6 09 2009

I was going to write a piece tonight on an interesting question which I heard tonight whilst watching The West Wing (yes, I am playing catch-up a little as I missed the boat when it was on the TV. I am currently making my way through season 4). However, my own general fatigue coupled with my feeling of injustice mean I’m going to write briefly about something else. I will return to my West Wing musings at some other point.

LikeĀ  many people I suppose, I am a creature of habit. When it comes to the interweb I have certain websites I check daily, usually in the same order. I checked these sites tonight, and found this story on the BBC. Yes, it seems that the England Ladies have made it to the final of a major tournament in dramatic fashion (an extra time victory over the Dutch). This should be applauded. They have done well to get this far in a major tournament (whilst they were amongst the favourites, the Germans, Italians and Swedish were more fancied before the tournament commenced).

I then moved onto, the next website stop on my list. As a major sporting site, I was expecting some form of acknowledgment of the achievements of the Ladies on the site’s home page. I was disappointed to see that this wasn’t there. So I dug around for ten minutes, looking for a match report, a post-match interview, just something about this match, and the achievement. I searched the website for both “women’s football” and “england ladies”. Neither produced any relevant hits (although for the former there were a few pieces on the state of the womens game in the UK).

I am shocked that Sky Sports, a reputable, multi-national media outlet has nothing on its website to record the achievement of the England Ladies team. Now I know that womens sport is less well observed in this country than the mens forms, but for there to be nothing on the website is just appalling. I’m disappointed that there is no TV coverage this year of the Women’s Euros, as there was (I think) a few years ago on the Beeb. Women’s sport needs to be encouraged, to be watched, and the only way that this can happen is if it is in the mainstream, there for all to see. If this isn’t going to happen then the next best thing is internet exposure on mainstream websites. The BBC have done this, Sky Sports hasn’t. This is hugely frustrating, and perhaps is indicative of a larger problem within the sporting world relating to gender and various sports (witness the recent, and ongoing, athletics furore; the issues regarding women boxing at the Olympics; even the coverage of England Ladies’ cricketing successes this summer). The media have a huge role to play in the representation of women’s sport. Currently they are failing these sportswomen who strive to succeed, and, it seems, have much more international success than their male counterparts.

Ed: as a subscript, I have left some comments in the Sky Sports feedback form on the site, and await a reply. I will post the response as and when I get one.


The Most Impossible Place…

6 04 2009

When I flew to Africa four years ago, I went via Dubai. We spent about five hours in the airport there and it was an amazing experience. The airport is massive, designed as you would expect of anything in Dubai, on a huge scale. My knowledge of the place was non-existant at that time. I knew we were in the ‘east’ somewhere, but I couldn’t have told you what country.

Suffice it to say my knowledge has grown since then, and I have come to view Dubai with awe and fascination. The sheer nature of the projects that are undertaken is testament to human ambition and ability. The vision for the city is staggering, and the look of the projects is amazing. The whole place has an aura of creating impossibility. I have watched countless programmes (usually on Channel 5) about the building of the islands, or the tower, or the golf course, and have come away believing in the creative potential of the human being again. Yes, it is over the top. Yes, it is disgustingly wealthy. But I still maintain it is a fascinating project to witness the evolution of a city from nothing in little over a decade.

Yet there is the side I’ve never thought about too, that of the workers. I don’t know why I’d never thought about them, maybe because in a city that is as wealthy as Dubai, I’d presumed this wealth would filter down somehow. It obviously doesn’t. It was with interest I read this article. I am unable to watch the accompanying programme tonight (there is a rather important football match on), but will watch it when I have the opportunity to. It should be fascinating, and for me at least, enlightening viewing.


2 03 2009

I was, for the first time in a while, listening to Radio 1 on my way home from work this morning. The return of Jo Whiley to replace the perennially annoying Sara Cox (who cannot pronounce her own name right, never mind anything else) did much to convince me to switch the station. Anyway, Jo Whiley spoke to Chris Moyles on her show. This is the same Chris Moyles who is currently in Africa plodding his way up Mount Kilimanjaro along with other “celebrities” to raise money for Comic Relief.

