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 🙂

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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 (Sport.ba 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”.

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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.

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[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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Gasser, P. K.  and Levinsen, A. (2010) “Breaking Post-War Ice: Open Fun Football Schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics [online] 7 (3), pp.457-472. Available: <http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1743043042000291730&gt; [Accessed 8th November 2013].

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Sport.ba. 2014. Više Bošnjaka u Borcu nego u Sarajevu, u Širokom samo Hrvati i Brazilci, 3 April. Available: http://www.sport.ba/fudbal/vise-bosnjaka-u-borcu-nego-u-fk-sarajevo-u-sirokom-samo-hrvati-brazilci/ (Accessed 7 May 2014).

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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

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.

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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! 🙂

Sustainability

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!

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Children

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.

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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).

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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.

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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! 🙂

SHARE HAPPINESS! 🙂

 

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 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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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New protests against the World Cup in Brazil

The first anti-World Cup protest in Brazil this year was attended by around 2000 protesters in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paolo, as well as in 6 other cities. There is outrage that Brazil is spending more than $20bn for this summer’s World Cup, but not investing in public services and taking care of their own people. Demonstrators gathered in front of the Sao Paulo Art Museum and then headed out to another part of the city chanting slogans against the tournament:

If we have no rights, there will be no Cup.”

As the AP reports: “By rights we mean the people’s right to decent public services,” said university student Leonardo Pelegrini dos Santos. “We are against the millions and millions of dollars being spent for the Cup. It is money that should be invested in better health and education services and better transportation and housing.”

Demonstrators hold a banner that reads "There will be no World Cup" during a protest against the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo

Student Juliana Turno said “This is a small sample of the protests that will happen when the World Cup begins.”

See the video on Al Jazeera.

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Waving flags, carrying banners and chanting different slogans against the FIFA World Cup, the demonstrators took to the streets.  The Anonymous Rio protest group reffered to the protest as the first act in its “Operation Stop the World Cup” campaign. The event started peacefully but police later clashed with some protesters. Some “Black Block” anarchist demonstrators attacked an empty police car and tried to overturn it, while others torched a small car and smashed the windows of banks. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, dispersing the crowd. More than 100 demonstrators were detained.

In Rio de Janeiro, about 50 protesters gathered in front of the Copacabana Palace hotel, holding signs blasting the World Cup. After about an hour, the crowd moved onto a main street that runs along Copacabana beach, halting traffic as police watched from the side.

Another activist group sat on lavatories on Ipanema beach in the city to protest against what they say is a lack of basic sanitation in the city. Activist group My Rio said the aim of the protest was to raise awareness of the thousands of litres of untreated sewage they say is pumped into the sea off the city every day. Some 70% of Rio’s sewage is untreated and flows into the sea off Copacabana, Ipanema and the Guanabara Bay. These beaches are due to host several of Rio’s events at the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics.

“To me it is unbelievable that there’s not basic sanitation in a city like Rio.”

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cegrab-20140126-021242-319-1-252x337The protests are obviously signalling public dissatisfaction with hosting the World Cup and the Olympics since at same time the state lacks basic public and social services. There is always a question of legacy of the sports mega events (SMEs). There is a big trend in developing countries to host SMEs as a tool of their sports diplomacy in order to pursue some of their (foreign policy) goals, such as showcasing themselves on the global scale, nation branding, repositioning, attracting foreign investments, increasing tourism etc. As the host of both the next football World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, Brazil has an opportunity to show the world the vitality of its emerging power. However, Brazil’s soft power and its recent public diplomacy efforts to attract visitors to the World Cup and to convince them about Brazil’s exotic and passionate culture are seriously endangered by the protests. A successful national brand cannot be established if there is a big discrepancy between domestic and foreign policy. While the World Cup will definitely bring some benefits, only a small percantage of the population will benefit. Brazil should therefore seriously rethink its spending. The role of the state is to take care of their citizens, provide them with basic services and put their demands before the demands and expectations of FIFA, IOC, corporate sponsors and as well – us, the international (sports) public who is looking forward to the spectacle without questioning its legitimacy. It’s probably too late to prevent the World Cup from happening, but it’s not too late for structural reforms and tackling inequality. If there’s money for the stadiums, there should be money for hospitals and schools as well.

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Should FIFA be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

In 1956, Jules Rimet, 3rd FIFA president and the ‘father’ of the FIFA World Cup, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1988, the president of the Swiss Football Association, Heinrich Röthlisberger, nominated João Havelange, FIFA’s 7th president, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2001, the game of football (soccer) was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Swedish lawmaker Lars Gustafsson, who suggested that FIFA could accept the honour on behalf of the sport.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded on the annual basis since 1901, with some exceptions such as wartime. There have been quite some controversies about some of the awards, such as to Henry Kissinger in 1973 and recent awards to Barack Obama, the European Union and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Needless to say, the above mentioned nominations related to football were a bone of contention as well. They all share a common assumption: football has the power to connect nations and peoples and promote peace. While the first two nominations attributed that power to the agency of FIFA presidents, the third one recognised the binding potential within football as such. FIFA as its world governing body was perceived as the most appropriate entity to take the prize. Since what Gustafsson called “the sport that helps international relations” (ABC News 2001) refers more or less to institutionalised practice rather than to (innocent) game, I want to answer the following question: should FIFA be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? In order to discuss the question I will firstly look at some of the principles, examples and controversies surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize. Then I will analyse the role of FIFA in taking forward the ‘peace potential’ of football. My approach to FIFA will therefore be holistic; I will deliberately avoid discussing whether the award should be given to its president (I guess the answer to that is quite clear).

THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

Nobel-Peace-Prize-medal-002The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 126 Nobel Laureates since 1901 (NobelPrize.org 2013a). The candidates eligible for the Nobel Peace Prize are those persons or organisations nominated by individuals who fulfil certain criteria, listed here. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five persons who are chosen by the Norwegian Storting (Parliament of Norway) for a mandate of six years, with possibility of re-election. According to Alfred Nobel’s Will, the prize should be given to those “who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” There are five Nobel prizes in the following fields: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. The peace prize should be awarded to “person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” (NobelPrize.org 2013b).

According to the original intentions of Alfred Nobel, there are three explicit reasons for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, which not only reflect how Nobel perceived peace, but what meaning peace had in the broader society in the beginning of the 20th Century. As Bulloch (2008, 583) explains: “‘Fraternity between nations’ evokes an old-fashioned liberal institutionalism and endorses both the state and a system of norms by which to arbitrate disputes between states impartially. The ‘abolition or reduction of standing armies’ is nineteenth-century language for arms control measures, although Nobel must have considered the preponderance of British sea-power to be an essentially benign characteristic of a liberal world order; not a terribly surprising attitude for an enormously rich industrialist whose products were shipped all over the world. Lastly, ‘peace congresses’ in 1901 were not abstract academic conclaves at which the concept of peace was discussed, but instead were hard-edged bargains of interest calculation, the historical hinge points of European order, at which the great powers of Europe gathered together to divide and re-divide the spoils of their 400-year conspiracy of global domination.”

The negative definition of peace as the absence of war is not sufficient; however, there is no universally accepted ‘positive’ definition of peace. The reason for the non-existence of the definition might be the changing conceptions of the concept of peace, which are reflected also in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize, which “has always reflected something important about prevailing ideas concerning the concept of peace” (2008, 575). In the initial period after 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize inherited a set of broadly liberal ideas about peace between states. The prevailing conception of peace was therefore one of peace as order. Here are some of the examples of individuals and organisations awarded: The International Committee of the Red Cross, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Frank Billings Kellogg, UNHCR etc. (NobelPrize.org 2013c). In the general mood of the 1960s, the prize gradually adopted a clearer disposition towards the idea of peace as justice. The changed focus was made complete when the award to Kissinger in 1973 caused a wide public dissatisfaction and political embarrassment. Since then, the committee has slowly widened out the criteria to incorporate all forms of social and restorative justice, and has navigated the end of the Cold War to reflect a broadly cosmopolitan sensibility. As a consequence, awards have been made that introduce environmental degradation and a condition of poverty as legitimate causes of violence, issues which present more mundane aspects of the search for peace and stability (Bulloch 2008). The examples range from Martin Luther King, Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, the UN, IAEA, to Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank, Al Gore and IPCC etc. (NobelPrize.org 2013c). After the events of 9/11, the paradigm changed and the idea of peace as justice was partly replaced by the idea of peace as order. This doesn’t mean that ‘peace as justice’ is no longer important, but it has become to bear the assumption that security cooperation is a precondition for justice. “Therefore ‘peace as order’ can be subtly reimagined away from the absence of war between states, and towards ‘peace as human security’ (Bulloch 2008, 590).

It could be argued that some of the recent awards were awarded according to the perception of ‘peace as human security’: in 2008, to Martti Ahtisaari for his efforts to resolve international conflicts; in 2009, to Barack Obama, for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people; in 2011, to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women’s rights to fully participate in peace-building work; in 2012, to the EU for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe; and in 2013 to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons (NobelPrize.org 2013c). However, Milharčič (2013) argues that some of the recent awards were based only on the potential of individuals and/or organisations to bring peace and not on actual contribution to peace or security. He calls this ‘the award for a good intention’. According to him, the prize is given to people and organisations that actually haven’t done what they were awarded for. I agree on that point with him.  For example, the award given to Obama early on in his first term was based on the premise that he would pursue peace and end existing violent conflicts. His promises to close Guantanamo and withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan were soon forgotten. His failure to provide for a solution in the Middle East, especially in the conflict between Palestine and Israel, increasing number of drone attacks and consequently dead civilians kind of support the argument to revoke his prize (which is not possible). The EU was awarded the prize in the midst of cooperation in the intervention in Afghanistan, supporting the project of racial purity of the West Bank, huge protests in Greece because of the austerity measures imposed by the insensitive Troika, collapse of some of the European economies, and despite the failures in Srebrenica and inability to deal with the refuges in the Mediterranean (Milharčič 2013). It must be noted though that this is a very one-sided argumentation. The EU has put a lot of effort into conflict prevention in its neighbourhood and in other regions – successfully prevented conflict between Macedonia and Albania in 2001 is just one of the examples (although managed together with OSCE).  Furthermore, promoting democratic ideals and human rights, binding different European nations together etc. are long-term processes whose results are not directly visible. We can’t know what would happen on the European continent if the EU wasn’t there, but it’s definitely a question worth asking. The point I want to make is the following: some of the recent Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded to institutions and people that did indeed strive for peace, but their success was two-fold. Furthermore, the awards were given in the times when some other controversies were surrounding the work of the Laureates (such as Guantanamo in the example of Obama; economic crisis in the case of the EU etc.). It is in the light of these awarding principles as well as of the three above-mentioned perceptions of peace – as justice, human security, and friendly relations between nations – that I want to develop the arguments whether FIFA should or should not be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Kofi Annan

