Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 26th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The look on the face of the President of Ferrari said it all – “The gods must be against us”. Luca di Montezemolo is not a man who hides his emotions and when Michael Schumacher made a rare mistake and left the track during final qualifying at San Marino it was just too much for the Ferrari boss. His face and his body language expressed not just disappointment but also revealed that he knew that a supreme opportunity to regain momentum in the 2005 Formula 1 season had been lost. Montezemolo feared that the hard work over the previous three weeks to get their 2005 car competitive had been negated by one tiny error of judgment by his star driver. Schumacher was to have to start from fourteenth on the grid and surely there was no possibility that even he could win from so far back? Maybe if there was rain and he could use his mastery in the wet to cut through the field – not on a dry track and with tyres which so far this season had been uncompetitive.

Michael Schumacher is not normally a man who needs any extra incentives to compete at his best – even after 83 Grand Prix victories and seven drivers’ titles. But the look of thunder on his team president’s face may just have been the spur that Schumi needed to give the performance of his life in this Grand Prix. And Schumacher’s efforts, which all so nearly succeeded, have also contributed to further raising the interest and excitement of this remarkable Formula 1 season. Make no mistake about it at the beginning of the year F1 was on the ropes. For some, Ferrari’s (and Schumacher’s) utter dominance took interest away from the sport. Combine this with political and financial troubles in the administration of F1, and disarray in some teams, and the prospects for the season were gloomy. Ferrari’s early season troubles with a sub-standard car and real problems with their Bridgestone tyres created an opening into which the Renault team and (in particular) Fernando Alonso gratefully jumped. Alonso has been outstanding and there is no fluke at all in his hat trick of wins.

When Michael Schumacher won his first Grand Prix at Spa in 1992 at the age of 23 Alonso was eleven years old - so they are almost a Grand Prix generation apart. Alonso was even younger than Schumacher when he had his first Grand Prix win last year - and this year the young Spaniard has shown that, without question, he has the potential to succeed Schumacher…in due course! I still think that Schumi and Ferrari have the time to turn the 2005 season around and although the twenty-six point gap in the Drivers' world championship, and the twenty-eight point deficit in the Constructors' world championship, will take some catching up I think that they can do it. There are still fifteen races to go in the 2005 season and anything can happen. The key is reliability. If the Ferraris and the Renaults are equally reliable through the rest of the season then Alonso may already have the championship in the bag. The extent of Schumacher’s task is clear. If he wins all the remaining Grands Prix, and Alonso finishes second in them, then it would be Schumacher’s eighth championship – but only by four points. But if Ferrari does start winning consistently, and Renault falter, then Schumacher could have a much more comfortable championship win.

Looking back over the past few seasons it has not only been the brilliance of Schumacher, and the overall power of the Ferrari that has been the reason for their success. Reliability has also played a crucial part. Even when Schumacher did not win his car would reliably deliver championship points - and similarly Rubens Barrichello would come up with the positions which would help deliver the constructors’ title. Whilst some teams have challenged from time to time, these challenges have always faded away. No team has established anything like the reliability of Ferrari and that is now the challenge for Renault. They have a young, hungry and supremely talented driver in Fernando Alonso who, after four Grands Prix, has a commanding lead in the drivers’ championship. Can the engineers and the technical team of Renault now deliver the race after race reliability that a championship win will require? It will be fascinating to see!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 19th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

Whilst we should perhaps guard against making too strong a claim about the role that cricket has played in the growing political rapprochement between India and Pakistan there is no doubt that the resumption on the field of play has been helpful. The visit of the Pakistan President to New Delhi for the deciding One Day International was both a symbol of the moves towards a permanent peace and an acknowledgement that the shared love of the game of cricket across the two nations can continue to help this process.

The extent of the historic differences between India and Pakistan has understandably cast a long shadow over the cricket pitches for too long. Following the first Test match between the nations in 1952 (Pakistan's first ever Test match) there were regular matches for eight years before the politicians put a stop to cricket for seventeen years. Over those first fifteen Test matches it is possible to detect that the growing political tensions had their affect on play. Whilst the first three matches produced results the next twelve were all drawn - pitches and tactics were such that perhaps neither side could risk the loss of face that losing would have meant with their supporters. After the long gap play resumed again in 1978 when for the first time One Day Internationals were also included in the schedules. Ten years later politics once again intervened and between 1990 and 1998 there was another hiatus with no Test matches and only the occasional One Day International on neutral grounds such as Sharjah or Toronto. Although these matches were often rather tense affairs (and the security officials sometimes had their work cut out keeping the rival spectators apart) the relations between the two teams were generally friendly.

