Friday, April 28, 2017

Sports diplomacy issues (5): a shop window at all costs!

Sports diplomacy issues (5): a shop window at all costs!

Dr. Gilles Klein, 28 April 2017

When it comes to sports diplomacy, we are still revising the classics. Everyone remembers the famous toast on 24th July 1904 by Pierre de Coubertin to the British government. He repeated a sentence of the bishop of Pennsylvania which remains attributed to the founder of the new Olympic Games: “it is more important in these Olympiads to take part than to win. Remember, Gentlemen, these strong words, the most important in life is not the triumph but the combat. The essential is not to have vanquished but to have fought well”.


As we observed last week concerning boycotts, for some states, the essential is mainly to try not to fight. By canceling their visibility on the sporting stage, they increased it considerably on the diplomatic stage. However, participation in the great events remains the major objective in most cases. We also saw that for the developing countries, there is a risk of forgetting the long-term objectives for education, training, and employment. They also risk forgetting the budgetary constraints and limitations.

Shop window

Break the shop window! The faithful reader may remember that the African Cup of Nations (ACN) mobilizes all the attention and often a major part of the budget of an African minister of Youth and sports. The national soccer team is the shop window of the national sport. A shop window that does focus all the attention of the public, amateur, spectator and consumer of the major international sports events, in Africa or elsewhere. Even when the national team doesn’t take part in the competition, the latter remains a major event and is a shop window attracting numerous clients.


Conakry, Guinean capital, February 2017. This year, the national team has not qualified for the CAN final phase in Gabon. Usually, when the national Syli plays a match at the Biennale of African soccer, the country comes alive. Some musical groups play at the major crossroads junctions. Public transport taxis fly the national flag. Supporters are rushing to the Madina market to purchase jerseys of the Guinean eleven.


Compared to when Guinea has played in this competition, Conakry, from the high suburbs to downtown, is less vibrant. The fans are meeting, either amongst family or at a neighbors’ house, either in offices or in video clubs, to follow the progress of their respective favorite teams. The Guinean supporters are split between the teams of neighboring countries in contention: Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast. This year, they ended up accepting not seeing their team play in Gabon, with all looking ahead to the future.


The Guinean spectators were filled with joy some two years before in Ethiopia. A hope that has helped them into the saddle of our second diplomatic strategy: to organize a major event. Let us remember. Addis Abeba. 20 September 2014. The candidate States of the 2019 and 2021 ACN organization are waiting impatiently for the verdict. Cameroon is selected in 2019, Ivory Coast for 2021. Against all expectations, Guinea is also chosen to house the African Cup in 2023. That time, the country succeeded. Guinea will welcome the continental tournament. For the first time in its history, it will organize a major event.


The politician's act. It must proceed quickly now and it will not be easy. All remember. The Nongo stadium’s construction with the support of the Chinese lasted four years. On 30 September 2016, the Guinean minister of sports signs a partnership with a Chinese company. It covers the study, the search for financing and the realization of three major stadiums meeting international standards in the Guinean regions. The feasibility studies should start next November, before the beginning of the works on the grounds in Labbé, Kankan, and N’Zeérékoré which are the selected cities.


In January 2017, President Alpha Condé appoints the members of the Organization Committee of the African Cup of Nations (COCAN). CAN transforms it into a political affair: strategic orientations, infrastructural and festival preparations, budgetary allocation of the planned investments, the realization of the related infrastructures, coordination of administrations and private partners, etc. In sum, a whole country mobilizes at major budget reinforcements. A country whose national budget is 15 thousand billion of Guinean francs. Which is equivalent to 1,5 billion euros, that's to say almost the amount for the organization of two ACNs in Gabon.

Not sure!

The arrival of President Ahmad Ahmad at the head of CAN risks a reshuffling of the cards. Indeed, the new African soccer management team attacked the allocation of this competition to Guinea in September 2014. The President of the Council of soccer associations in Austral Africa (Cosafa), Phillip Chiyangwa has called into question the allocation of the African Cups of Nations 2019, 2021 and 2023, to Cameroon, Ivory Coast and to Guinea. One who has been the main supporter of the new president of the African soccer confederation wants to review the designation of hosting countries for the three next ACNs.

