Saturday, 31 March 2012

Putting the Wind up FIFA

Is it possible to imagine a time when Europe's top clubs breakaway from the governance of FIFA and take control of their own destiny? A European Super League has been mooted, some say dreamt about for some time. Those possibilities have crept a little bit closer recently as FIFA feels a chill wind of discontent from European clubs.
The European Club Association was formed in 2008 in an agreement with UEFA which saw the dissolution of the G14 group and UEFA signing a memorandum of understanding recognising ECA as the sole body representing the interests of clubs at European level. UEFA also agreed to give a percentage of the profits from the European Championships to the clubs who contributed players. ECA has rapidly become an extremely influential organisation, representing 201 of the most important clubs in Europe. Estimates suggest the the European game accounts for something approaching 90% of the wealth of the entire world game. ECA has become increasingly discontented with its arrangements with FIFA, the world governing body. The ECA currently agrees to allow its players to appear in international tournaments and matches in return for a share of the proceeds of tournaments.  ECA is extremely dissatisfied with the current deal which expires in 2014. For World Cup 2010 in South Africa ECA clubs provided 400 players and received £40 million. This is compared with FIFA profits of  £1.1 billion. ECA are demanding something in the region of £300 million for future tournaments. With 400 players as bargaining tools ECA holds some very strong cards.
The clubs are unhappy with the current insurance arrangements and want an agreement which enables them to build protection for international injuries into their existing policies affording them substantial savings.
Discussions with FIFA have become increasingly prickly. ECA boycotted the most recent meeting with FIFA scheduled for the 5th March 2012. Its president, Karl Heinz Rummenigge, has publicly denounced the unhelpful approach of FIFA President, Sepp Blatter.

Conversely ECA has reached an accord with UEFA and its president Michel Platini. The number of international matches will be reduced and ECA's share of EURO proceeds will increase. ECA will have the right to be consulted about all matters affecting clubs.
Whilst ECA has members on various FIFA committees, it does not have any representation on the body itself which is made up of national delegates. ECA is dismayed with the various (mainly financial) scandals involving FIFA, its lack of transparency and true democracy. It is unlikely that ECA and FIFA will amicably resolve their differences. Indeed ECA questions the need for FIFA involvement in its future affairs. Its peaceable dealings with UEFA suggest another way forward. This may spell trouble for the wider world game. The other 5 confederations of FIFA are all highly dependent upon FIFA and its World Cup revenues. Their clubs are not major financial forces. The reason that the African Cup of Nations takes place every 2 years instead of 4 is to attempt to generate additional income to finance the game on that continent.

The fragmentation of world football with a European super power standing apart would be a disaster for many. For the average European football fan however, the prospects might be enticing. However it is also hard and painful to contemplate a world without a truly World Cup every 4 years! Is it possible a time might come when players  of the stature of Lionel Messi and Robin Van Persie are withheld from performing on the greatest stage of all by the refusal of their clubs to release them. Much food for thought.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Plastic Brits, Wrestling Dilemmas and Jumping through Hoops

Beijing 2008. Great Britain achieves the entirely satisfactory result of 4th place in the Olympic Medals table. A creditable return on Lottery finding and investment. Subsequently the pressure starts to mount with regard to performances at London 2012, the ante being upped by a home games. Charles Van Commenee, a dutchman, is recruited as UK Athletics Performance Director with a brief to get results. Van Commenee famously called Kelly Sotherton 'a wimp' at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when she exceeded expectations and finished in bronze medal position, but ought, in his opinion to have put herself more on the line in the final 800m event. That uncompromising and ruthless approach has continued in his current role. Charles is not interested in national sensitivities. He wants winners and athletes who can fulfil his objective. Ultimately Van Commenee will be judged purely on Team GB's athletic medal tally.

So we now have a triple jumper, Yamile Aldama, an athlete who has represented both Cuba and Sudan in previous Olympics, and a team captain (Charles' decision), for the 2012 Indoor World Championships, Tiffany Porter,who hails from Michigan USA and addresses the team in a pronounced American accent. Yamile delivered an indoor gold, Porter produced a silver medal.
What is British? Yamile has a British husband, he has just left a British prison,  and has lived here for 11 years. Her children are British. Porter has an English mother, Nigerian father and dual nationality.
Mo Farah? Dear to my heart. Fantastic person and amongst the favourites (please let any recent blip be part of the glorious Salazar plan!) for gold this Summer in the long distance events. Born in Somalia and came here age 8. Now training full time in Portland, Oregon, USA and  funded by a galaxy of international sponsors.
Mo's father however is British.

