Tag Archives: 2016 Olympic Games

Time sport paid for its own parties

The Paralympics ended last Sunday ending Brazil’s two year spell in the spotlight. The country had hosted the 2014 men’s World Cup and Rio hosted the recent Olympic and Paralympic games. Whether it was a good idea for Brazil to host the two biggest events in sport back to back only that country can answer. But it is interesting that the number of cities willing to host the Olympics is falling.

An example of this happened this week. The city of Rome withdrew it’s bid for the 2024 Olympics when newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi refused to support the bid. Rome is the third city to withdraw from the race to host the 2024 Olympics. In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid citing a lack of public support. In the same year the German city of Hamburg withdrew after 51.6% of the city’s voters rejected the bid in a referendum.

But it is not just the 2024 Summer Olympics that suffered from a lack of bidding cities. The 2022 Winter Olympics suffered from the same problem. Four out of six bidding cities ended up withdrawing (Lviv, Stockholm, Oslo and Krakow). The latter withdrew after the bid was rejected in a referendum – just like Hamburg – while Stockholm and Oslo withdrew because of public opposition. Lviv withdrew because of the Ukrainian crisis and intends to bid for 2026. For the 2022 games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were left with only Beijing – the eventual winners – and Almaty in Kazakhstan.

But why are cities queueing up NOT to bid for the Olympics? The reason is fairly simple – cost and the building of new “white elephant” sporting facilities. The recent Rio Olympics cost $12 billion. The last Winter Olympics in Sochi cost an eye watering $31 billion. The 2004 Olympics in Athens cost €9 billion and is reckoned to be a factor in Greece going bankrupt. This is nothing new. Montreal finally paid for the 1976 Olympics in 2006! Most host cities – the exception being Los Angeles in 1984 – make a loss.

But why is that when the Olympics make a profit? The answer is fairly simple. The host city has to pay the costs of the games not the IOC. But of course the host city does not get any of the profits the IOC does. And after the disaster of 2004 cities are beginning to learn this. Twelve cities bid for the 2004 Olympics. After Rome’s withdrawal only three cities are still in the race for 2024 – Los Angeles , Paris and Budapest – and the Hungarian capital is considered very much the outsider in the race. It is clear that politicians and voters have rumbled the Olympics realising that a successful city gets 16 days of a sporting party and a debt hangover that lasts for years and even decades.

So what needs to happen? The answer is fairly obvious and applies to both the Olympics and the men’s football World Cup. If FIFA and the IOC want to have these big parties they should pay for them – and give half the profits to the host city/country. Since both FIFA and the IOC say they are non profit organisations why can’t they pay for their parties? They also need to moderate their demands. FIFA forced both South Africa and Brazil to change their laws to accommodate their sponsors. Meanwhile the IOC’s list of demands for Olympic host cities was leaked to Norwegian newspaper VG before Oslo withdrew its bid. The number of demands ran to 7000 pages and included such gems as meetings with the King and a VIP cocktail party! No wonder the Norwegians baulked – most countries would at this arrogant nonsense. No wonder the IOC could not get a democracy to bid for 2022 and had to choose between China and Kazakhstan. No wonder three cities have pulled out of the race for 2024.

It’s time that arrogant FIFA and IOC were chopped down to size. And the only way to do it is for Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest to withdraw from the race for 2024 leaving no bidders to host them. The West should announce that if FIFA and the IOC do not pay for the events and give the host city/country a share of the profits not only will Western countries not bid to host the Olympics or World Cup but they will not take part in them. That would be a disaster for FIFA and the IOC as it could mean that their sponsors – mainly Western companies – pull out and if they do the whole house of cards could collapse.

More and more voters and politicians realise that all they get from hosting the Olympics or the World Cup is a mountain of debt. Therefore they don’t want to host the biggest events in sport. Unless FIFA and the IOC realise that and start coughing up for their parties and giving the hosts a piece of their profits they might find out that only dictatorships like Russia, Qatar, China and Kazakhstan are willing to host them. And quite frankly if that becomes the case it serves them right.

