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Archive for June 26, 2016

BULLETIN: June 26, 2016 — Resilient United States take bronze in Champions Trophy

Two years ago, the United States women’s field hockey team couldn’t solve the 1-v-1 shootouts that were the new international mandate for tiebreakers in knockout games, losing 3-1 to Australia in the semifinals of the 2014 FIH World Cup.

In a rematch with Australia at the 2016 Champions’ Trophy in London, the States also had trouble on attack, as interim captain Melissa Gonzalez was the only one of the five U.S. attackers to score.

But Jackie Briggs, having yielded three to Australia in the shootout two years ago, was an absolute wall in the bronze-medal match at the Champions Trophy. Briggs withstood all five Hockeyroo attempts without conceding a goal, allowing the States to take a 1-0 shootout win after a 2-2 draw.

The American side had fallen behind 2-0 early in the second half, having conceded an extra-woman goal to Australia because of an inexplicable 10-minute yellow card handed out to Katie Bam for a tackle from behind in the 29th.

Bam, however, opened the United States account just three minutes after rejoining the game, then, with Australia’s Kristin Dwyer off the pitch for a yellow card, she scored again to bring the game to level terms in the 57th.

The bronze-medal match win represented the first time the United States had taken home a medal at the Champions Trophy since 1995.

The third-place points awarded for this championship ought to help the States in world rankings, and winning the bronze should automatically extend the U.S. an invitation to the final FIH Champions Trophy in 2018.

With five weeks before the Americans embark on the journey to Rio, the Americans should gain confidence not only from this result, but from the fact that Pan Am rivals Argentina won the tournament 2-1 against defending Olympic champion Holland.

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June 26, 2016 — “Brexit” and a shift in international sport?

This past Thursday, voters in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland voted to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union, an action which has received the shorthand name, “Brexit.”

That same day, in London, the Great Britain women’s field hockey team dropped a 2-0 shutout to the United States, relegating the host nation (and bronze-medalists from London 2012) t0 the bottom of the Champions Trophy standings after Matchday 4.

Now, it’s foolhardy to connect a vote on European Union membership to a single field hockey game. But the referendum result will have ramifications for years when it comes to athletic competition — everything from partnerships with North American professional leagues, to the exposure and investment in English sports teams, to the very nature of competition in many sports in continental Europe.

First of all, let’s make clear what is not going to happen. There’s not going to be any change in the makeup of the continent’s most prominent international sports competition, soccer’s European Championship, which continues this weekend. In that competition, there were separate teams for Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and England.

Second, there’s not going to be a change heading into the Olympic Games; European Union membership does not affect individuals and teams that will be competing under the Union Jack as Team GB. At least not yet.

Going forward, over the next several years, the sporting landscape could change drastically in both the United Kingdom and Europe. Those changes can be split up into two categories.

One category is economics. After the Brexit vote, the British pound (which was still the local currency) lost about 30 percent of its value to the Euro dollar in one day. That makes English money less valuable than the money of its neighbors on the continent. Which is, I think, kind of karmic because the U.K. never fully committed to the Euro as currency, stubbornly clinging to the pound.

With the pound being less valuable, other currencies rose in value. That could undercut the buying power of professional sports teams in England — in particular, soccer — to attract players from leagues in Italy, Spain, Germany, and Holland, all of whom use the Euro.

But more importantly, it affects the ability of American interests to invest in the British economy going forward. The National Football League has taken over Wembley Stadium in London for up to three regular-season games per season. The National Basketball Association has played six regular-season games at the O2 Arena in London since 2011. 

Both leagues have floated the idea of London franchises. But the teams and parent leagues need to know the costs of moving competitions overseas, and it will difficult to peg expenses if the United Kingdom is no longer in Europe.

The Brexit could have a devastating impact when it comes to how players are allowed to move through transfer fees in cricket, rugby and, especially, soccer. Without belonging to Europe, professional leagues in England will have an extra layer of labor permits that will be needed to be completed in order to import players from Europe.

This could have an impact on one of the world’s most prominent sporting enterprises, the English Premier League. First of all, a Premier League outside of Europe will have to conform to English labor laws rather than European laws. That will change the way that teams import players from outside the country. Too, Premier League teams are going to have trouble signing European players under the age of 18.

Now, the 20 teams in the Premier League are receiving a substantial payout for the 2016-17 season, estimated to be about 100 million pounds per team, with the top teams — beginning with champion Leicester City — receiving more than 140 million pounds each. The money, however, will not go as far now than it did four days ago.

That money is limited to the top teams in the English FA, and doesn’t go to teams in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

But herein is the second category of long-term effects of the Brexit. That will be the political lines within Europe — and, possibly, elsewhere because of a rising tide of nationalism.

You see, the Olympics are a tense time for athletes all over the United Kingdom, since there is no separate Olympic team for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland like there is in soccer. Instead, all athletes compete for Great Britain, which complicates the selection process in some athletic pursuits.

Field hockey is one example of the complication within the British Isles. Ireland and Northern Ireland compete together on the same team in FIH competitions outside of the Olympics. Scotland’s women have fielded a good-enough team that it beat the United States in pool play at the 2012 Champions Challenge. Yet, on the current Great Britain Champions’ Trophy side, there is nobody of Scottish origin.

It’s been pointed out that, with the Brexit, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which had been largely unfortified since the Good Friday agreements of 1998, will once again have to be guarded, because the border now demarcates Europe and the United Kingdom.

But that might not be for long. It’s been reported that both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted overwhelmingly in last week’s referendum to remain in the Eurozone. Both could very well schedule votes in the next few months to rejoin the European Union. What that could do is create an international border within the British Isles, and it could also fit in with Sinn Fein’s campaign to unify all 32 counties of Ireland.

I’ll be interested to see if there’s not only going to be more exits from the Euro, but whether you may find more political struggles from the likes of the Basques, Transylvanians, Catalonians, Corsicans, and other ethnic minorities within established European borders.