As we prepare for another show it seems unbelievable to think last week a young lady was imprisoned for watching sport, or so it would appear. Sport should be for all and should never be segregated due to race, colour or religion.
Ghoncheh Ghavami was sentenced to a year in prison in an Iranian jail for trying to watch a Volleyball match. The 25 year old Iranian-British student from London was arrested in June of this year for trying to watch an International Volleyball Federation World League match between Iran and Italy. She was among a group of women who were protesting peacefully asking that females be allowed in to watch the match. They were arrested instead.
The arrest ironically happened at Azadi (“freedom” in Farsi) stadium in Tehran. Ms Ghavami was released within a few hours after the initial arrest but she was rearrested days later.
Ghavami was tried and given a year’s sentence for “spreading propaganda.”
Her arrest has led to worldwide condemnation and even British Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken to his Iranian counterpart on the issue. However it has been reported that Iran does not recognise her dual nationality and being a British citizen. A petition on the site Change.org has generated more than 725,000 signatures calling for Ghavami’s release.
Having claimed three days ago that no charges had been laid against Ms Ghavami, in the last 24 hours Iranian authorities have said that that Ghoncheh Ghavami is being held on charges of sedition, unrelated to sport.
This may well be an incident where sport has become embroiled in politics, or politics in sport, but either way hopefully a resolution can be found soon. In the meantime we should be grateful that we are able to play and watch sport until our hearts content, or unless someone takes the remote control!
For many becoming an ex-player in any sport is a very hard thing to come to terms with. Former Olympic swimming Gold medallist Neil Brooks wrote an excellent piece on this subject that was published on the WA Today website, entitled “Keeping Sports stars off the scrapheap of Life.”
The warning signs have been there for a long time. David Frith wrote a fascinating book, “Silence of the Heart” trying to explain why cricket has in every country where Test cricket is played, a higher suicide rate amongst ex players than the national average.
Brooks raises some very pertinent points, and shows how sport has changed dramatically. “I think most of us realise that professional sport is big business and if we are truly honest, the players and competitors, for the better part, are nothing more than interchangeable replaceable components of a machine driven by ratings points, sponsorship dollars and power brokers who in many cases have never swum a stroke, laced up a boot, swung a bat or made a free throw,” he wrote.
Never was a truer word written, but one has to question whether clubs have a duty of care to their players and how long that duty of care lasts. In the USA and Canada there is a duty of care when it comes to injuries, and some players have successfully sued clubs for financial compensation for their careers being shortened by a club rushing them back into a team before an injury has healed properly; the reason being they needed that player out there to make a final, or win a crucial game to keep the finances clicking in.
We talk of how our servicemen are broken down and re-built into skilled men and women who can react and defend our nation and its people, yet when they leave the forces they are not, for want of a better a word, “re-programmed” to enter the civilian world; some, as has been very clear, struggle to make that adjustment, especially those who have been forced out of the services due to injury.
Sport is never going to be the same as a military situation, but there are comparisons. Sportsmen live a very different life in many cases to the rest of us. Their careers are short so, in many cases the rewards are high. Sometimes the price paid physically for those rewards is equally high, with innumerable operations at an age twenty or thirty years before most non-athletes, as well as a life on painkillers to combat arthritis.
Coupled with that is dealing with the fact that in many cases they have to find a new career, and that the spotlight has shifted and they are no longer a star. As Brooks highlights, this is a major problem to many. “I have seen first hand when you have a certain skill set that is considered to be rare, speed that is not deemed to be normal for the species and are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, then more often than not indiscretions off the field, in the pool or on the court are often have a blind eye turned to them and there is no shame in covering things up if it means keeping the talent on the paddock, playing the game and securing the points and lifting the silverware.” For many athletes that lack of protection post career leaves them extremely vulnerable and exposed, yet had they been punished for their indiscretions like a normal citizen, or told that they were not acceptable, that transition to a normal life would have been made easier.
Jobs for ex sports stars are not easy to come by. There are only so many coaching opportunities at the highest level, and not all are cut out for that. There are more at a lower level but the pay and the profile you have is a long way down from where these players have been used to, many feel it is beneath them. As for the media, some are fortunate to pick up media work; some get work even though they lack the skills set. It was the late George Gruljusich who bemoaned the fact that many an ex player was thrown on television and radio without serving an apprenticeship, and learning their trade. In sport it would never happen so why does it in the media?
In fact Ian Chappell who uses his knowledge of the game to predict what will happen rather than telling viewers what has happened, is frank and honest when he says in his book Chappelli:Life Larrikins & Cricket, “the only way to be any good and have a long career as a commentator is to treat it as a real job.” He continues by saying “Being an ex captain gives you some leeway. People like to hear what the past captain thinks and also to gain some insights into the team. For the ex-captain, this is a handy period. It gives you time to grow into the job, but once the honeymoon is over you then survive purely on ability.” How true this is, listen to the English Premier League experts and very few are the big name players. The best are the players who were never in the limelight, often players who worked hard to keep their place at the top and were students of the game. The truly gifted players rarely make the transition from player to commentator.
The question is should clubs and managers do more for their players? If they step out of line should they take the appropriate action and not cover up the misdemeanour? Should they help players obtain a skill and teach them how to manage their inflated incomes so that they have some money left over when they are finally discarded? It all comes down to that issue of a duty of care.
Ultimately clubs cannot be responsible for the actions of individuals, but if they are going to select young players and bring them into their club as teenagers then they should take on some responsibility in their grooming and education, its called in loco parentis.
A literal translation is “in the place of a parent” and this is a legal term that refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. One area that it applies is in allowing institutions such as colleges and schools to act in the best interests of the students as they see fit, although not allowing what would be considered violations of the students’ civil liberties. There is no reason why a sporting organisation should not be held responsible in the same way as a school or college.
As Brooks continued in his article when talking about indiscretions off the field, “The problem is, this kind of behaviour becomes the norm to a young athlete and they develop a mentality that as long as they race well, play well and win at all costs then what happens off the field doesn’t really matter because someone will be there to pick up the pieces, sweep it under the carpet and make things right – but of course it does matter.”
It is definitely a two-edged sword. Young athletes have to realise that their time at the top is fleeting, and that one day it will come to an end. They also have to realise that that fame and recognition will diminish as the years go by. The game does not owe them a thing, as the game has rewarded them with the trappings that go with being a sports star for however long they managed to stay in the limelight. However the clubs can help their cause with a little more honesty, a little more governance and a little more responsibility. After all these are people that you are dealing with, not commodities. Far too many big sporting organisations have forgotten that fact. These people hurt, bleed and cry like the rest of us.
Hopefully with athletes like Neil Brooks, who have been at the top and fallen from that great height, speaking out, people will realise that some onus must be placed on those who earn off the back of these athletes, their managers and the clubs they serve. These people need to ensure that when the athlete can no longer run, and has to retire, they have prepared them for rejoining normal society as best they can. Rather than what is happening now the door closes behind them and the clubs and managers forget all about them as the next generations are coming through, and leave them to fend for themselves. Sadly some teenage prodigies struggle to cope in a world that is totally alien to them.
It has come as no great surprise to many that the long awaited report into the bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup football tournaments have resulted in embarrassment for Australia.
First of all let us acknowledge that FIFA needs to look closer to home if it is to wipe out such corruption. If its executive were not open to inducements then various bidding countries would not feel the need to try and affect the voting process with “gifts.”
Let us also acknowledge that Australia’s bid for the Olympic Games in 2000 saw the bid committee do all that hey could to influence those voting, including obtaining access to all of the rooms at the hotel that those voting were staying at and putting on their bed’s gifts from Australia. The aim being to keep Sydney in the forefront of their minds. When traffic in Sydney was raised as a stumbling block in their bid, whenever one of those bidding came to visit the city to make an assessment, in co-operation with the NSW Police a helicopter would be above the car in which the delegate was travelling and as they approached a set of traffic lights the helicopter would radio traffic control who would change the lights to green. Some would say you do what you have to do.
What is a grave concern to football fans in Australia and also non fans who are tax payers is that Government funds appear to have been used for illegal and unethical behaviour.
There should be an Australian government investigation into what actually transpired and current and former FFA Board members and staff should be held accountable.
