Team orders have long been a controversial issue in Formula 1. Whether it was McLaren’s orders to David Coulthard to concede title hopes to teammate Mika Hakkinen, or the massive history of Ferrari and Schumacher, team orders have always proven divisive in the sport.
When Frank Lampard nodded a header past Jussi Jääskeläinen to give Chelsea the lead against West Ham this weekend, he scored his 13th goal of the season. What is the statistic that you are perhaps more likely to have heard however, is that this was his 200th career goal for Chelsea – leaving him just two goals behind the all-time record for the club, held by legendary striker Bobby Tambling.
With a dominant win over a strong field at the World Golf Championships on Sunday, Tiger Woods secured the early season double of the tournaments at Doral and Torrey Pines – something which he has already done four times. Rather ominously for the rest of the golfing world, he always follows it up with a trophy-laden season. In 2005 he followed it by winning six titles – including the Masters and the Open. 2006 saw him win the Open and PGA Championships amongst his eight tournament wins, and in 2007 he won another PGA crown amongst his seven victories. This has led to many commentators to question whether we are now moving into another era of Tiger Woods dominance over the sport. Continue reading
For a sport known more for their massive behemoths flying through the air, crashing into each other with the might of titans than their movements towards ensuring gender equality, American Football has taken their first step towards embracing the chance of women to play the sport professionally. “Times are changing,” explained the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, when the ban was lifted in December 2011. “The military is about to allow women into combat. If women are going to be fighting on the battlefield, how can we stop them from participating in football? It’s not fair.”
Needless to say, it has split opinion.
The executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have voted by secret ballot to eliminate wrestling from the Olympic Games, beginning in 2020. This decision comes as a bit of a shock to this writer – and not this writer alone. I mean, wrestling is one of the few Olympic events with any real connection to the ancient games. Including both the ancient games and the modern re-incarnation of the Olympics, wrestling has been absent only once. So the decision taken by the committee has taken many a fan – of both wrestling and the Olympics themselves – by complete surprise.
So it’s football’s turn now.
After Lance Armstrong’s disgrace shamed cycling, and spot fixing embarrassed cricket, the pendulum has swung back to football as the current sport to be associated with cheating.
The Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday played host to this year’s instalment of the grandest show in town: Superbowl XLVII – that’s 47 to the uninitiated. The American Football Conference (AFC) champions, the Baltimore Ravens, took on the champs from the National Football Conference (NFC), the San Francisco 49ers for the right to be called the best football team in the world.
Alexandre Pato is the latest in the long line of the ‘next big thing’ in Brazilian football. Having arrived at AC Milan in 2007 an ambitious 17-year old from Internacional in Brazil, Pato did not disappoint, with a very impressive average of around a goal every other game. This month however, Pato has joined Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in leaving the club, having completed a £12m move back to native Brazil with Corinthians. As well as joining the huge exodus of players from Milan, Pato has joined another perhaps more star-studded list of players who have left their careers at Europe’s top clubs to return home to Brazil. Be it Ronaldo or Elano, Ronaldinho or Adriano, the Brazilian footballing structure appears to be irresistibly alluring to Brazilian players as they draw closer to the end of their prime.
For as long as I can remember, Lance Armstrong has been a man to whom many terms have been attributed. He has been the personification of professionalism, strength and, perhaps most importantly, inspiration. The winner of seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005 having already successfully battled testicular cancer which had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, Armstrong acted as an inspiration to a generation. All this changed however within the last year, when Armstrong was found guilty by race authorities of doping throughout his career, and using a cocktail of performance enhancing drugs, resulting the stripping of all his Tour titles, his Olympic Bronze medal, and a lifetime ban from competitive cycling. This dramatic fall from grace follows years of allegations and accusations of illegally enhancing his performance through a mixture of drugs and blood transfusions. In an attempt to see his side of the story heard, Armstrong recorded an interview with American chat show royalty, Oprah.
The interview’s opening was powerful, with Oprah landing several piercing blows with a succession of yes/no questions, the first of which was Armstrong’s admission of guilt, for the first time, of doping. He denied bribing officials to hide positive blood-tests and interestingly vigorously denied doping in his 2009 comeback. Whilst admitting he was a bully to those around him, Armstrong denied claims he attempted at any time to force other riders on his team to dope.
