Although juxtaposing angling and politics would normally raise a few eyebrows, a recent peculiar Romanian development in this area seems to have resurfaced an over-extension of politics that is symptomatic for post-socialist transitions, thus providing an interesting follow-up to our previous discussion on micro-sports and post-communist CEE politics. The contentious point here is exactly the concept “sport”, and the context is eerily familiar: after a string of great results in the early 2000s, in 2012 the Romanian Carp Fishing National Team became World Champion hence an increased visibility and entailing interests. Throughout this article I shall employ “angling” rather than “fishing” to mark a clear delineation between the purely commercial activity and the hobby/sport which represents the problematic case discussed here
Brief overview of the scandal.
What started as a purely internal fight between the various disciplines of fishing (each with its own bottom-top constructed allegedly representative bodies) and the General Association of Anglers and Hunters (GAAH – AGVPS for Romanian followers), which seems to have sat on a monopoly created through a legislative bubble dating from the early 50s, became as of 2012-2013 politicized through the sudden burst on the scene of a Romanian Angling Federation (RAF – FRPS for Romanian followers). Pursuing an aggresive recognition campaign RAF has apparently burst the GAAH bubble by exposing its amorphous definition and prerogatives towards angling qua sport. Unsurprisingly for those familiar with CEE politics, RAF pursues a PR campaign claiming “representativity” and “national interest” which have been ill-served by GAAH’s total lack of transparency towards funding competitive angling (accusations go as far as money laundering).
However, this is as far as RAF’s “democratization” goes: despite apparent bottom-top interests, RAF’s construction was generally done in shadowy courtrooms and without much opening towards the anglers themselves. Forcing legislation generally designed for professional sports, RAF wriggled its way through dubious Romanian laws and obtained exclusive recognition rights as a would-be component of the Romanian Ministry of Sports. Here however inlay the problem: the international body responsible for World Championships (which in RAF’s view are professional sport events that require political and legal accreditation for an angler/team to take part in) functions legally as a private-law association, more specifically as a confederation of associations and hence does not follow Olympic-style national-representation legal channels. To further complicate the issue, this international body, much like the EU ironically, has no mechanism of expulsion of its founding members, which the GAAH is! On the other hand, in order to be able to compete as a “Romanian Representative Team”, Romanian anglers are stuck between Scylla and Charibdis – RAF’s Ministerial fiat monopoly and the GAAH’s own monopoly on the international competition itself.
Where does this leave the anglers?
That a micro-sport reaches a level where pressidential warrants are requested and where courtroom threats might deprive a developing country of the opportunity to host a World Championship shows a clear direction: patchwork legislation, contigency politics and a very shallow understanding of democratization and bottom-top representation channels. The defensive stance of RAF’s unpopular president constantly claiming that he will sue everyone using the GAAH umbrella of “Romanian representative” does not seem consistent with the purported aims of the organization: why would an apparently legal pro-angler, pro-democratization-of-the-sport organization need such a violent campaign?
The GAAH’s unclear prerogatives and dubious fiscal-control levers were already known to Romanian competitive anglers, but RAF’s violent “with me or against me” rhetoric shows than beyond amorphous democratization discourses, RAF wants all for itself exclusive control over the growing market of angling. The contingency speaks for itself: the boom of competitive angling and all the surrounding markets, which have been, in the Romanian case, made visible by recent international success of Carp and Spinning teams. Even if RAF’s intention was pro-angler and pro-democratization, this was lost somewhere in the shady Romanian court-rooms, which has completely alienated anglers from this self-proclaimed bottom-top project.
What seems to be at play here is a teleological language of professionalization, in a sport that lacks a basic pre-requisite: an objectively-defined equal playing field.The boundaries are simply too porous in the case of a sport that falls outside formalistic professionalization criteria. To further complicate the issue, if a professional football club can only legally compete in a football competition, an angler’s club can at the same be a charity organization, a environemntal-protection agency, a social club, or if it wants even a professional swimming club hence falling under multiple jurisdiction. RAF is right to point out that this can lead to money laundering, but it exaggerates the regulating power of the state, which certifies the opening remark of over-extended politics.
At the end of this complicated equation stands a disorientated and disgruntled body of anglers. RAF’s legal existence de facto means that a true bottom-top organization will be excruciatingly difficult to set-up and will most likely have to deal not only with GAAH’s quasi-parasytic existence derived from its international monopoly, but also with the state’s rigid legal hurdles. Securing itself some sort of a popular basis, partly through coercion partly through the success of its platform, RAF seems to have fallen into its own trap: it is a legal “representative” body in a context where fewer individuals actually feel “represented” by the political elites and hence tend to separate from them.
Unlike the previously examined case of the post-soviet chess school, for the time being Romanian angling seems to have marketization on its side (for the time being!). RAF is right in that the development of the competitive side of angling would greatly benefit for a clear legal channel, which many anglers have been requesting due to the ineffective nature of the GAAF, yet the would-be federation simply exaggerates its mission: as a non-viewer-friendly micro-sport (at best!), angling simply cannot accommodate the adding of benchmarks derived from professional sports. Exactly as in chess , the entanglement of sports and politics in angling follows not so much a coherent strategy, but a temporary popularity based on isolated “national pride moments” (such as the organization and/or winning of a major international event). Looking from a more general vantage point this very “fishy” legal situation seems symptomatic of the porous boundaries of “representativity” in post-socialism. Due to a rather vague understanding of democratization, bottom-top processes seem to be hindered (if not fully stifled) by contingency-based over-extensions of politics, particularly acute in micro-sports – when the occasion calls for it the state becomes “representative” and offers its support, but when marketization and the entailed interest spin around, “representativity” becomes a legal void without much actual basis in the micro-sport itself.