The last India/Pakistan ODI at Sharjah was in March 2000 when, as I recall, Inzamam-ul-Haq had one of his more remarkable days hitting a hundred at better than a run a ball and scoring boundaries all around the ground. The records show that India played Pakistan twenty-four times at Sharjah between 1983 and that last match with Pakistan winning this long "series" easily (by 18 games to 6). It is now two years since the last ODI of any sort at the Sharjah Cricket Ground and there are no prospects for an immediate return of top international cricket to Sharjah. I hope that the long innings of this ground has not drawn to a close - especially as the number of matches is just short of a double century. But whatever happens the CBFS and Sharjah can reflect with pride that when politics prevented India and Pakistan touring each other's countries they kept the cricketing flame alive.

The third politics induced break in regular India v Pakistan matches came after Pakistan's tour to India in 1998/9 but fortunately this was to be the shortest of gaps - let us hope that it is also the last. There is little doubt that India's visit to Pakistan for three Test matches and five ODIs in 2003/4 and the return tour in India, which has just finished, has produced good closely fought cricket. There were positive results in all but one of the six Tests which India edged 3-2, and some sparkling play in the One-Dayers won by Pakistan 7-5. Overall honours even. But more important than what took place on the field was the fact that cricket has been a catalyst for the coming together of both political leaders and the peoples of the two nations.

International conflicts such as that between India andd Pakistan which have endured for generations have only done so because of deep seated problems and antipathies, which it would be wrong to minimise. When I have written before about the role of cricket as a peacemaker in the Sub-continent my postbag has often received heartfelt letters which illustrate how deep the resentments are. There has been so much suffering in the past that to talk of cricket may sometimes seem trivial. But to see the Pakistani president and the Indian Prime Minister together at New Delhi was, I think, a defining moment. Let us hope so.

Finally back to Sharjah. Perhaps it is wishful thinking but it wouldn't it be fitting if the positive role that Sharjah played over the years in India/Pakistan cricket could be recognised with a special "Peace" tournament taking place there once an enduring political reconciliation is signed between the two nations?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Heroes and Villians

From "yes no sorry" Volume 4 Issue 1

Heroes and Villains
Paddy Briggs

How Basil D’Oliveira and Nasser Hussain became symbols of all that is good in cricket – and how the cricket administrators of their eras thirty-five years apart conspired to try and defeat them

Two books have been published in recent months which, though very different and about two very different characters, give truth to the saying "What know they of cricket who only cricket know". Nasser Hussain's autobiography "Playing with Fire"[1] and Peter Oborne's perceptive and informed telling of the life of Basil D'Oliveira[2] make equally explicit who the heroes and villains were in their lives. And although these cricketing lives were lived more than a generation apart they give further proof to the adage "The only thing that we learn from the study of history is that we learn nothing from history". The amorality, deceit, intransigence and insensitivity that characterised the woeful behaviour of sporting administrators in Basil's summer of 1968 was more than matched by what Nass had to put up with in the South African summer of 2003.

Coincidentally both Hussain and D'Oliveira are both of mixed-race parentage and whilst race was, of course, central to Dolly's story it also played a not insignificant part in Nasser's cricket life. In an article quoted in Oborne's book John Arlott wrote presciently in August 1968 of the MCC's decision to leave D'Oliveira out of the South African tour party; "… within a few years, the British-born children of West India, India, Pakistani and African immigrants will be worth places in English county and national teams…the MCC's... decision must be a complete deterrent to any young coloured cricketer in this country". Nasser Hussain had been born that very year in Madras and if the ethos of MCC's then position had been sustained it is hardly likely that his father Joe would have brought him and the rest of his family to England a few years later!

Dolly and Nass are in their very different ways heroes of the struggle of cricketers to stand up for what is right, and to be role models of their cricketing times. Peter Oborne tells the moving story of Dolly's childhood in apartheid ravaged Cape Town in the post war years. His prodigious talent was visible early but, of course, he had no chance to fulfil his promise because top cricket in the country was a whites only affair. As a Cape Coloured (the descendants of the mixed white/black relationships of the early decades of the country's history) D'Oliveira was prohibited from moving outside the racially defined boundaries which imprisoned his people. In fact Dolly was light brown in colour and the great fast bowler Wes Hall once told him "In the West Indies you would have counted as a white man!" No matter, Dolly's hated pass (which had to be carried by all non-whites) classified him as coloured, and that was that.

