Tuesday, June 29, 2010

French woman does striptease on Ayers Rock in "tribute" to Aborigines

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is not only the largest rock in the world but also a sacred site for the Aboriginal people who have traditionally lived in the area. Which is pretty well known; the local owners try to discourage tourists from climbing it, let alone leaving litter on it and going to the toilet on it.

Now a French woman has performed a striptease act on top of the rock. In "tribute" to those traditional owners. Because Aborigines were naked, dontcha know.

I never realised that stripping had such spiritual significance. What next, a pole dance in tribute to the Aboriginal custom of carrying spears?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Assorted World Cup thoughts (Day 16)

* Many have derided this as one of the worst World Cups in recent memory, and if it were based on the early group games that would be a fair call. However, the final group games brought out the desperation in some of the teams that were earlier too cautious, and finally showed some desire and attacking inspiration. But one measure on which this tournament can be harshly judged is the standard of officiating. The disallowed goal by Frank Lampard against Germany was only the latest in a number of monumental cock-ups.

* One positive for this tournament though is the success of some of the "smaller" nations with little World Cup pedigree. As well as some of the traditional powers, the Round of 16 included Ghana, USA, Slovakia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, South Korea and Japan. At least one of those teams is guaranteed to make the semi-finals.

* England's ignominous exit to Germany brings to an end the so-called "Golden Generation" of players who looked great at their clubs but consistently underwhelmed at international level. The biggest question to be answered about their lame showing concerns the performance of Wayne Rooney. After a brilliant season with Manchester United, many were talking about him possibly being the greatest player in the world right now. After 4 games on the world's biggest stage, the conclusion must be drawn that he is not even close. He may have been burnt out after a long season, but contrast it to the peerless form of Lionel Messi and you will see how great the difference is.

* Perhaps the mantle of expectation is too great for Rooney's shoulders. By contrast, for some players, being given leadership roles only elevates them to greatness. Take Rooney's Man U teammate Park Ji-Sung; a middling role player for his club, the South Korean captain is at the heart of everything that makes his club tick, and has looked like a superstar.

* Likewise for the USA's Landon Donovan. Football is a game of decisive moments, and on that score the team captain has been one of the players of the tournament. He has scored 3 goals, but it is the timing of those goals that has been most crucial - sparking their comeback against Slovenia (and creating the goal that was wrongly disallowed), the last-minute goal against Algeria that put them into the second round, and the penalty that drew them level against Ghana in a game that they ultimately lost.

* South Africa are the first ever host nation to fail to progress to the second round, but they were a credit to the competition and went out on a high with a good victory. They benefited enormously against France from the referee's decision to send off Yoann Gourcuff early on; it was certainly a yellow card, but his elbow to MacBeth Sibaya's head was unintentional. But notwithstanding that decision, the French were again atrocious. Clearly the internal divisions had an effect. But as the senior French players revolt against their hated coach Raymond Domenech, it should be remembered that it was they who backed him after Euro 2008 when everyone else was rightfully calling for him to be sacked. Most of them seem to have forgotten that they are representing their nation, rather than a club they owe no real loyalty to.

* Slovakia's defeat of Italy was a fabulous game marred by ridiculous theatrics from players on both sides; I lost count of the number of times players were rolling around on the ground clutching their face. However, for me it added to the spectacle and elevated the game to the level of comedy. And there was a sort of divine justice to see the Italians being thwarted by a team acting even more theatrical than they.

* I've been a fan of the Ivorians' winger Kader Keita for a while, but his (successful) attempt to get Kaka sent off was not only a disgraceful advertisement for everything wrong with the game, but stupid for his career as a whole. Referees watch big games such as those, and are less likely to give Keita favourable calls in the future since his reputation will precede him. Indeed, combined with the well-known play-acting antics of Drogba, Emmanouel Eboue and Didier Zokora, the Ivorians are in danger of becoming the diving-est team in the world.

* A key reason Cote D'Ivoire underperformed was the questionable team selection of their coach Sven Goran Eriksson. Their two main attacking threats are creative winger Gervinho and scoring machine Drogba, who logically would complement each other on the pitch. Yet they were on the field together for only 15 minutes against Portugal and 35 minutes against Brazil, the two games that decided the team's fate. Drogba looked lost for much of the two games with no one to create for him; it was no surprise that his one goal against Brazil came after a driving run from Gervinho.

* Ghana have not exactly been the most exciting team in the tournament so far; before their ggreat strikes to beat the US, they had only scored 2 penalties. But their best-ever showing here comes despite the injury clouds that surround stars like Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari, and the absence of superstar Michael Essien. Ghana have achieved this success by being very hard to score against, and in a sense have abandoned the stereotypical traits of an "African team" (carefree attacking play combined with defensive naivete). The other teams have followed a similar path by employing European coaches, but the fact that  Ghana is the only African nation to win more than one game here perhaps indicates that it is not a direction that really suits teams from that continent.

* Cameroon has been perhaps the greatest disappointment of this World Cup. They were gifted a relatively easy group, and I picked them to be the African team that would advance the furthest; yet they lost all 3 games. In Samuel Eto'o they have one of the greatest strikers in the history of African football, yet they have consistently failed to successfully build a team around him. He is 29 now and there is a sense that they have wasted their chance to capitalise on their one standout talent.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Our attitudes towards punching black women in the face

You've probably seen this footage that surfaced last week of a white police officer in Seattle punching a young black woman in the face. It occurred when the teenager pushed the policeman as he was roughly attempting to handcuff her friend for the heinous crime of jaywalking.

Anyone with even a passing interest in African-American culture will not be surprised at this incident; brutal treatment by police is a reality of minority neighbourhoods.

What is surprising, however, is the amount of voices all over the internet who believe the cop did the right thing.

Here is a former police chief Don Van Blaricom interviewed by a Seattle news station:

With this most recent tape, he says its obvious the Seattle police officer is in trouble.

"He has two people he's engaged with,” says Van Blaricom as he watches the officer struggling with two females. “They are both good sized people. He has a hostile crowd around him. He's by himself."

But what about that snap decision to punch the 17-year old in the pink shirt? Van Blaricom says her interference is a serious threat to the officer's safety. "I think he decided he had to end that interference right there and that's what he did and it worked," he said.

