Friday 28 December 2012

Book Review: Books I've read this year

As we approach the end of 2012 I was thinking about some the books I've read this year.

Unusually I haven't read any fiction this year, but in a golden year for sport in the UK, it's no surprise that my reading habits have been dominated by sport.

Here's what I've read:

Gold Rush by Michael Johnson

Released to coincide with the Olympics in London, Gold Rush is part autobiography and part analysis into what makes an Olympic champion.

Michael Johnson is easily my favourite sports pundit. You can always guarantee intelligent and insightful analysis. I always feel like I'm learning something when I listen to what Johnson has to say.

This is exactly what you get with Gold Rush. Johnson talks about his own career and what it took for him to become one the greatest track and field athletes of all time.

There's also plenty of interviews with some of Britain's past and present Olympic Champions. Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington, Daley Thompson and Steve Redgrave give their thoughts and insights on what it takes to become a champion.

If that wasn't enough there's also opinions from the greatest Olympian currently competing. Mr Usain Bolt.

The Tour De France....To The Bitter End

Cycling is my new favourite sport I can't get enough of it these days.

What I like about my new found interest in cycling is that I'm a bit of a novice to the sport.

I'm in the process of learning about the cycling, the tactics, the races and the different riders.

What I also wanted to know was some of the history of The Tour - this is why To the Bitter End was so enjoyable. It covers the best of over a century of newspaper reports on the Tour from the Guardian and Observer.

I've got quickly up to speed learning about the great riders from the past, the most memorable Tours, the great controversies and what the Tour means to France and French culture.

Racing Through the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar:

I'd never heard of the British cyclist David Millar until this year. He won a stage at this year's Tour De France, the first he'd won since returning from a drugs ban.

In his post race interview he made a number of references to the fact that he was an ex 'doper' and how that shouldn't be forgotten.

There was something about him that appealed to me - he was now very anti drugs and it was clear that he wanted to do as much as he could to try and clean up the sport of cycling.

Racing Through the Dark takes you on the journey of David Millar's career starting as a young and idealistic cyclist determined to be a successful professional without resorting to the dark world of drug taking.

Unfortunately professional cycling in the late 90s and early 2000's was a dirty business. What I love about this book is it gives you a real feel for the pervasive culture of drug taking that existed in cycling at the time.

Millar spent years trying to resist this culture until pressure from his team, injuries and seeing other less talented cyclists winning finally persuaded him that he had no choice but to start doping.

With Lance Armstrong being stripped of his 7 Tour Titles this year, this book gave me a great insight into the world of professional cycling and the issue of drug taking. It certainly isn't a black and white issue, but hopefully cycling is in a better place.

Thinking Inside the Box by Louis Saha

First thing I have to say, this isn't your run of the mill footballing autobiography.

Rather than write a predictable ghost written, bog standard story about a player's career - Saha has tried something a bit different.

Critically acclaimed following its release in France this year, Saha writes a book looking at what it means to be a professional footballer playing in the Premier League.

He looks at the pressures faced by the modern day player - from expectations to perform, the riches and adulation players receive as well as the other side of endless criticisms and injuries players have to endure.

Saha looks at his own life and his upbringing in a tough Parisian suburb but what I love about this book is that he interviews many of his friends and former teammates in the football world, asking them for their thoughts and opinions of various aspects of the game.

You get opinions from the likes of Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Patrice Evra, Phil Neville, and Alex Ferguson.

Perhaps this says much about the low expectations we have of the modern day footballer, but I was hugely surprised and impressed by how well written this book is.

Saha comes across as a well rounded an intelligent guy. You don't expect many footballers to have views on celebrity culture, Press intrusion, player salaries, and race relations in France and Britain. This is what you get from Saha.

As an added twist there's also a chapter written by his wife, dismissing some of the stereotypes of WAG culture and talking about what it's really like to be a wife of a footballer.

A great book I can't recommend more highly.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Sports Personality of the Year 2012

With 10 minutes left of the phone lines being open, I decided to vote for Bradley Wiggins as my Sports Personality of the Year.

Obviously millions of others agreed with me as this year's Tour de France winner and Olympic Time Trial champion won the the award.

I always felt he had to win this year's award after his Tour de France victory this summer.

But I started to have doubts after Mo Farah's Olympic double at the Olympics - I couldn't decide who I should go for.

In the end Mo didn't even make the top three which surprised me. Andy Murray came third and Jessica Ennis was runner up.

I'm happy with my vote though. Not only is Wiggins a truly great champion, he's also a genuine personality. He's got the whole mod retro look going on, but he's also an interesting and funny character.

A very British champion.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Leveson Inquiry: Can the Press be trusted to regulate themselves?

Following this week's Leveson Inquiry report, I've decided I'm one of those people that doesn't believe legislation should be passed to ensure effective independent regulation of the Press.

Despite some appalling behaviour, we can't have government interfering in the practices of the Press no matter how small it might seem.

Clearly this form of 'statutory underpinning' doesn't mean the end of Press freedom in the UK - far from it. But it's the planting of a tiny seed of government interference, which in theory could grow into something far more sinister and dangerous in the not too distant future.

That may sound dramatic to some but this is how these things begin.

Like most people I've been shocked by some of the actions and behaviour of the Tabloid press revealed in the Leveson Inquiry.

I haven't heard anyone say the present form of regulation by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has worked. It's failed miserably! The question is: Can the Press be trusted to get it right independently?

When I think about the Press I'm reminded of the famous quote that many of you might know from the Spider Man movies:

"With great power comes great responsibility"

This sums up the British Press. It does have great power and influence and being a free press allows it to have this; but there has to be responsibility as well, which unfortunately we haven't always seen.

This is where the Press needs to get its act together to restore public confidence and prevent any future press law.

Do I think they can do it? I don't think they have a choice.

It's funny that in theory the PCC should have been an effective regulator. As part of my journalism studies, I had to learn all about its role. Even at that time I thought it was a weak and toothless organisation.

Despite everything, the British Press is something I'm actually quite proud of. It's lively, irreverent, edgy, controversial, innovative, brilliant, and terrible, all at different times.

It's the freedom and history of this country that's allowed it to be all these things. But to remain so, the Press has to acknowledge its own responsibilities and get its house in order.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic but I think they'll do it.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Confused about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? This might help

Earlier this week, one of my friends in the office at work asked me what my thoughts were on the latest troubles between Israel and Gaza.

I sighed, before trying to explain to him that I really wasn't that bothered or interested anymore with what's going on in Israel.

Any news story about the conflict just seems like Groundhog Day to me. It's like you're watching and hearing the same story over and over again.

I immediately felt guilty as it's clearly important news and innocent people are being killed and injured - but I'm sorry to say I feel fatigued by it all.

When you do watch news coverage of events, you start asking yourself 'Why are they fighting again? can someone please remind me.'

With that in mind, another friend from work forwarded me this link to a piece on the Washington Post's website, titled:

9 Questions about Israel-Gaza you were too embarrassed to ask

It's like an idiots guide to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. You may laugh at that description, but it does a great job in breaking things down and explaining the issues and history in a straight forward, simple way without dumbing things down.

I found it useful, but it got me thinking. When a news geek like me gets bored by major news stories, how does journalism keep people's attention on stories where there never seems to be a clear end?

It's tough to answer. There are so many interesting and important stories happening around the world; stories we rarely hear about in this country. Instead our news agenda is limited to certain key stories that dominate like Israel.

I'm not saying this is wrong, but it becomes a challenge to keep people interested, while you remind and explain to them why the story matters.

What do you think? Are there certain stories you feel are overplayed in the media?

Saturday 17 November 2012

Is this the greatest goal ever?

I only saw the first half of England's friendly game against Sweden on Wednesday.

I thought I'd watch Micheal Palin's series about Brazil on BBC 1 instead. Surely nothing exciting would happen in the second half in Sweden?

Well not much except a 4 goal master class from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which he topped off with this goal above.

I only saw it the day after - my first reaction was: "You are kidding me" Unbelievable.

The skill, the technique but also the audacity to try something like that. Absolutely brilliant.

But is it the best goal ever? It's one of the best I've seen, but if I was forced to chose I will always go for Maradona's second against England in the 1986 Mexico World Cup. I never get tired of seeing it.

There are so many factors that contribute to making a goal great, one factor that makes Maradona's goal my favourite was the occasion and pressure of that game.

