Sport fights back: A day of contrasts and defiance

The Military Academy Stadium in Cairo, Egypt looked as though it was on fire. Sizzling flares peeked through the smoke at intervals. A closer look at James M. Dorsey’s video presentation at the 2011 Play The Game Conference revealed thousands of sweaty young men bouncing up and down as they waved flags and flares.

04 October 2011

The first day of the conference is over and many interesting presentations were given. Photo by Tine Harden

Dorsey, a respected international freelance journalist, was kind enough to offer snippets of the renditions chanted by the football fans or, as they prefer, the White Knights’ Ultras.

“Revolution was a disaster for all of you!” roared the agitated crowd, as they glared down at their police attendants while stoking images of a flashpoint in Egyptian and Arabian history.

The mood was dark and menacing but also upbeat. The “Arab Spring” is as much a part of global lexicon today as was “Watergate”, nearly four decades ago. Dorsey, a senior fellow at Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies and Morocco’s Nanyang Technological University, pointed to football's role in the revolution that ignited the Middle East.

The contrast between Dorsey’s fiery football footage and the elderly Mario Goijman’s lonely tale of tackling volleyball’s status quo could not be more pronounced. Goijman, an Argentine businessman and engineer, looked like he might have already been shaving when the Watergate scandal rocked the White House in the early 1970s.

Goijman’s own presentation was titled “Volleygate”.

The former Argentina Volleyball Federation President did not encounter tear gas or police batons. But the betrayals and dishonesty that stalked the gentleman in a marathon fight for integrity from sport officials in the International Volleyball Federation was arguably even more moving. Goijman is engaged in a chess match of unconscionably high stakes that has left him on the brink of bankruptcy and with failing health.

“I have no more money to fight,” said Goijman. “My sons say, ‘father, do you regret your decision and would you do it again if the situation was the same’? And I say to them, ‘yes’.”

Anyone can fix
The headline acts of the 2011 Play The Game’s opening day were former World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Richard Pound and William Gaillard, the senior advisor to UEFA president Michel Platini. And both men offered some degree of insight based on their considerable knowledge of sport.

But it was, perhaps fittingly, the ‘outsiders’ who caused observers in Cologne to sit upright.

Add Canadian author Declan Hill to the latter list. His best-selling book, “The Fix”, remains as apt as ever with the recent uncovering of widespread match fixing in Germany, Turkey and Italy.

Hill, disconcertingly, suggesting that things were getting worse since the publication of his book in 2009 and match fixing was spreading beyond the realm of the underworld and now threatened irreparable damage to sport.

“Anyone can fix,” said Hill. “Anyone can fix. Any one can fix.”

So, Hill, Goijman and Dorsey—each in his own way—proved themselves to be the playmakers on Play The Game’s curtain raiser. But they were ably supported by a capable engine room.

The duo of Thomas Horky and Jorg-Uwe Nieland, a German professor and scientific researcher respectively, managed to make statistics perfectly palatable as they offered tidbits from the International Press Survey 2011. It was not altogether comfortable viewing for sport journalists, though, who were possibly exposed as sexist and lazy—according to your own interpretation, of course.

Finnish National Lottery director Andre Noel Chaker charmed with his presentation entitled “The Path Towards Greater Sports Integrity”, German researcher Werner Pitsch sparked debate on the merits of the “Randomized Response Technique” and Professor of International Relations and Global Governance, Hans Bruyninckx, skillfully waded through the murky waters of racism and sporting politics and even paused to wonder at FIFA’s growing taste for authoritarian states. Doris Pack, MEP and Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, also shared her own knowledge of sport.

The speakers themselves were well shepherded by the light, witty touches of the Play The Game team of directors Jens Sejer Andersen, Henrik H. Brandt and renowned German sport blogger and investigative journalist Jens Weinreich.

We don't forget

But Goijman and Dorsey, in particular, touched the deepest chords.

Goijman, who almost single-handedly toppled the helm of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) at great personal loss, mused over his desolate, gruelling contest with the sport’s former maximum leader, Ruben Acosta.

“At coffee breaks, my (FIVB) colleagues would say, ‘Mario, ask him why…’” he said. “And I would ask him. (But) no one else would raise his hand.”

Dorsey’s Ultras fought with different weapons in a dissimilar context. But their defiant streak may have resonated with Goijman.

“We don’t forget Tahir (Square), sons of bitches!” the White Knights bellowed at the Egyptian police.

Sport was in full cry.


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