Archive for the ‘Major events’ Category

Amnesty International report: Fifa must not tolerate human rights abuses in Qatar

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Amnesty on Qatar Nov 2013By Nick Harris

17 November 2013

A new report published this evening by Amnesty International and based on interviews with workers, employers and government officials, says that Qatar’s construction sector is “rife with abuse, with workers employed on multi-million dollar projects suffering serious exploitation.”

Amnesty say that the full 166-page report - The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup - reveals widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers – in some cases amounting to forced labour.

Allegations in the report, available via Amnesty’s website (or PDF download report here), include:

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  • Migrant workers are ‘treated like cattle’ by subcontractors for Qatar Petroleum, Hyundai E&C and OHL Construction.
  • Workers are living in squalid, overcrowded accommodation with no air conditioning, and exposed to overflowing sewage or uncovered septic tanks.
  •  Workers are left unpaid for months and prevented from leaving the country by employers – faced with mounting debts many workers suffering severe psychological distress with some driven to the brink of suicide.

Amnesty say: “The report documents a range of abuses against migrant workers. These include non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions, and shocking standards of accommodation.

“Researchers also met dozens of construction workers who were prevented from leaving the country for many months by their employers – leaving them trapped in Qatar. Amnesty’s findings give rise to fears that during the construction of high-profile projects in Qatar, including those which may be of integral importance to the staging of the 2022 World Cup, workers may be subjected to exploitation.”

Amnesty International’s secretary General Salil Shetty says: “Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar.

“Fifa has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup.

“Qatar is recruiting migrant workers at a remarkable rate to support its construction boom, with the population increasing at 20 people an hour. Many migrants arrive in Qatar full of hopes, only to have these crushed soon after they arrive. There’s no time to delay – the government must act now to end this abuse.

“Construction companies and the Qatari authorities alike are failing migrant workers. Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers.

“The world’s spotlight will continue to shine on Qatar in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, offering the government a unique chance to demonstrate on a global stage that they are serious about their commitment to human rights and can act as a role model to the rest of the region.”

In one case, the employees of a company delivering critical supplies to a construction project associated with the planned FIFA headquarters during the 2022 World Cup were subjected to serious labour abuses.

Nepalese workers employed by the supplier said they were “treated like cattle”. Employees were working up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, including during Qatar’s searingly hot summer months. Amnesty is calling on FIFA to work with the Qatari authorities and World Cup organisers as a matter of priority to prevent abuses.

The treatment of Nepali workers in Qatar were the subject of a Guardian investigation earlier this year.

Qatar’s attitude to immigrant labour, including footballers, has also been highlighted by the case of Zahir Belounis (more here); and the response of the Qatari authorities in the past 24 has already caused added controversy.

Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup after a vote by Fifa’s Executive Committee (ExCo) in December 2010. The losing bidders for 2022 were the US, Australia, Japan and Korea.

The 22 ExCo members who voted had been reduced after two others had been suspended amid corruption allegations. Several other ExCo members have since left after being implicated in corruption.

The Qatar 2022 World Cup organisers insist they won the right to stage fairly; that they were picked as the best venue for a World Cup on their own merits; that they can safely stage a summer tournament in the desert heat with no health implications for players and fans; that there was no bribery and no collusion in the 2022 process; and that criticism of Qatar is based on ignorance and anti-Arab sentiment.

Others argue that Qatar are not the only Middle East nation with appalling working conditions for some migrant workers, or indeed the only nation with human rights issues. Russia, hosts for the 2018 World Cup, have long been criticised for human rights abuses.

Amnesty say their report identifies cases that constitute forced labour in Qatar. “Some workers interviewed by Amnesty were living in fear of losing everything, threatened with penalty fines, deportation or loss of income if they did not show up to work even though they were not being paid,” the report says.

“Faced with mounting debts and unable to support their families back at home, many migrant workers have suffered severe psychological distress with some even driven to the brink of suicide.’

One Nepalese construction worker, unpaid for seven months and prevented from leaving Qatar for three months, told Amnesty: “Please tell me – is there any way to get out of here? … We are going totally mad.”

Amnesty has documented cases where workers desperate to get out of the country were effectively blackmailed to give up money owed to them by their employers. Researchers witnessed 11 men signing papers in front of government officials falsely confirming that they had received their wages so as to get their passports back to leave Qatar.

Meanwhile, many workers reported poor health and safety standards at work sites, including some who said they were not issued with helmets on sites. A representative of Doha’s main hospital said earlier this year that more than 1,000 people were admitted to the trauma unit in 2012 having fallen from heights at work: 10% were disabled as a result and the mortality rate was “significant”.

Amnesty shared their findings with Fifa prior to publication of the report, and Fifa replied (letter below).

That letter says: “It is Fifa’s aim that the host countries of our flagship event ensure healthy, safe and dignified working conditions for all – nationals and foreigners, including construction workers – involved in the preparation of the event.”

The sincerity of such a claim remains unclear because Fifa president Sepp Blatter has already declared, more than once, that Qatar will certainly now host the 2022 World Cup. Such a stance appears to rule out any possibility that continued human rights abuse would have any effect on that whatsoever.

(Click to enlarge letter; article continues below)

Fifa letter to AI

Background

Amnesty carried out interviews with approximately 210 migrant workers in the construction sector, including 101 individual interviews, during two visits to Qatar in October 2012 and March 2013. Amnesty also contacted 22 companies involved in construction projects in Qatar, including meetings, telephone calls and written correspondence. Researchers held at least 14 meetings with Qatari government representatives, including from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Labour.

The report forms part of Amnesty’s wider work on labour exploitation of migrant workers. In 2011 Amnesty documented abusive practices by Nepalese recruitment agencies, with agencies were using deceptive practices to traffic migrant workers for exploitation and forced labour in the Gulf States and Malaysia. Amnesty called on the Nepalese government to improve protection of its migrant workers.

