Category Archives: Sports

The Woes of Luka Modrić: Croatia, Nationalism and Football

Juraj Vrdoljak of Telesport was convinced.  “I think half the population didn’t show up to work on the morning after the win against England.” The victory had inspired early shop closures, a feeling of rampant escapism. “Croatia is a country with a deep economic crisis.  Every day, life is really hard.  It’s full of bad stories and tough times.  There is lot of poverty.  A lot of people are emigrating.”

Members of Croatia’s football team have become national talismans of endurance, the shock troops of resilience and hope.  Ivan Rakitić, when he takes the field against France, will be playing his 71st match of the season, the most than any top-flight player this year.  Luka Modrić remains unflinching in the midfield as the team’s general.  Domagoj Vida has been granite in defensive solidity.

Football teams can be held up as mirrors of the nations they represent. This sociological gazing can always be taken too far, a scholar’s fruitless pondering, but Croatia’s national side is instructive.  It was Dinamo Zagreb’s Zvonimir Boban who stirred matters with his heralded assault on a police officer engaged in a violent scuffle with fans in a match against Red Star Belgrade.  Croatian football was fashioned as a vehicle of protest and dissent against what was seen as a Serb-dominated federation.

In time, football kicks became shells and bullets in the murderous dissolution of Yugoslavia.  To this day, a legend stubbornly holds that the truculent Bad Blue Boys of Dinamo and the countering Deljie of Red Star precipitated the first shots of that war.

Starting with its current inspirational captain, the link between social ill and patriotic performance can be seamless.  When he finishes the tournament in Russia, Modrić will have to turn his mind back to his relationship with mentor and former Dinamo Zagreb executive Zdravko Mamić, a towering figure who finds himself facing a six-and-a-half year prison sentence for corruption and fraud.  From Bosnia and Herzegovina, he does battle with the authorities, attempting to avoid extradition after fleeing Croatia.

A bursting feature of the case mounted against Mamić involved claims of ill-gotten gains from transfers of Modrić from Dinamo Zagreb to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008 and Dejan Lovren to Lyon in 2010.  Modrić, it seemed, was implicated in signing an annex to his Dinamo contract, suggesting a 50-50 split of any future transfer fee.  What was significant was the timing – 2015 as opposed to any earlier dates.  Through his tenure, suggestions that Mamić had conducted a “silent privatisation” of the club were rampant, producing inflated transfer prices and a cult of acquisitiveness.

Modrić, having been billed as a star witness who initially supplied anti-corruption investigators with gold dust on Mamić’s penchant for cooking the accounts, notably in terms of pocketing millions of euros of the transfer fee, froze in the dock.  His memory, it seemed, had failed him; the contract annex was not signed, as he initially claimed, in 2015 but 2004.  This testimony was effectively rendered worthless.  Croatia’s captain now faces the prospect of a perjury charge that carries a possible sentence of five years in prison.

The Croatian Football association, in an official statement in March, was not having a bar of it, unsurprising given the powers that be within the country’s football hierarchy.  The body insisted upon “the principle of innocence and considers every person innocent until proven otherwise.”  It was also “deeply convinced of the correctness of Luka Modrić’s testimony before the court in Osijek, and especially because of Modrić’s behaviour since his first appearance for the Croatian U-15 team in March 2001 to date.”

While every inch the commander in the field, with his team keen to impress in their following, not all Croatian supporters are in the Modrić tent of fandom. The Bad Blue Boys have found themselves split in loyalties over the years, with some, such as Juraj Ćošić, forming a breakaway team, Futsal Dinamo. “Zdravko Mamić,” claims football sociologist Ben Perasović, “is a typical member of the new rich class.”  It is a class that continues to afflict Croatian football with their depredations, a looting tendency that is only now being reined in with mixed success.

The other team members have also shown this side to be rather prickly. Vida, and the now sacked assistant coach Ognjen Vukojević, were caught on film making comments supportive of Ukrainian nationalists in the aftermath of the side’s defeat of Russia in the quarter-finals.  FIFA’s benevolence prevailed, and the centre-back was permitted to play in the semi-final against England.

Such a background adds more than a touch of complexity, with all its discomforts, to the World Cup final against France.  Croatia’s team will not merely be facing their opponents on the field in a battle of wits and tenacity. Off it, pens and knives are being readied and sharpened, with prosecutions being prepared.

Even now, the team is being written off by the smug pundits of football orthodoxy, though with less disdain than before.  Three matches on the trot into extra-time suggest imminent exhaustion, a possible overrunning by a more refreshed French team. But desperation, in meeting talent, can be the most potent of elixirs.  This Croatian team has pushed the sceptics to the edge, and threatens to leave them there.  And with players like Modrić, adversity remains their closest companion.

Giant Killing: Heroes and Teams at the 2018 World Cup

They have been falling like ninepins at one of the most unpredictable World Cups in generations.  Even before the kick-off in the tournament, Italy’s absence was conspicuous.  By the time the first phase of matches had been concluded, Germany, whose teams have made it to the elimination phase for eighty years, found itself in exit mode, a victim of exhaustion, desperation and South Korean determination.  Die Welt deemed the performance an embarrassment of perfection, the team’s performance “harmless, unimaginative, listless”.

Spain, who won the 2010 World Cup, found its adventure prematurely aborted in the round-of-sixteen, falling to the inspired Russian team on penalties.  Portugal, in their defeat before the hard set Uruguayans, went the same way in that round.  (Christian Ronaldo was distinctly off the boil.)  Not enough credit, however, was given in shocked observations to the other side of the show, the performances of those giant killing teams which have added to the fogginess of any crystal ball.

One colossus did seem dangerously predictable in advancing.  Brazil threatened at points to overcome a furiously talented Belgian team, but failed to transform possession into goals.  The Belgians made their chances count and duly dispatched another giant from the competition.

A sense prevailed that Brazil were their own worst enemy.  This was not the team of jogo bonito, jaunty, ruthless representatives of the beautiful game.  Neymar was both talismanic and deficient, an asset rolled into a liability.  His drama strewn efforts, which involved diving and rolling as much as it involved natural ability, did not provide the ballast his team required.  Such attitude, it has been surmised, might have been born from past serious injuries, be it the broken back he sustained in 2014, and a broken foot in February this year.

“I can say,” wrote Neymar in an Instagram post, “that this is the saddest moment of my career, it is incredibly painful because we knew we could get there, we knew we had conditions to go further, to make history.”  It proved “hard to find the strength to play soccer again, but I’m sure God will give me strength enough to face anything”.

The shocks have been marked and frequent, with the ground left for exhilarating performances.  Giants Argentina did not vanquish Iceland, the match concluding with a goal a piece. In an absorbing match, it was that other footballer of genius Lionel Messi, who took the penalty after a collision between Sergio Agüro and Hördur Björgvin Magnússon.  He botched it, and Hannes Thór Halldórsson made the save.  Another team of minnows had done their country exhilaratingly proud.

Croatia, with its own smattering of talented players, subsequently rumbled Messi’s side with three answered goals, despite both sides going into the second half without having scored.  France, in a thrilling bout involving seven goals and the incessant efforts of the 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé, issued the coup de grace.

The host team Russia was a thrill with Croatia, also going down to penalties.  England, albeit with a soft line of the draw, found themselves in their first semi-final in major international competition since 1996.  An exorcism of sorts has been taking place with this team, with manager Gareth Southgate, waistcoat and all, becoming very much a figure of veneration in a nation bruised and battered by the trauma of Brexit negotiations.  Both dedicated Leavers and grieving Remainers have at last found something they can agree about.

As the BBC noted with a smattering of affection, this “affable man” had done what a host of experienced highly credentialed predecessors hadn’t.  Sven-Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren and Roy Hodgson had failed “despite more than 80 [matches] between them.”  While the football nation has historical pedigree, and not short of its stellar complement, team efforts have tended to founder when it mattered most, notably during the psychological wear-and-tear of the penalty shootout.  Southgate’s skill has been to temper expectations and the hysterical overconfidence that has accompanied previous World Cups.