A quarter final in the World Cup, against England. The nation that defeated Argentina in the Falklands War only four years earlier. Maradona the world's leading player at the time, embracing that role and leading his country to World Cup triumph.

Taking nothing away from Ibrahimovic's goal, the freedom and occasion helped allow him to try something so audacious - if it didn't come off, so what nobody would remember it. Thankfully it went in and we'll be raving about it for years.

Friday 16 November 2012

60 years of the charts

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the UK Singles charts.

Those of you of a certain age will remember growing up listening to the top 40 rundown on a Sunday afternoon, seeing whether your favourite songs were moving up or down the charts.

The charts was a big part of my life - sadly the singles chart just doesn't have the same romance or importance for many people as it used to.

As a kid I used to think I'd always know who was number 1; now I have no idea. I'd struggle to name a record that topped the charts this year and to be honest, I'm not that bothered.

So what were the first singles I bought. I remember buying at least 3 singles together at beginning of 1989.

I can only remember two, one was Cuddly Toy by Roachford and the second was by a group called Ten City with a song called That's the Way Love is.

Check them out below.

Roachford - Cuddly Toy

Ten City - That's The Way love Is

Sunday 11 November 2012

US Elections 2012: The changing face of America

Just like the Olympics, the US Presidential election involves months and years of build up but no sooner as it arrives it's gone for another 4 years.

There's that inevitable post election feel of what next, but it's nice to know that we've hopefully got two years of non election talk before the cycle begins again.

In the end it turned out to be a comfortable victory for Obama - certainly in terms of the electoral college vote, even if the popular vote was much closer.

What soon became clear was that Mitt Romney simply wasn't getting the votes in the key swing states he needed if he was going to become the next President. Many of those voters included Hispanics who voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

This was a theme that many political commentators talked about. Hispanics have now overtaken African Americans as the biggest ethnic minority in America and their share of the population will continue to grow.

It's all very well the Republican Party appealing to its white conservative base of voters, but it's no longer big enough to win elections.

America is changing. It's becoming a more multicultural, more Hispanic, a browner country. The challenge for the Republican Party is acknowledging and accepting this change.

Although there's been this focus on the growing importance of the Hispanic vote in America, and the shifting demographics in the country. This is a topic I've been aware about for some time.

In my recent visits to America, I've always noticed just how Hispanic America is. In the big cities Spanish is the default second language, you turn the TV on and you quickly find a number of Spanish language channels.

As an outsider I can see this, but it seems many Republicans don't want to see or accept this change.

The percentage of white voters are shrinking in the United States and it's only a matter of time before America becomes a majority minority country.

This is great for the Democrats as so many Black, Asian, and Hispanics vote Democrat - If you're a Republican this is a nightmare.

There are two ways the Republican Party can go. They can look at the results with a sense of anger and bitterness and continue appealing to its core base of white conservative voters, while resenting the changing country around them.

Alternatively they can accept what's happening and start tailoring policies that are going to speak and appeal to the changing demographics of the country.

You might think that it's obvious what they should be doing, but I'm not convinced. There are many in the Republican Party establishment who see minorities voting for Obama and the Democrats as a sign of people who only want Government handouts.

With that attitude the Republican Party are going to find themselves struggling to win a Presidential election for years to come. If that happens I won't have much sympathy for them.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Kick out Racism: Why all the expectation on football?

As much as I love football, I sometimes feel that the simple pleasure of watching 22 blokes on pitch kicking a football around is now just a small sideshow.

Following football these days is as much about listening to endless debates, the hype surrounding teams and players and controversy after controversy.

Take the racism issue that's reared its ugly head. Ideally I don't want to be talking about racism in football, but the issue refuses to go away.

Rio Ferdinand his brother Anton and the Reading striker Jason Roberts all refused to wear Kick out Racism T-shirts this week in protest at the campaign and the action taken against John Terry by the FA.

It's unfortunate that in the last 18 months we've seen a couple of high profile incidents of racism but I don't think it means we've gone backwards in tackling the problem.

This country can rightly be proud of the efforts made in tackling racism in football. We're light years ahead of countries on the continent particularly those in Eastern Europe. You only have to look at the events in Serbia this week to see that.

Nobody wants to see a return to the 70s and 80s when racism was rife both and off the pitch. There won't be a return to those days as Britain has thankfully moved on as a country.

Football is so consuming these days it feels like the fight against racism matters more in the world of football than elsewhere in society.

Football isn't perfect. If racism exists in football then it's because racism exists in society. Why should football be an exception?

Where's the high profile kick out racism campaigns in other areas of society? How about a kick out racism campaign in law, medicine, Financial services, the Media I could go on.

We know football is big business and gets huge media coverage but lets not put football on a pedestal and expect the game to be above the rest of society.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Jimmy Savile: An inquiry won't change the attitudes of the 60s and 70s

The Jimmy Savile story goes on and on and gets more embarrassing for the BBC.

With more Savile victims coming forwards with allegations of abuse, the question keeps being asked. How was this abuse allowed to continue for so long?

It's an obvious question to ask but there's an aspect of this story where people are judging the attitudes and culture of previous decades with our own 21st Century attitudes.

The world has moved on a lot since Jimmy Savile was committing his crimes.

I've been reading that his behaviour was an open secret for years. It's hard to accept that many people, members of the BBC, journalists, hospital staff, and teachers were all aware of what was going on but chose for various reasons not to go public with what Savile was up to.

In previous decades sexism was more rampant and socially accepted in a way that's unthinkable today. In the last week I've read a few comments in various papers from women who have worked in the media and who started their careers during the 60s, 70s and 80s.

By today's standards the sexist comments and the casual groping and fondling they spoke of seems shocking. You think, how could this have been tolerated. The thing is - it was tolerated and it's taken many years for attitudes to change.

This is a difficult time for the BBC and questions should rightly be asked on why a Newsnight investigation into abuse by Savile was rejected.

However, it's pointless blaming the BBC for sexual attitudes and behaviour of the 60s and 70s. Like any institution the attitudes and culture of the corporation reflected those of the day.

The BBC is a very different institution to what it was 30 - 40 years ago. The behaviour of Jimmy Savile couldn't take place today, and if it did start it would soon be uncovered.

Friday 12 October 2012

Lance Armstrong: A cheat amongst cheats

Another nail in the coffin of Lance Armstrong's reputation was delivered this week following revelations that he lead 'the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen'.

That damming verdict comes from the 1000 page report by the United States Anti-Doping Agency which looked into the practices of Armstrong and members of his former cycling team US Postal services.

It's hard to see how Armstrong has any defence left when so many former team mates have admitted their part in drug taking and have confirmed that Armstrong was actively involved in drug taking himself.

I've only recently started following cycling and didn't watch the sport closely when Armstrong was winning his 7 Tour titles.

What I've realised is that period of the late 90s and early 2000s was arguably when cycling was at its dirtiest - everyone was taking drugs!

Yes it appears that Lance Armstrong was a cheat, but was it possible during that era to win the Tour de France without cheating? I'm not sure it was.

Without defending Armstrong, there's still a part of me that thinks winning 7 Tour de France titles is still a phenomenal achievement, even if he was a cheat in a peloton full of cheats.

Friday 5 October 2012

Fox News: Man kills himself live on TV

Last week Fox News accidently showed live footage of a man committing suicide by shooting himself in the head with a gun.

The news channel had been following a car chase, where the police were pursuing a motorist through the US state of Arizona.

The police eventually gave up on the chase, but Fox continued to follow the man until he stopped his car and got out.

At this point, Fox News switched from live coverage to a slight delay of a few seconds, just in case something unexpected happened.

Well something unexpected did happen and the camera didn't cut away in time - meaning viewers witnessed someone killing themselves live on national TV!

TV anchor Shepard Smith apologizes to viewers for not cutting away in time

I can't believe I missed this story, I only found out about it today. After watching the clip above, I decided to watch a clip on Youtube showing the very end of the chase and the motorist killing himself.

It's disturbing to watch as you realise this isn't some action film but real life. It's the reason I didn't want to embed the clip onto my blog.

I've now discovered that Fox News has a reputation for covering high speed car chases, as they provide short term ratings increases for the network as viewers want to see how drama ends.

This got me thinking. This incident seems to blur the lines between what's news and what's entertainment. Fox had followed the chase for most of the morning and early afternoon.

Was it newsworthy to dedicate hours of live coverage to this or was it just pure entertainment for viewers?

News can and sometimes should be entertaining. Clearly there are some news stories that have greater appeal to audiences than others, I'm just not sure that hours of continuous live coverage of a car chase is news.

It reminds of the increasingly common question of whether something reported is in the 'public interest' or is it 'of interest to the public'.

The coverage from Fox feels more like the latter it was entertainment, like a form of reality tv, but dressed up as news. The only problem is that Fox and its viewers got way more than they bargained for.

Monday 24 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell: What a pleb!

Did you see Tory Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell's public statement today?

I managed to see it just as I was about to leave for work this morning at 8:00. Ok he did apologise for not showing the police officer in question enough respect; but what we all wanted to know was whether he called the officer a pleb or not.

We still don't have the answer.

As I turned off the tv to head out I thought to myself 'what a pleb'.

This is such a ridiculous incident, but it's the sort of thing that can begin life as a trivial matter before escalating into something quite serious. Andrew Mitchell seems to be doing his best to drag this out.

As Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, his role is to maintain the MP discipline in the Party. The role requires someone who isn't afraid to step on a few toes and colorful forthright language is only to be expected.

His statement today hasn't brought a line under this episode, and what he did or didn't say still remains unclear.

He said he didn't use the words attributed to him, which includes the word pleb, but this contradicts the quotes by the police officer. Is he calling the officer a liar? Or is he still not being honest about what he did say?

This story should have been put to bed at the end of last week, but the longer it goes on the more damaging it becomes. Not only for Andrew Mitchell, by also the Conservatives who are already sensitive to the charge that they are arrogant and out of touch with ordinary people.

The 'Plebgate' story subsequently took a dramatic turn when details began to emerge that Andrew Mitchell may have been the victim of a conspiracy to destroy his career.

Plebgate: Andew Mitchell claims he was victime of police ‘stich-up’

Saturday 15 September 2012

Hillsborough disaster: How we used to see football fans

After 23 years we finally discovered the real truth about the Hillsborough disaster after this week's independent panel report.

I didn't really have any expectations about what the report was going to say, but I was still shocked by what it said.

We discovered this was a full on cover up and conspiracy by South Yorkshire Police. They went out of their way to discredit Liverpool fans and deflect attention and blame from their own failings and mistakes.

It's little wonder the families of the 96 victims who have spent years fighting to establish the truth, now feel vindicated.

If there's one thing that's stood out for me with the verdict - it's the contempt and lack of sympathy that South Yorkshire Police and sections of the government and press had for the victims.

It highlighted just how much football has changed since the 1980s, particularly the image and treatment of fans in today's game.

I got into football in the mid to late 80s. Compared to today the game seems a world away from the glitz and glamour of today's Premier League.

Football simply wasn't fashionable. The game was blighted by hooliganism and many stadiums up and down the country simply weren't fit for purpose.

Although shocked by the cover up by South Yorkshire Police, looking back it wasn't a a surprise.

Football fans were seen as scum and hooligans - so to blame the disaster on the fault of Liverpool fans fitted nicely into many people's expectations of how football fans behaved during the 70s and 80s.

Today in the more sanitised world of Premier League football, fans are seen as consumers who are buying a product. At the time of the Hillsborough disaster, football fans were seen as a problem.

Crowds were controlled as if they were animals and facilities didn't take into account the comfort and experience of fans - nobody cared!

A tragedy like Hillsborough couldn't happen today, not with all-seater stadiums. If something tragic like that did happen the reaction of the Police and the establishment in this country I think would be very different.

There would be more empathy and sympathy. Football today is sophisticated and cosmopolitan, in the 80s its working class identity was still very evident and some could argue that under Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government, there was an attack on traditional working class culture and its institutions of which football was part of.

As a football fan who remembers Hillsborough, the event is incredibly sad. I read a feature in today's Times from a Liverpool fan who stood in the Leppings Lane stand and almost died during the crush, his account almost brought me to tears it was so harrowing.

I'm glad that the families concerned can now feel vindicated, and that football in this country has moved on and improved for the better since the disaster.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

US Open: The wait is over - Murray wins first Slam

What is going on with sport in this country?

We've gone from a nation of plucky losers to winners in the space of one amazing summer of sporting triumph.

Andy Murray added to this success by winning the US Open last night. The first British tennis player to win a Grand Slam in 76 years.

Andy Murray receives the US Open trophy

Like a lot of tennis fans, I've had sympathy for Murray in that he's playing in a golden era of men's tennis, with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic taking the game to new levels. It's this reason that explains why he's found it so hard to win a major.

Had Murray been playing ten years ago, I'm sure he would have won a Grand Slam a lot sooner.

Will his success have any bearing on tennis in this country? Call me cynical but I doubt it.

The thing that I admire about Murray is that his success has been achieved, despite coming from a country that has no history in the modern era of producing world class male tennis players.

We can all relax, he's finally done it now. If he can stay fit and healthy there's a good chance he'll add more Grand Slam titles in the next 5 years.

Sunday 9 September 2012

London 2012: The greatest Paralympic Games ever

I've just finished watching the closing ceremony of this year's Paralympics. There's no doubt this has been the biggest and greatest Paralympics anyone has ever seen.

What I've liked about the Paralympics is that it stands alone on its own merits as a competition. It's not an inferior or second rate version of the Olympics. It's separate with its own standards and doesn't need to be judged against those of able bodied athletes.

After the euphoria of the Olympics I wanted to make an effort to watch the

To begin with I found some it challenging to watch. I felt a little uncomfortable watching swimmers with no arms or cyclists with one only one leg competing.

I didn't want to feel like I was watching a 'freakshow' or watch with a sense of sympathy. At the end of the day they're athletes who have a desire to perform and compete to the best of their abilities.

Thankfully this feeling soon passed. After a while I accepted I was just a sports fan watching sport. Disability wasn't the issue.

Wheelchair basketball was just basketball with players in wheelchairs. Sprinters running on blades where just sprinters running on blades - the disability didn't really matter. It was sport, competition with athletes just getting on with it.

What I'm really proud of is the support that the British public has given to the Paralympics. I can't imagine there's been a Games with bigger attendance figures.

So looking back at the last week and a half what if anything has the Paralympics taught us?

There are all sorts of variations and differences to what we accept as the norm of physical appearance.

We know that human beings come in all shapes and sizes but the Paralympics has taken that idea on just a little bit further.

It's naive to think that a few weeks of sport are going to transform the lives of millions of ordinary people with disabilities, but hopefully as a society we can now have a more positive image of disability and not view it as a barrier or obstacle preventing people from living successful and fulfilling lives.

Thursday 30 August 2012

US Elections: Why the Republican Party scares me

We're entering the home straight in the US Presidential elections. Mitt Romney has finally been confirmed as the Republican nominee at this week's national convention in Tampa Florida.

US politics feels like an never ending story of Presidential campaigning. No sooner has one election been won, the cycle immediately begins again.

Romney is the reluctant choice for many Republicans. It's like a 'marriage of convenience'. There's no great love for him from grassroots conservatives and Republicans but they accept he's their best chance of beating Obama.

Romney doesn't worry me too much. He comes across as fairly moderate conservative; one that struggles to connect with ordinary Americans. It's the Republican party behind him that's the real concern.

The party's been hijacked by radical right wingers and elements of the Tea Party, moderate conservatives voices have been purged. The result is a party that looks ridiculously extremist and out of touch to many foreign observers.

Why are they so extremist? I'll explain.

Reading the weekly column by US political commentator Andrew Sullivan in the Sunday Times, he described some of the following policies Republicans are advocating.

  • Climate change is a hoax.

  • On immigration, the party supports a wall across the southern border of the country, and the deportation of the nation's 11m illegal immigrants.

  • On the budget deficit and debt, the party refuses to look at tax increases to raise revenues. This despite the fact that tax revenues are at a lower proportion of GDP than at any time in the past 50 years!

  • They want to repeal the health insurance Act introduced by Obama. This allowed 30m of America's poor to have access to health insurance.

  • A constitutional amendment to ban any legal recognition of gay couples in any state.
  • On foreign policy - more Jewish settlement on the West Bank, and a possible war with Iran

  • To quote John McEnroe from his 1980s tennis playing days: 'You can not be serious'

    This party should be unelectable but as things stand Romney is running neck and neck with Obama for the November election. How is this possible?

