My Euro’s – Part 1 by Dan Nash

So the dust has settled on what was a dramatic if not high quality tournament in France. Euro 2016 will live long in my memory as it was the first international competition I have been lucky enough to attend – something to tick off the bucket list!

I was based in Lille for five days and took in Italy vs Ireland as well as Germany vs Slovakia; and thought it would be nice to share my thoughts and experiences of my trip to France. However, I was not alone in my travels to Europe – far from it and I’ve enlisted the help of my friends who also went to Euro 2016 to help me paint a picture of what it was like for four glorious weeks of football…

I stayed in Cardinal Lemoine, central Paris, not far from Notre Dame. Four friends and I stayed in an apartment there, for what was part stag do, part football tourism!

We went to one game, Italy v Spain at the Stade de France. We lucked out getting that fixture, simply getting tickets in the ballot for that particular second round game, and that’s who we ended up seeing, after Spain surprisingly allowed Croatia to beat them to first place in their group. The game itself was excellent, Italy embodied the spirit of Antonio Conte and really tore into Spain, who were fortunate to have David De Gea in inspired form, otherwise the game would have finished 5-0 or more!

Italy beat him twice however, and the Italian fans beneath us (we were down their end) went mental as their team did them proud and won 2-0. The atmosphere at the ground was strange, you have 3,000 fans of each side at each end, positioned to make it seem on TV like they’re the majority. Really, there are more than 70,000 other fans in the ground who are simply there to be entertained, and from all nations. I guess the majority must have been French, and they were mostly supporting Italy – probably because they feared meeting Spain later in the tournament more. There was no trouble in the stadium whatsoever, partly thanks to the masses of security you have to get through just to get to the ground, and also thanks to the virtual alcohol ban – you could spend 7 euros on a 0.5% lager shandy if you wanted, but I can’t really fathom why!

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I saw a number of top class players at this game, it was a joy to watch. Iniesta is a magical talent, defeated on the day but he just glides around the pitch and finds space wherever he goes. His first touch is always perfect. The two goalkeepers on show were two of the three best in the game, I already mentioned De Gea who made at least three incredible saves, but down the other end, Buffon was also superb, pulling off a couple of good saves himself and generally exuding absolute assurance among his defence. And that defence in front of him, Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci, were a brick wall. All were really strong and their concentration levels were immense, especially in the second half when Spain pressed for an equaliser. Other players who stood out were De Rossi, a warrior as ever; Busquets had his usual unsung, tidy presence; Morata caused problems despite being up against three giants in the Italian defence; and Pelle, believe it or not, played intelligently and pulled Pique and Ramos all over the park – and took his chance when it fell to him superbly.

That game was my highlight of the trip, but I also spent two brilliant days in the Eiffel Tower fan park, plus one not so brilliant evening, straight after the Italy v Spain game, when England plumbed new depths against Iceland. On the first day I saw Poland beat Switzerland on penalties among some very happy Polish fans, before suddenly the whole place was taken over by the Welsh, who delighted in their victory over Northern Ireland. In the evening we watched Portugal sucker punch Croatia, but not before taking part in a drunken game of… erm… lets say “free for all football”, basically where about 100 lads tried to welly a ball as far as they could, or head/volley it on the way down. Great fun, a few spilled beers, but no harm done! The following day, we were back at the fan park and this time it was full on rammed as the French piled in to watch their side eventually prevail over the plucky Irish. This park is huge by the way, but you could barely move a muscle, there must have been hundreds of thousands in there that afternoon. I can only imagine how much cash was made from selling beer and hot dogs in that place. It was such a fun place though, a brilliant experience and part of a brilliant trip overall.

I think overall, this wasn’t a great tournament because too many games were defensive or highly tactical, although a number of late goals did provide drama. I’ll remember it fondly however, because of being there to experience it for real, as opposed to entirely from my living room.

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Guest Blog: Sport is No Longer Sacred

As news broke on Wednesday that seven top Fifa officials had been arrested by Swiss authorities on corruption charges, a lack of integrity in the highest echelons of football’s top governing body is once again being brought into the light.

There are now two criminal investigations into corruption at Fifa: one under American jurisdiction investigating alleged bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than $150m and one under Swiss jurisdiction investigating the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  All of this is taking place in the run up to the presidential elections, in which Sepp Blatter is seeking a fifth term.  It remains to be seen whether Fifa’s unpopular leader will continue to evade the serious questions many believe he needs to answer.

