All posts by Lukasz Chomicki

Fantasy sport – all you need to know

From its humble beginnings in 1960s California, fantasy sport has become a worldwide phenomenon driven in recent years by the development of digital technology.

According to Fantasy Sport Trade Association, about 57 million Americans played fantasy NFL in 2015 and it’s expected that this number will rise to about 75 million in the next two seasons.

To put that into perspective, about 129 million people took part in the last US election, so you can see just how popular fantasy sport has become in the US.

Of course, in the UK and other countries around the world, the preferred option for fantasy sport fans is ‘proper’ football (or soccer as it’s known to Americans).

Celebrity enthusiasts include Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe who told USA Today’s ‘For The Win’ fantasy sports site that his team is called ‘Barkevious Mingo’s Mum’ which sounds like a pub Quiddich team.

Origins

Invented by a man called Wilfred Winkenbach in 1961, fantasy sport’s basic concept is easily adapted to a variety of sports.

According to their Facebook page, The Footie – Original Fantasy Football League: “The first game of fantasy football in Britain took place on 14th August 1971 and was created by a man called Bernie Donnelly.”

That concept is very simple. Applied to football, you get a certain budget, and with it you buy 11 players plus substitutes. The better the player, the more expensive they are.

Each week, the team you select will win or lose you points depending on their performances and actions. For example, if you’re playing Diego Costa and he scores a goal you’ll get points but if he gets a yellow card you will lose some.

With Costa, both are of course highly likely. Your earned points are then matched up against other players in your league. Some leagues are just for fun; others offer cash prizes.

Benefits

Fantasy football gives you the chance to pit you football nous against both friends and strangers alike.

Can you be the manager who’s most successful at swapping players in and out of their team depending on the opposition, players’ form, injuries and disciplinary records?

It gives you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a team boss, but without the constant pressure of media scrutiny, criticism from ‘expert’ pundits and know-it-all fans, or interference from unreasonable chairmen.

The only stick you are likely to get is from your mates when that player you dropped to the bench in your team goes and scores a hat-trick, while his replacement gets sent off.

Choosing a fantasy sport

There’s a multitude of ways of playing fantasy sport in the UK, but clearly the most popular ones involve football.

The Premier league has its own official portal but there are also many newspapers such as The Mirror, The Sun, The Telegraph etc. which heave their own fantasy football leagues.

Which one you choose depends on which outlet you prefer, and possibly which one offers the best rewards for successful managers.

There is plenty of variety in fantasy sport

Yahoo provides Fantasy Sport games for cricket, golf, NBA and many others.

There are plenty of other websites. A lot of them will encourage you to bet on your players and teams.

While I’m neither for nor against gambling, if you find you have a knack for fantasy sport there could be some profit in it for you.

Rivalries

For those who are very passionate about football rivalries there can be a trap.

A few years ago, when Luis Suarez was still at Liverpool and scoring goals for fun, many rival fans hated him for it but also loved to have him in their teams earning points for them.

Countless Manchester United or Everton supporters didn’t know whether to love him or loathe him. Their confused and conflicted faces was a beautiful sight to behold.

Whatever your motivation for playing, fantasy sport has been here for a while now and is likely to just get bigger with more players signing up and more leagues available every year.

Whether it’s for fun, to beat your mates, or even – if you’re good enough and lucky enough – for profit, it immerses us in our favourite sports and brings out the manager/pundit/expert in all of us. Or not, depending on your score…

Five inspirational London Marathon stories

Running a marathon is a ruthless test of endurance.

It challenges the fit and healthy, but can also inspire those with disabilities and serious health problems to achieve astounding feats of courage and determination.

Nowhere is this seen more than in the annual London Marathon, which regularly features stories of amazing achievements by people battling against unbelievable odds.

With the 2017 edition coming up on April 23rd, we look at some of the most memorable competitors in recent years.

Eddie Kidd

Kidd’s career as a stunt motorcyclist spanned over 23 years and included many death-defying leaps. He also worked as Pierce Brosnan’s stunt double on the James Bond movie Goldeneye.

Tragically, a stunt he attempted in August 1996 left him paralysed and brain damaged. However, 15 years later, at the age of 50, the former daredevil attempted what he described as his “greatest stunt yet” – completing the London Marathon.

Raising money for the Children with Cancer UK charity, the original plan was for Kidd to do the race in a wheelchair but he ditched it before the race in favour of a specially-designed walking frame.

