When the Eritrean national soccer team's plane returned home after a competition in Nairobi, only the coach was on board. The team's whereabouts are unknown. This isn't the first time the've pulled this though:
Mr Musonye told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme it was the third time the Eritrean team had failed to return home after a tournament.
"The Eritrean federation have done their best to bring a team to the competition - unfortunately these boys had other ideas," he said.
"Definitely they are in Nairobi - we have so many Eritreans here - they must be somewhere."
I know this is a terrible thing for an internationalist-type American such as myself to admit, but I don't actually like watching soccer all that much. I like my sports fast-paced, high-scoring and frequently interrupted by beer and truck commercials, thank you very much.
However, I do enjoy the World Cup for the opportunity to see bitter geopolitical rivalries play out in a forum where no one gets killed or injured. (Well, not usually.) So, as Mark Leon Goldberg notes, today's World Cup draw is the first chance to see what we're in for. I must say, it looks like kind of slim pickings in the international drama department:
Goldberg points out a few colonizer vs. ex-colonized games in the first round, (Brazil-Portugal, U.S.-England, Spain-Chile/Honduras) but these are all centuries old and not that bitter.
The addition of North Korea to the mix is interesting, but it won't face South Korea, Japan, or the United States unless it makes it to the later rounds.The Round of 16 offers the possibility of a Honduras-Brazil match, which could be interesting depending on how the Manuel Zelaya situation plays out and an ex-Yugoslav matchup of Serbia and Slovenia could be good too. But all-in-all, it seems unlikely that any of these games will crack Steve Walt's "Sporting Events that Shook the World" list. Would a Venezuela-Colombia game or a Russia-Poland game be too much for a foreign-policy blogger to ask for?
The bigger drama (except for the soccer if you're into that sort of thing) will likely be whether South Africa can prove the skeptics wrong and put on an event that showcases its recent achievements more than its shortcomings.
Manny "Pac Man" Pacquiao has suffered four losses in his career. Three were to rival boxers and the fourth was to Philippine congresswoman Darlene Antonino-Custodio for the congressional seat in the First District of South Cotabato, home to General Santos City, the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.
The pound for pound boxing champion of the world will return to politics, this time running in the neighboring district of Sarangani. The seat will be left vacant for the 2010 elections due to term limits. Pacquiao will be supported by his own party, the People's Champ Movement (Here's hoping Freddie Roach will stay on as campaign manager).
As far as a platform goes, Pac Man told the AP in March, "I want to help [the poor] because I know what they feel right now. It is not easy to help other people. That is a big responsibility. I will focus on that for the meantime."
He told reporters yesterday, "I want only good things for Sarangani... I will work for children, for the health of our countrymen and for their livelihood."
Pacquiao does indeed know what poverty feels like, growing up poor in a country where 30 million people live on less than a dollar a day. He worked as both a baker and a construction worker before he became known as the Mexicutioner.
If he wins the seat, it is not clear if he will fight Floyd "Money" Mayweather Jr. as was expected. This would surely be a disappointment to millions of fans who would like nothing more than to see "Money" knocked out. This will also play a vital role in his bid for a congressional seat; his 2007 loss is often credited to many of his fans who voted against him to make sure he would stay in the ring.
Covering this campaign (the new greatest job in journalism) will also be a Christmas-come-early for hundreds of political writers who will undoubtedly use the politics as boxing analogy ad nauseam. (E.g. Gets back in the ring, ready for a fight, trades jabs, throws in the towel)
The France-Ireland dispute over Thierry Henry's handball is getting all the international press, but the three-way diplomatic dispute between Egypt, Algeria, and Sudan over violence at a recent World Cup qualifying match looks more serious:
Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria after World Cup qualifying football matches between the two countries resulted in a number of outbreaks of violence..
Egypt says a number of its fans who travelled to Sudan for a match on Wednesday to decide which of the sides would go to next year's World Cup finals in South Africa were assaulted by Algerians.
Algeria beat Egypt 1-0 with local police saying that there was little violence due to the massive security operation mounted.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese government summoned the Egyptian ambassador in Khartoum to complain about the insinuation that Sudanese security personnel were to blame for the violence. Egyptian authorities claim that Algerian fans throwing rocks wounded 21 Egyptian fans. This was in retaliation for an earlier game in Cairo in which Algerian players were wounded by Egyptian fans throwing rocks at their bus.
