EXCLUSIVE: DEMBA BA COLUMN: BARNEY RONAY TUITION: RHYS BEECHER
Issue 15 January 2014 mesportstalk.com
PLUS IS QATAR 2022 SHIFTING TO WINTER? HOW FOOTBALL IS TACKLING AIDS IN AFRICA DAVID WEIR ON LONDON 2012
WILL THE ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP PROVIDE ANOTHER SURPRISE WINNER?
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THE GAFFER BEN JACOBS EDITOR
he magazine has proven a huge success over the past two years, thanks to the hard work our our fantastic editorial, design and sales team, coupled with the unwavering support of CPI Media Group. We have ran exclusives during this period with Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Novak Djokovic and Mike Tyson (who almost bit off my ear!). However, the time has come to adapt to a fast-paced, ever-changing media market, and that’s why we have decided to go entirely digital from February. The weakness of a monthly magazine is, while it can supply meaty features, it fails to fully cover the major events in the region. The advantage of a daily website is we can now offer you even more in-depth analysis and cover a far wider array of sports. This, in turn, means grass roots sport can finally get some substantial recognition, alongside the top golf, tennis, rugby and cricket tournaments that we are blessed with every year. mesportstalk.com aims to be the primary sports portal in the Middle East. Over the next few months, alongside our rolling news service, we will add audio and video content, score-centres and provide other interactive elements that will hopefully make our new site a must visit. If you are part of the sports scene in the Middle East please do reach out to us so we can involve you. Sports Talk will also be launching a range of exciting competitions, events and awards over the coming months, so watch this space. We have big plans for 2014! For our last print issue, at least for the foreseeable future, we look ahead to the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. The last two winners (Jamie Donaldson, Robert Rock) have both been unheralded, and that’s why the tournament’s tagline this year is “expect the unexpected”. However, you wouldn’t bet against a big-name winner, with the likes of 2013 Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson, five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson and former world No.1 Rory McIlroy all in attendance. Elsewhere, Chelsea striker Demba Ba talks about the influence of the Quran on his football career, and superhuman paralympic athlete David Weir looks back on London 2012. Enjoy January’s issue, and please do check out mesportstalk.com!
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SPORTS TALK WILL ALSO BE LAUNCHING A RANGE OF EXCITING EVENTS AND AWARDS OVER THE COMING MONTHS, SO WATCH THIS SPACE. WE HAVE BIG PLANS FOR 2014! JANUARY 2014
BREAKING NEWS » CONTENTIOUS VIEWS » TOP TWEETS
08 QATAR 2022
FIFA oﬃcially deny the 2022 World Cup has been moved to winter, but their general secretary says otherwise
10 ADAM HOLLIOAKE
The ex-England captain claims the UAE is a hotbed for match-ﬁxing
14 CLIVE AGRAN
Sports Talk’s adventurous OAP spends a day at the races
PRE-MATCH TALK CONFUSION OVER QATAR 2022 DATES
IFA has moved quickly to quash claims by its general secretary that the Qatar 2022 World Cup won’t take place in the summer. Football’s governing body stressed no final decision will be made until after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and only after a lengthy consultation process. The news comes after Jerome Valcke told Radio France: “The dates for the World Cup will not be June-July. If you play between 15 November and the end of December, that’s the time when the weather conditions are best, when you can play in temperatures equivalent to a warm spring season in Europe, averaging 25 degrees. That would be perfect for playing football.” Following Valcke’s surprise revelation, a FIFA statement said the general secretary had merely been expressing his personal view: “The precise event date is still subject to an ongoing consultation process which involves all main event stakeholders, including both the international football community – FIFA confederations, member associations, leagues, clubs, players – as well as FIFA’s commercial partners. “The consultation process will not be rushed and will be given the necessary time to consider all of the elements relevant for a decision. No decision will be taken before the upcoming 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil as agreed by the Fifa executive committee.” Fifa president Sepp Blatter has already conceded he wants the tournament to take place in November or December, yet Qatar’s Supreme Committee are still hopeful of hosting it in June and July. “During the FIFA Executive Committee meeting in October it was agreed that FIFA would enter a period of consultation on the ideal time of year to host the World Cup in Qatar – with a recommendation expected after the World Cup in Brazil,” they told Sports Talk via a statement. “We await the outcome of this consultation period. We will be ready to host the World Cup regardless of the outcome.”
The scheduling of the tournament has been furiously debated since it was awarded to Qatar in December 2010. Fears have been raised that the summer heat in the Gulf emirate would be dangerous for players and fans alike. If the World Cup does go ahead at the end of 2022, it could also pose problems for the Africa Cup of Nations, which is scheduled for January 2023.
No definitive decision is now expected until after Brazil 2014. However, failed 2022 bidders Australia have already intimated they will take legal action to seek compensation from FIFA if the World Cup is played in winter. None of the 19 World Cups to date have ever been played outside the months of May, June or July.
gossip: ENGLAND wants to be A BACK-UP HOST IF QATAR IS STRIpPED OF THE WORLD CUP
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ADAM HOLLIOAKE: UAE IS “RIFE”WITH MATCH-FIXING
ormer England cricket captain Adam Hollioake claims the UAE is still a hot-spot for match-fixing. The 41-yearold was approached by an illegal bookie in 1997 just days before skippering England at the Champions Trophy in Sharjah. “I arrived in my hotel room and was greeted by an anonymous phone call asking me for information about my batting line-up, who would bowl first and what I’d do if I won the toss against India in our opening game,” revealed Hollioake, who was in the region for Fighting Chance, a charity boxing event in aid of paralysed cyclist Richard Holland. “I slammed the phone down, yet five minutes later I received a second call, from a different person, alluding to the first conversation. He told me if I met him he would make me a millionaire. “I hadn’t even played my first game as England captain and already someone was trying to lure me over to the dark side. I was mortified and angry so went straight to the authorities. A few other England lads got approached on the same trip and did exactly the same thing.” Hollioake, who is now a professional boxer – although he lost his bout at Dubai
Sports City to former All Black Carlos Spencer – is still convinced the UAE houses match or spot-fixers, especially with the region’s close proximity to Asia. “I think a lot of the cheats don’t want to be based in Asia, since there is a big clampdown in places like India and Singapore. In the UAE they are less accountable. Since all betting is illegal, the government aren’t really on the lookout for malpractice. In addition, the ICC’s global base is in Dubai, making it easy to target senior figures and thus get ‘ins’ to players. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the region is still rife with match-fixers. I was not the first England cricketer, and I won’t be the last, to be approached. I know quite a few guys who were called up from UAE numbers and asked to cheat. It would be unfair to name names, but you have to assume, as the hub of global cricket, at least logistically speaking, that Dubai is where a fair few spot-fixers base themselves.” Hollioake’s comments will worry the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit, who maintain the vast majority of illegal practices are still confined to the sub-continent.
AUSTRALIA CRUSH ENGLAND TO SECURE ASHES WHITEWASH England’s cricketers suffered another dismal collapse to lose the Fifth Test in Sydney, and with it the Ashes series 5-0, to end a thoroughly miserable winter. Alastair Cook’s men were bowled out for a feeble 166 inside 32 overs to be thrashed by 281 runs – at one stage losing four wickets in just 11 balls. Ferociously fast Mitchell Johnson took three pivotal wickets to end with 37 in the series at an average of 13.9. Ryan Harris then mopped up the tail to claim 5-25. All of England’s senior batsmen once again failed to offer any meaningful resistance on a tour when not a single one has totaled 300 runs. It is only the third whitewash in Ashes history, and is arguably the worst tour England have ever undertaken, after they came into the series as favourites against a side they had beaten in seven of their previous nine Tests.
gossip: IAN BELL COULD REPLACE ALISTAIR COOK AS ENGLAND CAPTAIN
PRE-MATCH TALK However, Abu Dhabi did win the in-port races in both Abu Dhabi and Miami and, galvanised by the latter success, battled Hurricane Alberto – along with a dogged challenge from overall champions Groupama – to reach Lisbon first in an impressive time of 11 days, 4 hours, 23 minutes and 54 seconds. “It was wonderful to win in the UAE capital, though the highlight for me was the Miami victory, followed by our transatlantic success,” said Walker. “That stretch is not just tough but one of the Volvo Ocean Race’s blue-ribbon ones. What it proved is we had some fantastic sailors, and plenty of speed, but in the end our boat just didn’t have legs. That is what excites me, this time around, with everyone having the same equipment. Hopefully that will allow me to win the race only get given three sets of sails, so you he nine-month 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean for the very first time.” won’t see many teams going hell for leather Race doesn’t officially begin until October Walker clearly relishes the gruelling out at sea. Still, it clearly helps to have it in Alicante, but Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing nine-month race, which will again pass sooner rather than later.” are already frantically preparing. through Abu Dhabi over New Year. Unlike Even without the Volvo 65, Walker is in for Last July was a pretty significant period most, the hardened Brit certainly isn’t fazed an extremely busy winter. His primary task is since the new Volvo 65 boats were released, about being stranded for long periods at sea… to choose his crew, which is likely to include at but Abu Dhabi’s won’t arrive until late except on Saturdays. This is because he is a least one Emirati. Adil Khalid was an on-shore January at the earliest. die-hard football fan! team member in 2011-2012 and could well be Unlike the 2011-2012 race, Abu Dhabi On May 19, 2012, he found himself in promoted to the sea crew. won’t be sailing in ‘Azzam’ – a distinctive precisely this position, armed with only a “We will look closely at Adil, but also black boat (which looked like a Batmobile on crackly walkie-talkie designed to help guide spend the summer assessing other sailors,” water), with a traditional Arabic falcon on the him around Miami’s tempestuous waters. revealed Walker. “The back end of 2013 is side. Instead, each team must use the same However, it wasn’t being used for that really all about doing sea tests to determine boat, conceived by American firm Farr Yacht purpose. It had a far more important role – to who is going to be on the boat. Obviously we Design. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian relay imperative, life-changing information… would love an Emirati on board, but there will Walker, who is captaining the team for the the West Ham United score! This wasn’t just be no token selections. We are simply going to second time, believes the radical move to any old Hammers fixture either: it was the assemble the best possible crew.” universalise the boats will ensure the best Championship playoff final against Blackpool Walker, who was also captain of Irish entry sailors win. at Wembley – the richest game in football, Green Dragon in the 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean “If it hadn’t been for the new so-called with a place in the Premier League at stake. Race, will hope to improve on Abu Dhabi’s ‘One Design’ rule, I probably wouldn’t have “It was a nightmare,” conceded Walker. “I disappointing fifth-place finish in 2011-2012. done the Volvo Ocean Race again,” admitted remember it clear as day. I saw the half-time Having cruised to the opening in-port race in the double Olympic medallist. “It is definitely score just before the race started and West Alicante, much was expected of Abu Dhabi going to be the tightest race in history, and the Ham were winning 1-0, but within minutes of Ocean Racing, but they never quite lived up to fastest boat should win. No one can now the restart Blackpool equalised and then the their billing. Instead, Walker’s motley crew blame poor or rushed design for their failings.” nerves started jangling. I was probably the were plagued by misfortune from the start, The only problem is each Volvo 65 is being only West Ham fan on the planet stupid breaking their mast during leg one to Cape built one at a time, and can take up to seven enough to have no access to pictures or Town, running out of food just outside of weeks to be completed. Thus, whereas some commentary of the playoff final.” Miami in leg six and, to add insult (or should teams already have their boat, certain ones Following an anxious wait, Walker finally we say sea-salt?) to injury, they even hit a must wait until mid-2014 to get theirs. learnt of Ricardo Vaz Te’s clumsy late winner lobster pot in the pitch-black Aran Islands en Thankfully, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing are that sent Sam Allardyce’s no-nonsense Hammers route to Galway. quite near the front of the queue. back into the Premier League. His “We announced our team early, worst fear now is that they will sink so shouldn’t have to wait too - born 25 February 1970, Worcester back down to the Championship, and much longer now,” said 43-year- won silver with John Merricks at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 in the 470 class he might not even learn of their fate old Walker. “I am hoping by - won silver with Matt Covell at the Athens Olympics in 2000 in the Star class for weeks. He even admits that Christmas, at the latest, we will - skipper for Britain’s ﬁrst America’s Cup bid in 14 years in 2000 winning the 2014-2015 race, but have it – if not before. You would - skipper of Green Dragon for 2008-2009 Volvo Ocean Race seeing his beloved team get relegated, - skipper for Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing for 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race think the team who gets their boat would “totally ruin victory!” first has a big advantage, but you
