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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Brexit and sport: who is keeping the score?

By

Grant Jarvie and Paul Widdop

What does Brexit mean for Scottish sport?

The landscape of Scottish sport will be changed as result of the Brexit decision to leave Europe.

As at June 2016 

  • Approximately 50 players from the EU  will start next seasons Scottish Premier ship.
  • At least 15 different EU nationalities likely to be represented in the Scottish Premiership.
  • If you play for one of the top 50 countries in the world and have played 75% of your countries competitive games your chances of getting an SFA work permit are higher.
  • From, Bosman, to Webster, to fair pay EU law has protected players rights, pay and mobility.
  • Athletes have already asked if the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro will be the last UK team at the Olympics.12 Scottish athletes have qualified for the 2016 Olympics.
  • Funding for the National sports agency is primarily government funding.

When the Sport for All charter was adopted back in 1975, the Council of Europe made a clear statement that it would focus on participation and the fundamental right of all people to participate. By 2007 sport had been  recognized as a key European competency within the Lisbon Treaty.

In June 2016, the same month as the UK voted to leave Europe, The Council of Europe recommended that EU member states should focus the priorities of their sports policies on sport participation, collaboration between public institutions and the development of grassroots sport.

The resolution adopted by the European Assembly in June started by noting that sport is one of the most popular activities in European societies and that it had a continuing role to play not just in developing health but social cohesion, education, youth, non-discrimination, and the reception and integration of migrants.

 In doing so The European Assembly was asking equality bodies and national human rights institutions to co-operate in combating discrimination in sport, promote co-operation in running awareness-raising activities, as well as authorizing these bodies to participate in legal actions brought against perpetrators of discrimination.

It was also asking that sports wealth be redistributed in a much more just and equitable way. That rich sports associations initiate deliberations together with grassroots sports organisations on a better way to redistribute the revenues generated by top-level professional sport – especially by the major sports events that attract large television audiences – in order to allocate a greater percentage of those revenues to projects aimed at improving access to sport for all.

There is a correlation between a nation’s wealth and the number of infrastructure facilities that enable people to engage in leisure or competition sports (gymnasiums, playing-fields, swimming-pools, skate parks, fitness studios, facilities for outdoor sports, etc.) Scotland has invested heavily in sports facilities but the landscape of Scottish sport will be changed as result of the decision to leave Europe.

Free Movement and Risk 

If the negotiations protect the free movement of athletes, golfers, footballers, rugby players and specialist sports personnel within the sports industry then Scotland will continue to benefit from access to European professional sport markets and expertise.

But if the negotiations between the UK and Europe, Scotland and Europe and/ or Scotland and the UK do not protect the current free movement of sports personnel and expertise then the landscape of Scottish sport is about to change.

Work Permits

Some 400 football players are working in the top two divisions in England and Scotland. Hearts and Inverness are but two of many Scottish Premier League teams that have significantly benefitted from work permits being issued to players from other European Union (EU) countries.

Player Transfers and Worker Rights

Former Hearts and Scotland defender Andy Webster gave the name to the Webster ruling on the status and transfer of players established under article 17 of FIFA’S regulations.

Article 17 was created by FIFA and the European Union to give professional players the same rights as other EU workers.

Webster became the first footballer to invoke article 17 and released himself from his contract with Hearts in 2006.

Will such rights for sports workers be protected in the negotiations involving the Scottish Government?

Youth 

FIFA regulations allow EU clubs to sign 16 and 17 year olds. Countries outside of the EU are only allowed to sign players over 18.

Brexit could mean the end of any influx of teenage players from the European Union who would be deemed to be homegrown players, developed in Scotland, with the clubs benefitting financially and culturally from having such players in their ranks.

Scottish players may of course get more opportunities but Scottish football although it has many aspirations is not yet as marketable and as financially strong as the top five European football leagues.

The top European clubs are not generally made up totally of home-grown players and it requires considerable financial strength to purchase such players.

