Wimbledon as a metaphor for English Culture: A creative look

June 30, 2016

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Wimbledon fortnight.  Any visitor to England would suspect tennis to be the national sport, perhaps equalled only by football. It may be more usefully seen as a metaphor for English popular culture

If the idea intrigues you, try this experiment before moving on. Take a blank sheet of paper. On the left, write down aspects of Wimbledon fortnight you think relate to its culture. Keep going until you have a full page. By the way, it works just as well, maybe better, if carried out by a team or social group.

You can see my efforts if you continue reading this post. I have ‘unfolded’ the experiment with several page breaks so that you can try things out for yourself before reading what I found.

Read the rest of this entry »


Wimbledon transmission among ‘UK’s Cultural Crown Jewels’ under threat

December 26, 2014

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A range of sporting events broadcast in the UK is protected by law. This attempts to control transmission arrangements for Football and Rugby World Cup finals, the Grand National, and The finals of Wimbledon

The BBC enjoys privileged transmission of a range of such events. These are under increasing threat through commercial pressures.

Recently, [ December 16, 2014 ] a story broke that The BBC has begun talks with British Telecomm [BT] about sharing transmission of Wimbledon after the BBC current contract ends in 2017.

Wimbledon is a protected species

Wimbledon fortnight in July is a cultural as much as a sporting event. Its symbolic significance is up there with the National Health Service. Political parties are united in the need to protect and preserves both in the public (and their own political) interests.

The arrangements illustrate something about the broader social culture in the UK and a widely held suspicion of unregulated commercialization of cultural events.

Mixed economy or mixed-up interventions?

I have never successfully explained the rationale to American friends who tend to view the phenomenon as quirky, and evidence of unhealthy state intervention in the workings of a free market economy. Any defense has to explain the funding of the BBC through a ‘license to view’ charged to anyone receiving BBC transmissions. In an earlier era this was enforced through the use of sinister transmission vans, targeting homes with TV aerials around the land.

“It’s the way we do things here” I say, rather defensively.

When culture and commerce collide

For all its iconic status, Wimbledon is also derided as a symbol of middle-class values state-sponsored and propping up an elite and effete sport. It is the target of much blokeish bile to that effect, as each July approaches.

When culture and commerce collide, the battles tend to be highly emotional. The discussion polarizes traditional values and the need for innovative change.

To be continued


Jeff Tarango is the Homer Simpson of tennis commentators. Duh.

September 8, 2014

Tennis commentator Jeff Tarango wears his heart on his sleeve. At the US Open he revealed remarkable similarities to Homer Simpson

Homer Simpson is the much-loved character in the peerless comedy series The Simpsons. He is portrayed as capturing popular stereotypes of the American culture, through his basic decency, his loyalty to his family and the American dream. He is also lovably dysfunctional socially, simplistic and unreflective in his beliefs and hapless in his unconscious mediocrity.

Jeff Tarango

Jeff Tarango has Homeric aspects to his personality. Perhaps the most famous is on U-tube showing how he defaulted himself from Wimbledon after a clash with an Umpire and a very Homer-like argument that he should be able to tell the crowd to shut up as they we telling him what to do. Then his wife, as loyal as Madge Simpson, manages to seek out the Umpire and give him a retaliatory slap.

Jeff never scaled the heights as a singles tennis player, although he crept into the top fifty with a career-best of 42. But like Homer Simpson , he had his triumphs over fate and adversity. He became a tennis pundit. Among his present employers is the BBC, as much part of the British establishment as The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club.

Tarango at the US Open

Even keen tennis fans in Europe probably missed the fantastic match at the US Open at which
Cilic beat Federer in the early hours of the morning, European time. I first learned of the result reading Tarango’s account of the match as it unfolded.

It is fair to say the Tarango is not your average neutral commentator. He wanted Federer to win. Big Time. His recorded view became more Homeric as his man struggled and headed out of the tournament.

Federer, he declared, would be back to win Wimbledon next July. In fact he would go on to win two or more Grand Slams. Most commentators were discussing whether the Fed would win another slam.