Too expensive

The organization of a major event shakes not only the world of sport and its institutions. The budgets involved often lead to turmoil in the national political spheres. The organization of the 2017 CAN was used as a political argument during and after the last presidential campaign. The press has reported it. Jean Ping, former President of the Commission of the African Union and Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabonese president, confronted each other during the last Gabonese presidential election. Following the elections, Mr. Ping refused to recognize the re-election of Mr. Bongo, validated by the Constitutional Court. The first has fed the polemic with the government using the argument of the cost of the African Cup of Nations (CAN 2017). According to his team, the organization in 2012 and 2017 of the CAN would have cost the Gabonese taxpayer the sum of 863 billion CFA francs (1,3 billion euros).


Beyond these political polemics, do the developing or the developed countries really have an interest in organizing the major international sports events? The expenditure records advocate a negative answer. Since the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, the budgets have exploded. When Catalonia and Spain spent 1,6 billion Euros, the budgets of Beijing and London are Pharaonic. In 2008, the Chinese budget for the Beijing Games was 42 billion US dollars, inter alia, 2,5 billion for the sports infrastructures and 26,5 billion for transport infrastructures. In 2012, for the London Games, the United Kingdom originally planned a far lower budget than that of Beijing but that amounted all the same to 7,8 billion for the transports and 1,2 billion for the Olympic stadium.


Instead, it appears that these huge expenditures have been beneficial for the two countries’ economic activity. In Beijing, the construction of infrastructures created more than 1,8 millions jobs, increased the GDP by 12,8% for the city of Beijing and 1% of the Chinese GDP. The London Games created 300,000 jobs and an increase of the London GDP by 1%. Thus, the organization of the Olympic games costs money for the cities and organizing countries but can also bring in a lot.


The benefits are considered on three shortcomings. The new infrastructures, notably the transport ones, cause other collateral benefits. For example, the increase in tourism. The Beijing Games attracted 500,000 tourists and 1 million Chinese. The London Games attracted 30,000 tourists and 800,000 British. Otherwise, the whole country economy benefits from the Games organization. The heads of states of the organizing country build on the event to negotiate some contracts with other heads of states. It is estimated that during the 2012 London Games, David Cameron would have held 17 international summits trying to obtain 1 billion pounds of contracts.


Of course, there is no comparison between the organization of the London games and of 2023 CAN in Guinea. The budgets are very different, the challenges as well. But all these countries, either developed or developing, are looking to increase their international influence through sport. The organization budgets are in fact the first tool of sports diplomacy.


Between developed and developing countries, the case of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is interesting to highlight. Except for India, these countries, so-called emerging, are those which have or will organize the largest number of major sports events on a global dimension: Beijing 2008, South Africa 2010, Sotchi 2014, Brazil 2014, Rio de Janeiro 2016, Russia 2018. Who benefits from these events? Undoubtedly not the population?


Such as for ACN in Gabon and the London Games, the sums have been unreasonable: 32 billion US dollars for the Beijing Games, 50 billion for Sotchi 2014, 13 billion for the World Cup in Brazil, 16, 5 billion for the Rio Games. These numbers are estimated without counting the over expenditures. Then, more than 100 billion US dollars have been expended for the organization of four sports mega-events in the BRICS countries.


What makes the BRICS rush to organize such events and devote to them such budgets? It is obvious. Sport allows them to be visible at all costs on the international stage and to guarantee them good publicity. It is a way to attract investors, often foreigners, who in reality are the biggest receivers of the organization of major events. To benefit from economic spin-offs, the governing class wishes to show to the economic world that it is able to organize these great events. That it is also able to guarantee some social stability to enable investors to be at ease in establishing them in the organizer country.


Ensuring social stability to attract investors? It is not that simple! One remembers this Wednesday 6 July 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators call for the boycott of the Olympic Games and ask for more investment in the public services. A professor then declared: “this government says that there is no money for health, education, but he has money for the OG. It is absurd! That is why, as public servants, we are in the streets to fight for our rights”.

Next: 5 May 2017 – Sport diplomacy issues (6): power and superpower.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sports diplomacy issues (4): Boycott? In and out

Sport diplomacy issues (4): Boycott? In and out

Dr. Gilles Klein, 21 April 2017


What sportsman doesn’t appreciate a good beer following a competition or an intense training session? I remember those refreshing moments that punctuate the ascension of Ventoux or the mountain passes of the Alps on a bike. But the beer which I remember the most is a Guinness shared with one of the icons of my generation of athletes. Kaloum, the business neighborhood in Conakry, close to the Grand Hotel of Independence. My friend, Dr. Pivi takes us to the far end of the spit of land, near the Port of Boulbinet. In one of the modest bars of the Guinean capital city, colleagues from the national institute of sports introduced me to Ron Freeman, representative of a non-governmental organization promoting sports. He was also a great American athlete.


