Conference report

PLAY THE GAME 2005 

By: Jens Sejer Andersen

It is not an easy task to select the most important impressions from a five day conference with 85 presentations, almost 300 particpants from all corners of the world, and many, many conversations, debates, questions and suggestions.

This evaluation of the international world communication conference Play the Game 2005 will focus on some of the key elements in the programme and execution of the conference. Organisational and technical aspects will only be addressed to the extent that they impacted on the objectives of the conference.

The evaluation is based on

  • an e-mail survey sent to all participants immediately after the conference

  • spontaneous comments from participants sent by mail to the secretariat

  • the experiences of the secretariat before, during and after the conference

  • comments from members of the programme committee

  • discussions at the board meeting for Play the Game on 3 January 2006

  • searches in international media databases

 

The evaluation has been prepared by Play the Game's secretariat on behalf of the Programme Committee.

Overall impressions of Play the Game 2005

The general view is that the Play the Game conference was highly successful and fully achieved its objectives of

  • Creating awareness of the role of sport in society at a local, national and international level

  • Drawing a many-sided picture of sport and supporting the right of the individual to choose and influence his or her own daily sporting activities

  • Ensuring a free, independent, open and fact-based debate on the current situation and future development of sport

  • Providing journalists, researchers and political leaders with both the inspiration and the tools to explore the cultural, political, social and economic aspects of sport

  • Creating networks across national and professional boundaries in order to meet the challenges of a globalised sports and media world.

 

In terms of numbers of participants, speakers, media coverage and political impact Play the Game experienced continued growth compared to previous conferences. And while the programme still is so wide-ranging that it can be difficult for participants to keep up with all issues, presentations were matched in meaningful themes to a much larger degree than previously.

All themes turned out to be relevant. Speakers and debates were generally of a high standard. And on a number of specific issues, Play the Game revitalised public debate about current sports policy.

The conference also saw the formation of new network and the revitalisation of existing networks from previous conferences.

An eight pages long document with quotes from mails sent by participants to the organisers in the weeks immediately after the conference is the best possible documentation for the value participants attach to Play the Game. Based on the many flattering statements it is fair to conclude that for a great deal of the participants the conference has been an intense, educational and very unusual experience. Many say that Play the Game was the best or among the best conferences they ever attended.

 

Also in our e-mail survey participants express great satisfaction. 62 per cent find the conference "Very good", 35 per cent find it "Good" and there were no negative responses.

33 per cent find that Play the Game adds value to their work "to a high extent", 50 per cent reply "to some extent", 7 per cent say "to a limited extent" and 1,5 per cent say "none at all".

Obviously it is difficult to measure the direct effects of a conference like Play the Game. But after the conference we have seen in both Danish and international media that journalists continue to pursue issues and agendas taken up at Play the Game. Reactions and follow-on effects that can be directly ascribed to conference include:

  • A significantly higher degree of public attention to the state of affairs in the International Volleyball Federation

  • Match fixing as a concept has received increased media attention before, during and after the conference

  • Following his presentation on the illegal doping trade, the Italian anti-doping expert Alessandro Donati was invited to attend a two day meeting with the directors of WADA on 16-17 January in Montreal. At the meeting he shared his knowledge about doping in mass and elite sport

  • With sports editor Jens Weinreich of the Berliner Zeitung as the main driving force, sports journalists and researchers in Germany have founded a network with the aim of raising awareness about the relationship between sport and society. The network has Play the Game as an important role model. Sportnetzwerk has led to vigorous debate amongst German sports journalists and has been covered by national media. ·The Argentine vice-president of FIFA, Julio Grondona, has invited an Argentine journalist who participated in Play the Game for dinner in order to respond to the criticisms raised during Play the Game of Grondona and FIFA

  • Play the Game was invited to present in a panel during the United Nation's conference on sport in Magglingen in December 2005

  • Material from the panel debate on mega-events is included in the study that the Danish consultancy firm Rambøll Management has published about the viability of Copenhagen submitting a bid to host the Olympic Games

 

Finally, we can see that the number of visitors to our website, www.playthegame.org, continues to rise and lies consistently over 4,000 unique visitors each week. Due to a change in our statistics software, we can not be certain about the total numbers of visitors to the website over the year but estimate that the number of visitors has tripled since early 2005.