Thanks to John Arlott, the Lancashire league club Middleton and later Worcestershire D'Oliveira was able to pursue a cricket career. Arlott had taken up his cause and Middleton had taken the risk of employing him. After a slow start he succeeded and within a year or two he had qualified for England and was in the Test side. In 1966 and 1967 he scored a total of nearly six hundred runs at an average of 48. He had made himself a fixture in the England side and although there was a hiccup on the West Indies tour of 1966-68 ,and he also suffered form a loss of form in the early part of the 1968 Australian tour summer, he came back for the final two tests scoring a memorable century at the Oval. It seemed certain that he would be chosen for the South Africa tour that winter. Peter Oborne has unravelled with forensic skill the conspiracy, which led to D'Oliveira not being selected, and it reflects extremely badly on the English cricket establishment of the time. In short the selectors, the wider MCC committee and the MCC membership as a whole were of the opinion that "bridge-building" was better than a boycott where South Africa was concerned. England's captain Colin Cowdrey took the same view "Sport", he said at the time, "is still one of the most effective bridges in linking peoples and I am convinced that it is right that I should lead MCC to South Africa." Oborne shows how without Cowdrey's support (despite the fact that it had been promised by him to D'Oliveira) the selectors rejected D'Oliveira on "cricketing grounds alone". This was a charade and although the case for Dolly's inclusion was not water tight, there is not much doubt that factors other than the purely cricketing played a crucial part. The selectors (or enough of them) knew that a touring party with D'Oliveira in it would be rejected by Vortser's Apartheid government (as it was when, in response to huge public interest and pressure, Dolly was belatedly selected when another player dropped out through injury). The cricket establishment had initially conspired to put the retention of white South Africa in the international arena ahead of principle - and they were quite prepared that Basil D’Oliveira should be a casualty of that imperative if needs be.

Roll forward thirty-five years and you might hope and expect that times would have sufficiently changed that the sort of tunnel vision coming from Lord’s in 1968 would all have disappeared in our modern more enlightened age. Not a bit of it. The opening chapter in Nasser Hussain’s book tells in chilling detail how the ICC put profit, pride and prejudice before principle in 2003 at the time of the Cricket World Cup. The issue was, of course, Zimbabwe and whether it was appropriate for England to play a World Cup match in Bulawayo. Nasser led from the front as this issue came to the boil -he wore his heart on his sleeve and he is the only one to come out of this sordid affair with any credit. As was the case in 1968 the cricket administrators were either vacillating and weak (the ECB) or pig-headed and offensive (the ICC).

At a meeting in Cape Town just before the World Cup started Nasser Hussain fronted up to Malcolm Speed of the ICC and he summaries his dealings with him as follows “… I never detected [in Speed] an interest in the spirit and future of the game…the priority was always money”. Speed was not only unyielding he was also contemptuous of England’s captain. Speed cut off the discussion after an inadequate half and hour and when Nass protested, Speed walked dismissively away. The ECB was almost as bad for although he had unanimous support from his fellow English players Nasser received no support at all from England cricket’s administrators at this crucial time. Hussain is particularly critical of the “unctuous” and “unsatisfactory” Tim Lamb who he felt was only interested in “trying to safeguard his own position”. The ECB turned to “emotional blackmail in an attempt to force us into going [to Zimbabwe]”. So Nasser was treated with contempt by one of the leaders of world cricket (Malcolm Speed) and was threatened by his employer the ECB – and all because cricket obsessive ‘though he is he was aware enough to know that when it comes to playing games in countries governed by racist dictators you must take a moral stand and say “thanks but no thanks”.

In the end, of course, England did not tour South Africa in 1968/69 and nor did they go to Zimbabwe in 2003. In both cases if those in charge had seen earlier that to play games in these countries in the prevailing circumstances was wrong then a great deal of heartache and distress could have been avoided. Basil D’Oliveira is today rightly a symbol of what the “Spirit of Cricket” means and Nasser Hussain is one of the Spirit’s most vigorous and articulate proponents. If only cricket administrators had a small part of the principles of these two heroes the world of cricket would be a better place.

