Thursday, December 29, 2011

FC Sion Raises Stakes with FIFA Once More

In the latest turn of FC Sion's disputes with football powers, the club has accused FIFA of blackmail and filed a complaint with a Swiss prosecutor:
Swiss football club FC Sion have filed a complaint against football’s world governing body, Fifa, with the Zurich public prosecutor.

The move, announced on the club’s website on Thursday, is the latest in a bitter struggle over Sion’s fielding of players whom Fifa has ruled to be ineligible. Fifa’s headquarters are in Zurich.
The complaint is a response to Fifa’s announcement on December 17 that it would suspend the Swiss Football Association on January 14 if it did not take action against Sion by deducting points they won against Swiss teams in games in which the disputed players were fielded.

If the suspension goes ahead, it will affect all branches of the Association. This includes not only the national team, but also FC Basel, who unexpectedly won a place in the knock-out rounds of the Champions League with a victory over Manchester United.

Sion accuse Fifa of “unacceptable blackmail” in connection with this threat, saying it is trying to force the Association to contravene its own rules and violate Swiss legislation. It cites article 181 of the Swiss legal code, which covers coercion.
FC Sion is catching FIFA at an opportune time, from their perspective, as FIFA is fighting battles on many fronts. However, a walk back by FIFA on the Swiss sanctions would provide no resolution to the long-simmering dispute of FC Sion's Europa Cup eligibility.

I'd guess that this little skirmish will be but a footnote in the larger battle of lex sportiva and lex imperium.

New Corruption Allegations Against FIFA

So Jack Warner is making good on his promise to let a few skeletons out of the FIFA closet:
Former FIFA vice president Jack Warner said Thursday he was awarded World Cup television rights for as little as $1 in return for helping Sepp Blatter win elections for the presidency of world soccer’s ruling body.

Warner, who resigned from FIFA in June amid bribery allegations, said in a statement that the organization awarded him the 1998 World Cup rights in his native Trinidad & Tobago for $1 after he helped Blatter win a “brutal” campaign to become FIFA president.

A former president of regional body CONCACAF and the Caribbean Football Union, Warner also said he was sold the rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups after helping Blatter get re-elected in 2002, and later bought the 2010 and 2014 rights.
British MP Damian Collins, a long-time critic of FIFA, has called for an independent investigation:
These are serious allegations that must surely go to the very top of FIFA and need to be fully and independently investigated.

If true, how could deals like this be done without the knowledge of the most senior people in the organisation? This is a question that has to be answered by Sepp Blatter and it also demonstrates why there has to be a committee of investigation and inquiry which can act independently of the President and FIFA's Executive Committee.

Whilst these charges from Jack Warner are new and shocking, they cannot be regarded as a total surprise.

In front of our Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in May 2011, former England Football Association Chairman, Lord Triesman alleged that Jack Warner had asked England to pay for the broadcast rights for the World Cup 2010 to be shown "on large screens throughout Haiti."

It turned out, according to the Dingemans report presented to FIFA by the FA, that the pay TV World Cup rights in the Caribbean at that time were owned by a company, SportsMax, whose holding company JD International "acts on behalf of the Caribbean Football Union [then President, one Jack Warner] in selling TV rights for the region".

This means, as the FA stated in an email to FIFA on 11 May 2011, that Lord Triesman was alleging that Jack Warner was asking for payment for TV rights that he "in fact owned."

FIFA was asked by the FA to consider investigating this further, along with a number of other allegations made by Lord Triesman, and refused to do so.
What will FIFA do? Probably what it has always done.

What will Mark Pieth do? Who knows, but this new revelation provides him a face-saving chance to extricate himself from the pickle he has gotten himself ino.

We know what Jack Warner is going to do ... he promises to let a few more skeletons out of the closet in due course.

Universities Object to Multi-Year Athletic Scholarships

Universities are standing firm against anything that moves college sports towards more of a profession "pay for play" model.  Businessweek reports:
For the second time in less than two weeks, schools are objecting to a reform measure sought by university presidents and endorsed by NCAA president Mark Emmert.

More than 75 schools are asking to override a plan approved in October to allow multi-year athletic scholarships rather than the one-year renewable awards schools currently provide. That's the minimum number of dissenters needed for reconsideration by the Division I Board of Directors when it meets next month in Indianapolis at the annual NCAA convention. The NCAA announced the change the Friday before Christmas.

On Dec. 15, the NCAA suspended plans to give athletes a $2,000 stipend for living costs not covered by scholarships after at least 125 schools objected. The higher number of protests allows the organization to immediately put the change on hold.

