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As my Christmas holidays come to an end, this is my final article for some time, due to the impending return to school and important exams coming up in January. So this is a sort of conglomeration of all of my thoughts on these issues, a sort of bumper pack, if you will.

Essentially, this idea was prompted over the last couple of days. It is a "list", if you like of all of the daft happenings in sport across the world. Be it mismanagement or another issue, this article documents the sort of thing that the sporting world would love to change. And "list" is unfair. Perhaps "rant" is more accurate.

Professional Darts

Darts developed into an important sport in the 1980s. It was a game everyone could associate themselves with, and was one of the most popular sports on British television. Eric Bristow was (and still is), a household name. As was Jocky Wilson, a Scot that also came good in the World Championship. All in all, everything was hunky dory.

It was, however, the subject of a cruel comedy sketch on Not the 9 O'Clock News in the 1980s.

After this, darts banned drinking alcohol during the games. This was seen as a potential death for the sport. But it recovered. Until 1993. The Darts world was not distributing its money to the players as much as it could. So sporting manager Barry Hearn created his own tour, and his own World Championship. Many of the sport's leading figures all went to the "PDC", whilst the rest stayed loyal to the "BDO". As a result, to this day, there are two World Championships, with little hope of a reunification. An attempt was made in October to unify to an extent, with the "Grand Slam of Darts". The top players from each organisation were invited to compete, however the BDO promptly rescheduled its "World Masters" event for the date, so that they were unable to compete in what was essentially a PDC led event. Even in 2007, the BDO is essentially used as a springboard to the PDC, with Raymond van Barneveld, a 5-time World Champion jumping ship in 2006, and other bright talents from the Netherlands following him into the PDC. In 2006, the best darts match of all-time, between the two best players in the sport was held. It was the PDC Final between Barneveld and Phil Taylor, a 13-time Champion, 11 of which came under the PDC. Barneveld was playing for the PDC title for the first time. It was 6 sets all and 5 legs all. And then this happened. So the PDC, with this game, has the best players. It has the better money. The PDC is ahead of the BDO. But the real tragedy is the fact that the two World Championships are ruining the sport. On New Year's Day 2008, John Part of Canada won his third World Championship. But having two World Championship events does not help the sport's image. It's worse than the Not the 9 O'Clock News sketch.

The Rules of Golf

Golf is a simple game, in theory. 14 clubs, and use them to get the ball into the hole in as few shots as possible. But it gets needlessly overkilled. Take this example.

My first criticism, is that you aren't allowed to not hit your own ball, fair enough. But did it really matter in that scenario? It clearly wasn't anbody else's ball on the hole, so what difference does it make? The rule about the "type of ball", too. Who cares?! Furthermore, there are three different sets of rules! The PGA Tour has one set, the European Tour has another set, and the R&A (i.e. Majors) use another set. Why does it have to be so complicated? Here would be my rules for the game:
  • 14 clubs of any sort (i.e. no "You must have a putter and a 5-iron).
  • You must play the ball in every situation (i.e. no "relief" (free drop) for standing water or mud. You hit it there, get on with it.
  • Drops are only allowed if the ball goes in a water hazard or if a bird walks across the fairway and eats it, or something daft like that.
  • If OB, then rehit. End of. If you lose the ball, then rehit from where it was hit from.
  • Nothing to do with "man-made hazards", i.e. Grandstands. If you can't hit it properly, unlucky. Play a different shot.
  • No cleaning the ball on the green. Again, if it's muddy, tough luck.
This would make the game easier to follow on TV, and you wouldn't need to worry about a free drop for this and a 5 minute search period etc. You'd just get on with the game. Furthermore, golf has been really weak in slowing down driving distances. Holes are becoming stupidly long to try and restrict scoring. The simple solution, in my eyes, would be to make the ball heavier. That would soon slow driving distances. Or ban some clubs that hit it too far. Some courses are becoming unplayable, because there is no room to extend holes any further. St. Andrews is an example of this. With holes backing on to one another, if driving distance increases much more, St. Andrews will be lost to golf, because it will become too short. The holes around the turn have already reached this stage, in my opinion.

Davis Cup

News came the other day that Andrew Murray is considering not playing in the Davis Cup for the UK. My simple criticism, is why on Earth not? He states that "his world ranking comes first." No, it doesn't. As long as you can get into all of the tournaments you want to, a World Ranking really doesn't mean anything. With Murray comfortably in the top 20, he will never have to worry about missing a Slam, or not getting into a Tour Event. Okay, he misses the Masters, but on a relative scale it isn't that bad.

