The Sochi boycott won’t happen, but we still need to reunite politics and sport

By Alex Bryan

Stephen Fry’s heartfelt and powerful open letter to David Cameron arguing that Britain should boycott the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics in light of Russia’s restrictive and prejudiced new anti-LGBT laws has provoked a debate about the relative merits of a boycott. David Cameron and Sebastian Coe were unequivocal in their response; both stated that they did not support boycotts, and that dialogue rather than isolation was the road to social change. Supporters of Fry point to increased violence against gay people in Russia, and argue that to participate is essential to collaborate with Putin’s government.

Though the suggestion to boycott Sochi is relatively new, sporting boycotts themselves are not, and the merits of boycotts as a method of achieving anything are at the heart of this debate. Coe claimed that he is ‘against boycotts’ as they do not ‘achieve what they set out to do’. This seems quite an extreme position; surely the success of a boycott in some way depends on the numerous variables at hand, such as the aim of the boycott, how extensive it is, how it is implemented etc. Some boycotts do seem to work, such as the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa, so to take an absolute anti-boycott position seems extreme.

Regardless of whether it would be successful, given the position of Coe and Cameron and the necessity of mollifying the strategically important and volatile Russia, a boycott seems highly unlikely. In any case, a boycott of Russia would expose activists to accusations of hypocrisy; why boycott Olympics in Russia but attend in China? However, that does not mean we should ignore the suggestion, as the statements made by those opposing a boycott betray an underlying falsehood which is important to refute; that sport and politics should not mix. This supposed divorce between the two is fallacious, doing nothing to protect sport and everything to protect the oppressive regimes and the international sporting authorities who aid them from proper scrutiny.

A preliminary point to make, regardless of what one thinks of the suggestion of a boycott, is that governing sporting bodies, such as the IOC and FIFA, are responsible for choosing where their events are to take place. It is clear, from the IOC’s decision to stage the Olympics in China and Russia in two of the last three events, and FIFA’s decision to host in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 that oppressive laws are of little concern to these organisations, with potential economic rewards taking precedence. This is both sad and necessary; international sport cannot be a contest between liberal western democracies. The major emerging global powers (India, China, Nigeria and Brazil) all have sketchy human rights records, but will no doubt host global sporting events in the coming decades.

But maintaining the global nature of sporting events and incorporating countries with disgraceful human rights records is a different thing to separating sport from politics. The ancient Greeks realised this; the Olympic Truce may have suspended wars for the duration of the Games, but it was acknowledge that politics cannot be suspended, and the Games were often used for political purposes. By acknowledging that sport is not immune from political influence, that it is political, we take nothing away from the sporting event. Instead, we accept that it is a part of, rather than an exception to, regular human activity.

Rather than focussing our efforts on boycotting Sochi then, we should adopt a tactic which would be both more realistic and have more of a long-term effect, and focus on ensuring that politics and sport are no longer seen as distinct arenas. Politics is a part of sport; attempts to deny this are usually insidious, driven either by naked economic greed or ideological zeal. By ensuring the two are seen as united, or at least linked, we would in the process be ensuring that the rights of oppressed groups around the world are not ignored when commissioning events such as the Olympics. We would also be doing a service to the thousands of athletes who compete in countries where they would usually be given no chance for success on the basis of their gender, race or sexuality.

Racism in football

By Cressida Smart

In an attempt to tackle racism in football, foreign players and managers
are to be given lessons in British culture. The move is part of a response
by football’s authorities to the Government’s call for tougher action
to tackle discrimination after a series of incidents that have tarnished
the game’s image. Even in a sport whose diverse factions seldom
agree on most football issues, there is a universal desire to stamp out
discrimination and the FA blueprint is expected to receive the full backing
of clubs.

Titled ‘English Football’s Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action
Plan’, the document includes, in addition to such lessons, mandatory anti-
discrimination clauses in contracts and fixed bans for all racist offences,
with a minimum in excess of the four weeks John Terry received for
abusing Anton Ferdinand. The Professional Footballers’ Association
chief executive Gordon Taylor said, “Up until now we have had cultural
awareness courses for our apprentices and the plan now is to extend these
to senior players and coaches, including those coming from overseas. We
want to make sure there is no misunderstanding with regards to the rules
and regulations on discrimination.” It follows a Downing Street summit
on racism in football last February. The FA proposals, which are under
the name of chairman David Bernstein, have been discussed at board level
by the Premier League and Football League. It is expected they will be
rubber-stamped early in the new year following club meetings.
The need for action was further underlined by the recent criticism from
Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley over the handling of the Terry and
Suarez cases. Ouseley, who is threatening to resign from Kick It Out and
the FA Council in protest, said there was ‘very little morality’ at the top
clubs and claimed a lack of leadership had left ‘a moral vacuum’ in the
game.

Racism has long been an issue.

