I landed in Daytona Beach, Florida to cover my first Daytona 500, and in a matter of a few hours I witnessed sports history.
Danica Patrick was the fastest car on the track Friday. She won the pole. And for that she gets to start Saturday's season-opening Nationwide Series race as the lead car. It's the first time since Shawna Robinson in 1994 that a female driver has been the top qualifier in a NASCAR event. FULL POST
For broadcasters across the globe, this is Royal Wedding week - but the love hasn't spread to Spain. And another night of histrionics from Jose Mourinho can't hide the fact that his Real Madrid side are simply not as good as Barcelona.
Regular Mourinho watchers are used to seeing him hog the limelight. It's a managerial tactic, alleviating the pressure on his team, and is part of the reason why he's won cabinet-bursting numbers of trophies in Portugal, England and Italy. FULL POST
Johannesburg, South Africa - If FIFA really wants to stop unofficial brands from getting publicity at the World Cup, it should consider relaxing its approach off the pitch.
By detaining and questioning 36 young women for wearing orange mini-dresses, FIFA has given a Dutch beer company exactly the exposure it was seeking. The ambush marketing exercise has made headlines worldwide. It was even front page news for one South African paper.
No-one would be talking about this now if FIFA had simply ignored the women. Two of them could end up in jail. Criminalised for wearing a bright, short dress; imprisoned, alongside murderers and rapists. What good would that do?
Johannesburg, South Africa - All of us in South Africa are trying to come to terms with the most unique and unavoidable aspect of this World Cup: the booming, ear-splitting cacophony of the vuvuzela, a horn blown with gusto by seemingly all native football fans.
Although the tradition is only a couple of decades old, it has already sharply divided opinion in South Africa and is about to do the same to the hundreds of thousands of visitors arriving for the tournament.
When it comes to the vuvuzela, you either love it or hate it. There’s no middle ground.
How many players would be able to say they’ve won football league titles in 3 different countries?
After taking trophies in England and Spain, that’s the task of David Beckham come Sunday, when the Los Angeles Galaxy face Real Salt Lake in the MLS Cup Final.
It’s on ESPN at 830 pm ET here in the United States – and get this – it’s also on live at 1.30 am local in London – on the UK version of ESPN. Anyone staying up to support your native son? In fact, our friends at Major League Soccer tell us the match is being broadcast in 122 countries around the globe.
I’m not going to carry on here about the Beckham Experiment, the troubles with Landon Donovan and the Galaxy fans.
With the boos ringing loud, Beckham came back to a good Galaxy team, and made them better. Before Becks – six wins, 3 draws, 2 losses. With Becks – six wins, 3 draws, 2 losses, first place in the Western Conference, surviving the knockout round playoffs for a berth in US soccer’s biggest match.
So we can validate what Becks means to the LA Galaxy. But has he raised the profile of US Soccer? I think so, but I’m too close to it, and I need your help. Please sound off below.
Here’s what we know: Major League Soccer has set a new record for attendance during these 2009 Playoffs matches. One of the highest TV ratings ever for Major League Soccer was last Friday’s Galaxy v Dynamo match from Los Angeles, even though it kicked off at 1130 pm East Coast time. When the Galaxy hosted Barcelona this summer, the crowd was the biggest at any soccer match globally since the 1994 World Cup.
My own barometer? An increasing amount of people from all walks of life here in the CNN Center were getting excited about “World Cup Wednesday” and dialing us to tell where they might be able to keep an eye on the matches while at work. I can feel the increased interest in soccer in my immediate proximity. Can I pin it all on Beckham? No, but my feeling is that his presence has only helped grow the sport here, not hurt it.
Let’s look at what Sunday’s MLS Cup Final will be up against on American TV. Oh no, the NFL! American football, especially the National Football League, is a ratings monster, all but devouring everything in its path. And it’s Philadelphia at Chicago (at 8pm ET), two major markets. Can Beckham make a dent? I hope so.
Has anyone played more football in 2009 than David Beckham? 18 for Milan, about to be 17 for the Galaxy, and seven for England.
Any irony, maybe irony isn’t the right word – to the fact the Galaxy are facing “REAL” Salt Lake, a name based on Beckham’s former team in Spain?
The match will be played on an artificial pitch in at Seattle’s Quest Stadium, the first MLS Cup final to not be contested on real grass. (Real Salt Lake has never won away from home on an artificial pitch in 11 tries.)
Prediction: Galaxy 3, Real Salt Lake 1
Tiger Woods made a brief appearance in Dubai this week, not for the Dubai World Championship, but to inspect his course which has four completed holes.
Its construction is on hold for the moment.
I wonder what discussions took place. It was very much an under-the-radar visit on his way home from winning the Australian Masters and I only found out from some players and agents I know quite well.
He’s gone home now so we can all focus on the season-ender for the European Tour and the sprint to grab the loot in the $15 million Race to Dubai.
I hosted the pro-am prize giving and opening celebration at the Atlantis on Tuesday night where all the players and their families attended.
They are all in a great spirits as they love coming here and making the top 60 to qualify for the richest event must be an awesome feeling.
The facilities around the course for the players and public are excellent, even if on the way out here the course appears from a landscape covered with ugly construction sites.
Lee Westwood, who has reached number five in the world after collecting a bucket of top ten finishes, is my pick to win the tournament and thus overhaul Rory McIlroy in the Race to Dubai standings and collect the $1.5 million bonus.
Lee’s only won once this year but I think we are going to see him break through with a major next year because he’s getting back to his best after months of hard work in the gym and on the practice range.
It’ll be a fitting finale if Lee and Rory battle it out to win the Race to Dubai as they have been the most consistent in Europe all season.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Rory is only 20-years-old because he carries himself as if he has been on tour for 10 years instead of only being in his second.
His level of maturity is part of the reason why he copes so well with the pressure of competing at this level and the growing of expectation of him from the public and the media.
It’s been a long year for all the players like Rory and the organizers of the Dubai World Championship so I hope we get an exciting finish come Sunday.
I am a Melbourne boy at heart - the southern Australian city was where I as born and learned to play golf.
And like thousands of Melbournians I am thrilled that Tiger Woods is paying a visit to play in the Australian Masters. Sadly I am writing this from London and not from the media center at the course but I am still excited for Australian golf fans.
There will be thousands more spectators paying a visit to the magnificent Kingston Heath just to catch a glimpse of the world number one in action and many more watching on TV.
He hasn’t paid a visit down under for 11 years and he has achieved a lot since then and is now the biggest sports star on the planet.
He brings local and global attention like no other sportsperson and arguably movie star - remember he makes appearances all week and not just a one off on the red carpet.
With that in mind, it will prove to be a great investment by the Victorian Government and some corporate sponsors to pay Tiger’s $3m appearance fee.
My father is the Managing Editor for Rupert Murdoch’s Herald and Weekly times in Melbourne and he says that Tiger is bringing just as much excitement to the city as the Melbourne Cup horse race –- and that’s a big statement of interest in Tiger.
Nothing has ever come close to overshadowing the adrenalin surrounding the Melbourne Cup!
It also means those who don’t really follow golf are interested too.
But horse racing is much bigger in Australia right now than golf and hopefully Tiger will help spark the interest in the sport like Greg Norman did during his heyday.
The top prize for winning the Masters is just AUS$270,000 ($250,000) - part of the reason why top global pros don’t make the long journey down under for the event.
It seems odd that one player is getting 12 times the money of the winner’s cheque for just showing up but that debate is for another time if you ask me.
While Australia doesn’t have a Shark to boost the game it will have to settle for a pricey Tiger.
Any thoughts we may have had that Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson might just be a little more conciliatory after a recent brush with English football’s hierarchy over criticism of referees have very quickly proved to be misguided.
Just minutes after his team’s thrilling Champions League draw with Russia’s CSKA Moscow on Tuesday, the fiery Scot was at it again only this time I have to say he was well justified in his viewpoint.
Fergie, lamenting the fact his men were denied a blatant penalty for a foul on midfielder Darren Fletcher, told post- match reporters that he simply couldn’t believe the decision, describing it as “one of the worst I’ve seen in my lifetime”.
Now how’s that for damping things down!
But for me this latest spat only goes to prove the veteran coach’s appetite for the game is as fervent as ever.
Sir Bobby's advice
The footballing community recently witnessed an emotional farewell to another legendary manager, Sir Bobby Robson.
They came from far and wide to pay tribute to a man who's left an indelible mark on the game he loved. Among those gathered was another of the game's true giants and another "Sir" to boot. That man Ferguson!
There was nothing especially noteworthy about the fact the Scot was at that memorial service in the north- east of England in late September. After all, the great and the good of the football world were all pretty much in attendance. It was more really the little snippet of information Fergie let slip while there that intrigued me.
Remember when he was originally due to retire back in 2001 two seasons after delivering United's first European cup title since 1968? Contrary to popular belief that it may have been his wife Cathy who talked him out of it, the United chief revealed it was in fact Sir Bobby who had a major bearing on his decision. The former England head coach made it quite clear he felt Ferguson was leaving the game far too early.
Once that opinion had been registered, the Scot needed no further reflections. And, as they say, the rest is history. Eight seasons on and one of the sport's most successful managers is still going strong. And how!
Since 1986 he has ruled the roost at Old Trafford, and it's quite clear the passion still burns as brightly as ever. Just witness those frantic last-gasp celebrations when a jubilant Fergie punched the air with glee as United scored the game-winner against a shell-shocked Manchester City recently, scenes hardly in keeping with someone who's not a million miles away from his 70th birthday!
I recall going into the match Sir Alex somewhat demeaningly said that his club's "true" derby was against Liverpool. That's the clash most fans truly relish he added. While there's doubtless plenty of truth to that, judging by the way he danced a jig of joy on the pitch, the fiery Scotsman still keeps plenty in reserve for victories over Mark Hughes' money- laden City.
