February 25th, 2010
02:34 AM ET

Is Cole's alleged indiscretion big news?

Tiger Woods cheated on his wife. John Terry seems to have done the same and now Ashley Cole is allegedly the most recent to fall off the morality wagon. Shocked? Or just shockingly bored of all the fuss?

Ashley Cole is the latest famous sportsman to fall under the media spotlight for his off-field behavior.
Ashley Cole is the latest famous sportsman to fall under the media spotlight for his off-field behavior.

The media certainly isn’t. In recent weeks, the “outrage” in the British tabloids about celebrity adultery has been a daily affair.

Ask the man on the street, and you’ll find he is not all that indignant. Not to worry. The press has been offended enough for all of us.

But being famous is not the same as being a role model. To my mind, John Terry and Ashley Cole have one responsibility - and that is to perform on the pitch.

That is why clubs pay millions to buy them, that is why fans around the world adore them. Their job is to play good football. And they should be held accountable for that and that alone.

Ashley Cole is a Chelsea defender. He might be able to teach children how to tackle. But why should he have to teach them how to live?

Children should take an example from those directly involved in their own lives.

From the coach of their under-11 football team. From their father on the sidelines. From the men and women who have a direct impact in their lives on a daily basis. Why the buck should be passed to their favourite footballer is beyond me.

From John Terry or Ashley Cole I expect a purely sporting example. Their level of achievement requires dedication, discipline and team spirit. Let’s let the footballers be good at football. Moral guidance can be sought elsewhere.

Watching Tiger Woods apologize to the world was proof enough to me. These sportsmen shouldn’t have to go through the humiliating process of resigning as role models. A position forced upon them simply because of fame and fortune. We just shouldn’t appoint them on those grounds in the first place.

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Filed under:  Football
February 21st, 2010
03:57 AM ET

It's time to give Tiger some peace

Obviously I'm biased, but analysis and commentary by journalists on the Tiger Woods story and others of its ilk is part of the job in the 21st century. Whatever some people choose to think, it's blinkered in today's competitive market to think that any news organization will just report the facts and nothing else.

Tiger Woods finally broke his silence with a televised public apology (Getty Images).
Tiger Woods finally broke his silence with a televised public apology (Getty Images).

If they did, viewers and readers would just go somewhere else, because we all like context, conjecture, and, dare I say it, some degree of entertainment from our news stories. It's curious that so many people who criticized the media coverage of Tiger Woods' affairs and his subsequent apology seem to know all the angles, including the salacious gossip in which the media is accused of reveling.

That said, I do believe that his mea culpa speech was enough. Yes, it was stage-managed and robotic, but I think the sentiments he expressed were genuine. And, while I stand by my belief that it will be hard, perhaps impossible, for Tiger to ever live down this scandal completely, I do think he should be left alone to fight his demons and attempt to rebuild his marriage in private.

Like others, I see no purpose in him sitting down in front of the media and answering the "tough questions". There is nothing more we need to know about the past. And to reveal the gory details would not only be counter-productive to his recovery process, but it would also provide additional hurt and embarrassment to the victims - primarily his wife Elin.

As for the future? Well, I agree that it would be nice for everyone to know when or if he's coming back to golf, because it's a game that's so patently diminished by his absence. But, to me, grilling him on how he's going to feel and what he can achieve in terms of titles or redemption when he finally picks up the clubs again is pointless. How does he know? What precedent can he draw on to even guess at the answers to those questions? Does he even care right now, with so many private issues on his plate?

So, at the risk of being called a hypocrite, having had plenty to say about Tiger during this crisis as part of my job description, I really do think it's time to give him some peace.

Yes, he'll be written and spoken about in the coming months and years because he was a massive public figure even before the scandal, and now he's even further under the microscope. But I personally believe that whatever is said we need to stop digging, because to make the hole he's in any deeper would just be vindictive.

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Filed under:  Golf
February 19th, 2010
06:10 PM ET

Tiger rules in a Woods world

Tiger Woods stated the obvious. How could he not feel ashamed, selfish, irresponsible and foolish over his behaviour?

Tiger Woods hugs his mother having given his scripted speech (Getty Images).
Tiger Woods hugs his mother having given his scripted speech (Getty Images).

If he had said otherwise he would have shown even more disrespect to his wife, fellow pros and those who administer the game.

At least he faced the public, rather than hiding behind his website where he has apologised before. But this has done nothing to rebuild his image.

He is asking the media to leave his family alone because he brought this all on them but he is choosing to spoon feed the public what he decides they need to hear. Is he still entitled to do this? I don’t think so.

You can’t have it all your own way, yet he wrote in his statement: “I was wrong, I was foolish, I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone else apply to me.” Judging by his actions today, Tiger still plays by Tiger’s rules.

Questions like: What was behind the car crash in November? You admit to being unfaithful but was it on multiple occasions? Do you still have the same hunger as a golfer? Can you ever be as intimidating as a player if you come back? The list of questions goes on.

I applaud the American Golf Writers’ Association decision to boycott the event and not succumb to the demands of the Tiger camp. Their desire to control everything is arrogant and disrespectful to fans who want the hard questions asked.

I hope that he faces an unrestricted press meeting. By not doing it now the circus will take another hiatus as he goes back into rehab only to start up again when he returns.

I am not saying this because we all want the gory details of what he was up to in his private life but for the benefit of moving on from the whole drama.

This week at the Accenture Matchplay the players’ focus has been drawn to Tiger once again and they are frustrated by it. The next episode will add to their frustrations.

Tiger admitted during his speech that after 45 days of rehabilitation (exactly what the rehab is we don’t know because we are not allowed to ask) he has a long way to go.

Judging by that, he is a long way off from returning to the game that quite frankly was carrying on just nicely this week in Arizona until he stole the stage.

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Filed under:  Golf
February 18th, 2010
02:41 PM ET

Has the U.S. proved that winning's in the blood?

America's history-making performance at the Winter Olympics on Wednesday summed up why the country has a reputation for winning, and why no other nation should try to copy them – especially the hosts here in Canada.

Shaun White's gold on the half pipe was part of an American medal rush Wednesday (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images).
Shaun White's gold on the half pipe was part of an American medal rush Wednesday (Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images).

Never before has the United States won so many medals on a single day of Winter Games competition – and four of the six athletes knew exactly what it takes to finish on top of an Olympic podium.

On the one hand, you could argue that this makes it easier for them to win again. However, I would say more people fail to carry on winning compared to those who are able to repeat significant triumphs.

The mark of a true sporting champion is someone who continues to rack up momentous victories despite the inexorable and burdensome rise of expectation.

And the Olympics is one of the harshest competitive spotlights of all. You have athletes from sports that are largely ignored for four years and who are then asked to perform in front of the world’s gaze.

The not so subtle message is: “Don’t worry, it’s only you and your entire country’s pride at stake.”

Which brings us to the hosts of these Games. This is my first visit to Canada and, while I wouldn’t presume to take Vancouver as representative of the whole country, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen. The locals have been friendly, the city feels homely and the surrounding landscape is spectacular.

Nearly all Canadians I have spoken to seem to be as self-deprecating as the British can be. For both countries, I would suggest there is an unwritten rule that the Americans can confidently strut as much as they like but we just don’t approach our sport like that.

However, the Canadians have approached these Olympic Games like that. There are television adverts banging the patriotic drum, hype surrounds every home medal hope and there is wall-to-wall maple-leaf mania.

Now, I’m not pretending for a second that my country – the UK – won’t do exactly the same thing when London hosts the summer games in 2012. But it won’t make it any less of a mistake.

There’s a fine line between wallowing in the glory of being a host nation, whipping up nationalistic fervour for the sake of making the event a commercial success and sabotaging your own athletes chances of success.

Would Canada have won more medals by now if they hadn’t tried so hard? Or do we have to admit the Americans are just born winners? After all, Lindsay Vonn, Shaun White and Shani Davis hit the golden target, despite everyone breathing down their necks.

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Filed under:  2010 Winter Games
February 18th, 2010
10:45 AM ET

No apologies Tiger, just be real

Tiger Woods fever is running high once again after the world number one's agent confirmed the golfer would speak publicly on Friday, for the first time since his "transgressions" and self-imposed exile from the game.

Obviously, we want him to return as the same great golfer he was when he left. And, once he’s shaken off the rust and weathered the media storm, there’s no reason why the post-scandal Tiger should play any differently from the pre-scandal Tiger when it comes to winning golf tournaments. But, more importantly, what do we want to see from Tiger the man?

Fans all over the world want to see Tiger playing golf again but what he does first is a bone of contention.
Fans all over the world want to see Tiger playing golf again but what he does first is a bone of contention.

Veteran American golfer, Tom Watson, would surely applaud the planned mea culpa interview, after advising Woods to do as much in recent interviews. The purpose being to show a contrite, changed man with a healthy dose of humility.

