Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The Winter Olympics kicked off in Sochi this week, with Russian premier Vladimir Putin declaring them open at a majestic ceremony on Friday. The Games cost £30 billion, making them the most expensive in history, and a large part of Friday’s Opening Ceremony was designed to show how Russia has moved into the modern age.

Yet the country’s social conservativism, particularly when it comes to gay rights, continues to be a source of anger and controversy as the Winter Olympics begin in earnest. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach used his address to the stadium in Sochi to celebrate The Games as an embrace of “human diversity and unity”, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon also condemned Russia’s record. Putin’s speech to the crowd was in the end notable for its brevity, although a section of the ceremony designed around the theme of traditional marriage was seen by some as a show of defiance.

In June of last year Russia’s government introduced laws limiting so-called “propaganda” about homosexuality – supposedly to “protect minors” from exposure – and they have persistently condoned anti-LGBT statements by public officials while banning and breaking up gay pride events. American firm AT&T, who are sponsoring the Winter Olympics, have condemned Russia’s human rights record, but other sponsors – including McDonalds, Visa and Coca-Cola – have thus far refused to follow suit. Michael Cashman MEP, my friend and colleague at the European Parliament and a lifetime campaigner on gay rights, took the radical step of cutting up his Visa card in Strasbourg last week, in protest at this. It was a bold step, showing the strength of his feeling on the issue, and was one which I fully support.

I wish all the UK’s athletes the very best of luck at the Winter Olympics. I hope we’ll see a wonderful competition and a fantastic spectacle, and that in the long term the event will serve to highlight the treatment LBGT people are still subjected to in Russia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, yet another rainy week saw The Thames reach its highest level ever, putting at risk an unprecedented number of homes to the west of London and in Kent. COBRA met regularly throughout the week, and by Sunday the Environment Agency had 175 flood warnings in place across the UK, and the Ministry of Defence had drafted in military personnel to provide support for communities.

As the flooding continued some looked to make political capital out of the situation, with David Cameron suggesting on Friday that “the pause in dredging that took place in the late 90s” was to blame. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles criticised former Labour Minister and head of the Environment Agency Chris Smith, accusing them of lacking humanity and expertise. To give him a modicum of credit, Pickles refused to stoop as low as Ukip, who used the crisis as a means of attacking Britain’s International Aid commitments – “Charity begins at home,” as Nigel Farage put it – yet Pickles’ attack still rankles many trying to deal with the problem at the sharp end. In his response, written for The Guardian, Smith said, “I’ve never in my life seen the same sort of storm of background briefing, personal sniping and media frenzy getting in the way of decent people doing a valiant job trying to cope with unprecedented natural forces”.

With much of the flooding happening close to my own constituency in London, I wish the very best to the people who have been affected. I hope, as the weather gets worse this week, that those in charge start pulling together to help those who are suffering. Chris Smith was 100% right – this is not the time for playing politics.

Golf must change ancient stance on women

Labour Party

Simon Barnes, writing in The Times on Monday, 12 November, is right when he says that “golf must change (its) ancient stance on women”.

A number of my recent blogs have been about the amazing achievements of women in the London Olympics and Paralympics. With golf having achieved Olympic status it is no longer acceptable that clubs which host the Open major championship (Royal & Ancient at St Andrews, Royal St George’s, Royal Troon and Muirfield) have only men as members.

As he states, “the point of the Olympic games is inclusivity”.  “If crusty old misogynistic clubs will not admit women, the sport must take a stance. The major tournaments must be held somewhere else, at a club with female members. A public event is a public statement. No sport should be seen to be standing up for unfair treatment of women, or anyone else.”

Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking – Gold Medal Profiles

Labour Party

Of all the four gold medals won at Dorney Lake, that of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking was by far the most joyously unexpected. They had only joined forces in a boat three months earlier, boasting a solitary World Cup silver medal to reflect their partnership, and yet they cut through this Olympic final with a wonderfully controlled exhibition of sculling. Feeding off the roar of a tumultuous 30,000-strong crowd, they delivered an improbable final flourish to seal Britain’s most successful regatta in Olympic history.

Sophie could not have avoided rowing if she tried, with a Father who won gold at the World Championships, and a rowing scholarship at school.  She tried to buck destiny and play football, at county level and then for Wimbledon Ladies, but missed rowing.

She was a stellar talent at DurhamUniversity, and from there made it into the national under-23 team, then the seniors.  She had been partnered with Hester Goodsell for the past three years, and the two won medals at World Cups, and bronze at two World Championships.

But waiting in the wings was Katherine, rapidly becoming the brightest new star in the under-23 team, and ready to do more.  Like Sophie, Katherine is a product of Britain’s strong school rowing system, this time at YarmSchool in Teeside, from where she reached the Coupe team, an under-18 group which acts as a development squad for the international juniors.

