Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Sport (page 1 of 23)

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

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

CORRUPTION ETC
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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