Sunday, October 9, 2011

Play the Game, Köln - Afterthoughts

Back from Köln and the beautiful campus of the German Sport University (Deutsche Sporthochschule) where the Play the Game 2011 conference was a source of inspiration and optimism that positive change is coming to the world of sport. A mix of academics, journalists, athletes and sports administrators, came together from around the world to discuss issues of governance, transparency and sport as a source of social change.

My paper, "Growing the Global Game at the Grassroots: Youth and Pro Soccer Partnerships in New York," offered a historical perspective on the tensions between lovers of the Beautiful Game and proponents of American exceptionalism by looking at efforts by the Cosmos to (re-)establish the game in NY and the US, the subsequent explosion of interest and participation in youth soccer programs, and efforts by the Red Bulls to cultivate talent and a fanbase in the Big Apple.  The unique aesthetic, ethical and ontological aspects of soccer bring cultural change as the global game becomes more and more local.

My fellow panelists in the "Professional Football, hopes and realities" session addressed youth player trafficking (Oluwafemi Eyitayo Ayoola Oladele), the migration patterns of women footballers (Nina Clara Tiesler), the need for accounting intervention in Saudi football (Fawaz Alhakami), the plight of Carlos Tevez (Marcela Mora y Araujo) and a report on supporters' opinions on UEFA's Financial Fair Play program (Joachim Lammert).

Much of the conference was concerned with corruption in sport, calling for transparency in sporting governance, and the composition of "The Cologne Consensus" brought the conference to a close with its call to the world's sport leaders, especially the International Olympic Committee, to establish guidelines to ensure the sport movement proceeds with integrity and a sense of fair play informs the action on and off the field.

Investigative journalists Jens Weinreich and Andrew Jennings shared the prestigious Play the Game Award for their efforts to uncover corruption and shed light on problems in the world of sport.

Before the farewell gala, I had the good fortune to join in some 5v5
fußball on one of the countless pitches in the shadow of Rhein Energie Stadion. A goal and two assists seemed a good night's work playing with and against a fine group of talented members of FC's Südtribüne.

The party featured flowing Gaffel Kölsch, friendships formed and networks forged. Having just seen a tweet from Grant Wohl, I had the honor of telling Andrew Jennings that Chuck Blazer resigned his CONCACAF position. The controversial journalist's smile betrayed a sense of vindication, that perhaps all that hard work pays off with positive change after all.

Now back in New York, I know the Play the Game experience will inspire my efforts and inform my perspective as I continue to play and promote the Beautiful Game.

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