South African golfer, Retief Goosen, is among those who believe Tiger owes the sport an apology for the embarrassment he caused. While fellow player, Jesper Parnevik, who introduced Tiger to his future wife, Elin, also favors the sackcloth and ashes approach. Whether both will be satisfied with Friday's events remains to be seen.

Veteran golfer, Nick Faldo - who is no stranger to marital controversy himself - said that Tiger’s best course of action is to say very little and simply focus on playing golf. The Englishman reasoning that the game will be his salvation. It seems it is not just Colin Montgomerie who is shunning the advice of the former European Ryder Cup captain.

As for the media? Well, regardless of where the outlet stands on the tabloid to broadsheet continuum, the demand will be for public hari kiri, followed by some genuine evidence of remorse, during which the story can stay hot on the back of a load of psycho babble and analysis, ultimately leading to a glorious resurrection in which Tiger, with Elin on his arm, comes full circle as a husband, father, and walking talking life lesson, because everyone loves a happy ending.

What do I want from Tiger? Well, I don’t want an apology, as I’m not his wife, his kids, his friends, his family, or any of the sponsors whose money he took and then let down. I don’t want the mea culpa speech either. He has already confessed, and his actions in hiding speak louder than words. I know as much as I need to know about what he did, and why he did it seems patently obvious. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. What I do want though is for Tiger to start being real, whatever he says and whatever he does. Because replacing one façade with another would do nobody any good at all.

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Filed under:  Golf
February 17th, 2010
07:14 PM ET

Out the way Tiger, there's a tournament to be played

The first big tournament of the year is upon us and there is no Tiger Woods, or Phil Mickelson. The two biggest drawcards in golf are on the sidelines for personal reasons, and that is a shame when you have such a talented field of 64 players.

Geoff Ogilvy plays his tee shot at the 16th hole in the final round of his victorious Dove Mountain campaign in March 2009.
Geoff Ogilvy plays his tee shot at the 16th hole in the final round of his victorious Dove Mountain campaign in March 2009.

Some of the stories making headlines aside from the absent "big two" make for great reading.

Steve Stricker is just shy of his 43rd birthday and the new world number two ahead of Mickelson. Rory McIlroy is a huge hit among the fans. The Molinari brothers from Italy are making their World Golf Championship debut. The Japanese press corps following Ryo Ishikawa makes you wonder whether Elvis just walked in the building, and of course it helps when he likes to dress the way he does.

There is plenty more to watch this week as well, but let’s get back to Tiger for just a moment because he is to golf what Elvis was to music.

I did manage to chat with his former coach Butch Harmon, who let fly the rather bold prediction that the world number one won’t be back on the scene this year. “People think I am crazy for saying it, but I really think we won’t see him until next year,” he explained.

“Inside the ropes, Tiger is a different person. He’s so competitive that it really is intimidating. Off the course he is a different person, and I should know because I spent so much time with the kid.

“He’s not that confident and sometimes struggles to look you in the eye. I think he would be really struggling to cope with the beating his image has taken, and feeling quite vulnerable.”

Butch’s last point came with the explanation that everything around Tiger was manufactured and controlled, especially with media interviews. “Now all bets are off and he knows he won’t be given any slack anymore. That’s what he has to come back to - not easy,” he said.

Enough about Tiger for now. The first of five days of terrific match play golf got underway Wednesday with the Aussie Geoff Ogilvy defending the title. He has an extra spring in his step after becoming a father for the third time just a few days ago and it’s only his third tournament this season.

Picking a winner, though, at Dove Mountain is a real lottery. It’s a knockout competition that culminates with a 36-hole shootout on Sunday. Anything could happen.

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Filed under:  Golf
February 16th, 2010
06:15 PM ET

A Tiger media frenzy awaits – but which Woods will we see?

A world away from the Winter Olympics, golf’s rumor-mill has been in overdrive in the course of the last few days, with the main thrust of speculation centering on whether Tiger Woods was poised to return to the game he once dominated a lot sooner than many had predicted.

Tiger Woods tosses his putter in frustration having missed a putt at La Costa Resort in California, 2006.
Tiger Woods tosses his putter in frustration having missed a putt at La Costa Resort in California, 2006.

At one point it looked as though the world’s top player might end his self-imposed exile from the game as early as this month at the World Golf Championships' Arizona match play event in the United States. This would have been fitting, as it is the same venue he used to make his comeback last year after knee surgery.

