The BNP and Sport

This week the BNP were themselves a type of sport whereby the political class argued bitterly over whether to allow this nasty little fascist grouping to have prime time TV exposure or whether a blanket ban should starve them of publicity.

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LTA Mediocrity

Neil Harman writes in The Times (21/09/09) of the LTA, ‘Mediocrity in leadership, mediocrity in playing strength, mediocrity in coaching, the first murmurs of a grassroots uprising.

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Football Old Farts

We’ve seen where it leads in the financial world. ‘Light touch regulation’, the catch phrase for the Blair/ Brown Labour administration for the past twelve years, has seen the so called Masters of the Universe plunder us mere mortals for all they could, and in the process very nearly bringing the entire rotten edifice crashing to the ground.

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Chelsea Child Poachers

The headlines say it all. ‘Beware Child Poachers’, screams the Daily Mail. The day before the same paper was content with the single word, ‘Thieves!’

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BLOODGATE

Bloodgate: A Sporting Tale for the 21st Century.

Here is a classic Shakespearean tale of the heroic but fatally flawed protagonist who is destined to fall from grace, set against the backdrop of turbulent and uncertain times.

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Press Report July 09

If July 2009 had a dialectical sporting theme it was that of sporting decency battling against the baser instincts of man; cheating, lying and grubby double dealing. 

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Old School Tie, David Conn, Guardian, 8/07/09

A useful piece by David Conn in the Guardian shows how English cricket is still rooted in the public school mentality of the past two centuries. Seven of the current English Ashes squad can boast ‘independent school status’ and the attempts of the ECB to widen the appeal of cricket are far from certain to succeed.  Conn cites Graham Able, a trustee of the cricket Foundation, who as Master of Dulwich College in South London, can boast eight full grass cricket fields which is two more than  exist for the whole borough of Southwark where only one state school can offer a grass cricket field for its students. This pattern is repeated across the country where under successive Tory and Labour Governments, schools have been allowed to sell off their playing fields in order to finance the small matter of their educational activities. Conn elaborates, ‘In 2009, cricket, the sport with deep upper class traditions which gave us separate changing rooms for amateur ‘gentlemen’ and professional ‘players’, still illustrates Britain’s monumental class divide, between the lavish fields owned by public schools and the comparative threadbare landscape in which 93% of people are educated.’

 

The ECB does have a grassroots cricket programme, ‘Chance To Shine’ which is amply funded by the ECB’s controversial decision to take cricket off the terrestrial stations and into the golden hands of Sky Sports. And according to Pete Ackerley, the ECB’s head of development, the numbers of youngsters playing cricket is substantially up. Ackerley argues, ‘We feel the programme is bearing fruit. It doesn’t directly depend on how the England Team performs - the biggest rise in participation we had was in 2007 when England were whitewashed. We’ve registered a 27% increase.’ The question is, with cricket now invisible to terrestrial viewers, can cricket break through the centuries of class elitism and root itself in mainstream Britain or will it remain essentially the preserve of the Public School privileged few? Of course cricket is not alone in this respect. A quick tour around London’s tennis clubs and it immediately becomes apparent that they are anything but representative of London’s ethnic and class demography. Until that changes England’s respective standing in these sports will remain less than flattering.

 

End JPK 8/07/09 

 

Lord of the Rings, Andrew Anthony, The Observer, 19/07/09

This was not the first and it definitely will not be the last, but Andrew Anthony has produced a thought provoking assessment of Lord Sebastian Newbold Coe, Knight of the British Empire, twice Olympic 1,5000m winner, former Tory MP and advisor to William Hague, and current Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games. 

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Cloud of Suspicion, The Guardian, 25/07/09, Anna Kessel

We all like fairytales. They brighten up the all too often grim business of life. 

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Come On-Be A Sport-Linda Whitney, London Evening Standard, 2/07/09

It was a particularly dispiriting article that I’m sure had the opposite intention. Linda Whitney had set out to show how sport is growing as an industry and consequently so are the number and range of jobs involved in sport. 

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Ecclestone, F1 and Hitler, Observer, 12/07/09, Catherine Bennett

Let me start off by saying I know nothing about F1 racing and its supposed attraction to millions of people world wide. 

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Sport As The New Religion

The world is coming together. Not in some utopian sense that I imagined in my communist youth. Nor is it coming together willingly, enthusiastically or in any sense, in a planned way. But coming together it surely is albeit kicking and screaming like a child being forced to go to school for the first time. Still clinging on to the old myths and institutions of nation, religion and race, yet day by day at exponential rate, the world is becoming one entity. Hooray! The process may take another hundred years to solidify and maybe a few more centuries to fully mature but what are a few hundred years compared to the millennia that have already passed in the human story.

