Why has darts grown in popularity so quickly?

Darts has grown into one of the most watched sports across Europe and the attendances are only going in one direction.

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Jack Witham

Darts has grown into one of the most watched sports across Europe and the attendances are only going in one direction.

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Darts was traditionally seen as a pub game ©PeterPan23

Darts used to be known as a pub sport to many people. That has now changed drastically, with crowd numbers being in the thousands and prize money being as high as it’s ever been before. Both the number of fans and the number of players have greatly increased in recent time, but just why has such a simple pub game dramatically grown on a worldwide level?

For starters, there is the addition of players with more flare than ever before. At no point can Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor be criticised; it was him who began to put the sport on the map. The 16 time world champion is a credit to the sport, however his showmanship was limited, letting his arrows do the talking the majority of the time. A leg or set was won with very limited reaction. There is no problem with this; in fact this is the way some feel the game should be played.

Nowadays though, players really like to give it ‘the big un’ when winning just a single leg. In a World Series Final at the back end of 2017, Gerwyn Price and Corey Cadby turned around and celebrated when hitting a ton or more, much to the amusement of many fans who were watching the game. Although the incident was silly, it is what fans want to see. They want the drama and the controversy because it is what they have paid to see.

Players now are just far more entertaining than they used to be. Michael Van Gerwin wins almost everything, and has done so with a certain flashy style. An MVG in full flight is exactly what the punters want to see. The walk ons are also very crowd friendly. ‘Snake bite’ Peter Wright dances across the stage every single time he comes on, immediately getting the crowd involved, and Daryl Gurney sings Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, which is always a crowd favourite. The sport just seems to have developed a more relaxed atmosphere than it ever used to have.

The amount of players participating has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, but why? Well, the prize money that is now on offer for winning tournaments is certainly very eye catching. Rob Cross, the 2017 World Darts Championship winner received a massive £400,000 in prize money. Not bad for somebody in their debut season. When Phil Taylor won the World title in 2000, he received £31,000. This not only shows the growth of the sport but also underlines the phenomenal work that PDC chairman Barry Hearn has done for the sport.

The overall prize money has risen from £500,000 to £15 million since Hearn took the PDC hot seat. He has managed to take a pub game to the second highest rated TV watch of 2017. The sport is in good hands, and with big sponsorship deals continuing to come into the sport, the growth is only going to continue to rise.

The sport is ideal for fans now. Not only is the quality at outrageous levels, there is no longer rules where you must sit down and behave yourself. It is perfect to watch world class talent whilst enjoying a beer (or 10) with others. Barry Hearn once quoted “Darts is the only sport that has a partnership of excitement of a party and world class sport. I don’t know another sport that creates atmosphere on that basis.”

Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), German Darts Grand Prix (GDGP)
Party atmosphere at the darts ©Sven Mandel

This is evident almost every Thursday in the winter when the Premier League is being played. The crowds are outstanding, sell outs every week at venues all around Europe. Wayne Mardle of Sky Sports often reminds viewers of the sell out crowd of 400 people at Stoke’s Kings hall. Well just a couple of weeks ago, the Mercedes Benz Arena had a world record darts attendance of 12,000, underlining the rapid growth of the sport.

The crowd is often very much like it is at football, with chanting often taking place as well as jeering and whistling. But unlike the football, the involvement of the crowd at darts is genuinely always in good spirit. Chants of “boring boring tables” and “feed the stands” are often sung back and forth during the World Championships at the Alexandra Palace. There are rarely any malicious songs chanted during the games, and players are usually given a huge amount of respect whilst playing.

Whilst crowds begin to grow at venues, the amount of viewers watching on Sky Sports has also increased. 960,000 people watched the 2015 World Darts Championship final played between Van Gerwin and Peter Wright. This was 75,000 more than the Premier League football match between Chelsea and Southampton on the same day.

Whilst many still see darts as a pub sport, there is no denying that it has fast become a sensation, especially throughout Europe. Just how long will it take before it becomes a worldwide hit, and we see more money come from countries such as China to develop the sport further.

