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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English Sport: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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Table Tennis:Bring Back the Hard Bats

A slightly surreal interview with Barry Hearn appeared in The Guardian recently (5/01/10 Anna Kessel) which caught my imagination not just for what he had to say about sports promotion but also for the sheer energy and enthusiasm of the man.

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The Curious Case of Matthew Syed

Matt Syed is most definitely becoming a positive force in sports journalism. From right in the belly of the beast, Syed is regularly producing thought provoking editorials which, along with the long established excellence of Simon Barnes, now makes The Times the most thoughtful sports pages on offer.

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Redgrave- tells it like it is - or does he?

Try as they might, Lord Coe and his team are struggling like mad to present a convincing case for a genuine Olympic legacy from London 2012. Matters were made worse when one of their own, a one Sir Steve Redgrave, broke ranks and offered a stinging attack on the governments short-termism. Redgrave does not mince his words.

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