Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Edge

I'm in the final stages of completing my new book -- The Edge. It'll be available right before Rio 2016.

Blogging will be occasional to light. But much more coming soon!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Does "Education" Work as an Anti-Doping Strategy?

"Education" is often held up as an important tool of anti-doping polices. But does education actually work? The evidence is actually very, very thin. More generally, efforts to influence behavior through education are not often very effective.

For instance, USADA explains:
Education is an extremely important pillar of an effective anti-doping program and is the first line of defense in protecting the rights of clean athletes. USADA provides extensive anti-doping education to thousands of athletes each year, helping athletes and support personnel understand their rights and responsibilities in regards to the drug testing process. 
WADA says something similar:
WADA believes that a long-term solution to preventing doping is through effective values-based education programs that can foster anti-doping behaviors and create a strong anti-doping culture.
We'd all like to believe that education leads to changed behavior. I've come across this issue frequently in areas of science studies, where the assumption that more education leads to changed behavior has been pretty well debunked for a long time.  There is actually an enormous literature on this topic. Education doesn't necessarily change behaviors in predictable or desired directions.

Thus, given this broad understanding, it is a bit surprising that the anti-doping community relies so heavily on a claim that education is an effective anti-doping strategy. It is almost an article of faith in some circles.

But the evidence that is available doesn't support such claims or faith. In fact, 2007 WADA published the result of a sponsored study which reviewed the literature on the effectiveness of education in anti-doping (drawing upon work related to bullying, illegal drug use, etc.). That study concluded (PDF):
Educating athletes about the effects of drugs, and specifically the adverse effects, may be a means of deterring drug use 53. However, this contention is not supported in the present review. Studies that employed interventions designed solely to provide subjects with information regarding drug use (anabolic steroids) in either a balanced format 40 or with an emphasis on adverse consequences 39, were not effective to altering subjects’ attitudes or intentions. Whilst providing information on drug-related issues and improving knowledge is necessary, an effective programme must also address the myriad of other variables that impact upon the decision to use performance enhancing drugs, such as alternatives to drug use, peer and media resistance training and decision-making skills.
More broadly, there simply isn't much evidence of effectiveness:
There are several limitations to the existing research. Firstly, whilst a number of studies successfully modified attitudes or intentions related to drug use, they were less effective in reducing drug use behaviours. Too few studies have conducted long-term follow-up to determine whether intervention effects persist over time and whether they translate into reduced drug usage. Secondly, all studies to-date have employed self-report questionnaires to gather data, without corroboration by other methods. Because the issues addressed in this research relate to illegal or taboo practices, or indeed social desirability favouring exaggeration, the validity of findings may be compromised due to under and over-reporting. Research in this field has primarily targeted college or university athletes, with programmes co-ordinated primarily within the athletic department. College and university athletes differ from other athletes in that they are subject not only to the pressures of sporting performance but also expectations regarding their academic achievement, which may create a unique set of circumstances surrounding the decision to engage in drug use. Accordingly, it is not appropriate to generalise the methods and findings of these studies to other settings and populations. Research has mostly been confined to prevention of anabolic steroid use, with less attention paid to other performance enhancing and recreational drugs, such as growth hormones, amphetamines or cocaine. 
The more fundamental problem of course is that there is very little evidence about the prevalence of doping in sport, much less on the sorts of approaches that are more likely to influence that prevalence. Anti-doping efforts have a long way to go to become more evidence based.

The Platini Decision

Tomorrow at 4AM Eastern time (10am CET) the Court of Arbitration for Sport will release its decision in the case of Michel Platini. This is a huge decision however it comes out.

Platini is the president of UEFA and FIFA presidential candidate who has been suspended from football-related activities by the FIFA Ethics Committee for a period of 90 days. The ban, which was announced October 8 means that Platini cannot campaign for the FIFA presidency during the period of suspension, which FIFA has said could be extended another 45 days, essentially up to the election, which is February 26th.

Platini has gone to CAS to ask for a "stay" of the suspension which is in effect a lifting of the ban until the full case is heard. If CAS rules in Platini's favor then he would be able to resume his UEFA duties and a campaign for FIFA president. If the CAS rules against Platini, then the current ban would continue, and he would be prohibited from football-related activities, including his presidential campaign.

Here is how the situation might play out.

1. Platini wins at CAS.

Then, follow proceedings next week, FIFA is expected to render a judgment on whether Platini (and Sepp Blatter) will face a longer suspension, perhaps 6 years or longer. No doubt that judgment, if against Platini (and Blatter) would be appealed to the CAS. If Platini wins tomorrow but loses with FIFA, it would mean a bit of chaos over the next week as Platini reinserts himself into the campaign and then is forced out again.

2. Platini loses at CAS.

Then everything shifts to the FIFA Ethics Committee hearing next week, which provides the second-to-last chance for Platini. A subsequent appeal to CAS would be his last chance.

Given the short time between the request for a stay and FIFA's Ethics Committee hearing, it would seem logical that CAS might simply defer any decision by rejecting the stay in anticipation that it will receive this case anyway, if FIFA rules against Platini. Were I a CAS arbitrator, I would likely make such a (non) decision.

The only exception I'd make here is if there is clear exculpatory evidence in Platini's favor that would suggest that the FIFA Ethics Committee will be ruling in his favor. If so, then there would be no reason not to grant this stay immediately.

However, were I to make a wager, I'd bet on the CAS not issuing the stay and simply letting the FIFA process take its course, in expectation of a chance to review that judgment in a few weeks.

But we shall see very soon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A War on Football?

In last weekend's New York Times Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith in the forthcoming Concussion movie) calls for an end to youth football (the American kind) and other contact sports that involve blows to the head. The article is essentially an invocation of the so-called "precautionary principle" - better safe than sorry when it comes to kids brains and contact sports..

I'll be using the op-ed in my spring course on the Governance of Sport where we will be discussing and ebating this issue. This post will serve as a running resource for this emerging debate. I have not yet seen a coherent response arguing the other side to Omalu's op-ed. But there have been a few interesting responses, an more is sure to come

Danny Kannell, former NFL quaterback and current ESPN commentator, took strong exception to the debate itself:
Last year the NYT suggested that football might be the source of a partisan split. Looking at the data, there is a case to be made, but it does not appear to be a strong one. Yesterday, Forbes also engaged this theme. Both Kannell and the NYT/Forbes seem a bit over-the-top, but perhaps they are just premature. We shall see.

Dr. Julian Bailes, who is also portrayed in the Concussion movie (by Alec Baldwin) argues that the state of concussion science, full of uncertainties, does not outweigh the various benefits of organized youth football. In effect, he takes the other side of the precautionary principle - arguing that the risks to eliminating football outweigh the possible health benefits. In effect, better safe than sorry means keeping football.

He does have a point, over 1 million boys play football in high schools, a number that hasn't changed very much over at least the past decade and longer (data). This suggests (using rough math: 250k per high school class over the past 50 years), that there are 10-15 million American adult males for who football was a part of their cultural experience. That is a big number. In the US, football is king of sports.

In a 2014 article, FiveThirtyEight (owned by ESPN) has also cast doubt on the relationship of concussions and health impacts on football players (professional). FiveThirtyEight also explored concussion rates in youth sports, which (if the data is reliable and meaningful, big ifs here) suggests a pretty low rate across sports, but with football in the lead.

Far more important than any partisan divide in the debate over concussions in sports, at all levels, are the financial interests at play. The NFL has a lot of money and influence. It also has a $15 billion plus contact with ESPN. ESPN pays the salaries of both Danny Kannell and FiveThirtyEight. I don't believe that either Kannell or folks at FiveThirtyEight have their views because of NFL funding, simply that interests align in predictable ways. This is a common challenge in policy debates relate to science and culture, and one that I have written a lot about.

Coming up with balanced analysis of the concussion problem, a shared understanding of what that problem may be, as well as alternative options for the future will depend upon hearing from a diversity of voices, including those that are independent of the NFL, ESPN and the debate so far.

The issue is still emerging. Watch this space.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

It's Time to Ask Some Hard Questions of US Soccer

The latest DOJ indictments lead to some hard questions for US Soccer. It's president, Sunil Gulati, is the only one of 9 members of the 2009 CONCACAF executive committee who is not under indictment, previously suspended or accused of improprieties in the media.

Gulati may yet be indicted, he may be an informant or he may be the only CONCACAF official of his era untouched by scandal. Who knows? What is becoming increasingly obvious is that it would be wise for the US soccer community to start thinking about and openly discussing the future of US Soccer, just in case change is right around the corner.

The US media has been remarkably silent on Gulati and US Soccer as the scandal has unfolded. It i time that changed. Some questions to start with:

What happens if Gulati steps down, by choice or due to events?
Who should next lead US Soccer?

I've got some thoughts, which are coming soon. Stay tuned.

Data: 2009 CONCACAF ExCo, DOJ Superseding Indictment of 4 Dec (PDF), Burrell FIFA suspension, Austin FIFA suspension, and White allegations.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Case for Sepp Blatter as DOJ Unnamed Co-Conspirator #14

The latest round of FIFA arrests were accompanied by a superseding indictment (here in PDF), in effect an update to the charges that the US Department of Justice is levying against various FIFA officials and their partners.

In the superseding indictment there is the tantalizing possibility that both Jerome Valcke (former FIFA general secretary) and Sepp Blatter (suspended FIFA president) are included as "unnamed co-conspirators" numbers #17 and #14 respectively.

Here is the evidence.

Unnamed co-conspirator #14 is described as "At various times relevant to the Indictment, Co-Conspirator #14 was a high-ranking official of FIFA." And #17 in the same terms, "At various times relevant to the Indictment, Co-Conspirator #17 was a high-ranking FIFA official."

This doesn't give much to go on, but the document provides a few more details.

On #17 (p. 93):
"on January 2, 2008, January 31, 2008 and March 7, 2008, a high-ranking FIFA official, Co-Conspirator #17, caused payments of $616,000, $1,600,000, and $7,784,000 - totaling $10 million - to be wired from a FIFA account in Switzerland to a Bank of America correspondent account in New York, New York, for credit to accounts held in the names of CFU and CONCACAF, but controlled by the defendant JACK WARNER, at Republic Bank in Trinidad and Tobago." 
This description is consistent with media reports describing the role of Jerome Valcke in facilitating the alleged $10 million bribe involving South African officials.

On #14 (pp. 91-92):
"Charles Blazer learned from the defendant JACK WARNER that high-ranking officials of FIFA, including Co-Conspirator #14, the South African bid committee,  including Co-Conspirator #15, and the South African government were prepared to arrange for the government of South Africa to pay $10 million to CFU to "support the African diaspora." 
This description is consistent with a report in the Sunday Times (of South Africa) that Sepp Blatter had corresponded with then-South African president Thabo Mbeki about the $10 million payment. The key tell in the superseding indictment is the phrase "the South African government" which is highly suggestive of the relationship revealed by the Sunday Times (SA). Here is one of the emails referred to in that article:

So, is #17 Valcke? And, is #14 Blatter?

It is not 100% certain, but it seems highly likely. I'd bet a beer on it. If this turns out to be correct, then we might expect formal DOJ charges against Blatter and Valcke before this investigation is over. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

FIFA Still Doesn't Get "Independence"

There is a lot of good potential in the various reform proposals advanced today by FIFA's Executive Committee. However, it's press conference was shaky, with its acting secretary general refusing to reveal his salary and its acting president refusing to engage questions about his sanction by the IOC for taking bribes.

But perhaps the most revealing evidence that FIFA just doesn't "get it" is its newly proposed definition of what it means to be "independent" of FIFA. One can receive up to $125,000 from FIFA, or related organizations, per year and still be considered "independent."

The new definition is found in Appendix 3 of the material released today and here it is in full:
 The $125,000 threshold for "independence" is likely a reflection of the incredible amounts of money sloshing around in international football. For many who participate in this world, $125,000 probably is not a big deal. Consider that the members of the FIFA ExCo receive a reported fee of $300,000 for attending a few meetings per year.

But for most individuals who might be considered for independent roles with FIFA, $125,000 is going to be of the same scale or larger than their primary salaries. The new definition has some other problems too, in that it defines business owners (e.g., 10% equity) as having a "material financial interest" but apparently not FIFA's own Council Members or employees of companies or other entities that have relationships with FIFA.

In principle, there is absolutely no problem with compensating independent individuals for services to FIFA. Time is valuable and individuals should be compensated for services. But to maintain true "independence" from FIFA, this compensation cannot come from FIFA or its subsidiary bodies.

A far better strategy for retaining independent advice would be for FIFA to provide a grant (e.g.,FIFA could apply a small fee to each member association -- $5,000 each raises $1 million -- which could be subtracted from their FIFA allocations). This money could then be given to a well-established, legitimate neutral third party, like Transparency International or UNESCO, with a request to set up a mechanism for identification and compensation of "independent" voices participating in FIFA governance.

In that manner FIFA would not be directly responsible for paying these individuals and their compensation would be subject to truly independent oversight and appropriate market-based fees.

