Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Some Departing Thoughts from Mark Pieth

Osasu Obayiuwana today publishes some additional parts of his interview with Mark Pieth conducted at the 2013 Play the Game conference. Pieth looks back with no regrets:
"I am never one that shirks a challenge, so I would have still taken up this position, even with all the challenges I have faced... I am an eternal optimist," he told me in Aarhus, Denmark, during the last 'Play The Game' conference.

"Things will change but they are going to change at a much slower pace than one would like. This is natural. FIFA is a self-regulating body and no one is forcing them to change, except angry voices in the media and the wider public. But they are not very scared of us," he says, matter-of-factly.

"I have to say that I have been quite astonished with the 'measure of emotionality' (his exact words) that is linked to this topic [of reform].

"As an Argentinian expert told me, it (the struggle within football) is not about the game, it's about power and money... He was being honest.

"The continental confederations are very strong and autonomous and they are an inbuilt opposition to reforms.

"I have been astonished that it has been UEFA, of all the confederations, that flexed their muscles in blocking changes, particularly southern Europeans who were determined to subvert the process."
Both Pieth and FIFA are moving on.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sport, Rules and Values

One of the values which we see in sports is consistency -- the idea that the rules should be applied the same independent of context. A home run in Chicago should mean the same thing as a home run in Denver. it is not simply the distance traveled that defines a home run, but the fact that it leaves the ballpark in fair play, even though balls travel a lot farther in the rarefied air of the Mile-High City.

Even in situations which require judgement we have an expectation of consistency. A red card offense in one soccer match should be a comparable violation to a red card in another match. While different referees have different styles, the awarding of red cards is in many leagues subject to post-match appeal and review. All of this in the name of consistency in the application of the rules.

Where we get into some intellectual trouble is when we start thinking that such consistency in rules and their application should have some standing across different sporting contexts. This came to mind over the weekend as I read an entertaining exchange between ESPN's Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell over doping.

Gladwell writes:
[T]ake the so-called "treatment/enhancement" distinction. The idea here is that there is a big difference between the drug that "treats" some kind of illness or medical disorder and one, on the other hand, that "enhances" some preexisting trait. There is a huge amount of literature on treatment/enhancement among scholars, and with good reason. Your health insurance company relies on this distinction, for example, when it decides what to cover. Open heart surgery is treatment. A nose job, which you pay for yourself, is enhancement. This principle is also at the heart of most anti-doping policies. Treatment is OK. Enhancement is illegal. That's why Tommy John surgery is supposed to be OK. It's treatment: You blow out your ulnar collateral ligament so you get it fixed.

But wait a minute! The tendons we import into a pitcher's elbow through Tommy John surgery are way stronger than the ligaments that were there originally. There's no way Tommy John pitches so well into his early forties without his bionic elbow. Isn't that enhancement?
Gladwell continues exploring the "treatment/enhancement" distinction:
It turns out that beta blockers are really good at reducing performance anxiety. Classical musicians and people with a fear of public speaking take them all the time. So should a golfer be allowed to take beta blockers before a major competition? Should a basketball player who gets really nervous at the line be allowed to take beta blockers before a championship game? Are beta blockers treatment or enhancement? Elliott makes the case that they are treatment. He says that they don't improve a performer's skills, but rather they prevent anxiety from "interfering" with their skills. A beta blocker won't turn a bad putter into a great putter. Rather, it will prevent nerves from getting in the way of a golfer performing according to his true ability. Elliott thinks of anxiety like asthma. And we wouldn't prevent a runner from taking asthma medicine, would we?

I find that argument pretty convincing. But once I've conceded that beta blockers are OK, how can I say no to an aging Alex Rodriguez who wants to take testosterone in order to extend his career a few more years? Every day there are commercials on television telling middle-aged men that their falling testosterone is a condition that requires treatment. So why don't we consider A-Rod's desire for more testosterone in the same light as we consider treatment for nerves or asthma, as an attempt to correct a deficiency that interferes with the expression of his talent?

I don't have a good answer to any of those questions.
The answer is that there is no answer. Or perhaps more accurately, they answer is that Alex Rodriguez can't take testosterone or beta blockers because are against the rules. Tommy John surgery is allowed because it is not against the rules.

This sort of relativism in rules and their application comes up all the time in my policy courses in discussion of decision making, and it is often deeply unsatisfactory to my students. It is seductive to think that there are universal principles, perhaps written on stone tablets, that define concepts which we need merely apply in a consistent manner.

Of course, in the context of sport there are such universal principles -- a home run is a home run is a home run. When there are cases where some event in a game falls outside the rules, like a player reaching over the outfield wall to catch a ball, only to have a fan knock it away, we look to the rules to clarify how to judge that circumstance.

In the event that we find a "rules hole" exists (more common than you might think), the solution is to close it. Consequently, there are rules which govern fan interference in baseball fielding.

For issues like doping, match fixing and even player safety, there should be no expectation of consistency across sport for the application of rules which govern the game. This is very different than saying that we should expect consistency of application of rules within a game.

A game is a pure social construction. While people argue about the fundamental standing of values like truth, fairness and justice independent of our individual preferences (as you might guess, I'm with the pragmatists, but I digress), I've yet to find anyone who argues that the touchdown, the offsides rule or the tennis tie-breaker has some metaphysical standing. Rules which govern sport exist because we make them up and agree they exist inside of the games that we construct.

But when those games run into the messiness of the world outside sport, we should expect that the norms of the outside world are the ones which matter, not the norms found inside competition. Gladwell's search for "an answer" is thus misguided and will always be a fruitless search. Rules governing doping will necessarily reflect the broader values found across sport, and there should be no expectation of consistency across drugs, treatments, sports, time or place.

Consider player safety. Major League Baseball has just put forward a plan to eliminate collisions at home plate to make the game safer for players.

Pete Rose, seen above in a famous plate collision, was not too happy with the decision:
Pete Rose said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “You’re not allowed to pitch inside. The hitters wear more armor than the Humvees in Afghanistan. Now you’re not allowed to be safe at home plate? What’s the game coming to? Evidently the guys making all these rules never played the game of baseball.”

