Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron to step down.

On Thursday, June 23, we learned of the surprising affirmation by its citizens to remove the United Kingdom from the roll call of the European Union. This monumental vote, often called Brexit, has shaken economists and politicos around the world like a slow-motion punch to the gut, one much of the world watched hit in agonizing disbelief.

I’m not a political scientist or an economist, so I will leave the significantly more important impacts of Brexit on the global economy and political stability to others. I will instead focus on Brexit’s impact on sport. As a few of you may already know, the Ryder Cup, the biennial Europe-vs-US golf tournament, to be held in the US in the Fall, will go on despite the fact that six of the nine players of Team Europe are British.

As was explained in this nifty and swift Ryder Cup press release, “the criteria for being European in Ryder Cup terms is a geographical one (ie from countries who make up the continent of Europe) not a political or economic one (ie countries who make up the EU).”

Whew.

Great Britain balloon
Going it alone.

But in the long-term, there are potential negative consequences of Brexit, particularly on the state of sports in the United Kingdom.

  • Potential Loss of European Stars: Membership in the EU means citizens in member nations can work in any other member nation without a work permit. There is currently speculation that some 400 European players who currently have the automatic right to play soccer in England in the Premier League may have difficulty getting visas to continue their play. If that is the case in the coming years, fewer stars from the Continent may play in GB, thus begging the question, will the quality of play in British soccer gradually diminish?
  • Probable Loss of Funding: The EU has a funding arm to develop grassroots sports throughout the Union called Erasmus+, which splits some €265million across the 28 member nations in the period from 2014 to 2020. According to this article, “British organisations received around €1.3m in Erasmus+ sports funding, a significant amount at the grassroots level.”
  • Possible Loss of Opportunity to Host Premier Sporting Events: More than 500,000 visitors from former fellow EU member countries visited England during the 2012 London Olympics, who spent some 300 million in pounds. Brexit right now makes Great Britain a less attractive venue to host a European or global athletic event as visa requirements will make entry to Great Britain slower, likely encouraging athletes and tourists alike to opt for easier options. Organizers of super sporting events may re-think any plans for London.

With a loss of stars, funding and world-class sporting events, thanks to Brexit, the United Kingdom will likely have to work harder to maintain sporting excellence in the decades to come.

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feral cat in rio
A napping stray cat on the Escadaria Selarón staircase

On September 12, 1964, a month prior to the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Mainichi Daily News published the last of a 15-part UPI series entitled, “Great Cities of the World”. The article was entitled “Rio: The City of Marching For Tomorrow”, a meaningless title really. The theme was a familiar one for emerging markets at the time: a fascinating city in a far-off land that was growing rapidly into prominence.

Below are a few of the highlights from that article about the city of Rio de Janeiro that provide us with hints to what has changed, and what has not over the past 52 years.

The Same

  • Corruption: “Rio is still Brazil’s center of political intrigue and corruption.” The article goes on to state that the laws are made in the recently established government seat, Brasilia, but that “the deals are made in elegant Copacabana Beach apartments owned by leading politicians, or by their mistresses, distant relatives or front men.” For sure, this is still true.
  • Industry: “Rio, outside the big coffee-and-automobile complex of Sao Paulo, has managed to win a positions in the textile, food processing and electronics industries.” Coffee and cars are still big exports for Brazil, as are textiles, electronics, aircraft, iron ore and orange juice.
  • Umbanda: “Umbanda claims 30,000 followers in Rio, but the signs would indicate more.” This uniquely Brazilian religion, a fusion of Roman Catholicism, African traditions, and indigenous American beliefs, is still a viable religion, with estimates of 400,000 followers in Brazil, with many of them likely in Rio.
  • Feral Cats: “No reformer has yet suggested doing away with Rio’s half-wild stray cats, numbering countless thousands, which dominate every park, alley and quiet street and no one is likely to attack them. A lot of Cariocas believe cats have ‘the souls of people.'” Rio, apparently, is still a cat haven.

 

Not the Same

  • Population: The population in 1964 was 3million. Today, Rio is creaking with a population over 11 million.
  • Maracana Stadium: Rio still goes crazy for soccer and plays big games in the Maracana Stadium. However, back in 1964, the stadium held an astounding 230,000 people. After the stadium was renovated and re-opened in 2013, it now seats 78,000.
  • Guanabara Bay: “The sparkling blue beauty of Guanabara Bay…”: That certainly isn’t a phrase bandied about these days.

