Thursday, August 30, 2012

Next up for FIFA Reform: The 20 Point List

In an interview with Mark Bisson, the Head of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee Mark Pieth says that he and his committee are now embarking on the more substantive reforms of FIFA's governance:
The head of FIFA's Independent Governance Committee tells World Football INSIDER that his committee will soon embark on "the bigger haul" of the process to improve the way world football's governing body is run.

Mark Pieth said putting in place a better governance structure would help to root out unethical behaviour and make FIFA more accountable.

A 20-point list will form part of discussions at the IGC's meeting at the end of September.

He said phase two of FIFA's reforms process was aimed at "organising in a pro-active way the institution to transparency and compliance on anti-corruption rules", noting that World Cup host country selection was among procedural issues "that have caused so much trouble in the past".
The biggest risk areas in FIFA's financial controls, Pieth has said, are its development programs, decisions relating to the selection of World Cup hosts as well as marketing and TV rights deals.

Recommendations will be put forward for discussion at December's meeting of the FIFA Executive Committee.
I do not know if the 20-point list is public (I have emailed Prof. Pieth to inquire), however, a few months ago I distilled 13 recommendations made by Pieth in his original scoping paper prepared for FIFA one year ago.

Here are those 13 recommendations are along with the grade that I assigned to the reform effort back in May:
The call-out boxes have the text of Pieth's recommendations, which is then followed by my assignment of a grade and explanation.
1. Recommendations in Analogy to the Corporate World

1.1 FIFA could further upgrade its existing financial governance, in particular by: a) developing a catalogue of potentially critical payments, and by deciding whether direct controls are warranted or whether indirect controls could be sufficient; b) intensifying its specific anti-corruption controls within existing COSO.
GRADE: Incomplete -- FIFA has apparently taken none of these steps.
1.2. FIFA should upgrade its compliance system to meet the requirements of a state of the art corporate anti-corruption compliance programme (including a review of the Code of Ethics, the risk analysis, the detailed rules on contributions etc. and the hiring of third parties, education and training as well as notification channels). Particular emphasis needs to be placed on the credible implementation of the programme. Member Associations and Confederations should be encouraged to adopt comparable standards.
GRADE: F --  FIFA is far from a "state of the art corporate anti-corruption compliance programme."  This is an F not an Incomplete because FIFA has recognized the need for such steps. The revelations this past week from CONCACAF underscore this need.
1.3. On an organisational level, a) FIFA should consider electing independent members into the ExCo.
GRADE: F -- this recommendation is posed as "should consider" which is rather weak. Nontheless, there is little evidence for such consideration.
b) The competences of the Financial Committee and the Audit Committee should be clearly distinguished. The Audit Committee, in order to act as a genuine internal control body, needs to be sufficiently independent from the administration (the agenda should be set by the Chair, the Committee should have access to external resources under its own authority, if need be).
GRADE: F -- There is no evidence that the FIFA Audit Committee has the capability to act as a "genuine internal control committee" and there is not independence.
c) Likewise, the Ethics Committee and the Disciplinary Committee should obtain clearly distinct tasks. This will require a reform of the underlying Codes (Ethics Code and Disciplinary Code). The Ethics Committee needs to be transformed into an independent body with a mix of external and internal members and the power to initiate investigations based on its own assessment.
GRADE: D -- This is the recommendation that FIFA has focused on throughout.  I suppose this is the cherry that Blatter picked. The functions have been split, however the degree of independence is minimal, which severely undercuts the proposed reform.
d) A Compensation and Benefits Committee should decide over benefits of officials of FIFA bodies and senior staff.
GRADE: F-- This also appears to have been rejected outright by FIFA.
2. Recommendations Derived from FIFA’s Public Role 2.1. Elections into FIFA’s Bodies a) Presidential Election< Candidates should announce their wish to stand sufficiently ahead of the election.
GRADE: Incomplete -- It is not clear if FIFA has considered this recommendation.
FIFA should examine a system of campaign financing which provides officially announced candidates with sufficient backing (a certain number of Member Associations) with FIFA funding, ruling out further private campaign contributions.
GRADE: Incomplete -- it is not clear if FIFA has considered this recommendation.
b) Term of Office FIFA should consider limiting terms of office of its officials.
GRADE: F -- It appears that FIFA has considered and rejected this recommendation.
c) Due Diligence on Members of FIFA Bodies< FIFA should consider introducing regular due diligence checks by the Ethics Committee on elected Members of its bodies. A regulation should specify cases of incompatibility with the FIFA function. The regulation should also define the procedure, and clarify under which circumstances an official would be temporarily suspended from his function.
GRADE: Incomplete -- this does not appear to have been considered by FIFA, and seems implausible that it would be implemented in any manner under current circumstances.
2.2. Decisions Decisions on hosting and on commercialising would greatly benefit, beyond a review of the actual procedures, of an overall abstract strategy, defined by relevant Committees and ratified by Congress.
GRADE: Incomplete -- This too does not appear to have been considered by FIFA.
3. Recommendations Reflecting FIFA’s Relations to its Members 3.1. Conflict of Interest Regulation An institution of the size and significance of FIFA needs a state of the art conflict of interest regulation, indicating cases of conflict and specifying the procedures (up to a possible recusal). While a conflict of interest regulation is a general requirement, it will be particularly useful to prevent abuses and adverse publicity in FIFA’s relations to Members.
GRADE: F -- This has been oft-commented upon here (such as) and even the IGC fell well short of the standards set by Pieth.
3.2. Development Funding Additional preventive measures ensuring transparency and accountability in its relations with Members should be taken in the area of financial contributions for the development of football in countries and regions. An overall strategy should be adopted for the multitude of historically grown funds. They should be governed in a comparable manner, and expenditure as well as uses audited on the standard of the Goal Programme and FAP.
GRADE: F -- As learned this past week, FIFA has a long way to go.
It will be interesting to compare the current 20 point list with the recommendations originally put forward.

Sepp Blatter Crticizes Joachim Eckert

Andrew Warshaw reports that FIFA's president, Sepp Blatter, is not happy with comments made by the newly installed co-chair of his Ethics Committee, Joachim Eckert:
Just weeks after announcing a revamped Ethics Committee aimed at combating corruption as part of his road map to reform, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has criticised one of the body's two independent chiefs.

Earlier this week, Joachim Eckert, a German judge, was quoted as telling a news magazine that Blatter needed to play his part in cleaning up the organisation or he would no longer be acceptable as its leader.

But in what can only be construed as another embarrassing episode in his Presidency, Blatter made it clear he was not happy with the comments of a man whose praises he was singing back in July.

"A judge should not say anything," Blatter (pictured below) told Germany's Sport Bild newspaper.

