Monthly Archives: April 2017

Violence in Sports

Regarding fan violence (“Snowballs in Hell,” editorial, Dec. 28): It is just a reflection of the greedy athletes they came out to see. I grew up a N.Y. Giant fan, and as a kid even had season seats at Yankee Stadium. I paid $35 for the seven home games, the tickets were in the bleachers behind the end zone. But come blizzard, rainstorm or whatever nature threw at us, we went. Loyal Giant fans, not like today.

Today’s athletes no longer have the team spirit, the respect for tradition and most of all no respect for the people who made them what they have become, the new breed of fan. A player scores and rather than hand the ball to the referee, he has to do a 10-minute dance routine that the networks show.

Heck, the new loyal fan figures he has to do something outrageous to be on TV like his or her heroes on the field.

BRETT STONE

Los Angeles

I, like you, was pleased with the way Giant officials are dealing with the irresponsible fans who threw snowballs and iceballs during the Giants/Chargers game. However, consider where these fans learn how to act. Remember the joke “In the middle of a fight a hockey game broke out”? Our sports heroes need equally stiff penalties

Hockey has long been known as a sport where fights were common. Now, there is not a sport that doesn’t have players acting in an unsportsmanlike manner.

The puny financial penalties are certainly not going to scare these millionaires. When irresponsible players are tossed out of the game (or the season), and teams lose because of their irresponsible actions, these players (or their replacements) might then begin to set good examples for their fans.

GARY S. COYNE

Van Nuys

In your illuminating presentation of crime and sports, you missed a simple solution. All that is necessary for this nonsense to stop dead in its tracks is: Athletic organizations kick the offenders off the team, regardless. They will come out ahead in the long run. And for the fans to refuse to come to games if the offenders remain on the team and let TV advertisers know that their products will be boycotted if they support teams that retain offenders.

World Cup’s road to Brazil remains bumpy

In 50 days the best athletes in the world’s most popular sport will convene in Brazil, one of soccer’s sacred spiritual homes, for the game’s most important tournament.

It will be a powerful, uplifting tribute to the “beautiful game” that Brazilians have shaped for decades and the new status of a confident, rising global power in Latin America. Locals and foreigners will marvel at shiny new stadiums and glide across the continent-sized country on upgraded infrastructure.

That, at least, is what the government and organizers are hoping will happen given that the price tag for their six-week World Cup party is expected to top $11 billion, a figure local media estimates say is extremely conservative.

And although it’s still likely that things will go well overall, officials and other observers are keenly aware of three types of risks that have emerged: protests, an overwhelmed transportation infrastructure and soccer stadiums that remain incomplete more than seven years after Brazil was awarded the right to stage the World Cup.

There appears little chance that any of these three could interfere with where the real action is, on the field, from which it will be beamed to television sets of every sensible home, bar, and restaurant in the world.

Less than two months before the tournament kicks off, the host country, a five-time World Cup winner, is considered a title favorite along with European powerhouses Spain, the defending champion, and Germany, which is ranked second in the world.

The U.S., which is matched with Germany, Ghana and third-ranked Portugal in the strongest of the eight four-team groups, faces an uphill fight just to get beyond the first round.

When Brazil was awarded the right to host the 2014 World Cup and then the 2016 Olympics (beating Chicago), the victories were widely seen as a recognition of Brazil’s achievements in the first part of the 21st century and its new position on the world stage. Brazil reduced income inequality, 40 million people rose out of poverty into a dynamic new middle class, and the nation powered past the United Kingdom to become the world’s sixth-largest economy.

The World Cup and Olympics, the government said, would not only provide a coming-out party for the futebol-loving nation, but the perfect opportunity to provide much-needed upgrades to Brazil’s creaking infrastructure, especially related to transportation.

But as the tournament approached, it became clear things had not gone entirely according to plan.

At least nine people have died in the construction of the country’s 12 stadiums, and experts have said delaying tactics, corruption, and incompetence around the huge public works have resulted in cost overruns as people have lined their pockets with taxpayer money.

The stadium set to host the opening match June 12 between Brazil and Croatia in São Paulo is still not complete. Critics say that Brazil overstretched, insisting on 12 stadiums instead of eight host cities, then built massively expensive white elephants in remote cities that don’t even have local soccer teams.

More crucial for daily life here is that little was delivered in terms of improved transportation, within and between cities. This could lead to bottlenecks as thousands of fans try to get through the same overstretched airports at the same time. Brazil is a country slightly larger than the continental United States, and hopping around it, even at the best of times, can be a major headache.

