Japanese wheelchair basketball player Mari Amimoto leads in scoring at world championships

Yesterday’s Wikinews challenge was to take basically a one source piece of information I wanted to write about and make it into an actual more detailed article.  This was highly problematic, because well, two English Wikinews reviewers basically said only reporting from the official table of the leading scorers for a tournament is a little problem. (un problema pocita)

At the end the day, Japanese wheelchair basketball player Mari Amimoto leads in scoring at world championships was published.  It is a nice little story about the Women’s Wheelchair World Championships currently being played in Toronto, Canada.    The reviewers did a good job at dealing with the small little problems.  In any case, the article is from a perspective I don’t think that the other news outlets would take. (Though to be fair, I wouldn’t put it past the Paralympic Press people.  They can often be really good at doing those sort of stories, precisely because they are often writing for an international audience as opposed to a purely domestic one.)

That issue of trying to do a new take on something can be a big challenge when trying to write from limited, non-news sources.  Very hard to do.  Beyond that, as a journalist writing for Wikinews, I want to name drop.  As many athletes as I can mention, I like to do because I think the little bit of attention can be very good.

Because I’ve decided to try to write more about Wikinews, and because I want to go to the Rio Games, I feel like I need to start preparing now by more consistently writing about Paralympic sport.    Lost that thought.  Ah yeah.  I’ve decided to follow a number more accounts on Facebook to see if I can keep up with the “latest” news so I can write about it more.

If you have a Paralympic story idea that I can write about for Wikinews, please get in touch.  I would be pretty much open to anything.

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Russians top podium on second day of European Deaf Swimming Championships

Russians top podium on second day of European Deaf Swimming Championships is an article I got published yesterday on English Wikinews.  Also, Spanish Wikinews.  It was one of those exercises in disaster.  I originally wrote the article based on preliminary results.  In between submitting the article for review and the article being reviewed, the preliminary results changed to final results.  This completely screwed the article text, because it made it all inaccurate.  Erk?

The event is a world championship for deaf sport, which is not aligned with International Paralympic Committee in the sense that deaf sport just isn’t.  (The politics of this is actually quite interesting, in why deaf sports didn’t join the Paralympic movement.  Also, there is apparently a fear in some places that deaf sport will completely disappear because the technology is much better, and hearing problems are becoming much more fixable. )  What does this mean in terms of writing Wikinews articles from faaaaaaar away in Spain for a competition in Russia?  It means finding secondary sources to verify facts is PITA and not actually very doable.  The results seem pretty newsworthy to me, but verification.  Verification.  Verification.  Erk. Erk. Erk.

Errors were all eventually addressed, and the article got fixed on English Wikinews and then published.  😦

And then oops, I took a train through the Ukraine

Ukrainian passport stamps

Ukrainian passport stamps

Because I needed to travel this weekend, I needed to leave the 2014 Sochi Paralympics early.  Given my budget issues, I took the train from Moscow to Sochi, because it was cheaper than flying to Sochi from Madrid.  I had an enjoyable train ride from Moscow to Sochi.  It was one of those interesting experiences, and I had a grand time that involved Russian train passengers I was traveling with giving me alcohol for dinner and breakfast.  Fun times.  Great views.  Not a bad night’s sleep.

When booking my return to coincide with my flight, I opted for a slightly longer 36 hour return that involved two nights on the train.  My guess at the time was this train just made more stops.  I know on the way down that we didn’t stop at every station.  I also figured there would be less needs for express trains from Sochi to Moscow during the actual Paralympic Games.

Live and learn.  I had a lovely unexpected 12 hour train ride through the Ukraine.  Okay, not so lovely.  You know those moments where you think in blind panic, “ZOMG! I’ve fucked up! Eeek!” Yeah, it was one of those when the train car steward said something to me in Russian, then said to me in English “Passport control.”  I stared blankly at him like he lost his mind.  The other guy in my section said, “Ukraine.”  I looked out the window and sure enough, passport control.

I wasn’t avoiding the Ukraine: I just had no intention of going there.  The United States government specifically advises Americans not to go there right now, especially the eastern parts. There was no reason for me to go to the Ukraine.  Besides which, how would I get there anyway? Well, by train by not understanding things.  So while not avoiding the Ukraine but having no intention of going there, I ended up there.

