Saturday, 31 August 2013

Understanding draws in football - AFL and state

In my recent studies of the history of football, I have noticed one interesting fact: that drawn games are much less frequent in Western Australian than Victorian football, though this was not the case in the period before man-made global warming began to control Perth’s climate during the 1970s:
Up to 1969 Since 1970
Games Draws % Games Draws %
VFL/AFL in Melbourne 7134 87 1.21 % 5273 55 1.04 %
WAFL and AFL in Perth 4764 48 1.01 % 4362 17 0.39 %
These figures are worth noting as an illustration of how Australia’s passivity before the power of the road and coal lobbies has affected everything around us, as can be seen from the graph below of Saturday climatic conditions during the football season in Perth:
This picture shows weather conditions during football days (defined for simplicity as Saturdays) in Perth during each rainy season from 1907 to 2013. Note the virtual disappearance of “very wet” match days since the magic gate year of 1998 and the increased frequency of rainless Saturdays. The effect this has had may be in fact greater than the change from Waverley to Docklands in Victoria.

What is notable is that the often-cited explanation of high scoring for the paucity of drawn games in post-greenhouse Western Australian football does not hold up. Scoring declined very rapidly between 1986 and 2002, yet draws remained as rare as before (only four drawn games out of 1631 between 1990 and 2007).

If we turn to David Berri and his “Short Supply of Tall People” theory, a new explanation for the paucity of draws in the post-greenhouse WAFL emerges, one which I have thought about a lot in the midst of exceptionally poor records from Melbourne and Greater Western Sydney. That is that Docklands has produced greater requirements in height and athleticism to play in the AFL than existed beforehand (one 2006 Age article said that “in 1996 Colingwood had twelve players under 180 centimetres. Now it has three”) and the drying of Perth’s climate has likely had an even greater effect in shortening the pool of talent able to play Australian Rules. This is because a Perth wet:
  1. makes marking even more difficult than a Melbourne wet (no mud to grip the ball)
  2. does not diminish the value of pace as a Melbourne wet does (even heavy rain drains freely in sandy Perth soils)
Thus, global warming’s elimination of the traditional Perth wet may have even greater effects on football than Docklands’ elimination of the traditional Melbourne wet. Since in a Perth wet - as I can testify to this from games played as recently as 1997 - conditions can change far more rapidly than on the water-holding Melbourne soils, luck plays a much larger role relative to skill in a Perth wet than in either a Melbourne wet or dry weather football.

Monday, 26 August 2013

How should we treat rhinoceros poachers?

Today, after a long and depressing run of severe failures in the fight against the poaching of rhinoceroses in Southern Africa, it is refreshing to note that some progress has been made to deal with the poachers.

Dineo Mphalehle of EWN says that three poachers have been shot dead in Kruger National Park, in a year that has seen 362 rhinoceroses, or two percent of the total world population of five species, shot dead there. In Mozambique, a country much poorer that South Africa, Namibia or Botswana, there has been similar success finding probable rhinoceros poachers.

With the large number of rhinoceroses killed in Southern Africa in recent decades, it is tempting to think that there is justice in shooting poachers, although there is by no means one hundred percent certainty that in fact those shot dead were actually critical to the success of rhinoceros poaching in recent years.

If Southern Africa could become organised enough, it could treat definite rhinoceros poachers very severely, with life imprisonment without parole a fair punishment for such egrerious crimes against wildlife that is extremely valuable on many grounds. The question is how its political system is to do this, and whether what is actually done may be more practical?

Friday, 9 August 2013

My family’s idea was actually supported

A vivid memory from my childhood is when my late father would say with ridicule and laughter
“football in February?!”
whenver the old Foster’s Cup showed matches on television.

