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Author Archive for Editorial

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The Guardian view on Andy Murray: great Scot, great guy, great backhand | Editorial

The former Wimbledon men’s singles champion is a man who reshaped the game, on and off courtAndy Murray, who has signalled his retirement from tennis, is a sports revolutionary. His claim in history was to be Britain’s first Wimbledon men’s singles cha…

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The Guardian view on 100-ball cricket: the sacred and the profane | Editorial

It is depressing to think that the ECB believes that a great game can only be saved by reinvention in a ‘popular’ formThe announcement of a 100-ball form of cricket is yet more mildly depressing evidence that the glorious game is splitting into two for…

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The Guardian view on drugs in sport: a deep corruption | Editorial

A devastating report from a parliamentary select committee shows a culture of studied evasion around the abuse of performance-enhancing substances in professional sportWhat is the point of sport? The recent death of Sir Roger Bannister, who ran the wor…

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The Guardian view on Phillip Hughes: beyond the boundary

The cricketer’s death has brought Australia and the world together in sadness Continue reading…

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In praise of the Olympic pool

One part of the Olympic legacy that is working well is the London Aquatic Centre Continue reading…

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In praise of one-time winners

We should define champions like Chris Froome and Andy Murray by their wins not their lossesSo Chris Froome’s withdrawal from the Tour de France is more proof of British sporting misery in 2014, is it? How short memories can be. Mr Froome won the Tour l…

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In praise of one-time winners

We should define champions like Chris Froome and Andy Murray by their wins not their lossesSo Chris Froome’s withdrawal from the Tour de France is more proof of British sporting misery in 2014, is it? How short memories can be. Mr Froome won the Tour l…

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The Guardian view: the World Cup should be awarded to continents, not countries

From the way it’s awarded to the way it’s staged, football’s festival needs a complete overhaul Continue reading…

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Russia sanctions: little bark, less bite | Editorial

The EU and US have been talking tough and producing lists of high-profile Russians they have identified for asset freezes

The international community does not like it, but Ukraine has lost Crimea to Russia. The question now is how to persuade President Vladimir Putin against taking another pound of Ukrainian flesh or, more likely, attempting to render the country ungovernable. To this end, the EU and US have been talking tough and producing lists of high-profile Russians they have identified for asset freezes and travel bans. The EU yesterday announced it was adding 12 people to the list of 21 officials it will punish. On Thursday, the US came out with its own second tranche of individuals to target.

Neither the rhetoric nor the sanctions have looked convincing, but the US Treasury’s list is at least a fascinating account of where Washington believes the bodies are buried in the Putin administration. Among the four men and one bank listed under the heading “members of the inner circle” is the close Putin ally Gennady Timchenko. Mr Timchenko was until recently co-owner of Gunvor, which rose from nothing to become the fourth largest oil trader in the world on the back of contracts awarded by the state. According to the US Treasury, Mr Putin has investments in Gunvor and “may have access to Gunvor funds”. (The Kremlin denies this). The US list also fingers Arkady Rotenberg, a former judo partner of Mr Putin whose companies won more than $7bn worth of contracts for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Bank Rossiya, meanwhile, sometimes described as “Putin’s bank”, owns major stakes in many of the Russian media companies that have been cheerleading the Crimean conquest.

The targeting of these asset freezes is smart, but they do not represent much of a stick. In Kiev, the sanctions have been derided as a “mosquito bite”, and Mr Putin himself yesterday laughed them off. Any crony worth his salt will have long made plans to keep their money out of western clutches, as Mr Timchenko did by dumping his Gunvor stake on Wednesday.

Europe has threatened a possible third, more intrusive round of economic sanctions, but we can read in their sluggish responses the double bind the 28 EU states are in, loth to cut off their stuttering economies from Russian trade and gas and unable to set a clear foreign policy objective. Wider economic sanctions are also a blunt, unpredictable instrument: they take years to work, hurt the innocent as much as the guilty, and can even align the people behind a nationalist leader.