The media is awash with its coverage of racial incidents in football.
Yet why are we pretending that racism in football is a new issue?
Furthermore, it is not just the footballers, but fans too that are guilty of
this crime. Racism in football in English football can be traced back to
1930s when the Everton player, Dixie Dean, faced racist comments as he
left the pitch at half time. In the 1960s, West Ham United players, Clyde
Best who is black and from Bermuda, and Ade Coker were subjected
to “monkey chants” and had bananas thrown at them during West Ham’s

games. In the 1980s, racism in football in England reached fever point.
Paul Canoville was abused by his own fans when he warmed up for
Chelsea before making his début. Garth Crooks was regularly subject to
racist chants and banners from opposing fans during his time at Spurs.
Cyrille Regis endured monkey chants from Newcastle fans on his away
début for West Bromwich Albion and was later sent a bullet in the post
following his call up to the England squad. In 1987, John Barnes was
pictured back-heeling a banana off the pitch during a match for Liverpool
against Everton, whose fans chanted ‘Everton are white’.

In 2004, Millwall became the first club to be charged by The Football
Association over racist behaviour by their fans. One of the most damning
incidents occurred in the media by Ron Atkinson. On 2004, he was
caught making a racist remark live on air about the black Chelsea player
Marcel Desailly. Believing the microphone to be switched off, he
said, “…he [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy
thick nigger”. On 6 March 2007, it was announced that the Metropolitan
Police were investigating apparent anti-Semitic chants by West Ham
fans before the match with Spurs two days previously after a video of the
offence surfaced on the internet.

Last season was overshadowed by the Suarez and Terry incidents.
Only four months into the 2012/13 season and the Premier League has
seen numerous examples with recent incidents at Tottenham Hotspur,
Sunderland, Swansea City and Manchester City.

Will the proposals work?

Why now is there a sudden call to arms to stamp out this type of
behaviour? There has been increased intensity and exposure in the media.
As a result, more criminal cases are being brought to court. Does the FA
feel that because of this, they have been pushed into a corner and must
show to be taking action? The Government has now weighed in on the
subject either because they believe that it needs to be tackled or because it
is a quick way to earn some brownie points amongst his voters.

The proposals are a step towards combating racism in football, but it
is difficult to see exactly how much effect that will have. Suggesting
that foreign players take cultural lessons to learn about England and
the English game will not solve the problem. It is insulting and could
further distance foreign players from a solution which can be accepted.

One of the underlying fundamental problems with racism in English
football seems to lie with certain groups of fans and the way they are
brought up to watch and be involved around football. There is still a
large element of fathers taking their sons to watch football matches and
there is still a huge hooligan element to English football which is where
many racism problems originate. Racism can therefore be engrained
onto younger supporters from a very early age which will naturally be
damaging because 60% of the players in the Premier League are not
British born and raised.

The current method which is being proposed will simply stop foreign
players from using certain words, in a similar way that Uruguayan Luis
Suarez called Patrice Evra a racial term last season which is accepted
in parts of Uruguay. Instead of eradicating racism from the game, it is
side stepping the problem and will simply cause players to think outside
the box in terms of the language they use when talking back to a player.
A much better way to tackle this problem is to educate fans filled with
prejudice and hatred from a very early age and impose bans which stop
any racist fans from watching football. Whilst hard to enforce, education
on racism should extend to the sets of supporters responsible and try to
educate them over the cultural backgrounds from where many players
hail. It may even be useful to engage with English footballers, especially
those accused of racist remarks and identify why it is that they choose to
use language that is offensive.

Racism in football will not be eradicated overnight and it is naive to
think that cultural lessons are the answer. The problem lies as much in
our English footballers and fans. Education at all levels is the answer
and until that happens, the beautiful game will continue to be marred by
racism.

The Manchester Derby

By Cressida Smart

“The pressure people put on themselves and the rivalry between the teams is much more
marked. And I think that’s a good thing. As long as that rivalry remains within the spirit
of competition, it can only spur everyone on.” (Eric Cantona)

On Sunday 9 December, Manchester United will play Manchester City in the first of their
derby clashes this season. The match will see Roberto Mancini do battle with Sir Alex
Ferguson for the first time since City clinched the League title so dramatically on the
final day of last season. The last derby game in April was won 1-0 by City, with visitors
United not even having a shot on target.

Currently, Manchester United are in the driving seat, sitting at the top of the table with
36 points, three points more than their title rivals, Manchester City, who occupy the
second spot. Although they head to the Etihad Stadium three points clear of the League
champions, Ferguson is adopting a cautious approach, with his side having conceded 21
goals in 15 matches to City’s 11. United keep falling behind in games and conceding
goals – 32 in total now this season. They have conceded first in 10 Premier League
matches and have gone on to win seven and lose three, whilst last season they failed to
win any of the eight games when conceding first.

Glancing at the standings, it may appear that Chelsea and Arsenal are struggling and
that the title race is a straight battle between the two Manchester clubs this season. The
betting suggests it’s already a two-horse race for the title with Manchester United odds
on for the first time this season at 5/6 and City a 13/10 chance; Chelsea have gone from
7/2 to 14/1 in the space of a few weeks. However, Ferguson is not buying into that
assessment. “At this time in the season you can’t really say it’s a two-horse race,” he
said. “If you think back we were 12 points behind Chelsea at one point and when Arsenal
beat us in the league in 1998 we were 11 points clear.” Saying that, City can’t afford
to fall six points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and, just like last season, the derby is
going to be a pivotal occasion in the title race.

On the face of it, City can look positively to the game on Sunday. They are unbeaten in
the Premier League (if they avoid defeat on Sunday they will equal the club record of 22
League matches unbeaten) but haven’t hit the heights of last season. They are looking to
win three successive league games against United for the first time since 1970. Victory
would ensure they return to the top of the table, thanks to goal difference, a developing
theme for the two Manchester clubs.

