Monday, June 21, 2010

This sport is full of Kaka

Okay, I have to take a deep breath before writing this. It is not going to be objective - no pretense of that - but I am going to try to keep it lucid. I am going to try to explain why I don't make a habit of watching football/soccer on a more regular basis.

The sport itself is truly skilled. While most people in the world have trouble running in a straight line, these guys do it (not necessarily in a straight line, which makes it even more impressive) while propelling and controlling a ball - avoiding the overwhelming evolutionary temptation to simply pick the damn thing up. Also footballers are uber-fit, arguably some of the fittest athletes in the world. And yet, most top level footballers take pride in portraying themselves as eleven-year-old nancy-girls, desperate for sympathy from their overbearing mothers.*

I hate the fact that players are molly-coddled with a pet prodigy kind of affection when they make a habit of diving and performing after they've taken a glancing blow. I don't have a problem with actively looking for a penalty. Yes, it's frustrating - for both the fans and the player who has been forced into a wrongful position. But I think that is all part of the mental strategy of sport. Rugby teams do it. And I'll be the first to admit that I've put a few balls on to unsuspecting feet in the hockey-D (and received a fair few too). It happens.

But I hate that football (not soccer - I think that countries who still call it soccer are not [as] guilty of this) has made a culture of theatrical dives. Prima donna rolling and writhing is acceptable behaviour for a professional, grown man. This, in my eyes, puts international footballers on the same level as "professional" wrestling. When they do actually get hurt, I feel something similar to gloating... I feel like they deserve a little pain. Does that make me a bad person?

Don't get me wrong. I don't for one second think that these footballers can't handle pain. There's no doubt in my mind that they can. They are professional athletes, you don't get to that level without a little eina. Drogba is currently playing with a "FIFA-approved cast on his elbow". That's pretty hardcore. But the fact that they put such effort into acting hurt... that's what makes my blood boil. Just play the bloody sport. You've got the skill, we all know that. Now use it.

I've watched most of the World Cup games. I love the vibe. I've even downloaded a Vuvuzela app on my Koekie Kumquat... so that when Cloggies or Poms complain to me about the darn "South African trumpets" I can respond noisily without saying a word. But when I watch a South American team playing, I am reminded of why I cannot watch this sport on a regular basis. Because I cannot handle the theatrics every time someone so much as nudges past their elbow.

This is what I see on the screen:
It starts with a gentle tap from an opposition player in a stationary position... and the Brazilian is off! First, he opens the routine by pirouetting three times on the spot. Then he seamlessly bends his knees, crouches forward, and springs into elegant dive, twisting one-and-a-half times before planting his hands firmly on ground and completing seven elegant head-over-heels tucks... before eventually coming to a rocking stop, writhing back and forth while wailing and clutching at his left knee. No, it's his right knee.... No, it's his ankle - his left ankle must surely be broken! Bring on the stretcher! Oh... wait... it appears that no foul was awarded. He's shaking his head in disorientation and disgust, but after several months of therapy he may just be able to walk. He's up... he's limping... for all of one-and-a-half steps. Oh, he's fine.
(Hey, I warned this wasn't going to be objective. )

Once they've finished flailing on the ground and nobody has sufficiently bought their Raspberry Award winning act to give them a free kick, they decide that this is clearly because the ref simply can't see more than 30cm in front of his face. Which is something that we have all thought at some point in just about every sport. The footballers remedy this situation by aggressively demonstrating their case by shouting and flailing their arms directly in to the face of the ref. Again, this frustration is something that translates to every sport - but the difference is that even if you don't agree with the decision, in other sports (rugby, hockey, tennis) he who holds the whistle (or the mic, in tennis) has the final say. Massive, single-celled tighthead props might offer a monosyllabic objection to a rugby ref, but that's it. It's not a discussion, it's a decision. Footballers don't respect the ref, and I just can't bring myself to accept that.

I hate that Kaka got a red card in the recent Brazil-Ivory Coast game. The Brazilians had been diving as their livelihoods depended on it (as they do), and the Africans were getting visibly more and more agitated by this football style. Eventually one of the Ivory Coast players played them at their own game. He took a (horrible, over-dramatised) dive. Kaka got carded for it. Subsequently the Brazilians were the victims of an unjust decision and the Ivory Coast team were villified for their "cynical" behaviour. Say what now?? When the Brazilians were theatrically tripping over their own toes, the commentators were playfully offering constructive criticism on their diving technique. I wish the Africans hadn't played The Samba Kings at their own game, but they did. And they did it better.

But that match, and the way it made my blood boil, epitomises why I do not watch more football in a football-mad world. I would love to see a siting regulation set up for footballers. Where, upon subsequent TV-footage review, they could be penalised, post-match, for "cynical" and unsportsmanlike behaviour. In my happy (wishful) world - diving / tripping over your own feet / sending a swift elbow to your marking opponent's solar plexus would get you banned for the next three or four games, depending on perceived intention and severity. Then maybe I'd start watching.

But as it currently stands, I have full respect for the sport... I just have no respect for the players.

