Friday, September 28, 2012

Legitimately Avoiding the Rules

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport highlights this interesting situation related to the consequences of sanctions that the US Anti-Doping Agency have levied against Lance Armstrong, which include a lifetime ban from participating in any event that falls under the jurisdiction of the World Anti-Doping Code:
[W]hen Mr. Armstrong sought to participate in the Chicago Marathon. The Chicago Marathon is a sporting event certified by USA Track & Field [A body under WADA Code]. Hence, the organizing committee for the Chicago Marathon were obliged, under the terms of his lifetime sanction, to deny Mr. Armstrong entry as a participant.

Mr. Armstrong has now sought to enter the Half Full Triathlon of Maryland on October 7, 2012. The Half Full Triathlon of Maryland is an event certified by USA Triathlon – whose events are subject to the World Anti-Doping Code. Therefore, as with the Chicago Marathon, the Half Full Triathlon should deny Mr. Armstrong entry into their event. If they choose to allow Mr. Armstrong to compete in their certified event, they may be subject to discipline imposed by USA Triathlon.

The Half Full Triathlon of Maryland has chosen to become a non-certified event to allow Mr. Armstrong to compete. The loss of the certification by USA Triathlon appears to be of little consequence to the Half Full Triathlon, while the added revenue generated by having Mr. Armstrong compete is of great value to the event. The mission of the Half Full Marathon is to raise money for cancer. Mr. Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has raised millions of dollars for cancer research and Mr. Armstrong himself is a cancer survivor.

No one is against raising money to fight cancer. But, by finding a way to skirt the doping sanction that Mr. Armstrong is under, is the Half Full Triathlon potentially doing more harm than good?
The Canadian Centre is focused on ethics, and raises a question that they answer in the affirmative. Ethics aside, as sporting events are organized and run by associations which generally self-govern, it is up to the Half Full Triathlon whether or not they'd like to be run under the WADA Code. Should its organizers choose it to be a fundraising event primarily and a sporting event second, rather than the other way round would seem to be their business.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ambiguity and the Remarkable Ending to Seattle-Green Bay

UPDATE: The NFL has issued a lengthy statement on this situation that muddies rather than clarifies the issues. The NFL says that the joint possession situation should not have mattered because the officials missed an earlier infraction. Even so, the NFL says: "The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review." The NFL's judgement wouldn't be clouded by the ongoing referee dispute, would it?

This evidence seems pretty compelling to me:
Original post . . .

The remarkable ending of the NFL game last night between Seattle and Green Bay (shown above) is sure to prompt much discussion today. Note how one referee called the play an interception and the other a touchdown.

While I am not an NFL referee (though I may be qualified to be a replacement;-), I can not see any reason why that play was not called an interception. I don't see much ambiguity here based on my 40 years of watching NFL games. The Seattle player was clearly still establishing possession after the Green Bay player would have been judged down and the play over.

Mike Tirico, the ESPN announcer, says on the telecast that joint possession is not reviewable. If that is the case then this might qualify for one a rare "rules hole" occasionally found in sports competitions. I'd expect joint possession to be reviewable soon. [UPDATE: Joint possession is apparently not reviewable on the field of play but it is in the end zone. Details.]

All the excitement on the field aside, it is situations like this that help to explain the incentives for match fixing. USA Today reports:
The disputed call on the final pass into the end zone not only allowed Seattle to win the game but blew the Packers cover of the game. Green Bay came into the game as a 3-point favorite.

According to, more than 70% of the wagers in Las Vegas last night were on Green Bay to cover. The website estimates that if the final call had been ruled an interception that the sportsbooks would have paide out $7.6 million to Packer backers and collected $3.6 million on those who bet Seattle.

Instead, the books only had to pay $3.2 million and kept the $8.4 million wagered on the Packers. So instead of absorbing a $4 million loss the Vegas books took in $5.1 million.
Too much ambiguity is no friend to professional sports.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mark Pieth at EASM and What is Next for FIFA Reform

Speaking today at the 20th conference of the European Association for Sport Management, Mark Pieth, chair of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee, gave a feisty but ultimately resigned perspective on the organization's prospects for reform.

Pieth asserted that no one in positions of influence cares much about FIFA reform, and he specifically cited governments, including those of the OECD and the Swiss government (where FIFA is incorporated), and the businesses that sponsor FIFA. The implication, he explained, is that the only option is self-reform. Pieth is clearly committed to reform within the current system and with the current leadership, and has concluded as a consequence that reform potential is limited. This contrasts with Lord Triesman, former English FA chairman, who yesterday at EASM 2012 told participants that "FIFA as it stands is incapable of cultural change, its current leadership will have to go."

