The Walrus Blog

Category Archive: Sportstrotter

Hammerin’ José

Watching José Bautista become the first Toronto Blue Jay to hit fifty home runs

Watching José Bautista become the first Toronto Blue Jay to hit fifty homers

TORONTO — Years from now it’ll be the topic for a fun cocktail party game: do you remember what you were eating when José Bautista hit his fiftieth home run?

When my turn comes I’ll answer confidently: a roasted chicken sandwich with garlicky sautéed rapini, guacamole spread, and piri-piri sauce on a soft Portuguese roll.

How could I ever forget the sandwich that I’ll always associate with this improbably historic moment in baseball, if not time? There I was, sitting in the 500 level of the Rogers Centre in Toronto, at 12:46 on a Thursday afternoon, enjoying the homemade sandwich that I’d smuggled into the ballpark for the Blue Jays’ “businessman’s special” matinee against the Seattle Mariners. José Antonio Bautista, the Jays’ slugging right fielder, came to the plate in the bottom of the first inning sitting on forty-nine home runs for the season (he’d set the franchise record for dingers with his forty-eighth last Friday night against the Red Sox in Boston).

No problem, I thought. He’s facing maybe the best pitcher in the American League today (RIP Doc), the Mariners’ “King” Felix Hernandez — an immensely talented kid who, if I’m being honest, was the main reason I’d blown off a couple hours of work to come hang out at the ballpark. Also, it was sunny, and the roof was open. And I like baseball. (more…)

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A Canadian Tennis Legend

Our Sportstrotter gets up close and personal at Roland Garros

Our Sportstrotter gets up close and personal with Daniel Nestor at Paris’s famed Roland Garros tennis facility


Nenad Zimonijic and Daniel Nestor, right, at Roland Garros (photo by Andrew Braithwaite)

paris — This past Sunday, at a legendary tennis complex on the western edge of Paris and under threatening but ultimately sympathetic skies, Mlle ’Trotter and I were treated to a rarity: two winners of tennis’s career “Grand Slam” playing in the same tournament, on the same day. Let’s call these titans Roger and Daniel.

The first, one of only six men in history to win the Australian Open, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and Roland Garros, is the greatest tennis player of all time. In fact, depending on how things play out over the next two or three years, we may look back on the Roger-versus-Tiger debate (i.e., “Who’s the single most dominant male athlete of his generation?”) as a pointless exercise.

Holding “annex court” tickets for the tournament’s second Sunday, we had no shot of securing seats to witness Roger Federer’s Round-of-16 match against Swiss compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka on the main Court Philippe-Chatrier. We had to settle for viewing Federer’s victory on the big screen, seated as we were uncomfortably on cobblestones just outside the court, among the crowd in the la place des Mousquetaires.

The second of the two names you may not recognize, but you should: he’s one of the greatest doubles players of his generation. And he’s Canadian. His name is Daniel Nestor, and we were lucky enough to watch him and partner Nenad Zimonjic from the second row of the far more intimate Court 2 — close enough that we could have literally spat on the court, if we’d wanted to. (We didn’t.) (more…)

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The Road Warrior

Our Sportstrotter roots for his beloved Canucks behind enemy lines

Our noble Sportstrotter roots for his beloved Canucks behind enemy lines: the nosebleeds at Chicago’s United Center

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

CHICAGO — “Hey, you! The Canucks f***ing suck! You f***ing suck! F*** you and go the f*** home to Canada!”

To be fair, the 300-pound gentleman waiting in line to buy nachos had a point. What was I doing here? A Vancouver Canucks fan clad in blue-and-green, wandering along the upper concourse level of the United Center in Chicago between periods of Game 5 of the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, barely managing to squeeze through a 99.99 percent homogenous crowd sporting the home team’s red-and-black jerseys. What was I thinking? And more importantly, what gave me the nerve to show up with explicit hopes of crashing the Blackhawks’ party, where all but a handful of paying attendees planned to clinch a seven-game series that their team led three games to one?