"I have never experienced it that a judge makes a comment about an ongoing case; he only says something when he makes the judgement."
Surely Blatter would not be trying to influence Eckert's actions? That would place him at risk of violating the provisions of independence set forth in new FIFA's Ethics Code (here in PDF):
The members of the Ethics Committee shall manage their investigations and proceedings and render their decisions entirely independently and must avoid any third-party influence.
It is not clear to me that Garcia has actually opened up a formal investigation of Blatter. However, Blatter is learning that actual "independence" means "outside of FIFA's control" and this initial indication is that he does not much like it. That said, Eckert comments are pretty tame compared to the sorts of information and actions that the new FIFA Ethics Committee might be dealing with in the future. With Blatter reacting to Eckert's comments in anger, it will be interesting to see what might lie ahead. FIFA, never dull.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sport as Technological Laboratory

Accord to the FT, there is to be a new international racing series involving electric cars:
Electric cars will compete in a new global formula racing series after a deal between motorsport’s governing body and a group of investors who plan to stage international races around city-centre landmarks.

The Formula E championship will start in 2014 and involve 10 teams and 20 drivers, the aim being to draw competitors from traditional F1 teams, electric car companies and global brands.

Jean Todt, president of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, last year pledged to launch an electric car racing series in response to the European Commission’s desire to get the car industry to adopt more sustainable forms of energy.
The structure of the race tells us something about the technological state of electric vehicles:
The Formula E teams will be offered an evolution of a prototype vehicle for teams to compete in the 2014 championship.

The prototype vehicle developed by Formulec, a French maker of electric racing cars, is a two-gear machine that runs off lithium-iron batteries and weighs 780kg.

It has a maximum speed of 220km per hour, and an acceleration of 0 to 100km/h in three seconds. It can run for 25 minutes before needing charging, meaning drivers will have the use of a second car to complete the one-hour race.
25 minutes? Ouch. By way of comparison:
In contrast, an F1 car, fitted with a 2.6-litre V8 engine with 750 horsepower, has a minimum weight of no less than 640kg, including the driver, and can have a maximum of seven gears.

F1 cars are capable of going from 0 to 100km/h in 1.7 seconds, and cars can reach speeds of more than 300km/h.
It looks like electric cars have a long way to go from the simple technological perspective of being able to participate in an F1-style race. For the Formula E circuit to be more than a gimmick it will have to actually matter to racers and fans, and to matter to fans the technology is going to have to advance. Governments who what to see progress on electric vehicles might consider underwriting such competitions.

One area where technological improvements via sports has potential to influence normal folks is the Paralympics, where prosthetics and wheelchairs offer the promise (if not always the reality) of meaningful advances:
Prosthetics in the Paralympics are the product of thousands of dollars of research and designed for a very specific purpose: improving sports performance. Their benefits may trickle down to the general population, but much of what is showcased at the Paralympics is restricted to elite athletes.

Bruce McLelland, an engineer who has an artificial leg, said the prosthetics used at the Paralympics are 'a world away' from what he uses.

McLelland has a normal artificial leg for everyday use and another one for swimming. He said his legs incorporate some of the design of the running blades, including being made of carbon fiber so they are lightweight while also being strong and flexible.

"The blades are great if you're going to go running, but they would not suit everyday life,'' he said.

Pistorius' blades are designed for sprinting at high speed so it's very hard to stay still on them without rocking.

"They also don't really fit well into your normal trouser legs,'' McLelland said.

McLelland said he usually watches the Paralympics to see the newest prosthetic technology, noting different designs in various sports, like the artificial legs used by badminton players, which are thicker than the running blades since they must be strong enough to allow athletes to jump sideways and quickly change direction.

"I think having that kind of flexibility in my prosthetic would be great,'' he said. In wheelchair sports, some countries including Britain and Japan have partnered with car companies to ensure the wheelchairs will one day be available on the mass market. To give athletes an edge in sports like wheelchair rugby and basketball, the chairs are now more agile and lightweight, an advantage ordinary wheelchair users could certainly benefit from.
Electric cars have a long ways to go to catch up with wheelchairs.

Some Questions for Michael Garcia

When Michael Garcia (pictured above), FIFA's new investigator at the head of its ethics committee, announced that he would be looking into several instances of alleged corruption in FIFA, he raised expectations (see Garcia here in German TV). He also opened the door to a number of questions.

First, a review of the proposed investigations:
  • Mohammed bin Hammam, currently re-suspended by FIFA for alleged bribery
  • Awarding of the 2018/2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar
  • Awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany
  • Conduct of Sepp Blatter
  • Fallout from the so-called ISL scandal
These subjects are not all independent of one another, of course. There are other candidates to be included in such a list but not as yet publicly mentioned by Garcia.

The questions that I'd like to ask Garcia following from his comments start with these:
  • What is the product of an investigation? A report? Findings?
  • Do your investigations have a "terms of reference" or a "probable cause" statement that initiates action? If so, will you release them? If not, how do you avoid charges of ad hoc decision making?
  • What is the process that you will use to conduct an investigation? Public evidentiary hearings? On-record interviews? What else?
  • What is the time frame of these investigations? When will you report your findings?
  • What resources do you have at your disposal and how will they be allocated across these topics?
I have the sense that Garcia is making this up as he goes along, which may be a necessary feature of FIFA's reform process. It is entering uncharted waters. However, how Garcia and his committee makes things up matters -- they are redesigning an airplane as it is flying. It is not an easy task.

It is not an overstatement to say that how Garcia handles these investigations will go a long way to sustaining FIFA's tenuous efforts at reform. People who are paying attention and with access can help that process along by asking questions such as these, and expecting answers.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Michael Garcia's To Do List Swells

[T]he 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively will come under scrutiny.

Garcia of the USA and Hans-Joachim Eckert of Germany were appointed joint chairmen of the Ethics Committee during FIFA's extraordinary meeting in Zurich in July.

The awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany will also come under scrutiny as part of the pairs' inquiries, Garcia told German television in an interview.

The American said one of their many tasks is also to look into the relationship between FIFA and defunct marketing company ISL, who sold FIFA's World Cup TV rights.

Swiss court documents, recently published by FIFA, reveal ISL paid millions of dollars in bribes to former FIFA president Joao Havelange and ex-FIFA executive committee member Ricardo Teixeira.

"If you look at things, it is clear there is something to investigate and that is what we are going to do," the 51-year-old Garcia told ARD.

Garcia also said the conduct of FIFA President Sepp Blatter will also come under scrutiny.
It is unclear what it means to "come under scrutiny" but Garicia ia rapidly raising expectations. I hope FIFA has given him a large budget.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong and the US Courts

Just a quick comment on Lance Armstrong's decision to -- in effect -- plead nolo contendre to the USADA charges against him.  It seems that this decision not to enter into arbitration almost completely closes the door to future legal challenges in the United States.