Rose, banned for life in 1989 following a gambling investigation, famously bowled over catcher Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game. Rose insists Fosse was blocking the plate without the ball, which is against the rules.

“Since 1869, baseball has been doing pretty well,” Rose said. “The only rules they ever changed was the mound (height) and the DH. I thought baseball was doing pretty good. Maybe I’m wrong about the attendance figures and the number of people going to ballgames.”
Here Rose is appealing explicitly to the idea of consistency in the rules over time. But the rules are what we say they are, and a subject of politics like any other form of decision making. So long as the politics of the day are aligned against Rose, appeals to universal principles won't matter a bit.

Now consider American football, where the equivalent violence to a plate collision can be found several times in every play. Would anyone expect football to provide the same degree of protection to players from collisions as being implemented in baseball? Of course not. The NFL is taking steps to improve safety, but the sport by its nature is violent and dangerous. There is no consistency here in the rules of the different games with respect to "safety" and nor should we expect there to be.

It turns out that "safety" is a value much like that of "enhancement"-- what it means depends on the context and what is decided by those with responsibility for establishing and enforcing the rules which govern sport.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Significance of FIFA ExCo Agenda Item E13.5?

FIFA's ExCo is wrapping up its second meeting of the year in Brazil, held in advance of the World Cup. Keir Radnedge has spotted an interesting item on the ExCo Agenda (here in PDF), item E13.5 which he believes may have some substantial significance for FIFA governance.

Radnedge writes:
[P]assing beneath the radar, listed as item 13.5 on the agenda, is the apparently opaque proposal (expected to go through without discussion) that members of the FIFA exco should be registered formally with the Commercial Register of Zurich.

The significance of this step relates back to the exco scandals in 2010 and 2011 over the votes-for-cash storms swamping both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup award process and then the FIFA presidential election.

Subsequent disciplinary action led to the departure from the exco, for one reason or another, of eight of its members.

The negative publicity prompted not only the FIFA reform process but jogged local politicians into a realisation that they could no longer turn a blind eye to the cowboy behaviour of too many directors of sports federations flying under the tax-friendly Swiss flag.

Departing FIFA reform steward Mark Pieth believes Switzerland needs to draw the laws far tighter but at least the legal authorities in Zurich have woken up to the need for action: hence its insistence that members of the executive bodies of legal entities should be formally entered in the local commercial register to comply with Swiss law.

This would place FIFA exco members under legal status which, in theory, could make them personally liable for malfeasance in office.
It is an excellent point raised by Radnedge.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Priorities at the University of Colorado

The graph above comes from data provided by USA Today and the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics who have provided an extremely useful online tool with various data on spending by US universities on athletics and academics.

The graph above uses that data to show spending at the University of Colorado -- where I am a faculty member -- on all students and on athletes. CU spends 14 times as much on students who are athletes as they do on non-athletes. Priorities.

Global Corruption Illustrated

Transparency International has just published their Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 (here). TI explains:
Corruption continues to have a devastating impact on societies and individuals around the world, with more than two-thirds of countries surveyed scoring less than 50 out of 100 in the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

The index, the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, scores countries on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). The results of the 2013 index serve as a warning that more must be done to enable people to live their lives free from the damaging effects of corruption.

Despite 2013 being a year in which governments around the world passed new laws and forged fresh commitments to end corruption, people are not seeing the results of these promises. 
The map at the top of this post helps to illustrate a key challenge facing efforts to improve governance of sport. Red indicates "highly corrupt" and yellow "very clean." Then recognize that FIFA, an organization which has not won many plaudits for its governance, resides in Switzerland, colored in a deep yellow.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Hard-Hitting History of University of California-Berkeley Athletics

John Cummins and Kristen Hextrum of the University of California-Berkeley have written an insightful, and rather depressing, history of the history of athletics at Cal (The Management of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkley:  Turning Points and Consequenceshere in PDF). A university known for its excellent academics and research, Cal is also among the most severely sanctioned NCAA schools and has a long history of strife, mismanagement and poor overall performance in athletics. Over the years the University has subsidized athletics with more than $170 million.

Cummins and Hextrum write:
With a new Chancellor, a new football coach, a new stadium and high performance center, a larger and more monied  conference, the present surely marks a transitional period for intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley. These changes all signal Cal’s continued escalation as a Big-Time sports program, and the difficult dilemmas campus administrators face. To fund an  intercollegiate program of this magnitude they cannot alienate a substantial donor base. The recent blowback after the  elimination, and subsequent reinstatement of five varsity sports, makes the possibility of cutting sports again as a cost saving  measure extremely remote for years to come. Further, the athletic deficit places enormous pressures to win. This increases the temptation to gain an extra edge on the competition whether through newer facilities, higher-paid coaches, or longer practices.  All this must be achieved on the backs of student athletes who are enrolled in a full-time course load at one of the most  prestigious academic universities in the world. Rather than resolving the dilemma of how to maintain a nearly $70 million per  year athletic enterprise while still providing a world class education for the participants, campus administrators continue to  muddle through.

The authors believe the campus can, and should, address the dilemmas presented by modern college sports. As universities  across the nation continue to expand intercollegiate athletics so does the magnitude of criminal and ethical misconduct. Recent scandals of coaching abuse at Penn State University and Rutgers University and academic integrity violations at the University of North Carolina should serve as harsh warnings to UC Berkeley. After the firing of Rutgers’s coach Mike Rice, The Chronicle of Higher Education warned that college chancellors and athletic directors should stop waiting until a moment of crisis to articulate their institutions core values. Instead, universities must be proactive and re-focus efforts on educating students, or else they will continue to be plagued by scandals (Wolverton, 2013). This is precisely why UC Berkeley must stop muddling through . . . 
Of particular interest to me was this reference to the importance of having an academic unit on campus focused on sport:
Considering the current state of intercollegiate athletics at UC Berkeley, the campus is at a crucial turning point. External forces and internal decisions are pushing the program away from the central campus and making it function strictly as a business. The campus has a choice. It can allow that direction to continue or it can take action to integrate the program more fully into its central educational mission. Currently, a given Chancellor, athletic director or even a powerful football coach can exert major influence over the program. There is no current campus policy delineating the values of the intercollegiate program and how those values are to be interpreted and implemented. The laissez-faire, muddling through approach has resulted in a growing and successful program accompanied by scandals, NCAA violations, considerable deficits, internal conflict, ambiguity, poor graduation rates and isolation from the campus. Would it not be wise to clarify the campus position in more detail so Chancellors, athletic directors, coaches, student athletes and alumni/donors knew where they stood vis-à-vis campus values and priorities?

