Showing posts with label sport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sport. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The country life

There has been a significant shift in the ownership of Scottish estates in recent years with a move from people buying them to enjoy their retirement, to wealthy individuals, often from overseas, who are attracted to the sports on offer. In the last year buyers spent around £54 million on shooting and fishing properties, with a large interest from Scandinavia. Experts even believe that Scots estates are becoming more attractive as prices for property in London rocket.

Although only five or six estates with sought-after grouse shooting or salmon fishing are sold each year, there has been no sign that the recent financial crisis has slowed the market. One estate renowned for its grouse shooting sold for almost £20 million this year, with two properties selling for between £8 and £10 million. The total worth of the estate market this year was up £10 million this year.

“The market for sporting estates is now dominated by high net worth individuals seeking good quality sport in beautiful surroundings, away from the incessant demands of business life. All of this can be found from deep within the grouse butt.” estate agents Savills, Evelyn Channing, of the company’s rural department, said.

Charles Dudgeon, head of the firm’s rural agency, said two thirds of viewers originated from Europe, and in particular from Scandinavia, with strong interest from Denmark. He said: “Acquiring a Scottish country estate is still a popular ‘trophy buy’, and with the recent significant property price growth in London, the Scottish Highlands have never looked better value for money. It is possible to buy 10,000 acres in the Highlands, with a Grade A listed nine-bedroom castle and 10 ancillary dwellings for the same price as a 3-bedroomed flat in Knightsbridge.”

Savills is currently marketing the 10,000-acre, £7.5 million Cluny estate near Kingussie in Inverness-shire, which has “walked-up” grouse shooting, stalking, pheasant shooting, salmon fishing and a seven-bedroomed castle. The estate is being sold by Alain Angelil, 70, an Egyptian-born telecoms tycoon who is based in Norway and bought the property in 2000. It includes a farming enterprise and 10 estate houses and cottages. Cluny Castle was the ancestral home of the MacPhersons of Cluny until the direct line died out in 1943. Dudgeon said the interest in Cluny and other estates had been “global”, with two thirds of viewers coming from Europe.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cash before Nature

Socialist Courier has reported how the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ lobby has had a devastating effect on Scotland’s natural wild-life by slaughtering any threat to their grouse. It now transpires that they are also guilty of over-stocking deer herds to the point that they and the environment suffer.

Scotland’s sporting estates must be forced to cull thousands of deer, the country’s most powerful environmental groups have told MSPs. Deer numbers had spiralled and they were damaging the country’s moorland, peatland and “fragile populations” of other native species like capercaillie. The group, the membership of which includes the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said a voluntary code of conduct has failed to tackle the scourge. But the group suggested that landowners were unwilling to take action because the value of Highland sporting estates is partly based on “the number of sporting stags available to shoot”.

The group argued estates want to keep deer numbers as high as possible to help stalking and called for them to bear the financial burden of culling under a “polluter pays” principle.Landowners warned about the harm this would cause the £105 million stalking industry and the 2,520 jobs it is estimated to support. Scottish Land & Estates, the body representing landowners, said: “Red deer stalking attracts relatively high-spending visitors who come outside the peak tourist seasons. These visitors are willing to come to our more remote areas where employment and other economic activities are scarce.”

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Blood Sports

Former Scotland internationalist Rory Lamont has lifted the lid on rugby players “cheating” concussion protocols and insisted many well-known figures are knowingly taking the field with head injuries. When Lamont started pro rugby concussion brought a mandatory three-week lay-off, but that was argued, largely by coaches, to be over-prescriptive in cases of minor concussion. Coaches flouted it in any case by pretending concussion had not occurred.

The 30-year-old retired last month after a succession of injuries, undergoing 16 operations and suffering “at least six or seven clean knock-outs” in games, and many more what he terms “minor concussions”. He explained “... there is a high risk of me developing neurological issues associated with the early stages of ‘Parkinson’s Disease’. But what’s done is done...Once you start losing your mind there’s no coming back from it. You can be an alcoholic and have cirrhosis of the liver, and get a new liver and come off the booze, but there’s no coming back from brain damage.”

