Monday 27 July 2009

3 years and counting before the Olympics begin!

The London 2012 Olympics begin in exactly 3 years time today. Even though it still seems like some way off, it only feels like yesterday when London was awarded the games and that was back in 2005, so things really are getting close now. I still find it amazing that the Olympics will actually be taking place on my own doorstep.

As someone who lives in Stratford East London, I’m lucky enough to see the Olympic site everyday on my way to work. It’s really exciting to see the stadium and surrounding area slowly develop.

As it's exactly 3 years before the start of the Games there’s a been a whole load of media coverage today, and as usual there’s been huge focus on what sort of legacy the games will bring.

When it comes to the Olympics I’m definitely one of the optimists. It’s an incredible once in lifetime opportunity for the city of London and the whole of the country to stage such an event.

I found it quite annoying during the Beijing games last year when some people constantly moaned that we could never match what the Chinese had done, and that we would struggle to put on a decent show particularly in the current economic climate.

I could never understand why we even bothered trying to compare ourselves with the Chinese. We’re not a totalitarian government that can spend 30 billion on the Games whilst totally ignoring the views of the tax paying population. I have every confidence that we will put on a great and spectacular show that will be unique to us, and different from recent Olympics such as Beijing, Athens, and Sydney.

Then there’s the issue of costs. Of course spending up to 9.3 billion pounds on two weeks of sporting events is incredibly expensive, but this is why producing a significant and successful legacy to the Games is so important. If we get the legacy right then the costs should be worth it.

My own personal views is that the Olympics must produce a legacy whereby more of the population are encouraged and inspired to take up and participate in sporting activities particularly at a grass roots level, this is something which Sport England is responsible for.

Critics are already claiming that since London was awarded the games the numbers of people taking up sporting activity has hardly increased, and the Games are therefore already failing to achieve one of the key objectives set out when London won the bid in 2005.

For me a legacy is something that occurs after the event so I don’t think we should be too critical when the Games haven’t even taken place yet. Surely the best time to judge should be 3 to 4 years after the event.

From a public health perspective, increasing the numbers of people taking part in some form of sporting activity can only be a good thing in terms of tackling rising obesity levels in this country, and other health problems caused due to poor diet and lifestyle. Surely we would save money in terms of the amount of money needed by the NHS to tackle such problems.

In addition to this, participating in sports, teaches children and young adults important life skills and disciplines, which can be transferred into everyday life. I think that in the past particularly in schools, competing in sports has been dismissed as something that isn’t really that serious or worthwhile, in comparison to academic studies; but many of the skills and attributes needed to become successful in any sport are the same attributes required for people to make a success of their own lives.

The other main area in terms of the Olympic legacy is that of the venues, especially the main Olympic stadium. I’m all in favour of reducing the size of the stadium after the Games so that it can be used for something else, as the last thing we want is a ‘White Elephant’ This is what happened with the Millennium Dome before it was re-branded as the 02 Arena.

The Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell is now saying that the Olympic Park could become a tourist venue after 2012, but I can’t think of what type of attraction could be put in place in order to draw in tourists. As a major world city London already has a host of attractions for people to visit. It will take something quite major to get people to visit the area again after the Games.

Today I read reports that perhaps the stadium wouldn’t be reduced in size at all. Instead it could be used as part of any successful World Cup bid for 2018. We’ve already got enough football grounds as it is for a World Cup, and London has got Wembley and Arsenal’s Emirates stadium which have capacities of over 60,000.

One idea that I heard which I thought was totally unrealistic was that the stadium could be used to hold sporting events such as cricket, with big 20/20 games and the Ashes being potential events.

You may very well get over 50,000 people watching the Ashes in this country, but we only play Australia once every 4 years. would a Test series against the likes of New Zealand or Sri Lanka attract seriously huge crowds? I don’t think so. I think we should just stick to the original plan of reducing the stadium size down to about 20-25,000 seats for a major athletics stadium.

I’m still very optimistic about things, but it does seem that there is no real consensus on what a successful legacy should look like or how we will achieve it. I think the best thing is to try and keep our objectives realistic and within budget and hopefully we can avoid any future disappointments.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Anyone heard of Spotify?

I discovered a new online music service this week called Spotify, after reading an article about it in the London Evening Standard. It’s similar to an online radio station in that it streamlines music from different musical genres, but you can also listen to the back catalogues of various artists as well as creating your own music play lists.

Two Swedish entrepreneurs Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon based in Stockholm set up the company. They’re currently causing a big stir within the internet business community as Spotify is seen as one of the most promising start up businesses in years.

Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon - founders of Spotify

Spotify has over 6 million tracks for subscribers to listen to. You can listen in two different ways. You can either listen for free, but if you do so it means you have to listen to adverts between songs. Alternatively you can pay a monthly subscription of £9.99 and listen to music advert free and with better quality music in terms of the audio sound.

I’ve downloaded the service onto my laptop this week, and I’ve been checking it out over the last couple of days. So far it does look like quite a good service, and I can see it possibly becoming a rival to iTunes.

Unlike iTunes where you can listen to 30 seconds of an artist’s track before deciding whether you want buy it by downloading; on Spotify you can listen to any song in full if it’s in their library.

Apparently following Michael Jackson’s death a few weeks ago, users of Spotify listened to his songs on the site, more than 10 million times within a 20-hour period! Impressive stuff!

Funnily enough when Jackson died I did the same thing but listened to a lot of his old tunes on You Tube, which is where I listen to a lot of music. In many ways I’ve used You Tube for the same function as people are using Spotify.

The thing is, for all the hype that Spotify seems to be getting, I can’t think of one reason why I should upgrade to the £9.99 monthly subscription fee. From what I can tell this seems to be the great challenge that Spotify faces. I’ve read figures saying that they’ve got over 2 million listeners, but so far no figures have been released to show how many of these people have upgraded to the subscription service.

The company is looking to expand from its Western European market and move into the America market with the aim of making a profit by the end of the year. One area, that they’re looking at moving into, and one which could prove crucial in the long-term success of the company, is that of launching a mobile phone version of the service. At the moment you can’t download any music from Spotify, so you can’t listen to music when you’re out and about like you can with an iTunes and an iPod

If Spotify does prove to be a long term success and more people subscribe to a monthly subscription, it means that the way people listen to music will again be evolving and changing in quite a radical way.

It could potentially mean in future, that some people will never actually buy or own their own music in the traditional sense again. Instead they’d essentially be renting their music collection. The only access they'd have in listening to their favourite artists would be by paying a monthly subscription.

As somebody who’s always bought music, and continues to do so (I’ve never illegally downloaded a track in my life) I don’t really like this idea at all! Maybe my attitude is too ‘old skool’ but I still like having a physical copy of a record.

I know some people will read this and think I’m living in the past, but even though I do download tracks, there are still loads of records by artists that I would rather own in the physical form of a CD.

Perhaps it’s a generational thing. If I was 15 years old today and just getting into music I’m sure I wouldn’t feel it necessary to physically own records, I’d probably be happy listening to music on my mobile whilst annoying people on the back of the bus! But for me being into music is still about going out and buying records.

I think for the time being I will use Spotify, but only as a way of checking out artists and tracks I haven’t previously heard before or been familiar with. One thing I would say is that the world of internet and dotcom businesses does seem to be very faddish, people are always looking for the next big thing, there always seems to be a lot of hype surrounding new business ventures, so we’ll just have wait and see how things develop with Spotify.

Monday 20 July 2009

Good words Obama, but don't forget your role!

Last week Barack Obama gave his first major speech on race during his address to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). During his speech he urged young black people to aspire to greater things then just being sports stars and rap artists, whilst reminding black parents of the role they have in providing their children with the best opportunities possible. I couldn’t agree more with what he had to say, but as always with such matters, things are more complicated then first appear.

Since Obama first emerged as a serious presidential candidate, one of his great skills and successes has been the way that he's shown himself to be a President for all Americans regardless of their race.

What’s interesting is that many people would assume that African Americans would clearly have been the first people to endorse him, but it’s now almost forgotten that to begin with, many African Americans were slightly wary of him. They didn’t know who he was, what he stood for or where he'd come from. It was Hilary and not Obama who most African Americans supported at the very beginning of the last Presidential race. Obama had quite a battle to convince Black America that he was one of them!

I was really interested in hearing about the speech he gave to the NAACP, as it was the first time since he became President that I thought ‘Here is a black president addressing the concerns of the black community’

At times I've almost forgotten that we now have a ‘black’ American President. I’ve just seen him as being a president full stop, and I think this has been brilliant as it’s shown that the position he's in and the challenges he’s dealing with have been more important than his colour.

Returning back to his speech last week, he talked about how there can be ‘no excuses’ for black underachievement and although the ‘pain of discrimination’ was still felt there was probably less discrimination in America than ever before.