It didn’t help my situation that the Canucks had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period on a pair of goals by defensemen. I’d been careful not to celebrate too lustily after each goal, allowing myself little more than an instinctual yelp and fist pump. It wasn’t that I felt anything less than thrilled to see those two pucks find the back of the net. No, it was the fact that, as far as my eyes could see, I was the only person in section 314 not rooting for the Blackhawks. I didn’t see a single Canucks jersey in our adjoining sections, either. In fact, by the end of the game, I’d picked out a grand total of five other Canucks fans in the entire announced crowd of 22,192 — five guys who’d have my back, and none of whom were within shouting distance. If the worst came to pass, all I’d have to protect me from an angry mob were the three friends I’d come with, the three buddies who’d each dropped $170 US for tickets to this game – Matty, Helen, and Odom – and all three of them lived in Chicago, so who knows?

Showing up to cheer for the road team during the regular season is one thing, but once the playoffs start, you’re just begging for inhospitality. My best friend in middle school, a fellow by the name of Derry, once wore a New York Rangers jersey to school during the 1994 Rangers-Canucks Stanley Cup finals series; he was sent home after recess, covered as he had become with a thick layer of Coke, raw eggs, and various other powdery substances. Another guy I knew in college, a guy named Tug from Cleveland, was such a big fan of the Indians that during a couple of early-2000s playoff series against the Boston Red Sox, he wore head-to-toe Indians gear every day and tried to pick fights with every Sox fan we passed on the streets of Boston (in other words, every single person in Boston). (more…)

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Fool Me Twenty-Five Times, Shame On…?

The legend of Sidd Finch, a quarter-century later
Sidd Finch

“The secret cannot be kept much longer.”

Now, I’m on the record, in transcripts of various late-night, booze-soaked journalist gab-offs, as being no fan of “anniversary journalism.” The idea that news media can only revisit important world and cultural events on their calendar anniversaries, and especially only when this anniversary year ends in a five or a zero, speaks to both a lack of trust in readers and our unhealthy devotion to the current vogue for base-ten counting systems. But once in a great while there comes along an anniversary so important that it must be recognized. Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of George Plimpton’s 1985 article for Sports Illustrated, “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.” Beginning with the famous line quote aboved, Plimpton, one of the oddest and hardest-to-classify contributors to the sportswriting canon, exposed the closely guarded secret of New York Mets prospect Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, “a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse.”

(Random but timely tangent: last night I was up till 5 am, hovering over a glowing laptop screen in my studio apartment in Paris, drafting a fantasy squad for my long-running, other-side-of-the-Atlantic-based rotisserie baseball league. In 2007, I finished in fifth of ten places. The name of my team that year? The Sidd Finches.)

I’ll be the first to admit that Plimpton, the tall, silver-haired literary celebrity who died in 2003, is the sportswriter I admire most in the world, and the one I most aspire to emulate. Fabulously eclectic in almost every part of his life, Plimpton wasn’t a beat writer or an expert on any one sport, or the sort of writer who used sports as a metaphor for life’s greater struggles. He was a dabbler, a fan, and a fantastic wit; he never took sports too seriously. The anti-Norman Mailer, in other words.

Plimpton was best known for his participatory journalism and non-fiction books: 1966’s Paper Lion chronicles his experiences as a backup preseason quarterback for the NFL’s Detroit Lions, and he accomplished the same trick with hockey and golf, amongst other trials-by-fire. But it was Plimpton’s more off-beat magazine reporting, some of it for Harper’s, the New York Times, and Esquire, that sticks with me. A fantastic collection of his best short-form sportswriting, “George Plimpton on Sports,” published two months after his death, contains one of my favourite Plimpton pieces: “Ten Ways to Shake an Opponent’s Hand at the Net After Being Defeated 6-0, 6-2,” for Tennis Week magazine (here’s an inexplicably abridged version on Forbes.com). There’s no preamble, no context, no handholding. It’s exactly what the headline promises: a hilarious list of ways to confront complete decimation and embarrassment on the tennis court. Why, one wonders, would a magazine like Tennis Week ever publish this strange piece, which is not timely, barely qualifies as “service journalism,” and doesn’t refer to a single famous event that happened exactly ten, twenty-five or fifty years ago? Because it’s fun as hell to read, that’s why.

