CBS treats Americans as simpletons!

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/belgium-knocks-usa-out-of-world-cup/

Such patronising language for Americans and foreigners alike.

One of the biggest sporting events of the year! 28 inch sphere! The anchor even speaks at such a patronising speed.

During the game, I followed NFL, NBA and MLB twitter accounts and despite the bullshit talked by some political commentators, these all-American games were completely involved in the event constantly posting about the game and accepting tweets from players watching.

Just for note, this, the USA vs Belgium or Germany vs Ghana were my favourite games of the World Cup.

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Sport in Qatar: A Means to an End

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long, long time but new surprises keep popping up making it more difficult to write something final or at least definitive. (I’m out the country right now and the long summer doesn’t afford much sport). Qatar of course is trying to make its name culturally primarily through sport. While in Doha there is the Islamic Museum worth a visit for the building alone, a new Damien Hirst exhibition and various other artistic endeavours, it’s mostly known for the coming World Cup and its sponsorship of Barcelona.

Forget the idea the World Cup will be moved. It simply won’t. It will however be a winter World Cup which makes sense for all. Qatar is too far into the building process and the politics of getting the World Cup means litigation must be avoided. The point I’ve rarely heard raised is the mentioned is the fate of the fans in the summer weather. While much talk focuses on the players running for 90 minutes in the summer heat, they’ve barely mentioned the fans sitting there for the same amount of time. I’ve watched a few games live here and you sweat breathing. Imagine a stadium with 40,000+ fan sweating fans trying to get involved and you have kebab heart attack central. These guys are no athletes. Standing in this kind of heat will kill them. St John’s Ambulance will have seen nothing like it and you can guarantee the Red Crescent or Qatar health board will not be prepared for this.

That brings me to the point of this piece. In Qatar I’ve happily attended football, cycling, beach football, athletics, tennis and motor sport from the international calendar. These are big events we hear about when flicking on the TV. ‘The Tour of Qatar cycle race, the Exxon Qatar Tennis Open’ or ‘the Diamond League meet’ in Doha. The highlights rightly emphasis the sport itself but being at the events live, the cameras clearly miss and the directors obviously direct the viewer away from the fact apart from a few, mostly foreigners, there is barely anyone there.

Witness the stark example of the World Cup beach football qualifiers. We arrived in time for Japan vs Thailand, a good match (if beach football can ever be) dominated by the Japanese in particular by their tall, rangy, black defender who seemed to score from the back at will. Yes, I said black. He was black. Not Japanese tanned. But one of the world’s most insular cultures had a black guy playing for them. Good on them and he was clearly the player of the tournament.

After the Japanese win came Afghanistan vs Qatar, a real cultural battle and one you would think might be difficult for the disparate and divided Afghanis to pull off. I used to volunteer at a refugee service and when a Pashtun entered a room full of Hazari, he would immediately exit and wait his turn outside. Neither side would mix. The Qatari team was typically full of non-Qataris, much like the stadium seat. In fact at sporting events, one of the biggest games is spot the Qatari. If they come along at all, they’ll be mostly grazing the buffet at half-time and then leave or are constantly on their phones oblivious to the action. This might sound like a criticism but it is an observed fact.

As the game approached, something inspiring occurred. From all sides streamed in Afghanis of different social grouping, almost all men but in the whole gambit of dress. Dress of course, as discussed in the thobe blog, is a clear indicator in the Middle East of who you are. The game began and we moved to be next to them. They chanted and hugged each other, standing up and cheering as their team, made up of differently sized men destroyed Qatar 8-3. Despite living and working in Qatar, it was difficult to not support Afghanistan given the atmosphere around me. The crowd enjoyed the spectacle while the Qatari played on his phone.

There are advantages to this for myself. All tickets are a matter of pounds. The ability to pay for VIP tickets and the lack of organisation and fairly laid-back attitude of the security means you can get close to the players. I’ve met Mark Cavendish, Sergei Bubka and Seb Coe recently. The existence of large expat communities gives all international events potential. The greatest sporting sight was the Kenyans and Ethiopian supporters singing at each other as their runners lapped the track at the athletics.

But this brings us to the fundamental reason of this blog and sport in Qatar to raise political and cultural capital. 20 years ago almost no one without direct contact with the region had heard of Qatar. Since the previous Emir, they’ve been on a quest to make the country politically and economically important. Its raised its profile through overt and covert regional diplomacy, real estate investment and following the Dubai model of hosting international events (though it should be noted the first international Dubai event, the Dubai 7s was in fact foreign project and most events remain outside managed). Qatar sponsor FC Barcelona to untold millions and overpay for numerous sporting events. The women’s tennis tournament’s prize money rivals Wimbledon. All of this is to put it on the map.

