Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 22nd February 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The last time that the Olympic Games were held in London in 1948 I was eighteen months old - so I cannot share with you any personal reminisces. But I do know that to hold the Games in a city still devastated by German bombing, and in a country struggling to recover from the after effects of that conflict, was a courageous thing to do. The 1948 Games were a great success attended by huge crowds and in more ways than one the Olympic movement was helped back on its feet by London's capital. Aside from the symbolism of replacing armed conflict between nations with sporting challenge there was also the recognition that the Games had to be wholly apolitical. The previous Games were in Berlin in 1936 and they were used by the German regime as an opportunity to showcase the Third Reich in all its ghastly glory. That Berlin '36 damaged the Olympic movement was beyond question and that London '48 helped re-establish the movement's significance and its principles is also true. So London has an important place in the history of the Olympic Games - a fact which the 2012 London bid team I am sure will have talked about when the Games evaluation committee visited the city last week.

Whilst London has some emotional capital still in its bank from 1948 that is unlikely to be a very significant factor when all the Olympic committee members vote in July as to the venue for the 2012 Games. As a Londoner I very much hope that London will be chosen, but I am still worried that our bid, excellent though it clearly was, will fail for reasons other than the purely practical. As far as facilities are concerned London has a large area of land in the east of the city which is in strong need of rejuvenation. The Olympic Park will transform the area, a factor that the evaluation committee has apparently taken seriously and has welcomed. Indeed it is unlikely that the committee will have been disappointed on any of the practical considerations. Transport, accommodation and sporting facilities available either are, or will be, well up to Olympic standards by 2012. With the new Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon, Henley and even Lord's cricket ground being venues for various events there is a good muster of places with true international sporting resonance in the plan. It's a very good bid and with the clever and well-connected Sebastian Coe heading it up it should have every chance.

In the final analysis the decision will come down not so much to the practical issues - expect the bids from Paris, New York and Madrid (if not Moscow) to be equally proficient - but to emotional and political considerations. In one respect London has a real advantage emotionally, not just its honourable history from 1948, but its unique status as a global city. In the last 50 years or so London has become home to an extraordinarily diverse mix of peoples. One of the British newspapers recently published a map, which showed the extraordinary ethnic mix of the city - virtually every national, racial and religious group is strongly represented. This multi-culture adds hugely to the character of London and it is rarely a source of tension. New York was in the past similarly diverse, but in recent times it seems to me when I have been there that it is more introspective and less inclusive and welcoming (perhaps understandably in the post 9/11 years). Paris is quintessentially French and Madrid proudly Spanish - nothing wrong with that, but they are not international cities in the way that London is.

So we can expect that most if not all of the Olympic delegates in Singapore in July will have positive feelings about London and that many of them will see it as a second home. But London is also the capital of the United Kingdom and in the same way that the Iraq war will have dogged (even destroyed) New York's chance London may suffer by association with the UK's involvement in that conflict. If you are a delegate who believes that the Iraq war was wrong (as many will), and you have on the one side three cities (New York, London and Madrid) from countries that instigated the war and on the other side Paris the capital of one of the most resolute opponents of the war, this may well sway your vote.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 15th February 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

Algarve, Portugal

Having written a couple of weeks ago about the problems with water shortages being faced by the operators of golf clubs in South Africa I found the same situation last week in the Algarve in Portugal. Here there has been little rain for three months (normally a rainy season) and restrictions on water usage means that the fairways are uniformly brown - and at some courses the greens are suffering as well. The talk in the clubhouses is of climate change – and it does seem that the golf industry is going to have to rethink its plans. There are, of course, rather more urgent social and economic consequences of drought than the effect it has on golf resorts for the rich. But if golf course development proceeds without properly sustainable environmental planning then it seems that around the world the game will have a seriously negative effect on the quality of life.

In the Algarve there are now around 30 golf courses, mostly resorts with hotels, apartments and villas dotted around the holes. The courses are generally excellent (water shortages notwithstanding) and if you visit off-peak the green fees are not exorbitant. We played the famous Quinta do Lago courses where the Portuguese Open is regularly played and our round cost 60 Euros ($80) – not unreasonable for a championship course of this quality. The Algarve region, especially along the coastal strip, is something of a golfers’ paradise and there are many permanent residents for whom golf is their life. What surprised me was how many of these are English! In the clubhouse of two clubs that we visited, “Pinheiros Altos” and the “Old Course” at Vilamoura, the sphere was so English that you could have been in Tunbridge Wells. I am tempted to burst into verse about this expatriate enclave as I am sure that there is plenty of material for a poem or two along the lines of my “Jumeira Jane” book (still available in all good book stores in Dubai!).

