London 2012: Help or Hindrance?

Back in 2005, Lord Coe and co. were given the opportunity to host the Athletic Extravaganza that is the Olympics. Now that the big curtain-raiser on July 27th is within reach and billions of public pounds have been sunk into the project, I’m going to take a look at how the games may have helped the country already and how the legacy they leave might impact on the UK in years to come.

Sebastian Coe himself has already outlined the importance on making London the “Green Games”, in an attempt to try and make the 2012 Olympics the most environmentally friendly in the history of the games since the modern era began in 1896. So the fact that many venues that already exist are being used to their potential in London, for example Wembley Stadium, the O2 Arena, the Wimbledon All England Club and Earls Court is a good start towards that, saving the inevitable costs that would have arisen from the building of bespoke arenas for certain events.

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) have had a whole seven years to prepare for the arrival of 10,000s of athletes, backroom staff, volunteers and millions of lucky ticket holders over the course of the 17-day event. This as well as thousands upon thousands of journalists and the world’s separate television coverages. So the legendary London Public Transport system is going to be tested to its full, but the clever people at LOCOG have already got this covered. Over the duration of the games, there are going to be specialised shuttle trains, named “Javelins” running continuously and frequently to and from the Olympic Park. There’s also going to be a special bus service and individual “Olympic Bus Lanes” across the city to ensure efficiency across the city. So in this gargantuan logistical task, it seems that many bases have been covered.

Now for the main attraction of the games itself: The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. Including an 80,000 seat (temporary) Olympic Stadium with 55,000 seats being removed after the games, and is the centre of a hotly contested bidding war among London based football clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United to be used as their new home. Among others, there is also a 17,500 capacity Aquatics Centre for many of the watersports like Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming etc. Also, there’s the recently tested Velodrome (used for the Track Cycling World Championships 2012).

The big bone of contention over the running of the games so far can be summed up into one word: tickets. The system used by LOCOG has been widely criticised as almost 70% of people that applied for tickets in the first round of balloting weren’t lucky enough to get any. This furore was intensified when it emerged that the standard “first come, first served” ticketing method was being employed across the world for tickets, so tickets for events were immediately accessible rather than in a month-long balloting period and a non-biased automated ballot system. This was a system that inevitably led to some being allocated tickets for more than one event and the majority being left with none.

The fact that the Olympics has been paid for with mostly public funds (with around £1billion extra coming from the private sector through advertising, supplying etc) in these times of austerity has also put an interesting twist on whether the government, along with LOCOG, can spend taxpayers’ money efficiently and not spending more than a penny over budget. The situation is seemingly so rosy, that the Coalition Government actually cut the budget by £27million as part of their action on reducing the deficit. Speaking of the government, enter lovably mad Mayor of London Boris Johnson. His endorsement of the games would be frankly admirable, if anyone could understand what on earth the man was talking about. But the advertisement across the world of the games in London has given it a lot of hype, and the question would be if the games can deliver. The Government Minister for Sport and the Olympics Hugh Robertson has even suggested the games can turn a profit through the revenue that the games will bring (ticket sales, merchandise, refreshments, memorabilia etc.) which in everyone’s mind, can only be a good thing.

Doubts have been expressed with the Olympic Park in Stratford destroying animal habitats and the demolition of homes and the relocation of families living in the area, all for the sake of the games. The BBC have even rented an apartment building directly adjacent to the Olympic Park to present their coverage from, forcing all the tenants in that building to move for the duration of the games, thus infuriating the locals.

The eyes of the world will be watching The Opening Ceremony on July 27th, be it for the thrill of the Danny Boyle-directed show orto see if the usual Olympic terror plot rumours actually exist, and with an estimated global audience of 1 billion people, it would be easy to forget those few poor souls that have to move their lives around for the sake of sport. The situation should have been handled much better, with at least alternative accommodation being available rather than leaving tenants in the cold.

While having to move is a complete hindrance to those that have to, the Olympics can be seen as a chance to help build a better image of the UK in the international community. Putting it lightly, other countries don’t exactly like us very much. First, Sarkozy and Merkel don’t exactly want our help in trying to sort out the Eurozone and then we nearly always get “nul points” at Eurovision every year! So aside from the terrible organisation with the tickets and the poor souls that have to make their lives make way for the games, as a country we should try and get behind the XXX Olympiad, because it’s OUR Olympics to do with what we will. Thousands of people are volunteering their time and effort and it’s only fair that we do our bit to try and make it as successful as possible.