The World Cup is the ultimate signifier of having ‘made it.’ Its a means to an end. While the World Cup should be placed in the Middle East at some point, Qatar is an illogical choice and this is not about the weather. Turkey, Iran or Saudi are a far better bet for such a tournament. A game in Qatar attracts a thousand at best and mostly these are non-Qataris. The stadiums presently being built will be ripped up afterwards and shipped to Africa. The underground system will shift few to nowhere.

Dubai recently bid and won Expo 2020. Ignoring the Pan-Arabian Enquirer’s ridiculously funny send-ups of the voting process and Dubai News’ equally ridiculous questioning of the countries who didn’t vote for them (Pakistan and Afghanistan were publicly queried why they didn’t vote for their Dubai brother!), at least Expo 2020 fits the Dubai model as a finance, tourism and business hub and therefore money reasonably sensibly spent. The World Cup in Qatar is illogical.

The government is trying to improve the situation by encouraging sport. There is a national holiday called Sports Day in February were all government departments must take part in sports in the morning and the Emir along with his family come out to play. The health department runs campaigns on healthy lifestyles. But Qataris remain over-weight. Despite Qatari men being the longest living men in the world, the newer generations passion for cars and fast food alongside the lack of facilities to walk/run (pavements are poor except at the Corniche) or ride a bike (taking your life in your hands) sends the wrong message.

Without a fundamental commitment to a lifestyle change, Qataris will get fatter. The adult generation generally appreciate their fortune and understand the changes that have taken place. The next generation will see this as nothing earned but given. Their passion for sport is ridiculed as simple shift from Barcelona to PSG when times change. Gaming and sitting around the majles are the social norms. Saudis and Kuwaitis have a terrible reputation for arrogance and petulance. Qataris so far are not there. They remain humble. But despite best intentions, this becomes inevitable in hierarchal systems. In a feudal state, the local lord with his servants and hanger-ons gets fat and lazy. Unless sport and activity beyond a single national day become the norm, the benefits of sport will be lost and simply be the very wasteful means to a geo-politicial end.

The Sports Press

white_sports_journalism_world-111-thumb-640xauto-1846Sports journalism in the US is a respected and full-time job (though it is a curiously white profession). In the UK, we have hacks, TV journalists and the odd, very few, real sportswriters. Generally it comes across as a job for limited wankers.

Most are hacks, churning out terrace talk or gossip fed to them by agents. Following their stories and cues are the TV journalists who did very little actual research but happily comment on what the papers are saying. The real writers, talented men and women who could possibly work in many fields of writing inhabit the broadsheets and websites, writing the occasional pieces across the broad spectrum of sport often using historical analysis. Think of it as your grandfather telling you a few stories from back in the day while reflecting on present events. They know nothing really changes too much in human psychology.

Last week Mancini, the manager of Manchester City swore at a press conference when asked for the zenith time if his job was under threat. It really might be. But its unlikely right now. Yet his exasperation was fuelled by lazy hack journalism and lit by the final question. Finishing second in the league and ejected from the Champions League is a poor season for Man City. With the players at their disposal, they should be challenging for everything. Yet what they and their manager lack is nouse and experience, something Ferguson across the city passes onto his players every week. But more significantly, Ferguson’s players come to the club to win, knowing anything less will see changes. These players are well-paid but that isn’t what draws them to the club. Its Ferguson and his drive to win.

Mancini has made mistakes this season. This tactics are suspect at times especially his rotating system at the back. Its simply unnecessary. He has also bought some relatively average players for phenomenal amounts of money.  Wenger at Arsenal is also under media pressure. The fans, while a little disenchanted, are sticking by him. He is Wenger after all and the issues at the club reflect a different financial reality. His magic does seem to be waning and again his transfers upfront and in defence are often poor or simply not good enough. Earlier last week Wenger snapped at a female journalist who asked if he has anything to say to the fans after their FA Cup exit. His irritable reaction didn’t look good but the question was inane and Wenger took the bait and then provided the story than a simply call the question inane and move onto another question.

Managers give press conferences to attempt to manage the media and get their side across. Yet today with the rolling 24 hour news and the internet rumour mill, very little can be achieved. Ferguson takes note of questions and refuses to speak to certain journalists until their organisations send a replacement journalist. He knows how to use his influence and understands these journalists are looking for an easy story rather than a dedicated piece. They have half a page to fill too. Wenger and Mancini let their irritation out in public and feed the machine who then sell the story onto the fans.

The media would argue when the managers win they take the plaudits and must take the blame when they lose. Managers like Wenger and Mancini need to take a page from a different book and let the machine do the work. Initially sensationalist and made-up stories would fill the gaps but the public won’t stomach that for long. Ultimately it might lead journalists remembering their roots or pack it in all together and leave it to the on-line and dedicated fans to provide the depth.

