Olympics 5-Point Plan: Point 5

So far I’ve suggested that the Olympics:

  • disregard nationalities
  • award more medals for each event, possibly 8.
  • reduce the chances of multiple medaling
  • favor objectively measured sport
  • include only the sports for which the Olympics is the pinnacle

The final point concerns team sports. With nationalities out of the picture then the composition of teams will also be on a non-national basis. Will that be so difficult?

Certainly where the team has just the two members, for example, doubles tennis and beach volleyball, these sports already have mixed nationalities competing together, for tennis it’s the norm, no-one cares. This is the way it should be. In fact for pairs skating we sometimes see the ridiculous situation of individuals changing nationality in order to skate with their chosen partner. Taking nationalities out of the equation would seem to be only natural.

In many other cases the team event is simply an amalgamation of individual scores, as in gymnastics. These are not true team events and should be scrapped.

But this leaves a number of team sports with a history of national teams, like hockey, handball, basketball, football. As mentioned in Point 4 I feel that sports for which the Olympics is not the pinnacle, and is merely another event clogging up the calendar, should not be in the Olympics. This is obviously true of basketball and football. I can see an argument for women’s football, where the Olympics is a very high priority, but the women’s World Cup is getting massive.

For the few remaining team sports I concede there will need to be different solutions for different sports. Perhaps the sport has well-established clubs, so that would be an obvious answer, or perhaps the existing associations could send representative teams, but nationality would not be the deciding factor.

The question arises of whether the Olympics needs change. There is no doubt that it has changed considerably since 1896, and it will either change or stagnate. No change is not an option. The debate must be how much change.

I have suggested some radical proposals which I believe would slim down the Olympics (making it more affordable for a wider range of host cities), would make the Olympics fairer, would have the effect of reducing the incidence of doping and would also make the Olympics even more of a spectacle in which the spectators will better appreciate the wonder of sport. Looks like progress to me.

Olympics 5-Point Plan: Point 4, part two

Point 4 deals with the sports that are included in the Olympics.

The previous article was concerned with the problems of subjectively judged sports, and their non-comformance with the Olympic ideals.

Now to look at the spread of sports in more detail.

The Olympics should be the pinnacle of the sport. Is this such a wild thought? Doesn’t everyone want to win an Olympic gold above all else? Well, no, not really. There are some sports, all of them professional I believe, which already have their own traditional world cup, or world championship, that is so traditional and ingrained into the sport’s history that any Olympic participation would be no more than another event on the calendar. Football, tennis, basketball, and even baseball would come into this category. For this reason I feel the Olympics is not suitable for these sports.

However for most of the existing sports the Olympic title remains the one that everyone wants. It has even got to the point with some sports, like handball, fencing and archery where the sports would drastically fade in popularity if they were not an Olympic sport.

To summarise I believe that only sports where the Olympics is considered the crowning glory should be included, and this should be a priority criterion when considering adding extra sports, along with the consideration from the previous article that objectively measured sports should be preferred over sports with subjectively judged performances.

Olympics 5-point Plan: Point 4, part one

Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Olympic motto, faster, higher, braver. Nice catchy motto, which largely captures what is understood to be the Olympic spirit. There is no mention of beauty, elegance, artistic impression, and the motto also leads us into a world of sport that is objectively measurable; faster time, higher distance, no room for any human failings, no disagreement.

Athletics, swimming, skiing, cycling, rowing, and many other sports are measured and the competitors are judged by a measurement, with no (or negligible) human input. It doesn’t matter how elegantly you run, if you beat everyone else then you win. Other sports are contests between individuals or teams won by points, goals, etc, other sports are races, the winner wins irrespectively of how beautifully they may have performed.

Sport vs Performance. Figure skating even has its own set of marks for artistic impression, which is indicative of a performance, and we all know that beauty counts, that the costume counts, the make-up too, and that’s not confined to skating. Synchronised swimming is probably an even more extreme example, gymnastics, diving, dressage, and anything that is subjectively scored by humans has inherent failings. Even such sports as mogul skiing, the half-pipe snowboarding, ski-jumping, and to top it all off, judo, wrestling and boxing are incredibly objective.

So what is wrong with human scoring? Humans make mistakes, humans are swayed by beauty, humans are sometimes bad.