 

What are the material forces at work in this accelerated development where humans are taking their first tentative steps out of their own grubby, tribal prehistory? I would suggest technology is the driver. In a sense, we’ve been here before with the advent of the printing press and the associated communication revolution that that ushered in.  Then came a series of industrial revolutions firstly based on steam, then electricity and more recently with atomic energy.  So you could argue that what is happening today is merely another chapter in the unfolding story of human technological innovation. But it is tempting to opt for the alternative argument that something qualitatively different has occurred with the computerisation of technology with its most visible and popular manifestation, the globally linking internet.

 

While I try not to get caught up with all the hype surrounding each new development on the information super highway, I cannot but shake my head in disbelief at the speed of it all, where within a few years we can realistically expect every book ever published and every piece of music ever recorded and every film ever created to be at our digital finger tips but furthermore, and this is the nub of the matter, that all this is becoming available to a growing proportion of the planet’s population. A villager in India, South America or Africa, armed with a basic computer and an internet connection can access the lot; information, education and globalized culture (more of which later) Overnight an isolated villager  becomes a citizen of the world no matter what designs their local masters have for them and no matter how the masters of global capitalism seeks to exclude them from their rightful spoils of human endeavour. For once one has a clearer picture of the injustice of global capitalism it cannot be long before those most oppressed and excluded will come banging on the door. That is their inalienable right.

 

Connected to all this exhilarating technology comes the down side .Chronic pollution and planet overheating leading to god knows where: bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to our earlier discovery of antibiotics; new diseases that spread nearly as quickly as information on the super highway; and weapon systems that can simply obliterate life itself. But bleak as these developments may be they are surely a crucial part of the globalisation process because they collectively make an unequivocal statement: either we survive together or we perish together. Marx, I recall, said it more poignantly; ‘either socialism or barbarism’, and that is the crossroads we have now all reached.

 

Then there is capitalism itself. Technology does not exist in a vacuum. All our new fast flying digital technology is inextricably linked to the prevailing economic system of the day, capitalism. And while we can debate whether capitalism has exhausted its creative, revolutionary potential, I think we can agree that the first five hundred years of capitalism has seen an unprecedented growth in all aspects of human knowledge and associated technology. After a thousand years or more of relative human stagnation under the stultifying land based feudal system of production, notwithstanding some major leaps forward in the Arabic and Chinese civilizations, capitalism unlocked a pent up energy that has transformed nearly every aspect of human activity   The real question is this: is capitalism now retarding human development or does it still have some more laps to run?

 

The one thing that capitalism required for its meteoric growth was a cheap and plentiful energy source other than brute human and animal labour. Coal and then oil were the answers. Now we have reached the period of ‘peak oil’ where existing sources of fossil fuels are declining and becoming increasingly more expensive to extract and where new sources are becoming increasingly hard to locate. Hence the obvious transition to renewables but the capitalist conglomerates are proving very reluctant to make the switch. Clearly, finite resources like oil make for better profit margins than the infinite energy of the sun and the wind and the seas. Here is a classic case of capitalism acting to retard human development and the depressing corollary; the longer we remain wedded to fossil fuels the greater the likelihood of doing irreparable damage to the Earth’s ecosystems. Not only then is capitalism retarding human development, it is threatening to derail it permanently. The irony of course is that these global corporations have become so powerful that they can extract huge state subsidises and are now at the point where many cannot survive without state bailouts. The irony being that our tax revenues are now being used at a phenomenal rate to prop up a system which is patently acting against the wider interests of humanity. Something will have to give.  

 

‘In fifty years history barely moves a day yet in one day it can move fifty years.’ Another of those famous Marxist truisms. Have we reached such a point now? The speed of events certainly suggest so. Who could have imagined just twelve months ago that General Motors, that flag bearer of US corporate capitalism, would have to be saved from bankruptcy by the US taxpayer? And they are only one of many. Are we now moving to a new phase of human organisation, a form of state funded capitalism or perhaps even the transition to state socialism? Has the world economy become so interrelated that only global governance can work?  Has the twentieth century struggle between capitalism and state socialism created some unforeseen synthesis, a kind of hybrid between the two? Clearly we are too close to events to see what is actually happening but what is clear is that the culmination of economic, ecological and political crises made more acute by the epoch of peak oil and made more visible to ever more people by the digital information revolution, has led humanity to a crossroads never before encountered.

 

Hovering over all this economic, technological and political activity is a new global culture to which sport, the immediate interest of this website, is very much a part of.