FIFA AND THE QUEST FOR PEACE

FIFA is an international non-governmental organisation and world’s governing body of association football. When FIFA was established in 1904, it had only seven members, all of them European. Today, FIFA recognises 209 national associations, which makes its membership larger than the one of the United Nations. FIFA’s mission is: For the game. For the world. As the slogan explains, FIFA’s role doesn’t end with promoting football. One of the largest global organisations has set itself another goal: a better future for the world.

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 The world is a place rich in natural beauty and cultural diversity, but also one where many are still deprived of their basic rights. FIFA now has an even greater responsibility to reach out and touch the world, using football as a symbol of hope and integration.

We see it as our mission to contribute towards building a better future for the world by using the power and popularity of football. This mission gives meaning and direction to each and every activity that FIFA is involved in – football being an integrated part of our society. (FIFA 2012a)

You can watch the video about FIFA’s mission here.

How is this mission implemented? Or is it just a rhetoric, aimed at gaining better image of an organisation whose legitimacy is declining? There are three main channels which enable FIFA to pursue its goal of a better future and that the results of these could present a base on which to award FIFA the Nobel Peace Prize. These are: 1) organisation of the FIFA World Cup and other international matches and tournaments, 2) its status of international non-governmental organisation, 3) its Social Reponsibility (CSR) programmes. The arguments will be accompanied by some criticisms and controversies which question the eligibility of FIFA to win the Peace Prize.

1)      Organisation of the World Cup and other international tournaments and matches

fifa wcThe FIFA World Cup is the global sports mega event where people of different nationalities, races and ethnicities come together. For one month in four years, the notion of the global village loses its abstract meaning and becomes very concrete (the same holds true for the Olympics). The spirit of the World Cups is normally a very positive one, and when people come together in such an atmosphere, it’s much more likely that they will develop friendly relations with other fans, accept their differences, understand and respect them. It could be argued, however, that the World Cup is a very exclusive event. Not a lot of people can afford to see the World Cup matches live which creates a temporary elite, taking part in the ‘happy global village’, and the periphery, which is excluded from sharing the spirit of global friendly relations. The prices of the tickets and other expenses as a result of the World Cup should definitely be reduced in my opinion. However, the World Cup is watched all over the world, so even if one is watching the World Cup behind the TV, one can get the idea of the whole world coming together. Although the basic principles of the World Cup are competition and commercialisation, the event sends a positive picture that the world can come together in peace and in the spirit of fair play. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that FIFA adopted a new principle of handshake for peace at the 2012 Congress. “With this new protocol, the referee and team captains will now not only shake hands before the match starts, but meet again at the same place on the pitch directly after the final whistle, closing the game with the ‘Handshake for Peace’” (FIFA 2012b). Interestingly, the commitment to handshake of peace was introduced in a partnership with the Nobel Peace Centre. Is this just the way for FIFA to get closer to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee? Kramer (2000) is very critical of such initiatives and Blatter as the president – according to him, Blatter has set his sights on the Nobel Peace Prize. He claims that Blatter takes advantage of every public opportunity to emphasise the beneficial effect of FIFA and that he does it in order to improve his image and not so much because he really cares about Africa and other places where FIFA is developing football. But despite all the buzzwords about future of humanity, the reality of the World Cups doesn’t end with nations coming together in a peaceful way. In order to build proper infrastructure, hundred thousands and even millions of people are displaced, without any rights guaranteed. Merchandising and licesing rights protect corporate sponsors instead of people – local population is unable to sell their products in the areas around the stadiums or another official venues so FIFA’s “greater responsibility to reach out and touch the world” doesn’t really extend further than to its corporate partners.

Another reason why the World Cup and international matches per se have a potential to bring nations together, has been explored in the previous blog post. International matches are attended by state’s representatives and therefore offer a positive and informal environment for sports diplomacy. Again, the potential is two two-fold: on one hand, international football matches enhance friendly relations, but on the other hand, they encourage nationalistic expressions and therefore enhance hatred and negative feelings towards the opponents. See the previous blog post for more.

The World Cup as a global event, comprising multinational corporations, media, tourism, financial and political sector, involves a lot of developmental programmes. They come both from FIFA (for example, 80 million $ founding from FIFA to the 2010 Fifa World Cup Legacy Trust intended only for developmental projects) and its partners – Coca Cola being in charge of the project for clean water, Hyundai/Kia taking care of educational programmes, Sony leading the project Dream Goal 2010 with the aim to alleviate extreme poverty and hunger, prevent spread of AIDS, malaria and other illnesses etc. (Neirotti et al 2010, 35‒57). There are also other benefits, such as investments into infrastructure and public services, increase of tourism, new jobs etc. However, these are  mostly temporary, short-term benefits and inherent care for people is questionable. The main beneficiaries are sadly not people, but major corporations and powerful sectors. This is not to say that such programmes are completely without benefits – especially educational campaigns, clean water projects etc. can be of real help to the local population. Altough this fits into marketing and branding purposes of the funding companies, such concerns shouldn’t just diminish some practical impacts.

