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How is FIFA Building a Better World through Football?

Football can build a better world; this is the message that FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke communicated on May 20th at the official launch of the venue for the Football for Hope Festival in Caju, Rio de Janeiro. On July 7th, at the opening ceremony for the festival, Sepp Blatter, Ronaldo, and Brazil’s Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, repeated this same message; football can build a better world.

Ronaldo, Blatter, and Rebelo at the opening ceremony.








Football for Hope is one of FIFA’s social responsibility initiatives, through which they provide support to a number of community organizations working with youth around the world that are using football for social development. The festival took place from July 7th to 10th and involved 32 delegations (organizations receiving support from FIFA) from 27 nations around the world. The organizations came together for a couple of weeks to participate in workshops, exchange knowledge, and then compete in a four day tournament.

I attended the festival because I am curious about the ‘better world’ that FIFA imagines and how their Football for Hope movement, and the actual festival, fit into their conceptions of a better world. After attending the four days it seems like FIFA’s better world, much like their current one, is full of contradictions and hypocrisy.

Template for pre and post-game discussions

Team discussion after the final match



Teams entering the field for a match

The matches themselves are interesting because they offer a modified form of the game called football3 developed by streetfootballworld. The teams are mixed-gendered, there are no referees, and the rules are collaboratively established. Before the games, players get together with a mediator to discuss and finalize minor rules like how to restart the game when the ball leaves the pitch. For example, some games were played with kick-ins some with throw-ins. Additionally, players decided on three ‘fair play’ rules. These might have included applauding for the other team when they scored or played well, helping opponents up when they were fouled, and so on. During the games, the players were responsible for enforcing the rules and resolving any conflicts that occured. It was also noted that the number of goals scored did not solely determine the winner, as after the games, the players met with the mediators and discussed what happened during the game and awarded points based on the fair play rules that were established.

You could argue that this is just a formalized pick-up game; making up rules and playing without a ref is how most people around the world play. That being said, pick-up games aren’t always mixed-gendered and the decision making process isn’t always democratic and inclusive. For the most part, I thought the games went well, but the formalization of fair play through points and rules sometimes came across as token and artificial.


The largely white crowd of dignitaries – Including Ronaldo who identifies as white.

So, is this non-hierarchical, collectivist, dialogic and inclusive form of football representative of FIFA’s better world? Probably not. FIFA would never institute this form of game in any competition outside of Football for Hope. It’s a game that is targeted at certain populations that are viewed as needing social development. When looking at most of the organizations that FIFA supports, terms used to describe these populations include the underprivileged, disadvantaged, low-income, at-risk, marginalized, or poor. This line of thinking was apparent in the VIP area, which throughout the festival was mostly empty, but the occasional visitor – usually white and considering the average income in Caju relatively wealthy – would arrive to gaze upon the field and observe the disciplining of mostly colored bodies (players and spectators).

I am not saying that FIFA providing support to community organizations is a bad thing, or that what these organization do is bad. Many of the organizations are attempting to provide services in locations, and to people, that have been neglected; however, if your vision of building a better world is based on the implicit idea that it is the poor and marginalized that need to be monitored, improved, changed, or disciplined, then building a better world simply means maintaining the status quo.

On the second day of the festival, I arrived prior to the first game to hear ‘I want to be a billionaire, so fucking bad’ blaring from the sound system.


Yeah I would have a show like Oprah
I would be the host of everyday Christmas
Give Travie your wish list
I’d probably pull an Angelina and Brad Pitt
And adopt a bunch of babies that ain’t never had shit
Give away a few Mercedes like ‘Here lady have this’
And last but not least grant somebody their last wish
It’s been a couple months that I’ve been single so
You can call me Travie Claus minus the Ho Ho
Ha ha get it? I’d probably visit where Katrina hit
And damn sure do a lot more than FEMA did
Yeah, can’t forget about me, stupid
Everywhere I go, Imma have my own theme music

In a lot of ways, I think the song sums up FIFA’s approach to development. Everyone should try to get rich and if you manage to get rich make sure you throw out some crumbs.

If FIFA is interested in building a better world and believes that football can contribute by teaching fair play, dialogue, equality, and justice, I wonder why they don’t target their own executives, or city officials and politicians, or real estate speculators with these social development programs; maybe the World Cup would look a lot different if they did. Maybe protesters and people resisting displacement from their homes would be met with dialogue instead of tear gas and bulldozers. Maybe executives connected to FIFA wouldn’t be fleeing the authorities because they were caught scalping tickets. Maybe FIFA’s anti-racism committee and their disciplinary committee would be able to agree on an understanding of, and response to, racism. Maybe deaths relating to World Cup construction in Brazil, Russia, and Qatar would be prevented. And, maybe in the spirit of fair play FIFA would think about paying taxes.

