Commonwealth Games and the disunited Kingdom

The opening ceremony of the biggest sporting event ever held in Scotland, the Commonwealth Games takes place tomorrow in Glasgow. While we wait and see how it compares with Danny Boyle’s brilliant opening ceremony for London 2012, it is interesting to see the BBC hype what is really a harmless anachronism – the games started in 1930 as the British Empire Games but of course the British Empire doses not exist anymore – and treat it like London 2012. BBC 1 will have coverage all day from 9.00 am to 10.00pm – breaking off only for the news – while BBC 3 will also cover it from 9.00 am to 10.00pm. The BBC are even moving their popular soap opera “EastEnders” to BBC 2 for the duration of the Games. Yet if the BBC think that this event will be as popular as London 2012 they are mistaken.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that these games do not have the once in a lifetime feel that the Olympics did. The UK had not hosted the Olympics since 1948 and I reckon we’ll be all dead when/if they next come here. In contrast the Commonwealth Games were in the UK four times between 1948 and 2012 and even Scotland has hosted them twice before (Edinburgh 1970 and 1986). They were here as recently as 2002 in Manchester (the athletics were held at what is now Manchester City’s stadium). This is no unique event.
However the main reason this event will not be 2012 revisited is the fact there is no team GB to cheer on. Britain will be divided into seven different teams*. Personally I hate the division of the UK in sport and I wish it would stop. I suspect no one reading this will agree with me – only the MP for Tewksbury Laurence Robinson has come out in support for this – but no other country in the world would divide itself this way. Imagine the 50 states of the USA having their own teams or Australia splitting itself into its states. It wouldn’t happen – even though like Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland the states of the USA and Australia have their own governments. The Australians will probably top the medal table at Glasgow 2014 yet I reckon if team GB were in the Games we would beat them – as we did in London 2012 and the Aussies must be laughing at us. Also last week the Daily Telegraph revealed that English athletes are worried they will be booed in Glasgow. While I don’t think that will happen I am certain it would not happen had we all been united as team GB.
In the case of football the division is even more serious as it is an obstacle to gender equality in two ways. English women players Casey Stoney and Kelly Smith have come out in favour of a team GB women’s football team at Rio 2016 (provided England qualify in the World cup next year) but as the (male dominated) FAs of Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland won’t risk it in case it means they have to give up their independent status they would have more chance of being listened to by the speaking clock. Doubtless people will say we don’t have a male team at the Olympics either but that misses the point. Men’s football does not need the Olympics. Women’s football does. That is sexism disguised as equality. Which makes it worse.
Another point is the Laws of the Game. As Jennifer Doyle has pointed out FIFA rules allow children, the disabled, the ‘old’ and WOMEN (her capitals) to play on smaller fields with smaller balls and goals. While Doyle is right to say this is wrong it is not FIFA’s fault it is the UK’s.That is because the laws of football are made by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). This organisation has eight members – four of them from the UK. As law changes have to be approved by a 6-2 majority that gives the UK a veto over the laws of football. You’d think the UK would realise that is a nonsensical anomaly but no. Stewart Reagan of the SFA – an organisation that makes its English equivalent look progressive – has said a GB Olympic team would mean “no seat for Scotland at IFAB” which raises the question “why should they have one”? The UK having a veto over the laws of football would have been out of date in 1924 never mind 2014. What on earth are the UK FAs scared of?
It is clear that both in the case of national unity – a big sporting event should unite a country but the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup both divide the UK – and fairness – that the splitting up of the UK in some sports is an anachronism that unlike the Commonwealth Games is not harmless. A rule should be brought in that to be in a sporting event a country must be a member of the United Nations. With no exceptions.
* The seven British teams in the Commonwealth Games are England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. To make it more absurd last week a Daily Telegraph letter writer suggested Cornwall should have its own team. Where will it end?

Will Kerrigan pass his second Test?

