Interview with Simon Chadwick, Global Professor of Eurasian Sport & Director of Eurasian Sport, Emlyon Business School.
Conducted by Anton Klischewski, founder of Project PRESFUL.
PRESFUL: Human rights and sports – how is this topic addressed in the mainstream media?
Simon Chadwick: It depends where you live. I know that the way in which the British and the Germans and the Scandinavians in particular see the world is very different to how people in other parts of the world see the issue of human rights. We do have an international understanding or an international agreement of what we think constitutes human rights. A broad global commitment to the universal standards of human rights are really important. Without those, the regionalization or the culturally prescribed nature of human rights would be a big threat. I think we are already seeing the different interpretations of human rights beginning to have ideological and cultural flashpoints. In the discussion about Qatar, Germany and Norway (Editor’s note: player protests by the National teams of Germany and Norway have been taking place in their World Cup Qualifying matches regarding human rights abuses in Qatar), we can see that the Qataris see things in a different way. They genuinely believe that they progress, that the labour market is more liberal, equitable and fairer now than it was ten years ago. Seeing from Oslo, Berlin or London, it may not seem that way.
PRESFUL: In 2018, the ‘Qatar Germany Business and Investment Forum’ took place in Berlin. Qatar expressed its desire to invest 10 billion euros in the German economy over the coming five years. This deal was never as criticized as the involvement of sports clubs such as Bayern Munich who conduct a yearly training camp in Doha as part of a sponsorship deal, or now the FIFA World Cup 2022 taking place in Qatar. Why do we look that closely on the sporting landscape?
Chadwick: Everybody is a fan of sports and football, even politicians or cause groups. It is really interesting that we see football teams making political statements about Qatar. We don’t see engineering groups or the entertainment sector becoming involved in these debates. I feel quite frustrated, as it is not sport’s fault, these are faults by governments, engineering companies, financial services or car manufacturers. And yet it does always seem to be sport. Sport is compelling, it has a narrative and people feel passionate about it. I go to Doha often, you see a lot of VW cars on the road. I don’t really see too many people calling out VW for selling cars in Qatar and yet I do hear people all the time calling out Bayern Munich for having a deal with Hamad International Airport (Editor’s note: the sole international airport in the state of Qatar). If I was being really cynical, I would say that a lot of voters, consumers, armchair politicians have quite duplicitous positions. It shines a light on people who presumably have views about the world and very often we are forced to confront the reality of our views.
We all got histories and sport has always played a part in those histories.
PRESFUL: How do you perceive the tone of discussion from a European perspective?
Chadwick: I am British and we were a colonial power. We all got histories and sport has always played a part in those histories. When I look on British history, I feel uncomfortable. What my country is now accusing Qatar, Saudi Arabia and China of, did the same thing itself. This is a really important threat narrative. When you talk to people in China, Qatar or India, very often they say: „Don’t tell us what to do.“ It is almost a form of neo-colonialism. One of the things that I invite Western people to think about is that just because you think you are right, does not mean it is right. It may as well be that you are perceived as an imperialist. What we now have and heading further towards is an ideological battle. Countries that have very different sets of values, ways of governing and outlooks on what a relationship should be with their population. What other Western countries are trying to enforce upon them from externally is a way in which they often don’t want to live. Going back to Qatar, there are many of us around who believe that sport can bring positive social change. We have to trust to a certain extent that Qatar will do this with the World Cup. When a country says: „We are going to use this as a basis for change“, you have to be open and transparent about it. This seems to be an issue in Qatar right now, the nature, the magnitude and also the sustainability of the changes that they made. People are questioning them. What Qatar needs to do in the next 12-18 months is showcasing what they have achieved in a transparent way. If they don’t, members of the media, academics and others will question whether or not these so-called positive changes have actually taken place.
PRESFUL: Talking about the recently published Guardian article, dealing with the deaths of 6500 migrant workers in Qatar over the last ten years: Do these kinds of stories help to bring human rights in the sporting context to a broader public or cause more harm, as the number was taken out of context?
Chadwick: Not only in this particular case, but if one party is going to attempt the moral high ground, then it has to be accurate. I find it quite frustrating that groups try to make a point by exaggerating the situation. Personally, I don’t agree that the best way of dealing with violence is being violent. I do believe in dialogue and bilateralism, but I also believe that if you are going to represent a particular set of values, then you have to uphold this particular set of values. I am not here to defend Qatar. It is important to raise the issues and shine a light on them. It is not a bad thing to make countries feel uncomfortable, because when we are uncomfortable, very often we react to the discomfort in a positive way. But I think to exaggerate, distort and effectively mislead is not the moral or the well-governed way about doing things.
The second part of the interview deals with the status quo of sport management curricula and the education of critically aware students.
There probably should be a global sports university.
PRESFUL: Do We need more sport policy or even sport and human rights modules in the sport management curricula?
Chadwick: In sport management curricula around the world, very often there are disciplinary drivers such as marketing, accounting, IT or supply-chain. There is also a skills-driver, we need our students to be good decision makers, independent thinkers and good team workers. What I think is really interesting at the moment is that a lot of business schools and university curricula are being re-thought or re-framed in terms of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I think that the 17 SDGs are very important because this is the universal standard that I talked about right at the very start. Countries across the world have signed up to this. It is very important that sport management, sport business and sport programs more generally are created with explicit and specific reference to the SDGs.
PRESFUL: Do we need more students in the sport management field with critical thinking skills?
Chadwick: It is part of the university experience to develop your critical thinking skills. If anybody comes out of university without those, I would not question the students, I would actually question the university. It is not only about critical thinking, it is about critical awareness as well. If you are a student studying in Doha, Beijing or Washington DC, then your critical thinking and awareness is very often culturally prescribed. One of the things I try to do with my own students is to get them talking to each other in a bilateral exchange. Exchanging views and ideas on how sport is in their countries helps to build a common understanding.
PRESFUL: How can we create spaces for students to connect and exchange their knowledge?
Chadwick: One of the things we do is that our students spend one semester in Paris, one in Shanghai and one in the industry. In the meantime, we take them to Belgium and Germany. We are now living in the era where you are getting this cross-fertilization and creation of a shared understanding of what it means to work in the global sports industry. If you are asking me: Should there be a global sports university? Well, yeah, there probably should be a global sports university. Whether or not we actually get there is a different matter.
PRESFUL: Thank you very much for taking the time.
PROFESSOR OF EURASIAN SPORT | DIRECTOR OF EURASIAN SPORT | DIRECTOR OF CENTRE FOR THE EURASIAN SPORT INDUSTRY
Chadwick works at the intersection of sport, business, politics and technology, specifically in the context of Eurasia. With more than 25 years-experience working in some of the world’s leading business schools, he has published extensively and has worked with some of the biggest names in sport. He is widely acknowledged as a leading commentator on contemporary issues in elite professional sport.
Thank you for this insightful and inspiring piece Anton Klischewski!
It is so important to talk about what’s happening in Qatar, while keeping in mind, how you point out, that our western view and colonial history are part of the story that cannot be ignored.
Keep up the good work!