Thursday, 24 May 2012

Freedom of Speech

Kevin Pietersen was fined an undisclosed sum by the ECB for a comment he made on Twitter. He said of Nick Knight, former player and now Sky pundit, 'Can somebody please tell me how Knight has worked his way into the Commentary Box for tests? Ridiculous.' Knight is a former England test player, but with a very modest record. In 17 tests spread over 6 years from 1995 - 2001 he scored a mere 719 runs at an average of 23.96. Knight's merits as a player are not really the point.
My Hero

What I am interested in is whether KP (one of my heroes) should be allowed to make such comments in public and if not why not? It seems to me that comments which are not offensive/abusive, and are not palpably untrue should be perfectly permissible. The media, including Nick Knight (I dont believe he was complaining or arguing that KP should not make such comments in fairness), are perfectly entitled to comment upon KP, be it his form or other aspects of his lifestyle. Why is he not permitted to do the same as long as it is done in a reasonable fashion? Twitter, in my opinion has greatly enhanced the connection between sports stars and the ordinary fan. It has also provided a platform for debate on an infinite number of subjects where all can comment and participate. I think this is democracy in action.
The ECB rely upon contractual terms with KP which he is now found to be in breach of. This no doubt has much to do with the Sky 4 year contract to show live International and County cricket and which is reputedly worth more than £260 million. Again in my view this punishment is unnecessary and simply introduces a bland dullness to the cricketing scene.
KP has announced his intention to continue with Twitter. Good for him. The ECB should save its ire for more important matters. If Sky is sensitive about this, it should man up.
KP has today announced his retirement 'with immediate effect' from limited overs internationals (ODIs and T20s). What a great pity! He is one of the great entertainers.One cannot help but conclude that this decision is a direct response to the ECB sanction. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The ECB should have a long hard look at itself.
Death of the Game

UPDATE 11.8.12
KP is in far more trouble now. He has this week questioned whether he will continue to play for England after the forthcoming vital 3rd test match at Lords v South Africa. Pietersen was Man of the Match at Headingley scoring an amazing 149, but in the post match interviews he spoke of issues regarding his contract and his desire to play a full season of IPL. That issue is all about money and the time required to make it. In other words Pietersen wants to play less for more. Many others, in other walks of life, would feel the same way.
Pietersen is already excluded from the T20 World Cup. He did not make himself generally available for that form of the game and could not negotiate an exception for that tournament. Obviously team spirit and even handedness are prerequisites of a strong team, but as fans (thats me) we are to be deprived of one of the most entertaining and exciting players in the game. For me cricket has lost some of its gloss (there is far too much!), but when I know KP is batting I am glued to the TV.
Anyway I wake to news that KP was sending less than complimentary texts to South African opponents during the last test. The texts were allegedly critical of the England Coach, Andy Flower, and the England management in general. One can quite easily imagine their content. The fact of the texts and a suggestion of their content has leaked out. No doubt the South Africans were happy to cause disharmony in the England Camp. However they have not been prepared to divulge the texts themselves making it far more difficult for the ECB to act. I even wonder whether KP has done this deliberately, challenging the ECB to sack him, rather than choosing to walk away himself. Maybe he does not want it anymore and maybe that 149 was simply designed to prove a point before he disappears. Team spirit seems to be disintegrating with KP a constant problem within the camp. I am gutted that he may no longer represent us. I do though acknowledge that there is more to selection than being the greatest weapon we have with a bat in his hands.
In time the IPL, its pretty meaningless at the end of the day, as is 20/20 generally, except as short term entertainment, will have a lot to answer for. The death of meaningful cricket even.
UPDATE 12.8.12
KP recants and says is now available for England full time in all forms of cricket including ODIs and 20/20. England respond by dropping him. So we face SA in make or break test without our best batsman, somebody who scored a brilliant 149 in the last test. And why? Truly freedom of speech, even the right to make a fool of yourself, has been taken away. When test cricket dies, those who run the game will have nobody to blame but themselves.
However it is said that amongst these controversial texts passed off as 'banter' by KP are stinging criticisms of England Capt Andrew Strauss and opinions as to how to get him out. I doubt South Africa needed that assistance, but nonetheless it is particularly disloyal to offer such opinions. Has KP signed his own test cricket death warrant? If so it is a self inflicted tragedy, but one which will impact on those who love the way he plays test cricket.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