More Russian passport stamps.  One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps.  They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

More Russian passport stamps. One can never have enough Russian and Ukrainian passport stamps. They compliment my 22 Australian ones.

The Russians appeared just as confused as me as to why I was there.  There were five of them I dealt with.  Journalists are not high on their list of people they love at the border, and I tried to make clear: I was not in Russia to write about politics but about sport.   Sport.  Sport.  Also, I was leaving Moscow the day my train arrived in Moscow.  Also, the train ticket SEE! LOOK! does not say UKRAINE! anywhere on it.  Also, when I went Moscow to Sochi, I did not not go through the Ukraine! I was there for the Paralympics!  It was hard to babble when they spoke no English and I spoke no Russian.  I showed them my papers.  They photographed everything, including my return ticket.  They used special glasses to look closely at my accreditation. They radioed a guy, who spoke English, who talked to me.  Apparently, foreigners do what I do occasionally and it was not a big issue.

The Ukrainians were not that fussed because I was not getting off the train.  They were more concerned about the guy in my compartment bringing camera equipment and a television.  Besides which, there were only two. And unlike the Russian side, the border guys had few guns and less overall personnel.

So onwards intrepid reporter who plans poorly. Did I mention I was a bit hungry? When going through security in at the Olympic Park Train Station in Sochi, they took my fuet. They also took my can of corn. I bought ramen in the train station, which was fortunate on my part. Unlike my trip to Sochi via train, this train had pretty much no food for sale. My bottle of coke I had leftover from lunch, a bottle of water from my bag, and tea made on the train was all I had to drink. Food was ramen, Oreo cookies and store band Starburst candies. woot woot. 36 hours on the train.

Anyway, while in the Ukraine, I kept looking for Russian flags.  My perception from the news was this area had become defacto Russia.  Russian nationalism should be on display.  There should be a feeling of tenseness in the Ukraine that I should feel having accidentally wandered through it.

Except there was none of that. Ukraine along the eastern rail line I took felt poorer than the Russian parts I had traveled on. The trains on the Ukrainian side appeared to be older, and more rusted. People appeared to be going about their business, riding bicycles here and there, carrying bags of what looked like groceries and other supplies. The towns felt empty, but no emptier than other small towns in the USA I have taken the rail through. There were no Russian flags, but at the same time, there were very few Ukrainian flags. I saw them occasionally at what appeared to be government buildings. Sometimes, I saw blue and yellow painted poles that looked more like store advertising (and no real Russian colour equivalent). No one on the train seemed overly concerned. The Russian Railways staff seemed not that concerned. There were people of all ages and genders trying to sell stuff on the train in the Ukraine, which did not happen on the Russian side. There were fewer passengers, a lot fewer, than in Russia but that was it. A bad part of me wondered, “Why does Russia want this part of the Ukraine that feels so poor compared to the Russian side?”

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Traveling in Ukraine, I was taking train.

Near as I can tell, the train entered Ukraine close to Donetsk and left around Kharkiv.

Going back into Russia, again a repeat of accidentally leaving Russia. This time, no English speaker at all and this time, every single page of my passport was photographed.  No problems getting through customs, but a bit scary nonetheless when your government is telling you not to go there and the news says they are on the brink of war there.

By the way, did you know that Russia is amassing troops on the border with Ukraine? Before hitting immigration control, I saw a train with at least 15 tanks and at least 15 troop carrier trucks. If I had to make a stupid mistake, I am glad I made it Wednesday and not later.

Welcome to some of the surreal and weird experiences I have had thanks to my involvement with Wikimedia.  I think this tops what I have gotten myself into on my own.

Arrived Sochi: First impressions and thoughts

A sign pointing the wrong way to the media centerWhen watching the Olympic news coverage, one of the first things that struck me was the journalist complaints about accommodation. I have had no such problem.  It is fine. The toilet works.  There are no dogs in the hallway.  The door is on my hotel room.  If there were kinks at the Olympics, they are all gone for me at the Paralympics.  I don’t have any complaints.

 

My issues would be elsewhere.  Whine whine.  Complain complain.  There has been a huge amount of media attention given to how the Olympics (and Paralympics) were supposed to show case Russia, and sell it to the world.  With the current political situation with Russia, one would think this might be even more key.