ABU DHABI’S VOLVO OCEAN RACE ALMOST READY
gossip: JUSTIN BIEBER WILL PERFORM DURING DECEMBER’S ABU DHABI LEG OF THE VOLVO OCEAN RACE
id you know Henry VIII owned six greyhounds? Unlike his six wives, he didn’t cut off their heads when they lost – partly because races didn’t exist in those days, but mostly since he wasn’t trying to get an heir from their loins. The consensus is greyhound racing developed as an alternative to chasing (and ultimately shooting) hares, but there is also an intriguing theory that Henry VIII unwittingly popularised the sport, since he would often set his dogs on intruders or threats to the crown – a tactic also employed by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. However, by the time the first greyhound race was staged in the United Kingdom – at Manchester’s Belle Vue stadium on 24 July, 1926 (coincidentally, the same day I was born) – heirs had been replaced by hares! Seven greyhounds (and three live hares) entered, with 6-1 long shot Mistley winning by eight lengths in front of 1,700 punters. Word obviously spread fast because, just a week later, 11,000 turned up to the next meeting. The sport flourished until the swinging sixties when it (understandably) failed to compete with sex and drugs, thus allowing ruthless property tycoons to foolishly transform many of the stadia into dreary shopping malls. Mercifully, Coral Brighton & Hove Greyhound Stadium survived and is currently one of a handful of licenced tracks left in the UK. Fearing Hove might soon be replaced by a Starbucks, I decided to spend a night at the
CLIVE AGRAN races and, more importantly, procure a fortune upon which to retire (I am weary of writing for Sports Talk). For some reason, I assumed I had to rock up dressed like a tramp. I was totally wrong. Armed with three-day stubble, a tattered cloth cap on my head and some crumpled wads of dosh, I was immediately mistaken for John McCririck, and almost kicked out! To my surprise, the other guests were pleasant, jolly and well dressed, and the place didn’t smell remotely like a men’s urinal. Since when did greyhound racing become so middle class? Instead of an assortment of spivs, hoodlums, drug dealers, benefit cheats, gangsters and discredited bankers, the racing rabble looked perfectly upstanding, thoroughly law-abiding and exceedingly (annoyingly, even) jolly. In the grandstand, there is a humongous restaurant that stretches the full length of the finishing straight. The tables are cleverly arranged over five levels, so everyone can see through the giant windows and keep an eye on their investments as they circle beneath. With the starting traps to the left and the finishing line more or less in the centre, diners are treated to a first-rate view. Virtually every table was full, and quite a few had bunches of balloons tied to them, suggesting Hove is a popular haunt to celebrate birthdays. The first race was at 7:30, which I actually missed, but there was no cause for panic because 11 more golden money-making opportunities were still in the offing. Having sat down, the first thing I grabbed was the programme. Irritatingly, although no doubt littered with vital information, it seemed pretty impenetrable, with rows of mystifying numbers and incomprehensible abbreviations to decipher. Inside the front cover was one (at face value) useful section called ‘How to Read the Formlines’, yet even that made about as much sense as Gordon Strachan. What I really craved was a ‘How to Read the Explanation’ page. The glossary of abbreviations was moderately helpful but even knowing ‘FlsHt’ stands for ‘false heat’ didn’t really give me the edge. Determined, nonetheless, to bring the full weight of my intellect to bear in cracking a code as complex as the Da Vinci one, I persevered until, still only halfway along the second line of the first dog, the PA announcer warned that there were only five
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minutes until the off. So even though it was rather unscientific and lacked intellectual rigour, I lumped a fiver on Race of Spades in trap one because I thought his name was witty. My heart thumped, the electric hare (yes, they’re no longer real animals… yet the dumb greyhounds still don’t realise) whizzed off and, moments later, trap five had triumphed. Tons of spectators celebrated, but I didn’t because Race of Spades was comfortably last. In racing speak (which is a bit like Newspeak in George Orwell’s 1984), his performance could be best summed up as follows: DzO, MsdBk, RVSlwy, AlwLst. This means: dozed off, missed break, ran very slowly and was always last. Unlike the cryptic programme, the menu was thankfully intelligible. I decisively plunged for the culinary equivalent of a straight forecast – stuffed mushrooms followed by beef bourguignon. While my waitress Jess scribbled down my order, another obliging (and moderately attractive) lady offered to take my
FEARING HOVE MIGHT SOON BE REPLACED BY A STARBUCKS, I DECIDED TO SPEND A NIGHT AT THE RACES AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, PROCURE A FORTUNE UPON WHICH TO RETIRE.
Clive is used to chasing after hairs not hares... usually as they scoot away in the shower!
bets. Sadly, I hadn’t chosen any further winners, so she left to tend to the more organised gamblers on the adjacent table. A few minutes later, again feeling the pressure of an imminent deadline, I rushed into backing trap two, which proved YtAherDster (yet another disaster). The arrival of the stuffed mushrooms cheered me up before the disappointing performance of Sunshine Phoebe in the fourth race knocked me right back down. After three races, I was £15 out of pocket, so on course to have frittered away £55 by the end of the night. Suddenly, my plan to win big and retire early had been replaced by the possibility of working forever in order to pay off my greyhound debts. To gain back losses quickly, there are more sophisticated bets that come with large bounties. The Trio, for example, pays the sort of dividend that would comfortably cover the cost of dinner for two and a taxi home. The catch is that it requires you to rank the first three greyhounds in the correct order. Since none of the dogs I had chosen so far had finished better than fourth, I decided to concentrate on simply finding a winner. The fifth race was interesting in that, unlike the previous ones (which were over 515 metres), it was a 285-metre sprint. Perhaps no one told Droopy’s Snowman, who ambled out of the traps in no particular hurry and comfortably maintained my unenviable record of not ever having a dog finish in the top three. Seriously, what are the odds of that happening in four consecutive races? They should introduce a new bet called an Agran, which rewards failure and challenges punters to pick a succession of pathetic hounds unable to secure a ‘podium’ finish (sadly they don’t actually have podiums for the winners, just hare-flavoured doggy treats). Since each of them cost me a fiver and I couldn’t bring myself to throw them in the bin, a depressing pile of losing tickets had accumulated in the middle of the table in silent testimony to one man’s folly and greed. I could now imagine how Dr Faustus felt after he sold his soul to the devil.
Having abandoned any attempt at finding winners by analysis and the ruthless application of logic, I resorted to picking the dog with the most alluring name – a tactic that led me to ponder what I would call my own greyhound. I concluded Didier Dogba would be best! Since I used to keep bees, I stuck a fiver on Black Honey in the sixth race. Very nearly overturning my plate of beef bourguignon, I leapt to my feet as his (or her… who knows!) little paws flew out of trap five and grabbed the lead going into the first bend. “Come on, five! Come on, five!” I unselfconsciously screamed in a cathartic release of over an hour’s pent-up frustration. In yelling at the dog, I was guilty of making all sorts of assumptions. Can it hear me through the glass and from such a distance? Has it any clue what trap it’s actually in? Does it even understand what ‘come on’ means? Whether my entreaties made any difference is doubtful, but Black Honey miraculously hung on and I at last broke my doggy duck! By the time the greyhounds were loaded into the traps for the final time, two more winners (Guinness Black and Tip Top Audrey), a couple of near misses and one generous portion of profiteroles had followed and I had clawed my way back to financial parity. Blake’s Lady in trap six was thus burdened with all my hopes and dreams. I knew a win would earn me sufficient overall profit to buy another cloth cap, while a loss would plunge me back into the red. It was an exhilarating race, but the opposition showed no respect for the fact that my pick was a lady and thus barged into her on the final bend. Clearly shaken, she eventually lost out on the line. The moral is: men and women shouldn’t be allowed to play sport together… not when a new cloth cap is at stake! Still, it was an ExtmlyEjble evening and GrtFn. I lost some dough, but learnt a whole new language, which saves time to write, though adds time to decode. Will I come back to Hove again? You bet! JANUARY 2014
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INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM » INTERVIEWS » PREVIEWS
20 PHIL MICKELSON
The ﬁve-time Major winner looks ahead to the seasonopening Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
26 DEMBA BA
The Chelsea striker explains how the Quran has helped him improve as a footballer
ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
he Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship once produced predictable champions – former world No.1 Martin Kaymer (2008, 2010, 2011) and Paul Casey (2007, 2009) share five titles between them – but it’s now starting to throw up surprises, which only adds to the drama. What isn’t a surprise, however, is the quality of the field, with four of the world’s top six in attendance for the $2.7 million Desert Swing opener. The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, and headline sponsor HSBC, continue to treat us to some of golf’s top stars. This year, world No.3 Henrik Stenson, fresh from victory at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, will be joined by last season’s US Open champion Justin Rose, five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. The latter has a point to prove, having missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last January. Ahead of last year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, McIlroy was world No.1, had won four titles in 2012 (including the PGA Championship) and topped the money lists in America and Europe. 12 months on, and the Irishman has fallen to world No.6 and, amazingly, failed to record a European Tour victory in 2013. However, strong finishes at the BMW Masters (T27), WGC-HSBC Champions (T6) and DP World Tour Championship (T5) suggest the 24-year-old has finally found some form for the first time since switching to Nike. Victory in Abu Dhabi, where he’s twice finished second, would certainly kick-start McIlroy’s season.
TO WIN IN ABU DHABI WOULD BE WONDERFUL ALTHOUGH I KNOW IT WILL BE TOUGH. THE COURSE CAN BE VERY CHALLENGING BUT I’M PLAYING SOME OF THE BEST GOLF OF MY CAREER AND FEELING CONFIDENT ABOUT MY PERFORMANCE. In stark contrast, former Dubai resident Stenson became the first golfer to claim the $10 million FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai in the same season last year. The 37-year-old – who fell to 623 in the rankings in 2003, and 230 in 2009 – is now world No.3 and thus the highest-ranked player in the stellar field. Stenson’s emphatic six-shot victory at the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates last November has virtually guaranteed him a Ryder Cup spot this year for the first time since 2008 and has many tipping the genial Swede for a maiden Major. Stenson was undoubtedly the player of the last season, but the Major wins of Rose and Mickelson were perhaps the best – or certainly most sentimental – individual plotlines of 2013. In September 2012, the pair met in an astonishing Ryder Cup singles, which Rose won 1-up, as Europe came from 10-6 down on the final day to triumph at Medinah. Rose then beat Mickelson again to win the US Open at Merion Golf Club. Mickelson, however, capped off a memorable year at Muirfield, carding a scintillating finalround 66 to finally end his British Open hoodoo. 2013 is Mickelson’s second Abu Dhabi appearance, having finished joint 37th in 2011. It was the quality of the National Course, combined
THE NATIONAL COURSE: KEY HOLES
PAR 4, 405 YARDS
PAR 4, 456 YARDS The ninth is quite tight off the tee and, when they place the pin back-right, it plays pretty long. There is water on both sides, including on the left by the landing area.
I normally employ a driver here and, depending on the wind, try to steer clear of the left fairway bunker. If the pin is right you can be really aggressive. Overall, this is a very scoreable opener.
