Archive for the category : Public Sphere
February 25, 2017
I am very worried for València CF. 15th in the table of La Liga, with only 23 points, that gives an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding. They won’t go so far as to be relegated to secunda división, will they?
I have to admit, though, that I don’t have any sentiments for this club. Quite the contrary: in my humble opinion, it shouldn’t even exist anymore since it was bailed out with the public money of the autonomous region of Valencia, who kindly paid the bill left by a period of megalomaniac mismanagement. But then there is this charming Spanish colleague, and his boys, and I know very well what it would mean to them to see Valencia CF relegated. As a result, I can’t help it, I’m worried.
And this is not the only club whose results I fretfully look up each weekend. How could I possibly remain insensitive to my elder brother’s life-long attachment to FC Cologne, a chaotic club that does not even deserve the amazing dedication of its numerous supporters (crowds of 50,000 when they played in second division…). Well, I’m sincerely happy to see that ‘der effzeh’ is currently enjoying an almost unprecedented stability, clinging to its surprising 7th rank in the Bundesliga table. Reading the report of their latest match (which I did not have the slightest interest in) and thinking of my brother, I am pouring with great satisfaction my Sunday morning breakfast coffee in my favourite mug, the red-and-white one with the ridiculous billy goat, the FC’s emblem.
I don’t give and receive many phone calls with my new Smartphone (a Christmas gift after years of resistance). But it allows me in no time to learn about the latest news from Nottingham Forest FC, a club that annoyed me massively at the end of the 70s when they won their two European Cups. Today, they vegetate in the Championship, sold to a dubious owner from Koweit – well done for them! If only there was not this good friend lost in the Midlands, season-ticket holder of City Ground and fervent promotor of the NFFC supporters’ trust. Not to mention this smart and cultivated ‘Brussels technocrat’ who went so far as to adorn his European blog with a self-made logo that only the initiated are able to identify as a subtle blend of the Atomium and the NFFC crest. Because of these two guys, I surprise myself wondering at the beginning of each season if this years, perhaps, who knows…
I don’t have to worry much for Beşiktaş. Easy to follow, and heading for another title, no doubt this year. Great, I am very pleased and have a fond thought for the gentleman who taught me all I need to know about the big three from Istanbul and why ‘BJK’ really stood out, especially politically. But what is happening to Gençlerbirliği Spor Kulübü? You don’t know this club? Shame on you! It’s understandable though: not exactly a serial champion, five different coaches in 2015-16 only, lost in the football desert of Ankara. Of no interest really. But knowing the affection that some friends have for them, and being aware of the fact that the ‘Stadium of 19 May’ (my birthday!) may be the last place left in the Turkish capital where you can shout things that you better not say out loud elsewhere, … One of them, a humanist intellectual and renowned editorialist, sent me a photo of himself, standing in the terraces under the April rain of 2001, when his beloved red-and-black won the Cup. Surely one of the best days of his life. How could I not check out how Gençlerbirliği are doing? (Let me reassure you: they still have a buffer of six points to the relegation zone).
And this is still not all! What on earth do I care for Torino? If I only think of their ludicrous (albeit original) maroon club colour… And I don’t even care that much anymore for Italian football. But then, remembering the crest as desktop wallpaper of this renowned French historian’s laptop, it becomes an obligation to have a quick look at the no man’s land of Serie A’s table. Boring, but mandatory.
And the worst curse of all is – of course! – PSG. It remains a mystery to me how this club can be followed with as much passion by so many intelligent and kind people who should know better! And now I have this large smile on my face after the 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona, thinking of their unbearable bliss at the sheer quality of the game, and hear myself say ‘Finally!’ Is that me? How low can you get? Is there no limit ?
These people steal my time! They impose on me these warm transnational bonds I am unable to escape. I had not asked for anything, and now they cost me a good half-hour on various screens each and every weekend!
But revenge is sweet. To think that because of me they need to dive into the abysmal depth of the second Bundesliga to find out how stupid old VfB Stuttgart are doing against famous opponents like ‘Sandhausen’ or ‘Heidenheim’… Ha! Take this!