[1] Published by Michael Joseph at £17.99
[2] Published by Little, Brown at £16.99

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 12th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

When you have exceptional wealth and international fame and you spend your days playing golf (the game that you were born up to excel at) at the very highest level - and you have achieved all this by the age of 27 - there has to be something special to drive you on. As an Amateur you won the US Amateur Championship more than once and when you turned professional at the age of 22 the expectations of the golfing world were enormous. You were already being hailed as potentially the greatest golfer ever. You did not let them down. Within six years you had won each of the four Majors at least once, including back to back wins in the Masters at Augusta National. Then, inexplicably, you stop winning the big ones. Two whole seasons go by without a Major and it is the other two players in the “Big three” golfing triumvirate who move to the top of the rankings. Your game hasn’t collapsed and you still tower above most other professionals in your awesome power, but you just don’t find it quite so easy to pick up the most glittering prizes. There are mumblings as to whether you have lost your competitive edge and your hunger for success – “How long will the drought go on for…?” is the tabloid headline of choice. Then the “drought” ends, another Major is under your belt and the critics are silenced.

If the above cautionary tale sounds familiar you might be surprised to know that whilst it all applies to Tiger Woods the story is in fact about his only challenger as the “Greatest” Jack Nicklaus! By the age of twenty seven Nicklaus had won seven Majors – at the same age Tiger had won eight and each of them had to get through two barren seasons before winning another. Jack won the (British) Open in 1970 and Woods has, last weekend, won the 2005 Masters. The parallels between the first nine years of Nicklaus’s career as a Professional (1962-1970) and those of Woods (1997-2005) are uncanny .With the Tiger’s win at Augusta the record is that both he and his illustrious predecessor won the Masters three times before the age of 30.

In drawing this parallel between two golfers a generation apart I do so both to signal how unwise it was of some in the media to start to write off Tiger Woods (the headline “Tiger’s slump” became over familiar) but also to show that at this stage in his career Tiger Woods is keeping pace very precisely with Jack Nicklaus. Between 1970 and 1980, the “Golden Bear’s” golden age, Nicklaus won ten more Majors and then, as a nostalgic coda to his Major winning career, he won again at the age of 46 in 1986. That is the challenge for Woods if he wants to be crowned the greatest ever. Beat that Tiger!

There are some who look at golf today and say that modern equipment is of such technological advancement that courses are being tamed and skill differences are being minimised. If the likes of Paul Lawrie, Ben Curtis, Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Shaun Micheel, Rich Beem… (all one time Major winners in recent years) can win the top tournaments then surely a Major win is possible for any journeyman pro? There is some truth in this (there always was – there are plenty of one time Major winners in history) but what is more important is that more often than not it is the truly class player who wins the biggest tournaments. And in the same way that Nicklaus had Palmer and Player to offer a challenge Woods has Els and Singh.

When Tiger Woods outdrove Chris DiMarco on the long holes in the run-in of this year’s Masters commentators marvelled at his drives of 330 yards or more. To those who think that it is only modern equipment that permits such distance they might look back to that (British) Open in 1970 which put Jack Nicklaus’s Major winning career back on track. In the play off for the title against Doug Sanders Jack showed that he meant business by peeling off his sweater on the play-off hole and hitting the ball 350 yards to the back of the green. And that was with a real “Wood” not a “Metal Wood”. So Jack is still firmly on the pedestal as the finest of them all – but Tiger is back on track to challenge the great man!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 5th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

There are nineteen Grands Prix in the 2005 Formula 1 season (more than ever before) which means that the championships (Drivers and Constructors) are more analogous with a marathon than with a sprint. With three Grands Prix now completed we are, therefore, still only in the preliminary stages of the race which will eventually lead to the crowning of a champion driver and a champion team. Those reading the runes and trying to predict the final outcome of this year’s championships would be well advised neither to rush to judgment not to place too much emphasis on the results of the early skirmishes. At this stage the main subject for debate both in the media and in the grandstands is whether we are witnessing the passing of the torch from the (in recent seasons) all-conquering Michael Schumacher and Ferrari to someone else. The rising young star Fernando Alonso (thirteen years Schumi’s junior) and his exciting Renault team are the clear favourites to succeed.

The Renault team, impressively led by the flamboyant Flavio Briatore, has made a perfect start to the 2005 season with victories in the first three races. In Formula 1 it has always been the case that what you need to succeed is a driveable chassis, a strong engine and top-class driver in the cockpit – and in 2005 it really does seem that Renault has this combination. When Briatore last won the world championship in the 1995 season with Benetton/Renault he also had all three. There was the young Ross Brawn as Technical Director to get the right blend of chassis and engine and Benetton also had the precociously talented 1994 World champion Michael Schumacher as his number one driver. Despite early season struggles this combination eventually proved unbeatable and both championships were comfortably secured with Schumacher leaving the field behind him in the Drivers’ contest by some distance.

