All 4 entries tagged Sport
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August 09, 2012
(1) The G4S private security blunder: nobody could have staged such a spectacular, world-vision refutation of the theory that private is more efficient than public; it won’t change policies probably, because despite the crisis neoliberals and privatizers are still all around like zombies, but it will remain in public consciousness - just like the fact that fast increase in performance, as for Great britain and China, is only possible with a coordinated effort and public support (better if not in a authoritarian way)
(2) The multi-ethnic, although still a bit classist, nature of the British triumphs: that’s all for you, Daily Mail
(3) More attention to women’s sport than ever before, and also to less famous sports - although only conditionally on the nationality of the favourites coinciding with that of the reporters
Sometimes it so good to look staged, as if in a continuation of the opening ceremony with its celebration of the NHS, social progress and multi-ethnicity. Take today, wednesday: after over a week flooded by British medals, a day of pause with no British success to talk about, so that the headline news could only be the new horrible data on the economy... Osborne must be furious for the bad timing of his circuses.
The real thing is indeed good, but having watched football, fencing and athletics I am a little underwhelmed, after so much overenthusiastic reporting in the British media (as in the BBC shouting "Ben Aisle is the best sailor in history"... how about the Vikings, Phaenicians and Columbus?). Everybody looks happy, sure, but in a somehow fake way, like in a big Disneyland. The sport has not been so great, with still no athletic record and little in terms of memorable performances or dramas. The best thing you can say of the weather and the food is that they are typically British, and of the ExCel arena is that it was already there and they did not have to build it on purpose for the Olympics. The Olympic park, while it may be better than the previous wasteland, is soulless and anonymous: it could be anywhere and it has no striking building. The velodrome and the aquatics centre are beautiful inside, but indistinct outside, while the Olympic stadium is very functional, but it deserves to be downsized into a second-tier football ground afterwards – the Polish Euro2012 stadia are much nicer, not to speak of Beijing’s Olympic Stadium. The much-acclaimed Orbit is, from the outside, so ugly that it makes you want to go up to it – from where you can see all but the Orbit itself. The presence of the sponsors is so oppressive that it makes me want to drink Pepsi. And one strange thing I noticed yesterday: the Olympic Park is actually about the only place in the UK where you cannot watch the Olympics: there are big screens only in one place, the Live Park, which is however much too small at peak times to host all curious spectators.
And indeed London, while well-organised, is far from showing vibes of excitement. On Saturday, Hyde Park's Live Site was far from full, and the race walk, which is usually through the city, was hidden away in loops of the Mall, as not to disturb Londoners.
This does not mean it is not enjoyable or that there are no gripping or exhilarating moments. At the athletics, we saw the exuberant celebrations of German discus thrower Harting, and an amazing finish of the 100m hurdles women. At the race walk we had the drama of seeing the second-placed Russian Borchin collapse in front of us at the last loop - a better collapse, in hindsight, than that of Italian Alex Schwazer, gold medal in Beijung in the 50km, caught for doping. Talking of Schwazer, he reminds the case of Ben Johnson, downgraded from "Canadian hero" to "Jamaican-born" overnight in 1988. In Italy, Schwazer has been downgraded from Italian hero to cheating Southtirolean (e.g. by La Stampa reporter Castelnuovo), while 4 years ago it was the Schützen who condemned him for celebrating with an Italian flag (and being a Carabiniere, i.e. enrolled for the occupying army). In the other direction, Murray, who was a miserable Scot when defeated at Wimbledon a month ago, is now a British icon...
Moreover, London offers so much more than sport anyway. In a break from sports we saw ‘These Associations’, Tino Seghal’s installation at Tate Modern: dozens of performers walking and running around the huge Turbine Hall, and stopping people to tell about individual lives made of uprooting and meetings. I was myself ‘chatted up’ by a performer and found this one of the most unusual artistic experiences. The work is somehow reminicent of Ai Waiwei's ones, but Tino Seghal is himself from Berlin, where I had had another unusual artistic experience that included reindeer urine). And it was somehow like the Olympics: eye-catching, cosmopolitan, and occasionally disconcerting.