 There are numerous more examples in athletics alone. Mo's greatest rival for Olympicx gold is likely to be Bernard Lagat of the USA, now, but previously of Kenya. The British Olympic team may feature athletes originating  from a complete melting pot of birth countries. Shana Cox and Michael Bingham both 400m (both US born), Shara Proctor long jump (Anguillan).
Olympic history is littered with medal winners representing countries other than where they were born. One of the most recently shameful was recounted by David Walsh in the Sunday Times recently. At Beijing 2008 Rashid Ramzi, Moroccan born, delivered the 1500 m men's gold for... Bahrain! They had apparently paid £1m for his services. I had to smile (grimace?) to learn that subsequently Ramzi was stripped of the gold for failing a doping test. Poor old Bahrain - I doubt they got their money back!
Athletics is though the tip of the iceberg. The British Handball team squad, per Owen Slot, comprises 19 dual nationals, GB Basketball has 10 and Volleyball 9. We are paying hard cash for this. Will we find justification in a glance a the medals' table or the sound of a national anthem for an athlete who does not know God Save the Queen?? This is all so much money politics. The huge investment and constantly escalating cost of this Olympics demands British success on the tracks, fields and rings.
A particularly controversial Team GB policy surrounds wrestling. For almost 10 years British Wrestling has pursued improvement by recruiting Eastern European, particularly Ukranian, wrestlers to work with the team. A significant number stayed long enough to become eligible for Team GB and several more married and thereby gained eligibility.  The Home Office was said to be busy accelerating the applications of Eastern European wrestlers to gain British citizenship through 'convenience marriages' to British wrestlers. The team is now dominated by 'plastic brits'. The policy is said to be under review post 2012 with funding under scrutiny. One of the 'plastics', Myroslav Dykun has failed a drugs test and will not now compete. Nonetheless he took the place and opportunities of a British wrestler.
NBA Superstar Byron Mullens announced his arrival in Team GB in true american fashion 'Yessir! I will be in London this Summer. 2012 Olympic Games'. Bring it on!
UPDATE 9.8.12
I wrote this blog 5 months ago. A billion words have been written on the subject - many distasteful (Daily Mail). As the Games, the fantastically successful Games, both as an entity and from a British perspective, draw to a close (sadly!) it is interesting to note and to consider the success or otherwise of, by way of example, some of the athletes mentioned in this post.
Yamile Aldama  - placed 5th in the Triple Jump final
Tiffany Porter - reached the semi finals of the 100m hurdles
Shana Cox - reached the semi finals of the 400 meters
Michael Bingham - reached the semi finals of the 400 meters - has the relay to come
The GB Handball Team - sustained serious losses in every match
Byron Mullens - withdrew from Team GB before the Games with a foot injury.
None of the above set the world on fire. In the majority of cases another athlete could have competed in their place. Their participation has not greatly enhanced any cause. The outcomes may have been different on another day. I wonder though out loud whether this policy was the right course.



Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Gatlin v Chambers

Siza Agha, barrister and friend of Dwain Chambers, managed to make me see a new perspective amongst the wealth of footage and newsprint about the BOA and its 'bylaw'. Writing in the Huffington Post he argues that there is a complete contrast between our (British) treatment of Dwain and that afforded to American athlete, and now 60m indoor World Champion, Justin Gatlin, by our US counterparts.
It is worth reminding ourselves who Gatlin (30) is, and from whence he came. In 2002 whilst a teenager Gatlin failed a drugs test for amphetamine. A 2 year ban followed which was later reduced on appeal. Gatlin claimed that the test result derived from medication for ADHD. Returning to competition and embraced by the US team, Gatlin then went on to win the Olympic  Gold in Athens 2004 and the World Championships the following season.
However in 2006 Gatlin tested positive for testosterone. He was coached by Trevor Graham. 8 of his athletes have served substantial bans for drug abuse. Gatlin initially faced a lifetime ban, reduced to 8 years and eventually to just 4 years through a combination of assistance with the authorities and the 'exceptional circumstances' of his original drug ban. Ironically Gatlin had sold himself as the kind of Olympic Champion who did not need to cheat. He was able to return to mainstream athletics  in 2010 and has gradually picked up the pace ever since. Last year Gatlin was selected for the US team and reached the semi finals of the outdoor World Championships.Earlier this year Gatlin reclaimed the World 60m indoor title with Chambers grabbing the bronze in 3rd. Siza Agha protests that one GB journalist proclaimed that Chambers 'failed to defend his title'.
Gatlin has been welcomed back into the fold. He is supported by his national federation, wants for nothing financially and, per Siza Agha, has 'corporate backing'. Gatlin has regularly appeared at Diamond League meetings.

