Houston, We Have Table Tennis!

A recent announcement by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is a sign of the ever-increasing popularity of table tennis globally and in the United States, and reminds us of the power of sports to bring people together.

In addition to being an Olympic sport, table tennis holds an annual World Table Tennis Championship, with individual events (men’s and women’s singles and doubles) in odd years and team events in even years.  During this year’s championship held in Budapest, it was announced that Houston, Texas will host the 2021 World Table Tennis Championship, and Chengdu, China will host the event in 2022.  2021 will mark the first time the United States has hosted the event and the first time it will be held outside of Europe or Asia since 1939.  Indeed, ITTF chief executive Steve Dainton said: “We noticed raised interest in hosting the World Championships Finals, due to the expansion of the competition from 2021, which adds even more value and prestige. The quality of the bids we received is fantastic news for table tennis globally.”   To illustrate this added prestige, the 2021 event will be held at Houston’s Toyota Center, a larger and more high-profile venue than is typical for international table tennis events.

The ITTF is among the most inclusive sports federations in the world with 227 countries and territories forming its membership.  Houston, being among the most diverse cities in the United States, was a natural fit to host this international event.  Whereas table tennis in the United States has largely been confined to the basement, competitive table tennis has been steadily gaining in popularity in recent years in the United States, particularly among immigrant communities.  Choosing Houston as the site of the world championships will only further accelerate this process.

Notably, the United States and China agreed to support their respective bids.  Prominent supporters of the bids for Houston and Chengdu included former Houston Rockets center Yao Ming and Christopher Nixon Cox, President Richard Nixon’s grandson.  It certainly is no coincidence that 2021 will mark the 50th anniversary of “ping pong diplomacy,” when the United States table tennis team was invited to China to play exhibition matches against the Chinese team.  They were the first American delegation in China’s capital since 1949, paving the way for President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

So whether you call it ping-pong or table tennis, the future of the sport is certainly bright.

NBA Draft Lottery 2019 – a turning point for struggling NBA franchises

The NBA Draft Lottery takes place on 14 May 2019. As previously reported on Sports Shorts, the lottery is the process by which teams are allocated their position in the order for the NBA Draft. This process determines which team will have the number 1 pick, and thus have priority in choosing the best talent available in the draft (hint: Zion Williamson).

The 14 teams that did not qualify for the NBA playoffs consist of the lottery pool. The process is not dissimilar from the conventional lottery that we may enter at home. There are 1,001 possible numerical combinations, which are divided amongst these 14 teams. The team with the worst regular season record receives the most combinations whilst the team with the best regular season record (of those that did not qualify for the playoffs) receives the least amount of combinations. Continue Reading

The NBA’s best current rivalry: Rockets v Warriors or Rockets v Referees?

Last year’s dramatic Western Conference final match-up between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets ended with the Warriors winning 4-3. The Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals and achieved their second consecutive NBA Championship. This year, they look to do the three-peat.

The Rockets have a chance for revenge this year, facing the Warriors in the Western Conference semi-final. Despite conceding the first two games held at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena, the Rockets won both games at home, tying the series 2-2. Continue Reading

Formula 1 – First Practice down the Drain

Formula 1 returned to the streets of Baku, Azerbaijan last weekend; one of the most exciting of the new races added to the calendar in recent years. The race in 2017 was arguably the most chaotic of that season, with Sebastian Vettel turning into and hitting Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car. The race in 2018 was equally enthralling, with the Red Bulls colliding with one another, taking both cars out of the race. The stage was set for 2019 and – as anticipated – events unfolded with a bang at First Practice.

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A Sports Shorts guide to the NBA Draft – 2019

Following last year’s overview of the NBA Draft and how it works by Sports Shorts, it is time for a Sports Shorts guide to this year’s action.

This year, the Draft will again be held at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, New York to determine who has sealed their dream to NBA stardom. This year’s rookie class is enjoying success and fandom in their debut season in the NBA: Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic received the third most All-Star votes by fans to appear in the All-Star match whilst Trae Young finished second in the All-Star skills challenge. The next rookie class is expected to reach the same heights, if not higher.

Duke’s Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett are anticipated to be amongst the highest picks, along with Bol Bol – the 7ft2 son of the NBA alumnus Manute Bol.

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Football clubs and eSports: A natural pairing?

For some people, the idea of watching someone else play a video game holds no appeal whatsoever. However, watching eSports is becoming an increasingly popular activity for millennials and Generation Z with viewing figures rivalling some traditional sports. As the audience for eSports grows, so do the revenues created by the industry. According to recent projections, annual revenue generated by eSports is set to reach US$2.96 billion in 2022.

