Between North and South: Dilemmas of sports development aid


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Henning Eichberg
University of Southern Denmark

Solveig Straume ‘Sport for all’ in new settings: A study of the Norwegian Confederation of Sports’ Sport for All projects in Tanzania in the 1980s and Zimbabwe in the 1990s 143 sidor, e-book. Oslo: Norges idrettshøgskole 2013 ISBN 978-82-502-0494-2

Solveig Straume
‘Sport for all’ in new settings: A study of the Norwegian Confederation of Sports’ Sport for All projects in Tanzania in the 1980s and Zimbabwe in the 1990s
143 pages, e-book.
Oslo: Norwegian School of Sport Sciences 2013
ISBN 978-82-502-0494-2

During the 1980s, Norwegian sport development aid had its focus on Tanzania, and during the 1990s on Zimbabwe. What were the ideas behind this engagement – and what was the outcome? – This dissertation delivers a critical history of the two Norwegian projects in Africa as part of a larger reflection on the dilemmas of sport development aid. It treats a very relevant topic, which so far is underexposed in research. The study consists of four articles and a connecting analysis, elaborated in the field of sport history at the NIH under the supervision of Matti Goksøyr. It was defended September 9, 2013 in Oslo.

Good ideas at the NIF-top and problematic practice at the African basis: The articles

The first article was published in Stadion, 2010, under the title: “’Sport is in lack of everything here!’ Norwegian Sport for All to Tanzania in the early 1980s.” In historiographical style, it tells the Norwegian ideas of sport development aid to Tanzania up until 1982/83. The idea had its roots in general development aid under the premises of Cold War, in Norwegian development aid in particular and in the idea of Sport for All. The study identifies several contradictions, which have had an impact on the Tanzanian project.

  • UNESCO and Third World countries demanded a “new international sport order”, which clashed with the Western dominated IOC.
  • Elite orientation conflicted with mass sport orientation.
  • A new generation from the 1970s raised sports critical issues confronting the established conservative structures in Western sport.
  • NORAD, the public Norwegian development agency, met NIF (NOC) which was driven by private sport interests.
  • Internal interests of the sport organization – launching goodwill and PR for sport, and defending sport against sport critique – met with the external challenges of international engagement.
  • The Western health situation in a sedentary society, which was a background of Norwegian Sport for All, differed fundamentally from the health situations and needs in Tanzania.
  • Earlier development aid with its narrow technical focus changed into new concepts of helping “the whole society”.
  • Western sport practice was different from indigenous movement culture.

The article describes all this on the level of a historical narrative. It moves closely along official documents and discussions, remaining at the surface of declarations, opinions, and rhetoric.

The second article was published in International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 2012, under the title: “On the terms of the recipients? Norwegian sports development aid to Tanzania in the 1980s” (coauthored with Kari Steen-Johnsen). This article takes a step towards social theory by casting light on the donor-recipient relation between the Norwegian and the Tanzanian sides, and on the imbalance of power. Field trips and interviews are added to the written sources. The article describes the power network between NIF (NOC), NORAD, and the Tanzanian National Sports Council (NSC) and shows the problematical meeting between a Norwegian development idea (Sport for All) and the Tanzanian role of saying “thank you”. It raises questions about the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) as agents for development aid.

The third article was published in International Journal of the History of Sport, 2012, under the title: “Norwegian naivety meets Tanzanian reality. The case of the Norwegian sports development aid programme, Sport for All, in Dar es Salaam in the 1980s.” By focusing on the place of women in the Tanzanian project, the article tries to move from the surface of policy to culture. It describes a cultural clash between the Norwegian ideas of sport for women and the de-facto place of (Western) sport in Tanzanian life being far from women’s life. Liberal feminism and Norwegian stereotypes about the lazy Black man versus the hard working Black woman clashed with the religious and cultural realities in Tanzania and Africa, as they have been described by Ali Mazrui and Hamad Ndee. Quotations from a report about a fitness seminar in Dar es Salaam document cultural misunderstandings about body skill in an illustrative way: The Norwegian observer found fascinating “rhythm skills” in Tanzanian dances – “but the upper body is passive” and had to be reworked by better-knowing Norwegian fitness experts. The article concludes by raising the question of cultural imperialism and non-recognition.

The fourth article is published in The International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 2013, under the title: “’They need to get the feeling that these are their ideas’. Trusteeship in Norwegian Sport for Development for Zimbabwe” (coauthored by Anders Hasselgård). It returns to the power-level (as in article 2), but now with the case of Zimbabwe, where the Norwegian sport development aid in 1991 followed the Tanzanian project of the years 1983-1990. Here too, the Norwegian side acted as a better-knowing “trustee” meeting a Zimbabwe, where it “on every level sport is in complete lack of competence”. On the rhetoric level, the neo-colonial imbalance was now baptized “partnership”, being part of a “Goodness Regime”, which could not be criticized. New is that the article indicates a connection between the “new” status of development aid and neoliberalism.

Linguistically, this article replaces the term “sport development aid” with “Sport for Development and Peace” (SDP). One may question whether this is convincing, as the cosmetic euphemism changes nothing substantial. And peace remains quite outside the analysis.

