Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The Real and Unreal World of Wimbledon: Reflections of an Umpire

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day on Thursday 3rd July 2008
Amanullah De Sondy

Good morning from the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, where I’ve been an umpire for the last ten days. Perched in the BBC cabin at the media centre on the grounds of the All England Club it strikes me that this could be the most wonderful experience of my life. I must confess, that I only got involved in officiating because I could escape from the stress and rigorous thinking of theology. All I have to do here is look at a line, it’s either ‘in’ or ‘out’. If only theology was as simple as this!

Janko Tipserevic, the 40th seed from Serbia who downed the 6th seed American Andy Roddick here, stated in an interview that he had stopped reading what he called ‘depressing’ books as he felt it was affecting his tennis. But to what extent is it possible to isolate ourselves from the real world in our sporting or umpiring endeavours? Maybe maintaining an awareness of others is our jolt back to reality, a very Islamic concept for me. In similar fashion tennis players are expected to uphold the correct tennis etiquette on court, even though I’ve seen many a tennis rackets being smashed and heard many words of obscenity being uttered in the last ten days.

Maybe the best example of bringing the realities of life and the unreal world of tennis together, came to Wimbledon in the form of the wildcard Chinese ladies player Zheng Jie, who beat the number one seed Ana Ivanovich. Zheng Jie is from the same Sichuan region in China which was struck by the devastating earthquake in May this year. She has stated that she will donate all her earnings to the region in order to highlight the plight of those who have lost their homes. The sentiments of Zheng Jie are a refreshing reminder that professional tennis players can still have their feet firmly in the real world. As the championships come to an end it seems to me that there is really no such thing as an out of this world experience because when the trophies are handed out and the tv cameras leave what remains are the responsibilities and relationships that after all have made us who we are.

Day 9 - Wimbledon 2008

I was working on Court 19 all day today which had junior matches on throughout. Andy Murray got beat in three sets by Rafael Nadal. Enough said?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Day 8 - Wimbledon 2008

Someone I didn’t expect to see playing at Wimbledon was playing on Court 18 today with Helena Sukova. Yep, it was the 9 time Wimbledon Singles Champion Martina Navratilova. I had just come off court when I wandered off to see if I could catch a glimpse of her in action. I was in luck and got a superb front row seat, thanks to that special umpires badge that I wear around my neck. If only we all had something around our necks to get us the best seats at places.

I was also greatly impressed by the wildcard Chinese player Jie Zheng who beat Nicole Vaidisova on Court 1 today to book her semi-final place with Serena Williams. Zheng has also decided to donate all her earnings from the tournament to the earthquake victims in Sichuan, the province where around 70,000 people died as a result of May's earthquake, in China. "I would like to give the all prize money but cannot. I need to give back to something like the tennis association. Of course I will donate all my portion. Apart from that, I will do as much as I can to help the Sichuan region people because I'm from Sichuan province, as well. After going back after Wimbledon, I will do more charity work and encourage more people to come to support the stricken region and hope people from Sichuan will have their new homes as soon as possible." A worthy cause, well done Zheng!

I spent most of the day locating the Media Centre for the BBC today as I am presenting Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Scotland on Thursday (3rd July) live from Wimbledon! Keep your ears peeled folks!

Monday, 30 June 2008

Day 7 – Wimbledon 2008

It was my first time at Court No.1 and I have to say that the officials seats are in a much better location than on Centre Court. I watched the Nadal vs Youzhny match which was pretty one sided, again. The audience gasped in the opening set when Nadal slipped and called for the trainer. However, he still managed to win in three sets. Venus Williams won her match against the unseeded Klaybanova but there were times in the final set where Williams seemed to choke, it took her 5 match points to seal victory. I was on Court 19 today and had some pretty good British junior players showing their potential to the maximum. We need some fresh new British talent to rise up rankings. However, in mean time Andy Murray is doing very well as he beat the Frenchman Richard Gasquet in five sets. Jamie Murray also did well to win his mixed doubles match with Liezel Huber against Nadia Petrova and Dimitry Tursonav.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Scottish Islamic Foundation

I was shocked to read that the leaders of our three key political parties in Scotland, Alex Salmond, Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen are endorsing the Scottish Islamic Foundation to seek funding which will further isolationist approaches to education and hamper attempts at building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. I have nothing against the SIF, they have every right to exist and voice their opinion, albeit a political one, but they are not representative of a 'Muslim community'. Why are we failing to understand this?

If the SNP are so determined to create an alternative to Westminster then they need to learn from their English counterparts' mistakes and that was when Downing Street ran to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in hope of finding some united voice for the 'Muslim community'. This they failed to find but what emerged were several other voices who distanced themselves from the voice of the MCB and in turn exposed how wrong the British government was in seeking an acceptable political Islam. What we seem to be growing in Scotland are those from the same ilk couched in some mish mash of an imagined tartan which I most certainly wouldn't want to wear! It is an ill-informed government that seeks diversity in neat different boxes all brought together to sing from the same hymn sheet. An informed Scottish government would realise that diversity forces us to consider the layer upon layer of diversity that unravels when we begin to unpack that neat box we started with.

Thank God that Islamic theology allows for diversity without a religious hierarchy, even though the usual suspects seek to create one. When will we realise that the Muslim community is not a monolith? When will we realise that political Islam is far from the essence of the beautiful and loving Islam which is totally at ease in a diverse Scotland? Or is this just about getting the Muslim vote and seeking it by hook or by crook? I guess it's a little more hard work for our Scottish Government to seek the diversity of Muslim voices so they have found the loudest voices and forgotten about the rest. I shudder to think if the Scottish Government does actually care for a progressive society or a regressive one which just nods at their every gesture? Progressive Muslims in Scotland are far from the reach of politicians or Islamist foundations who may present alluring objectives but up close twist them to their own political gains.

Day 6 – Wimbledon 2008

I was on Court 4 today and had some pretty good doubles matches to work on. First up was the ever-popular Sania Mirza from India. Sania was playing Ladies Doubles with the ever-colourful Bethany Mattek from the USA. There was a huge crowd of South Asian descent cheering Sania on and it must have worked because they won their match. One of the American Bryan brothers was playing Mixed Doubles with Australian Samantha Stossur, they also won their match. But I think the highlight for the crowd was watching Japanese Ai Sugiyama and her Zimbabwean partner Kevin Ullyett win their match against a much younger team. Sugiyama now holds the record for consecutive appearances in a major by a man or woman with 57. It’s nice to see that age is no barrier to winning matches here. Tennis is a sport to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone. The weather was much nicer than yesterday and it was good because I hear that this Saturday is called ‘Peoples Saturday at Wimbledon’ because everyone wants to get in! I went out for dinner at a lovely restaurant in Wimbledon called Giraffes. I would highly recommend it! And...I’m off on middle Sunday! Hooray!