Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The clock's stopped

It seems to be getting to the stage whereby the Olympics are finally on the horizon, or they were, until the clock stopped in Trafalgar square. Anyhow, luckily it wasn’t Bernard’s watch and the countdown continues to what promises to be an eventful summer of 2012.

I wonder if Bernard was still around on children’s TV what exactly he would wish for. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the fictional British television programme, Bernard, the star character, used to have a magical pocket watch that stopped time whenever he liked. Good old Bernard went round committing good deeds and helping out the community, taking on adventurous missions like saving builder’s from falling ladders. Watching the show as a kid I always thought if I was Bernard, I might have felt tempted every now and again to use my magical watch to win a running race at school, or maybe score the winning goal of a football match.

Some athletes however, such as Zoe Smith, are good enough at sport not to rely on a magical watch to excel in sport. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sporting phenomenon that is Weightlifting, Zoe is the child prodigy that swept her way to a Commonwealth bronze in Delhi last year, no mean feat alone, but considering she is only sixteen this achievement is remarkable.

In December Smith had her personal Olympic funding suspended (apparently Commonwealth medals aren’t that much of an achievement for 16 year olds) by weightlifting's governing body after being deemed overweight. She was also accused of showing a poor attitude towards training. However, she was subsequently reinstated on full funding in February, following what British Weight Lifting described as a "powerful performance" at the Tri-Nations competition in Norway.

The damaging message that these governing bodies send out is that they seem to think they can dictate the lives of enthusiastic young athletes based on judging someone’s body type and their supposed attitude. It was revealed this week that Zoe has quit college to focus full time on training to fulfil her Olympic dream despite saying "It was a hard decision as I have always aspired to go to university".

How far do we want to push these young athletes before we say enough is enough, I mean it would be fantastic to Zoe win gold next year but then what?! I imagine in 2013 she’ll say oh hang on I can’t do anything else because the guys funding me thought it was a good idea that I quit education and sacrificed my social life to train. I’m not suggesting that we compromise on being one of the greatest sporting nations in the world, but there needs to be some balance as to respecting the lives of young athletes. They are human beings and they need to stop being treated like disposable items made on a production line.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Deserved winners and unlucky losers

Has there ever been a game that sums up sport’s intrinsic connection to capitalism more than yesterday’s relegation dogfight/six-pointer/grudge match/pure theatre/thriller at Hillsborough between Sheffield Wednesday and Crystal Palace?

Alan Lee

This was the ultimate big winner and bigger loser scenario, with a place in the lucrative Championship for the winners and a descent to lowly League One for the losers. Rarely has a match been so perfectly and clearly placed on the last afternoon of the season: Wednesday needed a win, Palace needed a win or a draw. Perfect for the primetime slot on the BBC, perfect for the Hillsborough coffers with a full house of 40,000 through the famous turnstiles.

And also, of course, the sub-plot of Palace’s financial plight: in January, they entered administration, and the 10 point deduction led to the showdown with Wednesday on Sunday. The first law of capitalism: the successful, strong, well-run businesses survive, and the weak ones will go wither or implode. This ensures the economy is strong; meritocracy will always prevail. If you deserve success or failure, you’ll get it, right...?

The trouble comes when the social fabric of a town or city is centred on the organisations that are so driven by capitalist principles, and when so many thousands of peoples’ time, money and emotions are invested in a clubs, as shown by the endless shots of die-hard supporters crying on the last day of the season.

So what can be done? Or should anything be done? In terms of the finances, it must come down to the supporters having more of a say. Who really has more of what’s valuable to them invested in Man United - lifelong fans or the Glazers? In the Bundesliga the fans must own a majority of shares. Or could the government help out more? If they’re going to bail out the banks, then surely football clubs are the social equivalent that needs more of a leg-up.

As for the relegation battles... I’m afraid in the old school British football leagues, the joy and pain will be around for a while, and make sure you buy shares in Kleenex every May.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Todays Line Up: Fabio Capello v Rupert Murdoch

Firstly let’s all give a big round of applause to the England rugby team. In their half hearted six nations efforts they served as the perfect preparation for the upcoming disappointment that the nation is about to endure if or when the football team fail to bring back the Jules Rimet Trophy from South Africa at the end of this summer.

From one golden boy to another, Jonny Wilkinson and David Beckham will both surely question their international sporting futures for different reasons. Many contrasts and comparisons have been drawn between the two, one likes to hide away from any attention whilst the other craves it for his very existence, but one thing is for sure, neither of them will retire easily. Jonny will never cease to commit to the cause and an Achilles tendon is unlikely to stop David Beckham being a more proficient passer of a football than Theo Walcott or any other English footballer come to think of it.

In other sporting highlights the ever clich├ęd battle between David and Goliath ensued. A small football team that resides next to the Thames in South-West London, trounced upon European “giants” Juventus in the Europa League, whilst nearest neighbours Chelsea, resources aplenty, were embarrassed by an old friend, which begs the question how many more managers will Abramovich go through before he has a go himself? Another underdog, this time in the form of Imperial Commander defied the odds to come home as champion of Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup striding past joint favourites Denman and the fallen Kauto Star much to the delight of the few lucky punters and the ever celebrating bookmakers.

