Monthly Archives: November 2011
Not since the handshake between Yassar Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White house lawn back in ’93 has a ceremonial coming together of palms brought such relief to the masses as it has this past weekend, with the NBA players & owners finally reaching a ‘handshake deal’ to end the lockout.
There will be ball, oh yes, there will be ball.
Whilst I’d be the first to admit that making a comparison between a historic middle east peace deal and the conclusion of 5 month’s worth of squabbling between rich athletes and even richer old men (you heard right MJ) over how best to divide up their billions is, for lack of a better word, a bit rich, the reaching of an agreement was not just a momentous day for your average sports fan.
As in much the same way as the Arafat-Rabin metacarpal grasp was done under the watchful gaze of Bill Clinton, who was grinning like a man who’d not long been given a “presidential service” in the oval office, the end of the NBA lockout was met with a smile and a thumbs up by none other than Barack Obama who had just finished shooting some hoops at Fort McNair in Washington when he heard the news.
There is no doubt this lockout has been an uncomfortable pebble in the high-top of every basketball fan. Neither the players or the owners have painted themselves in a particularly honourable light and a good chunk of the season has already been swept aside in the name of wealthy mens’ greed. Much like Shaq at the freethrow line (and to a lesser extent with the mic in hand) the whole situation has been plain ugly.
But one must always attempt to find the positives, like the fact that Shaq was often getting the opposing big man into foul trouble and in the case of the lockout it has been the performance of the cagey little lefty Derek Fisher. Interestingly, throughout this whole ‘ordeal’ he has managed to somehow reject the NBA players’ unofficial suit policy, which is to dress in such a manner that can only really be described by putting on Outkast’s ‘So Fresh and So Clean‘ and turning it up to max volume.
But it’s not just his business meets funeral attire which has helped the plucky point guard to avoid becoming the Fish-out-of-water in this process as he has also managed to remain poised and articulate throughout, even when it looked as though a deal was a long way from fruition.
That said, Fisher still managed to amuse at times with his explanations of the negotiation process as they often resembled the post game interview of a man who’d just played an intense 48 on the hardwood. Sentiments such as
“We’ll continue to work through, as long as we possibly can and as hard as we possibly can to see if we can get a deal done. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves at this point but we’ll continue to remain focused on some key principal items in our system…”
could have been an answer given by Fisher, almost verbatim, when asked by about the mood in the Laker camp after they’d just swept the first round of the play-offs. But apart from Derek Fisher showing to the world how athlete’s “get it done” in the corporate arena, one man who may have also benefited from the lockout is LeBron James, as the focus has been anywhere but on him.
It was a little more than a year ago that LeBron became the athlete to attract the most media attention in the middle of the off season since O.J. Simpson gunned it down the highway in his Bronco, leaving a trail of blood, chaos and an ill-fitting glove in his wake.
In the lead up to last season, King James sat down in his very own TV special and told the world he was taking his mad skillz to the land of leather-skinned retirees, or words to that effect. As the entire basketball fraternity was already sweating on his announcement, ‘The Decision‘ special on ESPN was about as necessary as LeBron putting on suspenders when he was already wearing a belt. As part of the fallout LBJ became a hate magnet, not just for Cleveland fans who had every right to feel hard done by, but for every sports fans that has ever lopped the top off a tall poppy.
Despite all this, LeBron & Co (and by ‘Co’ I mean Wade, Bosh and a bunch of stiffs they pulled off the South Beach boardwalk) managed to overcome a mediocre start (9-8 from the first 17 games) to gel in December and coast all the way to the Eastern Conference title.
But it was on the glittering stage of the NBA finals that King James lost his royal mojo. This was never more evident than in Game 4 where he managed just 8 points and had more turnovers than field goals. In fact his average for the series of 17.8 ppg was almost 9 points below his season average, the biggest drop in NBA finals history and to make matters even worse, LeBron was little more than a spectator in the fourth quarter throughout the whole series (just 18 points through 6 games). This gave the masses a chance to revel in their Schadenfreude meaning Dirk & his Merry band of Mavericks had a legion of new fans to celebrate their extinguishing of the Heat.
But this preseason, if you could even call it that, has been very different from the last and has given James the chance to go away, work on his game and attempt to exorcise the mental demons of NBA finals past. For this season, nothing less than an NBA championship will suffice for LeBron & Co because come next June, if that NBA ring don’t fit, the few fans he has left may just acquit.
In some kind of weird parallel universe, where he is not the head of FIFA, Sepp Blater could almost be likeable. Somewhat comparable to that annoying, inebriated Uncle who manages to get a few cheap laughs making inappropriate remarks about your new girlfriend’s bust size, which is then followed by a silence so uncomfortable you’d have thought someone had accidently leant on the Christmas lunch mute button. But jovial likeability aside, it would be better if the most powerful sporting association on the planet was not led by a rogue who so freely speaks his mind, particularly when the opinions he offers are a freshly shaken cocktail made of two parts ignorance & one part insensitivity – served in a long ball over freshly crushed corruption.
Despite a commendable focus placed by football’s governing bodies to stamp racism out of the game, Blatter has gone and poured gasoline on the hot coals of two highly provocative incidents that have recently occurred on the football pitch. Following the allegation that Luis Suarez called Patrice Evra a “nigger” about 10 times in 2 minutes and that John Terry purportedly called Anton Ferdinand “a f****** black c***”, Blatter has made the outrageous claim that there is “no racism in football.” He even went on to say that if there was “a word or gesture that is not the correct one” it should be dealt with on the pitch using the timeless mediation of a shake of hands. Clearly Sepp is showing himself to be a man that possesses the cultural sensitivity of a burning cross.
Since making this controversial statement, Blatter has been back peddling faster than my Betfair balance, firstly by saying his statement was taken out of context then later apologising with the sincerity of an unrepentant school bully. But Sepp’s sorry is all too late as his flaming comments have reduced FIFA’s anti-racism foundations to little more than a very culturally aware pile of ashes.
This is far from the first time Sepp’s been forced into clarification & apology mode. In fact, it happens so regularly that FIFA might be better off prefixing every Blatter interview with a warning stating that ‘the following content may offend some viewers’. When asked the very practical question of how a homosexual football fans might be able to enjoy a round of hide the sausage at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a country where homosexual acts are illegal, he pointed out that the gay community were more than welcome to enjoy football’s biggest showpiece but also added with a hearty chuckle that “they should refrain from any sexual activity”. Sure, your money and your fabulous clothes are welcome, but please check your sexuality at the door.
So, if Uncle Sepp has managed to completely alienate anyone who has ever been racially abused as well as the homosexual community, then it goes without saying that he has annoyed the fairer sex at some point. Blatter has actually done on a number of occasions, my personal favourite being when he referred to the International Olympic Committee’s lack of financial transparency by saying “the IOC does it (accounting) like a housewife”. Obviously Mrs Blatter has whipped out the credit card on more than a few occasions without disclosing the details of her purchases to hubby. But that statement was just the tip of Sepp’s misogynistic iceberg. When applying his governing wisdom to the realm of women’s football, that incorrigible rascal suggested the players “wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts” to attract more male fans. Whilst it would make women’s football far more appealing to simple folk such as myself, these are not the sentiments that should be uttered by the Don of Football Admin.
These horrible gaffs would not be tolerated by a democratically elected world leader, save for a media controlling Italian Billionaire, yet somehow Sepp manages to evade accountability. The worst part of this continuing saga of embarrassment for FIFA is that Blatter was recently re-elected to his post in an uncontested manner, extending his Presidential reign into its 13th year. This occurred despite the complete distrust of the general public, particularly in regards to corruption and the appointment of the next 2 world cups in ridiculously wealthy, oil rich nations whose liquid gold has apparenty greased the right palms.
It is worth adding that the claims of corruption surrounding these World Cup bids were dealt with in a swift manner by Blatter and the FIFA executive committee, who ousted Mohammad bin Hammam (pictured with Sepp, no that is not Lando Calrissian) of Qatar on charges of accepting bribes. Not surprisingly bin Hammam was the only person willing to challenge Blatter’s leadership, although he withdrew from the presidential election just days before it took place. With the swift Soprano-esque removal of his only rival, we learned the fate of those willing to challenge the status quo inside the house of FIFA.
