(Yep, a variation today.)
How did an initial budget for the London Olympics of £3.6bn of which £1.1bn was meant to be public subsidy, turn into a cost to the taxpayer of £8.9bn yet people are still happy about it? Yes, it went well, but I would have thought that it was possible to spend less than nine billion and still have something go well. Tessa Jowell claimed that she thought that too when she was announcing how much she was stinging us for, all those years ago. The fact that no one believed her at the time is not much comfort to those of us who – like all the other Olympic smucks – will be paying for years to come.
The news that Lance Armstrong’s lawyer is calling for lie detector tests in his dispute with USADA makes me wonder if the Texan has found a new pill to beat the test. Or maybe has has just taken so much stuff that his perception of reality is permanently warped. As the Mash so perceptively observes
As the US Anti-Doping Agency presented definitive evidence of Armstrong’s drug use, the legendary cyclist insisted all the words in the report were ‘dancing like little funky pixies’… A spokesman for the USADA said that Armstrong’s response was predictable, but conceded: “He is phenomenal at taking drugs.”
Now this may of course not be entirely accurate reporting, but you have to wonder what impact years of world class drug taking might have on a man…
Yesterday, Lance Armstrong said he will stop fighting charges brought by the US Anti-Doping Agency. This means it is highly likely that he will be stripped of all of his Tour de France wins and that he will receive a lifetime ban. This blog has consistently been suspicious of Armstrong, and we thoroughly agree with the Guardian’s Matt Seaton who wrote today
The moral of the story is that if a cyclist looks too good to be true, then he probably is. But if a cyclist looks too good to be true and has an entourage of lawyers, press flaks, doctors and bodyguards, then he definitely is.
I am just grateful that this sad story, which has caused cycling to lose so much credibility, is over.
Aditya Chakrabortty makes an interesting point in today’s Guardian:
After the drubbing in Atlanta in 1996, from which Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent brought home Britain’s single gold, lottery money was pumped into elite sports… The result? Dramatic improvements at every Games since, with 29 golds scored at London this summer. Much of this is down to remarkable talent and gruelling training, for sure. But it is also one of the most significant public-sector successes in recent British history: £511m was spent in the run-up to these games, most of it from either the Lottery or the Exchequer…
I can think of lots of private companies less exacting with their cash than UK Sport. Its Investment Policy and Principles speak of a “no-compromise” approach and “a willingness to realign funding in the light of persistent under- or over-performance”. In other words, only potential medallists need apply – a philosophy that applies to whole sports, such as handball, as well as athletes… There is no denying that this policy – of picking winners and backing them – works.
There are lessons to be learned from our Olympics achievements. Britain’s economy is mired in a historic slump, which the government is making worse by cutting spending… Cabinet ministers bang on about growing our manufacturing base, and yet their solution is to spread a little bit of money very thinly. To do otherwise, they claim, would be to pick winners and we know how badly that ends. Really, there’s something wrong with picking winners? Tell that to Bradley Wiggins.
But of course while it is acceptable to the Tories to support sporting success, manufacturing or industrial winners are another matter entirely: they could not be more mistaken. Still, with the worst chancellor of the modern era, is it any wonder that we have yet again fallen into deficit?
Well done Bradley: leading Mark Cavendish out for the stage win in Paris emphasized what a great champion you really are.
I know that ‘the Soros campaign to eliminate golf’ is fictional, but goodness me, what a good idea. Let’s start with South Africa, a country with a serious drinking water shortage, but which nevertheless has 18 golf courses – all requiring precious water – on the Garden route alone. Just because something is a paranoid fantasy doesn’t mean that it is not great policy, and this is exactly the case with the campaign to ban golf.
(Andrew Muir says that the average South Africa golf course requires 350,000 liters of water a year, enough for 1,200 people. He says that there are over 700 courses in the country in total, implying that without golf, 800,000 more people would have safe drinking water. According to the WHO, 5 million mostly rural South Africans did not have access to safe drinking water in 2010, so banning golf would fix 16% of the problem.)
It pains me to write that title, but in this particular case (and probably only in this case), they should. Their bid for the olympic stadium is worth far more than West Ham’s. In this era of austerity, and without any need for — or ability to fill — a huge athletics stadium, we should be practical. Give the Olympic stadium to Spurs and save a few hundred million for the hard pressed tax payer.
