From the category archives:


The Ashes: third test

by Chris Bertram on July 31, 2009

Someone wanted me to start this thread before the game started. Well I’m a bit late for that, but most of the first day was obliterated by rain. The Aussies are now 126 for 1 after 30 overs …. so unless England’s attack can get it together fast, Australia will be in control.

England go 1-up

by Chris Bertram on July 20, 2009

England “win the second test”: (the first time they’ve beaten the Australians at Lords since 1934), thanks to some awesome bowling from Flintoff, and some very dodgy umpiring. Open thread below.

Ashes open thread

by Chris Bertram on July 12, 2009

Phew! England (and Wales) “just about got away with it”: despite Pietersen’s stupidity and arrogance. The really big difference from 2005 (so far) is the change in feel caused by Warne’s retirement. Four years ago, Warne was a feral presence, spooking the England batsmen with his cunning and aggression. Of course, Ponting was captain back then too, but this series has seen him come to the fore: planning, homework, probing the England weaknesses. Collingwood was terrific today, but, generally England were brainless. Still, no harm done yet and four tests to play to win back the Ashes.

Hillsborough, after 20 years

by Chris Bertram on April 14, 2009

Martin Kelner’s “utterly cynical piece in the Guardian”: rather sums up the attitude of metropolitan journalists. OK, so he focuses on the BBC rather than asking directly, “why don’t those mawkish Scousers shut up about their 96 dead?”, but the comparisons to Diana and Jade Goody are there for a purpose (there are some excellent comments by readers in response). Actually, I think the BBC’s coverage of the anniversary has been rather good, especially Kelly Dalglish’s fine radio programme (not mentioned by Kelner, but also featuring interviews with the parents of the Hicks sisters). There are lots of good reasons not to shut up after 20 years. Not only has there been no apology from the police for their actions, but many things haven’t changed. I was reminded of this whilst listening to the current Chief Constable of South Yorkshire explain how much the police have learnt and how it wouldn’t happen today. Oh really? Well as we know from the G20 protests (and other recent events such as the de Menezes shooting) the police still try to get their “blame the victim” story in early. They still represent themselves as helping the victim but being prevented by a hail of missiles that no-one else saw. Videotapes that might have provided evidence of police misconduct or ineptitude still disappear, or cameras “malfunction”. And the police still get to compare their notes after events involving deaths, just to make sure that their stories are consistent and supportive of the institutional stance. Yes, all good reasons not to shut up.

Congratulations Ireland

by Chris Bertram on March 21, 2009

Congratulations to Ireland on the “first Irish grand slam”: in the 6 nations since 1948. I’d buy Henry, Maria and Kieran a drink if they were within drink-buying range. A very dramatic last minute of the final match, too: it could have gone either way.

Pietersen’s out.

by Harry on January 9, 2009

I’m not going to pretend that I understand the details behind the crisis in English cricket. But it has prompted a South African friend of mine to email asking me what I knew/thought about Pietersen, and that in turn has prompted a bit of a mea culpa. I have found it impossible to enjoy Pietersen as a player since he qualified for England because, at some point around the time he qualified I heard him say something incredibly stupid and unpleasant about the racial quota system in South African cricket — something to the effect that he, himself, couldn’t thrive in a system which gave systematic preference to non-whites. Wikipedia bears out that he did indeed make such comments, and suggests that he believed he was dropped from the Natal team for quota reasons.

Why a mea culpa? Because I’m sure that numerous sport stars, some of whom I am sure I enjoy and perhaps even revere, have obnoxious political opinions, and wrongheaded views of the source of their own superior capabilities. Big money sport, and the attention lavished on the very successful, encourage vanity, and make it hard to see the role of luck in differentiating between one’s own, and others’ level of success. KP was just in a position in which it is natural for him to air these views because, unlike most sportsmen, he had to explain why he was changing his nationality.

There are brilliant exceptions both to the politics (Mike Brearley, David Sheppard, bizarrely enough Brian Clough) and to the vanity (the extraordinary Flintoff, as it often appeared most of the Australians under Waugh), and I’m not suggesting that all or even most stars are anything like the one of the great white hopes of English tennis (I had a schoolfriend who hated tennis, but used to watch Wimbledon just for the joy of watching a fascist lose), but KP is, I imagine, rather unexceptional. So my initial hint of pleasure in his downfall gave way to a sense of guilt that I had singled him out for dislike.

