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Warning: The following story is one of satire. As an American and soccer/football enthusiast I reserve the right to make fun of other sovereign nations that outbid my country financially for the World Cup 2022. Who would have thought that a desert land with the third-highest GDP in the world would be able to line the FIFA gods’ coffers more than my own American colleagues? How dare such a tiny country win out against the solid money-machines of the United States, Australia, and Japan.
Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup:
A pamphlet for soccer fans from the United States
Welcome to Qatar, a peninsular land of vast oil and natural gas reserves. We are roughly the same size as Connecticut, and we have the same population as Phoenix, Arizona. We have never had a World Cup team, but were are surrounded by Middle Eastern countries that have made it to the first or second round—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Iraq. We also had our Under 20 Football Team earn second place in the FIFA World Youth Championship! We love soccer—it’s our favorite sport, just ahead of cricket.
Visitors will find our landscapes breathtaking, if only because the temperature sucks the moisture right out of your lungs. We tried to secure a spot as host of the 2016 World Cup, but lost because we thought it would be best to have the entire South American and European leagues change their schedules in order to play in our “autumn” month of October. But in 2022, we plan on hosting the tournament during our hottest months of June and July, which have average highs of 106 and 114, respectively. Never mind that the heat reflecting off of the sand can reach above 130 (F) degrees! To combat this we will build state-of-the-art stadiums that cool the venues to a respectable 81 (F) degrees. How will we do this? We are investing in billions of dollars in photovoltaic energy that will cool large tanks of water that air will circulate around. Cool air will flood the field and down the backs of the upper decks of each venue. Never mind that stadium architect Jack Boyle says that the design wasn’t “economically viable” for Phoenix, Arizona. Money is no worry! We don’t mind waste, after all, as exemplified that we are the No. 1 country in emissions and CO2 output per capita in the world, just ahead of the United States.
We recognize that our airport only hosted three million passengers a decade ago, compared to 23.3 million at Dulles International Airport on the eastern seaboard of the U.S.—that’s why we’re building a new airport! We started building it so we could win the 2016 Olympics bid, which we lost. We also started building a new city from scratch so we could be a stronger force for bidding for the Olympics and World Cup. We call it Lusail City. We even started building a new stadium before people started to live there! It’s called the Lusail Iconic Stadium, which has a capacity for over 86,000 fans—more than the people that lived in Lusail City until just recently. Isn’t that interesting? The stadium has already served us well after we
bought earned the right to host the 2006 Asian Games.
We are on the move, especially after a successful political coup in 1995. We are progressive, even though most people around the Western world don’t think so. For example, we now allow women to drive! We’re also culturally diverse: the majority of people here are not Qatari, instead they are our laborers and servants. We have a really neat system of modern-day slavery called kafeel; but you’ll hear us call it “sponsorship.” We bring over poor, migrant workers from India, the Philippines, Nepal, China, and Africa, and we don’t allow them to change jobs or leave the country without our permission. But do not worry—our rate of sex trafficking and violent crimes against the poor won’t be as showcased as South Africa’s sex trade and murder rate prior to their World Cup debut. We have considered abolishing this
slave sponsorship system like our neighbors of Kuwait and Bahrain, but we simply need this labor system in order to continue our quest to host every major sporting event in the world. We’re going to host the 2011 AFC Asian Cup finals and the 2011 Asian Indoor Games. We already used these laborers to prepare for the 15th Asian Games of 2006 and the 3rd West Asian Games in 2005.
And have no fear, you American, Russian, and European hooligans with a taste for alcohol. We actually serve beer and liquor! Drinks and cocktails are available exclusively in our upscale bars and private clubs for a handsome sum. Beware, though, Sharia Law prohibits you from being drunk or having any alcohol outside these establishments. For this reason, we have one company, and one company alone that has exclusive rights over serving alcoholic beverages, and the income goes directly to the monarchy.
