PtG Comment 13.01.2012

Sport in politics and politics in sport - 2011 and 2012

It is time to rank the most important sports political cases of 2011 and to offer a list of prophecies – what will be the most important cases in 2012?

It is time to rank the most important sports political cases of 2011 and to offer a list of prophecies – what will be the most important cases in 2012?

I have made a list of what I find to be the five major sports political cases of 2011 and five cases that I believe will be of great importance in 2012 and have great significance for the future of sports politics worldwide.

Rankings are always subjective. For rankings to have any meaning it is necessary to set up some criteria for what will be emphasized and what will be omitted in the selection. 

Beyond results

Analytically, we can divide sports politics into two categories: sports in politics and politics in sports. The Olympics, for example, fits both categories.  Beijing (China), London (United Kingdom) and Sochi (Russia) all used/uses the Olympics as a means to achieve political or economic gain.

China used the Olympics to show that it was again a part of world politics and as a nation-building project. The UK uses the Olympics for urban regeneration, to improve as a sports nation and to create opportunities for youth in sports. And Russia will use the Olympics to show the world that it is finally rid of the Cold War and to introduce itself as a winter sports destination both for competitions and for winter tourists. This is the sport in politics. 

The fight to get certain sports on the Olympic program, the discussion of whether women will be allowed to participate in ski jumping and measures against corruption and match-fixing in sport is the politics in sports.

My list covers both of these analytical categories. What I do not consider is the outcome of games and the winners of tournaments or championships (unless they are of exceptional character, such as Iraq's victory in the 2007 Asian Championship in football, which was surprising and had significance for nation-building in a war-ravaged Iraq). 

My ranking is based on which sports political cases I think will have a lasting legacy in the sports world and have the potential to change the nature of sport and national and international politics.

Five major events of 2011

1) Qatar's position on the international sports scene

Qatar's real breakthrough in international sport and sport politics actually began in December 2010. Then, Qatar was awarded the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and the Qatar Foundation signed the most expensive sponsorship deal ever with FC Barcelona. The sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona was approved by Barcelona's members in 2011 and its estimated worth is EUR 150 million over five years. This is the first time FC Barcelona gets paid to wear advertising on their shirts (through a consortium they paid to wear the UNICEF logo).

In 2011, the Qatar Investment Authority became the majority shareholder in the French football club Paris St Germain and has promised to transform the Paris club into a major force in European football; Qatar Airways became the official airline of the Tour de France and will carry most of the equipment (in fact the whole peleton) during the Tour in its newest aircrafts, and; the Qatar-owned television company Al-Jazeera bought the international rights to broadcast the French League 1 and got all the TV rights to the football World Cup in 2018 and 2022 for the Middle East and North Africa (23 countries). 

These investments are not just fun money for wealthy Arabs. Behind these investments is a long-term strategy to become the world's leading country for sports and sporting events. Qatar’s Vision 2030 is equivalent to a pension fund for the population of Qatar. Sports and investments in the sports industry will – they hope – ensure Qatar's population a good and safe future. Qatar has had a great influence on sports politics in 2011, which will only become greater in the future.

2. The football revolutions in North Africa

In 2011, there were two kinds of football revolutions in North African countries. With strong support from opposition groups, football fans and football clubs left their mark on the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa – especially in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Further, the revolutions and transition to (what will hopefully be) democracy have made North African countries perform better on the football field.

In an analysis on, Matthew Barrett showed that Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Morocco and Algeria – all countries that have been marked by political revolt in 2011 – have performed much better on the football field after the political riots started (in Sudan's case, after South Sudan became an independent country). The exception is Egypt (which is the most winning team in the Africa Cup of Nations) which has performed worse than usual. 

According to Barrett's statistics, the six North African countries had, after playing 53 games, scored 87 goals and won 45% of the matches. The year before, the six countries played 60 matches, scored 79 goals and won 33% of the matches. 

A common explanation from players being asked about this change is that they now feel that they are playing for their own nation and not a dictator. North African teams often do well in the Africa Cup of Nations, but never in the World Cup. Is this about to change?

3. Match-fixing 

On 15 November 2011, the European Parliament called for measures to stop match-fixing in sports. They asked for better cooperation between the various sports organisations and more cooperation with public authorities. The European Parliament wants to make match-fixing illegal throughout the EU. 

As a comment to the vote in the European Parliament, UEFA President Michel Platini said that match-fixing both threatens the credibility of sport and is the biggest threat to the existence of sports. 

The credibility and power of the European Parliament can be discussed. The vote, however, signals a great dilemma for sports. If the sport loses control of its own business, public authorities or international institutions might want to take over the management of sports. This is contrary to the nature of sport – the sport's autonomy. On the other hand, sports have to rely on help in order to overcome the problem of match-fixing. 

Match-fixing has been revealed in 25 countries in Europe in 2011 and many of these cases are strongly linked to syndicates in Asia. In the past year we have heard about match-fixing in tennis, soccer and cricket, all sports with great attention and a lot of money involved, but other sports are affected as well. 

2011 has been an annus horibilis concerning match-fixing. The question is whether we have seen the tip of the iceberg, or if we are only in the beginning of cleaning up old cases. Either way, 2011 will be remembered as the beginning of the big clean-up operation in this area.

