Can football change the world in its fight against poverty?
Football great Zinedine Zidane took part in the annual Match against Poverty.
March 5th, 2014
01:47 PM ET

Can football change the world in its fight against poverty?

By Tom McGowan

A band of heroes unite to change the lives of those in need, to feed the starving and house the homeless.

This is the rationale behind a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) initiative which it hopes will help halve world poverty by 2015.

Arguably the UN faces an uphill struggle.

A recent Oxfam report estimated that the world's richest 85 people share a combined wealth of $1.67 trillion, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population.

The World Bank's definition of poverty is based on an income of less than $2 a day, or a calorie intake of less than 2100 calories.

Football stars Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane are the faces of the Match Against Poverty, launched in 2003 and now an annual event aimed at raising funds for the impoverished.

"It's the world's most accessible and equal sport. You can even make your own football," Petra Lantz, director of the UNDP representation office in Geneva, told CNN.

"I've seen that with kids who use paper and string, then they have a football and they pretend that they're Ronaldo or Zidane.

"If you want to reach these kids who are no longer in school, sport is an excellent activity. Football is a sport that is accessible even for those who are poor."

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Filed under:  Football • World Sport Analysis
Is Manchester United in meltdown?
Manchester United have lost 11 times under manager David Moyes this season.
February 26th, 2014
01:08 PM ET

Is Manchester United in meltdown?

The jokes came thick and fast on Twitter after Manchester United’s 2-0 first leg Champions League defeat by Olympiakos in Athens: “The greatest Hellenic triumph since George Michael’s Careless Whisper.”

Former footballers were equally unforgiving: "MUFC have had the odd bad day over the years, but I cannot recall such an abject, hopeless, forlorn performance,” tweeted ex-England international Gary Lineker. “And against such mediocrity."

Then there were the photoshopped pictures of Manchester United’s tactical shape joined together by a thick red line spelling out “LOL.”

Wednesday’s media headlines tightened the tourniquet.

Tabloid newspaper the Sun went for full punning scorn: “Pitta-ful Utd in Greek tragedy as fans demand … MOUSACKA MOYES.”

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Filed under:  Football
Danger Games: All-action attraction of Sochi
Australian Cameron Bolton fractured a bone in his arm in the snowboard cross competition.
February 19th, 2014
12:18 PM ET

Danger Games: All-action attraction of Sochi

Arguably only three events at the Winter Games could be deemed low risk to athletes' health. That is to say, with a small chance of injury from speed, stage or equipment.

By my reckoning curling, cross-country skiing and biathlon are low risk, though even in the last discipline - given athletes are carrying a firearm - there is a potential for injury.

All the others border on the bonkers end of the risk spectrum when you take a moment to assess them. Other global sport competitions just can't match the feast of fear-conquering on show here.

In the Summer Games, the 100 meters is undoubtedly a tough competition to take part in, but the injury threat it carries can't be too dissimilar from a walk in the park.
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Barca's return to Manchester
Man City's status as Champions League pretenders was a world away when Barcelona last came calling in 2003.
February 17th, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Barca's return to Manchester

The last time Manchester City played Barcelona, I got Shaun Goater to sign the match program. It was ten seasons ago and Ronaldinho and co. had rolled into town for the commemorative opening match at City’s new home, The City of Manchester Stadium.

Goater, the Bermudan striker, had left City for Reading at the end of the previous season after scoring 103 goals in 212 appearances during five years at the club. He’d arrived on a £400,000 transfer from Bristol City and achieved lifelong cult status with City fans for his never-say-die, bundle-it-in, keep-on-fighting attitude through the yoyo years.

The fans’ anthem, to the tune of the Welsh hymn Bread of Heaven, summed up everything about City in the managerial years of Joe Royle and Kevin Keegan: a bit daft but endearing and full of passion and ironic self-belief: "Feed the goat, feed the goat, feed the goat and he will score." FULL POST

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Filed under:  Football
Hockey superpower showdown: How great was that?
Fans were out in full force to watch a battle of hockey superpowers.
February 15th, 2014
05:19 PM ET

Hockey superpower showdown: How great was that?

Let's wind this back a bit. In the 1960s, during the height of the Cold War, the United States of America and the Soviet Union took the world to the brink of nuclear war over 13 long days of missile mayhem in Cuba.

How nice then, that in 2014, not only are we all still alive and breathing but that relations have improved to such an extent that when the mother country of the USSR, Russia, now hosts an Olympics, America turns up to participate.

Better still, all of the historical grievances, cultural differences and national posturing can live on, peacefully, through the prism of a sport both nations are completely united in their passion over.

Ice hockey: It's the game that always takes top billing at the Winter Olympics, the men's final has a box-office appeal that no other event can match. And it's easy to see why.
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From Russia with love: Sochi volunteers give good vibes
Russia's legion of Olympic volunteers have given the Sochi Games a human touch.
February 10th, 2014
01:24 PM ET

From Russia with love: Sochi volunteers give good vibes

It's not a fashionable thing, to report good news.

As a reporter the focus is all too often on unearthing the "sexier" headline and go straight for the jugular. And let's face it, Sochi has had plenty of bad press.

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead" as theologian Jan Pelikan once said and I'm in romantic mood, and not only because Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

So here's a thought for you – Sochi is proving more charming than anticipated. FULL POST

NFL to trump NBA in global expansion race?
The Vince Lombardi Trophy stands between the helmets for the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII.
January 31st, 2014
02:14 PM ET

NFL to trump NBA in global expansion race?

