Sunday, 4 March 2018

Semi-Stable Idiot Week 9: February 26 - March 4 2018


“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” — Confucius


My mind is still on ‘Olympic things’.
I’ve now coached at 8.  I think I was somewhat excited at two of them.  Maybe three. 

Cynicism is now the over-riding emotion.  

Cynicism because of the corrupt IOC.  
The waste.
The drugs.
The greed.
The cheats.
The money.
The politics. 

The so-called Olympic ideals have been long laid to rest; in their place - a multi-billion dollar entertainment machine. 

But the reality is that the Olympic Games are still - somehow - the ultimate expression of competition for most of the sports that exist within the ‘Olympic Movement’ (whatever that is anymore).

And while the ‘Olympic Movement’ undergoes the necessary surgery to keep it alive, it is essential that the cynicism of those with knowledge of what exists behind the curtain does not negatively effect the experience of those for who it exists: i.e. the athletes (or it is to bring peace, unity, love, and having fun?  I really don’t know anymore).

(10 points for those of you who picked up on the Afrika Bambaataa reference)

I have spoken of the solution for years; it’s really quite simple: return the Olympics to Athens.  Full-time.

No more ridiculous bidding processes, that only serve to line the pockets of corrupt politicians, and saddle cities with debt, white elephant facilities, and millions of forced evictions. 

What’s your vision?

As a ‘Movement’ the IOC needs to ask the question: are you still living by your ideals? 

Are you still committed to your vision?  

If not - then do we need to change our vision, or do we need to change our behavior?  

It’s the same with any company - or, for that matter, - individual. 

Every day - we must remind ourselves of our purpose (vision), and ask: does how we currently act still align to this purpose? 

If so - carry on.  

If not, then we either need to change our purpose, or change our action.  

In the case of the corrupt leaders of sport, the answer is clear. 

In the meantime, I will do all I can to continue to help young people prepare for the only few minutes in a four year cycle when the typical punter pretends to care about what they are doing. 

photo courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

I asked the following question on social media.  

Judging by the answers of a lot of folks, people didn’t understand the question - so I will try again:

So if the only reason you win a medal is because your support team has more $ than other support teams, does it really mean anything? 
To you?  
Honest Q

I’m not naive to importance of technology in some sports. 

And not sure what the solution is, or if one is even needed, TBH

To clarify - 

IF the reason you won is because your support team has more money, DOES THIS REDUCE YOUR SATISFACTION? 

Take the British skeleton athletes for example.   

Of the six medals up for grabs, half of them were won by the Brits.  

Sean Ingle wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian about why this was so (in fact, he wrote it before the competition started)

The facts:

  • The Brits won a total of 1 World Cup medal the entire season.  
  • Then won HALF of the Olympic Medals.
  • After getting new speed suits.
  • That most of the competition thought illegal.
  • That were given to them on the eve of the Competition
  • And taken away immediately at the end of the Competition.

So - just like the British cycling suits before them - that played a massive part in the team’s domination over the course of three Olympiads - it can very easily be inferred that the reason for the British dominance is the technology that was available to them at the Olympic Games. 

Again - I am not judging.  Technology is a part of this sport - as it is with bobsleigh and F1, which I also enjoy.  

My question remains:

DOES IT REDUCE THE MEDAL-WINNER’S SATISFACTION, when objective facts show that the relatively greater monetary support of their governing body is the primary determinant of their success?

photo courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

What’s the point

... of the Olympic Games?


I think that each individual, and each country, need to make their own minds up here.  
The Winter Olympics probably mean far more to Norway than they do to Nigeria, or the USA.  

And this is OK!

Let’s not pretend otherwise, or try to influence otherwise. 

Most elite athletes don’t make elite coaches.
Most elite coaches were not elite athletes.

There are few exceptions.

One is Jeremy Wotherspoon

Jeremy is the best sprint speed-skater of all-time

He won more World Cup medals, and more World Cup races than any other athlete

The only man to ever skate faster is a Russian who has been twice banned, and had to sit our the most recent Games in Pyeongchang

But Jeremy never won an Olympic gold medal

In Pyeongchang - now coach of the Norwegian team, he coached an unheralded, and underdog Norwegian (Havard Lorentzen) to an Olympic record, and the gold medal in the event that Jeremy dominated for so long.