A long time ago, I asked if it was possible that Lance Armstrong might be on drugs. A few people thought that he wasn’t. Now, the evidence seems somewhat firmer. All I will say is that I would never trust anyone who could subtitle a book My Journey Back To Life. Surely he should have his medals removed on grounds of schmaltz alone?
Yesterday the Guardian suggested that one of the ways to improve the spectacle of Grand Prix would be to draw lots for grid places, and award points for overtaking rather than finishing. That would make for an interesting race. It’s another of their suggestions, though, that intrigued me: banning communication with the pits.
I have no idea if this would significantly improve Grand Prix, but certainly the idea of a sportsperson being in constant communication with their team does not seem, well, very sporting. In cycling banning communication would help immensely: I would love to see a Tour de France where the riders were on their own once they started. Changing wheels or making other critical repairs is reasonable, but nothing else: no going back to the team car for a chat, refreshments only available from official points, not from the team, and certainly no race radio for the riders.
This year the key stages seem to be the 9th (the Colombiere and Madeleine climbs) and the 16th (the Tourmalet and the d’Aubisque), although the 17th (the Tourmalet again – twice in two days is cruel) and 19th (individual time trial) stages could be fun too. The 3rd stage includes some Belgian cobbles, which will be a trial if it rains.
Come backs August 3, 2009 at
Just don’t do it. That’s surely the lesson we learn from sporting comebacks. Lance could only manage third in the TdF – a creditable showing, but hardly the position he was used to. With luck, Michael Schumacher will be similarly unable to reprise his form of years gone bye. As Kevin Mitchell wrote in Sunday’s Observer, come backs make for a compelling spectacle, albeit one that is often not to the credit of the protagonist. Perhaps Damon Hill, who Schumacher pushed off the track in one of the worst display’s of unsportmanlike behaviour I have ever seen, will enjoy next weekend’s schadenfreude. The rest of us should just contemplate a modern memento mori. When it’s time to go, just go.
Recently Sepp Blatter told MEPs he wants to limit the number of foreign players on the pitch to 5. He believes this will encourage clubs to develop home grown talent and to protect the local identity of teams.
This is of course in conflict with European employment law, which is why we have to endure one of the worst role models in European football – Ronaldo – playing for an English team*. So I would go further. Not only would I limit the number of foreign players in every football team to 5, but I would limit the number of non-local players to 5. At least 6 members of the team should be born within, what, ten miles of the ground? Or, because that advantages teams with high local population densities, let’s just draw a circle that takes in five million people centred on the ground, and if you are in that, you are officially local. If you’re not, you count as one of the five non-locals.
This would restore the original purpose of football teams: to represent the area they are in. Liverpool would do well – a lot of them are scousers anyway, thanks to an enlightened youth development programme. But some of the Spanish would have to go, as would some of the French national side in London (Arsenal). Manchester United might be encouraged to give a damn about the North West again. In general the megaclubs would reconnect with their areas and the playing field (to use a cliche) would be more level.
* Look how many hits you get on a google search for Ronaldo and petulant…
Update. Here are the birthplaces of a few of the current England squad: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Birmingham; Peter Crouch, Macclesfield; Frank Lampard, Romford; Steven Gerrard, Whiston (Merseyside); John Terry, Barking (London, although not too far off his playing style too); Micah Richards, Birmingham. The London clubs would actually do reasonably under the arrangement, the Brummy ones would be gainers, and the North East would struggle. Although not as much as Michael Owen (birthplace Chester) struggles to stay fit.
(With apologies to Fred Brooks.) So Jose has gone. That’s hardly a surprise, although the timing is interesting. English football will be better off without his swaggering arrogance. He typifies the myth that management is the business of heroes, that the individual is all important. The boring reality is that it is teamwork that is most often the deciding influence in football or business: Arsenal’s players are worth a good deal less than Chelsea’s, but because they play as a team, they are four places above Chelsea in the table. Sunderland under Roy Keane are another example: they punch above their weight (one hopes given Keane’s reputation not literally so) because they have team spirit.
Mourinho’s Chelsea were too often a collection of prima donnas, selfishly strutting around the pitch and not quite delivering. Let’s hope we see a return to sportsmanship in sport, with the team seen as more important than the individual and team building as more than just shopping.
There is a picture in the new Tate How We Are: Photographing Britain show of bear baiting in an English village, dating from 1910. It looks much older: we can hardly believe less than a hundred years ago that was going on in England.