Some are comparing the dispute to the famous 1969 "football war" fought between El Salvador and Honduras. That's probably a stretch -- relations between Egypt and Algeria are, for the most part, pretty good -- but here's hoping that this dispute, and the Henry spat, aren't a preview of what to expect in South Africa this summer.
Hat tip: Nightwatch
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
As if Brett Favre isn't already a source of shame for denizens of Wisconsin, now Iraqi detainees are trying to use the sore spot to their advantage.
Iraqi prisoners at a detainment camp run by the Wisconsin National Guard have learned some English, unfortunately for the soldiers, it is mainly about the former pride of Green Bay.
"They know Favre by name," said First Lieutenant Tim Boehnen, who is from New Richmond, Wis.
"One of the big words they know now is shenanigan. They'll constantly talk about 'Favre shenanigans,' 'He's so good for the Vikings,' and 'The Packers have got to really feel bad about that one.' "
Boehen may be responsible for some of the onslaught or anti-Favre remarks. He said the detainees started their Brett-bashing after the guards put up Green Bay Packers paraphernalia all over the compound. That was the beginning of the end.
"They obviously then started up the conversations, and started talking about Brett Favre. They soon learned about Favre going to the Vikings, and things just started going downhill from there."
Hat tip: Deadspin
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Taking a break from the self-help circuit, former President George W. Bush traveled to Japan to throw out the first pitch at the Japan Series. The one-time Texas Rangers owner also took the time to talk to university students about running a successful sports franchise. While Bush steered well clear of politics, it's not to read his advice in the context of his presidency (my emphasis):
During his brief speech, Bush outlined key points for developing a successful franchise.
Make sure the stadium has a pleasant environment. Hire "good baseball people" to make key decisions about which players to select. Treat the media "as an ally, not an antagonist."
But the best marketing is winning, he said.
"Problem is, it's not that easy," the former two-term president said. Plenty of fans yelled at him when the Rangers were doing poorly, he said. "That's part of sports. I never took it personally."Bush also said it was important to take responsibility for decisions, including bad ones - and referred to what he has acknowledged was one of his biggest mistakes with the Rangers: approving the 1989 trade that sent future home-run slugger Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox for designated hitter Harold Baines.
I get the feeling that Bush is going to go to his grave regretting the Sosa trade more than any other mistake he's ever made.
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images
Mikhail Prokhorov is the chairman of Russia's largest gold producer, and now he will team up with hip-hop's largest gold-record producer.
Prokhorov, Russia's richest man (even after a $7 billion loss last year), bought the New Jersey Nets yesterday for $200 million, making him the first Russian owner of a U.S. sports team. This also makes him business partners with Jay-Z. (Who seems to be getting a lot of play in foreign policy circles these days)
The first order of business will be to move the Nets to Jay-Z's native Brooklyn, and begin building the new stadium. The deal seems to be as much about business as it is about pleasure for the 6ft. 7in. Prokhorov, who said in a statement, "I have a long-standing passion for basketball and pursuing interests that forward the development of the sport in Russia."
He also claims he will be, "the only NBA owner who can dunk."
The stadium will be fewer than 10 miles from Brighton Beach, an area of Brooklyn rich with Russian influence, Bloomberg reports.
The move to Brooklyn has been a goal of Jay-Z's (basketball discussion starts at 5:30); however it remains unclear if Jay-Z will get what he really wants. (Hint: he made a controversial song about him)
Al Bello/Getty Images
Amidst the continued debate and controversy surrounding South African world champion runner, Caster Semenya, South African officials have gone a bit overboard in their outrage about gender testing procedures used by IAAF. In regard to revoking Semenya's title, South African Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile stated earlier today:
"I think it would be the third world war. We will go to the highest levels in contesting such a decision. I think it would be totally unfair and totally unjust."
In the Financial Times on Wednesday, Chris Cook argues that British immigration laws are giving an unfair edge to soccer clubs with more money.
