London 2012 medal tally by use of capital punishment

At the end of the Olympic Games, people like to play around with medal tallies ordered or weighted in a variety of (dis)interesting ways. Here’s mine:

Country has death penalty Gold Silver Bronze
No 192 211 254
Yes 110 93 102

The part of the world that does not legally kill its citizens is victorious! So, is removing an archaic form of justice the secret to Olympic success? It’s not quite that simple. The top two nations in the general tally are also in this illustrious list:

Country with DP Gold Silver Bronze
United States 46 29 29
China 38 27 22
Japan 7 14 17
Cuba 5 3 6
Iran 4 5 3
North Korea 4 0 2
Ethiopia 3 1 3
Belarus 2 5 5
Uganda 1 0 0
India 0 2 4
Thailand 0 2 1
Egypt 0 2 0
Indonesia 0 1 1
Malaysia 0 1 1
Botswana 0 1 0
Qatar 0 0 2
Singapore 0 0 2
Afghanistan 0 0 1
Bahrain 0 0 1
Kuwait 0 0 1
Saudi Arabia 0 0 1
Total 110 93 102

The USA and China give the off-with-their-heads mob it a great start, but they can’t compete with the sheer number of little-nations-that-could in this enlightened tally:

Country without DP Gold Silver Bronze
Great Britain 29 17 19
Russian Federation 24 25 33
South Korea 13 8 7
Germany 11 19 14
France 11 11 12
Italy 8 9 11
Hungary 8 4 5
Australia 7 16 12
Kazakhstan 7 1 5
Netherlands 6 6 8
Ukraine 6 5 9
New Zealand 6 3 5
Jamaica 4 4 4
Czech Republic 4 3 3
Spain 3 10 4
Brazil 3 5 9
South Africa 3 2 1
Croatia 3 1 2
Romania 2 5 2
Kenya 2 4 5
Denmark 2 4 3
Azerbaijan 2 2 6
Poland 2 2 6
Turkey 2 2 1
Switzerland 2 2 0
Lithuania 2 1 2
Norway 2 1 1
Canada 1 5 12
Sweden 1 4 3
Colombia 1 3 4
Georgia 1 3 3
Mexico 1 3 3
Ireland 1 1 3
Argentina 1 1 2
Serbia 1 1 2
Slovenia 1 1 2
Tunisia 1 1 1
Dominican Republic 1 1 0
Trinidad and Tobago 1 0 3
Uzbekistan 1 0 3
Latvia 1 0 1
Algeria 1 0 0
Bahamas 1 0 0
Grenada 1 0 0
Venezuela 1 0 0
Mongolia 0 2 3
Slovakia 0 1 3
Armenia 0 1 2
Belgium 0 1 2
Finland 0 1 2
Bulgaria 0 1 1
Chinese Taipei 0 1 1
Estonia 0 1 1
Puerto Rico 0 1 1
Cyprus 0 1 0
Gabon 0 1 0
Guatemala 0 1 0
Montenegro 0 1 0
Portugal 0 1 0
Greece 0 0 2
Moldova 0 0 2
Hong Kong 0 0 1
Morocco 0 0 1
Tajikistan 0 0 1
Total 192 211 254

The source for the tally is ScraperWiki, and the source for the capital punishment stats is Wikipedia. I’ve given some countries the benefit of the doubt by including those who have “abolished in practice” on the side of no death penalty.

It’s been fun! See you again in Sochi 2014. I love the ski jump.

What the Brownlow Medal isn’t

So, Chris Judd has won the 2010 Chas Brownlow Trophy, and some people aren’t very happy about it. I reckon this is because they misunderstand what the award is.

The Brownlow Medal

  • is an award given to an AFL player in recognition of a good season. It’s considered to be the highest individual award in the competition, which is more due to its history and status (not to mention how much the media loves to pump it up) than any other consideration.
  • isn’t an accurate indication of the “best” player of the year. The winner is always among the best players and in some years we might agree that the winner was the very best, but that’s not too often.

Chris Judd is a champion and his great year has been recognised. Good, he deserves it. I’ve always been a critic of the Brownlow, though – not of the medal itself, but of what it’s held up to be. Footy followers think that it should always be awarded to the best player of the year (and they always claim know who that player is!) but there are two big problems that hinder it from happening.

Problem 1: The umpires cast the votes

The umpires have a lot to do during a match, and they spend most of it chasing after the ball. Consequently they see a lot of action from the midfielders, and may miss some of the more subtle parts of the game. They also have a different interest in the game than the average viewer, and they’re charged with finding the “fairest and best” player of the match, so they probably take things other than sheer brilliance into account. Finally, the Brownlow is an individual medal in a team game, which is always problematic. Individual skill needs to be recognised, but I think the way they execute their team plan should also be considered, and the umpire can’t possibly judge that.

Problem 2: It has a poor voting system

At the end of a game, the umpires allocate their 3-2-1 votes to three separate players. This is the case regardless of whether a match is marked by a big team effort, or whether a few players did all the work. There aren’t enough votes to go around – some good players miss out entirely, and sometimes three votes aren’t enough to measure the influence a player had on the game.

