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Giving Exercise an eSporting Chance

Giving Exercise an eSporting Chance

Jet Set WillyNew Zealand StoryChuckie Egg. All sources of great pleasure for me.  For many, these words are nonsense, but for some, they bring back great memories. They are, of course, classic computer games.

Correction: WERE computer games.  And, more specifically, impossibly difficult computer games from the ’80s.  I have been a gamer myself ever since my dad brought home an Amiga 500 computer in the late ’80s and I am still one today, even as I slip inexorably towards my elderly 40s.

old games.jpgEvidently I am not one of those who believes that gaming is just for kids and, although there is criticism leveled at the hobby (from normalising violence to simply being a waste of time), it is an activity that brings pleasure to millions every day.  That said – like much that is fun in this world – it is important to enjoy it in moderation.

Despite the gamer stereotype of being someone hermit-like, shunning both companionship and natural light, gaming can be a very social activity.  Groups of friends can get in a room and band together to take down virtual armies or compete in football tournaments (once they’ve argued endlessly over who gets to be Barcelona).

Whether you do it solo, against online competitors or in a group of mates, there is a lot of appeal to the gaming life.  And that appeal is broadening too.  Gone are the days of it being predominantly a male pursuit. Many more women and girls are playing (some stats suggest they outnumber men now) and the advent of mobile gaming has extended that reach further, with a game to suit almost any taste or time frame.

So, good news then? Well, yes, for the gaming industry certainly and for gamers themselves, who can enjoy a vast array of console or phone-based fun. Got a few hours at home to spare?  Or five minutes on a bus?  There’s a game at your fingertips if you want one.  But I must steer this rambling towards a semblance of a point.  And that is about the potential muddying of the waters between gaming and sport.


E-sports is becoming really big business. The top players and teams compete in competitions around the world and are well rewarded for their efforts.  Not only that, but millions more watch their travails online, following their wins and losses on a global stage. What we have is millions of fans watching teams, who are sponsored by international brands, playing games.  Sounds in many ways very much like football or other traditional sports.

But, for all the fun to be had gaming (or watching others gaming), it is still a sedentary activity.  That’s why moderation is important.  A balance needs to be struck between engaging in gaming and sports/physical activity, to keep those ever-widening waistbands in check. But is a grey area is developing?

BT Sport recently announced it will be broadcasting a hugely popular FIFA gaming/eSports competition. There’s nothing new about broadcasting gaming competitions, but it’s normally online and this is not only on a mainstream broadcast channel, but one that is dedicated solely to sport.  If this was to prove popular then e-sports could get further coverage, and it would certainly be cheaper to show than many existing sports.

My concern is that if gaming is seen as a sport in a traditional sense, then there is a danger of diluting and damaging the physical activity message. In the US, eSports are already overtaking traditional sport in terms of viewing figures (one eSports final outranked both the NBA Finals and the World Series in 2014). And this is backed up by player numbers too. That same year, in the US, there were 67m monthly players of popular game ‘League of Legends’, compared to 24m playing basketball regularly.

If we as a society want children to engage in more sport to live healthier lives, then it doesn’t help to have any confusion over definitions. I realise that not all sports are very physical, but gaming is already extremely popular and the issue of children being stuck to screens needs to be mitigated, not made worse.

cscreen glue

Unfortunately this move to bring gaming onto a sport channel strikes me as the thin end of the wedge.  I can see it happening more and gaming becoming seen in the same ‘sport’ category as the physical activity we seek to advocate so strongly. Would you have a section on full fat cream cakes on a TV show about slimming?

As I said, I am an avid gamer, but I do some exercise as well.  But then, I grew up in a world where video games weren’t omnipresent and there was a greater emphasis on active play. It is the popularity of gaming that has propelled it into the same league as sport and led to it being on the same bill, but it is very different beast.  Watching football on TV won’t necessarily inspire a child to play the game for real, but it might.  Watching someone playing a football video game however, will, I fear, only ever serve to inspire a child to sit on their sofa for hours and hours on end.