For the time being, darts is in a good place, and for the immediate future it will continue to be watched by millions and the party will continue.

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How important being home is for the Gibraltar national side

After decades of struggle to be accepted as a football nation, Gibraltarian football celebrates in style.

Jack Douglas

After decades of struggle to be accepted as a football nation, Gibraltarian football celebrates in style.

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Walker celebrates his winning goal ©Gibraltar Football Association

The Victoria Stadium held its breath. Finally in their proud home, Gibraltar’s homecoming in international football was deadlocked against Latvia.

With the game heading into the final minutes destined for a draw, the home side were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Step forward Liam Walker. With a wicked deflection the ball trickled into the Latvian net sparking scenes of pure jubilation.

The Reds held on to record a deserved, historic win. Their first as a FIFA nation, their second as a UEFA nation and, more importantly to the proud Gibraltarians, their first victory on home soil.

The Victoria Stadium, with the Rock as its stunning backdrop, opened in 1926 and was rebuilt in 1971 by the Royal Engineers. When Gibraltar were finally accepted by UEFA in May 2013, the stadium was not deemed to be of sufficient standard for competition. On 13th May 2016, the Rock could finally boast a FIFA affiliated team after endless attempts, intervention from the Court of Arbitration for Sport and intense Spanish opposition.

Forced to play 247 miles away in Faro, Portugal, Team 54 (the nickname given after becoming UEFA’s 54th member) faced Slovakia in their first official international match, managing a superb goalless draw.

A Kyle Casciaro volley gave the side their first official victory as his effort was enough to see off Malta in June 2014, again in Portugal.

Gibraltarian side Lincoln Red Imps ensured they went down in football history by beating Scottish giants Celtic in the first leg of the 2016/2017 Champions League second qualifying round. Gibraltarian football was put on the map to an extent. The Daily Record (1) ran with: “Take a look back as Hoops lose to minnows in Champions League qualifier” before going on to call the result “incredible”.

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The famous Rock of Gibraltar dominates the landscape ©Revolutionary War and Beyond

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht resulted in Britain securing Gibraltar. Captured by an Anglo-Dutch fleet nine years prior, control of the Rock was finally ceded to Britain to ensure they withdrew from the War of Spanish Succession.

Ever since, Spain has highly contested the sovereignty of the Rock. The Siege of 1727 and the French backed Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779 – 1783) failed and Gibraltar remained under British command. Located at the gateway to the Mediterranean and at a naval choke-point, Operation Felix was a Nazi plan to capture the strategic Rock, but the invasion never materialised.

In the Gibraltarian sovereignty referendums of 1967 and 2002, 99% and 98% of Gibraltarians opted to remain British respectively. Throughout endless conflict and claims of sovereignty, the Rock of Gibraltar has stood tall and proud; and more importantly, proud to be British.

With plans to build a UEFA demanded Category 4 stadium at either two sites on the peninsula (Europa Point or Lathbury Barracks) coming under severe scrutiny and opposition from Gibraltarians, the GFA purchased Victoria Stadium from the Government of Gibraltar in April 2017 and began to develop the venue.

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Victoria Stadium ©Stadiony.net

This meant that the scene was set for Gibraltar to come home. With a festival of international football lined up and a commemorative kit being launched, the 32,000 strong population were elated.

With Gib’s Under 21 side losing 6-0 to an experienced Serbian side and then 5-0 to Russia, all pressure and expectancy lay on the first team; and in particular on the shoulders of Notts County’s Liam Walker. Gibraltar’s number 10 and joint top scorer signed for County after having previous spells with Portsmouth and Lincoln Red Imps after teenage trials with Manchester United, Aston Villa and Everton. One of only two professional players used against Latvia, Walker found himself lining up alongside policemen and customs agents.

With a population of 1.9 million compared with Gibraltar’s 32,000 and a world ranking of 131, 75 places above Gibraltar down in 206th, Latvia offered fierce competition. When experienced defender Joseph Chipolina pulled up during the warm up and with goalkeeper Kyle Goldwin making his international debut, punters could have been forgiven for backing the Latvians.

