I love “minority” Olympic sports

So I’m thinking of writing about some of the “minority” Olympic sports for the next four year programme. We start with the mountain bike championships which have been held over the past week (and finish tomorrow). Mountain biking is one of the sports which I think doesn’t get a fair deal in the Olympics with just one event for men and women (cross-country) . Yet, at the world championships, there are seven full elite world championship events for men and six for women (both: marathon, cross-country, cross-country eliminator, downhill, four-cross; men: trials 26″ and trials 20″; women: trials).

Anyway, today was the elite world championships for cross-country, just 27 days after the Olympic competition. The men’s race saw Olympic silver medalist Nino Schurter took the overall men’s title in a Swiss 1-2-3 – the Flückiger brothers filling the podium having not competed at the Olympics. Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy could only manage 13th, four minutes down, too much post-Olympic partying media work no doubt. Britain’s David Fletcher finished one lap down and Oli Beckingsdale finished 2 laps down. Fletcher, at 23, was one of the youngest riders in the race and there could be some future for him, so the next four years will be big for him.

The women’s event saw Julie Bresset add the world title to her Olympic title. It’s quite astonishing that these two titles were Bresset’s first elite international titles. Lee Craigie was the only British competitor, finishing two laps down in 44th. Definitely work for British Cycling to find a competitor there.

Tomorrow sees the first edition of the cross-country eliminator world championships. This is run on a shorter course than cross-country (between 500 m and 1 km) and, in my opinion, makes a much better spectator spectacle – the races are four riders against each other with the top two going through to the next round. This race could be added to the Olympic programme without adding any extra competitors so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for 2016.
Probably I’ll start a separate minority Olympic sports blog, but it depends how much I can actually keep up with as keeping up with just cycling is difficult enough for me…!

A co-operative solution for MK rail

The last couple of days have seen news stories about the provision of rail services in Milton Keynes – and sadly the stories have not been positive.

On Tuesday, we learnt about the proposed fare increases – an average of 6.2% in England.

Today came the news that the franchise for the West Coast Mainline – providing intercity services from Milton Keynes Central – will go from Virgin to First.  First have made a big gamble which, if it fails, both First Group and the passengers would be massive losers.

There’s also old news that London Midland are considering reducing the opening hours at Wolverton and Bletchley stations (although I can’t find a link right now).

It strikes me that we should be searching for a better deal for passengers. I firmly believe that a co-operative model would provide a better system on the rails, making it much more affordable and much more accountable.

So why not start with the local stations? If London Midland are unwilling or unable to provide a good service, why not give community management a go?

My idea for this comes from the independent running of Chester-le-Street station in County Durham. It became unstaffed in 1989, but in 1999 an independent company started to run the station (as an agent on behalf of the local franchised train operating company, currently Northern Rail). The ticket office there is now open 0620-1800 Mondays, 0730-1800 Tuesdays to Fridays and 0730 to 1300 Saturdays. Thirteen years on, they are still going strong, indeed expanding to a second station in the past couple of years. If they can operate a full-time booking office, why can’t we at Wolverton and Bletchley where we have higher passenger volumes?

But what for the stations that are already unstaffed? Fenny Stratford, Bow Brickhill and Woburn Sands lie on the Marston Vale Line from Bletchley to Bedford and each has usage of less than 50,000 people/year. Woburn Sands has the potential for growth when the East-West rail link is opened in the later part of this decade (estimated 2017), as trains between Bedford and Aylesbury/Oxford are scheduled to stop here (as well as Bletchley). I think that including these stations as part of the co-operative would allow stations to be better managed for the people they serve.

So how would it work? A co-operative company would be set up on a worker-consumer hybrid model. Representation could also come from the borough council and trade unions, much like the set-up of Greenwich Leisure. The stations would be run for the benefit of passengers and communities. They would offer ancillary services (small stores, cafes etc) to bring in extra revenue. The number and kind of services that could be offered is as big as the imagination allows.

This is just brainstorming on my part – I just think that if a station can be run as an independent concern elsewhere where the local franchised train company thought it couldn’t be successfully run, then we could have a go at running them here, where passenger figures are higher. I don’t know many things about Chester-le-Street though – why the franchisee agreed to it, on what terms etc. But an idea worth exploring, no?