In the opinion of the authors, sports could play a substantial, beneficial role for the entire university community. Right now, there is no academic unit on the campus related to sports. Every student admitted under special action policy as a result of special talent, with the exception of athletes, has some related academic home such as theater, dance, music, etc. As this paper demonstrates, sports in this country and throughout the world have undergone enormous transformation in the past 35 years. Sports and its various manifestations are undoubtedly worthy of study. Several universities, including some of UC Berkeley’s peers, have academic programs in sports management, sports law, and sports science.
I wonder if there has been any similar analysis for my university here in Boulder.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How Big a Problem is Match Fixing in Football?

British newspapers are reporting that 6 people have been arrested in the UK accused of fixing multiple, low-tier football matches. The story was first reported by The Telegraph.

One notable aspect of the current arrests is that one of the accused is a former Premier League player, Delroy Facey who played 14 games for Bolton back in 2002. The phrases "match fixing" and "Premier League" in such close quarters will get anyone's attention. However, Facey is currently playing for the Albion Sports FC of the Northern Counties East Football League, pretty far removed from the Premier League.

Even so, the arrests raise an important question: how significant are the threats to football integrity are match fixers?

The Telegraph article included excerpts of an undercover discussion with one of the key fixers arrested this week, and it suggests a limited reach with respect to top flight football:
The Telegraph was approached by an undercover investigator with links to Fifa, who had been gathering evidence against suspected Asian match fixers offering to operate in Britain.

During undercover meetings in Manchester earlier this month, the fixer told the former Fifa investigator that he could pay referees and players to manipulate the results of games.

However, during the course of the conversations about English matches, the fixer also said that he could rig matches “all over” the world, except in Singapore where the penalties are very high.

“I do Australia, Scotland. Ireland. Europe. World Cup. World Cup qualifier,” he said.

“What, the World Cup?”, asked the investigator.

“At least, at least 15,” the alleged fixer claimed. “I bought the match.”

The Singaporean national claimed that he controlled one African country’s “whole team”.

The fixer said that he worked closely with a registered Fifa agent, which meant he could organise matches throughout the world.

“He’s a very close friend”, explained the alleged fixer. “My boss is the one who asked him to spend the money to get the licence.”

The alleged fixer claimed to have set up international friendly matches. Some of these matches have already been the focus of concern amid allegations they were fixed.

In a series of covertly recorded conversations in this country, the alleged fixer was asked how the illicit trade worked.

Asked if the betting syndicate paid for the Fifa licence, the alleged fixer replied: “Yeah so he is very close with me… I'm [the] one who's sending money…he can organise any match around the world….that's the reason why I say I can organise any game any tournament…’Cause I use his licence I will ask him if ok he can arrange international friendly for this team before, usually before any world cup match or any tournament there will be friendly match, just a warm up match.”

In a later meeting, the fixer boasted about the teams he could use to control matches in Europe.

“I got team in Belgium. France as well I got,” said the alleged fixer.

“Good teams. Their country, most of these place their salaries are very low…Like Germany, the players, they pay high…France not so high. Very moderate. But Finland, Belgium, Sweden, all everybody all [earn] very less [sic]".
Economic theory would also suggests that would-be fixers will have a hard time cracking top leagues. The Economics of Sport blog discusses the incentives at play:
Economists have investigated criminal behaviour before, with the most well-known model of crime and punishment being Gary Becker's rational choice approach. Put simply, Becker viewed economic agents as purely rational from start to finish and that engaging in criminal activity was a question of the costs and benefits an individual faces.

In the Sky Sports report on the same matter, it is reported that the Daily Telegraph secretly taped a match-fixer and recorded him speaking of the high costs of match fixing in the U.K [Ed: As excerpted above], when he suggested that “In England the cost is very high... usually for the players it is £70,000.”

By Becker’s logic one would assume that top tier games around Europe are not subject to match fixing as the costs to compensate (already highly paid players) would need to be excessive to convince them to stake their reputation.

As the benefits of a fixed match in the betting market can be the same regardless of who is playing ( i.e. a 2/1 Arsenal win pay-offs the same as a 2/1 Northampton win), match fixers have a far greater incentive to target lower tier fixtures where costs are lower as compensation for the players would not have to be as great. Also these games would not have the eyes of the world watching. The only greater cost is that a ‘big bet’ on an obscure match is more likely to set off alarm bells for the bookies. 
Yet, the evidence that is available, as limited as it is, suggests that there is indeed a serious risk posed by match fixers. That risk appears uneven with respect to teams, players and leagues, and is largely based on anecdotes rather than any sort of systematic analysis of the problem.

What is the evidence that top leagues or teams are under threat? To be precise, by top leagues and teams I mean those in the top 30 (or so) of the FIFA World Rankings or the top 30 (or so) club rankings and their domestic leagues. What is the evidence for a significant match-fixing risk at these levels of play? There is some but not much, here is a summary of some recent experience and claims.
The list of allegations, sanctions and expressions of concern could go on, but there is certainly enough here to conclude that risks are not negligible. But how much risk? What is the nature of the threat? Is the idea that football itself is at risk a solid claim? Or is it the case that match fixing is fairly limited in its scope?

A big problem for dealing with the issue of match fixing is the lack of good evidence on which to base action. On the one hand there are experts such as Hill and Eaton who proclaim a threat to football itself, yet the data suggests that while match fixing is endemic in the sport, it is clearly concentrated in lower tier soccer and to the extent that match fixing finds its way into higher-level football, it occurs in nations where corruption is more common.

The Council of Europe has proposed a convention on match fixing (here in PDF). However, one of the big challenges facing a coordination or harmonization of laws, even across an integrated bloc like Europe, is that nations have vastly different legal regimes covering corruption, sports and gambling. The challenges of dealing with match fixing were a focus of the recent Play the Game conference in Aarhus, Denmark.