As I listened to Moyles genuinely struggling his way through the interview, I thought back to my time at the top of Africa. I’m reasonably sure that I would not want to be interviewed by anyone, let alone someone in the relative comfort of a radio studio in London. More than that though, I became convinced that the some of the “celeb” team will not make it to the top. There are logical reasons I say this:

1. They did no acclimatisation. This was a fundamental part of our trip, and a hugely important part in dealing with any potential altitude related problems that might occur. I believe, through my own experience, that everyone needs to get used to the country, the weather and the heights, as well as the important combination of all three. If they don’t then they are, and indeed have, affected their chances of success.

2. The fitness of the team can be questioned. I have heard reports that some members of the team (Alesha Dixon) did little or no training for the climb. This is stupid and foolish. I did pretty much two years of training for my climb and was still barely fit enough. What matters is stamina though, and this was built up through practise climbs, both in Britain and Tanzania. The “celebs” haven’t done this to anywhere near the same extent I don’t think.

3. The altitude. It will almost certainly get someone. If it hasn’t by the dawning of the final assault, it will during it. The last climb is perhaps the sharpest and quickest of the trip. Done during the night when temperatures are near freezing, I would be very surprised if no-one was affected.

So, I repeat, I am not convinced that all will make it. But there is another gripe I have with this. Whilst I get it is for charity, I fundamentally think it is the wrong charity. “Comic” relief, it’s in the name isn’t it? The funds should be raised through comic means, shouldn’t they? Perhaps I’m being too critical here, but this ‘comic’ idea has amost gone from the event, save on the night of the show itself. It has now become a chance for the BBC to show the nation what a charitable organisation it is. I think there are other charities, which have considerably less publicity which perhaps deserve an equal chance of earning such revenues. There are plenty of charities working in Africa which get nowhere near the same help and support as Comic Relief. If you are going to undertake such a challenge, do it for something obscure, something that needs the money more. Comic Relief would have made millions anyway, regardless of this climb. So why not give the money to another charity which is working at achieving something slightly different in Africa?

Perhaps there is a reason I sound slightly bitter about this. It is because I am. I feel that the escapades of “celebrities” in the name of charity has failed to truly understand the challenge of the mountain. They are almost trivialising the challenge simply by their collective presence. Kili is something that is going to stick forever with me. My own achievements in climbing it, along with the collection of emotions that went with it are something I will never forget. My own, deeply personal thoughts as I sat at the top of Kilimanjaro will forever haunt me. The mountain is more than the “celebrities” on it. This is not appreciated by enough people.

Editors Note: As if to further prove my point, I read this on the BBC. The title alone highlights my problem.

Sporting Front…

2 12 2008

There are a couple of sporting issues which have raised their heads over the past weekend. The first is the Rugby Union autumn internationals. The second is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Firstly then, the autumn internationals which, from an England point of view, have been a dire reminder that our time at the top table of international rugby have long since gone. As Argentina have replaced us as the fourth top seed for the next World Cup in 2011, so we look forlornly on the collapse of the team which had, in the previous two World Cups, won it and finished second. That record, it seems, is not enough to keep England as top seeds for the next event in three years time. As I see it, the problems with English rugby began in 2003. As Jonny Wilkinson slotted home that dramatic drop-goal, things were on the road to collapse. Already a number of players had declared that they would be retiring from international rugby, most notably the inspirational leader Martin Johnson. Others went soon afterwards, pack sniper Neil Back and Jason Leonard. The old guard was on its way out. Woodward probably knew this, the pundits knew this, the team even probably knew this. They had done what they spent much of the previous four years preparing for, that is, winning the World Cup. For them, that was it. The trouble was, that nobody had adequately prepared for what was next.