Theo Zwanziger, a current FIFA Executive Committee member who spoke before Pieth in the same session, was clear in his defense of FIFA's current leadership (a group of which he is a part). Zwanzinger said (through a translator) that there was no point in calling for a change in FIFA leadership, as new leaders would come to occupy the same institutional structures which are what needs reform. Pieth said nothing about the need for leadership change, and explicitly highlighted the importance of Sepp Blatter in the reform effort due to the power of his position. Far from an independent overseer calling for change, Pieth appeared much more as a defender of incrementalism in reform, based on what is deemed acceptable by the current leadership.

Pieth repeatedly defended his role on the IGC, explaining that if you know anything about the challenges of politics, things are "five times worse" inside FIFA, with many interests and coalitions working to block reforms. He said that his experience in pressing for reforms has been that, "at some point there is a wall, and they tell me to go away." It was not long ago that Pieth was drawing a bright line on what would be acceptable and what would happen if it wasn't:
If we are unsuccessful, we would have to walk away. ‘We’ve had it, goodbye.’
Now it seems that whatever FIFA decides to do will be acceptable to Pieth.

Oddly, Pieth repeatedly called on the audience (and he cited specifically civil society, fans, academics, journalists) to put pressure on FIFA for reform. While there is nothing wrong with outside pressure (and there has been no shortage of such pressure), I say this is odd because over the past year there has been no one in a more powerful position to influence change than Pieth himself. He clearly has far more assets at his disposal than he has deployed.

For instance, do you remember early this year when Pieth said this?
"We must see to it that the gangsters do not escape in the wake of reform detractors. Many of those who now sit on the Executive Committee will not be there much longer. They will resign because of scandals."
Such tough talk appears to be in the past. For Pieth to assert now that the power to affect change lies in some general conception of outside pressure is to minimize the potential that the IGC has had as an agent of change. Perhaps it also reflects Pieth's acceptance of the limited influence of the IGC going forward.

Pieth explained that his mandate to work with FIFA carries through only to May, 2013 and then he is moving on. It is not clear what FIFA will do with its IGC at that point. What does seem clear is that the current IGC is well into its lame duck phase and we should expect little from FIFA in adopting anything further related to its proposed reforms.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

EASM 2012: Second Day

Up today is a plenary session featuring Mark Pieth, chair of the FIFA IGC, and Theo Zwanziger, a member of FIFA's Executive Committee.

Pieth has frequently been the subject of posts on this blog, such as here and here and here.

As yesterday I'll be live-tweeting the plenary, and will update this post as occasion warrants. has a report on yesterday's morning plenary here.

Looks to be a good day!
UPDATE 9:18, opening plenary photo courtesy @jason_doyle1
Theo Zwanziger speaking, courtesy @playthegame_org

UPDATE 20:08, PTG has posted up the text of Jens Sejer Andersen's keynote talk from yesterday, which challenges academics to work on 7 sports governance-related themes.

EASM 2012: First Day

You can follow my commentary on EASM 2012 via my twitter feed - @RogerPielkeJr - and #easm2012. Picture of the plenary above courtesy @Jason_Doyle1

Quote of the day so far from Lord Triesman (pictured above):
"FIFA as it stands is incapable of cultural change, its current leadership will have to go .. a harsh prescription"
I'll update this post as needed during the day.

UPDATE 13:35

Here is me receiving a gracious introduction by Jens Sejer Andersen before my talk, photo courtesy @playthegame:
UPDATE 16:35

Here is the Real Madrid logo with (left) and without (right) the cross, as mentioned by James Dorsey in his plenary talk. Can you see it?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

EASM 2012

Just a quick heads up that I'll be blogging here and tweeting (@RogerPielkeJr) from the European Association for Sport Management 2012 Conference in Aalborg, Denmark.

You can see the program and abstract book here. I am participating in a session on Wednesday, organized by Play the Game (details here in PDF) titled, "Corruption and match-fixing: Can reforms work?"  I will present some lessons from broader experience in and research on policy implementation and evaluation, and how that might shine some light on implementation/evaluation challenges in sport governance. Right now my talk includes discussion of goal-line technology, doping, match fixing and good governance standards in sport organizations.

