This could be a crunch week for Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has been leader of the Labour Party for less than three months but already the Party is in total chaos and this week could be the most critical so far. There is already talk of Labour MPs wanting rid of him and that could grow this week.

Today he finally succumbed to demands from his own Shadow Cabinet for Labour MPs to be given a free vote – that is to be allowed to make up their own minds rather than have to vote the way the leader tells them to – on the question of whether or not the UK should bomb the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron has called a vote in the UK parliament for Wednesday. It was clear that Corbyn would not be able to make his MPs toe the line and that a big number would vote against their leader. To stop the party from falling apart he had to allow the free vote.

To my mind Corbyn is right to oppose air strikes – which will not defeat IS will only kill/injure innocent people and make the UK even more of a terror target – but he was wrong not to allow a free vote. This is an issue of individual conscience. MPs should be able to make up their minds on this serious issue without having to toe a party line (this should also apply to Conservative MPs). But at least David Cameron has taken a position and stuck to it. Not only has Corbyn taken the wrong position he did not even stick to it – making him both wrong and weak – a fatal combination.

But it sums up the whole problem of Corbyn’s leadership – the vast majority of Labour MPs NEVER wanted him as their leader. And their fears have been confirmed. The problem with Corbyn is not his domestic policy – there is a chance that his anti austerity policies could be accepted by the time of the 2020 UK General Election – but two other factors. His defence and foreign policies will not be accepted by the UK public who already perceive him as being utterly incapable of defending the country or responding to a crisis. It does not help that he put a nuclear disarmer Ken Livingstone in co charge of the review of Labour’s defence policy – over the head of defence spokesperson Maria Eagle – which looks to critics like Corbyn is prejudging the review and has alarmed the majority of his MPs.

But the main problem with Corbyn is not his left wing policies but the fact that the man is totally out of his depth and has been promoted way beyond his ability. In 32 years as an MP he was never more than an obscure backbencher. No one cared what he did. Whether he sung the National Anthem or bowed to the UK Queen didn’t matter but when you become leader of one of the UK’s two big parties – and thus a candidate for Prime Minister – everything you do is scrutinised and you get attacked to trivial things. Former Opposition leaders Michael Foot and William Hague got ridiculed for wearing a donkey jacket and a baseball cap respectively. Unfair? Yes. But that is the UK Press for you. Plus the fact that Corbyn rebelled against Labour leaders over 500 times and therefore can hardly force his authority on his rebellious MPs.

And he is not popular with the public. The latest polls give him a satisfaction rating of minus 12. Usually new leaders get a honeymoon period with the UK public but this has not happened here. And Corbyn’s first electoral test is on Thursday with a by-election in Oldham West and Royton which should be a walk in the park for Labour. Firstly it has a majority of 14,738 or 34.17 per cent. Secondly the late MP Michael Meacher was a Corbyn supporter which suggests that this constituency should accept Corbyn’s views. Yet Labour insiders reckon at best they will win this seat narrowly and at worst suffer a humiliating loss to UKIP. In a seat like this defeat would be a disaster and shivers would go down the spines of Labour MPs.

Perhaps a humiliating loss to UKIP might be the best thing that could happen to Labour as it would make them realise that Corbyn is toxic and has no chance in 2020. But not only would they need to overthrow Corbyn but they would have to bypass their own members. For unbelievably Labour members who elected Corbyn still think he is doing a good job. So they would need to nominate one candidate who could then be elected unopposed – as Conservative MPs did in 2003 after they overthrew Iain Duncan Smith. Dan Jarvis – who has only been an MP since 2011 and is thus untainted by the Blair/Brown Governments – would be a good candidate.

This matters because the UK needs an electable Opposition which we don’t have. It is important because if there is not a good Opposition the Government gets complacent. The Conservative Government has its problems just now. A threatened strike by junior doctors(now suspended), Chancellor George Osborne’s humiliating defeat and subsequent U-turn on tax credit cuts and a bullying story involving former Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

Plenty for a competent Opposition to get their teeth into. But we don’t have a competent Opposition. For the sake of the country – and even the Conservative Party – we need one. And soon.

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Test cricket finally joins the 21st century

History will be made at the Adelaide Oval on Friday when the third cricket Test between Australia and New Zealand begins. The match will be played under floodlights with a pink ball instead of the traditional red ball. It will be the first day/night Test match in the history of Test cricket and the only question for most people is: Why has it taken so long?

