Bol some player and some hero in Sudan


HOLD THE BACK PAGE:SO. HAIL to thee, blithe Manute Bol. Larry Byrd thou never wert. It’s hard to think of any comparators to help us relate to the unusual life and busy times of the Sudan-born Dinka cattle-herder who died this week in Virginia, USA.

A rare skin condition, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, worsened on one of his trips back to Africa, and treatment for the ailment was complicated by the difficulty in getting his drugs pigeoned to Sudan; he also had kidney and liver problems.

A 10-year basketball career in the NBA was ended in 1994 by a serious injury and the onset of rheumatism.

His size and shape were extraordinary. NBA guesstimate stats had him at 2.30m (7ft 7in), he weighed in at around the 100kg mark and his limbs were remarkably lengthy. His “wingspan” was put at 2.60m (8ft 6in) and that reach made him one of the NBA’s best blockers.

On one occasion a huge centre from the Utah Jazz, who stood a mere 2.24m (7ft 4in) faced off with Bol on the court and said admiringly: “Man, you are big.” To which the African replied: “No mon. You are big, I am just tall.”

(The modern powerhouse likes of Kobe Bryant would’ve snacked on Bol before breakfast.) American fans (and the aficionados love their hoops) remember with warmth and some hilarity his time at the Washington Bullets playing with Muggsy Bogues, the league’s smallest player at 1.60m (5ft 3in).

There hasn’t been a taller player since in the NBA, but he has been remembered by former players and contemporaries not as a freak, but fondly as a determined athlete who was also a prankster, and a kind man.

His extended family will remember him for sending much of his $1 million-plus annual salary to Khartoum to keep them safe and fed, and it is reckoned he spent the majority of his saved income on charitable work in Sudan.

He was a hero in Sudanese refugee camps and ran into serious repercussions from the government when he refused to convert from his Christian faith to Islam when offered the Ministry of Sport. He and his immediate family got out by the skin of their teeth in the end through protracted US diplomatic efforts.

He continued to fundraise, sometimes in bizarre fashion. When Fox TV agreed to broadcast the number of his charity foundation in 2002 if he agreed to appear on its tasteless Celebrity Boxingshow (a taste-free outing, even by Fox standards) he was goaded by the referee: “If you don’t box, you won’t get paid.” Bol knuckled down to score a three-round victory over gridiron player William “The Refrigerator” Perry. His long jab must’ve been some yoke.

He was, of course, extraordinarily slim. Woody Allen’s stand-up routine at one time reckoned Bol’s team didn’t need to fly him to away games, they just faxed him from city to city.

Manute means a “special blessing” in the Dinka language. He was that.

Ruling body looks daft over Findlay case

YOU’D BE tempted to think the luminaries of the cloth-eared idiotocracy that “runs” horseracing in Britain could not find yet another way to embarrass themselves even more than before. It’s usually a racing certainty they will.

Last week Harry Findlay, professional gambler and racehorse owner, was “warned orf” for half a year because he laid one of his own horses on Betfair – even though the betting exchange itself confirmed him as “overwhelmingly a net backer” of Gullible Gordon at Chepstow last October (not the fastest out of the stalls, the British Horseracing Authority’s plods).

When the BHA’s sleuths interviewed Findlay – whose passion for the game could be seen in his palpable delight at the victory of his Denman in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup – he agreed cheerfully a friend had been laying the horse for him.

He even pointed out, in case it wasn’t clear to the investigators, his friend and better Glen Gill had been laying during the race when it became clear the front-running Gullible Gordon would probably win, but while it was still possible to protect Findlay at decidedly shorter odds than he’d taken before the race.

The investigators saw nothing wrong with what he’d done, and Findlay reminded the BHA people that the previous year at Exeter he’d accidentally done similarly. At the time, the BHA itself accepted Gill had mistakenly mis-buttoned on Betfair.

Findlay netted £35,000 at Chepstow, lost £62,000 on the Exeter race and the BHA’s independent disciplinary panel accepted on both occasions the horse had been allowed to run on its merits.

The panel has come down in the most swingeing manner on Findlay, who accepts he broke the letter of the rules and has not been canvassing sympathy. Shocked (and, one suspects, embarrassed), he has said that win or lose the hastily-convened BHA appeal hearing, he will not own a racehorse in Britain again.