Milan Derby – AC Milan vs Inter Milan

IMG_20121007_212732Timing is everything but this year has been curiously fortunate. Not only have I met old friends who happen to be in towns not usually associated with me (New York, Philadelphia, Frankfurt, Belgrade, Salzburg as examples) I’ve caught festivals and events on the per chance of being there. i speak of the Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia (the largest in South America after Rio), catching the end of the ice hockey season in Canada, the Knicks vs Nets game in the USA, the end of the snow in the Alps, the Festes de la Mercee in Barcelona, the film festival in San Sebastian (Penelope Cruz et al) and another random trip with Jan. Along the way, I’ve met more old friends than I can state and new classic additions to the roster. Certain ideas have been reinforced, new ideas bred and mistakes averted (or at least seen early rather than late).

On a lighter level I’ve seen sport in many of the countries. Ice hockey in Canada, basketball and baseball in New York and football in Colombia, Serbia, Bosnia, Wales, Italy and soon, Ukraine. I wrote before about Serbia and Bosnia, the derbies there were intense, if slightly lacking in football. But football, like many cultural and collective events are signifers of culture development. Development blazes in many directions and could be said to be directionless and football, like most sport (sorry Mr Cameron, Johnson and Coe) is relatively unimportant but becomes interesting when used as a propaganda. Let’s all cheers success and latch on. Forget the rest. Cheers or be damned.

The crowds at the games reveal some of society. Colombia’s crowd were cheerful, mixed affairs full of boos and cheers, chants and relaxation. Serbia and Bosnia were tribal, male affairs where football sat in the background as male antagonism and group mentality led the chants of anger and negativity. The chants took no account of the game. It revelled in the violence them and us, the false assumption bred by facture, ignorance and discord. The celebratory stories of fear and menace sounded like England in the 70s and 80s. The Ukraine vs Montenegro international in the huge

In Italy, I timed myself to Milan perfectly for the biggest game of the year so far, AC Milan vs Inter in the San Siro. Outside the ground there was a casual police presence and yet outside and inside the crowd was mixed. Friends or couples walked or sat in opposite colours. The lack of hostility indicated a maturity within football and society in general where differences fall into the background, the foreground of commonality of issues, problems and culture are debated and upheld. 85,000 people understood the true value of the game.

IMG_20121007_224738The game itself was a classic of noise, missed chances, whistles and humour. The home in the curva sud and away in the curva nord fans were in opposite ends, unveiling humourous banners to each other and generally having a good time. The majority of the stadium was mixed seating and better for it. The lack of animosity and acromony created a relaxed atmosphere allowing the traditional exaggerated Italian body language to overtly exert itself at every chance.

Inter won one-nil despite being down to 10 men for 40 minutes. Milan had the ball in crossing positions down the left all game but desperately lack a striker. Robinho also continues to prove himself as one of the greatest wastes of talent in the game. Inter weren’t much better and how Milito is considered world class is beyond me. Cartman from South Park moves quicker. All this explains the team’s missed chances but only fortunate timing describes mine.

Cardiff to Japan and back again

I managed to squeeze in a weekend to Cardiff with Dr Luke, Ro and Poppy at the start of August. Alex from Notts Uni came down as well as my old mate Si. Ever a pleasure to see them and a rare one too with Si. Life post-uni, as many from Notts are finding out is very different, and rewarding in others way. Gone are the days wasted with hangovers, watching daytime soaps and mulling over physically leaving the house. Hobbies and friends become near luxuries. Get used to it; it doesn’t change.

 

 

We spent the weekend wisely, catching two matches (Korea vs Japan and Newcastle vs Cardiff). Neither game were particularly satisfying or important. We spent the Olympic bronze medal match inside the stadium but near camped at the bar. Newcastle managed to produce a magnificently bad defensive display that killed the game off by half-time. But what was important was the symmetry involved.

I’ve lived in both Japan and Korea for over 3 years in total. I know each culture well and cherish those times. We all caught trains to meet in Cardiff and it reminded me of meeting Yukiko on the way to Hiroshima. She came down from Kyoto while I boarded in Osaka.

We arranged to meet in the  front carriage. It was the early train, maybe 730 or so. I remember Yukiko asleep, curled up in the corner, bag in hand waking with a blurry subconscious look and my smile.

We passed the days in Cardiffdrinking beer in the park, talking over times and memories. I’ve much fondness for Si, a guy I totally respect and whose opinion I’ve often sought from football, music, women and work.

