Politics and Soccer in the Middle East

By | September 19th, 2016 | No Comments

 

The Football Scholars Forum opened its 2016-17 season on September 19 with a discussion of James Dorsey’s long-awaited new book, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.

A journalist and Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Dorsey’s blog “(has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture” on Middle East soccer and politics, according to FSF member Alon Raab, who teaches at the University of California Irvine.

Twenty participants spread out across North and South America, Africa, Europe, and, naturally, the Middle East engaged in a lively online discussion with the author. Dorsey began by describing the origin of the project and a disclaimer that he is neither a player or fan of the game. The book, he stated, is about politics, not soccer. But he immediately qualified this quasi-heretical statement (among fútbologists, at least) by stressing that sports and politics are always linked, though at different levels of intensity depending on the place and time.

Dorsey emphasized the importance of young Egyptian ultras in the overthrow of Mubarak and of stadiums as spaces of mobilization, dissent, and censorship. A particularly interesting thread of the forum was the focus on social media as scholarly sources–“cyber-ethnography”–and also as an invaluable space for public discourse.

Prompted by new questions, Dorsey shared his thoughts on gender issues; the limited influence of “Muscular Islam” in its diverse interpretations (from conservative to liberal) on the region’s football culture; racial and ethnic discrimination; and how the failed July 15 coup in Turkey means soccer fans have been caught in the wider web of repression carried out by the Erdogan regime.

Despite the grim status quo for people and football in war-ravaged Syria, Dorsey closed on an optimistic note, arguing that we are at the beginning of a long process of potentially positive change in the Middle East. Time will tell, but what is certain is that the game will continue to serve “as an arena where struggles for political control, protest and resistance, self-respect and gender rights are played out.”

Click here for an audio recording of the session.

For information about the next Football Scholars Forum on October 27, please visit footballscholars.org.

Filed under: Fútbology

How We Speak Sports

By | April 18th, 2016 | No Comments

eepa_11477Image: Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.

Cross-posted from The Allrounder

[First published on November 13, 2014]

We don’t just watch sports – we speak and hear sports. To find out how language shapes our lives as fans, we asked some of our writers to tell us about the ways that people talk sports in English and their native languages. Kay Schiller hails from Munich, fellow historian Gemma Mcdonald grew up in Rome, media scholar Markus Stauff lives in the Netherlands, and sociologist Pablo Alabarces teaches at the University of Buenos Aires. Together, they offer a Rosetta Stone of sports talk.

You’ve all lived for a time in English-speaking countries. Did anything in particular strike you – say, the first times you went to a stadium or watched a match on television – about the ways that native speakers of English talk about their sports?

Kay Schiller: I have lived in the UK since 1997. One of the things that struck me as a non-native speaker when going to see Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool, ManU, or, more recently, Blackburn Rovers was that I had a tremendously hard time understanding the terrace chants, despite being quite fluent in English. I suppose that this is similar to what English fans experience when they attend a Bundesliga match.

Thankfully, there are now websites that explain what you hear in the stadium. You can learn that Blackburn Rovers fans at Ewood Park have several profane chants for Burnley, such as “Burnley are s**t s**t s**t , they always gonna be s**t.” One major difference with Germany is that while this kind of folklore can be found in the supporters’ curves of stadia, you wouldn’t hear otherwise respectable-looking people participating in chants like these – or middle-aged ladies calling the referee a c***.

I’m not sure what this suggests about the different football cultures of England and Germany, or culture more generally, but I find it worthy of note. Perhaps it’s reassuring that even with all-seater stadia and the continuous jacking-up of gate prices in English football, some things do not change.

Gemma Mcdonald: At venerable Fenway Park in Boston, sitting in the bleachers with my dad (obstinately wearing a Yankees cap), the usual chant we heard was: “Yankees suck!” At New Haven Coliseum, where my older brother and I followed minor league ice hockey, it was: “Shoot the puck!” At basketball and American football games, giant electronic scoreboards demanded chants of “Deeeeee-fe-nse!”

This was a world away from the Italian football stadiums and basketball arenas I grew up with.

What first struck me in the U.S. was a lack of spontaneity in the language of fans at the grounds. The PA announcer, the scoreboard, and recorded music directed the orality of the crowd. Maybe this was because of the corporate nature of American sports, with its top-down manufactured stadium experience that transforms fans into consumers. It’s also hard to chant and sing when spending so much time, money, and energy eating and drinking during games. In any case, the second thing that hit me about the U.S. context was the lack of creativity in the language. Much of the spoken word among fans, chants and commentary alike, seemed very direct and not terribly imaginative, a bit like the English language!

In Italy, our oral culture at the stadium was far more creative. I remember sitting in the stands listening to self-appointed bards who would rise to recite absorbing monologues in the vernacular (dialects are hugely important and richly diverse in Italy). These men (rarely were they women) explained the causes of our striker’s inexplicable impotence or the reasons for the referee’s situational ethics. The language was often metaphorical, indirect. The best insults were the ones delivered with a perfect balance of grit, humor, and linguistic dexterity. Even my intellectual Roman mother, with a PhD in Italian literature, relished such vulgar poetic performances (“vulgus” in Latin means ordinary people, after all). This creative genius came through in the songs we sang. Fans developed an art of crafting lyrics and combining them with a dizzying range of musical sources: classical (Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” was a favorite); operatic (Verdi, of course); patriotic compositions (“La Marseillaise”); marches (John Philip Sousa!); folk/traditional (“La Società dei Magnaccioni,” “O Sole Mio,” and “Auld Lang Syne”); partisan resistance (“Bella Ciao”), and loads of pop (from “Yellow Submarine” to Antonello Venditti’s “Roma, Roma, Roma”).

