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David Haye – Audley Harrison: How a bout between the ‘Best of Enemies’ has actually exposed the worst of the sport

It’s been billed as another battle of Britain, but the reality is somewhat different. David Haye’s fight with Audley Harrison isn’t a high quality bout worthy of comparison with the greats of history: it’s a soap era that exposes the demise of a once great sport under the particular influences of the modern media:

 

Has the age of genuine boxing stars died under the spotlight of modern sports media, or has modern sports media effectively ended the age of, or need for, genuine boxing stars?

Either way, the relationship between the two has clearly had a negative impact on a sport that has great traditions and once boasted great sportsman. But Saturday’s bout between David Haye and Audley Harrison has already ably shown the depths to which pugalism has currently fallen., without so much as an eyebrow cut being cauterized after a particularly punishing round.

The simple fact is this: boxers in the modern age do not need to be great in order to become famous and, more significantly, rich.

The media can now do that for them.

Perhaps that’s inevitable, though, when the key moment in any fight’s success doesn’t even happen in the ring. It happens in the minutes and hours before, as the punters at home decide whether to click ‘yes’ when asked whether they want to pay £14.95 for the privilege of watching the scheduled 12 rounds of the evening’s main event.

That’s what the months of pre-bout hype is all about. That’s what the next morning’s anxious discussions — in both camps — will hinge on. If enough people pay to view, the bout will be viewed as a success, regardless of the quality of the contest.

In the end, the result will really only decide whether one or both camps will get to go through the whole tired charade again. Continue reading

November 12, 2010 Posted by | Comment, Sport | , , | 1 Comment

My first England cap: Some brief thoughts and recollections on joining the Wembley media corps

So, I got the chance to cover England’s opening Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria at Wembley. As my first game covering the Three Lions as an accredited member of the media, I thought I’d better note down some memories…

Wembley way: My view from my privileged position at the home of football

I never thought I’d get an England call-up at 23.

Okay, so Theo Walcott or Wayne Rooney might not be particularly impressed with my achievement — nor any player to actually get a proper cap for England, for that matter — but when your professional football dream falls apart at the age of 12 and you subsequently try to make the media your career like I have, then your first appearance in the hallowed press zone at Wembley seems like a milestone worthy of some note.

I wouldn’t call it a debut to remember by any means, but I think I got through the 90 minutes with enough nice touches to suggest I might one-day have a future at this level. A nervous start (my wide-eyed fear and hesitancy upon entering the media centre seemed to only convince the security attendants I harboured terrorist intent) eventually subsided into an enjoyable and slightly more self-assured second-half performance, and by the end of it I was… blocked from entering the mixed zone.

So, er, still work to be done then.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience. Wembley, as you would expect, is run like clockwork, with helpful and seemingly endless numbers of staff making sure you don’t get too far off the yellow brick road. One polite lift attendant (believe it) even indulged in small talk with myself and the BBC’s very own ‘expert’ Mark Lawrenson on the way up to the media centre, with the former Liverpool man even opining that “with programmes costing £6, I’m in the wrong game.” The attendant was happy to agree with him, which I can only assume was out of politeness, as spouting inane clichés about football every Saturday evening seems about as a good a ‘game’ as you can be in to me.

But I digress.

The media centre itself is something of a joy to behold, divided as it is into two sections. The first, slightly smaller in size, looks like a high-tech library with its rows of identikit cubicles with ports and wires for every computer accessory known to man. Continue reading

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Comment, World Football | , , | 1 Comment

The curious case of Myron Rolle: Too clever for the NFL?

A young man who has already been dubbed ‘the future of black America’ has created a dilemma that the NFL is unsure how to deal with…

Young man with a big future: Myron Rolle (right) has attracted a lot of attention for his intelligence and athleticism

From a distance, Myron Rolle looks just like any number of the hundreds of finely tuned athletes running through exercises this week in Indianopolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium. At 6 foot 2 and 215 pounds (15 st 4lbs), Rolle possesses the same unlikely blend of prodigious physical gifts that has long made him and his peers impressive American football players, and consequently attracted the attention of scouts from all 32 NFL teams who are looking for fresh blood in the forthcoming NFL Draft.