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Stick to your season

Time was that in August the only international cricket that was played was in England. All the other Test countries – mainly in the southern hemisphere – were in winter hibernation unless they were touring England.

That started to change in 1992 when Sri Lanka – where the climate was suitable for cricket most of the year – hosted Australia in August. The main reason they did that was the traditional winter months of November to March were overcrowded and countries found it hard to fit in tours to Sri Lanka in that time. For a long while after 1992 Sri Lanka hosted Test series in August and September but they were the only other country to do so (apart from England obviously).

But that has totally changed. This August – apart from England v Pakistan and Sri Lanka v Australia – there have been Test series in Zimbabwe (v New Zealand), West Indies (v India) and South Africa (v New Zealand). Of the ten Test teams only Bangladesh have not been in action this month. To think that twenty five years ago in 1991 the only Test teams that were in action where England, West Indies and Sri Lanka and the only country that Test cricket was played in was England! 

But there are consequences of doing this. This past week saw Test matches scheduled between West Indies and India in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and between South Africa and New Zealand in Durban. Both Tests were the first played in these cities in August and both were total disasters. In Port-of-Spain only 22 overs were bowled-all on the first day – while in Durban only 99.4 overs were bowled-all in the first two days. So combined the two Tests lasted for 121.4 overs – lees than two days – and seven of the ten scheduled days were completely washed out. A total mess.

And an avoidable mess. The game in Port-of-Spain was arranged for Trinidad’s rainy season. So is anyone surprised when it rained? And although Durban has below average rainfall in winter the numbskulls that run South African cricket obviously don’t know that when it does rain in winter it is heavier than in summer. An example : Between 1899 and 2007 there were 135 floods at Worcestershire’s New Road ground – which is on the banks of the River Severn – but only nine occurred during the prime cricket months of May to August. And sure enough Durban was hit by record floods in late July and the wet weather continued into early August.

And another problem with playing out of season is that the grounds are not prepared for rain because they usually play in the summer where there is less of it. In Durban’s case the outfield was relaid recently which made the outfield soft and harder to dry. It was relaid at the end of May after the Comrades Marathon – soon enough if the cricket season stuck to its normal time but too late for a Test starting in August. This meant although there was no rain after overnight on the second day the combination of a soft wet outfield and a weak sun – again Cricket South Africa should know the sun is weaker in winter meaning it takes longer to get rid of water – meant that despite three dry days the outfield could not dry and the Test limped to a watery grave.

And the same thing happened in Port-of-Spain. Again a spell of rain again the outfield could not cope. Again the reason is the people that run the ground are not used to rain since they usually play in the summer when it doesn’t rain so when they were moved to what is normally the off season they were not prepared for it. The rain in Durban and Port-of-Spain is mother nature’s way of telling cricket to stick to its season. 

There is another reason not to play in your off season. The public is not interested. The attendances in both Durban and Port-of-Spain were tiny. Hardly surprising considering cricket was competing with the Rio Olympics where both the West Indies (Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson) and South Africa (Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya) had significant athletic successes and in South Africa’s case the start of the Rugby Championship featuring the Springboks, the Wallabies, the All Blacks and Argentina – a big deal in rugby mad South Africa. The public were not ready for cricket. Again the authorities should know this. When Australia tried playing winter Tests in 2003 and 2004 the public didn’t want them and the attendances were tiny so Australia had the sense to abandon them and go back to playing in summer.

The fact is cricket has an off season for a reason. In most countries the weather in August is simply not suitable for cricket. Playing cricket in South Africa and West Indies in August is about as sensible as playing baseball at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium in January. The weather and the attendances in Durban and Port-of-Spain should convince the cricket authorities in both countries that off season cricket is a disaster. Cricket has been a summer sport throughout its existence. It needs to stay that way. It needs to stick to its season.