Rugby

In rugby the foreign player rule does not currently apply to players from EU countries that have an association agreement. Brexit will impact upon Scottish rugby players wanting to join clubs in Europe.

Several members of the Scottish rugby team currently on tour in Japan play in other European countries.

More Expensive Players

Economic instability, slow economic growth and the value of sterling would Scottish economy that would make it more expensive for Scottish Clubs to sign European players.

Scottish players could become less appealing to European teams because they would impact upon three non-EU rule where European football clubs are only allowed to sign three non EU players.

Funding for Scottish Sport

And what if the Brexit result leads to an independent Scotland? The arguments about Scottish sport aired during the Scottish referendum could come back into play.

The degree of UK sport funding allocated to Scotland through the Barnett formula or UK Lottery funding would come under increased scrutiny. The Welsh First Minister has already called for a more equitable agreement.

The likelihood being that less money could be made available to Scotland because unlike with the Smith Agreement which came into play following on from the 2014 Scottish Referendum it is unclear if Scottish sport and other areas of public life would be protected by no detriment clauses that protected Scotland within The Smith Agreement.

A distinct worry would be the potential of less funding being made available to sport and physical activity, for example, through the allocation of funding to sportscotland or grassroots sports.

The Olympics

A further Brexit impact triggered by an independence referendum would be the make up of future Great Britain Olympic teams. 12 Scottish athletes have qualified for the 2016 Olympics.

According to one report many athletes seemed to have voted to remain with some expressing fear that Brexit could spell the end of Team GB.

The free movement of students established under European social mobility schemes such as Erasmus could end for British students going to Europe and European students entering Scottish Universities.

Student Sport and Knowledge Exchange

The funding of European research projects which have promoted scientific and technological advance, collaboration and knowledge exchange between member states could exclude Scottish Universities. Few dedicated sports research streams of funding are open to Universities.

The British Council Erasmus Plus funding for sports collaboration and exchange is one such income stream that would be threatened.

Conclusion

There is no aspect of public life that will be untouched by a Brexit vote that has already triggered a multitude of different avenues of negotiation at a time when stability and economic growth are the much needed order of the day.

Sport in Scotland is not immune from Brexit consequentials and the material and cultural vitality of Scottish sport is threatened by the decision to leave the European Union.

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Athlete and Activist – Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

By 

Grant Jarvie

Although he won  56 out of  61 fights,  the Olympic title, was crowned world champion three times and acclaimed athlete of the 20th century, it was the combination of athleticism. humanitarianism and activism that made Ali the greatest.

In his later years the athlete and activist softened some of his views. He rejected the racial separatism promoted by the Nation of Islam. The American establishment, rather than fearing him, came to love him. But, by then, he had already made a matchless contribution to American history as an athlete who changed his sport, and as an activist who contributed to changing his country and spoke out against injustices when others did not.

He was courageous inside and outside of the boxing ring. 

He was an athlete and an activist and those athletes in the contemporary era who take on social and political responsibilities should be respected as both athletes and activists. 

 Impact and Inspiration

 “Muhammad Ali let me know I could have opinions and express them. I cannot do justice in words to express what that meant to a young black kid growing up in Alabama”

Basketball great Charles Barkley talking of Muhammad Ali’s impact on his life 

 “At a time when blacks who spoke up about injustice were labelled uppity and often arrested under one pretext or another, Muhammad willingly sacrificed the best years of his career to stand tall and fight for what he believed was right. In doing so, he made all Americans, black and white, stand taller. I may be 7ft 2in but I never felt taller than when standing in his shadow.”

Former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

In his own words:

 Ali on racism

 “Giving up a chance at the Olympics and a gold medal is a big sacrifice but anything they do that’s designated to get freedom and equality for their people, I’m with 1,000 per cent”.

Talking about the the Olympic Project for Human Rights and the 1968 Mexico Protest

“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong”.

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell, but as long as they ain’t free. I ain’t free”.

On Vietnam War and the Supreme Court

 “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”.

“I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.”

“I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality”.

