Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A sorry touch of 'glamour' in the blokeocracy

FROM FA Super League to England cricket and rugby teams, 400-metre queen Christine Ohuruogu to cyclists Laura Trott and Katie Archibald, the profile of women in British sport has never been higher. There's still room for improvement, though.
Sky Sports may have done some good, almost incidentally, through its unrelenting trawl for action to fill an ever-increasing schedule of broadcast hours.
On the other hand, there's Sky Sports News (which, I admit, is my default channel) with its set policy of twin presenters - if a middle-aged chap and a glamorous young woman can be twins.
We have some way to go before any women's event gets anything like the attention and razzmatazz of a men's football World Cup. Even, heaven help us, a World Cup draw.
The latest instalment of this almost entirely pointless four-yearly event, for which assorted officials and hangers-on from all over the globe were flown to Brazil, and presumably given generous hospitality there, was as tacky as an early-evening Saturday ITV show.
Never mind England's draw in the inevitably dubbed "group of death" (isn't every World Cup game meant to be hard?) or their prospects of losing their way before they get out of the Amazon jungle. The really eye-catching thing about the draw was the "lovely assistant" to the right of Jérôme Valcke, Fifa’s general secretary.
This was the middle-aged-chap-and-friend routine writ large, with cameras carefully aimed and focused. I didn’t hear every bit of commentary on every channel, but if none of the assembled blokeocracy made a joke about "showing lots of promise up front" on air, you can bet they did off it, even in the careful world of post-Keys-and-Gray broadcasting.
Football can be a powerful force for good in the world. At least that's the idea I cling to as justification for my lifelong fascination with what is really after all just an over-hyped, over-moneyed entertainment.
World Cups - at least in theory - have more potential than most things for building bridges and improving lives.
In practice, it's not easy to see how much benefit the impoverished millions in Brazil will get from hosting the world's two biggest parties - the World Cup and the Olympics - in succession.
Or how one can take seriously any show that treats its one participating woman as decoration in a room full of smug, wealthy men.
That woman may have a PhD in astrophysics, take a mean free-kick and deliver an unplayable bouncer for all I know, but none of that is what she was there for. The fact that I don’t even know her name, though I could identify a fair number of the suits in the room, says something too.
Maybe this display of unreconstructed “glamour” should not have surprised me. This is, after all, a world where ultra-sexist “lads’ mags” are openly on sale in every corner shop. Where the pop video has become difficult to distinguish from soft porn. Where such shiny non-entities as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and countless others I couldn’t name are famous for no reason at all.
But I still find it all drearily depressing.


I’M sorry that my inability to be in two places at once kiboshed hopes of my appearance at the North Norfolk Labour Party Christmas dinner at the weekend.
Mid-50s seems a reasonable age at which to make ones bow as both a political and an after-dinner speaker.
Not that I’m a party member. My answer to the “are you now, or have you ever been” question would be “no” and “yes”.
The party and I parted company shortly after Tony Blair became its leader. I always felt it was not so much that I left the party as that it left me.
Now, under Ed Miliband, there are encouraging signs that it may be coming back.
The most important attributes in politics are intelligence, integrity, compassion and caring – all qualities the present government is notably deficient in.
In those terms Miliband is the best Labour leader since Neil Kinnock. Like Kinnock he is a far better man than too much of the media allow him to seem. As Kinnock would have been, he is potentially the best prime minister since Clement Attlee.
That, in a nutshell, is what I wanted to tell them in Sheringham on Saturday.


IT’S hard to imagine which other former president of a foreign country would have been afforded the tribute of a minute’s applause at every English football match of the weekend.
Which other 95-year-old’s entirely expected death would have caused the BBC to place “breaking news” flashes across all its channels.
Or which other former prisoner’s greatness and goodness could have been so entirely agreed upon by everyone with an opinion to express.
Was Nelson Mandela really the greatest man of our times? You know, I think he may have been.
It’s unlikely, as a human being, that he had no flaws, though I don’t know of any.
But even if not a perfect man, he certainly was – and remains – a perfect symbol of humane resistance to injustice.

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