That there is growing attention is the good news.Even so, the sporting community remains a long way from fully understanding the scope of the problem that it faces with match fixing, much less the sorts of actions that might make sense in response. More systematic, rigorous attention to this issue is clearly needed.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Who Had the Hardest Route to WC2014 Qualification?

Which team had the easiest time qualifying for the 2014 World Cup? How about the hardest?

To answer these questions I created an index of achievement. Specifically, I took the October 2013 FIFA World Rankings and used them as the basis for creating an index based on performance in World Cup qualification. I used a simple metric, a team gets all of their opponents ranking points for a win and half of those points for a draw. Of course, a defeat results in zero points. One could of course devise other plausible ways of tallying points.

According to FIFA there were 820 matches in total played in qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Not all teams played the same number of qualifiers, nor did each team face the same quality of opponents.

Here is how the numbers stack up:

1 Argentina 9769
2 Colombia 8172
3 Ecuador 7689
4 Uruguay 7445
5 Chile 6903
6 USA 6546
7 Costa Rica 6156
8 Belgium 6149
9 Honduras 5879
10 Mexico 5734
11 Portugal 4996
12 Croatia 4832
13 Netherlands 4705
14 Italy 4556
15 Switzerland 4293
16 Germany 4161
17 Greece 4151
18 France 4111
19 Australia 4084
20 Iran 3703
21 Spain 3694
22 Japan 3635
23 South Korea 3619
24 Russia 3570
25 Bosnia 3485
26 England 3240
27 Cameroon 3081
28 Algeria 2506
29 Ivory Coast 2161
30 Nigeria 1927
31 Ghana 1919
32 Brazil 0

Brazil obviously had the easiest route to qualification, serving as host and automatically qualifying.  The highest achievers come all from CONMEBOL, with Argentina leading the way. The USA was next highest. Belgium is the highest performer from UEFA.

Germany and Greece sit squarely in the middle. England was the lowest achieving UEFA squad, earning less than one third of the points tallied by Argentina. The 5 CAF teams all fall at the bottom of the rankings.

All data for this exercise comes from FIFA.

Nick Harris (@sportingintel) parses the data in per match fashion:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Armstrong Implicates Verbruggen

In the interview above with The Daily Mail Lance Armstrong implicates former UCI president Hein Verbruggen in a cover-up of his 1999 positive doping test, indicating a conspiracy reaching to the highest levels of cycling governance. Those responsible for protecting the sport were actively involved in furthering its corruption.

For Verbruggen's part The Daily Mail reports:
In February, Verbruggen personally delivered a letter to the most important 15 Olympic officials at the Lausanne  Palace Hotel, attacking the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and denying  he had aided any cover-up of Armstrong's doping.

Verbruggen wrote: 'I have been frequently accused that, in my UCI presidency, my federation would not have been too serious in its anti-doping policy and that - in particular the Lance Armstrong case - the UCI and myself have been involved in covering up positive tests.

'Cover-ups never took place. Not only would this never have been allowed, but there simply was nothing to cover up. Armstrong, nor his team-mates, never tested positive.'
And the woman at the table with Armstrong and Daily Mail reporter Matt Lawton is Emma O'Reilly. The interview is reported here.

UPDATE: Verbruggen responds here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Introducing the STePPS Project

I've started up a new project here at the University of Colorado, with a new homepage courtesy of the unmatched Ami Nacu-Schmidt.

Here is the project description:
STePPS is a new project of the CIRES Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. It is focused on the governance of sport, with a special emphasis on the roles of science and technology in how sport is governed. STePPS will focus on original research, university education and outreach to the broader community. We have partnered with the emerging undergraduate certificate program in Critical Sports Studies, out of the Department of Ethnic Studies.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact Roger Pielke, Jr.
Check it out here, comments welcomed.

League of Denial on The Daily Show

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lance Armstrong and Travis Tygart Communicate Through the Media

Here is Lance Armstrong on the BBC World Service:

Travis Tygart of USADA responds indirectly in The Guardian:
Tygart said he had not read Armstrong's comments, but there was nothing personal for Usada.

"Their [Armstrong and his lawyers] goal was to make it personal against us, you know, so that we would get the pressure and I would get the death threats and my family would get the death threats," Tygart said. "Play one out of the defence playbook is to identify a single person and then vilify them.

"And that's how you try to bully them or intimidate them or scare them away from doing the job and exposing the truth that they know our job was to expose. Look, we were very methodical, very judicial. It's a very clinical process. We went through it, treated him the same as everyone else was treated."

Tygart said he felt "compassion" for Armstrong and his family as he was really "no worse" than a lot of other riders. But "he was the one that won, obviously. He was the one that profited the most," Tygart said.

"It can't be a good situation where he's at right now," Tygart said. "That was a large part why we gave [him] the opportunity back in June 2012 to come forward. We were as disappointed as anyone back then when they rejected that and went on the attack. And we still, I think, remain open."

Armstrong has said that a truth and reconciliation commission for international cycling is crucial. It's something that Wada and the UCI's new leadership may make progress on in Johannesburg this week.

"We've been pushing for it from day one," Tygart said. "When we saw the evidence that we saw during the course of this investigation, we knew this was not just about one individual athlete. It was about a system that corrupted a sport.

"To get to the bottom of the dark culture during that time is critically important for the success of the sport going forward."
More from Tygart here with AP. And more to come in this soap opera to be sure.

Friday, November 8, 2013

University of Colorado Course: Communication, Sport & Society

As part of an emerging undergraduate Certificate in Critical Sports Studies there are a set of new and interesting course offerings here at the University of Colorado. COMM 3000 -- Communication, Sport & Society will be offered in the summer term 2014 by Jamie Skerski of the Communication Department.

Here is the course description:
COMM 3000:  Communication, Sport & Society

How and when did “play” become such a serious, high-stakes endeavor?  How does being a “fan” at a ball game collapse otherwise divisive economic class distinctions? Why are male athletes often referred to by last name, but female athletes by first name? Why does the NFL “go pink” every October and what are the implications?  How does the concept of “free agency” impact “community” for both fans and players? What metaphors shape the way we perceive different sports and their cultural value?  What can we learn about larger social relations from studying sport?