More than Medals

Forgive me reader, for I have sinned.  It has been ten weeks since my last post.  I feel I need to apologise, either for leaving you bereft of my witty repartee or for inflicting my efforts on your poor eyes once again. Since I last put digit to keyboard we’ve had the little matter of somethings called an Olympics and a Paralympics.  You may have heard of them.  It’s fair to say that the Games had a somewhat downbeat preamble, with plenty of discussion about the costs of putting on such a huge, expensive event against the backdrop of a significant wealth divide in Brazil.

On a sporting front however, ambitious targets were set by Team GB following London and it’s fair to say that most people (certainly most fans) were not expecting the medal haul to come close to four years ago.  Many assumed that ‘playing at home’ was a big factor and that an overseas competition would mean a drop in metallurgic returns.

But no, this wasn’t the case.  Both Olympic and Paralympic athletes scoffed in the face of such foolish notions and went on to bring home a beauteous bounty of podium places and broken records, both personal and for sports as a whole.

At the end of August I attended one of several ‘I Am Team GB’ events and it was a big success, with a real buzz of excitement.  There were far more visitors than expected and loads of kids, which was really positive. For me, the day was an opportunity for people to do three things:

  • Celebrate the achievement of the athletes (from Wales in particular) who contributed to an astonishing number of medals in Rio and maybe actually meet an Olympian
  • Try out a sport or two that they haven’t before
  • For the older among us, to be a little nostalgic about sports day, a stalwart fixture in the school calendar that many remember fondly (I think I did the long jump, but not due to ability but a teacherly desire to offer every child something to take part in)


The day was a joyous celebration for Team GB.  A lot has been made of the medals won in Rio and attention directed toward the athletes and support teams responsible, as it was in London and before that.  The improvement in GB team’s performance has exceeded expectations and people are quite rightly very proud. Success in the games ignites passion and has again caused an increase in interest in grassroots sport participation.

But although the Team GB certainly excelled in performance terms, I do find myself wondering whether there was/is sufficient focus on the ‘Olympic spirit’.  There are many that are inspired by medals, but what will stay with me as much, if not more, are the examples we saw of camaraderie and breaking down of barriers.  The power of sport to unite people and build relationships without boundaries is key, after all –

“The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

First we had the bridge over the Korean divide.  Lee Eun-ju and Hong Un-Jong, from South and North Korea respectively, sent the world a selfie taken together during pre-Games training.  Many athletes take pictures together, but given that the two countries are technically at war, and both could easily face repercussions for this politically sensitive gesture, it was a brave and positive move.


Then there was the marriage proposal.  Well, actually there were five Olympic marriage proposals in all, but the one most will remember was Marjorie Enya, proposing to Brazilian rugby player Isadora Cerullo. The proposal was televised as Marjorie took advantage of her role managing the venue to commandeer the PA system and pop the question.  And of course, the fact that the pair are women wouldn’t raise eyebrows to many these days, but the Olympics are watched by every nation on earth and sadly there are still many for whom such freedoms are impossible to imagine, so a positive affirmation of LGB&T relationships on the world stage is another reason to celebrate.

Last up is what for me, had the most lasting impact. Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino collided during the 5000m final and both fell in a tangle of limbs.  They struggled on, but when Abbey fell again injured, Nikki stopped to help her fellow athlete to complete the race. There was no thought of personal achievement, just a selfless gesture that was instinctive and sportsmanlike.  They may have finished last, but they  both finished and finished together, and this act of kindness was reported more widely than the race result itself.


So, I’ll be enjoying the athletes’ success as they parade through Manchester and London today, as the Welsh competitors did in Cardiff recently to a rapturous reception, but I think it’s important as well to take time to remember – there’s more than one way to win.

Playing the game right is, I believe, more important than playing the game well.


