Conference report 2000

1. Introduction

Shortly before Christmas 2000, Mr Sepp Blatter, chairman of the international football federation FIFA, sent to the Danish Minister of Culture Ms Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen an indignant letter.

According to the English newspaper The Independent, the occasion was that the Danish Minister had put forward a number of critical comments regarding the lack of democracy and ethics within the large international sports organizations. On this background, Mr Sepp Blatter had set out to explain to the Minister on three and a half closely written pages how ethical, democratic and solidary FIFA was and he invited her to a personal discussion.

The statements of Ms Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen came during the international media conference 'Play the game' in Copenhagen.

Though the comments were in particular referring to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the reaction of the FIFA-chairman gives a clear picture of the breakthrough in the international sports debate created by the conference. The reaction is put in a special light because FIFA had turned down a request to give a talk on the very topic of ethics and democracy during Play the game.

A couple of other, diverse examples of the effect of such a conference would be:

  • The attempt by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) to prevent their own research manager, Mr Sandro Donati, from giving a critical presentation on the international anti-doping fight - an attempt which was only just prevented during the conference and thus became an object lesson in the meaning of freedom of speech

  • The massive commitment from IOC circles to meet declared critics in an open debate outside their own framework for the first time. Two directors and two prominent IOC members participated, including one of the favourites for this year's selection of presidency in the IOC

  • The marked attention of Western European media regarding genetic doping after Professor Bengt Saltin's presentation on the same

  • The spontaneous reaction of the African delegates to form a regional section of the Sports Intelligence Unit on the last day of the conference

Add to that the overwhelming reactions from participants and speakers from 52 countries who in identical terms have expressed their enthusiasm over the abundance of knowledge, inspiration and new contacts that they have taken home. Highly experienced conference participants simply said that they had never attended a better conference and they repeated it so many times that we have to believe it.

On this background, the three organizers - the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA) and the Sports Intelligence Unit (SIU) - dare use the description: a success.

We succeeded in setting a new standard for international sports debate. Well-prepared speakers and passionate participants exchanged knowledge and viewpoints in an at times exceptionally dense atmosphere. A particularly strong focus was directed towards the lacking freedom of speech in world sports and towards the developments that undermine the role of sport as an instrument of democracy, fellowship and intercultural understanding.

This was entirely in line with the objectives of the conference:

  • Focusing attention on the role of sport in local, national and global development

  • Supporting democracy, openness and cultural diversity of sport and media across the world

  • Giving media professionals inspiration and tools for covering key issues such as the cultural, political, social and financial aspects of sport

  • Creating contacts between the participants across boundaries and professions to prepare them for meeting the challenges of a globalised sports and media world

The course of the conference is described in detail in the magazine 'Ungdom & Idræt' (Youth & Sport) no. 34/2000 and this issue has previously been sent to År 2000 Fonden (the Year 2000 Foundation). We would like to add to this an account of the somewhat more prosaic parts of the planning and carrying out of the conference.


2. Preparation

In 1997, the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations (DGI) held the first international press seminar on sports as a broad, cultural movement, 'Sport, Media and Civil Society'. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the weekly magazine 'Ungdom & Idræt'. It was also in connection with this seminar that the network SIU was formed among 109 sports researchers, media professionals and sports leaders from 34 countries.

As participants from third-world countries and Eastern Europe in particular had shown an interest in the seminar topics, during the summer it was decided to organize a new event, the conference 'Sport in Development' to take place in Cape Town in South Africa in 1999/2000. IFJ and ISCA volunteered as co-organizers. A number of the most competent and agenda-setting sports researchers and media professionals engaged to give presentations.

After long-term preparations, the South African marketing company that was supposed to have been the local partner in 'Sport in Development' opted out in September 1999, presumably due to lack of local sponsors.

The three remaining organizers - IFJ, ISCA and SIU - decided to do yet another attempt, this time on Danish ground. All speakers agreed to be 'stand by'.

It was decided that the venue would be DGI-byen in Copenhagen and that the conference would take place in November 2000. Grants from the Danish Ministry of Culture, År 2000 Fonden, DGI and Danida ensured the event financially during the spring of 2000, and Danish sports journalists granted two travel scholarships to participants from less privileged countries.


3. PR Efforts

Next, extensive PR work began. The conference was renamed Play the game. Grey Promotion in Odense, Denmark, was hired to provide a draft of a brochure, design profile etc. plus identify addresses of agenda-setting sports journalists and sports editors in Western Europe. On this basis, DGI's editorial office produced the final brochure.

The 1st announcement was printed in 7,500 copies and in the middle of July, it found its way around the world to organizations, companies and individuals within the sports and media world. However, it was not achieved to produce addresses of agenda-setting writers to any considerable extent.

