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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

Sports cuts will impact upon social opportunity and life chances

By Grant Jarvie and Dominik Birnbacher

The news that sport in Scotland is to be cut by 20% backs up research first released by Edinburgh University in the Scotsman back in December 2016.. Figures released by BBC indicated that in 2015 52 sports benefitted from a total revenue of £65.1million. A figure that by the end of 2018 will have fallen to £58.1 million, a fall of 20% in the three years between 2015 and 2018.

While the Sportscotland response to the cut in funding focused upon the impact upon elite athletes many other areas of Scottish life could be affected. All of this in a week when the Holyrood Health and Sport Committee considered barriers to involvement in sport and physical activity.

In 2016 the United Nations put sport on a statutory footing in recognition of the contribution it could make to the 2030 sustainable development goals. What was significant about this was that having evaluated the available evidence about sports contribution the conclusion was that sport contributes to development goals 3, 4, 5, 8, 11 and 16. The Commonwealth Secretariat has concluded the same.

The point being is that what has being evidenced here is not a sterile debate about sport v physical activity or medals v participation but that sport is a valuable social tool that contributes to development and as such merits statutory provision.

Sport in Scotland is not statutory and yet it contributes greatly to young people’s heath and therefore their development (Health). It involves young people in positive activity, thereby helping them avoid trouble (Social Cohesion). It encourages concentration, motivation and other learning skills that helps young people’s education and their working and social lives (Education).

Sport is not a magic social silver bullet. No one silver bullet exists but if you want a healthier, more socially cohesive, socially mobile Scotland where the educational attainment gap has been challenged and Scottish cities are much more connected internationally then Scotland has to value much more the social tool box that is sport.

Yes, world sport has challenges over integrity and governance and physical activity can be addictive as well as healthy but clearly sport based approaches to development have a valuable contribution to make in terms of resilience, rehabilitation, social cohesion, soft power and diplomacy, connecting cities and many social and development goals.

The initial total proposed spending plan for Scotland in 2017-18 amounted to £31.4 billion of which £13.1 billion (41.7%) is allocated to Health and Sport. This represented a decline in both cash and percentage terms from the £12.9 billion (42.5 %) of the overall £30.4 billion allocated for 2016/17.

The allocation of resource for sport through the Health and Sport budget has reduced year on year from £71.8m in 2015-16 to £45.6m in 2016-17 to £42.4m for 2017-18. While this does not represent the total money available to sport the crucial point is that the consistent trend in the total funding made available through the Health and Sport budget has in the aftermath of the Commonwealth Games been a downward spiral.

In an austere Scotland sport, it is worth remembering, has not always been determined by power and privilege. The draft 2017-18 Scottish budget runs the danger of increasing inequality and displaying a real lack of knowledge about what sport can and is doing in other parts of the world.

The vision of a Scotland where more people are more active more often, underpinned by an Active Scotland Outcomes Framework which is underpinned by a commitment to equality, is not backed up in expenditure terms.

The vast majority of the money allocated to sport within the Health and Sport allocation goes to the national sports agency which has the unenviable task of delivering government objectives and using its resource strategically to cover over cracks in other parts of the system. The excellent Active School Sports Co-ordinators programme was introduced in the 1980’s to cover over the cracks in a school sport and physical education brought about by a teachers strike while the innovative and contemporary Community Sports Hubs initiative serves to cover up cracks in local authority provision for sport.

The allocation of funding to the national sports agency is in itself unfair given the role that it is asked to play by government. The Scottish Governments 2017-18 draft budget sees a fall of 7.02% compared to the 2016-17 draft.

The budget lines are split between sport and legacy funding and physical activity funding. The Sport and Legacy allocation is down 7.57%. The physical activity allocation remains static at a time when participation levels in sport and physical activity for 2-15 year olds have still to reach a 2008 high of 71% according to the Scottish Health Survey’s figures.

The standard Scottish Government argument for Scottish funding ills is invariably that of UK austerity. An argument that fails to recognise that all main government funding streams into Scottish Sport are showing signs of decline. The advent of the 2014 Commonwealth Games perhaps masked the extent of the funding cracks for a while as the injection of funds to support the event and the creation of major capital builds such as Oriam, The National Performance Centre and the National Para sports centre help to conceal downward trends. Such developments can be seen to have delayed the onset of austerity in sporting terms.

The allocation of funding to the national sports agency consists of three main items Scottish Government funding made up from the General Fund and Grant in Aid and the share of National Lottery funding that is distributed through Sportscotland. The allocation of Cash back funding produced from the receipts of crime has from time to time augmented funding levels but such expenditure is difficult to plan since it may or may not be allocated to sport and lies within the Ministerial gift.