The tournament has also thrown up a dilemma for managers: How best to incorporate the hero of the side, the glorious figure who shines in a team of lesser mortals who await for the powder to be lit, the flames to be stoked?  Teams studded with Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo may be Olympian on the field, but team value and effect is something else, material drawn from the machinery of collective spirit and mutual encouragement.

Truism as it is, teams, well functioning, telepathically linked and good of understanding, win matches.  Caesars deft of foot and brimming with talent are less significant, even if they are capable of landing killer blows.  “When you have somebody who can turn the game in a flash,” asks Kris Voakes, “do you select them at all costs regardless of their fitness in the hope that they supply that moment of genius?”  France, the sole giant and finalist in this competition, has no such dilemma, a team bristling with talent but compact in purpose.

World Cup Soccer Host Targeted by US Nuclear Missiles

Imagine if before each match of the World Cup that the FIFA World Soccer Federation made an appeal over the loudspeaker asking all the fans in the name of the future of soccer to tell officials of their government to demand Americans stop threatening the future of the World Cup with nuclear war.

Excitement! Exhilaration! The World Cup! Star footballers and tens of thousands of soccer fans from around the world in Moscow! Who, while in Moscow for the World Cup, is going to remember that Moscow is a prime target for multiple nuclear missile delivery systems constantly poised for near instant launch? Probably few, if any. We imagine the World Cup represents a time out from nuclear worry, but for the nukes aimed at Moscow, there is no time out. Moscow remains targeted for nuclear annihilation, as it has for more than 70 years.

Within a few years of committing war crimes beyond description by atom bombing the civilian population of two Japanese cities in 1945, Americans were threatening the Soviet Union, Korea, China and Vietnam with nuclear attack at various times until 1960. That was when the Soviets acquired their own nuclear weapons. Then the era of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) began. During this period of shaky safety for all of us, ever more powerful nukes and delivery systems were created threatening all life on Earth with a horrible death.

Why are there no demands that Americans stop targeting Russia and China with nuclear tipped missiles that would murder millions upon millions of people, destroy the earth’s atmosphere, and bring death to even more millions outside the countries targeted?

Why are there no demands that Americans explain just why they are doing this? Institutions of higher learning in Europe and the United States have simply accepted the status quo of planning for nuclear war with lip service for a weak and formal opposition to the nuclear programing of Americans. For some time now it is first strike or preemptive strike that is almost openly discussed in televised discussions, but there is little public interest in why nuclear war planning games are continually played by military leaders and military ‘experts,’ played always with the possible or probable end to life on earth as only a side issue of lesser importance than who shall win a nuclear war itself.

Why is there no spokesperson for the Third World asking by what right do Americans threaten all of Africa, all of Latin America, all of Asia with a possible horror of extinction as they prepare for nuclear war against Russia and China? Americans would have no credible response to such a severely condemning question.

Diplomats of all nations seem to have a gentlemen’s agreement not to complain. You’d think such long-term insanity would bring forth someone of distinction, some famous person to lead and awaken a public demand for an end to American threats of a first or preemptive strike. On 27 July 2017, a news headline read, “US Admiral Would ‘Nuke China Next Week’ if Trump Ordered It.” Imagine! Out of the blue, the Commander of the US Pacific Fleet boasts about ‘nuking’ China!1 The Chinese said nothing. Even though China has been cooperating with US economic sanctions against its neighbor and fellow communist North Korea, Americans designate China as an enemy. What about the rest of us.

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark wrote an angry forward for the book To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon’s Secret War Plans, by astrophysicist Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelord. He used the Freedom of Information Act to documented the many times Americans have threatened to use their nuclear weapons.

Ramsey Clark wrote:

The consistent underlying psychology of the United States, which has held the lead in nuclear war capability capacity throughout these 40 [now 70] years, should be understandable to anyone who is ever known a violent neighborhood bully. The government of Americans means to have its way through the use and threatened to use of superior force. It will lie. It will deceive. It will kill. It will escalate the threat and use of force to the highest level it dares. It will bluff, dangerous as that can be. It will do whatever is must to dominate. It does this in the face of the fact that its very preparation for a nuclear war may destroy all life. American war planners busily devised strategies for crippling the Soviet Union with revealing names like BROILER, FROLIC, SIZZLE, SHAKEDOWN, DROPSHOT, and VULTURE. The number of Soviet targets to be destroyed grew in number from 20 cities in December 1945 to 200 cities in 1949 and to 3261 total targets by 1957. The number of times the use of nuclear weapons has been contemplated by Americans is unbearable.

What is to be said of leaders with the mental acuity and moral perceptions revealed by these disclosed words and deeds? They are at best enemies of life without understanding. Psychologically, they disconnect all feeling for the beauty of the planet – a rose, an impala in motion, a baby’s hand, a Confucian analect, a Bach cantata, a parable of Jesus, pilgrims bathing in the Ganges, a crowd watching a soccer game in Rio, the subway in Moscow, the skyline in Manhattan. They cannot think or feel about the human meaning of what they do.

A single Trident II submarine can inflict more death than all prior wars in history. Twenty-four missiles, launched while submerged, each with seventeen independently targeted, maneuverable nuclear warheads five times more powerful than the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, can travel 5,000 nautical miles to strike within 300 feet of 408 predetermined targets. Nuclear winter might follow even if no other weapons are used.
No nation or individual can be permitted to possess the power to destroy the world. An imperative need is for an informed and active public struggling for its right to survive.

Why is there no demand that Americans destroy their nuclear weapons which threaten everyone? [This demand would seem to apply equally to all nuclear-armed nations, not just the USA — DV Ed]

In the days just before the World Cup began, there was Western media frenzy over a hyped-up nuclear confrontation between the USA and North Korea. Cosmic insanity! A tiny nation of twenty-five million has its citizens of all ages punished with cruel economic sanctions by the United Nations because it finally has a few nuclear weapons as a deterrent, after having been threatened for years with nuclear destruction. Meanwhile the United States of Americans, which once destroyed every North Korea city and town with napalm and bombs before threatening to use atomic bombs, constantly threatens to use its tens of thousands of nuclear tipped missiles in wars that could end life on Earth. There is never even a polite request for Americans to destroy their vast nuclear arsenal of apocalyptic proportions!

Suppose before each match of the World Cup an announcement was made over the public address system to the effect that the FIFA World Soccer Federation was asking all the fans in the name of the future of soccer to ask officials of their government at all levels to demand that the United States of Americans stop threatening the future of the World Cup with nuclear war, and that FIFA had asked its former Player of the Year Award winner ‘King’ George Weah, who is the current elected President of Liberia and a United Nations Good Will Ambassador, to lead FIFA fans in this effort to end US threats to the future of the World Cup. If this happened, to be sure, many soccer greats, who already had been political and social activists would also lead the fans and the world public in this effort.

Revolutionary Diego Maradona, among the greatest living soccer stars, would draw an awesome amount of dormant anti-Yankee feelings in the world. Maradona once said on President Hugo Chavez’s TV program, “I hate everything that comes from the United States. I hate it with all my strength.” Fidel Castro said, “Diego Maradona is a great friend and noble too.” Maradona has a portrait of Fidel tattooed on his left leg and one of fellow Argentine Che Guevara on his right arm. He attended Venezuelan President Maduro’s final campaign rally in Caracas, signing footballs and kicking them to the crowd. Diego is really outspoken. He told Pope Paul II to sell the Vatican’s gold ceilings and help the poor.2

There must be hundreds or thousands of professional soccer league players around the world, who would speak out in favor of putting an end to the frightening nuclear blackmail of Americans. Italian striker Cristiano Lucarelli is an open supporter of communism and staunch admirer of Che Guevara.3 Javier Zanetti is FIFA ambassador for the SOS Children’s Villages project in Argentina, and declares his support for the Mexican Zapatista rebels.4

Politically neutral players would tend to follow FIFA’s call to rally against nuclear war planning as well, and FIFA’s call to soccer fans would awaken the fans of other sports as well, and then celebrities such a movie stars, musicians and other performing artists, and so on. It is so logical a demand. Western media would try to slander the overseas public awakening as anti-American and try to put the blame on Russia and China, but everyone knows the US was first to make, use, and threaten to use again nuclear bombs. CIA-fed corporate entertainment-news conglomerates would fail to stop a world wide movement expecting the US to stand down its nuclear attack force and negotiate it out of existence.

In the coming multi-polar world with China leading, the shift of world economic power to the East and South will bring an end to hegemony by today’s nuclear giant USA. We know not how and from where a “an informed and active public struggling for its right to survive” will arise and bring safety and sanity to humanity and planet Earth, but it will, and its not all that improbable that athletic sports stars aware of a heightened social responsibility for their roll model prestige, might well be in the forefront of inciting a public awareness of its power to successfully confront an increasingly desperate USA empire in decline.

  1. Newsweek, 27 July 2017.
  2. Eurosport, 14 September 2014.
  3. Andrea Scanzi, “Lucarelli, il goleador rossoche i compagni non amano più,” La Stampa, 2 January 2011.
  4. “Zapatista rebels woo Inter Milan,” BBC News, 11 May 2005.

Enlightened Corners: The Russia 2018 World Cup

Senior Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay indicated the basic tone of early corporate coverage of the Russia 2018 World Cup:

Moscow is like a giant scale version of Lewisham

Journalist Peter Oborne responded:

I know Moscow. It is one of the great cities of the world. Barney Ronay should stick to sports reporting. He diminishes himself by trying to join in Guardian anti-Russian sneering.

In fact, Ronay had already joined the Guardian‘s sneering with his review of the World Cup’s opening ceremony and first match. He commented:

There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin.

The intended irony being, of course, that the grim ‘Mr Vladimir Putin’ – think Vlad the Impaler – was hosting a joyous sporting occasion. And we do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is grim about Putin’s Russia (as Oborne also made clear in an excellent article he tweeted to people who responded to his criticism of Ronay); that is not our point.

For Ronay, the grimness was inescapable, as he noted in describing the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia:

This match had been dubbed El Gasico by some, a reference to the fact these two nations host between them a quarter of the world’s crude oil reserves. Perhaps something a bit darker – El Kalashniko? – might have been more apt given the distressingly tangled relations between these two energy caliphates, who are currently the best of frenemies, convivial sponsors of opposing sides in the Syrian war.

Although Ronay is a sports writer, realpolitik was a running theme throughout his review of the opening ceremony:

Here the power-play was on show for all to see, the stadium TV cameras cutting away mid-game to show shots of Putin and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman leaning in to swap gobbets of power gossip in the VIP cockpit. Lodged between them sat the slightly jarring figure of Gianni Infantino, the mouse who roared, an administrator who really must blink now and then and wonder what exactly he’s doing here. Football does get itself into the strangest of places.

Ronay added:

A few weeks ago Fifa produced a film showing Putin and Infantino doing keep-ups together inside the Kremlin. Even here the dark hand of the Putin alternative reality machine was felt, with talk that the president’s performance had been doctored by technicians to make his skills sicker, more convincing, less the usual middle-aged mess of toe‑pokes and shinners.

Driven by an army of ‘Russian bots’, the ‘Putin alternative reality machine’ is supposed to be distorting everything from Brexit to Trump’s presidency, to Corbyn’s rise to prominence, but is mostly an excuse for the West’s alternative reality machine to attack internet freedom that has left the establishment shaken, not stirred.

Finally, Ronay added:

To squeals and roars Putin appeared at last to deliver a speech about the joys of football, not to mention peace, love and understanding, all of which are great. It was perhaps a little rambling and terse, less opening day Santa Claus, more notoriously frightening local vicar called away from his books to open the village fete.

Chief Guardian sports writer Martha Kelner, formerly of the Daily Mail and niece of the former Independent editor Simon Kelner who was at one time deputy sports editor at the Independent, also focused on the ominous undertones:

Just 15 minutes before kick-off the Russian president was driven in a convoy of cars with blacked out windows into an underground space beneath the 81,000-seat stadium. Large swaths of the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of “Vladimir, Vladimir”. When Russia won the right to host the World Cup eight years ago the Russian president possibly expected it to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community. The aims have changed drastically since then, with Russia’s involvement in wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of meddling in foreign elections and one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history.

Perhaps in 2012, some free-thinking Guardian journalist reviewed the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, noting that David Cameron ‘possibly expected’ the Games ‘to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community’, having destroyed Libya in 2011, and having voted for the war that destroyed Iraq in 2003. In reality, of course, there was no need for Cameron to ingratiate himself – it was precisely the ‘international community’ that had committed these crimes.

Like all Bond villains, Putin was joined by other leaders of a lesser God:

Putin was joined in the VIP box by a host of lesser known world leaders including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, and Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama.

But Kelner glimpsed light in the darkness:

There was evidence, too, of progress being made through football in the less enlightened corners of the world. Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school age daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.

It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered ‘less enlightened corners of the world’, given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in ‘less enlightened corners’, including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.

A Guardian TV guide commented:

Expect a fearsomely drilled opening ceremony live from Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, followed by a human rights activist’s dream of an opening fixture as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.1

We can be sure that the England team has never featured in ‘a human rights activist’s dream’.

The Guardian sneers were very much extended to singer Robbie Williams who performed at the opening ceremony. A piece by Mattha Busby reported:

Robbie Williams has been accused of selling his soul to the “dictator” Vladimir Putin after it emerged he will be performing in Russia for the football World Cup.

Busby cited Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who voted for war on Iraq and Syria:

It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and Fifa to sing at the World Cup opener.

At a time when Russian jets are bombing civilians in Syria, the Russian state is poisoning people on the streets of Britain, as well as persecuting LGBT+ people in Chechnya and elsewhere – let alone attempting to undermine our democracies – I can only assume Robbie will be speaking out on these issues alongside his performance?

The Guardian clearly felt the point needed underlining. It also cited John Woodcock MP, who voted for war on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq:

We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah’s opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil.

Nobody criticised Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield or indeed The Queen for participating in the London 2012 opening ceremony. But then nobody could think of any reasons for considering David Cameron a ‘thuggish pariah’.

Former Guardian music editor, Michael Hann, observed dismissively:

Williams’s stardom has been largely confined to Europe and isn’t of the wattage it once was. Still, nothing hung around long enough to get dull…

As for the event:

It was short, it was mostly painless. And it was completely pointless.

Kelner’s piece included a tweeted video clip from England footballer Kyle Walker showing Williams giving the middle finger to his critics, with Walker commenting sarcastically:

So nice of Robbie to say hello.

In The Times, under the title, ‘Fans give Moscow shiny, happy feel to help Putin create image of harmony,’ chief football correspondent Oliver Kay scratched his head in bewilderment, asking:

What does Russia want from this tournament?

Kay rejected out of hand the notion that it was ‘about trying to convince the rest of the world that Russia is open to embracing what the West would regard as a modern, progressive approach to life’.2

Fellow Times journalists and other Westerners taking a ‘modern, progressive approach to life’ will have nodded sagely from their more ‘enlightened corners of the world’.

Broadcast media were happy to join in this New Cold War fun. The Telegraph noted of ITV’s senior football commentator Clive Tyldesley:

One man who is definitely not going mushy on us is Clive Tyldesley. The great man was in fine form on commentary, getting a reducer in early doors with an anecdote about the Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, having a nationally-celebrated moustache and observing that “Stalin had a proper ‘tache”. Somewhere, [football commentator] Andy Townsend murmured, half to himself, “a cult of personality dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens? Not for me, Clive.”3

And:

The camera dutifully sought out President Putin after the opening, mildly controversial goal; the top man was shaking hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Clive: “They are doing an oil deal, nothing to do with the match.”

Discussions of ugly realpolitik do have a place in sports analysis. But did UK and US realpolitik in plundering Iraq and Libya’s oil, in propping up dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, in supporting Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, in obstructing action on catastrophic climate change, in subordinating Third World people to power and profit over hundreds of years, make it into sports reviews of the London Olympics, or any other UK or US sporting event?

The Sun reported of broadcaster Gabby Roslin:

Despite her excitement, Gabby, 45, does have some reservations about being in Russia.

“I’d be lying if I said I was completely free and easy and it will be just like a weekend Marbella, because it won’t,” she admits. “But you have to be open to cultural differences and not try to change it and make it fit for you. Russia are not going to do that.”4

And then there was ‘Putin’s Russia with David Dimbleby’, a BBC One special. A TV guide in the Telegraph commented:

“In a democracy if you fail to deliver on economic promises, if you surround yourself with cronies and use the law to suppress opposition, you would rightly be thrown out on your ear. But this is Russia, they do things differently here…” So begins David Dimbleby’s thoughtful film in which – as the eyes of the world turn towards Moscow for the 2018 World Cup football tournament – he takes the opportunity to cast an eye over Vladimir Putin’s 18 years as leader and assess the state of Russia today, especially in regard to the West.’5

They also do things differently at the BBC. On January 18, 1991 – one day after the US-UK’s Operation Desert Storm had begun devastating Iraq with 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, just 7 per cent of them ‘smart bombs’ – Dimbleby asked the US ambassador to Britain:

Isn’t it in fact true that America is… by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we’ve seen, the only potential world policeman? You may have to operate under the United Nations, but it’s beginning to look as though you’re going to have to be in the Middle East, just as in the previous part of this century, we and the French were in the Middle East.6

Dimbeleby retained his job as an impartial, objective public broadcaster. In fact, nobody noticed anything controversial at all.

London 2012 – A ‘Festival of Light’

By contrast, the London 2012 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony was widely hailed as ‘a masterpiece’. For The Daily Telegraph it was ‘brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British’. The BBC’s chief sports writer Tom Fordyce commented: ‘no-one expected… it would be quite so gloriously daft, so cynicism-squashingly charming and, well, so much pinch-yourself fun’.

‘Cynicism’, which certainly had been ‘squashed’, was off the agenda. In an article titled, ‘Festival of Light’, The Times preached from a patriotic pulpit:

From London these next few weeks will come joy in a time of trouble, will come spectacular feats and great human dramas, will come triumph and will come tears. The great dream of the Olympic founders, that the Games would eliminate war, was naive. But they can at least unite us in common endeavour. Mankind has many moments of great darkness, but this will be a festival of light.

Yesterday’s opening ceremony was a triumph. Adventurous, self-confident, playful, entertaining and all with a sense of history. It was suffused, in other words, with the spirit of the Games to come… Festival of Light: Great feats of athletic ability; great unscripted stories of triumph and disaster; a great sense of national spirit. Britain will rise to a shining occasion… For our country, as well as the athletes from around the world, this is a time to shine.

This was a time to exalt in Britain’s greatness, ‘a time to shine’. It was not a time to sneer at ‘our’ great wars of aggression.

In an article titled, ‘Let’s build on the triumph and hope of Danny Boyle’s night’, the Observer’s editors also waxed lyrical on the opening ceremony:

Sport has a special hold on the imagination. This is sport of the most special kind. We didn’t drop the torch. We didn’t foul up or shrink from the daring option. We put creativity first. Now, why on earth should all that go hang when it’s all over?

The Observer sought out any remaining readers not yet reduced to tears of patriotic joy:

It sought to sum up a country – a very multicultural land manifestly – which had played a full part in world literature, world construction, world invention (even if very few of those feats are taught in our core curriculum these days). It was anxious to show us, in short, that we’d mattered – and hint that we could perhaps matter again.7

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian:

Here too the opening ceremony set the tone, suggesting that we should love the country we have become – informal, mixed, quirky – rather than the one we used to be.

Freedland soared on a reverie of poetic possibility. The Olympics had offered hope of a place ‘where patriotism is heartfelt, but of the soft and civic rather than naked and aggressive variety; a place that welcomes visitors from abroad and cheers louder for the Turkish woman who came last in a 3,000m steeplechase heat than it did for the winner.

This is the Britain we let ourselves see these past two weeks. It will slip from view as time passes, but we are not condemned to forget it. We don’t have to be like the long-ago poet who once wrote: “Did you exist? Or did I dream a dream?”

The sublime, lovely and inspirational were everywhere in reviews of the London 2012 opening ceremony and Games.

Three weeks before the ceremony, Amnesty International published a report, ‘Libya: Rule of law or rule of militias?’, based on the findings of an Amnesty visit to Libya in May and June 2012.

The militias, Amnesty reported, were now ‘threatening the very future of Libya and casting a shadow over landmark national elections… They are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities… They are also recklessly using machine guns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment.]

Amnesty added:

The entire population of the city of Tawargha, estimated at 30,000, was driven out by Misratah militias and remains scattered across Libya, including in poorly resourced camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

None of this was up for discussion by Britain’s sports writers and broadcasters, nor even by its political commentators. It would have been deemed as outrageous for journalists to mention UK realpolitik then as it would for them to not make at least some passing reference to brutal Russian realpolitik now.

  1. Catterall, Ali; Harrison, Phil; Howlett, Paul; Mueller, Andrew; Seale, Jack; et al, ‘Thursday’s best TV: The Trouble with Women; Fifa World Cup,’ The Guardian, 14 June 2018.
  2. Oliver Kay, The Times, 13 June 2018.
  3. Clive Tyldesley takes on Vladimir Putin as ITV kicks off World Cup with brilliant opening broadcast,’ Telegraph, 14 June 2018.
  4. ‘World in motion: Your TV schedule is about to be taken over by football as 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia,’ The Sun, 9 June 2018.
  5. ‘What’s on TV tonight: Putin’s Russia, The Fight for Women’s Bodies and Beetlejuice,’ Telegraph, 13 June 2018.
  6. Quoted, John Eldridge, ‘Getting The Message: News, Truth and Power,’ Routledge, 2003, p.14.
  7. Leading article, ‘London 2012: Let’s build on the triumph and hope of Danny Boyle’s night,’ The Observer, 29 July 2012.

May 14th: Just Another Day in a Collapsing Empire

May 14th was quite a day for the empire, the shit show on full display exhibiting lots of swagger in its death throes. The people on the inside are the last to know. They don’t see it but everyone else does. The rest of the world can see the toxic death culture, they see the rationalizations for idiocy and how silly they seem. The US empire has no clothes but wears only a paper thin emotional veneer resembling a child who attempts to lie for the first time after murdering the family dog. This is the modern American mind of empire. Delusional and full of contrived pablum to excuse their wretched actions. Trump is truly the perfect man to represent this country, its true face. A huckster, a gangster, and a liar that says one thing and does the opposite. The actions and the results before us are the real values of empire and not their diseased words, which are devoid of truth.

On May 14th the empire’s best friend Israel continued to show its reverence for death while inhumanely shooting protestors on the Gaza strip. 58 lives lost and 2,700 injured are the current stats, horrors playing out that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around, but tomorrow Palestinians will wake up and know a life that has more suffering than the day before. Many of the injured will look forward to death knowing the Israeli government lacks all basic compassion for fellow humans and the wounded know the path ahead will contain even more hardship. The implications of Israeli actions won’t make headlines for long in the US, and the externalities we’ll never see directly tied to this story will cause sadness and turmoil they will struggle to fight past for years – if Israel lets them live that long. We humans are more fragile than what is put onto our TV screens. Characters undergo one torturous event after another with little repercussions, but in reality our emotions break, especially when all community has been stripped out from under us, especially when people we love are killed or maimed for no good reason.

Six who died were under the age of 18. Does the US care? Nope, they’d sooner blame Palestinians for putting kids in the line of fire of Israeli soldiers than take responsibility for supporting a regime who sadistically fires openly into crowds of unarmed people. The corporate media have short memories, convenient memories. We forget how upset we were at the Syrian gas attack that may have claimed 40 lives and later the incident was filled with controversy over if Assad was actually responsible, I do not know the truth about this but I smell bullshit from somewhere, regardless of my bullshit sniffing abilities that number is less than the 58 killed at the protests on May the 14th. And there will be not a chirp, a squawk, a snort, or whinny of angst directed towards Israel for these actions by our overlords. In fact, quite the opposite.

The ignoble Jared Kushner said at the embassy opening that “Those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.” referring to protestors who don’t have guns, didn’t wound one Israeli soldier, they don’t have an air force, tanks, humvees, an organized military, or any of the implements of destruction Israel does, yet Palestinians are somehow provoking violence to such an extent the bully state had to slaughter them? Ok Jared, fuck you. There is no respect for life, zero empathy, and not the smallest hint of a lingering humanity remaining in the logic of the state.

The US operates in a good ole boy league where the fellow goombahs get an automatic pass, they are made men, with made nations, they do as they please. So it would also please them on the day of May 14th to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as nothing more than a provocation to invite targets out for the racist Israeli state to gun down. The ostensible provocateurs are a battered people who are being violently edged off this planet for reasons of insanity from a bully regime and their bully death culture. The provoked are a people crying out for someone in the world to stand up to this machine. Provoked to the point they want the world to witness what those in power will do to people who are of no legitimate threat; To show how vicious and small in character those who wield power are, to show how profound their lack of wisdom. Palestinians are no more of a threat to Israel than an ant is to an elephant, yet this particular raging elephant’s sense of entitled justice is to seek out the ant population and stamp it out of existence, then boast as if they were doing a great service.

In other news occurring on the day of May 14th 2018, the supreme court of American shysterism decided to give states the power to legalize gambling. With the current predicament of the world and the myriad of issues I quite frankly get tired of speaking to…the warring, the species extinction this, the climate change that, the wealth inequal…..well, you get the point. Any logical mind might say that we shouldn’t take time to further line the pockets of the wealthy by allowing them to own these new con games. Also, it might seem a tad exploitative to further entice the poor to desperately gamble away their rapidly diminishing savings before addressing those much larger issues, but all dissent will go unheard because there’s money to be made, boys, so instead we’ll hear people say some ridiculous drivel about how this is good for economic growth, and we’ll continue to live by the obvious lies of supply side economics.

And of all the issues in the world to address, of all the ideas in dire need of review, the US government’s highest court chooses to address sports gambling and rules in favor of empowering an industry that has been synonymous with organized crime even in areas it’s legalized. From gangster Bugsy Segal who famously had a role in creating the Las Vegas strip, to Sheldon Adelson who was said to have ties to Chinese mafia, and, of course, like flies attracted to shit Donald Trump comes buzzing around the casino business with plenty of allegations mafia associations, of course, his most verifiable organized crime association being the US government itself.

Legalizing sports betting is an apropos move for an empire doing all it can to emulate the Biff Tannen universe that was widely referenced at the start of the Trump presidency. Sports are already a severely overemphasized part of American culture. The athletes are receiving salaries that rival that of some of the most abusive CEOs, but the US populace worships them, they make excuses for the rampant greed out of addictive impulse. Many of these dollars athletes and billionaire owners earn are subsidized from lower class taxpayers where they are forced to pay for stadiums and surrounding infrastructure owned by the billionaires, just so we can watch athletes whose top salaries are quickly approaching 40 million a year play for meaningless things that will quickly be forgotten in time.

The narrative from states and business interests looking to profiteer off gambling will put on their best act to pretend like the abusive capitalist activity of gambling is some form of freedom, and the narrative of Israeli slaughter of Palestinians is that peaceful protestors are a threat to a heavily armed military, and the narrative from corporate media will be that these are just things happening and not signs of empire collapsing amid the ever growing misery of a global population. And the narrative of the people in the empire who are lonely, sad, and separated from connection will tell themselves that democracy and capitalism will somehow purify to the point that they’ll really deliver on the goods this time around. That surely this twisted form of democracy installed by genocidal slavers will avert disaster in the coming elections. The idea is we wait in futility for events that have no chance of curving the murderous gangsterism inset in this disposable dung heap of a society; I don’t mean to insult dung, lots of good things grow out of dung, nothing good grows out of this disease. It must be transformed at a deep level to be fertile space again, and if we are to heal the disease we cannot continue to sow the lies of false narratives.

An Affront to History: Giro d’Italia’s ‘Sport-Washing’ of Israeli Apartheid

For the first time since its inception in 1909, the legendary Italian cycling race, Giro d’Italia kicked off outside Europe and, strangely enough, from the city of Jerusalem on May 4.

The inherent contradictions in that decision are inescapable. Italy is a country that has experienced a ruthless forging occupation and was ravaged by fascism and war. To be a party in Israel’s constant attempts at whitewashing or, in this case, “sport-washing’ its military occupation and daily violence against the Palestinian people is appalling.

Every attempt aimed at dissuading the race organizers from being part of Israel’s political propaganda has failed. The millions of dollars paid to the Giro d’Italia organizers, the RCS Sport, seemed far more compelling than shared cultural experiences, solidarity, human rights and international law.

Legendary Italian novelist, Dino Buzzati wrote various accounts in Italian newspapers in the 1940s, describing the symbolism of the race in the context of a battered nation resurrecting from the ashes of untold destruction.

Just after WWII had ended, Giro d’Italia organizers found themselves contending with the seemingly impossible task of organizing a race with a few bicycles and even fewer athletes. The roads were disfigured and destroyed in the war, but the determination to triumph was stronger.

The 1946 Giro D’Italia, especially the legendary competition between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, became a metaphor of a country rising from the horrors of war, reanimating its national identity, symbolized in the final struggle between heroic athletes pedaling through the torturous mountainous roads to reach the finish line.

Understanding this history, Israel exploited it in every possible way. In fact, the Israeli government recently gave the late Gino Bartali an honorary Israeli citizenship. The decision was made as an acknowledgment of the Italian athlete’s anti-Nazi legacy. The irony, of course, is that the Israeli practices against Palestinians – military Occupation, racism, Apartheid and abhorring violence –  is reminiscent of the very reality that Bartali and millions of Italians fought against for years.

When Israeli officials announced last September that Giro D’Italia would start in Jerusalem, they labored to link the decision with Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence.

Also, 70 years ago, Palestinians were dispossessed from their homeland by Zionist militias, leading to the Nakba, the catastrophic destruction of Palestine and the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state. It was then that West Jerusalem became part of Israel, and the rest of the Holy City, East Jerusalem, was also conquered through war in 1967, before it was officially, but illegally, annexed in 1981, in defiance of international law.

RCS Sport cannot claim ignorance regarding how their decision to engage and validate Israeli Apartheid will forever scar the history of the race. When their website announced that the race would kick off from ‘West Jerusalem’, the Israeli response was swift and furious. Israeli Sports Minister, Miri Regev and Tourism Minister, Yariv Levi, threatened to end their partnership with the race, claiming that “in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no East or West. There is one unified Jerusalem.”

Alas, Giro d’Italia organizers publicly apologized before removing the word ‘West’ from their website and press releases.

According to international law, East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. This fact has been stated time and again through United Nations resolutions, including the most recent Resolution 2334, adopted on December 23, 2016. It condemns Israel’s illegal settlement constructions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

This reality stands as a stark contradiction to the claims made by Giro d’Italia organizers that their race is a celebration of peace. In truth, it is an endorsement of Apartheid, violence and war crimes.

The fact that the race was held according to plan, despite the ongoing killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, also underlines the degree of moral corruption by those behind the effort. Over 50 unarmed Palestinians have been killed since the start of the peaceful protests at the Gaza border, known as the ‘Great March of Return’ on March 30. Over 7,000 were wounded, among them 30 athletes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Youth and Sports.

One of those wounded is Alaa al-Dali, a 21-years-old cyclist whose leg was amputated after being shot on the first day of protests.

‘Canadian-Jewish philanthropist’, Sylvan Adams, one of the biggest funders of the race, claimed that his contribution is motivated by his desire to promote Israel and to support cycling as a ‘bridge between nations.’

Palestinians, like Alaa, whose cycling career is over, are, of course, excluded from that lofty, and selective definition. Was the 12 million dollars received by the organizers from Israel and its supporters a worthy price to ignore the suffering of Palestinians and to help normalize Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people?

Sadly, for the RSC Sport, the answer is ‘yes’.

Many Italians, and more around the world, of course, disagree. Despite Italian media’s partaking in Israel’s ‘sport-washing’, hundreds of Italians protested at various stages of the race.

The fourth stage of Giro d’Italia, which was held in Catania, Sicily, was delayed by a protest, against a race which is “stained with the blood of Palestinians”, in the words of activist, Simone Di Stefano.

Renzo Ulivieri, the head of the Italian Football Managers Association, was one of prominent Italian voices that objected to the decision to hold the race in Israel. “I could have remained indifferent, but I fear I would have been despised by the people I respect. Viva the Palestinian people, free in their land,” he wrote in Facebook post.

The RCS Sport has done the ‘Giro’ race, sport cycling and the Italian people an unforgivable disservice for the sake of a few million dollars. By agreeing to start the race in a country that is guilty of apartheid practices and a protracted military occupation, they will stain the race forever.

However, the general wave of indignation caused by this reckless decision seems to indicate that Israel’s efforts at normalizing its crimes against Palestinians are failing to alter public opinion and perception of Israel as an occupying power – that deserves to be boycotted, not embraced.

• Romana Rubeo, an Italian writer, contributed to this article.

The Temptations of Ball Tampering: Steve Smith’s Australian Team in South Africa

There was an audacity about it, carried out with amateurish callowness.  As it turned out Australian batsman Cameron Bancroft, besieged and vulnerable, had been egged on by Australian cricket captain Steve Smith and the Australian leadership to do the insufferable: tamper with the ball.

Before the remorseless eagle eyes of modern cameras, Bancroft, in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town, was detected possessing yellow adhesive tape intended to pick up dirt and particles that would, in turn, be used on the ball’s surface.  This, it was assumed, was intended to give Smith’s team an advantage over an increasingly dominant South Africa.

The reaction from the head of Cricket Australia, John Sutherland, was one of distress.  “It’s a sad day for Australian cricket.”  Australian veteran cricketers effused horror and disbelief.  Former captain Michael Clarke wished this was “a bad dream”.

One of the greatest purveyors of slow bowling in the game’s history, Shane Warne, expressed extreme disappointment “with the pictures I saw on our coverage here in Cape Town. If proven the alleged ball tampering is what we all think it is – then I hope Steve Smith (Captain) [and] Darren Lehmann (Coach) do the press conference to clean this mess up!”

Indignation, not to mention moral and ethical shock, should be more qualified.  This, after all, is a murky area of cricket.  An injunction against ball tampering may well be enforced but players have been engaged in affecting the shape and constitution of that red cherry since the game took hold on the English greens.

Festooned with regulations, norms and customs, the battle between bat and ball has often featured attempts to alter, adjust and manipulate the latter.  Foreign substances have been added to one side of the ball; conventional additions of saliva and sweat are also used to give a magical sense of movement on its delivery to the batsman.  Cricket, as ever, is a game of aerodynamic and environmental challenges, conditioned by human agency.

The line between tampering and permissible manipulation is, to that end, squidgy, even vague.  Article 42.3 of the ICC Standard Test Match Playing Conditions covers the sins associated with ball tampering. “If the umpires together agree that the deterioration of the ball is inconsistent with the use it has received, they shall consider that there has been a contravention of this Law.”

The deterioration of the ball, to that end, is salient.  Bowling innovations, for one, have triggered accusations and warnings from authorities bound by conservative instincts.  The emergence of reverse swing, pioneered by Safraz Nawaz and reaching peak perfection with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, caused endless grief to practitioners and commentators.

Accepted now as a product of skill, even genius, it was a perceived illegality of tampering made good.  As Simon Rae would note ruefully in his excellent It’s Not Cricket on describing another exponent of reverse swing – the majestic Imran Khan – the former Pakistan captain had a certain “dedication to bringing the ball’s condition into harmony with his own ambitions for its movement in the air”.

Such tussles have taken place alongside the confected illusion that cricket is the Olympian summit of gentlemanly interaction and fair competition.  The Preamble to the Laws – Spirit of Cricket reads like a sacred document chiselled on pristine marble. “Cricket owes much of its appeal and enjoyment to the fact that it should be played not only according to the Laws, but also within the Spirit of Cricket.”  Heed, it would seem, that incorporeal creature, the hovering spirit.

Stress is also placed on the captain, who assumes “major responsibility for ensuring fair play”, though it “extends to all players, umpires and especially in junior cricket, teachers, coaches and parents.”

The field of battle has, however, yielded its fair share of contraventions suggesting that cricket’s spirit was already well and truly disappointed before the antics of Smith’s men.  To tamper, in short has proven an irresistible temptation, whether biting the seam (Pakistan’s theatrically foolish Shahid Afridi in 2010) or energetic zip rubbing (South Africa’s conscience clear Faf du Plessis in 2013).

Even demigods have been accused.  India’s sanctified Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, received an initial one match suspension from match referee Mike Denness after alleged ball tampering in the second test match of India’s 2001 tour of South Africa.  (He was subsequently cleared of the charge.)

A supposedly squeaky clean Michael Atherton was less fortunate, receiving a £2,000 fine for rubbing dirt from his pocket onto the ball in the 1994 Lord’s test against South Africa.  The dirt itself had been extracted from the pitch.

In 2006, a Test match between Pakistan and England was forfeited after claims by umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove that ball tampering had taken place.  Bitterly protracted, Hair’s judgment and the international governance of cricket, was brought into furious question by the Pakistani team.

Nor can all this be said to be a particularly modern phenomenon.  The difference has been catching the sly culprit.  Australia’s elusive and daring Keith Miller admitted to lifting the seam on occasion. “If you can do this without being spotted by the umpire and if you can get the ball to pitch on the seam,” he confessed in Cricket Crossfire, “it will fairly fizz through.”  That, in an age of less televisual scrutiny.

Talk about equity and fair play rapidly becomes comic, especially when it stems from former players, such as Warne, who gave pitch reports to an Indian bookmaker and took diuretics at the height of his career.  The noble game has always boasted its ignoble rogues and its heavy disgraces.

The response to the incident has also been viewed with some dismay, not least of all regarding the insistence from the Australian captain to stay put.  Smith may well feel that a call to the principal’s office is in order, but he still holds the view that he is the best man for the captaincy.  This view may well be challenged given his decision to saddle the young, potentially doomed Bancroft with the onerous task of executing the deed.

Australian cricket’s self-advertised purity, however misplaced, has been overtly corrupted. Its “claim to playing hard but fair,” wrote a resigned Geoff Lemon, “has evaporated for years to come.”  Even John Cleese, with acid accuracy, felt some remark on the affair was in order.  Smith “in admitting ‘ball-tampering’, explained that the team leaders thought it was a way of ‘gaining an advantage’.  Another way of ‘gaining an advantage’ is to cheat.”

Kevin Love: Making a Hole in Denial

For behind the sense of insecurity in the face of danger, behind the sense of discouragement and depression, there always lurks the basic fear of death, a fear which undergoes most complex elaborations and manifests itself in many indirect ways….No one is free of the fear of death.
— Gregory Zilboorg, psychanalyst, as quoted in The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker

An anxiety is a lack that causes pain; a game is a lack that causes pleasure.
— John Fowles, writer, The Aristos

What we play is life.
— Louis Amstrong

In his moving essay revealing his existential anxiety and panic attack, NBA star Kevin Love has touched a nerve that underlies not just sports and male experience, but life itself.  He is right to say, “This is an everyone thing.”  In doing so, he has performed a public service far beyond getting men and boys to open up about their fears and feelings.  He has, as befits his surname, opened many people to a consideration of the marriage of love and death, and why all efforts to divorce them result in the diminishment of life’s passion and intensity.

Commenting on the unavoidable but often denied link between love and death, the important American psychologist Rollo May said this in Love and Will:

To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive – to grief, sorrow and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.

So it is fitting that in telling us of his conversations with a therapist, the one personal experience Kevin tells us about is the death of his Grandma Carol, who meant so much to him and was like another parent when he was growing up.  Busy with his basketball career, he didn’t see her when she was dying.  “I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years,” he writes.  Deeply pained at losing her and guilty about his behavior, he shared this with no one, bottling it up as he had learned since boyhood (Be strong, be a man), and like the athlete that he is, perhaps thought that if he did not dwell on this loss, the next game would be a win and he could somehow move on.  But this never works for long, as Love learned when panic burst into his consciousness and took him down during a game last November.  “It came out of nowhere,” he says, having learned, however, that nowhere is somewhere, even when a surprise.

Substitute sportswriter for athlete, as Richard Ford does in his dazzling novel, The Sportswriter, whose main character Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter haunted by the death of his young son from Reye’s syndrome but trying to lose himself in the ordinariness of sports-writing, says, “Since after all, it is one thing to write sports, but another thing entirely to live a life,” and we have Love’s cautionary tale.

