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Archive for January, 2019

Jan. 24, 2019 — The Pakistan debacle

As we mentioned yesterday in Unfiltered, the story about the Pakistan men’s field hockey team dropping out of the FIH Pro League is actually the second change that has occurred in the lineup of the league since it was introduced last year.

And it’s led to a very, very unhealthy perception in hockey circles that the FIH has gone a bridge too far in moving a major qualification from a single-site tournament to the round-robin, home-and-home series which is seen in FIFA and many other international sports.

Pakistan was put in a difficult position even before the competition started, as security concerns surrounding the team and its opponents led to the FIH making Pakistan play its home fixtures in, of all places, Scotland. This means near-constant travel for the squad, which costs money.

Now, according to some media reports in the wake of the withdrawal, it’s been alleged that, depending on which account you read, there’s a pool of funding of anywhere from $720,000 to $4,200,000 that the Pakistani government was sitting on, but, because Pakistan Hockey Federation president Khalid Khokar was chosen for the post by the previous Pakistani government, the current regime was not willing to part with the funds.

This is the kind of political pressure that is frowned upon by world governing bodies of the sport; there have been times when FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has suspended entire nations such as Iraq, Guatemala, and Sierra Leone because of government interference in how soccer is run.

One of FIFA’s more recent suspensions? Yup, Pakistan.

It’s too bad the hockey powers that be in the country didn’t realize what they were in for; it’s now possible that the two-year suspension for withdrawal from the Pro League could also affect the team’s eligibility for the 2022 FIH World Cup.

But what this episode is also doing is putting a black mark on the Pro League so soon after its first game last weekend. The perception is going to be of an enterprise which may have been oversold and which may wind up draining the resources of the national governing bodies of field hockey in the participating countries.

I’m pretty sure Pakistan isn’t the only nation which will find it difficult to shuttle teams from nation to nation over the next seven months.

Jan. 23, 2019 — What eight years means to technology

I received the box, oddly enough, on a Sunday.

Inside was a small device, smaller than your normal smartphone, plus a handful of accessories and a mini-CD.

The device is simple in its fit and finish: three buttons, one mini-USB connector.

It’s a small digital screen which is designed to auto-play video and folders of pictures; a smaller version of those digital photo albums which were all the rage. These started hitting the market sometime around 2011.

I’ve seen these “digi-tags” applied at conventions in order to be able to get attention in the midst of a crowded floor. It is an arresting vision when colored and moving lights emanate from something attached to one’s clothing.

One interesting application of these occurred in June of 2011, when the broadcasters of the NBA Finals used these screens mounted on the microphones of the broadcasters to rotate images of their network, the NBA Finals logo, and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

I found it pretty pricey, given the fact they were being used for only a few seconds at the inception of the broadcast.

But it was also in 2011 when the iPhone 4 first hit the market. And with that, three generations of iPhones were left behind.

Some people kept their older iPhones in order to turn them into either music players, but others turned them into rudimentary (and free) video presentation devices that could be worn much like the single-purpose video badge.

What had been a $500 item at full price had come down to my $25 purchase eight years later.

When I unboxed and plugged in the USB cable, what played was a series of presentations extolling the virtue of a used-car business. Great.

It took me a while to figure out that I had to upload a movie on it with a certain internal codex, one which I was able to change using a bit of freeware called Handbrake.

Today, there’s a three-minute video on the badge, which features about 40 different representations of this site’s logo. All of the design work had been done on an iPhone, though the final assembly was done through iMovie.

It’s quite impressive, and we’ll be sure to implement this microphone flag in future videos we do for this site.

Jan. 22, 2019 — A Hoosier is coming home

Kayla Bashore, who was center-midfielder for two Olympic field hockey teams and recipient of 175 caps with the United States, has been hired as the head coach of Indiana University.

Bashore’s skills and attack-mindedness made her one of the best players ever to come out of Indiana’s program, winning the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2005.

She’ll be asked to refloat an Indiana program which last had a .500 record in 2014.

Jan. 21, 2019 — A possible conflagration in Storrs?

The last decade or so, a number of NCAA field hockey and women’s lacrosse programs have been zeroed out and defunded because of budgetary concerns. Amongst the victims in recent years have been the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, the University of Rhode Island, Philadelphia University, Ohio University, and the University of the Pacific.

Well, this afternoon, I read this about the University of Connecticut. UConn has spent an awful lot of money on getting ice hockey and football back in its sporting portfolios, and even though they have gotten gifts to build the infrastructure for these teams, there is a serious bump-up in expenses for maintenance and upkeep.

Meanwhile, Connecticut moved from a conference with enormous name recognition (Big East) to a conference without the same type of revenue stream. The American Athletic Conference does not have an over-the-air television network. Instead, it broadcasts games on either Sidearm Sports or Facebook Live.