Scottish Government Funding for sport fell between 2015 and 2016 mainly due to the removal of capital funds between the two periods. According to Hudson and O’Donnell (2015) the allocation of funding in real terms fell by 36.5 % between 2015-16 and 2016-17 with the £71.8 million allocated in 2015-16 falling to £45.6 million in 2016-17.

Scottish Government Capital Funding fell to £2 million in 2016-17 compared to a high of £15.7 million in 2012-13 and the run up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The amount of revenue funding for sport has also fluctuated between 2011 and 2016-17 reaching a high of £33.7 million in 2015-16.

National Lottery Distribution Funding allocated to sport between 2007-8 and 2015-16 generally increased before decreasing.

The total resources distributed through Sportscotland generally increased up until 2015-16 and then decreased.

The proportion of the 2017-18 budget allocated to sport remains small compared to the total health and sport sector budget. The 2017-18 draft budget allocation of £42.4 million compared to £45.6 million in 2016/17 is a decrease of 7.0%. The Scottish Government’s sport budget as part of the health and sport portfolio, amounts to £13.1 billion or 41.7 % of the overall £31.4 billion Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL). This can be compared to £12.9 billion or 42.5 % of the overall £30.4 billion (DEL) for the year 2016/17. An increase in real terms and a fall in % terms.

The positioning of sport within the Health and Sport portfolio has been both enabling and constraining. The contribution that sport and physical activity has made to health has been grasped and prioritized. The sports contribution to Scottish society has at best been marginalized and least not provided with the space and resource to flourish. No where is this more evident than the allocation of time spent discussing the contribution that sport can make to Scottish Society within the overall business of the Holyrood Parliamentary Health and Sport Committee.

Admittedly Scotland does not control foreign policy but sport is one of the considerable avenues open to Scotland through which it can enable its influence on the world stage. The USA and parts of Canada tackle gender inequality in sport by legislating for it to be outlawed through Title IX provision as opposed to a £300,000 pa gender equality fund.

Norway and Holland have long since recognised the role of sport in International Development. The place of sport and physical activity within the challenge of educational attainment should be much more centre stage. Those lost safe common spaces for play could be recreated.

One respected political commentator has recently pointed out that football could actually be the conduit for breaking down barriers to tackling child abuse. All this and much more could emerge if sport was fully understood in terms of its full potential to Scotland.

The daily mile is to be applauded but daily enjoyable physical education provision should be recaptured and fought for not to mention the alternative education provision, such as the Spartans Academy, provided through sport in Scotland.

As China’s capacity supply of marathons, fun runs and building facilities for other countries outstrips demand and Australia’s development of it’s second sports diplomacy strategy begins to take on legs and arms it is doubtful if health and health alone is the main rationale.

In our sports stars Scotland has an an army of potential cultural ambassadors that with correct training could become potential diplomats and yet all of these potential possibilities and others could be lost if Scotland cannot find the space and political will to be far more politically aspirant and knowledgeable about what sport can do.

Yet the really sad thing about all of this is that sport used to be a proven pathway of social mobility and even an escape from poverty for a few. It reached into areas of multiple deprivation in a way that few other social tools can and yet falling trends of public funding for sport runs the risk of opening a social class divide in Scotland where cost and access to funds means that consumption of sport becomes the preserve of the leisure middle class,

The face of sport from the Health and Sport Committee Members, as opposed to substitute members, to Scottish Governing bodies remains almost entirely white and the real tools to create gender equality in and through sport such as a Scottish version of Title IX legislation is deemed to be too expensive.

This can be said while still acknowledging that the advent of the National Para Sports Centre is progressive and groundbreaking, the potential of the Community Sports Hubs to the conduit for developing human capabilities in challenging environments is enormous but not as a replacement for school or after school activity activity but rather a complimentary resource.

It does not have to be this way and yet the spaces to enable the potential of sport to deliver more for Scottish Society are few and far between and the cutting of resources to national sports agencies, amongst others, means that the capacity to paint over the cracks is diminished, the invitation to increase private provision for some is increased and the capacity to influence other parts of the world through sport is seen as an add on.

The only winners if Local Authorities cut the resources given to Sport and Leisure Trusts are the private providers whose pricing structures tend to reproduce rather remove social class patterns of sports consumption.

One of the potential dangers of Brexit upon sport in Scotland is the further pealing away of human rights legislation and its impact upon the protection for para-athletes and disability in general. Sport can shed a real light on concerns over Brexit but is it discussed at all in white papers and the volume of Brexit briefing papers?

Genuine sport for all means people cannot be excluded by cost, by lack of safe places, by lack of quality sustained pre school school and post- school experiences, or by lack of legislation that protects involvement in sport at all levels. Genuine sports for all is worth fighting for.

The social returns delivered by this primarily devolved activity are as much about the political choices made in Scotland as they are about funding cuts. Sport requires greater agreed cross-party support, statutory protection and political understanding of what can be delivered.