Both measures were pushed by Emmert and adopted as emergency legislation after a presidential summit in August.
Indiana State University, a program with a comparatively small athletic program, explains their objections in unvarnished terms as follows (here in PDF):
This proposal, if accepted, is going to create some real nightmares if put into practice. Biggest concern pertains to the nature of college athletics. Coaches are going to be compelled to give these multi-year scholarships to compete on the recruiting front with other schools. Problem is, many coaches, especially at the FCS level, in all sports, are usually not around for five years and when the coach leaves, the new coach and insitutiton may be "stuck" with a student athlete they no longer want (conduct issues, grades, etc.) or the new coach may have a completely different style of offense/defense that the student athlete no longer fits into. Yet, the institution is "locked in" to a 5 year contract potentially with someone that is of no "athletic" usefulness to the program. Obviously, the student athlete can leave school if he/she wants and there's no harm done; but it doesn't work both ways.

Leaving it up to the discretion of the institutions to decide whether to use multi-year scholarships just creates another competetive/recruiting disadvantage for many schools whose coaching positions are many times mere "stepping stone" for a coach/staff to get to the higher paying, more prominent jobs. To get the recruits that will make a program better, coaches are going to be forced to offer these multi-year scholarships just to make sure they have the recruits to help them win.

The current system works. We don't need to get into bidding wars where one school offers a $75% for 2 years and the other school then offers 85% for 3, etc., etc. This puts the kid into a situation where they almost need an agent/advisor just to determine the best "deal." Again, if it isn't broke, don't fix it.
The problem of course is that it is broke. St. Francis University registers similar complaints:
This goes against everything the NCAA has stood for over the years; in fact on several occasions it has been stressed that student-athletes are to be integrated into the student body and given the same treatment as the general students. In addition, this proposal will likely result in negotiation tactics which are going to more closely resemble professional contract negotiations as student-athletes strive for the "best deal." The next step of the process will possibly involve "third parties" (the politically correct term for "agents" which is a bad word in the NCAA world) representing the student-athletes in these negotiations.
The lack of big schools objecting to the proposal is worth noting.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bias, Conflict of Interest and Disclosure in College Football Coaches Polls

In college football in the United States the so-called "coaches' poll" of teams has served as a key way to rank teams, with implications for bowl invitations and financial rewards. Who better, one might think, than the coaches themselves to rank teams on a weekly basis?

A new study by Matthew Kotchen and Matthew Potoski (CONFLICTS OF INTEREST DISTORT PUBLIC EVALUATIONS: EVIDENCE FROM THE TOP 25 BALLOTS OF NCAA FOOTBALL COACHES-- here in PDF and a summary at VoxEu) provides empirical evidence which shows that the expert judgments by the coaches are materially influenced by their roles as coaches and the potential for economic and other benefits that result from the rankings.

The paper concludes:
This paper provides robust evidence that private incentives have a distorting influence on the way coaches rank teams in the USA Today Coaches Poll for college football. While coaches are tasked with providing unbiased rankings of teams, they face incentives that pose potential conflicts of interest. These arise because of reputation and …nancial rewards that depend on how teams are ranked and whether teams are in position to receive an invitation to one of the high-pro…le and lucrative BCS bowl games. We …nd, based on two distinct identi…cation strategies in our statistical analysis, that conflicts of interest bias coach rankings in predictable ways.

The pattern of results shows the importance of both reputation bene…ts and direct financial payoffs. Coaches have clear incentives to rank both their own team and other teams in their athletic conference more favorably. We …find, on average, that coaches rank teams from their own conference nearly a full position more favorably and boost their own team's ranking more than two full positions. We also …find that it does not matter if a coach's team simply plays a team during the season, but coaches rank teams they defeated more favorably by more than half a position. Coaches thus make their own team look better by ranking more favorably teams they defeated.
The analysis also finds evidence that financial payoffs for the top bowl slots result in a detectable effect on the rankings of teams within their own conference, with revenues from bowl payouts typically shared across the conference.  A marginal bowl payoff of $3.3 to 5 million equates to one position higher in the rankings.

The bias that the study documents occurred during a time when the final individual coaches' polls were made public, leading to a natural question of what bias might have been in the era before disclosure. The study also provides some insight as to the effects of public disclosure on coaches rankings:
Our study is based on all of the publicly available ballots, and coaches knew their ballots would be made available when …filling them out. Does the disclosure cause them to evaluate teams differently? We do not have undisclosed ballots to make direct comparisons, but as a rough measure, we can look at the pattern of aggregate Coaches Poll results compared to computer rankings, before and after disclosure began in 2005. Our goal is to see if coaches' rankings become more similar to the computer rankings when their ballots are subject to public scrutiny.
Here is what they found:
For each team in each poll we calculate the difference between the Coaches Poll and computer rankings and average the absolute difference among observations separately for all those before and after disclosure began in 2005. . . the differences drop during both the pre and post-disclosure periods, but the drop is larger after disclosure by nearly twice as much. This implies that the difference between the Coaches Poll and the computer ranking, between two adjacent polls in the same year, is more than 100 percent smaller when the ballots are made public. It appears, therefore, that coaches are aware of their biases because their rankings move closer to the objective (computer) rankings when disclosed for public scrutiny. That coaches rankings are noticeably different under public disclosure raises further questions about how much stronger the biases are when there is no disclosure, and the result underscores the importance of public disclosure to minimize bias.
The study, as the authors note, is of relevance well beyond college football, and tells us something about the factors that shape expert judgments, when those judgments are made in the context of bias and conflicts of interest.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sports Quizes of the Year

The Guardian has two excellent sport quizes of the year for your enjoyment. The first is a warm-up and can be found here.