I trust that a good majority of people reading this blog know the legend of Sidd Finch, but instead of discussing it with spoilers, I’m simply going to provide a link to the original article, so that anyone who wants to revisit it can have a fresh look. It’s not too long, and one of the very most successful magazine profiles of a particular genre (I won’t spoil that either). So read it already, and once you have, click on this second link (published on the twentieth anniversary of Plimpton‘s article) to learn what became of this once-hyped pitching prospect who threw a baseball in hiking boots and played the French horn.


Here’s my other favourite find of the week, a compilation of radio and television announcers from around the world calling a golden goal by another famous Sid, scoring on a pass from IGGY!: “The ‘Iggy!’ Heard Round The World.”

Can’t wait for the twenty-fifth anniversary of that one.

(Photo by Lane Stewart for Sports Illustrated)

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Image courtesy Eric Lon

PARIS — “So, uh, what have people over there been saying about the Games?”

My dad, who lives on Vancouver Island and spent the first couple days of the Olympics in Vancouver proper, asked me the other day for the French take on the games-to-date. Even over a shitty ADSL connection some nine time zones away, I could tell that he wasn’t just curious. He was a little worried. He needed to be reassured.

This was after the first week of the Olympics, when a few macro things weren’t going as well as people had hoped they would, so to speak. Like the weather. And safety on the luge track. And the torch lighting.

Based on what I was hearing from friends and family, folks in Vancouver were having a ball. Actually, I sort of got the impression that Canadians were almost overdoing their we’re-here-for-the-party! bit, to compensate for what they perceived as a lukewarm early reception of the Games abroad (driven pretty largely, let’s be honest, by the bitter, snarky reports of an inexplicably and indefensibly hateful segment of the British media that nobody should ever take seriously, especially since they started trashing these Olympics two weeks before they even began).

I assured my dad that the French media was taking a largely positive view on the games. It might be because French people are generally rooting for Canada to do well at these Olympics, since many of our athletes give interviews en français to their reporters, or that they won a bunch of medals in the first week (because if the French care about anything, it’s winning medals – they’re a lot like my brother that way). (more…)

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Betting the Super Bowl

PARIS—So, uh … can I please get some more fake money?

This is the portentous question that I had to ask, recently and quite sheepishly, of the King of the Walruses. See, I don’t ever like having to ask His Tuskiness for more fake money. I ask him for fake money all the time (hey, I’m a writer, we’ve got expensive fake-whiskey habits to bankroll). But typically, after a little demonstration of heaving and moaning to remind me who the boss is, he comes through.

It’s perfectly analogous to me being a television teenager from the 1950s hoping to take my “main squeeze” on a big date, only in this case the keys to the family car are actually a wad of fake money, my stern-but-lovable father is actually a 2,000-kilogram mass of tusks and blubber, and my best girl is the Super Bowl.

Also, I don’t actually want to play patty-cakes with her in the backseat of my pa’s Ford Galaxie, I want to bet money on a bunch of different little esoteric things that I think she might do. The Super Bowl, I mean.

Yes, it’s that time of year again, the Sportstrotter’s third annual “Top of the Props” column, a foray into the exciting, perilous world of Super Bowl prop betting. Prop betting is when, instead of gambling on the total outcome of a sporting event, you bet on very specific micro-games within the game. If that doesn’t make sense to you, click here for a more thorough explanation.

In 2008 I did pretty well with my bets, turning 100 fake “Trotterbucks” into 131.46, the cherry on the sundae of watching the New York Giants upset the previously undefeated New England Patriots, 17-14. In 2009, the game was another winner, with Mlle Trotter’s beloved Pittsburgh Steelers winning a wild one over the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23.

You know who wasn’t a winner last year? I mean, other than the Cardinals, and 30 other football teams and what the heck let’s throw the Leafs in there for good measure? Yup, that’s right: me. I managed to turn the previous year’s fattened bankroll into, like, 2 Trotterbucks. It wasn’t pretty. Not nearly enough holdover fake money to have any fun with this year. Plus, I think I lost the change (the coins have King Kaufman‘s face on them) in my couch.

