Saturday, 8 October 2011

Transfer...

Somewhat less pensative times, as most of the time and energy is now transferred towards establishing an internet presence for Aquasport.

So the blog is coming along nicely, of course the crux of it will be continuous flow of content. Let's see how that goes.

But it's building up here ... and let's hope there'll be plenty of successes, too, to report there.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

From zero to gold & silver

During the current build-up to the 2012 London Olympics, one finds it impossible not to resonate with (or even seek out) stories on emerging sport talents whose future promises to be bright - if not necessarily by, but certainly beyond, 2012.

Recently I had the opportunity to closely witness the unusual story of a youth water polo team in a remote corner of Europe... A story about a start from absolute zero, resurrecting a sport after twenty-odd years of complete destruction, fighting local financial and administrative difficulties, and achieving in just two years something remarkable. Their recent past and present revealed a number of aspects that transcend geographical specifics and started to transcend also the material aspects of the equation that faced the coach & the kids when they started out.

Their career, in the club called Aquasport, started merely two years ago in the town of Targu Mures, in Transylvania, Romania. The sport had a hugely successful past in the city up until the 1989 Revolution. After the changes, the last 20-odd years have been marked by a total destruction of the sport, one could witness the former training bases fallen into total (and literal) ruin due to lack of interest & investment from the new circles of power who were and are disconnected with the pre-1990 history of the city.

Most of the internationally noted talent emigrated or given up completely any hope of keeping the sport alive in that city. Nothing is more symbolic of the last two decades than the disintegrating ruins of the 50m outdoors pool, which was once the place of two daily training sessions and countless matches during the summer months (see photo report here). Whilst there are several outdoors and indoors pools in the town, their owners for decades refused to allow the necessary training access to the new facilities.

However, a former international water polo player turned coach, Csaba Gagyi, returned from abroad and established a youth water polo club called Aquasport, attempting the impossible: bringing back from literally zero the once hugely popular and successful sport. The road was extremely bumpy to say the least, lack of funding was just a part of their problems, as the lack of support from new administration was in a way hitting them even harder.

For example, gaining access to one of the many indoors pools from autumn to spring has proven to be impossible in the past - and was only solved very recently by an amicable offer from the local University sports association. Access to an outdoors pool in the mornings and evenings was gained after much effort, attracting eventually the good will of the city’s Mayor. Donations were received from here and there, so they could buy equipment and fund their travel to competitions. A youth water polo club in Oradea, a city where the lethal discontinuity of the sport didn’t occur, offered help with what we could call an exchange program, training together, visiting their facilities and gaining match experience.

The real story then is what they achieved under these circumstances with the twenty-odd teenagers who joined the club. In just two years, the players born in 1995 and 1996 have managed to bring home in August 2011 the prestigious Turbo Cup from Szentes, Hungary, having won every match in this major Olympic Hopes water polo tournament that gathered more than fifty teams from around the world. The little ones, born in 1997-1998, reached 4th place in their age group, which was also a huge achievement for the young club.

Right after this, in early September they brought home a silver medal from Slovenski Waterpolo international tournament, only being beaten 11-12 in the final, when played against the mighty Honved Budapest's youth team.

It will be probably very hard for the lads to get used to everyday school routine after such a summer. One thing they will have to do certainly is getting up again at 5AM every morning, so that they can train before school starts. However, following the story emerging in what was my hometown many years ago, having witnessed the total destruction of that sport in the period 1990-2009, I have to share some of the thrill.

Whilst I follow the Olympics build-up that is filled with optimism and fuels dreams (or at least nostalgia) in any person of any age, it occurs to me that one day I might return to that city and watch amazing water polo being played again, as I remember watching it every summer of my childhood and adolescence. However, this is just a purely personal note.

Going back to that pre- and post-2012 context, having seen such stories as the one above, I firmly believe that whilst it is very important to discuss the tangible and material issues surrounding sports facilities, funding, discovery of local talent, the selfless ambition and determination in all involved parties remains a key ingredient even in a very material world - especially when faced with intimidating obstacles and initially debilitating ignorance on a seemingly impossible journey.

Their gradually emerging Facebook page is here.

So one can only say, best of luck to them and hopefully with their continuous recent successes, they will attract enough attention from officialdom to ensure their smooth training and access to all the needed facilities.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Feedback loops

The furore around the phone hacking scandal that engulfed the Murdoch empire continues relentlessly in the UK. Certainly, it's the biggest media scandal of recent decades.

However, whilst revelations about senior police officials, media, former and current Government officials continue, whilst top resignations go on and on (today even the head of the Press Complaints Commission exited), one has to reflect on another aspect of this whole mess.

The very fact that Rupert Murdoch was worshiped for decades in the UK, to such an extent that top politicians lined up to gain access to him, purely shows that his media empire, and media in general, had huge power that could make or break top personalities and their futures. It could create and destroy votes, could alter the course of British politics.

