What qualifying for a World Cup means to Panama

The incredible story of how Panama’s football team qualified for their first major tournament.

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Jack Douglas

The incredible story of how Panama’s football team qualified for their first major tournament.

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Passion @BelTel_Sport

On December 20th 1989, the US launched a full military invasion of Panama. Estimates believe Operation Just Cause resulted in the loss of up to 7000 Panamanians and ended with the deposing of Military Dictator Manuel Noriega.

Known by many for military coups, narcotics, and a canal; Panama has often made the headlines in quite a derogatory fashion. Noriega’s Dignity Battalions acted like storm-troopers; a combatant militia that stood in the way of any attacks from both domestic and overseas opposition.

Luis Ovalle, Fidel Escobar, Roman Torres, Adolfo Machado and Jaime Penedo now form the Panamanian Football Team’s own Dignity Battalion; the last line of defence from any foreign threats.

With the odds stacked against them, Los Canaleros lined up against Costa Rica in October knowing only a victory and a US slip up in Trinidad would grant them their ticket to Russia. Panama’s dream looked left in tatters as Johan Vanegas put the Costa Ricans one up.

But for a country synonymous with conflict and fight, giving up was never an option. With the US enduring a nightmare in Trinidad, Gabriel Torres drew the hosts level with a goal marred in controversy, before namesake Roman Torres netted an 87th minute winner to send the 4 million population of Panama into dreamland.

Gabriel Torres’ equaliser came after a goal-line scramble, and the ball didn’t appear to cross the line. But with Russia confirmed for the Reds, fans and players alike won’t have lost any sleep over the ghost goal.

President Juan Carlos Varela tweeted: “You deserve it… Viva Panama!” A national holiday was subsequently called, allowing fans of a once war-torn nation to celebrate something miraculous that everyone had worked so hard to achieve.

After America’s invasion of Panama, a sense of irony prevailed when the plucky little nation got their own back against the States, crushing the dreams of wonderkid Christian Pulisic and co.

For a Baseball playing nation, reaching a football world cup was only a dream for many. The Liga Panameña de Fútbol is the top tier of the Panamanian football pyramid. To give some context to the size of the game in the country, current champions and most successful club C.D. Árabe Unido play their home games at Estadio Armando Dely Valdés in front of a capacity of 4,000 people.

Panama line up against England in Group G, alongside Belgium and Tunisia. Whilst Panama’s champions perform for 4,000, our champions, Chelsea, play in front of 41,000 at Stamford Bridge, and are broadcast to millions across the globe.

The man that scored the historic goal for his country Roman Torres summed up what qualification meant to his team and country, saying they are: “Extremely happy, just thankful to god for the things that happened and we are really happy to be going to the world cup.

“Pure happiness, the Panamanians are so blessed with what happened, it’s something we’ve been working to for some time. I can’t say it enough, the stadium was just in pure happiness and euphoria over what happened. It was a historic moment for our country.”

A photo circulated that showed Torres, a pitch-invader and a police officer embracing one another following the full time whistle. The sheer delight inside the stadium was sensational, says Torres:

“When the moment arrived, if the fans are going to come, they are going to come. The Panamanians felt the moment, they are part of the moment. What are you going to do? You can’t stop them entering the field in such a moment, not only for the people of Panama City and Panama, but for the national team also. You can’t stop them coming and celebrating such a historic moment.”

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The crowd erupted ©AP – Mail Online Website

Fifa’s 56th ranked team are managed by Colombian Hernán Darío Gómez. El Bolillo (The Truncheon) managed Ecuador side to their first World Cup in 2002, four years after his Colombian side bowed out of the ’98 finals in the group stages. In an interview with Fox Sports, El Bolillo said that his team are going to face powerhouses like Belgium and England, before adding: “We’re going to face these tough guys, and they’re going to be happy about it.”

In football though, as England fans know all too well, the underdogs often spring up surprises.

The country’s all-time leading scorer Blas Perez has netted 43 goals for Los Canaleros. Perez has enjoyed successful spells in Uruguay, Colombia, America and Mexico, with brief stints in Spain and the UAE. The cult-hero figure celebrated reaching the world cup with a tweet dedicated to his countrymen, which read: “Our greatest satisfaction was to fulfil the dream of a nation. See you in Russia my people!”

The common consensus surrounding Panamanian football and the successes of the national team seem to be one of togetherness and camaraderie, with the people of the nation being just as pivotal and important as the eleven on the field.

Two Panamanian commentators were seen screaming, crying and jumping into each other’s arms as the full time whistle went against Costa Rica. Their neighbours had inflicted Panama’s heaviest ever defeat in 1938, 11-0, so victory for Panama over their rivals made qualification even sweeter.

With an average income of $13,654, Panamanian’s are looking at an estimated cost of €3,228 ($3,969) for the trip to Russia according to The World Game. But for a nation who are finally starting to get behind the beautiful game, thousands of supporters are expected to make the journey.

Panama’s motto of ‘For the Benefit of the World’ seems more apt than ever now as the tiny nation gets to show itself off on the biggest stage of all. Let’s hope that the nation, known by many for US military intervention and a de facto dictator, can change the minds of many and help contribute to what is shaping up to be one of the most interesting tournaments to date.

¡Viva Panamá!

Jack Douglas

 

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Bancroft, Smith and Warner: Cricket criminals

The shocking behaviour of the Australian Cricket Team continues to reverberate around the sporting world.

Harry Everett

The shocking behaviour of the Australian Cricket Team continues to reverberate around the sporting world.

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Cricket Australia has begun an investigation

Ball tampering and match fixing, probably the two offences that contravene the spirit of cricket above all else.

In recent years it seemed cricket was finally coming out of the dark ages, there have seemed to have been far less instances of match fixing and ball tampering of late. The days of Kiwi match fixer Lou Vincent, jelly baby gate and Faf du Plessis’ use of his trouser pocket zip to scratch the ball seemed to be in a recent, but somehow different era. Even the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are being reinstated into this April’s IPL after their own match-fixing scandals.

What thousands upon millions (of not just cricket fans) across the Globe have seen, pictures of Cameron Bancroft ball tampering under instruction from the Australia test team leadership group, somehow seems even worse than all of the above. Arguably the biggest test nation, the Ashes holders, led by a man dubbed second only to Don Bradman by many have gone and ball-tampered. And this was not one slight scratch, this was thoroughly thought out, planned cheating, out-and-out cheating.

