September 5, 2013

Youth soccer without keeping score? Too competitive for our kids

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:16

While I’m pretty sure this is a fake news item that the CBC should have run on April 1st, it’s amusing enough to link:

With the growing concern over the effects of competition in youth sports programs this summer, many Canadian soccer associations eliminated the concept of keeping score. The Soccer Association of Midlake, Ontario, however, has taken this idea one step further, and have completely removed the ball from all youth soccer games and practices.

According to Association spokesperson, Helen Dabney-Coyle, “By removing the ball, it’s absolutely impossible to say ‘this team won’ and ‘this team lost’ or ‘this child is better at soccer than that child.’”

“We want our children to grow up learning that sport is not about competition, rather it’s about using your imagination. If you imagine you’re good at soccer, then, you are.”

For reference, a quick Google search for “Midlake, ON” only comes up with links to this story and random uses of “mid-lake” in unrelated posts.

H/T to Doug Mataconis for the link.

June 23, 2013

Brazilian protests were triggered by bus fare hike, but sustained by many more grievances

Filed under: Americas, Government, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:09

In the Independent, James Young reports from Rio de Janeiro:

The most recent wave of protests began at the beginning of the month in Sao Paulo over what may seem an insignificant 20 centavo (7p) bus-fare hike. But the level of the increase was less important than what it represented. Once again, Brazilians felt they were being asked to pay an onerous price for a shoddy service. Buses in big cities are overcrowded, infrequent and journeys can take hours.

Now the leaderless, non-politically affiliated protest movement has a variety of goals. Better public healthcare is one. “I recently spent eight hours in a hospital waiting room with dengue,” says Lee, a bank worker protesting on Friday. “People were sleeping on the floor.” Another is an improved education system. “We work hard and pay high taxes. And we get nothing in return,” he continues.

Frustration over the country’s institutionalised corruption has attracted many to the protests. Influence-peddling scandals such as 2005′s Mensalao (“big monthly allowance”) affair and, more recently, the saga of Carlinhos Cachoeira, accused of running a political bribery network, have left many desperate for change.

Some protesters have focused on the £8bn spent on stadium and infrastructure work for next year’s World Cup, seen as indefensible in a country with so many more pressing needs. The brutal tactics employed by the police have added to the indignation. Rubber bullets and tear gas have been used, often indiscriminately and at close range.

June 21, 2013

Brazilian protests trigger emergency presidential meeting

Filed under: Americas, Politics, Soccer — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

In the Guardian, Jordan Watts reports on the continuing disturbances in Brazil:

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, and key ministers are to hold an emergency meeting on Friday following a night of protests that saw Rio de Janeiro and dozens of other cities echo with percussion grenades and swirl with teargas as riot police scattered the biggest demonstrations in more than two decades.

The protests were sparked last week by opposition to rising bus fares, but they have spread rapidly to encompass a range of grievances, as was evident from the placards. “Stop corruption. Change Brazil”; “Halt evictions”; “Come to the street. It’s the only place we don’t pay taxes”; “Government failure to understand education will lead to revolution”.

Rousseff’s office said she had cancelled a trip to Japan next week.

A former student radical herself, Rousseff has tried to mollify the protesters by praising their peaceful and democratic spirit. Partly at her prompting, Rio, São Paulo and other cities have reversed the increase in public transport fares, but this has failed to quell the unrest.

A vast crowd — estimated by the authorities at 300,000 and more than a million by participants — filled Rio’s streets, one of a wave of huge nationwide marches against corruption, police brutality, poor public services and excessive spending on the World Cup.

June 19, 2013

V for Vinegar

Filed under: Americas, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

The Economist reports on the rising tide of protest in Brazil:

All that changed on June 13th when the state’s unaccountable, ill-trained and brutal military police turned a mostly peaceful demonstration into a terrifying rout. Dozens of videos, some from journalists, others from participants and bystanders, show officers with their name tags removed firing stun grenades and rubber bullets indiscriminately at fleeing protesters and bystanders and hunting stragglers through the streets. Motorists trapped in the mayhem ended up breathing pepper spray and tear gas. Demonstrators found with vinegar (which can be used to lessen the effect of tear gas) were arrested. Several journalists were injured, two shot in the face with rubber bullets at close range. One has been told he is likely to lose his sight in one eye. The following day’s editorials took a markedly different tone.

By June 17th what has become dubbed the “V for Vinegar” movement or “Salad Revolution” had spread to a dozen state capitals as well as the federal capital, Brasília. The aims had also grown more diffuse, with marchers demanding less corruption, better public services and control of inflation. Many banners protested against the disgraceful cost of the stadiums being built for next year’s football World Cup. Brazil has already spent 7 billion reais, three times South Africa’s total four years earlier, and only half the stadiums are finished. “First-world stadiums; third-world schools and hospitals”, ran one placard.

[. . .]

So, why now? One reason is surely a recent spike in inflation, which is starting to eat into the buying power of the great majority of Brazilians who are still getting by on modest incomes, just as a big ramp-up in consumer credit in recent years has left them painfully overstretched. Bus fares have not risen for 30 months (mayors routinely freeze fares in municipal-election years, such as 2012, and in January this year the mayors of Rio and São Paulo agreed to wait until June before hiking in order to help the federal government massage the inflation figures). In fact, the rise in São Paulo’s and Rio’s bus fares comes nowhere close to matching inflation over that 30-month period. But bus fares are under government control, unlike other fast-rising costs such as those for housing and food. Perhaps they were simply chosen as a scapegoat.

More broadly, the very middle class that Brazil has created in the past decade — 40m people have escaped from absolute poverty, but are still only one paycheck from falling back into it, and 2009 was the first year in which more than half the population could be considered middle class — is developing an entirely new relationship with the government. They see further improvements in their living standards as their right and will fight tooth and nail not to fall back into poverty. And rather than being grateful for the occasional crumb thrown from rich Brazilians’ tables, they are waking up to the fact that they pay taxes and deserve something in return. Perhaps their government’s triumphalism over those shiny new stadiums was the final straw.

April 4, 2013

“So yet again the English have lost a football shoot-out against the Germans”

Filed under: Soccer, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:11

The Register‘s John Leyden takes a predictable line after the international governing body for soccer went with a German firm’s product over an English competitor:

The GoalControl-4D system features 14 high-speed cameras around a football pitch focused on both goal mouths to help match officials determine whether or not the ball has crossed the goal-line.

The ball’s position is continuously and automatically captured in three dimensions when it is close to the goal, GoalControl explains. If the ball has passed the goal line, the system’s CPU sends an encrypted radio signal to the referee’s watch in less than one second.

GoalControl offers the possibility of providing replays as well as the ability to be installed within existing goal frames and nets, without needing hi-tech additions to the match balls themselves.

The technology will be put through its paces at the upcoming Confederations Cup in Brazil. If trials progress as planned the technology will be deployed at next year’s eagerly anticipated tournament.

GoalControl (which sounds like US commentator-speak for a goalkeeper) was picked ahead of three other FIFA-licensed technology providers, including British firm Hawkeye. So yet again the English have lost a football shoot-out against the Germans.

February 7, 2013

Soccer’s greatest scandal yet … may be far worse than the 680 fixed matches we’ve heard about

Filed under: Law, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

Soccer is a huge global sport (yes, my American friends, it really is). It’s also the favourite sport for Asian gamblers to lose money over, and Europol has highlighted 680 “suspicious” matches so far:

It’s huge news, not because the results are particularly surprising — there’s plenty of other evidence, even recent evidence, that match-fixing is rampant in global soccer — but because the sheer extent of the allegations means that we can no longer delude ourselves about what’s happening. This is what’s happening: Soccer is fucked. Match-fixing is corroding the integrity of the game at every level. It’s not just South African friendlies or Korean league games or Chinese “black whistles”; it’s not even just the occasional Calciopoli-type scandal that you can explain away by saying “well, Italy is Italy.” Operation Veto found suspect World Cup qualifiers, suspect European Championship qualifiers, suspect Champions League games. It found 150 suspect matches at the international level, on multiple continents. It found 380 suspect matches in Europe overall. It found a suspect match involving Liverpool that was played at Anfield, arguably the most celebrated club and stadium in England.

These are tip-of-the-iceberg numbers. The investigation didn’t turn up every instance of match-fixing everywhere; they’re just talking about the possibilities they’ve turned up. Concise evidence of what’s still hidden: Europol revealed that they’d found $11 million in organized-crime profits. Sound a little low to you? Chris Eaton, the former FIFA security director who now runs the International Centre for Sports Security in Qatar, thinks the actual number is maybe a hundred times that high.

So let’s say I told you that a major international law-enforcement agency had uncovered a mountain of evidence that indicates the most popular sport in the world was being manipulated by a criminal ring that was profiting to the tune of — conservatively — millions of dollars. On one level, that’s good news, isn’t it? I mean, it’s terrible that it happened, but now that the police know, things can change! We’ll see arrests! We’ll see books opened! The truth will come to light! At a minimum, FIFA will take strong and immediate steps to make sure this never happens again. Right?

Let me answer that question by referring you to the phrase that I hope will be your primary takeaway from this piece. Soccer. Is. Fucked.

December 20, 2012

Did the Germans and the British really play soccer at Christmas in 1914?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

In the Guardian, Scott Murray and John Ashdown discuss the rather amazing events of Christmas Day, 1914 between the combatants in France:

To borrow (and then misuse) one of the oldest football zingers in the book: in the middle of a fight, a football match broke out. A report in the Guardian on Boxing Day 1914 described how in one region “every acre of meadow under any sort of cover in the rear of the lines was taken possession of for football”. In their letters home, British soldiers told of shaking hands with their German counterparts and swapping cigarettes. A Scottish brigadier described how the Germans “came out of their trenches and walked across unarmed, with boxes of cigars and seasonable remarks. What were our men to do? Shoot? You could not shoot unarmed men.”

While there was undoubtedly continued gunfire along many sections of the front, most soldiers appear to have laid down their arms and called an unofficial truce that day, with fußball uppermost in the minds of many. A letter published on New Year’s Day from a British officer reads: “I hear our fellows played the Germans at football on Christmas Day. Our own pet enemies remarked they would like a game, but as the ground in our part is all root crops and much cut up by ditches, and as, moreover, we had not got a football, we had to call it off.” A letter in the Times, meanwhile, from a major reported that a German regiment “had a football match with the Saxons [regiment], who beat them 3-2″.

One match appears to have started between the Germans and a regiment from Cheshire, one of whom years later explained how a ball suddenly came hurtling over the top from the German side. “I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee — nothing like the soccer you see on television.”

December 11, 2012

Deserved praise for Christine Sinclair

Filed under: Cancon, Soccer, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:57

Cam Cole explains why Christine Sinclair deserves all the accolades that are being awarded:

So what was it about Sinclair that allowed her to win the Lou Marsh on Monday, having led the Canadian women’s soccer team to a mere bronze medal?

Well, one thing the 29-year-old striker from Burnaby did — has done for years, but did most profoundly at the London Olympics — was lead a women’s sport to a place, in her country, above the men’s equivalent.

It’s no coincidence that she is the first soccer player in the 76-year history of the award to win the Lou Marsh.

[. . .]

Fortunately, in Canada, our standards are not so narrow. We don’t consider it much of a negative for a captain of our national squad — who is superior in every other way, who is unselfish and rises to the occasion and doesn’t roll around on the turf as if felled by sniper fire every time she is touched by an opponent — to express our national rage when her team, our team, has just been jobbed.

Overwhelmingly, Canadians were glad Sinclair went off on the referee, with the able assistance of her even more combustible teammate, Melissa Tancredi.

Overwhelmingly, after an incident that in normal circumstances might have been a national embarrassment, the country rallied around Sinclair, and her fellow Olympians chose her to carry Canada’s flag in the closing ceremony.

After a bronze medal? Yup.

November 7, 2012

Scotland: sing an offensive song, go to prison

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:57

Kevin Rooney looks at the sad state of free speech (or should that be free singing?) in Scotland:

Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.

So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.

Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’

Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise — the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.

August 9, 2012

Cam Cole: FIFA launches “Captain Renault-style” investigation

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Soccer, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

Now that we’ve all had a bit of time to calm down about the awful officiating in the Canada vs USA women’s soccer game, Cam Cole explains why FIFA should penalize the Canadian team for their intemperate comments:

On a magnificently warm, sunny Wednesday at the pristine playing fields of Warwick University, all was forgiven if not forgotten by the Canadian women.

Word spread quickly that FIFA, the sports governing body, had determined that its investigation into the bitter post-game remarks by the losing side needed more time and … well, had basically decided to bury the whole thing and maybe one day suspend the star of Canada’s team, Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair, at some future date — like for a couple of friendlies she hadn’t planned to play anyway.

To say coach John Herdman was relieved to have his best player available for Thursday’s bronze medal match against France — to say nothing of the thunder to Sinclair’s lightning, the equally vocal Melissa Tancredi — is a considerable understatement.

[. . .]

And let’s face it, the Canadians were out of order by almost any sport’s standards in the volume and toxicity of their remarks about the Norwegian referee.

