Public Sphere | FREE - Part 2

Archive for the category : Public Sphere

June 25, 2013

Language skills required

Europeans enjoy freedom of movement, but they don’t make enough use of it. The European labour market could benefit tremendously from a higher degree of mobility. If it was not for the language barrier. But in times of crisis, people – especially qualified young people from Southern Europe – no longer hesitate to accept the challenge.

Even if that means learning German. Which is the case for an increasing number of Spaniards. The language courses in the ‘Goethe-Institute’ between Barcelona and Sevilla have been reporting record registrations for three years already. Almost 30,000 Spanish citizens have emigrated to Germany in 2012. According to the federal office of statistics this represents an increase of roughly 50% for the second year in a row. Contrary to their predecessors of the German ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ in the 1960s and 70s, most of them are highly qualified. And whatever their destination – a big multinational like Daimler-Benz in an international city, or one of these innovative Mittelstand champions with a factory in the middle of nowhere – many of them report that the language issue is key to integration (next to putting up with very different meal times and a lesser dose of sunshine).

Two highly-skilled Spanish migrants: Pep Guardiola, 42, from Catalunya, famous football coach, Bayern Munich; Alba Morell, 25, from Galicia, young engineer, Daimler-Benz.

But none of them had to face a language test like the most famous of these migrants did yesterday: Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach who signed for Champions League winner Bayern Munich, mastered a one-hour press conference in the Allianz-Arena, live on television in front of a jury of 240 international journalists and, later that same day, thousands of YouTube users.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

May 13, 2013

Fergie’s times

Last week, the announcement of Alex Ferguson’s retirement dwarfed all other news on planet football. Was there a single European media who did not duly pay its tribute?

No need to reproduce here the list of all the titles and trophees or to add yet another analysis of what allowed him to reach such an outstanding longevity in the fast-moving football business (during Ferguson’s years at United, Real Madrid used 26 different coaches, Bayern Munich 18).

Ferguson's retirement makes the headlines.

It is interesting, though, to note that the twenty-year time span since his first championship win with United, corresponds to the two decades of accelerated internationalisation of European football, which we have called a ‘paradigm shift’ elsewhere.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

May 3, 2013

The tempting parallels

‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’, L’Equipe asked its readers on Thursday morning, noting that this ‘might be helpful when following the Champions League final’. In his daily column, Didier Braun already announced, very tongue-in-cheek, for the eve of the final the inevitable wave of editorials likely to draw on the parallels between Germany’s domination of the Eurozone and the Bundesliga’s surprising hold-up on European football. He is right: editorialists and intellectuals love to establish such parallels. Of course, it is always tempting to interpret football as a mirror of politics and to establish links between what happens on the pitch and in international relations. Needless to point out that the temptation becomes irresistible when Germany is concerned.

L'Equipe and Le Point, both on sale on 2 May 2013.

It is understandable that media seek to exploit the symbolic potential of football, especially on a European level. And it is only natural that in the current political configuration Germany is the object of extrasportive allusions and references in the press. Especially when its main opponent on the pitch is Spain, another symbolic key player in both the economic and financial crisis and European football.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

January 29, 2013

The birth of the Panenka

Guest contribution by Didier Braun, the living memory of France’s great sports daily L’Equipe. Didier is the author of the daily column La lucarne’ and, more recently, of the wonderful book Mon armoire à maillots (‘My Cupboard full with Football Jerseys’), which will be worth a blog post in its own right. During Euro 2012 he wrote a memory piece about each of the 16 participating teams. The article below, published in the 12 June issue, was one of them. It echoes Borja García’s ‘deconstruction’ blogpost of April, completing it in a nice way.

1976, BELGRADE. – Like all legends, the legend of football is often written and embellished long after the facts. Today, the ‘panenka’ is part of the legendary narrative of the European Championship.

What is it? It is this cheeky, impertinent way of shooting a penalty whose finest technical description was given by Jean-Philippe Réthacker in France Football, on the day after a Euro 1980 qualifier between Czechoslovakia and France (2-0, on 4 April 1979), where Antonín Panenka fooled Dominique Dropsy this way that consists in

‘darting very quickly towards the ball, letting people expect a strong shot, stopping brutally when transferring weight onto the back foot, hooking the ball with a spoon-like shot, and using a sort of lob, whose slow, swirling trajectory completely fools the opposite goalkeeper’.