* Here's a video montage of some great nancy-girl Raspberry winning examples:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monte-Carlo... almost as over-rated as Cape Town

"Koekie, have you met Roger Moore?" I was casually asked. As in, Sir-Roger-Moore? Um... no, I do not get much opportunity in my daily, mundane routine to meet Sir Roger Moore.

"Oh well, let me introduce you now! Kate, this is Sir Moore and his wife, Kiki."

That's how my week ended last week. I met James Bond.

I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty damn cool. But the week wasn't all A-list cavorting and hob-nobbing. In fact, it started out pretty shite.

My plan was as such - I was catching a taxi from my (new) flat in Amsterdam to Schiphol at 8am. I was flying out at 9.25am. I was landing at 11.30ish and would then hop in a pre-booked car from Nice to my hotel in Monte-Carlo, where I would check-in, freshen up and meet our TV stars arriving from the US.

8am came, and went. With no taxi. I phoned the taxi company, had a general argument with the operator who couldn't understand why I was upset that when I phoned to ask where my (pre-booked) taxi was, he replied with, "oh, I'll send him now."

You're only sending him NOW? I'm supposed to be halfway to the airport NOW.

Taxi arrived at 8.30. I arrived at the airport at 8.45. Of course, despite already checking in online, I still had to stand in the same queue as everyone else to get my baggage checked in. And, of course, being a first world country, everything is "Self-service!" (supposed to be read in a tone of mocking merriment - because big corporations would have us believe that doing away with real live people who can actually help is in the best interests of the general population. Which it is, of course, not. It is however in the best interests of their Accounts Payable budget. So who gives a snot about service with a smile, right?)

Anywho, so... of course... I get stuck in the queue behind the purple-rinsed granny flying to Florida - apparently for the first time - who has never seen a keyboard, never mind a touch screen. And as I watched in growing agitation over her shoulder, I was trying not to scream as she typed her destination into the self-check in machine, oh so bone-achingly, slowly... index finger extended... hovering... circling... *F*... pausing... concentrating... selecting... *L*... look down at paper... squint back at screen... extend index finger... hovering... searching... *O*... MY... GOD.

I had to remind myself that society does not take lightly to irrational, verbal attacks on pensioners. It's not her fault. Eventually I lost patience, grabbed the closest unfortunate lady walking past in a blue uniform and hissed, "she needs assistance, for the love of all sanity please get her off that machine!" I followed this successful diversion by shoving my way to the front of the queue next to me. I made my plane on the final boarding call.

Arriving in Nice, I learnt that drivers across the continent had no interest in transporting me. It was not specific to the Netherlands. Because I was there for a work event, I had been informed that a car had been arranged. There was nothing. No signage, no sign, no welcome. I eventually managed to get hold of a representative for the event and was greeted with the assuring tones of someone who knew absolutely nothing about my presence... "Koekie? From where? XYZ Studios International? I don't have that on my list of cars today. Sorry."

Awesomeness. So I forked out 100-euros for a taxi, which WILL be expensed back.
But it wasn't over yet.

Finally at my hotel, I went to the reception desk to check in.
They asked for credit card details as a deposit. Now... I don't own a credit card. I do not need a credit card in my personal life and I do not think that I should have to explain to a snotty Frenchman who is effectively nothing more than a bloody concierge on the doorstep of society, why I do not have my own credit card. But I digress. I know from past experience that hotels will always accept a cash deposit, which I asked to do instead...

Fine. That will be 2000-euros in cash. In case you thought that I had a seizure when hitting the zero digit, I'll put that into words: two thousand euros, in cash.

Right. Now that is a problem. Can I put it through as a bank transfer?
"Nooooh," said the keeper of the key, while sneering down his freakishly elongated nasal passages (perfect design for a Frenchman in customer service), "because zhen we will only get zhee deposit when... eef... zhee bank clears it tomorroh".

Well, fuck you very much. My colleague attending the event was on a plane at that stage. The only other people I could contact were all in the US, where it was the middle of the night.

And so, that is how I came to wander the streets of one of the most expensive, high-brow cities in the world, looking - and feeling - like a worthless bum who'd stolen a laptop.

But it did get better. While being pretentious and snooty, it is a spectacular city. And to be honest, I think the locals that I met were humble and just all about having fun (except for that front desk receptionist at my hotel; he was a big fat meanie). It's actually the tourists and the celebrities, tottering about in their haute couture, who make the city so over-rated.

But then again, I did meet some fantastically professional TV stars. On several occasions the Prince breezed past me (I didn't get to say hi, I was too busy being pressed up against a wall by his body guards. Sounds dodgy, but I promise I was only intimate with their elbows). I met James Bond, as well as some rappers of yester-year.

But the character that topped my list of heroes wasn't an on-camera personality. He's a local in Monaco. He's just your average family guy who makes a habit of escorting and playing tour guide to the stars. And he was the security/personal assitant assigned to Holly, Kendra and Bridget when they came to Monaco a few years ago. He was the person Kendra called when she got arrested outside the Prince's Palace at one o'clock in the morning. Which I found delightful. I met someone who worked with The Girls Next Door... that makes him a rock star, certainly in my books.

The red carpet: with the cool kids from NCIS and Dexter.