Category Archives: Sport

Bankers XI vs. Footballers XI

Oh, the mercurial captain. He’s been a difficult one to pin down this season. This guy was unbelievable for three or four years. His performance had been breaking records left, right and centre. So he moved on to a bigger institution where he could really play in the big leagues. Maybe even Europe.

Obviously his salary had to take a massive hike – he’s a star in his field, and that means he needs to receive a star’s pay. So he’s offered a weekly salary of thousands and thousands, and waits for his new employers to pay the massive release fee in his contract to the old employers.

But in his new digs, in this season, he just hasn’t performed. Nothing’s going to plan and his new owners are struggling. The problem really is that no-one has yet conclusively preoven that paying these massive wages to people truly improves a team’s performance. Worse, talk of his talent is almost entirely anecdotal – what statistics there are aren’t conclusive because the game he plays is too complex to be easily represented in numbers. There will be no Moneyball revolution here for some time.

Obviously, he clearly a very talented man. But talented enough to single-handedly turn around a struggling institution? it seems not. But there are other factor’s the media will blame, long before they suggest that buying in top talent is a poor solution to institutional problems. “He doesn’t get on with his managerial staff,” they say. Or, “He’s working with an unfamiliar system.”. Perhaps they’ll blame it on “problems with European competition” or something similar. Either way, there’s no fixing this system.

His opposing captain is in a different situation. He’s been struggling for 4 or 5 years now, and he’s looking to move on. His salary is massive, inflated during that period in 06/07 when he was the best in the world. And when he moves he’ll expect another huge pay hike.

Why? Because he’s still a star. His poor performance isn’t his fault. The people around him don’t know how to use him properly, and whoever he ends up working for will believe that he’s the right man for their system. They’ll hope that by taking him on, even on unfathomable wages, he’ll be able to slot right in and improve their chances over the next couple of years.

Plus, maybe he’ll bring people in with him – young hopefuls might join the team hoping for a chance to work with the old hero. More talent can only be a good thing, right?

Meanwhile, the people at the bottom – the loyal football fans, the banking customers – are getting a raw deal they face ticket price hikes, a squeeze on incomes, a ruined economy. These problems are the same problem – the unrelenting focus on paying over the odds for “top talent” and the bloated avarice of both football and banking has ruined them. Things have to change, and the only way to do so is to look at the root causes – unregulated, unmonitored capitalist greed.


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Filed under Banks, Politics, Sport

The Olympics Think I am Unemployed

Or so rich that I have my own butler. Actually, on second thought, that’s more likely. Since the roads are only going to be used by ‘VIPs’ anyway during the Olympics, and mostly the only people who actually got tickets are the ones who avoided the lottery altogether and instead got the London Olympic Committee to simply give them all the tickets they want via the company they happen to be a director of.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Olympics. Obviously I oppose the Sound Cannons, the Surface to Air missiles, the freebies for the rich, the special roads that the poor aren’t allowed to use, and the fact that we (read: the Coalition) are spending ridiculous sums of money on a two week long party for Visa directors while simulaneously fucking the poor, the old, women, workers, the disabled, anybody earning less than £45,000 a year, families, young children, small business owners, the sick and anyone who wants to make life better for others.

At the same time, I know I’m just going to enjoy every moment of the sport. I’m fully prepared – holiday booked for the entire period, all important engagements cancelled, cupboard stocked with Doritos, and all my comfortable tracksuit bottoms washed and ready to go.

I fully expect to be well-versed, by the end of it all, in the ins and outs of Algerian judo, in Usain Bolt’s favourite pair of shoes, and in the environmental ramifications of competitive skeet shooting. I expect at least once to burst into tears seeing a plucky underdog, from some tiny country, wearing a burlap sack, win a gold medal against all the odds in his/her nation’s home sport (I don’t know what yet, maybe Klondike, we’ll see).