Sophie was pulled into the under-23 team last year at the age of 20 to make the most of her lightweight physique, and promptly matched Peter Chambers’ achievement by winning the under-23 lightweight single World Championship.

She was then taken to the senior World Championships to be blooded in top-level competition, as the coaches had already realised she would be a strong contender for the Olympic team.  In March of this year Sophie fulfilled her potential by beating Katherine in the national team trials.

This and other results in testing suggested that the two should form a new partnership. Their new boat had promise but in the World Cup regattas they kept being caught out, unable to produce a sprint finish.  That was until they took their gold.

“Two months ago I would never  have dreamed of this,” admitted Sophie, still grinning. “I tried to convince myself that this was just another regatta. I’ve been trying all week not to think about it, because it made me cry every time.”

Launch of e-Book on Female Olympians and Paralympians

Labour Party

Today I’m publishing my e-book of British female Olympians and Paralympians, past and present.

It charts their hard work and dedication for their past achievements or in the build up to London 2012  this summer.

This is going to be a great summer for London, our Olympians and Paralympians and I’m sure you join me in wishing them all huge luck.

London’s air is the worst in Europe while the Government delays action

Labour Party

London has the worst air of any European capital. Despite this, the Conservative-led Coalition doesn’t plan to comply with air quality standards in legislation since 1999, set to be met by 2010, until a staggering 2025, according to the BBC.

Something needs to be done urgently in London. Air pollution cuts life expectancy in Britain by a massive eight months. The main culprit is the pollutant N02 which comes mainly from vehicles.

The Government’s refusal to act is quite simply not acceptable. Ministers know that air pollution is the second biggest public health threat after smoking. It costs the UK an estimated £20 billion a year, more than twice the amount for obesity.

N02 affects long-term health. According to the BBC, experts giving evidence to the Environment Committee, EFRA, said the health of Olympic athletes visiting over the summer should not be harmed as long as the UK avoids a heat-induced smog episode.

I find it extraordinary that there is such a huge unwillingness to tackle pollution in London. The situation is obviously very bad indeed. There is even a chance that the showcase Olympics may suffer. Those of us who live in the capital are at serious risk.

What is more, the financial cost of pollution is huge. Cleaning up are act would not only save lives, it would also save money. Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and London Mayor Boris Johnson will, I hope, take note, though the previous track record of both these Conservatives does not give us much cause for hope.

By coming down heavily on the UK Government’s inaction, the European Commission is doing us all a massive favour. Londoner’s should be thankful that there is at least one institution which is concerned about their health.

Artistic Legacy: Olympic Artist LeRoy Neiman, 91

Labour Party

I was sorry to learn of the death of LeRoy Neiman, 91, the Olympics and sports artist. He was the official painter of five Olympiads and was known for capturing action shots of sporting events. He died in New York.

His art was not confined to the Olympics, for which he was possibly best known, but also he captured the essence of the Super Bowl, the Grand National and the Cannes film festival.

He also painted famous sportsman such as the boxer Muhammad Ali. In 1972 Neiman sketched the world chess championship between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik, Iceland, live on television. In fact he often painted live on air allowing the audience to capture the moment as he saw it. Indeed, he was on hand to capture Federico Fellini directing “8 ½” and the Kirov Ballet performing in the Soviet Union.

In popularity, Neiman rivalled American favourites like Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Andrew Wyeth. The New York Times referred to him as ‘a prolific one-man industry,’ because he generated hundreds of paintings, drawings, watercolours, limited-edition serigraph prints and coffee-table books every year, earning gross annual revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.

In 2010 he had his right leg amputated after he was diagnosed with a vascular problem. Despite this he continued to paint and was quoted as saying in an interview with Associated Press “I’ve had a lucky life.”

He is survived by his wife Janet Byrne.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Gemma Spofforth

Labour Party

Continuing with my series of profiles of British women at the Olympics, today I am writing about one of our greatest hopes for a medal this summer, the backstroke swimmer Gemma Spofforth.

Gemma was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, England.  A keen water baby, she began swimming at the age of three after encouragement from her parents. Her mother wanted her to get a head start in the pool so told her swimming teachers that she was two years older in order to get her in to a better class.

Gemma overcame pancreatitis in 2005, taking a year in and out of the water not sure whether or not to go on with swimming.  In the end she decided to continue and made her decision on where to attend university on whether or not she could continue swimming.

Gemma represented Great Britainat the 2008 Summer Olympics coming fourth in the 100-metre and ninth in the 200-metre backstroke swimming events.  She was very frustrated though in the 100-metre, as she missed out on an medal by just 0.04 seconds, leaving her fourth behind the USA’s Margaret Hoelzer.

