Football environment

Euro 2008 kicks off this weekend and promises some intriguing group stage encounters (not least Holland v. Italy, Holland v. France, France v. Italy, Spain v. Russia, Czech Republic v. Portugal, and Germany v. Croatia). And the games can only get better in the following knock-out stages. Sometimes it is argued that this competition is stronger than the World Cup, insofar as the weather tends to be kinder both on players and pitches, and there are fewer weaker teams. In the betting, Italy, the current World Cup holders, are rated behind Germany and Spain, but this a competition that has a habit of producing unexpected winners – for example the Czechs (1976), Denmark (1992) and Greece – the current Cup holders – (2004). Part of me is backing Spain, part takes refuge in Eduardo Galeano’s sentiments (post) that it is enough to enjoy the game.

The reason that I’m cheering on the Spanish is, of course, that none of the British representatives have made it to the Euro 2008 finals, in the year in which two English teams contested the UEFA Champions League final and Rangers reached the UEFA Cup Final, and when 13% of the players taking part in Euro 2008 practice their trade in the Premiership. Of the 16 nations competing, only Italy & Russia do not have at least one current Premiership player in their squads. The globalisation of professional football is largely the consequence of the EU’s regulations on the free movement of labour: no amount of posturing by UEFA on the numbers of home players per team is going to be successful. Ironically in the Champions League final both Chelsea and Manchester Utd fulfilled Blatter’s ‘six-plus-five’ principle (which would limit a team’s “foreign” players to five).

The number of home-based players in each nation’s squads is shown the graph, and is contrasted with the number of all players in each country’s domestic leagues: 96% of Russia’s squad play in their domestic clubs (and 8% of all the players in the tournament play in Russia), whereas only one Croatian plays in Croatia (and no one else does). Unsurprisingly the big football nations – Germany, Italy, France & Spain – have a high percentage of domestically-based squad members as well as sharing a large proportion of foreign players in their respective leagues [Data source: BBC].

Will this make any difference to their chances of success? The second graph contrasts the current odds (from William Hill: 4-1 Germany; 11-2 Spain; 7-1 Italy, Portugal; 15-2 France; 12-1 Croatia, Holland; 16-1 Czech Republic; 22-1 Greece; 25-1 Switzerland; 28-1 Russia, Sweden; 40-1 Romania, Turkey; 50-1 Poland; 100-1 Austria) with the number of players in the finals who play in each nation’s leagues (thereby assuming that this is an indicator of performance). The relationship looks quite close – without getting drawn into any statistical tests – but the actual results are likely to depend upon the players’ form and the quality of management. Let us remember that during qualifying England made the fundamental error of promoting the #2: see post No Easy Matches.

The Premiership is probably the most international league in the world (in terms not only of players, but also sponsorship, worldwide tv coverage), and yet the overwhelming majority of the England team would most likely be drawn from the top four clubs (less if Arsenal is one of these). The question then – accepting the positive impacts of globalisation on British football – is how sustainable is the modern game given the clubs’ level of indebtedness and cost structures, and arguably the increasing inequalities between clubs, and the lower divisions. The issues is not about players’ nationalities, but rather the linkages between the advantages of globalisation and ensuring that domestic football can generate new talent and decent national teams (i.e the financing of domestic football, benefit-sharing arrangements and the “rules of the game” in the widest sense). Perhaps this is where the Germans, Italians, Spanish & French are doing better?

But there is a lesson here for the World Environment Day too: strengthening local capacities is the key to help countries lever to their advantage the benefits from globalisation. Both the agricultural and forestry sectors in developing countries have been relatively neglected by multilateral and bilateral donors. The success of efforts to create new carbon markets to support avoided deforestation will depend upon the quality of local institutions and knowledge to match initiatives and funding to tackle the drivers of deforestation whilst supporting farming systems. Implementing such environmental service programmes – and wider reforms needed to decarbonise the world’s economy – will be by necessity a step-by-step experimental process based on enduring partnerships, but one that has hardly begun:

Juan Bautista Alberdi, an Argentine constitutionalist and liberal, noted in 1837 that “Nations, like men, do not have wings; they make their journeys on foot, step by step.” Latin America, long susceptible to the utopian mirages of revolutionaries and caudillos and still not immune to them, has struggled to absorb this truth. But … durable mass democracies have emerged across the region…[Brazil’s] leadership in nonfossil fuels and the unparalleled biodiversity of its Amazon rain forest make it a natural leader in the 21st-century struggle with global warming. (NYT)

UPDATE: 25 June

The first graph shows the four semi-finalists came from the top-5 rated nations (which is better than the match makers managed). I’m sure that Eduardo Galeano enjoyed the romance of the plucky and skillful Turkish performance, as well as Richard William’s sympathetic sport writing – here


Survival lessons – Part 1

Existence well what does it matter? I exist on the best terms I can. The past is now part of my future, The present is well out of hand.

Joy Division, “Heart and Soul” (1980).

As the fallout from the subprime crisis continues, the credit losses and write downs to date of London’s big banks have been neatly compiled by Here is the City (and shown above in US$bn). On a per employee basis the three biggest losers are the Mizuho Financial Group ($2,750,000 per employee), UBS ($1,681,818), & Citi ($1,363,333) respectively. Whether firms can survive given such a poor performance is a moot point.

The recently published Living Planet Index – a census of the animal kingdom, albeit based upon only 4,000 species – purports to show a dramatic and unprecedented loss in biodiversity in the period from 1970-2005 (The Independent): land species have declined by 25 per cent, marine life by 28 per cent, and freshwater species by 29 per cent.