 

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UPDATE 11 Feb 2014: The Qatar organisers released a detailed workers’ charter on 11 Feb 2014, a version of which they say was adopted in March 2013. A PDF of that charter is here as a PDF download: SC WORKERS’ WELFARE STANDARDS (EDITION 1) (2)

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Garcia offers whistleblower anonymity during Qatar 2022 World Cup investigation

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

12 March 2013

The American lawyer investigating the circumstances in which the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar has urged anyone with information that could prove wrongdoing in the bidding process to share that information as soon as possible.

Michael Garcia is a former US attorney for the Southern District of New York and a partner with the New York-based law firm, Kirkland and Ellis LLP. As a Fifa-appointed investigator into corruption in football, he has faced accusations that he is not independent and therefore cannot be expected to work effectively in a role that might find Fifa executives guilty of corruption.

But in a wide-ranging interview with the current issue of France Football (left, or visit their website), undertaken face to face over several hours with two respected FF reporters, Philippe Auclair and Eric Champel, Garcia insists he will go where the evidence takes him – and present his findings in full.

“There is no supervision of what I do [by Fifa],” he tells FF. “I am really independent of this organisation.”

Persistent rumours dogged the 2018 and 2022 bidding processes in which Russia and Qatar respectively won the rights to stage the World Cup in those years.

Deal-making, vote-swapping and active corruption have been alleged, and always strenuously denied by Qatar, even though, at the very least, some form of collusion between Spain and Qatar has been publicly acknowledged even by Fifa’s president, Sepp Blatter. Blatter acknowledged collusion in the process both before the vote in December 2010, and after that vote.

Sportingintelligence understands that Garcia has continued to receive new information about the bidding process, and is aware of whistleblowers and insiders who can give him details about the bidding campaigns.

Garcia urges anyone wanting to share information to do so now. “If you truly believe it, the moment has come to show yourself,” he tells FF. “There are things that we can do, under the parameters of the code, that will protect your anonymity.”

 

Extracts from interview with Michael J Garcia, reproduced with permission of France Football

Michael Garcia: There are many other matters under investigation, the one on [vote for the 2018 and 2022] World Cup, which has been referred to me formally.

France Football: Formally’, so you’re confirming that?

MG: Yes, and it’s all open. That’s the message I’m trying to get across, and I believe that it’s very important. The time has come for people who have information to come to me, I haven’t got any preconceived ideas on what’s happened or what’s not happened. Well [I’m saying to them], ‘if you truly believe it, the moment has come to show yourself. There are things that we can do, under the parameters of the code, that will protect your anonymity’. I will work with them under this report. What wouldn’t be … useful would be that under this wide-ranging inquiry that I’m leading, later, there are people in it who say, ‘well, they got the facts wrong’, when they knew that beforehand. You know something? Tell me! I’m working, working hard to uncover what’s there or isn’t there. [We’ve got] the framework, the channels through which people have got to come if they really think they have something to say. On whatever it might be! On whichever aspect of whichever question related to the World Cup. It is a message that has got to be heard. People have talked, written articles but what you have no is an official body which is in charge of this matter and it’s important that people go see me to tell me what they’ve got [at their disposal].

 

FF: [With reference to the 2022 World Cup bidding process] have you gathered information, and how much time will that investigation take?

MG: Very good question… It’s a drawn out process, and that’s in part to do with what we were talking about earlier. How much information is still out there? How many people will be proactive and come to me? On the other side, have I got to decide to take the time to travel and convince people they’ve got to talk? The subject itself is complex. I believe that it’s a good opportunity for everyone, everyone will do well out of it. I honestly haven’t got any preconceived ideas. As you know when you talk to the people from the [2022] World Cup, they have very firm opinions… or big interests at stake. One or the other. Not me. I haven’t got a single opinion on subjects such as the date when it has got to take place, etc. But I will pay attention to everything, to whatever current opinion might be, and I will examine all the information with the same impartiality, whether it comes from the US, from Qatar, from Russia, from Australia.

 

FF: What are your angles of inquiry?

MG: My view remains the same. ‘What happened? Where have there been problems, if any? Have there been Code violations?’ And then also to examine certain subjects that you’ve mentioned in your [France Football] investigation … Were they close [to a breach of the Code]? And is that a problem related to the structure that existed at the time? I think that all these questions are very interesting but the first of my priorities is obviously to determine if there have been, or not, breaches of the Ethics Code by football officials.

 

FF: Could the FIFA Congress which opens on 31 May  be an opportunity to give an extra boost [in your inquiry] on the World Cup dossiers? Or is that too early?

MG: That’s too early to say. It would be good if we can make it, but it’s too early for me to say that I’m fixing myself a date like that. I hope that significant progress will have been made, of one kind or another. But I haven’t got any idea today where we will be. Or not. But I hope that we will at least have made significant progress on the direction [we’re taking], that there will be a crystallisation of specific issues, on which we will be able to concentrate; because we could sit here talking about issues… until the end of the weekend. One part of the work of a good investigative journalist, or of an investigator is, yes, to have all the facts in mind, but also to know where you would like to go. To know what you’ve got to do to get there. Whatever the date. When I have encountered problems of this kind before, it’s because of [the impossibility of] doing that. Because then, you’re constantly looking at the terrain without breaking it down, and that’s terribly ineffective. I hope that with this ‘funnel’ for [new] information [Garcia is referring to the whistleblower line] I truly hope that we can do this work on the mapping.

 

FF: There are people who have called into question your independence at Fifa. Are you truly independent?