PS: indeed, the Jamaican and Kenyan running exploits have now added what the London Olympics were still missing - records and memorable scenes.
July 31, 2012
The Olympic Games - if only with the football matches - in Coventry: it must be the first time that there is some sort of world news involving this city since the beginning of the Millennium. On Sunday, I went to the male football in the City of Coventry stadium, usually called Ricoh arena but renamed for the Olympics due to the strict sponsoring rules, a place where I had been a couple of times to see poor Coventry City and always struggled to keep awake. Coventry City was relegated from the Premier League, after 34 years of honourable survival in the top fight, during my first year here, and this year, devastated by speculative hedge fund investors, was relegated further to League One (third league). So the Olympics are a welcome counterbalance to the long social, economic and sport decline of this city: Gabon-Mexico and South Korea-Switzerland were not memorable, but an improvement on the usual local standards. And on Friday I will go again for the female quarterfinal Great Britain - Canada, which should be exciting (should I support Quebec or Scotland?).
There is also some art involved: the Godiva Awakes project linked to the Olympics is quite impressive and on Sunday I saw the pretty gigantic heroin's marionette, which will cycle all the way to London: it was good, nice and cheerful as people are here, but the grey weather and the even greyer backgrounds were a bit sad and did not impress the few foreign visitors and fans who attended.
Similar feelings for Danny Boyle's opening ceremony in London, which I watched on TV with other 27m spectators in the country. Lovely and cheerful indeed, with all the good things I like of Britain: social history, the NHS, pop music, Akram Kahn, Simon Rattle, self-deprecating humour, cinema, Shakespeare, children literature. But also a bit sad indeed: if Beijing's opening ceremony was all triumph and onwards-looking, London's was all nostalgia and backward-looking. The NHS and British culture have been very good thing, but they are being massacred by the current government. And the whole country is in decline, with the third-worst economic performance in the world (in $) since the beginning of the recession and the worst Chancellor in human memory. Some fools hope the Olympics may help the economy: in fact, data from the last ten Olympics show, if the Olympics help, it is only before the game, with the construction boom; afterwards, it is rather anti-climax and doom - a bit like Coventry City after they built the new stadium.
July 22, 2012
It was one of the dullest Tours I can remember: with an indistinct, unspectuacular route, hardly anything happened in the mountains, and one team was too strong, killing off competition. It was also one of the least deserving winner: 45 competitors removed by falls, and indeed Froome deserved more, but it was hampered by bad luck and iron hierarchy. It was a bit like track cycling invading the roads (100km of time stages is too much), and erasing poetry, scenery and tradition. This year, the Giro d'Italia was much more fun.
Still, well done Wiggins. First of all he looks like a clean win, and if dull means no drug scandals, long live a dull Tour. And the good luck this year balances the bad one last year. But mostly, thanks to him, there is some reporting and attention in the UK, although still nothing in comparison to Italy and France where cycling is the most watched sport. When I arrived to the UK twelve years ago, one of the cultural shocks was that there was no Tour de France on TV. But since the triumphs in the 2004 Olympics and 2007 Track Cycling Championship, the sport is more and more popular. This comes with some disadvantage (some silly consumerism), but (together with the crisis and oil prices) it increases the numbers of bikes on the road. Contrary to the number of cars, the more bikes on the road, the better: it gets safer if everybody gets used to bikes, and the political pressure for more cycling paths increases. The sporty nature of the new rediscovery of cycling in the UK, however, also limits its potential expansion: it is so sporty-looking, that everyday, casual city cycling, without helmet and lycra outfits, like on continental Europe, looks actually rarer. As if cycling were only for athletes: my grandaunt in the Po valley cycled until into her 80s.
