A hearty welcome to everyone reading this, with good wishes to you and yours. I’ve been inside working on an awful lot of exciting content this week with the help of tireless editor David Stewart, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it. That’s given me a great deal of time indoors, even with the heatwave we have been experiencing, so I thought I’d take you through a bumper set of reading and listening recommendations. Stay alert out there!
Top Reads Of The Week:
Data journalism is all the rage these days – and about time, too – but where on earth does one begin with finding the most useful stories? Step forward Sophie Warnes, whose “Fair Warning” Newsletter” shifts through the noise to find the signal. The latest edition is a particularly enjoyable non-Coronavirus edition which makes welcome relief….. (helps a huge amount in terms of finding interesting stories). Find it here:
The debate over just when and how all students ought to return to school is likely to be one of the most contentious debates of the summer, and this piece by Stephen Bush which reviews the logistics of any return is the best I’ve read on the subject so far. (schools have stayed open for children of key workers, and teachers are working overtime trying to teach online – not sure you need this sentence, it was too long and wordy earlier in my opinion).
Of course, there’s much talk about the race to find a vaccine for Coronavirus, and with that, has come a lot of hype, so it was welcome to see this excellent read from Aasma Day about what’s actually going on in the Human trials run by Oxford University.
If you’re wondering why you can’t focus, then this is a brilliant read by Sarah Manavis on why it’s so hard to concentrate these days:
I could never leave this without having something racing related, and with the flat season hopefully about to make a triumphant return in Britain (racing has begun again in France and Germany with some high profile racing already taken place). There is no better time to get stuck into Dan Briden’s stupendous effort in ranking some of the best two-year-olds to look forward to. This is always an excellent guide to get a steer on the best juvenile potential, but this year it’s likely to be a priceless guide for all who have it.
Book Of The Week: It’s another trip down Memory Lane – and the first history book I’ve really dug into over the past couple of months is “The Betrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots”, by Kate Williams. This is a marvellous journey into one of the ugliest feuds in British history and worth every second you’ll spend on it if you want some escapism (and who doesn’t, these days?)
I appreciate that time has lost a lot of meaning right now, but there still is a future – if you can believe it – and Kevin Carr’s optimistic piece about what young minds can do in light of the current pandemic is an uplifting note:
Top Listens Of The Week:
More or Less (BBC Radio 4) has brought much needed clarity to so many of the debates around COVID-19 and done so with a friendly and approachable manner that brings a welcome lightness to such serious issues. For that, host Tim Harford, editor Richard Vadon, and producer Kate Lamble deserve major credit.
No shame in sticking with BBC Radio 4 once again, for the most recent collection of One To One. For those who aren’t familiar – One to One is a series of interviews in which broadcasters follow their personal passions by talking to people whose stories interest them most, as self-described by the BBC. This latest edition sees BBC Europe Editor Katya Adler, taking a deep dive about personalities in three fascinating 14-minute interviews with James Cracknell, Simon Hattenstone, and Wiebke Bleidorn, all of which are highly recommended.
Producer: Camellia Sinclair
Tweet Of The Week:
Word Of The Week: Cleaner (noun): a person employed to clean the interior of a building or, in the case of recent discourse, a house. “I don’t have anything to do, so I’m going to tweet about Owen Jones and cleaner discourse on Twitter.”
Saved By The Bell
So here’s the thing: I’m not a parent or teacher, so this obviously doesn’t come with the expertise of others, but one thing I do know is that one of the cultural and political feuds of the summer is the decision on what to do with schooling in England. It’s worth noting here, as with so many parts of this crisis, it has become apparent in recent days that other UK countries are taking different approaches to what is planned in England.
Broadly speaking, there seems to be two diverging views on this issue. One view comes from a section of society that is keen for a reopening by the 1st of June (and I should make it clear that this plan is for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England will be able to return to school if infection rates and the government’s other tests at the time allow it), and the other wants to wait until later. Another disclaimer – I’m in the waiting camp.
There are absolutely sound reasons why people would want schools to reopen sooner. If much of the working population is to make a return to work then they will need childcare; school is often the only safe place for many vulnerable children and furthermore there is a widening attainment gap between richer and poorer families that is being exacerbated by the crisis. Also it goes without saying that young people are missing in person interactions with friends, and a number of coming of age experiences.
All of these are valid reasons, and yes there are of course school-children who have returned in other countries, an argument which is often given here in favour of reopening.
The country cited most often is Denmark, but there are big differences between their situation and ours. The biggest of them is the amount of cases they’re currently dealing with – they had just 76 new reported cases on the 19th of May, whilst the UK reported 2,412. In terms of deaths per 1 million people, the Danes have had 101 – the UK 550.
Perhaps even more crucial is – and again, the Stephen Bush article earlier lays this out well – is the issue of logistics. Denmark, as well as being weeks ahead in terms of their progress through the virus, also has a jump on testing, tracking and tracing compared to the UK – https://www.mobihealthnews.com/news/europe/danish-government-launches-covidmeter-tracking-service-lockdown-restrictions-are-lifted.
Boris Johnson has promised a full track test and trace system by the 1st of June, but that could be a promise which he might come to regret (and more on that later) and walking before you can run could well be the right approach.
This leaves many questions of course, including what to do with the current academic year that has been turned upside down. Perhaps extending the next academic year, starting either in July/August, could provide a solution of allowing children without key worker parents to catch up on their peers (along with those from more disadvantaged families) whilst also allowing time to build the necessary infrastructure, especially regarding testing and any sort of contract tracing, given where we currently stand. Although, this of course would be a contentious decision to make.
The More the Merrier?
