This article was originally published on Connect Sport here.
This is a short research note prepared by Dr Dan Parnell and Dr Peter Millward, of ConnectSport, which offers an insight into a recent special issue on sport management in an era of austerity, published in the European Sport Management Quarterly journal.
Following Blyth’s (2013, p.2) description, we see austerity as: ‘a form of voluntary deflation in which the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices and public spending to restore competitiveness which is [supposedly] best achieved by cutting the state’s budget, debts and deficits’.
Why is this an issue for sport?
The impact of the economic crisis which has engulfed Europe since 2008 and the subsequent ‘austerity measures’ which have reduced local and national spending on many public services focused on the practices of sport management, has received only scant scholarly attention.
A previous ConnectSport article sheds some light on how austerity can impact sport. There is no doubt public, private and third sector organisations, from grassroots to elite levels have faced challenges as a result of austerity (Parnell, Widdop and King, 2015).
Reduced finances and significant changes to public funding has meant many within sport are being challenged to deliver more, with limited resources and evidence their successes. Indeed, the search (and scrutiny) for value for money is definitely on! As a result, the special issue is very timely for sport practitioners and policy-makers.
What does the special issue cover?
This special issue provides insights on the impacts of policy in an era of austerity utilising case studies from two sporting organisations in two different European countries.
The issues raised in these two contributions present a wide range of challenges and questions for those who research in, and on the impact of austerity in sport management.
The biggest threat of our time?
Some might reasonably argue that austerity-driven policy measures offer the key challenge to the sport disciplinary area so far in the 21st century – and yet, thus far, a clear gap in research around the issue exists. Our scholarly and intellectual aim in collating this special issue is to trigger ideas, debate and interest with a view to filling this space.
How do we in community sport and research move forward?
Of particular interest, a non-exhaustive list of research ideas in this area might include:
– Further empirical research on the impacts of austerity measures on sport policy cuts: There is a shortfall of quantitative and qualitative research that explores the physical impacts of austerity cuts to sport policy budgets across Europe. The Continent has various levels of quality data which exist on this, but in countries such as England seemingly robust data of this nature exists in the Active People Survey. Data of this nature needs to be utilised and mined to draw up a localised picture of whether or not – or to what extent – sport policy cuts have reduced sport participation at a grassroots level.
– The impact of sport policy cuts on ‘hard-to-reach’ populations: Some sectors of European societies are well recognised to be ‘hard to reach’ with respect to facilitating physical activity, particularly including sport participation. The evidence base that exists about those who have suffered through austerity measures might suggest there is overlap amongst the two groups. Some state-resourced sport and leisure facilities have closed or had opening hours reduced as a result of reduced state resource, particularly if they are ‘committee-serving’ rather than ‘profit-making’. We hope this special issue may support future research in listening to, and analysing the narratives of those who used those sports facilities that have closed as a result of budgetary cuts, especially if those populations are part of the ‘hard-to-reach’ populations.
– Managerial dilemmas faced by decision-makers: The processes of gaining ‘more’ (or at least the same) for less presents real challenges for senior and middle managers of state sport facilities on all geographical levels across Europe. Yet their voices – as concerns and/or challenges – have so far not been heard. A potential research avenue which could spring from this special issue might be to empirically and theoretically understand such dilemmas.
– Opportunities for public-private partnerships: The reduction in public spending in areas such as sport facilities is assumed to be negative. Yet such changes in the nature of budgets may open up possibilities for new public-private partnerships, which throw up a host of new questions for sport management scholars. We hope this special issue might spur on future research in this area.
– Challenges for elite sport provisions and future achievements: So far, the suggestions for further research have veered toward amateur sport participation. Yet this is but one (sizeable) part of the web of sport in Europe. How might budgetary cuts and changes affect elite sport provisions and impact of future achievements? The voices of coaches and athletes need to be heard to understand this complex set of management issues.
– Increased accountability of public resources on sport/sport-related projects: The public’s awareness of austerity measures has increased media scrutiny on the use of ever-scarcer state resources spent on sport and sport-related projects. There have been widespread calls for ‘accountability’ of how such resources are spent. What does this mean for those in sport management positions? Are new ‘surveillance’ measures put in place, are they helpful (and to who they are helpful/unhelpful?) and how are they managed by key stakeholders in the sport management process?
– University and Third Sector partnerships: We suggest that this period of ‘super-austerity’ (2015–2020) (Parnell et al., 2016) could provide an opportunity or the platform for sport management to heavily influence the Third Sector sport industry. Academic institutes, particularly those in higher education, are facing their own respective challenges regarding reduced research funding and heightened need for impact. As such, universities may take opportunities to develop meaningful applied research activities and partnerships with Third Sector sport organisations (Parnell et al., 2015); developing university and Third Sector partnerships may help organisations respond to the economic downturn and in turn develop research outputs and tangible impact within the industry .
