Irish born soccer players: Chasing the dream across the water (Part 2) – The big move

For Irish-born football players, signing for a club ‘across the water’ constitutes the ultimate dream. However, very often this dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.

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Ryan Adams

For Irish-born football players, signing for a club ‘across the water’ constitutes the ultimate dream. However, very often this dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.

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The Premier League is the ultimate goal for young talented footballers

The bags are packed, passport ready, the one-way ticket in hand, travelling alone for the first time and about to embark on the biggest journey of a lifetime – the journey into professional football. This is the picture of many young talented football players from the island of Ireland, forced to migrate at sixteen or seventeen, chasing the glorious dream of one day becoming a professional superstar. The fact is, they are going into the unknown. In this second part of a three-part series for SportExamined.com, I articulate the potential challenges and encounters awaiting Irish born football players embarking on their journeys into professional clubs in England or Scotland. Drawn from academic research which focused on a cohort of players from Northern Ireland (NI), the article illustrates some important insights into what it may really be like being a migrant professional footballer.

It is not the intention of this article to paint an entirely bleak picture of professional football, there are of course numerous success stories of players who ‘make it’ in the game. However it is important to understand these cases are rare, and furthermore recognise how many dreams were crushed in the process. Indeed, according to a previous study undertaken by the Irish FA – which governs football North of the border – 87% of players who sign for, and therefore migrate to professional clubs in England or Scotland, return home within two years for a variety of reasons and without a professional football career. This means that around 9 out of 10 players who believe they are realising their dream of becoming a footballer are released from their club and unable to continue their professional career.

Football is a cut-throat industry. Looking from the outside, it’s often easy to forget that players are employees, carrying out a specialised form of work in order to make a living, and this is not always as lucrative as many expect. Before achieving salary levels of thousands of pounds per week, most players must climb the pecking order at their club to become a valued asset worthy of a large salary. As the clubs see it, players constitute mere commodities, they are individuals that provide a service on behalf of the club. If that service is below the required standard, they become surplus to requirements and there are an abundance of rival players relishing the opportunity to gain one of the rare spaces in the matchday squad.

Most talented young Irish born players enter professional football in the later years of the club academy setup, normally at the age of 16-17, and sign Youth Training Scheme (YTS) or scholarship contracts. There are a small number of players who sign directly on professional contracts but these instances are rare, and the YTS route at the age of 16-17 is more common. At this tender age, the player is expected to make the life-changing decision to migrate to a new country and leave their friends and family behind. On arrival to their club accommodation they will either be greeted by a family who will act not dissimilar to a ‘foster family’, or they will live in shared accommodation with other players, known as ‘digs’. They must decide whether or not to continue their school education outside of football; they must adapt to full-time training, a new footballing culture and a new societal culture; as well as spending their new-found finances and spare time sensibly. All of this whilst trying to impress their new employer by performing on the pitch on a regular basis.

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After signing for Middlesbrough at 16, Chris Brunt was one of the successful Irish migrants ©Daily Star

With all of these issues playing out simultaneously, it is unsurprising that many Irish born players report difficulties living in their host country. Due to a lack of prior preparation for the standard of football, players often find difficulty settling into their new club and it often takes considerable time to adapt to the full time, professional structure of the game. That said, most players feel that over time they do acclimatise to the standard required of them and it is the off-field issues that contribute more to a return home.

Not only are Irish born players unprepared for football at the professional level, they are unprepared for moving away from home. Homesickness is a serious issue for many players whilst living in their host country. This contrasts with their English and Scottish counterparts who are able to live in the comfort of their own homes whilst playing in professional football, unfortunately for Irish born players, especially those living in digs, evenings and weekends can be a very lonely time. Filling the spare time is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges for players who move across the water. If homesickness isn’t already an issue, many players struggle to develop meaningful friendships with teammates, whereas others fall into the wrong group of friends and may become ill-disciplined.

If players do struggle with homesickness in their spare time, or indeed any other off-field issue, further problems occur as the culture of professional football clubs means that players are unable to show signs of weakness or else they risk losing their position in the team. Every player at the club, especially those on YTS deals, is desperate to earn one of the few available professional contracts. To gain a contract they are expected to perform on the pitch, but equally as important they must demonstrate great enthusiasm for the club. To do this they must masquerade their emotions and remain quiet about their underlying personal issues. The masculine culture of professional clubs means that players must laugh along with the ‘banter’ and remain one of the ‘lads’ despite the fact they may have serious off-field issues, which of course many migrant players do. These players are afraid to seek support from the club, at the risk of the manager finding out and thinking the player is ‘weak’ or may cause problems, and thus over time these issues exacerbate, often resulting in a release from the club.

The bitter reality is that what first felt like a dream come true turns into a nightmare fairly quickly and for those who get released, a return home beckons. However this again comes with a lot of difficulties as these players who had prepared for life as a professional footballer must return home to play part time, and also find alternative work to earn a living. The main question Irish born players ask themselves upon being released is; where do they go from there?

Ryan Adams

About the author: Ryan Adams is a PhD researcher at Ulster University, Jordanstown. His topic specifically focuses on the post-migration experiences of Irish-born football players who have been deselected from their professional clubs. Ryan holds a BSc degree in Sport: Theory and Practice; and an MSc in Sports Development and Coaching. His previous research has focused on player development strategies within the Irish Football Association; and ‘pre, during and post’ migration experiences amongst Irish-born football players. He is also an amateur football manager, having previously managed in the Northern Amateur Football League and Mid-Ulster Football League in Northern Ireland.

Follow on Twitter: @Ryan_Adams11 – Any feedback, critique or questions on this article are welcomed.

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Tutankhamun, Cleopatra and now Mohamed Salah – How Egypt’s new Pharaoh fired his nation to Russia

In this series we look at nations that can offer something a little different on the world stage. Episode 1: Mo and Co

Jack Douglas

In this series we look at nations that can offer something a little different on the world stage. Episode 1: Mo and Co

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Fans took to the streets in Cairo following Egypt’s qualification ©Reuters

Despite passing away at the age of 19 after only ruling for 9 years, Tutankhamun is perhaps the most famous of all the Pharaohs. The tale of Cleopatra’s demise at the hands of an Asp, or teeth for that matter, echo across Egyptian and Roman folklore still to this day.

But now, a new King rules the land.

In Egypt’s penultimate qualifying game, only a win would do for El Phara’ena – The Pharaohs.

In what has become quite the regular occurrence this season, Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah scored to put Egypt 1-0 up in the 62nd minute against Congo.

Aiming to reach their first World Cup in 28 years and only their 3rd ever, the dreams of the nation looked in tatters as Arnold Bouka Moutou equalised in the 88th minute.

When 5 minutes of additional time were shown, there was hope for The Pharaohs that they could go on to get a winner and restore their lead.

If there is anything the footballing world has learnt this year, it is do not, under any circumstances, give Mo Salah a chance.

