Tag Archives: ICC

Girls are still being banned from sport – because they are girls 

I’ve mentioned in past posts the 1978 Theresa Bennett case in the UK – where a 12 year old girl wanted to play for a boy’s football team and the Football Association (FA) in its infinite (lack of) wisdom banned her from doing so. Theresa Bennett went to court for her right to play football and initially won. The FA would not give up, appealed the verdict and won because the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 had a clause saying banning girls from competing with or against boys in sports where the average woman is at a disadvantage to the average man (this is still in UK law – in the 2010 Equality Act – today). Then Master of the Rolls Lord Denning actually said this in his judgement : 

Women have many qualities superior to those of men, but they have not got the strength or stamina to run, to kick or tackle, and so forth.

Oh dear, what would he have made of Euro 2017 if he had lived to see it? It was an absolutely terrible judgement which the current standard of women’s football has rendered ridiculous. But that was in 1978. A 2017 Theresa Bennett would be able to play in her boy’s team as the FA allow mixed football until the age of 18 (there should not be any restriction except on grounds of ability but that is a different issue). 

You would think that in 2017 no girl would be banned from a sporting event simply because she was a girl. And guess what? You would be wrong. I have just discovered a case that occurred last month where a girl had to go to court for her right to play in a male team – and she lost. In 2017. To make matters worse as there is no girls team it meant the girl in question could not play in the event at all. 

The sport is cricket and the event is the Maccabiah – colloquially known as the Jewish Olympics as it brings together Jewish athletes from all round the world. 14 year old girl Naomi Eytan was picked for the Israeli junior team at the Maccabiah – but the organisers of the event refused to let her play. Like Theresa Bennett 39 years earlier she had to go to court for her right to play and like Theresa Bennett 39 years ago she lost. A Tel Aviv District Court ruled that Eytan was ineligible for the Israeli team because of her gender. Therefore – and despite being selected for the team on merit – she was banned from the youth team and even worse she was unable to take part in the Maccabiah at all as there is no female cricket competition at the Maccabiah. 

Even more extraordinary the same arguments that stymied Theresa Bennett in 1978 were still being used 39 years later. The Maccabiah citied a passage in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Gender Recognition Policy that basically said that because of significant advantages in size, strength and power enjoyed (on average) by males over females from puberty onwards it is necessary to have separate competition categories for males and females in order to preserve the safety, fairness and integrity of the sport”. 

But the hole in this argument in regard to Eytan is – as I mentioned above – the Maccabiah did not provide a separate competition for girls and women. Surely in that case a girl like Eytan should have the right to try out and be selected for a boy’s team. The Maccabiah also used safety as an argument saying that people can be hit in the head in cricket therefore it would not be safe for Eytan to play. I always find it fascinating that the powers that be in sport so often have more concern for the safety of girls/women than boys/men. Boys and men can be hit in the head too. If the sport is too dangerous for girls and women it is too dangerous for boys and men. 

And here is the clincher. Israeli Cricket Association chairman Steve Leigh said that Eytan had been selected on merit and could stand up to it. “There was absolutely no worry on our part regarding Naomi’s safety – not in the slightest”. Surely that should have swayed the court. There is no sane team that would select someone who was not up to it. Teams want to win. Teams will not select players that are not up to the job as that would hinder their chances of winning. Plus the Maccabiah does not get much publicity outside Israel so there was no danger of Eytan’s selection being a publicity stunt. There was no reason to ban her and it is incredible that 39 years after the Theresa Bennett case cases like this can still happen. And the Maccabiah are hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the world. 

The photograph above shows how ridiculous the Maccabiah banning Eytan is. The little girl in the number 10 shirt is Jackie Groenen – one of the stars of Holland’s recent victory in the women’s Euro 2017 tournament. At the time that this was taken Groenen was twelve years old. The boys she was playing with and against were 14-15 years old. As can be seen from the photograph they were far bigger than Groenen but the Dutch allowed her to play. In fact according to her father – who took this photograph – she “embarrassed” the boys. The boys in the opposition team look absolutely terrified of her. Despite the age and size disadvantage Groenen faced no one seemed concerned about her safety despite the fact that there is physical contact in football (unlike cricket). Nor did the fact that the average man has a strength advantage over the average woman matter as it is clear that Groenen – as anyone who saw her at Euro 2017 knows – is anything but average when it comes to football. It was clear that she was in the team on merit and therefore deserved to be so. The Dutch – unlike the dinosaurs who run the Maccabiah – realised that.

