T20 - Club versus Country

There is something inherently weird about Twenty20 internationals. It's not a format that lends itself to being the 'pinnacle' of competition. This is not a bashing of T20. It is very watchable. Fast, easy to understand and constant action.

So many other T20 competitions exist around the world. It works best in the club environment. A number 5 or 6 club batsmen will get opportunities to bat & bowl. Due to league scheduling - many games, many different pitch conditions. A good club team will have plenty of able bowlers. It's a bit of a joke to be selected at 5 or 6 for most internationals. The best they can hope for is a top order collapse to bring them in before the final few overs.

The T20 World Cup should be the exception. Even this opportunity has been muffed. Not enough games are played (which is doubly important due to the more random nature of one-off games). Not enough teams/countries are allowed to enter. This is puzzling as T20 is far and away the best product to spread the game to non-cricket nations. It is less confusing to a new viewer than any other type of cricket. It has the money to attract. Little known Canadians or Afghans could have their shot at international stardom and a neat bankroll from touring the various domestic leagues. Until this is fixed, international T20 will be second best.

Following the money, IPL is the peak. India (BCCI) owns 50% of the Champion's League. The CLT20 has many problems, but the solutions are fairly simple for a non-vested interest. The remainder of ownership is split between South Africa & Australia. It is easy to see the issues that arise. India demanding too many teams to enter (4 out of 12!). Hogging of the hosting rights - it has only been held in India & South Africa. Australian time zones are deemed TV-unfriendly. All other nations are marginalized from CLT20. At present, the West Indies is the only other nation guaranteed a spot. Champion's League, when it gets its act in order, will be a much greater product. Cricket fans are all too familiar with the dreary politics that accompany the game.

Looking at the problems of CLT20 vs the T20 World Cup - the World Cup is much easier to repair. International T20s, in the immediate lead-up to a World Cup, would be more compelling viewing. India & Pakistan went from indifference to obsession after winning their respective T20 Cups.

The job of internationals is to spread the game. Hell, when Australia tours England - pitstops to Ireland, Scotland & the Netherlands should be mandatory. The money, and quality, will remain with club T20.

Gil's To Do List (The Chosen One)

Welcome to the cosy world of AFL politics. Where various parasites & hangers-on compete for relevance. Enter Gil McLachlan, the anointed son of this grubby world. More important than Gary Ablett or Buddy Franklin? You be the judge.

What is a lad/lass to do to stand out amongst the muck? Do something. It's pretty simple, but these corporate types often have little grasp. Copping a hefty pay packet for sitting around a table, tossing in occasional opinion seems pretty wacked out. Gotta envy those private boxes with the fancy meat pies though. No queues for the dunny either.

The Chosen One has a few things to do. Credit must be given for publicly addressing the first issues already. The appearance of action is damn important. At least he can blame hold-ups on the fat guys around the table if need be. Nothing better than ruffling a few feathers on the first day of work.

1) Buy Docklands Stadium

The creation of Docklands Stadium was always a crunching stomp on suburban football. Waverley & Princes Park shown the door. Yeah, yeah. Progress is fine. Not with the ridiculous contract blockers the miserly Ian Collins helped put in place. The 'quality of stadium' clause was a great way to churn some cash out of the AFL clubs. Big ups for pocket-lining, thumbs down for the AFL.

The Chosen One, being a man of this obscure world, sees the negotiations over Docklands in dollar terms. If the AFL must pay too high a price - he has stated it would be better giving the cash directly to the tenant clubs. True that.

What is the right price? It's worth buying Docklands now at a price above the right one. How far above? A little bit. For the AFL's brand power, appearing decisive and a friend of the clubs is vital.

2) Variable Ticketing

On paper it does appear a good plan. Would have sailed through the boardroom with barely a ripple. The problem is when it comes across as a wallet scrape at big games. It's too hard to work against that impression, because it's spot on. There are going to be angry punters, particularly when some pay extra and others don't.

Where variable ticketing should be highlighted is at the smaller games. Melbourne vs GWS at the MCG for $5 - I'm in. The Chosen One needs to give back more. Let the clubs have a greater role in pricing. That avoids the central role the AFL often poorly plays.