I agree with all these sentiments, as I’m sure all those attending the speech did. But in many ways he’s already preaching to the converted.

I was always fortunate that growing up I had parents who had high expectations and aspirations for both me and my sister, despite coming from modest backgrounds themselves.

Yes I was told that there was racism and discrimination out there, but it was no reason for me to fail or underachieve at school or in life generally. I always remember at junior school we had weekly spelling tests which I was awful at.

I would usually get 2 or 3 out of 20. After hearing about this at parents evening, my mom could see no reason why I should be getting such bad marks, and I was forced to work harder on my spelling. Within a few weeks I was soon getting 15 and 16s out of 20. To this day getting my spelling right means so much to me. But that story reminds me that with high expectations there were no reasons for failure.

I was lucky enough to grow up feeling I could have a go at being whatever I wanted. Why should I restrict or limit myself in ambition because I was black or working class? Growing up I was always good at sports, but there was no way my parents were going to allow me fall into that stereotype of concentrating only on sport and neglecting academic studies.

I'm sure that many in the audience addressed by Obama could have spoken about similar attitudes and experiences, which is great if you come from a background of high aspirations, especially if you’re in or from a successful middle class background.

But how do you raise those aspirations for individuals from truly disadvantaged backgrounds, who are struggling economically, have no history of higher education, and live in poor housing and ill health. I don’t really think that just telling people to aim high and be positive is always enough, governments must still lend a hand.

What always strikes me with America, particularly when I’ve visited the country is just how big and successful the black middle class is. African Americans occupy positions in American society that are almost unthinkable for black people in the UK.

Despite this, there are still many African Americans living in total poverty. I remember back in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, it was quite shocking for the rest of the world to see how the destruction caused by the hurricane revealed a poverty stricken black under-class abandoned by the US government.

My parents visited New Orleans 10 years ago, my dad mentioned to me how shocked he was to see some of the conditions that African Americans were living in. In his own words he thought it was worse than what he experienced growing up in Jamaica during the 1940s and 50s!

Despite agreeing with everything Obama had to say, and being someone who very much looks at what I as an individual can do for myself, or what minority communities can do for themselves, you can’t escape the fact that there are still disadvantages out there based both on class and race that affect people’s lives on a daily basis.

In today’s Guardian the journalist Gary Young wrote and interesting article in response to Obama’s speech entitled:

‘Obama should realise that segregation may be over, but exclusion lives on’

It was a good piece as it touched on both points, particularly in the form of racial discrimination and how it has changed and evolved in the last 50 years.

He highlights an incident at a private swimming club in Philadelphia which having invited a number of black and latino children to use the pool, then cancelled the arrangements after white parents started complaining.

It’s important to remind people of their own responsibilities, but for many people there’s still a limit to how much they can do for themselves, particularly in the current economic climate.

Politicians and governments shouldn’t forget this and that they need to provide the resources as well as the words in helping people achieve their goals.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Can there really be a military victory in Afghanistan?

The coverage of the war in Afghanistan has rarely been so high in the last week or so following the recent deaths of British soldiers. More British troops have now died in Afghanistan than in Iraq and unsurprisingly people are questioning the purpose of this conflict and whether our troops have the necessary resources to successfully fight this war.

The problem with Afghanistan is that it’s played second fiddle to the war in Iraq for too long. Few people really understand why British troops are fighting, and the government has failed to explain adequately what they're trying to achieve. Nor have they provided enough evidence on how our forces are progressing in their overall aims.

After the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001 US, British and NATO forces invaded Afghanistan with the aim of overthrowing the Taliban regime which had close links and had harboured a number of Al Qaeda terrorists.

It was argued that by overthrowing the Taliban and introducing a democratic government this would be major victory in the War on Terror which would prove to be vital in ensuring our future security against any further terrorist attacks.

This all made perfect sense at the time, and I still think it makes sense now, but seven and half years later we’re still fighting against the Taliban who haven’t disappeared. We’re now left wondering to ourselves are we actually achieving anything!

With so many British soldiers dying in recent weeks, the question of what are we doing over there has again risen to the top of the news agenda. This same thought occurred to me at the end of last year.

There was a British soldier who was killed just before Christmas 2008. His name was Robert Deering, he was in the same year as me at school back in my hometown of Birmingham.

He wasn’t a close friend of mine, in fact I don’t think I ever spoke to him during my time at school, but I always knew who he was, and it was understandably quite a shock when I saw his picture on the front page of the Birmingham Mail newspaper reporting that he’d been killed.

