Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: newsletter (page 1 of 9)

Sport Geek #87: shame, Qatar, and video games

It’s been ages since I last did the newsletter – so welcome to the new people. Due to the long hiatus, a quick recap: I pick interesting sports stories that you should read. That’s it. I try and group them by sport, usually, but not always.

With no further ado, this is the best of the last few months. Savour.

GOLF

How crass can you get? The Tiger vs Phil bet-athon showed that golf has decided to learn all the worst bits from boxing – and still get it wrong. (Note – golf can’t afford to lose Woods).

FOOTBALL

The 36 hours that shamed Argentine football.

It’s 4 years – just 4! – until Qatar completely ruins the World Cup for ever more. I’ve always been a sceptic about Qatar, but I thought Russia would be awful, and it wasn’t, so I could be wrong. However, the Guardian wrote a rather flattering puff piece, which I thought was an advertorial initially, accompanied by a much more hard hitting one on the workers. Odd. The i just went straight for the jugular.

News – Fifa to stage WC every 2 years? 48 teams? They can’t leave a good structure alone.

I’m not sure you can make this argument with a straight face, but apparently Lionel Messi is underrated

RUGBY

Ireland are the best. Here’s how and why.

NFL

You may have missed it, but the recent Rams v Chiefs game was astonishing. This is the new NFL model.

BASEBALL

Meanwhile, baseball is in trouble. Name a famous player? See. Plus, there are now more strike outs than hits.

US

Sports have become video games. Which is to say, the tactics have caught up with the video game age.

CRICKET

The story behind Australia’s great scandal.

TENNIS

There are still no major winners born since 1990. WTF?

DOPER

The Armstrong comeback. Really.

Sport Geek #86: animals, abominations, and aesthetics

Well, that was fun. Enjoy the glow while it lasts – I think that will be the last good World Cup. Why? First, Qatar can’t ever live up to that. It will be too hot, at the wrong time of year. Ethically, this might be the last time we turn a blind eye to authoritarian corruption (Putin was fairly absent from coverage). Plus, at some stage (2026?) it’s going to be the clusterfk of 48 teams, which makes no sense at all. Russia was peak World Cup. It’s downhill from here.

WC ROUND UP

The prediction game: Goldman were pretty useless; some South African data scientists were pretty good; and the animals were, well, animals.

Anyone buying a player on the strength of the World Cup is pretty stupid.

If you thought added time seemed a bit off, you’d be right.

Neymar and the art of the dive. Tip – don’t oversell it.

TROPHIES

The World Cup is awful. Wimbledon is perfect. An aesthetic look at the actual cup (orb?)

CYCLING

Why is there no women’s equivalent Tour de France?

BASEBALL

Don’t sugar-coat it: The New York Yankees are a moral abomination.

BASKETBALL

What’s happened to the salary cap?

TENNIS

I’m not going to bother you with the pros and cons of 5th set tie breaks as I think it’s so blindingly obvious (at 12-all perhaps). Instead…

Careers are getting longer. The wait for a male grand slam champion born in the 1990s goes on.

10 years ago the greatest match was played. Here’s a graphical version.

John McEnroe is always worth listening to.

Sport Geek #85: 46 boks, Chinese fans, the 48-team puzzle

TALKING POINTS

Should Serena Williams be seeded at Wimbledon? 
I’d say yes. Wimbledon uses your grass court points for the last two years. And Williams won in 2016, so give her a break. While the player who misses out on seeding can feel a bit aggrieved, they should be positive about mothers returning to the game. And also – it’s up to you to get your seeding higher so this doesn’t happen. When did the 32nd seed last win a major?

Is VAR good or bad for football?
I LOVE all the moaning from the old-school pundits. VAR is definitely a good thing, it just needs to be applied with a bit more speed and certainty. The weird thing is that in cricket and tennis teams/players get a set number of challenges where they can refer to video. Why doesn’t football just use that, and if you use up your chances, it’s back to the ref’s eye? That would be better, surely.

READING

WORLD CUP

I like this – How do countries participating in the World Cup compare with clubs? See also – The Ringer argues: Why International Soccer Is More Fun Than the Premier League. I’d agree.

China has more fans at the World Cup than England – and they’re not even playing

NYT readers tackle the puzzle of how to devise a fair tournament with 48 teams

Odd fact: The infamous Sochi drug-testing lab is now a gastro pub

I do love the Economist for answering these kinds of questions: “How much better would Iceland be with Lionel Messi?

ELSEWHERE

Women and the decathlon.

Great headline: “Eddie Jonestown Massacre“. And good analysis of the state of England Rugby.

How one school has produced 46 South Africa internationals (plus Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk, Olympic swimming champion Ryk Neethling, and former South Africa cricket captain Hansie Cronje).

