Time For The Fans To Switch Off?

It is the job of a promoter in sport to gain as much publicity for the teams, tournament or star he represents and none do it better than the promoters in boxing.

For longer than fight fans can remember they have wanted to see the two greats in the sport at the present time square off in the ring, and not in the press. We are of course talking about Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather junior. Depending on who you believe, and what you believe there have been any number of reasons why the fight has never eventuated. Some fear Pacquiao may now be past his best and that was what Mayweather was waiting for, but unless they fight we will never know.

Pacquiao currently owes a great deal in taxes in the Philipines and he could do with the big pay day that this fight would bring him, but to date as much as it has been talked about it has never looked like happening.

So now Many Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum has taken a different tack. After Pacquiao’s win over WBO welterweight champion Tim Bradley in Las Vegas,at the weekend Arum suggested that boxing fans boycott Mayweather Jr’s May 3rd unification bout against WBA welterweight champion Marcos Maidana.

The fight is due to be televised by Showtime from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and Arum’s idea is that if Mayweather’s pay-per-view fight with Maidana does poorly, he’ll be more likely to want to take a fight against Pacquiao sooner rather than later.

“The only people that can make Floyd Mayweather fight Manny is the public,” Arum said. “If they boycott the nonsense on May 3. That’s what the public should do. If the media wants that fight, tell the public not to buy pay-per-view and not to buy tickets. We are prepared tomorrow to sit down at a table with people to work out the conditions for the fight.”

It is certainly a strange tactic for a promoter to adopt and one fears it could well backfire. According to many far better placed, the Mayweather-Maidana fight is likely to rate very well on pay-per-view television, and much better than Pacquiao’s bout with Bradley. The reason being that Maidana is likely to attract a large number of Hispanic fans in his own right, coupled with the fact that the fight is taking place on Cinco de Mayo weekend, it will do even better.

The biggest problem for fight fans is that both promoters keep putting their fighters in against other boxers that they promote. At the moment Golden Boy Promotions has a more impressive stable than Arum and so they can give Mayweather more appealing fights as well as a top quality undercard.

If the promoters cannot do it, why don’t the bodies whose World Championships they hold make each the number one contender and enforce a mandatory defence, as they used to do in the old days? The truth is even these bodies want to keep the big names wearing their belts around their waist and enjoy the kudos that brings.

Will this fight ever happen? It continues to look very unlikely at this point in time. As for Arum’s tactics, few fight fans are likely to follow his lead.

April 17, 2014 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

Super Rugby to Shun South Africa?

Where to for Super Rugby? It comes as no great surprise that SANZAR officials are struggling to agree on the best format for a new Super Rugby competition. Some will ask why does the tournament need to re-invent itself once more, and if the competition is expanded even further what impact is that going to have on the International game and the toll on the bodies of the top players from each nation. Australia has already proved that it does not have the talent pool within Australia to sustain a World Cup challenging Wallabies outfit; it must accept that players should not be excluded from selection if they opt to play overseas.

Meetings have been carried out for months between Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby officials but still they seem unable to reach a simple solution for expanding Super Rugby. They have agreed to admit a sixth South African team and also an Argentine side; which was logical after this nation became a part of the Rugby Championship Tournament.

There is a strong push to welcome a franchise in Asia, expected to be from Japan, which would open up huge sponsorship potential as well as a new television market.

Interestingly former All Black Andrew Mehrtens has said that he believes the competition should look to exclude South Africa as it moves forward. Writing a column for Stuff.co.nz he said “I can’t help thinking we might have lost a little interest in playing South African teams, and that ultimately the future of this competition might be more localised round time zones.”

Could this view stem from the fact that South Africa has for a while eyed off the opportunity of linking into the European competitions and six nations as opposed to the Southern Hemisphere competitions? This has been based on travel and time zones and in theory makes sense. The downside is Australia and New Zealand playing each other year in year out is not going to have the same appeal as having a powerhouse like South Africa in the mix.

Saying that, the performances of the South African teams on the road this year in Super Rugby is terrible, they have not won a single game in ten outings in New Zealand and Australia.

“The logistics of involving South Africa are problematic – the travel and time difference – and maybe it would be better for all concerned just to play within our time zone and include teams from the Pacific Islands and Japan. You might have 20 teams in our time-zone – eight or so from New Zealand, maybe six in Australia and the rest from the islands and Japan.” Mehrtens wrote.

