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Birkbeck panel calls for increased education for athletes

The Sport Business Centre at Birkbeck, hosted a roundtable on 27 March providing expert...

The Sport Business Centre at Birkbeck, University of London hosted a roundtable on ‘Representing Players in Sport: Bargaining for A Fair Deal for Athletes in an Olympic Year’ on 27 March 2012, providing expert views on how the organised voice of elite players can be more effectively incorporated into governance of global sport.

Chaired by Andy Harvey from the Department of Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck, University of London and a consultant to the FIFPro football players’ union, panellists included Tony Higgins, former Hibernian (Scottish Premier League) player and Executive Board member of the European Division of the world football players’ union FIFPro; Barry McGuigan, former World Featherweight Boxing Champion and founder of the Barry McGuigan Boxing Academy; and Walter Palmer, former Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks NBA player and General Secretary of EU Athletes (the European Elite Athletes Association).

Joined by 60 guests, Tony Higgins began by revealing the difficult working conditions most football players face, including the fact that players should be considered full-time professionals but it is not the reality. He also highlighted the fact that racial abuse is a problem in Eastern European clubs.

To tackle these problems, Tony reaffirmed FIFPro’s commitment to address problems such as those described in the FIFPro Black Book Eastern Europe research publication - match fixing, violence towards players, racism and discrimination.

Walter Palmer seconded these recommendations and urged for integration of sport and education amongst young sportspeople in order to improve their dual-career employment prospects.

He added that some of the top priorities for the EU Athletes included the reform of anti-doping rules, sports betting and good governance. EU Athletes, which represents over 25,000 professional athletes, will also address the organisation of players to ensure minimum standard contracts are met.

Barry McGuigan, who is widely regarded as one of the best boxers of his generation, emphasised that education is vital to self-development and employability.

Barry highlighted the under-achievement of young boxers who often come from underprivileged backgrounds, which led him to establish the Barry McGuigan Boxing Academy in 2009 to integrate sport and education in a way that engages young people and puts them on a path of personal development, training and employment opportunity.

Commenting on the roundtable, Sean Hamil, Director of Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, said: “At Birkbeck we are privileged to convene experts at this level. It is vital that we are able to provide a platform for international athletes to discuss the pertinent issues of the day as well as providing an encouraging platform for our students to share their thoughts and engage with speakers.

Media coverage of event

FIFPro spokesman Tony Higgins warns that late or non-payment of players' salaries is now spreading into western Europe
By Michael Grant
The Herald, Scotland