Beyond Vuvuzelas and Samba

By | March 17th, 2014 | No Comments

alegi_flyer_5mar14Listen to “Beyond Vuvuzelas and Samba: Lessons from South Africa 2010 for Brazil 2014,” a lecture I delivered at Brigham Young University’s David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies on March 5, 2014.

The talk analyzes the political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and its similarities to the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Click here to watch the video.

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The beautiful (Zambian) game in a beautiful (Chinese) stadium

By | March 4th, 2014 | No Comments

The latest Cowries and Rice podcast features Michigan State University History PhD candidate Hikabwa Decius Chipande discussing China’s stadium diplomacy in Zambia. Intriguingly, the enterprising hosts of the podcast, Winslow Robertson and Dr. Nkemjika Kalu, contacted Chipande in Lusaka after reading his “China’s Stadium Diplomacy: A Zambian Perspective” post on this blog.

In the interview (listen above), Chipande expands on his original contribution to explore several key aspects of the national and international politics of stadium construction in contemporary Zambia.  Chipande shares his expert view on Zambian responses to the new arenas, inspired by Elliot Ross’s recent essay on the topic for Roads & Kingdoms, and contextualizes them within larger Chinese investments in mining and other sectors of the economy in south-central Africa.

Chipande is a recipient of the FIFA Havelange Research Scholarship for his doctoral dissertation on the social and political history of football in Zambia, 1950-1993. Reach out to him on Twitter at @HikabwaChipande.

Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil

By | February 11th, 2014 | No Comments



The Garrincha of futbology, David Goldblatt, admits he’s neither Brazilian nor a Brazilianist as he begins his recent public lecture at Pitzer College in California.

Then, like Garrincha, he feigns left, goes right through through Brazil’s World Cup history, pivots on slavery, Lusotropicalism and GINI coefficients, does a give-and-go with Mario Filho, dribbles around Benedict Anderson, reaches the Maracanazo touchline, and delivers a cross into the Vinegar Revolt of 2013.

Eduardo Galeano has written that “in the history of soccer no one made more people happy” than Garrincha. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that in the field of futbology the same is true for David Goldblatt.

*Africa’s World Cup* at the Football Scholars Forum

By | October 27th, 2013 | No Comments



The Football Scholars Forum, an online fútbol think tank I co-founded at Michigan State University, recently launched its 2013-14 season. On October 24, FSF held a lively discussion of Africa’s World Cup: Critical Reflections on Play, Patriotism, Spectatorship, and Space, a newly published collection I edited with Dr. Chris Bolsmann, a South African sociologist based in the UK.

The 90-minute event opened with a consideration of the book’s attempt at blending scholarly and journalistic approaches to exploring the game and its broader implications. The editors and several chapter authors in attendance talked about the process of writing and editing, as well as their experience working with an academic press on a topic with potentially broad appeal.

The book, much of it written in the first person as a loving critique of the 2010 tournament, demonstrates how the FIFA World Cup story is entangled in a web of national and international politics, sporting culture, and global capitalism. Many interventions linked South Africa 2010 to Brazil 2014, particularly through the public financing of expensive and unsustainable new World Cup stadiums in countries with dysfunctional schools and hospitals and high rates of poverty and inequality. The online conversation also featured Luis Suarez’s handball against Ghana and the contradictory legacies of this “African” World Cup.

Participants logged in from half a dozen countries in North America, South America, Africa, and Europe. In attendance: Andrew Guest, Chris Bolsmann
, Christoph Wagner
, David Patrick Lane, 
David Roberts, 
Derek Catsam, 
Jacqueline Mubanga, 
Raj Raman, 
Orli Bass
, Rwany Sibaja, 
Laurent Dubois
, Achille Mbembe
, Jordan Pearson, Sean Jacobs, and Alex Galarza (all via Skype); and Liz Timbs, 
Dave Glovsky, 
Alejandro Gonzalez, and 
Peter Alegi (in East Lansing).

For a Storify Twitter timeline of the event click here.

The audio recording of the discussion is freely available here.