 Tributes to Muhammad Ali 

 Al Sharpton

“To my generation he made it real,” Civil rights leader.

Nicola Adams

“Boxing’s greatest of all time, an inspiration to me and so many people”- Flyweight World Champion.

 Bernice King

“You were a champion in so many ways. You ‘fought’ well. Rest well.” – Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King

Martin Luther king Jr

“He is giving up millions of dollars to do what his conscience tells him is right”.

Angelo Dundee

“Cleveland Williams, that was a great fight but the greatest he ever looked was against Folley and if he had gone on from there, there is no telling”.

Angelo Dundee talking about the last fight before the 3-and-a-half-year exile.

Hugh Mcilvanney

“He was the greatest figure in my professional life”.

Michelle and Barak Obama

“A man who fought for us. He stood with King and Mandela; stood up when it was hard. His fight outside the ring would cost him his title. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us to get used to the America we recognise today- he spoke out when others would not”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/sports/president-obamas-statement-on-muhammad-ali.html?_r=0

Barak Obama on what Muhammad Ali meant to me

http://www.khou.com/news/obama-what-muhammad-ali-meant-to-me/231069392

 Cathy Freeman

“Muhammad Al represents and symbolises greatness for all the world over”.

Hilary and Bill Clinton

“We watched him grow from the brash self-confidence of youth and success into a manhood full of religious and political convictions that led him to make tough choices and live with the consequences. Along the way we saw him courageous in the ring, inspiring to the young, compassionate to those in need, and strong and good-humored in bearing the burden of his own health challenges”.

The Brief Fact File

1942

Cassius Marcella Clay born 17 January in Louisville and named after a prominent 19th century abolitionist.

1954

Amateur boxing debut.

1960

Wins Olympic Gold Medal, Rome.

Makes his professional boxing debut.

1961

Attends first Nation of Islam meeting.

1962

Meets Malcolm X.

1963

Fights Henry Cooper in the UK.

1964

Becomes world heavyweight champion after being 7-1 underdog.

Joins the Nation of Islam.

1965

Re-match with Sonny Liston in front of only a few thousand people.

1966

Defends his title 5 times.

Re-match with Henry Cooper.

1967

Stripped of heavyweight title for refusing US draft, handed a five year suspended sentence, a 10,000 US dollar fine and banned from travelling abroad. Remains free while appealing the conviction.

New York State Athletic commission suspends his boxing licence.

1968

Speaks at anti-war rally in San Francisco.

1970

US supreme court hands back his boxing licence.

1971

Loses world title to Joe Frazier.

Conviction for draft dodging reversed by US Supreme Court.

1972

By November had won ninth comeback fight since losing to Frazier.

Visits the Republic of Ireland, defeats Al Lewis at Croke Park.

1974

Wins back world heavyweight title from George Foreman.

A man denounced as anti-American in 1967 is now invited to the White House.

1975

Wins rematch with Joe Frazier.

1978

Loses his title to Leon Spinks in February and regains it seven months later.

Becomes first man in the world to win Heavyweight Championship of the World three times.

1979

Announces retirement for the first time.

1980

Loses to Larry Holmes his former sparring partner, in a fight that many state should never have taken place.

1983

Public learn of the athlete and activist suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

1990

Helps in the release of 15 hostages from Iraq.

1993

Visits Glasgow for the second time, the first being in 1965.

1996

Lights the torch at the Atlantic Olympic Games and is returned his Olympic medal thrown away or lost in 1960.

1998

Visit to deliver humanitarian aid to Cuba. Ali was on his second visit to Cuba  in two years, where he delivered to a Havana hospital a donation of more than $1.2 million of medical aid from a U.S. humanitarian organisation, the Disarm Education Fund.

Named UN messenger of peace for his work in developing countries.

1999

Named BBC Sports personality of the 20th century collecting more votes than George Best, Pele, Sir Donald Bradman, Jack Nicklaus and Jesse Owens put together.

2001

Awarded President’s Citizens Medal.

2002

Visits Kabul as UN Peace ambassador.