Lee Casciaro, brother of the previously mentioned Kyle, curled a shot just wide of the despairing Andris Vanins’ post which ended In the Gibraltar number 7 tweaking a hamstring and being unable to continue. Walker’s freekick finally gave the home side their much deserved goal in the 88th minute.

Walker was delighted with the victory in an interview with GBC (2) following the game: “Obviously we were going on the counter attack. I wanted to bring the ball inside and change the orientation on the ball. We won the foul. It was at a good distance and as soon as the free kick was given I knew I was going to go for goal and yeah, buzzing it had gone in.”

Being back home at Victoria Stadium is something Gibraltar and Walker were delighted with: “It’s absolutely amazing! It’s just what we wanted, to be on our home ground in front of our people because apart from us being on the pitch they are the ones who deserve this. The whole game they were supporting us and you can see when they are here it’s a plus for us as well so yeah, really happy with it.”

It has been quite the rollercoaster for FIFA’s newest nation. Sepp Blatter denied Gib’s membership claim because they weren’t an independent nation, despite the four home nations and the Faroe Islands having membership. UEFA accepted Team 54 despite strong opposition from the Spanish. In 2007 Spain threatened to withdraw all of its teams from UEFA competitions should Gibraltar be given membership.

When the sovereign territory were finally, and rightfully, accepted into world football they were subsequently forced to play at the Estádio Algarve in Portugal. So to be playing football back on home soil shows that the light at the end of the tunnel has been reached.

Whilst they will most likely never reach a major tournament, friendlies like the Latvia fixture will give the side good competition and reasonable fixtures. Gibraltar will face Macedonia, Armenia and Liechtenstein in the UEFA Nations League which starts later this year.

So let’s all hope that for a territory famous for a rock and monkeys, the national football team can start making its people even prouder to be Gibraltarian.

Jack Douglas

Sources:

Daily Record: Lincoln Red Imps v Celtic RECAP: Take a look back as Hoops lose to minnows in Champions League qualifier. 12th July 2016.

Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation: Gibraltar v Latvia – Post Match Interview with Liam Walker. 25th March 2018.

The Effectiveness of Sports Supplements – Part 2

The second part of our sports supplement series looks at individual products, specifically the benefits and pitfalls that comes with them.

Josh Williamson

The second part of our sports supplement series looks at individual products, specifically the benefits and pitfalls that comes with them.

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Does whey protein equal muscle growth? ©Sportexamined

In Part 1, which can be found here (https://sportexamined.com/2018/03/19/the-safety-and-effectiveness-of-sports-supplements-part-1/), the safety of sports supplements was questioned.

From individuals simply wanting to look better naked, to world class athletes, the growth of supplement use has been exponential. Both nationally and globally, billions are spent every year for that ‘magic’ pill to get even a 1% improvement. However, has anyone ever stopped to ask, ‘do these products actually work?’

The number one question any individual should ask themselves before purchasing a supplement is, ‘will this product benefit me?’. To answer this question, the individual must consider the evidence-based effectiveness of the product, but also, is it relevant to the individuals specific goal. The scope of this article is to highlight 4 key supplements which are research-backed.

It is outside the remit of this article to cover all supplements, and thus readers are directed towards Examine.com. This is a database of pretty much every supplement in existence which includes studies on products, usage, dosages, side effects etc. Only when individuals have considered the safety, effectiveness, and if the supplement is needed for their specific goals, should they consider purchasing said supplement. Here, I have outlined 4 of the most common supplements which have scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.

Whey Protein

“Little Miss Muffet, she sat on a tuffet, eating of curds and whey”

This very common nursey rhyme refers to the two proteins found in milk; curds (casein) and whey. The whey is the water-soluble part of the milk and is used for whey protein supplements. Despite the popular belief that protein supplementation itself enhances muscle growth and repair, this is not entirely true. If daily protein targets are achieved through dietary intake, supplementation is unnecessary. A high-protein diet combined with a specific resistance training plan, will support a biological environment for putting on muscle mass. The rationale for using a protein supplement is either to supplement your protein intake from food, and/or convenience. This rationale applies to all protein supplements in general, such as protein milk, protein bars, protein ice cream, protein bread etc which are all so common now.

