Opinion » Cybernaut


Europe the place for summer sports



Yeah, yeah the NHL playoffs are on but how interested is anyone at this point? There are two Canadian teams left, both are down 2-0 (as of Tuesday night), and the San Jose Sharks – who look like they are only playing as hard as they need to in order to win each game – are going to be the first team in almost a century to bring the Stanley Cup to the West Coast. (Although the Canucks will have it at GM Place when they host the NHL entry draft at the end of June.)

So what else is going on in the weird world of sports? Barry Bonds is about to tie Babe Ruth’s homerun total (or perhaps already has) and few people care because most think he’s cheated with steroids. There isn’t any smoking gun at this point, but baseball is as much about statistics as pitchin’, catchin’ an’ hittin’ and John B. Holway (baseballguru.com/jholway/analysisjholway27.html) has done some interesting statistical analysis of Bonds, Ruth and a bunch of other hitters through history. The analysis suggests there should be asterisks beside lots of "big" hitters in the modern era.

If you’re looking for sporting entertainment that’s a little quicker and with less emphasis on physique, England’s FA Cup final (thefa.com) sees Liverpool (liverpoolfc.tv) take on West Ham United (whufc.com) Saturday at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. It’s the last match of any consequence in England this spring, as the Premiership wrapped up last weekend and national teams are preparing for the World Cup in Germany, which gets underway in June (fifaworldcup.yahoo.com).

Liverpool finished the English season in third place with 82 points, one behind Manchester United and nine back of Chelsea, while West Ham finished ninth with 55 points. Liverpool, led by Steven Gerrard, will be in red; West Ham will be in white. Prince William will be the guest of honour.

Meanwhile on the continent, the FIFA World Cup is by far the biggest sporting event of the summer, starting in the second week of June, running for a month and capturing the attention of the whole world… with the exception of some Canadians who may still be watching the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Unlike North America, where baseball and free agency signings are virtually the only sports covered in the summer months, Europe comes alive with sports spectacles between May and September. Two of the tennis grand slam events take place in this time, the French Open (rolandgarros.com) and Wimbledon (wimbledon.org). Qualifications for next year’s Americas Cup yacht races in Valencia (americascup.com/en/) are also underway in the Spanish port this weekend.

The Giro d’Italia bike race started last weekend with four days of racing in Belgium before moving to Italy on Wednesday. The Australian website www.cyclingnews.com has live coverage of each stage as well as daily wrap ups, interviews and a look at some of the equipment being used in the second biggest tour in the bike racing world.

The biggest, of course is the Tour de France (letour.fr/indexus.html) which gets underway on July 1st. This year’s Tour will be the first of the post-Lance Armstrong era and the French organizers aren’t sad to see the seven-time champion go. The opening paragraph of the official Tour website states: "On the 24th of July (2005) we turned the page on a long, very long chapter in the history of the Tour de France. And one month later, the current events made it clear to us that it was just as well that this was so."

Next month, of course, the World Cup of soccer gets underway in 12 German cities. With Asian, Africans, Europeans, North and South Americans and Australians all represented in the World Cup Germany is going to be teeming with soccer fans. And while there are female soccer fans, males are expected to pay a lot more attention to the World Cup than females. Which is what neighbouring Switzerland is counting on.

The Swiss have planned a tourism campaign for the period of the World Cup aimed specifically at World Cup widows (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4926276.stm). Bare-chested hunks tossing hay in mountain valleys are the Swiss scenery in the ads. Mr. Switzerland 2005 milks a cow while a voice asks: "Ladies, why don’t you spend this summer in Switzerland, where the men focus less on football and more on you?"

Some Swiss hotels are offering guests a glass of Champagne every time the German or Swiss teams score a goal, and a whole bottle for each victory.

Meanwhile, in North America we’ll be watching Barry Bonds.