Diamonds, Gold, Oil, Coffee and…Soccer Players

Another World Cup themed post…Yay!

I have a longer version posted on my blog. I was motivated to write the post after attending a sport for development conference in which the sale of soccer players was mentioned as a possible social enterprise. In addition, with the World Cup in Africa I read a number of articles relating to African players working in Europe, which got me thinking about the global soccer market.

There seems to be a lot of parallels between the movement of African soccer players to Europe and the extraction of any other commodity from Africa.  A resource is taken out of a country for very little investment, value is added elsewhere, and then huge profits are made, which don’t necessarily make it back to the original country. Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, has mentioned the same thing, but with slightly stronger words – equating the process to ‘social and economic rape’.  Blatter said those words in 2003 and there are now FIFA rules which dictate that a small percentage of transfer fees must go to clubs who contributed to a player’s development. On the other hand a lot of European clubs are establishing their own development academies in Africa. This would in effect eliminate any  profit for local clubs.

Over the past couple of years this extraction of players has also become fairly market driven. Some argue that European clubs are only really looking for a certain type of African player. If you look around the European leagues you will see what appears to be a disproportionate amount of African defensive-midfielders and African strikers relative to other positions. Some argue that player development in Africa is now based on the needs of European clubs and what those clubs perceive to be African strengths. As a result, African nations are not producing the same types of players they did in the past and are not able to produce the same type of creative, spontaneous, attacking football that they did in the past. This argument has been used to justify the poor performance of some African teams at this World Cup.

If you are really stretching you could probably even draw parallels between this type of specialization and previous failed agricultural development efforts. African football is being ruined by the market demands placed on it from European football in much the same way that the agricultural sector in some countries was destroyed by structural adjustment policies that advocated production and export of specific crops.

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Shawn graduated from UBC a number of years ago when he completed a Bachelor of Human Kinetics, followed by a Bachelor of Education. Not really interested in toiling away in a particular school district in B.C., he decided to go abroad and ended up teaching P.E. in China. His last year coincided with the Beijing Olympics and seemed like a fitting way to conclude his time in Asia. Through work and travel experiences he took an interest in international issues and development and completed a Certificate in International Development through UBC Continuing Studies. Shawn returned to Canada and worked for a year as a teacher-on-call before deciding it was time to explore his interest in international development a bit more. He is now working in Lesotho (a small country inside of South Africa) on an HIV/AIDS project run by the Lesotho Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (LENEPWHA). The project has a sport-for-development component that is using soccer to reach out to, and provide services for, orphaned and vulnerable children. At the same time Shawn had also applied to start graduate studies at UBC and will officially start his MA this year. His posts will reflect his personal and work experiences in Lesotho, and the concept of sport as a tool in development.