ARTS, COLUMN, INTERVIEWS

Anthony London: Sport helps to build good people

Anthony London ST[4]

 

Interview by Maja Ručević

Photo by Sulejman Omerbašić

Biography: Born in 1971 in Victoria, Canada, Anthony London has taken on many positions in the realm of human rights protection, election administration, and civil  society development. Following various stints in the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, he landed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he has since accepted  another portfolio, that of B&H National Ice Hockey Team Selector. He currently resides in Sarajevo with his wife, two children, and enthusiastic Dalmatian dog.

 

We spoke to Anthony London, a Canadian who decided to live and work in our country. He is the B&H National Ice Hockey Team Selector. We discussed numerous topics, from his love for sports to the actual social and political situation. One thing is for sure: things need to change in terms of planning for the future…

When and how did you came here?

The first time I came to Bosnia was in 1997 because I used to work in Croatia for the OSCE a couple of years, until 2000. When we felt like doing some recreation, my colleagues would go to B&H, to Gradiska to enjoy music, night life, etc. The first time I came to Sarajevo was in 2002 when I signed a short contract with the UNDP. I worked four months for them. Then I came back in 2004. I was sent by the Canadian Government to the OSCE Mission in B&H. At first, I lived in Pale for a year and a half and then I moved to Sarajevo as a Human Rights Officer and worked here until 2007. Then I was here for a couple of months looking for work and then I got a job with EUPM (European Union Police Mission) and moved to Banja Luka. I was a Political Advisor there until 2010. The EUPM has since closed. In June, 2010, I got a job with the ICMP (International Commission on Missing Persons).

You have been doing many things here. How did you get into hockey?

After I first arrived, in 2005 I took a look on the internet to see if there’s any hockey. I played hockey my whole life. I started skating when I was three and started playing hockey when I was five. I played it at university in Canada and then I didn’t play for about ten years because I was moving and had several jobs. Later on, around 2000-2001 I played a season just for recreation. In 2006 I heard there was some kind of a hockey event here, a championship and from there I found some contacts. However, I was still quite busy with work at the time. At one point, I finally sent an e-mail to the Bosnian ice hockey federation. They said come and see. I started coming over, met some of the guys and that’s how I got into it. I enjoy the game, it’s a good way to stay in shape and – it’s fun. Gradually, the deeper I got into hockey, the more I grew to know the ice hockey community. I was able to help with my skill set. One of the things we had here as a problem – something we still deal with – is that we didn’t have the expertise. Hockey was present before the war, exploded during the Olympics and shortly after and then completely fell apart during the conflict. It needed renewal. There were guys who played hockey but they started when they were 14 or 15 so they didn’t have hockey instincts – they sort of play hockey like they play football, if I can put it that way. They had more of a football mentality. You know, a guy falls on the ice and rolls around like a football player does. I had a different perspective of what hockey is. So I started playing and wanted to help a little bit. There were lots of kids so I volunteered, I was trying to teach them something, to share my knowledge.

How did you became the selector?

It was an organic thing. As I was helping with the kids, and as I realised there was no expertise, we started to create and adapt existing programs, including the national one. In 2010 and 2011 it had been seven years since there was national senior representation. When we decided to put things in some kind of order it was natural that I was asked by the President of the Federation to take on the job and I said okay – this was in 2012. It’s not like we are professionals, we are all amateurs and we do it simply out of love for the game. We want to build the game, we want people to see it and understand that it’s a wonderful sport.

Is there any perspective for this sport to become professional in B&H?

In my opinion, yes, but there are a few key steps for that to happen, such as ZOI and Zetra have to sort out their financial issues. Professional teams need reliable partners. You have also the Ministry of Sport and they should be supporting hockey, I assume they are doing so, but I’m not certain. One other thing is that the infrastructure is very old, the chiller inside the Zetra complex is dated; it consumes an enormous amount of electricity. I’ve heard it costs 70 000 BAM a month to run. Because it’s so expensive they only put the ice for one to three months, if we are lucky, so it’s hard to run any kind of program if you only have access to a facility for three months. A professional club could never operate under such circumstances. We try to make up for the lack of support with our enthusiasm. Most of us don’t get paid for anything hockey-related we do. Essentially, we are all doing it for free because the kids love the game.