On the topic of bookmakers few would have predicted The Times to rate Fabio Capello as the most powerful man in British sport, with Wayne Rooney coming in at number five. Admittedly they have the capabilities to inspire a nation but the ironic absence of Rupert Murdoch and the presence of BSkyB’s chief executive at a lowly number four is an outcry to say the least. These are the men that affect the very sport we watch on television, which is where we usually do watch sport these days, the fat controllers if you like Thomas the tank engine analogies. They control when and what we see and the only thing that is not unpredictable in sport is that their control will continue to spiral to ever increasing levels.

The ECB announced last week that without Sky’s TV money, four county cricket teams would cease to exist, forgive me if I’m mistaken but does old Fabio have the power to stop the very existence of some of the country’s oldest sporting institutions? Who cares when we can watch the IPL or MRF or whatever it’s called.............on TV.

(TV's more positive contribution)

Sunday, 14 March 2010

One bore draw and yawn-umla 1...

I love sport, but this weekend, some of the action I felt compelled to watch was pretty horrendous. England against Scotland in the rugby, the Bahrain Grand Prix... a total of four hours spent watching the kettle that certainly didn’t boil. But, as an English sports fan, I HAD to be there. Of course I did. As Jake Humphrey put it:

“Oh, what a Formula 1 season we’re going to have! Fernando Alsonso in a Ferrari, Michael Schumacher is coming back, the Lotus name is in Formula 1 once again... but it’s two British drivers in a British team that everybody’s talking about”.

He forgot to mention that Formula 1 is pretty boring these days. And a few ‘personalities’ and any old car painted in British Racing Green weren’t going to make it any different. Auntie did pay £150 million out of the license-payers’ pocket, so of course I wasn’t drawn in by the media hype and I purely watched to get the most out of my money.

It was still boring. But more viewers are still watching, and media corporations are paying through their teeth for the rights to the sport. I’ll have some of what Ecclestone has for breakfast, please.

And the England rugby. At half time, John Inverdale put on a brave face: “We may not have had a try, but the atmosphere is tremendous... but... this... this is one of those games that proves that you don’t have to have tries to have a really interesting game of rugby, and this is what we have.” Even the most experienced of broadcasters was struggling to keep us interested, probably himself drifting away to June and orange juice on the Wimbledon balcony with Boris Becker.

The commentator Andrew Cotter didn’t even try... “So... Not a great spectacle.”
I’m sure most of the action in the rugby Championship would beat the match at Murrayfield hands down in terms of quality, spectacle and drama, and a local go-karting track would have been better than Bahrain. But I’ve been convinced that these events have such importance, that the personalities are legends, that the backstory is so compelling that I won’t miss it.

I could, and maybe should go to my local rugby club next Saturday, but I’ll still be in front of the TV at 7.45 to watch England trundle around the pitch again. And I know come 14th November I’ll be tuned into the BBC to see if the personalities have managed to keep awake for the whole season and produce a tight finish. You don't even need to persuade me, Jake and John.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The British LTA: Lousy Toff’s Association?

When you think of Lithuania, if ever in fact, what normally comes to mind? The Eurovision song contest? Maybe. Perhaps even the capital city of Vilnius may enter your schema once in a blue moon, even then only as a cheap alternative to Prague for a RyanAir weekend away. For some exceptional sport’s junkies possible connections may be made to a competent national basketball team? But Lithuania and world class tennis players are rarely mentioned in the same sentence together.

However Lithuania have just risen above Great Britain in the world tennis rankings thanks to a comprehensive victory in the Davis Cup (Or AEGON Team GB, as their proud, or now not so proud sponsors like them to be known). Which leads us to ask the question “golly, are Lithuania good at tennis?” The answer is no, just that Britain are really that bad. Failure to win against Turkey in a relegation playoff in July will see the loser drop into Europe/Africa Zone Group III, the lowest tier of the competition.

O for the days of Tiger Tim and Greg Rusedski! Alex Bogdanovic, not exactly a household name, is the second best male in British tennis and is currently cemented at a lowly 151st in the world rankings. The ladies side, despite a recent resurgence, fares little better with just two players inside the top one hundred worldwide players.

A similar state of affairs was evident in Vancouver where the British Olympic team only escaped total embarrassment by collecting one gold medal, the exploits of one Amy Williams we can thank for that. In the British ski team it was more battle of the richest, than the fittest, whereby only those that could afford to fund their own exploits could compete as all financial support was withdrawn to the athletes in the weeks prior to Vancouver.

Skiing in the alp’s, tennis at Wimbledon, cricket at Lord’s.....not exactly a working class man’s ideal day out is it? Britain needs to forget it’s sporting Bourgeois roots once and for all if it is to ever satisfy the worldwide success it craves as the next host of the Olympics. If an Australian was told he wasn’t dressed adequately for a game of lawn tennis, or didn’t have the required levels of elocution his reply would probably mirror “Gee’s piss off mate”, not to stereotype of course, but the point is their success as a sporting nation is based on accessibility to all.

Why pick on tennis? Because it epitomizes the “leave it to the rich kid’s” attitude of British sport.