Surely the first rule of sport is that it is a meritocracy – if you are good enough you should be in the team. Ten years ago with Jackie Groenen (who is now 22) the Dutch realised that. Today even the FA realise that. The organisers of the Maccabiah did not realise that. The ban on Naomi Eytan playing in the youth cricket tournament was a disgrace. To ban someone from playing the sport she loves because she is a girl is shameful. You would think that in 2017 this would not happen. But you would be wrong.  The organisers of the Maccabiah should be ashamed of themselves. 

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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.

Time for fair play for cricket’s minnows

In 1974 the Football World Cup in West Germany had 16 teams. Three of them were minnows who were out of their depth. Zaire scored no goals in three games and lost 14, including a 9-0 defeat by Yugoslavia. Their performance was used to ridicule black African football for years to come (they were the first black African team to play at the Football World Cup). Haiti broke Italy’s sequence of 13 internationals without conceding a goal but still lost their three games scoring 2 goals and conceding 14, including a 7-0 defeat by Poland. While although Australia only conceded five goals and gained a point they failed to score.

While those teams were out of their depth traditional football powers like England, Spain, France, the Soviet Union and Uruguay did not qualify. A lot of people thought it was ridiculous that the three minnows were there when the big countries mentioned above were not. UK football journalist Brian Glanville called Zaire “an African team with little right to be there at all”. People called for Africa, Asia and North America to lose their guaranteed places in the Football World Cup.

To FIFA’s credit (this is 1974 remember!) they did not remove the Afro-Asians guaranteed World Cup places. FIFA were well aware if football was to go global it had to allow African and Asian teams access to the World Cup. And only sixteen years later a black African country Cameroon got to the quarter finals of the World Cup and but for two Gary Lineker penalties would have got to the Semi Finals and embarrassed England. It is fair to say that if FIFA had over reacted to the mismatches of 1974 football might have remained a European/South American sport and Major League Soccer in the US would not exist nor would the African players who grace the elite male Leagues of Europe (including of course Riyad Mahrez star of Leicester’s amazing season and surely a dead cert to be England’s Footballer of the Year).

Now to another sport. In 2007 the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean had 16 teams. And again some were out of their depth. Bermuda lost games by 257 and 243 runs, while Holland lost games by 229 and 221 runs. But unlike the 1974 Football World Cup there were upsets. On one day – March 17 – there were two sensational upsets when Bangladesh and Ireland defeated and eliminated India and Pakistan respectively. And were those triumphs celebrated? No. Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack 2008 (page 1015) said that “the untimely departure of the two subcontinental giants robbed the tournament of several luminaries”. Well so what? Sport is all about giant killings – which is why Leicester are getting so much support. No one has a divine right to win. Incredibly the minnows in cricket got criticised both for being hammered and for causing upsets. Matthew Engel in Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack  2007 (page 18) called the expansion of cricket an “outright menace”. That remark was cricket’s equivalent of the Glanville remark mentioned above and should have got the UK press banned from any sports event held outside of the UK. How in the hell can it be a menace to have more countries playing a sport?

But unfortunately the International Cricket Council (ICC) unlike FIFA back in 1974 over reacted. The next two Cricket World Cups (2011 and 2015) were cut to fourteen teams and the 2019 one will be cut to ten. Incredible. Most other sports are expanding, cricket is going the other way. Cricket has a dreadful image problem. It’s reputation is that it is snobbish and elitist and out of touch with the real world – a sort of sporting equivalent of the UK Conservative Party. Cutting the number of teams in the World Cup does nothing to de toxify the sport. If anything it makes the reputation appear true.

