Ping London: The revolution begins.

 

In 1917, Lenin's Bolsheviks captured the Post Office, the railway station, the armaments depot, the Winter Palace and other strategic points. In no time at all St Petersburg was in the hands of the Reds with barely a drop of blood being spilt.

 

Ninety-three years later, Ping London is using a similar strategy. Key London institutions are, for four weeks over this summer, falling to the power of ping and an impatient army of table tennis enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. St Pancras Station, the O2 arena, Tate Modern, Westfield's, the British Library (once home to Karl Marx), Canary Wharf, Covent Garden and Heathrow Airport have all succumbed to the ping army. In fact 100 table tennis tables are being strategically placed across the capital for a whole month of people's ping and I am reliably informed that other British cities are soon to follow.

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Why England Lose

The title of this gem of a book is a little misleading. Only one pre-chapter specifically deals with the supposed English football sickness. The main substance of the book deals with sport in general and asks; what makes certain countries successful at sport?

The methodology of K&S is to number crunch. By using hard statistics and pumping them into a complex mathematical computer programme they claim to be able to see a definite pattern as to why some countries do better than others, including dear old England. According to this method, England perform as expected and at times do rather better than expected. The key criteria for measuring these things are size of population, wealth of country, experience in international sport and most crucially, proximity to the central core of expertise; in the case of football, that being Western Europe.

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World Cup Journalism No7

Post-mortems on Team England's early demise from the World Cup are a dime a dozen. Every TV pundit, newspaper sports writer and resident pub expert have got it summed up. Interestingly both the BBC and Channel 4 dragged in Matthew Syed, author or recently published, 'Bounce: How Champions Are Made', to try to offer their viewers some enlightenment, but all Syed could do was say how complex and unfathomable it all was, but could offer nothing that you hadn't already heard from your next door neighbour. And, in an act of great marketing astuteness, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski have got their analysis, 'Why England Lose' flying off the bookshelves. ( A full review to follow shortly) But it was two articles in the London Evening Standard that caught my attention, one by Jason Cowley, (Editor of the New Statesman) 28/6/10, the other by John Barnes, former England international, in the following day's edition.

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The End of Overeating- David Kessler, Penguin, London, 2010

I suppose Dr Kessler will be rather pleased with the timing of the NICE report which chimes perfectly with the contents of his latest text, 'The End of Overeating'. This is a clear an indictment of the food industry as you will find, and a clear scientific explanation as to the obesity time-bomb we are witnessing across the planet. In the face of powerful industry lobbying, governments have been profoundly weak in tackling the problem, but research such as Kessler's will make it ever harder for governments to look the other way. After hundreds of thousands of deaths at the hands of the big tobacco, governments were forced to act. Sooner, rather than later, the food industry will need to be brought to heal, possibly by the threat of class action style litigation.

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World cup Journalism No6

I still don't believe it. It's got to be one of those media April Fools jokes, except that it late June. It simply beggars belief that this is a genuinely kosher article. Yet it gets full page prominence in The Guardian 21/6/10 so I can only assume that Marina Hyde is on to something that we should all better know about. The blunt truth seems to be that FIFA has its own courts and these courts have the power to try and convict for any manner of misdemeanours relating to anything vaguely connected to their World Cup. I'm reading Hyde's article for the forth time and I still can't quite believe what I'm reading.

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African Soccerscapes, Peter Alegi, Hurst & Company, London, 2010

Peter Alegi has produced an academic but highly readable and highly topical account of African football, past and present, which spreads a great deal of light on what we are witnessing in South Africa today. Divided into six easy bite size chapters, Alegi, a professor of African history at Michigan University, offers his readers a comprehensive account of African football from the roots of the British Empire through the period of the anti-colonial struggle and beyond into national independence and finally to the age of corporate globalisation. Alegi's research has as much relevance to European football as it does to African, the two continents being inextricably linked through lingering colonial ties and present day corporate greed.

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World Cup Journalism No5

'Two curiously contradictory pieces appeared in this week's press, the one heralding a new found African unity between African nations, the other highlighting simmering tensions within South Africa between the majority black population and the sizable minority coloured population. That these two contradictory processes should occur is no real surprise but what is surprising is that they should surface right in middle of the World Cup action. One might have expected the local and national tensions to pan out in the opposite way. One might have expected rivalries between the competing African nations to heighten for the duration of the Cup and the local tensions within South Africa to be put on hold until after the action had concluded. This, if the two journalists concerned have done their homework correctly, is not the case.

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World Cup Journalism No4

A great contender for best World Cup article must go to Paul Vallely writing in The Independent 11/6/10. Under the heading, 'A Big Day for Football. A Giant Leap for a Continent', Vallely produces a jaw droppingly optimistic account of Africa's future economic prospects and in so doing, totally wipes away decades of western media stereotypes of Africa as a basket-case continent. He barely mentions football yet his article gets to the very heart of South Africa 2010.

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World Cup Journalism No3

It screamed out of the front page of this morning's Telegraph 10/6/10, 'England United: How Football Draws Us Together.' I just couldn't resist. I grabbed my copy, rushed home and I wasn't disappointed. All the usual cliches about dear old England, with barely a hint of journalistic reflection. All that was missing was an accompanying feature on the Dunkirk spirit. And would you believe it, turn two pages and there it was; a full page feature on 'The Battle of Britain: 70 years on'. Some things never change in The Torygraph.

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World Cup Journalism No2

They say it is the Beautiful Game. You wouldn't be jumping to agreement with that assessment if you read Donald McRae's interview with the Cameroon's captain, Samuel Eto'o. (The Guardian 8/6/10) Apart from his leading role for the Cameroon, winning the Olympic Gold in 2000 and the African Cup of Nations twice, Eto'o has also picked up no less than three Champions League medals, two with Barcelona and one this season with Inter Milan, not to mention three African Player of the Year Awards. On that account it might be fairly said that Eto'o is at the very pinnacle of the game both from a European and African perspective and his views should be taken most seriously. Those views do not always make for pretty reading. Under the title, 'I might live in Europe but I sleep in Africa', Donald McRae presents an incisive piece of journalism that ought to hover over the next four weeks; words will test the concept of the 'beautiful game' to the very limit.'

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World Cup Journalism

Like the profit that FIFA and its corporate sponsors will accrue, journalistic words on or about the forthcoming World Cup will be measured in the millions, if not the tens of millions. But who will lift the trophy for the most inspired, socially penetrating journalism is yet to be determined, though the Guardian's four part series by Owen Gibson and David Smith along with Anna Kessel's excellent piece in the G2 3/6/10 must be among the front-runners. The paradox facing all serious journalism concerning the South African World Cup is simple: can the much heralded advantages of Africa hosting its first World Cup out-play the obscenity of directing billions of pounds worth of scarce resources into building brand new stadia and related infrastructure when so many South Africans are still living in such dire poverty. The Guardian journalists, Gibson, Smith and Kessel zoom in directly on this paradox which, when all the footy is done and dusted, is the only real story in town.

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Interview with Nic Coward

'I was sitting in a cafe 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)

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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