 

guanabara bay pollution
Guanabara Bay

Always

Fun in the Face of Solemnity and Challenge: As was true in 1964, it is still true today: the symbol of devout Catholic belief, Christ the Redeemer, is seen as a symbol of faith and peace, and at the same time, an expression of sweet cynicism. As the article stated, “‘He’s not giving His blessings,’ Cariocas like to wisecrack. ‘He is shrugging His shoulders.'”

christ the redeemer

Aleks Duric father and brother
Aleks (left), when he was 9 years old with his dad and older brother Milan at a restaurant where his dad always visited. (Photo © Aleksandar Duric)

Before he was junior kayaking champion of Yugoslavia, before he was an Olympian for the first Bosnian-Herzegovinian team at the Barcelona Games in 1992, before he would go on to a long and successful soccer career, Aleksandar Duric was his father’s son.

And being the son of Mladjen Duric was a challenge.

As Duric wrote in his fascinating book, Beyond Borders, his father was a “rugged, simple man, with little education”, whose mother abandoned him and whose father was killed in World War II. He was also an alcoholic and abusive to his wife and children. “When he was sober my father was a good man, not the sensitive or talkative type, but honest and unselfish – he would give you his own blood if you needed it. But drinking changed him; it turned him into an animal.”

beyond borders cover duricThe kayaker from Doboj, Bosnia recalled when his father got so drunk, he crashed and destroyed his car, in which so much hard-earned money was invested.

Our relationships was at breaking point at that stage. I was sick of him bringing shame to our family, sick of how he treated us all. I shouted at him, “You’re completely wasted. You’re a disgrace!”

“How dare you speak to me like that? I’m your father!”

It escalated from there. We had a blazing argument and my mother stepped in to try to calm things down. That made him angrier. He made a wild move to grab my mother and hit her. I got in between them, grabbed a kitchen knife from the counter and pointed it at him, saying, “If you ever touch her or Milan again, I’ll kill you. I swear to god, I’ll cut you into pieces.” The scary thing is, I meant it.

A few years later, Duric served as an officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, just as the diverse and increasingly hostile parts of the Bosnian region of Yugoslavia – Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks – began to splinter. One time, Duric’s commanding officer sent him and his team on a convoy mission to protect trucks transporting weapons and ammunition into areas at the heart of the Bosnian conflict. Duric, who was personally wrestling with the suspect reasons why the Yugoslav’s People’s Army was fighting the battles it was, reluctantly took his team on the tense trip through hostile territory. When he and his team completed the mission successfully, he was asked again to take his team on another mission. Duric pushed back saying that he and his team were promised they would be able to return to their base and safety if they had completed the one mission.

As related in this book, after being called a coward, and slapped around, Duric was thrown into jail for insubordination, threatened with imprisonment for years. As Duric was being moved to his jail cell, he saw an officer he was friends with and shouted to him to tell his father that he was in military jail. And despite all that he and his father had been through, he knew his father would help. “My father was not an affectionate man and he had plenty of personal demons, but he was not going to let his youngest son rot in some cell in Vukovar.”

In the end, his father shouted, berated and threatened the right people and got his son released. “To this day I don’t know what went on behind the scenes after this. Favours must have been called in, more threats must have been made. But whatever happened, all I know is that he very next day I was escorted out of the cell, handed a couple of sets of keys to some waiting Landrovers with my men already sitting inside them, and told in no uncertain terms to get me out of their sight immediately.

Aleks Duric and kayaking team
Winter in Doboj with the kayaking team. 15-year-old Aleks is second from left, squatting. (Picture © Aleksandar Duric)

Since that time, Duric left Bosnia and laid low in Szegred, Hungary, with little money and little prospects for the future. As explained in the previous post, Duric went on to compete in the Barcelona Olympics, and a 20-year career in professional soccer in Australia, China and Singapore. He did not return to Doboj to see his family again, even when his mother was killed by a Bosnian shell that hit her home in 1993.

But in 2000, Duric received word from his brother that his father was dying. Duric made the trip from Singapore to Doboj, and spent the final days with his father, telling him about his days at the Olympics and his successes on the soccer pitch. And his father, after

Szeged to Barcelona

The weeks leading up to an Olympic Games can be exhilarating – for many, a once-in-a-lifetime period of gleeful privilege: receiving your kit, which contains your team outfit, training wear, and uniform for competition, being feted in pre-departure parties, meeting dignitaries and celebrities, and having all travel and lodging logistics taken care of for you.

Alexsandar Duric, also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience leading up to his trip to the Olympic Games. But his was not one of glee and delight. As detailed in part 1, Duric was asked to represent newly established nation, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the midst of an internecine war. He made the difficult decision to go. Now he had to figure out how to get there.