If they had merely said she was blind as a platypus and ought to be carrying a white cane and have a guide dog to help her navigate the field, they’d have been well within the bounds of fair comment.

It was when Sinclair accused Pedersen of having decided the result before the first ball was kicked, and when Tancredi suggested that the referee slept in Team USA jammies, that matters crossed the line from acceptable criticism to slander.

Ineptitude is one thing, bias quite another.

So FIFA took matters under advisement, and launched the kind of thorough investigation that Claude Rains launched when Humphrey Bogart shot the German general at the end of Casablanca.

Of course, I must point out that Cole is absolutely wrong here: it was Major Strasser who was shot, not a German general.

June 28, 2012

Duleep Allirajah: “Penalties. Again. Jesus, it’s like bloody Groundhog Day.”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

More cogitation on England’s inglorious record of penalty kick performance:

Why do England always lose on penalties? It’s like one of those big ontological questions which children ask — like ‘Why is the sky blue?’ — which invariably stump parents. These are self-evident truths, but we struggle to explain them. The players practice spot-kicks regularly. The goalkeepers meticulously study the penalty traits of their opponents. And yet we always, always bottle it. Why? Roy Hodgson was at a loss to explain what went wrong. ‘I don’t know how to answer why we cannot win penalties shootouts. It can go either way. It is a difficult one. Anyone can win’, he said. ‘I think penalties is always down to luck. It is a lottery. It is just the way it goes in football.’

It’s an old cliché that penalties are a lottery. It also happens to be nonsense, as I’ve argued before. Sure, luck plays a part. But, ultimately, penalty shootouts are tests of psychological strength. They are won and lost in the mind. It’s all about keeping focused, banishing the doubts and holding one’s nerve under extreme pressure. Easier said than done, of course, but successive penalty shootout defeats are imprinted on our sporting psyche. The inevitability of failure has become a myth that all of us — footballers included — have come to believe. Did you see the terror in Ashley Young’s face as he was about to take his ill-fated kick? The ghosts of all those missed penalties had returned to haunt him.

Invariably, a motley crew of psychologists, positive-thinking gurus and snake-oil sellers will be forming a queue outside FA headquarters, offering cures for the English penalty curse. I think there’s a simpler solution. Let’s campaign for spot kicks to be scrapped. We should use whatever arguments we think might work. I’d play the inclusion card. Penalty kicks clearly discriminate against the mentally frail. The English, who suffer from a collective, penalty-induced trauma, will always get a raw deal. How can that be fair? If FIFA wants a truly level playing field, the answer is to get rid of the pseudo-lottery of spot kicks. What we need is a proper lottery. We don’t want skill or nerve to play any part. Tossing a coin, rolling dice, drawing straws, a game of scissor-paper-stone — anything is better than a shootout. Come on Mr Blatter, give us chokers a chance.

June 25, 2012

Euro 2012: “I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Soccer — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:58

I watched yesterday’s game with a deep sense of foreboding … that it just might come down to penalties. Again. Richard Littlejohn obviously felt the same way:

We might have guessed it was always going to come down to penalties. We’ve been here before.

There was a grim inevitability about England’s elimination from Euro 2012 on penalties. And Italy deserved their victory. But that’s not to pretend it still doesn’t hurt.

Every two years, I kid myself I don’t care. Why invest emotional energy in a bunch of footballers? It’s only a game.

When England kicked off against France 10 days ago, I feigned indifference. So what if England lose? Life goes on. World Cups, European Championships, it’s bound to end in tears.

But England didn’t lose. They drew with France, beat Sweden and Ukraine, finished top of their group and qualified for the quarter finals. Suddenly, it mattered. Three more wins and four and a half decades of bitter disappointment and under-achievement would be consigned to history. Football’s coming home.

Against my better judgment and years of experience I discovered I did care after all. As England progressed and last night’s game against Italy approached, the pulse began to quicken, the optimism returned. This time we really could be in with a chance.

To be honest, it was better when England stuck to the script and crashed out of tournaments prematurely, consumed by hubris and an inflated sense of their own abilities. We’re used to being let down. We can handle it. As John Cleese said in the movie Clockwise: ‘I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.’

H/T to Nick Packwood for the link.