M artin Kay mer
Jeev M ilkh a Sing h
PAR 5, 567 YARDS
Partly for drama, this is my favourite hole on the course. You play up towards the unique falcon-shaped clubhouse with the crowd cheering. The tee shot is critical and designed with risk-reward in mind. With water down the right and some well-placed bunkers, it is a hole that can make or break your round.
with the chance to sample Arabic culture, that drew ‘Lefty’ back to the UAE capital. “To win in Abu Dhabi would be wonderful although I know it will be tough,” he said. “The course can be very challenging but I’m playing some of the best golf of my career and feeling confident about my performance. “Abu Dhabi was a great way to kick off my season back then because it opened my eyes up to new cultures and traditions – an experience that my whole family found rewarding. This year’s tournament is strictly about the golf for me although my family is looking forward to visiting that fascinating part of the world again, too.” If Mickelson’s presence isn’t enough to draw in the crowds, former world No.1 Luke Donald, golf in Abu
ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP When: 16-19 January Where: Abu Dhabi Golf Club Tickets: AED 50 (via timeoutabudhabi.com) Website: abudhabigolfchampionship.com
Rory McI lroy
Dhabi ambassador Matteo Manassero, who won last year’s prestigious BMW PGA Championship, and Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez will also be in attendance at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Meanwhile, away from the fairways, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Village will again ensure that fans are entertained. Along with a range of food and beverage outlets, free golf lessons will be made available, and the Volvo Ocean Race training boat will even be available to tour. “The Championship Village is one of the tournament’s key activations in terms of engaging our diverse spectator base,” explained Faisal Al Sheikh, the event manager for TCA Abu Dhabi. “This year’s Village will feature a raft of family-centric activities designed to encourage golf fans – young and old – to try the game in a series of exciting competitions and sponsor activations. “We will highlight many of the destination’s age-old cultural traditions via Arabic calligraphy, henna painting and falconry. We will also feature information on upcoming events in Abu Dhabi so golf fans can learn about what else there is to see and do in the emirate.” JANUARY 2014
Chelsea striker Demba Ba tells Arthur Renard how the Quran helped transform him from a reject to a Premier League star
emba Ba made an instant impact at Chelsea. Just 24 hours after sealing a £7.5 million January move from Newcastle, the 27-year-old scored twice as the Blues trounced Southampton 5-1. Currently the Premier League’s joint fifth top scorer, the Senegal international has endured a rocky road to success. Facing countless rejections, mystery injuries and personal turmoil, he’s shown exceptional mental resolve. Yet it was a chance encounter with the Quran, which rekindled his Muslim roots, that really helped Ba overcome this adversity and finally make it as a professional footballer.
DEMBA BA From an early age, determined Demba learnt that drive must come from within. Although born in sleepy Sèvres, on the outskirts of Paris, to Senegalese parents, he spent his youth in Le Havre, but managed to secure a place at a sport-specific school in Saint-Valery-en-Caux. The facility, however, was 50 miles from his home so, even as a child, he had to make some sacrifices. “It was a kind of football boarding school,” Ba told Sports Talk. “Between the ages of 12 and 15, I didn’t see my family much. Every Monday, I woke up at five. My brother, who had a small, noisy motorbike, would take me to the station around six. From there I grabbed a train and bus to get to school for eight. My classmates, on the other hand, had it easy. They would wake up at seven and get lifts in with their parents. I stayed there until Friday, then made exactly the same journey back for the weekend.” At 15, Ba returned home to shock news of his parents’ divorce. He remained with his mother and six siblings in Paris, and although they were content, poverty did make life tough. “I have fond memories, but we were often short of money,” he revealed. “My mum had to really fight to provide for us. I don’t know how she managed, but she always found a way to feed us and keep us happy. That period changed me, though – and those around me noticed it. They started telling me I came across as much older than I was. That’s because I had to look after myself from a very young age.” Ba briefly considered abandoning football, but deduced finding a new club could be a nifty way of fending off the bills. However, after an unsuccessful trial at Le Havre, and no others on the cards, he was forced into amateur football for two long years. At 17, he returned to the Parisian suburbs with Montrouge, a club renowned for their youth development programme. It was here Demba met coach and mentor Alexandre Gontran – a man who would single-handedly change his life. “I quickly became friends with Alexandre,” said Ba, who also had brief spells with Port Autonome (1999-2000) and Fileuse (2001-2002). “He told me I had the potential to become a top footballer and promised to get me some trials in Europe.” Most importantly, Gontran advised Ba to switch from defensive midfielder to striker. He was reticent about this transition at first, so spent months bulking up and fine-tuning his finishing – often at the expense of his studies – before finally going on trial at seven-time French champions Lyon. Frustratingly, Demba again wasn’t taken on. Brief spells at Auxerre, Swansea and Gillingham followed, but none resulted in employment offers. “I went from trial to trial, but the answer was always no,” said Ba. “I was football’s black sheep. Every club told me I had potential, but said they already had similar types of players on their books. Nobody wanted to take a chance. The raft of rejections, though, didn’t affect my confidence. If anything, it made me even more determined, so I started making bigger sacrifices to try and make the cut. “I was already skipping school to train more, so I finally plucked up the courage to quit entirely. It was hard to tell my mum, and initially she was furious at my decision. ‘Your trials are going nowhere,’ she screamed. ‘You need to find a club immediately or go back to school.’ Everyone always tells kids they have no future without a solid education, and in most cases that’s true, but I chose my own path. I had to give football a proper go. If I didn’t I would have viewed myself as a quitter forever.” Astonishingly, when Ba turned 19 he still hadn’t been part of a professional academy. To add to his woes he had also picked up a niggly back injury that his doctor couldn’t cure. On the recommendation of his older brother, Cire – a former basketball forward for Montivilliers, GET Vosges and Le Havre – he saw a physiotherapist, and within two months was fully fit again. He thus returned to Paris hell-bent on drawing up a masterplan to conquer England. “I had always loved the Premier League, and one of my Montrouge mates, Gauthier Diafutua, was already over in England at Watford,” explained Ba. “He passed on a few contacts and they managed to get me a trial at Barnsley, along with two of my teammates. Alexandre then arranged everything for us, including a couple of training sessions with Watford beforehand. “It was a real adventure. We drove all the way from Paris to London and arrived without a place to sleep! En route, one of my friends called with details of somewhere to crash, so we pulled up at this decent looking house, but once inside it became apparent there was only one spare room. It was tiny, and four of us had to cram into one double bed! After a very uncomfortable night, we moved to a 28
hotel, but didn’t have enough cash for four rooms, so had to buy two between us.” After three days, Gontran returned to Paris, while Ba and his Montrouge chums took the coach from London to Barnsley. Fortunately, they were provided with suitable accommodation this time. “We stayed in a fantastic hotel, which the club paid for,” beamed Ba. “It had a massive pool and an amazing restaurant, but the trial itself didn’t work out. We spent a week there, but it was quite chaotic. I remember the gaffer got sacked, and the day after we waited in the car park for almost an hour, but no one came to pick us up. “The worst part, though, came just before we left. When we checked out of the hotel, the receptionist told us Barnsley had only paid for the room, and the food was our responsibility. I remember it like it was yesterday. We had no money or clue what to do. I called Alexandre in a panic, who contacted an agent friend and he generously wired us £500. It was a real low – being so helpless that I couldn’t even afford my own dinner.”
Lewis could only ﬁnish fourth in his ﬁnal season with McLaren, 91 points adrift of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel
I WENT FROM TRIAL TO TRIAL, BUT THE ANSWER WAS ALWAYS NO. I WAS FOOTBALL’S BLACK SHEEP. EVERY CLUB TOLD ME I HAD POTENTIAL, BUT SAID THEY ALREADY HAD SIMILAR TYPES OF PLAYERS ON THEIR BOOKS.
Ba often pays homage to Allah when he scores by adopting the sajadat position, which is also used during Islam’s five daily prayer sessions
After finally settling the bill, dejected Demba took a coach back to London, where he planned to optimistically linger in the hope of landing a few more trials. One of Ba’s friends opened a bank account with a small overdraft to finance this prolonged stay. “We had virtually no money,” he admitted. “We used to walk the streets of London trying to find the cheapest possible bed and breakfast. Back then, breakfast, lunch and dinner consisted of crisps, water and the odd bit of stolen fruit. In a weird way, though, it was actually quite fun. We made a point of trying to make the most of the hard times and still have a laugh. That’s the African way: it doesn’t matter what you have, as long as you stay positive.” Ba’s Oliver Twist-style escapades only lasted three days, since no trials emerged… or so he thought. Having procured a plane ticket (a rare comfort) back to Paris, Demba received an unexpected call from Gontran, who gleefully informed him that Watford manager Ray Lewington wanted to take a closer look at him. He ended up staying at Vicarage Road for five months, was assigned digs and even handed a small allowance, but at the end of this spell the Hornets still declined to sign him. “Alexandre told Watford five months was long enough and that they had to make a decision,” he said. “Ray thought long and hard, then called me into his office and revealed he was letting me go. He explained I wasn’t quite at the required level, but added he thought I would become a professional footballer one day. I begged him to take a risk on me, to give me a one-year contract – even if he just stuck me in the reserves – but my words fell on deaf ears.” JANUARY 2014
DEMBA BA At face value, this was just another refusal, but now Ba fostered a genuine belief that he could make it. His mother’s fears were also pacified by his time at Watford. She thus gave Demba her blessing. “My mum, like me, concluded that if I was able to stay at Watford for such a long period, it meant I had the potential to be a footballer. So she called me up and said, ‘Go on, do what you have to do,’” said Ba, who might be No.29 at Chelsea, but wants to be No.19 (like he was at Newcastle), to mark the age when he first broke into English football. Unfortunately, Paulo Ferreira currently occupies that number. Now with the full (and unwavering) support of his family, determined Demba returned to France and, after a failed trial with lower league minnows Amiens, he finally got his big break. In 2005, unfashionable French fourth division side Rouen offered him a one-year contract, during which time he quickly climbed from the reserves to the first team. The deal was only a semi-professional one, but it catalysed Ba’s entire career. After 22 goals in 12 successful months at the Stade Robert Diochon, he signed for now defunct Belgian side Mouscron, bagging eight goals in 12 appearances. That was enough to convince 1899 Hoffenheim to make a move in 2007; while, in the same year, Senegal also came calling, with Ba scoring on his debut in a 1-1 draw with Tanzania. “I guess it was a slightly bizarre choice to go to Hoffenheim, because Real Valladolid also wanted me,” admitted Ba, who went on to score 37 times for the German outfit. “But I chose 1899 because I wanted game time. I didn’t have much experience, having only spent a year in professional football, so was conscious to take things one step at a time and felt La Liga was just too big a jump.” Ba’s sage approach has now taken him as far as Stamford Bridge (via West Ham and Newcastle), yet for humble Demba reaching the Premier League is not the Holy Grail. He relishes playing for Chelsea, but doesn’t want his choice of profession to define him as a person. First and foremost, he views himself as a Muslim – and thus, succeed or fail, he will always find serenity. As importantly, he is also able to use his religious beliefs to shape him as a footballer. This wasn’t always the case. In fact, it only became so after a fortuitous, but life changing, experience while on trial at Gillingham. Ba was staying with Mamady Sidibe – whose younger brother Lassana was a Montrouge teammate – and it was in his home that (the now devout) Demba became besotted with the Islamic traditions he had abandoned as a teenager. “I was born a Muslim, but I never kept very much,” revealed Ba. “When 30
In 2005, Sidibe left Gillingham for Stoke City, and three years later scored twice against Bristol City to send the Potters into the Premier League
Favourite music? Lil Wayne ---------------Favourite ﬁlm? Scarface ---------------Most famous name in your phone? Patrick Vieira – a big friend and nice guy ---------------Who is your idol? Nelson Mandela ---------------Favourite holiday destination? Senegal – there’s no place like home! ---------------How do you unwind? I play darts – my second sporting love!
