Political Games

A blog post written by Dennis Freedman in “The Quint” caught my eye. In the post he criticised the governing body of world cricket the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its inconsistent decision making in regard to weak and strong countries. He rightly condemns them for suspending Nepal – a small cricket country –  for government interference with its cricket board but not punishing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and (especially) South Africa – all big cricket countries –  for exactly the same offence. Freedman is quite right to attack the ICC for its inconsistency on this issue but he misses out on a fundamental point. Not only is  the punishment wrong but so is the ICC’s insistence that governments keep out of the affairs of cricket boards. To be fair cricket is not the only sport that does this – FIFA among others do too – but they are all wrong. And here is why.

Governments govern a county. Like it or not sport is part of a country. It is part of society. It cannot – or should not – be detached from society. If a government interferes in other parts of society – which it does – surely it should interfere in sport too?

Now in an ideal world a government would not have to interfere in sport because governing bodies would be competent and reflect their society. But they are not. In the case of cricket the reason governments in Nepal, Pakistan and India (and in India’s case the Supreme Court) interfere in the affairs of their cricket boards is that they are corrupt. In India for example the Supreme Court ordered Narayanswami Srinivasan to step down as Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) while they investigated a spot fixing scandal. Incredibly that did not stop him becoming ICC chairman. He was eventually forced out of his ICC role too and his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Chennai Super Kings was suspended for two years after the Supreme Court found out that his son in law was guilty of placing bets on the 2013 IPL. The BCCI was corrupt but if the Supreme Court had not investigated no one would be the wiser.

Same with FIFA. I’ve gone over FIFA’s corruption problems before but the corruption would not have been exposed if the FBI in America and the Swiss authorities had not investigated it. Can corrupt bodies police themselves? No. Someone has to do it for them. That means government agencies and courts.

Now it is true to say that sport in the UK, US, Australia and Europe (well Western Europe anyway) does not have as much of a corruption problem. The problem here is racism, sexism and homophobia (as this week’s sexism scandal in UK cycling and the resignation of head coach Shane Sutton shows). While that it is true that these problems are in society as well as sport at least society outside sport is trying to do something about it. For example last year a report by Lord Mervyn Davies recommended a target of 33% women on boards of UK FTSE 100 companies by 2020. Has anybody suggested that 33% of employees or board members in UK football, cricket or rugby clubs be female? No. What a surprise. They should. Meanwhile in 2014 then head of BBC television Danny Cohen announced a ban on all male panels on BBC television programmes. But surprise surprise that did not include sports programmes like “Match Of The Day” which still has the same old male, stale panel (even ESPN baseball has Jessica Mendoza). Why were all male sports panels not banned?

The other reason governments need to interfere in sport is accountability. Human beings being what we are we cannot control ourselves. If we are allowed to do whatever we like we will do. FIFA became arrogant and corrupt because it was accountable to no one. Football, cricket and cycling are full of sexism and racism because they are accountable to no one. The UK MPs expenses scandal of 2009 showed that politicians can’t behave themselves and that Parliament needed an independent regulator. The gas, electricity and TV industries in the UK are regulated independently to make sure they are fairly run and prices are kept down (In theory. The energy regulator is awful but that is a different issue). Former Lib Dem politician founder of the homeless charity Shelter and former England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) member Des Wilson once wrote “Is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be almost unique in its ability to be so?”

And he is right. Sport is a part of society must play by the rules of society and must be regulated by society. The way the ICC has treated Nepal is a disgrace. It should stop. And sport should submit to government regulation. The party is over.

If Lucha Underground wants to grow it must get rid of intergender matches

In case any one is interested I’m also on Twitter (@bainalan05). And last Wednesday this is what someone said about me on Twitter:

“This guy is the biggest idiot on Twitter!”

“What an idiot!”

Both tweets were by Thomas Barnes (@ThomasTheRef). So what on earth had I said to annoy him?. Here is the tweet that so annoyed him :

“If it were up to me #LuchaUnderground would be shut down for promoting #domesticabuse.”