Managing less than a mile a day, it took 50 days to reach the finish on the Mall, raising around £72,000.

John Fisher

Minor symptoms such as numbness in his fingers and leg cramps prompted Fisher, a DJ,  to visit his doctor. He was stunned after test revealed he had a leak in the aortic valve in his heart that was so serious he needed a transplant.

Fisher was warned that even if a donor organ was found and the operation was successful, he would probably have another five years to live at most.

Initially unsure whether he even wanted to go ahead with the procedure, he signed up for it and, in July 2000, with his health deteriorating, a donor was found. After a 10-hour operation, the 38-year-old woke up feeling 20 years younger.

Just 10 months later, Fisher took part in his first active event: the Harefield Hospital Jog. He carried on running in small events until one day someone suggested that he should take part in the London Marathon.

When he checked with his doctor whether it was safe to attempt a distance of 26 miles, the answer was: “You can’t possibly run a marathon. And here’s 20 quid sponsorship!”

And so his marathon tale began. Since swearing ‘never again’ following his first London run, Fisher has gone on to complete 23 marathons, including 15 in the capital.

He’s always keen to stress, however, that his story has two heroes – the second being his donor Steven Tibbey. He died aged just 23 and as well as his heart, also donated his pancreas, kidneys and liver, saving five lives in total.

Phil Packer

At the age of 36 and after serving in the army for 20 years, Major Philip Packer was badly hurt during a rocket attack in Basra, Iraq, in February 2008.

After being crushed by an army vehicle he has badly damaged his heart and ribs as well as receiving severe damage to his spinal cord. He was told he’d never walk again.

The extent of his injuries left him devastated. “There were some very dark days in recovery. Days when I considered whether I had a future,” he recalled.

Packer was feeling alone and isolated but also kept setting himself small challenges with the ultimate goal being regaining body function.

After months of heavy rehabilitation and physiotherapy, he slowly but surely begun showing signs progress. So much progress in fact that in February 2009, just one year after his accident he rowed the English Channel.

Packer set himself a goal of raising £1m for wounded service personnel by taking part in active charity events. To achieve this, he signed up for the 2009 London Marathon. He would take part in the event walking on crutches.

Doctors agreed but recommended that he only walk two miles a day, and also said it would be an immensely difficult feat.

Before the marathon, Packer was asked about his approach to it, and said: “In my mind, those 26.2 miles are already completed. Simple as that. I’m still a serving officer in the army, and I want to give something back.

“Hopefully the public will see that, and want to donate. I want to raise £1 million by the end of the marathon, and then ask ‘What’s the next challenge?”

After 13 days of striving and sheer determination, Packer crossed the finishing line. The marathon alone raised £762,000. Since then, Packer started the British Inspiration Trust and carried on taking part in active events to keep raising money.

Michael Watson

Watson has enjoyed a successful career as a professional boxer during the mid-80, winning 25 fights and only losing four.

In 1991 however, during his WBO super middleweight title fight at White Hart Lane against Chris Eubank, he was knocked unconscious and left with severe brain  damage.

After 40 days in a coma and six operations, Watson, who was just 26 at the time, awoke to the bad news from the doctors that he would never walk again.

They predicted that it would take months for him to regain speech and any sort of movement ability. Watson spent the next six years using a wheelchair but never gave up hope.

When he told his doctor about the idea of taking part in the 2003 London Marathon, the medic was shocked and thought it was impossible. But he also knew that Watson’s determination knew no bounds and gave him the go-ahead.

It took a great deal of effort for Watson to even take a step and but he walked the marathon route two miles in the morning and two miles in the afternoon.

He rested in a double-decker bus that accompanied him throughout, and after six days, he completed the famous course.

“What I did drained me physically, but I was so electrified by this experience,” said Watson after the event.

Watson’s marathon undertaking raised millions of pounds for the Brain and Spine Foundation. In addition, he was also awarded the Helen Rollason Award at the 2003 BBC Sports Personality show. He was also one of the torch bearers for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

One of the reasons for the extent of his brain damage was that oxygen wasn’t available at ringside after he was knocked out. His plight marked a turning point in Boxing health and safety, making the sport much less dangerous for future athletes.

It’s also worth pointing out that Watson bears no hate or resentment towards Eubank, who called his London Marathon achievement “a miraculous feat of human endeavour”.

Claire Lomas

Claire Lomas was an accomplished three-day eventer until a riding accident in 2007  in which she collided with a tree.