I got 11 of 12 correct (missed the damn boxing question!), how about you?

For the intrepid, you can find their 90 question quiz here, with results to be released December 27th. 


Friday, December 23, 2011

Mid-Season Bundesliga Prediction Contest Update

Before the season started I invited readers to participate in a season-long Budesliga prediction contest. we are now at the mid-season break, which provides a convenient time to evaluate where things stand.

Before getting to the results, let me explain the methodology used to evaluate the predictions. I identified the final standings at the end of the 2010-2011 season as the baseline evaluation of skill. Skill refers to the ability to out-perform a naive baseline. The choice of naive baseline is arbitrary. Specifically, for each place in the table, I take the difference between that place and a predicted place and square it. So if you predicted Bayern in 4th and they are in 1st, then the difference is 3, and squared is 9. I then add up the squared differences for all 18 places, and then take the square root of that sum. That gives a measure of the total error in the prediction.

Here are the results at mid-season:

Max 10.7
Roger 14.7
Spiegel 15.1
rjtklein 21.7
Reiner 23.5
SKILL 27.8
ob 28.1
Werner 30.3

Four of the six participants show skill, if last year's table is used as the naive baseline, but only two show skill if Der Spiegel's pre-season prediction is used as the naive baseline.

There is also a preliminary conclusion that suggests being located in Colorado is correlated with extreme skill, but I think we'll need more data to confirm the association! ;-)

Stay tuned, I'll provided the skill table for the Premier League contest next week!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Points and Places

OptaJoe tweets:
12 - The lowest any top-flight side has been at Christmas and still gone onto win the title is 12th (Liverpool 1981-82). Recovery.
But in 1981 Liverpool was only 9 points off first place (and yet 12th). Parity.

At Christmas 2011 there are only 2 teams within 9 points (Man U and Spurs). I have emailed the excellent Opta guys with a request for the record points-behind-at-Christmas. I will report back.

REPORTING BACK . . . From Opta:
The record is 13 points by Arsenal in 1997/98. Only two other teams (Liverpool 1981/82, 9 pts and Man Utd 95/96, 10 pts) have ever closed a gap of at least nine points, so it's looking like a two-horse race...
Thanks Opta!

A Miracle on Ice

To warm your heart this Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Where Does the Law of the Game End and the Law of the Land Begin?

The BBC reports that Chelsea's John Terry is to be charged with a crime -- "a racially aggravated public order offence" -- with a trial soon to come, for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of QPR in a match earlier this year. The English FA has suspended its own investigation of the matter pending the legal proceedings.

The situation will raise all sorts of jurisprudential questions. For instance, Liverpool's Luis Suarez has just been suspended for 8 games and fined 40,000 pounds for racially abusing Patrice Evra of Manchester United. The suspension resulted from a violation of the FA's internal rules governing the game and under the FA's extensive procedures for discipline (here in PDF).
The two cases will certainly raise questions of harmonization between the FA's rules and British law. Is it possible that the Suarez case represented a violation of FA rules but not British law? Is it possible that Terry violated British law but not the FA rules? Should the punishments in both cases be similar in both settings?

The order of the decisions is also important. Does the FA's decision on Suarez put any pressure on British authorities? Similarly, how will the FA respond to the decision rendered by the courts in the Terry case?

It seems that the FA's extensive rules for disciplinary conduct -- at least as far as I can see -- do not clearly address the relationship of Association sanctions for on-the-field violations in the context of legal sanctions for those same behaviors.

This issue is not easy to resolve and it is not going away.  As one former US prosecutor explained, judging the legality of on-the-field actions is not simple:
"A punch in boxing will you get you a championship. A punch in hockey will get you cheers and the penalty box. A punch in basketball, you don’t see that. It's not supposed to happen. That's not even part of the game"
Where does the law of the game end and the law of the land begin? And what happens when they overlap?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

European PGA Money Leaders in the PGA

Luke Donald's unprecedented finish at the top of the money list for the European PGA and the PGA tour had me wondering about how rare an event this feat is, and what might be expected for the future.

In the graph above, I show the PGA tour money list ranking of the player who finished first on the European PGA Tour (the data comes from here for EPGA and here for PGA). The data starts in 1994, because in 1993 the European PGA Tour money winner, Colin Montgomery, did not place in the PGA Tour rankings. It has often been the case over the recent decade that the top PGA Tour money winner did not place in the European PGA rankings, e.g., Tiger Woods.

What you see in the graph above is a trend -- hardly linear -- over the past 17 years of improved performance by the European PGA Tour money winner in the PGA, culminating with Luke Donald's unprecedented double.
In 1990s the European PGA was dominated by Colin Montgomery whose PGA successes were modest at best. The early 2000s saw Retief Goosen and Ernie Els, both of whom played golf globally. In 2004 Els almost achieved the double, with a first in Europe and third in the US. Recent years have seen the European PGA Tour money winner in the top 50 of the PGA.