2003

Joins Mandela ay the special Olympics held in Dublin.

2005

Awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2009

Attends Barack Obama’s inauguration having saluted him at celebratory party days before.

2012

Makes appearance at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games

2016

Muhammad Ali passed away 4 May in Phoenix, Arizona, aged 74.

 

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Muirfield, golf and the myth of Scottish egalitarianism

By

Grant Jarvie

“ The decision delivered at Muirfield is bad for golf, bad for sport, bad for Scotland and bad for those who would like Scotland to be truly egalitarian and just. “

The secretive and mysterious nature of the inner workings of the Scottish establishment are hard to track and yet it is evidenced on the public face of a place such as Muirfield, which shows scant regard for the simple goals of equality, regard or equality of sporting opportunity, all values allegedly held dear by the Scottish electorate.

Despite the popular image that Scotland is somehow a more egalitarian society in golfing terms such assertions can always be challenged as long as the privileged continue to operate a closed door policy in terms of membership.

It has often been argued that golf clubs or other sports clubs that are in receipt of public money should not be allowed to operate exclusive policies. If only it were that easy since money is clearly not an issue and therefore has not been a potential lever to produce change in such cases.

The threat of the Open Championship being taken away has not be enough to produce a vote that allows women golfers to join Muirfield.

  • To admit women golfers as members, Muirfield – a privately owned links in East Lothian run by The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – needed two thirds (432) of its 648 eligible voters to back the move.
  • Of the 616 members who voted after a two year consultation 397 (64%) voted for change while 219 (36%) voted against. The Club voted in favour of change but fell short of the two thirds majority needed to produce change.
  • Muirfield has hosted the open on 16 occasions since 1892- the last time being 2013.

Historically golf is a cultural property that Scotland, rightly or wrongly, has claimed as its own. Other countries can also claim to have invented golf.

Scotland has also mythically or otherwise continued to claim it is an egalitarian country and yet in golfing terms the rich of the sporting world seem to be free to pursue their own interest and rules while paying little attention to sport for all.

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Shakespeare on sport – 400 years on.

By Craig Sharp

400 years after the death of the bard many continue to reflect upon the use of the word sport in the works of William Shakespeare. http://www.gamesmuseum.uwaterloo.ca/Archives/Brewster/shake.html

This small contribution continues such a tradition.

“He…hath drawn him and the rest of their company from their sport, to make another experiment of his suspicion.” (Mistress Page to Mistress Ford.Merry Wives of Windsor IV.ii.31).

“This sport well carried shall be chronicled” (Helena to Hermia Midsummer Night’s Dream III.ii.240).

“O Jesu this is excellent sport.” Hal to Falstaff. Henry 4 part 1. II.iv.383. Could be a comment on the whole marathon, with its 35,000 or whatever runners.

“Sport and repose lock from me day and night.” (from the visiting players Hamlet III.ii.227).

“I have some sport in hand, wherein your cunning can assist me much.” (Lord to players; Taming of the Shrew. Induction I.90).

“The body of our sport, of no small study.” (Two Noble Kinsman. Schoolmaster to all III.v.120).

“He is given to sports, to wildness and much company.” (Julius Caesar. Brutus to Cassius II.1.189).

“I wish ye sport” (Imogen to Guiderius;Cymbeline IV.ii.31).

“For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps,

Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up.” (Prospero to Caliban:

The Tempest I,ii.325).

“What will you do, good greybeard? Break a lance,

And run a-tilt at death within a chair?” (PUCELLE in Henry VI)

“This push will chair me ever, or dis-seat me now.” (Macbeth to a servant. Macbeth V, ii. 21).

“With thy brawls, thou hast disturbed our sport.” (Titania to Oberon. Midsummer Night’s Dream II.i.87).

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Football justice and community- a tribute and record

 

On the 26 April 2016, a 27 year struggle for truth by the families of of the 96 people who died at Hillsborough Stadium on the 15th of April 1989 heard the inquest into the Hillsborough stadium disaster conclude that the 96 fans had been unlawfully killed.

