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.