Tuesday, 22 September 2009

What's the Welsh for "the sums don't add up"*?

There's been a lot of bluster recently surrounding the Assembly Commission's decision to stop translating Plenary debates from English into Welsh. The motive behind the Commission's proposal was to save £250,000. In the face of vocal opposition, a compromise of sorts has been proposed: all debates will be translated but within 3-10 days of Plenary rather than the 24-hour deadline that currently exists.

The first thing that bothered me was the idea that the home of Welsh democracy, one of whose self-declared main ambitions is to promote and protect the Welsh language, would consider reducing its own bilingualism. Since when has "do as I say not as I do" been a successful mantra? Then I read the story again. £250,000?!

Plenary takes place every Tuesday and Wednesday, from 1.30pm until anywhere between 5pm and 7pm. So the job consists of transcribing 3.5-5.5 hours of debate and then translating it. Assuming there are two transcribers - allowing them 30 minute mini-shifts to save their wrists and their sanity - and two translators writing up the Welsh the following day (7.5 hours), the total manhours for each Plenary translation should be around 26 hours (11 transcribing plus 15 translating).

Plenary sat 66 times in 2008-09. Using the above calculation gives a total of 1716 manhours. If the Commission's £250,000 figure is correct, then those transcribing and translating the Plenary Record are being paid somewhere in the region of £150 per hour. This equates to an annual salary of around £60,000.

Either the Commission pays transcribers and translators huge sums or *"dydy e ddim yn taro deuddeg".

Discard d'Estaing

Former President of France Valery Giscard d'Estaing has released a romantic novel "whose thinly-disguised plot focuses on himself and Diana", according to the Telegraph.

Obviously someone of Giscard's distinguished nature - studying at ENA and being a member of l'Academie Francaise - would have the imagination to take (possibly) real-life events and to develop characters and a plot that would retain the drama but not descend into god-awful tackiness.

Not a chance. What did he choose to call the 'Diana, Princess of Wales' character? Princess Patricia of Cardiff. With such a cheap tactic, I only hope that the book is as poorly-received as his first effort 15 years ago. Maybe if enough people discard d'Estaing he might put down his pen for good.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Is professional sport corrupt?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, sport is "a game, competition or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job". There is no doubt that professional sportspeople exert terrific physical effort (that's why Andy Fordham isn't a sportsman) and display expert skill. It's what comes next that needs to be examined: "According to rules".

At the top level of professional sport are athletes whose sole purpose is to beat the rest and be the best. Recent news from Formula One and rugby union, coupled with longstanding issues in soccer, athletics and cycling, suggests that contempt for the rules is perhaps more widespread than assumed.

In Formula One this week, the Renault team has been exposed asking one of their drivers to deliberately crash his car in order to help his team-mate. Over the summer, Harlequins rugby union club came under the spotlight for faking blood injuries and therefore enabling substitutions.

Cycling has long had a problem with drugs, as has Athletics. Diving has come out of the pool and onto the football pitch, most notably and recently at the Emirates Stadium.

These examples are more than rule-breaking, they raise serious questions about the morality of those at the top of professional sport. I'm tempted to propose that it is professionalisation - and the monetary concerns that it implies - that has led us to this point.

Paul Rees makes the case that amateur rugby was full of 'cheating': nicking a few yards on the touchline, for example. He also says that 'A difference then was that the game was for the players' and that 'Professionalism has acted as a disinfectant'. In some ways maybe, but likewise I'm not so sure.

The amateur game was indeed for players; the professional game is for money. Whether due to pressure from a club owner or manager, or whether it stems from a misplaced perception of what it means to succeed, that induces a 'win at all costs' mentality that has surely contributed to an erosion of the ethics of sport.

Friday, 11 September 2009

'I won't get a fair trial because I'm a tosser', court hears

A defendant who claims to be a 'tosser' does not want his case to be heard because he believes the jury are prejudiced towards tossers. The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but who has been nicknamed Mr Tosser by the clerk, thinks that his case should be heard by a single judge - preferably a tosser like himself.

In an irate outburst, Mr Tosser shouted across the court that he had been aware of his "growing propensity to tosserdom" for years and that it had become fully-fledged ever since he started watching Top Gear last month. It was following the programme that Tosser stole an Audi Quattro and sat for fifty minutes outside his ex-wife's house playing 'The Sign' by Ace of Base ten times over at a loud volume with the windows down. When District Judge Llew Williams asked why he did this, Tosser replied "because I could".

Williams eventually agreed to Tosser's request, saying that there would be "no difficulty" in finding a tosser judge. The case was adjourned until Monday.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Tasty Stock but lack of key ingredients hands it to Russia on a plate

Given the reputation that he has built up at Arsenal and in the under 21s, being mistaken for Aaron Ramsey is one of the highest accolades in Welsh football at the moment. That Brian Stock played for 25 minutes before I realised that he was, in fact, Brian Stock of Doncaster Rovers and not Aaron Ramsey, shows how well he played against Russia tonight. (It also shows that I need my glasses back from the optician more urgently than I thought.)

