Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Canadian Soccer Fan and North American Identity

I just returned to Lesotho after a week and a half of travelling around South Africa to attend some World Cup matches. Overall, it was an amazing experience, but one thing that stood out for me was the fact that I was a Canadian at a World Cup without an affiliation to any of the competing nations. This situation is highlighted every time you speak with someone because the inevitable question is ‘who do you support?’

I think that many Canadians would identify themselves as English, French, Italian, Greek, etc and therefore support those nations in the World Cup. For the last couple of World Cups I have begun supporting the United States. Generally, I tend not to support the U.S. in any event and instead actively cheer against them. However, I feel they represent North American soccer (I am excluding Mexico from this statement – not intending to offend) and as a North American soccer player and fan I am cheering for them. While I travelled around South Africa I would encounter people from African countries who were actively supporting other African nations. Now that Ghana is the only African team remaining I believe that the entire continent will be supporting them, as they are representing Africa - This is a huge generalization, but go with me here.

I have a feeling that it is not the same in North America. Do we lack North American identity, North American pride?

June 24, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Conferences and Summits and Seminars Oh My!

I just got back from Glasgow where I was attending my first ‘sport for development’ conference. It was actually called the 3rd Commonwealth Sports Development Conference: Achieving Sustainable Development – Building capacity in communities, clubs, and NGOs. It was actually quite relevant since I have been thinking about the idea of sustainability lately. I wasn’t really that satisfied with some of the sustainability talk, but I did meet some pretty interesting people. If I stay involved in this type of work it seems like conferences are a fairly common feature. I think that there are sport for development conferences occurring every week for the next few weeks in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. The week before the conference in Scotland there was a similar one in India. I haven’t really kept track of it, but I imagine that for the last couple of years, since sport for development has taken hold, there has been a conference at least every month. I might be exaggerating though. They might just be more frequent right now because of the build up to the World Cup in South Africa.

This congestion of conferences brings up a lot of issues, but one thing that it brought to focus in my mind was how much of a business the development/aid world is. A few weeks ago I came across an article by Ravi Kanbur through one of the development blogs I read. The author identifies himself as a poverty professional and the article goes through his internal debate regarding this line of work: flying off to conferences, being put up in hotels, writing about poverty, researching poverty, and basically making a living off of poverty. You can rationalize this self-doubt away by thinking that if you are helping people get out of poverty then it doesn’t matter if you are making money off of it. There are many professions that capitalize off of the negative. Doctors make money off of the sick, lawyers and police officers make money off of crime, psychiatrists make money off of the mentally unwell.

However, I feel there is a slight difference. It seems that many of the people who attend these conferences are outsiders. They are not living in poverty. This by itself doesn’t have to be a problem; doctors don't have to be sick to help people. However, the difference is related to accountability. The system is set up so that the poverty professionals are not really accountable to the people they are lifting out of poverty. If your doctor or your lawyer makes a mistake there are systems in place to hold those people accountable. I don’t believe it is the same for the development sector.

The article I linked to advocates for poverty immersion trips. One week trips that allow poverty professionals to become connected to the context in which they work. Seems interesting, but I am not sure how effective a one week trip would be. I have been in Lesotho for a few months now and I still don't know what the hell is going on. I also find it laughable because it emphasizes how much of a divide there is between poverty professionals and the people they serve - assuming they are serving people living in poverty. The fact that they are so far removed from a situation that they have to be flown in for week long immersion trips seems ridiculous.

June 8, 2010