Row Z edition 59; dateline 30 September 2011

Après le deluge: quoi?
The recent upheaval at South Yorkshire Sport, which saw the departure of friend of The Leisure Review Bruce Kelsey from his role as director, has begun to show fruit with the launch of something called the South Yorkshire Sport Network. We quote: “This Network aims to provide a new sub-regional platform for our diverse range of partners and stakeholders” (their jargon, their caps). The group, sorry network, will meet six times a year “to work and learn together for the benefit of development and delivery of community sport and physical activity in South Yorkshire”. Meetings will “focus on key themes” and, with a surprising grasp of the zeitgeist, the first event will consider “Increasing Participation and Capacity in Minority Communities” (again, their caps). Not the paucity of the Olympic legacy as pointed put by local politico Dick Caborn, not the challenge of falling participation, not the threat to grassroots sport from the Con Dem government; equity. While nobody is more committed to equality than Sideliner, who as an ‘elder’ is now an oppressed minority, the fact that, as an industry, it has been on our agenda since at least the late eighties raises the question of just what, and indeed who, this network is for. Do we hear boxes being ticked? We think so.

Death by a thousand cuts for grassroots clubs?
Our friends at the Sport and Recreation Alliance have banged out another fantastic report which raises hard questions for the politicians, with a small ‘P’, in the sport and leisure end of the industry. In his introduction to their biennial club survey report chairman Andy Reed wrote (with a disregard for grammatical pernicketiness which some may applaud): “Our 2011 Sports Club Survey makes for worry reading. Not surprisingly given the state of the economy, clubs are struggling”, going on to argue that “As we approach a home Olympics these are depressing new facts and not what we wanted to report”. The headlines are that club surpluses have fallen by almost 50%; more than 25% of clubs are running at a loss, with annual incomes falling by 15%; and that adult membership of sports clubs, the backbone of sustainable sport in this country, has fallen by 11%. On the upside, er, there is no upside. Sorry.

Vintage New Zealand whine
The heart-warming celebration of Richie McCaw’s 100th All Black cap – curiously a silver rather than a black bonnet – in which he spoke affectingly of playing for the jersey and for his mates rather than for fame and fortune has been thrown into relief as another piece of mawkishly sentimental marketing comes from New Zealand RFU to match their latest slavishly stylised - and copyrighted – haka. New Zealand RFU’s chief executive, Steve Tew, says that the All Blacks won’t be defending the world title which the IRB gifted them when they awarded them the 2011 tournament unless someone gives them a lot more money in the mean time. The All Blacks it seems are not a rugby team, nor yet the embodiment of the Kiwi values of honest hard word and mateship. In fact they are a brand and one which, Tew says, is undervalued: “We do not believe the All Black brand is remunerated in an equitable manner for the value it brings to the places it plays in.” His whinge – and it matches any from across the Tasman Sea – is that England and the other home unions have more money than he has. Asked in the same interview whether the All Black brand would be seen in struggling south pacific nations of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa any time soon, Tew said, “No.”

KKP win contract battle, apparently
According to “sources” from across the pantheon of the sports development community, the worst-kept secret this autumn – other than the Tories’ ridiculous decision to raise the speed limit on motorways which had to be launched once it had been leaked, and Rio’s love life obviously – is that Bury-based consultancy KKP have won the bidding war to run both the Club Mark and Runningsports programmes on behalf of Sport England. The news is apparently embargoed but was water-cooler talk the morning after the protagonists were informed with at least three of Row Z’s stringers phoning in the information. It could still prove incorrect, of course, but in case it isn’t we would like to offer our congratulations to our friends at KKP who have worked hard to make Club Mark a useful tool for clubs rather than the millstone the NGBs would have it be. Our commiserations to our friends at Coachwise, who have made Runningsports a vibrant and useful programme despite the input of their Sport England mentors, and a crooked smile for our friends at SkillsActive who reportedly were nowhere close with their bid despite a massive array of partners recruited to their cause.

SRA talk PR for NGBs
Great news for everyone in the NGB world reaches us via the medium of Twitter. It seems the Sport and Recreation Alliance are meeting with Promote PR to discuss how the sport and leisure sector’s favourite public relations company can “help our members with their PR activity”. Chief executives of under-pressure sports bodies will doubtless be on tenterhooks waiting to find out how improving their spin will help their members, and at what cost.

No Arts End this month but…
The launch (surely relaunch?) of the Globe’s contribution to the 2012 celebrations, 39 Shakespeare plays in 39 different languages, encapsulates all that is right about the Cultural Olympiad. Its rationale is obscure: “It's a concentration of creative energy around a shared vision which we hope will catch something of the zeitgeist, will delight audiences and inspire a whole new generation of artists”. It is monumentally complicated even to get tickets: “The festival is offering a variety of Olympic-themed ticket plans, from a two-play ‘biathlon’ to a ‘marathon’ of 26 plays”. And it generates sentences we will never see again: “It kicks off April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday, with Troilus and Cressida in Maori, performed by New Zealand's Ngakau Toa company, and includes what Dromgoole called a ‘lurid, tawdry, drugs-and-strippers’ version of Macbeth from Poland.” 

What have we learned?

With a skin as thick as a Dutch athletics coach working in England we persist in delivering this feature and if it’s poor we’ll just blame the relay team.

The Rugby World Cup: that ITV’s editorial decisions to (a) never be controversial and (b) never to criticise a winning team (qv the rubbish spoken about an England win over Romania in which they conceded more penalties than a team they beat by 60 points but were still praised to the sky) makes for anodyne and indeed misleading television; that Martin Johnson would not know an open-side flanker if it knocked him on his great, stubborn backside; that it is perfectly possible, if not very good for you, to drink beer at eight in the morning; that Kiwis are a friendly, open bunch apart from when they step over the white line; and that the whole schemozzle would really have benefited rugby in Japan had it been awarded to them as it should have been.

The return of the X Factor: that it is going to be a long, hard winter for people who spend Saturdays in; that Gary Barlow is teeny tiny; that Louis Walsh is the kid in the gang that nobody liked but as he could steal alcohol from his parents he got to hang around with you anyway; that the woman from Destiny’s Child is really quite foxy; that they know who is good long before the “auditions”; that the BBC does the nation a disservice if it fails to run Strictly Come Dancing at exactly the same time as this vacuous, tawdry rubbish so we only have to watch one lot of vacuous, tawdry rubbish per weekend.

The Cycling World Championships: that the strength in depth of British Cycling is remarkable; that Copenhagen is, in parts, a picturesque city; that all you need for success is vaunting ambition, meticulous planning and endless hard work, according to David Brailsford when we all thought it was the agglomeration of marginal gains; that Denmark is not as miserable as The Killings make it look; that Hugh Porter should be sent to the cycling commentators’ retirement home where he can sit opposite Phil Liggett and they can misinform each other.



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