For sports (shopping for women) is the perfect metaphor for the modern American male’s flight from authenticity.  As the etymology of the word sport attests (from old French, desporter to divert, literally “to carry away”), sports are a diversion from something.  Let’s call it “real life,” the place from where, as Ernest Hemingway so aptly put it in the title to his short story, “The Winner Takes Nothing.”  Trophies are handed out at post-season dinners, but as the American philosopher William James said, “The skull will grin in at the banquet.”

Although sports can inspire one to think deeply, for most people, athletes and spectators alike, sports are a diversion from existential matters involving relationships, fears, deep feelings, life’s meaning, love and loss, death, etc.  While surely fun, entertaining, and lucrative for professionals, sports are also absurd since they involve movements through time and space toward unnecessary and fictitious goals where someone wins (lives) and someone losses (dies) in a game of unreality.   In sports we play to overcome artificial and superfluous obstacles for fun and money – and for deeper reasons we may not realize.

Take golf, for example (my apologies to golfers).  Why does anyone care who can hit a little white ball with a stick in the fewest strokes down stretches of green grass into a hole in the ground?  Many do.  They spend enormous amounts of time and money trekking after those little white balls.  They care primarily because it’s fun, and fun is good.  Such fun is utterly meaningless in the larger scheme of things, but many find it relaxing from the “stress” of everyday life – a relaxing distraction.  And, of course, distractions can be good in moderation.  It is not sports that are the problem, but the obsession with them.

I knew a woman who felt her husband was overly obsessed with sports, and although she was wrong, she used to say to him, “With you it’s balls, balls, balls.”  To which he would respond, also erroneously, “And with you it’s malls, malls, malls.” But their humorous exchange catches a widespread truth about men and women in American society where there are plenty of obsessively distracted people of both sexes.

Sports only matter because they don’t.  And it is in that gap between mattering and not where panic, anxiety, and depression can appear “out of nowhere.”  Another athlete, the Nobel Prize winning French author Albert Camus, a soccer goalie in his youth and a lifelong fan, phrased this experience differently when he said, “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”

Athletes ride intense emotional roller coasters.  You win, you lose, you’re up, you’re down – like “real life,” just faster and with a much quicker turn-around time.  While Kevin is right to say that “everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” athletes live at a different pace and intensity, and the resulting highs bring deep lows as well.  One day you’re dead; the next day you are resurrected, as long as there is another game or season.  Some days you are in purgatory and wonder if all the aches and pains you endure are worth the cost.

This is true for the spectators also, absent the physical pains. Many fans are fanatics for a reason. The intensity of sports, its unpredictability, its “never over till its over” drama makes it the perfect distraction from more important matters.  It has an extraordinary power to energize and deflate, but all in a land of make-believe that often blinds its devotees from trying to understand “something that we can’t see” in their own lives.

But a fan’s life can last until actual death, while an athlete has a limited amount of time to perform. One day when your playing days are over your confrontation with “reality” happens, either consciously or out of the blue.  For many former athletes, men particularly, because women have come late to the games, the rest of their lives are lived in a desperate reliving of the past among “the fraternity of missing men,” as Don DeLillo says in his incredible novel, Underworld.  It is a place where “desperation” speaks.

A few years ago there was a short Grantland documentary, “The Finish Line,” about Steve Nash.  An uncanny player, Nash was battling injuries and age, and the documentary shows him pondering whether or not to retire or continue his rehabilitation and attempt a comeback.  In the opening scene Nash goes out with his dog into the shadowy pre-dawn where he muses on his dilemma.  His words are hypnotic.  “I feel,” he said, “that there’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that – I don’t know – I feel that it’s blocking me  or I can see it out of the corner of my mind’s eye, or it’s like this dark presence…. is it the truth that I’m done?”

Hobbled by a nerve injury that severely limited his movement, he played a few more games and retired within a year.  He had brought an infectious joy to his playing, but he left without fulfilling his dream of winning an NBA championship.  Of his retirement he said, “It’s bittersweet.  I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else.”  Unlike many athletes, Nash was moving on; his “dark presence” wasn’t a final death but a step on the road to a hard rebirth.  It was a Dylanesque restless farewell: “And though the line is cut/It ain’t quite the end/I‘ll just bid farewell till we meet again.”

I think it safe to say that behind every panic attack, at the deepest level, lies what William James called “the worm at the core,” by which he meant death, the fear of it, the anxiety it engenders that rumbles beneath the placid surface of everyday life and breaks the surface here and there when least expected.  Sometimes it happens during “little deaths,” what the French call La petite mort in reference to the sensation of sexual orgasm, but which happen throughout life in so many guises such as losing a game, missing a shot, or failing an exam.  It can happen anywhere and any time, even in moments of great success, such as hoisting a trophy above one’s head after being named the Most Valuable Player.

A few years ago my friends and I were playing in basketball tournaments for men over fifty and we qualified for the Senior Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh.  We acquired a sponsor, a local funeral home that made warm-up jerseys for us.  Being used to dealing with bodies at rest, these comedians knew we were a bunch of aging hoopsters intent on keeping our bodies in motion for as long as we could.  So they had shirts made with that up-beat and adolescent cliché printed on the front, “Basketball is Life.”  Lest we forgot, and being in the trade of taking bodies at rest to the underworld, on the back they had printed “Leave the Rest to Us: Flynn and Dagnoli Funeral Home.”

Kevin Love’s essay, “Everybody Is Going Through Something” is like that shirt.  He reminds us that at the back of everyone’s face there are matters that deserve scrutiny even when we can’t see back there.

He deserves a Most Valuable Person award for making a hole in a denial that is an “everyone thing.”

Toronto Maple Leafs go Full Military

Hey, Maple Leafs, be careful what traditions you honour.

On Saturday the Leafs are playing an outdoor game against the Washington Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. To mark the occasion the team created a jersey with the Royal Canadian Navy’s “Ready, Aye, Ready” motto on it. The website unveiling the sweaters includes a brief history of the RCN, and Leafs President Brendan Shanahan said the jerseys were designed to honour “the traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy” whose sailors “stand always ready to defend Canada and proudly safeguard its interests and values whether at home or abroad.”

Sounds all maple syrupy, but there are a couple of nagging questions: Whose “interests and values” are we talking about? Should we honour all their traditions?

For example, in 1917 the Royal Bank loaned $200,000 to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay, saying the Canadian bank knew Tinoco was likely to steal it. “In 1921,” reports Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney in Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, “Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country.”

In 1932 RCN destroyers Skeena and Vancouver assisted a month-old military coup government that brutally suppressed a peasant and indigenous rebellion in El Salvador. London had informed Ottawa that a “communist” uprising was underway and there was a “possibility of danger to British Banks, railways and other British lives and property” as well as a Canadian-owned utility. Bolstered by the RCN’s presence, the military regime would commit “one of the worst massacres of civilians in the history of the Americas.”

In 1963 two Canadian naval vessels joined US, British and French warships, reports Maloney, that “conducted landing exercises up to the [Haiti’s] territorial limit several times with the express purpose of intimidating the Duvalier government.” That mission was largely aimed at guaranteeing that Haiti did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerrilla movement did not seize power.

Two years later thousands of US troops invaded the Dominican Republic to stop a left-wing government from taking office. Alongside the US invasion, a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo in April 1965, in the words of Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, “to stand by in case it is required.”

After dispatching three vessels during the First Iraq war in 1991 Canadian warships were part of US carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support US airstrikes on Iraq. In the months just before and after the second US-led invasion of Iraq at least ten Canadian naval vessels conducted maritime interdictions, force-support and force-projection operations in the Arabian Sea. Canadian frigates often accompanied US warships used as platforms for bombing raids in Iraq. A month before the commencement of the US invasion, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 — the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq.

In 2011 HMCS Charlottetown and Vancouver were dispatched to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. But, they allowed weapons, including from Canadian companies, to flow to anti-Gaddafi rebels. They also helped destroy Libyan government naval vessels.

Last summer HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg participated in “freedom of navigation” operations alongside US, Japanese, Australian and other countries’ warships in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels responded by “shadowing” the Canadian vessels for 36 hours.