The crucial aspect of the interview was the revelation – albeit a hugely unsurprising one – that Lance Armstrong insists he wasn’t the only cyclist on the Tour guilty of illegally enhancing his performance, insisting that winning the Tour clean would have been ‘impossible’ and that the five ‘clean’ riders from the two-hundred competitors were ‘heroes’. This is a reflection on the side of this saga that I feel is not being properly addressed. Armstrong is being hung, drawn and slaughtered by the media, celebrity and general population of the world – and rightfully so. But what must be considered is that to this end at least, Armstrong is probably telling the truth. It is impossible to imagine that Armstrong was alone in doping in cycling. He even went as far to say that doping was like “saying we have to have air in our tyres, we have to have water in our bottles”. In a bizarre twist of trying to somewhat justify his actions, the disgraced cyclist claims to have looked up of the definition of ‘cheater’ and claimed not to qualify as doping was so widespread that he did not gain an unfair advantage. If you have to look up ‘cheater’ in the dictionary to consider your guilt, you’re probably guilty. The extent of the cover up operation was truly remarkable, even upon reading it, you can’t possibly comprehend it until you hear it come from Armstrong himself, upon being asked about Emma O’Reilly, a masseuse who exposed early doping, who was branded an ‘alcoholic prostitute’ and sued by Armstrong, he claimed he couldn’t remember if they had sued her, conceding “We sued so many people… I am sure we did”.
Armstrong himself used detective skills that Sherlock Holmes would be proud of, concluding that he is “probably not the most believable person in the world right now” less than half an hour after stating that the whole situation was “one big lie repeated a lot of times” upon admission that he deceived the sporting world for over 25 years. Elementary, my dear Armstrong.
It was the second part of the interview however, where many commentators got what they were waiting for. Tears. Circling around Armstrong like a pack of vultures, the press were condemning crocodile tears before a single drop fell down Armstrong’s cheek. Naturally, celebrities – as well as Donald Trump – took to the twittersphere to give their two cents, slating Armstrong with #LiveWrong and #LieStrong – a pun on Armstrong’s ‘Livestrong’ of charity bracelet fame – trending worldwide throughout the interview’s screening. I, if indeed the only one, pitied Lance Armstrong. His face as he discussed the moment with his son suggested that the gravity of what he had done had only then become apparent to him. He stopped speaking, if only for a moment, and looked empty, a shell of a man who for having shown so much strength in his life, finally looked defeated. Not by cancer, not by cyclists, but by himself.
The fact of the matter is, this public trial was never going to be fair. Headlines were written days in advance, Armstrong was accused of lying before the interview finished, and written off as doing it for the wrong reasons without explaining himself. I’m not an Armstrong apologist. Indeed, I was duped along with the rest of the world on this one. I can’t help however to look over this with a twinge of sadness as the greatest story of overcoming adversity and triumphing in sport was revealed to be a lie. As I look back over the interview footage, I can’t help but feel slightly sorry for Lance Armstrong. The discussion of being asked to step aside by Livestrong, his charity foundation, and the tears as he discussed telling his son that he should stop defending him reminded me of one thing that this whole process seems to have forgotten: Lance Armstrong is a human being. Arrogant, yes. Deceitful, yes. But deep down I do not believe that Armstrong’s long record of doping and the subsequent cover up came from anything other than an unquenchable desire to win. The evidence clearly shows that 90s cycling was an era dominated by athletes who had artificially improved their performance and to that regard, although Armstrong can not be considered much better, he should no further be condemned. His crimes were abhorrent but he was a victim of his time, his ego, and his raw desire. Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times between 1999 and his 2005 retirement. Doping or not, that was one hell of an achievement.
So, the new plan to ‘save Scottish Football’ has emerged from the dark dungeons of the SPL and SFA. Obviously oblivious to the fact that the SFL have a huge voting majority of Scottish football teams, the SPL have suggested their own ‘improvements’ to the football setup in Scotland, adopting what has been described as a ‘continental’ model. This is true; the system being proposed by the authorities in Scotland is indeed based upon models which used to be in place in such footballing big-hitting nations as Austria. ‘Used to’ being the crucial term, here. Indeed, as an interview with former SFA President George Peat revealed, the Austrian Football Association actually approached Scotland when this model fell apart, and little more than a decade later, we’ve decided to give their model a bash.