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Best sporting nation?

by Chris Bertram on September 2, 2008

Obviously, this shouldn’t be taken too, indeed at all, seriously, but I did a little playing around to try to discover which nation did best at the Olympics. I’m told (or at least, I read in the _Times_ the other day) that some US commentators favour an assessment based on total medals won divided by population. Well they would, wouldn’t they? But obviously, some medals are worth more than others and you want to take some account of relative economic development. So here’s what I did: I assigned 7 points for gold, 3 for silver and 1 for bronze and then divided by Gross National Income in $billion (PPP adjusted) as given by the Nationmaster site. GNI is going to vary positively by population and by economic developement, thereby capturing both relevant facts. The GNI figures are probably not completely accurate, and I had to plug in a figure for Cuba. I also discarded all nations that scored less than 50 points (there’s a pretty big an convenient gap below that score). The result is in the table below. So well done Jamaica, and, among the OECD countries, Australia.

Why Olympics coverage in the U.S. sucks

by Eszter Hargittai on August 8, 2008

I thought I’d get this rant out of the way before the season hits. Watching the Olympics in the US is no fun, because the only thing you can watch is Americans winning. You’d think the U.S. is the only country ever winning from the coverage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Americans to win, but I’m happy for other people to win, too. In fact, in some ways it’s much more interesting when you have a diversity of folks competing and this is portrayed clearly in the coverage. It gets boring fast when all you can hear is the U.S. national anthem.

Growing up in Hungary, I remember watching all sorts of sports competitions – and I don’t just mean the Olympics – where people from all over were taking home the gold. Sure, Hungary is a small country (population 10 million, that’s like Chicagoland having its own team) and its athletes are only going to win so many medals so you could argue that by definition coverage would have to feature other competitions as well. But actually, for a small country, Hungary ranks very high on the all-time medals list (whoa, I actually had no idea how high before writing this post) so it’s not as though there aren’t opportunities to feature its own. Also, TV could just show less of the event if there were not enough Hungarian nationals to feature. But that’s not what happens as featuring one’s own doesn’t seem to be the point. I remember hearing plenty of other national anthems and seeing lots of different flags.

This approach of showcasing athletes from all over doesn’t seem to be restricted to small countries. I was in Italy (pop ~ 60 million) recently flipping through channels and noticed the Hungarian national anthem playing on one of them. The station opted to show the end result all the way despite the fact that Italians were not the winners. Then they played another anthem (the Russian one so I could sing along in Hungarian, hah) for another winner, again, not Italians.

I wonder how this works in other countries, especially the ones winning lots of medals (e.g., for 2004, Russia, China, Australia, Germany, Japan, France, etc.).

The flame of nationalism

by John Quiggin on April 24, 2008

As the Olympic torch touches down in Australia, it is hard to see how any good can come of the entire exercise.

After Kevin Rudd’s visit to Beijing, which seemed to herald a newly mature relationship between Australia and China, we’ve spent a week or more embroiled in a petty squabble, of a kind which is all too familiar in international relations, over the role of Chinese torch attendants/security guards, with the Australian government insisting that all security will be provided by our police and the Chinese saying that the attendants will “protect the torch with their bodies”.

George Orwell observed over 60 years ago that

Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

and history since then has given plenty of examples. It looks as if the 2008 Olympics will join them.
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Olympic politics

by Henry on April 8, 2008

“Dan Drezner”: and “Steve Clemons”: argue it out over whether or not the US should boycott the Beijing Olympics (Steve says no, Dan says that it would be no harm if the West uses the threat of non-attendance to squeeze some concessions from the Chinese). For me, the interesting question is why the Olympics are so politically important, and how their importance seems to be changing. International relations scholars don’t have much to say about the politics of the modern Olympics (there’s a book by Christopher Hill, but that’s about it), but it’s surely an important international institution; as we can see from recent events, states pay a _lot_ of attention to it. This was true of the original Olympic festival in Greece too; Martin Wight identifies the festival as one of the key institutions binding together the Greek city-state system (although the original Olympics had a military truce attached to it, so it was obviously more important in the ways that IR scholars usually measure importance).