Extinction has a dynamic like financial capitalism – it is part of an evolutionary struggle, in which life today has come at the cost of the death of almost everything that came before – and both species (literally) and bankers (figuratively) live and die seeking a balance or compromise between growth and stability.

Public concern about the fate of the planet suffers from overkill. Many who once cared about the environment now share a Voltairean sentiment that the easiest way out of the crisis might be to strangle the last panda with the guts of the last blue whale. However, today’s cataclysm is no different from many others… Few plants and animals live for long. The descendants of a very few, transformed by natural selection, make up the world today.

Steve Jones, “Almost Like a Whale. The Origin of Species Updated” (1999).

But whilst the world is basically full — new species will have to push out their predecessors — human action since the advent of industrial revolution has had a profound impact. [And sometimes we create unexpected niches for a wildlife renaissance – the Iron Curtain becomes a biological corridor or green belt across Europe]. We are essentially shoving many species into a situation whereby there are too few individuals to avoid utter extinction.

Governments are now intervening in financial markets – to protect the public from the banks’ excesses (and to save the banks themselves from the excesses of global financial markets). Regulation has proven insufficient (it tends to focus like generals on the last battles) and the rewards from financial globalisation of the past 5-10 years seem too slim given the costs: the challenge is to improve regulation, but its effectiveness will be will only be shown by the next financial cycle. The convalescence of the banks has begun, but the recovery from a slowdown in consumption and economic growth will take a while.

Biodiversity loss has also been asymmetric – and the policy response has been vapid. Can anything effective be done? Prince Charles has called for a fund of US$15bn a year to pay for a “global insurance policy” to halt deforestation. Such a global commitment would be a fillip: but getting the incentives right (plus concomitant transparency and accountability in carbon markets) for avoided deforestation is more of a challenge than finding the cash.

Flower power

Girona’s 53rd annual flower festival has been taking place this week, drawing good crowds of locals and visitors to the city. It is — as usual — well organised with lots of interesting exhibits, concerts and other activities interspersed in and around the Barri Vell (the old town centre). It’s a great opportunity to amble around the streets as well as get free access to many public & private buildings, churches, gardens, and museums.

There is an excellent web page for the Temps de Flors -look in particular at the gallery of pictures of earlier festival and festival posters. The town’s many bookshops have copies of the book “Girona Temps de Flors: 50 anys de cartells 1955-2005”, Col.leccío História de Girona 35, Ajuntment de Girona [ISBN 84-8496-004-8]) which is well worth buying as a souvenir.

Last year the festival week took place in unusually hot weather and by the end many displays were unsurprisingly looking rather tired; fortunately this year’s rain on the opening and final weekends has only slightly dampened some activities & displays.

But is there a sense that the format needs revamping? There is nothing really dramatic or memorable this year, nor was there last year. It’s important to keep the festival’s core visitors, but perhaps this is the time to increase its attractiveness and relevance to a wider range of visitors and residents.

Here are three ideas:

First, take part of the festival out of the town centre, specifically by having some exhibits and shows in nearby Salt’s own old town centre. This would be an opportunity to draw upon Salt’s more dynamic and diverse communities’ cultures, (for example, this week there is a festival of African films — AFRICAT — in Salt), and to bring the two town centres and peoples closer together.

Second, install some exhibits on nearby walks or cycle routes, such as the Girona-Olot and Girona-Quart sections of the classic bike route the Ruta de Carrilet Olot-San Feliu de Guìxols on the banks of the River Ter and River Onyar respectively. Other potential sites include the extensive allotments and woods of San Eugenia (Hortes de San Eugenia),  and the ecosystem bike routes at the end of the San Daniel Valley.

Third, give the festivals a theme – for example emulate the 2050 Garden exhibit at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show which looks at plants and gardens in a changing climate.

Much of Catalunya’s wealth is drawn from tourism and built upon the high public subsidies (much provided by the EU following the restoration of Spanish democracy) for infrastructure and public sector construction. Now it is time for the town council to start to decarbonise the local economy and tourism: free public transport in Girona and Salt, plus town bike schemes are long overdue.



Britons may not want to “foot the bill to save the planet” as reported in The Independent – well who does wants to more taxes – but whilst a third say that they are opposed to more legislation in support of green policies (can they name such legislation?), and a third of those polled also believe that green taxes will have no impact on the environment, the poll results do suggest that two thirds are in favour of such measures…which is the good news.

More great cartoons from GADO here

UPDATE: From The Times Peter Riddell on our and our politicians’ self-reinforcing attitudes — and how these change, perhaps echoing political cycles — today’s delusions & selfishness could mark a low-point.

Attitudes on tax also fluctuate. The British Social Attitudes survey shows that, in the early Thatcher years, 54 per cent favoured keeping taxes and spending on health, education and social benefits at the same level. This fell to about 31 to 34 per cent by the 1997 election. Over the same period, support for increasing taxes and spending more on services rose from 32 to about 60 per cent. By the time of the last election in 2005, however, backing for more spending was down to 46 per cent, and staying the same was 43 per cent. Several recent polls…have highlighted increasing scepticism about whether the expansion in government programmes is being efficiently spent, as well as growing resistance to higher taxes.

UPDATE: What Britons do rather than say that they will do to pollsters in revealed by data from the Office of National Statistics reported in The Guardian. They respond to incentives in the wider sense of the word: they are recycling more, but travelling more by air and by car, reflecting the impact of market forces, peer pressure and regulations.

Friends of the Earth’s head of campaigns, Mike Childs, said ministers had to do much more to help people live “less polluting lives”, including tougher energy efficiency standards for products and cars, greater investment in public transport, and taxes to make it cheaper and easier for people to go green.