My talk will be among the least interesting events of the week, I am sure. More importantly, I am looking forward to learning a lot at EASM 2012. I'll do my best to report from the conference what I find most interesting and enlightening. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Long Arm of the Law

I've been busy on travel this week, lecturing on the Green Revolution, tornadoes and disasters. So I missed this important story:
Singapore-based World Sports Group (WSG) has started legal proceedings against veteran journalist and soccer scholar James M. Dorsey in a bid to silence sources and squash reporting about its relationship with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and disgraced FIFA vice president and AFC president Mohammed Bin Hammam, who is at the center of the worst corruption scandal in soccer history.

WSG has asked the Singapore High Court to instruct Mr. Dorsey to reveal how he may have come into possession of internal AFC documents, including an audit that puts on record unexplained payments of $14 million to Mr. Bin Hammam by one of the company’s shareholders in the walk-up to the signing of its controversial $1 billion marketing rights contract with the AFC. The report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) also raises questions about how WSG was chosen, the terms of the contract and how it was negotiated.

A syndicated columnist, blogger and senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Mr. Dorsey reported extensively on the PwC report as well as the web of scandals that have wracked world soccer body FIFA and the AFC at which Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, is at the core. His reports have been posted on social media including Twitter, which has been cited in WSG’s petition to the court.
This story was written by ... James Dorsey. There is a complex connection made in the story between those exposed by Dorsey and those taking legal action against him under Singaporean law. The initial court date was to have been today ... news reports are silent on what transpired.

As far as I am aware the PwC report is not publicly available. However, for those who may be interested in leaking documents in the future, I'd suggest that US-based bloggers offer a safer/lesss risky alternative than others.

That said, Dorsey deserves broad support for simply reporting. He has mine. This story is worth following for anyone concerned about the media, transparency and freedom of speech.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Central Bankers Visit the Sports Laboratory

In a paper presented last week at the Jackson Hole gathering of central bankers, economists and other global power brokers Andrew Haldane and Vasileios Madouros of the Bank of England presented a paper titled "The Dog and the Frisbee" (here in PDF). In the paper they make a case for the use of simple, transparent heuristics as the basis for financial regulation, rather than complex and impenetrable regulatory regimes.

In making their argument, they draw upon the literature on sport, and specifically several studies on the use of heuristics to predict outcomes of Wimbledon.  They write:
Too great a focus on information gathered from the past may retard effective decision-making about the future. Knowing too much can clog up the cognitive inbox, overload the neurological hard disk. One of the main purposes of sleep – doing less – is to unclog the cognitive inbox (Wang et al (2011)). That is why, when making a big decision, we often “sleep on it”.
“Sleeping on it” has a direct parallel in statistical theory. In econometrics, a model seeking to infer behaviour from the past, based on too short a sample, may lead to “over-fitting”. Noise is then mistaken as signal, blips parameterised as trends. A model which is “over-fitted” sways with the smallest statistical breeze. For that reason, it may yield rather fragile predictions about the future.

Experimental evidence bears this out. Take sports prediction. In principle, this should draw on a complex array of historical data, optimally weighted. That is why complex, data-hungry algorithms are used to generate rankings for sports events, such as the FIFA world rankings for football teams or the ATP world rankings for tennis players. These complex algorithms are designed to fit performance data from the past.

Yet, when it comes to out-of-sample prediction, these complex rules perform miserably. In fact, they are often inferior to simple alternatives. One such alternative would be the “recognition heuristic” – picking a winning team or player purely on the basis of name-recognition. This simple rule out-performs the ATP or FIFA rankings (Serwe and Frings (2006), Scheibehenne and Broder (2007)). One good reason beats many.
While the overall point being made is a sound one, the two papers that they cite are not the best examples from the literature on prediction, and actually do not even support the claims being made. Let me explain.

Both papers cited by Haldane and Madouros used name recognition as the basis for creating predictions of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Both papers looked at recognition among amateur tennis players as well as laypeople. Scheibehenne and Broder (2007, here in PDF) came up with the following results  (and Serwe and Frings 2006 had very similar results):
Predictions based on recognition rankings aggregated over all participants correctly predicted 70% of all matches. These recognition predictions were equal to or better than predictions based on official ATP rankings and the seedings of Wimbledon experts, while online betting odds led to more accurate forecasts. When applicable, individual amateurs and laypeople made accurate predictions by relying on individual name recognition. However, for cases in which individuals did not recognize either of the two players, their average prediction accuracy across all matches was low. The study shows that simple heuristics that rely on a few valid cues can lead to highly accurate forecasts.
The authors explain:
The systematic relationship between recognition and player success is presumably mediated by mass media coverage. Thus, by relying on their partial ignorance, non-experts are able to make accurate predictions by exploiting an environmental structure that contains relevant information and that is available at almost no cost.
So, "name recognition" is in effect simply a proxy for the ATP ranking which is reflected in Wimbledon seedings. There should thus be no surprise that the results of the analysis find the name recognition heuristic. The results showed that for amateur tennis players the recognition heuristic performed identically to the rankings and seedings, and for laypeople the recognition heuristic underperformed the rankings and seedings.