However, major changes have occurred since the two sides’ last meeting back in April.
Whereas United answered the call to arms and strengthened their squad with some
serious fire power in Robin van Persie, Manchester City have done very little to add
depth to their title winning team. Yes, signings were made during the summer transfer
window, but they can hardly be said to match the brilliance of United’s new goal
machine.

City could well argue that, with an already star-studded squad, no major signings would
be necessary. However, this is a false premise. Winning a league title is undoubtedly
difficult, but retaining it is much harder. Simply put, any signings should match those
of their rivals in order to stay one step ahead. Unfortunately for City this has not been

the case, signings such as Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair are simply not to be enough
for a team that wants to remain a likely domestic title contender, let alone a Champions
League winning side.

This is not the only worry City have going into Sunday’s game. They have not been
performing as well as they did last year. Their movement has not been as quick or slick
and several of their heroes from last season such as Mario Balotelli, David Silva and
Yaya Toure have not shown the same flair or impact they showed last season. That said,
City, unlike United, remain unbeaten in the League this season and have turned the
Etihad into a fortress, having not lost at home in the league since 20 December 2010.

Despite this intimidating statistic, Sir Alex Ferguson has surely learnt a lesson from
his last visit to the Etihad, where a defensive mind-set cost him the game. Now surely
the Red Devils will come out guns blazing, with Van Persie spearheading heading an
aggressive, yet intricately planned charge towards Joe Hart and the netting beyond him.
However, a weak defence has been spotted and noted by the Scotsman as he conceded, in
an interview with the BBC, that in regard to his side’s defending, “If we perform like that
on Sunday then God knows what’s going to happen to us.”

As Manchester’s Derby Day creeps closer and tension builds between the two sides and
their supporters, we will be told that it is too early to bill this game as a title decider, but
few will be convinced and many will know that this match will have some bearing on
where their side finishes on the final day of the season.

Should it be your side that emerges victorious, you will wear your team’s colours and
acknowledge all others who do the same. However, if your side is defeated you will most
likely refrain from wearing any of your team’s clothing for at least a week. “What in the
case of a draw where no one wins?” some of you may ask. Yet, even with a draw, the
result will favour one side over the other even if it is slight and one set of supporters will
leave the venue more satisfied than the other.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year

(C) Tab59

Mo Farah become a British icon in 2012, but will he win the BBC’s award? (C) Tab59

By Cressida Smart

The BBC has revamped its shortlisting system for the Sports Personality of the Year to better reflect public opinion and avoid the sexism row that overshadowed last year’s ceremony.  Its panel of 12 experts have produced arguably the most diverse list since the inaugural award was won by Sir Christopher Chataway in 1954, the year he broke the 5,000 metres world record.

Baroness Grey-Thompson, the last Paralympian to make the shortlist in 2000, joined the panel to decide the shortlist as one of three past nominees alongside Denise Lewis and Sir Steve Redgrave.  The BBC used to canvas the opinion of sports editors at 27 newspapers and magazines but nine titles last year failed to nominate a single woman, so the public was presented with an all-male shortlist to the astonishment of equality campaigners.  The new panel includes four representatives of BBC Sport, led by its director Barbara Slater, three national newspaper sports editors, Baroness Campbell of Loughborough, the chairwoman of UK Sport, and one independent journalist (a woman).

Five of the contenders are women and three are disabled. The women include Jessica Ennis, who won the Olympic heptathlon gold medal in London and Ellie Simmonds, 18, the Paralympic swimmer who won two golds to add to the two titles she secured as a 14-year-old in Beijing, and broke her own world record.   David Weir, the wheelchair racer who captured the public imagination after covering more than 35 miles to win four gold medals in seven days, is a strong contender as the bookies’ fourth favourite. A disabled athlete has never won the award.  There have also been only 13 female winners in the history of the award, and only three since the turn of the century. The last to win was Zara Phillips, who took home the trophy in 2006 after winning gold in the World Equestrian Games.

Not surprisingly, Olympians and Paralympians dominate this year’s list, which was extended to 12 names to account for an extraordinary year of sport. The exception is Rory McIlroy, the world number one golfer who won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots.  The bookmakers are not expecting him to cut through a wave of nostalgia for London 2012, which brought the nation together in rarefied pub discussions about the rules of handball and the fairness of running blades.  McIlroy, 23, had the misfortune to win his second major on the final day of the Olympics when all eyes were on the closing ceremony.

On the one hand, you have Nicola Adams, a newcomer as far as Olympic sport is concerned.  However, she has made quite an impact during her short time in the public eye. The 30-year-old flyweight from Leeds became the first ever female Olympic boxing champion this year, overcoming Ren Cancan of China in the historic final.

At the other end of the spectrum, are Ben Ainslie and Chris Hoy.  Ainslie carried the flag at the Olympic closing ceremony after becoming the first sailor to win medals in five different Olympics after taking his fourth gold in the Finn class.  Hoy, another veteran, has already won Sports Personality of the Year once, after bringing three gold medals home from Beijing in 2008. This year, he surpassed Sir Steve Redgrave to become the most successful British Olympian ever. He added two more gold medals to his record in the team sprint and the keirin, giving him six gold and one silver overall in the Games.