There is one strong argument why FIFA’ World Cups are contrary to the principle of peace, especially peace perceived as justice. The infrastructure for the World Cup is being built on the exploitation of the poor. One case is Qatar. Thousands of migrant workers will spend the next 9 years building the stadiums ahead of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup in terribly harsh conditions (no water, no safety, living in crowded rooms…), often doing 12 hours shifts in the heat with little regard for their general health and safety. The International Trade Union confederation predicts that if the current mortality rates are maintained, up to 4000 migrant workers may die before a ball is kicked in 2022. Another problem is the Kafala sponsorship system, which binds every single employee to a sponsor or employer, so that they are not allowed to leave that employer’s job or even the country without their permission. Thousands of migrant workers are therefore stuck in Qatar, with no legal protection at all. FIFA must have been aware of this system before awarding the World Cup to Qatar (Rodriguez 2013).  Blatter’s comment to this was: “But I will also touch on this concern which concerns many people in the world and that is the working conditions in that country but we can’t be the ones who can change it. It is a responsibility not only for Qatar but the construction companies, and there are many European companies working there. We cannot turn a blind eye but we cannot make a direct intervention – but the Qatar government have confirmed they will do so.” (Burnton 2013). Brazilian workers are working in similar conditions – some officials are comparing them to the slavery-like ones. The recent protests have sent a clear message that the World Cup will only harm the people instead of benefiting them. While the Brazilian government is spending millions of dollars on the World Cup infrastructure, the quality and availability of the basic public and social services are falling. FIFA’s responses were similar in both cases: working conditions and public spending are in the hands of governments, FIFA cannot interfere in internal affairs. In the light of Blatter’s claims of FIFA’s worldwide responsibility and a strong duty to society, such comments come as a joke. While it’s true that FIFA can’t change national legislation, there is a principle of conditionality available. If FIFA can impose conditions for the quality of stadiums and other infrastructure, demand that countries change their legislation in order to host the World Cup (the Dutch parliament released FIFA’s demands or so called Government Guarantees which governments need to sign in order to host the event – you can see them on Andrew Jenning’s website, the link is here)  why doesn’t it impose stricter demands regarding workers’ rights? If FIFA want to keep calling itself peaceful and accountable, it will firstly have to take much more active approach in tackling the negative externalities of the World Cups and actually focusing on people and their rights.

 

2)      FIFA as an international non-governmental organisation (INGO)

International organisations have emerged in the system of complex interdependence. They have the capacity to connect people in relation to common causes beyond national boundaries. Therefore, they have the power to bring people together, whereby friendly relations are an inherent value. The status of international non-governmental organisation has helped FIFA promote peace in two ways: 1) having a power to bind nations, and 2) being independent and unaccountable to any government.

Firstly, internationalisation through the expansion of the FIFA family and the promotion of harmony among nations and power blocs has always been fundamental to FIFA (Sugden and Tomlinson 1998, 7). FIFA’s power started to rise after the collapse of the British Empire, when new independent states sought for membership in FIFA, which gave the organisation a worldwide membership. FIFA therefore became a forum for discussions between former colonies and colonisers. Sugden and Tomlinson (1998) see FIFA also as a platform for resistance. Football was used in the struggle for liberation in many African countries. “In the absence of economic and military might, newly independent African nations discovered in football a medium through which to register their presence in the international arena” (Sugden and Tomlinson 1998, 130). In the 1970s, FIFA was run by João Havelange, whose mission was to make FIFA a universal organisation. He increased the number of participants in the World Cup, provided materials to underdeveloped associations, helped underdeveloped states construct and improve football infrastructure and provide technical and medical teaching. His strive to turn FIFA into a world power, binding all nations, was acknowledged when he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize 1988. His rhetoric of universality and peace was adopted by his secretary and the current FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter. As Kramer (2010) notices, Blatter tries to present himself Africa-FIFA-trophy-artas the champion of the poor, as a “statesman on a mission of peace”. His big success was bringing the World Cup to Africa – however, he also brought the World Cup to Qatar, despite all the environmental and human rights concerns. Contribution of Havelange and Blatter to development of football in Africa is undeniable; however, it has to be noted that there are other (selfish) interests behind. One is definitely the presence of commercial sponsors and the market potential of emerging countries, and FIFA, itself an offshore financial centre, and being financially bound to its commercial partners such as Coca Cola, Adidas, Sony etc., is highly aware of this. The second reason is the principle of equal voting rights. A big number of newly independent states in the time of decolonisation therefore presented a new ‘market’ of potential votes for Havelange, and it was actually the votes of the Third World that helped him become the president. Africa’s status as the key electoral constituency in the struggles for the FIFA presidency in 1974, 1998 and 2002 is deeply explored in Darby’s (2003) article. He claims that those seeking the FIFA presidency have always sought to present themselves as the advocates of African football – Havelange’s election manifesto, Johansson’s efforts to establish an Afro-European concord, and Blatter’s GOAL project and support for a World Cup hosted in Africa are all a proof of this. Kramer (2010) therefore accuses Blatter of being an opportunist when it comes to the politics of sports. He is said to be merely “using his self-declared weakness for Africa — he has recently been calling it a “love story” – to curry favour among poorer member countries and thereby to secure votes from their football associations.” Regardless of the selfish interests it has to be admitted that FIFA as an international organisation did help bring nations together and it did made possible for newly independent countries to declare their international presence in a peaceful and sporty way.

