Geographical diversity remains a difficult goal to achieve for the Play the Game team.
During a tour and dinner on the second day of the conference in Eindhoven, Rosaline Amba, Liaison Officer of the Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport from Cameroon, commented on the lack of geographical diversity at the conference. She pointed out that the majority of people at the conference came from Europe.
“Diversity is actually an issue that we are very (aware of) but it is not very easy to achieve,” says Jens Sejer Andersen, the international director of Play the Game.
Just like a replica of the sport’s world, women were low in numbers and non-white, non-European attendees, whether speakers or participants, were also a minority at the conference, but organizers say this is not intentional.
“It is definitely not the case that we prefer to be a Eurocentric conference, but working out of Europe imposes some limitations to other countries,” Sejer Andersen says.
The truth is that to bring journalists and experts from around the world to the conference becomes a challenge economically but also in terms of interest, says Sejer Andersen. He was surprised that this year, despite extending invitations to governments and journalists from other continents to discuss good governance in sports, not many seemed interested.
Another reason for the lack of geographical diversity, Sejer Andersen says, could be a general change of attitude in society in Europe in regards of interest to get other parts’ of the world’s perspective in sports. There is also the language barrier, as English is the dominant language at the conference and Play the Game does not have the resources to have interpreters at this time.
Growing sometimes means less inclusion
Play the Game has grown a lot since 1992, the first time journalists, scholars, governmental representatives and important figures of sports gathered to share their findings and concerns about the complex business and treatment of sports internationally and locally. By then, the number of participants was close to one hundred.
Twenty years later, 400 people interested and involved in sports spent four days at the Van der Valk hotel in Eindhoven during Play the Game 2017.
Sejer Andersen says the reason the conference has remained in the same continent is due to the resources Play the Game has had, adding that it was easier to distribute the resources from funds to participants 20 years ago as they had more support from external entities and the geographical diversity was wider.
A little over 50 of the attendees received grants given by the Norwegian Union of Journalists and the Danish Union of Journalists in order to attend the conference, adding more inclusion from countries that otherwise would have not been represented at all.
“I think the inclusion of people from other continents, like us, showing how they work under special conditions, gives Play the Game the necessary perspective they need to keep a project like this universal,” says Eloy Viera.
Viera is one of the attendees representing the organization Collective + Voices who, after proposing a presentation about censorship and alternative in the Cuban press, applied for one of the grants that covered travels and stay.
“It has been very important to me, because living in Cuba is like living in a bubble and you do not know much about what is happening within sports organizations at a global level,” Viera says.
He also says that learning from others is as satisfactory as it is to tell and share how his organization works to expand their connections since most of the financial help they get comes from international sponsors. At the same time, other attendees benefit from learning how an organization deals and informs about sports in a country like Cuba.
Another challenge to accomplish a wider geographical diversity has to do with politics and interests.
“We see this as an enormous challenge to be more worldwide in our work. A lot of work should be done in Asia and Africa (when) discussing some of the topics discussed here, like mega-events, democratic inclusive sports, etc.,” says Søren Bang, editor of Play the Game.
Bang explains that despite having contacts in other continents, there are other issues preventing them from coming to a conference like Play the Game. An example he gives is the case of China, a country with a big impact in sports, where writing freely could face some restrictions.
Perspective on Geographical Diversity Varies
Despite being a heavily ‘Eurocentric’ conference due to its location, perspectives about geographical diversity vary as topics discussed do include international perspectives.
Some of the topics covered this year were anti-doping, sexual abuse, good governance, mega-events, among others.
“These topics are not just relevant to European organizations, but also around the world, because sports is practised everywhere,” says Jorge Leyva, who is originally from Mexico and currently works for the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations in Germany.
Leyva says he would like to see more people and experts from Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. At the same time, he thinks that it is a combined effort, where countries could do more to be part of conferences like Play the Game.
“We knew about Play the Game in Colombia because Jens (Sejer Andersen) was invited to an event organized by the Colombian Olympic Committee, but there was little information about organizations like Play the Game,” says Ana Arias Castaño, a professor from the University of Applied and Environmental Sciences in Colombia.
Arias Castano thinks that moving the conference around the world could help to broaden its presence, thus igniting a wider exchange of views on sports. She also says that bringing people from other regions of the world is beneficial because how the sports practices used in countries that are farther away, such as Colombia and Cuba, can be of particular interest as they differ from the ones applied in central Europe.
Aleksandra Goldys, who was a mediator for two sessions on sports governance, feels pleased with the program as it gives her the opportunity to listen to speakers from different regions.
“I am learning from people in the Netherlands, and I am listening to people from Hungary or Scotland,” Goldys says, adding that it was in the last conference of Play the Game that met the people with whom she she would write a joint-proposal for the European Union.
Another example Goldys gives about the benefits of geographical diversity was learning about sports in Brazil, which she says it was the most inspirational experience she has had at a Play the Game conference.
At the end of the day, Play the Game accomplishes what they say in their mission statement, which is to “target group of Danish and international journalists, academic researchers and sports officials to address current issues in sports politics.” However, it is still lacking geographical diversity, with only one speaker from Oceania, two from for Asia and two from Africa. The attendees at the conference also remain in the low numbers with less than 10 people for countries other than Europe.
Caption: Plenary Session ´International sport on trial: Which case for the prosecution?´ Eindhoven, Netherlands, Monday Nov. 27, 2017. (Thomas Søndergaard/Play the Game).