For those who don’t know (which will be 99% of the UK population for reasons I will explain) Lucha Underground is a weekly TV wrestling show which is shown on the ElRey network in the US – but does not have a UK TV deal (which is why 99% of the UK population won’t know about it). It is based on Mexican Lucha Libre wrestling and has attracted former WWE stars Ray Mysterio, Chavo Guerro and John Morrison. It has attracted a cult following in the US probably as a “protest vote” against the current WWE product which a lot of people see as stale.

So far so harmless. So why do I want it shut down, and why do I say it promotes domestic abuse? Simple. Lucha Underground uniquely among TV wrestling shows has regular intergender matches. That means men and women fight each other either in singles matches or in their trios (three man tag) matches. The people who run Lucha Underground boast they are ahead of the curve when it comes to intergender matches and they even  boasted to WWE officials about how forward thinking the intergender matches are. But they are not. Men (even pretending to) hit women is not suitable entertainment for a TV audience in a civilised country. It might have been in the 1970s (when UK films like “Get Carter” and even James Bond films “Diamonds Are Forever” and “The Man With The Golden Gun” included man on woman violence) but it isn’t now. So far from being “forward thinking” they are going back to the 1970s.

As I wrote on Twitter I would shut it down unless it agrees to stop intergender matches. (I wrote in previous post “Why Rousey v Mayweather must never happen”) how the US authorities could get intergender matches banned. But what I will do now is to explain why it is in the best interests of Lucha Underground to ban intergender matches.

Lucha Underground reminds me of both Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). ECW was an alternative wrestling promotion to WWE and WCW which existed from 1993-2001. UKIP I’ve wrote about in other posts. The similarities between ECW and Lucha Underground are obvious. Both took advantage of the unpopularity of established wrestling Promotions at the time (WCW and WWE in 1993, WWE now). And both tried to popularise a novel style of wrestling (hardcore wrestling with ECW intergender matches with Lucha Underground). ECW won a cult following but it soon suffered from the ” plateau effect” where only a minority of wrestling fans wanted to watch hardcore wrestling which caused it’s audience to plateau at a low level. The hardcore matches repelled as many as they attracted.

UKIP is similar in UK politics. Far more people agree with their policy of getting the UK out of the EU than would vote for UKIP.
I want the UK out of the EU (I’ll explain why in a future post) but have never voted UKIP. Why? Because Nigel Farage their leader has vile policies like banning people with HIV from entering the UK and too many of his party members make fools of themselves with racist and sexist remarks. As a result at last year’s election UKIP suffered from the “plateau effect”. Apart from Douglas Carswell’s personal vote in Clacton UKIP did not get more than 33.8% of the vote in any constituency last year. And in the UK’s first past the post electoral system 33.8% of the vote nearly always does not win you a seat. If Farage had moderated his rhetoric and his members had behaved themselves UKIP might have done better than nearly 4 million votes and one seat.

And this is where the analogy with Lucha Underground comes in. I am convinced that intergender matches split wrestling fans down the middle and totally repel non wrestling fans. In effect Lucha Underground is alienating half of its potential audience which is not clever. Since (apart from the intergender matches) I have read nothing but good things about Lucha Underground from anyone not called Jim Cornette I would like to watch it and make up my own mind. But I will not watch male v female violence – even acted. So they have lost me. And how many other people?

It will also cost them if they want to grow – as any business must. Plenty of cable networks in the US (like Spike TV that used to show Raw) are VERY anti male on female violence. Wrestling writer Dave Meltzer has said that “a lot of potential TV partners either would turn on Lucha Underground because of the intergender matches or would do so if pitched the show”. In other words intergender matches are costing them fans and perhaps a future TV deal.

David Bixenspan (February 3rd 2016) wrote that ” if it’s a legitimate hurdle to Lucha Underground’s business interests, then it’s probably best to abandon the gimmick”. I would say it is definitely best to abandon intergender matches. If they do not I am convinced that they will suffer from the same “plateau effect” that ECW and UKIP did. Wrestling has a small audience to begin with. If you limit your already small potential audience you are committing suicide. If Lucha Underground want to grow (and I assume they do) intergender matches must go.

