Land of saints, scholars and not answering the question you’re asked

Michael on his way to compete in "Celebrity Mucksavage" 2012.

TV stations love a good phone-in vote.

In these tough times, it’s probably the simplest way to get production money around, and if they could they’d have you sms:ing in your votes on Brian Dobson’s tie to help pay for the Six-One News.

But some don’t see it that way. Some see it as votes, and for natural politicians like the Healy-Rae family votes – any kind of votes – are like crack cocaine. They have to have them.

Now I’m not suggesting that Michael is some form of crazed addict, even if his Newstalk interview this morning gave the impression of a cornered crack fiend confronted with his vote addiction.

But after a few minutes, his resolute refusal to address the issue at hand in anything nut the most banal and misleading terms stopped being insulting and became entertaining.

He didn’t answer a single question that was put to him – had he been asked his name, he probably would have deflected that one too.

Given the persistence of the interviewer he had to try several different evasive techniques, everything from the Bart Simpson “I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it and you can’t prove anything” to the classic “yerra what harm was it, sure didn’t all the money go to charity,” conveniently ignoring that this is not the way that taxpayer’s money should be routed to a cause, no matter how worthy.

Whether or not Michael organised the telethon in his own interest, or whether his father did it, or whether he is so popular in Leinster House that all his mates felt the need to ring in and support him is now irrelevant.

What is important to note is the contempt that Healy-Rae showed – and shows – for the Irish taxpayer.

Asked a straight question (“do you think that this represents a misuse of taxpayer’s money?”), Healy-Rae answered with a question of his own.

And in doing so, he effectively answered the question. Of course he doesn’t.

It’s the Dáil, and the building and everything in it is there for the Healy-Raes and the Lowrys of this world to do what they like with.

The fact that he later said it was a misuse of taxpayer’s money compounds his stupidity – his decision to do so was brought about not by some road-to-Damascus conversion, but by the outcry over his earlier refusal not to condemn it.

But worst of all, like the despicable Lowry, we’ll probably never see him punished at the polls for it.

Another couple of calls from his Dáil phone, a quick hospital wing and his constituents will forgive him sharp enough.

And his vote addiction will continue unchecked, destroying not just him and his family dynasty, but what little faith people have left in Irish politics.

It’s too late to stop now

So this is what being 40 feels like.

I hit the big milestone yesterday and had a fantastic day, with lots of lovely messages of congratulations from family and friends all over the world.

I know for many, including a lot of my best friends who will also break that particular barrier this year, it’s a time of crisis, and I thought I’d be the same.

But the last year-and-a-half of being self-employed has put paid to a lot of that – if you spend all your time doing what you want to do, what is there to be scared of in the future?

And besides, for our generation the world is a much more forgiving place than it was when our parents reached this age.

We have access to a lifetime of education and information over the internet.

The possibilities open to us in terms of retraining and new learning are almost endless, bound only by the amount of time and money we can devote to them.

Information is widely available for free, and academic qualifications (not, I would stress, the kind you buy for a hundred dollars from Roadkill University, Alabama) are more accessible.

People are no longer trapped in job roles they took on when they left school or college, and a varied CV is now seen as something of a bonus rather than a sign of instability.

But most of all, what we have is an ability to use our resources more effectively, and the most important one of these is the one that worries us most as we age – time.

Technology allows us to do things faster and better and more reliably than ever before. If we are truly sensible about its use we can automate much of the boring stuff like paying bills and instead use that time constructively.

But what I’m most grateful for is the seemingly infinite number of second chances that this life is prepared to offer us. I spent the first 38-odd years of my life convinced of what it was I wanted to be when I grew up, then steadfastly avoided becoming it.

But the sands of time wore away at my resistance and I succumbed, and I’m now the writer/journalist/chancer I always wanted to be, but was afraid I would never become.

What scared me most was the possibility that I wouldn’t be any good at it, and that’s why I didn’t try it sooner (indeed, there are some who would claim that I’m still not any use, but they’re not the ones paying my invoices…).

I’ve always been suspicious of people who say they have no regrets, and there are plenty of things I wish I’d done differently- for starters, I might have gotten to where I am now a damn sight quicker.

But no matter. The most important thing is for us to remember that we are never too old to change or to try new things, and that time spent learning from our mistakes is time well spent.

And what difference does it make if it takes you until your 40th birthday to get to where you want to be in life?

With any luck, you’ll have another 40 years to enjoy being there.


One, but we’re not the same

"If we stop playing new songs, will you stop throwing bottles of piss?"- Bono at Glasto.

It was supposed to be a triumph, and indeed for many it was. But for those of us with a longer memory, the U2 fireworks at Glastonbury were a damp squib.

I never got all the fuss about Glastonbury, nor about U2 playing it. I’ve never been, so to me it’s just another festival.

This year it was a little more, but not much.

Having agonised over whether to make the five-hour drive to Gothenburg the last time U2 played there (in the end I didn’t), it represented a rare chance to see them live on TV and see what I missed.

It wasn’t much.

For one thing, the set list seemed have been chosen by an iPod with all their albums on shuffle. There was no rhythm or pace to the performance as there has been at the great shows on the great tours of the past.

Of course, it’s hard to make a complete mess of it when you have a back catalogue as strong as U2, but it seemed flat most of the way through, with the audience unusually subdued too.

Then there is the new material, most of which is frankly awful – OK for some journeyman band touring the highways and byways, but far short of what one has come to expect from the biggest rock band in the world.

There isn’t a single song from the last two records that would have made it anywhere near “Achtung Baby” or “The Joshua Tree”, yet rubbish like “Get On Your Boots” is given parity of esteem.

It’s as if the more often it is inflicted on their fans, the more likely it is to become accepted as a great song, rather than the less-than-hilairious out-take it should have been.

No-one there had paid their money to hear that rubbish either, and if they wanted to hear Coldplay sung badly they could have waited till tonight, when Chris Martin and the boys will no doubt be happy to oblige.

I may not have made it to Gothenburg to see U2 on this tour, but my good friend Pelle Blohm did.

He got into U2 in the early 80s and even though he’s not prone to nostalgia, I was surprised by his report.

“The most soulless gig I’ve seen in a long time,” he said of the current vintage, and on last night’s evidence it’s hard not to agree.

But the Irish Twitterati were of course out in force last night, accusing anyone who didn’t think it was the best gig ever played of “begrudgery”, as if somehow that was the problem – that the critics didn’t like U2 being rich or succesful.

Which got me thinking- maybe they could be right, but for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe U2’s soullessness is down to the fact that they’ve sold out completely, releasing “Greatest Hits” albums (something they once recoiled in horror from) and moving out of Ireland overnight when they were finally asked to pay a little tax on their publishing royalties.

(This despite Bono’s now-hollow assertion in 2001 that, when a young U2 got signed, they wouldn’t “go to London … or New York City. We’re going to stay and base our crew in Dublin! Because these people – this is OUR TRIBE!”. If you’re going to make a hypocrite of yourself, what better way to do it than in front of 80,000 at Slane Castle).

Maybe the pressure to come up with a dud album and a staid arena show once every three years is telling on them.

Maybe, in hindsight, they now want to tear up the pact with the devil that delivered great riches- at an even greater cost.

U2’s best work has always been done when the band were in the throes of a crisis, whether it be the crisis of growing up in Dublin, dealing with their exploding fame post-Live Aid, or struggling to redefine themselves after “Rattle and Hum”.

And maybe, with the cash-driven announcement of the re-release of their last truly great album “Achtung Baby”, they might finally get around to making another.

For the battle against irrelevance that Bono and the boys now face could well be their last great artistic challenge.

Rise to it, and some great new U2 music surely awaits.

Fail, and they will become the Irish Rolling Stones.

Come to think of it, on last night’s evidence, they already have.

Hello Cleveland!

[youtube=]I have a funky little gadget from Zoom that I couldn’t bear to be without. It’s a cross between a dictaphone and a video camera, and I use it to record press conferences.

The first time I stuck it on the top table under the nose of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he spent a good ten seconds trying to decide what it was, and then spent the rest of his time ignoring it.

It was also the subject of a complaint from a Sky News cameraman, who claimed it was ruining his shot- why he would be filming the table at a press conference wasn’t something we discussed.

As I searched this morning for an interview recording I made a couple of weeks ago, I watched some of the footage from the press conferences of the athletics events I’ve covered recently.

When you go into those situations, especially after a race or a game, you don’t always hear everything that’s being said, and that for a good reason.

Every journalist in the room is looking for something, usually a quote to confirm what they have already written and filed with their respective desk.

We all want something different from these situations, and as Paul Simon once wrote “a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest”.

What struck me, listening back, was the line of questioning from the Norwegian journalists in Oslo.

“What was it like running here?”

“What did you think of the crowd?”

“Did you like the Bislett track?”

Whereas foreign media were only interested in times and the World Championships and next year’s Olympics, the Norwegian media’s priority was to ask these stars who walked among us what they thought of their country.

It might seem a little odd, but then everyone does it – a week later in Stockholm the Swedish media was at it, asking shot-putters and hurdlers what they thought of the city as they gathered for the European Team Championships.

(They picked a bad day, as it was pissing rain and gridlocked in the city).

Seeing as everyone is doing it, it begs the question – do readers actually care what Usain Bolt or Cameron Diaz or Barack Obama actually think of a given city or country?

Do they really expect Bolt to say “I hate it here and I can’t wait to get out of here”?

Do they expect Obama to open his speech with “this place is a sh*thole- and I’ve been to Boisie, Idaho”.

No. Because like the visiting arena rock band going up on the stage and shouting “Hello Cleveland!” whilst barely knowing where they are, it’s not relevant and it has no value.

It’s just playing to the gallery, to be gotten out of the way after the second song and never mentioned again.

Only athletes or politicians or movie stars seeking to shorten their career would do otherwise.

Press conferences are often short affairs with little opportunity to get into anything like a deep discussion, but we might have more chance to get into detail if we didn’t ask questions that we already knew the answers to.

Instead, we make them jump through the hoops and tell us how great thery think we are.

But if we skipped all that, maybe we’d have time over to ask about money and medals and doping and all the other things that sports fans really want to read about.

How far is too far?

Soccer coach Pat Walker from Carlow once told me that, when I finally found something I liked doing, I’d never work another day in my life. And he was right.

That’s not to say that there aren’t tough times, even when you have the best job in the world.

There is always pressure – deadlines to be met, calls to be made, planes to be caught. Then there is the uncertainty of not knowing where the next dollar or euro or krona is coming from.

But it’s a good kind of pressure – the positive kind that keeps you focussed.

Others I know in professional sport have their dream jobs too, but they come under an entirely different kind of pressure.

And if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’d put up with it.

There is the kind of pressure you’d expect – the pressure to win, to train, to perform, which is part and parcel of any professional sportsperson’s life.

There’s the internal competition whereby your teammates are actually competing for your place on the team, but even that can be healthy enough.

What is not healthy is when that competition turns to bullying, which happened recently at a football club I have a good deal of contact with.

For no matter how much most of us dream of being professional athletes, no matter how much we love our dream jobs, there are limits.

You wouldn’t, for example, put up with your team-mates pissing on your clothes now, would you?

Or grinding a broken lightbulb into the carpet in the hope that you would cut yourself?

The kind of players who would do this to a fellow pro are neither professional nor sportsmen, and with any luck the coming transfer window will see them wind up where they belong – out of football.

And any club that allows this to happen cannot be described as being in any way professional. The deafening silence from everyone involved shows just how far removed professional sport is from the rest of society.

For you can be sure- if this had happened at any other workplace and the employer found out, the police would have been rightfully called.

Sadly these things happen all the time, especially in football clubs, where “banter” is often used to describe the low-level bullying as practiced by juveniles, often over the age of 30.

And worst of all, anyone victimised in this way who has the temerity to complain risks being ostracised and punished for breaking the code of “omerta” that rules the dressing room – and not only can they stay at the club where they were bullied, they will find it difficult to find a new one because of this new-found reputation.*

“It was only a joke.”

“He can’t take a bit of stick.”

“No-one else complained when we had a bit of fun with them.”

In other words, seen through the skewed prism of professional sport, it is the victim who is perceived as being the problem in the dressing room – not the person who pissed on their clothes or crushed a lightbulb into the carpet to injure them.

For that reason, some players will choose to leave their dream jobs this summer and go elsewhere, or maybe even give up the dream altogether.

And that, to me, is going too far.

Like all bullying, the only way to deal with it is to drag it out into the light. The reason bullies don’t want anyone to know about their actions is because they know they are wrong.

And rather than the usual football trick of speaking with a forked tongue and condemning bullying whilst tacitly accepting it, why not come out and demand that players, coaches and staff all treat one another with respect?

Or is fair play in the workplace too much to ask for in professional sport?

*To clarify – I have been told by a witness exactly what happened at the club in question, and it is out of deference to the victim that I have chosen not to include their name, the name of the club nor the names of the perpetrators, all of which are known to me.

When you say nothing at all

Sprinter Usain Bolt takes a question from Ourmaninstockholm about Manchester United in good humour, Oslo, June 2011

I had one of those interviews last week.

It was the kind where, despite speaking to someone for a painful five minutes, they don’t actually say anything that could possibly be construed as interesting.

When it was done and filed, the editor on the desk called me up and said “the quotes are very mundane- can you try to inject a little personality?”

My response was that I couldn’t put in something that the interviewee either didn’t have or didn’t want to share with me – or you.

The vast majority of athletes are now given some sort of media training, either by their clubs, federation or managers, where they are taught to reveal as little as possible.

They trade in blandness, sticking out only when a sponsor or meet arranger demands it. And sometimes, not even then.

Of course, it’s not entirely their fault. Some of my colleagues in the press room – team-mates, if you will – are only too ready to deliberately misinterpret what they say.

They will create “rifts” and “shocks” and “betrayals” out of the most innocent comments.

There are exceptions of course. Free from injury, Usain Bolt was a pleasure last week in Oslo and even if she doesn’t seem to like the questions I ask, Carolina Kluft is always talkative, friendly and accommodating.

Of all the footballers I’ve run into recently, Almeria’s Henok Goitom is a breath of fresh air.

Though I haven’t interviewed him yet, he is an intelligent young man, well able to defend his opinions and principles in a way others could learn from.

Moreso, he will have a career long after the curtain comes down on his playing days, because people will remember what he stood for. The same cannot be said for many of his contemporaries.

Because for the most part, athletes are now one half of the ultimate journalistic chicken-and-egg situation; they hide, afraid to be misconstrued, whilst the hacks without principles peck away at their words like blind hens, hoping to miraculously strike it lucky in a farmyard of banality.

Who started it is a moot point – the fact is that it’s now the way of the world in the press conference and the mixed zone.

Strangely, neither seem to be embarrassed by the whole situation, but I still find it very irritating because it’s a sign of a lack of respect on all sides- from the athlete, the journalist and the reader.

But if they don’t think it’s worth saying, then I don’t think it’s worth writing about.

And if you’ve any sense, you won’t find it interesting to read about either.

100 days, or more of the same?

Bang bang, we're all dead.

Usually, I wouldn’t get involved, and the reason is simple.

The hundreth day of this administration is no more interesting than the 101st, or the 79th, especially given the fact that the current government took the baton from the last government and just kept running the same race.

But here goes.

There have been no surprises. As expected, all that has happened is that this government has continued on where the previous one left off, generally giving the weakest in society a good kicking whilst not holding anyone to account through either incompetence or indifference.

Either way, it’s not positive, and it won’t bring this horrible situation to an end any time soon.

More cannot be expected of Enda Kenny; he is after all a career politician who continues to live by the maxim that you’re never as good as they say you are, but you’re never as bad either. No boats will be rocked with Enda at the helm.

Nor can more be expected of Labour, who as usual have parked their principles at the door in return for a taste of power.

The Micháel Martin charm(less) offensive hasn’t disappointed either; it would be interesting to see how he would rate his own record in office, given that he gives the current regime “three out of ten”. If he is honest, he and the rest of the party should call up Vincent Browne and ask for a loan of the shotgun and whiskey that Enda so churlishly declined.

Of course, the promises made by Kenny and the rest haven’t been fulfilled, nor had they ever any chance of coming to fruition. And the bailout renegotiations were the shortest in history.

Ireland: “Can we renegotiate the bailout?”

Europe: “No.”

Ireland: “Grand.”

All this was simply a continuation of the former government’s tried, tested and failed tactic of trying to hoodwink the markets. And it failed again.

If there was another election after 100 days, I reckon the turnout would be close to zero because Irish politics has finally reached its nadir. There is no difference between any of them any more.

But then again, maybe expectations are so low that people wouldn’t even bother punishing them anymore. And Michael Lowry would still get elected.

After all, this is Ireland, where the facts count for nothing. This is Ireland, where there is as much accountability after 100 days as there is after four years- none.

This is Ireland, where upon your death you can be declared the greatest patriot who ever lived, despite handing the keys of the country over to the IMF and the ECB.

Enda tells us that we have to do more with less, and he would do well to heed his own advice. There are entrepreneurs and ideas and schemes out there that are being stillborn, either because they can’t get credit or because the instigators don’t know which agencies can help them.