MG: Yes. And that’s very interesting. I hear the criticism: ‘How can you be independent when you are paid by Fifa?’ Well, that’s not such an unusual thing as all that in the US. In the US, when a business has problems, we call for an external audit, generally under an agreement passed by the government. This auditor will be completely independent and, generally will submit his report to the government — but he’ll be paid by the business! My connection with Fifa is the same as an [external] administrator’s would be. I use them from time to time to get messages out, or when I can have access to the original [documents] in an investigation, or when I need to reimburse the expenses of an investigator or a lawyer. But there is no supervision of what I do. I am really independent of this organisation. I think that it’s not such a strange relationship as all that, because there are a bunch of cases of this type [in the US].

 

FF: But where’s Sepp Blatter in all this? Does he want to hear what you have to say on Qatar, on Russia?

MG: I don’t deal directly with Mr Blatter. I do not submit him my reports. He doesn’t speak to me about my work. I couldn’t tell you anything, in one sense or another, on these subjects because we haven’t got this kind of interaction. He’s kept himself outside of my ‘sphere’. He is the president of Fifa, he does what he does. I have met him perhaps… once in the three months of my mission.

 

FF: And if you have concrete information to communicate on the award of the 2006, 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Germany, Russia or Qatar, you will put that on the table?

MG: Absolutely.

FF: Without the slightest hesitation?

MG: Absolutely. I will put what I have, or what I don’t have , on the table, all right? It’s not like I’ve had this idea, ‘’that’s what happened’. Whatever I find, I will put it all on the table , all that what we find, and what we haven’t found. And I believe that it’s in everyone’s interest. A fair look. Hard, but fair. By listening to everyone, and by making a fair evaluation.

 

FF: Is it possible to imagine that with the information you have uncovered, the 2022 World Cup won’t take place in Qatar?

MG: I know everyone is interested in that. But I believe, and I believe that Judge Eckert would say the same thing, that our jurisdiction is limited to people. The only thing that we can do is to say, ‘You, football official, have violated this clause of the Ethics Code and you, football official, are going to be punished by this sanction’. It is only about people. That what we can do, OK? Decisions, on the site of the World Cup, you know, that’s beyond the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission. That’s a completely different process.

 

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‘To look into Amy Williams’ Arctic-blue eyes was to ridicule the notion that winter sports athletes are less deserving of the title ‘Olympian’ than their summer counterparts’

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

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Still pining for a festival of sport after the London Olympics and Paralympics lit up the summer? Pine no more. The next Olympics begin in 500 days – in Sochi, Russia, from 7 February 2014. MARK STANIFORTH, left, ardent admirer of all things Winter Games, explains why it’s a big deal, and why there are just as many reasons to care. Read Mark Staniforth’s blog here

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“I didn’t go looking for fame, but these days people who’ve never met me know who I am. My life is radically different from the way it was before February 16, 2002, the night I became an Olympic gold medallist at the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

“The planets came into alignment for me as a tangle of bodies cascaded to the ice in front of me, sweeping me to an unthinkable, unimaginably crazy gold medal. I wasn’t the strongest or the best skater in that race, and I knew I was lucky – maybe the luckiest athlete to ever win gold.”

Steven Bradbury, Last Man Standing (GEP Books)

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By Mark Staniforth

25 September 2012

If there is one athlete who best embodies the uniquely unpredictable and irresistibly anarchic spirit of the Winter Olympic Games, it has to be Steven Bradbury.

The Australian short-track speed-skater embraced outrageous fortune to win gold in Salt Lake City, coming from a good half-lap behind to cross the line first when all four of his rivals crashed on the final bend.

The Delta Center was in uproar: 15,000 Americans, there to witness the crowning of their golden boy Apolo Anton Ohno (who, from a sitting position, thrust a foot over the line to win silver) booed and jeered. The judges conferred. Bradbury mocked the derision by sailing round a victory lap with his tongue stuck out. Finally, the judges confirmed the result would stand.

In a press conference, Bradbury unfurled his extraordinary story: how he almost died on the track at the 1994 World Championships in Montreal, when he fell and impaled himself on an opponent’s skate, losing four litres of blood and requiring 111 stitches.

How he broke his neck in a fall in 2000, and had to wear a halo brace for more than a month. Nobody, not even the most jingoistic of Ohno fans up the bleachers, was going to deny Steven Bradbury the right to wear an Olympic gold medal around his neck.

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Article continues below

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Nodar Kumaritashvili was not so lucky. The 21-year-old Kumaritashvili lost his life on the luge track at the Vancouver Games in 2008 after being catapulted from his sled, which had been travelling at 89.2mph, and out of the chute, where he collided head-first with a steel support.

The Games had not yet started, and here was a tragic reminder that for all the tumult that makes the Winter Olympic Games so alluring, its risks, which inspire that allure, on the bobsleigh track, the ski slope or the short-track rink, bring its competitors closer to death than most.

To look into Amy Williams’ Arctic-blue eyes later that same day was to ridicule the notion that winter sports athletes are in any way less deserving of the title ‘Olympian’ than their summer counterparts. To dispense with the myth that the (relatively paltry) sums pumped into winter sports simply serve to facilitate the raucous apres-skis of directionless trust-fund twits.

Speak to Bradbury’s doctor. Speak to Kumaritashvili’s parents. Speak to Williams, a bright 29-year-old from Bath, who was preparing to become one of the first athletes to slide down the track – dubbed, predictably, the ‘death track’ by British tabloids – since Kumaritashvili’s accident.

‘As far as the risks are concerned, you are aware of them and you accept them,’ Williams said. ‘Of course the tragedy is on everyone’s mind, but it is a fact that I just seem to do better on faster tracks.’

Later that week, Williams hurtled to Olympic gold, breaking the track record twice in her four runs to beat her rivals by over half a second, a veritable marathon in skeleton terms, and win Great Britain’s first Winter Olympic title in 26 years, since Torvill and Dean Bolero’d their way to a string of perfect sixes.