Over the course of the next five years, England have huffed and puffed, rarely keeping a settled team, with nobody really holding down a position. The next generation were not ready to fill the shoes of those who had been so successful. Yes, there was a degree of misfortune, who could have foreseen that WIlkinson, inspirational backs leader that he had become, would be absent for much of the next five years with injury? I maintain though that England were not properly prepared for the loss of key players through retirement. Those who were to come into the side were not ready, had little or no experience, and subsequently struggled. Anyone care to remember James Simpson-Daniel, who was thrown into the team, struggled and quickly discarded. He still plays an important role for his club team Gloucester, and whilst he still floats around English set-ups, has not been thrown back into the first XV. The remarkable journey to the final of 2007’s final was a victory not for organisation or preparation, but for heart and guts (and was, in no small part built around the return of Mike Catt, who at 36, was the oldest player to play in a World Cup final). Brian Ashton’s team were not, by rights, world beaters. Yet they came within milimetres of winning the cup (after Mark Cueto’s very tight disallowed try).

England have not had a solid, consistant team for many years. In comparison to the big teams (New Zealand, Australia, or South Africa) this is a bad thing. Problems that exist are not worked on if the players are dropped quickly. There is little in the way of reserve players who are able to step up to the grade. Everything that Woodward had done for English rugby has fallen by the wayside. It is hoped that Johnson can now help pull England back into line in time for 2011. That has to be his goal, regardless of the Six Nations. English rugby needs to go back to basics, with a working structure producing good players who can and will step up to the plate when required. Having said that, there needs to be some consistancy too. Johnson needs to pick the same XV as frequently as he can, letting players grow into the team, and learn the roles that they need to play. Proof in point is Danny Cipriani, who was dropped following a couple of poor performances recently. At 21, he has time on his side, and could become a player in the Wilkinson mould. I say play him, it cannot hurt giving him international experience if you are confident he is the future, as most around England are. England need a lot of work, I’m hoping that it is Johnson who can lead the repairs. I am not convinced though.

So onto Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY). The list of the ten candidates was released yesterday, with the Beeb keen to point out that it was drawn up by a panel of independent judges. The list, found here, includes seven olympians, one motor racer, one tennis player, and one boxer. The controversy though is over who has been left out, with various people calling for the likes of Shane Williams (recently crowned Rugby’s best player in 2008), Victoria Pendleton (who took Olympic gold as well as two world championship titles), or Eleanor Simmonds (the 13 year old who beat the world, twice, in the paralympics). Some complain that Lewis Hamilton should not be on the list simply because he has turned his back on British taxes to live in Monaco. Others point to the fact Murray did not actually win a grand slam this year. Others look at the comparative difficulties of the different sports.

I for one think the list is pretty good. The Olympics was always going to dominate, following the success that was had, especially in the pool and the velodrome. Including Lewis Hamilton was a no-brainer either. I am slightly more skeptical about Murray, but to give him his due, he has had an exceptional year. It is impossible to satisfy everyone when drawing up such a shortlist. Those who didn’t make it, failed for a reason, they were good, but not good enough. The results, annouced on the 14 December, will be interesting. My pick would be Hamilton. I think the sheer fact he is a more recognised name will very much help his cause. Likewise I expect Murray to do well, even though the likes of Wiggins, Cooke, and Romero maybe deserve the recognition more. We wait and see.

Pure Class…

29 10 2008

I sat down to watch John Prescott’s programme on class yesterday on IPlayer in the hope that he would bring something constructive to the discussion about class. It was a fools hope though, as I became increasingly bored of good old JP reciting his own personal history and his utter damnation of the upper classes (and to a lesser extent the middle classes). The programme, rather than being a useful tool to stimulate discussion (as it had the potential to be), actually proved to be a vehicle for him to waste an hour of BBC scheduling time with left-wing working-class rhetoric.

When the trailers for the programme appeared on our TV’s a couple of weeks ago, my Dad remarked to me “why would anyone want to watch that drivel, we’ve all had enough of him“. Indeed the programme itself seemed to reinforce the point, with low levels of people queueing up to get signed copies of his autobiography in Asda, Hull, his home town.

His insistance on repeating that he was still very much working class, despite his manor and croquet playing tendancies throughout the course of the programme was a major irritation to me, as was his apparently closed minded approach to the topic. Whereas the programme should have been posing questions such as “is class still relevant to today’s society?” or “how much of a class divide still exists in Britain where most would define themselves as middle-class?” it instead followed ‘Prezza’ as he visited various examples of the different classes and used them as a microcosm of society. This in itself was a flawed approach, the examples chosen were as close as possible to social stereotypes, picked, very deliberately, to paint a picture of Britain that Prescott himself was happy to criticise. Whereas to my mind it would have been much more worthwhile for him to have visited more communal places, with a wider demographic, instead the programme makers chose to pick lunch with an Earl, a meeting with three young girls who were very definately not chavs (apparently), and a meeting with a couple of young men at a private school to help Prescott vent his spleen about why class is bad.