Our hope for the special issue is to trigger ideas and interest for a number of potential research contexts to develop and extend our understanding. Ultimately, we feel this important debate has just started and there is much more to add.
To do this, universities have a real opportunity to develop meaningful, collaborative, research-based partnerships that have a high probability of impact in sport-based organisations which need strategic and operational support (Parnell et al., 2015).
Finally, we challenge researchers to extend this preliminary list of ideas and take up the challenge to address this gap in academic and policy understanding.
Forthcoming conference: Readers, whether researchers, policy-makers or practitioners may be interested in the forthcoming Sport and Politics Study Group Annual Conference at FC United, hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University: Sport Policy and Politics: The Inequality Gap. Sport and Politics Study Group Annual Conference, Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 2017 at FC United. To find out more – click here.
This research note is based on the following article: Parnell, D., Spracklen, K., & Millward, P. (2016). Special Issue Introduction: Sport management issues in an era of austerity. European Sport Management Quarterly – found here(open access is here).
Dr Dan Parnellis an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. Contactd.firstname.lastname@example.org follow@parnell_danielon Twitter or access his researchhere.
Very pleased to present a recent research article, which introduces our special issue for the European Sport Management Quarterly. Together, with Karl Spracklen and Peter Millward we offer an insight to sport management issues in an era of austerity and an introduction to our special issue.
Read the article here and access it on academiaedu here.
The war for talent is raging across the world. From Silicon Valley to Zhongguancun, organisations and institutions battle to recruit the best the world has to offer. So why is the football labour market viewed any differently to that of other industries and sectors? Surely demand for star players should be no different to the demand for product designers, data scientists and programmers.
Yet in light of the current controversies surrounding issues such as third-party ownership (TPO) and accusations of greed, and due to its mass market global appeal, football is different.
It seems strange then, that so little is known about the inner workings of the football machine – and in particular, those mysterious agents who grease the wheels, move the cogs and, apparently, make vast sums of money in the process.
Football agents make some of the biggest deals in football, sometimes profiting hugely from the talents of their superstar clients. Their role can be defined as “representing clubs and players within the context of contracts or transfer negotiations”.
Essentially, they are middlemen. But their role is increasingly growing to include responsibilities traditionally undertaken by the football club, such as being sold to another team. This raises the significant possibility of conflict of interest, when agents and clubs disagree about the player’s career path. Muddying the waters further is a hierarchy of power and division of labour within the role of agent so that some smaller agents work under the orders of the more powerful few.
So where do these agents come from? In a report on the big five leagues, just over half of agents had already worked in the football industry. Of these, 23% had a playing career, 13% scouted for players, 7.5% worked as a football manager and, 5.5% were sporting directors.
At the top of the profession, are the powerful few described by the media as “super agents”. Jorge Mendes is considered by many to be top of the pile, with clients including Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho among the £625m worth of contracts he has secured.
But given the current lack of transparency and regulation, all the agents and their dealings are difficult to identify, although they are viewed as the most powerful men in football.
Despite the significant number of people registered as agents in professional football, their presence is not evenly spread. A recent report highlights that representation in Europe’s five big leagues (England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy) is so highly concentrated that half of those leagues’ footballers are managed by only 83 football agents or agencies.
These increasingly powerful upper hierarchy of agents operate globallyacross divisions, leagues and continents.
Public and industry opinion towards football agents remains hostile – Napoli’s owner, Aurelio de Laurentis, has described them as the “cancer of our world”. The media frenzy often directed at agents is adding pressure across the football industry to better regulate them. But football intermediary Jonathan Booker claims that it is those in football leadership, not the agents themselves, who have stood by and let this status quo continue.
And what about the agents themselves? Despite the fact that they should have a key voice in the debate about their role, you rarely hear from them. As part of our research we have interviewed football agents and intermediaries operating across the UK, Europe and beyond.
One of them explained that TPO has become common practice as a direct result of the economic recession, which led to financial institutions withholding loans, overdrafts and other financial benefits to clubs. He also argued that “the advantages [of TPO] can be multilateral”, explaining:
The buying club can obtain a player who will make their team better without having to pay the full amount the selling club is asking for. And the investor, whether that is an agent or consultant or company, will look for a return on that investment.
Addressing concerns about the impact of agent deregulation by FIFA in April 2015, he continued: “What does football expect? To become a coach in a professional club you need a relevant, often nationally accepted qualification. To become an agent you need to simply pay a small [£500] fee. This has created a context whereby a huge influx of agents have appeared, lacking due knowledge of regulation and impacting upon the system by continually approaching players with misplaced promises whilst trying to gain a living.
“It has opened the gate to the rogue agents that give all agents a bad name.”
FA as agents of change?
In the UK, the picture appears bleak, contradictory and dominated by big money. While we have strong calls by the FA for tighter local regulation, the Premier League is pushing for an easing in youth (aged 14-15) player regulation. This will no doubt heat up the chase for younger and cheaper players and will open up the disturbing reality of child trafficking and exploitation, when agents arrange ownership of very young players from developing countries. There’s no suggestion that the Premier League condones trafficking or exploitation of young players.
