London Marathon 2017 – Matthew Rees: An act of sporting selflessness.

As Matthew Rees helped David Wyeth across the finish line of this year’s London Marathon a lifelong friendship was no doubt born together with a feel good story for the ages. Social media went into overdrive at the sight of this selfless act cheered on by both Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge.

Many a column inch has since been devoted to the Swansea Harrier who sacrificed the opportunity of a personal best (he still completed the course in a highly respectable 2 hr 52 min 26 secs) in order to come to the aid of his fellow competitor who was clearly in need of assistance. Indeed Wyeth’s rescue appears to have overshadowed all other stories about the race including the astonishing achievement of his club mate Josh Griffiths who finished 13th overall and qualified for the 2017 World Championships in his first marathon attempt, despite starting in the heavy traffic of runners behind the elite athletes.

Whilst the pinnacle of sport is normally the reserve of gladiatorial battles between elite, and often highly paid athletes, their remains something special about those prepared to sacrifice their own glory in aid of their fellow competitor.

Other notable examples of the Corinthian Spirit include:

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Sponsorship of Women’s Football: Liverpool Ladies win FA WSL Spring Series’ opener but must wait another day to wear ‘revolutionary’ Avon shirt

Soccer Player Kicking BallOn Sunday 23 April 2017, Liverpool Ladies Football Club won their FA WSL Spring Series opener 4-1 against Yeovil Town Ladies FC. It was a strong start for the Liverpool outfit in the WSL’s one-off competition (being held to bring the FA WSL league fixtures in line with the men’s calendar).  The visitors blasted four goals past the home side in a ‘new’ kit, though it was definitely not the one that the players (or the fans) had been expecting…

On 19 April 2017, Liverpool Ladies announced a new three year shirt sponsorship deal with Avon, the cosmetics and beauty brand.  It is the first time that Liverpool Ladies have had a shirt sponsor distinct from their male counterparts.  In making the announcement, Liverpool stated:

“We are thrilled to welcome Avon to the Liverpool Ladies FC family as their first principal partner. Avon is an iconic women’s brand with a rich history and shares the same core values as Liverpool Ladies Football Club. We are looking forward to a fruitful partnership that will help bring women’s football to the top of the agenda… We are delighted to be able to team up with Avon ahead of the WSL Spring Series. It’s an exciting time for the team and we hope that the partnership will help to inspire the next generation of female footballers.” Continue Reading

British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand 2017

Kiwi Rugby BallYesterday saw the squad announcement for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand which kicks off against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on 3 June this year.

The Lions have only had a single successful tour in the land of the long white cloud when John Dawes led them to a 2-1 series victory against the mighty All Blacks in 1971.‎ In those days the Lions played 26 matches (including two in Australia) over a 3 month period. In today’s professional game, player commitments and International windows mean the Lions must squeeze 10 games against first class opposition, including 3 Test matches against the All Blacks, all in the space of 5 weeks.

Following another successful Six Nations Championship, competition for touring places was always likely to be strong as has proved to be the case. Many an armchair pundit has questioned some of the decisions made by the Lions’ ex-All Black head coach Warren Gatland, including in particular the notable omissions of England Captain Dylan Hartley, who led his team to a 3-0 whitewash of the Wallabies last summer (something Gatland was unable to do with his Lions team four years ago), and Six Nations Player of the Tournament nominee Joe Launchbury.

The Scots in particular may feel hard done by with only 2 players selected for the playing party of 41, their lowest ever representation, despite finishing equal second on points in the Six Nations after home wins against Ireland and Wales (who each have 11 and 12 players respectively) and currently being ranked the World’s 5th best team.

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The Olympic battle for stand-up paddle board: surfing vs canoeing

paddleboarderStand-up paddleboarding (“SUP”), once categorised by the popular media as a celebrity fad, has emerged as an unlikely battleground between the sports of canoeing and surfing, with the international federations for both of these well-established watersports seeking to lay claim to discipline at Olympic level, each asserting that SUP is an offshoot from their sport.  On the one hand, the International Surfing Association (“ISA”) has been organising competitions, including the national SUP championships, for several years.  On the other hand, the International Canoeing Federation (“ICF”) claims that the use of a paddle makes it part of their group of disciplines.