How it got to that stage, that's another story. The fact remains, that Murdoch ended up pretty much running the show on occasion, or at least key acts of some shows, as all the new facts revealed. Ultimately, we, the readers and consumers of his media empire created this power.

Considering the media in Romania, it leads to yet another reflection.

Yes, that media has some power - but usually it makes rather than breaks politicians. It can manipulate fantastically successfully, as even recent non-political hysteria around the Fukushima story showed. It can create votes via that manipulation, but we are yet to see the Romanian media breaking a top politician.

It may publish some shocking facts on shocking corruption, but even when there is real-time footage about some despicable character, what really are the negative tangible effects? There are none.

At most, the National Department for Anti-corruption picks something up. But usually they bow to political pressures (as recently showed, mafiosi robbing the country blind to the count of few billion euros could make this department investigate a senator about some tens of thousands of euros of alleged 'commerce of interest and influence'). Or they uncover things that are far from being triggered by media investigations.

The fact remains, yes, there was extremely powerful positive feedback loop between Murdoch's empire and British politics & business circles. But there was also a mighty negative feedback loop there. Hence the primordial fear that British power figures had and tried to stay in Murdoch's good books.

That negative feedback loop simply does not exist in Romania. There is free press, and press that can be used for political manipulation - but we are yet to see that power (good or bad) that some other countries have witnessed when confronted with certain media moguls.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Insanity

The recent events in Norway triggered plethora of discussions, to put it mildly. One has to reflect on the realities of organised and dis-organised evil, which always surprises with newer and newer manifestations.

Some of the polemic is deeply troubling, though. As a recent BBC discussion highlighted, we very clearly label certain manifestations of certain evils as terrorism and planned acts of individual or well-organised groups of terrorists. However, when something like this double Norwegian attack happens, we speak of... insanity. Madness and acts of madness.

If we look at cold, calculated, politically motivated evil, then history provides innumerable examples. And some of us have lived through some of those examples. If we stick to the last decades of the 20th century, we had plenty of small- and large-scale examples of such evil.

Those were not acts of insanity. And the acts of this terrorist, let's call a spade a spade, in Norway are also not acts of insanity.

He is profoundly motivated politically. He acted with spine-chilling lucidity and felt that executing perfectly innocent people in great numbers was perfectly acceptable as a means of political action.

To call him insane or mad, with the same promptness and ease with which we called all other bombers and assassins terrorists and extremists, is an easy, very easy path. Easy for us, easy for posterity.

We can not write off this pure evil as a sudden act of a madman. Asking the questions on what is the underlying though process that makes a person think: such acts are acceptable for achieving his goal, is a much more difficult process.

Like many terrorists, dictators, abusers of power, radicalised extremists, he carefully and lucidly planned all his acts over a long period of time. Madness was not the key force at work here.

Just because we can't pin the articles easily to an existing board of familiar terrorist patterns, it doesn't mean that it's an outlier for the bin marked 'acts of inexplicable madness'.

And then we have a bigger problem than classification. We need to look how in our 'free' world, political views can end up so radicalised, that regardless of age, gender, education, social background and geography, people can become monsters. Monsters who, as in this case, too, label their own acts 'necessary'.

So... please, let's not view him as mad. 'Mad' is a fantastically easy way out, that allows us to close the lid on that bin crowded with so many despots, extremists and political figures.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Power?

A few days ago Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist whose astounding installation could recently be viewed in Tate Modern, was finally allowed to see family.

I say finally, as he disappeared for over a month, being detained by Chinese police and his family was worried whether his health has taken a downturn in the hands of the authorities...

Now there are news about tax evasion and other such reasons that apparently triggered his arrest and vanishing in the labyrinth of Chinese retaliation.

However, as a renowned artist who was and is deeply critical of the Chinese regime, he was a painful thorn that kept pricking the mighty monster.

And as usual, a seemingly all-powerful regime that flaunted its often delusional, but even more often real, might is so paranoid that is afraid of an artist.

It is perhaps the sharpest contrast between the loud arrogant discourse of such regimes and their tragicomic fear of a single person who has international voice.

Of course all such regimes spent decades retaliating against dissident artists, but when a giant like China does it, then this contrast is phenomenal.

One wonders what the ultra-paranoid China has to be afraid of - but whilst this communist giant takes on openly the US Government and international condemnations, it suppresses artists because somehow this giant feels so threatened by a handful of brave voices.

One would in a way wish, for the benefit of all the persecuted artists among who Weiwei is just a recent name, that China would really live up to its arrogant megalomaniacal rhetoric - and let the dissident voices reverberate internationally as if they were nothing to fear from.

But none of these regimes ever displayed true might - instead, their bloody hands (or tentacles?) trembled every time a little and brave individual opened his or her mouth in criticism.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Justice

Some hyper-busy times, but recent 'termination' of Osama Bin Laden prompted another overdue entry here...