    Obama is still favourite, but there's still a real possibility of the Republicans winning the White House.

    If you're not scared you should be.

    Wednesday 15 August 2012

    London 2012: What is the Olympic legacy?

    One of the great things about having a blog is that you can look back over your old posts and see what you had to say for yourself.

    I've been reading some of my old posts about the Olympics. In particular there was my first Olympics blog I wrote three years ago:

    3 years and counting before the Olympics begin

    If you read it, you'll see that back then I was talking about the sort of legacy the Games should leave.

    My original thoughts were that the Olympics should encourage and inspire young people to take up sport and for the nation as a whole to become more active.

    We're still having this debate and if there's one thing I've realised, it's that trying to figure out what an Olympic legacy should look like is actually pretty difficult.

    It's going to take a lot of hard work and vision to put in place a real legacy - the good thing is at least we're having the debate.

    Like a lot of people I'm still reveling in the after glow of an amazing and inspiring Olympic Games. The question now is how do we hold onto the that feel good factor and make the most of it before it all becomes a distant memory

    We've seen that the success of Team GB has come largely in part to an increase in funding. In the Atlanta Games of 1996 we won one Gold medal, in Beijing four years ago it was 19 - now in London 2012 it was an unprecedented 29 Gold medals.

    It might not sound romantic but if you want sporting success then you have to invest in it. The question is do you focus more on elite level sport or grass roots?

    It has to be both but you need to get people playing sport in the first place before they can begin to consider competing at an elite level. This means more school sport and a greater recognition of the role sport can play in terms of education.

    Critics complain that too many of our Olympians have been educated privately but that's only because private schools still understand and recognise the value of sport in education.

    There's constant talk on how too many state schools have sold off their playing fields under successive governments. This has to stop or at least slow down.

    Much of our sports facilities are old, tired and underfunded and will continue to be so due to more government cuts to local authorities.

    Despite the tough economic times we're living under, funding at this level needs to be looked at otherwise people will never have the chance to take up sport if the facilities available are too poor or non existent.

    But even having the facilities and seeing our athletes succeed at the Olympics is no guarantee that more people will take up sport. America is obsessed with sport, but it's population also includes some of the most obese people in the world.

    I think if you can get more young people physically active, they'll be more likely to continue with sport into adulthood and this should in theory lead to healthier lifestyles for people.

    Increasing sporting participation will be difficult along with maintaining adequate funding. However, there are some legacies we can already see.

    Look at the regeneration of East London; lets not forget that the Olympic Park site was a wasteland only a few years ago.

    The town of Stratford has been transformed, I've seen it with my own eyes having lived here for 4 years. The area will never be the same again and the reasons for that are generally positive ones.

    The legacy question will continue to be debated for years to come. One legacy that I hope will last which doesn't focus on sport or regeneration is that of the country's self image.

    I think the Olympics has allowed us to learn more about ourselves as a country. We're both a modern and ancient nation. We're cool but quirky, incredibly creative and passionate people.

    We've successfully organised the greatest show on earth. In terms of medals we've been the most successful country at the Games. We've discovered we don't always have to be gallant losers.

    Perhaps the greatest legacy can't be measured in terms economics, regeneration or sporting success. Maybe its one at an emotional level of understanding just what our country is about and knowing what we're capable of achieving.

    Tuesday 14 August 2012

    London 2012: Olympic Medal History

    With Britain enjoying its most successful Olympic Games in more than 100 years, I thought I'd share this infographic I found, where you can see which countries won the most medals at each Olympics.

    Olympic Medal History
    Check out our data visualization blog.

    The USA are clearly the most successful nation in Olympic history. Their dominance was challenged during the Cold War era by the Soviet Union, but as you can see, in recent years the economic and political rise of China has had a huge impact on the medal tables.

    Monday 13 August 2012

    London 2012: I shall miss you

    What an incredible two weeks it's been for the country since the Olympics started.

    The Games finally arrived and now they're gone forever. I feel sad writing this but like a lot of people I want to hold onto the amazing memories for as long as possible.

    London 2012 is without doubt the best thing I've ever experienced about living in this country. It's been so emotional, so uplifting and inspiring, I feel the country will be a better place for holding the Games.

    London 2012 has been my favourite Olympics and the best major sporting event I've watched.

    I've been 100% behind the Olympics ever since London announced its bid. I've never doubted we wouldn't put on a decent show - I just never realised it would be this good and this memorable.

    What's been so special about London 2012?

    Seeing so many of Team GB athletes rise to the occasion to win so many medals including a record number of Golds in the modern era.

    What's been great is that our medalists have been a real reflection of the British population with medalists coming from all walks of life. It doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, everyone would be able to identify or relate to at least one medalist.

    Public enthusiasm

    I said earlier in the week, that London 2012 have been the people's games. I really believe it's been the passion, enthusiasm and support from the public that have made these Olympics so special.

    We really are obsessed with sport in this country and there's been huge crowds for the big events like athletics, swimming and cycling, but also the more obscure. Whoever thought Handball could be so popular.

    I was at the Olympic stadium for the second day of athletics. Just a morning of qualifiers but the stadium was full. The support for Jessica Ennis competing in the heptathlon incredible - I will never forget it.

    Emotional highs and lows

    I've never watched an Olympics that have been so emotional. I've been moved to tears watching the success of Britain's athletes. Mo Farah's victory in the 10,000m springs to mind.

    There's the back stories you hear such as Gemma Gibbs in the Judo. After securing victory in her semi-final to guarantee at least a silver medal, she looked up and mouthed 'I love you mum' in memory of her mother who died of leukemia when Gibbons was 17 years old. It was hard not to be moved by that scene.

    There was also the disappointments. Those people who have waited years for this moment only to find that when the time eventually arrived they were out of form, injured or just the fact that London 2012 wasn't going to be the Games for them. It was tough to watch at times but it's very much a part of sporting life.

    Being patriotic is okay

    Has there ever been a time when the Union Jack has been so visible with people feeling so comfortable and at ease with the flag? I don't think there has been.

    I'd like to think that any negative connotations associated with the flag have truly disappeared once and for all.

    The flag felt inclusive and we saw different athletes, black, white, and mixed race all embracing the flag when celebrating success.

    For the last two weeks it really has felt as if the entire country was all in it together. It feels a bit cheesy to write that, but that's how it felt. I experienced that feeling at the Olympic Park, watching the athletics on a big screen. There was a real communal feel to the experience - one that suggested we were all together.

    Great performances from the athletes

    I've called London 2012 the people's games, but lets not forget it's the athletes themselves that produce the performances that inspire us and bring us to the venues.

    From a British point of view, Bradley Wiggins became an even greater sporting legend by winning the Olympic time trial only a week after becoming the first Brit to win the Tour de France.

    This was brilliant, but my bias when it comes to the Olympics is always with track and field and the most vivid memories tend to come from the Olympic stadium. Jessica Ennis winning the 800 at the end of the Heptathlon.

    Mo Farah becoming one of the all time greats of Olympic distance running. David Rudisha running the greatest 800m ever in a new world record, a race I'll remember for ever.

    But when you talk about athletics then you have to talk about one man and that's Usain Bolt. Now a living legend. An incredible athlete but a great person with personality, character and charisma. Three Gold medals, to add to the three from Beijing and 100 & 200m double double.

    The world of athletics and sport is lucky to have him.

    Having the Olympics on my doorstep

    The Olympics weren't just taking place in the Britain or in the city in which I live. They were taking place only 20 minutes from my house. I walked to the Olympic stadium and back when I went to the Games.

    You always dream of one day being able to go to the Olympic Games but being able to walk from your house in less than 30 minutes makes the Games even more special.

    Everyday for four years I've passed the Olympic Park, slowly watching it take shape. I've seen the regeneration of Stratford, and even though I'm not from the town or the East End of London, I've felt a great sense of pride in the fact that this is my home in London.

    Friday 10 August 2012

    London 2012: Where does Usain Bolt go from here?

    If Usain Bolt wasn't already an Olympic legend, he reminded us once again with his victory in the 200m last night.

    No athlete has ever done the double double of winning the 100 and 200m at successive Olympic Games.

    Like any great champion he silenced the doubters just when people thought he might be vulnerable to his training partner Yohann Blake.

    The big question now is what's left for Bolt to achieve?

    As an athletics fan, Bolt is without question the best thing that's ever happened to the sport. I feel proud that the world's biggest sports star does athletics.

    But what else can he do. Defend his titles in 2016 for a triple triple? That's never been done but would it capture the world's imagination? I don't think so.

    Like a lot of people I'd like to see him try the 400m but Bolt's said himself, he doesn't want to do the training which he thinks will be too hard.

    There's mention of the Long Jump but I don't know how serious he is about that.

    As Olympic legend Michael Johnson said on the BBC; athletics needs Usain Bolt, but he no longer need athletics.

    Thursday 9 August 2012

    London 2012: New role models for women

    If there's been one theme that's dominated the Olympics so far, it's been the success of female athletes.

    We've been introduced to a number of women athletes from a range of sports winning medals for Team GB.

    I can't remember a time where women have been so prominent in sport. It's an interesting development. I've noticed myself that I've never watched as much female sport in the last week.

    I've watched women's cycling, basketball, volleyball, badminton, rowing, football and athletics.

    Dani King, Joanna Rowsell, and Laura Trott celebrate winning cycling gold in the women's team pursuit.

    Rather than watching these sports and thinking the women's version is inferior to the mens; I've appreciated the skills and qualities from women athletes on their own merits. The women's basketball for example has been brilliant.

    It'll be interesting to see whether the success of women and the coverage they've received will give young girls and women new role models to look up to.

    I'd like to think so. For too long we've had a diet of reality tv stars, footballers wives and celebrity culture dominating - giving an unreal idea of what being successful is all about.

    The Olympics has provided an alternative where women's success has been based on commitment, dedication, hard work and skill - not merely having good looks.

    Perhaps some of us are getting carried away with the success of the Olympics. The fear is that in a few months time we'll return to a celebrity culture of the likes of the Kardashians, TOWIE and instant success represented by The X Factor.

    When they talk about legacies after the Games, hopefully we can see more women getting involved in sport and sport providing an alternative in terms of role models and healthy lifestyles to pursue.

    What do you think?

    Further reading

    Bye bye, Kardashians: Olympic athletes give women new, strong role models

    Women’s 2012 succes is a stepping stone to equality in sport,

    Wednesday 8 August 2012

    London 2012: The People's Games

    With only another week of the Olympics left, I have to say I've loved every minute of it. It's everything I expected and more.

    On Saturday evening my highlight was seeing Mo Farah coming round the bend into the home straight to win the 10,000m. All you could see were fans jumping up and down and Union Jack flags being waved in support. It was emotional to watch.

    That moment reminded me why these games have been so special so far. It's the passion and enthusiasm of the British public.

    Watching the cycling over the first weekend, the streets of South London and Surrey were packed with fans cheering the riders on. It's been the same at the Aquatics centre and most venues.

    Yes there has been some empty seats, but that's another story and one that can't be blamed on a lack of interest.

    The only other Olympics I can remember where the host nation has shown so much enthusiasm was Sydney in 2000, but I think we've bettered that.

    It's not just the passion for the sport that's been impressive. There's a feeling of pride in London holding the Games, we're doing a good job and enjoying the whole experience.

    This is a very British Olympics and people feel proud and patriotic, but without any hint of guilt or unease. It's been inspiring to see.

    It makes me smile when you look back to the years leading up to the Games. All those people who were a little indifferent, who thought it was a waste of money or that London wouldn't be able to cope.

    It's the equivalent of being invited to a party that you're don't feel like going to, but once you get there you suddenly realise you're having a great time. You can't believe you thought you wouldn't enjoy it!

    That sums up the public's reaction to the Games. Now that it's here we can't get enough of it.

    Tuesday 7 August 2012

    London 2012: Images of the Olympic Park

    After the end of the morning session of athletics, my sister and myself had a chance to explore the Olympic Park on Saturday.

    Spending the rest of the day inside the park was almost as enjoyable as watching the athletics. I loved every minute of being at the Olympics.

    It's huge and it must take at least a good 20 - 25 minutes to walk from the Olympic stadium all the way to the Velodrome and basketball arena.

    The atmosphere around the park was superb. So many people just happy to be there, knowing what a unique experience it is to be at an Olympic Games.

    I think the enthusiasm of the British public has helped make these Olympics so special.

    Everywhere you looked you saw people with Union flags and Team GB clothing. The longest queues weren't for food and drink, it was for the official London 2012 shops selling Team GB clothing and memorabilia.

    But the park wasn't just full of Brits loving the Olympic experience, there were so many people from around the world. People from the US, France, loads of Dutch and Belgians. Not surprisingly really, London is almost a home Olympics for them.

    Anyone who ever doubted the point of having the Olympics in this country should be made to spend time in the Park; even the most cynical would struggle not to be moved by the experience.

    When it came to leave at 8:30 in the evening, I really didn't want to go. I knew as soon as I left the park that would be it - the end of my Olympic experience.

    Who knows I may go to another Olympic Games, but I'll never be able to go to one that's a 20 minute walk from my house.

    Even now I wish I could turn the clock back and do it all again.

    Monday 6 August 2012

    London 2012: What is it about Jamaica?

    Being half Jamaican I take a lot of pride in the success of Usain Bolt and Jamaica's sprinters.

    Jamaica along with other Caribbean islands have come to dominate when it comes to sprinting.

    But even without athletics, Jamaica has still managed to grab and hold the world's attention. That's why I loved this article I read in the Guardian today:

    How Jamaica conquered the world

    It looks at how a small island of just under 3 million people has managed to punch above its weight both in sport, music and popular culture.

    It's an important time in the country's history as on Sunday it celebrated 50 years of independence.

    Since the Olympics began I've been supporting everything Team GB, but I also have great pride in my roots and everything Jamaica does both on and off the track.

    There's nothing wrong with having multiple identities. The last week's been amazing for British sport I loved every minute of it, but there's a part of me that's still Jamaican.

    For a small island Jamaica does a lot of big things.

    Sunday 5 August 2012

    London 2012: Athletics is back

    What an amazing night for British Athletics yesterday evening. Before the start of the Olympics nobody could have imagined we'd pick up 3 gold medals on the track in one evening.

    BBC commentator, Brendan Foster called it the greatest night in UK athletics history. I think it beats anything from the so called 'golden era' of British athletics in the 1980s.

    Firstly Jess Ennis claimed the Heptathlon Gold medal. I was in the Olympic stadium for yesterday's morning session and watched her in the Long Jump and Javelin.

    Her personal best in her third and final throw, essentially guaranteed gold. When it came to the final event of the 800m, she just needed to get round to secure victory.

    If the Gold medal by Ennis was the most craved and expected, then Greg Rutherford's victory in the Long Jump was totally left field - I really didn't see that coming.

    A winning jump of 8.31 is decent. Earlier in the week the legend that is Carl Lewis said that Long jumping wasn't particularly strong at the moment, the coaching hadn't moved on in 20 years.

    Greg Rutherford describes winning Olympic Gold.

    Admittedly there's no stand out names in the event and few people seem to be jumping 8.50 plus on a regular basis, but lets not take anything away from Rutherford, an unexpected but brilliant gold medal.

    And finally there was Mo Farah, the first Olympic victory by a British athlete ever in the 10,000m. I'm so please for him. For a long time he was a good athlete, but one that was never seriously going to challenge the dominance of the Ethiopians and Kenyans.

    After a disappointing 2008 Olympics, he went away and found a new coach in Alberto Salazar, a triple winner of the New York Marathon. He trained with the Kenyans in Kenya, did more altitude training in the Pyrenees and moved his family to Oregon in the US to train with Salazar. All the sacrifices were worth it after last night's victory.

    I'm so pleased for UK athletics. After football, athletics is my first and true love when it comes to sport. I want the sport to grow and succeed.

    It's important as so many sports are competing for lottery funding which is partly based on success. We've seen British rowers and cyclists dominate in previous Olympics and this has overshadowed athletics and called into question the performance and future funding of the team.

    Athletics will always be the premier event of the Olympics - I don't care how successful Team GB are in other sports. We have to have a strong athletics squad.

    Saturday 4 August 2012

    London 2012: Today I made my Olympic debut

    Today I made my Olympic debut. I had tickets for the morning session of the second day of athletics.

    As a sports fan and as a true fan of athletics, I know that today I achieved a life long dream. I've actually been to the Olympic games.

    When it comes to sport I don't think there's much that's going to top this. Maybe going a World Cup match, but for me the Olympics is the ultimate in sport.

    When the action started at 10:00 this morning, I kept thinking to myself: 'Am I really at the Olympic Games?'

    I was so lucky to get this session. I watched Jessica Ennis on her way to Gold in the Long Jump and Javelin. The reaction of the crowd everytime her name was mentioned was unbelievable.

    So much pressure, but you know what? She delivered - especially in the Javelin with a personal best with her final throw.

    I also saw the first rounds of the Men's 400m, Women's Steeplechase and Pole Vault. This was great, but the highlight was always going to be one event. It had to be the Men's 100m first round heats.

    If you look hard enough you'll see a certain Usain Bolt at the starting blocks.

    In the first race they announced former 100 & 200m World Champion Tyson Gay to the crowd. At that moment the Olympics just got serious.

    This is the Olympic stadium. This is Track and Field. This is the 100m - we're not messing about here!
    After Tyson Gay every heat featured a whose who of sprinting over the last 5 - 10 years.

    Next up the disgraced former Olympic Champion Justin Gaitlin. Banned twice for drug taking he surprisingly got a good reception from the crowd. I applauded him, but he's never really apologised or admitted to his drug taking so I didn't want him to do too well.

    After him there's was Asafa Powell - a former world record holder, but someone who mentally could never deal with the pressure when it mattered.

    Powell was followed by a certain Usain Bolt - the superstar and saviour of athletics. How amazing to see him just a few hundred yards in front of me. He jogged to qualification without having to make too much effort.

    Then there was 'the beast' Yohan Blake, called the beast due to how hard he trains. The biggest rival and training partner of Bolt. Can he upset the odds and win the Olympic title?

    It wasn't all about the favourites though; I loved the reception the British guys got. The up and coming youngster Adam Gemili who couldn't help but break out into a smile with the reception given to him by the home crowd, and finally Dwain Chambers.

    I'm sure he was just pleased to be here after his own drugs ban and battle to make it into the Olympics.

    What a day, what a privilege. You can't get bigger than the 100m.

    London 2012: I'm not interested in 'proper' news

    Since the Olympic Games began last week I've been living my life in an Olympic bubble. My life is the Olympics at the moment and I love every minute of it!

    Ok I still have to go to work, but even then I spend my working day listening to Radio 5 commentary - keeping up to date with everything Team GB

    I get home and spend the evening watching the Olympics. How I love the BBC's Red button. There's nothing you can't watch.

    If I want to spend the evening watching badminton I can do that, basketball, volleyball it doesn't matter, you can watch anything you want.

    The only problem is that the real world tries to butt in on the action. I'm just not interested in proper news.

    House of Lords reform? Whatever! Greedy bankers? Boring. The conflict in Syria? When the Assad regime's about to collapse let us know - until then lets get back to the Handball.

    At brief moments I've felt guilty, the Olympics is only sport - there's other stuff going on in the world.

    But at the moment sport has never played such an important and significant role in my life or that of the country.

    There's more drama, more conflict, more emotion taking place in the Olympics than anything that's happening in the real world. I know this can't last forever but I'm savouring every minute of it.

    What the hell am I going to do when the Olympics ends?

    Friday 3 August 2012

    London 2012: Stratford a town transformed

    If having the Olympics in London and the UK wasn't already incredible, the fact I live in Stratford and the Olympic Park is a 20 minute walk from my house has made the games even more special

    I've lived in Stratford for four years. Previously I'd been up the road in Bow and Mile End and I was sad to be leaving when I decided to move down to Stratford.

    Stratford Town Centre

    Anyone who knows East London will admit Stratford has never been the kind of place that's been attractive, cool or up and coming.

    When people talk about Olympic legacies, a good place to start is by looking at Stratford itself. I feel like I'm living in a different place.

    In four years I've watched the entire Olympic site be built, the Olympic stadium, the park, athletes village and the Westfields shopping centre.

    Inside the Westfields shopping center

    These all look amazing, but there's been a transformation of the old town as well. For so long Stratford always felt a bit grimey, down at heel, lacking in style, but all of a sudden Stratford's become something different.

    It's as if a fairy god mother has come along and waved a magic wand and made Stratford beautiful!

    I see the same streets and buildings I've always seen - when I walk through the town but something's different now.

    The town has a different feel and vibe about it; I can't even explain what it is but It's just something I feel.

    Whatever it is, Stratford will never be the same again but it will have changed for the better.

    Thursday 2 August 2012

    London 2012: It's not all about sport

    During the Olympics a number of different countries have set up national hospitality houses all across the city.

    It's a chance for countries to showcase and promote themselves and their culture to people living and visiting London. The hospitality houses are holding different events like exhibitions, concerts and parties - many are free to the public.

    With this in mind I decided to check out Casa Brasil at Somerset House, the official Brazilian House at the London Olympics.

    Casa Brasil at Somerset House

    I love Brazilian culture, and as the next Olympics in 2012 will be in Rio, this is a chance for Brazil to start introducing the world to all things Brazilian.

    In the main courtyard they've got a stage with singers, musicians and DJ's performing every evening.

    I also had a look at an exhibition called, From the Margin to the Edge: Brazilian Art and Design in the 21st Century. It's an exhibition showcasing work created over the last 10 years by a selection of Brazilian artists and designers.

    It was interesting as art and design isn't something you immediately associate with Brazil.

    I'll be checking out Casa Brasil again as it's open until 8 September.

    Wednesday 1 August 2012

    London 2012: Badminton hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons

    I've been watching badminton everyday this week which isn't a surprise as I play badminton every week. I've been playing since I was a kid.

    Last night I got home and started watching a ladies doubles match between China and South Korea. Both pairs were struggling with their serves, with a number of serves hitting the net.

    I thought 'I know exactly how they feel'. When you're under pressure a simple serve feels like the most difficult thing in the world to do - but something wasn't right in this game.

    There were no rallies and shots were continually going out or hitting the net. I got so fed up with the poor standard of play that I switched channels and started watching another badminton game.

    As we've now discovered it wasn't a case of players performing poorly under pressure, they both were deliberately trying not to win so they wouldn't finish top of their group and play one of the top seeds in the next round.

    No wonder the crowd watching started booing. This is the Olympic Games, people want to see athletes perform to the very best of their abilities but here you had a situation of players insulting the intelligence of the crowd by purposely trying not to lose.

    This game had a knock on effect, with the following game featuring another Korean pair against an Indonesian pair tried the same thing.

    The farce has resulted in all four pairs being kicked out of the Olympic Games today. It's the right decision, their performance goes against everything the Olympics is meant to be about.

    Clearly having a group stage doesn't work, and pure knockout competition is what's needed. From a personal point of view and as someone who loves and plays badminton, the players have tarnished the image of the sport.

    When you follow or play a minority sport, you know it will never receive much media coverage. The Olympic Games in a rare opportunity to showcase sports like badminton to the general public.

    Now instead of promoting the game and introducing it to a new audience, badminton has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons and wasted a great opportunity to show people what a great sport it can be.

    Sunday 29 July 2012

    The Olympic Opening Ceremony: Beautifully British

    What did you think of the Olympic Opening Ceremony?

    I loved it! It was so British - there simply isn't another country in the world who would have produced an opening ceremony such as this.

    It was a confident presentation to the world of who we are. There isn't one defining British identity, there are so many different things that are uniquely British and so much of it was captured on Friday evening.

    I'm sure parts of the show confused and even baffled some people around the world, but I don't care. It was like saying: 'This might not be want you want to see or expect from Britain, but this is who we are'

    The Queen and James Bond make their journey to the Olympic stadium

    I've watched every Olympic opening ceremony since Los Angeles in 1984. To be honest I can't remember many of them but I'll remember London's. Firstly because it took place 20 minutes from my house, but more importantly because I saw myself in the show.

    I read earlier in the week that Danny Boyle wanted to produce a show that everyone in Britain would be able relate to and see something of themselves in the show.

    I think he got it spot on.

    The Games have only just begun, but I always knew this country would do a good job of it. Despite all the inevitable pessimism you find in this country, Britain know's how to put on a show and that's what we saw on Friday.

    Four years ago in Beijing, the world was blown away by the scale of China's opening ceremony. Back in Britain we wondered how an earth we could possibly compete.

    There was never any point in trying to emulate the Chinese. The 2008 Beijing Olympics was all about China announcing itself to the world. Britain and London doesn't need to do that. We just needed to be confident in ourselves and tell the world this is who we are.

