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ICC Closes Door To Associate Nations

October 22, 2010

Recent weeks have given a boost to the countries at the bottom of the full members ladder, with Bangladesh trouncing New Zealand 4-0 in a one-day series, even without the injured Tamim Iqbal, with Shakib al-Hasan proving himself a one-day all rounder of true class. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s batsmen, lead by Brendon Taylor have shown themselves capable of competing with South Africa, even if their bowling is some way short of the required international level.

Unfortunately, the next level of countries, including Afghanistan, Kenya, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Canada and UAE have had their hopes of ever making a similar breakthrough dealt a serious blow with the ICC, with the World Cup being reduced to 12 teams for 2011 and then 10 for 2015, with the Associate Nations being shut out. The rationale and implications are set out by Martyn Williamson on Cricinfo. The carrot to the stick is the expansion of teams allowed into the World T20 tournament, which is good news as that is the format which offers the best hope for upset results and spreading the game.

However, by basically denying countries from outside the inner circle the prospect of ever playing at the highest level in any format other than T20, and thus any incentive to develop first class cricket structures, it has heightened the prospect of T20 basically being the global sport, and test cricket becoming a separate and increasingly niche sport. Just as football and futsal, rugby union and sevens are distinctly different.

The same strategy as is being followed within English domestic T20 and the IPL of endless group games, many of which are meaningless, and very few knock-out games where the commercial imperative outweighs the competitive one is now unchallenged orthodoxy for the premier international one day competition. Yawn.


Korfball European Championships

October 22, 2010

The European Championships that start today in the Netherlands are intriguing in some ways, and predictable in others. Let’s get the predictable out of the way first. The hosts will win the tournament, almost certainly beating Belgium in the final. The top two seeds in each of the four groups will probably finish in the top two places to proceed to the next group stage (Hungary beating the Germans to accompany the Dutch in qualifying is the most plausible upset).

What is harder to predict is the placings from 3-8, with not much to choose between Portugal, Czech Republic, Russia, England, Catalunya and Germany. Even more tricky to predict, and with rather more hanging on it will be the contest for 9th and 10th places, which will both ensure qualification for the World Championships. Hungary and Slovakia are probably the favourites followed by Poland, but with Serbia, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all competing in their first Championships, it will be interesting to see if they can upset the more established Eastern European sides. Turkey seem the longest shot.

The other interesting developments are the introduction of the shot clock and a, significantly different, new ball. Both should serve to speed the game up, and avoid some of the slower build up play that were used by (amongst others) Hungary and England in the 2007 World Championships. The general feeling is that it will increase the gap between the best teams and the rest by giving a further edge to players with good shooting techniques. If anything, the changes in the ball should go the other way – it’s designed to be easier to handle and if it does feel different when shooting that should have a levelling effect.

Pool A Pool B Pool C Pool D
Netherlands Belgium Czech Republic Russia
Germany Catalunia Portugal England
Hungary Poland Wales Slovakia
Serbia Scotland Turkey Ireland


Live scores can be followed at, Eurosport 2 will be showing action from the later stages, including live coverage of the semi-finals and final.


Maradona departing?

July 27, 2010

There’s a very interesting article suggesting that he might have been unable to agree a new contract with the Argentinian Football Association, on Hasta el Gol Siempre . Me, I just want to repost the photo that accompanies it.

What was your view of the penalty incident?

July 26, 2010

As The Offside notes, the Italian state broadcaster RAI has banned discussion of controversial refereeing decisions on its TV shows. They will show the incidents in real time, but not repeatedly. Instead, the three most controversial decisions of the week will be analysed separately with informed reference to the rule book (in a programme that sounds unmissable).

I think this is a fantastic move, or at least I would think it would be if Match of the Day followed a similar approach. While Francesco in The Offside might think that in the EPL and other leagues there ‘is no controversy over calls’ sadly that’s not the case. While the focus might not be as obsessive as in Serie A, due to their being less time, and that not having been a recent scandal where referees were being influenced to give decisions favouring Juventus and other clubs, post match analysis in the UK does focus to a tedious degree on refereeing error.

It’s become standard for the post-match questions to managers showed on MotD not to be about tactical decisions or substitutes or anything that the manager might have an interesting and unique insight into, but to his reaction to a disputed offside, or red card. Customarily, surprisingly enough, they think their team was harshly treated. The viewer learns nothing. Then back to the studio, where the pundits spend 5 minutes discussing the incident, often in happy ignorance of the actual rules. While I have my doubts as to whether Alan Shearer could offer any useful tactical insights into the game it’d be nice if the analysts were encouraged to at least try and find them, rather than making their judgement on whether one player made contact with another, something the viewer can make their own minds up about.

Quite apart from being dull viewing, the constant scrutiny of decisions by referees and linesmen continues to contribute to a culture where they are routinely vilified by players, managers and spectators, which can hardly encourage people wanting to become officials or enhance their performance when they do.