4. The Murphy case 

On 4 October 2011, pub owner Karen Murphy won a six-year battle against the Premier League and BSkyB. Karen Murphy runs the pub Red, White and Blue in Southsea and approximately 8 years ago she bought a decoder card from the Greek broadcaster Nova for £800 a year. Normal price is £1000 a month. In 2006, she received £8000 in fines for the bargain purchase. 

The case has been running in the British legal system for several years and resulted in the British Supreme Court sending the case to the European Court, which ruled that Murphy (and her likes) has the law on her side. 

The case is not finally resolved before the British High Court has issued a ruling, but the verdict of the European Court is going to influence all negotiations for television rights (in Europe) in the future. This is the Bosman verdict of television rights!

5. Formula 1 in India

At the end of October 2011, India organised the Formula 1 for the first time at the newly built Buddh International Circuit. This was the first of five Formula 1 rounds on this track. We will thus see Formula 1 in India for – at least – four more years.

This is a big event internationally, both symbolically and politically. It is a meeting between a hyper-commercial sport and a poor country. 

Although the first Formula 1 round got some negative attention because the Buddh track is situated in one of the poorest regions in India, the Formula 1 circus got mostly positive reviews. 

Compared with all the negative media coverage India received during Commonwealth Games in 2010, the Formula 1 race was a huge success for India as an organiser of international sporting events and India as a nation. It gathered crowds of Indian and international celebrities and all teams praised the track and the event.

When I was studying Eastern European politics, we sometimes used a McDonald's test to measure the economic development of a country. If a McDonald’s restaurant opened in a country it showed that it was possible and relatively safe for companies to settle there. The Formula 1 test is a test at a more advanced level.

The Formula 1 race showed that India is about to be accepted by the most commercialised part of the sports industry and that India is, in the years to come, sure to attract investments from factories of Formula 1 cars and get positive media attention.

This could be the beginning of a new era where international big business not only exploit the cheap labour in India, but also begin to invest there.

Five predictions: five major events of 2012

1. London Olympics

The Olympics in London is without doubt the most important sports political event of the year. Discussions of whether it is right to organise the Olympic Games during recession in world economy and during great financial crisis, and why the Olympics takes place at the same time as Ramadan, are sure to take place. 

NGOs wishing to use the Olympics as a venue to attract attention to their causes will also influence the news. I also expect that the protests against the Sochi Olympics will begin in London, and the spotlight will most certainly also be on the legacy of the Olympics and the powerful status of the IOC.

2. Security at the London Olympics

The most sensitive and difficult issue of the Olympics will be security. Over 20,000 soldiers, guards and police officers will patrol the Games and over a billion pounds will be spent on security.

Increased military contributions will also challenge the lines of command and responsibilities of the different security organisations at place. It will influence the Londoners’ freedom of movement and sense of security, and it might make Olympic tourists pose the question of what kind of sporting event they are actually attending: a military championship or a public celebration? 

The strict security measures in London will be a challenge for all future Olympic hosts. And what if a security breach happens in spite of all these measures?

3. British football team

For people from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales the most emotional moment during the London Olympics will be when the Great Britain Olympic football team enters the field. 

Great Britain fielded Olympic teams in football during the period from 1908 to 1972, but the team was formally dissolved when the Football Association abolished the distinction between amateur and professional football in 1974. After this, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have only represented themselves in football, but not in the Olympics. This year, however, the British football team is resurrected! 

The leader of the Scottish supporters club said a few years ago that even if a British team consisted of 11 Scots and the opponent is Brazil, all Scots would be cheering for Brazil! This says a lot about how emotional this issue is. 

But the resurrection of a British football team also challenges FIFA and UEFA. It was the international football federation FIFA that allowed Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England to participate as separate teams in the European Championships and World Cup tournaments. 

The question is whether the resurrection of the British Olympic football team will create pressure for this to be a permanent arrangement in future European and World Championships. This will also be of interest to separatist movements who want to participate with their own teams in the European Championships, World Cups and Olympic Games.

4. European Football Championship in Poland and Ukraine

The build-up to the first major soccer championship in the former Eastern Europe since Yugoslavia hosted the European Football Championship in 1976 has been anything but painless. Political mess, economic recession, protests and construction problems has marked the prelude to this Championship. 

It will be interesting to see if the news coverage will be characterised by stories of poor organisation or of good football, and if Michel Platini can bask in the glory of a controversial but successful championship or if he must summon his crisis management team to defend the decision of awarding the Championship to these countries. The outcome of the Championship will have great bearing on the awarding of Championships to former Central and Eastern European countries in the future. 5. FIFA reformsAfter the choice of World Cup hosts for 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) in 2010 and the re-election of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president in 2011, FIFA, Blatter and Blatter’s opponents were accused of corruption and of maintaining a culture of corruption that damages the whole game of football.

Sources close to Sepp Blatter are convinced that he will do everything in his power to change FIFA for the better. This is his last term as FIFA president and he is concerned about leaving FIFA with a positive legacy. 

After Blatter’s re-election, he has established four committees looking at corruption, football's integrity and fair play. These committees will make their first reports on the FIFA Congress in Budapest in March this year. Here, we will get an indication of whether FIFA is serious about its new initiatives and if it really wants to come over to the “good side”.

This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on January 4 2012. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on