Duh

The world would be a duller place without Homer Simpson. Perhaps the same could be said about Jeff [Homer] Tarango


Overheard at Wimbledon: The hot and cold nature of French tennis players

June 27, 2014


Wimbledon’s tennis tournament each year provides many examples of discussion suggesting the irresistible temptation for commentators to indulge in national stereotypes. The following is offered for practice in discourse analysis

BBC’s Radio 5 Live [606 Wavelength]re-labels its self as ‘Radio Six Love Six’ for Wimbledon fortnight. The following exchange between two [English] commentators was broadcast today, as play was starting [ 27th June 2014] in a third round match in the Gentlemen’s Singles competition

First English commentator
He’s a beautiful player, so graceful and powerful

Second English commentator
… but he blows hot and cold

First English commentator
Yes he’s like that. But that’s the same with French players

Second English commentator
Yes, they all blow hot and cold

First English commentator
That’s the French temperament isn’t it?

Regular readers will recall equally enlightened discussions initiated by another commentator, John Inverdale, at last year’s Wimbledon

The BBC was forced to apologize for remarks made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, an hour before the match which won her the Wimbledon Ladies singles competition:

Inverdale’s comment came about an hour before the match began as he chatted to former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport about Bartoli’s technique as a player. He said: “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. ‘You are never going to be somebody like a [supermodel such as] Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that. You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it’, and she kind of is.”

Inverdale’s comments on Radio 5 live as the French player prepared to face Germany’s Sabine Lisicki provoked anger from many listeners. A BBC spokesperson said: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologize.”

Learning from experience

Mr Inverdale has learned not to focus on the pulchritude of the players. This year he has found a replacement interest. He has noticed that players are of different sizes. This permits much discussion about how tiny some of the ladies are, and who might have been the tiniest of all time. Many he didn’t quite take on board the messages from his remedial training on avoiding such topics.


What Inverdale’s dad told him when he was little

July 7, 2013


The BBC apologized for remarks made by John Inverdale about Marion Bartoli, an hour before the match which won her the Wimbledon Ladies singles competition. This story presents the BBC’s sports commentator John Inverdale as an unthinking sexist. Leaders We Deserve looks behind the outrage that ensued

First the story, as told by his employers the BBC [July 6th 2013]:

Inverdale’s comment came about an hour before the match began as he chatted to former Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport about Bartoli’s technique as a player. He said: “I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. ‘You are never going to be somebody like a [supermodel such as] Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5ft 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that. You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it’, and she kind of is.”

Inverdale’s comments on Radio 5 live as the French player prepared to face Germany’s Sabine Lisicki provoked anger from many listeners. A BBC spokesperson said: “We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise.”

Inverdale’s Wimbledon Ways

John Inverdale’s Wimbledon was marked by his engaging style of interaction with players and commentators. He was (if I may borrow from his own words) slightly mocked for his boyish enthusiasm for Bartoli’s opponent, Sabine Lisicki, and also about how he was wont to nip down from the commentator’s box to get closer to her when she was playing her games.

They freak you out, your mum and dad

Bartoli’s father has indeed been the subject of stories about his influence over his immensely gifted daughter. Inverdale might have imagined Bartoli pere saying (in translation) “Listen, my little one. You have an IQ measured at 175, nearly twice that of the average tennis commentator. You have to compensate for that by developing a funny style of playing tennis before winning Wimbledon.”

What Inverdale’s dad told him

What Inverdale’s dad told him [we reveal in a flight of fancy] was

“Listen old boy. You will never be known as the sharpest knife in the box. You will never become an Albert Einstein. But nature has blessed you with natural good looks and you are tall enough to play rugby. You will be able to make your way in life, thanks to the bank of mum and dad. You will go to the best school my money as a Navy Dental Surgeon can buy. There you will learn the ways of endearing yourself to all sorts of people, even women. A bright career lies ahead of you.”

And so it came to pass. The BBC deserves credit for recognizing such talents and promoting their careers above others with more natural gifts of intelligence and sensitivity.


