Sport for Development, Football and Chile: Voices from The Fútbol Más Program

By
Constanza Campos Correa
University of Edinburgh

The biography of the Chilean soccer star Alexis Alejandro Sánchez is indicative of the social and economic advantages that success in professional sport may bring to individuals who grew up in challenging circumstances. Football continues to be a social mobility pathway for the few and not the many. While wealthy transfers tend to be headline news what is less well known is the way in which football works for other people in Chile.

United Nations
The United Nations has recently (2015) provided sport with an international mandate to contribute to the 2030 Sustainable development goals. Sport for development and peace (SDP) and sport for change (SC) programmes differ from sport development programmes because they intentionally plan to deliver other outcomes through sport. One of the issues with such programmes is the lack of evidence involving participants who can testify to the extent to which the sports interventions have been effective after a period of time.

The Fútbol Más Program
The Fútbol Más Program was created in 2009, the organisation works in eight different countries along three continents, with around 5.000 kids and in 70 neighbourhoods. Their background of being an organisation created in the Global South, expanded to the rest of the world more than 10 years ago, and their international reputation, provided the perfect scenario to explore the impact of an SDP programme in Chile.

The Study
This small study explored the way in which one football programme worked for a group of young Chilean kids who participated in the Fútbol Más Program. Very few SDP and SC programmes systematically track over a period of time the benefits, successes and challenges experienced by the participants several years after they have left the programme.

This study worked with a group of nine kids who had left the programme five years ago with a view to listening to their accounts of how the programme had impacted upon their lives. This research worked with a specific group of nine young adults who, in 2012, won the national league of the organisation. The participants were between 17 to 19 years old from a small neighbourhood in the north of Chile.

Two waves or phases of analysis were undertaken. The first wave of analysis listened to the participants during three different phases of their lives in relation to the Fútbol Más Programme, before, during and after. The responses covered five different areas, education, health, inclusion and community building, mass participation in physical activity and social behaviour.

The second wave of analysis listened to feedback to the programme organisers.

The five areas mentioned above are covered in turn:

Education
One of the most important aspects observed in education is that six of the nine participants explained that they had learned new social abilities such as sociability and self-confidence with the programme and that these were especially useful and observable within the school.

These new skills gave rise to important changes in the personality of the participants, affecting them in positive ways, such as how to be part of a group, how to create correct interaction with their peers and how to express more personality within the classroom.

They described these new skills as being very useful in their day-to-day lives.

“They taught us values, so that influenced me to change some aspects of my personality. For example, I used to be very shy and I could not talk in front of the class. When I started to participate in the programme, I felt like I had more personality”.

Health
Although more difficult to measure, two of the participants described positive changes in their physical health after participating in the programme, such as weight loss and support to come through the experience of having heart disease.

In addition to this there were recorded some important changes to participants in relation to happiness and positive feeling, and in the majority of cases, those feelings were maintained over time. Consequently, the programme achieved one of their main goals, which is to contribute to the happiness of children.

“The motivation was different. I woke up to go to the school with a more positive attitude, and I waited for the Fútbol Más classes with a lot of expectation”.

Inclusion and Community Building
Participants perceived a significant change in the community as a result of the presence of the programme in the local neighbourhood.

They described a high level of the respect and support from the community towards the programme. Because of this, it could be observed that the programme created an impact in the community, integrating them into the project and creating a positive development of social capital such as stronger networks, higher levels of trust and pride in being part of the community.

Additionally, the project affords the participants the opportunity to continue in the project as leaders and monitors, integrating and creating opportunities for the young people of the community as well.

“It is a big responsibility for me to still be involved with the community, because the parents want me to be the teacher of their kids, and they chose me as the best leader one year”.

Mass Participation in Physical Activity
It can be observed from the participants’ responses that currently eight out of nine young adults practiced the World Health Organisations (2017) recommended hours of PA in comparison with five out of nine participants that were practising the recommended hours of PA before Fútbol Más.

It might be perceived that Fútbol Más has the potential to make a good contribution in the area of Mass Participation in lower class income groups, which is the social group who participate less in PA in Chile.

Consequently, the programme could be creating or enabling sustained PA participation over a long term period (five years), and helping to achieve what sport policies in many countries fail achieve with lower class income groups.

This participation in PA is created at no monetary cost. This area is important to highlight, because football, especially in an unequal country such as Chile, is a good alternative as a social tool used to tackle poverty.

At the same time, this might give rise to illusions for young children and families to become famous football players, which just a small number of children manage to do. This illusion is not the sole problem, for this illusion might also be surrounded by business and the need to pay to play in football clubs.

That it is why Fútbol Más could contribute to create a participation in Physical Activity, with no cost to the government or families.

Social Behaviour
The main findings were associated with how the programme could be a means of prevention. Judging by the responses of the participants, all of them highlighted the main values of the programme (respect, responsibility, happiness, creativity and teamwork) as an important aspect of the programme that could influence their social behaviour in a positive way.

 

Also, most of the positive responses relating to the influence of those values in their actual lives were from participants who were no longer part of the organisation.

This could suggest that the main values taught to them by the organisation creates an impact on the participants across a long term period (five years), and could be discouraging them from participating in some forms of anti- social behaviour.

“I think Fútbol Más helped me to be a better person as a player. I learned how to be modest with my achievements in football, to be more generous with my teammates and respectful with the teachers. Also, they taught me to believe in me and to be sure of what I want to achieve in my life”.

Second phase analysis
This brief contribution will limit itself to making two further observations that can be drawn from the conversations with the programme participants.

Remarkable aspects
One of the most valuables characteristics of the programme described by the participants was the academic and human quality of the teachers. This aspect is very important for the purpose of the project, because it is this strong connection and impact (generated by the teacher towards the participants) that would contribute to making it possible to the long term impacts from the SDP programme for the participants.

Possible changes
The participants were also asked about their concerns about the programme, and one of the main topics discussed was related to the end of the project. This stage was for all of the participants, a hard one to accept, even when some of them continued in the programme and had a chance to develop within a new area in the organisation.

The main frustration from the participants originated from the impossibility to compete with the programme, and, at the same time, in this stage some of the participants felt frustrated about their dreams to become a professional football player. In this crucial stage for the participants, it would perhaps be beneficial to extend the categories so that the participants could continue until they were 18 years old and further sustain sustain the development of participants, and perhaps support the young adults in this complicated stage when they are dealing with important decisions about their futures.

“I really liked the competitive part of Fútbol Más, to have matches, to try to be the best and to play with other teams. I think this aspect motivates me the most to play football and to be part of a team”.

Concluding Comment
Very little has been written about sport for development in Latin America and this study makes a small contribution in trying to contribute to the gap in sport for development research in Latin America and in this case Chile.

Biography
The researcher herself is Chilean and the motivation behind the small study was to help to contribute to an area of knowledge about Chile and provide a further basis for dialogue about SDP in a larger Latin American set of contexts.

The researcher is grateful to the many people inside and outside of Chile who offered advice, support and knowledge. The researcher has worked both as a sports journalist in Chile and a research assistant with the University of Edinburgh.

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Football and the 1914 Xmas Day Truce

By Mason Robbins

University of Edinburgh 

How does 1914 Christmas Day Truce Affect Modern Peace-Building Initiatives?

On a cold, windy day in the middle of the countryside, two groups with very different backgrounds and beliefs lined up next to each other. Unnoticed but by a few in the outside world, these men shared a common bond that has stood the test of time. More than 100 years later, a group of 22 people with similar backgrounds stood in the same field outside of Ypres, Belgium to commemorate where British and German troops laid down their arms and played football to celebrate Christmas away from home. Just like the soldiers from several generations before them, these people set aside their differences and played a symbolic match where the greatest achievement was not the final score but the continued memories of how mortal enemies were able to come together in the middle of a war.

How then does the memory of significant sporting events, such as the Christmas Day Truce of 1914, animate contemporary sport-related peace-building initiatives?

This blog examines the following areas:

  • How memory of events can affect the way people perceive events after conflict.
  • The role of sport in peace-building initiatives.
  •  Reflections upon the argument to how sport may produce more harm than good in community-building efforts.

Football, Memory and Conflict

To understand how memory can be integral in current sport-related peace-building initiatives, we can begin by examining the instance of the use of football in an organically-created, grass-roots effort that created a small window of peace during an era of conflict. The 1914 Christmas Day Truce during World War One, was a moment in modern military history where both sides in a conflict laid down arms and met in ‘no man’s land’ to celebrate a common event. Upon hearing of the ‘unofficial armistice,’ the high command from both sides were enraged by the actions of their non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and sought to end ‘this Elysian [almost divine] situation’. The Truce began on Christmas Eve with German soldiers singing ‘hymns and tunes common to both nations… understandably, a wave of nostalgia passed over us [the British soldiers].’ According to accounts from the trenches by the brothers Frank and Michael Wary, two members of the 1st London Brigade:

A battalion of the 10th Division on our left [flank] arranged a football match against a German team ─ one of their number having found in the opposing unit a fellow member of his local Liverpool football club who was also his hairdresser! Many souvenirs were exchanged… A joint working group party was formed for burying the dead men and animals… A distant improvement in the atmosphere was made, in which we were to continue to live until Easter.

Even though the fleeting peace that evolved in the middle of war during Christmas Day has not been replicated since 1914, peace-building organisations and, to a limited extent, researchers have sought to understand how the memory of peaceful events can affect divided societies.

Memory and Conflict

Memory is an essential tool that is used to record history. Duncan Bell’s definition of collective memory is as the ‘widely shared perceptions of the past, linking the past-present-future to a collective, simplified narrative.’ It is through a group’s collective memory that we are able to use past events to help formulate policy and develop tools for peace-building. The last section presented an observation from two brothers. Unfortunately, since the event was spontaneous and led by NCOs, it was never properly documented and the events of the day were pieced together through the accounts of wounded soldiers who were taken from the front line. Now taking the accounts of the event as recalled by other soldiers and written about by authors ─ such as Stanley Weintraub in Silent Night ─ their collective memory of the event has enabled historians to piece together the events of the Christmas Day Truce. In other words, it is the large number of soldiers’ accounts that validates this historical event.