From the Sparks ruling in the lawsuit brought by Armstrong against USADA earlier this week:
The Court agrees with the reasoning of Slaney and Harding, that federal courts should not interfere with an amateur sports organization's disciplinary procedures unless the organization shows wanton disregard for its rules, to the immediate and irreparable harm of a plaintiff, where the plaintiff has no other available remedy. To hold otherwise would be to turn federal judges into referees for a game in which they have no place, and about which they know little. . .
Armstrong's challenges to USADA's jurisdiction, and his arguments about which rules govern, can and should be made in arbitration. If the panel's resolution of those issues is manifestly unjust and devoid of any reasonable legal basis, Armstrong may have a judicial remedy; but this Court cannot act on the basis of a hypothetical injury.
In principle, Armstrong could have won in arbitration, and by choosing not to go through that process Armstrong eliminates the possibility of arguing that the arbitration process was "manifestly unjust" in his case. To make such an argument now he'd have to allege that past arbitration decisions lead to such a conclusion -- not at all an easy case to make.

I say above that the door is not completely closed because in the US judicial system lawsuits are frequently brought from a losing position. However, I'd venture that if Armstrong's fight on this issue is to continue, it will be through CAS and via a proxy, such as UCI.

Of course, another alternative is that this really is the end.

Note: For a largely sympathetic analysis of the content of the dispute see here (which is the source of the image above) and for an unsympathetic view see here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doping and the 2012 London Games

Writing at the British Journal of Sports Medicine Blog, Dr Peter Brukner provides a detailed rundown of the 13 athletes who tested positive for doping and assorted controversies in the 2012 London Olympic games. Here is his bottom line:
There were very few actual positive tests from the 2012 Olympics. This relative paucity of positive drug tests could mean one of two things.

That we are winning the war against drugs and the extensive testing and prospect of retrospective disqualification had succeeded in putting athletes off.
Alternatively, as has always been the case, that the athletes, coaches and scientists have perfected the art of avoiding detection using regular low dosages of drugs and hormones that are too small to detect. There are certainly plenty of rumours of endurance athletes using daily low doses of synthetic blood products which maintain high red blood cell count rather than using EPO. Victor Conte of BALCO fame was in London (I thought he was in jail!!) and claimed that 60% of athletics medallists were taking drugs. Probably not the most reliable witness, but he certainly knows the drug scene!
I believe that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is still widespread in certain Olympic sports. History tells us that there have always been athletes and coaches trying to gain an advantage. History also tells us that they are invariably ahead of the drug testers, thus the relatively small number of positive drug tests at Olympics. Out-of-competition testing and the co-operation of customs and law enforcement agencies have helped catch some drug cheats, but I cannot believe there are not lots more out there getting away with it.
What does that mean? Brukner gives an estimate:
It is feared that of the 258,000 tests conducted annually, as few as 2% include the blood tests that can detect the use of Human Growth Hormone. In 2010 there were just 36 positives – a total WADA regarded as “disappointing”. Across sport, there are fears that one in 10 athletes is attempting to cheat but of those only one in five is being caught.
Taking this estimate at face value, it means that 80% (!) of those who engage in doping violations get away with it. Applied to the 2012 Olympic games that would imply 52 violators not caught. A sobering number if true

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Notes from Sparks Ruling on Armstrong vs. USADA

This week, a US District Court ruled against a lawsuit filed by Lance Armstrong against the US Anti-Doping Agency (ruling here in PDF). Armstrong was seeking to halt an arbitration proceeding against him on procedural grounds. The ruling, explained in 30 pages by Judge Sam Sparks, is an excellent read, especially in the context of my frequent ruminations on lex imperium vs. lex sportiva -- where the law of the land begins and the law of sport ends.

Below are a few excerpts from Sparks colorful ruling, along with my commentary.

Sparks does not shy away from commenting on the motivations that he suspects are behind USADA's pursuit of Armstrong:
The Court begins by recognizing the substantial private interest involved: it is no exaggeration to say the future of Armstrong's career, and maybe also its past, will likely be determined by the result of USADA's arbitration. Balanced against this, of course, is USADA's strong interest in fulfilling its mandate to root out doping in Olympic sports(fn19) -- an interest which is shared by other athletes, and the international sports community as a whole.
 Footnote 19 says:
19 As discussed further below, USADA's conduct raises serious questions about whether its real interest in charging Armstrong is to combat doping, or if it is acting according to less noble motives. Ultimately, however, the subjective motivations of the parties cannot control the Court's due process analysis, or give this Court jurisdiction over claims Congress and Armstrong have decided should be resolved through arbitration.
Sparks also says in footnote 36:
36 Among the Court's concerns is the fact that USADA has targeted Armstrong for prosecution many years after his alleged doping violations occurred, and intends to consolidate his case with those of several other alleged offenders, including--incredibly--several over whom USA Cycling and USOC apparently have no authority whatsoever. Further, if Armstrong's allegations are true, and USADA is promising lesser sanctions against other allegedly offending riders in exchange for their testimony against Armstrong, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations to USOC.
Nonetheless, Sparks is quite clear that sporting organizations should be responsible for the adjudication of disputes which properly fall under their governance regimes:
The Court agrees with the reasoning of Slaney and Harding, that federal courts should not interfere with an amateur sports organization's disciplinary procedures unless the organization shows wanton disregard for its rules, to the immediate and irreparable harm of a plaintiff, where the plaintiff has no other available remedy. To hold otherwise would be to turn federal judges into referees for a game in which they have no place, and about which they know little.
The threshold of a "wanton disregard for its rules" shows up again with different language:
Armstrong's challenges to USADA's jurisdiction, and his arguments about which rules govern, can and should be made in arbitration. If the panel's resolution of those issues is manifestly unjust and devoid of any reasonable legal basis, Armstrong may have a judicial remedy; but this Court cannot act on the basis of a hypothetical injury.
The court is carefully explaining to Armstrong that he may yet have a judicial option,. but not yet. Sparks concerns about the special "targeting" of Armstrong may yet be the basis for such a future suit justified by a "wanton disregard for the rules."