No Sporting Chance for Joseph Barton

Today the disciplinary sanction to be imposed by the FA on Joey Barton was announced. In addition to the automatic 4 match ban for a second red card this season, Barton received a consecutive 4 matches for his cowardly attack on Sergio Aguero and a further 4 matches for attempting to head butt Vincent Kompany. Unbelievably Barton denied this latter charge. That makes a ban of 12 games. I had predicted at least 10. The FA took no action in respect  of Barton's latest ugly twitter rants. Nonetheless the ban is one of the longest in FA history and they are to be congratulated. The Chairman of the Regulatory Commission stated 'There are rules of conduct that should be adhered to, and such behaviour tarnishes the image of football in this country, particularly as this match was the pinnacle of the domestic season and watched by millions around the globe'. The focus now shifts to QPR. What will they do about a player who will not be available for almost a quarter of next season already and one who has brought disgrace upon himself, but also the club? So this season the FA Regulatory Commission has been tested, Luis Suarez, and now Barton. It has not been found wanting. The next stop may be John Terry, perhaps the biggest test of all! However his criminal trial is set for July and if he were to be convicted, an appeal to the Crown Court is almost inevitable. I have some idea of the listing problems of Crown Courts. That appeal, if required,  would be a complete rehearing and would be far longer than most Crown Court appeals. There may be other avenues to explore thereafter. I doubt that the FA Commission will be acting any time soon.
This is what I wrote last week about Joey Barton.

This week the nihilistic actions of Joey Barton caused me to reflect on the work of the Sporting Chance charity. Set up by ex Arsenal defender Tony Adams in 2000 following his well publicised problems with alcohol culminating in a prison sentence for drink driving, the charity seeks to provide rehabilitation to sportsmen who have fallen into difficulties of one sort or another. A safe dedicated environment is provided with professional support and counselling in a private setting well away from the pressures and demands of the sports person's usual lifestyle. Treatment is available for the 'body, mind and spirit' and seeks to address destructive behaviour patterns.
Joey Barton has not been the best advertisement for this form of therapy. Notwithstanding his time spent at Sporting Chance when last faced with the consequences of an inability to control his inner demons, he has again let himself, his club and the charity down. Whether he would accept that seems unlikely given his lack of contrition as demonstrated on his Twitter account, where he lashed out at his critics in gratuitously libellous fashion. It is almost as if he has a total refusal to accept the error of his ways and now seeks to plunge headlong into the abyss. Maybe some people cannot be helped.
Sympathy? I have none left.Barton has been given more last chances than most other players put together. His career, both during games and on the training pitch, and in the wider world, has been littered with thuggery. The football community has bent over backwards to understand this 'troubled soul' from a 'street background'. There is also the not insignificant matter of a reported £80,000 per week salary.