The protest movement, meanwhile, came into existence when two issues — World Cup costs and transportation problems — collided last June. In São Paulo, police cracked down on a protest against a bus-fare hike just before last summer’s Confederations Cup— a kind of dress rehearsal for the World Cup. Over the next week a massive outpouring of support for the demonstrators led more than a million people onto the street, rallying for causes that included poor investments in health, education and infrastructure, wasteful spending on the World Cup and police violence.

Review: We Could Be King’ carries the ball as far as it can

For all the dangers football poses to its players, the sport still represents hope to thousands of young men. Judd Ehrlich’s persuasive but slight documentary “We Could Be King” movingly argues for the necessity of high-school athletics, especially in low-income communities, where pigskin is a key tool educators have in encouraging would-be dropouts to stay in school.

After the Philadelphia school board closes 37 schools and merges Martin Luther King High with its Germantown rivals, heroic Ed Dunn oversees the union of the two football teams. Laid off from his job as a math teacher and coach, Dunn volunteers his afternoons to keeping his athletes focused on the field and not on their two-year losing streak. After a few early losses, Dunn guides his team into a series of unlikely wins.

Ehrlich thus makes rousing fodder out of MLK High’s troubles — a decision that rightly celebrates the Cougars’ victories but flattens much of the story line. Neither Dunn nor his students — hulking but distracted Dontae, promising but troubled Sal, and kind, affable Joe — are endowed with dimensions that exceed Ehrlich’s preformed narrative. Watching Dontae give up on reading a difficult book in English class is almost as painful as seeing one of his teammates struggle to stand after a hard tackle. But “We Could Be King” provides no introspection, only inspiration.

New hedge fund bets on sports, literally

Reporting from New York — If you’ve ever deluded yourself that betting on sports was really investing, have we got a hedge fund for you.

Starting on Saturday, the new Centaur Galileo fund in London will be making investments not in the traditional financial playing fields of stocks, oil futures or real estate, but in the actual playing fields of soccer, tennis and horse racing.

Galileo is probably the first hedge fund to make bets on sports events, experts say.

“We put numbers against those things that you and me and everyone in pubs have casual discussions about,” said Tony Woodhams, the managing director at Centaur Group, which operates the fund. “That gives us an edge on these markets.”

It’s not for the average bettor. Galileo requires a minimum investment of 100,000 euros (about $135,000).

Centaur claims to have a proprietary number-crunching system that can make sports bets with far better results than the casual bettor. In fact, the company plans to make money off fluctuations in odds and point spreads that are affected by amateur bets.

“You have a lot of sports fans who are betting for their favorite team,” Woodhams said. “They get excited and discipline goes out the window. All of that provides opportunity for a trader like us to go in a very clinical manner. That’s where the edge is.”

Galileo is only for Europeans for now — Centaur can’t offer it in the U.S. without the blessing of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Woodhams said the company would apply for that approval next year.

So is investing in a sports-betting hedge fund about as sane as pouring money into a Nigerian inheritance deal? There are financial folks who believe such a fund could be a good bet.

Entrepreneur, Dallas Mavericks owner and former “Dancing With the Stars” contestant Mark Cuban has long advocated such a fund.

“If they fully commit to a data-driven model, I think they can do well,” Cuban said in an e-mail. “In many respects, stocks are the bigger gamble.”

Others were skeptical, to say the least.

Justin Wolfers, a professor who teaches a class about sports gambling at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said there are people who make a good living from wagers. But he’s not sure Centaur is in their league.

“Is it plausible that these guys could be as smart and savvy as professional gamblers? Yes it is,” Wolfers said. “But any time anyone in any realm of gambling tells me they can print money — I’m always cynical.”

Centaur will have 25 traders working on its London trading floor (though the fund’s official address is in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, which has an easier regulatory environment). Most of the traders come from a financial background. One of them, Woodhams said, left a job at Goldman Sachs to set up a sports book trading on cricket and tennis.

“In the U.S. you would probably say he was a gambler,” Woodhams said. “In the U.K., we are beginning to recognize these people for what they are — they are professional traders.”

The traders will use statistical modeling to place bets on websites such as Betfair, which is popular in Britain but banned in the U.S. The bets will not just be on matches’ final outcomes — Centaur will also wager on items such as the over-under that takes into account the total points scored.

If profit is made, Centaur will take a 30% cut, a hefty premium over the usual 20% for hedge funds.

Galileo is not Centaur’s first venture into gambling — it operates a training program for professional bookkeepers and since 2000 has run funds for betting on various sports. But unlike Galileo, the previous funds allowed investors to opt out of recommended bets.