It’s not a particularly nice feeling to discover that someone you knew, who grew up in the same area as you, was now dead. Killed fighting for his country in war that you don’t really understand.

My immediate reaction was; what did he actually die for? What a waste of a life!

Whenever I speak to people about Afghanistan, I never meet anyone who believes that this war can be won. People always give examples of previous military failures by other foreign powers.

The history books speak for themselves though, as Afghanistan is like a graveyard for foreign armies stretching back over the last 2500 years; from the likes of Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the British in the 19th Century and more recently the Soviet Union in the 1980s .

What many people don’t realise, and I say this as someone who’s certainly no expert is that Afghan society is incredibly complex and difficult for many of us in the West to even understand. The idea that what can come along and impose a fully functioning Western style democracy on the country is too ambitious and unrealistic.

The country from what I can gather is made up a number of different ethnic groups and tribes controlled by various warlords. Alliances and rivalries between different groups are constantly changing.

The geography of the country makes it incredibly difficult for foreign armies to be in complete control of many areas. We’re currently hearing that there needs to be more troops deployed but during the 1980s the Soviet's had 125,000 troops in Afghanistan and were still defeated. American, British, and NATO troops combined have just under 100,000!

Following the Soviets withdrawal it was estimated in later assessments that a figure closer to 500,000 troops would have been needed for an decisive victory. Even with such numbers available the terrain of the country make any campaign a logistical nightmare in terms of supplies and communication lines for troops.

When you take this into consideration it makes an outright military win seem even more remote. In October of last year the Times quoted Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, one of the most senior military commanders in Afghanistan, as saying the war against the Taliban could not be won.

I’m beginning to think he's right, and we perhaps need to look at some sort of diplomatic political settlement to bring things to an end. The Taliban seem far too entrenched in Afghan society for US or British troops to finish them off completely.

Although I appreciate that the situation in Afghanistan and also Pakistan is quite complex and difficult to understand, it’s important for the government to constantly try and explain and demonstrate why it’s so vital that British troops are out there. It would be good to have more progress reports on what’s being achieved and objectives that the army is working towards.

In the last year or so, the most I've learnt about the conflict has come from Ross Kemp's Sky One series, in which he follows British troops in action and practically becomes a fully fledged soldier himself. Not bad for a former soap star!

I think the government along with their US counterparts, need to explain again what our objectives are, but these objectives have to be realistic and achievable. This is probably where we went wrong to begin with, by trying to be too ambitious in our aims.

We may have to do a deal with the Taliban no matter how unpleasant it might seem, but if that is a realistic requirement for bringing this war to an end then our government needs to be honest enough to admit this.

Sunday 12 July 2009

England achieve unlikely draw in first Ashes test!

What an amazing end to the first Ashes test with England claiming a draw which might as well be viewed as a win, when you take into consideration that they were staring humiliation in the face earlier today!

Having settled down to watch this morning's opening session, the early lose of a couple of England wickets made me start thinking:

'Here we go again'

Not only were we likely to lose, but lose in such a crushing fashion it would raise question marks over whether England would be truly competitive enough in this Test series. By mid afternoon I had to go out, and England were down to 5 wickets with Collingwood and Flintoff in at the crease. I thought if these 2 could stay in there's just the possibility of maybe saving the match but I didn't hold out too much hope.

After returning from my Sunday afternoon session of badminton, I got home around 6:00to find amazingly that we were still in bat, but with only 2 wickets remaining, and at least 12 overs to go before the end of play.

I thought now that I've got home we're bound to lose two wickets before the end of play! We lost another wicket whilst I had a quick shower which resulted in Monty Panesar joining Jimmy Anderson at the crease.

I found the whole thing hilarious as these two tail-enders managed to hold off the Aussie bowling attack, and carry England towards an unlikely draw!

The last half an hour reminded me why Test match cricket is so good! There's all this talk about 20/20 cricket and how it's the way forward. It seems to be promoted as a more exciting, sexier version of cricket, that will draw in the crowds, and popularise the sport in a way that Test cricket doesn't!

I do like a bit of 20/20 and enjoyed watching some of this year's World Cup, but for me if I was using a food analogy; 20/20 is like the McDonalds of cricket or maybe the equivalent of a ready made meal. It's instantly gratifying, it does a job, in that it satisfies an immediate craving!

Test match cricket on the other hand is like preparing your own meal from scratch. Yes you might have to slave away in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, sorting out the ingredients, and preparing everything for a couple of hours. But after all that time and effort, the taste and quality of the meal is so much satisfying than some ready made meal from Morrisons.

