Monday, 8 October 2018

“We only see what we want to see”

This weekend one of the biggest fights in the UFC history happened between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov, and what stood out was everything but sportsmanship and respect. The whole build up to this event started with controversy, and unfortunately, it ended in the same tone.

Khabib drew first blood when he confronted Artem Lobov, a training partner of McGregor. Conor, the Irish flamboyant and charismatic fighter, responded by throwing a trolley into the bus which would take Khabib’s team. This, in turn, led to legal trouble to the “Notorious” and set up the pre-fight cold war game.

As expected, McGregor did his research and displayed his renowned trash talk, which helps him selling his fights and reaching audiences far from the fighting world, although this time, he might have gone too far with it. When the discussion gets to family and religion issues, it may be over the limit, especially for people who put a high value on it.

Anyway, Khabib, before the fight commented on this situation, saying “we have to think about the younger generations (…) I want to be a good role model”. Just after dominating the fight he jumped over the cage and rush to fight Dillon Danis, another training partner of McGregor, who was trash talking Khabib.

And this culminated into a big brawl in which Conor also got involved with members of Khabib’s team who jumped into the octagon. After the whole scene, the Russian fighter apologised for his behaviour in the press conference, but still, right after that, he asked: "Why are you talking about me jumping over the cage, when Conor talked about my religion, my country, my father and even threw a trolley at a bus?"

In this occasion, it is pointless to find someone to put in all the blame for what happened. As a matter of fact, both athletes created this outcome. If we had to pick, McGregor had his worst moment when he hit the bus and Khabib stood out negatively when he jumped over the cage after the fight.

As outsiders, we can focus on the controversy and superficial comments, or we can realise that these are just two great fighters who had bad moments. They may be extreme opposites, both in their personas and their fighting styles, but there is one thing in common: they are great inspiration sources for their followers.

While this fuss is all over media and covers front pages, that certainly was not the case when Lebron James inaugurated the "I Promise School". Why is that? Is it because there are so many good things happening around us, that when something bad happens it is news? Perhaps.

At age 33, Lebron James, already one of the greatest basketball players ever, builds a public elementary school specifically aimed at “at-risk children”, which means students who require temporary or ongoing intervention in order to succeed academically.

In an effort to develop the community of his hometown, the NBA star put together an educational organisation which is unique. This school will provide several things:
  • Free tuition, uniforms, bicycles and helmets;
  • Free transportation within two miles;
  • Free breakfast, lunch and snacks;
  • Food pantry for families;
  • General Education Diplomas (GED) and job placement services for parents;
  • Guaranteed tuition to the University of Akron for every student who graduates.

What should be more important: a post-fight brawl, or a great athlete showing his commitment to the development of a world with more opportunities? This is for us to reflect upon. As we know, media go with the flow of what the public wants and what keeps people entertained.

"Choose the world you see, and see the world you choose"

Monday, 1 October 2018

Love conquers all – 1995 Rugby World Cup

“Sports have the power to change the world. They have the power to inspire and unite people who have but a few things… and breaks racial barriers even with more ease than the most powerful governments.” – Nelson Mandela

The political situation and general environment was not very peaceful in South Africa in the early 1990s. Hate, racism, tyranny and violence are just a few words which are associated with this place and time. But there was one man who was more determined than anyone else to turn his whole country around.

Nelson Mandela, the once violent activist, who was portrayed as the devil himself by the South African media, had a tenacious intent to lead the change. Not only did he take advantage of being in prison to grow into a mature leader but he also thought of a plan to become the nation leader.

Mandela began to take his plan to action when he had meetings with prison guards and many important people connected to the Apartheid government. By showing great manners, by showing that he knew the Afrikaner culture and spoke their language, Madiba surprised everyone he met. Thus, it became easier for him to persuade them to be able to reach the president after several other meetings.

All that time in prison making an effort to get to know the culture of the ancient enemy was finally worth it. These meetings started when Mandela was still in prison, and his release didn’t stop them.

After being released from prison, Mandela used his great charisma and his talent for political leadership in order to persuade the South African people. Basically, he was trying to convince coloured people to forgive white people after years of oppression, while also convincing white people that coloured people would not retaliate if they were given more privileges.

This was definitely a tough task for Nelson Mandela. However, this situation didn’t go unnoticed throughout the world because of the global political paradigm change (Berlin wall fell, communism was declining…), and international media were rooting for Mandela.

As he became the President of the Republic of South Africa, he had the Rugby World Cup in mind as a fundamental tool to unite the country. At that time and place, Rugby was loved by the white population and considered as a symbol of their pride and identity. On the other hand, this sport was a symbol of apartheid for the black population.

They had been brought up to detest rugby. It was as repellent as the old anthem and the old flag. Nelson Mandela led his government to make the necessary changes to all this apartheid symbols in order to make the black population feel connected to their nation, while avoiding stripping the white population pride.

He also invited François Pienaar, captain of the Springboks (South African Rugby team), for tea at his office. Pienaar was surprised because the president was very down to earth. In his smooth style, Mandela empowered the captain to make a great World Cup campaign for the better of his country.

This World Cup was going to take place in South Africa, which makes it even more important. The Springboks were motivated by their manager (Morné du Plessis) to learn the new South African anthem which was composed by the old anthem, “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”, and “Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" which was a very important song for the black population. The players knew the old one, but they had to learn the new part in order to prove their commitment to the unity of South Africa.