With the International Rugby Board issuing fines for the French forming an arrow formation when faced with a war dance or fining players for wearing the wrong coloured underpants, sports ruling bodies appear to be in a race to the gutter of public opinion. But through the never ending blunders from their man at the helm, FIFA manages to be a beacon in a sea of incompetence. It’s not like he makes up for his verbal insensitivities with a range of shrewd decisions that lead to the betterment of football. Under Sepp’s reign, the game has failed to follow the lead of other sports and appease those who crave fairness through the introduction of goal line technology.
I am not the first person to call for Sepp’s head and unfortunately I will not be the last. But despite constant public pressure and even the likes of the English FA trying to shake Sepp from his lofty branch, very little seems to happen. His reign borders on a dictatorship, and with uprisings aplenty round the world and long term leaders being removed from their posts, there is no reason that football fans should be left wanting.
Blatter really needs to step aside from his FIFA position and consider an operation to have his foot permanently removed from his mouth. As we head toward the festive season, there is little doubt that Blater’s jolly nature would better be utilized with a big white beard, a flat lap and cherry red suit as opposed to governing sport’s most esteemed ruling body.
Ricky, it’s been a hoot. But seriously mate, you were never one for walking and it’s not about to start now. And if Lord’s famed Old Father Time hasn’t been kind enough to tap you on the shoulder and give you a knowing wink then it’s time for a gentle shove.
Now I know you’re been spouting the “I’ll know when the time is right” routine but if your Cape Town quacker and the fact you haven’t posted 3 figures in almost 2 years doesn’t drop the penny then Rod ‘Bacchus’ Marsh & Mr Bichel might have to be the ones to do the dropping.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there since the start and I’ve loved every second. The raw talent that you exuded as a 21 year old who marched out with purpose against Sri Lanka at the WACA, each step a little cockier than the last. First time in the baggy green, swagger to burn and a perfectly manicured goatee on a Napoleon frame.
The Aussies were already on top courtesy of a Slater double tonne, but you followed it up with a very memorable knock. You had the kind of luck a Punter needs with first slip grassing your first ball in Test cricket, which was bowled by Murali of all people, but from there on out you were class off both the front and back foot. In fact, you were only robbed of a century on debut by a farcical umpiring decision by Khizer Hayat.
With that innings, you showed us that the kid from Launceston they called Punter had arrived on the test stage and if ever there was a nickname that would endear itself to the average Australian male sports-fiend it was yours.
We smirked with a certain pride when you sat down sporting the shiner following a dust up at one of King’s Cross’ more classier establishments. That smirk soon turned to laughter when we found out what that scuffle was really about, but our appreciation of your on field talents never wavered.
Because regardless of what happened when you were out on the sauce, out in the middle it’s been a virtual 15 year runfest. Sure you had a few ups and downs but show me a batsman that hasn’t.
The control you had over that Kookaburra put Bill Lawry and his pigeons to shame. So many highlights it’s hard to know where to start. A hundred in both innings of your hundredth test is tough to top on a poetic front.
Many would say your captaincy was steeped in controversy but one thing is for sure, you knew where the jugular was.
And thanks largely to the current competitive climate of international cricket and to a lesser extent the changing of Mother Nature’s climate, those 16 wins on the trot as Captain (shared by you and Tugga) will no doubt sit in the history books for some time to come.
You managed to astound us with bat in hand, but also regularly in the field. That catch from the blade of Dippenaar off the bowling of McGrath is one that is permanently burnt into the memory as the ball had seemingly reached the boundary when you took the catch at gully. If your exploits at slip weren’t enough, you even managed to, very occasionally, impress us with the ball. Removing the England captain, Michael Vaughan, in an Ashes Test with a classy caught behind is more than many bowlers can lay claim to.
But now it has come to this. Concerning the capitulation in Capetown – it cannot merely be swept off the pitch. It is time for the heavy roller. Given the recent cricket events played out in the courts as opposed to at the crease, it must be said that if Pakistan had played an innings like that then the News of The World would be digging faster than Ben Johnson’s pet rabbit.