I suspect nobody reading this can remember what they were doing on Wednesday August 21st 2013. However I bet that one man can. He’ll wish he can’t but I bet he never will forget. That man is cricketer Simon Kerrigan, then a 24-year old slow left arm spinner from Lancashire.
For on that day Kerrigan achieved the ambition of every cricket mad young boy in England. He made his Test debut for England. Not only that it was against Australia in the Ashes – in the fifth Test at the Oval. He must have been so happy. Until England captain Alistair Cook gave him the ball in the 21st over of Australia’s first innings. And then the nightmare begun.
Actually his first two deliveries went for singles. OK, nothing to worry about. But two of his next four – one a full toss – were hit for four by Australia’s Shane Watson. Ten off the first over. Not good. Surely his second over would be better?
Well no. it was worse. Much worse. Four of the six deliveries were hammered for four by Watson and another one went for two. Eighteen off the over leaving him with figures of 2-0-28-0. To make maters worse, most of the deliveries were short, slow long hops that I reckon EMMA Watson could have hit for four never mind Shane. To use cricket slang it was an over of “pies”. Worse he looked terrified.
Understandably, Cook had seen enough and dispatched him back to the outfield before inviting him to try and do better in the 56th over of Australia’s innings. However he did not do better. He didn’t concede as many runs – but that was only because Cook had men on the boundary to turn fours into ones and because some of his deliveries were so bad the batsmen couldn’t reach them to hit. Cricinfo – the world’s most popular cricket website – was typng the words “long hop” and “full toss” with depressing frequency and when he did land the ball on the spot he got an ironic cheer from the crowd. He only bowled eight overs in the day (for 53 runs) and his dream had turned into a living hell. Unsurprisingly Cook did not risk him for the remaining four days of a drawn match and he vanished from the scene like a minor character in a film. Which is what he was.
The press reaction was predictable. I still remember the front page of the Daily Telegraph’s sport section showed a picture of Kerrigan looking terrified with a headline “LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER”. The “Cricketer” magazine gave him a rating of 0 out of 10 for his performance (actually I was surprised he got that high a mark!) while the cricket bible Wisden said Watson was “swatting away some undistinguished deliveries as 28 came from his first two overs” also adding “he (Kerrigan) was a peripheral figure for the rest of the match” (Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2014, page 362). Everyone was agreed on one thing. Kerrigan would go down as a footnote in history. Just like Alan Butcher (1979), Paul Parker (1981) John Stephenson (1989) Neil Williams (1990) and Alan Wells (1995) he would play the last Test of the season fail and be banished to county cricket forever destined to be no more than a historical curiosity.
Until Sunday that is when Kerrigan – now 25- was named in England’s 14 man squad for the second Test against India at Lord’s to general astonishment. How did that happen? Well events went in his favour. England’s best spinner Grahame Swann retired the next best two Monty Panesar and James Tredwell can’t get into their county teams. Scott Borthwick and Moeen Ali have been tried and found wanting and England’s spin cupboard is like old Mother Hubbard’s…only barer. Add to that the fact that England’s coach Peter Moores was Kerrigan’s coach at Lancashire until this year and you have the reasons for his recall.
So the question is: If Kerrigan plays will he do any better? Well some great players have recovered from awful Test debuts. Len Hutton scored 0 and 1 on debut in 1937.And he did all right. Viv Richards (scored 4 and 3 in 1974), Graham Gooch (0 and 0 in 1975) Marvin Attapatu (0 and 0 in 1990) and Shane Warne (took 1-150 in 1992) all had bad debuts and became good or great Test players. But the omens for Kerrigan are not good. Today’s Daily Telegraph has the headline “Nervy Kerrigan fails Test dress rehearsal” and mentions that “two of Kerrigan’s first three bals were full tosses” an alarming reminder of what happened back in August last year. Add to this the fact that India’s batsmen are the best players of spin in the world and it doesn’t look good.
So the questions start to be asked. Will he get picked? If he is picked when will Cook bowl him? Will he cope with the pressure? if he bowls full tosses and long hops and India’s batsmen hammer him like Watson did will he fall apart again? How much rope will Cook give him? Oh and the eyes of every cricket fan in the UK will be on him with a mixture of hope and fear. The pressure on Kerrigan will be huge. But that is why we call it Test cricket…