3) Good Friday

What a nothing issue. A boring day with no football. Put a game on. Let it be North vs Bulldogs. Debate over.

4) Go Long Term

This one needs a heck of alot of patience. The AFL is 18 teams, 10 from Victoria.

Sydney needs to play GWS twice. Adelaide needs to play Port twice etc. There are known, and accepted, bumps that will never be smoothed as things stand. For crowds & cash, Collingwood needs to play more games in Melbourne.

Kick a team from Victoria. Or plan for two new teams. Do it within 10 years. It's messy either way. If the rewards are pitched far higher than what North recently refused - it's possible to do without hatcheting another club like with Fitzroy.

Fixtures and possible divisions can all be sorted later.

The other issue is equalization. A necessary evil. Just don't overdo it. The big clubs will pay. Be careful not to push them into 'creative accounting'.

The ball is in your hands, Chosen One.

Farewell Vlad Demetriou. What Have You Done?

The benevolent dictator has announced his retirement. Andrew 'Vlad' Demetriou has presided over much financial success in his long AFL reign. Crowd numbers, TV deals & expansion teams are but a few of the ticks on his report card. Not much interesting to reflect on there. So, to the entertaining part : What has Vlad royally stuffed up?

Demetriou is, and always has been, a terrible media performer. The man is too cautious, not wanting to set a foot wrong. Or say the wrong thing. This in itself has led to many problems. Being highly intelligent is not a virtue when the feed from brain to mouth is so heavily watered down. David Warner with a stutter could easily outperform Vlad in these stakes.

Sydney Swans :

In 2005, Vlad described the Swans as playing an unattractive, ugly style of football. That wouldn't win many matches. Needless to say, they went on to win the premiership. Sure, many people agreed with the assessment on playing style. This was an example where he should have butted out. The statement appeared to be an attempt to break out of his shackled media personality. It failed miserably. As he also stated, it is not the job of the AFL to influence playing style. Sydney is a key market, and the AFL will always be hoping for success in crowds & ladder position. Jawboning the only team in town was a move from amateur hour. He learnt from it, and became more cloistered in commentary than ever before.

Melbourne :

The shining beacon of bungling. Dean Bailey held a press conference in 2011. Admitting, in plain speak, that as coach he had tanked. There was no doubt, no window dressing. Many football fans were relieved that the genie had been let out of the bottle. It was an obvious, understandable practice. Why on earth should fans hope to win a few meaningless games at the end of a season? They are not dumb, and are well aware of the twisted, daft rules in relation to draft picks.

Enter Vlad. Tanking does not exist, has never happened. There is no reason for it to happen. Sigh. Yes, we get that it is your job to maintain that the rules in place are sensible. Reasonable and tamper-proof. That is all he did. An ostrich with its head in the sand. Shambolic. The AFL investigation concluded that there was no tanking, but managed to mete out some dubious fines.

Essendon :

The handling of the whole saga had me crawling into an AFL-free zone. Many unresolved questions. Much pre-empting of penalties by our Dear Vlad. Speaking to the media in a forceful manner, then meekly hiding behind 'we will let ASADA conclude their investigation' was pathetic. The investigation could never be impartial. Besides, it was obvious to all & sundry that conclusive proof was a mirage on the horizon. How could an injecting program that relied on falsifying or destroying documents ever be reduced to black & white? We will probably never know until the retirements of some players what did actually take place.

The element that I do have sympathy for Demetriou is in wanting to be tough. When he made his statements regarding Essendon, the catch-all rule of bringing the game into disrepute should have been enacted. Then & there. To let the issue drag until near September was a disgrace. Should never have happened. Overshadowing a season of AFL with anything other than football is wrong. Hindsight is easy ; the same penalties that were delivered - brought forward by six months.

Rules of the Game :

Least relevant in terms of Vlad's influence. As it happened during his time at the top, the mud sticks however. The constant re-jigging of on-field rules was too much to handle. Knowing that player safety was the driving reason behind many of the changed rules does allow some leeway. It will always be a difficult balancing act. Head high tackles, for one, is an obvious example. When the rules are changed too greatly, to reward dangerous behaviour, it is a backwards step. Pushing in the back is far less clear. Jeff Gieschen and his woeful comedy routine is a demonstration of this.