FIFA should also consider outsourcing the criteria of "independence" to others with more experience and perspective. Trying to keep this in-house defeats the purpose, and as we have seen, reveals that FIFA isn't quite ready for what true independence implies.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

More COI: Nike and the IAAF Ethics Commission

Much attention has been paid to the relationship that Sebastian Coe, president of the IAAF, has had with Nike and the conflict of interest that it represents with his role leading the IAAF.

Yesterday, the IAAF Ethics Commission issued a statement praising Lord Coe and stating that he could retain his role with Nike if he wished to continue in that position. Coe announced that he would not. Either way, it is odd that the IAAF Ethics Commission would allow such an obvious conflict of interest to continue.

So just for fun I thought I'd explore whether IAAF Ethics Commission members have any relationships with Nike.  It didn't take much searching.

In his role as President of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, IAAF Ethics Commission member Carlos Arthur Nuzman oversees a significant partnership between the BOC and Nike. Upon announcing the partnership, Nuzman said:
“Brazil is one of the most sport-obsessed nations on earth and Nike and Brazil have the same DNA in sport. Now we’ll be able to work together in a partnership that will certainly be significant for both partners.”
According to SBD, "sources valued the deal in the $25 million to $40 million range."

Nuzman is one of the members of the IAAF Ethics Commission. He appears to have a major conflict of interest, as clearly defined by the IAAF. He may be the greatest guy ever, but that is besides the point. If COI guidelines are to mean anything, then they should be enforced, not flouted.

I also get that Nike is big and important in sports. But I'd guess that there are probably a few men and women left in the sports world without multi-million dollar personal or business relationships with the company.

Bottom line, this second case of clear COI within IAAF leadership, on the Ethics Commission no less, provides further evidence that the IAAF doesn't understand the concept or understands it and thinks that its doesn't apply. Either way: not good.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

IAAF on the Scientific Value of Blood Tests: 2011 vs. 2015

The IAAF, in a "response to allegations of blood doping in athletics" posted on Friday, alleges that the blood values of athletes obtained by a German documentary film maker have "no scientific value." Thus, the body argues that there is no case to be made against the IAAF for failing to act on what the data seem to show -- that there were hundreds of athletes with suspicious values whose cases were not properly followed up by the IAAF.

Specifically, the IAAF argues that very strict scientific protocols must be followed in order for the blood data to have any practical meaning, and these protocols were not introduced until 2009: "any apparent differences in results from one sample to the next have no scientific validity. Those standardised procedures were only introduced in 2009." Consequently, the conclusions that have been drawn based on the pre-2009 data are simply invalid.

However, the IAAF published a peer-reviewed paper in 2011 using the same or very similar data, where IAAF made a contradictory claim, that the blood data could in fact be used to estimated the prevalence of doping among elite athletes. The changing interpretation of validity of blood testing science by the IAAF is notable.

Here is what the IAAF said on November 27, 2015 (at 4.10, p. 14, emphasis added):
[A]ny competent expert would refuse to consider the values from the blood samples collected by the IAAF prior to 2009 as reliable evidence of blood doping, and would certainly have refused to compare the values from one sample in a profile to other samples in the same profile, because those samples were collected before WADA finalised and published the mandatory requirements for collection, transport and analysis of ABP samples that are set out in the WADA ABP Protocol, and so did not all comply with all of those requirements. This did not mean the values were worthless. To the contrary, they could be used to identify athletes who should be targeted for testing, in an effort to collect a urine sample with rEPO present in it, and when (as often happened) rEPO was found in the urine, that adverse finding would then be competent evidence of doping. But it did mean that the pre-2009 blood values could not be said to be reliable evidence of doping in and of themselves, for the reasons just explained.
Yet, in a 2011 peer-reviewed paper (Sottas et al. 2011 here in PDF) the IAAF said almost exactly the opposite. Specifically the IAAF noted that in blood testing, "the standardization was rigorous enough for drawing sound conclusions." That 2001 paper looks at the overall data to estimate the prevalence of blood doping among elite athletes, and found a rate of 18-19% among elite track and field endurance athletes, an estimate consistent with a 2011 study buried by WADA and recent research.

Here is an excerpt from that 2011 IAAF paper (emphasis added):
Let us present through a simple example how the prevalence of blood doping can be estimated thanks to hematological data. The hemoglobin of a population composed of undoped Caucasian male endurance elite athletes living at low altitude is well described by a normal distribution, with a mean of 146 g/L and an SD of 9 g/L. If a blood sample is collected from 200 of these athletes, between 1 and 9 of them (4 on average) should present a value higher than 164 g/L. If 30 of these athletes presented a value higher than 164 g/L, then between 21 (11%) and 29 (15%) presented a value that was too high. Only an external cause (doping or a medical condition) can explain this discrepancy. If the prevalence of the medical conditions is known to be low, then doping is the primary cause. Although this simplistic example is biased— superior methods that use or do not use population statistics of the relevant cause (here doping) have been described elsewhere (3, 10 )—it shows nevertheless that it is not necessary to have a test able to easily identify identify drug cheats to estimate the prevalence of test results attributable to the cause “doping”: A biomarker of doping with a known discriminative aptitude and the knowledge of the prevalence of confounding causes is enough. Today, the high standardization of the blood tests makes possible the estimation of the prevalence of blood doping by using epidemiological measures of occurrence.
The case being made by the IAAF in 2015 is apparently that the leaked (or perhaps stolen/hacked) data obtained by the German documentary film maker (ARD) is unreliable because it contains too many false negatives - that it athletes with seemingly suspicious blood values which have an entirely innocent explanation. The IAAF singles out Paula Radcliffe as an example of such a case.

While the case of Radcliffe is interesting, and worth a future post itself, as anyone familiar with statistics knows, arguing about a large data set by picking out specific cases is not a good route to robust interpretation of evidence.

Here is what IAAF can do to prove its case of many false positives: Apply the population-based statistical methodology that it used in Sollas et al. 2011 to the leaked data obtained by the ARD. If there are numerous "false positives" in the leaked data then the population-level analysis should show an incidence of doping that is statistically significantly higher than that reported in Sollas et al. 2011. This is just a logical point, easily addressed using mathematics.

If the population data is not distinguishable between the two datasets, then the IAAF has no case to make about the lack of robustness of the data set.

This is simple mathematics, and could easily be conducted by an independent party with all relevant identification metadata stripped from the data sets. In fact, to conduct the statistical analysis, which data set is which would not even have to be identified to the independent statistician.

Until IAAF resolves its internal inconsistencies on blood doping between 2011 and 2015, and applies simple and obvious statistical tests on the blood data, the organization will have a hard time convincing outside observers that it is worthy of any degree of trust in its claims.

Math can go a long way here. Use it.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TI Football Association Transparency Scorecard

Transparency International has compiled a simple scorecard of organizational transparency for the 209 FIFA member football associations. The overall results are shown above.

