Friday, May 30, 2008

Australia needs to clean up before hosting more major sporting events

There would be few in Australia who would argue today that it was not a wonderful thing for Sydney to host the Olympic games in 2000. I attended some events in Sydney and was there enjoying the atmosphere with hundreds of thousands of other Australians and also international people. I had the pleasure of having my photo taken with a gold medalist. I was there in the main Olympic stadium cheering on our athletes towards the prize of a medal. I was there in Darling Harbour with 5 000 others watching Cathy Freeman win the 400m gold, and in tears knew that this was a great moment for reconciliation between Indigenous and European Australia.

But still there were some noises from the international media about Australia having human rights issues, because of the conditions that many indigenous Australians live in. Some sports followers despise the connection of politics with sport. But to be a sports lover and to ignore politics is wrong. We can not enjoy ourselves while our brothers and sisters are suffering around us.

Once again, in an Olympic year the issue of human rights has hit the headlines again. Chinese oppression of Tibetan monks and freedom protesters in Tibet has caused a lot of controversy around the world. Olympic torch relays have been interrupted. People have debated about whether protesters should have interrupted the torch relays. Mean while, China has mostly deflected the international criticism and told the world to stay out of their internal matters. Effectively, we the international community have been told to "mind our own business."

Many in Australia have joined the protest call for Tibetans to be given their democratic rights and choose their own path in the world. This point of view is the overwhelmingly correct political path to take. I also agree with this point of view. But how is it, that we in Australia also managed to deflect much of the international criticism handed our way during the Sydney Olympics? Now it appears that the world doesn't bother us too much, and we are allowed to go our own way, for better or worse.

I along with millions of Australians shed tears on February 13th when the Federal government apologised to the stolen generations of indigenous Australians. It was an important and long overdue step for our nation, and many Aboriginal people were grateful for the apology and step taken. May 13th followed February 13th with a $718.7 million budget pledge to "Close the Gap" between the quality of life for indigenous Australians and European Australians. The government deserve a chance to get it right and implement their policies. But it has to be said, that quality of life for indigenous Australians has to be among our highest priorities in Australia.

We love and adore our sport in Australia. We love nothing more than seeing an international team perform well. We love nothing more than hosting a major international tournament. But what happens, the next time we host a major international sports tournament such as a Football World Cup and the life expectancy of indigenous Australians is still 17 years less than the rest of the population? The rest of the world will look on Australia again and call to attention our human rights problems. Am I being pessimistic to say that the situation will not have improved by then? Time will tell, but money thrown at a problem does not usually solve it.

We can spend tax dollars on earning major international sporting events, but when we host them, is our country really worth showing off to the world? I argue that we need to earn the right to host these major tournaments. As a country we need to sort out our own problems before we start boasting to the rest of the world that our country is in order.

We owe it to the the original and continual custodians of Gondwana land. The Great South Land can still be as great as the one it could have been.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rugby season opener

While watching the sports channel the other night I saw an ad for the Russian Rugby Championship. I had previously wanted to get to a game, but the stadium looked hard to get to. Last night's game was at the Lokomotiv Stadium downtown. The stadium has a capacity of 4000 and sits on one side of the field. Going to a Rugby game is the closest I will get to Aussie Rules in Russia.

The game was scheduled to start at 18:30, but the marching band were still strutting their stuff at 18:35.

The weather has been warm and in the 20s for over a week now. But it turned cool yesterday, 17 degrees with patches of rain. Some die hard rugby fans turned out in the rain. There were 1300 at the match.

The two teams were lined up by 18:40. The team on the left is Yenisey (a Krasnoyarsk based team). They have just turned professional this year. It's a bit of an anomaly because most of the other teams are not professional. The team on the right is Krasny Yar (also a Krasnoyarsk based team). Krasny Yar won nearly every championship in the 90s, but they are still an amateur team. There are 6 teams in the Premier Rugby League in Siberia (4 of them are from Krasnoyarsk), and a further 8 in European Russia. After the national anthem, the game got underway at about 18:45.

I asked some people in the crowd who the stronger team were. Apparently Yenisey. So in true Aussie form I decided to barrack for the underdog Krasny Yar. I had no idea just how much an underdog they were. From very early on Yenisey dominated the play. I cheered away for Krasny Yar, and to my amusement the majority of people were supporting Yenisey. There was a group at the back cheering for Krasny Yar though. I had fun stirring the group of kids in front of me that insisted Yenisey are the team to go for. (It seems cheering for the under dog is not the Russian thing to do.)

Yenisey just seemed to move a lot faster than Krasny Yar did, and so it seemed as if they had more players on the field. They were able to cover the gaps better.

By half time the score was 24-0 in Yenisey's favour. Krasny Yar barely even looked like scoring, although they were trying very hard to stop Yenisey.

