Skin in the game at Lisbon Web Summit

I almost called this column ‘lessons learned at the Web Summit’, but that would clearly be the wrong term: learnings or takeaways are far more appropriate terms.

Skin in the game at Lisbon Web Summit

Not all of those were coding- or app-related either.

In Lisbon last week at the tech conference, one of the most striking aspects — for this observer — was the stunning complexions of players like Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes, whose skincare regimes appear to be light years ahead of their contemporaries in practically every field.

The two former Portugal internationals were among several former professionals soccer players who were touting the virtues of start-up companies they’re associated with, but in fairness to that pair, at least they were consistent and coherent, discussing Benfica’s attempts to compete with bigger clubs.

By contrast, the likes of Luis Figo and Ronaldinho looked for all the world like listless millionaires feeling obliged to namecheck a casual plaything. As if. When Figo droned out “Football is passion” even I had to make my excuses and leave.

Your columnist had the good fortune to meet former NFL stars Greg Jennings and Terrell Owens, though. Jennings certainly takes the prize as the single human being — of all the masses I have ever met — who gave off the strongest impression of perfect physical health. Even his beard radiated vitality, and he was very good company.

Unfortunately I missed my initial rendezvous with Owens, who spent half an hour waiting in vain for me at one part of the vast Web Summit campus. Mr Owens tops out about six-three and about 230lbs (104kgs), most of which he seems to carry in his biceps. He was easily one of the most visible presences at the Summit, but yours truly misread his email and gave him a 50, as we say in Cork. I thought the big man might be cross, but he was a laidback, friendly presence when we talked (“Bring it in, my man”).

Amid the novelty, some old challenges remain.

I was impressed by the La Liga stand, complete with life-size cutouts of current stars, glossy brochures, etc — but on closer inspection of those brochures, once you moved past the LaLigaVirtualArena (“Maximum control of every move”) and LaLigaStats, I noted LaLigaLaQuiniela — an app “aimed at all those who want to bet at any time and any place”. The brochure goes on to wish players well in hitting the jackpot, but seemed a little jarring to have the gambling element so central to La Liga’s marketing approach.

Another vexed question was raised superbly by former Olympic swimmers Nikki Dryden and Alison Wagner — Wagner pointed out, for instance, the toll taken on ‘clean’ sportspeople who finish in the wake of doping athletes, while Dryden wondered how specific to female sport doping is, particularly state-sponsored doping.

She cited the systematic East German and Chinese programmes which tended to focus on female athletes to support her thesis.

Just as technology could be ‘blamed’ for gambling and doping, however, other conversations in Lisbon suggested tech could also help to address those problems. Dryden and Wagner were vocal about the positive implications of wearable tech in combatting performance-enhancing drugs, for instance: maybe the future isn’t just millions of robots taking all our jobs (that hypothesis left quite the impression on me).

Baseball stats guru Bill James was also at the Summit, speaking at the Sportstrade stage. Though it may be heresy to say it, this observer felt he seemed slightly weary of discussing esoteric aspects of baseball calculation.

As an avid fan of his book on well-known murders in the US, Popular Crime, I thoroughly enjoyed his chat with Jim Carroll on the Banter Stage, which focused less on the Boston Red Sox and more on the Boston Strangler. Perhaps bloody killing is just a natural next step for sportswriters everywhere. James’s reaction to a pointed question about the Tipperary hurlers’ statistical support, however, is something I intend to return to in some detail.

Governance in sport under the microscope

Among the many points raised in conversations had by this writer at the Web Summit: governance in sport.

Don’t fall asleep. This is an area that you can expect to hear a good deal more about in the next couple of years.

If you doubt me, consider these words: the Olympic Council of Ireland.

Where governance in sport goes in the near to medium future is something you’ll be reading about here in the next couple of weeks.

For the right reasons, hopefully.

Sorry GAA, it’s strictly business

If you know me you know I love the old existential questions, particularly if they come without Gauloises or Pernod. I’m not that committed.

Tadhg Kennelly’s words in last Saturday’s Irish Examiner posed quite the self-examination, particularly his comments about Australian Rules ‘poaching’ players from the GAA.

Kennelly pointed out to John Fogarty of this parish that in facilitating the movement of players to AFL clubs he was only doing what soccer and rugby are doing, and have been doing, lo these many years.

It was a remark that — to this observer — untangled a lot of the dithering on this subject. Is it unfair of those professional clubs to pluck a player developed by decades of coaching given by unpaid volunteers and to benefit from that coaching with no financial compensation?

Yes. But at the risk of sounding negative (surely some mistake — everyone) what recourse is there, really? There’s a reason the professional game is different to the amateur code no matter what the actual sport is: it’s not show friends, it’s show business.

Even in soccer and rugby, where ascending to the professional ranks is viewed by some as the ultimate in success, there are plenty of stories of clubs disgruntled by a player moving up the ladder and away, with the club getting nothing for its work in preparing him.

Thus the AFL teams. The mistake is in seeing this as a transaction from the Irish end of the deal, because it’s only a transaction from the Australian viewpoint. From the Irish side there are no receipts, no refunds, and no comebacks.

Maoris win new fans

Respect to the New Zealand Maori team for presenting Anthony Foley’s sons with a special jersey last Friday evening. Captain Ash Dixon handed the jersey over to the two boys before kick-off in Thomond Park to thunderous applause. It was the perfect gesture: bravo Dixon and his men, and whoever came up with the idea.

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