It left her with a punctured lung, broken neck and spine, and fractured ribs, leaving left her paralysed from the chest down.

Claire’s story is a unique one however because unlike the others mentioned above, she never managed to learn to walk again, at least not on her own.

She can however walk with the help of a bionic ReWalk suit and crutches.

Claire Lomas in training

After her accident, Claire undertook numerous fund-raising campaigns in order to raise money to buy the equipment that would allow her to do the marathon.

It took five years of and lots of painful training for Claire to even consider that she was ready to take on the London Marathon.

“There were times when I questioned whether I would make it when I was training. Once I started, I just took each day as it came – every step got me a step closer.”

Eventually in 2012, Claire became the first person to complete the race using a ReWalk suit. Accompanied by her mother, husband and daughter, she completed the marathon 16 days after starting out.

“It was really emotional and I couldn’t believe the support – I’m still in shock, really. The last half a mile or so was pretty easy to walk because I had everyone just pushing me forward.”

Claire’s participation raised around £233,000 for spinal research via the Just Giving website.

Is the Chinese Super League football’s next superpower?

Chinese football is on the rise and flexing its financial muscle.

China’s rulers want the nation to make its mark in the global game, and the ultimate aim is to both host and win the World Cup.

To drive up standards domestically, Chinese Super League clubs are luring high-profile players and managers to the Far East with big transfer fees and even bigger salaries.

This has set alarm bells ringing in Europe’s leading leagues, who are used to being the No.1 destination for the world’s best footballing talent.

Brazilian international midfielder Oscar is a case in point. Shanghai SIPG paid Chelsea a reported £60m for the 25-year-old and are paying him around £400,000 a week

It’s unlikely that any British or continental club would have paid so much for his services. When Chelsea bought Oscar from Internacional in 2012, the fee was around £25m.

Money talks

The problem (as ever) lies in money, but how much blame can be attached to China for this latest inflation of the transfer global market?

Looking at the recent history of football, the Premier League and La Liga have been pulling off this stunt for years. Prime examples include:

  • Ronaldo – £83.7M transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid

    paul_pogba
    Paul Pogba is the current most expensive player in the world
  • Paul Pogba – £89M transfer from Juventus to Manchester United
  • Luis Suarez – £75M transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona
  • Gareth Bale – £85.3M transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid
  • Neymar – £71.5M transfer from Santos to Barcelona

The list of blockbusting moves goes on and on.

There appears to be an emerging pattern where every decade or so, a rich league emerges and snatches up players from “less rich” ones.

Obviously, the Premier League is not in the poor house, so it’s more a case of millionaire/billionaire club owners trying to outspend each other.

Players can only benefit financially from this transfers-and-salaries arms race. Fans in Europe and elsewhere, meanwhile, may begin to see more of their idols being seduced away by Chinese wealth.

Carlos Tevez, 33, joined Shanghai Shenhua from Boca Juniors earlier this year on a reported salary of over £600,000 a week.

Clearly, this kind of offer it too good for any footballer to turn down if they’re nearing the end of their career.

Chinese football are just the latest – but won’t be the last – of the big spenders. They’re giving the Premier League and La Liga a taste of their own medicine and it appears to be quite bitter.

Realising potential

It may still be some time before China can appeal to the very best players of the game. There have been were rumours all over the media about the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski being approached by Chinese clubs, but they decided to stay in Europe.

Sure, the sumslavezzi potentially on offer need thinking about, but it’s likely their decisions were influenced by both personal and professional considerations.

Whatever the riches available in China, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League remain more prestigious and popular, while Europe’s Champions League is seen as the ultimate club competition.

In February 2016, Ezequiel Lavezzi (pictured) joined Hebei China Fortune. His transfer fee was undisclosed but it’s reported that he earns up to £493,000 a week.

His new club also provided him with two houses, two cars, a cook and a driver.

Upon his arrival, the former PSG attacker was dubbed as ‘the next Maradona’. But after being injured on international duty, his 10 games for HCF yielded three assists and no goals.

The Argentine forward, once of Napoli and PSG, was only 30 when he moved, but will career ever hit the heights again? Would he have been better off – professionally if not financially – staying in Europe?

Importing class

How long can this Chinese-inspired transfer-and-salaries bubble continue to grow before it surely bursts?

Given China’s enormous wealth and resources, it will take a change of heart by its political leadership to rein in the spending by CSL clubs.