you’re young, you just want to act the same as all the other kids, and for me, like many, that involved kicking a football about. Yet when I saw the Sidibe family get up and pray together it touched me. I had an epiphany. I was like, ‘Dude, wake up!’. I realised I could be a footballer and a Muslim, so started praying with them, five times a day, and when I got back home I just kept going and have never stopped since. “My newfound faith made me understand that you can’t take anything for granted in life. I said to myself, ‘Who cares if I don’t make it as a footballer, I can still walk, eat, see and hear and have family and friends who love me.’ There are people starving all around the world, so I have a lot to be thankful for. I enjoy being spiritual. The more I worship Allah, the more I get back.” Ba’s faith clearly enriches his life, far more so than the £80k per week wages he receives at Stamford Bridge. In fact, Demba doesn’t even view this hefty sum as his own: as part of his commitment to Islamic principles he always makes charitable donations. “I find it easy to give away money,” he said. “I feel quite detached from it. I obviously try to look after my family first, but I can’t ignore those who struggle or suffer, who can’t afford to eat, or live in countries that don’t have basic amenities like clean water. The money I earn is not just for me. My parents help me distribute it to those in need, especially back home in Senegal.” Clearly Ba is not your typical egomaniacal Premier
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Ba’s wonder-goal against Manchester United set up an FA Cup semi-ﬁnal with Manchester City, which he also scored in, but Chelsea still lost 2-1
League footballer. Admittedly, he does flaunt a gold Mercedes 6.3, but considering his past he can be forgiven for indulging in a few frivolous luxuries. However, he doesn’t booze or party, and religiously sets his alarm for five o’clock in order to make the morning prayer session. “The first one is always just before sunrise,” said Ba. “So I get up, pray, then go back to bed for a few hours. For the other four, I am up anyway and always try and get to the mosque so I can share the experience with my fellow Muslims and forge a sense of community. At Newcastle I would go with Hatem Ben Arfa, and when we couldn’t make it we’d pray together at the training ground. Islam has become the most important thing in my life. People sometimes have a bad image of it, but that’s more the product of their own minds than the reality. Everything I read in the Quran appeals to me. When I want an answer to something in my life, it is written there.” Ba frequently turns to the holy book during times of need and is even taking Arabic lessons so he can read the original text, as well as teach it to his children. “I have a one-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son, and I want them to learn Arabic,” he said. “They will both be raised as Muslims. I also can’t wait to take them on a pilgrimage to Mecca. I have been a few times and absolutely loved it: the atmosphere is just so positive. For Muslims there are three key places: Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. I have been to the first two, but am yet to see Jerusalem. I need to go there!” Ba has spent his last two summers at Saudi Arabia’s most famous haunt, praying, meditating and seeking life advice. Part 32
WHEN I GO TO THE MOSQUE I DO EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE PERSON NEXT TO ME. WHETHER HE’S RICHER OR POORER THAN ME, AT THAT MOMENT WE ARE EQUALS, UNITED BY ALLAH. of the former requires ‘sajadat’ (prostrations) – a stance where the forehead, nose, hands, knees and toes must touch the ground together. Demba is often seen in this position after scoring goals, including during April’s 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Manchester United. “When I score, I thank Allah, hence the celebration,” said Ba, who is joined at Stamford Bridge by fellow Muslim Eden Hazard. “Sajadats are great levellers. When I go to the mosque I do exactly the same as the person next to me. Whether he’s richer or poorer than me, at that moment we are equals, united by Allah. When praying, I am not Demba Ba, or a footballer – I am no better than anybody else.” Ba staunchly believes in equality, and thinks the way footballers are idolised borders on insanity. He is, however, glad to use the attention to try and set an example, but his daily prayer sessions ensure he (literally) keeps his feet on the ground. Demba’s dedication
DEMBA BA 1985: Born on 25 May in Sèvres ---------------2004: Spends ﬁve months at Watford but doesn’t do enough to earn a contract ---------------2005: Signed by Rouen and converted from midﬁelder to striker ---------------2006: Moves to Belgian side Mouscron but breaks two bones in his left leg after scoring in each of his ﬁrst three games ---------------2007: Scores on his Senegal debut in a 1-1 draw with Tanzania, and nets 14 for Hoffenheim as they gain promotion to the Bundesliga ---------------2009: Stuttgart move collapses after a failed medical ---------------2011: Another failed medical prevents a switch to Stoke, but joins West Ham on a ‘pay-as-you-play’ deal, scoring seven goals in 13 games before leaving for Newcastle on a free transfer ---------------2012: Scores 29 goals in 54 appearances for Newcastle, and is voted the ‘Signing of the Year’ by the League Managers Association ---------------2013: In January, Chelsea invoke a minimum-fee release clause allowing a £7.5m switch to Stamford Bridge on a three-and-a-half-year deal
Demba enjoyed his return to Newcaslte, but couldn’t prevent Chelsea losing 3-2
to religion also helps him stay focused as a footballer. He is always striving to make improvements, particularly on the fitness front, having failed medicals at Stuttgart (2009) and Stoke (2011). His injury woes first occurred at Mouscron after he broke two bones (fibula and tibia) in his left leg in 2006. A pin was inserted to stabilise the fractures, but the surgery to remove it in 2009 was botched, resulting in tendon damage to his knee. Potters boss Tony Pullis claimed the problem was so severe that Ba was “little more than a ticking time-bomb”. 24 hours after his £6.7 million switch from Hoffenheim to Stoke collapsed, Ba met sports therapist Pedro Philippou, who concocted a tailor-made programme that proved pivotal in helping him pass his next medical at West Ham in January 2011. However, the Hammers remained paranoid about Demba’s brittle knees, so insisted on certain contractual stipulations. “With all the question marks over my fitness, West Ham inserted a clause allowing them to terminate my contract if I didn’t play at least 12 games that season,” revealed Ba. “My pay also varied depending on how involved I was. Nonetheless, I gambled and joined because I was 100 percent sure Pedro had got me fit again.” Ba’s ‘pay-as-you-play’ deal did contain one clause in his favour, though, since it gave him the opportunity to leave on a free transfer if West Ham got relegated – a scenario that came to pass despite Demba’s seven goals. He left for Newcastle that summer. Ba thus only spent five months at Upton Park, but will never forget his time there since it was his first taste of top-flight English football. “During my debut against Birmingham, I couldn’t stop looking at the Premier League badge on my arm and grinning,” laughed Ba. “I was like, ‘Dude, you’ve made it, you’ve made it!’ West Ham was also fun because I had a really good rapport with Carlton Cole and also enjoyed living in London. The capital was a major pull when Chelsea came calling.” So now Ba is back in the city where it all began, and could even end up playing under his managerial idol, Jose Mourinho, who just might return to Chelsea this summer. He has no regrets about leaving Newcastle – where he quickly became a cult figure after scoring 29 goals in 54 appearances – although he does miss his daily philosophical chats with French international midfielder (and close friend) Yohan Cabaye. “Yohan is a Christian, so we had a lot of good-natured religious debates,” he said. “I learnt a lot from him. When you speak to people with different beliefs you soon realise that all the major religions have more similarities than differences. Islam is essentially the same as Christianity and Judaism, in both its origins and rules. Do you know what the word ‘Muslim’ means? – ‘One who is submitted to God’ – so, by definition, practising Christians and Jews are ‘Muslims’ too. If I could convince everyone of this there’d be world peace!” Unfortunately, this is too lofty a goal for Ba to ever achieve, especially given Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea fans, who curse his every goal, would probably never accept him as a preacher! However, the manner in which he lives his life is commendable. Every day, for instance, Demba wakes up and recalls his favourite line from the Quran – surah 55, verse 60: “Is the reward for good anything but good?” (“ ”). That is the philosophy he lives by, and one that’s helped him shake off football’s ‘black sheep’ tag and find the club of his dreams. Chelsea would be ‘Barking’ mad to ever let him go! JANUARY 2014
BIG-NAME WRITERS » GUEST COLUMNISTS » DEBATE
36 BARNEY RONAY
The Guardian writer bemoans how everyone thinks they are a football journalist these days
38 AWAY DRESSING ROOM
Sara Evans samples the wintery wonders of Lapland, from sledding to snowmobiling
IT TAKES ALL SORTS TO BE A FOOTBALL JOURNALIST – SO NOW WE’RE ALL AT IT! FIVE YEARS FROM NOW EVERYONE ON THE PLANET WITH FINGERS AND A DEGREE OF MALEVOLENCE WILL BE WRITING ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, writes Barney Ronay
here is as yet no accepted collective noun for a group of football journalists – although given the public perception it isn’t hard to come up with a few hoary old front-runners. A buffet-brunch voucher of football journalists. A receipt spike. A laziness. A sherrystained complacency of football journalists. In fact, though, looking around a packed press room at Old Trafford during Manchester United’s Champions League loss to Real Madrid last month, what was most striking was the basic human variety of the global football journalist community. There were, and I can’t emphasise this enough, all sorts. From the familiar, old-school scribes huddled in one corner like car-coated aristocracy, to the immaculate Japanese, the bearded it-boys of Spain, and beyond this the hordes of sharply dressed entrepreneurial types who encircle all major sporting occasions, coiled into the territory between journalist, PR person and glazed and hungry media-smurf, and drawn to the court of ‘Very Important Sporting Things’ wherever it reassembles itself. Yes: here comes everyone. And everyone, these days, is a football 36
BARNEY RONAY GUARDIAN JOURNALIST
journalist. Open the curtains and look outside. That man isn’t a bus driver. He’s a football journalist driving a bus. We all are now. In fact, if ongoing conversion rates to the football blogger/tweeter/commenter/ online-incontinent community are maintained, current projections suggest ﬁve years from now every human being on the planet with ﬁngers and a workable degree of lumpen malevolence will be, on some level, a football journalist. At the very least it seems certain we can look forward to a brighter future
where our sons and daughters will all be football journalists, and their sons and daughters too, a lineage of ever-expanding bloggers, satirists and strident new voices, right up to the point it no longer becomes necessary to use the phrase ‘human being’, which can instead be replaced with the words ‘football journalist’. If this is all a bit meta and self-regarding (not that you really mind: we’re all football journalists here), it is worth noting that this kind of bloodless, mob-handed industry takeover has perhaps never happened
EVERYONE, THESE DAYS, IS A FOOTBALL JOURNALIST. OPEN THE CURTAINS AND LOOK OUTSIDE. THAT MAN ISN’T A BUS DRIVER. HE’S A FOOTBALL JOURNALIST DRIVING A BUS.