Van Blaricom says, unlike the tape which surfaced last month, in this case the officer is alone and surrounded by a taunting crowd. “'I don't see any signs of anger,” says Van Blaricom. “In fact he's very professional calling bystanders sir. He's not using as much force, quite honestly, as he could have."
Check out the comments attached to that article as well. To sum them up: if you run your mouth and lay hands on an officer, you deserve what you get, and be thankful you don't get shot.
Even at a pretty progressive website like Racialicious, you get reader comments like this one, from "Silverback":
...That girl in the pink is pretty big. She looks taller than him on the video. What if she had a blade? Or, her actions emboldens other to get physical? Where I’m from girls are just as dangerous as dudes, so I feel it’s reasonable to take sex of the table. With that, if these were 17 and 19 yr old men, is the response justified?
I think if you put your hands on a cop, you get what’s coming. Not only the “good” reasons (authority figure, has to constantly be on guard, sees the worse in people all day/everyday), but because of all of the stereotypical flaws we know about (racism, sense of entitlement, abuse of power, etc…). It’s like poking a wild animal with stick and getting upset when it bites yo ass. I wasn’t surprised she got popped, and based on what I see in the clip, I can’t confidently say I wouldn’t have done the same.

This sort of thing is disturbing to me. I'm aware that compared to many people, I may have different views on the nature and acceptability of violence. But I've always held several beliefs about hitting someone that I don't believe are outrageous.

* As a male, you don't hit a female.
* If a woman is being violent with you, violence is still a last resort to be avoided as much as you can.
* If someone pushes you, perhaps you can push them back. However, to punch them is upping the ante unnecessarily.
* If at all possible, attempt to defuse a situation well before it reaches the point where violence occurs.

But clearly, not everyone agrees with that.

NBA fans might remember player Ron Artest wading into the stands and trying to punch a fan who had thrown a drink can and hit him. I recall one commentator excusing this ridiculous behaviour (which cost Artest $7 million in salary for being suspended for almost an entire season) because the throwing of the drink was such a disrespectful act, and Artest was only defending his manhood.

In acts like these, my first thought is What happened to taking the high road? Some people are going to mess with you - why not be the better man and rise above it?

Should the girl in the video have pushed the police officer? It might be understandable given the rough way he was treating her friend, but no, she shouldn't have. Should he have punched her in the face because of it? No frickin' way.

The community is taught to hold police officers in high esteem; disrespect towards them is often seen as disrespect towards society as a whole. But by the same token, we also hold them to a higher ethical standard. To say "if it were me, I woulda punched her too" ignores this fact. When police act in this way, it undermines much of the respect that members of the community have for the police as a whole.


Is racism a factor in how this incident panned out? Not necessarily, but I'd wager that it was.

Would he have acted in the same manner had it been white women in a white neighbourhood? Of course this is merely conjecture, but my suspicion is that no he would not have. To be honest, I would have been shocked if he had punched a white MAN in that way, let alone a woman.

White men do hit white women of course. But I think the particular manner and context of this cop's behaviour indicate something beyond that.

Normally you think a male police officer would be inhibited by several factors. Firstly, it's a woman. Secondly, cops are trained to handle themselves under pressure; I'm sure he would have previously faced more trying situations than that and still controlled himself. Thirdly, there are people watching.
Had it been a retaliatory push rather than a punch, it could possibly be understood in the circumstances. But to punch someone in that manner requires a serious degree of contempt, and a serious degree of "othering".
To a racist mind, a black woman is not really a woman (and thus not really deserving of the courtesies usually afforded to women), because a black person is not really a fully-fledged human being.
I'm not suggesting the police officer is a fully-fledged white supremacist or anything like that. He might only be a tiny bit racist, as many of us can admit to being. But this is one of the ways racism works which a lot of people overlook. Some acts may not be racially motivated but they can still be influenced by racism. Racism can be the factor that makes incidents more severe than they need to be. Racism could be the factor that makes him punch her rather than push her. It may make him see black women as tougher and less feminine, and thus fair game for treatment that he would think twice about applying to white women.
I also wonder about the many references I've seen to the police officer being surrounded by "a hostile crowd"; a factor given as an influence on how he acted. Now, the onlookers were certainly disapproving of his actions, but were they hostile? I sense that the interpretation of them as being hostile has quite a bit to do with them being mostly black. (ie. "you know what those ghetto black folks are like", etc etc).
In any case, I'd imagine that if anything is going to provoke hostility in a crowd of black people, it is seeing a white police officer punch a young black woman full in the face. Yet the crowd did not tear sh*t up or attack the officer; they expressed their opinions and recorded it on their phones. Hostile or not?
Were the two black women innocent victims in all this? Neither was a saint; apparently both have criminal records for violent behaviour, and it appears that the policeman was arresting one because of her direspectful reaction to being given a citation for jaywalking. However, that does not make the punch in the face justified.

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's not all about you

This week, Australians have been moaning about their football team being robbed by bad refereeing decisions; Tim Cahill's red card for a tackle against Germany and Harry Kewell's red card for handball against Ghana. And we still won't stop whining about that penalty against Italy even though it was FOUR YEARS AGO. Yes, all of them were a bit harsh, but not outrageously so - you'd see refs give those same decisions again as many times as not.

And of course, there are some conspiracy theorists around.

Says one Australian newspaper reader:
Does anybody in their right mind actually believe that FIFA is going to let any upstart “little” country win the Cup. Just look at their record over the last 2 cups. Firstly their was the Italian Diving Team who went on to win and FIFA later admitted that the penalty was eroneous and this time we have the French Hand Ball Team who got there with a blatant Hand Ball Goal that FIFA wouldnt reverse. Its a set up from Go to Whoa and therefore not even worth watching. Any team that seems to get above itself will be redcarded out of the games.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the USA was outraged at the bad refereeing decision that looked like it might have cost them their group. It was against Slovenia, and Malian referee Koman Coulibaly blew for a foul as Maurice Edu tapped in a would-be winning goal. Except no one anywhere can actually find any evidence of any foul being committed.

And some are also seeing other factors at play in that decision.

"Sorry to see that there is still a strong anti USA sentiment in the rest of the world" says this blogger.