Williams retired in 2012, deciding against a third operation on ruptured knee ligaments. Others persist, like the Isle of Man snowboarder Zoe Gillings, who suffered a freak training accident in 2005 in which she shattered all the bones in her left foot, and had doctors debating whether she would ever walk again, let alone snowboard. Eight months later she went to the Turin Winter Games, and finished 15th.

Gillings will go to Sochi well versed in the vagaries of the winter sports roulette which afforded her a second chance: which lifted Bradbury off the bloody ice to Olympic gold, yet which did not spare the tragic Kumaritashvili.

Such tales of sporting heroism ridicule the notion still propagated by many that the Winter Games do not have a place: that they are somehow silly or, for nations without snow, irrelevant.

The former International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage was the Winter Games’ biggest detractor, devoting much of his 20-year presidential tenure to its banishment. ‘The creation of the Olympic Winter Games was a deplorable mistake which has done much to tarnish the Olympic image,’ said Brundage, who is more notoriously known for his zealous attempts to prevent a boycott of the 1936 Berlin Olympics despite the rise to power of Germany’s Nazi government. ‘We should never have created the Olympic Winter Games, but how can we stop them now?’

Brundage believed the Winter Games to be ‘parochial’ and ‘far from universal’; accusations which have been challenged in recent years by the participation of athletes from nations whose winter climates are rare to non-existent: the Vancouver Games welcomed skiiers from Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and even Ethiopia, whose sole representative, Robel Teklemariam (right), was born in its capital Addis Ababa, just 500km away from Dallol, which is recognised as the hottest place on earth.

But with this new came a risk of ridicule which has hampered the Winter Games since 1998 in Calgary, when relaxed qualification rules ensured the headlines were made by the relatively hopeless British ski-jumper Eddie Edwards, and the Jamaican bobsleigh team immortalised in ‘Cool Runnings’: no doubt a great film, but nonetheless pandering to the perception of the Winter Games as more a raucous get-together than an elite sports gathering, and one that could be joined by just about anyone eager enough to pick up a pair of skis.

The reintroduction of curling after a 74-year absence for the Nagano Games in 1998 did not, on the face of it, improve the Winter Games’ image: adding to the outclassed African skiers came the so-called ‘housewives with brooms’.

Yet many of those who mocked were among a peak British television audience of nearly six million who stayed up beyond midnight in 2002 to watch Rhona Martin’s team claim the nation’s first Winter Games gold for eighteen years with an enthralling last stone victory over Switzerland.

Perhaps it is the inherent glorious chaos of the Winter Olympics – its heady blend of sporting excellence and crazy good luck; its speed and danger and housewives with brooms and speed-skaters disappearing like dominos – which makes it so compelling. Its unpredictability gives hope to those so-called lesser nations, like Great Britain, whose short-track speed-skaters, as Bradbury proved, need not necessarily become too concerned about finding themselves half a lap off the pace.

That said, 12 years on from Martin’s moment, Great Britain will seek to join the winter party in unprecedented fashion. The British skeleton programme, which has yielded medals of every colour over the last three Olympics, as well as overall world champions in Kristan Bromley and his wife Shelley Rudman, is the envy of plenty of ice-bound nations: its champions have been moulded on nothing more than a push-track track at the University of Bath.

The curlers are in with a shout as ever, though the housewives are long gone and replaced by the likes of Eve Muirhead, a poster girl for the 2010 Vancouver Games, and a four-time world junior champion into the bargain. Plus, even before Great Britain’s extraordinary Olympic summer had drawn to a close, Sheffield’s James Woods had claimed victory in the first Slopestyle World Cup of the new season in Argentina.

It was Great Britain’s first snowsport World Cup win in eight years, and Woods’ timing could not have been better: Slopestyle will make its Winter Olympic debut in 2014.

With today marking 500 days until the flame is lit over Sochi to signal the start of the latest unpredictable and anarchic winter sports ride, the post-London hangover need not last long.

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‘She makes £2 a day from begging. She embodies why the Paralympics matter’

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

9 September 2012

Isatou Nyang is a single mum of two from The Gambia, a small country in West Africa where the average income is around £1,200 per year, or £23 a week.

Nyang, 28, makes about half that much, or around £10 per week, or £2 per day. She earns her living by asking passers-by for donations, or in other words, begging.

She begs on the forecourt of a petrol station in The Gambia’s biggest city, Serekunda. She begs because, as a wheelchair-bound woman, job opportunities are scarce.

She is in a wheelchair because she was born with one short leg, the right one, which has a badly deformed foot, and a left stump.

Quite probably you have never heard of Nyang before, although twice in the past week she has appeared in front of 80,000 people at the Olympic Stadium. She is a Paralympian and she embodies why the Paralympics matter.

Of course those of us who have watched the Games will have been impressed and thrilled to see Oscar Pistorius and Ellie Simmonds, Jonnie Peacock and Sarah Storey, the wheelchair rugby players and their Murderball capers, David Weir and countless hundreds more.

They each have their own humbling stories. They have all overcome hurdles.

Yet for many others, it remains a struggle to be seen even as somebody who can play any useful role in society – let alone partake in international sport.

Nyang does not consider herself special, or feel she has faced any greater hardship. Indeed she is embarrassed by attention.

But the fact is that in many parts of the world – the poorest parts, where life can be short and brutal even for the able-bodied – to have a major physical disability is to become useless.

‘People in The Gambia don’t respect disabled people,’ Nyang told me when I met her and the other member of Gambia’s London 2012 team, Demba Jarju, in the Paralympics village on Friday. ‘They think we can do nothing.’

For Nyang and Jarju, 23, who both competed in the T54 100m and 800m events, being at these Games could quite feasibly damage them financially, actually reduce the couple of quid they make each day. (Jarju also begs, in different street markets).

‘The Games are a mixed blessing,’ Nyang says. ‘Our long-term goal is to help improve attitudes and therefore people’s lives. But when we go back, we expect the public to think “They’ve been to London. They must be rich and famous. Why should we give money to them any more?”

