2014 September | FREE

Archive the month of September 2014

September 29, 2014

Fake neutrality

A new deal signed, to the satisfaction of all.

For better or for worse, sport, politics and big business are closely linked. Nowhere is this more apparent than around  sport mega-events, where political and economic agendas are omnipresent. Between Sochi and Rio de Janeiro, the year 2014 has again provided ample illustration for how the immense social reach of sport is instrumentalised for global soft power politics but also for domestic political choices in favour of neoliberal policies, often to the detriment of social, environmental and urbanistic sustainability.

Even Thomas Bach, the ever-cautious president of the International Olympic Committee, recently admitted, in a surprising access of candour, that

‘Sports must acknowledge its relationship to politics and big business and work with those who run global society while still maintaining its neutrality.’ (1)

But what does ‘maintaining its neutrality’ really mean? Decisions made by sports governing bodies are never neutral: whenever they attribute a major event to an applicant federation (behind which there is invariably a political leader), they either give in to the attempts of instrumentalisation by big business and politics or, at very rare moments of courage, make a political statement which by definition cannot be neutral.

Last week a coincidence of calendar gave, once more, evidence for the fact that the claimed neutrality of sport governing bodies inevitably comes out as fake neutrality. While Ukrainian top-club Shakhtar Donetsk is forced, for reasons known to all, to play this week’s Champions League fixture against FC Porto in Lviv (situated 1 200 km from its home stadium, the Donbass Arena, which was badly damaged this summer), the UEFA Executive Committee decided to award four matches of the European Championship 2020, to be held in thirteen different cities across the continent, to Saint Petersburg.

Are the members of the Executive Committee only aware that they are sending out a message? True, they were hostage to a self-imposed geographical balance for this event, which forced them to select bids from the regional zone called ‘East’, and Minsk would hardly have been a better choice in political terms. But would it not have been possible to exclude Russia and ‘satellite’ states politely from this bid on the ground that Russie will already host the 2018 World Cup, with matches dispesed all across its huge territory?

Of course, it would have been possible. Just like it was possible, as Middle East expert James Dorsey has convincingly argued, to persuade Turkey behind closed doors to withdraw its initially well-considered application because of what had happened during the Gezi park protests.

What does Saint Petersburg have that Istanbul does not have? The answer is: Gazprom. And the dozens of million Euros it bestows upon both UEFA (as partner of the Champions League) and FIFA (partner of all competitions 2015-2018). Money that prompts sport leaders to continue ‘business as usual’.

When informed about the outcome of the Euro2020 host cities selection process, Vitaly Mutko, Russian minister for sport and, of course, present at the signatures of Gazprom sponsorship contracts with international sport bodies, openly showed his relief by acknowledging that ‘there was a chance that because of the current political situation, the authorities would refuse to let us host matches’. Only to set things straight again, adding ‘But we are really happy that the world of sport and politics are kept separate.’ (2)

UEFA, sadly, missed an opportunity to show boldly that they are not.

(1) Speech held at Incheon, South Korea, on the occasion of the Asian Games.

(2) quoted by Reuters

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts - No comment

September 13, 2014

The Europeanisation of US football

Guest contribution by Keith Rathbone, PhD candidate in French social and cultural history at Northwestern University. A previous contribution of Keith on players’ mobility was published by this blog in April.

Jürgen Klinsmann and Julian Green: American citizens communicating in German?

When Julian Green, the young Bayern Munich prospect, agreed to play internationally for the United States, knowledgeable American football fans cheered. Many others, however, raised concerns about his right to play for the United States. Although he was born in Tampa, and thus had American citizenship, he passed his whole childhood in Berlin with his German mother. The situation only got worse when Green spoke on television to ESPN to explain his decision. His imperfect English and stilted manner of speaking further alienated him in the minds of a vocal few that believed it would be a travesty for him to don the red, white, and blue jersey. Disquiet about his presence rose to such a level that Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, felt compelled to issue a statement regarding the background of the Team USA players. ‘I don’t agree with (the criticism),’ Gulati said, ‘nothing about that makes those players any less American. It would be pretty hard to convince me that they have less right to play for our country. It’s a globalized world.’

