Friday, 10 April 2009

The G20 Protest: The PR war with no winners!

The G20 summit that passed through London last week, aside from trying to save the world from environental and economic self-destruction, also played host to an ideological clash that was played out in its entirety within a bottle's throw of a camera or microphone. The protest, designed to show that "capitalism was dead" or that we should "burn the bankers", hoped to bring about a seismic shift in the consensus of public opinion and lead to the current mood of resigned tolerance to the Establishment mutuate into unbridled anger. Conversely, it was the role of the Metroplitan Police to quell, usher and steer the protest toward their own optimal outcome through denying the media the riotous images for which they yearned, having trailed the conference excessively. What transpired achieved neither objective, yet still generated yards of column space discussing the respective failures of the protagonists.

As far as the geo-political campaigners were concerned, the summit represented a huge opportunity. Increased unemployment, growing reposessions and a public mood that was as at very best apathetic to banking, offered all the ammunition the protestors could have dreamed of, yet the actions of the few meant that the collective artillery backfired. Whilst an entirely peaceful, politically symobolic demonstration was always unlikely due to how these events are often hijacked by an anarchic minority, the subsequent images evoked modern memories of Los Angeles, Brimingham & Paris. The images of dummies on nooses and the hurling of fencing is likely to lead to a regression in the public perception of those who protest. Whilst, the salivating media were always likely to move toward a skewed representation of the scene, especially in terms of the role of the protestors, the manner in which the reservation of the masses was obscured by the extremity of the idiotic, has done considerable damage. After the collective voice of the Anti-Iraq War movement was remotely extinguished by the Bush administration, G20 almost represented a final opporturtunity for successful, responsible protest in the UK. Whilst the million person march's coherent argument was irresponsibly out-shouted in the House, the G20 candidates' never made it to the dispatch box. As a result, political protest in the UK will be perceived as perpetually futile, as the race to secure numbers that demonstrate sufficient electoral opinion will continually be tempered by the necessity of recruiting those whose intentions are honourable.

Similarly, the past week has hardly exemplified a progressive representation of UK policing in 2009. With the Metropolitan Police's image still reeling from the fall-out of Jean Charles de Menezes' killing, the successful control of 2009's highest profile protest would have been a welcome feather in their cap. After the calming of the initial storm, the post-lunch lull introduced a more serene atmosphere in the afternoon, more conducive to the environment that would have lead to the mutual achievement of respective objectives. Yet,as the increasing smell of success would have been as prominent as the relaxant that filled the air throughout the day, the Met still had to be aware of the sporadic pockets of disruption that still protruded. However, it wasn't until almost a week after the protest that the shocking footage of the treatment of Ian Tomlinson surfaced. Seeing an innocent man pushed to the ground by the same police that he had his back to, saw images of Rodney King and De Menezes brought back to the fore, a remedy to the previous pejorative scenes of civil disobedience. Whilst last week's mass mediated image was RBS's broken windows, this week will see mobile phone footage and the rising spectre of citizen journalism act as an indictment of the behaviour of the force. Whilst the anarchic images were swallowed amongst the banquet of coverage devoted to G20 last week, the timing of the footage's emergence will lead to it attracting a greater proportion of the news agenda this week. Similarly, the respective public expectation of police and protestors means that the acts of the police will be judged in a colder, harsher way.

Ultimately, the past 10 days has seen two sectors of society give the media exactly what they wanted and throw in their credibility in the process. As lawless protestors were doing the seemingly impossible in elliciting green shoots of compassion for bankers, the Met Police were sleepwalking into another extremely damaging story that will last as long as a criminal trial, civic trial and inquest. Whilst the current economic crisis, and its subsequent debate, has been oversimplified into an ideological battle between capitalism and socialism, the argument does have some contrasting factors. The battle has a lot further to run and the participants have to win the hearts and minds of society . As in Iraq, the key to this is the presentation of image. If the current downturn escalates into depression, this battle may turn into an outright media war, which, as we all know, has no winners.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Rooney & Pietersen: The flawed geniuses we tolerate and celebrate

In a relatively successful week in the recent context of English sport, we were reminded that the talismanic fulcrums around which our two premium national teams are built around, demand their audience to tolerate and celebrate them in equal meaure. Whilst Kevin Pietersen's cavalier free-scoring was eclipsed by an uncharacteristically dismissive innings from Andrew Strauss, Wayne Rooney was lauding the Wembley turf as though it had been created purely for his own personal expression. The common trait that did link them throughout the week, and is often the only punctuation of the adulation heaped upon them, is their habitual petulance.

