What took you so long, Seb Coe?

There’s a left-wing internet advocacy group called 38 Degrees which suggests to its followers that all they have to do is click a button and all the bad things in the world will be outlawed. It is a pleasant conceit. Its name derives from the angle at which snowflakes come together to form an avalanche, which is nicely self-deprecating of it. The problem is that so few people believe in its drivel that the closest it gets is about six degrees, which is the angle at which snowflakes remain exactly where they are until it thaws and they melt. Still, it is a useful simile and I think we may

Why the English love lazy sports

Once upon a time, when the fingerprints on the Wimbledon trophy were more or less exclusively British, you could win in SW19 whilst wearing trousers. Even a tie if you go back far enough. But then, back in those days, tennis was a no-sweat sport. Well, perhaps a drop or two, but essentially there was much less of it around than today, when sweatbands, perspiration and frequent towelling off are part of a fetishised display of effort and strain – one that’s often accompanied by verbal ejaculations of sometimes rather alarming severity. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been forced to mute Wimbledon at times because of the

Rob Burrow is in a league of his own

What a privilege the other night to see Rob Burrow, the Rugby League legend, win Autobiography of the Year at the Sports Book Awards at the Oval. Burrow is one of the most successful players in the history of League, although only 5ft 5in and less than 11 stone in a sport populated by big men battering each other. Now he is confined to a wheelchair, ravaged by motor neurone disease, yet radiating huge warmth with a permanent wide smile. He was greeted with a long standing ovation, and made a moving speech using an eye-activated computer device with his own voice. Sportspeople do not have to be the best

A twist on the American classic: The Sidekick, by Benjamin Markovits, reviewed

On the cover of The Sidekick, just below a broken basketball hoop, a quote from Jonathan Lethem suggests Benjamin Markovits is a ‘classic American voice’. Open the book and the first sentence – ‘I was a big slow fat kid but one thing I could do was shoot free throws’ – confirms the kind of American classicism we can expect: Salinger-conversational, Updike-melancholic, Roth-confessional. Male and white, in short. A decade ago, when The Sidekick is largely set, this would be hardly worth mentioning, but for a new novel to stand on such patriarchal shoulders now feels curiously old-fashioned. And while Markovits strives for something more contemporary, it is that voice

My one to watch at the French Open

The timing of Brendon McCullum’s appointment as England’s Test match coach couldn’t be better for him, or for the matey but very canny Rob Key, cricket’s managing director. Had they taken over their jobs when England were at or near the top of the world rankings, things would have been a lot tougher. Getting to the top might be hard, but staying there is a nightmare. Now, with England well and truly in the basement, McCullum’s only way is up. And he kicks off with a Test against his homeland, New Zealand, at Lord’s next month. You hope that sooner or later he finds room for the wonderfully talented if

The tragedy of being a QPR fan

Normal families spend the Easter holidays by the seaside or in the Mediterranean. But not the Youngs. My three boys and I took advantage of the two-week break to criss-cross the country following Queens Park Rangers, going to Sheffield, Preston and Huddersfield. We lost 1-0 to Sheffield and 2-1 to Preston, but managed to draw 2-2 with Huddersfield, which made it a good day out by QPR’s recent standards. I’ve always enjoyed going to the occasional away game, but this season my sons and I have tried to go to as many as possible to compensate for the closure of football grounds during the pandemic. Our original plan was to

Roger Alton

What English cricket needs now

You couldn’t ask for a more amiable man than Rob Key to run English cricket: affable, shrewd and universally liked, he has the look of a recalcitrant monk, nipping out the back for a quick drink and a fag. Whether he’s any good is another matter, but let’s hope so for all our sakes. The sequence of events seems a bit upside down though – appointing a managing director first, then a chair and CEO. Without coming over all corporate, surely the MD is the next CEO’s biggest appointment. And wouldn’t the new MD, Key, want to know who he’s working with? One man I hope he will soon be

Where Eddie Jones is going wrong

Rugby Union, bloody hell. We’ve got to talk about Eddie, but before that, what about something much cheerier? Just when it seemed the game was for the big bruisers of northern Europe and the southern hemisphere, Italy show us that it ain’t necessarily so. It seemed impossible that anyone could upstage France’s victory parade on the last day, but that is just what Italy’s heroic XV did, by upsetting the only team that had come close to bringing down Antoine Dupont and his crew of Gallic legends. Already the best try of the tournament – and the sporting highlight of the year so far – has been set to ‘Nessun

Why do Russian tennis stars need to condemn Putin?

Nigel Huddleston is Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society, hardly the biggest job in government. Yet he seems a little inebriated on what little authority he has – at least if his latest remarks to the Department for the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee are anything to go by. Huddleston has taken on board the mood of the moment. He appreciates that sport must make a stand against Vlad the Invader and the invasion of Ukraine, and which sensible person would disagree? But boycotting Russia from major competitions and clamping down on dodgy oligarch football owners isn’t sufficient, apparently. Huddleston wants more. He suggested to the

Rest in peace, Shane Warne

Headingly, July 22nd 1993 and the opening day of the fourth test that summer between England and Australia. This, as it happens, was my first time attending a test match. And although we – my father, brother and I – had travelled from Scotland to Leeds hoping to see England prevail against their oldest, greatest, rival, expectations were prudently low. Australia were, after all, already 2-0 ahead in the series and there was little sign England were capable – or even believed themselves capable – of hauling themselves back into contention. There was the excitement of seeing test cricket in person. And, secondly, and more importantly, there was the prospect of

Is football hooliganism on its way back?