 US experts have begun investigating  potential links between depression and suicide in former American Footballers who suffered from concussion, through the ‘Boston Brain Bank’ – the Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University.  In the United States, former NFL players are now suing the league over the use of the powerful anti-inflammatory drug Toradol. They argue that the medication masked the pain of head injuries and led them to play on and suffer concussions as result. Lawsuits have been filed against the league in federal court alleging that the NFL failed to acknowledge and address neurological risks associated with the sport and then deliberately failed to tell players about the risks they faced. The players say that sometimes they were lined up in what they termed a 'cattle call' and injected with the drug whether they were injured or not. Similar concerns have been expressed in NHL, where hockey players are paid to inflict and to absorb pain and can become addicted to painkillers.

Dr Jiri Dvorak found that almost 40% of players at the 2010 World Cup were taking pain medication prior to every game. Experts say that painkilling medication can be particularly dangerous in professional sport. In high-intensity exercise like football, a player's kidneys are continuously working hard, making them more vulnerable to damage from strong drugs. And the risks of using nsaids are not just confined to the kidneys and liver. There are also worries over their impact on hearts. Dr Stuart Warden from the University of Indiana is an expert in the use of these drugs by athletes."There is an elevated risk of cardio vascular side-effects with almost all nsaids and the risk increases with duration of use."

A study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that the risk of injury in football may have been played down, at least at the professional level. The Center for Hazard and Risk Management at Loughborough University found that players had a 12 percent risk of injury every game. More significantly, they reported that almost a third of professional players would suffer at least one injury this season.
''The injury rate, is about 1,000 times what you'd find in industry,'' said Dr. Colin Fuller, a lecturer of health and safety management at the center and director of the study. ''It works out to every employee having a reportable injury once every three weeks, which, of course, would be completely unacceptable.'' Only a third of the injuries resulted from fouls. The rest involved legal contact between opposing players.

"Soccer is not a sport. It is a knee killer" said Alwin Jaeger, MD, chairman of orthopedic surgery at the University of Frankfurt in Germany.

According to a 2006 report in the Florida paper St. Petersburg Times, for every season a player spends on an NFL roster, his life expectancy decreases by almost three years.The average American male lives to be almost 75. According to the Times report, an NFL player, whose career lasts roughly four years on average, lives to be 55.

Self-harm for the love of the sport or is it the sporting industry’s love of the profits and the players are only fodder?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

socialist sport?

 The Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland was founded in 1884 with now over 1 million members in 2,600 clubs .

Its players are amateurs, the grass roots are as important as the top echelons, and the majority of big games remain on free-to-air TV. And unlike football, clubs cannot be bought and sold and there are no private club owners. On the administrative side, club members elect an executive committee to carry out the running of the club on an annual basis. At the higher echelons of the GAA, such members must vacate their post after four years.

But Dr David Hassan of the University of Ulster denies that running the game with volunteers at grass-roots level means off-field activities are also "amateur". "At a community level, local competent professional people who are sympathetic to the GAA often do administrative jobs, such as a local accountant becoming club treasurer."

"The clubs and games are based in the community and operate on behalf of those people who are based in the community. If the grass roots say some policy proposal is a move in the wrong direction, the administrators cannot just say - as may be the case in English soccer - 'This is just business'."

Monday, January 07, 2013

A football working class hero

Nicolaas Steelink
Organised sport was originally for the elite with its roots in the English public schools. But taking advantage of the free-time offered by the eight-hour day, workers began to democratize games like soccer and rugby. We enjoyed sport as passive spectators and as active participants. Who can blame someone for enjoying leisure on a day off?

Before long, major social democratic parties across Europe were using sporting clubs and festivals to construct working-class identity and promote solidarity. By 1928, German sports societies had more than two million members, most of whom were affiliated with the Social Democratic Party. These clubs offered escape and a sense of belonging to the masses. Thousands hiked and learned to swim, freeing themselves, however fleetingly, from the grinding indignity of wage slavery. In Austria, during the Red Vienna period (1918-1934), a new stadium was built to host a “Workers’ Olympiad,” which welcomed participants from across the world—a testament to the internationalist impulses of a confident and forward-looking movement. In Britain we had cycling and rambling associations. Another sports world seemed possible, one that needn't be sold as a commodity. But these days sport has become unlinked from the working class political movement, hi-jacked by the jingoistic nationalists, the profit-seeking media corporations and sponsors, not to mention the egotistical oligarchs seeking an identity through being club owners.

