Qatar follies

In what seems like a never-ending saga, the controversy surrounding the 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled to be held in Qatar continues to deepen. I wrote a couple posts (here and here) awhile ago outlining some of the follies of major sporting events, but Qatar continues to take things to the next level years before the tournament has even begun.

The World Cup in Qatar is turning into an endless nightmare. FIFA has flip flopped over rescinding Qatar as host, and moving the tournament to Canada or USA. Major corporate sponsors are demanding thorough investigations of the bidding process. And the overall reception from fans and the general public has been extremely negative. Yet FIFA seems to be 100% set on holding it there still. They have even moved the tournament to winter (November-December) when it is usually held in the summer months (June-July).

At least one immigrant worker dies per day working to complete Qatar’s World Cup infrastructure. Additionally, the most recent human rights atrocity was forcing these workers to run a marathon in whatever clothes they had on. Yes that meant many ran the ‘megamarathon’ in jeans, and flip-flops, or even shoeless. Why did this happen?

To break a Guinness World Record. (Spoiler – they didn’t succeed)

What a joke that is. And this event was used to promote the tournament and a “decisive response to the campaign waged by the sector of envious haters on the success of Qatar to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and to their false allegations of persecution of workers and residents in our beloved country,” stated on the marathon’s site. They obviously have a very odd understanding of what ‘persecution of workers’ is.

Qatar’s ‘kafala’ system ties migrant workers to their employer regardless of the work entailed. If a worker opts not to do the job, or in this case forced to run a marathon, they are stranded in the country without an exit permit that would allow them to pursue other work, and they often forfeit their passport upon arrival. All this combined makes it even harder to believe how Qatar “fairly” won the World Cup bid. But with a bribe here and there, it makes things a little easier to a country swimming in oil money.

I understand the history and laws associated with kafala and Qatar. However, the World Cup is a international tournament that must appeal to a wide range of cultures. The kafala system creates easy opportunities for the exploitation of workers and it is clearly a violation of human and workers rights in the majority of World Cup participating countries. While Qatar has promised to reform the labour laws following the increasing public outcry, but only the future will tell if this actually happens in a timely and effective fashion.

It seems as if FIFA could not care less about the fans, the sport in general, or even basic human rights. And if major corporations continue to sponsor the tournament then nothing will change. Fans can only do so much before the tournament, since their main impact comes from attending and watching the tournament. But if anything is going to change before the tournament arrives, then FIFA has to start losing money from it.

Qatar-demonstration-1024x678
Image from InquireLive
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Sport and environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is not something you usually associate with sports in general terms, or regarding development initiatives. Sport for development projects and programs most often focus on enhancing physical and mental health and well-being, educational purposes, gender empowerment, community development, and so on. As the sport for development sector continues to grow and gain more legitimacy, it will hopefully also expand to address different issues, such as environmental sustainability. It is promising to note that there are already initiatives underway that use sport to address environmental sustainability in the public and private sector, along with the development sector.

This month marks the official opening of Samuel Eto’o Laikipia Unity Football Academy, School and Environmental Education Centre in Kenya. The academy and school provide a prime example for development projects that approach initiatives with sustainability as the goal. The football academy will be the only one in East Africa, while the school serves as the major demonstration and training site for rainwater harvesting, conservation agriculture, and reforestation. The school curriculum in Kenya offers agriculture as an examinable subject since it has such a huge influence on the country’s employment rate and economy. The new sport facilities and training offered by the academy will also ensure that sport becomes mainstreamed in the curriculum and life of the school, enhancing the academic experience of youth. Additionally, the Environmental Education Centre provides first class facilities and training for the school’s Eco-Club.

Environmental sustainability is also being advocated by professional sports with the help from organizations such as the Green Sports Alliance. The Green Sports Alliance is a non-profit organization founded in 2010 with a mission to help sports teams, venues and leagues enhance their environmental performance. Their members and teams have established recycling and composting programs, venues have installed on-site renewable capacity and the NHL has issued the first league-wide sustainability report in 2014. These are all very promising initiatives to help sustainably grow the professional sporting industry, and to lead as an example.

