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YOUNG SPORTS JOURNALIST WINNERS

It's back. And with good reason. Enjoy this year's very-best short-form think pieces from our younger readership.

Unveiling The Champions Cradle

Champion of our 14-15 category is Sharanya Rakesh. Profiling the world's best athletes in the great athletic quest.

We sports scribes have heard it all at the pub after games: "Basketball's where the real freaks are!" bellows one patron, while another counters, "Hockey players are gladiators on ice!" But with all due respect to the passionate barstool brigade, how do we, the arbiters of athletic achievement, actually crown the sport that mints the ultimate competitor? 
Let's delve into the contenders. The decathlon boasts a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ approach, demanding excellence in ten grueling events – a true test of versatility. But whispers follow it – can a master sprinter, like the lightning Bolt himself, Usain, truly excel in discus throwing too? Specialization has its merits. 


Then there's the MMA cage, a crucible where fighters like Amanda Nunes morph into human Swiss Army knives. Strength, speed, agility – you name it, they need it. They strategize, grapple, and punch their way to victory under immense pressure. Impressive, sure, but is raw toughness the only measure? 


Here's the beauty of sports, folks – it's a kaleidoscope of human potential. We marvel at the pinpoint accuracy of archer Kim Woo-Jin – who can split a playing card from down the street – and gasp at the explosive power of weightlifter Lasha Shavly – hoisting weights that would crush most mere mortals. Each sport celebrates a unique facet of athleticism. So, who wins the ‘Greatest of All Time’ (G.O.A.T.) trophy? 

 

Eventual Tokyo 2020 Decathlon Champion, David Warner, still standing tall amoungst an otherwise suffering field. 


There is no single champion. It all boils down to how you define ‘athleticism’. But here's a thought experiment we scribblers cooked up over pints of our own. Orange juice or otherwise: 


Imagine the ultimate athlete, a Frankenstein's monster of pure athletic prowess. We'd stitch together the raw power of a weightlifter, the gravity-defying flexibility of a gymnast like Simone Biles, and the scorching speed of Elaine Thompson-Herah. Now picture this marvel powering a javelin throw that shatters records! The truth is, the ‘best’ sport isn't about a single arena. It's about pushing human potential to its absolute limits, and that can happen across a stunning variety of disciplines. Maybe the answer isn't a single champion, but the relentless pursuit of athletic excellence wherever it's found. After all, that's a story worth writing about, wouldn't you say? 

 

A Ticket To Childhood

Nguyen Huu Trung is the winner of the 16-17 category. Answering, is sport really good for us? 

“Hey, can I join in”? 

Out in the schoolyard. On some basketball court. In the park, sometimes right on the streets. Simple as that, kids become pals, and friendships that sometimes last for decades are formed. 

As the erudite Arsene Wenger wrote in ‘My life and Lessons in Red & White’, passing the ball in itself is a form of communication. When you pass the ball to a stranger, it’s equivalent to a “Hello there”. A non-verbal greeting, nice and smooth. 

Even better yet, it might as well be a “Bonjour. A “Ciao”. A “Konnichiwa”. A “Xin Chào”. 

You see – that’s the charm of sport. It has no boundaries whatsoever – a common friend that we all share. And majestically – that charm still wouldn’t change one bit as one ages. It is still there, miraculous and pure like the very first day. 

They say, people decide to root for a random sports team spontaneously as a child, and let that upset them for the rest of their life. Obviously a jocular saying, but all good jokes contain some degree of truth. 

Because, apparently, we simultaneously booked ourselves an ever-lasting ticket to childhood the moment we pick our favorite sports team.

The motion of every swing, every shot, every throw and every lap carries our eyes with it, and simultaneously, our soul back in time. 

The moment their game is on, we get to be a kid again. 

We all act out of our heads. 

We scream our lungs out in the middle of the night.

And cry in jubilation.

And smile ear to ear for an entire day over something that practically doesn’t interfere with our life one bit.

I came to the realisation that sport is absolutely one of the dearest charism that God has bestowed upon us the moment I saw my grandfather and his son (perhaps two of the most nonchalant men I know) give each other a hug and dance mirthfully like I’ve never seen before. It was after our National Team, Vietnam, won the ASEAN Championship for the first time in 2008. The scene left me completely spellbound – and then put a smile on my face before I ever even knew. 

 

 

Vietnam's Mai Tien Thanh fights for the ball with Afghanistan's Mohda Jebran in 2007.

 

It really doesn’t get any purer than that, does it? In the bustle, hectic world of today, where life always seems to be moving too quickly for us all to handle, sports come in as an invaluable pit-stop.

A ticket to childhood. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board.