The Yenisey players were also a lot bigger. It seems that turning professional, they have been able to take all of the best players, at least the best from Krasnoyarsk anyway.

Our American friends were intrigued by the differences to American Football. I couldn't explain all of the rule differences, just the major ones, as I don't know the game of Rugby well enough.

Yenisey are about to score another try. The style of play of both sides almost completely ignored shots on field goals. Even at 24-0 when Krasny Yar could have taken an easy shot on goal, they decided to push forward for a try and failed to score. In the end Krasny Yar did score. The final score was 33-5 in Yenisey's favour. Last week Krasny Yar defeated Sibir 61-8, so I don't think that this will be a very competitive season. Sibir and Siberian Federal University may be more well matched but a long way behind the competition. There simply aren't enough teams for another division. But perhaps some more sponsors will get on board and all of the teams can turn professional, if so maybe the talent will be spread around more evenly.

In Aussie Rules we feel cheer leaders are unnecessary, but Abigail seemed to enjoy them, when the ball was at the other end of the field. If the ball came close Abigail would get excited and comment on kicks etc.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Footy in Russia

Spring is settling in at last, and that means more opportunity to get outside and play some sport. Today is a public holiday (Victory Day) in Russia, so I was hopeful to have a game of some kind with the local kids. I packed my bag with my footy, baseball bat and tennis ball and headed over to the local sports ground. The baseball bat was for a game of Lapta (the kids have just been using sticks), if that were to happen.

When I arrived, there were four kids taking shots on goal with one of the two local forms of football. I wasn't going to rain on their parade, so I quite shamelessly started kicking and bouncing the ball around at the other end of the field (not full size). After a little while, one of my friends, Rustam was coming by and he joined in kicking with me. We have had a kick once before. Rustam enjoys kicking the footy a lot, and it was very therapeutic for me to get a chance to have a kick, especially after the long Winter.

With the two of us now playing, this attracted more attention from the local kids as we were able to kick the ball further and higher. I could see that some of the kids were interested so I sent them some kicks. It proved a little difficult for a couple of the boys and they just tried a couple of times, watched some more and played soccer again. One of the boys, Vlad was really keen to join in. He had great ball handling skills. We got talking, and it turns out that he plays in a Rugby team. There are five professional Rugby teams in Krasnoyarsk, and according to Vlad, lots of junior clubs. This kind of suggests to me, that Aussie Rules has the best chance of take up in the world, where ever Rugby is played, as the ball was not a problem for him what so ever. Vlad asked me if he could do a Rugby pass in Australian Football. I explained that Aussie Rules is a cousin of Rugby's and taught him the hand pass. He had no problem picking this up either. It was all a bit of good fun. For an Aussie Rules club to be formed anywhere in the world, it helps to have enough expats to start the thing off, so I can't ever really see that happening where I live. But a kick to kick is good enough for me. As we finished up for the day, the kids asked me when we were going to play cricket. Hopefully tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Indian Premier League- opens the door for non test cricket nations

I have to admit that I have not been following the IPL closely. I was impressed to see the highlights of Brendan Mc Cullum's opening innings and then also impressed to see that Gilly set a new world record for the fastest century (42 balls). I was then amused to see Harbhajan Singh suspended at last. But it's a little hard to follow the comp from Siberia. Obviously I don't have any coverage at all, although I can watch you tube highlights if I want.

Apparently the tv coverage in Australia is rather poor, with very few games shown live, and no highlights being shown. This would also make it hard to follow. The other part that makes it hard to follow is that I can not identify with any of the franchises. I don't even know who any of the stars are playing for. I did look this up, but then promptly forgot within a few minutes. The names of the teams meant nothing to me. All this to say, that it definitely appears to be a competition for the Indians.

This leads me to a couple of points. Firstly, Australia and England need their own Premier/ Super leagues. As fans we need something we can relate to. But, secondly, does this mean that India really will control cricket in the future? If the rest of the world decides they don't really want to watch the IPL, it won't make a lot of difference to India. The baulk of the tv money comes from India anyway. They don't need us. Do we need them? Probably. We need to stay on their good side, so we can still have access to our players for test matches and world cups.

Nevertheless, the mass of money in Indian cricket still has a positive spin. Ireland and Kenya have had a hard time breaking through the glass ceiling into test cricket. (The ICC will only allow them in when they deem fit.) Their players are not able to devote all of their time to cricket, as they have to work regular jobs. This prevents them from lifting their game to the next level. If players from Ireland, Kenya, Canada, Scotland etc, get contracts to play in the IPL for even $50 000 or $100 000 a tournament, then they will be able to quit their regular jobs and devote the entire year to cricket. This would enable these countries to become test nations. This in turn would enlargen the world of professional cricket.

