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Kind, Norwegian sport

Do pictures of Norwegian athletes together with smiling African children prove that sport is a tool for development and peace?


[chronicle] It's early Sunday morning. The air is still fresh and cool. I am on one of Dar es Salaam's tourist beaches, have put on my sneakers and am ready for a trip. The beaches are alluring – miles of white sand. Just like in the commercial.

Some tourists stop me as I approach a sign that says "Beyond this sign you go at your own risk". They tell of a Finnish tourist who, one hour earlier, jogged past the sign: Suddenly he came back full speed, in only his socks, crying for help. The socks are bloody. He incoherently tells of a man with a knife who jumped out of the bushes and said, "Give me the shoes."

I'm scared by the story. This is serious! Sports are money, sneakers are gold. As one Tanzanian marathon runner had told me the day before: We are not running for fun! We run to win and to come to Europe.


Is there room for unpleasant meetings in the assistance showcase? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' strategy for culture and sport in development cooperation (2005) states, inter alia: «Sport provides alternatives to substance abuse and crime, sport promotes peace, reconciliation and equality. Sports communicate across racial and cultural divides. "

As a strong visual field, the positive effects of sports are conveyed through colorful images of smiling children and youth playing football or games, in a war zone or a refugee camp. "So good they can have fun!" We think. But are pictures of smiling children good enough evidence of the effect of sports as aid? Whether they would smile anyway, we do not know. In the picture may also be a white equally smiling, enthusiastic aid worker or top athlete.

The Sports Peace Corps, under the auspices of the Norwegian Sports Federation, Norad and the Peace Corps, annually sends Norwegian students as sports volunteers to countries in the South. The international humanitarian organization Right to Play with former skater Johan Olav Koss at the forefront, has become a major player in sports for peace, and since 2001 has established more than 40 projects in 21 countries.

The Norwegian Sports Confederation writes: "With support from Norad and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we give children and young people, especially girls and people with disabilities, the opportunity to be active in their local community." Perceptions of "the others", especially children, women and the disabled (as if this constitutes a uniform and marginal group – who is the rest then?), As passive recipients of "help" are obvious behind such a formulation. The notions of what Norway can contribute are inflated and reflected on through the use of images and text.

Before and after

Why don't we get other pictures from Africa or from Norwegian sports? What about pictures of aid workers' exclusive sailing associations, golf clubs and gyms, or arguing about a pair of running shoes? Such pictures do not sell! It gets too complicated. The pictures must convey simple messages: "They need help and we help them". As in becoming new-reports in the weekly magazines. A friend of mine who participated in this once said: They ask you to get in the ugliest clothes you have and without makeup. The way people are represented "before" is done in such a way that everyone realizes that she needs improvement. As in development projects, there is no sales trick here to present people "before" as more satisfied than "afterwards".

Austrian philosopher and social critic Ivan Illich says: "It took twenty years for two billion people to define themselves as underdeveloped". The statement says something essential that development is not just about "helping", it is also about getting people to believe that they need to be helped, it is about the power to define who you are, what you need and how you should be . "People don't want to dance anymore, it seems so primitive and doesn't fit with ideas of progress, efficiency and development," says Tanzanian sports director Abdallah. "But sports are science, and that's good."

Science and experts

Sports science legitimizes the need for "expert knowledge". While the new projects have professional stylists, the development projects have the white, Euro-American expert. The experts legitimize their role by using a special language, often with reference to Western science. In sports projects, science is important to legitimize why "white Europeans" are needed at all. "We know organization and technique" is a common statement from those who work with sports assistance, while "they can rhythm and joy".

In an interview with a sports union representative in Zimbabwe recently, he answered the question of what sports volunteers are contributing: "I have never seen a sports worker achieve anything. They become frustrated that their notions of helping all children and young people in Africa in the same way do not match. But in their reports they write about everything they achieved ".

No bananas on your head

When I first went to Tanzania in the late 1980s, it was with a dream of Africa's colorful and rhythmic bodies and a desire to experience something other than streamlined sports practice. I was also seduced by the pictures with the smiling children. My stay in Tanzania was shocking – here were people who interfered in my simple ideas about Africa and sports. They asked me critical questions: Why was I so thin, why did I dress so childishly and why did I walk so fast, and if you were to train, you should not get paid for it?

Unpleasant meetings are instructive. My pictures of Africa were strongly shaken, here were not only straw huts and children waiting for help. The lady with the white tights – I remember her well. I was so surprised. Not only that she wore tights when she trained and not dress. But that she had the gorgeous Mercedes! And I who thought she would stroll home after training with bananas on her head!

That "it is typically Norwegian to be good" is something we would like to be remembered for. But what about ski jumpers Anette Sagen who states that she is tired of the vicious violence in Norwegian and international sports? Or Bosnian football fans storming Ullevål in anger? The field of sports can be a good arena for expressing not only pleasure, but also dissatisfaction. But images of dissatisfaction create scratches in the paint for Norwegian sports and the images of smiling black children.

The African Center in Oslo argues that African dance can cure "European stiffness". This picture does not have much defining power. If that had been the case, African countries would have long since taken over with development campaigns aimed at Europeans to give us more rhythm and joy of life. At the moment the pictures are in the way.

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