This course examines the communicative, historical and cultural aspects of “sport” in contemporary American society.  Thinking critically about sport as a social institution, our readings and discussions will explore the intersections of power, gender/sexuality, race and ethnicity, class and national identity.

Scholars from communication, anthropology, sociology among others agree that public narratives about sports are symptomatic of larger social issues, including racial tensions, gender inequities and labor disputes.  The goal of the course is to facilitate critical thinking about sport as a site of cultural production.  Students will be prompted to make connections between the discourses of sport and other arenas of public life as well as their own life experiences.  As such, student learning objectives include:
  • Theorizing the differences between “play,” “games” and “sport”
  • Understanding the political economy of professional sports, both nationally and internationally
  • Recognizing the gendered discourse embedded in sports culture and its implications
  • Identifying the racial/ethnic/class implications of professional “scouting” and “farming” players
  • Making connections between the cultural norms of sport and dominant ideologies

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

FIFA Reform Recommendation Scorecard

Last week at Play the Game, I presented the results of my evaluation of the recently-completed  FIFA reform project. A summary of what I found can be seen in the slide above. In short, FIFA took some small steps forward, but has a long way to go to raise its governance to what experts would judge to be minimally acceptable standards.

In the panel discussion that followed the presentation both Mark Pieth, who chaired the FIFA reform project, and Walter DeGregorio, FIFA spokesman, put up some very mild resistance to the numbers that I presented.  The session is pictured below, with from left to right, Osasu Obayiuwana, me, Pieth and DeGregorio, photo courtesy Play the Game 2013 and Thomas Søndergaard. Note: you can watch the presentations here.
DeGregorio tried to impeach my analysis by quoting Winston Churchill as saying, "I only believe in statistics that I doctored myself." Unfortunately, that "quote" from Churchill was apparently manufactured by Goebbels in an effort to discredit Churchill. On several levels this was probably not DeGregorio's best response. Even so, DeGregorio did not really offer much to contradict my evaluation and in his own off-the-cuff remarks, underscored the challenges that FIFA faces in furthering reform (DeGregorio's formal presentation, which he did not give, can be found here in PDF).

Professor Pieth asserted his familiarity with the empirical science and took issue with the summing of the recommendations. Fair enough. They are presented in a convenient tabular form above and can easily be considered report-by-report. But, after the pro forma objections, Pieth gave an excellent presentation that really jibed well with what I presented.

You can do a lot of things with data and statistics. However, one thing that you can't do is make FIFA's reform effort look like a success.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My PTG 2013 Presentation on FIFA Reform

Here in PDF my slides from this mornings talk on FIFA reform at Play the Game 2013.

Comments welcomed!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pound/WADA Report on Doping

Richard Pound won the 2013 Play the Game award in Aarhus last night -- and well deserved. He gave an interesting talk on the recent WADA report on doping which he led and delivered to its executive committee earlier this year.

That report can be found here in PDF.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Play the Game Previews FIFA Debate

On Wednesday morning 30 October in Aarhus, Play the Game has organized a session on the FIFA reform process in which I am participating.  Here is the PTG preview of the session:
FIFA speech for the first time in Play the Game history

In fact, one of the international federations has decided to engage for the first time in a Play the Game debate: after rejecting invitations from all seven previous Play the Game conferences since 1997, FIFA now sends its communications director Walter de Gregorio to a debate about the FIFA reform process.

This debate takes place Wednesday 30th October in the morning and will be no walk-over for de Gregorio who will outline FIFA’s progress in a debate with two leading governance experts. One is no less than the chairperson of FIFA’s own Independent Governance Committee, the Swiss professor Mark Pieth, who recently announced his departure from this position at the end of the year, hinting that FIFA is not really willing to make thorough reform.

Another opponent is even more skeptical: the American professor Roger Pielke has seriously questioned the results of the reform process in articles on Play the Game’s website, and in Aarhus Pielke will put forward the documentation behind his analysis.
On Wednesday I'll post up here at The Least Thing my slides which are part of my talk. For my part, I am taking an attitude toward the session recommended by ... Sepp Blatter:
“Just like football, debate has this awesome power to bring people together.  Debate opens our minds to new worlds. It challenges our prejudices. It inspires.  Just like football, debate has the power to break down barriers.  It makes us better people and it makes the world a better place. “

Sepp Blatter, FIFA President
25 October 2013
Oxford Union
The relative accomplishments of the FIFA reform effort are rather unambiguous, as I'll document in my talk (and which has been presented on the PTG website). People can of course agree to disagree about the significance of FIFA's reforms to date. My conclusions is that some significant actions were indeed taken, but there remains many more yet to be done.

I hope that our discussion focuses not so much on the recent (or distant) past, but rather, where efforts for reform go next.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Coming Next Week: Blogging and Tweeting from #PTG2013

Next week I'll be in Aarhus, Denmark where I'll be attending the 2013 Play the Game conference. The latest agenda can be found here in PDF. The agenda reveals an embarrassment of riches. As I did in 2011 I'll be active on social media from the conference, blogging here at The Least Thing and tweeting as well -- @RogerPielkeJr. The conference hash tag is #PTG2013.

Next Wednesday at the conference I'll be speaking in a plenary session titled: FIFA Reforms -- fact or phantom? That session will also include Mark Pieth, former chair of the FIFA Independent Governance Committee, Walter DeGregario, FIFA spokesman, and possibly other surprises yet to be named. That should be fun!

If you have questions, comments or requests, just send them to me via email or Twitter. It will be a great week.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Governance of Sport - My Spring 2014 Syllabus

I have just finished up a ready-for-viewing version of my syllabus for my brand-new Spring 2014 course -- University of Colorado-Boulder: ETHN 3104, The Governance of Sport.

