Israeli Thought Crimes

This isn’t surprising:

Israel Folau’s contract has been terminated by Rugby Australia after he said “hell awaits” gay people in a social media post.

The Waratahs full-back, 30, was sacked in April but requested a hearing, which was heard by a three-person panel.

They found him guilty of a “high level breach” of RA’s player code of conduct and have upheld the dismissal.

It’s not the first time Folau has got into trouble for expressing views consistent with his unapproved and unprotected religion.

The fundamentalist Christian posted a banner on his Instagram account in April that read: “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you.”

This is another example of tolerance and diversity only extending as far as government-approved opinions. Note that Folau is not demanding homosexuals be punished, nor is he refusing to play with them. Instead, he is expressing his religious views that homosexuality is a sin for which they will ultimately pay in the afterlife. A charitable interpretation is he’s not even being malicious, he genuinely fears for such people and wants to save them. His opinions on the fate of homosexuals are derived directly from his religion, which in theory he has the freedom to practice. But as far as Rugby Australia are concerned, he’s free to practice Christianity provided he doesn’t pass remarks on what that entails. This doesn’t sound like an organisation which embraces diversity or practices tolerance.

The other daft thing is Heaven and Hell are religious concepts, and Folau is clearly using the term “hell” in it’s religious context here. So unless you’re religious like Folau, the whole idea of Hell ought to be meaningless. In which case what’s the problem? Homosexuals seem to be taking offence that Folau is condemning them to a fate in an afterlife they don’t themselves believe in. They might as well fret about stepping on cracks in the pavement.

Rugby Australia is a foundation member of Pride in Sport Index (PSI), which is a sporting inclusion programme in Australia set up to help sporting organisations with the inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

And to the exclusion of practicing Christians whose views have brought no problems whatsoever to the game (unless you count Michael Jones refusing to play on Sundays).

“We commend Rugby Australia, as well as New South Wales Rugby Union, for their leadership and courage throughout this process,” said PSI co-founder Andrew Purchas.

Chucking outspoken Christians under the bus to appease the gay lobby is hardly courageous. What would have been really courageous is for Rugby Australia to state that Folau is entitled to practice his religion and express the views derived from it on his social media platforms.

“Their swift and decisive actions shows that homophobic and transphobic discrimination is not acceptable in sport and individuals – irrespective of their social or professional stature – will be held accountable for their words and actions.”

Held accountable for their actions, eh? Funny, these are the precise sentiments which have just got Folau fired. What we’re seeing here is new quasi-religious dogma pushing out the old. Only Christian societies had a 2,000 year run. How long do you think modern society will last in its current guise?


Ascension Day

On Sunday I binge-watched two documentaries about “big wall” climbing in the Yosemite Valley. One appeared on my Netflix feed and I wondered if it was the one discussed on a recent Joe Rogan podcast; when I looked and it wasn’t, I decided I’d just watch them both.

The first was The Dawn Wall, which concerns the first free-climbing ascent of the so-named face of El Capitan which is basically 3,000 feet of smooth granite with almost nothing to hold on to. The reason nobody had done this before is because many thought it impossible, but a phenomenally gifted climber by the name of Tommy Caldwell and his partner Kevin Jorgeson attempted it in 2015, inadvertently becoming a media sensation in the process. There are certain elements which make the story great. One section of the ascent involves a lateral climb over a stretch of rock which is particularly barren in terms of places to stand and things to hold on to. At first glance it just looks like a smooth slab of rock the size of a city block but on closer inspection there are tiny protrusions about half a centimetre in size, which Caldwell shows is quite enough to hang off in a pinch. When he completes the section, veteran climbers can scarcely believe it. What makes it even more amazing is Caldwell is missing the index finger on his left hand thanks to a circular saw accident, something everyone thought would end his career as a professional climber. The trouble is, Jorgeson needs to complete the section as well and try as he might, he can’t. Caldwell waits but after several days – the two lived on the cliff for 19 days  – he decides his own quest is in jeopardy and so continues alone. He makes considerable progress and is only a few days from the top when he decides he doesn’t want to leave his partner, so goes back down and tells Jorgeson he’ll wait as long as he has to. I’ve got to say, when Jorgeson finally completes the section I was punching the air and yelling. Happily, the two reach the top and enter climbing folklore.

