Saturday, November 26, 2011

Using sport to solve the global financial crisis.

Over the last couple of days I have been wondering about the possibility of a sport for development program that targets middle-upper class white kids - primarily boys. I would call it Fixing Upper Class Kids Using Polo or other Sports.

A few things got me thinking about this. The first is from an impact report by Fred Coalter that involved a number of sport for development organizations. One of the points of the report was that organizations often operate from a deficit model. That is, they base their program around the presumption that participants are lacking or deficient in some way. This is usually accompanied by labeling participants as 'at-risk' or vulnerable and developing programs that act as forms of social control. This form of labeling seems to be restricted to certain groups; for example, minorities in the West, or large portions of the 'developing world'.

As a result of an article I read recently I started thinking about flipping things around. The article was about anthropology, specifically regarding research involving aboriginal communities in North America. An issue that was discussed was that researchers/anthropologists rarely 'study-up'. They often enter communities with the question: why are these people poor? The article calls for approaches that would 'study-up' and ask questions regarding who holds power in a society and why.

Getting back to my original idea, it seems to me that a disproportionate number of white collar criminals and those involved in the financial crises of the last couple of years have been white men. I'm also going to make a big leap and assume that they disproportionately come from middle-upper class backgrounds. So I wonder why young middle-upper class white males haven't been labelled as at-risk and in need of programs that teach life-skills, values, and character building; things that are commonly championed through sport for development programs. We need programs that reach these vulnerable, at-risk youth before they go on to destroy people's lives, companies, and entire financial systems. Why do we have basketball programs to keep black kids off the street where they can get caught up in unethical, immoral, criminal behavior, but not programs that keep white kids off of Wall Street where they get caught up in unethical, immoral, criminal behavior?

Nov 27, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sport for Development and Sustainability

I wrote about sustainability and sport for development a while back, but a recent article published in Third World Quarterly has made me want to write another post.

The focus of the article by Donnelly et al is not sustainability. The article is actually advocating for a public sociology in sport for development that would allow for a stronger connection between researchers and practitioners. However, within the article there is reference to a study involving SDP organizations and sustainability.

The referenced study defines sustainability as "the ability of a program to survive, or for changes to remain once the catalyst [ie the SDP initiative] is removed." In addition, the idea that NGOs should be aiming to make themselves redundant - put themselves out of business - is put forward.

It used a seven point framework for assessing sustainability including: evaluation, funding, goals, social integration, volunteers, volunteer training, and exit strategies. The researcher compared 40 different SDP organizations, using project websites for the analysis. Based on how the organizations represented themselves, only four out of 40 received satisfactory scores. The overall worst category was for exit strategies.

The study is limited as it only considers websites, but I believe it raises some interesting points about sustainability. Is it possible to assess a variety of SDP organizations with only one definition of sustainability and one framework? For example, the definition of sustainability and the framework used seems to view SDP as wholly externally driven. How would locally developed and implemented projects like MYSA or EduSport fare under this framework?

Are exit strategies necessary and can an emphasis on exit strategy limit how projects are planned and developed? It seems that the framework and definition point to a fairly linear conception of development initiatives.

Another interesting point in the article is the role of the state. Donnelly states that "ideally, because SDP interventions involve issues such as health and education, which are usually considered to be within the purview of the state and available to all citizens, sustainability will be ensured by the state." I wonder how this would be viewed by organizations that started initiatives because of deficiencies with the state.

With more organizations adopting social enterprise as a component to sustainability (Alive and Kicking, I am also wondering how this would be addressed in the seven point sustainability framework. Would Alive and Kicking be viewed negatively because they don't have an explicit or typical 'exit strategy'?

July 28, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Vancouver riots and social media surveillance

I’m not going to try and explain the riot that happened after game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Maybe I should try. I’m interested in sports, politics, and social change, so a 'sports riot' in Vancouver seems like a perfect intersection of my interests.

What interests me is the aftermath of the riot. Particularly, how citizens of Vancouver are taking to the internet to ‘out’ and shame those who were involved and how Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are forms of evidence collection for the police. Immediately it reminded me of the Chinese ‘human-flesh search engines’ – Netizens in China using the web to track down and harass people who commit acts that are deemed offensive.

I’m not attempting to make the argument that this form of policing is good or bad. I am more interested in how social media operates as a form of social surveillance – The whole Anthony Weiner case in the States is another example. In his article - Understanding Vancouver’s ‘Hockey Riot’ - Dave Zirin who is a sports/politics writer , also brings this up and writes that what is happening in Vancouver is a “queasy step toward 'social media as police state' that we should reject. Today a sports riot, tomorrow a demonstration”.