The fact that Steven Smith readily admitted to the press how the leadership group encouraged rookie opener Cameron Bancroft to use a small piece of sandpaper to rough up one side of the ball makes this scenario even more galling. It was as if the world’s best batsman did not see this as a problem at the time. Having won the Ashes just two months ago, are they really that desperate to win the deciding test in South Africa to see cheating as the only way of making this possible? They have generally been outplayed by South Africa so far, and to be honest it never seemed that a particularly roughed up ball helped their cause anyway. This test has seen multiple ball changes, whether this is down to Bancroft’s scraping or simply natural, fair deterioration is not particularly important, but what is, is how on earth Smith, Warner, Bancroft or anyone else in this so-called `leadership group’ thought it a good idea to bring the game into disrepute for what would probably only be marginal gains.

To make this whole affair even more stupid and daft from an Australian perspective, they chose to use yellow sandpaper. Yes, that’s the same yellow, that is used by cyclists to make them more visible in the dark, one of the brightest colours available that is used to enhance visibility. For years we may have thought Warner stupid or thick, since punching Joe Root in Birmingham’s Walkabout bar back in 2013, but most of us believed Smith to be more intelligent than all of this.

It is also slightly ironic that just a few months ago Smith and Bancroft were in a press conference before the Ashes series commenced to act as grassers telling the press all about Jonny Bairstow’s `welcoming, friendly head-butt’ on the very same man at the centre of this controversy, Cam Bancroft. Now this is clearly a different story, but it is worth mentioning the comic irony of the same two Aussies speaking in a much-publicised press conference so soon after. Yet the first occasion saw them beaming at the trouble their arch-enemies England were getting themselves in, whilst the second saw them sheepishly trying to explain any reasoning for the trouble they had inflicted upon themselves.

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The players in question were critical of the Jonny Bairstow incident ©By Mcadge

The ICC have rightly fined Smith and Bancroft the majority of their match fees (Smith 100%, Bancroft 75%), given Bancroft three demerit points and suspended Smith for the next and final test match, but it does seem slightly odd that the perpetrator gets a smaller fine than the person who supposedly was in charge of telling him what to do. We are not talking about a 14-year-old Bancroft being told this is a good idea by an all-dictating under-15s coach. This is a 25-year-old man who has played seven test matches, surely he can make a decision for himself and see right from wrong by his own accord? Or was he simply too scared of going against his skipper’s wishes, desperate to impress, whilst his place in the side is so vulnerable? Maybe this shows he’ll do anything he can to give him one more chance of opening the batting for Australia in test cricket.

From an English County Cricket perspective, the main worry now is that Cam Bancroft has already signed as Somerset’s overseas for the coming season. Now where does this leave Somerset’s leadership group? One would guess they will have to sit down and Mr Hurry, Abell, Kerr, maybe even experienced heads such as Trescothick and co will have to decide if they still want to play and work alongside a proven cheater. Bancroft is hardly a world beater; thus they will have to work out if it’s worth risking tarnishing Somerset’s proud reputation to employ a man with this now permanent cricket-criminal record?

For Steve Smith there are already rumours that he will be sacked as Rajasthan Royals captain before the 2018 IPL that starts in less than two weeks’ time. Even vice-captain Davey Warner may get the chop as Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper such is the honest culture and expectations to follow the unwritten rules of cricket in India more so than other countries perhaps. Developments are ongoing as this is written and as you read, but whatever the Aussie’s excuses, whatever the outcomes or their given punishments, it is clear from the initial reaction that there is no excuse for ball tampering in cricket, and it has no place in the game.

Harry Everett

English football, scandals and our young players

For the modern footballer, more needs to be done to guide and support our players through the pitfalls of 21st century life.

Beth Fenner

For the modern footballer, more needs to be done to guide and support our players through the pitfalls of 21st century life.

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Thousands of youngsters dream of becoming a footballer ©Jorge Royan

If you had asked a kid 25 years ago what they wanted to be when they were older they might have said police officer, doctor, vet, teacher or, for the more optimistic, pop star. Nowadays, the dream for many of our young generation is to become a professional footballer, and it’s easy to understand why. Footballers dominate our headlines, are some of the richest people in the world and are heralded as heroes among a large proportion of the British public. But, despite their god-like status, many of these stars seem to attract attention for the wrong reasons all too often. The question is, are the scandals a result of the lack of education, guidance and support our young players receive? Or is it simply the fact that our footballers accept this behaviour as ‘ordinary’ within their extraordinary lives?

Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole, Ryan Giggs. These are names synonymous with footballing glory and success during the noughties. But they’re also names you associate with actually being naughty – they’ve appeared on the front pages for their extra-marital scandals as well as the back pages for their sporting exploits. The fact that these so-called heroes, who our kids look up to, are reported to have engaged in sexual impropriety means that this culture is normalised in our society. In the 21st century, with fame comes major responsibility, and by entering the professional realm of football you must accept that you are a role model for young children and will be scrutinised for the mistakes you make both on and off the pitch. It’s just part and parcel of the lifestyle and the multi-million pound contracts and endorsements. Big multi-national companies won’t touch you with a ten foot barge pole if you’re making the red-tops rub their hands together every Sunday morning. Yet this doesn’t seem to deter some footballers from repeatedly making these mistakes. They’ll still get paid their millions and we as a public will still put them on their pedestals, despite our sub conscious telling us it’s wrong. And that’s where we make great failings for our young generation of footballers.

Scandals may tarnish player’s’ reputations for a number of months, but good performances drive these stories out of our mind. By failing to challenge these behaviours off the pitch, we are instilling in our rising stars that this is acceptable and what should be expected within a professional context. With prolific cases of sexual abuse hitting the headlines over the past months from Hollywood to Parliament, the need for education regarding sex and consent is crucial and this must filter into the football sphere. Yes high profile cases involving Ched Evans and Adam Johnson kick started the introduction of more consent workshops within youth football settings, but the subject has since seemed to fade into the background. Brighton and Hove Albion paved the way for these workshops back in 2015, implementing guidance on the laws around consent as part of a programme called Protect, Inform and Prevent, but not much has been heard about it since. The PFA has also introduced short consent sessions for all players as a result of these high profile cases. However is a short, one-off session really enough to ensure the message sinks in? Without this fundamental education from a young age, those thrown into the spotlight will have no guidance in understanding what is right and what is wrong, not to mention what is legal. With sexual consent cases flooding the headlines from Hollywood to Parliament, it is imperative our young players are making informed choices and the institutions supporting them should be the ones providing this education.