But here's the thing, guys. Sure, it's nice to wallow in the feeling of being a victim. It makes you feel like you are right and everyone else is wrong, and diverts you from questioning whether your team just might not be quite good enough.

But, those bad decisions are just a few of the host of terrible ones that occur at the World Cup, and at club level. The sending off of Kaka against Cote D'Ivoire has been the most ridiculous of them all.

Referees are not, generally speaking, biased. They just f*** up. A lot.

It's funny when referees make bad decisions, and people cry "How could he make such a shocking decision? It's unbelievable!"

Actually, it is entirely believable. If there is one thing you can guarantee about refs, its that they make some terrible decisions from time to time. They also make plenty of good ones, but those don't get noticed so much. You can referee a game and get 99 out of 100 calls correct, but if the one you miss happens to be the glaring error that leads to a crucial goal, then you'll be called the worst ref in the world. That's why I coach soccer but am loathe to referee games; I just can't take all that negativity heading my way.

And yes, the standard of refereeing around those crucial decisions has been particularly bad at this World Cup. But remember, some of those bad calls will go your team's way as well. Don't think that someone high up in FIFA is out to get you. It's just refs doing what refs do.

It's not all about you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who are the hottest players at the World Cup?

Ok, I realise this may be the official point where my blog loses what little credibility is has and turns into something teenage girls would get excited over. But so be it. Plenty of my female friends have been commenting on the looks of certain players at this year's World Cup. And I figure it is one more way to celebrate the wonderful diversity of humanity at the most popular sporting event on the planet. And since I claim to be a guy who is comfortable enough with my heterosexuality that I can appreciate male good looks without getting overly defensive, it seemed logical to compile a few and put it to a poll (which you'll find at the bottom of this post).

A: Yoann Gourcuff (France)
B: Keisuke Honda (Japan)

C: Ahn Jung Hwan (Korea Republic)
D: Benny Feilhaber (USA)

E: Blaise Nkufo (Switzerland)
F: Clemente Rodriguez (Argentina)

G: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
H: Didier Drogba (Cote D'Ivoire)

I: Mark Gonzalez (Chile)
J: Kaka (Brazil)

K: Georgios Samaras (Greece)
L: Lucas Neill (Australia)

M: Rais Mbolhi (Algeria)
N: Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay)

O: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
P: Thierry Henry (France)

Q: Valon Behrami (Switzerland)
R: Winston Reid (New Zealand)

S: Tsepo Masilela (South Africa)
T: Gerard Pique (Spain)

Ok, so please vote for your favourite out of these fine fellows. You can vote for more than one if you really can't restrict yourself to just one. But don't vote more than once for the same guy.

And since I'm really not the best judge of these things, feel free to suggest any who I may have missed.

Want to vote on more hot people? Try hottest male world leaders and hottest female world leaders.

Still more Awesome Asian Ads - Thailand

My love of Thailand's quirky commercials knows no bounds. Particularly the voiceovers.

More here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

RIP Manute Bol: basketballer, humanitarian and originator of the phrase "My bad"

Former NBA star Manute Bol passed away this week, aged 47, after suffering acute kidney failure and complications from a rare skin condition (Stevens-Johnson Syndrome). Despite barely averaging more than 2 points a game, Bol cut a distinctive figure in the basketball world; he was the equal tallest man (at 7 feet 7 inches) to ever play in that league, and still holds the league record for the most blocked shots per minutes played. But his life story was fascinating in far more than basketball terms.

A Dinka herdsman from South Sudan, Bol only started playing basketball at age 15 after moving to the capital Khartoum. Eventually he made it to the NBA where he enjoyed a 9 year career. Outside of basketball he was very committed to the struggle of the South Sudanese against the country's brutal military, making many visits to refugee camps where he was hailed as a hero. After his attempts to negotiate a ceasefire between the warring sides, he was once offered the post of Sports Minister, but refused because the government insisted it was conditional on him converting to Islam. Of the around $6 million he earned over the course of his career, he donated around $3.5 million to a Dinka rebel group, but some bad business investments eventually left him penniless. He ended up returning to the US as a political refugee. He survived a car accident in 2004 which left him with a broken neck. Nonetheless through all these trials and tribulations, he devoted much of his later life to raising money for Sudanese refugees.

No one who was following basketball in the 80s or 90s will easily forget Bol's distinctive frame and shot-blocking ability. Perhaps his most famous moment was a game against Orlando in which he blocks 4 shots in about 5 seconds, as players foolishly kept coming back for more and he just kept rejecting them; you can watch it in the video below. He also became fond of shooting 3-pointers later in his career, not something you expect from such a tall player.

One thing basketball fans may not know, however, is that Bol is generally regarded to be the inventor of the now-popular phrase "My bad." In his early days in the US, when he spoke little English, Bol would apologise to teammates for his on-court mistakes by saying "my bad" instead of "my fault". The phrase became popular in the NBA and filtered down to street-ball levels, and then into mainstream popular culture.

(I've heard it claimed that others were using this term in the 70s and thus Bol didn't invent it; however it is still probable that Bol invented it independently and its popularisation started with him.)

I have two other favourite stories about Bol. One is that he is surely the only NBA player to have killed a lion in the wild with a spear (from his younger days herding cattle). His team-mate Charles Barkley, noting Bol's famously good-natured persona, quipped that if Manute could kill a lion, it must have been sleeping.

The other is about another aspect of Bol's acclimatisation to the NBA environment; despite not speaking a word of English until he was 20, he did learn the art of talking trash, in his thick Sudanese accent. After blocking an opponent's shot, he would quip, "Don't you have cable? Didn't the other guys tell you? Nobody dunks on Manute B-O-L!"

More about Manute Bol's life here.

Monday, June 21, 2010

NZ social club continues to bar turban-wearing Sikhs

Some news from the folks in New Zealand:

A Cosmopolitan Club embroiled in controversy after barring a turban-wearing community leader from its premises has voted not to change its entry rules about headwear. The Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club's annual general meeting yesterday voted to keep the club's headwear policy - which bans entry to all people with headgear, including those wearing it for religious reasons.

The Herald understands from club members at the meeting that the rules were relaxed to allow headgear that is worn for "health reasons", such as a bandage or a bandanna used by a cancer patient.

The Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club, in Manukau City, faced strong criticism from the Sikh community last year after it banned leader Karnail Singh from entering to attend a function held in his honour.

The matter was taken to the Human Rights Commission in January, and the parties agreed at mediation that, depending on the outcome of yesterday's meeting, the issue could go back to the commission. It was the second time in two years that the club had been taken to the commission. The first time was after it banned a Muslim international student because she was wearing a headscarf.

Despite the club's agreeing at the first mediation to review its head-dress policy, it decided at that time not to make any changes.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Sikh Centre, Verpal Singh, said he had not heard from the club but would be "absolutely disappointed" if it continued to ban guests wearing religious and cultural headgear.
"We will not let the matter rest because the original understanding was that if the AGM couldn't resolve it, then we will go back to Human Rights [Commission] and also consider all the options that are open to us."

Verpal Singh said his group was seeking legal advice for a possible class action against the club.
"The decision to ban religious headwear doesn't just affect the Sikhs. It also affects other religious groups and even the wider community, because it would be denying people their right to take certain guests to the club," he said.

A Cosmopolitan Club member, who did not want to be named, said the general feeling of members at yesterday's meeting was that it should not bend its rules for anybody.
"Many felt that once you change the rules to let in people who wear turbans, then the next thing you know is that we will also have to let people wear hoodies and balaclavas into the premises."

The last line is a perfect example of the "thin end of the wedge" argument that is often used to justify being a tight-ass. You claim that to make a small concession would inevitably lead to allowing something ridiculous. (Another example could be those opposed to gay marriage who say things like "If we allow that, eventually we'll have to allow a man to marry a dog.")
In any case the comparison of religious headgear with hoodies and balaclavas is a ridiculous one. A hoodie can be easily removed on request with no real detriment to the wearer. Wearing a hoodie or balaclava could be seen as disrespectful to polite social conventions. Is it disrespectful to wear a turban or hijab? If they think it is, one wonders at the values of a club that interprets it that way. Would they ban a Jewish yarmulke as well?

In one sense I appreciate that to an extent, social clubs need to have a right to decide who is allowed to use their premises, and what standards they apply. But at what point does that take precedence over basic human freedoms and rights of religious expression?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

2 teenagers arrested for stabbing of Nitin Garg

The stabbing of Indian student Nitin Garg (pictured) in the west of Melbourne in January this year came amid a climate of fear for Indians in Australia. Numerous assaults against Indian students had garnered media attention, but Garg's was the first that ended in death.

Now 2 boys aged 15 and 16 have been arrested in connection with the stabbing of Garg, which occurred as he walked to work through a Yarraville park at night.

The police have stated they do not believe the attack was racially motivated. How they know this I'm not sure; there was apparently no evidence of a mugging either. So what was the motive, if not robbery or racism? It is an unfortunate reality that there are young males out there who do not need any motive to attack someone, other than the thrill of brandishing power over another.

At least one of the two boys has been described as Caucasian. Why is that relevant? Only because there is the endlessly repeated myth that "ethnic gangs" are responsible for all these attacks.
The teenager who cannot be named was produced before a Children's Court after his arrest in a Melbourne suburb. His parents were also present in the court and the mother was seen weeping as the teenager was remanded to custody after a brief appearance. (source)
One wonders where the parents were when their son was hanging out in parks at night stabbing people.

Assorted World Cup thoughts (Day 8)

* The extremely cautious and defensive nature of this year's tournament, combined with the unpredictable flight of the Jabulani ball, is making it hard for both attackers and goalkeepers. Which means results can be harder to predict than normal. Attacking teams are not really having their dominance rewarded, as defensive teams can hope to nick a goal on the break.

* One thing you should be able to predict with some success, however, is a draw between Uruguay and Mexico. The two teams sit atop their group, with France and South Africa hoping a win will put them in the running. But the permutations of the group mean that no matter the result between the locals or the French, a draw between the two Latin American teams will put them both in the next round. Bookies are already suspecting the fix will be in. Even if the game isn't rigged via secret agreement between the two teams, neither will be especially motivated to try anything risky. Bet on it being boring as hell.

* Argentina are the only side at this point that genuinely look good enough to win it. Which is not to say they will, as you can expect some of the slow starting big names to improve their form. The key to the Argentines has predictably been the sublime Lionel Messi, and if anyone beats them it will be the team who can best deal with Messi. Nigeria almost managed it thanks to keeper Enyeama's heroics, but Korea allowed the little fella to run riot.

* Who'da thunk it? The most awesome game of the tournament so far was the 2-2 draw between the USA and Slovenia. It had absolutely everything. I had written off the Slovenes after their sleep-inspiring performance against Algeria (in which they managed to win via a lucky goal), but they demonstrated they can impress on the counter-attack. The Americans displayed admirable spirit to fight back and draw, but they were very unlucky not to win, due to a couple of questionable decisions by the man with the whistle. They had a goal disallowed for no apparent reason, and Robbie Findley somehow managed to earn a yellow for handball when the ball hit him in the face.

* England's rancid performance against Algeria could cost them big time, as their supposedly easy group suddenly looks tight indeed. Their team looked devoid of inspiration, and their two best club players this season (Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard) have been shockingly poor. Coach Fabio Capello's decision to leave Joe Cole on the bench looks like a mistake. Likewise for the omission of both Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott from the squad, when they are exactly the kind of player who could create something out of nothing to get England out of trouble.

* Just when Germany look like they are the team to beat at this tournament, they go down 1-0 to Serbia. Lukas Podolski's meek penalty is the first one a German player has missed since 1974. Perhaps that was a snapshot of the failing of this German side; by prioritising youth and an attacking sensibility, they may be lacking the clinical efficiency that has been the traditional trademark of German teams.

* North Korea have shown they could really shake up Group G, and are quite capable of taking points off both Portugal and Cote D'Ivoire. Despite going down 2-1 to Brazil, they put on a defensive masterclass against the Samba Kings, and notably did this without earning a single yellow card. That's pretty rare in this age; most teams who are strong defensively tend to supplement their hard work with a cynical (ie. dirty) edge. To score, Brazil needed 2 moments of genius; Maicon's once-in-a-lifetime goal, and Robinho's brilliant pass to Elano.

