see Serbian and Croatian national teams as their primary teams and source for expression of their ethno-national identity.

Double role of the World Cup for BiH that might not last too long

Drawing from the theoretical approach to the World Cup and from the media analysis, it looks like that the World Cup has two main social meanings for BiH: potential to be a tool for national/inter-ethnic reconciliation and identity/nation building; and a source for increasing the presence of BiH in the international community.

Firstly, it would be naïve to say that the World Cup will bring a complete reconciliation. The analysis of domestic media has shown that some Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats are still very hostile towards the Bosnian national team. However, keeping in mind the state of Bosnian football some ten years ago, when football was completely divided along the ethno-national lines, multi-ethnic team and the fact that many Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats do support the ‘Dragons’ are a success in themselves. “More Serbs and Croats support our national team. /…/ Now it’s a natural thing that Serbs and Croats from Bosnia play for Bosnia. Things are better than they were before,” said NFSBiH’s spokesperson, Slavica Pecikoza (Beanland, 2013). The World Cup might therefore contribute to nation- and identity-building, since “it is much easier to imagine the nation and confirm national identity, when 11 players are representing the nation in a match against another nation” (Hobshawm, 1992, p.143). All three constituent nations are more likely to identify or at least support the national team since it includes players from all the ethnic backgrounds:

“The fact is that on the football pitch a pass does not discriminate between a Muslim and an Orthodox Christian. Miralem Pjanic (an ethnic Bosniak) will not refuse a pass from Miroslav Stevanovic (an ethnic Serb) because of events that took place while they were children and were far beyond their control. It is the trust that the goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (an ethnic Bosniak raised in Canada) has in defenders Emir Spahic (an ethnic Bosniak born in Croatia), Boris Pandza (an ethnic Croat) /…/” (Dedović 2013).

In terms of identity/nation building in BiH, it is important to understand Smith’s (1998) argument that nations are founded on ethnic communities of groups. Ethnic symbols provide a source which distinguishes ‘us’ from ‘them’ – and this symbols are still very persistent in BiH. Thus certain states, such as BiH, must draw on a diverse selection of cultural resources to construct cultural common denominators – such cultural elements must be credible and speak to common sense (Edensor, 2002). Edensor furthermore adopts Billig’s (1995) concept of banal nationalism, which claims that national identity is grounded in the everyday, mundane details of social interaction, habits and practical knowledge. Football as a favourite sport of the three ethnic groups, and the World Cup as ‘opium of the masses’ can therefore serve as common cultural denominators. However, national identity is facilitated also by the state’s legislative framework, which delimits and regulates the practices in which people can partake (Edensor, 2002) – as a consequence of the Dayton model, the legislative, political and educational framework in BiH unfortunately presents an obstacle rather the facilitator for reconciliation and identity building. In BiH, structural and institutional divisions are too strong to be simply overshadowed by football.

Secondly, the media coverage of the World Cup and pre-World Cup events already seems to be contributing to the increased presence of BiH in international news – and this time not because of the war, but because of their success. While this is important for Bosnia’s image abroad and for its repositioning in the international community, it is relatively different from the reality. It could be argued that the global media is portraying the unifying power of the World Cup in order to legitimise the World Cup by presenting it as a source of the good (especially when the World Cup in Brazil is at the same time target of many critics and is gradually losing its legitimacy in the eyes of global public) – stories about poor Bosnia that has risen to be a world footballing power that will bring together the divided population make much better headlines than protests in Brazil. Regardless of such concerns and of the fact that the World Cup doesn’t offer a solution to all national problems, such reporting provides an opportunity for the collective expression of pride and harmony rather than difference and might facilitate reconciliation (Van Koningsbruggen, 1997).

Bosnia soccer national team fans celebrate their 2014 World Cup qualifying match victory over Lithuania, in Sarajevo

Similarly as in the case of South Africa, where it wasn’t clear whether the 1995 Rugby World Cup would be transformative or would only create a temporary diversion from domestic problems (Nauright, 2010), it is questionable what the long-term effect of the World Cup will be for BiH. BiH has been currently experiencing the most terrible floods in its history and although it is sad, the tragedy has brought the people together – both ordinary people, who help each other regardless of their ethnicity or religion, and athletes from Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia (Džeko, Đoković, even Ibrahimović from Sweden) and all Bosnian football clubs, which is quite a precedent in Bosnian history. Džeko wrote on his Facebook profile:

“I have mixed feelings because I believed that our participation at the World Cup would unite us, but unfortunately, we have been united by the tragedy. Hundreds of people are helping – humanitarian organisations, sports organisations, companies, individuals, and this only shows that we always have to stick together, not just in a disaster, but also in happiness and joy”.


The World Cup has a potential to bring the people together even further and accelerate “bridge-building that still eludes peace-makers and politicians” (Kinder 2013, 154). On the other hand, the potential effect of the World Cup on unity and reconciliation will probably be severely undermined by the national election in October, which will reproduce old nationalistic discourses. As well, the World Cup lasts only for a month while other factors of inter-ethnic relations (such as divided school system, nationalistic media, Dayton political system etc) will continue to exist. I cannot make any firm conclusions since the World Cup is yet to happen. The World Cup (as the opium of the masses) has the potential to temporarily heal some of the old wounds, bring the people together and present BiH in a positive way. However, it shouldn’t be an illusion about unified Bosnian society – the reality is still far from reconciled Bosnia.


[1] Its official name includes both Croat and Serb words for football (nogomet and fudbal) in order to avoid disputes.

[2]Četniks were the Serbian royalist paramilitary combatants during the World War II and the ustaši belonged to Croatian fascist anti-Yugoslav movement. Both names  are used as derogatory terms. The word balija used to describe descendants of Turks of Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and has become an insult for Bosniaks, used by Croats or Serbs (Sterchele, 2010).

