GSTQ Wins Gold.

There was much excitement today as the ‘British’ national anthem took gold in the cycling. The likes of Gary Lineker and Piers Morgan were quick to celebrate the fact that the plucky and humble anthem was able to stand up to the challenges posed by other anthems and take top spot on the podium after a hard day of competition. Stiff opposition came in the form of the Chinese national anthem, which had been bolstered in recent days by having had so many opportunities to be practiced, equally the Americans had been presented with the opportunity to fine tune their anthems performance on several occasions. Yet today it was all about GSTQ.

The anthem had encountered a number of difficulties in recent days, with prominent Welsh sportsmen being roundly hounded by some very important television types for not doing their bit to help the anthem win gold. Further controversy followed a male cyclist, who having done the hard work of winning his event, then spectacularly failed to secure gold for GSTQ in a disastrously silent rendition of the anthem.

Yet today was all about the anthem. As a female cyclist secured the race victory, her name was lost in a blur of congratulatory texts and tweets in celebration of the anthems achievement, as she ensured its position at the front of the field with a heartfelt singalong version. Mayor of London Boris Johnson was first in line to offer his support, suggesting that ‘while the anthem has had some great days in the past, I remember singing it at a rally for some monarch a little while back, that was big, but this is mega, this is huge, London can really be proud that it played host to such a great anthem’.

Hopes remain that the anthem will go on to win more gold medals as the Olympics continue, but on this day, celebrations will go on long into the night, and the anthem can go back to its hotel room and enjoy a well earned rest having finally secured its first gold medal.

N.B. We may have misinterpreted the Olympic coverage, and a cyclist might actually have won the gold…but it could easily be the other way around.

Things we learnt from the Olympics. No.2

The world can like North Koreans.

 

As Kim Un Guk of North Korea danced and waved, something very strange happened, an international (though predominantly British) audience cheered and celebrated the unlikely victory. There can be few environments in which a North Korean who repeatedly salutes his national flag, outside of North Korea that is, where his actions would be celebrated, but such is the effect of the Olympics perhaps. Any questions about the conditions he endured through his training, or indeed the conditions of those in North Korea who are not elite athletes, were put aside for a moment, and he was a hero to all.

Politics aside, Kim was particularly entertaining and could not have done much more to ender himself to the crowd, just goes to show that a smile and a wave really can go a long way.

Things we learnt from the Olympics. No.1

The most complicated ticketing allocation system in the world…is exactly what it sounds like.

Having offered constant reassurances in the run up to the games, that the threat of empty seats in front of world television audiences would be a thing of the past, Seb Coe had to hide behind the four spectators who watched the first day of gymnastic events as the very opposite happened. The lottery system always seemed a little obscure, after all, decades of people paying money for the events they wanted to see, seemed to have worked out rather well. The dramatic change in policy, which resulted in track and field fans being issued with football tickets, and swimming fans observing boxing, was indeed confusing to some, and was perhaps at least a contributory factor in the empty seats around stadiums.

The dream is realised, a stunning empty stadium, the plan all along.

This has not deterred Boris Johnson from introducing a public transport lottery system. Passengers might not end up on the bus that will take them where they want to go, but they will be guaranteed a spot on the vehicle (though that guarantee is not guaranteed)…that is how the Olympic model was intended to work yes?

We don’t hate the Olympics, but… Cardiff and the World.

We were really going to try and resist this one, but given all the very forced hoopla in the Welsh media coverage regarding the theoretical importance of the Olympics ‘coming’ to Cardiff, it became difficult to resist. For weeks now we have been fed a steady diet of saturated fat based oozing of appreciation for the significance of the Cardiff based Olympic events. Hardly a day has gone by during the last five weeks where there has not been a story extolling the virtues for the city and for Wales, of several football games being played here under the shadow of five colourful rings and the silhouettes cast by ‘London2012’ bunting.

Now, comments from the likes of the chief medical officer for Wales, that the presence of the Olympics will inspire some into physical activity, probably have some merit, if you turn a blind eye to the fast food dominated corporate sponsorship. We are not going to dismiss the good time had by people coming into the city to watch the games, after all, Cardiff is a proven venue for major international sporting events, it was always going to go well. Indeed, we don’t really begrudge the football competition being in Wales, it’s nice to be involved in something that, we can hope, will have some form of legacy for the British Isles. What we don’t like is the barefaced lies spun around the handful of games to be played in Cardiff, and what they will do for the city.

