Is it worth the money?
Skiing has always been an aberration much loved by the people of Altrincham. A totally inexplicable desire to slide down a snow covered mountain risking life and limb and spending a shed load of money defies any sort of logic – not to mention putting a spanner in the lacrosse season works.
Wall to wall TV coverage of something that most people are not the least bit interested also seems a questionable use of the licence fee. How can you get excited about someone hurtling down a very, very expensive slide on a tea tray?
More importantly we are supposed to get really excited that we have won 5 medals - 4 of them only bronze (our much vaunted, nailed on, medal prospect in the speed skating has spent two Olympics either falling over or getting disqualified and she is talking about going for a 3rd games in 4 years time. are we supposed to pay for that indulgence?)
The bigger question, however, is whether it is worth £30m or around £6m per medal from the public’s money? Could the money be better spent? Sports like basketball, netball and even lacrosse have many more participants than the majority of winter sports and also have fairly well developed elite programmes which are basically funded by the athletes or on a shoe string by the NGB.
The most obvious injustice is basketball where the NGB is facing the prospect of having to disband its national squads when the funding given to winter sports could fund basketball for more than 20 years.
Basketball in UK is a mass participation sport second in numbers only to soccer but in particular it is played by people from ethnic minorities and deprived backgrounds. However, Basketball is by some distance the second most popular sport in the world and is played in virtually every country. On the face of it, British basketball being ranked 20th in the world is pretty good considering the competition but it falls well short of UK Sport’s “no compromise” measure of winning Olympic medals. The reality is that the sports which we can win medals at are those which relatively few countries participate in like cycling, rowing, swimming, gymnastics and equestrian. Another issue is that some sports, like the above, have shed loads of medals whilst others like team sports only have a few.
The history of sports funding is a typical tale of British fudging, compromise and muddled thinking. First, we had the Sports Council which responded to the devolution of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by forming separate organisations for each “country”. Then came the thorny question as to how you dealt with the aberration of GB teams and the Olympic Games (Where we were not very good anyway and at the Atlanta Games in 1996 came 36th in the medal table with only one gold medal). The answer was to set up UK Sport and a gentleman called Howard Wells was recruited from Hong Kong to lead the new organisation. When he got in post he discovered that there was no money in the kitty so the Sports Minister or someone equally incompetent decided that money should be taken from each of the Sports Councils and given to UK Sport. This was not an option which appealed, particularly to Derek Casey the CEO of Sport England, who had control of by far the largest slice of the cake. Eventually the establishment of the National Lottery solved most of the issues in the short term.
In summary, the spending of £28m on sports that few participate in whilst depriving other sports with much higher participation rates does not seem right. A well organised and structured sport which has a well defined pathway from grass roots to elite should, if funds are available which they currently are, receive enough funding to facilitate the opportunities for those with the ability.
Writing this I am looking out on a snow covered Manchester but even as I write the snow is disappearing. The UK does not, like most countries in the world have a climate which is conducive to winter sports. When Norway, with a population of just over 5,000,000, tops the 2018 medal table you know that a lot of snow which sticks around for half the year is a pre-requisite of success.
The Power of the (Ex)press
When I was a boy the Daily Express and its sister paper the Sunday Express were the biggest selling newspapers in the world. It was a solid family newspaper closely aligned with one nation conservatism (not a doctrine which has any credence these days). Its views reflected the principles and ambitions and aspirations of many people. In addition, it had great soccer coverage and in the winter of 1963 with little soccer being played even covered a bit of lacrosse! The Sunday Express also had a great general knowledge crossword.
Over the years the Beaverbrook family sold the paper and it fell into the hands of Richard Desmond, a millionaire pornographer. The style of journalism changed from responsible and dignified to a parody of reality with the weather leading many front pages.
The recent sale of the titles to Trinity Mirror, the owner of the The Daily Mirror, the Manchester Evening News and a range of regional papers opens up the possibility of change. The immediate position is that Trinity Mirror have said they do not intend to change editorial policy. It would be unusual, however, for a paper's owners not to nuance the position of their publications.
We can only hope that the Express will become a proper newspaper and a counter balance to the grotesque Daily Mail and Sun.
Competent beats Qualified
The powers that be have decided that it is more important to be qualified than it is to be competent.
For many years the game has favoured competence which has greatly assisted clubs in providing officials for their games, particularly for their Junior Programme.
Having watched games refereed by senior players at Timperley they provide a more than adequate option.
The idea that qualification is an insurance requirement would be a surprise to me. If it is then we are using the wrong insurance company. It was explained to me by our underwriter who worked out of Lloyds that basically he was a bookmaker who tried to assess the risk involved in any particular policy. I am not aware of any claim which has been made against any English Lacrosse liability policy -ever- therefore on the basis of the claims record premiums would be modest. The underwriter is unlikely to have any knowledge of Lacrosse so he bases his position on the information and opinions provided by the experts. The expert on Lacrosse is the Governing Body.
Clearly, other sports have issues in providing officials, particularly for grass roots games. When I played cricket at a very modest level much of the umpiring was done by players. The batting side provided the umpires given that 9 of the team were available in the pavilion. These were umpires who were certainly not qualified and often far from competent. In fact, the worst of all worlds but you at least had a game.
A bit of Brexit.
It seems to me that we are getting quickly to a position where Brexit is a fiasco. We supposedly now have a difference between Tory and Labour. However, both positions would seem to ignore the fact that any deal has to be agreed by the EU 27. My conversations with Europeans would suggest to me that Brexit is not something which dominates their lives, unlike in the UK. Ultimately, the EU is seen by most countries as primarily a political organisation and not an economic one. The main thing it has delivered is peace in Europe and greater and closer relationships with other nations. They are very unlikely to support the “cake and eat it “position which all in the UK would seem to favour. Neither the Tory or Labour position can possibly provide a solution to the insoluble Irish border issue which can I believe only be resolved by remaining in the EU.
When Article 50 was triggered the Government gave assurances to various companies, particularly in the car industry, that their position would not be affected by Brexit. We are led to believe that companies like Nissan were given letters of assurance that the UK government would ensure that their position would be fundamentally unchanged. Give that the car industry is part of a common economy as well as a common market. That would seem to be an insurmountable obstacle to Brexit.
A hint of hypocrisy
The MEN recently carried an article dealing with a hooligan problem which has inflicted parts of Altrincham and Hale. Apparently some form of restriction order has been issued against a number of young people. Local MP, Sir Graham Brady, has said that he will be pushing for Greater Manchester Police to allocate more resources to the Altrincham area. Given that police resources are stretched to breaking point by the cuts that the Government has made it is difficult to justify Altrincham as any sort of priority.
Sir Graham is an excellent local MP but he did not receive his knighthood for his efforts in this area but rather for his support for the Theresa May government. Graham will hopefully be remembered for his local work and not for his role as Chair of 1922 Committee and his seeming whole hearted support for Brexit and the flawed austerity policy. No credible economist would say that austerity is a way to run a country - maybe household accounts but certainly not a country.
Having supported the trashing of many areas of our lives including the levels of policing it seems a bit rich for Graham to be pressing for special treatment for his own constituency. I would be interested to know what his constituents think about his future as their MP.
Updated 16:30 - 28 Feb 2018 by Tom Slater