Mandela was the leader of this movement, but much of the credit is due to the people who surrounded him. For instance, Edward Griffiths, CEO of the South African rugby union, came up with the slogan “One Team, One Country” which had a great impact when it was used in national media to hype and unite the South African people.

They started winning and going through every stage of the tournament while the nation was increasingly supporting them. Through the earlier stages, both players and the white fans were surprised by the growing enthusiasm of the black population regarding the Springboks.

They reached the final and they were considered underdogs, as they were going to play against the almighty All Blacks. Nelson Mandela courageously showed up on the pitch wearing the green Springbok shirt and the respective hat, and went on to shake the hands of every player of both teams. Even though 95 per cent of the fans in the stadium were white, just after a moment of perplex silence, they started to scream “Nel-son! Nel-son!”

Even though the odds were against them, the Springboks won with a drop goal in extra time. As the final whistle blew, Mandela appeared on the pitch again, and the crowd supported him even more, as they got very emotional with the first ever rugby world cup for South Africa. When Mandela was going to hand over the cup to Pienaar, they both thanked each other for what they had done for the country.

These celebrations marked the peak of unity for South Africa in their recent past. However, this feeling was not sustainable, since people were euphoric after such an event. Regardless of that, South Africa became more stable than they were before. Besides, this whole campaign provided a great example of leadership from Nelson Mandela, not only to the South African people but also to the rest of the world.

“It always seem impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela

Monday, 24 September 2018

Cristiano Ronaldo’s red card may bless him

Last Wednesday it was Champions League day. Cristiano Ronaldo was going to debut in this competition as a Juventus player, one day after Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in Barcelona’s first UCL match of the season.

Hence, unsurprisingly, Ronaldo was extremely driven to prove his worth once again. Unfortunately for him, with less than half an hour on the pitch he was sent off in a controversial decision.

The referee’s decision is definitely questionable and most people do not agree with it. Although, beyond that, what do we see? An extremely competitive individual driven to perform at a top level every time, who turns all his passion into tears after realising his first UCL match as a Bianconero ended too soon.

As expected, this moment led to people mocking and criticising Ronaldo for this situation. However, this is the second stage of a well-known vicious circle:

  • 1st stage: Ronaldo has a setback (bad game, scoreless stint, red card…);
  • 2nd stage: Critics mock him (“he is too old”; “he only scores penalty kicks”…);
  • 3rd stage: Ronaldo, fuelled by the critics, works hard and comes back in style.

This happened time and time again throughout his career, which will be demonstrated by recent examples. When Portuguese people criticised Ronaldo for being too old, not running as fast as before and even not playing very well in the National team, right before he helped Portugal conquer the European Championship in 2016.

Moreover, in the beginning of last season Cristiano also had a red card, although this one had him suspended for 4 games – in contrast to his current 1 game suspension –, which made him a different beast when he came back (at least in the Champions League).

All in all, this red card might prove to be good for the Portuguese star. Successful people come back stronger after a setback, and Ronaldo is no exception.

Fans who react too quickly to a bad moment may have short memory, since they don’t seem to be taking into account what this person has done for his country and for football as a whole. Besides he is also a great inspiration for loads of people, regardless of their vocations.

To sum up, Ronaldo’s haters are doing a great job at motivating him. Thus, as serious football fans, instead of asking for good values and open-minded debates, we probably should be thanking the critics for giving that extra boost to Cristiano which helps him showcase his qualities.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

US Open 2018 women’s final: underneath the dust

The US Open 2018 women’s final became popular due to the controversy between the umpire and Serena Williams. Whether this involved sexism or not, it is a whole other discussion which seems should be discussed by everyone, especially those who do not know enough of the sport, if we look at social media.

So, what really happened? Basically, Naomi Osaka was beating Williams fair and square, until the American player was warned and penalised after having done code violations which implied those consequences. In the end, the Japanese player was crowned champion, but what really got media attention was the confrontation between Serena and Carlos Ramos.

Let’s go down to the facts of this situation. Firstly, Carlos Ramos is known for being a stickler to the rules as well as an umpire who is not afraid to impose himself with big tennis personalities (Djokovic, Nadal and Murray).

Secondly, the umpire warned and penalised Serena always according to the rules in this final. Thirdly, Serena made the situation worse by breaking her racket and attacking Ramos verbally, and these actions were entirely her responsibility.

Taking these arguments into account, the conclusion is: Naomi Osaka has beaten Serena Williams fair and square, and she deserves all the credit. Honestly, the rest is just a media circus. Williams made this about sexism, when she started saying “because I am a woman”.

Don’t get me wrong, Serena Williams is nevertheless a great champion and inspiration for women, tennis players and mothers. Still, she is not god-like, she is human. And we humans make mistakes and have bad days.

Regardless of that, we should praise above all Naomi Osaka for her great performance and impeccable attitude. The 20-year-old Japanese player came to her first Grand Slam finals to beat one of the best female tennis players ever.

Naomi kept her cool throughout the whole controversial moment to achieve the trophy which made her the first Japanese tennis player to ever do it. In the ceremony she even said “I’m sorry it had to end like this”, which shows her genuine kindness.

Osaka, who was born to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, became a role model for Asian tennis players. From now on, there are young Japanese girls dreaming of becoming “the next Naomi”. And these situations, usually increase the amount of people who practice tennis, logically.

To conclude, this last perspective is what should stand out from this event: the fact that a record got broken by a young Naomi Osaka and a new role model appears in the sports scheme of Japan. Won’t this have a much more interesting impact in the future rather than the controversy?