Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Break the shop window! Grassroots sport vs elite sport: competition and/or synergies

Break the shop window! Grassroots sport vs elite sport: competition and/or synergies
 Dr. Gilles Klein, 31st January 2017

 ANC 2017
 All bets are off! In Gabon, from January 14 to February 5, 2017, the African Cup of Nations is on. The punters can follow the 2016 team ranking: 1. DR Congo; 2. Ivory Coast; 3. Tunisia; 4. Senegal; 5. Egypt; 6. Morocco; 7. Nigeria; 8. Cameroon; 9. Burkina Faso; 10. Mali. Many countries, after the African Cup of Nations, will dream about entering the FIFA world championship.


“More countries might dream” said FIFA’s President when announcing the extended participation of 48 countries in the 2026 soccer world championship. But, what is better for the ANC participant countries? Is it to dream of taking part in the World cup or dream of developing soccer, and more generally sport, in their countries? Is it to inspire the population in front of a TV screen or to inspire Youth by giving them more access to sport?

Developed countries

For the countries which are leaders of the world championships the question does not arise. Indeed, in the more advanced countries, the national sport policy promotes high level sport. However, it is a far from exclusive area. Put simply, sport is developed according to six orientations. 1. The development of sport for all, especially for the more sedentary. 2. The organization of high level sport in order to participate at a high level in the major sporting events (MSE).3. The prevention through sport and the protection of sportspersons against the more negative aspects – doping, violence, discrimination and cheating. 4. The promotion and development of sport as a profession, occupation and employment. 5. The prestige of the national sport and the regulation of sport at an international level. 6. More generally, the promotion of a set of values: education, socialization, well-being through sport, the solidarity and connection between professional and amateur sport.

Developing countries

In contrast, the question certainly does arise for the developing countries, where high level sport often remains the only priority. More specifically, qualification for the major sporting events is the main objective of the national sport policy and risks jeopardizing sport for all and the other orientations namely, prevention through sport, jobs and employment, solidarity between elite sport and amateur sport etc. In making these choices, the basis of de Coubertin’s pyramid, that is the education of young people and training of the staff, remain areas, which are if not completely forgotten, are at the very least sidelined. The meeting of the sports economist, Wladimir Andreff[1], and the African ministers of youth and sports illustrates the problem.

W. Andreff

During UNESCO’s 1992  conference on sport in the developing countries, in Sousse, Tunisia, the sports economist Wladimir Andreff drew attention to the participation of the national sport teams in the major sporting events (MSE) – for example the Olympic Games or the soccer World Cup organized by FIFA – and the benefits for the countries, notably developing ones.


During his presentation, Wladimir Andreff, suggested redirecting all or part of the budgetary provision allocated to the MSE, notably to sport for all and to youth sport. More than about ten of the thirty or forty ministers of sports or their representatives took successively to the floor: “How a representative from de Coubertin’s homeland can make this kind of suggestion!”.

Shop window

"Do you want to break the shop window?" asked one of the ministers. For these high-level sports executives, there is no question of putting into doubt the budgets allocated to the national selections. This was the collective view until one of the African ministers spoke, pointing out that the words of Andreff were sensible. Several European ministers of sports or their representatives also supported the speakers’ words.


Since 1992, the situation has been probably improved in the African countries. However, a large number remain focused on the MSE. In that case, we must agree! Don’t break the shop window of sports in the African countries. Continue to accord priority to the national representation in the MSE. But how do you provide for the national selections? How do you select young talent? How do you educate all the young people that form the basis of the pyramid, the top of which is high level sport? The ministers should reread the conference on English education, delivered by Pierre de Coubertin on April 18, 1997 in front of the Society of social economy. In sport, all starts with young people and their trainers.

[1]I thank Wladimir Andreff for having reminded the context of this event.

Values of sport

That is the mission of the Intergovernmental Organization World Sports Alliance. In Rabat, in 2007, in the run-up of education to the Millennium development goals, the civil international society tasked our organization with educating the young people of our member states and training their staff to the MDGs through sport. For all of us, the question is not to dream of qualifying a team, but of increasing the number of spectators during the broadcasting of the MSE. In this blog, I will come back to two major issues. The first is to suggest solutions to tie sport development to economic development. The second is to help young people and their staff to have a better access to sport and its values.

Next -  Sport and the floating coffins of the Mediterranean: what jobs for the African unemployed graduates?

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