Archives for posts with tag: sport

Sovereignty and nationality are interesting concepts where sport is concerned. National lines seem to blur and vary – at least in the islands of Britain and Ireland – depending on the particular sport.

When it comes to Brexit, the question of sporting nationality – UK, GB, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, to name but a few – could get a lot more complicated.

I’m sure sport was the last thing on people’s minds when they contemplated both the Brexit referendum and its aftermath.

I’m sure also that there was no plan for it. There was no ‘what if’ plan to withdraw from the Euro single currency when it was conceived and executed, so when a country does decide that it wants to abandon the Euro and reclaim its sovereign currency, it’ll make for some interesting fallout.

Similarly, it seems abundantly clear that there was no plan for Brexit either, judging by the scrambling around and hasty senior resignations from many of the architects of the shambles.

To brighten your day, here’s a well observed take on the difficulties of sporting nationalities in the current political climate from Foil Arms and Hog, somewhat in the style of CPG Grey. Enjoy.

Everyone needs a passion to keep them going through the cycles of work and the seasons of the year. I’m not talking here about loved ones, your family and friends. I’m talking about vices: music festivals, music, live theatre, hobbies, travel or holidays, that kind of thing. These are high points that can anchor a period in your life and stand out from the day-to-day stuff we do in order to afford to enjoy the high points.

For me it’s the catharsis of sport, both playing it and watching it. Participating in sport and attending or watching broadcasts of key sporting events define the time of the year for me. Let me walk you through a typical year of this sports fan, plucked out of my head without the need to check the calendar:

January – dark, miserable, poverty-stricken. Just in time, the Australian Open tennis hoves into view to save the one month that’s pretty much a waste of time. A foreign bonus comes to close the month down, in the form of the Superbowl. We in marketing can kid ourselves we’re working by watching the ads on youtube.

February – when you think Spring will never come, the 6 Nations Rugby championships comes to the rescue, closely followed by the business end of Champions League football.

March – more rugger and more soccer. US Sweet Sixteen and Final Four college hoops if you’re into that stuff. And is that the imperceptibly lengthening and warming days of Spring I detect?

April – the Masters golf at Augusta. The best major, though I’ve never been able to pin down why. Yes, and the snooker world championship too. Stick with it, it’s a drug.

May – the reward of a monster month. The death throes of the football and rugby leagues, the Champions League final, the Heineken Cup final and the best tennis major to attend – apparently; it always sneaks up on me before I’ve thought about summer trips – the glorious French Open. The lung-bursting, clay-drenched minute-long rallies.

June – Ah, the summer is here in earnest. The US Open golf tournament, the toughest major. Anyone for cricket? There’s usually a test series to follow, and the athletics Diamond League circuit winds up. The NBA finals remind me that I’m not ideally built for the hoops. Oh and Wimbledon, aka Wimbers, always the last week of June and first week of July. Happy days.

July – The Open, at the home of golf. Four halcyon days, even if the weather’s howling.

August – The US Open tennis. Hotter than the hinges of Hades, rather like the Australian Open. Supreme athleticism and the lungs of Miguel Indurain required. Sometimes they sneak the US PGA in as well during August, and so our cup over-floweth.

September – The baseball action gets down to the nitty gritty. Decent footie awaits as the Champions League swings into action with group matches to lift the mid-week blues.

October – The Autumn rugby internationals give us an annual reminder of why the southern hemisphere lads are better than us northern folks.

November – More rubgy, the final group matches in the Champions League, and the ATP tennis finals as we wind down for the holiday period.

December – Crimbo! Far too much on to think about sport, kind of, although between Christmas and New Year the good people from the darts world are good enough to give us two rival championships to help us finish off the turkey fricassee. We’re usually getting tonked at the cricket by the Aussies down under as well.

Bonus events in the summer can really make the summer: a world cup or an Olympics every second summer. The autumn is enhanced beyond measure by the biennial Ryder Cup. A Lions rugby tour or a Rugby World Cup can make the winter.

Boy! Anyone would think that there can’t be any time left for family and work. Work hard and play hard is the only way to get through it :-).

I always find it amazing when a small nation overturns a large nation at a major sporting event.  Sometimes you get the odd upset – of course – but for me the big nations should always win at big sporting events.