One can even imagine aspects of sports that most closely mirror the capitalist ethos taking on a different context in a better society. Competition is brutal and ruthless in capitalism, under which, in many parts of the world, winning and losing carry life or death consequences. But competition in a safe environment can be positive and rewarding. We can imagine the new ways in which work and play could intermingle in a future society governed by equality and abundance rather than exploitation and scarcity. The discipline and pride of a craftsman who hones a skill and the athlete who trains toward perfection will have a larger place in the world.

Nicolaas Steelink was inducted into the American Soccer Hall of Fame in 1971. He was instrumental in organising the Californian Soccer League in the 1950s. Nicolaas Steelink was Dutch and immigrated to the US in 1912 at the age of 22. It was through his contacts playing football that he got introduced to a variety of political activists including socialists, industrial unionists and anarchists. At the time Steelink was angered by the injustices that surrounded him in California. Poor working conditions, war propaganda and censorship that was luring young Americans to their death in the trenches of the Somme, corruption and unpunished lynchings, were among the issues that helped radicalise the young Steelink. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and wrote a weekly column for their paper the Industrial Worker.

Following the First World War a number of states passed repressive laws in response to a rising radicalism amongst a large section of the workers. In California the state passed the Criminal Syndicalism Act in 1920, and Steelink was subsequently one of the first of the 151 IWW members to be arrested under these new powers. He was sentenced to five years hard labour in the infamous San Quentin prison for being a member of the IWW. After two years Steelink gained parole and his strong sense of injustice had been reinforced by the experience. He dedicated the rest of his life to continue to fight authority and injustice and continued contributing regular articles to the Industrial Worker entitled “Musings of a Wobbly”, under the pen name Ennes Ellae. He never lost his love for football. It was through football that he found that he could help the underprivileged youth, giving them a sense of comradeship and self-pride. He coached his teams to play flowing, skillful football that expressed his ideas of individual freedom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boycott Trumps

Bill Elliott, editor-at-large of Golf Monthly (readership around 500,000) and chairman of the Association of Golf Writers, is calling for a boycott of Donald Trump’s Scottish course.

Elliot explains " it was impossible not to be shocked by the tactics used to try to intimidate a few local residents who refused to sell their homes. This intimidation apparently goes on.”

Aberdeenshire farmer Michael Forbes, a neighbour and campaigner against the golf course, recently received the Top Scot prize at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland ceremony.

Socialist Courier hopes that the vulture Trump gets a birdie, to use the golfing term, for his business venture - a dead duck.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

We are all Spartacus - political football

Celtic come face to face with Spartak in the Champions League.  Moscow is the home of Spartak as well as Dynamo, CSKA, Torpedo-Luzhniki, Lokomotiv and Torpedo-ZIL but historically, the main Moscow grudge derby-match is between Spartak and Dynamo

Sport has always had a political dimension, especially football.

In the early days of Soviet football many government agencies such as the police, army and railroads created their own clubs. So many statesmen saw in the wins of their teams the superiority over the opponents patronizing other teams. Almost all the teams had such kind of patrons such as  CSKA – The Red Army team. Dynamo Moscow were a creation of the Interior Ministry, then essentially a euphemism for the secret police. The de facto founder of Dynamo was Felix Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the OGPU (forerunner to the KGB). Spartak were created as an independent football team, with no affiliations to one or other part of the state machine and considered to be the "people's team". The name Spartak that was derived from Spartacus, the gladiator-slave who led a rebellion against Rome.

In the Soviet Union millions attended matches and obsessed about their favorite club, and their rowdiness on game day stood out as a moment of relative freedom in a society that demanded rigid conformity and control. Fans of Spartak Moscow would have you believe that their club almost single-handedly defied the state machine.

Spartak emerged from the rough proletarian Presnia district of Moscow and spent much of its history in fierce rivalry with Dinamo. To cheer for Spartak, Edelman shows, was a small and safe way of saying "no" to the fears and absurdities of Stalinism.

