Sartrean Ethics and Sport for Development and Peace Programs

Submitted by Zachary Smith

Zachary Smith is a graduate student in sport studies at the United States Sports Academy and currently resides in Grand Rapids, MI.

ABSTRACT

The United Nations recently declared the first ever International Day of Sport for Development and Peace in recognition of “the power of sport to erase cultural barriers and mobilize people around the world” (9). Unfortunately, while many organizations recognize the ethical neutrality of sport in name, this is often functionally forgotten as sport is co-opted for use by other programs. This paper aims to briefly outline this functional issue by observing the cognitive dissonance within the UN’s statement and its characterization of the Olympics and World Cup events as archetypes of sport for development and peace programs. It will briefly examine this dissonance through the lens of a Sartrean ethic of ambiguity and recast the Olympic and World Cup events as archetypes of cultural hegemony. Finally, it will be suggested that until this dissonance is reconciled, SDP’s will suffer from “inauthenticity,” severely hampering the program’s ability to achieve stated development and peace goals, jeopardizing the “survival of sport as a noble human enterprise” (Morgan, 1976 p. 93) and turning it into a “mere vehicle for the exploitation of man’s own self interests” (Morgan, 1976 p. 91).

INTRODUCTION

The United Nations recently declared the first ever International Day of Sport for Development and Peace in recognition of “the power of sport to erase cultural barriers and mobilize people around the world” (9).

Not surprisingly, the UN’s statement mentioned the two premier world sporting events—the World Cup and the Olympics as being standard bearers for sport development and peace programs (16). The UN states “the need to generate a link between sport and peace and development” (Sports, 2014 para. 4). The statement continues, “sports can bridge the divides of ability, language, age, gender, nationality and religion. The World Cup and the Olympic games are prime examples of sport’s inclusive nature. They can be an important way of spreading a message of peace, driving social change… UN organizations are partnering with the International Olympic Committee to place sport at the service of humankind” (Sports, para. 5). In addition, the UN astutely observes the ethical ambiguity of sport by stating that “sports can have a profoundly dividing effect bringing out the baser nature of humanity… revealing a dark side of human nature (Sports, para. 1).[i]

Unfortunately, while many organizations recognize the ethical neutrality of sport in name, this is often functionally forgotten as sport is co-opted for use by other programs. This paper aims to briefly outline this functional issue by observing the cognitive dissonance within the UN’s statement and its characterization of the Olympics and World Cup events as archetypes of sport for development and peace programs.[ii] It will briefly examine this dissonance through the lens of a Sartrean ethic of ambiguity and recast the Olympic and World Cup events as archetypes of cultural hegemony (14).[iii] Finally, it will be suggested that until this dissonance is reconciled, SDP’s will suffer from “inauthenticity,” severely hampering the program’s ability to achieve stated development and peace goals, jeopardizing the “survival of sport as a noble human enterprise” (Morgan, 1976 p. 93) and turning it into a “mere vehicle for the exploitation of man’s own self interests” (Morgan, 1976 p. 91).

Illustrations of Dissonance

The UN’s affirmation that the Olympics or the World Cup are “prime examples of sport’s inclusive nature” placing “sport at the service of humankind” (16) comes in spite of recent reports about human rights violations, social cleansings, and government malfeasance associated with both of these events. Currently, the death toll of stadium development workers in Quatar is estimated to be around 1,200 (1) and according to the International Trade Union Confederation could climb as high as high as 4,000 by the time of the tournament kick-off (3). And in the case of the Olympics, the UN sponsored Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions suggests that the Games have displaced over 2 million from their homes from 1988-2008 (5).

These statistics alone are enough to warrant a critical inquiry about the linkage of the Olympics and World Cup to SDP’s. But further investigation reveals that these statistics are not just unfortunate consequences of these events; they are routinely pursued as deliberate ends by those with culturally hegemonic agendas. Ashok Kumar (2012) provides an illustration of this using the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta:

At the time, the New York Times reported that the Atlanta urban renewal projects saw ‘virtually every aspect of Atlanta’s civic life transformed.’ In the Summer hill neighborhood adjacent to the Olympic stadium, for example, 200 slum houses had been leveled [sic], while “clean, colorful subdivisions have risen in their place”. As one business owner candidly explained, speaking of the poor and homeless “even if it means busing these poor guys to Augusta for three weeks and feeding them, we ought to do it. It sounds very brutal for me to say it, but they can’t stay here for the Olympics” (11).[iv]

Kumar’s example clearly illustrates the dark potential of sport to be used hegemonically, in this case as a tool of “neo-liberal development philosophy” (Darnell, 2010, p. 54). As Darnell notes, sport can be used as an active means by which to reinforce existing cultural hegemonies as was the case in Atlanta, or it may also passively “create and sustain fundamental inequalities” as it has done in Qatar (2010, p. 57). ­­

At first reading, the UN’s language of ‘humankind’ and ‘inclusivity’ seems to communicate that sport—both broadly, and specifically in the case of the Olympic and World Cup events—can be placed at the service of all of humanity without discriminating against “ability, language, age, gender, nationality, and religion” (Sports, para 5).[v] Yet ample evidence exists to suggest that both the Olympics and World Cup are sites of hegemonic repression. The building development boom in Qatar has reinforced the capitalistic demand of a wealthy country for migrant labor while the Olympics have been used for social engineering and gentrification in Atlanta, Beijing, and London (10, 15, 17-18). In both cases, the socio-economically disadvantaged groups suffered as a direct result of sport events that are, according to the UN, prime examples of sport placed “at the service of humankind” (Sports, para 6).

Ambiguity and the Ethics of Authenticity

The incongruity in the social goods being claimed and emanating from the Olympics and World Cup events creates an internal dissonance within the UN’s SDP program.[vi] This dissonance can be understood as a ‘negotiation,’ to put it Gramscian terms, of the ambiguity within the Olympic and World Cup movement ‘fields’.[vii] Ultimately, the organizations’ “cognitive” dissonance creates an attitude of what Sartre termed “bad faith” where the universality of the human condition is denied (Malloy et al, p. 293). “Bad faith” is a form of inauthenticity which, for a Sartrean ethic, hinges upon three conditions: “lucid consciousness… accepting responsibility” and “respect[ing] and recogniz[ing] the freedom others” (Heter, 2006 p. 22). Ethically, inauthenticity is what Sartre might call “intersubjective alienation”.[viii]

Medlock (2012) helpfully brings Sartre’s idea of authenticity to bear specifically upon democratic development programs (13). He states, “The ideal of authenticity is important… for the vision of a healthy, growth oriented and innovative society” (Medlock, 2012, p. 41). Additionally, “a culture that encourages the development of the unique strengths and abilities of its citizens is more likely to succeed… than one that stifles those capabilities in the interest of other goods” (Medlock, 2012, p. 42). This is because, as Simone de Beauvoir (1947/2000, pp. 15, 18, 60) has suggested, ethical action is congruous with freedom, and any action that is ethical will also be congruous with the freedom of others (4).[ix] When individuals rightly accept their own agency and ability to act and then act in accordance with that freedom they behave authentically. And as is implied by Medlock (2012, p. 41-42) in the quotations above, when people are free and being “true to themselves” they are much more likely to create to engage in the creation of culture and encourage the growth of a balanced society (13). By ignoring the negative goods brought about by the Olympics and World Cup and engaging in inauthentic behaviors,[x] the UN counteracts its own SDP programs and aims in a palpable way.[xi]

The end result is a sport functioning as a neo-liberal development tool that, while advancing social development and peace initiatives simultaneously becomes a hegemonic mechanism which triggers intersubjective alienations. By using the Olympics and World Cup to attempt to generate a positive link between sport and development and peace programs, the UN has ignored their own statements concerning the ethics of sports programs, undermined their own messages regarding sport for development and peace, and behaved unethically by propagating inauthentic narratives about sport for development and peace.

CONCLUSIONS

While the UN and others cast the Olympic and World Cup events as archetypes of the SDP movement,[xii] a Sartrean ethical reading of these two events as socio-ethical texts reveals them to be simultaneously archetypical of cultural hegemonies.[xiii] And thus, “what is at issue here is not something trivial but the literal survival of sport as a noble human enterprise… which is not only destructive of sport per se but of humanity at large” (Morgan, 1976 p. 92-93).[xiv] If the global community wants to continue to use sport for development and peace programs, it needs to first examine its uses and abuses of sport.

APPLICATIONS IN SPORT

It is clear that even with the best of intentions, there are real risks to deploying sport for development and peace programs. David Black (2010) has noted many of these trends and risks, but has perceptively suggested that SDP, as relative newcomer to the development enterprise, is situated in a position to avoid the pitfalls of preceding development programs (2). It is instructive then to observe the unfolding narratives of SDP programs and analyze them up against their facticity. Doing so reveals that, like all social endeavors, SDP is a complex web of relationships among a varied community of stakeholders. If SDP is to foster true and inclusive development “for all,” then it will need to rigorously grapple with the diverse identities of these communities and seek expressions that reflect the visions of the broader communities, not just the visions of those with money, power, and influence.

ENDNOTES

  1. For further discussion on the ethical ambiguity of sport see Darnell (2010 p54) and Gleaves and Llewelyn (2013).
  2. Abbreviated as SDP hereafter.
  3. Due to space, the development and interpretation of this ethic has been left out of this essay with the exception of several of the core tenets as they apply to this essay. See Morgan (1976) for an outline of the Sartrean Ethic of Ambiguity with an eye towards application for sport (14).
  4. Kumar (2012) continues “Once selected, a city expends vast amounts of public resource to begin a program of forced displacement, rental speculation, urban renewal projects, demolition of public housing and gentrification. In fact, if there is one thread that runs through almost every Olympic event it is that the poor of each Games subsidise [sic] their own violent dispossession” (11).
  5. For the purpose of this discussion we might add socio-economic status to this list.
  6. It should be noted that some of the goods being claimed are delivered. This affirmation of partial truths, however, strengthens social trust in the ability of sport to deliver ethically positive goods. Once this social trust in sport has been built up, sport then becomes a ‘trojan horse’ as a tool of hegemonic repression in a manner which is often hidden and left unquestioned.
  7. In a review of this point, Arthur Ogden pointed out that this seemed to “stretch the boundaries of ‘ambiguity’ with respect to the morality of cultural hegemony… actually, it is the morally duplicitous operations and functions of the international Olympic movement as well as FIFA which fosters this conundrum” (A. Ogden, personal communication, May 19, 2014). I do think, however, that this is precisely why cultural hegemonies can be cast as ambiguous. There is a very real sense of both facticity and freedom even within cultural hegemonies, and it is this ambiguity of the situation, so to speak, that allows a hegemony to be ‘negotiated.’ There is a constant ebb and flow, appropriation and re-appropriation of language, symbols, systems, and structures. Here I might also suggest that such cultural hegemonies, understood as kinds of cultural institutions, are contingent upon the communities constituting them. Ogden gets at this in his comment when he says that the IOC and FIFA can engage in “morally duplicitous operations,” suggesting that it is not the formal structures of the institution that are engaging in ethical behaviors but the members of the institutions, the communities of practice that constitute the institutions that give the institutions themselves a moral force in action. See also de Beauvoir (1947/2000, p. 83), “That is what defines a situation of oppression. Such a situation is never natural: man is never oppressed by things… he does not rebel against things, but only against other men.” See also Black (2010, p.
  8. This term mimics the use of Sartre’s term “intersubjective recognition”. See Heter (2006) for a brief discussion of the original term (8).
  9.  An ethics of ambiguity will be one which will refuse to deny a priori that separate existants [sic] can, at the same time, be bound to each other…” (Beauvoir, 1947/2000 p. 18).
  10. See also Gleaves and Llewelyn (2013). Following anthropologist Clifford Geertz, they note that “Since sports are creations by communities, they cannot help but reflect those communities’ values” (2013, p. 6). As such, they can be read as “texts illuminating fundamental cultural patterns… insofar as groups embed their worldview, values, mores, and social customs in their sport. These stories… become meaningful narratives.” Gleaves and Llewelyn continue on to build a compelling case for the importance of authentic narratives, concluding that doing so is a Kantian ‘categorical imperative’ (2013, p. 6).
  11. That this is recognized palpably – that is, physically and concretely – is a main concern of Sartre’s ethics.
  12.  It should be recognized that in some areas, these events certainly are exemplary even for sport and development programs.
  13. This conclusion recognizes the ability of sport to be used legitimately in peace and development programs, but also recognizes the complex ways in which cultural hegemonies can co-opt even ‘legitimate’ or ‘ethical’ uses of sport.
  14.  This study could be extended to analyze the ethics of whether sport even should be instrumented for development and peace programs, and to provide a rubric for the instrumental use of sport. Such a study could have broad application for sport as it is applied to development and peace programs, education or pedagogical settings and programs, and even religious uses of sport as a vehicle for proselytizing.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

None

 

REFERENCES

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