Contrasting views: all roads lead to Rio

Our journey back to Jamaica yesterday began with a taxi ride to Gatwick Airport, from the East End of London. Our driver was born in the Isle of Dogs, once in the heart of the London dockyards and part of the new wave of gentrification and new development. We talked about how the area had changed over the past 20 years. Much of London never had the ‘benefit’ of being destroyed during the Second World War, so massive redevelopment was always hard to do. The decline of the docks opened the way for a new wave of redevelopment, and it was spurred by the area being adjacent to a major financial centre. Many East Enders had been moving further east for years, and that process continued with the added pressure of new money and social groups wanting to move in. In a few words, the East End has become posh. Places with names such as ‘Leg of Mutton Lane Lane’ and ‘Westferry Road’ had real meaning.

The driver and I talked about how the area had changed physically. He mentioned that he had a book that looked at 500 years of the area’s history, its physical, social and economic make-up. I had been thinking that a great use of technology would be to make an overlay map that showed just that for any area. I had studied for years in the area and commented that I could barely make out where I was except for the trees; almost everything had changed. But, that is what progress means these days. We looked at the tall glass buildings, the wide streets, the fancy signs for new financial and commercial activities; men in suits and women in fashionable dresses–a far cry from the clothes of dock workers and their relatives. I thought of Jamaica, and Kingston’s downtown: progress had passed it by. People now flooded into the East End, after decades of people wanting mainly to flee the area. We continued to the motorway, and I thought about how improved transport links had made this side of London very dynamic: new rail links, new roads, a new small airport, London City Airport. That is what transformation meant.

East London transformed
East London transformed

We got to Gatwick and headed to check-in. (London’s airports are well served by public transport, and a train service runs every 15 minutes to this airport, to the south, but getting there from the east is trickier, so the roads are often quicker.) We completed the necessaries and sat to cool out in the lounge. Two ladies headed to Jamaica sat opposite us. They first felt miffed that they had not realised that showers and a spa were in the area. “It’s provided by the airport. I wouldn’t have bothered to bathe,” one said. I smiled and told her that it was BA who provided the service, and it’s common for them. She and her friend continued with their breakfasts, as did we.

“Glastonbury! Why do people want to go there, camping? That’s nasty!” My ears bristled. I asked her why she thought camping was nasty (remembering that she’d been prepared to go unbathed to the airport, moments ago). She explained it had to do with having to sleep on the ground. I asked her about her family background, and we had a discussion about life in Jamaica. She’d been born in England and never grew up in Jamaica. I explained that living with a dirt floor was common in Jamaica, and still is the norm in many places. She was not convinced that lying on vinyl would make it not nasty. I teased her more. She really did not like much to do with nature. She would go into the mountains in Jamaica only if she could get everywhere by car; walking was out of the question. I suggested taking a mule: she thought that was cruel 🙂 I suggested she talk to her mother about life in rural Jamaica. We continued and I asked how she’d feel about taking a walk up the Blue Mountains to the coffee fields. Again, she was fine if she could go on wheels. I shook my head. She rounded herself out by explaining how she’d bought Blue Mountain coffee on a previous trip to Jamaica, but had no idea what to do with the ‘granules’. She’d put them into a cup and they were “just swimming around”. She’d given the coffee away. I explained how to brew fresh coffee. The lights that went off in her head were very bright. MY daughter could barely suppress her giggles. She told the lady about staying at Strawberry Hill and going up further to Holywell.

Holywell: too natural; too challenging
Holywell: too natural; too challenging

The idea of staying in the National Park was daunting for her. We almost closed the case. We left them to visualise their trip to Negril and Montego Bay. My daughter could not resist telling the lady and her friend (whose roots were from Ghana) about the dangers of being in the sea, and what some people feel happy to do in the water. Some of that is truly nasty, she pointed out. She is my child! I suggested to the ladies to be less afraid of what nature has to offer.

We headed to the departure gate a little while after, and boarded with little fuss. We then sat on the tarmac for over an hour as ‘ground services’ fouled up, including having no bags loaded. We relaxed and start watching some films. We eventually got flying about 90 minutes late. The already long scheduled flight was already tiring us out. But, what to do? We settled in for a long session of movies.

