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World Cup bid looks to Australia's self-serving aid program


World Cup BidAustralia's World Cup campaign has not been without its low points. It's hard to get lower than four goals down. However over the weekend we appeared to have achieved just that, although this time off the field.

On Friday Fairfax press broke the story that AusAID, the agency responsible for managing Australia's aid budget, had agreed to help Football Federation Australia's bid to host the World Cup by boosting spending in Africa and the Pacific.

To get the guernsey in 2018 (which we've since dropped) or 2022, Australia must convince the 24 very influential men who make up FIFA's executive committee that Down Under is the perfect fit for the world game.

With four members of the executive from Africa (Egypt, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Nigeria) and another from the Pacific (Tahiti), AusAID was approached to help lobby in its own special way.

In August the government announced that $4 million would be provided over four years for 'football-delivered' aid to the Pacific. The Football Federation of Australia is keen to trial something like that in Africa.

To be fair, not all of the aid money went to this sort of 'football-themed' aid. Nor do I want to imply that sport can't be used to combat poverty and the factors that keep people poor. Indeed an old colleague of mine from a Catholic NGO swears a PNG Rugby League team could do more good than many other development projects in that country.

However the obvious sticking point is that out of all the factors that influence Australia's aid program, hosting the World Cup shouldn't figure.

Or should it? Many people tend to assume that aid is about 'helping people'. However since the 2006 White Paper on Australian Aid, the overall reference point for aid has been to 'assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest'.

The last line is the clincher. Not the cry of the poor, nor the demands of justice, or even the pull of our basic humanity. No, our aid program is about our national interest.

We would be mortified if a church agency like Caritas Australia or St Vincent De Paul ever came out with such a self-serving clause. As donors we may want to be considered but not to the point where we eclipse the people we seek to help.

And while we may argue secular institutions can lower their standards, we must surely feel that we ourselves have descended if we allow our aid program, always besieged, always ready to be clipped during tough economic times, to become so self serving.

It doesn't have to be this way. While AusAID sits under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), in the UK the Department for International Development (DFID) sits outside of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

This relative autonomy has allowed DFID to cultivate an international development policy distinct from the UK's commercial and strategic interests. We ought to seriously consider following suit.

Personally I'd love to see the World Cup in Australia. However not at any cost. And certainly not at the cost of an aid program at the service of the poor. To do so would be to turn the world's poor into a bartering chip to host the world game. And not all the commentators waxing lyrical about the beauty of this game could drown out the ugliness of that.

Evan EllisEvan Ellis is social justice coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta.


Topic tags: Football, soccer, world game, aid, development, fifa, ffa, ausaid, world cup



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Existing comments

> "...the government announced that $4 million would be provided over four years for 'football-delivered' aid to the Pacific..."

Aha. So that's why small towns lose their train services, why cancer patients have to buy their own wigs, and why parents of children with developmental disabilities can't access affordable government assistance easily. Someone needs to teach Fijians how to kick a football. Well, that's some consolation, I guess...

Rod Blaine | 05 July 2010  

There is a big difference in regards to monies given for foreign aid. If it comes from the Government, then the national interest must an essential component. These funds were given by taxpayers and the taxpayer has the right to know that the Government is spending money in the national interest.

Private charity organisations can do anything they want as long they can justify it to their donors. They can buy cigars for Fidel Castro if they want to do.

Beat Odermatt | 05 July 2010  

Does the end justify the means? We know in Australia, as in every nation, there are only self interested groups. Sad but realistic.

Patricia Taylor | 05 July 2010  

Rod you could equally argue that small towns lose their trains because we are fighting a war in afgahnistan or spending too much money on our schools. its a reductive argument.

and Beat, you are wrong about the national interest. of all the northern european countries who give aid (and incidentally who are regarded intertanionally as both more effective and generous than Australia) - none of them promote the national interest angle like Australia does.

yes aid has always been used to leverage both foreign policy (think the cold war) and economic advantage (think Halliburton) for donor countries interest but it doesnt HAVE to be like that.

Good on you Evan for promoting a mroe just, ethical and compassionate aid program. Real politik has limited the effectiveness of our governemnt aid program in the past - but if we do really want to tackle the structural imbalance that keep people trapped in poverty - we can, we just need the political will.

Over to you Julia...

max | 05 July 2010  

There is another side to the term "national interest." It is in everyone's interests to hear the cry of the poor, the demands of justice, and to respond to the pull of our basic humanity. Surely it is therefore in our national interest to be a people who respond to such needs.The sharing of resources to provide a more just world is in everyone's interests. It is a fundamental measure of a society's core values. How could it not be in our national interest to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need?

Kevin Pattison | 05 July 2010  

"In line with the national interest" has always been a sticking point for NGOs - and it results in much worse scandals than this. Remember Trevor Flugge and the AWB oil-for-food program. His million was part of the aid budget.