It will not surprise people to learn that cricket lags behind other sports. The first floodlit baseball match took place on May 24 1935 when the Cincinnati Reds played the Philadelphia Phillies at Crosley Field. Floodlit baseball is now so common it is taken for granted. The last All Star game not played under floodlights was 1969 – and that was only because of rain on the previous evening – while the last World Series game not played under floodlights was Game Six of the 1986 series. The Cubs were the last non expansion franchise to play a home game under floodlights – in 1988. (Even to this day the Cubs are the only franchise to play home games on Friday afternoons rather than Friday evenings).

British sport of course lagged behind. Arsenal’s progressive manager Herbert Chapman installed floodlights in the West Stand at Highbury in the 1930s but the dinosaurs of the English Football League refused to sanction their use for competitive games. It was not until the 1950s that the League relented and the first floodlit Football League game took place on February 22 1956 when Portsmouth hosted Newcastle United. Again like baseball it is hard to imagine football not being played under floodlights.

Cricket was even later. The first day/night cricket match was literally an accident. In 1977 Kerry Packer signed 35 of the world’s best players for his World Series Cricket (WSC).The Australian authorities banned him from using their grounds so he had to use Australian Rules Football grounds which had floodlights. As WSC was struggling to attract crowds and because it would offer Packer – who owned the Channel Nine Network in Australia – a prime time TV audience on December 14 1977 the world’s first day/night cricket match took place. But if the establishment had let Packer use their grounds it could not have happened. Ironically it was day/night cricket that led to WSC becoming a success and forced the Australian authorities to capitulate to Packer. The first official day/night cricket match in Australia took place on 27 November 1979 when Australia played West Indies. Day/night matches gradually spread round the world but needless to say it took ages to reach England – until July 6 2000 to be exact.

And now it is Test cricket’s turn. But why has it taken so long? Fear basically. People fear it would be harder to see the ball in the dark. They have not been able to find a white ball that can last 80 overs (unlike the 50 overs needed for a one day international) which is why they are using a pink ball. Also it is the fear of change that affects cricket generally. Even a progressive player like Kevin Pietersen has come out against the idea saying that it risks “messing with the greatness” of Test cricket and that “Wickets change at night”.

Apart from the fact that his views show that current and former players should not be allowed to run a sport as they are far too conservative and stuck in the past there is a contradiction in Pietersen’s argument. Because in Test cricket the wicket is meant to change and one of the complaints about modern Test cricket is that the wickets do not change over the five days. Remember that this is a sport that until 1980 in the UK was played on uncovered pitches   which were exposed to rain and when that happened batting became a lottery (the “sticky dog”). Even today in the UK batting conditions vary depending on the weather. It is easier to bat in sunshine rather than cloud because the latter is reckoned to help the ball move about. Cricket is also the only sport where the toss of a coin can decide a result. If a pitch starts easy to bat on and gets worse it is a big advantage to win the toss and bat first. England captains from Len Hutton (1954) to Mike Denness (1975) and more recently Nasser Hussain (2002) have all been criticised heavily for making the wrong decision on winning the toss. This would not happen in football or rugby.

The point being of course that even if wickets do change at night as Pietersen suggests using fairness is a dodgy argument in a game so dependant on varying pitch and weather conditions. Besides in a five day/night match it is highly likely that both teams will bat at night which would even the game up.

But there is one fundamental reason why the day/night experiment is worth trying. Everywhere outside England attendences at Test cricket are going through the floor. Hardly surprising when most Test cricket takes place during the day and on weekdays when people are at work. Other countries also don’t seem to have the culture of “taking a day off work to watch the cricket and have a drink” that we in the UK have.

The fundamental truth is that sport needs to be staged when people are available to watch it – either live at the ground or on TV. It is not rocket science. As Rob Steen put it (in the article “And Lord’s said “Let There Be Lights””…in “Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack 1998, page 31) “Nothing can match the cultural significance of the pylon. Here is sport freed from the tyrannies of the working day”.

And football, rugby, baseball – even tennis in some countries – have freed themselves from the tyranny of the working day. Steen wrote that “the advent of Tests with supper intervals cannot be far away”. It shows how conservative Test cricket is that it has taken seventeen years for Steen’s prediction to come true. Now whether day/night Test cricket boosts attendences we will have to wait and see. But surely putting it on when people can see it at least gives it a chance. Despite what the likes of Pietersen thinks it is a case of “adapt or die”. Day/night Test cricket may not save the sport. But at least it gives it a chance….