It leaves your with a more satisfying feeling knowing that it's a meal you've created. That's what Test cricket is all about! It's what made this test so good at the very end!

I thought the 2005 Ashes was a one off series that would never be repeated and it probably wont. But the signs are good for this series after this first game. Don't get me wrong, there's a place for 20/20 but lets not forget how good Test matches can be as well!

Journalism back in the gutter!

It was only a couple of weeks ago during the MP expenses revelations, that investigative journalism reminded the public of what an important role journalism can play in our society.

How quickly things have changed after it was discovered this week, that News of the World journalists used private investigators to illegally hack into the mobile phone messages of various public figures.

The daily coverage from the Telegraph was journalism at its very best exposing the greed, dishonesty and corruption of our elected politicians. This phone tapping revelation has undone all that good publicity and returned tabloid journalism back to the gutter!

To be honest it didn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that the News of the World’s had paid out over a £1 million to settle legal cases which potentially threatened to reveal evidence that some of their journalists had used criminal methods to get stories.

Last year I read a book called ‘Flat Earth News’ written by a journalist named Nick Davies. In the book Davies sets out to expose the inner workings of today’s newspaper industry.

He talks about how a lack of resources means that more and more journalists do not have the time to properly research and find stories for themselves, relying more and more on re-writing press releases that they receive.

He highlights news stories which are nothing more than media events manufactured by a growing PR industry, and speaks of how much of the information we read is routinely distorted and presented in a misleading fashion.

It was a fascinating book to read, and in one chapter entitled ‘The Dark Arts’. He exposes some of the more unsavoury aspects on how newspapers operate to find stories. The chapter begins with a quote from former Labour Party Press Secretary, Alastair Campbell that reads:

‘If the public knew the truth about the way certain sections of the media operate they would be absolutely horrified’

How very telling! The chapter goes onto describe many of the unethical ways that newspapers go about finding information on members of the public. These include, bribing members of the police and civil servants; all done through using other people, mainly private investigators.

Records of itemised telephone bills, social security records, private bank accounts have all routinely been obtained through freelance private investigators working on behalf of newspapers.

The book mentions one interesting character called Benjamin Pell, who had his own freelance business of searching through the rubbish of much of London’s top Legal Firms in order to find various information, which could be sold to the press. What’s funny is that he actually made quite a good career for a while working amongst rubbish!

Having read all this it came as little surprise to me when this phone tapping story broke. Why wouldn't private investigators be used to tap into other people's phone messages. It just seemed like a logical progression from the activities I'd already heard about.

All this has been caused due to the increasing commercial demands and pressures to sell more newspapers. These demands seem to mean that ethics go out of the window when it comes to finding exclusive stories!

In 2007 when the News of the World’s former Royal reporter Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were convicted and jailed for hacking into hundreds of mobile phone messages. It was seen as the work of a couple of rogue individuals, but having read Nick Davies’ book it just sounds like common Fleet Street practice.

This explains why I don’t have too much sympathy for Andy Coulson the Conservative Party’s Director of Communications who’s facing calls for his resignation. He was the Editor of the News of the World at the time of this phone tapping scandal, and resigned as a result of it. He claimed that he personally didn’t know that this type of activity was taking place.

I think that if he didn’t realise this was going on, then he wasn’t doing a very good job as editor, but he must have been aware of the general culture within his newspaper and the industry in general when it came to finding news stories.

What the last week has revealed is that sections of our press appear to be acting in a way that’s not too dissimilar to members of the secret police that you would find under some of the old communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

You also have to ask the questions of whether half the stories they obtain through some of these dodgy practices are even in the public interest. I don’t think they are.

I began to think that perhaps the general public must share a small proportion of the blame. Newspapers are increasingly struggling to make a profit, readership is declining, papers have falling advertising revenues. The race to find bigger and better exclusives is becoming ever more intense.

I read the News of the World every Sunday, mainly because I enjoy it and find it entertaining, but I suppose the fact that I along with so many other people keep buying it only demonstrates to newspaper editors that there is a market out there for many of their stories, no matter how dubious the methods are in finding them.

I remember when the News of the World ran the expose on the sex life of Max Mosely head of the FIA (International Automobile Federation) the governing body for motor sports which includes Formula 1. He ended up suing the paper for breach of privacy, and eventually won the case.

