The Long Ball Tactic

What do George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer have in common?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on June 17, 2012

On June 12th the US Anti-Doping Agency wrote to Lance Armstrong, Johan Bruyneel, Pedro Celaya, Luis Garcia del Moral, Pepe Marti and Michele Ferrari telling them they were being charged with, amongst other offences, possession, trafficking, administering and aiding and abetting the use of prohibited substances.

The letter contained several references to “numerous riders” who testified that they were part of a systematic doping programme which went on at Armstrong and Bruyneel’s US Postal/Discovery teams from 1998 onwards.

For instance, the charges against Bruyneel claim, “numerous riders will testify that Mr Bruyneel gave to them and/or encouraged them to use doping products and/or prohibited methods, including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH and cortisone from the period 1999 through 2007”.

Armstrong’s charges state, “numerous riders, team personnel and others will testify based on personal knowledge acquired either through observing Armstrong dope or through Armstrong’s admissions of doping to them that Lance Armstrong used EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from before 1998 through 2005, and that he previously used testosterone and hGH through 1996.

Numerous riders will testify that Lance Armstrong gave to them, encourages them to use and/or assisted them in using doping products and/or methods, including EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone and cortisone during the period from 1999 through 2005.”

Today, George Hincapie, Dave Zabriskie, Christain Vande Velde and Levi Leipheimer all announced they did not want to be considered for the US Olympic cycling team.

The link between the four? They all rode for Armstrong and Bruyneel teams in the era in question.

Is that putting two and two together and getting five? We’ll see. But it has been reported in the past that Hincapie, Armstrong’s faithful lieutenant, testified against him before a grand jury last year.

You could just about get away with saying that Floyd Landis would be prepared to lie under oath to ‘get’ Armstrong. It was pushing it a bit, in my opinion, to say that Tyler Hamilton would lie under oath and lose his Olympic gold medal in order to be part of the so-called Armstrong witch-hunt. But Big George? And why, exactly, would these ‘numerous riders’ – teammates and friends alike – be willing to perjure themselves and risk going to jail by testifying against Lance, if what they said wasn’t true?

It looks like the golden goose may be well and truly cooked.


Ched Evans and fans’ perspective

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on April 23, 2012

When Ched Evans was convicted of raping a young woman on Friday a whole new horrific chapter opened in the baffling extent people will go to to defend footballers.

It’s something I noticed last year when fans seemed to genuinely believe that people like Ryan Giggs should be allowed different protection by the law than the rest of us during his superinjunction case. Nevermind the fact Giggs was using his wealth and fame to abuse a blackmail law and preserve his commercial interests, this was all acceptable to some.

It happened again, pretty sickeningly, with Luis Suarez, when some Liverpool fans rushed to defend the Uruguayan after he racially abused Patrice Evra and now, it seems some fans are prepared to stoop so low as to practise victim-blaming in rape crimes or, in some cases, even celebrate the act of rape itself.

It should go without saying but, to be clear, there’s no excuse for rape. So many people seem to think the fact the girl was drunk means she should take some responsibility for being raped, the notion of that is incredible to me but there you go. Also, people seem to believe that because she seemingly consented to sex with Clayton McDonald then it was acceptable for Ched Evans to then rape her whilst another man filmed it. Again, to me, it should be pretty basic Human Decency 101 that this is not the case.

I suppose we already knew that there’ll always be the idiots, the unashamed misogynists that believe rape is funny, or have no concept of how consent works who would be appalled by the judge’s decision to send Evans to prison for five years.

What worries me is how people look at this case, not as a man raping a woman, but as a celebrity raping a non-celebrity. In some people’s minds this seems to look ‘dodgy’, one of Evans’s teammates on Twitter has already referred to the girl as a “money-grabbing little tramp”, as if she decided that getting raped was the best method of making some quick cash.

It’s in this context that people seek to justify or defend Evans’s actions. It amazes me that people are so blinded by their loyalty to a  footballer that plays for their team – or even just a footballer in general – that they completely lose all perspective and offer their support to a rapist or a man who referred to a black man as “negro”.

Even the reaction to Evans being included in the PFA League One team of the year has been baffling to me. Surely it should be a fairly open and shut case of saying that someone who has recently been sent to prison for rape shouldn’t be honoured in an end of season ceremony? You’d think so, but it’s truly remarkable the number of people who believe the fact he’s a good footballer should take precedent over this.

This culture of football being the central part of people’s lifes, around which all other issues orbit, is genuinely troubling to me. Important issues that have nothing to do with football such as the Hillsborough disaster are seen through this spectrum of being a football supporter, with all the prejudices and irrational rivalries that come with that, and the perspective gets so skewed it’s untrue.

I would have hoped that cases that involve death, rape and racism would force supporters to rise above the world of football fandom and look at these issues from the perspective of rational human being. It seems that expectation was too much.

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Posted in Uncategorized by mike on April 17, 2012

I’ve been reading Professor Phil Scraton’s book Hillsborough: The Truth this week, a really interesting and comprehensive, but also incredibly moving, examination of what happened on April 15th 1989.

With the comments recently by Alan Davies and, far worse, the chanting by Chelsea fans during the minutes silence on Sunday, I think sometimes people miss the importance of Hillsborough. It irks me when people suggest others should ‘move on’ from what happened on that day, or that those who still talk about it are ‘wallowing in grief’.

The disaster itself is multi-faceted. You have, of course, the death of the 96 fans, killed in some of the worst scenes imaginable. To compound that you also have the subsequent response from South Yorkshire police, the smear campaign against the victims and the clamour to alleviate themselves of any responsibility for their failure to implement proper crowd control procedures.

Incredibly, people to this day still seem to believe that Liverpool fans were at least partly responsible for what went on – they weren’t, of course – and much of this must be put down to the efforts of the police and their aggressive briefing of the press in the immediate aftermath, despite the fact Lord Taylor in his report called the supporters efforts “magnificent”.

What people also forget about the disaster is that the coroner imposed a 3.15pm cut-off date at the inquests, thus meaning that families of those who died were never able to ascertain exactly what happened to their loved ones. Many families believe that some of those who died could have been saved with proper first aid arrangements, better emergency plans and without police stopping a fleet of ambulances from entering the ground.

Anne Williams, whose son Kevin died at Hillsborough, has fought for a new inquest. She found from talking to witnesses there that her son died at approximately 45 minutes after the coroner’s cut-off time, and was still alive when he was lifted out of one of the crowded pens at 3.28pm. Pathologists have argued that, with medical attention, Kevin could have been saved just by putting a rubber tube down his throat to assist his breathing.

The pain for those involved still endures until today. No one is taking responsibility and families still wait, after 23 years, for a proper inquest. The initial verdict of ‘accidental death’, clearly does not tell the full story. The writer Jimmy McGovern put it best when he said: “the thing the establishment forgot was that this is primarily mothers fighting for their sons. And having lost their sons they saw them attacked, which made them keep on fighting. If someone had put their hands up and said “we’re really sorry, this is what happened” they would have been happy. But nobody has, which is why they’ll keep on fighting”.

Combine this with the police witness statements, which were amended with notes from senior officers saying “These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have [the PC] rewrite the last two pages excluding points mentioned.”. And, of course, the infamous lie that supporters forced open Gate C, and you can see why we are far from being able to ‘move on’ from this tragedy.

The descriptions in Prof. Scranton’s book that are hardest to read tell of families being led through dead bodies in the Hillsborough gymnasium trying to identify their missing loved ones, of being shown polaroid photographs of dead bodies and being asked to pick out anyone that might be their son or daughter, and then, to pile insult on top of injury, being questioned as though they were suspects rather than victims. “Was your son drinking alcohol?”, “which pubs would he have been drinking in?”.

One mother, who told police her deceased 23-year-old son hadn’t drank or smoked during his short lifetime, heard one officer remark to another “she’ll be telling us he was a virgin next”.

Even for those who didn’t lose their lives the tragedy still looms large. 23 years is a long time to wait for justice, but its a short enough time to mean that many of those who attended that game and saw friends and family crushed and asphyxiated are still alive today. Many of those, like the families who had to walk through dead bodies to find relatives, were not given proper counselling and have not sought it themselves. If you read the Hillsborough forums on Liverpool FC message board you’ll find posts from survivors who describe how they kept the details of that day bottled up inside, some find the forums a good way to release some of that, other still find the events too traumatic to fully discuss.

If this wasn’t bad enough, imagine having also to fight to clear the names of those who died, to remind people they did nothing wrong, despite the police and the Prime Minister’s press secretary talking of “a tanked up mob”. Imagine not knowing whether your dead child could have been saved because  no one has tried to investigate anything that happened after 3.15pm.