TI awarded one point for each of four categories:
We divided the information into four categories that represent basic information that should be available for organisations in order to monitor their governance and standards: financial accounts, codes of conduct, charters/statutes and information on activities. We gave one point for each of the four categories. The categories are derived from the Transparency International Business Principles for Countering Bribery.
Only 14 of the 209 FAs met these minimal standards (and, I note that US Soccer is not among the 14):
Only fourteen out of FIFA’s 209 football associations – Canada, Denmark, England, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden – publish the minimum amount of information necessary to let people know what they do, how they spend their money and what values they believe in.
Football's governance problems do not stop in Zurich or in the confederations.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunil Gulati's Answers Raise Many More Questions

Sunil Gulati has given his first meaningful interview in a long time to Sports Illustrated. He addresses several FIFA and CONCACAF issues. Gulati's answers in paces are misleading and in some cases, just incorrect. His statements lead to more questions about his role at the head of US Soccer and long-term roles in FIFA and CONCACAF. 

Here are some highlights that I have picked out.

Gulati is unconcerned about Sepp Blatter's revelations that the selection of Russia 2018 and USA 2022 was made in advance by members of FIFA's ExCo:
If the U.S. Soccer board or some subset of the U.S. Soccer board has an agreement about something, how they’re going to vote on an issue in two weeks, and three of their people change their mind, that’s fine. It’s fine for a subset of a board to have an agreement on whatever they want to do, unless that agreement is reached for inappropriate reasons. That would be different.

The first thing Mr. Blatter said was that we had an agreement to go to Russia because it was a big country and so on and so forth, and that’s what set off a lot of the issues in Europe … A board can decide and then change their mind—pretty simple. Unless the agreement was based on something inappropriate and that’s not what he suggested … three or four European voters changed their mind. They’ve got the right to do that.

I don’t attach too much to all that. That’s different than saying I don’t any concerns to the whole process.
Given the rampant corruption in the process documented by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert in The Ugly Game, Gulati's reaction seems a bit blasé and incurious.

Gulati's apparent lack of concern about FIFA's awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments are one reason why it would have been appropriate for him to have appeared before the US Congress, when he was recently invited. Gulati explains why he refused to participate and instead sent Dann Flynn, who put in a dismal performance:
It’s not as if we sent our summer intern. We sent the CEO of the organization and frankly didn’t know the other participants in the panel until a couple days before … Once you saw the other members of the panel then it was clear it was going to be more about [FIFA], but that wasn’t the focus early on.
Gulati is not playing it straight here. Before the Congressional hearing, the Committee's Chair, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), clearly explained the scope of the hearing well in advance:
The recent revelations of bribery and mismanagement at FIFA should be of concern to us all. The organization’s culture of corruption is turning a blind eye to significant human rights violations and the tragic loss of lives. This hearing on the recent FIFA scandals will begin the discussion about our country’s own participation in the organization, ways the United States and our allies can work to reform FIFA, and how we can restore integrity to the game so many Americans and citizens of the world enjoy.
Gulati also gives an unsatisfactory answer when asked about his relationship with Chuck Blazer and wrongdoing at CONCACAF, where Gulati was (and still is) on its Executive Committee:
For sure, Chuck and I were close for a long time. That’s true … Chuck was a good friend for a long time and a lifestyle that was different than mine, but was involved in financial markets separate and apart from what he did in the soccer world.
Gulati seems to be suggesting that his good friend's opulent lifestyle was funded by work that Blazer was doing outside of soccer.

You might want to believe that, until Gulati continues:
We had audited financials [at CONCACAF]. You rely on people that are in charge, especially when you have audited financials, that those are representing the organization. That’s completely separate from the things that were talked about in May [when indictments were handed down]. None of those would have ever gotten to the financials. So you’ve got two separate things. Think of the following: CONCACAF engaged in an integrity report and published results two or three years ago that looked a whole series of things. None of the things that came out in May were part of that report. 
Gulati's claim is simply remarkable, as it is clearly wrong. Here is what the CONCACAF Integrity Report actually concluded:
[Jack] Warner and [Chuck] Blazer, together and individually, used their official positions to promote their own self-interests, and frequently acted with disregard for the interests of the CONCACAF member associations and with disdain for the rules that governed their conduct. Furthermore, it is apparent that Warner and Blazer each was aware of the risk of potential misconduct posed by the other and was most capable of holding the other accountable; but neither did so, at least in part, to preserve the unfettered freedom to act in his own self-interest. 
The CONCACAF Integrity report alleges that some $88 million was misappropriated by Blazer and Warner. The report alleges explicitly that some of that money was used to  pay for Blazer's Trump Tower apartment, Miami South Beach apartments, Bahamas apartment, a Hummer and more.

Gulati says with a straight face that he believed that Blazer's lifestyle was supported by "financial markets" when CONCACAF had produced a report clearly showing otherwise, as Gulati sat on the CONCACAF ExCo? Seriously?

I really, really want to believe that US Soccer is among the good guys in the world of FIFA. I really do. But that stance is a hard one to adopt when Sunil Gulati is so obviously taking us for fools.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Op-Ed in the FT on the WADA IC Report

I have an op-ed in today's Financial Times on the WADA IC report. You can also read it below.
This week’s revelations of systematic corruption in the Russian athletics programme caps an annus horribilis for global sport. It is far from what was hoped for in 2007, when scores of nations agreed to co-ordinate their responses to doping.

The resulting treaty was probably the first in the history of the UN to claim both Palestine and Israel as signatories. The harmonised approach has helped to uncover, and to some degree root out, systematic doping in professional cycling — no mean feat.

Yet, despite such notable successes, the bodies that govern sport are ill prepared for the unfolding crisis in athletics.

An independent commission of the World Anti-Doping Agency has accused Russia of pressing athletes to participate in a doping programme, shielding them from detection by doctoring the results of anti-doping tests and then extorting money from them by threatening to blow the lid on their state-sponsored wrongdoing. The allegations are so serious that the commission recommended banning Russian athletics from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The International Olympic Committee asked the international body that oversees athletics competitions to “initiate disciplinary procedures against all athletes, coaches and officials who have participated in the Olympic Games and are accused of doping in the report”. But this body — the International Association of Athletics Federations — is itself among the accused (although most of the details have been withheld in the Wada report to allow law enforcement investigations to proceed). Lamine Diack, who stepped down in August as president of the IAAF after 16 years, is under investigation by French prosecutors on suspicion of taking more than €1m in bribes in exchange for covering up adverse doping results.

