Friday, August 28, 2015

Sebastian Coe's Conflicts of Interest at IAAF

Sebastian Coe is the recently elected president of the IAAF. His relationship with Nike, as a potential conflict of interest, has been well documented. Coe is reportedly paid in the "six figures" by Nike, which is presently linked to the ongoing FIFA investigations and under investigation for its Nike Project.

The Daily Mail provided further reason why there is at least the appearance of a conflict of interest:
But the association with Nike is more of an issue when there are other areas of concern. For instance, the decision by the IAAF to award Eugene — close to Nike's headquarters in Beaverton — the 2021 World Athletics Championships without a formal bidding process.

The president of European Athletics, Norway's Svein Arne Hansen, complained of a 'complete lack of process' on behalf of Gothenburg, who at least wanted the chance to bid.
I discovered this morning that Coe is also associated with Mondo SpA, the Italian company responsible for installing virtually all track surfaces for the Olympics and World Championships. Under IAAF ethics rules for conflict of interest, such a relationship with a supplier to IAAF is prohibited (here in PDF).

Coe's COI situations -- as unambiguously defined by the IAAF - provides a great test of the meaningfulness of ethics rules at IAAF. Are they there for show? Or are they taken seriously?

The full IAAF COI guidelines can be seen below.

Not Just More Fast Sprinters, It is Greater Longevity

This week I have been exploring a question. Why is it that more men (& women) are running faster times at the elite levels of sprinting? Data can provide some insight to this question, but probably cannot answer it definitively.

So far, I have established that there are more fast sprinters than ever and the age distribution of sprinters has increased dramatically (note: we have processed these data for women also, and will post in due course). There is also a notable break-point in 2007 when it seems clear that something changed in sprinting. But what?

The graph at the top of this post takes this analysis one step further by asking how many men broke 10 seconds in the 100m for the very first time (IAAF data readily available since 2002). For most years the data are fairly constant at 3-6 runners, with the exception of 2004 (1) and 2008 (10) and this year, 2015 (12). There is not a consistent World Championship or Olympic signal.

So part of the story in the record number of fast sprinters this year are that there are simply more fast runners in the mix for the first time. However, even accounting for the upsurge in fast runners in 2015 (say, 6-9 extra), there are still more fast runners than ever.

The other part of this story can be seen in the graphs below. These graphs take this pool of runners sunning sub-10 for the first time, and asks what their average ages are and shows the age distribution. Here is the data since 1999:
You can see that there is little change in the average, trending a bit younger, and also with the range across first-timers becoming a bit younger. The graph below looks at the period of the rapid increase in fast runners since 2007 and shows little evidence of change.
This tells us that another part of the story of more runners running faster than ever is greater longevity of runners. More runners who broke 10 seconds for the first time prior to 2015 are continuing to run at that speed than was the case in the past. So the total number of sub-10 runners accumulates.

Bottom line: The record number of fast runners in 2015 is partly due to more fast runners but part of it is also due to more fast runners running fast for more years.

So what explains this?

Better training and conditioning? Better use of legal supplements and performance enhancing substances and technologies? Undetected use of prohibited performance enhancing technologies?  Faster track technologies?  Other factors?

It is likely impossible to tease out the quantitative role of the various contributors to the record number of fast runners, which I'd speculate may each play some role in the observed trend since 2007.

Thanks to David Epstein (@davidepstein) and Ross Tucker (@scienceofsport), who I've learned a great deal from and whose analyses have helped to inspire this series. Thanks also to Torie Duke, student assistant extraordinaire for patiently responding to countless data requests. More analyses to follow. Comments welcomed.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why is Kazakhstan in UEFA?

I have had this same question myself before. More generally, why does UEFA, the "European" federation, not resemble the EU? The EU has 28 members and UEFA 54, including Turkey, Israel, Russia and, yes, Kazakhstan.

My search for an answer took me to this neat paper:

Dietschy, P., Ranc, D., & Sonntag, A. (2009). Parallel Myths, Popular Maps: The Europe of Soccer. Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society, 1(2), 125-144.

Below are the relevant passages. In short, blame Charles de Gaulle.

and also...

