Sunday 30 June 2013

Wimbledon 2013 - The art of queuing

I've been watching Wimbledon on telly every year since 1985. Earlier this week I finally decided to make my first ever visit to the All England Club.

I knew what to expect, if I wanted to gain entry with a ground pass, it would require patience and the ability to deal with queuing for more than 2 hours.

I left my home in East London just after 7:00 in the morning, met my friend outside Southfields tube station at 8:20 and was in the queue for 8:30.

I was mentally prepared to queue until early afternoon based on the advice of people who'd previously queued for tickets at Wimbledon.

On entering the queue we were given a card with a queue number. The stewards told us Wimbledon had a capacity of 7000 people. It wasn't a great start to the day to be given a queuing ticket number of 8224!

We were warned it would be a long wait - maybe 7 or 8 hours! Surely they were just saying this to manage our expectations? I was confident we'd be in by at least 1:00.

I was prepared, I'd made provisions by stocking up. In my bag I had newspapers to read, biscuits, bagels, hot cross buns and two bottles of water.

By midday I realised my optimistic 1:00 estimation was way off the mark. It took almost 8 hours of queuing before we made it in at just after 4:00!

Writing about it now, I'm amazed I could queue for so long. I don't know whether I should admire my own perseverance or question my own sanity!

I certainly related to this video on the Guardian.

When we finally got in, I have to admit I loved the feel of finally being at Wimbledon.

It's a mixture of being at a great sporting and social event. So much history and tradition surrounds the place.

Did I get to see any tennis? Well yes I did.

I saw a few matches on the outside courts, but I didn't see that much. After an hour or so the rain starting coming down. Not too hard but enough to put an end to any evening play.

The original plan was to try and buy some re-sale tickets for the show courts, but when we saw the queue for these tickets funnily enough that idea fell flat.

By 5:30 my friend decided he wanted to go home as he was so tired, I was having none of it. Now that I was here I wanted a drink, something to eat and a chance to take in the Wimbledon vibe.

By 6:30 with the rain coming down and the only tennis taking place under the roof on Center Court I decided to go home. Not exactly what I imagined from my first visit to Wimbledon, but it's only made me more determined to go next year.

I won't be making the same mistake of arriving so late as 8:30 in the morning. I need to be there by 7 in the morning, 7:30 latest! I'll get it right next time.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Brazilian protests: Is the World Cup what Brazil needs?

After spending a couple of weeks in Brazil this year, I've naturally been interested in the protest movement that's grown over the last few weeks.

The protests have certainly shown the world another side of Brazil away from the usual stereotypes of sun, samba, football and carnival.

The protests have deflected attention from the Confederations Cup football tournament which acts as a test run for the World Cup.

One thing that's stood out is the growing anger and resentment towards next year's World Cup and Olympics in 2016.

This feeling is perfectly represented in this video I found by Carla Dauden. With all the problems facing the country, she explains why she won't be going to the World Cup next year - it's been viewed on Youtube more than 2.5 million times already!

Since the end of military rule in the 1980s, Brazil has made huge progress both politically and economically and the demonstrations are a consequence of this.

There's been a huge growth in the country's middle class, not surprisingly their expectations have grown considerably.

They're frustrated with slower economic growth, a decline in living standards and are no longer prepared to tolerate political corruption and mismanagement.

There's a number of countries in similar positions but the situation in Brazil is different with the two biggest sporting events taking place in the space of 2 years.

These events are only angering people further. How can a country with so much inequality, corruption and lack of investment in public services be spending so much money on sporting events.

This was a question I thought about when I visited one of Rio's Favelas in April. Our tour guide said the government is making more of an effort to address poverty and inequality but sporting events are limited in what they can do.

Brazilians want improvements in public services, health, education, schooling. The World Cup and Olympics rather than being great events to improve the country seem more like an insult to many people.

This week I read an article by former Brazilian footballer turned politician Romario, who argues many of the same points.

He originally thought the event would benefit the country, but now believes that the World Cup is only deepening the problems the country faces.

Before the 2012 Olympics we had many of the same discussions in the UK. Would the Olympics be of benefit to the country? Could we afford to spend so much money on a sporting event, when there were so many other important things the money could be spent on?

When you have major sporting events taking place in emerging countries like Brazil, these questions become even more important.

I want to believe and hope that the World Cup and Olympics will benefit Brazil and I'm sure that just like here in the UK there will be a great feel good factor.

But a country like Brazil needs a lot more than a feel good factor to make a long lasting difference to lives of millions of ordinary Brazilians.

Sunday 23 June 2013

James Gandolfini: How the Sopranos changed television

I was saddened to hear this week of the death of actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos.

The Sopranos is one of my favourite television shows of all time. The Sopranos and the HBO channel it was made by changed television.

I think it showed that TV could challenge films artistically. The Sopranos explored stories, themes and characters with a depth that simply isn't available in film.

I've always been interested in organised crime and the Mafia. When I first heard about the Sopranos I knew it was something that would appeal to me.

What I liked was that it wasn't really just about gangsters. Tony Soprano was a middle aged suburban husband and father with a senior level executive job. It just so happened that rather than working in government or finance, his profession was organised crime.

There were two sides to the Sopranos. On the one side it was a show about the Mafia and gangsters, but take away the gangster element and you were left with a family drama of suburban American life.

I loved how the Sopranos showed that being a member of the Mafia was just a day job, Tony Soprano was a stressed husband, he suffered from anxiety attacks, had a difficult relationship with his mother, two typical teenage children entering adulthood, and a challenging working environment.

These were things that so many of us could relate to, even if your day job didn't involve chopping up some unfortunate wiseguy.

The scale and success of The Sopranos allowed more TV dramas to develop and take on greater storytelling challenges. Without The Sopranos there wouldn't be The Wire, Mad Men, Broadwalk Empire and so many other great TV shows.

Friday 21 June 2013

Miami Heat are NBA Champions

With the football season over, my attentions have turned stateside with basketball's NBA Finals.

This season came to an end when the Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in the deciding Game 7 match to clinch the series 4-3. The Heat led by the league's best player in Lebron James have now won back to back titles.

My highlight of the series, Ray Allen's 3 pointer in Game 6 to take the game into overtime.

I have to say this year's finals have been compelling! For most of the season, it seemed that Miami would cruise their way to another championship and Lebron James would cement his position as the greatest player of his generation.

It didn't go quite to plan. The Heat needed 7 games to beat the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals and now in the finals they've come against and ageing but formidable San Antonio Spurs led by their own legend and 4 time NBA championship winner Tim Duncan.

The series has been brilliant to watch. It's been a real see-saw battle with each team winning one match then losing the next.

I've loved the narratives for a different players. There's Lebron, the superstar. Winning one title isn't enough for the critics; he has to win multiple championships.

For the Spurs the quiet legend of Tim Duncan trying to win a 5th title.

But this series was big for back up players making a name for themselves. The 3 point shooting of Gary Neal and Danny Green and the rise of youngster Kawhi Leonard, surely the future for the Spurs.

The veterans also stepped up as well. Manu Ginobili rolled back the years in Game 5, and Ray Allen's 3 pointer in Game 6 had me falling out my seat!

Miami eventually triumphed but I felt sorry for the Spurs, they were so close to winning the series and contributed so much, I didn't think they deserved to lose.

The last word has to go to Lebron James and the Heat, Lebron gets a lot of criticism some of it unfair, but he stepped up when it mattered and is building on his legacy of being one of the all times greats of the game.