Awesome, thanks, bye.

Sport Geek #84: dynasties, nationalism vs globalism, and clay

WORLD CUP

Is it starting? I hadn’t noticed… Sifting through the trillions of WC pieces, here are a few worth your time.

I like this – is it nationalism or globalism? Or both? via the NYT.

Forget the pundits! A quick round up of what economists think will happen at the World Cup, from the FT

The decline of the World Cup manager: why talented international coaches have become a dying breed. (via the Indy)

What makes a country good at football? Various things, says the Economist.

Why isn’t the US there? The inside story of how they screwed up.  From the Ringer.

MONEY MONEY MONEY

Me, on the Forbes rich list and what it tells us about sport.

BASKETBALL

What does LeBron James do next? (NYT) And how great is he anyway? (Guardian)

The curious case of Bryan Colangelo and the secret Twitter account. From the Ringer again. A good story.TENNIS

TENNIS

Why is Nadal SOOOOO good on clay? CNN takes a look.

CYCLING

How Chris Froome won Giro d’Italia thanks to ‘spectacular’ stage 19 victory. (BBC)

ICE HOCKEY

From a while ago, but worth a read. Is the Vegas Golden Knights’ run as amazing as Leicester City’s? (538)

LASTLY

We want sport to be competitive, don’t we? Or not – an interesting essay on why we demand sports dynasties, not parity.

Sport Geek #83: back again…

I’ve not done this newsletter for a while, due to work and stuff; but let’s not worry, here are some things to think about while thinking sport.

TENNIS

Nadal was nowhere a few years ago. Now? He’s arguably better than ever on clay.  Here’s a good archivey piece on Roger and Rafa’s simultaneous revivals.

There are some great nuggets in here. I know she’s very wealthy etc, but It’s quite hard being Serena Williams, I think.

How do you measure aggressive returning? Here’s how.

This is insane. The story of a tennis rally of 642 shots. That’s not a typo.

BASEBALL

HELLO LONDON!

GOLF

Rory McIlroy said it’s all about the Masters. So here’s a decent case for the Open.

FOOTBALL

A great summary of the tactical tide of football, esp looking at Klopp’s Liverpool. Talking of which, are their opponents in the CL final Read Madrid ruthless or just lucky?

I love this from Sean Ingle – why not just make World Cup / Olympic hosting bids done by auction? At least put the money front and centre.

I can’t see why everyone was worked up about selling Wembley. Seems like a good idea to me – get an asset that is costly to maintain off your hands, making back a pretty good amount of the total build cost, and get money for grassroots. What’s not to like? Few have been in favour though. Here’s one.

This is such a mismatch it’s boggling. The cup final of PSG vs Les Herbiers – a budget of €2m vs €540m.

A nicely Economist-ey piece on goalkeepers being undervalued. Great pun headline too.

CRICKET

It’s all about 6s.

BASKETBALL

Who is Luka Doncic?

How ‘idiots’ created the NBA’s best team and revolutionised the game.

That’s it.

You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.

Sport Geek #82: punting, kickoffs and pomnishambles

 

No tennis for now – I’m going to the O2 tennis later this week and might share a few thoughts. For now, some great reading.

NFL

The brain damage story just gets scarier

Colin, GQs person of the year.

Also – could the best player in the league be a punter?

RUGBY

Georgia – stuck in rugby’s equivalent of the middle income trap.

FOOTBALL

Iceland – how did a country of only 330,000 people get to the World Cup?

Why are kickoffs so predictable and poorly executed?

Why sacking the manager is pointless (again).

Plus – an unknown English manager working miracles in Sweden

CRICKET

Ellyse Perry is no ordinary cricketer

Afghanistan – Test status, but now what?

Plus the inside story of the Ashes pomnishambles.

BASEBALL

How the Astros tanked their way to the top.

And the strange tale of how a girl posed as a disgusting man to get ahead in baseball journalism.

 

Cheers

Sport Geek #81: booze, Bills, and the curse of brilliance

Been a few weeks, so here’s a focus on less-timely-but-nontheless-interesting things you should/could read about sport. Crack on.

FOOTBALL

No Russia trip for you! What’s gone wrong with US football? The Economist puts it well – the sporting equivalent of the Middle Income Trap.

The most exciting football team on the planet.

NBA

Quartz on how data analytics have transformed the NBA – and not necessarily for the better.

How LeBron James gets punished for being too brilliant.

CRICKET

Does cricket have a drinking problem? Or is it just simply, nearly, utterly dead?