One of the more well-established sports and environment initiatives is the Sport and Environment Commission of the Olympics, which was founded in 1995. However, the negative environmental and social effects caused by previous Olympic games have been well documented (see here and here for examples). The environmental effects of holding such a large one time event in a location can add up quickly. While the Olympic Sport and Environment Commission have promising advocacy initiatives, including World Conferences on Sport and Environment and cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme, their success in preserving the environment of host countries has been dismal, where improvements must be made in this regard.

It is a promising time for the sport and environmental sustainability movement, and sport for development in general. There are promising initiatives being developed and implemented. The key to sport for development is to incorporate its principles in an inclusive developmental approach, and by including environmental sustainability it is moving one step closer to that goal.

Football in Ghana as the performance of national identity

Football, and specifically major sporting events involving national teams, provides opportunities at a global level to display, live, reinforce, and challenge nationalism. Worldwide football is a sport that is capable of arousing powerful, and contradictory emotions that not only have the ability to connect individuals to large-scale entities such as the nation, but also provides a channel for localized expressions of individual identity.

Short history of football in Ghana

Football found its roots in Ghana through a political struggle. Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence in 1957. Thus bred the pan-Africanist leanings of the first President Kwame Nkrumah to act as a leader for Africa as a whole, leaving nationalism on the outskirts of the narrow framework created of the nation-state. Nkrumah had a vision of a united Africa that could be achieved through football. Nkrumah’s pan-african agenda, and explicit politicization of football during the late colonial and immediate postcolonial periods has shaped the ongoing history of football in Ghana for better or worse.

At the bare minimum, there is a highly politicized nature to football; you cannot leave the field to your opponent. A short look at the history of the Ghana Premier League (GPL), the top domestic league in Ghana, shows the intense rivalries born through politicization, among other factors. The Kumasi Asante Kotoko and the Accra Hearts of Oak in the GPL are the two biggest clubs and best illustrate the polarity of the domestic league. A common perception bred through history is that the Accra Hearts of Oak is the soccer club of the National Democratic Congress and Kumasi Asante Kotoko that of the New Patriotic Party, the two main political parties in Ghana. The fractious relationship between the two clubs, and league, undermined the desire of Nkrumah to see domestic football used to unite the nation. Worldwide this is the case, whether it is Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, or Liverpool and Manchester United in England, harsh rivalries exist in domestic football that undermine nationalist tendencies.

The history of football in Ghana can help explain why the Ghanaian people can lose faith in nationalistic ideals so quickly. Apart from the historical context, the decline of nationalism among football fans can also be attributed to commercialization, individualism, and globalization.

Commercialization 

A football team’s commercial identity is becoming a higher priority than its national one. While this issue is prevalent in international football, it is more evident in domestic football. It is one of the reasons why when you see people wearing jerseys in Ghana they are more often than not from foreign domestic leagues. It is very rare that you see a Black Stars jersey in Ghana, rather you see the streets riddled with Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid jerseys. Why does this matter? It is because the public display of team colors is an expression of loyalty, which has become a characteristic trait of football fandom worldwide. If you wear one of these jerseys, your social status is raised in the eyes of your peers. The commercialization of football is what helps draw supporters to large domestic clubs, making fans forget about their own country. The commercialization and monetization of the GPL is also becoming a major issue in Ghana. The GPL provides a prime example where African elites involve themselves in football only as a way to further enrich themselves. When the ‘Big Men’ take over a team, they take it from the people, the fans. When the fans no longer have football in Ghana, they have to look to a foreign league, which ultimately distances their faith and allegiance to Ghanaian football.

Individualism 

Ghana is a relatively peaceful country and is a shining example of successful democracy in Africa. Citizens have freedom of speech and expression that includes freedom of the press and other media. Using primarily social media, football fans have become increasingly comfortable with expressing their individual ideals, and support of foreign or regional teams. Corruption in Ghanaian football is a glaring problem that also exists in global football. In the GPL, the Big Men use their power to recruit players and often they use ‘age-cheats’ to field their players and sell them. The extensive networks of the Big Men ensure such illegalities, among others, can linger on without punishment. Football corruption is a subset of the general corruption in Ghana, and it is not going unnoticed by the general public. Ghanaian football functions in an unstable climate in terms of the governance of the game, which further strengthens the resolve of aspiring players to leave the country to pursue a career abroad, and for fans to look outside of Ghana for football entertainment.

