Showing posts with label sport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sport. Show all posts

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gregan out

The French sporting press appears to be surprised and saddened by the idea that George Gregan, in World Cup year, might no longer be the emblematic captain of the Wallabies. And journalists here tend to be ironical concerning the solution of dual captains.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Beauty and the beast

Up until a few days ago, the Olympic gold-medal swimmer Laure Manaudou and her trainer Philippe Lucas were a unique tandem in top-level sport. It was impossible to imagine one without the other. Indeed, the style and the look of Lucas (long blonde hair, ear-rings, metal chains and bracelets) made him an even more fascinating telegenic personage than his illustrious protégée. French TV viewers remember with amazement the first image we saw of this couple, at the time of the Olympic Games in Athens. During a training session, Laura had done something that displeased Lucas, and he scolded her harshly as if she were a naughty child. Clearly, Lucas was an iron-handed trainer, but there was no doubt about the efficiency of his methods.

A fortnight ago, the much-admired French TV host Michel Drucker succeeded in inviting the swimmer and her trainer to a popular Sunday-afternoon talk show, and viewers had their first opportunity of seeing Laure and Philippe together in a setting other than the edge of a pool. I was struck by the fact that lovely Laure looked much taller and sturdier than what you imagine when you see her in a swimming competition. As for Lucas, he came across as an exceptionally clear-thinking individual, capable of expressing himself simply and often humorously, with firm convictions about his way of handling Laure's training for the Beijing games. Then, last Sunday (election day in France), everything seemed to go wrong between them. After six years with Lucas, Laure left in a huff for Italy, and everybody imagined that she merely wanted to be closer to her Italian fiancé, the swimmer Luca Marin.

I'm not sure that the full details of Laure's decision have emerged yet, but it appears that she's fed up with the constraints of Philippe's methods, which involve swimming huge distances, day in, day out. She says she wants to "discover a new challenge", and that it's better to change trainers now, a year and a half before Beijing, rather than at the last moment. In speaking of Lucas, she said: "I know how he operates. I know Philippe well. I want to show him I can win without him."

Today, Philippe Lucas used vehement words in criticizing Laure's decision to train in Italy. He implied that, in the Italian move to entice Laure to Turin, there was big money at stake. In referring to the fact that Laure has just lost over a month of regular training, Philippe suggested that Laure is "running away from work". And he added: "When you see her [today], you have the impression that she's just spent six months on a cruise liner." Maybe Philippe, in using this image, might have been influenced by his view of Nicolas Sarkozy returning to Paris after three days aboard the luxury yacht Paloma.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dope in sport

In this dismal domain (primarily, dope in cycling), much has happened over the last year, and new events are still being revealed.

First, Floyd Landis is likely to lose his Tour de France title, because the presence of synthetic testosterone in his urine has apparently been confirmed.

Above all, we're still in the middle of the gigantic fallout from the so-called Puerto affair of May 2006, when Spanish police arrested sporting director Manolo Sainz and the doctor Fuentes, whose trial will be starting next June. [Click here to see a French-language website with the names of cyclists involved in this affair, or simply Google with the expression "puerto affair".]

The Italian rider Ivan Basso has just severed his links with Discovery Channel, and he has been summoned for a confrontation tomorrow with the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). In the near future, he could well be caught out, like Jan Ullrich, by DNA testing.

Furthermore, the Italian Gazzetta dello Sport has just announced that 49 additional cyclists (whose names have not yet been revealed) must be added to the list of 58 already involved in the Puerto Affair. That makes a grand total of 107 professional cyclists who are indirectly suspected of using dope. So, it's not just a marginal phenomenon. It sounds as if a great part of the professional cycling system is rotten, but it's still too early to know what global effects this conclusion might have upon the sport, and the outlook of the general public.

When I read the nasty blood-bag tales of doping in cyclism, I'm nauseated. It's truly sickening, enough to make me want to put away in the attic all my spontaneous enthusiasm for the grand summer ritual of the Tour de France. Will this ugly medical mess ever be cleaned up?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Rugby cup: worth its weight in gold for France

The main French campus of the prestigious Essec Business School is located less than an hour away from the heart of Paris, at a place named Cergy-Pontoise. [Click here to see their English-language website.] Recently, this beehive of bright business experts received an interesting assignment: calculate the likely global income, for France, resulting from the forthcoming World Rugby Cup. Well, the result is huge: some 8 000 million euros! In US currency, that's roughly 11 billion dollars. In Australian currency, nearly 13 000 million dollars.