Don’t ban Russia from the Olympics. Ban all countries.

So Russia has been suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after the shocking report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which accused Russia of state sponsored doping and also deliberately destroying 1,417 doping samples. Equally sinisterly it suggested that any Russian athlete who did not agree to take drugs would not be considered part of the national team – in effect told to cheat or they would not be selected. There is now a danger that Russian athletes will be banned from competing in the Rio Olympics next year. I suspect that will not happen – the rest of the world won’t want to offend Vladimir Putin – but in any case it is not only Russia that should be banned from the Olympics – it is all countries that should be banned from the Olympics – both in 2016 and forever. It is the very existence of national teams that makes the drugs problem worse.

People will say that I am mad but the fact is sport and nationalism is an utterly toxic mix. One suspects that the reason the Russian doping programme existed was as a propaganda tool – they wanted to gain victories for mother Russia and prove Russia’s superiority over the West. This is not the first time a rotten regime has done this. Every dictator in history –  from Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin to East Germany to Putin among others – has used sport – especially the (male) football World Cup and the Olympics – for propaganda purposes. And why? Because the competitors are representing their countries. Time for a change.

If I were in charge of the Olympics all countries would be banned. Athletes would compete merely as individuals. Only individual sports would be allowed. Team sports like football, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball would be out. Even team events in individual sports (like the relays in athletics) would not be allowed. In tennis doubles teams where the players are from two different countries – for example the current best women’s doubles team of Swiss Martina Hingis and Indian Sania Mirza – would be allowed to play together. Teams would compete under the Olympic flag and medalists would hear the Olympic anthem instead of their own*. TV, radio and newspapers would be banned from even mentioning the competitors’  nationality which should be totally irrelevant.** The Olympics should also be hosted permanently in Athens to stop a bidding war between would be host cities.

Banning national teams would not stop doping – plenty of individuals do it from all countries – but it might stop state sponsored doping as the Olympics would not be a propaganda tool for dictatorships anymore. But there is another reason why nationality should be taken out of sport. In my opinion we cannot get racism out of sport as long as it is based on national teams because by definition national teams are racist. Not only that but sport has been used by racists for their own ends. The classic example being ex Conservative minister Norman Tebbit who said immigrants to the UK should support England at cricket to prove their loyalty to the UK (this became known as the “cricket test”). But surely individuals should be free to support whoever they want?

And in individual sports – and in global sports like the Premier League in the UK – people do support whoever they want to. The big football clubs in the UK and Europe have fans all over the world. So do tennis stars like Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. And that is the way it should be.

And yet another reason why national teams should be got rid of is that they are out of date. They worked perfectly well when people stayed in the same country all their lives and married people from the same country. Neither happens now so you get dual nationals – people who either have parents from two different countries or were born in one country but moved to another country when they were young. These people can play for more than one country but get vilified whatever choice they make. People who were not born in the UK but have a parent who was and thus are able to play for the UK and choose to do so are called “Plastic Brits” – a horrible phrase – while footballer Sydney le Roux gets stick for choosing the US over Canada and would have got stick had she made the opposite choice.

Frankly sport needs to wean itself off national teams. In the ideal world individual sports and club teams should dominate and the latter should be able to field anyone they want. In fact any club that restricts  itself to signing players from its own country – or even bans players from its own country like Athletic Bilbao with its evil basque only policy – should be banned. For ever. End of story.

People say politics should be kept out of sport. That is impossible as politics are part of society and so is sport. People who think that confuse politics with nationalism. Which needs to be taken out of sport as soon as possible. And a useful side effect of getting national teams out of sport would be no World Cup and no European Championship in football – which means no need for ghastly FIFA or UEFA as the clubs could – and should – run the Champions League themselves. A world without FIFA? Now that is a good idea…

*As happened at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when athletes from some countries (including the UK) competed in defiance of requests by their governments to boycott them. These countries were not allowed to use their own flag or national anthem.

**This should also apply to TV radio and newspaper coverage of domestic football leagues like the Premier League. Most fans don’t give a toss about a  player’s nationality – I know I don’t – and the media should reflect this.