While the Swish Appeal story speculates on only the women’s lacrosse team and the two soccer teams on campus, I’m not so sure that these three teams could close a $40 million budget deficit.

It may take more.

 

Jan. 20, 2019 — A tragic turn in what could become a very tawdry tale

It was first reported two weeks ago that former U.S. pairs figure skating champion John Coughlin had his eligibility restricted by the SafeSport Committee for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Coughlin had won the pairs title in 2011 with Caitlin Yankowskas and in 2012 with Caydee Denney. He parlayed his on-ice success to private coaching, the head of the Athletes Commission within the International Skating Union, television broadcasting, and the endorsement of a skate blade company.

This morning, it was reported that he had committed suicide.

And it didn’t take long for not just one, but multiple reports of abuse on the part of Coughlin to be reported, including allegations from minors.

It seems as though the abuses, first touched on by sportswriter Molly Ryan back in 1995 in the book “Little Girls In Pretty Boxes,” are now roiling figure skating just a year after the world of women’s gymnastics was rent asunder by the Larry Nassar investigation and conviction.

The thing is, Ryan’s book has been around for nearly a quarter-century, and it had even spurred a reform and wellness program which was put together by former gymnast Nancy Thies Marshall. But due to opposition within the gymnastics community, Marshall’s plan was abandoned in 2001.

Somehow, I wonder if that opposition would be allowed to stand today, given what we know about the predators already identified by SafeSport in such a short period of time.

 

Jan. 19, 2019 — The start of a risky road

This morning at 7 a.m., in Valencia, Spain, a whistle will blow and there will be a familiar whisking together of composite sticks against a plastic ball on a water-based artificial turf.

The 2019 FIH Pro League will start with current FIH men’s World Cup holders Belgium going against host Spain in the first game of a long, bifurcated road to the 2020 Olympics.

As things stand now, there are three avenues to qualification for the Olympics:

  1. Host nation
  2. Continental champion
  3. Win a two-game series as a qualifier from either the Hockey Pro League or the FIH Hockey Series

No. 3, for me, is a bit of a head-scratcher. For all of what the FIH Pro League is supposed to engender (television rights, sponsorships, home support to engender), the League only qualifies four teams into the final round of Olympic qualifications. Meanwhile, the Hockey Series, which are three eight-nations tournaments being held this summer, will qualify six total teams.

Now, there’s one wrinkle that’s already happened on the men’s and the women’s side: because Japan is the host nation and swept last fall’s Asia Cups, there is one more slot for each gender to contest for final qualifications. The qualifiers for those games will be the next-highest spot in world ranking.

In addition, there is another wrinkle. The last couple of Olympic cycles, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee has prevented both the men’s and women’s teams from playing in the Olympics, citing the low level of competition in the African Olympic qualification tournament.

It could very well be that mid-level women’s teams like the United States, China, Belgium, and South Korea could be in for tremendous fights in the final round of qualifying should they fail to win their continental qualifying tournaments.

And, it could very well be that a highly-ranked team not already qualified (New Zealand? China?) will get back-doored into the Olympics on world ranking.

So, bearing in mind that it may be possible to “back in” to an Olympic berth at several junctures in this process, let the games begin.

Jan. 18, 2019 — Another shoe drops in East Lansing

Use whatever metaphor or simile you want to describe the fallout over the Larry Nassar investigations at USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University.

They apply.

And with the latest resignation, that of interim MSU president John Engler, over some outrageous statements over the victim status of more than 300 young women athletes, enough shoes have dropped to make an Imelda Marcos starter kit.

Engler, the former three-term governor of Michigan, is the latest of nearly 20 departures, resignations, or indictments which have been linked to the arrest and conviction of Nassar, the former team doctor for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics who has been sentenced to hundreds of years in prison for sexual assault and child molestation.

Engler did the unthinkable this week when he made remarks marginalizing the victims, implying that they were enjoying their time in the spotlight.

The words were spoken with a tone-deafness that has seemed to have enveloped the political landscape over the last few years.

Anyone who watched the ESPY Awards and the video of the Nassar hearings could have easily discerned that the women in court and on that stage would have rather been doing anything else. Only their determination put them in the public eye, even decades after being abused. Indeed, even though there were some 140 Nassar survivors attending the ESPYs and accepting the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, there were nearly 200 more victims who were not on stage.

And there are probably dozens more who have never come forward to the authorities because they are either too traumatized or who don’t want to create extra fuss. That’s what’s mind-boggling about some of these crimes.

Though the universe of discourse of victims at trial may have been a small handful, the known impact is hundreds.

And I have a feeling a lot more suits aren’t going to have their jobs a year from now.