It wasn’t just the fact you got out, it was how you got out. You walked across your stumps, not with the purposeful confidence we saw from you in your younger days, but more like a wandering pensioner who’s forgotten the way home. Although in this case it is certainly not you alone who should take the rap. With the team’s back to the wall, we were expecting the experienced players to step up. After all, that’s why you’re there. But between you, your bridge partner Hussey and your knitting buddy Brad, all we got was enough ducks to open a French restaurant.
We weren’t crying out for centuries (although the SA top order made it looks doable) but a run for every year of life from the old guard would have plugged a leaky ship and sailed us to a commanding position. Instead you decides to go for a walk, Mr Cricket slashed at a wide one and in a semi-demented state, Brad Haddin thought he was back in the purple pyjamas of the Kolkata Knight Riders and tried to clear the fence. All that ‘experience’ on the cricket field, 106 years of life between the three of you and not a single bl000dy run to show for it.
And just who was this Philanderer ripping through our top order? Sounds like more of a Wayne Carey type than a lethal fast bowler. There couldn’t have been that much in the deck given that Shane ‘Elementary’ Watson’s ability to skittle them like Jesus Quintana taking to a set of pins. That creep can roll man.
All good things come to an end Rick and it’s time you hung up your gloves and threw down your protector – preferably in the opposite direction to your flat screen TV. It’s not like you haven’t had chances to step aside gracefully. The century you made in the quarterfinal of the last world cup would have been perfect time to call it quits. Granted, we weren’t victors that day but it was one gutsy innings which defied the critics and made a nation proud.
The love, until now, has bordered on unconditional. We’ve looked beyond the fact your from Tasmania and embraced you as the captain of our mainland side. We’ve looked beyond the fact you’ve been caught out hooking more times than Warrick Todd. More recently, we’ve looked beyond the fact you took time out from test cricket to rush home for your daughter’s birth, which would have been fine had you not just come off a near 8 month break from test match cricket. Surely you could have sneaked one between Rihanna’s bat and pad a few months before you did and avoided the conflicting schedule. I am maybe boarding on insensitive here, but this sort of slander pales in comparison to the grief you’ve handed out from the slips cordon over the years which, I might add, we’ve also looked beyond.
But watching you lead implosion in South Africa was the icing on an 18 month old cake made of anything but convincing stroke play. The time is now Ricky.
Raise you bat, ride into the Bellerive sunset, hell, even join Plastic Keithy in the Big Bash if your heart desires. But I’m afraid your days in the Baggy Green are soon over.
“Disgraceful”, “Horrible”, “Unnaceptable”, were the terms used by Australian Captain Michael Clarke to describe the 2nd innings capitulation in Cape Town on Thursday.
Australian cricket supporters could perhaps describe it in other terms – “all too familiar”.
While the shameful scoreline of all out for 47 represents a nadir for Australian “batsmanship”, it is also the 3rd time in 18 months that Australia have failed to reach 100 in an innings.
The scale of the decline in Australian batting over the past 4 years is illustrated below – the blue line shows average runs per wicket on an innings basis, while the orange shows the 10 innings rolling average runs per wicket.
At the end of the 2006/07 Ashes, the 10 innings rolling average stood at a mammoth 59 runs per wicket. By the time Australia was touring the West Indies in mid 2008, the average had fallen to 40 runs per wicket. It remained at around this level until Mid 2010. Since then, series defeat in India and annihilation in the Ashes have seen the average fall to the high 20′s.
The occasional amazing collapse can be tolerated, and the humilation soon forgotten, if the usual performance is huge scores and winning totals. But to suffer three such performances in 18 months speaks of a larger malaise, and hints at a lack of mental toughness in the current aussie top 6.
For a nation who until very recently joked that ‘English batting collapse” was somewhat of a tautology, these are concerning times indeed.
With smoke-filled card rooms giving way to near sterile casinos, transparent visors being cleared out for an abundance of hoodies and mirrored shades now preferred to a steely gaze, the game of Poker has undergone a more dramatic transformation over the last 20 years than Optimus Prime.