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Brighton and Hove Albion paved the way in 2015. ©James Boyle

One of the issues that contributes to sexual misadventure could be the amount of free time players have. Training takes up only a small portion of the day, and although some players participate in coaching opportunities or charity events, a lot of players are left with nothing to fill their time. Imagine what they could be doing: learning a language, studying for a degree or even giving back to the community. Although many players at all levels of the game do give back to society, there are also a few who don’t. With time on their hands and money to burn, the allure of tattoo parlours, designer clothing shops, fast cars, and the safe posse of hangers-on and Instagram models can sometimes prove too strong. This can look very appealing to those wishing to pave a way in the game.

Are we expecting too much from players in this position? It’s hard for most of us to imagine ourselves in this position. It’s easy to say what we would or wouldn’t do in a hypothetical situation – but we don’t understand the pressures and dog-eat-dog nature of a testosterone-filled dressing room.

And perhaps in due course, when times get tough and injury strikes, form dips, or personal difficulties rear their ugly heads, the youngster will realise that no sleeve tattoo or private number plate will be able to comfort them. A solid family life or a supportive partner can be priceless in these situations.

The educational opportunities for young players have come on leaps and bounds with the EFL ensuring all academy players attend school as part of their programme which they must complete, even if they sign a professional contract. However, after 18 education is no longer compulsory, and despite the PFA offering opportunities beyond school qualifications, there is little incentive for players to do when they can rely on their extortionate wages. High profile players are also often fast-tracked through their coaching qualifications, which instils a sense of entitlement that encourages the view that footballers can get what they want without the same work ethic as regular members of society, something that can then translate into their personal and sexual life. With players sitting on a weekly wage most of us would be lucky to earn in our life, everything seems to come easy, even the women and this can then blur the lines of consent. Sadly, this isn’t just happening among our footballers but can be seen in an almost parallel universe of fame and fortune in Hollywood. With money and celebrity-status comes power which has evidently been abused and responsibilities as role models have been neglected .Clearly we aren’t doing enough to give our players the opportunities to go beyond being just a footballer; we need to start fostering intelligent and compassionate players both on the field and off.

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The English Football League provide educational programmes for young player at every club under its banner. ©EFL

It is obvious that the institutions supporting players need to do a lot more to educate young players about real-life relationships and sexual consent, but clubs and players also need to start changing their attitude and challenge the stereotypes that have surrounded footballers and sex for the past couple of decades. We as a nation have put our players on pedestals and it’s time we demand a change before future generations fall into the same trap that football, fame and money can sometimes bring.

Beth Fenner

Sources

https://www.thepfa.com/equalities/personal-integrity/personal-integrity

https://www.thepfa.com/education

https://www.efl.com/siteassets/efl-documents/charter-for-academy-players-and-parents-2017-18-e-book-1.pdf

The safety and effectiveness of sports supplements – Part 1

More and more people are now turning to supplements to support their training regime. But how useful are they?

Josh Williamson

More and more people are now turning to supplements to support their training regime. But how useful are they?

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©Sportexamined

According to the Nutritional Business Journal1, it is estimated that by 2022, the global sports nutrition market will be worth over 32 billion pounds. Protein powders, amino acids, creatine, essential fatty acids, probiotics, caffeine, multivitamins, fat loss and weight loss pills; just a small list of common dietary supplements bought on a daily basis. Recent estimations suggest approximately one in four Brits consume a sports supplement as part of their daily diet2; however, many experts believe this to be underestimated. Furthermore, 12% of university students have reported to consuming more than 4 dietary supplements per week. With claims such as ‘mind-blowing muscle growth’, ‘superhuman strength’, and ‘hardcore fat loss’, it’s easy to see why so many people invest in these products. Previous statistics show that 80% of ten years olds are afraid of being fat with the leading causes being social media, ‘weight-teasing’, and peer pressure3; however, with the explosion of social media fitness bloggers, it is likely that this figure is much worse than we first thought. The growing epidemic of negative self-image and constant endeavour to achieve the ‘perfect’ body is clearly reflected in the exponential growth of the supplement industry.From the Olympic athlete, right through to the recreational gym goer just wanting to look better naked, supplement use has increased aggressively over the past decade. This raises major ethical concerns over safety, not to mention if these products are even effective. For part one in this series,  the focus will be on the safety of these products.

Safety

According to the UK Anti-Doping Agency, as much as 25% of sports supplements have been contaminated with illegal substances4. In practical terms, almost half of all positive drug tests are due to sports products being contaminated with banned substances4. In 2015, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a robust research study, concluding in the United Sates of America, 23,000 people ended up in the emergency room as a result of taking dietary supplements5. Additionally, the now illegal fat loss drug known as DNP has caused 15 deaths in England and Wales alone6, with medical experts reporting, “individuals are cooking themselves from the inside out”. As weight loss is the number one reason why most people go to the gym, its not surprising that of those 23,000 ER visits, 35% were due to fat loss and energy-boosting supplements. It could be concluded that the majority of these ER visits were due to individuals overdosing specific products. To elaborate, many popular pre-workout and diet supplements are heavily dosed with stimulants; specifically, caffeine. Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed drugs and may boost mental and physical performance when used in the correct dosage. However, high doses of caffeine can lead to anxiety, digestive issues, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, palpitations and headaches. From the presented statistics it is clear to see as a society we have a lack of education surrounding supplement use.

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Weight loss supplements are popular among gym goers

Do Your Research!

Before taking a new product, it is important that you are aware of the potential side effects associated with that product. A supplement is most likely to cause side effects when they are taken instead of prescribed medicines, when they are taken in quantities greater than the recommended dose, or when supplements are used in combination. For example, consuming too much vitamin A can cause headaches, whereas too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting. These are some of the ‘milder’ side effects when compared to the aforementioned, DNP, or other illegal supplements such as DMAA. When taking any new dietary supplement, it is recommended you consult a registered professional or your General Practitioner/Physician beforehand. This will provide a better understanding of whether a specific supplement is necessary and if it will interact with any medication.