Another important aspect when dealing with memory and conflict is addressing the role of trauma to an individual or a shared traumatic experience. Jeffery Alexander states that trauma occurs ‘when individuals and groups feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their consciousness, [because it] will mark their memories forever and will change their future in fundamentally irrevocable ways.’ Applying this definition to the Christmas Day Truce, it can be argued that that the trauma of trench warfare affected the soldiers on both sides almost equally. Their shared experience, set within the framework of a common holiday, allowed the two sides to unite around sport while re-humanising the other. As reported by the Wary Brothers, the culmination of this was the two British and German soldiers who realised that they knew each other from before the war and how, even after they were forced to resume fighting, ‘the mood in the trenches changed for the months following’ the event.

When further examining the Wray brothers’ case, it can be seen that the window for using trauma as a tool for unification can be lost as easily as it is established. At the end of the report, it was conveyed that the brothers’ brigade was ‘taken out of the [front] line for a rest period but, unfortunately within a week, we found ourselves involved in the 2nd Battle of Ypres during which the majority of the Battalion became causalities.’ The organically created Christmas Day Truce was an opportunity for official peace-building that was lost by the high command, although it was unattainable in the greater context of this war.
It is in these ripe moments that modern peace-builders have to work the hardest to find solutions to conflicts so that opportunities become attainable. Although missing the ripe moment presented in collective trauma can deny opportunities for peace-building, collective memory is not easily lost. This is evident by the commemoration of the Christmas Day Truce many years later: neither side forgot the importance of the truce. The shared trauma, when introduced at the right moment, and the collective memory of an event are two powerful tools that peace-builders have begun to use when developing sport-related initiatives in divided societies.

Peace-Building Initiatives

The use of sport in peace-building initiatives in divided societies is not new but it is oftem misunderstood. One of the often documented examples is the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Nelson Mandela led the push to unite a divided country emerging from under Apartheid by encouraging South Africa’s diverse community to support the national rugby team, historically a white man’s sport. The moment when Mandela handed the championship trophy to the South African Capitan while wearing the shirt and hat of the national team would forever embody the unifying power that sport has on divided societies. This gesture is often viewed as the beginning of the path towards reconciliation in South Africa.

Although there have been many initiatives using sport in divided societies, there is a definite lack of research on the phenomena. John Sugden and Adrian Haasner have compiled one on of the most comprehensive theoretical frameworks for using sport in peace-building:

  • Help people ‘re-humanise’ each other through its ritual ceremonies and ethics of ‘fair play’ and sportsmanship;
  • Help people (re)build relationships in the organisation and conduct of events; and
  • Help build webs [inter-connections] and relationships at the sub-system level.

When analysing the Christmas Day Truce using the Sugden and Haasner model, we can begin to understand how enemies on the battlefield were able to become friends on the football pitch. All three criteria were met on the battlefield that day. Through a collective traumatic experience and a shared background, the mortal enemies were able to re-humanise each other. The soldiers then went on to build relationships through playing sport, exchanging gifts, and even burying their respective casualties together. Finally, the inter-connections were strengthened when they discovered that enemies were formerly neighbours, colleagues, and brothers in sport before the war, which produced a level of mutual respect and understanding in the trenches that lasted for several months after the event.

Darnell has added to the debate on how sport can be used as a positive tool in helping with the development and education of youth in conflict. Citing Armstrong’s research during conflict in Liberia, Darnell adds that ‘while football cannot solve social ills such as poverty, lack of education, and limited access to food and shelter, local football initiatives can offer a path to better health and an opportunity, both metaphoric and practical, to facilitate the development of youth character.’ The most important concept is that football was able to instil the values of sportsmanship and partnership in this Liberian community.

Darnell concludes that, ‘learning to be a sportsperson extends well beyond learning the physical and mental skills necessary to play the game; it also means learning norms of citizenship within the democratic structure that sport requires for its organisation…’ The concept of sportsmanship was a central tool in the outcome of the Christmas Day Truce. No matter the outcome of the game, when it was over, both sides exchanged handshakes and gifts that were treasured many years afterword.

Organised football associations have done their best to minimise the negative effects of sport. However, the luxury of working within the parameters of organised football is not the case when working in most conflict zones where there has been a breakdown in civil society. Sugden and Haasner argue that the actions and desires of individuals who want change and the use their will in sport are a part of a broader range of contested elements in ‘civil society’ that can challenge ‘political society’. It is in ‘understanding the role of sport in the relationship between political and civil society that is the key in understanding the role it can have in the peace processes.’ In other words, peace-builders need to be able to identify the commonalities between different groups in a given society or situation ─ just as the two soldiers from Liverpool did in 1914 ─ in order to build systems that will focus on similarities and minimise differences while being culturally sensitive.

Conclusions
To commemorate the Christmas Day Truce of 1914, the British and German militaries organised a football match on 11 November, 2008 between modern soldiers from the regiments that were said to have played in the original match. Almost reflecting the original outcome (3-2, Germany) the match ended 2-1 with Germany prevailing. The most important outcome from the commemorative match was not the final score but the relationship and the understanding that was rekindled between two powers that historically were enemies. The Truce was commemorated not only to remember those who gave their lives in the Great War but also to remember those few brave men who were willing to cross physical and metaphoric boundaries and break down barriers that were built to help de-humanise the people on the other side.

As seen, the use of sport in areas of conflict does not come without its short falls. Fortunately, practitioners and academics are learning how to minimise the potential toxic elements (i.e. racism, cultural sensitivity, and entrenchment of rivalries) that are associated with introducing sport into a divided society. For sport initiatives to become truly successful, not only do the grass-roots, individual movements have to be engaged, but the political society needs to understand the importance of the peace-building objectives. An unfortunate example of the breakdown of society’s commitment to peace-building was exemplified with the tragedy in Egypt.

Darnell points out that ‘sport does not ease the importance of a political commitment to peace; at best sport offers an entry point into conversations about, and struggles towards, peace building. This notion is the heart of the debate over the role of sport as a tool of peace-building in divided societies. This does not mean that people should not try to introduce new sport-related initiatives in a divided society without a commitment to peace from the political society. The successes of the British Council sponsored programme, Football for Peace, in Israel is a prime example of the effectiveness of a sports programme working in a society where the leadership is not fully committed to peace. This example of successfully bringing Israelis and Palestinians together shows that even though it is harder for these initiatives to become established, there can be a successful outcome.

As the Christmas Day Truce of 1914 has exemplified the effectiveness of sport in the ultimate form of division between relatively similar cultures, sport can produce a unifying force more powerful than war. It is the memory of the event ─ how a simple game unified enemies ─ that has lasted long after that last surviving member has passed on. When active duty soldiers from both Great Britain and Germany played in the commemoration game 94 years later, the legacy and courage of those brave soldiers in 1914 was solidified as a peace-building initiative. The act of having two historically opposing enemies facing off on the same battlefield with active duty soldiers is rarely seen in the modern context in such a highly profiled event.

In the end, using sport as a peace-building tool is not solely the answer when attempting to unite divided societies. However, even though the use of sport in peace-building initiatives has faced obstacles, the successes outweigh the challenges. It is these successes that need to be built upon by practitioners and studied by academics to find the most effective uses of sports initiatives in divided societies.

Reflecting on the lessons learned from the memories of events from the past will help peace-builders find ways of helping people involved in conflicts to ‘re-humanise’ their enemy and collectively start to heal from traumatic events. The goal is to help individuals affected by conflict learn how to work as positive contributors within civil society. Then when political society is ready to facilitate peace, the population of educated citizens will be ready to comprehend what it means to be at peace because they will have experienced it through the benefits of sport.

Bibliography
Primary Sources:
Archives:
Letter: Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield, London, 13 March 1968. Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College London. (LH 15/2/50).
‘Soldiers take part in commemorative football match’, Ministry of Defence, 14 November 2008.
Media:
BBC, ‘Rugby World Cup history: 1995’, 7 October 2003.
BBC, Video: ‘Scores Killed in Egypt Football Riots’, 1 February 2012.

Secondary Sources:
Alexander, Jeffrey, ‘Towards a Theory of Cultural Trauma’ in Jeffrey Alexander, Ron Eyerman, Bernhard Giesen, Neil J. Smelser, and Piotr Sztompka, Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004).
Allison, Lincoln, ‘Sport and Nationalism’ in J. Coakley and E. Dunning (Eds.), Handbook of Sport Studies (London: Sage, 2000). pp. 344-55.
Bell, Duncan, Memory, Trauma and World Politics: Reflections on the Relationship between Past and Present, (New York: Pelgrave Macmillan, 2006).
Coalter, Fred, ‘The politics of sport-for-development: Limited focus programmes and broad gauge problems?’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, September 2010, 45(3), pp. 295-314.
Darnell, Simon C., ‘Conflict, Education, and Sport: Responses, Causes and Questions’, Conflict and Education, 1(1), 2011.
Hargreaves, John, Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’s Sports, (London: Routledge, 1994).
Kuper, Simon and Setfan Szymanski, Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey – and even Iraq – Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport, (New York, Nation Books, 2009).
Rawls, John, ‘Political Society’, Laws of People, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999).
Sugden, John and Adruan Haasner, ‘Critical Left-Realism and Sport Interventions in Divided Societies’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45, pp. 258-272.
Weintraub, Stanley, Silent Night: The Story of the WWI Christmas Day Truce, (New York: The Free Press, 2001).
Young, Kevin, ‘Sport and Violence’ in J. Coakley and E. Dunning (Eds.), Handbook of Sport Studies, (London: Sage, 2000), pp. 382-407.