Efforts to police doping have focused almost exclusively on identifying and penalising individual athletes. The Wada code, which sets out the rules governing doping, has more than 5,300 words about how to punish athletes who transgress, but only 47 words on penalties for sports bodies and nothing at all on nations that break the rules.

But sport needs clean administrators and clean politicians just as much as it needs clean athletes.
Addressing the present crisis in sport will not be easy. But there are a few steps that make immediate sense.

First, the focus of anti-doping efforts needs to be broadened beyond athletes to develop mechanisms to hold sports bodies accountable.

The challenges here are not unlike those that have come to light recently in international football. But spotting that you need governance to improve is not the same thing as improving it in practice.

Second, the entire problem of doping in sport needs to be opened up to discussion and debate. Better evidence is needed on the actual performance-enhancing benefits and health risks of specific substances. Such evidence might be compared with the benefits and risks of performance enhancing substances that are legal, such as caffeine. Substances whose effects are “in the noise” might simply be ignored.

Simplification is needed because science and budgets cannot keep up with technological innovation in human enhancement. In 2004 there were 40 stimulants on the Wada list. Now there are 66 — and this is just a subset of prohibited substances. As a practical matter, a more realistic, focused approach is needed.

On present form, this year will probably be remembered as one of crisis in international sport. But it just might be remembered as the one that dragged sporting standards — and the sanctions for breaking them — into the 21st century.

Monday, November 9, 2015

WADA's Governance Challenge in One Graph

The WADA Code (here in PDF) overwhelming looks at the issue of doping in sport as a matter of individual athletes who violate the rules of competition. Hence, the WADA Code includes 5,329 words on sanctions by individuals.

The WADA IC report released today indicates that the IAAF and Russian doping violations were much more a matter of corruption by teams, sports bodies and nations. The WADA Code has very little to say on those issues.

The UNESCO treaty that legitimizes WADA and the NADOs offers little assistance. The excerpt below comes from this recent report from the October 2015 conference of parties to the International Convention Against Doping in Sport (here in PDF).
Sports governance is really into uncharted territory.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sepp Blatter's Salary Revealed, and My Estimate Was Spot On

On French language TV5 Monde, FC Sion president Christian Constantin reveals that Sepp Blatter's FIFA salary is "nearly 8 million Euros" and that of FIFA's secretary general is nearly 5 million euros.

I am going to give myself a high-five for my estimates, which appear to have been just about on target.

In 2013 I guesstimated ~$6 million per year in ~2010.
In 2015, I provided a range of $6 to $16 million, with $11 million as the midpoint.

Pretty close!

My New Office

Monday, November 2, 2015

FIFA Debate at Play the Game

I had the opportunity to moderate a debate at Play the Game last week which had two candidates for FIFA president, David Nakhid and Jerome Champagne (from right to left above starting with me in the upper right background). Also in the photo are Danish FA president Jesper Møller and Jens Weinreich, award-winning investigative journalist and author. (Copyright Thomas Søndergaard/Play The Game).

Since the debate, Nakhid has been declared ineligible by FIFA, has seen the Mail on Sunday allege a link to payments from Mohammed bin Hammam and stated that he is taking FIFA to CAS. Never a dull moment with FIFA.

You can read about the full debate here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sepp Blatter and the Richest 3,000 Swiss

In a "Lunch with The FT" FIFA president Sepp Blatter was asked if he was a rich man. His reply:
No, he says, he only earns what Fifa pays him — a sum that he refuses to disclose because Fifa releases its leadership payments only in aggregate; last year it paid $39.7m to its “key management personnel”.

“What do I do with my money? My daughter has an apartment. I have an apartment, one here and one there. That is all. I am not spending money just to show I have money. If you look at the richest Swiss people, I cannot approach the richest 3,000, because they are up to $25m.”
Setting aside whether $25 million might be classified as "rich," Blatter's numbers are a bit off.

According to the 2015 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report (here in PDF at p. 112), in 2015 there are 3,737 Swiss individuals with a net worth of more than $50 million.

Earlier this year I estimated Blatter's FIFA salary at somewhere between $6 and $16 million dollars, basic on an analysis of FIFA accounting.

This salary estimate coupled with the fact that Blatter, when asked about his wealth, can quickly cite (dated) statistics on the Swiss richest 3,000, leads me to conclude that Blatter is indeed a very rich man.

$25 million? Take the over. You can bet the Swiss apartment on that. Both of them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Taken / Athletes of Bahrain - Documentary

Compare and contrast with this from the BBC today.

Anti-Doping Research Question

Motivated by discussions and presentations at #PTG2015

Height and Weights of Premier League Players 2014/15

This comes from Objective-Football and was pointed to me on Twitter by @CB4Luke. I post it here because it is super cool.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Political Power in International Sport

The National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark has developed a metric to measure political power in international sports. The metric, called the Sports Power Index, is based on weights given to various positions in the sports world and summing the weights by nationality of the holder of the position. The assignment of weights is of course a judgment.

Here are the rankings for 2013:

Rank Country Points
1 United States 257
2 United Kingdom 189
3 France 183
4 Italy 182
5 Switzerland 173
6 Spain 173
7 Australia 172
8 Russia 171
9 Germany 151
10 China 141
11 Canada 130
12 South Korea 122
13 Egypt 99
14 Japan 96
15 New Zealand 92
16 Sweden 82
17 Brazil 81
18 Mexico 76
19 Argentina 71
20 Hungary 66
21 Finland 66
22 Turkey 65
23 Belgium 65
24 Netherlands 64
25 Thailand 55
26 Qatar 52
27 Poland 52
28 South Africa 48
29 Norway 48
30 Kuwait 47


Saturday, October 24, 2015

A New FIFA Whistleblower Emerges

With three Tweets yesterday, Scott Burnett, a former FIFA employee, alleges that while he worked at FIFA and had responsibility for writing the minutes of FIFA ExCo meetings,he was instructed to "misrepresent discussions."

Burnett's name appears on FIFA documents, such as this one from 2004 (in PDF), where he is identified as a translator. He later worked as an assistant to FIFA's Secretary General, Jerome Valcke. Overall, Burnett was a FIFA employee from May, 2001 to July, 2010.

If his allegations bear out, then it would implicate in some degree of wrongdoing every FIFA ExCo member of the period who voted to approve official minutes which misrepresented ExCo activities. The exact nature of any such wrongdoing, as is often the case with FIFA, is likely to be complicated by the fact that FIFA had various ethics guidelines during the period and is incorporated as an association under Swiss law. Under US law for non-profits organizations, accurate meeting minutes are an important part of an organizations fiduciary duty (see, e.g., this blog post).

With his three Tweets, Burnett has called the attention of the world's media and various FIFA investigators. Other FIFA whistleblowers have not had it easy, and he is likely not the last one we will see.