Meanwhile what of Chambers. Or should that read ' Drugs Cheat Chambers'? Chambers was banned for 2 years and served that ban 7 years ago. He is shunned by the mainstream and is not invited to Grand Prix meetings. The BOA spent vast sums of money fighting a losing legal battle to prevent him running in the Olympics.
Siza Agha believes that Chambers achievements since returning should be viewed as 'against all odds' given that he does not have the benefit of regular competition at the highest level.
Gatlin has always protested his innocence. Most 'cheats' do. Gatlin blames a masseur for using steroid cream. Chambers confessed and assisted the authorities and has worked behind the scenes to educate others for the past few years.
Dwain Chambers wont win the gold medal at London 2012. He will be there however representing Great Britain. 33 year old Dwain has served his time and now has a final shot at competing at the pinnacle of his sport. I wonder what kind of reception he will get and how it will compare with the litany of other drug cheats parading before us?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bounty Hunting

Well I am beyond shocked to read what follows in Thursday's Times newspaper (Tom Dart). Sometimes situations in sport just take the breath away, and sadly, unlike watching Jessica Ennis, not always for good reasons. The sporting 'Hall of Shame' just acquired another inglorious candidate. Apparently, and this is according to the National Football League (NFL), The New Orleans Saints, had a policy which rewarded players for seriously injuring players of rival teams. This policy was directed by their defence coach, Gregg Williams. Williams is no longer with the Saints, he has moved on to the St Louis Rams, but seemingly his  'services' are much in demand as I learn that he has previousl y coached at Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars in a career spanning 2 decades.
Incredibly in just 2 seasons with the Saints, the NFL claim that over 20 players are impicated in  'incidents'. There was apparently a 'team pot' into which rewards were paid for the usual successes such as interceptions, but the bonuses extended to 'cart offs' and 'knockouts' as well.  The terms perhaps speak for themselves, but in reality we are talking about potentially career ending injuries. The callous disregard for others is staggering. This is Roy Keane attacking Alf Inge Haaland on an industrial scale! Williams is quoted as saying 'it was a terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it'.
Due to the ruthless efficiency of the players, this fund is said to have swelled to as much as $50,000.
Shocked? Apparently this is common place and many within the sport think it is no big deal. What is Football if not a game of 'deliberate targetted violence'? Tom Dart reports that a $10,000 bounty was put on Brett Favre by linebacker Jonathan Vilma, to put him out of a championship game in 2010. More incredibly, Favre, who was in fact injured in that very game, albeit not to the point of not completing the game, does not believe that there is anything wrong with the practice. Large men are paid exorbitant sums to do violence to each other. This plays to the bloodthirsty cravings of fans.

Linebacker Shawne Merriman wrote on Twitter 'Why is this a big deal now? Bounties have been going on forever'.
Safety Matt Bowen stated 'I'm not saying it's right. Or ethical. but the NFL isn't Little League football with neighbourhood dads playing Head Coach. This is the business of winning. If it means stepping over some line, you do it... Win or else. that's the drill'.  

Read more here:
Welll personally I think this is a massive deal. Football has an image problem and the authorities have a duty of care to the games' participants whose lives could be messed up forever by career ending injury. In my view expulsion from the sport is the only way to radically change the sport's mindset.
The NFL is already on the defensive, facing a torrent of lawsuits claiming that players were not adequately protected by the league with regard to the effects of repeated concussive blows.

Disproportionate? I dont think so. Soft bellied Englishman? Get real!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Horse Guards' Affair

On Saturday 28th July 2012 the Women’s Olympic Beach Volleyball tournament will commence in its iconic London venue, Horse Guards’ Parade. 24 men and 24 women will battle it out for Olympic Gold. London will have seen nothing like it (apart from the test event last Summer). All eyes will be on the thrilling action as favourites, USA, seek to hang on to their titles in both men’s and women’s events from Beijing 4 years ago.
Or will they?
Many have scoffed at the inclusion of this ‘sport’ in the Olympics, particularly the women's version. They see it as the best/worst example of the ‘sexualisation of women in sport’, or in other words a parade of female forms before the world for sexual titillation.