The honest truth is that the RCN is employed mostly to advance corporate and Western geostrategic interests, something many of us would prefer not to honour.

Racing Against the Best with a Car Made From Recycled Bits

Once again Palestinian students from the hell of the Holy Land face impossible odds as they take on top Western universities at the Silverstone race circuit.

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Young Palestinian journalist Joumana Imad, writing in Al-Monitor, reports that engineering students from An-Najah National University in Nablus (the West Bank) will be competing against 100 other teams from around the world in the 2018 Formula Student race car competition at the UK’s Silverstone circuit, the home of Formula One.

What makes the contest so interesting is that the An-Najah car is made from recycled components due to scarcity and high cost of new parts and materials in the Palestinian territories under Israeli military occupation. Everything has had to be locally sourced, nothing imported.

An-Najah FS Car Team

The Formula Student Competition is organized annually by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in collaboration with some of the world’s major automotive industry players. Graduates from all over the world compete in design, manufacturing and mechanics. A member of the An-Najah team told Al-Monitor:

I am so proud that we were able to build this car from scratch with our own effort and money, without any help. We have so much talent and ability that can be tapped to finish projects and manufacture cars but we need financial and moral support to materialize our ideas.

The manufacturing cost was about $5,000, which we paid for ourselves. This is a small amount to make a high-standard car that has qualified to participate in an international competition. But we did it. We are eager to represent Palestine abroad.

“Inspirational” race car heroes from Gaza went unrecognised. That must not happen again.

The event, now in  its 20th year, aims to inspire young people and boost skills in advanced engineering. It also teaches management, marketing and people skills. The motorsport industry regards Formula Student as an ideal standard of achievement for making the transition from college to workplace. The An-Najah team follow in the footsteps of students from Gaza who in 2011 took part in the same competition, bravely pitting their race-car design against the sophisticated machines of Western technical universities despite being obstructed by Israel from importing the necessary components.  They built their car with bits and pieces salvaged from local scrapyards.

The motorsport authorities were so impressed by the Gaza students’ effort that the Director of Engineering at IMechE, which runs the competition, said:

It really is inspirational to see a team working so hard with the odds stacked against them like this. Formula Student is a massive challenge in its own right, but to be working with almost entirely recycled parts in one of the most deprived areas in the world is remarkable. These students epitomise the spirit and inventiveness of those who take part in Formula Student.

It’s a pity Palestinian officialdom didn’t think so too. This amazing achievement went largely unreported even by the Palestinian authorities. When I found out about it many months later I wrote a retrospective piece which included this passage…

Sadly, I’m posting this article without any contributions from the main players – the General Union of Palestinian Students UK who (presumably) hosted the Gaza team while in Britain, the Palestinian Embassy in London, and the team itself. The reason? After several requests the union said it was “too busy” to give me the team’s contact details. The embassy has not, as far as I know, issued any press releases or briefings, although it did reproduce a Daily Telegraph report on its website. I have written twice asking the ambassador’s office for information and contact details only to be ignored. After combing the internet I found a general email address for KYTC (Khan Younis Technical College). Two emails have been sent but not acknowledged.

The story is scraped together from other sources. Had I known about it last summer, I’d have been at Silverstone cheering them on.

The problem, as always, is that the people who ‘run’ Palestine — whether Hamas, the Palestinian Authority or the PLO — are pathetic at managing media relations and downright lazy about seizing media opportunities. It was UNWRA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) who eventually provided me with basic information.

Now Palestinian youth is making a second technology bid for recognition in the outside world. So here’s a prod in the backside to the uncommunicative PA and PLO. Don’t let those youngsters down again. Reach out with news and briefings to those who are likely to use it, including us justice seekers in the alternative media. Act as if you really want independence.

Grit and determination to meet a very tough challenge

This year’s Formula Student event takes place on 11-15 July with four days of competition at Silverstone, where the teams will showcase their custom-built race cars and compete in static and dynamic tests.

Construction and use of the car itself has to conform to more than 100 pages of stringent rules and regulations. A four-stroke piston engine no larger than 710cc is used, and this is enough to catapult the car from 0 to 60mph in just a few seconds. But nowadays conventional IC engines go wheel to wheel with electric or hybrid powered vehicles. The cars are judged in a series of tests that include technical scrutiny and an examination of cost and sustainability, presentation, and engineering design. They are also put through performance and endurance tests on the track.

The year the Gaza team went to Silverstone the University of Stuttgart won. Stuttgart, as readers will know, is home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, so it’s no surprise that the University is renowned for its advanced automotive engineering. The Khan Younis Training Centre (KYTC) in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, however, has no such iconic, cutting-edge benefactors on its doorstep. Nor does Najah.

After finalising the plans for their car and identifying the parts they needed the Gaza students contacted various suppliers around the world, only to be turned down time and again. Eventually a firm in Italy agreed to help, but when the parts were sent the Israelis refused to let them into Gaza, slamming the door as usual on any opportunity for the prisoners of Gaza to shine. Consequently they missed the deadline for their design and specification report and were docked a huge number penalty points.

So the team had to improvise by salvaging parts from old cars and machinery. The engine came from a used Honda motorcycle and the chassis was fabricated with domestic hot water pipes. This and the lack of sophisticated tools was hardly a recipe for ultimate success. Nevertheless their efforts earned considerable praise.

Anticipating that the enterprising lads from Gaza would be back in 2013, I spoke to the Lola factory which had been building race cars for 50 years, including Formula One, Formula 2, Formula 5000 and Le Mans machines. They responded with enthusiasm saying: “We will do whatever it takes to get this group a great experience here. We will do a tour for them and it will be a very educational and fun tour.” What’s more they were happy to receive staff members of KYTC even if the students couldn’t make it.

Imagine the shock to the entire motor-racing world when Lola later went into administration. But let us hope there are other firms at the leading edge who are prepared to give bright and “inspirational” lads from the hell of occupied Palestine some eye-popping insights into automotive engineering excellence… and help bring them in from the cold.

Will Palestinian ‘brass’ and media do better this time?

Just to remind readers, the tiny coastal enclave of the Gaza Strip has been cruelly and illegally blockaded by Israel, with Western collusion, ever since Hamas won the 2006 elections and enforced their right to govern. The great democracy-preaching powers had no hesitation in strangling Palestinian democracy as soon as the ‘wrong’ side was elected. And they continue  to use criminal methods like collective punishment to make life hell.

KYTC (Khan Younis Technical College) was set up by UNRWA in 2007 to provide training for Palestinian refugees and inject skilled labour into the impoverished local economy. One of its courses is Autotronics, which includes diagnosis, maintenance and repair of automotive systems, injection and ignition systems, and electronics and electrical systems. In 2009 KYTC’s first Autotronics class, frustrated at the lack of workshop materials for hands-on automotive experience, set about building a race car from recycled parts. The following year the students went one step further and built a car conforming to exacting Formula Student standards, and 11 students eventually travelled to the UK to test their prized creation.

Who were those remarkable young people? According to UNRWA many come from the sort of background the United Nations calls “abject poverty”, which means families who don’t have the financial resources to provide even the most basic necessities of life. And which means their achievement is all the more admirable.

Any new attempt on the FS Formula prize will require a totally new car. Sadly KYTC seem unable to overcome the many obstacles imposed by Israel’s blockade and take another crack at it. Their prospects won’t have been helped by Trump’s spiteful funding cuts which are having a devastating impact on UNWRA’s schools and colleges.

Hopefully the An-Najah team will keep the Palestinian flag flying with pride at Silverstone. A photo of their car hasn’t yet been released. The team has a problem finding funds and the difficult-to-obtain materials to manufacture the body shell, so the car remains in ‘bare bones’ form at present, hardly a thing of great beauty. It is sometimes forgotten that the West Bank too is under siege and lockdown, with nothing and nobody allowed in or out without Israel’s approval. So West Bank students also work under crushing handicap.

The project supervisor at An-Najah University, Dr Mahmoud Assad, tells me the race car idea was dreamed up by him and one of his students while they both worked in Manchester UK. This time, hopefully, the youngsters will get the support they deserve from the Palestinian authorities, institutions and media.