Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas and miscellany

Winter Olympics: it’s the cost, not the climate

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It is tempting to bemoan the Winter Olympics going to Beijing as another example of unsuitable regimes being awarded the big sporting jamborees. Russia and Qatar are the next two World Cup hosts. After lots of European countries pulled out, Beijing was left with Alamaty of Kazakhstan to bid for the 2020 Winter Games. Urgh, all these dictators.

But it was ever thus.

The 1988 Seoul Olympics may have marked South Korea’s emergence economically, but the bidding process started at the end of military dictatorship. Moscow in 1980 was still under Communist one-party rule. The 1978 World Cup was hosted by Argentina, under the rule of a military junta, and (allegedly) was rife with match fixing, drugs, and torture of dissidents. 1936? Hitler’s Games in Berlin. Mussolini made sure that Italy won the 1934 World Cup on home soil.

The only difference now is that countries with unsuitable climates are being awarded these events: Qatar’s heat meaning the World Cup will shift to November. Sochi’s climate was hardly ideal – it was the first sub-tropical city to host the Winter Games. Beijing will stage the Games near a desert, and as the Economist points out, it hardly has a domestic ski industry to speak of.

These are real concerns, especially if athletes and fans are at risk. But if a country wants to build mountains of artificial snow at great expense, that’s their look out.

The root of the problem is not human rights, important as they are. It is that the IOC and Fifa have made it impossible for countries to bid with existing facilities, demanding lots of shiny new stadiums and other crazy conditions. That makes hosting a gigantic expense, which gives an advantage to countries with unaccountable regimes and money to burn. Norway was favourite to win the 2020 Games, but the bid was pulled after a parliamentary vote.

Unpleasant regimes will always bid for these events, to enhance their worldwide standing. That won’t stop, but if the IOC and Fifa changed the selection criteria, at least cheaper, more cost-effective bids might stand a chance.

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Sport Geek #11: Miss Charming, angry caddy, and underpants

Reasons to be down: Russian racism, Test cricket dying. Reasons to be cheerful: NFL’s first female coach, Chris Froome, Reasons to laugh: Fifa, angry caddy.  Sport Geek’s take on the week is below. Please feel free to share and spread the word.

Everyone knows hosting the Olympics is an expensive nightmare. Case in point: Tokyo’s stadium. So a sigh of relief for the taxpayers of Boston, then. Although LA may step in. (A reminder: the 1984 Olympics only turned a profit because the city was allowed to use existing facilities.)

Sexism, of sorts? Why can’t men be Olympic synchronised swimmers?

TdF / Froome time: where does he rank among British cycling greats? Is all the acrimony all just Gallic Froome-envy? Pity there weren’t more sprints, says a sprinter.

Not Froome: who is the fastest man in the peloton: Cavendish, Kittel or Greipel?

Tiger Woods’ decline is reminiscent of Willie Mays. Does golf need a black champion? It’s official, the Woods era is over. There’s a new youth movement, headed by Spieth.

The inside track on Jordan Spieth at the Open. Talking of which, it was a beautiful mess. Who won? Oh yes, Zach Johnson. Fair play to the guy.

Golfer vs caddie bust up: he started it, no he started it.

Football needs more than one referee. Other sports do, so why not?

Scottish football needs Rangers back in the top flight.

Remember the “Galacticos“? It started 15 years ago when Luis Figo signed for Real Madrid.

Spurs are just not the same when they are not buying inadequate but expensive players.

The US should fire Jurgen Klinsmann.

Is Arsene Wenger a socialist?

After the second Test Ashes debacle, will Gary Ballance get the chop?

Remember Shane Warne? Pre-poker and Hurley, he bowled like a god.

Is Test cricket dying?

Book review: Who wants to be a batsman? The analyst unveils the secrets of batting, by Simon Hughes

What the World Cup really needs: Russian racism on top of all the other scandals (see Fifa).

From the you-couldn’t-make-it-up file, “Miss Charming”, the Russian Premier League annual beauty contest winner, posts neo-Nazi messages on social media. Then a black player gets a ban for reacting to racist chanting, but the club gets away with it. Some clubs even have fans who call for all-white teams. Not good. Calling other countries out for the same problem isn’t exactly a useful answer. In fact, it’s clear Russia just doesn’t have any sort of plan to deal with this.

Can Nadal turn his season around at the US Open? Strangely, a European clay victory would be a good place to start.

Andy Murray is tough.

Once the slams weren’t so grand. Here’s how Australia turned it around. Talking of slams, the US Open is going to be all about Serena. Nothing else matters.

The “steroid era” may be over, but Major League Baseball is still dealing with its consequences. Talking of which – should Barry Bonds be in Hall of Fame?

It’s the sporting body that just keeps on giving.