Clubs with deep pockets hire the small number of local and foreign gifted players available, while poorer clubs must make do with the remaining, potentially much weaker, local journeymen.
Not only that, he says, but the protectionist measures of allowing non-European workers only if the fit certain high-skill benchmarks also inflate wages for less-skilled Europeans, raising ticket prices.
Cook contends tougher competition would boost the English national team:
The impact of more foreign players on the elite band of players who might conceivably play for the national team is that they need to play better to keep their places in their club teams. So, they improve. The English team has markedly improved since foreign footballers started pouring into the country’s top league.
Would some British and European soccer players be pushed out of work if rules were liberalized? Probably, but a more competitive league would be worth it Cook says.
Consumers of an increasing range of products will soon feel the pain in their wallets already endured by so many fans on a Saturday afternoon, who routinely complain that they pay ever-greater sums to watch a football league dominated by just four clubs. What English football needs is fewer English footballers.
Not knowing that much about the economics of the Premiere Leage, here's a question: If teams in the lower half of the standings became much more competitive, would it increase their revenues? Higher ticket sales? More advertising?
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
The New York Times's Simon Romero reports that Hugo Chávez really doesn't like golf, which means no one else in Venezuela is allowed to:
After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.
“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil. Then he went on, mocking the use of golf carts as a practice illustrating the sport’s laziness.[...]
A housing shortage has also pushed the government’s hand, Mr. Chávez said last month, when he questioned why Maracay had so many slums while the golf course and the grounds of the state-owned Hotel Maracay, a decaying modernist gem built in the 1950s, stretch over about 74 acres of coveted real estate.
“Just so some little group of the bourgeois and the petit-bourgeois can go and play golf,” he said during his television program.[...]
“I respect all sports,” he said. “But there are sports and there are sports. Do you mean to tell me this is a people’s sport?”
He then answered the question: “It is not.”
I'm generally not a big fan of Chávez's politics or economic policies, but I'm with him on this one. Golfers require entirely too much space to play their maddeningly boring sport. On the other hand, as Times blogger Robert Mackey points out, some of Chávez's heroes might not like his principled anti-golf stance.
Flickr user: R'eyes
In June, I wrote about how many of the world's biggest soccer clubs are facing crippling debt. Over the summer, several individual clubs have faced disbandment over their debts, and now an entire league is facing a season being postponed, as Argentina's Football Association has been forced to suspend the beginning of its fall season. Many of the top division's clubs are have very large debts, including its most famous clubs, Buenos Aires-based River Plate and Boca Juniors.
Latin American football is a tenuous financial affair at the best of times; club directors are hired and fired by a club's members (anyone can pay a membership fee), encouraging lavish promises to the membership, and there is little regulation of financial practices. Furthermore, the die-hard fan clubs known as "Barra Bravas" have become more assertive and violent in recent years, leading to falling attendances (the AFA president's office was attacked within two hours of the postponement, with about 100 people throwing stones and breaking windows). With the global recession pushing down revenues even further, all that the AFA can do is try negotiating a larger TV rights payment, and it's unclear at this point how long that will take.
If the season is delayed for too long, the damage to the league's talent level could be critical: while the Argentine league is no longer among the world's best, like many South American leagues it remains a key breeding ground for top talent (big stars who got their start in Argentina include Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Diego Forlan and Sergio Agüero). But a long delay could lead to many top prospects moving to leagues in Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, where they could continue developing while actually getting paid. Still, those angry supporters shouldn't worry too much - as a new book points out, 97 percent of the 88 clubs that started England's football league in 1923 still exist today, whereas less than the world's biggest companies then have survived that long.
ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images
Last Friday's Jakarta bombings, which killed nine people, were the first attacks in almost four years in the Indonesian capital, and this time, the targets were not just foreign businessmen, but also the famous Manchester United football club. A blog post purportedly from terrorist leader Noordin Mohammed Top, who is wanted for both last week's attacks and several attacks from 2002-04 (including the Bali nightclub bombing that killed over 200) reads, "“The [Manchester United] club consists of players who are Crusaders and therefore they did not deserve to play in a Muslim country.”