I personally thought Ferguson would have been strongly tempted to call it quits had his team beaten Barcelona in last season's European Cup final in Italy's magnificent capital city Rome. Indeed, I'm sure he's privately well aware that had his men scored in those opening ten minutes which they dominated, they would surely have gone on to victory against the Catalans.
As it turned out, Barca re-grouped and went on to take control before winning fairly comfortably and that's just one reason I feel the United manager will be around for some time to come. I've got a sneaking feeling, Sir Bobby would have it no other way!
What was Andre Agassi thinking? Just three years ago he retires as a sporting legend, one of the greatest tennis players of all time and a role model for the next generation of professionals.
He’s married to sexy Steffi Graf and they have two children – a boy and a girl. They have no financial worries and, to many of us, it seems like the perfect lifestyle.
So why confess that, twelve years ago, you regularly snorted an illegal drug and then lied to the tennis authorities about it?
Agassi made it clear that he was happy for the world to hear the whole story after an exhibition match in Macau this weekend, but I think he’ll be less excited about the reaction from tennis fans and the wider public.
Glancing through internet forums and social networking sites it is clear that genuine shock has been created by the news.
It’s significant the admission has come in Agassi’s autobiography, released in time for the lucrative Christmas market. It is hard to claim that you are simply coming clean while charging fans to read that truth.
The excerpt was published in a British newspaper alongside stories about how tough Agassi’s father had been on him. However, the American may find sympathy hard to come by.
He writes that he took crystal meth because he was “in a bad way”. There he was, sitting in his luxurious Las Vegas house, a famous and wealthy sportsman, less than a year after winning Olympic gold and shortly before marrying beautiful actress Brooke Shields. Yeah, tough life.
Agassi is currently an ambassador for luxury watchmaker Longines and the company has told CNN they will stick by him. They admire his honesty and say we all make mistakes.
While that is true, Agassi’s lapse wasn’t a one-off. He continued taking the drug for many months and then lied to the ATP when he tested positive. He told the tour that he had accidentally ingested the narcotic after drinking from a spiked drink belonging to his assistant.
With hindsight, although the ATP followed the correct procedure of investigation concerning the incident, how can we have faith in a system that Agassi managed to circumvent with such ease? Possibly, like the rest of Agassi’s admirers – until now – they couldn’t believe such a respected player would make such a big mistake.
No doubt the ATP will be watching the reaction to Agassi’s revelations carefully. While we have all been jaded by the quantity of drugs in sport stories this one may yet gain some momentum.
If Agassi had admitted his drug use at the time he was facing a three month ban. Instead, he played on. Unsuccessfully. He slumped to his worst ever ranking of 141 in the world – but he still won matches and had an impact on fellow players’ careers while receiving artificial and illegal stimulation.
Should Agassi repay prize money? Or compensate tournament sponsors?
However, it is equally likely the controversy will quickly die down. If that happens it would just be another step along the road to Apathy City – where we stop caring whether or not our sporting heroes are on the straight and narrow.
The flaws of the England cricket team in Cardiff were obvious and too long to list on the short space provided here; but even Australia showed signs of weakness during the first Ashes Test.
Despite his impressive record as skipper, Aussie captain Ricky Ponting continues to attract criticism both at home and abroad. His nation's only Ashes series loss over the last two decades came under his stewardship, in 2005, and for many an indelible image of the defeat was how the Tasmanian lost his cool after being run out by a Pratt (surname of England's controversial stand-in fielder Gary).
There were echoes of that incident on the final day’s play in Cardiff when England’s 12th man, Bilal Shafayat, came on in successive overs in a thinly-veiled, time-wasting tactic to incur the ire of “Red-Mist Ricky."
It was hard not to be entertained watching the Australian captain’s face, a brief flicker of bemusement quickly changing to anger. He barked at the hapless Shafayat and complained to the umpires. No psychologist was needed to determine that on both occasions, in 2005 and 2009, the source of Ponting's frustration was not with his opponents, but came instead from within.
Four years ago, England’s consistent competitiveness surprised him. This time, he was frustrated by letting, what seemed a comprehensive victory, slip through his fingers. No doubt Australia’s captain misses the pace bowling of Glenn McGrath and creative spin of Shane Warne, but critics argue without the former greats to rely on Ponting proves tactically brittle. His current bowling attack showed some teeth in the first Test but the legendary bite of Warne and McGrath remains a big loss.
Nonetheless, when you compare the contribution of Ponting with Andrew Strauss, in Cardiff, Australia’s captain fared far better than England’s. Strauss’s batting looked solid but he failed to convert his form into a large total in either innings. He also looked helpless as Australia racked up the runs in their record-breaking first innings.
Tactically, Ponting may have his detractors but it’s impossible to argue that his individual score of 150 was anything other than a fantastic tone-setter for all of his batsmen. History is reserving judgment on Ponting the captain, for now, but Ponting the batsman is already one of the sport’s best ever.