essential reading

The football-loving terrorist, Caitlyn Jenner's complex Olympic memories and the week's best sportswriting

Also, Steven Gerrard on England and detailed look at the harrowing process of sex-testing female athletes.

1.The thing he loved most was FC Barcelona.

The family went on vacation about five years ago to the French town of Perpignan, in the Pyrenees near the Spanish border, and Brams talked her into driving him two hours to visit Camp Nou, Barcelona’s stadium. They took the tour, walked through the museum and then went a little crazy in the gift shop. She bought him a bedspread, a scarf and a jersey. “The real shirt in the stadium,” she says. “It was very expensive but I said, ‘OK, I will buy it.’”

The bedspread is still on the bed in his room and the jersey is in his closet. She hasn’t touched a thing. Even now, with him dead more than a year, she still stops and checks a score when she sees Barcelona is playing.

“When they win, I say, ‘Oh, he will be happy,’” she says.

That’s as close as she can get to a prayer over his grave; she never saw his body or even a photo of it. He died in Syria, where he went to join Al Qaeda, and likely ISIS, after being radicalized by an imam in their town.”

Writing for ESPN, Wright Thompson travels to Molenbeek in Belgium and finds the mother of a man who had swapped a love for football with a love for hate.  

2.The closest Agnew got to meeting O’Neill in Kilrea was when he used to go to the only barbers in the village, where Leo O’Neill would dispense short back and sides. “His dad, Leo, was a great auld divil. He was very easy to get on with and much liked by people. As you were getting your hair cut he used to talk football and that was when I got to hear about Martin and his brothers, as they were a very sporty family, particularly with the GAA.

Italy v Republic of Ireland - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group E - Stade Pierre Mauroy Frank Augstein Frank Augstein

However that was as far as it got. Agnew went to the local Protestant national school as a boy, O’Neill to the Catholic one. When they were a little older, Agnew went off to a Protestant boarding school in Dublin, while O’Neill went to St Columbs Catholic grammar school in Derry, also the alma mater of John Hume and Seamus Heaney.

“Martin is a talented guy himself, but there are a lot of northern Catholics who are very driven, very focused and very successful because they have come out of the apartheid background and it made them what they were. I am thinking very much of the likes of Heaney and Hume,” Agnew said.”

Both from the same Derry village of Kilrea, the Catholic became the Irish football manager and the Protestant a well-known football correspondent. Paul Rowan traces the lengthy non-relationship and recent friendship between Martin O’Neill and Paddy Agnew.   

3. “I have been there on the receiving end of this. It was never to the same extent as a defeat like that against Iceland, but I know exactly how those players will be feeling after disappointing in a major tournament.

Soccer - 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany - Quarter Final - England v Portugal - AufSchalke Arena Empics Ltd. Empics Ltd.

I can imagine how they were feeling as the second half continued in Nice. They knew what was in store as soon as Iceland scored their second goal.

When England went behind, many of those players will have been thinking of the consequences of defeat as much as what to do to get back in the game.

I hate to say it, but your mind drifts to what the coverage is going to be like back home and the level of criticism you are going to get. You cannot stop yourself. “What if we don’t get back into this? What will it be like if we go out here?”

Panic sets in. The frustration takes over. You freeze and stop doing those things you know you should be. You start forcing the game, making the wrong choices with your passes, shooting from the wrong areas and letting the anxiety prevent you from doing the simple things.”

There were many things written in the immediate aftermath of England’s remarkable defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 but Steven Gerrard provided an insightful column on being there, doing it and bearing the consequences

4. “Jenner has a complex relationship with the medal in the bathroom, in the drawer, in the box beneath the plastic case. It commemorates extraordinary work that allowed her to withstand the pain of what is now called gender dysphoria but then was seldom talked about at all.

TV Jenner's Return AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

“The decathlon,” she says, “was the perfect distraction.”

A decathlon victory is a rare achievement—there are only 22 Olympic gold medalists (12 American)—but to Jenner it can at times feel insignificant. It represents one of the greatest moments of her life, yet her life is different now. “Sports. It’s not real life,” she says. “You go out there, you work hard, you train your ass off, win the Games. I’m very proud of that part of my life. And it’s not like I just want to throw it out. It’s part of who I am. What I’m dealing with now, this is about who you are as a human being. What did I do for the world in 1976, besides maybe getting a few people to exercise a little bit? I didn’t make a difference in the world.”

40 years after winning Olympic gold in the decathlon, there’s now Caitlyn Jenner, not Bruce. Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden spoke to Jenner and discovered the difficulties she has with looking back on a monumental achievement.  

5.Chand was unaware of any controversy surrounding Semenya or other intersex athletes. Her gender concerns were much more immediate: She saw other 15-year-old girls becoming curvier and heard them talk about getting their periods. She asked her mother why her body wasn’t doing the same thing, and trusted her answer: Chand’s body would change when it was good and ready.

In 2012, Chand advanced to a national-level athletic training program, which in addition to food and lodging provided a stipend. At 16, she also became a national champion in the under-18 category, winning the 100 meters in 11.8 seconds. The next year, she won gold in the 100 meters and the 200 meters. In June 2014, she won gold yet again at the Asian championships in Taipei.

Not long after that, she received the call to go to Delhi and was tested. After her results came in, officials told her she could return to the national team only if she reduced her testosterone level — and that she wouldn’t be allowed to compete for a year. The particulars of her results were not made public, but the media learned, and announced, that Chand had “failed” a “gender test” and wasn’t a “normal” woman. For days, Chand cried inconsolably and refused to eat or drink. “Some in the news were saying I was a boy, and some said that maybe I was a transsexual,” Chand told me. “I felt naked. I am a human being, but I felt I was an animal. I wondered how I would live with so much humiliation.”

For the New York Times Magazine, Ruth Padawer delves into the humiliating process of sex-testing female athletes and focuses on Indian runner Dutee Chand’s harrowing story.

The42 is on Snapchat! Tap the button below on your phone to add!

Was that pity we felt? Watching England fail wasn’t half as funny as it usually is

Premier League’s cult of money drips down to the minnows as typified by remarkable Watford story

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.