Given the recent behavior of their top stars, the equating of the "Red Devils" with religious warriors amuses football fans everywhere outside of the Greater Manchester area (and plenty of people inside of it as well). Even so, the actual danger to the team was small; the bombings took place several days before Manchester United was supposed to arrive in Jakarta, and even if the message is authentic, it's impossible to tell whether Top is merely trying to claim more headlines after the fact. But in the long-term, the threat is likely to have significant implications for international sports, as top teams will have to step up security, particularly while traveling to other countries, and events like the Olympics, which already require massive security budgets, will likely have to spend even more.
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
At the opening session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue yesterday, President Obama made a point of referring to one of China's most impressive exports:
In addition to assembling the ballerest cabinet in American history, Obama also seems to really like dropping the names of a country's prominent U.S.-based athletes as an icebraker with possibly suspicious crowds. Here he is in Ankara on April 6:
“President Hu [Jintao] and I both felt that it was important to get our relationship off to a good start,” Obama said. “Of course, as a new president and also as a basketball fan, I have learned from the words of Yao Ming, who said, ‘No matter whether you are new or an old team member, you need time to adjust to one another.’”
Maybe it's just a rhetorical pleasantry, but what if this indicates a new foreign policy doctrine for the Obama era, namely: No matter a country's regime type, economic system, or foreign policy goals, as long as they are represented (well) in U.S. professional sports leagues, there is at least the basis of a productive bilateral relationship with the United States.
This augurs well for a rapproachement with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, which has made substantial contributions to Major League Baseball -- including the manager of Obama's White Sox. Cuba could be a bit problematic, since Cuban baseball players tend to be defectors, but the country's potential baseball contribution is vast, so diplomatic progress will likely be slow but deliberate.
The U.S.-China relationship will remain at least as strong as Yao's knee, but Taiwan can at least count on Chien-Ming Wang in their bid for U.S. support.
Zaza Pachulia's new contract with the Atlanta Hawks should reassure Georgians worried about being abandoned in the Obama administration's Russian reset. Israelis worried about Obama's hard line on settlements should take heart in the recent signing of Omri Casspi by the Sacramento Kings. They may want to keep an eye on the Iranian Hamed Haddadi of the Memphis Grizzlies though, not to mention the NFL's half-Iranian T.J. Houshmanzadeh.
Kim Jong Il as well as his son and probably successor Kim Jong Un are both known to be big basketball fans. If they really want to get the U.S. to the negotiating table, perhaps what they need is not their own nuke, but their own Yao Ming.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
This is not what you call good P.R.:
The fate of four signed basketballs given by NBA great Shaquille O'Neal to Sichuan earthquake survivors sparked an Internet storm in China this week.
The 15-times All Star doled out the balls to four children on Tuesday when he was visiting a school in Mianyang, the city worst affected by the earthquake which killed more than 80,000 people last year.
The boys were devastated when the balls were subsequently confiscated by school staff and China's increasingly assertive Internet community rallied to their cause.[...]
O'Neal, who is hugely popular in basketball-mad China, later dispatched replacement balls to the students.
"I never thought it would be like this. I can imagine how disappointed the boys must be," O'Neal told the paper.
If these officials had ever played Shaq Fu on SNES they would know what happens when you get between Shaq and his charity work.
Before the G-8 summit began, intrepid Guardian reporter John Hooper infiltrated the L'Aquila barracks hosting world leaders and discovered a makeshift basketball court constructed especially to make Barack Obama feel welcome.
As Hooper's quick photo makes clear, it is little more than a portable hoop on some concrete, but given that L'Aquila is an earthquake zone and that there was doubt Italy would finish its preparations in time for the summit, host Silvio Berlusconi deserves some credit for trying.
Each G-8 leader was limited to an entourage of 25, but that should be more than enough to get some real games going during the breaks. If anyone actually plays, will the game help blow off steam or add to the drama?
Hat tip: The indispensable Baller-in-Chief
Update: Baller-in-Chief digs deeper with some comparative height analysis. Obama and Jose Manuel Barroso (president of the European Commission) seem to be the tallest.
JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images
If there were still any doubts about capitalism's arrival in China, this puts it to rest. Wealthy mainlanders are increasingly taking to the grassy fields as polo becomes yet another mode of expression:
The founder of the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club, today's host in fact, is Steve Wyatt. He says in China polo is becoming the perfect way to show you have made it.
