Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The depressing reality of cricket's finances...

My main sporting passion is cricket, I know many people don't 'get it' but for those of us who enjoy it it really is the king of sports.  My passion extends to all forms of the game, throughout the summer my boss (Somerset fan) and myself (Warwickshire fan - for no logical reason other than I chose them at a young age) will be discussing cricket throughout the working day, much to the annoyance of our three female colleagues.  It doesn't matter whether it's a championship game, the Twenty20 or pro 40 we'll still be following it.  The pinnacle is of course when England are playing and in particular when a test match is taking place.

Test matches in England are a fantastic experience, I've now been to three and plan on going to many more over the coming years.  Not one of them has had great weather yet the ground has always been full despite the conditions.  Granted I do chose the premium tests (even if not at the premium venues) but I would say even the lower profile tests would still be close to capacity on most occasions given favourable forecasts.  Unfortunately though this is needed, as from my limited experience, county games don't get anywhere near the sort of audiences one would expect they'd need to survive on their own.  

This however is not the case in other countries... it is not the test matches that subsidise other forms of the game, it is the one day and Twenty20 internationals that do.  I'm not even just talking about the lowest end of the scale - Zimbabwe are incurring huge losses just to host test cricket again - it is a problem even in established test nations.  Former Sri Lanka star Muttiah Muralitharan has recently spoken out about this:

The sad thing about this is that it is true.  Currently Sri Lanka are playing Pakistan in a test match, this is a bad example because it is being played in Abu Dhabi (a neutral venue) as Pakistan still aren't hosting games due to the terrible terrorist attack a few years ago, but in the pictures of it you can't see a single person sat in the crowd.  The stands also looked rather bare when Pakistan toured the West Indies earlier this year. I know this isn't the most academically correct way to be analysing things (revenue comes in from broadcasters and sponsors - many people may stay at home to watch it), but I reckon it gives a pretty good indication of it's popularity and is quite commonplace in world cricket.  It is a reality that unless something is commercially viable then it will not succeed in the long run.  The problem as an English Test Cricket fan is that you need all of the countries to be prospering in order to provide the competition, but if things continue then there is less incentive for the top players to play in test matches.  

In the world at the moment it is possible for cricketers to get rather rich - but this mainly comes from participating in the Indian Premier League (the most high profile domestic Twenty20 competition) and to a lesser extent playing in other Twenty20 tournaments around the world.  The international game cannot quite compete with the riches that the IPL can offer, as such younger players have a greater incentive to hone their skills to fit the games shortest format rather than it's longest.  Even those who perform in both often prioritise their IPL commitments.  I am not going to say that Twenty20 or the IPL is a bad thing, as anything to get more people interested in cricket should be tried, I just worry there is too much focus on the short, easily consumable format.  They are set up to make as much money as possible, often meaning they are too long and draw focus away from other aspects of the game.

I can't envisage a situation when England stop playing Australia for the Ashes, or India/South Africa stopping touring, there is too much history with each nation.  However those doing less well may struggle in years to come and as a result the financial pressures may take their toll.

One great idea to improve Test Cricket's marketability and appeal is to host a "Test Championship" every four years between the four highest ranked teams.  This would give all nations something to strive for (not just becoming #1 like England managed), but also making the top 4 (similar to the English football Premier League).  Those on the fringes at 5, 6, 7 and 8 (notionally currently Sri Lanka, West Indies, Pakistan and New Zealand - although Australia have been flirting with 5th recently to the gain of Sri Lanka) would really get a real target, something that could be used to inspire crowds as well as the added marketability of the championships themselves - potentially reviving interest amongst fans.  In England there seems to be real appeal for such a tournament, probably due to the current status as World Number 1, however it appears that the ICC are having a change of heart - motivated by the broadcasting partner.  The first tournament was provisionally going to be staged in 2013, however now they may be replacing this with the Champions Trophy (a 50 over tournament that is low on most people's list of preferences as there is also a 50 over World Cup that has much greater prestige).  In my mind this is a real shame and I can't help wonder if it is motivated by the fact that India (the games big financial power) have recently been annihilated 4-0 in the test series here.   I really hope the powers that be have a change of heart. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Dr Fox adding more damage to the image of politicians...

Two things that are puzzling me about the Liam Fox/Adam Werritty debacle:

  1. Why is the media so interested in whether or not Dr Fox gained financially from the arrangement.  Surely the key thing about the situation is that Adam Werritty obviously did.
  2. How is he entitled to £17,000 severance pay??? At the end of the day he wasn't sacked, he wasn't made redundant, he resigned!  I know if I resigned my employer wouldn't be looking to give me a payoff - especially if I'd resigned because I'd broken the code of work practices or damaged the image of my company, which he has done both (for company read Conservatives, the Government, MPs in general - as it's helped cement the idea that they are all in it together).  Is he also not still an MP with the rather healthy salary that this provides?
This has helped confirm in the public's perception that MPs are just out for what they and their mates can get, by repaying this to the exchequer Dr Fox may go a small way to bridging this opinion, however I doubt it.  