In this article, Réthacker was not referring to a ‘panenka’, but to a ‘dead leave’, an old stock phrase formerly used to illustrate the free kicks of Brasilian Didi and, further back in time, the French international player of Austrian descent, Henri Hiltl.

Belgrade, 20 June 1976. Sepp Maier has not forgotten.

It is in this way that Panenka, in the Belgrade final of the 1976 European Championship gave Czechoslovakia the title against the great team of the Federal Republic of Germany, master of the world since 1974 and holder of the European title since 1972. This was the first time that a major international victory was won on penalty shoot-outs (2-2, 5-3 on shootouts). Panenka was also the last player to take a shot. The great Sepp Maier has not forgotten.

But very few people talked about this novel technique on the spot. This was 1976, not 2012, when any prank is looped on TV, echoed by millions of clicks on the web, copied, pasted, tweeted, ‘youTubed’.

Post by : GUEST in the category : Competitions, History, Memory, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

January 22, 2013

A hand-shake

Third and final part of the little French-German blogpost trilogy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty.

Bernard Chenez

Chenez is one of these cartoonists who are capable in no time to condense the essence of an event into a drawing, brilliantly highlighting its humorous, sometimes ridiculous aspects. And he is one of the rare masters of his craft who has devoted the largest part of his work to commenting on contemporary sport. For a quarter of a century already his cartoons have figured prominently in L’Equipe, many of them excellent editorials without words. Not surprising that this blog has already abused of his kind authorisation to use his drawings for non-commercial, purely academic purposes.

Caricatures, of course, use stereotypical shortcuts in order to be understood as quickly as possible by the largest number of readers. Eleven or twelve years ago, I asked Bernard Chenez whether we could have a talk about the stereotypes he used for national football teams. He welcomed me very nicely in his office at L’Equipe and, being confronted with a series of his own cartoons from previous world cups, admitted to being surprised how often he had actually given in to the temptation of always referring to the same, sometimes ‘cheap’ images: the Brazilian forward, obviously, portrayed as Samba dancer and the German defender, just as obviously, in a ‘Panzer’.  Concerning the latter, he said he wouldn’t use it any more, simply because it was utterly outdated. And he kept his promise: at the 2002 World Cup, German coach Rudi Völler was no longer driving a tank, but a … Mercedes!

While we were talking about football’s paradoxical power of both reinforcing national identities and bringing people together, he noticed that I had his latest “review of the sports year” with me and asked me to hand it to him to sign it. And, keeping the conversation, he drew the little cartoon below, adding a gently surrealist, but still meaningful text.

There could not be a better moment to dig this lovely hand-shake out of my archives than the 50th anniversary of a surprisingly successful and lasting treaty of friendship.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

December 22, 2012

The human factor and the big picture

Guest contribution by Bartosz Wiśniewski, research assistant to the FREE team in Poznan and currently writing his master thesis on media-created football fandom image. Bartek recently attended the conference ‘Football: Politics of the Global Game’ organised by Faculty of Journalism and Political Science of the University of Warsaw.

Bringing together global and local perspectives on a widespread sociocultural phenomenon is a difficult task. Is it even possible to examine globality and locality with the same tools? Of course not, which is why interdisciplinarity is essential. But are qualitative and quantitative methods really commensurate? If you leave out the former, you reduce your study to statistics and will hardly escape harmful generalisation, losing sight of the human beings that are behind the figures. On the other hand, if you abandon quantitative methods, you reduce your work to a somewhat simple comparison of two or more mainly local communities, which excludes the big picture you also need for understanding the phenomenon.

Similar things can be said about political research, especially when it focuses on discourse analysis. Discursive structures are important only when they also manage to take into account the human factor on the level of the individual.

Identity research, a favourite topic for anthropologists, also often leads to dramatic misinterpretation. The main dangers are “essentialisation” of what in fact are rather mobile and fluid identification processes, which in turns produces over-interpretation through extrapolation of individual cases. Without intelligent triangulation of your research you run the risk of developing elegantly named, but rather meaningless categories that in principle stand for nothing more than a rather artificial classification of observations.

Post by : FREE-TEAM in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

December 12, 2012

Why cheer for OHL or the auri-negros?