Spartak was for seven decades by the four Starostin brothers, the most visible of whom were Nikolai and Andrei. Perhaps because of Spartak's too frequent success against state-sponsored teams, they were arrested in 1942 and spent twelve years in the gulag. Instead of facing hard labor and likely death, they were spared the harshness of their places of exile when they were asked by local camp commandants to coach the prisoners' football teams. Beria, the secret police chief, was possibly fuelled by a personal vendetta. As left-back for a Geor­gian side in the early 1920s, Beria had turn­ed out against Nikolai Starostin, who had completely played him off the park. Beria, Stalin's henchman, was not a man to forgive and forget. In 1942  branded “en­emies of the people”, with Nikolai and Andrei initially accused of plotting with the German Embassy to kill Stalin and set up a Fascist state but instead charg­ed with stealing a consignment of clothing,embezzlement and bribery. Returning from the camps after Stalin's death, they took back the reins of a club whose mystique as the "people's team" was only enhanced by its status as a victim of Stalinist tyranny.*

Like the Rangers Ibrox Disaster, Spartak has suffered tragedies. 30 years ago in a game against HFC Haarlem in a UEFA Cup one section of Spartak fans started streaming out to get to the Metro but a late goal in injury time caused some fans to turn back and the two streams collided with the tragic result of 66 dead according to official figures but probably many more.

Sadly the club like so many others these days is under the ownership of an oligarch, Leonid Fedun, estimated wealth of over $6 billion, and its fans have been associated with racist chanting.

* See here for more

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Capitalist Game

The biggest football story recently has been the financial collapse of  Rangers and now a similar impending fate for Hearts. This is not just a sporting story but involves many of the failings that have been played out in the wider economy. Corporate failure, greed, arrogance, criminality and cheating are included in the list of accusations.

Jock Stein said that “football without fans is nothing”. Capitalist ideology tells us that the consumer is king and that the decisions of millions of consumers decide what production takes place. If companies fail it is because they don’t sell goods or services that people want or at a price they are prepared to pay. There is just enough truth in this to give it the credibility to make it widely accepted. What it leaves out, among other things, is that production also has to make a profit and that indeed this is the main reason any production takes place at all. Given the ownership of the means of production in the hands of only one group of people, these people thereby being called capitalists, and the exclusion of others, who must be required to provide workers for these owners, it is the relations of this production that, more than anything else, determines the wealth and income of the respective classes. This in turn determines to a large degree the pattern of consumption, which is further conditioned by advertising and monopoly suppliers etc.

Commodification and all its contradictions have since spread over an increasing variety of human activities. Sport has for some time become a global industry, more and more determined by the demand for profit. Sport must have room for chance, accident, unexpected triumph and unexpected failure while sporting contest subject to the requirement for profitability more and more implies certainty and the elimination of the possibility of monetary loss.

Adapted from here

Friday, November 09, 2012

Football Capitalism

Rangers only narrowly escaped extinction and now bankruptcy is the prospect facing current Scottish Cup holders Heart of Midlothian. The Jambos have been issued with a winding up order from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs over an unpaid £450,000 tax bill. Hearts supporters have been urged to find £2m to help the Edinburgh club survive until the summer. The club has already faced disciplinary action from the Scottish Premier League over its failure to pay some players and coaching staff which is a breach of the leagues rules. That breach led to the SPL side being hit with a player signing embargo.

Now the fans are  being asked to pay to keep their club afloat, having already paid for their season tickets, their strips and scarves. Hearts fans are being bled dry.

 Former Hearts captain Paul Hartley has accused Vladimir Romanov of “holding a gun to fans’ heads” after the stricken club yesterday begged for a financial lifeline from their followers. Hartley insists owner Romanov has unfairly shifted the burden of safeguarding Hearts, who are £22m in debt, on to the fans. “It’s basically holding a gun to the fans’ heads and saying, ‘We need a couple of hundred quid off you or else’. It’s not as simple as that. Supporters have had to dig deep already. It’s before Christmas and how do they expect the fans to pay that? It’s totally unfair for them to ask the fans to put their hand in their pocket or else you won’t have a club. “But you can’t see any way out of it. If they pay this bill where is the next one going to come from? It’s a quick fix but it’s a long-term one you’re looking for. Hearts are £20-odd million in debt. They can’t just keep asking supporters to bail them out.”

Players, managers, sponsors and owners come and go. Only the fans stay. Once a week for 90 minutes footbal fans leave their worries on the other side of the turnstiles but the reality that football is just another business obliged to pay its taxes has come home to roost. Today after well over a century of professional football we can clearly see the price fans have paid for the role capitalism has played in the game. Clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea have become giant faceless corporate brand names with the ubiquity of McDonald and Coca-Cola.