What a story!

Most elite athletes don’t understand what made them elite.  

Many lack the introspection
And the empathy that is required as a coach

Jeremy is a clear exception.  

I re-read this chat today - I’ll need to continue to come back to it.  I highly recommend that you give it a read.  

" ... if the athlete tries to take responsibility for everything, they will burn out.  It is too much to plan with too many decisions to make.  The coach should be able to talk knowledgeably about everything the athlete asks about, and if not, the coach should have resources they can rely on.  A coach can only talk the talk for a limited amount of time before trust is lost, and lost trust is usually the beginning of the end of a relationship.  My advice to coaches, be honest, ask questions to others and don't pretend to know everything." - Jeremy Wotherspoon

Here is a great article he wrote 100 days prior to Pyeongchang -  lot’s of lessons for coaches and athletes:

To be at their best, athletes need to focus on doing high-quality work every day at training. They need to dial in to what they are doing right now.  The final goal is motivation, it is wild self-belief, it is emotional energy that convinces us to get up and train every day. This is a big challenge, because the Olympic goal dwarfs the sometimes imperceptible day-to-day improvements that are necessary to get there ... I want to help athletes keep things in perspective. To prepare them to deal with situations as they come and to not get stuck like I did, weighed down by internal pressure and artificial constraints.  As an athlete, I don’t have the best Olympic record, but I am always learning and my ideas and opinions are not static.” - Jeremy Wotherspoon

photo courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

If you haven’t read Tianna Bartoletta’s blog, do so.  

Tonight, she receives an upgraded World Championships medal - stolen from her by a dirty Russian sports system that has done the same to literally 100s of others. 

In her latestshe writes that the cheaters are cheating themselves out of the experience - as much as they are cheating their competitors.  

“The thing that saddens me the most is not so much that you’ve cheated me…

 and affected my life in ways that I can’t ever fully know…or be compensated for.

 It’s that you cheated yourself.”

Admirable thoughts.

Here was my response to Tianna:

Problem is - what if the cheater doesn’t consider what they’re doing as cheating? 
“Everyone else does it” buries the guilt, and the responsibility.

Like self-deception (essentially lying - deceiving ourselves to better deceive others) where is the point where we no longer recognize the line between cheating and not cheating?

Like Trump is no doubt certain in his honesty, I’m sure most Russian ‘cheaters’ are certain in theirs. 

Like I said ... complex.

I thought that Tianna’s blog-post’s primary thesis was that the cheater is cheating themselves as much as they are those who they competed against.  

My point is that if the cheater doesn’t see themselves as a cheater - which is almost assuredly the case with most Russians - then this POV isn’t available to them.

Doping is crazy complex.
Those who pretend otherwise are doing the ‘fight’ against it a disservice.  

The latest example of the complexity is that a Jamaican female bobsledder has apparently tested positive for clenbuterol at Pyeongchang.  

Well - guess what?

This is almost certainly not cheating.  

Two questions to ask:

  1. What athlete in their right mind is taking clenbuterol???
  2. How can an athlete test positive for it, if they didn’t take it?


  1. Probably no one on a testing list - especially if they’re going to an Olympic Games.  There is no threshold limit for clenbuterol, and detection though current methods is relatively simple. 
  2. While illegal for animal consumption in North America and Europe, clenbuterol is used to promote growth in livestock in many parts of the world - including Asia, Mexico, and the Caribbean.  And if you happened to eat some of this contaminated meat, there is a chance you can test positive for it.  To wit - In 2010, routine doping control of a German team returning from a tournament in China found low – yet clearly detectable – concentrations of clenbuterol in the urine of every single member of the squad (Guddat et al. (2012). A follow-up study, conducted with people residential in China and with tourists staying in China for ­various lengths of time and in various locations, further illustrated the problem of illegal use of clenbuterol in animal feed: based on current anti-doping regulations, no fewer than 22 of the 28 volunteers tested would have returned ”positive“ test ­results. 