* The form of some of Brazil's players is a concern for them. Kaka was unrecognisable as the 2007 World Player of the Year, and you have to wonder why coaches keep playing him on the wing, rather than in the free role behind the striker in which he flourished at AC Milan. Luis Fabiano looked indifferent as well. By contrast, Robinho looks like the player that Manchester City paid £32.5 million for.

* While Switzerland's 1-0 victory over Spain was a big suprise, perhaps we shouldn't have been overly shocked. In the 2006 World Cup, the Swiss made the second round and were knocked out on penalties without conceding a single goal in the whole tournament. They are no one's idea of an exciting attacking team, but their miserly defence is a match for anyone, and eventually they'll sneak a goal.

* Forget Robert Green's keeping blunder. Brain explosion of the tournament goes to Nigeria's Sani Kaita. He blatantly kicked out at a Greek player for no apparent reason and got himself red-carded. At that stage, Greece were 0-1 down and going absolutely nowhere. Against the 10-man Super Eagles, the Greeks unsurprisingly took the upper hand and scored twice. Kaita's stupidity has likely cost his team a place in the second round, while the Greeks might still sneak through, despite still being quite rubbish.

* I initially figured the Netherlands' Arjen Robben might have a shot at being player of the tournament, but the injury-prone winger hasn't managed to get a game yet. In his absence, Wesley Sneijder is the man who makes the Oranje tick, and he came up with the crucial goal that beat the Japanese. The Dutch haven't quite hit their stride yet, but they are looking as good as anyone else at the moment.

* Another game, another red card for an Australian key player. Again, it was a borderline call; Harry Kewell's handball was certainly not deliberate, but when you are on standing on the goal line and outstretched arm stops the shot from going in, the referee has few options. Amidst the predictable Australian outrage over the decision, they will no doubt forget the ease with which Ghanaian winger Andre Ayew was able to waltz past their defenders to make the cross. Or how Lucas Neill appeared to bring down Asamoah Gyan in the box just before the shot.

* At least Australia played like a team that belonged at the World Cup, rather than the joke lineup that was sent out against Germany and received a deserved drubbing. Surprisingly they still have a chance of progressing out of the group, but it's a slim one, involving beating Serbia by 3 clear goals. Which is not going to happen.

* Chile look a fantastic attacking side, with pace to go with their passing ability, and one can see why they finished second only behind Brazil in South American qualifying. But looking like that against Honduras is not such a great achievement, and they may be found out against a better side. Even for all their impressive play against Honduras, it was still only a 1-0 victory.

* France, again, were absolute rubbish. One of the greatest indictments of Raymond Domenech as coach is that he has seemingly no idea of his best lineup, even after all the qualifying games and friendlies. A blind man can see that his central defensive pairing of Gallas and Abidal just do not work together, and he hasn't worked out how to play two of his best creative attacking players (Ribery and Malouda) effectively together. The poor form of Yoann Gourcuff in the first game exposed a lack of a suitable replacement; the obvious one, Hatem Ben Arfa, remained on the bench. The controversial omission of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri looks like it is coming back to haunt Domenech.

* French striker Nicolas Anelka has apparently been kicked out of the squad after allegedly telling Domenech "Go screw yourself, dirty son of a whore". Which is not very nice, but only articulates what most of the French public are undoubtedly thinking. Nonetheless, it is players who win games, and the French players have been hugely disappointing, particularly the strikers.

It's not just Cameroon left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto's ridiculous hairstyle that deserves condemnation. The Tottenham man was culpable for both the goals that knocked his team out of the reckoning, as the man assigned to keep Denmark's veteran winger Dennis Rommedahl quiet. The Indomitable Lions were the African team that on paper had the best chance of progressing deep into the tournament. But to the list of "coaches who don't know what they are doing", add their coach Paul LeGuen. While he put out an improved lineup against Denmark and still got beaten, it was his ridiculous team selection against Japan, in a game they could and should have won, that has cost them their tournament.
See also Assorted World Cup thoughts (Day 5)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Condom sales spike in Korea after World Cup win

My favourite news story of the week:

About a million South Korean fans, including 200,000 in Seoul, filled the boulevards, stadiums and parks on Saturday to cheer their team's 2-0 win over Euro 2004 champions Greece.

After the game, fans in celebratory mood bought five times more condoms than during the team's lacklustre 2006 World Cup performance, the JoongAng Daily reported on Monday.
Other winners were convenience stores and fried chicken outlets as fans took to the streets, the paper said.

It said Bokwang Family Mart chain stores saw a near doubling of sales in spots where fans had gathered.
Stores in residential areas also did well as those tuning in at home bought three times the usual amount of beer and more than twice the number of snacks.

Because there's nothing like a footballing victory to inspire the masses to get their collective leg over. While simultaneously eating fried chicken, apparently.
Unfortunately, following South Korea's 4-1 spanking at the hands of Argentina, a national loss of libido  is possible. So supporters of the national team will have more than one reason to hope for a victory over Nigeria in their final group game next week.
Pictured: Team captain Park Ji-Sung has Korean libidos going off the charts.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Colbert - Rain rivalry continues...


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Beating and kicking him mercilessly was totally out of character

  In local news this week...

A 23-YEAR-OLD man who “mercilessly beat” a Deakin University security guard has escaped jail time. Joel Murcia pleaded guilty in the Ringwood Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, June 3, to recklessly causing serious injury. The court heard Murcia punched his defenceless victim, Sandi Singh, 17 times, kicked him five times and kneed him once.
Ringwood Magistrate Max Cashmore sentenced Murcia to a four-month intensive corrections order, which will require him to undergo community work, report to authorities twice a week and undergo counselling.
Mr Cashmore said “it was but for the grace of God the victim was not killed” in the frenzied 53-second attack.
The court heard that on September 24 Murcia, co-accused Richard Keane and another man were vandalising a Deakin University sign at 2am after drinking heavily at its bar. Mr Singh and another guard spotted the trio and then an argument and fight broke out. Mr Cashmore said Mr Singh, who was in court, and his colleague were simply doing their jobs and were beaten mercilessly for it. “I’m sorry to you, Mr Singh, and the community is sorry that someone doing his job has to put up with this type of conduct,” he said.
Defence barrister Wayne Henwood told the court his client had finished an arts degree and was attempting to secure work in the film industry. Mr Henwood said a conviction would severely damage his chances of landing a job. “This 53 seconds of madness was totally out of character for my client and he will not re-offend,” Mr Henwood said. But Mr Cashmore said a conviction must be recorded and Murcia only escaped jail because of his age and good references.
In February, co-accused Keane pleaded guilty to recklessly causing injury and received a nine-month community service order without a conviction.