As someone put it, after World War II, the Nuremberg trial was there to show that civilisation prevails over barbaric violence. Emotions may have demanded violent retaliations, but reason demanded a process by which the victors show that they are above such methods.

It is interesting then to hear how Obama used the word 'justice'. Presumably with capital 'j'.

If we remove again what emotions dictate, can we call a summary execution-style killing of the 'embodiment of evil' a process by which justice was served?

Yes it is a closure for many. It is a certain and quick end to ten years of uncertainties (let's remove the conspiracy theories about Bin Laden being still alive... Occam's razor is very effective, as with most such theories, to make that cut).

But... justice? as defined by the Western civilisation's norms that we say we uphold? against which we compare the barbaric but calculated evil of such terrorist masterminds and their accolades?

Certain dictator were also executed, some, like Ceausescu and his wife, after a summary 'trial'. Latter case had an element of 'justice' in the sense of a short mock trial having preceded the executions.

But... one, still with cold reason and removing emotions, can not find 'justice' in what happened to Bin Laden. No matter how 'satisfying' the end of this most wanted man was/is.

Bush used the words 'holy war' and gosh, what a blunder that was. Obama used 'justice', and whilst it is not such a spectacular semantic disaster, it is regrettable.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Triggers

It is usually very interesting what certain events trigger in a country's press, and, when you have the (mis)fortune to see direct comments from people, also in the mind of the everyday person.

The recent disaster that hit Japan is no exception. The Romanian press has been covering it extensively, but there are, even for such an unprecedented event, typically Romanian after-shocks.

For example, one of the major national papers, Evenimentul Zilei, has published an online article with a headline which literally stated: "New explosion at Fukushima power plant. 5000 estimated dead". Now reading the article, it slowly became obvious that the statistics on casualties were the overall estimated figures on the entire disaster, and not specifically for the nuclear reactor explosion.

The headline caused, thankfully, so many outraged comments and phone calls to the sensationalist paper, that they quickly changed the headline.

But what was perhaps most interesting, and deeply disturbing, well, a high priest of the Romanian Orthodox church has today declared in the national press:

- The disaster is a warning for us, it shows what happens when we turn away from God. (Implication being: the Japanese somehow turned away from God... and hence the punishment. It is pointless to analyse the early medieval logic here, one would ask: surely, which God? and how can a very public figure make such an ignorant and deeply insulting statement, essentially judging the victims and the survivors, who are going through desperate times none of us can possibly imagine).

- The disaster is also a punishment for turning away from Nature. He followed by stating that in the Balkans, there is still a deep respect for Nature and the peasant, when cuts a tree, prays for God to forgive him. (Apart from the early medieval schmaltz at work here, would also then conclude that he implies: Japanese don't respect Nature... and also, that Romanians, who massacred all their natural resources, where most villages and cities are traumatising examples of how nature was destroyed in the name of the fast profit after the 'freedoms' were gained, somehow these Romanians worship and respect Nature and certainly more so than the Japanese).

It is simply breathtaking, also to read the comments to such emanations of utter bigotry. And of course, such people should first find out a few very fundamental facts about Japanese culture, their remarkable ways in which they integrate the most modern technological and environmental elements with nature, how they also integrate various systems of faith in a sometimes exemplary ecumenical thought system, how they combine and respect both ancient and ultra-modern... how they relate to their fellow human beings and to the environment around them. To make a comparison, from withing the borders of Romania, even if not a shockingly ignorant one as the certain high priest did, is just grotesque at best.

It is revolting, insulting, traumatising on so many levels, logical, emotional, rational and sentimental, that one can't even begin to make a lucid analysis of something so irrational.

It is remarkable how a figure like this can vent his bigotry in major national papers of a 21st century country. But the comments to various articles, including this one, suggest that he does have audience.

In a somewhat tragicomic and desperately bigoted comment, one person wrote that those who believe in the fact that we come from apes must take heed and see that only prayers help, because God is punishing those people. Again, same revolting insult to the victims, but... goes on to say on the comment pages of a national paper, that only a prayer and true faith can help, because, and literally quote, it is impossible to practically help the affected people.

Well, an early medieval mind clearly can not imagine practical 21st century ways of sending international help, so pointing out the websites of Red Cross, GlobalGiving and iTunes store from Apple (to name a few) would be a waste of energy.

Also, reading the polemic, one has to conclude: even in the face of such disaster, that tests (in this case) their Christianity, some people find dogmas and revoltingly comfortable ignorance worthy of the 11th century much easier than actually taking ANY action on a personal level.

Donations are a start, and one can be sure there are myriad other possibilities opening up soon, judging from just last few days of organisational developments internationally.

So whilst our thoughts and yes, prayers in many cases, go to the affected people, we can set example by acting - instead of using rhetoric from the depths of a dark 11th century.