How Can I Keep Safe?

Fortunately for consumers of sports supplements, there are many third-party laboratories which verify individual products. These companies test what is stated on the ingredient list with what is in the actual product. This initial batch-testing is usually followed up by continual randomised testing to ensure good manufacturing practices. The three largest companies which provide this testing are NSF International, Informed Choice and Consumer Lab. It is important to note; the onus is on the individual consumer and they should form their own educated decision on specific product. From a professional prospective, consumers should be able to research the traceability of individual products as this will allow dissemination of the source and ensure the product has been manufactured to the highest standard.

Practical Considerations

Before considering any dietary supplement, individuals need to consider 3 criteria as outlined by the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register7;

  • Is there a need for supplementation? A performance need or a general health need?
  • What are the risks and side effects associated with the supplement? Can it be accessed on Informed-Sport or other third party independent testing? Has it been batch tested? Store the batch tested certificate for a minimum of 10 years to keep in line with retrospective anti-doping testing protocols.
  • Is there consequences from consuming the supplement? For an athlete this could be a 2-4 year ban from their sport or loss of sponsors. For recreational individuals this could serious health complications and subsequent impact on family and friends.

Josh Williamson

 

  1. Supplement Business Report. New Hope Network; 2016. Available at: https://www.newhope.com/product-types/nbj-reports Accessed March 13, 2018.
  2. Consumer consumption of vitamin and mineral food supplements. Food Standards Agency, 2008; Available at: http://www. foodbase.org.uk//admintools/reportdocuments/472-1-841_viminsupconsumer.pdf
  3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G. B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1997). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 20(1), 27-37.
  4. United Kingdom Anti-Doping. Supplement Risk for Performance Athletes. 2018. Available at: https://www.ukad.org.uk/resources/document-download/supplements-advice
  5. Geller AI, Shehab N, Nina J, et al. Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements. New England Journal of Medicine. 2015; 373:1531-1540.
  6. Office for National Statistics. Number of deaths where dinitrophenol (DNP) was mentioned on the death certificate, England and Wales, 2007 to 2016. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/adhocs/007648numberofdeathswheredinitrophenoldnpwasmentionedonthedeathcertificateenglandandwales2007to2016
  7. Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register. Supplement Use in Sport Position Statement. 2016; Available at: senr.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/160803SupplementStatement.pdf

Olympic criminals: What direction is doping taking?

As doping continues to be exposed all around the world, it is showing no signs of slowing up.

Rosie Tudball

As doping continues to be exposed all around the world, it is showing no signs of slowing up.

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Justin Gatlin ©Erik van Leeuwen

“As for the errors I make, the only punishment I acknowledge for having made them is my awareness of those errors, and having to live with it: there is, there should be, no heavier penalty on a person’s soul, mind and heart.”

The words of Lebanese poet Jouma Haddad, are words that can be applied to everyday life and mistakes that we all make. The quote refers deeply to the punishment of guilt, and how a mistake is self-punished through emotion, and alternatively how it can act as a mental deterrent.

Sometimes however, the feeling of guilt is not explicitly evident, as described by psychologist Sigmund Freud. “Unconscious sense of guilt can turn people into criminals.”

When psychology is fused with crime, the level of crime can be assumed as physical, however, on the subject of recurring crimes in sport, the severity can differ. The crime of doping in sport is somewhat overlooked, overlooked in the way that the perpetrator has the capacity to dope multiple times. The common punishment for doping is a suspension, resulting in the athlete returning to the track later in life. The aim of a punishment is to reform with the expectation that a crime won’t be committed again, we know in sport, particularly athletics, this isn’t the case.

Russia as a collective nation has been shunned upon due to the unforgivable actions of a vast number of athletes’ participation in taking performance enhancing drugs. 111 Russian athletes were dismissed from participating in Rio at the 2016 Olympics, and Russia was banned entirely from competing in the Athletics disciplines. It was a huge wake up call for those within the sport at all levels to fully understand the damage and potential circumstances of cheating with drugs. Russia were recently reinstated of their Olympic ban.

The decision fuelled conflict however, as 2 Russian participators at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics were called out for doping – a lesson not wholeheartedly learnt.

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Figure 1: Map showing frequent doping nations ©Esri UK

Despite Russia’s lack of cohesion in competing clean, they aren’t the only nation to have been in the spotlight for doping. In 2013, Esri UK released an image showing the world’s biggest culprits of doping (image presented above). The results were shocking, and highlighted the realisation that doping is a widespread, serious issue for amateur and professional sport. Evidence collected by a BBC State of Sport investigation found that 49% of amateur sports people revealed their thoughts that performance enhancing drugs were easily available. A shocking and slightly terrifying statistic. The issue is everywhere, however in track and field, far west from Russia, the United States are not out of the limelight when it comes to doping. American athlete Justin Gatlin riled up spectators and competitors when he won the World Championships 100m last year. Gatlin has served two suspensions away from competing on track for two separate occasions of doping. The American has been side-lined for a total of 8 years of his career due to doping, hence the uproar following his win last year on the world stage.

Many questions have been raised surrounding Gatlin, and many others, the majority being why he is allowed to compete. The answer to these questions is of course that he has served his time and has had to face the repercussions of being caught doping with the judgement of the public eye. The questions should really focus upon how the issue of doping is tackled, as evident, the issue has adopted a recurring nature, which only sparks fear in the sport as suspicion is at its highest.

The future looks worrying for athletes, primarily for clean athletes who now not only face the physical and emotional strain of competing at a high level, but also competing against a colony of ‘super-human’ substance fuelled athletes. There have been numerous reports stating that athletes that choose to dope can provide a clear doping test – a disturbing prospect. Sport is a celebration of talent and teamwork, and at high level, an opportunity to put the world’s most elite on a pedestal to commend their hard work and innate ability, morals and practices that could be jeopardised should the issue of doping escalate.