The ramifications for what is arguably the world’s greatest sporting event are becoming clearer.  Yesterday some of Fifa’s top sponsors expressed their concern at the corruption scandal.  Using a previously unseen tone of strength, brands such as Visa and Adidas have urged Fifa to act quickly to address the allegations.  Statements included Coca-Cola’s warning that “This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations”.

Although no single sponsor has yet made moves to pull away from Fifa, this scandal at the heart of the sporting world could have serious implications for how companies pursue sponsorship opportunities.

These investigations into Fifa are taking place at a time when public trust in public bodies, such as their governments, their police forces and their churches, has been shaken by numerous scandals.  Even the world of celebrity has been affected by historical claims of sexual abuse.

It is in this sceptical and mistrusting environment that companies must seek to associate themselves with something that inspires and transcends the grime and the grit.  This is particularly true for companies trying to reach the ‘millenials’ generation, who are notoriously detached from traditional institutions.  The most well loved companies for the millenials are those they consider to be ‘good’ and ‘trustworthy’, such as Innocent Smoothies.

Sport used to be one of those idealistic, untainted areas.  In the words of Fifa-sponsor, Visa, “the World Cup is one of the few truly global sporting events with the power to unite people from around the world through a common love of football.”  Sport used to be distinct from politics, distinct from economics and sometimes, even, distinct from nationalism.  Yet there is growing disillusionment with Fifa as its officials seem impervious to the allegations that refuse to die and as Sepp Blatter continues in his role despite the voices calling for him to go.  Sport is no longer sacred.

This is the challenge for large multinational companies going forward: can sport continue to be the positive inspiration it has always been?  Football is not the only one in trouble.  Cycling faced the disturbing truth about Lance Armstrong.  Cricket faced the match-fixing revelations in 2000.  Sponsors will need to consider whether sport’s reputation can survive the ongoing onslaught, and consequently whether their brands still benefit from association.

By my cousin Emily Martin, who is currently studying PPE at the University of Oxford.


Women’s Sports Progress in the Middle East

Women in the Middle East and Sport are not things that you would normally suggest are inextricably linked but perhaps things are beginning to change in this part of the world?

Females across the globe encounter many boundaries in terms of their access to sport but is there a region that has more cultural and social obstacles that must be hurdled?

There is still a long way to go as these examples will show.

As recently as February 2014, four members of the Iranian women’s national football team were found to actually be men. Even more incredibly, these four individuals will be allowed to re-join the side once they have had their sex change operations. Despite the fact that homosexuality and sex before marriage are illegal in the Islamic state. Random testing now regularly occurs at clubs and subsequently seven other players have been banned.

Iran’s deputy minister for sport has only just overturned a long-standing stadium ban on women attending sporting events nevermind actually participating in the action on the field of play. This issue was brought to the attention of the international media when a woman was jailed for five months in Tehran for the heinous crime of attempting to attend a volleyball match, worse still it was a men’s game.

So what is being done to combat these roadblocks? Well, the governments in the region are concerned about the rising obesity and diabetes rates, with the figures relating to females particularly alarming. Introducing physical education into the compulsory part of the curriculum is seen as a means of tackling this worrying trend.

Football is leading the way in the advancement of women’s sport in the Middle East. The amount of sport, especially football that is shown on television has definitely increased interest and awareness. The West Asian Football Federation Championship sometimes known simply as the WAFF Championship, that was introduced to women’s football in 2005 is seen as a tremendous step forward. Qatar, Syria, Palestine, UAE, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria have all competed, which given the other difficulties these nations have had/currently face this makes it all the more remarkable.

Women’s basketball teams from the Middle East have sporadically competed in the FIBA Asia Championship but participation has been on an upward curve. The contentious issue of female player’s wearing a hijab while playing continues to be problematic and prohibitive. Football’s governing body FIFA, overturning a ban on the hijab in 2012 is a step in the right direction but other sporting association’s not following suit is less than helpful.

The wealthy Middle Eastern elite are seeing the benefits of girls playing sports as they become more exposed to the rest of the world through travelling and residing in other countries. Numerous university studies have illustrated that women who regularly participate in sport generally are more successful at school and then at work. They also exhibit greater self-confidence and levels of competiveness. Of course, there is traditional resistance to what is seen as the infiltration of Western ideas and ideals into Middle Eastern culture. But you only have to look at the success of multinational fast food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King in the region to see that it is very possible.

It seems only a matter of time before women and men compete on a level playing field in the Middle East. External pressure, globalisation and a young population are all contributing factors to this seemingly unstoppable progression. With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar fast approaching this area of the world will want to be seen as diverse, open minded, welcoming and tolerant.

http://www.myfootballfacts.com/Article_Womens_Sports_Progress.html