Forty-odd years ago a friend, a Liverpool supporter, somewhat unwisely took his girlfriend to Elland Road for a Leeds match against Liverpool. Amid some uproar over the referee, she was hit just above the eye by a sharpened coin chucked by a Leeds fan. The relationship didn’t last, unsurprisingly, but she still has the scar above her right eye. That was in 1982. Four decades on, Leeds fans are still at it — bunging missiles at the opposition. This time at Man U players, who won 4-2 at the weekend. If Leeds fans had lobbed the odd headless cockerel onto the pitch, as I believe sometimes happens in hotter–tempered countries,

China breaks new records in the Surveillance Olympics

Never before have the participants in a major sporting event been so closely monitored as in this Winter Olympics in Beijing. The 1980 Summer Olympics in Soviet Moscow were nothing in comparison. Athletes are competing under a blanket of observation, ostensibly to keep Covid at bay, yet imposed by a paranoid Communist party for whom critical words or thoughts are as dangerous as any virus. Everyone attending the games, including athletes, support staff and media, must install on their phones an app, My 2022, which harvests a wide range of personal data. It has the ability to censor and track its users, according to cybersecurity experts who have examined the

Why everyone should be shouting about Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding

As we digest another Ashes thrashing for England’s cricketers in Australia, and wonder whether the 1966 World Cup victory will forever be the solitary success for one of Britain’s national football teams, the triumphs of individual Brits continue to astound. In the past year GB punched well above its weight in finishing fourth in the Olympic medals table with 22 golds, mostly in individual events. Teenager Emma Raducanu rocked the world with her out-of-nowhere win at the US Open tennis, though she is beginning to need a reset now. And then last weekend, even more extraordinarily still, came Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding’s amazing made-in-Lancashire gold medal in the showpiece Kitzbühel World

Some (tentative) reasons to be cheerful in 2022

Someone sent me a job advert recently for a Junior Research Fellowship at Queen’s College, Oxford. It states: ‘The Queen’s College embraces diversity and equal opportunity. Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in Oxford. The more inclusive we are, the better our work will be.’ Nothing particularly objectionable about that, although when the college says it aspires to be more ‘inclusive’ it doesn’t mean it wants conservatives to apply, even though they are among the most under–represented groups at Oxford. It makes that clear when it goes on to say Queen’s shares the university’s commitment to promoting equality

Roger Alton

The year sport and politics became inseparable

Sport and politics have always been intertwined, but this was the year they became joined at the hip. Yorkshire racism; the growing protests about China’s sportwashing at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022; anger about the Saudi takeover of Newcastle United; and the long-simmering anxiety about the Qatar World Cup. And with it, growing and very welcome, activism from sports-people: Lewis Hamilton’s rainbow helmet for gay rights in Saudi Arabia, Marcus Rashford’s indefatigable campaigning over child deprivation, and Michael Holding’s powerful interventions over everyday racism. But the gutless performance of the year should go to men’s professional tennis, which has resolutely failed to join the Women’s Tennis Association in boycotting

The faith of Tyson Fury

As soon as he had beaten Deontay Wilder last weekend, Tyson Fury gave thanks “to my Lord and savior Jesus Christ”. He said that he was going to pray for his fallen opponent. He has said that when he was recovering from depression and mental illness he “couldn’t do it on [his] own” and got down on his knees to ask God for help: I went down as a four hundred pound fat guy but when I got up off the floor after praying for like twenty minutes…I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off me shoulders. Most media reports glossed over these (admittedly eccentric) expressions of Christian

England’s shameful betrayal of Pakistan

Any English person with a love of cricket knows life has its ups and downs. But until now we have had no need to feel truly ashamed. The decision by England to scrap a mini-tour of Pakistan feels like one of those watershed moments from which any reputation for fair play will never recover. The men’s tour would have been four or five days at most, to play a couple of T20s. It’s hardly a trek across the Antarctic. And this against Pakistan, a country which, more than any, needs international cricket at home. And a country which bailed England out last year, when Britain was in the grip of

Why is the Ryder Cup so cringe?

And so to Whistling Straits, a venue with a name so ridiculous it could only be something to do with golf. The Ryder Cup is on us again, that biennial experiment to discover which overweight American is loudest at shouting ‘get in the hole!’ Golf shouldn’t be about artificial passion. Don’t get me wrong, the game itself is not without merit. For various work reasons I’ve spent a bit of time at professional tournaments, and the players are likeable, down-to earth people from ordinary backgrounds who just happen to be incredibly skilled at hitting a small ball into a small hole that’s far away. They’re as different as could be

Barça’s golden age and its ruling triumvirate

Even against our better judgment we tend to imbue our sporting heroes with characteristics they may not possess. This can often lead to disappointment. What passes for fluency on the pitch is seldom matched with any articulacy off it. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player of his generation, is no exception. The Argentinian’s inability to communicate verbally has rendered him an enigma. In Simon Kuper’s incisive and fascinating new book — one that charts FC Barcelona’s transformation over the past three decades from provincial club to international brand — Messi cuts as elusive a figure on the page as he is does off it. ‘Even now that Messi sometimes talks,’

The absurdity of tennis players’ toilet breaks

Forgive the personal question, but how long does it take you to, you know, go to the gents, ladies, non-binary? Quite what Stefanos Tsitsipas was doing in there in any of his numerous toilet breaks during the epic first-round US Open encounter with Andy Murray at Flushing (geddit?) Meadows is anybody’s guess. It clearly riled Murray — never the hardest thing to do — who was playing as well as ever, and is the ironman, quite literally, of Grand Slam tennis. He has also rather wittily pointed out that Jeff Bezos can get into space and back again more quickly than Tsitsipas can go to the loo. There is something