Conference report 2002

 

Introduction

Normally, when I go to a conference, it feels like the earth is burning under my feet. But things are different here – I feel much more free.”

Christiane Ayotte, professor, laboratory director and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Health, Medical and Research Committee.

When a highly-respected scientist like Christiane Ayotte, who can pick and choose between conferences worldwide, expresses her relief at ‘Play the game 2002’ that she can for once express herself freely, it gives us an idea of the conditions which normally characterise the international sporting debate.

The broad perception is that sports leaders and experts who have not managed to secure a place at the top of the sports hierarchy have real difficulty in making their voices heard – not least if they hold an opinion critical of the status quo.

It is striking to see how the reactions to ’Play the game 2002’ reflect this situation. Both speakers and delegates expressed surprise and excitement at the open atmosphere, rich debate and valuable exchange of specialist views that characterised five days in November at Copenhagen’s DGI-byen.

In contrast, a number of leading sports leaders, notably those with connections to the football bodies FIFA and UEFA, chose to stay away – a handful of them pulling out at the last minute after initially confirming their attendance.

The organisers would have preferred to see these sports leaders as active participants in the debate. However, their last-minute withdrawal served to clarify the urgency of instigating open, judgement-free and impartial debate on international sport’s most sensitive topics.

If we must, in just a few words, state what the ‘Play the game’ has
 provided the sporting world in 1997, 2000 and 2002, we could use the following expression:

‘A home for homeless questions’

The tangible results of ‘Play the game’ are rarely measurable at any given time. Many of the conference’s effects will only become apparent in the long term. These include:

  • Journalists acquiring material for articles to be written long after the conference has ended, and gaining inspiration to view their domestic sport in a new light

  • Sports researchers and media representatives establishing mutual contacts, and continuing their exchanges for years to come.

  • Sports politicians gaining a feeling for the temperature of the public debate and adjusting their course accordingly

  • Facts, opinions and perceptions being settled – either by gaining in strength and significance or by being rejected.

 



We can also highlight a number of specific points from ‘Play the game 2002’ which can be seen as providing positive results or effects:

  • The Chinese arrangers of the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 for the first time participated in an open, public debate on the links between sport and human rights

  • The draft proposal for the World Anti Doping Code was for the only time during the drafting period exposed to international public debate with the cooperation of top independent experts and WADA leaders.

  • An increased sense of awareness was created regarding the growing use of dietary supplements and doping resources in the world of fitness and health, as well as the presence of related cross-border criminality

  • Despite opposition to ‘Play the game’ in sections of the International Olympic Committee, IOC Executive Committee member Gunilla Lindberg attended the conference in her capacity as the highest-ranked woman in sports politics, and contributed to the creation of a stronger focus on women’s role in sport.

  • Through the publication Mandag Morgen’s analysis of the Scandinavian sports press, which was made public during ‘Play the game’, the ongoing debate on sports journalism was provided with important new factual information.

  • Dialogue was established between the World Anti Doping Agency and Italian expert Sandro Donati, whose expert knowledge on key Italian and International doping scandals had, until the conference, been overlooked by WADA.

  • The conference provided the introduction to a heated public debate in the Kenyan press on the relationships between biology, culture, colonialism and sport, sparked by Danish research carried out on Kenyan athletes.

  • In cooperation with a local newspaper editor and his country’s Olympic committee, a Nigerian participant began preparations for an international anti doping seminar to be held in conjunction with the ‘All Africa Games’ in Abuja in October.

  • The conference’s website and knowledge bank, www.play-the-game.org can boast excellent and steadily growing visitor numbers – not only during the conference, but before and afterwards. The monthly individual visitor tally stood at 7,000 in April 2003.

During the five days of ‘Play the game’, many other perspectives were laid out and events set into motion. However, the organisers believe the examples listed above provide evidence that the overall goals of the project were achieved:

  • To raise awareness of sport's role in local, national and global development

  • To support democracy, transparency and cultural variety in sport and media world-wide

  • To provide media professionals with inspiration and research tools for reporting on key topics including the cultural, political, social and economic aspects of sport

  • To strengthen cross-border and cross-sector contacts between the participants to help them to meet the challenges of a globalised sports and media world

 

2.  Programme and arrangements

A detailed account of conference’s content and progress is described over 44 pages in the magazine “Play the game – who’s got the power” and on the website www.playthegame.org

Generally, the programme proceeded smoothly, and the content lived up to our highest expectations. The speakers were well prepared, informative, lucid, and willing to take risks. Moreover, with help from an active audience and capable chairmen, both the introductory presentations and the debates were, at all times, carried out in a highly professional manner.

Anti Doping Denmark contributed to the conference by organising a special anti-doping workshop comprising of four hours over four days, in which leading Scandinavian experts shared their medical and physiological knowledge with the audience.