Nor does the Twenty Twenty World Cup – currently being played in India – treat the minnows any better. In theory there are sixteen teams but in practice there are only ten. The big eight get a bye and the other eight teams have to fight for two places in an event that is a qualifying round in everything but name. But six of those eight had to qualify to get to India. In theory they qualify for the World Cup but in practice they qualified for another qualifying round while the big countries were actually playing warm up games during the Qualifying Round – showing arrogant contempt for the minnows.

The World Twenty Twenty really should be split into four groups of four with the top two in each group going into either knockout quarter finals or two further groups of four either way would produce the semi finalists. The ICC won’t do this for fear of either producing mismatches or having big teams knocked out. Yet mismatches are a short term price to pay for the longer term goal of expanding the sport while giant killing is part of sport. England, Italy and Spain all exited the 2014 men’s football World Cup early and the event did not suffer. No team or player should be bigger than the sport.

Cricket likes to think of itself as a model of fair play. Well it is time for the sport to practice what it preaches. It is time for fair play for cricket’s minnows. For contracting the World Cup is anything but fair.

Time to get Test cricket out of the dark ages

After four of the dullest days of cricket one could imagine – on an abominable pitch that rendered all bowlers useless – the first Test between Pakistan and England dramatically came to life yesterday when a mixture of complacency and the bowling of debutant Adil Rashid who recovered from harrowing first innings figures of 0-163 the worst figures ever recorded by a Test debutant to take five second innings wickets caused Pakistan to collapse to 173 all out leaving England to score 99 runs in 19 overs to win. They had reached 74-4 off 11 overs but could not go any further. The umpires took the players off for bad light and the game was left drawn.

People reading this who are not cricket fans will wonder “what is bad light”? A stoppage for bad light happens when in the umpires opinion it is too dark to play cricket safely. Fair enough one might think. But the ridiculous aspect is that the stadium in Abu Dhabi has floodlights. The purpose of floodlights is of course to enable sport to be played in the dark. How on earth can it be too dark to play a game under floodlights? Imagine that happening in football or baseball. It can’t unless the floodlights fail.

Now until fairly recently England would probably have won yesterday. That is because the umpires would not have taken the players off the field. Instead they would have asked the England batsmen if they wanted to go off for bad light. With England on the verge of victory they would have refused to go off stayed on the field and gone on to win. This is how England got their last away win against Pakistan back in 2000. The umpires offered England the light but they refused stayed on the field and won a famous victory which they would not have got under today’s rules as the umpires would have taken them off.

So why did the International Cricket Council (ICC) change the rule? Because bad light was being used as a tactical strategy. If a team was winning they batted on – the classic example being the Karachi Test in 2000 mentioned above. But if a team was in trouble they would take advantage of the offer and go off. The best example here was South Africa against England in 2004. The Proteas were 290-8 and heading for certain defeat when the umpires offered them the light and the batsmen gleefully accepted. Had South Africa been winning the game they would have stayed on. So the ICC removed the decision on bad light from the players to the umpires.

But this had made the situation for spectators and TV viewers even worse because they are losing more cricket than under the old rules because on those occasions where the batsmen would have stayed on the umpires are taking them off. Yesterday being a classic example. And the reason this is happening is that the ICC got it wrong. The problem with bad light is not that teams were using it as a tactic to get out of trouble but that it exists at all.

I am struggling to think of another sport where bad light is a factor. Only the Wimbledon and French Open tennis championships come to mind. The ridiculous thing being that only Test and first class cricket are effected by bad light. Fifty over and 20 20 cricket involving the same players goes on regardless of light and weekend amateur cricketers play in far worse light than professional cricketers do!

The main problem with bad light is the damage it does to the image of Test cricket. Test cricket is fighting to survive outside England and Australia where the people prefer fifty over and 20 20 cricket. The sight of the game being stopped because of bad light in a floodlit stadium will not help Test cricket’s image. Frankly it makes it look pathetic and out of date. No wonder the public outside England and Australia prefer short form cricket.