Maybe because I’m a grad student involved in socio-cultural studies I can’t help but connect these events to stuff I've been reading and listening to; in this case, the idea of the Panopiticon.

The Panopticon was originally a proposed prison design by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. It was later taken up by French philosopher Michel Foucault in his work Discipline and Punish. It is a structure in which the inmates are aware of being under constant supervision, but are unable to know if and when they are being observed. Foucault used this as a metaphor for all hierarchical structures in society and discussed how this form of surveillance ultimately leads to disciplined and docile individuals and a citizenry that will participate in self-surveillance.

I think that the social media aspect is only one of many issues to come out of the riot, but I think it is important to ask: is this type of surveillance a good thing? is social media an appropriate policing tool?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sport is a tool: language in Sport for Development and Peace

I am a bit of a word nerd. I get a kick out of interesting turns of phrase and word play. I also get a bit too involved in word choice and deconstructing terms. Luckily I’m now a graduate student and my thesis will probably involve looking at the language that is used in sport for development curricula.

I am also lucky that sport for development, or development in general I suppose, are both overflowing with interesting uses of language. I wrote about buzzwords in an earlier post. Some development bloggers have already written about language. Aidthoughts has two posts - one onbuzzwords and one on the rhetoric of change. Allana Shaikh has written a few posts about language, including one on words she doesn't use.

I feel like a dork when I spend time deconstructing something seemingly harmless. I try to console myself with the belief that language plays a role in shaping the world in which we live, so investigating language can be a worthwhile endeavour.

Some of the most common phrases in sport for development derive from the idea of using sport, using the power of sport, or using sport as a tool.

We must use the power of sport as an agent of social change

Kofi Annan

Using the transformative power of sport and play to build essential skills in children and thereby drive social change in communities affected by war, poverty and disease

Right toPlay

'Sport & Development' refers to the use of sport as a tool for development and peace

International Platform on Sport and Development

I could have easily included dozens of more examples.

So, what is the problem with this language?

Comparing sport to a tool - or talking about being able to use sport - is misleading. It presumes that sport is a functional object that can produce specific outcomes. It focuses the field on outcomes as opposed to the process. Whether you use a hammer to build a house, or you use a girlfriend to get access to her toy collection (sorry for the Seinfeld reference. Actually, after writing that, 'toy collection' sounds quite sexual, but it is very literal in referring to a toy collection. Maybe I should just think of another analogy as I am getting sidetracked...), anyways, when we are using something, the outcome is the focus and the object or person being used is not considered in more than an utilitarian sense.

I can’t get over the idea that when we use an object we are usually degrading, or devaluing, that object. I've wondered if it's the same with sport for development. We are using sport, but what does sport get out of it? I don’t mean to anthropomorphize sport, but only to consider that by focusing on the utility of sport and the outcomes that can be produced we may be neglecting the possibility that sport is a complicated process. It is not a hammer with a defined shape and function, but is more like a mixing bowl – ingredients can be added, but it is the process they undergo in the mixing bowl that will determine the outcome.

Additionally, I believe that in focusing on outcomes and downplaying the complex nature of development there is a risk of perpetuating an ineffective process. The prime example of this is the recent controversy with the Central Asia Institute and Greg Mortensson. The author of Three Cups of Tea was able to sustain somewhat dubious practices by hiding behind the mantra of education saving the world and having people want to believe it. Similar problems are occurring in the microcredit sector as well with hyperbolic rhetoric. I am not implying that education and microcredit are bad or ineffective. My concern is that it can be problematic to only preach about the power of an intervention and neglect the actual complexities involved.

I understand that simplified slogans may be needed to promote and raise money for causes. I also understand that a lot of organizations that use rhetoric are aware of the complexities involved in the sport for development process. However, I worry that when slogans are repeated constantly to promote and justify sport for development that they become taken-for-granted and ingrained in our thought processes. When this occurs I think there is a risk of implementing programs that are as superficial as the rhetoric that accompany them.

June 15, 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Does Sport for Development need a Razzies?

A couple of months ago I came across a recent initiative from Engineers Without Borders. They launched a new website And a failure report for 2010. The motivation for these endeavors is based on a view that “The development community is failing… to learn from failure. Instead of recognizing these experiences as learning opportunities, we hide them away out of fear and embarrassment”.

When I first heard about this I thought it was connected to a ‘Fail Fair’. Similar to any conference I suppose, but it would encourage organizations to share previous difficulties and attempt to learn from them. I’ve done some research and now can’t remember where, or if, I heard about a ‘fail fair’, but it doesn't matter much.

I was recently able to sit down with a colleague and during our conversation I brought up the EWB idea and he had an interesting insight. He mentioned the fact that it might be antithetical for people from a sporting background to celebrate failure. As well, it might be difficult for organizations that need to compete with each other for funds to high light their failures. However, I think the most successful athletes and teams would admit that it is necessary and productive to learn from failure.