When Mahmoud Hassan, or Trézéguet as he is commonly known as, was brought down in the area; Salah was given his chance. A spot-kick with the last kick of the game to send his nation to Russia.

Liverpool’s ‘Egyptian King’ smashed home the penalty to the ‘keepers left sparking scenes of pandemonium within the stadium and throughout the whole country.

Whilst the Congolese finished bottom of the group, their players looked on in despair, heartbroken, after managing to almost scrape a point against the heavy favourites.

For Mo & Co though, the victory was everything.

Africa’s most successful nation, with 7 Cup of Nations trophies to their name, have underperformed massively when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup, having previously only qualified for the second instalment of the tournament in 1934 and then having to wait 56 years before reaching Italia ’90.

So with the reward being a rare opportunity to prove themselves on the world stage, Héctor Cúper’s men delivered, giving the 96 million strong population something to be proud of following the political turmoil and unrest of recent years.

Salah’s penalty sparked celebrations so wild, it would be fair to estimate the country hasn’t seen anything like it in its history since its earliest people settled in the 10th millennium BC.

A rare positive rally in Cairo following Egypt’s qualification – Via Reuters

The man of the moment, Salah, was delighted with his country’s exploits when he spoke at the 2017 CAF awards (1), stating: “In qualification for the world cup we did very well and we qualified. We deserved that and everyone saw that, and I am excited. I am very sure we are going to do something special in the World Cup!”

Egypt’s talisman is certainly preparing very well for Russia 2018 as he has played an instrumental role in setting up a Champions League final for Liverpool against Real Madrid. The Pharaohs’ number 10 added: “I want to be the best player ever in Egypt in history. I am working hard every day on improving myself.”

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi congratulated his people for their wild celebrations on the streets of Cairo following the match, and the feeling within Egypt was one of euphoria and relief.

Egypt’s most successful club Al Ahly SC have won 86 domestic trophies and have lifted the CAF Champions League on 8 occasions. The country’s success continently has been the envy of the majority of Africa, and it is this continental success the nation are hoping will kick start a long stay alongside the elite of world football.

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Celebrations became heated ©EPA

Héctor Cúper, the Argentine that has masterminded Egypt’s recent resurgence puts qualification down due to hard work (2).

“What happened before in the previous 28 years I think is difficult to explain that but I’d like to talk about my era with the Egyptian national team. The philosophy of our play and especially the defensive part we’ve worked hard for. The philosophy and hard work helped us get to the world cup.”

When speaking with FIFA, he admits the tournament “will be competitive all round”.

“We’re all raring to go and no one can say they’ve got an easier or tougher draw, because it’s all about competing as the best you can and every team poses difficulties in football.

“It’s never easy in a competition featuring the best national teams in the world. I enjoyed the draw, you can avoid the likes of Brazil but then you draw the likes of Russia and we’ll compete the same way and here’s hoping it will all go well for us!”

Cúper is certainly focused on the task at hand, as he adds: “As for our draw, we know all about Uruguay’s qualities. They’ve got great firepower up front in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Russia will be playing on home turf. Saudi Arabia are in the same boat as us; we’re both going to have to dig really deep to match the level of the other teams.”

As many sporting underdog stories show, anything on the day is possible. This mentality is mirrored by the gaffer.

“Regardless of the opposition, I’m always optimistic. It’s that simple.”

If Salah can beat the likes of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez in Egypt’s first game way out east in Ekaterinburg, Cúper and the nations’ optimism may just turn into reality.

حظا موفقا لفراعنة! – Good look to The Pharaohs!

Jack Douglas

Sources:

1) True Kop LFC – YouTube. 5/1/18 Mohamed Salah: I want to be Egypt’s best ever Player. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gYH1H3XWTw

2) FIFA TV – YouTube. 1/12/17 Hector CUPER – Egypt – Final Draw Reaction. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEvibH9EKGA

Analysing the proverbial elephant known as sport: Assimilating information from a series of inherently limited perspectives

How does our role and the way in which we view sports affect how we perceive (both) the process and outcome?

Spencer Kassimir

How does our role and the way in which we view sports affect how we perceive (both) the process and outcome?

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©NRL www.nrl.com/news/2018/02/13/voss-the-key-areas-the-referees-must-fix-in-2018

This is not the proverbial “elephant in the room” though one could argue that it’s always been one. The elephant referred to is the one being described in the story of the blind men and how it relates to perception and enforcement of laws with inherently limited information based on the position where one is placed. One blind man says the animal is like huge fans. The next like a wall. Another like a massive spike. The fourth, like a tree trunk. And finally, like a rope. The moral is that when a person does not have the ability to grasp all of the aspects of existence and/or is limited by a sense, our description is restricted by the limited amount of knowledge we are able to register and then recount.

Refereeing is very much like this and, in today’s televised game, rule/law changes are dominantly focused on the end product of a game being as entertaining to a spectator as possible. Rarely, if ever, is the ability to referee and enforce the new regulation given equal thought. When it is, it usually is given much less weight to tip the scales in making a final decision. After all, the prime focus of professional and amateur sport is about providing spectators the best experience and, subsequently, amateur players the best training to make it to a professional level of competition.

Starting in 1951, there have been a series of back and forth law changes on the distance, if any, the defensive line had to retreat to be on sides. Originally it was no yards, then five yards, then none again, three and then, in 1966, five again. Mind you, this was the last change under yardage and was entirely conducted by the New South Wales Rugby League before 1967’s introduction of limited tackles (4) in 1967. Think about how these distances, compared to today’s ten-metre retreat change the perception and ability to enforce the laws.

Back then, the defensive line originally lined up with no retreat then only had to retreat 5 yards in the past before the current standard of ten metres. The switch to the current standard of ten-metres is more than unnoticeable. Though the 10m retreat was created to open up the game and encourage more passing even though, in practice, it encouraged more first received hit-ups for quick yards. Yet, one has to wonder what impact this has to referees. The ability of a referee to hold a defensive line at five metres compared to ten while still being able to focus on the ruck and the attacking line is more than unnoticeable. 1. It is clear how much more difficult it is to see the action in the ruck from 10 metres back than five. 2. The increase of distance and shift of angle causing a change in perception, in this case, parallax, is also complicated by the fact that the referee must now cover more area to keep an eye on both the defensive line and the attack is also covers more area and does so at a greater distance. For those not familiar with the concept of parallax, it is defined as, “the effect whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions…” In practical sport terms, what baseball umpires defined as the “strike zone” changed across the board when they stopped holding a massive padded barrier in front of them for protection because they no longer had to look over and around the cushion.” This same logical applies to where the referee must stand from in rugby league as well as all sports and aspects of life.

