Friday, May 26, 2017

Whistle is not play! - Dr. Gilles Klein

Whistle is not play!

Dr. Gilles Klein, 26 May 2017 

10th September 2007. Brasilia. Our organization’s President asked me to represent him at an award ceremony to the President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Arriving in the Brazilian capital, once more I was confronted with a childhood memory, the one of the inauguration of Brasilia, in the Spring of 1960. The President Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira had then decided to build a new capital in the heart of the country in the middle of quasi-desert steppes, to contribute to the development of the interior. My child's innocence was struck by the audacity of putting people in the middle of nowhere.


The boldness was also that of the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the urban planner Lucio Costa. Arriving in Brasilia, you are confronted by the genius of these two men who subscribe to the architectural tradition of “international style” invented by Le Corbusier. Rather than observe the agenda, you are moved to visit the National Congress, Juscelino Kubitscheck bridge, Eixo monumental or more the Cathedral of Brasilia. Yet the agenda soon goes on.


Planalto Palace. It is the award place. It is the official headquarters and the office of the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil. An assembly of white concrete and glass supported by slim columns that seem to dive in a water surface without any wrinkle. Only the red belt and helmet crest of the Presidential Palace guards break this harmony. Inside, the immensity of the white marble spaces reinforces the beauty of outside lines. The person in charge of the Economic and Social Council of Brazil drives us towards offices and meeting rooms to prepare for the ceremony.


At the end of this September morning, the President Lula has to receive the annual award, presented by the United Nations, related to the promotion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). All the representatives of the national and international civil society are invited. In cooperation with the oil company Total, our organization was called upon to present the award to President Lula. The truth is that, excepting the honor to stand next to the famous Brazilian president, the main interest of these formal meetings is to allow informal meetings, in that case with the Brazilian minister of sports.


Before the ceremony, we were called upon to a work meeting organized by the Brazilian economic and social council, a member of AICESIS, who was one of our partners and supporters. The assessment of the MDGs in Brazil was on the agenda. In 2007, six years after the goals definition, eight years before their evaluation, Brazil was considered by the United Nations as one of the countries that had most advanced the eight goals. Since 2003, Brazil had even been able to exceed the number of the planned goals.


To reach it, the policy led by President Lula devoted many efforts and investments, developed numerous social policies, notably concerning the access to education and health. Thus, the country managed to eradicate hunger, reduce extreme poverty, decrease infant mortality and develop policies to empower women in the society, fight against the AIDS epidemic. Regarding these goals, Brazil defined world indicators that were relayed by dozens of Latin American, African and Asian countries following the United Nations’ recommendation.


In 2007, we left the Rabat seminar. Our organization intended to contribute in its own way too young peoples' education and training of their staff to MDGs. The Brazilian assessment imposed modesty. During this review of the MDGs progress in Brazil and in order to draw inspiration from the Brazilian experience, I addressed a question on the Youth’s access to sport and the transmission of the sports values, either educative, healthy and integrative, notably related to gender issues. The response was quite exciting.


The MDGs spokesperson in Brazil informed the attendees on the contribution of sport to MDGs. Brazil completed physical education and school sport with an extra-curricular program called Segundo Tempo. Since 2003, this program was an initiative of the Brazilian ministry of sport, launched in the twenty-five states of Brazil. It was implemented in partnership with several federal government’s agencies, the governments of the participant states, the municipalities, and NGOs. In a manner of speaking, the Segundo Tempo program implemented the complementarity of the learning times of children which I called in the European context: physical education, school sport, extra-curricular sport. Brazil then achieved it!


The program aimed to promote the practice and benefits of sport and allow several millions of children, teenagers and young people from 6 to 20 years to live many experiences in the framework of sports activities. It proposed to them a sports education aiming to increase their aptitudes to daily life. It first and foremost targeted the group located in socially underprivileged areas. At more than 75% attendees, one stated an amelioration of self-esteem, communication abilities, social and family life, resurgence of interest for school activities and performances and/or the health issues as well as a decrease of social risks. Among the projects of development, the ministry of sports intended to integrate the sport education federal policy to encourage the sport practice in schools.