Globalization

The outcomes of a more individualistic mindset are made more accessible by the globalization of sport. Globalization has significantly deteriorated the connections between nationalism and football as shown by the international sporting organizations, the frequent emigration of footballers for better contracts, and the worldwide adoption of Western football rules.  Sport development is not a top priority in the Ghanaian national budget or in the education system. The low investment in sport decreases the potential for athletes to build their talent domestically. As such, top football talent is lost to more powerful nations in global sport; the muscle drain. The globalization of the football market has made this a possibility, which is depriving Ghana of its most talented players while domestic leagues in rich countries prosper. National football teams and their associated domestic leagues are strongly correlated since the strength of the domestic league can often be a determinant of the strength of the national team. However, there is an ongoing, but sluggish, effort to capture value within Ghana through developing football talent within the country. For example, Right to Dream (RtD) is a not-for-profit charitable football academy that offers “talented, underprivileged children the opportunity to reach their true potential in life and claim a better future for Africa.” While the academy players are ultimately there to develop into professional players, RtD places an important emphasis on education better each individual. RtD is an example of the effort to fight the muscle drain and help contribute to the development of Ghana through football. But apart from RtD, there is only minimal effort to keep football talent within Ghana since the upside to leaving for the players is so tremendous, which results in poor domestic leagues.

Given the history of football in Ghana with Kwame Nkrumah, it is no surprise that football as the performance of national identity is fading. From the beginning, football in Ghana never had a stronghold position on increasing nationalism. Rather, the focus was on united Africa as a whole and progressing together. While this certainly not a bad thing, it has led to a corrupt football program in Ghana, and added to the issues of globalization, individualism, and commercialization, and their impact on nationalism.

Ghana after AFCON 2015

A week has passed now since Ghana’s unfortunate loss in the finals of the 2015 African Cup of Nations. With plenty of chances to win in the 90 minutes, extra time, AND penalties when Ghana took a commanding lead 2-0, they just couldn’t do it. The image below of Ghanaian captain Asamoah Gyan (right) and goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda (left) consoling Andre Ayew as he cries after the loss depicts the heartbreak experienced by many fellow Ghanaians, but also the passion the country has for football. It has been 33 years since Ghana last came out on top in the tournament, and unfortunately for the country, the wait continues.

Image from Goal.com

As a consolation prize, it might be comforting for Ghanaians to understand that few gave the Black Stars a chance of reaching the final before the tournament began. However, these low expectations might have been expected given the way the Black Stars have performed, and how football in Ghana has been handled in recent years. The AFCON trophy drought and poor World Cup performances have dampened the spirits of football fans in Ghana, and I have experienced it first hand.

I arrived in Ghana at the tail-end of the 2014 World Cup, held in Brazil, where the Black Stars failed to win a single match. Off the pitch, the added controversy did not sit well with Ghanaian fans, causing support to dwindle. I wrote about this issue in a recent assignment for school that led me conclude that although football is a major element of Ghanaian culture, which many practice with religious fervor, there is a declining sense of nationalism and pride among football fans in Ghana. It is not uncommon to hear phrases such as ‘useless Black Stars’ or ‘we don’t even have a team anymore’ come up when national football is being discussed.

In my paper I contributed the decline of nationalism among football fans in Ghana to commercialization, individualism, and globalization (I will give a brief overview of these issues in my next post). I came to this conclusion before the AFCON began, and although my opinion may have been different if Ghana won, I have not experienced a collective change of heart from Ghanaian citizens since the final AFCON result. It is a shame though, given the power of football and what it means to the country. Don’t get me wrong, football is, and has always been a major part of life in Ghana. Football, and sport in general, possesses enormous social capital, has the ability to develop and revitalize local economies, can redirect delinquent youth, and used as an educational tool to help alleviate malaria, HIV, and AIDS, to name a few of its developmental capabilities. However, there is still an undiscovered potential of football in Ghana at a larger scale that is hidden by growing issues.

Despite the heartbreaking result of the AFCON, the young and determined Black Stars squad showed promising signs for the future. With the help of a surprise finals appearance, hopefully future results can unite Ghanaian supporters and football can be used as an effected rallying point for national growth and development.