The attendance at some sessions was lower that expected, especially those that took place in the early morning or late evening. The programme was possibly a little too all-encompassing, which meant that some individual sessions did not receive the support they deserved.

 

The decision to hold parallel workshops between 8.15 and 9.15 a.m. was not an unqualified success. Likewise, the evening sports activities were not too well attended, meaning a couple of speakers and a couple of sports instructors left the conference disappointed.

These observations should be given serious consideration in the planning of any future arrangements



3. Participants

It was once again a pleasure to play host to such enthusiastic, well qualified, diligent and positive participants. As in 1997 and 2000 the percentage of participants attending meetings – and their level of attentiveness – was generally high, with the exceptions noted above.

 

Moreover, it was clear that the attendees actively sought each other out with the aim of establishing their own personal networks.

In all, 220 speakers, organisers and guests from 53 countries participated in the conference. Of these, 70 were ordinary paying delegates. A total of 45 journalists and six speakers from less privileged nations participated with either a fully paid or part-paid travel subsidy. In all there were 66 speakers, and 23 arrangers and helpers. Around 15 speakers paid for their own travel and/or accommodation.

Around half of those contributing to the conference were connected to the media, 55 represented sports organisations or similar, and 47 were from the field of science.

In addition to the 220 registered participants we should add around 20 invited guests were in attendance on the opening day along with 20 helpers / pupils from Gerlev Idrætshøjskole, the Papaya choir, two bands and a handful of companions and other special guests.

Although it was good to see that the combined participant total rise by around 25 percent compared to the last conference in 2000 – and double that of 1997 – the attendance figure is still not satisfactory for a conference of such wide scope and content.

During the conference preparations we noticed that ‘Play the game’ was better known and attracted more goodwill in media circles than in previous years, but this positive effect was still not as strong as we had anticipated.

 

A fair guess as to the reason would be that the goodwill was countered by the growing financial crisis in the European media. Many journalists pointed directly to costs as the reason for their non-attendance. In addition, the conference did not make things any easier for itself by falling at the end of the budget year.

In order to secure more external contributions in the future, consideration should be given to a radical reduction in the cost of participation. In addition, it could be expedient to move the conference to February or March, preferably in an ‘odd number’ year when travel budgets are not swallowed up by the Olympics, the football world cup etc.

The effect of the tele marketing campaign initiated in September and October was not overwhelming – but it did lead to the enrolment of a handful of Norwegian and Swedish journalists, and served to assemble a couple of hundred e-mail addresses of individual European journalists who expressed interest in the conference.

 

This type of campaign could be an interesting tool to consider for future use. In all, our mailing list now contains around 7,000 addresses of organisations, institutions and individuals.

One problem is the growing number of non-serious applications for participation, which have the sole aim of procuring legitimate cover for travel into a Schengen country. For instance, we had 30-35 applications from both Ghana and Nigeria, some of which arrived en-masse.

It is never easy to turn down paying delegates – certainly not in the light of the prognosis we were working to. However, we had no option but to insist on fixed documentation detailing each applicant’s media connections. This took time and dampened interest.

Unfortunately, one participant – a journalist from Sierra Leone – chose to disappear from the conference on its second day. Police were immediately informed. He has not been seen since, but through information from other African participants we know that he is alive and well, and almost certainly staying with family members in Norway.



4. Media coverage

Media coverage of ’Play the game’ was generally satisfactory, both from foreign and local journalists. We have compiled a list of articles and publicity, but we are positive that it is far from complete.

However, two regrettable matters must be noted: firstly, Denmark’s domestic public service channels covered the conference in an extremely careless and sloppy manner.

 

In TV2’s case, this was in spite of assurances given by its leadership well in advance of the conference’s opening.

 

Secondly, the conference was not successful in attracting agenda-setting media from the large European nations, apart from Italy (where media coverage was huge).

 

However, we can confirm a gratifying interest from anti-doping journalists in North America and a growth in interest amongst the Scandinavian media.

Nothing unfavourable can be said about those journalists who chose to attend. The press centre was busy from morning until late at night with journalists corresponding eagerly with their domestic media - not least those who had received travel subsidy.

With the exception of the newspaper Nordjyske Stiftstidende, it was unfortunately not possible to repay travel subsidies from the Danida foundation by creating guest writer agreements for Third World delegates. Despite two separate rounds of writing to the Danish media with promises of discounts etc, interest remained sparse.



5. Preparations

The conference’s planning stage was controlled by a working group, which included representatives from the three organising bodies – the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) and the Sports Intelligence Unit network (SIU). This work was attended to by the DGI’s Editor-in-Chief Jens Sejer Andersen, who is also the coordinator of the SIU.

Compared to the previous conferences in 1997 and 2000, the task of preparing for the 2002 conference was eased considerably by the fact that Danish Gymnastic and Sports Associations (DGI) had already, in the spring of 2001, confirmed that it was to make available a contribution amounting to DKK 1.7 million. On top of this came a grant of DKK 500,000 from the Ministry of Culture, which had been confirmed the following autumn, one year before the conference.