And, finally, please behave in our country. We do not follow the International Court of Justice, and we hold people accountable, again, to a combination of Islamic and civil law. We do not tolerate homosexuality, adultery, or apostasy, and we forbid alcohol and pornography. But don’t worry, if you’re an expatriate, we’ll arrest you under your own law, confine you to a police station, and it’s probable that you won’t be given any type of legal or consular assistance. Your statement for your crime must be translated into Arabic, and it’s your responsibility to ensure your translation is correct.
We have beautiful architecture, world-class educational facilities, and our health care is the best in our region of the world. But we don’t know what we’re going to do when our liquid gold runs out in 37 years from now, which is precisely why we need to party it up while we can. We’ll see you in 2022!
One of the great things about sports is that athletes’ performances are often inspirational and motivational. Perhaps nobody exemplifies that better than 16-year-old Holland Reynolds.
The lead runner for her San Francisco University High School cross country team, Reynolds and her teammates had plenty of motivation entering last week’s CIF Division V state championship. While a victory would give University its eighth state title, a state record, the girls were driven by more than trophies and records. They were driven by the courage of their coach, Jim Tracy, 60, who is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Wanting desperately to win a state championship for her coach, whose health has steadily declined to the point where he wears leg braces and a back brace in order to walk, Reynolds was in line for a top three finish with a half mile remaining in the 3.1-mile race. But that’s when her body shut down, turning her graceful stride into an awkward stumble.
For the final half mile, Reynolds willed her body toward the finish line until she collapsed and rolled onto her back just 10 feet shy of the line. A race official rushed to her side, but was careful not to touch her since any assistance would result in Reynolds’ disqualification.
Reynolds managed to get to her hands and knees, and proceeded to crawl the final few feet across the finish line, where she was immediately scooped up and rushed to an ambulance. She was the fifth finisher for her team (the top five count toward a team’s score) and 37th overall (out of 169) with a time of 20:15. If Reynolds hadn’t crawled across the finish line, University wouldn’t have won the state championship.
Watch the video below to witness Reynolds’ inspirational and motivational performance. She is seen struggling toward the finish line beginning at the 1:15 mark of the video.
Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano is making more than $2 million per season, and in recent years the University committed to spending more than $100 million to upgrade its football stadium. Meanwhile, student fees contributed nearly $8 million toward Rutger’s athletic department revenue in 2008-09, which equals more than 13% of the revenue generated by Rutgers’ athletics.
According to a USA Today database on athletic department budgets, Rutgers netted less than $200,000 in 2008-09. Take away the nearly $8 million contributed from student fees and the athletic department would have severely overspent.
Rutgers isn’t alone. A recent report by USA Today outlined in detail how some universities are using escalating student fees to support the multi-million dollar budgets of their athletic departments. The practice has some academicians, students, and parents crying foul.
Transparency, or the lack of it, is what has some up in arms, as many universities go to great lengths to make it difficult to discern just how much their athletic departments are benefitting from receiving student fees.
To some, it seems as if the athletic department is the big, bad bully on the block, stealing lunch money from poor students to pay its coaches millions of dollars and build lavish luxury suites for its millionaire alums.
But as Dr. William Kern, chair of the Department of Economics at Western Michigan University, pointed out to Fitness Information Technology, athletic departments aren’t the only units in a university that receive financial support from general funds. Kern and Donald Alexander, also a professor and economist at Western Michigan University, recently conducted a study on the effect of athletic success on state appropriations to universities. Their research will be published in the November issue of the International Journal of Sport Finance.
“There are a number of activities across the university that are subsidized through one means or another,” Kern said. “For example, there are probably a number of academic departments on every campus that don’t generate revenues sufficient to cover the costs of their operations.
“Philosophy might be such a case and the reader can probably think of others in the fine arts where this might also be the case. But we subsidize them because we think they are a necessary part of the university. That argument is easier to justify in the case of philosophy than in the case of non-revenue sports but some would no doubt argue much the same way that sports are an integral part of the university.”