I asked my daughter along the way how she’d enjoyed her trip to Europe. Very much, she said, but could not wait to get back to Jamaica. She was thinking about sleeping in her own bed and having her own dog chewing her feet, not other people’s pets doing that. She thought about the food she liked: fish and chips were very good, but… We enjoyed our long flight. We did not enjoy the long wait for bags, and I thought back to the problems in London, wondering if all had gone well with the loading. After about 40 minutes our bags arrived, and we cleared Customs fast and headed out to meet the wife/mother. She happened to be standing next to one of her ‘friends’, a government minister, and we exchanged a few stories about our trip, before leaving him to wait for his family. It was very funny once we exited Norman Manley International Airport that my daughter’s eyes were struck by all  of Jamaica that she had missed: the views of mountains, the breezes off the sea, the goats in the road, the trash on the road side, men standing in the middle of the road begging, potholes. “It’s so nice to be back,” she said. Within minutes, we saw a car accident, with a small JPS car against a broken light pole. The irony of that struck us all. “Maybe, the driver was hurrying to cut off someone,” my wife quipped. She tried to figure out how the car had wrapped itself against the pole. We were back home.

We got home relatively quickly. My daughter was shocked to see her puppy, who had been shorn and sported his summer look, which was more rat than dog. What a life! She jumped indoors and he bounded after her. I laboured with the suitcases. What a life! The little girl and dog were getting back into touch with each other and I emptied suitcases and started telling a few short tales about the trip. I’d been sharing lots of pictures, so the sights were already familiar. My wife had to head off to a reception with the IMF’s MD, who had arrived earlier in the day. I asked to give my regards. Twenty hours of travel was taking its toll. I needed rest and I urged my child to do likewise: we were both in bed soon after 8pm local time (about 2am London time, so nearly 24 hours being awake). My wife told us that she had a breakfast date with the high and mighty, and that we had a drive to Port Antonio due up later today. Move it, move it!

I started to read the day’s paper and catch up with Wimbledon tennis on TV; that lasted about 15 minutes. Neither was that riveting. We had to get rested fast as we would be on the move again soon. Next stop, Rio, Brazil.

I have a week to learn some useful Portuguese phrases. Thankfully, the day just ending was a rest day in the World Cup; the knockout phase would start in earnest today. Brazil-Chile is on the docket. Serous things a gwaan.

No more need for French politesse. No more need for Cockney slang. Patois was back on the menu.

The World Cup and the three wise monkeys: the lustre of Brazil 2014 is fading

Football brings out all the passion in players and fans. Often, the level of passion is excessive.

C'mon, ref! Did you see that?
C’mon, ref! Did you see that?

Players conduct themselves violently, verbally and physically. They often get punished for that. Fans go out of control, and fight or verbally assault opposing fans; they, too, sometimes get punished. Not all the crimes are seen, so some of them go unpunished. Technology can help with identifying offences. It often is with regards to fans’ behaviour; it is less often used for players: the governing body, FIFA, prefers to let errors be a core feature of the sport. To my mind, that is a very ignorant stance. It is getting full exposure during this World Cup.

FIFA bent a little by allowing ‘goal line technology’, so that ghost goals would not be allowed, and good goals would be counted. It has not been needed that much, and on one occasion seemed to fail, but it was because the ball approached the line twice; the right decision (goal) was made, eventually. But, it moves with fear and hesitation to use video technology further. It had to, though, because of a horrible-looking incident during the match between Italy and Uruguay. Luis Suarez, Uruguayan, appeared to bite Gustavo Chiellini on the shoulder, then seem to feign that he had been hit. FIFA mounted an investigation. They found Suarez guilty yesterday, and banned him for 9 matches, fined him SwF100,000, and from any football-related activity for four months. For what it’s worth, I think that sentence was ludicrously light. Sure, it will hurt his club and country in many important games, if they wanted to use his services. But, he is a serial and repeat biter of other players on a football pitch. He needs psychological help, clearly, if he feels that biting is a reasonable reaction to either minor provocation or no provocation. Amazingly, his team mates and national association, think that he has been hard done by and will appeal the sentence. But, other pertinent opinion is not wholly against Suarez. Citing a Reuters report:

  • Uruguayan Football Association president Wilmar Valdez: “…to me it really seems like a completely exaggerated and abusive sanction.”
  • Uruguay captain Diego Lugano: “Indignation, impotence, I think that’s what we all feel. We’d all like a fairer world, but that world simply does not exist. Those who rule, rule, and the strong ones are the strong ones… Keep feeling proud of him, he deserves it. Nothing will stop us. We will carry on with humility, union, determination, recognition of mistakes, and with our heads always high.”