Duric, who was not a person of means, had a small backpack, a kayak paddle that a good friend gifted to him, and $20 in his pocket. Now he had to travel some 2,000 miles from his base in Szeged, Hungary to Barcelona. He fortunately did not have to make it all the way to Spain. He just needed to get to Ljubljana, Slovenia where he would join his nine other teammates on the Bosnian team, and from there get on a plane to Barcelona.

Duric stuck his thumb out and a man driving an empty mini-bus stopped to pick him up. The driver said that he could take him to the Austrian border, but not through it. The driver was Serbian, who had a hard time believing that he was sitting next to a fellow Serb going to Barcelona to represent Bosnia in the Olympics. “He didn’t like that, and he asked why I was going to the Olympics for ‘them’. It was an awkward conversation, but he was a nice man who drove me to the border.”

Duric made it to the Austrian border, and explained to the officials in Austria that he had a legitimate reason to enter Austria. “Why would an Olympian in this day and age be hitchhiking across Europe instead of being jetted and pampered as befitting his status” was what the officials were wondering. Even when Duric showed his invitation letter from the Austrian Olympic Committee, which was managing the process for the Bosnian Olympic squad, the Austrian authorities were skeptical, until they called the number on the document and confirmed that this unlikely straggler was, in actuality, an Olympic kayaker.

Duric told me that at that time, the Austrian-Hungarian border was closely monitored as many people were trying to leave the countries in the Soviet bloc. In fact, the friendly Hungarian border officials had told Duric the Austrians would probably send him back to Hungary, as they did routinely to all of the people trying to escape to Austria. When Duric watched reports of Syrian refugees struggling to find freedom from war and famine, he remembered his time at the border. “I was there in the 1990s. I saw so many families with small kids trying to find a better place. People talk bad about refugees, but I wish I could open my house to them. I know how they feel.”

The Austrian border officials eventually made contact with someone in the Austrian Olympic Committee verifying that Alexsandar Duric was indeed a member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Olympic Team, and needed passage through Austria to get to Slovenia. “I clearly remember,” he told me. “At first, they didn’t believe me. I couldn’t explain it. They were asking me ‘where’s your car?’ ‘Where are you going?’ I only had this piece of paper from Olympic Committee of Austria. Eventually, they were all smiles, asking me where my car was, or if I had my first-class air tickets. They slapped me on the back and wished me luck.”

The officials also asked someone who was headed to Slovenia to take Duric, and even phoned ahead to their colleagues at the Austria-Slovenian border to let Duric through quickly. United with the other members of the Bosnian team, Duric spend a few days in Ljubljaana before getting on a plane to Barcelona, finally no longer having to figure out the logistics.

Bosnia Herzogivna team
The first ever Bosnia-Herzegovina Team in 1992.

And suddenly, he was an Olympian, in Barcelona, at the 1992 Summer Games. “I grew up in Doboj, and then, I thought Belgrade was like New York. When I arrived in Barcelona, I thought, ‘Am I in this world, or another planet?’ All the lights. The beaches. I was in a magic world.”

“Stepping into the village was amazing. I couldn’t believe my eyes who was walking by me in the huge restaurants. I was there for hours staring at people. I saw the Dream Team the first day before they moved out of the Village I saw Michael Jordan. Carl Lewis came up to

beyond borders cover duric

He was Yugoslavian. More specifically, he was a Serbian born and raised in Doboj, a town in the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina. More intriguingly, he was a powerful kayaker, junior champion of Yugoslavia at the age of 15, and one of the top ten kayakers in the world at the age of 17. Aleksandar Duric had a very viable dream of going to the Barcelona Olympics, but his country was crumbling.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yugoslavia was a diverse federation of republics and provinces, primarily held together by the former president, Josip Tito. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the USSR’s influence waned, Yugoslavia’s political world began to spin apart. In 1989, Serbia declared independence. Soon after, Croatia did the same. Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a highly diverse province of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, became an independent sovereign nation in March, 1992, and fell into years of a cruel and bloody civil war.

Duric was an eyewitness to Yugoslavia’s disintegration as a teenage officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army, following orders while trying to understand why Serbs, Croats and Muslims who had lived peacefully were now at each other’s throats. He was ethnic Serbian in an army that was dominated by Serbs, in a region that held a Muslim majority.