This metamorphosis has been brought about by the injection of a seemingly endless number of 20-somethings with too much pocket money and because of them the game of No Limit Hold has seen unprecedented growth. The number of entrants alone willing to fork out the hefty sum of $10000 USD just to take a seat at the World Series of Poker Main Event has swelled from just 393 in the year 1999 to 6865 this year and in the process the prize money for first has escalated from 1 million flat to a cool 8.7 million dollars.
Poker is the Chess of the modern generation, just with a few more Queens, loads more money and much cooler hats.
It is no secret that over recent times we have developed a tendency to live a larger portion of our lives in the semi fictional existence of cyberspace. Poker has followed suit (most likely spades) and in the process a mammoth online industry has been built through those who prefer the comfort and anonymity of their sofa to the grubby green felt of card halls. This online poker empire has paved the way for a new type of millionaire. Many now rake in a fortune without having to leave their domain typically filled with a plethora of flat screens and empty pizza boxes. I may be preying on the stereotype of young internet poker wizz here, but for those that follow the game you see the pattern repeated like that of a degenerate blowing next month’s rent money. These ‘kids’ in their hoodies have even developed their own language and also speak with pace only matched by the speed of their mouse movements. Truth be told most have us have got a better chance of following a conversation in Russian than making sense of “it was raised by a maniac under the gun and then 3 bet by the donk in the cutoff so I 4 bet shoved, they both mucked and I scraped the pot.”
But much like the internet date who has shown up to dinner with oversized hands and a bulging Adam’s Apple that you somehow missed in the picture ‘she’ sent you, it has turned out that the online poker world just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. And for the initiated who know what a backdoor flush is, 2011 will long be remembered as the year Poker’s chip stack seriously diminished.
With the game enjoying an extraordinary level of success, some of the greedy entrepreneurs that founded online poker sites were accused of embezzling huge sums of cash. On 15th of April this year, a day which has since been dubbed ‘black friday’ (my vote was for ‘folded Friday’ but nobody listened) 3 of the biggest internet sites – Full Tilt Poker, Pokerstars and Absolute Poker were shut down by the US department of Justice (or DOJ to the hoodie clad masses).
To the amazement of many, the selfish money grabbers who run some of the world’s most profitable websites managed to slay the goose that sh!ts the golden nuggets.
In the process millions of players were left out of pocket, the game’s reputation was permanently soiled and those that play poker for a living in the US were left scrambling for an address in Canada like a Canuck chasing down the goalward bound puck.
Despite the online poker industry being predominantly built in the land of stars and stripes, it was a young man from Down Under who brought to its knees. Even though The ’Lucky’ County produced the 2005 World Champion in Joseph Haschem, the Australian who will long be remembered for having the greatest influence on poker is Daniel Tzvetkoff. Funnily enough, he isn’t even a Poker player. Instead he carved his reputation in the world of internet finance, helping the directors of online poker companies such as Full Tilt Poker stash millions in accounts the IRS were not privy to and slicing himself a sizeable chunk of the pie in the process. He was picked up in Las Vegas by the Department of Justice, following a tip from one of the companies themselves after a dispute over funds. What this company didn’t predict however, is that with all the inside information on where the companies were hiding their millions, Daniel held the nuts (not his own, it’s a poker thing). He used this to bluff his way out of trouble and turn the tables on the internet poker giants by revealing the details of their scamming operation.
Full Tilt Poker’s slogan is, or more accurately, was “Learn, Play and Chat with the Pros” and most of Poker’s most successful thoroughbreds could be found in the Full Tilt stables. No surprises then that a few of them are caught up in the mix, namely former main event winner Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Howard ‘The Professor’ Lederer who are both on the sites board of directors. Between them they have over $13.5 million in tournament poker earnings although these figures pale in comparison to the millions of unearned cash they are alleged to have siphoned through the players funds deposited to the
All of a sudden, questions were being asked and when Full Tilt’s books were examined it appeared that although they held over $390 million in players accounts, they had only $60 million in the reserve coffers. This is a massive revelation and a warning shot fired to anyone whose ever deposited money through a website, with the US Attorney’s Office recently describing Full Tilt’s operation as “a global Ponzi scheme.” From the outside it looks as though Jesus has broken a commandment or two and the only Phd the Professor has is in embezzlement. Both of these former pillars of the poker community have completely vanished from the public eye, obviously following the immortal words of Kenny Rodgers of knowing when to run.