Women and sports in Saudi Arabia

The 2012 Summer Olympics marked an influential time for women in sports from the Middle East, specifically Muslim women. The traditions and beliefs of the region have kept many women from participating in sports for years. Saudi Arabia is one country in particular that has lagged behind other Muslim-majority countries who have already allowed women to play and compete in sports, and have had female athletes compete in the Olympics. Last summer Olympics, Saudi Arabia followed suit. Saudi Arabia sent two women to compete, one in judo and the other in track and field. This event has seemingly broke new ground for women participating in sports in the country.

Participation is just the start though, with a future goal that all athletes have of actually being able to compete for a medal. However, this may still be a far-off notion in many Middle Eastern countries. Many of the Muslim women that were in the 2012 Olympics failed to qualify through traditional means, rather they were allowed to participate due to their status as being the first for their country. On one hand this is promising to see since we see it has already influenced important decisions, which I will discuss later. But on the other hand it is unfair to other athletes who have the ability to compete but missed out by a slim margin through traditional means of qualifying.

We have to examine the various scenarios that could happen in the future regarding Middle Eastern countries and their participation in sporting events such as the Olympics. Either these countries develop an infrastructure (social and physical) that will allow for women’s sports and training, or the Olympic’s will continue to simply allow women to participate based solely on cultural significance. Or the most detrimental scenario to the progress being made would be that the countries that sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, fail to send them again next time. Luckily, it seems that Saudi Arabia may be working towards the first scenario as opposed to the latter.

For the longest time, Saudi Arabia has banned athletic activity in most girl schools and has prohibited women’s athletic events. However, it seems that by allowing women to compete in the Olympics it has finally opened doors for women and girls who want to participate in physical education classes in school to do so. Recently they have considered ending its ban on sports in girls’ state schools due to increased opposition from traditionalists. This is due to the fact that the majority of Saudis favour women’s right to participate in sports. Allowing girls to compete in sports at an early age will have tremendous benefits socially and physically. It will allow women and girls the thrill of competition, also the physical and psychological benefits, leading to longer and healthier lives. Obesity rates have been growing in Saudi Arabia in recent years, in particular among women, as have related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is promising to see progressive steps by state officials to allow women and girls to participate in sports and it will be interesting to continue to see the results that follow. Please share your views on the matter or any other relevant comments on gender equality in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

Image from Human Rights Watch
Image from Human Rights Watch

Sport hunting in Zimbabwe

A fellow INDEVOUR, Ben, recently wrote a blog post about the controversy surrounding Kendall Jones, a self-proclaimed ‘conservationist’ that hunts big game animals as an effort to save them. There is an argument to be made for the continuation of big game hunting as a conservation effort since the sale of hunting licenses and tags is the primary source of funding for most wildlife conservation efforts. As National Geographic reported a few years ago, there are around 23 African countries that allow sport hunting, and it brings in roughly $200 million a year from tourists. Since there are many countries that allow the sport, it is no surprise that there are varying opinions from locals in these countries about the positive or negative outcomes of trophy hunting. As outlined in the Ben’s post, people in South Africa are against sport hunting in their country and Australia has banned trophy hunters from bringing home body parts of the animals they kill as a conservation effort. The United States have taken a similar stance as Australia banning ivory imports from Zimbabwe, however Zimbabwe has not taken their side like South Africans have.

Image from Bloomberg
Image from Bloomberg

The Zimbabwean government will lobby against the U.S this month to overturn the ban on ivory sales since they claim it will harm the sport hunting industry, which they rely on for economic gains. Back in February the U.S banned imports of ivory due to the uncertainty over whether the elephant populations were sustainable. Now this seems like more of an effort to conserve a population than paying to kill them. However, the income from the industry is more important to Zimbabwe and elephants play a crucial role in the industry that is worth $60 million a year to Zimbabwe. This staggering number makes sense since it costs around $30,000 to kill an elephant, pay for guide fees and shipping costs. The continual bans on ivory and other big game animals seen in Australia and the U.S is also hurting Zimbabwe since they have a stockpile of 70 metric tons of ivory that cannot be sold or traded due to these global bans.