The Olympics have survived these few human errors. A few? Each Olympics is replete with human mistakes, some unintentional, some deliberate.

Probably the biggest scandal involved figure skating, when it was discovered that judges from different nations were helping each other boost their nation’s stars. I’ll score your skater high, if you score our pair high.

But it went deeper than that. Soviet bloc countries had always scored higher for their own, and had often manipulated the judging line up to ensure their judges outnumbered all others. Even to the TV viewer at home the judging stank. Not just at one Olympics, but for years and decades, in all skating competions. In addition the maximum score that any judge could award was 6. So once a judge had awarded the maximum score they had nowhere to go for a subsequent competitor who was better (objectively rating performance rears its ugly head again).

A mention here for skating which eventually got its act together when the whole murky world of ice-skating judging was revealed, but they never went back into past misdemeanors, and decades of injustice remain untouched. Skating worked out a much more rigorous marking system, did away with a maximum limit, and, even though it is still all about performance, the judges scores are much fairer.

So where does that leave us? Unfortunately many of the performance sports are now so ingrained into the fabric of the Olympics that it would seem wrong to omit them. But should any new sports be considered then a measurable sport must surely have precedence. At present there are sports like baseball, squash, darts, even bouldering, in which human judgement is minimal. These sports are eminently worthy of consideration.

The balance should swing back to citius, altius, fortius, and not higher, faster, cuter.

Olympics 5-Point Plan: Point 3

So far we’ve taken nationalities out of the Olympics, and we’ve awarded medals for the top 8. Now it is time to sharpen up the situation regarding the events.

One extremely irksome issue is that of event balance. For example a top gymnast has the opportunity to win medals in overall gymnastics, team gymnastics, and then each gymnastic event in isolation. If a competitor fails in the pommel horse, no worries there’s always the vault. Multiple medaling is the norm. Now take the marathon; only the one chance, no possibility of trying another event, and what an exhausting event too.

Point 3 Reduce the number of events

It’s as simple as that? Yes. Each event would need to be looked at in turn; it wouldn’t be possible to apply fixed rules to all events, but the concept should be the same, ie fewer events.

For example? If we follow through the gymnastics disciplines referred to above, the simple, obvious conclusion is to award medals for the overall event only. No team event, remember we have already dispensed with nationalities, and gymnastics is hardly a true team sport. And certainly no medals for each individual discipline. For another sport that is infamous for its multiple medaling, swimming, the same concept, fewer events. One however should bear in mind the status of swimming, an everyday human activity which is a time-measured sport (something like gymnastics is subjectively scored), and also its place in Olympic history. So each of the four strokes, plus the medley should remain, but no relays (again no nationalities). And all that needs pruning are some of the distances. Just leave it at 100m (not the medley) and 400m. Then the freestyle may additionally have the long distance 1500m. And that’s it. There’s nothing stopping individual sports associations from having all the other multifarious events in their own world championships, but to expect the Olympics to provide the same depth is not on.

That’s culling too much! Admittedly it is all a bit harsh, but the Olympics is getting too big for so many cities to bid, and so many facilities are underused afterwards. A large slicing might well be the answer, and just think of the importance and drama it would add to the remaining events. Spectators would be much more able to follow everything. Swimming is just a blur at present, it would be so much clearer to the general public.

What about sports that are team events only? That is a good question, there are other issues at work here, more later.

This concept of fewer events would be applied to all sports, although something like football has only the one available gold medal, so reducing this is clearly not feasible.

Fewer events would lead to a slimmer Olympics, where each event would become a great deal more valuable. And many more cities from around the globe would be able to afford the games, not just the same old cities fighting it out.

A slim, sharp, affordable Olympics, isn’t that what everyone wants?

Olympics 5-point Plan, Point 2

When the modern Olympics were first held in 1896 and in the early 1900s the competitors were numbered in 100s, not the 1,000s that we now have. And, a brilliant idea, the first three in each event were awarded medals: gold, silver and bronze. I don’t quite see where bronze fits in. Both gold and silver are pure elements whereas bronze is an alloy, but no matter, everyone seems very comfortable with these metals.