While agents call for global leadership and governance from FIFA to get rid of the rogue elements from their industry, many observers (and insiders) are treating this is a long-term aspiration (given they have enough to deal with already!). In the interim, the FA has an opportunity to lead and demonstrate a gold standard of practice, by heading up a coalition of stakeholders including the Association of Football Agents, the Premier League, English Football Championship and leagues, Players Football Association and government.
Complete transparency on all transfer and financial sensitivities, a formal and enhanced accreditation process and a national programme of education and training would allow the FA to protect its assets, repair its integrity, and position itself as a leader in football regulation.
This summer, even for the hedonistic consumption of the Premier League, was unprecedented. Spending topped one billion pounds, with Manchester United breaking the World transfer record, in the region of £95million for Frenchman Paul Pogba. Many within the football world were left dismayed that United payed so much for the Juventus player who the left the club for nothing in 2012. More disheartening for fans is the reputed 30% or if we conservatively round this down, the £20million fee super-agent Mino Raiola will collect.
Whilst football agents, the games infamous middle men, have been around since the early 1960’s , the term super-agent is only a recent arrival into the lexicon of association football. As money has flowed into the game, a powerful few have amassed enough resources to move from mere Agents to the grander media christened term ‘Super-Agents’. Empirically of course it is difficult to typologise super-agents given the somewhat blurred boundaries, but we are told they are the most powerful men in football, not mangers, players, leaders of the games governing bodies, but agents.
However, what are we to make of super-agents and their networked world. Are they to be demonised as neo-liberal capitalists, fuelled by finance and commerce at odds with the cultural meaning of football as social institutions, or do they play a pivotal role in the production process, using there connected worlds to produce a global game.
It is somewhat easy to place all footballs ills at the doorstep of these business men. As Tony Asghar Managing Director of Revolution Global Sports Consulting Ltd and Masters in Sport Directorship student notes:
It is clear that the media and public perception of the role of the football agent has been dramatised as “the root of all evil” the people who “take money out the game” and “only think about themselves” , however on looking behind the curtain the role of the agent who represents a club in the transfer of player (buying or selling) or represents the player in negotiating an employment contract are necessities not only in football but in global commerce.
In this article, using a Social Network Analysis (SNA) we critically explore the networked rise of super-agents and how these structures give them power, resources and a means to restrict and skew the market. In doing so, we aim to provide both academic and industry insight.
The rise and role of the Super-Agent?
How did we get to this situation, where a powerful few have engineered a market-trading environment that not only facilitates a specific role for itself (agents), but one which would not function without them given their centrality to this market. We consider that the rise in super-agent is fundamentally a network phenomenon.
We are interested here in whether this network takes away or restricts rational choice and constrains the trading market conditions, and ultimately whether this is positive or negative. Whilst it is difficult to define super-agents, it has been noted that a few represent the many, which has given rise to more networked with better connections than others (Poli, 2016). For Tony Asghar:
“…the term Super-Agent has been tagged for a small number of agents (businessmen) who have created a business model which is clever and effective and is beneficial to the clubs who are working with them.”
However, it is clear that through their networks, super-agents have taken power from others and have created more for themselves. Perhaps the embodiment and archetypal manifestation of this is Portuguese businessman Jorge Mendes and his GestiFute networked empire.
Before exploring the networked nature of the GetisFute empire and its implications for global football, it is important to put the market and the agents role into context.
What is the role of an Agent
Agents can be described as those with the role of representing both clubs and players within the context of contracts or transfer negotiations, dealing with players image rights and carry out recruitment activities such as scouting (Poli, 2016). However, the actual role of agent (and intermediaries) has blurred boundaries. Fundamentally they are middlemen yet their role is increasing taking over responsibilities that were traditionally undertaken by the club. As Asghar notes:
“…representing the player in a contract negotiation requires payment whether it is a registered intermediary or a lawyer, whilst the credibility of a lawyer is not in question in most part (mostly due to the time spent educating themselves).
The role of an intermediary negotiating raises suspicion of lining their pockets. Intermediaries who are credible and have experience should only be looking for the best deal for their client and if this is matched by the club then the player is paid and the club may pay the agent fees on behalf of the player.
This is no different to any representation in entertainment, Media or other industry.”
Asghar believes the public scrutinise the role of agents for the most part because they don’t know exactly what they are being paid for:
“…most people agree that no person should sign a contract of any kind without seeking advice. Football players are no different. Perhaps the experience of an agent (who knows the market rate of salaries, knows how to structure a deal, knows the valuation of the player…) can be a lot more advantageous than an educated lawyer who may not have that experience.”