Capitalism has given fans a stark choice for the future. Will football be just another way to make profits and for advertisers to reach consumers? Just another another product to be bought and sold? Or will fans fight so football can be something which will unite people, build community spirit, celebrate sportsmanship and enrich the lives of working people?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

trumped by the capitalist

Donald Trump opened his new £100m golf course. Trump had flown into Aberdeen on a private jet emblazoned in gold with the Trump brand.

The course is built across a stretch of stunning land overlooking the North Sea, some of which had been designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) because of the way the dunes moved northwards over time. Trump claims to have stabilised the land to create the "greatest golf course in the world". The Golf Environment Organisation, which vets courses and is backed by the European Tour, complained of the course's "considerable negative impact on what was one of the UK's most valuable mobile sand dune systems".

Trump denying there were any protesters, declaring after the first nine holes: "The environmentalists love what I have done." A second question about the environmental impact saw the billionaire shepherded by an aide away from the media and towards the VIP refreshment tent.

Later Trump said "Nothing will ever be built around this course because I own all the land around it," he said with a smile. "It's nice to own land."

Susan Monro home is just 100 metres away from the course clubhouse and she refused to sell up so Trump  piled an 8 metre high sand berm around her house, blocking her sea views. Huge gates have been erected at the end of her lane and she complains Trump's security staff shine lights into her home at night.

Another local who resisted Trump's attempts to buy him out is now forced to live behind a row of tall spruce trees planted on Trump's orders at the edge of his property which screen off spectacular views of the dunes and the sea.

Trump once declared "It's our property, we can do what we want."

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The killing fields - something to grouse about

There is an old Gaelic saying  that "everyone has a right to a deer from the hill, a tree from the forest, and a salmon from the river" yet that salmon that yesterday was miles from the land is instantly claimed by the landlord the moment it reaches the shore.

 The image of the Scottish Highlands as vast and empty and full of sheep is misleading. The Highlands were once heavily populated. It is estimated that 85-90% of the population were forcibly cleared from the land. There exists a delusion widely held in Scotland that the Highlands are a paradise in a state of natural grace, which might more properly be held in public ownership. The Scots must be told again and again until they start to believe it, that their hills are in reality intensively and expensively managed by private landowners

The Glorious Twelfth of August is the start of the red grouse shooting season. Scotland’s sporting estates have seen their profits soar after massively hiking the fees they charge for shooting grouse, prompting landowners to increase the number of moors open to commercial shooting. There are around 340 sporting estates in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland covering 5.2 million acres of land. They represent over 30% of the total privately-owned land in Scotland and over 50% of privately-owned land in the Highlands and Islands. A study, published by the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde, found grouse shooting sustains up to 1,072 jobs across the country and contributes £23.3 million to the economy. Critics argue that such employment is low paid and encourages a servile mentality. The supposed virtue of capital inflows only serves to sustain an outdated and inappropriate form of land use whilst incurring opportunity costs in doing so. It should be pointed out, sporting estates have never been rational economic holdings in the sense that owners either expect or derive a revenue surplus from them. They have always been, by contrast, a form of conspicuous consumption which, together with retainers (ghillies), uniforms (tweeds) and large country houses (hunting lodges), provided a forceful statement of social and financial standing within the leisure classes. An outdoor playground for the upper strata of society. John McEwen, in the 1970s argued: “My own estimate of the quality of husbandry, over all, is that, in the ‘arable areas productivity is around 60 per cent of its potential, whereas in the huge ‘upland’ or marginal land area it barely reaches the 50 per cent mark…The use of the uplands and rough grazing areas as a playground for blood sportsmen accounts for the huge loss we estimated there.”  Hill-walking and mountaineering  are quite clearly more valuable use of recreational landhills and moors of the Highlands and Islands in terms of revenue and employment.

 The Chair-person of Scotland's Rating Valuation Tribunals in a report to the Scottish Office observed, sporting estates like to describe themselves, when it suits them, as being part of a sporting industry. In fact, they are part of an inefficient trade which pays inadequate attention to marketing their product, largely because profit is not the prime objective. He goes on to say the local staff are poorly paid, their wages bearing no relation to the capital invested in the purchase price, and it is not unusual to find a man responsible for an investment in millions being paid a basic agricultural wage. Many of the estates use short-term labour during the sporting season, leaving the taxpayer to pay their staff from the dole for the rest of the year. Estates can in many cases be deliberately run at a loss, thereby reducing their owner's tax liability to central funds elsewhere in the UK.

