Saturday, the 27th of June

Talking Points

Texans are back on the beers even as the health system wavers. PHOTO: Axios
  1. US states reopened even as new coronavirus cases broke records
  2. Polls underscored Joe Biden's healthy lead over Donald Trump
  3. Saudi Arabia limited this year's Hajj to just 10,000 people
  4. China launched a satellite to take on the US GPS system
  5. Kosovo's President was indicted for war crimes
  6. Japan unveiled the world's most-powerful supercomputer
  7. Masayoshi Son resigned from the board of Alibaba
  8. Apple unveiled its long-awaited processor (and dumped Intel)
  9. Bayer got handed a $10.9b Roundup cancer bill
  10. J&J failed to overturn the baby powder cancer verdict

Deep Dive

Mohamed Salah respectfully celebrates . PHOTO: Paul Ellis / AP

This week we celebrate (yes, even you Man City supporters) the stratospheric rise of Liverpool F.C. and its first top-tier trophy since 1989/90. But even more than the Liverpudlian victory, we celebrate the enormous effort it took to bring sport back to the people in a world riddled with coronavirus. If the EPL was a success, it was a rare one, as sporting codes all over struggle to get back onto the pitch.

You'll never walk alone

What's three months after three decades of waiting? Coronavirus may have delayed the overcome, but Liverpool have finally ended 30 years of hurt . The music blared all night long and flares burned outside Anfield after Jurgen Klopp's men secured their place atop the English Premier League. The Reds snatched a staggering 86 points from just 31 games, and commandeered a 23-point lead over Manchester City. And so they've been crowned champions with a full seven games to spare. On Wednesday, they walloped Crystal Palace and then waited with bated breath to see if City would hold on. But the Sky Blues succumbed to the actual Blues and so, in the somewhat anticlimactic style of European football, Liverpool won without a finals series to speak of. Not that it matters in Merseyside.

We could spend all day on Klopp's defensive masterstrokes or Mohamed Salah's timing, but this is not the column for that. Instead, we'll interrogate just how the EPL managed to restart their league in the middle of a pandemic. In early May, Britain had overtaken Spain for the highly undesirable title of having the largest number of coronavirus fatalities in Europe. Thousands of new cases were being found every day. And yet, in the midst of all that, the EPL was in the process of planning its restart. Borrowing a leaf from the Bundesliga (which restarted on May 10) the British began blanket-testing every single player and staff member across all 20 clubs. The tests were run like clockwork, and the regime was an enormous success . All the positive cases (and even some false positives) were identified, and dealt with. As a result, last weekend, there was just one solitary positive result returned from over 1800 tests.

Were Liverpool not allowed to lace up their boots again in the 19/20 season, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) had planned for an off-pitch decider. Based on the principle of "sporting merit" the league would vote (overseen by UEFA) on which teams would be elevated to next season's European competitions. While technically sound, a technocratic process could not be further removed from the glory of putting the ball into the back of the net. Luckily for the 200 million people who watch the EPL it didn't come to that.

Fight Island and Disney World

Other codes have been less lucky. Some novel early suggestions for relocating sporting competitions out of hotspots included the non-starter 'NRL Island', and UFC supremo Dana White's actualised 'Fight Island' (really a manmade island in Abu Dhabi).

The idea that a body of water can stop a threat is as charmingly anachronistic as it is misguided. A single asymptomatic official or caterer could unwind the entire project. But still, points for trying. The National Basketball Association opted for a less insular retreat, namely Florida’s Disney World. The sprawling resort complex is set to host all 22 teams for a truncated 8-game season followed by a full-length postseason . Most teams will arrive by the second week of July, and both players and staff will be expected to stay in the bubble (i.e., their hotel rooms and training facilities). This all sounds relatively workable, were it not for the fact that Florida is experiencing exponential growth in its coronavirus cases. On the first of this month just 600 cases were confirmed. By Thursday this week, the daily case count was up to 5,500. In the county surrounding Disney World, the confirmed cases have rocketed up 650% in two weeks. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, having hastily reopened the state weeks ago, is now presiding over what could become the country’s worst outbreak .

Americans have endured more than 100 days without a single game of professional basketball, baseball, football, or ice hockey. They’ll likely face a longer wait as their competitions deal with a thorny problem: rising coronavirus infections within their ranks. Major League Baseball is still trying to work out if a season is viable. But in the meantime an “unspecified number” of Dodgers players have tested positive, and team trainings in two states have been abandoned. If the NFL has managed to stay somewhat controversy free (for once) the same cannot be said for the college teams which have had COVID-19 run rife through team trainings. And in the NHL, 11 of the 200 players tested since June 8 have turned up positive results. The EPL managed to get their season going thanks to a mass testing program. But in the United States, where the virus is rife, even such measures will not be enough.

What the respective commissioners and presidents will have to grapple with now is whether there is an acceptable load of coronavirus cases. Moreover, what they should do once that limit is inevitably crossed. If they need guidance they can just ask Novak Djokovic . And even if we do all make our way back into our beloved stadia again sometime soon, savour it while you can, because the entire future of global sport is imperilled by unmitigated global heating .


Fake it til you break it. PHOTO: Michael Dalder / Reuters

Hardwired for failure

German fintech powerhouse Wirecard has been harried by suggestions of questionable behaviour for over 18 months. These calcified into allegations of massive fraud when, on the 18th, the company announced that it could not locate €1.9b (most of its net cash position). How, you might ask, does one misplace billions. Quite easily, in fact - especially if they weren't there to begin with. It turns out the Asian branch of Wirecard had for years overstated both sales, and profit. It had also claimed that a pair of Filipino banks held the sum in question, in escrow for Wirecard's customers. But in reality neither institution did anything of the sort. This week, the company's stock price cratered, and CEO Markus Braun resigned in disgrace. He was promptly arrested by German authorities. And the wunderkind filed for insolvency.