What this shows -- to use language frequently mentioned on this blog -- is that neither group showed skill in prediction, where skill is a demonstrable improvement over a naive baseline, and the laypeople actually showed negative skill. (For a discussion of skill in Olympic medals predictions, see this recent post.) This makes sense logically as amateur tennis players are far more likely to recognize the names of professionals than the average layperson. Hence, the recognition heuristic is more likely to accurately reflect the ATP rankings and seedings for those paying attention than for those who do not.

Thus, when Haldane and Madouros claim that -- "One such alternative would be the “recognition heuristic” – picking a winning team or player purely on the basis of name-recognition. This simple rule out-performs the ATP or FIFA rankings" -- They are incorrect insofar as the literature that they are citing, as the two papers on Wimbledon that they cite don't actually support the claim they are making and they don't cite any studies of FIFA rankings. The ATP rankings and  Wimbledon seedings are naive baseline predictions as they are readily available and suggest a first order expectation of tournament outcomes. To explain that a recognition heuristic performs as well as the naive baselines is to say that the recognition heuristic does not add any value. However, it may show that the media coverage accurately conveys the rankings.

Haldane and Madouros are however on the right track. The definitive paper on prediction lessons from sport research has yet to be written, but given its apparent importance to the work of central bankers managing the global economy, it should be soon.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

University Oversight of Athletics: Who is in Charge?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has conducted an eye-opening analysis of the contracts of the presidents of the 25 biggest athletics departments in state universities.  Here is what they found:
Of the presidents or chancellors who oversee the 25 biggest athletic departments, not a single one has contract language related to oversight of athletics. That includes Rodney A. Erickson, who was named president of Penn State following a breakdown in university leadership during the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal. Employment agreements for top officials at Ohio State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which have both faced major NCAA sanctions in the past year, do not spell out any specific powers.

More common in presidential contracts, The Chronicle found, were specific goals for fund raising and financial management. If athletics was mentioned at all, it was to spell out perks the presidents would receive, such as free lifetime tickets to games.

Campus chiefs are held accountable for sports in various ways, including through individual performance reviews or their institutions' accreditation processes. But contract provisions are one of the measures governing boards use to assess presidential performance.

Governance experts say boards should do a better job of spelling out their leaders' athletics responsibilities to protect institutions from conflicts with boosters and outside parties, and to guard against potential fallout from scandal.
The University of Colorado, where I am a faculty member, is not among the 25 largest athletic departments so it wasn't included in the study. I had a look at the "Laws of the regents" which is the top-level governance document for the university, to see where athletics sits.

First, the University of Colorado mission statement:
The University of Colorado is a public research university with multiple campuses serving Colorado, the nation, and the world through leadership in high-quality education and professional training, public service, advancing research and knowledge, and state-of-the-art health care.
There is no mention of athletics in the mission, which is consistent with the findings reported by Charles Clofelter in his excellent book, Big-Time Sports in American Universities. Clofelter finds that despite the prominence of sports in major US universities, their presence is neglected when it comes to formal statements of mission and objectives. That fidning is similar to what the Chrinicle found of presidential contracts.

That said, the University of Colorado does have an Intercollegiate Athletics Policy, which specifies who is in charge (emphasis added):
Intercollegiate athletic competition at the University of Colorado commenced in 1890. Since that time, athletics have continued to be an integral part of the university's educational offerings and student activities. At the present time, teams in a wide variety of sports compete at local, regional, and national levels.

Each campus may support intercollegiate athletic teams at appropriate levels of competition and as approved by the Board of Regents. Intercollegiate athletics provide opportunities for student development as well as a forum and opportunity to promote the individual campuses and the University of Colorado. The campus chancellors are responsible for the oversight and management of their respective athletic programs and related representational events. The chancellors will provide opportunities for the president and Board of Regents to attend and participate in athletic and related representational events that can enhance the image and outreach of the university.
The Regent policy also appears to contain a provision that suggests free tickets for the Regents, but I digress. The University of Colorado is a "system" of campuses, and CU-Boulder is the only campus with a big-time athletic program. Our Chancellor is given explicit responsibility for CU-Boulder athletics oversight.