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Who will win the race… for 4th place?

As the 2011-2012 Premier League title race heats up in an inter-city battle between the Manchester Clubs, with third placed Tottenham Hotspur sitting in clean air in 3rd place, there is another question to answer? Who will get the 4th and final remaining Champions League place for next season? Just 4 points separate the four challengers.

First, we have the current leaders of the race: Arsenal. With 25 games gone and 43 points scored, they lead their nearest rivals by goal difference alone. After a very shaky start by the Gunners, this left lingering in a lowly 14th place when the first several matches were completed. This prompted a quick response of a long run of victories, propelling them back to the business end of the table. This was helped in no small part by the continuing run of goals from Star Player Robin Van Persie. 22 goals already this season, and that form looks set to continue in the run-in, barring an injury of course. There is also promising young talent coming through the ranks in the form of £12million man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He’s looking ever more likely to be given a seat on the plane to Euro 2012 in the summer, and on the back of some superb performances, and a couple of goals to his name already, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be there. The main concerns that the club will be having at the moment are the future of long-running manager Arsene Wenger, amid rumoured interest from runaway La Liga leaders Real Madrid. The other will be keeping Van Persie fit, as the backup has been less than reliable in front of goal and rather injury prone. Marouane Chamakh is currently nursing a toe injury and Ivorian Gervinho has just four goals to his name. Theo Walcott has fallen out of favour in the team, unable to make significant impacts from his substitute appearances and a somewhat spectacular fall from grace for Russia captain Andrey Arshavin. When the Gunners are on form, they’re unstoppable. They will need to be on top of their game to see off their rivals, and with their next three games being against North London rivals Tottenham, and fellow top-four contenders Liverpool and Newcastle, these will be the defining moments of the Arsenal season. They will want to make up for disappointing in cup competition this season, after a 2-0 exit away to Sunderland in the FA Cup at the weekend and a 4-0 drubbing at AC Milan in the week.

Which brings us to the second of our challengers: Chelsea. Manager Andre Villas-Boas has come under the sort of pressure from Roman Abramovich that has come to be expected since the Russian Billionaire took over at the club nine years ago. This relentless pursuit of success is admirable, but hasn’t been achieved in quite the same regularity since self proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho left the club. Currently lying 5th in the table on goal difference, Chelsea are in a good place to take the challenge to the other contenders, but the big question is whether the unsettling pressure on AVB will have the right effect on the way that the team plays. The strength of the team will be bolstered after welcoming back frontman Didier Drogba and his Ivory Coast team-mate Salomon Kalou from the African Cup of Nations. Michael Essien also returns from his duties with Ghana. £50 million striker Fernando Torres has now gone more than 1000 playing minutes without a goal, and his lack of confidence is proving to be a headache for under-fire AVB, as Torres was an unused substitute in the Champions League first leg loss 3-1 away to Napoli. As a team with one of the higher average ages in the league at around 28 years old, the experience of League titles gone by will need to prove their worth if Chelsea are to secure another season challenging Europe’s elite.

The third team in contention, sitting one point behind Chelsea and Arsenal, are arguably the biggest surprise package of the season so far: Newcastle United. The Magpies have been reborn under boss Alan Pardew after a shock relegation to the Championship three seasons ago. They since gained promotion back to the Premier League and mustered a mid-table finish in their return season. The beginning of this season saw the arrival of Demba Ba. The Senegalese marksman had struggled for form at West Ham in the predecessing season and left Upton Park on a free transfer. But he is currently the second top scorer in the Premier League this season on 19 goals at this point. His Senegal team-mate Papiss Demba Cissé has also made a positive impact since arriving in the January transfer window. And with the Premier League being all that they now have to focus on, the Magpies can now put all their attention into qualifying for Europe; and with the team that they have and the way that they’re playing, there’s every possibility that it could happen for them.