In terms of sports, the President Lula da Silva, to whom we should present the award of MDGs promotion, had more than Segundo Tempo in his pouch. He planned to welcome the Olympic Games to Brazil. Doubtless, he thought of it during this 2007 ceremony. Two years later, on 26 and 27 September 2009, at the IIth Africa-Latin-America Summit (ALS) he declared that “the main world sports event could not be exclusively organized by the rich countries”. Some days later, Lula defends then personally the Rio candidature to the 2016 Olympic Games. He counts also on the ex-soccer player Pelé, who started a lobbying campaign in favor of the Brazilian candidature.


In 2009, Brazil is the only one of the major economic superpowers on the planet not to have organized the Olympic Games. On 2 October, in Copenhagen, the country obtains the organization of the Olympic Games, for the first time in Latin America. The city of Rio of Janeiro will welcome the 2016 OG after having won the IOC delegates’ vote. Rio finishes ahead of Madrid at the last round. “Brazil deserved to organize the Olympic Games”, declared the President Luiz Inácio da Silva, following the announcement of the result. “It is the victory of 190 millions Brazilian souls” added the Brazilian head of state, who appears emotional after Rio’s victory. He called his country to set to work without delay. In fact, Brazil is facing a double challenge since he welcomes in 2014 the football world cup. Never before did a nation organize the two main global sports events just two years apart.


In Lula’s strategy, there is the return of the Bandung’s spirit and the solidarity of those called as non-aligned. In the course of organizing the Olympic Games, Brazil takes support from its international policy and emphasizes the support of poor and emerging countries. The Brazilian diplomats and the members of the 2016 Rio organizing committee have made every possible effort towards the Southern countries. They met the Olympic Committee of Syria, Gambia, Uganda, Guinea and Nigeria. To win the support of his neighbors, Lula reminded them of the action undertaken by his country to increase the Latin-American integration. He also underlined the Brazilian mediation in the conflicts in Africa, where Brazil finances many social programs.


Segundo Tempo was a major argument in the Rio de Janeiro candidature file to welcome the Olympic and Paralympic Games of the summer 2016. The Games have been presented by the ministry of sport as a follow-up, a legacy of the coordinated work between sport and education: “Rio 2016 endorses the federal government commitment to offer to all Brazilians the access to this powerful association between education and sport”[1]. Since 2009, the ministries of sport, education and culture work in concertation to the integration of their policies. That is how the programme Segundo tempois associated to theMais educaçãoprogramme. These actions increase the number of young involved within sports activities in the country.


Between 2009 and 2016, to show this complementarity, the ministry of sports plans a set of specific initiatives: i) the programme of Segundo Tempo development, that is henceforth supported by the United Nations, projects to give access to sport in the public schools to 3 million Brazilian pupils; ii) an investment of more than 400 million US dollars in favour of sport education and a programme of federal financing of sports infrastructures in the public schools; iii) the methods of physical and sport education learning are improved to provide better access to the sport and physical education courses in all the schools.


The resultof this integration is that the planned objectives by the Rio candidature file to welcome the Olympic and Paralympic Games have been largely exceeded. In 2013, it is expected that 8.6 million children would be associated to the Segundo Tempo and Mais educaçãoprogrammes, it means 150% more than the expected number in the candidature file. Related to the investments, more than 700 million Reals have already been dedicated to the construction of sports infrastructures in schools.


Friday 5 August 2016, the opening ceremony of the Rio Games. From my stay in Brasilia I kept in mind: Lula, the MDGs award, Segundo tempo and Mais educação, for more sport and more education, but also for the promotion of educational, healthy and integrated values through sport. In 2009, the Games are attributed when the country is in full economic euphoria, with the popularity of President Lula at its highest. However, seven years later the dynamic changed. Complicated situation in sports terms: excessive expenses of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, disappointing tickets sales. Complicated situation in economic terms: fall of the oil price, economic recession of the country. Complicated situation in political terms: Lula prosecuted by the judiciary, Dilma Roussef’s destitution. We will come back to it next week. We are going now to the Olympic stadium.


Monday 15th August. Pole vault competition. The French Renaud Lavillenie, holder of the world record with 6.16 m is the competition favorite. Yet he is defeated over the wire by the young Brazilian Thiago Braz Da Silva who pushes the Olympic record at 6.03 m. Before trying his last jump at 6.08 m, the 2012 Olympic champion knows that he has lost his title. Sometimes ago, the Brazilian jumped over the bar, unexpected for him, at 6.03 m, shattering by ten ccentimeters his best performance.