Asghar is also keen to raise awareness of all agents, not just those at the top of the pile:
“It is also important to note, that at present the public perception of agents who are making millions at the highest level of transfers does not alleviate for the majority of agents. Especially those moving players who are (i) free of contract (out of a job), (ii) not playing within a team, (iii) fell out with a manager and/or other reasons whereby time and effort are carried out (without payment) and not highlighted within the media.”
Jorge Mendes – a man at the top of the pile
Despite the significant numbers registered as agents, the market especially in the big European leagues follows somewhat of a power law distribution, i.e., more players are registered with a fewer number of agents. These agents gain further power and control becoming super-agents. We turn now to GestiFute and Jorge Mendes.
The rise in super-agents we believe is a network manifestation. The GestiFute networked business empire is illustrated below, it is an ego-net of Jorge Mendes. To put this graph (network map) into context, the circles (nodes) represent football clubs and the line linking the two (an edge) represents a transfer between clubs (the players that Mendes represents).
The circle size is weighted on a measure of how often a circle falls along the shortest path connecting two other circle (football clubs), such that they might ‘broker’ between these parties (i.e., betweeness centrality). The lines (or transfers) are sized by number (or sum) of transactions between two clubs/circles. That means, the more transfers between the same clubs the greater the size of line.
What does this tell us?
This is a basic sociogram and helps to understand the complex network structure that exists. The network of Mendes is complex. However, we identify six points to consider in this brief insight into this ego-trade network of a super-agent (up until June 2016).
This is a truly global network covering approximately 88 football clubs across 15 countries, involved in 500+ transfers. Portugal still remains the heartbeat of the organisation, but Spain is becoming important in this network.
Examination of the graph metrics show that there are relatively short lines linking a few football clubs. This perhaps makes trading patterns more predictable.
The three giants of Portugese football, FC Porto, Benfica, and Sporting Lisbon are the most central in the network and the powerbase of the organisation. Interestingly, there is relatively very little trade directly between these three, indirectly this is different. That is, players don’t move from FC Porto to Benfica to Sporting Lisbon, and so forth.
Smaller provincial football clubs play key brokering roles in this network. For example smaller clubs in Portugal, for example Maritimo and Rio Ave FC. It appears that almost serve to be used as a trading hub, whether older players getting one last transfer, or a test bed for two years of a young star before being traded off in the football circus. This will be possibly at odds with the traditions and beliefs of the supporters.
This clearly demonstrates the network nature of this industry and gives initial insight into how these agents have become all-powerful.
Finally, whilst it is interesting to see the football clubs that are part of the Jorge Mendes network it is also interesting to note those that are not. Leading us to raise further questions. What impact does this have on them when they are trading? Is the market restricted for these organisations? What about the economics of rational choice? Perhaps a better way to understand this market is transactionally or relationally – through the lens of relational sociology.
From an Agents perspective
From his deep knowledge of the industry, and understanding of the conventions and trading conditions of the market, Tony Asghar has somewhat of an alternative understanding of the network.
“Jorge Mendes has created a network of players, clubs and managers with whom he has gained trust and respect as to being the man who can produce the best players for their clubs.
Mendes is a corporate head-hunter or talent finder who is no different to a Head-hunter is Silicon Valley or Hollywood as the “go to guy” to get the deals done.
There are other similar models by other agents working with a group of clubs and managers at lower level which again is bred by trust and ability rather than open a free market network to the ever increasing intermediaries after the de-regulation of FIFA agent regulations in 2015.”
Indeed, Asghar highlights that agents have an important contribution to the game:
“The issue of owning third party rights of players also comes into the world of the so-called super-agent, and although this is prohibited in the UK, FIFA and UEFA have still not regulated this type of transfer and Mendes and others have offered the service by purchasing a percentage of the player to allow the buying club to invest a more reasonable sum.
Like the banks and financial institutions used to provide loans for these fees, the super-agents are able to assist because they have the funds and more importantly have the experience and know the market and can make a calculated risk on their investment when moving a player say from South America to Europe and knowing he may accumulate club and international appearances and then be ripe for selling on to EPL or other top league for profit.
Therefore the commodities that players are becoming in the eyes of clubs and club owners are major financial investments and yes for every Pogba deal there will be a Falcao, some will work some will not.
The super-agent is becoming powerful but they are also becoming a necessity to the oligarch owners to make financial investment decisions on players, however managers will always have the say on players in order to create a winning team, and rightly so and in my experience most top level managers will not be swayed or overruled by a super-agent (if the player is not right for him), that will never happen.
Super-agents will be an exclusive and small band of football/business/relationship/social experts and even an agent who finds, nurtures a client that gets catapulted into super stardom then the super-agents are waiting to strike and offer that player into their exclusive club and why would the boys original agent say no, if he is getting a seat in the super-agents room, if only for a short time and not on the hard seats at the back of the room.”
Clearly the network here only relates to Jorge Mendes and the players he represents. Therefore, this is not a clear portrayal of how the market is structured. Yet this does offers an insight into the networked characteristics of trading between clubs that warrants further investigation and critical thought.