Stock was outstanding in an opening half an hour that saw Wales dominate one of the best teams in Europe. With Ricketts pushing forward down the right and Ramsey supporting the returning Craig Bellamy up front, Wales created more chances in 30 minutes than in the 180 minutes of home qualifiers against Finland and Germany.

And yet. One moment of brilliance from Ramsey's Arsenal team-mate Andrei Arshavin ten minutes before the break brought Toshack's side down to earth. He picked out Igor Semshov's intelligent run, who went on to shoot past Wayne Hennessey into the far corner. The goal flattered Russia who had not seriously threatened the Welsh goal until that point.

Wales were slow to start after the break and I started to fear the worst. But my faith in the future of Welsh football was reinforced when James Collins met Ramsey's corner at the near post and flicked it past Akinfeev. For ten minutes Wales pushed on, encouraged by Collins's second international goal and by the 14,000 crowd who finally had something to sing about.

Having again failed to convert pressure into goals, Wales succumbed once more. Gabbidon gave away a soft free-kick on the edge of the penalty area that Ignashevich drilled past Hennessey, who was misplaced standing behind the wall. Wales never reached the same level of performance in the second half as they had reached in the first and it seemed that the only team to score again would be Russia.

And so it was. Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko had smashed a shot against the crossbar before taking advantage of a Collins mistake and firing a fine finish across Hennessey.

Wales were unable to capitalise on their good build-up play; nor did they have a Pavlyuchenko to make a goal out of nothing. Currently they are missing a striker who threatens to score each time he plays. Bellamy looked lively and made some good runs down the flanks but never looked like scoring. As I pointed out on Monday, Ched Evans was the only striker in the squad to have scored this season. He watched the whole game from the bench.

Wales lacked ambition when it was needed most. They clearly started the better and after ten minutes should have really grabbed the opportunity that was there to take the lead. After the equaliser Wales didn't capitalise on their momentum, although they weren't helped by some strange refereeing decisions.

Further, Toshack should have made a change at half-time rather than waiting for Wales to go 2-1 down before introducing Sam Vokes. If he'd backed them and their first-half performance, which included the best half hour I've seen Wales play for at least six years, then a half-time change would have taken the game to Russia and given his players the belief that they could go and win. As it was, it didn't look like Wales ever believed that they could win - neither during their opening spell nor at 1-1.

The game also clearly lacked atmosphere due to the Millennium Stadium being only one-fifth full. The FA of Wales's meeting next week to discuss taking the qualifiers to smaller stadia around the country cannot come too soon. It might be that the hotter atmosphere generated by a crowd of that size in the Liberty Stadium or even the Racecourse would have pushed Wales into the lead.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Toshack's goals

Wales face Russia at the Millennium Stadium on Wednesday night knowing that they will not be qualifying for the World Cup next year. Their aim is to finish third in the group, thereby improving their seeding for the next round of qualifying games and, so the theory goes, placing them in an easier qualification group for Euro 2012.

This would mean finishing above Finland - the team who embarassed Wales 2-0 in Cardiff in March. The return leg in Helsinki comes next month and given that Wales are four points adrift of Finland that would appear to be a must-win game for Toshack's side. In addition, both teams have a difficult game - Wales play Russia on Wednesday and Finland travel to Germany in October - and a trip to Liechtenstein to negotiate.

But first comes Russia and Wales's lack of goals. Wales haven't scored more than one goal in a game for almost a year - that came against Liechtenstein and was a struggle. Wales have managed just 12 goals in the last 15 games, and 4 in the last 8.

Within the World Cup qualifying groups, only Albania, Malta, Luxembourg, Moldova, San Marino, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein, Armenia, Andorra, Faroe Islands, Georgia and Macedonia have scored fewer than Wales. At the other end of the pitch, Wales have conceded 7 goals in 7 games - the same number as Croatia and France.

The defence isn't perfect but with Gabbidon alongside Collins it starts to look solid again. The young midfield grows with every game and there can be no doubt as to the potential of a Ramsey, Ledley, Edwards, Collison combination. The issue really is one of goals.

Toshack needs to start with Ched Evans, who has two goals this season, alongside Bellamy, who has none. Earnshaw, Church and Vokes are also yet to score this term but Bellamy's experience puts him ahead of the pack.

Toshack also needs to give Ramsey licence to break forward in support and shoot on sight. Ramsey's goal against Italy for the U21s shows the threat he carries. David Edwards chipped in with the winner in Azerbaijan and should be encouraged to join the front two at every opportunity.

Even if Wales beat Finland next month, and assuming that both teams get three points in Liechtenstein, the difference between the two sides will come down to how Wales fare against Russia and how Finland get on in Germany. Finland did push Germany all the way in a 3-3 draw earlier in the campaign but with Germany potentially needing a win to secure top place in the group, victory should be within Germany's grasp.

All this makes the Russia game crucial for Toshack's stated aim of finishing third in the group. Russia will score in Cardiff; the question is how many will Wales manage?