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.