What accounts for the trend? Probably money -- larger purses on both sides of the Atlantic and greater ease in accessing that money, as more and more top golfers find the logistics of travel less onerous than they once were (e.g., private jets), though tiring nonetheless.

Will we see another double?  I suspect so, and I'd guess sooner rather than later.

Best Practices in Managing Conflict of Interest in Expert Advisory Processes

I have received several comments and questions from readers (yes, there are readers!) related to my posts earlier this week on FIFA "Independent Good Governance Committee" and the issue of conflicts of interest. This post offers a bit of deeper background on the notion of conflict of interest and how it is managed in expert advisory processes (see also this post). For the excerpts below, I draw on a 2009 report that I helped to write for the Bipartisan Policy Center, which covered in some depth conflicts of interest in the empanelment of expert advisory committees.

The report -- Improving the Use of Science in Regulatory Policy (here in PDF) -- was prepared in support of the Obama Administration's efforts on "scientific integrity" which had taken a bit of a hit during the Bush Administration. The report discussed conflict of interest at length. Here are a few key points from that report extracted and placed into the form of a Q&A.

Why empanel an expert committee in the first place?
The primary purpose in appointing a committee is to gather a group of eminently qualified individuals who can have an open, engaged and comprehensive discussion of the issues before them.
What does a conflict of interest policy look like?
For conflict of interest, there must be a [clear] policy with bright lines that leaves as little doubt as possible as to who would be considered to have a conflict if they served on a particular advisory committee.
What is a conflict of interest anyway?
The US National Academy of Science uses this definition: “The term ‘conflict of interest’ means any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it (1) could significantly impair the individual’s objectivity or (2) could create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization….[Conflict] means something more than individual bias. There must be an interest, ordinarily financial, that could be directly affected by the work of the committee. Conflict of interest requirements are objective and prophylactic. They are not an assessment of one’s actual behavior or character…."
At the core of any effective COI policy is disclosure, what does that mean in practice?
Members of [expert] advisory committees should be required to disclose . . . information on relevant financial relationships and professional activities (such as giving talks at conferences and testifying in court) going back five years. Members should also be asked to disclose, to the best of their ability, any relevant professional activities that occurred more than five years prior to their committee service. Any reporting period is inherently arbitrary . . .
What information should be disclosed?
The US National Academy of Science provides a useful list: “employment relationships (including private and public sector employment and self-employment); consulting relationships (including commercial and professional consulting and service arrangements, . . . advisory board memberships and serving as an expert witness in litigation); stocks, bonds and other financial instruments and investments including partnerships; real estate investments; patents, copyrights and other intellectual property interests; commercial business ownership and investment interests; services provided in exchange for honorariums and travel expense reimbursements; research funding and other forms of research support.” Also, like the Academy, financial disclosure should cover not only the individual committee member, but “the individual’s spouse and minor children, the individual’s employer, the individual’s business partners, and others with whom the individual has substantial common financial interests…and the interests of those for whom one is acting in a fiduciary or similar capacity.”
 Should those judged to have a conflict be allowed to serve on expert advisory committees?
The desired norm . . . should be to appoint advisory committees whose members are free of conflicts of interest. (Relevant experts who have conflicts could still make presentations to a panel.)
Can exceptions be made to this "general norm"?
There will be instances, though, when [experts] with conflicts of interest may be needed for a panel because of their expertise. . .

When a waiver is granted, the agency should publicly state that the appointee has a conflict and should provide enough information that the public and the other committee members understand what kinds of efforts were made to find a nonconflicted individual, how and why the appointed individual was considered to be conflicted, and why the individual was appointed nonetheless, as well as disclosing who signed off on the waiver.
How often should such a waiver be granted?  What about the committee chair?
Agencies should not appoint anyone with a conflict to serve as the chair or co-chair of a committee. And agencies should limit the issuing of conflict waivers to ensure that individuals with conflicts do not generally constitute more than a small percentage of the membership of a committee.
The Obama Administration has not yet fully implemented our recommendations for federal expert advisory committees, leaving in place a mishmash of policies in different agencies. The recommendations of the BPC are nonetheless recommended as best practices in the mamangement of conflicts of interest.

FIFA may or may not wish to employ a conflict of interest policy to support the credibility and legitimacy of its expert advisory processes. However, when operating without a conflict of interest policy or flouting well understood conventions, FIFA should not be surprised to find its advisory process under scrutiny, challenged and even viewed as illegitimate or worse.

One point seems abundantly clear -- if "trust us, we're experts" does not work for leading scientists around the world, it is surely not going to work for an organization with a reputation (whether deserved or not) for shoddy governance and essentially no experience in soliciting independent expert advice.