Where is all this money coming from? Let's carry on the discussion in euros, using the US definition of a billion as a thousand millions.

— The Essec wizards inform us that half the estimated income, 4 billion euros, will be deposited in cash before the end of the matches, which will be taking place in September and October. More than 350 thousand foreign visitors will be arriving in France for the rugby festivities, accounting for income of 1.5 billion euros. The matches will ne watched on TV by 260 million viewers, generating revenue of 2 billion euros, whereas ticket sales for live spectators will have generated a non-negligible income of 250 million euros.

— The other half of the projected revenues are of a more ethereal nature. The French "rugby economy" will receive a huge boost, estimated at 417 million euros a year, from the presence of the World Cup. And French tourism, as a consequence of the World Cup, will receive a boost of some 625 million euros a year. So, if you carry out the multiplications, that gives us, for a period of four years, 4 billion euros.

In old-fashioned French village talk, there's a celebrated dictum: Un sou est un sou. In US English: A dime's a dime. In other words, we should respect frugally every penny we might earn or possess, and not spend money lavishly.

Economic and political experts have pointed out that money from the forthcoming World Rugby Cup can be seen already as a fabulous welcome gift to the future president of the French Republic. The funny thing about this whole affair is that the Essec people don't seem to give a screw about who might or might not actually win the golden trophy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Facts overtake sporting hero accused of doping

The branch of the German legal system that prosecutes wrongdoers announced today that the DNA of bags of blood seized in the Spanish affair known as Operation Puerto matches that of Jan Ullrich. It would therefore appear retrospectively that this cyclist who once impressed us greatly was a cheat.

Monday, April 2, 2007

William's theory of leaks

The above title mustn't give you false hopes. I'm not about to expound a set of principles and proofs that might earn me a Nobel Prize. In fact, my "theory" on leaks might be summed up in a three-word aphorism: Nobody leaks innocently! All I mean to say is that, whenever we hear of journalists suddenly having access to information that's normally supposed to be of a confidential nature, it might be a good idea to ask questions of the following kind: Who in particular might have reaped benefits from the divulgation of this information? What kinds of benefits? And why?

Another way of putting it is that press leaks are generally organized, indeed engineered. They're like the celebrated French miracle aimed at promoting today the saintlike qualities of the late pope. [Click here to see my article on this subject.] Leaks, like miracles, don't just happen, out of the blue. They're put into circulation purposely, like rumors, with precise aims in view.

I don't yet know who exactly made the decision to leak the information about a Thorpe doping query, but I imagine that this mysterious leaker [Let's call him Monsieur Leak] was seeking to achieve certain ends. Meanwhile, all Australia has started to go mad. The national director of swimming is even yelling out about the idea of hiring a private investigator to collar Monsieur Leak, as if that might solve anything.

When in trouble, when in doubt,
Run in circles, scream and shout!

For the last 24 hours or so, that's what Australia has been doing: running in swimming circles, screaming and shouting. I have the impression that Monsieur Leak [whoever he is] may have been awaiting these reactions. Maybe they tell him something about the fundamental but murky question of whether or not Ian Thorpe really is guilty of doping. Organized leaks aim to obtain information.

It would be good if everything were to calm down, as in an Olympic pool. Meanwhile, the procedures evolve...

Leak in the pool

Contrary to what naive observers might believe, the prestigious French sporting newspaper L'Equipe surely did not dream up, in one way or another, the story about Ian Thorpe. What happened was quite ordinary from a journalistic viewpoint. The information behind the story was leaked to the newspaper by an unknown source, whose identity we may never know. Everyday journalism in many domains depends heavily upon leaks. In the case of a serious and time-honored newspaper such as L'Equipe, one would normally expect that they only print leaked information from reliable sources. So, it would be foolish to insinuate that L'Equipe might have invented their information about Ian Thorpe.

