Read each word slowly. Think about each word for 15 seconds. Read the next word.
I wrote the last piece ten years ago this month, and I stick by what I wrote. However, my own sports intake has changed radically in the last ten years due to the wide availability of sports of all kinds on the internet.
First, I watch almost no sports on TV these days. I did watch the Superbowl this year but it was probably the first American football game I have watched in several years. I don’t watch hockey or NASCAR any more, I’ve never followed baseball, and the Final Four of March Madness is the limit to my basketball viewing. I don’t even watch a lot of soccer — the occasional Chelsea game is about it.
But the availability of multiple channels (some legal, some perhaps less so) on the net allows me to follow cricket, rugby, road race cycling, and sumo all year round. I have become a devotee of biathlon and ocean racing, and I can indulge long time favourites such as lawn bowling and curling. My favourite online sports channel this afternoon is offering me live streaming events in tennis, billiards, sevens rugby, softball, bandy, and sports car racing, along with all the soccer, football, hockey, baseball, and basketball from around the world. Earlier today, there were winter sports from Europe, athletics from several counties, shooting from Italy, and table tennis from the Far East.
It is a bizarre feast.
I admit it, I am a TV jock. I like to watch sports on TV. I’ll watch almost any kind of sport instead of a blank screen. You might think that one team sport is essentially much like any other team sport, but that isn’t so. Watching such a variety of sports has allowed me to isolate a large number of differences between team sports in North America and team sports in the rest of the world. And, so we are clear, I am talking here about major team sports — soccer, American/Canadian football, cricket, rugby, baseball, ice hockey, basketball.
1. Sports as Business Risk
Virtually all team sports outside North America are played in a series of hierarchical leagues where a team’s position in the series of leagues is dependent solely on their success or failure in the previous season. To use British soccer as the exemplar, there is the Premier League at the top of the heap. Below that is the Championship League, followed by League Division 1, League Division 2 etc. If you finish in the bottom three of the Premier League in one season, the following season you will be relegated to the Championship League. Your position in the Premier League is taken by one of the teams that finished in the top three of the Championship League in the previous season and were therefore promoted. Three or four bad years in a row and you can quickly find yourself several levels below the top flight. This system, or something very similar, is the case for soccer, rugby, cricket leagues all over the world. Even the ancient Japanese sport of sumo operates in the same way.
To be clear in the basest North American manner, the level your team plays in determines everything to do with money. A soccer team in the English Premier League will make tens of millions of dollars a year more than will a team in the Championship; and the diffference is similar between the Championship teams and those in lower leagues. There are genuine financial incentives for doing well, and significant financial penalties for doing badly.
In North America, there are financial incentives in doing better than the next team, but there are NO penalties for bad play: you can play really badly for decade after decade and still be in the major leagues. There is no chance of a Triple-A team being promoted, and no chance of a major league team being demoted. The entire business risk based on sporting chance has disappeared. Every part of the system — from TV-revenue sharing to bottom-up drafts — is designed to bring equality. It is an oddly non-free enterprise system, socialist in its implications.
2. Always a Winner
In all of the North American major league team sports there must always be a winner in every game. If one team cannot win in the regulation time, then you keep playing in some form or another until someone DOES win: extra time, shoot outs, etc.
In team sports outside of North America, a draw or tie is a perfectly acceptable result for all but a tiny proportion of matches. In fact, where a weak team is playing a stronger, their tactics may well be to aim for a draw and thus secure something rather than lose everything in a winner-take-all scenario. This is a legitimate management option.
In the contact sports — American/Canadian football, hockey — the trend in North America is to increase and improve body armour. Steroids help too.
In the contact sports — rugby, soccer — the trend in the rest of the world is to minimize equipment to free up the athlete. Looking at a moderrn professional rugby player in his kit is to imagine that he put on the team shirt and then stood in some vacuum packing device so that the uniform is almost moulded to the player’s body. Muscles are what you see, not padding and straps and metal.
4. The Viewing Experience
There are a number of cosmetic differences in watching these team sports. For example, in the rest of world, in every kind of team sport (including baseball, football, basketball and hockey) the home team is listed first, the game clock shows how much of the game has gone, and the teams keep the same uniforms wherever they play (with a few minor exceptions). In North America, the visiting team is always listed first, the game clock always shows how much time is left to play, and the home team is always in the darker uniforms.