Four years ago it was revealed that Fedor Radmann and Peter Hargitay were both hired to help bring the cup to Australia, were to receive up to $11.37 million in fees and bonuses by Football Federation Australia if the bid had been successful. Peter Hargitay was introduced to Frank Lowy Chairman of the FFA by SBS Television’s Les Murray who it was said was a personal friend. The latter defended the FFA when speaking on ABC radio in 2010 when he said “The government grant for the bid is somewhere around $36 million. I’m not sure what people presuppose that money is going to be spent on, but I’m assuming the people of Australia think that money is well spent on a strategy to get a successful bid to bring the World cup to Australia. In their wisdom, correct or otherwise, the FFA have decided that less than a quarter of that money is going to be spent on strategists and lobbyists who are very well equipped to perform the task (and) who are going to advise on the right strategy to get the bid over the line.”
In 2011 as part of FIFA’s 13-member ethics committee, Les Murray was called upon to rid the organisation of allegedly corrupt elements within its political framework. This morning on Melbourne’s SEN radio it has been reported in The Age that Mr Murray claimed ‘the Western countries may have been “a bit naive in the way they went about their business”, whereas “Qataris and the Russians, if they did in fact bribe people or did some inducements, they were very clever about it and kept it well hidden.”‘
At the time that news broke of the Australian inducements in 2010, which included gifts such as pearl necklaces and cuff links with a value of around $50,000, a spokesperson for the then Minister for Sport Kate Ellis was quoted as saying “Obviously the way the FFA spends government money is subject to the usual reporting and scrutiny requirements, any evidence to the contrary will be thoroughly investigated by the government, as would any alleged breach of the funding agreement.”
The then opposition leader, and now Prime Minister Tony Abbott who supported the bid to host the tournament said “I would like Australia to host the World Cup but I think we should win it on our merits and I certainly don’t think we should be greasing palms to succeed in this area.”
In 2011 former SBS reporter Jesse Fink who had raised questions about the Australian bid appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 report and claimed that he had received an email from Les Murray in his role of Editorial Supervisor at SBS sport which read, “”It is not a good look if we, SBS, the most powerful voice in football appear to talk down the bid or declare it stillborn. Given that the bid has great support in Australia, including enthusiastic support by all governments, my preferred editorial policy would be to support it.”
A year ago investigative journalist Andrew Jennings was highly critical of the FFA following a forensic report into for FIFA Executive Jack Warner revealed the FFA had handed close to half a million dollars to the head of CONCACAF. As Jennings asked then did Hargitay admit that he had for a long time been a paid consultant to Jack Warner? “When Warner pocketed Australia’s $462,000 – did Hargitay get a commission, a cut of the loot he had steered from Australia to the Caribbean crook?” he asked on his website.
Once again a lack of transparency from the FFA has let the sporting public of Australia, who believe in fair play, down. The Government did not instigate an investigation into the bid process at the time that Jack Warner was found to have taken almost half a million dollars in tax payer’s money, as an election was around the corner, and Frank Lowy and his Westfield Shopping Centre empire is a generous donor; Well why wouldn’t you be, when as revealed in a report in September that the Westfield Retail Trust and James Hardie, pay no tax at all in Australia.
Throughout this whole sorry bid process anyone who spoke out against the FFA attempts were made to silence them. Former Australian bid team member Bonita Mersiades was fired in early 2010 when it became clear she asked too many questions about the legitimacy of Hargitay, as well as why his son Stevie was receiving money. Some media outlets however still chose to tow the party line, rather than rock the boat.
It comes as no surprise that FIFA would highlight issues with Australia’s bid, as against the other nations who bid for the hosting rights Australia is a minnow, and can be made a scapegoat without harming the game as a whole. The truth is Australia tried to play with the big boys. Frank Lowy knows how to do that in big business, but football is a different game, and he and his team got it horribly wrong. There can be no excuses now, it is time that a thorough investigation is conducted into the whole bid process carried out by Australia, and that the tax paying public are made aware of who was paid what, by whom, and what was expected in return. After all $40million could have been put to great use here in Australia developing young talent. Having had such a large sum of money it seems crazy that only this year the FFA had to go cup in hand to FIFA for AUD$536,000 funding, through the FIFA Goal project, to obtain funding for two years ‘to deliver a National Women and Girls Football Development program,’ yet during the big process Hargitay persuaded the FFA to pay for a Trinidad Under-20 team to attend a training camp in Cyprus! Surely that is a mismanagement of funds?
It is time for a full scale independent investigation and some transparency into what really transpired.
Australian Rugby has been through a pretty torrid time of late, but wins against the Barbarians and Wales will have put a smile on the face of many of those with furrowed brows a month ago.