Barton 's latest aggressive interventions were nothing short of criminal. They have nothing to do with sport. There might seem to be no good reason why he should not be prosecuted for the assaults perpetrated on Tevez (guilty himself of shamefully feigning injury), Aguero and Kompany. (With thanks to Gregory Ioannidis @LawTop20) the Court of Appeal considered the issue of Criminal Prosecution in the case of R v Barnes. Woolf LJ stated that a criminal prosecution should be reserved for those situations where the conduct is sufficiently grave to be properly categorised as criminal'. The Court issued some guidance as to the type of factors which ought to be considered in arriving at such a conclusion. They include, amongst others, the sport and the level of the participants, the nature of the act, the degree of force used, the resultant injury or risk of injury and the intention etc of the perpetrator. Bearing all that in mind, one can see why prosecutions are rare and that it is less than clear cut that Barton could have faced prosecution. With regard to harm, in spite of the writhing of Tevez and Aguero, there was none.
In my opinion QPR should set an example and come to the conclusion that they do not need whatever it is that Barton still has to offer. He has played poorly this season anyway, but more importantly no club can prosper wih such divisive personalities in the dressing room as well as on the field of play. Barton faces a minimum 4 game ban for his second red card of the season, but has also landed hmself with 2 FA Misconduct charges. The likely proportionate penalty for all of this is a ban of at least 10 games.  In my opinion QPR should at this point tear up his contract and dismiss Barton for 'gross misconduct'. It is more than time that football stood up to players when their behaviour goes too far. They are not untouchable and their supposed ability to kick a ball around a field should be viewed in context with their wider responsibilities. Any conceivable benefits of keeping Barton are considerably outweighed by the tangible moral benefits of getting rid of him.
Barton can then spout on Twitter all he likes. I doubt that anybody will seriously be paying attention.
UPDATE 17.8.12
Sacre bleu! Marseille are said to be interested in signing Barton. No other club is said to be interested. They have distinct tastes where the Mistral blows.
Barton has spent the Summer training with Fleetwood Town, but could not sign for them and play whilst serving the much merited 12 match FA ban.The Football league would not register him.
Barton has now learnt that his Squad number 17 has been allocated to new signing Ryan Nielsen by QPR. Barton is without a shirt and seemingly on his way out of English football.
Maybe it will be the making (and maturing) of the player. Maybe not!
"Bonne Nuit!"


NFL Glory - No Thanks - the sad demise of Junior Seau

In my ever increasing efforts to embrace the biggest game in American Sports, I am constantly hampered by the thoroughly bad vibes emanating from all things Gridiron. I have previously written about 'Bounty Hunting'. The NewOrleans Saints paid player bonuses for huge hits calculated to injure star opponents. It was a long standing policy endorsed by coaching staff. When it came out in public, some still sought to defend it. The full 'misguided machismo' of the sport was exposed. NFL responded with significant and appropriate bans. Nonetheless there was a sense that the culture had not really changed and that the disciplinary reaction was pure PR.
Now I learn of Junior Seau. A couple of weeks ago at the age of 43, and having only retired 3 years previously, he shot himself dead in his house. Junior Seau had enjoyed an illustrious career. 20 NFL seasons as a Linebacker with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins the New England Patriots had made him famous and infamous for some massive, concussion inducing hits. It troubles me that somebody could be revered for actions which seriously threaten the health of opponents. That is part of the trouble with NFL. Its values have been warped and  its governing body is accused of  having lost sight of human values.

Seau had been a troubled figure post NFL, with inter alia allegations of domestic violence, yet nobody foresaw this untimely ending. What is the league doing to look after the welfare of the retired stars once their usefulness has ceased?
NFL is reeling from the Federal Lawsuit issued by hundreds of former players alleging that the League did nothing to warn players of the consequences of concussion related injuries and took insufficient care of them whilst they were playing and subsequently.
There is a medical body of opinion that suggests that the effects of repeated head injuries caused during games could cause, inter alia, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE - thanks @NiceIcePrincess) and that conditions such as depression and even dementia might ultimately result. Even repeated smaller head impacts could result in longer term damage. Might this be an explanation for some for some of the extreme acts of self harm and suicide surrounding the sport's players post retirement?
Due to the pressures on players with regard to selection and the needs of hard pressed coaches to get results, they are often  hesitant to report injuries which are not visibly apparent.
Some experts think that the woes of former stars may in some instances be linked to the head injuries sustained during their careers. Studies of the brains of deceased former Gridiron players, donated by their families tend to support this proposition. The family of Junior Seau are considering whether to allow their loved ones brain to be donated for similar research.
It troubles me that these issues come to the fore only in the aftermath of appalling tragedy.
NFL is a glamorous and intoxicating sport. What happens though when the lights go out on a glorious career. The sport is littered with casualties succumbing to depressive illness when attention turns elsewhere, but also to debilitating arthritis and to prescription pain killer drug addiction.
NFL is becoming a beacon for bad publicity. What was once considered to be the sporting pinnacle is now being re - examined. Will the sport go the way of boxing and lose its soul and reputation?
Andrew Sweat is a 20 year old future superstar. His case has rocked the sport. Offered a career with the Cleveland Browns, the Ohio State Linebacker has turned his back on that kind of stardom and elected to attend Law School instead. Shaken by the effects of sustaining concussive injuries already, sweat has decided that it simply is not worth it.
As he stated on Twitter 'Health trumps football any day'.

