Post-Hofstra: Now for an unconference!

DSC_0783Brenda Elsey and Stanislao Pugliese deserve congratulations and thanks for organizing “Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity, and Politics”, one of the largest and most important conferences on studying the sport ever held. Assembling many of the field’s most dynamic and productive figures in one place warrants praise alone, but the quality of ideas exchanged and setting a successful precedent for this sort of thing is even better. A few highlights:

David Goldblatt’s keynote on the urgent need to reform soccer was a sharp, inspiring, and necessary critique of the game’s governing bodies and surrounding culture. David began by pointing to the problematic reality that the game is governed at the local FA and international (FIFA) in a corrupt and secretive largely by men who aren’t representative of the sport’s constituents (especially when considering gender and practitioners). He also brought up the pervasiveness of match-fixing and rampant commercialization that fails to channel profit into grassroots development.

Pelé’s honorary degree conferral had me excited before the conference, but while at Hofstra his visit felt like more of a distraction. The star arrived forty minutes late to the ceremony, delivered a short speech, and left. I did not attend the banquet, though I did hear it wasn’t terribly exciting. At the following morning FSF panel, I couldn’t help but relate the underwhelming presence of Pelé to Simon Kuper’s biting critique of the awe fans, journalists, and academics hold for players and the spectacle of professional soccer. Kuper’s message was direct and simple; as academics we need to bring analysis and critique to our studies rather than fandom. It’s a message I can get behind, though I think there is a place for fandom, awe, and an appreciate of the ludic elements of even the professional game and its varied ties to society across the globe.

Indeed, Peter and I planned that very FSF panel around the idea of a scholarly pickup game, a free-flowing discussion in which we would discuss our previously circulated posts and talk to the audience about anything related to academics and journalists covering soccer. The discussion was lively, at times heated, and was the most fruitful exchange of the conference from my personal perspective. Folks producing digital scholarship will be familiar with the THATCamp model, one in which folks assemble an ‘un-conference’ in which participants show up, suggest ideas for sessions, and break off into groups to get busy talking and doing. A fantastic next step for futbologists, as Peter might call us, would be to take the most interesting points of overlap from Hofstra and hold an unconference to get work done on those points. Such an unconference could only finish by repeating the joyful pickup at the end of the conference that left me smiling all the way back to Argentina. ¡gracias a todos!