Make the G8 History? Not just yet…

2013 must be the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on, writes Leah Kreitzman.

The other G8 leaders would have been forgiven for thinking that Britain had just had a snap election, when earlier this month they received a letter from the 2013 group president. Among the priorities outlined by David Cameron for the forthcoming G8 summit is the need to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, shine a light on the practices of businesses and governments and ensure transparency in the way investors are acquiring and using land and other natural resources.

To those who follow the international development debate closely, a focus on these issues is not such a surprise. They are strands of what David Cameron calls his ‘golden thread’ of development, and it has a distinctively Conservative texture. By dealing with these challenges, along with opening up trade and stimulating private investment, so the argument goes, we will set the foundations needed for strong economic growth, prosperity and, underpinning that, job creation.

However, in a world where one in eight people live with the daily pain of hunger, the global prosperity and growth the Prime Minister seeks will not be realised until this ultimate development challenge is overcome.

Hunger is not just a symptom of poverty; it also has a major causal role. By 2025 nearly a billion young people could face poverty because of the damage done to them now by hunger and malnutrition. The physical and cognitive impacts of childhood malnutrition can lead to a loss of 20 per cent in earnings over a life time and cost economies more than 3 per cent of their annual GDP. This cycle must be broken if we are to ensure economic growth in low income and emerging economies translates into better human development for the poorest.

This is why over 100 British organisations are launching a campaign today to make 2013 the year in which the root causes of hunger and malnutrition are tackled head on. There are unique opportunities to make this happen, including the first G8 under a British presidency since 2005.

Last time the group of eight of the world’s largest economies met on our shores we asked them to help make poverty history by pledging to increase aid and cancel debt. The world has changed since 2005 and so have the solutions to the global problems we face. In the last eight years we have witnessed riots sparked by record commodity prices and hunger crises spanning the African continent – just the most extreme manifestation of a food system, under strain from climate change, a growing population and changing diets, which is close to breaking point. It is a system which allows more than two million children to die each year from malnutrition; that supports targets which means land is used to grow fuel for cars not food for people; enables a few to make billions speculating on and trading in food markets while millions of small farmers struggle to feed their families and within which the operations of notoriously secretive companies and closed governments cannot be held to account.

The G8 alone cannot fix the problem. It is truer now than ever that other countries, including those suffering a high burden of hunger, need a seat round the table. But the G8, led this year by the only country on track to keep its development commitments and with the credibility that entails, can play an important initiating and convening role.

The campaign Enough Food for Everyone, IF is calling on the Prime Minister to use his international leadership role this year to mobilise the resources needed, from donors and developing country governments, to fill the investment gap in lifesaving nutrition interventions and small-scale agriculture. But it is also demanding the structural changes necessary to secure long term benefits from the effective, targeted aid and investment needed now.

The G8 could be the first signatories of a new tax transparency convention ensuring poorer countries can collect the revenues they are due and invest in hunger reduction for their citizens. It can promote open data and budgets so citizens can see how that money is being spent and it can encourage greater transparency in land deals, so it is clear whether acquisition of this precious resource is being used in the best interests of the many not the few.

David Cameron’s golden thread of development needs to weave through a complex world, one in which the group he presides over this year has waning significance. But Britain’s long established leadership on international development presents our Prime Minister with a unique opportunity to ensure that, with others, it does what it can to fix the broken food system. There is a campaign mobilising to hold their feet to the fire. If this opportunity is missed, it is far more than the relevance of this group of eight that’s at stake.

The G8 pose for a family picture. Photograph: Getty Images

Leah Kreitzman is a senior advocacy adviser for Save the Children. She has previously worked as a Political Adviser to the Labour Party, media manager for the campaigning organisation ONE and for the Overseas Development Institute.

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What’s the secret of the world’s best-paid sports manager? Ask the Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein is a star because he values the person as much as the player.