The ‘networked’ rise and power of the football super-agent

By

By Dr Paul Widdop, Dr Dan Parnell and Tony Asghar

This summer, even for the hedonistic consumption of the Premier League, was unprecedented. Spending topped one billion pounds, with Manchester United breaking the World transfer record, in the region of £95million for Frenchman Paul Pogba.  Many within the football world were left dismayed that United payed so much for the Juventus player who the left the club for nothing in 2012. More disheartening for fans is the reputed 30% or if we conservatively round this down, the £20million fee super-agent Mino Raiola will collect.

Whilst football agents, the games infamous middle men, have been around since the early 1960’s , the term super-agent is only a recent arrival into the lexicon of association football. As money has flowed into the game, a powerful few have amassed enough resources to move from mere Agents to the grander media christened term ‘Super-Agents’.  Empirically of course it is difficult to typologise super-agents given the somewhat blurred boundaries, but we are told they are the most powerful men in football, not mangers, players, leaders of the games governing bodies, but agents.

However, what are we to make of super-agents and their networked world. Are they to be demonised as neo-liberal capitalists, fuelled by finance and commerce at odds with the cultural meaning of football as social institutions, or do they play a pivotal role in the production process, using there connected worlds to produce a global game.

It is somewhat easy to place all footballs ills at the doorstep of these business men. As Tony Asghar Managing Director of Revolution Global Sports Consulting Ltd and Masters in Sport Directorship student notes:

It is clear that the media and public perception of the role of the football agent has been dramatised as “the root of all evil” the people who “take money out the game” and “only think about themselves” , however on looking behind the curtain the role of the agent who represents a club in the transfer of player (buying or selling) or represents the player in negotiating an employment contract are necessities not only in football but in global commerce.

In this blog using a Social Network Analysis (SNA) we critically explore the networked rise of super-agents and how these structures give them power, resources and a means to restrict and skew the market. In doing so, we aim to provide both academic and industry insight.

 The rise and role of the super-agent

How did we get to this situation, where a powerful few have engineered a market-trading environment that not only facilitates a specific role for itself (agents), but one which would not function without them given their centrality to this market.  We consider that the rise in super-agent is fundamentally a network phenomenon.

We are interested here in whether this network takes away or restricts rational choice and constrains the trading market conditions, and ultimately whether this is positive or negative. Whilst it is difficult to define super-agents, it has been noted that a few represent the many, which has given rise to more networked with better connections than others (Poli, 2016). For Tony Asghar:

 “…the term Super-Agent has been tagged for a small number of agents (businessmen) who have created a business model which is clever and effective and is beneficial to the clubs who are working with them.”

However, it is clear that through their networks, super-agents have taken power from others and have created more for themselves. Perhaps the embodiment and archetypal manifestation of this is Portuguese businessman Jorge Mendes and his GestiFute networked empire.

Before exploring the networked nature of the GetisFute empire and its implications for global football, it is important to put the market and the agents role into context.

What is the role of an agent?

Agents can be described as those with the role of representing both clubs and players within the context of contracts or transfer negotiations, dealing with players image rights and carry out recruitment activities such as scouting (Poli, 2016). However, the actual role of agent (and intermediaries) has blurred boundaries. Fundamentally they are middlemen yet their role is increasing taking over responsibilities that were traditionally undertaken by the club. As Asghar notes:

“…representing the player in a contract negotiation requires payment whether it is a registered intermediary or a lawyer, whilst the credibility of a lawyer is not in question in most part (mostly due to the time spent educating themselves).

The role of an intermediary negotiating raises suspicion of lining their pockets. Intermediaries who are credible and have experience should only be looking for the best deal for their client and if this is matched by the club then the player is paid and the club may pay the agent fees on behalf of the player.

This is no different to any representation in entertainment, Media or other industry.”

Asghar believes the public scrutinise the role of agents for the most part because they don’t know exactly what they are being paid for:

“…most people agree that no person should sign a contract of any kind without seeking advice. Football players are no different. Perhaps the experience of an agent (who knows the market rate of salaries, knows how to structure a deal, knows the valuation of the player…) can be a lot more advantageous than an educated lawyer who may not have that experience.”

Asghar is also keen to raise awareness of all agents, not just those at the top of the pile:

“It is also important to note, that at present the public perception of agents who are making millions at the highest level of transfers does not alleviate for the majority of agents. Especially those moving players who are (i) free of contract (out of a job), (ii) not playing within a team, (iii) fell out with a manager and/or other reasons whereby time and effort are carried out (without payment) and not highlighted within the media.”

Jorge Mendes – a man at the top of the pile

Despite the significant numbers registered as agents, the market especially in the big European leagues follows somewhat of a power law distribution, i.e., more players are registered with a fewer number of agents. These agents gain further power and control becoming super-agents. We turn now to GestiFute and Jorge Mendes.