I too am comfortable with the metals, but I am distinctly uncomfortable with the top three being literally elevated above the rest, the so-called podium finish. The anguish of a competitor who finishes fourth, thus missing out on a medal, is tough to take. After all someone who finishes fourth in the I00m, and is considered the fourth fastest man/woman on the planet, something to be mightily proud of, walks away with nothing, and is often subject to the disapproval of the media.

Point 2: Award a greater number of medals.

  • Why only three? I’ve no idea. Perhaps three has that ring to it, and the top three seemed a worthy aim for the numbers involved in 1896. Quite a high percentage of competitors ended up with something.
  • So what’s a better idea? More than three medals. My suggestion would be eight. This would mean that every finalist in the track lane events, and all swimming events would be medalists. Of course the heartbreak of those not medaling would just be pushed back to those not reaching the final, but I think that is a far fairer compromise.
  • What would the medals be made of? There seems no point meddling with current gold, silver, bronze medals for first, second and third. Past that I haven’t got a whole load of suggestions, maybe copper, or steel, or even chromium could be used, but I’m sure that a consensus could be reached.
  • What about events with few competitors? So an event with, say, only 20 competitors or teams would result in nearly half medaling. My immediate reaction is that such events shouldn’t be worthy of any medals, more later, because there is another issue involved.
  • In some events, like gymnastics, some competitors would win a sackload of medals. Again there is another issue at work here, please go to point 3 in the next article.

To summarize, I feel that rewarding the first three only is too narrow in this day and age. Sport is virtually global and the world population has rocketed since 1896 (about 1.5 billion). Being in the top 100 is something incredible. But we have to be realistic, and I think something around top 8 or possibly top 10 medaling is perhaps a better compromise.

Olympics 5-point Plan, Point 1

Am I the only person that thinks the Olympics is past its sell-by date?

It’s too big, there are too many sports, judging is wildly erratic and often biased, there is too much cheating, spectators blindly appreciate competitors from their own country, and cheer when competitors from other countries fail. The whole so-called Olympic spirit has become a myth.

Not that I am against the Olympic spirit, far from the truth, I wholly endorse it; I just don’t see it any more (or merely in tiny morsels that get blown so big, because of their rarity).

So I’ve a 5 point plan to restructure the Olympics. It’s faintly ridiculous that anyone sitting in their living-room at home should feel that they have the big ideas to improve the Olympics, but this is the sad truth, those in positions of power in the Olympic movement simply don’t want to rock the gravy train in case they are first to fall.

Point 1: Take nationalities out of the equation.

This is the way to sideline nationalistic fervor, and start to return to a true Olympic spirit. Patriotism is all very good, but in sport? Many sports seem to have put nationalism aside, tennis being a prime example, and tennis is surely the better for it.

  • Who would the competitors represent? Themselves. Simply put, if the competitors are representing no-one but themselves then the nations of the world need worry no more about national pride. Why on earth should national pride rise or fall with Olympic success or failure? Admittedly this is more easily done with individual rather that teamsports, more on this later.
  • So who qualifies for the Olympics? The sport’s governing body simply selects the top-rated competitors, irrespective of nationality.
  • So who do we support? Anyone we like. We can choose to support someone local, or anyone else we may like, or no-one and just enjoy the contest.
  • How do we know where the competitors are from? If we feel the need to know we just check them out on the Olympic app on our tablet and get all the information about any competitor.
  • Can competitors change allegiance and represent a different nation? Any competitor would be free to live or train wherever they like, or carry any passport(s) they wish, but they wouldn’t be representing any nation because nations would be irrelevant.
  • What about the medals’ table? There wouldn’t be one.
  • What about national anthems and national flag-raising? There wouldn’t be any national anthems or flags. Perhaps the competitors could choose their own music.
  • Wouldn’t nations be loathe to fund athletes who would not be promoting national pride? Very probably, who cares? And nations would very probably not want to bother about doping programs.
  • Would it stop doping? No, but systematic national doping would almost certainly decrease. Doping would be an individual affair, there would be no reflection on the nation. Dopers would discredit themselves.
  • Wouldn’t it stop the romance of the Olympics which competitors from little-known countries can bring? Yes it probably would, though this has largely ended anyway.

This is Point 1 of a 5-point plan. It may seem rather extreme; it is.

Point 2 will follow later.