So after all the cognitive dissonance, detailed above, which was necessary to get me actually fucking excited about this Olympics; and after all the elation I felt at winning some tickets (2 tickets to see two games of the qualifying rounds for the basketball, thanks for asking), it somewhat irked me to receive the following email from London Ticketing:

Dear Tim,

Your London 2012 tickets

The Olympic Games are just around the corner, and soon you will be holding your Olympic tickets in your hand.
Tickets will start to be delivered from late May with deliveries continuing into July. This email tells you everything you need to know about how to make sure you get your tickets safely.
Your tickets will be sent using Royal Mail‘s Tracked® delivery service. You will receive a notification by email and/or SMS (if you have provided your mobile number) from Royal Mail on the day your tickets are due to be delivered.
Someone will need to be there to sign for your tickets. If nobody is there, Royal Mail will leave a ‘Something for you’ card. You will also be notified of the delivery attempt by email and/or SMS. Your ticket package will be returned to your local Royal Mail delivery office and held securely for 18 days.
You can visit the office to collect your package, or contact Royal Mail to arrange a redelivery to the same address. In the event you don’t collect your package, Royal Mail will send you a reminder notification by email and/or SMS before it is returned to London 2012.
If you have changed address since 6 February 2012 or have any further queries regarding ticket delivery, please visit the FAQ section on the London 2012 ticketing website.

[Emphasis mine]. Note the three sections I felt important enough to highlight.

Tickets will start to be delivered from late May with deliveries continuing into July

Okay, not so bad, essentially a 2 month window for my tickets to arrive in. There’s a lot of tickets to send out, and it’s a big logistical challenge.

You will receive a notification by email… from Royal Mail on the day your tickets are due to be delivered.

Again, how very nice of them to tell me, at least that way when I get home from work I’ll know to expect them – I wouldn’t want them to go missing, after all.

Someone will need to be there to sign for your tickets.

Wait, WHAT? So someone needs to be at home on the day my tickets arrive, a day which I won’t know about until ON THAT DAY ITSELF. So I may need to spend a day at home waiting for a delivery on any day between late May and “into July”, but have absolutely no idea which one. What to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games think I am? Rich enough to afford a dogsbody?

Bloody Nora, I thought the crackdown of freedom of speech through suppression of protests was bad, but this really takes the biscuit.


Addendum to above post:

I apologise to all unemployed people for the title, now that I think about it. We all have much better things to do than sit around waiting for tickets for two months, and given the number of hoops people who are unemployed have to go through to receive even the pittance that prevents them from starving while searching for work, it’s kinda thoughtless to assume they have it easier than I do.

So, sorry to you all.

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Filed under Economy, Sport

Football, Racism and Tragedy

The tragedy of Fabrice Muamba, which is now thankfully turning out to be far less of a tragedy that it could have been, has brought some fantastic aspects of football, and sport in general into light. I know a lot of people who dislike sport, “on principle”, and it kind of makes me sad to know that it takes an in-game heart attack for the great parts of sport to appear in the professional version of the most popular game in the world.

  1. Sport brings people together.
    It kind of goes without saying, at least within teams. A team of players come together to perform their best and push themselves to their limits. But it also brings spectators together: anyone who’s ever stood in the stands will know how that works.
    But sport does more than that. At the amateur level, it’s a fantastic way of meeting people, of staying fit, keeping healthy, and of developing a better appreciation of other people. Sport is inherently non-partisan, there’s no choice who might be in your league, and for most amateur players it’s in your best interests to get on with your team mates and opponents alike.
  2. Sport is a true meritocracy.
    This isn’t always true. At a coaching level the old tropes about institutionalised racism still abound, and of the major sports only American football has done something about it, with brilliant and beautiful consequences. But players earn their salary by performing, not by the colour of their skin. And that’s good.
    Fabrice Muamba is a perfect case in point. He entered the country at eleven without speaking a word of English, and was a hero at Bolton long before his name became synonymous with Saturday’s incident. He’s only ever played for English national sides, having identified as English since the day he arrived here. He represents everything immigration is supposed to be about – cultures coming together and melding into one, until the only national distinction is geographical, not cultural.
  3. Sport draws out the best in people.
    One need only look at the #prayformuamba hash tag to see people, often traditionally rivals, come together. The message is clear: the man, a life, a livelihood, is more important than the game. It’s an admirable message, and one I can only wholeheartedly support. It is this humility that allows sport to be so great, a combination of high drama, and the knowledge that the result is less important than the game itself.
But for each of these highs, the Muamba case reminds me of all of the things we still need to do. All of the improvements we still need to make. All of the ways in which my lofted ideals fall short in reality:
  1. Sport pulls people apart.
    How, in sport, can there still be Old Firm hatred in the city of Glasgow? Rivalry is fantastic, and caring about the result is great, but violence? I have seen internet commenters saying the most hateful things, simply because the topic in question concerns a rival club. I’m a Liverpool fan, and when they aren’t playing us, I back Everton: they’re a great side with a manager who ensures they always punch above their weight.
  2. Sport is not a meritocracy.
    Name one openly gay footballer. I’ll give you a moment.