I noticed in the Metro this morning there was a small article about 'Skiving MPs' having an extra break.  I felt compelled to write in defending them (which is hard to do when some act like Dr Fox or stupidly like Oliver Letwin - I completely agree with Spidey on this).  I was going to write a blog post about it, but George Potter beat me to the punch having previously seen it in the Evening Standard.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Getting my news from Fox... UK media ignoring the story?

In all fairness, apparently it is on the Times' website as well, but I can't get beyond the paywall!

Anyway the story I'm talking about is: 

It is good to see that the advisory committee is waking up to the possibility that the current war on drugs may not be the best way of minimising harm to society.  I am not sure I agree with the following however:

"The council also suggests drug users could have their driving licenses and passports confiscated as part of a civil rather than criminal penalty."

Yes, a civil offence is an improvement, however restricting people's movement is very illiberal.  Just because a person takes drugs doesn't mean that they drug drive.  They could require their vehicle to get to work or complete their job.  Depriving them of this could be just as bad for them as a criminal charge.  At the same time, possession does not necessarily indicate a willingness to smuggle!  If these measures were put into force they could only possibly be justifiable for those carrying the largest quantities.

It is disappointing that so little of the British media has picked up on the story, perhaps this shows that the debate currently is being hindered by the media's reluctance to accept that there could be an alternative.  Although, in their defence, I can't find where either Fox or The Times got their information - I am hoping it'll become apparent later and that I have not been misquoting them!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Taking the "War on Drugs" to a whole new level...

Any regular reader will know I'm not a fan of the "War on Drugs" which is mainly due to the US's policies on the matter.  One of my main objections to it is that it can often lead to criminal records for people who've done nothing that has harmed another person or society (there may have been harm further down the supply chain, however this is also specifically due to the "War on Drugs").  It is therefore possible that a teenager's life could be ruined just because they want to impress people and happen to get caught carrying a couple of ecstasy tablets.  

The US want to take this one step further.  Now they are looking to prosecute people who don't even engage in illegal activity, but just plan to do something (anywhere in the world) which is illegal in the United States whilst in the country - irrespective of the legality of the action in the country(s) where the act would take place.  

You can read more about this here.  The article makes the absurd example of organising a wedding in Amsterdam:

"Under this bill, if a young couple plans a wedding in Amsterdam, and as part of the wedding, they plan to buy the bridal party some marijuana, they would be subject to prosecution," (Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance)

Under the Amsterdam wedding scenario, anyone who participated in the planning of the wedding with knowledge of the planned pot purchase would be guilty of conspiracy, even if their particular role was limited to buying flowers or booking the hotel.

The way I read the story I'd say it's even worse than that, just say two people booking to go away somewhere discussing the possibility that they may undertake in legal activities could be prosecuted - it doesn't even seem like they have to commit the activity.

I am not completely against the purpose of the bill:

Given the fact that the US consider drug trafficking an offence then their reaction to not being able to prosecute people committing what they consider a crime is completely understandable - however planning to prosecute people for just planning what will be legal activities is just another example of the US trying to impose it's laws across the globe.  Sometimes they are for the benefit of people and an attempt to improve people's rights and lives but this does not, it creates victims, opens up black markets and leads to vulnerable people being exploited and finding it harder to get help.

The US has some very noble aims, however their drugs policy is completely ridiculous, in my opinion causes more harm than good and is completely hypocritical - in California, thanks to Proposition 215, it is legal for people who would benefit from medical marijuana to cultivate the crop.  Yet this article implies that someone (lets assume in a state other than California) advising a person how to cultivate cannabis would be breaking the law - would this be the case if they were advising a Californian?  I doubt it.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Protect freedom of speech everywhere...

This apparently isn't new news however it has only come to my attention because of Wikipedia's noble stance of temporarily (for now) shutting down their Italian website.  If you now go to their site ( you get redirected to an excellent message explaining the decision (English version here).  The key paragraph(s) relating to the legislation ("DDL intercettazioni" - Wiretapping Act) they are protesting against are:  

"This proposal, which the Italian Parliament is currently debating, provides, among other things, a requirement to all websites to publish, within 48 hours of the request and without any comment, a correction of any content that the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image.

Unfortunately, the law does not require an evaluation of the claim by an impartial third judge - the opinion of the person allegedly injured is all that is required, in order to impose such correction to any website.

Hence, anyone who feels offended by any content published on a blog, an online newspaper and, most likely, even on Wikipedia would have the right for a statement ("correction") to be shown, unaltered, on the page, aimed to contradict and disprove the allegedly harmful contents, regardless of the truthfulness of the information deemed as offensive, and its sources."