The Galactico Sideshow

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Wales and Portugal have had quite different journeys at the European Championships in France.  Aside from a narrow loss against England in their second game, Wales have won all of their games at the competition and have gone from being solid to spectacular as the competition has progressed.  Portugal have shown flashes of inspiration and their attacking potential, but you still feel they haven’t flourished as yet. But then Wales more than coped with all of the flair Belgium could muster.


A first ever semi-final for Wales should be the main story here.  But the press love a personal confrontation, a gladiatorial clash of titans.  Or, in this case, Galacticos.  At Real Madrid, Bale and Ronaldo are on the same side, though talk of them not getting on too well seems to rear up from time to time. And that helps fuel the story of confrontation, but as with the press in the UK, I’m sure a lot of this is maybe a little bit exaggerated to sell Spanish tabloids.  To get to where Bale and Ronaldo are, you need to focus on your own performance and your contribution to the team.

Yes, I’m going to talk about teamwork again.  The press is already putting a lot of focus on Bale and Ronaldo right up until kick off, and you can see why.  Everyone knows their names.  They’re the star players.  So their respective teams’ success will depend on their performances tomorrow night.  Or will it?

Watching Portugal, you sense that Ronaldo is the self-elected focal point for the team. He tries to get involved wherever he can, that’s for sure.  A laudable commitment, but it means that he wants to be everywhere, winning every ball and hitting every shot, and when a potential pass to him doesn’t materialise, he doesn’t always react like a real star should (but as sadly many do).


Watching Bale is very different.  He very obviously has a higher level of skill than his teammates (as well as most on the planet). His composure on the ball, turn of pace and eye for a pass mark him out.  But he operates as a team member first and foremost.  The fact that he has superb individual talent is a bonus.  I haven’t yet seen Bale grab a game by the scruff of the neck and win it by himself, but that’s his role.  He has scored and assisted more than the others, but more as a result of adding a little finesse to a well-drilled unit, than waltzing past a whole opposition team single-handed.

And this Galactico sideshow will suit Chris Coleman just fine.  The press can concentrate on a one-on-one Real Madrid dust up and Wales can concentrate on playing as they have up till now.  As a unit.  As Wales. Not as Bale & Co.

Wales didn’t go into the game against Belgium as favourites and despite their performance last Friday, they’re still the bookies’ favourites to be flying home to Rhoose on Thursday morning.  Having seen both teams play and, for all the potential danger Portugal pose, they are still somewhat reliant on Ronaldo, who is desperate to be conductor, general and national hero.

Bale gets the headlines, gets quoted in papers and is on the majority of Welsh shirts, but Wales’ amazing story in France has been built on the solid foundations of a team with palpable passion, sticking to a plan and working hard for each other.

All people are talking about is football here in Cardiff now, regardless of prior interest levels, and I’ve heard numerous tales of kids wanting to perfect a ‘Robson-Kanu turn’ in the garden or want to get hair like Bale (not sure about that one).  It’s exciting and Football has always had the participation numbers in Wales, but hasn’t really had a winning team to match. I just hope the FAW are able to cope with the explosion of interest in the sport created by Wales’ endeavours.

Of course, if they don’t make it past the semi-final tomorrow, they’ll still get a heroes’ welcome and rightly be called winners anyway, but I have a feeling that the odyssey of this special Welsh team is not over just yet.


A Dance with Dragons

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England. A population of 53 million. A team full of stars (so they say). What words spring to mind when I think about their football team as a fan? Expectation. Pressure. Complacency. Disappointment. Booing. Fighting.

I can’t choose the national team I support as it was decided when I born, all those years ago in sunny Hampshire.  So I’m stuck with England, for better, for worse. There have been good times, memorable results and joy, real joy as a supporter.  But too many of my fellow fickle fans and much of the media lambasts the side when they fail to get past a quarter final, despite this being a fairly accurate indication of their place in the footballing hierarchy.