A fascinating episode of Caldwell’s life occurred in August 2000 when he was just 16. He was climbing in Kyrgyzstan with some other American youngsters (one of whom he would later marry) when they got kidnapped by Islamic militants at war with the government. They were marched aimlessly through the mountains for 6 days until their captors either dropped out or were killed in skirmishes by government troops, leaving just one left. They hatched a plan and when a chance came up, Caldwell crept up behind him and sent him headlong over a cliff. They then found their way to an army base and were rescued. This had a profound effect on Caldwell (as you’d expect) and his personality changed, driving him even harder towards climbing. Surprisingly, the bloke he shoved off the cliff survived. I’d never heard this story before, being wholly uninterested in Central Asia when it occurred, so found it intriguing.

The second documentary was called Free Solo, about the ascent of El Capitan by an astonishing young climber called Alex Honnold. Free solo climbing is when you climb with no ropes for protection, just you, a pair of shoes, and a chalk bag. Nobody had ever solo climbed El Capitan before because most people thought any attempt suicidal, but Honnold mans up and does it accompanied by an exceptionally talented film crew led by one Jimmy Chin. There are moments in the film which had me covering my eyes with my forearm and shouting “Get down off there man, get down!” I guarantee you’ll have sweaty palms right up until Honnold pops over the final ledge and walks up to the crowd waiting on top. The storyline of Free Solo isn’t as good as The Dawn Wall, but it’s probably a better spectacle.

If you’re into climbing, or like me you just like watching people doing extreme stuff in mountains, you should watch them both. I’ll never be a rock climber or a mountaineer but I do like hiking, and when I finally hauled myself off the sofa I looked out my window at La Tournette and thought it was high time I trudged up it. So that’s the plan once the snow melts. I doubt they’ll make a documentary about it, though.


He giveth, but cannot taketh

Thin-skinned cricket cheat David Warner is back in the news again:

Former Australia vice-captain David Warner walked off the field in protest while batting in a grade cricket match, in what Cricket Australia has described as a “sledging incident”.

The batsman was playing for club side Randwick-Petersham and decided to leave the field when he was unbeaten on 35.

Opponents Western Suburbs allowed him to return and he went on to score 157.

What’s interesting is who the spat was with:

Cricket Australia says it understands the player involved was Jason Hughes, brother of former Australia Test player Phillip Hughes, but has not given any details of the sledging, other that it turned “personal” and “nasty”.

In the immediate aftermath of Hughes’ death, Warner was seen as one of his closest friends and, along with Michael Clarke, architect of what became Australia’s Diana moment. It would be interesting to see whether this latest incident is just some on-field stuff or whether there’s a bit more to it.

Now last time Warner was on the back foot he hid behind his wife, and here she is again taking up the cudgels on his behalf:

Candice Warner would not reveal the nature of the remarks allegedly made by Jason Hughes, the brother of the late Phillip Hughes, but said they had crossed the line from sledging to abuse.

Ah yes, the infamous line, which only Australian players are qualified to see.

Warner is known in the international arena as one of the biggest sledgers in the game but Candice Warner defended her husband’s reaction.

“Everyone has their own opinion but I think there’s a difference between sledging and abuse,” she said.

Yes, the difference being when high-profile Australians do it it’s sledging, for everyone else it’s abuse.

“I’m not going to go into what was said yesterday but yesterday went too far.”

But it’s all part of the game, innit? He should learn to tuffen up, hey?

“It was hurtful, it was very hurtful.

Bless. I hope Jonathan Trott was at the ground.


Transworld Sport

This story amused me:

A biological male who identifies as a transgender woman won a women’s world championship cycling event on Sunday.

Rachel McKinnon, a professor at the College of Charleston, won the women’s sprint 35-39 age bracket at the 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Los Angeles.

McKinnon, representing Canada, bested Carolien Van Herrikhuyzen of the Netherlands and American cyclist Jennifer Wagner to take home the gold.

Here’s a pic:

Bit of a difference in physiques, eh? Now we’ve seen similar madness before: a male weightlifter from New Zealand competed in the women’s categories and unsurprisingly cleaned up:

The 39-year-old lifted 123kg in the snatch discipline, and then produced a clean-and-jerk lift of 145kg for a 268kg total – 19kg better than the second-placed competitor.