The thumb down in direction of the forums, Lavillenie expresses his dissatisfaction towards the Brazilian public. During the competition, he was constantly infuriated by the spectators’ whistles who encouraged their national champions and destabilize their opponents. Once more whistled during the medals ceremony he felt himself demeaned by “this shit public”, some words for which he apologized. Then, during the Brazilian anthem in tribute to Thiago Braz, the French could not hold back his tears.


The French consider the spectators’ behavior in these words: “these hoots show that these spectators do not have any respect for the Olympic values… it was not the first time that they whistled me. With the high stakes and the fatigue, you do not need that. It is very disrupting and annoying because you feel the public’s wickedness. Athletics is not football. In order to whistle, they need stay at home at the front of television”[2]. For an instant, I thought of Lula and his MDGs award, to Segundo Tempo, to the educational, healthy and integrated values transmitted through sport. So, I thought that sporting show carries within itself a kind of violence and that education cannot do a great deal. But then again, education and show have probably nothing to do with each other. The transfer from the first to the second is only an illusion. Michel and Marcos have convinced me.


A journalist from the newspaper Sud-Ouest[3]questioned the sociologist of sports Michel Raspaud about the behavior of the Brazilian supporters during these Olympic Games. The first reason is the Latin temperament. Even if the Brazilian are less virulent than the Argentinian. Then, the national identity issue is very present: “Carrying a flag, a jersey, it is a strong symbol there”. The political, economic and social situation is a third reason: “the sporting successes can be seen as an outlet, thinning, or recapture of a national pride”.


Questioned by a journalist from the newspaper 20 minutes, Marcos, a Brazilian, tries to explain the attitudes of his compatriots in the stands: “as such, I do not have anything against the French, American or anyone(...) It is just we try to destabilize the opponent by all means, even if searches upon entry prevent us from some things. After, once the competition finished, who cares?The sportsman that I was remembered that the performance depends a lot on the environment. Sometimes you draw from it a strength, sometimes it becomes your weakness. It is also dependent on the diversity of sports. The Olympic Judo champion Teddy Riner explains thus: “When then have whistled me, against the Brazilian, it let me be transcended, I love it, I love it! It is also that the Games, it is also that the sport, sometimes there is pressure and they want to put the pressure on you, but you need to evacuate it, you must put it away (…) After, some respond and others not”.

Next: 2 June 2017 – Thiago & Dilma

[1]Mais informações sobre o Programa Segundo Tempo/Mais Educação podem ser obtidas no endereço:
[2]JO 2016 - perche : Renaud Lavillenie tombe de haut, Le Monde, published on 15/08/16,
[3]JO : pourquoi le public brésilien siffle-t-il autant les athlètes étrangers? - Sud Ouest.frpublished on 17/08/2016,




Friday, May 19, 2017

The discrete fragility of the superpower

The discrete fragility of the superpower

Dr. Gilles Klein, 19 May 2017

Since the 1970s, China has built twenty-four large stadiums in Africa. Stadiums of a Chinese-African friendship that are coming to symbolize the cooperation between the “Middle Kingdom” and the African countries. The truth is that the stadiums are just some sports illustrations of “win-win” financial operations of the Chinese in Africa: an exchange of underground resources against the delivery of civil engineering works. Until the 1970s, China was content to build solidarity between the two continents and their under developed countries. This solidarity was symbolized by a Chinese technician who came to assist the brother country recently liberated from its colonial guardianship. But China’s increasing oil needs led to these new deals, which characterize a new economic South-South play, which according to Beijing, there would not be a priori any losing partner.


That time, on 28 June 2008, is really China that inaugurates its stadium, the Beijing national stadium, nicknamed the bird nest. Which spectator of the Beijing Olympic Games had not been impressed by its architecture and its references. The bird nest is a wonderful tangle of steel girders intended to imitate the twigs of a birds nest. But it is also 423 million US dollars, 91,000 seats, four and half working years. The nest is the result of a call for tender that was the chance for the greatest architects to compete. But the nest is more than a stadium. Its architecture reflects the new Chinese diplomacy. Through sport, China is back at the front of the international scene. A comeback that is commented on by Jacques Herzog, one of the two Swiss architects. He said to the New York Times: “such a stadium couldn't see the light of day other than in China”. Not only can China achieve its diplomatic takeoff, but it can also show that it is a superpower. To achieve it, it needs to prove it on the field.