That attack was reported here originally.
I originally came across this story due to my following the issue of anti-Indian violence in Australia. Now the fact that the bashed man was Indian may not be a relevant detail, so I won't focus on it. (Which doesn't mean definitely it wasn't a factor, mind you.) However while racism was clearly one factor in the apparent phenomenon of "curry-bashing", the kind of recklessly aggressive mentality exemplified by Keane and Murcia tells you more about why such things occur, in my opinion.
The attack was caught on CCTV and you can witness it below:

Remember though that Joel Murcia is not some stereotypical street thug from an underprivileged background. He's someone who appears to have gone to a good school and completed an Arts degree.
“This 53 seconds of madness was totally out of character for my client and he will not re-offend,” said Murcia's barrister. I'm in no position to say whether that is true or not, but it makes me wonder; what does actually determines one's character?  What about him and his mates vandalising the University sign? Was that "out of character" as well? Plenty of people get drunk every week yet manage to avoid committing crimes while in that state.

Is he of good character because he manages to avoid committing random violence most of the time? Or do we truly judge a man's character on how he acts when placed in a challenging situation? Most people, if caught drunkenly committing a petty crime (and let's be honest, there are plenty of us guys who have done something like that), would either cop it sweet or try to run away. What does it say about the character of a group of people who choose instead to fight security, using the advantage of 3 on 2, and not only that but to mercilessly beat them, kicking and kneeing the men when they are on the ground?

As for the other defendant named in the case, Richard "Ox" Keane, you can check out this Facebook group, seemingly set up by his friends, and judge for yourself what kind of character he might be.

Kicked to death by "persons of good character"

The truth about violence against Indians in Australia

Assorted World Cup thoughts (Day 5)

* While World Cup 2006 was seen as overly defensive, this one is even moreso. Most teams are trying not to lose, rather than playing to win. Overall, it's not that pretty.

* Opening game Mexico vs South Africa was a great way to kick off a tournament, principally because both teams wanted to win and attacked relentlessly. A stark contrast to the game that followed, but unfortunately France's 0-0 draw with Uruguay is likely to be more representative of the tournament overall.

* How come no club side has the will to get the best out of Mexico's Giovanni Dos Santos? The half-Brazilian winger's performance against the South Africans was so reminiscent of a young Ronaldinho it was scary. Yet no club seems to want him or to use him - he was last seen stuck on the bench in Turkey, having been loaned out by Tottenham.

* The Netherlands look a good team, even though they started slowly against Denmark. In the absence of Arjen Robben, Hamburg winger Eljero Elia dazzled on the left wing; expect a buzz post-WC as the big clubs tussle for his signature. The Oranje's combination of midfield toughness (Van Bommel, De Jong) and tricky attackers (Sneijder, Van Persie) should see them at least make the semi-finals.

* Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) are the real deal. Unfortunately fate seems to be against them, with a nasty draw and their superstar striker under an injury cloud. But even without Drogba for most of the game, they utterly dominated a listless Portugal team, yet couldnt put it in the back of the net. Striker/winger Gervinho looks like a hell of a player when running at defenders, and the team pass well and are tough in the tackle. They even look to have patched up their previous weakness for conceding soft goals at the back.

* How does France coach Raymond Domenech still have a job? France look uninterested and uninspired - what a waste of talent. The departure of Zidane, Vieira and Makelele (the archetypal midfield 3) has left a massive hole in ability, toughness and leadership; a huge problem when you have a bad coach. Apparently some of the senior players like Domenech because they can bully him into putting them in the starting lineup. The non-selection of Karim Benzema looks like utter foolishness after the laughable display up front by Anelka and Gignac.

* Cameroon's coach sent out the tallest lineup I'd ever seen, with 6'3 guys all over the place. Against a small team like Japan, the logic seemed to be to overpower them with size and strength. Unfortunately, there was a distinct lack of creativity on the field for the Indomitable Lions, and playing their deadliest striker (Samuel Eto'o) as a right winger is just stupid. Only once playmaker Achille Emana came on in the second half did they look like a team of real footballers.

* South Korea looked great - in particular Park Ji-Sung, who in national colours looks twice the player he is for Manchester United. But I suspect the "Taeguk Warriors" looked so impressive mostly due to complete ineptness of the Greeks, whose lack of ambition is an insult to their passionate fans. Like Australia, they are a defensive-minded team who cannot actually defend.

* Germany were very impressive, but Australia were rubbish. At best, they are a limited team of hard workers, but coach Pim Verbeek's negative game plan took away what little chance they had of getting anything from the game. Going down 4-0 to Zie Germans is no disgrace, but the manner in which they went down was. How does a team designed to be ultra-defensive manage to concede 4?

* In that game, Tim Cahill's red card was undoubtedly harsh; it was a bad tackle and worth a yellow, but he was clearly trying to pull out of it and thus was not reckless. But the other issue with Cahill is the degree to which Verbeek mishandled him. He is an average midfielder who does 2 things exceptionally well - head the ball, and arrive late in the box to score. But playing him as a lone striker nullifies the latter skill.

* Despite their draw with New Zealand, Slovakia look like a proper team. They've got some exciting young players who constantly threaten on the counterattack. However, don't confuse them with Slovenia, who are as dull as dishwater and got lucky in beating Algeria. How the Slovenes managed to knock Russia out of qualification is beyond me. And how Slovenia and Algeria can both end up in the same group is a cosmic injustice - particularly in comparison to Group G (Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal).

* The best individual performance for me so far has been Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama. His acrobatic saves somehow kept a rampaging Lionel Messi off the scoresheet. The Nigerians put in a good fist of it against the Argentines - losing 1-0 is nothing to be ashamed of - but for a team whose best players are mostly strikers, playing only one upfront seems a waste.

