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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sports news buffet Part 1

Introducing a new series and some sports news

Over the next few days, we'll be starting our first series of 2008 - exercise in the cold. Last year, we did a few series, most of which evolved out of news stories like the Chicago Marathon where the heat affected the race so badly. And the topic of exercise in the cold came up a few times when we did that series, and the subsequent ones on muscle cramp and dehydration. So starting probably early next week, we'll look at some of the physiology of exercising in cold conditions, its impact on performance and practical steps to take when you can't avoid it.

On that note, we've received some great ideas for future posts, things like lactate during exercise, altitude training, exercise and ageing, exercise and weight loss, more on drugs in sport, and we promise to try to get to all of them in good time!

But for today, quite a lot going on in the world of sports, with some interesting angles developing, so we have a bit of a concoction of news stories for today. I've done them in 5 separate posts, so you can jump to whichever might be most interesting and avoid those that aren't!

  1. Rugby - SA's first black coach appointed
  2. Cricket - the Australia-India row continues
  3. Road running - Hicham el Guerrouj - a famous scalp for some runners
  4. Cross-country - Bekele to race Tadese twice in Scotland
  5. Athletics - verdict on Pistorius due on Saturday

Rugby - South Africa appoints its first black coach

Yesterday, South Africa, the world rugby champions, announced the successor to World Cup winning coach Jake White. It was always a race between two candidates - Heyneke Meyer (who was apparently asked specifically to apply) and Pieter de Villiers.

Eventually, the vote went to Pieter de Villiers. Reports from the SA media are saying that a vote was held to separate a dispute about which of the two should be chosen. It is reported that a split between the selection committee forced the vote, and in the end, it came down to the Inland provinces against the coastal province-representatives.

Apparently, after the decision was reached, the "the inland presidents looked distraught". Just for the record, South African rugby is run by presidents of individual provinces (states), who hold executive control through their vote. These reports suggest that there was something of a stand-off regarding who should coach.

Now that in itself is unremarkable, until you remember that this is South Africa we're dealing with, where rugby is something of a political football, kicked around by politicians and often affected by the spectre of race and history in South Africa.

And far be it from us to comment on the politics, but the following two quotes suggest just what a difficult time de Villiers will face as the coach:

First of all, Oregan Hoskins, the President of SA rugby says the following:

"I want to be honest with South Africa and say that the appointment was not entirely made for rugby reasons. We as an organisation have made the appointment and taken into account the issue of transformation very very seriously when we made it. I don't think that tarnishes Peter - I'm just being honest with our country."

This was followed up the following quote from Butana Kompela, who is famous for calling Australians typical colonial racists and for saying in the media that Jacques Kallis, one of SA's sporting heroes, typifies the racist attitudes of whites in South Africa:

“I want to make it clear that Peter de Villiers is not a transformation appointment. He has been appointed on merit. Rugby is now showing it is an agent for change and it can unite people around the Springboks.”

Well, it seems to me the least you might do is get the story right. Which is it, then? The first problem for de Villiers, rugby matters aside, is that he is clearly entering the job balanced on an unsteady perch high above two opposing parties who see the National team as their own, and wish to use for their own ends.

The second problem is that when the President of the sport says that the decision was not made for rugby reasons, then the public who follow the game immediately recognize that if the top position in rugby is awarded based on non-rugby decisions, then so too future decisions can be expected to be compromised...and therefore, they're in for a bumpy ride.

To date, de Villiers has said the right things for the sport (including that he will pick players on merit, that he's not a transformation pawn, etc.). But the quotes above don't suggest that at all, and I would predict a rough road ahead for SA rugby. Nothing to do with the quality of the coach, but just because he's the rope in a political tug of war, and that can't be good for quality.

Time will tell, let's just hope he makes use of sports science to prepare the team, and we don't revert back to the Camp Staaldrad way of doing things!

Join us next time for the series on exercise in the cold!



Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan, Ross,
Michelle at Runner's World magazine in the U.S. here. I'd like to talk to you two about a story--please email me at michelle.hamilton@rodale.com. Thanks! Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon and Ross,

I look forward to your lactate in exercise article(s). I've been reading a little about it recently (just newsgroups and forums), and some things are confusing. I hope it answers a few questions: What's the difference between lactate and lactic acid -- they seem to be used interchangeably? Do our bodies produce lactic acid in exercise? What physiological changes are triggered by lactate accumulation during exercise? If lactate is reused as an aerobic fuel, can we call "anaerobic" exercise "anaerobic"?

Thanks as always,