In 1992, Duric left the Army, his disagreements with leadership and distaste for the war making it untenable for him to remain in the Army. In fact, he felt the need to leave the country, settling in with a friend in a border town in Hungary. Out of work, out of training, away from family and friends, Duric merely bided time.

And then one day in July, 1992, his mentor and friend, Jusuf Makaravic, gave him the news that the IOC was inviting ten athletes from the newly established nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that Duric was one of them. The IOC understood that many of these athletes would not be in peak condition due to the war, that their intent was to emphasize that all nations should participate in the Olympics. Duric’s first reaction was “But I’m a Serb.”

Duric immediately understood the difficult decision before him. As he explained in his autobiography, “Beyond Borders“, Duric was swayed by his mentor’s rationale.

“Yes, Aleks. But you’re a Bosnian first, don’t forget that. You can play your part in showing the world that Bosnia does not necessarily mean Muslim, you show them that Bosnia is home to people of many backgrounds. You lived your life in Bosnia, you trained half your live on the river Bosna, you deserve to compete for Bosnia as one of their first ever Olympians.”

Help Bosnia Now

As Duric told me, despite his friend’s advice, he felt so alone as he knew his family and friends would be made uncomfortable with a Serbian son representing a nation in conflict with Serbians in the former Yugoslavia. “When I got this call for the Olympics, it was definitely one of the toughest decisions I had to make. I was sitting in my room alone. In the back of my mind, I could deal with friends. But I didn’t want to disappoint my father, my mother, my brother.”

In the end, it was the life lessons from his parents that enabled Duric to make his decision to go the Olympics. He had learned a lot from his parents, particularly how not to hate other colors, other religions. “My mom and dad shaped me. When I was growing up, I was told that you have to respect all people, even if they are not good to you. All my friends were Bosnians. I was a Bosnian.”

And from that moment, Duric was an Olympian from Bosnia-Herzegovina, fulfilling a dream he had nestled for over a decade. “Holy shit, I’m going to the Olympics!”

Japan Women's Soccer Team beats Brazil in 2012 Olympic Play
Japan’s Women’s Soccer Team defeating Brazil at the 2012 London Games.

I remember being surprised to read that the Japanese Women’s National Soccer team, the team that was the reigning world cup champions and went on to win silver at the 2012 London Olympic Games, had to fly economy class to London, while the men’s soccer team flew business class.

The Japanese Football Association, the organization that oversees soccer in Japan, stated that the men’s team were afforded this perk due to their “status as professionals”, according to this article from the Daily Mail. This was despite the incredible popularity and success of the women’s football squad, affectionately known as Nadeshiko Japan.

Alas, Japan isn’t alone in these sexist attitudes that are rapidly appearing blatant. Australia was also guilty of this as it sent its men’s basketball team to the London Games seated in business class, while the women’s basketball team flew economy.

In order to correct what apparently is a common practice in Australia, the AustrNadeshikoalian federal sports minister Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission (ASC) chairman John Wylie, jointly sent a warning letter to the top 30 funded sports organizations in Australia to refrain from this practice, according to this BBC story.

“In 2016, we can think of no defensible reason why male and female athletes should travel in different classes or stay in different standard accommodation when attending major international sporting events.”

Australian women's basketball team
Australian Women’s basketball team

 

This letter was sent recently on February 2, with a clear attempt to preemptively avoid any further embarrassing examples during the Rio Games in August. The veiled threat is that funding for the various sports associations would be impacted if treatment was viewed as not equal.

My guess is that Japan’s women’s soccer team will be afforded similar travel arrangements to the men en route to Rio. But will that hold true for all sports associations in Japan? Not so sure…..

chicago blackhawks 2015 stanley cup champions

THREE – Chicago Black Hawks and Nine Olympians Take the Stanley Cup: The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4 games to 2 for their sixth NHL championship. On that Chicago team were Kimmo Timonen whose long and distinguished career included bronze and silver medals for Team Finland in 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014; Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith who won gold for Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 in Sochi, along with fellow Canadians Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook who won gold medal in 2014; Patrick Kane who won silver on the USA team in 2010; Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger, Niklas Hjalmarsson who won silver on the Swedish team in Sochi in 2014; Brad Richards Canada: who competed for Team Canada in 2006; and Marian Hossa of Slovakia who competed in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Platini and Blatter

TWO – FIFA Scandal and Ban: The FIFA Ethics Committee banned FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA head and FIFA heir apparent Michel Platini from all football-related activities for eight years, sparking hopes of greater transparency and an end to corruption and bribes which impact FIFA decisions. For a brilliant explanation of the scandal by John Oliver, all the way back in June, 2014, watch this video.