Elderly Indian businessman stabbed to death in Melbourne

A week ago, the body of 61 year-old Kewal Dhillon (pictured right) was found underneath a freeway footbridge, dead from stab wounds to the upper body and possibly from falling off the bridge as well. Dhillon, a successful real estate agent, had gotten up early Saturday morning for a walk and not returned. There are no suspects at the moment and police are appealing for help from the public; it's not clear whether it was related to a mugging, a targeted attack by someone he knew or an act of random violence. The suburb where it took place, Balwyn, is upper middle-class and recently was reported as having among the best state schools in Victoria; it is no one's idea of a rough neighbourhood.

The furore about violence in Australia against persons of Indian origin seems to have settled down since last year. But has the violence itself settled down? It's hard to say. This latest fatal incident may well have nothing to with that phenomenon; we'll see as things unfold.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup: Contenders and Predictions

For those of you who are not enthusiastic about the World Cup - shame on you. But bear with me while I make some predictions for the tournament and rate the main contenders. I'll look back afterwards and laugh at how wrong I was, no doubt.

Spain. Just too good in every department. Brazil also look a worthwhile bet.

David Villa (Spain - pictured right). The Spanish team should, at the very least, make a deep run into the tournament, and to top the scoring charts you need to play a lot of games. Not only is Villa a cracking striker, he has a team of brilliant passers who will serve up chances on a plate for him. If not Villa, I'll plump for Brazil's Luis Fabiano.

I'll go really out on a limb here and say Arjen Robben (Netherlands). If his team do well, the prematurely-balding winger will be at the heart of most of their good play, should he stay fit.

France. Their talented team is riven by internal tensions, they are lacking midfield engine Lassana Diarra, and they have one of the world's most incompetent coaches in Raymond Domenech. They have a relatively easy group but might not make it out.

Uruguay could well finish first in their relatively weak group, and in Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez they have two strikers with formidable scoring records in Europe. Serbia may also surprise a few.

Aussie expectations were high after their spirited run in 2006, but this year's team is a dour defensive unit who are severely lacking in attacking flair. They are in a tough group (against Germany, Ghana and Serbia) and while advancement is certainly achievable, I don't like their chances. But if perma-crock Harry Kewell actually stays fit and plays the tournament of his life, you never know.


World ranking: 2
The Spaniards usually look promising at World Cups, but have never delivered. But if they ever do make good on their potential, this is surely the year to do it. The team is built around the slick passing of Barcelona duo Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and the finishing of David Villa and Fernando Torres. They will look to pass their opponents to death, but have plenty of options from the bench to change things up; such as pacy winger Jesus Navas and powerful 6'5 striker Fernando Llorente. It's hard to go past them, really. Except it's Spain. They always screw up... and the favourites never win...

World ranking: 7
Argentina boast the world's best player in Lionel Messi, and arguably the world's best-ever player, Diego Maradona, as their coach. Unfortunately, as a coach Maradona is a clueless nutjob, and may be this team's greatest weakness. They have an amazing array of striking talent to choose from - Messi, Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero - but they cannot all play at once. The midfield is not as blessed but still includes crunching tackler Javier Mascherano and crafty winger Angel di Maria (pictured left). Argentina could easily win it if they manage to gel together, but they are poorly organised and struggle to get the most out of the talent that they have in spades.

World ranking: 1
Coach Dunga has remade his team in his own image; functional, rather than flamboyant. He has controversially left out Ronaldinho, yet the team are still stacked with talent; Kaka, Robinho, Luis Fabiano and Douglas Maicon to name a few. But while the names are big, their form is an issue. Kaka, World Player of the Year only 3 years ago, is coming off an indifferent season, as is midfield enforcer Felipe Melo. Still, they qualified as the top team in South America, and their world number 1 ranking is no accident. No one seems to be getting overly excited about the Samba King's chances this time around, but they will be hard to score against, and have plenty of goals in them.

World ranking: 4th
The Oranje are always blessed with amazing talent yet seem destined never to quite turn that into a World Cup win. The key for them is whether their defence is strong enough; their attacking punch is not in doubt. Playmaker Wesley Sneijder, striker Robin Van Persie and winger Arjen Robben (pictured left) are all coming into the tournament in scintillating form. The other key will be whether Robben is fit or not; he may have single-handedly led Bayern Munich to the Champions League Final, but he is currently under an injury cloud and is liable to break at any time.

The Dutch always look amazing initially, and then inevitably disappoint. While I'm hoping they break the mould this time, I'm not expecting it to happen.

World ranking: 6th.
Talent-wise, Die Mannschaft are good but not phenomenal; but that's never an issue with the Germans. Their size, strength and clinical efficiency always power them through to the later stages, and you can expect them to make at least the semi-finals; it's just inevitable. They are without their captain Michael Ballack, but he won't really be missed. One player to look out for will be young winger/playmaker Mesut Ozil (pictured left), who is hotly sought after by many of Europe's top clubs. No one's really backing the Germans this time around, but they always do well.

World ranking: 3rd.
Portugal struggled through the qualification stages, and still haven't found a top striker after all these years. What they do have is Cristiano Ronaldo, and with him anything is possible. They'll have to first get out of their tough group though, which includes Brazil and the Ivory Coast. Which they may well not do; if you are going to pick one of the big names to flop, the Portuguese might have that dubious honour.

World ranking: 5th
While no one should write off the defending champions, Italy are an ageing team built around players from underperforming Juventus and AC Milan. They will be hard to beat, as they are an experienced and savvy team who know how to get a result. But 4 years ago it was a team made of players in their prime. The stars who did it for them back then are either no longer in the squad, or are starting to creak a little. They do have the benefit of starting in the weakest group in the tournament (with New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia).

Will this be the World Cup when an African team emerges as a legitimate contender?

Cool player names to watch out for at World Cup 2010

World Cup 2006 Roundup

Anyone feel like a Homo Sausage?

The most chuckle-inducing food product name ever. Photographed by my friend Raffi in Japan. Apparently it's a sausage made out of fish.

More like this here, here and here.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Will this be the World Cup where an African nation emerges as a legitimate contender?

Short answer: No. Perhaps it should have been, due to it being the first time the tournament has been held on the African continent, but the fates appear to be conspiring against African teams this time around.