The next Football Scholars Forum event on November 14 will focus on Soccer in the Middle East, a special issue of the journal Soccer and Society (2012), edited by Alon Raab and Issam Khalidi.

Playing the Game: World Cup and Olympic Development in Rio

By | April 29th, 2013 | No Comments



Police in riot gear battle protestors in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Aggressive slum clearance threatens favelas. Gentrification at Maracanã Stadium. FIFA exclusion zones around World Cup venues. Sound familiar?

As readers of this blog know, South Africa staged a successful World Cup in 2010, marketing the country globally to tourists and foreign investors, and uniting, albeit temporarily, a nation divided along racial and economic fault lines. South Africa’s experience was part of a larger trend, that of BRICS countries enthusiastically embracing the global mega sporting events business: from Beijing (2008 Summer Olympics) and Delhi (2010 Commonwealth Games) to Brazil (2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics) and Russia (2014 Winter Games [Sochi] and 2018 World Cup).

Recent media coverage of Brazil’s preparations reveals growing FIFA unease with delays in infrastructure construction projects and other hosting problems. Speaking at a FIFA academic symposium last week, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke expressed frustration with Brazil’s government, saying that “less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup,” according to a Reuters wire story. Valcke’s extraordinary remark confirmed some experts’ suspicions about FIFA’s underlying rationale for choosing autocratic Russia and Qatar (2022) as World Cup hosts.

Another story about 2014 World Cup stadiums was published in the New York Times Goal blog. James Young’s “White Elephant Hunting in Brazil” highlighted the importance of staging matches across the country. It concluded that while there were some troubling questions about the preparations, “Nevertheless, amid talk of delays and spiraling costs, the 2014 World Cup will at least be an event for all Brazil. In a country where the north-south cultural and economic divide is so deeply engrained, that at least is something to celebrate.”

Young’s article elicited a sharp response from Chris Gaffney (@geostadia), Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture and Urbanism at Rio’s Federal University, on his blog “Hunting White Elephants.”

“The projects associated with the World Cup were poorly planned, hastily executed (if at all) and may not serve the long-term needs of the cities or the country,” Gaffney writes. “There is no redress (as the [NYT] author suggests) of historically-situated cultural or economic divides in World Cup investment, especially when we take into consideration the astronomical sums being invested in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.” Gaffney concludes emphatically by pointing out that Young’s piece “does not attempt to kill White Elephants, but to make them into bichos de estimação (pets).”

On Saturday, April 27, ABC radio in Australia picked up on Gaffney’s critical blogging. Listen to Geraldine Doogue’s interview with him here.

Alex Galarza Wins FIFA Havelange Scholarship

By | January 18th, 2013 | No Comments

Alex Galarza, a PhD student in history at Michigan State University and co-founder of the Football Scholars Forum, has been awarded the João Havelange Research Scholarship. This prestigious award is administered jointly by FIFA and CIES (Centre International d’Etude du Sport), an independent research center created in 1995 by the governing body in collaboration with the University of Neuchâtel, and the City and State of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

Galarza’s project is titled “Between Civic Association and Mass Consumption: The Soccer Clubs of Buenos Aires.” It explores how clubs developed as both centers of mass spectacle and sites of everyday urban sociability. Club members and officials used political connections to secure city space and public subsidies for stadiums and the overall success of their professional teams. While clubs became centers of patronage and spectacle, they were also non-profit civic associations central to social and cultural activities in the city. Clubs provided educational facilities, libraries, leisure space, and political forums for their members.

Galarza’s research examines the tensions within football clubs during the mid-twentieth century, an era when Argentine society entered a period of deep economic and political changes following the ouster of Juan Domingo Perón in 1955. Perón’s project aimed at developing a new kind of citizen and civic culture in which the popular classes would have a greater political voice and heightened access to new forms of mass consumption. Mass political participation and consumption remained critical and unresolved tensions during the democratic and military governments that followed. One powerful example of how soccer clubs gave shape and meaning to civic engagement, popular spectacle, and mass consumption is Boca Juniors’ Ciudad Deportiva (in photo above). This failed project was a mix between a stadium complex and amusement park, built over seven artificial islands on sixty hectares of land filled in the Rio de la Plata.