The University of Colorado also has a policy on the Interrelationship of Athletics and Educational Programs
Health Education, Physical Education, Recreation, and Intercollegiate Athletics are related areas which share common objectives and similar physical facilities. These disciplines and activities are financed through a combination of academic budgets, student fees, gate receipts, and from individual donations.

Due to their related goals, they are important parts of one very significant University responsibility. The University recognizes the instructional value of all four of these areas of activity. They each interrelate for instruction not only at the undergraduate and graduate level but also provide a learning experience for life after leaving the University.

In particular, intercollegiate athletics are drama--tragedy and comedy. They are discipline and dedication. They are victory and defeat--elation and dejection. They are respect and discourtesy--sportsmanship and gamesmanship. They are constructive outlets for the adventurous spirit. They are a positive way of life that teaches our young to control their minds, bodies, and emotions through exciting competitions governed by the rules of the game. The Regents of the University recognize the interrelationship of these four areas as an integral portion of the University’s instructional program.
Constructive outlets for the adventurous spirit -- a nice phrase, but I am not buying the notion that athletics are part of the instructional program. Universities have some work to do to shore up the governance of athletics.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Your Legs are Too Long

UPDATE: The Science of Sport blog has a nice discussion of this issue here.

In the 2012 Paralympic Games in London Brazilian sprinter Alan Oliveira upset South Africa's Oscar Pistorius in the 200 meter race, marking Pistorius' first defeat at that distance (watch the race above). Immediately after the race Pistorius lodged a complaint in a media interview:
"Not taking away from Alan's performance - he's a great athlete - but these guys are a lot taller and you can't compete (with the) stride length," Pistorius said in a broadcast interview. "You saw how far he came back. We aren't racing a fair race. I gave it my best. The IPC (International Paralympic Committee) have their regulations. The regulations (allow) that athletes can make themselves unbelievably high.

"We've tried to address the issue with them in the weeks up to this and it's just been falling on deaf ears."

For Pistorius, it is "ridiculous" that Oliveira could win after being eight meters adrift at the 100-meter mark.

"He's never run a 21-second race and I don't think he's a 21-second athlete," Pistorius said. "I've never lost a 200-meter race in my career."
Later Pistorius apologized for the timing of his complaint but did not back dwon from the substance of his criticism:
The South African claimed gold medallist Alan Oliveira's artificial legs were too long and criticised the International Paralympic Committee.

In a statement, he said: "That was Alan's moment and I would like to put on record the respect I have for him.

"I want to apologise for the timing of my comments but I do believe there is an issue here."
The length of prostheses is specified by the International Paralympic Committee in a process called "classification" which it describes as follows:
To ensure competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system in place which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.

This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimise the impact of impairments on the activity (sport discipline). Having the impairment thus is not sufficient. The impact on the sport must be proved, and in each Paralympic sport, the criteria of grouping athletes by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment are named ‘Sport Classes’. Through classification, it is determined which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition. This, to a certain extent, is similar to grouping athletes by age, gender or weight.
There are exacting guidelines for the allowed length of leg prostheses, specified on pp. 45-47 in the IPC Athletics Classification Rules and Regulations – version 9/2011 (here in PDF).

Pistorius' complaint appears to be not that Oliveira broke the rules but that the rules themselves are flawed. For its part the IPC said,
"All [competitors] were within the regulations outlined in the IPC Athletics Classification Handbook." 
Pistorius, whose impressive record as a sportsman and an athlete will surely survive this particular controversy, is playing a losing hand here. Not only is he an interested party in the design of the rules, but he has been competing for years under those very same rules, representing a form of acceptance of those rules as legitimate. (Indeed, in the recent Sparks ruling on the Lance Armstrong case, the judge argued that Armstrong's decision to compete under WADA rules represented  an acceptance of them as legitimate and binding.)

That said, Pistorius is correct about the more fundamental issues as debate and discussion over prosthetic technology is sure to continue.

Postscript: In my fall graduate seminar, half of the students in the class are hard at work developing a proposed policy for participation of runners with prostheses in the Olympics. When they report to the class I'll share their results.