South Africa will have to rely on the home support to carry them, because they are one of the weakest teams at the tournament (ranked 90th in the world). In Steven Pienaar the hosts have a creative player capable of turning a game, and have a potentially dangerous striker in Benni McCarthy (although his best days are behind him). No host nation has ever been knocked out at the group stage, but Bafana Bafana are expected to be the first. Their group consists of France, Mexico and Uruguay, and it's a very open group. France have the talent but whether they can do anything with it is always unpredictable. Look for Uruguay to take second spot, but this group is hard to pick. South Africa could surprise, but it's unlikely.

Nigeria (ranked 20th) is a regular feature at the World Cup, and have made it to the round of 16 twice. But for all their talent, they haven't seemed to put it all together of late. They have a host of top strikers - Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins and Peter Odemwingie, to name a few - but are weaker everywhere else. They are also suffering from the loss of Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel through injury.

The Super Eagles are grouped together with Argentina, Greece and South Korea. Argentina are virtually guaranteed to top the group, but second spot is up for grabs. I think South Korea will nab it, but the Nigerians have a realistic chance. They don't look particularly convincing though, and it's hard to imagine them getting much further.

Ghana (ranked 32 in the world)was the African success story of the 2006 World Cup, making it out of a tough group before going out to Brazil. But the Black Stars' form of late has been indifferent, and to make matters worse they are without star midfielder Michael Essien, who has been injured all year.

Even without Essien's rampaging presence, Ghana's powerful midfield is one of the strongest at the tournament. They boast Italian-based stars like Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah and talismanic captain Stephen Appiah, while Kevin-Prince Boateng and Haminu Dramani can add pace and guile from the wings. But midfield is Ghana's only strength; at the back they are a little suspect, and up front they have few options, with main striker Asamoah Gyan no better than average.

It is hard to see Ghana qualifying from their group, which includes Germany, Australia and Serbia. But while Germany is a lock to progress, second spot is up for grabs, and if they put it all together they could make it to the next step.

One of the teams in the "making up the numbers" category is Algeria (ranked equal 27th in the world). The Desert Foxes somehow overcame African champions Egypt to qualify for their third tournament. But the talent level is just not there. They do have the fortune of being drawn in a relatively weak group though. England should top the group but are not all that convincing; the USA should grab 2nd spot but is not a shoo-in; while Slovenia is well-organised but not all that threatening.

The one African team which most clearly has the talent to make it is the Ivory Coast (ranked equal 27th in the world with Algeria). But their chances have been hamstrung in two ways. Firstly, they are in one of the hardest groups in the tournament; as well as the lowly North Korea, they come up against Brazil (ranked 1st) and Portugal (3rd). This follows on from the previous World Cup when they also landed in the Group of Death.

The Ivorians could surprise, principally because of their superstar striker Didier Drogba. But the Chelsea man, one of the best 10 players in the world right now, fractured his arm in a friendly against Japan and is in doubt.

The team could still surprise, as it has an enviable lineup from top-to-bottom; Yaya Toure and Didier Zokora make an imposing midfield, while Emmanuel Eboue and Kader Keita add inspiration from the wings. Up front, Drogba is complemented by the likes of Salomon Kalou and Gervinho. Also in its favour is Portugal's poor form leading into the tournament. But the Elephants tend to look vulnerable to slip-ups at the back. If the devastating Drogba is in the lineup, this team could accomplish anything; but that's a big if right now.

Cameroon (ranked 19) have the World Cup pedigree of all the African teams, with a quarter-final appearance in 1990. In striker Samuel Eto'o they have a player capable of scoring with aplomb, even if his form is not as sizzling as it was several years ago. Eto'o is unsettled recently, following a red card against Portugal and a spat with legendary Cameroonian ex-player Roger Milla. There is a lot of talent in the team, but the question is how well it functions together; three of their best players (Alex Song, Jean Makoun and Stephane M'bia) are all defensive midfielders, which leads to a selection problem.

The Indomitable Lions find themselves in Group E, alongside Holland, Denmark and Japan. Holland are the favourites, and while Cameroon should beat the other two, they'll be no easybeats. Denmark in particular looked strong in qualification. I think Cameroon will be the only African team to get out of their group, but I'm not convinced they will go any further; they could just as easily bomb out early.

The Daily Show - "Ragheads" and Chinese Communist Education

Jon Stewart and his crew were in good form this week covering some stuff related to race and Asian-ness.

First up, the "raghead" slur against South Carolina Republican Nikki Haley. Haley comes from Punjabi Sikh background, but is a Christian, born in South Carolina and is married to a white American. But she is still a dirty foreigner to rival Congressman Jake Knotts, who said on an internet talk show, "We already got one rag head in the white house. We don’t need another one in the governor’s mansion."
No matter how much you assimilate, you're never quite white enough...

There's also stuff in this clip about famed White House correspondent Helen Thomas's anti-Semitic remarks that led to her resigning from her longstanding post.
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Thank You, South Carolina - The Race to Replace Disgrace
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Also on The Daily Show, the ever-awesome Aasif Mandvi checks out the town of Hacienda Heights where the school board is warning that teaching the middle-schoolers about Chinese language and culture is tantamount to making them into little Maoists...

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Socialism Studies
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

FIFA's ban on the hijab

As we gear up for some World Cup-inspired festivities, it's sobering to note how the sport's governing body FIFA has recently denied Iran from entering a women's football team in the upcoming Youth Olympics because they all wear hijab.

Now, don't for a minute think this is because FIFA are a champion of women's rights, or that they make rules like this based on any kind of common sense. After all, this is the same FIFA whose President Sepp Blatter has previously urged female players to wear skimpier outfits to increase the popularity of the game. And this is the same FIFA who several years ago made it a yellow card offense - the same as making a dangerous tackle - for any male player to remove his shirt while celebrating a goal.

Now, as I understand it, Iran mandates that its female players wear a form of hijab when they play. This, for me, is very wrong; I have no problem with the women wearing it, but only if they are also given the choice not to as well.

But for FIFA to ban it? That's some major cultural insensitivity from an organisation that is meant to represent the "World Game".

And in this tussle between FIFA and Iran, who are the real losers? You guessed it - these gifted young women who just want to play soccer.

(Hat tip: From a Left Wing)