The prospect of doping in sport has been evident for thousands of years, dating back to the earliest Olympic Games – estimated to have taken place at 776BC. It was speculated through study that Greeks would drink potions, take opium, hallucinogens and engage in practices such as game-fixing to their advantage. When considering the roots of sport, the ancient Greek Olympics set the bar for mega sporting events, birthing the Games as the spectacle it is today.

It’s in the history and roots of the Olympics to partake in doping, and despite efforts to keep sports clean, it’s proving to be a never-ending uphill battle to combat. There is suspicion surrounding the games, especially when revising the bans given to respective athletes.

 

Despite doping numerous times, Justin Gatlin has been cleared to compete, however British athlete Dwain Chambers was caught doping in 2003 and handed an immediate lifetime Olympic ban. Questions surround how some doping crime associated with certain athletes is swept under the rug, perhaps to stimulate competition and retain the drama, especially on the track.

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Dwain Chambers after his comeback ©Erik van Leeuwen

Jamaican favourite Yohan Blake was banned for 3 months for testing positive for stimulants, a story that gained little media attention in comparison to his stature in the sport. Blake is an essential member of the world record holding Jamaican 4x100m relay team and the training partner of Usain Bolt, there’s little surprise that his ban was kept relatively behind closed doors. Bolt, and the Jamaican relay team were widely celebrated and loved all over the globe, mainly for their clean track record and of course their mesmerising talent. It would be a huge upset to athletics in general should any of the team get caught doping, a suspected reason as to why spirit dampening bans such as Blake’s are quietened.

Russia are taking the brunt for their doping activities, which is fair due to the magnitude to the doping. It is however, becoming a slight epidemic that nations turn a blind eye to their own issues in cheating, especially as Russia are currently taking up the entire lens of the doping microscope.

The future of sport is forecast a doping crisis, as technology improves, and camps are finding ways to dope without evidence. The presence of spontaneous drug tests was thought to have added some intimidation to athletes and their teams, but such methods cannot work forever. The future of fair games is up in the air, only time will tell if improvements can be made to reduce and abolish cheating behaviours in sport.

Rosie Tudball

Why are there no athletes with intellectual disabilities in Pyeongchang?

The winter Paralympics continues to amaze with extraordinary feats. It is now time for people with Intellectual disabilities to take part.

Tom Weir

The winter Paralympics continues to amaze with extraordinary feats. It is now time for people with Intellectual disabilities to take part.

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The Winter Paralympics will, for all those watching around the world, continue to push the expectations of what we deem humanly possible. Such is the level of performance on show, the caveat of “for the disabled” or “for people with impairments” isn’t required in the previous sentence. We are fortunately past the time when the simple act of people with varying impairments playing sport was sufficient to garner praise, or even worse, have platitudes thrown around such as “how fantastically brave.” Elite disability sport is now admired against a generalised yardstick of excellence, and is not found wanting. Attitudes and rights for people with disabilities have changed hugely over the last 30 years; feats of athleticism, I would argue, have been a vital part of the reason why.

That sport has the power to change minds and perception of impairment is now openly acknowledged by disability sport organisations. The British Paralympic Association today use the nomenclature of being “a movement,” and openly discuss their intention to use large scale events as a battering ram to advance public perception of people with impairment, through the increasing visibility and excellence of world class sport. This drive for increasingly higher levels has been criticised in some quarters for excluding many of the more severely impaired athletes, alienating the wider disability community, and not providing enough grassroots opportunities. (These problems are often bundled together in the idea of the ‘Paralympic Paradox.’) These not inconsiderable criticisms aside, the fact remains that the Paralympic Games now are a highly visible force changing perceptions of disability. This has occurred however only for those allowed within the tent; namely those with a definable and classifiable physical impairment. Amongst the athletes competing at Pyeongchang there is still no place for those with an Intellectual Disability (ID). It requires a quick delve into history to explain why.

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London 2012 Paralympic Games ©Thomas Davies

From 1948-1976 the Paralympic Games (the the ‘Stoke Mandeville Games’) were purely for people with spinal cord injury; owing largely to the domineering figure of their founder Sir Ludwig Guttmann. ID was first part of the Winter Paralympics in 1992; with demonstration events in cross country and alpine skiing. The Barcelona summer games did not include ID athletes, instead a special event for ID athletes was held in Madrid, and at a price, also afforded the Paralympic name tag. Biathlon was added as a further demonstration event in 1994; before Atlanta 1996 and Nagano 1998 saw full medal involvement in a limited number of events. However in 2000, following a cheating scandal where it was revealed the Spanish basketball team had knowingly cheated the classification system in order to win gold, ID athletes were expelled wholesale as an impairment category. Dr Bob Price, head of the British Paralympic Association at the time, described it as an incredibly reluctant move, but unavoidable as the classification system was simply not robust enough. Re-admission was not to come until London 2012, following extensive work to improve the classification system, a crucial part of which is the requirement to quantify that there is a sport specific impact of the impairment, not just the presence of an impairment generally. Athletes with ID have then returned to the Summer Games; but in only 3 of the 21 sports (athletics, swimming and table tennis) in small numbers, and have yet to re-feature in the Winter Games, although it is hoped Cross Country Skiing may be included in 2022.

This exclusion means that ID athletes are missing out on the benefits of the Paralympic Games; for themselves as athletes by not having the highest level to compete at; and for the public perception of Intellectual Disability more generally. That it would be dangerous for ID athletes to compete, or that they would not be capable of the levels of excellence required, can be debunked by the Special Olympics Winter Games which shows that athletes were capable of competing safely, successfully and sufficiently swiftly. (The 2013 Special Olympic World Games incidentally was held in Pyeongchang.) Whilst the Special Olympics have a high profile, especially in America, they are fundamental different in ethos. Their focus on wider inclusion, to some observers, comes at the expense of the ability to significantly change perceptions on disability. And despite both being part of the ‘Olympic Family,’ Special Olympics and Paralympics have shown a reluctance to work together, understandable particularly on the part of Special Olympics, who would not wish to potentially lose their top athletes to other competition. So will ID athletes ever be a full part of the Paralympic games?