With Ron, the contact is easy. We are from the same generation. The ice is quickly broken. In professional terms, we share the same mission. Devoting our retirement to trying to raise funds, we act to encourage access to sport for young people. We exchange our experiences in Guinea and consider cooperating. In personal terms, I tell him I watched his performance with the American 4x400 meters team. He was the second runner of the team winning the title establishing a new world record during the Mexico Olympic games. Ron was also on the podium of the 400 meters with the bronze medal.


At that time, I was a physical education student and had experienced the May 1968 events in France at close hand. Events were initiated by a part of the student Youth, this spontaneous anti-authoritarian revolt, at the same time cultural, social and political was directed against capitalism, American imperialism and more directly in France against the power of the General de Gaulle who personified authority. We took part in a revolt that tried pointing out all kinds of discriminations. May 1968 was a fantastic boycott of the then society by Youth itself.


With Ron, we also talked about Tommie Smith and his militant boycotting act. “Tommie jet”, another athlete of the American team, was one of the best athletes of all times in the 200 meters. But the young rebels that we were, amateur boycotters of State authoritarianism, were struck by his protest with his compatriot John Carlos and the Australian Peter Norman against the discrimination against black people in the United States, on the 200 meters podium in Mexico.


Ron told what everyone already knows. But hearing the story live was very moving. Tommie had been unable to take part in the Olympic 400 meters, due to his performance at the American selections, a kind of justice of the peace before the Games. He brought back to life the famous podium of the 400 meters. Tommie climbed on the podium in socks and raised a black-gloved fist, head down during his country's anthem. His compatriot, John Carlos raised the left black-gloved fist. A pair of gloves shared to support the boycott movement of the Olympic games by the Afro-American athletes due to the non-respect of their civil rights.


In a general sense, a boycott is the refusal to consume the products and services by a nation. A refusal that can be extended to elections and events. Charles Cunningham Boycott was the first victim of this opposition. An Irish intendant who treated his farmers so badly, they opposed a blockade. Over the course of its history, sport, particularly given the chance of the Olympic Games, has frequently been subject to this kind of blockade or ostracism through numerous scandals and controversies between States. Some of them boycotted the Games several times as an outward expression towards the Olympic International Committee.


One remembers the 1936 Games, organized in Berlin by the Nazi regime, that had been the subject of numerous controversies. The Jesse Owens’ story is often reported as emblematic of the Nazi boycott towards the United States. The latter, who broke or equalized six world records at the Big Ten conference, won four gold medals in front of Adolf Hitler. Some days before the Owens’ victory, Hitler salutes the German winners and left the stadium before saluting the high jump winner, the Afro-American Cornelius Johnson. The competition officials advise him to congratulate all the champions, so Hitler decides to congratulate nobody henceforth.


Owens had not been the specific target of a boycott from the Nazi dictator. In his memories, relating to the boycott, Owens targets more his country than the Nazi regime: “Hitler didn’t snub me, it is our President who snubbed me”. The President didn’t even send me a telegram”… “Following these stories that Hitler snubbed me, when I returned to the United States I was not able to seat at the front of the buses, I was obliged to sit at the back, I was not able to live as I wanted. In other words, as Tommie Smith made it 34 years later, it is his own country that Owens boycotted. A country that was not able to break from racial segregation. Smith and Owens expressed what I could qualify a “boycott in” towards their own authorities.


The Smith and Owen’s “boycott in » acts are individual acts that are not crystallized in diplomacy through sport. These two behaviors didn’t particularly manifest an opposition towards other countries. In Berlin, one shall look at Spain to understand what is a State boycott towards another nation, what I may qualify as “boycott out”. The Spanish government decides to boycott the Games and organizes the popular Olympiads, inviting worldwide workers’ groups to attend competitions. The Popular Front opposes itself explicitly to Nazism. This time, sport is indeed a tool of foreign policy.


Indeed, the United States and the URSS provide the best examples of boycott as means of foreign policy. To understand the tension between the two States, the year 1980 is, without a doubt, the period that allows a good understanding of the boycott strategy. A year that sees the Winter Olympic Games in the United States and then the Summer Games in Moscow.


In the context of « Cold War », the tension between the two states is an old story. But on the stadiums, the war is far from being cold. The event called “miracle on ice” is one of the best illustrations. This expression summarizes the victory, as improbable as it was unexpected, of the American team against the Soviet Union during the last round of the Ice hockey Olympic tournament of the Winter XIII Olympic Games. On 22 February 1980, the hockey players accomplished the feat of beating the Soviet team, previously considered invincible and won the gold medal.


