Belgium win World Cup

worldcupI tipped Belgium to win the World Cup before the Finals began. Should they win against France in the semis, having decisively outplayed Brazil, they might reasonably feel that they have been in three finals.

Football, bloody hell” Alex Ferguson’s wisest words can be quoted again: Germany were a surprise, Spain and Argentina less so. I was disappointed that neither Nigeria nor Senegal progressed, and it would have been good to see more of Mexico too.

My first World Cup final was in 1966. We were on the beach on Elba and family lore is that the Italian family next to us told my father that they didn’t care who won, as long as it wasn’t the Germans. In 1970 I do remember watching some games – we had just got a colour tv and I was a keen left-winger at primary school. I do remember the 1974 final (we had been to the wonderful Olympic Stadium the previous year). I have no recollection of the 1978, 1982 and 1986 finals: I was travelling, at university and starting my first professional job respectively. I bought my first tv in Honduras for the 1990 finals. The chief agricultural extension officer in Taulabé invited his staff and me to his house to watch Cameroon (with a cameo appearance by the great Roger Milla) vs Argentina who at that time were automatically supported by most Central Americans. They were genuinely shocked at the Cameroonian performance and result which they were unlucky not to repeat against England, a game that I saw with a Brit forester in the Pizzaria Venezia on the main highway out of Siguatepeque. I don’t remember the 1994, 1998, or 2002 finals: busy travelling for work, and busy with a young family. As an aside I was doing field work in May 1999 with a group of Bolivian foresters and we were keen to get back to watch the Champions League Final, but we had taken an age to get around the perennial road block near the airport and so the game was all but over when I was dropped off at my hotel in Santa Cruz… I saw some of the games in the 2010 finals and 2014 finals while working in Nairobi. The first were marred by the vuvuzuelas and the treatment of Nelson Mandela, and both by England’s abject performances.

I saw my first and only World Cup qualifier game –  Liberia vs Congo in 2005. I bought a couple of tickets for the roofed VIP stand, with one for my regular taxi driver (a Nigerian who stayed on when ECOMOG left) since the game was held at the Chinese stadium just outside Monrovia and I would be guaranteed a ride back into town after the match. Like most authorities UNMIL were instinctively nervous about football and did not want a mob in the city centre; the police had themselves rioted a few weeks earlier. We were conspicuous in the VIP stand until George Weah arrived with his sons and their friends to a great cheer from the crowd. His Congress for Democratic Change party would wipe the board in Monrovia, although he lost in the presidential run-offs against the West’s favourite Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (a result that seemed fixed to me). There was a spectacular downpour just before the scheduled kick-off, which did little to improve the pitch. Liberia almost scored from the onset, but the Liberian forward seemed as surprised as everyone else to find the ball at his feet on the edge of the penalty area and the ball was still rising as it went out of the stadium. And that was it, Congo won 2-0. George Weah kindly came over to chat at half-time, we talked about football and forestry.  While living in Monrovia I caught up – somewhat belatedly for sure – with the reach and influence of football. Football replica shirts were everywhere (Arsenal and Barcelona seemed most popular – in part for the colours, in part for their African contingents – but Newcastle too), and the day after the 2005 Champions league final the kids on the Mamba Point beach were mimicking Jerzy Dudek’s antics. In early 2007 I was with a FAO team working on an agricultural strategy and we were travelling from Ganta on the border with Guinea down to Harper in the south-east bordering the Cote d’Ivoire. On the map it looks like a major road, in parts after Zwedru it was literally little more than a logging trail. South of Fish Town we stopped in a small hamlet to stretch our legs: the Ghanaian agronomist and I heard the telltale throb of a generator and found in the tin-roofed shack about 20 good folk enjoying a cool drink and a Premier League game pirated off a DSTV satellite.

With hindsight the arc of my football viewing life has coincided with the demise of the “semi-feudal” management of football – described by Jon Henderson in When Footballers Were Skint – to today’s late neoliberal capitalism phase characterised by inequalities of wealth, income, opportunity and outcome amongst nations, clubs and footballers. I have written before about ending clubs’ ownership of players as one step to counter corruption and fraud in the game. What was one-upmanship (play-acting) has morphed into shithousery and is as prevalent in the Premier League as in the World Cup: VAR and post-game reviews will help but at the end its down to supporters. I remember a game at the Valley in the 1998–1999 season when a Charlton player was rolling about on the ground near the touch-line; he was told to get back on his feet and back into the game by the home fans in the East Stand.