Change the rules less frequently. The AFL should be aiming for an endpoint, but not try to get there overnight. There are too many subtle problems that need a slow approach.

Andrew 'Vlad' Demetriou had a positive tenure in his time as chief boot kicker in the AFL. The game is in very good shape. It is always more fun to pick apart the bad elements. Perhaps this is reasonable. Running the AFL requires a back seat mentality. The need to be a driver is minimal, the impetus of footy will do most of the work.

( Originally published in Sports Report )

Winter Olympics: The Ugly Sister?

Can the Winter Games be described as the undesirable half of the Olympic family? In many ways, the answer is yes. Weird & wacky events that never rate a mention outside the Olympic schedule. Being played on snow or ice rules out the sports from many countries. Or, relegates them to the preserve of the well-to-do. Scratch the surface and there is much to like about the Winter Games.

The most important part of any Olympics is to elevate niche events into prime-time. This certainly happens in both Summer & Winter versions. The difference is that the Summer Olympics have become too dependent on mainstream sports. Golf & Tennis anyone? What a cop out. Two sports that have no place in the Olympic circle. They are well established and have their own annual calendar of major championships. A blatant dash for cash and ratings. Throw in Football (Soccer) and the contempt is clear. FIFA themselves give little credence to it. It is a glorified under-23 event. They'll happily take the money and run too.

Compare the headline offerings from the frigid games: Ice Hockey & Figure Skating. Ice Hockey, like Basketball (and to a lesser extent Baseball), is a mainstream sport. However, it is not properly unified. USA & Canada still have the gall to declare their domestic event the World Championship. A global lineup works at the Olympics. It pits the best athletes against each other - and significantly - the competitors care. Cannot say the same for Tennis, Golf or Football. Ice Hockey is a worthy vehicle for the Winter Games.

Figure Skating. Drill down and it most resembles the dullard Rhythmic Gymnastics. It has huge appeal though. Torvill & Dean saw to that in 1984. Incredibly boring the moment we are informed the last jump has taken place. Talk about anti-climax. The remainder is an invariable artistic flourish of arms and legs. With simulated hugs & kisses. Yuck. Figure Skating is best described as a 16-year old prancing around. Twisted to resemble a nationalistic pursuit/endeavour. Listening to the commentators tweak the line of good taste in admiration. Where jock-time correlates to the judge's score. Plainly weird. In the Olympic tradition of cashing in (or perhaps cashing out) - the team event has been added to this year's lineup.

The big events are the Olympic gravy. The little events are the meat. A cursory glance will reveal which cuts are to be prodded to the side of the plate. The others to be devoured with glee.

Ski Jump. Wow. A terrifying combination of the existential & mundane. A guy (Women's Ski Jump is new this year) skiing down a ramp and jumping. Yeah, it's pretty simple. The excitement is in the effort to produce the extra metre. The athleticism to hold aerodynamic shape through the air. Two different ramps allow the viewer's digestive system to not go into overdrive cramming it in.

Biathlon. Ummm. A seeming nod to infantry invasion during the European Winter. Ski then shoot. Ski then shoot. Would be better served by painting a bear or wolf onto the shooting targets. The parson's nose - has its place but not palatable. Insert toothpicks under eyelids for the mesmerizing new team event.

Snowboard events. Halfpipe is easily the pick. Genuine action, if only too short due to the run-length. The scoring system should be tweaked to allow an aggregate. A bit of a downer seeing a pearler of a run. Then the athlete knowing they don't need to outdo it as they see others crash & burn. Hey, we're Aussie. We need a contrived final to help us feel the thrill.
Slopestyle -  New. Could have been good if we weren't treated to the fascinations of looking at the commentary desk while they mutter irrelevancies on our local medal chances. Show us the damn visuals and deliver the caustic chatter over it.
Cross - Worth watching, though the inevitable comparisons to Steven Bradbury will never fade. Fails to garner much interest due to the sheer randomness of the victor.
Parallel Slalom - Gimmicky. Not long enough to be a true test of skill. Enjoyable nonetheless.