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Sport for Change : Some Women’s Voices from the Street

By Grant Jarvie and Alex Richmond 

Sport for change is sometimes taken to mean sporting activities that are intentionally used to deliver social impact for individuals and communities beyond increasing participation or performance. The logic of Sport for Change needs a clear set of outcomes stating the intentional wider social impacts that intervention a, b or c aims to achieve. The ground is then cleared for initiatives that are focused upon producing change in areas such as health, education, community empowerment, justice, safety, enterprise, employability and much more.

Accessing programmes for change through sport is complex and requires an understanding of groups, contexts and individual fears and barriers to participation.

For example, Sport in Focus 1:1 provides an insight into some of the barriers facing some women from disadvantaged backgrounds aiming to access street soccer in one country.

SPORT IN FOCUS 1:1 Women’s Voices from the Street 

Self-Selection

Quite often a lack of confidence can be a barrier to involvement in street soccer

■    I challenged myself by One- getting on the bus to come here to the other side of town and two – to discipline myself to come every week because it is only 6-weeks but that is a goal in itself”

■    “It’s about balancing the stuff going on in your head and with some of the exercises deal with coordination- you can’t have that little voice in your head telling you you’re no good at it”

Fear of the unknown

Quite often fear of the unknown can be a barrier to involvement.

■    She used to do sport activities on a regular basis and she liked the community around them. So there is something to hold on to but it takes people some time to do it and believe they can do it

■    “…and going of my own experience- you’re like that sounds cool and I want to do it. But I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what I am going into. Too many fears. Too many barriers holding me back….”

Football

Quiet often football is a barrier

■    “I think that’s a difficult thing as I come from a generation where football just was not…”

■    “…. that like me when I was a kid… I was the only one that played football… the rest of my friends didn’t play…”

■    “That’s usually the first thing some say. If I speak to people, with girls about Street Soccer, they’ll say I can’t play football… I don’t know how to play football…”

Structural barriers

Quiet often the type of activity and the location of the activity can be a barrier

■    …with temporary accommodation, it is usually around the city centre so it’s not an issue to get to places. But very often when people get Council housing they are outside, so coming into the city centre without having a bus pass or being on very limited benefits, that’s a barrier itself

The practical lessons learned from change interventions are varied and context specific.   Sport in Focus 1:2 provides an insight into some of these responses around three areas: Sport for Health; Sport for Social Inclusion and Sport for Conflict Resolution and Peace.

SPORT IN FOCUS 1:2 SPORT AND SOCIAL INTERVENTION

 – Lessons to be passed on

Health

■    “Our intervention taught us to always look beyond the obvious, that we set our goals from day one with community members and that we use our child protection policy and measurable activities to ensure that we are making positive differences in children’s lives.”

■    “The power of parents, parents and dedicated community members are integral to creating community ownership of a health problem that has dramatic impact on their children’s wellbeing.”

■    “The biggest practical lesson we have learned and already shared is the use of local talent who are hungry for opportunities to learn and succeed. As Rwanda is experiencing high levels of youth unemployment participants graduating from our programmes are in desperate need to support themselves and their families, retaining them within our programme has enabled us evolve, increasing the number and quality of services while at the same time supporting local communities and national goals for youth engagement”.

Social Inclusion

■    “The single biggest learning is that the significant challenges faced by a programme and or organisation will have solutions, but you need to engage members and those involved to find solutions from within rather than look to external agencies for support. Believing in each other and providing the resources and tools primarily from within provides the platform from which sustainability is created”.

■    “Our biggest single insight is local ownership of the programme which for us involves a blend of sport development and sport for development”.

■    “We learned that volunteer coaches need more than just initial training but ongoing support to foster their development, confidence and effectiveness”

Conflict Resolution and Peace

■ “A wide network, a willingness to be transparent and strong partnerships are vital” The ethos of sharing and partnership increases our ability to help refugee”

■ “Young leaders who are free of the baggage that so many of this and the past generations carry with them are ideally placed to actively contribute to creating a more stable and peaceful society – in our context they are the fourth vital pillar of community relations”

■    “Start small- because we started small and listened to the community we could identify strengths to build on like recognizing that many people believed in themselves”

■    “While conflict resolution content is crucial high calibre competition is no less important- it helped us engage participants on a long-term basis – an essential factor in effecting meaningful positive change”

■ “We have learned that success of our intervention in a conflict environment is dependent on long term activities that adapt to change on the ground. Long term programming is essential in order to support and gauge the gradual process of perception change among people and communities”

Sport for Change

While Sport for Change can be a resource of hope for many individuals, communities and groups, it should not be at the expense of recognizing the capabilities that are demonstrably delivered through sports participation or performance, nor should it be at the expense of the role of sport in voicing social alternatives, or being a critique of the triumph of capitalism.

The humanitarian aspect of the Olympic movement should perhaps come more to the fore ahead of medals or hosting major sporting events that many cities and countries cannot afford.

There is a substantial body of work that shows sporting mega events as adversarial sites and draws these into the politics of place and time. There needs to be at least a common narrative throughout these events if they are going to live up to the promise of the term social movement or a humanitarian resource of hope.

They certainly need an alternative to the neo-liberal narrative. Forms of activism around major sporting events invariably fall into categories such as spontaneous uprisings, grass-roots mobilisation and protest and special interest groups. Such events can act as soft power through arguing for transparency, accountability, local involvement and increased capability in community outreach with measured intentional social impacts.

Their needs to be more agreed common ground about sport for change and the language of sport for change where it is agreed that sporting initiatives unwittingly or otherwise should not produce harm while any divisions within sport about the language of sport needs to be inclusive and recognise that sporting factions are stronger together than apart. We should not underestimate the capacity of sport to collapse social barriers, nor should we ignore the lack of access to sport for youth living in poverty in many parts of the world. It is crucial to acknowledge the capacity of sport to facilitate social change.

The strength of sport’s capacity to produce change lies in its popularity in different parts of the world, its capacity to symbolise graphically but more poignantly work for social and political change, acknowledge success and learn the lessons from political failures through sport. Such alternatives both influence and are influenced by different visions of a world that continues to struggle with inequality, turmoil and lack of clarity about the nature of both capitalism and democracy. Contemporary researchers, teachers and thinkers about sport in the world today, and those working with sport are having an impact but more needs to be done.

Endnote

If those supporting sport for change move Beyond Sport as it is currently operating, invoke the idea of intentionality, maximise the social tool box that is sport then it might just be that an aspirational politics of the possible might be grasped if not realised.

 

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Sport, poverty and women: Some African-American basketball voices

By Sheila Dixon and Grant Jarvie

“The program is a family and they work together to give girls ‘TWO’ The Way Out using basketball”.

“Where I come from it is really rough ……, it’s hard not to get involved in the streets. If it were not for basketball – I would not be here”.

Local and Global Poverty

As a local and global phenomenon, poverty, together with its eradication, remains a challenge of enormous proportions, despite levels of extreme wealth in parts of the world. The answer on how to eradicate poverty remains illusive. Attempts to redistribute wealth, develop capabilities, improve life- chances and narrow the inequality gap, all involve a raft of measures and the struggle to find out what works where and when and under what circumstances.

Typically, poverty is understood to be a lack of resources, but it can also mean inadequate outcomes or lack of opportunities (Mckendrick, 2016). It is not the same as income inequality or multiple deprivation, but it is closely related to both issues. Renewed attempts to think of poverty have been forthcoming (Banerjee and Duflo, 2011). The UN offers a Multidimensional Poverty Index while local contexts, such as Scotland, use measures such as the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

The relationship between sport and poverty has been historically linked and yet contemporary social activists, policy formulators and parliamentarians often remain detached and aloof about the opportunities facilitated through sport.

Sport and Poverty
The relationship between sport and poverty is complex:
• Sport can be an escape from poverty;
• Sport assists with social mobility:
• The ghetto thesis suggests that poor living conditions foster tough sportspeople who can succeed and escape;
• Sport helps with educational achievement;
• Sport can carry social messages to raise awareness;
• Barriers to sports participation exist for those experiencing poverty;
• Sport builds capabilities, including confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy:
• Sport helps to provide a degree of normality when all around seems not to be normal;
• Children living in the poorest households in some countries may never experience sport;
• Sport contributes to the poverty of opportunity; and
• Poverty exists, not just in areas of multiple deprivation, but also in affluent areas, but the experience of sport in these two contexts might be different.

Some Basketball Voices

The study drawn upon in this blog gives voice to one inner city programme aimed at providing African-American girls and women alternative choices through basketball.

To some extent this research compliments similar studies and the disparities of gender, race and class that have influenced opportunities available to African- American girls and the long term benefits of participating in positive sport programmes like basketball.

The research supports the ideal youth development-specific sport programmes can provide young black girls with an outlet for physical activity but also provide them an avenue to challenge the norms and stigmas often placed on them while providing them opportunities to learn, grow and expand their social capital.

The work of Olushola et al (2013) identified four key components in developing a successful a youth programme that aimed to cater for black girls: (1) family; (2) education; (3) discipline; and (4) civic engagement (Olushola, et al., 2013).

Furthermore, the study concluded that sport must exist beyond the context of physical activity to combat the challenges that young minority girls face. Sport is flexible and can be incorporated as a tool to achieve the goals of youth development programmes (Olushola, et al., 2013).Yet as a social tool box the complexity of the sports offer requires a knowledge of what works, where and when and under what circumstances. In an of itself it is not a solution but it does offer the opportunity to develop capabilities in Sen’s sense of the term.

This girl’s youth basketball programme was established in 2004 in upstate New York. It is one of many basketball programmes – Peace Players International, Gainline Africa Basketball – that aim to further enable girls and women on the margins.

Listen to these basketball voices as some of the testimonies supporting this one New York local based programme for girls.