SUP has been around far longer than the relatively recent celebrity trend and associate hype might suggest.  The discipline, which involves standing on a large board and using a long paddle to propel the board through the water, may in fact have been around in one form or another for centuries.  Some accounts trace it to ancient African or South American cultures which used boards, canoes and other floating vessels propelled with a long stick or oar, or to Captain James Cook’s account of sailing into Hawaii in 1778 to witness the Hawaiian people surfing and using paddles to propel the larger surfboards out onto the waves.  Others attribute its origins to the five foot wide ‘Hassakeh’ boards used by lifeguards in Tel Aviv during the early part of the 20th Century.  However, the majority of accounts agree that, for all intents and purposes, modern SUP originated when surfers began using paddles to propel themselves onto the waves or as a training exercise when the surf was flat, perhaps as early as the 1940s in Hawaii; a far cry from the realms of Olympic competition.

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Part Two – Home Grown Player requirements in English football and the introduction of “club-developed” players

Last week, Sports Shorts considered the genesis of home grown player requirements within European football and the current requirements that are in place in both the English Football League (“EFL”) and the English Premier League (“EPL”).

In this second instalment, Sports Shorts considers whether or not the requirement to name home grown players in match day squads is an effective means of developing elite English-qualified talent and providing them with sufficient opportunities in first team football.

Why have the EFL implemented changes to its home grown player regime?

The forthcoming changes to the EFL Rules and Regulations form part of the EFL’s wider strategy of revitalising the fortunes of the England national team.

In May 2014, then FA Chairman Greg Dyke published his England Commission report (“Commission Report”), which sought to identify and address the causes of the Three Lions’ decline on the international stage.

One of the four “key areas” identified as being the primary obstruction to the development of young English players was a lack of competitive playing opportunities for 18-21 year old elite players at top clubs, with too few graduating from academies to first team football, instead falling foul of what was described as the “Bermuda triangle” of English football during the Professional Development Phase of their academy life.

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Part One – Home Grown Player requirements in English football and the introduction of “club-developed” players

FootballOn 6 April 2017, the English Football League (“EFL”) announced that its 72 members clubs (each of whom compete in one of the three divisions that the EFL oversees – the Championship, League One, and League Two) had approved proposals to increase the number of “home grown players” in their match day squads for the forthcoming 2018-19 season and to also include at least one “club-developed” player.

In the first of two instalments, Sports Shorts will consider the genesis of home grown player requirements within European football and the current requirements that are in place in both the EFL and the English Premier League (“EPL”).

The second will go on to consider whether or not the requirement to name home grown players in match day squads is an effective means of developing elite English-qualified talent and providing them with sufficient opportunities in first team football.

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How do you solve a problem like the EFL Trophy?

Soccer Football PlayerThe future of the EFL Trophy will be decided by League One and League Two football clubs at a meeting in May. The much-maligned tournament, rebranded the Checkatrade Trophy this season, has seen a number of rule changes in recent years, the most controversial of which was the introduction of under-23 “B Teams” for Premier League and Championship clubs with Category 1 academies. Fans of lower league teams angered by the changes boycotted the competition leading to record-low attendances at grounds across the country. Many fans accepted that the Checkatrade Trophy needed to be rejuvenated but rejected the manner in which the EFL set about doing this, with fears about the introduction of B Teams into the league pyramid paramount in the minds of some supporters.

But it’s not just the introduction of B Teams that has drawn the ire of clubs and fans; rules which require League One and League Two clubs to field a minimum of five first-team players have led to situations which some commentators have labelled farcical, such as the substitution of Bradford City’s goalkeeper, Colin Doyle, after just three minutes of a game against Bury. After the game, the Bantams’ assistant manager, Kenny Black, quipped “I thought [Doyle] had a poor 45 seconds”. Clubs which fail to comply with the current rules on fielding “full-strength” sides will be subject to a fine of up to £5,000 from the EFL. Not all of the EFL’s reforms have been met with anger. The introduction of a group-stage to the competition in place of the pure knockout format means that teams have been able to blood more young players than in previous years and clubs are more likely to receive performance related bonuses from the EFL.

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Sergio Garcia wins the 2017 Masters: Who is now the best player never to have won a Major tournament?