Considering Murray is already a millionaire from tennis, you'd think he could at least show some gratitude and represent his country in a team event that we still care about as a public. Indeed, the only four televised events in this country are Wimbledon, the tournament preceding (the Stella Artois), and the Black Rock Masters, i.e. a Seniors event at the Royal Albert Hall. The Davis Cup is the only other event broadcast.

Having just got back in the World Group for 2008, we ought to have a decent team. Murray can form a doubles partnership with his brother, which would be great, as it would be hugely strong. Murray is good enough to win at least one Singles match too, and then we have a chance in any game.

And his argument falls on deaf ears from me. Federer plays in the Davis Cup for Switzerland, often winning all three games he plays in to get them through matches. He is a one man team. Murray will have to perform similar miracles, but it isn't beyond him against some sides.

The Davis Cup generally is sad. Finally the USA has it's top players in it, Roddick and Blake happily represent the country - and it shows - with them winning in 2007. However, Nadal may pull out for Spain in earlier rounds, thinking they'll still have a chance. Russia also misses players, but then it can afford to. As can Croatia. But the point is, we desperately need Murray.

In my opinion, it's money over national pride. In John Lloyd we have a brilliant Davis Cup captain, and he has done a brilliant job so far. However, globally, the attitude towards Davis Cup is terrible. I wish that players would take it more seriously, because as an organised competition, it is one of the best in the world. The format hasn't changed since it was first inaugurated, and the NIA is an excellent host of many matches. It's such a shame that these tennis players ignore the event. And well done to Federer, it would be easy for him to sit out, but he still plays in it.

You don't get crowd reactions like this in Grand Slams. The Davis Cup is great.

Snooker

Yes, really.

I've longed for a Snooker World Cup for many years. I was enthralled by the Nations' Cup in 2000, where teams from Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Thailand and Malta took part. Admittedly, the non-UK teams were weak, but I still think it would be a wonderful idea.

If each team had three members, you could easily get a vast array of teams. With a recent global upturn in the sport, you could have teams from the five "Home" nations, as well as teams from China, Malta, Thailand, Australia, Finland, Belgium and Netherlands. That makes 12. And on an amateur level, you can easily field teams from many other nations around the world. Germany is developing interest, as is Switzerland and Austria. I think it would be a great way to increase global exposure to the sport. Furthermore, if you had three from team A playing all three from team B, each match would be 9 frames. That works ideally, because it gives underdogs a chance, and it guarantees a winner from every match.

TV would be interested, particularly if it was held in China. I think World Snooker is missing out on an opportunity, personally.

And moreso, the sport has too few ranking events. Currently, it has 7. The first thing I would like to see, is this increased to 10. There are gaping holes in the schedule, and I think an event in Australia to capitalise on the success of Neil Robertson would be a brilliant idea. The Malta Cup has recently lost its ranking status, but I think that should be made a ranking event too. That's 9. You would then have 4 overseas ranking events 5 British-based events. I'm sure World Snooker can find somewhere to hold one more event, maybe a third in China, or going back to Thailand would work.

Also, the matches I think should be longer. It would give more chance for players to "get into the game", and polls suggest that players enjoy longer matches more than shorter ones. I would extend the World Championship to 24 days (from 17) to make it essentially a three week event, and it would work if matches were 25 frames in Round 1 and 2, 33 in the Quarters and Semi Finals, and 65 in the final. I think that would be ideal match length for the World Championship. I think a second tier of ranking events should also be created, featuring three events, the UK Championship, the Grand Prix, and the China Open. The World Championship would count double, and the second tier would count 1 and a half times the points. I would make those three events longer than "normal" events, too, but not as long as the World Championship. If matches throughout the event were 17 frames (19 in the Semi Finals) and then 33 in the Final, I think that would be a suitable length. That style of tournament can be completed in 9 days from the last 32, which would fit in a Friday -> Sunday week timeframe. You would however need 4 rounds of qualifiers in these events, but with 8 tables available at the qualifying venue, qualifying for the second tier events would be over 17 frames too, and take 8 days. I think that would be a huge improvement to snooker, because long matches are in the tradition of the sport. I think this would hugely benefit the calendar. Indeed, this little section has inspired me to try to make it work, logistically. (Watch this space.)

Formula One

Again, I am a huge Formula One fan. But in recent seasons, I am seeing a worrying trend.