Sebastian Coe heralded Cardiff as a true Olympic City on the morning of the first football games, experts told us of the way in which the football matches would raise the profile of Cardiff and Wales to a global audience, indeed BBC Wales presenters were tripping over each other to tell us that ‘yes, the eyes of the world are all on Cardiff’. But were they? Of course there was plenty of coverage from Cardiff, but how many news carriers were really going to the effort of spinning the ‘Welsh’ story in all this?

A quick look at the British newspapers this morning might give an indication of the profile boost Cardiff was receiving yesterday. The Daily Telegraph, Times and Guardian all carried front page photographs of the first fixture to be played in Cardiff yesterday. Of those, the Guardian elaborated briefly on the location of the fixture, both The Times and Telegraph decided to concentrate their analysis on the furious North Koreans (who of course were not playing in Cardiff). The Daily Express and Mail did not overlook the Olympics, but instead chose to run stories detailing the life and times of royal Zara Phillips. Meanwhile the Star had a full page spread discussing David Beckham’s role in the opening ceremony. However the Independent, Sun, and of course, the London Evening Standard all acted as if nothing had happened at all, for them the Olympics won’t even begin for another day.

Internationally, the Wall Street Journal carried no more than Nick Hornby whining about his lack of Olympic spirit, The New York Times covered the football…featuring the US women’s team, playing in Scotland, but equally failed to make mention of the fact that the game was outside of London. In France, Le Monde was unaware of any Olympic opening games. Belgium, Germany, Ireland, no sign of Cardiff on the front pages in any of those. Even in New Zealand, the other nation to be involved in the opening game in Cardiff, saw little need to put the story on their front page. We could go on, but there are a lot of national newspapers globally to cover which failed to turn over their banner headlines to ‘Cardiff’s day in history’.

The point here, is that despite the great insistence of the Olympic organisers and the BBC, the eyes of the world were not on Cardiff, and they were never going to be. This was not some great promotional opportunity for Cardiff and Wales, and it was never going to be. Cardiff is not an Olympic city, and sadly, it will never be. It helped out, briefly, while the actual Olympic city of London continues to attract the world’s attention. Go back to all those newspapers on Saturday morning, how many do you think will have front page spreads on London and its marvellous opening ceremony? If it is any short of all of them, it will be a surprise.

So, we don’t hate the Olympics, and we don’t hate them visiting Wales, but we do hate being told, so insistently, that this is a really good thing for us. It was a nice thing perhaps, a good thing in that tourism via 30-40,000 extra sports enthusiasts coming into the city is always welcome, and a positive thing if it encourages only a few Welsh children to play some sport rather than watch it on television while chowing through their Olympic branded cheeseburger. But please stop pretending, stop trying to persuade people in Wales that this will be anything more than that. The Olympics start on Friday with an opening ceremony in London, that is where the eyes of the world will be, and that is where they will remain. Most importantly, when all this is done and dusted, and the athletes and world media make their way home, it is London that will be remembered, not Cardiff, or any of the other places to have elements of the games farmed out to them.

So can we please just treat this for what it is? Giving a small proportion of games out to distant parts of the British Isles was an effort in head patting, an exercise is distracted people from the fact that the main beneficiaries of the games will be London, despite everyone in Britain having to foot the bill. Even that is not a problem, London is hosting, why shouldn’t London be the primary beneficiary?! But stop pretending otherwise. Just let us enjoy the games without all the so-forced and oh so heavy propaganda. We certainly don’t hate the Olympics, but Seb Coe and his organisational team sure make it hard not to.

Very interesting views on the impacts of awards.

In the Dark

It being a nice day I took myself off for a stroll through Bute Park this afternoon. It was actually a bit warmer than I’d expected so I confined myself to the shady tree-lined bits. It was nice to see so many people enjoying the open air, sitting on the grass, picnicking, playing sports and even just strolling around like me. Walking along by the river bank I saw this guy practising a tightrope walk.

