Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Sport (page 1 of 24)

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.

 

Sport Geek #75: the case for legalising drugs in sport

This week, a polemic. I’ve been thinking about Maria Sharapova’s return to the circuit, the plan to wipe world records in athletics, and drugs generally in sports. The truth is, I can’t see a way out, and I don’t think I’m alone. The road goes nowhere. So the conclusion I keep coming to is: make performance enhancing drugs legal.

This is clearly not a popular view. But let’s try it out for a moment. I’m going to look at the main objections and try and unpack this. Bear with me.

Testing doesn’t work

Of course testing works on a basic level, but the big picture is testing clearly doesn’t work. We have a situation where retrospective testing has caught a whole bunch of athletes from London 2012 and Beijing 2008 years later. Is that good? Not really. The clean athletes have missed their moment of glory, the public has moved on, and the history books just look messy.

Also, as pointed out elsewhere, most major drug scandals are due to whistleblowers, not testing: Russia, Lance Armstrong, Balco. Even Ben Jonson was (probably) set up (he got busted on a drug he wasn’t taking, apparently).

Added to that, testing catches about 1 per cent of athletes. Whereas most estimates put non-approved drug use at around 30 to 40 per cent. It’s woeful. Even if we got to catching a third of athletes, there are generations that got away with it. The war was lost a long time ago. And in the future? Continue reading

In (partial) defence of Fifa’s 48-team World Cup plan

The format of 32 has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives…

So said the EFA. But not quite all perspectives, and certainly not the one which counts most: Fifa’s.

The World Cup has been 32 teams since 1998. It starts with 8 groups of 4, top two go to the knockout round. It’s mathematically ideal and beautiful in every way.

So why change it? You can read good summaries on the BBC, Guardian, and also the Mail on typical jingoistic form (Burkina Faso but not Scotland!). The best analysis is here on the Economist. But aside from the politics and possible extra cash, is it so awful to destroy the perfect 32-game Cup?

Yes and no. Yes, for all the reasons linked to above. Yes because it makes the structure far less neat. No, because more teams from smaller nations is an admirable motive. So let’s look at the structure.

Fifa is suggesting 16 groups of 3, top two to knock out. That means two group games for each team, rather than three; and five knock out matches rather than four through to the final.

The initial negative reaction is based on three unavoidable things: fewer big teams will meet at the group stage; three in a group means final group matches might result in boring draws if both teams are through to the next stage; and fewer group matches means 16 teams get only two matches before heading home, rather than the current minimum of three.

Let’s unpick each one. Continue reading

Sport Geek #64: The goalkeeper and the three bullies

Football pundits, eh? Say what you like about them… actually, you can’t.

Not if you are a struggling goalkeeper at Liverpool. Loris Karius has overstepped the mark, it seems, in defending himself – rather than his goal – against Gary Neville.

Stay with me on this one. It’s a he said, Neville-said story. Continue reading

Sport Geek #57: the death of sport? Not quite…

What happens when the money runs out?

Many industries have been through profound change; some have completely died. Modern sport has changed, but it has never truly suffered.

Yes, it has suffered from scandal. But not from financial crisis. Even while the world adapted to the crash of 2008-09 it ploughed on, oblivious, a distraction in which even greater sums of money were poured into the bank accounts of young men, generated by billionaire owners, TV networks and pliant fans who put up with ever-increasing costs. Modern sport, which you could argue emerged in the early 1990s with pay TV, the evolution of stats and the emergence of more stringent drug-testing, has only gone one way: bigger.

Is that all about to change? Three recent articles are worth examining. Continue reading

Lewis Hamilton is right – which is why he should play the press game

Snap Prat, earlier.

A major sports figure having a media spat is – for the media at least – Christmas come early. Journalists love nothing more than to generate (faux) outrage over the supposed incoherent rantings of once-media darlings.

And so to this week’s overpaid ungrateful spoilt starlet, Lewis Hamilton. What has media outrage Lewis done now?

First, he arsed about (technical term) on Snapchat during a press conference, putting bunny ears on himself and others. Stop laughing, please. And then, after a major media backlash (read: a few critical tweets from journos from the Sun and Times), Lewis doubled down in spectacular fashion at the next press conference. Specifically, he said:

With the utmost respect there are many of you here who are super-supportive of me and I know who they are… There are others who unfortunately often take advantage of certain things. The other day was a super light-hearted thing.

Before we get distracted with the, like, super-affected over-use of the prefix ‘super’, since when are the media supposed to be uncritically supportive?

Lewis has been in the game for long enough to know a few rules. However, here’s a refresher.

Rule one: journalists may flatter and fawn, but they will always revert to “serving the readers” if push comes to shove.

Rule two: journalists still think they are the main conduit to the fans, despite stars being on social media (which journalists use to their own ends too, don’t forget…). Here’s not the time to look at the symbiotic relationship between social and mainstream media. Lewis might not get it, but let’s just admit that ‘papers’ still have clout.

Rule three: press conferences might be awkward / boring formats, but there they are. It goes with the territory. That’s why you get paid the megabucks. Roger Federer must have done thousands, but he still does them with a smile. He says very little of note, mind you, but that goes with the territory too. It cuts both ways.

So Lewis should grow up and do the press thing, not because he’s wrong, but because he’s right. Say something provocative and true next time. Perhaps just answer the questions, and you won’t get ridiculed as “Snap prat”. And if it all seems too much, just count the money.

Euro 2016: survival of the weak

euro numbersThe Euros start today. And go on for a bit, and a bit longer, and then eventually there will be a final, I promise.

If you feel that there’s something not quite right about this edition of the quadrennial, you’d be spot on. It comes down to the numbers.

In previous editions, the Euros were contested by 16 teams. Four groups of four, top two go to the quarter finals and so on. Great. But this edition is 24 teams.

Let’s take a step back: how did we get to 24 teams?

Well, it started with 53 teams, divided into nine groups of six (and one of 5). In those groups, the top two went through, plus a third place team, and then the other eight third place teams had a playoff.

From 53 to 23 (plus the hosts) isn’t much of a cut off. To compare, the World Cup for 2018 goes from 210 to 31 teams, and the UEFA (ie European) part of that goes from 54 teams to just 13 (plus Russia as hosts).

So rather than eliminate 76 per cent of the European teams in qualifying, as the World Cup does (the overall rate is 85 per cent), the Euros eliminated just 57 per cent of the teams in qualifying.

That basically means you can be a very average team and still get through to the finals. Obviously, not the Netherlands, but that’s another story.

And then there’s the finals themselves. The Guardian have done it brilliantly: a tournament of 24 is a terrible number. To get to the knock out stages of 16 teams (rather than 8 as before), you are eliminating not half, but just a third of teams from the group stage.

In other words – 53 goes to 23 (plus host), 24 goes to 16, then it’s a knockout (with some severely complicated rules along the way).

It’s almost harder to fail than it is to progress.

 

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

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

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. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Sport Geek #6: Slam dreams, bollards, Hackball

GOLF
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. Continue reading

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