The connecting analysis or summary constructs connections between the four articles. It delivers a detailed overview of the existing literature and extends the historical perspective back to colonialism and to the Olympic efforts from Coubertin’s time. It extends the history of development studies by showing their roots in post-World War II modernization theory and by discussing the subsequent schools of Neo-Marxist dependency theory (in the 1960/70s), neo-liberalism (in the 1980s), post-development studies and post-colonialism. It concludes that the most important influences on the Norwegian projects came from modernization theory and neo-liberalism. There remains a clash between Western values and “universal values”, as well as between Western values and values inside African cultures.

Political superstructure and body-cultural basis: Critical remarks

The articles of this dissertation were published in journals of historiography, sociology and political sciences. This shows its broad interdisciplinary perspective.

However, there is a contrast between the bottom-up narrative as used in historiography and the top-down case study as used in social sciences (though to a minor degree in humanistic sociology). Especially in the latter case, there is talk about “explanation” by so-called “factors”. This is not fitting to a humanist study, which is about understanding (not explanation) and about connections (not factors). Religion, social class and ethnicity are not “factors” (as written in article 3). The concept of “factor” is derived from mathematics and physics where factors can be measured. It is inappropriate in humanist studies, as gender, social class, ethnicity etc. cannot be quantified.

Most of the articles are restricted to the level of “discourse formation” and “rhetoric”, of “jargon”, “phrases”, “motives”, and “argumentations”. They describe a certain superstructure of explicit ideas, mostly political ideas, but they tell only little about their basis in body cultural practice. One can see a certain progression from the surface of public declarations (article 1) to the focus on power politics (article 2) and to culture (article 3), but this is not continued in the rest (article 4 and summary).

The topic of the dissertation is sport – more concretely: sport policy – and not movement culture in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. However, culture is approached in article 3. A deeper cultural study would require additional anthropological studies.

Most of the articles remain rather poor on the level of local practice: How did the projects affect people’s lives in practical terms? It is not enough to list certain sponsored activities.

Also, on the political level one could wish for some deeper analysis. Why did Norwegian development aid shift from Tanzania (1983-1989/90) to Zimbabwe (1991-1999)?

And who were the actors on the Tanzanian side (the National Sport Council NSC) and on the Zimbabwean side (Sport and Recreation Commission SRC)? Whom did they represent? Tanzania was at that time a one-party state, but this was later met by self-critique from the side of President Julius Nyerere himself. The question of Zimbabwian dictatorship under President Robert Mugabe – who is far from any form of self-criticism – is omitted. This makes one wonder, as development aid is all about democracy and human rights.

Questions concerning the political actor can also be raised for the Norwegian side. Who is the NIF (NOC)? Norwegian studies of sport policy have hinted towards differentiations between the NIF top and its regional structure (Nils Asle Bergsgard 2005), and this may be relevant for the analysis of NIF’s development policy. The unitary structure of NIF – one organization for all sports – is part of the problem; Denmark and Scotland, for instance, have a diversity of sport organizations with different forms of development cooperation.

This leads to the question whether the (Olympic) unitary organization NIF really can be regarded as a “civil society organization”? NIF is placed somewhere between

  • local clubs, which surely are part of the civil society and close to the grassroots level,
  • the IOC, which is in fact a multinational private enterprise with economic power and aims,
  • and the state, whose Departments delegate public tasks to NIF.

Thus, on a theoretical level, the trialectical relation between state (public), market (private, commercial) and civil society (people’s voluntary associations) could help to clarify the case.

Last, but not least, one may ask whether Norway is sufficiently characterized as “Western”. This may be convincing when one analyzes the relation of Norway to Tanzania and Zimbawe. And yet, from a Danish perspective, some doubts may be raised. One can see relevant Nordic and in particular Norwegian dimensions which are not just “Western”, among them the distance of Norwegian policy from Western cultural imperialism.

A general structural problem

The dissertation manifests some structural disadvantages. The compilation form is borrowed from, and more suitable to, the natural sciences, and reflects the commercial journal publishers’ economic interests. But does it suitable for a humanistic dissertation?

The article structure favors top-down argumentations, which are adapted to the structural positivism of scientific mainstream journals – always going from theory to “results”. (“Results” are derived from laboratory research in natural sciences.) A humanist approach would give stronger evidence to the empirical material.

The punctual structure of articles impairs the author’s self-reliance. It strengthens the dominance of authority references over the researcher’s own findings. Theory has to be adopted from studies and authors, who have never been close to the material under investigation. This conforms to authoritarian patterns and discourages the author’s empirical pride, which otherwise would demonstrate self-reliance and “wholeness” of the work: See what I have found!

Instead, each article must start by the reproduction of theories of other authors. The article structure, thus, tends to present an excess of repetitions, especially in the chapters of theory and method. One has to read the same sentences three or four times over.

Finally, the rigid structure of peer reviewed and published articles makes it difficult to review the dissertation, and it precludes the analysis of the publication as a comprehensive work. Thus, for a reviewer, it does not lend itself to a contribution to a broader academic debate. This is, however, what the chosen topic deserves. In other words, the dissertation becomes an internal academic formal exercise, whereby its humanistic intellectual value is reduced.

These limitations are not the fault of the candidate, but a structural problem of an expanding academic fashion. It is a constraint imposed on coming generations of humanist researchers.

And yet, the dissertation can be read as a critical contribution to an important, but underexposed field. Sport policy and cultural exchange between North and South, between “rich” and “poor”, is on the agenda.

Copyright © Henning Eichberg 2014

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