More effective perhaps than any of these measures would be the suggestion floated by Andy Burnham: a threat to pull the 2018 World Cup from Russia. Withdrawing the propaganda opportunities of such a large event might – just might – make Mr Putin think twice.

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In praise of … Graeme Smith | Editorial

The South African cricketer’s career has been about leadership, clarity of thought and character – and gritty batting

The mighty warrior Graeme Smith, South Africa’s lantern-jawed Test captain for 11 years, has caused more grief than most to England during his international career, which is shortly to end. His batting is admired more for its grit than its elegance. But he came to the captaincy in 2003, when South Africa was almost on its knees, its golden boy Hansie Cronje found to have feet of basest clay, and in the wake of a crushing defeat in the ODI World Cup at home. He was just 22, but few thought his youth would be a drawback. Asked, a few years later, to lead Somerset, he replied: “Well, OK, I’m usually captain of any team I play in.” His career has been about leadership, clarity of thought and character, a cricketer to be dismissed – as Nasser Hussain did early on, Kevin Pietersen more recently – at the speaker’s peril. When he captains Surrey this summer, there will be a chance to see if his leadership skills can match KP’s reluctance to be led.

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In praise of … London Aquatics Centre | Editorial

Its stands removed, Zaha Hadid’s complex has become the most jaw-dropping municipal swimming pool in the world

Zaha Hadid’s creation for the 2012 Olympics was praised at the time of its unveiling as a stunning building, one critic describing the interior space as “stonking”. But that was while two ugly banks of seating for the Games were attached, which appeared like a boxy life jacket round an Olympic swimmer’s midriff. Now the stands have been removed and the complex has become what it was designed to be: the most jaw-dropping municipal swimming pool in the world. From the curved wall of grass that encloses the lower levels to the swooping wave of a roof, this organic-looking structure beckons you in from the windy spaces of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. But it is not until you reach the cathedral-like interior of the main pool hall that you realise the extraordinary skill of the architect. Anyone can now swim in it for around the same entrance fee as other local baths. It is a great legacy of the Olympics.

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Gambling code of practice: high stakes, long shot | Editorial

Of the £2.5bn being poured into FOBT machines in poor British towns, £0.5bn never comes back out again

It is, although it might as well not be, an offence to allow alcohol to be served to a person who is already drunk. The interest of the pub trade has always distorted judgment like over-proof liquor when it comes to calling time on inebriation. Today, betting shops voluntarily assume parallel duties to discourage problem gamblers. The suspicion must be that the question “Sir, is it really a good idea to stuff another £100 into that machine?” will be heard no more often than “Sorry, you’ve had enough” is bellowed across the bar. Of course, a new industry code pledging to train staff to identify and tackle problem habits is better than nothing. But pedlars do not make effective addiction counsellors.

The (slightly) more serious question is whether, through computerised prompts, users of so-called fixed-odds betting terminals can be “nudged” away from their most destructive habits – pre-committing to monetary or time limits, which software will then automatically remind them about. The answer matters, not only for the unhappy individuals involved but also for the communities in which they live.

Over a dozen years, FOBT machines – which let gamblers stake £100 every 20 seconds on a virtual roulette wheel – have mushroomed, particularly on poorer streets. Last year, the Guardian exposed the concentration of the terminals in places where unemployment leaves fewer people with wages to wager. On Saturday, we report that twice as much money is being frittered away in the boroughs that can least afford it. Of the £2.5bn being poured into FOBTs in poor British towns, £0.5bn never comes back out again. So the terminals are achieving what might be described as £500m in reverse redevelopment.

This 20% loss ratio is, on the face of it, tricky to reconcile with the seductive “fixed odds” promise of 97% being paid out. But that comforting claim assumes against all reality that players treat FOBTs as a one-shot game, rather than allowing the average 3% loss to compound over successive rounds. It disregards, too, the exploitative facility for the deluded to split stakes between supposedly lucky numbers, which can eventually only succeed in weighting the wheel against the punter. Cannier sorts can, by contrast, cap their losses much closer to 3%, and use FOBT receipts to explain away the proceeds of crime – yet another social toll.