At the 2009 World Aquatic Championships in Rome, she took the gold medal in the 100 metre backstroke, in a world record time of 58.12 seconds. Spofforth broke the 100-metre backstroke world record on her way to winning her first world title in Rome, her time of 58.12 erased previous record holder Anastasia Zuyeva time of 58.48 set in the semi finals of the event.

Gemma accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she enjoyed a huge amount of success, swimming with the Florida Gators swimming and diving team in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) competition.

This summer will give Gemma the chance to prove herself and earn the Olympic medal she deserves.  She has mentioned how much she hates coming fourth because she hears it in her name; Spofforth.  I’m sure that will just be extra motivation for her to push on and claim her medal this summer.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Megan Sylvester

Labour Party

Megan Sylvester is a very exciting prospect for Team GB at London 2012.

The series on British women Olympians continues today with Megan Sylvester. Megan was born in Barnsley in 1994 at took up diving at the age of eight.  She was inspired by her brother whose coach suggested that she try diving.  Up till then Megan’s main interest had been in gymnastics, which she still practices as well.

For someone so young she has a very impressive record.  As a junior she showed great skills by winning all three platform events at the British junior nationals. She has progressed very quickly and won silver at the junior European championships platform final in 2008 following with a 4th place finish at the junior world championships later that year. In 2009 she teamed up with Monique Gladding and won 6th place at the senior world championships in the synchro event the same year.  She was just fifteen years only, making Megan the youngest athlete at the competition.

Megan has drawn huge inspiration from her family, particularly her brother, another talented diver.  She has also received a lot of advice from another of Britain’s young hopefuls in diving, Tom Daley.  Her dream is to take home the gold at London 2012; I’m sure everyone will be hoping she achieved that dream this summer.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Dorothy Manley

Labour Party

Dorothy Manley is the one of only two British women to have won a medal in the 100 metres at the Olympics.

Dorothy was born in Manor Park, London in 1927.  She was initially introduced into athletics by one of her school teachers and worked her way up from the school, to the district and then to running for her county before the Second World War. She was evacuated to the countryside, but returned to London in 1942.

After that Dorothy ran for the Essex Ladies athletics club. She was added to a national list of potential Olympians in late 1947, and assigned to train with Sandy Duncan.  She began her training for the 1948 Summer Olympics early in March of 1948, training on the track four times a week, but never using the gym. Dorothy described the trials as a “fiasco”, having finished fifth at the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association Championships, but was still picked to represent the United Kingdom. She was working full time during 1948 for the Suez Canal Company as a typist, and used her summer holidays to attend the games although the leave was unpaid by her employer.

Dorothy had a very different experience in 1948 to the one our Olympic athletes will enjoy this year.  Her mother made her running vest and shorts for the Games, but she was given the blazer and skirt for the opening ceremony. While at the Games, she travelled to and from Wembley on the London Underground, as she was sharing a room with two other athletes near Eccleston Square in central London.

She qualified for the women’s 100 metres final, and finished in second place, winning the silver medal in her first international athletics event.  Dorothy described her start in the race as the “best of her life”,having described her normal starts as notoriously bad. She thought that this may have actually distracted her as her start was so good that she was expecting the race to be recalled.

Dorothy has not had the recognition that she deserves for her achievements, but despie that she is a true inspiration to our current generation of Olympic hopefuls.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Helen Clitheroe

Labour Party

Helen Teresa Clitheroe is this week’s featured female Olympic athlete. One of Britain’s best hopes for a medal this summer at London 2012, she will be competing in middle and long distance running.

For the Beijing Olympics, Helen achieved the Olympic A qualifying standard for the 3000 m steeplechase at the Iberoamericano meeting, in Huelva on June 13, 2008, where she finished 8th in a time of 9:43.56.  Her place in the British team for the Games was confirmed when she won the British trials in a new national record time of 9:36.98. At the Games she finished sixth in her heat and did not advance to the next round of competition, despite beating her own national record with a time of 9:29.14.

Helen completed a spell of high-altitude in Iten, Kenya and then went on to enjoy her greatest success at the Aviva International Match in January 2011, where she won the gold despite being without lottery funding for a year. At the age of 37, Helen is the eldest woman to have won the medal by four years.  Her experience and ability led to her being named Team GB captain.

She has gone from strength to strength in the last two years and goes in to London 2012 in fine form.  Helen will be the eldest competitor in athletics by quite some margin, but it her undeniable passion and commitment to her support will no doubt give her a huge boost.  As will the home crowd who will no doubt show their full support for Team GB’s captain.