This throws open questions of rational choice and utility models. In that clubs in the network, might be restricted by who they can trade with and for whom, whilst those clubs outside the network have barriers to entry into the market, given that this is an example of one of many super-agents in the market place.
What does this mean for smaller clubs? Are they destined to become small brokers or feeder clubs to the game’s elite? Will their players trading at the behest of external powers, or super-agents? It appears that power is ultimately being taken away from them as a single entity. They are at the behest of neoliberal forces that have significant access to resources and therefore power.
In a further development straight out of a text book example of Michael Porters five forces, the Fosun group who have a minority stake in GetisFute and heavily connected to Jorge Mendes have entered into a new market and purchased a Football Club, it will be fascinating to view events unfolding at Wolverhampton Wanders founded in 1877. Indeed, it will be fascinating to see how Mendes and the Fosun group use Wolves to for their commercial gain.
At present elite level professional football continues to develop and extend its commercial power, whether in the English Premier League or in emerging football markets within the Global South. As such, we should expect the role of the super-agent to become more prominent as they grow their network and most certainly in their power to influence player transfers in football.
Perhaps the final word should be that of Asghars:
“The market is such that to have your club bring the biggest and best players, they need to call on the most expensive people and experts to provide the service. The culmination of transfer fees this window has exceeded 1bn and is excessive, however the market is dictating this and I don’t see it slowing down in the near future. A slow for deals at the top end or a slow for discretionary support at the bottom end”.
To contact the authors email: Dr Paul Widdop: email@example.com
The new sport strategy ensures that outsourcing of Primary Physical Education (PE) will continue until 2020, meaning that external providers will access the PE and Sport Premium funding for the duration of the this period. As this context is set to continue It is now more important than ever to take a moment, reflect and in football terms, ‘get our heads up’ and see what is in front of us.
In recent research by Parnell, Cope, Bailey and Widdop (2016) published in the peer-reviewed journal Sport in Society, a number of challenges for external providers and primary schools, have been highlighted. Ultimately, we do not know what the real impact of PE and Sport Premium funding is – we do not know whether it works and at present, we are making policy based on weak evidence. This runs contrary to the government’s position of basing policy on a strong evidence base. This needs to stop.
At best, we can continue to retweet, like and share those impressive (and growing) participation figures that are distributed widely, providing little more than some breathing space for under pressure commissioners and managers whom are ill-equipped or unwilling to evaluate the impact of their work. At worst, we can continue to blindly accept the glossy reports, press releases, and annual reports that provide the most convincing narrative around the impact of Primary PE – such as improved concentration, behaviour, educational attainment and overall physical health – all of which lack evidence (Zwolinsky, McKenna, Parnell and Pringle, 2016).
Our research explores the role of sport/football coaches involved in the delivery of Primary PE, specifically professional football clubs. This is because professional football clubs are leading the way in this work; partly a result of experience and credibility of working in primary schools settings and partly a result of funding from the Premier League to develop and enhance this practice. Indeed, it could be argued this is more as a result of the scope of this work nationally by professional football clubs than a substantial amount of evidence.
The new sports strategy provides further context for the continued outsourcing of Primary PE. Moreover, the increased funding allocation for the PE and Sport Premium will be welcomed by many. Despite this, we argue that this increased funding should not be confused with increased impact and suggest the following urgent actions:
– Enhanced professional education and training is required to equip those sport/football coaches delivering Primary PE with the necessary skills;
– Enhanced education and training needs to be delivered and evaluated to analyse its effectiveness;
– We need to evaluate the current practice of those delivering Primary PE;
– This evaluation must go beyond asking people about their perceptions and must include children, capturing their experiences, and generate evidence (both qualitative and quantitative) of this provision and measurable outcomes.
This research was prepared with Dr Ed Cope (University of Hull), Dr Richard Bailey (International Council of Sport Science and PE) and Dr Paul Widdop (LeedsBeckettUniversity). The research can be cited using the following reference and be found here:
Parnell, D., Cope, E., Bailey, R., & Widdop, P. (2016). Sport Policy and English Primary Physical Education: The role of professional football clubs in outsourcing. Sport in Society, DOI:10.1080/17430437.2016.1173911
Dr Daniel Parnell, Senior Lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and Research Director at Connect Sport. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport and football.You can read more about his research here and contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @parnell_daniel
Dr Ed Cope is a lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance at the University of Hull. He has extensive experience in coach education and pedagogy. Ed’s research centres on understanding how children perceive and experience sport. He is leading a novel research project for the International Olympic Committee and has worked within the team for the School Offer Review for the English Premier League. Contact email@example.com or follow @EdCope1 on Twitter.
Dr Richard Bailey is an international recognised authority on sport, physical activity and human development. He has directed studies which have influence policy and practice both nationally and internationally. He is a former Primary and Secondary schoolteacher, teacher trainer, coach and coach education. He works with agencies such as sportcoachUK, UNESCO, the World Health Organisation, the European Union and the International Olympic Committee. He was also lead consultant for the influential ‘Designed to Move’ agenda and directed the School Offer Review for the English Premier League. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @DrDickB on Twitter.
