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Category: Sports Page 1 of 2

Gareth Bale’s Free Kick Thwarted by Magic Spell Caster Tal Ben Haim

Just when you think you have seen it all:

Watch Israel’s Tal Ben Haim bewitch the ball about to be kicked by Wales’ Gareth Bale

Interestingly, there are more examples of magical gestures being used on the pitch, in sports. For example, there is a story about anchor gestures used in cricket to relieve stress. You can even invent them yourself, much like one can create one’s own mudra. And all of those examples have a lot in common with the creation of magical spells

This player, Tal Ben Haim II, is worth a google… according to Wikipedia he has only played for Israeli teams and has played for Israel a number of times. Well, nothing else really stands out, so this incident with Bale is really his best claim to fame so far.

Van Persie’s Nice Gesture Combi Mistaken for a Fascist Salute?

An interesting story in the news (here) and on YouTube today about gestures made by Robin van Persie. Best to watch the video first:

The video containing the gesture (for as long as it stays online…)

Apparently some people interpreted his gesture combination as the Roman/Fascist/Hitler greeting. He himself twittered in response:

Persie_Official Robin van Persie: It has been brought to my attention of some ridiculous allegations concerning my celebration of one of my goals yesterday. It is totally ludicrous to suggest that. My action of brushing my shoulder and pointing to my fans could be construed as anything else but of a showing of joy and celebration. To suggest this meant anything to the contrary is insulting and absolutely absurd as nothing else came into my mind.”

Apart from his grammar, I support his explanation of the gestures. “Brushing your shoulders” is indeed a Dutch gesture performed after performing great feats to indicate “that only ruffled my suit a bit” or “that hardly cost any effort”. Often accompanied with a grin or smirk and brash composure (as displayed here as well). And in this case he uses a salute to direct the gesture towards the audience, which I would interpret as an additional “and I do it all for you”.

This is however also a wonderful example of the importance of context, the perception of intentions, and the sensitivities of observers when it comes to interpreting the meaning of gestures. Someone who is suspicious of Van Persie (for whatever reason) or otherwise prone to ascribe ill intentions to him, may actually look at these gestures, in this situation, quite differently than most people. In this case however it would mean they think extremely lowly of him and of the Arsenal fans. Their line of thinking would run roughly as follows (and just to be certain: I do not agree with it): “I hate fascists/nazi’s. Van Persie may well a secret fascist/nazi. There are more like him in the Arsenal audience that he wishes to salute. He is using the pretext of cheering after a goal to make a (badly) camouflaged fascist salute. But he won’t get away with it, because I saw what I saw.” Well, I pity the one who thinks like that, sorry.

Just to end on a positive note: congrats to Van Persie for a wonderful performance. My hat’s off to you. You indeed make it look so easy sometimes.

A silent, gestural sponsor message: Li-Ning



What are these guys doing? Are they flashing a gang sign? Nope. It’s a gesture that mimics the logo of their sponsor, Li-Ning.

Now, in the news today, you can follow a nicely evolving story about this practice (here, here, and here for example).

The immediate cause of the story was in incident on a podium at the Asian Games involving gymnasts Lu Bo, Teng Haibin and Hisashi Mizutori…

… After the all-around ceremony, Teng was forced to explain a hand gesture he and Lu made on the podium, where they appeared to aim a gun at Mizutori. The two Asian powers have a long history of war and animosity.

“I would like to explain that the gesture which looks like I am using a gun is not hostile,” Teng said, explaining that the gesture is meant to symbolize the Li Ning logo.

Mizutori made the same gesture back, though he said later he was not sure what it meant.

“I thought maybe I should just go along with it, so I just did it,” Mizutori said. …

Amanda Turner – IG

So, are these gymnasts doing something improper? On the one hand, taking a ‘high’ semiotic perspective, a gesture such as the one they display is a typical symbolic sign. In gesture terms, it is an emblem. As such, it is much the same as the sponsor logos on athletes’ clothing (which are accepted).

On the other hand, the method of delivery, the carrier of the symbolic meaning may be very important here. A logo on a shirt delivers a message much more quietly than a gesture made on a public podium. Humans are hard- and/or softwired to pay attention to gestures, because there may be some important communication on that channel that may concern you. That is at least how I see it. It is nearly imposssible to see a man and ignore his gestures. That is not true for a logo. I can easily ignore a logo.

In other words, I would not be surprised if we look back in about five years time, and remember how Li-Ning pioneered a sales tactic that became booming business. I am very curious if the gymnasts will be sanctioned.

Brian Wilson’s Arm Cross Story

In the news today, a story about the trademark gesture of a baseball pitcher named Brian Wilson.