On Family

The philosophy was simple; the programme would be looked at as a “family”. Those individuals who were associated with the programme were a part of the family and that family extends to any and all people who had come through the programme (e.g. players, coaches, parents, sponsors, supporters, …

During observations, team huddles would finish with a “shout” on a 3-count in which all members of the huddle would shout “Family”. Huddles could happen as many as four times in a practice session and as much as ten times during a game

“The programme is a family and they work together to give girls ‘TWO’ (the way out) using basketball”

On Money

According to the director, they and others in the “family are able to make it work” meaning the programme and the demands of the programme, because they have built relationships in the community that affords them the chance to work with the area’s basketball trainers and use certain facilities at their disposal. One participant said:

“being able to train in different facilities helped us to get used to playing in different environments and allowed us access to equipment such as shooting guns that you only see in college practices which we would not have access to and are way too expensive to purchase personally”

The programme went beyond being just a basketball programme, one said:

“The programme made us better people and young ladies. It helped us get free money too, and by free money I mean scholarships. But, we had expectations to meet. There was a certain decorum we had to have as athletes of this programme… respect for ourselves and others. And learning that would be able to take us further than what basketball could ever do.”

On Staying Out of Trouble

Alumni participants who had come from particular backgrounds such as living in low income, single family neighbourhoods where crime and deviance was heightened believed that the programme and the sport kept them out of trouble.

“I believe, if I did not play in the programme, I would not have seen different than what I was surrounded by in my neighbourhood and most likely would have fallen into those same surroundings and not attended college”

On Social Capital

The primary social capital element that the programme focuses on is advancing educational attainment which is the greatest challenge that many individuals face. However, in order to optimize individual development capabilities, the programme must address the concerns of its players being females in sport.

The education attainment objectives in the programme are put forth through basketball yet the programme does not have the ability in and of itself to address all the potential scholastic challenges that individuals currently deal with.

The potential benefits of finding what works best and under what circumstances through, in this case basketball are not to be ignored-

Life, learning and work

¬ Improved confidence and self-esteem

¬ People are better equipped to make positive
choices in their lives

¬ Young people’s learning experiences and
attainment improves

¬ People develop their skills for life, learning and work

¬ People progress into learning, training, volunteering
or employment

Communities

¬ Increased connections and cohesion within communities

¬ Families have positive relationships

¬ Communities experience reduced anti-social behaviour and offending

Deficit models of culture, blaming the poor for their poverty, ignoring structural reasons for poverty and not acknowledging specific contexts are not options. Nor is the observation that while governments change and policies change more often that not the levels of need in many neighbourhood communities remain the same.

There is sufficient, consistent evidence to support the need to look at both an area approach to social interventions involving neighbourhood sports programmes, along with the call for more flexible, free, adaptable, informal, safe and interactive neighbourhood sports provision, if the thresholds on sports participation are to be lowered and the barrier of poverty is to be removed to allow increased access to sport for young people, the marginalised and the excluded.

Childcare, pre-school and extended school provision and serious investment in early intervention are some of the interventions that have been aimed at making a lasting difference. One of the most valuable lessons to be learned is that understanding the context is key to determining which tools in the social toolbox of sport can help and support the local context. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Basketball More than a Game

Basketball is not a solution but it provides resources for some individuals and communities. Classic studies of mid-night basketball leagues in Chicago and other cities have been careful to qualify grand claims and yet education through basketball studies have suggested change is possible on a number of fronts where basketball is a means to an end.

The basketball voices from this one New York based Basketball based programme testify in part to the potential of sport for change being be a part of communities that can create positive learning environments for individuals who face challenges based upon complex interactions, in this case of of class, gender and race.

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Sports diplomacy as an untapped source of globalised integration

By Stuart Murray

Sports News

Diplomacy today is much more than a rarefied, exclusive and secret dialogue between states. Governments the world over are experimenting with innovative types of public engagement such as cultural, digital and public diplomacy. These new, democratised types of diplomacy create fluid, plural and diverse networks of state and non-state actors, generate win-win scenarios via complementary partnerships, and temper the disintegration agenda. This briefing paper describes a ‘new’ dynamic type of diplomacy that is rapidly growing in theory and practice: sports diplomacy.

Framing sports diplomacy: from the ‘old’ to Version 2.0

Like it or loathe it, sport, politics and international relations have mixed since time immemorial. The Ancient Olympiad, the 1520 Field of Cloth of Gold Summit, or, more recently, the respective Olympic boycotts by the U.S. and Soviet nations during the 1980s, are well known examples. Much of this history and practice was, however, characterised by elite state actors co-opting elite sport, sports people and sporting events to advance or augment traditional foreign policy ends. Ping-pong diplomacy, the use of sport as part of the boycott against Apartheid South Africa, or the intermittent episodes of ‘baseball diplomacy’ between the U.S. and Cuba, were little more than ‘the continuation of policy by other means’, to adapt Clausewitz. As such, traditional sports diplomacy was sporadic, opportunistic, clumsy and imbued with tactless jingoistic pageantry; ‘war minus the shooting’, in the words of George Orwell.

This type of sports diplomacy endures, for international sport is often a parody of international relations, however, in the epoch of globalisation it is being supplanted by a new form of sports diplomacy, a version 2.0, if you like.

Sports diplomacy, Ver 2.0: definitions and practical examples

‘New’ sports diplomacy is a far more inclusive, amateur and networked model that embodies the type of state, non-state and public partnerships characteristic of twenty-first century diplomacy. It can be specifically defined as the conscious, strategic and regular use of sport, sportspeople and sporting events by state and non-state actors to engage, inform and create a favourable image among foreign publics and organisations, to shape their perceptions in a way that is (more) conducive to the sending group’s desired goals.

Often, a government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) acts as the hub in a diverse network composed of national sporting bodies, civil society organisations, multinational sporting businesses, and, even, influential celebrity sports diplomacy. The purpose of the MFA is somewhat retrospective: to act as a sporting ‘gatekeeper’, and to produce a whole-of-government sports diplomacy strategy that enhances a nation’s soft power image, reputation and partnerships (both domestically and internationally). Such networks can significantly boost people-to-people links, education, development, cultural, trade, investment or tourism opportunities, for example.

Many governments are developing (or refining) esoteric sports diplomacy programs, policies and strategies. Due to their love of both innovation and sport, the Americans and their U.S. Department of State’s were the first nation to take sports diplomacy more seriously. Their vanguard initiative is the Sports United programme, which was born after 9/11 as a way of engaging young, disenfranchised people across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. India and Pakistani leaders regularly engage in ‘cricket-diplomacy’ as a way of diffusing tensions over terrorist attacks, nuclear brinkmanship, and trade disputes, and there is much activity in the Asia-Pacific region as the governments of the Republic of Korea (2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics), Japan (2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Summer Olympic Games), and China (Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the ongoing Football Revolution) are all seeking to engage and charm global publics numbering in the billions.

However, it is the Australian’s and their Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) that are arguably leading the race. In 2015, DFAT launched the world’s first, esoteric, whole-of-government Sports Diplomacy Strategy (2015-2018). It sought to provide a dedicated point of contact, a portal, for absolutely anyone – players, coaches, sponsors, administrators, diplomats and politicians at home or abroad – with a stake and interest in Australian sport.

As Foreign Minister Julie Bishop noted at the launch, the Strategy

“signals a new era of partnership between the Australian Government and sporting organisations. Together, we will leverage our outstanding sports skills, facilities and knowledge to promote Australia and strengthen our links with countries and communities in the region.”

Where the Americans, Australians and Asian nations lead, other nations will surely follow, particularly those where sport forms a core part of their society, values and culture. Cuba, Canada, and New Zealand are all working on similar sports diplomacy strategies, as are the British, French and Italian governments, although these programmes are rather poor compared to those described above. This attitude is difficult to fathom because these nations are sitting on top of a veritable sports diplomacy goldmine.

Why sports diplomacy now?

Iran’s Fatemeh Khalaji (right) challenges Turkey’s Kubra Aydin for the ball in the Turkey versus Iran girls’ preliminary football match of the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) played at the Jalan Besar Stadium, August 12, 2010. Turkey won the match 4-2. Photo: SPH-SYOGOC/Chong Jun Liang

All the nations described above are using sport as a relatively cheap means of improving their image, credibility, stature, economic competitiveness and (they hope) ability to exercise agency on the international stage. The reason behind such growth in practice of sports diplomacy is simple: sport, like music or art, is a universal language that effortlessly overcomes estrangement between so-called disparate peoples, nations and states.

Everyone – from the Inuit to the Somalians and Scottish – all speak this language, for it literally woven into the human DNA (as evolutionary anthropological studies have proven). Sport endures as a powerful diplomatic tool that can sublimate conflict, promote comity between old and new enemies, break down stereotypes and stimulate more tolerant attitudes. Working in tandem with traditional diplomacy, sport is therefore no longer a niche area ‘below’ government but an increasingly relevant soft power tool for modern diplomacy. The ‘sportscape’, to use Manzenreiter’s term, is truly global, generates trillions of dollars, and affects billions of fans, players and coaches.

Embedding sport as a regular, conscious and proactive tool in a state’s diplomatic arsenal is beneficial for many other reasons: it can transcend acrimony in diplomatic relationships, bring ‘estranged’ leaders together, offer informal pathways beyond staid, formal venues of diplomacy, generate massive public diplomacy opportunities, amplify a state’s diplomatic message, culture and values, and unite so-called disparate nations, states and people via a mutual love of pursuits centred on physical exercise.

Part of the attraction in using sport as a form of diplomacy is also practical – it is low-risk, low-cost and high profile. And, by experimenting with new means to old ends, the culture of a state’s diplomacy can change from aloof, hermetic and ‘dead’ to one that is advanced, innovative, very public and even fun. Sports diplomacy also dovetails neatly with other new forms of diplomacy, chiefly public and digital diplomacy (the latter being the use of digital media platforms to exponentially increase the number of recipients for a diplomatic message). And, finally, sports diplomacy is difficult to object to? After all, who can be against sport, or diplomacy?