[3] FIFA. 2013. FIFA Statues, July 2013 Edition. Chapter II, Section 10: Admission, Paragraph 1, p.19.

[4]Although the football association of Republika Srpska wanted to play international matches, it was never recognised by FIFA and therefore the football team of Republika Srpska cannot represent Republika Srpska internationally.



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Baby oo pullover in the Gambia! – Football 4 Peace on the smiling coast

Imagine you have an opportunity to combine your biggest passions in life and spend a week on your favourite continent/country, play your favourite sport, meet amazing people and simply feel happy all the time. It probably sounds like a commercial in a tourist magazine, but hey – it gets even better than simple tourist vacation!

Gambia (429)

Africa and football have been my passions and fields of interest for a long time. The first time I experienced them together was in South Africa for the FIFA World Cup, which were the best two weeks in my life. After four years I went to Africa again, again for football. But this time it was completely different. I joined Football for Peace (F4P), a sport-for-development-and-peace programme, in tiny West African country – the Gambia. We spent a week between 18 and 25 April in a small village of Kartong, coaching the local children, being trained as trainers, hanging out with the local coaches and overall – enjoying the Gambian sun, positive and friendly environment and deliciousss food. There are many things to say and my mind is overflown with memories. However, I’ll try to organise my thoughts and put them on the paper (well, technically, on the screen). I hope this will bring a bit of the Gambian sun in your room 🙂

Oh, and to make sense of the post’s title, a Nigerian song Pullover by Kcee and Wizkid was our specil anthem 😉

GambiaTo be honest, the Gambia is not difficult to be missed on the world map – it’s the smallest country in Africa. There are slightly less than 2 million people, who are mainly of Mandinka ethnic origin. Other ethnic groups involve Fula, Wolof/Serer,  Jola, Serahuli and others. The predominant religion is Islam, practised by around 90 % of the population. Around 8 % are Christians and another 2 % adhere to indigenous beliefs. The country is situated on either side of the Gambia River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is surrounded on three sides by Senegal and has only 80 km of the coastline (which is still the double of the Slovenian coast ;)) on the Atlantic Ocean. Due to its proximity to the Equator it has a tropical climate with the hot season from December to May and the rainy season from June to November. The main Gambian industry is tourism. Agriculture accounts for roughly 30% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 70% of the labour force.

Although the territory of the Gambia was reached by the Portuguese already in the mid 15th century, it was later a bone of contention between the French and the English. The British Empire occupied Gambia in 1758. Placing and keeping the colony around the Gambia River was of crucial importance for the transatlantic slave trade – around three million slaves were taken from this colony in the course of three centuries. The Gambia achieved its independence in 1965 as a constitutional monarchy within the Commonwealth. In 1970, it became a republic with its first president Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who was re-elected five times. In 1994, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council deposed the Jawara government and banned opposition political activity. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, chairman of the AFPRC, became head of state and remains the president to this day, meaning the Gambia has only had two presidents since its independence. It’s interesting to note that there are no tensions between the ethnic or religious groups – peace is an important component of the society and the Gambian people are really proud of that.

People I met were extremely nice, open-minded and helpful. Although according to the official statistics, a third of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1,25 per day, the people are very positive, as well as creative in terms of providing for their basic life needs. I know that their way of life is not easy at all and that there is a daily struggle for food, water and earnings to provide for the family. But when I observed the people, especially in the evening, when everyone came out on the street, talked, danced or just friendly waved to us, strangers (if I waved to a random person here in England or in Slovenia, everyone would think I’m totally weird), I realised it’s not Africa that needs the development aid – we need it, not in economic, but in humane and personal terms. Although the Gambians are materially much more deprived, they are at the same time much happier, complain less and know how to genuinely smile, even if to a complete stranger. There, I felt much more at home than in many European countries! It’s true – the Gambia is indeed a smiling coast!

Gambia F4P 2014


F4P International was established at the University of Brighton in 2001 and it operates on the voluntary basis on the international level. The project approaches football in a bit different, non-competitive way – children are not taught football skills, but values such as trust, respect, responsibility, equity and inclusion. Children play different teambuilding games through which they learn how to trust each other and how to be responsible for one another and for their teams. Teams are normally mixed in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, religion etc. so that children understand the importance of inclusion, as well as that they develop friendships with people who are different from them and even overcome prejudices and stereotypes. During the game, they are supported to help each other, especially the opponents, shake hands before and after the game, not to be too competitive, to pass the ball to all the co-players equally etc. The winner is not announced just on the basis of goals scored, but according to the fair-play points that are given to the teams.

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Such values based approach to coaching is of high significance especially in/between the societies that are in conflict. That’s actually why the initial idea developed – to use football to bring together children from divided Northern Ireland, where Protestants and Catholics viewe(d) each other as the enemies, and later from Palestine and Israel. F4P has held workshops and trainings in the UK, in Northern Ireland, Israel, Germany, The Gambia, Czech Republic, South Korea, South Africa and it’s even spreading. The F4P camps and events consist both of football and other sport-related games and off-pitch activities that together provide a platform for integration and inclusion of children. Programmes that promote inclusion, respect, equality and similar values through fun, relaxed, informal and popular activities such as football or other sports and leisure games therefore bear a big potential to eliminate/prevent stereotypes and to bring children together regardless of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and other categories of identity.