Sparks levies some pretty strong charges against the various organizations involved, not quite calling them Keystone Cops, but coming close:
As the Court has indicated, there are troubling aspects of this case, not least of which is USADA' s apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him. Unfortunately, the appearance of conflict on the part of both organizations creates doubt the charges against Armstrong would receive fair consideration in either forum. The issue is further complicated by USA Cycling's late-breaking show of support for UCI, and apparent opposition to USADA's proceedings--a wrinkle which does not change the Court's legal analysis, but only confirms that these matters should be resolved internally, by the parties most affected, rather than by edict of this Court.38

The events in USADA's charging letter date back fourteen years, span a multitude of international competitions, and involve not only five non-citizens of the United States who were never licensed in this country, but also one of the most well-known figures in the history of cycling. As mystifying as USADA's election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goalthe regulation and promotion of cycling. However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts.
Footnote 38 from the passage above says:
38 Indeed, it is hard to imagine a situation more illustrative of Judge Posner's famous words, that "there can be few less suitable bodies than the federal courts for determining the eligibility, or the procedures for determining the eligibility, of athletes to participate in the Olympic Games." Michels v. US. Olympic Comm., 741 F.2d 155, 159 (7th Cir. 1984) (Posner, J., concurring). By the same token, this Court simply has no business telling national and international amateur athletic organizations how to regulate their respective sports.
So where does this leave sports jurisprudence and Lance Armstrong?
On the former, the Sparks decision reaffirms a sharp distinction between lex imperium and lex sportiva, while leaving that boundary permeable in certain exceptional circumstances. In other words, Sparks is saying, sporting associations should tend to their own business, unless and until that business violates the laws of the land. As that has not happened in this case, Sparks has tossed the issue back to USADA, as unsavory an outcome as that likely is to Armstrong.

For Armstrong, barring an appeal of the Sparks decision (which he'd likely lose), he now faces a decision to proceed with arbitration with USADA or accept their sanctions. The arbitration proceedings offer the prospects for an unseemly spectacle of various sports organizations (WADA, USADA, UCI, USA Cycling) arrayed on opposing sides of the dispute. Should an arbitration not turn out in Armstrong's favor then possible future stops for the dispute would include the Committee of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, and then perhaps Swiss Courts.

However, given the recent decisions of the CAS (e.g., FC Sion, bin Hamman) in support of sporting organizations and their due process standards, and the reluctance of Swiss Courts to revisit CAS decisions, Armstrong's legal teams may decide to seek recourse in the US. However, here as well Armstrong does not appear to have a firm basis for overturning an arbitrated decision against him. Perhaps such a calculus increases the chances of a deal being stuck to avoid arbitration altogether.

On this latter question, we'll know by Thursday. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Beer, Circuses and the Case of CSU's Proposed Stadium

NOTE: This also appears on my other blog today.

Colorado State University in Fort Collins is proposing to build a new stadium for its football team (visualized above). One of the central arguments for building the stadium is to increase out-of-state applications, the quality of the student body and raise more tuition revenue. A close look shows that the numbers just don't add up.

Frequent readers here will be aware of the dwindling support of university education by the State of Colorado. This leaves a situation where state institutions must figure out a way to fill a gap left by the reduced state support. How this is done is not complicated, as I wrote last year about my institution, the University of Colorado:
In round numbers, the state provides about $3,000 per student.  If the state allows the university to charge about $8,000 per student in tuition, and the cost of running the university requires a break-even tuition of about $14,000, then you can see that the result is a loss of $3,000 per in-state student.  That adds up fast -- it is a  $60 million shortfall.

How does the university make up the difference?  Answer: Out-of-state students!  In 2010 the proportion of out-of-state students at CU was larger than at any time since 1975 (data, it was 34.5% in fall, 2010 and state law allows it to go to as much as 45%).  From 2005 to 2010 the number of CU in-state undergraduates shrunk by 1% while the number from out-of-state increased by 17%.
An interesting twist on this argument comes from Colorado State University, up the road in Fort Collins where my father was on the faculty for about 25 years. At CSU the administration is seeking to dramatically upgrade its athletic program. Writing in The Denver Post, Terry Frei explains:
[CSU President Tony] Frank has overseen a massive overhaul in the Rams' athletic department. He was dissatisfied with the department's direction, and also increasingly determined to use sports to help raise the university's national profile. The move comes at a time when national league realignment has significantly weakened CSU's conference, the Mountain West, making the highest priority — football prominence — even more of a challenge.

In the wake of a Stadium Advisory Committee's report last week that the controversial project is feasible, Frank said he will announce by early October his recommendation to the school's board about whether CSU should move forward with construction of a 42,000-seat, on-campus stadium. The new facility would replace the 32,500-seat, off-campus Hughes Stadium as the Rams' game-day home starting with the 2015 season.

Estimated cost: $246 million for the core project, planned for the south side of the campus. The SAC, headed by athletic director Jack Graham and school vice president Amy Parsons, said it had "roughly estimated" another $51 million in costs if previously cited features were included, including an alumni center, parking facilities and other buildings.
The stadium is only the tip of the iceberg:
Now Graham is hopeful of not only witnessing the Rams' move into a new stadium, but eventually a buildup of the athletic department budget — from the $23.5 million 2011-12 budget he inherited, to a planned $28.45 million in 2012-13, and to around $55 million a year at some point.

"The rest of this campus knows what excellence looks like," Graham said in his office at the Fum McGraw Athletic Center. "You go to our veterinary school, our agriculture school, our college of business. They don't settle for mediocrity. That is not what the culture's been like in our athletic department the last 10 years. ... I did not come here to babysit mediocrity. We're going to drive athletics to a level of excellence that reflects the standards of the rest of the university."
Frank outlines a vision for athletics in a speech here. One notable feature of the justifications being offered for the new stadium is tuition costs and out-of-state students:
Frank can rattle off stunning numbers about the increases in tuition at public universities over the past few decades, a result of both inflation and a precipitous percentage drop in state support, which traditionally subsidized much of the costs for in-state students. "Over that period, we've essentially been privatizing American public higher education," he said.

If the trend continues, Frank said, state support could completely dry up in the next 20 years. He views his mission as positioning CSU — which has an enrollment of about 27,000 — to withstand that. One move, of course, would be to continue with major tuition hikes, but he speculates that it would require a doubling of in-state tuition to make up for the lost state money. He also scoffs at trying to make up the money through volume, such as increasing enrollment to 63,000. "That doesn't work for CSU; that doesn't work for this community," he said.

A more palatable alternative, he said, is to draw more students paying out-of-state tuition. And higher-profile sports teams, he believes, would draw more national attention to CSU, including from potential nonresident students. "Adding 4,000 nonresident students is $80 million," he said.

That's where the on-campus stadium comes into play, with the country seeing — and the fans attending the games getting — a better feel for the campus itself than if games continue to play be played at Hughes Stadium, which opened in 1968 along the foothills to the west of campus. Frank said a realistic goal could be to add 2,000 to 3,000 in-state students, while pursuing even harder additional out-of-state students. "The carrying capacity of this campus is somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000," he said. "You've got plenty of room for nonresident growth that maintains the character of the campus."
While there may be good arguments for the building of a new stadium in Fort Collins, the appeal to the tuition gaps smacks of an argument of convenience. Let's take a look at the numbers.
In his presentation of February 3, 2012, CSU athletic director Jack Graham explained that "increasing the flow of student applications is an objective of construction of an on campus stadium" (here in PDF). The relevant slide from Graham's presentation is shown above.