What is very clear is that sporting estates are directly responsible for the widespread persecution of a range of bird species and some mammals considered to be a threat to populations of game. Conservationists claim thousands of wild animals are being killed by gamekeepers in the name of country sports. Eggs are crushed, chicks trampled, nests smashed, baits poisoned, birds trapped and shot – and all to line the pockets of the landowners. Mark Rafferty, a former police officer who now investigates wildlife crime for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said “To suppress a whole population takes a huge amount of organised effort, and that’s what’s happening. It is the grouse industry that is responsible. They simply won’t tolerate birds of prey on grouse moors.” The owners of sporting estates are keen to control the numbers of birds of prey, because they eat or scare grouse. This leaves fewer to be shot by paying visitors, many of whom come from abroad.

Anything that can't be shot and eaten is shot and hung from fences.

50 golden eagles are being illegally poisoned, shot or trapped every year in Scotland. A report on hen harriers says: “Illegal persecution is causing the failure of a majority of breeding attempts.” The Scottish population of hen harriers is reckoned to be about a third of what it should be. That means that up to 2,300 birds are missing because they are being killed, or otherwise prevented from breeding. Areas where the birds are illegally killed nearly all take place on or near grouse moors belonging to sporting estates. Much is made by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association of their claim of increasing wader numbers through their work on estates. The only reason there are good numbers of waders is because they pose no threat to red grouse. If they did they would be as rare as hen harriers on grouse moors.

Mountain hares have inhabited the uplands for more than 130,000 years but are culled in their tens of thousands by estate owners trying to halt the spread of fatal diseases in valuable red grouse. But now a new report suggests that the yearly slaughter of iconic mountain hares on the Scottish hills to protect the prized game birds from tick-borne conditions may be unnecessary. A study, published in the Journal Of Applied Ecology by Scottish scientists, claims that on estates where there are other "hosts" on which the blood-sucking ticks can feed - such as deer or sheep - the culling of mountain hares has little effect on the spread of tick-borne diseases, such as louping ill virus. The report, produced by academics from Glasgow University's Biomedical and Life Sciences department and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen, says: "We conclude that there is no compelling evidence base to suggest culling mountain hares might increase red grouse densities." It is estimated by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust that around 25,000 of the hares are shot or snared every year. More than 95 per cent of the UK's mountain hare population is found in Scotland - with just a small number found in the Isle of Man and Derbyshire.

Deer in Scotland are legally res nullus – not owned by anyone – so the right to kill them rests with the owner or occupier of the land. Deerstalking became a sport in the Victorian era with many estates encouraging the growth of deer herds to provide profits. But despite efforts by landowners to reduce numbers of the browsing animals, in the abscence of predators, stocks have continued to rise in Scotland and there are now an estimates 350,000 to 500,000 red deer roaming the Highlands. The result is that large tracts of the Highlands are are grazed to the quick, hampering plans to bring back thousands of trees. In Sutherland, a wide territory covering 5,200 sq km. a report reveals, 4,000 sq km are in the hands of estates, which number just 81. In other words, three-quarters of one of the biggest counties in Britain is owned by 81 families. The population of Sutherland is around 14,000. If 81 families consist of around 10 people each, then 75% of the land is controlled by around 6% of the population. The income generated by deer stalking on the estates throughout Sutherland is £1.6m (a tiny sum when spread across 4,000 sq km). Their expenditure on deer management is £4.7m. Professor Douglas MacMillan, head of the School of Conservation at Kent University and a long-standing adviser to the Scottish Government on countryside issues, says "There are too many deer out there, and not enough of them are being shot. Part of the problem is that landowners promote the idea that deer hunting is about solitude, privacy and exclusivity."  MacMillan interviewed 127 landowners and found that many relied on family, friends and business contacts to carry out the shooting on their estates, excluding anyone who lacked the necessary social networks. The figures seem to support this view, with less than 0.001 per cent of the population – 3,500 people – taking part in deer hunting, according to the most recent survey in 2004. Those that do take part are usually white, over 50 and in the upper social classes, claims the study. They are also able to pay up to £1,000-a-day fees for stalking. Scotland, he suggests, should follow the example of Norway where most deer hunting is carried out by young working class men. Charles Fford, whose family own the Arran estate, has retorted :"...You can't have Rab Nesbitt wandering off into the hills to shoot a deer. How would he get it home for a start?" A survey by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation showed that 65 per cent of their members would like to go deer hunting, but were not able to do so. The main reason is they lacked the contacts within "hunting circles" to get a chance to hunt deer.