One positive to be taken from all this is the focus of poker been shifted to live play. At its jack of hearts, poker is more a game of personalities than faceless avatars. There have been some true characters over the years that have graced the felt – Scotty ‘Baby’ Ngyen, the eternal loudmouth Phil Hellmuth Jnr and the Granpa figure Doyle Brunson but to name a few. These personalities are what draws newcomers and their crisp paychecks to the game and the unique mix of personalities, body types, cultural backgrounds and nationalities is what makes Poker accessible to the masses.
Despite a strong mathematical foundation, Poker is predominantly about playing the man, not the cards and this element is sad omission from the online format. The true essence of Poker is found after you’ve shoved all your chips in the middle holding ‘air’ whilst your foe stares you down with a suspecting eye. Lady Gaga was onto something. The jugular pulse, the forehead sweat, the crossing of arms, the rocking of the chair – these are all key aspects of the game that can be picked up by opponents, or indeed simulated by a player prone to ‘hollywooding’.
And rest assured, there was plenty of sweat on the brow last Sunday as the 9 lucky (no wait, it’s skill isn’t it) players met to fight it out in Las Vegas for the final table of the World Series of Poker – Main Even. In a format that was switched to a few years back, there is now a 3 and a half month break between when the final table is set (that is 6865 players play down to the last 9) and when the first card is dealt to the final 9. This gives the likes of ESPN time to create some hype and buzz as, despite being almost exclusively made up of professionals, the final table players are often relative no-names even amongst the Poker community. This drawn out system certainly has it’s critics, who say it is much like a basketball game finishing in a draw and deciding the players should all come back the next day to play the overtime. But it does give these poker players a chance to go away, take stock and attempt to improve their game before sitting down for a session at the oval table that could put them in the history books forever.
Sunday’s play at the Rio Casino was intriguing to say the least. In a first for poker 7 Nationalities were represented amongst the 9 players at the table showing the global influence of the game and with 7 players under the age of 30, the quest for Poker’s Holy Grail appeared to be played around the fountain of youth. Six players felt the cold sting of the knockout. Now just 3 remain. They will resume again on Tuesday to see which player will be last man standing and winner of Poker’s most coveted prize.
The remaining players are American Ben Lamb – who has had an amazing world series and is a lock for the the player of the year award, Martin Staszko from the Czech Republic – who started the final table as chip leader but has now slipped to 3rd and the new chip leader Pius ‘Beans Means’ Heinz from Germany who is a fearless young gun with talent and chips to burn, and a mandatory hoodie no less. My money is on the young German and if he can maintain his advantage and go on to rake in the final pot, he’ll secure himself nearly a $9 million payday and a cement a place in poker history. Not bad for a few weeks work (10 days of play to be precise). No luck on the final table for Phil Collins, a young American who finished 5th, as he was busted after Calling In The Air of The Night.
In a tumultuous year for poker, there will be one person who will be sure to remember 2011 for something other than the online controversy as they take home the pot at the end of the Poker rainbow.
And to think – 4 years ago – I had blamed the poor French.
In 2007, I found myself in the city of Lyon in a queue outside the Stade de Gerland, about to attend the Rugby World Cup Pool B match featuring Australia and Japan. I wore a green and gold karate headband, adorned with a kangaroo instead of the rising sun – an act that is about as hilarious as ironic racism gets.
As we neared the entrance to the stadium, a gruff attendant approached me, pointed to a camera around my neck and waggled his finger in that French way that is camp, arrogant and intimidating all at the same time. After some confused back-and-forth, including my own bastardised exclamation of “Ne pas SERIOUS?!”, I eventually checked my camera into an outside office, to be picked up after the game. The pile of Nikons in that room looked like some grotesque, paparazzi, torture tableau.