They attended a football game, some of them had a drink beforehand, like most of us have, their only mistake was to walk down the tunnel after going through the turnstiles, or after police had opened the gate, and find themselves in pens 3 and 4.

On 17th December 1996 a debate in parliament was held over Hillsborough. The Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle put forward several unanswered questions about the disaster:

– Why was Chief Superintendent Duckenfield put in charge of a major semi-final only 21 days before the game when he was relatively inexperience at policing football games?

– Why, unlike the 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough, were there no barriers or cordons to filter the crowd outside the Leppings Land end?

– As the danger unfolded why was the kick-off not delayed?

– Why did the police not recognise the build up in pens 3 and 4 when TV commentator John Motson and the video technician Roger Houldsworth clearly saw what was happening?

– Why was the tunnel which led to pens 3 and 4 not sealed off as it had been in 1988?

– Why did Chief Superintendent Duckenfield tell the FA that fans forced open gate C when he ordered it to be opened?

– Why did it take until 3.30pm to make an announcement on the public address system to inform or instruct fans and to seek medical personnel to help the dying or injured?

– Given that 42 ambulances reached the ground, why did not more of them get on the pitch to provide expert medical help?

– Why was the city’s major medical disaster plan never put into effect?

These questions remain pertinent today.

I wish everyone would read David Conn’s articles on Hillsborough to gain a greater understanding of the many unanswered questions and the clear lack of justice after 23 years. The links can be found here:

Hillsborough Papers leak – more questions than answers

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on March 15, 2012

When, during a parliamentary debate in October 2011, the Home Secretary Theresa May agreed to release the Hillsborough Papers in full, it seemed as though some justice may finally be done. That justice, however, threatens to be undermined if sections of the documents are leaked to the media before they are viewed in full by the victim’s families.

The leak of some of the papers today to the BBC only serves to muddy the waters of the Hillsborough disaster once again. It gives an airing to the old lie that fans were the sole cause of the tragedy, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Given the shocking number of people who still believe that fans are to blame, this leak, and the faux-authoritative air lent to it by the senior figures involved, will only serve to back up this old untruth for some who are either too ignorant or too prejudiced to believe otherwise.

Essentially, what we are seeing here is an incomplete picture. Without the context of the other papers, this sole leak is meaningless. Whilst it may generate some exciting headlines, it remains fundamentally misleading when judged in isolation.

This is no smoking gun. It doesn’t prove that there was a police cover-up, it also certainly doesn’t prove that fans were the cause of the disaster, it only shows us that the information given to Margaret Thatcher by a senior Merseyside police officer was incorrect. The only person who really gains from this leak is the ‘Iron Lady’ herself, who is seemingly exonerated from any accusations of misinformation and cover-up in the aftermath of the disaster.

The big question here is who leaked these documents, and why? It does have the air of a damage limitations exercise by somebody. It would seem that only those who have something to fear from the contents of the documents would try and manage their release to the media in such a way.

More than a game?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 11, 2012

I get sick to death of football sometimes. From the selling off of the game to Sky, to the leach-like owners increasing ticket prices while using clubs to pay off debts, I sometimes wonder why I still give a shit when 3pm on a Saturday rolls around. It borders on the irrational and it can’t be good for my mental wellbeing.

The Evra/Suarez affair has almost tried my patience to the max. If it had merely been a case of Suarez saying something he shouldn’t have and swiftly apologising, that would have been one thing. The most sickening element is how racism has now been pulled into the mechanisms of Premier League football. For fans who defend Suarez, this isn’t merely about a man being wrongly accused of something (or though how you can be ‘wrongly accused’ of something you admit saying, I’m not sure), this is another manifestation of the Liverpool and Manchester United rivalry.

This has become so tribal as to be nonsensical. It seems people stand by Suarez because to do otherwise would be to concede that Evra is right, and that would be unthinkable due to the team he plays for. And so we get the perverse situation where Evra – a man who has reported the fact he has been racially abused, ie. done nothing wrong whatsoever – gets abuse from Liverpool fans. If I was a black footballer, would I feel more or less comfortable about speaking out about racism now? Almost certainly the latter.

This tribal mentality, that prevents football fans from stepping away from the game and seeing racism for what it is, hasn’t been left on the terraces. The fans have been ably egged on by the team’s manager. Dalglish’s attitude that Suarez did nothing wrong and shouldn’t have been banned at all is a disgrace and brings a huge amount of disrepute to a club I’ve personally always thought to be built on football’s best traditions and principles.