And we also had Fallon Fox, a biological male fighting in the female category of mixed martial arts, inflicting serious damage on his opponents, some of whom were not aware their opponent was a man. There’s also the

Now we’re obviously down the rabbit hold of gender insanity here, but let’s step back a minute and look at this:

Rachel McKinnon, a professor at the College of Charleston, won the women’s sprint 35-39 age bracket…

Okay, nobody gives a damn about women’s sprint cycling in the 35-39 age bracket, relatively speaking. It’s a shame for the real women who trained hard only to be beaten by a man, but cycling at this level is at best a hobby. I expect outside family members and a few die-hard cyclists who were there for other events, nobody even watched this race. Weighlifting is no more popular than cycling, but the Kiwi bloke who won was at least participating in a top-tier event. Similarly, Fallon Fox’s last professional MMA fight was in 2014, before the sport was as popular as it is now.

My point is I reckon this nonsense will be stopped dead in its tracks as soon as trans women start trying to compete in women’s sports in events which draw reasonable crowds of serious fans and there is money at stake. There is no way the MMA is going to put a man in to fight a woman on the undercard of a fight like McGregor v Nurmagomedov, for example. Similarly, if a trans woman tried playing tennis at Wimbledon, they’d be told to sod off in no uncertain terms. The paying public simply wouldn’t tolerate seeing a bad male tennis player thrash the top female stars into 6-0 6-0 losses.

The closest we’ve come to allowing trans women to participate in popular events (and I use that term loosely) is in Australia’s AFL, and they’re approaching it gingerly indeed. In August this year, after much humming and hawing, they came out with this:

The AFL has put forward an AFL transgender policy proposal at a meeting on Wednesday between the AFL and transgender athletes that would see potential AFLW footballers required to have blood testosterone levels maintained below five nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) for 24 months.

Which is a fudge, because other attributes like muscle mass, height, and lung capacity will remain very much male, but at least they’re applying some criteria. So my guess is this topic will provide amusing stories every now and again, and it really does suck for the genuine females who deserve gold medals in fringe sports which will now be denied them, but it won’t go any further than that.


Geraint Thomas

Now I knew that Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton went to school together, but I didn’t know this:

In pride of place on a corridor wall at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff can be found the most extraordinary collection of sporting memorabilia. There are medals, trophies and awards won by former pupils in everything from football, rugby, cricket and hockey to lawn bowls. There is a framed shirt worn by the captain of the British and Irish Lions, another by a serial winner of the Champions League, another by a Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

But even among such a jostling display of excellence, prominent space will be found should Geraint Thomas, another old boy, this weekend be awarded the most illustrious of all sporting outfits: the winner’s top from the Tour de France.

Not in the same year, though:

Thirteen pupils in one year group alone achieved international sporting recognition.

“It was crazy when you think about it,” says Kear of Whitchurch’s output. “I was in the same year as Sam Warburton and Gareth Bale. And Sam and I played in the same rugby team as Tom Maynard [the England Lions cricketer who died in tragic circumstances in 2012]. That was the team that won the Welsh Schools Cup.”

Thomas was in the year ahead of that group, already earmarked while at school as a cycling prodigy.

With luck, Geraint Thomas will finish today’s stage having retained the yellow jersey, with tomorrow’s procession into Paris a mere formality. I think I might have to wander up to the Arc de Triomphe and wave my Welsh flag as he goes by, don’t you?


France Champions!

Well the French might not be able to organise the colours of their flag on a fly past, but they can win a world cup final. Croatia started brightly and put considerable pressure on France, but their defence held up and they never looked like losing control; they simply remained patient and took their chances. Sure they had some luck, but it’s hard to argue with 4-2. For all those who think France may not have deserved it, consider that they were also the beaten finalists of the Euro 2016 tournament. Consistency is a big factor in winning trophies, and France seems to have mastered it.

It was nice to see Didier Deschamps join Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer in the small club of men who have won the FIFA World Cup both as a player and a coach. I still remember Deschamps lifting the trophy in 1998, having captained the side throughout the tournament. Good for him.

It wasn’t so nice to wake up this morning to discover the good-natured celebrations which took place in Paris after the game had turned into full-on riots with widespread looting. It made me glad I wasn’t there. Whereas it might be tempting to blame it all on African or North African minorities, I suspect there were others involved too. Like many European cities these days, Paris seems to have a lot of people who seek to destroy it given the slightest opportunity – and that includes those who have allowed the situation to get so bad.

There is much of this sort of sentiment going around Twitter this morning:

People made similar remarks when France won in 1998, although few attribute the footballing success of Italy, Spain, or Portugal to their teams’ relative homogeneity. The point they’re trying to make is immigration is good, but it ought to be noted that these players or their forebears came to France solely because that’s who colonised them a century or two ago. The French team is therefore as much an advert for colonisation as immigration; I’d prefer it if we just called them French and didn’t concern ourselves with their skin colour. As someone has noted:

Indeed. Well done France, I’m happy for you all. It’s just a shame about the rioting.