"It is hats, beautiful dresses, finest champagne, whisky and people looking at the best cars," he explains.
Is China learning to trot before it can walk?
Five years ago, when South Africa won the right to host the 2010 World Cup, many were concerned whether the country had the infrastructure to host the huge tournament. With one year to go, though, most observers agree that the country will be pass that test. Instead, the biggest complaints have centered on an instrument called the vuvuzela.
Described by one newspaper as "a unique brightly coloured elongated trumpet that makes a sound like a herd of elephants approaching", the vuvuzela has become the biggest controversy at this summer's Confederations Cup [a small tournament between continental champions that functions as a World Cup warm-up].
Fans argue that it is an essential way to express their national identity. But players and TV commentators have called for it be banned at the World Cup.
Liverpool's Xabi Alonso, playing for Spain in the current tournament, said: "They make a terrible noise and it's not a good idea to have them on sale outside the grounds. Here's a piece of advice for Fifa [football's world governing body,] - try to ban them."
The South African Association of Audiology has warned that vuvuzelas can damage hearing.
But supporters are sticking to their horns. Chris Massah Malawai, 23, watching the national team beat New Zealand, said: "This is our voice. We sing through it. It makes me feel the game."
It's hard to say the vuvuzela is melodious; its sound can be best described as a monotone swarm of bees (judge for yourself with this news report). But the biggest problem with the vuvuzela may not be the noise. Rather, whereas most fans in other countries correlate their noise to what's going on on the pitch, it is typical in South Africa to blow the horn for the entire match. Not surprisingly, the monotone sound becomes far more grating in 45-minute doses.
Still, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said:
"I always said that when we go to South Africa, it is Africa. It's not western Europe. It's noisy, it's energy, rhythm, music, dance, drums. This is Africa. We have to adapt a little."
So next summer, sit back, and get ready to hit the mute button.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
In the wake of the Iran's soccer team wearing opposition armbands in a match this week, Judah Grunstein at World Politics Review has a list of his "admittedly U.S.-centric" top 5 international sports events with political significance. His explanations are worth reading, but here's the bare list:
- U.S. vs. USSR, 1980 Olympic hockey.
- Hungary vs. USSR, 1956 Olympic water polo.
- Jesse Owens vs. Adolph Hitler, 1936 Olympics.
- Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, 1936 and 1938 World Heavyweight boxing title.
- U.S.-USSR, 1972 Olympic basketball.
Can you think of any others you would add?
The ongoing tumult in Iran over the country's election results got another jolt of international attention today, as members of the Iranian soccer team wore green wristbands to their World Cup qualifying match with South Korea — in a show of support for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
It's the biggest international sports story of the summer: the £80 million ($131 million) transfer of Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo from English club Manchester United to Spanish club Real Madrid. The amount is even more amazing given that Real broke a transfer record they set just last week: £56 million for AC Milan's Brazillian star Kaká.
And yet, as the financial crisis deepens, football clubs throughout the world are struggling with debt. Top leagues in Spain, England, and Italy all have teams collectively owing billions. Famous clubs like Liverpool and Valencia have had to delay stadium expansion, restrict new player acquistions, and (in the worst cases, like Valencia) even sell most of their stars.
But even though Real Madrid probably has the most debt of any club in Spain (almost €500 million (corrected), even before this summer's spree), they have been able to spend with abandon while the economic crisis cripples their rivals. Some of these reasons are legitimate: Real has the biggest fan base in Spain and one of the two or three biggest in the world, along with an excellent television contract (in Spain, contracts are negotiated on a team-by-team basis, not collectively as in most other leagues in Europe and in US sports). As a result, they consistently have among the highest revenues in the world. But, unlike almost every other club, Real has a trump card:
Finally, there's Real's status as, effectively, a non-profit social trust. This means they do not need to generate £30 million a year just to service their debt (like United).
Whatever debt they hold (and detail here is murky) is with local banks, many of whom are under political and social pressure not to tighten the screws. Real are too big and too important to fail or to come under the kind of debt pressures that affect traditional clubs. The club's social, political and economic significance dwarfs that of any other club in the world, with the possible exception of Barcelona. In that sense, they play by a different set of rules.
