Sports News

Revamping French Guiana for the World Cup and Olympics

Although Brazil has received ample press attention in its scramble to prepare for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games, its neighbor French Guiana has also started drawing up plans to host athletes competing in the two sporting events. The overseas region of France will expand its sport, tourism, and transportation infrastructure in order to attract elite athletes to train there for the games. Earlier this month in London, the government-sponsored group GIP Guiana 2014-2016 promoted the region as a convenient, safe, and scenic place for foreign teams to train away from the hustle and bustle of the main competition venues.

The French government will spend about €35 million ($43 million) over the coming three years on projects that will include the renovation of two soccer stadiums in Rémire-Montjoly and Kourou, as well as the construction of new sports facilities. Future high-end training centers will include an Olympic-grade running track, a swimming pool, and a gym for martial arts, which together would accommodate athletes competing in up to 20 different Olympic events. In addition to a new transport system, French Guiana will also build new hotels, with a capacity of up to 4,000 visitors.

Government officials hope that these activities will boost the economy of French Guiana, which like the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique and the African island of Mayotte, is considered an integral part of the country of France. The construction jobs and tourism that the project will generate should reduce the region’s unemployment rate of about 20 percent. After the next Olympics, the new stadiums would provide a venue for the cultivation of sports talent in French Guiana, which has a youthful population and many cultural affinities with the Caribbean. Even though the region is considered politically equal to any other in the country—it sends representatives to the French legislature and is part of the EU and Eurozone—it has a much lower standard of living than metropolitan (European) France. While the highest in South America, French Guiana’s GDP per capita is slightly less than half the national average, and the economy is highly dependent on government subsidies and the presence of the European Space Agency’s spaceport.

The effort so far has been promising. Twelve countries are already considering using the country’s facilities, and GIP Guiana 2014-2016 has received advice from the London Olympic authorities about planning for the infrastructural challenges of hosting thousands of athletes and their coaches.


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The British-Soccer Indian-Poultry-Firm Controversy

Indian firms have been investing heavily in European companies in recent years, a development generally welcomed by the European public and governments alike. The German government, for example, has gone to some lengths to entice Indian high tech forms to invest in the former East Germany, and a number of Indian companies have responded. The Bangalore-based information technology company Infosys has been particularly active in Europe, where is now employs more than 5,000 people. Such quintessentially British brands as Jaguar, Land Rover, and Tetley Tea are now under Indian ownership.

In one area, however, Indian ownership of European concerns has proved quite contentious—that of professional sports teams. In 2011, the Bahrain-based Indian business tycoon Ahsan Ali Syed purchased the Spanish soccer club Racing de Santander; controversy intensified as the club went through three different mangers in the 2011-2012 season. Fans claim that Mr. Syed knows little about the sport and is therefore not able to run the team competently. Even more divisive has been the 2010 purchase of the Blackburn Rovers Football Club, a storied soccer franchise, by the Indian poultry and pharmaceutical firm Venkey’s. The new management immediately began changing the coaching staff, angering the club’s supporters. Earlier this month, a disgruntled fan released a chicken on the playing field wrapped in the Blackburn Lancashire flag emblazoned with the word “out,” intended as a message for the club’s owners. Yesterday, a Lancashire paper announced that a “Blackburn Rovers supporters group is to call on the Premier League to investigate Venkey’s takeover” of the club. According to the article, the group claims that Venkey’s has mismanaged the Rovers and has been unable to communicate effectively with fans. When it comes to sports, locally specific cultural knowledge is extremely important, apparently imposing some limits on globalization.


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Rugby League Encouraged by Ghana

Rugby Union World Map Wikipedia

Rugby Union World Map WikipediaGhana is attempting to establish the sport of rugby league both in the country and throughout West Africa, a move described as part of as “groundbreaking development initiative.” With financial backing from Europe, the project aims to educate Ghanaian youth about the sport and to set up training facilities and venues for competition, focusing initially on local universities. Rugby is played in the region, but Ghana has not done well, having been humiliated by Mali, by a score of 28 to 3, last August in the West Africa Rugby Championship tournament. (It is unclear, however, whether the tournament in question was one of rugby league or of rugby union, which are actually two different games.)

The geography of sports in an interesting topic, in part because different games spread with colonialism and commerce, but not in a predictable manner. Unlike cricket, for example, rugby never gained much support in the British Caribbean. In the same part of the world, baseball spread with U.S. influence and military intervention to the Dominican Republic, but not to Haiti.

Outside of Europe, rugby is popular in Argentina and South Africa, but it reaches its height in the greater Pacific. Australia and New Zealand are well known for their rugby prowess. As far as rugby league is concerned, no country can match Papua New Guinea (PNG) for popular support. According to a 1995 article in The Independent:

Matches in PNG are unlike any elsewhere in the world. It is not unusual for spectators in full tribal dress to walk for hours through the countryside to watch major games. When grounds cannot accommodate them, there have been near-riots by those locked out. The smell of tear gas became all too familiar during the 1990 tour.



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The Politics of Pakistani Cricket

India and Pakistan have not played a cricket test series since 2007, as athletic relations between the two countries were frozen after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. A recent geopolitical thaw, however, has led to call for resumed play, but thus far it has proved impossible to schedule a match. The Board of Control for Cricket in India recently argued that delays have stemmed from its need to gain governmental approval before anything can be set up, but the head of Pakistan’s Cricket Board responded with a taunt: “Maybe the way our team is performing and the way their team is performing in Australia, they look afraid, for them losing to Australia is not that much emotional, but its more emotional losing to Pakistan.”

Meanwhile in Pakistani cricket, the sport’s governing board announced that it will conduct an extensive “rehabilitation program” for nineteen-year-old bowler Mohammad Aamer, who was recently released from a British prison for engaging in a spot-fixing scandal. And former cricket-star turned opposition politician Imran Khan vowed recently that he would enter “reconciliatory talks” with the people of Pakistan’s rebellious Balochistan province. In Pakistan, cricket is always much more than a mere sport.

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