The reputational risks in play here are not just for FIFA (whose reputation probably cannot get worse) or the FIFA"Independent Good Governance Committee" (which will be taken seriously or it won't), but also for the individuals on the committee, including its chair.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Disclosure Starts at Home

Earlier this year FIFA asked the University of Basel's Mark Pieth (above with Sepp Blatter) to write a paper that would (here in PDF):
... analyse the existing [FIFA] governance structure, to express an opinion on its standard and, if necessary, to make Recommendations for its amendment.

This is not an investigation into past behaviour. The focus is exclusively on the institutional arrangements, the organisational structures and procedures and their ability to deal with existing risks and challenges. Transparency and accountability are the key goals of governance.
The 29 page report failed to disclose that the University of Basel was paid by FIFA the rather eyebrow-raising amount of $128,000 and more than $5,000 per day to produce the slim product. The report discusses "conflict of interest" throughout and notes that:
[C]onflicts cannot be “forbidden”; conflicts are a reason to notify and disclose the situation, and to recuse oneself in substantial cases.
It is thus all the more surprising that nowhere in the report (or anywhere else I can see) can one find disclosure of the exceedingly large payment from FIFA to the University of Basel. It was left to a Swiss newspaper to share this information.

While FIFA can pay anyone they want to produce a report, the instant that Pieth was selected to chair the FIFA "Independent Governance Committee" the payment -- at a minimum -- creates the appearance of a conflict of interest. The failure to disclose in these circumstances compounds the issue and violates fundamental notions of conflict of interest employed in business, governments and non-governmental organizations.

Why do conflict of interest guidelines matter? Not just because some blogger will highlight the incongruities. Violations of basic conflict of interest practices can lead to lost credibility and legitimacy. Consider this sage advice given to the United Nations in a prominent report in 2005 (p. 188, here in PDF):
In order to safeguard against conflict of interest situations, a robust financial disclosure and conflicts of interest regime should include a requirement that all United Nations staff and consultants, including "$1 dollar a year consultants," disclose in writing to the Ethics Office any financial interest or business relationship of his or her own or of immediate family members that could represent a conflict with his or her responsibilities or that could reflect unfavorably upon the integrity of the Organization.
An author of the report?  Mark Pieth.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Independence Scorecard for FIFA's "Independent" Governance Committee

[UPDATE #2 12/20: Two names have been added since this post was first written, updates noted below.]

[UPDATE: Jens Weinreich reposts the below at his blog and adds some additional information and commentary. Thanks Jens!]

FIFA has empaneled a committee focused on helping the organization to reform itself in the direction of "good governance."  Sepp Blatter calls the committee the "Independent Good Governance Committee." However, media reports and readily available information shows that  the committee is far from independent.

My scorecard shows, of the 12 announced spots on the committee:
2 are independent
4 are independent pending full disclosure of financial ties to FIFA
6 are not independent (including its chair)
Below are the members who have been announced for the committee and my judgement on their independence from FIFA and rationale.  I add a ** to those judgments where further information would be helpful, but as FIFA operates without a conflict of interest policy that mandates disclosure of potential conflicts, information is hard to come by. I err on the side judging independence when information is lacking.
NOT INDEPENDENT -- Chair, Mark Pieth, University Of Basel -- Pieth (or Pieth's institution) was paid $128,000 by FIFA to produce a scoping report, immediately prior to being appointed to chair the committee. Obviously not independent.

INDEPENDENT -- Leonadro Grosso, FIFPro President-- FIFPro is an association of professional football player associations, formed in 1965.

NOT INDEPENDENT -- Lydia Nsekera, President Burundi Football Association -- The Burundi FA is a member of FIFA. Obviously not independent.

**INDEPENDENT -- Peter Goldsmith, former UK Attorny General and now partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, LLC-- There is some evidence that  Debevoise & Plimpton may have financial ties to FIFA (e.g., in advising on a $250M infrastructure project associated with EURO 2012). Such a relationship may or may not compromise independence, I just don't know, hence the two stars.

INDEPENDENT -- Alexandra Wrage, President of TRACE -- TRACE states on its website: "Neither Ms. Wrage nor TRACE will accept any fees or travel expenses for Ms. Wrage's participation on the IGC."

**INDEPENDENT -- Michael Herschman, President of The FairFax Group --The FairFax group helps to advise companies about crisis managment and risk mitigation. It is not known what, if any, financial relationship the Group has had with FIFA now or in the recent past, hence the two stars.

**INDEPENDENT -- Guillermo Jorge, Guillermo Jorge & Asociados -- The firm specializes in "in the design and implementation of corporate strategies and public policies dealing with business ethics and the prevention of corruption and money laundering." Once again there is no information on the firm's current or past financial ties to FIFA, hence the two stars.

**INDEPENDENT -- James Klotz, partner at Miller Thomson LLC -- Miller Thomson is a business law firm, again there is no information available on the firms current or past relationships with FIFA. Two stars.