Having been born and raised in the US, the elephant analogy was taught to me from the perspective of football a.k.a. American gridiron (as opposed to our three-down cousins to the north in Canada).   The platoon style of play that originated and proliferated around World War 2 amplified this since it eliminated athletes from playing offense, defense, and special teams. What the offensive lineman, quarterback, halfback, fullback, wide-receiver, and tight-end see are all different and they are only playing attack. Compared with the defensive lineman, line-backer, cornerback, as well as safety, let alone the kicker and punter brings even more to the number of ways our “blind men” are able to describe the elephant. But this is only the player’s perspective.

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American football has multiple referees in action

The American gridiron has evolved to be so complex that it requires seven on-field officials and even these lines can become blurred with 14 eyeballs on the field from the referee, umpire, head linesman/down judge, line judge, field judge, side judge, and back judge. Each of these individuals is charged with overseeing, interpreting, and enforcing different aspects of the game and still, many penalties and calls are missed. Still, this does not include the “calls to New York” where the footage is viewed on screen after the fact. There is on old saying that there is holding on every play so, as an offensive lineman, it is not about not holding but rather, not getting caught. Even still outside of the black and white rules of the game, there is then a whole arena of grey zones. For example, when does a receiver become a runner and how do we know? This was the prevailing issue last season for the Philadelphia Eagles even before the Super Bowl; one has to wonder why each led to different results. However, grey-zones aside, when a new law or interpretation is enacted, assuming it is clear and requires no assumption of a player’s intent, how many match officials does it take to make sure it is enforced?

The answer is different for each sport and even changes between different divisions and countries at the same level of competition simply based on national borders. Such is the case in rugby league where Super League and lower divisions in Australia have only one referee with two touch judges whereas top level have two of the former. Having accepted that even with seven officials that still do miss calls in American gridiron, what is the impact of the extra referee in Australian rugby league? Are more calls being made correctly by having the extra pair of eyes or is it like being an extra touch judge that, at many times, unbeknownst to the crowd, has seen an infringement but, based on the limited powers and visibility to the referee(s) from the sideline, frequently go unnoticed? Are we achieving the goal with two referees in light of the greater difficulty to take in, decipher, and act on the even greater amount of information that a referee takes in since we dropped back to ten metres? In bringing this back to the point, is the elephant known as rugby league being described in a greater level of completeness from an officiating perspective and, if so, is it being put into practice? Like the American gridiron, the above does not include reviews from the additional official charged with reviews on screen a.k.a. the bunker.

Having been exposed to Australian rules, rugby league, and rugby union at 16 years of age, thankfully due to channel surfing at 11pm on a Thursday, it is fascinating that these oval ball football codes have such starkly different interpretations even with respect to terms that most would believe are completely not open to interpretation. What is considered a catch in American football when going out of bounds is different whether one is playing high school/college or NFL and all of these differ with the interpretation of the AFL (Australian Football League). Simply put, the tail of the elephant has been described but is it a rope, a whip, or snake? Even if we are to assume that it is a rope, for what purpose does it have? Pulling, tying, lassoing?

The great Soviet Expressive Realist film director Sergei Eisenstein once said, “you should not pursue analogies and similarities too far – they lose their conviction and charm and begin to sound garbled or contrived.” Fearing I have overstepped this boundary, the analogy still holds water and, as those examining sport, it is crucial to ask ourselves the question, what part of the elephant of our chosen sport have we been focusing on and how can we look to the other parts of this massive beast.

Spencer Kassimir

Is the Bundesliga a stepping stone on the journey to success?

It seems in German football that there are two directions for success, packing up and heading to Bavaria for the comforts of Bayern Munich, or simply leaving the Bundesliga.

Rosie Tudball

It seems in German football that there are two directions for success, packing up and heading to Bavaria for the comforts of Bayern Munich, or simply leaving the Bundesliga.

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Many talented players either join Bayern Munich, or leave the league ©can’t pass can’t play

Using Bundesliga clubs as a springboard to success is a process that the league knows all too well. From Leroy Sane to Toni Kroos, the league has lost a formidable number of sublime talent to other European clubs. The reason for this is potentially the lack of competition that the league has to offer as well as the amount of money on the table elsewhere.

Many players are accused of taking the easy way out and signing for Bayern Munich, a club where silverware is practically guaranteed as well as a healthy salary. Despite all of the glitz and glamour that Munich have to offer a player, their youth system is also one to admire. The Säbener Strasse youth academy has graduated some of the club’s best players, including David Alaba and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The academy focuses on integrating the youth players with the team, which looking at the transitioning team that Munich have now, has been a success and is certainly an attraction for young players. It not only benefits players on the field but teaches youngsters the values of playing for the club, as well as assisting them into making the correct decisions as a young talent.

The impressive nature of Munich’s youth system doesn’t stop at Säbener Strasse, bringing in youth talents from abroad or from fellow German clubs has its benefits. When the Bavarians signed 20-year-old VfB Stuttgart youth graduate Joshua Kimmich in 2015, it was unclear just how good the German could be. A transfer fee of €8.5m was enough to lure him from the comforts of Stuttgart and after three years at Bayern, he’s now worth somewhere around the sum of €60m and is rated as one of the world’s best fullbacks. Kimmich’s ability was fully unlocked at Bayern, the trust that the club placed in the Rottweil-born talent was admirable, considering his expectation to fill the boots of German legend, Philipp Lahm. While at first glance, a young players decision to join Bayern can come across as a short-term remedy to money and fame, the club’s work with youngsters should be recognised as one of the best that Europe has to offer.

Bayern Munich is the summit of success as far as German football goes; however, the league is heating up, especially with the introduction of RB Leipzig to the top seeds of the league. Whilst their promotion in 2016 was one of a controversial nature, Leipzig have inspired the Bundesliga adding a hint of competition to the top of the table. Like Bayern Munich, their youth set up is impressive, bringing through some of the standout performers in their second-place finish last season. Leipzig clinched the signing of the Stuttgart-born striker from his home club two years ago, and his development has been remarkable since. Werner is now set to lead the line for Germany at the World Cup this summer, taking over the legacy of Miroslav Klose.

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RB Leipzig have brought more competition to the league.

Werner isn’t the only young star that has a future in the Bundesliga, in October 2017, Hamburg’s Fiete Arp became the first millennial to score in the Bundesliga. Arp reportedly turned down interest from Chelsea in the summer, in a favoured stay at his home club in Hamburg. It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to youth players in the league, could change be coming as young players regain trust in the Bundesliga?

In the past, numerous players have toyed with the opportunity of playing in the league, using it as a steppingstone to get a more glamourous move to other countries. Such decisions shouldn’t be frowned upon as mentioned, the competitiveness of the league is missing and some players don’t desire to move to Bayern Munich. Leroy Sane made the move to Manchester City last season, the transfer was questionable, as after two encouraging seasons with Schalke, the German opted for a move to England, which many thought was too soon. The same applied to Julian Draxler, who left Wolfsburg in an ugly manner to join PSG. Despite the initial opinions on the transfers, both players were crowned champions of their respective leagues this season, which could act as inspiration to players and agents in the Bundesliga.

