Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sport, fashion and modern Britain

Two links.

(1) Benjamin Markovits, in the London Review of Books, writing about 'sport' (although he really means 'games'). It's at least a couple of different articles stuck together.

First, there is the account of an American seeing changes to Britain over the years, starting with his childhood. The way it used to be: "the measure of character, in Britain, was your capacity to put up with something; in America, it was your ability to sort it out". His idea is that Britain has changed, and that we see the signs of that change in sport. In particular, we now win things from time to time. By the time of the 2012 Olympics, we weren't surprised to see ourselves winning things. It's a bit of a reminder of the 'how Thatcher changed Britain' articles that swarmed across the media when Lady Thatcher died, but much more interesting than those tended to be. Could someone who wasn't, at least in part, a foreigner safely write this, for example: "the [2012 Olympic] games themselves bore out the virtues people once liked to associate with the British Empire: large-scale, good-natured efficiency". That's not a bad description of the opening ceremony, or of the hordes of friendly volunteers. But how does the Empire come into that?

Second, he introduces Moneyball and the role of data in sport and then looks at cricket. (From his starting point, the next step should have been an elegy for the decline of the traditional England batting collapse. Good of him to take it in a different direction.) But it turns out that Moneyball-style data techniques aren't really relevant to cricket. The real link between Moneyball and English sport is that, just as in baseball, success on the field/pitch is measurable but on the sidelines it isn't: "If you pay clubs enough to win games, they will eventually put out the best team possible, regardless of race. It’s no coincidence that Premiership football, the British sport which has by several orders of magnitude the most money behind it, is also the most integrated. But even in the Premiership there’s been an almost total failure to integrate the coaching fraternity; as Michael Lewis points out, the game is a ruthlessly effective machine for sifting talent, but there is almost no level of incompetence, or worse, that clubs won’t tolerate off the field of play. There is one black manager in the Premiership and only five in England’s entire professional game." Very interesting point, but you will have spotted that we are not talking about cricket any more.

Then there is an embryonic article about the role of race in cricket (and how many books have been written on that subject?) and on Markovits' own experience of basketball. So, as a piece, a bit of a cut-and-shut, but interesting in each of its bits.

(2) "Is Theresa May turning into Cara Delevingne?" When the British tabloid press finally sinks into oblivion, unable to bear the burdens of laws new and old, it is questions like that one that we will miss. So don't miss the chance to see the Daily Mail's remarkably convincing attempt to make this a plausible one.

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