Bradley Wiggins is the favourite, at odds of 2-5, to top the public vote, becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, then added Olympic gold in the time trial, becoming the first cyclist to do the double in the same year.

The second favourite is Mo Farah, whose 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres Olympic double renewed Britain’s love affair with distance runners.  The facial expression of Farah as he crossed the line in the 5,000m has become an iconic image of the summer Games.  This year was the most successful of the Somalia-born runner’s career and he is now one of only seven men to have won both the 5,000 and 10,000m at the Olympic Games.

Third favourite sits Andy Murray.  It has been a long wait for Murray, and there were many who claimed he would never manage it. However, the Scot proved all his doubters wrong in 2012 with a stellar year of success. After a crushing defeat at the hands of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, he took his revenge only weeks later in the Olympic final where he overcame the Swiss with a straight sets victory. He also teamed up with Laura Robson for a silver medal performance in the doubles and went on to claim the first Grand Slam title of his career at Flushing Meadows.

It is unfortunate for some of those on the list that this was such a stunning year for British sport.  Had Murray taken his first Slam in any other year, he could have been assured of a good shot at the trophy, much like Wiggins and his triumph in the Tour de France. Instead, they will be in contention with the superstars of the London Games.

Notable omissions include Laura Trott, who won two gold medals in the velodrome on her Olympic debut; Alistair Brownlee, who won Britain’s first triathlon gold medal; Charlotte Dujardin and Sophie Christiansen, both multiple equestrian gold medalists; Jonnie Peacock, the Paralympian sprinter who beat Oscar Pistorius to the 100 metres gold medal; and Ian Poulter, the golfer who inspired the European Ryder Cup team’s remarkable comeback against the US at Medinah.

It is a tough choice, as each nominee deserves to win.  However, it is also a strong reminder of the many reasons we have in which to celebrate British sport.  Who would I pick?  I would love to see Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis lift the title, but I feel Bradley Wiggins may pip them to the post.

ATP Tour Final – Federer v Djokovic

By Cressida Smart

For the fifth time this year, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will go head to head.
The two best men’s players in the world – the Australian Open champion against the
Wimbledon champion – with their season series tied at two matches each, doing battle in
the final match of the 2012 season.

Djokovic bested Federer in Rome and at Roland Garros, while Federer was the victor at
Wimbledon and in Cincinnati. Monday’s final will mark the 29th time that the two have
met, with Federer holding a 16-12 advantage. Neither man has had an easy path to the
final, with Djokovic needing three sets to dispatch Juan Martín del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-2,
while Federer bested U.S. Open champion Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 6-2.

What is there left to say about Roger Federer as a tennis player? He came into this
tournament after losing in the final at Basel, a tournament he calls his own, against del
Potro and pulled out of the Masters in Paris last week to be ready for the ATP Tour
Finals. His preparation for this event is always second to none. You can’t discount him
collecting the trophy for the third year in a row here after a stunning year.

Federer started the year way off the pace in the points, but stated his goal was to reclaim
the world No.1 spot. Many mocked his predictions, but seven titles this year, including
Wimbledon, have realised exactly what he prophesised. He has now lost just one match
in the last 14 here: the three set loss to del Potro in the round robin group. In addition,
he has won back to back titles in 2011 and 2010 and in total, a record six times. He has
failed to reach the semis only once and has only lost a total of five round robin games
from 33 played. In 11 years, he’s lost fewer games than Djokovic has in six years. He
truly is the man for this competition.

Age of course is now Federer’s biggest challenge. Looking through the years of this
competition, it’s true to say the quality in Federer’s earlier years was not up to the same
standard as it is now and in Djokovic he faces probably the greatest challenger to his
dominance.

Djokovic was never going to replicate this year what he achieved last year. It was beyond
human endurance to do so. He has given up a few titles this year, but has, for the majority
of the year, held onto the No.1 spot after a good last few months winning Beijing and
Shanghai back to back. Despite being a winner of this event back in 2008, his record is
not great and he’s won as many matches as he’s lost (9-9).

However, you could argue that Djokovic is now the complete tennis player and more
suited to this event. He has already been involved in two three set matches here this week
against Murray and del Potro and has the endurance to see another one out against the
man he takes most pleasure from beating. It’s true there’s no love lost between the two
and the last match up in Cincinnati saw Federer win the final with a straights sets victory
which included a bagel first set for Federer; the only time it’s happened between these
two in 28 meetings.

If Federer is to win, he must keep the rallies short and make his first serve count.
Djokovic is one of the best returners in the game and if he sees plenty of second serves
from Federer, he will take full advantage and pounce. For Djokovic, he has to be
aggressive and make Federer move around the court to bring about unforced errors.
Federer has been convincing this week most of the time, but against both del Potro and
Ferrer, his unforced error count was high. He can’t afford to do that against Novak.
Djokovic has to start well; Federer is incredibly hard to beat from behind and when he
is in front, he invariably stays there. In three set matches between the two, the winner of
the first set has gone on to lose only twice from 21 matches. So, winning the first set is
monumental, psychologically.

Playing as often as they have doesn’t give either man the advantage. Instead, it evens the
playing field, with each knowing the other’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. It’s
only fitting that Djokovic and Federer will contest the final match of the season, seeing as
how the two of them, along with Murray, have basically had their run of the sport since
Rafael Nadal went down with an injury in June and has since, not returned to action.