The inquest was asked to pass a verdict on 14 questions of which question 6 and 7 were seen as crucial-

Are you satisfied , so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed? Answer Yes

Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the turnstiles? Answer No

The Facts

1989

15 April The worst disaster at a British Football ground took place at Hillsborough at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

16 April Kenny Dalgleish talking to the Observer notes that football is irrelevant when something like this happens. Dalgleish, who was manager of Liverpool at the time, played a huge role in helping the community and the club both through the day and in the aftermath of the tragedy. He and others has supported the families fight for answers throughout the 27 years.

17 April Jeremy Seabrook writing in the Guardian noted ‘ We were caged in like animals in zoo’ and the importance of Liverpool Football Club to the people of Liverpool and those at Hillsborough on that day was being displayed in ways  that confounded the most seasoned footballers and football managers.
1 August Lord Justice Taylor’s interim report blames police mismanagement and criticises South Yorkshire police.

1990

January Lord Taylor final report published recommending a fundamental rethink of the safety and maintenance of British football grounds. It rejected the idea of ID cards and brought in an era of all seater stadiums.
30 August The Crown Prosecution Service decides that their is insufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

October South Yorkshire police admit negligence, failed in its duty of care and settles civil claims made by families.

19 November First inquest opens in Sheffield.

1991
28 March inquest returns a majority verdict of accidental death.

25 April Ian Taylor writes to Lord Justice Taylor suggesting that the £100,000 allocated to the modernisation of football stadia does not bode well. The treasury eventually makes £100 million available to the Football Trust to modernise football grounds.

29 October Police commander on the day of the stadium disaster retires from the police on medical grounds.

1992
13 January Disciplinary action against the control box commander at Hillsborough is dropped.

1993
5 November A judicial review application to revue the inquest verdict is rejected.

1996

8 July Sir Bernard Ingham letter states that to blame the police even although they made mistakes is contemptible.

5 December The government of the day orders the scrutiny of new evidence and it is found that 164 police officer accounts of the incident had been changed. The home secretary did not believe their was sufficient evidence for a new enquiry.

1998

13 February Lord Justice Stuart Smith rejects any grounds for prosecutions or quashing of the inquest verdict.

August The Hillsborough Family support group mount a private persecution against the match commander and others.

2000

24 July The jury does not reach verdict on the match commander who exercised the right not to give evidence.

2009

12 April The Guardian highlights the families ongoing grievances and complaints of injustice. Then labour Ministers Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle call for the documents relating to the disaster to be published.

15 April Burnham’s speech to the 20th anniversary memorial service at Anfield is interrupted by shouts of justice for the 96.

December Launch of the Hillsborough independent panel with a remit to to make the documents public.

2012

12 September The panel publishes its report, police failings are highlighted, the government of the day orders a new criminal inquiry. Operation resolve , the Independent police complaints commission launches an investigation.

19 December The verdict in the first inquest is quashed .

2014

31 March The new inquest begins in Warrington. This becomes the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history.

2016

26 April the jury delivers an unlawful killing verdict.

Talking about the verdict Dalgleish states:

” Well it can only be a pleasure for the families who have endured 27 years trying to get to the point that they knew should have been there 27 years ago. The way they have gone about getting to this point has been unbelievable – their humility, the way they’ve conducted themselves, their dignity and the determination to get what they thought was justice and the belief from them that the supporters were in no way, shape or form, to blame. You’re pleased that they’ve won this but on the other hand it’s taken 27 years out of their life, what they gave for their life and their families’ life. It’s fantastic news for them and it’s news that they thoroughly deserve”

Sport is not above the law but at the same time the law needs to be accountable to those it passes verdict on. In all of the 27 years from 1989 to 2016, least we forget, what forged this campaign was the honesty, humanity and solidarity of the football families and the football community which new that injustices had been carried out and which refused to let nothing but the truth be the final verdict.

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Sport, poverty and education

By Grant Jarvie

Access to sport can alter life chances and advance educational achievement.

