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London 2012 Olympic Games

After a seven year journey, arguably more if you believe that it was all inspired by the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the ultimate sporting tournament has now come and gone from London, Paralympics notwithstanding. For most of us this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, which had not happened for 64 years previously and may well not happen again for a similar amount of time. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish, much much more than I expected to. For a long time I was very cynical about the whole thing, believing that Britain would, like it does so often with things, embarrass itself my making it “a little bit shit”, and that hosting the Olympic games was an extravagance that an already disproportionately privileged capital city simply did not need, but I am happy to stand proven wrong. I didn’t watch the Olympics at all before Beijing, not even the ceremonies. I watched some of Beijing, but with London I had it on the television at every opportunity.

Opening Ceremony

Everyone said that the opening ceremony couldn’t possibly top that of the Beijing games in 2008, but nobody really agreed on which metric should be used to compare the two. The Beijing ceremony was an over the top and ostentatious display, designed deliberately to be virtually impossible to follow in terms of expense and scale. Only China ever could and would do that. London’s opening ceremony, however, was not inferior to this spectacle in my opinion. It told the world the story of how Britain came to where it is now in a hugely tender, original and humorous way and I think that Danny Boyle created an utter masterpiece. Certainly, he deserves a knighthood much more than Gary Barlow does for organising a pop concert on the Queen’s driveway. I was  in tears by the time the five forged rings rose up, and I was set off again when the cauldron was lit. I thought both parts were utterly beautiful. I’m just a big softy, really.

My own silly sentiments aside, I think the best review of the opening ceremony came from Sarah Lyall in the New York Times, who writes:

“Britain presented itself to the world Friday night as something it has often struggled to express even to itself: a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is… It was neither a nostalgic sweep through the past nor a bold vision of a brave new future. Rather, it was a sometimes slightly insane portrait of a country that has changed almost beyond measure since the last time it hosted the Games, in the grim postwar summer of 1948.”

However, not all was good with the opening ceremony. It was all absolutely brilliant, right up until the very last moment when they wheeled out Paul McCartney. Up until that point the underlying theme and message of the London games, “Insipire a generation”, had been rammed home, since this was the premise on which London was originally awarded the games. We had just seen seven young athletes light the cauldron instead of the usual washed-up old sports star that other countries normally use. They did this with torches literally passed on to them by established Olympians, all heralding and symbolising the start of a new generation. They followed this by pushing out Paul McCartney, an old man from the past who can’t sing properly any more and whose face is falling off his head, to sing a frankly boring song that the world has heard countless times. I can only think that his segment was included to please a United States TV audience. It was very obviously out of place, a huge and awkward elephant in the room, and I think it was a mistake. Critically, however, aside perhaps from not relieving the idiot that is Mitt Romney of his ticket to the ceremony and giving it to a soldier, it was the only mistake.

In case you were wondering, Mitt, this “tiny island that makes stuff nobody wants” produced Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He invented the World Wide Web. Just thought you ought to know. Danny Boyle thought you ought too.

Events and medalists

God save the King

The success of securing the games as hosts is one thing, but it was only half the story of Great Britain’s success at London 2012, and arguably the easier half. More important is the outstanding performance by Team GB. Great Britain won the most medals for 104 years, and the 1908 games don’t really count as that was during the Empire days, meaning that the medal haul was skewed by the fact that we owned a third of the world and its athletes. The medals came thick and fast, allaying any fears that “home games nerves” might affect performance. I have such huge admiration for Olympic athletes, they train all day every day for years at a time and aren’t interested in the glamour, wealth and fame that other sporting occupations readily provide. With this in mind one questions why David Beckham seemed to get so much attention before and during the games.

The congratulations also go beyond Team GB of course. World records seemed be being broken every day by athletes from all around the world. The bar was set very much higher than it was in Beijing. Rebecca Adlington only secured a bronze medal this year, despite swimming faster than the time that gave her a gold in Beijing. Michael Phelps smashed to smithereens the longstanding record for the most number of Olympic medals won by one person previously held by the Soviet Union.