That has now been ruled out, but for me a return to the game so soon after taking what Woods himself called an “indefinite break” from the sport would be a great surprise. After all, Tiger normally misses a good chunk of the early part of the year anyway, so any return to golf in February would somewhat lessen the impact of his hiatus.

Anyway, that’s for Woods to reflect on. What I want to know is what kind of a person and golfer we will see when he does finally make his latest comeback?

There’s no doubt any hope of a quiet, low-key return to the game is beyond hope - such will be the media scrutiny - but what caught my eye was the recent outburst from American veteran Tom Watson, who told Tiger through the media in no uncertain terms that he needs to improve his act both on and off the course.

And let's hope Tiger takes heed. Ever since he burst onto the scene, we've been treated to some jaw-dropping stuff from the sport's second-most decorated player of all-time, but too often in recent times we've also seen a side that does the world number one no favors at all.

What Watson gave us was a fairly unsubtle dig at what he perceives as Tiger's course etiquette, or rather lack of it. The five-time British Open champion made reference to his compatriot's occasional, though highly noticeable, habit of re-swinging his club in churlish frustration on the rare occasion that one of his shots isn't perfectly executed. And the 60-year-old also picked up on some rather choice language at times that frankly we could all do without.

Watson added that you’d never have got that from a certain Jack Nicklaus, at least not with any regularity. Microphones and cameras are seemingly everywhere these days, and it’s perhaps naive of Tiger to think otherwise.

It’s the kind of admonishment hardly anyone would have dared to venture just a short while ago. But the golfing landscape looks very different now as far as Woods is concerned, and some of the sport’s biggest names certainly aren’t afraid of having their say.

Of course, the 2010 Masters looms large at Augusta, Georgia, and I for one still think there’s more than a fair chance we’ll see the game’s top player at the season’s first major. There’s only so much time he can spend kicking his heels in frustration.

I am, of course, not privy to what’s going on behind the scenes, but when a patched up Tiger does return to the fray he knows better than anyone that the onus is on him to quickly prove that painful lessons have been learned. And Tom Watson, for one, would have it no other way.

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Filed under:  Golf
February 15th, 2010
11:33 AM ET

Thrilling race on the ice books speedskater's place in history

If you ever consider purchasing tickets to an Olympic Winter Games sport, might I suggest short-track speedskating? In a word, WOW!

South Korean Jung-Su Lee crosses the finish-line ahead of Canada's Charles Hamelin and American speedskating legend Apolo Anto Ohno.
South Korean Jung-Su Lee crosses the finish-line ahead of Canada's Charles Hamelin and American speedskating legend Apolo Anto Ohno.

Venue: the Pacific Coliseum, event: the 1500 metres men's short-track final. Having never before taken-in this sport in person, I didn't really know what to expect.

I did know from the television pictures that I've seen through the years that short-track seemed to be the real deal. Many times the race isn't over 'till it's over and sometimes even then it's not finished.

This is precisely how it went for Apolo Anton Ohno on this night. Ohno was, without a doubt, the most popular skater in the house. Even the Canadian crowd, who would have loved to see one of their own claim the gold, was behind the 27-year-old in his pursuit of U.S. Olympic history.

When Ohno was introduced, the fans roared and rang cowbells to increase the decibel level in an already noisy arena. Once the race began, off a starter's gun, it was a little difficult to focus from the upper level of the stands. So much was going on as the skaters went 'round and 'round the ice.

Ohno fell back in the pack at one point and then made his move toward the front as the laps wound down. Your eyes would, at one moment, be fixed on the white ice and then you'd look up at the scoreboard to keep up with positioning. Talk about multi-tasking!

As the race neared the finish line, it looked as if South Korea would sweep the podium. Ohno must have been thinking "oh no". Then, in a blink of an eye, one Korean took out another Korean with an ill-advised pass on the final turn. As the teammates crashed into the protective barrier, Ohno and his U.S. teammate J.R. Celski skated to the line to claim the silver and the bronze respectively behind Jung-Su Lee from South Korea who won the gold medal.

While Ohno waited for the results to become official, he raised six fingers into the air, representing the six Olympic medals he's claimed over the course of his career. What played out next will live in my Olympic memories.

Ohno retrieved a United States flag and draped it across his shoulders. With a big smile on his face, the speedskating star seemingly let out a big sigh once the finishing order was set in stone. As he circled the ice, with his country's flag in tow, Apolo Anto Ohno did so as the most decorated male Winter Olympian in U.S. history.