My ideas are nowhere near set in stone here so any feedback welcome!

The Ultras aren’t in charge

It is not news that domestic Polish football has problems. The most recent flashpoint in international eyes was Legia Warsaw fans unfurling a banner stating “Jihad Legia” at a Europa Leage match against Hapoel Tel Aviv in September 2011. Anti-Semitism is the big problem here, although it’s hardly a surprise that other forms of discrimination (racism, homophobia) are in the picture.

The question is, in the context of Euro 2012, does it matter?

The answer I would give is no.

As a percentage of fans at club matches, the number of ultras is high. But this has developed in the specific circumstances of Polish domestic football. Since earlier hooliganism, the measures that have been taken have excluded non-ultra fans much more than it has controlled the ultras. In particular, the fancard membership system (membership is required to purchase a ticket, you can only be a member of one club) restricts casual fans from going to matches. If I want to just go to see one game, why bother going through all of the process of signing up for membership? And what if I’m just a football fan, with no particular allegiance, and I want to watch matches of, say, Polonia Warsaw and Legia Warsaw? Attendances go down, revenue goes down and it’s hard to put it on the right track. Meanwhile non-violent fans stay at home, pay their Canal+ subscription and watch Robert Lewandowski for Dortmund.

These circumstances are not true of international football. Poland games – in the new stadiums – are attracting new fans. To watch the national team, you do not need a fan card – national ID is used as proof of ID and is printed on the paper ticket. There was a riot in Lithuania in March when 200 Polish fans clashed with Police, but there have been no problems with recent games in Poland. The ultras are massively outnumbered and encountering people who are coming to watch the match, not to fight.

So where, exactly, will the problem become apparent? Sure, some people will be on the receiving end because of their race, gender, sexuality, nationality or something else. But these will  only be isolated incidents which you can expect when travelling anywhere – for there will always be some people stuck in the dark ages. Almost everyone that fans will encounter, however, will be normal, forward-looking people, more interested in chatting about the match or selling you some of their products, no matter who you are.

Note: this post is written in advance of the Panorama programme and only concerns Poland, not Ukraine of which I have no knowledge.

Edit Tuesday 29 May 11am

Having now watched Panorama, I think what I wrote above stands up pretty well. It is not news that there is anti-Semitic violence at club games. What the programme failed to do was connect this to international matches (who are the trouble makers from the Lithuania game and what are they planning for Euro?). It would have been good to see what connection they could find – either way. Also, where the programme could have been stronger is questioning the police and city authorities about their acceptance of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti/stickers. It was unfortunate – although entirely predictable – that the Poland and Ukraine reports were mixed together in the earlier news reports, when different problems are evident.

I’m not a libertarian…

…But the social and political climate makes me look and sound like one. I believe the state has an important role to play in helping people to live their lives. Indeed, outside of things very personal to us (by which I mean family and the closest friends), I believe the state has the biggest role to play in our lives due to its universal spread and longevity. Almost anywhere I choose to live there will be a state present and we can harness this positively.

But the state doesn’t know best and it isn’t able to tell us how to live our lives. It is not possible for a universal beast like the state to dictate what is in the best interests of individuals. More potently, however, is that the state has no moral superiority to dictate that consenting adults, who aren’t harming anyone else, shouldn’t be allowed to do precisely as they please.

Two particular examples annoy me here in Poland (not to say the UK is great by any stretch of the imagination, but these rules don’t apply in the UK so they are noticeable to me). First is jaywalking. Here, you are not allowed to cross the road at your point of choice and, at a crossing, if the signal is red, you are prohibited from crossing. When I first came to Poland, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that when the road was empty, people wouldn’t cross – these traffic signals are surely there to help us, not restrain us? Seemingly not. What is worse is that the police (and “city guard”) actively look for people breaking this rule to hand out a fine.

Second is drinking in public. Now I don’t want to live in a society that has drunks on every street corner and it is almost impossible to walk to the shop without being threatened by drinkers. But, the law of prohibiting drinking in public is overly harsh. It needlessly stops people relaxing with a bottle of beer or wine in the evenings, at the park with friends. This is enforced equally with jaywalking. It’s as if the police have no crime to solve and Poland doesn’t have a national debt.