We observed it, sports diplomacy initially crystallizes on duos or duels that constitute the promise of a relaxation or the creation of a tension. This time, the two gate-keepers defending the goals are the focus. A distance duel between Jim Craig, the American gate-keeper, and Vladislas Tretiak, Russian and best gate-keeper in the world. The first played a series of crucial blocks, preventing the Russians widening the difference. The second had been sidelined by the Russian coach Tikhonov at the beginning of the second period.


The Soviet team, which won its matches by often significant gaps was not able to escape. The succession of equalizations by the American team triggered the enthusiasm of a supportive American public. At the end of the match, the American team was a single goal ahead. Sidelined, Tretiak could only look on. His counterpart Craig vigorously resisted the Soviet offensive assaults until the end in a fantastic atmosphere. The United States then won an improbable victory, qualified as a miracle. The American Youth triumphed that day against the Soviet experience. The sports tension was revealing of the diplomatic tension between the two countries.


Indeed, the miracle on ice happens only two months following the Afghanistan invasion by the Soviet army. From December 1979 to February 1989, the Afghanistan war opposed the MOU Jahi dins supported by the United States and predominantly Muslim countries against the communist Afghan regime supported by USSR. It is then within a climate of international diplomatic tension that the Winter games took place, then the Summer Games in 1980.


The XXII Summer Olympic Games take place in Moscow in July and August 1980. For the first time, the capital welcomes this major international sports event. They remain characterized by the boycott of around fifty nations, including the United States to signify their opposition to the Afghanistan invasion by the Soviet Union. They were considered as the Games of the East. In the stadium, the value of the competitions was questioned by the boycotters, even if 36 world records were improved.


In the stadium, one remembers the gesture that symbolized the boycott. Like in Lake Placid, it starts by a duel. At the pole vault competition, the Polish Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz and the Soviet Konstantin Volkov carry out a fierce battle under the public boos. The second failed his three attempts. The Pole secures the Olympic title by crossing a bar at 5,75 meters, then breaks the record held by the French Philippe Houvion. After the contest, he addresses a two-fingered gesture to the public of the Loujniki stadium. Through this gesture, does the pole vaulter address the public? Or is this an act of resistance, against a boycott background, towards the Soviet control of his country.


Nevertheless, the gesture triggers a diplomatic process. The USSR Ambassador in Poland requests the international Olympic Committee to withdraw Kozakiewicz’s gold medal for “insult to the Soviet people”. The Polish government states that the athlete’s gesture was only the consequence of a muscle spasm. Finally, Kozakiewicz is not sanctioned. The ambassador’s request is in fact only one consequence of the American decision to boycott the Moscow Games.


Let us come back to the boycott that in December 1979 the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. In their diplomacy through sport, the Americans used boycott as a means of pressure on their opponent in the Cold War. On 20 January 1980, one month before the “miracle on ice”, the President Jimmy Carter addresses an ultimatum to the Kremlin leaders: “if in one month at the latest, your troops have not left Afghanistan, the American team will not go to Moscow and we will ask other countries to abstain as well”.


The Olympic Committee conducted the negotiations and obtain only some concessions from Leonid Brejnev, notably the parade of the Russian delegation behind the Olympic banner. Some minor concessions to which Washington didn’t surrender. Countries such as Canada, Japan, South Korea and West Germany align with the American positions. 29 Muslim countries associate themselves with the boycott considering the attack against Afghanistan as an attack against Islam.

Return match

As in sport, diplomacy is organized in the alternation of first and return matches. The Los Angeles Olympic Games are for Leonid Brejnev a kind of return match, after the first match in Moscow. On 8 May 1984, the USSR announces its decision to not send a delegation to the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. The Democratic Republic of Germany and Cuba follow the step, followed by the majority of the Soviet bloc. Such as in Moscow, the IOC played the role of negotiator. But this boycott happened and involved around fifteen countries. Such as in 1936, such as in 1980, the boycotting countries have organized alternative games open to the delegations of the boycotters. The boycott thus ensures the triumph of the political and diplomatic challenges against the sports challenges. However, to advance their capacity for international influence, the organization of major events, with big expenses and magnificence, remains for some countries the best means to display their power.

Next: 28 April 2017 – Sport diplomacy issues (5): the most beautiful shop window

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sports diplomacy issues (3): on the side of classics

Sports diplomacy issues (3): on the side of classics

Dr. Gilles Klein, 14 April 2017


For the sportsmen of my generation, Dick Fosbury remains the person who seduced viewers of the Mexico Olympic games, with his reinvention of the high jump. For many, Mao Zedong and Nixon remain those who, three years later, reinvented diplomacy through sport. Let us say, reinvent only. Indeed, as we have seen before, the Greeks used physical activity to strengthen the connections between the communities of the Pan-Hellenic world. To get to Olympia, the delegations crossed areas at war, benefiting from a negotiated truce. However, nowadays, the idea that sport can be a tool of foreign policy only truly takes shape with so called tennis table diplomacy.


In 1971, visiting Japan, the American team attends the table tennis World championships. The delegation is invited by their Chinese counterparts to visit China. In that country, sport is already considered as an integral part of diplomacy according to the following maxim: “friendship first, competition after”. Six days after this invitation and for the first time since 1949, the American team, joined by journalists, dropped their sports bags and rackets on Chinese ground. Before, the meeting had been approved and facilitated by the national Committee of relations between United States – China.


Between friendship and competition, the story is nice, because once more everything starts on the field. Policy and diplomacy are sometimes only simple posterior formalizations of human adventures. This allows us to understand several strategies of sports diplomacy, which we will call classics and moderns. But let us start with the story of the two Zedong's who have mattered in the link between China and the United States of America. Discover the sportsman? Discover the diplomat?

Zedong 1

According to the members of the American delegation, everything starts through a simple gesture of solidarity between two athletes, the triple world Chinese champion Zhuang Zedong and the American player Glenn Cowan. The American who was running late during a training session missed his delegation's bus. The Chinese suggested he take the bus of the Chinese team. As a courtesy, he wants to break the ice. What to say? He who was educated to resist imperialism. What to do? He who was trained to advocate the values of the cultural revolution.

Zedong 2

One year before, in 1970, Zedong heard his namesake Mao Zedong, founder and leader of the People’s Republic of China, say to an American journalist and writer that China had big expectations of the American people. The Great Helmsman met, in fact, Edgar Snow on the Tiananmen Square, on the national day in 1970. Snow was the first occidental journalist to speak with the Chinese leader. His history of Chinese communism since 1930 had brought together the leaders of the Middle Kingdom. With the Black Panthers, the Afro-American supremacist movement, he was one of the rare American citizens to be recognized as a diplomat, ambassador of his country.


The gesture of sports solidarity then becomes a diplomatic gesture. He gives to Cowan the most prized thing in his sports bag: a silk stole. As for him, Cowan has nothing to give but his comb. Too anonymous a gift to be given in exchange. Later, he will also offer a gift with a diplomatic value: a t-shirt with red, white and blue colors, symbolizing peace. The relationship between the two sportsmen is in the news. Interviewed by a journalist, the American declares a strong desire to visit China. The diplomatic affair is launched.


Since his time at the ministry of foreign affairs, Zhou Enlai, Prime Minister, advocated a peaceful coexistence with the Occident, following the impasse of the Korean war and the Geneva agreements. But with Mao Zedong, they refuse the request of the American team to visit China. Then, Mao reverses that decision and decides to invite the American team. He would have been seduced by this mix between sport and diplomacy. One attributes to him these words: “This Zhuang Zedong does not simply play table tennis, but he has a talent for foreign affairs and a fine political spirit”. The story can then be written.


The sportsmen open the game. On 10th April 1971, nine American players cross the bridge between Hong Kong and China and give exhibition matches during one week. They visit the Great Wall and the Summer Palace and attend the ballet. The politicians conclude the affair. On 19th February, the American president travels to China. Two months following this visit, Zhuang Zedong travels to the United States as chief of the table tennis delegation. He will carry out his visit in North America and Latin America.


Forty-five years after Nixon, the American President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro rely on diplomacy through sport. On 22nd March 2016, they are spectators at a match in Havana. It is, of course, a baseball match, a sport charged with symbolism between the two countries. We know that the United States and Cuba share a common passion for baseball. The two presidents didn’t fail to highlight it during this official visit during which the American president expressed his willingness to reach a final point in the cold war.

Sugar Kings

The Estadio Latinoamericano, venue of the match isn't just any old stadium. A stadium that becomes again the bringer of reconciliation, when it had become sixty-two years before a place symbolizing the breaking down of relations. The stadium was associated with a forgotten moment in the history of Cuban and American baseball. It hosted the Sugar Kings, the first and only Cuban club to reach the major American baseball league. In 1954, the Sugar Kings encountered the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the opening match of the season of the International League. There was a promising time for baseball, for Cuban-American relations and for the perspective of seeing Havana welcoming a Major League club, thanks to the Sugar Kings.


But politics took priority over sports. The Sugar Kings became a major political issue, one of the last broken threads in increasingly strained relations between Cuba and the United States. The team has been forced to relocate in New Jersey in 1960. Two years later, the United States decreed an embargo on exchanges with Cuba, thus freezing relations between the two countries. In view of the symbolism of baseball in the two countries, the departure of the Sugar Kings is amongst the high points, despite being unknown, of the annihilation of the relations between the two countries.


In Washington, Beijing or Havana, sport is well and truly a tool of diplomacy, indeed a geopolitical one. We are not at the stage of intuition mentioned in the previous article. We are well and truly in the framework of an explained and organized diplomacy, that's to say, procedures which can be clearly identified. Earlier, Zhuang Zedong taught us that diplomacy through sport was a combination of friendliness and competition. However, the latter is nowadays still the best asset of States to promote their image on the international stage. The organization of major international competitions remains a great classic in terms of diplomacy through sport. Let us review our classics. Today, I offer the first of these.


The minimum of a sports diplomacy is to start to define it. Following the rejection of the Paris 2012 candidature and for the purpose of the 2024 Olympic Games, France defines in 2015, we could finally say, a sports diplomacy. The homeland of De Coubertin has probably understood that such diplomacy assumes defining an efficient strategy. It must be said that in 2005, the slap had been severe. The country of the creation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was deprived of the 2012 Olympic Games. It must be said that lobbying has been there. During the XXth century, an efficient sports diplomacy didn’t necessarily need efficient means, but only a willingness to convince. Let us remember!


On 12 September 2005, Henry Kissinger commented thus on the rejection of Paris for the organization of the 2012 Olympic Games: “the French didn’t understand what the IOC is. Many of its members are coming from the poor countries”. Maybe the then French president didn’t know that the IOC is sensitive to the lobbying practices. The key to success is there. A member of the Olympic institution commented on the French President’s attitude thus: “Jacques Chirac spent eight hours in Singapore, of which three were unnecessary ones for the opening night. The remaining time, he shook hands, drank cocktails in public with voters”.


Tony Blair, as for him, was locked in his suite for two full days. There he met forty members and nobody will ever know what was said there”. Definitely, Blair’s lobbying was far from corresponding to the ethics argued by IOC. But, its president, the Belgian Jacques Rogge, let that go. It is there that Paris best demonstrated the accuracy of Henry Kissinger’s verdict: “the French did not understand what the IOC is”.


February 2017, Paris, France do give a sense of hope. Budapest just withdrew its candidature, the French capital remains in competition for 2024 with Los Angeles. This time, there is even a double reason for hope. The IOC could appoint at the same time the organizers of the 2024 and 2028 Games. Thomas Bach, IOC president, announced a probable double attribution, declaring in December 2016 that the current designation process “produced too many losers”. It could then lead to having two winners. It would guarantee that Paris would finally welcome the Games, not necessarily at the coveted date (2024), but welcoming it in spite of everything. Since 1924, it could be the end of a long wait.


Normandy, a French region is renowned for the hesitation of its people in making decisions. An uncertainty formulated thus: “Maybe so! Maybe no!”. The change of rules suits some and annoys others. For some, the option of a double vote could satisfy all involved parties, the two combatting cities as well as the IOC. An attribution of the Games in 2028 could be “always better than nothing” for Paris in outsider position, or for Los Angeles, that appears to be in the lead. But the change does not satisfy the French candidature managers. These exclude the set of trade-offs of an appointment in 2028: “We are exclusively looking to 2024 because it is the unique mandate received by our team and our project is only possible for 2024”.

Next: 21 April 2017 – Sport diplomacy issues (4): Boycott? In and out.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sports diplomacy issues (2): the limits of the intuition

Sports diplomacy issues (2): the limits of the intuition

Dr. Gilles Klein, 7 April 2017


Founding an intergovernmental organization that finances Youth sport and training of its staff in the developing countries. Some will say aloud: what a nice project! Others will think: financing a lost cause, you must be crazy! They are far from being wrong. Every day, in the main streets of the occidental metropolises, bystanders are stopped by a direct seller of the major non-governmental organizations: Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund, etc. The general public is constantly being asked to fund great causes. The middle classes, sometimes drained of blood in the context of economic crisis, are then invited to save the planet.


When you are invited to found an international sports organization that gathers States, mainly developing ones, the time of honors is quickly replaced by the challenges that darken the future. Because it is exactly a diplomatic affair to which you have been invited. One of the administration of international affairs, the management and implementation of negotiations between states and between organizations. In 2007, we were still at the intuition stage. Over the last ten years, we have had to patiently elaborate a diplomacy to enable us to convince ministers, heads of states, entrepreneurs, and bankers to help us to support our project. However, between intuition and elaboration, what sports diplomacy was to be built?


In Paris, on 15th January 2014, Laurent Fabius, French minister of foreign affairs, presented, in front of an audience of athletes and sports staff, the major orientations of the sport diplomacy of France thus: “if we want that France should succeed and have an influence in sporting terms, we need to implement what we call a sport diplomacy. Until now, it was done intuitively. It will be now done in an organized way”.


A posteriori, the words of the minister are reassuring to us. Before that date, France would not have therefore rationalized the use of sport as a means of foreign policy. A statement that is surprising for a country that is reaching the world top places in medal counts in the major sports international events, such as the Olympic games, world championships or world cups. In any event, the French minister provided us an opportunity to capitalize on our young diplomatic experience. At least, this encouraged us to ask ourselves: What is an intuitive sports diplomacy? What is an organized one?


One year ago, the civil society of the Tunisian sports called to take stock of the sports diplomacy issue, as well as the choices available for the authorities of a state or an international sports organization when it is necessary to define the appropriate orientations of a foreign policy. On this occasion, I presented two kinds of sports diplomacy: implicit and explicit. A categorization which embodied the typology proposed by the French minister. However, to help the Tunisian decision-makers to structure their own sports diplomacy, we have gone further by associating these two categories with a diversity of possible orientations. We will here return to the main orientations of an intuitive or implicit sports diplomacy.


Many states adopt an implicit sports diplomacy that we can characterize thus: the management of the international sports affairs is not formally expressed, but can be identified through the acts that are effectively undertaken on the international sports scene. For most of the countries, it is a diplomacy that is focused on the participation in major international sports events and the institutions which are organizing them. Three strategies can be identified showing the interests and the limits of each of them.


The first diplomatic strategy is to increase representation in the major international sports events. The size of the national delegations at the Olympic Games is an indicator of that strategy. For some states, it is important to increase the level of representation. In London, in 2012, half a thousand athletes are British. For others, this increase is not essential. In London, just 81 Indian athletes represent 1.25 billion inhabitants. For the developing countries, the national representation in the major events assumes the mobilization of budgets that are not insignificant. In Rio, with 1025 representatives, the number of athletes from the African states has never been so high.


We know that the priority of the African ministers of sports is the presence of the national teams in the major international sports events. This priority was suggested in the article “Break the shop window”. Let us see precisely the price of this strategy. In the Ivory Coast, the Elephants, the national soccer selection is expensive, too expensive. The Ivorian federation of soccer reserved a budget of 1,5 billion of Francs CFA (2.460.000 dollars) for the six qualifying matches to the African Cup of Nations. The sports staff argue, saying that the Ivorian professionals are international stars whose care is expensive: travels from Europe, match premiums of international players, long-term uses, etc.


As for him, the minister is ready to chip the shop window: “The Elephants are costly for the taxpayers. Where the Senegalese put 60 million Francs CFA (98.600 dollars) for a home-game and about 73 million (119.720 dollars) for an away game, Ivory Coast put in it 300 million (492.000 dollars)”. Following an arbitration of the President Alassane Ouattara, the state decided to fix a premium that will be paid according to the team's results in a competition.


Winning medals is the second diplomatic strategy. We remember the matches involving the American and Soviet ice hockey teams. During the cold war, the medals table was of strategic importance. The United States and the USSR wanted validation that their systems produced the best athletes. Nowadays, some athletes are more attracted by the defense of their personal interests than by the defense of their nation. Medal winning carries economic development for some communities. How could we blame these athletes tempted by the naturalization in the Middle-East States? This choice allows entire families, even villages to live in the uplands of Kenya or Ethiopia.