The trouble the programme had was that it never really tried to define what class was, it worked on pre-supposed ideas of the viewers, all the time influencing thought with outlandish examples of the various classes, “oh the upper classes must all live in manors, with butlers and posh crockery” or “the working class must all be completely ignorant of the world around them because society has failed them“.

The trouble with stereotypes is the familiarity with them that society has. Hence, I suppose, why they are stereotypes. No-one dares challenge them, they are accepted. They are, by social ignorance, the ‘truth’. The programme makers capitalised upon this, and ran with it. Not once did they appear to think that perhaps the stereotypes were maybe not a fair reflection of todays multi-cultural society. Such thinking would have made the programme much more watchable and interesting, but would have obviously contradicted the point of having Prescott as the front man, the selling point.

If some unknown presenter had run with it then the programme would have been infinitely better as we would have been able to have some degree of impartiality. With Prescott though we were always likely to have him plugging left-wing commentary, given his history.

Needless to say I shall not be tuning back in to watch the second part. It barely seems worth my time to listen to Prescott’s agenda for another hour. There is much more to be said about class and the current state of Britain’s class system, but it is too contentious a topic for the BBC to cover adequately in an hour. Perhaps Channel 4 could do a better job…

Whatever happened to…

30 08 2008

… Saturday night television?

As I sit here and wait for Match of the Day to burst forward at 10:20 tonight, I am distinctly aware of a complete lack of anything remotely interesting to watch on television tonight. The growth of reality television has effectively killed off what was, traditionally, a strong time for family television. Programmes such as the ever reliable Casualty on the Beeb, or films on ITV and Channel 4 have suffered as we are exposed to such television rubbish as Last Choir Standing (who cares?), X Factor (painfully pointless and long lasting – contributing to the demise of the music industry), and tonight, a programme celebrating the good work of the National Lottery. Now I appreciate the good stuff that the lottery does, but as someone who contributes to a television licence, I am more than a little peeved at this taking over an hour of prime-time television.

I find that I am left with the options of NCIS on Channel 5, and what is proving to be the winner of Batman Forever on Channel 4. Neither of which, if I’m honest, particularly inspire me. I have seen Batman many times, and NCIS is just a poor version of the much more popular (and better) CSI franchise.

My question though, is why does reality television still continue to flourish? It is, if we are honest, the lowest denominator of television. Programmes such as the aforementioned Last Choir Standing are less popular than either the X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, yet they still manage to occupy hours of prime-time. Let us not forget Big Brother either, this television carbuncle still rumbles on ten years after it was initially started as a psychological experiment. At the time, in my opinion, it barely passed as an interesting experiment. Ten years down the line, I wonder how many people really still care. Switching onto E4 last night I was unfortunate enough to catch the last two minutes of BBLB. As I stared blankly at the screen I was unsure whether to be embarassed for the presenters, or embarassed for the people who still tune in. The question which I posed to my sister (to which there was no answer) was “is this entertaining?” I’m assuming the lack of answer was an answer in itself.

What can be done to save television? I know that is a hard question as tastes vary (indeed there are some who still tune into the aforementioned tripe) but there needs to be a swift return to quality programming, with people such as those at the BBC and ITV returning to the idea of making quality programmes, and spending some of the money they make either through the licence payer or through the advertising. Channel 4 is still involved in making some very good films, so why are we not exposed to these films more often?

In short there needs to be someone, somewhere who stands up to the ogre of reality television and fight back, for the sanity of most viewers nationwide. I have heard grumbles about the number of American programmes appearing on our screens from numerous people. My response is that they are better than what we can offer. I feel much happier watching some American dramas as opposed to British reality tv. That’s the way of it. British television sucks. Our television needs reclaiming, for the sake of the nation at large.