Since 2004, we have had new countries with races, such as Bahrain, Turkey, and Singapore and India are waiting in the wings. I really don't mind that at all. What I do mind is that the true "home" of motor sport is being ignored. The US lost its race in 2007, and Britain and France are constantly threatened with extinction from the calendar, despite boasting some of the best fans in the sport. Also, two of the world's best circuits, at least, in my opinion in Brno, Czech Republic and Zandvoort, Netherlands, have been overlooked for F1 races, that if they were in India or China would be on the calendar in a flash. It's another example of money over tradition.

Arguing with referees

In a few sports, most notably "soccer", if a decision goes against them, the first thing they do is complain about it to the referee. Why? I have never seen an instance where this has changed the referee's decision. So shut up! Just get on with the game.

Although it could be entertaining:

I also hate how you get players from certain teams running up to the referee and protesting with referees. In my opinion, FIFA and the FA should give the referees more power in that situation. Anybody arguing with the referee should be sent off, without question. Only the captain should have the right to protest against the decision. I think the same is true of "diving" in "soccer". If there are any acts of bad sportsmanship, such as diving, or claiming you're injured when you're not, then I believe you should be sent from the field. You'll soon see a change in attitudes. I think the whole thing smells of weakness. My main example of this would be rugby and cricket. A word is never uttered to the referee, indeed some players make the decisions for the umpires, i.e. in cricket it isn't uncommon for a player to give himself out. And the sport is all the better for it, rugby and cricket are probably the two most gentlemanly sports in the world.

Pool's bad organisation

I was complaining that Darts has two World Championships. Pool though, at the last count, has about 8. Nobody can claim to hold the title by rights, and more importantly, nobody has been able to establish a tour. I think that's terrible. Considering snooker is much less popular than pool, pool really should have been able to get a tour organised by now. It just needs some head banging to unite the sport into organising a tour.

IPT was an attempt a few years ago to create a tour, having impressive prize money. The biggest problem was that it tried to be too big, too quickly, and with only three or four events in a season, it failed to fund the prize money it was promising. If all the various organising bodies could come together and create a tour system, then they wouldn't need such huge prize money, because playing on tour for a year would earn you a living comfortably.

The spin off, is that you could have true professionals, that would see the standard rise. Since pool is rapidly approaching the stage of perfection (i.e. you can win a rack without your opponent having a shot), that may be the death of the sport. Either way, pool is in tragically bad shape.

IIHF World Championship

I can't understand why the IIHF continually undermines the NHL. It's the best thing it has in terms of marketing the sport. Ice Hockey generally is particularly badly organised, but the IIHF is even worse than the NHL.

You'd think that they would schedule their World Championship for a time after the NHL season had finished. That way, all the best players are available for the event, and sponsorship deals, TV deals etc. would increase. But the IIHF thinks otherwise.

Whilst the NHL season is still going on, the World Championship is held. Why can't the World Championship wait until August, or something? It would have much increased audience, and have the best players playing in it. It's also vitally important, because the events are used towards the World Rankings, which then in turn, go towards the Olympic Games. I think that situation needs to be looked at.

Should a British player ever play in the NHL, he would also have a dilemma. He would be selected for the UK side to play in the IIHF World Championship, which would currently mean playing in Division 1A. That currently happens in March or thereabouts, depending on the organisation. So that clashes directy with the NHL season. It would be looked upon scornfully if a player were not to play for his country, in much the same way that they would if Andy Murray skipped his Davis Cup responsibility. The IIHF really needs to sort itself out.

Sports in the Olympics

There are an awful lot of sports in the Olympics. There are a lot of awful sports, too.

I would change the events in it, and include events that take the competition seriously. I would drop tennis, therefore. I would include other events:

  • Twenty20 Cricket - a tournament can be played in two weeks easily, and over 40 countries in the world take part in the sport (of cricket).
  • Darts - only recently recognised as a sport, it could be an ideal way to unify the world of darts. Although, I'd have a team competition.
  • Cuesports - Again, played by enough countries. I would see this as an international event again, however, although the main problem here could be that the UK would take away 4 possible nations stated above and make it stupidly one sided. So perhaps it would be better as an amateur event.
  • Rugby Sevens - With increased interest in recent times, again UK not England ruins it a bit, but it would still be good to fit in. It is played in the Commonwealth Games.

Twenty20 would be a great addition though, as the World Final of 2007 shows.

So there you have it. I resisited drug use, because you all know about that; I plumped for things that were more interesting, in my eyes, at least.

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