TRUMP & NFL

Perhaps my favourite headline of the moment: “Inside Donald Trump’s Shady Scheme to Keep Jon Bon Jovi from Buying the Buffalo Bills

F1

A piece full of stats about Lewis Hamilton to prove that he’s more than just statistically great? OK then.

WORLD SERIES

How do you possibly describe everything that happened in the Astro’s 7-6 win over the Dodgers? The NYTimes takes on the near-impossible task.

TENNIS

I love this stat – Nadal is the only player on tour who wins more games than he loses from serving at 15-40.

LASTLY / FFS

Pole dancing: could it one day become an Olympic sport?

Cheerio

Sport Geek #80: Trump vs Sport

Here are six thoughts on the Trump vs Sports saga.

Another day, another unbelievably offensive tweet. Trump just keeps on. The question is, at what point does this go from appealing to his core, to putting them off? Greg Popovich asked that question brilliantly. Love Greg.

If I was an NFL owner, and my team needed a QB backup, I’d sign Colin Kaepernick in a heartbeat. He’s got the tools. Half the league has gone down on one knee now, so surely his brand isn’t that toxic any more? It could be a tactical and marketing masterstroke.

Imagine this in the UK. You can’t. Why not? Well, we don’t ram the national anthem down everyone’s throats every match. Internationals, yes. Premiership games, no. (And our police don’t shoot black guys all the time.) America could do itself a favour by toning down the flag-patriotism-God-on-our-side rhetoric. But it won’t.

The NFL is in a bind. The players are mainly black. The fans are largely white, and right-leaning. The boos at the knee protests are awful. ‘Those uppity black guys disrespecting the flag!’ Owners have taken their players’ side for now, but for how long? If this gets ugly, with crowds staying away and ratings down, how could they reverse the tide? Fire the whole team, as Trump would prefer? That’s not going to work. Their only hope is that it blows over. That’s unlikely – this started over a year ago and is just getting a head of steam. In most sports, the fans and players have a bond; in the NFL, the bond seemed fairly weak in the first place. Now?

The NFL has bigger long term problems: head injuries, fewer kids playing at school, tactics that have made the game a bit dull (short passes in particular), the rise of soccer. This race row isn’t a sport in crisis. It will however distract the league from those other problems, none of which are going away.

At the heart of all this is the utter stupidity of America. A protest about racial injustice (equality and justice being core American ideals) has been morphed into disrespecting your country. I’m not sure if this is alt-right mendacity or just white blood dumbness. Either way, Americans have shown themselves up again. It makes Saudi Arabia look enlightened (hey, women can drive now!).

TRUMP: MORE

Trash talk – sports does it better than Trump.

This story was fading until Trump gave it a shot in the arm.

This might be mainly about the NFL, but LeBron James has been the most eloquent.

TENNIS

Not heard of the Laver Cup? Well, it’s how the Davis Cup should be.

Maria Sharapova’s feud with Serena Williams, explained.

Rafael Nadal is not just the king of clay.

Sloane et al – are we about to see a US revival?

BOXING

Obit of Raging Bull Jake LaMotta. Read.

BASEBALL

Who still likes Friends? Baseball players, that’s who.

FOOTBALL

The rebirth of Leeds United.

It’s raining penalties in the Champions League – but what’s behind the increase?

How professional number crunchers are giving football clubs a competitive advantage.

Bye!

Sport Geek #79: 9,000 yards, arm wrestling, and an Apple Watch

The US Open is underway, so nothing recommended here other than to stay tuned. FWIW I think it’s been a hugely interesting event, with the women’s draw wide open, and one half of the men’s reading like a minor ATP 250 event. Great story lines: CoCo, Venus, Kanepi, that DelPo match. Tennis has entered a weird period with ageless veterans and a unknown emerging pool.

I’ve not done a round up for a while (summer and all that) so here’s a few things recent and not quite so.

UGLY

Stealing signs in baseball with an Apple Watch? Yup.

The Guardian looks at how Bahrain uses sport to whitewash a legacy of torture and human rights abuses.

TALL TENNIS

Are tall players the future? The NYTimes looks at the height thing. Plus the Economist looks at Zverev, who is both tall and possibly the Next Big Thing (pun intended).

LONG GOLF

Do we really need to lengthen golf courses? Golf Monthly asks the question. Some have already made their minds up – 9,000 yards?

NFL

Top read: Aaron Rodgers, unmasked.

FOOTBALL

Neymar: crunching the finances is Nick Harris in the Mail. Forget the shirt sales argument, for one.

Expected goals starts to move into the mainstream.

How do you quantify finishing skill?

Penalty-takers: pure luck?

ARM WRESTLING

Go on.

ATHLETICS

Usain Bolt in charts.

WOMEN’S SPORT

Can it break through to become self-sufficient?

Cheers

The Olympics needs a new hosting blueprint. Here’s one.

