Counting the cash cows

More of this and Uefa might be on to something

More of this and Uefa might be on to something

As I contemplate getting up at 4.45 on a Saturday morning to watch Bayern vs. Chelsea I not only question how I get my kicks, but also the status of the European Super Cup, and where it sits in the pantheon of recurrent non-events on the sporting calendar. After roughly two and a half minutes of concerted thinking time, it makes it into my top five.

What follows is a shortlist of damp squibs. To qualify it has to take the crème de la crème of professional sport in a particular discipline, and then make them perform in an event so devoid of meaning that it renders their efforts – and those of the watching public – almost futile.

European Super Cup

We begin with this annual fixture between the previous season’s Champions League and Europa League winners. Staggeringly, the Uefa equivalent of the FA Community Shield has been running, in one shape or form, since 1972.

Last year, Chelsea – as Champions League winners – treated the game against Atletico Madrid with utter contempt, lazily going 3 nil behind to a Falcao hat-trick in the first half, before saving a modicum of dignity in the second stanza and coming away with a 4-1 loss.

This year, the only reason I’m contemplating the early rise again is because of the José and Pep element. In popular folklore, José is the villain and Pep is the shining white knight. But, I’m an avowed follower of the cult of José; his prickly charm and insolent attitude trump Pep’s holier than thou persona for me.

That doesn’t hide from the fact that the event itself is a virtual dead rubber. Yes, there’s a trophy up for grabs, but the main baubles are handed out in May. At least the World Club Cup has an intercontinental edge to it. This is just an inconvenience to clubs whose attentions are now focussed on their domestic league campaigns.

NFL Pro Bowl

Can’t say I know much about this event but any game that ‘borrows’ elite sportsmen to play for a team they have no real affinity for, in what is essentially an exhibition match, has to be pretty prominent in this list.

Indeed, the annual match-up between the best players from the two NFL Conferences is in danger of being seen as a bit of a farce. Every year the biggest concern of teams is to avoid injuries to the star players. The Associated Press wrote that players in the 2012 game were “hitting each other as though they were having a pillow fight”, which can do little to aid the spectacle.

Other examples of all-star games can be found in the MLB, NHL and NBA. Thus this is what happens when obscure sports are propagated within national borders; there’s no foreign foe to vanquish (the presence of Canadian teams in the MLB and NHL doesn’t seem to provide that source of rivalry) so the deep well of nationalist fervour lies untapped.

All of which brings us nicely to the next event on our shortlist.

International Rules Series

Nice try, Tadhg. I'm still not buying.

Nice try, Tadhg. Still don’t care.

If no-one else in the world plays your sport why not just find the nearest equivalent, create a hybrid of the two, and manufacture a showcase event? That’s what the Australians and Irish did in the sixties when their own unique brands of hand-football were stewing in their own domestic juice.

To the uninitiated (99.9% of mankind), this bastard of a game takes representative players from the disparate worlds of AFL and Gaelic football and creates a mash-up which at least has the benefit of being as violent as it is meaningless.

It’s played twice every three years and, despite dwindling interest in the game, has been stubbornly propped up by the AFL in direct response to the success of the representative competition of their local football code arch-rivals, the NRL; whose State of Origin series is vastly more popular (and lucrative), sustained as it is by the mutual hatred between Queenslanders and New South Welshmen.

2005 ICC Super Series

This event at least has the virtue of having been recognised as a failure and has been scrapped. The ‘Super’ Series pitted the undisputed world champions Australia against a Rest of the World XI in three ODIs and one Test match.

The principle behind the event was that the Australian side had become completely dominant in world cricket, and had a reputation of being unbeatable. This basis was undercut somewhat as it was staged one month after the Aussies were beaten in the 2005 Ashes.

Suffering from a noticeable lack of intensity, the drab matches were played out in the half empty MCG and SCG and were all won comfortably by the home side. The Rest of the World XI, featuring stars such as Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan and, er, Steve Harmison, were a model of disunity.

Geoffrey Boycott described the series as a “bunfight” and said that there was “nothing that resembled cricket” in it. Wisden summed up the Test match as: “a terrible game of cricket. It had a small crowd, little meaning and was forgotten quickly.” Its first-class status has since been revoked.

The World XI players seemed to be there more for fun than anything else. Freddie Flintoff came up with some refreshingly honest opinions amidst all the bullish official statements: “I’ve got the Super Series in two weeks’ time. I can’t think of anything worse,” he said, adding on arrival; “I’m only here for the food.”

Presidents Cup

Suffering in direct comparison with the passion of the Ryder Cup, this event too struggles with the lack of pride that comes in representing a ‘Rest of the World’ (minus Europe) team. Worse, as any get-in-the-hole enthusiast will tell you, it’s not as if the Americans themselves are often galvanised by representing their country. This truly is a dead duck tournament, though you wouldn’t know that if you spoke to a South African or Australian golf nut.

Inaugurated in 1994, the Yanks have won seven of the nine tournaments, losing once and tying on the other occasion. But, really, who cares?