Some have felt for a long time that SANZAR should have welcomed the island nations into Super Rugby long ago, that it was almost their duty to assist these nations in improving. Promises were made and broken twice as Super Rugby expanded and no doubt they will all be miffed that once again they may be overlooked in favour of an Argentine or Japanese team.

What option do the island players have than to move to Australia and New Zealand and then pledge allegiance to those nations in order to play test rugby. The sad thing is if you speak to most of the players who have done that, most will tell you they would rather have played for their island nation.

Interestingly New Zealand is currently bemoaning a similar issue, that of their top coaches being poached by European clubs, and up and coming players by Australian franchises and then donning the colours of the Wallabies.

Mike Harris at the Queensland Reds had only been living in Australia for two years and playing Super Rugby for a year before he was selected for the Wallabies. He had not been picked up by a New Zealand franchise despite starring in the ITM Cup. Western Force full back Jayden Hayward, who hails from Taranaki, had spells with the Highlanders and the Hurricanes before crossing the Tasman, he even played Sevens for New Zealand, but now is looking to make himself available for Australia. The Melbourne Rebels too have New Zealanders who may switch allegiance in Jason Woodward and Scott Fuglistaller. Both come from Wellington, Woodward never played Super Rugby in his homeland while Fugilstaller played a couple of games for the Highlanders but was unable to hold down a regular place.

Is this good for Australian rugby? Surely the loss of South Africa to the Super Rugby competition as Mehrtens has suggested would see more New Zealanders moving to an Asian franchise and the drain on players continuing.

Whichever way the leaders at SANZAR eventually opt to take, the IRB needs to put in stronger rules in relation to players switching nations at international level. Obviously there should not be a restraint of trade in terms of the franchises signing players in order to be competitive, as that benefits the tournament as a whole, but qualification periods should be enforced for International appearances. That honour should never be given away lightly.

As for the worrying issue of New Zealand and South African players strengthening the Australian Super Rugby franchises at the expense of local talent, that too needs to be monitored and controlled by the Australian Rugby Union. If these players add to the development of Australian players as is currently evident at the Western Force, and also instil a rugby culture and make competition for places stiffer thereby raising the standard of Australian players then that has to be a good thing. It can only benefit Australian rugby in the end. It does however need to be monitored and the ARU.

As for South African born Mehrtens idea that South Africa be left out of Super Rugby, that could well be the death knell for the competition as we know it. One thing is for sure he was never greatly loved in the Republic and his comments are not going to have helped improve that relationship; but he will not lose any sleep over the matter.

April 17, 2014 at 9:40 am 1 comment

A League Of Its Own?

Finals are part of Australian sporting culture, that is clear and understood. However one has to be concerned when finals start to reward mediocrity.

No doubt the observations we are about to make will see us accused of being negative towards the A-League but you cannot deny the facts. Despite all the hyperbole that the A-League has improved, one has to say that the gulf between those at the top and those at the bottom is widening. Two teams stand head and shoulders above the rest, Brisbane Roar and Western Sydney Wanderers.

Last season we pointed out that out of the six teams that made the finals only two teams, Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers won fifty percent of their 27 games. Third placed Melbourne Victory won 13 and fourth placed Adelaide United 12. Perth Glory who claimed the final place in sixth won just nine, a third of the games they played. At the time we raised the issue as to whether teams should have to win a required amount of games to make the finals series, so that teams played attacking football to be sure to make the end of season race for the Championship.

At the end of the round robin phase of the A-League in 2013/14 only one team won more than fifty percent of their games, the deserved Premiers Brisbane Roar! That is a terrible statistic. Even the second best team Western Sydney Wanderers only won 11; just over a third of games played. Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC both won 12 each but did not manage as many draws as Wanderers.

Some will say that this a sign of a good league because it is so close, but such an argument again accepts mediocrity rather than strives for excellence. Surely the whole idea of a league competition is to strive for excellence that is why the team that wins the most games finishes top; they receive the rewards because they were the best.

In the UK the play offs are the closest they come to a finals series, and last year in the Championship Watford who came third won fifty percent of their games, 23 of 46 played. The next three teams on the ladder all won 19 games which is still a better return than a third coming in at 41%. Move down to League one, and one team won 19 of 46 games while the other three teams in the play offs, Brentford, Yeovil Town and Swindon Town all won 20 games or more. Again all over 40% on wins alone.