The defining features of this new culture are invariably banal, escapist, dehumanising and naturally, emanating from corporate capitalism, consumerist throughout. There are noble, truly life enhancing exceptions in all genre; literature, film, music, theatre and even sport. But these exceptions, and of course we are in the realm of high subjectivity here, are in constant danger of being submerged in a sea of vacuous dross. Here though, is not the moment to expand on this thesis generally. My intention is to cast an eye more specifically on what globalised sport has become as we stand at the crossroads of human affairs.        

 

Sport as a new religion. I certainly won’t be the first to advance that proposition. The picture is depressingly familiar. Multi- millionaires, nay billionaires, buying chunks of the sporting world as play things to enhance their playboy status. Corporate conglomerates, whose wealth is invariably tied up with the exploitation of cheap third world labour, sponsoring the superstars in each sport. Like everything that capitalism touches, athletes are reduced to mere commodities, bought and sold in the market place like cattle, though extremely well paid cattle. Loyalty to club or community a distant memory. And rich and poor alike, we all buy into it. What else have we to divert our attentions?  Bread and circuses as the Romans would say. Religions are fading in their powers of persuasion though not nearly as fast as I once imagined. In fact if we include the fundamentalists of all religions there might even be construed something of a renaissance of the religious ideal. But even the most fanatical of mullahs, be they Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Jew, seem powerless to dampen our enthusiasm for our new sporting gods. That they receive obscenely grotesque remuneration for their efforts only seems to add to their allure. In the streets of Tehran, Islamabad and Pyongyang through to the Western capitals of New York, Sydney, London, Moscow and Berlin this religious fervour knows no national bounds. No continent is left out; no village too small and no metropolis too sophisticated to resist the lure of the new gods. Our personal calendars are set to the rhythm of the sporting calendar. The Christmas and New Year football fixtures are what Christmas time is all about. Summer is Wimbledon, The Ashes, and in the even years, The World Cup and the Olympics.

 

Should we cheer this new secular religion? I, for one, certainly will not mourn the passing of the medieval superstitions that we irrationally refer to as the Orthodox religions. Virgin births, resurrections, heaven and hell, all knowing, all seeing gods: this is the stuff of primitive, childish fairy tales. Surely it is time to put away these childish things. But nature abhors a vacuum. We must have something to worship other than ourselves. While swathes of the planet wither under the combined nightmare of global warming, economic plunder and political corruption, we collude with the moral obscenity of paying our sporting gods ever higher mountains of gold.

Just as we, today, look back at slavery and shake our heads in moral condemnation, so too, I suspect, will future generations condemn our heartless preoccupations.

 

The political dialectic however, knows no morality. Yes, professional sport has become a modern day obscenity and a diversion of religious proportions, but it also heralds a global culture that increasingly binds us together. Africa, the most used and abused of continents, rejoins the world community as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup. North Korea, that pariah state of the corporate world, will be there. Iran, another pariah tried to get there but failed. Every country wants to be there and every citizen will dream the dream. For an illusionary moment the world will be one, locked together in a global fantasy as the impending economic, environmental and political crises are put on hold.

  

The picture of world sport is undeniably ugly yet who could deny that our global, corporate sporting jamborees are locking an ever greater proportion of the World’s population into a single emotional mindset. In this respect it could be argued that sport is ahead of our political institutions. World governance of football is more advanced than world governance per se.  For example, UEFA includes Russia as an integral part of European football but politically Russia is still excluded from European political institutions, a clear relic of the Cold War mentality. Similarly, the IOC regards North Korea, Iran and Cuba as part of the World family yet politically they remain isolated. Once again sport leads the way. The most famous of all examples is the Ping Pong diplomacy of the 1970’s where table tennis was able to lead a rapprochement between East and West.         

 

So the dialectic is clear enough. Sport as a new diversionary, secular religion and sport as a medium for dragging the world’s nations into one collective entity. In twelve months time this dialectical conundrum will be seen in stark relief as the FIFA World Cup plays itself out amidst the economic and social poverty that Africa has been reduced to after 500 years of colonial plunder. Which of these opposites predominate will be a matter of intense subjective interpretation.

  

   

 

Kelly is a true Brit.,Daily Mail, 21/06/09,Patrick Collins.

After decades of the incessant drip drip drip of Daily Mail ‘little england’ bile, it was a wonderful surprise to cast my eye across Patrick Collins’ headline, ‘Ignore this vile abuse, Kelly is a true Brit.’ And when I got round to reading the article it was every bit as cheering as the headline itself. The vile abuse that Collins refers to derived from a one Andrew Brons, a leading light in the British National Party, who we learn, chalked up nearly 10% of the vote in the Yorkshire and Humber Region, thus earning this arch racist Europhobe a lucrative seat as an MEP. We also learn from Collins that Brons is a former member of the openly neo Nazi National Socialist Movement. Remember that lot. We went to war against them sixty years ago under the supposed rationale of stopping Britain becoming part of the Nazi fascist empire. A little ironic then that just sixty years on, nearly a million British voters put their little cross next to a party that rather thinks that Hitler and his thugs were basically OK.

