Jun 11 2022

Looking at LIV Golf…

By Fred Varcoe

Senior Golf Digest writer Joel Beall penned a column the other day trying to put the LIV Golf Series into perspective and he did a pretty good job of it. Here’s some excerpts and comments.
(You can read the full article here.)


“It’s too early to validate LIV’s aspirations to ‘reinvigorate’ the sport, particularly given the motives behind them. But the enterprise can’t be dismissed, much as the PGA Tour wishes to do so. Not after LIV’s coup of signing Dustin Johnson and in-their-prime stars like Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed. Not with a number of other players about to follow suit or weighing a similar jump. Not with LIV’s endless mountain of gold that would put Scrooge McDuck to shame. The operation has brought the game to the once-unthinkable precipice of a schism at the professional level.”

LIV’s pot of gold could actually undermine its own ambitions. It’s not a bottomless pot. LIV can only survive if it exists as a credible golf tour (or series of events). It’s not going to be paying $100 million appearance fees 10 or even five years down the line. The tour has to be accepted or it will die.

“LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman has said he does not want a schism; he envisions LIV to be additive to the sport. Norman is also rolling out a field in London this week that, with a few notable exceptions, is composed of has-beens and never-wases.”

It’s a cheap shot to label these golfers as has-beens (and let’s not forget, many of them are/ were PGA Tour players). A lot of these slurs refer to the likes of Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Richard Bland and even Phil Mickelson. Apart from being a clickbait cheap shot, it’s just inaccurate. Lee Westwood was the DP World Tour champion (for the whole season) less than two years ago; Kaymer is a former World No. 1; Garcia won the Masters five years ago and his last PGA Tour title was less than two years ago; Poulter won his last PGA title four years ago and made the Top 40 in each of the majors in 2021; Bland is playing the best golf of his career at 49 and won his first title a year ago, as well as leading the U.S. Open after two rounds last year; and Mickelson was the defending PGA champion when all this kicked off. Maybe they’re not in the Top 10 anymore, but these guys are still relevant — and major attractions — in any tournament they play in. Granted there are some lesser names in LIV, but there’s a reason for that, which is that the PGA Tour is so restrictive. It amounts to 125 elite players and maybe 100 more hangers-on. The sport needs more events around the world to accommodate more golfers. There are a lot of good golfers out there desperate for competition and a decent payday. Why doesn’t the PGA Tour put a cap on prize money and give more golfers more chances to earn a living playing tournament golf? Yes, I can see the flaw in that argument, but the PGA Tour seems to be more inclined to throw money at the bigger players.

Getting to LIV envisioning to be “additive to the sport,” why shouldn’t it? This whole mess could have been solved if the PGA Tour had met with Norman (or, even better, someone from LIV with more brains and less attitude). In fact, the PGA Tour should have said to its golfers: “You can play anywhere, anytime.” Instead, they said, “Play on our Tour or die.” The PGA Tour’s stance makes no sense at all. It can still have points or prize money tallies to produce rankings and eligibility, but then the ball is in the court of the golfers. They would be able to determine when and where they play golf and if they want to try to play in the majors or Ryder Cup. The PGA Tour was never going lose out by giving golfers more freedom. There are plenty of good golfers out there. And the top golfers don’t play every week. For example, in the 2020/21 season, Scottie Scheffler played 25 out of 52 tournaments. So, why can’t the PGA Tour exist with LIV and other tours? Independent contractors are just that: independent. That’s why the PGA Tour will lose the upcoming lawsuits.

“Competing for ungodly sums of money under the misguided notion that it will somehow help a maligned government sportswash its image.”

Let’s throw this argument under the bus. The United States and Europe do not have the moral high ground here. The DP Tour inaugurated a tournament in Saudi Arabia AFTER the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The PGA Tour also has had events in Japan, which has a despicable justice system and the death penalty, and China, which is responsible for so many crimes against humanity it makes Saudi Arabia look like Sweden. The accusation of “sportswashing,” should not be a factor in this debate.

“[LIV] could help the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, cleansing them of those stuck in the purgatory between relevance and the Champions circuit and making way for fledgling stars. But for all that it hasn’t been, LIV has shown just enough of what it could be—and the chaos it could impel—and that’s the problem. There’s the problem of the disruptor in question, the series being funded by the Saudi Arabian government, for it is driving this discussion and its direction seems aimless.”

Good point. What is the purpose of LIV? To liven up golf? Maybe. Norman used to go on about expanding the golf world beyond North America, but he undermines his own argument by having five of the eight tournaments in the United States. Nothing in Korea, Japan, Australia, South Africa, continental Europe? Again, if LIV had sat down with the PGA Tour and drawn up a plan where they didn’t tread on each other’s toes, golf could have gained. But the PGA Tour, according to Norman, refused to even talk to LIV about such things.

“Perhaps the issue begins with the vehicle itself. There is a fundamental fault with the competition that LIV Golf is creating, and for a second put aside the problematic strings to this venture and focus on that competition. At its heart, golf is appreciated for being the purest rendition of meritocracy, where spots aren’t given and you only make what you earn. LIV Golf is the antithesis of this spirit. It offers signing bonuses and no-cut guaranteed paydays to players most fans would not pay to see. Aside from the general curiosity surrounding its Thursday debut and a better-than-expected production, the LIV Golf presentation had no appeal. There was nothing on the line, no reason for these guys to be playing aside from the chance to line their pockets no matter how they finish. It is a glorified exhibition.”

Good point. LIV should be taking its stars to places where they aren’t normally seen. And if the two sides had sat down and had a polite conversation, points (perhaps on a lesser scale) could have been awarded to LIV events that counted in the U.S. or Europe. LIV is a golf tournament, a competition, so it has credibility. Give it some respect and embrace it and that might benefit the game.

“Here are bigger purses, bigger bonus pools, bigger FedEx Cup bonanzas coming to the tour, but they don’t have the resources to engage in an arms race, and legacy won’t be enough.”

Do we know what’s going to happen with the FedEx Cup, the Ryder Cup and the majors? Will the big names be dumped? Ryder Cup captains have captain’s choices, while major winners have extended eligibility. Sit down, talk it out….

“This moment should force a hard look in the mirror to those at PGA Tour headquarters. The reason rogue leagues were fun thought exercises is because the tour has fallen into stasis. The product has become oversaturated with too many events and at times it seems allergic to creativity.”

Scheffler played 25 out of 52 tournaments last season and Dustin Johnson played 21, so why the need to punish those playing elsewhere? More events mean more opportunities for all golfers.

“Which is why, ultimately, a potential schism inflicts the most pain on fans. This has become a sideshow with the worst type of actors, and as bad as the play has been, where it could lead is worse. Now fans’ attention will be divided between an entity that doesn’t know what it’s doing and doesn’t offer much in the way of competition yet does boast some marquee names, against the traditional power with true competition and true consequences that could lose the very stars needed to pull people in. Forget additive; that is the very definition of subtraction. It is a diluted product.”

The PGA Tour’s reaction was knee-jerk, although somewhat understandable or at least predictable. They HAD to sit down with Greg Norman or, better still, a rational LIV executive. Or even a Saudi Public Investment Fund official with the first question being, “What do you want?” They just needed to have a conversation….

Jun 9 2022

PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf: Who has the moral high ground?

By Fred Varcoe

As a former resident of Saudi Arabia (1980-1985) and a big golf fan, news of the Saudi Golf League really grabbed my attention. Except there is no Saudi Golf League. The knee-jerk Western media insist on calling the LIV Golf Invitational Series that because it is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which the West believes is blood money controlled solely by murderers.

In fact, it was set up by King Faisal – who some say was the most benevolent of Saudi monarchs – 50 years ago to aid projects within the Kingdom. In the last decade, it has expanded its influence in the international sphere and is now headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the son of the current monarch, King Salman. Its most high-profile recent investment was the purchase of Newcastle United football club in England.

The Crown Prince has been condemned by many in the West who hold him responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Those responsible for the murder had ties to the Crown Prince, so the West believes he has blood on his hands and anything he touches – such as investment funds – is tainted by this blood.

Once the connection is made, it’s hard to unmake, at least when it comes to Saudi Arabia. When it’s Israel, murders are done in self-defense.

On May 11, Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she was covering raids by the occupying Israeli army. She was wearing a “press” vest and was not in a conflict zone. Her fellow journalists at the scene believe she was targeted and the Israeli military reportedly continued firing at the group of journalists she was with even after Abu Akleh and her colleague had been hit. To add insult to injury, Israeli police then attacked mourners at her funeral.

So, will the West try and stop investment from Israeli institutions? What will be the consequences for Israel? Well, we all know the answer to that. Israel operates with impunity in the Occupied Territories and beyond. Unlike Saudi Arabia, it will be free to sponsor any golf tournament it wants to without consequences or criticism. There were the usual pro-forma condemnations from the West and calls for an investigation, which, of course, will whitewash the whole affair. In truth, the killing has already been forgotten. But the LIV Golf Invitational Series is still blackballed for being a “Saudi” event. This is unbelievable hypocrisy.

Whiter than white?

Do you think the PGA Tour’s sponsors are whiter than white? Let’s look at some of them:

AFLAC: Irony of ironies, AFLAC was accused of misclassifying employees as “independent contractors” and was said to have “exploited workers, manipulated its accounting, and deceived shareholders and customers” by a number of former employees.
ASTELLAS: In 2016, Astellas UK was suspended from the U.K.’s pharmaceutical trade body as a result of “shocking” institutional failures, lies and “deception on a grand scale” in what was described as one of the worst cases ever considered by industry regulators. In 2019, the company in the U.S. agreed to pay $100 million over allegations that they violated the False Claims Act.
AVIS: In 2021, Avis Budget Group agreed to pay $10.1 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act.
BRIDGESTONE: Bridgestone subsidiary Firestone produced defective tires that resulted in up to 192 deaths in the United States and paid Ford $240 million in compensation and had to settle many other lawsuits.
CITI: In 2018, Citibank reached a settlement to pay $100 million in the Libor scandal. It was also in bed with the Japanese mafia and lost their private banking license because of their mob connections.
COCA-COLA: Where to start? Wikipedia has a whole page on “Criticism of Coca-Cola,” ranging from carrying on business with Russia during the war in Ukraine, carrying on business with apartheid South Africa, racial discrimination (for which they had to pay $192.5 million) and allegations their partners were involved with murdering union reps.
FEDEX: FedEx previously partnered with the National Rifle Association, only breaking things off after coming under pressure from activists (i.e., when it hurt their bottom line).
MASTERCARD: According to Wikipedia, in 1996, “about 4 million merchants sued Mastercard in federal court for making them accept debit cards if they wanted to accept credit cards and dramatically increasing credit card swipe fees. This case was settled with a multibillion-dollar payment in 2003. This was the largest antitrust award in history.”
METLIFE: MetLife only recently decided to cut ties with Assault Weapon Investments, Controversial Weapon Investments and Tobacco Investments. It was fined $3.2 million in 2012 for “loan service and disclosure practices” and $10 million in 2019 for “internal control failures.”
MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC: CEO Takeshi Sugiyama resigned in 2021 after it transpired the company had been falsifying data for air conditioners and brake compressors for trains for over 35 years. It was also guilty of selling substandard rubber products. It also tried to subvert an inquiry into other malpractices, leading to the disciplining of 12 executives in December 2021.
PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS: PWC has a long list of dodgy practices, including a $229 million settlement over a multibillion-dollar accounting fraud with Tyco International, being paid to set up a tax avoidance scheme and gender discrimination. In January 2018, it was banned in India and fined $2.1 million over its involvement in a fraud case and was accused of conflict of interest in Angola.
SHELL OIL: Shell has been involved in Saudi Arabia for over 70 years and currently works with Al Jomaih and Shell Lubricating Oil Company in Saudi Arabia. Friends of the Earth says that Shell has a “long history of contempt for people and planet,” is “jointly responsible for murders in Nigeria,” “avoids taxes” and is “involved in bribing a former petroleum minister to achieve an offshore oil field.”
STRYKER: Who are they? Well, Stryker provides the “Official Joint Replacement Products of the PGA Tour and Champions Tour,” despite having to pay out $1.5 billion for defective hip implants and a further $80 million for unauthorized devices used in knee surgery.
MORGAN STANLEY: Even a condensed list of violations and dubious practices by Morgan Stanley would require a small book. Check out the Corporate Research Project page on Morgan Stanley. Highlights include racial and gender discrimination, a $2.6 billion settlement for selling “toxic securities” in 2015, $1.25 billion for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charges, and millions of dollars in other penalties for transgressions such as fraud and misleading practices.
The PGA also has FIVE “Official Betting Operators” (not including Phil Mickelson, who is alleged to have lost $40 million gambling). All legal, of course, but certainly not designed to improve people’s lives.
UPS is not a PGA Tour sponsor, but has recently divorced itself from two top golfers – Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen – because of their connection to LIV. While they could claim it’s a commercial decision, it’s clear that they’re also trying to stay away from being associated with “blood money.” Like other golf sponsors, UPS finds it difficult to stay away from controversy. It lost a class-action lawsuit for racial discrimination in the late 1990s, had to pull an ad making false claims in 2009, had to pay $40 million “to end a federal criminal probe connected to deliveries it made for illicit online pharmacies,” had to pay “more than $25 million to settle charges it submitted false claims to the federal government” and had to pay $5.3 million to settle False Claims Act allegations earlier this year. Wait, there’s more….
In 2019, according to The Washington Post, “a group of United Parcel Service employees allegedly helped to import and traffic massive amounts of drugs and counterfeit vaping oils from Mexico, part of a scheme that exploited a vulnerability in the company’s distribution system, according to police. The lucrative operation at times involved moving thousands of pounds of marijuana and narcotics each week from narco-traffickers into the United States to destinations across the country, using standard cardboard boxes that were carefully routed through the private mail carrier’s trucking and delivery systems.”
According to a CNN report in 2019, a “white female [UPS] driver refused to deliver a package to a predominantly black neighborhood she referred to as ‘Nigger City’ and ‘NiggerVille’.”

This is not an in-depth dig into companies that sponsor the PGA Tour and golfers; it’s a quick flip through the internet.


And where does Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment fund put the rest of its money? Well, $43 billion is invested in the United States. So, if you go to Disneyland, ride an Uber, bank at Bank of America, use Facebook, play a Nintendo game or fly on a Boeing plane, you are taking advantage of Saudi “blood money.”

How about golf in Saudi Arabia? The DP World Tour established the Saudi International in 2019 – the year after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – and a number of top golfers have taken Saudi money by playing in tournaments there.

Saudi Arabia’s policy of executing criminals and terrorists also came under scrutiny, especially after 81 people were executed in a single day in March 2022. Full details of the crimes weren’t available, but it was revealed that many were for terrorism, murder or conspiracy to murder. The PGA is based in the United States, which executes criminals. It also has events in Japan, which executes criminals (including 13 in a single month in July 2018). And in China, which arbitrarily executes so many people Amnesty International has lost count. It certainly outstrips Saudi Arabia.

The usual memes about people in Saudi Arabia being executed for being gay were dragged out, but these have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Although my time in Saudi Arabia was many years ago, the country I lived in for five years bore no resemblance to the country portrayed in the British media, which at the time were astonishingly racist in their depictions of Arabs. There was a gay clique in the building I lived in and it seemed to be party central for that crowd. None of them were executed.

What about other “crimes?” A number of foreigners where I worked were arrested for drinking alcohol, but they weren’t locked up in a hole for years on end; they were just deported. A lot of them had drinking problems before they went to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis knew people produced and drank alcohol; they just wanted to keep it under control. Once when I went to buy a car, the young guy I was dealing with thought I might walk away from the deal. He told me his father wanted to meet me. He took me to his father’s office and left me. His father opened a draw in his desk and pulled out a bottle of whisky and two glasses. Deal sealed. (I was also arrested twice in Saudi Arabia but forgiven for my transgressions and allowed to stay in the country.)

Independence day

There’s also hypocrisy in the PGA Tour (and DP Tour) terming golfers “independent contractors,” yet severely restricting their trade by demanding permission to play in any non-PGA Tour event without permission. Yes, the golfers did agree to this, but did they have much choice? This stinks of monopoly and restriction of trade is illegal.

In the U.S., “restraint of trade covers a broad range of activities, including:
Creating a monopoly
Coercing someone to stop doing business
Forcing someone to change their business so it isn’t as competitive
Using non-compete clauses or other contract provisions to prevent someone from conducting business
Negatively affecting someone’s ability to conduct business freely.”

I’m not a lawyer, but how does the PGA Tour reconcile this with their designation of golfers as “independent contractors?”

Let’s face it, the PGA Tour is just one competition, effectively in one country. Why is it so scared of the LIV events? The obvious reason is that it might lessen the value of its own tour, but that’s highly unlikely. We already have three of the four majors in the U.S., as well as strong tours in Europe, Japan, Canada, Asia, etc., and they co-exist with the PGA Tour. And there are even times when the PGA Tour competes with itself, holding two events at the same time, so surely there’s room for alternative events. On top of that, not all the top players play every week, so if they’re not playing in a PGA event, why should they need permission to play elsewhere?

The truth is the PGA Tour is scared of competition. Three years ago, it increased the number of tournaments golfers must play every year for them to be able to keep feeding off the golden goose. As a result of LIV, it has gone even further by targeting college players. On May 11, the PGA Tour announced the following, according to the Golf Channel website:

“For college players hoping to both earn status through PGA Tour University and compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series, they will now have to pick one or the other. PGA Tour U announced on Wednesday an amendment to its rules of regulations. Effective immediately, players will forfeit their PGA Tour eligibility if they tee it up in a professional tournament that is unranked by the Official World Golf Ranking and not otherwise approved by the PGA Tour. This news comes after last week’s report that LIV Golf had extended membership to the top six players in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, a group that includes several players currently in the PGA Tour U Velocity Global Ranking.”

A different experience

The LIV events are offering a different experience and what can only be described as silly money, even sillier than the PGA’s massive purses. In fact, the top PGA golfers earn so much money they really don’t need to look elsewhere. But to earn that money, they have to play a 72-hole stroke-play tournament and make the cut. LIV is proposing, no-cut, 48-member, three-round tournaments. It’s a different format (there’s also a team element to add spice to the results). The sad part of this is that the PGA, one of the most conservative organizations in sport, believes it has the perfect product and can’t even see a need for change. Sometimes, sports organizations need a good kick to get them moving. Cricket famously changed when outsider Kerry Packer tried to buy it. Cricket still has its five-day tests, but the rest of the game has been transformed with different formats and leagues around the world. Volleyball is another sport that has reinvented itself over the years with radically different rules and new tournaments. Golf, like football, seems to wallow in its own self-importance. It’s a great sport, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change and in recent weeks, a number of top golfers have said that there’s “room for improvement” in golf.

Greg Norman, LIV’s front man, has been trying to change the PGA-centric view of the sport for years. LIV is not his first attempt at shaking up the sport. Whether or not he’s got his tactics right remains to be seen. Perhaps going head-on against the PGA wasn’t the best move. Buying the Asian Tour could have given him more legitimacy (of course, I don’t know if it wants to be bought but it agreed to sanction the LIV events after a $300 million investment) and less conflict, and he could have grown his product from there. Swooping down from above with a billion dollars to spend was a bit crass and his “we’ve all made mistakes” quote concerning the murder of Jamal Khashoggi should have stayed in his overactive mouth.

However, it doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia has to concede the moral high ground to America, its snooty golf tour or its pampered, hypocritical golfers. I’m sure they feel morally just when they fill their environmentally unfriendly cars and jets with gas from Saudi Arabia and play games on their Made-in-China electrical goods.

The LIV Series is just another series of golf tournaments. If golfers sponsored by racist and criminal companies think they have the moral high ground, fine; they can stay where they are. But if you want to live your life on hyper-ethical grounds, you’d better clean up your act to vegan levels. “Blood money” hides in the strangest places.

Jun 3 2021

Naomi Osaka: Saint or Sinner?


By Fred Varcoe

Wouldn’t it be nice to sympathize with Naomi Osaka? At least then I’d be on a bandwagon with thousands of others. People unrelated to tennis or journalism are falling over themselves to give her a figurative hug – and a free pass for everything she says.

Let’s take law professor Scott Douglas Gerber writing possibly one of the worst sports opinion pieces ever in USA Today: “It is profoundly disturbing that Naomi Osaka felt compelled to withdraw from the French Open, one of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments. It is also illegal to make her feel like she needed to withdraw. Osaka had informed tournament officials that news conferences adversely impacted her mental health, and that she would be willing to be fined for not participating in them during the tournament. … Shockingly, the president of the French Tennis Federation did not agree to Osaka’s reasonable request for an accommodation.”

Let’s get one thing very clear here: The only person who says Naomi Osaka has mental health issues is Naomi Osaka herself. Not one shred of evidence has been made public that she is suffering from ongoing mental health issues. Osaka says she has suffered long “bouts of depression” since winning her first major three years ago, but they haven’t stopped her from winning three other majors since then, including the last two. I guess she usually times her bouts of depression well. This time, apparently, not so well.

Well, what is the nature of her depression? Gerber cites French law for the disabled as the reason for the organizers of the French Open breaking the law. Is Osaka a disabled person, unable to function normally? Was she disabled as she won her first-round match at Roland Garros? Did her disability prevent her from attending the press conference? Well, we don’t know because no one knows what her disability is or how bad it is. She’s probably attended a few hundred press conferences to date, so it’s strange how she’s managed to get through them during her bouts of depression.

The worry here is that she isn’t suffering from depression. I’ve know several women with severe clinical depression. Some self-harm; one was sectioned and doped up so much, she didn’t know who I was when she came out of hospital. They usually take drugs to maintain some kind of mental equilibrium. Is Osaka taking drugs for her depression?

The problem here is people have just taken Osaka’s word as gospel. She has “depression”; she has “mental health” problems. She’s disabled. She may be depressed in the more common usage of the word. Do you know anybody who’s never been depressed? And “mental health” is such a catch-all phrase. Everybody has mental health issues; it’s part of daily living. If Osaka is confusing having a bad day with mental disabilities, she is doing seriously ill people a disservice.

She blames journalists and press conferences for her anxiety. I find this very hard to believe. I have been a tennis journalist and attended hundreds of press conferences with the top players in the world. They are generally very benign affairs and usually tennis players are treated with kid gloves. As a rule, the tennis stars give us the routine answers to routine questions and everybody goes home happy. Miserable bastards like Jim Courier would say next to nothing and get out as quickly as possible. Martina Navratilova scared the pants off most journalists as she would crucify anyone who asked a dumb question.

And this gets to another point: The players are generally protected in these press conferences. The WTA are very protective of the players and players of the stature – or insecurity – of Osaka would almost always have a manager lurking in the background to make sure their client was OK. So I don’t see where Osaka’s problems are coming from. Yes, there are dumb journalists and there are dumb questions, but as Navratilova showed, the player is, or should be, in control of the press conference, not the journalists. Don’t like a question? Ram it down the throat of the journalist. No journalist wants to be shown up as an idiot. Or don’t answer or deflect questions you don’t like. You have to wonder who is advising Osaka. She’s represented by IMG, the biggest and most powerful sports agency in the world. Her dad and her sister often hold her hand at tournaments around the world. The WTA offers advice to all players on how to deal with the media. It’s not rocket science.

It’s also strange that Osaka consciously courted the media to promote Black Lives Matter at the U.S. Open, wearing face masks bearing the names of people killed by police officers in the United States. TIME magazine reported it like this: “After winning the U.S. Open’s singles tournament on Saturday, Osaka said the masks were her way of using her platform to protest this injustice and advocate that black lives matter. Asked by a reporter after the tournament what message she wanted to send, Osaka responded: ‘Well, what was the message that you got was more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking. I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position but I feel like I’m a vessel at this point, in order to spread awareness,’ ” So, she was saying that should be using the media for this and presumably she wasn’t anxious about doing it; she wanted to use her (media) platform. It’s also ironic that she used (social) media in Paris to announce that she didn’t want to engage with the media.

And getting back to Gerber and other Osaka apologists, she didn’t make a “reasonable request for an accommodation” regarding press conferences. She just complained about her media duties and said she wouldn’t agree to them. Effectively, she was challenging them. Not surprisingly, they challenged back. Presumably, they hadn’t been advised of Osaka’s mental health issues, so why should they believe her? She pulled back after their threat by saying: “I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.” Well, OK, that does sound like IMG doing its job. If it’s Osaka talking, it sounds like bullshit. The WTA has an eight-person Players’ Council to take on grievances from the players and as a four-time major champion and the highest-paid female athlete in the world, if Osaka had taken her grievances to the Council, they would have listened.

I could be accused of making assumptions, but not as bad as those who blithely take Osaka’s side. If she has mental problems, she should be getting advice, help and treatment from friends, family, her extensive support staff and medical professionals. She shouldn’t be heaping pressure on herself by playing tennis. She’s taking a break and that makes sense. But she dug a deep hole for herself by making her claims on social media. The issues have to be raised and debated in public. Some sympathizers are saying athletes don’t need the media because they can say what they want to say on Instagram or Twitter. Well, Osaka tried that and it blew up in her face. The reason the traditional media exists is to ask questions that social media posts don’t answer and to debate issues in public. Osaka’s Paris blowup has raised more questions and that means us journalists want more answers, not less. Time for a press conference, Naomi….

Mar 25 2021

How Football Can Change

By Fred Varcoe

When Marco Van Basten was Technical Director at FIFA, he came up with a number of ideas to change the game. These included sinbins, no offsides and foul counts for individual players. He didn’t stay long at FIFA, probably because he knew that it is one of the least progressive sports organizations in the world. It still thinks penalties are a good way to decide a World Cup (more on that later).

FIFA is not alone. Many sports organizations are run by fusty old men with no imagination and a misplaced idea of sporting purity. “That’s not football” is probably their motto, but they can still come up with laughable handball rules. Some sports – rugby, volleyball, cricket – have changed with the times and recognized when rules, even the sport itself, had to change. FIFA is change averse, but many fans also have their heads stuck in the sand.

Football desperately needs to reform itself. Even the Premier League is becoming boring. Football has become too predictable and we can probably trace this to Spain and Barcelona, who believed that doing nothing for 85 minutes of a game was entertainment. You can’t argue with results, can you? Can you?

I don’t know, but when I think of great teams, I think of the Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan, Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Bob Paisley’s Liverpool – winning teams who were great to watch over extended periods of time. Their free-flowing football made them fans around the world and fans of any club watched them with wonder. This was football.

Try watching Tottenham’s Ben Davies or Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters (ex-Tottenham) without gnawing your hands off in frustration. I would like to see their stats on passes played forward and passes played backwards. I’m sure backwards wins.

And they’re taking football backwards. In the old days, full backs would hoof the ball forward. Back passes on pitches in the ’70s were dangerous. But Route 1 was actually exciting. It brought an element of randomness and chaos to the game. Predictable, it wasn’t. And, statistically unproven though it is, I don’t believe teams lost possession any more playing football that way than they do with the brain-numbing taki tiki taki crap. Bring back chaos, I say.

The game needs an element of unpredictability and the rules need to change to help that. Other rules also need to change and the people who make the rules need to change. If you have no imagination, you’re not going to improve the game. The geniuses and innovators in our world didn’t succeed by making small adjustments to their products, they brought something new to the table. So let’s try and see what new things could be brought to football’s table. Some are practical, conservative even; others might seem a little strange, but they work for me, but probably because I haven’t wasted energy overthinking them.

The Changes

  1. No offside.

Van Basten says: “I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside. Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or 10 defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you. So, if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

It’s been tried before, but I don’t think anyone took it seriously. But why shouldn’t it work? When you see the amount of goals ruled out for marginal offsides, it is frustrating. Defenders should be marking players, not jumping in front of an invisible line on the pitch. How would it change the game? Defenders would still have to mark players and the most efficient way of marking them is to be goalside. Attackers would still be trying to get past the defender. Not having an invisible line to worry about would give the attacker an advantage and that’s what football wants. And it would, as Van Basten says, open up the pitch, make the game wider and more attack-minded. And it would allow referees’ assistants to monitor more important aspects of the game. Ditto for VAR. It would make life a lot easier and keep football flowing.

  1. No offside running into your own half

Bit of a dumb rule at the moment. You can’t be offside in your own half unless you run from an offside position in the opposition’s half. Pointless, isn’t it. If you are going to have offsides, this shouldn’t be part of it.

  1. No passing back over the halfway line

The horror of possession football is the pass back. Not a little pass to a guy behind you or lateral from you, but a series of pass backs that takes the ball from the corner flag all the way back to the keeper. This is my No. 1 choice for a rule change. It also gives the linespeople something to do. Cut out the safety-first pass back to your center-half or goalkeeper and the game will liven up. The attacking team will have to look forward instead of backward. It will make life more difficult for them, so adding danger/ chaos/ unpredictability to the game. It will also put Ben Davies and Kyle Walker-Peters out of a job. Next time you watch a match, think how the dynamic of that match would change if this rule was introduced. You know it makes sense.

  1. No penalties

After watching VAR disrupt football, this one’s a no-brainer for me. Again, there’s limited logic to the penalty area. You get penalized to the same degree for a little (sometimes accidental) trip or handball in the corner of the penalty area by the byline as you do for a deliberate goal-stopping handball. Even with VAR (especially with VAR?), the merit of a free goal is, more often than not, disproportionate to the offense. The penalty area should actually be the goal area with the side lines extending from the goalposts. If there’s a foul in there, you get a regular penalty. Outside of that, it’s just a free-kick as per the rest of the pitch. The penalty area will then just be the area where the goalkeeper can handle the ball. IF there are penalties in a game, as soon as the ref has awarded one, all players must exit the penalty area except the kicker and the goalkeeper, who must go directly to his goal and stand on the line.

  1. Three seconds for keepers to release the ball

And talking of goalkeepers handling the ball…. there’s a rule that’s crying out for change. The keeper is meant to release it within six seconds. Nowadays, nobody’s counting. When did you ever see a ref penalize a goalkeeper for holding on to the ball too long? You didn’t. So, the new rule is: three seconds. That’s three seconds from the point where the goalkeeper is in control of the ball and unimpeded and on his feet with the ball in his hands. Failure to release the ball will hand the opposition an indirect free-kick from any spot on the perimeter of the penalty area. I get the impression referees don’t want to count to six; I’m sure they can handle three.

  1. No goal kicks

They’ve become a bit of joke, but that’s partly because players aren’t as clever as they think they are. Simple answer: no goal kicks. The keeper merely has to get rid of the ball from anywhere in the penalty area to another player in any way he likes. We’re trying to get the game moving. This does it.

  1. Free throw-ins

Why do we have such a formalized method of throw-ins? I don’t think we need it. It would be far more exciting and probably less time-consuming if the thrower could just chuck the ball back into play any way he wants. The ball could go further and it would take less time. And it would be an advantage to the team in possession. Throw-ins now are often so heavily defended (often in a confined space), they are often a liability. Unrestricted throw-ins is the answer. As with the goalkeeper above, there should be a time limit. For throw-ins, four or five seconds once the thrower has the ball under control. And he’s not allowed to hand it to another player to waste time. And if no one moves to take the throw, the nearest player to the ball gets a yellow card.

  1. Corner kicks

The area from which corners are taken should be extended. One idea is to increase it from 1 meter to 2 meters and most of the ball should be within the line markings, not 1 millimeter inside the outside of the line. Personally, I would like to see time limits for taking corners: 20 seconds should be enough. The extremist in me would also limit the number of players who can be in the box when the corner is taken to four from each team plus the defending goalkeeper. Another idea, possibly a better idea, is for the corner area to be 10 meters, which is the limit for opposing players, and the corner can be taken anywhere within that 10-meter quadrant. In theory you could take it on the edge of the quadrant, but the opposition would be able to block it, so in practice players would take it nearer the sideline to give them more space.

  1. No penalty shootouts

OK, the purists will say I’m being extreme here, but actually, I’m the purist. The penalty shootout is a curse on the game. OK, it’s decisive and can be exciting in a masochistic kind of way, but it’s a terrible, terrible way of deciding a World Cup final or two-leg European Champions League semi. Football games should be decided by actual football or something very close. The fact that FIFA hasn’t even thought about changing from penalty shootouts shows their complete lack of imagination and sheer incompetence. So, how do you change it? I always liked the idea of sudden-death goals, but apparently TV companies didn’t because it left empty air time. And it still doesn’t guarantee a finish to the game. My solution will help, although it’s not guaranteed. If extra time is needed, the first session should be 20 minutes. The difference is each team has to lose two players. If there’s no result after 20 minutes, you play another 20 minutes. This 20 minutes is sudden-death – the first goal wins – AND there are no goalkeepers, although multiple substitutions can be made. That should get a result. If not, maybe I’ll allow penalties, but there is a better alternative….

  1. Corner shoot-outs

Van Basten has suggested the old American style shootout where a player dribbles the ball unopposed from outside the box and has to score within 10 seconds, but if you want to do away with extra time, there’s a better way: corner shoot-outs. Each team gets 10 corners from which they can score within 10 seconds after the kick is taken. Only four players from each team is allowed plus the kicker and the defending goalkeeper. The corners are taken in groups of five. If there’s no result after 10 corners, you just keep going until you get one. You could also reduce the number of players to three, two or even one from each team. My ideas involve much more real football than the penalty shootout, so the purists should be on my side, not FIFA’s.

  1. More cards

I believe it was before the 1994 World Cup when FIFA said they wanted more aggressive refereeing. So the refs got more aggressive and started dishing out lots of cards. Fans didn’t like it, so FIFA, spineless as ever, told the refs to stop showing cards so liberally. It was a golden opportunity to make the game better. If FIFA had had the courage of their convictions, football would have changed. They just had to stick with the program. One idea of strengthening the position of referees is for infractions to have a points system of one to four or five points. Sounds a little complicated, but it’s not. A bad foul is five points. If you get 10 points, you’re off. Kicking the ball away or swearing at the ref could be two points. Time wasting is one point (it’s not really much of an infringement as the ref can always add time on – more if he’s vindictive). It won’t be hard on the refs. All they have to do is put the points total on the card and show one to five fingers to the player. And it’s the responsibility of the player to check, not the responsibility of the referee. To help the referee, the fourth official should be allowed to advise on or even make decisions in the event that the referee misses something or makes a mistake.

Plan B is to have three cards: yellow, blue and red. Yellow would be for minor infractions, blue for fouls and deliberate handball and red for anything Roy Keane has done. Four yellows, two yellows and a blue or two blues results in a red.

  1. Rugby rules

Rugby has a pretty disciplined approach to the rules and football should have the same, so we need to adopt some of rugby’s rules.

a. Sinbin: I haven’t figured this out exactly, but sometimes two yellow cards is not equivalent to a red. Players are getting red-carded for treading on people’s feet, while Jordan Pickford gets nothing for turning the best defender in the world into a cripple. The good thing about the sinbin is that it is instant justice affecting the two teams as they play;

b. 10-yard rule: This has been mentioned but never seriously considered. If a team is awarded a free-kick against them, then the rule should be that no opposition player can touch the ball until the free-kick is taken so we can do away with this childish habit of not returning the ball to the team that gets the free-kick and play can resume quicker. Also, if a player fails to make an effort to retreat 10 yards from the ball, the attacking team can move the ball forward up to 10 yards. It should be the responsibility of the player to get away from the ball, not the responsibility of the referee. Penalty for not doing so: another 10 yards and a yellow card;

c. No complaining: Only the captains can question a decision by an official and all players must keep a distance of at least 2 meters from the referee when the ball is dead. Players swearing at the officials shall get a yellow card;

d. Bonus points: It’s about time teams were rewarded for scoring goals. I would prefer to see a system of, for example, 10 points for a win, five for a draw and a point for each goal scored. Hopefully, this would end the pathetic system of deciding a league on goal difference. No major league placings should be decided on goal difference. If two teams are equal on points, have a playoff.

e. Don’t stop for injuries or substitutions: Medical staff should be allowed to enter the field of play at their discretion, but play should not stop (except for certain extreme circumstances). Likewise, the fourth official can take care of substitutions instead of the referee. Again, play needn’t be held up.

  1. VAR

There are those who say that the offside rule is clearcut, so if your fingernail is in front of the defender’s toe, you’re off. But is the letter of the law defeating the spirit of the law? If you’re going to draw lines across the pitch to check for offside, then go all out. My answer is to draw lines from points on the head, chest, hip, knee and toe. If three of the points are offside, it’s offside. Otherwise, it’s OK. Can VAR handle this? I actually suspect VAR technology isn’t very good, but if it is good, then use it properly. Going the other way, perhaps there should be no lines at all and no slow motion (others have suggested having a player making the call as well as the VAR official). At least then you’re getting a more realistic on-pitch decision. But you’d still want VAR to determine the really big things, like did the ball go into the net.

  1. Stop clock

In the 2021/22 season, the average time the ball was in play was around 55 minutes but some games barely make 40 minutes, while others got close to 70. Time added on by referees often seems random and time-wasting is still a common practice. A time clock is a no-brainer


My image of the football that I love is that it is basically a non-stop game with a large helping of unpredictability combined with skill. My current view is that most teams are intent on playing by numbers and the backpass is now a tactic rather than an act of desperation. The chaos of my cherished football also led to more moments of inspiration. Football used to be an organic game; each match had a life and identity of its own, and players had identities, unlike the plug-and-play mercenaries of today. Football needs to move itself and its players out of the comfort zone and rediscover its imaginative qualities.


Jan 22 2018

The idiots of Japanese rugby hit the self-destruct button

By Keith Davies

Japanese Rugby Is a Basket Case? OK, here goes….

Over the last 35 years I probably invested more time and effort into Japanese rugby than any other overseas coach or player, including Eddie Jones. Probably more than most Japanese coaches in fact. Having coached numerous teams from High School to Top League since 1982, I have achieved first time national championship qualification or promotion with 8 different teams, more than any other coach, so I think I am qualified to vent my opinion on a particularly dark day in Japanese rugby.

I have just heard that despite an unbeaten league and playoff season, the first for 53 years, and promotion to the Top Challenge League, Kurita in the Top East League will not be renewing the contract of their head coach. Yet again, petty jealousies, backstabbing, borderline racial discrimination, and incompetent team management in a corporate team, has led to another foreign coach and some players, being made the scapegoat for poor recruiting, poor management, poor team support and the ignorance of decision makers who have no rugby experience whatsoever outside of their own company set up.

This is not a particularly exceptional occurrence, it happens throughout Japanese company rugby and is one of the main reasons why there are only 2 or 3 companies, that are consistently strong from year to year. All the others just have a revolving door policy for foreign staff and players, which essentially ensures there is no continuity, and that incompetent Japanese coaches and staff will get promoted by default whether they are qualified or not.

Unlike other sporting leagues around the world, success in Japanese corporate rugby does not mean that you get more advertising, more TV revenue, bigger attendances and opportunities to promote your brand at your own stadiums and facilities.

Success & winning and advancement up the leagues in Japan just means that it is going to cost the company that owns the team a lot more money. No one will openly admit it of course, but in reality, many teams do not really want to get better, they cant afford to!!

Success equals more team travel, more recruitment, more training camps, more time off work for the average corporate player, and no real payback for the company that is footing the bill. As a coach, I have been involved at 3 companies who became victims of their own success and ended up completely terminating their rugby program because of financial stress from winning. There are many documented examples of this. It causes a little ripple in the JRFU for a few weeks but soon goes away and is forgotten, and nothing changes.

Forget the World Cup 2019, and all the hype around the tournament, JAPANESE RUGBY IS DYING! There will not be a legacy from the World Cup. Playing numbers in the lead up to the tournament are plummeting, coaching levels are as poor as they have always been, referees still have zero support for their efforts, and the marketing of the game is dismal.

Unless there is quick, radical change, post WC the domestic game will just plod on the way it does now, failure after dismal failure. There are dumb administrators making dumb decisions and the domestic game is being driven into oblivion.

I doubt anyone at the JRFU will listen or act on such blunt accusations, other than to blindly convince themselves that everything is under control.

Something radical must be said and done so that the domestic game can begin to recover. Someone, Japanese, the people around the domestic game, concerned about the state of the game, must come out and, confront this bumbling, incompetent group of people who are running the game. Eddie Jones tried, gave his heart and soul to Japanese rugby, and so have many others, but to no avail.

I began writing this from a hotel room in beautiful Nara, furious after receiving news regarding this coach. I was there to participate at the National High School Tournament, an annual spectacle where all the top schools from all over the country come together to decide the best high school team in Japan. A team I coached for 6 months has qualified to be here for the first time in their history.

However, I found it very difficult to be over enthusiastic about the tournament. Our first-round game if we win (We did) will be followed less than 40 hours later by a round 2 game against the top seeded team in the tournament, and the whole tournament is run with just one day turnaround between games. There is no concern for player welfare, it’s just done like that because it always has been. There will be 100 point games, and even here at the National Championships some teams are so low in numbers that they cannot even field a full bench. Other teams will have qualified from prefectures where only 2 teams contested the qualification. The game is definitely not expanding.

Japan was ranked as high as 10th in the world in recent times but stadiums are empty for the most part. Meanwhile, The Japan Basketball League is currently being played out in front of sellout crowds, has great marketing and event management, but the national team is ranked only 52nd in the world according to official FIBA data. It is the perfect example of what could happen if the right people were put in charge of rugby in Japan.

In my mind The Sunwolves Super Rugby concept has become a joke. The last time I checked there were 21 foreign players and counting, contracted to the team. How exactly is this going to develop Japanese players and provide the stepping stone to international level to eventually strengthen the Japanese national team. Good luck to all the players and staff who are contracted to the team, it is not a joke to them, they will give their all, but is it having positive effect on grassroots Japanese rugby at all? I wonder.

Where is the support for school rugby, development of coaching and players at entry level? I really do feel sorry for young kids who think they might want to play the game but are then subjected to ridiculous training and coaching methods. Only 2 days ago while watching a ‘B’ Team game I witnessed a teacher from a very famous high school punching and slapping players in a 10-minute rant after conceding a try. During this time the opposition players were expected to just line up wait, and get cold while this ridiculous spectacle continued. The problem was of course that very little of what was happening on the field was because of a lack of desire by the players involved, it was because that coach had obviously failed them with his own outdated methods and lack of knowledge. This is not the advertisement that the game needs either for players, or parents. The “School Wars” mentality unfortunately still drives high school rugby.

Sporting trends are changing worldwide, and new approaches to driving participation need to be adopted. My friend the brilliant Wayne Goldsmith regularly commentates on these aspects of sport in his fantastic seminars around the world. If the JRFU thinks that because of their ignorance and incompetence, and resistance to change that they are going to be the only sporting body in the world to buck those trends then they are abysmally wrong, they are already abysmally failing.

There are good people working in Japanese Rugby, people who love rugby, I have probably met more than most over the course of my career, but they are working in isolation, there is no national plan for coaching or game development, no leadership and there are no decisions being made to secure the future of the game.

I have repeatedly said over the course of my long career, that the players themselves have great potential if exposed to good coaching and processes, but they are not. As previously stated, I feel sorry for players starting out in the game as they are largely putting their development into the hands of completely unqualified coaches.

University coaching, at a vitally important time in player development terms is diabolical. Coaches are appointed not based on ability or experience, through open appointment processes, but on incestuous old boy loyalties, and most Kantoku or GM’s (Not all) are institutionalized figure heads who see themselves as untouchable, and in most cases, win or lose they are!

Believe me I realize that this might well be the last thing I ever get to write about Japanese rugby from the inside. I have not had a smooth ride with rugby officialdom in Japan up to now. Being someone who has tried to drive change, despite continually producing winning teams at ALL levels, has not endeared me to the establishment, and after this I doubt if things will improve?? But enough is enough.

The announcement regarding the head coach of this Top East team was a distinctly dark day for Japanese Rugby and has prompted me to pen this open letter to defend his professionalism and achievement despite the best efforts of people in that team to sabotage the season. The person in question came to Japan as a player initially, at the pinnacle of his career, and is now a coach who has given so much to the game in Japan over many years. He represented Japan as both player and coach and should not be treated like this, it is shameful and inexcusable.

Feb 5 2017

FIFA should open up to change

Marco Van Basten recently suggested making some radical changes to football’s rules and the way it’s played. Football doesn’t like change and Van Basten came in for a lot of flak in the media and online. Below is my response to one critical article.

Critics of Van Basten seem to have fallen into the same dull thinking that FIFA has suffered from for too long. OK, no one could be quite that bad, but too many people think football is almost perfect and doesn’t need changing.
How on earth can anyone (especially FIFA) think that a penalty shootout is a good way to end (after nearly four years of competition) the biggest sports tournament in the world? It’s absolutely pathetic. A football match should be ended as much as possible with … a football match.
One possible answer (which I’ve never seen anywhere else but just seems to make so much sense to me) is to reduce the teams to nine men in extra time. I would play 20 minutes of that with a Golden Goal winning the match (another good idea that FIFA couldn’t handle). If there’s no result after 20 minutes, then play 10-15 minutes (or sudden death) without goalkeepers. Sounds radical, but the two teams will still be playing football, not shooting from 12 yards.
If you want a direct equivalent to the penalty shootout, how about a corner shootout? Maybe with four or five outfield players on each team (perhaps five attackers and four defenders to make goals more likely) and with a 10-second limit for a goal (the guy taking the corner isn’t counted as an outfield player). It wouldn’t take longer than a penalty shootout and might actually be quicker. It would certainly be more interesting.
As for quarters in a game. Well, studies have shown that the action in football lasts for around 55-65 minutes; so let’s say it’s an hour and have a timekeeper like in American sports. I have no problem with a game being divided into quarters but actually think dividing a football match into thirds would be better with two 10-minute breaks so the teams have enough time to have a cup of tea and a piss. This will change the timing of the game, but really it won’t affect the football at all.
Sin bins might also be a good idea. My alternative is that yellow cards should be come with a points system. At the moment wasting time and breaking a player’s leg can carry the same punishment. Writing a number down next to somebody’s name is not going to be an added burden for the ref (although maths might be for some). How about a three-point system? Maybe OK. If you get five points, you’re off. People will say that players might get confused. That’s their problem. If the ref blows the whistle, the players have a responsibility to pay attention to what he says and does. So, he calls a foul, shows the yellow card, puts two fingers up (yes, I know…) and off we go. The red card would still be an option, of course. Or maybe we only need one card with a five-point system.
Do away with offsides? This has been trialed before. It sounds like it might be a good idea and would do away with the most contentious decisions in the game. I think it would make the game more interesting but would like to see it trialed again.
If you want another sensible and radical suggestion, try this: Do away with penalties. Penalty areas have become a joke. So many people fall down, it’s like a recreation of the Battle of the Somme. (Perhaps part of the answer is to bring back the obstruction rule. When was the last time you saw that used?) But the best answer is simply do away with penalties completely and award a free-kick. (I’d also like to see the penalty area removed from the pitch but it’s needed as a goalkeeper area.) Of course, awarding a direct free-kick one yard out might create difficulties, but indirect free-kicks have been awarded in similar positions. I would suggest that the attacking team could have the option of moving the ball back 5 or 10 yards on a direct line from the center of the goal.
Another idea that has been considered is to let trainers on the pitch while the game continues to avoid unnecessary (and fake) injury stoppages. This has the potential to be disruptive but again is something that could be worked out if people would just open their minds and think about it.
And that’s where the problem lies. FIFA and the F.A. and football in general have been run by people with severely limited imaginations and thinking power. Marco Van Basten is one of the most enlightened footballers of all time, so dismissing his ideas is somewhat insulting. There’s a whole bunch of radical ideas that could be realised (how about a Champions League made up of champions?). Mr. Infantino has just raised the number of teams in the World Cup to 48; that makes sense when you realise that the best football competition in the world is not the World Cup but the European Championship.
The problems start when people shut down their imaginations and limit their thinking. Other sports have made radical changes with really positive results (volleyball springs to mind; also cricket to some extent); football has been lagging behind.
Debate the ideas and come up with alternatives; don’t just shut them down because you don’t want to change. Well done, Marco, keep the flame alive. It takes perseverance as I (and FIFA) discovered when cohosting was suggested for the 2002 World Cup. “It can’t happen,” Blatter told me in a letter.
But it did….

Oct 14 2014

Neymar scores four against Japan




SINGAPORE, October 14, 2014 – Brazil striker Neymar gave a masterclass in finishing on Tuesday, scoring all four goals as Brazil beat Japan 4-0 in Singapore.

It was always going to be tough for Javier Aguirre’s team against a strong Brazil lineup, but the Mexican manager fielded a very experimental team with only two regulars – striker Shinji Okazaki and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima – in his lineup.

Early signs were good but on a simply dreadful pitch at Singapore’s national stadium, it was never going to be easy and Japan weren’t helped by some poor defending from Taishi Taguchi, who had a terrible game.

Neymar was into his stride early, claiming a penalty in the first few minutes and then forcing a foul as three Japanese defenders struggled to contain him. Neymar sent the free-kick against the post from 20 meters, delaying his inevitable appearance on the scoresheet.

That came soon enough. In the 21st minute, Neymar escaped the dozy defending of the Japanese backline, took the ball wide of Kawashima and drilled a shot into the roof of the net.

Neymar rifles in his first goal

Neymar slides in his second goal


Japan had their chances but struggled to find the target. Kobayashi saw a neat 10-meter volley flash past the post in the 24th minute, a strong shot from Gaku Shibasaki flew over the bar six minutes later and Okazaki sent a glancing header wide five minutes after that.

A Junya Tanaka half-chance was desperately cleared by Brazil just before halftime, but defender Shiotani didn’t have the composure to put the rebound on target, allowing Brazil to go into the break 1-0 ahead.

Aguirre brought on Keisuke Honda for largely anonymous Ryota Morioka at halftime, but the first action of the second half saw Brazil go 2-0 up.

More useless defending by Taguchi allowed Neymar a free run at goal and he calmly slid the ball past Kawashima.


Kawashima made up for that with a great save from Miranda, and Okazaki hit the post from a tight angle before Neymar proved he was human and missed an easy chance with just the goal to beat.

Substitutes Coutinho and Robinho also spurred good chances after being set up by Neymar and in the end Brazil’s superstar had to do the hard work himself.

In the 77th minute, Kawashima made a fine save from a Kaka header and then turned away a shot by Coutinho, but the ball ran to Neymar who had an easy finish from close range for his hat trick.

But he wasn’t finished. Brazil swept up the field in the 81st minute and Kaka lifted the ball to the back post for the unmarked Neymar to head in No. 4.

Japan fought a little harder in the dying minutes and Yoichiro Kakitani got a great head on Kosuke Ota’s cross in the 89th minute only to see it tipped over by Brazil keeper Jefferson.




The result was not much of a surprise but the gap between the major footballing powers and Japan remains big. Aguirre reckons his players play with passion, but who’s he trying to kid? The likes of Shibasaki, Kakitani and Taguchi (not to mention Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo) have all the passion of Japanese schoolboys.

Japan have an attitude problem, i.e., they don’t have one. Aguirre needs to pump his players up, not blow smoke up their arse. Enough of the Zicos and Zaccheronis; Japan need a boss with anger. Get angry, Javier….

Oct 10 2014

Japan bore their way to 1-0 win over Jamaica

Screenshot 2014-10-10 22



Niigata, Japan, October 10, 2014 – Japan managed to get their first win under new coach Javier Aguirre on Friday, but the 1-0 victory over Jamaica at Niigata’s Big Swan Stadium was underwhelming at best, with the goal coming from an unfortunate defensive mishap.

To be fair to Aguirre, he’s still looking for his best lineup and against Jamaica he mixed some of his more experienced stars – Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki – with a bunch of relative newcomers: Tsukasa Shiotani, Masato Morishige, Gaku Shibasaki, Yoshinori Muto.

Obviously, this wasn’t his best lineup. His formation was initially 4-3-3 with Hajime Hosogai as the sole holding midfielder but looked more like 3-5-2 in the second half. Not that it made a difference.

Honda danced around like Honda does, Kagawa was back to his Japan/Manchester United mindset, Shibasaki was largely ineffective in the playmaker’s role and Muto couldn’t cut it up front. Yuto Nagatomo and Gotoku Sakai put in some random crosses from the wings to no effect while Shusaku Nishikawa had virtually nothing to do in goal. Morishige was OK in the middle of defence while Shiotani didn’t put a foot wrong and was the only Japan player to really shine on the day.

Jamaica tried their best and at least gave Japan a physical test, but in terms of technique and quality they are way down the totem pole. They would have done better to have tried to pressure Japan with Route 1 football rather than try to out-finesse their technically superior hosts. Sometimes primitive works.

So Japan weren’t likely to lose the game, but they still struggled to win it.

Japan looked slightly more convincing early in the game. Muto had a good chance in the fourth minute but wanted too much time, while Honda forced Jamaica keeper Ryan Thompson into a great save from a smart free-kick in the sixth minute. Kagawa came up with a rasping 30-meter bomb on the quarter-hour mark but saw it flash past the post. But a minute later, Japan were in front.

Shibasaki got the ball on the right of the box and delivered a low ball in that Thompson could only parry against Nyron Nosworthy and the ball ran off his body into the net from a few meters out.

Jamaica made some good saving tackles in the game and Jermaine Taylor did brilliantly to stop Honda in the 23rd minute.

Sakai cut in well before unleashing a 25-meter shot in the 25th minute, but it went straight to the keeper and the full-back then set up Honda with a golden chance, but the AC Milan midfielder scooped the ball onto the bar as he tried to lift it over the keeper.

Okazaki had two attempts just before the break, including a reasonable overhead kick, but neither troubled the Jamaicans.

Jamaica brought on Michael Seaton and Darren Mattocks for the second half but still struggled to threaten the Japan goal.

Japan, meanwhile, continued to create chances and continued to waste them. Muto misfired on three occasions, while Okazaki tried hard but couldn’t find the answer either.

After Kagawa sent a side-foot shot wide in the 65th minute, Wes Morgan saw a header loop onto the top of the net, while a 25-meter effort from Je-Vaughn Watson didn’t get near the target. Seaton followed up with a nice run at goal but couldn’t find an end product.

Another great tackle – this time by Morgan – prevented Kagawa from extending Japan’s lead and Thompson did well to stop Yu Kobayashi’s shot on the turn in the 72nd minute.

Nagatomo tried to gift Jamaica a goal in the 79th minute with a suicidal back pass to the unmarked Lawrence but the Jamaican wasn’t sharp enough to take advantage of Nagatomo’s gift and Morishige came in to clear the danger.

Three minutes after being booked for a foul on Hosogai, Watson escaped a red card after back-handing Shiotani in the face, but the ref didn’t see it; most likely he’d fallen asleep, too.

There was little to celebrate for either side in this dance of under-achievement. Japan would do better losing to better opposition, as they probably will when they face Brazil in Singapore in four days’ time.


Oct 17 2013

Tokyo 2020: The Bidding Games

tepco oly


By Fred Varcoe

Oh crap! We’ve got the Olympics.

Joy of joys. Hang out the bunting. Let’s have a street party. It’s a good thing, right?

“It is immoral to invite the Olympic Games to Japan where the health environment cannot be secured.” Well, the “loony” left would say that, wouldn’t they? But the “loony lefty” who said this, according to David McNeill’s report in The Independent, was former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata, who maintains that the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is too unstable to allow a major event such at the Olympics to be held 250 km away.

“A dark cloud looms over Tokyo’s prospects due to an escalating crisis at a stricken nuclear power plant,” a report from Xinhua’s news agency stated before the bid. The joy of Tokyo’s success hasn’t blown the dark cloud away. “Faith in both TEPCO and the government’s ability to disseminate timely and accurate information to the global community, as well as their ability to effectively and definitively contain the crisis, is diminishing,” the report added. Nothing new there.

In the days following Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, media reports in Japan reminded the people there of the cost of the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Over 16,000 people died with more than 2,000 still missing, presumed dead. The dead won’t benefit from the Olympics, while the living are still struggling to benefit from the world’s generosity following the disaster.

Nearly 300,000 people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are still living in temporary housing. Some have homes in irradiated areas that they can never return to. They need new homes (they need new lives). Maybe there’s a shortage of construction workers in Japan … There’s obviously not a shortage of money. According to the Asahi Shimbun, around $1 billion of disaster-relief money was spent on unrelated projects, including the counting of sea turtles on beaches. At this rate, the Olympic athletes will have accommodation before the disaster-affected homeless of Tohoku.

Mr. Abe’s alternative truth

Before the vote, the Fukushima crisis was seen as a potentially deciding factor for Tokyo’s bid. As media reports outlined a new crisis with the water tanks at Fukushima, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was despatched to the vote in Buenos Aires to allay the fears of those who might want to vote for Tokyo. But he wasn’t convincing everyone on the home front.

As McNeill wrote in The Independent: “Many have expressed concerns that a litany of crises faced by the Japanese government makes it entirely unsuitable to host such a global event. Experts have blamed Japan’s government and nuclear regulators for taking their eye off the Fukushima clean-up since Mr Abe returned to power late last year.”

Others went even further. Reiji Yoshida wrote in The Japan Times: “One question that emerged among the public immediately after Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics was whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an incorrect statement, or told an outright lie, about the contaminated water issue at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“During the Tokyo bid delegation’s final presentation before the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires on Saturday, Abe stressed that the ‘effects from the contaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the (artificial) bay’ of the wrecked nuclear complex, and said ‘the situation is under control.’ …

“Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted that a lot of water — and probably radioactive materials — was penetrating the fence and pouring into the wider ocean. … TEPCO, based on the findings, concluded that a maximum of 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 and a further 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 may have reached the ocean.”


anti ol tokyo


Tokyo, not Fukushima

But while the shadow of Fukushima hung over the vote, it has to be remembered that it was a vote on Tokyo – not Fukushima and not Japan. The Olympic Games are awarded to a city, not an area or a country, so the response from Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of Tokyo’s Olympic bid, made more sense: “Radiation levels in Tokyo are still the same as in London, New York and Paris.” Takeda told the media there was “nothing to worry about,” a statement that residents of Japan and the surrounding areas might not agree with. Takeda wasn’t lying. There was nothing to worry about at that moment, but there are worrying moments ahead, particularly from November when TEPCO starts to remove spent nuclear fuel rods from the damaged Fukushima power plant. It’s a very risky operation that has some activists painting a doomsday scenario not just for Japan, but for the whole world. This story isn’t over yet.

In reality, that’s another story. Having won the Games, Tokyo can now, hopefully, detach itself from the worries of Fukushima. Winning the Games is a cause for celebration, for both Japan and Tokyo. It’s been a long time coming.

Through the past darkly

Tokyo was initially awarded the Summer Olympic Games in 1940 but that was derailed by World War II. You might wonder what the International Olympic Committee was thinking awarding successive Games (1936 and 1940) to two belligerent, war-mongering states (Germany and Japan). Germany, despite being an economic and political basket case after World War I, was awarded the Games in 1931, just as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were coming to power. The Nazis were already the second-largest political party in Germany and a year later they controlled the Reichstag. By the time Berlin hosted the Games, Hitler was chancellor of Germany and Nazism had spread its ugly shadow across the country.

Tokyo was awarded the Games in 1936, by which time it was already raping and pillaging its way across East Asia and had quit the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations) the year before to facilitate its war-mongering ambitions. Yes, the IOC moves in mysterious ways.



Korean Sohn Kee-Chung won the 1936 Olympic marathon but had to run under the Japanese flag.


The IOC remembered Tokyo in 1959 – and curiously forgot all about the Pacific War – when it awarded the city the 1964 Games (Tokyo also bid for the 1960 Games, which went to Rome). While some might have wanted to punish Japan for its conduct pre-1945 – notably China and the two Koreas, who were still alienated from Japan politically – the 1964 Olympics served as a symbolic reintegration of Japan into the civilised world. And Japan responded with a dynamic, high-tech Games and a completely restructured city. Tokyo, in fact, dazzled the world in 1964. North Korea boycotted and Japan’s only hint of politicking came when the Olympic Flame was lit by runner Yoshinori Sakai who was born in Hiroshima the day the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on it.


1964 Tokyo Olympics


Japan got another Olympics eight years later when Sapporo hosted the Winter Games, and they hosted the Winter Games again in 1998 in Nagano. With the 2020 Games, Japan will have hosted four Olympic Games, third overall and second-most – behind the United States – in the postwar era.

While the Winter Games carry a certain amount of prestige, Japan has been chasing the Summer Games for some time. Nagoya was stunned when it lost out to Seoul for the 1988 Olympic Games as the IOC once again opted to send the event to a country ruled by a murderous dictator (Chun Doo Hwan) just a year after he had slaughtered hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians in the southern city of Kwangju. Of course, the selection of the host city has not always been untroubled by the exchange of favors and cash and Korea has some notable champions of bribery and corruption. A number of Olympic host cities have been accused of excessive “generosity” – including Nagano whose records were mysteriously burned when this topic came up. The IOC cleaned up its act by making changes to the bidding process, allowing its voters to concentrate on the merits of the bidding cities rather than the perks of their positions. Japan next put Osaka on the bidding list but it was doomed from the start after the IOC criticized the bid.

But 2016 was a different ball game. The Japan Olympic Committee decided to go with Tokyo rather than Fukuoka and Tokyo presented a beautiful bid for the Games. In fact, it earned the top rating from the IOC after the initial evaluation of the four bidding cities: Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Chicago. Tokyo’s advantages were clearly superior to those of its rivals (although in truth any city getting to the final stages of a bid should be able to stage a decent Games). Tokyo claimed 2016 would see “the most compact and efficient Olympic Games ever.” But then the votes came in. Tokyo was third in the first two rounds of voting, meaning it was eliminated behind Rio and Madrid, which in turn was trumped by the allure of Rio de Janeiro and the attraction of seeing the Games in South America for the first time.

Live today, die tomorrow

So what changed for 2020? Bids from Rome, Baku and Doha were eliminated early on, leaving just three cities: Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul. All three had been persistent triers. Madrid had actually won the first vote for 2016, beating Rio by two votes and Tokyo by six. All had attractions but suffered serious blows in the year before the vote. Madrid presented a very economical bid and was attractively placed globally; East Asia is often seen as an unreasonable time zone for broadcasts in the important couch-potato zones of Europe and the Americas, while Europe fits the bill perfectly timewise. Istanbul had the same momentum as Rio in that the Games could be held in a new area, a different (Muslim) culture and in a city that straddles Europe and Asia. Tokyo, meanwhile, had the money, the technology and the best layout for the Games. They all had something going for them.