However, in Beijing, another bird flies away. A bird named Usein Bolt. He succeeds in “spread his wings like a bird taking off from the nest” [1]. On 16 August 2008, he breaks the world record of 100 meters in 9 seconds 69. All are remembering the run, the record, but also the show. Some dancing steps at the departure. Running, he defies his opponents. He could have pulverized the record. Most important was to win the largest number of medals. Surrounded by the Caribbean sprinters, the American Walter Dix manages with difficulty to win the Bronze medal. In that run, China is not able to compete. Hu Kai finished eighth in the quarter-final.


The evening of 20 August is symbolic. Bolt beats the Americans Shawn Crawford and Walter Dix. He dispossesses the American Michael Johnson of his 200 meters world record established twelve years ago. In that run, China doesn’t exist. The Chinese Zhang Peimeng ranks the last of the eighth series. The Jamaican leaves Beijing with 9 gold medals. Even if one will be withdrawn after the disqualification from the 4x100 meters for a positive test of one of the runners, one remembers from Beijing the Jamaican team, the boys and girls, who have totally eclipsed from the nest, like a cuckoo, the Americans who left without any titles. China doesn’t appear in the track record.


If Jamaica eclipses the United States from the sprint track record, if China is not able to compete, the Games organizing country relegates the Americans to second place in the Games general track record. In Athens, four years before, the United States (35 titles), China (32 titles) and Russia (28 titles) took the first places in the medals ranking. But in Beijing, the Chinese win the bet appearing as a sports superpower winning the largest titles number (51) and took down the Americans from their undisputed leadership since 1992. Admittedly, the American delegation obtained the largest medals number, across all metals. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) counts only the Olympic titles to establish the final track record. The American medias put forward the whole medals number to minimize the defeat. But China slaps the United States in the face. It became THE sports superpower. China built it success on its strong points. In gymnastics, the Chinese obtain the gold medal in nine events. They take over table tennis, diving, and badminton. They shine in shooting and combat sports. Team sports remain the weak point, with only one bronze medal.


China has other weak points. In athletics, Chinese people awaited impatiently Liu Xiang’s performance in the 110 hurdle meters. He arrived in the bird nest, holder of the gold medal obtained in Athens and of the world discipline record. But he starts only to build the nickname of “Olympic Games cursed”. He didn’t arrive in Beijing at his best. The Cuban Dayron Robles deprived him of his world record two months before the Games. An injury picked up before the Games has forced him to withdraw from a series at the occasion of a false start by one of his opponents. He leaves the stadium in front of the Chinese public’s stunned shock. He is not able to compete with his challengers, the American David Payne and David Oliver. In turn, they are defeated in the final by the Cuban Dayron Robles.

He Kexin

In gymnastics, China’s leadership is incontestable. The boys win all the gold medals, including the team competition, in which the Americans obtain only the bronze medal. Thanks to Nastia Liukin, the American girls are able to compete with the Chinese. The Chinese success in gymnastics is symbolized by the young He Kexin who is noted during her routine at the asymmetric bars. She produced one of the most difficult deliveries in the world, estimated at 7,7 points. Among the figures, one particularly remembers her very aerial Tkatchev-Salto pak. On 18 August 2008, she wins the gold medal at this apparatus in front of the American Nastia Liukin. A medal that was added to the team gold medal. She became world champion during the year following Beijing.


But his success symbolizes a discrete fragility of the Chinese superpower. A two faceted fragility, both sporting and geopolitical. Let us start with the sporting fragility. Before competing, the principle of He Kexin’s participation has been questioned. Indeed, the Olympic Games regulations require the athletes to be a minimum of 16 years old to take part in the women’ artistic gymnastics competitions. Whilst China declared the gymnast to be 16 years old, she was in fact 13 years old at the moment of the competitions. Following several meanders, the international gymnastics federation concluded that He Kexin and her teammates, upon which the same doubts remain, were old enough to participate. But they are these meanders that reveal the second superpower fragility.