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2015 Special Olympics Opening Ceremony ©Eric Garcetti

Enter INAS-FID (The International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability) the most important sport organisation most people have never heard of, who since 1986 have been organising elite competition for athletes with Intellectual Disability. INAS has been integral at developing the eligibility and classification system for ID athletes, and pushed for inclusion in the Paralympics. It was INAS that organised the Madrid 1992 games that were to be so important for the initial inclusion of ID athletes. Following the exclusion of 2000 it was the work of INAS (with considerable support from the IPC) that established sufficiently robust classification systems to allow re-inclusion in 2012. Whilst only athletics, swimming and table tennis are currently in the summer Paralympic Games, the 2019 INAS World Games in Brisbane will showcase a greater number of sports, some of which are prime candidates for inclusion in Tokyo 2020, Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. As for the winter sports, that the 11th INAS World Alpine and Nordic Skiing Championship have been held in February 2018 in Zakopane, Poland strongly indicates cross country skiing is ready for inclusion.

An invitation to the top table of disability sport really matters; for every athlete with a medal round their neck it is another blow to negative perceptions of people with Intellectual Disabilities. Come the Games of Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 it can be expected that more athletes with ID will be on the Paralympic podium; and the eyes of the world will fall, however briefly, on just how physically able athletes with Intellectual Disability can be.

Further reading:

For more on the issues around classification of ID athletes: Burns, Jan. “The Impact of Intellectual Disabilities on Elite Sports Performance.” International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology 8, no. 1 (2015).
Brittain, Ian. The Paralympic Games Explained: Second Edition. Oxon: Routledge, 2016.

Tom Weir

Rashid and Hales right to choose white ball cricket

With the amount of money now available white-ball cricket, players are turning their back on the longer format of the game.

Jack Witham

With the amount of money now available white-ball cricket, players are turning their back on the longer format of the game.

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Alex Hales playing for England ©Ben Sutherland

As many of you will already know, both Adil Rashid and Alex Hales have both agreed to only play white ball cricket for their counties. For fans of Nottinghamshire, or fans of Yorkshire, this decision might seem like the wrong move. For England fans though, they will see this as a step in the right direction, and hope that many other English players follow suit. It’s about time the International team took first priority.

For many county cricket fans the red ball game should come first, but the bigger picture has to be looked at. Adil and Alex will both want to be as white ball prepared as they possibly can be, and with the tournament being played in England and Wales, the nation must fancy their chances of winning a first ever World Cup, adding to the three runners up medals. Hales was overlooked in the 2015 World Cup, only playing twice, making scores of 27 and 37 as England yet again suffered a miserable time at a major tournament. Adil did not make the squad for the 2015 World Cup. He was left at home, whilst ‘Tricky’ James Tredwell got the nod. A slightly odd decision to pick a spinner who doesn’t spin a ball.

Since this tournament, England have changed their playing style, very much suiting Hales and Rashid. Captain Eoin Morgan installed a brand of cricket allowing players to play with freedom. Rashid has been a huge factor in England’s recent upturn in form. A spinner who can spin the ball both ways, creating confusion for the batsmen, finally England have got one.

It certainly will be nice for England fans to have one of these bowlers in their team, rather than watching the batsmen get traumatised by mystery spinners. In fact, since the end of the 2015 World Cup, Rashid has picked up the most wickets out of anybody in ODI cricket (Dec 2017). Wonder now why he wants to just focus on his white ball skills? He really is an unsung hero in the England side.

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Adil Rashid playing for England ©Ben Sutherland

Okay, he picks up wickets in the longer format, but he has to completely adapt his game. He has a field designed for him in ODIs. He will bowl the odd bad ball; he’s a wrist spinner, only Shane Warne doesn’t bowl bad balls. With his field, he can often get away with this. Not in the 4 day stuff. He can go through his variations in ODIs, when he knows the batsmen will be coming after him. Not in the 4 Day stuff when they know a bad ball is just around the corner. He didn’t have a very successful test career, despite taking a five wicket hall on debut. A strike rate of 66 in tests is compared to a strike rate of 35 in ODIs, showing which format he thrives in more. Surely this shows his decision is a good choice, why would we want him to change his skills again?

The chance for the English International players to go and play overseas is surely an appeal to all. There is no hiding that in the Sub Continent, England have really struggled. Fair enough only a certain few have been selected to play in the IPL, but that’s an improvement on previous years. With Ben Stokes in the team, the country can easily argue that they have the most valuable player in International cricket playing for our country. For England, that doesn’t happen often.

Both Hales and Rashid have secured CPL deals. England should be encouraging the rest of their international stars to do the same, rather than seeing them play in April, playing a dull brand of cricket. Rashid is not likely to get much of a bowl early on in the season, when the wickets are green and slightly damp, favouring faster bowlers.

Simon Hughes researched that if Adil Rashid played every white ball game for Yorkshire this upcoming season, regarding he bowled his maximum amount every game, he would bowl 136 overs. He bowled 290 in the 2015 season. This would amass to over 400 overs without including is England duties. Even for a leg spinner, that’s a lot of overs.

He recently admitted that his head wasn’t fully there when playing red ball cricket, so surely he’s doing Yorkshire a favour by not playing.

Fans of the current England One Day International team may be happy to see players signing white ball deals, but for some fans of the county game and lovers of the longer format, it is evident why this might start to worry people. If people are starting to do it now, big names as well, then surely this might be the catalyst for more people to do so.

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Is there a lack of interest in longer forms of cricket? ©JMSPORTPIX

For the traditional fan, this could be damaging, as the county game could start to deteriorate even more than it is now. Already low crowds could become even worse if popular names are not participating. There has to be worries about certain players. Players such as Chris Jordan, Sam Billings, Jason Roy and Jos Buttler are very much classed as One Day specialists. Could this mean they may also be about to sign the dotted line on a white ball deal with their respective counties?

For some counties, this concern won’t be as big as it is for others. Look Yorkshire for one. With Adil Rashid already focusing just on the white ball, there is concern others may follow suit. David Willey and Liam Plunkett are two huge players for Yorkshire, probably players Yorkshire can’t afford to lose, but maybe they want to keep their skills for the white ball game as well.

It also brings the question “Is Test Cricket Dying”. Players now aren’t even considering playing test cricket, and younger players seem to have all the shots in the book, but can’t see out a day’s play. Not like Boycott who really would drop an anchor at one end. That’s classed as the good old days, not the modern era.