Too many sports? 

So today the “Greatest Show on Earth” the 2016 Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The Opening ceremony is tonight and tomorrow the sport begins*. Over the next 16 days the athletes will be competing for 306 titles in 28 sports (up from 302 titles in 26 sports in London 2012 with the addition of golf and rugby sevens – I’ll get to them). Now you might think 28 sports are too many but guess what? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) don’t agree. 

On Wednesday the IOC announced that five new – well four new and one returning sport – will be added to the Olympic programme. Baseball/softball (the only sports that have been in the Olympics before from 1992-2008), Karate, Surfing. Skateboarding and Sport Climbing will all join the Olympic party in Tokyo in 2020. Between them the new/returning sports will bring 18 more events and hundreds more athletes to the Games. They will not replace any of the existing sports. 

That is not really a surprise as before baseball and softball were voted out in 2005 the last sport to lose Olympic status was polo which was last an Olympic sport in 1936. The Olympics are a bit like what critics say about the England cricket team. It is hard for a sport to get into but even harder to get out of.

Now you might think a baseball fan I would be pleased that baseball is back in the Olympics. Well no actually. The reason is the same reason that I don’t think men’s football should be in (see previous post “Olympic football. Women yes men no”). The best baseball players will not be there as unlike the NBA in men’s basketball (which is in its off season during the Olympics) or the WNBA in women’s basketball (which plays in the NBA off season and takes an Olympic break) the MLB players won’t be there as the 162 game season is too long to take a break (and in any case if the 2020 Olympics are held at the same time of the year that the last Tokyo Olympics were in 1964 – October – that means it will be in the postseason and no franchise would release their star players in that scenario). So while I would love to see Texas Rangers star pitcher Yu Darvish pitch for Japan in his own country it will not happen. And in my opinion unless a sport makes its best players available it should not be in the Olympics. 

Softball I have a different problem with. Namely that it exists at all. No I don’t think the sport should be banned it should be rebranded as women’s baseball. Which as it uses bases, balls and strikes and the aim is to score runs it is. Rebrand it as women’s baseball give it the same rules as it’s “big brother” – same size ball, same style of pitching, same distance between bases for example –  and I would have no problem with it.

Of the other sports Karate, Surfing, Skateboarding,  and Sport Climbing I have no problem with them assuming that they have women’s events too. Except that with thirty three sports there are too many. So what sports would I replace?

Just to be controversial I wouldn’t replace any. But what I would do is get rid of the male halves of sports where the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the calendar but the women’s event is. Three examples of this are football basketball and baseball where for the men it is not the most important event but for the women it is. And the main example of this is the most controversial of the two new sports in 2016. 

The appearance of golf in Rio might be a success. But it has had a rotten build up. Fourteen male golfers – including all of the world’s top four – have withdrawn from the games. Ostensibly this is because of the Zika virus but it is funny that hardly any athletes from other sports have withdrawn. Even US goalkeeper Hope Solo – who thought of pulling out – has turned up although she copped a barrage of abuse from Brazilian fans on Wednesday.  And all the elite women golfers have turned up. 

Which could lead to a major injustice. While golf’s place in Tokyo is secure who could blame the IOC if they voted out a sport whose star players clearly don’t give a toss. At least the male star players don’t. But the women do.  For women’s golf the Olympics are the pinnacle. Why should innocent female golfers pay the price for the arrogant selfishness of their male counterparts? 

Answer : They shouldn’t. So if I ran the Olympics I would say that every sport must have a women’s event but does not to have a men’s event. There is a precedent for this. There are two disciplines that are already women only – rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming – so why shouldn’t there be more? 

So while there are too many athletes at the Olympics I would not cut any sports. Instead I would cut out the men’s events in sports where for the men the Olympics are not the pinnacle but for the women they are. That means no men’s baseball, basketball, football, golf or rugby. 