Some of the points Fairfax made were actually irrelevant (such as FFA's decision to donate to a hospital - good on them I say), but the general gist of that article, and this one, is spot on. Let's hope this doesn't turn into another anti-aid crusade from people who think 0.3% is too much.

Brendan Joyce | 05 July 2010  

Max, I don't put either funding schools or fighting the Taliban in the same category as kicking a ball around a field. Otherwise no one could ever criticise wasteful government extravagance.

Rod Blaine | 05 July 2010  

tragically Rod, teaching kids to kick the ball around in Fiji is likely to have a much more positive impact than the nine year waste of lives (including young Australians) and money in Afghanistan.

for the record, i dont support ausaid funds being used to fund our world cup bid, but sport can play a crucial role in teaching people how to play as a team, discipline and tackle obesity (a growing - forgive the pun - problem in the pacific.

Australia should deliver aid with a categroical focus on alleviating poverty. Unshackling ausaid from DFAT will be a good start but the commercial interests promoted throguh our aid program such as in the AWB/Flugge farago, needs to cease immediately.

max | 05 July 2010  

Thank you for this article, Evan. I'm interested by the example you give of an independent aid department in the UK. I personally am most concerned that DFAT both determines aid and negotiates the(sometimes "negotiates") trade agreements that frequently contribute to poverty in Asia and the Pacific. I wonder if a separate department might go some way to addressing that grave conflict of interest.

C. | 05 July 2010  

Evan says this: "However since the 2006 White Paper on Australian Aid, the overall reference point for aid has been to 'assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest'.

The last line is the clincher. Not the cry of the poor, nor the demands of justice, or even the pull of our basic humanity. No, our aid program is about our national interest." Well not necessarily unless you assume in advance that Australia's national interest is not based on on the demands of justice or the pull of humanity. Australia has committed itself to the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the other documents which flow from it. It is in our national interest that corrupt governments not be assisted in their corruption by the aid which we give and intend for other purposes.

That the reduction of poverty and achievement of sustainable development has to be in line with Australia's national interest can have a quite benign meaning even though infelicitously worded. If Evan believes it has a malign meaning he should say why.

The history of Australian aid to countries like Indonesia serves the interests of social justice and the alleviation of poverty as well as being in the national interest because of the goodwill it engenders between neighbouring countries. Where were the negatives?

Fr John Fleming | 05 July 2010  

Fr Fleming, thank you for your reflections. I believe the World Cup case exemplifies why aid in the 'national interest' is of concern. A more serious example is the former government's Pacific Solution, in which money paid to countries such as Nauru and PNG to build off-shore detention centres was counted as part of our 'aid' budget.

C. | 06 July 2010  

Fr Fleming is quite right. National interest isn’t necessary malign. In fact the roots of the word ‘interest’ is derived from inter (between, among) and esse (to be, being). This hints that if our national interest (or being) was tailored with a keen awareness and respect for the interest of our neighbours (who we are between, among) it would most likely be a tremendous force for good.

However having just read Jack De Groot’s incisive piece about the East Timor ‘solution’, I suspect that national interest rarely lives up to the word’s Latin roots.

Evan Ellis | 08 July 2010  

i don't like 'aid'; it reinforces poverty and inequality, being a conscience salve and economic tool more than anything else. if the first world left the poor nations alone then they would be alright - the first world's ridiculous affluence is dependent upon the continual rape (in all senses) of the third world.

Build community and sustainability here and be an example - that is our proper role. football (soccer) is an effective tool in this quest, as i have seen happen working as a football coach with the big issue's street soccer program.

Yes fifa is corrupt (every corporately structured organisation is ipso facto corrupt), but the world cup is the biggest celebration of a unified humanity we have - its symbolic power is unrivalled.

gavin gee-clough | 10 July 2010  

I agree with you on the world cup V aid but as Australia's greatest share of aid goes to Indonesia and the UN has stated they are the "worlds most corrupt nation on the planet" I say we can cut back aid to this nation.
If this question was put to a referendum vote, it would win hands down to "NO MORE AID"

When most of the aid money (my taxes) ends up in the hands of corrupt officals and very little to the people it is intended, then whats the point of trying to help?
I'm all for helping anyone who needs a hand but with the Indonesian's it's like paying the fox to guard the hen house.

If we balance trade verses aid? I wonder just how much Australia is giving away to a nation of Pirates?
I remember the "Balibo 5" "East Timor" and the 88 Australian's murdered in Bali and this is just the tip of the Indonesian nightmare of atrocities.

I find it disgusting my tax dollars are being thrown away in such an obvious manner to a nation that is laughing at us for being so stupid and gutless.

Bernie McClafferty | 07 October 2010  

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