The Solution

We already have an award that does a pretty good job of finding the best player of the year, and it’s the AFL Coaches Association Champion Player of the Year. What makes this award so good is that it addresses both of the above problems. It’s voted by the coaches, who have the perfect understanding of how well each player filled their given role. They also know which opposition players caused them the most problems. Although the flashier players will usually still get more votes, this opens it up a little more to the less glamorous roles, like defenders.

It also has a reasonable scoring system. Each coach picks five players to award votes on a 5-4-3-2-1 scale. That’s a total of thirty votes between the two coaches. Sometimes the two coaches’ choices overlap, sometimes not. The high scoring system separates the best from the rest in a more definite way than the lower-scored Brownlow. It’s still not ideal, but it’s an improvement. It did a good job at ranking the best players this year:

2010 AFLCA Champion Player of the Year
114 – Dane Swan (Collingwood)
88 – Luke Hodge (Hawthorn)
80 – Joel Selwood (Geelong)
75 – Aaron Sandilands (Fremantle)
71 – Chris Judd (Carlton)
70 – Gary Ablett (Geelong)

But even the AFLCA put Judd in the top five for 2010, so those who claimed that Judd didn’t even deserve to make the All-Australian team can get stuffed.

Sad face

The stature of the Brownlow drowns out the other awards, and so everyone – the public, the media, the players – puts their faith in the Brownlow and demands that it be awarded to the clear player of the year. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on who that player is, but in 2010 everyone seems to agree that it was Dane Swan, so the knockers have been more vocal than usual. Swan did have a great year, and Brownlow night must have been a terrible let-down given that the media had already awarded it to him. But that doesn’t make Judd any less a champion: he had a great year, and he deserves his award. It’s a shame to see people attacking him with their disappointment.

The Brownlow simply isn’t the award that the public wants it to be. It awards something unique – something you can’t quite put your finger on – and it would be great if people recognised and appreciated that. It would also be great if the coaches award was elevated to a higher importance to fill the “best player” void. The TV networks wouldn’t go much on it – the count would probably be decided earlier in the evening and the winner would rarely be a surprise – but the public would get the result they want. And maybe they’d stop knocking champions for their success.

But that probably won’t happen as long as there are Collingwood supporters.

The Ashes urn is not a trophy

Whenever Australia wins or retains the Ashes, people call for “the urn” to be sent home with the team, believing it to be a trophy. It’s an understandable assumption, but the urn’s history shows that they are incorrect.

The Sporting Times 02/09/1882 (The Ashes)

Most cricket fans know the story – after Australia beat England in an 1882 test match, a mock obituary appeared in The Sporting Times “in Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket”. The final line of the obituary reads, “The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia”. Thus began one of the most enduring sports legends.

The obituary was a great joke, and English captain Ivo Bligh (later to become Lord Darnley) declared that he’d regain “the Ashes” when England toured Australia in 1882-83. He referred to “the Ashes” several times during the tour, and the Australian media ran with it. The term then fell out of use for twenty years before being cemented by English captain Plum Warner when he published How We Recovered The Ashes in 1903.

The Ashes legend was forty-five years old when the general public became aware of a certain urn. The following poem, appearing in The Cricketers Annual in 1925, indicates as much:

So here’s to Chapman, Hendren and Hobbs,
Gilligan, Woolley and Hearne:
May they bring back to the Motherland,
The ashes which have no urn!

(For the record, England was thumped 4-1.)

In 1927 Florence Bligh, widow of Ivo Bligh, gave the Marylebone Cricket Club a small terracotta urn that had been given to her husband some years prior. Although the details are disputed it is believed that a group of Victorian women, picking up on the “ashes” term used by the media, awarded him the urn after England’s series victory in 1883.

The urn was a personal gift to Bligh, and was later a personal gift to the MCC. It is known as the “Darnley urn” to distinguish it from other, less celebrated urns that have surfaced over the years.

The Darnley urn was kept in the Long Room at Lord’s until 1953, when it was moved to the MCC Museum at the same ground. Its prominence has led many to assume that the test series is named for it alone, and they believe it to be the trophy.  The Ashes, however, are metaphorical. It is an idea created by The Sporting Times, and one which grew in stature as it collected more stories. The Darnley urn is just one of those stories.

The Darnley Urn

No doubt there are those who would read this and say, “so what?” Despite the history, they would claim that the Darnley urn has come to represent the Ashes for most people and should therefore be considered a trophy. I do not agree.

The urn is delicate and belongs in a museum so that it can be correctly maintained. The MCC respected the wishes of the Australian public and created a large replica trophy of Waterford Crystal to award to victorious teams. If we must have a trophy, this is more suitable than a 125-year-old terracotta artefact.

I don’t understand the attraction to trophies. I believe that the idea is more compelling than a trophy could ever be. The death of English cricket! What a notion! Since 1882 we’ve been playing tests to either regain England’s honour, or to rub her nose in it some more (depending on whose side you’re on). How simply marvellous. I doubt I’ll convince many of my fellow Australians to come around to my way of thinking; we’re too fixated on the physical, on ownership, on possession. If people know the history, though, we can debate these last points alone.