Now for the team that’s bringing up the rear in this battle (incidentally, the team that I support!) is 18-time league champions Liverpool. Currently four points away from the cherished 4th spot, and with the Carling Cup Final at Wembley beckoning, and an FA Cup quarter final appearance in the not-too-distant future, I suppose they could be forgiven for having their attentions diverted. But Martin Skrtel has said that 4th place “is still achievable”, although erratic home form of four wins and eight draws have left Kenny Dalglish’s men left with an uphill battle to try and get back into the Champions League after a three-season absence. The Anfield club have had no shortage of controversy this season with striker Luis Suarez being embroiled in a racism row with Patrice Evra, leaving the Uruguayan with an eight-game ban that expired recently. His absence led to the consistent inclusion of £35 million England forward Andy Carroll, who has had a well- publicised downturn in fortunes since leaving 4th place rivals Newcastle last year. After scoring against Wolves in the League and Championship side Brighton in February, he of all people will be hoping that his fortunes turn around for the remainder of the season. In terms of top-four chances, Liverpool would need to overturn four points and seven goals in goal difference to achieve fourth place by the end of the season, and facing all three rivals for the position in the run-in is most likely to be the defining moment in the Reds’ Premier League season. Current odds make it Chelsea as 5/6 favourites to finish in the top four this season, with Arsenal at 11/8, Liverpool at 3/1 and Newcastle at 12/1. But if I had to predict a winner for this quite significant “booby prize” in English football, my money would be spent on whoever finishes in fourth, because at least then I’ll definitely be right…

Six Nations 2012 As it Stands

After the first two rounds of games (other than Ireland vs France being rescheduled for the first weekend of March) The Six Nations Tournament this year has had its fair share of classic matches and its scrappy affairs so far, and it shows no real signs of who is the favourite to take the title.

France were the pre-tournament favourites and after the very clinical nature of their 30-12 victory against a gutsy Italy side, they seem to be in fighting form after last year’s World Cup Final heartache at the hands of the imperious World Number 1 side New Zealand. The French midfield newcomers Wesley Fofana, Aurélien Rougerie and Julien Malzieu all marked their debuts with tries, giving an indicator that the future of French Rugby is (very likely to be) in good hands. Les Bleus have another two home games to come against Ireland and England, who will present a couple of challenging matches for new coach Philippe Saint-André and the team, but no-one would put the Championship beyond France this year.

2012 is very much a season of fresh blood in the England Camp, with as many as 11 debutants displayed so far in the Championship. Chris Robshaw has already put in a couple of assured performances as captain of the side and looks to be the favourite to take the armband on a permanent basis. Interim Head Coach Stuart Lancaster has taken charge of England for two closely contested victories against Italy and Scotland (19-15 and 13-6 respectively), but the new-look side will no doubt improve as they become more accustomed to playing with each other regularly. A tough draw lies ahead with games against in-form France and Wales, with a tricky tie with Ireland at HQ to round off the tournament.

Wales top the table on points difference after the scintillating encounter against Ireland, with Leigh Halfpenny kicking the winning points in the last minute to take the score to 23-21 at the Aviva Stadium. A confident 27-13 victory against rebuilding Scotland has show that Warren Gatland’s team are certainly a foreseeable force in the run-in to this season’s Championship. Although injuries to starlet George North and confident fly half Rhys Priestland will definitely be a blow, but the strength in depth in the team is such that they hopefully shouldn’t leave too much of a gap in the armoury. And a Triple Crown bid against England will certainly whet the appetite that little bit more.

Brian O’Driscoll has been a notable absence from this year’s Ireland squad due to his currrent injury. His experience disappearing from the fold has definitely been a headache for Declan Kidney, especially after the lack of composure shown by his team to give away a clumsy last minute penalty away against Wales, which eventually turned into a match-loser for the Irish.

It’s seemingly business as usual at the tail-end of the Championship, with Scotland and Italy both losing their first two games. Scotland Head Coach Andy Robinson has already outlined his intentions to revive Scotland’s fortunes after a poor showing at the World Cup and a couple of disappointing seasons in the Six Nations. Attentions will now be seemingly switched to saving their Championship in their remaining matches against France at Murrayfield and away to Scotland and bottom-of-the-table rivals Italy.

Should F1 be a younger man’s sport?

