Thursday, March 12, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I'll get back to some real content soon, I promise.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Anything less is anathema.
Just ask Vince Carter. A team's supporters will turn on anyone who doesn't give 100% in a game. That is, after all, why the phrase "giving 110%" has become a sports cliche.
Declan Hill's The Fix shows that that core value is under attack and proves that sometimes the heart, the effort that your favourite player is exhibiting on the soccer pitch is an illusion.
It certainly is a bitter pill to swallow, but Hill conclusively proves that match fixing is reaching epidemic proportions in the world of soccer. His investigation reaped a shockingly large amount of circumstantial and conclusive evidence that soccer games at levels as high as the World Cup and Champions League have been fixed. By the end of The Fix his message is crystal clear: no level of soccer is safe, except perhaps the most impromptu of pick-up games.
The body of evidence he's compiled is impressive in its breadth and detail. Interviews with players, coaches, managers and owners as well as convicted and active match fixers. Statistical evidence. Memoirs and police reports. Photos of match fixers and confessions of guilt. It's an overwhelming deluge of information that will rock any fan of soccer, or of pure sport in general, to the core.
This is the only real flaw in the book.
It's hard to take. Hard to read. The first fifty pages left me so thoroughly disgusted that I wanted to fling the book down and never pick it up again.
The stories Hill has uncovered left me uncomfortable at first, and then increasingly cynical. I began searching for a silver lining and, eventually, I found several. For starters, I was relieved to note that my favourite side, Glasgow Rangers, is never mentioned. (Although, in my now cynical mind, that does not place them above suspicion.) Hill also included several stories of brave men and women standing up to corruption. Reporters in Malaysia exposing far reaching corruption as well as the uplifting story of girls amateur soccer in Nairobi are just two examples of people standing up to corruption. There is still a lot of good in the world of soccer. Hill leaves his readers with the sincere hope that these bastions of honesty and character can hold out and continue to fight the good fight.
The most important of all the good to come forward in The Fix is the book itself. The Fix gets the word out, putting Football Associations worldwide on notice that something is rotten in the state of soccer. As Hill points out in his blog: "We can do something about the corruption in football. The first thing is to ensure that there are effective well-staffed and well-resourced security departments in not just UEFA, but also at FIFA and in every National Football Association around the world. "
I've read a lot of books on soccer and sports, and The Fix is the first book that does more then earn a recommendation. It makes me want to sit soccer managers and Football Association administrators down and read the entire book to them. It makes me want to get involved and help stop the moral decay of the Beautiful Game.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just soccer fans or sports fans, but anyone with a passing interest in organized crime, corruption or globalization. It's a fascinating, ableit unsettling, read that is well written and incredibly informative.
Friday, December 5, 2008
I know I am on the verge of being a curmudgeon, what with my complaints about the Canadian Football League, but being on the eve of the bout between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao. The Dream Match, I feel I need to address boxing's downward spiral.
As Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole points out in his article "Boxing needs best-of-the-best bouts", there is definitely something wrong with the sport of boxing:
"The [Mayweather Jr. v. De La Hoya] match sold nearly 20 percent more on pay-per-view than the previous record and generated more than $170 million in gross revenue, or a ballpark amount the Yankees are willing to pay CC Sabathia to pitch for them over the next few years.
Ticket revenue alone counted for $18.4 million, with an average ticket sold at $1,078.53."
Despite the marquee match-up, and the huge bank the fight did, boxing is still in a serious state of decline. In Iole's words: "If anything, U.S. boxing in 2008 is in worse shape than it was in 2007. There’s less television, there are more empty seats and even relatively big fights are going unnoticed."
Iole offers a few ideas as to why the sport is suffering. As the title of his article implies, he sees the lack of big cards as the biggest problem. He wants big names on big cards to draw more attention to the sport. One of the promoters he interviews, Bob Arum, points out that it's because there's not enough boxing on free television.
I think they are, in part, both right. As Cheapseats reader Maria pointed out in her comment on my CFL article: "My big complaint is that the Grey Cup is broadcast on TSN, not on one of your basic cable channels. I only pay for basic cable. I was not able to watch the Grey Cup." Maria is right. Making events available to a wider audience is crucial to the success of the sport. Pay-per-view cards doesn't just limit your audience, it alienates them. I've never heard of Manny Pacquiao before, because he's rarely, if ever, mentioned on television.
Why are boxers not well known? I think it's because there's no major league of boxing. The best football players in the world play in the National Football League. The best hockey players (except Jaromir Jagr) play in the National Hockey League. In boxing? I have no idea which league is the "major" league. Do you? Likely not.
Instead, the talent is spread around and thinned out. Iole can't get his "big name, big card" because there is not a single boxing federation that has all the top stars. A fan trying to familiarize themselves with the sport can't follow just one promotion - - they need to follow three or four.
This disorder spills over to television as well. No major network wants to pick up boxing events because none of them can truly lay claim to being the best. All of the heavyweight championships that are floating around have lost their value because there are three others like them.
For boxing to get back up on its feet, to beat the count out decision, they need to start unifying events, promotions, and most importantly, the belts. Only then will fans be able to figure out whether or not a match is actually a competitive contest, and then boxing will be able to make it on to prime time network television. Without unification, boxing will continue to decay.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Or so I'm told. I was watching Charlie Wilson's War.
I absolutely love Canadian football, at least on paper. I think the game and rules of the CFL are far superior to the American game with higher scores. The three downs emphasize efficiency and speed, while the bigger field lets individual players shine. Unfortunately, most of the best football players in the world play in the NFL or NCAA. The cream of the crop in the CFL are always in danger of being scooped up by an NFL team for more money.
The CFL has to operate on the assumption that there is little familiarity with the game, its players, and even its teams. At the same time, they have to make sure they do not condescend to the fans. I appreciate it's a fine line to walk, but it's a reality of sports today that all fans will become familiar with their product on television. If your television product isn't informative, entertaining and polished, people will flip the channel to something that is. The CFL is admittedly up against some tough competition in the form of America's National Football League which is as slick as it comes, but Chris Schultz meathead-esque explanations of plays can surely be refined.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
But that, is a good thing. A great thing, even. Halberstam is one of the great American journalists of the twentieth (and twenty-first) centuries, and to see him at work is excellent. His style is very different from anything I've read and really creates a sense of timelessness not just to his favourite sports, but to all his sports. As dated as some of his references may seem, they also ring true. As his father loved Christy Mathewson, he loved Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson and contemporary New Yorkers love ARod and Derek Jeter (okay, maybe not). Because his tone is so conversational, you can forgive the repetitive nature of the book, and enjoy the true love and craftsmanship in every article.