As KP pushed out his bottom lip in St Lucia, Rooney's admirable work-rate lead to him counterintuitively smashing his limited internal thermostat, thus resulting in a tackle against Ukraine that, whilst winning the wall, served as a subtle reminder to his questionable temperament. Rooney and Pietersen are 2009's version of compsers who, whilst beguiling as some of the greatest exponents of their art, are never far away from their own insular Achilles Heel. They have had their predecessors,both in the medium term in Gascoigne and Botham and today in the recreational rower Flintoff and the alleged nightclub scuffler Gerrard. Clearly, the requirement to place an observation in contemporary context does a relative disservice to Freddy and Stevie in comparison to Gazza and Beefy, and English fans have every right to expect these incidents to be the exception rather than the rule.

Rooney's desire and passion can manifest itself in either a tackle north of the ankle, or a hurried re-distribution of the ball that passes too close to a referee. With Rooney however, there is always the sense that his enthusiasm is borne out of a desire for team progression. The same can always be immediately assumed of Pietersen. Whilst his interview technique often extolls the virtues of a team ethic, his behaviour in key scenarios often belies this. For every carefully constructed soundbite, there is an attempt for a six when pragmatism should be the top priority. Whist his undeniable contribution to the English Test team ensures that these subtles nuances of his character are rightly tolerated, surely it would be better for all concerned if any potential lambasting directed at KP, was as a result of his investment in the betterment of the team, rather than vocal self-indulgence ellicited by the pheromones of a dictaphone.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

F1 gets back in the fast lane

I have always had a curious relationship with Formula One. As a sport with considerable British interest and influence, my partisan interest is always likely to manifest itself in vitriolic opinion that is not just without sufficient mechanical knowledge to adequately contribute to debate,but is blinded by the "support the local lad" mentality that is often the pre-cursor to my sporting involvement. However, this partisanship can only sustain me for a finite period, and its effect is often mitigated by the explicit presence of technology in the sport. My perception of sport is rooted in an age that pre-dates my own existence, iconic sporting images to me are Terry Butcher gushing claret against Sweden or Brett Lee desolate at the end of an Ashes Test. My belief that sport is more about blood and sweat than nuts and bolts has lead to F1 receiving a biased screening. The first race of this F1 season in Australia this weekend has however, may yet be my catalyst for re-evaluation.

Jenson Button's start to finish win in Melbourne gave the newly-formed Brawn GP a winning debut and the entire weekend indicated that the entire texture of the F1 hierarchy may be about to change. Ferrari's double retirement, coupled with with McLaren's apparent lack of pace, lead to Brawn and Red Bull emerging as the new front-runners. The re-distribution of pace has been partly attributed to an increased standardization of the cars amid a wave of amendments aimed at encouraging competitive racing. The tentative erosion of this engrained technological reliance should place greater emphasis on driver ability and lead to a championship that finds the best driver, regardless of his vehicle. Whilst extricating driver performance completely out of the team outout is impossible, amplifying the human contribution over the reliance on data may well lead to a greater appreciation of driving styles. Indeed, such was the relative apathy to Lewis Hamilton's driving ability, Chris Hoy was annointed as BBC Sports Personality of the year and picked up a knighthood to boot.

Another refreshing aspect of the Antipidean curtain-raiser was the very emergence of Brawn GP. Rising from the Ashes of the Honda team, Ross Brawn and Sir Richard Branson have fashioned a team that is competitive, and with Button and Barichello, harnesses the best part of 25 years driving experience. The ability to travel from inception to ultimate glory in the space of three weeks is unique to Formula One. If a similar journey was to be made in football, it would take decades and umpteen millions.The fact that Formula One offers a conducive template to those with aspirations keeps alive the nature of fair play and competition that modern sport needs to thrive and retain an audience. Amidst all of these undoubted improvements, the FIA have to ensure that these aren't tempered by a littany of protest and counter-protests about floppy wings.So whilst I will still watch Champions League finals that will increasingly have habitual English presence, I resolve to remove my blinkered F1 spectacles and engage in the sporting contest likely to unfold throughout the season.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The silver lining for the Emerald Isle

Ireland first Grand Slam for 61 years was a welcome piece of good news on the Emerald Isle, and will hopefully be the spark of an upturn in fortunes for Europe's friendliest nation. The 12 months that have proceeded Ronan O' Gara's "ugly" drop-goal last night have tested the patience of even the happy-go-luck Irish.