I have no idea which of the three Jamaican athletes tested positive in Pyeongchang, and cannot comment as to whether I think she was knowingly cheating or not - but the reality is this: there is a very distinct possibility that she just ate some bad meat - in either her home country, or otherwise. 

photo courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

"speak softly, and carry a big stick." - Theodore Roosevelt

I understand how easy it is for the masses to just rush to judgment.  
To rush to an opinion.  

But as I said last week, all opinions should not be treated equally.  

And just because you have ‘a right to one’, doesn’t mean you should be shouting it from the mountaintop. 

You are certainly ‘entitled to an opinion’, but perhaps we should not be in such a rush to share it. 

Perhaps we should do a better job of holding on to it until we have a little more information.

I know how hard this is to do in this digital age, where it is just SO EASY to share our opinion publicly - to show the world what we think; that we are important, that we know something, that we have some sort of expertise, that w can contribute somehow to the global conversation. 

But is it really a contribution if all you are doing is spreading misinformation? 

Rather - 

Instead of rushing to shout out our ill-informed opinions (“ANOTHER bobsled drug positive - I TOLD you all bobsledders are cheaters!”  “ANOTHER Jamaican cheater - they’re ALL doing it!”), we all should remember, from a very basic standpoint, that if we are talking, we are not listening.  

And it is only through listening that we can learn.  

"We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less." - Diogenes


Why is it that everyone has an opinion when it comes to running a country, or coaching a sports team - in fact, not only that, but they are convinced that they can do actually do it better - but no one seems to doubt their local neuroscientist?  

Because we televise politics and sports - so everyone gets this false assumption of knowledge.  

People mislead themselves all day long. We tell ourselves we’re smarter and better looking than our friends, that our political party can do no wrong, that we’re too busy to help a colleague. In 1976, in the foreword to Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, the biologist Robert Trivers floated a novel explanation for such self-serving biases: We dupe ourselves in order to deceive others, creating social advantage. Now after four decades Trivers and his colleagues have published the first research supporting his idea.

a glowing self-view makes others see us in the same light, leading to mating and cooperative opportunities. Supporting this argument, Cameron Anderson, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, showed in 2012 that overconfident people are seen as more competent and have higher social status. “I believe there is a good possibility that self-deception evolved for the purpose of other-deception,” Anderson says.

Von Hippel offers two pieces of wisdom regarding self-deception: “My Machiavellian advice is this is a tool that works,” he says. “If you need to convince somebody of something, if your career or social success depends on persuasion, then the first person who needs to be [convinced] is yourself.”

- Jon Hotten,

“what I’ve discovered is that speed and accuracy go together. They are not mutually exclusive. If your muscles are working efficiently and you are using your body properly, you line up well and everything works.” Ian Pont,  cricket bowling coach

“Better to hit the ball with an apparently unorthodox style than miss it with a correct one” - Don Bradman

“At the 1968 Olympics, Dick Fosbury used the Fosbury Flop to win the gold medal and from then on, anyone that wanted to win at high jump had to use his method. And Fosbury himself said, ‘My mind wanted me to get over the bar, and intuitively figured out the most efficient way’. Bradman solved the problem of controlling a bouncing ball in his childhood completely intuitively. He developed a different style of batting which took it to unprecedented heights. The difference between him and Fosbury is that nobody copied Bradman.” - Tony Shillinglaw

Palmer, Pont and Shillinglaw didn’t seem to be advocating for a wider range of knowledge, instead they were diving for deeper, more quintessential truths. 

Not only does this editorial tone go against the basic notion of the Olympic movement, which is about taking joy in all forms of excellence, of sport as a form of benign international relations. It is also naive to assume that only British success will sell these sports to the BBC’s viewers.

But then the fetishising of Team GB feeds back into the wider issue, the notion of medal hunting, of glossily staged PR at the expense of sport for all. The culture of focusing on elite sports while facilities for participation wither has been the great wrong turn of modern British sporting administration.

Attention has already been drawn to the generous sums of money devoted to sports such as skeleton while schools struggle to provide basic PE, in itself a national scandal. Meanwhile, basketball, which is often played by urban teenagers without medal prospects, or indeed any prospects at all, gets zero, zilch, nothing.

