Men In the Arena

On December 15, 2016, FSF welcomed filmmaker J.R. Biersmith for a discussion of his film: “Men in the Arena.” The film tracks the stories of two young Somali men chasing their dreams of soccer stardom in the toughest of circumstances.

Biersmith told the story of how he first got interested in Somalia and explained why he chose to make the film the way he did. A lively discussion unfolded about the character journeys of Saadiq Muhammad and Sa’ad Hussein, the two protagonists, and around the complexities of the three-year filmmaking process in Mogadishu, Nairobi, and in several locations in the United States. The forum also learned new details about Saadiq and Sa’ad’s current situation in St. Louis, Missouri, and what the future may hold for the young Somali immigrant footballers.

Participants included: Itamar Dubinsky, Martha Saavedra, Rose Eveleth, Andrew Guest, Derek Catsam, Danyel Tobias Reiche, Alejandro Gonzalez, Tarminder Kaur, Emmanuel Yolo Thoba, Alex Galarza, and Peter Alegi.

Danyel Reiche, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut (@Danyel_Reiche), conveyed the feelings of many of us in a tweet: “The film @MenInTheArena deserves a large audience. Hopefully @netflix or other big media are interested.” The film’s official release is scheduled for April 2017.

Listen to the audio here

FSF December: Men in the Arena–Somali Footballers

Somalia takes center stage in our final gathering of 2016.

On Thursday, December 15, at 2pm Eastern U.S. time, FSF will host a discussion of the new film “Men in the Arena” with director and producer, J. R. Biersmith. The film tracks the stories of two young Somali men chasing their dreams of soccer stardom in the toughest of circumstances.

Contact Alex Galarza (galarza1 AT msu DOT edu) to participate in the online session.

The Limits of Soccer for Development: Xhosa Maradona and the “Hand of God”

On October 27, 2016, FSF welcomed Dr. Tarminder Kaur (University of the Free State) for a discussion of her paper: “AmaXhosa Maradona: Global Icons, Local Following and Soccer Talent as a Gift and Curse for South African Youth.”

This ethnographic exploration of soccer and development in the rural Western Cape of South Africa sparked a critique of sport-for-development programs and highlighted the human drama of “Maradona” (aka Abongile Qobisa), a talented footballer with a promising future who died tragically at the age of 19. The paper is part of an evolving book-length manuscript that grapples not just with sports, but also with broader themes such as the history of agricultural labor migration, regimes of labor extraction in South African “Homelands”, and structural, interpersonal, everyday, and “invisible” forms of violence.

“What a privilege this was to have such engaged scholars to read my paper,” said Dr. Kaur after the session. “It is this kind of engagement that every scholar craves. It was not only gratifying, the discussion and conversations [also] gave me so much to work with to improve this paper.”

In addition to the author, participants in the forum included: Emmanuel Yolo Thoba, Danyel Reiche, Andrew Guest, Alejandro Gonzalez, Gerard Akindes, Chris Bolsmann, Tom McCabe, Itamar Dubinsky, Hikabwa Chipande, Alex Galarza, and Peter Alegi.

Listen to the audio here.

FSF October: The Xhosa Maradona

Maradona with South African soccer playersOn October 27, 2016, at 1:30pm Eastern (-5 GMT, note the new time), the Football Scholars Forum holds its 37th session. The group will discuss Dr. Tarminder Kaur’s paper “AmaXhosa Maradona: Global Icons, Local Following and Soccer Talent as a Gift and Curse for South African Youth.”

Dr. Kaur is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of the Free State’s Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice in South Africa. Her study tells the moving story of Abongile Elton Qobisa (aka Maradona), a very promising young black footballer from the Western Cape region. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, the paper engages critically with “sport-for-development” discourses and reveals how talent and opportunities in soccer were both a gift and a curse for the Xhosa Maradona.

For more information and to participate in the online session, please contact Alex Galarza (galarza1 AT msu DOT edu).

James Dorsey on Soccer and Politics in the Middle East

FSF began the 2016/2017 season by discussing James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. A longtime FSF member, Dorsey shared insights on writing the book in addition to answering questions from the many participants in our online session. Our wide-ranging discussion touched on a number of issues in the book including cyber-ethnography, women’s sport, the Olympics, and soccer and Islam.

Peter has posted an extended summary on his blog.