Wales.  A population less than half that of London.  A team of Bale, Ramsey and a little known supporting cast, many from the second tier of UK football. What words are conjured up though? Hope. Adventure. Team spirit. Support. Singing.

Living in Wales for 19 years has allowed me to share vicariously in what it means to be Welsh and cheering for Wales.  It’s hard to not get caught up in.  It’s infectious.  Over the years I’ve mainly seen it through rugby. Every six nations game is an event bursting with national pride.  And, win or lose, the anthem always comes from the heart, as do countless other songs during the match and long after, songs that echo through bars and streets and homes. Songs that say, above all, ‘We are Wales’.

The cheers for England are genuine and the suggestion that their support isn’t passionate is misplaced I think, but the difference for me is that you feel that the English supporters are cheering for the team and the Welsh are cheering for the country itself.  This makes for a support that is unflinching and all the more potent for it.

The media reaction to, and interpretation of England and Wales’ respective fortunes is telling as well.  When either team wins, there’s euphoria in the press and a pinch of hyperbole thrown in to boot, but the London press never misses a chance to knock down what they so readily build up.  So if England win, but play badly, there’s criticism of the under-performing players and the result gets missed a little. If they lose (god forbid!) then there’s a full blown investigation and castigation of all involved.

Wales lost to England, their fiercest rivals, last week and the Welsh press’ reaction – as well as that of the FAW and many people I spoke to – was to praise the players’ efforts and push a message of moving on to the next game together. Learning. Growing. Improving.


And this is why people are right to say that no-one will want to play Wales in the next round.

Not because they just beat Russia 3-0, ran rampant and could have scored more.

Not because they top Group B when bookies had them scrapping for third place.

And not because of Bale. One of the best players in the world he certainly is, but other countries have their stars too.  His fellow Galactico, Ronaldo, has not seen his team reach the same kind of levels of intensity and effort, reflected in their underwhelming performances so far.

In this competition, any eleven players on their day can beat any other eleven players. But to beat a country itself is a different, tougher proposition and that is what faces Wales’ opponents in the next round.  Defeating a nation with the spirit of Wales is no small task and one no team will relish facing.

Sport Relief Super-Mini-Blog


It’s Friday 18th March 2016 and Sport Wales staff volunteer to run a one mile relay race for Sport Relief…


Every limb is aching.

Every sinew straining.

Hamstrings highly strung.

Lungs wheezing from the freezing air.

My decrepit body is struggling to hold it together.


Then the race actually starts and the real pain begins.



Touchy Subject

Touchy Subject

I do enjoy watching a good game of rugby, though, like many a fair-weather fan, this doesn’t extend much beyond the Six Nations and World Cups.  Living in Wales as an Englishman makes even this a sometimes awkward experience though, particularly as I work for Sport Wales.  When England prevailed against the Welsh last Saturday, I knew that I would suffer the following Monday.  The good-spirited will say ‘well done’, albeit with possibly a quick mention of North’s foot not being in touch and Marler behaving badly.  And the less, erm, sportsmanlike might glower with just a hint of rage bubbling under the surface.  I jest of course.  Sport never brings out the pettiness in otherwise level-headed adults… (Just ask my wife what I’m like when Southampton lose.)


My experience of actually playing rugby is very limited and sadly FAR from enjoyable.  At Swanmore School, I was always last to be picked for any sporting endeavour.  For rugby, I’d be the sixteenth on the list.  I can’t speak for other schools (I never played for my school for a start), but when we played, all the less able/willing/encouraged (delete as applicable) were stuck out on the wings.  Some of the most famous international players are wingers of course, but at school, most of the action took place in and around the scrum. A melee of mini-men would face off against each other, the ball would go in, shoot out and then would be passed one of the few boys with unbuttered fingers, who’d proceed to run the length of the pitch and score.  Rinse and repeat.