As I write, the Chicago Cubs, perennial underachievers, are three wins away from reaching baseball’s World Series for the first time since 1945. By the time you read this they may have crashed out. Besides, baseball – like cricket – is a language that asks a lot of its translators. So, in writing about the Cubs, I’ll skip the baseball bits. Fortunately, the lessons of the Cubs’ success (they were the outstanding team of 2016, even if they don’t win the World Series) transcend baseball.

To understand the future of sport – and perhaps employment – I recommend a pair of profiles of Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, one published in the New York Times and the other written by David Axelrod (Barack Obama’s strategist) for the New Yorker.

Epstein, 42, has just agreed a contract extension worth $50m over five years, making him the highest-paid non-player in professional sport. There is plenty in the profiles on his whizzy use of data analytics; his algorithmic tests that measure players’ co-ordination (essentially using neuroscience to measure talent); as well as the Cubs’ coaching programme dedicated to mental health and managing stress. Most timely and important of all is Epstein’s emphasis on character. He talks about “scouting the person more than the player”. He wants the right kind of people on the field.

“In the draft room [where the team decides which players to sign], we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player,” he has said. “We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Epstein is well known for empowering a “geek department” inside his baseball teams. Yet instead of perceiving a conflict between science and the human realm, he sees the two as part of the same big picture. He craves players with character who can benefit from the insights of science.

“Character” is a vexed subject inside sport. It sets off uncomfortable associations. Talking too much about character – building it, or even just valuing it – sounds dangerously close to endorsing an amateur ethos. Victorian public schools often celebrated sport explicitly in opposition to intelligence, even achievement. H H Almond, the headmaster of Loretto from 1862, got an A for candour (if nothing else) when he ranked his school’s priorities: “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence.”

The Victorian notion of games cast a long shadow over sport and society in the 20th century. The first phase of ultra-professionalism, in the office as well as on the sports field, was a reaction to Almond’s set of values. The concept of character was recast as a consolation prize, doled out to the class dunce or the twelfth man. Crucially, reformers and nostalgics alike bought in to the historical perception of a separation or conflict between character, intellectual life and sporting achievement.

The Cubs, however, know better. To adapt Almond’s clumsy saying: intelligence and physical skills derive, significantly though not entirely, from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

This is an overdue reassessment. In the loosest terms, I would identify three phases in the development of professional sport. Phase one optimised the body. Sadly, though we are still inching forward, the human body is now reaching the outer wall of virtuosity. All sports will tail off in speed of progress, in terms of pure physicality.

Phase two of modern sport turned to psychology. Realising how hard it is to gain an edge through physical conditioning, everyone suddenly started talking about the mind: the inner game of this, the mental game of that. However, reconfiguring the mental approach of elite athletes – already in their twenties and thirties, with deeply ingrained habits and highly evolved psychological software – is also exceptionally difficult. That is why many top athletes recoil from conventional “sports psychology”; the discipline is oversold and under-sceptical.

We are now entering phase three: the whole person. Sustained high achievement relies on something much deeper than a few sessions with a sports psychologist. So you need the right people in the room.

Coaches in future will be numerate and intellectually unthreatened by the scientific advances that illuminate sport. But the best coaches will never lose sight of a parallel truth: that although science can help us to understand what happens on the sports field, and sometimes how to do it better, it cannot conveniently convert athletes into inert particles, as though it were a ­physical science. Coaching can benefit from ­science but remains an art – one that revolves around understanding and helping people.

In most sports, players and coaches are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team, as Pep Guardiola says, makes more good decisions. Sport, in other words, advances when it trains people to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and imperfectible. If you want machines, you get dummies.

This month, I was asked to found a new institute of advanced sports studies at the University of Buckingham. The mission is to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses that attend to the entire mindset – critical thinking, ethics and leadership, as well as data analytics and sports science: a kind of “PPE of sport”. After a misleading triple fissure – character, body, mind – sport is starting to put the pieces back together again. That’s why, this month, I’m rooting for Epstein’s Cubs.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood