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Sensemaker: Game on

Sensemaker: Game on

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Russia cut by half its already reduced gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany.
  • David Trimble, an architect of peace in Northern Ireland, died aged 77.
  • Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak debated tax, growth and earrings in their fight to succeed Boris Johnson (more below).
  • A breaching humpback whale landed on the bow of a 19-foot boat off Cape Cod, astonishing onlookers but hurting no one.

Game on

England’s women play Sweden in Sheffield tonight in the semi-finals of the Euros. For anyone who’s been under a rock the sport is football and the context – apart from the host nation’s traditionally unrequited yearning for victory – is a cost of living crisis. 

England is increasingly besotted with its team. A sold-out England-Germany final at Wembley on Sunday is an impresario’s dream. England vs France, the other possibility, would be billed as the Dover Derby.

Fran Kirby, England’s playmaker, couldn’t resist the thought that victory for the tournament hosts would soothe the nation’s brain: “As much as we want to win, we want to put a smile on people’s faces,” she said. “They may be going through a hard time in terms of the rising fuel costs and the cost of living right now.”

Not everyone applauded this characterisation of football as escape from reality. One fan tweeted: “With all that’s going on, it’ll take a lot more than that.” It’s a measure of the rancour souring these times that a positive message from a footballer should be dismissed in parts of social media as objectionable. Yet Kirby was right to say there has been a restorative joy around England’s games: an affirmation of sport’s capacity to reconnect us to a frayed communal spirit.

England have beaten Sweden only once in seven competitive matches – way back in 1984 – and have never won a women’s World Cup (which started in 1991) or European Championship (1984). In the men’s game too Swedish football is a conundrum English sides often struggle to solve.

By the numbers

  • 7.6 million: BBC One viewers who watched England’s tense quarter-final win over Spain. Digital and iPlayer viewings raised that figure to 9 million. England’s record – 11.7 million for the 2019 World Cup semi-final – is likely to be broken by the game in Sheffield.
  • 3: the number of consecutive semi-finals England’s women have lost between 2015-2019.
  • 157,497: spectators England have drawn to their four matches so far.
  • 16: England’s goal tally in those four games, with only one conceded. They are unbeaten in 18 games under Wiegman and have scored 100 goals in that time.

European assistance The men’s team tried Swedish (Sven-Goran Eriksson) and Italian

(Fabio Capello) managers, without success. Wiegman, the former Netherlands head coach, has liberated the women’s side with a free-flowing Dutch style and tactical mastery. Her bold triple substitution 62 minutes into the quarter-final when Spain were leading 1-0 placed her credibility on the line. But the changes worked. England won 2-1 in extra-time in front of a women’s Euros record quarter-final crowd of 28,994.

For generations, English football told itself it had nothing to learn from foreign coaches, but Wiegman, who won the 2017 tournament with the Netherlands, has added sophistication to a base of native spirit.

Traditional English tournament fear has vanished. On the touchline, Wiegman would pass for a visiting academic or bureaucrat. But she believes inhibition and sports science overload are enemies of performance. “As I grew in my personality, I really wanted to be relaxed more,” Wiegman says. “Why do players start playing football when they’re seven years old? It’s because they love the game. Yes, it’s all about winning, but you perform better when you can be yourself and when you’re in an environment – and it sounds like school – an environment where you’re safe, where you will not be judged.”

England beating Sweden and then Germany or France wouldn’t bring inflation down or solve the climate emergency. It would however accelerate the growth of women’s sport in England and, as Kirby says, “give people an escape for 90-plus minutes” and “something to cheer about.” We could all do with a bit of that.


Sorry, we are closed 
More than 1,400 London restaurants have closed in the past year because of a triple whammy of VAT increases, rent raids and soaring energy costs. Many of their difficulties were foreseeable if unwelcome hangovers from Covid: to help save businesses during the pandemic VAT was lowered to 5 per cent and later raised to 12.5 per cent, but it’s now back at pre-bug 20 per cent. Similarly, landlords were prevented from collecting unpaid rent from March 2020 to June 2021, but can now go after it. And businesses have no energy price cap, so the war in Ukraine is having a direct impact on restaurateurs’ bottom lines. According to the Eater website, they are closing London premises at nearly double the normal rate.