The current debacle though seems to mark an important change in the politics of the Olympics. As best I understand it (I am open to corrections if wrong), in the past, Olympics politics have involved inter-state rivalry, and have been driven by decisions on the part of traditional political elites. The US boycott of the Soviet games in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 resulted from a decision by Jimmy Carter, and the tit-for-tat boycott by the Soviets and their allies of the LA games in 1984 resulted from a top level decision too. The dynamic driving the Beijing Olympics seems to me to be rather different; what we are seeing is that the politics of boycott is being driven by mass-publics, and most recently by protestors, rather than by political leaders. In the absence of the public unrest that has culminated in the recent protests in Paris, I doubt very much that Western political leaders would be muttering about not showing at the opening ceremonies – the geopolitical stakes of market access etc are likely more important to them than the fate of Tibetans. But given the widespread public reaction in the West, even leaders like Gordon Brown, who obviously want _very much_ to attend, are having to insulate themselves from public pressures by taking other actions liable to annoy China (such as meeting with the Dalai Lama). In short, I think we are seeing how public opinion and organized cross-national opposition can create significant constraints on the ability of leaders to respond to what they see as the geostrategic necessity of keeping China happy. This is, as best as I am aware, a new phase in the development of the Olympics.

Cohen and Lindsey on Bloggingheads

by Chris Bertram on April 1, 2008

Two people I’ve read with interest and profit over the years: Stanford’s Joshua Cohen and Cato’s Brink Lindsey manage to have a very reasonable conversation on bloggingheads. Topics include Rawls on baseball, Obama and Wright, the McCain campaign. Check it out.

Humble pie

by Chris Bertram on March 15, 2008

Well how wrong I was. When started “a prediction thread”: at the beginning of the 6 Nations, I didn’t even mention Wales. But they’ve been magnificent, and “deserved their victory today”: . There were so many great moments too: Skrela going backwards from the restart; and Wales winning that scrum against the head near the end. I expect the streets of Cardiff will be, er, interesting, tonight. Here’s hoping England sack Ashton and offer Shaun Edwards a lot of cash.

The best of all games?

by Harry on March 10, 2008

A Nobel prize-winning scientist once described Basketball to me (in his impeccable Yorkshire accent) as “a dreary game played by physical freaks in which nothing happens till the last minute”. I enjoy regaling my students with this story, and explain that cricket is the only real sport. But, apparently, I’m wrong (about cricket, not basketball). The Boston Review contains a 27-year-old letter from John Rawls explaining why baseball is, in fact, the best of all games. (Hattip Tom Hurka — sorry, Tom, I couldn’t resist)

On Certainty and Illegal Substitutions

by Michael Bérubé on February 4, 2008

There are many reasons to take pleasure in the New York Football Giants’ victory in the Supreme Bowl last night, but none, I think, is more important than the fact that the Northeast Region Patriots did not manage to pick up any points on their first drive of the second half. Here’s why.

For those of you who didn’t watch the game (and what, really, is wrong with you people? are you not sufficiently cosmopolitan to follow every last detail of American sporting contests that run for a mere four hours?), the Patriots faced a fourth-and-two at the Football Giants’ 44-yard line. They punted, and the Football Giants got the ball on their 14.

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Six Nations 2008

by Chris Bertram on January 28, 2008

With the Six Nations starting this weekend, it is time for one of those prediction threads again. Here’s my take. There are only three possible winners: France, England and Ireland. Of these, England overperformed in the World Cup, and the Irish were shocking, but expect some regression to the usual level. France have the most skilful team, England are rebuilding, and a great Irish team is on its last legs. England have some key weaknesses: Regan has been dreadful at hooker for Bristol, and, once again, there’s no obvious scrum half. Since France have home advantage over both England and Ireland, and England have the same over Ireland, that should be enough to make the difference. So who to come last? I’m betting on Scotland to get the wooden spoon.