Much of the press interpreted the decision as a dark day for press freedom, and to be fair I tended to side more with the press. The Sun newspaper saw it as setting a dangerous precedent whereby it would provide in their words:

‘a cloak of secrecy behind which privileged and powerful people will be able to hide their criminal or immoral activities from the public,"

This certainly applies to MP expenses, but in the case of Max Mosely if I’m being honest, I’d never heard of the bloke before the story broke, and read the story as nothing more than a bit of titillating gossip!

Newspapers talk about the importance of press freedom and self regulation, but in order to remind the public of how important this is, they do need to get their own house in order and look at their own practices. The events of the last week have surely only proved that with little or no regulation, the press will sink to all manner of unethical activities to find a good story.

Monday 6 July 2009

The Lions still have a bright future

It was great to see the British and Irish Lions win the third and final test against South Africa on Saturday. It was the least they deserved following their performances over the three tests. I’ve read a few articles about the future of the Lions in the professional era. Can they be competitive? Do they have any relevance? The way the Lions have played over the last month has clearly shown that the Lions concept is still important and relevant in world rugby.

There’s always a thin line between success and failure, and the Lions could quite easily have won this series. In the first test South Africa dominated for the first 60 minutes, but the Lions played with great skill and determination to come back in a way that I didn’t expect, to almost snatch victory, eventually losing 26-21.

The second test was one of the best matches of rugby I’ve ever seen. The first 10 minutes were superb as the Lions really took the physical battle to the Boks. South Africa were incredibly lucky that Schalk Burger stayed on the pitch following his eye gouging of an opponent. Had he been sent off there’s no doubt that the Lions would have won.

To give credit to South Africa, they came back extremely well in the second half as you would expect from world champions, but I do think the key injuries to players such as Brian O’Driscoll turned the tide in South Africa’s favour, even so it was a cruel way to lose a test with South Africa scoring a winning penalty with the last kick of the game. Final score 28-25.

Although the final test meant the series was lost, there was still a huge amount to play for, and it was important that the Lions kept in tact their record of never suffering a whitewash in test series against the Springboks.

It’s obviously disappointing that the Lions lost the series, but they can take great pride in the way that they played. I do think that they can claim some sort of moral victory in the way they conducted themselves, something that unfortunately can't be said for South Africa.

There can’t be any defence in the game for eye gouging but yet South Africa’s head coach Peter de Villiers attempted to do so by claiming that Shalke Burger didn’t even deserve a yellow card. To hear such views was both embarrassing and insulting to anyone who follows the game.

If that wasn’t bad enough the whole of the Springbok team seriously misjudged popular opinion in their armband protest in the final test. Most of their team appeared to be wearing white armbands with the word ‘justice’ written on them. This was in protest against Bakkies Botha’s 2 week ban for his dangerous tackle on Adam Jones in the Second test.

It turned out that Jones dislocated his shoulder following the tackle, and will now be out of action for up to six months, so it’s difficult to understand what South Africa were actually protesting about!

There was much to admire about how the Springboks played throughout the series, but some of their words and actions reveal a lack of class and respect, which I think deflects attention from their skills and ability. They could learn a thing or two from the Lions in that respect.

Now that the Lions have shown that they can put together a team in a matter of weeks and take on the best in the world, it’s important to look at how the Lions can go forward as they’ve now lost the last three series against the Southern hemisphere teams.

For the trip to Australia in 2013, some sort of arrangement needs to be found whereby the Lions have a longer period in which to begin training together.

I suppose this is one of the great challenges of putting together a successful Lions tour, in that you’re bringing together different players from four different countries with different ways of playing and in most normal circumstances are competing against each other in Six Nations matches.

Secondly the Lions need real top quality opposition matches in order to prepare for future series. I’d be more than happy to watch the Lions play France or Italy in a warm up test, but the Southern hemisphere countries need to make sure that their provincial teams include their international players in mid-week games, something which the South African’s declined to do. I’m not sure how easy or whether it’s possible for this to happen, but they are certainly things to be looked at.

This has been a brilliant series and with some excellent rugby played by the Lions, there were a couple of performances which I wanted to highlight in particular, Bryan O’Driscoll and Jamie Roberts centre partnership in the first two tests, and also Simon Shaw in the second test.

Anyone who doubts the relevance of the Lions tours should watch this series to change their mind. I’m already looking forward to Australia in 2013. Reading in today’s Guardian, the front row forward Phil Vickery summed it up when he was quoted saying:

“Lions tours should carry on”…“It’s the most unbelievable experience you can have as a rugby player and I pray it continues.”