Dr Andrew Evans, a performance psychologist at Nottingham Trent University thinks differently: “This punishment won’t serve as much of a deterrent to Suarez in the future as it’s too similar to previously imposed sanctions. What is really needed now is a psychological program capable of promoting long-lasting behavior change.”

We are FIFA. We are FIFA...
We are FIFA. We are FIFA…

Brazilian forward Fred seems supportive of Suarez: “It was unfair because it could end a player’s life. Four months, nine games, everyone on top of you, criticizing his error. He has to be punished, yes, but I’d like to see Suarez still playing in this World Cup.” (Perhaps, he means seeing him on another pitch and far away from him?)

Sports equipment firm Adidas: “Adidas fully supports FIFA’s decision. Adidas certainly does not condone Luis Suarez’s recent behavior and we will again be reminding him of the high standards we expect from our players. We have no plan to use Suarez for any additional marketing activities during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

Andreas Campomar, author of “Golazo! A history of Latin American football”: “For many Latin Americans the ban will have wider repercussions. It will be construed as the usual high-handedness Europe employs in relation to Latin America. A case of one rule for them and one rule for us.”

We see reactions vary depending on relationships to the player concerned. Facts are not all the same, it appears. This, I know already. I also know that footballers do not see their own actions the same as those who watch them. But, let that confusion roll on.

Say "Please, nicely"
Say “Please, nicely”

A week or so ago, I took issue with a Jamaican organization that supports children, for their apparent willingness to put forward the good behaviour seen during the World Cup as examples for children to follow. I asked why they did that without reference to the very bad behaviour. They said they were stressing positives. I responded that it was as if the bad were invisible. Their CEO contacted me privately and told me that the messages were not clear and they would be withdrawn. I do not know how they would have survived a credibility test with the Suarez offences. Again, however, people seem to see what they want to see.

I don’t want to equate Suarez’s actions to those of a killer, but some the reactions are not far from those of The National Rifle Association, which is challenging proposed legislation that would prohibit stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence from buying guns, arguing that not all stalkers are violent and that the bill violates their Second Amendment rights.

Some stuff happens out of sight to the viewing public. Take the action alleged by the Ghana FA, that Muntari punched a staff member, and Boateng insulted the national team coach; both players were sent home before the team’s final match. Muntari had punched Armah during a meeting over US$3 million of unpaid money as senior players rounded on team officials for not keeping promises. The Ghanaian players’ discontent over the lack of payment, which had been simmering for days, exploded on Tuesday when they refused to train–even threatening to boycott their match against Portugal on Thursday–until they were paid more than $3 million in appearance fees, to be divided among the 23 players (about US$130,000 each). The fragile situation even required an intervention by President John Dramani Mahama, who spoke to the players on Tuesday and assured them the cash would be loaded on a plane and arrive Wednesday afternoon. Ghana played on Thursday, losing 2-1 to Portugal, and a neutral observer could easily say that they looked nothing like value for money, even playing at a level so low it was hard to believe that they almost beat the mighty Germany a few days ago. As I wrote on Facebook: ‘Ghana showing that if any good set of players so desire, they can play with supreme ineptitude.’ If someone levelled another charge of match-fixing against Ghana, I would not be surprised.

Of course, technology is making FIFA and match officials into a laughing-stock. While, they covers their ears and eyes to the many offences that are committed in the name of ‘the beautiful game’, cameras catch most, if not all of them. Some are broadcast immediately, showing officials to be either incompetent, unobservant, capricious, uncaring, or any range of other negative characteristics. I loved the replay last night of a player being held back by his shorts, which just about stayed on: the referee saw nothing, admittedly, because the offending player manhandled his opponent to the referee’s blind side. But, the assistant should cover the other angle. I know the system does not work, but that’s the theory. Other images now get aired almost as quickly and with added flair. They can come as ‘GIFs’ or ‘memes’, repeating the offending action, with some added animation or commentary; take a look at a compilation here. Again, the officials can look foolish.

The Economist published a very good article a week or so ago, arguing that football is a great sport, but it could be so much better if it were run honestly. That dishonesty comes in many forms, some of which I have just touched. Self delusion, denial, lying, cheating, greed, slothfulness, and more can be seen at this World Cup. It’s really a crying shame.