The web site was constructed with online registration, information on speakers, prices, conference facilities etc.

A press release was sent to the home ground - the Danish media - without effect.

When the first deadline ran out about 1 September 2000, the number and composition of registered participants was highly unsatisfactory: approximately 15 paying participants, of which half of them were found within the circles of the organizers. For the expected 100 travel scholarships, only 25 applications had been received.

It was therefore decided to make a second announcement. The money for the production and distribution of the new announcement was, among other things, found by cutting down the number of travel scholarships from 100 to 80. The 2nd announcement was made without external assistance.

Through IFJ, lines of communication were created which should have ensured the distribution of 10,000 2nd announcements in the press centre during the Olympic Games in Sydney. All pre-press material was sent electronically to a large Australian printing house, SOS Printing.

However, the company broke all agreements which meant a 6-day production delay. The consequence was that almost no brochures were distributed - and perhaps that was indeed the intention? It was striking that we in Denmark were not informed of the delay before it was too late. In fact, SOS Printing stopped all communications the day that we e-mailed our material. The positive outcome of this was that we never received an invoice.

At the same time, we printed and sent out 7,000 2nd announcements by ordinary post to the aforementioned target groups.

On top of this, we undertook substantial investigative 'research' in order to cultivate the target group even more intensely by personal contacts, search of e-mail addresses on the Internet, national sports journalist associations, extra mobilization of ISCA's and IFJ's national representatives and not least an appeal to the Danish embassies to help find highly qualified sports journalists who could be awarded travel scholarships. The appeal was heard and about twenty embassies contributed with excellent candidates in a smooth and fast co-operation.

Generally, the PR phase showed that letters, brochures etc. directed towards editorial offices or institutions are almost without effect, whereas direct mail or other ways of personal approaches have a certain effect.


4. Participants and Speakers

A total of 175 people took part in Play the game - 55 paying participants (of which 19 came from within the host organizations), 58 journalists who received travel scholarships, 40 speakers and approximately 20 helpers and organizers. 52 countries in five continents were represented. Please see the enclosed list of participants too.

Altogether, the number and composition of participants can be regarded as satisfactory. It was a crucial jump in relation to the 1997 event that this time contacts with a fair number of agenda-setting Western media were made.

If the number was not absolutely impressive, the engagement and attendance discipline of the participants was way over what could be expected. From morning till midnight, the delegates were investigative in relation to creating personal networks and in relation to the scheduled activities.


5. Media Coverage

In Denmark as well as abroad we have noted satisfactory coverage by the media. The participants were industrious writers and sent home articles from the five PC's made available in the pressroom. We have seen sufficient examples that not only the delegates but also readers, listeners and viewers from all parts of the world have benefited from the conference.

It has proven more difficult than expected to collect complete documentation of the coverage, but we enclose a register of the media coverage as known today.


6. Financing

With only a few deviations, we have succeeded in balancing the budget on the conditions that were made in the spring of 2000.

The principal deviations are:

  • As mentioned above, approximately 100,000 DKK were transferred from the account for travel subsidies to the marketing account
  • Board and lodging amounted to more than estimated, particularly due to a somewhat imprecise booking of Danish speakers
  • The subsidies were further reduced, partly due to a shortage of sufficiently qualified applicants and partly due to the need for providing means for the actual running of the conference (secretariat, participants material, excursions/entertainment etc.) Enclosed you will find the revised accounts that balance.


7. Follow-up and Closure

All three organizers wish to keep the attention on democracy, ethics and the consequences of globalisation that Play the game induced.

At the same time, DGI has given its support to the undersigned to make some preliminary investigations regarding a repetition of the conference in 2002 plus in the short term to develop and produce a simple publication. This publication should be ready during the course of spring.

This decision also signals that a realistic conference project has good prospects of financial and political support from DGI once again.

However, it is far from enough to raise the approximate amount of four million Danish kroner which a new conference will cost, should it be created under more orderly conditions than the 2000 edition.

One of the things that will be necessary is to employ special manpower for a conference secretariat as neither ISCA's secretariat nor the editorial office of DGI are capable of taking on a task this size every second year.

It is a condition for the credibility of the event and its free position in the debate that it will be difficult to make a commitment to the large multinational producers of consumer goods and media conglomerates which normally finance the sport.

If readers of this report have any ideas or suggestions to financing without jeopardizing the credibility of the event, we are willing listeners.

Once again, on behalf of IFJ, ISCA and SIU I would like to extend our warmest thanks for the support to Play the game and

Best wishes

Jens Sejer Andersen
Co-ordinator, SIU
Editor-in-Chief, DGI
P.O. Box 569
DK-7100 Vejle
Tel.: +45 70 40 40 60

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