NOT INDEPENDENT -- François Morinière, CEO of Groupe L’Équipe - Groupe Amaury -- This corporate entity is a corporate partner with FIFA for its Ballon D'Or Award.
Others to be added include:
NOT INDEPENDENT -- Sunil Gulati, president US Soccer Federation -- USSF is a member of FIFA.  Obviously not independent. [UPDATE 12/20: Gulati has been added to the formal list.]

NOT INDEPENDENT -- unnamed Asian sponsor

NOT INDEPENDENT -- an unnamed club representative [UPDATE 12/20: This slot has been filled by Carlos Heller, major shareholder in Universidad de Chile.]
If I was a reporter, I'd be asking the 6 members with two stars to disclose publicly their financial relationships with FIFA (or lack thereof). If they are unwilling to disclose such information to allow such a judgment, I'd move them to "not independent." But in this exercise I have erred on the side of judging independence of these organizations, but absent disclosure it is not at all clear that such a judgment is warranted.

The bottom line is that FIFA's "Independent Good Governance Committee" is far from independent.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

FIFA Turns Advantage into Offense

FIFA, fresh off legal victories of FC Sion at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and in an appeal in the Swiss judicial system, has now gone on the offensive:
FIFA have threatened to expel Switzerland from football if they fail to enforce a transfer ban on Sion by January 13.

The Swiss club were put under a transfer embargo over the signing of Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, but proceeded to sign six players in the summer.

Sion then fielded five of the six players during the Europa League play-off tie against Celtic earlier this year and were kicked out of the competition as a result, with UEFA's decision to expel them upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport earlier this week.

FIFA have now ordered the Swiss Football Association to sanction Sion or risk Switzerland being excluded from all football - which would mean Basel missing out on taking part in the Champions League last 16 and the national team missing out on an encounter with Argentina in February.
The FIFA offensive apparently represents a turnabout of perspective:
In September Fifa president Sepp Blatter gave an assurance that the Swiss national team would not be affected by the Sion affair “whatever happens”.
There is also a twist:
Manchester United could see their Champions League place restored after Fifa warned the Swiss FA that their domestic sides could be banned from European competition following the row over Sion's Europa League participation.

Basel, who qualified ahead of United, could face expulsion from the competition if the Swiss FA do not follow Fifa's instructions in relation to a ban imposed on Sion by the January 13.

If Basel are disqualified, one option would see Sir Alex Ferguson's side return to the tournament, however it is also possible that the Swiss side's last-16 opponents, Bayern Munich, could be given a bye.
The next chapter in this saga will be written on January 11th when a Swiss court hears whether FC Sion should be reinstated into the Europa League:
“Sion will wait for another decision from the Civil Court of Vaud on January 11 against the two forfeits of the games Celtic v Sion and Sion v Celtic, with a view to reintegrating the club in the last 32 [of the Europa League]”
FIFA's raising of the stakes puts more pressure on FC Sion to drop the case should they lose this case, but they may choose to go the distance -- all the way to the ECJ.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

FC Sion Update: Next Stop Swiss Federal Court

In an expected outcome the Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled in favor of UEFA in their ongoing legal battle with FC Sion.  The BBC reports:
The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld Uefa's decision to expel the Swiss club from of the competition for fielding ineligible players.

Five such players were fielded in Sion's two-legged play-off win against with Celtic, who were reinstated in the competition after making a complaint.

Sion have also been ordered to pay Uefa 40,000 Swiss Francs for the governing body's legal costs.

However, the Swiss club intend to challenge the verdict and have 30 days to respond officially.
The CAS verdict of course does not end the legal battle, which looks to be taken all the way to the top of the European Justice System:

In response to the CAS ruling, a Sion spokesman said: "The verdict makes stronger our feeling of the servility of the CAS to the powerful football authorities. It confirms our belief that now it becomes urgent to change the functioning of that court, which ultimately is not one.

"We are now taking the case in front of Swiss Federal Court (the CAS recognises its authority), and then the European Court."
 This one is going to take a while to resolve -- much longer than it will to resolve this year's on-field Europa Cup competition.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What to Do About College Sports?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a special feature on college sports with a round up of views.  Here are some excerpts.