We have an idea of what makes supporters fill Old Trafford, the Parc des Princes or the Allianz-Arena. We also know that Anfield Road, Santiago Bernabeu or the Arena auf Schalke are, despite their impressive capacities, actually too small and could easily welcome even more spectators each week. But what about less glamourous stadia in championships where you are not going to see Rooney, Ronaldo or Ribéry, but players with rather obscure names that are far from the Champions League spotlights? What are the main motivations of fans to turn up each week?

Take for instance ‘Den Dreef’ and the ‘Estádio Municipal de Aveiro’. Just in case you were not familiar with these names, they are home to the Oud-Heverlee Leuven (OHL) and the Sport Clube de Beira-Mar (also called the ‘aurio-negros’), both playing in the 1st division of Belgium and Portugal respectively. Mariana de Carvalho, a young researcher who is completing a PhD at the University of Porto and the KU Leuven, decided to study the motivations of spectators in these two cities that are rather comparable in size and population, whose clubs are comparable in standing within their national league, but which have very different infrastructures. While Aveiro has been offered an oversized state-of-the-art stadium with a capacity of over 30,000 for the 2004 European Championship,the ‘OHL’ can only dream of such facilities: Den Dreef has a capacity of 7,000 and the ‘OHL’ faces the same dilemma as many Belgian clubs: if they want to have more spectators, they would need more attractive and more comfortable stadia, but in order to be able to build such stadia, they would need more potential spectators to start with.

Fans of the auri-negros.

Mariana has carried out field work in both cities in order to find out what weight different factors had in the motivation of young spectators to attend matches in the stadium while they could sit at home and watch Ibrahimovic or Iniesta on television. Her main objective is to determine how important ‘sportscape perception’, i.e. the perceived quality of the physical environment of the stadium including the services offered, is in comparison to more classical factors such as team identification, place attachment or other sociological motives (such as socialisation, fan performance, excitement, peer group esteem etc.).

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

December 7, 2012

From mega-event to multi-event

As the readers of this blog know well, the FREE project has decided to organise eight different events in eight different European cities. It seems that Michel Platini and the UEFA executive committee have taken inspiration on this scheme of intelligent decentralisation. For the sixtieth anniversary of Henri Delaunay’s invention, the Euro will not be hosted in one single country (as in 1996 and 2004), or two neighbouring ones (as in 2000, 2008 or 2012), but all across Europe in 12 or more different cities.

True enough, with 24 participating teams the whole thing is somewhat larger than the FREE project, which only counts 9. And while our consortium’s travel budget is well provided for by the European Commission’s generous support, the potential fans of Euro2020 already started to complain in internet forums and football chat rooms about the distances when Michel Platini started to float the idea at the end of June.

But that’s not really an argument. At Euro2012 you could possibly travel from Poznan to Donezk and cover a distance of approximately 2000 km, which is significantly longer than Milan-Madrid or Manchester-Munich (without even mentioning the distances to be covered in FIFA’s next World Cup host nations Brazil and Russia…). Moreover, Europe is, after all, the paradise of budget airlines and high-speed trains, which football fans already extensively use during regular Champions League seasons.

There will be lots of spontaneous criticism all over the web: UEFA takes the magic out of the championship, the show-case effect for host nations will be lost, the atmosphere will go down the drain,  etc. etc. But these objections are mainly due to the online zeitgeist of permanent distrust in governance institutions and elite-bashing by principle.

As a matter of fact, the idea is excellent, especially in terms of sustainability. Europe already has a wonderful infrastructure of football stadia all over the place – why charge a future host nation to build oversized arenas (and hotel capacities) in peripheral cities without regular tenant that may have little use for them after the tournament and remain heavy liabilities on the home cities’ tight budgets. Or does anyone believe that Lviv (2012), Klagenfurt (2008) or Leiria (2004) will be, over the coming seasons, home to many exciting football highlights with packed terraces? ‘Play the Game’ has made the absurdity of such buildings very clear in their World Stadium Index, and Gosia Kowalska also asks interesting questions about the long-term  legacy and legitimacy of mega-events.

'Politicians ask the question. Football gives the answer!' Cartoon by Chenez (L'Equipe) published on the 50th anniversary of the European Cup.