Captain Billy Wright was compared to “a ﬁre-engine always heading towards the wrong ﬁre” after England’s humiliating 7-1 friendly loss to Hungary in 1954
before in such a public manner. At a time of rare and delirious expansion, football journalism in its traditional form is also facing the spectre of its own slow death. Not because nobody wants to do it anymore, but because everybody seems to want to do it at the same time. It is hard to imagine this process in other day jobs: the suburban milkman setting off on his morning rounds and ﬁnding hundreds of other people already patrolling the dawn streets on rickety box-car ﬂoats quietly leaving their own bottles of home-brewed white liquid on the shared doorsteps, brushing past him on the driveway as he stands, a little bewildered in his dairy apron, just lingering long enough to mutter something barbed about traditional milkmen being ﬁnished, a stitch-up, a laughing stock, perhaps even tagging a little scroll of abusive post-it notes – “I expect better… can’t believe you get paid for this!” – to the foil tops of his pints of outmoded semi-skimmed. It is, of course, important to remember how we got here. For the ﬁrst few decades of organised football there weren’t really football journalists at all. This was a sport reported as an inside-page write-up by somebody called ‘Old Tweedy’ or ‘Kipper of the Kop’, a watch-chained, tobacco-wreathed ﬁgure dwelling in a peculiar nexus between newspaper man, bookie and saloon bar lurker. The idea that ‘football writing’ was actually ‘writing’ ﬁrst took hold in the 1950s, with the revered Geoffrey Green’s line about Billy Wright against Hungary at Wembley – “a ﬁre engine always heading to the
wrong ﬁre” – acting as a kind of Jailhouse Rock explosion, a moment of fevered hormonal awakening for the hordes of quiff-ﬂicking, angora-sweatered football journalists ﬁring up their skifﬂe boards and unfurling their jazz clarinets all ready to ‘blow’ some football. A distinct, elegant kind of voice began to emerge, inﬂuenced later by the great Brian Glanville, a polyglot who inspired a host of eager imitators keen to hurl in gratuitous elements of European argot (“Bobby Moore employed as what they call in Italy un difensore centrale… England attacking via what in French is known as un shortcorner”), through to the enduring demi-gods of the press box, the uber-scribe with his broad, Zeus-like vista, his beeﬁly swaggering prose. Against this the alternative voice of the DIY journalist of the 1980s also emerged, a fanzine culture crossed over from the zines attached to punk music that found enduring expression in Whenn Saturday Comes and thereby in the sideways-glance pages of broadsheett newspapers, the scamp-journalist with ith his postmodern snark, his weak jokes, his Saturday back-pagee column. It is from a related ed modern tradition that the current rrent gloriously yahooing online free-for-all -for-all has emerged, and out of which the new model army of football all journalists has sprung. The most notable table of which, beyond the ubiquitous us ‘Angry Incoherent Man’, is perhaps the ‘Garden Shed Genius’, enius’, the writer whose work rk is the football equivalent off
A DISTINCT, ELEGANT KIND OF VOICE BEGAN TO EMERGE, INFLUENCED LATER BY THE GREAT BRIAN GLANVILLE, A POLYGLOT WHO INSPIRED A HOST OF EAGER IMITATORS KEEN TO HURL IN GRATUITOUS ELEMENTS OF EUROPEAN ARGOT.
growing a single, magniﬁcent prize marrow, some polished and waxed super-specimen devoted to Argentinian left-backs of the 1970s, or goalkeeping errors in the Romanian third division, to be waggled about the supermarket aisles occasionally as a chastening example of locally sourced organic super-hackery. Beyond him we also ﬁnd the related ﬁgures of the talented amateur generalist, happily tilling his online hipster allotment, and the genuine journalist manqué, the talented prose writer who might well have in other times been already making a living in traditional football journalism, but who is for now excluded from the paid profession by its own ongoing evolution into a not-for-proﬁt, online shouting match. Does any of this really matter? No doubt, for all the industrial death associated with the journey to exuberant universality, this is also a kind of golden age, a generational explosion of digital literacy. Perhaps the only real issue here baf is the bafﬂing amount of anger and w unease wrapped up in all this: the resentme the chaﬁng, the revelation resentment, that not only is everybody in the world fo now a football journalist, pretty much everybod in the world appears to be an everybody foo angry football journalist too. Perhaps it is simply a matter of settling down, an anxiety of shared and unmapped evolut evolution. Really we should all be show a little more species love. showing a the world. We are the We are footb journalists. We are, for now, football b malevolently self-dissolving one big fami yoked together in our family, brilli brilliantly perilous open future. WITH SPECIAL THANKS TO...
AWAY DRESSING ROOM
ALL WRAPPED UP FOR A SUB-ZERO ADVENTURE, SARA EVANS SAMPLES THE WINTRY WONDERS OF LAPLAND, FROM SLEDDING AND SNOWMOBILING TO SNUGGLING DOWN IN A BED MADE FROM ICE
now has been falling here for months, cloaking the pines and birches of Lapland's boreal forests in white. During the summer it's a glorious vista of coniferous green broken only by the blue of lakes shimmering under the sun. Come the winter, though, temperatures plummet dramatically. Lakes freeze and deep water turns to glass. In secret forest dens, big brown bears slumber through the big freeze. Reindeers, wide awake, watch cascades of snow fall gently from trees soft as feather boas. For half the year, as snowﬂakes glitter and sparkle, the landscape is transformed
magically. There's even enchantment in the sky. From October, the Northern Lights can be glimpsed, ﬁlling the star-ﬁlled night skies with spectacular lights ethereally pink or green as seaweed. I'm in Ylläs, hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle in the west of Finnish Lapland, and have been nowhere else quite so bedazzling. As well as admiring Ylläs' wintry fairy-tale beauty, I'm here to enjoy a range of snow-ﬁlled activities, including sledding with huskies, ice ﬂoating and a reindeer safari – all designed to add to the magic of this remote and wild winter land.
AWAY DRESSING ROOM HUSKY SAFARI I hear the howls ﬁrst, and then see fangs glinting in the snow. It's not wolves, but a troupe of excited Alaskan and Siberian huskies trained to follow mushing trails through the glittering taiga at Husky Point (huskypoint. ﬁ). After a quick lesson in controlling the dogs' speed, using the sled's back runner as a brake, I'm positioned at
For half the year, as snowflakes glitter and sparkle, the landscape is transformed magically. There' s even enchantment in the sky.
my sled's helm. Yelping, my six dogs are frisky and raring to run. Part of a noisy canine caravan of sleds, we skirt forests and lakesides, reaching speeds of about 12mph. At the end of the trail I'm exhilarated, having heard the call of the wild, husky style.
SKIING Having not skied in 30 years, I have a beginner's lesson booked at the Ylläs ski resort (yllas.ﬁ/en/ski! resort). Within minutes, under the expert tuition and encouragement of my instructor, I am walking conﬁdently, herringbone style, in my skis and snowploughing with ease. I ﬁnish my ﬁrst solo descent as I started – upright. With conﬁdence growing, it's not long before I'm parallel turning on some of the gentlest of the 63 slopes here. Braver souls are skiing higher up, off piste, enjoying the spectacular views of the snow! laden fells of the Pallas! Ylläs National Park.
SNOWMOBILE SAFARI I'm nervous about driving a snowmobile, especially in the dark, but after being taken through the basics I'm ready to go. Leaving the snowmobile HQ (yllasadventures.ﬁ) behind, I follow ofﬁcial snowmobile tracks, ﬁnding braking and accelerating straightforward. For mile after mile, I pass moonlit forests and lakes, frozen and vast. After a while I stop to look for the Northern Lights, but with clouds overhead there's little chance of spying the Aurora Borealis tonight. In the distance I hear the soft low! pitched hoots of an owl, possibly a great grey, and wonder what else might be awake in the forest. Back on the snowmobile, snowﬂakes falling and engine purring, I speed up and start to feel invincible.
REINDEER SAFARI Dressed in traditional Sami clothing, Marjut and Sami welcome me to their reindeer farm in Venejarvi (saminporotila.ﬁ). Against wooden fences sit beautiful sleighs, piled high with rugs and blankets. Reindeers, varying in colour from deep caramel to pale cream, eat moss, scattered for them in the snow. With full bellies the reindeer are then harnessed to the sleigh and I take a seat, gathering blankets around me Snow Queen-style. As I lean back, Sami leads the sleigh and we travel through our own private Narnia. At the end of the magical journey, a muzzle, fabulously velvety, nuzzles up against me and I receive what I can only describe as a reindeer kiss.
Did you know?
Although Lapland occupies almost a third of Finland, less than 3 percent of the population lives there
AWAY DRESSING ROOM
ICE FLOATING Dressed in a large red, rubbery Arctic survival suit, I look ridiculous – like a giant Jelly Baby – but if I'm to survive ﬂoating in an ice hole carved into the frozen waters of the lake, Ylläsjärvi, it's essential kit. The Ylläs Adventures (yllasadventures.ﬁ) team takes me to the steps at the lake's edge and I climb into the water and lean backwards. Warm air moves up inside my suit and I am buoyant. Stretching my arms out, starﬁsh style, I ﬂoat away, muscles unwinding. I take in the beauty of the Arctic sky above and relax, occasionally using my hands like ﬂippers to navigate. After 20 minutes or so I leave the water, revitalised and glowing with an incredible sense of wellbeing.edge and I climb into the water and lean backwards. Warm air moves up inside my suit and I am buoyant. Stretching my arms out, starﬁsh style, I ﬂoat away, muscles unwinding. I take in the beauty of the Arctic sky above and relax, occasionally using my hands like ﬂippers to navigate. After 20 minutes or so I leave the water, revitalised and glowing with an incredible sense of wellbeing. SLEEPING ON ICE The forest scenes, complete with trees, birds and deer, engraved on the ice walls of the restaurant and bar at the Lainio Snow Hotel (snowvillage.ﬁ) are enchanting. At !5°C, the ambient temperature here preserves their icy beauty. It's this temperature in the bedrooms too, where on a bed made solely from ice blocks I spend the night. Hat, scarf and gloves still on, I zip up tight in my thermal sleeping bag, but never really warm up. For safety reasons, low lights remain on all night, accentuating the somewhat eerie ice murals around the bed. Sleep does not come quickly, but come the morning a hot berry juice brought to the room defrosts me. 42
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TOP TUITION » SPORTS NUTRITION » GYM ROUTINES
46 RHYS BEECHER
The Address Montgomerie’s director of instruction on how to hit the perfect approach
48 ALEXANDER BLAISE
With Table Tennis’ World Tour Grand Finals in town, we learn the basics of ping pong
50 JOHN BAKER
The Bespoke Wellness physiotherapist explains why poor posture can ‘cost ya’
TH E RI GH T AP PR OA CH THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SECOND SHOT IN GOLF IS UNDERVALUED, writes The Address Montgomerie’s director of instruction Rhys Beecher
ne of the most challenging aspects of golf is the variety of scenarios that present themselves during a round. This is particularly apparent with your second shot. The tee shot is always from the same place, while putting tends to be from the green, or just off it. Yet your approach can be taken from, and land in, some unpredictable places. Whether
they are in position or out of position, golfers must be able to adapt and execute the right swing. It is easy to hit one good shot off the tee, but the real skill is following it up, whether on or off the fairway. Using the Address Montgomerie’s par-four second, I will demonstrate some of the situations you might encounter and how to achieve the best possible result from them.
THE FAIRWAY: A CHANCE TO ATTACK After unleashing a proﬁcient drive, you will sometimes have the opportunity to attack the pin, especially on shorter par-fours or par-ﬁves. Unfortunately, many golfers squander this chance by mishitting their approach. Sometimes this is purely down to over-aggression, but another common mistake is trying to lift the ball instead of hitting down and through it. To ensure you execute a solid approach, try to feel like your chest is more on top of the ball at impact. This prevents standing up, which usually goes with the lifting motion. Also, strike the ball with the back of your left hand facing the target (assuming you are right handed). This encourages a square clubface at contact and again prevents the lifting motion through impact. 46
THE ROUGH: SWING STEEPLY INTO THE BALL Your success from the rough usually depends on the lie. When playing from the rough, I like to ‘trafﬁc light’ the different lies from red (buried) to green (sitting perfectly). If you have a green or amber lie in the rough, you should be able to play the shot comfortably and with conﬁdence. If your lie is red, your primary goal is just to take your punishment and get the ball out. Open the clubface, aim left and play a fade. Start the club back steeply (feel like it’s going back to the outside). This will help you swing down at a steeper angle and catch the ball ﬁrst. Keep your left wrist ﬁrm through impact, and imagine the heel of the club leading the toe. Typically the ball ﬂight will come out lower and with a steeper angle of attack from these lies, so play for a running shot up to the green.
THE SAND: KEEP YOUR LEGS QUIET Most amateurs hate fairway bunkers because they never catch the ball solidly in them. This is because they aren’t making the right adjustments. Firstly, get in a taller posture, with your spine more upright, to promote a rounded (less up and down) swing. Secondly, keep your legs ‘quiet’ and try to maintain your height throughout the swing. You will notice in the images that my head remains in a similar position throughout the swing. In conjunction with a quieter lower body, this helps ensure I make solid contact.