Dr Paul Widdop is a senior research fellow at Leeds Beckett University. His research interests are in the consumption and participation of sport, especially in relation to social networks, geography, and neighbourhood effects. Contact P.Widdop@leedsbeckett.ac.uk or follow @Fire_and_Skill on Twitter.
Just spent a great couple of days at EASS, meeting with colleagues from Play the Game, IDAN and the University of Copenhagen to progress collaborations on sport policy, research and an edited book on sport and health with Professor Peter Krustrup. A big cheers to Simon Whitmore and Jonathan Manley from Routledge for their ongoing support and to Mark Turner from Southampton Solent University who is doing some fascinating research on safe standing in football. My colleague Dr Kathryn Curran also presented our recent article on the role of professional football clubs delivering on the mental health agenda. To top things off, we also managed to make the Aarhus vs Copenhagen Dutch Cup Final, which was a top experience. Great people, great event and great city.
This article was originally published on Connect Sport, found here.
Public health is a major priority for the governments of developed and developing nations. In a bid to develop methods to engage with populations of people rather than individuals, a settings-based approach to promoting public health has been applied. One such approach has been around sport clubs and their stadia under the banner of ‘healthy stadia’. This article presents a collection of articles edited by Dr Daniel Parnell (Manchester Metropolitan University), Dr Kathryn Curran (Leeds Beckett University) and Dr Matthew Philpott (European Healthy Stadia Network CiC) in the peer-reviewed journal Sport in Society, titled ‘Healthy Stadia: an insight from policy to practice’.
The healthy stadia initiatives were developed in the mid 2000s and they emphasised the potential of health promotion in sports venues, across three themes: (i) healthier stadium environments for fans and non-match day visitors (eg smoke-free environments); (ii) healthier club workforces (eg bike to work schemes); and (iii) healthier populations in local communities (eg child obesity interventions). The working definition of a healthy stadium is:
“those which promote the health of visitors, fans, players, employees and the surrounding community … places where people can go to have a positive healthy experience playing or watching sport.”
At present there is a limited amount of research surrounding the healthy stadia agenda, which you can read more about in the special collection’s editorial. There is an abundance of applied activity, under the support of the European Healthy Stadia Network. The role of the network is to capture good practice and to disseminate these case studies across its membership which comprises decision-makers within governing bodies of sport. The applied impact of policy and practice of healthy stadia is impressive, most notably the achievement of implementing tobacco controlpolicies at sports stadia. Indeed, the forthcoming European Football Championships in 2016 will be tobacco-free thanks to collaborative work between the Healthy Stadia Network, the World Heart Federation and UEFA.
As a result of the impressive applied work, accompanied by a lack of peer-reviewed research, the editors [Parnell, Curran and Philpott] developed a special collection proposal. Now published, the collection includes applied perspectives; articles which consider sport stadia for public health promotion; research on the outcomes of physical activity and health promotion programmes in football clubs; the role of Physical Education and the implication of current sport policy; contributions on the lessons learned from sport, PA and health promotion interventions, and findings from an older men’s community-based, football-led weight management intervention.
A list of the contributions is detailed below and we would encourage readers to explore the collection and articles which offer practical implications, which can assist those who commission, manage or deliver physical activity and public health-related interventions through amateur and professional sports clubs. The link to the latest articles on the journal website is here, where you will find these articles appearing. If you would like to access the articles please contact Dr Dan Parnell on email or the corresponding authors directly.
– Editorial: Healthy Stadia: An insight from policy to practice. Daniel Parnell, Kathryn Curran, Matthew Philpott.
– An insight from those involved in Healthy Stadia. Daniel Cade, Kathryn Curran, Andy Fuller, Jenny Hacker, Clive Knight, Simon Lansley, Daniel Parnell, Matthew Philpott.
– Who ate all the pies? The importance of food in the Australian sporting experience. Keith D. Parry, Timothy Hall, Alastair Baxter.
– Sport Heritage and the Healthy Stadia agenda: An overview. Gregory Ramshaw.
– An evaluation of opportunistic health checks at cricket matches: The Boundaries for Life initiative. Chet Trivedy, Ivo Vlaev, Russell Seymour, Matthew Philpott.
– Health promotion orientation of GAA sports clubs in Ireland. Aoife Lane, Niamh Murphy, Alex Donohoe & Colin Regan.
– The community impact of football pitches: A case study of Maidstone United FC. Anthony May, Daniel Parnell.
– Improving the physical and mental wellbeing of typically hard-to-reach men: an investigation of the impact of the Active Rovers project. Colin J. Lewis, Matthew J. Reeves, Simon J. Roberts.