None of these things are, perhaps of any importance by themselves. However, together they change how a game is watched and experienced, especially on television. Why these particular small things are reversed is a mystery to me. Is it psychology? marketing? chance?
5. The International Perspective
Finally, North American major league team sports are entirely insular at the club level. They play all of their games and competitions against one another, no outsiders are wanted. This leads to the embarrassing situation where, say, a team in Ohio plays a team in Georgia for a “World” series or a “World” championship.
In the rest of the world, major team sports find every excuse to play different leagues, to challenge clubs from all over the globe. These international leagues and competitions sit on top of the national leagues and become a further incentive to good play. T o use English soccer as the example once again, the top four teams in the Premier League get to play in the following year’s Champions League against similarly successful clubs from all over Europe. The teams that come fifth to eighth in the English Premier League qualify for the Europa Cup. It is estimated that winning the Champions League is worth $100 million to a club, while winning the Europe Cup might be 20% of that. Similar high value competitions exist in rugby and cricket, and for soccer in other continents.
Major league sports teams outside North America do very well, thank you very much, both in terms of money and quality without any of the protected Trust-like setup that North American leagues feel the need to erect. They operate in a completely free market, where talent rises to its own level against peers from every corner of the globe. They are the true capitalists, while the Major League owners are more like a Stalin-era Politbureau stamping out competition.
The interesting thing about this notice is that “714 Commercial” never existed, and no “F.A. Brown” can be found in the directories for this area.
An interesting group of Grandview residents and business people met today with Councillor Colleen Hardwick. This was one of her 50 Neighbourhood Talks to ensure that every neighbourhood in Vancouver is aware of, and become involved in, the City Plan process. It was very much a working group meeting, expanding from the historical review of planning that Colleen had presented at GWAC earlier in the month.
I am sure an official reporting out of the meeting will be available soon but in the meanwhile I can say that a lot of ground was covered — both in presentations by Colleen and Lewis Villegas, and from the active back-and-forth discussion that included everyone present. The flaws in the recent Grandview Woodland Community Plan process were aired, the business owners in attendance repeated their oft-said but no less valid issues with the slowness and cost of City permitting and the zoning-taxation regime, and almost all the attendees complained that the Community Plan was not being followed, with too many spot rezonings, additional heights, etc.
The accuracy (or otherwise) of the population estimates used by City staff to sell more development was discussed in detail, as was the City’s over-reliance on CAC funding. Specific local issues such as the Broadway/Commercial area and the Venables/Commercial intersection were discussed as outstanding issues of local concern, and there was a lively discussion about the housing types needed to meet the reasonable needs of local population increase.
It has been an age since we had such an adult conversation with anyone from City Hall.
My clearest takeaway from the meeting is the need for the neighbourhood to once again actively organize itself in preparation for the City Plan, more changes to the GW Plan, and the next civic election.
Today would have been Nina Simone’s 86th birthday. She gave us such joy and passion and most importantly a withering and uncompromising understanding of the black condition in America. This review of a Simone biography is well worth reading. She was fierce in her joy and I love her for it.
Also, fifty-five years ago today, the revered Malcolm X was murdered by adherents of the Nation of Islam (NOI). At his funeral, Ossie Davis called him “our shining black prince”.
After years in the NOI’s leadership, Malcolm renounced the inherent racism of that organization and the alleged financial, political, and moral corruption of Elijah Mohammed. Without ever caving to white power, and maintaining his belief in the ultimate weapon of armed struggle, he sought, through Sunni Muslim beliefs, to raise the self-esteem of blacks in America.
Malcolm X’s Autobiography stands with Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and Nelson Mandela’s speech on his release from prison as the most influential statements of civil rights in the twentieth century.
You delight in laying down laws,
Yet you delight more in breaking them.
Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with constancy and then destroy them with laughter.
But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore,
And when you destroy them, the ocean laughs with you.
Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.
But what of those to whom life is not an ocean, and man-made laws are not sand-towers,
But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they would carve it in their own likeness?
What of the cripple who hates dancers?
What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant things?
What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless?
And of him who comes early to the wedding-feast, and when over-fed and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all feasters law-breakers?
What shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun?
They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows?
And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace their shadows upon the earth?
But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you?
You who travel with the wind, what weather vane shall direct your course?
What man’s law shall bind you if you break your yoke but upon no man’s prison door?
What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man’s iron chains?
And who is he that shall bring you to judgment if you tear off your garment yet leave it in no man’s path?
People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?