    One of the things I loved most about the ceremony was that unlike in Beijing, it was a laugh, their was fun and humour involved - things you don't always associate with opening ceremonies.

    If you asked me to tell you what I loved the most, then it would have to be the music. The soundtrack was superb.

    This county can rightly be proud of inventing Pop and Rock music and we had everything.

    The Beatles, the Stones, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, The Jam, Eurythmics, Soul II Soul, Dizzie Rascal, Arctic Monkeys to name but a few. All very different but all so British in their own ways. It turned the ceremony into a house party the rest of the world was invited to.

    Of course not everyone appreciated it. I read comments that some of the show was a bit random and was lost on foreign audiences. On Saturday morning, while shopping in Harrods, I heard one middle aged lady remark that the show was 'far too British'. I thought 'That's the whole point!'

    And then we had some American commentators critising the left wing bias with Danny Boyle's inclusion of Britain's love of the NHS.

    All a bit too 'Socialist' for American conservatives. Well so what, it's got nothing to do with them.

    Looking back it was a great start to the Games in what's going to be an amazing and memorable couple of weeks for London and Britain.

    Wednesday 25 July 2012

    London 2012: The Olympics in numbers

    The time has almost arrived!

    I'm getting ready for some serious Olympic blogging over the next couple of weeks. I found this great data visualisation video on the Guardian's website today.

    It gives you loads of stats and figures on the London games. Have a look and see what you think.

    Monday 23 July 2012

    London 2012: Schools have to get more kids playing sport

    With the Olympics starting this Friday, they'll be an opportunity for millions of young people to be inspired by the exploits of Britain's athletes.

    I read an interesting and slightly worrying statistic yesterday that said 40% of British medal winners at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing were privately educated.

    Only 7% of the UK's population are privately educated, yet private schools are producing a disproportionate amount of our Olympians. Are we meant to believe that being privately educated makes you a better athlete?

    I don't think so - but it suggests that the success of Britain's athletes in the next couple of weeks won't make much difference to many young people. Their chances of emulating our Olympic athletes will be down to the type of school they go to rather than sporting talent.

    If you go to private school, sport plays a bigger part in your education. If you do have some sporting talent, there's a greater chance it will be identified and developed. This is no longer the case in many of our state schools.

    As soon as the Olympics end next month, the talk of Olympic legacies will begin. How will the Olympics encourage more young people to participate in sports when so many schools don't seem to care about sport anymore?

    Last week it was reported that two thirds of Britons don't take enough exercise to stay fit.

    I think keeping fit and playing sports is a lifestyle choice, and it begins quite early in childhood. If you play a lot of sport growing up, you're more likely to keep it up during adulthood.

    The fact that so many of our Olympic athletes are privately educated tells you that private schools still value and encourage sport in a way that state schools don't.

    There's two negative effects to this. Firstly many kids at state schools miss out on the joys of taking up sport; and secondly it's not great for the health of the nation as less people grow up with habit of keeping fit which can lead to all kinds of health issues later in life.

    Looking back at my own school days in the late in the late 1980s and early 90s, sport was a big part of my education. I was lucky to have the chance to play football, rugby, cricket, basketball, and athletics. Outside of school I did Karate and played badminton.

    I didn't think that was anything special but I've started to realise that many school kids don't have the chance to play such a range of sports at school.

    Critics of school sport fail to understand that sport is character building, and helps people in different areas of their lives.

    You learn self discipline, new skills and techniques. How to work in teams, dealing with pressure, disappointment and achievement. I don't understand how others don't get this!

    There's loads of different things which we hope the Olympics can encourage and inspire and I hope one of those things is that it get more kids playing sport as part of their school education.

    Sunday 22 July 2012

    Have we fallen in love with cycling?

    It's the last day of the Tour de France today. For the first time in the Tour's 99 year history, we have a British winner in Bradley Wiggins.

    Rather than ending 99 'years of hurt' it's more a case of 'wow we're actually pretty good at this cycling game!'

    Bradley Wiggins explains what winning the Tour de France means to him

    I've become a bit obsessed with the Tour de France in recent years. I was always aware of it, but probably like a lot of people I didn't really get it.

    Last year I decided to make an effort to understand what it was all about. I spent an entire afternoon watching it until it all started to make sense.

    Within a few days I was hooked, and I couldn't wait to get home after work for ITV4's highlights show at 7:00.

    Now if anyone mentions peletons, prologues, time trials, and major journes it all make sense to me.

    Cycling isn't traditionally a sport we really do in Britain. It's all very continental, a sport dominated by the French, Spanish and Belgium.

    But perhaps things are changing. With Bradley Wiggins Tour victory, Britain's cycling track dominance in the last Olympic Games and more people cycling on the roads - maybe cycling is becoming a major sport in this country?

    After watching last year's Tour de France I developed a new found respect for cyclists.

    They're without doubt some of the toughest and hardest athletes around. This helps explain why I have so much respect and admiration for what Bradley Wiggins has achieved.

    Watching this year's Tour, I've found him a compelling character. Forthright in his opinions during press conferences, outspoken against drug users, a bit of a neo Mod, and he speaks fluent French - he's become one of my favourite sport stars.

    Sir Chris Hoy who won 3 Olympic gold in Beijing said Wiggins winning the Tour de France would be one of the greatest achievements of all time by a British sportsmen.

    He's probably right, but Wiggins success is just part of the latest chapter in the growth of British cycling.

    Britain dominated track cycling during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but this wasn't some bizarre one off success; it was the result of years of development in the sport aided by lottery funding to push British cycling to the forefront of world cycling.

    That track success was used as a springboard to launch Team Sky with the aim of delivering a British winner of the Tour de France which has now been achieved.

    It's going to be fascinating to see what Wiggins success will mean for cycling in the future. Cycling's been growing for a number of years now, and the likes of Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish and Victoria Pendleton have become household names. There's a real opportunity for cycling to develop in a way we've never seen before in this country.

    Anyone who spends time in central London will know just how many people are cycling. Whether it's for leisure or as their main mode of transport, cycling is booming.

    It's a great way to stay fit, it's economical, environmentally friendly and it's become fashionable to ride a bike.

    There are downsides, particularly in London with the number of cyclists injured or killed on the roads. This is probably something which puts me off riding a bike in the city.

    Despite this, cycling is enjoying a golden age both as a pastime and a professional sport in the UK, we'll have to see if it's just a passing phase or a breakthrough for the sport.

    I'm now looking forward to the Olympics next week, with the Olympic road race taking place next Saturday. I'll think I'll pop down to the Mall to show my support for the likes of Cavendish and Wiggins.

    Friday 20 July 2012

    London 2012: Just a week to go

    It's just a week now until the start of the London Olympics.

    Here in Stratford I've started noticing a lot of Olympic volunteers and security staff around the tube station on my way to work in the morning.

    During the last few days, I've seen a lot of athletes in their USA Olympic kits embracing life in Stratford. There was an American athlete in my local Chinese takeaway this evening. All very exciting to see.

    I've watched every Olympic Games since Los Angeles in 1984. When I think of the Olympics I see an event that takes place in other world cities - not something that happens 5 minutes from my house!

    Part of me thinks the International Olympic Committee has got it all wrong. 'Are you sure you want the Olympics to take place in Straford? It's in Rio in 4 years time, isn't that where you really want the Olympic Games to take place?"

    Of course Stratford is part of London, and there are few cities in the world that can truly rival London in terms of history and culture and it's fitting that the Olympics should be held here.

    Despite all the negative stories that inevitably accompany events like the Olympics, I'm still quietly confident that London will produce something special.

    I don't care about the predicted disruption to my day-to-day travel or any other inconveniences. I know I'm going to be in the middle of something special and I can't wait.

    Sunday 8 July 2012

    Wimbledon defeat shouldn't detract from Murray's achievements

    Hard not feel emotional watching Andy Murray struggle to give his speech after his Wimbledon final defeat against Roger Federer today.

    The nation saw a different side to him, which I think will help his overall image. He can appear quite dour in interviews, but today we saw just how much it all meant.

    As for Roger Federer what can you say. 18 months ago you wondered if he'd ever win another major title, but he was back to his absolute best. There was nothing Murray could do, he was simply beaten by the better player.

    So where does this leave Murray?