The final whistle

History demonstrates that both sport and diplomacy are powerful civil, civilising and civilised institutions. They are not, however, perfect. Classical, traditional diplomacy remains a complex, zero-sum game loaded with cabal, intrigue and secrecy. This is, however, the nature of a competitive, anarchic international relations system dominated by retrospective, Westphalian states obsessed with survival, by any means possible. Sport too has its issues. The observer need only think of FIFA under the extraordinarily unethical tenures of Presidents Havelange or Blatter, the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bidding scandal, or, more recently, the 2016 World Anti-Doping Agency report that accused more than 1,000 Russian Athletes of ‘benefitting’ from state-sponsored doping. Sadly, international sport continues to be associated with graft, violence, and cheating.

Just as sport can bring people together, it can also drive them apart. But, transgressions from ideal of diplomacy and sport are the exception rather than the rule. In other words, both sport and diplomacy do far more good for international society than harm.

Compared to some of the major issues in twenty-first century international relations– terrorism, poverty and climate change, to name but a few – sports diplomacy is a generally positive phenomenon. Granted, many states will continue to use sport to further self-serving national interests and foreign policy goals, however it is important to remember the core, diplomatic components of sports diplomacy: to overcome separation between separate peoples, nations and states, to generate mutually reciprocal ‘soft’ outcomes, and to reduce misunderstandings between ‘them’ and ‘us’ by demonstrating strangers speak a shared, universal language of sport. For the most part, sports diplomacy fosters peace, comity and unity.

From the ping-pong tables of Beijing to the front row of the Estadio Latinoamericano where Barrack Obama, the first US President to visit Havana since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, and Cuba President Raul Castro, watched a few innings of a friendly baseball match between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team, sports diplomacy continues to demonstrate significant potential to bring nations, leaders and people together.

More and more states are implementing sports diplomacy 2.0 programs and, as such, its short-term future looks assured. In an age sullied by disintegration, parochial xenophobes, global terrorism, financial crises, overpopulation and resource scarcity, sporting exchanges and innovative diplomacy between nations, states and people should be fostered and encouraged. Sports diplomacy is one of the genuine success stories of the globalised era.

Recommendations for governments

For those nations that have not yet considered a sports diplomacy strategy or policy, the following considerations might pay dividends:

– Ensure a working group composed of theorists, practitioners and experts from both the realms of sport and government is formed.
– The question guiding initial discussions could be “what role has, does and should sport play in our diplomacy, foreign policy and international image, reputation and brand?”
– It is also important not to confuse sports diplomacy with public diplomacy (or, indeed, to hierarchically disaggregate sport as part of a broader public diplomacy strategy).
– A rich and passionate repository of expertise, funding, experience and partnership is to be found in the non-state sporting sector. Strive for reciprocity: governments get access to extant sporting networks, while non-state sporting actors gain a legitimacy and credibility as a state-partner.
– Related, many non-state sporting actors are already agents, symbols and architects of globalisation. Sporting brands and icons such as Adidas, Nike and Body Armour, or Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, and Sebastien Vettel, or clubs and teams like F.C. Barcelona, F.C. Bayern Munich, or Manchester Utd (which claims to have global fanbase numbering 650 million), are all good examples of established, global resources that are often glad to work with the state.
– Sports diplomacy works just as well in domestic, intra-state contexts as it does in inter-national environments. The Australian government, for example, uses sport to overcome systemic estrangement with the indigenous First Australians, the Papua New Guinean female Rugby League team are powerful ambassadors for women’s rights within one of the most patriarchal societies on the planet, and, many European football teams serve as valuable sporting ambassadors in overcoming social problems created by recent waves of mass immigration.

Stuart Murray (@Diplomacy102) is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Relations at Bond University, Queensland, Australia, an associate editor for the Diplomacy and Foreign Policy journal (Brill), and a Global Fellow at The Academy of Sport, Edinburgh University. He has written widely on ‘innovative’ diplomacies, is a member of a group of academics from around the world devoted to advancing sports diplomacy research, and has consulted and advised several governments and non-state sporting actors on sports diplomacy policy design, implementation and review. He also still plays football, badly.

smurray@bond.edu.au ; Twitter – @Diplomacy102

Selected references

AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT. 2015. Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy 2015-18. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Dichter, Heather L. and Johns, Andrew L. Johns (eds). 2014. Diplomatic Games: Sport, Statecraft, and International Relations since 1945. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky,

Grix, Jon and Donna Lee. 2013. “Soft Power, Sports Mega-events and Emerging States: The Lure of the Politics of Attraction”. Global Society 27(4): 521-536.

Jarvie, Grant, Murray Stuart and MacDonald Stuart. 2017″. Promoting Scotland, Diplomacy and influence through Sport”. Scottish Affairs 26 (1): 1-22.

Murray, S. (2016). Sports diplomacy. In Costas Constantinou, Pauline Kerr and Paul Sharp (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy (pp. 617- 627). London: SAGE.

Murray, S. (2017). “Sports Diplomacy in the Australian Context: Theory into Strategy”.  Politics & Policy 45 (5): 1-21.

Pamment, James. 2016. “Rethinking Diplomatic and Development Outcomes through Sport: Toward a Participatory Paradigm of Multi-Stakeholder Diplomacy”. Diplomacy & Statecraft 27(2): 231-250.

Rofe, J. Simon. 2016. “Sport and Diplomacy: A Global Diplomacy Framework”. Diplomacy & Statecraft 27(2): 212-230.

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Small steps can make a big difference

By

Pete Allison

Penn State University and the University of Edinburgh

European press coverage of the Middle East often portrays images of a war stricken region where women are oppressed and religious values contribute to intolerance. If dominant press narratives of the ‘middle east are not challenged the chance to provide alternative visions of this part of the world is problematic.

Sport has long since been used as tool for personal and social development (PSD)- something that this author strongly supports. I am interested in the contributions that sport can make to society and have spent much of my life leading and researching interventions that invoke the power of outdoor sports, expeditions and education.

Connecting cultures

In 2005 Mark Evans MBE was working as a Geography teacher in Saudi Arabia. Becoming disillusioned with UK media coverage of the Middle East and its incongruence with his own experience of living there he decided to advocate change.

A year later, several meetings with Kofi Annan (then secretary to United Nations) and the Sultan of Oman saw the start of Connecting Cultures (CC). A proactive approach to bring together young people from different countries across Europe and the Middle East to learn about each other’s cultures and carry that learning back to their communities and forward in their lives.

National UN offices identify future leaders through their in country networks and encourage them to apply to join a CC programme.

The hearth councils
The idea draws on TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) who explains in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. 

“For the ordinary Arab, the hearth was a university, around which their world passed and where they heard the best talk, the news of their tribes, its poems, history, love tales, lawsuits and bargainings. By such constant sharing in the hearth councils, they grew up masters of expression, dialecticians, orators, able to sit with dignity in any gathering.”

The road from Oman: process, dialogue and outcomes
Successful applicants join 17 other young people (all from different countries) in Oman for 5 days of walking and talking in the Desert. This is definitely NOT boot camp. Bags are light, support vehicles work hard and all systems and structures are designed to maximise discussion and debate. Walking for around four hours every day in the Desert participants walk in pairs, small groups, ride camels and sometimes walk alone to reflect on their learning thus far. Questions are provided and afternoon workshops in the shade during the heat of the day focus on topics such as stereotypes, values, culture and community, media, dialogue and world leadership.

The ends is a focus on personal action, contributions to local community and how individuals or groups can ‘do their bit’ to make the world a better place.

At first sight this may seem a simple model … but there are multiple complex processes at play.

As a researcher this has challenged my own thinking about numerous methodological challenges. What is success for a programme like this? On what time scale? What can reasonably be attributed to the programme? People who go are a self-selecting sample – does that matter? How to frame the work – sociologically, psychologically, and philosophically. Which body of literatures both from inside and outside of communities to draw upon – international relations, expeditions, outdoor education, group dynamics, youth work, youth studies, peace building, tourism, recreation and more.

One answer is that all or any of these might be useful considerations and if money were no object then drawing upon all of them as part of a large mixed methods piece of work would be ideal.

How others see us and different ways of knowing
Above all – through thinking about this work and enjoying the process of pondering different epistemic choices I am reminded of the value of multiple different ways of knowing.

Especially important when working across cultures and in contexts that are under researched and in some ways novel.

Sometimes the most meaningful things are the most challenging to research. Some people might say that it is not possible to research this kind of work empirically but the purpose has never been to just gather evidence, frame arguments and advocate and lead change but rather the dependent and inter-related nature of all of these.

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Arthur Wharton, Racism and Sport: Past and Present

By Isabelle Boulert

Key Facts

  • Football, racism and anti-racism.
  • Born in Jamestown, Gold Coast (now Ghana) in 1865.
  •  Between 1885 and 1895 played as an amateur footballer for Darlington and Preston North End, then professionally for Rotherham Town and Sheffield United.
  • Recorded and verified at the AAA Championship in 1886 as running 100 yards in 10 seconds- the first amateur world record.
  • Between 1895 and 1902 played for Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and Stockport County.
  • He is acknowledged as the world’s first black professional footballer to have played in the Football League.
  • Robert Walker of Queen’s Park and Scotland international Andrew Watson predate Wharton by a decade and are considered the first black amateur players.
  • On his death in 1930 he was buried in an unmarked grave in Edlington, Yorkshire. The grave gained a headstone in 1997 after a campaign by Football Unites Racism Divides (FURD) garnered contributions from the PFA and FA.
  •  In 1998 Phil Vasili published Arthur Wharton 1865-1930 First Black Footballer, building on research from Dr. Ray Jenkins and Wharton’s granddaughter Sheila Leeson.
  • In 2003 Arthur Wharton was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
  •  In 2014, a statue of Wharton was unveiled by the FA at St George’s Park National Football Centre in Burton upon Trent.