Critics of sport-for-development sector normally warn about the ideological underpinnings of such projects that stem from the Western neo-liberal values. While this concern should always be taken into account when conducting the projects abroad and cultural differences and local socio-political situation should play the leading role in framing such projects, I don’t think F4P is trying to impose any ‘Western values’ or interfere too much with local culture. I could see this in the Gambia, which was my first international football experience. Not only we played football and ‘our’ games, but we also included their local games in the programme. So just as much as we were teaching and coaching, we were learning as well. That’s why I experienced F4P in the Gambia more as a cultural/sports exchange rather than SDP intervention. Another important aspect of F4P is its sustainable approach – it doesn’t just go to a foreign country, play there for a while and then leave. Instead, we were coached as trainers together with the local coaches, who will be able to deliver values based coaching even when we’re gone (although F4P will be back in December 🙂 ). Training the local coaches therefore ensures sustainability and potential continuum for children, as well as it develops coaching, organisational and life skills of the coaches.


Some of the F4P coaches, who have been abroad with F4P before, said that Gambia is different from other projects since it’s not really a divided society. For example, in Israel, children from Jewish and Arab communities wouldn’t even talk to each other on the first day, let alone play together and have physical contact. But throughout the week, social bonds would gradually develop and through sport and fun the children from antagonistic communities would start to humanise each other, understand that they have a lot in common and that there is actually no reason to hate each other. Friendships would develop between children who have been told since their birth that they need to be enemies. I love Mandela’s quote (I know, I’ve used it a lot of times already, but it’s really something I believe in): “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”. In the Gambia, fortunately, there is no such conflict. Our kids were friends from the first day, especially because a lot of them knew each other before. However, they achieved a progress in terms of understanding the five values (respect, responsibility, inclusion, equity and trust) and applying them not only on the pitch, but also beyond the football arena. For example, before the coaching sessions every day, we all together picked up the litter from the ground to show respect for the environment and through that, they understood the importance of taking care of the areas they live in. They understood that they need to show respect and responsibility not only in football, but also in school, in their families etc. When we were asking them who they will show respect for in their lives, a girl replied: “for every human being” – it was one of my favourite moments.


Apart from football, games and discussing the values there were countless moments of dancing and singing. I loved how we concluded almost every game with a little dance – and believe me, those kids are sooo talented, I loved their moves! 🙂


We were staying in a local eco-resort Sandele. Although it was founded and it’s run by an English couple, it only employs local people, uses local nature-friendly materials and buys the goods from the locals and local shops. It’s run by the solar and wind power and therefore uses only renewable sources of energy. Hot water showers are heated by the sun and the toilets are composting. People are employed to do all kinds of work, ranging from cooking and cleaning to building facilities and crafts making. In general, the Kartong village has a reputation of an eco-friendly village. We also visited a place where women collect the oyster and sell them. The community we met is a part of the Try Oyster Women Association which is working to raise the standard of living of these women to become self-sufficient through improved cultivation techniques. We tried the oysters and they were delicious!

Gambia (2)



I loved working with children every day, not just because I’m still a big kid, but because they inspired me a lot, and not just in terms of their football skills. Besides being super cute, they were also very friendly, respectful and always trying to hold our hands and play with us – I know that was in big part because we were strangers and different from their peers, but having worked with children from Slovenia and England before, I can say that they are much more joyful. Sometimes I am sad when I see children at home playing only with their computers and phones – if you send a kid out today, he/she will ask: “What I am supposed to do outside?” A lot of children in Europe have simply forgotten or not even learnt how to play simple games outside and how to use the environment for joy. Children in the Gambia, on the other side, use everything they find for the game – used tires, empty cans, wooden sticks etc. Of course, they also love playing football – barefooted, and their skills are really good, they simply have the touch for the ball. What I’m saying is that they are much more creative than European children, who are over-protected by their parents. That’s why I’m saying the ‘development aid’ should flow both ways – Europe (and the rest of the ‘developed’ world) should stop in all its hectic rushing towards god knows where and reflect on some very basic principles of life and joy. However, although there are many talented kids, it’s true that they have much less opportunities to realise their potentials. I’ve talked to two boys – one of them loves painting and would like to become a professional painter and the other one would like to pursue his career as a doctor and help people. Both seemed very passionate, but they complained that their families can’t afford sending them to the university. Therefore I hope more will be done in the Gambia regarding the education system so that children will be able to follow their dreams, realise their potentials and develop various skills. As well, I hope F4P has given/will give them not only motivation, but especially some of the values and life skills that will contribute positively to their future steps.

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If you can’t beat racism, eat it.

In the recent week we’ve seen two racist incidents in sport that there is no excuse for. On Sunday, a spectator threw a banana at Barca’s player Dani Alvez while he was about to take a corner. Alves’ response couldn’t have been better – he picked the banana up, peeled and ate it before kicking the ball. Shortly after the banana incident, Alves launched a cross that Mateo Musacchio headed into his own goal in the 78th minute before Lionel Messi scored Barcelona’s winning goal. Alves, whose crosses caused two own goals as Barcelona came from two goals down to win 3-2 over Villarreal, even thanked the guy who had thrown the banana: “I don’t know who it was, but thanks to whoever threw the banana, the potassium gave me the energy for the two crosses which led to a goal”. “We have suffered this in Spain for some time,” Alves further said. “You have to take it with a dose of humor. We aren’t going to change things easily.


Alves has  been subjected to racist taunts before –  for example Real Madrid’s fans abused him with monkey chants during a match. He called racism a lost war. “I’ve been living in Spain for 11 years, and for 11 years I’ve been laughing at these morons.” The story went viral – a lot of football stars took photos of themselves eating a banana, Dilma Rousseff and Sepp Blatter expressed their outrage as well and a huge number of people have joint in the ‘spontaneous’ capaign against racism. Social media has been overflown by hashtags such as #WeAreAllMonkeys .

Alves’ action proved that racism  is still a big problem in football. Although we like to think that the situation is improving, especially because of all the official campaigns against racism, the ‘banana case’ showed that some people are still completely ignorant, discriminatory and primitive (I am sure all the monkeys on this world are on higher intellectual and emphatical level than the guy who threw the banana) and that rival matches can fuel racist behaviour. Alves’ case not only mirrored the existing problem, but also sparked global debate and outrage about racism.  As Tom Conn, a Spanish football fan, tweeted: “In one single action, Dani Alves did more to fight racism than any UEFA/FIFA ‘Say No to Racism’ has ever done”.

Another incident this week was caused by Donald Sterling, the longtime owner of the Clippers.On April 25, 2014, TMZ Sports released a recording of a conversation between Sterling and V. Stiviano, in which he tells his girlfriend that she shouldn’t post pictures of black people (including Magic Johnson) on her Instagram account. He also tells her that he’s not racist because he takes care of the guys on the Clippers’ roster. The transript (via Slate):

Stiviano: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?

Sterling: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? … Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners that created the league?

I really like how John Stewart explained it (gotta love the Daily Show): “He’s a billionaire who’s gotten rich off the labors of a mostly black basketball team, telling his mixed-race girlfriend not to be seen with black people. It’s that age-old story, ‘Yea, I’m racist, but my dick and my wallet are not.'” 

As the Slate article says, Donald Sterling exposes an uncomfortable truth about race and power in pro basketball.  The recording doesn’t only reveal racist relations in the NBA, but also the way players are owned by the club owners, how they sell their skills as a commodity and how they are treated no better than an ‘input’ in the whole sports production process. Donald Sterling doesn’t (didn’t) just own a basketball team – he owns/owned the black players who suit up for that team, too.  “For the men who control the NBA, great basketball players are another kind of expensive toy—superyachts that can dunk. It’s impossible to ignore that pro basketball is a business in which most of the employees are black and the vast majority of the owners are white. A whole lot of NBA players are incredibly rich, and a bunch of them are cultural icons. But like Sterling says, it’s the super-duper-rich guys who control the league while the players provide the entertainment. When an NBA owner tells his players to jump, the guys in sneakers are contractually obligated to ask how high.” (Slate).

The Clippers players expressed their outrage and intolerane of Donald Sterling, as well as the global public – like in the case of Alves, social media went crazy. Yesterday, the NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced the punishment: Sterling was givern $2.5 million fine and was banned for life from any association with the NBA. The sanctions are the most punitive available to the NBA under its unpublished constitution. They were welcomed across the world, but especially by prominent players, “some of whom had characterised the issue as a defining moment for the league, 70% of whose players are black but whose team owners are overwhelmingly white” (The Guardian).


Although both cases were resolved successfully, the problem of racism in sport is far from being eradicated. As the New Yorker’s Ben Greenman wrote on Twitter, “It’s not just Donald Sterling’s ignorance that’s the problem. It’s the decades that ignorance has been tolerated because of wealth.” Both in football and basketball, racism is a product of different historical forces and inequalities, ignorance of the fans and unequal power relations. Such scandals are on one hand good since they encourage the global awakening and acknowledgment of the problem. However, more structural and systematic approaches are needed to kick racism out of the sports arena – including education, fairer distribution of wealth, stricter punishments, promotion of inter-racial understanding and interaction etc. Sadly, racism is still bigger than football and basketball together – it’s high time to truly ‘show racism the red card’ and hopefully the two cases will help inrease the global awareness and enourage systematic approach to tackle racism – not just in sport, but everywhere.


Inspirational movie about the TMB Panyee Football Club

Koh Panyee is a small island in Thailand – it’s actually a floating village in the sea without any inch of soil. The children loved to watch football on TV, but they weren’t able to play it due to lack of space. However, this didn’t stop them. In 1986, they decided to build their own pitch, using the resources and space they had. They build a floating wooden football pitch on the sea, where they could practice. The video tells the inspiring story of TMB Panyee FC – I loved it, hope you’ll like it too 🙂




We are happy in Eastbourne

This post is not related to sport like all the others. However, I believe that happiness is to be shared so I am sharing the video we made on my blog. Me and my friends, Eneida, Matthew, Simona and Angelina decided to share happiness in Eastbourne, our little sunny town (yes, we do have sun in England :P) with the help of Pharrell Williams’ song Happy. The video is rather amateur (we’re just students), but I hope you’ll like it just like we enjoyed making it! 🙂



P.S. Some of the students in the video are MA students of Sport and International Development, so there is a tiny sports connection 😛


The World Cup advertising and the problem of sex tourism in Brazil

Adidas, which has been the official sponsor of FIFA and the World Cup since 1970 and extended the sponsorship contract with FIFA until 2030, released the 2014 World Cup T-shirts in February. They triggered a lot of controversy and consequently Adidas had to pull them out. The reason for outrage was the sexualised representation of Brazilian women and due to the problematic scale of sexual tourism in Brazil (both as a foreign perception/representation and as reality) the Brazilian tourist board Embratur demanded their withdrawal.



One T-shirt presents a sexy woman in bikini with open arms, which leaves an impression that she is inviting men to come to Brazil (or to her), and the words ‘Lookin’ to score Brazil’ might imply a different way of scoring than just scoring a goal. The heart on the other T-shirt (I love Brazil) strongly resembles the upside-down buttocks of a woman.

I suggest you to read the blog by Nicole Froio on the Guardian about hypersexualisation and stereotyping of Brazilian women here.