Here is the course description:
Overview and Purpose of the Course

The goal of this course is to introduce students to issues of governance in various societal settings as viewed through the lens of sport. As Jens Sejer Andersen has noted, “Sport is an expression of civilization.” Through readings, discussions and individual and group projects students will engage a wide range of scholarly and popular literature, film and guest speakers to critically engage important issues that arise in the governance of sport. In this year’s course case studies that we will engage include the role of technological augmentation in sport, policies delineating participation eligibility in the Olympics according to gender, societal and policy responses to concussions in the NFL, equity in journalism related to sports reporting, genetics and athletic performance, doping in sport, sport as a laboratory for understanding prediction and decision making, and gender equity in sport and beyond. The student should emerge from this class with tools of critical thinking and analysis, along with greater substantive knowledge of various interesting and important cases in the governance of sport.  This course is designed to be intellectually challenging but also rewarding.
The course is an experiment of sorts as part of an emerging certificate program here at the University of Colorado-Boulder in "Critical Sports Studies." The syllabus is very much (but not completely) US focused and leaves more on the cutting-room floor than on the syllabus, yet at the same time, it asks a lot of the students.

The syllabus can be found here in PDF.

Your comments/suggestions most welcomed!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Deeper Look at FIFA Reform

The second installment of my analysis of FIFA reform is now up at Play the Game.

Some key findings and conclusions:
  1. 1. Overall FIFA adopted 7 of 59 recommendations (from TI, Pieth and the FIFA IGC) and partially adopted 10 others, leaving 42 unimplemented.
  2. 2. In a nutshell, the common characteristics of the proposed reforms not adopted are that they involved (a) sharing authority and control for FIFA decision making with FIFA outsiders, (b) the imposition of external standards of governance on the organization or (c) the opening up of the organization to greater transparency in areas outside the disbursement of FIFA funding to member organizations.
  3. I provide a list of nine topics which covers almost all of the 42 recommendations which went unimplemented. (see link below for this list)
  4. Assuming full and successful implementation of the proposed reforms in these nine areas would have raised FIFA’s score under the Chappelet-Mrkonjic framework to a level almost exactly equal to their score for the governance IOC -- up to a C level, still far from an A grade.
  5. Even with complete implementation of the recommendations by Transparency International, Mark Pieth and the IGC, FIFA would still have a considerable challenge remaining in raising FIFA governance to widely accepted best practices
  6. Despite the obviosu shortfall, it is also fair to conclude that several of the reforms which FIFA did implement may indeed be important achievements, such as the establishment of new ethics and audit & compliance committees, with the introduction of (at least partially) independent chairs.
The analysis in full can be found here:

At Play the Game 2013 in a few weeks I will complete the analysis by suggesting several recommendations for next steps in FIFA reform for those who are outside the organization yet would like to see the organization improve its governance practices.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Eligibility and National Teams

Jack Wilshire, the Arsenal and England footballer, opened up a flood of commentary when he commented, apparently of Adnan Januzaj (who introduced himself to England and the world with 2 great goals for Manchester United last week), that,
"The only people who should play for England are English people. If you've lived in England for five years, for me, it doesn't make you English. You shouldn't play. It doesn't mean you can play for that country. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I'm not going to play for Spain. For me an English player should play for England really." 
Wilshire's comments come on the heels of revelations that England would look favorably on Januzaj attaining eligibility to play for England, presumably via securing British citizenship:
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke has revealed discussions have started regarding eligibility boundaries as the debate over Manchester United teenager Adnan Januzaj representing England rages on.

The Belgium-born winger has risen to prominence after his two goals at Sunderland and is available to play for the country of his birth, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey.

Januzaj could also represent the England team in 2018 on residency grounds if he remains in the country for the next five years, with manager Roy Hodgson confirming he would be interested in selecting the winger if he became eligible.
The general question here is who should be eligible to play for which national team, a question make slightly more complicated because some "national" teams don't even represent nations -- England being a prime example. There are actually 10 members of FIFA whose citizens hold British nationality and 5 members who hold US citizenship.

Nationality designation is a rule, like any other constitutive decision process in sports governance -- like rules of play, or rules governing doping or rules governing World Cup site selection. As such the rules are perceived to be better or worse, and are open to re-negotiation.

The rule that Wilshire apparently dislikes comes from FIFA, and covers the conditions under which a player can change eligibility, which was actually not possible (in the modern era at least) before 2004 (source Omar Ongaro: PDF). That language evolved up to 2008, since which time is has been unchanged:
 a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
 b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of  the relevant Association;
 c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
 d) He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association.
 The five year residency period used byFIFA conveniently is one year longer than the World Cup cycle, ensuring that a star player in one World Cup cannot show up playing for another team in the next. The five year period is also the same time period required under British law for acquiring British citizenship.

Showing how sensitive Wilshire's comments were, British cricket player Kevin Pietersen -- born in South Africa, has an English mother and lived in England for 4 years before playing for England -- tweeted the following:
Football obviously has meanings to people that evoke deep (and sometimes even unhealthy) feelings of nationalism and even ethnic pride. These issues get wrapped up in what it means to play for  England -- or any team for that matter -- in a way that takes the issue far beyond the bloodless texts of constitutive decision making.

While Wilshire's sentiment may be romantic, I'd guess that Dyke's pragmatism will ultimately win out. On this note Pietersen had the last laugh:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Proposed Reforms from FIFA's IGC 2012 Report Unimplemented by FIFA

Below you can find the recommendations made by the FIFA IGC in its first report (here in PDF) which I have identified as having not been adopted by FIFA in its reform process. These recommendations comprise part of the reform evaluation which I recent discussed at Play the Game back in June and to which FIFA responded to here.

Overall, I identified 20 recommendations in the IGC report. Of those 20, FIFA failed to even partially implement 9 of them (with 5 implemented and 6 partially implemented). Those 9 unimplemented recommendations are listed below, to aid in discussion and (ideally) debate. 

Questions worth thinking about include: Which ones are most important? Which ones are secondary? Which may be off the mark? Comments welcomed either here or via email.

I've blogged on the unimplemented recommendations from the Transparency International report Safe Hands: Building Transparency and Integrity at FIFA and the unimplemented recommendations of Mark Pieth's 2011 paper Governing FIFA. This post completes the series. Next week I will discuss them together.