Germany’s Exit

Well, I’m still enjoying this world cup, even if the knockout stage kickoff times in Thailand are 9pm and 1am respectively. France v Argentina was one hell of a match, and if Kylian Mbappé keeps playing like that France are in with a good shot of winning the whole thing; Argentina never looked like serious contenders, only scraping through the group stages. Portugal were a disappointment, deservedly beaten by a faster and more hungry Uruguay. The pass which Edison Cavani sent across field to Luis Suárez was sublime, as was his header into the back of the net a few seconds later. Unfortunately it looks as though Cavani will miss the quarter final with France through injury, otherwise it would be a very close game to call. They may still do it.

I was very pleased with Russia knocking out Spain. Not only because of my connections with Russia, but because Spain really were the overwhelming favourites and there was something poetic about Russia pulling off such a victory in Moscow. Also, it generated some amusing memes, my favourite being this one:

So England play tonight with a chance to book a quarter final spot with Argentina, Portugal, Spain, and Germany out of competition and very nearly Croatia and Belgium too. I felt sorry for the Japanese last night, but that winning goal from Belgium was superb.

By far the most amusing sight for me this world cup was seeing Korea’s Song Heung-min tap the ball into an empty German net while Manuel Neuer was up in the opposition half. Oh boy did I laugh. But I believe Germany’s premature and ungraceful exit is related to something I’ve written about before on here:

It has long been my opinion that the Bundesliga is run for the benefit of Bayern Munich and the national football team, whereby anyone who shows a smidgen of talent in the other clubs is snapped up by Bayern Munich who immediately trebles the player’s wages.  Other clubs have almost no chance of competing unless they could stumble upon a few youngsters and assemble a side that could be held together long enough to win before the bigger clubs came and swiped their best players, as Klopp managed to do.  As a method of winning the World Cup it proved successful as Bayern Munich players formed the core of the German team that won in Brazil in 2014, but I am doubtful that it benefit the long term health of German football.

Germany draws heavily from Bayern Munich when selecting its national team, the Bavarian club providing 6 of the starting 11 in their opening game against Mexico. The trouble is, Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga this season by 21 points. In the Champions League they got relatively easy draws before coming up against Real Madrid in the semi finals who made short work of them. In other words, Bayern Munich – whose players form the core of the German national team – had seen very little by way of proper opposition all season, and perhaps even longer. When some of these players turned up at the world cup they may well have only played a handful of genuinely tough matches against world class players in the last two seasons. This makes the decision to cut Man City’s Leroy Sane from the squad all the more baffling. Little wonder they struggled against the likes of Mexico, Sweden, and Korea, and crashed out in the group stages.


Youthful Looks

I’m no fan of Australia’s David Pocock, but this is pretty cool:

But what really amused me was this comment:

This is meant as a dig at Israel Folau for his anti-gay remarks. So how’s old Izzy looking these days?

Oh. That link between homophobia and ugliness is looking a little tenuous, isn’t it?


2018 FIFA World Cup Revisited

I might have to take back what I said earlier about the FIFA World Cup currently underway in Russia. I’d feared it would be a dreary affair but, while the standard of football hasn’t been that high, the games have certainly been good. Portugal against Spain was a cracker, with Ronaldo’s equaliser as sublime a free-kick as you’ll see. Iran gave Spain a good run, Morocco ran them ragged last night, and Iran versus Portugal was good albeit ruined by the VAR. I watched Sweden versus Germany in a pub with a solitary German and everyone else supporting Sweden; it pains me to say it, but Tony Kroos’ last minute goal was wonderful, and for that alone they deserved the win.

It’s been most amusing to watch Argentina struggle against Iceland and then get thrashed by Croatia, who are looking good. Messi has long been accused of not playing well for his country and thus far in this tournament he’s been absent. France haven’t looked very impressive, but they’ve done enough and who knows what they can pull out of the bag? England have got off to a good start, and while people are downplaying their 6-1 thrashing of Panama, one must remember England traditionally struggled against the minnows and they can only play the team in front of them. I’ll miss the game against Belgium because I’ve stupidly booked myself on a flight to Thailand; even more stupidly I’d booked the return flight during the final, so I’ve had to re-book it for the next day at no small expense. Grrrr.