The murky world of Bodybuilding

I'm free!!!

I’m free!!!

In response to recent events Ball Control has been wondering which sports can be deemed most felonious. Luckily, as ever, Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information, backed up by trusted sources such as the BBC and, er, Femalemuscle.com.

Amongst all the data on convictions I only pulled out those offences which attracted custodial sentences. Most of the convictions were for current professional sportspeople, though some were retired at the time of their imprisonment. For the purposes of comparison, life imprisonment means 25 years (as per the English jurisdiction). Ball Control accepts the accusation of being an Anglo-centric news hub.

The comparisons between many sports are undermined by the small pool of data each of them has. Any sport with fewer than 10 convictions clearly isn’t trying hard enough to push its protagonists towards a life of crime.

The list is also notable for those who were spared prison sentences. To escape the clink, it would appear that sports prowess would be as helpful as a skilled defence attorney. The likes of Phil “The Power” Taylor (indecent assault), Guus Hiddink (tax fraud) and Patrick Kluivert (death by dangerous driving) all escaped doing porridge while similar crimes resulted in lengthy cell time for lesser-known sporting crims. And let’s not even go near the whole OJ murder charges…

Shining like a macabre light from this already gloomy list is one Leslie George Hylton, a West Indian fast bowler who played in six Test matches between 1935 and 1939. In 1955, he was hanged for the murder of his wife, Lurlene. During his trial, Hylton claimed he had been trying to shoot himself but missed. It’s not known whether she was cowering behind a bathroom door at the time.

Sport Famous ne’er-do-wells (and their crimes) No. of convictions Average length of custodial sentence (months)
Bodybuilding Bertil Fox (murder), Sally McNeil (second-degree murder), Craig Titus (second-degree murder) 3 553
Gridiron OJ Simpson (robbery, kidnapping), Michael Vick (dog fighting), Darryl Henley (drug trafficking, attempted conspiracy to commit murder) 32 213
Boxing Mike Tyson (rape, road rage), Floyd Mayweather Sr. (drug trafficking), Bernard Hopkins (robbery) 20 207
Diving Bruce Kimball (death by dangerous driving) 1 184
Martial Arts Evangelos Goussis (attempted murder, two counts of murder) 6 140
Motorsport Bertrand Gachot (assault and use of offensive weapon) 40 136
Greco-Roman Wrestling Otari Kvantrishvili (rape) 1 120
Baseball Ugueth Urbina (attempted murder), Darryl Strawberry (drug possession, solicitation of prostitution) 17 120
Skateboarding Mark Rogowski (rape and murder) 5 115
Basketball Allen Iverson (maiming by mob), Tom Payne (rape) 15 70
Cricket Salman Butt (conspiracy to accept corrupt payments), Leslie Hylton (murder), Terry Jenner (embezzlement) 10 62
Rugby Union Tony Neary (fraud) 1 60
Athletics (track and field) Marion Jones (perjury), Tim Montgomery (fraud, drug dist’) 5 52
Ice Hockey Mike Danton (conspiracy to commit murder) 6 43
Sumo Wrestling Futatsuryū Jun’ichi (murder) 2 41
Figure Skating Tonya Harding (DUI) 4 36
Snooker Silvino Francisco (drug smuggling) 1 36
Association Football Graham Rix (underage sex), Lee Hughes (death by dangerous driving), Joey Barton (assault, affray) 45 30
Horse Racing Lester Piggott (tax evasion) 4 30
Australian Rules Football Brett Cooper (drug offences), Neville Linney (burglary) 6 26
Tennis Bernard Boileau (drug use, assault and dangerous driving) 4 21
Darts Chris Mason (ABM, burglary) 2 20
Swimming Nick D’Arcy (assault) 2 9
Cycling Tammy Thomas (perjury), Missy Giove (drug dist’) 2 6

Transatlantic Sports Dispatches

Our American-based correspondent, earlier

Our American-based correspondent, earlier

It’s been a big, bad week in the world of sport. Yesterday’s details of drugs and organised crime in Australia sport followed hot on the heels of the accusations of similar misdemeanors across European football (which itself prompted this Ball Control article).

Today, the Premier League announced plans to prevent “another Portsmouth”, by introducing what appear to be a watered down version of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations.

Ball Control’s editor caught up with its United States correspondent to digest this news, and lament the passing of the ‘golden age’ of football.

USC: [Re FFP] I think that a lot of the non-footballing ownership is trying to ensure that the ‘franchisees’ make a certain level of profit, like the NFL. It is a way of putting in a salary cap without the EU stepping in. Jimmy Hill will not be happy with this.

BC Ed: I’m a big fan of FFP and I agree with Wenger about ‘financial doping’. May be an old fashioned view but Germany’s system of fan ownership, reasonable ticket prices and safe standing stadia makes me green with jealousy when I look at the Premier League.

USC: The Prem is the world’s first superleague and it will soon guarantee a profitable return for owners which will ensure that the world’s richest will invest. It will just be interesting to see how fans will react to an owner making 50% profit and not ‘wasting’ it on talent if they are struggling.