It causes a great lack of continuity in the training?

Yes. We do dry training, but that’s fitness, conditioning. We have really good, hardworking and talented kids, but they go and play against kids from Serbia, Croatia or Slovenia and they’re getting beat because these kids spent much more time on the ice per year. It’s a huge problem.
The first thing, when we are talking about professional hockey, is sorting out finances. Then you need to have a professional team for a league. There was talk about a Balkan league, but realistically – unless there is a major sponsor it will never happen. Personally, I think professional hockey in Sarajevo would work, but all these conditions have to be fulfilled. If you don’t have some kind of budgetary planning – and this is present in other fields in this country too – you can’t anticipate and control costs. There needs to be thinking ahead, for the future. There is only, “How do I pay the NEXT salary to my workers?” question… We, as a country, we are too short-sighted. We just don’t plan very well.

And what does the sport bring you, in terms of motivation and positive thinking?

None of our players or kids training are under the illusion that we are going to produce big stars. We are doing two things: physical activity – it’s good for you, health benefits. The second thing is that we are trying to build quality people, good citizens who understand the value of working within a team. There is a social element in every sport. Responsible coaches who do a good job and love the kids instil values that will be applied as they grow up. And so your next generation of coaches are the kids that were players. We emphasize school too; if kids are in trouble at school we want to be aware of it and help them. Also, if you are really into a sport, it’s a passion so it’s a get away from the stress in your daily life. It’s pure love.
Whilst talking of love, you are married to a Bosnian lady with who you have two children. It happened in Sarajevo?

Yes, we both have dogs so we met in the park. Our dogs were running around together and that’s the way we met. After a while of talking we agreed to go and have a cup of tea together at some point. Without the dogs. That’s when it took a different direction.
Will your children play hockey too? What are your prognosis?

My daughter is four years old and she went to skating school, but she was still a little bit distracted. Now, she can already concentrate. As far as I’m concerned she is a hockey player already! Hockey is in my family, everybody played it so I hope the boy will too. It’s tradition.
Do you play some other sport?

I used to play more tennis. Now and then I play football, but I’m terrible. I did a lot of athletics and volleyball when I was young too.

We were talking about weaknesses related to sport facilities and expertise in B&H. Do you see weaknesses elsewhere and what are they in your opinion?

That’s extremely important. You read articles, you have the information from the media, it’s always the same story, you know, like a broken record: there is dysfunction within the political community, within the government structures, the ethnic groups still fighting for power… Everyone is working for their own interest group, whether that group is their party, an ethnic group or a religious group.
And how to break those interest groups? Is it possible at all to break them?

You know that term often used here in the region, “professional deformation”? Well, somehow, in people’s minds, it’s not a professional deformation, rather a logic one. People often think “what’s good for me, how do I protect my interests, my close family and friends”, without thinking what’s good for the community, for the country. And so at some level, we just can’t blame the politicians for everything because the political structure is built. Politicians only maximise their perceived interests within the structure that exists.
I think there has been some change, you can see that some parties are looking at issues that affect everybody. They believe that the ethnic question should be something that’s not central. You have to deal with it here, it’s a mixed country, you can never ignore it, but it shouldn’t be the primary motivating factor for everyday decisions that have to be made: jobs, budgets, appointments, etc. It should be based on performance, professionalism, expertise. It shouldn’t matter who knows who, whose cousin the person is…
You have mentioned people thinking about their own interests.

Last year we had an example of a social movement taking place in Bosnia by people fighting for common interest? Weren’t they? Did it move something? If it did?

