Interview with Nic Coward

 I was sitting in a café just off the Hammersmith Broadway a couple of days ago, enjoying a pot of tea and perusing the Evening Standard, the highlight of which was an interview in the sports pages with a bloke called Nic Coward, who it turns out has been acting chief executive on two occasions for the Football Association and who is now chief exec of the British Horse Racing Authority. Under the title, ‘Corruption Is A Threat That Sport Must Take Seriously’, the interviewer, the Standard’s Mihir Bose, drew out some well made if not predictable points about match fixing, doping and illegal and outright criminal betting right across the sporting spectrum. No sport seems to be immune and no country seems to be above the fray.

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Bounce: Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed, possibly unintentionally, has produced an explosively revolutionary text. Not a bad achievement for a man who used to describe himself as a Christian Socialist, a man who stood as a parliamentary candidate for Tony Blair’s New Labour Government, a man who is currently employed in Rupert Murdoch’s mean and nasty global media empire. Of course a man is entitled to move on, and one should not so much be judged on where you have come from but rather where you are heading. And, in my view, Syed has produced a damn fine revolutionary text which, furthermore, is written in a style and language that tens of millions of ordinary people, young and old, will be able to relate to. I’m passing my copy onto my 14 year old step-daughter in the hope and expectation that some of Syed’s insights will germinate in her young and impressionable head.

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Pele: The Autobiography, Pocket Books, London 2007

While the global financial speculators have been busy at their dirty work distorting and undermining global currencies, which themselves are on the brink of ruination due to the mountains of debt accumulated by successive governments, I thought I would indulge in a little light escapism. The impending bankruptcies haunting the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) not to forget dear old Blighty, do not make for pleasant day-dreaming, so a few days off to read Pele’s autobiography seemed in order. In a lovely fairytale of a story, written with humility if not a little naivety, I was able to fill in many gaps in Pele’s life, a life that has touched most people of my generation no matter what their country of origin. Four themes from Pele’s account seem worth commenting on; that of his poverty stricken childhood, the racism he had to overcome, his ability to deal with a life of global fame, and his professed deep religious belief.

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Ping: The People’s Sport

Try as they might, efforts over the past twenty years to promote football as the universal people’s sport, have always rung a little hollow to me. Maybe if we consider football as the people’s spectator sport, the case becomes a lot more convincing. But in terms of grassroots participation, ping pong, or table tennis as the European enthusiasts prefer, gets the vote every time. Just witness what happens when you set up a couple of tables in a public place and leave a some bats and balls seductively lying around. In no time at all the tables are full and a queue is forming to be next on. When I set up in schools, the ancillary staff just can’t wait to get their hands on the equipment the minute the kids have gone back to class; cleaning staff, dinner ladies, caretakers and teaching assistants. Oh, and I shouldn’t omit to include the teachers and head-teachers themselves.

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‘It’s not About the Bike’ Lance Armstrong, Yellow Jersey Press, London, 2001

I picked up a copy of Lance Armstrong’s autobiographical work for no particularly reason, though somewhere in the vaults of my decaying brain I did recall some major controversy concerning his Tour de France victories. That could only mean one thing; Armstrong was embroiled with the rest of those cheating, drug taking, and performance- enhancing European bikers whose evil deeds seem to dominate the cycling news year after year. Working on the old adage that there’s no smoke without fire, I had little doubt in my all-to-quick-to-judge mind that Armstrong was as guilty as hell. No one could win the gruelling Tour de France without a little help-up from the pharmaceutical companies.

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Where’s the joined up thinking?

It’s election time in Britain and Nick Harris has done a dour and somewhat predictable job in The Independent 22/4/10 in interviewing the three likely contenders for Sports Minister. Perhaps things might have been enlivened a little had he included some questions and answers from the Green and socialist left but that is not the British way. Stick to the status quo of the middle ground, which in reality is not the middle at all, but decidedly to the right; i.e., all three main stream parties, Liberal, Labour and Tory, have adopted the thatcherite, neo-liberal belief that the market is always right. All three parties were profoundly shocked and stunned by the recent banking collapse that spectacularly underlined that the so called free-market is anything but right (if human beings are to live anything near a half decent life either in the developed world or the rapidly developing world). The main parties are now forced to toy with some very minor reforms in order to try and reign in the finance capitalists that currently run the planet. Such efforts are certain to fail as even Barrack Obama, himself a keen adherent of the free market, is increasingly forced to admit.