That’s something you don’t see every day. Well done, that man.

Anyway, when I got home I checked my email and found an angry message complaining about Cardiff City Council’s ongoing campaign to win itself an award for what is known as the Bute Park Restoration Project. The link invites people to “vote” for the project, but gives no option to vote against it. One wonders how many Cardiff City Council employees have been…

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We are all TeamGB…

(Warning, features strong language.)

So the sporting farce that is the British football team had its first unveiling last night, a lethargic warm down against the youth of Brazilian football. However, little attention is really falling on the 90 minutes of play, and more on the final few minutes before the kick-off, in particular the singing, or non-singing of ‘national’ anthems. Now given the controversy surrounding the formation of a British footballing team, the fears of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish football federations that their existence might be threatened by such a creation, you would have thought those in charge of the team (that would be the English Football Association) might have had a degree more forethought than to select the English (yes, we know, it doubles as the ‘British’ anthem as well) national anthem for the team to sing. After all, there are so many musical alternatives which would not have the connotation of being the song of the English football team to choose from, yet, that is what they plumped for. What did they really expect the three Welsh internationals to do? One wonders if the lack of representation of players from Scotland was more to do with an expectation that any ‘problem’ players who might cause issues with the singing of certain anthems, would be removed from the equation – those good ol’ subservient Welsh will surely step in line though and bleat out the English anthem. But wait, they did not.

Now, we are all supposed to be in this together right? Unity, harmony, Britain together and all that which goes along with the Westminster propaganda machine that has been trying to pursued us that we do actually really like each other. Well, while twitter is far from the most reliable platform for gauging the mood of the nation, it’s about as valuable as those vox-pops which the BBC tend to rely on for their evidence based journalism, so shall we consider for a moment what the reasonable, rational, ‘all in it together to the last’ attitudes of the ‘British’ public were saying about the Welsh players and their ‘failure’ to sing the anthem? Here are a few examples (again, a warning here, some of these feature some very strong language).

‏@ManicMummyat40 Ryan Giggs should be ashamed of himself – sing the National Anthem! #englishandproud #olympics2012

@djmickbrown great to see giggs and bellamy not singing our national anthem..tossers..if they dont want to b part of it properly then please go home.

‏@richardgorman1 Giggs captain? Sing the nation anthem you welsh sheep shagging no mark

‏@ItsCareyBear Ryan giggs not singing the english national anthem #welshcunt

@BiHo1984 Shameful that Giggs and Bellamy weren’t singing the anthem before #GBRvBRA.. Definitely shouldn’t have invited these sheep-shaggers to play.

@Alanmc87 Giggs and bellamy not singing anthem..welsh bastards!!! Ah 1-0 Brazil

‏@BillyRTaylor Lol Giggs won’t sing the anthem, welsh cunt

@ricky_aj_hall Giggs and bellamy not singing the national anthem? Fucking die u horrible cunts! Neymar with the headband reminds me of a young ricky hall

@itisnate Giggs your captaining GB and you don’t sing the anthem you welsh twat and pearce you ugly twat you should of picked beckham #TeamGB

‏@StJakey Ryan Giggs you stupid Welsh cunt.. He shouldn’t Captain the Great Britain team if your not going to sing the Anthem! And you Bellamy #CUNTS

Now, we would be the first to say that this is just a snap shot. There were an equally large number of people celebrating the fact that the Welsh players were not singing the anthem, some sympathetic to the fact that as an English anthem as well, that it would be difficult for them to sing it, while a smaller proportion probably took the most sensible line, and suggested people just get over it. However, it is telling that, with such little prompting, that so much bile can be spilled forth, not just over individuals, but over the Welsh in general. We are sometimes criticised in Wales for being a little too sensitive about the slurs we receive, but the age old response would be to remove the word Welsh from the tweets above, and replace them with the words Black, Jewish, Indian, do that and several of last night’s tweeters would currently be receiving knocks on the door from the local constabulary. But it’s generally okay to say such stuff if it’s ‘just the Welsh’ isn’t it? (Though off course given the state of the British judicial system, it does appear that racial slurs in the football are perfectly acceptable, so maybe we are just out of touch.)

Anyway, back to topic, Giggs and Bellamy ‘disrespected’ the anthem by not singing it, yet there was no Welsh flag waved, no spitting on the soil as the Queen was mentioned, no turning backs and walking to a quiet corner while the teams lined up. There was no protest, this was just a few people choosing not to sing the anthem which represents their biggest sporting rivals. And yet, the hatred that burst through the thinly veiled surface of TeamGB unity is there for the world to see.

So perhaps, when the world comes to ‘London’ as the British Isles is being branded and the picture perfect image of a united kingdom of loyal love all Brits is poured onto the planet’s television screens, maybe we might refer back to nights like this. Nights where the true reflection of Britain, and it’s tolerance to it’s ‘regions’ comes pouring out. We are all TeamGB after all, so long as you don’t show that you are Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh.

Super Dragon Spotting.

The Newport Super Dragons are back for a second edition. Finding them is proving a little tricky with so many moved indoors thanks to rain based issues, but here are a few of those stumbled across today.

Cardiff Declares War on Bicycles.

And not before time! Police in Cardiff have today launched a new crackdown on bicyclists flaunting the law and merrily weaving their way around the pavements of the city. While a £30 fixed penalty notice might not appear to be much of a threat, any deterrent for the increasing menace that the Cardiff cyclist can be can only be welcomed. A note of caution initially though, we don’t want to go painting all cyclists in Cardiff with too broad a brush. No doubt the majority of those on pedal powered twin wheels are all good sorts, very respectful and such, but equally there can be little doubt that a growing number of those who enjoy the un-motorised means of transportation have as much regard for the pedestrians in their way as a scorching sun has for the last ripples of a drained puddle – they are equally treated as an irrelevance, something to dismiss as were they not even there, and it is those cyclists that are the problem.

Increasingly in Welsh city and town centres, the travels of the pedestrian are marked by the need to dodge out of the way of those speeding past (and we do mean speeding) through clearly marked pedestrian areas. A trip through Cardiff City Centre can be measured by the number of times you are ‘ching chinged’ out of the way, if even that simple ‘courtesy’ is offered. More likely would be for you to suddenly jump to one side as some sun glass wearing blur of lycra shoots by. For too long, pedestrians have had to suffer the whims of cyclists regarding highways law, and it is good to see that the police in the capital are finally taking some action.

Plenty of debate has been stimulated by this, mostly regarding the lack of choice faced by cyclists when travelling. How can we be punishing those poor unfortunates? After all, too many cycle lanes are blocked by cars, while how many deaths do cyclists cause to pedestrians compared to motorists on cyclists? Well, for starters, it is simply against the law for cyclists to be on the pavement in the first place, so it is a very weak place to argue from. But if we put that to one side, what of those concerns?

First of all, cycle lanes, and indeed the dangers faced by cyclists on the roads, are both valid points of concern. While the cycling community needs to be much better regarding pedestrians, the motoring community in turn must raise its game regarding cyclists, who are no doubt vulnerable to the lack of attention given them by many British motor vehicle users. However, there is nothing that forces a cyclist to ride on a pavement. Unless said cyclists is physically welded by the groin to their bicycle, then there is no reason why the rider in question cannot dismount, push the bicycle to the next clear cycle lane or safe stretch of road, and continue. The decision to use pavements by cyclists is just that, a decision, a choice, and one not afforded to pedestrians. Pedestrians cannot amble down the middle of a dual carriage way at their choosing, they only have the pavements to make use of. If the roads are too scary for the cyclists of Cardiff City Centre, then get off the bike and push, you have the option.

As for injuries and deaths, fine, we do not see many pedestrians killed by cyclists, and the statistics are irrelevant almost when compared with cyclists killed by motor vehicles. What these death counts do not cover though, is the very real sense of fear instilled by cyclists whizzing through pedestrians. They might not get killed by the bike, but many are sure as hell scared witless by the cyclists who belt through those relying on foot. Put simply, pedestrians should not be made to feel intimidated while out walking in the only access routes available to them.