The rise in super-agents we believe is a network manifestation. The GestiFute networked business empire is illustrated below, it is an ego-net of Jorge Mendes.  To put this graph (network map) into context, the circles (nodes) represent football clubs and the line linking the two (an edge) represents a transfer between clubs (the players that Mendes represents).

The circle size is weighted on a measure of how often a circle falls along the shortest path connecting two other circle (football clubs), such that they might ‘broker’ between these parties (i.e., betweeness centrality). The lines (or transfers) are sized by number (or sum) of transactions between two clubs/circles. That means, the more transfers between the same clubs the greater the size of line.

What does this tell us?

medes

[Click on sociogram to enlarge]

This is a basic sociogram and helps to understand the complex network structure that exists. The network of Mendes is complex. However, we identify six points to consider in this brief insight into this ego-trade network of a super-agent (up until June 2016).

  1. This is a truly global network covering approximately 88 football clubs across 15 countries, involved in 500+ transfers. Portugal still remains the heartbeat of the organisation, but Spain is becoming important in this network.
  2. Examination of the graph metrics show that there are relatively short lines linking a few football clubs. This perhaps makes trading patterns more predictable.
  3. The three giants of Portugese football, FC Porto, Benfica, and Sporting Lisbon are the most central in the network and the powerbase of the organisation. Interestingly, there is relatively very little trade directly between these three, indirectly this is different. That is, players don’t move from FC Porto to Benfica to Sporting Lisbon, and so forth.
  4. Smaller provincial football clubs play key brokering roles in this network. For example smaller clubs in Portugal, for example Maritimo and Rio Ave FC. It appears that almost serve to be used as a trading hub, whether older players getting one last transfer, or a test bed for two years of a young star before being traded off in the football circus. This will be possibly at odds with the traditions and beliefs of the supporters.
  5. This clearly demonstrates the network nature of this industry and gives initial insight into how these agents have become all-powerful.
  6. Finally, whilst it is interesting to see the football clubs that are part of the Jorge Mendes network it is also interesting to note those that are not. Leading us to raise further questions. What impact does this have on them when they are trading? Is the market restricted for these organisations? What about the economics of rational choice? Perhaps a better way to understand this market is transactionally or relationally – through the lens of relational sociology.

 From an Agents perspective

From his deep knowledge of the industry, and understanding of the conventions and trading conditions of the market, Tony Asghar has somewhat of an alternative understanding of the network.

For Asghar:

“Jorge Mendes has created a network of players, clubs and managers with whom he has gained trust and respect as to being the man who can produce the best players for their clubs.

Mendes is a corporate head-hunter or talent finder who is no different to a Head-hunter is Silicon Valley or Hollywood as the “go to guy” to get the deals done.

There are other similar models by other agents working with a group of clubs and managers at lower level which again is bred by trust and ability rather than open a free market network to the ever increasing intermediaries after the de-regulation of FIFA agent regulations in 2015.”

Indeed, Asghar highlights that agents have an important contribution to the game:

“The issue of owning third party rights of players also comes into the world of the so-called super-agent, and although this is prohibited in the UK, FIFA and UEFA have still not regulated this type of transfer and Mendes and others have offered the service by purchasing a percentage of the player to allow the buying club to invest a more reasonable sum.

Like the banks and financial institutions used to provide loans for these fees, the super-agents are able to assist because they have the funds and more importantly have the experience and know the market and can make a calculated risk on their investment when moving a player say from South America to Europe and knowing he may accumulate club and international appearances and then be ripe for selling on to EPL or other top league for profit.

Therefore the commodities that players are becoming in the eyes of clubs and club owners are major financial investments and yes for every Pogba deal there will be a Falcao, some will work some will not.

The super-agent is becoming powerful but they are also becoming a necessity to the oligarch owners to make financial investment decisions on players, however managers will always have the say on players in order to create a winning team, and rightly so and in my experience most top level managers will not be swayed or overruled by a super-agent (if the player is not right for him), that will never happen.

Super-agents will be an exclusive and small band of football/business/relationship/social experts and even an agent who finds, nurtures a client that gets catapulted into super stardom then the super-agents are waiting to strike and offer that player into their exclusive club and why would the boys original agent say no, if he is getting a seat in the super-agents room, if only for a short time and not on the hard seats at the back of the room.”

The future

Clearly the network here only relates to Jorge Mendes and the players he represents. Therefore, this is not a clear portrayal of how the market is structured. Yet this does offers an insight into the networked characteristics of trading between clubs that warrants further investigation and critical thought.

This throws open questions of rational choice and utility models. In that clubs in the network, might be restricted by who they can trade with and for whom, whilst those clubs outside the network have barriers to entry into the market, given that this is an example of one of many super-agents in the market place.

What does this mean for smaller clubs? Are they destined to become small brokers or feeder clubs to the game’s elite? Will their players trading at the behest of external powers, or super-agents? It appears that power is ultimately being taken away from them as a single entity. They are at the behest of neoliberal forces that have significant access to resources and therefore power.