But I don’t quite feel it.  I have only the London Paralympics as a member of the media to baseline my experience from.  Everyone I talked to said the London Games were potentially the best Games ever.  The best.

In London, there were volunteers at the airport.  There were volunteers at the train station.  They were bubbly and enthusiastic.  They wanted to help you.  My media accreditation lamination process was handled in Heathrow.  I came into Sochi via plane in Moscow.  (And then I took a train down to Sochi.)  There was a special line at the airport, but that was the visa and special ended there.  (Though to be fair, my flight got in at 4am.)  No help, no volunteers, no one there.  I saw signs that indicated they might possibly have such assistance, but no luck.  (Then the metro in Moscow and the train station where you catch the train to Sochi had poor English language signage.  Few to no people spoke English.)  When I got to the Adler train station, no real sense of volunteers and I got a free ticket to get to Olympic Park.  No enthusiastic volunteers,  No yellow line directing you where to go.  No clear signage.  They assume you knew which way the train route went.  When I got to the Olympic Park Train Station, assistance was again non-existent.  The extent to which I had it was “Not this line.”  A taxi driver eventually pointed me at the direction of my hotel.

Media bag.  I like it.I’m staying at an official media hotel.  There was an accreditation help desk in the lobby.  The person could not tell me 1) where the main press center was, 2) how to get there, 3) where to go to get my accreditation laminated.  Joy.  I wandered back to the Olympic Park area, looking and looking for signs.  None.  I saw a sign for accreditation but it was not really media accreditation.  They did help me get it, no explanation.  And then no follow up as to where the Main Press Center was, or no opportunity to ask this.

I know media accreditation lets me into venues pretty much unfettered.  I took advantage, wandered on in, and started looking for signs for the main press center.  I stopped volunteers, security and others asking where it was. Most responses I got were “No English”, or people pointing me in the completely wrong direction.  This was hugely different than London, where volunteers who could not answer got on the walkie talkie and asked to find some one who could answer your question.  It is hard to enjoy where you are when you’re walking around lost, cannot find assistance, have no map of the venue and have people pointing you in the completely wrong direction.  Welcome to Russia eh?


With assistance of two people, I was gradually pointed in the right direction.  This took up a lot of time and energy. Also, unlike London, there were few cheap food options around walking around the area outside the Park.

There was a lot of talk about security for the Olympics.  I thought there would be a lot for the Paralympics.  To be honest, outside the train stations where bags all go through metal detectors, I am not getting a sense of it being very high.  It seems no different than London, possibly even more laid back at this point.  In London, I felt like I was forever having my badge checked.  Here? Outside when I entered the park and exited, no one seems to want to see it or verify it.

The major advantage I see right now to Sochi is the internet is free for journalists.  There was a 100 GBP charge to use the Internet in London.  Sochi has wifi in the MPC and it is free. This is great, and there does not appear to be a charge for special access to a journalist information system where the exact same information appears on the Sochi 2014 website for free.

IMG_4674

We’ll see how thing progress as we go along.  I’m trying not to be pessimistic, but my first gut feel is things will be different than London, and not as great. Putin’s grand vision of winning over the world hasn’t personally won me over yet, even if the Ukrainian situation could be forgiven.

Current published Wikinews stories about the Sochi Paralympics:

Goalball national team ranking

For a while, I have thought that I should think about contributing to Wikinews on one sport topic.  Establish a niche.  Go with it.  Demonstrate competency in that area.  Eventually, write a book about the topic.

 

Thus, recently, I have spent a lot of time thinking about goalball.  It is a sport without a lot of media coverage.  It has the potential for a lot of stats.  There isn’t much there.  I could on my blog get a list of as many international games for the women’s national teams as possible and create a ranking system. (I’ve read a fair amount about that.  This is a great page.)  Then I decided bleep that, develop my own.  (Always the best response when you aren’t 100% certain of what you’re doing.)

 

I don’t have a full list and that needs to be fully developed.  But on the data I have: First thing: Lots of teams have not played recently.  Create a point system that rewards recent games. Games played in 2014 worth 14, Games played in 2013 worth 13, Games played in 2005 worth 5.  Games played in 2001 and before worth 1 point.  The more games you played, the more recently you played them, the more points you automatically have.  My rationale for this is that you have to have a team and be playing to possible be the best.