Stay tuned . . .

(HT @sportingintel)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wall to Wall Coverage of PTG 2015

Starting Sunday, you can find wall-to-wall coverage of Play the Game 2015 here at The Least Thing. Requests and comments welcomed.

Here is the detailed agenda in PDF.


FIFA ExCo 2010: Where Are They Now?

Updated, based on recent events (with Twitter help of Simon Evans, Dan Roan and Bonita Mersiades - Thanks!).

Click on to embiggen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

USADA Should Appear Before Congress Once a Year

Well out of the public eye, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or USADA faces a crisis of confidence. USADA operates under special recognition by the US Congress and most of its funding comes from the US taxpayer. USADA has lately been pressing for the US government to broaden its mandate into horse racing.

The crisis of confidence stems from USADA's involvement in boxing and other combat sports, which goes beyond its Congressional mandate. USADA contracts with individual athletes to provide anti-doping services, much like a private company. This secondary activity, unlike its role providing services to Olympic athletes, has been accompanied by various allegations of missteps and even wrongdoing by USADA.

The crisis of confidence in USADA is not simply that these allegations might be true, but rather, that we have no way of knowing whether they are true, and USADA has adopted a fortress mentality inconsistent with a public agency.

Here is just one example.

The most prominent boxer with whom USADA has contracted with is Floyd Mayweather. Rumors have dogged Mayweather and USADA for years that he failed three doping tests for which USADA after-the-fact granted exemptions.  This matters because anti-doping tests are supposed to mean something, and not offer simply a fig leaf of due diligence. If Mayweather was in fact granted such exemptions, it would raise some important questions about the integrity of USADA's forays into boxing. If Mayweather was not granted these exemptions, then it is important to dispel the rumors with facts.

This was the line of thinking that Michael Woods, a reporter, had when he approached USADA asking for clarification. He asked USADA a simple yes or no question, whether Floyd Mayweather tested positive three different times.

USADA refused to answer the question, and instead pointed Woods to a 10,000 word response to an article critical of USADA, which was non-responsive to Woods' query.

This is, to put it mildly, both remarkable and unacceptable. USADA requires that athletes under its purview (except those that it contracts with independently) disclose their whereabouts 24/7/365. These athletes are required to be 100% open. It is not too much of a logical leap to think that the agency that demands such individual accountability follows with accountability and openness in its own practices.

Sports bodies have been criticized of late for leadership that is too entitled, not transparent and unresponsive to public or athlete accountability. USADA has given the public impression of adopting these imperious ways. If I had a dollar for every time that USADA officials mention Lance Armstrong, I could fund my own anti-doping agency. Catching Armstrong was important, to be sure, but it does not mean that the agency does not still have a job to do and a public to serve.

One recommendation is that in exchange for the almost-$10 million in public support that USADA receives, and before Congress expands its mandate, that the agency adopt some common sense governance reforms. Among these might be leadership term limits, an independent external board comprised of elected officials and other independent individuals, and a requirement that the head of USADA testify before Congress at least once a year, under oath.

It is true that boxing is a niche sport followed by a few and even then fewer still care much about USADA's role in boxing. USADA has avoided greater scrutiny because it mostly flies under the public radar. But this issue should be of importance to all athletes, especially those who, in principle, USADA is supported to serve first.

To read more:

Thomas Hauser on USADA's failings (here)
USADA response to Hauser (here)
Hauser rejoinder to USADA (here)

Me on USADA's accountability problem (here)
Frank Short's response to me on behalf of USADA (here)
My rejoinder to Shorter (here)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Distance Between Germany and USA in Soccer

The graph above shows the distance in ELO points between the US and Germany from 1990 and 2015, based on ELO rankings in June of each year. (the y-axis values represent Germany minus USA, Data)

In the early 2000s, the USA had just about caught up with Germany (due in part to Germany slipping, but also the USA improving). Since that time, Germany has surged ahead.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

CU-Boulder Screening of DOPED and All-Star Panel Discussion

Register here!

The Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Department of Athletics will be hosting a screening of the documentary DOPED:  The Dirty Side of Sports on Tuesday, October 13. The one-hour film will be followed by a panel discussion, which will include the film’s director, Andrew Muscato.

The film discusses the real-world challenges of addressing doping – the use of prohibited performance enhancing drugs – in college, professional and international sport. Several recent studies have indicated that among elite athletes as many as 40% may engage in doping. Yet, anti-doping agencies routinely sanction about 1% of athletes. The difference between these numbers is troubling.

Also on the panel are, Maureen Weston, professor of law at Pepperdine University; Shanon Squires, coordinator of the Human Performance Lab at CU Denver’s Health and Wellness Center; and Walter Palmer, former NBA player and advocate for athletes’ rights.

The event begins at 7pm on Tuesday, October 13 and will be held in the Champion’s Center auditorium of the new CU Athletics facilities.

The event is free and open to the public. Because seating is limited, advance registration at this link is required.

The screening is the first public event of the Department’s new Center for Sports Governance, an initiative led by CU-Boulder Professor Roger Pielke, Jr. and Athletic Director Rick George. Pielke says that the SGC “intends to create a safe space for difficult conversations, in which people do not necessarily have to agree on everything, but are willing to openly and respectfully share different points of view.”

Pielke adds, “The issue of doping in sport is not only challenging, but it is one where people have strong feelings and deep emotions. We hope to add to the conversation by engaging some of leading experts on the topic, in the open, among the Boulder community.”

The SGC will be holding more such events on a range of issues where sport and governance meet.

Soccer in Boulder

From last week's Boulder vs. Fairview soccer game.

Via @PanthersBHS

Monday, October 5, 2015

Masking the Pain: Denver Fox31 on Toradol Use in College Sports

This investigative piece takes a close look at Colorado university athletic programs and their use of a potent pain killer - Toradol. The drug is not in wide use here at CU-Boulder.

Chris Halsne of Fox 31 followed up on the original report in a piece that aired last night. He reports that Oklahoma extensively uses the drug:
New records from the University of Oklahoma prove that since 2012, student-athletes were given 4,086 doses of Toradol. The distribution covered athletes in nearly every men’s and women’s sport: baseball, track, gymnastics, tennis, basketball, wrestling, rowing, softball and volleyball, with football players receiving the most (1,490 doses.)
Last spring, the University of Southern California settled a lawsuit with a former football player over alleged Toradol abuse leading to his health problems.

