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
February 11th, 2010
09:44 PM ET

Are UEFA to blame for Portsmouth's plight?

The economic woes of Portsmouth Football club may have been partially self-afflicted by the procession of foreign owners who’ve kept the club on a downward spiral, but I wonder if UEFA, and, in particular, the Champions League, inadvertently bears some responsibility too?

Is the chase for UEFA's Holy Grail putting more and more clubs into financial meltdown?.
Is the chase for UEFA's Holy Grail putting more and more clubs into financial meltdown?.

Yes I know Pompey have not been anywhere near the Champions League, as their best finish in the Premier League was 8th in the 2007-2008 season.

And I also know that UEFA has been tut-tutting about the financial state of Premier League clubs since Michel Platini became president.

But I still feel that UEFA may have been the catalyst to Portsmouth's downfall and that of other financially strapped clubs in England’s top-flight.

Previously, UEFA’s top competition was known as the European Cup and featured only the defending European champions and current national champions.

However, since it morphed into the Champions League in 1992, the format and eligibility requirements have gradually changed to the extent that now England and other leading nations get to send their top-four finishers into the competition.

What’s more, with the expansion of the league came an increase in the money and prestige on offer by taking part.

So much so that winning or being a top-four finisher in the English Premier League is no longer an end in itself but a means to an end, because it allows you to dip into the honey-pot that the Champions League has become.

Thus, the Champions League is somewhat of a giant carrot.

And ever since steel baron, Jack Walker, essentially bought Blackburn Rovers the title in the 1994-1995 season by financing a series of big-money transfers, English clubs, and others abroad, have been willing to gamble huge amounts of cash in the hope of taking a bite.

Of course, only the biggest clubs have been able to take the risk, and then only with the help of mega-rich benefactors like Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, or via financial wizardry.

Even Barcelona are at a loss to know how Real Madrid have so much money to spend.

However, poorer clubs still find themselves having to stump up for higher wages etc. because, if a top club in the same league is paying its players and staff silly money, that becomes the going rate. What’s more no club-owner wants to be seen as un-ambitious, even if the cost of failure is massive.

The Champions League therefore has a trickle down effect on clubs with no hope of ever taking part in it, and the results are evident.

However, as the tournament seems certain to remain the Holy Grail, Portsmouth's fate may soon be the fate of many. Though let's hope not.

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Filed under:  Football