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Monday, April 04, 2016

No Holds Barred Tenth Anniversary: Jens Sejer Andersen on Corruption and Elite vs. Grassroots Sport 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman once again spoke with Jens Sejer Andersen, the international director of Play the Game.

This is another in a series of discussions celebrating the tenth anniversary of this No Holds Barred podcast, which began in March 2006. These interviews will focus both on the legacy and issues raised over the years on this show, as well as contemporary issues and the future of the combat sports and martial arts.

We spoke with Jens Sejer Andersen by Skype Thursday.

The list of scandals and exposures of corruption in world sport continues to grow. The Olympics were once the world's most respected and prestigious sporting event. Now the people of many cities around the world are opposing hosting the Olympics. There have been mass demonstrations against the Olympics and major events like the FIFA World Cup in usually sports-positive places like Brazil. Discussions about bribery, match-fixing, doping, and the role of organized crime in sport now get as much or even more attention than analyses of the sporting events themselves.

"I think one of the main reasons that we have reached this low point for international sport is that the sports organizations themselves have for too many years oppressed and neglected this problem. They have tried to tone them down. They have denied that they existed. They have told critics that they were just negative people focusing on isolated individual incidents, etc., etc.," he said.

"There has been no power that could hold from the outside," he said, "the international sports bodies accountable. And they have been subject to no competition at all."

Such a monopoly situation and bureaucratic top-down control have inevitably resulted in a world of corruption.

"Lack of challenge from the outside, lack of challenge from the inside. Lack of understanding that critical questions are necessary if you want to progress. That, I think, has been sort of the cardinal sin of the sports organizations."

One tired defense of the growth of these elite sports organizations and events is that there is a trickle-down effect which benefits youth and grassroots sports. Yet the facts speak otherwise, as grassroots sports programs are often neglected and even discontinued.

"If you want mass sport, if you want grassroots sport and participation in sport, you just have to invest in it. Don't invest in elite sport if what you wish is grassroots sport. And don't invest in grassroots sport if what you wish is elite sport. Those are two worlds apart. They both deserve respect," he said.

"I think there is a growing recognition and understanding, slowly but surely, that hosting the Olympics will not increase physical activity in a country. On the contrary, there is a big risk that money will be diverted from grassroots sport to elite sport during the preparations."

We discussed how after the 2012 London Olympics youth participation in sport actually declined in the U.K., the many potential disasters facing the 2016 Rio Olympics, the need for strategies to make sure that all children are provided physical activity, the international fight against sports corruption, and much, much more.

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