Closing Ceremony

The closing ceremony always plays second fiddle to the opening ceremony, but for good reason. It is supposed to be a more subdued affair, formally closing the games with the extinguishing of the Olympic flame and the passing of the flag to the next host city. Aside from these standard features in any closing ceremony programme, the rest of it left me rather underwhelmed. Again, as with the Jubilee concert in June, they wheeled out more of the same usual suspects that we’ve seen time and again, including George Michael, an ageing drug-addled convicted drink-driver who cynically used the event to promote his new single. I don’t really think that he is an appropriate person to “inspire a generation”. I also thought that we’d all got over The Spice Girls 15 years ago, apparently not. The whole thing felt like a Brit Awards ceremony from the 1990s.

I watched the closing ceremony in 3D, as it was one of the few programmes that are part of the BBC’s trial of 3D broadcasts this year. I would have watched the opening cermony in 3D too, but there were three other people in the room and only two pairs of glasses. Whilst I enjoyed the 3D broadcast I did not understand why the BBC used different commentators to those on BBC1. I would have preferred Huw Edwards, instead of whoever it was who was on BBC HD, whose sidekick could barely string a sentence together. I would also suggest that the BBC HD commentator, who claimed that the closing ceremony was the first time “anyone outside Brazil” had seen the Rio 2016 logo, does not yet have access to Google Images and should probably do something about that.

Controversial issues

Despite the success of the games it would be odd if I didn’t mention some of the more controversial issues surrounding them. I won’t dwell on them too much, relatively speaking at least, but these are the ones that annoyed me the most (there are more, but less annoying):

  1. Cost: London 2012 ended up costing more than four times the original budget put forward by the former Labour Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell, an eye-watering £9,100,000,000. Despite this, LOCOG triumphantly announced that they had brought it all in “under budget” by a few hundred million and Tessa Jowell was made a Dame in return for underestimating the cost of hosting the games by a factor of four.
  2. Sponsorship and brand protection: Make no mistake, I fully appreciate and understand the requirement for sponsorship from large corporations with deep pockets for the Olympic games, even if that does mean ridiculous things like peddlers of cheeseburgers and sugary drinks getting exclusive rights to distribute both in the Olympic park. However, corporate sponsors didn’t fund the vast majority of the games, tax payers did, and if it was supposed to be “the peoples’ games” (the “people” being its major financial benefactors) then if the people wanted to put up a representation of the Olympic rings in their shop window that wasn’t approved/sold by LOCOG, or put that absurd 2012 logo on their blog then they damned well should have been able to without fear of going to jail.
  3. Tickets: I didn’t apply for any tickets, chiefly because I didn’t like the idea of LOCOG helping themselves to random sums of money from my bank account at random times for all or a random selection of tickets for which I virtually had to beg online. If any commercial company tried to sell tickets or any other type of product using this model they would be immediately closed down by trading standards and no bank would ever provide them with merchant services. I saw no reason why LOCOG should have been exempt from this. Even setting those issues aside, I simply didn’t have a few hundred quid to drop on tickets to an event that I probably wouldn’t have been interested in, or a few thousand for a ticket to an event that I might’ve actually enjoyed. Home games or not, the £700 I spent on my television represented much better value for money and I was able to see many more events from the best sofas in the house. Had I bought tickets I would have also been even more aggrieved than I was when I saw all the empty seats which Lord Coe then gave to students and teachers, instead of nurses and firefighters.
  4. Bus drivers: These greedy arseholes demanded and were awarded an extra £500 just for turning up for work during the games, and yet despite this were still unable to not kill anybody.

Legacy

I truly hope that the London games has the impact on the country that has been promised. This isn’t just because I want to see value for my tax money, but because I actually do. The Olympics is arguably the largest and most important regular worldwide event, involving more countries than are members of the United Nations, all of whom come together for two weeks every four years for the same purpose and goal. If that doesn’t have some sort of lasting impact on a country that hosts it then what will?

