Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Month: April 2016

Sport Geek #39: Brexitball, negative splits and the 92 club

Justice – at last.

Let’s get on with the sports stories of the week


Although Rafa Nadal is damn well trying. I’ve heard Nadal drugs rumours for years, but he’s going all out to show his innocence. The problem is that, as ever, you can’t prove you haven’t ever taken something. The doubters will never be convinced. So we end up in game theory – would someone go so far releasing documents etc if they were guilty of drug taking? Or is that the double-bluff they want you to believe? (FWIW, I’m a believer in Nadal.) Continue reading

Sport Geek #38: bye bye Kobe, curses, and Messi’s 500

Here’s a quick quiz, which will tell you everything you need to know about stats and context. And the long ball.

Q1: Which English football club is top of the Premier League right now?
Q2: Which club is 18th in the League and facing possible relegation?
Q3: Which two clubs play the long ball most often in the League?

If you answered ‘Leicester’ and ‘Sunderland’ to Q1 and Q2 respectively, you would be right. If you answered ‘Leicester and Sunderland’ to Q3, you would also be right.

According to the CIES Football Observatory, Leicester play 6.9 per cent of passes long, and Sunderland 6.7 per cent, the two highest-ranked Premier League teams, and 3rd and 4th in Europe’s big five leagues. For comparison, Tottenham in second place play 3.1 per cent long ball, and Newcastle, just behind Sunderland in the League, play 5.4 per cent.

Clearly long balls can be effective, or useless. Or maybe nothing comes from them whether you hit them 7 per cent of the time or 3 per cent. In other words: statistics can be revealing, or they can confuse, or they can be simply the starting point for more digging. Something to bear in mind.

And so to the week’s matters arising. Go on, treat yourself. Continue reading

Sport Geek #37: party pooping, Hellas Leicester, and the back 9

What to make of sport this week? There’s been no major scandal, no offices raided, no drug busts of note. Instead, it’s back to the drama. Spieth’s collapse and Willett’s win; Leicester dreaming of the most unlikely title since [insert witty historical reference here].

But I don’t want you to be simply entertained. I want you to feel smarter. So here are 12 stories that you should know about, or think about reading when you have the time that clearly you won’t have unless you stop reading this long paragraph and get on with properly procrastinating with some top quality sports writing and I’ll stop there thank you very much.


I actually fell asleep as Jordan Spieth went five shots clear at the Masters with the last 9 holes to go. But given that I had written a rather good analysis of the cliche that the back 9 at Augusta is where it is won or lost, I should have known better.  As the Cauldron points out, it’s the greatest theatre in sports.

The question now is: what happens to Spieth? Continue reading

Sport Geek #36: the greatest 14 ever, startup soccer, and losing Curry

After a couple of weeks out, the newsletter is back. Too much to summarise, so let’s get on with it.

Have you noticed the Huawei ads featuring Flo Jo as an inspirational figure? I say this is the worst sporting figure you could choose and the most cringeworthy campaign possible.


A few football pieces worth reading. As PSG and Man City face off in the Champions League, the Guardian has a great recap on how both teams were built by rival Gulf money. Meanwhile, Arsenal have been left behind. Once the stadium development was seen as crucial to the club’s future, but now it’s just a small part of club finance. Continue reading

Who didn’t get the memo about Flo Jo?

Uncanny timing laced with irony. A few weeks ago, as Maria Sharapova was ditched by various sponsors for taking a banned performance-enhancing drug, various adverts appeared from Chinese electronics giant Huawei featuring no less than Florence Griffith Joiner.

Yes, Flo Jo. Still the women’s 100m and 200m record holder, who died nearly 20 years ago, and for whom drug taking was never proven, but is widely accepted. The ads are still running in places such as the FT,  Wall St Journal, CNN and the Economist.

There’s some very tenuous blurb to draw a link between Flo Jo’s running philosophy and Huawei. Here’s how it goes:

Florence Griffith Joyner – smiling as she crosses the finish line. She set the women’s world record for the fastest 100-meter dash nearly thirty years ago, a record that hasn’t been broken since. The 100-meter dash only lasts for about 10 seconds. Joyner once said that runners mentally split each second into 100 units, exerting a massive amount of effort to increase their speed by one tiny unit at a time. An improvement of 0.01, although seemingly small, is a huge accomplishment.Huawei’s people have persevered through decades of hard work, relentlessly pursuing the technological breakthroughs that will usher in our future information society.

Combined with this useless copy is possibly the weirdest picture of Flo Jo that you could create. It looks like a 6-year-old was given free rein with Microsoft Paint, rather than anything a professional designer could come up with.

Flo Jo, in a picture that never happened.

While the Chinese have a history of drug-taking athletes, especially in swimming, one of their biggest companies can’t actually want to be associated with this kind of reputation, can it? Flo Jo is one of the stupidest choices you can imagine. There are plenty of clean athletes that Huawei could have picked. Flo Jo is still the record holder, but that’s NOT a good recommendation. Most of the women’s world records from 1988 – the year before out of competition testing started – are tainted.

Wasn’t there a meeting? Didn’t someone do a quick Google search and point out the rumours? Didn’t someone say “drugs”?

You might think so, given that in on version of the campaign, readers can leave comments. Aside from some racist crap, one commenter said:

FGJ is not such a good icon for your campaign, she was not making her world record on bread and peanutbutter alone….

Another put it more succinctly:

Didn’t. Flo jo die at 38 after a lifetime abusing performance enhancing drugs?

Quite. This is possibly the worst campaign you could come up with. Every element is bad. Perhaps Maria Sharapova should give Huawei a call.

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