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Invictus: John Carlin, Book Review

Read the book – forget the film.  Paradoxically, all enthusiasts of the coming FIFA football World Cup In South Africa should read John Carlin’s Invictus, which focuses not on football but on the 1995 Rugby World Cup that was also held in that country. A Hollywood style film has recently been made on the basis of the book, though I couldn’t bring myself to watch it because films rarely catch the nuances of a complex story and Clint Eastwood the director, rarely offers any nuances in any of his films. Carlin’s book on the other hand is a classic, smartly written account, with all the political empathy needed to do this remarkable story justice.

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We can see right through the Glazers.

Today, on the 28th day of February, 2010, a significant historical event will take place, the full repercussions of which, only time will tell. But make no mistake, history is in the making.  Today, at Wembley Stadium, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Manchester United football supporters will make a highly visual protest at the corporate play-thing their once proud community football club has become.

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Dear Gordon Brown,

I acknowledge your bland response to the Olympic Legacy e-petition. I doubt you would be surprised to hear that the response has not been enthusiastically received. Might I humbly offer some simple suggestions on how the UK might substantially increase its financial contribution to both elite and community sports, not to mention the health, education and the housing programmes.

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Olympiclegacy - epetition response

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure adequate funding for those Olympic sports for which UK Sport has not so far confirmed details.”

Details of Petition:

“The Olympics must provide a legacy for future generations. Although medals are important, legacy is more important. Some of the sports which are currently in limbo have a real chance of contributing to that legacy at low cost - volleyball and handball are good examples. Squad players have put their careers and lives ‘on hold’ in order to commit to the required training regime. They have committed themselves wholeheartedly and the government should ensure that they and UK Sport also commit. These players realise that the glory of medals will probably not be theirs, but they are trying to give something to the community - surely something that is worthy of support in these difficult times. Funding is currently centred on those sports which already gain the greatest publicity and who therefore already have the best chance of finding private sponsorship. The legacy we need can be best served by helping those less publicised sports which show commitment and focus, together with the potential for community benefit.”

· Read the petition
· Petitions homepage

Read the Government’s response

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Young Gifted and Gay

I find it extremely perplexing that after twenty years of running a table tennis club and a full forty years of involvement in table tennis, I cannot recall a single instance of a player openly declaring his/her homosexuality. Surely if the ‘one-in-ten’ statistic is anywhere near accurate, London Progress Table Tennis Club must have had its fair share of gay members. Similarly, the English table tennis community ought, governed by that same statistic, to have had hundreds, if not thousands of gay players over the past 100 years. Yet an eerie silence hangs over the whole question. Just where are our gay table tennis players?

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Festival of Olympic Elitism

With the exception of the state sponsored Chinese competitors, can you imagine any of the Olympic athletes competing at the winter games in Vancouver being from anywhere other than a privileged background? I’m happy to be proven wrong but the sort of lifestyle required to be slogging up and down ski slopes and the like just does not seem to chime with the day to day grind of working class life. And if the odd proletarian competitor did slip through the net, you can rest assured they are even more unlikely to be among the medal winners.

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John Terry and a Parallel Universe

There were a couple half decent articles in The Sun the other week. It happens every couple of years. The first one, by a Jane Moore, was entitled, ‘What does JT say about Britain?’ 3/2/10 It starts out with an attention grabbing paragraph: ‘Alicia Douvall is the psychologically damaged cosmetic addict who ricochets from one shallow sexual liaison to another.

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Simon Jenkins- Bourgeois Londoner.

I love to read Simon Jenkins on the question of the much hyped Olympic legacy. Jenkins has from the very start consistently decried the mega stadium approach in favour of something more down to earth. I seem to recall his plea that we use our existing venues rather than create shiny new white elephants. On this I wholeheartedly applaud him. But his latest piece in the London Evening Standard  ‘Spend Olympic Money On Making London Beautiful’ 2/2/10, ( a newspaper now owned incidentally, lock, stock and barrel, by an ex KGB officer and now billionaire Russian Oligarch), is off the mark, though I do believe his intentions were honourable.

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Londongrad: The Inside Story of the Oligarchs

Londongrad: The Inside Story of the Oligarchs, Mark Hollingsworth & Stewart Lansley, 2009, Harper Collins. Book Review Londongrad is a jaw dropping read. If it was wrapped up into a James Bond film you would pass it off as unbelievable fiction – just a bit of fun. But this is not fiction, this is the real thing and it certainly is not fun; Russian gangster capitalism spilling out onto the streets of London, complete with lethal poisonings, exploding helicopters and shadowy KGB/FSB units tracking down oligarchs that refuse to play ball with the Russian government.

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Africa’s Year of Sport

Whether or not it is absolutely true, I used to delight in telling my history students that there was only one race - the Human race, and that we humans all descended from Africa. It seemed the best way to cut through their inherited tribal allegiances whether those allegiances be based on skin colour, geographic place of origin or the most facile of all tribalisms - that of religion.

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