Having looked at both American Football and basketball’s plans to grow their markets beyond the U.S., my hunch is we should see an NFL team based overseas before an NBA franchise.

However, I would not be surprised if neither league actually moves a side to foreign soil, even though global expansion is viewed as essential to growing their respective businesses.

The view of the NFL as a global sport is accentuated during Super Bowl week. The clash between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos is expected to attract more than 2013’s worldwide audience of 111.3 million viewers. FULL POST

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Filed under:  U.S. Sport
January 30th, 2014
04:03 PM ET

Sochi 2014: Will the Winter Olympics be safe?

In the last few weeks we've had suicide bombers in Volgograd killing more than 34 people, and Islamic militants promising a "present" to organizers and visitors to Sochi in February.

At least five Olympic committees have received letters in Russian making “a terrorist threat” before the Winter Games, and security forces are hunting a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing who is believed to already be in Sochi.

For any journalist covering a major event like this, the experience should be about reporting mind-boggling feats of skill and endurance. But Sochi feels different and I’m sure many – be they athletes or journalists – will travel to the Black Sea resort with feelings of trepidation. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Olympics
Classic Dubai
January 29th, 2014
02:58 PM ET

Can Rory McIlroy turn the tables on Tiger Woods in 2014?

Form can fluctuate, but class is ever present. It’s a saying that comes straight from the commentator's book of clichés, but is intriguing nonetheless, especially when examining the potential fortunes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in 2014.

Woods is the undeniable world No.1, with five victories last year on his home circuit. McIlroy, on the other hand, endured his most frustrating season after some incredible hype 12 months ago, only to rescue his year with a splendid victory at the Australian Open in December.

The form right now would suggest that Northern Ireland’s young star is on the verge of reclaiming his rightful position at the top of the game, whilst Woods, who arrived here in Dubai on Monday night, could not have been pleased with his disappointing performance on the PGA Tour at the weekend, where he missed the 54-hole cut. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Golf
Tennis' bizarre convention of the losing speech
A back injury derailed Rafael Nadal's Australian Open hopes.
January 28th, 2014
12:32 PM ET

Tennis' bizarre convention of the losing speech

By Will Edmonds

Almost five years to the day after reducing then world No. 1 Roger Federer to tears after capturing his first, and to-date only Australian Open, Rafael Nadal shed a few of his own when the Spaniard stood up to give a speech after losing the Australian Open final to Stanislas Wawrinka.

Surely this is one of the strangest conventions in all of sports?

Minutes after falling agonizingly short of achieving a goal they have dedicated their lives to, tennis players are expected to show sportsmanship, humility, composure, gratitude and perspective, often in a second or third language, in front of a crowd of thousands and a television audience of millions.

You would never expect the losing team's captain in the Champions League final to take the stand and address the crowd and you might place yourself in serious danger if you tried to force a microphone into the hand of a man who hasjust lost a heavyweight boxing bout.

Is tennis just more sophisticated; more traditional; more civilized?

Who knows, but what is clear is these tearful toasts are often being remembered long after the results have been wiped from the public’s memory.

Aside from having to congratulate the victor, thank the tournament organizers, the sponsors, umpires, ball boys and of course, the fans, tennis players are increasingly using this platform to express emotion and connect with their fans.

Back in the 1980s American John McEnroe broke protocol by walking off the court to a cacophony of boos during Ivan Lendl's victory speech at the French Open.

Four years later on the same court, Frenchman Henri Leconte was similarly booed when he tried to break down the technicalities of why he lost to Sweden's Mats Wilander in the final.

These days, tears are standard protocol, and never more so than in the aforementioned 2009 Australian Open final when Federer famously broke down after losing to Nadal, in a manner the likes of which the tennis world hadn't seen since Jana Novotna in the 1990s. Novotna famously cried on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder after losing a Wimbledon final to Steffi Graf.

Federer would soon be back on the winner’s podium, and over the following months would get the opportunity to hear some of the most memorable runner-up speeches.

After the 2009 French Open final, having lost to Federer in straight sets, Robin Soderling joked: "Nobody beats Robin Soderling 13 times in a row."

Not so jovially, a few weeks later, Andy Roddick called out "You've won five times!" in response to Federer's assertion that he knew how Andy was feeling after his excruciatingly close five-set loss in the Wimbledon final.

In 2010, perhaps the humblest of speeches was uttered by a man not known at the time for his humility, when Andy Murray proclaimed: "I can cry like Roger. It's just a shame I can't play like him."

It was a statement which helped win the Scot a raft of new fans.

Professional tennis is competing with a multitude of sports for television revenue, sponsorship and ticket sales, and these speeches - often revealing players' humanity when their defences are down – arguably helps fans connect to the game's stars and just as importantly they make headlines. The media can't get enough of them.

Unlike in team sports, where support for clubs is often passed down in the family and developed in communities, maintaining and growing a fan base in an individual sport such as tennis is dependent on establishing personal connections between the players and supporters.

Seeing these players shed a few tears or a little humility helps show that these guys are people - just like you and me.

So, as a tradition, it is bizarre and as a requisite, it's brutal, but for the growth of the game, it is crucial.

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Filed under:  Tennis
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