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Secondly, FIFA as a non-governmental organisation is not accountable to any government. It’s governed by the Swiss law (which offers FIFA as a registered non-profit organisation a tax exemption, how appropriate 🙂 ), but its member associations don’t represent their states of origin in political terms. While the states are bound by the international law not to intervene in internal affairs of the other states, FIFA is much freer in that sense. For blatterexample, Blatter paid a visit to the Iranian president in the beginning of November, and he made a straightforward appeal to the Iranian authorities to end the prohibition for women to attend men’s football matches that has been in force since the 1979 Islamic revolution. I am sure that much more fuss would be made if Obama suggested that – it would be considered as the interference of the US into domestic affairs of Iran. Another example is the role of FIFA in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. FIFA’s involvement as mediators has brought Israeli and Palestinian football officials closer together; under FIFA’s patronage, delegations from both countries agreed to each appoint a liaison officer to facilitate the movement of players in and out of Palestinian territories. Palestine Football Association is a full member of FIFA and Blatter has consistently defended their rights. FIFA can therefore significantly contribute to peace between Israel and Palestine – football, namely, is never completely separated from the politics. Here you can watch a promo video about their cause. In the case of Iran Blatter said: “I did not intervene to change the law but, as the president of FIFA and defender of football in Islamic countries, I had to present this plea to the political authorities” (Yahoo Sports 2013). However, a question remains: if FIFA sees itself as a defender of football, human rights and fairness, why doesn’t it speak up in Brazil and Qatar? It’s obvious that FIFA’s pleas for peace are motivated by different interests and that their activities for promoting peace, no matter how good and successful they are, are very inconsistent. As well, the fact that it’s unaccountable to any government (except partly to the Swiss one since it is established under the Swiss law) makes it exempt from international law as well. Switzerland is quite famous for money laundering, protected bank accounts, not dealing properly with corruption – there is no better safe haven for FIFA, is it? Peace, understood as human security and justice, requires accountability, responsibility and transparency as well.

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3)      FIFA and Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR has become an important trend in the entrepreneurial sector. Since the field of sport cannot be eliminated from the other social issues, sports organisations are increasingly embedding CSR in their mission – to bring positive consequences for the society as well as to improve their reputation. FIFA started to actively involve CSR into its strategy in 2005 when Federico Addiechi became the Head of the CSR department. FIFA’s radical change in SCR strategy transformed from a reactive approach to an extremely proactive approach (Neirotti et al 2010). In the year of 2010, 22 % of all the expenses were spent on developmental projects – a total of $ 794 million (FIFA 2010, 19). The strategy to achieve FIFA’s mission of building a better future by channelling the power of football is divided up into five core areas (FIFA 2013a):

People: providing a safe and healthy working environment for all of their people

Game: ensuring that the game of football reflects the highest values of society

Events: organising international tournaments since they offer exceptional platforms to raise awareness, highlight particular issues and implement projects and campaigns on the ground

-Society: providing resources and engaging with its member associations, commercial affiliates, development agencies and others to provide children and young people with valuable resources and know-how

-Planet: addressing environmental issues (global warming, environmental conservation and sustainable management) seriously and mitigating negative environmental impacts linked to its activities.

Some of the key (constant) projects/areas of CSR are:

Football for hope – initiative that uses power of football to achieve sustainable social development; programmes, conducted in partnership with some NGOs, which try to address social problems that young people face – these include HIV/AIDS, education, integration of disabled children, conflict management, peacebuilding etc (FIFA 2013b).

FIFA against discrimination– abolishing all forms of discrimination in football by a) raising awareness, for example with FIFA’s Anti-Discrimination Days and the initiative Say No to Racism; b) punishing those who are behave contrary to the principle of non-discrimination (FIFA 2013c).

-Fair Play – evaluating and rating behaviour on and off the pitch, giving the FIFA Fair Play Award, organising FIFA Fair Play Days, overall promotion of the principle (FIFA 2013d).

Taking care of the environment – zero emission building of FIFA headquarters, project Green Goal, implemented at the World Cups (curbing carbon emissions, promoting green technology etc.) (FIFA 2013e).

Goal Programme – funding member associations to implement projects designed to develop football in their countries; the programme is essentially aimed at associations with the most pressing needs as an expression of solidarity (FIFA 2013f).

I strongly suggest reading an analysis of CSR activities in South Africa at the time of the World Cup.

The demonstration of programmes and their analysis shows that there was a wide spectrum of CSR activities. Similar projects are planned for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, see the Sustainability Strategy here.

Mr AddiechiThe majority of CSR activities aim at alleviation of poverty, environmental protection and children’s development and education. All of these are issues that can prevent future conflicts and build peace – not immediately, of course, but in a long-term. According to Bulloch’s (2008) analysis of different perceptions of peace, FIFA’s CSR activities therefore contribute to peace understood as justice. Although racism is still a persisting issue in world football, it has to be acknowledged that FIFA has tried a lot to wipe it out of football. New anti-racism resolution was adopted at the FIFA Congress in Mauritius this year, on the basis of which first or minor offences will result in either a warning, fine or order for a match to be played behind closed doors, while serious or repeat offences will be punished by a points deduction, expulsion or relegation (BBC 2013).