In other words, unlike almost any other operation in the world (with the possible exceptions of their rival Barcelona and the United States government), Real can keep on spending almost forever, knowing that their debts will never be called in. It really does give a whole new meaning to "too big to fail."
Alex Livesey/Getty Image
The Olympics torch for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver is officially supposed to evoke "the cool, crisp and modern lines that are left behind in the snow and ice from winter sports." But a lot of people are saying the 37-inch white torch, with crimped ends and twist in the middle, resembles a hand-rolled marijuana joint, especially when it's lit (and viewed in the horizontal position).
It doesn't help that Vancouver is a major marijuana-producing area. The Olympic torch has now been dubbed the Olympic Toke.
Photo: © VANOC/COVAN
News today that Ireland has banned its troops in Chad from playing soccer hits particularly close for me. You see, I was reporting from Chad about a year ago -- and by coincidence, I stayed in the same hotel as the initial forces for the EU peacekeeping force now deployed there. So I have to say that I agree with Irish Defence Minister Willie O’Dea:
The reality in Chad is that the ground is extremely hard. Some of the sports are played out on open ground and when people fall, it tends to have a much greater impact on their bodies than falling in a field in Ireland, where the ground is not nearly as hard"
All true. My running took a serious hit during my stay in N'Djamena (though I had always attributed this more to the fact that a rebel incursion had shut down the city streets. Not really ideal conditions.)
Come to think of it, Chad is a pretty dangerous place for sports. Alas, the dirt in the country is hard. Minister O'Dea could also have cited concerns about dust -- since you would have to shower 5 times a day not to end up covered in silt. Not good for the health of ones eyes. The hotel pool by which many of the EU soldiers reclined was a breeding ground for mosquitoes (read: malaria).
Of course, the good news it that less soccer, pool, running, and general revelry might leave more time for the business of peacekeeping. But watch out -- those rebels are hardly better for one's constitution.
We know that Fidel Castro really loves baseball. We also know that he really hates losing. But even so, he seems to have taken Cuba's elimination by Japan from the World Baseball Classic pretty hard. First there was this self-flagellating column from last Friday, praising the "technical and scientific" advancement of Asian baseball and berating his own team's coaches:
I should point out that the team leadership in San Diego was abysmal. The old criteria of well-trodden paths prevailed against a capable adversary who is constantly innovating.
We must learn the relevant lessons.
In a weird psuedo-Maoist moment, Cuba's players were instructed to study the column and "systematically evaluate" Castro's writing upon their return to Havana.
Then in a column yesterday (written before Japan's eventual win) he declared that the results proved that the contest had been "organized by those who run the exploitation of sports in the United States" because Cuba had been placed in the same division as eventual finalists South Korea and Japan. (He actually kind of has a point about that.)
If anyone should be humiliated by how the WBC turned out, it's those overpaid capitalist stooges the Dominicans, not Cuba. As he did after the Olympics, Castro seems strangely focused on the negative but I guess that's just blogger Fidel doing his thing.
Speaking of blogger Fidel, this piece about Rahm Emanuel from February is kind of how I would imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez would write after a 36-hour Robitussin binge.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
I haven't really been paying attention to this year's World Baseball Classic, but my interest was piqued when I saw that the Dominican Republic, which supplies 10 percent of Major League players and which -- despite being A-Rod-less -- sports by far the WBC's scariest roster, was knocked out of competition after being defeated twice by the Netherlands, whose big league stars consist of...um...Sidney Ponson. (He's from Aruba.) I know that playoffs are a crapshoot and weird upsets can happen (Australia beat Mexico too!) but honestly, what's up with the DR?
Another thought: It's a rare event when a wealthy country like the Netherlands beating the tar out the Dominican Republic is covered as a feel-good Cinderella story. What does Parag Khanna think about all of this?