Perhaps the biggest objection with using general funds and state appropriations to support athletic department budgets is the fact that salaries for coaches in football and men’s basketball, in particular, have escalated at a rapid pace during the past decade. It’s now atypical that a coach in one of those two sports at a large university isn’t earning in the neighborhood of $1 million annually, with a select few football coaches earning $3-4 million per year.
In addition, many universities are spending millions to upgrade athletic facilities, not necessarily because they are structurally unfit, but because their rival schools have enhanced their facilities.
“There seems to be an arms race with regard to improvement in facilities and coaches’ salaries, at least in the major sports at large state universities,” Kern said. “This spending is not likely to decline as any individual university that stops spending finds itself at a competitive disadvantage against its rivals. What is really needed to stop this is some sort of rule that constrains spending that applies to all schools. Robert Frank has a nice analysis of this issue in his Knight Commission report of collegiate athletics.”
Frank, an economist at Cornell University, concluded in his 2004 Knight Commission Report that after extensive research, “The empirical literature seems to say that if the overall net effect of athletic success on alumni giving is positive, it is likely to be small.”
Still, while Frank and other economists profess that athletic success has little effect on donations, it should be noted that athletic success is believed to contribute to school loyalty and a student’s enjoyment while on campus.
“Students seem to be demanding more and more amenities associated with their college experience and sports in both participant and spectator forms appear to be a part of that,” Kern said. “Most students don’t seem to want to attend ‘no-frills’ universities that would eliminate these sorts of things and just stick to the basics of instruction.”
I’m sure you’ve seen Friday Night Lights. Or perhaps you’ve watched Hoosiers or Varsity Blues or any of the other hordes of small-town sports movies that showcase the standard formula—a group of high school kids with nothing else to do band together to overcome long odds to succeed. It’s as if the mythos of the small town somehow breeds magic and success into the blood and bones of the young athletes
The myth-and-fact farrago of these movies—emblazoned in our minds by pop culture—might be more science and sociology than we think. Sport psychologist Jean Côté co-authored studies that use statistics to show that small towns are producing more top-tier athletes than cities—a lot more. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, writer Austin Kelley uses NFL quarterback Jason Campbell (Oakland Raiders) as an example of how growing up in small-town Taylorsville, Mississippi, (pop: 1,341) can be a positive reinforcement to young athletes, a contrast to big-city sports that Côté says is “overorganized and overcoached.”
Also of note is the NFL-famous town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (Pop: 11,734), that has churned out the likes of “Iron” Mike Ditka, Sean Gilbert, Tony Dorsett, and Ty Law. In 2007, Aliquippa added two more names to the NFL—Derrelle Revis (Aliquippa High/Pitt) and Paul Posluszny (Hopewell HS/Penn State).
The stats are there: although only 25% of our citizens come from small towns, a whopping 50% of the NFL’s ranks are born and raised in cities under a population of 50,000. The same can be said of 45% of the PGA’s golfers. Also of note are the athletes from the NHL (39%), MLB (38%), and NBA (28%). The argument seems to be that young athletes that have a chance to build their confidence—in an environment where the opposition might be somewhat relaxed—might have an advantage over big-city kids who are primed and prepped from a very young age to be a cog in the pro sports machine. Quite often the small-town athletes play several different sports; Aliquippa’s Revis and Posluzny competed in high school basketball against each other since they belonged to rival schools.
The argument, however, isn’t necessarily confined to the great American Midwest or the dusty towns of West Texas. CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a feature on “Football Island”—aka American Samoa—where a population of 65,000 has more than 30 players in the NFL, and more than 200 in Division I college football.* 60 Minutes producer Scott Pelley noted that in the last five years the six high schools on the island have produced 10 NFL linemen, and that a child born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any kid in America.