Both sides to the conservation efforts of big game animals carry some merit. Further research needs to be conducted into the economic and ecological impacts of the trophy hunting industry. Even though both countries rely on big game hunting for money and conservation efforts, why is it that South Africans are against sport hunting in their country, but Zimbabwean’s want it to continue? Is it due to the controversy of Kendall Jones in South Africa that is pushing them to fight it. Further yet, detailed in-country studies are needed for each country in which hunting occurs to improve the assessment of the various conservation roles of governments or hunters to diagnose the problems, and prescribe an appropriate country-specific solution.

While trophy hunting is a major industry in South Africa and Zimbabwe, creating incentives for conservation of vast areas that otherwise might be used for alternative land uses, it is also limited by various issues. Several problems include the failure to allocate sufficient benefits to local communities in these countries, leakage of income, and corruption of government and wildlife officials. Let me know how you feel about trophy hunting in southern African countries or what you think can be done differently about conservation efforts.

Soccer: Lighting up lives in more ways than one

Recently I found out about the SOCCKET II ball, a soccer ball that doubles as an electric generator. The SOCCKET II ball is an upcoming product by Uncharted Play, a for-profit social enterprise that is seeking to take advantage of the millions of people who already play soccer and also do not have access to consistent or reliable energy. The ball replaces their first generation product which helps eliminate the need for kerosene lamps through electric light that is generated in a unique way. How it works is that by playing with the ball for around 30 minutes, kinetic energy is generated and stored to power an attachable LED light for up to 3 hours. The initial development of the product in 2013 was funded through Kickstarter, and a percentage of all retail sales will go to providing SOCCKETs and educational programs to schools in developing countries. Uncharterd Play is selling the second generation SOCCKET II ball ($99) as well as a jumping rope called The Pulse ($129), which works in a similar manner, and then a bundle with both products ($199). Pretty pricing if you ask me!

Image from designboom
Image from designboom

My first impression was that this is a great innovation that can have a positive impact on at least a few people who do not have access to consistent power. Since the company is a for-profit social enterprise, they still need to make money and be accountable to their shareholders which explains the higher prices. It is also not cheap to make, since it is constructed from a custom water-resistant foam that is durable and soft to the touch. The company claims that the solid construction of the SOCCKET II eliminates the need for air pumps, and reduced the risk of puncture and deflation. It is their hope that NGOs purchase and distribute their products, or people in developed countries buy their products for uses such as when you’re camping or at the beach, and travelling. As a result of each purchase, they claim to provide one child with access to their energy generating products and social invention educational programs.

It all sounded good at first to me, a social enterprise that was turning an enjoyable activity into a new source of energy. But after delving deeper into the subject, and remembering the countless examples of similar products in a previous social entrepreneurship class (such as the BioLite HomeStove or GravityLight), it had me thinking about the overall effectiveness of these products. Firstly, I did not even hear about the initial SOCCKET ball that debuted a few years ago. Could this be because of a poor marketing strategy, or that it just was not that good of a product so it did not garner much attention in the first place. I would argue the latter since initial reports of the first generation ball claimed that it stopped working only after the third time using it, and how the ball was falling apart at the seams. Secondly, I am battling with the idea of whether or not this is good aid. On one hand the company is simply giving away their products to children of need when they are purchased elsewhere (think of TOMS shoes), but on the other hand  the company is also providing social invention educational programs to children using the ball as a scientific teaching tool, and promoting empowerment and sustainability. Lastly, the product itself seems to be rather expensive and relatively inefficient solution to a energy access problem that requires a fairly large amount of kinetic energy input for the output given back. The initial SOCCKET ball was marketed as a solution to the scarce electricity access in developing countries, but with a lacklustre track record so far it can argued that they have not made that big of a difference so far.

The company has since responded to concerns about the faulty balls, and is working to distribute a new ball as soon as they can to those experiencing difficultiesIt is yet to be seen how effective the SOCCKET II will be and if it will solve these problems outlined above to create a more reliable source of energy for users, but I believe there is still a lot of potential for their products. In the end, I think the SOCCKET II and The Pulse are both very innovative and useful products for people needing small amounts of energy at a time. Of course it is not going to solve major energy issues in developing countries, but I think it is a much more useful alternative to the countless new products that are being created to solve the same problems. Share what your first impressions were regarding the SOCCKET ball or similar products, and how effective you think these new products from social enterprises really are.