A slightly shorter version in French was published
by Le Monde in its 25 February 2017 edition.
Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Public Sphere - No Comment
November 18, 2016
My football book of the year is, I’m afraid, written in German. It’s the result of three years of field research carried out by Ronny Blaschke, a freelance journalist, independent in the best sense of the word. Its original title ‘Gesellschaftsspielchen’ (don’t even try to pronounce this) may be literally translated by ‘small board games’ but probably best rendered by something like ‘Playing the social game’. The book, released by the well-known publisher Die Werkstatt (Göttingen), is a journey through the social engagement of professional football and the multiple forms it can take.
Through a large number of encounters and field reports the book opens a large and, for the German case, rather exhaustive perspective on the vast variety of initiatives aiming – sometimes without knowing it – at implementing the principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Very often this happens in close collaboration with actors of civil society or with public institutions like municipalities, schools, hospitals or prisons.
Actions in favour of social inclusion or vocational integration, health and nutrition, urban development or even political education (such as increasing historical awareness or fighting against discrimination, for instance) – the sheer array of initiatives is more than impressive.
Except that all this looks like an uncoordinated patchwork.
Except that the expenditures are not at all commensurate with the income.
Except that you can’t help but wonder whether all this is based on a genuine recognition of social responsibility or rather designed as a fig-leaf.
Philanthropic sprinkling, that’s what it is in its current state and scope. Efforts are no doubt sincere, but not based on a global concept or holistic strategy. And somewhat meagre: in Germany, the total proportion of voluntary CSR action by football clubs represents 0.61% of the overall turnover of professional football (€ 2.62 bn in 2015, one billion of which went into players’ and coaches’ salaries only). In England, to which the book’s last chapter is dedicated, the proportion is hardly any higher: what is a total of € 78 million of CSR-related expenses in the largest sense (as communicated for the 2015/16 season, p. 269) compared to the 20 million that Manchester United presumably had to pay to Paul Pogba’s agent (who credibly claims he is no longer even ‘driven by money’)?
The best thing about the book is its tone. Ronny Blaschke does not take the part of the prosecutor accusing the ‘greedy football business’ (as the French love to do). The approach he adopts towards his over eighty very different interlocutors and the organisations they represent is marked by an attitude of critical empathy that allows him to dig deeper without prejudice or bias. He thus manages to bring to light the schizophrenia (or cognitive dissonance, if you prefer) of professional football clubs, who are increasingly aware of the social and environmental responsibility as large SMEs moving millions around, while at the same time being almost relieved to see themselves as prisoners of the ‘market mechanisms of global football’ that offer such a cosy excuse, even for intelligent and open-minded people like Reinhard Rauball, president of Borussia Dortmund and the DFL (p. 165), who at the same time recognises that there is a problem if ‘one fourth of TV rights revenues now go directly to players’ agents’.
Blaschke’s approach also reveals the sheer negligence of the media, so much occupied with staging and selling the spectacle that they become indifferent to its social stakes and impact.
The patient and meticulous field work on which this book is based – and which could serve as inspiration to some ‘football intellectuals’, if you grant me this aside – does not result in high-standing moral lecturing. Quite the contrary: Blaschke limits himself to asking the right questions. For instance, whether it is not too easy to ‘outsource’ social engagement into foundations (often understaffed and underfunded) rather than put CSR into the very heart of the corporate structures, in form of transversal departments that irrigate the entire strategic management. He also wonders whether it would be really so complicated for the leagues to impose on their clubs a minimum CSR investment threshold of one tiny little per cent of their annual turnover. In one of the interviews, Dietmar Hopp, the SAP founder-billionaire who has made his childhood club Hoffenheim into a premium address of German football, actually suggests ‘3% as appropriate’, before recognising right away that this would ‘ provoke an outcry’, p. 125). You can almost see this philanthropist (who has actually put much more money into cancer research and health infrastructure than into football) shrug his shoulders at the mentality of corporate football.