In a further development straight out of a text book example of Michael Porters five forces, the Fosun group who have a minority stake in GetisFute and heavily connected to Jorge Mendes  have entered into a new market and purchased a Football Club, it will be fascinating to view events unfolding at Wolverhampton Wanders founded in 1877. Indeed, it will be fascinating to see how Mendes and the Fosun group use Wolves to for their commercial gain.

At present elite level professional football continues to develop and extend its commercial power, whether in the English Premier League or in emerging football markets within the Global South. As such, we should expect the role of the super-agent to become more prominent as they grow their network and most certainly in their power to influence player transfers in football.

Perhaps the final word should be that of Asghars:

“The market is such that to have your club bring the biggest and best players, they need to call on the most expensive people and experts to provide the service. The culmination of transfer fees this window has exceeded 1bn and is excessive, however the market is dictating this and I don’t see it slowing down in the near future. A slow for deals at the top end or a slow for discretionary support at the bottom end”.

Dr Paul Widdop is a Global Fellow with the University of Edinburgh Academy of Sport and to contact the authors please email: p.widdop@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

The Two Hour Marathon: Who is it for?

By Michael Crawley 

Athletes relaxing after training

Athletes relaxing after training

In a two-part series in the New York times entitled ‘Man vs Marathon,’ http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/sports/two-hour-marathon-yannis-pitsiladis.html?_r=0Jeré Longman has taken a thorough look at Janos Pitsiladis’ project to accelerate the process which will, almost certainly, eventually lead to a human being running the arbitrary distance of 26.2 miles in a nice even two hours.

In the article, Pitsiladis says that the most likely candidate to achieve this feat would be an Ethiopian or Kenyan athlete with a hard, rural upbringing, and that the best way for them to run that fast for that long would be for them to minimise the amount of weight on their feet, probably running barefoot or with merely ‘a film that covers the bottom of the foot.’

I read the first article whilst I was staying at a rural training camp in Gondar, Ethiopia, where I am doing anthropological fieldwork with aspiring young Ethiopian runners. They happen to fit Pitsiladis’ model: they come from remote rural areas and spent much of their childhood and adolescence running barefoot or in cheap plastic sandals.

Athletes training at the camp at Gondar,

Athletes training at the camp at Gondar,

I read the second article sitting at the side of a field in nearby Debre Tabor with some of the young distance runners from the camp, waiting for the start of the ‘cultural sports festival,’ where people from the nine different regional states in Ethiopia came together to compete in horse riding, gena (resembling hockey with rough hewn wooden sticks and fewer rules) and tigel, a form of Ethiopian wrestling.

We were sitting at the side of the field for the second time that day, having been told at the first-proposed start time of nine in the morning that people didn’t feel like it quite yet and we should come back at three in the afternoon. At three thirty, there was still no sign of any action. The runners had put on traditional Amhara clothing for the occasion and didn’t seem concerned. ‘This is cultural sport, Mike. This is the good life, no-one is in a hurry.’

And running, I ask. Is that the good life too? ‘Sort of,’ I’m told. ‘But running is always about condition, every day worrying about condition, condition, condition.’

This seems to be a good time to ask them about the possibility of a two-hour marathon one day; is there a way for them to work even harder, to go even faster? ‘Two hours in the marathon?’ my friend Telahun* replies, before relaying the question for the others. ‘Yikabadal,’ they murmur together: ‘this is heavy…’ Telahun thinks for a while then adds, respectfully ‘maybe for Kenenisa,’ (Bekele, world record holder at 5,000m and 10,000m) he says, ‘but the Kenenisa of six or seven years ago.’

He then asks the question which Pitsiladis’ research seems to have missed, ‘why is this man so obsessed with that anyway? Aren’t we running fast enough already?’

I tell them that the project is looking for 30 million dollars of investment and they raise their eyebrows. Running clubs in Ethiopia pay modest salaries to their athletes of around 100 dollars a month. ‘So he’ll start a club with good salaries?’ Telahun asks. I’m not so sure about that, I tell them.

The irony is that the sub-2 hour project is focusing on cutting edge science to shave the remaining 177 seconds from the marathon world record. The project epitomises modernity’s project to keep pushing forwards, and to accelerate at all costs. And yet the life that Pitsiladis demands of his subjects is the opposite of this. His ideal candidate should avoid footwear at all costs. They should live off the land. Preferably they should live a life that enables them to practise discomfort, and they should have to walk long distances as well as run hard.

On our way back from a training session the other day we waited for an auto rickshaw to give us a ride back to the camp. A middle aged woman pushed in front of us in the queue, eying our tracksuits and saying, ‘you’re sportsmen, you can go on foot!’ No doubt Pitsiladis would agree. ‘Do you think she realises we got up four hours ago, at 5am, and that we’ve run 22 kilometers this morning?’ one of the athletes asked me.

