From tennis talkers to street soccer: our favourite things online this week
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Arguing about which sports are better than others is a bit silly, but when one of the greatest minds of the last century has a stab at picking the best of all games, we should probably listen. John Rawls, who set out a system for creating a fair society in his remarkable book , thought that baseball is the fairest of them all – and, naturally enough, he had his reasons.
According to Rawls, the rules of baseball have remained constant and have not not required tinkering over time; the game does not discriminate against certain body types; it requires players to use their whole anatomy; spectators and referees can see every action on the field, making the sport fairer and more engaging; scoring is done without the ball, so viewers can concentrate on two different pieces of the action at once; and, like tennis, time never runs out in baseball, so there is always the possibility of a comeback. of respects Rawls as a political philosopher and an intellectual genius, but he disagrees with almost all of his sporting analysis, which makes this article superb.
When released his autobiography last October, a plethora of reviews were published. The speed with which they were written suggested that most of the reviewers had skipped the book's 416 pages and jumped into the index to find the big names: Keane, Roy; Beckham, David; Rooney, Wayne; Gibraltar, Rock of; and so on.
, who has reviewed the autobiography for the does not fall into the trap of looking for controversy. He has read the whole thing and written a fully formed impression of the text, without being seduced by newsworthy squabbles.
Not that he enjoyed every page: "My Autobiography is not an easy read. It is a hectoring, petty, repetitive book. Ferguson returns again and again to the things that nag him: players who let him down, deals that came unstuck, people who should have known better. He will take up a subject, drop it, then come back to it a page later, not because he has anything to add, but simply because it's still bugging him. It's like being stuck in a room with the man himself as his mind whirrs away through its grudges and grievances and no one else gets a chance to put a word in."
Runciman was not transfixed by the style of the book, but he writes persuasively about the man who wrote it. He notes that Ferguson was obsessed by control, but never turned into a control freak; he trusted his instincts but never forgot the importance of luck; and, unlike Arsène Wenger, whose professorial manner, background and linguistic ability make him seem more cultivated than he is, Ferguson has a wide range of interests away from football. If you're not sick of reading about Ferguson already, this review is the place to go.
Roy Keane liked the mantra "fail to prepare; prepare to fail". Knute Rockne, the legendary University of Notre Dame football coach, put it differently: "I never ask if a player has the will to win; I ask if he has to the will to prepare." The point is the same: sportsmen may be rewarded for what they do on the pitch, but their success is secured long before they take to the field.
The need to prepare is obvious enough, but less is written about the intelligence needed to prepare well. The best footballers in the NFL all have a natural aptitude for patterns, shapes, sequences and logic, and the very best quarterbacks are masters of detail. As Nicholas Dawidoff puts it in this piece for the , quarterbacks have to weigh up a multitude of options in a few seconds "while staring at 11 large people eager to break your face". In short, they're smarter than they look.
When the Observer compiled a list of , The Fight by Norman Mailer came second (to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch). As Allen Barra points out in this article, Mailer was never convinced by the book. He looked back and wondered if spending six months on a sports biography had been a waste of time.
Mailer lived his life fully – he went to Harvard aged 16, won two Pulitzer Prizes, co-founded the Village Voice magazine, married six women and fathered nine children – but he didn't write about sport enough. Mailer loved baseball and was an early supporter of Bill James, the sabermetrics pioneer made famous in the Moneyball boom, but he never wrote an article about the sport. The same goes for American football and bullfighting, which he followed dearly. Fiction's gain was sport's loss.
When the Olympics reach Tokyo in 2020, there may be a new sport on show: 3x3 basketball. The International Basketball Federation think the sport is "an exciting and spectacular discipline which offers a unique cocktail of sports and urban culture and would perfectly fit within the Olympic Games". has researched the new sport, and its chances of making a show in Tokyo, for .
In this short note on his website, Clive Davis considers the loneliness of the tennis player. More than any other athletes, tennis players are on their own. They compete for hours, with only a few short breaks with their kitbags, Robinsons drinks and bananas to break up the long stretches on the court. No wonder they start talking to themselves. .
It's difficult to muster much sympathy for professional footballers, but according to this intriguing piece of research by in Soccer Issue, their work is fairly perilous. Football is 1,000 times riskier than your average "high risk" career, which might explain why a quarter of Premier League players are currently injured. Still, it could be worse...
... On the topic of young people who do dangerous physical work over short careers that can be very rewarding financially, here is of the writing about the pension rights of Dutch professionals.
We tip our hats and raise our glasses to , whose compilation of the best football writing from 2013 goes above and beyond anything this column managed at the turn of the year. We went on holiday for two weeks and they provided the best list of the year. Go get lost in it.
Nutmegging people on the street looks like great fun.