Property prices in the Algarve have gone through the roof in recent years. A small (two-bedroomed) terrace house on a golfing estate will set you back around half a million Euros ($650,000) and if you want a larger family home you would pay twice that amount. Whenever the word “golf” is attached to anything the price increases, but there is no shortage of willing buyers it seems. Golf, unlike any other sport or pastime, has become not just a game but a lifestyle. For the well-heeled retired (or semi-retired) person a life in a pleasant climate, with a house on a golf course and membership of a club whose members are kindred spirits, is quite an attractive proposition. This, of course, is also the offer in the Middle East – especially in Dubai and soon also in the Oman. But the Algarve has the advantage of genuine all the year round golf (unlike Dubai where only the eccentric will play in the blisteringly hot summer months).

Golf is really the only sport that you can play well into your sunset years. Indeed retirement communities around the world (mostly on the Florida model) are often built around a golf lifestyle. In the Algarve, if you are well heeled, you can live in true golfing splendour. But even those with more limited budgets can enjoy a golfing retirement in the region. If you are prepared top live away from the golf estates then property is available to buy and rent at much more modest costs and membership and green fees at the less fashionable clubs is also more affordable. Another option, if you already own a home elsewhere and only want holiday visits, is to buy a quarter-share in a property. Whilst this is not quite the same as owning your own home outright it is an attractive idea for those retirees who do not want completely to relocate.

My own golfing limitations are such that I am unlikely personally to try and create a “live to golf” way of life – I would be a candidate for psychotherapy very soon if this is what I chose to do. But it is enjoyable to play golf in different countries and to encounter new golfing experiences. In the Algarve there is one golf hole that is worth the visit on its own. The ninth at “Pine Cliffs” is played across a cliff (see photo) and I am only telling you about it because, yes, your correspondent did drive the green!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 8th February 2005

From the "Emirates Evening Post"

As is the case for senior managers in so many areas of modern life one of the key challenges for top sports administrators is to find the right balance between the need for change and the need to preserve good traditions from the past. Global sports such as Cricket have undergone major changes in recent times in response to challenges that are (in particular) caused by the greater commercialisation of the sports.

Sport has to reflect the mores and behaviours of the times. A sporting world where the principle driver is often commercial, and the principle measure of success the amount of income generated by an event or paid to a sports star, is very different from the mainly amateur world of less than 50 years ago. But when sports administrators consider issues which could lead to a significant change to their sports they need measures and advice which go beyond the strictly commercial. Cricket, in particular, is a sport which has a huge inheritance from the past and part of the charm of the sport is that those of us who love it wish to see all the good traditions preserved. Some of these traditions may seem somewhat barmy to those who are not steeped in the sport. To play a five day Test match only for it to end in a draw may seem odd to some who feel that sport always has to have a winner (try explaining it to an American!). But no-one (I hope) would suggest that if at the end of a Test match the game ended in a draw there should be some sort of “tie-breaker”. Draws are part of the game - which brings me to the whole area of cricket records and statistics.

Cricket is a sport in which the variants of types of game are greater than any other. It is played over any period from one to five days. Limited overs matches range from 20 overs to 50 overs per side and the Laws are amended depending on the type of game. What constitutes a “First Class Match” is subject to a rigorous check by the cricket gurus and the same applies (with even greater rigour) to the definition of what is a Test Match and what is an “official” One Day International. In the latter case, in recent times at any rate, there has been little room for debate. There are Test playing countries and when they play one another over five days in a properly sanctioned event then it is a Test Match. Similarly when these countries along with a number of others (like Canada or the UAE) play one another in sanctioned 50 Over “Limited Overs” matches then it is an official One Day International (ODI). All cricket records reflect the established practice that Test matches and ODIs have been played on this basis. But it is possible that this is about to change. The International Cricket Council Executive Board has ruled that the Tsunami relief matches between Asia and the Rest of the World (ROW) will be given official ODI status. Further there is pressure on the ICC Board from their own Chief Executives’ Committee to accord the same status to the one day matches to be played between Australia and the ROW later this year (the so-called “Super Series”) – and even to give Test match status to the six day match to be played at the same time.