How was this missed? Wirecard adroitly avoided scrutiny for decades by using a novel route to get itself listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. It used a hybrid business model to obscure details that any other bank looking to list would have had to disclose. Details that included some very oddly-structured deals in Asia. There is no question now that heads will roll at Germany's financial watchdog BaFin. The agency sat on a whistleblower report of the fraud at Wirecard for over a year . It remained quiet even as the Financial Times published exposé after exposé based on similar testimony. In fact, even when doubt started to creep into the market, BaFin's only meaningful intervention was to ban those who were trying to short Wirecard stock. But BaFin wasn't the only one to blame. Ernst & Young, Wirecard's long-time auditors, also failed to detect the global fraud lacing through their client's books. More details will emerge over time, but none will succour the German banks left holding the can.

For now, the scandal is still pulsing with anger, and no small measure of confusion. But eventually the emotions will fade and Wirecard will just be another case of fraud in the history books . A lesson for others in the sector. But lessons are not what's needed - there are already scores of them. The issue is more that the lessons aren't often heeded. We cannot prevent individuals or organisations from trying to slip one past the regulators in the future. But letting them get away with it because of deficient or complacent regulators and auditors - this is not a fait accompli.

Or is it? PHOTO: Ben Stansall / AFP

Four more years!

They say time flies when you're having fun. Well this must be a rollicking good time then, because on Tuesday Britain marked the passing of four years since its Brexit referendum. Four years since 51.89% of Britons grabbed the wheel and set sail, looking for new waves to rule. The occasion passed without fanfare. And why wouldn't it? Sure, Britain left the European Union in January (after an agonising delay that quite literally wiped years off all of our lives), but it is still negotiating with Brussels. And so, a no-deal Brexit still remains a distinct possibility.

On December 31st, Britain's transitional trade relationship with the EU will end, deal or not. But there is an even earlier deadline for a comprehensive draft agreement - October. Yes, a looming date, but one that had felt achievable in recent weeks as Brussels and London prepared to restart face-to-face negotiations. The EU had even entertained a concession that would have allowed Britain to break bloc rules . The quid pro quo was the right for Brussels to implement limited tariffs. But now this significant concession has been canned by the UKs chief negotiator. And that October deadline suddenly looms much larger.

Equally frustrating is the fact that neither party has sketched out a plan for the millions of trucks that traverse above or below the Channel every year. The actual process for implementing speedy border controls at Dover (where 10,000 trucks arrive everyday ) is also being left rather late in the game. All of which suggests that, as many have previously reported, Boris Johnson simply intends to run out the clock on a no-deal Brexit.

Come what may, Britain is taking its first steps out of Europe as a weakened, if not hollowed out, entity. The United Kingdom is facing its worst recession in three centuries . Brexit has sent the pound into a period of prolonged instability (it displays the characteristics of an emerging market currency). And there is little solace to be had from its underperforming equities .

The Best of Times

A fitting commemoration. PHOTO: Nasa

Glass ceilings and concrete walls

Mary W Jackson helped put Americans into orbit, but for decades received little recognition. Nasa's first black female engineer started in the segregated team of black mathematicians whose sheer calculating power opened the heavens to American rockets. She would go on to crash through the agency's racial and gendered glass ceilings and become an advocate for greater diversity. It will be impossible to look passed her achievements now: Nasa's headquarters in Washington will bear her name for future generations to learn.

Use it don't lose it

The Bundestag has voted to bring German laws on single-use packaging in line with the rest of the EU. A year from now, it will be unlawful to sell the polystyrene food containers that litter German parks, not to mention plastic cutlery and straws. This is a particularly notable achievement given the world's current pandemic-induced reversion to disposable packaging.

The Worst of Times

War crimes? What war crimes? PHOTO: Thomas Watkins / AFP

The Arctic is still on fire

And now it's 38°C north of the Arctic Circle to boot. The hottest-ever Arctic temperature was recorded in Verkhoyansk last Saturday – where it is nearly 20°C warmer than the June average. One meteorologist pointed out that current climate change modelling predicted extreme heat like this, but not until 2100. Lots of stories deserve your attention. This is the only one that truly matters .

Friendly fire

A US serviceman has been indicted for passing on information to neo-Nazis in a plot to have his own unit attacked . It's a ludicrous story that highlights just how little a flag patch on a uniform means. As Rage Against The Machine intoned: some of those that work forces / are the same that burn crosses.

Weekend Reading

The image

Another gloriously botched piece of Renaissance art restoration. Keep them coming, folks! Photograph supplied by the New Zealand Herald.

The quote

"Et tu, Brute?"

– We know well what toppled the Roman Republic. But now we've got a much clearer idea of what knocked over the Roman Empire: a volcano in Canada .

The numbers


- The amount of Pakistani pilots who did not take their own flying exam . In the aftermath of the deadly Karachi crash Pakistan's pilots have been investigated and found wanting.


- One fifth of the ocean's deep seabed has now been mapped . This is a startling achievement given the complexity of the task. We've already got a head-start on mapping all of the land which is soon to be swallowed by rising sea levels.

The headline

"Drain brain: Nasa offers prize money for best lunar loo design" The Guardian

The special mention

The mighty Segway is no more . This preposterous personal transport vehicle provided us with an unending supply of collision videos. Thanks for all the laughs.

A few choice long-reads

Tom Wharton