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

By Stuart Murray

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

Sports News

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

Popular assertions are common place:

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

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

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

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

In this contribution three observations from recent fieldwork are offered.

Sporting habitus

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

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

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

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

Has a bag of money ever scored a goal?

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

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

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

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

Sports diplomacy with Chinese characteristics

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

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

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

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

A land of sporting oddity and mystery

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

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

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

The future?

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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And I thought Apartheid was over…but it is a global condition?

By Cora Burnett

University of Johannesburg, Professor and Director, Olympic Academy

& Global Fellow University of Edinburgh, Academy of Sport

Having been in the space of sport for development (SfD) for more than two decades, I have met amazing scholars and continue to engage with them around a common interest – SfD in Africa. In this field, context is everything. Over the years I have shared the forum for vibrant public discussions with some of the most informed and some of the most uninformed about the conditions of my country and continent.


I would like to raise five main issues concerning: i) the documented ‘under-representation’ of African scholars and their research outputs; ii) research on filtered realities in support of the academic argument; iii) the focus on neo-colonial practices without capturing the voices (sense-making) and praxis of the affected populations; iv) the lack of critical introspection; and v) exclusionary practices.

For some, Africa represents an abstract collective of ignorance, backwardness and not ‘yet there’ phenomenon. As academics from non-first world countries, African scholars are often invited to contribute to discussion and debate but often solely about ‘context’. It seems that scholars from the Global North’s insights are recognised first and foremost in advancing first world discourses through the ‘production of (new) knowledge’. Mapping the field of SDP work, shows the small proportion of scholars from Africa whose work has been published in high impact research journals, whilst scholars from the North are increasingly conducting research on Africa and, in some instances, they have the arrogance to explain this by stating that local expertise does not exist.

The statistics tells a story. Cronin found 20% or 27 reports of all research to be conducted in Africa with five of the researchers living in Africa. In another analysis by Schulenkorf, Sherry and Rowe an even more dismal picture emerges. Of the total published research 73% of all authors were from Europe (37%) or Northern America (36%), whilst 8% authors were from Africa contributing to 9% of publications.

The latter was reported in 2016 which contradicts an analysis I conducted last month. I found at least triple the number of published research from authors in Africa, although not all 63 papers were strictly categorized or had keywords indicating a Sport-for-Development domain search. The under-representation raises some questions on many accounts. Such analysis contributes to the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ of an absence of Sport for Development researchers delivering quality research in Africa which may partly explain the absence in ‘other’ circles as well.

For many years, I have been silent about this issue. Discussing how some First World academics constructed and built stick figures for critical work on ‘neoliberal’ practices has become ‘entertaining’ lecture material in post-graduate classes. Notably, many of these first world academics come to the same conclusions. Some discover the complex truth based on a few interviews, blog or face book material, reducing the complex reality to build a case that would serve their particular flavour of ‘critical analysis’; or, they argue for the inclusion of ‘local voices’ (captured as an additional data set).

How can some academics be so sharp, intellectual and blind all at the same time? What about real reflection? Why construct hyper- or filtered realities and ‘lamenting’ on the unequal power relations, ideology and structures that in the first place continue to perpetuate SDP work without addressing the root problems to which they (possibly unintentionally) contribute? Why is most work pitched at the level of the recipient such as women and girls, who ultimately benefit little through endless temporary initiatives aimed at their empowerment and improved self-worth and self-esteem?

One must question who is actually benefitting from such programs when women and girls eventually return to real life and real conditions that render their newly founded power relatively meaningless. What about action? What about the authentic truth? What about real inclusion and collaboration on equal partnerships?

I intentionally did not quote the work of scholars as I think we should all reflect on our own academic practices. A recent ‘practice’ which mirrors many others, is a forum of invited and influential experts within the field of SDP that will gather in March 2017 at the University of Illinois. Of the invited experts, all but four are from Northern America and none are from Africa. Another example that rings hollow when talking about ‘human rights’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘partnership’ within academia, relates to invitations to publish in open source journals where the cost of the author’s contribution is completely out of the reach of many African scholars. Yet, as an African-based scholar I am repeatedly asked, and as a professional, often contribute, by reviewing the manuscripts of first-world scholars.

As South African academics we face violent student demonstrations, such as the Fees Must Fall Campaign and other poverty-related issues, on a daily basis. Conditions necessitate that we must work as relative generalists due to cash-stripped universities of which some provide up to three meals per day to needy students. We do not have the luxury of funds for large scale longitudinal research projects and associated opportunities to pay-to-publish, or to attend international conferences.

Nor, do we have the advantage of extensive and well connected networks of specialist colleagues for support. When I received some recognition from U21 universities at the end of last year, I tried to mask my level of indignation by merely stating: “Researchers from the Global South are obliged to unearth new ways of knowing with a voice that matters in academic discourse.”

I may have stepped on important toes, but I trust I can count on those academics who are committed to integrating their humanitarian beliefs to create a more just society and a truly genuine, inclusive scholarly community. Sometimes it seems that apartheid is alive and well amongst those scholars who live by some sense of their own objective morality yet, remain unaware of the meaninglessness of their detached, highly abstract but well-articulated arguments.


[1] Cronin, O. (2011). Comic Relief Review. Mapping the research on the impact of Sport and Development interventions. Manchester, UK: Comic Relief.

[1] Schulenkorf, N. Sherry, E.  Rowe, K. (2016). Sport for Development: Ann integrated literature review. Journal of Sport Management, 30, 22-39.

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Sport, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease: Cause, Cure and Compassion?

By Professor Michael Ego
University of Connecticut- Stamford

The text below was developed from the address presented at a one day symposia on Sport, Dementia and Mental Health hosted by The Scottish Football Museum in partnership with the University of Edinburgh.