Gulati’s remarks were well founded in the history of the US Men’s National Team: Green is hardly the first European to play for the United States. A closer examination of when ‘Europeans’ played for the US illustrates the successive waves of immigration to American shores and reveals the important role of the coach in shaping the character of the team.

Immigrants from Europe have played a key role on American soccer teams from the beginnings of international competitions. In the 1930 World Cup, the US team called up a five of Scots, including Andrew Auld, Jim Brown, Jimmy Gallagher, Bart McGhee, and Alexander Wood.  Jimmy Gallagher did not even have American citizenship. One player also came from England, George Moorhouse, who later captained the 1934 US Team in Italy. At the 1950 World Cup, when the American team beat the English 1-0, the team included players from England, Germany, Belgium, Scotland, Poland, and the former Free State of Fiume. The team captain, Ed McIlvenny, hailed from Scotland and was not a US citizen at the time of the match with England, although he had declared his intention to become one.

Unfortunately for American football fans, the channel of European talent to American shores dried up after the end of Second World War. The start of the economic boom in Europe shrunk the number of young, immigrant football players. The multitude of Europeans had given way to rough, home grown journeymen such as Paul Caligiuri, John Kerr, and Bruce Murrey. The US Men’s National Team reached did not reach the World Cup again until 1994.

Throughout the 1990s, the United States haphazardly invited Europeans, usually sons of American servicemen. On a few occasions, these naturalisations ended in disaster. David Regis, a French player who had not participated in qualification became part of the team right before the 1998 World Cup. His presence arguably hurt Team USA as they started him in the place of the popular Jeff Agoos. Locker room chemistry suffered and the US finished in last place.

The latest World Cup, however, brought a more intelligent naturalisation and increased visibility of European-born players. German Jürgen Klinsmann, the first non-American U.S. Men’s National Team coach in recent years, quickly restored the European pipeline. He sought out players with connections, however tenuous, to the United States and encouraged them to play for their adoptive homeland. For Klinsmann these European players, principally German, brought a measure of class and experience. In the 2014 World Cup, the American side brought along John Brooks, Tim Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, and Julian Green, all German-American bi-nationals.

For decades, Europe principally benefited from the movement of football talent across the globe as talented players from the colonies immigrated back to the Metropole to find sporting glory. The growing number of European-born players on the American team heralds a new trend of football globalisation. Talent now drains from the centre of the football universe (Europe) into its peripheries (North America, Africa, and the Middle East). Team USA in particular looks poised to ‘steal’ even more skilled players such as Gedion Zelalem (Hertha Berlin) but it’s hardly the only country to benefit from this transmigration. Many African teams have been benefiting from it for more than a decade. It is hard to know what the long terms effects of this reverse migration might be but it is certain that right now the academies of Europe’s top clubs and the national technical centers are training the very players who are most likely to threaten and undermine European hegemony in the game.

Keith Rathbone

Post by : FREE-TEAM in the category : Posts - No comment

September 7, 2014

Of ruthless panzers, fake luxury cars, and impotent eagles

1990 - The classical Panzer

Football has always been a major producer of stereotypes. The invention of ‘national playing styles’ at the beginning of 20th century drew, inevitably, massively on extra-sportive stereotypes accumulated over the centuries and safely stored in national narratives of perception and self-perception. The fact that for over a century, football discourse has been produced (and endlessly repeated) mainly within almost hermetically closed linguistic and cultural areas only contributed to consolidate stereotypical images and vocabulary, often against better knowledge.

But stereotypes can change, too, even if it takes time and repetitive counter-evidence. Some of the literature from social psychology draws a clear distinction between stereotype and prejudice, the difference being that the former may be weakened or even turned around and the latter is essentially immune to change.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts - No comment