Introduction

Much more is needed before we can claim that sport and other areas of society have done enough to assert that attempts to eradicate racism from sport have been a political success. Racisms in sport are complex, contextually specific and not divorced from issues of status, class, sexuality and marginality. Like other forms of injustice, racism is often associated with maldistribution of resources, misinformation and mis-recognition.

Sport has the potential to make a difference but it is also a fertile ground for expressions of racism.More needs to be done to unearth the injustices in every aspect of British public life. Footballing institutions are presented with a chance to use the life of Arthur Wharton and others as an educational tool to fight discrimination, reform practices and celebrate diversity. Such opportunities are often hindered by the fact that the presence of early BAME players in British football’s collective memory has been marginalised.

As is the case with many BAME footballers playing in Britain before 1950, their names are not as widely celebrated as has been the case with footballers such as Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham, Viv Anderson, John Barnes, Rio Ferdinand, Marcus Rashford, Jermaine Defoe, Chris Smalling and many others.

Wharton’s name stands tall alongside the likes of Andrew Watson, Walter Tull and Hong Y Soo as footballing pioneers who struggled and in some cases failed to move into the modern collective memory of football in the UK.

The reasons for this suppression, marginalisation and injustice are varied but modern football needs to recognise their courage. Today’s footballers can draw on such courage as they seek to foster change not just within the footballing community but also British society and beyond.

In Wharton’s case class based discrimination stemming from his move from an amateur to professional sportsman played a role in his suppression from the historical cannon. Racism has also had a long term impact on the recognition and remembrance of his achievements.

Firstly, discriminatory racial attitudes affected how his talent was perceived during his lifetime and thus how his legacy was engaged with following his death.

Secondly, when the disciplines of sporting history, discourse theory, cultural studies and subaltern studies were simultaneously gaining strength in the 1970s and 1980s football in the UK was rife with racially discriminatory sentiments and imperialistic right-wing behaviour.

It was not until 1997, that through a campaign organised by anti-racism activists FURD to place a headstone on Wharton’s unmarked grave, that Wharton became a more widely recognised figure. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

Arthur Wharton’s life and sporting career.

Wharton was born in 1865 to a middle class family of mixed Ghanaian and Scottish heritage. He spent his childhood in the Ghanaian capital of Accra, then under British colonial rule. His father, a Wesleyan Missionary, had strong connections with Britain. Following his father’s death in 1873 Wharton concluded his education in England as per his family’s wishes and began to embrace an ecumenical life.

However, in an interview given in 1896, Wharton admitted that while his father:

“intended him for the Wesleyan ministry [his] inclinations did not lie in that direction.”

The Victorian fascination with the use of sport to transform the young into morally upstanding citizens prepared to defend the colonial realm ensured that sport played an integral part in the school curriculum.

Wharton remarks in 1887 that-  “it was at Cannock School [Shoalhill College] that I first discovered that I was speedy.”

Wharton began competing in amateur athletics competitions while studying and despite his family’s reported belief that such a job was not appropriate for his station, he pursued a career in sport.

Wharton commenced as an amateur athlete before joining both Darlington Cricket and Football Club and Preston North End as a goalkeeper.

At Preston North End he joined William ‘Fatty’ Faulkes and the team of invincibles during their 1886-7 season FA Cup campaign in which they reached the semi-finals.

After setting the first known record for running the Amateur Athletics Association 100 yards sprint in 10 seconds in 1886 he was faced with the criticism that he was an athletic ‘shamateur’- that intensified when he won the same race in 1887.

In 1889 he signed for Rotherham Town as a professional footballer before going on to play for Sheffield United, Rotherham Town, Stalybridge Rovers, Ashton North End and Stockport County before retiring in 1902.

Described as a “first class all-round athlete” by the Ashton Herald in 1896, Wharton was also known to have played cricket, rugby and (albeit rather unsuccessfully) cycled.

While he is recorded as continuing to play sport well past his retirement, Wharton spent his final years working in collieries before his death in 1930.

Victorian engagement

In a Victorian society where scientific racism and social Darwinism shaped thinking about race and supported racism Wharton’s endeavours challenged many of the ideas of the day. Racism shaped views of black athleticism as being brutish and uncontrolled as a result of a perceived lack of self-restraint and intellectual ability.

However, in 1886 it is reported in the Darlington and Stockton Times that Wharton was warmly lauded at a Darlington Cricket Club dinner, when players performed a self-penned song in his honour. Wharton “received cheers of the heartiest, loudest and most enthusiastic in character” in a display of appreciation “of an athlete by athletes.”

His exceptional talents were warmly praised and upon his death representatives from his previous clubs were present at his funeral despite his alienation from football in his later years.

Crabbe and Solomos describe sport as a “passport to inclusion within [the Northern] version of local patriotism.”

An obituary in the Doncaster Chronicle states that Wharton “took a keen interest in all kinds of sport in the village [Edlington] and was very popular.”

While members of Wharton’s local community may have seen him as a talented and well-liked individual, this is not to say that Wharton avoided racial discrimination or abuse in society more broadly. Neither does it suggest that he was considered equal in the eyes of a fundamentally racist society where nationalism was shaped by a number of factors including imperialism and white superiority.

In 1888 it was reported that two of Wharton’s competitors were overheard questioning “Who’s he that we should be frightened of […] him beating us?”

When faced with Wharton’s undeniable talents a narrative forms to explain away any superiority that threatens white supremacy. When Wharton was described as “a born goalkeeper,” in Athletics News there is an underlying inference that his skill is unworthy of respect as it had come from the luck of birth and not the dedication and perseverance lauded as traits of the Victorian gentleman.

Much of the discrimination experienced on a daily basis went unrecorded by sources as it would have been considered the norm at the time.

What is clearly recorded is how his sporting superiority was explained through a narrative of moral and intellectual inferiority. In an obituary written after his death it was stated that “like many other West Africans, Wharton preferred a sporting to an intellectual career. “

Cultural assumptions made about Wharton’s race contributed to his suppression because they were based on his inherent inferiority. Berger and Niven are under no illusions that the promulgation of certain viewpoints in the writing of history are often conveniently linked to the consolidation and augmentation of power for certain dominant groups in society.

As the historical narrative is in part shaped by memory, and memory is filtered by what is considered most pertinent, even if Wharton regularly beat white men in the sporting arena he would have been seen as irrelevant and thus suppressed in the collective memory and historical cannon because his perceived superiority threatened the racial discourses that supported the dominant white narrative of the time that accompanied the history of sport in the UK.

Arthur Wharton’s relevance to-day

Many have argued that English football was rejuvenated in the 1990s. The creation of organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out played a significant part in forcing football’s reticent institutions to directly challenge racist behaviour. Additionally, the transition from the 1986 Public Order Act to the 1991 Football Offences Act ensured that legislation specifically targeted racial abuse.

Racist behaviour is now condemned more readily and clubs are increasingly willing to undertake community outreach and grassroots projects to engage with the communities that they previously excluded.

However, the footballing community is still challenged by structures that support institutional racism. The disproportionate number of BAME coaches and managers stands as an embarrassing testament to this. Football institutions have a responsibility to address the issue and speed up not just the process of social change but social justice.

Widely propagating the history of a BAME footballer playing at the birth of football as we recognise it today provides an example of the importance of BAME people at the very heart of football’s early development in the UK. In doing so, it could further encourage an institution with a chequered past to advance its efforts to eradicate racism in football.

King quotes a black course member on an FA run UEFA coaching badge qualification course as saying that:

“I feel this course is just a minor image of the personalities who run it. They are backward thinking, racists and colonialists.”

Echoes of the racial stereotyping Wharton faced based on black athleticism not intellect may be part of an explanation as to why more BAME players are not transitioning into managerial roles.

If footballing clubs and institutions were to actively re-engage and celebrate the long-standing history of BAME contributions to British football perhaps more effective transformative gains could be made in the efforts to reduce discrimination.

Conclusion

The broken link between past and present should be championed in order to increase the number of role models and their stories  ( e.g from Wharton to the modern day) about actively struggling  to combat experiences of racism in sport.

Racism and anti-racism in and through sport remain contribute to our understanding of contemporary life in at least two senses:
In a socio-economic sense, anti-racism policies and practices remind us that racism remains central to a complete understanding of sport, social inequality, justice and social policy.

In a geopolitical sense, different attitudes across Europe, towards the 2016 refugee crisis, for example, also remind us that sport is both implicated and a resource of hope, whereas racism continues to be a source of conflict between states, nations and communities that fail to act on the ideal of many cultures but one humanity.

The marginalised experience, voice and account of Arthur Wharton is but one of the many athletic encounters that can be activated in educational, social and political struggles against racism in and through sport. 

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Shaping alternative education through sport

By Neil Rankin

Is there now an opportunity to use sport to shape the provision of alternative education in Scotland?

From the Commonwealth, to the United Nations to more local national governments there is a growing awareness of and pressure for sport to deliver broader social outcomes. The advent of a mandate within the new 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals provides the opportunity to advance not so much sport for sport goals but sport for broader social goals and outcomes.

Based upon the premise that sport can engage, motivate and inspire not just those on the margins, the rise of sport-plus programmes has created a burgeoning sport-for-development sector. An expanding international community exists comprised of NGO’s, private enterprise and policymakers driven by the role sport can play in social change. This particular piece of research focuses upon on how community football can help with educational attainment.

Sport for Change
Sport-for-change projects are often a response to declining social and economic conditions. Neoliberalism has seen a gradual decline in the state provision of services. Education and social welfare have witnessed a reduction in state funding with the consequence being that all alternatives need to be considered. A traditional one-size-fits-all approach to education is no longer accepted as the only way.