Out Of The Ashes

July 21, 2010

Simply in sporting terms, the amazing progress of the Afghan cricket team is one of the best stories in recent years, quite apart from it’s socio-political significance. Out Of The Ashes is a film telling the story of this journey, but also revealing that in human terms for the Afghan team it’s an incredible experience. I’ve not seen it yet, but Andy Bull’s review in the Guardian has made me want to check it out at the first available chance.

It’s all Multiculturalism’s fault

July 5, 2010

In the wake of their elimination I wrote about how French commentators had taken the opportunity to take crude pot shots at the social and ethnic background of the squad. Now it’s the turn of British commentators to do the same. Theodore Dalrymple’s article in the New English Review displays an astounding lack of knowledge about football* combined with a crude physiognomy.

In 1998, the French team won the World Cup and there was a burst of national euphoria as a result. The team of 1998 was composed ofblancs, beurs, noirs – that is to say, whites, Arabs, blacks – and this was taken, briefly, as evidence of the success of France as a multicultural and multiethnic society. Huge crowds greeted the successful team as it paraded in the modern equivalent of a Roman triumph. Preposterous triviality could go no further.

Twelve years later, when the French team lost miserably in the same competition, the opposite sentiments were widely expressed, at least in the newspapers and on the air. The team was now predominantly black and Arab; anyone who knew France only through its national football team would place the country somewhere between North and Equatorial Africa. One prominent white in the team, a spectacularly ugly and thuggish-looking man, so ill-educated that he could barely string a few words together, let alone a sentence, in his native language, had converted to Islam. Another white in the squad, a blonde Breton who was notably better-educated than his colleagues, had to be excluded from the team because none of the others would co-operate with or pass the ball to him.

Maybe a very, very dark blond?

This ‘predominantly black and Arab’ team of course contained not a single player with a background in an Arabic or North African country (which is actually quite an interesting development, but doesn’t fit into Dalrymple’s crude racial argument. The ‘blonde Breton’ he refers to is presumably Yoann Gourcuff, though as he is male and dark-haired, it’s difficult to be absolutely certain. One can only wish Dalrymple’s colour-blindness here was manifest in the rest of his polemic. In any event, the refusal of other plays to pass to Gourcuff or co-operate with him exists only in Dalrymple’s imagination.

Dalrymple then goes on to make a bizarre side-swipe at the England side.

It is also true that if you compare the faces of the English football team of, say, the 1950s with those of the team today, you will see the decline in civility of English society as a whole.

Quite how one can determine the level of civility of an individual just by looking at their face (unless they have ‘fuck off’ tattooed on their forehead) let alone extrapolate that to society as a whole is unclear.

Direct criticism of the English team based on their social and ethnic origins is less visible, partly because the South Wales Argus has declined to put online Mike Buckingham‘s piece that appeared in the print edition analysed here by Angry Mob. Whether it was the crass racial analysis, or the fundamental idiocy of ascribing England’s defeat by Germany to ‘multiculturalism’ when the German team is everywhere else being praised in a fashion reminiscent of France’s 1998 side for being a model of ‘multi-kulti’ that is holding the Argus back, I don’t know – though idiotic argument doesn’t seem to have precluded other articles being published online.

The fact that both arguments are, literally, nonsensical demonstrates that they are not actually responses to the football at all, they are just attempts to shoehorn whatever the issue de jour is into the authors world views.

*in slight mitigation, part of the thrust of the piece is about Dalrymple thinking the importance of football is over-valued, but then – why write about it?)

The Technology in Football Debate…

June 28, 2010

…will never end. Whether thrown into sharp focus by the errors for Lampard and Tevez yesterday, or rumbling along in the background. Some people seem to think that it is an either/or choice, that we bring in technology or we don’t,  but the reality is that technology is already present (Rosetti and his linesman discussed via their headsets with the fourth official Tevez’s offside goal against Mexico, while everyone in the stadium could see that Tevez was miles offside on the big screen replay) and that the extent to which it is used is always going to evolve, and be debated. Good news for people who are paid to write about sports, or just like mouthing off – like me – but less good news for people who dislike terminal boredom.

Really, whatever choice FIFA makes, someone is going to be unhappy. I support goal-line technology, and retrospective video punishment for simulation and violence, but not in-game video evidence, but concede there are powerful arguments for the opposite position on all three. The best that FIFA can really do is to try and avoid absurdities, and that seems unlikely. According to the Guardian (which seems to have written consequently when it means subsequently in the 3rd paragraph), the only response currently on the table is a “plan to stop controversial incidents being shown on big screens inside stadiums in future.” While that might be of some use in instances of off the ball violence or similar, it’d hardly be a solution to the Mexico vs Argentina situation. I suspect even the densest member of the crowd might wonder why they were seeing replays of the last three of the goals from the game but nothing of the first, and reach the obvious conclusion that it should have been disallowed. They might not know why, but I don’t think that would help the atmosphere overly.