Media coverage

In Denmark, Play the Game 2005 was firmly established as a media event - mainly because DR Sporten (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) decided to act as host broadcaster for Play the Game. DR Sporten also produced a theme night on "Sport and cheating" on the national channel DR2 and daily news in the week up to and during the conference including web coverage. At an evaluation meeting, DR Sporten expressed great satisfaction with the co-operation.

 

Almost all major Danish newspapers had signed up for the conference, and Politiken, Jyllands-Posten, Ekstra Bladet and Ritzaus Bureau covered events on a daily basis. The conference was also covered in individual stories in a number of newspapers and sports magazines. Overall, Play the Game reached the highest level of media coverage in Denmark so far, and the result must be regarded as satisfactory.

In terms of international media coverage, Play the Game also did well although there is still not a sustained media interest from from big, agenda-setting European media. The conference was covered by the The Times, The Guardian, International Herald Tribune, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung and a number of major media organisations in India, Mexico and other third world countries.

TV coverage has been sporadic but Finnish, Canadian and Romanian television have all broadcast comprehensive reports.

Overall we have registered approximately 150 articles and television reports from countries outside Denmark. However, the real figure is much higher because the conference was covered quite intensively by news agencies such as EFE (Spain and Latin America), AFP (France and French- speaking countries), DPA (Germany) and ANSA (Italy).

Also, many agency stories as well as television, radio and newspaper stories have been repeated/versionized for publication on the Internet.

Overall there has been a significant increase in international media coverage compared to previous conferences but Play the Game still has some way to go before it has achieved a strong position in international media.

Recommendation:

  • A stronger emphasis on targeting big international media

Participants

Considering that the aim was to gather 300 participants, a total of 276 participants can not be called satisfactory. The growth in numbers of participants - approximately 25 per cent up on numbers in 2002 - is not enough either when you consider that Play the Game now has a broader organisational base than in 2002. And only 25 per cent of the participants were women.

On the other hand, it is very satisfying that the conference succeeded in attracting participants from 43 countries and six continents particularly in view of the fact that fewer funds were available for travel grants this year.

It is encouraging but still not satisfactory that the number of participants who paid for their own participation has risen from approximately a third to a little over half of the participants.

The new initiative with "open sessions" for speakers who pay for their own participation worked well. 24 out of 85 speakers took part in this way after the programme committee had approved their abstracts. The initiative contributed to the innovation of the programme which is reflected in the fact that only 18 out of 85 speakers had presented papers at previous conferences.

 

98 of the participants were journalists, 55 were academic researchers, 42 were students, 34 were employees or leaders in sports organisations, 18 were employed in public administration, 13 were employed in the business sector and 16 fell outside any of these categories.

At the next conference there should be a concerted effort to increase both the numbers and the share of academic researchers and sport leaders and managers.


The majority of participants - 160 - took part in the whole conference. But figures also indicate a potential for further development of theme packages that can attract participants for a shorter period of time. In addition to the 160 full time participants, 64 took part for one day, 26 took part for two days and 26 took part for three days.

Compared to previous conferences, the attendance at many of the important plenary sessions was not satisfactory. Rarely were there more than 100 people present in plenum.

There may be several explanations for this. The daily programme may have been too intense. The slightly broader group of participants may have been more selective in terms of participation. And maybe the style of delivery was too rigid and boring. Whatever the explanation it should be an objective for the next conference that more participants are present during key plenary sessions.

At the next conference, there is little point in sending out brochures by surface mail. According to our survey only 10 per cent of the respondents had heard about the conference from printed material whilst 46 per cent had learned about it from colleagues and other people. Just as many had learned about the conference via Play the Game's website and/or newsletter.

95 per cent of respondents found that the description of conference themes and events in Play the Game's PR material had been fair and appropriate.

Recommendations:

  • No more mass mailings of brochures via surface mail

  • The overall number as well as the number of paying participants should increase

  • The share of female participants and speakers should increase

  • Day packages and programme modules should be developed further

Programme contents, speakers and debates

The conference's subtitle "Governance in Sport: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" served well as an underlying frame of understanding for the 85 presentations and panel debates and made it easier than previously to market the conference in a clear-cut manner.

The nine sub-themes also worked well but at future conferences it will be probably be a good idea to cut back on the number of themes. There is, however, a fine balance between on the one hand presenting the diversity of sport, sport politics and sport research and on the other hand avoiding to confuse and overwhelm participants.