It is also important to point out at this stage that whey supplementation, or high-protein diets in general, do not cause damage to the liver or kidneys in healthy individuals. If you have any underlying kidney/liver conditions, protein intake should be increased under the guidance of a medical professional.

 

Fish Oil

Fish oil commonly refers to two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA, which are typically found in fish and animal products. Fish oil exhibit a number of health benefits including enhancing mood, reducing disease factor risk, reducing inflammation, and is associated with reductions in triglycerides.

With relation to dosage, the American Heart Association recommends 1g per day; however, this reflects a combined total of EPA and DHA. Ideally, this should be achieved through a balanced diet; nevertheless, if individuals don’t like eating fish, this can be achieved through a fish oil supplement, or an algae supplement if you don’t like that fishy aftertaste that can come with some products. With fish oil supplements, it is important to read the nutritional label; for example, the label may state a combined total of 400mg per serving of EPA and DHA which would require 2-3 servings to achieve the recommended dose.

Creatine

If you are currently involved in sport, or even gym culture, you will no doubt have heard of creatine supplementation. Creatine is potentially the single most studied supplement in history; and has endless evidence to support its effectiveness, and safety. Creatine is naturally occurring in some foods such as meat, eggs and fish, however the dosage provided is usually insufficient to provide a desirable outcome. To put this into context, creatine powder is usually consumed in dosages of 5-20g per day; this equates to 1-4kg of meat!

Typically marketed as a ‘muscle gain’ product, creatine essentially acts as a source of energy for your cells. Despite the marketing claims, creatine does not increase muscle mass per say; however, there is concrete evidence to support the use of creatine for high intensity exercise, power sports, and repeated sprint ability. This means weightlifters, bodybuilders, football/rugby players and basketballers to name a few, would benefit from creatine supplementation. There may be some research potentially supporting the use of creatine supplementation for endurance performance and it also shows promise on cognition.

With regards safety, it should be noted that there is no research demonstrating negative effects of creatine supplementation on either kidney or liver function of healthy individuals. On the other hand, individuals with pre-existing or underlying kidney or liver conditions should use caution if using a creatine supplement and do so under the supervision of a medical professional.

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Being out in the sun is the most enjoyable way of getting vitamin D

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and is essential for many biological functions. The most enjoyable source of this vitamin is obviously lying on a beach somewhere in the Maldives; however, it can also be consumed through dietary sources such as fish, eggs, and fortified foods.

Despite the excessive media attention on vitamin D deficiency, the majority of the population are not deficient in vitamin D, or we would have a rickets epidemic on our hands. However, there is a stark difference between minimum threshold, and ideal amount. Most of the research on vitamin D status and populations demonstrate that most people are not in the ideal range; as a result, supplementation is a viable option. Vitamin D supplementation is associated with increased cognition, immune health, bone health and overall well-being, thus individuals should be aiming to consume the ideal amount; especially if in cold or overcast areas. Individuals should aim to consume a Vitamin D3 supplement anywhere in the range of 1000IU-10,000IU per day; preferably along with meals.

Note; All information in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or instruction. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For specific medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, consult a professional.

Josh Williamson

Top 10 practical nutrition tips for marathon preparation

Whether you’re preparing for a marathon, or simply looking to get the best out of your morning run, this guide will help you achieve your goals.

Ted Munson

Whether you’re preparing for a marathon, or simply looking to get the best out of your morning run, this guide will help you achieve your goals.

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Professional marathon runners
  1. Prepare: If you’re heading out for a morning run, prepare your breakfast the night before. Foods like overnight oats are ideal choices and allow you to get up and get fuel on board. Likewise, if you’re heading out after work, make sure you have your recovery shake or meal ready. I recommend taking on both carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes of finishing a run to fuel adaptations and assist recovery for your next session.