2013 sees the dawn of a new era in Formula One with the dispensing of the 2.4 Litre V8 engines that we’ve become accustomed to over the last 5 seasons or so as spectators. These will be replaced by supposedly more environmentally friendly 1.6 Litre turbo-charged 650-700bhp engines. But do remember that F1 wasn’t exactly Greenpeace’s best friend in the first place…

With the thought of a new era in mind, it begs the question “Should there be a changing of the guard in terms of drivers?” It seems that some teams have already taken heed of this. The most experienced man in history in Rubens Barrichello has been replaced at ailing Williams by the promising Bruno Senna, who showed his potential with some impressive performances in the second half of last season at Renault (now Lotus), when he replaced another old hand in Nick Heidfeld. The experienced Adrian Sutil has been displaced at Force India by the impressive Nico Hulkenburg, who was unlucky not to secure a drive in the 2011 season. He will partner Rookie of the Year in 2011 Paul Di Resta. More recently, one-lap specialist Jarno Trulli was sacked from the newly named Caterham outfit, to be replaced by podium finisher in Malaysia last year Vitaly Petrov.

The driver market also proved how fickle it can be when the departure of 21-year-old Jaime Alguersuari and 23-year-old Sebastien Buemi from Toro Rosso was announced. They have been replaced by the talented Daniel Ricciardo and rookie Jean-Eric Vergne. However, some veterans of the sport have been trusted with drives for the 2012 season, notably the struggling HRT team lineup of Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan. Michael Schumacher looks certain to complete his third and final contracted year of his comeback this year with Mercedes, where he will hope to achieve that seemingly illusive 92nd victory that has managed to avert him for the last two seasons.

Jerome D’Ambrosio this year joins the rather long list of “One Season Wonders” that have graced F1 for an all too short time and get relegated back to other forms of motorsport. Does anyone remember Yuji Ide or Nicolas Kiesa? Wasted talent… But others have got a reprieve from that list this season, this being the return of Nico Hulkenburg and Romain Grosjean to Force India and Lotus respectively.

Rumours are already rife about the future of popular Australian 35-year-old Mark Webber and whether he will continue beyond this season with high-flying Red Bull. Both of the new Toro Rosso drivers Ricciardo and Vergne have been previously linked with the seat if and when Webber decides to call it a day. With the departure of so many young talents from the sport after seemingly not acclimatising quickly enough to the fast-moving world of motorsport, there is a perfectly good substitute in GP2, the main feeder series into Formula 1. The Young Driver tests in Abu Dhabi are also a very good part of getting the young crop of drivers into what it’s like to drive a Formula 1 car. But to prevent more “One Season Wonders”, I believe that there should be a feeder team in F1 which leads to a guaranteed second season in the sport. And with an unprecedented SIX World Champions on the grid in 2012, who wouldn’t want to be out on the track?

If the sport was to be a field of rookies or Under 30s, the sport would be duller by comparison, and for no other reason than the excitement of seeing an old hand go wheel to wheel with a young gun for the first time and seeing who has the measure of who. There wouldn’t be any of those intense rivalries that spread across the years either (Prost/Senna, or even Mansell/Piquet). Seeing rookies succeed against those that have been around for a long time (Hamilton and Alonso spring to mind in 2007!) is something that makes the future of the sport even more exciting. Every so often, a special driver appears that changes the guard of dominance in the sport, and it’s defined by simple overtaking moments (Alonso on Schumacher at 130R in Suzuka, 2005 and Vettel on Alonso at Curva Grande, Monza 2011 spring to mind). So in all, without the blend of youth and experience in sport, everyone is at the same stage in their career, and that isn’t very interesting at all, really!

Fame is hard to achieve if you don’t go on The X Factor, but staying famous is even harder. (Part 1)

Nothing gets the public buttered up more than a good sob story. “I’m doing this for my dad, he’s definitely looking down on me now.” It’s a lovely concept, but it’s one that we’ve become all too familiar with in the Cowellian format of television. Why does this have such a profound effect on the ignoramuses that gaumlessly watch the mindless drivel as the highlight of their weekend. As a result, this gets everyday folk like you and me catapulted to a plastic fame that lasts for about 15 minutes (maybe that’s where the saying came from, who knows?). Look at the staying power of Storm Lee and Luke Lucas. There’s something about their short stint in our lives that will never be forgotten… Other than everything.

I would imagine that the source of all of this indifference is that being fame is essentially the same as fashion. Some is timeless, like jeans. Everyone knows about them and everyone has had a pair at some point. Whereas the iPod Mini for example, got outdated very quickly, the Nano took over. So the Mini just now sits in very few rooms, gathering dust, like the careers of many failed personalities, musicians and actors. So every season, there’s another new influx of poor souls in the celebrity dustbin that Big Brother can rummage for their new escapades on Channel 5.