When I asked my sub-agent friend Gebre about Pitsiladis’ project he told me that he thought it might be possible, but that you’d need to have a special training camp focused exclusively on that goal. ‘You’d have to lock them in,’ he told me, ‘and only let them out to fly to races. And after the race they’d need to be straight back on the plane and back to the training camp.’

He explained that most runners who run fast marathons and win good prize money want to enjoy life in the city a little bit. ‘They’ll buy a car, and drive back to Bekoji (the small town where much of Pitsiladis’ research is based), and then it’s finished for the two hour marathon for them,’ he told me.

But is there really anything wrong with these young men wanting to live their lives a little bit? One of the main problems with marketing distance running is that coverage fails to bring out the personalities of the athletes. Forcing an even more Spartan approach to training is hardly likely to solve this problem. Having become good friends with some Ethiopian marathon runners over the last year, this is a real shame for the sport.

My worry is that the obsession with the two hour marathon will lead to races where a phalanx of identically-dressed pacemakers attempt to escort one exceptionally talented athlete to a world record. The most exciting marathons in recent years, though, have been the duals, the tactical victories and the upsets; Wanjiru vs Kebede in Chicago 2010, Stephen Kiprotich’s Olympic title in 2012 or Meb Keflezighi’s 2014 Boston win. And given the problems with performance enhancing drugs both Kenya and Ethiopia are currently facing, now may not be the time to obsess over the watch. The athletes in Gondar were sceptical about the possibility until I mentioned drugs. ‘Well, yeah, with doping of course it’s possible,’ they said, ‘with doping you can run like a car.’

Training in Addis Ababa.

Training in Addis Ababa.

It is important to think about who the two hour marathon is for. At one point in the interview with Pitsiladis he talks about testing new and eccentric training theories, stating, ‘it may not work but let’s try it and see what happens’ and says he is a ‘risky person.’

This attitude is fine if we’re talking about an experiment in a lab, but these are young men from poor backgrounds whose livelihoods depend on their running. Are scientists taking risks with other people’s bodies? These athletes have hopes, dreams and often families and other dependents to support. They are not merely expendible sources of research data. Perhaps we ought to spend more time asking them what kind of sport they want to be involved in.

Michael Crawley is an Edinburgh University  PhD student in International Development, studying the links between distance running and development in Ethiopia. Here he reflects on the much talked about two-hour marathon, using interviews with young runners in Ethiopia.

* The athletes’ names are changed to protect their anonymity.

Golf: widening the gap between those who can and cannot

By Dr Paul Widdop and Dr Dan Parnell 

Golf is a multi-million pound industry. We have just seen the open in Scotland that will do much for raising the profile and interest in the sport. Indeed, the Open in the UK is one of the four big annual major tournaments, with Sky paying a reported £15m a year to broadcast the event, which itself can be worth some £140m to the local host economy (Wilson, 2016). A report by Sheffield Hallam also highlights that UK golfers spend a whopping £4billion per year. Despite this golf still has its problems with gender inequality and falling participation.

Given the limelight associated with The Open and in-turn Golf, Dr Paul Widdop (Leeds Beckett University) and Dr Dan Parnell (Manchester Metropolitan University) take a close look at golf to help better understand the current landscape.

Eminent sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984) once stated that the practice of sports such as tennis, riding, sailing or golf doubtless owes part of its ‘interest’, just as much nowadays as at the beginning, to its distinguishing function. More precisely, to the gains in distinction which it brings. It is no accident that the majority of the most select, i.e. selective, clubs are organized around sporting activities which serve as a focus or pretext for elective gatherings. Certain sport like the arts is then used as a symbolic marker (distinct from other less worthy forms of sport) used to reinforce and reproduce the class position. Furthermore, through relational mechanisms individuals can use access to certain sports as an instrument to develop social capital and access to lucrative job market. This is certainly true of golf, where certain clubs put economic barriers up through obtrusive membership fees and strict rules of etiquette, to remain exclusive and exclude those not worthy of membership. Clearly for Bourdieu the taste for the game will be consumed by members of the higher classes, due to the social profit that it brings (such as building new networks, enhancing social capital, both of which can be exchanged at a later date for economic benefit). In other words as in other leisure and cultural fields, sporting taste and sport participation is intertwined with social class, or the symbolic meaning a given sport presents to others, which brings us to golf.

Indeed, inclusivity did not appear at the forefront when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (Scotland) admitted females to its membership for the first time in history. The first female being, The Princess Royal, reaffirming the class orientations and distinction of the sport (Widdop and Parnell, 2015). Despite this, the future might offer some hope, with another ‘THIS’ branded initiative, This Girl’s Golf, which was launched in 2015, to change female perception of and participation in golf. Nigel Freemantle, chairman of the British Golf Industry Association (BGIA), said “Females are getting more and more into the game…Also, if we can get women with children to take up the sport, then they might bring their youngsters to the club and get them into the game too.” Freemantle also offers further positivity suggesting golf is not in a bad place.

