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Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Beginning Of The Greatest's Tale

I tried to post this on the relevant day but gremlins in my browser stopped me. Apologies for the delay.

It's forty five years today (February 24) since the then Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to claim the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Clay became Ali, Ali became The Greatest. It started on that day. I've sometimes claimed that Round 5 of that fight was the most important moment of the twentieth century - had Clay not evaded Liston in the 'blind round' then all that came after it would not have. No Vietnam resistance, no Rumble, no Thrilla. An integral part of the Civil Rights Movement would not have existed in such a vociferous form.

It was also the fight that launched the personality that would eventually become one of the greatest athletes of all time. I've got my problems with Muhammad as a man, but he is the most famous man of all time in what is undoubtedly my favourite sport, and for that I shall mark this day with one of my favourite Ali poems.

Clay comes out to meet Liston
and Liston starts to retreat,
if Liston goes back an inch farther
he'll end up in a ringside seat.

Clay swings with a left,

Clay swings with a right,
just look at young Cassius
carry the fight.

Liston keeps backing

but there's not enough room,

it's a matter of time

until Clay lowers the boom.

Then Clay lands with a right,

what a beautiful swing,

and the punch raised the bear

clear out of the ring.

Liston still rising
and the ref wears a frown,

but he can't start counting

until Sonny comes down.

Now Liston disappears from view,

the crowd is getting frantic

and our radaring stations
have picked him up
somewhere over the Atlantic.

Who on Earth thought,

when they came to the fight,

that they would witness
the launching
of a human satellite.

Hence the crowd did not dream,
when they laid down their money,
that they would see

a total eclipse of Sonny.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Woods' Return Is More Than Welcome

Tiger's back tomorrow. You can return to caring about golf.

The last time we saw Tiger play golf was at last year's US Open, a win that Tiger regards as the finest of his career. I'll go one step further. For me, to play as he did on (basically) one knee, was one of the finest performances in what was arguably sport's greatest ever year.

Yet his absence from the sport has been noted. To say he's been missed would be an understatement. Television ratings and attendances were both down while the sport's biggest star (or is that sport's biggest star?) was away. Tim Finchem (PGA Tour Commissioner) said on PTI recently that the sport used Tiger's absence to promote lesser lights and up-and-coming names such as Anthony Kim though the media in Tuscon this week haven't been paying too much attention to him.

I guess there are upsides in having one of the world's biggest stars in your sport. There are downsides, but they are a small price to pay for the sponsorship, ticket and television money that Tiger brings to the table. But other sports should take note of what golf has been through, and the pitfalls of relying on such stars. Swimming (Phelps), athletics (Bolt) and track cycling (Hoy) are among those with most to gain from having global stars but they also have much to lose if those stars are to shrink away.

I hope governing bodies take note, and golf fans... enjoy the return of Tiger.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


There was a time when politics and sport were inextricably linked. Sports fans in the 1980s dealt with Olympic boycotts and the Apartheid in South Africa while chess, cricket and many other sports have fallen victim to political influences. To that list, and most regrettably in 2009, we can now add tennis.

Last week, Shahar Peer was excluded from the Barclay Dubai Championship in tennis because she is Israeli. The response to this exclusion was slow but thankfully the proposed censures have been severe. The organisers have claimed that to allow Peer into the tourament would have been a security threat and could have led to a boycott of it by fans (in light of Israel's recetn troubles with Palestine), since the United Arab Emirates has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

We all have our views on Israel's actions, but in this instance they are irrelevant. Sport is sport and politics is something else altogether. The focus is now on the UAE ahead of next week's Dubai Tennis Championships and whether they will allow doubles player Andy Ram enter one of the most lucrative tournaments on the tennis calendar.

For me, the most worrying aspect of this story is the local coverage. At 18:45GMT on February 17th I captured images from the webpages of two Dubai based newspapers, Gulf News and Gulf Today. There's no mention of this story on their front pages, but here are the images from the sports pages.
Sports Page, Gulf Today

Tennis Page, Gulf News

How can a people learn from mistakes if it's media do not educate them? This is a serious breach of ethics and has registered on an international scale, yet not, it seems, on a more local one. If Ram is not allowed to play next week then there must be sanctions, and not just within tennis.

The FIFA World Club Championship is scheduled move from Japan to Dubai from this year. What if an Israeli team or Israeli players are to qualify? Such an issue should not be allowed to happen. What if an Israeli player does well in the European Tour's Race to Dubai competition? If Dubai and other parts of the Arab world wish to place themselves at the centre of the international sporting universe, then they must (pardon the pun) play by the rules. If they choose not to do this, then sport should censure itself until they see the light.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Recession Rumbles On NASCAR's Biggest Day Of Thunder

I don’t know if I like Nicole Kidman. As an actress I mean. For every To Die For there’s a Bewitched or an Australia. Or a Days of Thunder. Motor racing doesn’t make for great films (Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix aside, though that is more of a technical marvel than a good story) and Days of Thunder is no exception. It’s an OK tale of a young driver (Tom Cruise) attempting to make his way into NASCAR, and our Nicole makes an appearance of her own as a brain surgeon and love interest of the world’s favourite scientologist, before he became a scientologist. Her character Dr. Claire Lewicki (please comment if that’s your surname... it’s unusual to say the least) utters one line which I think is worth repeating.

Nobody knows what's gonna happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack.