Here are the 9 unimplemented recommendations:
1. First and foremost it is fundamental that nominees for senior FIFA positions are vetted by an independent Nominations Committee, to be put in place as soon as possible, in order to ensure that candidates for the next elections fulfill the necessary substantive criteria and ethical requirements and that the selection process is fair and transparent.
2. it is furthermore fundamental that the Chairs of the Nomination Committee and the Audit & Compliance Committee have a seat in the Executive Committee
3. The  initial  candidates  for  [The  Chairs and Deputy  Chairs of  the Investigatory Chamber  and  the  Adjudicatory  Chamber]  should  be  selected  and  proposed  by  the  IGC
4. The  Secretariat  of  the  Ethics  Committee  should    directly  report  to    the  Chairs  of  the    investigatory  chamber  and  the  adjudicatory    chamber  respectively    and  should  be    independent  from  management;
5. "In  the  area  of  Compensation & Benefits, the  Audit & Compliance Committee  should  have the following main  responsibilities:
  • Define  the  overall  Compensation  &    Benefits  strategy  of  FIFA;  
  • Decide  on  the  Compensation  &    Benefits  of  the  President,  the  Executive  Committee    Members,  the  Secretary    General  and  the  Independent  Members  of  Standing    Committees;  
  • Transparency:  The  Compensation    &  Benefits  (including  all  elements  such  as  regular & variable  compensation  components,  benefits,  pension  fund  contributions, severance/termination  regulation  and    payments)  of  the  above  listed    positions should  be  individually  and  annually  reported  to  the  Congress;  
  • Regulations  should  be  adopted  containing  the  strategy  and  criteria  for    Compensation  &  Benefits; 
6. In  order  to  support    their  supervisory    function,  the    Chairs  of  the    Audit  &  Compliance    Committee    and    the  Nomination  Committee  should  participate  in  the  meetings  of  the  Executive  Committee;  they    should  therefore  have  a  seat  in    the  Executive    Committee.
7. Slightly    differing    from  the  suggestions  of    the  Task  Forces,  the  IGC proposes  the  introduction  of  the  following  terms  of  office:
  • President: 2 terms  of  4    years     
  • Executive  Committee: 2 terms  of  4 years  
  • Judicial    bodies: 1 term  of  6    years  
  • Chairmen  of  Standing  Committees: 1 term  of  8    years  
  • Retroactive  effect:  The  current  terms  of  affected  officials  should  continue;  upon  expiration  of  a second 4-­‐year    term,  only 1  additional  4-­‐year term  can  be added;
  • In  addition,  the  Statutes  should  state  the  “staggered  board”  principle  and  should  lay  the foundation  for  an  impeachment  procedure  by  the  Nomination Committee  (to  be  further regulated  on  policy  level)    in  case  an  official  proves to  be  unfit  for    office  during  his/her term  of  office.  
Contrary  to the  Task    Forces,  the  IGC    is  not  proposing  an    age  limit;  the  proposed  terms  of office, the  impeachment  procedure  and  the  integrity  checks  should  serve  the  purpose  of  ensuring efficient corporate  bodies.
8. The  Statutes  should  be  amended  by  the  responsibility  of  the  Audit  &  Compliance  Committee  to establish  and  monitor  a  best  practice    Compliance    Program  and  to    oversee  the  Compliance function.      
During  2012,  the  relating  policies  and  procedures  need  to  be  reviewed  by  the  IGC  before enactment by  the  Executive  Committee.  The  policies  need  to  address  –  inter  alia -- the  following topics  in  a consistent  (i.e.  the  same  rule  for  officials  and  employees)  and  detailed  way:
  • Conflicts  of  interest  
  • Gifts & hospitality  
  • Confidential  reporting  mechanism  
  • Responsibilities  and  resources  
9. In  order  to  ensure the integrity of  FIFA’s officials and  key employees  in  line  with  FIFA’s values and  principles, a Nomination Committee  should  be  established.  This  includes  the following primary  steps, which  should  be  implemented  as soon as possible:
  • The  Chair  and  the  Deputy  Chair  of  the  Nomination Committee  should  be  independent  in    accordance  with  the  definition  to be  included  in  the  FIFA  Statutes;  in  addition  they    should meet  the  necessary  professional  requirements    applicable  to  all  members of  the  Nomination Committee  as  set  out  in  the  proposed Organization  Regulations;  
  • The  initial  candidates  for  those  positions  should  be  selected  and  proposed  by  the  IGC;  
  • The  candidates  should  be  elected  by  the  competent  FIFA  body  and  start  their  functions as soon as possible;      
  • The  Nomination Committee  should  be  given  the  competences and  resources to  discharge  its  purpose;  it  should  draw  up a  budget  and  decide  on the  support  of  external  advice  at  its  own discretion.  It  shall  also  have  access  to  internal    investigatory  resources  of the  Ethics Committee;  
  • The  Nomination Committee  should  have  access  to complaints  and  allegations  filed    under the  confidential  reporting  mechanism  and  should  receive  regular updates    on  information relevant  for  their  remit;  
  • The  remit  of  the  Nomination Committee  should  include  the  following:  
  1. Search,  selection  and  proposal  of  independent  members  of  Standing    Committees 
  2. Checks  relating  to    professional  criteria  on  all  officials  covered    by  such    requirements  
  3. Integrity Checks  on key officials  and  employees  of  FIFA  
  4. The  cornerstones  of  the  Integrity  Check  should  be  regulated  in the FIFA  Statutes: 
  5. Personal  scope: Key  officials,  including President, Executive Committee Members,  Committee  Members  to  be  elected  by  Congress,  Finance Committee Members,  Key    employees  
  6. Temporal  scope:  Retroactive  for  all  current  position  holders;  upon   election/re-­‐election    
  7. Detailed  regulation  of  content  and  process  of  the  Integrity  Check  should  be established by the Nomination  Committee during  2012 and  a corresponding policy   should  be  adopted. The regulation should  be  reviewed  by  the  IGC  before  adoption;    
  8. In  order  to  improve  transparency  and  democracy,  all  open  positions  covered  by  the Nomination  Committee  procedure  should  be  made  public  and    applications  can be submitted to the Nomination Committee. 