If He’s strength is her skill level, her weakness lies with her non-respect of the international regulations. This weakness illustrates the Chinese strategy to want to shine at all costs in the stadiums at the risk of flouting the international sports rules. The reason was probably to defend at all costs this comeback in front of the international scene and better contribute to a superpower image. In that case, for the Chinese gymnastics team, the essentials should not be noticed.


Yet, a modest Chinese blogger put a grain of sand in the Chinese superpower bet, while destabilizing the international sports institutions. This web user finds a document of the Chinese ministry of sports that proves the gymnast’s true age. Indeed, in the 2006 and 2007 versions of the online register, 1994 is He Kexin’s real year birth year. The gymnast is genuinely 14 years old and thus not able to compete. These documents are a point of disorder among the international sports institutions. IOC requested the launch of an inquiry following the release of these files on the web. Finally, the international gymnastics federation validated the participation and the medals. Here, therefore, is the first fragility.


The second is geopolitical. The contestation of the Chinese blogger reveals the failures of the Chinese armor. In China, the armor of ancient times was made with an assembly of leather and iron. The web user drove a wedge between the two materials giving a geopolitical turn to the sports fault. Not wanting, not able to confront the censorship, he transmitted his work to an American blogger to get them to publish the results of his researches, outside the grasp of censorship. For him, the essentials were not gymnastics or sports regulations. Instead, it was a matter of contesting the censorship that applied in the country and affirms a freedom towards the superpower. He declared: “Caution; it does not concern an Anti-Chinese post. I don’t take care a bit about the gymnast’s age. I want to prove that it will always be possible to get around the censorship” [2]. His rebellion has been equally successful. Dozens of readers proceeded with a safeguard of the files on their own blogs keeping henceforth indelible proof of He Kexin’s age.


In 2008, there was more than the bloggers’ grain of sand in the superpower wheels. Reinforced repression, numerous arrests, the human rights situation were a veritable stone in the Chinese shoe. The authorities addressed the question with, how shall I say, a certain amount of diplomacy. The People’s Daily, press institution of the Chinese communist party explained that China would organize “a high-level Olympic meeting with Chinese characteristics”. Even if a question did remain, the confidence was entrusted to the Chinese authorities. In effect, when it applied for candidature, Beijing claimed that the Games would lead to a China’s alignment in the international practices including the human rights recommendations.


We already pointed it out in previous articles. The organizers of the major sports events are looking to guarantee the countries' stability to favor investors’ confidence. The Chinese authorities are no exception to the rule. The Games allowed them to repress any kind of order dissent on behalf of the Games stability. On the eve of Olympic Games, the President Hu Jintao and his Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have increased arrests and domestic residence visits. The fear of political rumpus in the middle of sports festival activated their repressive energy. The article “These Chinese who would not see the Games” [3] explains the mechanisms working thanks to the harmonisation process undertaken by the Chinese authorities: “On behalf of the Games, numerous the recalcitrant Beijing-based have been “harmonised” (based on the “social harmonisation” slogan of the President Hu Jintao), it means displaced or muffled (…) The non-governmental organization Amnesty International is not wrong affirming that the repression against the human rights defenders was aggravated in China and that “not just despite the Games but due to the Games”.


In Beijing, in the bird nest and on the other facilities, China satisfied its objective to become a superpower. The access to this status assumed winning the medals competition, notably facing the United States. It also met it at a cost of safeguarding at all costs social stability. As pointed out by Professor Shen Dingli of the Fudan University in Shangaï, it is really the instability risk that worries China, on both interior and exterior levels. But the observers know that well, in Beijing, sport was just the communicant illusion of the “Chinas’ searing development that rushes the powers”.