Why Parks is wrong about the Scottish Cup

There is a big event in Scottish football on Sunday when Rangers play Celtic at Hampden Park in the Semi Final of the Scottish Cup – only the second derby between the Glasgow rivals since Rangers were liquidated and relegated to the fourth tier of Scottish football in 2012. But I saw something interesting in today’s Daily Record about the other Semi Final between Hibernian and Dundee United that I would like to write about.

Neither Hibs or United are in very good form at the moment. United have been stuck at the bottom of the Premiership for most of the season, have only won two of their last seven games are eight points adrift of safety and to all intents and purposes are doomed to relegation. Hibs at one time were close enough to Rangers to suggest they might deny the Ibrox club the top spot in the Championship and automatic promotion to the Premiership. But they have only won two games out of eight during which time they have lost the League Cup Final to Ross County and seen their automatic promotion hopes go up in smoke.

Gordon Parks is scathing about both teams in today’s Daily Record.  Under the headline “Arabs (United’s nickname) and Hibs have winged it to final after absolutely awful form” he starts the article by saying that “Dundee United and Hibs are in danger of bringing the Scottish Cup into disrepute” and adding that the Scottish Cup “is a competition which, clearly, no longer sifts out the best from the rest”.

But what Parks does not realise is that a knock out competition which is unseeded like the Scottish Cup is not designed to be dominated by the best. In fact that is why UK football fans like knockout football which produces both shock results and unlikely success stories. Knockout football does not guarantee the best team wins all the time as Atletico Madrid knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League last night proves. In an unseeded format like the Scottish Cup small clubs can have a long run because big clubs knock each other out. Scottish third tier side Gretna in 2006 are the best example of this.  They made the Final without playing a top division club. This was partly because Clyde beat Celtic 2-1 in a sensational giant killing but mainly because in unseeded draws the elite clubs knocked each other out. Eventual winners Hearts beat three fellow top division clubs en route to the Final – Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and Hibs. Aberdeen had earlier put out Dundee United, and Hibs had earlier put out Rangers. So apart from Celtic Scotland’s big clubs had knocked each other out thus letting Gretna into the Final by the back door. Its called the luck of the draw!

Something similar happened in England 40 years ago in1976. Second Division Southampton won the FA Cup shocking hot favourites Manchester United in the Final. But to get to Wembley Southampton had only beaten one top division club and that was in the last 64. In the Quarter Finals they beat Fourth Division Bradford and in the Semi Finals they beat Third Division Crystal Palace. Again although Bradford and Palace beat one top division club each – Norwich and Leeds respectively – the main cause of the minnows success was the draw. As Rothmans Football Yearbook 1976-77 put it in its FA Cup review (page 484) “the giants were killing themselves”.  And the reason they were doing that was they were drawn against each other.

Ironically what Parks said about Dundee United and Hibs in the Scottish Cup could also be applied to this season’s FA Cup. Two of the last four – Crystal Palace and Watford  – have been in dreadful League form this year. Palace have won one Premier League game in 2016 Watford have won two. They have beaten five Premier League clubs between them en route to the Semi Finals (including Arsenal and Tottenham) two more than they have beaten between them in the League in 2016. (And one of those three wins was Watford beating Palace 2-1 on February 13th). But no one in England has said that Palace and Watford are bringing the FA Cup into disrepute or that they have “winged it to the Final” (Palace and Watford play each other in the Semi Finals so one of them will be in the Final).

In fact it is the unexpected success stories that make knockout football what it is. No one in England would have tipped Palace or Watford to be FA Cup finalists pre season. Nor Dundee United or Hibs in Scotland. But the purpose of cups is not to “sift out the best from the rest” – that is what the League is for. Cups are there to provide excitement and unpredictability. And the fact that Palace, Watford, Hibs and Dundee United despite their poor form can still win their respective Cups proves that the unpredictability of the Cup is still there. And that Gordon Parks is wrong.