If you look at the recent elections, you have the same parties that are still in power. But you do have an increased performance by some of these ‘non-ethnic’, let’s say issue-oriented parties. So it’s a positive side of things. I come from the West and civil disobedience is a legitimate approach, not violence. It’s tragic that buildings had to be burned and records too, but that’s another issue. When you get to a point where politico-legal framework doesn’t provide protection in the best interest of individuals and society, they have a right to be disobedient, to demand better. It doesn’t mean you beat the police, but you do have a right to protest an express your discontent.
So the thing that happened in the spring was very good. There were public forums and these are good initiatives, but it kind of dropped out somehow. It’s good to go out on the street, but it’s also difficult to maintain that kind of momentum. In my opinion, the politicians should be looking at this and saying: OK, there is a lot of discontent, how might we make things better for people? And I see some politicians that really do want to make positive changes, but there’s also vested interest in keeping things the way they are. On the other side, you’ve got these three closed communities, parties are swapping power, but it is always within in the same ethnic block, nobody is actually changing anything fundamentally. I had a friend who left the region, but he said once: After the war, they should have banned ethnic parties. Maybe that would have worked. And now, we have the German-British initiative trying to change something…
Speaking of, can Europe influence things and how? What is happening with the European future of Bosnia?

This is Europe. You can’t deny it. If Croatians are European, so are the Serbs, and the Bosnians. We are all the same people. Europe is built on the idea of consensus. Everybody gives a little bit to gain something, to get access to one big, giant market. You can sell Portuguese salami in Poland. To me it’s brilliant. That’s the genius about Europe. It’s open for everybody. Now, we have the Balkans, and particularly the Bosnia that has been constructed since the war. I was not here before the war, but I believe that Bosnia was a multi-ethnic country where people lived in peace and everything was going well. But that’s gone now. Instead of working on what would be a common platform and a common interest it’s quite the opposite. I don’t see any concept of consensus.
Do you feel that people in Bosnia want that Europe, really want it, in general?

Europe is still one of the highly regarded goals of the populous. I don’t know, if you join Europe you have to give up a lot. But what you gain is far more.
And what would Bosnia gain?

For example, there are these ISO standards. If companies could meet certain standards then they could start to produce products that they could sell everywhere. This is a long-term project that requires vision. There are a lot of reforms necessary, there are all sorts of issues within the economy, but if you could fix that, with time, eventually people could offer their goods and services to that huge European market. Ideally, if they want, they can go and move to Germany without problems, without all the papers. No visa, no issues like that. But it’s all phased in. Generally people like the idea of Europe but you have to embrace the idea of giving up on something in order to gain something better.
I always think about this concept of regions, if Europe were born on the idea of regions. Trebinje should work with Mostar which should work with Tomislavgrad. If they have similar economies and products than the region is more important than the actual borderline, real or imagined. This way the economy in general improves and matters more than your last name or the fact that you go to a church or a mosque. And when the economy is good, the country can become prosperous and rich countries usually don’t have the same problems with intolerance, extremism, fascism, corruption, because the people have been investing – they have something to lose. They have been working hard to achieve it.
Do you find Bosnians to be hardworking people?

I have people visiting from outside who would say “I can’t believe how many people are sitting and drinking coffee. Doesn’t anybody work?” If you take into consideration the high unemployment rate, yes, of course you have so many people on the street because they have nothing to do. You had political transition and the war and the economic transition, it was too much all at once.
All the big firms that used to exist are now just so small or they just disappeared. So you have got people who were trained for heavy machines, let’s say, but there are no heavy machines anymore. One of the things this country needs is to start strong programs of adult education so that people who don’t have skills for the new economy can get them. Their skills have to be up to date. Government agencies also have to help people to get skills required in the economy. Combining in-service training and making sure the skills are up to date is very important. You cannot just count on IMF money. It’s the “somebody will fix it” syndrome. We are caught in vicious circles. We need leadership too. I don’t think Bosnians are lazy, rather, they are apathetic because the issues are so huge and nothing changes.
And what do you do in your free time?

It depends. If it’s hockey season, I don’t have much free time. I work all day and night. As long as there’s ice, I’m gone. My wife, she is just wonderful! (laughter). But in the summertime, we do what everybody does. We take vacation. On the weekend we go to the mountains. I ski whenever there’s snow. I like winter sports. It all comes down to sports.

 

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