Talk about the BHA fiddling while the grandstand burns around those cloth ears. Betting turnover and viewing figures were both down at the Epsom Derby. The only competition on that glorious Saturday afternoon was Francesca Schiavone vs Samantha Stosur at Roland Garros, and only a knickers fetishist would swop ogling a colt like Workforce for that particular sweat-n-grunt spectacle.

North Koreans go home to life of misery

AS WE glory at the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, and wallow in soccer World Cup wishful thinking, we may be missing out on some topical geography and politics lessons. Are we blindsided by the etymological din and semantic fuss of soccer’s sexy new words, vuvuzela and jabulani? In my local, we talk of little else.

Yet spare a thought for the North Koreans, slinking off to miserable home again – as their South Korean neighbours once more confound expectations by moving into the last 16.

These northsiders live under as ugly and egregious a regime as exists on earth – Allah knows, there’s stiff competition for that title – in a country where hunger is quotidian, malnutrition commonplace.

Both Koreas did the rounds of Asian qualifying, and the reassuring human highlight of that slog was the dignity and evident mutual respect of the players on both sides when they competed directly.

Only three North Ks play abroad and one, Jong Tae-se, below left, plays in Japan. An English team will surely snap him up this summer, not least to work the Asian merchandise market, and Jong has already appeared in commercials with Park Ji-sung, of Manchester United and South Korea.

In South Africa, tournament protocol will not allow sport and politics to mingle (they’re not doing irony in former Apartheidland this year), and a Fifa suit has warned before each North Korean press conference against “questions that intersect politics with football”.

Not even, verily, when in the first week of the cup, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il stopped all state food rations back at home.

Then there’s Kyrgystan, a country most of us couldn’t even roughly locate on a blank Eurasian atlas. It sits and simmers ’twixt China and the other local “Stans” – Kazakh, Uzbeki and Tajik.

In England’s nil-nil draw with Algeria, the ref and one linesman were from Uzbekistan. The third field official was Bakhaydar Kochkarov, an ethnic Uzbek from the southern Kyrgyz town of Osh.

The night before the soccerfest began, mobs began waves of attacks, rapes and looting on local Uzbeks in Osh and across its hinterland, killing at least hundreds and sending tens of thousands, and probably more, into panicked flight over the border to Uzbekistan.

Kochkakrov’s wife, old mother and eight-year-old boy hid for days in a cellar, but have survived (according to Komsomolskaya Pravda ).

I’ll bet one set of World Cup match officials had extracurricular conversations that were utterly devoid of soccer cliché.

Pebble dashed hopes of quite a few

F I N A L S T R A W:PEBBLE BEACH sure separated the girls from the Graemes. The course would give even a low-handicap holidaying amateur the horizontal equivalent of golfing vertigo. As even Ernie “Big Easy” Els put it: “It’s almost like links golf on steroids.”

It’s easy to forget financial Armageddon has left more than a few Americans bruised, but still very wealthy. Journalists at Pebble last week to witness Graeme McDowell’s well-earned US Open win, (pictured right with his dad Ken), noticed a monument to vanity overlooking the 18th has gone on sale. The house’s price tag, just south of $30 million, shows there’s a real estate market that operates in a universe separate from flashtrash Florida condoland.

The Pebble’s 18th is a brutal hole, and bothersome if you need to green for birdie. The 17th is, in McDowell’s words: “Borderline unfair. . . [but] it’s one of the greatest holes in world golf.” And the 14th is the best squeaky-bum test. It’s a real par five even to boomers of drives, and back in 1972 Jack Nicklaus drilled a one-iron across a hard Atlantic wind to hit the flagstick: confidence, clinical technique, cojones.

Lee Trevino used to wave a one-iron at Thor during lightning storms. Why, Lee? “Because even God can’t hit a one-iron.”

(Punch) lions . . .

AND FINALLY . . . three sniggers for the Three Lions. All sourced from England, where they do a decent line in World Cup gallows humour. Lotsa practice, come to think of it. .

Quote 1: “We scramble a draw against a garbage team we shoulda beaten off the pitch. I’m ashamed to call myself an Algerian.”

Quote 2: “If John Terry gave a damn about England, it’s Robert Green’s missus he’d have shagged.”

Don Fabio, at the supermarket door, sees an elderly lady struggle with her shopping.

“Can you manage, dear?” he asks.

“You created this mess,” she snaps. “Don’t ask me to fix it.”