As sport is increasingly being used for social good, there begins to be opportunities for sport to play a more significant role in education. Sport-for-change organisations praise the characteristics of sport such as cooperation, respect and discipline. These characteristics can be influential in areas of lower social capital and where expanding educational opportunity and attainment is viewed as a Scottish Government priority.

A sport-based alternative model of using popular aspects of sport to deliver educational outcomes has proven to be successful in many international contexts. The value of such models is in the engagement strategies of educators and programme managers. The non-conformity of alternative education is important in engagement. Building trust and confidence to build sustained educational support necessitates the building of caring relationships that work for people.

The Everton Free School, England
In England, Government funded, but privately operated, academies have been established. In Liverpool, The Everton Free School-[http://www.evertonfreeschool.com/] opened in 2012.  This was a social responsibility programme delivered by Everton Football Club. The initial project was aimed at engaging the most vulnerable and disengaged young people within the community. There was a strong focus on working towards physical education and other sport-based qualifications. The school helps students advance academic qualifications in maths, English and science. The academy is next to the club stadium, the uniform is Everton FC tracksuits and staff embrace the informal education ideology. Sport is engrained in everything they do at the school.

Child Resiliency Programme, Jamaica
The Child Resiliency Programme in Jamaica uses sport-based interventions to engage “at-risk” youth. Young people are identified early in their educational pathway and are given additional support in their personal development. This project aims to divert youth toward positive destinations and increase their resiliency to anti-social and criminal pathways. This style of intervention is an example of informal education, whereby the emphasis is not on improving attainment rather developing the character of young people and improving outlook. This style of intervention builds on characteristics of sport – teamwork, respect, cooperation – that can be important in developing the character of participants. This is a common theme in many sport for development projects across the world.

Spartans Community Football Academy, Scotland 
Research conducted in 2016 sought to shed light on the place of Spartans Community Football Academy [http://www.spartanscfa.com/] (SCFA) in north Edinburgh. A selection of responses provide insight into thematic areas.There are parts of north Edinburgh that are within the most deprived 5-10% of Scotland. High crime and unemployment rates exist, fuelled by educational attainment challenges. Disengagement from mainstream education can be a result of many socioeconomic factors:

 

  • “for a lot of people growing up in our area to break the cycle they think they have to leave because of what there surrounded with are evidence and examples of like what living in poverty is and what it looks like”
  • “looking at how deprived our area is and it’s not just financially, its things like single parent families, or looked after children with no parents, employment, people in prison, substance abuse, and those kind of things which are causing deprivation in people’s lives. Granton and Pilton are in the lowest 10%”
  • “you’re coming from a place where you had to get yourself and your siblings ready for school ……….and you come in and you’re told to get excited about a flow chart”

There is, in some cases falsely, a polarization between communities that creates stigmas of social deprivation and areas being troublesome:

  • “you don’t get the opportunity to read much good news about young people in this area, it’s not celebrated, there’s loads of young people in this area doing brilliant things, but there’s a small minority that are up to mischief that get a disproportionate amount of media coverage”

Since 2008, SCFA have been delivering community outreach programmes in north Edinburgh. They use their position as a local football club to engage young people in the area. SCFA recognise the popularity of football, and other sports, to young people in the area. The organisation advocates the positive impacts sport can have on development:

  • “I think you can learn a lot of life skills through sport in terms of respect and cooperation”
  • “sport is a great leveller, and it helps build communication between people”
    “sport is a fantastic tool for providing teamwork, companionship, common purpose, common goal, fitness, healthy living, healthy lifestyle, there so much, anything you can think of that can provide you endorphins can come through sport … it’s a way to channel emotions”

The attributes of the SCFA model align with theories of alternative education. Staff are recruited based on their background and personal ideologies on the provision of education. The complex consists of two full-size artificial football pitches:

  • “I think even just coming to a place like this with the big pitches is more engaging, it doesn’t seem like a school for them”

Creating a different environment also helps to break down barriers that previously existed between young people in deprived areas and wider society:

  • “the social work, the schools, the police and all those organisations were the enemy….. we have youth workers in the school, we have police at the youth centre, we all dovetail together so that you can say that the youth workers are at the school so therefore the youth centres are not bad therefore the schools are not bad so therefore it breaks down the enemy status”

The pupils also have a bigger say in the way lessons are delivered and what they learn about:

  • “if they are interested in Hearts FC then they can base their project they have to do for English around that which engages them a lot more”

The smaller class sizes at the alternative school support learning by giving teachers more time to spend with each pupil, meaning that each individual has the support he or she needs to focus and to understand the content of their curriculum:

  • “but it’s different from going and being in a room with 20 odd other kids and having to do a subject they have no interest in … they get more attention one to one most of the time, sometimes I maybe had two, then they would go and maybe do something with the youth worker, and what was really good as well was the rest of it, it wasn’t just Maths and English, they were learning to cook”

Overall, the programme managers and staff at SCFA recognise that the students they work with are no less talented than those in mainstream education. This is not a question about ability but about opportunity and support. The difference is the students get bespoke time and attention to help them with the development of education through the popular medium of football. For some this could be one of the first times that an adult in their life has shown belief in their abilities:

  • “it’s about how do you have different options that can coexist for young people that means every young person has got a potential pathway that allows them to develop and grow”
  • “I would say this pupil needs a bit of significant other support and they get paired once a week with a youth worker, we’ve had youth workers in the school, that’s something that the youth centre network is very good at – just creating that familiarisation”
  • “we have a transitions coordinator who will be in meetings at primary school and bring them though just to try and give them some stability and structure and continuity in their lives”

SCFA are providing a real service to the local community by attempting to enhance educational as this can have knock-on effect of improving employment prospects and reducing crime. The organisation are currently operating as a social enterprise but it is an aspiration to have their vision supported by the City of Edinburgh Council.

  • “we need to convince the local authority that we have a service and product worth paying for, that our proposition delivers results for these young people and its worth investing their pupil premium, I actually think we can get more for their money as well”

There is increasing recognition that a one size fits all approach to education is outdated in the 21st century. Education continues to be a major political issue in Scotland and across the UK. Alternative methods are being looked at by governments and the third sector across the globe. Harnessing the engaging power of sport could be an innovative and progressive method in developing alternative places to learn.

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Football and peace in the Middle East

By Dr Joel Rookwood

How has football for peace worked in the Middle East?- Some observations:

The Middle East can be considered a transcontinental region comprising approximately 370 million people who speak more than sixty languages and live across seventeen countries. The Eurocentric term is of British origin and was coined and first applied as a prefix to ‘question’, as a mark of the strategic importance yet disputed understanding of the region. Its geopolitical, economic and cultural significance has been recognized for millennia. Numerous world religions trace their origins to the Middle East. The region, like others, has a long association with ethno-religious conflicts, ideological struggles and resource and territorial disputes.

Despite having fought wars with its neighbours (Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon), civil conflict has perhaps proven the most consistent threat to peace and stability in Israel. Relations between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have frequently dominated international news. Few efforts to build peace across ethno-religious divides have proven successful, in Israel and the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

Some agencies have prioritized projects and campaigned for policies and provision which emphasize the identification of and focus on commonalities, mutual cooperation and equality. However, in a militaristic and splintered society, where ethnic divisions run deep and trust does not, encouraging Jews and Arabs to build meaningful, lasting and mutually beneficial relations has challenged those striving to contribute to peace building in the region.

Sports such as football has been employed in this context. The use of competitive invasion sports centred on binary oppositions has been contested. Israel’s capital city is home to Beitar Jerusalem, a football club whose supporter base includes dominant Jewish nationalist fractions strongly opposed to Muslims. Importantly, such racist attitudes and behaviours are certainly not held by all football fans in Israel.

As with most social and sporting activities, football is not a priori good or bad, but can produce a range of positive as well as negative outcomes. In relation to participation (both on and off the field), football’s potential as a vehicle to promote social construction or deconstruction is largely dependent on how related engagements are presented, perceived, experienced and remembered. The ‘pacifist potential of football’ to which the seminal work of Sugden is associated with has been crucial in a project that has been implemented in Israel since 2001.

For most of that period the ‘Football for Peace’ (F4P) initiative has been run by Professor Sugden and his colleagues from University of Brighton in collaboration with others from further afield. The project has been subject to valuable academic research, but Sugden’s editorial collection on the project perhaps best represents the diversity of disciplinary lenses through which the initiative has been scrutinized.

F4P has sought to make grass-roots interventions into Middle Eastern sporting culture, contributing towards peaceful integration in the often violent, mistrusting and detached Jewish and Arab communities in Israel. The initiative has employed a specifically designed value-based football coaching model, in which all aspects of the programme are underpinned by neutrality, inclusion, respect, trust and responsibility.

Working with mixed groups of Arab and Jewish boys or girls from a similar area, student coaches from Britain collaborate with local coaches and respected community leaders who also serve as translators. Each programme begins with trust building exercises and concludes with mixed-team tournaments on designated festival days. The project has also developed some year-round cross-cultural collaboration, whilst diversifying the locations (such as Northern Ireland) and sporting applications (including rugby).

Such initiatives present a number of inherent challenges, pertaining for instance to practical and linguistic issues, as well as monitoring and evaluation and risk management. I was among the group of fifty F4P students and staff who were checked in and waiting to board a flight to Tel Aviv in July 2006 when news broke of the Lebanon conflict that had begun hours earlier in northern Israel.

Engaging in complex and dangerous locations, it is difficult to demonstrate and prove that such initiatives work, and that they are worth the risks involved. Training volunteers is demanding and preparing personnel to work in potentially perilous environments is fraught with challenges – and the impact of a project will always depend in part on the effectiveness of its staff.

For the participants, some perceive and receive such initiatives as political engagements, others view them as programmes that ‘make a difference’ whilst some merely consider them an opportunity to play football. It is not possible to fully represent, reconcile or explain such diversity, but it is important to remember that even well-intentioned, effectively managed projects will not always have the desired impact on every recipient.