Cardiff in particular has a wealth of cycling provisions in place, offering the choice of using roads or a variety of cycle paths. There is no such diversity for the pedestrian. A cyclist weaving at speed through a pedestrian filled pavement, may not be as dangerous to pedestrians as were a car driver to mount the curb and commit a similar crime, but the risks are still there, the fear is still very real, and it remains a crime. While it may be a minority of cyclists who are responsible, it is a minority that is large enough now to warrant firm action, and we certainly hope that Cardiff police stand by this announcement rather than leave it as an empty threat.

RCT: Right Idea on Metal Theft, Wrong Focus in Video.

Rhondda Cynon Taf council made it into the news today for the launch of their so called ‘hard hitting’ video on the impact and dangers of metal theft. There can be little doubt about the damaging nature of this crime wave that is blighting Wales, and those to suffer, in particular schools, community sites and religious centres, not too mention the commemorative memorials to be destroyed through these petty thefts, are all amongst the most vulnerable victims in terms of those who are able to foot the bill for the expensive repairs required after such acts of vandalism. Why then do RCT dwell for so long on the perpetrator of the crime in their video?

The video opens to a churchyard, one location of many included in the video to have been hit by the metal thefts, but we do not focus on the church or its parishioners, instead we hear the disembodied voice of the mournful metal thief. Clearly talking to us from beyond the grave, we hear how his lift was not supposed to end like this, his widowed wife expresses her anger but qualifies in her thoughts how he was in fact a good man. The video rumbles on, a shot of school closed for the day because of metal thefts, then our perpetrator is seen near death, told he cannot have his life saving operation because of metal theft. Have we got the message yet? Metal theft is bad yes? But watching this campaign, it’s hard not to be left with the thought of ‘why should we care?’ due to the central figure of the narrative. The core ‘victim’ featured is the thief himself, not the innocent bystander who suffers because of the thief, but the man who was stupid and selfish enough to do the robbery in the first place.

While the sentiments are fine, RCT would have done well to recast its lead figure, the ‘hero’ of the piece if you will. As it stands, the video seems to be attempting to play on the viewers sympathy for the thief, which is the exact opposite message that should be pushed here. Why should we care about this individual? Frankly, we shouldn’t. A better take would have been to feature our ‘hero’ frying himself on his freshly swiped electric cable, before the cindered corpse is ditched into a lake by his disgusted partner. That might ‘send a message’, as it is, this effort, while well intended, only serves to frustrate and ultimately fail to deliver the hard hitting message that it could have done.

A Plastic Bag in the Eye.

EyeOnWales found itself wading into an impressively pointless argument on the good ol’ 5p plastic bag debate last week. In an argument of head banging against the wall proportions, we found a bizarre blogger ranting about the sinister nature of businesses exploiting the 5p bag law to generate revenue and supply low grade bags to customers, while simultaneously suggesting that the Welsh Government policy had been a failure in the first place, having no impact on bag usage, and in turn, no positive impact on the environment (this was all before said blogger descended into a diatribe on the state of Wales generally, including the Welsh language in a wonder moment of gogwatch-esque randomness – suffice to say it was not the most sensibly of constructed arguments that we’ve come across this year).

So, it was with some pleasure that the results of a couple of reports were published by the Welsh Government today, giving some indication as to the actual impacts of the 5p bag legislation. Without wanting to totally rehash the original press release, the key figures can be summarised in 70% of the survey sample now supporting the legislation, backed up by over 80% of customers making use of reusable bags, with food retailers in particular recording an impressive 96% reduction in bag use. This was coupled with the Keep Wales Tidy charity being held up as an example of one of the beneficiaries of the redirected funds from those bags which remain sold, tipping the £100,000 mark.

Now, when the evidence suggests such massive reductions in plastic bag use, with wide scale public support for the new form of legislation, topped off with large scale charitable donations, can it really be described as a failure? If this is a failure then lets hope new legislation introduced in the future has a similarly catastrophic rate of success! Now let’s be clear, the Labour led government in Cardiff is not having the best of times of it, and Carwyn’s lumbering speech today on the trident issue was a particularly good example of the bad on offer. But that is not to say that all is bad, and on this piece of legislation, Wales has a success story, and one perhaps, even if it is held in temporary isolation, that we might be proud of.

Well done WG, you’ve got something right, now work on all the rest of it!