However, the CSR activities get criticised mainly for two reasons. Firstly, quite some projects at the World Cups bring only short-term benefits. In countries like South Africa and Brazil it’s not enough to be there for a month and then leave. FIFA is partly aware of this problem – Mr Addiechi confirmed that these programmes need to incorporate a legacy component that allows them to last beyond the World Cup (Neirotti 2010, 3). The 2010 Legacy Trust has recently published a report about the legacy of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, which is showing promising results (FIFA 2013g). Of course, in order to get the big picture, reading just a FIFA’s report is not enough – talking to the locals in South Africa would probably give different answers. Sustainability should absolutely prevail over improving image of FIFA and its sponsors when planning the CSR activities. Secondly, FIFA’s main sponsors in CSR are multinational corporations such as Adidas, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Castrol, Budweiser, Sony, BP. While one controversy definitely stems from the fact that some of these MNCs come from sectors such as fast food, alcohol and oil industry, which probably won’t really contribute to development in underdeveloped regions, the bigger issue here is the self-promotion of these companies. “Many businesses only use their CSR initiatives to generate positive public relations material, rather than for legitimately altruistic and humanitarian reasons. In fact, when speaking with FIFA CSR Director Federico Addiechi on 16 June 2010, he admitted that FIFA committed this exact sin as recently as ten years ago, noting that the organization judged CSR success via “Return on Image”. However, Mr. Addiechi stated that FIFA has turned a corner in this regard, and is truly committed to improving the countries in which it holds events.” Really? How exactly are they improving life in favelas in Rio by displacing people? Commitment to protect workers in Qatar is obvious in their excuse that they are “not the United Nations”.

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CONCLUSION

 The question whether FIFA should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is definitely controversial. In the light of recent corruption and match-fixing scandals, prioritising profits over people, trying to distance themselves from human rights issues in hosting countries, the first and obvious answer would probably be no. Its autocratic regime of ruling doesn’t help either (I can’t believe Blatter is going to run for the president again). However, some of its activities and programmes are bringing positive change to the society – both on a global and a local level. Even if it’s just for improving the image, there are certain positive impacts. The very basis for such a power is the global popularity of football – it’s easier to connect people and send messages of peace and friendly relations through the most popular game on the world than by politics for example (see the previous blog post). So the nomination by Lars Gustafsson didn’t come out of blue.

The organisation which claims to have a global responsibility beyond the field of football should not remain silent and passive around the issues of workers’ exploitation and displacement of people as a consequence of new stadiums. The organisation whose principle is fair play, should not be involved in corruption and other scandals on such a massive scale (see BBC Panorama documentary, FIFA’s Dirty Secrets). The organisation which has the principle of environmental protection embedded in its CSR strategy, should not award the World Cup to Qatar. However, as the awarding of the Peace Prize in the last decade suggests, none of the recent Laureates is purely good and without any flaws. Surely, the EU doesn’t contribute to peace without some negative effects and without political scandals. So if one follows the logic of the recent awarding principles, FIFA kind of fulfils the criteria to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. While Obama and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received the award not so much for what they had done, but for what they were about to do (Milharčič 2013), FIFA has actually achieved a lot in its 109 years of existence. Its contribution to peace and friendly relations should not be completely overshadowed by corruption, controversial financial activities and other issues, although these deserve the most serious critique. Although FIFA, just like the EU or Obama, does have a potential to bring peace, its practices contradict the very principles of peace and justice. We should keep in mind that both the Nobel Peace Prize and FIFA’s developmental programmes and promotion of football as a means for better future stem from Western liberal values. And these (sadly) allow for quite some deviation when pursuing higher goals, don’t they? Machiavelli’s logic of the ends justifying the means is therefore still very alive, and apparently, both FIFA and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee are following it. Although I am a huge lover of football, I don’t think FIFA, especially in the current situation and with its current structure and functioning, should be awarded the Peace Prize. But I do think both FIFA and the principles of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize should seriously reform themselves. With a serious and complete reform FIFA would contribute much more to humanity than with its bragging about its contribution towards building a better future for the world.

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Sugden, John and Alan Tomlinson. 1998. FIFA and the Contest for World Football: Who Rules the Peoples’ Game? London: Polity Press.

Sugden, John and James Wallis (Ed.). 2007. Football for Peace? The Challenges of Using Sport for Co-Existence in Israel. Oxford: Meyyer & Meyer Sport.

Warshaw, Andrew. 2013. Palestine-Israel stand-off eases slightly as FIFA mediates next steps. Inside World Football, 24 September. Available at: http://www.insideworldfootball.com/fifa/13311-palestine-israel-stand-off-eases-slightly-as-fifa-mediates-next-steps (25 November 2013).

 Yahoo Sports. 2013. Football chief Blatter urges Iran to admit women to stadiums, 7 November. Available at: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/fifas-blatter-urges-iran-admit-women-stadiums-152658653–sow.html (Accessed on 16 November 2013).

Handbook of Sport and Corporate Social Responsibility

In July 2013, Handbook of Sport and Corporate Social Responsibility was published by Routlede. “The Routledge Handbook of Sport and Corporate Social Responsibility is the first book to offer a comprehensive survey of theories and concepts of CSR as applied to sport, and the social, ethical and environmental aspects of sport business and management. It offers an overview of perspectives and approaches to CSR in sport, examines the unique features of the sport industry in relation to CSR, explores the tools, models, common pitfalls and examples of best practice on which managers can draw, and discusses how CSR and corporate citizenship can be integrated into the sport management curriculum.” See more details here.

Increasing number of players within sports governance and sports industry are realising that the role of sport isn’t only enternainment, but that sport offers a great potential for positive social change. There are numerous CSR activities in FIFA, IOC, Premier League, FC Barcelona, FC Chelsea, NBA, and a lot of other sports-based NGOs, agnecies or other institutions. The Hanbook is therefore a good opportunity to view such activities from theoretical perspective, as well as to get familiar with some case-studies.

Well, now I certainly know what will be on my wish-list for Santa 🙂

The Community Football Hub

It was this time last September that I received a call from a colleague from Birkbeck Sports Business Centre asking me if I could contribute to a book he was editing on Sport and CSR. I took some time to chew over whether I could commit to contributing…(approx. 2minutes) before agreeing. The finished article is now out…

The Routledge Handbook of Sport and Corporate Social Responsibility is edited by Juan Luis Paramio Salcines, Kathy Babiak and Geoff Walters and you can go direct to the Routledge link here. 

routledge-handbook-of-sport-and-corporate-social-responsibilityAs the role of sport in society becomes ever more prominent and as sports organisations become increasingly influential members of the global community, so it has become more important than ever for sport to consider its wider social responsibilities. A book focused on Sport and CSR was definitely needed. The handbook is here and covers major theories and concepts of CSR…

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Tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson

fergusonSir Alex Ferguson – a living legend. Having managed Manchester United for 26 years, he is one of the most admired, respected and popular managers in the football world. His announcement on 8 May about his retirement left the Red Devils, but also many others who respect Ferguson’s phenomenon, surprised, sad, but with good memories. I’m not really a MUFC fan, but I think Sir Alex definitely deserves a place at my blog. He’s one of the most prominent figures in the field of football management and a living proof of success, loyalty and determination. Ferguson is the longest serving manager of Manchester United, overtaking Sir Matt Busby’s record on 19 December 2010, and the longest serving of all current League managers. He has won the British award Manager of the Year most times in British football history. In 1999, he was knighted by the Queen for his service to the game. He claimed the honour was for his family, friends and colleagues.

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He was born on 31 January 1941 in Glasgow, Scotland. His football career started in Queen’s Park, where he made his debut only at the age of 16, and ended in 1974 in Ayr United. The first step for his managerial career was East Stirlingshire. He was quite young then, only 32. The club was not really in a very good shape, but he gained reputation as a disciplined manager. Bobby McCully from the club later said: “He terrified us. I’d never been afraid of anyone before but he was such a frightening bastard from the start. Everything was focused towards his goals. Time didn’t matter to him; he never wore a watch. If he wanted something done he’d stay as late as it took or come in early. He always joined in with us in training and would have us playing in the dark until his five-a-side team won. He was ferocious, elbowing and kicking.” After East Stirlingshire he managed 3 more teams: St. Mirren, Aberdeen, Scottish national team and of course, Manchester United. Ferguson was appointed manager at Old Trafford on 6 November 1986. The first match under his managing was lost 2-0 against Oxford United. Initially, he was worried about the health and drinking problems of some of the players and firstly he tried to improve the players’ discipline. When he took over, MUFC occupied 21 place in the Premier League, but the season was finished at 11th place, which was really a success. fergie During 26 years at the club he won 38 trophies and titles:

  • 13 Premier Leaguealex_ferguson_1358159c
  • 5 FA Cups
  • 4 League Cups
  • 10 FA Charity/Community Shield
  • 2 UEFA Champions League
  • 1 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup
  • 1 UEFA Super Cup
  • 1 Intercontinental Cup
  • 1 FIFA Club World Cup

It’s interesting to note how he managed to create the club’s identity. Thinking of Manchester United is difficult to be divorced from thinking about Ferguson. Last year he was even rewarded with his own statue in front of Old Trafford, which will always remind players and fans of the (for now) longest serving and probably most successful manager. He lived and breathed with the club, invested much of his energy and didn’t give up even at the darkest times of the club. His significance for MUFC is signalled also on the stocks market, where the shares of Manchester United fell more than 4 % following news on Sir Alex’s decision to step down. Such fuss is a consequence of the fact that in European football finances of a football club are closely linked to on-field success (therefore finishing in the top of four of the Premier League and qualifying for the Champions League is worth about $50 million). Sir Alex Ferguson is worth $142m to Manchester United, according to the US stock market. The club’s shares fell 4.75% to $17.88 in early trading when the New York market opened a few minutes ago, as investors had their first chance to react to the news of Ferguson’s retirement. Despite the $142m fall the club is still worth more than $2.9bn. Joshua Raymond, chief market strategist at City Index said: “The club must make the announcement of Ferguson’s replacement quickly. Uncertainty breeds nervousness and typically results in downward pressure on share prices.” See the whole story here.

There are two major attitudes of Sir Alex I admire the most: his loyalty to the club and readiness to step down when appropriate. Firstly, he’s been with the club in good and bad times – the length of his mandate speaks for itself. Today, where success and winning are the ultimate goals of sports industry, such approach is quite rare. The majority of managers mainly look for wins, successes, and step down after few years – either after a huge win, or after a huge loss. Of course it’s always a challenge to try different clubs, different players, different styles, but I think it’s even a greater challenge to lead one club over decades, through many different generations and changes. Secondly, I like the fact that Ferguson was ready to say “Guys, I’m out, I’m retiring.”. I think it’s brave to admit that one important period of your life is over. Examples of some managers in different companies or old grey professors not wanting to retire at the age of 80 and over and clinging on their functions and positions make the case of Ferguson an exception. It takes courage to step down despite half of the world opposing such decision. Although I was surprised by his announcement, it’s my opinion that it was the right thing to do. He has achieved all he could, and now it’s time for someone new (though he will not completely retire, but will keep bth his informal influence in the club as well as formal, being a director and ambassador for the club).

So – thank you Sir Alex and good luck! 😉

The International Roma Day

April 8 is the International Roma Day, a day to celebrate the Romani culture and raise awarness on the social and other problems that the Roma people are facing. The day was officially declared in 1990 at the World Romani Congress of the International Romani Union (IRU). There are at least 12 million Roma scattered throughout the world. In Europe, Roma people are the largest minority group, but remaine powerless. As a people and as a culture, the Roma have been, and continue to be, misrepresented, mythologized, stereotyped, segregated, persecuted and systematically discriminated against.

Dancing with the Roma children in Hudeje in Trebnje, a study trip to the Roma in Slovenia, Dolenjska Region

In the first place, there are systematic political actions to be taken at international, regional and national level to grant the basic human rights of the Roma people and support their active participation in society and politics. It is true that often the Roma don’t want interference from others; however, this cannot serve as an excuse for discriminating and segregating them. Like all other minorities, they have the right to preserve their distinctive identity.

Since identity can be strengthened inter alia through sport, and since this is a sports blog, I’m going to focus on the Romani participation at international sports events, concretely at the European Football-tournament of the autochthonous, national minorities. Although the main global attention goes to EUROs, FIFA World Cups, Champions Leagues etc., there are many other international football championships that unfortunately stay hidden from the eyes of the majority and from international media. The European Sport for All Charter (1975) by the Council of Europe clearly states that every individual shall have the right to participate in sport. Minorities should definitely excercise this right. There were already two European Football-tournament of the autochthonous, national minorities, first one in Switzerland, organised by the Rhaeto-Romanish in 2008, and the second one in Germany, organised by the Lusatian Sorbs in 2012.

Europeada 2012 (Second European Football-tournament of the autochtonous, national minorities) was organised in parallel with the football championship of UEFA, the EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, from 16 to 24 June 2012. EUROPEADA as a European sports-event helps to make clear the contribution of the autochthonous, national minorities and the regional and minority languages to linguistic and cultural diversity and to the unique character of European regions.The organisers of the EUROPEADA 2012 were the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) and Domowina – Federation of Lusatian SorbsFUEN is the largest umbrella organisation of the autochthonous, national minorities / ethnic groups in Europe. It represents the interests of the European minorities on regional, national and in particular on the European level. FUEN is committed to protect and promote the identity, language, culture, rights and own character of the European minorities. It has participatory status at the Council of Europe and consultative status at the United Nations. Solidarity with the Roma is one of their main concerns.

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20 teams from 13 European coutries took part at the tournament. Among them was also the Roma minority from Hungary. The Hungarian Roma football selection has been operating since 1992. It is composed of the best young Roma football players all over Hungary. It participates in tournaments both at home and abroad and represents the Republic of Hungary.They successfully occupied the second place. In the semi-finals, they actually beat Carinthian Slovenes. Carinthian Slovenes got the fourth place in the end, which is a real succes. However, it wasn’t really mentioned in our media. Minorities are obviously absent not only on the political, but also on the (sports) media agenda.

 

It is interesting to note that the Roma are the largest minority group in Europe, yet they had only one team participating at the tournament. It is true that the majority of the European states don’t recognise their official status as a national minority (among them Slovenia). The Roma has a recognised status in states such as Macedonia, Austria, Finland, and Hungary. Unfortunately I am not sure whether the official recognition of a minority status within one state is a condition to qualify to the tournament. But this would actually be contrary to the very principles of EUROPEADA, as well as of FUEN as the organiser.

So for future tournaments for national and  autochthonous minorities I would definitely encourage more Romani teams to take part. Not only because it’s good and cool to participate at the international sports events, but especially because they can strengthen their identity, promote their culture and raise international awarness about the Romani issues with participating. I’m going to a study trip to the Roma settlements in Prekmurje in May, where we’ll also play football together and I’ll suggest their team to take part at the next EUROPEADA. You never know, Slovenia might finally get a European football champion 😉 On the other hand, this (and similar events) should be promoted more on a global, regional and national level. Journalists should be encouraged to write more about sports side events. When such tournaments gain broader popularity, national minorities will really have a chance to promote themselves and to prove that there is no reason to hinder their development, endander their identity and discriminate against them. Football can serve as a good starting point to acknowledge minorities’ role in society and the fact that we all have distinctive, but equally valuable identities. Let the love to football be our connecting factor and a point of recognition that we should all have our share in society, irrespective of our race, nationality, ethnicity or legal status of a community we belong to.

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You can take a look at other photos from the finals at EUROPEADA 2012 (Roma from Hungary vs. South Tyrolians) here.