In that slide you see that Graham cites Pope and Pope (2008) to argue that "applications received will increase 2%-8%." Pope and Pope (2008) can be found here in PDF. Here is what they concluded from their analysis:
For basketball, the results suggest that being one of the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament yields approximately a 1% increase in applications the following year, making it to the “sweet sixteen” yields a 3% increase, the “final four” a 4-5% increase, and winning the tournament a 7-8% increase. The impact of the athletic lags, are as we expected. While there is an effect of winning on the current year’s applications, the largest effect comes in the first lag. By the third lag, the effect has usually diminished substantially. . .

For football, the results suggest that ending the season ranked in the top twenty in football yields approximately a 2.5% increase in applications the following year, ending in the top ten yields a 3% increase, and winning the football championship a 7-8% increase. The largest effect is on the current football sports variable along with a small effect on the first lag.
The numbers above are for all universities, public and private, and the study finds larger effects for private schools. CSU is public, but let's set that distinction aside, and place the numbers reported above into the context of actual admissions numbers for CSU.

In 2011 CSU received about 16,000 applications of which about 7,000 were out of state. A top-20 team would therefore boost out of state applicants by 175, a top-10 team by 210 applications and a National Championship by as much as 560 applicants. This boost would be for only one year, after which the effect would disappear. I think it is safe to say that CSU's football successes simply cannot drive large increases in out-of-state applications, even with a national championship every year.

There may indeed be good reasons to build a new stadium at CSU, but increasing student applications, improving the academic quality of the study body and filling the State budget tuition hole cannot be supported based on the evidence provided by CSU.

Friday, August 17, 2012

There is No Such Thing as a Little Bit of Good Governance

FIFA has established a new set of procedures for investigations of ethical violations in the organization. Such investigations will be headed by the newly appointed Michael Garcia (above, with Hans Joachim Ekert), who recently explained his wide remit:
“There are no limitations at all on what we will be looking at, it will be determined solely by what we perceive as evidence or suggestions or reasons to look further and that will be our guiding principle,” Michael J. Garcia, head investigator for FIFA’s ethics committee, said today at a press conference in Zurich. An investigation can be started into anything or anyone, “whether that is a particular World Cup or a particular person,” he added.

Blatter’s ruling board agreed to create a two-chamber ethics court to prosecute cases more effectively after a panel of anti-corruption experts advising FIFA said previous cases were “insufficiently investigated.”

Former U.S. attorney Garcia was named by FIFA on July 17 as lead investigator of the restructured committee to investigate allegations of corruption in the sport, while German judge Hans- Joachim Eckert was chosen to lead the adjudicatory branch.
It is thus of note that Garcia decided that the first investigation to open would be of Mohammed bin Hammam, who is embroiled in a long-running dispute with FIFA and Sepp Blatter. Recently, FIFA was rebuked in an arbitration proceeding by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a complaint filed by bin Hammam

Garcia's decision to place the investigation of bin Hammam at the front of the queue, raises some eyebrows. Writing at ESPNStar, Jesse Fink opines:
Now you'd be safe in deducing Sepp Blatter and his cronies at FIFA in Zurich have a lot of reasons to be worried about Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Why else immediately re-suspend the stood-aside president of the Asian Football Confederation and re-open an ethics committee investigation, even when the Court of Arbitration of Sport found the initial "eth-co" probe lacked procedural fairness and the sort of standard of evidence required to nail him?

Clearly the man presents a clear and present danger to President Sepp Blatter.

And so long as he stays in power the president's wishes are obvious: do what it takes to get rid of him once and for all and keep me well out of it.

The new, double-barrelled ethics committee might be reloaded, renamed and under new leadership, but to all intents and purposes it's still contains individuals that didn't do their job properly in the first place.

If the eth-co weren't so politically geared, it would be opening an investigation into how Blatter, Bin Hammam's rival in the same 2011 presidential election, allegedly gave away in "gifts" an identical amount of money as the Qatari - $1 million in US currency - during the campaign.
It is perfectly reasonable for people to ask how FIFA's new investigative regime sets its priorities and decides how to open an particular investigation. Other various allegations and apparent irregularities are further down Garcia's queue, including those having to do with the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, Sepp Blatter's insinuations about Germany 2006, the revelations from the ISL scandal, the allegations leveled by Fink about Blatter above and so on.

There is so much that Garcia might begin investigating that an ability to clearly explain how he sets priorities is going to be essential to FIFA's ability to demonstrate transparency and progress toward better governance.

Garcia should therefore be questioned about his priorities and decision making processes, with an expectation that he can back them up publicly. FIFA is learning that, as with pregnancy, there is no such thing as a little bit of good governance.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Olympic Medal Database from The Telegraph

The Telegraph has a wonderful visualization of Olympic medals awarded to all countries for all Olympics. It is a dataset that I may use in the future so I am placing here for ease of access. You might enjoy it also.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What Social Science can Learn from Olympic Medals Olympics

At his Forbes blog, Stefan Szymanski presents the data shown above, showing a >20% decline in the total number of Olympic medals won by the countries which comprise the EU-11.  

Writing at the FT, Simon Kuper quotes Szymanski to explain what is going on:
Western Europe and the US still occupy five of the top nine places in London’s medals table. But at the Rio Olympics of 2016, more developing countries should start following China into the elite. Stefan Szymanski, sports economist at the University of Michigan, says: “It entirely reflects what’s going on in the global economy. Their GDP is going up, so they are going to devote more resources to sport, so they are going to do better.”. . .

by 2016, Europe’s spending cuts will have bitten. Britain has already slashed funding for school sport. Across the west, athletes will lose resources.

Meanwhile new countries are rising. India – which had never won an individual gold medal before Beijing – is putting unprecedented public and private funds into sport. It has just four medals in London so far, but should improve in Rio.

“The dispersion of medals across the world must increase,” Szymanski says. “With many Olympic events, it’s quite easy breaking down those tasks into simple components and then building athletes who win gold medals. China is the classic example.”
While the macro-trends in the global economy appear to be well understood, as we have seen, it is quite another thing to be able to anticipate the particulars.  Social scientists and policy researchers should take note -- despite the subject matter, there is a very important lesson here about what sorts of outcomes are predictable and which are not.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Olympics Medals Prediction Olympics

The FT has set up a nice dataset of Olympic medals predictions, and now that the 2012 games are in the books, we are in a position to give out awards for the top performers. To recap, there were 5 predictions tracked by the FT: two by academics, Williams and Johnson and two by companys, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and GoldmanSachs. The fifth was the average of the four as calculated by the FT, called the Consensus.

 Here is a summary of the models from the FT:

The methodology of forecast evaluation used to evaluate the Olympic medal predictions is a conventional skill score, measured as the root mean squared error – that is the difference between the forecast and the actual results, squared, then summed over the predictions with the square root taken at the end to get us back to original units. Skill is defined as an improvement made by a particular forecast over some naïve expectation.