Football as a game that has not changed, unlike cricket and rugby. Maybe it is time. Here are some thoughts on how to incentivize goal scoring and better behavior:

  1. Play two 30 minutes halves of real time (kept by 4th referee). This will reduce time-wasting during substitutions or injuries feigned or otherwise.
  2. Ban passing back over the halfway line (as in basketball).
  3. Revise the offside rules: a player can only be offside in a penalty area during open play, and in the area any player forward of the ball is offside.
  4. No more extra time. This seems to increase injuries and is rarely a great spectacle. If the game is not decided in regulation time, decide the game on shoots on goal.
  5. Replace yellow cards with 5 minutes in a sin bin, keeping a red card for repeat sin bin bookings and serious misconduct. Managers and supporters will be more than peeved if players are off the pitch while the opposition is scoring.


There are some great graphics in The Guardian illustrating the points about inequality:


Plus 48% (47.8% – don’t you just love those decimals) of the England squad are the sons of migrants.

Marina Hyde writes

Shame on the politicians looking at this sweltering hot, heady summer of football and thinking: “Ooh, this would totally be enhanced by a general election”

And the contrarian Chris Dillow gently reminds us what Gareth Southgate’s success show us, not least our underestimatation of our of cognitive biases

Great success is largely unpredictable. Pundits and experts know less than they pretend…

Things might have turned out very differently for England. We might well have lost the penalty shoot-out against Colombia: David Ospina came close to saving all the penalties. And even a mediocre Swedish team might have got a result were it not for some great saves by Pickford.



Forest Monitor

Dr. Alan Grainger, from the University of Leeds, has questioned whether the popular assertions about deforestation are valid. He acknowledges that deforestation is occurring, but examining FAO time-series data he has found a number of errors and inconsistencies, but no long-term net decline in tropical forest area. His findings are mirrored by recent satellite data. He calls for an international effort to monitor tropical forest trends through the establishment of an independent body. Strengthening national forest agencies is essential, but the difficulties are less about the statistics than interpreting the data and trends. Querying deforestation is not new: James Fairhead and Melissa Leach have been the forefront of those comparing international perspectives, orthodoxies, forestry & conservation programmes with local narratives. In “Reframing Deforestation: Global analysis and local realities: studies in West Africa” (Routledge, 1998), they write:

the extent of forest loss during the twentieth century has been vastly exaggerated. Much so-called deforestation either took place much earlier, or has not taken place at all since the areas in question have not carried in historical times…much of the forest that has been lost during the twentieth century, and indeed much of that remains, covered land which had been populated and farmed…on the northern margins, it has on the contrary sometimes been people, their settlement and land use which has been responsible for the development of forest vegetation where it was previously lacking.

Similarly, there has been increasing understanding of the importance of forest regrowth in Central and Latin America since the mid-1990s, and that in many regions secondary forests are an integral part of land use systems.

These are important insights that will determine the success of efforts to reduce deforestation. First, whose voice counts in deciding areas to be supported and the form that support will take, and second how these processes will be monitored and supervised?


Some of the practical difficulties can be seen in Liberia. The first map shows the extent of present forest cover. The new forest law gives an unprecedented institutional role to communities and civil society in the management of the country’s forests. Communities must be consulted about all forest land use decisions. 30% of forest lands are to be set aside in protected areas with financing from a share (10%) of stumpage and forest product fees. Communities also share revenues from commercial forestry, with 30% of land rental fees distributed to directly affected communities and another 30% shared between all 15 counties. Forest management contracts are subject to an annual financial audit and rolling 5-yearly performance checks. But rebuilding both the state forestry department and ensuring that civil society groups are equipped to support communities is a long-term process, not least in a country emerging from civil conflict.


The second map – – based on satellite imagery — shows an interpretation of land use change with the darker areas indicating forest loss. But land use change needs to be verified at the local level to indicate for example whether the change is occurring as a part of bush fallow cultivation, or land clearance. The flux in land tenure adds to these difficulties. See the Liberia Forest Initiative for reports. As reported by Rights & Resources many initial carbon trading schemes have shown little community ownership and benefit.There is no template to fit the differing forest characteristics and political institutions of tropical countries, but common standards (most probably drawn from forest certification and EITI experience) are needed, in order the monitoring and evaluation required for financial intermediaries.