Could someone of my age possibly see the Olympics on home soil again? Possibly, but not especially likely. While it is true that there were only 12 years between the 1984 Los Angeles and 1996 Atlanta games the United States is not typical in terms of size and wealth, and so this statistic is arguably skewed. More or less a “double award”, this would have also impacted New York’s 2012 bid. If Madrid get awarded the 2020 games it will mean that 28 years will elapse between Barcelona in 1992 and those games, which is a little more realistic but not so long that most people who lived through the 2012 games in London would not get to enjoy, for the sake of argument, a re-run in 2040.

Maybe by then I’ll have saved up enough for a ticket to the opening ceremony.

The floozy in the jacuzzi gets a good view of the big screen in Birmingham’s Victoria Square

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FIFA World Cup 2010

People who know me well will know that I’m not normally a football fan but that I do watch the pertinent games in the World Cup every four years. That is, games with England in them and then probably the semi finals and definitely the final, whether England are in them or not (and they invariably aren’t). At a push I’ll also watch the European Championships but I’ll usually have to have absolutely nothing better to do.

So what do I think of this year’s tournament and England’s campaign? Let’s start off with some quick recaps of the qualifying games that England played:

England 2 – 2 United States

The USA always wins!

It was a poor start for England as they drew 2 – 2 against the United States, although the USA claims to have “won” the match (see left), apparently because they don’t know the difference between a win and a draw. I should also point out that the United States also lost the Battle of Bunker Hill, incidentally (a pyrrhic victory for the British, but nonetheless not a defeat). Unimpressed, the fans believed that it could only get better after what was seen as a false start.

England 0 – 0 Algeria

But no. In true British style the England team managed to make a bad situation even worse by delivering another draw, except this time it was without any goals at all (and therefore no points), with Algeria of all opponents. Algeria, incidentally, lost seven out of their last eight games (the eight was the draw with England). It was a dismal, piss poor performance from what is supposed to be a world-class team made up of incredibly well paid world-class premier league players. Still at least they didn’t actually lose the match, eh?

England 1 – 0 Slovenia

This match meant that we scraped through to the last 16, and whilst it was the result that we needed, it was hardly an amazing performance and certainly not the goal count that England should have delivered after 90 minutes with Slovenia. Had we drawn this game like we did the previous two games then our progression would have been decided by another game. Had we lost it we’d have been out of the tournament with no question. A net profit of one goal between three games in the qualifiers from what’s supposed to be a world-class team is a little bit poor, frankly, even if it is all we needed to get through. It doesn’t bode well for the last 16, let alone the finals should we make it that far.

What now?

We’re through to the last 16, which is the important thing, but England really need to up their game if they are to get any further. Each subsequent game in the World Cup only gets more difficult with increased pressure. This increases exponentially if and when the finals are reached. Don’t get me wrong, I have every hope that England will succeed in this tournament, but I’m definitely not getting my hopes up at this stage. Every time England reach the finals in these tournaments it’s always seen as lucky and a fluke, and our hopes are always ultimately dashed. I’m afraid that I’ve no evidence to suggest that it’s going to be any different this year based on performance so far.

Since there’s going to be more to come from England during this tournament I will either update this blog or follow it up with another one as and when there’s something to report and comment on. Since writing this blog it transpires that we’ll be playing Germany on Sunday, so if past tournaments and games against Germany are anything to go by our chances aren’t all that great.

Players’ wages

Now I’m going to re-hash a long-standing rant that I’ve talked about before on this blog a number of times over the years. I think footballer players’ wages should be performance-related, like many normals jobs are. I believe that rather automatically receiving these giant sums of money each week regardless of how well football players perform during games, players should receive a basic salary (say £25,000 per year) and then a bonus for each goal. These bonuses can be huge (within reason), I don’t care, but players on a team should only receive them if if they score goals. I’ve no problem with people earning lots of money for being good at their job, but I just don’t believe that anybody should be paid if they do not do their job properly. Not winning a football game to me suggests that the players aren’t doing their jobs properly, it’s as simple as that. If I did my job badly or incorrectly I certainly wouldn’t expect to be paid for it, why should it be any different for footballers, especially given the frankly excessive levels of wage they are paid?