Dementia can be caused by a number of different diseases, the most common being Alzheimer’s Disease. The cognitive and functional losses are exacerbated by stereotypes and stigma – as the world sees a person almost totally lost once he or she receives an Alzheimer’s diagnosis – lost both to themselves and to those who love them.

The stigma attached to dementia can be observed when the general public’s body reactions to the word when it is pronounced before them. Some associate dementia as a contagious disease (i.e. infectious) and steer away from any physical proximity, just in case they may catch the disease. Others will not admit that there is a friend or relative with the disease, since it would show shame about their family. Fact: Dementia is not an automatic condition of human ageing.

Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related illnesses have a devastating impact on American society and culture – impacting an estimated 5.2 million American citizens each year. The media coverage of this disease has primarily focused on the Cause and the Cure – with the third C – Compassion – mostly seen as third fiddle in the discussion.

The research that has been conducted on the Cause have pointed to what is considered “risk factors.” Age is one factor, in that persons over age 65 are likely to have the disease, as compared to during young adulthood or middle adulthood. Family history portends that persons who have a parent or sibling who has the disease are two to three times more likely to develop the disease, but not a guarantee that genetics is the cause.

The third category is lifestyle patterns, that include head injury, lack of exercise and a healthy diet, avoidance of tobacco, limiting alcohol consumption, staying socially active, and engaging in intellectually stimulating activities, and there is an association between heart health and brain health. In summary, there is NO evidence that there is a definitive causation that may PREVENT someone from developing the disease.

The “C” that has got most of the attention is Cure. Although there are some drugs that been developed to ameliorate the disease in the early stages of diagnosis, as of this time, scientists have not been able to discover the proper drug to cure the disease. Recently, there was an announcement by one of the pharmaceutical companies that a highly anticipated “trial” for a drug that might cure the disease was not successful. So, we are still awaiting good news about a discovery as a cure to dementia.

The third “C” is Compassion. During the past four years, I have been investigating the reasons for the third “C” being seen as an afterthought, in most cases. Of course, American society wants to know what causes the disease, and also the cure that will save people’s lives. But, unfortunately, Compassion is not shown by those who do not have the disease, towards those that do, nor towards the families with a person with the disease.

I began to investigate how Compassion was displayed regarding dementia by countries around the world. I found there is attention being given to non-pharmacological interventions to enhance the quality of life for those individuals with dementia. Sports and related activities have made a valuable contribution to provide experiences that are beneficial to the lives of persons with dementia.

In my exploration of societal efforts that demonstrate Compassion led me to Scotland. There, starting in 2009, socialization programs were initiated to enhance the quality of life for men with dementia.

The programme, entitled “Football Memories,” was begun by Michael White, who had several friends with dementia, and who also were soccer fans. Since the inception of “Football Memories,” there are currently 185 support groups, consisting of volunteers throughout Scotland (a population of 5 million people), who offer similar memories programs in Golf, Rugby, Cricket, Shinty and Movies.

I suggested In November 2016, at a symposium  hosted by the University of Edinburgh (Academy of Sport and the Global Health Academy) and the Scottish Football Museum that Scottish society understood the challenges and struggles of those with dementia, and were responding with Compassion through the socialization programmes. I was particularly struck by the way the challenges were being met in terms of dealing with, and helping people living with dementia through the medium of the Gaelic language – materials being prepared bilingually and work being done using both English and Gaelic where appropriate. This was highly cost effective and beneficial to a significant number of people.

In comparison, in the United States (with a population close to 325 million people), I have found two programs that have initiated sports memories programs: the Baseball Reminiscence League in St Louis, MO, and the BasebALZ League in Austin, TX). I have observed both programs and there is a genuine display of Compassion by the volunteers and the sponsoring organisations. In January, a third Baseball Reminiscence League will begin in Cos Cob, a collaboration between the River House Adult Day Care Center and the University of Connecticut.

In conclusion, I am not advocating that we dismiss the two C’s – Cause and Cure. We must continue to explore both dimensions that will help us to prevent dementia and to find a remedy for the disease. As we await the answers to Cause and Cure, let us show Compassion to those who have the disease and for their families and friends.

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48 years to the day & anti-racism vigilance still needed in and through sport

By Grant Jarvie

October 18 1968

In the course of 48 hours, Tommie Smith and John Carlos went from being celebrated to hated by many Americans. Two days after winning gold and bronze in the 200 meter sprint at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympic Games, both were suspended by the United States Olympic Committee for protesting against the racism experienced by black Americans and others.

As the national anthem played the pair bowed their heads and raised black gloved fists to bring attention to the injustices of black Americans. The athletes were stripped of their credentials and forced to leave the Olympic Village. At home they would receive death threats and finding employment became harder.

October 18 2016 

48 years on and the anti-racism actions of Smith and Carlos continue to be echoed by Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who have begun kneeling and or refusing to stand during the national anthem in protest against the brutality and killings experienced today in the US by so many black Americans.

Players from several NBA teams have locked arms in a sign of unity before recent exhibition games. The Celtics, Knicks, Rockets, Lakers and Kings have all locked arms during the playing of the national anthem. The gesture comes at a time when athletes in many sports at many levels are protesting racial inequalities and instances of police brutality.

The movement began when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem. The NBA has a collectively bargained rule that states that all players, coaches and team staff must stand during the national anthem.

48 years on and anti-racism actions in and through sport are still needed in a world that is far from being a level playing field both in sport and society.

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


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?


[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:

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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,’é 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.


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’.



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 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.


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) 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 [] 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?


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?


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.


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.


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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