With the rise of the EDL and many people seeking easy solutions for the nation’s problems (namely blaming it on them immigrants) football should be doing all it can to say racism is bollocks. You’d think this would be an easy task given Premier League football’s manifestly multicultural nature, but it’s been made a whole lot harder by the attitudes of Liverpool and Dalglish. Instead of saying ‘kick it out’, Liverpool are saying ‘there are some occasions where racism could be deemed acceptable’.

You can already see the effects of this if you go on Twitter and search for Patrice Evra’s name and any racial slur you can think of. It seems the racists have leapt upon this and skewed the club’s line from ‘Luis is innocent’ to ‘Luis was right to racially insult a black man’. Unfortunately, this sort of attitude will continue to pervade unless we have a real zero tolerance approach to racism. Teams and fans shouldn’t be looking for excuses for it (“it’s acceptable in Uruguay”? please).

One thing that plays on my mind is how people would react if the roles were reversed, if, say, a Man Utd player had racially abused a Liverpool player. Would Liverpool fans attitude still be the same? Or would they be calling for the Man Utd player to be kicked out of the game? It seems the natural reaction is just to stand up for the multi-millionaire wearing the shirt of the team you support, no matter what.

Fans need to step away from the grotty world of football and see that racism can’t ever be excused or defended. It’s a lot bigger than a bullshit football rivalry and should be addressed as such.

It’s not about the doping: Unanswered questions in the Lance Armstrong case

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 7, 2012

When U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. announced on Friday that there would be no charges against Lance Armstrong and his former U.S. Postal team the cycling world seemed to lapse into a kind of collective shock. Soon an all too predictable narrative began to be spun – namely that this was vindication for Armstrong and proof that he never doped. Out of curiosity I did a Google News search for the phrase ‘Armstrong cleared of doping charges’, sure enough more than one news agency was choosing to report the news of the case’s collapse in this way.

The truth, though, is somewhat more nuanced. My understanding is that sports doping is not, in itself, a crime in America and certainly not one that would be pursued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the F.B.I and the Department of Justice.

Armstrong was never accused simply of doping. The doping may have formed the basis for a case involving fraud, or misuse of public money or any of the other charges it was rumoured Jeff Novitzky and his team were following, but not a crime on its own. Therefore, the investigation could, hypothetically, have thrown up evidence of doping and still been closed down if the attorney didn’t feel there was a strong enough case to make the serious charges stick. In other words, it’s not correct to say that this decision not to press charges vindicates Armstrong from doping. In the same way, perhaps, that the unsatisfactory conclusion to the recent Barry Bonds perjury trial does not exonerate him from taking steroids.

Those who, like cycling commentator Phil liggett, seek to conflate the issue of doping with the closure of the federal case have either not understood the procedure or are being deliberately disingenuous.

There may be an argument now to just let sleeping dogs lie, the issue of Armstrong’s doping will never fully be resolved and, surely, if there were that much evidence then the federal authorities would have pressed charges?  I had some sympathy with this viewpoint in the immediate aftermath of the news on Friday, but since then a number of news reports and anonymous sources have created many unanswered questions.

The most intriguing of these came today when reported the US internet radio station NPR had spoken to “sources within the FBI, FDA and US Postal Services” who were “shocked, surprised and angry” that they were only given 30 minutes notice before the L.A. Attorney’s office informed the media the case would be closed. The NPR source also claimed that prosecutors were about to indict a number of individuals for fraud, witness tampering, mail fraud and drug distribution before the rug was seemingly pulled from under their feet.

This version of events was backed up by “a source who had co-operated with the federal investigation” who told

I talked to someone within the investigation but the reason why the case was shut down was due to a one man decision. The evidence against those involved was absolutely overwhelming. They were going to be charged with a slew of crimes but for reasons unexplained he closed the case saying it wasn’t open for discussion.

We can piece together from this, then, that Andre Birotte Jr made the decision on Friday to drop the case unilaterally, only giving the agencies investigating it a 30 minutes head start before the media was told. Birotte, in his position as Attorney for the Central District of California, is entirely within his rights to do this, but the source who have subsequently spoken out clearly do not agree that there was insufficient evidence. Indeed, Cyclingnews’s source believes the federal evidence was “absolutely overwhelming”.