Halsne reports that the head NCAA's chief medical officer, Dr.Brian Hainline, says that things must change:
“We must shift the culture on painkillers. I think the culture now that it’s too easy to give a pain medicine. It’s too easy when an athlete is sore, to say well, why don’t you take this, you’ll feel better before the game.”
I think it is safe to conclude that we should be expecting to hear lots more about painkillers as performance enhancers in the near future.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Frank Shorter Responds to my Op-ed on USADA

Frank Shorter, the Olympic gold medalist and Boulder hero, has written an op-ed in response to mine on accountability in anti-doping agencies.  I encourage you to read his piece in full here at The Denver Post. It is an important conversation and I am glad that Shorter is engaged.

Below are my responses to Shorter's piece, embedded as italics within Shorter's op-ed.
A guest commentary writer in the Sept. 20 Perspective section made an inaccurate and misinformed assertion that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is "falling down on the job."
The "falling down on the job" quote does not come from my piece, but from The Denver Post headline writer. 
As an Olympic gold medalist and passionate advocate for clean sport, I was directly involved in the creation of the USADA. Having remained involved with the group and the anti-doping movement in general for the last 12 years, I feel compelled to correct some of the misperceptions. USADA conducts its work with the highest level of integrity.
Effective mechanisms of accountability will help us move away from attestations of integrity. I assume that everyone in USADA works with integrity. That does not make accountability unnecessary.
In 2000, the USADA stepped into a sports-testing world rampant with conflict of interest, and was tasked with independently and without bias enforcing the global anti-doping rules of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympic Movement.

The USADA was created with the goal of having absolutely no conflict of interest. Its sole mission is to protect the integrity of clean competition and the rights of clean athletes, and its carrying out of this mission is directed by an independent board of directors specifically created to be free from conflicts of interest.
Saying so doesn't make it so. USADA has placed itself into a clear situation of conflict of interest in boxing. More broadly, WADA also has some challenges with following its own COI guidelines.
Imagine that a big part your job each day is to hold America's sports heroes like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones accountable, and to protect the integrity of clean competition by making sure everyone plays by the same rules, no matter how famous.
The recitation of superstar athletes who were caught breaking rules is not a magical elixir that means that institutional accountability is unnecessary.
Then imagine receiving death threats against you and your family because some fans are unwilling to accept that sometimes sports figures are not actually heroic at all. For the hardworking USADA staff, this unwarranted backlash is a reality, because they must stand up for what is right regardless of what is popular.
Tell me about it. I've been in the climate debate for years. 
The opinion piece claims that "taxpayers provide the USADA with more than $10 million per year." This is false. The government grant to the USADA is less than that and is easily verifiable by checking USADA's website.
Here is my math.
It also implied that the overall money USADA receives is an immense amount. This is not true. In fact, the amount provided to USADA to carry out a national anti-doping program is less than half of the yearly earnings of many professional athletes.
It is common fallacy to assert that a relatively small amount of public funding means that accountability is unnecessary. That is wrong. USADA is an institution recognized under an international treaty by the US Congress and is overwhelmingly publicly funded. Therefore, it should be accountable to the public. Full stop.
The opinion piece also implied that the USADA has stepped outside its authorized role by assisting non-Olympic sports with anti-doping programs. The suggestion that there is something unethical about the USADA accepting such engagements, and the attempts to belittle this work as "moonlighting," demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of anti-doping and the important role that the USADA serves as a resource for sports entities wanting to implement similar anti-doping programs.
"Implied" -- "suggestion" -- "belittle" I'll focus instead on what I wrote.
I did ask USADA some questions that can help observers to clarify its roles and responsibilities. After several weeks, I am still awaiting a response.
I am exceedingly proud that the agency has chosen not to turn its back on athletes in non-Olympic sports. Because of that, athletes in a growing number of sports have the opportunity to compete in sport played fairly.

Congress provides the USADA with an annual grant, subject to renewal. The continuation of that funding recognizes and affirms the overwhelming success the USADA has achieved. If the USADA earns any money by taking on additional responsibilities to help advance anti-doping in other sports, these funds are channeled right back into the organization's efforts.
Greater transparency, rather than assertion, will help to resolve these questions.
There will always be conflicts of interest whenever the promoters of a sport attempt to police the athletes they represent. This is why the USADA is a much-needed, shining example of the model anti-doping solution.
For better or worse, sports institutions do not have the best reputation these days. That is unfortunate for those who are doing everything right. But that is the way that it is. Consequently, in such a context, public trust will be reinforced by openness and transparency, and not defensiveness at being asked challenging questions.
Frank Shorter is an Olympic gold and silver medalist and former chair of the USADA board of directors.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Marathon Increments

On 28 September 2014, a new men’s marathon record was set at 2 hours, 2 minutes and 57 seconds by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto. With a reduction of only 2.4% the record would drop below 2 hours, a round number in the marathon that has taken on the significance of the 4-minute mile in earlier generations.

Looking back in time, it took almost 15 years for men to advance the world record by 2.4%. Does that mean that the 2 hour marathon might be forthcoming in the next 15 years?

Maybe not. The previous improvement of 2.4% in the men’s marathon world record took more than 30 years, from 1969 to 1999.

On the women’s side, the marathon world record improved by 2.4% on average every 23 months from December 1974 to April 1985. It did not see another 2.4% improvement until October 2002, when Paula Radcliffe set a new world record. She advanced the record by another 2.4% just months later.

So are the men on the verge of breaking two hours? That depends on whether you think that the men’s rate of improvement is similar to what it has been since 1969. In that case, no.

Alternatively, if you think the men are comparable to where the women were at in early 2002, then the men are just a Paula Radcliffe away from not just breaking 2 hours, but shattering it.

Data cannot resolve these options.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Op-Ed in the Denver Post on Accountability, USADA and Sport

I have an op-ed in the Denver Post on recent issues involving conflicts of interest and sport. In particular, I high light the controversy that USADA found itself in over the past few weeks. here is an excerpt:
This was not the first such controversy the USADA has faced in its moonlighting for money in boxing. Boxing, of course, has a shady history. Why should anyone care if it skirts the rules? After all, the Mayweather-Paquiao fight earned a reported $500 million.

We should care for several reasons. One is that the USADA, while ostensibly an independent organization, is recognized in law as the nation's official anti-doping agency. Taxpayers provide the USADA with more than $10 million per year, which pays Tygart nearly $400,000 per year, the same as President Obama. Yet, the USADA has little accountability to Congress or the public.

Should a taxpayer-funded, public interest organization really be contracting directly with professional boxing? The USADA makes almost $2 million per year through such moonlighting.

A second reason is that elite sports — both in the U.S. and internationally — are currently awash in controversies centered on conflicts of interest. The unfolding FIFA scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. The International Association of Athletics Federations, headquartered in Monaco, is facing allegations of systematic doping among track and field athletes from around the world. Its newly elected president, Sebastian Coe of Great Britain, is on the payroll of Nike, which has recently been associated with alleged complicity in prohibited performance-enhancing drug use among several of its sponsored athletes.