But also a development that “seriously complicates its relationships with the United States”. What was shown in the bird tree was just the reflection of the duel between two superpowers to win the world leadership. For China, becoming a superpower assumes to absolutely keep a fragile balance between China and the United States. According to Shen Dingli, on the worldwide scene, Beijing and Washington play at frightening one another[4]. Four years after the Games, he described the relationships between the two countries thus: “the China’s ascension is no big surprise: it was inscribed within history, once the society opened itself to the market economy at the moment when the globalization started to streamline the persons, capital, and information circulation. After all, Beijing does not put the gun on the anyone’s head. The American investors seized the opportunity that was offered to them to take advantage of a low-cost manpower. While the Chinese developed their industry, the Americans consumed at best deal and let to others their pollutant manufactories. The exchange triggered tangible benefits while producing pernicious sustainable effects, in terms of employment in the United States and an environment in China”.

Next: 19 May 2017 – Whistle is not play

[1] Usain Bolt illumine le Nid d'oiseau, La Figaro, 18 August 2008,
[2] Foi de bloggeur, He Kexin avait bien 14 ans, Médiapart, Plus vite, plus haut, plus fort, 21 August 2008,
[3] Ces Chinois qui ne verront pas les Jeux, Le Temps, 25.07.2008,

[4] Shen Dingli, Pékin et Washington jouent à se faire peur Le Monde diplomatique, May 2012, pages 14 et 15.



Friday, May 12, 2017

The stadiums' diplomacy

The stadiums' diplomacy

Dr. Gilles Klein, 12 May 2017
Koloma 1

18 May 2008. We leave the Grand Hotel of Independence in Conakry and head in the direction of the large stadium, located in the western suburb of the city. We pass Koloma 1 and turn left before Simbaya Station. We go through extremely poor neighborhoods. Young people are playing soccer on a spit of land alongside a river carrying waste. We cross a small hill and discover the first scaffolds of a hoop that seems huge in that setting.


We arrive at the Nongo stadium. The Ministry of Youth and Sports representative in charge of the sports infrastructures explains: the Nongo stadium is the result of the Chinese-Guinean cooperation decided by General President Lansana Conté. It is fully financed by the People’s Republic of China at the level of 50 million US dollars. Our guide ushers us into a yard surrounded by high palisades and introduces us to the works supervisor. He is a Chinese citizen who works for the Chinese building company Shanghai Construction. He provides us with the main elements: 50.000 seats, athletics track, possibility of shows, large car parks. The works started eight months before our visit. The structure is already well advanced. But it won't be inaugurated until 2011.


The Nongo stadium is far from being the first stadium to be built in Africa by the Chinese. Ibrahima Bayo Jr.[1] shows that the construction of the large stadiums in Africa by the People’s Republic of China falls within what he calls as “stadiums diplomacy”. After Mao Zedong’s diplomacy through ping pong, the Chinese diplomacy through sport then continues with the construction of major infrastructures, of which the journalist recalls the main steps.


The first initiative is launched in 1970 with the 15,000 seats of the Amaan Stadium in Zanzibar. Then China built more than fifty stadiums in almost all of the countries of the continent between the 1970s and the 2000s: Stadium of friendship in Dakar - Senegal, Olympic stadium of Nouakchott - Mauritania, Stadium of friendship of Kouhounou in Cotonou - Bénin, Amahoro Stadium of Kigali - Rwanda, « Moi International Sports Centre » in Kasarani – Kenya.


To follow up its diplomatic strategy, over the 2000s, China undertakes renovations of the stadiums built about twenty years before. The African Cup of Nations (ACN) of which we talk frequently in these columns is a major issue of the Chinese-African cooperation. Thanks to this cooperation, Ghana, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have been able to organize the Cup. In 2012, for the ACN jointly organized by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, the Bata stadium has been refurbished and enlarged by the Chinese. The Angondjé stadium is a gift of the « Middle Kingdom », baptized Chinese-Gabonese friendship stadium. In 2017, except Franceville stadium, all the fields that have welcomed the 2017 CAN matches in Gabon, are Chinese.


New sites are announced. In Cameroon, the construction of the Limbe and Bafoussam stadiums will be ensured by the Chinese for the ACN 2019. This year, Ivory Coast welcomes the Games of Francophonie at the Félix-Houphouët-Boigny stadium in the city of Plateau Abidjan. The following events will unfold at the new 60,000 seat stadium offered by the Chinese in Ébimpé in the suburb of Abidjan.