The Brazilian authorities complained against sexual presentation of Brazil and Brazilian women. They are strongly tackling the problem of associating World Cup in particular and Brazil in general to sex tourism. Embratur President Flavio Dino said in a letter sent to Adidas: “The Brazilian people and especially the Brazilian women deserve that respect. Companies should never treat the bodies of Brazilian men and women as tourist attractions.” Embratur is trying hard to prevent the sale of products that link Brazil’s image to sexual appeal, since they want to re-image Brazil in the eyes of the foreigners. For example, in 2012 the Ministry of Tourism asked 2,100 websites linking prostitution and pornography to Brazil to remove official travel branding. One reason for governmental intense campaigning to shed the countr’y reputation as a destination for sex tourism is the general goal of establishing a positive image about the country, which the World Cup, because of its global appeal and media coverage can help develop (not with such T-shirts of course). Secondly, the reason for a very strong reaction by the Brazilian government is the actual problem of sex tourism in Brazil. The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, responded to the incident on Twitter, although not directly referring to Adidas. She wrote that Brazil is happy to receive tourists at the World Cup, but that it’s at the same time ready to combat the sexual tourism:


Prostitution in Brazil is legal, and due to poverty and inequalities a growing number of children are involved in it. Global sexualised representations of hot Brazilian women, very likely topless and in hot pants or thongs, are just adding to the problem. The World Cup can play a two-fold role: it can, through government’s and NGOs’ campaigns, increase the awareness about the problem (I think there will be even videos played about the problem of sex tourism on flights from Europe to Brazil during the World Cup); it can, on the other hand, increase the problem itself since there will be higher demand due to a big number of tourists, as well as higher supply since the women and girls will probably see the World Cup as an opportunity to increase their earnings. Solution? Campaigns – definitely. Tourists’ responsible and mature behaviour – absolutely (though not really likely I guess, I still remember how some of men from our group behaved in South Africa, for example one of them paid a hot dog and a can of coke to a woman to get her into the bed). Advertising like these two Adidas’ T-shirts – absolutely not. However, the problem is much more structural and the government and other actors have quite some work to do to eliminate or at least decrease the problem. It will be interesting to observe what role the World Cup will play in such endeavours.

The only surprising thing about the revelations about FIFA’s corrupted officials is that they contain no surprises

When Wikileaks released the confidential and classified documents and US State Department diplomatic cables, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek commented: “The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances: we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know.”

The statement is applicable to the recent reporting by the Daily Telegraph about a Qatari company’s bribes to Jack Warner, former FIFA Vice President, linked to the Quatari successfull bid for the 2022 World Cup. The documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph revealed that he was paid $1.2 million for work carried out between 2005 and 2010 from the Qatari company Kemco shortly after the decision to award the country the tournament had been made. Additionally, his sons were paid almost $750,000 and one of his employees received a payment of $400,000. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the Qatari company that made the payment is owned by Mohamed Bin Hammam, former FIFA executive committee member and presidential candidate, who was in July 2011 banned for life from FIFA and all football-related activity after being found guilty of bribery by FIFA’s ethics committee. He filed a complaint to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which aanuled the ban because a FIFA probe led by former FBI director Louis Freeh’s agency failed to find conclusive evidence.


FIFA has quite a history of bribes and corruption and although I don’t want to sound too populistic, it’s kind of expectable that Qatar could not have won the right to host the 2022 World Cup without any secret deals behind the closed doors. The documents revealing the facts therefore don’t really come as a surprise, or using Žižek’s words: “The only surprising thing about the revelations about FIFA’s corrupted officials is that they contain no surprises“. So what we are seeing in the news at the moment is not a changing explosion of transparency. As J.P.E. Harper-Scott said: “In structural terms, nothing has changed in our public life. We always knew about the venality of people at the top, and of the vacuousness of government interactions, and so on, and the airing of what we already know – through Wikileaks, on ‘Panorama’ (or any other investigative sources) – doesn’t make the slightest difference.” However, such thoughts are not to diminish the importance of documents revealing corruption and dirty games. Without them, public opinions and assumptions remain exactly that – opinions and assumptions. It comes as an irony, but didn’t the CAS dismiss FIFA’s ban to Mohamed Bin Hammam due to lack of evidence? Investigative journalism (an example is Andrew Jennings, who fights for transparency in sport, see his web page and his documentary) is therefore of great significance – it provides a platform for public discussions and it’s the first step to tackle corruption. And as Žižek said: “We can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know.


This sentence is valid both for the global public and for FIFA. FIFA can’t pretend anymore that allegations about the corruption surrounding Qatar’s bid are just empty words. That’s why FIFA has had an independent investigation conducted into previous allegations of impropriety around the bid – the report by the FIFA’s independent ethics prosecutor, Michael Garcia, a former US attorney, is expected later this year. Just when the new corruption affairs were occupying the public and media debates, Garcia showed up in Zurich on Wednesday, 19 March, to interview all current members of executive committee who were involved in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup vote. However, current members are not enough – more than half of the 22 men who voted to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar are no longer members of the executive committee. Several have been implicated in corruption allegations. Garcia’s interviews are not thought to be connected with the report about payments from Bin Hammam’s company to Warner and his family, though. But still: how independent can a man, set up and paid by FIFA, be in investigting the very same organisation? Some of the tweets show public dissatisfaction with such principles:

corruption scandal

In response to recent allegations, FIFA only released a brief statement. It read: “Fifa has no comment to make on this matter. In principle, any evidence of potential wrongdoing can be submitted to the investigatory chamber of the independent ethics committee of Fifa for further investigation.”  This scandal is already being investigated by the FBI, who even recruited Warner’s son Daryan as a co-operating witness. We’ll see what the findings will show – both FBI’s and Garcia’s. But regardless of their content – will they change anything? Some of the executive committee members might step down, who knows what will happen with Bin Hammam and Warner, FIFA as an organisation will probably distance itself from the scandals and Blatter will play the poor guy whose trust was betrayed and who was the one who ordered investigation (primarily to improve his image and secure him the votes in the presidential elections?). But the structures of voting will remain the same; strive for profits rather than for the principles of justice will go on, and even though FIFA’s image might sink (or it’s already sinking), what will we do? Complain about FIFA’s undemocratic governance, autocratic rule, non-transparency and controversial decisions prior to the World Cups, yet we’ll rush to the FIFA’s website to secure the tickets, go to the matches or watch them on TV and for a month be drugged by the “spirit of the World Cup”? Aren’t we, the global football fans, also partly legitimising FIFA’s activities? I admit – I am really looking forward to all the future World Cups. Of course, this is not an excuse for FIFA to be so ignorant and unaccountable. But the so much needed reforms are obviously not taking place. If this was the case with the governments, protests and even revolutions would take place – take recent revolution in Ukraine or a bit older one in Iceland for example. Of course, distinction between the public and the private (non-governmental) does play the role – but on the other hand, isn’t football something that is in public interest? How to force FIFA into reforms? What’s the role of the Swiss court? And what is our role? I don’t have questions to that. I might be naive, but I just want the beautiful game back.


And the award for the best Slovenian ambassador goes to… Slovenian athletes!

The majority of Slovenians who either travel or live abroad, have encountered the following situation: “Where did you say you come from? Slovenia? Oh, Handanović! And Dragić, great NBA player! And that skier, Tina, right? She rocks man!”

Very little conversations with the foreigners omit the sports topics – not just because sport is something universal with a global appeal, but especially because sport is an area Slovenians can be really proud of. The recent success at the Sochi Olympics certainly proves so.


After Slovenia had won its fourth medal at the Sochi Olympics, one of my professors started his lecture by saying: “Slovenia is doing a fantastic work at the Olympics!” There was a big number of articles in the foreign media about a big success of a small country. The social media were flooded by Brian Quinn’s article “And the Winner of the Sochi Olympic Games is…Slovenia?”. It is our national characteristic that we get extremely excited when mentioned in the foreign media, but at least such articles shed much better light on “a small country with a big heart” than the news about the corrupt politicians and bad economic and financial situation. Such compliments should not serve as the opium for the masses – we still have to get back to reality and think about how to improve political and economic situation in the country. However, the above-mentioned examples teach us one thing: sport is a great tool for diplomacy.

While traditional diplomacy is conducted mainly by the state actors, sports diplomacy as a form of public diplomacy extends well beyond such an understanding and includes a variety of state and non-state actors. Sports diplomacy can be used to improve and refine the image of a country, to boost peace and promote friendly relations among nations, to promote trade and tourism, to encourage international development and to integrate minorities. Of course, sport can play a negative role in international relations as well, such as to encourage nationalism, racism, conflicts and even accelerate a conflict into war – the most famous example is so called Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969. However, I want to focus on the positive aspects of sport which can contribute to a state’s soft power and therefore to its diplomatic efforts.

There are many ways of conducting so-called sports diplomacy. The most obvious one is participation of athletes at the international sports events and consequent ‘swaggering’ on the basis of their victories. A tool of sports diplomacy that is probably the most effective in enabling a state to achieve its foreign policy goals is hosting sports mega events. The master in such an example of sports diplomacy is South Africa, which has hosted 20 international sports events since 1994. More recently we can also see Russia’s efforts to be the host of globally popular sports events, such as the Olympics, Formula 1 race, and the FIFA World Cup. Hosting mega-events can significantly reposition a country in the international community and change the perceptions about it abroad. However, at the same time it can also bring a number of other important issues in that country to the surface and onto the global stage (in front of TV screens and people’s daily conversations) – i.e. environmental impacts of hosting such mega-events or workers’ rights. Moreover, all the international sports events present not only a chance for the athletes and fans from different countries to come together, but also a platform for “high politics” – relaxing atmosphere, sport spirit and informal environment offer a great setting for diplomatic meetings.

Former Slovenian and Russian presidents Dr Danilo Türk and DImitrij Medvedjev met at the play off match between Slovenia and Russia

Former Slovenian and Russian presidents Dr Danilo Türk and DImitrij Medvedjev met at the play off match between Slovenia and Russia

Slovenia is active more or less in all the above-mentioned diplomatic efforts connected to sport. Our Olympians did an amazing job at the Sochi Olympics – their good performances carried the name of Slovenia around the world and brought it into international public discourse. Although we like to say we are a skiing nation, we can brag about our successes in non-winter sports as well – just remember the participation at the 2002 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, successes at the European basketball championships (4. place in 2009, 5. place in 2013 etc.), 2. place at the 2004 European and 4. place at the 2013 World Handball Championships etc. At the majority of the tournaments or international matches, the athletes and teams are supported by our politicians. I will never forget how the former president Dr Danilo Türk cheered “Champions, champions!” after defeating Russia in a World Cup qualifying play-off match in Maribor in November 2009; or how enthusiastically the president Mr Borut Pahor waved the Slovenian flag at the Eurobasket last year. Such acts not only show state’s support to athletes, but also send an important message and picture abroad: politicians are “cool”, sport is important to the country, and probably most importantly – Slovenia is united and therefore strong.