Why, then, do we find ourselves in the situation we are in now? There could be any number of explanations why Birotte took the decision to drop the case quietly, the Friday before the Super Bowl (a time when the media are distracted with the football event of the year and may not have either the resources or the will to comprehensively follow up a legal case involving cycling). Could one explanation be that this was more a political decision than a judicial one? The more we look at the information available combined with the odd timing, the more we are compelled to ask just what exactly went on behind the scenes?

The team that Armstrong hired to defend himself certainly carries some political clout. His attorney Mark Fabiani, the man dubbed the ‘master of disaster’, is a former White House special counsel who, according to ESPN, “specializes in helping steer embattled politicians, companies and organizations through legal and public relations crises”. It was Fabiani who steered Bill and Hilary Clinton through the Whitewater scandal of the early 90s and was hired by Goldman Sachs in April 2010 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis to clean up its public image. The Financial Times described one of Fabiani’s main attributes as being “politically connected”.

Fabiani’s business partner Chris Lehane is similarly well connected and, it is reported, worked on a daily basis in the White House with Clinton’s lawyer Lanny Breuer, who is now Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

Before getting into full-blown conspiracy theory mode it’s maybe time to step back slightly and state that there’s no reason to believe anything untoward happened. Maybe a little lobbying went on here, a few old friends were lent on there, who knows. I do believe, however, that it’s worth highlighting the circles in which Armstrong and his team moved in, in order to view the case in a wider context.

If we take the Cyclingnews and NPR sources at their word then a U.S. Attorney has taken the decision to close down a case which those investigating it felt there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence to pursue. If that is what went on then there must surely be other factors involved. Would Birotte really want to spend the state’s time and money trying to prosecute someone as well connected as Armstrong? Did he really want to be the guy who sanctioned an investigation into how one of the world’s best known cancer charities spent its money? Did he decide, in the end, despite the evidence, the most politically expedient move would be to put a lid on the whole thing and move on? The timing of the decision could have come right out of the Fabiani PR playbook, as could the subsequent reports and comments trying to confuse the dropping of the Federal case with an acquittal from allegations of cheating in a bike race in France.

There may be more to come. In the meantime we can only speculate.

Where do we go from here?

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on February 4, 2012

It is my firm belief that Lance Armstrong won his 7 Tours de France whilst doping.

To counter this by saying, ” but he’s never tested positive” is to assume that cycling’s doping controls are absolute and will always catch the bad guys eventually. This didn’t happen with Jan Ulrich or the countless others who were caught out in Operation Puerto in 2006. Britain’s golden boy David Millar never tested positive, yet in 2004 police raided his room in Biaritz and found used syringes and two empty phials of EPO.

Basically, I could write a lengthy blogpost on why I think Armstrong doped, but I’d like to assume that every reasonable person, unburdened by the trappings of fandom, can look at the facts dispassionately and come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to believe he did it clean, however good a story it would make. There’s the testimonys from former teammates where doping regimes are described in detail, there’s his association with the controversial Michele Ferrari (which, according to Italian police, continued in secret until at least 2010 after Ferrari’s arrest in 2004), and then, of course, there’s the context. The rivals who were snarled at, crushed and firmly put in their place were all using EPO and transfusing blood, Armstrong rode and dominated in cycling’s dirtiest era and we are asked to believe his success was a result of talent and mental strength winning out over pharmaceutically enhanced opponents.

Those who hoped that the federal investigation launched into Armstrong and doping in US cycling would come up with charges and, ultimately, convictions were hopefully not all crossing their fingers out of bitterness or a bloody-minded vindictive desire to see a hero fall.

Instead, we wanted the truth to come out. Cycling cannot progress if its future is built on fairytales. We need to go back and honestly address what went wrong, why riders doped, who knew what and how it can be stopped in the future. The alternative to this, as far as I can see, is to shout loud about the guys who get caught out and bring the full force of scorn and indignation down on their shoulders. Sometimes these guys end up like Floyd Landis, where a confession relieves them of their burden, other times they end up like Marco Pantani. The common factor between the two is that they are suddenly ostracised and disowned by a sport and culture that nurtured them, taught them to act this way by institutionalising the act of doping, and then threw them to the wolves.