In his paper abstract, Ibrahima Bayo Jr. presents the situation thus: “For several years, China launched a major trading and economic offensive towards Africa with multi-direction investments. Far from the occidental paternalism, China developed a parallel diplomacy that favors the bilateral cooperation. This new diplomacy is also expressed through the construction of infrastructures of which the more visible are the great number of stadiums financed, built, renewed and turnkey delivered to the African countries. Stadiums diplomacy: the new weapon of massive seduction by China in Africa”.


When arriving in Kinshasa, in June 2011, I understood the Chinese stadiums' diplomacy. More generally, I understood the diplomacy of presidential palaces, infrastructures, in return for mines, land. We were visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo to negotiate a partnership related to the sanitation of the capital, the production of electricity and biofertilizers. We proposed the reconstruction of the national institute of sports and sports centers for young people throughout the country.

Five yards

Our contacts with the ministry of agriculture indicated to us that this project could be integrated within the DRC reconstruction program based on which the President Joseph Kabila was elected in 2006. There were the famous “Five sites” in several sectors: infrastructure, health, and education, housing and electricity, employment. In the framework of these ambitious sites, our partnership seemed to be modest compared to the huge contracts signed in this country by China and its companies.


The issues of a cooperation with the DRC are enormous. By the way, our Congolese collaborator, an adviser to the minister of agriculture, liked to recall this sentence of Frantz Fanon’s that qualified the country thus: “Africa has the shape of a revolver which has its trigger located in the Congo”. A forceful abstract that was consistent with the risks of a warrior and diplomatic disorders. Indeed, the DRC is the place of all the risks for the origin of devastating bangs of all Africa. An abstract that was also consistent with the importance of economic challenges. Challenges that were quickly understood by China, in the DRC, more generally in Africa. Of the relationships between Africa and China, I have kept from my experience and my readings at least three processes: isolate, reconnect, negotiate.


To understand the diplomacy of this country, the fantastic history of the Admiral Zheng He was interesting. Between 1405 and 1433, this Chinese and Muslim admiral led the Emperor’s fleet, with more than three hundred vessels, which explored the world's oceanic spaces. He reached Ormuz, the Red Sea, and the West African coast. He would even have circumnavigated Africa and would have gone all the way to the Antilles. Then, the Chinese diplomacy was totally reversed. The end of the Ming dynasty (1358-1644) saw China abandon the open sea and forget the expeditions of the XVth century. The construction of seagoing vessels was even punishable by death. China isolated itself from the rest of the world for several centuries.


How would China reconnect with the world? A memory from childhood put me on the path. My grandfather told me of China’s return to the world without my understanding, then, of the sense. A story that a posteriori helps to understand the stadiums' diplomacy, more generally China’s economic diplomacy. From 18 to 24 April 1955, there was, in Bandung in Indonesia, the first international conference gathering Asia's and Africa’s countries newly coming out of decolonisation. Twenty-nine countries, characterized by the economist Alfred Sauvy as “Third World”, which were just achieving independence and intending to weigh on international policy. Through the Bandung declaration, they solemnly called for a general decolonisation of Africa and the creation of a space for mutual help between the developing countries.

Zhou Enlai

Ahmed Soukarno, the Indonesian leader was the inviting power of this summit. In his introductory address, he did not beat around the bush: “we are united in our hatred of colonialism, in its various forms in which it can appear; we are united in the hatred of racism and in the common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world”. Among Soukarno’s distinguished guests, three major leaders of those who will become the “Non-aligned”. Gamal Abdel Nasser for Egypt symbolizes Arab nationalism. Jawarharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s successor in India who continues on the unity and pacifism path. And especially, could I say related to the affair that we are dealing with, Zhou Enlai, Chinese Prime Minister who brings prestige and power and the People’s China.


These nascent powers share the wish to bring the Third world’s countries together to tackle the colonization and to start an economic cooperation. The Bandung charter, signed by the participants, constitutes a non-aggression pact between the attendee countries while respecting the sovereignties of each. They want to realize it in front of the United Nations. They decide on meeting regularly to be able to pursue the Bandung’s dynamics.


From the 1970s, the Chinese authorities closely linked their diplomacy to their economic strategy. We previously recalled Mao Zedong’s diplomacy through sport. But, the “Great Helmsman’s” cultural revolution devastated the Chinese economy. With Deng Xiaoping back in power, a consensus emerged to replace Mao Zedong’s ideological extremism, based on the class struggle, with a pragmatic line focused on economic development.