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Sport provides for both formal and informal education. The potential of sport to improve lives, help with the means to escape poverty and enhance educational achievement has yet to be fully realised and understood in Scotland. Sport can be a multi-faceted force for change and have far-reaching and multiple influences. It can help peoples’ development, raise aspirations, and be a source of hope across different demographics in society.

Sport should be embedded at every level of Scottish education particularly in areas of concentrated poverty. Universities are well placed to continue playing an integral part in developing the role of sport in the Scottish education system. Sports’ ethos and potential to improve life chances fits well with the ethos of Scottish Universities. Universities and sport are resources of hope. Universities are part of the fabric of Scottish life, fulfill the aspirations and hopes of many and because they have stood the test of time are ideal for building other things around them.

As Scotland strives to tackle poverty and boost educational achievement rarely do sport based interventions appear centre stage, but they can make a difference.

Access to sport can alter life chances and advance educational achievement but the power of education working with and through sport is something that Scotland has still to optimise.

Evidence exists to build such a case but does the political will? Education through sport is one of the most powerful local and international social tools that Scotland has but fails to fully use.

The challenges facing Scotland have been well documented and evidenced. Scotland does not face these challenges alone and it can certainly learn from looking at education through sport interventions used in other countries.

Key facts at March 2016

• Children born into poverty are 50% more likely to miss education milestones.
• 11% of children from the poorest areas leave school with no qualifications compared to 3% of the rest of Scotland.
• Schools (both sectors) Universities, Colleges, 151 Community Sports Hubs, Football Learning centres and 42 stadia embedded in Scottish communities.
• 210,000 children live in poverty in Scotland.;
• 2418 council run schools and an independent sector that uses sport to unlock potential and develop capabilities.
• Low incomes and debt problems often mean that small additional costs make some activities unaffordable. 14% of the Scottish population according to Scottish Governemnt 2016 figures live in low income poverty.

Sport, poverty and education

povertyday_2014-1 copy

The popularity of sport combined with carefully crafted education through sport interventions is not a solution but an important part of a solution. Build other things around it and sport can be a resource of hope. For some it can be an escape from poverty, for those involved it develops capabilities, its reach is rarely optimised and new sports are something all 3-18 year olds should have not the chance the right to learn. 

Sport matters and education through sport matters. Sport matters not just for sport per se but because of what it can do for other areas of public life and provision. It can reach areas where other policy areas struggle to reach. Combined sport and education interventions make a difference.

The social impact of sports based interventions including education through sport interventions tell us a lot..

  • Concentrations of poverty in areas of multiple deprivation impacts upon education. Education through sport interventions matter because they are proven to boost educational capability, confidence, mental health and other learning skills that help not just education levels but working and social lives.
  • The LSE study of poverty and access to sport talked to young people perceived not to be interested in sport “ it was an eye opener to learn how much joining in matters to young people, how much informal games, outdoor activity and sport can inspire and motivate them, and how many young people are held back from actively getting involved”.
  • Edinburgh (Moray House) and Oxford University studies of International women runners not only evidence how some women runners not only run to escape poverty but redistribute athletic wealth from running into social causes thus helping to build schools, provide scholarships and bursaries provide educational opportunity.

Scottish sport has historically contributed greatly to the social welfare of Scotland Education through sport is one of the most powerful local and international tools that Scotland has but fails to optimise.

Imagine a more healthy Scotland where all people can increase educational achievement, access sport, and alter life chances. .There is arguably few positive spheres of national life that can compete with the combined power of sport and education to make a real difference for health, education, social mobility, and winning friends though cultural relations initiatives.

Not affordable is an excuse- it is about political choice

Community groups fighting to have car free streets to allow children to play outdoor sport are thwarted on grounds of cost. It is not a question of cost but political choice.

The knowledge to unlock the potential of sports social toolbox exists but it needs to be much more of a priority through making braver political choices.

Creating hope where once there was despair

Great politicians, visionaries and inspirational leaders understand what sport can do. Mandela understood it but do our politicians believe Mandela enough to commit and act on his guidance.  