Lastly, Slovenia successfully hosted Eurobasket 2013 which contributed to its international visibility. The tournament was advertised by some of the Slovenian embassies, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and at the Bled Strategic Forum, the highest diplomatic and business conference in Slovenia. Unfortunately, the financial and infrastructural aspects often prevail in decisions about hosting the events – an example is the 2013 Universiade, which was supposed to take place in Slovenia, but was cancelled after the Slovenian government said that there were not enough budgetary resources to hold the event. I am not proposing that Slovenia should be hosting such large-scale events in the times when people, especially the youth, are facing high unemployment rates and when there is not enough money for social services; however, regarding the long-term plans, our government(s) should keep in mind that hosting sports events brings investments, creates temporary jobs and markets the country to the world.

In the times when we are still a bit confused about our role in international relations and the ways to market our beautiful country and attract tourists, our athletes are playing a key role in representational activities of the country. I am aware that my passion for sport makes me somewhat biased, but I think they deserve to be called the best Slovenian ambassadors. However, it has to be noted that the current Slovenian sports diplomacy is spontaneous rather than explicitly planned. Slovenia is still waiting for the new foreign policy strategy to be made/adopted ‒ the old one dates back to 1999 and its goals (mainly the membership in the EU and NATO) were already achieved. Allegedly, the new one will focus on economic diplomacy. Both economic diplomacy and broader foreign policy goals can be facilitated by sports diplomacy. This is not to say that sport should be a priority in our foreign policy; however, it can serve as a good supporting tool that can bring investments in the country, present a nice picture of Slovenia, increase international awareness and knowledge about our small country, help with promoting the national brand “I Feel Slovenia” and offer politicians and diplomats a neutral environment to discuss serious issues.

i feel slovenia

I do not think sport will be specifically referred to in the new foreign policy strategy; however, I strongly suggest the government to consider the role of sports diplomacy, possibly link it to general foreign policy goals and priorities and possibly even propose a separate strategy or a working paper for it. After all, we have great conditions and capabilities for it. In order to have effective and internationally recognised sports diplomacy, more cooperation between different ministries (especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport), embassies, all the sports associations, the Olympic Committee of Slovenia and various sports clubs is needed. Furthermore, Slovenian athletes will need uniform sportswear in terms of the same colours being used consistently. This in my opinion would serve not only to strengthen the team spirit between different sports, but also provide a greater global recognition – for the country and a particular sport. For example, Croatia and their red and white checkered squares on all of their national sportswear are recognised all over the world. Currently there are two main options in Slovenia – white, blue and red, and white, blue and green. The problem with the first option, although it is consistent with our flag, is the fact that we are not the only country with such a combination of colours. No wonder we get to be mistaken for Slovakia from time to time. The second option, white, blue and green, proved to be quite visible and recognisable in Sochi. Slovenian athletes were quite standing out with these colours. I am not saying this is the best option, but it would certainly be beneficial for our marketing, nation branding and visibility to have uniform clothes at all international sports competitions.

Our international sports achievements are definitely to be celebrated and praised. For us, the fans, it is still primarily about the good results and national pride. We have to be aware that the role of sport in our country can be extended to international level and assist in diplomatic and nation-branding efforts. Ambush marketing of competitive brands at the Olympics and the World Cups is strongly prohibited, but there are no specific rules for (ambush) marketing of the countries, right?

slo team


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The Match Against Poverty – some thoughts

I was totally impressed by the Match Against Poverty in Bern on Tuesday, 4 March. Not just that the match was great, full of goals and actions (it was 8:6 for Zidane&Ronaldo and friends in the end), it was also played with the purpose of helping the Philippines. In this blog you can find some of my thoughts and impressions about the game that were originally published here, but soon I will write a more detailed report about the whole trip to Switzerland and some (sports) international organisations.


Football is a great source of entertainment. But are entertainment and serious issues mutually exclusive? Tuesday’s Match Against Poverty in Bern, organised on an annual level by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), certainly proves the contrary – football can be used for noble purposes, too.

Stade de Suisse, the second biggest stadium in Switzerland and the home ground of BSC Young Boys, was filled with football enthusiasts. We were all waiting for the 11th Match Against Poverty to begin.The Match Against Poverty has been held annually since 2003 at the initiative of the UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors Zinédine Zidane and Luís Nazario de Lima, more known as Ronaldo, with the aim to raise awareness about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and mobilise people to contribute to poverty alleviation. The objective of the match in general is to raise funds to support specific development projects selected by the UNDP. Two thirds of the match proceeds will be used to bolster recovery efforts in the Philippines, where more than 5,000 people lost their lives to Typhoon Haiyan, with almost 1 million people displaced and an estimated further 11.8 million affected. BSC Young Boys will donate the remaining third of the profits to the club’s partner charity, the Laureus Foundation Switzerland, which provides financial and practical support to sports-related projects at the national level.

Ronaldo and Zidane had mobilised a team of internationally renowned football players, some of the biggest names in football, to play against the professional club from Bern, BSC Young Boys, consisting of current and former club’s players. The list of footballers who joined Ronaldo and Zidane includes: Ronald de Boer (Netherlands), Steve McManaman and Jamie Carragher (England), Robert Pires, Christian Karembeu, Youri Djorkaeff and Patrick Vieira (France), Davor Šuker (Croatia), Gaizka Mendieta, Fernando Hierro and Michel Salgado (Spain), Paulo Ferreira, Fernando Couto, Nuno Gomez, Luis Figo and Paulo Sousa (Portugal), Marta and Giovane Elber (Brasil), Pavel Nedvěd (Czech Republic), Carlo Cudicini, Paolo Maldini, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso, Christian Vieri and Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Hakan Sukur (Turkey) Hidetoshi Nakata (Japan), Antonios Nikopolidis (Greece), Santiago Solari (Argentina) and Freddie Ljungberg (Sweden). The referee of the match was one of the best refereesno other than the legend of in modern football, Pierluigi Collina.