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This dispiriting article detailing the bullying culture on the junior tennis circuit would make an excellent appendix to Joe Humphries’, Foul Play ( see book reviews ). Just to give you a flavour of the piece Pearson laments, ‘We are at the Lawn Tennis Association junior tennis tour, where cheating and rows have become so commonplace that the former British No 1, Annabel Croft, has withdrawn her 15 year- old daughter from the tour and the former world No 5, Jo Durie, has said she wouldn’t be surprised if someone was knifed at a tournament.’

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Black and Blue: Paul Canoville, 2008, Headline Publishing

There are so many powerfully tragic angles to pursue in Paul Canoville’s autobiographical, Black and Blue, it is hard to know where to start. The racism he experienced and eventually overcame as a professional footballer at Chelsea, the career ending injury he received at Reading, his drug addiction to crack-cocaine that he now hopefully has under control, the fight against cancer which is at least in remission, or the inner torment concerning the parental love that he always craved but never received and the eleven children he fathered with ten different women as a distorted form of compensation for the missing affection. Each of these are compelling stories in themselves. It’s a rollercoaster of a journey with some truly uplifting chapters as Canoville reaches middle age, and if Paul can contain the cancer and the drugs there will hopefully be some more illuminating chapters to follow. The matter of fact way his story unfolds makes for compulsive reading and it would surely make an excellent addition to the school curriculum reading list either as literature, sociology or citizenship.

 

It’s the racism emanating from the Chelsea terraces that I wish to comment on here. As an armchair Chelsea fan I honestly didn’t know! All those years of supporting the blues and I had no real understanding, other than a vague knowledge that football terraces harboured racist bigots who were easy fodder for NF recruiters. But the specifics of what Canoville had to endure needed to be told in all its ugly detail. If we are going to persist with our irrational allegiances to this or that football club then at the very least we should know exactly what it is we are buying into-warts and all.

 

The good news is that things have got better in English football. Of course racist and homophobic attitudes still persist right across all levels of English football but no longer to the institutional and endemic extent that it now occurs across large swaths of Europe. Whether we have been fully inoculated against this disease remains to be seen. As the economics situation deteriorates, expect a rise in little England bigotry. Nevertheless, things have moved in the right direction. While Canoville, being the first Black player to play for Chelsea, was jeered by his own supporters for the single crime of being Black, now it is not unusual for Chelsea and other top clubs to field a team with an overwhelmingly majority of Black players. Winning trophies seems to take priority over racial prejudice.

 

But what of the overall picture? Black referees? None. Black administrators? None. Black managers? A couple. Multi-national spectators? A slow improvement. Racism in non league football? A long way to go. And what about Asian representation? We have barely started. The official attitude to racism and other forms of bigotry? Definitely improving with the FA’s, Lets Kick it Out campaign fairly active across all aspects of the game. What conclusions does Canoville draw about the situation today?

 

‘ I’ve been to watch Chelsea games a few times in the last few years and was there at the Bridge for the Charlton game in September 2006. I witnessed the reception given to the great ex-Blue Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink by Chelsea fans. There was loud applause and they were singing his song when his name was read out. Then Jimmy scored against Chelsea. He actually looked apologetic, arms raised, no celebration. And in the stands? The whole Chelsea end stood and cheered him, and chanted this opposition black footballer’s name again. That’s how it should be, but it shows how different the game is now from my day.’ Canoville adds; ‘I began to work a lot with the Kick It Out campaign to drive racism from football. You only have to see the abuse Chelsea’s  black players get now in Spain or when they’re on England duty to see there’s still a job to be done.’

 

As for football so for sport generally.

 

End JPK 21/06/09

   

 

The Gimmick goes International


Review; The Blair Sport ProjectObserver Sport Monthly June 2009

From the man who gave us an illegal war in Iraq under the patently false pretext of ridding that country of weapons of mass destruction and resulting in an estimated half a million Iraqi deaths, comes ‘Beyond Sport’, one of those slick Tony Blair  initiative for, ‘ promoting sport as a tool for social development and conflict resolution.’ The audacious hypocrisy of the man! With his neo-con mates in the Bush regime he turned the brutal but secular Iraq into an international base for Islamic fundamentalists and in true Anglo Saxon form, sort to rule the resources of the country by turning Shia against Sunni, community against community, Iraqi against Iraqi. Now he wants us to believe that he is a peace maker intent on healing the world’s troubles. For my part I don’t believe him but let’s see what his game is. 

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