The anger of my Ghanaian friends yesterday was palpable, as they carried the collective shame of ‘Paradise Lost’, seemingly for ’30 pieces of silver’. Contrast that to the image (staged?) of Muntari handing out money on the streets in Brazil a few days ago. I felt it too: I had pinned hopes on Ghana reaching the final and winning it all. They had been ousted in 2010 by a set of controversial circumstances, including a goal-saving handball in the final minute of normal time, by none other than…Luis Suarez! That had left a bitter taste. It still is there. It is more bitter because I saw a team of wonderfully talented players reduced to the level of mediocre 12 year olds. Energy sapped. Imagination gone. Ability to think nil. Ability to execute nil. How do you go from heroes to goats in only a few days? It can’t just be money.

But, the tournament will move on. Little can change in terms of how the games are administered. People are excited that referees can spray white foam on the field and players do not move from where they should be. Now, it’s obvious if cheating is going on. Yet, FIFA resists doing similar things to make games more transparent and officiating easier. They were dragged kicking and screaming to sanction water breaks, while players are wilting in extreme temperatures and humidity. But, the quality of football had been lost on them for a while. Why else give the tournament to Qatar? Why not send it to Greenland in December? Who cares that they are not FIFA/UEFA members?

I’m not going to rant about the way that a simple game can descend into chaos. You read about how referees have performed in each game, and have a laugh while thinking whether they have a hard job or make an easy job look hard. They are the camel on whose back the straws are laid.

The world at our feet...
The world at our feet…

The layers of straw are sitting in their luxury seats and loving the beautiful game and all its flaws. Play on!

The good, the bad, and the ugly (June 15, 2014): Brazil 2014 World Cup edition

I will look for myself at evidence of social unrest in Brazil. It wont be exhaustive, but I prefer to check my own sentiments. Before that, what has the week that includes the start of the latest edition of this four-yearly football carnival brought us?

What was bad? I personally did not find a nerve stirred by the opening ceremony musical performance by Pit Bull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte. I think that somehow mega-stars performing at events such as these (or Super Bowl) are more about themselves than about really pleasing an audience and making them feel a part of something significant. Just my view.

J-Lo, Pit Bull, and Claudia Leitte, get something on in Rio
J-Lo, Pit Bull, and Claudia Leitte, get something on in Rio

Anyway, that was a rather dull start to the tournament, but once games got underway later the same day, the magic of the World Cup was really with us. It has been very good, so far. Brazil won their opener against Croatia, without a stellar performance, but ‘star boy, Neymar, came good with two goals. But, the hosts know that looking pretty and not winning is not what top-level football really likes. No game, so far, has been dull. Some matches have definitely not gone to plan and shown that football is a game of two halves. We saw the reigning Champions, Spain, get absolutely drubbed 5-1 by the Netherlands, after being tied at half-time. But, the real talking point of the match was the Superman-like leap of Robin van Persie to head the go-ahead goal, the like of which I have never seen before.

Costa Rica shocked Uruguay with a 3-1 win yesterday, their first ever against a South American team. Ivory Coast came back from one down to beat Japan 2-1 last night. England-Italy was the drama that it was billed to be, with the Azzurri winning 2-1.

Van Persie in full flight to head his goal
Van Persie in full flight to head his goal

What else, though? Goals have been going in at a rate of knots. So, fans shouldn’t complain about being bored and matches being dull.

Referees have already been the centre of controversy about penalty decisions given or denied, as well as goals denied. I have not held back in my ridiculing of any concerns about referees and calls they make. FIFA has set its face against using television evidence to help officials during matches, since 1970. FIFA does not permit video evidence during matches, although it is permitted for subsequent sanctions. The 1970 meeting of the International Football Association Board “agreed to request the television authorities to refrain from any slow-motion play-back which reflected, or might reflect, adversely on any decision of the referee” Moreover, in 2008, FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, said: “Let it be as it is and let’s leave [football] with errors. The television companies will have the right to say [the referee] was right or wrong, but still the referee makes the decision – a man, not a machine.” That’s the official position. So, fans, get over it! If you don’t like it, better find a way to shift FIFA’s thinking.