Update 27/06/2010 – England 4 -1 Germany: They think it’s all over, it is now! An absolutely shocking performance from England against Germany (4-1) means that we’re now out of this year’s tournament, the disallowed goal notwithstanding (FIFA really need to get their head around this whole “modern technology” thing; horse racing and many other sports have been using it for decades). It is, apparently, the worst performance by England in the history of the World Cup. One would hope that it could only get better from here in future tournaments, but I’m frankly not holding out much hope. Tomorrow the air will be filled with the stench of burnt polyester England flags on barbecues and the country will be back to normal. Thank heaven for that.

Brazilian footballer name generator

Finally, I’ve resurrected this from an ancient blog that I posted during the 2002 World Cup because I still think that it’s funny:

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Beijing 2008

The 2008 Summer Olympics start at 8.00pm today, 08/08/2008, in Beijing in the “People’s Republic” of China, the number eight being a lucky number in Chinese culture of course. I don’t usually follow the Olympics as I find most sporting events incredibly boring, but I probably will follow this one more closely in terms of the organisation and politics of it, rather than the sporting events themselves. These games have been controversial from the very start due to the IOC‘s decision to hold them in such a politically controversial country with a very questionable record on human rights.

China is an awfully strange place. It’s still, technically, communist, a political system that has proven to be unworkable for the most part. China has opened itself up to some western ways, most notably those that benefit it economically, so it’s not quite like it was in the old Soviet Union, but is still a long way off from democracy and all the trappings that democracy brings, things that we in the west very much take for granted every day. When it suits the Chinese government they hold scant regard for their citizens and this has been illustrated with some alarming blatency with the organisation of the games with the government forcibly evicting some 1.5 million people from their homes so that they can be bullsdozed to make way for the spectacular Olympic venues, including the “Bird’s Nest” and the “Water Cube“.

The Chinese authorities have also been accused of not honouring agreements regarding censorship and Internet access and their methods of complying with pledges to cut pollution in time for the games are also very questionable since they have achieved this by ordering polluting businesses to simply stop operating in the run up to and during the games themselves. That could never and would never happen anywhere else, you can’t just order businesses to arbitrarily shut down temporarily so that it makes you look better for an international event, only to return to the same environmental problems with no real long-term plan or intention to deal with them afterwards.

There have been numerous recent documentaries on the telly about China, most with some very alarming footage shot by British journalists highlighting the quite frankly sinister attitude held by the Chinese authorities to foreign journalists, especially when confronted with questions that they would rather not talk about. Freedom of information is a distant dream for that country and there are few signs that it’s going to change any time soon. It’s easy to forget about it because China is so far away and so far removed from our daily lives in the west, so when you see such material on the television it shocks you and makes you ask “blimey, does that sort of thing still go on, in 2008?”. It went on all the time in the 20th Century of course, it was almost normal, but not these days, the world has, for the most part, moved on.

Even the more technical documentaries, such as those on National Geographic Channel concerned with the construction of the Olympic venues, carry subtle references to the strict controls on information that the Chinese authorities maintain. During a documentary about the Bird’s Nest, the commentator remarked that “at least two” construction workers lost their lives during the construction of the stadium. They didn’t make a big thing about it, as it wasn’t a programme that concerned itself with anything other than an engineering project, and indeed the remark was very subtle and easy to miss, but it was very telling. In any other country in the world we would know exactly how many people were hurt during the construction of any building, but all they were able to report was that “at least” two were, thereby suggesting that they had probably received reports that more people than that lost their lives, but that the figure of two was the official figure released by the authorities.

The Chinese are famous for misreporting such figures. Industrial accidents are almost almost misreported, with the authorities claiming that far fewer people were killed and/or hurt than there actually were. The same is true for other statistics, such as the displacement enacted in order to make way for the Olympic venues. Although 1.5 million people were displaced, the Chinese authorities claim that only 6,037 were. It’s blatant lying, for the purpose of presenting their citizens and the rest of the world with the impression that life in China is a lot better than it actually is, but of course there’s nothing that anyone can do about it. They’re stuck in a culture of information control, it’s second nature to them now, and neither authority nor citizen can probably imagine a world without it.