The loss of elite players should act as an incentive for the league to find a way to muscle Bayern Munich off the top, however the financial background of the league and the teams involved makes it an impossible mission to get teams to challenge whilst maintaining German tradition in its football. The Bundesliga is special because of the relationship between fans and club, subsidising this for competition simply would defeat the object of the German league. In a league where money is power, the road to success can often be short in Germany, as other leagues provide a new taste for young players that is craved by many.

Rosie Tudball

Top 5 vegan hacks for sports performance

More and more athletes are choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle. Sports Nutritionist Ted Munson outlines his 5 vegan hacks for sports performance. 

Ted Munson

More and more athletes are choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle. Sports Nutritionist Ted Munson outlines his 5 vegan hacks for sports performance. 

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Jermain Defoe is one of many vegan sportspeople

Veganism is becoming more visible and accepted in sports performance. Several high-profile athletes have adopted a vegan diet, such as heavyweight champion boxer, David Haye. Data indicates that vegans consume less energy than omnivores and that these diets generally appear to be lower in protein, fat, vitamin B12, Riboflavin, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc1. Vegan diets can also lead to high fibre consumption and therefore tend to have low energy density and promote early satiety. This article aims to provide some tips on how a vegan athlete may promote their diet for sports performance.

Consume energy dense foods

 Where a high Calorie diet is needed due to increased training loads, increasing feeding frequency and consumption of energy dense foods such as all nuts, seeds and oils (olive, flax and coconut etc) will help to ensure that calorie goals are met. With this, it is suggested that an athlete should monitor and adjust a diet on the basis of unwanted body mass fluctuations. This will allow a diet to be tailored to an individuals’ energy and nutrient requirements1.

Consume some lower-fibre foods

Athletic diets generally require carbohydrate intakes of 4 to 12 g per kg of body mass per day to support high training volumes2. A high-fibre diet may promote gastric distress in some cases, depending on gender and the type/duration of exercise3. Achieving adequate carbohydrate intake with a vegan diet is relatively straightforward by consuming grains, legumes, beans, root vegetables and fruits. However, for athletes involved in high-volume training phases, it might be appropriate to choose some lower-fibre carbohydrate based foods, providing other micronutrients (i.e B vitamins) are provided! Foods such as rice, pasta, noodles and buckwheat contain less fibre than oats, lentils, beans and wholegrain breads1. Lower fibre, high GI carbohydrates may want to be consumed at least 90 minutes pre and within 30 minutes post training to promote energy and recovery4.pexels-photo-459469.jpeg

Protein rich foods are key

Recommendations for protein intake typically range between 1.2 – 2 g per kg of body mass per day2. This can be over 2 g/kg when reducing carbohydrate intake. The aim here is to support the maintenance of muscle mass and fuel adaptation and recovery. Plant-based protein sources are often incomplete, missing important essential amino acids, and may contain less BCAAs than their animal-based equivalents1. Aim to consume 20 – 25g of protein every 3-4 hours5. It is recommended that vegans consume beans, pulses, lentils and grains daily. Foods such as beans and legumes are rich sources of lysine however, and leucine can be obtained from soy beans and lentils1. Other BCAAs can be found in seeds, tree nuts and chickpeas1. Vegan protein supplements also provide convenient protein solutions, best used on-the-go to maintain protein intake between meals. Popular solutions include pea, soy and rice proteins that are often blended together.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Vegan diets are typically lower in total and saturated fat and higher in omega-6 fats than omnivorous and vegetarian diets6. Due to an absence of fish sourced fats, vegans naturally consume fewer omega 3 fatty acids. This might have important health and performance implications. The omega 3 fatty acids are important for normal growth and development, and play an important role in cardiovascular health, inflammatory and chronic disease7. Flax seeds, soybean, walnuts and chia seeds are a key food for vegan athletes and are sources of omega 3 and should be consumed daily1.

Creatine

Research indicates that vegan diets may reduce muscle creatine stores8. Meat, fish and poultry are common sources of creatine but are excluded from a vegan diet. Creatines performance-enhancing effects have been well studied, and it appears that supplementation can improve short-term high-intensity exercise performance, muscle hypertrophy and strength9. Creatine supplementation might therefore be an important ergogenic aid for vegan athletes to consider, and may compensate for reduced muscle creatine stores. Dosing creatine effectively requires the achievement of muscle creatine saturation. Common dosing strategies include taking 20 g per day for 7 days to load, followed by maintenance doses of 3–5 g per day10. For vegan athletes who decide to supplement, powder forms of synthetic creatine are vegan-friendly (but always check!).

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Supplements: Creatine can be helpful in boosting performance if consumed correctly

Summary

Veganism is a commitment whether you are competing in sport or not. As a Performance Nutritionist, I am often asked “will I be fitter and faster if I follow a vegan diet?” I can’t answer that question. Whatever the reason or answer is, there are clearly guidelines that need to be met in order to promote high energy availability, recovery and general health and wellbeing. Periodisation is key and knowing which carbohydrate to consume, when. Consuming lower fibre carbohydrates around training and competition can prevent unwanted gastrointestinal issues, but with this diet (just like any) trial and error must be practiced to see what works for your body. A clear challenge for the vegan athlete is protein intake with what appears to be less choice for the vegan athlete compared to an omnivore. Beans, lentils and pulses (to name a few) are key components of a vegan diet, but supplementation may be key during times when high protein intake is required. If you would like to read ore around the subject, I recommend looking at the Rogerson (2017) paper – Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers.

Ted Munson

  1. Rogerson, D. (2017). Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), 36.
  2. Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise48(3), 543-568.
  3. Rehrer, N. J., van Kemenade, M., Meester, W., Brouns, F., & Saris, W. H. (1992). Gastrointestinal complaints in relation to dietary intake in triathletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition2(1), 48-59.
  4. Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., Wong, S. H., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences29(1), 17-27.
  5. Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W., Broad, E. M., & Hawley, J. A. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology, 591(9), 2319-2331.
  6. Lane, K., Derbyshire, E., Li, W., & Brennan, C. (2014). Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition54(5), 572-579.
  7. Calder, P. C. (2015). Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: effects, mechanisms and clinical relevance. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids1851(4), 469-484.
  8. Burke, D., Chilibeck, P., Parise, G., Candow, D., Mahoney, D., & Tarnopolsky, M. (2003). Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise35(11), 1946-1955.
  9. Kreider, R. B., Ferreira, M., Wilson, M., Grindstaff, P., Plisk, S., Reinardy, J., … & Almada, A. L. (1998). Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise30, 73-82.
  10. Clark, J. F. (1997). Creatine and phosphocreatine: a review of their use in exercise and sport. Journal of Athletic Training32(1), 45.

The Commonwealth Games: An integral stepping stone for growth

How the Commonwealth Games provide a path for the improvement of sporting competition as well as both individual and collective performance.