In quite a few countries football is a booming business. Its actors tend to forget that it is a profit-oriented sector whose very success is entirely dependent on a non-economic social need that was initially addressed by civil society associations (called ‘clubs’). Today these clubs have become full-fledged corporate organisations and it’s time they understand that their level of social responsibility has changed. Those who are in charge of these corporate players should take the time to read Ronny Blaschke’s excellent book. Maybe they would share my premonition that the football of the future would be well advised to give back to society a fair share of its totally disproportionate revenues. For professional football, embracing social and environmental sustainability will simply be a question of saving its soul.
This post was also published in French as column for Le Monde.
Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Football Politics, Governance, Public Sphere - No Comment
December 10, 2015
‘Vanity Fair, where you light on the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful:
where you may be gentle and pathetic, or savage and cynical with perfect propriety…’
Vanity Fair, Chapter XVII
In the middle of the 19th century, William Makepeace Thackeray published a long serialised novel in the satirical magazine Punch, which he named Vanity Fair. He borrowed his title from John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), where ‘Vanity Fair’ is one of the stations on the journey of redemption towards the ‘Celestial City’. It may be assumed that W.M. Thackeray chose this title because it not only allowed him to resume his vision of the human condition in a snappy expression but at the same time positioned himself as a detached and sarcastic observer of the human species, made up by individuals frantically running around in their absurd search for self-esteem and pride.
What would he say today on watching an event like the European football championship? Would he see, like in his famous novel, a ‘vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions’ or would he be inclined to show more leniency in his judgement? Would he point out, with the biting irony that characterised his writing, the excessive proportions of this mega-event ? Would he see nothing but a big bustling fair of stereotypes upheld against better knowledge, a carnival of emotions shamelessly unleashed in public, a festival of the permanently noisy display of imaginary loyalties?
Or would he detect, behind the Babylonian confusion, the joyful celebration of an extraordinary game and the simple pleasure of the masses to find themselves, for once, united by shared passion?
William Makepeace Thackeray never knew modern football. He died at age fifty-two, in December 1863 in London, exactly at the same moment where, at the other end of town, the eleven representatives of pioneering football clubs and schools were about to come to an agreement on the rules of this new game which they had set out to codify a few weeks earlier. If he had attended one of their meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Covent Garden, could he only have imagined what kind of ‘vanity fair’ this new sport would produce one and a half centuries later?
It is perfectly possible, though, that the Victorian novelist, had he been miraculously ‘beamed’ to the Poland of 2012, would not have felt out of place. After all, he certainly was, together with the London society of his times and his famous colleagues Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë or Lewis Carroll, an arduous visitor of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first ever ‘World Fair’. A genuine mega-event avant la lettre, hosted in the spectacular ‘Crystal Palace’ which received his nickname from the satirical plumes of Punch, where Thackeray had just published his novel. One may therefore assume that the great writer would readily engage in dressing parallels between the ‘Great Exhibition’ of 1851 and the great European football exhibition of 2012. Both can be perceived as great opportunities for the host nations to showcase their achievements and indulge in a good dose of self-celebration – a ‘Vanity Fair’ in the crudest sense of the word. He would no doubt be impressed by the number of travellers converging on the host cities from all over the continent. True, he might be intrigued by the fact that the centre of interest of this huge fair was only a ball game, and a rather simple one at that. But then again, would it not only be logical that the industrial machines and inventions of the 19th century were finally replaced as the object of worship by something even more trivial or ‘vain’? As a matter of fact, it would only strengthen his point about the inherent stupidity of mankind, a vision that left him, in his own words, ‘more melancholy than mirthful’.
It is striking to see to what extent the great literary works of the 19th and early 20th century may provide us with keys for the understanding of contemporary society. If these novels and their characters still have something to say about the society we are living in, it is not only because their authors had outstanding skills of psychological empathy with their protagonists, but also because the psycho-social programming of the human mind, its desires, fears and aspirations, do not seem to have changed that much since the days of Thackeray. Large social groups still have the same hunger for collective pride, which is still mainly satisfied through the identification with nation-states. They still have the same need for the ‘social self-love’ that Emile Durkheim considered inseparable from the very existence of nation-states; they still have the same urge to claim their community’s singularity that Isaiah Berlin identified as one of the most irrepressible drives of modern history.