I remembered meeting Si at Kansai International with four beers in hand for the short train ride to my place in Kyoto. There was no other way to toast his arrival and  our times together. Days later we were in Hiroshima in kimonos, singing karaoke and getting carried home after too much sake and Captain Q whiskey. Again we went to a game to  a game, Germany vs the USA and I don’t remember a single moment of it. But I remember Si was there.

Balkans Battles Part 2 – Sarajevo Derby – RK Sarajevo vs Zeljeznicar Sarajevo

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I’d never been hit by the police until this game. In the past, the police merely questioned on the street occasionally. But it always irritated me. That interaction was all about to change when we got to this game. It was the Saturday following the Red Star game and on the advice of our friend Addy, Jan and I were stood with the SK Sarajevo Ultras near old-town Sarajevo drinking before the local derby against Zeljeznicar. Frky introduced himself and chatted away, asking about us, why we were there. Frky was a law student at the university and asked me about the Newcastle Sarajevo game in 2002. I couldn’t actually remember it. He talked about what happens before the games, where the meeting point was and not to worry about being in the fans’ north end. The others were generally more circumspect though they took great interest in my Newcastle United tattoo. Once they knew we were friends with Addy, they relaxed somewhat.

We met up with Alam and Diego and walked to the game. The walk to the stadium for a big game is always exciting. It was a derby game dividing central and eastern Sarajevo. Similar to the game in Belgrade, the league was gone. RK Sarajevo had to win to get a Europa league spot and local pride on the line. Reaching the stadium, we bought tickets from the office for 2.5 euros for the ultras end. I was taking my SLR. I wanted the pictures again and figured we’d be safe enough. We had Frky on our side but the real dangers were outside the ground.

Firstly a riot policeman thought I shouted an insult as he passed. He stopped, towered over me and said something with a real sneer. I replied ‘tourist’ and ‘no Bosnian’ but he took this for a Bosnian being clever and continued his words. (Thanks to the RK fan next to me who failed to own up to his comments and let me take the look!!). Soon after while queuing up, the police arrested a fan. When the police van arrived, another fan slapped the side of it shouting ‘ultras, ultras’. In a second, the police descended on the queue. panic ensued and everyone turned to run. I turned only to meet a policeman running my way and he slapped his truncheon across my back as I jumped down a ledge. The policeman stood over me for a second then walked away breathing heavily. Jan got hit too after avoiding two attempts. The storm passed quickly and soon enough we were in the stadium but the adrenaline was still pumping.

Inside we sat down and I looked around. Its noticeable how few fans wear the club shirt, mostly prefer their own dress or various club-related t-shirts, bought from markets. The fans were a mixed of men, kids and young women. Everyone knew the songs which like the Red Sar game didn’t relate to the match. Few commented on what was happening. Joints were being smoked. There were more women, more young fans in the stands. The atomsphere was more jovial than the previous week.

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The game was good, finishing 2-2. RK blew a 2-0 lead but finished the game stronger and could have won it. When they scored, flares were lit and riotous joy broke out. Similarly to the Red Star, the supporters actually have a cheerleader at the front who organises the chants. And again around the 50th minute, tens of flares were lit, obscuring any view of the game. We filed out into the evening warmth, meeting up with Alam (who thought we were crazy to go in the north end) and Diego. I needed some water and to de-stress.

That evening we drank and stayed out late. I woke up the next morning and checked my back. I was kinda disappointed I didn’t have a war wound! Alas I still had the rakija hangover!

Coleman Balls

I wouldn’t normally write anything about the Welsh National Team but felt I had to here. I’m not sure why. I don’t give a monkeys about the England team in general so making a note about Wales is distinctly odd. I’ll make it short.

Chris Coleman just took over as the Wales boss after the death of Gary Speed despite two major drawbacks. Firstly the squad wanted the present coaching team to get the job. They’d improved vastly improved under this team and openly expressed their desire for it to continue.

Secondly and most importantly, if you are going to dispense with a winning formula, then don’t bring in Chris Coleman, a manager universally despised and with a losing track record. While he did ok with Fulham, since then his teams have consistently performed poorly. He was fired from Real Sociadad for staying out in clubs till 6am. Coventry were terrible and he left his last club Larissa after 6 months, ostensibly to join Wales but he left them no better off.

There is a real merry-go-round in football management. Ex-players who had one success seem to get jobs when in any other industry, they’d not a job or take a more junior role. Alas not in football. Yet the greatest managers these days are almost universally non-players like Wenger, Mourinho, Ferguson etc. Football has become a science. Reading the Secret Footballer blog on the guardian confirms it. The complexities of modern football requires less empathy and more analysis.

I’d like to be wrong for the players but for deeper reasons, being right would be more satisfying all round if anything would change in the long run.