World Cup fever’s over and for all the emphasis on laudable value, ex – cross-cultural dialogue, athleticism, this is still a display that’s largely exclusionary. For one thing, this is a game that thrives on competition. To play, you normally have to try and be good – moreso – you have to try and be better than others. For another, enjoying the World Cup is largely a solitary practice. Outside of the pointed debates fans engage in between matches, this is a spectator experience that’s got people watching their TVs or congregating in coffee shops where a big screen is the center of attention. Once World Cup is over, people typically lose whatever tenuous human connections they’d made (how do you sustain a friendship based on vehement debating about sports performances?) and go back to their lives, perhaps moving on to the next sports obsession.
So what’s the connection to organizational culture?
In a bit, I’ll be on my way to play anarchist soccer, something I’ve been going out to usually twice a week in the summer for the past five years. It’s a lot of fun. And it is an organization. Of sorts.
When I first tell people about anarchist soccer, they usually ask if there’s rules and if you still have to score goals – they assume it’s anarchistic as in chaotic. But in actuality, it’s anarchistic as in egalitarian, as in non-discriminatory. Anarchist soccer is a game for folks who wouldn’t feel comfortable or welcome in traditional sports. There’s still two goals and two teams and you run around and pass to your teammates and you try to score. There are some differences, though. For one, no-one’s keeping count. If scoring and winning are unimportant, than being better ceases to matter. Also, there’s no team captains – at the onset of the game, we arbitrarily split all who showed up into two groups (1s and 2s, going around in a circle). If you miss a pass, or a goal, no one’s going to come down hard on you, and you can stop to take a breather whenever you want. People still try hard though. In the five years I’ve played, I’ve seen my skills get better. I’ve gotten healthier too. Same with others…
Organizationally speaking, anarchist soccer isn’t an incorporated charity. It has no fixed address. It doesn’t have an organizational plan. Yet, it brings people together – people who strive for personal change and in so doing engage in a dialogue that furthers social transformation.
The approach to sports typically promoted large and wide replicates the hierarchic competitiveness in the World Cup and is one where many people get left out because of their size, gender, physical prowess, age or general attitude towards life. Throughout the world, a lot of people get left out of sports and at the most, what they can aspire to create is a ‘pick up game’ – a game that’s implicitly casual and informal – in direct correlation to the ‘seriousness’ found elsewhere in sports.
Anarchist soccer isn’t casual or informal. It is ‘serious’ without taking itself seriously and implies significant revolutionary stakes. It proposes the creation of an autonomous space – one that doesn’t automatically situate itself lower, hierarchically speaking, to more competitive sports endeavors. It is also a safe space – for and by people who ‘wouldn’t feel comfortable or welcome in sports’. When we remove competitiveness from sports, we rediscover the play that was once at their root – the play we’ve forgotten in leading adult lives. This play, is exploratory and creative and allows us to connect with others in deeper, wonderful ways.
All too often, community organizations fail to recognize the importance of invoking such autonomy – of creating safe spaces that are created ‘for and by people’. All too often, organizations will recreate the hierarchic practices that they will in turn challenge – creating staff structures that rely on arbitrary directorship, limiting their scope of impact to treating clients as service recipients.
The friends I make playing in the summer are my friends outside of the games. When summer stops, the relationships continue. Rebecca looked after my cats when I was in the US a few weeks ago. Steve and Josh come out to play board games with us. I discovered Ivan Illich’s body of work thanks to Sasha and Layla.
My world, as a result of connecting to this space, this organization, these people, has changed. This is meaningful social transformation.