Today, just 1250 or so landowners own two thirds of Scotland. 25% of estates over 1 000 acres have been held in the same family for over 400 years. In the Highlands, 50% per cent haven’t been exposed for sale since World War Two. This is mainly the aristocracy and rich individuals: the largest landowner, after the Forestry Commission, is the Duke of Buccleuch (270,900 acres). He owns estates, castles and palaces. A keen hunter, he is said to have donated £3/4m to the Countryside Alliance. It is necessary to challenge the hegemony of the sporting estate owners to offer a different and alternative different future for  5.2 million acres of land. Common landownership, in general terms, is an ownership regime whereby a group of resource users share rights and duties towards a resource. The primary motivation for many of the frequently absentee landlords - which may comprise as many as 66% of the land-owners -  is simply sport and private enjoyment, not the needs of the community as a whole.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

United Fans

For some on the Left, sport is little more than a way to enforce hegemony and control on the duped masses, another opium for the people to divert their attentions from their social problems and delay the revolution.

Following football is expensive, the games less competitive (between 1985-95, 13 different clubs finished in the top three of the , exactly the same number as in the previous decade and the decade before that. In 1995-2005 years, that figure was just six) and the matches less atmospheric than ever in all-seated stadiums with traditional albeit bigoted songs outlawed. So why do supporters still love it?

The identification with a team, its colours, and history involves football’s most direct appeal to the gut. The tribalism displayed by a community of fans has an almost immeasurable force. It creates instant rivalries where none may have previously existed. For a few hours supporters inhabit a place where only one identity is acceptable: to be a Rangers or Celtic or Aberdeen fan. Any statement that violates the group’s one idea can prove dangerous, and, in a few cases, fatal. Being a football fan entails loud, aggressive, expressions of triumphalism and total team worship.

The term “imagined community” comes not from an analysis of sports, but, from Benedict Anderson’s book on nationalism. Anderson sets out to study why people love, die, and kill for countries. According to Anderson, a nation is “an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.” Nationalism, then, is not “an awakening of nations to self- consciousness; it invents nations where they do not exist.” As Anderson puts it, “It is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship.” This phenomenon is not limited to political communities. Hence, beneath all the commercialism and competitive rivalry is a deeper yearning for community that we dismiss at our peril.

To yearn for the football stadium crowd is to yearn for belonging in community, to dream of some kind of connectedness with your fellow humans. The further our alienation moves towards an ever-more-atomised society, one solely centered on the isolated individual, the greater there will be attempts to reclaim our to-getherness. People look to sports for a sense of something larger because social relationships with one anotherhas severely eroded throughout our society. So people look for some kind of connectedness with the tribal identity of their football club allegiences. They believe that - on some level - there's a bond between them, the players and their team. They follow them everywhere, even fight for them.

Sadly, it's not reciprocated. Kiss the badge when a player first scores for their new club. Most fans buy it every single time. The fact that they'd switch employers for a 200% pay rise without a second's thought seems lost on them. And that's not all they buy. There's the pricy season ticket, the home strip, the away strip, the third alternative away strip, the premium rate text services and so on.

When are people going to realise that when your favourite club isn't counting your cash, it's laughing at you? Rick Gekoski writes in "A Fan Behind The Scenes In The Premiership". "I was reminded of a conversation I'd had with John Salako. 'Fans,' he said, 'most of them are sad. They think the game is more important than it is, it says something about the miserable kind of lives they must lead. They get things out of proportion.' Another player, who did not wish to be named, said: 'Fans? Come on. Players hate fans.' "

Don't become a slave to football's pointless merry-go-round. In 2005 there were just seven clubs in the country owned by supporters' trusts - while only 23 trusts have elected directors on the board. When it's your club being dragged over the coals by insolvency accountants or re-located by new owners , you fight tooth and nail. When it's the club up the road, you merely give a shrug of the shoulders. Time for real football supporters to stand united and kick off.