Ireland's economy was once labelled a "Celtic Tiger" as their policy of slashing corporation tax encouraged multi-national companies to set up home on the banks of the Liffey leading to exponential economic growth.Indeed, Facebook is the latest American buck to be lured by the Irish mistress offering tax breaks. However, the Celtic Tiger is now looking increasingly toothless after being struck down by the double edged sword of a domestic housing crisis and a fundamental failure of the banking system. Indeed, Irish finance minister Brian Lenihan stated that Ireland was facing a worse recession than most countries in the world at a meeting in London last week. If UK ministers are successful in convincing the electorate that the recession is a problem from and and the fault of America, then surely Irish suits could utilize the same message, implicating the UK itself as culpuble middle man.

Not only is Ireland in times of recession, the spectre of sectarianism has reared its ugly head again after a happily dormant decade. The murders of 2 British soldiers and a member of the Police Service of Northen Ireland on consecutive days were a throw back to less progressive days and the universal condemnation that they were met with re-iterated the strength of the peace process rather than hinting at any potential crack.Indeed, that universal response appears to have strangled at birth any prospect of the image of a united Irish rugby team being used as an image to further an extreme Republican agenda, rather as a sign of unity in difficult times. I have written in a previous blog that sport is inextricably linked to politics and economics,but it can often be more of a buoyancy aid for national spirit rather than a solemn captain dedicated to going down with the ship.

Irish rugby's glorious spring of 2009 ,coupled with Giovanni Trappatoni's encouraging start as the Republic's manager could well be the tonic for a news agenda that has been as deflationary to morale as it has been to finances of our Celtic cousins. As the cracks in the infrastructure of the nation have appeared, the more traditional "craic" as been somewhat muted and the sooner this balance is redressed the better.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The big boys threaten to take their ball and go home

Two of the established " Big Four" or Sky Four as I like to refer to them as haven't exactly showered themselves in glory this week. Whilst Chelsea are beginning to resemble the unified and professional force of the Mourinho-era and Liverpool, perhaps belated, emphasised their domestic credentials at the Theatre of Dreams, it was the protagaonists from North London and Manchester that became particularly uppity.

After a humbling at Old Trafford that is still unlikely to hinder their trot to universal domestic glory, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to forgoe his media obligations and refuse an interview that Sky were enitely entitled to. His reasoning being that the midday kick-off had been put in place by Sky as part of their broadcasting contract. He neglected to mention that it was also a kick-off time advised my the police as it allowed less than 2 hours for Mancunians and Liverpudlians to fuel their simmering anymosity with their drink of choice. Matthew Syed wrote in yesterdays Times that Sir Alex would be well served to remember that the revenue from Sky is what has partly afforded him to affored expensive failures like Juan Sebastian Veron. Some argue that , as Syed eloquently puts it, that Ferguson runs Old Trafford like his own "personal fiefdom" and that being the most successful club manager of the past 22 years allows this personal folly. This appears to dodge the issue of contractual obligation and the two major candidates that have been touted to replace Ferguson, Messers Mourinho and O'Neill, are noted for their effortless charm with the media, even if the former can indulge in promiscious jousting on occasion.

The second event in a week littered with unsavoury behaviour, Cesc Fabregas stands accused of spitting at Hull City assistant manager Brian Horton. Whilst the FA are still to investigate, judement should be measured, yet the image of Fabregas , all hair gel and leather jacket, face contorted in rage at the end of a game where he didn't even break sweat , hardly endears him or his club to the armchair supporter.