June 15, 2012

Anthem thoughts by Colby Cosh

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Soccer — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 14:17

In the opening ceremonies of the England vs Sweden match, Colby muses on the opposing national anthems:

And Andrew Coyne finds an ominous atmosphere:

May 24, 2012

Unsupport your unfavourite Premier League team

Filed under: Britain, Football, Soccer — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:18

Duleep Allirajah explains why he’s a “90-minute Quisling”:

Years ago, long before Google came to the salvation of lazy football writers who couldn’t be bothered with microfiche searches, the term ‘unsupport’ was coined in the football magazine, When Saturday Comes.

It meant, as the name suggests, the exact opposite of supporting a team. You wished defeat on another team, hated that team with a passion. So, for example, in the last day of the Premiership season, many neutrals wanted Manchester City to win the title. This was not through any great love for the oil-rich upstarts in blue, but because they were unsupporting Manchester United. In the Premiership era, Manchester United are simultaneously the best supported and, at the same time, the most unsupported club in the land. Unsupporting is the football equivalent of Newton’s third law of motion: all the time United are successful, hatred of the side occurs as an equal and opposite reaction.

You can tell a lot about people by the team they hate. Take Manchester United unsupporters. They assume two forms. In the blue half of Manchester or on Merseyside, the Anyone But United (ABU) sentiment is an expression of bitter local rivalry. But throughout the rest of the country, ABU represents an increasing disenchantment with modern football. Manchester United is essentially a proxy for the gentrification and commercialisation of the game. When fans sing ‘Stand up if you hate Man U’, it’s not simply green-eyed envy of United’s success, it’s also a howl of protest against the corporate takeover of football. United embodies everything the traditionalists hate about the Premier League: the hype, the desecration of 3pm kick-offs, the relentless merchandising, the prawn-sandwich munching ‘plastic fans’, and the absentee foreign owners

The constant appearance of Manchester United and Chelsea at or near the top of the English Premier League have always seemed to me to be a good argument in favour of a salary cap in the NFL style: otherwise richer clubs will always be able to buy their way to a higher season finish than poorer teams.

On the other hand, the NFL could learn from the EPL with their promotion/relegation system (I say that in full knowledge that my beloved Vikings would have been relegated after the 2011 season if such a scheme was implemented). Of course, structurally the NFL and EPL have many differences preventing the adoption of the other sport’s practices, but as (I think) Gregg Easterbrook pointed out, Ohio State … sorry, The Ohio State University’s football team could have beaten both of Ohio’s professional teams for much of the last decade.

April 11, 2012

Britain is suffering from Mourning sickness

Filed under: Britain, Media, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:57

Brendan O’Neill castigates Liverpool FC and their refusal to play a game on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, but says that all of Britain is suffering from an advanced case of Mourning sickness:

In many ways, the reaction to Hillsborough was the prototype for later outbursts of emotional correctness, from the weird weepy reaction to Princess Diana’s death in 1997 to the media hysteria that greeted the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007. In all those instances of public mourning, in all the Shared National Experiences of ostentatious grieving, the rules and rituals set in motion after Hillsborough have come into play. Thou must make a public performance of sorrow. Thou must never deviate from the emotional script. Thou must not question why we weep, year in and year out, and just get on with weeping. Thou must wallow in one-off tragedies forever and severely chastise anyone who says “Life moves on”. Those are the stifling, speech-restricting, thought-policing, miserable, mawkish rules of emotionally correct modern Britain, and they were written and made gospel on the back of the Hillsborough disaster 22 years ago. God help anyone who deviates from them, as Davies has discovered: he has received hate mail and death threats for daring to question the grief gospel.

Some people attribute the enforced emotional sensitivity over Hillsborough to the peculiar touchiness of Liverpudlians. Liverpool is “self-pity city”, we are told, where they love nothing more than to play the victim card. Perhaps. But if that is true, then we are all Scousers now. Mourning sickness and emotionally correct hysteria are widespread in twenty-first-century Britain, stretching from Liverpudlian housing estates to the London eateries of the Guardian-reading set. It can be glimpsed in everything from the hunting down and imprisonment of an offensive drunken tweeter who refused to go along with the “Pray for Fabrice Muamba” trend to the broadsheets’ haranguing of Jan Moir for not being sufficiently mournful following the death of Stephen Gately. The post-Hillsborough era is one of extraordinarily restrictive emotionalism and censoriousness.

Davies has now repented for his sins, making a public apology for his comments and offering to make a donation to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign — the modern equivalent of doing penance. He shouldn’t have apologised. We need more upfront, unapologetic criticism of the backward modern idea that there is a correct way to feel, a correct way to grieve, and even a correct way to think.

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