Tonight, of all nights, that’s a pretty appropriate sentiment. The future of NASCAR is uncertain. In 2009, 19 years after Cruise and Co put NASCAR on the silver screen, the sport needs something another boost its profile. Much like Formula 1, NASCAR has fallen victim to this recession you might have heard about. America’s ‘Big Three’ car manufacturers have needed a bailout from the US government and, when they’re laying off staff, it’s difficult to see how they can afford to spend millions of dollars on an increasingly expensive sport.

As I type this, I’m watching the Daytona 500, the first and most important race of the Sprint Cup season. 43 cars are racing in front of a sell-out crowd in the stands and millions on TV, but one has to wonder what the sport will be like later in the season, in less traditional NASCAR strongholds like Fontana on a random NASCAR Sunday rather than during The Great American Race. Will the sport survive the economic meltdown? Yes. It’s got too much tradition and the television income is substantial, to say the least. But what sort of a NASCAR will we be looking at in 2010 or 2011? That remains unclear.

Measures have been taken. Testing has been curtailed in a cost cutting measure, while it seems that among the teams there is a genuine willingness to cut costs and end a ‘he-who-spends-most-wins-most’ culture. Yet I question the actions of NASCAR in this crisis. Sure, the testing has been postponed, but why has there been minimal international marketing? Where are the in-race features which show the drivers’ personalities to the casual fan, who has tuned into today’s 500 and needs to be lured into the sport? I'm watching FOX's coverage right now and on the sport's biggest day, which attracts the curious viewer, there's been none. Why are races so long? Even hardcore fans are pushed to watch 400 miles at Dover or 500 in California. Why are there races in Fontana, Atlanta, Miami, Infineon and Vegas and not, say, in Rockingham where hardcore fans are in plentiful supply? If people in the locality aren't going to turn up to watch, then that makes for an unappealing television spectacle too.

The crisis has bitten, but the show is still good. Tune in, you won’t regret it. Yes, they turn left all the time but as a series it offers much more competitive racing than we see in Europe. The show is good, both on TV and in the stands. There is no reason that this series cannot survive the recession better than F1. I feel it will do that, but the suffering should not be as extreme as it already is. NASCAR authorities need to do more, but so far there has been no pro-active measures from them, badly needed as they are. Don’t just take my word for it. Remember what Claire, I mean Nicole, said.

You...have a sickness, it's called denial and it's probably going to kill you.

Monday, 9 February 2009


I think the above headline sums up the state of this blog, and for that I am sorry. The lives we lead, as I'm sure you can appreciate, gets in the way of the lives we would like to lead.

I have a request for you all which I will place at the end of this post, but first, some quick thoughts.

  • The Kaka deal never happened. In my last post I thought it would, and it oh-so-nearly did. Though for my money the captures of Bellamy (though I hate to admit it) and Shay Given will go a lot further towards saving City's season than a recession busting Brazilian ever would. They should stay up. I'm sorry too. Yet mark my words - a club with the limited size and recognition of City not only got in the door of AC Milan but also intrigued Kaka enough to consider the move. The money is there but more importantly it's being made available. They are a coming force.

  • It wasn't a bad Superbowl...to say the least. The Steelers were deserving champions, more so than the 9-7 Cards would have been, though that's not to dismiss the efforts of Arizona. It was a great game because of their late rally, and THAT late touchdown from Santonio Holmes. Stunning catch, circumstances considered. My pocket sure liked it! Yet, I can't help but feel that the Cardinals could have won the game. Why not throw a fade route to Larry Fitzgerald late in the first-half, rather then the bullet which result in a pick-six for James Harrison? Speaking of Larry Fitzgerald, why is the game's most dangerous player left with only one catch after the game's first 48 minutes. Not good enough Arizona. I blame their coaches, though one of those has left. Todd Haley is now Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. My Kansas City Chiefs. As offensive co-ordinator, those offensive mishaps woud have been his calls. I really hope he's learned his lesson.

  • So A-Rod took 'Roids after all. Big news. BIG news. Baseball didn't need that, it's fans did. Will he now be seen as another Bonds or McGwire? I don't know. I don't think so, but the next few months will be very telling. The positive came in survey testing, so there'll be no ban. Yet this survey testing was carried out under the confition of anonymity, something I'd expect Scott Boras to remind us of ad nauseum in the coming days. Bullshit. A cheat's a cheat and deserves to be exposed as such. I just hope that A-Rod reacts like another drug-taker did last week...

  • ...mind you, pot is not steroids. Michael Phelps' image ma have been tarnished, but he'll recover. NBC will forgive him or else there'll be no reason to show the World Champinoships in Rome this year. He's still big business. When I saw the now infamous picture, I was reminded of his Olympian diet. Turns out he only had the munchies after all... By the way, News Of The World... A scandal about an American sports star should never be released on Super Bowl Sunday. Sports Illustrated waited until this week to reveal the A-Rod news for a reason.

  • NASCAR's back. All is right with the world. Boogity indeed.

  • What a game of rugby yesterday! Don't say it, but it could be Ireland's year. I said don't say it! Speaking of which, I had the privelege of watching yesterday's game in the company of my recently acquired girlfriend. She's not bad, you know. Yet, she's not a sports fan, and that's something I'm trying to fix. She enjoyed yesterday because Ireland were playing, and since she's from Cork I've warned her of trips to Turner's Cross this year. But I want her to get imore nterested! She'll never reach my level, but I want her to. She's (thankfully) willing to try things so, come on folks... Any advice????