Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

South Africa’s World Cup anniversary

Last June I posted about the outcomes that might be expected for South Africa or any country that hosted a large international competition like the World Cup or the Olympics.

The evidence from economists was that people would be happier – but only for about a year after the event and psychiatrists were concerned that there would be a post-event depression.

Immediately after the World Cup in South Africa it was thought that the government would break even on its investment in airports, motorways, and high speed rail links but not as many visitors arrived as were expected and budgeted for. Nevertheless the improved infrastructure will probably have long-term benefits, as long as it is well-maintained.

It was generally agreed that there had been a show of unity, pride and patriotism at the time and the crime rates improved – a decrease in murders and robberies – despite South Africa’s reputation as one of the world’s capitals in murder and rape.

Now a year later questions are being asked. According to the Times there is a big debate in South Africa about what the benefits really were and who actually benefitted. There is a belief that there has been a transformation in the way the country is perceived and although only 2/3 of the visitors expected actually arrived they had a positive experience. That has resulted in an increase in tourists from the USA of nearly 20%.

South Africa has said it is not going to bid for the 2020 Olympic games but wants to: “focus on the delivery of basic services to all South Africans”. And that’s the crux of the argument for a country with a 25% unemployment rate and with half its population living below the poverty line. Recent demonstrations about lack of clean water, toilets and electricity (so-called “service delivery protests”) were met with deadly force when an unarmed protestor was shot dead (the police responsible are now awaiting trial as it was caught on camera).

One writer described the World Cup as “the greatest hoax played on the African continent since the World Bank promised development” and another critic condemned the £9 billion spent as a crime against poor South Africans. £1 billion of that was spent on the new stadia that FIFA insisted on rather than improving existing grounds. Attendance at football matches has reportedly increased by 8% but the ticket prices have been doubled to help pay the World Cup bills.

So has anyone come out of it better off? Well FIFA made a tax-free profit of almost $700 million.

Sporting cheats prosper

Football fans have got used to the cheating and wheeler dealing that goes on, particularly in the Premier League where the stakes are high. The owners know we love our football and will put up with pretty much anything as long as we can follow our teams.

A prime example was West Ham’s breach of the regulations about declaring 3rd party ownerships which enabled Tevez to play for them and arguably save them from relegation at the expense of, among others, Sheffield United.

OK, they were fined and Sheffield United won some compensation but West Ham didn’t get points deducted and stayed in the Premier League (for how much longer remains to be seen).

QPR, poised for promotion to the Premier League, may yet have points deducted by the FA for having a player owned by a 3rd party. Their manager, Neil Warnock, was manager at Sheffield United when they were relegated and he still blames West Ham for that. Seems football managers don’t do irony!

Challenges like Rooney’s recent transgression or penalties missed by the referees are manifestly unfair when players who should have been punished go on to contribute to winning a game.

(Not to mention the rules which prevent retrospective action in case it upsets the referees and managers – some of whom follow Nelson’s blind eye example and never see anything).

And in the recent Grand National Jason Maguire, rider of the winner Ballabriggs, was banned for excessive use of the whip. If he so clearly broke the rules why wasn’t he disqualified and the race awarded to the second placed horse?

Officials at Towcester race course announced their intention to ban jockeys using whips behind the saddle from October as they believe that the public think it’s cruel (especially after the Grand National). In addition Kevin Ackerman, the course’s general manager, wants to disqualify jockeys who break the rules. He says that because jockeys are racing for  hundreds of thousands of pounds a ban isn’t a deterrent.

It will probably come as no surprise that the British Horseracing Authority and the National Trainers Federation criticised the idea arguing that they can’t have different rules at different race courses and that they are already having a review. (Updated 23 April 2011)

It seems there are no penalties for these cheats who break the rules. They get away with it and reap the rewards. Hardly fair and doesn’t it leave a nasty taste in your mouth too?

Updated 26 May 2011: FIFA, FIFA & FIFA. Need I say more!

I forgot to mention Formula 1 and Bernie Ecclestone’s fiefdom the FIA. Lewis Hamilton’s MacClaren team have been hit by the “spy-gate” and “liar-gate” scandals and fined over $100m. Renault has been in trouble as well. It seems drivers readily lie, and deliberately crash into other cars – because championship points and big money are at stake.

Updated 16 June 2011: Horse racing must be the only so-called sport where you can be disqualified and still win! At Ascot yesterday Frankie Dettori flagrantly breached the rules by using his whip 24 times over 2 furlongs (if the horse was galloping at 30 mph that means he hit it 24 times in about the 30 seconds it would take to cover 1/4 mile ie 2 furlongs).

The stewards banned him for 9 days (the Grand National jockey was banned for 5  for a similar offence). Leaving aside the question of cruelty to the horse, if he broke the rules and was disqualified why did the win stand? 

Updated 26 June 2010:  Good to see one or two letters in press making same point as me about jockeys who cheat. Also yesterday a great piece by Simon Barnes, Chief Sports writer in The Times; “Changing face of cheating: a handy review”.

It’s 25 years since the “Hand of God” goal by Maradona which ended our 1986 World Cup run. But not that long ago since Thierry Henry hand-balled a goal against Ireland that saw France qualify for the World Cup finals last year.

We forget that Michael Owen dived to get a penalty against Argentina in 1998. Barnes doesn’t think Michael Owen cheated but of course he did but we probably think it was pay-back for Maradona’s goal.

Barnes covers a whole range of sports where cheating is rife. Some I’ve already mentioned but he includes missed dope tests (Rio, you know where you were, and Christine, a woman who doesn’t keep a diary?), cricket (but who cares any more when we know teams are swayed by betting syndicates), and Rugby (fake blood) and more dangerously deliberate car crashes in motor racing.

It’s worth a read to understand how our views on cheating have changed over time and how it varies from sport to sport.

We should add tennis to the list. Female tennis players who grunt when they serve do it to un-nerve their opponents and mask the impact of the ball on the racket.

Monica Seles started it but Sharapova has been recorded at 100 decibels which is way over the levels allowed in the workplace. Maybe they should do a risk assessment and provide ear muffs for spectators?

Top ranking Caroline Wozniacki has complained and said players who don’t grunt in training then do it in the match are effectively cheating.

Azarenka, the Belorussian, who has the longest drawn out one, is unrepentant and says it’s normal and no-one else’s business.

However the WTA says it will educate young players in the perils of grunting.