Scale of Doping - Simple Math

For my later use, posted here so I can find it easily.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Widening Age Distribution of Fast Sprinters (Men)

The graph above is an initial follow-up of yesterday's post on the intriguing increase of the number of men and women sprinters running exceedingly fast times. The graph shows the ages of each sprinter which appeared in yesterday's graph (note that some data points might represent more than one person). Note that the age data is available from 1999 (and for some reason 2001 is missing from the IAAF website - which is excellent for these purposes), and obvious 2015 is to date.

What is interesting about this graph is that the age distribution of sprinters running the 100m is less than 10 seconds has expanded. You can see this a bit more clearly in the graph below, which shows the average and +/- one standard deviation values for the data in the graph above.
What does the data show?
  • From 2002-2007 100m men's sprinters became younger and the distribution of ages contracted.
  • From 2007 to 2015 sprinters became older but the distribution of ages expanded (more so at the older end).
This is work in progress. 

We are asking and answering a few other questions of the data, and for women also. I'll post those up as they become available. There is nothing (yet) said here about causality, and I am fairly sure that this data will not lend itself to any firm conclusions. However, it can help us to ask some smart questions. Meantime, comments, questions welcomed.

Stay tuned more to come!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Fast Sprinters than Ever

The graphs above show the number of athletes in IAAF competitions that ran under 10 seconds (men) and 11 seconds (women) each year since 1997. I picked 1997 as the starting date because that is when an initial version of the "athletes whereabouts" program was put into place under the IAAF.

From 1997 to 2007 there was a sharp drop in the number of men and women running under 10 seconds and 11 seconds respectively. But since then, something remarkable happened. The number of men running under 10 seconds increased from 6 to 27 (so far this year) and women from 4 to 20 (so far this year). I've added a linear trend (in red) to each graph.

You don't have to run any fancy statistics to see that the world of sprinting is qualitatively different from 2008 to 2015 than it was from 1997 to 2007. What it is cannot be gleaned from the numbers alone, but it is interesting.

This post inspired by posts at track-stats.com and John Mulkeen. Data courtesy IAAF.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Richard Conway Interviews Sepp Blatter


This is a very revealing interview with Sepp Blatter. It seems clear that he just does not understand what good governance actually entails. He sees himself as the head of a state. Really interesting and worth watching for FIFA followers.

Caffeine and Cycling


It should be obvious, but often isn't. The use of PEDs is not against the rules or norms of sport. The use of prohibited PEDs is.

See the video above for cyclists in the Vuelta a España 2015 talking about their coffee consumption. It is a lot. Cyclists drink coffee because it is a proven PED and its perfectly legal.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Qatar Gets a Bad Report Card on Human Trafficking from US State Department

Every year the US government releases a report card of sorts on human trafficking around the world. The 2015 report is just out from the State Department and they do not have good news for Qatar, which has been dogged by continuing allegations over its treatment of workers who are building the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The State Department ranks countries in of 4 tiers, as illustrated in the graphic below. For the second year in a row, Qatar received the second to bottom ranking, the "Tier 2 Watch List." The State Department gives Qatar some credit for some positive steps (at p. 285 here in PDF) but faults the nation on its implementation and reporting. Thus, Qatar remains near the botom of the rankings.
What that means under US law is that next year, 2016, Qatar will have to either move up or move down. A country can be ranked as Tier 2 Watch List for only 2 consecutive years. A country placed in Tier 3 may see US sanctions (source: US State in PDF):
[G]overnments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance. In addition, certain countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs. Consistent with the TVPA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act], governments subject to restrictions would also face U.S. opposition to the provision of assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. 
It is unclear what, exactly, that would mean for Qatar and its preparations for the 2022 World Cup, but it would clearly not be a good thing for the tiny nation, or for FIFA.

The US president can waive the ranking if it is determined to be in the interests of the United States. Anything is of course possible, especially in a lame duck presidency, but I think it hard to imagine that President Obama would give Qatar a pass if it does not show marked improvements in 2016. On the other hand, Reuters reports that the Obama administration forced the State Department to change some of its 2015 rankings to help with its proposed trade agreement.

The bottom line here is that Qatar has effectively been given one year to improve the situation facing workers, or face considerable negative publicity (at least) and possible US and other sanctions. That will only make the World Cup 2022 more controversial than it already is, if you can believe that.

FIFA Reform Checklist for Aspiring Presidents

My latest contribution is up at Sporting Intelligence. In it I discuss the checklist (above) that I prepared to help put some substance into the FIFA presidential horse race.

Comments welcomed!