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Filed under:  2010 Winter Games
February 14th, 2010
12:15 AM ET

Vancouver's opening ceremony flawed, but perfect

Okay, they blew the money shot but, on reflection, the botched lighting of the Olympic flame actually added to Vancouver’s opening ceremony.

The Olympic flame is lit at the conclusion of the opening ceremony for the Winter Games in Vancouver .
The Olympic flame is lit at the conclusion of the opening ceremony for the Winter Games in Vancouver .

It was hard for organizers to get the tone right following the death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. No matter how tragic, it would have been wrong if the commemorations to him had featured too prominently.

The young Georgian died doing a dangerous sport, but one that he had trained for and knew the risks of. Very different, for example, to the terrorist attack on Togo’s football team at the recent Africa Cup of Nations.

There was a fitting tribute from Kumaritashvili’s team-mates, who wore black armbands and scarves to go with the grim expression on their faces. They were given a standing ovation in BC Place and there was even a smattering of applause where I was watching – a giant marquee, mostly filled with Canadians waiting to cheer their nation’s competitors.

The fans had heard about the accident and, despite being well lubricated with alcohol, a hush descended as they watched the minute’s silence at Friday's opening ceremony.

Kumaritashvili was also mentioned in the official speeches, but the rest of the evening was filled with the usual pre-Olympic theatrics.

Having to follow Beijing’s cinematic-style epic opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics was always going to be a tough challenge for Vancouver’s organizers, but in my opinion they rose to it.

I’ll admit I can be a bit sentimental at times, but when VANOC boss John Furlong said, "We invite people everywhere to share and experience, even if just for a few moments, what it feels like to be a proud Canadian," – I did.

And, as a Brit working for an American company, I have to confess it tickled me that the second biggest cheer of the night came when poet Shane Koyczan declared “Yes, we say zed not zee."

Then, as the patriotic fervour was at its height, one of the pillars supporting the Olympic cauldron failed to rise. How embarrassing. The final four torch-bearers had ear pieces and knew what was going on, but they still didn’t look comfortable.

But you know what? I think it was great. Unlike China a year and a half ago, Canada shouldn’t be trying to serve up another robotic, clinical Games. This is a diverse country, vast, beautiful and imperfect – and that’s cause for celebration.

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Filed under:  2010 Winter Games
February 11th, 2010
10:44 PM ET

Will Vancouver Olympics be better than Beijing?

So, after months of anticipation, here we are… in Vancouver on the cusp of another Olympic Games. Well, another one for me after losing my Olympic “virginity” reporting from Beijing in 2008.

Olympic rings light the Vancouver harbour while fear mounts that increased security will strangle the spirit of the games.
Olympic rings light the Vancouver harbour while fear mounts that increased security will strangle the spirit of the games.

Already, I’m running down a mental checklist, comparing the two cities. Difficult because they are in two, very different countries and the Winter and Summer Games are very different events.

For a start, only around 80 nations will compete here in Vancouver, compared to 204 in Beijing. No surprise then that flying in to Canada was a lot quieter than arriving in China a year and a half ago.

I landed only slightly later than I’d taken off from London Heathrow – the eight hour time difference almost cancelling out the nine and a half hour flight. It was a lively journey, with plenty of Olympic-bound passengers crammed alongside me in economy.

Many were wearing team colours – Italy, Norway and Russia, to name a few – although it was hard to tell which were competitors and which were coaches, support staff or simply fans! Most were wandering around the cabin, excitedly talking to each other about what to expect.

At Vancouver airport, there was a separate passport control for those of us with official Olympic accreditation. I didn’t have to queue very long. In contrast, Beijing airport had been absolutely manic. The company I worked for then provided a private driver and I was glad of it.

Here in Vancouver, I used a media shuttle bus, laid on by the organisers. The bus driver wasn’t local and I ended up guiding him using a map application on my mobile phone. This is my first time in the city too!

At Beijing ‘08, the airport staff had been so amazed to see an official Olympic accreditation that they insisted on having their picture taken with it. This time, there was less wonderment but just as much friendliness.

Although I believe the Chinese laid on a good Olympic Games eighteen months ago, it was sad to see what happened on the night of the opening ceremony. Thousands of people travelled to the capital even though they had no tickets, or much money.

They were so proud that their country was hosting such a prestigious world event and yet police blocked their path and forced them down side streets with no view of the Bird’s Nest stadium

Vancouver has spent far more on security than it originally planned. I only hope this isn’t a sign that they will try to overly orchestrate these Olympics too. That can suffocate the very spirit which makes the games so unique.

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Filed under:  2010 Winter Games
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