Hence, I found myself grovelling to the Blubber-Ball with the Beastly Bicuspids: King Walrus himself.

“Blaargh you? Sportstrotter? What are you doing here?” he belched at me, when I finally tracked him down on a rocky islet off the southeast corner of Baffin Island. His breath reeked of fish, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one to tell him.

“Please, sir. I was wondering if I could have a little bit more fake money? You know, to wager on the Super Bowl?”

“Blaargh don’t you mean the Grey Cup?”

“No, sir,” I said, a little bashful. “Nobody wants to read about me betting on the Grey Cup. They already played the game several months ago. Plus, how can you take a football game seriously when the contest’s defining play is a ‘13 men on the field’ penalty?”

“Blaargh good point, Sportstrotter,” he said. “So how much do you need?”

At this point, I knew I had to play it cool. I had King Walrus right where I wanted him, but if I overshot, I would surely end up looking like an overcooked order of Sportstrotter Spaetzle strewn all across the King’s rocky ledge. “Uh, how much fake money did you give to the Bironist last year when he was handicapping last year’s Giller Prize favourites?”

“Blaargh two-hundred Bironbucks. And I can’t believe he bet it all on the Peter Pocklington biography ‘I’d Trade Him Again!””

Neither could I, to be honest, but I saw my opening. “I’ll take half what he got. One hundred Trotterbucks. Er, if you please, sir.”

He thought about it for a minute, and then – I swear I saw this, with my own two eyes – the Walrus King reached up with his flippers, grabbed his left tusk, and spun it around till half the tusk came loose, like an old-school fountain pen. He tipped the hollow half-tusk upside down and out fluttered a perfect, crisp one-hundred-Trotterbuck bill.

“Blaargh one last thing before you go, Sportstrotter,” I heard him say as I scooped up the money and ran for my life. “You’re not going to piss away all that money on hopeless long-shot wagers again this year, are you?”

*

So with the words of the venerable King Walrus still ringing in my ears, coupled with the grim prospect of returning next February (not the ideal time to travel to Baffin Island) to ask for more money should my bets go sour, I’ve decided to forego the laundry-list of wacky proposition bets this year, and just bet on the outcome of the game itself. Not the games within the game – just the game, people.

Plus, after all the work I put in getting the money, and all the work my buddies Odom and Matty put in trying (and failing) to get the Las Vegas Hilton to release an electronic copy of its seminal list of 400-strong prop to me (apparently, as of Friday afternoon the only way you can get a copy of the prop list is to march into the Hilton sports book and grab a paper copy yourself – update: Matty located a copy late Friday afternoon!), I just can’t motivate myself to care whether Saints backup tight end David Thomas will gain more or less than 9.5 yards on his first reception of the game (take the under, though).

So here’s my analysis of Super Bowl XLIV – Indianapolis Colts versus New Orleans Saints:

Both of these teams were 13-0 this year, and then each floundered a bit down the stretch after taking their foot off the gas pedal (I guess we can be pretty certain that they weren’t driving a Toyota HEY-OHHHH!!!).

In the playoffs, the Saints and the Colts each destroyed a one-dimensional team in the divisional round. Then the Colts came from behind to beat a team starting a rookie quarterback who had a very average season, a team that lost its starting running back during the game, a team that lost games this season to the Bills, the Jags and the Dolphins (twice), a team whose own coach thought they were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with two weeks to go in the season. In short, the Colts squeaked one out against one of the weakest teams to appear in an AFC title game in recent memory, albeit one that played hard and gave the Colts a run for their money.

The Saints won the NFC title against a team that most sportswriters considered the best team in football when the season began. So why does everybody with an opinion on this game automatically think that the Colts are unbeatable and the Saints are flawed and that Manning is the best so therefore the Colts will definitely win?

So I’ll take the Saints to win, like I did (get ready, I’m about to blow your mind!) … back in SEPTEMBER, in my NFL Preview column.

And not just to cover the spread, which is currently at Colts by 5. To win the game outright. I mean, why wouldn’t I pick the team I pegged at the start of the season to win the Super Bowl when they’re playing a team I didn’t even think was good enough to make the playoffs in the Colts (uh … this is embarrassing … hey, look, what’s that over THERE!)

