Hello, and happy new year! May yours be merry and bright. I usually take the first week of the year to take stock of how the “best of” the past year puts greater focus into events of the coming one.
Thus, here’s my watch list for the first half of the year. They’re less predictions and more things to take note of…though, if I’m honest, should things work out, I hope you give me some credit for my foresight!
1.The XXIII Winter Olympics. I’m watching the PyeongChang Games for a myriad of reasons, and a multitude of stories. Naturally, there’s the big picture context of how sport can help bridge cultural, diplomatic, and other divides. But how much can sports diplomacy help ski, skate, and bobsled over differences, rivalries, and more? Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for some forthcoming analysis articles on these angles.
But I’m also passionately following women’s alpine skiing. It’s a discipline I didn’t engage much with, aside from being a Killington regular during the Vermont ski season, until the FIS women’s World Cup touched down at my home mountain in November 2016. I did this piece for CNN International on what it takes to succeed as an elite female skier, and am now hooked to this addictive, adrenaline-fueled sport. It helps that PyeongChange will likely bring the Mikaela Shiffrin-Tessa Worley rivalry to the wider public—and for those who missed it, Worley was recently named Champion of French Champions for 2017 by L’Éqiupe.
2. The NBA All Star Game. Is 2018 the year international players get greater notice at this fan favorite weekend of competition? Preliminary results are in from the first round of voting, with the NBA’s International players showing strong, including Giannias Antetokounmpo, Joel Embild, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter, and Manu Ginobili.
Remember: your NBA team is more global than you think. #EverythingHasAHistory.
3.The UpFront and Onside Conference at the National Football Museum in Manchester, United Kingdom. Coinciding with International Women’s Day, this promises to be an inspiring, insightful, and exciting two days on the women’s game. I’m honored to be presenting on Les Bleues since 2011 alongside such a stellar lineup of speakers and scholars. You should pay attention, for the future of football (soccer) is female.
Many thanks to the event sponsors and Dr. Jean Williams for making this one of the main kickoff events heading into the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. Here’s where you can view the program and register.
4. 2018 FIFA Russia World Cup. I’ll have mes yeux sur Les Bleus this summer as they begin their 2018 WC quest. Head coach Didier Deschamps has an embarrassingly deep roster of talent to call upon for national team duty. The question is not whether the men will gel; this was demonstrated during the 2016 Euro campaign, which fell just shy of the title trophy. It’s whether Les Bleus can pull it off 70 years after they placed third with the iconic Raymond Kopa and Just Fontaine, and 20 years after winning it all with legends Zinédine Zidane, Lilian Thuram, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Marcel Desailly, Laurent Blanc, Deschamps, and the rest of the ’98 heroes.
I’m a believer, and you should be too. It’s not just that France can use a feel-good story. It’s that they’re that good. Brush up with my 2016 Sports Illustrated piece on some of the complications for the French and their national team, which begins—fittingly—with the late Raymond Kopa.
5. Qualifying Windows for 2019 FIBA World Cup. Amid much controversy, this is the first year of FIBA’s new international windows for teams to qualify for its major tournaments. In implementing the new calendar, one akin to the FIFA international qualifying breaks, FIBA is trying to tighten things up and free up one much-needed summer each four-year cycle for teams to rest. Unfortunately, the move penalizes countries, especially in Europe, who have men playing in the world’s top leagues, the NBA and EuroLeague, which do not free their players to participate in the international windows.
This has put the basketball Les Bleus into a pickle, alarming the French Basketball Federation and its president, Jean-Pierre Siutat. Yet, after the November window, France remains at the top of their qualifying group. I’m watching the February and June windows, the latter in which NBA and EuroLeague players will finally be available for national team duty, to see what transpires.