 

Our Talent Is Not For Betting

Prachi Sharma is the winner of the 18-19 category. She stories why betting should not be allowed in sport. 

Punters have the right to bet on any game. As is their free will. But the line between sports and betting has become a blurred one. Betting now seems to drive the narrative in the games we watch.
The £14.1 billion that is spent on betting each year in the UK, says something of a nation addicted. A nation caught in the web of endless advertising and ‘Gamble Aware’ small print that polishes an otherwise toxic pass-time. If we were to invest that time and money into something productive – helping those affected, a lot of good work can be done.
But change is no easy task. Betting on horse racing and chess started in the late 18th century. And whilst not too many are wasting their time on the board game, horse racing as a sport – and culture – is resting wholeheartedly on betting as a means of existence. 


The allure of betting can be a slippery slope for many. Paul Merson’s documentary – Football, Gambling, and Me – stands as all the evidence we need for that. When frequent bets are placed, a dangerous mindset can take hold: the belief that you are destined to win.

 

 

11 April 1992, Football League Division One; Arsenal v Crystal Palace; Paul Merson in his heyday.


Sadly, this phenomenon isn’t confined to individuals. We’ve seen a troubling trend of buying out players to manipulate games in the bookie's favour, disregarding fair play and integrity. The very foundation of sport. 


To safeguard the purity of our much-loved pastimes, the wellbeing of our athletes, and Pierre de Coubertin’s diktat that “sportsmanship is the foundation of fair play and respect for opponents”; betting should not be permitted in sports. The stakes are high. And the consequences too grave to ignore. 

 

The Ball Keeps Rollin’ On.

Winner of the 20-21 category, Jonathan Coffey, visits the London Football Foundation continuing an Olympic legacy twelve years on 

It is no secret that the Olympic games are becoming more and more expensive to host. During the 2021 Tokyo games, economist Andrew Zimbalist told the New York Times that the hosts’ losses may reach $35 billion. Rising costs bring a rising tide of cynicism too, with many now grappling with the all-important question: is it worth hosting the Olympic games?

 

Greg Rutherford launches himself out of the E20 postcode in the Olympic Stadium. Now home of West Ham. 

 

The number-crunchers may say no, but for one football foundation in East London, the answer is a resounding yes. 

E20 Football Foundation was created in 2014 and now, a decade on, offers its free football sessions to a community of approximately 5,000 members. 

Though it was founded in 2014, its story begins with the London games held two years earlier. The E20 postcode (from which it draws its name) has been in fictive existence since 1985 thanks to Eastenders, but only broke into the real world in 2011, marking the Olympic Park area its home. 

It was these world-class sporting facilities that drew married couple Jonathan and Fatima Silman to the new postcode alongside their two sports-crazy children in 2014, where their commitment to the Olympic legacy led them to found E20 Football shortly after. 

I journeyed to East London to understand how an Olympic games staged twelve years ago sees men, women, and children enjoying football today. 

“Being in athletics myself and just missing out on London 2012 Olympic Games, the Olympic legacy was something that I still strived to be a part of,” Jonathan explained.

“I don’t think E20 would have existed without the 2012 games. There’s been some really bad press about Olympic legacies, but I think what London did well was really valuing the sustainability – what happened to the area afterwards.” 

In front of an ongoing session featuring some of E20’s youngest members, Jonathan tells me of the foundation’s impact beyond the field.  

“It’s not just the sporting value it brings, its bringing people together. It’s friendships, it’s mentoring. If someone goes down the wrong pathway, we’ll have people within our community base, our club, who are looking out for them,” he said.  

As I begin talking to the onlooking parents, that family feel is quickly noted. Andrea takes a break from cheering on her seven-year-old son Vinnie to reflect on how E20 has helped her family settle after relocating to East London from the capital’s south. 

“We didn’t have any friends in the local area and he’d never played football before. Vinnie’s behaviour had been quite bad, but since he’s been coming here his behaviour has changed – he’s a lot calmer and he’s made a lot of friends that he would never have had if he hadn’t been playing football,” she said. 

As she jokes with fellow parents David and Adam, here to support their sons Carter and Riley respectively, it is clear that the foundation has provided a vital source of community for her too. 

David agrees that E20’s reach goes beyond football, citing instances where members have been offered support with mental health. The channels of extra support that E20 offers, including opportunities to gain coaching qualifications, win praise from Adam.   

That these opportunities are offered for free reflects the ethos on which the foundation is built. For Jonathan, whose own footballing journey was affected by financial barriers, it is essential that E20 brings down those hurdles. 

As Olympic balance sheets land in an ever-more precarious position, E20 Football shows the beautiful ways in which the games can be harnessed. We should think twice before dismissing the value of hosting, lest that beauty be lost.

 

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