    Those of us who really know and follow tennis appreciate just how good Murray is and how unfortunate he is to be playing in this golden age of men's tennis.

    If Murray was playing ten years ago, he'd arguably have 2 or 3 Grand Slam wins by now.

    I still think he can do it - he's got the talent and hopefully with the help of another tennis legend in Ivan Lendl he's got somebody who knows what it takes to win Grand Slams after suffering Grand Slam defeats early on in his career.

    Murray's achievements shouldn't be underestimated, he's from a country that hasn't had a men's Wimbledon finalist since 1938! That tells me this country has no modern tradition or culture of producing top quality tennis players.

    It wasn't that long ago that having a British man in the second week of Wimbledon was seen as a major achievement (Anyone remember Jeremy Bates?).

    He's already defied the odds with his career to date and this should be remembered. Even though he's 25 there's still time for him to win a major.

    Federer is over 30 now, Nadal's punishing physical game will eventually take its toll, and Djokovic is unlikely to enjoy the same dominance he showed last year.

    At the moment it's difficult to see who the next up coming group of players are going to be to take over so there's still hope for Murray.

    We will have a British Grand Slam winner very soon.

    Related post

    Despite Andy Murray, we’re still rubbish at tennis!

    Thursday 5 July 2012

    Does London really need the Shard?

    In the last few years, Londoners would have found it difficult not to have noticed the rise of the Shard skycraper over in London Bridge.

    The building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano was offically opened today and is the biggest building in Europe.

    I can see it from where I live in Stratford East London, and from outside my work in Kennington South London. It's completely altered the London Skyline.

    Whenever I see it, I'm always impressed by the design and sheer scale of the Shard. It's a breathtaking building - but I still wonder whether it's something London really needs.

    London is one of the world's great cities, it already has a number of historic and iconic buildings that are known all over the world. I don't think we need a giant glass pyramid dominating the skyline to somehow put London on the map.

    That sort of thing should be left to places like Dubai or cities in the Far East, paricularly new ones in China that need some sort of statement building to let the rest of the world know they've arrived.

    London doesn't need to announce itself to the world and it doesn't need to prove anything.

    What do you think of the Shard? Does it add anything to London?

    Sunday 1 July 2012

    Euro 2012: My thoughts

    Spain 4 Italy 0

    Who saw this score line before tonight's final?

    Not only are Spain the best team in Europe and the World, they're one of the game's all time greats. Hard to believe they were once the great underachievers of world football.

    In my time of watching football, I don't think I've seen a team so far ahead of the rest of the opposition.

    It's not often if ever you feel sorry for Italy but they just came up against a far superior team - there was nothing they could do.

    A truly exceptional performance from Spain.

    With Euro 2012 ending tonight I thought I'd look back on the tournament. Here are some of my main thoughts.

    Less is more when it comes to quality

    Why do UEFA insist on ruining the Euros by increasing the number of teams from 16 to 24?

    When it comes to quality and standard of football, the Euros are so much better than the bloated World Cup. It's because you only have 16 teams, which is the perfect number for the tournament.

    First round: Germany/Holland, Spain/Italy, England/France. In the World Cup you have to wait until the Quarter finals to get such match ups.

    In the Euros, there's no messing about, you get heavyweight clashes from the off.

    How we learned to love Germany and Italy

    Italy and Germany are the two most successful teams in European international football. Have they always been respected? Yes, without a doubt. Have they ever been loved? Rarely until now.

    Germany over the last 6 years have reinvented themselves. We always grudgingly admired their ability to grind their way to tournament finals and they've always had better players then some people have wanted to admit - but now we enjoy watching Germany.

    Their play is entertaining, the team is young, vibrant, multi-ethnic they defy all our preconceptions of what Germany and Germans are all about. The victory against Greece was my favourite performance.


    As for Italy, I was really rooting for them in tonight's Final. Italy like Germany have always ground their way through tournaments, playing their usual brand of conservative and introverted football.

    In most tournaments, Italy always play about 20 minutes of beautiful football before reverting back to their shell.

    It's something that's always baffled me about Italian football. They've produced some amazing players over the years, but always play with the handbrake on.

    Not this Italy team. In terms of individuals, this isn't the greatest Italian team, but I've warmed to them.

    They still have some very good players, and true fans of European football have known about the ability of Andrea Pirlo for years. I'm pleased to see him get the recognition he deserves.

    They have possibly the world's best keeper in Gigi Bufffon, and upfront you have what on paper is the nightmare combination of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.

    Cassano was the original bad boy or Italian football, but it's been an amazing story how he's battled back from heart surgery earlier in the season to play such an important role for Italy.

    As for Balotelli, before the England game I listened to former England manager, Graham Taylor say he was unconvinced that he could be trusted in the biggest games.

    His two goals against Germany show that perhaps he's now truly arrived as as serious international player of real quality. Also two great celebrations.

    Perhaps Spain aren't quite so boring

    It's a bit difficult to argue that Spain are boring following their 4-0 victory against Italy.

    There have been games which if we're being honest haven't been the most entertaining to watch, but tonight's game the real Spain turned up.

    I was pleased when Spain won Euro 2008, winning the World Cup in 2010 cemented their place as one of the all time greats - but we've seen a bit of a backlash in the last few weeks.

    Excluding tonight's result, I haven't enjoyed watching all of Spain's matches. They've been dull to watch. A theory I heard and which I agree with, is that Spain's possession football is all about control. They control so much of the game that it kills their matches as a spectacle.

    It's not their fault they're so far ahead of the rest of the opposition. For all their technical brilliance they often don't set the pulses racing. There's few WOW moments with Spain.

    They grind their opponents to death with their beautiful passing which doesn't always create inspiring football to watch.

    Don't worry - you can't say that about tonight's performance.

    There are moments in sport where you know you're watching one of the all time greats. When it comes to football we're lucky to have this Spanish team.

    More of the same from England

    I didn't get excited by England's performances in Euro 2012 and I didn't get disappointed. My feelings were one of indifference.

    It might have been in the second half during the Italy game or perhaps extra time, but as I watched the Italians dominate possession, I thought about what I was watching.

    I realised I could have been watching any England performance from the last 20 years. Euro 92, France 98, Euro 2000, Germany 2006. It all just looked the same. The same inability to hold onto possession and pass the ball.

    It was ridiculous how the Italy game went to penalties, and it would have been embarrassing if we went through. Nothing ever changes with England.

    After Euro 2000 where Germany had a shocking tournament, they went away and had a hard long look at their football and how young players were being coached. They made changes and look at them now.

    In England we never seem to learn. We never make changes and this is why I've become bored and indifferent to the team.

    We're a Quarter final team, ranked somewhere between 7 - 12 in the World, but when we come up against the very best we come up short. This will continue until something radical changes.

    The Premier League isn't all that

    With England showing their usual failings, it reminded me that for all the hype, popularity and quality of the Premier League, it has absolutely no affect on England's ability to compete with the very best.

    We curate the best league in the world, bringing together the world's best football talent, but I'd rather give some of that up, if it meant we had a more successful national team.

    Look at Italy. Italian football is rotten to the core and quite unfashionable, but Italian football has a deep and solid football culture and identity which makes Italy always competitive. We don't have this in England.

    So many players particularly English stars are hyped beyond belief, but we've seen top quality players in the Euros who aren't household names who have more tactical know how and technique then many of our hyped Premier League players.

    Where are the English equivalents of Luka Modric, David Silva, Xabi Alonso or Andrea Pirlo? There aren't any - we import these players into our league.

    Great for the Premier League but ultimately of no use to England.

    Most impressive performance

    It has to be Spain's performance in the final. Confirmation of their greatness.

    Biggest Disappointment

    Has to be the Dutch, I thought they might make the final. More stories of infighting they never really turned up.

    After them it should be the French who are now the new Dutch, infighting and underachievement sums them up.

    Best Match

    Italy/Germany Probably, but the Germany/Greece game was pretty good as well.

    Best player

    Not very original but I'll go with Pirlo. He's been a class player for years, and his performances against England and Germany mean he's my best player.

    Best goal

    Balotelli's second against Germany, a brilliant strike and celebration. Loved the way he eventually broke out into a smile as his teammates hugged him.

    Let me know your thoughts on the finals. Are Spain the greatest team in history? Are they better than the Brazil team of 1970? How can any other teams compete with them in the next few years?

    So many questions - but for now lets acknowledge the brilliance of Spain.