Why TV 14 should not come back in the WWE (and why it won’t)

Since 2008 World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) television has been rated Parental Guidance (PG). Before 2008 – during the “Attitude Era” and the subsequent “Ruthless Aggression Era” the WWE was rated TV 14. Now a lot of wrestling fans don’t like the current PG rating and want to go back to the Attitude or Ruthless Aggression Era but (a) they are wrong and (b) there is no chance of it happening anyway.

First of all people who regard the Attitude Era as better are guilty of the same mistake as the people who think British football was better in the 1970s. Both suffer from selective memory and only remember the good points rather than the rubbish. Yes there were good points about the Attitude Era – Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and Mankind – but with probably the exception of Mankind they would have been stars in any era.  But there was a lot of rubbish in the Attitude Era too and here is some of it.

Val Venis. Vince Russo. The Godfather. Vince Russo. A woman giving birth to a hand. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Perry Saturn – becoming friendly with a mop. Vince Russo. A wrestler – Al Snow –  coming to the ring with a mannequin head. Vince Russo. Katie Vick. And did I mention Vince Russo?

But by far the worst aspect of the Attitude Era was its treatment of women. The reduction of female talent to being judged on “T & A” rather than wrestling ability started here. Evening gown, bra and panties matches, women wrestlers posing in Playboy and being forced to have breast enhancement surgery before they got into the WWE all first occurred in the Attitude Era. As did Jerry “the King” Lawler and his appalling “puppies” catchphrase.

And when women were not treated as sex symbols they were being beaten up by men. In one horrific incident Lita was beaten up by two men. Not just any two men but Austin and Triple H. That would be ridiculous for a male wrestler to go through never mind a woman. True Chyna did win the Intercontinental title during this period but it just showed that the attitude of WWE to women in this period was bewilderingly contradictory. By having women in inter gender matches, taking chair shots from Stone Cold and Triple H and being put through tables I presume they were trying to show they were as tough as men. And yet they also showed them parading around in their underwear at the same time. In effect they were being both feminist and sexist at the same time! Thankfully both T & A and inter gender matches have been consigned to the bin of history and the WWE is finally giving women’s wrestling a fair go as Sunday’s Wrestlemania showed.

People say the current PG era is rubbish and yet most fans (this one included) are impressed by the WWE’s developmental show NXT. And guess what? NXT is PG. While it is clear that WWE has problems if its development show is better than the main roster – imagine if Minor League Baseball was better than Major League Baseball! – being PG is not the problem. What they need to do is for owner Vince McMahon to retire – he is 70 after all – and hand over control of WWE to son in law Triple H (who runs NXT) and make the main roster like NXT. If NXT is PG and good the main roster could be like that too.

Now why WWE won’t get rid of PG. To my mind Vince McMahon never wanted to have the Attitude Era in the first place. At the time the Attitude Era started (which most people would say was sometime in 1997) WWE was getting stuffed in the ratings by WCW and was in danger of bankruptcy. I suspect McMahon’s view was “If I’m going down I’ll go down fighting”. Had there not been head to head competition with WCW McMahon would have just kept doing the same thing he’d been doing since the mid 1980s. Although ratings are low now there is not the head to head competition there was in the 1990s. Further more sex, nudity and men beating up women would be totally unacceptable now and would make the WWE toxic and be hated in the press (especially the UK press and if the UK press turn against you you are in trouble).

Some people think that the USA Network – which shows RAW in the States – might force WWE to make changes if ratings keep falling. Unlikely. McMahon could just move RAW to another network. After all RAW started on USA, moved to TNN (later Spike TV) and then moved to USA again. And there is another option. The WWE has its own network – called the WWE Network. It would not surprise me if in the future RAW became Network exclusive in the States (like the Pay Per Views already are). Then McMahon would not need to listen to what the TV networks think.

So basically stop pining for the Attitude Era. Like 1970s UK football a lot of it was rubbish, too violent and totally sexist. And also like the 1970s it ain’t coming back…