In the evaluation summarized in the graph at the top of this post I present results for two naïve baselines. One is simply the unadjusted results of the 2008 Olympic games (2008 Actual) and the second is a simple adjustment to the 2008 games (Fancy Naive) described below.

Add caption
Here are the results:
  • Gold Medal – Consensus Forecast 
  • Silver Medal – Goldman Sachs 
  • Bronze Medal – PriceWaterhouseCoopers 
  • Did not place: Johnson and Williams 
Here are the details:

In this evaluation I looked only at the top 25 medal-winning countries, for 2012 taking us down to Azerbaijan with 10 medals. It is possible that the rankings might shift looking all the way down the list. Further, not all predictions covered all countries, so of the top 25 medal winners, only 18 appeared across all predictions.

In addition, to explored the robustness of the evaluation, I explored the top 25 medal winners in 2008 and 2012, and I also looked at skill with respect to the top 18 minus China and the UK, and only with respect to China and the UK. The reason for singling out these two countries is that as hosts of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, they experienced a big increase in medals won as the home nation. The results I found were largely robust to these various permutations.

Just for fun, I introduced a slightly more rigorous baseline for the naïve prediction (Fancy Naive), which assumed that the host country experiences a 15% boost in medals over 2008 and the 2008 host experiences a 15% decrease. All other elements of the naïve prediction remained the same. As you might expect, this slight variation created a much more rigorous baseline of skill, which has the result of coming in very, very close to (but not beating) the GS and PWC forecasts. The difference is slim enough to conclude that there is exceedingly little added value in either forecast. It would not be difficult to produce a slightly more sophisticated version of the naive forecast that would beat all of the individual models.

However, the consensus forecast handily beat the more rigorous baseline. This deserves some additional consideration -- how is it that 4 models with no or marginal skill aggregate to produce a forecast with skill? My initial hypothesis is that the distribution of errors is highly skewed -- each method tends to badly miss a few country predictions. Such errors are reduced by the averaging across the four methods, resulting in a higher skill score. I would also speculate that tossing out the two academic models, having no skill, would lead to a further improvement in the skill score. Of course, the skill in the Consensus forecast might also just be luck. If I have some time I'll explore these various hypotheses.

The skillful performance of GS and PWC does have commentators speculating as to whether they may have been doping involved. That analysis awaits another day.

Here are some additional results:
  • The models did worst on Russia, Japan, China and the UK
  • The models did best on Brazil, Canada, Kenya and Italy
  • Every model had several predictions right on target (error of 0 or 1)
  • Every model had big errors for some countries
Bottom line: Do the various models provide value (beyond the pub debate variety) beyond a naive forecast?

The verdict is mixed. Individually, very little. Together, some. Teasing out whether the ensemble demonstrates skill due to luck or design requires further work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What is Doping?

With the Olympics going on a frequent subject of discussion is the possibility of "doping" among athletes. Whether it is Ye Shiwen or Taoufik Makhloufi, record performances are quickly accompanied by speculation and questions.

But for a term  thrown around a lot, "doping" is rarely defined in such discussions. So, what is "doping" anyway? Looking into the answer to this question reveals a complicated world of jurisprudence, rules and regulations, science, technology, judgment and ever present change.

You might think that doping refers to the use of performance-enhancing drugs to improve athletic performance. This is correct, but incomplete. More accurately, this definition far is too broad in practice and far to imprecise in principle.

Consider for instance the drug caffeine, which I am enjoying right at this moment at my favorite Boulder coffee shop. Caffeine is a stimulant and arguably aids athletic performance. Yet in 2012 it is not a prohibited substance (though it once was) according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), a quasi-governmental organization, which explains:
Its use in sport is not prohibited.

Many experts believe that caffeine is ubiquitous in beverages and food and that reducing the threshold might therefore create the risk of sanctioning athletes for social or diet consumption of caffeine. In addition, caffeine is metabolized at very different rates in individuals.

Caffeine is part of WADA's Monitoring Program. This program includes substances which are not prohibited in sport, but which WADA monitors in order to detect patterns of misuse in sport.

The 2010 and 2011 Monitoring Programs did not reveal global specific patterns of misuse of caffeine in sport, though a significant increase in consumption in the athletic population is observed.
What then is doping? Here is the WADA definition, straight out of the WADA Code:
Doping is defined as the occurrence of one or more of the anti-doping rule violations set forth in Article 2.1 through Article 2.8 of the Code.
Doping is defined procedurally rather than substantively. What this means is that doping does not refer directly to the use of performance-enhancing substances, but rather to the violation of certain prohibitions, which includes certain performance-enhancing substances. The distinction may seem subtle, but it has great practical significance.

But before getting to the significance, let's take a quick look at Articles 2.1 through 2.8 of the Code to get a sense of what a violation actually is:
  • 2.1 Presence of a Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers in an Athlete’s Sample
  • 2.2 Use or Attempted Use by an Athlete of a Prohibited Substance or a Prohibited Method
  • 2.3 Refusing or failing without compelling justification to submit to Sample collection after notification as authorized in applicable anti-doping rules, or otherwise evading Sample collection
  • 2.4 Violation of applicable requirements regarding Athlete availability for Out-of-Competition Testing, including failure to file required whereabouts information and missed tests which are declared based on rules which comply with the International Standard for Testing. Any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures within an eighteen-month period as determined by Anti-Doping Organizations with jurisdiction over the Athlete shall constitute an anti-doping rule violation
  • 2.5 Tampering or Attempted Tampering with any part of Doping Control
  • 2.6 Possession of Prohibited Substances and Prohibited Methods
  • 2.7 Trafficking or Attempted Trafficking in any Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method
  • 2.8 Administration or Attempted administration to any Athlete In-Competition of any Prohibited Method or Prohibited Substance, or administration or Attempted administration to any Athlete Out-of-Competition of any Prohibited Method or any Prohibited Substance that is prohibited Out-of-Competition, or assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up or any other type of complicity involving an anti-doping rule violation or any Attempted anti-doping rule violation
The WADA Code runs to 135 pages in order to explain the processes and procedures involved with identifying, sanctioning and appealing Code violations as well as the procedures for creating and updating the list of prohibited substances. The list of prohibited substances and methods runs to 9 pages, and the 2012 list can be found here in PDF.