Al Bello/Getty Images
Remember those suspiciously young-looking Chinese gymnasts from the Beijing Olympics? Turns out they're not alone. China's sports ministry has x-ray tested 15,000 youth athletes and found that a fifth are lying about their age:
The athletes tested were the top eight in each event at provincial youth competitions in 2008 and all those who had signed up for this year's Provincial Games. The result showed 3,000 were older than they claimed, 2,000 of whom were no longer eligible for any youth sport and 1,000 who should have competed in different age categories. Ye said 16 athletes in one event had faked their ages and the worst offenders were up to seven years older than they were allowed to be.
Harry How/Getty Images
The Indonesian island of Bali has big dreams to become a world capital of spiritual tourism. But that required ignoring the religious edict issued by the country's top Islamic body last week. The Council of Ulemas issued a Fatwa against yoga. Awkward, since Bali had planned to host an international yoga conference.
What ever to do? Not much of a question there, it seems. Yoga! The conference went off as planned, finishing up today, with even the island's governor attending.
Praise be to tourism, the payoffs from Bali's yoga drive could be big. Wayan Wijayasa of the Denpasar Tourism Academy in Bali told local press that if just one percent of U.S. "yogis" visited Bali a year, it would mean 160,000 yoga tourists in the country. That's big dough if you consider that Americans spent $2.95 billion on yoga equipment presumably last year, according to Wijayasa.
Monetary gains aside, yoga is popular in Bali. So that must be what Hillary Clinton meant when she said, "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." That should ceratinly be worth a few sun salutations.
See also, FP's list of the all-time stupidest fatwas.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
It looks like the Sochi games might be a somewhat more modest affair than planned:
The 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi will cost 15 percent less than originally anticipated as initial budget estimates exaggerated the projected cost, a top official said on Tuesday. [...]
Russian officials have warned that the country's budget deficit could reach around 8 percent of GDP in 2009. A deputy minister warned on Tuesday the economy would contract by 2.2 percent in 2009.
Yet to conduct the sports event on the balmy Black Sea coast, Russia needs to spend lavishly on upgrading Soviet-era infrastructure and building new facilities in the hitherto quiet mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana.
The report said local authorities were recently forced to extend tender deadlines for Olympic-related construction contracts due to lack of interest from companies hit by financial difficulties.
Authorities also faced mounting difficulty in acquiring land necessary for construction of Olympic infrastructure in the southern Russian city of Sochi because owners were refusing to sell at prices offered by the government.
Doesn't seem very encouraging. But given all the ink and pixels that were spilled (including by some of us here) predicting that air pollution and protests would turn the Beijing Games into an embarassing catastrophe for China, I'd be cautious about predicting doom for Sochi quite yet.
ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
The Iranian government has denied visas to the U.S. women's badminton team, who were scheduled to take part in an international tournament in Tehran in February. Iran's Foreign Ministry blamed a "time consuming" visa process.
Given the diplomatic significance of the the trip, it seems like the ministry probably could have expedited the process if it really wanted to. You have to wonder if something about the event made Iranian authorities nervous. The tournament was already going to be restricted to only female spectators so that international players could wear their normal uniforms rather than the hijabs and long sleeves worn by Iranian players. U.S. and Iranian men's wrestling teams compete frequently without any apparent visa difficulties.
Photo: LAURENT FIEVET/AFP/Getty Images
In case you missed the game last night, Gen. David Petraeus's coin toss was a great bit of theater, and very much in keeping with the Super Bowl's overall last days of the Roman Empire vibe.
As one guest at the party I attended observed, it must be nice for him to be involved in a conflict where you know one side is eventually going to win.
Check out FP Executive Editor Susan Glasser's interview with Petraeus here.
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
This is getting ridiculous. It turns out Obama's new Mideast envoy George Mitchell is yet another former basketball player. The 75-year-old veteran diplomat played for Bowdoin College (Go Polar Bears!) in the early 1950s. He now joins National Security Advisor Jim Jones, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Economic Advisor Paul Volcker, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Obama's all-star team of ex-ballers.
Can't help wondering if in-limbo negotiator Dennis Ross might have gotten the job if he had better ball-handling skills. As the picture below shows, he certainly has the height:
Update: Matt Yglesias points out that Ross played for UCLA in the late 1960s so is probably actually a better basketball player. He ought to at least get the Iran portfolio for that.
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