Wager: New Orleans Saints to win (money line bet), 100 TB at +180, for a potential win of 180 TB.

And if I’m wrong, well, I guess I’ll have plenty of time to work on my grovelling skills before next year’s visit to Baffin Island.

(Image courtesy Boston.com)

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Blood in the Water

BUDAPEST—The first thing that one sees, upon stepping off a plane in the Hungarian capital’s Ferihegy airport and entering the baggage claim area, is a pair of full-wall posters. A tall, lithe Hungarian, naked from the waist up save a bushy Mark-Spitz moustache and a funny little bonnet with ear protection, explodes out of the water with a yellow, volleyball-sized sphere cradled in his hand.

The advertisement, for a mobile phone company, appears twice, once in English and once in Hungarian. But either way, the message is clear: you’re now entering the land of water polo. Enjoy your stay!

Water polo, despite its English moniker, was developed in the UK in the late 19th century as an aquatic variation on rugby. The English wrote the rules and dominated the sport in its early decades, but since the late 1920s, no country – not any of such second-tier water polo nations as Italy, Greece and the former Yugoslavian countries – can match the prodigious water polo expertise and achievements of the Hungarians.

Since 1928, the Hungarian water polo team (in Magyar, the sport is called Vízilabda) has medalled in all but four Summer Olympics, one of which they were forced to skip due to the Eastern Bloc boycott (Los Angeles, 1984). Nine times they’ve won gold, including the past three Olympics.

In one amazing run of invincibility, Hungary went undefeated in 40 consecutive international matches between 1952 and 1956. This remarkable stretch was no easy feat of concentration, considering the political oppression the country experienced during these years at the hands of the Soviets, who brutally put down a popular revolution in November, 1956, one month before a vengeful Hungarian team beat Russia in the most famous match ever played, the “Blood in the Water” encounter at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. (more…)

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This World Has 32 Nations

HenryMaradona

PARIS: And so it was that last Wednesday, at 22h51 local time in Montevideo (UTC-2) and with a toot-toot-TOOOOOOT from the whistle of Swiss referee Massimo Busacca, Uruguay became the thirty-second and final country to qualify for the World Cup Finals, to be held June 11 to July 11, 2010.

In all, 204 nations participated in the continental qualifying tournaments that began way back in August of 2007. Now, after 848 matches and 2337 goals, we find the thirty-one strongest and most deserving footballing nations of the world left standing. And France, of course.

So with 200 days remaining before the opening kick-off of South Africa 2010 — the first-ever edition of the tournament to be staged in Africa — a quick rundown of the Thrilling Thirty-Two:

Main de Dieu

Yes, of course it was a handball that put France through in extra time of their second-leg knockout match against poor, star-crossed Ireland. We all agree on this. Without drawing the whole thing out any further than it already has been, I have three quick things to say about Thierry Henry’s handball, the most famous unpunished handball since Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” against England in 1986.

1. He didn’t mean to do it. Of course he didn’t. This wasn’t some calculated, devious attempt by Henry to secretly handle the ball twice in the penalty area and hope to get away with it. In slow motion it sure looks deliberate, but at game speed it was a purely instinctual flailing of the arms on a bouncing ball. And it wasn’t cheating, either — handballs occur all the time in football. It’s written into the rules that when you touch the ball with your hand, the whistle blows and the other side gets a free kick. So if anything, this is a failure of officiating. Leave Henry alone.

2. It’s not Thierry Henry’s job to confess to the referee that he handled the ball. Just like it wasn’t Shay Given’s job to walk up to the referee six minutes earlier, when he took down Nicolas Anelka in the box with a clear hand to the boot, and to say, “You know, Mr. Referee, you didn’t whistle it, but I’m certain that my hand hit Anelka’s boot and brought him down, and in all fairness, you should have whistled a penalty against me.” Again, this was a failure of refereeing. Just like this crucial penalty call, for a phantom handball in the box that came after a missed offside call: Ireland vs. Georgia, World Cup qualifying, February 11, 2009. Robbie Keane shouldn’t be celebrating like that. Should he?