    Okay, time’s up. Anton Hysen. Heard of him? Probably not, he’s in the fourth division of Swedish professional football. He is the only openly gay footballer in professional football. And there’s no reason why he should be the only one beyond an institutionalised and, frankly, medieval homophobia which still holds the game in thrall. We still have a long way to go.
    Outside of football, the very papers who are celebrating Muamba (rightly) as a beacon of British pride, would be treating him as the worst kind of scum. After all, he arrived in England aged 11 with no English whatsoever. The Mail, the Express, the Sun; all of these would be livid at the idea he were even able to enter the country had he not developed a talent worth tens of thousands of pounds a week.

  3. Sport draws out the worst in people
    Luis Suarez, John Terry, Salman Butt, to name a few. Institutionalised hatred: see points 1 and 2 above.
The goal is there, we just have to reach it. I look forward to a day when sport can be competitive without being damaging, and passionate without being hateful.

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Filed under Ethics, Sport

Football and the Cheating Problem

Weirdly, I’m actually about to come out in favour of cheating, of a sort. I’ve just finished reading an article in the  sport section of the usually execrable Evening Standard. It got me thinking about Suarez, and his infamous handball against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup quarters:

I’ll get on to why I don’t see much wrong with what he did in a second. But first I’m going to briefly explain a couple of the rules of basketball which will hopefully illuminate my point.

In basketball, the rules on what constitutes a foul are very strict – other actions are considered violations rather than fouls and so do not count towards this total. To give a very common foul in basketball, we have the shooting foul: make contact with a player’s arm while he shoots and you have fouled him. The penalty is free throws and an extra foul to your tally.

The definition is deliberately specific and makes no mention of severity – merely to touch a player’s arms is (technically) a foul. It makes calls far more black and white than in football. A referee in basketball can get a call wrong, and replays may be inconclusive as to whether a foul occurred, but we never see the absurd example in football where three experienced pundits with all of the necessary data to make a decision still unable to come to a consensus.

The law in international football is extraordinarily vague – a foul is a ‘careless’ tackle. What the fuck does careless mean? If I spill me tea while making a tackle is it an infringement?

One big consequence of basketball’s rules on fouling is that of the deliberate fouls – they occur all the time. Often there is a tactical advantage to committing a foul, but the important thing to note is that these infringements are considered a part of the game. If a player deliberately fouls, the rules are structured in such a way as to allow him to do it safely.

My point is that when a player fouls, and accepts the consequences of those actions, he is not breaking the rules but playing the game entirely within them – just as putting the ball out of bounds results in losing possession to the other team, fouling gives the other team free throws.

Okay: back to Suarez. I argue that Suarez did not subvert the rules of football. In fact, not a single thing occurred within that entire video which is not explicitly laid out in the rules of football. Nobody got hurt, and the rules of the game were followed to a tee. Again, just as it is ‘against the rules’ for the ball to leave the field, it is against the rules for Suarez to handball on the goal line; each action has consequences which benefit the other team.

Suarez felt that handballing on the goal line was an action worth the consequences and it turned out to be. I have no problem with that at all, although his attitude was bit arsey. 

Contrast and compare Gareth Bale and the diving issue. The question is: is this cheating? Absolutely. A deliberate foul should make no attempt to subvert the rules – it plays entirely within them. The question of cheating lies in the question “Would a magical referee armed with a Palantir, or a video replay, call the action differently?” And with diving, the answer is absolutely yes. Simulation uses the imperfection of referees to mock the rules of the game itself.

A fuller post on diving, and eventually a comparison with capital markets and financial responsibility, will follow.

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Filed under Ethics, Sport