How does this effect the mega-famous, though, I hear you ask? The enigmas of the world, Madonna, Cher, Prince and others known simply by one name. How DO they stay so famous. And the answer is so very simple: Just stay in the papers. Makes sense, if you’re maintaining attention, you’re still newsworthy. I mean, does anyone really care about what Frankie Cocozza got up to anymore? Whereas people still marvel at what Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do in their spare time, which is not very much to be honest.

F1 2012 is go, go, go!

After the hullabaloo of the first four-day test in Jerez, it’s clear that one thing is for certain: We know pretty much nothing that we didn’t know already about the 2012 season. The anticipation was in the air for another F1 curtain-raising test that would show the resurrection in Ferrari’s fortune which has been long overdue in the eyes of the “tifosi”. It would also show which team would take the fight to Red Bull this season. And the answer to the aforementioned statement lies with the team that I think is best looking (although you may not agree about that, despite the Platypus Wings being exhibited): McLaren.

With Jenson Button ruffling the feathers within the team last year, and Lewis Hamilton faltering despite 3 wins under his belt last season, it seems that Button has the backing of the team to make a serious challenge against Vettel for the title. The new RB8 is looking like the form car in testing already but there have been some rare reliability issues (by missing a morning’s running with electrical problems) that the team will be desperate to have ironed out come Melbourne.

At this point, enter Fernando Alonso. The man that many still regard as the arguable best driver on the grid. The 2005 and 2006 World Champion will be itching to make amends for two fruitless years at Maranello, and with the right car, he will almost definitely be in the thick of the action. The 2011 season saw a struggle for 2008 title runner-up Felipe Massa, who could only muster a highest finish of 5th for the whole season, and he has been issued with an ultimatum in the last year of his contract to essentially “get faster, or get out” by Stefano Domenicali. Something which will be a challenge for Ferrari’s number two to achieve with the team being firmly behind Alonso.

2010 saw the return of Michael Schumacher, which as yet has turned out to be a somewhat torrid time, albeit with some reminders of his inherent ability and racecraft on occasion in 2011, Canada to name but one. So many sceptic eyes will rest upon Kimi Raikkonen as he steps back into the fray for another shot at glory after having a limited run of success in two years of Rallying. His new midfield running Lotus outfit have been impressive in pre-season so far, with Romain Grosjean determined to make amends for a frankly poor half-season with Renault in 2009.

With relative stability in the regulations for the upcoming season has also brought relative stability in the team lineups for the coming campaign, with Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Sauber, Caterham and Mercedes retaining the same personnel. This has in turn left relatively few rookies in the new season, with Jean-Eric Vergne coming in at Toro Rosso alongside the promising Daniel Ricciardo, and Frenchman Charles Pic completing the Marussia lineup alongside the experienced Timo Glock.

The three so called “newer teams” in F1 being Caterham, Marussia and HRT will be keen to try and make an assault on the midfield in the coming season, as none of them have even scored a point as yet, a statistic which the newly named Caterham team are looking the most likely to do on early indication with a consistent performance in Jerez, not a million miles away from the likes of Sauber and Force India.

The 2012 season will need to be a rebuilding mission for fallen giants Williams after a disastrous 2011 season, this being the worst in their history with just 5 points accumulated over the 19 race calendar. Bruno Senna has been drafted in, replacing the vastly experiences and popular Rubens Barrichello, who looks set to start 2012 in American series Indycar.

With a new season often comes new circuits when Bernie Ecclestone and Hermann Tilke are concerned. But there is only one addition to this year’s calendar being in Austin, Texas. This means that F1 will be back in America after a five-year absence. But as concerns have been expressed over the completion of the project (a similar problem experienced by those in Korea in 2010), the outcome on whether the race will go ahead or not remains to be seen.

All in all, this looks like the 2012 Formula 1 season is going to be another season of the rest of the field playing catch up to Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, but I can almost guarantee there’s going to be some fantastic racing along the way!

Why hello there, blogosphere!

Hi there,

 

You’re probably reading this wondering if this is just another young, aspiring writer trying to make his work seen in the world by implanting the way that he sees the world’s affairs into a page. And you’d be right. But I’m going to try and make this a blog that’s a good read, that offers perspectives on topical happenings that may not be published in the news immediately. You may even find some stuff out about me that you may not expect!

 

So look out world, watch this space!