As ever there’s nothing between the two. Their records this year have been almost
identical on a hard court. It looks to be a three set affair yet again and regardless of who
wins, it’ll be a phenomenal end to another great ATP year.

End of the Irish Golden Generation? – Irish Rugby in 2012

By Beth O’Brien

O’Driscoll. Wood. O’Connell. O’Gara. O’Kelly. Horgan. Stringer. Wallace. Hayes. Hickie. Murphy.
These names have defined a generation of Irish rugby players ever since Brian O’Driscoll scored
a famous hat-trick to help his team beat France away in the 2000 Six Nations Championship. The
brutal efficiency of the Munster forwards and the expansive and exciting Leinster backs propelled
Ireland from the team that had floundered during the Five Nations of the 1990s to winners of four
Triple Crowns and one Grand Slam in the new century. This ‘Golden Generation’ became a team
that could compete with the best in the world. They became a thorn in England’s side, a victory in
2004 just months after England’s World Cup win heralding a period of dominance – 6 wins in the 8
following Six Nations meetings followed.

Fast-forward to 2012, and we see a very different picture. Many of the above players have retired
from rugby, are seeing out their twilight years in their clubs, or are simply well over ‘the hill’,
shadows of the players they were a decade ago. The 2012 Six Nations campaign was doomed
from the off with a heartbreaking loss to eventual Grand Slam winners, Wales. The team lacked
coherence, flair and, for the first time in a number of years, an aggressive physicality. One decent
performance against New Zealand in the summer was flanked by two comprehensive victories for
the home team, and all seemed gloomy at the end of last season for the men in green.

Last weekend saw the first stages of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup, the seminal tournament in
European rugby, and all four of Ireland’s provinces in action. Unfortunately, the geriatric plague
that is befalling Irish rugby was yet again apparent. In a rainy Stade de France, Munster limped to
a losing bonus point against Racing Metro. The Munster pack struggled to maintain possession,
whilst mistakes from Irish legend Ronan O’Gara directly led to Machenaud’s try. Disappointment
was evident on the face of Paul O’Connell when he was substituted on 60 minutes, in his first game
in 5 months. A stark contrast to the team who were twice Champions – a rumbling machine of a
forwards pack and one of the greatest kickers in world rugby in O’Gara.

Meanwhile in Dublin, Leinster snuck a victory against Heineken Cup newbies, Exeter Chiefs.
Nothing must be taken from the Chiefs – they produced a gutsy performance and played at an
exhausting pace that held Leinster on the back foot for a large portion of the game. However,
Leinster lacked a cutting edge and squandered chances. Ireland’s incumbent fly half, Jonathan
Sexton, failed to pull the strings as we have seen him do countless times before, and Leinster were
powerless to break down the formidable Exeter defence. Leinster’s Head Coach Joe Schmidt rued
missed chances, stating after the game that “it’s not often we get in the 22 four times in the first
half, and get nothing from it. That’s down to us, we have to be more accurate than that.” With a
significant portion of the Ireland back division, fans would hope they can be.

Admittedly, the all-Irish final of 2012 (Leinster 42-14 Ulster), and first-round wins for Ulster and
Connacht, may suggest there is life in the old dog yet. However, what distinguished the successes
of Munster and Leinster over the past 5 years was their translation to the success of Irish rugby.
When Munster and Leinster were the dominant Heineken Cup forces, Ireland won their first Grand
Slam in 61 years. The current contingent of young Irish players have yet to make the same impact
on the international, or provincial, stage as the heroes of their youth. Perhaps illustrative of this
point, British and Irish Lions 2009 tourist Keith Earls produces only glimpses of the brilliance
that merited his call up. He has struggled with the weight of expectation and the ‘Austin Healey
syndrome’ of nobody being sure what position he is best suited to playing. As a result, he has
become another on the long list of ‘nearly-but-not-quite good enough’ young Irish talent. With the
Lions tour of Australia coming in the summer, there are perhaps only a handful of Irish players guaranteed                                                                   to make the Test 22 (Bowe, Kearney, Ferris, O’Connell and O’Driscoll, if the reader

would like the author’s opinion), and a number who may find themselves enjoying the midweek
fixtures or the action from their living rooms if their form does not improve.

In this Lions year, this Irish fan has to accept that her rugby heroes are simply not going to make
the plane. Munster may no longer be the Heineken Cup powerhouses they have been since the
competition’s inception. And the subject of the only poster on the author’s wall may be leaving
Ireland for a curtain call with the Waratahs in Super Rugby. There’s of course a long way to go
until the Lions set off for Australia, and one hopes there will be a significant Irish contingent on the
plane. However, unless the provinces of Ireland rediscover their form and build to a successful Six
Nations, it could be a long season to be an Irish fan.

John Terry and the FA – the unanswered questions

By Cressida Smart

(C) The Mirror

 

 

 

 

 

Any doubts about the veracity of the verdict by the FA panel into the John Terry racism
row were alleviated with the release of the long awaited full transcript of the FA’s
report. It gives a damning verdict of Terry’s defence that he had merely been repeating
the words of Anton Ferdinand in some puzzled way. Yet it still leaves many questions
unanswered: Was the punishment adequate? If the FA does not think this is racism, what
is? What of Ashley Cole’s evidence?