 

Second: Wins worth 10 points, ties worth 3 points, losses worth 1 point.  The high value of wins is to adjust for the high and low values of recentism points.

 

Third: Goals won by points.  If you win by 10 points, you get 10 points.  If you win by 5 points, you get 5 points. If you tie, 1 point. If you lose, no points subtraction.  This rewards high scoring teams. Tournament results not factored, but going deeper into a tournament automatically should give you more points.

 

I haven’t added every event to my database yet.  The only ones included are : 2003 IBSA World Championships and Games, 2005 IBSA Pan-American Games, 2006 FESPIC Games, 2007 IBSA Goalball European Championships, 2007 IBSA World Championships and Games, 2009 IBSA Goalball European Championships, 2010 IBSA European Championships Goalball Women B (partial), and 2013 IBSA Goalball European Championships. Based on the formula so far, the best women’s national goalball teams in the world are:

Team Points
Finland 634
Germany 543
Spain 501
Sweden 488
Ukraine 465
Great Britain 462
Russia 316
Denmark 311
Brazil 297
Turkey 290
Israel 278
Greece 264
Japan 257
China 142
Iran 141
Netherlands 106
South Korea 75
United States 75
Australia 67
Canada 46
Italy 40
Algeria 16
Hungary 11
Poland 11

Does the ranking sound right to people who follow the sport? Does the point ranking system seem like it makes sense? Is there a better and or easier way to do that?

Planning for Sochi

Getting media accreditation for the Sochi Paralympics is one of those things that for me has huge meaning, and since September 2012 has largely defined my involvement with Wikimedia projects.  The amount of work for doing it feels in its own way like the equivalent of finishing a masters by research.  I traveled from Canberra to San Francisco to Colorado to earn it.  I traveled from Madrid to La Molina.  It was one of the reasons I sought a second Wikimedian in Residency in Spain with the Spanish Paralympic Committee.  It was a huge part of the reasoning I did a lot of work towards The Wikinewsie Group, so people wouldn’t have to do as much work to follow in my footsteps.  I wrote a large number of articles on English Wikipedia and Simple English Wikipedia.  I created a winter Paralympics portal on English Wikipedia. I created a large file full of information to make it easier for others to automate the creation of articles about Paralympians in other languages. I wrote a number of articles on English Wikinews and Spanish Wikinews about Paralympic sport.  I attended a conference in Slovakia.  I followed up on paperwork.  When you want something, you do the work and this required a lot of work.

There were a lot of inadvertent hurdles.  Doing something like reporting for Wikinews at the Paralympics is a team effort.  Successful reporting requires that.   The hurdles were Russian non-response to request for accommodation.  They wanted that in in August.  I sent it in.  I repeatedly sent it in.  I followed up with the NPC about that lack of response issue.  No dice.  No accommodation.  (And considering the Olympic reporting problems in Sochi?  Not surprised now.)  I had to find a Wikimedia organization to be our accrediting body since Wikimedia Australia was out. You can’t attend the Paralympics as a freelancer. There are funding challenges as I cannot rely on WMF or WM-AU funding.  Accreditation was supposed to arrive in January.  My e-mails to the NPC and them to me were not being received.  It arrived February 13.  Until it arrived, I was not 100% despite everything that I would have them.

So now with about three weeks to go, I’m feeling a bit like I am flailing around.  I need to get a cheap flight from Madrid.  I need to find accommodation that is cheap and accessible to a media bus to the venues.  I need to find out hidden costs because London charged the media about €120 for access to the internet per person.  Erk. Erk.

If anyone has any recommendations for cheap accommodation still available near either the skiing venue or the down in the valley venues, please let me know.  If anyone has any leads on potential funding, please let me know.  I’m happy to wear someone’s branded jacket when I am there.  If anyone has frequent flier miles they could spare, please let me know.

The Paralympics are important to cover, because they remove some of the stigma people with disabilities face.  They also celebrate the Olympic spirit at its finest because few of these athletes have any sponsorship deals.  They spend large amounts of money to compete.  This is one of those things that is about real love of sport, and the connection between it and assisting in health lifestyles feels so much clearer.  If the media isn’t there to report on it, if we aren’t about freely sharing this, it doesn’t get done.  (And whatever I publish, you can ask your local newspaper to reprint because the licenses allow it.)