This is apparently Brian Wilsons Arm Cross

This is apparently Brian Wilson's Arm Cross (source)

And from another angle:

Wilsons Arm Cross again

Wilson's Arm Cross again (source)

Extra Baggs posted a nice interview with Wilson about the meaning behind his gesture, and it is apparently an odd mixture of something about his christian religiousness, something about his late father, and something about a brand of clothing. Wilson’s explanation is rather lengthy and not entirely fit to read just before lunch (for those with strong appetites: here), so here are the most important bits:

“One More Round is a clothing line [for martial arts fighters]. It has to do with the drive and determination that certain fighters have when their backs are against the wall… And to me, that relates to what I do on the mound. In the ninth inning, your back is against the wall …  one of the main things I do … is the crossing of the arms… on a T-shirt I wear underneath my jersey when I pitch. That’s just respecting the fighters. ”

“And also … when I cross my arms, I have my left hand in the fist and my right hand goes underneath pointing with my (index) finger … this finger represents one man. I’m that one person … The fist represents the power of the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost … So here’s the strength of God and the strength of man. And without him, I am nothing … But when I cross, I now have this one person with the strength of Christ, and I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me …

So until here, there is little about his dad in this explanation but elsewhere Wilson says that the gesture is also some sort of tribute to his late father. Well, why not? Let’s accept that he added one more element of meaning to what is after all his own personally invented gesture. And a marvellous gesture example it is, I must say. In itself, Wilson’s gesture creation is a nice tribute to humans’ ability to create symbols with highly complex meanings and communicate these to others.

Now, the story in the news is not so much about the gesture itself, but about another baseball player, named Casey Blake, who apparently got a little frustrated and derided the gesture by creating a mock version of it, which Wilson took as an insult. Teammates of Wilson caught Blake on photo, but I haven’t been able to dig it up on the net (anyone?).

Some commentators side with Wilson’s indignation, while others think he overreacts and shows weakness. Personally, I’ll add that I find Wilson is flaunting his personal beliefs in the aftermath of an emotionally charged game, at a moment in which he might better show himself a gracious winner. It has an air of rubbing it in, of “see, God was on my side”, or even worse, “look at me being all strong and victorious, it was all through God you know, you should try it”. Slightly distasteful. Can’t he just kiss a little cross or something if he wants to thank God or something?

Jailtime for Footballer giving the Finger?

I have previously witnessed many footballers getting fined (usually about 10000 euro) over giving the finger to either their own fans or the fans of the other side. But this is the first time I hear that a footballer might get jailtime over it. It is happening in Brazil, to Cristian Mark Junio Nascimento Oliveira, of the Corinthians. He is facing charges in for unsuitable behavior or lewd conduct or something like that, being prosecuted by the department of justice. Usually, footballers get the fine from their own club or from the national football league.


Healy’s Flute is an Orangist Salute

Although the story of David Healy’s flute gesture is getting a little moldy it has generated enough discourse to deserve another mentioning here. The interesting thing about this flute gesture is how it is part of the history of the Northern Ireland sectarian conflicts. Sensitive catholic Irish republicans will get inflamed over the gesture while others have no idea what the problem is.

Healy Mimicks Playing the Flute
David Healy making the flute gesture. (source)

Orangist Marching Band
These flute bands on Orangist marches are what the gesture refers to.

Get a glimpse of the triumphalist nature of these marches

By coincidence I am currently reading ‘The Irish War’ by Tony Geraghty. He sketches a long and messy conflict which has gone on for more than 300 years. It is clear that these marches are of an inflammatory nature, and therefore a gesture that refers to them is also inflammatory. It is not just a merry band of flute-playing men. They celebrate Orangist protestant dominance in Northern Ireland at the expense of the catholic part of the population.

The conflict carried over to a Scottish football match called ‘the Old Firm’ between the Rangers (protestant) and Celtic (catholic), see this nice historical overview by the BCC. Many Irish people moved to Scotland and brought the conflict with them. Paul Gasoigne made the mistake of making this gesture while he played for the Rangers and paid a heavy fine of 20.000 pounds.

Gascoigne does the flute gesture
Paul Gascoigne made the same flute gesture during the old firm (Picture: BBC News)

David Healy was not playing for the Rangers, in fact I don’t think he ever did, but he is known as a Rangers fan. He is from Northern Ireland and he plays in their national side. However, in this game Healy was playing for Fulham (an English club) in a friendly match against Celtic, which sets the context for the gesture. Healy was ‘provoked’ by the Celtic fans who knew his sympathies and chanted ‘where were you on The Twelfth‘ (a reference to an important march on the twelfth of July). In response, he seems to have made this gesture somewhat jokingly. The strange thing is that he seems to be escaping the sort of fine Gascoigne got. Why is that? Was Gazza perceived as doing it to inflame Celtic supporters whereas Healy was just fooling around? I think many people will take it more seriously than that. As always happens with sportsmen making inappropriate gestures, Healy is now apologizing and his club is investigating. It wouldn’t surprise me if a fine came soon.