Our new book on The European Football Championship brings together seven different accounts of visitors to the ‘Vanity Fair of European Football’ that took place in Poland and Ukraine in summer 2012. What they have in common despite their different national origins and their respective focus of interest is the impression of witnessing a period of transition and uncertainty. A period in which feelings of belonging are still framed by the stronghold of national identity, but where loyalties and identifications, but also dominant ideologies, are permanently negotiated and even publicly debated. A moment in time where representations of self and other are increasingly fluid, but where ‘blind spots’ stubbornly persist. A phase in which collective stereotypes, self-perceptions and ‘vanities’ are considerably weakened by large-scale phenomena like migration, cultural globalisation and supranational integration.
The ‘Vanity Fair of European Football’ thus reveals itself as an ideal laboratory for the social scientist, where individuals and groups converge to redefine themselves and interact with each other, where, as Thackeray said, ‘the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful’ are laid out before the eyes of the researcher. It is certainly a place that William Makepeace Thackeray would have very much appreciated visiting. Behind his sarcastic description of the manifold weaknesses and follies of the human species that he examined like a biologist examines insects under his magnifying glass, Thackeray had a great compassion for their vain pursuits. With such interest for detail, capacity for empathy, and sense of humour, he would most certainly have made an excellent football anthropologist.
More on the book here.
An interview with the co-editors here.
Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities, Public Sphere - No Comment
July 2, 2014
Part 2 by Nina Szogs
FIFA, by refraining from punishing Mexican fans for using homophobic chants during the World Cup match against Cameroon – despite claiming to have a zero-tolerance policy, missed an important moment to take action against discrimination in football.
“Football fans against homophobia”
Discussing the lack of awareness
In 2006, Pilz et al., for the German Bundesliga, argued that whereas racism has to some extent become part of a critical discourse in football stadia, homophobic and also sexist chants are often perceived as a legitimate part of football fan culture. Today, during the World Cup, we can observe that homophobia, similar to racism and sexism, is still an immense problem on and off the pitch. Not only have Mexican fans been accused of homophobic chants, but also Russian and Croatian fans were seen displaying racist and homophobic banners. Missing the chance to publicly condemn these discriminating practices during an international tournament like the World Cup, and make people worldwide aware of them, is one of FIFA’s great failures.
Post by : Nina Szogs in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment
June 30, 2014
Part 1 by Alexandra Schwell
“Football’s Dark Side: Corruption, Homophobia, Violence and Racism in the Beautiful Game” – this is the title of a new book written by Ellis Cashmore and Jamie Cleland. The authors contend that “Football may yet be the last major sport to boast that it harbours no prejudices”. However, they say, it “stands to reason that in a sport played by about 200,000 professionals, only a few have declared themselves to be gay”. Hence they conclude: “It can be reasonably assumed that football is a prohibitive environment for gay people”.
To be clear, Cashmore and Cleland are not accusing football of being an extraordinary homophobic, racist, or violent sport when compared to other sports, such as boxing. If we share the view that the social forces and power that create the distribution of economic, cultural, and social capital, and thus opportunities within society, come to the fore and are negotiated in football, then we should take a look at how this wider society links to the activity around and on the football pitch.
Let us take a random, but rather recent, example: In November 2013 a teacher in Baden-Württemberg, Germany launched an online petition and attempted to obtain enough signatures to oppose the ministry of education’s 2015 state curriculum. The new and highly contested curriculum includes a controversial section, which requires that the schools are expected to advance their pupils’ understanding of “gender diversity” across all disciplines.
Post by : Nina Szogs in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment
December 2, 2013
So, yesterday, Paris Saint-Germain started their game against Olympique Lyonnais without a single French player? And this attracted a great lot of attention. This is hardly surprising since the number of foreign players in club teams is a staple of the media. It is more surprising the topic is still attracting media & public attention, since this is hardly the first time. English club Chelsea first did it on Boxing Day 1999. In France, OM did it on 8 August 2003 & Arsenal played with an all-foreign squad (11 players who start the game plus all the potential substitutes) on Valentine Day 2005. It is also surprising, since after a few years of researching the issue for a PhD at the University of Cambridge (Trinity Hall & Centre of International Studies), it appeared very clearly to me that the presence of foreign players in a team is actually a non-issue for the supporters of the club.