Richards Ings, chairman of ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority], spoke this afternoon to a Sydney radio station on the event referred to by L'Equipe, which stems from a urine test in May 2006. Although nothing has been asserted yet on this question by the WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency], it appears perfectly feasible for L'Equipe to imagine that Ian Thorpe's raised testosterone levels might have been unacceptable... which is all—no more and no less—that the newspaper claimed. The world swimming body FINA [Fédération internationale de Natation] would appear to know that a Thorpe affair has indeed been simmering, because they have apparently called upon the CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport] to evaluate the situation. In doing so, FINA did not reveal explicitly the name of the swimmer in question. Finally, the only real scoop created by the leak to L'Equipe concerns the identity of the implicated swimmer: Ian Thorpe.

Is there any point in trying to determine the precise source of the leak, maybe in the hope of taking legal action against either the leaker or the newspaper that published the leak, or both? I don't think so. Good journalists, like good detectives, don't normally reveal the identity of their sources. One would suspect, though, that the leaker was probably somebody with French links... As far as the newspaper is concerned, is it really a crime to print leaked information?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Gimmick hour

Before Sydney switched the lights off, I hope that somebody was thoughtful enough to warn pleasure boaters in the dark waters of the harbor to be sure to get the hell out of the way of careening cats. Jeez, if those Sydney ferry cowboys were called upon to navigate, say, in the waters of Venice or the port of Marseilles, there would be large-scale manslaughter.

Talking about gimmicks, I regret that the French newspaper L'Equipe decided to bring up that doping story concerning Ian Thorpe, which seems to serve no useful purpose.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Boring spectator sport

Back at the time of the Olympic Games of 1956 in Melbourne, I remember my aunt Nancy telling me excitedly that one of the amazing surprises of their new tool called TV was the fact that it brought swimming races right into your living room, because you could actually watch the swimmers in the pool. Big deal. For me, TV swimming remains the most boring spectator sport that I can imagine, because you can't understand anything apart from the excited words of the commentator. And you simply wait for the times in hundredths of a second. I should be super-excited about the prowess of Laure Manaudou, whose first name sounds like gold in French. The truth is that this mindless love-struck youngster is just as boring as the sport in which she excels. French commentators, with nothing to say about this silent juvenile wonder woman, complained that Laure might have at least inscribed AMOUR rather than LOVE on her left palm.

There's an even more boring sporting phenomenon than swimming. It consists of wandering into a Sydney pub, say, on a Saturday around midday and being confronted by dozens of video screens relaying matches of all kinds (rugby, horses, dogs, etc): the object of betting. Last year, shocked by this spectacle, I was tempted to cease considering myself as an Australian. Sport as gambling commerce. It's simply all too boring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Discovery Channel

During the night, a centimeter-thick veil of snow covered everything at Gamone, from flowering shrubs through to my automobile. Apparently most of France has been hit by this cold spell.

Only two days ago, the television showed us Alberto Contador riding along magnificent sun-drenched mountain roads to his victory in the Paris-Nice race. It's amusing to recall that Contador's US employer, Discovery Channel, was in the limelight a few weeks ago because of a happening that had nothing to do with cycling. They're the people who aired the controversial documentary, produced by James Cameron and directed by Simcha Jacobovici, about a tomb near Jerusalem that contained bone boxes labeled Jesus, Mary, etc.

I don't know what the Spaniard Alberto Contador thinks about Discovery Channel's version of the Jesus story. Three years ago, he had a terrible fall in the Tour of the Asturias. With his jaws shattered, and suddenly racked by convulsions, 21-year-old Contador was taken to hospital in a critical state, and many observers, including fellow cyclists, feared that he might not survive. So, in Christian terms, Contador's brilliant performance in Paris-Nice on Sunday might be thought of as a miracle, a resurrection.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rugby victory for France

For many French TV viewers, yesterday was a busy day. First, at the start of the afternoon, there was the second-last stage of the Paris-Nice cycling race. Then there was a grueling series of three major rugby matches. Personally, I decided to turn the TV off and drive to St Marcellin to buy some plants: a flowering shrub and strawberries.

So, it wasn't until much later in the day that I learned that France had thrashed Scotland, and that England had failed to beat Wales. It's encouraging that France, as host nation of the forthcoming World Cup, has at least emerged victorious from the European six-nations tournament.