 

Russia Track Banned.jpg

ONE – Russia Track and Field Team Banned: After it was revealed that Russian athletes were illegally doping thanks to a state-run program, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decides in November to suspend the All-Russia Athletic Federation, essentially all Russian track and field athletes, from participating in international competitions, including the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics. Here is the documentary that sparked the investigation.

See this link for 13 through 15, 10 through 12, 7 through 9, and 4 through 6.

US team

zaha-hadid-japan-national-stadium-0

SIXProposed 2020 Olympic National Stadium Design Dropped Due to Pricetag: The $2 billion price tag for the new National Stadium in Tokyo proved to be too high. The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, faced down the president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, and send the committee back to the drawing board. This decision effectively removed the possibility of the stadium debuting for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

No Boston Olympics

FIVE – Both Hamburg and Boston Drop Out: Both Hamburg, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, USA were selected by their respective national Olympic committees to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, but both ended pulling out after referendum votes indicated the Games would not be supported by the cities’ citizens. While the bid for the 2024 Games remain competitive, with Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome still in the running, the reputation of the Games for their high cost, facilities that serve little purpose after the Games, the disruption to business and everyday life to locals, among others, continues to grow.

US Women Celebrate 2015 World Cup Victory

FOURUS Defeats Japan to Win Women’s World Cup: US had beaten Japan in the Olympics, but Japan was the reigning World Cup Champion. US goes into Rio with hopes of winning their fourth consecutive Olympic championship. The US team currently has 11 Olympians who only know gold: Christie Rampone in 2004, 2008 and 2012, Abby Wambach in 2004 and 2012, Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd, Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo in 2008 and 2012, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn in 2012.

See this link for 13 through 15, 10 through 12, and 7 through 9.

Bruce and Caitlyn_cover to cover

NINE – Meet Caitlyn Jenner: Jenner reveals in July that she would no longer be known as Bruce Jenner, sparking a dialogue about what it means to be transgender. The 1976 gold medal-winning pentathlon men’s champion’s cover story on Vanity Fair, and follow-up television interviews helped broaden the world view on people who identify themselves as transgender.

Day Thirteen: The Championships - Wimbledon 2015
LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 12: Serena Williams of the United States and Novak Djokovic of Serbia dance on stage at the Champions Dinner at the Guild Hall on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships on July 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Thomas Lovelock – AELTC Pool/Getty Images)

EIGHT – Olympians Serena Williams and Novak Djokavic Win 3/4 of their Grand Slams: Williams won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon in 2015. She is a four-time gold medalist, winning gold in doubles in 2000, 2008 and 2012, as well as the singles championship in 2012. Djokavic won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon in 2015. Djokavic now has a total 10 Grand Slams, and took the bronze medal in singles play in Beijing in 2008.

fc barcelona uefa.jpg

SEVEN – Barcelona FC Wins the Treble: In the 2014–2015 season, Barcelona win La Liga, Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League titles, becoming the first European team to have won the treble twice. Olympians on Barcelona FC include Javier Mascherano (gold for Argentina in 2004 and 2008), Lionel Messi (gold for Argentina in 2008), Neymar (silver for Brazil in 2012), Luis Suarez (competed for Uruguay in 2012)

See this link for 13 through 15, and 10 through 12.

Japan beats Argentina with Coach Cramer on the right in black, from the book "Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency"
Japan beats Argentina with Coach Cramer on the right in black, from the book “Tokyo Olympiad 1964, Kyodo News Agency”

He is second from right, in the black coat, running onto the field to celebrate with his team – Japan’s victory over Argentina in a preliminary soccer match at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games.

Like so many sports, Japan was playing catch up. In the case of soccer, the then President of the Japan Football Association, Yuzuru Nozu, thought that Dettmar Cramer was the man to coach the national Japan team. So the West German coach worked with the Japan team for four years, and in their very first match, they defeat Argentina 3-2 in what was considered an upset.

Japan beats Argentina 2

Cramer would go on to be an advisor to the Japan team that went to Mexico City, and incredibly, Japan won the bronze medal. As he is quoted in this Japan Times article, striker Ryuichi Sugiyama said Cramer was a true inspiration. “Before the bronze medal (match) he told us ‘show me your yamato damashii (Japanese fighting spirit)’. As a trainer, he was fantastic but he was also engaging as a human being.”

Cramer passed away on Thursday, September 17 at the age of 90. His life was dedicated to soccer, leading Bayern Munich to victory in the European Champions Cup in 1975 and 1976. In Japan,