Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Author: rob (page 4 of 38)

In (partial) defence of Fifa’s 48-team World Cup plan

The format of 32 has proven to be the perfect formula from all perspectives…

So said the EFA. But not quite all perspectives, and certainly not the one which counts most: Fifa’s.

The World Cup has been 32 teams since 1998. It starts with 8 groups of 4, top two go to the knockout round. It’s mathematically ideal and beautiful in every way.

So why change it? You can read good summaries on the BBC, Guardian, and also the Mail on typical jingoistic form (Burkina Faso but not Scotland!). The best analysis is here on the Economist. But aside from the politics and possible extra cash, is it so awful to destroy the perfect 32-game Cup?

Yes and no. Yes, for all the reasons linked to above. Yes because it makes the structure far less neat. No, because more teams from smaller nations is an admirable motive. So let’s look at the structure.

Fifa is suggesting 16 groups of 3, top two to knock out. That means two group games for each team, rather than three; and five knock out matches rather than four through to the final.

The initial negative reaction is based on three unavoidable things: fewer big teams will meet at the group stage; three in a group means final group matches might result in boring draws if both teams are through to the next stage; and fewer group matches means 16 teams get only two matches before heading home, rather than the current minimum of three.

Let’s unpick each one. Continue reading

The 10 best sports graphics and data visualisations of 2016

It’s year-end journalism time! My non-scientific round up for 2016 of the best sports graphics… drum roll please.

THE WINNERS (I couldn’t decide between them)

The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making
By Benjamin Morris
Publisher: FiveThirtyEight
A beautiful history of Sumo wrestling. Stunning photos, great charts – this is a model of modern data journalism coupled with great writing and presentation.

The NFL Draft
By Tim Meko, Denise Lu, Bonnie Berkowitz and Lazaro Gamio
Publisher: Washington Post
The NFL draft is a whole sport in itself: some teams play it far better than others. The WashPo nails a mix of interactivity, user input (pick your team), long-scrolling with story-telling to amazing effect. It’s not a “beautiful” graphic, but instead a whole application delivered brilliantly. Quite amazing.


Premier League 2015-16 – the story of the season
By Neil Richards
Publisher / Platform: Tableau
Not mobile-friendly, but a great way to replay the 2014-15 season. Interactivity that’s integral rather than gimmicky. And it even has managerial sackings!
Notable mention: see also the FT’s rise of Leicester.

Perfect, Freaky Olympic Bodies
By Joshua Robinson, Paolo Uggetti, Siemond Chan and Mike Sudal
Publisher: Wall Street Journal
One of a great crop of Olympic graphics this year, this had no interactivity at all – just a very arresting set of images delivered with great style, looking at some extreme types of Olympic physique.

How Nafissatou Thiam beat the odds to claim the heptathlon gold in Rio
By Niko Kommenda, Apple Chan Fardel and Monica Ulmanu
Publisher: The Guardian
A lovely interactive graphic, coupled with photos and a great story to show how the heptathlon was won. Thiam needed the performance of a lifetime to steal the crown from the favourite. A good example of clean graphics enhance what would otherwise have been a great story in any case.

A visual history of women’s tennis
By John Burn-Murdoch
Publisher: Financial Times
This is how to do sports history. Brilliant. (Disclaimer: I’m a colleague and friend. But this is really good).
Notable mention: The LA Times on Serena Williams – a visual tour of her greatness.

Every shot Kobe Bryant ever took. All 30,699 of them
By Joe Fox, Ryan Menezes and Armand Emamdjomeh
Publisher: LA Times
Weirdly compelling, slightly unnecessary but fantastic all the same. Title says it all.
See also: Stephen Curry’s 3-Point Record in Context by the NYTimes

The current All Blacks are the most dominant rugby side ever. Why?
By James Tozer
Publisher: The Economist
Not visually arresting like others in this list, but a great statistical take on the All Blacks’ rugby dominance, and it has one chart that says it all.

A Visual History of Which Countries Have Dominated the Summer Olympics
By Gregor Aisch and Larry Buchanan
Publisher: New York Times
No list would be complete without something from the NYT, and this is a great visual history. Charts that you will just love. Brilliant. See also: the interactive medal chart. Accept no others.

There were some other great NYT graphics on Phelps and sprinting, for instance. But sticking with my rule of one per publisher, the last-but-not-least spot goes to…

Most Unlikely Comebacks: Using Historical Data To Rank Statistically Improbable Wins (in the NBA)
Publisher: Polygraph
This is just so well done, I love it. I just think you should see it.