 

Dominating conference dynamics as well as media coverage were topics such as Volleygate, doping, WADA and match fixing - carried by people like Kelli White, Mario Goijman, Sandro Donati and Declan Hill.

Play the Game's own initiatives such as the launch of the International Sports Press Survey and the correspondence with FIFA about the plight of Burmese sports editor Zaw Thet Htwe also gave the conference its own life and identity.

It should be considered carefully whether Play the Game in the future should limit itself to spectacular and controversial topics or whether there should also be room for softer and more unusual topics of a social and cultural character such as those which were represented in 2005 by the theme on United Nations Year of Sport and the Frontrunners theatre play.

It continues to be of importance that Play the Game can attract new big international names as a driving force for debates on sport politics. It was a disappointment that the IOC decided not to send representatives for this conference. That FIFA again decided to refrain from taking part in the many football related debates is also a disappointment but hardly surprising.

It is important to continue our efforts to convince the big international sports federations and other key international actors to take part in the debates in order to ensure that all relevant interests are represented. It is an expression of fairness and it adds excitement and perspective to the conference.

More should be done to present new and unique knowledge during the conference by launching results from either our own analysis projects or those of others. A focus on particular trends in sport could also be considered.

At the next conference more attention should be paid to the role of moderators. Similarly, it is important to work on developing different forms of delivery as a way of framing a more lively and flexible debate on key issues.

Finally, special sessions should be set aside for building and strengthening networks between participants.

Recommendations:

  • Further reduce the number of themes at the conference

  • Consider the relationship between political and broader culturally based issues

  • Develop our own analysis projects

  • Focus more on the role of moderators and forms of delivery

  • Focus directly on network formation

Travel grants

Thanks to a generous grant from Danish Center for Culture and Development, our own funds and a minor contribution from the Association of Danish Sports Journalists, 30 people from less privileged coutnries were able to take part in the conference.

This is considerably fewer than in 2000 and 2002 where more than 50 grantholders took part. To a large extent the drop can be ascribed to the fact that the Danish development organisation, Danida, for the first time did not support the conference. Danida felt that the effects of supporting the conference in terms of creating greater awareness of third world issues in Denmark would be too small. This particular issue is no longer relevant as Danida no longer has any grants for information work.

 

Approximately two thirds of the grantholders selected were very active participants in the conference, one third attended sessions on and off and a couple of participants seemed very inactive.

It was very regrettable that six grantholders cancelled their participation shortly before or during the conference. The late cancellations meant that we could not recoup costs for plane tickets, hotel and board or fill the vacancies with other candidates.

Even though the board and the secretariat carefully researched and considered grant applicants, it must be considered if the selection process could be even more stringent in order to minimize the risk of wasting resources.

It is vital, however, to continue to provide participants from all over the world with the opportunity to present papers and take part in debates at Play the Game as sport politics is globalised to a very high degree.

Recommendation:

  • Tighten procedures for the selection of grant recipients

Partners and external donors

In general partners as well as external donors have added value to the conference. Some examples:

The Danish Centre for Culture and Development and the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations joined Play the Game in arranging a successful one-day seminar on "Sport and Development". The seminar was delivered simultaneously with Play the Game at DGI-byen, involving speakers and participants from the conference, while aimed at a separate target group, namely Danish activists and aid workers.

The City of Copenhagen provided a press centre with 15 available pc's and rendered excellent service in that respect. The city also invited the conference delegates to a reception and buffet at the Town Hall of Copenhagen which was highly appreciated by the guests.

The Sports Foundation Denmark contributed with advice and ideas, playing an active part in the mega-events session. The organisation Wonderful Copenhagen offered expertise from Managing Director Lars Haue-Pedersen, TSE Consulting in Switzerland.

Transparency International took co-responsibility for the workshop aimed at creating a set of "Guidelines for countering corruption in sport". Streetfootballworld and DICAR likewise headed one workshop each.

And the United Nations Year of Sport of Physical Education ensured that the special advisor to Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former Swiss President Adolf Ogi, could speak at the opening ceremony.

 

The Danish School of Journalism sent a team of 25 students who produced splendid live multimedia coverage of the conference adding new journalistic angles to the main themes of the conference.

A grant from the Danish Institute for Sports Studies secured the realisation of the International Sports Press Survey in cooperation with the House of Monday Morning. The contact to many of the researchers involved was achieved through yet another partner, IAMCR Sport and Media section.

Last but not least, the Danish Association for Company Sport offered health tests and fitness machines to the participants.

Practical arrangements

The co-operation with the conference agency NHG as well as the conference venue, DGI-byen, went smoothly before and during the conference. All parties have been engaged, open and flexible.

85-90 per cent of the participants are satisfied or very satisfied with DGI-byen as a conference venue, with the food and with the service they received from the secretariat.

From the point of view of the organisers there were a few blemishes:

  • Due to its size and lighting facilities, Idrætshuset was not the best choice for plenary sessions. The room did not strengthen the intensity of presentations and debates. The room also turned out to be considerably more expensive in terms of equipping it with lights and sound than expected

  • After the conference, the co-operation with NHG about documentation and settlement of our account has been slow and unsystematic.

 

Recommendations

  • In future co-operation agreements it is necessary to specify standards for the post-conference work with the conference bureau

  • The budget for technical equipment must be better specified  

 

Volunteers

Approximately 25 young people - mainly university students - volunteered as helpers during the conference, and 25 journalism students provided live multimedia coverage of the conference via their own website.

Both groups made very valuable contributions to the conference.

It is of great importance to the atmosphere at the conference that many young people are present. At the same time it is important to give young people the opportunity to take part in the conference for free or at a very low cost so they can gain a firsthand impression of debates within international sport politics and enjoy personal interaction with international role models and resource persons.

The volunteers asked for improvements in two important areas:

  • Better management and coordination of their work in order to ensure that assignments are distributed more fairly

  • Better food and possibilites for networking with the other conference participants during meal times etc.

 

These are valid points of criticism and must be addressed at the next conference.

Finances

In terms of accounting, Play the Game does not operate with special financial accounts for the conference. Instead conference costs are incorporated into the overall financial accounts for the institution Play the Game. In this way variations in spending in one area can be balanced by adjusting spending in other areas.

Two sections in the financial statement reflect expenses directly incurred by the conference whilst the conference only accounts for a certain share of spending on for instance administration and communication.

The accounts for 2005 are attached. Please note 

  • Conference fees amounted to approximately 650.000 DKK which is only around 2/3 of the budget. There are, however, no serious consequences of this development as conference fees to a large extent reflect the basic costs of participation. Nevertheless, the difference also underlines the wish for more fee-paying participants.

  • The costs for technical equipment and building a stage far exceed the amount budgetted on the basis of previous experiences of organising conferences at DGI-byen. The main reason is unexpected expenses for furnishing Idrætshuset with light and sound equipment but also a number of smaller items such as rental of computers and extra technical equipment for the opening session  

The future

Play the Game was re-organised in August 2004 and the secretariat was up and running at the end of the year. As a consequence, the main efforts in 2005 have been aimed towards organising a successful conference.

The 2005 conference showed that as an idea Play the Game is still viable.

Over the next few months the board and the secretariat will discuss 

  • How to consolidate and develop Play the Game's organisational structure and sources of funding by attracting support from international organisations, foundations and sponsors

  • How to strengthen Play the Game's capacity to gather and disseminate news via e-mails and www.playthegame.org - also as a way of following up on previous conferences and prepare coming conferences

  • How to strengthen efforts to build networks and debate sport politcs through www.playthegame.org

  • How to develop web-based courses and training and co-operate with universities, journalism schools and similar institutions

 

On the whole, the Play the Game conference 2005 and its results provide an excellent platform for the future development. 

February 2006 - Approved by the Programme Committee of Play the Game:

Sigmund Loland, Headmaster and Professor, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Norway

Joseph A. Maguire, Professor, Loughborough University, United Kingdom

Jan Borgen, Secretary General, Transparency International/Norway

Lars Martin Kaupang, Senior Consultant, MMI, Norway

Kristine Wilkens, Journalist, Politiken daily, Denmark

Henrik H. Brandt, Journalist, Director, Danish Institute for Sports Studies

Rasmus Damsgaard, PhD, anti-doping researcher, CMRC, Denmark

Bjarne Ibsen, PhD, head of unit, Institute for Sport and Clinical Biomechanics, Univ. of Southern Denmark

Lars Haue-Pedersen, Director, TSE Consulting, Switzerland (associated member)

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