TACKLING SLOPES: KEEP THE CLUB GOING DOWN If your ball is resting on a downslope, take one less club because the hill de-lofts the clubface. Centre the ball in your stance, and set your shoulders parallel to the slope – get your front shoulder down. From there, focus on swinging with the hill. The ball will tend to go right, so aim a little left, and feel like the clubhead continues down the hill after impact. The main reason for the difﬁculty with this particular lie is that golfers tends to rock backwards in an effort to add loft to their shot. This results in a very shallow impact with the most likely outcome being either thin or heavy contact.
RULES FOR DOWNHILL SLOPES 1. Keep your spine perpendicular to the slope. This will ensure your shoulders, hips and knees are parallel with the surface you are hitting from. 2. Place your weight on your lower foot and position your stance so the ball is closer to your higher foot. 3. Take a more lofted club to compensate for the decrease in trajectory created by the down slope. Rhys Beecher is director of instruction at The Address Montgomerie. To contact him about private lessons, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +971 4363 1209 JANUARY 2014
CH ES S ON ST ER OI DS
TABLE TENNIS IS NOT ONLY FUN, BUT WORKS THE PARTS OF THE BRAIN RESPONSIBLE FOR MOVEMENT, MOTOR SKILLS AND STRATEGY, writes Paris-Sorbonne University coach Alexander Blaise
aking up table tennis can genuinely boost your brain power. The ﬁne motor control and exquisite hand-eye coordination involved in dodging and diving for the ball engages the primary motor cortex and cerebellum – areas responsible for arm and hand movement. Meanwhile, by anticipating an opponent’s shot, players also work the prefrontal cortex,
GRIP There are two main types of grip: the ‘handshake’ and the ‘penhold’. For the former, as the name suggests, imagine you are shaking hands with the bat. Place your pointer finger across one side and your thumb across the other. A lot of people ask why you can’t just hold the bat like a tennis racket. The answer is because the pointer finger helps you handle the bat and serves to remind you what angle it is at. The penhold grip sees you place the handle upwards and encircle your thumb and pointer finger around it – as if you were holding a pen. You can curl your fingers around the back of the bat or leave them flat. In the former case, your wrist is more flexible, while the latter tactic gives you more control. 48
which is responsible for strategic planning. This is why table tennis is often referred to as “chess on steroids”. The aerobic exercise from the physical side of the game also stimulates the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory. Why not give it a go? It’s not just enjoyable, but the world’s best brain sport!
rip G e k a h s Hand
HISTORY Table tennis originated in England during the 1880s, where it was played by the mega-rich as an after-dinner parlour game. A golf ball was originally used, with thick books employed for both bats and the net.
STANCE ALEX’S TIP
Don’t strangle the bat. If you clench it too tightly you will lose feeling in your wrist and then it is far harder to generate spin.
Don’t just focus on your arms and bat. The legs are probably the most important muscles in table tennis. If you stand too tall, your movement and balance will be restricted. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. This will allow you to tilt sideways without falling over. Bend your knees, too, since this will help engage the leg muscles, allowing for stability moving forwards or backwards.
When you serve, the ball must bounce on both sides of the table. Start with it pretty close to your bat. This will make contact far easier. The ball has to begin behind the table and sit in the palm of your hand (rather than on your ﬁngertips). Throw the ball up at least six inches before you serve, hitting it only on the way down. To gain speed, you need to get the ball as low as possible over the net. A common error novices make is to raise their bat as they throw the ball up, resulting in a high serve.
FOREHAND To pull off the perfect forehand, ensure your bat is facing the place you want the ball to go. Your feet must be square on and your starting position at hip height. After impact, come up and ﬁnish around your left eyebrow. Once you have got the hang of this, you can generate more pace by increasing the speed of the stroke. Beginners tend to either swing too low or follow through past the middle of their body. If you end your stroke way over on the left side it will be tricky to recover in time to play your next shot.
Don’t alter your grip. It is tempting to twist the bat around in your hand, but this will only make the transition from backhand to IRUHKDQGGLI¿FXOW
BACKHAND To execute a proficient backhand, the position of your feet is paramount. Place them square on to where you want the ball to go, with your body slightly forward. The bat should also stay flat in front of your belly. Remember, too, to turn your wrist over the ball at impact so it stays low over the net. This will also help generate plenty of power. If you try a smash without doing this, the ball will fly way off the table. Your finishing position is at shoulder height. If you are playing the stroke correctly, the forehand side of the bat should face towards the roof at the end.
IN ASSOCIATION WITH... Table tennis is one of 18 sports played at the Abu Dhabi Corporate Games. The tournament will be staged at the Paris-Sorbonne University between 13-14 December and costs AED 545 per person. To enter, or for more information, call +971 2 404 8821, email email@example.com or visit corporate-games.net. JANUARY 2014
W HY PO OR PO ST UR E W IL L CO ST YA ! EVERYONE WANTS TO AVOID BACK TROUBLE, BUT SURPRISINGLY FEW OF US MANAGE TO ESCAPE IT, writes Bespoke physiotherapist John Baker
orrect posture will not only improve your looks, but help you perform better at sport. Just ask Tiger Woods or Roger Federer, who have both battled severe back pain in the past, but have taken proactive steps to bounce back stronger. Working on your posture increases
muscle tone, makes breathing easier and is one of the top ways to stave off those irksome aches we so often encounter after a long day or prolonged exercise. Sitting a little straighter now? Excellent! Here’s some advice and exercises to ensure optimum posture.
WHAT CAUSES THE PROBLEM? If you spend all day at a desk, drive a lot or enjoy winding down in front of the TV, you are likely to encounter back, shoulder or neck pain at some point. Those in high-pressure ofﬁce jobs (so most of us in the UAE!) are especially at risk. We all spend a large proportion of our lives in the ﬂexed position, with the body bent, which constricts our largest and most powerful muscles (thighs, hamstrings, abdominals and chest). When the back is slouched, the neck and head arch forwards. This places prolonged pressure on the spinal ligaments and inhibits circulation to the surrounding muscles, leading to that numb aching feeling we all encounter from time to time.
CAUSES OF PAIN IN THE LOWER BACK Bone tumour of the spinal column
Tuberculosis of the spine
Tumours of the ilium or sacrum
Osteoarthritis causing bone spurs Ankylosing spondylitis
Protruding intervertebral disc Spondylolisthesis Intrapelvic mass (polyps or tumours)
Occlusion of vessels Arthritis of hip
W WHAT IS THE CURE? Th The he so solution, for most, is a ‘do it yourself’ one – in both the ofﬁce ofﬁ ﬁce and the gym. Your back has three curves: cervical (neck), (n eck thoracic (chest) and lumbar (lower back). When we slouch slo ouch in a chair or bend forward over work, they are thrown outt of balance. To ﬁx this, when sitting or driving for long ou periods, per riod place a cushion or rolled-up towel between the curve of you your lower spine and the back of your seat. Supporting your lower low wer back will maintain your spine’s natural curve and help thee sh shoulders fall naturally into place. You can also ask your HR R department de if they have an ergonomics expert (most large companies com mpa do) who can assess your work space. They will ensure ens sure your desk, PC and keyboard are at optimal height. The top of your computer screen should be at (or slightly below) eye level lev and the desk height must allow your forearms to rest comfortably com mfo at a 90-degree angle. In addition, whether you work wor rk in an ofﬁce or from home, remember to get up and stretch stre etc at least once per hour. Sitting for long periods puts pressure pres ssu on your discs and fatigues your muscles.
GYM EXERCISES All sport, gym and weightlifting activities rely heavily on the strength and stability of our postural muscles, especially the transverse abdominis (the stomach’s deepest muscle). In a large proportion of people this tends to be weak and under-engaged. To strengthen it you can try these three exercises using either a Swiss or BOSU (‘both sides up’) ball. Both will help correct or maintain posture and ensure those annoying little niggles don’t cost you on or off the sporting ﬁeld.
1. BRIDGE Bridging with a Swiss ball gives the lower back a decent workout. Lie ﬂat on the ground with your legs straight and your calves resting gently on the ball. Your arms should hang at the side with your hands ﬂat on the ﬂoor. Clench your buttocks and lift them up off the ﬂoor in order to straighten the back, keeping the abdominal muscles as tight as possible. Hold for ﬁve seconds before returning to your starting position. Do ﬁve reps. You can make this exercise more difﬁcult by lifting your arms off the ﬂoor, and harder still if you raise one leg up at a time, a couple of inches off the Swiss ball.
2. PRONE PLANK
3. BOSU SUPINE BRIDGE
Executing a prone plank using a Swiss ball is fabulous for shoulder stabilisation. The aim is to load up each shoulder independently while maintaining a strong core, as well as contracting the postural muscles, which keep your hips strong and body aligned.
The BOSU ball, as its name suggests, can be used both sides up and is perfect for balance, core and abdominal exercises. Place your feet on top of it. Your knees should be directly above your ankles. Position the round side of the ball face-up, although you can ﬂip it upside down if you want to make the exercise more challenging. Draw in your core as you lift your hips up towards the ceiling. Don’t bend your back at any point. The goal is to primarily use your glutes. You can either perform this as a static or dynamic drill. For the former, squeeze your buttocks and hold at the top position for several seconds before easing back down. For the latter, slowly lift and lower your hips.
John Baker is a physiotherapist at Bespoke Wellness. You can contact him about private sessions via firstname.lastname@example.org or visit bespoke-wellness.com.
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AWARDS » DREAM PRIZES » RIB-TICKLING HUMOUR
54 MARK LOMAS
We take an in-depth look at how football is being used to raise awareness about AIDS
60 DAVID WEIR
The so-called ‘Weirwolf’ looks back on London 2012 and ahead to Rio 2016
66 DRIVE HOME
Shahzad explains why Buzz Lightyear would drive the Inﬁniti QX56
HIS OLD WEST HAM TEAMMATE TREVOR SINCLAIR ADMITS THE NEW SUNDERLAND BOSS IS JUST A LITTLE BIT CRAZY!
AFRICA MARK LOMAS EXAMINES HOW FOOTBALL places where others fear to n a grassless football pitch IS BEING USED Reaching tread – in war zones and on unforgiving in East Africa, a coach barks out instructions to a TO COMBAT HIV terrain – the beautiful game is revered by billions. It is only natural that a group of players. Dressed sport invented for the masses should be in an assortment of replica IN AFRICA used to benefit them. Lofty rhetoric is kits, from Real Madrid to Reading, with
equatorial earth staining their ankles and the sweltering Kenyan sun forcing sweat from every pore, it seems a pretty normal scene for a training session. But look a little closer: there are no customary tactical observations or motivational musings. As three players hoist their teammates onto their backs, the coach pronounces matter-of-factly that the goalmouth is the immune system, the defenders are white blood cells and the friends clinging on to them are the HIV virus. Welcome to TackleAfrica. At a time when headlines tend to focus on the prevention of football’s financial juggernaut from reaching abhorrent new levels of excess, the largesse at work in the sport is often obscured. Didier Drogba, a man who is as much a philanthropist as a forward, is a pre-eminent example of a player who uses his status as a football icon to push for major social change across his native Ivory Coast. His self-named foundation has helped facilitate improvements in health and education – and he is not alone, with Samuel Eto’o, Michael Essien and Frederic Kanoute just three more of a growing breed of African footballers who feel that with their great wealth – unimaginable to almost all who worship them from afar – comes great social responsibility. As the world’s most popular sport, football has the potential to be harnessed in a remarkable way.