– Success of a sports-club led community X-PERT Diabetes Education. Programme Angela Morgan, Dee Drew, Angela Clifford, Katarine Hull.
– Tackling mental health: the role of professional football clubs. Kathryn Curran, Simon Rosenbaum, Daniel Parnell, Brendon Stubbs, Andy Pringle, Jackie Hargreaves.
– Sport Policy and English primary Physical Education: The role of professional football clubs in outsourcing. Daniel Parnell, Ed Cope, Richard Bailey, Paul Widdop.
– ‘It brings the lads together’: A critical exploration of older men’s experiences of a weight management programme delivered through a Healthy Stadia project. Lorena Lozano-Sufrategui, Andy Pringle, David Carless, Jim McKenna.
– Lessons from the field for working in Healthy Stadia: Physical activity practitioners reflect on ‘sport’. Jim McKenna, Thomas Quarmby, Nicky Kime, Daniel Parnell, Stephen Zwolinsky.
Editorial to cite:
Parnell, D., Curran, K. and Philpott, M. (2016) Healthy stadia: an insight from policy to practice.Sport in Society, DOI:10.1080/17430437.2016.1173914 Available online here.
Dr Dan Parnell is an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. Contact email@example.com or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.
Dr Kathryn Curran is a Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity, Exercise and Health at Leeds Beckett University. Kathryn’s research focuses on investigating the effectiveness of community physical activity and health interventions primarily with socially disadvantaged groups. Contactk.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @kathryn_curran on Twitter.
On International Day for Sport Development and Peace colleagues of The Football Collective reflect on their experiences.
By Dr Daniel Parnell, Dr Pedro Pablo Cardoso Castro and Dr Alexander Cardenas
For the past two-years we have been fortunate enough to travel and work with colleagues in Medellín, Colombia. These fieldwork trips involved engagement with the public sector sport and recreation department, Inder Medellín and local academic institute, Universidad de Antioquia. The fieldwork was funded by the British Council and most recently by Inder Medellín. During this time we were able to spend twenty days working with government departments, academics and community groups building our understanding of the role football plays in social good. The purpose of this article is to share some of the context and innovation observed. The article will raise questions for those in football development, public health, coaching, managers and policy makers.
Medellín is a Colombian city and capital of the region of Antioqiua. It lies in the north-western region of the country in the centre of Aburra Valley in the Andes mountain range. The valley is crossed by the heavily polluted Medellín River and is a densely populated urban area, the second most inhabited city in Colombia.
The history of Medellín has been troubled, in the eighties and nighties it was considered the most violent city in the World, with a murder rate of 381 killings per 100,000 in 1990. This symbolic nature of its recent past accompanied by programmes such as the recent Netflix hit Narco’s, which provides a United States DEA agents insight and perspective on the cocaine trade, has helped cement words such as crime, violence, drug cartels and murder very closely with the culture of Medellín. That said, Medellín cannot and does not try to avoid its past as once being home to South America’s most notorious drugs cartel, with 6,349 killings in 1991 alone (this was a rate of 380 per 100,000 people).
On commencing our first trip to Medellín, accompanied by students, the risk assessment supported these notions of travel being high-risk, which meant (on paper at least) that there was a high risk of kidnap and terrorism. Indeed, arriving with our four students (who took on the apparent risk to join us), flying from Bogota to Medellín and then driving deep into the unknown helped create tensions and nervousness not felt before by the Dan and students. Pedro Pablo and Alexander on the other hand was more excited about visiting Medellín, the envy of Colombia.
These outdated impressions were pleasingly rebuffed during our first visit. Moreover, our experiences of Medellín, working officially and exploring the city by day and night, could not be further from the this perception. Here, we were extended a warm welcome from our host, our colleagues and from the people we met in the communas (communities) who shared their insight, experiences and perspectives on politics, public policy, education and sport, especially the national game football.
Sport development and peace in post-conflict Colombia
Despite sport and recreation playing a huge role in regeneration, some of which Dan has written about in an article for The Conversation, Colombia has experienced the longest-running internal conflict in the Western hemisphere. For over 50-years government forces, guerillas and paramilitaries have been in confrontation. This confrontation has recorded 220,000 deaths between 1958-2010, a displacement of 5.7million people, 900,000 assassinations and much more, which you can read about here on a blog post by Alex.
From fear to hope: regeneration in Medellín
The city is also renowned for its cable car system – we joined quite a few tourists in Santa Domingo; which links communities in the hillside to the metro and city centre, helping build the interconnectivity of residents of the communas across the city. This infrastructure involves public spaces, libraries, escalators into the hillside of Commune 13, which also have outreach schools and police stations. This innovation also includes, Commune 4, where a mountain garbage site was converted into a public park, to the most recent Parques del Río Medellín, which has been labelled the cities boldest yet.