In my opinion (hopefully this wont offend anyone - as I have no intention of posting a "correction") but assuming it's true as written above this is absolutely ridiculous.  If someone is offended by anything, no matter how true they could be fined unless their correction is posted in 48 hours.  It strikes me that maybe somebody has just become a bit frustrated with their media coverage and realised how their actions when reported could be detrimental to their interests.  The person doesn't obviously even have to be offended, all they need to do is say that they are in order to get perfectly true information about them hushed up/compromised or even the person reporting it punished.  

Even think of the logistics of the process - how can it be guaranteed that a person will even get the request in that 48 hours (it may have been published by someone who then went for a few days or a holiday away straight after).  In such cases, without the person being aware that they have offended someone with their free speech they would be penalised with a very large fine (apparently of €12,000).  This cannot be fair!

The repercussions could be serious, it could lead to blocking criticism of pretty much everything, Nadine Dorris, for example, may not be able to criticise Nick Clegg/The Lib Dems online because we'd be offended or visa versa. Political parties would probably end up having to carry opposing parties views whenever criticising their policy.  A person commenting on a sporting event saying a decision was wrong - well that can offend the official...  The Home Secretary could get into trouble, and I'm not lying, for talking about cats (oops - I couldn't resist)... I could come up with more ludicrous examples if I thought it wouldn't bore.  

I should clarify that the legislation as a whole appears to have some good parts however, (I'm not going to sit and read the entire thing unless someone tells me Wikipedia and myself have misinterpreted it), from the reporting it would appear that sections of it deal with the way certain things are reported in the press which then compromise trials.  I am always saying that too often future trials are open to miscarriages of justice because of how the press report on them (take the Christopher Yeates case for example).  Putting evidence in the public domain and prejudicing people towards a particular view on either the victim, defendant or circumstances should not be tolerable (I would have a blanket ban on naming any suspect until proved guilty) however in protecting people you should not be able to impede general free speech in the way Italy is doing.

The world rightly condemned the Egyptian government when they blocked social media amongst protesters - yet people were talking about doing the same here after the riots.  Restricting people's freedoms to have an opinion is wrong whether you are in Egypt, Italy or Westminster, Wikipedia should be proud of the ethical stance they have taken, I hope theirs and the Italian people's protests are successful!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Greenest Government ever? #cpc11

So the Tory party conference is on.  I don't have the time to follow it avidly (the conferences timed themselves to perfection, the only one I could actively follow was the only one I actually care about - the Liberal Democrat one).  Even the most optimistic of Liberal Democrats wouldn't be expecting to hear much that they liked over the course of this conference, especially after we had lots of announcements that were obviously in our key priority areas, however two topics of recent conversation have angered me (both mentioned before the conference started I believe).  One of which surprisingly isn't the terrible rhetoric surrounding the Human Rights Act - it's the sort of thing Tories tend to be able to stir up because the misconceptions play to their supporters, no the two items that I mean are:

The reason these two stories have struck a chord with me are simple - when he stepped into Number 10 David Cameron said that he wanted the Government to be "The Greenest Government Ever", but these two policies are totally at odds with that.

Firstly, increasing the speed limit may sound like a vote winner and in a way I agree... the current speed limit was set when cars and roads were a lot less safe and I believe a minority of deaths on the roads are caused specifically by excessive speed rather than excess speed for the conditions and the road.  However, it is completely uneconomical to drive a car too fast as the increased air resistance requires a greater amount of fuel to be burned per mile - the optimum is apparently around the 50 miles per hour mark.  Encouraging increased speed will therefore be encouraging additional fuel consumption - totally at odds with being the "Greenest Government Ever".  I also seriously doubt that this would increase economic activity (except increasing spending on fuel)!

Secondly I have no sympathy with.  I currently have weekly collections, however would prefer the council to move to fortnightly.  Not only would this save money, but by keeping a weekly recycling and food waste collection it actively encourages people to think about what they are throwing out.  One complaint is about rotting food - well that should be thrown in the food waste bags, which should be available to everyone on a weekly basis.  I could find some sympathy for parents with babies (is it possible to get recyclable nappies?) but even a family with four kids could manage their waste better if pushed.  The only reason I can see for the Conservatives wanting to throw £250,000,000 at this guarantee is to curry favour with voters - it is a politically motivated decision rather than the right decision.   Remember the AV campaign and all of those things the Tories were telling us could be done with £250m (which would not have been the opportunity cost - where as in this case it is!) well apparently what they wanted to do with it was to decide to damage the environment that little bit more for our children.

I hope Chris Huhne pushes the environmental arguments and knocks some heads together at the earliest possible opportunity.

On a side note I have to say I do completely agree with George Potter again, the Tories do seem to be going about things in the right way, being neutral or even praising us after the bashing we gave them - it makes us look rather childish.