Participants included: Chris Brown, David Kilpatrick, Sean Jacobs, Simon Rofe, Lindsay Krasnoff, Tarminder Kaur, Deirdre Dorsey, Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario, Osasu Obayiuwana, Itamar Dubinsky, Aubrey Bloomfield, Ildefonso Correas Apelanz, Liz Timbs, Alon Raab, Andrew Guest, Daniel Makagon, Danyel Reiche, and Shireen Ahmed.

Audio of the session can be found here.

FSF September: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer with James Dorsey

book cover of The Turbulent World of Middle East SoccerOur seventh season begins on September 19, 2016, with a discussion of FSF member James Dorsey’s long-awaited new book The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. [For the UK edition click here].

Dorsey is a journalist and a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. His blog on Middle East soccer “(has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture,” notes FSF member Alon Raab.

The book, according to the publisher’s website, examines the game “as an arena where struggles for political control, protest and resistance, self-respect and gender rights are played out. Football evokes deep-seated passions and offers unique insight into the region. Examples include clandestine Saudi women football clubs; political demonstrations at Algerian matches; Somali child solders turned soccer stars; and Iranian women who disguise themselves as men to watch matches.”

For more information about this event and to participate via Skype contact Alex Galarza (galarza1 AT msu DOT edu).

Two more FSF members win FIFA scholarship

gaby gerkem_bwGaby Garton and Markus Gerke have joined the growing list of FSF members who have won the prestigious FIFA João Havelange Scholarship to conduct academic research on football.

Gaby Garton is a goalkeeper for UAI Urquiza as well as the recent recipient of a national doctoral fellowship from the CONICET in Argentina. Her project is titled “Messi’s Countrywomen: A Sociological Analysis of Women’s Association Club Football in Argentina.” Markus Gerke is a PhD Student at Stony Brook working with Melissa Forbis and his project is titled “Masculinities, Violence and Politics in the Ultra Football Fan Subculture in Germany: Between Radicalism, Civic Engagement and ‘Apolitical’ Politics.” You can read their full abstracts below.

We look forward to future sessions on their exciting work!

“Messi’s Countrywomen: A Sociological Analysis of Women’s Association Club Football in Argentina,” by Gabi Garton

Argentina is a powerhouse of international football, winning the World Cup twice and the Copa América fourteen times while producing some of history’s greatest football talents, including Diego Maradona and Leonel Messi; the women’s side, however, has never even managed a point in World Cup competition and has failed to qualify for the last two Women’s World Cups in 2011 and 2015. Though women’s soccer has grown rapidly around the globe with new contenders appearing, such as 2011 champions and 2015 runners-up Japan, Argentina and most of South America remain behind. In order to understand this disparity, my research will consider women’s participation in Argentine football culture through an ethnographic analysis of the Argentine Football Association’s Women’s League and the competing clubs, the highest level of women’s football in the country. Players, coaches, and administrators will be interviewed from AFA and from a diverse range of clubs, including Buenos Aires’s largest and most illustrious clubs, clubes de barrio (neighborhood clubs), and even universities. I will also examine how the effects of “machismo” and traditional gender stereotypes have affected women’s participation in sports in a variety of roles including as players, coaches, administrators, and spectators. My project will serve as a localized investigation to consider what motivates Argentine female players to adhere to their sport, what motivates an Argentine football club to maintain a women’s program, and why there is such a difference with men’s football in the country.

“Masculinities, Violence and Politics in the Ultra Football Fan Subculture in Germany: Between Radicalism, Civic Engagement and ‘Apolitical’ Politics,” by Markus Gerke

Through chants, songs and visual tifo choreographies, as well as through the use of pyrotechnics and physical altercations, Ultras have become the most (in)famous football fans in Germany today. Beyond engaging in stereotypical fan behaviors, however, Ultra groups have started to engage in ‘football politics.’ They have protested against perceived police brutality, have engaged in lobbying and have boycotted games. At times, they have even formed coalitions with rival supporters to assert their interests as fans, as exemplified by a 2012 campaign against new security guidelines. Moreover, different Ultra groups are engaging in both left-wing and right-wing politics. For instance, various Ultra groups have been involved in protests against the deportation of refugees, while in October 2014, more than 3,000 right-wing Ultras and Hooligans from across Germany organized an anti-Muslim rally. As a result of these frictions, local fan scenes experience open conflicts rooted in ideological differences. In the cities of Aachen, Braunschweig and Duisburg, for example, anti-racist Ultra groups were physically attacked by neo-fascist fans of the same team in the past years.