Paris Olympics, earlier

The latest round of Olympic bidding has highlighted what has been known for ages: that hosting the Games is a BAD IDEA.

Paris and LA have been awarded the 2024 and 2028 events. No other cities were in the running, after several, including Rome, Boston and Hamburg dropped out.

The Winter Games bidding for 2022 was a similarly feeble contest, with Almaty and Beijing the last two standing. Beijing – a city with no snow – won.

Why has the Olympics become so toxic?

The main reason is cost. Who can sell the idea of spending anything from $10bn – $50bn to a population that is feeling the pinch? Even populist dictators might baulk at the expense.

But costs are OK if there are benefits. Clearly, the benefits have been exposed as a bit of a con. Soft power? There are cheaper ways. Tourism? It actually drops. Infrastructure boost? Do it anyway, if it’s worth it. Happy population? Not necessarily.

So what would be a better way of hosting the Games? Here are a few ideas that are frequently put forward, and my thoughts on their strengths.

Idea #1: pare it down

The Olympics is too big as it is. If you want to make hosting affordable, get rid of sports that don’t need to be there. Football, tennis, golf – there are bigger prizes in those sports. Politically tricky, but doable.

Problem is, that still leaves a lot of events, and in any case, the main costs always seems to be the centrepiece athletics stadium, the athletes village, and the infrastructure. Cutting out a few events won’t help here.

Idea #2: joint cities

This has a certain appeal. Joint city hosting would spread the cost, surely? Not quite. The only example of joint hosting of a recent major event is the World Cup of 2002 between Korea and Japan. That was not a great success, with both countries building expensive stadiums and infrastructure. Rather than splitting the cost, it merely added to it.

For the Olympics, it would present a tricky branding challenge – every Games is “City year” eg London 2012. I guess you could have Rome-Madrid 2036 or whatever, but it’s less appealing. The city backdrop is part of the experience – think Rio’s beach or Sydney harbour. While the World Cup hops from stadium to stadium, an Olympics has a ‘village’ and a base. Two bases would be odd.

Further, where do you have the opening and closing ceremonies? The 100m final? It would be fine to divvy up some events, but the location of the showpiece athletics would naturally make the Games forever associated with that host, not the other.

Idea #3: spread far and wide

An Olympics with events around the globe sounds inclusive and idealistic, but it would have all the problems of idea #2 and more. One of the main ideas is that spectators can visit the city and see a range of sports, not just one. There would be no cohesive experience which would annoy lots of fans. Broadcasters would hate it – it would be far more expensive and hard to cover.

The experience of the Euro 2020 will be interesting in this regard – it’s taking part in 12 cities. If it somehow works (big if), spreading the Olympics *might* become an idea that takes off. Unlikely.

Idea #4: permanent hosts

Some have suggested a single permanent Summer and Winter host. I think that’s a bad idea, for several reasons. One, monotony. Two – it places quite a burden on the host city. Instead, the IOC should pick five cities that rotate the Games. Each would represent their continent, and the IOC would be have the extra incentive to invest some of the broadcast revenue in keeping the infrastructure maintained.

This has a lot of appeal – theoretically no more white elephant stadiums, crumbling facilities or overspending.

There are downsides: with a gap of 20 years, it’s possible that things fall apart anyway. The Olympic roster changes, which means new facilities would always be needed; stadiums will still be unused (or underused) for two decades.

However, picking the right hosts would mitigate those downsides. Cities that are big enough to cope with the set-aside of facilities could easily be found – London, Tokyo, LA would be great candidates.

The downside is regional jealousy. China would want to be a permanent host, for sure. As would the US. That might annoy Canada or Japan. But given that there is a dearth of cities with the current system, it might be a better plan.

The other positives to a permanent city plan is that it would kill off the expensive bidding process, which also would stop the bribery and backhanders. The IOC would have to reform from a princely tour of spoilt delegates to a proper administrative commission – a far better outcome. Cities would have far longer to plan, meaning cost overruns should be a thing of the past, or at least less likely. Hosts wouldn’t have to cut corners to get the Games ready. In any case, it would be a question of upgrading facilities, not a rush job of building from scratch in 7 years.

The benefit of putting on an Olympics is pretty small. Tourism suffers, rather than getting a boost. Countries that want to boost their profile have any other number of ways to do it – host a world championships, finance a Grand Prix, host an expo or something. The Olympics is too big to be used as a political tool anyway.

The other upside of permanent hosts is that it is also closer to the original Olympic ethos, which was to have the Games in the same location each time. Evolving that into five Olympic hosts – one for each of the rings, which could be a nice marketing touch – makes sense.

Anyway. Don’t hold your breath.

 

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