"Football without fans is nothing" - Jock Stein

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Buying and selling people

Celtic have the highest player transfer outlay in the last five years, with a spend of just over £35 million, closely followed by Rangers who have spent around £33 million in the same period. Coming in at a poor third is Hearts who spent almost £3 million.

The teams that are making money from selling their players?

Celtic again leading the way with £35,574,000. Rangers have made sales of just over £20 million. Here is where Hibernian really punch above their weight. The Easter Road side have sold just over £16 million of players in five years and Hearts also sold well, £14 million. So the profits for Hibs have been almost £15million and for Hearts £11 million.

Almost every club in the division has turned a modest profit with the wheeling and dealing of player sales. Hibernian's business model is so focused on bringing through youth players and moving them on for healthy fees. It appears that Scottish football is all about the search of young, marketable talent. Celtic’s transfer balance is interesting, given the figures involved, as they seem to spend exactly what they make, reinvesting the money taken from sales into the playing squad. The club transfer policy seems to be to find players with a sell-on value, put them in the metaphorical shop window, sell them on at a profit and then repeat the process with the proceeds.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Guardians of the Countryside ?

Eggs are crushed, chicks trampled, nests smashed, baits poisoned, birds trapped and shot – and all to line the pockets of the landowners. Birds of prey are being routinely killed to protect the sporting estates of landowners – and perpetrators have tried to cover up evidence of their crimes, according to the Herald.

An authoritative new report for Government advisers shows thousands of rare and beautiful hen harriers are being illegally persecuted across huge swathes of the country. But publication of the report has been blocked by the landowning lobby. Another expert study, due to be unveiled in the next few weeks, suggests as many as 50 golden eagles are being illegally poisoned, shot or trapped every year in Scotland. This is far higher than previously suspected.

"It is the grouse industry that is responsible. They simply won’t tolerate birds of prey on grouse moors.”
said Mark Rafferty, a former police officer who now investigates wildlife crime for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The birds of prey are being killed to protect lucrative grouse moors on estates owned by some of the country’s richest men and women. The owners of sporting estates are keen to control the numbers of birds of prey, because they eat or scare grouse. This leaves fewer to be shot by paying visitors, many of whom come from abroad. But environmentalists argue the birds can happily coexist with thriving grouse moors, if the land is well managed.

Labour MSP Peter Peacock says landowners are deliberately delaying "A Conservation Framework For Hen Harriers In The UK," by scientists for Government wildlife advisers Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), and was to have been published on December 17. But this was halted at the eleventh hour after the landowning lobby formally complained, claiming they were not properly consulted. to stop it from influencing the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill.
“It is further damning evidence of what appears to be a group of serial offenders in the shooting fraternity, persisting in destroying iconic species,”

Andy Wightman, Scottish land expert, writes "Historically, Scotland’s landed gentry have secured their private interests because they effectively made the law. Even following the reform acts of the 19th century, they ruled in the House of Lords. Locally, they had control of county administration – police, roads, justice – as the Commissioners of Supply up until 1890, and their role was not abolished until 1930...Scotland’s landowners remained adept at spiking unhelpful legislation and promoting causes advantageous to their vested interests...Old habits die hard though, and some may have reverted to nobbling civil servants behind closed doors and trying to suppress inconvenient truths about sensitive topics such as wildlife crime...But this is not just about the power of elites, it is about land laws that vest so much power in the hands of an elite so few in number most of their names can fit on a few pages of a letter. With vast tracts given over to private hunting reserves, it is time to bring an end to the charade that our wildlife is best managed by this distorted form of landholding... "

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anyone for Tennis ?- The physical price of fame

A study of 33 young elite players aged between 16 and 23 at a national tennis centre, who represent Britain's best hope for a future Wimbledon winner, found 28 of them had damaged spines. Nine players had stress fractures. Some of the damage was irreparable.

Far from improving fitness, the game could leave them seriously damaged. The demands of modern tennis are so extreme and the competition so intense that young players in training face a high risk of fractures, slipped discs and damaged joints, researchers for the Lawn Tennis Association say. The increased speed and types of strokes used in tennis all boost wear and tear on the lower back.

"...These players have backs like 50-year-olds, not 16-year-olds." - David Connel, of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital