Archive for April 30, 2016

Dags att visa våldsamma supportrar OCH tomma tyckarna det röda kortet

När man avhumaniserar fotbollssupportrar kan precis vad som helst händer.

I 27 år har en skara fotbollssupportrar fått leva med stämpeln av att vara medskyldiga i det som orsakade 96 dödsfall bland de sina.

Enligt tidningen The Sun hade de inte bara varit fulla och våldsamma, de hade rånat och till och med pissat på de döda.

I veckan fick supportrarna till Liverpool Football Club upprättelse efter 27 år.

Det var inte deras fel.

De hade inte gjort någonting.

Det var faktiskt ordningsmakten i form av polisen som hade skapat situationen där 96 fotbollssupportrar fick sätta livet till.

Därför att de inte ansågs som mänskliga utan som en pöbel, ett pack, ett slödder som skulle omgärdas och drivas som boskap.

Ändå in i döden.

I Storbrittanien, inte minst inom poliskåren och media, har man lärt sig en läxa.

Emellanåt kastas det en banger på en fotbollsmatch i Sverige och man blir nästan söndertrampad i rusningen för att bevisa att vi inte har lärt oss någonting.

EN individ agerar, men hela fotbollen ställs till svars.

Det kulminerar i det här utbrottet av fullständig idioti i Expressen idag och nu får det vara nog.

Nu är det dags för de som inte vet något om vare sig fotboll eller rättssystemet att hålla käften.

“Fotbollen” har inget ansvar för att någon kastar en banger.

Den ende som har ett ansvar i den situationen är kastaren själv.

Inte hellre är det upp till övriga supportrar på läktaren att ingripa eller säga att de inte håller med, lika lite som samhället förväntar sig att man ska ingripa när någon rånar en bank med en AK47.

Inte hellre har den som inte tar avstånd något som helst ansvar.

Att tiga är inte att ta ställning, att på något sätt ger ett tyst stöd till våldsverkarna.

Att tiga är att tiga. Punkt.

Så länge de inte uppmuntra våldsverkarna har inte fotbollsklubbar något som helst ansvar för vad som händer på stan när de spelar matcher, lika lite som Bruce Dickinson bär ett ansvar om jag slår någon på käften utanför Pub Anchor efter att ha sett Iron Maiden spela på Friends.

Och lika lite som Bruce ska ha polisnotan för min käftsmäll så ska inte folbollsklubbar behöva betala för att ordningsmakten ska hålla just ordningen, även under stora evenemang.

Hos den överväldigande majoritet av fotbollssupportrar finns det ingen acceptans av vare sig läktarvåld eller inkastade föremål.

Det är ytterst, ytterst få som håller på med dumheter på läktaren men ändå krävs det att kollektivet ska ta ansvar och bestraffas om och när något händer – ett krav som till och med ställs av kunniga sportjournalister som borde veta bättre.

Problemet med fotbollsvåld (och våld i allmänhet) är, spaltmetrarna av tomma tyckandet till trots, att det inte finns några enkla lösningar.

Det är en komplex fråga som handlar inte minst om mansnormer, missbruk och självbilden hos våldsbenägna unga män.

Det är inte något som som går att fixa med en banderoll, eller en manifestation.

Eller en patetisk fucking krönika i Expressen.

Intresant nog så har jag träffat genom åren väldigt många unga män som är dragna till huliganism och läktarkultur men som är som mest ytligt intresserad av det som händer på plan – och som är ofta till och med direkt okunniga om vad som händer där.

För dem är det stamtillhörigheten och olika typer av rusning som lockar, inte taktik eller teknik.

Och även om de kan ställa till det med enorma problem (de har genom åren demolerat en restaurang ägt av en god vän till mig flera gånger) är de lyckligtvis väldigt få.

Den överväldigande majoritet av de som är involverade i fotbollen, som spelare och tränare och supportrar, är goda medborgare.

Jag vågar konstatera att tränarna i orterna där jag bor och vistas har hållit ned belastningen på kriminalvården rejält genom sitt dagliga engagemang för våra problembarn.

Men när det kastas smällare ska alla dras över en kam.

När det vankas bråk ska alla jagas med batong.

När något går snett så kan vi alla buntas ihop och ta skulden.

Nu fan är det nog med det.

Det är precis den attityden som låter samhället slippa sitt ansvar och lägga det  istället på de som har minst makt att göra något åt det i ögonblicket.

Det är den attityden som ger skulden till de som faktiskt var offren i Hillsborough.

Man får väl hoppas att det inte tar 27 år för det svenska samhället att inse att fotbollen är en tillgång snarare än en belastning och att våldet finns trots allt fotboll gör istället för tvärtom.

Och man får hoppas att vi aldrig ser en situation där kollektiv bestraffning eller skuldbeläggning går det omöjligt att gå på en match.

Inte för att man är rädd för våldsverkarna, utan för att man är rädd att ordningsmakten och rättssystemet har redan dömt oss alla som skyldiga till brott som ytterst få är ansvariga för.

 

Why Prince wants you to pay for art

“Get off your ass and go pay to have someone entertain you.”

In the Internet age, the death of a great musician has its own pattern.

First comes the tweet.

Then the confirmation tweet.

Then the Facebook post.

Then the Youtube clip and the Spotify list.

But when Prince died yesterday, it came to an abrupt halt after the tweets.

Fiercely protective of his music, he’s not on Spotify, and there’s not much to be found on Youtube either.

Much was made in the obituaries of how staggeringly prolific he was, and virtually all of them mentioned his clash with Warner Brothers and the music industry in general.

In truth, he was the first to see where the business was going – towards a marketplace where everything was free, nobody wanted to pay and the only money being made was going into the pockets of the least creative people in the room.

He rebelled, and you should too.

Prince could rebel by giving away his music with concert tickets or newspapers, by scrubbing it from streaming sites and pulling it off video services.

He rebelled by releasing his music whenever it suited him, in whatever format and at whatever price he saw fit.

He rebelled by touring on his own with a piano, or by announcing shows a few hours beforehand, and then torching the venues with his electrifying brilliance and a never-ending mountain of hits to choose from.

You can rebel by sticking your hand in your pocket and going to see a band, or funding a Kickstarter, or buying a CD, a download or – and this might sound a little crazy here – a vinyl record.

You will be disappointed. There is an inordinate amount of rubbish out there, and you will waste money on shit live bands. You will get CDs with one decent song that are filled out with tripe, and stuff that you will listen to once before converting the disc into a coaster.

But you will be breathing life into art again, and whether artists, musicians and writers like to admit it or not, the audience is an essential part of the whole relationship.

Prince arrived on the scene almost fully formed, but there are few artists that do so. For the rest, they must hone their craft over thousands of hours of gigs and rehearsals and recordings.

The creation of any kind of art or journalism takes time, and if all the audience is prepared to pay is peanuts, then all they are going to get is a never-ending stream of monkeys who should never be let near a mic or a word processor in the first place.

Worse still, we will be limited to the mindless droning of the over-privileged, the only ones who can afford to document and project their experiences.

Many of those who mourn Prince most lambast the youth of today for sitting in front of their computers, happier to play FIFA on a Playstation than real football on a playground. When it comes to art and music, we do exactly the same.

Spotify is great, as is Youtube and iTunes and Twitter.

But nothing online can replicate the raw, visceral feeling of being in a dark room and seeing a comic or an artist or a poet on a stage performing something they have created themselves.

If we ignore the corporate whores filling the stadiums at staggeringly over-inflated prices, music and comedy and art has never been cheaper. For a few bucks you can see one of the world’s best improv groups at Dublin’s International Bar, and Stockholm’s music scene is full of promising artists in interesting spaces.

We mourn the passing of a great musician and songwriter, but at the same time, whether we will ever see his like again is now up to us.

We can either sit at home and take what this world spoon-feeds us, or we can take it upon ourselves to go out and invest the time and money necessary to give future generations something to marvel at.

Honour Carvalho’s memory by ignoring MMA vultures

A picture of Joao Carvalho taken from the Team Nobrega Facebook page.

Long before Joao Carvalho expired on Monday night, the vultures were circling.

And as soon as news broke that the 28-year-old Portuguese mixed martial artist had passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a bout in Dublin’s National Stadium on Saturday night, they swooped.

In no time at all, social and mainstream media were filled with the empty-headed squawking of the ignorant and ill-informed – those whose need to be heard is always at its greatest when their expertise is at its most non-existent.

There were radio interviews and hot takes online, using words like “savagery”, “thuggery” and, in one utterly bizarre instance, “legalised killing” – needless to say, that particular article was among the most read.

One Irish radio station headlined their discussion “Death in the Cage,” the minor detail that Carvalho died in hospital some 48 hours later seemingly lost on them.

But then again, what use is knowledge, facts and informed opinion when you can have revulsion, ignorance and hyperbole instead?

Most laughable of all are the sports journalists who question whether or not MMA is a sport at all, a stance so archaic and pathetic at this point that it’s not even worth engaging with.

There are a lot of people who don’t like mixed martial arts. They find the violence, the blood, and in many cases the athletes themselves repulsive.

I get that.

Luckily, no-one is asking them to watch it, and fewer still who actually follow the sport have any interest in hearing the opinions of the uninitiated on it.

And while everyone is entitled to an opinion, no-one is entitled to their own facts.

Though a young and undeniably violent sport, mixed martial arts has so far proved to be no more dangerous than boxing, and it takes its responsibility to the athletes very seriously.

According to credible reports there were three doctors and seven medics at the National Stadium when Carvalho was injured – far more than I have ever seen in many nights spent at amateur boxing nights there in the nineties.

Big organisations such as the UFC regularly bar fighters from fighting for varying lengths of time following an injury, with particular attention paid to concussions.

The UFC – the flagship of organised MMA – also invests in research into head trauma and brain injury, as well as other injury-prevention programs in an effort to better understand what is happening and to protect its athletes.

Given the nature of the sport, the bar for stopping an MMA fight is undeniably set quite high, but it is also very simple – in all serious fighting organisations, the rules state that as soon as one of the combatants cannot “intelligently defend” themselves, the fight is over.

You will see or hear none of this from the vultures who use Carvalho’s death to advance their agenda against a sport they don’t understand and know little or nothing about.

To listen to them, you would think that Carvalho was the latest warrior to enter a graveyard filled to overflowing with the cadavers of young fighters.

Nothing could be further from the truth – does anyone really think that mixed martial arts would be experiencing such explosive growth if its participants were dying like flies?

That there is an enormous element of snobbery in the current wave of criticism should come as no surprise – the hoi polloi have never really understood the attraction of combat sports, the bizarre concoction of violence and chivalry, and what they term the bloodlust of the crowd.

They will tell you the participants are too stupid and too greedy to realise the dangers they are exposing themselves to; but at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, no-one knows more about the risk of fighting than the fighters themselves.

The commentariat reduce the audience to braying simpletons who just want to see blood fly.

That they might be intelligent people who actually understand what it is they are seeing – in contrast to the empty-headed rent-a-quotes that are invited on talk shows or to fill column inches – is a notion easily dismissed.

That the fans actually have a deep respect and appreciation for the participants, for their mentality and technical skill and toughness, is brushed aside in favour of the Colosseum narrative – give the proles blood and gore, it’s all they understand.

I have always been interested in boxing and martial arts, and first became interested in MMA after reading “A Fighter’s Heart” by Sam Sheridan.

The rise of Conor McGregor and the UFC in general in recent years is something that fascinates me, especially given the fact that the UFC was perilously close to bankruptcy on several occasions.

It is undoubtedly a brutal business, but one of the most breathtaking fights I have seen was between Rory McDonald and Robbie Lawler.

It was a bloody, thrilling, enthralling affair where McDonald had the upper hand and might have snatched a victory, but in the end the pain from yet another blow to an already-broken nose finally broke him, and the fight was stopped shortly afterwards.

Despite the fact that he lost, the respect I have for McDonald as a fighter and an athlete following that bout is enormous. He is quite simply one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen.

Nothing teaches you more about the effect of violence than getting punched in the face, and the paradox of fighting, and something often ignored, is that those who learn to fight often have the greatest respect for and awareness of the consequences of their actions.

There is little doubt that boxing and martial arts provide an excellent framework for young people to learn about themselves, in particular kids who might otherwise wind up on the wrong side of the tracks. MMA is no different.

In learning to fight to any competent degree, you also need to learn self-discipline, humility and respect for the craft and your opponent. If you don’t, sooner or later you’re likely to find yourself on the wrong end of a beating.

Paradoxically, by learning the damage one is capable of inflicting with one’s bare hands, many end up realising that, outside of competition, they never want to fight for real,

You don’t like the violence of MMA? Well, tough. There are plenty who do, and besides, the violence is only one part of what is a much more complex and layered sport.

There are plenty of people out there who find the pleated skirt of the tennis club, the creased slacks of the golf course or the rarified air of the Formula 1 pit lane equally provocative and repugnant, discriminating as they do against those who could never hope to afford to indulge in them as fans, let alone participants.

Not so the boxing and MMA gyms that will continue to spring up in the cities and the suburbs.

Fighting is, and always has been, rooted in the experience of the working class and the unemployed, from the National Stadium in Dublin and the dirt-floored Thai boxing rings of Bangkok to the Madison Square Garden and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

It provides the hierarchies, the discipline and the framework that many need to achieve their potential, in most cases without imposing a glass ceiling on them. If you’re good enough, and you work hard enough, you can progress, regardless of your accent or your education.

Despite the stated desire of the empty talking heads, mixed martial arts is not going away, and as such it is badly in need of further comprehensive research and strict regulation.

The death of any young athlete is an enormous tragedy, for his or her family, their friends and their sport.

But it is a profound insult to the memory of Joao Carvalho to suggest that he did not know what he was doing, or that he should not have been doing it.

He chose to be a warrior, he fought bravely and tragically, he paid the ultimate price.

His memory will not be honoured by banning the sport he gave his life for, or by denigrating those who practice or watch it, or by listening to the empty waffle of the dull and ignorant.

Instead, we owe it to him, and the current and coming generations of warriors, to make combat sports as safe as they can possibly be, while still retaining our respect and admiration for the fighter’s heart.

Public interest demands that RTE answer questions on McCollum

Screenshot of an RTE tweet publicising the McCollum interview

Some stories stick out, and not for a good reason – there’s a whiff of something not right off them, and the much-trumpeted interview with Michaella McCollum is one of them.

(Not that I have been able to see it in full, of course. The RTE Player continues to discriminate against the Irish abroad, limiting access to content which, although brilliant, as with the recent I Am Traveller documentary, has questionable or negligible resale value abroad).

But the McCollum story itself is now a story, and there are questions that RTE needs to answer in relation to it.

I have worked for the various editorial departments of RTE (mostly radio) on many occasions, and without exception they are highly-qualified and extremely professional people.

But in this case the state broadcaster needs to be utterly transparent about how the interview was conducted. Nothing less than the journalistic credibility of the national broadcaster is at stake – stories that wouldn’t look out of place in the tabloids are all well and good, but tabloid tactics and chequebook journalism are not.

The “why Michaela?” question is irrelevant – news editors make such decisions all the time, and besides, her arrest, denial of guilt and trial were big news stories, and it is logical to cover her release and to try to unearth the truth.

The following questions need to be answered, promptly and thoroughly:

1. Who initiated the story/interview – was it Michaela, the journalist on the ground, the RTE news desk, a book publisher, PR agency or similar?

2. Did Michaella, her family, her foundation or any other party connected with her receive any sort of compensation (including, but not limited to, cash, flights or accommodation) in return for her co-operation?

3. Did McCollum and/or her representatives promise RTE or their representatives exclusivity? If so, what did they receive in return?

4. Were there any demands or requirements made by McCollum or her representatives as to where, when and under what circumstances the interview would take place?

5. Did McCollum and/or her representatives refuse to answer particular questions, or seek a list of questions prior to the interview? If so, did RTE acceded to those requests? Did the journalist on site decide the questions to be asked or was he instructed by the news desk?

6. Is there more than one take of any of McCollum’s answers to the questions posed?

I am aware that there are confidentiality issues at play here, and therefore I have not asked for specific numbers regarding compensation or costs, so RTE should be well able to reply.

And if they have signed any confidentiality agreement that precludes them from explaining the journalistic method used, then that raises a whole new set of worrying questions.