These are people who, having been robbed of their jobs, their equity and their pensions, are happy to take the risk and try to get themselves back in employment, but instead they get more of the same.

“We can’t lend to you”.

“That’s not our remit, it’s more for *insert state agency here*.”

“That’s great but we have no resources”.

I wrote to Enda recently with a few ideas, suggesting that he and his government focus a little more on engaging the diaspora – and not just in the US, the UK and Australia – in helping our country in her time of need. If I recall correctly, the last line I wrote was along the lines of “there are thousands of us overseas ready, willing and able to help. Put us to work for Ireland”.

Needless to say, I didn’t receive a reply. But let’s do it anyway.

Let’s take 100 days to do what this government could not or would not do.

Let’s take 100 days to preach the good word about our country, and tell the world that despite the preponderance of greedy sycophants at the top of the tree, there are still hard-working, smart people available.

Let’s tell them how beautiful our country is, and how much craic it is, and how great the food tastes. Tell them about Jedward and Dave Browne playing the guitar for 100 hours in Temple Bar, and how Dunphy and Giles are better than anything else in the world when it comes to football punditry.

Because after 100 days of more of the same, if we don’t do it, no-one else will.

Ireland’s image is damaged abroad, and we need to fix it before we can start doing business again. Our bond yields are evidence of that.

But if we do what we always did, we’ll continue to get what we always got.

And we deserve better than that.

Sometimes there is no point- and that’s the beauty

I was probably the first to ask, and the first to cop the answer.

My old mate Dave Browne called me in Stockholm to tell me he was going to try to break the world record for the longest guitar gig ever played, which at the moment stands at 100 hours.

A musical genius from Cuffe Street in Dublin’s inner city, Browner is probably the hardest-working and most creative musician in Ireland.

Not only is he a great songwriter and player, he has a bottomless pit of ideas for gigs and festivals and scams that keep him and three or four dozen of his loyal cohorts working, despite the worst recession in living memory.

It’s not the first time he’s done it either. For a period during the nineties we were all famous on a shoestring, our Travelling Circus tour with a band, a DJ and a stand-up comedian just one of the ingenious ways we got gigs where no-one else could get in the door.

So I learned a long time ago not to question Browner’s desire or ability to deliver on his hair-brained scheme, and I’m confident he’ll do this one too. Because playing and being on stage is what he was born to do.

People have asked me about the record attempt, and the most recurring question is “what’s the point?”.

Why is Dave putting himself through this physical and mental challenge? What does he hope to achieve? And how will he measure it?

The answer is there are probably many reasons, but ultimately there is no real point. Dave is doing it simply because he can. His talent and his personality and his iron will will keep him going to the bitter end.

And that is the lesson here for all of us, especially the seemingly toothless semi-state bodies who are tasked with stemming the tide and setting Ireland on a course back to prosperity.

Sometimes you have to do something. It might not be measurable in terms of click-throughs or “client touch points” or “interactions” or any of the rest of the management nonsense that is used to justify taking the easy way out.

Sometimes you have to take a gamble on something big and realise that, even if it does fail, it sends a message.

It tells the world that we are still here and we have talent and drive and ability, and that our dreams and our hopes and our desires are bigger than than they could possibly dream of.

So while you’re all sitting on your hands and counting the pennies left in your budgets, pay a visit to the live stream from Dave’s attempt, then take your business plan for the remainder of 2011, tear it up and throw it in the bin.

Then dream a big dream on behalf of us all. Because, as no doubt Dave will sing at some point in the 101 hours he needs to break the record, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Never trust a sock puppet

To the blind indifference of most of the rest of the world, two lesbian bloggers have been unveiled as being fakes.

Rather than being gay activists, they are the one thing that media and the blogosphere has in spades- stupid white men.

But even as gay community groups are understandably outraged that bloggers such as these two would jump on their bandwagon to make a name for themselves, readers must also hold up their hands.

Because just as much as bloggers and journalists have an obligation to write truthfully, readers share a similar obligation to read everything critically.

Journalists are taught that the single best source of information is what you see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears. The next best thing is what is called a “primary source”- someone with insight into or knowledge of what you are writing about.

When reading, many assume that a journalist has established the bona fides of their sources.

Sometimes they have; sometimes they haven’t. Sometimes they can’t. Sometimes it’s not in their interest to do so, as it will kill a very promising story that wins them brownie points with the editor.

So as readers, we shoud always be asking ourselves “why am I being told this? What evidence is the writer offering in support? What is fact and what is opinion? What makes them qualified to write on the subject?”

An even better technique is to read every sentence and ask “how do we know that?”. This one simple question will help you cut through journalistic bullshit like a hot knife through butter.

A good example is the falsehood that regularly gets thrown at me when I speak publicly about the Swedish welfare state. Some sneering gobshtie will always spit out the old line about Sweden having “the highest suicide rate in the world”.

It doesn’t- it’s 18th in the World Health Organisation list, behind France and Belgium, and it’s very easy to disprove by visiting their website. The gobshites don’t sneer any less, but a lot less people listen to them.

Due to it’s very nature, all news cannot be based on instantly verifiable fact, and for one reason or another a source may have to remain anonymous.

Though not always a reason to discount a source, anonymity should always ring alarm bells.

If someone calls me up and tells me something juicy but refuses to divulge their identity, I put the phone down. If I can’t verify what they say, I cannot stand over it when it’s published. It’s out.

But if it’s someone I know and trust who has been right before, and wants to remain anonymous to protect their job or their family, I can view it in a different light. It’s never ideal, but there are degrees.

Bloggers are not subject to the same rules that journalists are, but readers can still apply the same standards of critical thinking to sort out the lesbian activists from the fat white guys in Edinburgh.

If there’s no name or other circumstance, beware. If there’s a back story, check it out – privacy died sometime in the late 20th century with the advent of Google and Facebook, so it’s pretty easy to check the details of even the most mundane of lives.

For the record, my identity is pretty much in the public domain, as is virtually everything I write. Those of you hoping for an admission that I am in fact a lesbian activist from Tulsa will be sorely disappointed.

As am I, in some small way- it might mean I’d have more success with the ladies…

FIFA, feminism and the axis of evil

The Iranian ladies' football team, whose dress has been deemed "haram" by FIFA

Reuters runs some great stories every day under the banner of Oddly Enough, collecting all that is weird and wonderful on the newswires and putting it together.

I often wondered if the editors worry that the constant stream of tales of cats driving dumper trucks will ever dry up, but what is truly amazing is that more straight news stories don’t wind up under the heading.

And viewers of the recent FIFA congress will wonder how it doesn’t have its own special section there, such was the bizarre behaviour around the re-election of blusterer-in-chief Sepp Blatter.

That corruption exists within FIFA is in the “dog bites man”field of news, in that everyone knows it – that someone was almost on the verge of doing something about it turned the tables, albeit for a very short while.

Then we have the latest FIFA ruling on Islamic dress for Iranian female soccer players, one of those wonderful stories where no-one comes out of it with any credit whatsoever.

Now you could say the onus is on the women to throw off the shackles of oppression and refuse to wear anything other than a normal kit, but in doing so you’d be as wide of the mark as a cross from Aiden McGeady. What they do or do not wear is their own business and irrelevant as long as they aren’t a danger to themselves or others.

The big “dog bites man” article here is the seemingly boundless stupidity of Iran, FIFA and all points inbetween.

Let’s deal with Iran first. It’s been said that if, after ten seconds at a poker table you haven’t worked out who the sucker is, then it’s you.

With secular uprisings taking place throughout the Arab world one would have thought that Iran might be about to drop the charade and get on with moving into the 20th century in the way they run their affairs, especially where they relate to women.

But no. Still, the “revolution” continues, as blatantly corrupt and morally bankrupt as it ever was.

Which brings us nicely on to FIFA, which has ruled that a compromise football kit consisting of a kind of tracksuit and hijab that covers the hair, ears and neck is illegal. Why? Let’s let FIFA themselves answer that:

“Fifa’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable.”

Working in journalism, I get to witness an immense amount of stupidity at close hand, but this is a brilliant example of idiocy taken to its illogical conclusion. We will stop women playing football because we don’t quite agree with what they use to cover their heads.

No reader needs me to explain how ridiculous this is; no reader needs me to explain how wrong it is that in the 21st century, we are still having discussions about women’s rights that we should have left behind when we left the caves and invented fire. FIFA is not based in Tehran, but in Switzerland. From a ruling like this you’d never guess.

All this sorry episode proves is that, once again, the chauvinists in Iran and the idiots running FIFA have no balls. But – oddly enough – they have some neck.