It was impressive to see the crowd’s excitement when the footballers started to warm up. I tend not to be a drama queen, but I must admit that when the football legends came on the pitch, I held my breath for a while. After all, Ronaldo, Zidane, Makéléle, Figo, Vieri and all the others were the ones who introduced the world of football to me when I was a little girl. I still remember how we were fighting with my friends over “who will be Zidane” and “who will be Figo” when playing football. Not to mention all the fuss with exchanging album stickers during the FIFA World Cups and EUROs and how hard it was to get some of the players mentioned above. It was our childhood dream to see these football players play live. They were our big role models.

An athlete as a role model is a contested term. While the argument in favour is centred around the concepts such as hard work, success, fair-play, persistence, performance, dedication and determination, some critics say that professional athletes are just over-paid dolls in the system of capitalist sports industry which exploits the popular appeal of sport. No matter which side one is leaning to, the fact remains that many people, especially children, look up to famous and successful athletes. It is therefore important that the athletes remain self-aware about their position not just in a specific sport, but in the society as a whole. The true role models, in my opinion, are the ones who acknowledge their popularity and power and utilise them for the good – not just on the pitch. That’s where charity comes in. Apart from their success, a big number of celebrities are known for their humanitarian projects. One might of course criticise such celebrity humanitarianism as self-promotion, marketing and attention seeking. But regardless of such concerns it has to be noted that those people do have capability and ability to attract the public attention, mobilise people and raise more funds. As well, In addition, due to media exposure of the world-class athletes, movie and music starts and other role models, such humanitarian activism raises awareness among the fans and motivates them to think about other people, even if they come from a different part of the planet.


The UNDP recognises such potential of sport. Five out of nine current UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors are internationally renowned athletes – and there are many more within the whole UN system. Their role as ambassadors goes well beyond traditional diplomacy – they don’t represent states, not even the UN as an organisation, but general principles of humanity with the aim of spreading the messages of peace, poverty reduction, equality, education etc. around the world. This is not to say that such activism will completely eliminate the problems. Poverty, for example, is a complex structural problem that cannot be solved just by let’s sayhaving Pique play a game ofing football with children from disadvantaged areas for example. The proceeds from yesterday’s match will not suddenly revive the damaged areas of the Philippines. However, such activities can offer a much needed support to development projects and additional source of funding, raising awareness and mobilising people to be active citizens. Again, there are criticisms of development projects per se, focusing on their neo-colonial, neo-liberal and interventionist nature and controversial effectiveness, but such discussion is beyond the scope of this article. What is relevant right now is the fact that the Philippines do need money for recovery, and that this money, due to already bad economic situation, cannot come only from the state’s budget. The initiative by Ronaldo and Zidane to donate the proceeds of the match for the recovery of the typhoon-hit areas is therefore to be welcomed and supported. To me, the players who take part at such projects count as the true role models.


Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world”. While the 2014 Match Against Poverty alone will not significantly reduce poverty, let alone change the world, it will contribute to the overall efforts to bolster improvement of the living conditions in the Philippines. The annual continuum of the match allows it to raise awareness not just about poverty and MDGs, but also about the power of sport to mobilise people. This is especially important in the times when the belief in the good side of sport is declining as a result of undemocratic and non-transparent sports governance, profit oriented sports industry and requirements for high performance and success. The result of the Match Against Poverty is therefore of only marginal importance, although it was great to see 14 (!) goals scored by such prominent players – it was 8:6 for the Zidane&Ronaldo team. – But what is more significant is the aim of the match. And to be completely honest, to me personally, apart from making a small contribution to charity, to make my childhood dreams come true and finally see Zidane (he still dominated the game with his master skills), Mendieta, Maldini, Collina and the crew in personlive. I am sure I wasn’t the only one with such aspiration. But I guess this is exactly what the organisers were counting on and what makes sport an excellent tool for humanitarian activism.

See the highlights:

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Warning to free-riding brands at the FIFA World Cup

As the Marketing Magazine reports, FIFA has issues a warning to brands looking to boost sales through World Cup-related marketing, stating that non-sponsors should “refrain from attempts to free-ride” on interest in the tournament. See the original article here.

The warning follows the launch of a digital campaign by Peugeot called #KickItToBrazil, which will see the carmaker transport a football from Paris to Brazil via 30 countries, arriving at its destination on the eve of the start of the World Cup. Consumers will be able to track the progress of the football through dedicated Facebook and Instagram pages using the hashtag #KickItToBrazil, as well as via a microsite. Peugeot already denied any ambush plans and said it is looking to create a “strong link” between the brand and “multiple generations worldwide”, in particular outside Europe where the company said it is experiencing “strong growth”.

The company also hopes to raise awareness of its Forestry Carbon Sink sustainability project in Brazil, through which it has already planted two million trees representing 50 different species.

FIFA declined to condemn the campaign specifically. However, the organisation has warned that only sponsors may seek to capitalise on interest surrounding the tournament, which kicks off on 12 June. A FIFA spokesperson told Marketing: “We ask companies to respect the exclusivity to brand association with the FIFA World Cup that FIFA has granted to its commercial affiliates, by avoiding activities that might create a commercial association.” “The contribution of FIFA’s commercial affiliates is vital to the success of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and we therefore ask companies to refrain from attempts to free-ride on the huge public interest generated by the event.”

The practice of “ambush marketing” hit the headlines in during the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010, when FIFA initiated legal action against brewer Bavaria, after it employed 36 women to attend a match between the Netherlands and Denmark, in orange clothing. FIFA subsequently dropped the case after the two parties agreed an out-of-court settlement.

Official sponsors of the World Cup in Brazil include Budweiser, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson and Castrol. More about FIFA, its corporate sponsors and the marketing rights soon!