Mark Pieth Looks Back

In the New York Times, James Montague quotes Mark Pieth on the FIFA reform effort:
At the FIFA Congress in May, he publicly challenged Blatter and FIFA to release details of the salaries and expenses of top officials.

“I turned around and said, ‘You could stun everyone,’ ” Pieth said. “I was saying: ‘Be bold. Show our critics that.’ ”

Then came the but. “They didn’t take up the challenge; these guys are too stuck in their traditional ways,” he said, adding: “We underestimated that this is a purely self-regulated body. They are a bit like the Vatican. No one can force them to change.”
Montague also says that Pieth resigned from the IGC. I'm not sure this is correct and have tweeted Montague a question. (UPDATE: Looks like Pieth has said he intends to step down by the end of 2013, which may in fact be a moot point, depending upon FIFA's druthers.)

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Proposal to Compensate College Athletes

Below is a proposal to allow college athletes to capitalize on their economic value via the model used under the Bayh-Dole legislation which shared intellectual property rights with faculty who do research in universities using federal funds. It is an argument I've alluded to on this blog before.

My proposal is so compelling that ... I couldn't get it published anywhere, ahem. So here it is!
What the NCAA can learn from Bayh-Dole

College sports are facing a crisis. A group of about two dozen current and former college athletes, led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon have sued the National Collegiate Athletics Administration. The athletes argue that licensing revenues generated by the NCAA using the images and likenesses of specific players should be shared with those players. In the coming weeks a federal judge will decide whether to certify the case as a class action, which would then bring into the case many thousands of former and current college athletes.

If that were to occur, then the NCAA and universities could be responsible for paying billions of dollars to college athletes. In 2012, the top 5 college athletic conferences collectively received over $1 billion in television revenue for football and the March Madness spring post-season basketball tournament operates under a 14-year, $10.8 billion television agreement. March Madness alone generated more than a billion dollars in TV ad revenue, exceeding that of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball. Johnny Manziel, the Texas A&M quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy last year, generated an estimated $37 million in publicity for his university last year.

With the magnitude of the financial stakes, it is only a matter of time before the dam breaks and the notion of the “scholar-athlete” who plays only for school pride and a scholarship becomes a thing of the past. Rather than wait for a court decision, a labor action by high profile athletes or other possible revolutionary changes, the NCAA and universities can get ahead of this issue by paying attention to the lessons of history very close to home.

In 1980 the US Congress passed what the Economist called in 2002 “possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half-century.” The Bayh-Dole Act changed property rights with respect to the discoveries made in universities as a result of federally funded research. Prior to 1980 the US government retained ownership of the intellectual property associated with discoveries which resulted from federal research and development. Very few of the patents owned by the federal government were being been commercialized, and policy makers sought a way to better capitalize on the billions of dollars in federal R&D taking place at universities.

Under the law, professors and other university researchers who create intellectual property gain a share in its rewards, thereby creating strong incentives both to discover and to commercialize. In the two decades following the passage of Bayh-Dole US universities increased their patents by 1,000% and added an estimated $40 billion annually to the economy. At the same time, the law ensured that technology transfer activities on campus would be closely monitored to ensure that the mission of universities was not compromised.

So what does Bayh-Dole tell us about college athletics? Several years ago, former Senator Birch Bayh explained why the Bayh-Dole Act works: “it aligns the interests of the taxpaying public, the federal government, research universities, their departments, inventors, and private sector developers transforming government supported research into useable products.”

The NCAA and universities should explore aligning the interests of scholarship athletes, university campuses, the NCAA and the sports public with the incredible revenue potential of college sports. Assigning to universities the intellectual property rights of athletes which play under their names while creating a revenue-sharing model with those athletes would meet this need. Just as occuered with respect to the faculty, such an approach would encourage the further generation of revenue from sports, creating a windfall for many college athletic programs, some of which are strapped for cash, and deliver deserved rewards to the scholarship athletes who play the games.

A revenue-sharing model has served college faculty who conduct research and their home universities very well over more than three-decades. Universities should get to work on adopting a similar model for its athletes, before change is forced upon them, perhaps abruptly.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Platini Confirms Political Influence in FIFA Qatar Vote

To some it will be a statement of the obvious, to others an admission that should ring alarm bells. Responding to the assertion of the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, that the Qatar 2022 World Cup was a "political" choice by European voters, the Uefa president, Michel Platini, has confirmed that "political and economic influences" were a factor.

The controversial selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup in December 2010 has resulted in a bitter row over whether the tournament should be moved to winter to avoid the searing summer heat, a move expected to be agreed in principle by Fifa next month.

Blatter, who voted for the US to host the 2022 tournament but has since become an advocate of moving it to winter, said in an interview this week that there was "definitely direct political influence" on European executive committee members to vote for Qatar.

"European leaders recommended to its voting members to opt for Qatar, because of major economic interests in the country," he told the German weekly Die Zeit.

Following a meeting of all 54 Uefa member associations in Dubrovnik, at which they confirmed in principle their support for a winter World Cup in 2022, Platini confirmed Blatter's comments. "With the extraordinary influence Mr Blatter has," Platini said, "he has only all of a sudden realised there are political and economic influences when we decide who will host an Olympic Games and so forth? It's better late than never I guess."

Platini sardonically added: "It's new, apparently. It was said that Europeans voted for Qatar but Qatar got 14 votes. We're only eight. If you subtract eight from 14 you get six left over."
The issue of how Qatar got 14 votes has been widely discussed. Here is how one Australian newspaper characterized the vote back in 2010:
UEFA boss Michel Platini reportedly gave his vote to Qatar on the request of his French President Nicolas Sarkozy after France signed a favourable oil deal with the tiny Middle Eastern nation.

When asked why so many of the ExCo had voted for Qatar, Mr [Peter] Hargitay [FIFA insider and consultant to Australia's failed bid] replied "You go figure it out. What do you think motivates people, 14 of them, to vote for a country the population of Zurich, to vote for a country that is the size of Fiji, to vote for a country where the infrastructure to play host to millions of fans still has to be created?"
You can see an overview of the so-called Qatargate issue here.