Oscar Robertson:
Today there is a tremendous disparity in how the NCAA treats its student athletes and the way it treats its member institutions. Student-athletes are treated like gladiators—revered by fans and coveted by member institutions for their ability to produce revenue, but ultimately viewed as disposable commodities.
Frank Deford:
Athletic scholarships should be discontinued—except for the football and basketball players who desire them. The players in the two "revenue sports" would officially be school employees and only, at their option, students. They would have four years of athletic eligibility. Whether or not they wish to attend class and work toward a degree would be their choice.
William C. Friday
There is much that must be changed, but a place to begin now would be to make the operations of this entertainment colossus more transparent. A good start would be to require each institution to issue annually a comprehensive report on its intercollegiate sports programs. This report would go far beyond the won-lost column.
C. Thomas McMillen
Congress must force the issue. It has intervened in this way before, when, with the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, it granted the U.S. Olympic Committee a monopoly—so there is precedent. I would like to see legislation—with provisions for mandatory reforms—enacted to reinstate for five years the antitrust exemption the NCAA had before a Supreme Court decision overturned it, in 1984.
Harry Edwards
Aggressively soliciting and expanding corporate sponsorship of collegiate athletics would allow colleges to be both right and honest, while enjoying a sustainable flow of revenue without overburdening the general fund. . . Big-time collegiate football and basketball programs must share the wealth with the athletes who produce the wealth.
Nancy Hogshead-Makar
Congress should pass a narrow antitrust exemption that would allow the NCAA to control athletic-program costs and television revenues. Only Congress can override the Supreme Court's 1984 decision that the NCAA could not require its members to participate in its television plan . . . The NCAA and conferences should replace win-loss records as a determining factor in revenue distribution with demonstrated educational values.
Richard H. Thaler
If I could change one thing about the college-sports scene, it would be to end the Bowl Championship Series. The BCS system is a relic of ancient history and is now one of the reasons that there is a continuing battle among conferences.
Len Elmore
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has the potential to be a central and powerful regulatory body that can offer real reform, but antitrust restrictions prevent it from regulating all aspects of intercollegiate sports—including financial ones. Therefore, to create a strong and authoritative regulatory body that protects the interests of the games and the people who play them, the NCAA must be exempt from antitrust laws.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Financial Fair Play Comes to the NCAA

[UPDATE: The new proposals are not so popular. Go figure.]

The Chronicle of Higher Education has obtained a document from the NCAA's Resource Allocation Working Group (here in PDF) which has recommended that the NCAA reduce the number of competitions, eliminate foreign tours by athletic teams, reduce the number of allowed athletic scholarships and reduce the size of coaching staffs.  If effect, the recommendations seek to halt some aspects of the professionalization of college athletics.

Here are the rationales for the four recommendations offered in the memo:

On reducing the number of compeitions:
It is important for the student-athlete to have the appropriate number of competitions in place that allow them to be successful as athletes, while maximizing the time available for academic success and campus life pursuits.
On reducing the number of scholarships:
The proposed scholarship numbers allow for continued success of football and women’s basketball programs while providing institutions with the opportunity to reallocate dollars to other initiatives that benefit student-athletes. The proposed scholarship reductions also will allow for athletics talent to be dispersed across more intercollegiate athletics programs.
On eliminating foreign tours by athletic teams:
Institutions feel a growing pressure to provide a foreign tour opportunity to each student-athlete. As a result, providing a foreign tour has become tied to the recruiting process. Student-athletes are encouraged to use institutional study abroad programs that are available during these time periods.
On reducing the size of coaching staffs:
The membership and the Board of Directors have expressed significant concern with the proliferation of non-coaching staff members with sport-specific responsibilities. Dollars spent on these personnel can be allocated to areas that will more directly benefit the student-athlete and better align with enduring values.
Call me a cynic, but I'd guess that these recommendations have about as much chance of being implemented as the University of Colorado does in winning this year's college football national championship.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cost of a Loss

Both Manchester United and Manchester City failed to reach the group stage of the Champions League.  Stefan Szymanski estimates the hit to the Man U revenue at more than $50 million, while AndersRed comes in at about half that amount (presumably Man City's loss is in the neighborhood as well).  Either way it is a chunk of change. 

Szymanski has a solution:
But maybe there are more creative ways around this. How about “the Manchester Masters”- a series of seven games played to determine bragging rights in Greater Manchester? That would fill in all those empty midweek slots in 2012.

On Second Thought

Mark Pieth, the University of Basel professor hired by FIFA to lead its "good governance" committee, has changed his mind following Transparency International's break-up with FIFA:
The anti-corruption expert FIFA appointed to advise Sepp Blatter on cleaning up world soccer’s governing body says he will address previous allegations of wrongdoing.

Responding to attacks on his integrity, Mark Pieth says looking at FIFA’s past is “necessary” to understand the “risk scenarios.”

The Basel University professor says his Independent Governance Committee has “absolutely no objection to an investigation."
What might this mean?
Mark Pieth, told Associated Press that he will focus on FIFA;s past as well as its future. Mr. Pieth said he has “absolutely no objection to an investigation” and would soon interview investigative journalists who are “experts on FIFA’s past.” Mr. Pieth is believed to have been referring to muckracking reporters Andrew Jennings and Jens Weinreich, who have long documented allegations of corruption in FIFA and were this year awarded for their reporting by Play the Game, a group that advocates transparency in sports. Both men have been banned by FIFA.
One observer goes so far as to suggest that the Qatar 2022 World Cup bid is now subject to investigation. The problem with looking into the past is that it may take you to unexpected and uncomfortable places.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Govern Yourselves Well or else We'll do it for You

Last week the Council of the European Union met in Brussels and the governance of sport was a topic on the agenda. The EU Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, made this interesting comment:
Good governance is an essential condition for the recognition of the autonomy of sport. This involves key pillars which must be respected by sports federations, such as democracy, transparency, accountability and inclusive representation of all interested parties in the decision-making process.
Sport is allowed to largely govern itself at the discretion of governments. Autonomy is thus conditional. We are presently in the midst of a trend toward reduced autonomy for sport as the social contract between sport and governments is being strained, due to issues "such as democracy, transparency, accountability and inclusive representation."