The medal winning can also respond to geopolitical challenges. In April 2016, Lamine Diack is awarded by the President Vladimir Putin the rank of the Bear order, a very coveted Russian distinction. According to the minister of sports Vitaly Mutko, “Lamine Diack played a determinant role in Russia’s ability to remain a world force in athletics”. To summarize, a diplomatic medal is exchanged for Russian athletic medals. In a few words, let us revert to this diplomatic strategy to win medals, sometimes at all costs.


Lamine Diack is a major actor on the international sports scene. He had an exemplary career: long jumper and French champion, soccer player then national technical director, member then president of the Olympic Senegalese Committee, Deputy minister of youth and sports, Mayor of Dakar, several times president of the International Association of Athletics Federations. He is re-elected IAAF president, in August 2011, for a term of four years. Raphaël Kodjovi Agopome, one of his former collaborators said about him: “He is a man with a high moral value. Integrity is the value that he taught to us”.


However, in 2015, the same Lamine Diack revealed to the investigators of the central office of combatting financial and fiscal infractions that he received 1,5 million euros directed to a campaign to beat the former Senegalese President Wade during the Presidential election in February 2012. In exchange, Lamine Diack has been engaged to cover up the doping practices of the Russian athletes and to postpone the suspension of Russian athletes. Then, Russia could have purchased the protection of the International Athletics federation (IAAF) against the financing of electoral expenses in Senegal in 2012. Russia won medals. The representative of international sport was also rewarded.


Increasing the administrative representation in the international sports institutions is the third form of an implicit diplomacy. The states are looking to get elected representatives in the international sports bodies; IOC, FIFA, IAAF, etc. In the first article of this blog, we suggested the wanderings driving these mandates in the management of the major international sports organizations. Some presidents of major organizations have nothing to envy of some African presidential practices. The case of the Confederation of African football is emblematic of these interests, but also of the drifts of the representation in the major sports organizations.


Recently, an important but unexpected event occurred in the world of African football. Last March 16th, in Addis Abeba, Ahmad Ahmad, former Malagasy minister of sports, then fishery, became the new president of the Confederation of African football (CAF). The Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, in charge since 1988 give up his seat. The discrete support of Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s President is no doubt linked with this election announcing a change of the mode of governance at the head of CAF.


Indeed, the new president who is considered a discreet man, is looking to modernize the institution. To ensure this, he has three major assets. In his view, it is imperative to change the mode of governance. For example, money given to the African federations should be better tracked. Then, he relies on a network. A network that swings the votes on his behalf. The fourteen presidents of Austral Africa announced that they will vote for the only opponent to the former president. Finally, he wants to develop training of young people and coaches and promote the construction of better-secured sports infrastructures.


The record of President Hayatou is remarkable. Over about thirty years, the former CAF’s president has brought a lot to African football. According to Claude Leroy, who has been coach of several national selections in Africa, “many things have been done. The number of places for Africa in the final phase of the world cup, the CAN format and the clubs’ competitions, the creation of CHAN (African clubs’ championship), notably. CAF is in good financial health because he was able to attract important sponsors. In about thirty years of presence, he obviously advanced African football. Everyone, even his detractors, can appreciate”.


Issa Hayatou, nicknamed the Emperor of African football, a candidate at an eighth mandate, seemed to be undefeated. Trying to be so, he is suspected of having adopted the strategies of the African presidents: maintaining power at all costs and election rigging. To ensure his continuance, Hayatou was supported by Blatter, his FIFA counterpart, suspended for trading in influence and personal enrichment. Both had this kind of survival instinct, that allow them to attain sustainability in politics. Blatter, to be re-elected, counted on Hayatou and Africa, the largest provider of voices at the FIFA. Hayatou counted on Blatter to develop football on the African continent and organize the world cup there. But, like Blatter, Hayatou was at the heart of several scandals: acquiring interests in broadcasting rights, rigging in the allocation of the world cup to Qatar, etc.


We have pointed out three strategies of an implicit sports diplomacy. Increasing the representation in the major events, because the important thing is to participate, assumes also to control the budgets of the federations and ministers of sports. Winning medals is a lofty goal, but can be guided by geopolitical interests giving rise to transactions which are as well discreet as fraudulent. Being elected in a major international sports organization can lead to the construction of a work of art of public interest, but also to the drunkenness of power. We are now back at our starting point and our questions about the governance of world sport. To elaborate our own sports diplomacy, we had at least to keep in mind the drifts generated by the appetite of power or the thirst for money. We had also to pursue our investigation of the possible models of sports diplomacy, to build our own pathway and propose adapted solutions to youth sport.

Next: 14 April 2017 – Sports diplomacy issue (3): on the side of classics.