3. To judge by the Anglophone media’s reaction to the game, you’d think that the French are rejoicing in this treachery. They’re not. We’re not (note: while I’m living in France, and until Canada qualifies for a World Cup, I’m for Les Bleus). Nobody wanted this match to end this way. Don’t you think that the French know that they’ll be reminded of their “tainted” qualification before every match in South Africa? Do you think it’s a smart move to qualify shadily at the expense of one Anglophone nation when you’re going to play in another Anglophone nation? France instantly becomes the top villain of 2010, thanks to a failure of refereeing. Let the party begin. Ugh.

First Winners, Last Inners

Uruguay, winners of the first World Cup in 1930, were the last team to qualify for this tournament, to be held eighty years after their glorious victory over Argentina in Montevideo. First winners, and last team qualified? A nice round eighty years? That is too coincidental to be an accident. I smell the next Dan Brown blockbuster — someone get that greasy-haired Tom Hanks detective guy on the phone! He’s a detective, right?

The Chilled Envelope Conspiracy

Speaking of those French footballing villains, how excited are we about the inevitable drawing of the United States and North Korea into the same group-stage round on December 4 in Cape Town, when the ping-pong balls are plucked from that funny air-drum by some cute, overdressed young woman?

A couple more geopolitically awkward or just-plain-weird matchups that are too juicy for FIFA to resist rigging the draw:

  • Australia vs. New Zealand (yes, I’m pretty sure this is possible, since they now play in different confederations, Asia and Oceania)
  • South Africa vs. the Netherlands or England (the “choose your own colonialist” matchup)
  • France vs. Algeria or Côte d’Ivoire or Cameroon (you know this one’s happening)
  • Mexico vs. Spain (the “whose Spanish pronunciation is more correct?” matchup)
  • Slovakia vs. Slovenia (the “-AK- versus -EN- mix-up match” to end all mix-up matches — even their flags are so similar that Wikipedia makes sure you’re searching for the right one!)

M.I.A.

A quick round of taps for several traditionally participating countries who should have been invited, but accidentally dumped their Save-the-Dates in the trash, thinking it was a bill or something: Ireland (cough, cough!), Croatia, Colombia, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia (first missed Finals since 1990), Ukraine.

Pre-Match Anthem I’m Most Excited To Hear

This category has been officially supressed for WC2010 after Russia also failed to qualify for the finals. It’s just not a best-anthem tournament without Russia.

First Timers

No first timers in this year’s Finals! Technically, Slovakia are making their first appearance under that banner, but they’re considered to have participated as Czechoslovakia on nine separate occasions. So let’s put our hands together for Korea DPR (that’s the North, to you), absent from the Big Dance since their first and only other appearance, in 1966, when Kim Jong-Il was just a fresh-faced, mischievous young lad of twenty-five. My how the years fly by!

Le Petit Poucet

This is a nickname used in France’s domestic football cup competitions, given to the smallest village or town still active at each stage of the tournament. Plucky Slovenia (pop. 2,049,440) nipped Uruguay (3,361,000) and New Zealand (4,315,800) for the title, although tiny Bahrein (pop. 791,000) almost swiped this prize in a playoff with the Kiwis.

Africa’s Glass Slipper?

A non-European, non-South American team has still never reached the World Cup final. But “home field” advantage has helped several host nations make Cinderella runs to the semi-finals: Sweden in 1958; Chile in 1962; and South Korea in 2002. (England and France’s sole championships were also both won as hosts.)

Is this the year for Africa? Most South Africans concede that their own side, which benefited from an automatic bid but still participated in the qualification tournament and looked terrible in doing so, has no shot of playing the role of the charmed princess.

Will South African fans thus rally behind the five other African teams? The four teams considered the crème of the continental crème all survived qualifying: Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. And judging by the car horns still blaring up and down the Champs Elysées, six days after qualification, I hear Algeria’s in as well.