Last year, the Council of Europe published a monograph which surveyed the notion of autonomy of sport in Europe (here in PDF) by Jean-Loup Chappelet. The growing tensions between sports governance and governments, which have occurred over the past several decades, marks a departure from historical relationships, Chappelet notes:
In Europe, as from the end of the 19th century, the bodies responsible for the codification of sports rules and the organisation of competitions generally took the form of non-profit-making associations. In this capacity, thanks to national legislation guaranteeing freedom of association, they enjoyed considerable autonomy from government in most European countries. It can even be said that, for most of the 20th century, the majority of European states allowed sports organisations to develop as bodies fully independent of the public authorities. For many years, clubs, regional and national federations and European or international federations, not to mention national Olympic committees (NOCs) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), operated in virtually complete independence of local and national government and were self-regulating, while sport itself was becoming an increasingly important sociocultural and economic sector.
Conflicts involving sports governance are certainly not unique to Europe, as recent concerns about the NCAA illustrate in the United States.

For non-governmental sports organizations, the pattern here should be now clear -- govern yourself well, or else governments will step in and do it for you.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Joao Havelange Resigns from the IOC

The AP reports that Joao Havelange (above left, with FIFA's Sepp Blatter), the 95 year-old giant of international sport has resigned from the International Olympic Committee after more than 48 years of service, on the eve of an ethics report and possible suspension.
After nearly a half century in the Olympics, former FIFA President Joao Havelange has left the IOC under a cloud of corruption allegations.

The 95-year-old Brazilian’s resignation from the IOC was confirmed by the Olympic body and FIFA on Monday, three days before he faced possible suspension for allegedly taking kickbacks as president of FIFA.
Havelange's resignation ends the IOC investigation, which shows a serious weakness in the organization's governance mechanisms as it allows ethical lapses to be swept under the rug and never fully resolved in a public manner.

Friday, December 2, 2011

FIFA and TI: An Inevitable Divorce

Well, it was inevitable. Transparency International has dramatically severed its relationship with FIFA. As it seeks to develop practices of 'good governance" FIFA has leaned heavily on TI for advice and credibiltiy, while repeated ignoring key recommendations on reform from TI.  Sylvia Schenk, who was to be TI's representative on the FIFA "good governance committee," has stated that TI will not be participating in the reform process, prompting a very public and acrimonious break-up.

The BBC reports:
A corruption watchdog that was advising Fifa after a series of bribery and corruption scandals, has cut its ties with world football's governing body.

An official with Transparency International (TI) said two of its key recommendations had been ignored.

TI said Fifa paying an expert to oversee major reforms to how it is run would jeopardise his independence.

The expert, Mark Pieth, said he would not re-examine old scandals, another recommendation of TI.
The move is being viewed by many as a blow to the credibility of Fifa's reform process, which has been led by its President Sepp Blatter, says BBC sports news correspondent Alex Capstick.

Fifa has declined to comment on TI's move.
The precipitating move, certainly the final straw in a series, was the appointment of Pieth as chair of the "good governance committee." Pieth has a fundamental conflict of interest in the job, due to being on the FIFA payroll as a consultant. Bloomberg reports:
Sylvia Schenk, senior adviser for sport, said the organization turned down an invitation to join FIFA’s outside governance committee because its chairman Mark Pieth is being paid by the soccer body and also after Pieth said he wouldn’t be looking at allegations of past wrongdoing.

“All members of the commission are supposed to be independent,” Schenk said in a telephone interview. “You can’t be independent if you have a contract with FIFA.”
Schenck's point is so obvious that it is remarkable that it has to be made. Pieth defends his compensated role as being common practice for businesses who hire consultants to evaluate their business practices. But this is no consulting job.

Pieth's comments suggest that both he and FIFA are utterly unaware of the role of the committee or the depth of FIFA's troubles.  The "good governance committee" is not in place to evaluate FIFA's business practices, but rather to investigate corruption in the organization and set a road map for good governance into the future.  As such, the credibility and legitimacy of the committee are precious resources, now squandered. When FIFA says that the committee is to be "independent" it makes a mockery of the process by hiring a chairperson.

To get a sense of FIFA's blunder, imagine the reaction if BP had hired the chair of an "independent" investigation into the Gulf oil spill or if Bank of America had hired the chair of the Congressional investigation of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Such a relationship is laughable in those cases, as it is with FIFA hiring its own "independent" chair.

Transparency International has the stellar reputation that it does because it not only understands good governance, but it practices what it preaches. FIFA does neither. Always questionable, FIFA's "reform" effort now stands completely discredited. Kudos to TI for doing the right thing.

Where does FIFA go from here?