Spencer Kassimir

How the Commonwealth Games provide a path for the improvement of sporting competition as well as both individual and collective performance.

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Gold Coast, Australia hosted the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

With 2018’s Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast now completed in totality, it is interesting from this American expat’s perspective on why there has been so much negativity towards the event. Yes, there are issues to do with who benefits most financially and whether the opening and closing ceremonies were to people’s likings but what interests me most, are both the complaints and comments about the game’s meaninglessness. To specify, many have commented that the value of participation and even earning a medal here is of little to no value; only the Olympics or top level of the said sport is worth talking about. This is not only technically incorrect within the statement itself but the reasons for such are limited in perspective.

One of the most common reasons given is that the Games represent an archaic and outdated worldview of when the sun never set on the British Empire. There is no denying that the contest is the rebranded Empire Games to reflect the evolving zeitgeists of 1954s British Empire and Commonwealth Games (Vancouver, Canada), the final change dropping the title “Empire” in 1970’s British Commonwealth Games (Edinburgh, Scotland), and most recent change in 1978 dropping the “British” to simply The Commonwealth Games. Yet, as we can see even from the name changes, this opinion that the games stand for and represent the classical sense of empire simply by its origins is, at best, reductionist.

Rather, by banding together, these countries are able to compete at an international level in the same way many countries with lesser populations or economic investment would be able to in between their local and unrestricted international representations. For example, the “All-State” and similar titles bestowed on athletes in the United States, a country with 350 million legal residents and roughly an additional 50 million more with varying documentation. Then add the interstate and national competition to the equation and it is easy to see the value in these games in even a domestic setting where there is a critical mass of population. Not each state has the same economic support or numbers in population to compete at the same level but that is not to say that this makes interstate competition a waste of time. Likewise, the Commonwealth of Nations has around 2.4 billion, around one third of the world’s population. Even without India’s approximate 1.2 billion, a sixth of the earths population banded together between 52 other states being represented by 70 other teams dwarfs that of the United States.

Australia, a country with 24.13 million people has such a disproportionate strength in the games even when compared to India and others countries being represented. There are plenty of countries with the capability to compete at greater levels internationally but simply do not have the ability to do so on their own with the limited numbers in domestic competition. This is the core beauty of the Commonwealth Games. It raises the bar for some while giving a great practice between domestic and international competition for others. Other smaller and established countries do not have the ability to come together and compete in the same large-scale and organised fashion that the Commonwealth Games provide. It is simply too costly and, from a cultural perspective, lacks and binding ties with identity to motivate or justify the exercise. With this said, it is clear to see the games as a gap filler between other domestic, regional, and international competitions not afforded to other nations.

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2018 Commonwealth Games aquatic centre ©Crystal Pools

It can be argued that the reason for the goal for, for example, the 50 states in the USA or the four nations of Great Britain working together in competition works because, at the end of the day, they all compete under the banner of the US and UK and this is what drives the engine to compete within each other. However, this is flawed because, though this is the case with the former, the latter of the two tends to divide in many competitions such as the rugby league, rugby union, and soccer World Cup competitions. However, this is not the case in the Olympics where the UK remains unified. Therefore, the perceived motivation of a collective good in the greater scheme is not only a moot point from this but shows that there is still a strongly individual and localised motivation to compete.

Herein lies the advantage. From a fan engagement and, arguably, economic perspective compare the parallel stories of New Zealand’s All-Blacks and Australia’s Wallabies from 1987 to date. The former are from a smaller country but invested in as many seamless transitions from childhood to international representation. The clearest difference is their investment into their national competition as a level between that of the senior club sides and Super Rugby. Australia, as of the 1990s, was of the Reaganomics mindset of a top-down approach believing that if the Wallabies were good, the country would follow, watch, and create future players that would represent the country strongly. There was no national competition between the local clubs and Super Rugby until the National Rugby Competition was launched a few years ago long after the country had lost so much interest in their once great side and stopped producing players as dominant as they once were between 1991 and 2003.

The analogy is clear, though the Commonwealth Games are the place for the pinnacle level of competition for many sports and athletics featured here, for the rest, as in the case of the prior rugby example, there needs to be a stepping stone of attainable reach between each level of competition and by offering this opportunity in the form of the Commonwealth Games, value is not only created but increased in the same way New Zealand’s rugby union has thrived whereas Australia’s has struggled. As such, the Commonwealth games despite complaints of not being a true international competition and other socio-political gripes, provides a beneficial and requisite service in improving athletes and nations though the gap it fills between levels of international competition.

Spencer Kassimir

Rugby league has it wrong according to an ex- Super League referee. Will football get it right?

“It’s served its time now, it needs looking at.” SportExamined catches up ex-Super League referee to discuss the place of video referees in sport.

Jack Douglas 

“It’s served its time now, it needs looking at.” SportExamined catches up ex-Super League referee to discuss the place of video referees in sport.

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Silverwood has extensive knowledge of video assistance ©barrau.gerard

Three Grand Finals, three Challenge Cup finals, three World Club Challenges and a World Cup final. These games are what most young rugby league players aspire to play in. But these honours make up the CV of one of the game’s most decorated referees.

And with these achievements in mind, it would be fair to say ex-Super League referee Richard Silverwood knows everything from his Salford Red Devils to surrendering in tackles.

Without doubt, the biggest talking point in sport right now is video assistance, particularly in football. Since the 1996 Super League World Nines, a video referee has been seen ever since within any TV broadcasted rugby league fixture. So for a sport where video officials run right through the modern identity of it, is the Super League using it correctly?

SportExamined caught up with Silverwood to discuss the matter.

“I think rugby league is getting a lot of grief for video refereeing at the minute because I don’t think they’ve got it right. When it was brought in I thought it was really good and helpful but I think it’s served its time now, it needs looking at.” Proposes Silverwood.

The 2006 Referee of the Year goes on to add: “You need to take it off the TV games or put it on every game because it’s inconsistent with some of the things that’s happening. Only the TV games and Catalan Dragons have the video referee so some weeks there’s two games or three games, if Catalan are at home, out of the six that have video refs which obviously gives an unfair advantage for certain teams because how many tries or wrong decisions are given or aren’t given on the other three, that’s not fair on the other teams.”

Only a third or sometimes half of the fixtures within the Super League weekly program feature a video official. Mistakes made in TV games are corrected; yet the games where no replays are available suffer from potential officiating errors leaving the game with a sense of unpredictability and unfairness.

The introduction of VAR into English football has been eventful to say the least, epitomised by the decision to book Chelsea winger Willian which came under fire from the football community. Video official Mike Jones did not see a ‘clear and obvious error’ in Graham Scott’s decision to book the Brazilian after being brought to ground against Norwich in the FA cup.

Blues boss Antonio Conte (1) went on to say: “If we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake. In this case, the Willian penalty was a big, big mistake. Not from the referee on the pitch, but from the person watching the game. If you’re watching the game and don’t see this situation … I hope the VAR wasn’t a referee because if you see that watching on television and don’t think that’s a penalty … He has to improve and must improve.”

