18 January 2015

Football: More than a Game?

This short piece was originally written for an on-line course run by Grant Jarvie of the University of Edinburgh (on futurelearn.com). The course was called 'Football: More than a Game?', and this article - the product of those 6 weeks - seeks to answer that very question in under 500 words.

Football is more than a game. I will consider three arenas of football influence – local, national and international – from both a positive and negative viewpoint. Finally I will discuss my hopes and fears for the future of football.

Football has a positive influence. At the local level football clubs are able to lend their cultural capital to community initiatives which might otherwise fail to gather momentum. A great example of this is ‘Football Fans in Training’ which works to address health risks amongst 35-65 year old men in Scotland. According to Dr Cindy Gray, 85% of European fans surveyed said their club is involved in similar endeavours at community level.

At national level, football provides a platform from which stars may address wider cultural, social or democratic issues. ‘Drogba Diplomacy’ shows that football provides individuals with a kind of social leverage, which can then be utilised for positive change.

Internationally, football can be seen as a form of soft power. A number of key figures with access to the international stage (such as Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, and Victor Cha) have made very positive remarks as to the potential for football to be a ‘less aloof’ form of diplomacy. There is also of course the work of the UN Inter-agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace, seeking to utilise football’s appeal in its global development strategies.

Football also has a negative influence. At the local level, football can be used to foment sectarian violence and civil unrest. Long-standing and fierce rivalries between clubs such as Celtic and Rangers, or Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, are examples of where football is used as a field on which more deeply-rooted social divisions are violently played out.

Nationally, the scenes preceding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil remind us that football cannot solve any of the real problems a country may face. Discontent at the amount of money spent on the World Cup led to widespread protests. Even in a football-mad society such as Brazil, football cannot and must not be used to mask governmental failures.

Internationally, football has been used as a form of ‘soft power’, through which the hegemonic cultural values of Western society have been dispersed globally. Sport for Development initiatives could be therefore criticised as a kind of cultural colonialism. By using football as ‘soft power’, the West retains its political and ideological superiority over the Global South, albeit through much more subtle and nuanced means.

The future holds many challenges, particularly in the realm of effective football governance. National and Continental Football Associations will be compelled to reassess their relationship to FIFA, and this hopefully will pressure FIFA to adopt more transparency in their conduct. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play initiative, of which I am in favour, will only succeed if accepted by clubs and backed by international law.

Finally, it is my belief that we must be careful not to overstate the case regarding the positive influence of football on society at large.

No comments:

Post a Comment