 

  1. Complex carbohydrates: These will help fuel your runs and include foods like bread, pulses, legumes, rice and pasta. This will release steadily into the bloodstream to provide sustained energy. It’s recommended to consume these around 2 hours pre-run to allow time for digestion, helping to prevent unwanted gastrointestinal issues. Combine complex carbohydrates with a source of protein like meat, eggs, fish or cheese for the ideal pre or post training meal.

 

  1. Carbohydrate load: Carbohydrate is the main fuel for performance and will fuel you on the road. You should aim to take on around 8-10g of carbohydrate per kilo of your body mass per day for 48 hours before your race. This should be implemented along with a taper in training. This does seem like a lot of food, so consider using high energy carbohydrate (maltodextrin-based) drink between meals to increase carbohydrate stores.

 

  1. Hydration: It’s not always practical to carry a bottle and drink during long runs. Pre-hydrate effectively by drinking an electrolyte solution. The sodium will help the body retain and absorb fluid more effectively. Electrolyte tabs are a convenient way to increase sodium intake both pre and post exercise. Don’t forget you will usually have access to water on race-day, so it is important to learn to drink while running! How much you drink depends entirely on your sweat rate. Weigh yourself pre and post session and work out toughly how much water you’re using through sweat. Aim not to lose 2% of your body mass. From my experience, this usually works out as consuming 250ml – 500ml per hour during longer runs (half marathon +) When training, you could run loop past your house and practice taking on small amounts of fluid during the run.

 

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Hydration is key
  1. Fuel for the work required: We use both fat and carbohydrate as a fuel source during endurance exercise. Fuelling for the work required involves training sessions with reduced energy intake (e.g having breakfast after a morning run) and training sessions where your race- day fuelling strategy is practiced (e.g fuelling with 60g per hour during a run, using energy gels). Quite simply, fuel longer sessions with carbohydrate (perhaps your long weekend run?) and fuel shorter sessions with low carbohydrate. It’s always important to refuel effectively post run, especially if undertaken in a fasted state.

 

  1. Practice your nutrition strategy in training: It’s important to train the body to utilize carbohydrates and tolerate sports nutrition during running. Our digestive system works differently when we exercise, so It’s important to practice using gels, bars and drinks during training runs. I recommend starting off using 1 gel immediately before a run and progressing to 1 gel during a run. Eventually, you should be able to easily consume enough food during runs to take on 60 g per hour. The worst thing you can do is try new forms and amounts of carbohydrate on race day!

 

  1. Have your ‘pre –run’ meal around 90 minutes before: When preparing for a race or a long training session, aim to have a carbohydrate meal around 90 minutes before. This will ensure that you start your run with ‘topped-up’ energy stores. This goes for both training and race day. Practice your pre-run meal and consume what works for you. Keep it the same for race day. Note that marathons often start early and you may have to have an early start to take on your breakfast!

 

  1. Don’t neglect protein: During endurance exercise, our muscle protein still breaks down, which is detrimental to adaptations (the purpose of training). We also need to consider the mitochondrial adaptations! Aim to take on 1.2-2g of protein per kg of your body mass per day top help muscles adapt and provide key amino acids to help make new muscle proteins. Ideally, take on protein at a rate of 20-25g every 3-4 hours throughout the day, as well as before and after training.

 

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©JMsportpix
  1. Recover: Recovery isn’t just about protein, we need to consider that tough endurance exercise depletes energy stores and can impair immune function. I recommend taking on a meal within 30 minutes of finishing your training runs. This should contain around 60% carbohydrates (including vegetables) with a lean source of protein. Although, many runners do not want to eat immediately post-exercise. Here, a recovery shake can provide a convenient protein and carbohydrate source. I always recommend that if you have a recovery shake, always aim to take on a full mal within 1 hour of finishing.

 

  1. Avoid: In the 48 hours before your event, it’s a good idea to avoid certain foods that might upset your stomach or what you’re not used to having. Key foods that may (or may not) cause problems are both spicy and high fat foods. I would also recommend having low-moderate fibre the day before your race. Make sure you’ve practiced your pre-race nutrition strategy and most importantly, never try anything new on race day!

Ted Munson

What qualifying for a World Cup means to Panama

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

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

 

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