My own illegal contraband was a Canon 400D – a digital SLR camera with a single lense (15-50mm), no longer than my pinkie finger. With that device – sitting anywhere that wasn’t on grass – I would have been able to roughly work out which team was Australia, based on the fact that we were playing Japan, and Nathan Sharpe is six foot seven. The camera had two purposes only – to record personal memories of an overseas trip with my parents and girlfriend, and eventually to be left in some random bar after the game when I got drunk. I soothed my frayed nerves before kickoff with a cold, plastic cup of “Amstel Sans Alcool”.
What I initially thought was an act of French bastardry not witnessed since they snuck around the back at Agincourt turned out to be an official IRB mandate. Back in quaint old 2007, the IRB – in an attempt to protect the rugby product – banned spectators from bringing cameras into the ground that may have been able to produce photos that could be used for publication. These were constraints placed on actual, paying ticketholders – many of whom had travelled thousands of miles to witness the spectacle (and by spectacle, I mean watching a referee trying to even-up a match between the likes of the Wallabies and Fiji).
The restrictions initially placed on the accredited media were even more arcane. For example, only 10 pictures could be broadcast from the stadium and published on a website during the course of the match. 2007 – with it’s pesky Interwebs! After all, you take pictures quickly enough and join them together and – brother, you got yourself some live coverage! Other rules included banning overlaying text across a published photo (say, a headline or the name of a player) and refusing to allow any mobile phone content.
Not only are the IRB happy to bite the hand that feeds them, they want to put a 10-mile exclusion zone around the whole farm, and patrol it with snipers.
This year, it was time again for the IRB to pass calligraphic parchments from their dark, smoke filled rooms, placing new restrictions on the media. In “ought-eleven”, they were having none of this Youtube malarkey, and deemed that online media providers could not accompany any video highlights with advertisements from their own sponsors. Heaven forbid Extra Dry try to muscle in on Heineken territory (as if taste itself wouldn’t be the deciding factor in that match-up). Such was the threat this restriction posed, both Fairfax Newspapers and Rupert Murdoch’s own News Ltd joined together and refused IRB accrediation. Remember when Hulk Hogan rescued Randy Mucho Man Savage from a Hart Foundation beatdown? When your outdated restrictions have Fairfax and News Ltd shaking hands, surely you’re doing something wrong.
So instead, the unaccredited Sydney Morning Herald and Australian journalists sat in the stands, or in front of their widescreen plasmas at home, and did pretty much the same job they were going to do, just without a badge, and without – one would imagine – having to be strip searched and deloused before entering every stadium. They sourced video and images in pretty much the same way, without threatening their online earnings. In fact, I probably would not have noticed this development at all, except I have a permanent Google News alert running, for the phrase “the IRB and Steve Jobs are the seven white men running the world”.
And if it’s not those pesky reporters – it’s the silly branded mouthguards. There are not enough elbow patches, or slightly raised eyebrows in the world, for the IRB to express their disdain.
All of this masks a far bigger problem. Whilst the IRB runs around in circles, kidney-punching reporters and spitting on ticketholders in order to protect their product, the quality of the product itself is in decline. Sure – the final match between France and New Zealand was a tight, rousing affair, but was this a result the IRB deserved? Red cards, fixture lists, referees, mouthguards, Samoans on twitter- with all the kerfuffel the IRB created for themselves, did their “product” warrant a 9-8 victory to New Zealand that had Richie McGaw throwing that wry smile and lifting the Cup – a battered nation breathing a sigh of relief?
The International Rugby Board should have given the French side a big hug, but instead, their final act of the tournament was to substantially fine them for holding hands.
I could almost see the Head of the IRB watching the coverage of this moving French tribute from their plastic-covered, floral print sofa, through a haze of pipe smoke.
“I say, what do these Gaul bastards think they’re doing…. the f&*king LIBERTY!”
In any case, the International Rugby Board needs to find a way to protect their product without attacking everyone involved in it’s creation – fans, media and teams alike. Because while Luis Suarez keeps banging in goals like this, rugby union cannot afford to push away a single ticket buyer, a lone reporter or one Samoan winger with a mobile phone.