What is the value in watching someone win a medal in isolation? Nobody really believes any more that this will make people go out and become active. At some point the funding model will have to be rejigged, predicated on accessibility, the potential to grow, to contribute in everyday terms to the common good.

One place to start would be with a move away from the flag-waving, the GB medal obsession, the pretence that all is nice in the nicest possible world, captured in these Games by a BBC team that is just a change of outfit, a plastered smile, a dance routine away from our own version of the North Korean cheerleading cult.

photo courtesy Peter Simmons, 5or6

We should not be obsessed with winning sporting medals, we should be obsessed with playing sport and getting as many people as possible to do it

The aim of any public funding in sport should be to encourage participation. That’s my feeling. As things stand, that link is not always apparent. Olympic funding from UK Sport is predicated on winning medals. A supplementary argument, and one made by UK Sport, says that if you win the medals you inspire others. Last year a survey found that the London 2012 Games inspired 7% of respondents to take up sport. I’ve heard people say that is both an awful number and, actually, when you look at it in the round, a very impressive one. Either way, if participation is the ultimate goal, emulation seems an imprecise way of delivering it.

So I say let elite sport run fallow. For the next decade, say, stick all the cash we would have spent into participation instead. Take the money (which, for a four‑year cycle, we’ll round down to a third of a billion) and spend it on 3G pitches, sports halls and multipurpose courts. Actually, spend some of it on that; spend the rest on getting people to use them.

The chairman of the BOA, Sir Hugh Robertson, does not subscribe to this view. “I think it would be a very sad day if we gave up on wanting to succeed at the Olympic Games,” the former Tory MP said this week. He went on to defend Olympic funding of skeleton (£6.5m over four years, 130 practitioners in the country) over other activities, such as the minority-friendly basketball (150,000 practitioners, not one penny). “It would be very sad if we gave up the opportunity of winning a winter medal to put in a basketball team that at the moment is going to get eliminated pretty early.”


- Glen Wilson

Despite the self-righteous hype and the feted glory that is used to sell modern football, the true nature of the game itself means that every team should one day endure failure. Teams will always have bad seasons. Rovers have certainly had their fair share; indeed I write these words in the summer wake of another particularly insipid relegation. However, no Football League club has ever endured as terrible, as hopeless, as turgid and as torrid a time as Doncaster’s annus horribilis of 1997-98, and given the game’s current omnipresence it’s hard to imagine any club will ever do so again.

League tables don’t lie after all. Played 46, won 4, drawn 8, lost 34, scored 30, conceded 117, with another 14 goals shipped in the club’s four cup games; all of which were lost. Officially the worst the league has seen. Ever. In black and white a disaster of a season, but the numbers tell only a fraction of the story. This was a failure of cataclysmic proportions; a season so absurd, so devoid of hope that with a month of it still to go we had reached such a nadir that chaining a man to a goalpost appeared the least extreme, and most viable option remaining to save the club we supported. This was the epitome of hopelessness. This, we presumed, was the end.

This is the story of the very worst that English League football ever was, and probably ever will be. 


“I want to read an op-ed page where skilled prose stylists backed by diligent research assistants provide cogent, well-reasoned, evidence-based arguments in favor of ideas I already agree with.” - Matt Yglesias


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I take it you found Colin Jackson’s commentary particularly insightful this year then? ;)

    Lots of excellent points in your blog post. Would also love to see less nationalism in sport, but the problem comes through society writ large, not just the BBC’s GB obsession and vacuous athlete interviews and #inspire slogans. On some level the people want to see that and the BBC serves that demand (as opposed to your stronger North Korean propaganda argument).

    Your thoughts on participation value are great. Solution might entail less fetishisation of elite athletes and more encouragement for young people to look at sport as one of multiple methods of self-improvement. Difficult to teach that value system to somebody who isn’t already benefiting from it though. There may be c. 150k UK basketball participants (same might be true of athletics), but having great facilities available / funded isn’t enough to translate that into much larger numbers, as you acknowledge. But how would you spend money to get people to use them? I think that goes to the heart of the matter.

    Without wishing to be too circular, the most effective method might be the disappointing status quo (i.e. 7% Olympics, celebrities, flag waving etc).