The cricket world can be proud of the Tsunami matches which did everyone involved great credit. But there is absolutely no need to distort cricket’s records by calling them official ODIs (which they patently were not). There is even less justification to call the upcoming “ICC Super Series” official ODIs or the six day match a “Test match”. The ICC’s rules clearly state that ODIs and Test matches can only be played between countries. The ICC can change its rules, of course. But to do so would distort cricket’s records to no benefit other than some expectation that the matches would be more commercially successful if they are accorded “official” status for statistical purposes. If the ICC wants to ignore tradition and history solely because they think that the income streams from sponsorship and media rights would be higher then that is an example of a sporting administrator which has got its priorities all wrong. But I wouldn't put it past them!'

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 1st February 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The 56th Formula 1 season is only a month away – the season’s opener takes place in Melbourne on 6th March and the teams are well into testing of their new cars. As is now customarily the case the “off season” has been reported as having been characterised by an unseemly struggle for power at the top of the sport. I have been watching F1 for almost as long as it has been in existence and have become deeply sceptical of such reports. This is not because such struggles don’t take place, but because, in modern times, the sport’s supremo Bernie Ecclestone always emerges in charge – and usually unscathed. Like any serious global sport Formula 1 is a business as well as a series of competitive events - and a world scale business at that. Bernie is a single-minded leader, not as autocratic as some would think, but nevertheless a man who knows that the commercial fundamentals of the sport have to be right if it is to succeed.

I have been fortunate to have been fairly close to two great Formula 1 teams over the years (McLaren and Ferrari) and I can certainly say from my own experience that it is true that many businesses could usefully learn some lessons from them – although they are completely different from each other. McLaren is a team with a single-minded, almost obsessive, leader at its helm in Ron Dennis. Dennis has been in charge at McLaren for twenty-five years during which time the F1 drivers championship has been won nine times with four different drivers (Lauda, Senna, Prost and Hakkinen). The last win was in 1999 and whilst Dennis has experienced similar fallow periods before, you can be sure that he will be determined that the failure of 2004 is not repeated this year. Last year the best McLaren driver (Raikkonen) finished only seventh in the championship and drivers from BAR and Renault (as well as Ferrari and Williams) finished above him. This will not have pleased Ron! This year Raikkonen is joined in the team by Juan Pablo Montoya and if the new McLaren car can perform well from the start either of them has the natural talent to be world champion.

Standing in the way of McLaren and all the other aspirant champion teams is, of course, the formidable Ferrari team and the extraordinary Michael Schumacher. Since the passing of Enzo Ferrari in 1988 there has never been a single individual at the helm – Ferrari is much more of a complete team than McLaren or Williams. Whilst the drive for success is just as great I have always been impressed that Ferrari’s recent imperative has been to assemble a team of all the talents. The team’s overall director is the quiet and rather undemonstrative Frenchman Jean Todt and he acknowledges that the team’s success is attributable (in particular) to the partnership he has with Technical Director Ross Brawn and, of course, Schumacher ( it is remarkable that team as nationalistic as Ferrari none of these three is Italian)

One of the most fascinating things to watch in F1 in 2005 will be to see whether the success of BAR and Renault and the comparative decline of McLaren and Williams will continue. If we look at championship wins over the past twenty years the successful teams are McLaren (8 wins) Williams and Ferrari (5 each) with only Benetton (in 1994 and 1995) breaking their dominance. Benetton’s driver was, of course, the young Michael Schumacher. Predicting outcomes in sport is a hazardous game but I have a feeling that we will see Ferrari continue their success this year - but that the gap with McLaren will have been narrowed a lot. I would be surprised if Williams (who have yet even to confirm their second driver behind Mark Webber) mounts a serious challenge. I would expect the real challenge to Schumacher will come from his team mate Rubens Barrichello, the two McLaren drivers, Jensen Button of BAR and Renault’s brilliant Fernando Alonso. It could be a very exciting year and let’s concentrate on the sport and try and ignore the political and power dances at the top if we can!