When you look at how the festival is organized and managed it also gives you a glimpse into the better world that FIFA imagines.

Entrance to the festival

Entrance to the festival

Security Check

Security Check

In his opening address, Blatter said that Caju was the 13th venue at the FIFA 2014 World Cup and he wasn’t exaggerating.

Upon entering the festival I had to put my bag through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector – at which point I was told I couldn’t bring my bottle of water into the venue – Coke needs to protect their brand.





Food stall

Food stall

Before attempting to find a seat for the opening ceremony I walked by the Sony and Hyundai activity booths, as well as the Coca-Cola food stalls. A big difference between Caju and the other World Cup venues was that there were never any line-ups for food at the festival, likely because most of the spectators were residents of Caju and wouldn’t pay R$4 for a can of Coke (about $2 USD).


Stewards and security guards. I wandered around the venue to try and get an estimate of how many stewards and security guards there were and I stopped counting after 50 – at times they outnumbered the number of spectators.

Reserved Seats - Even when the stands were nearly empty, which was most of the time, the stewards and ushers wouldn't allow me to sit in certain sections reserved for media and players.

Reserved Seats – Even when the stands were nearly empty, which was most of the time, the stewards and ushers wouldn’t allow me to sit in certain sections reserved for media and players.


After finding my way to the main field where the opening ceremony was taking place I tried to climb a stairway to a section of seats only to have a steward whistle at me and tell me I couldn’t go that way because I didn’t have the appropriate credentials. This was a recurring theme during the four days of the festival, where, as a spectator without the appropriate badge of belonging hanging around my neck, spaces were highly regulated and segregated.


Servers and chef of the VIP area


VIP area – empty for most of the festival

Upon sitting down to watch the opening ceremony, two things stood out. The first was the giant TV screen behind one of the goals, which just like in other venues would simultaneously broadcast the action on the pitch. Opposite the big screen was a glassed off VIP section overlooking the field. For the opening ceremonies this area was filled with people, very important people, including Sepp Blatter. After the opening ceremony and the first match the area was mostly empty for the duration of the tournament except for the workers responsible for security and catering. In many ways, the separation of space at the festival mimiced the World Cup itself with certain people having access to certain spaces, while others were excluded and policed.


The fact that FIFA could organize an event like the Football for Hope Festival and claim that football can build a better world, just demonstrates how  laughably oblivious they are. Theirs is a better world where spaces are highly securitized and regulated, where some people have freedom of movement and others must be controlled and disciplined, where corporations are essential for providing entertainment and sustenance, and where FIFA can spend millions of dollars on a four day festival in order to pat themselves on the back and make claims about building a better world.




Right to Play’s Band-Aid

Right to Play (RTP) recently announced the expansion of its PLAY (Promoting Life Skills for Aboriginal Youth) program in Ontario to 39 communities. RTP is a Canadian based non-governmental organization that has been working for over ten years in refugee camps and other ‘disadvantaged’ communites in mostly Africa, South America, and Asia. I find it interesting that it is now operating in Aboriginal communities in Canada.

For the PLAY program, RTP receives funding from the government of Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. It is also in the process of applying for funding through the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Team Up Foundation.

I can say a lot of positive things about the program. It seems to be based on a collaborative process. As noted on the RTP website:

The PLAY programme is a multi-faceted program that is tailored to the specific needs of each community, is designed in partnership with the community and aims to support children and youth to develop and strengthen essential life-skills. Prior to implementation, community members participate in a thorough needs assessment that guides the design of the program

It also seems to have community support. Relating to the expansion of the program, Grand Chief Denise Stonefish noted that:

Any type of youth programs and/or initiatives that promotes life-skills, builds both confidence and leadership skills, and motivates youth to continue with their education has my support

