Category Archives: Sports

Why I’ve gone dark

 

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Calling occupants of interplanetary craft: Leave a message; we’ll get back to you

I have no problem with the concept of ‘social media’. It sounds welcoming enough, even comforting. Let’s say you are a shut-in and no one comes to your door. You fire up the Internet, login to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other of myriad, electronically devised stand-ins for people, and commence to chat for hours. What could go wrong?

Just this: In most cases, no one trolling for information about you and yours gives a rat’s derrière about you and yours. More often, they simply want to blunt your attention to reality (the sky is either blue, or it’s snowing); or they want to steal your money, identity and, in the final analysis, soul.

Not long ago, I disconnected from every social media account I once had. That includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let’s call it an experiment. But, so far, it’s working well. I’m calmer, more sanguine. I have more time to read for pleasure. I actually talk to real people – look them in their eyes and not into the vibrant screen of my smart phone. At the very least, I’m a better dinner guest.

Last year, The New York Times ran a piece entitled, “Is Social Media Disconnecting Us From the Big Picture?” In it, the writer observed: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that Donald Trump could be elected president, but I was. I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, two of the most liberal places in the country. But even online, I wasn’t seeing many signs of support for him. How did that blindness occur? Social media is my portal into the rest of the world ­– my periscope into the communities next to my community, into how the rest of the world thinks and feels. And it completely failed me.

The writer continues; ‘In hindsight, that failure makes sense. I’ve spent nearly 10 years coaching Facebook – and Instagram and Twitter – on what kinds of news and photos I don’t want to see, and they all behaved accordingly. Each time I liked an article, or clicked on a link, or hid another, the algorithms that curate my streams took notice and showed me only what they thought I wanted to see. That meant I didn’t realize that most of my family members, who live in rural Virginia, were voicing their support for Trump online, and I didn’t see any of the pro-Trump memes that were in heavy circulation before the election. I never saw a Trump hat or a sign or a shirt in my feeds, and the only Election Day selfies I saw were of people declaring their support for Hillary Clinton.”

Uh, oops.

Still, now that I am completely disconnected from social media, I find my mortal energy re-emerging. I comprehend that I have precious decades left to me on this coil: To see and play with my grandkids, to build gardens, to write books, to laugh with my wife in the cold, stark winters of our lives (and in the surprisingly warm summers of our fourth decade together). I find peace. I find joy.

Walk downtown on any boulevard you happen to choose. Look up on a warm spring day, watch the birds gathering in the stoops of derelict buildings, creating their nests. Cast your gaze to the horizon and remember what life was like before the incessant buzzing and constant bother of smart phones and iPads. Put it all down, if just for a moment. Let your mind wander to that best part of your life, your past, the history of you.

What could go wrong?

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Is artificial turf unfair to women?

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Several, world-class women footballers claim that their sport’s governing body has all but relegated them to second-class status by forcing them to play on artificial turf in next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. But has it?

The question, which is important for many reasons of fairness, also contains a local, practical dimension. Moncton, one of six Canadian host cities for the women’s event, covered its stadium’s grass soccer field with the phony stuff on orders from FIFA. It cost the municipality $500,000, or a third of the total price.

“New irrigation was installed and then what you’re seeing is this spring they were able to finish that subsurface and then install what they call in the industry, the carpet or the artificial turf,” Stéphane Delisle, venue general manager of the event, said in May. “The surface is one example of FIFA’s mandate to ensure that we’re offering literally a level and equitable playing field for all of the participants.”

Some elite players beg to differ. Now, they are threatening legal action against FIFA for gender discrimination.

“We just saw the World Cup in Brazil,” Carrie Serwetnyk, an ex-player for Canada and the brains behind the non-profit Equal Pay, told the CBC last week.

“We just know there’s absolutely no way the men would play on fake grass. It would be a scandal. So to think it’s OK for the Women’s World Cup to be played on artificial turf, what kind of a message does that send?”

Added the women’s lawyer, Hampton Dellinger: “We know there’s no doubt that the men would not be asked to play on a second-class surface for their world class tournament. They weren’t this year in Brazil, it’s already been established that the men’s World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 will be on grass. There’s no reason the women should be treated as second-class.”

Moreover, he said, “There’s certainly a very credible range of evidence that artificial turf poses a greater and unique danger versus grass pitches, particularly at the highest level. Obviously the only place you can have turf burns – and these are serious, they can really be incapacitating to a player – is on an artificial pitch.”

The problem is that there is also a “very credible range of evidence” that suggests just the opposite: That artificial turf is, at least statistically, no more injury-inducing than natural grass.

