2010 Football World Cup ‘an opportunity for Africa’

With the FIFA World Cup due to take place in South Africa in 2010, Europe can use sport as a tool for development and to foster economic activity, argues Jean-Claude Mbvoumin of Culture Foot Solidaire.

Jean-Claude Mbvoumin is the President of Culture Foot Solidaire, a French NGO aiming to bring together different actors in African football to fight against the trafficking of young African talent in France. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

In July 2006 the European Commission and FIFA adopted a 
Memorandum of Understanding
 to make football a force for development in Africa and the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. Has something concrete been done after the adoption of the MoU? 

The two institutions are now obliged to co-operate and to have a joint vision, while both need to continue defending their respective interests – and in particular football, with regard to defending the specific nature of sport. There is no true agreement on the issue yet and a status quo prevails. 

Do you think the FIFA World Cup 2010, which will take place in South Africa, can have a positive role regarding promoting sport for development? 

It is very good for the image of Africa to have the biggest world competition in the continent. Indeed, the question thereafter is how to use this momentum to promote sport as a means for development such as education, health and even solving conflicts. It will depend on those responsible for sport and in particular on FIFA. The organisation could, for example, set itself targets for 2010 with regard to education, health and the protection of children. However, sport alone cannot do that – involving states and their leaders and organisations like ours is necessary too. African states need to understand and seize the momentum in this regard.

Regarding the 2010 World Cup, we are currently rather pessimistic. I don’t see the World Cup as a magic wand for Africa – it will not make African sport professional overnight. At the same time, we also need to ask ourselves whether professionalism is a priority for the continent.  

What do you think of the recently adopted EU 
White Paper on Sport
 in which the Commission commits itself to promoting the use of sport as a tool in its development policy? 

Regarding the White Paper, two questions are of importance to us: the specific nature of sport and the exploitation of under-aged players, which are related. Today, major sports such as football have a specific nature and total autonomy of action. However, this is not realistic if you look at the issues they face today – money-laundering through sport, human trafficking, exploitation of under-aged players, violence and racism. Today, a sport alone does not have the means to solve these problems by its own rules. Neither does it always have the legitimacy to tackle the issues. Whereas regarding, for example, the organisation of competitions, a sport is naturally competent and its rules applicable. 

So you support the Commisson’s view regarding the specific nature of sport, which major sports organisations such as FIFA are against?

Sport should not remain a closed environment. It needs to respect the laws of society with regard to money-laundering, violence and racism for example. We have seen big entities stepping back from these issues when they could have taken strong measures. 

It is not credible to allow for the total autonomy and specific nature of sport. Community laws exist and sport should not be able to overcome these. We need to examine what proportion of community law is applicable to sport and ensure it is respected. We have been faced with the problem of illegal trade in under-aged players for ten years now and nothing has been done about it so far. The sports world seems to deny the problem exists.

The White Paper is the first time that Europe and the Commission are exploring the possibility of using sport as a tool for development. It would be great if part of the money generated by the transfer of players could come back to Africa and be reinvested to develop not only sport infrastructures and programmes, but really help put in place economic activity around sport, as is the case already in Europe. 

What do you mean by putting in place an economic structure for sport?

Sport is an economic activity. It generates a lot of income and money transfers and this can be interesting for the developing countries. Not only investing in sport infrastructures but really creating economic activities around it. It can then become a tool for education and culture for example. 

Currently no formal, organised or structured economic activity around sport exists in Africa and no policies have been put in place for that. What is needed is know-how on the issue as well as true, clear policies. This can be done with support from Europe and exchange of best practice. Exchanges with Europe can also help professionalise sport in Africa. 

Does the use of sport as a factor for development necessarily require the prior professionalisation of sport?

No. There are two different worlds – the professional one and the other one. However, these two worlds are and should be linked by solidarity. It is important to have a driving force for sports – and professional and elite sport can play that role. After, mass sport needs to be promoted and encouraged as well. 

What would be the first step to be taken in view of the economic structuring of sport in Africa? 

We need real discussion on the issue at government level between the African states. States need to set the tone and the NGOs can step in after that to make policies effective and concrete at local level. So, exchanges between the African countries are needed, but also between Europe and Africa. 

Local organisations come second, after policies have been set up and are being implemented. The grass root actors then need financing for their interventions and follow-up of their actions to make sure that money is well used. 

We see that the Confederation of African Football, for example, is in no way involved in discussing the problem of abuse of under-aged players, while it is supposed to be the main discussion partner of FIFA on the issue. I have met the President of the Confederation and I was shocked to see that he is not at all worried about the problem. We, the civil society organisations, need to get organised to try and change this. We should try to get Europe to trust in NGOs like Culture Foot Solidaire, who are more active and know the daily reality. 

What do you expect from the EU?

Our organisation has the feeling that thanks to Europe we have managed to pass messages, and that Europe has listened to us. The European Parliament has listened to us on the issue of young players, for example, which it mentioned in the Ivo Belet report. Now the White Paper on Sport also mentions the need to protect young players. 

We now hope to get political and financial support from Europe for our concrete projects, such as the conference we are preparing for March 2008 in Africa, which will bring together at least 50 countries to talk about the trafficking and exploitation of children. We hope to sign, on that occasion, a Charter on the protection of children and young players. For this we need Europe’s support. 

African states and sports organisations do not think that they can protect their young people effectively. This can be changed via dialogue with their European counterparts. Whereas European sport organisations do not necessarily always have the competence or know-how to deal, for example, with the problem of the under-aged players coming from Africa and abandoned on their own, as they do not know the real problems. Co-operation between the two continents is necessary for this reason as well.

We want to see legislative action on the problem of trafficking young and under-aged players and would like to see Europe help establish programmes for preventative actions in Africa. Article 19 of FIFA rules should also eventually be reinforced insome respects as its application is not really scrutinised.

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