Feature Article: On Potential Repercussions of Mega Sports Events in Russia

August 2011 / Feature Articles

On Potential Repercussions of Mega Sports Events in Russia

Eugene Pustoshkin

I was deeply emotionally touched—up to tears—when I watched the footage of a dramatic episode that happened on June 22, 2011, where the contemporary sports legend and Brazilian football star Roberto Carlos, age 38, who currently plays at the Russian football club Anzhi and is the captain of the team, left the football pitch in Samara after a fan of the opposing team, Krylya Sovetov, threw a banana in his direction. It was the second instance of a racist action undertaken against Carlos, personally, with the first happening, unfortunately, in my home city of St. Petersburg a few months earlier. There, during Anzhi’s away fixture against FC Zenit at Petrovsky Stadium, a local fan showed Carlos a banana, thus publicly exposing xenophobia that nowadays is deeply rooted in many Russian neighborhoods (according to official reports, the fan was subsequently banned from attending the stadium for a year).

It was just a week before the incident when, on June 15, I and other participants of the Youth International Economic Forum (YIEF) in St. Petersburg discussed the issues of racism, tolerance, and diversity, among other questions, with Alexander Chernov. Chernov is a football (soccer) expert who was 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Bid Executive. Now he holds the position of Skolkovo Innovation Fund Director. This Fund is directly related to Skolkovo Innovation Center, which is a major ongoing Russian project that attracted (under the auspices of President Medvedev) multibillion investments to build what can be called a “Russian Silicon Valley.” Nevertheless, Chernov continues to be involved with the Russian World Cup Committee. At YIEF he spoke about how it felt from the inside to achieve success in winning the bid for the honor of Russia’s hosting probably the most important and internationally popular (along with the Olympics) mega sporting event—FIFA World Cup—in 2018. Coincidentally, Chernov mentioned the St. Petersburg “banana episode” as a troubling indicator of the necessity to work with fans in order to eliminate displays of racism from the culturally acceptable behavioral repertoire.

Alexander Chernov

Photo: Alexander Chernov—2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Bid Executive, Skolkovo Innovation Fund Director—talks to the participants of the “Make Sport, Not War” group work session of YIEF.

Now, the brave act of Carlos’ leaving the pitch, thus demonstrating to the public his pride, dignity and integrity of being a human being, has the potential of becoming a foundation for historic pragmatic changes in cultural attitudes towards racism and diversity shared among the multinational Russian population, especially in the light of 2018 FIFA World Cup and other mega sporting events, including 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games and 2013 Kazan Universiade (the representatives of these events also were present as experts at YIEF). Alexander Chernov spoke about the opportunity of mega sports events such as the World Cup to change the minds of Russians—their interiors, if we are to use terms from Ken Wilber’s integral philosophy. Interiors involve consciousness and culture, intangible minds and collectively shared mindsets of citizens in contrast to exteriors that involve objectively observable behaviors, technologies, and processes.

Perhaps, one of the achievements of the last two decades of New Russia can be a growing understanding of the existence of an interior dimension of sociocultural transformations—the significance that ingrained cultural habits and mindsets have in terms of either facilitating or resisting various reforms and projects. In fact, the case of resistance against social transformation, even if it is intended to lead towards abundance, may be one of the strongest in Russia with its notorious history of massively tragic social engineering projects (spanning three centuries—from reforms by Peter the Great to 19th century’s attempt of cultural conservation by monarchical power structures to Communist repressions and Gulags to Gorbachev’s Perestroika to monological democratization and violent privatization of post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s and to these days).

If we take a look at the Russian history of the past three hundred years (but we may dive even deeper, into 10th century C.E., when the process of monological Christianization of Slavic peoples in the territories of what now is known as Russia began), it is as if we are handed a self-evident answer to the burning question of how come Russians seem to be so immune to change, so resisting to transformation, so clinging to corruption and a scarcity-based mindset. History has been rough on Russia, to say the least. Vasily Nalimov—a brilliant Russian transpersonal philosopher, physicist and mathematician, ex-prisoner of a Gulag and a colleague of Andrey Kolmogorov (a world-renowned Soviet mathematician whose name is associated with mathematical logic, probability theory, statistics, and random processes)—wrote two major works attempting to grasp the perplexing fate of tragedy that seems to haunt Russian history. The two works were posthumously published in 2002 in one volume entitled The Temptation of Holy Russia (Iskushenie Svyatoy Rusi, Moscow, 2002).

Nalimov proposed a karmic theory of culture in general and the Russian culture in particular. He analyzed the tragically painful Marxist social experiment. He understood culture as a transpersonal organism that evolves under the conditions of a gigantic Kosmic experiment. Probably one of the most important implications of Nalimov’s vision for us is its potential to catalyze our understanding that we need to conduct therapies not only of individuals and smaller groups, but also of entire cultures. Entire cultures can be sick—and, according to Nalimov, their sickness often stems from the necessity to grasp new meanings (smysly in Russian), the meanings that would bring the culture towards wholeness, transcendence and integrity. And integrity (which we can tentatively describe as a coherent union of identity, values, and behaviors) seems to be a notion that is in over the heads of the opportunistic part of “New Russia” that is so powerful in the sociocultural and political discourse.

Still, despite an emerging understanding of culture as the interior dimension of societal structures, not much awareness is exhibited about how to deal with this dimension pragmatically. The ignorance about the interior dimension is so pervasive that few, if any, even attempt to ask the question, not to mention finding and implementing strategic solutions. When I asked Alexander Chernov what systemic means they are implementing to deal with the aspect of changing minds and mindsets of Russians in the process of organizing 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, it appeared that in the idea of the organizing committee the changing of minds part was going to be achieved as a side effect of the very fact of Russia’s hosting the mega sporting event. Perhaps, Marxists thought similarly when they insisted that being (social system, environment) defines consciousness. This is not so straightforward.