Winter Olympics without snow

The two biggest sporting events are said to be the Olympics and the football World Cup. We already have a World Cup planned in 2022 in Qatar where searing summer temperatures make a football match impossible, even the spectators are at grave risk.

This has now inevitably been rescheduled to later in the year when temperatures, although exceedingly high, pose less of a problem. It should be pointed out that the original brief given to all bidding countries was for a (northern hemisphere) summer tournament. Countries like Australia and Japan would have willingly bid for a winter tournament, much to their advantage. Japan, for example would avoid both the rainy season and the seasonal typhoon risk, not to mention the summer heat, with a winter bid which could afford excellent playing and viewing conditions. But they never had the chance. Qatar was chosen heat and all, and then the goalposts were changed after the vote.

And if that wasn’t bad enough we can now also look forward to a winter Olympics devoid of snow. It’s not the first time. The last winter Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia also had virtually no real snow. The Alpine events, the Nordic events, snowboarding, the luge, the skeleton, the bobsleigh, in fact anything outside in the real world, were all held on artificial snow. It is not the same.

The 2022 Winter Olympics were awarded to Beijing, which not only has no snow, it also lacks the other requisite: a mountainside. It transpires that the outside events will be held about 100km from Beijing (ie not in Beijing) and on a mountain which gets next to no snow. So about half of the games will not be in the host city. And once again we will be treated to artificial snow slopes with spectators in t-shirts, and a backdrop of bare, brown mountainside; White Christmas it will not be. It may as well have been awarded to Qatar.

How can anyone with any common sense make such a judgement? I think deep down we all know the answer.

Right Reaction from Mo Farah

All too often when an athlete, from any sport, is found to be guilty of doping they come up with the excuse that ‘it must have been in a supplement given by my coach’ or something equally lame.

And then what do they do? Stick to their story and protest their innocence. The hope is to get as short a ban as possible. The tell-tale sign is the reaction of the athlete. Their reaction is just not right.

Mo Farah, who has never been implicated in doping, finds out his close and trusted coach, an American marathon legend, Alberto Salazar, has been accused of being involved with doping. Mo wants answers from his coach. Are the allegations true? Farah is implicated by association. There are several other runners under Salazar’s tutelage, but Farah is double Olympic gold medalist, currently the top middle distance runner on the planet, the big name, and potentially the big scalp.

Mo Farah wants answers, and if he doesn’t get the right answers then he is going to split. This is the right reaction: indignation, bordering on downright anger, culminating in a confrontation with the coach.

How many dopers subsequently confront and split from their coach? Hardly any it would seem. The coach has spiked your supplement with a PED and you don’t want answers? It can only be assumed that the athlete is party to the doping.

The Alberto Salazar saga is far from over, but Farah got his answers and they were good enough for him to continue in Salazar’s stable, Heaven help athletics if Farah knowingly or unknowingly succumbed to PEDs but his reaction was right, and the signs are good.

Take Paraguay, for example

The quest to find out which is the best football team takes on all kinds of guises. For international football the general method comprises a tournament, consisting of small groups of teams playing each other, the highest rated teams then entering a knock-out stage, culminating in a final to determine the ultimate champions.

The recent Copa America (American Cup) is such a tournament to determine which nation is the footballing champion of South America. It has recently highlighted something distinctly dodgy with tournament football.

Take Paraguay, for example. In the recently ended 2015 tournament Paraguay reached the semi-final (best 4), going though 4 matches to reach this stage. However Paraguay won only a single game, against guest team Jamaica, 1-0. For the record the other games were 1-1 against Uruguay, 2-2 against Argentina, and 1-1 against Brazil, which Paraguay eventually prevailed 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out.

So Paraguay reached the semi-final having scored 5 goals and conceding 4, and wining only once against Jamaica, a nation which is not exactly considered a footballing powerhouse.

So this kind of thing sometimes happens, what’s the problem? Why shouldn’t a relatively lesser nation have its chance for glory once and a while. It’s boring if the same teams win all the time. I have a lot of sympathy with this view, but let’s also look at the previous tournament.

In the 2011 Copa America Paraguay advanced all the way to the final. This time it didn’t win any of its matches. It drew the lot. Again for the record, 0-0 against Ecuador, 2-2 against Brazil, 3-3 against Venezuela, 0-0 against Brazil (2-0 on penalties), and 0-0 against Venezuela (5-3 on penalties).

