We start together...

Protecting our Heritage... Part 2

In my recent article, Protecting our heritage and fostering creativity, I touched upon some things that have been bothering me recently - issues that have been on my mind every day for quite a while now, and even keeping me awake for hours many nights. Given the response and the many questions the first piece  raised, I decided to dig a little deeper and hopefully provide a little more insight.

Please keep in mind: This is 100% my personal view and experience of certain situations and events, stemming from being at the heart of some of these actual processes, and relating to the experience I have with other similar (political) issues nationally and internationally. I am also very well aware that there is much information that I do not have, and I know for a fact that this cannot begin to cover all the details. It get's really complicated - and quite boring, to be honest - but I am hoping to raise some questions that I sincerely feel we need to ask ourselves.

Cover image: Laurent Piemontesi of the Yamakasi, perfectly captured by Jacob Ammentorp Lund in Lisses, France, 2006. Laurent has no personal involvement in writing this article, or the issues I'm discussing. He is, however, a great personal influence for me and a big part of my personal journey, and as such he has most generously let me use the image for this piece.

Ironically, or tragically, if you will, the problems arise because our persuit of presumed unity has turned into a competition. A race against time, ourselves and ghost opponents. Not really a race to win as much as a race not to loose.

The last few months have been somewhat shrouded in much mystery and confusion about the manifestation of various collaborations, organizations and so-called federations. I am not going to try to explain these constellations but I will try to give an insight into the claimed motivation behind them: Unity. You can question the geographical limitations to unity, sure, and maybe even the reach of unity through degrees of separation, but it is at the heart of the values that have been passed on to us, and thus something we naturally strive for.

In the formalized world of sports, unity is achieved through organizing different groups of the same sporting discipline. Here is where it starts getting kind of boring and most of us stop caring and go out moving and having fun in stead... Smaller local groups are most commonly organized under a national federation, and national federations under an internaional federation. Like my local soccer club being a member of the Danish soccer federation, and the Danish soccer federation being a member of FIFA (the international soccer federation). Have you fallen asleep yet? Right, sorry...

*) SportAccord is "the UNION for both Olympic and non-Olympic international sports federations as well as organisers of international sporting events".

If you want to know the why's, you have to get into the history of SA. The ideas do make some kind of sense but is way too much to get into in this piece. You can find more info on their owb website here. 

Well, a few more boring, but important, facts: To recieve recognition as an international federation you have to become a member of an umbrella organization - a union of various international federations, so to speak. Obviously, becoming a recognized international federation opens up many possibilities and grants power and influence. There are several of these über-organizations and all have different goals and priviledges. If you want to work with the IOC, fx. you must join SportAccord where IOC is a member*. SA has been the main focus of interest for the working-group constellations in question so far - most likely because it is one of the largest and most influential of these types of über-organizations, and because of the lure of the IOC

There can only be one recognized federation for a discipline under SportAccord, and with several applicants all of a sudden this recognition process becomes a race to get there first - because nobody wants the power to end up in the "wrong" hands! 

This is where things start going off track. Quality and purpose. Doing things right, and for the right reasons. Making sure you have everyone on board and they're all moving in the same direction, whatever this direction may be. Such a process takes time. But time is a luxury that is not available. There are deadlines that must be met, and not meeting them means loosing everything we've always been fighting for - or so we've been telling eachother...

My questions is this: Are we not looking at this totally lopsided and going about it backwards? Has our fear of 'loosing' blinded us to a degree where we've accepted an if not false, then a very vague, premise for approaching an already extremely difficult challenge? 

I don't believe any of us know exactly where we are trying to go yet - I sure don't! So how has getting "there" first become the main priority? Is getting it right not the most important thing? We've always claimed that the process is more important than the goal - why is this different in this case? I'm not even sure if this classic form of formal organization (federations etc.) really is the right solution, or if it's possible to imagine a much more sustainable approach for communities such as our own?

Yes, there are many sensible arguments for joining unions such as SA. The mission of SA is, after all, to "...UNITE and SUPPORT its members in the co-ordination and protection of their common aims and interests, while conserving and respecting their autonomy." Also, SA states that members "...benefit from various services which support an ethical and socially responsible sports movement that adheres to principles of good governance and sustainability."

I have two major issues, however, that I have come to realize are being blatantly overlooked by everyone in this process:

Issue no. 1

Most if these organizations and their members stem from a system and a reality that is older than any of us. They were created long before our time and are based on values and qualities quite different from ours. Just take a quick look at their statutes and their definition of sport and I think you'll quickly agree with me, that something is a little off. I'm not judging the character and intent, I'm just saying it doesn't match what and how we do what we do, and what we claim to be our core values! The structure of SA is very traditional, with a president on top, general assemblies, councils and minutes of meetings - not exactly a style we recognize from the self-organized communities - or at least not something 99% of us enjoy dealing with, because it takes away time from the important and fun stuff.

Also, SA defines a sport as something that "should include an element of competition" - a parameter which, I'm sure you can imagine, poses quite a challenge in itself to meet. Imagine the endless discussions we would have...

Issue no. 2

Two: Whatever good intentions come from the above, many of the existing members of SA have been proven time and time again to be rotten and corrupt. Try a quick online search on a few of the member organizations, like IHF (the International Handball Federation and director Moustafa), IWF (the International Weightlifting Federation and president Tamás Aján), FIVB (the International Volleyball Federation with former president Rubén Acosta and wife Malú - search also for wistleblower Mario Goijman), FIFA (the International Football Federation), IOC (the International Olympic Committee)... It's not for the romantics but definitely interesting reading! If you want the quick-fix start with this transcript of an intervention by my esteemed colleague Jens Sejer Andersen, the International Director of Play the Game & the Danish Institute for Sports Studies at a public hearing organized by the European Parliament, 18th of December 2012.

I'm not saying it's all bad or evil or wrong, I'm simply asking a basic question that I feel should have been asked at the very beginning: Is this really the company we want to keep and be a part of...?

I don't have the answers, because what we are looking for simply does not exist and thus cannot be copy-pasted. However, I firmly believe that there are alternatives and better ways of working together, handling the process and reaching common goals, than what we are currently experiencing. Is the bond that we share strong enough to carry the weight of this task? Do we need to make it stronger - and how? I don't know... But I know that we have a unique opportunity to truly go new ways and show the world that this can be done right. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, it never has been, but I believe we have an obligation to do everything in our power to try - and honestly, if it's not done right it's not worth doing.

Starting together is not easy. Finishing together might be even harder, but like many others I choose to believe it is not impossible - if we keep our heads straight, our egos in check and don't forget what got us so amazingly far in the first place. The opportunity is right here, let's not waste it.

One love. 


Mikkel RugaardComment