Tag Archives: Europe

Hungary’s Horse Hopes

“Failure is the most often heard expression in Hungary today — failure, mistake, pessimism. When even a horse is able to make a miracle from nowhere, it’s a sign of hope that we can get out from the desperate situation we are now in.”

That’s Victor Orban, leader of Hungary’s Fidesz Party, talking about Overdose, the race horse that’s captured the beleagured Hungarian imagination. Overdose’s owner purchased him as an afterthought–for the meager price of $3,500–and despite being, in his trainer’s words “short” and “kind of ugly,” the horse has since gone on to win 12 races in 12 starts. In the process he’s come to be known as the “Hungarian Seabiscuit.” For a country facing a particularly grim economic future, Overdose has become a galvanizing force:

There is a clear patriotic tilt to the horse’s reception. He rode out Sunday with an honor guard of six flag-bearing riders dressed as Hussars, the famous Hungarian light cavalry, as tens of thousands screamed.

“For us Hungarians, it’s a big deal,” said Livia Nagy, 23, one of the thousands who came out for the race. “Overdose is something we can be proud of.”

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Olympic Bid Update

News from the four finalists angling to host the 2016 Summer Olympics:

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Politics Invades Euro Hoops

What happens when you spice the European basketball championships with some Baltic hostilities?

First the Lithuanians threatened to walk off the court for good with two minutes to play because of suspicions about the refereeing, then the third-place Croats did walk off the medal stand and out of the arena just before their former countrymen, the Yugoslavs, were about to receive their gold medals.

As the flags rose and a small marching band attempted to play the Yugoslav national anthem, the rambunctious Greek crowd booed the winners, as they had booed them for much of the game. The boos drowned out the anthem, just as politics ended up drowning out the basketball.

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Israel Soccer’s Raw Deal

After a crushing loss to Greece, it’s almost certain that Israel will once again fail to qualify for the World Cup. Israel is by no means a soccer power, but their qualifying road is harder than it should be.

For years, Israel competed within the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) because doing so made perfect geographic sense. Israel is, after all, an Asian nation. Eventually, though, Arab states hostile to Israel, starting with Kuwait at the 1974 Asian Games, refused to take the pitch against them. Rather than award forfeit victories to Israel, the AFC capitulated and expelled Israel from Asian football. As a consequence, the Israeli national team was–to borrow the obvious yet fitting metaphor–forced to wander the soccer wilderness for years.

In the 1980s, this led to the absurdity of having Israel compete in the Oceania qualifying group against distant countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Finally, in the early 1990s, Israel became a member of UEFA, which meant toiling against the august European powers of the sport. And those are Israel’s unenviable straits today.

For the 2010 qualifiers, FIFA placed Israel in a group with Greece (FIFA world ranking: 19), Switzerland (22), Latvia (71), Moldova (98), and Luxembourg (121). Had Israel not been exiled from the Asian football circuit–where they logically belong–they’d be presently competing with AFC Group A teams like Australia (ranking: 32), Japan (35), Bahrain (67), Uzbekistan (74), and Qatar (87); or AFC Group B teams like Iran (42), South Korea (44), Saudi Arabia (55), North Korea (107), and UAE (116). Israel, who’s ranked 18th, would’ve had a measurably easier route to the World Cup had they been allowed to compete on their own continent.

If nothing else, the Israeli athletes deserve a fairer shake.

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The Obamas in Britain

While some in the blogosphere are getting the vapors over President Obama’s decision to give an IPod to the Queen, it’s worth noting that the First Lady came up big with her gift to the five-year-old son of PM Gordon Brown:

For yesterday’s return visit, the First Lady gave five-year-old John Brown a little piece of US history: a black full-size Louisville Slugger baseball bat a marked with the presidential seal and signed by her husband.

Let the baseball assimilation of English cricket fans begin.

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This Week in Soccer Violence

With World Cup qualifiers going on around the globe, the hooligans are out in full force. Some dispatches …

Ivory Coast vs. Malawi:

A stampede at a soccer match in the Ivory Coast killed at least 22 people and wounded 132 yesterday, authorities said. Fans at the Felix Houphouet-Boig-ny arena pushed against each other shortly before the World Cup qualifying game between Ivory Coast and Malawi, setting off a panic that led to the stampede, Interior Minister Desire Tagro said on state TV. “They started pushing to get in because the match was about to start and each and every one of them wanted to get in,” Tagro said.

Northern Ireland vs. Poland:

Before the game, riot police had to separate NI and Polish fans.

Fireworks, bricks and bottles were thrown between the two sets of fans outside the football ground …

Residents in the area were advised by police to stay indoors.

During the game play was suspended for five minutes after a linesman was hit on the head with a small object thrown from the crowd.

The Polish fans were kept inside the ground for nearly an hour after the match ended but have now left without incident.

From the Greek premier league:

Around 60 fans clashed with police inside the Olympic stadium in Athens on Sunday and police said they had used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Police said they had also clashed with dozens of fans outside the stadium, where AEK Athens were hosting Levadiakos in the Greek top league.

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Berlusconi and Football

Goal.com profiles Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi and the role soccer played in his rise to political power. Berlusconi purchased AC Milan in the mid 1980s, when the club was hemorrhaging money and not winning many matches. Berlusconi pumped money into the franchise, shifted to an aggressive, attacking style, and signed a number of foreign stars. The results followed. After Berlusconi took over, AC Milan won seven Serie A championships in eight years and a number of European titles. For Berlusconi, the AC Milan revival gave him the reputation as a decisive leader and master organizer. The next step was logical:

In 1993 he formed his own party and named it, so obviously cunningly, ‘Forza Italia’ (which roughly translates as ‘Go Italy’). Berlusconi started peppering his political speeches with distinct footballing jargon. When he announced his entry into the political arena on January 26, 1994, he so markedly said, “I have chosen to take to the field and involve myself in public life…..” That “take to the field’ phase has gone into Italian political and footballing folklore.

What followed under Berlusconi’s intermittent rule was a time of controversy, scandal, and change in Italy, and it some ways it all traced back to the pitch.

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