Like many Paralympians from the poorest countries, they get little or no state funding, little or no sponsorship, and rely on private donors supporting their Paralympic association.

The Gambia was only able to participate, for the first time, like 14 other debutant nations, because the Games organisers paid for their air fares, covered their village costs, and provided food.

But as the head of their delegation, Sulayman Colley, explained to me, the perception back home is that his two athletes must now be ‘rich, and big-time.’

The reality is a little bleaker. By Wednesday Nyang and Jarju will both be begging again in the morning, and then training in the afternoon.

Colley (pictured centre, with Jarju left and Nyang right) has been working to improve the lot of compatriot disabled people since the late 1980s. He considers himself fortunate because he went to school and became an electrician. Though crippled by polio, he can earn money, allowing him to work on a voluntary basis as the president of Gambia’s Paralympics association.

Jarju too lost the use of his legs through polio – a preventable illness in countries rich enough to afford vaccines costing a few pounds per head.

‘I was 10 years old when I got polio,’ Jarju tells me. ‘I woke up from sleeping and I wanted to walk but I couldn’t. I fell down. I was taken to the hospital. They couldn’t save me.’

He is entirely matter of fact. He seeks no pity, no sympathy. He begs because that’s what he needs to do.

‘It’s not easy to get a job when you are disabled in Gambia. There is a stigma.’

The Games, he says, have been an ‘eye-opener’. The biggest crowd he’s performed in front of at home ‘was maybe 15 or 20 people. So the full stadium here was extraordinary.’

He has viewed the hi-tech chairs of many of his rivals with amazement. ‘Our equipment isn’t great,’ he smiles. But he insists that being at the Games ‘is good because it shows that we are capable of doing things. In time, we hope attitudes change.’

Colley echoes that. ‘Many people in Britain and richer nations won’t realise the real power of sport and the Paralympics to disabled people in countries like mine,’ he says. ‘It’s not just about recognition as athletes but as people.’

I ask Nyang what she dreams of achieving. She says she wants to be able to keep sending her two boys, aged four and seven, to school.

I ask Jarju whether maybe he dreams of a job, of a more comfortable life for himself and his girlfriend, Fatou, 19, who works as a maid.

‘No,’ he says. ‘I just want a medal round my neck. Maybe in Rio?’

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The Gambia Paralympic Association website (via which Colley would be happy to hear from anyone with second-hand or unwanted wheelchairs or other equipment).

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London 2012: Better for Great Britain than 1908 despite fewer gold medals

Monday, August 13th, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

13 August 2012

The past few days we’ve heard that Great Britain has enjoyed its best Olympic medal haul since 1908 but in relative terms London 2012 was much better for the hosts.

In 1908, there were only 2,008 competitors from 22 nations competing, and Britain provided a third of those by herself.

So one might reasonably have expected Britain to win a lot of the 110 gold medals on offer, on home turf and in home water, in events as varied as tug of war and motorboat racing.

Britain did indeed win lots of golds, 56 of them, or just more than half on offer. So that’s 51 per cent of golds with 34 per cent of the athletes, so Britain did 151 per cent as well as she should have done.

Here’s another way of thinking about it. If the 110 medals had been split fairly between all the 2,008 competitors, then each nation should have won 5.48 golds for each 100 athletes. Which means Britain, with 676 athletes, should have won 37 gold medals. Instead GB won 51 medals – again, that’s 151 per cent of what would be expected.

At London 2012, when the size of the competition is factored in, Great Britain thrashed that performance by doing 192 per cent as well as should be expected.

Sportingintelligence has analysed the host nations’ performances at all 27 Summer Games to date.

We consider:

1: the number of golds on offer.

2: the amount of athletes at the Games from all nations.

3: how many golds each nation should have won per 100 athletes if divided equally. Golds available per athlete have got harder and harder to win. There were 18 golds per 100 people in Athens in 1896 and now that figure is fewer than three golds per 100 competitiors.

4: how many competitors the host nation had, and how many golds they won.

5: the percentage performance rating.

The graphic below – click to enlarge – includes every host at every Games since the first modern Olympic in Greece in 1896 and allows us to see at a glance how times have changed.

The key columns are the amount of golds the host should expect (given the size of their teams) against the amount they got, and the ratio.

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Great Britain’s performance at London 2012 rates as the sixth best host nation performance at any Summer Games by these measures (see blue column on the right-hand side above for rankings 1-27 of the 27 Games).

The five better performers were the USA (1984), Soviet Union (1980), Germany (1936), China (2008) and the USA (1996) and the first four of those can arguably be seen as political and / or propaganda Games, where huge tallies for the host were influenced by one or more of boycotts, state backing for political reasons or other interference.

At the other end of the scale, Canada in 1976 remain the only hosts never to win a gold medal at their own Games, while London in 1948 saw Britain perform 23 per cent as well as she should have done if the medals had been dished out fairly.

There is a twist in this tale of Britain at the Games, however.

London 2012 was much better than the first-glance glory of 1908 but has not been Britain’s most successful Games to date, relatively. That was in 2008, when GB performed 221 per cent as well as expected.

This was because Team GB had ‘only’ 311 competitors in Beijing, against the army of 541 in London, an increase of 230 in four years.

The graphic below shows how Britain has performed in the 27 Games to date, ranking those performances.

Only eight times has Britain done as well as should be expected, and 19 times has failed to hit 100 per cent of a ‘fair share’ gold.

It is no accident that the last four Games, since Sydney in 2000, all fall within Britain’s six best Games by relative performance.

Money talks, and Lottery cash investment in British sport came on line ahead of Sydney 2000.

Home advantage – a well documented effect of hosting a Games – also helped to boost Britain this past fortnight.

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David Beckham: loathe him or love him, he always gets a reaction

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

By Sportingintelligence

24 July 2012

David Beckham’s omission from the British football team for London 2012 polarised opinion but the former England captain is sure to take centre stage in some capacity at some point during London 2012.

If Beckham had been in Team GB, perhaps a whole swathe of seats at the Millennium Stadium for one of their matches wouldn’t have been withdrawn from sale due to lack of interest. Perhaps there would have been a sellout crowd, a better atmosphere, a more fervent backdrop.

No matter: Beckham, who helped London win the Games in the first place, will still play a role for the BOA and for adidas (sponsors of Team GB) during the Olympics.

He has already been involved in a marketing stunt (video below) which shows the kind of reaction he prompts from ordinary members of the public – from awe to tears.

OTHER STUNTS: What do marketing men see in the gorgeous Jenna Randall ? (click here) / Pendleton in few clothes shocker (click here)

The Beckham stunt took place on Monday in the Westfield shopping centre adjacent to Olympic Park. Members of the public were asked to show their support for Team GB by stepping into a themed ‘Take the Stage’ booth, dressed in Team GB kit; 60 people took part.

What they didn’t know is that Beckham was hidden behind a screen – and he popped out when they weren’t expecting it.

They were then able to pose with Beckham, who also answered questions “on everything from his future plans through to why he is such a fan of pie and mash”.

Beckham said: “It was a unique experience for me and the people who took part and there were some great reactions when we surprised them in the photo booth. I always love coming back to London and the activity was a great opportunity for me to get involved in the adidas take the stage campaign and get behind Team GB.”

NB: If you cannot see the video the first time the page loads, refresh page and it will appear

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Olympic medals: the nations who make the most of their population and cash

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

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By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

23 July 2012

There is typically a strong relationship between the size of a nation’s population, its financial resources and the amount of medals it wins at an Olympic Games.

A variety of studies has shown this to be the case, and predictions for London 2012 abound, from Dan Johnson in Colorado (link to article), (and link to his data) to Goldman Sachs (link to article), (and to their data), and umpteen others in between.

Goldman think Britain will win 30 golds to finish third in the medals table, which looks optimistic, although as written in our own January predictions for sport in 2012, we reckon that Team GB will win 24 golds (and 55-60 medals altogether) to pip Russia for third place in the final medals table, behind the USA and China.

Trying to guess medal tallies, based on science or a hunch, is part and parcel of the Olympic build-up. What actually happens tells us much about the sporting world we live in, and how different nations treat sport.

In the article linked here from March, we looked at which nations won the most gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics per 1m people. Jamaica came out on top, followed by Estonia, with Mongolia, New Zealand, Georgia and Australia all doing very well too.

To explore this in much greater detail for Sportingintelligence, Ben Jones of the DataRemixed blog has now used population and GDP data to produce the brilliant interactive graphic below to allow you to explore which nations punched above or below their weight at the 2008 Games when numbers of people and cash are taken into account.

NB: the graphic, driven by Tableau software, will take a few moments to load 

The graphic allows you to see which nations most effectively use their population and GDP to win medals.

The opening page shows you which nations won most medals (of all colours) by head of population in Beijing, and you can see Bahamas were No1, followed by Jamaica, Iceland and Slovenia.

But by changing the tab on the left (population) to GDP, you’ll see that Zimbabwe become the most efficient nation, winning more medals per £ of GDP than anyone, ahead of Jamaica, Mongolia and Kenya.

If you just want to consider gold medals, or silver, or bronze, then change the right-hand tab to recalculate.

If you just want to look within a specific continent, change the middle tab.

Click on a country’s name on the map, or on their flag in the graphs, for more details about the relevant achievements.

There is a wealth of information available by searching for different findings, but some ‘best and worst’ findings include:

  • Iceland were the best nation in Europe in winning most medals per person (3.31 per 1m people) and Portugal were worst of those that won medals (0.19 per 1m people).
  • Belarus won most medals per £ of GDP in Europe, and Belgium won fewest.
  • In Asia, Armenia won most medals per people, while India won fewest (of those that won medals); India also had the worst return by GDP in Asia, while Mongolia had the best return.
  • In Africa, Zimbabwe punched highest above its weight (of those winning medals) in financial terms, and South Africa fared worst. In population terms, Mauritius was the best African nation and Egypt the worst.

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(If the graphic fails to appearview it externally here. NB: It’s a complex graphic so it takes a few moments to get started)

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Euro 2012 post mortem: was possession really nine-tenths of the score?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

By Andrew Brocker

3 July 2012

So with Euro 2012 concluded, was possession really nine-tenths of the score?

Does the completion accuracy of your tiki-taka really correlate to your chances of getting your name on the trophy?

Does the clinical ability of your players to convert a higher percentage of your shots into goals than your opponent does with theirs matter? (Yes, this matters most of all; read on to see why).

Below is a breakdown of the essential Euro 2012 statistics, with thanks to the WhoScored stats department for the data.

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Win rate of teams with superior passing accuracy: 48.4 per cent (loss 29 per cent, balance was draws)

Let’s begin taking a look at win-draw-loss results for teams that achieved a greater passing accuracy than their opponents. Overall, teams that did this won 48.4% (15 wins) of the 31 matches played during Euro 2012, losing 29% of the time (9 in total). Portugal were the prime anomaly winning two matches in which they achieved an inferior passing accuracy, while the greatest differential in pass accuracy overcome to claim a win was achieved by Greece in their win over Russia, where they posted a pass accuracy of 68% to 87%.

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Win rate of teams with superior ball possession: 45.2 per cent

Teams that achieved a greater share of ball possession won 45.2% of the 31 matches played (14 matches) losing 32.3% of the time (10 matches). Again it was Greece in their win over Russia that overcame the greatest differential in ball possession to win, posting a share of 31% to Russia’s 69% while Portugal snared a victory over the Dutch while holding just 38% of possession.  There were also some dogged performances that saw teams surrender much of the ball but manage a draw, including England’s full-time draw with Italy in the quarter-finals where they held just 32% of the ball, similarly in England’s draw to France in the group stages where they held just 35% of the ball and Italy’s opening round draw with Spain in which they claimed just 34% of possession.

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Win rate of teams with both superior passing accuracy and ball possession: 45.2 per cent

There was a strong correlation between teams achieving a superior passing accuracy and maintaining a greater share of ball possession. In fact there was just one match of the 31 played at Euro 2012 in which this did not occur, that being England’s win over Sweden in which the English achieved a pass accuracy of 83% to Sweden’s 80% while ball possession was split at 50% each. In terms of win-draw-loss percentages, teams that achieved both a superior pass accuracy and share of ball possession won 45.2% (14 matches) of the time, losing 32.2% (10 matches) of the 30 matches in which this occurred.

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Win rate of teams with greater share of shots: 51.6 per cent

So let’s take a look a shooting statistics. Overall, teams that created more shots than their opponents won 51.6% of matches played (16 in total), losing 25.8% of the time. There were two matches in which teams managed to win while defending an onslaught of shots, those being again Greece’s win over Russia in which they surrendered 31 shots to their 8, and Denmark’s win over the Netherlands where they survived 32 shots to 8. England’s draw against both Italy and France were again noteworthy as they surrendered a total of 57 shots across both games, while chalking up a mere 14 of their own.

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Win rate of teams with a greater share of shots on target: 60 per cent

Considering shots on target, there were 25 matches where one team achieved a greater share, while 6 matches where both teams created an equal share of shots on target. In those 25 matches, 60% were won by the team with a greater share of shots hitting the target (15 in total) while teams with an inferior number of shots on target won 20.0% of the time (5 matches in total). Italy managed to win their semi-final against Germany despite giving up 8 shots on target to their 4, while again England’s performances against Italy and France saw them claim two full-time draw results, while conceding 15 shots on target to their own total of 2.

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Win rate of teams with both greater share of shots and of shots on target: 61.9 per cent

There were 21 matches of Euro 2012 in which a team had both a superior share of shots and shots on target. In these matches, the team that achieved this 61.9% of the time (13 matches) while teams that had both an inferior number of shots and shots on target won just 3 times, 14.3%. These 3 teams were Czech Republic in their win over Poland in which they 3 fewer shots and 1 fewer shot on target, Denmark in their win over the Netherlands in which they had 24 fewer shots and 1 fewer shot on target and lastly Italy in their semi-final win over Germany in which they had 9 fewer shots and 4 fewer shots on target. The greatest share of shots on target created in relation to opposition shots conceded was achieved by Sweden in their 2-0 win over France in which they created 6 shots on target to France’s 4, while creating just 12 total shots compared to Frances 24.

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Win rate of teams with simultaneous greater pass accuracy, possession and shots: 50 per cent

There were 24 matches played at Euro 2012 where a team achieved each of these marks against their opponents, winning 50% of the time, while losing 25% of matches played. The usual suspects were amongst the teams to win despite conceding in each category, including England’s win over the Ukraine in which they posted a pass accuracy of 81% to 85%, conceding 43% possession to 57% and 10 shots to 16. Germany also achieved this feat in their 2-1 win over the Netherlands.

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Win rate of teams with simultaneous greater pass accuracy, possession, shots and shots on target: 62.5 per cent

There were 16 matches in which a team achieved each of these marks at Euro 2012. Teams that did so won 62.5% of those 16 matches, losing just twice. The teams that managed to defy this overwhelming control of the match and still win were Denmark in their win over the Netherlands and Italy in their semi-final win over Germany.

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Win rate of teams with a greater percentage of shots being shots on target: 62.1 per cent

Of the 31 matches played at Euro 2012, 29 saw one team have a greater percentage of their shots hitting the target than their opponents. (The two matches where both teams recorded an equal strike rate, were Portugal v Denmark and Spain v France.) Of those 29 matches, the team with the higher strike rate of their total overall shots hitting the target won 62.1% of the time (18 matches) while just 4 teams managed to win when posting a less efficient shots on target per shots taken mark.

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Win rate of teams with a greater percentage of shots as goals: 78.6 per cent

Ok so let’s conclude looking at the win rates for teams that were the most efficient in front of goal, recording a greater strike rate of goals per shots taken. Of the 31 matches played at Euro 2012, 28 matches saw a team record a higher percentage of shots taken as goals than their opponents. The win rate for teams that did so was 78.6% (22 matches) with just one team able to win despite seeing their opponents post a greater share of their shots as goals. That team? Germany in their quarter-final win over Greece, a match which saw Germany score 4 times from 26 shots taken (15.4%) against Greece’s opportunistic 2 goals from 10 shots (20.0%).

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Andrew Brocker blogs at BettingExpert and an archive of his writing is here. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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Spanish squad has highest ‘market value’ at Euros: £579.7m

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On this day: ‘A disappointing final’ that led to 76 years of hurt … and counting

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

By Sportingintelligence

3 July 2012

It was 76 years ago today that Fred Perry was the last British man to date to win the Wimbledon men’s singles title.

He triumphed 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 over Germany’s injured Gottfried von Cramm. The match was played on 3 July 1936, a Friday.

This is the report that appeared on page 14 of The Times the following day.

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And the context of that report, and the significance of Wimbledon to society at large, is seen by its placement on the page (below).

How times, and The Times - and all newspapers / media / and the importance of sport within media – have changed.

NB: The national newspaper library at Colindale (link here) has a quite bewildering amount of old newspapers and magazines which are openly accessible to anyone who wants to go and view them. And The Times has an archive of its own content available online, via a paywall.