Many are now arguing that Twenty 20 spells the death of test cricket. These same arguments were put forward 30 years ago at the start of World Series Cricket. Fifty overs cricket has actually helped test cricket, firstly by bringing in finances, but also by improving the standard of play. Run rates have improved a lot in test cricket. It is also argued that Twenty 20 will just become a slogging fest, and the bowlers unimportant. There is some reality that cricket has always been slanted in favour of batsmen, but Twenty 20 will force bowlers to become even tighter. Line and length is always important. The right length on off stump is always difficult and risky to play. A yorker is impossible to hit for 6. So, the onus is on the bowlers to not bowl loosely. The intenisty of play will improve the quality of test cricket. The only game under threat is 50 overs cricket. It is the game that has suffered a loss in crowds in recent years, not test cricket.

I'm looking forward to the test series against West Indies where I will recognise Aussie players and the team.

The revolution in cricket may scare some people, but there are many positives.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A solution to the AFL's fixturing problems (Australian Football.)

Recently the AFL players association came up with a proposed solution to fixturing problems in the AFL. For the uninitiated, let me explain the problem. For a long time the VFL (Victorian Football League) was a 12 team competition. This worked out as a neat 22 round season; 11 home games and 11 away games. With an additional 4 weeks for the finals this made 26 weeks, which is exactly half a year, allowing the other 6 months for cricket. The draw was fair and everyone was happy.
The first expansion with the relocation of the South Melbourne Swans to Sydney in 1982 did not affect the draw, although Sydney began to play their games on Sundays, and the tradition of 6 games on a Saturday was over. In 1987, the VFL added West Coast Eagles (Perth) and Brisbane Bears, to make a 14 team competition. This did have an effect on the draw. To avoid stretching the draw to 26 weeks some teams were only played once. (13 teams twice and 9 once.)
Further expansions happened in 1991 with the addition of the Adelaide Crows; Fremantle Dockers in 1994; Port Adelaide Power in 1997. The merger of Fitzroy and Brisbane played as the Brisbane Lions in 1997, so the competition never grew larger than 16 teams.
The AFL now plan to add two more teams to the competition; Gold Coast in 2011 and Western Sydney in 2012, which will create an 18 team competition. The Players Association have complained that the current draw is already unfair. Some of the higher ranked teams end up playing lower ranked teams twice in the season, and effectively get a free win. The proposed solution from the Players Association is a 17 round competition, where each of the 18 teams play each other once. This is not realistic though, as the AFL will never agree to this. The AFL would be giving up TV revenue when the next contract is due.
There has been debate over the years about splitting the AFL into a two conference fixture. Many are against this, as the Melbourne teams (still 10) would have to be split in half and would play each other less often.
The simplest of solutions would be to recognise the inequality of the current draw and seek to rectify the problem. A win is currently worth 4 points, and a draw is worth 2 points. The solution could be to award only 2 points for a win to games against teams that are played twice in a season. This would mean such games are not "free kicks" to the top ranked teams.
A conference system could still work and is worth considering:

Western Conference:
West Coast
Port Adelaide
Western Bulldogs
North Melbourne

Eastern Conference:
St Kilda
Western Sydney
Gold Coast

In a conference system each team from the opposite conference would be played once, (9 games). A further 8 games against each team in the same conference would make 17 games. This would leave 5 to make up the 22 traditional rounds. The 5 additional games would be drawn randomly from the same conference, with the extra games only worth 2 points. It would be important to keep the conferences the same from year to year to keep the draw fair. Another step in keeping the draw fair would be take the top four teams from each conference to play in the finals series.

I appreciate that the Players Association would like to see equality in the draw. The above solution could see some equality. Discussions on the ABC "Offsiders" show recently suggested that if the AFL did not choose the proposed solution from the Players Association, that the AFL would not be interested in the quality of the game, but only in money. This is a little shortsighted of "Offsiders". They need to realise that the world of sport has changed for three decades now. Professional sport is about the money. The solutions to problems need to be found within the framework of profit making.

Indian Premier League: Harbhajan Singh suspended for 11 matches

Allow me to have my rant and rave. Harbhajan Singh wacks his "friend" in the face, and we are expected to believe he does not treat his enemies badly? And don't anyone try tell me that Harbhajan is cosy friends with the Aussies. The Aussies may be sledgers at times, but I find it insulting that Harbhajan claims he isn't one. Apparently Sreesanth is one of the worst sledgers and he "had it coming." I find it funny and poetic justice that Harbhajan was baited by Sreesanth and has now ended up with an eleven match ban. In the new world of hyper professional cricket, this is far more devastating than a test match ban would have been in Australia. Harbhajan will now miss out on $900 000 in match payments. Justice at last. He had it coming.