Murray v Federer: A Glimpse of Momentum

March 3, 2008

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Update

Wimbledon 2008. Murray beats Gasquet in the third round [Monday 30th June 2008]. The match had similarities in momentum swing to his victory over Federer in Dubai, earlier in the year

The Original Post

Andy Murray defeats Roger Federer in Round one of the Dubai Tennis Open. I never really understood momentum in sport, but this afternoon I glimpsed how it might be a matter of filling in the dots [Sense making].

I have difficulty with concepts such as motivation, empowerment, and momentum. The terms are used often when no more specific explanation can be offered, in sport as well as in business and politics.

This afternoon [March 3rd 2008] I watched a thrilling tennis match. It was transmitted from Dubai, where Roger Federer was widely expected to confirm his status as World number one. He was playing in the first round against the improving young Scot Andy Murray. Murray indicated in advance that he was likely to learn a lot from the game, which is not the most positive statement ever made before a sporting contest.

The first set lived up to expectations. Murray is a promising but volatile young talent, likely to improve beyond his ranking at present. He kept pace with Federer in the first set, which went into a tie break, with neither player dropping service.

Murray grabbed a lead in the tie-break, then dropped it, and Federer as smooth and cool as ever, won a tightly contested first set.

That’s it, then. Federer to go on to win. He had won twenty five of the last twenty seven matches he’s played at the Dubai tournament. During that first set he played to the high level expected of him, also finding exceptional shots from time to time.

Murray survived the Federer onslaught, and even showed some flashes of improvised brilliance himself. His service has been improving in fits and starts as he made his rapid climb up the rankings over thr last two years. Today his serve was as solid and as powerful as I have ever seen it.

What happened next?

What happened next was very unexpected. The near- immaculate style of Roger Federer began to seem less awesome than usual. His was still finding those brilliant winners. But he was also playing a few shots slightly off-balance, and making unforced errors.

I don’t watch tennis with a notebook to hand for blog posts about sporting leadership. But something rare was taking place here. I found a scrap of paper and scribbled a few notes. Here are the unedited scribbles which began at the start of the second set:

F has changed the way he played. Indication of a drop in intensity. Got to 1:2.
Lost serve for first time. Momentum lost by RF. Murray keeps his cool and wins set.

Momentum now lost by RF. Still a bit down [in intensity]. If it wasn’t Federer [playing] you’d expect M to win now.

Murray gets to 4:2.

Will Murray win? Still not totally sure …

Murray 5:3

RF is out of gas.

Wins his serve to 5:4 but Murray is not going flat out. Willing to take it to his serve.

Wins serve. Wins match. He didn’t get down on himself at points lost, even ‘unlucky’ line calls.

Momentum, intensity, or what?

Here’s what I think. Momentum is difficult to pin down because it is a process not a single event. We may be jolted into awareness by a single surprise event, and quickly ‘fill in the dots’ of other events close in time to the ‘tipping point’, and anticipate what will happen in the near future.

I think the tipping-point for me was a clumsy missed backhand by Federer, accompanied by what I described as a drop in intensity.

I didn’t write it down, but I even formed the impression that the great man was, well, a kilo or so visibly over weight.

That’s the sense made of what I was seeing. If I observed anything that could be corroborated, it was those loose shots, evidence of a Federer not in complete balance and control.

Murray played to his best, and several outstanding points. These were particularly noticeable as he was closing in on the win in the third set.

A tentative conclusion

Andy Murray won a closely contested match in which Federer seemed to lose momentum that he might have been expected to maintain after winning the first set. The result seemed to have come about because a great player had a dip in intensity in his play, and another potentially great player who didn’t.

At the time, spectators make sense of what is happening as if they have figured out the plot in a movie. As the oracle might have put it … ‘And a great man will taste defeat’.

In other words, momentum is a story created in the minds of the observers, based on our ‘filling in the dots’ of what we have observed and remembered.

All this is a lot less exciting than the actual match was. By maybe, just maybe, it offers a clue into that elusive process of momentum.

Acknowledgement

Image of Andy Murray from wikipedia commons