Battery boom
A key figure from the early days of Tesla is building a $3.5 billion EV battery materials plant in the Nevada desert. JB Straubel, who left Tesla in 2019 after 15 years as its chief technical officer, is behind a new Redwood Materials campus outside Reno that will make a black powder consisting mainly of lithium, nickel and cobalt, hitherto produced overwhelmingly in China. The powder is the batteries’ cathode. China so dominates its production that currently even lithium mined in the US has to go there to be processed, the WSJ reports. EV makers have known for years they will be at China’s mercy unless and until someone else can produce the critical minerals batteries need sustainably and economically. Straubel says he’ll get 30 per cent of his lithium and nickel and all his cobalt from recycled laptops and power tools. Geography note: Reno is America’s EV boom town. Tesla’s original battery gigafactory is just down the road.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

NHS shortages 
There is no denying it: the UK’s health service is facing a staffing crisis – a verdict echoed by the latest report from the cross-party Health and Social Care committee stating that persistent understaffing “now poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety”. The NHS is currently short 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives. GP numbers are also falling, and staff sickness levels are at an unsustainable level with anxiety, stress and other psychiatric illnesses among the most reported reasons for absence. In response, the government continues to insist it’s hiring. This may be true, but hiring won’t solve the problem if the service is losing more staff to burn-out and other, better-paying sectors than it’s recruiting. “There is a black hole in the centre of our NHS where staffing and resources should be, and the lifeblood of the NHS is disappearing into it,” says Suzanne Tyler of the Royal College of Midwives. A long-term workforce strategy was meant to be published by NHS England and the government this spring. Rushing decisions to fix a crisis of this scale isn’t wise, but delay will ultimately cost lives. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Capital punishment in Myanmar 
Four activists in Myanmar were executed in the country’s first use of capital punishment in decades. Those killed included a former MP and a well-known writer and democracy campaigner. The military junta, which took control of Myanmar in 2021, asserts that the four executed individuals were involved in planning and executing “terror acts”.  It’s unknown when or how the executions occurred, and the activists’ families have all submitted applications for information. Amnesty International suggests about 100 others are currently on death row in Myanmar. Numerous countries have condemned the executions, and one UN human rights expert is calling on the UN Security Council to impose extensive sanctions and an arms embargo.


Eurovision 2023 
Eurovision is coming to the UK in 2023 as security concerns prevent this year’s winners, Ukraine, from hosting as is customary. Kalush Orchestra, the rap-folk group that won with Stefania, says it’s grateful to the UK for its “solidarity” with Ukraine for stepping in. The BBC will run and fund the show, working with Ukraine’s public broadcaster to add Ukrainian elements. It’s been 24 years since the BBC last hosted, but it’s still staged the contest more than any other broadcaster (eight times). It won’t come cheap. Costs can be up to €20 million, and the broadcaster is expected to meet a significant chunk of them. The reward will be a ratings spike and a very public show of license fee usage that no one will be able to call elitist. UK Eurovision viewing peaked at 10.6 million during this year’s Grand Final. Contenders for host-city include Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester. To watch: ABBA performing Waterloo at the Brighton Dome when the UK hosted in 1974. 

About last night. Matthew d’Ancona writes:

“The winner of last night’s BBC Conservative leadership debate between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss was the labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Truss and Sunak did little to disguise their antagonism towards each other. A snap poll by Opinium gave the edge to Sunak among viewers, but Truss was well ahead among the Tory voters who will decide this race and between them they gave out more heat than light. 

Who won the argument? Sunak was across the detail and spelt out his economic strategy – don’t pay for tax cuts today with interest payments on borrowing tomorrow – more cogently than Truss explained her own case for immediate reductions in taxation. But Truss, already ahead in the race for members’ support, didn’t blow it and Sunak made the schoolboy error of bringing facts to a feeling-fight. Far from softening the caricature impression that he is an entitled technocrat who believes the top job is his as of right, he repeatedly interrupted Truss, whose people were denouncing his “mansplaining” and “shouty private school behaviour” before the debate was over.

Did we learn anything? Two points were striking: asked about climate change, neither candidate showed much enthusiasm. Sunak talked about recycling – “I know it’s a pain” – while Truss muttered about food waste and said she didn’t “want to see ordinary households penalised by our Net Zero targets”. The next PM will not be green. And on China the candidates competed to sound tough. Truss even said she would consider “cracking down” on TikTok. The overall impression was of a party that, having ditched Johnson, is in for a period of deeply personal animosity whoever becomes PM on 5 September. A good night for Labour, with a rematch tonight on Talk TV at 6pm.”

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Email: sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Paul Hayward

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Asha Mior and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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