These financial pledges created an air of calm and security in the preparatory stage, and were crucial to our ability to build a convincing programme early on in the preparations. The preparatory work was, in the main, carried out at the DGI’s Editorial Desk by its Editor in Chief and the Editorial Secretary.

DGI-byen hosted the conference’s administrative centre and was actively involved in the preparations from the spring of 2002. The centre shouldered responsibilities for the processing of delegates, travel arrangements, food, accommodation etc. Although this work meant that DGI-byen did contribute some of its own resources, it served to provide useful experience for future activities.

Looked upon from the viewpoint of ‘Play the game’, the choice of DGI-byen as the conference’s administrative centre was highly advantageous. Cooperation was excellent and effective, and the task of controlling the direct cost of delegates before and during the conference worked better than in previous years.

 

In addition, ‘Play the game’ 2002 and DGI-byen displayed excellent mutual understanding regarding the atmosphere and level of service it was felt that the guests should experience. Only on rare occasions was lack of experience an impediment to the overall smooth running of the event.

As mentioned, we attempted to contact sports editorial teams across Europe by telephone, and while this campaign only attracted a few extra delegates, it did prove to be a good, targeted and relatively cheap method of creating awareness of the conference.



6. Finances

Despite the fact that the conditions altered substantially in relation to the initial financial prognosis of 2001, Play the game 2002 was successful in keeping to its overall budget. See the revised accounts.

As mentioned, the DGI contributed DKK 1.7 million to the conference. In addition, DKK 500,000 came from the Danish Ministry of Culture and DKK 150,000 was received from the Centre for Cultural Co-operation with Developing Nations. The Danida foundation contributed DKK100,000 and a DKK 25,000 contribution was received from Danish sports journalists.

Not included in the accounts are the diverse travel and meeting expenses contributed by ISCA, the IFJ, the DGI and the DJ (Danish Union of Journalists) amounting to a sum of between DKK 50,000 and DKK100,000.

 

Anti-Doping Denmark paid for the travel and accommodation costs for six speakers from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, who gave presentations at its workshop.

Around October 1st 2002 – one month before the conference – it became evident that the number of participants, and therefore the related income, would be substantially lower than we had anticipated.
It was clear that the combined income from attendees would comprise something over DKK 400,000 as opposed to the formerly expected figure of DKK 1,000,000.

 

This difference was not only due to the less-than-expected number of participants, but also

the fact that many were due to take part in the conference at a discounted rate or for less than the full five days.

As a precautionary measure, the number of travel subsidies were limited as early as August / September. Despite this short notice and some extraordinary expenses incurred shortly before the conference began (the cost of a cameraman and guarantees for the Chinese delegation) we were successful in reducing costs and remaining within the budget.

In the accounts, DKK 60,000 has been reserved for documenting the conference in a ‘Play the game’ magazine and on the website www.play-the-game.org.



7. Summary

’Play the game 2002’ demonstrated that the message and aims of the conference have lasting value, and that the success of ‘Play the game 2000’, was not a one-off.

Over the past two years, ‘Play the game’ has, in almost all respects, grown in scope and significance – but first and foremost it has consolidated its position as a unique event in the world of sport. This is because it is the only such event presenting a number of vital, decisive problems for free, open and public debate – and offering a direct dialogue between differing interests in sports politics.

In addition, ‘Play the game’ is a unique meeting point for journalists, sports scientists and sports politicians to build networks and further the debate on sport’s role in society

It is for these reasons that the organisers believe it is necessary to maintain and develop the conference, as well as its content and its aims.

To this end, both the economy and the structure of the conference need to be altered. The DGI can no longer shoulder such a large share of the conference’s economy and infrastructure. It is necessary to seek out new alliances and invite new institutions, organisations and companies to shoulder part of the responsibility for the development of ideas, organisation, logistics, communication and / or finances.

The International Federation of Journalists, the International Sport and Culture Association and the Sports Intelligence Unit would like to thank the donors, partners, individuals and organisations who, in the past year, have contributed with good ideas, curiosity, encouraging slaps on the back, practical assistance, positive and negative criticism, inspirational lectures, sharp questions and generous financial support.

They have all helped to keep sporting ethics and democratic ideals alive - and, in doing so, have made sport a little more human.

May 2003,

With best regards,

Aidan White
General Secretary, IFJ
Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 22 35 22 00
Fax: +32 22 35 22 19
ifj@ifj.org

Mogens Kirkeby
General Secretary, ISCA
Copenhagen, Denmark
Tel. 33 29 80 26
Fax 33 29 80 28
mk@isca-web.org

 

Jens Sejer Andersen
Coordinator, Play the game
Vingsted, Denmark
Tel. 79 40 40 40
Fax 79 40 40 84
siu@dgi.dk

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