To sum up quickly the results presented in my book Foreign Supporters and Football Players: The Old Firm, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain (an abridged version of my PhD published upon joining ESSCA), supporters are on the whole very happy with foreign players because:
(a) The identity of club is rarely national : it is above all local – this may come as a shocking surprise to some but a player from Manchester is as ‘foreign’ to an Arsenal supporter as a player from France or Sénégal ; & in some case it is even worse to come from the territory of a team seen as an ‘enemy’ than from abroad. Ask a PSG supporter whether they’d rather have a Marseilles-through-and-through player or a player of equal sporting value from Germany? Of course, players which have similar roots as the supporters are on the whole more supported: this why Ashley Cole’s leaving for Chelsea was seen as a betrayal for a majority of Arsenal fans. For an Arsenal, he was ‘one of us who made it, who accomplished our dream’. For that reason, there is little doubt that Mamadou Sakho or Adrien Rabiot attract more support from PSG fans than some other players with no link with PSG, Paris or its suburbs.
Post by : Dàvid RANC in the category : Governance, Identities, Memory, Public Sphere - 1 comment
November 24, 2013
France-Ukraine on Tuesday night was more than just a football game: it was also a singing contest. The star of the evening was the ‘Marseillaise’. The ‘official’ version before kick-off was followed by a minimum of six or seven spontaneous intonations during the match, and eventually topped well after the final whistle by Olivier Giroud, when he grasped the stadium speaker’s microphone and invited his teammates to howl yet another one.
The French national choir's stunning performance of the Marseillaise.
The unexpected Marseillaise performance was part of the reconciliation efforts by a team that had been so much criticised for not ‘loving the blue jersey’ and that was longing for redemption. Touching, really.
At the same time, there was something very desperate about this insistent invocation of the national symbol. As if the Marseillaise was the only common language between the players and the public. A function which is no doubt facilitated by the fact that its belligerent lyrics – about ‘impure blood watering the furrows of our soil’ – have become blatantly absurd and carry no concrete meaning any more.
How times have changed! Had Michel Platini’s wonderful team of the 1980s given the same kind of post-match choral performance, they would have ridiculed themselves. In the wake of May 1968, the national symbols cherished by Gaullism were considered old-fashioned by many; the anthem’s lyrics were widely criticised, and Serge Gainsbourg even released a Reggae version called ‘Aux armes et caetera’ – provoking (and probably taking delight in) a polemic with the far-right.
Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment
October 27, 2013
Just back from the FREE conference in Vienna. And still inspired by the keynote speech given by Cornell Sandvoss and our subsequent exchange.
‘Liquid life and solid support’ – a very catchy title, which sums up in two adjectives what football may represent in our times of late modernity. Football clubs as anchors of solidity in increasingly liquid biographies, where everything – career paths, territorial belongings, even family bonds – can be put into question at any moment.
The Corinthians of the regretted Socrates even have an anchor in their crest.
Football is just one those possible anchors. You can have other “objects of transition” that you (desperately) cling to, or “ordinary passions”, as Christian Bromberger calls them. But football happens to be a very prominent one.
Perhaps precisely because of the highly polysemic character of clubs as objects of fandom. Haven’t they become – at least the biggest of them – almost empty shells into which an individual can read or interpret almost any meaning he/she wishes or needs?
There is something very artificial, illusory, sad in these projections of meaning. But for many individuals, an artificial anchor to which you can string particularist, or even essentialist, narratives is better than none. As long as football, in its different forms, is capable of helping you feel different from others, at least a little bit “special” in whatever way, decline in the breadth and intensity of fandom and supportership is little likely.
Cornell Sandvoss produced the expected good laughs among his (excellent) audience when he quoted some football fans saying that if they were in a situation where they would have to choose between their partner or their football club, well, sure, that would be regrettable, but they would no doubt have to opt for the club.
Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment
September 9, 2013
Recently in an informal discussion at Manchester’s National Football Museum a very important question was asked: what is the greatest song on football ever? Of course, our answers are limited by the number of languages we speak and the national pop cultures we have access to. There are few French songs on football worthy of note. My favourite one might be: Miossec’s « Évoluer en 3e division », a vivid account of what goes through our minds when we are confronted with our mediocrity in football. In Portuguese, Chico Buarque wrote excellent songs on football too in particular « O Futebol », but I am not a connoisseur enough of Brazilian music to pick one of them.
Picture from www.morrissey-solo.com
This would limit my research to the English-speaking domain. As we know, and without being biased at all of course (!), the best of British music has always come from second generation Irish migrants in Manchester – some would also Manchester’s distant suburb, Liverpool and Irishmen like the Beatles too, I guess. So the song has to be Mancunian.
After careful consideration, it appears to me that Morrissey’s « We’ll Let You Know » may be the strongest candidate for the « greatest song on football » title. There is no shortage of football references in Morrissey’s work, who was photographed wearing a Cantona tee-shirt, West Ham, Millwall or CD Chivas jerseys & wrote songs on the « Munich Air Disaster 1958 »_ that killed the Busby Babes, or the hilarious « Roy’s Keen ». Why single out « We’ll Let You Know », then?
Post by : Dàvid RANC in the category : Identities, Memory, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment
July 2, 2013
Much has been said & written about the role played by football fans in the protests that have taken place on Taksim square in Istanbul. As I was in the city for the two days of the Sport&EU 2013 conference. I decided to go and have a first-hand look at the situation on Taksim and the FREE blog is the ideal place to report.
I was standing a few feet away from this woman (off http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/) when the picture was taken.
Saturday 29 june, 4.30pm: I arrive on Taksim square. Fascinating: I have absolutely nothing to report. There are tourists and passers by, construction work is happening on one side of the square but there is strictly no sign of any organised form of protest. Many Turks I have met since arriving in Istanbul have indeed warned me: protests have died and nothing is happening on Taksim anymore. I try to remain discreet but I start to look more closely at the few people who seem to stay in the same place (there is not much to see or admire on Taksim, so people tend to walk through it, it seems). Most of them are street sellers. There are perhaps 4 or 5 men who do not seem to be engaging on any commercial activity. Despite my best efforts to spy with my little eye, I do not remain unnoticed. A relatively young man (perhaps in his early 30s?) walks up to me and starts talking in what English people would readily call ‘foreign’. After informing the man that I do not speak Turkish, he tells me that I look Turkish & says ‘Welcome to Istanbul’. The same has happened to me already 4 times in 3 days in Istanbul… Usually the people who did that had something to sell. Instead, this time, the young man warns me that protests will start at 5.30pm and I’d better be gone because he does not want me to watch fights or get into trouble. I immediately decide I should be there at 5.30pm when the action starts.
I pretend to leave, walk around Taksim, look at the streets off the square, check where they lead and whether they would provide a good way to escape (just in case I have to). I even make mental notes of a few places where it would be easy to hide from water cannons &c. You never know!
5.30pm. I come back to Taksim after having drunk Turkish coffee & eaten quite a few oriental pastries in a nearby street café. I am ready to see the events unfold. The place looks very different. A great number of policemen (perhaps up to 2 000) are now lining up in various parts of the square & mostly preventing access to the two areas where large crowds can gather: by the pink monument on the South side; on the large flat empty space next to the garden, which access is blocked (as it was earlier in the day). Some sort of armoured vehicle with cctv and radars on top sits there too. Taksim has become more crowded too. Tourists take pictures of themselves in front of the policemen or, amusingly of the pigeons in front of the policemen. Has the revolution become a tourist attraction, I wonder? Most importantly, the number of people who are standing and staying in the same place has increased. There are not many identifiable football supporters among them. I can spot very few jerseys from Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe or Beşiktaş, and handful from other more unlikely clubs (Celtic Glasgow, Manchester United).
Post by : Dàvid RANC in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment
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