Both my parents believed, and my mother still does, that football in February is absurd since football was not designed to be played on 40˚C days which often occur in the summer almost throughout Australia. (It is true that before the man-made super-monsoons seen since the 1970s drove hot air to the far south, very hot days were much rarer though not unknown). My brother, being more used to football as a highly professional game played in centralised stadiums, says the football in February, if the problems of heat can be overcome, is OK. I myself have grave suspicions about playing football in February because I know from both football and cricket that improved fitness is an inadequate counterweight to less rough grounds in protecting players from injuries. (This was noted a few years ago in a comment I cannot find).

Today, however, as I browse Inside Football, I have found surprisingly that some football fans believed football in the summer made sense as far back as 1987! The argument was that football was not a good spectacle under the conditions that prevailed that weekend (round 13, 1987), and that because football players trained in the very hot weather they could play under such conditions.

I cannot accept either argument for this. For those who look carefully, football in the wet is a much more fascinating and skilled spectacle than in the dry. The slower pace in the wet allows highly skilled players to use skills they could not use on a fast and dry ground, and this is extremely interesting to see if you look at games like that between Collingwood and North Melbourne or especially St. Kilda against West Coast in Round 18 of 1992. This is actually much more fascinating to watch than the high-kicking style produced by Docklands.

Secondly, football players do not train as hard as they play for obvious reasons – they are not competing with an opponent they want to beat. Though injuries at training are common and would be made more so by training in very hot weather, players have to exert and push themselves much harder in a match. Thus, the risks would become greater if football were played under really hot conditions–more players would be injured for longer, careers would shorten and player costs rise.

Friday, 2 August 2013

“Rugby always repeats”

As regular readers of this blog may know, my brother when I was young would say time and time again that “rugby always repeats” with five tackles by each team  in which players simply “run/fall over/run/fall over” and no variation except obligatory kicking.

Whilst even in 1990 I knew that people in rugby did often run and get tackled during a game, I knew there was much more to playing rugby than running into your opponent and that it was not satisfactory for any team for the repetition my brother described to occur for a full eighty minutes of play.

It’s actually tough to recall from my watching of rugby exactly how and when the “repetition” that my brother says is the part and parcel of the game of rugby gives way to variations such as when:
  1. a really fast runner finds a gap and gains sufficient momentum (velocity) to run through it and gain a lot of territory, or
  2. a team drops the ball and loses possession, or
  3. a team commits an offence at the play-the-ball and concedes a penalty
  4. a frustrated team plays the ball incorrectly (“poor play-the-ball” in commentary) and loses a penalty and the ball
  5. a pass is intercepted and the opposing team scores a try
What’s strange is how Frank Hyde in this article from an April 1982 Sydney Morning Herald actually shows that the “always repeats” play of rugby league was not that old even in 1990 or 1989 when I was complained to bitterly for watching rugby on a Sunday afternoon. At the time the article was written attendances at NSWRL games were at a post-World War II low, and Frank Hyde seemed to think that the “run/fall over/run/fall over” style of play, rather than giving the ball to the backs much more frequently, was the cause of the lack of attractiveness of rugby league.

By 1989, attendances at rugby games had increased substantially despite the fact that tries were considerably rarer than in 1982. There were 15.93 minutes per try in 1989 and 12.41 minutes per try in 1982. Though the 1982 figure would rise to 13.42 minutes per try if we exclude the 186 tries scored in a very dry season against the debutant Canberra club, it is still substantially more frequent try-scoring than in 1989. Thus, scarcity of tries cannot be the cause of why crowds fell so much in the 1970s and 1980s, especially since in 1967 the record high of over nineteen minutes per try was accompanied by larger crowds than in 1990!

It’s likely that the cleaning up of the game and of scrums was a factor in luring people back during the 1980s, though as Wally O‘Connell said as an 82-year-old in 2005 convincingly (and I can testify from footage of older games) cleaning up of scrums did come at a cost of variety because there is no more contest in scrummaging. Perhaps what needed to be done was not to call another scrum if neither hooker won it (as often happened in the 1970s), or more frequent penalties against props for striking prematurely. On the other hand, the ugly and dangerous “wedge” moves as used several times in the 1982 Grand Final certainly lured people away from rugby league and dealing with them was a necessary tool.