While I was in Lesotho I had thought about writing a post on the number of award ceremonies connected to sport for development – it might seem like I’m going off-topic, but I’ll bring it around in a second. Maybe I was just selectively focusing on it, but during the World Cup and even now it seems like there are quite a few sport for development award ceremonies. I think we have more award ceremonies than the entertainment industry. But, at least the entertainment industry has the Razzies

(I heard about this for the first time this year. It's an event held each year at the same time as the Oscars to recognize the worst. I believe this year The Last Airbender was the big winner/loser).

It would be a bit extreme and counter-productive to high light the worst sport for development initiatives, but I wonder how productive it is to constantly be patting ourselves on the back.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Movember and the Commodification of Social Causes

Movember has been around for a couple of years, but seems to be catching on more this year. I haven’t joined in. I just think I look pretty good with a moustache.

I apologize for the hair, but it is a hangover from Oc-fro-ber (raising awareness of electrical safety). Actually I don't apologize. I think the hair compliments the moustache quite well. I also just made up Ocfrober (electical safety month), but if BC Hydro wants to use it I only charge a small consultancy fee.

I don’t have a problem with Movember. I think it can be a good thing if people are willing to put themselves out there to raise money and attention for a cause. What interests me is that there seems to be a commodification taking place in which advocates are focused on marketing and selling their causes through gimmicky or viral methods. I recently listened to an old LSE (London School of Economics) talk on celebrities and humanitarian work and it gave me the same impression. The speakers touched on many issues, but the one thing that stood out for me was the fact that many humanitarian organizations are using, and sometimes hiring, celebrities to advocate for their cause in the same way that a company would hire the celebrity to advertise their product.

It would seem that organisations are now targeting possible supporters as consumers. Give people a catchy superficial glimpse into your cause, or do something attention getting – like growing a moustache, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, or riding a long board from Nairobi to Mombasa – and people will reach for their wallets, forward an email, click the 'like' button, or paste something on their status on facebook.

For the most part we are a market-driven attention deficit society, so maybe humanitarian organizations need to compete for our attention and money the same way that profit-making organizations do. The problem I see is that by looking at people simply as consumers there is little chance for any meaningful engagement. When causes need to be sold as products then the people affected will need to be packaged in a certain way.

An example of this is a recent awareness raising campaign for autism – Communication Shutdown Day for Autism - that called on people to participate in a day of social media silence. I assume this was to give people an appreciation for communication difficulties. However, a number of people with autism felt that this awareness raising campaign did not represent them and started a counter-campaign, Autistics Speaking Day, which was planned for the same day as the Communication Shutdown and called on people with Autism to use social media to tell their stories.

November 12, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

FIFA, the IOC, and Sport for Development: Is the flock being led by wolves in sheep's clothing?

When Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month I came across a couple of articles that briefly mentioned the possibility of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) receiving the award. At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver this past February, some IOC members also stated that the IOC should campaign for the prize.

I am working in sport for development. On some level I believe sport can have a positive impact on individuals and communities, so I should support the IOC. I don’t want to generalize, but I believe most people in sport for development would welcome the IOC winning the prize (if you have read my blog before you might notice that I usually preface a generalization by stating that I don’t want to generalize. It is how I plan my escape if I am ever confronted with facts). I attended the Olympics in Beijing and I was in Vancouver for the build up to the Winter Olympics there. I am a fan. I think they are entertaining events and I will probably attend more in the future. Preceding the Olympics in Vancouver the IOC was granted observer status by the United Nations. Observers have the right to speak at UN General Assembly meetings, participate in some voting, but not vote on anything substantive. Again, this is something that you think I would support. It was supported within sport for development. A comment from a reader of the article I have linked to makes the connections between the IOC and sport for development:

“The observer status for the IOC at the General Assembly is not only a great result for the Olympic family, but is a special occasion to express the potential of sport for peace and development. I hope next step could be to support the idea of Nobel Price for Peace for the IOC.”