The salary cap in the major US sports ensures a delay in action every 4-5 years which is both frustrating and annoying as the players and owners try to divide up the pot.

We may have witnessed football in its golden age e.g. the early 90s.

BC Ed: I think we’re seeing the beginning of a backlash. Fans are increasingly disgruntled with and unsympathetic towards their own teams.

Look at West Brom. Really, they’ve had a great season but people are only interested in the last six games. It’s a mix of ‘old’ fans disenfranchised in the new regime, ‘new’ fans who are fed the diet of instant gratification and the 24 hour media addicted to hyperbole. Non-league attendances are at record levels.

If fans came together and pressurised the Premier League into making changes (along German lines) then we might see some action.  Too much tribalism in football makes the likes of the Football Supporters Federation toothless.

USC: I just want to get back to the days when a team could build a really good core of young players and would have a shot of rising through the divisions and having a shot at the title.

There are examples of how this has (sort of) happened recently, but not like a Derby County or Forest in the 80s / 90s. The best young players are sold for exorbitant amounts before they have had a chance to change a smaller team’s fortunes.

Maybe those days are gone and we are looking at franchise football. Good job we support one of those franchises [Tottenham] I guess.

BC Ed: Long live Swansea. Sustainable business model and have replaced the likes of Joe Allen (£15m to Liverpool) with Michu (£2m from Vallecano). They’ll never win the league, of course, but could/should lift a trophy this season.

FFP won’t solve this problem – arguably it’ll exacerbate it – but the current model certainly won’t either. A sheikh buying an underachieving club like Man City doesn’t count.

If a club is well managed, FFP could give someone like Newcastle a big boost. Huge support but need to tap properly into commercial revenue. I’m just afraid that Arsenal will be interchangeable with Man Utd at the top of the league. Hail to the parasitic owners at the Emirates!

Sporting Polygamists

We should have seen this coming

We should have seen it coming

We’ve recently witnessed Freddie Flintoff make his first bold step into the boxing ring, defeating Richard Dawson (not the off-spinner) on points. Ball Control confesses that the whole build-up to this event passed us by; the post-bout reports thus came as a bit of a shock.

The surprise was amplified by the caricature of Freddie that had been readily subscribed to; that of an inherently undisciplined very-ex-cricketer who had never shown the inclination to train hard for success, preferring instead to rely on God-given ability (or other shortcuts to fame – i.e. celebrity reality TV). These are traits that won’t get you very far in the brutal, pure sport of boxing, where chinks in the armoury are ruthlessly exposed. Though perhaps Dawson was not equipped to do that. Still, it’s more common for retired cricketers to try and eradicate a golf hook rather than hone their right hook.

It is not, however, uncommon for any generic sportsperson to cross codes, for there has been, and continues to be, many instances of this. Including in the world of boxing. Contemporaneously, Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper has announced his planned professional boxing debut, scheduled to appear on the undercard of his friend and fellow rugby union player Sonny Bill Williams’ next fight. Sonny Bill, indeed, has three sporting mistresses; having previously forged a professional career in rugby league too.

The testosterone-powered world of Australian winter football codes is notoriously incestuous. For instance, as of next season, Israel Falou will become a professional rugby union player, having turned his back firstly on league and, most recently, Australian Rules football.

But while boxing and rugby are incredibly physical endeavours, they hardly suggest themselves as requiring similar skill-sets in the same way as do the oval ball sports. The same is even more true of boxing vis-à-vis the genteel sport of cricket, regardless of their shared dependency upon hand-eye coordination and (for bowlers) explosive strength.

Does Yuvraj still look cool when you find out he is a former national roller skating champion?

Does Yuvraj still seem so cool when you find out he is a former national roller skating champion?

BC’s first awareness of an ‘athlete’ making a foray in a new sport was the legendary ex-Spurs striker Clive Allen, who made the ill-judged step into Gridiron as a placekicker with the London Monarchs. The novelty value of this move was compounded by the bizarre razzmatazz which accompanied the doomed attempt to embed a European competition for the most American of sports. Allen was not alone in swapping an Anglo form of football for the American version, the legendary former rugby full back Gavin Hastings played for the Scottish Claymores in 1996, with comical results – missing 4 of his 27 extra point attempts, and failing with his solitary field goal attempt.

Regardless (or perhaps because) of the litany of failed crossovers in sport – see Michael Jordan – Ball Control greatly admires those that try. Where admiration crosses over into concern is in cases where the sportsperson appears to be motivated by an attempt to prolong their time in the spotlight, rather than in pursuing a new sport out of a competitive thirst for the challenge. To this bracket can be added retired sportspeople who return to their sport when they are clearly past it, i.e. Michael Schumacher, Ricky Hatton and, er, Michael Jordan.

Flintoff’s motives remain unclear but it is hoped that now he has proven his all-round sporting ability – and amply demonstrated that should he and Ricky Ponting disagree over a mulligan on the 18th hole then he would comprehensively win the ensuing fist fight – his boxing gloves will be hung up beside his cricket spikes.