In Floyd Landis’s opinion, only a total amnesty can save cycling now. Ask riders to reveal how they dope, how they avoid testing positive and in return offer immunity from punishment. Understand a little more, condemn a little less, in other words. The sport needs to understand its problems before it can confront them fully. Landis has helped with this and he should be applauded for eventually doing the right thing, but the sport should make provisions for others to follow his lead, not brief the press that those who break cycling’s great omerta are liars or psychologically unbalanced.

To talk about this in abstract terms is fine, but the huge barrier standing in the way is cycling’s survival as a commercial entity. If it stops one day and says ‘actually, all this is a lie and we cannot say for sure that any of these athletes are clean’ the money would run out overnight. Which sponsor wants to have their name on the jersey of a cheat? Who wants their brand to be associated with lies and corruption? Where would the funding come from?

This is why cycling seemingly must carry on as it is, and why there will be huge sighs of relief in the offices of the UCI at the news no charges will be brought against the man who rejuvinated the sport after the Festina scandal in 1998, when pundits where openly questioning whether the Tour de France could survive. Cycling enjoyed some glorious commercial success in the years from 1999-2005, even if the racing itself was stolid and largely unexciting, the buccaneering daring of the Hinault, Lemond and Fignon era replaced by the machinelike, regimented performances of Armstrong’s US Postal team, leading from the front and grinding down opponents into submission.  To admit that this commercial renaissance was built on a lie would leave the governing body, and many others, open to numerous awkward questions they’d presumably all rather leave in the past.

There are certain n0-go areas in cycling, and Armstrong is definitely one of them. For that reason I can’t answer the question I’ve laid out in the title to this blogpost. I hope that the US Anti-Doping Agency, as they have pledged, carry out a thorough probe into doping practises and receive all the evidence which now won’t be used in the federal investigation. I hope they build their investigation on finding out the truth, no matter what, rather than a damage limitations exercise with one eye on keeping the golden goose laying eggs just a little bit longer.

I hope the truth comes out eventually because I want to believe in cycling a bit more. And, I think possibly more than that, I want the courage of Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton who did a lot of disgraceful things and told a lot of lies but eventually spoke out against a culture of denial, to count for something. I don’t want the PR machine to spin into overdrive and declare that Armstrong has been found not guilty and that Landis and Hamilton have been proved to have been lying, because no such thing has happened, no trial has taken place.

Cheating is probably more commonplace than we’d like to believe and once something has been set in motion its hard to stop. I’m not even sure doping can be seen in such absolute terms as a matter of right and wrong. Christophe Bassons found being ‘right’ was hard, as he was mocked by his teammates for refusing to take the doping products which they all used.  If you want to succeed in the sport, you’re probably going to need to do more than ride clean and hope for a break, particularly in an event that spans three weeks. And isn’t that what sport is about anyway? Finding a way to succeed. That’s not a justification of doping, it’s just a question. But it’s a question that needs to be answered, along with a lot of others, if cycling is to lay its demons to rest for once and for all.

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What it feels like to come clean about doping

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on January 30, 2012

“I realised that I was not going to be alright if I just keep avoiding it. I can’t go back and make it different. I can’t change facts. The facts are going to remain the same forever, so if I just deny that they exist I am not going to get through it. So then I had to face it and that was equally as turbulent – feelings of up and down and trying to figure out what the response was going to be. Or what was going to happen to me, I didn’t know. Some of the lawyers told me I was going to get arrested for perjury and put in prison; some of them said “just don’t do it because you will get sued.” I had to go through all that and weigh all these things that might happen to me and ultimately I came to the point where it didn’t matter what the risk was, I was going to pay the price for what I did regardless, and that was okay with me. I hope it’s not prison but if it is then at least when I get out of there, I can tell the truth and I’m going to feel better. And I will sleep better at night and won’t be worried about what I dream about or think about how things used to be because they are not going to be that way anymore, that’s it, it’s over.”

Floyd Landis

Sports minister remains silent on Supporters Direct

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on June 14, 2011

The decision by the Premier League to cut its funding to Supporters Direct has been met with vocal, widespread criticism from a variety of areas. One voice which has remained silent thus far, however, is that of Hugh Robertson MP, the minister for Sport and Olympics.

Robertson and his government’s silence is particularly striking, given that page 14 of the Coalition Agreement, set out by the Conservatives and Lib Dems in May 2010, contains an express commitment to “encourage the reform of football governance rules to support the co-operative ownership of football clubs by supporters“.