But then the economic crisis really started to bite in Spain, which saw unemployment reach 25 percent. And some saw Madrid’s $2 billion budget – half that of Tokyo’s – as a sign of weakness. Olympic budgets invariable double, so there were also worries about whether or not Madrid would be able to keep up the payments with the national finances of Spain in such dire straits. Spain probably won on the affability stakes with Prince Felipe and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the erudite son of the former head of the IOC. Despite its presentable facades, Madrid’s bid was seen to be built on weak foundations and it lost a runoff in the first round after tying on 26 votes with Istanbul; Tokyo got 40 votes.

Istanbul’s budget was a whopping $19 billion, which raised red flags all over the place. Imagine that doubling. Istanbul had the emotional momentum of Rio in that the IOC would like to spread its wings geographically and culturally, but the voters worried about its budget and the ability to deliver on infrastructure as everything would have to be new. That may not have proved fatal had the city not been hit by a wave of riots in the months leading up to the vote, not to mention the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Fukushima spread a cloud of doubt over Japan but unlike the crises in Spain and Turkey, the problem hadn’t directly affected the bidding city. The mere possibility of disaster/Armageddon trumped the ongoing problems in Turkey and Spain. Abe’s PR work really paid off. And so did Tokyo’s.



TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear plant blows up


The 2016 bid was seen as spectacular from a technological point of view and drab from an emotional one. Bids need an emotional tone and faces that click with the IOC delegates. The presentations by then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and then-Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara for the 2016 Games were limp at best. The message from Tokyo four years ago was effectively: We build good cars. Ishihara’s successor as governor, Naoki Inose, wasn’t a great improvement and made a couple of serious gaffes, but he didn’t carry Ishihara’s baggage. And, surprisingly, even Abe came over as a likeable chap in his presentation – made in much better English than Hatoyama’s.

And, as Abe shut the door on the horror of Fukushima, Paralympic athlete Mami Sato, also speaking in understandable English, opened the door to the emotions of the earthquake and tsunami, recounting how she didn’t know if her family in Miyagi were dead or alive for six days. Sato emphasized how Japanese athletes had embodied the Olympic spirit by countless visits to those affected by the disaster – and Tokyo’s bid had its emotional connection. As well as a good speech in English by Olympic fencing medallist Yuki Ota, Tokyo got two delightful speeches in French from HIH Princess Takamado and former news presenter Christel Takigawa.

Tokyo also moved out of Japan to spread the word overseas. It launched its candidature file in London rather than in Tokyo and in doing so was able to ride the coattails of a country that was still buzzing from its own wildly successful Olympics. It also campaigned strongly on the domestic front after the IOC had taken a dim view of support figures for 2016 that showed less than half of Tokyo’s population supporting a bid. Of course, half of 35 million is still rather a lot, but the perception was negative and had to be put right. One of the major plus points was the post-London Olympics parade of medallists through Ginza, which attracted half a million people – an astonishing number – and put the feel-good factor back into Tokyo. An IOC poll saw public support at 70 percent at the beginning of this year and a government poll saw that figure rise to 92 percent 10 days before the vote.

Living up to the past

So what does it mean for Tokyo and Japan?

From a sporting point of view, the Olympics represent the ultimate goal for many athletes. From an individual point of view, they aim for the Olympics and a home Olympics focuses that aim and intensifies the purpose. The host country usually increases the number of athletes and the number of medals. In 2008, for example, China fielded 639 athletes at the Beijing Olympics, earning 100 medals and 51 golds. Four years earlier, it had fielded 384 athletes, earning 63 medals and 32 golds. In 2012, Britain fielded 541 athletes for 65 medals and 29 golds, whereas in 2008, it had won 19 golds, 47 medals overall with 313 athletes.

The 1964 Games saw the city of Tokyo transformed. It was transforming itself anyway, but the Olympics provided the impetus to get things done and Tokyo placed priority on improving infrastructure that would assist the Games, including “road, harbour, waterworks development on a considerable scale over a significant area of the city and its environs.” Tokyo venues such as the National Stadium (soon to be rebuilt), Komazawa Sports Park and Yoyogi Gymnasium are still being used today.


yoyogi gym

Yoyogi Gymnasium, still in use today


If Tokyo wants to live up to its promises in 2020, it need look no further than 1964. Avery Brundage, the President of the IOC in 1964, was fulsome in his praise of Tokyo and the Japanese:

“No country has ever been so thoroughly converted to the Olympic movement. … Every operation had been rehearsed repeatedly until it moved smoothly, effortlessly and with precision. Every difficulty had been anticipated and the result was as near perfection as possible. Even the most callous journalists were impressed, to the extent that one veteran reporter named them the ‘Happy’ Games. This common interest served to submerge political, economic and social differences and to provide an objective shared by all the people of Japan. In Tokyo everyone united to clean, brighten and improve the city and a vast program of public works involving hundreds of millions of dollars was adopted. It remains a much more beautiful and efficient municipality with the handsome sport facilities erected for the Games as permanent civic assets. … The success of this enterprise provided a tremendous stimulus to the morale of the entire country. Japan has demonstrated its capacity to all the world through bringing this greatest of all international spectacles to Asia for the first time and staging it with such unsurpassed precision and distinction. It is certainly the Number One Olympic Nation today.”

As London showed in 2012, the Games can lift a whole country in many ways. According to a British government report published in July, the 2012 Olympic Games provided a £9.9 billion boost to the economy; saw 1.4 million more people playing sport at least once a week than in 2005 when the bid was won; brought £4 billion of investment into London; helped 70,000 workless Londoners into Games-related employment; and projected that the total benefit to the U.K. from hosting London 2012 could reach up to £41 billion by 2020.

Tokyo has just taken the first step. It has a lot of promises to live up to, but it also has a past to learn from. Perhaps it will lead to regeneration on a broader scale. As Olympic host and capital city, it has a responsibility to do things right.

What could possibly go wrong?



Graphic of how the 2020 Olympic Stadium will look


Jun 2 2011

The curious case of the corrupt Mr. C – a FIFA story

A short story by Fred Varcoe

Mr. C (which may or may not represent his name, but could also stand for Complete C***) knows all about corruption in FIFA.
And knows all about corruption in business.
In fact, he’s one of the world’s most corrupt people in one of the world’s most corrupt countries. He’s made zillions of dollars from being corrupt. He comes from a corrupt family.
I guess “C” could stand for Complete Crook.
Daddy even bought him a fake educational certificate from a famous university.
Mr. C treats all others with contempt. He was born into richness and privilege and snobbism and a massive superiority complex. Other people are meant to bow down to him.
Mr. C likes football.
So he tried to buy it.
He bribed his way into a position of power in his country and then went to a meeting of powerful football people in his region.
He took along some dancing girls and lots of envelopes.
He put lots of money in the envelopes.
He also gave lots of money to the dancing girls.
Before the meeting, all the powerful football people had a party.
At which the dancing girls danced.
All the powerful football men thought the dancing girls looked lovely.
And many of them thought they’d like to fuck them.
Mr. C said no problem. The dancing girls were there to make people happy.
As were the envelopes full of cash.
The next day, Mr. C stood for an election.
All the men thought Mr. C would make an excellent football executive.
After all, he had lots of money – and dancing girls.
So they voted him in.
Mr. C became a powerful football person.
He mixed with football’s elite.
He was, in fact, one of them.
Even though they hated him and knew he was corrupt.

This is a dramatic reconstruction based on actual events.
Here’s another one involving Mr. C.

Curious George, a newspaper reporter, went to talk to Mr. C.
They had a nice chat.
George wrote an article that said Mr. C was a good chap and should be running football on his own – or something like that.
The next time George went to Mr. C’s locale, Mr. C said thank you. They had a drink in the company of Mr. C’s manager, Dick.
But Mr. C was a busy man, so he had to go.
Dick took George to a nice restaurant. Dick paid.
Dick took George to a nightclub. Dick paid.
Dick said: “How do you like the women.”
George liked them very much.
He wanted to fuck all of them, but this was an expensive fucking place.
Dick gave George an envelope.
“This is to cover your taxi expenses,” Dick said.
There was $500 in the envelope.
That’s a lot of taxis, George thought, before thinking once again that he’d like to fuck all the women in the nightclub.
“Who’s your favourite,” asked Dick.
This is a toughie, thought George.
But he thought he’d be polite and come up with an answer.
“The one over there with the big tits,” he replied.
Dick called Big Tits over and they had a chat.
George also enjoyed chatting with Big Tits, although he can’t remember what she said.
Dick said he had to go.
“Big Tits will go with you wherever you want; everything’s on me.”
He winked.
George got his drift and rushed back to his hotel with Big Tits.
He woke up thinking that Mr. C really was a fine fellow and wrote that in his newspaper.