So it is time for the ICC to take action. They should order umpires that play must go on in any light regardless of how dark it gets. Play should only stop when it is raining or if there is a risk of lightening that could strike a player. Otherwise the show must go on. It is 2015. The idea of sport bring stopped because it is dark is ridiculous. It is time for Test cricket to get out of the dark ages get in line with the 21st century and play in all light. There is a saying called “Adapt or die”. If Test cricket does not begin to adapt to the modern world and get rid of bad light stoppages it will die. And frankly it would deserve to.

Moeen Ali, sport and politics

As well as writing this blog I sometimes comment on stories on the Daily Telegraph’s website. The debates can be “interesting” but I’ve never caused so much trouble as I did with my comments on the Moeen Ali affair. So I’m using this platform to explain my views on this issue.
For those who don’t know Moeen Ali is an english muslim cricketer who during the third Test between England and India came out to bat wearing wristbands saying “free Gaza” and “save Palestine”. The ECB who run english cricket said he’d done nothing wrong but the ICC the sport’s equivalent of FIFA banned him from wearing them. To my mind as a human being concerned about the death of children he had every right to comment on that issue. But the Telegraph’s readers slaughtered him coming out with that old chestnut “sport should be kept out of politics”.
There is one problem with this argument. Sport can’t be kept out of politics. The late great Nelson Mandela would confirm this. As did ex Pakistani cricketer Asif iqbal when he said “Sport is politicised the moment nation states take the decision to enter the sporting arena under their national banners” (Anyone but England, Mike Marquesee, page 250) Or Jennifer Doyle when she said “there is no such thing as an apoltical space” (The Sport Spectacle, Olympic Problem, August 2013). Sport is part of the real world. So is politics. They can’t avoid each other.
That raises the question: Why does the sporting establishment want to keep sport out of politics? What I am going to say now is just my theory. It might or might not be true.
I think – and most people would agree – that the sporting establishment can be racist, sexist homophobic, authoritarian and corrupt. Some governing bodies might be all of the above. As Margaret Talbot* says “sport remains one of the most conservative and inflexible areas of public life, lagging far behind other social structures”. Jean Williams has said “In England at least the topic of women’s sports should be more politicised” (A Game for Rough Girls? page 150). And Des Wilson ** asked “is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be unique in its ability to be so?”. Wilson has hit the nail on the head. The sporting establishment does not want to be accountable for its behaviour so by spreading the myth that sport and politics should be kept apart it prevents itself from suffering its worst nightmare. An independent regulator for sport as suggested by William Buckland in his book “Pommies” (pages 264-5) something that other industries face. Put simply the sporting establishment wants to do whatever it likes.
There is one irony though. By choosing dictatorships to host sporting events – from the 1934 World Cup to this years’ Winter Olympics – the sporting establishment causessport to be politicised as dictators from Mussolini to Putin use sports events as their “political plaything”. The sporting establishment in my opinion likes dictatorships – no pesky free press or protesters to worry about – so much so they don’t even realise they are bringing politics into their own events – the one thing they say they don’t want to do.
As for Moeen Ali yesterday he took six wickets to help win the Test match for England while being cheered by the crowd. That suggests either the public forgave him for his protest – or that they thought he had done nothing wrong in the first place. Either way the bigots of the “Torygraph” and the ICC are out of touch with the British public. Not for the first time…
*She was speaking at a European Women and Sport conference in 2000, but what she said could still apply today.
** Des Wilson is an interesting man. A New Zealander who came to Britain in 1960, among other things he founded the housing charity Shelter, stood as a Liberal candidate in Hove in 1973 and February 1974 and was the campaign manager of the Lib Dems in 1992. He was also a director of BAA plc and has written books on poker. He took a job at the ECB in 2003 but resigned a year later when he made the quote I used above. Described as an “anti-establishment radical” it will surprise no one that he is not now a Lib Dem and has been scathing about Nick Clegg (although he left the Lib Dems long before 2010). What does surprise me is that he took a job with the conservative and establishment ECB in the first place and it was no surprise to me he didn’t last long.