Russia seems to be doing a good job of hosting the tournament with visitors being rather surprised to find happy, welcoming people interested in having fun instead of granite-faced thugs with shaved heads waiting to slaughter LGBTs in the streets. Not for the first time have foreigners discovered individual Russians are a lot different from how they are collectively portrayed.

So in hindsight I was wrong: this tournament has been highly entertaining so far, and I look forward to the rest of it.


2018 FIFA World Cup

So the FIFA World Cup kicks off today in Russia, which will probably be as much about how awfully backward and racist the Russians are as it will be about football, at least where the media is concerned. From what I’ve read so far, people seem to think the bulk of travelling football fans will be on the LGBT spectrum and risking their lives as roaming bands of Cossacks hunt them down. There has already been criticism from gay rights groups that Liverpool’s Egyptian star Mohammed Salah posed for photos with Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, who has a nasty reputation that is thoroughly deserved. If Salah had the faintest idea who Kadyrov was, or where Chechnya was, I’d be amazed.

For my part, I’m finding it hard to get excited about this world cup. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but international football tournaments don’t hold the same excitement for me as they once did. I don’t remember too much about Mexico ’86 or Italia ’90 but I know they were massive events. USA ’94 I remember better and it was pretty good, and France ’98 was magnificent. I was a keen follower of British and European football in the year before France ’98, and I was desperately looking forward to whole rosters of star players clashing. Just look at the lineup for the Netherlands for example, and that  was just one country.

Nowadays, I feel there’s a dearth of superstar players to look out for, and no massive clash of teams bursting with talent. The last seriously talented side to take part in the World Cup or Euros was the great Spanish team from 2008-12, and they clobbered everyone. Since then, it’s all been mediocre sides with the occasional star player who may or may not show up, or surprise packages like Uruguay in 2010 or Wales and Iceland in 2016. The last Euro competition was possibly the worst in terms of football quality I can remember. There were very few decent players: the standout player in one of the best sides was Dimitri Payet of France, a journeyman at West Ham who was sold to Marseille a year later. Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and the other superstars of the national leagues did very little of note, and Christiano Ronaldo was best known for his coming off injured in the final amid floods of tears and miraculously turning into the coach for the last 20 minutes of the game. The final was a dreary affair, with the solitary goal being scored by Portugal’s Eder who was a bit-part player for Swansea City. He didn’t even make it in the starting XI when they played West Brom in a cup match earlier in the season, yet there he was deciding the outcome of the second biggest international football tournament on the planet. This wasn’t a repeat of the Greek unknowns winning in 2004, it was simply there isn’t much talent around. Who are we all supposed to watch this time around? Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar? Who else? Harry Kane? Hardly.

I’d had the idea international football was on the decline for a while, but it was confirmed in Euro 2016 when Croatia (who had beaten Spain in the group stage) played Portugal in the first knockout round. It was set up to be a very good match but as I listened while driving from Exeter to Basingstoke on my way back to Dover and then France, it was clear neither team really wanted to be there. It was absolutely dire, and the commentators were scathing, their frustration boiling over. As they put it, neither side showed any interest in playing football, let alone winning, over the full 90 minutes plus 30 of extra time. I thought the same when I saw later games, including the final. There was nothing like the determination, passion, and desire I saw in France ’98 or Italia ’90, or the Euros in 2000. Just a bunch of players who looked as though they’d been roped into doing something they didn’t really want to.

My theory is players are far more individualistic these days, being multi-millionaires in a way that all but the top stars of France ’98 could only have dreamed of. Their primary loyalty is to themselves and their focus is on their bank accounts, sponsorship deals, and whatever their agents tell them. Most of their money comes from their club so they put in considerable efforts in the league, although some don’t even bother doing that. So while I think clubs have managed to retain loyalty from players and buy their efforts, the national teams have been less successful. Does playing for their country mean much to these players any more? Does winning? I don’t know. What I can say is a lot of players don’t seem interested in playing internationals, perhaps fearing injury which will cost them a domestic season or perhaps a whole career. Are you really going to go 100% into tackles in a group game against a third-string side and risk an injury which could cost you tens of millions in wages? Probably not.

But we’ll see. Maybe this tournament in Russia will prove to be every bit as exciting as France ’98 or Mexico ’86 complete with titanic clashes in the final knockout stages, but I doubt it. I think it’ll be a dreary affair like Euro 2016 which, when it ends, will have people asking “What did I just watch?”