The procedural nature of the Code sets up some interesting possibilities. For instance,
  • Imagine that a drug developer comes up with a new performance-enhancing drug that is not covered by the WADA list and based on the powers thus conferred, and Olympic athlete breaks a world record in the 100M run. It then becomes known later that the athlete took the performance-enhancing drug. Would that be doping? My reading of the Code is that the answer is "No" -- athletes are held accountable to the Code as it stands when an alleged violation takes place, and not by standards in place at a different time. For most people, this imaginary circumstance would meet the common-sense definition of "doping."
  • Imagine that a clean, record-holding athlete agrees to carry a package of medical products given to him by a colleague back home from the Olympics. The package is discovered to contain vials of prohibited substances. Under the Code, it is plausible, even likely, that this athlete would be found guilty of "doping" even though he did not take any performance enhancing substances, and would face the possibility of suspension and loss of his record.
We can invent other situations with odd outcomes as well. Such outcomes are a necessary consequence of the need to define "doping" procedurally, recognizing that the WADA prohibited list will evolve over time. It also means that efforts to combat "doping" represent a sort of arms race between WADA and those looking for extra advantage conferred by performance enhancing substances. Those in the latter category seek to secure that advantage while not violating the rules, while WADA tries to keep the rules current with the technologies of performance enhancement.

News that drug companies are working with WADA to "stay ahead of the curve" is good news for those keeping games clean. Incentives to dope are not going to be going away. WADA is thus a necessary and important institution to the integrity of sport.

Ask what seems like a simple questions and behind the definition of "doping" is a tough and never-ending battle, and one characterized by the need to draw bright lines over shades of grey. I will return to this issue with a look at some high profile cases, notably that of Lance Armstrong in the US.

Monday, August 6, 2012

EPL 2012-2013 Season-Long Prediction Contest

The Least Thing 2012-2013 season-long English Premier League prediction contest is now open for entries. Get your entries in before the first games on August 18th to participate.

To enter, in the comments below simply rank your prediction for the end-of-season table from 1 through 20.  The tie-breaker will be first selection of champion and then relegation.  I will at a few points through the season provide updates on standings and discuss the competition.

The metric of skill used as the baseline for evaluation in this competition will be the final league position from 2011/2012. For those new here wanting to get up to speed on this notion of "skill" in prediction, please see the posts here and here.

The winner of the competition wins a signed copy of The Climate Fix.  Good luck!

PS. For those looking for the Bundesliga prediction contest, join here by August 24th!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

How Fast? Usain Bolt and Human Performance Limits

Today, Usain Bolt and a host of other lightning fast men will compete in the 100M run in the Olympics, seeking the titled of the "world's fastest man." How fast can a man run anyway? The Economist explores this question in this week's issue:
ON AUGUST 5th millions of people will watch the 100-metre final at the London Olympics. Many will wonder if anyone can repeat Usain Bolt’s feat in Berlin in 2009, when the Jamaican clocked 9.58 seconds, lopping 0.11 seconds—aeons in a sprint—off the previous world record, which he set at the 2008 Beijing games.

One person who thinks this unlikely is Mark Denny. Another 0.11 seconds would take the time below what Dr Denny, from Stanford University, reckons is the absolute limit of human athletic performance in the 100-metre dash.
In this section

In 2008 Dr Denny published a paper in which he crunched through the highest speeds achieved each year in running events from sprints to the marathon, some dating back to 1900 (see chart). A statistical technique called extreme-value analysis discerned trends and the maximum possible deviations from them. For the 100 metres, the human speed limit is 10.55 metres per second. This translates to 9.48 seconds.
Mark Denny's research can be found here, and he has this to day about Usain Bolt:
An excellent example of the potential for a continued increase in men's speeds is provided by the recent world records set in the 100 m and 200 m races by Usain Bolt of Jamaica. Over a span of 3 days in the Olympic games of 2008, Bolt `shattered' the then existing records, lowering the record in the 100 m from 9.72 to 9.69 s and in the 200 m from 19.32 to 19.30 s. Because Bolt is exceptionally tall for a sprinter (6′5″, 1.96 m), he was hailed by the press as a physical `freak' and the harbinger of a new era of sprinting. 

Should Bolt's records cast doubt on the predictions made here? The answer is no. Bolt's records are only small improvements on the existing records for the 100 m and 200 m races, 0.3% and 0.1%, respectively, and Bolt's records are not out of line with the logistic fit to the historical data (Figs 7 and 8, pink dots). Furthermore, there have previously been similar jumps in record speed. Thus, as admirable as they are, there is nothing in Bolt's records to suggest that the predictions made here are inaccurate or that human speeds in the 100 m and 200 m races are limitless.
Berthelot et al. looked at  the performances of 41,351 athletes competing in 70 Olympic track and firld (T&F) and swimming events. They conclude that limits are being reached in T&F but not yet in swimming.
The two studied disciplines show different progression schemes: most (63.9%) of T&F events have stopped progressing since 1993±8 years while all swimming events were progressing until 2009 (Fig. 1). This halt occurred 34 years earlier than the estimated stagnation of half of the WR in 5 Olympic disciplines [1]; it may reveal that most of T&F athletes are already beyond the edge of stagnation. Both genders present a slightly different evolution in T&F events, suggesting male events still have some potential reserve whereas the majority of women events (77.8%) has stopped progressing since 1992±8 years. Women may have reached their limits before men, despite a later entry into Olympic competition.
However, Berthelot et al. also expressed a view that the decision by FINA (swimming governing body) to ban the swim suits used by athletes in Beijing would see a regression of record breaking in swimming -- a prediction thoroughly refuted in London over last week.

Ultimately, the test of human progression in Olympic event record breaking will come not in academic journals, but on the track and in the pool. Nonetheless, the research reviewed here is highly suggestive that in many T&F events expectations of sustained record-breaking no longer square with the evidence. 
In another paper Bertheolt et al. conclude that human progression in Olympic record breaking has only one generation left in it, to 2027:
In summary, an epidemiological analysis of sport performances demonstrates that WR progression follows a piecewise exponential decaying pattern, altered by historical events. Results point out that in 2007, WR have reached 99% of their asymptotic value. Present conditions prevailing for the next 20 years, half of all WR won't be improved by more than 0.05%. As compared to the positivism triumphing at the time Coubertin inspired Olympic renewal, the present analysis emphasizes the ineluctable rarefaction of the quantifiable proofs of human physiological progression.
What will happen then?  Writing in The Boston Globe last year Paul Kix offered a sensible suggestion:
These ancient sports are a lot like the world’s current leading economies: stagnant, and looking for a way to break through. The best in both worlds do so by innovating, improving the available resources, and when that process exhausts itself, creating new ones.
We'll innovate. And if we can't "innovate" ourselves (at least not within the bounds of the rules), then we'll innovate the games. New events, new sports, new competitions will provide an infinite resources of frontiers to strive for and records to achieve. The end of competition is not risked by the reaching of human athletic performance.

Today, however, I'm hoping for a 9.47.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Inconvenient: IOC OK With Trying Not to Win in Football

This is a follow-up post on tactical positioning in tournament play (for background see here from earlier today). The coach of Japan's women's football team has admitted to directing his players to intentionally try not to win their match against South Africa, which resulted in a 0-0 tie.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has admitted it is content with the decision from FIFA not to punish the Japan women's football team after the head coach asked his team not to win in order to avoid playing their Olympic quarter-final in Glasgow. Japan, the reigning world champions, played out a 0-0 draw with South Africa in Cardiff  which meant they finished behind Sweden in their group and will meet Brazil in the Welsh capital rather than travel all the way up to Scotland for their next match.