Eventually, I came to appreciate the comfort and safety of U.S. stadiums and arenas. But to this day, their canned and often lifeless aural culture makes me nostalgic of home.

Click here to read on.

African Footballers in Sweden: A Review

By | March 10th, 2016 | No Comments

Cross-posted from Idrottsforum

 

Highly original, meticulously researched, profoundly empathetic

Fútbologists Discuss FIFA Corruption Book

By | February 12th, 2016 | No Comments

Two weeks before the FIFA election to select Sepp Blatter’s successor as president, the Football Scholars Forum, an international group based at Michigan State University, discussed The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert.

Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid and the role of the now-disgraced ex-FIFA ExCo member Mohamed Bin Hammam came under close scrutiny. The authors’ reliance on leaked FIFA electronic files called attention to the challenges and opportunities for scholars working with “big data.” There was discussion about discourses of Western bias and even racism against Africans and Asians (especially Arabs) that are sometimes perceived to be embedded in corruption allegations. Another topic tackled during the event was the intriguing question of whether there should be a universal standard of human rights required for nations to host the World Cup.

The session closed with important contributions related to the upcoming FIFA presidential ballot. Will Sheikh Salman or Gianni Infantino win? And what kinds of reforms might the new leadership deliver? What is the likelihood that any changes introduced will meaningfully transform the structure and governance of the much-maligned world body? In a climate plagued by corruption and cynicism, is there any hope for a better future?

An audio recording of the session is available here.

For more information about the Football Scholars Forum, visit footballscholars.org.

Football Scholars to discuss FIFA corruption

By | February 4th, 2016 | No Comments

the-ugly-game-9781501131493_lgThe FIFA special presidential election will take place on February 26 in Zurich, Switzerland. On Thursday, February 11, at 2pm Eastern U.S. time. the Football Scholars Forum will intellectually and spiritually prepare for this momentous event with an online discussion of The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup by British reporters Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert.

 

The investigative reporting of Blake and Calvert drew extensively on a huge volume of leaked FIFA files they received from a whistleblower within the organization. The book explores the Machiavellian ways in which Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The story centers around the actions of now-disgraced FIFA Executive Committee member Mohamed Bin Hammam. The evidence and allegations in the book are striking. In unveiling cash-for-votes schemes and more, the book raises profoundly troubling questions about football governance and the likelihood of the February 26 election yielding meaningful institutional reforms in a post-Blatter FIFA.

 

For more information about the Football Scholars Forum and to join the February 11 online conversation, email Alex Galarza (galarza DOT alex AT gmail).

Rethinking the 2015 Women’s World Cup

By | December 1st, 2015 | No Comments


On December 1, 2015, the Football Scholars Forum held its 33rd session. The Michigan State University-based online think tank pre-circulated a shared list of readings that formed the basis for a wide-ranging, highly engaging discussion about the impact and aftermath of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Thirteen fútbologists from the United States, Canada, Britain, Argentina, and Lebanon went well beyond the usual focus on the U.S. triumph (its first world title since 1999). The group reflected on the media coverage and scholarly writing about the tournament. Gender discrimination at both FIFA and national FA levels brought out a collective agreement about the dire need for meaningful institutional reform and for much greater funding of women’s football.

Partly reflecting the participants’ interests and expertise, the women’s game in Latin America and the effect of global inequalities attracted considerable attention. Also, the technical, tactical, and physical aspects of the game on Canada’s plastic pitches was scrutinized. Some participants celebrated the individual magic of Marta (Brazil), Necib (France), and Rapinoe (USA) and of teams like Colombia. Others noted the detrimental impact of certain (male) coaches on the games and seemed more critical about the overall playing styles.

I was shocked to learn that in Mexico the most reliable venue for watching Women’s World Cup matches was the local Hooters franchise. Seriously.

In thinking about the aftermath of the World Cup, the group was reminded of the accomplished Australian team that went on strike shortly after the tournament in pursuit of a decent wage. Gaby Garton in Buenos Aires related her experiences of playing in the most recent Copa Libertadores femenina. Her intervention personalized the story of women’s football, past and present: it is not a story of linear progress and perpetual improvement. In fact, it is very much a story of ebb and flow. Clearly, so much work remains to be done, on and off the field.

An audio recording of the session is available here.

Dreaming of a Sports City

By | November 16th, 2015 | No Comments

Bombonera_constructionThe Football Scholars Forum, the online think tank based at Michigan State University, recently explored fascinating aspects of the long and complex relationship between fútbol and politics in the history of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In its second session of the 2015-16 season, FSF co-founder Alex Galarza, PhD candidate in History at Michigan State, shared a chapter from his dissertation: “Dreaming of Sports City: Consumption, Urban Transformation, and Soccer Clubs in Buenos Aires.” Galarza’s doctoral research has been funded by prestigious national and international grants, including the coveted Fulbright and FIFA Havelange scholarships.

The potential impact of Galarza’s dissertation work beyond the ivory tower of academia can be gleaned from his involvement in an ongoing documentary film project. Working with four young Argentine journalists, Galarza aims to use the format of filmmaking to reveal the “hidden” history of Boca Juniors’ Ciudad Deportiva—a (failed) urban renaissance construction project that sheds new light on the role of professional soccer clubs in city planning and everyday life. (Watch the trailer here.)

The Forum encouraged Galarza to explain how this history of Buenos Aires compares with the experiences of other Latin American cities, and broader processes of modernization and state formation.  The author and participants also discussed constructions of race, whiteness, and gender through fútbol, the politics of club governance, and the ideological projects behind stadium construction.

Listen to or download the audio recording here.

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