Many long-established sporting institutions are well aware of the growth potential in eSports, with the opportunity to engage the prized 16-24 demographic one of eSports’ chief attractions. Football clubs in particular see natural synergies between their traditional activities and the burgeoning eSports sector. For example, West Ham United have a roster of two eSports players who represent the club in FIFA 19 competitions. Many other clubs have followed suit. However, not all football clubs limit their involvement in eSports to football video games. Bundesliga club Schalke 04 regularly compete in the European League of Legends Championship Series – a professional league for the multiplayer battle game ‘League of Legends’. As Schalke acknowledge, League of Legends is popular across the world and millions of fans livestream battles between professional teams in big championships. This gives the club an opportunity to diversify its fan base by building its reputation with a demographic that may not be natural followers of Schalke’s football team.

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Formula 2021 – A new vision for Formula 1

At the last race weekend in Bahrain, Charles Leclerc became the second-youngest pole-sitter in Formula 1 history in just his second race with Ferrari. A few days’ prior in London, another rookie (at least, in his current role) was delivering what could be an historical change in the future of the sport: Ross Brawn’s vision of Formula 1 in 2021 and beyond.

In December 2020, the existing terms, set out in what is known as the Seventh Concorde Agreement, come to a conclusion. In consideration for the opportunity for change, Ross Brawn, one of Formula 1’s most-known faces, was appointed Formula 1’s Managing Director for Motorsport in 2017; tasked with identifying and then addressing the changes required to “create great action and bring the cars closer together, make the drivers the heroes and make the business more sustainable.”

Formula 1 (and indeed Liberty Media, the new owners of the sport following their $8bn acquisition in 2016), were one step closer to that goal after setting out the new framework at the meeting in London. The day commenced with a meeting of the Strategy Group, comprising the FIA, Formula 1, Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Williams and Renault. The remaining teams were allowed to attend, but only as observers. A separate meeting of the Formula 1 Commission followed, including every team, Formula 1, track representatives, and sponsors. Four key pillars of change were identified and discussed: cars, engines, revenues and costs.

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Hercules Football Club scores in Luxembourg over Unlawful Spanish State Aid

We promised to provide updates on the saga involving Spain’s public funding of certain Spanish football clubs when we covered the first successful appeal of the European Commission (“EC”)’s decision on the subject.  This first update comes in favour of Hercules Football Club (“Hercules FC”) and annuls another aspect of the EC’s 2016 decisionOn 20 March 2019, the European General Court annulled the EC’s finding that the guarantee given by Valencia Institute of Finance (“VIF”) to Hercules FC constituted unlawful State aid pursuant to Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”).

You will recall that the EC decision’s first successful appeal rested on the fact that the EC had not taken all the available information into account. The EC could not therefore establish whether the Spanish tax scheme for non-profit entities gave FC Barcelona an advantage which distorted or potentially distorted competition and affected trade between Member States under Article 107(1) TFEU.  In this second successful appeal, the General Court found that the EC did not uphold its duty to state reasons for its decision and therefore infringed essential procedural requirements.

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Racism in football – the ongoing battle to ‘Kick It Out’

UEFA has announced that it has commenced disciplinary proceedings against Montenegro after English players were on the receiving end of racist chants from spectators in Montenegro. England players, including Raheem Sterling who scored the final goal in England’s 5-1 victory, were subjected to racist abuse from the stands.

Gareth Southgate firmly rebuked such conduct from the Montenegro fans, stating: “We had an excellent performance and we’ve got an 18-year-old being interviewed after the game and he’s having to respond to what’s happened when his evening should be about the joy of his full debut.”

Going further, Southgate said it was “clear to everybody that there were comments made”.

Sports Shorts has before reviewed the mechanism by which governing bodies in football tackle racism, remarking that the current state of affairs inadequately addresses racism in the sport. FIFA had established an anti-racism task force to deal with the issue but it subsequently  announced that the task force had “completely fulfilled its temporary mission”, which was to develop concrete solutions to fight discrimination in football and strengthen FIFA’s approach to the issue.

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Sponsorship of women’s sport – the time is now

Last month, in recognition of International Women’s Day, Sports Shorts celebrated recent successes in women’s sport (apologies to Dina Asher Smith who wasn’t mentioned… there were too many examples to choose from!). While we celebrated the achievements of women in sport, we also recognised that work still needs to be done to improve the overall image of women in sport and increase engagement from spectators.

One area where there is growing momentum is sponsorship. Visa and Adidas have made ground breaking commitments regarding the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer and recently sponsorship in women’s sport took another leap forward when Barclays announced that it will be the new title partner of the FA Women’s Super League. The sponsorship will take effect from the 2019/2020 season and is due to be in place until July 2022. Barclays is currently the Official Banking Partner of the men’s Premier League and used to be the League’s title sponsor so it is exciting to see its support for both the women’s and the men’s game.

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