The imagined bookmakers’ question about the advisability about stuffing an extra £100 into a fixed-odds machine admits of only one rational answer. But then the allure of these machines lies beyond the bounds of rationality. The odds on nudging people back to their sense are long. Reducing the limit on spending per minute would be a much safer bet.

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In praise of … Betley Reserves

The Staffordshire County League football team have just guaranteed themselves a place in the record books

They may not boast a Messi, a Ronaldo or even a Rooney, but Betley Reserves of the Staffordshire County League have just guaranteed themselves a place in the record books. In a Staffordshire County League division two game at the weekend, they became the first side in six and a half seasons to lose to Tunstall Town, who have themselves been saluted in these columns before as a team that always strove but never conquered. In a possible harbinger of imminent triumph, Tunstall had in January ended a run of 143 consecutive defeats with a 1-1 draw. The change is attributable, it seems, to the club’s newly adopted youth policy. Where before they routinely fielded several players of 60 or even 70, they are now picking only one or two over the age of 40. This result leaves Town a mere nine points behind the last but one team in their league, Stone Old Alleynians – who do, however, have five games in hand.

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In praise of … saner football | Editorial

The mega-mouth, mega-money, mega-ego world of big British football is a far cry from what it was in Tom Finney’s day

Chelsea’s manager José Mourinho dubs Arsène Wenger of Arsenal “a specialist in failure”, though claiming that’s only retaliation for what Mr Wenger says about him. He has a parallel feud with Manuel Pellegrini of Manchester City. That, along with endless managerial complaints that referees are chronically biased against them, is standard managerial practice nowadays in the mega-mouth, mega-money, mega-ego world of big British football. Meanwhile, in the midst of this charmless cacophony, the news comes from Preston, where he’d lived all his life (playing for no other club) of the death of a mega-talented England footballer who, after he came back from the war, kept up the day job as a plumber even through his international days, never simulated injury, never badmouthed a referee and certainly never considered a Rooney-esque weekly wage of £300,000. Tom Finney embodied a saner age.

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In praise of … Olympian calm | Editorial

The BBC commentators who whooped with delight were hardly the first to cross over the line from enthusiasm to excess

The ancient Olympic Games were a cutthroat affair. The competitors’ home states were even sometimes at war with one another as the athletes contended, so we can imagine that comment was barbed. Partiality has marked the modern Olympics, too. Ever since the Games were revived, many participants, fans and observers have illogically combined an intense desire for their nation to win with a belief that the Games are an antidote to nationalism and a force for peace. So the BBC commentators who whooped with delight when an American competitor in the snowboard event took a bad fall and then dissolved in tears when Jenny Jones took the bronze “for Britain”, as the saying goes, were hardly the first to cross over the line from enthusiasm to excess. Still, there was something distasteful about it. It took away from the grace with which these extraordinary sportswomen flew through the air. Hang on, folks, it’s only a game.

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Winter Olympics 2014: high stakes in Sochi | Editorial

The UN secretary general has called for an open and equal Games, let’s hope they become memorable for positive reasons

As we in Britain should know better than most, the prize of the Olympic Games comes only rarely. When it comes, it must be seized. But that moment presents a nation with a mix of challenges and opportunities. Among the former are the requirements to prepare a fine and welcoming site, to provide a safe and open atmosphere, and the hope that the local weather will rise to the occasion. Among the latter are the chance to showcase the host country to the world and to do something memorable that will make the host nation feel good about itself. Oh, and there is something about staging some good sports events too.

When the Russian city of Sochi was chosen as the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, all these thoughts and more are likely to have gone through the heads of Vladimir Putin and his compatriots. The risks would undoubtedly be high. Russia in 2014 may have changed in many ways from Russia in 1980, when Moscow was finally awarded the summer Games, but the end of the cold war has only marginally lessened the scepticism with which the west rightly looks at Russia, especially on human rights issues. The prospect of a boycott, like the one that so badly diminished the Moscow Games, could not be ruled out.