Creating opportunities for social mobility, education and altered life chances

While the case is not typical it is both timely and insightful as football and the world of football both celebrates and mourns the loss of the late Johan Cruyff.

For some football has been the informal education that has assisted with social mobility. As the obituaries for the great Johnan Cruyff rightly acclaim the great contribution that he made to world football it is perhaps easy to forget both the journey travelled and the importance of both the informal football education and a formal higher education to the three times world player of the year. He was the second son of Hermanus and Petronella Cruyff, brought up in Betondorp, a poor Amsterdam suburb and enrolled into the Ajax youth section at the age of 10. His mother worked for Ajax as a cleaner, his father a greengrocer died when he was 12 and his mother re-married to the groundsman at the Ajax club.

Cruyff was closely associated with the ideal and methods of total football which he took with him into a successful managerial career. Cruyff was fiercely conscious of the education and altered life chances that football had given him. He was also justifiably proud of his foundation that raised enormous funds to help sports participation of handicapped youngsters on an international scale. He was also proud of the Johan Cruyff Institute[http://johancruyffinstitute.com/en/]that looked to educate the next generation of leaders in sports management. The institute was founded in 1999 as a project of Johan Cruyff to train athletes in the world of management.

The passion for sport is used to drive education and development but also to provide opportunities.

To return to Scotland – What needs to be done?

Just Imagine:

  • If safe, supervised  parks and spaces to support sports activity flourish in all neighbourhoods.
  • If Game Changer initiatives to help sustain health and education were accessible through all local football stadia
  • If every child had the right, not just the chance to learn and sustain 3 sports by 3, 5 by 5 and 10 by 10 including swimming , recreational running and a team sport.
  • Free access to some forms of culture exist in Scotland but not others.
  • Building a world class community sports system which was the envy of the world with educational achievement and sports activity opened up through every, for example, community sports hub and care home.
  • If grassroots sports initiatives ,such as Spartans or Crags Community Centre in Edinburgh, were able to be sustained in every area of multiple deprivation.
  • If like some other countries one hour daily active quality physical education was sustained in every primary school.
  • Enabling a greater scale of early years interventions and affirming the right of every child to access sports’ activities such as swimming, recreational running, team sports and more.
  • Maximising the lure and adventure of sport reading to boost reading levels.
  • If Scotland had its own international inspiration sports programmes or its own equivalent of the Norway Cup.
  • If free accessible sports and education provision helped to address the issue of young people living in poverty and dropping out of sport after leaving school.
  • If we harness technology and accessibility to maximise the potential of popular sport and physical activity such as Football More than a Game.
  • The outreach work that Universities are doing through sport was both recognised and increased .
  • If an expanded Winning Students Bursary Scheme was able to support at least 2 students per year from each of Scotland’s 100 data zones from which the majority of children are deemed to be living in poverty.
  • School partnerships between the different school sectors and shared access to sports facilities.

Conclusion

Education is one of the greatest drivers to eradicate poverty and the concentration of poverty in areas of multiple deprivation. Sport can play a major role in Scottish education if the political will is there to unlock the potential of the social toolbox that is sport.

 Scotland is rich with policy ideas and opportunities do exist to build upon existing infrastructure, institutions and policy directions.     Further investment is necessary but the educational potential of sport should not be decided on grounds of cost but on its effectiveness and ability to transform lives.

In 2015 UNESCO issued a call to action for international policy makers in invest further in sport and physical education on the grounds that it was integral to greater educational attainment.   In Scotland we should rise to that challenge.

There are few spheres of our national life that can compete with the combined power of sport and education to make a real difference. Sport can be a resource of hope, it can assist with advancing educational achievement.

 Great leaders understand this.   “Sport has the power to change the world …..and create hope where once there was despair”[1].   Nelson Mandela, May 25th 2000.

[1] See http://www.scotsman.com/news/grant-jarvie-we-have-sporting-chance-of-a-better-world-1-3951043

 

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