There is a partial truth, of course, to thinking that a sociocultural innovation might come from the necessity to systematically prepare for such a major international event in terms of objective, tangible organizational and economical agenda. Any country hosting a World Cup is a once-in-a-century opportunity to catalyze large-scale sociocultural restructuring by a visible deadline and with repercussions in terms of long-term legacy. However, as, for instance, Don Beck’s approach of Spiral Dynamics Integral seems to show, a large-scale transformation of social consciousness is a complex science. To transform mindsets of Russians towards embracing tolerance, diversity, abundance, and integrity is a crucial task that requires integral thinking and that appreciates synergy of pragmatic sciences and diverse methods of sociocultural intervention, while maintaining a keen psychological insight into what the current reality of the Russian mentality is. History has much to warn us about this.

The Many Dimensions of Mega Sports Events

Sports and mega sports events have many dimensions. It may be reasonable to consider both small- and large-scale effects of sports events and occasions as actual high-intensity simulations of the multitudes of processes which generate short-term and long-term biological impact (including such factors as stress, physical development and well-being, psychophysiology/brain activity, behavioral aspects of sports professionals, amateurs, and spectators, etc.), social impact (including such factors as societal systems’ self-organization, self-differentiation, formation of sports clubs, schools, and institutions, generation of jobs and work spaces, systems interactions within sports teams, etc.), cultural impact (including factors such as interaction of worldviews, cross-cultural diversity, collective symbolism, cultural identity and narrative formation, sports team building, etc.), and psychological impact (including diversity of cognitive and emotional attitudes of participants, interior psychological development, states of consciousness experienced while participating in or watching sports, individual meaning-making, etc.).

It is possible to observe how multidisiplinary (or, perhaps, more accurate term in this case would be transdisciplinary) and all-pervasive today’s sports are. From an integrative biopsychosocial viewpoint, we can consider the subject of sports events simultaneously from all the different perspectives on multiple levels. We can think of sports as

– entertainment and physical development,
– a way for strengthening families,
– fields of application of medical and psychological methods,
– important cultural events,
– pragmatic models of management and social systems facilitation,
– a field of business and market opportunities,
– a large-scale player in national and international economies,
– important systemic processes for national development, and so on.

Consideration of the scale of influence of sports events might include, for instance, the following levels (the list doesn’t pretend to be complete):

– individual (e.g., how these sports events directly affect me and my personal development and meaning-making as well as those of other individuals, e.g., sports professionals, football players, coaches, managers, etc.?),
– community/neighborhood (e.g., how they affect our local community?),
– private businesses (e.g., how the long-term perspective of the upcoming mega sports events affect the private business sector?)
– regional/cross-regional (e.g., the effect on the development of the entire region where the event takes place),
– national (e.g., the effect on the cultural and socioeconomic development of the entire country where the sports event takes place),
– and international (e.g., the effect on the world at a planetary scale, including international cooperation, cross-cultural integration, environmental coordination).

The temporal (time-related) span of forthcoming events involves

– the preceding/preparation phase (time before the events, their anticipation),
– the short-term tactical perspective (time of the events as they will be unfolding in a continuous, day-by-day, week-by-week fashion),
– the mid-term strategic perspective (the strategic developments that will follow within 5 years after the event’s impact triggers systemic processes),
– the long-term perspective (the not-so-obvious now outcomes that will emerge one or two decades after the events),
– and even historic perspective (the legacy of the events, such as important sports victories, which might form the sociocultural narratives and patterns in the next 50-100 years and which will for long time be in history textbooks of future generations).

I would like to recall two cases when sports events played a crucial role in formation of history and cultural development of entire nations:

Perhaps, some of you have watched the movie Invictus which tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s (played by Morgan Freeman) involvement with the 1995 South African rugby team. It might not be widely known that Nelson Mandela saw the national team’s success to be crucial to nation-building of the South African Republic (which has had long history of apartheid, interracial tensions, and intolerance); and he invited a specialist in psychological and cultural development to offer a cross-disciplinary assistance in the processes of both sports team-building and nation-building. An account of these events can be read here: http://www.archive-ilr.com/archives-2010/2010-01/2010-01-coda.php

The other case I would refer to is the sociocultural impact of the 2006 FIFA World Cup on Germany and the formation of its healthy national identity. The German national team’s successes (which, according to some authors, involved “high team spirit, competence, respectful contact with each other, cultural variety, and joy to play”) seem to be skillfully used in dealing with both historically and currently pressing sociocultural challenges that existed in this country due to its complex history (which involved two World Wars, the necessity of dealing with a dark past, disintegration of the country for the most of the second half of 20th century, waves of immigration, etc.). A theoretical appreciation of the issue can be read here: http://www.archive-ilr.com/archives-2010/2010-08/zimmer810.pdf

About the Author

Eugene Pustoshkin is the Integral Leadership Review’s Associate Editor and Bureau Chief for Russia. He is a citizen of the world who currently lives in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. Eugene is a clinical psychologist, translator, and integral scholar-practitioner. He currently serves as the Chief Editor of Eros & Kosmos (see: http://eroskosmos.org/english), the Russian Integral online magazine.  He co-founded the Holoscendence Project (http://holoscendence.com), an initiative that applies the Holoscendence meta-method and Integral framework towards human psychological transformation. He has translated numerous books by Ken Wilber (the founder of Integral Meta-Theory) and other authors to the Russian language.