Why Proudman is both right and wrong on sexism in sport

In September this year feminist barrister Charlotte Proudman made the news when she stood up to sexism. She sent a professional LinkedIn request to fellow lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk who responded by accepting her request. However Carter-Silk also praised her “stunning picture” on LinkedIn. That was blatantly sexist – he would not have said that to a man – and also sinister as Carter-Silk is 30 years older than Proudman. Proudman quite rightly called him out for his sexism and in return copped a load of sexist abuse which sadly is not a surprise in the UK. The Daily Mail called her a “feminazi*” and she revived death threats by e mail. All for exposing a guy for his sexist and perverted remarks. Pathetic.

Now a less brave person would lie low for a while. But not Proudman. Instead she has gone where very few women dare to tread by challenging gender segregation in sport. After Michelle Payne became the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup horse race in Australia Proudman wrote an article on the Daily Telegraph’s website entitled “Michelle Payne’s stunning victory proves why sexual apartheid in sport must end”. She was advocating mixed sport – where the sexes play with and against each other. Now Proudman is not the first person to advocate mixed sport – before she became leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett wrote an article in the Guardian’s “Comment is free” section titled “Give Waynetta Rooney** a chance” making the same points as Proudman is now. But are they right? Well yes and no.

First of all where they are right. No woman should be banned from competing with men solely because of their gender***. The FIFA/English FA rule banning mixed competitive football has to go. The UK government must repeal the exemption clause for sport that was put into both the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and its successor law the 2010 Equality Act. I know why it was brought in – in 1975 the UK government had a majority of only 3 seats and applying sex discrimination law in sport in 1975 would have been controversial probably not made it through Parliament and might have caused the Sex Discrimination Bill to be defeated. In effect sportswomen were sacrificed to protect the rights of other women. But this is 2015 not 1975. In an age where consenting adults are free to do more or less what they want together the ban on mixed sport is a ridiculous anomoly.

That said Proudman and Bennett are wrong if they want all sport to be mixed gender. Coercive integration is as bad as coercive segregation. Plus it could have unintended consequences for women as two sports that are in theory mixed but in practice are highly gendered show.

The first example is the sport that led to Proudman’s article horse racing. As Proudman herself wrote Payne was only the fourth female jockey to ride in the Melbourne Cup an event that is 155 years old. This as Proudman says is due to institutional sexism. Payne herself said that “it is such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off”.

Another example is Formula One motor racing. In theory this sport is mixed. In practice the sport’s only female driver Susie Wolff retired yesterday. Not that she drove in a race – she was only the Williams test driver. Even so sexists said that she only got the test driver’s job because her husband Toto Wolff is a shareholder in Williams. There has not been a woman driver in Formula One since Lella Lombardi of Italy in the 1970s. Lombardi is the only female driver to score a World Championship point – actually half a point as the Spanish Grand Prix of ironically 1975 was cut short by a crash that killed five spectators. If a woman could drive in a Grand Prix in the 1970s why can’t one do it now? The answer of course is that there is no reason and the only reason there is not a woman driver in Formula One is institutional sexism.

My point is that if only mixed sport existed women would be kept out because of sexist prejudice. If that happens in horse racing and Formula One where women have shown they can compete what chance would they have in a sexist sport like football?

Luckily there is a simple solution. Separate events for women only should remain. But what is now the men’s events should be open to all competitors. This would leave the talented female with a choice. She can choose to compete in the women only events or choose to compete in the open events against men.**** In the case of say football if a male football club ever wanted to sign a woman – as a Mexican club wanted to do with Maribel Dominguez in 2004 – they would be fully entitled to. If she turned out not to be good enough well as Liverpool fans know with Mario Balotelli that can apply to male players too!

Some people say that is unfair to men. But in sport this has always applied in the case of age. Sport has under 16, under 18 and under 21 teams from which older players are excluded. However young players can play in older age group teams and even adult competitions. The classic example being Wayne Rooney who made his Premier League debut n 2002 aged 16. The idea of Rooney being banned from the Premier League because of his age would be absurd. Why shouldn’t it apply to gender?

To my mind this is the best way to approach gender equality in the playing side of sport. Coercive segregation is blatantly discriminatory and should have no place in a civilised country. But coercive integration – as horse racing and Formula One have shown – leads to mixed sport only in theory as sexist prejudice and the absence of women’s events means there are fewer women in these sports than gender segregated sports. Giving women the opportunity to compete with men – while keeping the protection of female only events as an insurance policy against sexism – is the best way for sport to go.

*”Feminazi” is a combination of feminist and Nazi. The very fact that people who want human beings to be treated equally are being compared to people who sent millions to the gas chambers shows how pathetic and ridiculous that phrase is.

**”Waynetta Rooney” was the name of a fictional sister of England football star Wayne Rooney that Natalie Bennett used to illustrate the difference in wages and opportunities between male and female footballers.

***The one exception I would make (as I wrote in previous post “Why Rousey v Mayweather must never happen”) is fight sports like boxing and wrestling for reasons I explained in that post.

****This is not my idea. UK sports lawyer David Pannick (in his 1983 booklet “Sex Discrimination in Sport”) advocated this policy.

Why the Carneiro affair can only be bad for Chelsea and football

Chelsea’s women’s team play the most important game in their history next week when they play host to two time former champions Wolfsburg in the second round first leg of the Women’s Champions League. In many ways Chelsea have a good record – by UK football standards anyway – when it comes to women. They have invested in their women’s team who have won the League and Cup double in England this year. The team has a female manager in Emma Hayes – the only female manager in Women’s Super League (WSL) 1 in 2015. While in Marina Granovskaia – owner Roman Abramovich’s right hand woman – they have one of the most powerful women in UK football.

So in theory Chelsea are a progressive club. But there is a big cloud on the horizon. The Eva Carneiro affair – which I wrote about earlier – rumbles on. Since I wrote about this affair it has been announced that not only is Carneiro taking Chelsea to an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal she is also taking individual action against manager Jose Mouriniho saying that Mouriniho victimized and discriminated against her by banishing her from the Chelsea bench back in August. This means Mouriniho would be forced to appear at an industrial tribunal in person to explain his behavior.

The only way this could be avoided is that if the two sides settled out of court. If I were Abramovich I would do anything to settle this – even sacking Mouriniho if that is what it takes. Because if this goes to an industrial tribunal this will not be good for Chelsea – or football for that matter. The reason for this is that football – and sport – lives in its own world and under its own rules. But an industrial tribunal follows the rules of society not the rules of football or sport.  And history shows that in a dispite between the rules of sport and the rules of society there is only one winner – and it is not sport. (Why do you think FIFA has a rule that a club can’t take them to court?). Four examples will show what I mean.

In 1977 the Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer signed up 35 of the world’s best cricketers for his rebel World Series Cricket. The International Cricket Conference (ICC) outraged banned the players from official cricket. Packer responded by taking the ICC to court. The judge Justice Slade ruled in favour of Packer saying that the ICC by banning the players were inducing them to break their contracts with Packer which was illegal. The rules of cricket had been trumped by the rules of society.

Something similar happened to football in 1995 when Jean-Marc Bosman a journeyman Belgian player went to the European Court saying that clubs demanding fees for players out of contract plus the restrictions imposed on foreign players at the time were against European Union (EU) law. The court agreed with Bosman and both transfer fees for out of contract and restrictions were declared illegal. FIFA and UEFA still moan to this day about the Bosman ruling but they were only learning what the ICC had learned back in 1977. The rules of football had been trumped by the rules of society.

Again in 2004 the same thing happened to handball. The German Handball League were taken to the European Court by Slovak player Maros Kolpak who said that rules saying that teams were limited to two non EU players (Slovakia was not an EU member state at this time) were discriminatory. The court ruled in his favour.The handball authorities moaned but again the rules of sport had been trumped by the rules of society.

The last case is similar to the Carneiro case but in cricket. In 1998 Theresa Harrild took the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to an industrial tribunal for sex discrimination. Harrild was a receptionist at the ECB. She had an affair with – and got pregnant by – a colleague at the ECB Nick Marriner who then abandoned her. The ECB put pressure on her to have an abortion and she was given £400 to pay for the abortion which she had. When she returned to her job she suffered from depression and was eventually sacked in her own home by ECB deputy chief executive Cliff Barker who offered her more money and made a pass at her. The tribunal found in her favour partly because the ECB had such contempt for the law they did not even bother to turn up at the tribunal. But again despite the ECB’s arrogance the rules of cricket had been trumphed by the rules of society. More to the point cricket had been dragged through the gutter and been exposed as sexist and unfit for civilised society (to be fair to the ECB cricket has cleaned up its act since).

And that is why it is in football’s best interests that this never gets to the tribunal. It is highly likely that football will be dragged through the gutter be exposed as sexist and unfit for civilised society. There will be a lot of muck exposed in this case. In the interests of football there must be a settlement out of court. If that means Mouriniho has to be sacrificed for the greater good of football in my opinion so be it.