By Ed Barney

Monday, 1 March 2010

Tradition in Sport

So it seems that the ski cross has been the unashamed success of Vancouver 2010. Thrills, spills, Chris Del Bosco getting on the pills... (OK, alcohol and marijuana...) surely this was sport at its finest? The crowds were queuing up to get into the Cypress Mountain resort and spectators worldwide were relishing the man-on-man confrontation that provided us with a clear winner without the waiting around for half the morning that is unfortunately part of the traditional alpine skiing events.

The fact that Del Bosco wasn’t satisfied with bronze and went for silver on the penultimate jump, and ended up with his nose in the white stuff (...) seemed to encapsulate the drama and ensured the sport was welcomed with open arms by everyone into Olympic sport.

So, why the cries of dissent from much of the Alpine skiing fraternity? Of course, the “tradition” card. Alpine skiing has been most revered way of deciding who is the finest skier of them all for around a century, in competition at least: the female gold medallist Ashleigh McIvor says “ski cross is just a new form of ski racing, which has been around forever - racing your friends to the bottom”.

But in Britain, we don’t have the same connection with alpine skiing as those in The Alps or The Rockies, so there’s no reason for us to hate ski cross and every reason to love it. But if I was born into a alpine skiing family in Tignes, ski cross would would be like taking one of our most traditional, longstanding national sports and commercialising it... oh, wait.

Tradition is clearly very important to sport. Wimbledon whites, Cup Final Day, the Grand National on the BBC... all these are pillars of reference for us, traditions that will be constant no matter what’s going on in our own lives, and that will certainly enrich the lives of many. So therefore it’s going to be a shock when things change, as the wild children grow up to be wild adults. And as the old lady loses her friends, the OAPs must grudgingly rely on those wild children who to pay for their care homes with the money from the sale of their souls.

The TV money from Twenty20 has been vital to keep the county game in England alive, so the bacon and egg-wearing old boys must be happy that they can still read the Telegraph in peace at Lords on a Tuesday in late April and have a bit of a snooze afterwards, even if they have to put up with a few cheerleaders in bikinis on the odd evening in the school holidays. And as traditional winter events are under threat from the rock and roll X-Games, the Alpine skiing world must open its arms to Chris Del Bosco, let him keep his money to fuel his alcohol habit, and sit back to enjoy the chaos that follows.

By Will Atkinson

Saturday, 20 February 2010

A Bigger Picture

Does sport really control its own destiny? Yes most certainly. Are we as consumers of sport really getting what we truly desire from it? Most Certainly. When we turn on the TV, switch on the laptop, even listen to the radio what are we getting? Exactly what we decide we want as a collective group? These are the sort of questions a liberal pluralist’s naivety would leave us to believe. For example believing we are digesting sport in its natural form, that sport has not changed, or if indeed it has, then all for the better. Even Rupert the Mogul Murdoch himself admits that this is not the case,( can it possibly be? Would we really be watching men in “pyjamas” playing a cricket match that doesn’t even last long enough for the quintessential English tea break? Or as the case may be not even watch it because the owners make it so expensive to do so that the average Joe Bloggs can’t even afford the subscription fee.

Not only are the men (and it nearly always is men, sports media being a largely male controlled industry) changing the very game we watch into a packaged commodity, or more perhaps more aptly phrased dramatic entertainment, they also shape our opinions through exploiting both sports and athletes.

The truth of the matter is, even though at times it is hard to recognize, some forms of the media don’t give a true representation of reality. Let’s take Vancouver, is it really that bad? Remember the worse it is constructed to appear the better that London is going to appear in contrast, something all Brits desire so we can avoid comparisons with what was a truly mesmerizing Beijing.

Let’s take the world’s most valuable athlete, even now after fifteen minutes of pure cringe(, Tiger Woods as an example. From hero to villain is something we see all too often, John Terry, Wayne Rooney (does anyone even remember the rumoured forty year old prostitute?!), even, dare to mention his name in a bad light, David Beckham. The difference with the eye of the Tiger Woods though is that he still seems to be in control, bucking the trend, he was definitely in no danger of losing it during his latest press appearance, offering no time for any questions from journalists. Are we supposed to feel sorry for the multibillionaire multi-loving supernaturally gifted sportsman? The truth is in a year’s time and more importantly several golf titles later the boys from the press will probably be running out of superlatives to describe Woody Wood’s comeback. Reputation intact, infidelity forgotten.

With Tiger at the helm of the ship, domineering over the media staff on deck, we see a metaphoric slave like figure in Danny Cipriani, the English rugby player, trapped in the helms below being abused by his superiors in the press. Do they resent his working class upbringing? Is the son of a taxi driving mother not good enough for their elitist game? They do seem pretty unrepentant in their criticism of a perfectly good, young British rugby player.

The truth of the matter is, even though at times it is hard to recognize, some forms of the media don’t give a true representation of reality. Let’s take Vancouver, is it really that bad? Remember the worse it is constructed to appear the better that London is going to appear in contrast, something all Brits desire so we can avoid comparisons with what was a truly mesmerizing Beijing. Im sure Seb Coe won't let us down though will he?