Sunday, 20 November 2011

Lest We Forget

When I was a boy in the 1970s he was a genial middle order England batsman and sometime bowler with an interesting name. I had no idea of his wider significance. Yesterday Basil D'Oliveira, universally known as 'Dolly' passed away at the age of 80. He was born in South Africa and because of apartheid and his 'coloured status' he could not play there. Friends made a collection to pay his fare to England and he settled here in 1960, became a British citizen and eventually played for England (44 tests batting average over 40 and 47 test wickets). At this time England continued to play test matches against South Africa notwithstanding the racist Afrikaner Nationalist Party regime in power there. In 1968 England were due to tour South Africa in the Winter. Dolly's place was far from secure until the final test of the Summer against Australia. This was purely a result of political considerations and not a question of ability. At the Oval in the final test of the Summer against Australia Dolly scored 158. Surely now his place was inked in for the Winter. For reasons shrouded in controversy the MCC omitted Dolly from the original touring line up. However once one of that squad (Tom Cartwright) withdrew injured Dolly was called up in his stead. All hell broke loose. The South African Government objected to the inclusion of a non white and demanded that he be withdrawn. Whatever the original reason for his exclusion the MCC now held firm and refused to withdraw Dolly. 8 days later the tour was cancelled. Only once Nelson Mandela had been released and subsequently elected President did South Africa truly rejoin the International fold 25 years later.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Day of Reckoning

At the Tour de France 2011 3 time winner Alberto Contador finished 5th more than 4 minutes behind winner Cadel Evans. To some he seemed to lack something from previous years. The aura of invincibility had vanished. Was it simple form, the debilitating effects of his legal travails or something more sinister. Starting on Monday 21st November at Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and over the following 3 days we may finally have an answer as to why. At TdF 2010 which Contador won, the Spaniard failed a drug test. He tested positive for minute traces of clenbuterol. As is the way with these things he immediately protested his innocence. In his case he relied upon what seemed initially to the casual observer to be an unlikely defence. He claimed that he had ingested 'contaminated meat'. Nonetheless at his hearing before the Spanish Cycling Federation Contador was successful. No fault apparently lay at his door. Unsurprisingly the UCI and WADA are appealing this decision to CAS.
In a separate, but arguably connected development, a significant number of under 17 footballers at a major event in Mexico tested positive for clenbuterol. It was eventually accepted that there is a significant problem with clenbuterol contamination of cattle in Mexico due to unscrupulous farming practices. However the instance of clenbuterol contamination in Europe is virtually zero. Contador may have to show that his 'meat' originated in South America. There have been extensive preparatory tests and discussions and the hearing has been postponed for a significant period of time. Contador planned to call the butcher who allegedly provided the 'contaminated meat' and a lie detector expert.
Another interesting facet of this case is that during the analysis of Contador's samples, it was established that his samples contained a higher than normal level of plasticizers. It is suggested that the 'plastic' derives from the bags used for illegal blood transfusions and that the Clenbuterol may have entered his system in this way. Precisely what part this will play before CAS remains to be seen.
Undoubtedly the legacy and future of Contador is at stake. Should he lose he will  be stripped of his 2010 title and face a lengthy suspension. He will be utterly discredited. The question of Contador's 2011 'missing 10%' may be resolved.

Enough is Enough

Today is the end of football as we know it. We have arrived at the day when all sane people can no longer tolerate the endless and mindless side of the Beautiful Game. Today is the day when we must stand up and be counted. Today is the day when the abused must speak up. No good complaining in generalities about racist abuse. You heard it tell who said it. 22 'men' are not deaf. Today is the day when the proper fans must shop the foul mouthed yobs. Ask the 4 letter father to leave the Family Enclosure. Today is the day when the abuse is kicked out of the ground and off the pitch. Today is the day when the FA will really call for the resignation of Sepp Blatter and not take no for an answer. When the rest of the world will start to catch up. We were world leaders once. Surely the greatest league in the world can take a lead. Today is the day when Gordon Taylor will climb off that fence and speak up for what is right rather than being an apologist for much that is bad. Today is the day when abuse of referees will cease be it from players, managers, fans or the media, before, during and after games. Today is the day for responsibility to be taken and those pathetic excuses to stop. Time to man up.Today is the day to set an example. Today is the day for sponsors to associate with what is good and not what is profitable. By all means shake hands, but mean it. Today is the day to celebrate the good guy, the unsung hero. The player who gives something back. Stop the lies and the posturing. UEFA and FIFA meaningful fines for racist abuse please or do not bother and hand over the reins. Time for everybody to look inside their own shirts. Enough already

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Poppy Own Goal

The latest positive trend in football and other walks of life is to show solidarity with the Poppy Day Appeal to mark the anniversary of Armistice Day 1918 by displaying poppies on team strips etc eg as sported by Newcastle and Arsenal, inter alia, on their shirts today. Unbelievably this has been undermined by a crass edict from FIFA banning the England team from sporting the poppy on their national shirts in their match next week. Instead England will only be allowed to wear the poppy on their training kit. There will however be a minute's silence before the game.
FIFA does not allow the display of religious, political or commercial symbols/emblems on national kits. A spokesman said that this rule is observed across its 208 member nations. One could comment on the rampant commercialism of FIFA and its 'partners' and the playing of national anthems at matches ...
At a time when FIFA has just faced 'the worst 100 days in its 100 year history' according to its President, Sepp Blatter, and is beset with corruption allegations, some proved, maybe a little flexibility would have helped its tainted image. After all, an appeal aimed at easing the suffering of those maimed in war is hardly controversial.
The FA are being urged by some to ignore the ban and effectively make FIFA dare to punish them. The FA wont. FIFA would not have.

You Know Who You Are

The football authorities are tying themselves up in knots over the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand affair. They are bogged down with the Patrice Evra/Luis Suarez affair. The Police are allegedly investigating the circumstances surrounding John Terry. Meanwhile the question exercising many, or at least much of the media, is whether Fabio Capello should pick Terry for the forthcoming friendlies against Spain and Sweden given the allegations. Should somebody accused of oafish racist abuse represent his country, and particularly as captain? Perhaps the question should be whether Terry should be in the squad anyway given recent lacklustre and error strewn performances. Alternatively the question might be whether Terry should ever have been England captain given the numerous previous occasions when his behaviour has not brought credit upon the national game? Or alternatively should he have regained the captaincy having been stripped of it by Capello before the 2010 World Cup following the scandal of his extra marital affair?
But if the question is whether a player, accused of something for which he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, should be punished in advance by the sanction of being excluded from the England squad, then the answer must be a resounding 'no'. There is an investigation. The Police/authorities should get a move on, but nonetheless until that process has ended and a verdict has been pronounced, whether by a court or an FA tribunal, then Terry should be free to go about his business until that time.