But how much of this is truly psychological and/or sociological? In American Samoa’s case, there is little debate that genetics plays a significant role—especially when Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu is standing over you. But Côté, co-editor of the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, cites a number of factors that lead to “little town” success, some of which were reported in the WSJ. Among the factors cited were, “The accessibility of sports role models in little towns, the cultural values placed on sport, and even the ‘big fish little pond’ effect, which can be a positive reinforcement for young athletes.”
Côté refutes the prevailing notion that children do not need to find a specialized niche early in their sporting careers. They are successful because they do not spend all of their free time learning specialized skill sets.
Pelley reported that, aside from biology, Samoans seem to try hard to overcome their socioeconomic status—their nation is extremely poor. He also reports that the lives of young men are immersed in football culture. If we follow the logic of socioeconomic status and background, we start venturing into Hoop Dreams territory—city boys spend every waking hour trying to get into schools that breathe basketball skills and fine coaching, just so they can get a shot at the pros or a college scholarship.
Wherever the data leads, there is definitely some science in the numbers of small-town athletes. But I think we like to think there’s a lot of magic, too. At least that’s what the movies tell us.
*To be fair, many of them are of Samoan descent, and reside in the mainland United States, Hawaii, and elsewhere.
On the heels of the Little League World Series, The Columbus Dispatch has published an interesting, in-depth, five-day series on the perils of youth sports. The series, complete with stories, interactive data, videos, and photos, details some of the problems with what has grown into a $5 billion industry. The series reveals how some young athletes are forced to play with pain despite not having fully developed bodies, how many are tempted to use supplements, how they have unrealistic dreams of playing professional sports, and how many non-profit organizations are being victimized by a lack of regulations. The series, titled “Little Leagues, Big Costs” examines some of the pitfalls of youth sport from many different angles, including financial and psychological. Click on the link below to access the series.
Outspoken White Sox manager Ozzie Guillén kicked over the cultural ant hill last week with his public commentary on how Latino baseball players aren’t getting the same treatment as Japanese players.
Does his argument have merit, or is it more of his usual verbal artillery?
“Very bad. I say, why do we have Japanese interpreters and we don’t have a Spanish one? I always say that. Why do they have that privilege and we don’t? Don’t take this wrong, but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all of these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid . . . go to the minor leagues, good luck. Good luck. And it’s always going to be like that. It’s never going to change. But that’s the way it is.
“I’m the only one to teach the Latinos about not to use [performance-enhancing drugs in the MLB]. I’m the only one and Major League Baseball doesn’t [care]. All they care about [is] how many times I argue with the umpires, what I can say to the media. But I’m the only one in baseball to come up to the Latino kids and say not to use this and I don’t get any credit for that. They look at you and say, ‘Good for you, Ozzie.’” I did it for the Latino kids . . . I want to help those kids.”
He stated that his rhetoric was “filtered” by the media, saying they isolated his specific comments on the plight of the Latino baseball player. However, his words come at a time when the Federal Government is challenging the state of Arizona in court over immigration and profiling issues; when congressmen and women are trying to change the 14th Amendment of the Constitution in order to eliminate “dump and run” babies born in the United States by immigrant parents; and when there is an overall sense of tension between many Latino and non-Hispanic citizens of this country.
“Sport is an important barometer of assumptions about ‘race,’ ethnicity, and Aboriginality,” wrote Daryl Adair in his introduction to the book Sport, “Race,” Ethnicity, and Aboriginality: Narratives of Difference and Diversity. His comments are given particular meaning in this instance, where Guillén, the first Latino manager to win a World Series, is one man in a league where 30% of the players and managers call themselves Latino—a rarity in the professional sporting world.
What about Guillén’s comments? Do they have merit? Horacio Ruiz, the leading editor and a contributor to Richard Lapchick’s book, 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport, said, “I don’t completely agree with what he is saying, but I think he does bring up many valid points and has gotten the baseball community to talk about an issue that needs more attention.” Read the rest of this entry »