John Terry was found guilty by the FA of breaking rule E3(1) and E3(2) in his abuse of
Anton Ferdinand. Specifically, it was Terry’s use of “abusive and/or insulting words and/
or behaviour” towards Ferdinand with the further charge that he “included a reference
to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Anton Ferdinand”. He was ordered to
serve a four-game ban and pay a fine of £220,000. Earlier this years in July however, the
court of law cleared the Chelsea captain after a four-day trial in Westminster magistrates’
court of a racially aggravated public order offence. Whilst Terry did not deny using
the words “fucking black cunt” to Ferdinand, he maintained he was only sarcastically
repeating words that Ferdinand wrongly thought he had used. Howard Riddle, the chief
magistrate summed up by saying, “It is therefore possible that what he said was not
intended as an insult, but rather as a challenge to what he believed had been said to him.
In those circumstances, there being a doubt, the only verdict the court can record is one of
not guilty”.

The FA’s case hinged on whether the words were used as an insult or whether he was
repeating an allegation made to him and dismissing it. In their written report, they
dismissed Terry’s defence as “improbable, implausible, contrived”. On the balance of
probabilities, “the commission is quite satisfied that there is no credible basis for Mr
Terry’s defence that his use of the words were directed at Ferdinand by way of forceful
rejection and/or inquiry. Instead, we are quite satisfied, and find on the balance of
probabilities, that the offending words were said by way of insult.”

The first point to address is the punishment handed down to Terry. Many have howled
at the match ban, comparing it to that of Suarez, arguing it should have been longer. In
his written reasons for explaining the penalty imposed on Suarez, FA chairman Paul
Goulding QC and his colleagues ruled, “It is not necessary for the FA to prove that Mr
Suarez intended his words or behaviour to be abusive or insulting. Our task is to decide
whether in our view the words or behaviour were abusive or insulting.” In Terry’s case,
the findings, presumably, were the same. He admitted, in the dock in July, that he had
used the words “fucking black cunt”. Context, as ruled in the Suarez case, was irrelevant.
The rule states that reference to a person’s “ethnic origin, colour or race” should guide
a panel into considering double the minimum four-match ban. One could argue that
perhaps Terry’s four-match ban leaves open the possibility that the panel accepted, at
least in part, Terry’s defence. Suárez was given an eight-week ban for his remarks to
Patrice Evra.

In deciding Terry’s punishment, the commission took into account Ferdinand’s victim
impact statement, which made plain he had been “badly affected” by the incident and the
high profile nature of the match. Weighed against that was the fact the insult was said
only once and the testimonials in favour of Terry by many of those involved in the game,
with his team-mate Ryan Bertrand’s seen as particularly significant.

The second bone of contention is Ashley Cole’s evidence in court, which casts serious
doubt over his witness statement. One of the chapters in the FA’s report is entitled
the ‘evolution of Ashley Cole’s evidence’. It states that the Chelsea player added at a
later date the word ‘black’ into his witness statement which outlined what he claimed
to have heard Ferdinand saying to Terry. According to the report, this had the effect
of “bolstering Mr Terry’s claim that the words that he spoke to Mr Ferdinand were not
said by way of an insult, but as repetition and forceful denial of what Mr Ferdinand had
accused him of saying.”

In new evidence that was considered by the panel but not by the court, it shows in
an interview with FA officials five days after the match, Cole saying he heard a “b-
word” but did not mention the word black. In a later emailed statement, Cole says the
word “could have been Bridge”. However David Barnard, Chelsea club secretary, later
emailed the FA after discussing the matter with Cole to add the words “black or Bridge”.

In his witness statement, some 10 months later, Barnard also claims that Cole heard the
word “cunt” being used in close proximity to the “b-word”. Yet the commission found
on the balance of probabilities that Cole’s original evidence contained neither that word
nor “fucking”. There could be serious implications for Barnard and Chelsea if this is
considered a contempt of court. Following the report, Cole released a tweet making
derogatory comments about the FA. He tweeted that the FA were a ‘bunch of twats’, he
also said that he wasn’t a liar, even though neither the FA nor anybody else used the
word liar? It now remains to be seen how the FA react to that, given that Cole is still
an England player. If the FA has any integrity at all, that will be the end of his England
career.

The third issue is that of racism. The FA, which brought the charge, actively argued that
Terry is not a racist. If the FA doesn’t consider calling someone “a fucking black cunt”
what do they consider racist? Of what need did Terry have to refer to Ferdinand’s skin
colour? Racism is vile and malevolent and has blighted many people’s lives. It continues
to do so, although great strides have been taken to reduce its incidence. Only racists and
Neanderthals would need convincing that society has to adopt a zero tolerance approach
to incidences of racism or racist insults.

If a leading member of a major private or public institution repeated the words used by
John Terry, he would be sacked. If Chelsea – who have said they will wait to see if Terry
appeals before making clear their intentions and on Saturday confirmed there will be
a “disciplinary process” with Ashley Cole – choose not to do that, what reasons will they
give for not taking this course of action? Are they happy their captain has been found
guilty of lying? Are they happy that he uses such appalling language in public? Are they

happy for this man to be their captain?