I was reminded of this fact recently when England lost a key football/soccer match against Uruguay, a country of some 3 million people. There have been some fantastic books which have debunked this theory, such as the superb ‘Brilliant Orange‘, but for me it boils down to a combination of three important factors:

– the sheer population numbers with access to the game

– the number and quality of facilities to be able to play

– the number of qualified coaches

With decent facilities and great coaches you can go a long way, but you also need people playing the sport in their masses so that the numbers of exceptional players percolate through from an immense group. Take a look at English footie and you see an enormous amount of players, plentiful decent facilities, but in the main very poor coaching. It’s ‘hoof it up to the big guy’ or ‘give it to the dribbler’ on pitches that are far too big, from a very early age. Kids grow up thinking that all you need to do is dribble past half a dozen players or shoot from 30 yards. They don’t know the basics and they are not adequately taught the technical fundamentals of the game.

I’m not sure of the actual numbers, but I have heard a statistic that there are 17,000 qualified coaches in Germany, and 900 in England. Here’s an article which suggests England has nearly 3,000, but Spain has nearly 24,000, Italy nearly 30,000 and Germany nearly 35,000. People blame the English premiership and the influx of foreign players, but that’s nonsense. Why would spend the earth for an overseas star if you were spoilt for choice domestically?

In 50 years’ time, China will probably be the nation that tops all the sports it chooses to compete seriously in. Fifty years ago it wasn’t playing table tennis, now they are comfortably the best nation, and the Chinese diaspora declare for many other countries, making up a huge proportion of the world’s top 100 players, men and women. They have some serious numbers, and a totalitarian government with the will and resources to capitalise on the immense political kudos of being the world’s best at something.

You might think there are exceptions to this, like New Zealand rugby’s All Blacks. It’s a population of nearly 4.5 million. But, rugby is the national sport, they invest heavily in coaches – their coaches hold great jobs across the rugby world – and they have decent facilities. They also have their pick of some of the best giants in the islands like Samoa, Fiji and Tonga to bolster their numbers. My celtic chums will hate me for it, but that’s why England are always there or thereabouts in rugby world cups. The largest playing population in the world and lots of dosh are a pretty powerful cocktail.

It always seems a shame that some true geniuses of sport happen to be from small nations. In football terms, think of Northern Ireland’s George Best, Wales’ Ryan Giggs and of course Liberia’s George Weah, a former world footballer of the year. They never experienced the playing on the global stage that their talent warranted. They never got to win the big global sporting event and be included in the pantheon of world’s greats in the way that Messrs Pele and Maradonna are.

I’m a huge fan of human endeavour in the ‘pure’ sports. Pure in the sense that they are just us against each other, without the use of equipment – sticks, racquets, machines. I’m talking about boxing, running, that sort of thing. ‘Chariots of Fire’ is my favourite film of all time.

In these sports, it’s down to our genetic inheritance, our training and our dedication. The track part of track and field athletics has always captivated me, along with millions of others. I guess that’s what makes the 100 metres the attraction it is, the ‘citius’ part of the ‘citius altius fortius’ Olympic motto.

Sir Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile in 1954 is for me one of those man-on-the-moon moments. It was back in the day when these Renaissance men strove to be the best in the world while also playing a full-time trade.

I had the good fortune to meet Sir Roger in the mid-1980’s. I use ‘meet’ in the loosest sense.  I was captain of the university table tennis team for my final year of studies. The annual varsity games weekend hosted a bunch of sports between Oxford and Cambridge. Some of the sports were very prestigious, attracting ‘full blue’ status for those that represented their University at it. Other sports were not as prestigious, and even though you might have been the world’s best, all you could hope for was ‘half-blue’, thanks to the stuffy, sports caste system that existed. I sound bitter, and in fact I contradict myself, because the pure sports belonged in the full blue camp. Table tennis did not.

That year Sir Roger was the VIP on hand to present the trophies to each captain of the University that had won their sports varsity match. My team had squeaked through 6-4. All sports had a trophy. All sports, that is, except table tennis. As the trophies were handed out one at a time, I debated what to do. When the turn of table tennis came, I walked up, as Sir Rog looked to the table on his left for a trophy that did not exist. He looked back at me in a somewhat confused state, then smiled a big avuncular smile. We shook hands, made eye contact, and that was it.

It was good to brush shoulders – or hands – with true greatness for a brief moment.