So there it is folks. The best of 2016, completely subjective, as compiled by me. You may have your own favourites that I’ve missed, so please add in the comments. But there’s nothing at stake here, just great data journalism to enjoy.

Winners will (probably) get a copy of my book – I know, I know. But it is worth a read.

Sport Geek #64: The goalkeeper and the three bullies

Football pundits, eh? Say what you like about them… actually, you can’t.

Not if you are a struggling goalkeeper at Liverpool. Loris Karius has overstepped the mark, it seems, in defending himself – rather than his goal – against Gary Neville.

Stay with me on this one. It’s a he said, Neville-said story. Continue reading

The 10 best sports graphics / data visualisations of 2016: call for entries

As the headline suggests, I’m looking for the best sports graphics or data visualisations of the year. Here are the rules:

  • Link needed
  • Doesn’t need to be interactive at all
  • Only one per publication / blogger / writer
  • All chart types considered – doesn’t have to be fancy if it makes a great point
  • Winner and 2 runners up will get a prize. Really.

Leave a comment in the field below, or email me if you know my address, or I’m @robminto on Twitter.

Sport Geek #63: cheerleading, serfs, and fakes

Usually, I hate new sports. But the Olympics keeps on trying to sell them to us. Here’s cheerleading – although it’s not quite what you think.


Why aren’t there more specialist coaches in cricket? Can Cook vacate the captaincy on his own terms?And is this cricket’s moneyball in action?


The 76ers, and Sam Hinkie. It’s an amazing story.


In sports, it’s not such a problem – because there’s an endgame.


Who’s up, who’s down – money-wise.


Nobody likes the 49ers stadium. Why? Plus, how to play into your late 30s.


The new serfdom: second-tier players.

book Book BOOK!

If you haven’t got a copy of my new book yet, what are you waiting for?

That’s it for this week.

Sport Geek #62: tragic

The awfulness of both the football sex abuse story and the Brazil team plane crash are a reminder that what normally passes for ‘serious’ or ‘scandal’ in sport is nothing like. Ball tampering, driving slowly? Get real.

So it is with a heavy heart that I highlight the sports stories of the week. I don’t want to ignore the plane crash and sex abuse story – although both are important and horrifying in completely different ways – but I’m sure you’ve read them elsewhere.


Two items for the agenda. Why no Wiggins or Froome? And can Murray be stopped?


The case for allowing ball tampering.


It’s Gareth Southgate for England! Is he really the best person for the job? The answer is yes, if you think England are mediocre therefore need a mediocre manager. Or lets just cut to the chase and say No.


The extraordinary career of Kiwi Sonny Bill Williams.


Don’t ever go changing the Davis Cup. It always delivers. We could change the scoring system though.

plus: How far can a deaf tennis player go?


Should Lewis Hamilton be criticised or even punished for driving slowly in an attempt to scupper Nico Rosberg? In a word – no. It made for a big story, overshadowing Rosberg‘s eventual championship win; but this is hardly deliberate crashing as of years gone by. Hamilton is the better driver, and part of that is the win-at-all-costs mentality. We can’t celebrate his skill and ignore the desire. Plus it was fun.


Yes, again. How Magnus Carlsen is making chess cool.


By me. You buy.

See you next week.

Chris Evans show: reprise

In case you missed it: here’s me back in October on the Chris Evans R2 show.

Also check out Squawka, and TalkSport. All good chat.

Sport Geek #61: religion, rankings and racing

Is sport a religion? An interesting piece in the Cauldron looks at the similarities. One thought occurred to me reading it – there isn’t anything about rivalries and hatred. Religion is usually about love. But in sports, there’s a lot of hate, too. For me, that’s where the metaphor ended.

[PLUG] One quick reminder: do by my book if you haven’t yet – Sports Geek, great Christmas present.


The Hamilton-Rosberg finale should be fun, but you know about that. Instead, let’s look forward. Is F1 in a crisis? I would say that there is certainly one brewing, as both Malaysia and Singapore look to quit hosting races. Bernie Ecclestone made a pivot to Asia long before anyone was talking in such terms, expanding the F1 calendar away from Europe and into new markets. But if those new markets can’t, or don’t want, to host F1 Grand Prix, where does the sport go from here? It doesn’t help calling Singapore “ungrateful“, either.

It’s not just races that F1 needs, it’s faces too. And one of the best is retiring. Here’s what you need to know about Felipe Massa’s farewell.


I make the case in Newsweek that Andy Murray is a bit lucky to be world number 1. Has Novak had the better year? Check out the numbers and decide for yourself.