“The Chinese FA have quickly realised that the fees  and wages being paid are spiralling out of control”

As with the 2008 Olympic Games, football is seen as a good national investment and a chance to improve their country’s reputation and standing on the global stage.

Having a more prestigious league will certainly boost the chances of China hosting a future World Cup, with the home advantage that entails.

The import of world-class players from outside of Asia could also inspire young players there to take more interest in the sport.

However, the Chinese FA have quickly realised that the fees  and wages being paid are spiralling out of control.

In order to keep spending in check, they are planning on introducing a transfer cap. This means that if a team spends more than €30M on a player they will face a huge tax bill on top.

This revenue would be used to fund Chinese football’s youth development. The scheme is known as the “18-point program”.

Superpower?

China is still a long way from becoming a footballing superpower but it can’t be ruled out.

First, it needs to establish itself within its own continent and region before it has any chance of realising ambitions on the world stage.

“China have only ever qualified for Fifa’s showcase finals once before, in 2002”

The most successful Chinese team in the Asian Champions League is Guangzhou Evergrande, having won the competition only twice.

Their victories are recent, however (2013, 2017), meaning they might be a team on the rise, but certainly not quite there yet.

There is also a lack of legacy and history in Chinese football which is something that cant’t be bought. It needs to be produced and achieved and takes decades to accomplish.

Most telling in terms of its World Cup ambitions, China have only ever qualified for Fifa’s showcase finals once before, in 2002.

It’s going to take a lot of progress at home for its national team to achieve those ambitions.

London 2017 World Athletics Championships Podcast

This summer, the London Stadium in Stratford will host the 2017 World Athletics and ParaAthletics Championships.

These will be the biggest and most prestigious athletics events staged at the venue since the glory days of the 2012 Olympic Games.

But how many people are actually aware that the Championships are coming to the capital in August?

Crystal Davis and Lucas Chomicki visited the Queen Elizabeth Park, home of the London Stadium, to ask people there about the 2017 Worlds.

These events should be the highest-profile entries on the UK’s sporting calendar this year, but are they still flying under the radar with less than six months to go?

Elephant Sport Podcast – The Rise of Online Streaming

Mike Newell and Lucas Chomicki investigate why more sports fans are turning to internet streaming to watch live events.

The increasing availability of illegal feeds is a growing problem for broadcasters anxious to protect their multi-billion pound investments in sports rights.

Sky and BT Sport paid £5.1bn between them for the current Premier League deal, but what happens when fans aren’t prepared to pay for what they view?

This vox pop features anonymous interviewees because of the subject under discussion.

 

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Indoor climbing – why it rocks

I’m a person who tends to enjoy the security of walking on solid ground and not having to use my hands to get from point A to point B.

So when a friend who does indoor rock climbing (or bouldering to give this particular form its proper name) began asking me to come along and give it a go, I initially declined.

But he was nothing if not persistent, and I eventually gave in. Even then, I thought it would be something I’d have to endure for an hour or so then never have to do it again. But how wrong I was…

To my surprise, I actually found myself having fun. Yes, it was difficult and physically demanding but, at the same time, also very enjoyable.

No strings attached

The venue for my introduction to the sport was The Climbing Hangar in Chelsea.

As a first-timer, I had to fill in a waiver form and watch a mini-tutorial video. After that it was just a matter of putting on some special climbing shoes and we were on our way.

The Climbing Hangar has three levels, each filled with colourful grip rocks. In the middle of one is a climbing column which is a good change of pace after scaling the many strangely-shaped walls.

Inside The Wall Hangar

Before arriving, I’d envisaged being festooned with a variety of ropes, clips and harnesses in order to make our way up these obstacles.

But that turned out to be not the case as your feet are never higher than three metres off the ground. In addition, the floors are padded so it’s all perfectly safe.

Also, rather than climbing upwards, we traversed sideways along the walls, with the main challenge being to figure out where to put your hands and feet next in order to get from one end to the other.

Each route has a different colour indicating how difficult it is. Every few weeks the routes and colours will change, so regular visitors face fresh challenges.

Starting off at beginners’ level, I grabbed the closest rock and proceeded to move to my left-hand side.

My friend was watching me while cracking jokes such as “Don’t look down!” (I was half a metre off the ground) and “You’re an absolute rock star!” which didn’t help, but I spent at least two minutes without touching the ground on my first try alone.

After that my confidence grew and I began to genuinely enjoy myself. We moved onto the harder walls, a few of which I conquered.