In the event, that danger seems to have been seen off, not least after some well-timed concessions, like the freeing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Greenpeace protesters and the Pussy Riot band. But the authoritarianism and nationalism of Putin’s Russia – manifest in its paranoia about foreigners, its proprietorial approach to its supposedly independent neighbours and its attacks, physical and legal, on gay and lesbian people – remain. On Thursday the UN secretary general, who is in Sochi for today’s Games opening, put Russia on notice to provide an open and equal Games. Even so, it would be a major surprise if the Sochi Games pass off without some very public challenges to Russia’s detestable anti-gay repression.

Putin has never been in any doubt that Sochi would enable him to show off his regime at home and abroad. He will be lucky if he gets away with that. The choice of Sochi, a subtropical Black Sea resort where the temperatures at this time of year are higher than those in London (which has never contemplated staging the winter Games) remains bizarre, requiring the mass importation of artificial snow. The cost of the Sochi Games, more than double the cost of London 2012, has been put at $51bn, the most expensive ever, with eye-watering amounts going to approved contractors – and into the pockets of their billionaire owners, few of whom were awarded their contracts after open competition. Much, even this week, remains unfinished. Judging by the Twittersphere yesterday, the Sochi visitors whose hotels provide all three of water, light bulbs and door handles are the lucky ones.

And then there is the ultimately far more important security threat, always likely in a country that faces Islamist rebel movements in its north Caucasus regions little more than an hour’s flight from Sochi. Last summer’s blood-curdling terrorist threats against the Games have been followed by December’s suicide bombings in Volgograd and by this week’s US warning to airlines about explosives in toothpaste tubes. The upshot is an intense security alert not just in Sochi, where 40,000 personnel are reportedly on duty, but right across Russia, in which an incident like last week’s apparently unrelated Moscow school shooting risks escalation because of the propaganda stakes surrounding the Games.

With London 2012 fresh in the memory, we in this country know that some of the stories that attach to the Olympics in the immediate preceding days need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. The real test of the Sochi Games begins on Friday. London was proof that with luck and goodwill a games can rise above the hype and the horror stories to become an empowering shared experience. Let us hope, in spite of all the many reasons why this may not happen in Sochi, that the next two weeks are memorable for the right not the wrong reasons.

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Homophobia in football: kick it out | Editorial

Fans know they watch gay men on the pitch, and understand there are various reasons why this is always kept quiet

A boneheaded 2% of football fans told YouGov in 2009 that the reason all of the 5,000 or so professional footballers in England were heterosexual was that “there are no gay players”. Thomas Hitzlsperger’s decision to reveal he “preferred living together with a man” may not disabuse them. He retired from the game last autumn, and so the Premier League is still without an active player who’s officially anything other than straight.

Not long before, Robbie Rogers, who had played for Leeds, said it was time to “step away from football” as he came out, but a signing for LA Galaxy soon reversed this 25-year-old’s retirement once he escaped English shores. With John Fashanu insisting that his late brother, Justin, who uniquely outed himself before he took his own life in the 1990s, was not really gay, a determined denier in 2013 could still maintain English football was uniquely free of a disposition that only ever sets in after players have walked away from the top flight.

Of course, Ockham’s razor cuts such a wild theory, and so too – the same YouGov survey implies – do the other 98% of fans. They know perfectly well that they watch gay men on the pitch, and understand that there are various reasons why this is always kept quiet. It is an extraordinary state of affairs. England’s wicket-keeping has already been entrusted to a gay man, and the country lives under a Conservative-led government that has legislated for same-sex marriage. There is a specific problem with the national game that simply does not apply across an increasingly tolerant country.

Part of the difficulty is the toleration of dressing-room “banter” that would be described as hate speech in other contexts. Mr Hitzlsperger puts it gently, and with remarkable humour, which only redoubles the power of his testimony about sitting round “a table with 20 young men and listen[ing] to jokes about gays”. But personal as sexuality is, the bigger difficulty is still what gets chanted in public. Years after co-ordinated efforts began to address the routine racism that once disfigured the terraces, jeers about “rent boys” are often indulged. Could anything be more intimidating for a young man struggling to come to terms with private feelings than a crowd of tens of thousands yelling about these?

With the extension of Kick It Out‘s remit from racism to wider prejudice, the first steps have at last been taken, but there is still a way to go before referees and stewards react to taunts about “queers” and “faggots” just as fiercely as they do to 1970s poison about “monkey boys”. But it is not just the authorities that have responsibility here: it is every last one of the 98% of fans who is not so stupid as to imagine that gay footballers do not exist.

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In praise of … staying upright | Editorial

It can happen so easily to the professional footballer – the merest nudge, tug or puff of wind and they’ve lost their balance

It can happen so easily to the professional footballer. One minute they’re on the ball at full tilt but perfectly balanced, with that top-class player’s feel for where trouble might come from – and then, oof! The merest nudge, a tug, a puff of wind … and they’ve lost their balance and find themselves less full tilt and more flat-out. Pity the poor referee who has to distinguish between the genuine foul and its outlaw cousin, the dive. Except that in the digital age, half the fans have moving pictures of just what happened and can replay them frame by frame. So can the pundits in the TV studio. So surely should the referee. That’s what Manchester United manager David Moyes – currently responsible for one of the most frequent offenders, Ashley Younghas suggested. It can’t change the result but, even if it has to be applied retrospectively, where appeals to morality seem to fail, a stiff fine might be the best way to stop the cheating.

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In praise of … hurling

The courage and commitment of Cork and Clare were a shining example of sportsmanship

Sporting combatants playing for love not money, with only helmets for protection, clash with ash sticks while trying to catch a ball consisting of cork wrapped in thick leather flying through the air at a terrifying velocity. Welcome to the ancient Irish game of hurling, arguably the fastest contact sport played on grass. Last weekend, 82,000 people wearing the red and white of Cork or the yellow and blue of Clare watched their heroes play out what many regard as the greatest All-Ireland hurling final. Hopefully the Gaelic Athletic Association will do all sports fans everywhere a massive favour and produce DVD copies of this memorable game, where Clare emerged victorious. As Premier League soccer is again soiled with prima donna antics – see the scratch-and-send-off controversy of Torres at Spurs at the weekend – the hand-eye co-ordination and the courage and commitment of Cork and Clare were a shining example of sportsmanship.

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Unthinkable? Teaching CPR in schools | Editorial

Sixty thousand people suffer cardiac arrest outside hospital in the UK every year. Hardly any are as lucky as Muamba

On 17 March 2012, Bolton Wanderers star Fabrice Muamba collapsed 43 minutes into a match against Spurs at White Hart Lane. He “fell like a tree trunk”, the Observer’s match reporter later observed. This was no pretend foul: it was a cardiac arrest, which can affect even the apparently strongest of hearts, such as Muamba’s. When one strikes, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR – repeated downthrusts to the chest to keep oxygenated blood flowing to vital organs – is essential and urgent. Muamba was lucky, if such a word can apply here. Fully trained medical assistants were pitchside and – crucially – a cardiologist was in the stands and charged into the fray. Four weeks later, the footballer was discharged from hospital. Sixty thousand people suffer cardiac arrest outside hospital in the UK every year. Hardly any are as lucky as Muamba: survival rates vary between 2% and 12%. And yet, as Aseem Malhotra and Roby Rakhit observed in a recent BMJ article, it doesn’t need to be this way. Seattle has the world’s highest survival rate, at 56%. “A laudable statistic,” Malhotra and Rakhit call it – and it is largely down to the practice in Seattle and the surrounding King County of teaching CPR in school PE lessons. Over half the population are fully trained. Britain should do the same; and workplaces should teach staff how to do it. CPR doesn’t require medical training, but a cool head and some knowledge of what to do. Teaching it to Britons could save tens of thousands of lives every year.

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