In the Championship the top two teams won Cardiff City and Hull City who were promoted won 25 and 24 games respectively. In League one it was the same with Doncaster Rovers and Bournemouth winning 25 and 24 games of their 46 games.

If we go down to the next level, in the state league or NPL as it is now, it has long been realised in Western Australia that if a team loses four games or more in what is a 22 game season their chances of lifting the title are slim. If one goes back to 2001 only two teams have won the league losing five games, Perth SC in 2003 and the Western Knights in 2010. That is the sign of a good competition, teams going through a league season not dropping games, rather than teams only winning a third of the games that they play.

Even if we look at the English Premier League only two teams in the top five have lost more than five games, Arsenal and Manchester City. If a competition is indeed to be a quality one it comes down to the top teams winning the lion’s share of their games. The top two teams in the A-League both lost seven game each out of 27 games.

These statistics surely prove that the A-League is unlike any other league.

April 17, 2014 at 8:24 am 1 comment

London’s Loss Could Be Beijing’s Gain

A fortnight ago we told of how FIFA had put the USA on standby to host the 2022 World Cup should Qatar end up losing hosting rights, and now the word is that the IOC have London on speed dial with a similar request should Rio di Janeiro continue to have delays with its preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games.

IOC President Thomas Bach is putting a brave face on the situation in Brazil but recently described the delays due to construction, political, financial and industrial action as “critical.”

However should that phone call be made to London, former members of the Local Organising Committee of the Olympic Games have stated that it is not logistically or physically possible for London to re-stage the games. This is also not simply a matter of the costs having gone up.

London was very much aware of making sure that there were no white elephants at the end of the Games; although the main stadium has ironically appeared the biggest one of all. In other areas the post games formula has been a huge success. The Olympic village has been sold off. The stadium is being converted to a football stadium after much local wrangling.

The Basketball Arena was to be demolished late last year as the arena was only ever temporary for the Olympics. The materials of the arena were recyclable, and the arena as a whole and was put up for sale in January 2013, an was purchased and has already been relocated.

The Copper Box, has been adapted into a multi-sport arena for community use, athlete training and small-to-medium scale events. This is in fact the only permanent indoor sports arena retained in the Olympic Park.

It would appear that only Beijing would have the money and the wherewithal to come to the IOC’s rescue at such short notice should they opt for a Plan B; which they did with Athens when Munich was on standby.

Despite 18 sports federations concerns over the readiness of Rio there are many in the IOC putting on a brave face and assuring the doubters that the city will “deliver a good games.” Time will tell.

April 16, 2014 at 9:36 am Leave a comment

See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil.

Fox Sports and the FFA have made their bravest move yet, having announced today that the referees will be “miked-up” during this years A League finals series.

Viewers will be able to listen to the referees outlining decisions to the players as is done in many other sports. Let us hope it is more successful than when the same thing was introduced in the English Premier League about twenty years ago; it was abandoned after less than a month.

The reason it was abandoned was that unlike sports such as rugby union where players accept or question a referees decision politely, the amount of swearing that was picked up on the referees microphone and the abuse he was heard to receive saw complaints mad to the television station and proved an embarrassment to the game. In fact referees were seen to cover the microphone when discussing decisions with players so that the conversation could not be picked up.

Interestingly the press release from the Football Federation of Australia states, “The microphones will not be broadcast live but used as part of the Fox Sports coverage.” That makes it very unclear as to when viewers will in fact hear what the referee has to say and also whether it will enhance the viewing experience at all.

CEO of the FFA David Gallop who has come from rugby league where they have had referees “miked up” has been quoted as saying “We believe the extra microphone is a significant step forward and gives fans a greater insight into what’s happening on the pitch. Sports fans around the world are privileged to be able to hear the thoughts of the referees and we’re pleased Hyundai A-League fans will be able to experience this as we move into a thrilling Finals Series.” One cannot help feeling this is a naive statement from a man new to football.

Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers, Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory, Sydney FC and Adelaide United will all take part in what is as always expected to be a very passionate Hyundai A-League 2014 Finals Series. Let us all hope that the microphones do not pick up too much of that passion when it bubbles to the surface as we may end up seeing players being charged with bringing the game into disrepute for their communications with the referees; some may say that could in fact be a good thing.