So my time was spent on the touchline, mainly standing still or ambling slowly towards where the action was happening, before ambling back when a try was scored. Consequently, I got cold.  VERY cold.  I recall an occasion, one November, when it was so icy that I pretty soon had no feeling in my hands at all, or in fact in my limbs.  I am confident that, had a ball made its way to me, my hands would have shattered, like the T-1000 in Terminator II.  Once back in the changing rooms, my unfeeling digits struggled to do up the buttons on my shirt, meaning that getting dressed took approximately 7 hours.

I’ve digressed substantially, given that I was intending to write about about a very different type of rugby.  One without the potentially pain-inducing physical contact associated with rugby union – Touch Rugby.  To the uninitiated, it looks a bit like British Bulldog or possibly a platonic version of kiss chase.  Two teams face off against each other and try and get the ball to the other end.  Tackles are replaced by a light touch, which strikes me as a more civilised idea than the frankly scary looking encounters seen on a rugby pitch. I often wince at the impacts seen on the field. Touch Rugby is a very different kettle of fish however.  It ends up being a fun runaround which is all about timing – passing and running at the right times to find spaces in the opposition line.

I am lucky enough to have facilities at work to use at lunchtimes to play with colleagues, but given that all you need is an egg-shaped ball, players (at least six really) and open space, it is a good one to take to the park, especially now the good weather is beginning to put up a fight against the six month reign of rain we seem to have endured recently.


Why I Fell In Love…

Why I Fell In Love…

As an Englishman, I am not perhaps the most obvious candidate to be a Welsh rugby cheerleader, but here I am, sitting down to write about a sport I barely knew growing up, living in a country where rugby is so emblematic.

For those born in Wales, the sport is in your blood and pumps as vibrant red as the shirts on the team’s backs (and forwards).  It’s simple for you though.  You don’t need learn to love rugby, any more than you need to learn to love your own family.  But it was different for me.  When I arrived in Pontypridd in 1997, I’d rarely watched a game of rugby and barely knew the rules.  And if I’d had a choice in the matter, it may have stayed that way.  But that’s not how it works here, is it?  From my first visit to the Grogg Shop in Ponty with its porcelain caricatures of Welsh legends, to witnessing a whole pub singing Calon Lan before, during and after a game, I realised I’d stepped into a world there rugby was the state religion and I was set for a baptism of fire and song.

And it’s this passion above all that got me hooked.  Hooked on the drama.  Hooked on the downs as well as the ups.  At first I went along to watch the games to fit in, to be part of the crowd in a new country, but it wasn’t very long before I was cheering as loud as the rest.  Not that I saw it coming though, no, it was a complete surprise and, it took a defeat to prove it.


It was the Quarter Final of the 1999 World Cup.  I was at university up in Trefforest and had been really getting into the competition and fitting some games in around study (ok, so it was more like the exact opposite), and then Wales played Australia.  It wasn’t the performance that was the problem, I still didn’t understand enough to judge it that well.  Even the dodgy decisions that littered that game weren’t what had got me upset.  It was really that I’d been swept up in the maelstrom of a tumultuous sea of red in the pub that day and, when a defeat hits, particularly in a knockout competition, the resulting fall is painful.  So when the final whistle blew – and the result was confirmed – I realised.  I was walking back to my house and I felt truly dejected, deflated and downcast.  I thought I could shake it off straight away but I’d caught the bug.  And that means feeling the lows as well as the highs.

And hopefully for Wales, their game against their nemesis England tomorrow will be another high.  But I do know one thing.  The Welsh support on Saturday, in Twickenham as well as throughout Wales and beyond, will be as fervently passionate and committed as the team will be on the pitch.  And afterwards, hoarse voices will still be singing, whether Wales win or lose.

And that is why I fell in love.  Not with the game, though I like it a lot, but with the passion that rugby inspires.

(This is an updated version of an article written in 2015)

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