Despite the positivity, and the excitement and grandeur associated with The Open 2016, we are reminded of our colleague, Professor Jim McKenna’s comments on the legacy of the Grand Depart in Leeds. McKenna draws on the work of Dennett to help us consider the ploy of ‘using lay audiences as decoys’. So, a big sport event may get the audiences, public attention and the associated media spreads, pages, tweets and likes. It is all too easy to follow, enjoy, consume and applaud who ever heads the leader board. Therefore, as easy audiences we act as decoys.

Like the Grand Depart, The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and no-doubt The Open 2016, we will adopt what Dennett terms ‘Occam’s broom’; when this broom is being used it whisk inconvenient evidence under the carpet. Freemantle and others offering positivity, might just be well-intended advocates of the broom, whisking the broom clearing inconvenient truths about golf and the more genuine and likely impact and non-impacts of a this event away.

Much work has been undertaken to ensure golf accessibility to the masses in terms of class and geography, despite persistent regulations and codes, such as the firmly enforced attire and etiquette, which are hard to decipher for those lacking in the prerequisite cultural credentials, creating symbolic boundaries of exclusion.

Yet, according to KPMG, England reported a decline of 2.4% in registered players in 2015, while Scotland recorded a drop of 0.8%, although it may be that golfers prefer to play on an increasingly ad hoc basis, paying for golf per round rather than registering with a club or course (Wilson, 2016). This is not just about participation, it is about class, geography and inequality.

Class

Using data from the DCMS, Taking Part Survey (2006-2010) a worrying trend had emerged. Indeed, rather than a systematic narrowing of class inequalities, there is in fact a growing disparity. Figure 1 below illustrates, from 2006 to 2010 salariat classes (i.e., the professional and managerial occupations) have an upward trend in the consumption of Golf, whereas in comparison, the working class consumption rate is decreasing systematically year on year. Clearly more evidence is needed to determine if this trend is continuing. However what is not in any doubt is that there are major class disparities in the game that need to be addressed, to rid it of elitist connotations’.

Golf-participation-graph-475x322[1]

Geography

Alongside class, gender, and ethnicity, there are hidden spatial inequalities that impact upon consumption, which includes golf. Mapping the aggregate data from the Taking Part Survey (2006-2010) against Government Office Regions of England, highlights these spatial inequalities in Golf participation. Individuals residing in the affluent South East, and East of England make up 33% of golf participants. There is a fraction of evidence that points at the much debated North South divide. Whilst we must be aware of the limitations of inferring from a large spatial scale, the data supports the finding that you are more likely to participate in Golf if you reside in the South of England.

Golf-participation-graph-2-475x576

Inequality

“Golf is still too often wrongly stereotyped as something from yesteryear, but it is not a sport from bygone days or just for old boys in funny trousers,” says Mr Freemantle (in Wilson, 2016).

Freemantle offers a hope that golf doesn’t cost too much, suggesting a basic set of children’s golf clubs costing around £50 (Wilson, 2016). Whilst this doesn’t account for club fees, other equipment and balls (the authors were often explorers of the ‘rough’ during golf and after hours to retrieve their or others balls!)

Despite this, we believe the much of the nation, whether related to general house-hold responsibilities or participation choices, are ‘tightening their belts’ or just have less to spend. Austerity has had a real impact on the lives of people and research has shown that spending on sport per household has been negatively impacted as a result (Eakins, 2016).

The price to play may have got higher. Like others sports such as swimming (Parnell, Millward and Spracklen, 2014), municipal golf has faced financial changes. With many municipal golf courses, who mainly cater for the working class golfers up and down the country, either under threat, have been sold (sometimes for housing) or have been left in disrepair (see the below case studies).

Case examples

There are examples across the country of courses closing or under threat of closure. Indeed, Western Park Golf Course in Leicestershire is one such example of a golf course under threat of closure (Leicester Mercury, 30th July 2013). A further example is Amington Golf Course, which has been lost because of funding cuts by Tamworth Borough Council (BBC, 28th September, 2014). Many municipal courses have also been sold to private companies and enterprises, for example, Wirral Council and neighbouring West Cheshire have agreed to sell-off seven municipal golf courses: Arrowe Park, Brackenwood, Bebington, The Warrens, Hooton, Knights Grange and Westminster Park. Tenders have been invited although it is not known what will happen if the council does not receive any attractive bids. Councillor Chris Meaden, Wirral’s cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said: “Along with our colleagues in Cheshire West and Cheshire, we are keen to continue pay to play provision, and are confident this combined package across the two boroughs will attract customers and operators who will be able to put those courses on a sound and sustainable financial footing.” (Golf Club Management, 2nd February, 2015). The most disturbing case may well be Keele Golf Course in Staffordshire. RMW Ltd, fronted by Masters winner Ian Woosnam was due to take control of the course, but the deal with Newcastle Borough Council collapsed after the councillors claimed the company had begun making unreasonable demands. Since then, the course has remained closed (The Sentinel, 10th March, 2014). The only activity on the course is the opportunistic local entrepreneurs who have ploughed the overgrown fairways. The council is considering a number of options including a housing and golf re-development (The Sentinel, 10th March, 2014), yet at the time of writing the course remains closed (and overgrown).