Of course, one can easily understand that the Turkish federation is disappointed (and was the only one to vote against the project yesterday). This was to be their Euro, finally. On the other hand, the UEFA decision will perhaps give their simultaneous Olympic bid more credibility and increase its chances. And, who knows, maybe UEFA will be elegant enough to schedule the semi-finals and the final in Istanbul. This would not only be a nice nostalgic reminder of the initial format of the Euro tournament before it was blown up to 8, 16 and now 24 participants, but also a rather appropriate symbolic gesture with a championship played out all over Europe and converging for the final showdown in Turkey.

One way or another, UEFA deserves credit to have the courage to leave well-trodden paths and switch from a logic of mega-events to one of a ‘multi-event’. The European Championship will thus become an embodiment of the oft-quoted motto ‘Unity in Diversity’. UEFA claims it will be an exception, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became the rule.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

December 4, 2012

Football’s come some way

Five years ago, in December 2007, I went to a workshop organised at Sciences Po Grenoble by the small but dynamic European Studies Section of the venerable French Association of Political Sciences. The very detailed call for papers had asked for contributions on ‘Likes and Dislikes between Europeans’, listing a whole series of possible topical approaches, none of which included sports or football. I nevertheless decided to present a paper on the affective dimension of our favourite ‘European Passion’ and was pleasantly surprised not only to see it accepted but even very warmly welcomed at the conference itself.

I was even more surprised one year later that Politique européenne, no doubt one of the best European Studies journal on the market, should indeed accept and publish my paper on football. But had anybody told me then that it would one day even publish an entire special issue on ‘The European Space of Football’, I would hardly have believed my ears.

But there’s no denying it: issue 36 of Politique européenne has the word ‘football’ on its cover. I have to pay homage to William Gasparini (Strasbourg) and Jean-François Polo (Rennes) for having convinced the editorial board of the relevance and timeliness of their topic. And the special issue they deliver provides for interesting reading.

It opens with an introductory article by the two editors that distinguishes between the two different angles from which the constitution of a European space of football is studied. On the one hand, there is an institutional approach focusing mainly on the impact of regulatory measures taken increasingly on a transnational or supranational level. On the other hand, there are case studies that deal with what is aptly named ‘the variable geometry of identification’ (p. 16), i.e. the symbolic space constructed by individual and collective actors.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

November 11, 2012

The legacy of mega-events

In his recent article published in The Guardian on the day of the presidential election in America, Aditya Chakrabortty discusses the polarised US politics and recalls playwright Arthur Miller’s question from the 2004 election: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don’t know one Bush supporter?” Despite the biggest and most expensive campaign in the country’s history, the two sides never talk to each other, and, as Chakrabortty argued after the conference he attended earlier this autumn, even the leading technical experts cannot agree on the judging criteria for the discussion: they just express their subjective opinions, followed by no discussion.

I would argue that it is not only American society that has become divided and lacks common ground for meaningful debate. At the recent conference “From London to Rio: Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event” held in the British Library in London, when discussing the legacy and future of the Olympic Games, the speakers seemed to be using two incongruous languages. One was the language of capital growth, development, international recognition, competitiveness and entrepreneurship; the other, of the needs and hopes of local communities and the quality of life of the present and future generations of citizens. Those who spoke the latter stressed the fact that while mega development projects open public space for capital investments and consumption, they very often cordon off space to its regular users. The rhetoric of the first language used people’s passion for sport to justify the gigantomania behind the new projects. One wished the debate could have gone beyond discussing the pros and cons of “the London model”, as well as beyond the final argument that although mega-events are unsustainable by definition, we cannot really do anything about this situation because, well, they do take place. It should have rather reflected on the legitimacy of all the capital expenditures being implemented everywhere around our planet.

Last summer, over the course of a few days I conducted research in the Balkans and visited Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the host city of the 1984 winter Olympic Games. After just a few years, the Olympic venues were turned into battlefields, and today the scarred stadium neighbours a formidable graveyard of the predominantly young victims of the Balkan Wars. The ruins of the Olympic stadiums in the current turmoil of Greece, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for his project Borrow, Build Abandon, should teach us the very same lesson of humility. Not that we did not learn it from history lessons on the once proud and invincible ancient Greek and Roman empires. Right?

Post by : Gosia Kowalska in the category : Governance, Memory, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

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