Putin says Blatter should get the Nobel peace prize. Stop laughing, there’s more. When you need to post bail on corruption charges, perhaps ponying up a bunch of Rolex watches and a Ferrari might not be the best idea. Oh, and the Fifa Movie? It really was a complete bomb.

Lewis Hamilton just can’t get a start, and it’s going to get worse.

The Rugby World Cup will be a big cash earner, but the Pacific Islands won’t see much of it.

The NFL gets its first female coach. Yay progress.

Bolt vs Gatlin could be seriously quick. Bolt’s back, thank God.

The strange world of the Korean Basketball League draft. In Vegas.

Roger Federer is the world’s most marketable sports star. Tiger Woods is still number two, ffs.

Forget Nike: Under Armour have the most exciting line up.

Tyson Fury might not beat Wladimir Klitschko, but he’s clearly more amusing: “You have about as much charisma as my underpants”. Nice.

That’s it, thanks and see you next Tuesday. Any suggestions, shout:

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Sport Geek #10: urine, cash, and the bible

The golf was cold, the cycling was heated, and the cricket completely different to last time. Plus, (and you don’t get to write this every week), urine and cash have both been chucked about. Sport Geek’s take on the week is below. Please feel free to share and spread the word. Continue reading

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Sport Geek #9: a new tennis era, sch* <£30m, white trousers

Ashes in action, Wimbledon wrapped-up, plus lots of other great stories this week. Please feel free to share and spread the word.

Ashes primer: If you don’t know what the Ashes are all about, read this. It’s brilliant. Here are some fun facts to keep you going, plus a guide to sledging.

So England beat Australia in the first Test. Geoffrey Boycott didn’t see it coming. Nobody saw it coming, did they? Well, apart from Andy Bull (read the past 2 pars), Jonathan Agnew, Michael Clarke… So what do Australia do now? Ditch the oldies. But don’t feel sorry for Shane Watson.

Joe Root is England’s batting hero. However, it’s worth noting that his century was a triumph of result over method.

Meanwhile, Pakistan have just completed one of the greatest run chases in cricket history to secure victory in the third Test with Sri Lanka. So are Test run chases getting easier? Continue reading

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Sport Geek #8: tennis problems, footgolf, and pot

The best sports writing from the past week (or so).

No predictions, they could all be wrong by the time you read this. Instead:

Player with a problem 1) Rafael Nadal. His loss to Dustin Brown was almost predicatable. Is this career end-game? Or time to sack uncle Toni and get a new coach?

Player with a problem 2) Nick Kyrgios. You can be the next superstar, but nobody likes a tanker.

Country with a problem: Spain is in meltdown.

Programme with a problem: Wimbledon 2day. Somebody thought a revamp was a good idea. Nobody else, from the Mail to the FT, agreed. Format scrapped. Life goes back to normal.

Which player could Roger Federer possibly be in awe of? Continue reading

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Sport Geek #7: wither the leftie, speedy nags, awkward rider

You may have noticed that Wimbledon is ON. But there are some other great sporting stories out there too. Here’s this week’s Geek take:

Andy Murray – McEnroe’s pick to win – has a tough draw. Novak Djokovic has it easier. Will it make any difference? Here are some other predictions, and six players to watch.

Country file: what the hell has happened to Americans at SW19? Meanwhile, Australia have their biggest contingent for ages.

Don’t write off Roger. The Fed is a good winner because he’s also a good loser.

McEnroe, Navratilova, Ivanisevic – where have all the lefties gone?

What’s the difference between encouragement and coaching? Don’t ask Djokovic

Context: ranking the current generation against the all-time greats. Continue reading

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Sport Geek #6: Slam dreams, bollards, Hackball

Leave aside talk of Serena getting the Grand Slam – what about Jordan? With the Masters and now US Open in the bag, Speith is halfway there. What’s in store at the Open?

Don’t forget how fine the margins are in golf: Dustin Johnson had a put to win at Chambers Bay.

Golf career obits: Phil Mickelson is at that awkward age for a golfer. Watching Tiger is just plain awkward.

Forget Tiger and Phil: Jordan vs Rory is the rivalry golf needs for the next few years.

Get your excuses in early: was this the worst ever course to hold a major? Continue reading

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Sport Geek #5: money talks, the N Korea of golf, racing’s dirty secret

We noticed before that Sepp Blatter didn’t actually use the word ‘resign’. So let’s not be surprised that – oh look – he might carry on after all.

Get real 1) Don’t call the Olympics out as a model for Fifa to follow. The IOC is happy to suck up to dictators. Hello Baku!
Get real 2) It might be a fun devils-advocate position to take, but Blatter hasn’t actually helped the poorer football nations at all.

