Sporting Gimmick?

29 03 2010

I’m going to write two football related pieces today, simply because I can. Later I shall have a think about the Premier League’s issues and outcomes (winners, losers etc) but for now I want to pass some form of comment on this story, already dismissed by the Conservatives as an election gimmick.

Basically, Labour are suggesting that football clubs should be made more accountable to their fans and that these fans should be able to buy up to 25% of their club to prevent the levels of debt and financial ruin which are blighting numerous clubs up and down the country. The plans are, apparently, still under consideration, which seems to be short for “we know these are going to be practically impossible to implement, but we’ll say we’re looking at it anyway to see if that gives us a polling kick”.

Aside from the sheer impractical nature of forcing the shareholders to sell their stakes in individual clubs to a wide pool of ‘fans’, this proposal seems to ignore the fact that by creating thousands of new shareholders, the clubs would become harder to run in the long term. There seems to be little hope that this idea is a go-er. Instead, I find myself agreeing with the Tories that this is simply an election gimmick, one designed to win favour with the middle and lower class men who traditionally occupy the terraces up and down the land.

Which leads me onto the question of whether sport in general should be used to score political points? If Labour are going to harp on about making football more accountable for its money, should we not also look at the continually spiralling costs of the 2012 games? Should we not ask what Labour, or indeed, any political party are doing for the rugby world? Or the cricketing world? Should we not ask why the FA, UEFA, or FIFA are not publicly looking for solutions to the financial problems, yet politicians apparently are?

Of course football should work in the ‘real’ world, and not in it’s own isolated bubble of financial irresponsibility. However, the problems will not be solved by gimmicky plans such as the one suggested by Labour today. They will be solved by strict and stringent guidelines produced from within the sport, by the governing bodies, and not by enforcing regulations from the outside with the short-term hope of appearing to be receptive to the sport. Football must alter itself, it must look at what is happening from a financial point of view and it must change. It cannot do this by simply enforcing political guidelines on one nation.



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.

Like  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.

Moral Mercy…

30 01 2009

Over the past couple of days there has been outcry in America over the result of one high school basketball game. It was not an important game, and in no other way was it remarkable, save for the final score:

100 – 0.

Yes, you heard right. The Covenant School from Texas beat their counter-parts from Dallas Academy by 100 points. To nil. This result has had America up in arms though. It has cost the Covenant School coach his job. It is argued, by pretty much everyone, that such a score, in such an unimportant high-school game, is hugely demoralising, and that when the score got to, say, 40 or 50, the coach should have told his girls to stop. That Covenant School is, unsurprisingly, a Christian school, has simply fanned the flames further, with parents and teachers alike admitting that such a drubbing is un-Christian-like. You can read more of the details here.

Basketball has no mercy rule. Nothing to tell the winning side to stop when the margin gets silly. The girls from Dallas, who were on the losing end of the result, are winless for four years now, but this drubbing must have done so much more to shatter any confidence than anything previously. Pundits, commentators, and the public alike are reasonably unanimous in arguing that the coach had a right to stop his team inflicting such a hammering on the Dallas team. I agree. It was wrong of the coach to let the match continue with his team so comfortably in front. He should have had a responsibility to the match, rather than just his side.

Yet, I cannot help but recall a rugby scoreline from just a few weeks previously, where Alcester beat Coventry Saracens 194-3. There was no such media outcry over the result. Nobody really heard about it, and fewer still cared about it. The only difference that I can really see (other than the obvious one of different sport) is that the ages of the different sets of competitors was different. In America we are looking at high-school kids. In England, the guys were older, in their 20s and 30s. It seems somehow more acceptable for older people to lose by hugely demoralising scores. This maybe because they could just go to the pub and drink away the pain and humiliation of defeat after the game. It may be because we, as a global society, are more sensitive to stuff affecting young people. I would argue however, that regardless of age, a defeat of such gargantuan proportions (Alcester must have scored 26 converted tries [7 points], and 4 penalties [3 points] – or some other combination) would be hugely demoralising. Does the Alcester coach have a responsiblity to stop his team from butchering their opponents? Not in the eyes of the British media, who instead marvelled at the ‘record’ score (which has since been wiped from the records due to Coventry not fielding enough players).

It seems to me that you either need to have mercy rules enforcable in all sports, thereby protecting all teams from an embarassing hiding, or none at all. We either need to accept that teams are going to get beaten, potentially by a lot, or we need to give the rubbish teams a safety net to stop them being so overwhelmed by superior teams. It should not be left to the morals of the individuals involved, as this has been shown to be an entirely ineffective way of preventing thrashings such as that in America.

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.

Sticking His Oar In…

11 09 2008

Twice in the past week I have turned on Sky Sports News to see the, by now, frankly distrubing grin of Gordon Brown inanely peering back at me. This annoys me.

I am not suggesting that Brown, or indeed politicians in general, should not be involved with sport, far from it. The 2012 games will see to it that as many politicians as possible jump on the sporting band-wagon in an attempt to improve their popularity with the voters. That is, I think, a given.

What annoys me though is that Brown wasn’t talking about either 2012 or the 2008 Olympics. Far from it. On Monday he was endorsing the chances of Andy Murray at the US Open final (which he subsequently lost in straight sets to Roger Federer). Today he was praising Theo Walcott for the impact he made in last nights win over Croatia. He also went on to praise the other home nations for their results.

To me this is political opportunism of the worst kind. I wouldn’t like to speculate how much of a tennis or football fan Brown is, but it was my understanding that, as a Scot, he much preferred Rugby. So on Monday was he simply backing his Scottish counterpart? Maybe. Instead it came across as almost embarassing that here was our PM talking about something he obviously knew little about (he suggested Murray was favourite for the final, something that no bookmaker backed, and, in the course of time, this proved to be an utterly incomprehensible view as Murray was beaten well by the better player.)

Today he was praising the football teams for the manner that they played in last nights matches. The matches involving the home nations resulted in two wins (for England and Scotland), two draws (for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) and a defeat (for Wales). These are hardly results to write home about, despite the impressive nature of the performances, especially of England and Wales. Again he sounded almost comical, like a parent trying to be ‘down with the kids’. And failing.

Why does he need to say these things? Is it in a vain attempt at winning back the voters, “hey everyone, look at me, I like football, I’m normal, you guys can trust me, fancy a pint?“. Probably. Is it symptomatic of how far national football has declined in recent times, so much so that a victory against Croatia is worth talking about in one of his public addresses? Certainly. Is it necessary, or needed? Nope, but that doesn’t mean he won’t stop trying. Good old Gordon, at one with the English people again.