I personally am very concerned that something awful is going to happen during the games. We’ve already had a terrorist attack and numerous protests and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was some nasty atrocity, perhaps like what happened at the Munich games, where Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed, or some sort of other significantly disruptive event that will marr the whole thing. I hope I’m wrong of course, but the whole world’s eyes are on China now and so it would be a perfect opportunity for someone to bring our attention to one or more of the various wrongs in China while we’re looking and before we go back to our normal lives after the games have finished.

Finally, I’d like to quote from a 2DTV sketch, which I think is very apt:

BEIJING 2008, ONLY ON PAY PER VIEW, YOU WILL VIEW, OR YOU WILL PAY!

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Manchester gets Glaswegian makeover

Scottish shiteThe whole of Manchester city centre is in a terrible state this morning. Every street is covered in empty cans, beer bottles, plastic glasses, discarded fast food, newspapers and other miscellaneous detritus. It’s absolutely fucking revolting and I am nothing short of appalled at the way that these 150,000 people, who clearly had absolutely no respect for their hosts, have behaved. Frankly, they deserved to lose the game. The debris is everywhere, even the station concourse this morning was covered in beer, puke, chips and what have you, with some still drunken fans wandering around shouting about how “shite” Manchester is, despite treating our police force like hunted prey, wrecking residents’ property and complaining when their expectations weren’t met to their standards.

Tell you what, I’ve got an idea that will keep us all happy. Why don’t you all fuck off back to fucking Glasgow, or wherever it is your crawled out from, where it’s apparently completely acceptable to treat your city like a sub-human pigsty, fucking stay there, and never fucking come back? I’d be game for that, and since you consider Manchester to be so fucking awful, you should be too. I, nor anyone else who lives or works in Manchester I expect, ever want to see the likes of you here ever again and I’d be surprised if any other city felt differently.

Furthermore, whichever organisation made all the profit out of yesterday, be it UEFA, City stadium or Rangers FC, I don’t fucking care, should be made to foot the bill for the cleanup. Why on earth should I have to put up with this when someone else has made a killing out of it? Glasgow should be made to make an official and public apology to Manchester for the way in which its residents have behaved; certainly if 150,000 Mancuncians descended upon Glasgow and left it in that sort of state there would be an outcry, swiftly followed by yet another handout from English taxpayers to clean it up.

I hate football at the best of times, and yesterday has done absolutely nothing to improve my opinion on it. The “beautiful game” and all its “supporters” can fuck right off and fucking stay there.

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United they lose

BBC SPORT | Football | United they lose – quite right too, finally someone stands up and actually says “no, actually, they’re wrong”, because I am frankly sick of this country treating footballers like gods, no matter how petulant or arrogant they become.

Rio Ferdinand failed to take a drugs test, his problem, the England does NOT have the right to hold the national team hostage in order to bail him out. Playing for the national team is a privilege and most certainly not a right and yet they treat it like it’s their birthright, manipulating it however they see fit. It’s apalling.

As the author states, it may be a cynical question, but would Ferdinand have been quite so absent-minded if his appointment was for a fashion shoot or a lucrative newspaper interview? The same would probably apply to each and every member of the England squad. Actually playing football seems to be an ever diminishing part of the average day of a “professional” footballer.

Let’s just look at today’s news to see exactly what these “professionals” and “celebrities”, that get so much attention from the media and the public, actually get up to. I think you’ll agree with me when I question exactly why we should be worshipping these people on a daily basis:

Now, can someone please tell me why this “sport” is held in such high regard in this country? If you ask me, it needs to be banned, thus killing about 100 birds with the same stone. That’d give footballers something to complain about.

It is however refreshing to learn that I’m not alone in my opinions on this.

Oh, and please BBC, let’s not have another day when Rio Ferdinand’s ugly mugshot dominates the front of your news site for the WHOLE DAY. Good god, with all that’s going on in the world, all you can think of is getting maximum exposure for pictures of $CELEBRITY.

o_|/ Football.