Robertson then reaffirmed this aim in September of last year in a debate in Westminster Hall on the governance of football, saying:

The twin aims of greater supporter involvement in running football clubs and the reform of football governance are shared across the political spectrum and are, as the hon. Gentleman correctly said, part of the coalition agreement. However, I have to tell him that, although the issue is widely agreed in this place, it is not entirely shared in the wider football family. There is a battle to be fought to convince the football family of the merits of this case.

A battle to be fought, indeed, and yet Robertson’s failure to act when an essential component of supporter involvement in football clubs becomes compromised is disappointing.

Further to this, when Robertson – a former army major and investment banker – was an opposition MP, he was a key note speaker at the Supporters Direct Conference in October 2008. Robertson told the conference of the Conservative’s belief in “empowering local communities” (recently re-expressed as  a key tenet of David Cameron’s “Big Society”), congratulated SD on their success so far, wished them luck for the future and assured them they had the full support of the Conservative Party.

In addition to his silence in the press, Robertson is also yet to sign an Early Day Motion in Parliament, tabled by the Labour MP Tom Greatrex, which criticises the Premier League’s decision to withdraw funding. Greatrex wrote on his website today that:

The Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson MP, recently described football as the worst governed sport in the country. He must now step in to protect the future of Supporters Direct, which has advanced the cause of good governance and transparency in the national game so much. The government must prove that it is not just paying lip service to the voice of football fans and use its influence to urge the FSIF to re-consider.

It’s hard to argue with that, regardless of whether you are to the left or the right of the political spectrum.

Greatrex and Robertson, it seems, have crossed paths on this issue before. On 16th June last year Robertson told Greatrex in a written answer that the government had no plans to provide funding for SD itself, a position that seems consistent with the coalition’s commitment to big society, not big government. With this in mind, it seems even more essential that Robertson act on his earlier pledges, follow through on his government’s stated wish to enable local communities to have a greater say in the running of local bodies, and speak out against the Premier League’s decision to withdraw their funding from Supporters Direct.

Premier League takes a great stride backwards

Posted in Uncategorized by mike on June 14, 2011

It may have passed with little to no coverage, but over the weekend the Premier League pulled a stunt that was every bit as stupid and undemocratic as anything that went on in the FIFA congress two weeks ago.

Supporters Direct, the group set up in 2000 to help football fans struggle for greater accountability and democracy within their teams, as well as helping fans run their own teams, had its funding withdrawn by the Premier League, reneging on a previous commitment to provide £1.8m of funding over the next three years.

But for what reason? Had there been allegations of bungs, bribes, corruption, as has been levelled at the upper echelons of FIFA? What great scandal was it that appalled the Premier League so that they felt they had to withdraw their funding pledge? Well, it seems that messers Scudamore, Richards and co. were unhappy with SD chief exec Dave Boyle using swear words on Twitter whilst celebrating AFC Wimbledon’s promotion to the Football League.

In the manner of Mary Whitehouse, or a particularly pernickity conservative pensioner watching a stand-up comedy DVD, the PL decided that swearing would not be tolerated and Supporters Direct chair Pauline Green had not sufficiently reprimanded Boyle for his Twitter outburst, so the money that had previously been pledged to the organisation would no longer be available.

Who knew that the Premier League had such stringent moral guidelines? They seemed to be strangely absent when Thakshin Shinawatra was allowed to purchase Manchester City, or when the son of a then-wanted arms dealer bought Portsmouth FC; or, indeed, in the debt-laden takeover of Manchester United.  All of these ethically questionable actions, which knaw at the credibility of our national game, were allowed to pass without comment but swearing, it seems, was a step too far.

But the decision to stop Supporters Direct dead in its tracks is more than just another example of Premier League incompetence. In an age where Football League clubs are going bust like never before, SD is a vital organisation that helps the fans put their views front and centre and makes them a force to be reckoned with again. It is a voice of the fans which had previously gone unheard in a world of clubs and governing bodies making solely commercial considerations.

SD had helped establish 200 supporters trusts and it looked like we were entering a decade where ventures like these were making real, demonstrable progress. For instance, not only have fan-owned AFC Wimbledon entered the Football League, but Swansea City, whose supporters trust has a 20% share in the club and a full-time representative on the board, have been promoted to the Premier League. These need to set new precedents in fan-ownership, not just be quaint anomalies. The cutting of funding to SD goes against this great endeavour and helps the commercial side of the game gain an upper-hand on the fans once more.