Click here to read a digital version of Galarza’s preliminary work on the fascinating history of the Ciudad Deportiva.

Check back with us for an interview with Galarza in the coming days.

The Branding and Unbranding of Olympic Football

By | July 30th, 2012 | 2 Comments



Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (c.h.bolsmann [at] aston [dot] ac [dot] uk)

After the disappointment of Banyana Banyana’s loss to Sweden (read my post here), I looked forward to the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games and the parade of athletes in particular. The three hour spectacle turned out to be full of contradictions. Danny Boyle provided a fascinating, although selective, history of Britain. He paid homage to the Suffragettes, the National Health Service and immigrants from the West Indies among others, although no reference was made to either slavery or colonialism. I particularly enjoyed his musical selection which included The Jam, Sex Pistols, and The Specials. Watching excited athletes entering the Olympic Stadium can be fun and I was heartened to see Caster Semenya carrying the South African flag.

The lack of visible corporate sponsorship in the stadium and at all Olympic venues is really pleasing to a sports fan’s eye. What a stark contrast to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where FIFA’s corporate sponsors were visible everywhere. I have yet to come across the Olympics “brand police,” unlike in South Africa where fans wearing Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs replica shirts emblazoned with the Vodacom sponsor were told to cover them up because MTN — a rival telecom firm — was a national FIFA corporate partner.

Despite the International Olympic Committee’s apparent subtlety, one just has to turn over any Olympic Ticket and the IOC’s “Worldwide Olympic Partners” are clearly visible. The usual suspects appear: unhealthy soft drinks, measly hamburgers and the like, but also a multinational chemical company. Athletes seem unhappy with the restrictions placed on them under the IOC’s Rule 40 protecting official sponsors from “ambush marketing.” Given that athletes can even be disqualified for promoting their individual sponsors, South African swimmer Cameron van der Burgh, Africa’s first gold medal winner, must be cautious since he endorses a range of corporate sponsors on his twitter account which are not “Worldwide Olympic Partners.”

So despite the veneer of a corporate-free Olympic Games, the sponsors and their logos are everywhere. Fizzy soft drinks are even sold as “healthy food” alternatives inside Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena, which has been temporarily renamed the “City of Coventry Stadium” for the Games because the Japanese electronic giant is not an official partner of the IOC. Even the toilets are not safe from the IOC’s attempt at cleansing all traces of rival sponsors. The toilet cisterns and hand dryers have their manufacturer’s names covered up!

I got to watch a double header in this sanitised stadium yesterday as Mexico beat Gabon and South Korea defeated Switzerland. At £20 for a ticket, this represented genuine value for money. Match tickets are cheaper than what Coventry City FC charge in the 3rd tier of English football. The 32,000 seater arena was almost full with 28,000 spectators filling the stands. The empty seats, unfortunately, were the best seats available, those on the half way line behind both substitutes’ benches. According to the IOC, these were seats reserved for their “Worldwide Olympic Partners.” A shame. Besides the fans of the teams on the pitch, there were many families with young children, helped by cheaper youth ticket prices and the Sunday afternoon kickoff time.

As much as I wanted Gabon to silence the Mexican fans’ homophobic chants during opposing goalkeepers’ goal kicks, El Tri were undeniably stronger than their West African counterparts. In an evenly contested first half, Mexico had a couple of good opportunities, but Didier Ovono in the Gabonese goal was equal to the task. The introduction of Giovani dos Santos in the second half gave the Mexicans more creative options up front and he latched onto a long ball in the 62nd minute to put Mexico in front. Giovani sealed the game in the 90th minute after Gabon conceded a late penalty.

Football at the Olympics is different from the World Cup. The kits are different as the German manufacturer is not permitted to advertise their stripes. Football federation logos are replaced by national Olympic associations And for the men, 15 of the 18 members of the team are under 23 years of age. But one just has to look to the corner flags where FIFA has printed its logo and up to the official flags where the IOC’s flag hangs next to that of FIFA. In the end, the corporate interests of the IOC and FIFA merge.

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