Setting such initiatives in context however, peace seems as elusive in Israel. There is a continual need for constructive, internationally mediated dialogue and collaboration, cross-cultural relationship building, mutually reliant and beneficial infrastructure, and meaningfully representative and constructive politics.

There is need for international pressure around a long list of issues which may include:

• Illegal Israeli Settlements in the West Bank;
• Sporadic Palestinian attacks on Jews living in Israel;
• Protection of the rights of Arabs living in both Palestinian and Israeli territories;
• An end to the forced reclamation of Palestinian homes;
• An increase in aid, support and peace building in Gaza;
• Reinstatement and then normalization of relations with Lebanon,
• Resettlement of Palestinian refugee communities currently residing in Lebanon and Jordan;
• A permanent ceasefire in Syria;
• The removal of land mines at the Golan Heights and other international borders;
• Increased security cooperation and diplomatic mediation with Egypt; an end to the construction (and eventual removal) of the West Bank Wall; and
• What improved economic ties with all neighbouring countries. Faced with such an array of challenges, micro-level projects might seem insignificant –

Other issues could be added to this list If they can be connected with other initiatives, a coalition for peace could grow in strength and increase in impact.

During the process of working on football-based peace building projects I have interviewed dozens of local and international advocates in Israel, and in nations such as Liberia, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Bosnia and Russia. If intra- and inter-project analysis produces robust evidence that sporting programmes such as F4P are worth the risk and resources, that football can reach beyond the political rhetoric and actually contribute to peace building, then long may these programmes develop.

It is worth remembering however, that whatever vehicle is used to drive Israel in the direction of peace, however well intended ‘cultural engagements’ such as F4P might be, coverall responses rarely solve complicated problems, especially at the intersection of ingrained mutual distrust and fragile peace.

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Sport, China and Diplomacy: Beware of your own reflection!

By Stuart Murray

Post Beijing 2008, sport in China has continued to gain considerable attention. The growth of football, the part that China has played in developing sporting infrastructure in Africa and the development of a national fitness programme are but three post 2008 examples of activity.

Sports News

Both theorists and practitioners have become quite animated about the potential of China’s burgeoning domestic sports economy, impending sporting hegemony, and its use of sport as a tool for projecting both hard and soft power abroad.

Popular assertions are common place:

• China is building 20,000 football academies;
• Its domestic sports economy is set to grow twenty percent every year for the next twenty years;
• 200 million people watched the Lakers/Heat game;
• Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics?

Some of this is true – many Chinese do love basketball – but some of this is illusory, has still to happen and is typical of outsiders thinking and projections about China.

This researcher recently visited Beijing and, typically, imported the attitude alluded to above. It had been eight years since my last visit and this time I went there as part of the Alan Chan Fellowship Exchange, to fulfil commitment to invited lectures, liaise with old and new colleagues and, primarily, gauge the interest in the theory and practice of sports diplomacy, a growing area of soft power research that has been utterly dominated by western people, clubs and nations.

What I witnessed and learned, and wish to share in this Academy of Sport blog is simple: our outside view of sport in China is problematic. Should lovers, evangelists and profiteers of sport wish to truly unleash the potential of sport in China then an inside perspective is really important.

In this contribution three observations from recent fieldwork are offered.

Sporting habitus

Firstly, China has a long way to go in terms of sporting habitus. Unlike the UK, or my second home, Australia, there are few wide, open and green spaces sanctioned for sport. In the many peregrinations around the capital, I did not see people jogging, or cycling (road bikes, that is), any football or rugby pitches, or swimming pools or tennis courts. My hosts assured me ‘they were there’, then pointed me to Olympic Park, The Bird’s Nest, and the Water Cube.

  • The Olympic Park (see below) is awesome- 1200 hectares of sprawling, meticulously planned sporting architecture and facilities.

It is inspirational to meander around the wide, open spaces of Olympic Park, dreaming of sport. However, the 2008 Games, as was intended, creates the illusion of an advanced sporting nation. Outsiders often forget that China is still a developing country with far more important matters to attend to than sport. One such matter is the smog mainly caused by China’s heavy manufacturing industry. It’s difficult to run around and do sport if you can’t actually breath.

The amount of ‘blue sky days’ have dramatically increased over the years but the smog alludes to a key problem for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP): balancing ongoing economic growth with social wellbeing, health and sport. China is reaching the end of a rapid and epic period of modernisation and industrialisation (between 2011 and 2013, for example, China “used more cement that the US used in the entire 20th century”).[1] Sport will come in China, but it will not happen overnight. The idea of a huge, new market for sport is just that: an idea. Such a market does not yet exist. It’s not that the playing fields are empty. There are no fields.

Has a bag of money ever scored a goal?

Secondly, when thinking of sport in China, much has been made of President Xi Jinping’s love of, investment in, and aspirations for Chinese football. The most powerful leader since Mao, Mr. Xi has repeatedly stated his desire to improve the Chinese Super League, conducive to turning China into a “soccer powerhouse…that will ultimately lead to China not only hosting the World Cup but winning it.”[2]

$850 billion is to be invested over the next decade, foreign companies and labour continue to be acquired, and the Party is set build the fabled 20,000 Soccer Academies over the next five to ten to twenty years (who knows?).

Again, some of this is true. Mr. Xi does adore football (the Core Leader is a Manchester United fan, apparently), the Ministry of Education has plans for 20,000 primary or middle schools specialising in football by 2017, many foreign players, coaches and clubs are pouring into China, and, after the Qatar debacle, China has a very good chance of, at least, hosting a World Cup either in 2026 or 2030. However, can a nation buy success in football? The vast amounts of money poured into the game by oil and gas rich Gulf states, or the failed MLS experiment in the 1970s suggests otherwise. (Remember the New York Cosmos and Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto?) It will take a least a generation to produce the Mr. Xi’s envisaged army of 50 million school-age players and, even then, there is no guarantee they will be any good. Once more, time will tell. What is certain, however, is that pouring money into football rarely works.

As Johan Cruyff once adroitly noted, “I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”

Sports diplomacy with Chinese characteristics

Thirdly amongst the people I spoke with, there was much interest in sports diplomacy, that is, the conscious, strategic and ongoing use of sport, sportspeople and sporting events by state and non-state actors to engage and inform foreign publics, conducive to maximising “people-to-people links, development, cultural, trade, investment, education and tourism opportunities.”[3]

A growing area of theory and practice for western nations such as America or Australia, many of the Chinese academics, practitioners and students I spoke with seemed genuinely enthusiastic of developing a similar strategy, with Chinese characteristics. The 2008 Olympic Games, where, in a matter of weeks, China dramatically altered billions of public perceptions around the world, remains a very proud moment for China.

2022, when Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, will prove another interesting sports diplomacy experiment. Watch this space! Many were also keen to remind me of China’s “stadium diplomacy”, where China has either built or donated stadiums or facilities in dozens of countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the South Pacific.[4]

If we ignore mass, western media, an inside view confirms that China is already a master of diplomacy, a paragon of civilisation, and an exemplar of Bull’s International Society. Of course, the Party and nation, like any other party or nation, has its issues, but China is very well placed to develop into a leading practitioner in the use of sports diplomacy.

A land of sporting oddity and mystery

 For the outsider, China remains a land of sporting oddity and mystery. Sitting in your hotel room, flicking through the channels while craving sport, it is odd to note the absence of any indigenous Chinese sport being broadcast. It’s easy to watch European football or American grid iron but virtually impossible to watch a bit of wu shu (kung gu, to us outsiders), taijiquan (shadow boxing), xiangqi (highly addictive Chinese chess) or, my favourite, the strangely addictive qigong (deep breathing exercises). One wonders then, is the flood of western sport trampling traditional Chinese sport, games and exercise?

If so, this is unlikely to stop anytime soon. Alisports – the sporting arm of Jack Ma’s massive Alibaba group – has recently agreed to broadcast the FIFA Club World Cup, American NFL matches, International Boxing and, most recently, Oceans Sports & Entertainment to promote match poker in China. This all seems quite odd, and could suggest that many Chinese prefer watching sport to playing it, or that indigenous Chinese sports aren’t widely enjoyed. Again, generally, the Chinese do not seem, unlike the Europeans or the Americans, with their rough, combative sports, to need to sublimate conflict on the metaphorical pitch or stadium battlegrounds.

At times, as many visitors to the Middle Kingdom experience, Chinese history, culture and society seem that much more civilised than ours, more harmonious. I dare anyone to wander the Forbidden City at dawn, or the Temple of Heaven and suggest otherwise! Harmony is everywhere, even in their attitudes toward sport. “It’s why we like ping-pong,” Professor Zhang Qingmin of Peking University, the country’s leading diplomatic scholar, told me. “There is a net and a table in between us and our opponent,” he added with a smile.

The future?

Looking ahead, two things are absolutely certain. First, the CCP and not outsiders will shape the country’s sporting future, however uncertain or odd it may appear. Second, we westerners still fail to understand China (and I include myself, here). Even when promoting something as benign and positive as using sport as a diplomatic tool to promote peace or development, I was constantly reminded that China will determine its own future, be that political, economic, and sporting. Indeed, uniqueness, mystery, and independence are China’s great strengths.

As such, even when in country, we outsiders remain ‘estranged.’ We do not know China; perhaps we never have. Not long after I arrived, when I was still jabbering on about how big sport in China was set to become, a young Chinese basketball player said to me, in gentle, harmonious tones,

“be careful when you look in the mirror, for all you see is your own reflection.”

How very true. Outsiders seeking to understand the role sport could play in Chinese society, international relations and diplomacy would do well to remember this.

Stuart Murray is Associate Professor at Bond University, Australia and a Global Fellow with the University of Edinburgh Academy of Sport.

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