The Orange Order
What Irish Political Pundits have to say about it
A similar incident at Belfast Zoo, involving a panda.
CNN reports about the Orange Order marching season

Update: I think an important difference between Healy and Gascoigne is that the latter played for the Rangers who were at that time trying to defuse a tense situation. Gascoigne’s gesture was hurting that effort.

Van Bommel Overdoing Sarcastic Gestures

Mark van Bommel is a Dutch football player who plays for Bayern Munich. He is also a bit of a drama queen, who already supplied us with a decent little gesture scandal before. After already being fined 6200 euro for making a ‘fuck you’ gesture (forearem jerk) to the crowds at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium, he repeated the gesture (now dubbed ‘doing a Van Bommel’) in the final minutes against Hamburg, this time insulting the referee. This time he got an extra two match ban and a 15000 euro fine (compare other fines) What sort of fine would be enough to stop him?

Van Bommel’s little theatrical performance includes some sarcastic clapping. There is an interesting piece by Steve Tomkins on the correct and incorrect application of sarcasm. He also has some cases of football players clapping sarcastically. In a lovely cool sarcastic style Tomkins sets out to explain why sarcasm is not necessarily rude. If done correctly sarcasm can deliver venomous bites. The key lies in not overdoing what you say or how you gesture, and in the inclusion of a pinch of humour. Obviously, if your victim really did or said something stupid it will make sarcasm succeed easily (your victim can’t get angry because he is too busy being ashamed).

In this case, Van Bommel overdoes the sarcasm. First, the referee is always right, so he is free to get angry, and indeed he responds by showing the red card. In such a case one must leave room for innocent interpretations to hide behind. If one simply keeps a straight face and claps twice it can always be explained as saying ‘good call, ref!’. The fans in the stadium will understand the sarcasm but there will not be enough evidence to punish you. I think that in most cases even the slightest hint of sarcasm will be enough for other people to pick up the message. We humans are so sensitive to insults. Often the mere context will make a straightforward interpretation of an innocent phrase that is intended as sarcasm very unlikely.

Him: “did you watch the game yesterday?” (your team lost 2-0 to his, the bastard)
You: “yes, great game for the neutral spectators” (it was a teeth-grinding muddy fight)
Him: “we gave your lot a good whipping, hey?” (obnoxious little fella, everyone could tell the ref wrongly sent a man off after ten minutes)
You: “yes, a victory well deserved. They are really on fire these last few weeks aren’t they?” (they only had one win against a second division club and three losses)

Every knowledgeable bystander (or at least those you care about) will get your point from the context. But in comparison to your obnoxious colleague you appear to be gracious about it all. He may or may not spot your sarcasm but he has no good option to respond. He can either take your words literally and be a fool, or he can acknowledge your sarcasm and respond to the unspoken allegations (that it was an ugly match, an undeserved victory and a team that sucks anyway). The latter choice will have him on the defensive (“I thought it was a proper red card for hands”) in which case you can turn up the sarcasm (“of course, he should have stopped the ball with his genitals”).

ps. Thanks to Elif for the link to Tomkin’s piece

Montoya fined $10.000 for a playful finger

I agree with some of the comments on YouTube that the Americans have a strange fear of the finger. They will not even show it unscrambled in this video clip. In general US media do not show pictures of people flipping the bird or making what they feel are insulting or obscene gestures.

I believe that the finger is not really obscene, but in most cases a gesture of defiance. It can also be a playful gesture of outsmarting someone or being smug to the competition, as it is in this case, which is related to defiance.

But there is hardly ever any sexual connotation at all. Nor is there always an insult. Unless you feel insulted by the open defiance. Perhaps some people simply cannot stand other people showing their defiance. Do they have difficulty accepting gestures of defiance? Somehow this is turning into something alltogether too much political and too close to current events.

Not a Nice Gesture by Baros

Lyon striker Milan Baros will face a disciplinary inquiry about his “go away, you stink” gestures to Rennes defender Stephane M’Bia with during a Ligue 1 match.

Was it racist or just obnoxious on a personal level?

My friend Gael said that if you make reference to an existing racist or discriminating stereotype, such as “all grubbers (fictional race or country inhabitants) stink” then this should be considered racism or discrimination. I agree with Gael (don’t tell him though), and find that this gesture is as much a reference to stinking as any words you could use.

Morrison fined $25,000 for giving the finger

Adam Morrison, a Canadian basketball player, was fined $25.000 for giving the finger to a nagging fan.

Finger in happier times
Well, it was probably another finger but nobody is hosting an image of the incident anywhere… (source)

Is this fine fair? Here are some exactly similar cases to help you decide a fair punishment:
* Zach Randolph (basketball, USA) was fined $133.333
* Mark van Bommel (football, Germany) was fined EUR6,200
* Michael Vick (American football, USA) was fined $10.000
* Ron Artest (basketball, USA) was fined $10,000
* Natasha Zvereva (tennis, Wimbledon) was fined $1,000
* Juan Pablo Montoya (NASCAR, USA) was fined $10,000

More on fines and jailtime for gestures

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