What of the fans? They too have a voice. Are they happy to have their team led by a
man who uses a racist insult? Now is their opportunity to use social media in protest
and signal their disapproval of their leader; how about #sackjohnterrynow? If they don’t,
then how can they take a credible stand on racism in public life ever again? They can’t.
There is no reason for being equivocal about racism. It will be interesting to note if any
action is taken by Chelsea’s commercial partners and sponsors such as Samsung. Are
they happy that their brand is represented by a team leader who uses racist language
towards an opponent? They shouldn’t be and they should use their considerable influence
to demand that he plays no further part in any association with their brand.

The entire incident has shamed Chelsea and England’s stance on racism. For those of us
who love football it is dispiriting, depressing and disgusting to see how football has dealt
so ineptly with this Terry affair. Calling John Terry a racist may lose the FA friends and
create enemies, but it would at least emphasise that there is no place in football or society
for racism. Change starts at the top.

Andy Murray Triumphs In New York

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By Cressida Smart

After four hours and fifty eight minutes, Andy Murray triumphed against Novak Djokovic in the US Open 2012 men’s final and claimed his maiden grand slam. In a match that stretched to five sets, both players showed their undeniable talent and stamina. It was a night that saw history being made and the culmination of Murray’s hard work, patience and endurance.

At the start of the much hyped final, the first set saw Djokovic lose the first seven points on his own serve and Murray the first three on his as both men were broken in their opening service games. They made many more unforced errors than winners, but given the gusty conditions that forced both to adjust their game the word “unforced” was barely appropriate. There were some exceptionally long rallies, including one of 54 shots in the sixth game of the first set and they were both frequently forced to delay their serves and used more slice than normal.

At 2-2, Djokovic, having saved four break points two games earlier, was broken for a second time after serving two double faults. With Murray leading 4-3, Djokovic broke back and the set went to a tie-break. Djokovic went ahead at 5-3, but Murray dominated thereafter. The Serb saved four set points, the last of them after a 33-stroke rally, before sending a backhand long under attack from the Scot, who finally took the set after 87 minutes when the defending champion was unable to return serve.

In all but the very first of the 14 previous meetings between these two men, the player who won the first set had gone on to win the match. Judging by his play at the start of the second set, it was as if Djokovic was all too aware of that statistic as Murray raced into a 4-0 lead. However, Novak broke both in the next game and again two games later, with Andy sending a forehand long on break point as a gust of wind took control of the ball. Nevertheless, the new world No 3 regrouped and when Djokovic served at 5-6 and 15-30, the Serb put a smash wide. On the first break point Murray put a return of serve into the net, but on the second Djokovic hit a forehand into the tramlines.

At two sets up, it looked like Murray was storming to a straight sets victory against the defending champion. Those who thought Andy would wrap the match up in the three sets underestimated the force of Djokovic. He upped his game with ferocious defending blended with attacking moves at the net. He took the third set 6-2 in 46 minutes and in the fourth, he made the early break. When the Scot served at 3-5, a double fault and three successive errors saw Djokovic level the match. The crowd on its feet roared with excitement.

Incidentally, no one had lost in the US Open men’s final after winning the first two sets since Pancho Gonzalez defeated Ted Schroeder in 1949. It seemed that after four lost finals, Murray was at risk of cementing his reputation as the greatest player never to have won a grand slam. Tied at two sets apiece, Murray broke twice to lead 3-0, only for Djokovic to bring the score back to 3-2. Murray broke again to lead 5-2, after which Djokovic, to boos from the crowd, took a medical time-out to have his legs massaged. The Scot, however, was not to be denied and served out for victory, converting his second championship point when Djokovic hit a return long. He dropped his racket, looked up to the sky and held his head in his hands almost in disbelief. He embraced Djokovic at the net, who said, “Great job, you deserve it”, a sentiment echoed by those watching. Andy Murray finally became a grand slam champion.

In an era that has undoubtedly been dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the greatest players of all time, Murray has worked tirelessly to achieve his goal. Furthermore, he was facing a player who had won four of the previous seven Grand Slam tournaments, including the last three played on hard courts. The Serb had also won both his previous Grand Slam matches against Murray, his friend and rival ever since they first met at an under-12s tournament.

Those three individuals had famously won 29 of 30 tournaments dating as far back as 2005 before Murray’s victory on Monday. The trio made up an intimidating top three in the sport, a frustrating scenario for the rest of the field.

There has never been any doubt about Andy Murray’s talent nor his commitment, both of which he has in abundance. It is his temperament that has been cause for concern. When playing on level ground, Murray was as technically sound as anyone in the game. Yet all it took was a stubborn opponent or a few unforced errors for Murray to start chattering to himself out of frustration and in big games, Murray would become unravelled. He could keep his cool against a lesser opponent, but when facing players on his level or better, the psychological edge seemed to always tilt to the other end of the court for Murray. Match by match, tournament by tournament and season by season, Murray began to control his emotions. The frustration would still show as clearly on his face, but it became harder and harder to see in his game. Murray became capable of withstanding the psychological warfare waged upon him by opponents, the media and his own
expectations.

The presence of Ivan Lendl since early January of this year has been a remarkable influence upon the young Scot. He has remained by his side at matches, giving nothing away under his steel guise. A flicker of a smile came over his face as Murray accepted the US Open 2012 trophy and gave his speech. This is about as much emotion we will see from the Czech. Under his guidance, Murray reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, the final at Wimbledon and captured Olympic gold in the singles which he did with controlled aggression. The eight-time Grand Slam winner instilled a growing confidence in Murray, encouraging him to reach his full potential. As a result, we have seen less of the angry mutterings and the slamming of the racket. Rarely have partnerships formed in such a short space of time, produced outstanding results. This year, Murray has improved physically, but more importantly, mentally, rising above the pressure from
Great Britain and the media.