The spectacle of actual or perceived conflicts of interest cast a pall on both the USADA and the IAAF, which have public interest mandates to enforce the rules of sport. 
On the USADA budget, last year the organization received about $9 million from the US government and Congress last December authorized more than $80 million in support over the next 6 years (the actual funding will depend upon appropriations, and will likely be less than authorized. So $89 million over 7 years I turned into a round number of $10 million per year to be conservative).  Travis Tygart's salary (2013) comes from the organization's IS 990 form (here in PDF). The $2 million in USADA income in contracted services (2013) comes from the organization's annual report, and since I wrote this I have learned that in 2014 USADA received $2.6 million for such services.

I did send USADA some questions (unanswered as yet) about these issues:
 1. Could you send me the revenues generated by USADA services provided to sports other than those which are "amateur athletic activities recognized by the United States Olympic Committee" (e.g., MMA, professional boxing, etc.) for the past 10 years, by year? Is it possible to provide this by client or event?

2. When USADA charges for such services, does it charge at cost-to-provide or are the charges otherwise variable? (Does USADA ever make money on these services above and beyond the cost-to-provide?)

3. Under what Congressional or other authority does USADA perform contract services?

4. What is USADA's preferred budgetary balance between services to Olympic sports vs. non-Olympic sports?

5. Who holds the ownership of USADA IP?
I'll report back the USADA response. The issues at play here are not really about a dispute over facts between USADA and the media, but go much deeper. Those are the issues I raise at the op-ed here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Remarkable FIFA Reform Proposal from UEFA 1995 (!)

A colleague sent along a document from UEFA from 1995 proposing wholesale reforms in FIFA governance. The proposal, called VISION I, includes some of the reforms today being considered as necessary for FIFA to improve its governance. You can see the entire document here in PDF.

Among the report's recommendations:
  • FIFA governance would be modeled on the Swiss federal government;
  • The FIFA presidency would rotate among 4 confederations [Note: VISION I proposes 4 rather than 6 confederations, almost identical to what I explored here];
  • The FIFA president would also be of the region hosting that quadrennial World Cup;
  • The World Cup would rotate among the 4 confederations every 16 years;
  • The ExCo would have 15 members.
The proposal is short (6 pp.) and does not get to far into details, which is proposes to be worked out under a subsequent VISION II.

Under the VISION I proposals, the ability of the FIFA ExCo to cash in on their roles would have been dramatically reduced. There would have been no Chuck Blazer, no Jack Warner, no Sepp Blatter (after 2000). My how things could have been different.

The document clearly shows that UEFA was aware of many of the organization flaws that characterized FIFA 20 years ago. It also shows that significant reform of FIFA has been articulated for a very long time. 

Decisions matter. FIFA missed an opportunity 20 years ago. Will it miss one again today?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A C+ for Scala's Eight Point Plan for FIFA

FIFA's Domenico Scala, Chairman of the FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee, has released an Eight Point Plan for reforming the organization (here in PDF).  Here are the eight points:
  • enhanced and centralized integrity checks
  • introduction of term limits
  • direct election of FIFA Executive Committee members by the Congress
  • disclosure of individual compensations
  • increased efficiency and enhanced independence of Standing Committees
  • introduction of higher standards of governance at Confederation and member association levels
  • revised World Cup bidding rules and procedures
  • improvements regarding FIFA's organization and structure
Overall, the plan merits a grade of C+. You can see my marks on the scorecard at the top of this post. For FIFA, any passing grade in reform efforts is to be applauded. 

The plan is missing some key things recommended by others, such as Transparency International, like non-executive directors. Other issues, like the notion of "independent/autonomous bodies," are somewhat muddled.

Even so, the proposals are much closer to best practices than those proposed by FIFA's IGC. That probably means that the plan has no chance to be implemented. However, it is a valuable addition to the growing calls for wholesale reform, and it comes from inside FIFA, which is significant.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

USADA's Flawed Response to its Moonlighting Problems

USADA has responded to the allegations that it failed to follow its own rules while entering into a contract with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to provide drug testing services. The dispute centers on whether USADA was acting properly in granting Mayweather a "therapeutic use exemption" for the use of an IV in advance of his fight with Pacquiao.

The contract that Mayweather and USADA entered into stipulated that USADA was to follow the rules that it has a mandate to follow, specifically those of WADA (The full contract is here in PDF).
The contract clearly states that "Mayweather and Pacquiao agree that WADA [policies] set forth the procedures for which Mayweather and Pacquiao may apply to USADA for a theraputic use exemption."

However, in USADA's response to allegations today it cited not the WADA policies referred to in its contract with Mayweather, but those of the Nevada State Athletic Commission:
Mr. Mayweather applied for and was granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) by USADA for an IV infusion of saline and vitamins that was administered prior to his May 2 fight against Manny Pacquiao.  Mr. Mayweather’s use of the IV was not prohibited under the NSAC rules at that time and would not be a violation of the NSAC rules today.  Nonetheless, because Mr. Mayweather was voluntarily taking part in a USADA program, and therefore subject to the rules of the WADA Code, he took the additional step of applying for a TUE after the IV infusion was administered in order remain in compliance with the USADA program.
This makes no sense on several levels.

First, USADA is not governed by NSAC rules nor does it have any authority to implement the rules of NSAC.  Bob Bennett, executive director of the NSAC made this clear in the LA Times today;
"I have specifically articulated and memorialized to USADA that [NSAC] is the sole authority that can authorize a therapeutic-use exemption for a fighter in the state of Nevada."
USADA, somewhat bizarrely, is invoking rules of another organization as if they were its own. They are not.

Second, the logic makes no sense. If NSAC rules supersede those of WADA in this case, then there would be no cause for Mayweather to further apply for a TUE under the WADA Code. The WADA Code makes no exemptions for the State of Nevada or any place else. But Mayweather's contract with USADA makes no mention of deference to NSAC rules. Thus, what USADA is claiming makes no sense.

The bottom line is that USADA appears to be freelancing here. They signed a contract with Mayweather under which he agreed to comply with the WADA Code. Upon being found out not to have followed that Code, USADA after-the-fact claims that a different set of rules apply, those of the NSAC. But NSAC, rightly, explains that USADA has no jurisdiction and no authority when it comes to enforcing their rules. USADA is clearly in the wrong here.

It is a mess an an embarrassment for USADA. The easy solution here would be for the US Congress to simply stipulate that as a recipient of more than $10 $9 million per year of taxpayer money, USADA should focus on its Congressionally-directed mission, and leave the moonlighting to others.