Time to end monopoly of ex player mafia

We’re going to start today with a history lesson. Let’s go back to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico generally reckoned to be the best ever and won by the best Brazil team ever including Pele, Jairzino, Tostao, Carlos Alberto and Rivelino. It was the first World Cup to be televised in colour in the UK although only 500,000 households had the required sets.It is hard to believe now, but England’s hopes were so high UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson called a general election for the day after the Semi Finals “it occurred to political commentators that a buoyant electorate would be less inclined to turf out the incumbent government if England reached the Final” (England – the Quest for the World Cup, Clive Leatherdale, page 139). But England were knocked out in the Quarter Finals on June 14th – and on the 18th Wilson lost the election. Amazingly some people think the football defeat played a role in the election result!
The TV coverage in 1970 featured something new – namely “the Panel” – a group of people who commented on the game before it started, at half time and after the match had ended. The panel appeared on both TV networks – the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Independent Television (ITV). The BBC used Ian st John, Bob Wilson, Don Revie and Brian Clough, while ITV had Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan, Malcolm Allison and Bob McNab – all past or present players or as I call them the ex player mafia (EPM for short).
A lot of things have changed since 1970. Everybody in the UK watches TV in colour, and in digital with multi channel content (in 1970 we had three channels). The Brazil team are their worst ever,and no UK Prime Minister would dare call an election during the World Cup and rely on England’s progress. We can share our opinions by using Facebook and Twitter or we can blog. But one thing has not changed in 44 years. You still have to be a member of the EPM to comment on games on TV. Only the names have changed. We now have Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Robbie Savage, Gordon Strachan and Glenn Hoddle among others. And both the BBC and ITV have studios in Brazil which in the case of the BBC is a waste of licence payers’ money*.
In my opinion a question that must be asked is why do you have to be a member of the EPM to comment on football on TV? One important side effect of this is the lack of women in World Cup TV coverage. The BBC have one woman in Brazil – Gabby Logan who is not in the studio – while ITV does not have quite as many. One of the excuses for this is you have to be a member of the EPM to comment on football but there are ex women players – Hope Powell for example – who could do the job. But it shouldn’t have to be ex players anyway. CLR James’ phrase “what do they know that only cricket know?” can also apply to football.
But the EPM monopoly does not just discriminate against women. It discriminates against 99 per cent of the people of the UK. Anyone who has watched a game in the pub, took part in an internet forum or listened to a radio phone-in will know the EPM does not have a monopoly of football wisdom. One example is the excellent Jennifer Doyle. Anyone who has read her blog or Twitter comments will know she produces more sense than 90% of the EPM. I’d rather read her than listen to Robbie Savage any day. And there are plenty of people like her. I think Sir Alan Sugar – an ex football club chairman – and Karen Brady – the managing director of a football club – are perfectly capable of talking sense about football.
Now I’m not saying the EPM should not be on TV at all. Some of them are excellent – Gary Neville, Andy Gray (before he made a fool of himself) and Alan Hansen for example. But some are awful – Phil Neville, Savage and Mark Lawrenson to name but three. Are we really saying no one outside of the EPM can be better than them?
As so often a look outside the football world can expose the EPM’s monopoly for the absurd anomaly it is. Another UK obsession is politics. The BBC has a weekly political debate show called “Question Time”. The panel on that is never all past or present politicians. Businessmen, agony aunts, pop singers, historians and journalists have all appeared. Even footballer Joey Barton has been on this programme. If a footballer can comment on politics why can’t a politician comment on football?
It is time for the EPM’s monopoly of football comment on TV to be called out for what it is. Blatant discrimination against 99% of football fans in the UK.In an ideal world football would be like “Question Time”. Some of the people talking about the games would be ex players. But some would not and at least one would be a woman. Who knows the mixture of “insider” and “outsider” perspectives might produce a better standard of debate.
Football on TV is dominated by a clique. Just like the UK Conservative Party. To do well in the Conservative Party it helps to be white male and an old Etonian. Yet Conservative MPs have been attacking football because of its sexism. When you are getting lectures on equality from the snobbish and elitist Conservative Party you know you have problems. It is time to start solving them. It is time to end the EPM’s monopoly.
*If anyone from outside the UK is reading this they might not understand the phrase “licence payers money”. The BBC is funded by a licence fee – currently £145.50 a year – that you have to pay if you have a TV. Even if you don’t watch a second of the BBC’s output. A lot of people call this “the TV poll tax.” A lot of people think sending a gang of ex footballers to Brazil for a month – when they could watch the games in the BBC’s Salford studios – is a waste of money.