The future

What does the future hold for golf? The announcement of opening up the game to female golfers should see a spike in participation for this group, and this should see a diversification in Golf consumers. However, there remains concerns this just reinforce the growing class and spatial inequalities currently inflicting the game. As we move towards greater levels of unease at what appears to be institutional inequalities, it is difficult to envisage a future whereby Golf can free itself of elitism. Despite this, England Golf (the national governing body for the sport) recently recruited a new Chief Executive. Nick Pink, who steps into this role offers some hope for those wanting to raise participation in the sport. Pink, who in his past role as European Manager of the International Cricket Council was able to able to claim a 35% in participation in cricket in the Europe. A laudable achievement that may serve England Golf well during this difficult fiscal period.

English Premier League Trading Study – Preliminary Findings

By Dr Paul Widdop and colleagues

A preliminary study into the trading networks of English Premier League Football Clubs suggests that West Ham United might have the most to learn from this data.

Dr Paul Widdop, along with colleagues at the University of Konstanz (Prof Ulrik Brandes); the Mitchell Centre (Prof Martin Everett); and Alliance Manchester Business School (Prof Adam Leaver) examine the structure of the transfer system of the English Premier League from 1992 – 2015; and professional clubs position in it. Evidence shows that trading patterns are not random rational acts; rather, they show a more highly structured network with differing levels of power and centrality.

received_10209605720564984[1]

Click on diagram or link to enlarge.

Trade-Networks[7] diagram

A recent FIFA report highlighted the significance of the global trade network in ‘Association Football’. Indeed, football clubs around the world spent a record  $4.1bn (£2.7bn) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30998454 on international player transfers during 2014. A significant proportion of this £2.7bn is accountable to the English Premier League (EPL). In total England was the world’s biggest spender in 2014, with its clubs paying $1.2bn (£795m) during the year. Furthermore, with the recent signing of new broadcasting rights 2016-2019, EPL clubs are set to share £8.3bn TV windfall [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/12141415/Premier-League-clubs-to-share-8.3-billion-TV-windfall.html] this has major implications not only on the international transfer market system but also the domestic one.

In this study we take a historical approach to the macro trading system to uncover patterns of connectivity, whilst also examining clubs position within the structure and what this means to their success and failure. It is a study of the domestic transfer system. The study is ongoing, but this overview gives good insight into how this system operates and the fragility of some clubs within its dense structure. A good way to measure and visualise this system is through a social network analysis approach, where links are forged between football clubs through trade in players. Furthermore, if we examine each EPL club and its transfers, making links between them, since the formation of the premier league the result would be a network: the EPL trade network.

Before we highlight our initial results, there is a need to put the sociogram (network map) into context. The nodes (squares or rectangles) represent football clubs, the line linking the two is an edge, an edge represents a transfer between clubs. The direction of the edge (arrow) represents which way the transfer (player(s)) flowed –seller to buyer.

Furthermore, the node height and width is weighted in and out-degree (in = incoming transfers; out =outgoing transfers; where degree means the number of ties that a node has). Edges are sized by number (sum) of transactions between two clubs, that is, the more transfers between the same clubs the greater the arrow (edge).

As can be discerned from this basic sociogram link above , a complex network structure exists. We identify six points to think about in this brief insight into this network.

• First, there is evidence of a core periphery structure.

• Second, although they share geographical propinquity there is little trade between clubs that operate in the same foci; this is especially true in the North West of England.

• Third, one pattern that emerges is the trade flow or indirect supply chain between Liverpool FC or Newcastle United FC via West Ham United to Queens Park Rangers.

• Fourth, of all the clubs operating in this market, perhaps West Ham United have the most obvious stability issues, in that there is constant trading in and out of the club.

• Fifth, successful teams in this time period are relatively small players in this domestic market, they are more dependent on the international global world system and are therefore less involved (net senders are wider than they are high).

• Finally, trading may not equate to success but it may equate to an ongoing sustainability and maintenance of position.

As identified this is our basic sociogram of the domestic transfer system in England, as part of our wider project we are also exploring other networks which include, the global transfer system; manager and directors; managers; agents, super agents and plyers/managers. Finally, we are exploring the flow of money in these systems.