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EXCLUSIVE: Djokovic, Nadal, Federer – as close to perfection as tennis has ever been

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Golden balls-up: the folly of binning Beckham for the Olympics

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

2 July 2012

BRITAIN cares so much about the GB Olympic football team that after London 2012 it will be disbanded and will never play again.

There has been no GB involvement in Olympic football since Britain failed to qualify for the 1972 Games in Munich.

There’s been no involvement at a Games themselves since 1960, when GB’s amateurs finished third in a group of four, above only China.

Other nations take it more seriously: Argentina, Cameroon, Nigeria, Spain, to name just the last four different winners in the men’s event. Eastern Europe cared a lot too in the era before that, when the Czechs, the Soviet Union, Poland and East Germany were all among the medals.

The 2012 British teams are only competing because London is staging the Games.

Britain doesn’t care about Britain being at the Olympic football competition, typically, and there’s no reason why it should. It won’t again.

The British football media doesn’t care about Olympic football, and there’s no reason it should.

Number of chief football correspondents covering the football at Beijing 2008? None. In Athens? Nope. Sydney? Of course not.

Britain’s participation at 2012 is a one-off. It won’t help England develop players, or Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland. That’s what those nations’ under-21 and youth teams do.

The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish never wanted to be part of it anyway. They still don’t. Most of them aren’t this summer. They never will be again.

The Great Britain football team at 2012 – an 18-man line-up of 13 Englishmen and five Welsh players, announced on Monday – is, effectively, an exhibition side. For entertainment. For one summer only.

And someone forgot to tell Stuart Pearce.

Bless him, but his squad looks very much like he’s using it as a runout for his England under-21s, with five Welshman added to his young lions because of that fixture at the Millennium Stadium against Uruguay on 1 August.

Of course Pearce insists that nationality in his GB role means nothing to him; that he wants a competitive team; that he if GB are in it, then they may as well try to win it.

All fine, but David Beckham’s exclusion looks even odder now the 18 names who are going to be in the squad are known.

There are a large number of non-footballing reasons that Beckham should have been in that 18-man squad, from playing a large role London getting the Games in the first place, to his unique ambassadorial achievements in the game, to being a globally iconic Londoner. I cannot think of a more passionate patriot footballer of his or any younger generation.

There are a number of footballing reasons he could be in the squad, from being the veteran of major events to his dead ball ability (still) to his stardust motivational ability over young colleagues to the fact that he would shift a lot more tickets. That becomes a football reason when the crowd is bigger and more vocal and therefore inspirational.

Yes, Beckham’s 37. Ryan Giggs is 38.

Yes, Beckham plays in the MLS, as do Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan and numerous others who’ve been coveted by top-10 Premier League clubs this year.

Yes, there are young players with fresher legs and more potential as impact players as members of a GB squad. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for example. Or Danny Welbeck. (Although not, let’s face it, Jordan Henderson).

If we’re really that serious about having a competitive Team GB, who decided without consulting the players that AOC and Welbeck and whoever shouldn’t go to both Euro 2012 and the Games? The FA? The English FA? Were the players asked what they thought?

The point is that Team GB was always going to be a muddle and a compromise and something less than Britain’s most truly competitive team. And it is now still less than that.

Nations are allowed three overage players because – if everyone from the IOC and Fifa were honest about it – it helps to ensure there will be Olympic football teams with people that spectators might have heard of.

What grates most about Beckham’s omission is this po-faced blethering that omitting him somehow made the football tournament competitively valid – when it isn’t in the first place and never will be.

Britain only gives a flying toss about this Olympics football event because Britain happens to be staging it.

It’s natural of course to be interested only in those things at which we are successful. So Britain ‘likes’ a minority sport such as rowing because Britain is good at it. Britain has become more interested in cycling as medals have become more frequent. Britain likes sailing every four years too.

And Britain will be a nation of triathlon enthusiasts by mid-August when there are three British triathlon medals on the London 2012 board.

‘Why is triathlon not more accessible to the masses?’ we’ll be asking, just as ludicrously as when a nation lost its marbles for a week in 2002 thanks to Rhona Martin and Co, and asked: ‘Why the dearth of curling rinks in England? How can we remedy this outrage?’

What a joke.

The Olympic Games are a brilliant hot-potch of events that deserve to be there and have a global consensus thinking they’re important (that’s track and field, and swimming) and a load of other things that are there for historic or politically expedient sporting reasons. Hello taekwondo.

People get picked or not for all kinds of reasons. (See selection ‘controversies’ aplenty in recent weeks).

Beckham should have been picked for the reasons above. He should have been picked because he would have contributed in numerous ways to a more exciting Games, through being in that 18-man squad, instead of Micah Richards or Craig Bellamy.

Ryan Giggs, like Beckham, deserves to be there for all manner of footballing and non-footballing reasons.

There is an entirely different dynamic around the Olympic football tournament – and specifically for Britain at the 2012 event – that demands a different approach, one that is forced in any case by strange quota rules and the availability or not of senior England players.

Doing well in the tournament will – to some extent, small or perhaps massive – depend on a wider swell of public support. Beckham, like him or loathe him, is a national hero. Even those who detest him can appreciate that if they’ve ever attended an event in his company, or been to a match in which he features.

An Olympic team without him will have an much different – and in my view flatter – dynamic than one with him, not just because he would sell more tickets, which would lead to fuller or even full grounds, and something approaching ‘excited’ and energising support, but to a similarly energised dressing room.

This isn’t a World Cup. This isn’t a Euros. This isn’t normal and normal rules don’t apply and normal rules of how to win don’t apply.

This isn’t an argument in favour of celebrity but of influence, which is an entirely different thing.

What you won’t be hearing around breakfast tables during the Games now: “Blimey, I must get along to Wembley today to see GB versus the UAE. Craig Dawson might play, or Neil Taylor. Or if we’re really lucky we might get a glimpse of Marvin Sordell. He’ll be a real menace in the Championship next season.”

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