So white ball contracts seem to be the most talked about thing in English cricket at the moment. The question is how many rather than if it will continue, because there is no doubt that many players will follow suit. It won’t just be in this country, but many others will also have just white ball contracts.

Jack Witham

 

 

Nature and nurture: Is English football losing touch with the national team?

After a series of scandals and poor performances, the English Football team are facing a crisis of faith from their supporters.

Rosie Tudball

After a series of scandals and poor performances, the English Football team are facing a crisis of faith from their supporters.

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Russia will host the 2018 World Cup ©Kremlin.ru

The 2018 World Cup is nearly upon us, and after multiple disappointments at major international competitions, the question must be pondered, when will the English national team be successful again?

The past heroes of English football have hung up their boots on the international stage, which leaves heavy legacies to carry for the current England internationals. It’s one of the highest honours in football, and sport in general to represent your country, however, this feeling of national pride in English football has perhaps vanished over the years.

What is to blame?

There are many points of question with regard to the national team, a lack of consistent management being one of a number of issues, another being a severe lack of professional cohesion in the public eye outside of the comforts of the pitch.

With English football comes English football culture. Football in England was regarded as a sport for the working class, at times when hooliganism was rife and alerting, the modern game was still in development. With deep sociological roots to the game, comes a sense of national tradition, a behaviour associated with the sport specifically in England. The country has possessed a huge array of footballing talent over the years; it has also carried countless numbers of unprofessional scandals at the hands of its national representatives.

While revising past success comes revising past mistakes, some mistakes occurring off the pitch where the actions of prolific English players have faced repercussions in the public eye. Such actions aren’t just damaging their legacy but their ability to conform to the title of a role model on the international stage. It could be thought that when such behaviours are portrayed, are national players taking their positions in the national team for granted?  Such questions are elements of the decline of national football – reflecting poorly on results and national support and expectation at major competition.

The story of the lack of professionalism around the English national team camp is best signified when comparing the structure to that of other national teams. The German national team is rigid from the get-go, when a young player is acknowledged by his national team at youth level, he is taught to play the German national team way, with the expectation that he will one day be a senior international. The youth players aren’t regarded as wholly successful until they have reached the peak and played a part in the senior team, however in England, young players are seemingly given far more freedom. Whether this be positive or negative is unknown, however when revising the numbers and quality of young English talent budding through the international ranks in comparison to Germany for example, it’s questionable.

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England u21s vs Germany u21s ©Sven Mandel

The nature of the Premier League is also something to raise, considering its conflicting attitude towards English players and their relationship with the press. Players are either adored to the point of overhype or scrutinised to the point that they become a villain to all but their club’s fans. English football is very club over country orientated, and so, the sense of togetherness between fans when it comes to backing the team is less of a unity, and one player of a club is always to blame – there’s always opposition within the fan base.

It links back in the modern game to importance and ego, when young players break-through in England, it can be a disaster. Clubs and the media seem to react in an animalistic way, as if they’ve never seen young talent of a certain magnitude. It becomes a toxic cycle of the media hijacking the success, welded with clubs offering ludicrous amounts of money to young players, giving them a feel of high worth – as they should – and sometimes a polished ego. Giving young talent so much financial power so young can be damaging, and in the viewpoint of young English nationals, the pressure can be too much.

Professionals in the public eye

As stated, young English players often face an uphill battle with the media, especially at the point where their careers begin to flourish. Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish is an example of how the media’s manipulation can make or break a career. Grealish, born and raised in England, decided to invest his national loyalty with Ireland, as he chose to represent the Republic of Ireland at international level over England.

There could be a number of reasons as to why the-then 19-year-old decided to represent the country of his Grandparents; however, one glaring reason is the role of English press in breaking down his development. Take it back to the summer of 2015, Grealish was emerging as an exciting talent in English football, his contributions to his boyhood club, Villa, had earned them a place in the upcoming FA Cup final against Arsenal after showcasing a man of the match performance in the semi-final against Liverpool.

 

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©Ben Sutherland

As Grealish’s career began to hit the headlines, it all came crashing down as The Sun released images of the young star in a drunken state lying on the street, along with information of him inhaling Nitrous Oxide at a party. The images, despite being unprofessional and controversial, were taken 6 months before the date they were published, in what was portrayed as The Sun’s attempt to trip Grealish up on his road to stardom on the English football scene.

Grealish was suspended and was discredited greatly for a period of time by the press, stripping his confidence bare and causing a rebuild of his career. Grealish is finally on the path to restoring his form of 2015, playing in the Championship with Villa.

The theme, and issue, of the press having an invasive relationship with English players is that it has become a regular occurrence that an international finds himself on the wrong side of the road with the media, giving English players and of course the national team, a negative name.

From Jack Wilshere, to Dele Alli, to Raheem Sterling, young English stars have faced the bright spotlights of the media in a way less desired than how they had hoped. The three have things in common, they’re all playing in the country’s top division, they’re all playing for top clubs, they all represent the national team, and they’ve all been caught doing things they shouldn’t be.

Former England captain John Terry has been at the centre of media attention multiple times in his career, as has fellow former captain Wayne Rooney. While the two have had formidable careers on the field, their actions away from the game have arguably smudged their golden legacies as English internationals and Premier League legends.

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John Terry has previously been scrutinised in the media ©Paulblank

Two weeks ago, it came to the attention of the press that West Bromwich Albion players had been causing trouble whilst on a training trip to Barcelona. Four players stole a taxi in the early hours of a morning, which was news collected by journalists with salivating mouths.

The most alarming thing about the situation wasn’t just the fact that the four in question were professionals fighting a relegation scrap back in England, but also that the Premier League’s longest serving player, Gareth Barry was one of the four.

Gareth Barry poses as one of the poster boy professionals in English football, with a clear record of personal scandal behind him, alongside a solid Premier League record and an admirable leader in the game. The national uproar when a young player in particular is in the wrong is colossal, but when looking back into the pasts of former England internationals, whom are these players learning to act better from?

Young players and people of the English sporting body would look up to the careers of Barry and the former captains as model professionals, a visage splashed by moments of totally unnecessary madness.

It’s these seemingly annual moments of madness that are dampening the spirits of the English national team, and their reputation as some serious and honourable professionals. It is communicated sometimes that the pride to play for your country is not there, as is the discipline to be, and act as a player representing your country at all times.