The basic premise is the state has no roll in how I treat myself. The state doesn’t know best.

So, I’ve read with interest the idea of further limiting cigarette advertising. Now, I think a time comes when a point is reached with cigarettes. If adults know the well-studied risks of smoking and still decide to start smoking, why should we stop them? Cigarettes aren’t a major cause of social problems (compare a guy going out for a couple of hours every evening to smoke 20 cigarettes to one drinking 20 pints in the same time). Doesn’t it ultimately get to a point where if adults want to harm themselves, we have to let them?

Chopin’s Warsaw

Frédéric (Fryderyk) Chopin is Warsaw’s most keenly remembered son and it’s not difficult to guess why. We have around the city some posters – they’re not new but I like them enough to post now🙂 They come from a competition called „Fryderyku! Wróć do Warszawy!” (“Frédéric, return to Warsaw!”).

Source: Wirtualna Polska

New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve never made a New Year’s Resolution before. I have never felt the need to drastically change anything in my life at an artificial time. For sure, I have had to change things before, but I have done so at the time they have needed to be changed, whether it was August, May or September. This year, however, I have made some.

1.       Make nice stuff to look after our nice stuff

I’ve always looked after my things to keep them nice. Nothing new here. But, I have been out of practice in making things which can keep them nice, specifically things like wooden boxes and fabric bags. Part of my problem is I haven’t had the tools at hand in the past few years as I have gone from temporary home to temporary home – in the past four years I have had eight ‘homes’ where I have stayed for more than three consecutive weeks. But, I have been in this eighth home since June, so it is more permanent. As an example of things I’d like to keep nice is our new board game, Push. Push is made to a very high standard (as are all Steffen-Spiele games) but only comes in a thin cotton bag. As none of our friends or family have such a game, they at times want us to take the game with us when we visit. So, a bag is required. And there’s not going to be one off the shelf that will do the job. So, back to the sewing machine I go. My first woodwork project will be to make a box for our new Chinese Checkers set. The box for it is nice, but nothing holds the pins, so if we take it anywhere the pins will be loose and easily lost.

Push is a cool game which lots of people want to try...

...but with a light cotton bag not suitable for transporting it.

2.       Recycle more stuff

Well, no excuses on this one: I’ve been lazy since moving here. I’ve always taken full advantage of the local recycling schemes, organising it in my house last year, setting-up an easy system at my mum’s house. But, since moving here, I have been lazy. So, I’m going back to the old ways and making use of the recycling facilities. My only trouble at the moment is: where do I recycle cans?

Electronics, glass, plastic and paper, but nowhere for cans?

3.       Fitness goals

The lack of mass participation triathlon in Poland set me back a bit. I tried to find some information about, well, any and pretty much hit brick walls. I lost my goals, and without goals, I am rubbish at keeping fit. It’s not as if I am fat – if anything I am a bit underweight now – but I don’t have the same fitness levels as I did. So, I have pencilled in two events – the Warsaw half-marathon at the end of March and the Warsaw marathon at the end of September as two events which will focus my mind a bit. My only trouble on this one is how to begin training when there is ice almost everywhere and it’s below freezing most days…

You’ll notice there’s no resolutions about politics or blogging. Politics moves on for me as ever. In blogging, I am intending to do one post a week, but we’ll see. I’m not going to force myself on it and there’s a perfectionist twinge to me: I only want to press publish when I am happy when I can say I wouldn’t add anything more which often takes me far too long.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times

 

In 2010, there were 11 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 18 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 32mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was December 1st with 39 views. The most popular post that day was About.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were polandian.home.pl, facebook.com, slashingtongue.com, android-vs-ipad.co.cc, and englishwarsaw.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for polished cinema, fight for holy cross in warsaw, klub opera, warshawa central 24h open, and palace of culture and science.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

About February 2010
2 comments

2

24 hours in Warsaw August 2010
1 comment

3

The Very Polish Response to a Very Polish Tragedy April 2010
1 comment

4

Winter is coming October 2010
2 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

5

What’s the point of Labour supporting nominations? July 2010