The sneaky ways athletes try to beat doping tests and the reason why so many are eventually caught – a Quartz explainer.


The Economist does a very thorough job of explaining why the All Blacks are really really good.


Cristiano Ronaldo’s goodbye to the Calderón – a great bit of writing by Sid Lowe in the Guardian.

Forget the night-out controversy – Rooney isn’t fit enough these days, and that’s the problem. Compare to Ronaldo: he takes 3am ice baths to improve his metabolism, apparently…


Which are the greatest bowling performances of them all? A book has the surprising answers.


The FT’s Murad Ahmed looks inside British Cycling’s medal factory. Great feature.


Sport Geek #60: welcome to Rome

No grand thoughts, let’s just crack on shall we?


File under ‘didn’t see that coming’. Football move over – the best paid sports stars are now in the NBA, with eight of the top 12 teams worldwide. OK, it’s not a Leicester City-sized surprise, but still. Last year’s best paying team, PSG, are now 35th – although Man U are the highest-paying football club. Common thread? Ibrahimovic.


As the World finally thingy is underway at the O2 in London, a reminder from the Economist that rankings can deceive. What does the Elo system tell us about Novak vs Andy?


How/what/why on earth is Lewis Hamilton not winning F1 this year when he is so clearly the best driver? (BBC)


Yes, chess. A great rundown on a unique world title game from fivethirtyeight, who collectively are probably smarting from the US election. Speaking of which…


“We are Rome”. Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest ever coaches, gives the US election both barrels. Why are others not joining in? asks Sean Ingle of the Guardian.


Should Germany have to play San Marino? Is there a better way? Questions, questions. I think we know how Thomas Muller would answer. (From Vice)

I love it when the American press does small town UK football. Here’s a classic of the genre from the NYTimes on how the checkatrade trophy lost its lustre. Sorry, luster.

Sport Geek #59: Murray, Cubs, and Mourinho


Not US politics, earlier

No US politics here… Instead, three “things” to get your sports chops around.

1) Murray’s ascent

When Andy Murray made it to #1 this week, there was a rather wonderful outpouring of joy in the British press. After all, the idea of a Brit atop the tennis world rankings a few years back was just crazy talk.

But here he is, the 26th player to hold top spot since the rankings began. More power to him.

The BBC’s Tom Fordyce notes that “It is not a gimmick, or a marketing exercise, or even a reward in itself, but a defining benchmark. You cannot fluke it or get lucky with a judging panel. It is deserved. It is definitive.”

He also suggests that

And this may yet be the start of something even more beautiful, rather than the pinnacle.

After five defeats in the Australian Open final, never will Murray have a better chance of winning it than this January, Federer and Nadal faded, Djokovic – his nemesis in four of those finals – jaded.

Steve Tignor on was hardly less restrained in his praise: “One of the pleasures of being a tennis fan in this era has been watching Andy Murray grow up as player and person.” His piece is a more forensic analysis of how Murray got there. Worth a read.

Lastly on Murray: the Guardian’s Kevin Mitchell posts something of a love letter. “Pick up any dictionary and check the definition of honesty. There will be references to integrity, loyalty, candour, right-mindedness, authenticity. All of these describe the Andy Murray I have come to know.”

The only fly in the ointment is that a poor Masters final in the 02 and he might lose the ranking and never get it back. That would rather diminish his achievement – here’s hoping for a decent stint.

2) Those Cubs

The World Series was unforgettable and ended a 108-year wait for a Chicago Cubs win. There were hundreds of articles I could have picked for this, but here is Time, and the Economist, on perhaps the greatest sporting story of the year.

3) Jose Mourinho loses the plot early

Jose has a reputation for losing his players and owner’s faith around the third season of a managerial job. But at Man United it all seems to be happening a bit early.

Jamie Jackson at the Guardian noted:

Mourinho decided he had no option but to question the team’s commitment and effort: the base elements any professional footballer has to possess. It shows the slide Mourinho and his side are on. For any manager, the exposure of players – the men on whom their own success or failure depends – in the media is the nuclear option.

And that was BEFORE he hung Shaw and Smalling out to dry. And then there is the players response. And on it goes.

So will Mourinho last the season at Old Trafford? He’s reportedly unhappy in his posh hotel, kicking his players in public, and Christmas is cancelled. Doesn’t look good, does it?

Plus, a Soccerbrain points out the fallacy about managers – and rips Mourinho’s record to shreds. Lots of fun (h/t Simon Gleave)

See you next week

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