An upgrade of maturity and desire is essential

Spirits are dampened by a disunited crowd, a team disunited by individual media portrayal, and a nation crying out for a consistent high-quality manager to serve discipline and cohesion on the pitch to lift the footballing spirits of the nation, away from the comfort of the Premier League.

The Three Lions need to show their hunger and desire where it matters most, Russia is their stage, can they perform?

Rosie Tudball .png

Why cricket is so important for Afghanistan

World Cups, IPL players and the introduction of Test Cricket. The amazing story of a war-torn nation changing the face of sport.

Liam Moore

World Cups, IPL players and the introduction of Test Cricket. The amazing story of a war-torn nation changing the face of sport.

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© By Spc. Michael Germundson

You would be excused if the initial thought of Afghanistan that entered your mind would be war. It could even be conflict, violence or corruption. Thankfully, the nation’s cricket team is changing that perception as they continue to rise to the highest level of the sport.

Many children dream of playing for their country; returning to their safe neighbourhood and having the leisure of watching live cricket throughout the year. For Afghans, this way of life is simply non-existent. Since the 1970’s, Afghanistan have been plagued with war. In 1979, The Soviet government invaded the country, propping up a communist government. They would occupy the land for ten years before moving on, allowing a civil war to break out.

In 1997, the Taliban were recognised by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as the rulers of the country. The organisation had over two thirds of the nation under their control and enforced hard-line Islamic beliefs. Two years prior to this, two Afghan refugees established the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (AFC) in 1995. Taj Malik and Allah Dad Noori were currently residing just outside of Peshawar, which was a popular northern city in Pakistan that many Afghan refugees settled in.

Unfortunately for the residents of the Asian country, the conflict did not come to a halt. After the terrorist attack that took place on the World Trade Centre in 2001, then president of the United States, George Bush, responded by launching missiles into Afghanistan. What followed would be years of conflict, as both the United States and the United Kingdom deployed troops into the country. Those troops are still present in war-torn Afghanistan, desperately fighting the Taliban – a conflict that has lasted for 17 years. It would appear implausible, amidst all the devastation the country has had to endure, that something sensational was quietly brimming.

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©Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=466186

1999 was a memorable year for the AFC. Stuart Bentham, who was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club, was present in Afghanistan as he was on a business meeting. At the time, the Afghan national cricket team were training in Kabul. Bentham witnessed the team in action and was inspired to help the nation obtain better cricketing equipment. Once he arrived back in England he persuaded the MCC to donate, further supporting Afghanistan’s cause for international status.

The fall of the Taliban saw a lot of refugees return home which rapidly increased the growth of the sport in the country. In 2003, the ACF held their first trials for the national team. This truly was the start of something special happening to the country as the years that followed would bring much success.

Only 12 years after its establishment, Afghanistan had won its first tournament. The Asian Cricket Council T20 Tournament was an event for the lower ranked nations throughout Asia. Afghanistan were joint winners after their final against Oman finished as a tie. In 2010, Afghanistan recorded their biggest victory of that time after defeating Ireland for a place in the T20 World Cup. They had done it. They finally reached the global stage of cricket. Unfortunately, they didn’t win a single game of the competition. Nevertheless, this was a big stepping stone for the country.

From 2013, the progress the nation made was simply remarkable. Due to consistently good performances, Afghanistan were promoted to associate from affiliate by the International Cricket Committee (ICC). They also qualified for their first 50-over World Cup, beating Scotland to make history for the newly promoted country.

Three years later and Afghanistan were at it again. The 2016 T20 World Cup was hosted by India and Afghanistan won their group, beating all three teams. Their group consisted of Scotland, Hong Kong and Test-playing nation Zimbabwe. For the first time in their history, they had qualified for the second round of an ICC competition. They did not progress further, but they did give England a scare when they reduced them to 57-6 and they beat eventual winners West Indies.

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©Harrias  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11432547

These dates mentioned are imperative to understand the progress Afghanistan have made. However, none of these dates can compete with the event that took place last year. On June the 22nd 2017, the ICC introduced the country as a Test playing nation. For those who are not too fond of cricket – there is no higher status than being a Test playing nation. Many professionals around the world took to social media to congratulate the nation on its incredible progression. They are expected to play their inaugural Test match in 2018 and have become the first admission – along with Ireland – to Test cricket since Bangladesh in 2000, when Afghanistan were only five years old as a cricketing nation.

Despite being surrounded by war or being plagued with violence, Afghanistan have refused to bow out. The Telegraph reported that cricket was so popular in Afghanistan, even the Taliban were playing the sport. Speaking to Tim Wigmore, country captain Mohammad Nabi said: “It brings peace to every tribe”. So, it would appear cricket is beyond a sport for this small Asian country. Cricket has represented itself as an escape for many residents of Afghanistan who have become accustomed to daily violence.

Unfortunately, it is still no simple task for Afghanistan to play cricket. There is still conflict in their country and they are forced to play their ‘home’ games in the Indian city of Noida due to safety concerns. Debatably, there is one man who can epitomise playing professional cricket in Afghanistan better than any other – former New Zealand coach Andy Moles. Moles, who spoke to The Cricket Monthly, coached the team during the 2015 World Cup and his own submission of training allows one to grasp what life is like for Afghan residents:

“Sometimes you hear a boom go off somewhere when coaching in the middle. You see Black Hawk helicopters flying over the ground, going on missions and coming back. It’s Like coaching in a war movie. Actually, it is a very surreal situation because I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel scared when leaving for work in the morning.”

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©Master Sgt. Brian Boisvert https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39405576

The players the nation are nurturing are worth mentioning, too. Rashid Khan, a 19-year-old leg-spinner who is a key figure in the Afghanistan cricket team has completely taken the world by storm. He’s ranked first in the world in both the ICC T20 and One Day International (ODI) bowling rankings. The incredibly skilled youngster has already taken 86 wickets in ODI cricket. He is a role-model for young cricket fans in Afghanistan. They have someone to look up to, someone who they would like to emulate one day.

Afghanistan have been welcomed into an elite set of cricket nations and continue to rise. The accomplishments of those involved will always be remembered for bringing joy to a country that has suffered for far too .

Liam Moore