When Andy Murray served for the championship, it did not matter when Fred Perry last won a Grand Slam title for Great Britain. It did not matter how many times that Novak Djokovic had psychologically bullied an opponent. It did not matter that he had already lost four title matches in his young career and had blown a 2-0 set lead in the match. He simply played tennis.

Andy Murray can now just be a tennis player. He is no longer Britain’s greatest hope to end a decades-long drought. He is no longer the black sheep of the Big Four. He is no longer tennis’ saddest story.

I will be the first to admit that Murray’s victory was impressive and well deserved. Over the past five years, I have made numerous bets against Andy winning a grand slam and up until now, I was in the money earning myself drinks, dinners and even tickets to a musical. However, I now have an expensive year ahead including treating one friend to an ice cream at Amorino, another to dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant and a third to a weekend in Paris during the French Open. Yet it is definitely worth it. I am happy to see Andy Murray finally win a grand slam and put the critics such as myself, to rest.

Phelps – Greatest Olympian?

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(C) Telegraph

To reach the heights of an Olympian takes guts, courage and dedication that most of us can barely comprehend. In establishing the greatest Olympian, do you rank athletes on the medals won or the hours spent in the gym? How do you measure the sacrifices they’ve made or the transformation they’ve wrought? Michael Phelps has won 21 Olympic medals – more than anyone else in the entire history of the Olympics. Does this make him the greatest Olympian of all time?

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UEFA’s financial targets: crossing the line or fair play?

(C)jeanfrancois beausejour

By Andrea Masini

Usually, AC Milan’s dealings are always strictly connected to the political career of its owner Silvio Berlusconi. In 2009, when the Brazilian player Kakà was about to be sold to Manchester City, Berlusconi interrupted a negotiation that would have cost him a lot in terms of votes in the upcoming European elections. The signing up of Ronaldinho was often mentioned during electoral meetings as an example of a promise to the fans that had been kept. Lately, Berlusconi said that Cristiano Ronaldo might wear one day the rossoneri shirt. However, the recent transfer of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain for 62 million euro doesn’t have anything to do with Berlusconi and politics. This time, it’s all about money.

Football fans all over Europe know well how once troubled and not very successful clubs have now reached the top of their leagues. It has all been very simple. They have been taken over by extremely wealthy owners, willing to bring the club to the football Hall of Fame. It has happen to Chelsea and Manchester City in the English Premier League, to Malaga in Spain and lately to Paris Saint-Germain in the French Ligue 1. Is it fair to invest millions of euro in football in times of crisis? Probably, during these dark times, it’s suitable to find foreign investors to maintain the football circus. Panem et circenses, “bread and games”, were the main ingredients of mass distraction according to the ruling class of the Roman empire. However, in this article the question “Is it fair play?” refers to the economic competition between “old”, traditional clubs and the newcomers. Is it fair to bring fresh money to invest and spend millions of euro to buy the best players? Is it part of the game or is it unfair competition with the other clubs?

The financial fair play project was introduced by UEFA’s chairman Michel Platini in 2009. According to this, clubs should have a balanced budget in order to reach the final goal of financial self-sufficiency. Also, there are certain investment goals to be pursued. Firstly, investments should improve the infrastructures of the club, particularly the stadium. Secondly, the development of the club’s youth teams should be a privileged target. Finally, clubs should put the brakes on players’ salaries and transfer costs, in order to decrease inflation in the football market. Hence, the definition of financial fair play doesn’t consider unfair that some clubs are wealthier than others. Nevertheless, rich clubs should also stick to the investment goals set by UEFA.

As things stand now, the wealthiest football clubs of Europe surely comply with the first goal. Stadiums have been renovated and surrounded by leisure infrastructures (hotels, restaurants, etc.). But when it comes to the other two main investment targets, these clubs do not adhere to the rules of financial fair play. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on the youth teams. Instead, they have a short-term strategy based on buying the best players around, like Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. As a consequence of this strategy, the wealthiest football clubs completely break the third main principle of financial fair play. By offering outstanding contracts to players and paying huge amounts of money for their transfers, the rich newcomers of European football do nothing but increase the inflation in the football marketplace. In doing so, they have a monopoly on the strongest players, creating a bigger and bigger gap between themselves and less wealthy clubs.

Is it fair play? On the one hand, it is. Foreign investments, especially in the football circus, and particularly in times of economic crisis, are more than welcome. There is nothing wrong with Malaga, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain replacing AC Milan, Juventus or Manchester United as the unbeatable teams in their respective leagues. On the other hand, the new tycoons of European football are not playing fair, in that they do not completely adhere to UEFA’s investment guidelines. They are paying too much for transfers and players’ contracts, and they do not have a long-term plan to grow young players in the youth teams. In this sense, Barcelona’s cantera (the “reserve” of champions coming from youth teams) is the right model to follow. Only if the new powers of European football start to play fair can there be a future for the game of football. If they don’t, we might have a “football-bubble”, ready to explode.

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