easy to spew, though; tangible action is a whole different story. UK-based charity TackleAfrica has been absorbed in proactive measures for almost a decade. From the sodden pitches of London to the parched playing fields of Africa, the organisation has been focused on combating one of the continent’s gravest problems: HIV. While Africa is famed for the unpredictable nature of its football, exemplified by Zambia and Nigeria’s thrilling Nations Cup triumphs over the past 16 months, the HIV virus has become a tragically predictable presence. SubSaharan Africa accounts for 69 percent of all people living with HIV (23.5 million as of January 2013) and 91 percent of the world’s HIV-positive children. HIV treatment and education has improved substantially in recent years, but the disease remains one of Africa’s biggest killers. TackleAfrica was conceived with the goal of engaging young people in a bid to make them better informed about the prevention of HIV and also the realities of living with it. “The idea for TackleAfrica started in 2003 with an Englishman teaching in Tanzania,” explained the project’s business development manager Tom Colborne. “He quickly recognised that while children often lost interest in the classroom, they
TACKLEAFRICA WAS CONCEIVED WITH THE GOAL OF ENGAGING YOUNG PEOPLE IN A BID TO MAKE THEM BETTER INFORMED ABOUT THE PREVENTION OF HIV AND ALSO THE REALITIES OF LIVING WITH IT. transformed into an attentive audience on the football field. Consequently, he and a group of friends started travelling around Africa staging tournaments and, using football as a platform, delivering HIV education – talking to kids and handing out condoms. “They reached about 50,000 kids and then began to look at something a bit more long-term and sustainable that actually uses the way football is taught to pass on an HIV message. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past decade – building a number of coaching resources that see us train African coaches and youth leaders on how to educate on HIV with a football, using specially designed coaching drills.” These drills are real masterpieces of creativity, even if initial scepticism must be brushed aside in order to embrace them. Delivering them to a group of my own mates at Dubai Sports City brought much hilarity as the befuddled twenty-somethings struggled to grasp the concept that losing possession was the equivalent of not using a condom (both represent ‘risky behaviour’). However, once representations are explained and exercises repeated, the message is visually powerful and, most importantly, memorable. The beauty of the concept is that football is the focal point, and thus each exercise is designed to improve the technical skills of players, not just their awareness of HIV. TackleAfrica drills are subtly worked into each session, but don’t dominate them, and once the initial tentativeness wanes, training becomes an open forum for young people to discuss HIV and dispel some of the myths associated with the illness. Questions such as ‘Can you catch HIV from swapping shirts with an infected person?’ and ‘Will you be safe if you shower straight after intercourse with someone who is HIV positive?’ might seem misguided, but they are legitimate queries from young people who have often had falsehoods perpetuated by their peers or parents. “When you’re talking about a sensitive message like HIV, that long-term approach is really important. You are not going to change people’s behaviour overnight,” conceded Colborne. “It is something that happens week in, week out over a number of years with young people so the message is reinforced. Because the learning takes place experientially it’s far more enjoyable and easy to remember. The kids understand it because they have taken part in it and have the consequences of various decisions role-played out to them. It’s much more effective than just being told something. 56
WHAT IS HIV?
The human immunodeﬁciency virus (HIV) infects cells in the immune system, destroying or impairing their ability to function. Infection with the virus results in the progressive deterioration of the immune system.
WHAT IS AIDS?
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the term relating to the most advanced stages of the HIV infection. It is defined by the occurrence of over 20 opportunistic infections or HIV-related cancers.
HOW IS HIV TRANSMITTED?
HIV can be transmitted through unprotected intercourse, transfusion of contaminated blood, the sharing of needles, syringes or other sharp instruments, or between a mother and her child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
“Most of the youths we work with are aged between 12 and 18. This is usually when they become sexually active, so need guidance since they are most at risk. It’s difficult to engage young kids, especially boys, in sexual health programmes but they are happy to come together to both play football and learn. They love it because they spend their spare time playing football anyway. This allows us to reach them without creating a whole new infrastructure. It’s far more interesting than just learning in the classroom, and the coaches enjoy it, too, since we are increasing their ability to be HIV educators.” Sadly, an innovative and effective idea is not enough on its own. For organisations such as the Didier Drogba Foundation and the Fundacion Samuel Eto’o, their name alone is a key that opens many doors. But for those not fortunate enough to have famed frontmen scoring the PR goals, the push for publicity and growth can be as onerous as a lone supporter trying to vent their spleen in a packed stadium. For TackleAfrica, fundraising comes in the form of the Football Marathon, a gruelling 12-hour six-a-side tournament originally created in the name of Sport Relief by Colborne and a handful of friends at Nottingham University. It has evolved to become inexorably linked with TackleAfrica, and the charity is now entirely dependent on the event. “The bulk of our funds come from the Football Marathon,” conceded Colborne. “Each year in London we raise around £120k with about 500 people taking part – a lot of the teams are run by UK volunteers who have gone out and trained coaches. It is an exhausting day and can be particularly punishing in the heat, but despite all the injuries and sunburn accumulated over the years, it’s a brilliant event. It would be great to do a Football Marathon in Africa, or somewhere like Dubai, one day – we just need to find a venue with a non-oppressive climate! “We also get funding from a variety of other sources like the Premier League. We would love to get a few big-name professional footballers on board to help raise our profile, but they are
Donating just AED 60 per month will help save the lives of 60 children. For more information email email@example.com or visit tackleafrica.com/donate
TACKLEAFRICA difficult to access. We do get support Organisers used the 2008 from some, though: for example, AFCON ﬁnal between Arsenal’s Emmanuel Frimpong played in Cameroon and Egypt in Ghana a tournament to raise money for us, to raise HIV awareness while ex-Gunners defender Lee Dixon has supported our Football Marathon and we hope to keep him involved in future events. Congo and Peterborough defender Gabriel Zakuani is also quite a big advocate of our work and is keen on visiting some of our projects. Hopefully this is something we can build on.” This July, on Wormwood Scrubs’ pitches, a collection of football-mad brethren will once again unite for TackleAfrica’s Football Marathon – stretching and straining every sinew in a bid to implement positive social change a continent away. The event is now joined by satellite ones all over the UK, while Canada has even recently become part of the Football Marathon family. Over in Africa, the organisation continues to grow and is set to roll out a ground-breaking programme in Tanzania in partnership with the country’s ministry for sport. Aided by funding from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation and UK Sport, they will train up an unprecedented number of female coaches to deliver regular HIV education across East Africa. Elsewhere, Kenya continues to be a major hub for the charity, while Ghana, Zambia and Uganda are also home to significant projects. On the ground, life is certainly no bed of roses for the coaches who TackleAfrica work with. Set against a backdrop of equipment shortages and abrasive climates, balls made from rolled up socks are not uncommon and individuals often walk for hours to attend courses in a bid to improve their players’ skills and knowledge of HIV. The spirit and perseverance of the coaches, above all else, holds the key to the organisation’s continued progress. “There are lots of challenges but it’s also massively inspiring,” said Colborne. “People who live in extremely difficult conditions work tirelessly to benefit others in their community and also have an incredibly positive approach to life that is really humbling – they love football so much and that comes across on a daily basis. Our coaches are the engine room of TackleAfrica. Without them, we simply couldn’t function. “Ultimately, our end game is to put ourselves out of business. We want each country where we operate to be self-sufficient – African coaches training African aspiring coaches. Hopefully one day there won’t be a need for TackleAfrica because the continent will be awash with coaches who already know how to use our resources and drills, and who can engage young people in HIV education through football. Over time, this will lead to a wave of young kids who are so clued up that they don’t need teaching in the first place.” 58
TackleAfrica’s London Football Marathon takes place at Wormwood Scrubs on 6 July. To enter, or become a sponsor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visittackleafrica.org.
SAM PILGER CATCHES UP WITH MULTIPLE OLYMPIC CHAMPION DAVID WEIR AHEAD OF MARCH’S PARALYMPIC GRAND PRIX IN DUBAI
henever David Weir closes his eyes he conjures up images of the greatest summer of his life. “After winning the marathon, I was sitting in the middle of the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace and the sun was shining,” the 33-year-old recalled. “This was the final event of the whole of London 2012, and my son Mason was on my lap wearing my gold medal, the fourth I had won that week. At that moment I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Life doesn’t get any better.’ It was simply an overwhelming and dreamlike experience. To win four gold
medals was incredible, because I never thought it was really possible, but I had done it; I had done the impossible.” Over the course of seven races, covering a total of 35.3 miles in just nine days, during the London 2012 Paralympics, the so-called ‘Weirwolf’ solidified his place as one of Britain’s top sportsmen by winning every single race he entered, thus procuring gold medals in the T54 800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and marathon. “Although I had already won three gold medals at the Olympic Stadium, the marathon was the one I really wanted since
DAVID WEIR it was on the streets of my hometown and the final event of London 2012,” said Weir, who gave his daughter Tillia the middle name London to mark his success at the Olympics. “But those three other races had taken a lot out of me, and I had no idea if my body could deal with the pressure. For most of the first five miles I felt absolutely shattered, and didn’t even know if I could finish the race. I felt so bad, but I kept going because pulling over to the side of the road and thus ending London 2012 as a loser was simply not an option. “It was around this stage I took a shot of beetroot juice, which gave me an instant energy boost. With about four miles remaining, the rest of the field were teaming up on me, so I knew I had to spilt up the pack and destroy them. I thought, ‘I’m going to try and hurt you.’ I pushed hard, and frankly killed them! I could soon see they were blowing hard, and their lips were blue. “On the final straight I sensed I couldn’t be beaten, no one was getting past me now. I was in front, the wind was behind me, and if I pushed as hard as I could for the next minute I would win the gold medal. “I am not an emotional bloke, but I broke down in tears at the end, it all just got to me. I had come such a long way. 12 years earlier I was living off benefits in my flat on the estate watching the Sydney Paralympics on television from my sofa, but now here I was.” Since then Weir has finally received the recognition he deserves from the world of sport: “Now I am not a disabled athlete, just another athlete judged along with all the others,” he smiled.
IT IS HARD TO WATCH BACK MY ACHIEVEMENTS AND ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT IS ME OUT THERE. I KEEP ASSUMING I HAVE A MORE TALENTED IDENTICAL TWIN WHO DID IT ALL INSTEAD! Indeed, BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner Sir Bradley Wiggins hailed his achievements as the greatest of London 2012, and claimed the Weirwolf, who finished fifth, was “far more deserving” of that much coveted award. In the last four months Weir’s life has been a blur of open-top bus parades through the streets of London, trips to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen – picking up a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list to go with his MBE – glitzy red carpet events and fancy award ceremonies. “I promise you, I still think I am dreaming and someone is going to shake me awake and say, ‘Dave, we’ve got a race in five minutes,’” he laughed. “It is hard to look back at my achievements and actually believe that is me out there. I keep assuming I have a more talented identical twin who did it all instead!”
Weir’s performance at the London 2012 Paralympics impressed a number of high-profile athletes including Usain Bolt, David Beckham, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods 62
FAZAA INTERNATIONAL ATHLETICS COMPETITION Dubai will stage the ﬁrst of six Paralympic grand prix in 2013 as the International Paralympic Committee hope to build on the unprecedented popularity of the London 2012 Paralympics. From 23-26 March, the Dubai Police Club will play host to the FAZAA International Athletics Competition, which will see athletes compete in track events ranging from the 100m to 5,000m and ﬁeld formats including the shot put, discus, javelin and long jump. UAE’s Olympic heroes Abdullah Sultan Al Aryani (who won gold in the mixed R6 50m riﬂe prone event) and Mohammad Al Hammadi (who took silver in the men’s T34 200m and bronze in the 100m) will both compete. Following Dubai, the six-event series will then move to Beijing, Sao Paulo, Grosseto, Arizona and Berlin.