They say that success can often hide many issues that continue to exist behind the scenes, and frequently that has been proven. Let us hope that there is no papering over the cracks and that any problems are given due attention and solutions found.
Interestingly Rugby in Australia does not appear to have moved on too far in the past 70-odd years as the following quote, which was made by Cyril Towers to the Daily Telegraph in Sydney in 1940, will attest.
“I’m tired of the Union’s petty muddling and stupid administration. They’ve killed my enthusiasm for football. Until we adopt New Zealand methods and put men at the head of affairs who understand football, the game won’t have a chance. Young and promising players are not in the race unless they are in big with the executive. Ability on the field does not mean a thing. It is far more important to go down to headquarters and pat a few people on the back than it is to play brilliant football.”
Towers has been described as “one of the most accomplished exponents of back line play Australia has ever produced, and it is improbable that any centre played with greater guile than Towers at his best.”
As much as people moan about the way things are today, it often pays to look back at history and find out how things changed, if they did. Often you can learn a lot. The one thing the ARU needs to be careful of is that top flight players do not lose their enthusiasm for the game and head overseas for the money, as currently those wearing the green and gold are in the main here for the pride they have in wearing the Australian colours. If that becomes a chore they will soon head overseas.
With the World Cup around the corner the ARU and the game in general cannot afford that.
Today the world reflects on those who served in the War to end all wars, and so we should. Sadly few lessons have been learned and wars still are being fought on the battlefields and in the minds of those who return from such conflicts.
At the time of the First World War Australia’s population was just around four million and a total of 416,809 Australians enlisted in the Australian forces, of which 32,231 were from Western Australia. Australia suffered its highest ever mortality rate, with 61,720 being killed and over 156,000 wounded, many of whom died within 18 months of returning home.
Sport has played a big part in keeping the sports up in war time. There was the famous rugby match played beneath the Pyramids in the Great War, as well as games of football between British and German troops during a ceasefire. In the second World War sporting events were used to keep everyone’s spirits up and war time internationals were held in Britain; caps of which are not on the official record.
According to Australian historians football, or soccer as it was then known, was regularly played by Allied troops at Gallipoli and also amongst Australian troops based at Lemnos in Greece in 1915. In fact Victorian Sports historian Dr Ian Syson has revealed that records show an extensive and co-ordinated soccer programme within the Australian forces – and there was even an Anzac “Ashes” series between Aussie and New Zealand troops. The prize was a silver razor tin case, containing cigar ashes from one of the soldiers who landed at Gallipoli.
There have been many sportsmen who deserve to be remembered for their heroics in the face of war. We thought we would share some with you.
Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC and bar, MC, RAMC. He is a man begging to have a movie made of his life. He is one of only three individuals to be awarded the Victoria Cross and Bar (Two Victoria Crosses). Chavasse was medical officer of the 10th Battalion, the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment and was initially best known as an outstanding athlete at Oxford University, going up to Trinity College with his twin brother, Christopher, in 1904. It was there that Noel studied medicine and was a key member of the Oxford University athletics and lacrosse teams. He represented Great Britain in the 400 metres at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, finishing second in his heat which was not enough for him to qualify for the final.
Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame, VC, KBE, CB, DSO, Chevalier Legion d’Honneur, Croix de Guerre (France), Croix de Guerre (Belgium). Neame is the only man to win a Victoria Cross and Olympic gold medal. He was a lieutenant in the 15th Field Corps of Royal Engineers. He was an outstanding sportsman at Cheltenham College, and was one of 14 old boys from the school to win the Victoria Cross. His Olympic gold medal came in the 1924 Paris Games in the four-man running deer team competition, when Great Britain won from Norway and Sweden.
From the world of football we have Second Lieutenant Donald Simpson Bell, VC. Donald Bell was the first professional footballer to enlist for the First World War, with the 9th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, and he is the only professional footballer to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Bell was a gifted all-round sportsman who played for Crystal Palace, Bishop Auckland and Newcastle before turning professional with Bradford Park Avenue in 1912. He died five days after the heroics that won him his Victoria Cross and many felt his efforts on that day warranted a second.