While a growing number of researchers has started to investigate the Ultras as a novel youth culture, few have focused on the role of political activism and ideologies. Yet, without an in-depth analysis of the role of politics within the Ultra subculture, we fail to understand Ultra groups as political actors and risk falling back into viewing their members through a conceptual framework of deviance only.

My research takes Ultra groups seriously as spaces of political socialization and activism of (primarily male) youths and young adults. I examine what role political activism and political ideologies play among members of the Ultra subculture. Does political activism and civic engagement of Ultras stop with football politics, or are these fans being drawn towards activism in other arenas of their lives as well? Moreover, I am exploring whether and how these fans are being politically socialized within Ultra groups into broader political traditions and ideologies. What makes these Ultra groups receptive to humanistic or racist ideologies? Lastly, given the predominance of men in the Ultra subculture, I am asking how conceptions of gender play into the Ultras’ political ideologies.

To answer these questions, I will conduct ethnographic fieldwork among the Ultra subculture in Germany. Spending six months each with two contrasting Ultra groups, I will observe and participate in their activities inside and outside the stadium, formally interview group members, analyze documents (such as internet message boards, fanzines, and media coverage), and witness first-hand their political activism and interaction with ‘their’ football club. I anticipate my research to not only contribute to the sociological literatures on sports, fandom, culture, social movements and masculinities but to also provide valuable insights for social workers and educators who engage football supporters.”

Chris Brown on Soccer in Manaus

2015.04-Rio-Negro-no-Campeonato-Brasileiro-de-1973-2 copyFSF met once again on March 31st to discuss Chris Brown’s paper, “Envisioning the City through Soccer in the Brazilian Amazon, 1914-2014.” Chris, a longtime FSF member and PhD Candidate in Latin American History at Emory University, shared with the group his fresh research funded by a FIFA João Havelange Fellowship. Our discussion touched on many topics including stadium construction, gendered conceptions of modernity and progress, the clubs of Manaus, and comparisons to other cities in Latin America.

Participants included: Brenda Elsey, Danyel Reiche, David Kilpatrick, George Kioussis, Jennifer Schaefer, Matt Hawkins, Tarminder Kaur, Peter Alegi, and Alex Galarza.

Audio of the conversation can be found here.

FSF March: Soccer in the Amazon

By Brazilian Government - Portal da Copa - Atribuição 3.0 Brasil
By Brazilian Government – Portal da Copa – Atribuição 3.0 Brasil

FSF continues the spring season on Thursday, March 31st at 2:30pm Eastern U.S. Time with a discussion of Chris Brown’s paper: “Envisioning the City through Soccer in the Brazilian Amazon, 1914-2014.” Chris is a longtime FSF member and PhD Candidate in Latin American History at Emory University researching the history of Manaus, Brazil, through the lens of soccer (1914-2014)

To join the online conversation, please email Alex Galarza (galarza DOT alex AT gmail) and provide your Skype username if participating for the first time.

“The Ugly Game” and the Future of FIFA

Qatar’s successful 2022 World Cup bid and the role of the now-disgraced ex-FIFA ExCo member Mohamed Bin Hammam came under close scrutiny. The authors’ reliance on leaked FIFA electronic files called attention to the challenges and opportunities for scholars working with “big data.” There was discussion about discourses of Western bias and even racism against Africans and Asians (especially Arabs) that are sometimes perceived to be embedded in corruption allegations. Among the other topics tackled in the event was the intriguing question of whether there should be a universal standard of human rights required for nations to host the World Cup.

The session closed with important contributions related to the upcoming FIFA presidential ballot. Will Sheikh Salman or Gianni Infantino win? And what kinds of reforms might the new leadership deliver? What is the likelihood that any changes introduced will meaningfully transform the structure and governance of the much-maligned world body? In a climate plagued by corruption and cynicism, is there any hope for a better future?

An audio recording of the session is available here.

Participants: Alon Raab, Kevin Tallec Marston, Tarminder Grover, Andrew Guest, Chris Brown, David Kilpatrick, Simon Kuper, Alex Galarza, and Peter Alegi.

The next FSF session is scheduled for March 31 (2pm U.S. Eastern time). Chris Brown will pre-circulate a paper drawn from his ongoing doctoral research on football in Manaus, Brazil. To join the conversation, please email Alex Galarza (galarza DOT alex AT gmail) or Peter Alegi (alegi AT msu DOT edu).