Of course if the officials were shown the same respect as they are in other codes this would not be such an issue. There is no doubt the A-League is not the Premier League, but passions still run hot and the language pitch side is very different to that in the corporate boxes. Let us hope that this does not backfire and Fox Sports do control just how much goes to air. The trouble is if it is being censored and the debatable decisions being edited out due to players vehemently disagreeing with the decision one wonders why the referees are being “miked-up” at all.

April 15, 2014 at 8:57 am 2 comments

A Fond Farewell to Four

There were four senior players in the A-League who played their last league matches at the weekend. Four very different individuals, at four different clubs, all with very different career paths behind them. Interestingly their departures were also incredibly different.

It was in fact last weekend that Perth Glory skipper Jacob Burns waved goodbye to the fans at NIB stadium for the last time as a player. The team he has lead since his return from Europe saw him out in style with a rare victory in a tough season. Burns career started in the old NSL before he headed over to Leeds United at a time when the club were a force in British football. He made his debut in the Premier league aged 22 but his appearances were limited. No doubt his appearances against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Lazio and away to Manchester United, Besiktas in the Premier League and Champions League games will have been highlights. During his time in England he also achieved the honour of representing his country. Prior to returning to Australia he had a successful spell at Barnsley and Wisla Kracow in Poland where he again played Champions League football. Returning via Romania Burns led the Perth Glory to their first A-League finals appearance as well as the Grand Final in 2011/12 where the team lost, but he won the prestigious Marston medal as player of the final. He led the club to another finals appearance last year, but a change in policy at the club to bring through young local talent meant a repeat this year was always going to be hard. Burns combative style on the pitch meant that he was either loved or hated by sections of the supporters. It also saw him pick up many a yellow card. Sadly his performances may not receive the recognition they deserve that is not until he has been gone from the midfield a while. His professionalism and the way he looked after himself from a health and fitness level was an example to all, and that was why at the end of every game he was still running box to box. The send off he received was muted at best, which was sad for a man, who love him or hate him, had been dedicated to the club and its heartbeat in midfield.

Jacob Burns’ good friend, and ex Glory player Mile Sterjovski has also announced his retirement, but he still has finals football to enjoy. He played with Burns at Sydney United and Parramatta Power before he headed to France and Lille. He then moved to Switzerland where he found success with FC Basel. He won the Swiss Super League and in his second season was part of the team that reached the UEFA Cup Quarter-finals. He moved to Turkey and then to Premier League side Derby County. Some clever negotiations which saw Derby pay Sterjovski’s wages for his first year at Perth Glory saw him signed as the marquee player. Sadly Glory fans never saw Sterjovski at his best, they were only given glimpses of his undoubted skill. He showed more consistency at the Central Coast Mariners and lifted the A-League Championship in 2012/13. Sterjovski was a player blessed with skill and who on his day could destroy teams, as he did against Croatia for Australia at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. Sadly he will not be listed along with the great Australian players, something maybe his talent should have warranted, but that may well be how he wants it, as Mile has never been about headlines. He quietly goes about his business in an unassuming way and has always been about quietly walking away when the game is over; and don’t be surprised if he leaves the game in the same way once the Mariners season comes to an end.

Another former team mate of Jacob Burns at Leeds, Harry Kewell, also bade farewell to football at the weekend playing his final game in a 2-3 defeat against Western Sydney Wanderers. To many Harry Kewell was Australian football, as his name was the one non-football followers all knew. He was immensely talented and became the third youngest Australian to play for the Socceroos – not the youngest as many have said – when he debuted under Terry Venables against Chile. Thanks to the English heritage on his father’s side Kewell was able to take up and offer from Leeds United while Brett Emerton returned to Australia. There is no doubt that his time at Leeds United was his finest hour. He was part of one of the most exciting young teams in British football and a key component of that team. Twice Leeds made it to the semi finals of the Champions League and on the first occasion in the 1999–00 season, he won PFA Young Player of the Year was selected in the PFA Team of the Year. At that time it was rumoured Italian giants, Internazionale, had unsuccessfully bid £25m and that Leeds had rejected the offer. Three years later it became clear Leeds had been spending beyond their means and after 8 years at Elland Road he left when his contract had expired meaning Leeds received nothing when he left, something that angered fans who felt he owed them something for the time spent nurturing his talent. From this point it would be fair to say Kewell’s career suffered, he upset Leeds with his comments when he left, upset many with the believed deal he had with his manager Bernie Mandic to get him to Liverpool and took England hero Gary Lineker to court for defamation; a matter settled out of court. He became the first Australian born player to win the UEFA Champions League in 2005 but injuries plagued his time at Liverpool and he rarely showcased his incredible talent. A move to Turkey before heading home to Melbourne Victory a move that was heralded as the return of the Messiah, but once again the hype outstripped the performances. He left after one season to be close to his sick mother-in-law, but then popped up at Al-Gharafa in the Qatar Stars League; again a move that upset many in Australia who felt he had left Victory under false pretences. Having played very little football in a year and still wanting to play at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil He returned once again to Melbourne but this time with the Heart, but even though he still had plenty of skill his best was behind him. Kewell was a superb player, but sadly never really reached the heights many fans and coaches feel he should have; although he feels he did and that is all that matters. His goal against Croatia to see Australia through to the final sixteen in the 2006 World Cup will be a moment to remember. His farewell was to some degrees sad for one who meant so much to the game for so long. As much as it appeared everyone was trying to build up to the big finish, it just never came; very much in line with his career.

Interestingly the only non-Australian to bow out at the weekend probably received the biggest and most emotional send off of the four. Terry McFlynn was one of only 30 players left from the inaugural season of the A-League, but was the only one to have been with the same club for all that time. McFlynn had never quite made it in professional football in England and was playing non-league football prior to coming out to Australia and following his now wife. He trialled with Sydney FC and Pierre Littbarski liked what he saw and signed him. He won the inaugural A-League title. In 2008 he signed a new two year deal and a year later a new three year deal, in 2010 he became an Australian citizen and also Sydney FC captain. Although he had lead the team in the Grand Final a year earlier when both Steve Corica and John Aloisi were injured. Through the highs and the lows McFlynn was the constant for Sydney FC. He was loyal, he was industrious, he was a leader, he was passionate, he knew what was needed in the big games and he always gave it. By not being a superstar the fans connected with him for what he gave them week in week out on the pitch. He has played more games for the club than any other player and has been there as managers have come and gone, but he has been consistent throughout on and off the pitch, someone to rely on. His reward was clear on Saturday as “the Cove” bade him farewell with scenes that are rare these days in football. The work that must have gone into the banner they produced was testament to what the fans thought of Terry McFlynn.

Sydney FC should take a bow and so too should their fans for that display it was a credit to them and the game. This celebration of a career also proves that heroes cannot be manufactured, reputations mean absolutely nothing, but honest endeavour and humility still go a very long way with the average football fan.

All of these players have left the game and all are leaving behind different memories for different people, hopefully we will be talking about them all for years to come and remembering their contributions. Its the least they all deserve.

April 15, 2014 at 8:02 am 1 comment

Does The Wife Know Best?

Manny Pacquiao avenged his defeat to Tim Bradley at the weekend and regained his WBO world welterweight title and the admiration of many, but is it time he hung up his gloves?

Pacquiao has a large entourage who follow him when he fights and he loves having them around him. They all joint him at a Filipino restaurant in Los Angles when he trains there, and he includes them in his efforts to lose weight for a bout. The person who loses the most weight being rewarded financially. Having come from the streets Pacquiao is renowned for his generosity. However as many boxers will tell him the entourage will never tell you when its time to stop. Sugar Ray Leonard covered the issue of his support crew never speaking the truth to him, as they did not want the dream to end either, as retirement spelled the end of the big pay days for them as well.

Pacquiao may have to give the matter some serious thought as the one person calling for him to retire is his wife Jinkee who is currently pregnant with their fifth child.

“You have proven to the world your ability, he can now let go of boxing,” Mrs Pacquiao is quoted as saying and apparently asked her 35-year-old husband, “How much money do you want to amass if you would be kept away from your family?” She has a point.

Pacquiao however could possibly be thinking of the need to raise more money since the taxwoman is after his purse, bank account and other assets; the Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue, was keen to grab as much of Pacquiao’s $20 million guaranteed purse due to an alleged P2.2 billion tax deficiency.

With five kids to take care of, plus so many relatives he is supporting, he most likely wants to assure there is enough left in the pot after he has settled his tax problems with the Philippines government. A bout with Floyd Mayweather junior would be the perfect end financially, but as Pacquiao begins to suffer the ravages of time it may not be the best for his health or his boxing record.

April 14, 2014 at 8:19 am Leave a comment

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