From the Equestrian sporting world came Brigadier General Paul Aloysius Kenna, VC, DSO. Paul was awarded the VC in 1898 after serving in Sudan and was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. He was thought by many at the time to be possibly the finest horseman of his age. In 1893/94 he was the top-rated polo player in the British Army in India. He was also a jockey and rode over 300 National Hunt and Flat winners before turning his attention to show-jumping. He led the Great Britain showjumping team on tour to North America in both 1910 and 1911. He was also selected to lead the Great Britain team at the 1912 Olympics. Unfortunately they arrived in Stockholm late, and performed very poorly. Kenna wrote an angry report to the British Olympic authorities on how British teams should be prepared and trained for future Olympics.
In Rugby League comes Second Lieutenant John ‘Jack’ Harrison, VC, MC. John Harrison was one of the greatest players in the history of Hull Rugby League Club. He first came to the attention of York but soon transferred to his native Hull, where he scored 106 tries in 116 matches, including 52 in the 1913-14 season, a club record that still stands to this day, and is unlikely to ever be beaten.
Rugby Union has contributed four Victoria Cross winners, three Irishmen and one Englishman.
Lieutenant-Commander Arthur Leyland Harrison, VC. Harrison, was a promising England forward who had people talking about a long and fruitful career following his two appearances in the 1914 Five Nations Championship. He played in the back row against Ireland and then moved into the second row against France, when England won 39-13. He won his Victoria Cross posthumously for his part in the Zeebrugge raid of 1918,
The three Irishmen are remarkably all from the same Rugby club in Dublin, Wanderers, and are to be the subject of a documentary currently under production by Ashley Morrison called “Fight in the Dog.”
Robert Johnston was not only a team mate of Thomas Crean but also a great friend. The two played for Ireland and then toured South Africa together in 1896 with the British and Irish Lions when, like Crean, he decided to stay on. With the Boer War imminent they joined the Imperial Horse (Natal). Johnston was 27 and a captain when he was awarded his Victoria Cross at the Battle of Elandslaagte, Johnston was badly wounded and was nursed back to health by Crean.
Major Thomas Joseph Crean, VC, DSO. He was the Richie McCaw of his generation, although slightly more boisterous off the pitch, where he had a reputation as a hell-raiser. He was a key player in two championship-winning sides for Ireland. He trained as a doctor at the Royal College of Surgeons and received the Royal Humane Society medal for saving a fellow student from drowning in the sea,
Brigadier Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, VC, MC. Harvey played for Ireland against Wales in 1907 and France four years later, before emigrating to Canada and embarking on a career in the military.
These are just some of the men from sport who won the highest military honour, there were many other unsung heroes, from the world of sport and from all walks of life.
Today we talk of epic battles on the sporting field, and of heroes coming to the fore, but today of all days we should put those words in context and recall those who really fought in epic battles or any battle, for all are heroes for giving us the freedom to enjoy life and sport the way that we do today.
So often in sport one person will say one thing, while another will say the complete opposite. It appears that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) are sending out different messages.
The IPC has said that Oscar Pistorius will be banned from participating at the Rio Paralympic Games in 2016 even if he does not have to serve his full five year jail sentence for the shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
The IOC however are refusing to comment on the possibility of him taking part at the able-bodied games. To complicate matters further the organisers of the Rio 2016 Games have said he “will be welcome in Brazil like anyone else.”
Pistorius was the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and his participation after a long battle, garnered a great deal of publicity. He was not the only athlete with a disability who competed in London, although the others did not share the limelight despite some outstanding performances. For example South Korean archer Im Dong Hyun, who has 10 percent vision in his left eye and 20 percent his right, set the first world record of the 2012 Games, and his team walked away with a bronze medal. Polish table tennis player Natalia Partyka, who was born without a right hand or forearm, also took part in the London Games which were her second consecutive Olympic Games.
In fact it is believed that at least 11 disabled athletes had participated in the Games prior to Pistorius.
One of the most remarkable of these would have to American gymnast George Eyser, who won three gold medals, two silvers and one bronze at the St. Louis Games in 1904. Apart from the fact that he won all of these medals in one day what made his achievements particularly impressive was that his left leg was made of wood. His leg had been amputated after he was run over by a train, although some sources say he was attacked by a wild animal that bit his leg and infected it leading to amputation.
Another South African to compete before Pistorius was the swimmer Natalie du Toit, who lost her left leg in a traffic accident, and who participated in the 10 km swimming marathon at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and finished 16th.
We have to wait and see if the IOC follow the IPC. That is of course if Pistorius is released early and achieves the qualifying times.