Don’t call it the beautiful game. Try “the zero-sum game that deepens the poverty of the poor“. Continue reading

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Sport Geek #4: end of the Big 4, Wood’s 85, Bradley’s 60 minutes

The best of the last week (or so). Fifa, Barca, failure, and a long hour.


Blatter: Has he actually resigned, or is this all another ploy? And was he really all that bad? Richard Williams of the Guardian has a valiant go at making a case for Sepp. Continue reading

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What can Fifa learn from other voting systems?


Everyone agrees that Fifa needs to change. But what about the tricky question of members’ votes? In general, the argument seems to go like this:

  • ‘One member, one vote’ gives smaller nations equal rights to large footballing countries.
  • Smaller nations – hello Africa and Asia – are happy with the corrupt kick-backs while bigger nations  – read Europe – are clean and want reform.
  • So reform should involve changing the one-vote-per-country system, in favour of bigger, more important nations.

Is this fair? Looking at the charge sheet from the DOJ, you might think the problem is not Africa and Asia, but South America, which has of course provided 9 of the 20 World Cup winners.  Let’s leave that aside for now – how should the voting system be changed? What systems do other organisations use?

Don’t forget that Fifa’s Executive committee, not the full members, chooses the World Cup hosts. Fifa Congress votes on modifications to the rules, and elects the president.

Body Function Members System
Fifa (congress) Football 209 1M-1V
UN General Assembly Security and world affairs 193 1M-1V
IMF / World Bank International finance 188 Weighted
Opec Oil production 11 1M-1V
Miss World Beauty 100+ Panel of 9
Eurovision Singing 40 1M-58V
ICC Cricket 105 Exec Committee

1M-1V = One member, one vote | 1M-58V = One member, 58 votes

UN General Assembly

One member, one vote. So the same as Fifa then. And open to the same problems. As a Bloomberg article put it:

China has the same voting power as Tuvalu despite a population 137,000 times as large… Want to know why small island states, including Tuvalu, are such a constant topic of discussion in UN meetings? Because small island states have such outsize power at the UN.

    Fifa factor? Same old same old.

World Bank

Very different: the IMF / World Bank uses a quota voting system which allocates votes according to how much each country contributes to the Bank, as well  other factors such as GDP, openness and international reserves. You can see the details here. The system is subject to various demands for tweaks, as some countries gain in size and power – emerging economies want a greater say to go with their greater wealth – so it is open to nagging, rather than wholesale reform.

    Fifa factor? Europe might like something which takes footballing size into account. Smaller countries would resist it. Finding the right formula would be almost impossible.


One member, one vote, but with a bit of a caveat – there are clearly more oil-producing nations than the 11 members of Opec – the US, for one. Opec isn’t exactly a model of openness either. Any Opec model would be akin to kicking everyone out of Fifa bar the biggest dozen or so countries, and then setting a World Cup that the rest of the world had to take part in, assuming they had the resources.

Fifa factor? A clubby cartel of the biggest producers doesn’t sound like a good model for football.

Miss World

Stay with me on this one. Bidding for World Cups is often referred to as a beauty contest, so how does Miss World work? Well, it doesn’t have members in the same way; the winner is decided by a judging panel of nine people, and their decisions are not published. So not a great example. However, there are a few elements that might be adopted. At least each contestant knows how they scored in each area – World Cup bidders could be marked according to various criteria, which might at least encourage some responsible voting.

Fifa factor? Committee – bad. Open criteria – good.


Again, stay with me. What has Eurovision got? A fantastic voting system, that’s what. You could call it ‘One member, 58 votes’, as each of the 40 countries allocates 12 points, 10 points, then 8 down to 1 to other countries. Although it is ripe for abuse as countries vote for each other in blocs, it still manages to throw up different winners each year.

What’s not so good is the 50:50 split between a judging panel and a public vote. That’s not going to win any friends amongst Fifa.

Fifa factor? Low. Would require every member to submit a bid. Public element won’t fly.


Lastly, it’s time to look at another sport. How about cricket? The ICC runs the game on the basis of a committee, where only the 10 Test nations get a say, plus three affiliate nations. But there is also the executive committee which has basically awarded extra power to Australia, England and India. It’s quite confusing. Plus, they can’t organise a World Cup for toffee, changing the format all the time and boring the pants off everyone with long, drawn-out events that are designed to give the bigger sides an easy path.

Fifa factor? Clubby committee might appeal to European grandees, but money issues aside, at least the football World Cup keeps the entertainment levels high, and is a fair game 32-team event. Pass.


Fifa’s smaller members aren’t about to vote for less money and influence. While a few of the lessons could be good (Miss World’s criteria, World Bank weighting), it will be interesting to see if any changes can actually be delivered.

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