Rolle has the same primary ambition as many of the players he shares the field with — to convince one of those teams to make him a first round choice in that draft — but that is where the similarity ends.

Because, beyond the physical likeness, Rolle is quite different from most of his fellow players. For a start, the 23-year-old is the only one of his auditioning group who can list Oxford University on his academic resume.

Not content with being one of the finest young sportsmen in his country, Rolle is also among the most intelligent. Burnley defender Clarke Carlisle may have earned headlines last week with his exploits on Countdown, but Rolle is working on a different plane entirely.

While the U.S. collegiate system requires athletes to be students as well as sport stars, not all graduate with degrees and experiences that will give them options after they’ve played their last down. Many take less taxing courses that help them to fulfil the minimum educational requirements needed to take the field at weekends. Rolle is at the opposite end of the spectrum, having been one of only 32 students throughout the country last year to be awarded the coveted Rhodes scholarship. Bestowed upon the most academically and personally gifted young men and women from around the world, it permits them all a place to study a Masters course of their choice at Oxford University.

Many of his peers dream about the prizes on offer in professional football — the Super Bowl rings, the money, the fame and everything else that comes with it. Rolle has some of those same dreams, but many more to boot. After all, past Rhodes scholars include prominent politicians, rights activists, philosophers, inventors and even, in Bill Clinton, a U.S. President. Continue reading

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Comment, NFL, Sport | , , , | 1 Comment

Emmanuel Adebayor must learn from Didier Drogba if Manchester City are ever to hit the heights

He’s been signed as the hitman that will lead Manchester City to the sort of success their wealthy backers expect. But Emmanuel Adebayor should take a leaf out of another African striker’s book if he is to ever truly make the maximum of the potential he undoubtedly has…

Making a point: But Adebayor still has to prove his heart lies with Manchester City's ambitions, not their money

As far as starts go, perhaps few can have too many complaints about Emmanuel Adebayor’s early career at Manchester City.

In the nine Premier League games in which Adebayor has featured this season, the striker has scored five goals, and laid on a further three assists for his teammates.

On paper, then, it is a solid return from the 25-year-old after joining the Eastlands outfit from Arsenal for £25 million during the summer.

As has often been the case with Adebayor in England, however, the positives have been offset by a number of negatives. In no game was that better encapsulated than when he faced his former club earlier in the season.

Throughout the game against his old team-mates, the Togolese international was often at his blistering best.

He tormented the Arsenal players — taking advantage of their seemingly reckless desire to clatter him — but then proceeded to torment their fans after his well-taken goal.

That celebration, running a full 90 yards to gloat in front of those who had spent much of the game abusing him, earned him a three-game suspension after a review by the Football Association.

City, without their leading scorer, subsequently lost their next league game against arch-rivals Manchester United, in a cruel 4-3 thriller.

“I had a bad afternoon against Manchester United because I am sure that if I had played that day then I would have scored a goal,” Adebayor said.

“It was a shame that we lost in added time. United did not deserve to win—a fair result would have been a draw.”

Rather than bemoaning missing out on a chance to add to his goal tally, however, Adebayor should perhaps have been reflecting on his own conduct. His performance against Arsenal helped the team, but his subsequent conduct certainly didn’t.

That just isn’t good enough for a top striker. Continue reading

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Sport, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment

Great Gael Kakuta passes debut test as Chelsea start to dream of future glory

He has been one of the most talked-about young players in world football, for all the wrong reasons. But after an impressive 30-minute debut at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Gael Kakuta underlined exactly why Chelsea had sailed so close to the wind in order to obtain his signature…

We're flying: Kakuta soared at Stamford Bridge under intense pressure

No one can say they weren’t warned.

If anyone had missed the furore surrounding Gael Kakuta that overshadowed the early part Chelsea’s season, Carlo Ancelotti’s comments ahead of yesterday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers added another reason why the Frenchman has become one of the most talked about young players in world football.

“He (Kakuta) is a very good talent. He is very young and he can be a player in the future of Chelsea with his quality,” Ancelotti said.

“His character is good, he is a quiet boy, and at that age I have never seen a player with this talent,” he revealed.

Coming from Ancelotti, that is some statement. The Italian has observed some fabulous players in his 30-year career in football.

The fact that Kakuta is the best 18-year-old he has ever seen — just last year he was working with another fabulous teenager, AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato — will only increase the expectation around the young winger.

But the France U19 international has already become used to that.

After all, in September he went from being just a highly regarded member of Chelsea’s reserve team to one of the most notorious players in the world.

With FIFA judging out of the blue that Chelsea had broken the rules in luring Kakuta from French club RC Lens as a 16-year-old, the west London club found themselves forbidden from making signings for two consecutive transfer windows.

Kakuta, portrayed in many places as one of the villains of the piece, was banned from competitive football for four months.

Mentally weaker players would have crumbled under the increased scrutiny. But after a brief period of panic, the club’s 2008 Scholar of the Year soon composed himself.

“I think Kakuta suffered for one or two weeks about the situation and then after that he was better,” Ancelotti said.

“He returned to being quiet and calm and stayed with us to train. Still now he is well.

“It was not so important to speak with him, it was important to train with him and he stayed with the first team in this period.” Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Uncategorized, World Football | , , , | 1 Comment

On the big stage, Thierry Henry failed to handle the high standards his career demanded

He’s always presented himself as the gentleman of world football, despite a couple of previously unsavoury episodes. But after manhandling Ireland out of the World Cup, will Thierry Henry ever again be able to match up to the standards demanded of great players?

Villain of the piece: Henry (c) will forever be remembered for events at Stade de France

It wasn’t the way to win a place at the World Cup, never mind lose one.

Nevertheless, Thierry Henry’s illegal intervention during a closely-fought World Cup play-off between France and Ireland was the decisive act in a tie that deserved much better.

From the player to the referee and even the sport, few came away from the night with any credit.

The valiant Irish players can hold their heads high—but that will be scant consolation considering the devastating manner of their defeat.

It was worse that the pivotal moment came in extra-time, after Robbie Keane had clawed Ireland back onto level terms after an admirable team performance.

With questions of offside in the build up to a free-kick being delivered into the box, Henry looked to have misjudged the ball’s flight—before his hands came to the rescue.

The first contact looked instinctive, with the French No. 12 arguably knowing little about it on a conscious level.

But the second touch with his still-outstretched left arm was clearly deliberate, and set the ball perfectly for him to then slip the ball past the onrushing Shay Given with the outside of his right boot.

William Gallas, barely a yard out, had the simplest of jobs in nodding the ball into the open net.

For some, the fact Henry wheeled away and celebrated the goal was the most distasteful aspect of the whole scenario.

If the incident itself suggested the Barcelona forward was a cheat, then the public way he enjoyed the moment certainly confirmed it.

With referee Martin Hansson turning down Irish players’ prolonged appeals for hand-ball, the goal stood and France held on to book their place in South Africa next summer.

After the game, unsurprisingly all discussion was focused on Henry. Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment

David Beckham deserves 1000 caps if brings the World Cup back to England

Ever since he relinquished the captain’s armband  — and arguably even before then — David Beckham has been a divisive figure for observers of the England national team. Yet as his playing days draw to close, the current Los Angeles Galaxy star has the chance to achieve something no English footballer has ever managed…

Still the main man: Beckham's influence extends far beyond the football pitch

As happens without fail every four years, World Cup talk is dominating English football.

For the players in and around manager Fabio Capello’s national squad, the focus is on making the plane for South Africa next summer.

For those lucky enough to be all but guaranteed their seat — and there are a few — the focus is on launching a bid to win the big prize on the horizon.

For the Football Association, the situation is slightly different.

While the directors of English football’s governing body are still devoting considerable resources to give  Capello everything he needs to launch a strong challenge next summer, they are also focusing equal attention on launching a successful World Cup bid of their own.

Instead of 2010, the FA is looking to 2018, when they hope they can bring the World Cup back to England for the first time in 52 years.

When England hosted that last tournament, in 1966, Bobby Moore famously lead the Three Lions to their solitary triumph in the game’s biggest tournament.

And hopes are high that, after so many years of hurt, a return of the final to a new Wembley might yield the same famous old result.

That long wait to host, as well as England’s self-proclaimed status as the ‘home of football’ (something that has been deliberately underplayed during campaigning so as not to offend) would seem to give the bid more weight than that of its rivals.

Couple that with the fact it has an unrivalled collection of world-class stadiums and infrastructure to call upon, and, on paper at least, any bid from the sceptred isle would appear to be a winner.

But in many respects, England and the wider United Kingdom is not currently in the best of health. While many other European and world nations are slowly steering their ship clear of recession, the United Kingdom is still waging a seemingly losing battle with high unemployment and floundering industry. Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Sport, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment

Wimbledon and Equal Prize Money: The Debate That Won’t Go Away

The debate won’t go away, mainly because journalists like Catch Seventy7 insist on writing about it. But hey, let’s not let that detract from an interesting piece…

Roger Federer: Who cares about equal pay, he's just glad Rafa's not at Wimbledon this year...

Roger Federer: Who cares about equal pay, he's just glad Rafa's not at Wimbledon this year...

Before the All England Club finally relented in 2007, the subject of Wimbledon’s allocation of prize money had become something of a millstone hanging around the necks of all those associated with the tournament.
While hardly on the same level as Augusta National—host of the Masters golf tournament—which singularly refuses to allow female members, Wimbledon’s payouts that reward female winners of the tournament with smaller financial rewards than their male equivalents led many to accuse the Club of being archaic and misogynistic.
In fairness to the Club, for many years the situation had been improving, albeit at an unsatisfactorily slow pace.
In 1968 the men’s singles champion, Rod Laver, won £2,000 for his triumph, while the ladies’ winner, Billie Jean King, received just £750. But by 2006, Amelie Mauresmo was taking home just 5% less than Roger Federer’s £675,000.
But the fact that there was any difference at all still rankled with many.
Fortunately, that nominal difference finally disappeared in 2007 as Wimbledon officials announced that competitors would receive the same amount of prize money—at all stages of the tournament—regardless of sex.
This put the tournament on par with the US and Australian Open, and ahead of Roland Garros—which quickly fell into line).
Despite this, however, some have continued to criticize Wimbledon, arguing that female competitors do not deserve their new-found equality, for a variety of reasons.
It is a debate that is set to run and run.
It is perhaps both ironic and unfortunate for the Wimbledon committee that in the years immediately following their decision to award equal pay to both victors, the quality of the female game has tailed off dramatically.
At the same time, the excitement surrounding the men’s game has reached a level not seen since the days of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
While Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer seem to be contesting the world’s grandest tennis match as they rally trophies and titles back and forth across the globe, the top players in the female game seem to have become entrenched in an uninspiring battle to see how many of them can become world number one without actually winning a Grand Slam title.
As a spectacle, there is simply no comparison between the two.
But is that a reason against equal prize money?
It cannot be doubted that female tennis players put in the same amount of effort and dedication to the honing of their craft as their male counterparts.
The fact of the matter is: prize money for sports stars is not calculated on the hours they have put in on the training ground, but rather on the interest and attention they manage to garner from sponsors and, most importantly, spectators.
In this respect, male tennis players have a clear advantage.
“There are not many opening-round matches in the women’s draw of grand slam tournaments that I would cross the road to watch,” said former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash. “Predictability has always put me off [the women’s game] and things aren’t too different from ten or 15 years ago.”
Cash’s sentiment is one echoed by most casual fans. On television, men’s finals are more widely viewed than women’s. In 1999, a Wimbledon survey revealed 70% of spectators come to the tournament first and foremost to see men’s singles matches.
For better or worse, the men’s game is most often what fans will pay to see.
Even the most casual of fans can name upwards of 20 top male players, based primarily on their abilities on the court.
But could they name more than five or ten top female tennis players? Of those named, are most not known more for their looks than their devastating forehand smash?
If that constitutes equality, then somewhere the rulebook has been mislaid.
Some, however, see nothing wrong with such a situation—even within the game. For example, the Women’s Tennis Association seem to be enthusiastically employing the maxim that “sex sells” to boost their sport, regardless of the message that may send out.
“I actually feel that one of the great strengths of the tour, is the personalities off the court twinned with these great athletes on the court,” said Larry Scott, the out-going chief executive of the WTA Tour, this week. “Our players are very comfortable with that positioning [the Tour’s advertising focus on looks], and I think they are great role models for women showing that, you know, you can be gritty and determined on the court and go out to win, and still be a feminine celebrity off the court.”
For some, such an attitude is the core problem for the respectability of women’s tennis. The fact that Anna Kournikova is arguably the most famous exponent of the sport—a result of her good looks rather than her tour titles, or lack thereof—is a saddening aspect for many.
Due to the reduced emphasis of power compared to the men’s game, some neutral tennis viewers may prefer the women’s game as a spectacle.
But on the whole, it is not what many viewers would choose to see.
If TV companies could get away with it—or, indeed, were only able to show a limited number of matches—then they would undoubtedly show coverage of men’s games at a far greater frequency than anything involving women, at least until the later stages of the tournament.
So if fewer spectators pay to see females play compared to the men, and broadcasters tolerate the women’s game rather than actively promote it, then how can they justify the equal prize money that some of them—most notably the Williams sisters—lobbied so forcefully for?
After all, many male players think it is an equality that isn’t really, well, equal.
“I don’t think [equal prize money] is really fair,” said professional men’s player Tommy Haas when the change was announced. “I think the depth of men’s tennis is much tougher than the women’s, plus we play best of five sets.”
To earn their equality, then, should women play five set matches too? As Ian O’Doherty of the Irish Independent noted, apparently not:
“In the spirit of equal work for equal pay, should the female game not also adapt to best of five?
Erm no. Because as top female player Jelena Jankovic whined last week at the prospect of playing best of five: ‘What, you want to drive us into oblivion?’
So, we want the same money because we’re women. But we don’t want to do the same work. Because we are women.
But only a sexist pig would point out that absurdity, of course.”
O’Doherty may well have a point, but to penalize women for their physiological shortcomings would hardly be a great demonstration of equality. As Dinara Safina’s victory over Amelie Mauresmo showed, it is still possible to pack a lot of enthralling tennis into a three-set match.
But, on the other hand, the reduced interest in the women’s game means that outside the four Grand Slams, prize money is markedly reduced for women’s events, making it impossible for top women to earn as much as men from their craft.
Not to mention that at many events, the men also play best of three sets games. The difference for the men being that the prize funds are far greater than at women’s satellite events.
Similarly, sponsorship deals are more apparent in the men’s game. Women can sign multi-million pound deals to wear a certain brand, but again this is often based as much on the looks of that player as her ability from behind the baseline.
At least the Grand Slams allow women to earn well regardless of appearance. Perhaps economic equality there is not such a bad thing, after all.
At such high profile events, equal prize funds for both sexes sends a message to young girls—and, perhaps more importantly, boys—that equal pay is a basic requirement of a civilized society.
Such an example is undoubtedly an important one.
Still, once those young minds start to develop and they begin to appreciate the two tours and the difference between three sets and five, many might begin to question the situation.
But whatever the rights and wrongs of individual arguments, the reality is that the All England Club’s decision to move to equal prize money is one that can never be rescinded. The backlash that would come from any reversal would be such a PR disaster that it could never be beneficial to the tournament.
At Wimbledon, equal pay is here to stay.
But that will not stop the discussion from continuing to run and run.
Female players might just be happy to reflect that they are playing in the modern era where, in the Grand Slams at least, their presence is rewarded as handsomely—if not more so—than they deserve.

Before the All England Club finally relented in 2007, the subject of Wimbledon’s allocation of prize money had become something of a millstone hanging around the necks of all those associated with the tournament.

While hardly on the same level as Augusta National — host of the Masters golf tournament — which singularly refuses to allow female members, Wimbledon’s payouts that reward female winners of the tournament with smaller financial rewards than their male equivalents led many to accuse the Club of being archaic and misogynistic.

In fairness to the Club, for many years the situation had been improving, albeit at an unsatisfactorily slow pace.

In 1968 the men’s singles champion, Rod Laver, won £2,000 for his triumph, while the ladies’ winner, Billie Jean King, received just £750. But by 2006, Amelie Mauresmo was taking home just 5% less than Roger Federer’s £675,000.

But the fact that there was any difference at all still rankled with many.

Fortunately, that nominal difference finally disappeared in 2007 as Wimbledon officials announced that competitors would receive the same amount of prize money — at all stages of the tournament — regardless of sex.

This put the tournament on par with the US and Australian Open, and ahead of Roland Garros (which quickly fell into line).

Despite this, however, some have continued to criticize Wimbledon, arguing that female competitors do not deserve their new-found equality, for a variety of reasons.

It is a debate that is set to run and run.

Continue reading

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Sport | | Leave a comment

Rewind: Donde? Barcelona!

It’s an oldie, but a goldie. The time I wrote an article about the time I went to Barcelona…

Nou Camp, 20th January 2008: Mes que un club

Nou Camp, 20th January 2008 (20:45, to be exact): Mes que un club

With the weather remaining resolutely miserable in this disheartening corner of the world (Nelson Mandela’s One Word Weather: Gloomy), it is often all too tempting to sit back and dream of sunnier climes — especially in preference to any sort of work (especially the sort my personal tutor loves to term ‘your dissertation’).

Maybe if she talked about sun, sea and sangria I would daydream about the causes of the Hundred Flowers Campaign, but somehow I doubt it.  Oh well…

Yet now, thanks to the wonderful folks at Ryanair, Easyjet et al, you don’t have to be rolling in what an American would affectionately term ‘the Benjamin’s’ to enjoy a European getaway. Even better, though in no way down to an airline company, you could also take in a world class football match without extending your finances past breaking point — and all of this while applying the Factor 20.

Could it get much better? Sanctuary Sport went to Barcelona to test the waters…

Continue reading

May 9, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Sport | , | Leave a comment

N.A.S.A. ‘Spirit of Apollo’ Ready for Lift Off?

With a list of collaborators longer than an elephant’s memory, N.A.S.A.’s first album might just be about to hit the big time….

DJ Zegon and Squeak E. Clean: Aeronautical enthusiasts, presumably...

DJ Zegon and Squeak E. Clean: Astronautical enthusiasts, presumably...

On February 17th 2009, N.A.S.A — comprised of supreme mixers DJ Zegon and Squeak E. Clean — launched arguably the most ambitious musical project of the year so far. Their album, ‘Spirit of Apollo’, features a who’s-who of rap, indie and pop collaborators — from Kanye West and KRS One through to Karen O, Tom Waits, George Clinton and M.I.A. — that would lead anyone to believe the album is set for superstardom.

Yet, at the time of writing, the album lies 10,040th in Amazon.co.uk’s music chart, and has received remarkably little exposure on the UK music scene. That might well change with the inexplicable emergence of new song ‘Gifted’ (originally released on 20th January), however, which features the aforementioned West in an interesting mix with American singer Santagold and Swedish indie talent Lyyke Li. If it can get some mainstream exposure, the song has all the hallmarks of a hit.

Continue reading

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Music | , | Leave a comment