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(VAR failing on it’s big audition – ©Andy Hooper/ Daily Mail)

Apart from this however, Silverwood fears that rugby league’s use of video assistance will mirror football’s future adaptation.

“If football was to have it, every single team should have video referees and not just the big clubs in the race for the top 4 or in the Champions League. For the system to be successful and fair across the game every single club needs to have it but let’s be honest, is there going to be a video ref at Crawley Town on a Tuesday night?”

Sky Sports were quick to broadcast that the Premier League Clubs had voted against using VAR earlier this month; and for the football purists this came as a sigh of relief. The problem with the potential system is that only Premier League clubs, where the riches of the post 1992 era dominate, would in all likelihood see VAR present in all their fixtures. But surely results matter just as much for Macclesfield Town fans as much as their Manchester City counterparts.

“It’s not just tries, it’s people getting sent off on a TV game that probably wouldn’t get sent off on a normal fixture in Rugby.” Silverwood adds. “Imagine this in football. A League 2 club play a third round cup fixture at home, there’s no video assistance. They go on to win but have their star player wrongly dismissed for two yellows, they can’t appeal.

“Their opponents in the next round, a premier league team let’s say, just won and kept all their players on the field thanks to VAR intervention because their game was televised. So the clubs then go in to the next round at even more of a disadvantage, because video referees won’t be at every match, so that won’t be fair.”

Silverwood, with his plethora of Super League and international refereeing experience is certain rugby needs a mix up with how they use the technology, and football needs to follow suit. A 2010 fixture tarnished his reputation in the eyes of many Leeds Rhinos fans: “Leeds Rhinos v Melbourne Storm in the World Club Challenge.”

With Leeds players surrendering in the tackles, the crowd were on Silverwood’s back. “I don’t think the crowd and even some of the Leeds players understood the rule.”

“I remember Keith Senior dived straight to the floor and I called surrender. He then gets up shouting abuse at me. I penalised him and Melbourne kicked the goal. He then told the press how arrogant I was.”

Some decisions only the referee can see. This was evident in the game at Stamford Bridge, Alvaro Morata received his marching orders for dissent. Similar to Silverwood’s World Club Challenge, the crowd were potentially unaware of what went on, but video assistance can’t help the crowd in this process.

Despite the mishaps and failings of VAR in English football so far, FIFA have announced that video assistance will be used in Russia for this summer’s World Cup. The commercial use of the technology is seemingly what appears to be driving the introduction of VAR further, but is this what the game needs?

Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City drew further debate into the matter as Leroy Sane had an effort incorrectly ruled out which would have seen City only a goal behind on aggregate. What the future holds for video assistance within both football and rugby league remains to be seen, but Silverwood leaves by saying: “Like I said, I don’t think rugby has it right, let’s hope football can be different.”

Jack Douglas

Sources:

1: ESPN (18th January 2018) Antonio Conte questions VAR: ‘The Willian penalty was a big, big mistake’ – retrieved from: http://www.espn.co.uk/football/chelsea/story/3352258/antonio-conte-questions-var-after-chelsea-win-the-willian-penalty-was-a-bigbig-mistake

 

Will rugby league snatch defeat from the jaws of victory …. again?

Historian Tony Collins argues rugby league is better placed than most sports to capitalise on the digital revolution – but will it’s cultural and commercial flaws collude to hold it back?

Steve Mascord

Historian Tony Collins argues rugby league is better placed than most sports to capitalise on the digital revolution – but will it’s cultural and commercial flaws collude to hold it back?

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Promotional material for the planned Test between New Zealand and England in Denver, USA.

You wouldn’t call them headlines. They are down-page news stories. But at least they are in the paper, where 10 years ago they would not have been.

I can remember the first time I saw Tonga play Samoa in rugby league. It was 2006 at Campbelltown Stadium; Feleti Mateo had just come back from his stint with London Broncos.

When the two sides got in each other’s faces during their pre-match rituals, we didn’t know what they were called and we’d never seen it before. That’s myself and the other 900 people present.

11 years later, Tonga beat New Zealand to make the World Cup semi-finals – where they were joined by Fiji who have now made it to the final four three consecutive times.

Things have come a long way … but then they haven’t.

Now to those headlines. In the immediate aftermath of the success of tier two nations at the World Cup, Fiji players threatened a strike, Lebanon players threatened a strike while Tonga and Samoa initially baulked at having to go back to Campbelltown this coming June.

New Zealand and England seem to have struck the jackpot by being invited to play in Denver’s Sports Authority Field with the backing of the NFL’s Broncos.

But the NRL clubs resisted this for months and are still grumbling. They didn’t think teams would want to travel overseas for internationals!

There are two competing causal aspects to this apparent cluster-youknowwhat.

One is the old rugby league default position of “what’s in it for me?”; that goes back to 1895 and the George Hotel. The Fijian players argued they were due payments and the Rugby League International Federation has intervened to make sure they are paid.

The Lebanese players seemed more vague, citing only a “lack of trust”. There are whispers of defamation proceedings in response to how this curious dispute has been reported in Australia.

Tonga know that if they played New Zealand three times each year, it would be the Shakey Isles’ answer to Origin. It’s about money – but not necessarily for the players. The Tongan Rugby League doesn’t have too many paʻanga in the bank and what they saw in New Zealand showed they could, and should, have a lot more.

Samoa coach Matt Parish seems unhappy about the level of support from just about everywhere to just about everyone.

So that’s one side of the argument. Rebellion is in the blood. It’s a working class game. You have amateur officials administering teams full of professionals who are used to a certain level of sports medicine and accommodation and remuneration and – as colleague Robert Burgin pointed out – they are arguing over nickels and pennies.

But the other side of the argument is: why should they just be nickels and pennies?

The RLIF has just advertised for two new general managers, one for the northern and one for the southern hemisphere.

That will take the international governing body’s total number of employees to a grand total of three.

Is it any wonder there’s no money, or power, in the international game?

In RLIF speak, Test series are “bilateral” games. That means the countries involved are just left to organise them. The RLIF only gets money from World Cups and the much-vaunted second property, a Nines World Cup, has attracted only luke warm interest from potential partners so far.

Plenty of cynics believe the Nines idea is more to satisfy the Collective Bargaining Agreement in Australia by minimising the wear and tear on NRL players than actually developing the international game.

So there’s our perfect storm: argumentative players and domestic officials and one hand and on the other an under-resourced international federation at the mercy of cashed up, self interested clubs.

But despite all this, and as I said at the start of this column, the arc of the game’s history is bending towards expansion and globalisation – even if incrementally.

It has to. Renowned rugby historian Tony Collins says the digital revolution, like newspapers, radio and television, can and will rearrange the balance of power between sports worldwide.