We’ve seen other things. FIFA has bowed to the god of new goal-line technology, to determine whether the ball crosses the goal line between the posts. It was embarrassed enough by the goal that was not seen when England’s Gerrard put the ball into the net, except that the referee was at his eye exam and his pupils were still blurred and he waved play on. What a total jackass he must have felt when he saw the replays at home with Mrs. Referee. But, FIFA, have not stopped there. They have dealt with the annoyingly childish practice of players creeping forward at free kicks to encroach on the required 10 yards from the ball. Referees now have some disappearing foam, which they can spray to make a really neat circle or line where the ball should be, and then make a line where the players toes should be. You can see some bewilderment amongst the players, as the referee bends down to resist the temptation to sign his name. But, let’s spray begin.vanishing spray

We cannot get the full flavour of the matches on television. Seeing the drumming fans of Cote d’Ivoire is not the same as having them right next to you. The arm-waving Chilean fans look fanatic, and probably are. The tearful faces of Costa Rican fans needed to be seen up close. In Jamaica, we also suffer from just poor reception. I’m not going to tackle it much here, but CVMTV has a substandard product that the country need not have had to tolerate. The warning given to them by our Broadcasting Commission made me wonder why they were allowed to win. Surely, eligibility should have screen out a problematic provider. But, in Jamaica, we like to be exceptional. Interestingly, a plethora of links to streaming sites have started to spread on social media. I have not checked any yet, but it will be interesting to see if they are better quality, or what features make them popular. Portability may be one. As I will be in airports much of the next days, that may be a relevant consideration. I know, though, that coverage in England and France will not be substandard.

I have been underwhelmed by the goal celebrations so far. We had Daniel Sturridge doing his thing when he scored for England, but most celebrations have been about players piling on top of each other, or running madly towards their coach and teammates on the side. The best collective effort so far has been Colombia’s, led by Pablo Armero.

Well, I’m pulling for Ghana, who have to right the wrongs of 2010. My daughter is American, so we will be sleeping with our backs to each other after the match between Ghana and the USA on Monday.

Jamaicans are true waggonists, and I look forward to seeing how the displays of ‘support’ change in coming days. Spain got dumped. Will orange be the new black in Kingston? I’m really looking forward to seeing how committed fans are behaving in Europe. I’ll be there in a few hours and will share happily.


Coin toss time: Brazil 2014

This is the week–June 12, to be precise. Kick off for the Brazil 2014 World Cup. These events have become mired in stinky, sticky stuff for many years. I don’t follow that very closely, but glance at much of it. What has been hitting the fan and spraying off onto walls and neatly pressed clothes?

Cameroon were in a spat about bonus pay, so were refusing to travel to Brazil. Well, a fool would have known that would not last long. However, it was resolved, Samuel Eto’o was not going to pass up a last chance to show his Chelsea team boss that age ain’t nothing but a number.

Eto’o was too funny after his age was questioned by his club coach.

The players settled their dispute with the government and Fecafoot (the national federation), and will receive 5.8m CFA francs (about US$ 12,000) more than the 50m CFA francs originally offered to each player for their participation in the tournament. The federation had to borrow the funds privately to pay the bonuses, pending money from FIFA months after the tournament.

Cameroon’s coach, Volker Finke, must be thinking what next? Anyway, the lads headed off to Brazil and are already happily snapping selfies on their smartphones.

Lots of teams played friendly matches to warm up for La Mondiale. Jamaica got a face planting by France in Lille on Sunday, 8-0. The Jamaican newspapers were full of guff, talking about ‘humiliation’, as if Jamaica, who made it to the big dance in 1998, in France, were in the same league as les Blues, who won the World Cup that year. Really? Jamaica limped in last in their group qualifying, and didn’t register a win: that was humiliation, not being beaten badly by the likes of France.

But, Italy did the strangest thing, playing against a top Brazilian club side, Fluminese, and winning 5-3. We were treated to Mario Balotelli sporting two different coloured football shoes, along with another haircut.

Mario ‘two coloured shoes’ Balotelli, keeps his hair on while playing Fluminese.

But, wasn’t that playing with fire? What if the local team had been on the phone with Brazil’s coach, ‘Big Phil’ Scolari: “So, which of them do you want seriously hurt, and which ones just banged up?” Italy’s coach, Prandelli, might have had a few players looking like chopped salami in a deli. Maybe, I’m just an old, cynical player, but my mouth would have been watering at the prospect doing ‘my part’ for my country. 🙂

Finally, for now, two points. First, teams have moved a long way in preparing for matches. England have done extensive preparatory work. This included team players being given iPads that contain a Brazil 2014 scouting app specially developed by the Football Association and tailored for each member of the squad’s needs. Makes you wonder: Candy Crushing Italy, before the first game.

What about nutritional preparations for the World Cup? Reports suggested fans would find local food will be much more expensive than usual. An app, Ju$to, has been created that allows price comparisons. I thought I would travel with some popular fare from Jamaica. Patties? Grace prepared meals? No, bully beef, produce of…Brazil. Well, here’s how it may be made into something very appealing.

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