The awfulness of both the football sex abuse story and the Brazil team plane crash are a reminder that what normally passes for ‘serious’ or ‘scandal’ in sport is nothing like. Ball tampering, driving slowly? Get real.
So it is with a heavy heart that I highlight the sports stories of the week. I don’t want to ignore the plane crash and sex abuse story – although both are important and horrifying in completely different ways – but I’m sure you’ve read them elsewhere.
It’s Gareth Southgate for England! Is he really the best person for the job? The answer is yes, if you think England are mediocre therefore need a mediocre manager. Or lets just cut to the chase and say No.
Should Lewis Hamilton be criticised or even punished for driving slowly in an attempt to scupper Nico Rosberg? In a word – no. It made for a big story, overshadowing Rosberg‘s eventual championship win; but this is hardly deliberate crashing as of years gone by. Hamilton is the better driver, and part of that is the win-at-all-costs mentality. We can’t celebrate his skill and ignore the desire. Plus it was fun.
Is sport a religion? An interesting piece in the Cauldron looks at the similarities. One thought occurred to me reading it – there isn’t anything about rivalries and hatred. Religion is usually about love. But in sports, there’s a lot of hate, too. For me, that’s where the metaphor ended.
[PLUG] One quick reminder: do by my book if you haven’t yet – Sports Geek, great Christmas present.
The Hamilton-Rosberg finale should be fun, but you know about that. Instead, let’s look forward. Is F1 in a crisis? I would say that there is certainly one brewing, as both Malaysia and Singapore look to quit hosting races. Bernie Ecclestone made a pivot to Asia long before anyone was talking in such terms, expanding the F1 calendar away from Europe and into new markets. But if those new markets can’t, or don’t want, to host F1 Grand Prix, where does the sport go from here? It doesn’t help calling Singapore “ungrateful“, either.
It’s not just races that F1 needs, it’s faces too. And one of the best is retiring. Here’s what you need to know about Felipe Massa’s farewell.
File under ‘didn’t see that coming’. Football move over – the best paid sports stars are now in the NBA, with eight of the top 12 teams worldwide. OK, it’s not a Leicester City-sized surprise, but still. Last year’s best paying team, PSG, are now 35th – although Man U are the highest-paying football club. Common thread? Ibrahimovic.
As the World finally thingy is underway at the O2 in London, a reminder from the Economist that rankings can deceive. What does the Elo system tell us about Novak vs Andy?
No US politics here… Instead, three “things” to get your sports chops around.
1) Murray’s ascent
When Andy Murray made it to #1 this week, there was a rather wonderful outpouring of joy in the British press. After all, the idea of a Brit atop the tennis world rankings a few years back was just crazy talk.
But here he is, the 26th player to hold top spot since the rankings began. More power to him.
The BBC’s Tom Fordyce notes that “It is not a gimmick, or a marketing exercise, or even a reward in itself, but a defining benchmark. You cannot fluke it or get lucky with a judging panel. It is deserved. It is definitive.”
He also suggests that
And this may yet be the start of something even more beautiful, rather than the pinnacle.
After five defeats in the Australian Open final, never will Murray have a better chance of winning it than this January, Federer and Nadal faded, Djokovic – his nemesis in four of those finals – jaded.
Steve Tignor on tennis.com was hardly less restrained in his praise: “One of the pleasures of being a tennis fan in this era has been watching Andy Murray grow up as player and person.” His piece is a more forensic analysis of how Murray got there. Worth a read.
The only fly in the ointment is that a poor Masters final in the 02 and he might lose the ranking and never get it back. That would rather diminish his achievement – here’s hoping for a decent stint.
2) Those Cubs
The World Series was unforgettable and ended a 108-year wait for a Chicago Cubs win. There were hundreds of articles I could have picked for this, but here is Time, and the Economist, on perhaps the greatest sporting story of the year.
3) Jose Mourinho loses the plot early
Jose has a reputation for losing his players and owner’s faith around the third season of a managerial job. But at Man United it all seems to be happening a bit early.
Mourinho decided he had no option but to question the team’s commitment and effort: the base elements any professional footballer has to possess. It shows the slide Mourinho and his side are on. For any manager, the exposure of players – the men on whom their own success or failure depends – in the media is the nuclear option.
By the time you read this, the World Series may have come to its momentous conclusion (the game is on Wednesday night / Thursday morning UK time). It’s momentous because if the Cleveland Indians win the deciding game 7, it will be their first World Series win since 1948. That’s a hell of a long time. But if the Chicago Cubs win, it is their first win since 1908. And that is not a typo.
Only those in their mid 70s will have any chance of hazily recalling the Cleveland win. You’d have to be at least 112 or so to recall the Cubs winning. And here in England we moan about 1966.
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