In looking back ten years to the events of 1995, when Briatore was last a winner, I do so not to make predictions of a repeat performance this year, but (on the contrary) to suggest that those who write off Ferrari and Schumi at this early stage in the season need to think again. Two of the principal elements in Benetton’s 1995 success (Brawn and Schumacher) have been the key to Ferrari’s domination in recent seasons. In addition in Jean Todt Ferrari has the best and the most successful Managing Director in the sport. If another team wanted a Driver, a Technical Director or an overall man in charge there is no doubt that these three would be way ahead of the rest on their shopping list (if they could afford them).

So a cool evaluation of the prospects for the 2005 season (with thirteen Grand Prix still to go) would (in my view) still say that Schumacher and Ferrari are the favourites. The Ferrari organisation of recent years does not have the lack of depth that categorised their unsuccessful challenges in the more distant past. Whilst they have failed so far this season this is not attributable to any inherent lack of quality, even less to a lack of resources. Quite simply they have failed to get their new car up and running (and winning) in time for the early season races. Schumacher showed in Bahrain that despite the 2005 car being rushed into service it is a potential winner. He was close to getting pole position with this untested car and he competed close to Alonso for the first quarter of the race distance before mechanical troubles caused his first retirement for mechanical reasons for an amazing 58 races.

For the neutral observer the emergence of the challenge of Renault and Alonso is just what the sport of Formula One needed – and it is also pleasing to see that Toyota has arrived on the scene at last and is competing well. Indeed in the Drivers’ Championship the highest placed driver from the three teams that have dominated F1 since Benetton’s success in 1995 (Ferrari, McLaren and Williams) is Ferrari’s Barrichello in sixth place behind the two Renault drivers, the two from Toyota and David Coulthard who now drives for Red Bull!

Crucially there is now a three week gap before the next Grand Prix at Imola on 24th April. Over this time I expect Ferrari to be working hard to get the gremlins out of their 2005 car. In front of the Tifosi, who will be at Imola in their tens of thousands, I would be surprised if we fail to see a resurgent prancing horse and Schumi or Rubens (or both) on the podium.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Cheap golf in the Algarve - Caveat Emptor

Sunterra's golfing bargain...

Even those golfers who have never been there will be aware of the reputation of the Algarve as one of the golfing paradises of Europe. Blessed with a splendid climate, and within easy reach of most British airports, the region’s thirty golf courses (many of European PGA championship standard) are a tempting prospect. So when the flyer fell out of my golf magazine offering a week in the Algarve and a free round on the famous Quinta do Lago course all for the sum of £59 it seemed too good to be true. There were, of course, some conditions attached – you had to travel as a couple (no problem, my wife is also a golfer) and you had to arrange your own flights and car hire. This wasn’t a problem either as there seemed to be plenty of low cost flight options to Faro and car hire was competitively priced as well. Flights, car hire and the holiday cost amounted in total to less than £350 for the week for the two us – not bad when you realise that the green fees alone were worth £90.

The company making this remarkable offer was called Sunterra and a close study of the small print on the flyer showed what their game was. “During your stay you are required to attend an informative presentation of holidaying with Club Sunterra…you are not under any obligation to buy, rent or purchase anything should you not wish to do so.” Fair enough. Listen to some sales pitch from a holiday company and then enjoy the rest of the time on the golf course or exploring the Algarve. We decided to give it a go.

The resort where our self-catering accommodation was located is called “Vilar do Golf” and it turned out to be in one of the best positions in the Quinta do Lago area – right alongside the golf course. Our villa was about twenty years old and showing its age a bit – but perfectly acceptable with comfortable furniture and fittings and cable TV etc. On the first day of our holiday we were invited to attend a brief meeting where we met our Sunterra representative Mark. This brief initial chat was obviously an ice breaker – no selling and really just a “get to know you” meeting with Mark who gave us some useful information about the area and, particularly, the golf (he was a keen golfer himself). We were asked by Mark to meet him again in a couple of day’s time when he would tell us more about the Sunterra offer.

We enjoyed our round on the Quinta do Lago course and also began to explore the area a bit before keeping our appointment. By the time that we kept our date we were in a positive frame of mind. The weather was lovely - in early February the temperature rose as high as 18 degrees and the skies were always clear. We had also played the famous nine hole course at Pine Cliffs in Albufeira where you have to drive across a cliff canyon to reach the green at the Par 3 final hole. So we were happy to listen to whatever Mark of Sunterra had to tell us.