This idea of mine has two advantages. It cuts down the number of athletes without cutting down the number of female athletes. It would reduce the gap between the number of male and female athletes (in London there were 10768 athletes taking part 5992 (55.6 per cent) were male and 4778 (44.4 per cent) were female). Maybe getting rid of male events where the Olympics are not the pinnacle will lead to gender equality at the Olympics. And isn’t that what everyone wants? 

*Typical of football’s arrogance the football events started on Wednesday (women) and Thursday (men).

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.

A memo to the UK FAs : Please let these women go to Rio

So England’s women gave Norway “a hell of a beating”. Well they didn’t really. They were poor in the first half and relied on their keeper Karen Bardsley to bail them out. But once captain Steph Houghton scored an unexpected equaliser England took control and the winning goal by Lucy Bronze (a defender by the way) was magnificent and would not have been disowned by a Premier League player. So onwards and upwards and with the unimpressive hosts Canada in wait there is a 50-50 chance this story continues past Saturday.

But there is a cloud on the horizon. As I wrote in another post the top three European finishers in this event go to the Olympics in Rio next year. There are four European teams left in the event.  England France and Germany are already in the Quarter Finals and Holland play defending champions Japan tonight – and are expected to lose. If they do there will be three European teams left and the issue of Olympic qualification will be sorted out.

Except it won’t be. Because England can’t take part. FIFA have given the other three UK FAs – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – a veto over the women’s participation in the Olympics. And guess what? They have vetoed it. This is absolutely shameful.

Now the reason the three FAs have given for this is that they are scared that if the England women took part in the Olympics as Team GB they would lose their independent voice in FIFA and lose their own football teams. That is the reason they give But it is false. FIFA have said there is no threat – and male and female GB teams took part in the 2012 Olympics and the four UK teams are still there. I don’t think there is any reason to fear that one.

They are not scared of losing their separate national teams. What they are scared of is losing their privileges. The five star hotels. The luxury flights. The right to travel around the world. The right to have a veto over the laws of football (the four UK FAs have four votes out of eight on the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which controls the laws of football). The right of the UK to provide one of FIFA’s vice Presidents. That is what they are scared of.

The funny thing is that these three FAs claim to support women’s football. Tripe. Utter tripe. If these idiots cared about women’s football they will recognise that the Olympics are vital to women’s football. The last Olympics (with its 73,000 gate for GB V Brazil and its 80,000 gate for the Final) proved this. Any FA that cared about women’s football should snatch at the chance that last night’s victory might have given England.

The UK Government should intervene. If the English FA won’t “go it alone” and ignore the other three then all male professional football in England should be shut down from August 1st. It is easy enough done. All male football grounds in England need a licence to be able to stage matches. it would be easy to take the licences away. Faced with a catastrophic loss of income and pressure from the big English clubs  the FA would buckle – and very quickly.

If Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland don’t agree Swansea should be thrown out of the English Premier League. Wales should not be allowed to be British when it suits them and Welsh when it does not. I admire Swansea but they have to be sacrificed for the greater good. The Welsh have their own League. If they don’t want to have a GB women’s team they should not be taking part in the Premier League.

Also Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland should be pulled out of the men’s Euro 2016. Easy enough done. All you need to do is take the passports of the players away so they can’t go abroad. All three have a chance of being at Euro 2016. I reckon even the threat of them not being able to take part will make the three FAs back down.

These plans are draconian – but would not be needed. I suspect even the threat would force “the three dinosaurs” to back down. The reason they give for not letting the women go to the Olympics is fear of the loss of privileges. If you threaten them with just that they will back down.

Last month UK Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Tracey Crouch – a former player now a coach – as Sports Minister. She clearly cares about women’s football. Now is her chance to put her money where her mouth is. She should say that England’s women MUST go to the Olympics next year. She should persuade. She should threaten. She should bang heads together. She should NOT take no for an answer. For the good of women’s football in the UK do it Tracey. These women (assuming Holland don’t upset the applecart and beat Japan) have EARNED the right to take part in the Olympics. The outdated, sexist, parochial and pathetic Scottish Welsh and Northern Irish FAs should NOT be allowed to take that away from them. if they do, their men should have Euro 2016 taken away from them. See how they like something that means a lot to them being taken away …

Olympic football? Women yes, men no.

