Tag Archives: Wayne Rooney

Who will rule Europe?

June is “Europe month” with the UK’s EU referendum dominating the political news (I’ll get to that in a future post) while in sport the main event is Euro 2016 the European Men’s football championship which starts in Paris on Friday.

The first thing I’ll say is that the tournament is far too big now with 24 teams in it. From 1996 to 2012 the Euros had a perfect format. Sixteen countries playing in four groups of four teams with the top two in each group going through to the last eight and the tournament then being played in a knockout format. Sixteen teams meant most of the big teams qualified but minnows still had a chance (Slovenia in 2000 and Latvia in 2004 being the best examples). No one – except disgraced former UEFA President Michel Plattini – thought the Euros needed expansion but there you go. In the ideal world now that Plattini has been banned from football UEFA should do with him what WWE did with Chris Benoit and wipe him out from history.

But they won’t so we are stuck with 24 teams which means four third place teams will qualify and that it takes 36 games to knock out 8 teams. With that all said what might happen in France during June and July? Let’s take a look at the groups.

Group A – France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland. It is a joke that host nations get easy groups at major tournaments and on paper this group is weak. Not that France need the help. France unlike most countries do well at home. They are the only country since 1978 to win the World Cup or Euros at home. In fact they have won them both – the Euros in 1984 and the World Cup in 1998. Plus their current team is loaded with talent – Paul Pogba, Kingsley Coman, N’Golo Kante the unsung hero of Leicester’s title win, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Anthony Martial among others. Add one of the best keepers in the world in Hugo Lloris and you have a formidable side. Add to that the fact that coach Didier Deschamps had the good sense to leave underachieving trouble maker Karim Benzema out of the squad and France have a great chance of going all the way.

They have little to fear from the rest of Group A. Romania might have been unbeaten in qualifying but drew half their games and finished behind Northern Ireland in a poor group, Switzerland lost twice to England in qualifying and Albania are finals debutants. Second place will be between Romania and Switzerland and if they both beat Albania and draw with each other they will both likely go through.

Group B – England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia. England are the team with the youngest average age in the tournament.Young stars like Harry Kane, Ross Barkley and Deli Ali could shine. Two problems for England are do they play record scorer Wayne Rooney and can the defence which has looked dodgy cope? Quarter Finals at best.The group is not easy. 2018 World Cup hosts Russia have improved since sacking Fabio Capello (which probably won’t surprise England fans) and Slovakia beat Spain in qualifying, Germany in a friendly last week and put holders Italy out of the 2010 World Cup so could be dangerous. The big danger could be Wales. Wales are a team of journeymen who depend too much on Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale and could be out of their depth. But the game against England on June 16th will be a British style Cup tie which will be a classic banana skin for England. If they get through that they should top the group with Russia and Slovakia following them.

Group C – Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland. As World Cup holders Germany should be favourites but struggled – by their standards – to qualify losing in Poland and not beating the Republic of Ireland home or away. In friendlies they have lost in France, at home to England and at home to Slovakia. But its Germany we are talking about, most of the 2014 team are still there and anything short of a semi final is unthinkable. Poland whose star player Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandovski is well known in Germany are the main threat. Ukraine and Northern Ireland – who like Wales did well to qualify but could be out of their depth – look below the quality of Germany and Poland and the third placed team in this group could miss out.

Group D – Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia. Spain are two time defending European Champions still have Sergio Ramos, Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas in their squad plus David de Gea the best goalkeeper in the world. However I think they peaked in 2012 when they thrashed Italy 4-0 in the final to win Euro 2012. They will do better their pathetic defence of the World Cup in 2014 but won’t win the tournament. The rest of the group is unpredictable.  Croatia are always dark horses, the Czechs always overachieve in the Euros and Turkey had a sensational run to the Semi Finals in 2008. Croatia would be my favourites for second place but there are no no hopers in this group.

Group E – Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden. This group could contain teams that will underachieve. Belgium on paper are scary  but some big names had poor Premier League seasons – Eden Hazard did not score a League goal until April, Christian Benteke was 32 million down the drain at Liverpool and keeper Thibaut Courtois got sent off twice. On paper they are formidable but they are less than the sum of their parts and I don’t think they go past the last eight. Italy could be another big name to underachieve. They are short of goals and got hammered 4-1 in a friendly in Germany. But they still have Gigi Buffon one of the best keepers in the world and usually do better in tournaments than their talent suggests they should (though this did not apply in the last two World Cups). And nothing is guaranteed with Sweden and the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a Republic of Ireland team who played Germany twice in qualifying without losing both capable of causing upsets in the tournament ‘s toughest group.

Group F – Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary. This group is unlikely to produce the winner but it is the stage for Europe’s best player Cristiano Ronaldo. However great players do not best great teams. Ronaldo has helped Portugal to semi finals in the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012 but they went no further and that will be the case again. Austria could be a surprise team. They won nine out of ten in qualifying – in a group that included Russia and Sweden. They have a star player in David Alaba plus another Leicester hero in Christian Fuchs and if they maintain their qualifying form they could emulate teams like Turkey (2008) and Czech Republic (1996, 2004) who have overachieved at Euros. Of all the debutants Iceland (population 300,000) are the most unlikely (because of the size of the country). But in another sense they are not surprising qualifiers. The book “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski (pages 238-260) claimed that Iceland is the most fanatical football country in Europe. A higher percentage of Icelandic people watched the 2010 World Cup on TV than any other country in Europe even though they had no team in the tournament. I suspect that with their own team in the event the audience will be even bigger. I think they will get to  the last 16 in third place ahead of Hungary which would be a remarkable achievement.

If I were to predict the tournament I would say France, Germany and Spain are a class above with Portugal, England and perhaps Italy as Semi Final candidates. Poland, Sweden and Austria could cause surprises but Belgium could be surprise underachievers. And if I were to predict a winner I would say France.

What I sincerely hope for is that the tournament passes without incident. France suffered two terrorist attacks last year – one of them at a France v Germany friendly. Just keep your fingers crossed that there is no terrorism and that Euro 2016 can rise above its ridiculous format to give us a memorable month of football.

 

Advertisements

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.