We came genuinely open-minded to the sales presentation. This was one to one (or, rather, one to two as we both had to be there) and was clearly going to take some time. In short the Club Sunterra proposition was that you would buy, with an upfront payment, holiday “points” which you could then use in perpetuity to buy self-catering weeks at Vilar do Golf or at their 90 or so other resorts around the world (the weekly points cost varying depending on the quality of the resort and the season). This is similar in principle to Timeshare – but with far greater flexibility in respect of location or season. The idea seemed quite appealing in principle and the presentation (which included access to Sunterra’s website where all the properties were shown) was professional. It seemed clear that the key variables were how much the points would cost, what any additional charges would be, how easy it would be to so spend your points to secure the holiday you wanted and what the value of your points would be if you wanted to sell them later.

A quick calculation showed that if you bought 10,000 points then you would (in theory) be able to buy two weeks (at least) at Vilar do Golf pretty much whenever you wanted. The annual cost of such a purchase was a little under £600 (what Sunterra calls its annual “maintenance and administration charges”) - a hefty enough sum, but not bad if you could buy the necessary points upfront cheaply enough. It was at this crucial point in the discussion that Mark bowed out and his boss Ian came to the table. The sell hardened significantly at this point - now we were in the “Kasbah” with the points not carrying a fixed price but clearly being negotiable. From a start point of more than £26,000 for the 10,000 points we eventually ended up at £12,250 – oh and a free one week holiday (including flights) would be thrown in as an incentive. But we had to commit whilst we were still in Portugal and, although there would be a legal period of grace that would mean that we could cancel when we were back in the UK, it was made quite clear that for this offer to be available we had to make a provisional commitment now. We asked for time to go away and think about the proposed deal. On the face of it looked attractive. Two or three weeks holiday a year golfing in the Algarve – or visits to a huge range of other resorts if that was what we preferred. The points per week and per resort would always be the same so there was inflation proofing built in. The annual charge was quite a lot but although not fixed it did not seem to increase annually by too much. Was £12,250 a fair price to pay for this?

Now journalists are by nature a sceptical bunch – even those of us who write about golf. So after the “haggling in the souk” that the points negotiation had been I thought that I better (belatedly) do some research. A quick Google search on my laptop showed me that the real trading value of the Sunterra offer points was far, far lower than the deal we were being presented with. Many Timeshare trading websites have Sunterra points on offer for as low as £3000 per 10,000 points - and there were plenty of points available on EBay as well for around this cost. We had been asked to pay around four times the going rate for points and (of course) no mention of this market value had been made to us at the presentation.

The other concern thrown up by my internet search was that it seemed that many existing members were unhappy with Sunterra because it was difficult for them to get the exact weeks they wanted in the resorts they wanted. Peak weeks in popular resorts like the one at Quinta do Lago were booked up very quickly and if you were constrained (e.g. by school holidays) then you could well be frustrated. Further investigation showed that there is an active group of dissatisfied Sunterra members who are suing the company for false promises (http://www.sunterrafied.co.uk/) and that the Timeshare Consumers Association has set up a “Sunterra Compensation Group” to act on behalf of members with grievances (http://www.vogas.org/). Amongst the grievances are the above inflation rate annual increase in the “maintenance charges” and the fact that although you have to buy points at inflated prices their resale value is a small percentage of what you paid. According to Sunterra you have to be an existing member to buy points. So if despite the concerns you do find the Sunterra offer attractive (and there are many satisfied customers along with those who are unhappy) the trick is initially to buy as few points as possible directly from Sunterra and then top them up with points bought on the open market!

The buyers’ caution “Caveat Emptor” has always applied when Timeshare has been involved and for the “son of Timeshare” that points based systems like Sunterra’s are it is just the same. I cannot accuse Sunterra of unacceptably high pressure sales tactics, but they were certainly skilled salesman used to resolving customer objections. They never lied to my wife and me, but they were never disclosing the whole truth either. They created goodwill by giving us a week’s holiday at very low cost and once I advised them that we would not be proceeding with the “membership” offer they respected that decision reasonably gracefully. I should, of course, have researched Sunterra before signing up for the holiday. But would I have still taken up the one week golfing holiday offer even if I had know the facts and therefore known that there was little possibility of my buying the points holiday deal - and how I would advise readers of this magazine if they see and are temped by the offer? On balance I think that I would say “go ahead”. Enjoy a week’s golf in the Algarve. Attend the Sunterra sales pitch and politely decline. A bit sneaky perhaps – but not as sneaky as Sunterra’s determined attempt to separate a presumed golfing fool from his money!