In the early hours of Monday morning, at the Augusta National golf course, Sergio Garcia emerged victorious at the 81st edition of the Masters Tournament. Garcia won on the first playoff hole against 2013 US Open winner Justin Rose after a round of golf bathed in sunshine and good sportsmanship; on this occasion golf was truly the winner.

Amongst other notable facts, such as Garcia’s caddie wearing the lucky number 89, Garcia shed the moniker, at the 74th time of asking, of the “Best golfer never to win a major”.

Who now takes on this unwanted title?

Looking at the statistics and rankings of those still playing a number of familiar names crop up.

Players never to have won a Major in the current top 25 according to the Official World Golf Rankings include Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey (who again finished strong at the Masters) and Matt Kuchar. However, these rankings perhaps only give a snapshot of those players currently in-form over the last 3 to 4 years.

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Increasing Rugby League’s salary cap: will it plug the talent drain?

Rugby PostsOn 6 April 2017, it was confirmed that a majority of the twelve clubs who make up Rugby League’s premier division, the Betfred Super League, had voted in favour of four proposals that had been put forward by the Rugby Football League (“RFL”), all of which were subsequently ratified by the RFL’s board of directors.

The new Regulations, which will come into force for the start of the 2018 edition of Super League, are as follows:

  • Regulation 1 – Increase to the existing salary cap – a rise over the course of the next three seasons from £1.825m in 2017 to £1.9m in 2018, £2m in 2019 and £2.1m in 2020.
  • Regulation 2 – Increase in the number of “marquee players” – each Super League club would be entitled to dispensation for two Marquee Players (an increase for the current allowance of one) whose Salary Cap value would be £175k or more:
    • “Club Trained Marquee Players” (eg. home-grown stars) would be deemed to have a Salary Cap Value of £75k;
    • All other “Marquee Players” (most commonly overseas stars) would be deemed to have a Salary Cap Value of £150k.
  • Regulation 3 – New and Returning Players to Rugby League – each club would be entitled to dispensation for two “New Talent Pool Players” and/or “Returning Talent Pool Players”:
    • “New Talent Pool Players” – defined broadly as a player who has not played Rugby League at first team, Academy or Scholarship level. The current allowance will continue to apply – namely, their Salary Cap Value be reduced: (i) by £0 in their first full season; and (ii) by 50% in their second full season.
    • “Returning Talent Pool Player” – defined as a player who has not played Rugby League in the preceding five years (for reasons other than as a result of a disciplinary sanction or criminal conviction). A club would be given an allowance such that the Salary Cap Value of that player is: (i) reduced by 50% in their first full season; and (ii) by 25% in their second full season.
  • Regulation 4 – Exemption of Junior Players from Salary Cap – all Players (outside a Super League Club’s top 25 paid players) who: (i) are age eligible to play at U21 level in the relevant Season; and (ii) are paid £20k or less, would be excluded from a Club’s Salary Cap.

To fully understand the rationale behind the new Regulations, they need to be viewed against the backdrop of the “talent drain” from Rugby League in recent years. Rugby League has grown somewhat accustomed to some of its best and brightest being poached by Rugby Union clubs in cross-code switches (think Jason Robinson, Chris Ashton, Kyle Eastmond and Denny Solomona).  However, over recent years there has been an increasing trend for the best British talent to test themselves in Australia’s NRL competition, where the weather is almost certainly better but, crucially, so are the salaries, media exposure, and accompanying media endorsements.

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O Captain! My Captain! A consideration of the Premier League Rules on captaincy

During the recent Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City, Laurent Koscielny, the Arsenal centre-back, was substituted at half-time. Following the match, Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, revealed that the reason for the substitution was a recurrence of an old Achilles problem that had flared up while Koscielny was on international duty with France.  Wenger said that Koscielny had wanted to play and stay on but that he could not.

Despite Koscielny’s absence, Arsenal battled back to draw the match 2–2, keeping them in the hunt for a top-four finish in the Premier League.  That Arsenal managed to draw the game without Koscielny’s experience was impressive but for them to have done so without a captain was even more so.

During the first-half of the match, Koscielny had worn the Arsenal captain’s armband in the absence of injured club captain Per Mertesacker.  However, following Koscielny’s substitution, none of the other Arsenal players assumed the mantle and wore the captain’s armband in Koscielny’s place. Continue Reading