Alongside this urban and community innovation we were able to enjoy a glimpse into the everyday life for people of the paisa region, who appeared to enjoy this new change and passed tradition. Including the formidable bandeja paisa – a meal of fried pork, lots of crackling, lots of beans, eggs, black pudding, maize buns and plantain. Beyond gaining insight into traditions of the paisa, we also received an extensive insight into the sport operations across the city and how sport and football was being used to help shape regeneration and social good in the city.
Football and Medellín
Football has been a key part of the history of Medellín. Two of most high profile names associated with football historically in Medellín is the Escobars, Pablo the drug cartel kingpin who maintained a close relationship with professional and international footballers in Colombia, and Andrés, the Colombian World Cup 1994 player who was tragically murdered. Recently however, during the last World Cup in Brazil (2014), Colombia shined on the world sporting stage.
Regardless of ongoing turmoil associated with conflict nationally and regionally, football has remained a key game for Colombians. During the 2014 Brazil World Cup (featured on the New York Times online edition) a study explored the perception of football fans in nineteen countries. In relation to Colombia, the study found that 94 percent of Colombians were interested in football, the highest percentage of all countries surveyed. Despite this, we were still surprised to witness,when we were took in an off road vehicle to one of the highest communities to take a walk along the newly created hillside trail (through the community allotment enterprises), football pitches emerging from these communities…
Articulated Life Units: taking sport and recreation to the hearts of the community
The football pitches that somehow ascend from the environment, are in fact a new urban intervention located in the heart of neighborhoods of the city for communities to engage in healthy physical activity and recreational sports practices; cultural events and promoting opportunities for community participation (civic engagement). These are called, life units and emerge from the neighbourhoods as huge concrete football pitches, yet they are also colourful, clean, powerful structures, typically covered with an assortment of pitches.
The football pitch is just the symbolic vision, these sites are undoubtedly a community-led initiative and asset. Looking below the surface, under the roof-top football pitch is layers of other activities and facilities. High spec gym facilities, childcare and play settings, cinemas, computer labs, teaching areas, community shop spaces, dance rooms, dj recording labs, swimming pools, water zones, basketball courts and below the above football oriented life unit – a full size futsal pitch pictured earlier. This sounds great, but the exciting thing is that these units are designed by the local community and entrenched with the environment of makeshift housing that surrounds them. Each community that receives a life unit, has a budget provided by the local authority (municipality) and can choose what activities and facilities they want to develop.
An example of how Medellín ties in their communities sport and recreation to their city-wide sporting ambitions is the type of infrastructure they provide. Medellín recently replaced an underachieving bid city and will be a venue for the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup awarded on behalf of the Colombian Football Federation. This won’t come to a surprise to anyone in Medellín, or Inder Medellín who have been planning and delivering strategic and coherent sport and recreation, programmes, facilities and events for many years. As part of these ongoing intentions, Medellín have invested in Futsal courts like the one we visited below for their communities. This court is on a lower-level of the life unit pictured above (and has more seating than the Futsal facility in the national football centre in England – St Georges Park).
The life units allow for local communities to meet, socialise and engage in different types of social, physical and sporting activities. For many local communities this is ‘their space’ that the local communities own and take responsibility for the management and sustainability of the centre. The life units have high quality sanitary facilities and access to water fountains, for those that did not opt for the development of a swimming pool infrastructure, which was very expensive, this could be their major access to flowing water for play or to cool in the often intense heat.
Putting the football facilities to one-side, an integral part of these incredible facilities is that the life units house medical support services such as general practitioners and limited accident and emergency alongside a range of health and social care services for local communities. This is all incredible, but the most astonishing thing about all of this public/state funded activity is that is is all freely accessible to the local community – there is no charge for use or entrance.
Whether you are playing football, using the computer labs, recording a demo tune, watching the cinema, borrowing a book, taking part in dancing – there is no charge. This entire venture, is a result of a collective community where local people, communities and organisations in the city, under the leadership of the local authority or municipal administration, who provide expertise, investment and knowledge for the consolidation of public spaces help create integrated multipurpose, inclusive and innovative environment.
Medellín is one of the most incredible places we have ever visited. The people, the nature, the geography, the climate and the football. Football is front-line and centre as a means to bring together communities for physical activity, peace and public health. With the life units costing in the region of millions of US dollars, all resourced by public funds, it is exciting to watch the city local authorities/administration working in collaboration to continue to innovate the city, in this very innovative approach. For those interested in football’s role for social good, Medellín is most certainly a place to research and explore further. Moreover, it is a place eager to explore and incorporate new approaches too, tackling social issues and develop whether in sport development and peace, sport management, coach education, sport and social change, or research and evaluation.
To contact Dan on email: email@example.com or to link up on Twitter @parnell_daniel. You will also find more about Dan here on his University profile and his other research on Academiaedu.
To contact Pedro Pablo email: firstname.lastname@example.org You will also find more about Pedro Pablo here on his Linkedin or his other research on Academiaedu.
To contact Alex contact email: email@example.com. You can explore more of Alex’s work on his Linkedin page.