With no Canadian side to support, and with being a supporter of Les Bleus completely stigmatized (not to mention my Karim Benzema jersey being completely obsolete while an astrology-obsessed moron like Raymond Domenech somehow still manages to hold on to a job he should have been fired from long ago – blame French labour laws, I suppose), my biggest rooting interest in the tournament has passed to seeing an African team reach the quarterfinals. Any one of the Big Four a legitimate shot, albeit a long one. At this point, my money’s on Didier Drogba and his mates from Côte d’Ivoire, who look the continent’s most complete side. But I’ll take what I can get.

Zürich-based FIFA is already trying to make sure that the African teams don’t sneak up on the traditional favourites by forcing organizers to replace the traditional African turf, an indigenous grass called kikuyu, with more “television friendly” European ryegrass. (I continue to be completely outraged by this move.) But all is not lost. After all, they won’t have thunderstix to simultaneously energize them and deafen opponents, like the South Koreans had in 2002. But they will have these: the vuvuzela, which sounds like “a duck on speed or the wailing of a terribly ill child.”

Let the honking begin! Unless FIFA decides to ban them, too ...

Illustration by Keith Lyons

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The Sportsman’s View of India

Kingfisher

Billboard for Indian Pro League football, sponsored by that most delicious and thirst-quenching of football accoutrements, Kingfisher

MUMBAI: They say that you have one year after a wedding to send a gift to the happy couple. In the case of an Indian wedding, held over the course of five days in Goa and Mumbai, tradition dictates that the Sportstrotter has one month after the holiday to post photos of the sporting life in India.

Thanks and best wishes to Anamitra and Preeti for providing a fabulous excuse to spend two weeks traveling around a country where cricket is king and there’s always a Champions League Twenty20 match on somewhere, at least in the month of October. (Congratulations to the New South Wales Blues, winners of the inaugural edition of this fantastic tournament, which features the catchiest anthem in all of sports.)

KeralaCricket

A cricket match on the banks of the Kerala backwaters. Note the cow defending at mid-wicket

Badminton

An improvised badminton match at dawn outside of the Taj Mahal, in Agra

Drinks

Another sports/beverage combination advertisement in Goa, this time marrying cricket and energy drinks

GoaCricket

A cricket match on the pitch-and-putt golf course of the wedding resort in Goa. Note the groom defending at wicket keeper

Mumbai

Students wrapping up after a field hockey practice on a school pitch in downtown Mumbai, thirty floors below the rooftop patio of the ITC Grand Central Hotel

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The NFL Across The Sea

PARIS—Being a sports fan in the 21st century is sometimes frighteningly easy.

For instance, today I bought a subscription service from the NFL that will allow me to watch every minute of every game this season, streamed live and in high definition onto my computer. Just like that, I fork over a credit card number and type some personal information and click my mouse a couple times, and presto: for the next four months, I’m in football heaven. (more…)

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Membership Has Its Privileges

PARIS—You’d think a professional organization of journalists that just celebrated its 85th anniversary would have some sort of process by which they, I don’t know, vet prospective members to insure that they’re not accidentally accrediting half-baked Canadian web hacks who think that penning a list of the ugliest footballers in the world constitutes ground-breaking sports reporting. You’d think.

And yet, as of the precise moment that the La Poste factrice rang my doorbell this morning (at the ungodly hour of 9am – what do they think I am, a professional journalist?), and had me sign for the registered letter she slid into my hands, a letter that contained a credit-card-sized piece of hard plastic with my name and photograph on it, I became an official, card-carrying member of the Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  1 Comment

Rowin’ On The (Fake) River

Račice, CZECH REPUBLIC—It’s exceedingly important, when setting out towards the host city of this year’s Under-23 World Rowing Championships, to make very certain that you’re headed for the correct “Račice.”

It turns out there are two cities called Račice in the Czech Republic. When you search on Wikipedia, the first result that comes up is the correct Račice (in this case), a barely there village (pop. 308) about one hour’s drive north of Prague notable only for being the republic’s premier venue for rowing and flatwater sports — it hosted the World Rowing Championships in 1993.

If, on the other hand, you plug Račice into Google Maps, and drive to the “other” Račice, about 2 hours west of Prague, and, just for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re the parents of one of the boys in Canada’s lightweight four, you’re probably going to end up missing your son’s race. (more…)

Posted in Sportstrotter  •  4 Comments
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