At the time of the UN announcement and more recently with the Nobel Peace Prize articles I found myself having some nagging thoughts. Is the IOC in a position to represent sport for development? It is impossible to deny that the IOC is a profit-making entity. It is an organization that some may identify as being self-serving, corrupt, and complicit in violations of human rights. Some may point to the Olympic Movement and claim that the ideals enshrined in this movement are Nobel noble and worth supporting. I agree with that, but the question still remains as to whether the IOC is the appropriate flag bearer for these ideals? The IOC seems to try. In addition to numerous partnerships with the UN it has also undertaken its own initiatives. Last year it launched its Sports for Hope Project. This involves building sport-for-all facilities in developing countries. It appears similar to a programme it started in the late 80s called the Olympafrica Programme, which seems to have faded away. Are these partnerships and programmes representative of the ideals that the IOC claims to value? During the 2010 Winter Olympics, the IOC and the Vancouver Organizing Committee decided to the banish Right to Play from the athletes' village. RTP is an organization that was borne from the Olympics. It evolved from an entity called Olympic Aid that was formed during the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer and is dedicated to providing children in some very difficult situations with opportunities to play. In previous Olympics they were allowed to establish a presence in the village to promote their work. General Motors, Kodak, and Royal Bank of Canada were official sponsors of the Olympics in Vancouver; Mitsubishi, Scotiabank, and Canon sponsor RTP. As a result of this sponsorship conflict, RTP was excluded from the Olympic village. IOC is guided by profit and it will make decisions based on finances and not on ideals.

Until this point I have only talked about the IOC, but I could have replaced that acronym for another and it would be pretty much the same. A couple of weeks ago two FIFA executives were caught offering to sell their votes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. It is not the first time this has happened, it will not be the last time, and it is not even that bad compared to other FIFA dealings. I would recommend checking out a book by Andrew Jennings called FOUL! the Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging, and Ticket Scandals, or his website, or the website for Play the Game.

Since João Havelange campaigned and won the presidency of FIFA in 1974, and then continuing through Sepp Blatter’s reign, there has been a significant amount of investment in football development in developing countries. I say investment in football development, but what I mean is that FIFA gives money to national football associations with the stated purpose being to develop the game, but then does little in the way of monitoring or holding the associations accountable. From a political stand point it would not make sense for FIFA to hold the national associations accountable. The presidency of FIFA is decided on a one-country-one- vote system. If Sepp Blatter gives large sums of money to the national associations of poorer countries with few or no strings attached then it is likely that those countries will want to keep him in power.

Money has been distributed through the Financial Assistance Programme and the GOAL Programme. Lesotho is part of both of these programmes and has received over $500,000 for projects over the past 5 years according to the FIFA website. According to a newspaper article earlier this year in Lesotho, LEFA (Lesotho National Football Association) is receiving $250,000 per quarter - $1 million a year. From the FIFA documents, 6% of funding should go towards youth football and 12% towards technical development including female football. Well, there are no youth football structures in Mafeteng - I can’t comment on other districts - and the leaders within women’s football have called on FIFA to cease funding female football because the funds don’t reach them.

This has been going on for some time, but now FIFA is also becoming involved in the sport for development scene. The distinction is that sports development aims to develop the sport itself. Sport for development aims to use sport to accomplish any number of social objectives. A few years ago FIFA initiated its Football for Hope and Win in Africa for Africa campaigns. Both involve using the power of football to address various social or development issues. Part of the Football for Hope programme involves another project called 20 centres for 2010. One of the centres will be built here in Lesotho through an organization called Kick 4 Life.

Similar to my posts on Poverty Porn and donating equipment, there are positives and negatives that could be identified with the involvement of the IOC and FIFA. Being involved with both would be a huge boost for funding, exposure, and publicity. In addition, having large well known organizations supporting your cause can lend legitimacy and credibility to what you are doing, particularly for a relatively new field of work. On the other hand when I see FIFA or the IOC claiming to represent or champion for the field of sport for development I cringe. Many sport for development organizations seek to provide opportunities to those who lack opportunities. Kick 4 Life targets orphaned and vulnerable children – particularly street children. FIFA and the IOC, through their actions, have proven that they do not care about marginalized individuals, or people who lack opportunities. Previous Olympic Games and the World Cup in South Africa brought with them complaints of displaced peoples, suppression of rights, and crack downs on already marginalized groups: street vendors, the homeless, street children, minority groups.

FIFA and the IOC care about making money. They are basically corporations, albeit corrupt, nepotistic corporations without systems of transparency or accountability. The centres and funding that they are providing for sport for development organizations should be seen as a form of corporate social responsibility and nothing more. If you are running a healthy living campaign maybe you decide to accept some funding from McDonalds. That’s fine. I wouldn’t judge that decision – maybe I would a little bit actually. You put a little Golden Arches logo on the bottom corner of your posters, no harm done –actually maybe there is a little harm done. However, if McDonalds uses the opportunity to portray their organization as a beacon for the healthy lifestyles movement then I think things would need to be reassessed. If healthy living organizations submit to McDonalds' self-selected position as a contributer to their movement then there is a risk that the movement itself will lose credibility. The same is true for sport for development. If we can consider sport for development a sector, or a field of work, or a movement, then to have FIFA and the IOC set themselves up as pillars within this sector is dangerous for the credibility of sport for development.

October 30, 2010