Born with a spinal cord transection, Weir has never had full use of his legs or been able to walk unaided. There is some feeling in his lower half, but he can’t lock his legs or stand up, and needed five operations just to straighten his feet. In his teens he wore calipers and walked with a stick until his upper body became too heavy and he changed to a wheelchair. But he was never given special treatment by his parents, who were adamant he would lead a normal life, or by his friends on the Roundshaw estate in Wallington, on the southern fringes of London. “I was no different, I did the same as everyone else,” explained Weir. “I climbed trees and larked about. In football I went in goal and used my stick, which made me a pretty formidable goalkeeper!” When Weir was eight he was first introduced to wheelchair racing, which appealed to his competitive spirit and gave him a means to harness his determination. In his first race he had to compete in a standard chair. He didn’t win, but he knew he had found his calling. “There has always been a drive in me, it has been there since birth,” he said. “I relish working hard, I love being close to people when we race, in that pack, getting under the skin of opponents.” Weir had found his calling; training under his coach and mentor Jenny Archer, he won the junior London Marathon. He then went to his first Paralympics in Atlanta in 1996, at the tender age of 17, but that whole experience was a massive let-down. “There was no interest in the Paralympics back then,” conceded Weir. “Honestly there was about five people in the stadium, the athletes weren’t treated very well and it made me question everything I had been doing my whole life. I really thought, ‘Have I sacrificed being with my family and friends and for this?’ I was so disheartened.” As a result, Weir briefly fell out of love with the sport and didn’t even bother to enter the next Paralympics in Sydney in 2000. Instead he found himself watching it in his boxers on television at home. Yet the medal-winning feats of fellow Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson in Australia inspired him to give athletics a second chance. Four years later he competed in Athens and won his first Paralympic medals – a silver in the 100m and a bronze in the Weir was appointed Commander of the Order 200m – but that was just a warm-up. He of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 New arrived at the next games in Beijing Year Honours for services to athletics stronger and more focused, and came home with four medals – two golds in the 800m and 1,500m, a silver in the 400m and a bronze in the 5,000m. This was all invaluable experience ahead of London 2012, where Weir was totally dominant. He won every event he entered, having undertaken a gruelling training regime in London’s Richmond Park where he would race for 15 miles each morning in often freezing conditions. “Sometimes I sit there and question whether I could have done this or that better, but I look back at my races in London and think, ‘Dave, you did everything as well as you possibly could have done,’” said Weir, who carried the British flag at the closing ceremony. “I prepared for every single scenario, and got my tactics spot-on, and that is why I performed so well and won four golds.” JANUARY 2014
DAVID WEIR Weir claimed six gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics, and has won the London Marathon six times, making him the most successful British wheelcheer athlete of all time
WEIR’S MEDALS Paralympic Games Gold Gold Gold Gold Gold Gold Silver Silver Bronze Bronze
Weir is a throughly engaging and amiable character, who always speaks humbly and quietly, but his coaches talk about how his personality radically changes as soon as he gets on the track. That is when he transforms into the Weirwolf! His life might have changed remarkably (he is now recognised all the time), but he is yet to reap the rewards. For instance, he still lives in the same rented council house he grew up in. “I haven’t got my own property yet, I can’t afford it,” Weir admitted. “I would like a nice four-bedroom house in Surrey, but at the moment it is impossible. I am still not earning that much, but my quality of life is getting better, so I can’t complain.” Weir, however, knows he can’t go on forever, and isn’t yet sure if he will be at the next Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 to defend his four titles. “I haven’t decided, it is a tricky call, so I am thinking it all through right now,” he explained. “It will be a struggle to get myself motivated to do it all over again. Can I really do another four years of training? I am not so sure. I know that would be really tough. It would be great to go to Rio and defend my titles, but the sport is evolving so fast. “I am unsure I can get another 20 percent out of myself and my training. I gave absolutely everything I had at London 2012, so I am not convinced I can do it all over again. That was the last big push, and whatever happens in Rio it could never match winning four gold medals in my hometown.” In the short term, Weir wants to run in next month’s London Marathon, a race he has won six times. He also aims to compete in the 2014 Commonwealth games in Glasgow. Beyond that he would like to indulge his love of DJ-ing, and has already been offered some sets on the Spanish party island of Ibiza. More crucially, he is determined to play his part in building the legacy of London 2012, and has bold plans to open an academy for disabled children interested in following in his footsteps. “I want to be there for them and give as much input as possible, tell them all about what I have been through,” said a passionate Weir. “With the number of 64
Beijing, 2008 Beijing, 2008 London, 2012 London, 2012 London, 2012 London, 2012 Athens, 2004 Beijing, 2008 Athens, 2004 Beijing, 2004
800m 1,500m 1,500m 5,000m 800m Marathon 100m 400m 200m 5,000m
IPC Athletics World Championships Gold Gold Gold Gold Gold Gold Silver
Assen, 2006 Assen, 2006 Assen, 2006 Christchurch, 2011 Christchurch, 2011 Christchurch, 2011 Assen, 2006
100m 400m 1,500m 800m 1,500m 5,000m 200m
Paralympic World Cup Gold Gold
PWC, 2007 PWC, 2007
IPC Athletics European Championships Gold Silver Bronze
Helsinki, 2005 Helsinki, 2005 Helsinki, 2005
400m 200m 100m
disabled people in this country, we should have a lot more David Weirs, not just one. I will found the academy in South London, but I would also love to tour the whole country, doing workshops and enthusing kids.” Weir would prove an excellent teacher to such children, since ‘the poor disabled kid who found himself sitting in the middle of the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace with four gold medals around his neck’ is the perfect rags-to-riches story to truly inspire them.
INFINITI AND BEYOND!
IF BUZZ LIGHTYEAR DROVE A CAR, IT WOULD PROBABLY BE THE INFINITI QX56,
writes Shahzad Sheikh
oy Story’s congenial space ranger, Buzz Lightyear, is big, white and sturdy, a bit like the Infiniti QX56. The car is gargantuan – the love child of a limousine and a bus. In truth, you have to be a bit of a cowboy to drive it, so Sheriff Woody Pride would probably fancy a crack behind the wheel too! Alas, though, big is not
always beautiful. The QX56 has the surreal feel of a luxury bomb shelter. Aesthetically, it fails to mask some ungainly curves. Its grille sharply sticks out at each corner and there’s a totally pointless bulge at the base of the rear window. Yet, to continue the (slightly tenuous) Toy Story analogy, this is the ‘Big Baby’ of cars. Presence is one thing it definitely doesn’t lack.
The current generation of QX was launched in 2011 and modelled on the (then also newly released) Nissan Patrol. Unsurprisingly, to power its obese frame it is fitted with a pretty chunky power unit. There’s a 5.6-litre V8 engine that produces 400bhp and 413lb ft of torque, giving this ‘white whale’ a 0-100kph acceleration time of 6.5s and a top speed of 210kph. Once behind the wheel, the Infiniti QX56 feels surprisingly (in fact, jaw-droppingly) swift. Driving something of this scale is often like starting up a rusty old steam engine: there’s huffing, puffing and churning, then, after an infuriatingly slow start, an unstoppable motor-hulk is born. This is not the case with the QX56. It rattles through its seven-speed automatic gearbox with a real sense of urgency… almost as if it senses Lotso, the bear who smells like strawberries, is about to be shredded by a garbage disposer (no wait, that’s Toy Story again!). The Infiniti not only has five off-road modes, but intelligently channels drive to the wheels in various proportions depending on the terrain. The steering is light and lacks feel, but then this isn’t a sports car. The helm is slyly designed to lure you into thinking the QX56 is easy to manoeuvre or park; and to an extent it is, thanks to a relatively tight turning circle and cameras at the front, back and sides. These are helpful, if a touch Orwellian! Yet, despite its agility, and a bit like Diego Maradona, you never lose sight of the Infiniti’s considerable bulk. For a start, the lofty driving position is a giveaway. Plus, despite a suspension 68
IN NFI FIN NIITI TI QX X5 56 Pric Pr Pric ice: e: AED ED 3044k EEnngi gine innee: 55..6-lilitrre V8 V8, 40000bbhp hp @ 5,800 ,8800rp 00rrppm, 00 m, 44113l 3lb ft ft @ 4,000000rppm Trran Tr aannsm missi issiioonn: 7-s is -sppeeeedd auttoo,, fouurr-w fo whheeeell dririve ve Peerffor P orm maanc ncee:: 0-1100kp 00kp 00 kph inn kph 6.5s 6. 6.5s 5 , 22110k 0kph p , 122.55L/ L/10 /10 100km 00kkm Weigght Weig We h : 2, 2 76 7 77kkg
Shahzad Sheikh is editor of Motoring Middle East. For more information about his work go to motoringme.com or email him via email@example.com.
The car is gargantuan – the love child of a limousine and a bus. In truth, you have to be a bit of a cowboy to drive it.
that’s brainier than Toy Story’s wise-cracking piggybank Hamm, it inevitably does lean and lurch. The low-profile tyres also pick up road imperfections and slightly taint the ‘floating carpet’ feel the creators envisaged. I am not saying there’s anything wrong or bad about the way the QX56 handles corners or pummels surfaces into submission, I just expected better. It’s fairly competent, and thankfully the brakes keep the beefy exterior in check, but this isn’t a car that’s going to get the cowgirls fawning hopelessly over you. That’s OK, though, since you’ll still derive immense pleasure from the silky feel of the leather and timber-lined furnishings, which are positively lavish. There are also tons of toys inside (and not of the kids variety). If you do have children, you’ll also have no problem cramming their junk inside, since the QX56 can house up to eight seats. The final row is hemmed into the super-sized luggage bay only to emerge, Transformers-style, at the click of a button. This is a cool feature, but not really a deal clincher. Sorry, Infiniti… if you’re after a humongous Japanese 4x4 that’s supreme at delivering space, comfort and all the techy stuff that we crave in cars these days, don’t look past a Nissan Patrol.
Forget the agricultural and Spartan model of old, Nissan’s latest offering is easily as high-end as the QX56, yet starts from just AED 196k instead of 304k. Granted, you get about 80bhp less from the detuned 5.6-litre V8 engine, but you’re unlikely to miss it. If you do, for a bit more dough you can always opt for the full-fat 400bhp Patrol and still pay way less than for the Infiniti, which is beyond… overpriced!
YOUR GUIDE TO SPORT IN THE MIDDLE EAST BASKETBALL MPAC SPORTS The UAE’s No.1 basketball academy Location: Abu Dhabi
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During their interview, Sports Talk editor Ben Jacobs spent so long chewing off Mike Tyson’s ear that ‘Iron Mike’ decided to bite back!
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SPORTS CALENDAR 28-29 DEC, EVENT: DUBAI INTERNATIONAL SPORTS CONFERENCE
7 FEB, RUGBY: WOMEN’S SIX NATIONS
3-7 JAN, CRICKET: 5TH TEST, AUSTRALIA V ENGLAND, SYDNEY
15 FEB, ATHLETICS: BRITISH INDOOR GRAND PRIX, BIRMINGHAM
13-26 JAN, TENNIS: AUSTRALIAN OPEN, MELBOURNE
26 FEB-2 MAR, CYCLING: WORLD TRACK CYCLING, COLUMBIA
16-19 JAN, GOLF: ABU DHABI GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP
26 FEB, CRICKET: WEST INDIES V ENGLAND (ODI)
22-25 JAN, GOLF: QATAR MASTERS, DOHA
2 MAR, FOOTBALL: LEAGUE CUP FINAL, WEMBLEY
24 JAN, ATHLETICS: DUBAI MARATHON
5 MAR, FOOTBALL: ENGLAD V DENMARK
30 JAN-2 FEB, GOLF: DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC
7-16 MAR, ATHLETICS: WINTER PARALYMPICS
1 FEB, RUGBY: SIX NATIONS STARTS
8 MAR, FOOTBALL: FA CUP QUARTER-FINALS
2 FEB, NFL: SUPERBOWL, NEW JERSEY
11-14 MAR, RACING: CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL
7-23 FEB, ATHLETICS: WINTER OLYMPICS, SOCHI
16 MAR, FORMULA ONE: AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, MELBOURNE
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Sports Talk January Issue