“We’re now in a position where the prospects for the game, if the opportunities are taken, are brighter than they’ve been for decades,” Collins – whose got a great new podcast called Rugby Reloaded – says.

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©Rugby Reloaded

“You can’t tell because you’re in the middle of it, so it’s hard to get an objective view.

“But I think sport, at the moment, is undergoing a revolution.

“The ease with which you can travel between continents thanks to low cost flights, the ease with which you can communicate across continents thanks to the internet and the way sport can be seen all over the world thanks to digital television really changes the scenario around the world for sport.

“When modern sport first emerged, it emerged at the same time as newspapers. Then you get the radio in the 1920s and 1930s and the same thing happens – radio publicises sport, sport provides the content.

“Despite the obvious weaknesses that the game has, it’s actually in a very strong position to take advantage of the big changes that are taking place now because we are both a mass spectator sport but we’re a small mass spectator sport.

“Things can change quite quickly in rugby league in a way that they can’t in soccer – it’s just a huge juggernaut – and to some extent, in a way they can’t in rugby union because rugby union’s very tightly bound with tradition.

“So the opportunities we’ve got, with the Wolfpack and a World Cup in the States, the possibility of other franchises, the way people are now considering Perth playing in a different comp than the Australian one…

“We can do things that other sports can’t because we’re small and manoeuvrable and still have that mass spectator sport image.

“We don’t have all those guys in blazers, the rampant tradition.

“We’re in this fantastically exciting period – if we take the opportunities.”

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Is school sport still too ‘gendered’?

After gender specific sport has plagued our PE lessons for decades, change is starting to take place for the better.

Beth Fenner

After gender specific sport has plagued our PE lessons for decades, change is starting to take place for the better.

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Gender is commonly accepted as a fluid concept. But why is PE and sport still so rigid?

Gender, a term that has been catapulted into the forefront of society over the past year, continues to create debates amongst the sporting world. Despite the acceptance of gender as a fluid concept and campaigns from Hollywood to the BBC advocating for the equal treatment of women, sport still remains one of the last preserves of masculine ideals. But are these issues deep-rooted within school sport or are they starting to change?

It is common knowledge that men are still more likely to participate in sport later in life with 40.5% of men taking part in sport at least once a week compared to 31.9% of women, often as a direct impact of an individual’s school sport experience[1]. Evidence still shows that boys are more likely to be offered sports such as baseball and rugby and girls cheerleading, netball and hockey in PE lessons[2]. This institutional segregation of boys and girls into sports deemed ‘gender appropriate’ from a young age influences young people’s decisions to participate in certain sports beyond school. Yet, this seems to be changing for the younger generation who have been bought up in a more accepting society.

There’s been a surge of interest in women’s sport in recent years. In 2016, the women’s GB Hockey side claimed a Gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Last year saw a World Cup win for England’s women’s cricketers (and three of the ‘Five Cricketers of the Year’ in the age-old Wisden Almanack being women), and a runners up for the England Rugby Union side in the women’s World Cup. And 2018 has already seen glory for England’s netballers, who claimed Gold at the Commonwealth Games against all the odds. Media coverage has never been more extensive. However, the question is whether this is being replicated at grassroots level. Tom Simmons, a primary school PE coach from Rotherham, said: “At primary school age I don’t think there are many gender differences at all to be honest. In my experience boys and girls at primary school age get fully involved in PE lessons and any sports no matter what the content. Staff within primary schools tend to do a good job in regards to encouraging both boys and girls to participate in all sports and creating an environment where there is no stigma attached to what people participate in. Both boys and girls participate in the same PE lessons as equals within a primary school environment”. Safi Ahmed, a primary school teacher from the Dales agrees: “I don’t think schools push children into stereotypical gendered sports. We follow a rising stars program which allows all children to participate in a range of sports from multi skills and tag rugby to gymnastics and dance. I think it is beneficial to have mixed PE lessons during school and all our after school clubs are also mixed.”

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It therefore seems that at least some schools are changing for the better. The question is whether this transfers to secondary schools. Gillian Twaite, who has a daughter in year 7 at a school in Birmingham, said: “At my daughter’s secondary school both boys and girls do all sports on a rotation together and she has got the chance to experience basketball, gymnastics and cross country. At primary school she got invited to a gifted and talented girls cricket training session and a mixed sports camp where they did a range of sports, again both boys and girls together”. The fact that girls and boys are now being encouraged to participate together in educational institutions at a young age is crucial to ensuring both sexes learn to appreciate and respect one another as equals not just in sporting situations but within daily life.

There is no doubt that Women’s sport is now well and truly in the limelight and this can only be beneficial in terms of participation levels for girls at school, but there is still one major factor that deters girls from pursuing sport further; the social stigma that surrounds them, especially from male counterparts[3]. A recent Channel 4 documentary No more boys and girls: Can our kids go gender free? exemplifies how children as young as 7 already hold the beliefs that girls are weaker than boys, especially in a sporting situation, with the girls under-estimating and the boys over-estimating their abilities. Gillian Twaite explained: “One of the issues I believe there to be is that girls make other girls feel like they should just sit around and chat. What shocked me is that children as young as 9 would make comments suggesting that if you were a girl rushing around the playground you were ‘weird’. My daughter gets really frustrated with this. There’s generally even more pressure at secondary school for pre-pubescent girls to ‘sit and talk’. I believe that this could have an impact on the types of sports girls choose to participate in and whether they wish to participate at all.” In addition, her daughter attended the football club at her primary school, where they ran a number of mixed football clubs and even had coaches from Aston Villa. However, one particular Year 6 session only had boys signed up making her daughter the only girl. This deterred her from continuing as her boy mates wouldn’t be natural with her in case they got teased.

It is clear that despite the developments within schools, the increase of opportunities for both boys and girls and the change of attitude in the recent years towards mixed PE lessons, the role of the media still has an overarching influence on participation levels in the later years of school life. Tom Simmons stated: “Personally I believe that the image the media (social media, magazines, what they see on the internet) creates has a huge impact on gendered participation. Having said that, children don’t take much interest in social media until year 6 or the start of secondary school years when the idea of self-image becomes really important to young boys and girls and how they come across to others such as friends and the opposite sex”. Dave Emmerson, who is head of PE at his primary school in Wensleydale, also says: ““I think external clubs and media influences for primary school aged children push boys and girls into stereotypically gendered sport more than schools do. In our school, we have mixed PE lessons, but I know that others don’t. I personally think it’s more beneficial to have them together”. It seems that primary schools are embracing the culture of mixed lessons but this may not transcend into secondary schools, despite the dropout of girls being most prominent at this stage of education. With so many mixed sports seen in events like the Olympics such as badminton and tennis and up and coming sports such as korfball, it is disheartening to not see this replicated at school. The media clearly holds a prestigious place within our young generation’s lives and with males still being put on a sporting pedestal above females in society, there is no wonder that there is so much pressure on young people to adhere to gender behaviours that are deemed ‘appropriate’.