In a spectacular U-turn that even Nick Clegg would be proud of the English FA has decided that they want Team GB to field both men’s and women’s football teams at next year’s Olympic Games. Having spent the last three years since London 2012 saying that they would not send teams to Rio why have the FA suddenly changed their minds?
One suspects they are trying to put pressure on Premier League clubs to let England field their best players at this summer’s European Under-21 Championships. For the FA have jumped a fence here. Unlike 2012 when Team GB qualified as hosts, both the men and the women have to go through qualifying to get to the Olympics. And for the men the qualifying event is the European Under-21 Championships which are played in the Czech Republic from June 17-30. In the past the FA have found it very difficult to get England’s best under-21 players to play in this event as Premier League clubs (understandably) want their best young players rested. Already there are rumours that Tottenham Hotspur would rather like their wonder kid Harry Kane to spend the summer resting in preparation for next season rather than playing three (at least) tough games in the Czech Republic. The FA might hope that the carrot of Rio might persuade Spurs to let Kane play and thus help under-21 coach Gareth Southgate to do well at the event. For England to book Team GB’s place at Rio (if they want to take it up) they would have to finish in the top two of a group that also contains Italy, Portugal and Sweden.
But should men’s football be in the Olympics anyway? The simple answer is no. The men’s event is an Under-23 tournament with three over age players allowed (which is why there are rumours that Steve Gerrard, Frank Lampard and – oh please no – racist scumbag John Terry might appear as over age players if Team GB qualify). Why FIFA is allowed to get away with this is a mystery. Every other sport at the Olympics has its best players taking part. Men’s football is the only exception. We know why – FIFA don’t want the Olympics to be a second World Cup which it would be with full national teams – since FIFA don’t run the Olympics. FIFA’s approach to football is rather like Mr Burns’ approach to Springfield’s energy supply in the Simpsons – both are determined to maintain their monopoly regardless of what other people think. But until FIFA allows full national teams men’s football should not be in the Olympics.
It shows how seriously FIFA takes women’s football that the women’s event does have full national teams. As the women do not make the money men do they are quite happy for the Olympics to be a second World Cup. The England women have a far harder task to get to Rio. For reasons best known to UEFA this year’s Women’s World Cup is also the Olympic qualifying event for Europe. That means England have to be one of the three best European teams in Canada in order to qualify for Rio. The problem here is that on current form Germany and France are way ahead of the other European teams leaving six teams chasing one spot. That scenario means England would have to finish above two traditional powers of the women’s game – Sweden and Norway. A glance at the top three scorers in France’s Division I Feminine shows how tough that will be. Apart from France’s Eugenie Le Sommer the other two names are Sweden’s Lotta Schelin and Norway’s Ada Hegerberg. If that is not hard enough they also have to finish above three emerging teams in Holland Spain and Switzerland. It will not be easy.
However the FA should only have entered the women and not the men. Women’s football needs the Olympics. The men do not. In fact because of the historical discrimination women have suffered in sport there should be a rule brought in that all Olympic sports should have women’s events but don’t have to have men’s. This way sports whose male versions do not need the Olympics – basketball springs to mind as well as football – would just be represented by women. it would also mean that softball – which needs the Olympics – could be reintroduced at Tokyo 2020 while baseball – which does not need the Olympics – could be left out. We keep saying we want to encourage women’s sport. Allowing sports whose women’s events need the Olympics but their men’s events do not to just have women’s events would help women in those sports while at the same time reducing the number of participants at future Olympics – an aim the IOC has in order to stop the Olympics getting too big. As far as football in the Olympics goes, it should be a case of women yes – and men no.