(edit - Ski Slopestyle was amazing. A must watch event for future games)

Curling. I hear you say 'Lawn bowls on ice?' Yes, that's what it is. A terrible concept that somehow comes alive. Can always count on a Scandinavian to be practicing the ancient martial art of screamido. Yelling, or more accurately, constipating at the rock long after it has left their hand. Beats a magic show hands down. The sheer wackiness of post-delivery hijinks. If evidence for paranormal activity is your thing, look no further. 'Hurry hard' takes on a whole new meaning.

Bobsled track. Consistently good fare. The precision used to power the sled and jump in is phenomenal. And that's just the first few seconds. Pity the poor sod who has to park his arse in the air at the back of the sled during the run.
Luge - As flavoursome as the bobsled.
Skeleton - Downright weird. Luging head first. Not a career choice that brings a steady form of remuneration or longevity. Next event to be added will likely be strapping a dog to the athletes. Point deductions if the tail is no longer wagging. Or connected. Or alive.

There it is. A cursory glance at some of the events. The proof is in the pudding. A banquet of hotchpotch events that does more to promote the small end of town. The Olympic ideal.

The Winter Olympics offers more in the strange axis than does the skimpily attired Summer Olympics. She may be less attractive at first, but as your mother told you - It's what is inside that counts.

(Originally published on Sports Report)

The Pigeons

Pigeons. The very word fills me with dread. It wasn’t always like this. Avian scum. Rats of the sky. Flying trashcans. Show ‘em a little bit of hospitality and they will stay forever. Apparently like a Queenslander.

When I first moved in, I made a discovery. Two scrawny, ugly pigeon chicks lived on my balcony - in an excrement coated bucket. It was 30cm or so deep with shit. I guess this is a bird’s life. They would sit there in silence until they heard a flap of wings. Up they’d get, chirp, chirp. One of the chicks was taller and stronger. He would always be fed first. It is amazing to see survival of the fittest in such a small environment. It took them months to grow up. Months too long. The balcony was cleaned just before I moved in. After 3 months it looked worse. I reckon it hadn’t been cleaned for two years before me. The parents got used to me, and realised I would not chase them away if they were feeding. That was my mistake. I’m on the sheltered side of the beach, ideal breeding territory.

The eldest chick was first out of the nest. He used the opportunity to walk around, he didn’t bother trying to use his wings. When I’d try to chase him off the balcony, he’d flee back to the nest. I’d leave him there. When I finally chased him away, he was well oversized. He'd had an ideal nest, with walking space. That will almost never happen in the wild. They have to fly immediately to leave their nest, or drop to the ground. The little one left a day or two later. I removed the filthy bucket, tossed it in the trash, and hoped that was the end of it.

If I were a newspaper writer, I would take this opportunity to point out the cultural differences between myself and the pigeons. I would state that one must not judge. One should accept relative differences in life. But this would be bullshit. They exist only to crap on my balcony! This
family of pigeons and I are now at war.

Spring is here again. The pigeons – now three, mother, father and strong son – roost but 10 metres away. Last season I managed to keep them away, somehow. They have regathered their efforts. I’d bet they did not breed last Spring, and are desperate this time around. They roost on an open roof. They cannot lay eggs there. I see their beady eyes scoping this prime real estate, my balcony. The mother is looking for a nest. The son appears to be following to ‘see what to do’. The father is clearly on guard duty. When she lands, she goes under chairs, into pot plants, wherever. I have picked her up 3 or 4 times and ejected her. She was too nestled in to make a quick getaway. And of course, all 3 of them crap everywhere.

The pigeons rule my local shopping street. Most people can’t be bothered putting their food in the bin. They feed and feed. They are so tame that the older pigeons are willing to fly onto your table while eating. It may take 5 shoos before they bloody get the message. Some old men feed them daily. In a way, the pigeons offer them a greater social outlet than humans. When I am in a different city, I like nothing more than feeding the birds. It’s a weird (anti-social in a sense) behaviour.

Yesterday I filled a small cup with turpentine. I soaked bread in it overnight, and left it for the pigeons. They haven’t eaten it. They haven’t been back for two days – no new shit. Will they finally leave me alone? Must I kill them to get my peace?

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