My All-star class of 2014

The baseball season has just reached the half way stage – which means it is nearly time for the All-Star Game which this year takes place at Target Field home of the Minnesota Twins on July 15th. The great thing about the All-Star Game is how Major League Baseball (MLB) turn it into a festival by also having the Futures Game (which showcases the sport’s emerging talent) the Legends and Celebrity Softball Game and (my personal favourite) the Home Run Derby. The unique thing about baseball’s All-Star game compared to other American sports is that the teams are playing for a huge prize. The winning League – American or National – gets home field advantage for the World Series (which means games 1 and 2 plus 6 and 7 are played on their ground). How huge is this prize? Well as I know from bitter experience in 2011 – since this rule was introduced in 2003 only three teams that did not have home field advantage – the 2003 Marlins the 2006 Cardinals and the 2008 Phillies – have won the World Series. It is highly likely that a team from the winning League on July 15th will go on and win the World Series.
What I really like about US sport is its democracy. The fans pick the starting players for the All-Star Game (managers and players pick the rest of the rosters). And since the invention of the internet that means even fans from outside of the US can help pick the team. And so I have. These are the players I voted for starting with the team that will be first into bat on July 15th the visiting National League team.
First Base – Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona) – a good player in a poor team (for those that don’t know all 30 MLB teams must have a player in the All-Star Game – even if like the 1962 Mets or the 2003 Tigers they are rubbish) but Goldschmidt deserves his place over Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers.
Second Base – Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati) “Dat Dude BP” is a personal favourite of mine so I start him ahead of the Phillies’ Chase Utley.
Third Base – Pablo Sandoval (San Fransisco) – another personal favourite “Kung Fu Panda” pips the Mets David Wright for a starting slot.
Shortstop – Troy Tulowitzski (Colorado) – No contest. The best shortstop in the National League although the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons deserves a place on the roster.
Catcher – Yadier Molina (St Louis) – another no contest. The Brewer’s Jonathan Lucroy should be picked by the players coaches and managers though.
Outfielders – Carlos Gomez (Milwaukee), Yasiel Puig (LA Dodgers) and Giancarlo Stanton (Miami). I voted for Puig last year when a lot of people thought it was too soon for him to be an All-Star but if you’re good enough…and this year has proved that he is. Gomez is the best home run robber in the National League and Stanton is the main reason to turn up at that over priced fish tank in Miami (PLEASE put him in the Home Run Derby). The NL MVP Andrew McCutchen just misses out.
Now for the home team the American League:
First Base – Miguel Cabrera (Detroit) – the best hitter in baseball. Hopefully the White Sox’s rookie sensation Jose Abreu gets picked too but against Cabrera he has no chance.
Second Base – Robinson Cano (Seattle) – even though I hate him for turning up in the AL West and making my team’s division even stronger he still beats the Tiger’s Ian Kinsler for a place.
Third Base – Adrian Beltre (Texas) – I have a rule that one player at least from my team must be in the starting line up and this year it is Beltre. Biased?Yes. But aren’t we all…
Shortstop – Derek Jeter (NY Yankees). Yes its sentimental. But the “captain” deserves to start his final All Star Game. What price him being the MVP like Mariano was last year?
Catcher – Derek Norris (Oakland) – would have been the O’s Matt Wieters but he’s on the DL so Norris IMO is next cab off the rank.
Designated Hitter – Edwin Encarnation (Toronto) – usually a walk over for “Big Papi” David Ortiz but not this year. the toughest pick I had to make. Encarnation starts over Nelson Cruz of the O’s on the basis of a coin toss.
Outfielders – Jose Bautista (Toronto), Yoenis Cespedes (Oakland) and Mike Trout (LA Angels) Trout is the best player in baseball, Cespedes one of the most exciting and “JoeyBats” is a personal favourite.
Finally although fans don’t get to pick pitchers I wrote a list of pitchers who should take part. For the National League Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Jeff Samardzija (remember there HAS to be a Cub in the game!) Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. And for the American League Mashahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish (who in my unbiased opinion must start the game for the AL). Garret Richards, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Koji Uehara, Sean Doolittle and Felix Hernandez. How many of them get picked we must wait and see (the rosters are revealed on the 7th of July).
All that needs to be said now is enjoy the game. And may the best team win…