In fact, cycling is become a flagship for environmental policies all around Europe, and interestingly, especially on the Right side: it is rightwing mayors like Boris Johnson and Letizia Moratti who have introduced cycleshare schemes in London and Milan. You can easily tell why: more space for bikes is a relatively cheap policy, as far as environmental measures go (especially if like in London they come with sponsorships from morally disputable institutions...), and who benefits most, is the middle classes, in an interesting social reverse from 50 years ago.
I have enjoying cycling a bit everywhere, from Peru to Canada and China. This year around Europe, unfortunately, I did not always have a bike at my disposal, but everywhere I could, I tried out the public cycle schemes and gathered information from local cyclists. And here are my notes.
The worst city for cycling is Madrid - strangely enough, the capital of a proper cycling nation. Only some 1% of the inhabitants cycles to work, and basically the only bikes you see are mountain bikes in the Casa del campo park. The reasons are largely understandable (climate, hills, excellent affordable public transport), but really the Spanish Right is well behind the other European ones and is not doing anything for cyclists.
The best improvement is in Paris. When I was a student there in the mid-1990s, cycling was even worse than in my native town Milan: I remember the unique madness of placing some cycling lanes in the middle of the roads (the reason was to avoid the most frequent of city cycling accidents, i.e. crashes into opening doors of parked cars - but surely the solution is to remove the cars, not to place the bikes in the middle of fast traffic). Now, the vélib scheme is by far the best I have experienced, for number of bikes, ease of use, cost, and coverage of the whole city. It maybe an expensive scheme (a lot of bikes are lost to vandalism) but it is very well spent money: the whole city is much more livable and many more people take up cycling. But vélib is not the only reason for the cyling surge in Paris. The December 1995 month-long strike of public transport forced so many onto the two wheels, that a good share of them were hooked - and strikes in the Parisian public transports are everyday a possibility. Also, Paris has one of the best attended 'critical mass' traditions, anarchist group cycling and roller-skating to reclaim the streets from car traffic (popular also elsewhere, from Milan to Warsaw).
Clear improvements in comparison to the 1990s can be noticed also in London and in Warsaw, once very cyclist-hostile cities. But the best place among those I have been in the last two years (Copenhagen and Amsterdam did not enter the competition) is still, by far, Berlin - even though I am not a fan of cycling paths on pavements.
April 18, 2011
On the same day of the more famous London one, the Madrid marathon was run last Sunday. It’s a tough, slow one, due to the mix of elevation, up- and down-hills, and heat – even if this time the temperature was perfect, allowing a Madrid record of 2h10 under a beautiful sun (so different from Berlin). According to a friend who run it, Spanish disorganisation was also visible, for instance in the shortage of all kinds of facilities and information. Exactly this week there was much talk in the Spanish media about the latest OECD report on working time, suggesting that Spaniards work very long hours, but in a disorganised and unproductive way.
Yet the most amusing aspect of disorganisation was that only the day beforethe marathon organisers realised that the route was clashing, on its most spectacular point (the Napoleonic Plaza de Oriente beside the Royal Palace) with the procession of Palm Sunday. The clash was resolved to the advantage of the Church: the procession stayed and the runners had to bypass the square through a tunnel, which involved the need for a reclassification of the marathon due to an added 71cm. It would have been even more fun if organisers hadn’t realised it at all: the procession and the marathon would have physically clashed in a symbolic representation of the war between Church and laicism, that has characterised Spain more than maybe any other country in the last century. The big processions will be on Good Thursday and on Good Friday, and an “anti-procession” had been planned for Thursday by atheist organisations. But it has not been allowed: again a victory for the Church, but maybe a wise decision, not to create a precedent for potential anti-Muslim processions by xenophobes in the future.
However, the big clash everybody speaks about in Madrid is neither the Marathon nor religion, but the unprecedented 4-times Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, in Liga (1-1 on Saturday), Copa del Rey final (Wednesday) and Champions League semi-finals (after Easter). If the unitary Spanish state survives this it will not collapse any time soon.