If these clubs are to continue to syphon off long distance supporters from local clubs from Exeter to Elgin , surely a cordial, symmetrical relationship with the media is essential. In an age where the Premier League is descending into a two tier system, consisting of a four way race for the post running alongside 16 side dogfight to avoid the trapdoor, the top flight has to place entertainment at the centre of its argument for a "licence to operate". Key to this entertainment motif, is the presentation of favourable images upon which the empire of the Premiership been has built on. Sky and Setanta need Torres finishes & Ronaldo free-kicks not the censure and vitriol that has been on display in the past week. If the Sky Four underestimate the importance of their relationship with the media, it could over time lead to a more proportional representation of footballing partisanship across the country. This won't happen immediately, but if there is nobody to talk to the microphone, the next time the big boys come back with their ball having gone home in a huff, the game may have moved to another street

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Sehwag shows England the merits of the IPL playground

Virender Sehwag's swashbuckling innings in New Zealand was as much an indictment of English stroke-making conservatism as it was a celebration of the Indian tradition of providing talismanic batsman. As Sehwag was hitting a one-day century off 60 balls, including 92 from boundaries alone in his final total of 125, England were cursing their inability to make quick runs at pivotal moments in Test matches as the series in the Caribbean meandered to a predictable, anti-climatic ending.

As Andrew Strauss now has to galvanize his troops for a return home series against their latest conquerors, the intermitting period sees the first IPL fixtures to include Test playing Englishmen. Whilst players like Kevin Pietersen and Freddie Flintoff need no advice on explosive hitting, surely the more English players, especially batsmen, that get to open their shoudlers in the sub-Continental bonanza the better. England are limited to 7 participants this April due to how the auction went, considering how many English players may have been signed up had the ECB not limited their countrymen to a mere 3 week involvement is a curious yet futile consideration.

With Freddie's body looking increasingly like it might prematurely end his days as a genuine all rounder at Test level, only Matty Prior is left as a viable candidate to take up the reins when an English innings needs whipping through the gears. Most concerning however is the fact that of the 5 other English players signed up for the IPL, Collingwood, Bopara, Shah, Napier and Mascherenhas, 2 are nowhere near the Test side, whilst the other three (Colly, Shah and Bopara) actually have the propensity to swing the willow when the situation dictates.

All the while the hierarchy of the ECB sulk because the dollars found their way to India rather than Lords, and take out this tantrum through hindering English players ability to secure their futures and imporve their aggresive strokes, the Test side will stay flacid in fourth, when situations dictate a swift shift to sixth. The IPL is going to grow exponentially both in terms of respect within the game and the revenue sourced from outside it, and the longer the bulk of English players and officials are on the outside looking in at the party, the more chance there is that their tea will turn cold.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Do it on your doorstep........

Tonight, I had a traumatic yet entirely predictable experience. Languishing in mid-table, my beloved Crystal Palace took a two goal first half lead against Owen Coyle's well-drilled Cup giantkillers Burnley. Thirty-five minutes in and the Eagles are looking at soaring to the heady heights of 13th in the Championship.

Three goals in the last 9 minutes turned the table on the scoresheet and the mightly Eagles eventually went down 4-2. Palace are admittedley the least decorated on all of Burnley's capital scalps this year, but in the abscence of any sort of cup run, the loss of three points was still felt very keenly by this author. A lifetime supporting the pride of South London has taught me what most football fans know: this game is a cruel mistress. If you support Crystal Palace, she is a positive dominatrix.

Whilst in the depths of desolation, there is however a slither of comfort to be salvaged. Whilst I will never know the joy of my captain lifting the European Cup, I will have a continual sense of belonging that can only ever be obtained through supporting your local team. I could jack in my 23 years of Eagles fandom and jump on the commercial bandwagon of Liverpool, Chelsea or god forbid, Manchester United. But watching Gerrard or Lampard lift the Premiership over the head in celebration would be empty. Indeed, the very reason for my huge admiration of the Liverpool captain is his unwavering support of his hometown club in spite of the commercial cash cow that lies outside of Merseyside, not to say he isn't sufficiently renumerated at Anfield.

For me, there will always be something more fufilling in supporting perpetual local mediocrity than chasing premium habitual success. I was born in South London, a mile from Selhurst Park and my strong identification with the local area prohibits me from cashing in the chips at the Premiership casino. This loyalty, however blind, gratifys me more that any transcient success and at the same time condemns me to a lifetime of evenings of dissapointment like this!