Easily, the most fun part was when the grip rocks were so far apart, the only way to grab onto the next rock was by jumping and trying to catch it. After my third attempt I caught it but didn’t grip properly and fell.

Two more tries later, I got it right. The leap made me feel like superhero… well, a semi-super hero.

Intense 

Another of my misconceptions was that climbing is all about upper-body strength, but there is so much more to it than just that.

For example, it’s important to remember that whenever you can, you have to push with your legs rather than pull with your arms. I suppose it’s basic common sense as legs are a lot stronger than arms, and it’s all about spreading the energy used across the whole body.

The amount of aching I experienced the next day told me that I got a really good workout in my first experience of bouldering.

I have to admit I discovered a lot of muscles I never knew even existed through this pain, but that’s fantastic because I would never have exercised them at the gym.

 Where and how much

The Climbing Hangar is only one of  climbing centres in London. Just to name a few, there’s also Vauxwall in Vauxhall, the Castle Climbing Centre and Geckos Climbing for Kids which are both in Stoke Newington and Westway Climbing in White City.

The costs for one session usually range between £7-£10 depending on the centre and the time you go.

There are also membership packages. It’s well worth the price and I recommend it to anyone of any age and ability.

If you need any more incentive to try rock climbing, then a lot of these places offer taster sessions which are cheaper than standard prices.

For more information on where to go climbing in London, check out this web article. Also check out the website for the Association of British Climbing Walls.

Six Reasons why FIFA keeps outselling PES

FIFA is like the popular kid at school. It barely tries to impress, treats most people like crap but remains loved by everyone.

Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) is like one of those perfectly nice but awkward kids that resorts to giving away free sweets just for a moment of attention while always somehow remaining unnoticed.

According to analyst Daniel Ahmad’s Twitter feed, FIFA 17 has sold 40 times more copies than PES 17, having shifted more than 1.1 million units while PES couldn’t even reach 50k. It’s a pattern that been repeated in recent year. Here’s a few reasons why this might be:

Licences: While FIFA has the rights to all the official club and player names, PES has to improvise. Classic examples include: London FC (Chelsea), Hampshire Red (Southampton) and my personal favourite, Man Blue (Man City). Bonus example: back in the day Cafu’s name was Facu.

Peer pressure: If I went out and bought PES I’d have no-one to play it with because everyone else has FIFA. The EA Sports game has become the norm and it feels like this snowball is just getting bigger and bigger.

The name: I don’t have to go out and do a survey to know that about 99% of British fans call the beautiful game football, not soccer. This is a pretty serious deal. I have seen armies of keyboard warriors threaten anyone who disagrees. I think Konami would be taken more seriously if they called it Pro Evolution Football but I guess PEF doesn’t quite have the same ring as PES.

Game play: The fast pace and easy scoring always made PES feel like an arcade game while FIFA’s painstaking attention to detail, steady gameplay and genuine feeling of accomplishment after scoring  gives it more of a simulator vibe.

Barcelona: The main selling point for PES 17 is its licence for Barcelona. As great as this is, it’s a well-known fact that if you’re playing with a friend or online and you pick Barcelona you will be labelled as someone with no skill whatsoever. I know this because I quite often play as Barcelona.

Soundtracks: Both games have always had decent soundtracks but FIFA always seems to have the edge by including more songs. This is especially helpful when you’re spending hours and hours playing career mode. Listening to the same 11 songs on PES while playing a 40+ matches season can become more than tedious.

From a personal standpoint I prefer FIFA simply because it’s something that I’m more accustomed to. The last Pro Evolution Soccer instalment I owned was 14.

As mentioned in my second point, FIFA is a game that’s played by all my friends and their minds are made up as much as mine. Even if I’d want to give the new PES a try I don’t really fancy spending £55 on a game I’m sceptical about, and there’s no-one I could borrow it from. There’s always demos but I feel they never give a big enough picture and feel of the game.

Can it ever change?

I have seen a lot of people on social media who don’t think FIFA 17 is that great. The main criticisms were that player statistics don’t work properly (Messi outjumping Ibrahimović for a header or Mertesacker keeping pace with Sterling?) and set-piece play becoming unnecessarily complicated.

Even the new ‘Journey’ mode has been criticised for being only one season long.

In addition, Pro Evolution Soccer 17 has received very positive reviews overall and its overall score was lower than FIFA only by a tiny margin.

Maybe this year could be the turning point in the football gaming industry where the unnoticed kid at school finally gets their lucky break….