The photograph above which first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald during Beijing 2008, perhaps best illustrates the point. Note the caption. It bears little comparison with the content. The photograph has been heavily cropped from the original full body shot. (See below)

What possible sporting/editorial reason can there be for this representation other than a focussing in on specific (sexual) aspects of the female form? Those men with tickets for Horse Guard’s Parade will be confronted with the seaside postcard banter of the office and will scarcely bother to pretend that they are attending an important sporting occasion. I know a male friend who has tickets for the event. He would be quite incapable of naming a single female player and would struggle to explain to his adoring children any of the significant rules of the sport. Nonetheless my chances of prising those tickets from his grasp, even for enhanced consideration, are absolutely zero. Maybe I should have asked his wife.

It is a fact that the amount of coverage of women’s sport has been falling since 1999. The list of nominations for Sports Personality of the Year 2011 did not contain a single female athlete. Nonetheless the visual spectacle of women’s sport has been through a significant process of ‘enhancement’ over that same period. There was no finer example of this than Anna Kournikova, effectively a journeywoman tennis player who never won a senior tour title, but  somebody who became rich and famous because of her marketing and lucrative endorsements. Sponsors were never discouraged by her lack of success on the court, simply because she attracted all of the attention for reasons other than her tennis. Maria Sharapova is the highest earning female tennis player currently on the circuit. Although she can rightly be described as near the top of her profession, she has not occupied the top ranking for over 4 years and has not won a Grand Slam title for the same length of time.
Whilst media coverage has been decreasing so women’s sport’s attire has been shrinking. Beach  volleyball players perform in little more than skimpy underwear. This is not performance enhancing. Male beach volleyball players do not don skimpy briefs yet manage to achieve the required level of Olympic performance. The trend is to diminish the costume exposing as much of the female form as possible, bare midriffs etc and to turn player kit into something akin to haute couture (a good excuse to squeeze in a picture of the lovely Maria).

Sepp Blatter, President of football's governing body FIFA, infamously called for a change of image and emphasis for women's football. He advocated more 'feminine clothes like they do in volleyball with tighter shorts' stating that 'female players are pretty, if you excuse me saying so, and they already have different rules to men, such as a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?' The strange thing is that the sexualisation of women in sport has not led to increased coverage of women's sport. It has of course led to increased interest in individual sports stars, but not truly in the sport they participate in. The popularity of sport from a viewing numbers perspective depends upon the sport itself. Viewing figures for the men's and women's game in tennis generally match up reasonably well, whereas for instance in cricket, the interest in the men's game dwarfs the women's. This is because women's tennis is considered to hold its own as a spectacle whereas traditionally there has been too marked a difference between men's and women's cricket, although this may be changing with the increased 'professionalism' of the women's game.
Perhaps ultimately it all comes down to biology. The argument goes something like this. The male of the species had to attract his mate by his compelling performance vis a vis his male competitors. He is thus innately competitive. The female of the species does not have to demonstrate such prowess, and in any event there is no direct correlation between athletic ability and fertility. The female is interested in what the male has to offer, but the male is far more interested in how the female looks and much less interested in her abilities. so the female is attracted to the prowess of sport performance and the male will look at the female sports player, but is not bothered about what she is actually doing. The male as the shallower of the species? Never heard that argument before!                                                              


The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) is to allow shorts and sleeved tops at the Olympics and have amended the rules accordingly. It follows a recent trend towards respecting cultural sensibilities and encouraging wider global participation in the sport.
Bikinis remain the apparel of choice. FIVB rules allow 'a maximum side width of seven centimetres'!
FIVB Spokesman Richard Baker is quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying that ''many of these countries have religious and cultural requirements so the uniform needed to be more flexible''.
The Sunday Times today lightheartedly bemoans the discovery of a rule which means Beach Volleyball players can cover up during Olympic matches if the temperature falls below 18 centigrade. Given that this has happened every day in London for weeks I anticipate that there will now be an absolute glut of spare tickets for this event!
NEWSFLASH! 10.8.12
NBC have now taken this whole sexualisation of women thing to a new level. What do you think? Is it acceptable? It seems utterly blatant and insulting and yes frankly disturbing.
Decide for yourselves

I read yesterday with some disbelief that there are such things as 'Bikini Basketball' and 'Lingerie Football' with leagues and growing participation. Here's a taster click here - maybe my original article above was somewhat naive and underestimating the issue.