Hopefully – and nothing is certain in these times! Racing in Britain is scheduled to resume at Newcastle on June the 1st. Assuming the relaunch goes smoothly, we will have this year’s Royal Ascot meeting as expected – on the 16th of June, just 15 days after the first scheduled meeting at Newcastle. This will of course take place behind closed doors with strict protocols and hygiene measures as appropriate, but at least we will be able to watch racing in the UK again – and what’s more, the sporting spotlight could be there for the taking with the only other action taking place being Bundesliga football.
This is an unprecedented situation for racing but one that you’d imagine the majority of horses would be able to deal with – although it really has thrown juvenile racing asunder. We’ve talked about this before, and there has been a welcome change so far in the ballot system as all trainers can now nominate one horse to be exempt from elimination from the juvenile races run in the opening week of June.
That change is welcome, but one way to help matters might be to extend field sizes – and not just for juvenile events. Multiple divisions of maidens are a help – and three on the same card will be a big boost – but we’ve seen in France that maidens with many unraced horses go off without a hitch and it could also satisfy appetite, so many trainers will have to give their contenders a run with places sure to be at a premium.
To the…. Replies?
There was a surprise for Twitter addicts as late yesterday, a new feature was released, with some users getting the option to choose who could reply to their tweets. Some could turn off replies completely, others could have only those who follow them replying, and also a third option for only accounts who were mentioned to reply.
It’s actually an option that is available for us at Star Sports, of all people – although you can rest assured that we’ll be letting you share your views on our feed for the foreseeable future! It could have the benefit of cutting through much of the noise on Twitter, although it remains to be seen what spreaders of misinformation do with the opportunity for tweets no-one can reply to.
Still, that seems a better idea than this plan to transfer verification badges or ‘blue ticks’ from account to account, a measure that will surely lead to a million and one hacking attempts. What a marvellous website.
The House That’s Falling Down
The Houses of Parliament are certainly a unique institution; being over 200 years old and playing a crucial role as ever in these times, yet seemingly staffed by MP’s with absolutely no instinct for self-preservation.
Exhibit 1: The Government’s intention to bring back a number of MP’s after the two-week Whitsun recess, which was approved by 350 votes to 258. MP’s have been doing a large amount of remote work, including virtual proceedings which allowed a relatively empty chamber (limited to 50 MP’s), whilst some members would ask questions from home. We have also seen the advent of remote voting for the first time – two much overdue advancements – but those are hybrid agreements and the orders enforcing them will lapse with tragically comical timing.
Exhibit 2: The news that a planned £4bn overhaul of the Houses of Parliament could be scrapped because of public hostility to spending such large sums on the project in the wake of the coronavirus crisis – according to senior government sources. One just has to hope those fire marshals – as well as following social distancing rules – are still working around the clock. Just ask the citizens of Notre Dame…..
Here’s a world you probably haven’t heard in a while – Brexit. Britain’s departure from the UK is still scheduled – UK left the EU on 31 January but the main terms of its membership remain in place for a transition period until the end of this year to allow it time to negotiate a free trade agreement (all clear?) – and negotiations are not going well between the two sides.
The deadline for an extension to be offered or accepted is fast approaching – an extension of up to 2 years can be agreed, but in less than five weeks – and with so much on the plate of every single EU member state, diverting the huge amount of resources needed to deal with Brexit is surely going to lead to bad outcomes for both sides.
The Government’s line is that Coronavirus might have lowered the cost of a no-deal Brexit (see the tweet below), but it’s worth noting that we’re actually in an extension – last October we agreed one, and this one will end on the 31st December – and one has to ask if UK businesses will be ready to exit by that date after dealing with the complexities and pressures of Coronavirus – the odds on no look very short to me.
The British government’s analysis is that the disruption caused by coronavirus means that the costs of leaving the EU single market without a trade deal are lower than they have ever been. This means the UK will take a tough line in these negotiations https://t.co/qYwfoptzD7
— James Forsyth (@JGForsyth) May 21, 2020
On Your Bike
One last thing, but a well-known political commentator has recently started learning how to ride a bike – the sort of activity that sometimes comes to us later in life. Somehow that has inspired a huge amount of anger and derision, with many tweets focusing on her political views rather than the simple pleasure of learning how to ride, which s one of life’s simple pleasures. I really sometimes wonder how it came to this.
Question: Nicest politician that you’ve ever met?
Answer: I loved this one as lots of politicians have been really nice to meet actually, but Angela Rayner has always been nothing but incredibly kind, and entertained my jabbering’s at the Labour Conference last year and also the British Kebab Awards. (Spending lots of time in a room with over 100 people – now remember when you could do that?!)
Question: “I was thinking how do you think rugby (or any other sports) should try and get fans involved when sport comes back behind closed doors? I feel like they’ll have to innovate a bit so that people feel involved in their clubs.”
Answer: An excellent question. In the digital era, many clubs already do an excellent job of communicating with their fans, but behind closed doors games add a different challenge. Live streaming for fans could be an option and one imagines that behind the scenes content will be more important than ever. Long term, the fans ownership model could be a much more common system for the clubs that manage to survive this year – and who knows what’s coming down the line after that?
Question: Union is at a crossroads, with global funding issues, global governance issues. Both of which impact locally too particularly in England (clubs on the brink, Lord Myners report etc.). Where does union go from here?
Answer: The future does look somewhat bleak for Union unfortunately especially with the current crisis, but that is the same for each and every sport – including even top football leagues. It’s not hard to imagine (sadly) more than one or two clubs, and hardly small ones, facing the abyss at the end of the year, whilst a number of big associations around the world (thinking of Rugby Australia) also sure to be under maximum pressure. Hopefully though, that changes and at some point, we’re watching top class union again.
Hopefully you have all enjoyed reading this week’s column. If you did, or didn’t, then the address to tell me I’m completely wrong is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.