Since much of the financing for carbon trading will come from private investors, the experience of the recent financial market instability may prove salutary if the corrections and new regulatory institutions are put in place. The extent of the debacle is widely recognised.

Globalization, thy name is Wall Street bailout…less than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the West’s gleeful jig dancing on the grave of communism, state capitalism is suddenly threatening the autonomy of the global “free” market. Wall Street’s elite banks, long time freedom fighters for deregulation and scorners of all government intervention in the marketplace, are now begging, cup in hand, for aid from a gallery of regimes that includes some of the most authoritarian and undemocratic governments on the planet…Perhaps it would be more accurate to say freer markets lost the day. The root of Wall Street’s woes leads back directly to their own strategic missteps, greed, speculation-run-amok, and lack of appropriate supervision.The brightest minds in finance had exactly what they wanted, a play ground where the monitors were looking the other way, and they blew it.

Similar points are made in The Independent. The FT reminds us that the US banking system has enjoyed four bailouts in the past three decades, namely the crises over developing country debt, saving and loans, commercial property in early 90s, and today’s sub-prime and securitised credit mess. This amounts to “a history of privatising gains and socialising losses.” (See for example: the US$66 billion staff pay costs of the big US investment banks).

There are inherent difficulties in the regulation and supervision of an industry which is driven by spectacular profits. But a more robust system will need to be in place if there is to be confidence in carbon trading as a financial transaction as well as a means to prevent forest loss. How far should regulation go: “The question the authorities need to ask themselves is simple: if a specific [financial] institution fell into substantial difficulty would they have to intervene?” only answers the first part of the question. How to monitor forest governance is the second part. If tropical forests have global public good properties then putting in place institutions – at local, national & international levels – for monitoring and verifying forest condition and international public and private financial transfers, including supporting civil society, in poor countries is a prerequisite.

Adventurers, explorers and writers

Adventurers and explorers have also often been good writers. Many early travellers in the first part of the twentieth century were prompted by their schoolboy reading (they were predominantly men, Sybille Bedford being an exception), and most are characterised by the degree of amateurishness and almost comic incompetence in their preparations.

A classic example was Graham Greene – looking for a ‘blank’ space – who walked across Liberia in 1934 with several crates of whisky and his cousin Barbara. It was their first trip outside Europe. She hardly got a mention in his book “Journey Without Maps” (1935) but wrote her own account of this extraordinary trip some years later. For Greene this was to prove a defining journey in terms of his future work, sandwiched between his first commercial successes (Stamboul Train and A Gun for Sale). The book records both what he experienced and his emotions during the 4 week trek from the border with Sierra Leone to the coast.

Greene’s perceptive contemporaneous observations reflect his background and the age in which he lived. At almost same time the self-taught Patrick Leigh Fermor was setting out as 18-year old on a year-long walk across Europe to Constantinople. But his travelogues “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water” were not written until four decades later, and perhaps reflect the experiences of a full life. Continue reading “Adventurers, explorers and writers”

Fellow travellers

Not having visited the tropics has not been seen as a drawback for a number of writers who have written ‘rainforest’ novels. Jenny Diski who wrote “Rainforest” (1987) – which is a fine novel – happily admits that for her research she visited London’s Kew Gardens.

Earlier, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle’s action-adventure stories found inspiration in nineteenth century travelogues and the popular interest given to scientific discoveries, including Darwin’s Origin of Species. Similarly, their stories also caught the imagination of the public. Verne´s “Le Radeau” [The Giant Raft] (1881) is set in the Peruvian Amazon, and Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” (1912), a forerunner of Jurassic Park, is loosely located in the northern Amazonian region.

But other ‘outsiders’ have had a varying degree of success in their evocation of tropical forests. Evelyn Waugh’s “Handful of Dust” (1934) which includes a ludicrous detour to the Amazon to resolve the protagonists’ marital problems is one of his best-forgotten novels. If Waugh’s Tony and Brenda Last’s moral compass is wonky, the eponymous hero of Brian Hennigan´s comedy “Patrick Robertson: A Tale of Adventure” (2006) is happily unencumbered by any moral dilemmas. The Thai jungle provides a backdrop to this frankly preposterous but very amusing tale of an utterly self-centred salesman, lured in a hotel bar and kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group (the self-styled People’s Earth Friendly Liberation Group) having mistaken him for his namesake from the IMF. Continue reading “Fellow travellers”