China then undertook a reform of its controlled economy and opened it to technologies and foreign capital. A strategy summarized by two of Deng Xiaoping’s preferred proverbs: “Irrelevant whether a cat is gray or white provided that it really catches the mice” and “Cross a river by touching the stone”. Beijing removed itself from its traditional allies in the third world, but while promoting an economic diplomacy in Africa. China has seen in Africa a source of energy and mining raw materials. For Africa, China is a partner who does not impose particular political conditions and who even ensures them a diplomatic support. It is a boon to escape from the Bretton Woods’ constraints.


To understand the Chinese diplomacy, let us come back on the field, in Kinshasa and the five sites. To finance his reconstruction program, the President Kabila called on the Chinese. In 2007, he signs with them a “century contract” that troubles the international economic and financial spheres. Indeed, he reinvented the barter, this exchange good against good, very well used in Africa, but that time on a large scale. The State mining company Gécamines provided China with concessions to produce over thirty years 10 million tons of copper, 200,000 tons of cobalt and 372 tons of gold. In return the Chinese companies China Railway Group and Sinohydro Corporation should be able to develop the mining sector and build infrastructures: 3 600 kilometers of roads, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers distributed throughout the country,
 4 universities and 50,000 social housing units.

Bretton Woods

The signature of this barter contract re-baptized “win-win” by the two parties defied the Bretton Woods financial institutions. Like numerous African countries, the DRC was in partnership with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the framework of structural adjustment programs and debt buyback. The IMF conditioned the erasure of 90% debt to the reduction of the Chinese commitments. Despite a decrease of half commitments, the President Kabila received the means to implement the “five sites” of the reconstruction. Bulldozers invaded Kinshasa. Throughout the country, building sites were launched, new roads connected the provincial capitals and opened up to international trading the previously isolated regions.


That week, from 20 to 27 June 2011, we still experienced “in live” the five sites. Dozens of works emerged along the five kilometres of the 30th June boulevard, from Gombe - the Kinshasa central station to Kitambo on the Ngaliema bay. All things being equal, we were in Kinshasa for a Chinese-style deal. 7000 tons of waste per day against sports infrastructures for Youth. A certainty! In our room at the Royal Hotel of Kinshasa – Gombe, we knew that to be considered and taken seriously, the proof was required of rigor in our affairs management and of an effective capacity to mobilize investments. It was indispensable to convince the Congolese government of the validity of or our socio-economic model. It would also be necessary to eventually be able to face the Bretton Woods institutions’ reprimands.


Since the beginning of the 2000s, in the DRC, more generally in Africa, China did not miss the African appointment: lines of credits for the reconstruction of infrastructures in Angola; mining investments in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and Gabon; land acquisition in Uganda, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Madagascar. Everywhere in Africa, the construction of new dams, roads, public buildings, presidential palaces, stadiums, etc.


Colette Braeckman, journalist, in charge of African news at the Belgian newspaper “Le Soir” is one of the best analysts of Africa’s evolution, more particularly of the DRC. Her analysis sheds light on the economic development of Africa and the stadiums' diplomacy. According to the journalist, Europe “neglected Africa”, showing itself “more generous in advice for governance and democratization than in fresh capital injection” [2]. She studies the Chinese policy in Africa at the interface of a new colonialism and an original policy that combines the interests of the Middle Kingdom’s interests and the development of the African countries.


Back to the Nongo stadium. The General President Lansana Conté who had launched the Nongo operation chose which side he was on in the Colette Braeckman problem: “The Chinese do not colonize, they work. China does not need to dominate the African states to reap their raw materials, it barters capital and works against resources”[3]

Next: 19 May 2017 – the apparent fragility of the superpower.

[1] Ibrahima Bayo Jr., Diplomatie des stades : la Chine construit son image sur les pelouses, La Tribune Afrique, 24 February 2017.
[2] Pékin brise le tête-à-tête entre l’Afrique et l’Europe, in Le Monde diplomatique, L’Atlas mondes émergents, 2012, Chapitre 4, guerre sans fin, pages 170-171
[3] Cité par Ibrakima Bayo Jr.