It's good to talk in the long, hot summer

Click to follow
The Independent Online
They thought it was all over - well, it isn't. Football was ushered off the summer stage with appropriate pomp and ceremony at the climax of the European Championships two weeks ago today and yet is already back dominating the headlines, yielding all manner of fascinations and brushing aside most of the seasonal competitors for our attention.

The second week of Wimbledon did manage to imprison the eye for a few days but, by and large, our summer activities are proving less than arresting and prone to being overshadowed by the prospects of our winter games, particularly as rugby union is busy throwing its new professional weight around with an endless stream of millionaire takeovers, big transfers, massive television deals, double-crosses and a threatened collapse of the game.

If you had to take the nation's sporting pulse last week, you would have found it somewhere between Alan Shearer's whereabouts and the future of the Five Nations. By no means was it being quickened by the cricket at Trent Bridge where the Third and decisive Test against India died a pauper's death as a sporting contest. This was especially disappointing on Sunday when, with play at Wimbledon so intermittent, England's innings brought the game a perfect opportunity to promote itself. They allowed it to trundle past us like an ox-cart.

It is ironic that Euro 96 left us with a controversy that is still bubbling in the readers' letters sections of the newspapers. Football's penalty shoot-out method of settling a drawn match brought so much dissatisfaction in the final stages of the tournament that everyone has a pet solution. My plan to use the corner-count to break the stalemate brought easily our biggest postbag of the summer and I'm happy to report a majority in favour. More to the point is that at least the penalty shoot-out is a positive attempt to solve the problem and no one can argue against the drama it produces.

Cricket appears not to be troubled by any urgency in that direction. Indeed, one of the candidates in last week's election to replace the International Cricket Council chairman, Sir Clyde Walcott, has a plan to cut down the number of drawn matches which involves restricting the first innings to 120 overs. The traditionalists made sure he didn't get elected but, in the end, nobody did. They've delayed the election for a year. All of which, the ICC may think, is their business. But anyone intent on running a flourishing sport cannot ignore the increasingly essential part television will play in its future. And whereas the TV companies are in a courting mood nowadays there will come a time when more calculating judgements will be made about audience potential.

Formula One is entitled to think that it will retain its mysterious grip on a large slab of viewers even when it is fitted into whatever slot ITV has planned. But today's British Grand Prix, on a prime summer Sunday with little competition, does not appear to have the makings of a stirring race. It is folly to be dismissive in advance but Michael Schumacher was already surrendering the world title to Damon Hill on Friday, even without being advised to by the Daily Mirror.

Foregone conclusions are never very helpful and the least you can say about the upcoming Open golf event is that it will pay its way in suspense until the climax next Sunday evening. By then, of course, we shall be into the Olympic Games at Atlanta and we all have our varying appetites for that. We can be sure that there will be enough to satisfy most tastes even if we do have to wait a week until the athletics starts.

The Olympics have tended to distort the sporting priorities of this summer, as did Euro 96, and the crowded scene has helped to scatter doubts among the winter game that is trying on a summer season for size. Rugby league's venture into the warmer weather has not yet proved to be a shining success at the turnstiles and already some are calling for the immediate return to winter. The manufacturers of Bovril no doubt agree with them.

It is ridiculously early to make such a judgement. It has been a very confusing summer and Sky, apart from providing the pounds 87m incentive, haven't exactly helped by sprinkling games around their schedules. As an avid watcher of rugby league at my local I still see my game on a Friday night but after that I've lost touch. The counter-attractions have been immense but I have seen some excellent matches and although the length of the season may need looking at, the move must be persevered with. Rugby league ought to keep a careful eye on the start of the union season because that may not go smoothly, either.

Most clubs have new owners, new coaches and a mass of new players. There are new rules to absorb and the spectre of New Zealand has introduced new imperatives into the game. Buying good players wholesale doesn't necessarily produce a good team overnight. There will be a lot of bedding down which will require much patience of the new lords of the clubs. Sadly, those who've made millions are not usually patient.

For the first time, rugby will be in far more direct competition with soccer than ever. Seeing Gianluca Vialli turn up for training at Chelsea and reading of all the other interesting imports is already working on the appetite. We can't watch everything. It's every man, every game, for itself. Rugby league might eventually be glad to be out of it. When it gets back to normal, the summer could do with a red-blooded game.

UNLIKE the ICC, the Football Association were quite happy to elect a new chairman. Keith Wiseman, vice-chairman of Southampton, won a four- cornered poll to succeed Sir Bert Millichip. Wiseman is 51 and an obvious contrast to Sir Bert who is 82. I can deny the scurrilous rumour that on the night of the election Sir Bert asked his successor if his mother knew he was out that late.

We will have ample time to reflect on Wiseman's suitability for what will be a very difficult task, preparing an old and creaking association for a vibrant future. But after a series of tight votes he beat off some powerful opposition. Described as a softly spoken solicitor, which makes him a rarity, he has the distinction of being the coroner of Southampton and the New Forest.

I understand it was his experience of working with stiffs that finally swung it for him.

Scientists have discovered that a bath of chilled water before a race helps athletes go faster. They experimented by asking runners to lay in a bath of water that was luke-warm at first and then gradually cooled over a period of an hour. They then ran on a treadmill and recorded better performances than another group who had not had the cold treatment. Three days later the groups changed places and the chilly ones again won. Pre- cooling the body increases the supply of glucose and oxygen to the muscles but only if the process is gradual. If Linford Christie and his rivals adopt this routine before the Olympic sprints we should see some records fall. They'd even be able to take a smaller size in Lycra shorts.

Comments