NFL might want to consider mitigating the damage somewhat. Here are some suggestions.
Get rid of the most dangerous element of the game - the kick off.
Reduce competitive games.
Reduce the length of the season.
Limit full contact training sessions to one per week.
Get rid of 'volunteer extra practice'.
Plan with players for the post NFL afterlife. Use the off season for mandatory life coaching sessions.
Appoint retirement buddies.
Put players' interests first.
Widen the field. The field in the Canadian Football League is considerably wider. The accumulation of severe hits is consequently much reduced.
The results of tests of Junior Seau's brain have been revealed today. Junior Seau did in fact suffer from CET. Looking back on Junior's life and career his son simply said 'Was it worth it?' For him the loss of a father was not. For further details click here

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Not Sexy but Cool

This week I was amazed to hear that the FA had managed to ignore the Harry Redknapp Press Bandwagon and made such a sensible and long term selection. The press, predictably disagreed. For them Roy is just not sexy enough. The headlines will just not be juicy enough. The Sun, disgracefully, decided to make some of their own (see below). Their latest Murdoch rebranding exercise lasting, in the process, about a single day.

If you want planning, experience, competence and a breadth of knowledge of the world game, Roy Hodgson is a dream appointment. In a managerial career spanning 36 years, he has managed 16 teams in 8 different countries, including 2 national teams. He has managed at a World Cup, USA 94, where he took lowly Switzerland to the last 16. The Swiss also qualified for Euro 96 under his stewardship and achieved an almost incredible all time FIFA high ranking of 3rd whilst he was manager. Later Hodgson was responsible for the ascent of Finland to its highest ever FIFA ranking position in 2007.
In club football Hodgson has reached 2 European finals with relatively unfancied, at the time, clubs. Hodgson is revered in Sweden where he guided unheralded Halmstad to 2 league titles, and Malmo to 5 successive league championship wins.
The press have tried to portray Hodgson's spell at Inter Milan from 1995 - 97 as a failure. In reality he  began a much needed rebuilding exercise and when he left they were third in the league and headed for their best placing for several seasons. Inter reached the UEFA cup final in 1997, but the fans took defeat badly and blamed Hodgson.
There have been highs and lows in English football. Blackburn Rovers was a low point. Hodgson followed the golden 'Dalglish era' and could not reverse their subsequent decline. Conversely it is widely accepted that he did a marvellous job at Fulham where he took them to their highest ever top flight placing and their only European final in 130 years of history. As recently as 2010 he was the League Managers' Association Manager of the Year.

                                                              REVERED IN SWEDEN
Hodgson made a career mistake by agreeing to take over at once mighty Liverpool. Liverpool were, and still are, a club in turmoil. Many fans wanted the return of King Kenny (be careful what you wish for!) The American owners plumped for Hodgson, but it did not work out. He was undoubtedly given insufficient time. Eventually King Kenny did arrive and has hardly been an unqualified success.
Hodgson moved to West Brom where he will indisputably be regarded as a complete success. He cemented their position in the Premier League and could have happily remained for years to come if England had not come calling.
In addition to his wealth of International managerial experience Hodgson is extremely well regarded on a technical level. He has been invited to serve on UEFA and FIFA technical groups at European and World Cups. He speaks 5 languages. It is hard to think of another English manager rivalling hsi breadth of experience and class. He is indisputably the best qualified person available to oversee and embrace the cultural revolution promised through the National Training Centre at Burton. He is also the type of person who will be delighted and enthused to do so.
No headlines, just diligence.
Perhaps Roy is too cerebral for sections of the English Press.
Not sexy, but I say cool.