As positive as this program seems to be, I believe there are some important issues that can be discussed. Before continuing I should note that I haven’t conducted any kind of in-depth analysis of the PLAY program. I’m basing this discussion on a fairly superficial look at RTP’s website and the overview for the PLAY program. However, I feel that there are broader concerns that apply to the PLAY program and similar initiatives. The first concern I have has been outlined on the Hockey in Society blog by Courtney Szto’s discussion of the H.E.R.O.S. hockey program. Essentially, programs that target ‘disadvantaged’ youth tend to focus on individual behaviour change and often neglect the context in which individuals live. Individuals are described as having certain problems, programs are put in place to address these problems and ‘fix’ these individuals. This can be seen in RTP’s introduction for the PLAY program overview:

A lack of education means that approximately 70% of First Nations’ students between the ages of 15 and 24 living on-reserve will never complete high school, while unemployment rates are two-times that of the non-aboriginal population. Health challenges which include obesity, diabetes, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS mean that First Nations People face a shorter life span than other Canadians, while suicide is now one of the leading causes of death among Aboriginal Peoples between the ages of 10 and 24.

As you can see, there are certain problems that Aboriginal Peoples in Canada face. They own these problems. Problems that are theirs to suffer and theirs to solve – with some assistance of course. The problems are not grounded in historical, political, or cultural contexts, so there is no need to address these aspects. Individuals just need to work hard and learn certain life skills.

As a former physical education teacher I also have concerns about the PLAY program. Sport, play, and physical activity are seen as valuable and possibly contributing to positive youth development. The government of Ontario obviously agrees with this because it is partially funding the PLAY program. If this is the case, then it seems odd that only 43% of elementary schools in Ontario have physical education specialists. In Northern Ontario where RTP operated the first two PLAY programs, only 25% of elementary schools have physical education specialists. It also seems odd that 47% of elementary schools in Ontario need to fundraise for their own playgrounds and 41% of secondary schools need to charge fees for physical education classes1. If RTP is concerned with every child’s right to play then why are they not campaigning for improvements in Canadian schools? Why are they not criticizing government for the state of physical education in schools?

It could be argued that RTP is filling a gap left by government, providing a needed service. This is even noted in the program overview. RTP and the communities they work with initially conduct needs assessments to identify the gaps that need to be filled. There doesn’t seem to be an analysis of what causes the gaps.

If NGOs are willing to fill in the gaps then where does the motivation come from to challenge or question the structural causes of those gaps? What would prevent this ‘gap-filling’ from becoming the future of physical education in Canada? Private schools and schools in high income neighbourhoods will be able to fund their own programs. Communities that are labelled as at-risk, vulnerable, disadvantaged, poor, and deficient will be targeted for improvement through programs like PLAY. And, the government will essentially be off the hook. Everyone wins.

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?

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.

Movember and the Commodification of Social Causes

Movember has been around for a couple of years, but seems to be catching on more this year. I haven’t joined in. I just think I look pretty good with a moustache.

I apologize for the hair, but it is a hangover from Oc-fro-ber (raising awareness of electrical safety). Actually I don’t apologize. I think the hair compliments the moustache quite well. I also just made up Ocfrober (electical safety month), but if BC Hydro wants to use it I only charge a small consultancy fee.

I don’t have a problem with Movember. I think it can be a good thing if people are willing to put themselves out there to raise money and attention for a cause. What interests me is that there seems to be a commodification taking place in which advocates are focused on marketing and selling their causes through gimmicky or viral methods. I recently listened to an old LSE (London School of Economics) talk on celebrities and humanitarian work and it gave me the same impression. The speakers touched on many issues, but the one thing that stood out for me was the fact that many humanitarian organizations are using, and sometimes hiring, celebrities to advocate for their cause in the same way that a company would hire the celebrity to advertise their product.

It would seem that organisations are now targeting possible supporters as consumers. Give people a catchy superficial glimpse into your cause, or do something attention getting – like growing a moustache, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, or riding a long board from Nairobi to Mombasa – and people will reach for their wallets, forward an email, click the ‘like’ button, or paste something on their status on facebook.

For the most part we are a market-driven attention deficit society, so maybe humanitarian organizations need to compete for our attention and money the same way that profit-making organizations do. The problem I see is that by looking at people simply as consumers there is little chance for any meaningful engagement. When causes need to be sold as products then the people affected will need to be packaged in a certain way.

An example of this is a recent awareness raising campaign for autism – Communication Shutdown Day for Autism – that called on people to participate in a day of social media silence. I assume this was to give people an appreciation for communication difficulties. However, a number of people with autism felt that this awareness raising campaign did not represent them and started a counter-campaign, Autistics Speaking Day, which was planned for the same day as the Communication Shutdown and called on people with Autism to use social media to tell their stories.

November 12, 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