If football clubs were political movements ….

I don’t support Newcastle but have been reading a fair bit about them recently, partly because of Pardew leaving – and also because of Mike Ashley’s attempts to strengthen his grip on the club formerly known as Glasgow Rangers.

Ashley’s Newcastle are a metaphor for wider austerity Britain. Celebrate mediocrity (8th place as a success) despite having the potential resources to do better (Newcastle have gates of over 50,000 and Ashley is one of the 5 richest men in Britain – although we’ll come to that in a second), sell off public property to private enterprise (the renaming of St James Park to the Sports Direct Arena), treating fans as mindless consumers who should just keep on paying their money and shut up about any demands they have for enjoyment (an attractive, attacking team, a cup run) as that is not the primary reason for the football club to exist. Generating a profit for Mike Ashley is.

Reading the back pages of the newspaper about Newcastle is like reading the front pages about coalition led Britain. Like Newcastle consistently selling their best players we are regularly told that we can’t afford benefits for the disabled, art centres, libraries, refuges for victims of domestic abuse, etc despite the fact that we have the 6th largest total GDP and have no problem affording Trident apparently.

Just as the government continues to sell off public assets like the Royal Mail, the NHS and the East Coast Mainline to their friends and family in the private sector so Mike Ashley treats the history of Newcastle football club as expendable in order to increase advertising opportunities for his business (Sports Direct). The worldwide exposure of the premier league increases brand recognition of Sports Direct on a global level – never mind the history of St. James Park the shareholders of Sports Direct need an increased dividend.

Invest little for maximum profit. Ashley’s Newcastle is pure capitalism that is probably a gold standard for sports business management graduates to emulate. It is also joyless, depressing, elitist, exclusionary and soulless. Just like ConDem Britain.

Cross Season will soon be here!

Sven remounting
Sven Nys racing 2012 season

It’s August already and cyclocross season is only just around the corner! I’m excited that the season is here, that I’m finally free of physical problems and I might actually be able to race again this season (even if I am even worse than before). I’m also excited that I’m heading off to the Cyclocross Worlds in January, held this season at Hoogerheide in the Netherlands.

I thought I’d post the photo with this story as for me it sums up cyclocross nicely – the conditions, the intensity, the skill and balance required to race cyclocross at the highest level. The picture not only looks fantastic but you can see the madness of the sport – racing in the toughest conditions (and using a braking design that’s not changed in 40 years, until disc brakes became legal last season) that most people probably wouldn’t consider going out in or be able to complete a lap without taking a spill. You can see the excitement of the fans, roaring their hero on in the background, fuelled by a combination of beer and frites – and this is probably the best format for watching cycle racing with a short course meaning the riders will lap and pass the fans a number of times in each race.

The short and intense nature of a day of racing means that you’ll not only see the Elite men race but usually at least one other race but more likely there will be the full gamut of Juniors, Under-23s, Women and Seniors to see. Now all we need is parity in prize money for the men and women and we’ll be all set for some awesome racing for the next 10 years. Who wants to bet on a British World Cyclocross champion in that time too?

Yes, this picture is a progressional shot, not taken by me. Unfortunately it’s been sat on my laptop for months and I have no idea where I acquired it. If you know, or it’s yours and you’d like me to remove it, please drop us a line at www@emptypage.org.uk. Thanks.

Just Deserts?

So the British Open golf championship attracted fewer spectators than expected. I would like to think this is because people didn’t want to give money to a tournament held at a course that does not allow women to be members.

What’s sex got to do with it?

Would you be more likely to watch a sport if you were sexually attracted to one or more of the participants? Especially if it is a sport such as snooker that can take place over a matter of days rather than hours?

Snooker seems obsessed with trying to promote youth and sexiness, presumably because it is a fundamentally unsexy sport. From the cringeworthy talk of ‘naughty snooker’ by Judd Trump to a genuinely embarrassing article on the BBC Sport website that appeared this week following Michael White’s shock defeat of former world champion Mark Williams in the first round of the 2013 world championships.

Snooker is a game that requires immense levels of skill, concentration and tactical nous to play. Maybe those marketing the game could concentrate on promoting this rather than desperately panting after any young player who wins a couple of games and trying to sell them as putting sexy into snooker? After all, you might watch a couple of minutes of coverage because you fancy one of the players but unless the game grips you the chances of becoming a long term fan are pretty slim.

It is also another example of sport thinking the only way it can attract female interest is by appealing to the lowest common denominator – that a woman could only be interested in snooker because they think a player has a strong jawline. Maybe we could give them the credit to think they enjoy the sport because they appreciate the skill involved and enjoy the drama of a close contest?

Changing sports, I also can’t help but feel full of rage whenever I see the cheerleaders at the Indian Premier League cricket. Cheerleaders always annoy me anyway, to the hardcore fan they are an annoyance and is the prospect of some scantily clad women really enough to entice the casual fan through the turnstiles? If that is what they want to see their are plenty of strip clubs that cater to that need.

The IPL cheerleaders are especially irritating. Firstly, because their dancing is so bad, uncoordinated and out of time. More seriously because the presence of all white cheerleaders in a society that recent events suggest has a real issue with how it perceives women has potentially far-reaching implications. It reinforces the stereotype in Indian society that foreign women are naturally promiscuous. If there are has to be cheerleaders why do none of them seem to be Indian? There are a number of terrifying stories of sexual violence against women in India and in part this is because women are not seen as real people – either saints or sluts.

So please, can we stop trying to use sex to sell sport? Not because of a latent prudish streak, but because it is boring, unimaginative, adds nothing to the spectacle, and also lying underneath is a thinly veiled streak of misogyny that does sport no credit at all. Who knows, if sport stopped acting like a leering old man in a nightclub it might succeed in attracting more women to attend live events.