In the knock-out stage Paraguay played 4 hours of football without scoring, winning both games in penalty shoot-outs. In fact it would have been possible to win the final in the same way, thereby becoming champions without winning a single game.

Paraguay did what they had to do, and were totally within the laws of the game, but two consecutive tournaments reaching the final in one and the semi-final in the other, stellar achievements, through winning only one match does not seem right.

Just to end the Paraguay saga, it was beaten 1-6 by Argentina in the 2015 semi-final, and 0-3 by Uruguay in the 2011 final.

I have my own ideas for solutions, but my eternal frustration is with FIFA. This, and many other anomalies in football are simply being ignored. FIFA seems only concerned about keeping the status quo, the same people on the same gravy train.

Improvements for the Throw-In

Gaining illegal ground at the throw-in has become so endemic in modern football that no-one seems to notice it any more. Aren’t there others out there like me who are totally fed up with it? I suppose it will become an issue when either it is done to such extremes that it simply cannot be overlooked, or when a trophy-winning goal is scored when the ball has been thrown in from clearly the wrong place. My personal dislike for the throw-in shuffle is documented in the preceding article, but what can be done? Here is a list off the top of my head.

  • The referees can come down hard and strictly enforce the existing law (ie a throw in is to be taken at the same point at which the ball left the playing field). If it isn’t then it is deemed a foul throw and the throw is awarded to the other team.
  • The referee, or assistant referee makes a small mark in the turf at the point at which the throw is to be taken.
  • The referee or assistant referee uses vanishing spray to denote the point at which the throw is to be taken. This is my favourite idea. As an optional extra the assistant referee could have the vanishing spray stored in his flagstick, and he just shoots it out onto the turf.
  • The sidelines are divided into (say) 10 sectors with small permanent marks on the sidelines to identify the sectors. The throw is then taken on the mark behind where the ball left play.
  • The referee stands in line with the place at which the throw is to be taken.

One flaw to be overcome is that the assistant referee only covers half of the sideline, but the referee runs the diagonal between the unmanned sidelines so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. It must be stressed that these are merely my ideas which haven’t taken much time to figure out. Some may be more workable than others. A committee of experts should come up with a raft of workable ideas in no time. But that is exactly what FIFA doesn’t do. FIFA’s reforms centre around FIFA, not football’s on-field issues. There’s a lot of catching up to do.

The Most Annoying Thing in Football: the Throw-In

Without doubt the throw-in annoys me far more anything in the flawed, beautiful game of football.

No, it’s not the throw-in itself. It’s been in football from almost the beginning, and seems quite a fair way to restart a match from the sidelines. It is all to do with where the throw-in is taken. After picking up the ball a few yards up the pitch, and a few deliberately aborted attempts at releasing the ball (with a face suitably contorted in mock frustration, and an arm waving frantically at nothing in particular), the ball is finally thrown in from anywhere between 5 and 10 yards further up the pitch. And what’s more, no-one seems to care. Very rarely will the referee order the thrower back, and when he does the thrower only seems to step back a fraction of the illegally gained distance.

Everyone is at it. Even the crowd often helps its team by throwing the ball back to a place further up the pitch. It is just another case of the professional footballer jettisoning any thoughts of fairness, and referees so bogged down keeping a lid on the infringements, that the throw-in shuffle is largely ignored.

It would be so simple to rectify. And this is why FIFA is not fit for purpose. All its time is spent investigating itself, improving transparency, fighting institutionalized corruption etc etc, that it has no time for on-field problems. One only has to look at the instance of goal-line technology, already an accepted part of the game, which FIFA failed to promote for years, even dismissing it as unnecessary.

As I said it would be so simple to rectify, even I, sitting at home, have come up with a few simple, workable ideas.

TBC

Why are we here?

Why are humans in the universe?

The question of god or no god is impossible to sidestep. However if there be a god then why does god put us through all the pain of living and dying? Why doesn’t god simply take us all directly to heaven and dispense with the complexities of life? And if there be no god, what is the point of anything? We live, we die, and whatever we do in-between has an infinitely negligible effect on the universe, so it hardly seems worrying about our lives.