According to an article entitled, “A Meta-Analysis of Soccer Injuries on Artificial Turf and Natural Grass”, in the Journal of Sports Medicine last year, researchers “examined eight studies that compared soccer injury rates occurring on artificial turf and natural grass. In total, these studies report nearly 1.5 million hours of training and match play and almost 10,000 injuries. The adjusted injury rate ratios for all injures was significantly less than 1.0 indicating lower incidence rates for playing and training on artificial turf. For specific categories and specific injuries, several injury rate ratios values were less than 1.0. In no case did we find an injury rate ratios value significantly greater than 1.0.”

Indeed, last year, Justin Shaginaw, Athletic Trainer for US Soccer Federation, reported on his sports blog that just as many studies support artificial turf as do natural grass and “since the research doesn’t give us a definitive answer regarding injury rates and artificial turf. . .we know that the greater the traction, the higher the rate of injury. Wearing cleats made specifically for artificial turf, or better yet turf shoes, may help to decrease traction and therefore reduce lower extremity injuries.

“We can apply this same thought process to grass regarding increased traction and increased injury rates. Unfortunately, there may be a decrease in performance as shoes with less traction may cause players to slip.”   

None of which is likely to convince the potential litigants against FIFA. To them, the issue is one of fairness.

Elite athletes – both men and women – have long expressed their preference for natural grass. Is it fair that FIFA accedes to the males and not the females it represents?

On the other hand, is this treatment of women tantamount to gender discrimination when even the experts can’t decide which is the superior playing surface?

In the end, it will likely be communities like Moncton, where the games occur, that provide the answers.

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Let’s own all of Canada’s podiums

If nothing else, the Sochi Olympics proved beyond a shadow of a scoreless-soccer-game adherent’s doubt that everyone – even a polite, unyieldingly apologetic, ceaselessly accommodating Canadian – loves a winner.

Perhaps, now, especially a Canadian loves a winner.

The medal haul for this country was, indeed, impressive: 10 gold, 10 silver and five bronze. Overall, the total was just shy, by one, of the nation’s tally in Vancouver four years ago when Canuck athletes brought in 14 gold, seven silver and five bronze.

The shortfall this year may have disappointed certain die-hard proponents of the country’s coordinated “Own the Podium” program, the expressed objective of which in Russia was to “maintain the momentum” of La-La Land’s earlier success.

Still, the sad faces in the Canadian contingent of well-wisher were few and far between during the medal events at which our sportsmen and women excelled. In fact, how could it have been otherwise?

There were golds in women’s and men’s skiing; women’s bobsleigh, curling and hockey; and men’s curling, speed skating and hockey. There were silvers and bronzes in freestyle and alpine skiing, figure skating, speed skating, short track, and snowboard.

And who will ever forget the women’s hockey squad?

Going in, they were deemed, in certain quarters, to be too old and too slow. In the end, and in the words of one commentator, they were “champions”, pure and simple. Nor did their male counterparts push up daffodils: Not once did they fall behind in scoring en route to Olympic Gold.

Some in this country have reviled the whole prickly and archly competitive reasoning behind “Own the Podium”. They consider it rude and decidedly un-Canadian. I’m not one among this crowd.

The bottom line is that we, as a nation, should be owning all podiums in every walk of life that matters to this country. And if we can take inspiration from our fittest and most fiercely determined fellow citizens, then the $80-million that taxpayers have spent to train and send them to the international games is worth every loonie.

Why not own the podium, for example, with advanced research that leads to flexible, renewable, sustainable energy? Are we so blinkered by the quotidian realities of our abundant reserves of oil and gas, that we can’t perceive the economic opportunities  that come with leading the world in the production of solar, wind, smart grid, biomass and biofuel technologies for domestic and export markets?

Why not own the podium with a public, universally accessible, national system of early childhood education, integrated into the primary school system? Must we perennially lag our sister states in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in providing good quality ECE?

According to some recent research, national spending on pre-school is only 0.2 per cent of GDP. That compares with expenditure rates of between two and ten times the Canadian amount in the United States, Finland and Sweden.

Meanwhile, our own regional turf in the Maritimes, can we finally own the podium with a truly effective strategy for inter-jurisdictional economic collaboration, risk-sharing, innovation and foreign market development? Aren’t we about ready to concede that the three provinces, which collectively house the population of Montreal, would benefit from closer ties among them?

In New Brunswick, of course, no one’s winning any medals for stellar performance on the fiscal field. That a province of 750,000 people should sport a deficit of $500 million on a debt of nearly $12 billion staggers all rational appreciation for prudent management in government.

But is there even here, buried somewhere beneath this mess, a podium to own?

What new feats of financial derring-do will we authorize future finance ministers to undertake? How much more belt-tightening will we be prepared to endure?

What do we visualize as the shape of our future, and what great sacrifices and immense efforts will we make to bring that future into focus and, finally, ascend the pedestal to receive our rewards?

These are the urgent questions of the day. They are for winners to answer.

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