Here’s something that will seem equally odd soon. It is a picture of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo.
I predict that in thirty or forty years it will be hard to believe that a ‘sport’ which celebrates the egregious consumption of natural resources (and incidentally doesn’t seem to me to be very sporting) will seem as out of date as bear baiting. By then, though, Monte Carlo won’t be the same kind of place: rising sea levels will have turned a lot of the current centre into a diver’s paradise. Underwater roulette anyone?
Let me end with a uncharacteristically sensible (if rather purple) piece of prose from George Monbiot today:
Motorised transport is a form of time travel. We mine the compressed time of other eras – the infinitesimal rain of plankton on the ocean floor, the settlement of trees in anoxic swamps – and use it to accelerate through our own. Every tank of fuel contains thousands of years of accretions. Our future depends on the expectation that the past will never be exhausted.
You might have thought that Tessa Jowell has been gargling with Polonium given the severity of the fallout from the latest Olympic budget fiasco. As the Guardian put it,
Arts leaders turn on Jowell over Olympics, Hytner and Co.’s point being that if you raid the Arts, Media and Sport budget for ten billion or so to pay for the already hideously over budget Olympics, unsurprisingly you have less for everyone else. As so often with this government, what works has been quietly abandoned in favour of what can be spun. Only now, Tessa, people have noticed that you and your lot can’t manage your way out of a paper bag, let alone bring a large six year infrastructure project in on budget, and they are annoyed that they are having to pay for your incompetence.
The Olympics are hugely over budget already and we still have 6 years to go? Quelle suprise…
Sometimes you find something that, in context, might not seem too strange, but when you step back and think about it, is genuinely odd. (Yes, that really is a ten foot copper eggcup in a late medieval church, by the way.) We are so used to the mixture of news and comment that passes for journalism these days that we don’t object. But when you find a really egregious example, it can bring you up short.
I was forwarded something like that today: it was a virulently anti-London Olympics piece. Now, as it happens, I think having the Olympics in London is a plan that has never been properly validated, is likely to go seriously wrong, and will cost Londoners a lot of money. But that’s an opinion. What really annoyed me about this supposed news item was the way it moved seemlessly from (carefully chosen) facts about the Barcelona, Athens etc. Games to pure conjecture about London and back again. The writer attributed motives to various parties including property developers and the mayor that not only were pure surmise, they were also deeply implausible. (I honestly don’t believe Ken is the natural leader of a capitalist cabal: do you?) The fact that I agreed with the conclusion is irrelevant: it was a really bad piece of journalism.
A commentator needs to see the plays clearly before he or she can understand how the game works. Then they might suggest changes to the rules to meet their views of a what a better outcome is. But mixing the opinion in with the analysis is bound to lead to muddied thinking. So journalists, please, try to keep that old fashioned news/comment separation in place.
If I ever need a hip replacement, I hope they give me whatever Floyd Landis is getting. It would be rather good to win a stage of the Tour de France.
Postscript: it appears I wasn’t wrong in the implication here. See this for the breaking news.
Formula One is boring. It used not to be, but it is now. There’s no overtaking, innovation is mostly concentrated in aerodynamics (which you need a wind tunnel to appreciate) and tires (which are anyway supplied by one of two companies). Moreover how you are treated depends on who you are – Schumacher and Ferrari usually get an easy ride from the stewards. But irritation aside let’s look at this from the game theory perspective: how would you set up the rules of F1 if you were starting from a clean piece of paper to make it as exciting to view as possible?
Kimi’s Maclaren in the window of a furniture shop near my office recently.
Clearly one issue is the amount of competition, and that is driven by money. Fine: cap all the team’s budgets at $100M including the driver’s salaries. Then people would be forced to chose between spending on the driver and spending on the car. Ferrari are commonly supposed to spend roughly four times that amount, so it should be a good leveller. Next, make the circuits more overtaking-friendly. The last grand prix at Magny-Cours was a great example of how not to do it. Finally, let’s encourage some innovation in making fast, energy efficient cars: put a limit on the total amount of fuel that can be used for the whole weekend, including qualifying, and set it at around 75% of the current usage. Finally, actually enforce the rules on bad driving: if a driver is judged to endanger or end the race of another deliberately or through lack of skill or care, dock him ten points and make him start the next race at the back of the grid.
And can we ban race radios and indeed any other communication from the team to the riders in the tour de france at the same time?