What can be learnt from this is that without the stark separation of boys and girls at school into gender specific sports or single sex lessons, it will instil the belief within our young generation that both sexes have the ability to pursue any sport equally. Challenging ingrained social stigmas and perceptions is the most powerful way of ensuring eventual equality for all. Primary and especially secondary schools need to be leading advocates in inspiring both boys and girls through sport in order to confront the gender order that our media outlets have sadly established. However it is apparent our education systems are starting to make positive changes to create sporting opportunities with no gender boundaries.

Beth Fenner

[1] Sport England (2017) Active Lives Adult Survey: May 16/17 Report https://www.sportengland.org/media/12458/active-lives-adult-may-16-17-report.pdf

2Quick, S., Simon, A., and Thornton, A (2010). PE and sport survey 2009/10 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/181556/DFE-RR032.pdf

3Women’s Sports Foundation (2018) Factors Influencing Girl’s Participation In Sports https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/support-us/do-you-know-the-factors-influencing-girls-participation-in-sports/

 

From Beirut to Sydney – The boys who did their nation proud

In their most important ever fixture, Lebanon were losing at half time. With the deficit only six points, they had 40 minutes to make history.

Jack Douglas

In their most important ever fixture, Lebanon were losing at half time. With the deficit only six points, they had 40 minutes to make history.

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Lebanon fans at the World Cup ©Lebanon Rugby League (@LebanonRL)

In their most important ever fixture, The Lebanon rugby league team found themselves 22-16 down at half time. Tries from Adam Doueihi, Abbas Miski and James Elias saw the Lebanese claw themselves back into contention after trailing heavily for most of the half.

With the deficit only six points, Brad Fittler’s men had 40 minutes to make history. Minutes into the second period Doueihi thought he had scored his second, but a controversial Video Referee’s decision ruled the try out.

A Hingano penalty meant Tonga lead by eight and despite a converted Miski try late on, the Tongans held on to record a 24-22 victory, shattering the dreams of thousands of Lebanese fans.

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The heart-breaking moment Lebanon’s World Cup came to an end  ©Lebanon Rugby League (@LebanonRL)

After nearly sixteen years, the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990; leaving an estimated 120,000 – 150,000 dead with a further 200,000 wounded. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 resulted in one of the most infamous sieges in military history.

As Israeli forces bombarded Beirut from air, land and sea in an attempt to assassinate key Palestinian leaders, a multinational peacekeeping force was sent in to Beirut to help evacuate Palestinians.

The US, French, Italian and British contingent helped restore some normality and to ensure the withdrawal of all foreign forces and aid, whilst helping to train the Lebanese military to prevent future conflict.

With Israel to the south and Syria to the north and east, you could be forgiven for expecting conflict to be ever-present. Despite this, the nation of six million has been recently making the headlines in a surprisingly positive fashion.

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Les Cèdres (The Cedars) deservedly qualified for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup after comprehensively beating South Africa 90-28 on aggregate over two legs in Pretoria.

Lebanon were then drawn alongside eventual winners and runners up Australia and England, as well as France, and were expected to finish bottom. The top three in the group qualified for the knockout stages.

Travis Robinson, who plays for Newtown Jets in the New South Wales Premiership, built on his tally of six tries in qualifying as he went over twice; helping his side secure a shock 29-18 victory over the French in Canberra.

Robinson had previously enjoyed time in the NRL with Melbourne Storm, and his and his teams’ heroics against France was enough to qualify for the knockout stages and more importantly, receive automatic qualification for the 2021 World Cup.

Lebanon’s other two group stage fixtures saw them lose 29-10 to England before eventual champions Australia recorded a 34-0 victory against Les Cèdres. Both results warranted overwhelming respect from the League world as punters expected the English and Australians to record much higher scores against the then eighteenth ranked side.

With progression confirmed, Lebanon were drawn to face Tonga in the quarterfinals. At 3pm local time, 4am back here, the fixture in Christchurch kicked off. Whilst the Lebanese side came up short on that occasion, their adventure in the world cup was certainly admirable.

The positive performances and results Lebanon recorded means the side came away from the world cup with their heads held high. Now up to ninth in the world rankings, The Cedars find themselves ten places above Russia; the side that inflicted Lebanon’s heaviest ever defeat (80-0) back in 2008.

Despite the 24 man world cup squad featuring only one home-grown-player, the people of Lebanon are still enthralled with the game. The player in question, Raymond Sabat, plays for Lycans RL in Beirut.

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The Lebanon national side team that beat Italy in the Mediterranean Cup in 2017 ©FIRL/SportCode

The outside back wants the country to bring through more home grown talent to help progress the game, and thoughts like these are reflected by journalist Danny Kazandjian (1) who adds: “It is essential for countries like Lebanon to ensure there is a clear, robust cultural link between the country and the national team.

“Lebanon fields national teams at under-21s, under-18s and under-16s – last year the U21s and U18s toured Serbia – so the pathways are there now.”

Up and coming sports in countries such as Lebanon and other historical underdogs have often struggled in influencing young players and ensuring their youngsters have a clear pathway to the first team. The fact that the Lebanese Rugby League Federation are heavily investing in their youth teams epitomizes the hope and enthusiasm the nation has for its rapidly growing sport.

The Lebanon Rugby League Championship added another side to its roster in 2016, with Lycans RLFC now making it 5 domestic teams within the league. Collegiate Rugby is making a big impact in Lebanon. There are 2 university divisions, the first featuring 4 sides and the second division hosting 6 teams. As the game grows in Lebanon, the competitions are doing so too.

The Australian influence in the team is evident, with the majority of the Lebanese players playing at some level within the Australian pyramid. In an interview for the BBC (2), Lebanon head coach and ex-Aussie superstar Brad Fittler says that his players are beyond proud to represent their nation.

He states: “The majority [of the players] have both Lebanese parents. And if anyone has kept their identity in Australia it is the Lebanese community. They live together, they eat together – they’ve kept their identity more than most other nationalities that have come to this country.”

Les Cèdres were triumphant over an Italian side in June 2017 as they ran out 6-4 winners in a remarkably tight match. Unlike their World Cup squads, the fixture was played between two national sides using all domestic players, which proved pivotal in the progression of the Lebanese players, as Lebanon successfully defended their Mediterranean Cup title. But this success was unparalleled to what would follow.

Lebanon’s success at the world cup was unexpected to say the least, and now with qualification confirmed for 2021, who knows what unprecedented success the little nation can go on to achieve. With the tournament being held here in England, Lebanon are sure to leave a lasting impression here within the UK.

The national anthem titled: All of Us: For the Country, surely embodies the spirit of the Rugby team; as this group of players go on to make their nation even prouder.

Jack Douglas

Sources:

1 & 2: BBC Sport: Rugby League World Cup 2017: How has the sport become so popular in Lebanon? – 2nd November 2017