So, where does it leave us? What is the purpose of the human race? The simple answer is self-perpetuation. Since we do not live forever this is surely the single most important purpose.

Imagine if the collective human race had no further children, and humans were wiped out in a century or so. It would seem like the lives of everyone in history would have had no meaning, all their efforts would have been for nothing, they would be in no-one’s memory.

And on the other hand let’s try to imagine immortality. What would be the point of anything? Whatever we did we would continue to live, we’d have seen and felt all that life had to offer many times over. We’d all become lazy recluses (I wonder if heaven would be any different!).

So the furtherance of the human race must be the top priority.

Well, if that is the case we’re going a strange way about it. Millions have less than enough food and water, not to mention the numbers of humans that are killed and injured by other humans. Moreover we are doing our best to alter the Earth’s climate, plunder natural resources, and pollute every place we go. In short we are making the Earth less inhabitable. There are good things too, medicine being the most obvious, but it must be true to say that an individual’s primary concern is fundamentally not the survival of the species, but the survival of that individual.

TBC

Love is a many splendoured thing

Love is a many spendoured thing, or love is a many splintered thing?

The greatest thing about love is its unpredictability, its non-compartmentability, its incomprehensiveness. Despite the multi-billion people who have experienced love no-one has been able to get into its psyche, to tame it.

From the three previous articles my personal observations lead me to believe:

  • there are many different kinds of love.
  • we are capable of falling in love with thousands of different people.
  • we can love more than one person at any given time.
  • some people have life partners and some do not.
  • love is on a gradient; we can love one person more than another.
  • it depends on the individual as to how much in love one needs to be in order to be satisfied one has found their life partner.

So can anything useful be garnered from these observations? The main conclusion that I keep on returning to is that it appears to be quite natural to have more than one partner.

I’m certainly not advocating having simultaneous partners, this is easy to refute; just imagine how you would feel if your partner had an alternate. But it is pretty clear that over the course of a lifetime the possibility arises for an individual to be in love several times.

This is rather at odds with a conventional Western view of marriage and family, where one life partner, and a stable home for any children is widely considered the ideal. Perhaps it isn’t.

Perhaps if more fluidity were considered the norm, then the fears and stigmas of broken homes might be avoided, and might be viewed with much less embarrassment and contempt.

For ‘broken homes’ maybe we should substitute ‘multi-homes’. After all some so-called stable homes are not exactly dens of pleasure, and plenty of children from so-called broken homes grow up to be decent, rounded people.

Maybe we should worry less about love, and more about its effects.

How much do you love me?

Clearly it cannot be true that there is only the one person with whom we can fall in love, as indicated in the previous article.

If that were so then what are the chances of finding that one person? We often find our life partner at the same college, or working for the same company, or living around the corner. There must be plenty more potential lovers from the other billions around the planet.

So there has to be quite a number of people with whom we are capable of loving, and who are capable of loving us.

One point that needs raising here is the question of whether love is an ultimate condition, whole and unconditional, or is it on a kind of loving gradient. Can we love someone, but not quite as strongly as we love someone else? It would seem logical to assume this is so. It could be argued that when one is in love with someone that love prevents us from loving someone else for the duration of the love. But there are just too many examples of people with overlapping love that I feel we can discount this argument. A more pertinent question might be whether love is a permanent state or just temporary, but that is for a later article.

If we are able to fall in love with multiple partners it just doesn’t seem possible that we can fall wholly and equally in love with them all, one of them will be favored.

So the answer to the question “Do you love me?” is not as simple as “Yes” or “No”. It should be more like “I think I do, quite a lot”. In fact the question is not right. Better is “How much do you love me?” which makes it slightly easier to answer, with perhaps “A lot, but not enough to want to be your life partner at present” or “Enough to continue dating”.

How far along the gradient of love do you need to go to be satisfied, to be able to commit to a life partner? I don’t find it easy to put this gradient into words, but here goes: in love, very much in love, deeply in love, truly in love, madly in love. I suppose everyone has their own idea of how much they need to love to someone before wishing to share their life with this person, possibly depending on such things as age and desperation, and probably on other factors such as money.

In fact it’s not difficult to imagine a couple agreeing to become life partners who are not in love.

TBC