Coach Norio Sasaki admitted to journalists after the game that he had instructed his players to keep the ball rather than press for a winner to avoid winning the group as  he said "it was important for us not to move to Glasgow" because of the travel involved.

The coach even said he felt "sorry we couldn't show a respectable game" but took responsibility for the instructions to the team.
Now, how in the world can the IOC sanction badminton for such behavior but allow it in football? The IOC explains:
"This is a matter for the federation [FIFA] but the two cases [the Japanese football game and the badminton] are not the same," said the IOC director of communications, Mark Adams.

"There is no evidence that the athletes have acted on what the coach said in that instance.

"The federation have looked into it and say they cannot find a case to answer.

"This is all based on comments in Japanese by the coach and the crowd were unaware of the problem, unlike in the badminton where they obviously were aware that something was going on."
This line of argument is problematic in several ways.

First, does the IOC really want to set a precedent that the crowds ability to detect behavior deemed questionable is the criteria for sanction? How would that be applied to doping policies?

Second, the fact that teams play tactically in knock-out stages in football is widely known and accepted, if not always celebrated. It is a part of the game. It would of course be OK for the IOC to hold football and badminton to different standards, but only if this was expressed as part of the norms of the games. The IOC's defense glosses over this reasonable explanation and has set the stage for perceptions of hypocrisy.

Now the IOC has a real scandal.

A Defense of Tactical Positioning in Tournament Play

Writing at Play the Game Andreas Selliaas provides a defense of the actions of the eight badminton players expelled from the Olympics for "playing to lose" in order to gain advantage in the seedings for knock-out play. He writes:
Eight badminton players have been expelled from the Olympic tournament for deliberately trying to lose their matches. This has been referred to as a scandal, but who is it a scandal for? When did it become illegal to try to gain the greatest tactical advantage in order to get as far as possible in a tournament?

The badminton players were thrown out of the Olympics because they did not live up to the Olympic ideal of athletes giving their all to win. They are said to have put both badminton and the Olympic ideals into disrepute. What happened with “the most important thing is not to win, but to take part”? The banned athletes were booed at because they were losing on purpose. The spectators had paid a lot of money for their tickets and they wanted their money’s worth.

I agree that it was embarrassing to watch, but I am doubtful of whether it was actually against the rules. What is more embarrassing is the fact that the rules are formed in a way that allows for these kinds of tactics. It is the ones who make the rules that should be expelled and not the athletes.
Sport' competition provides an unvarnished look at how human's respond to incentives in decision making contexts. No one should be surprised that people act in ways that they perceive will leave them better off than had they acted differently -- this is a core understanding from the social sciences.

Selliaas provides several excellent examples of tactical positioning in Olympic competition:
When it comes to track and field I am sure that we will see Usain Bolt jog-trot in the initial heats and in the knock-out stages. Is this okay? Yes, because he wants to win and save his strength for when it really counts. There is no one who wants to expel Bolt from the Olympics for not performing his best at all times.

When Kobe Bryant – the second biggest sports star in the Olympics – sat on the bench for almost the whole game against Tunisia no one was demanding a refund for their tickets. The US was saving Bryant so that he would be able to perform well later in the tournament. They could probably have won by more with him on the court, but that is not what counts.
If badminton players see advantage in gaming the rules, it is not the fault of the players, but a poor design in the rules. To change how players behave, change the rules.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Guardian's Statistical Analysis of Ye Shiwen's 400IM

The Guardian has a fantastic feature which dives into the data on Ye Shiwen's gold medal-winning 400IM at London 2012. The race that has prompted unending debate and controversy, mainly because Ye swam the final leg of the race faster than her male counterpart, Ryan Lochte of the US.

Just how rare is that feat?  The Guardian does some impressive data analysis and concludes:
Looking at the results from the men's and women's 400m individual medley finals from London 2012 and from last year's World Championships in Shanghai, Ye's performance on Saturday is the only occasion where a female has completed either the final 50m or 100m in a faster time than any male finalist.

At this stage Ye's performance certainly does seem statistically extraordinary, but widening the data-set to include lower pedigree events shows her to be less of an outlier.
Adding the results for 400m medley finalists at the US Olympic trials, 2012 European Championships and 2010 Asian Games raises the number of freestyle phases by female swimmers that beat at least one male finalist to 27.

But Ye's performances remain statistically remarkable. Of the 40 freestyle legs swum by male finalists, her 58.68 second split beats almost three quarters (27).

It remains impossible to say with any certainty that Ye's swim was anything other than mightily impressive, but it is clear that her performances are in a different statistical bracket to contemporary world class female medley swimmers.
This deeper analysis of the data confirms my conclusion, based on much less data, that answers to questions of doping simply cannot be found in the data.  As Ross Tucker at Sporting Science explains (emphasis in original):
performance analysis will never constitute proof.  Let me repeat that - performance analysis will never constitute proof.  Put differently, in case you missed it - you cannot analyze someone's performance, be it their age, their improvement, their splits, and infer that they are doping based solely on these observations.  Why?  Because performance is too complex, and we have neither the sensitivity nor the reliability to make a strong conclusion.

So, what performance analysis can do is ask questions.  That's all.  The questions are asked based on what we see, but they are answered based on what we can find.  I'm all for questions - I think that questions drive transparency, and transparency is the key to cleaning up sport. . .

But that's where the answer lies.  The question is found in performances, in history, and while these can easily become generalizations, they are not bad, in and of themselves.  The answers, however, lie in "detective work", and testing.  Stop looking for "smoking guns" - you will not find them.
One of the hallmarks of good governance in sport is a commitment to due process. Ye Shiwen should be treated in accordance to that commitment. She is innocent until proven guilty. The rush to judgment by certain members of media playing judge, jury, executioner is not just unseemly, but counter to the ideals of sport.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bundesliga 2012-2013 Season-Long Prediction Contest

The Least Thing 2012-2013 season-long Bundesliga prediction contest is now open for entries. Get your entries in before the first game on 24 August in order to participate.

To enter, in the comments below simply rank your prediction for the end-of-season table from 1 through 18.  The tie-breaker will be first selection of champion and then relegation.  I will at a few points through the season provide updates on standings and discuss the competition.

For those of you not fully up to speed on the Bundesliga (shame!), you can get more information here and here and here..

The metric of skill used as the baseline for evaluation in this competition will be the final table from last year (seen to the left, with promoted teams added in).  I will be happy to use other metrics of skill as they are available (and pointers welcomed in the comments). 

For those new here wanting to get up to speed on this notion of "skill" in prediction, please see the posts here and here.

The winner of the competition wins a signed copy of The Climate Fix.  Good luck!