Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Bloggers Busted Lance Armstrong

Writing in the NYT a few days ago David Carr explained the important role of bloggers in the Lance Armstrong affair:
This is a story of how a group of people at the low end of bicycle racing used the Web and social media to take back custody of their sport from powerful dopers and liars and their enablers in the media.
Carr writes:
For those of us who paid only casual attention, his abasement — he has been dropped by Nike and other sponsors and has stepped down as chairman of LiveStrong — came as a deep shock. Sure, there was a steady hum of suspicion along the way, but Armstrong had never failed a drug test, and his steadfast denials were always dutifully reported.

Besides, there was a heroic narrative to be nurtured, and mainstream reporters pretty much stuck to the script — either because they were invested in the legend or were worried about maintaining access to one of the most important figures in sports. There were early and vocal dissenters, including Paul Kimmage, an Irish journalist and veteran of cycling coverage, David Walsh, and Juliet Macur of The New York Times. But for the most part, the journalists who seemed to know the most about professional cycling told us the least. To doubt Armstrong was to doubt the American dream, to effectively be “for cancer,” as his legion of defenders would claim.

But amid the conspiracy of silence, often enforced by Armstrong or his lawyers, according to the report, a small group of dedicated cycling enthusiasts took to blogs and Twitter. His otherworldly accomplishments, they wrote, were a monument not to the power of human spirit, but to the remarkable effectiveness of EPO, an oxygen-enhancing hormone. On Twitter, critics behind handles like @TheRaceRadio, @UCI_Overlord and @FestinaGirl jabbed at Armstrong’s denials and the sport’s leadership.

More important, NYVelocity, a tiny hobby blog that mostly covered the New York bike racing scene, helped pull back the blankets on the Armstrong legend. The blog published a satirical comic, “As the Toto Turns,” to savage effect, and in a series of postings it made the case that pro cycling was corrupt and that Mr. Armstrong’s denials masked a wilderness of lies.
Many sports need the benefits of what elsewhere is called an "extended peer community" to ask hard questions and push for answers. Kudos to the extended peer community of cycling.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meanwhile Back in the NCAA

While I've been paying attention to the various aspects of the Lance Armstrong affair, there have been some interesting commentaries published with respect to the NCAA.

Writing in the Atlantic, which seems to have taken up NCAA issues of late, attorney Stephen A. Miller makes the case that the NCAA needs help from an independent body to conduct investigations and enforce its rules.  Miller provides an overview of the shortfalls in NCAA enforcement and investigations, and offers some suggestions for improvement.  He concludes:
The NCAA draws much of its marketing power from its image as a custodian of the amateur ideal in America. To protect its own image, the NCAA needs to take enforcement of its regulations more seriously and promote a transparent and fair system that bolsters, rather than undercuts, that image. Otherwise, the NCAA may discover the extent to which its image has been devalued when it tries to negotiate future media contracts or when a group of frustrated member-institutions secede from the NCAA to create a new and improved organization to serve the same function.
SI provides an update on the status of O'Bannon vs. NCAA, an excerpt:
Former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon's class action lawsuit against the NCAA continues to set the table for radical changes to college sports. O'Bannon, who contends that former players should be compensated for the NCAA's use of their likeness and name, recently scored two pretrial victories.

First, a judge ordered ESPN, which is not a defendant, to hand over its television and licensing contracts for D-I men's basketball and football. ESPN unsuccessfully argued that these contracts are confidential and that O'Bannon's document requests are "ridiculously expansive and irrelevant." Armed with specific information as to how much the NCAA earns from its relationship with ESPN, O'Bannon can more effectively calculate the billions of dollars he and other plaintiffs purportedly should have earned.

Second, potentially damaging e-mails involving two other defendants—Collegiate Licensing Company (the NCAA's licensing partner) and Electronic Arts—have emerged. These e-mails portray CLC officials as worried about the legal impact of Electronic Arts's developing video-game characters using real college players' names and then removing those names before retail.
SI says that the trial remains more than a year away, giving me plenty of time to dive into the issues and incorporate them into a paper on the NCAA as a policy problem, which is on my to-do list for 2013.

Finally, at the By-Law Blog, John Infante responds to Brad Wolverton and makes the radical suggestion that students should be able to major in athletics:
The constant push has been to hold down athletics as an extracurricular activity, and increase the role of academics. But to change the game, we need to go in the other direction and meld athletics with academics by establishing majors in athletics for student-athletes.

The arguments for athletics majors have been made many times before, but here is a quick summary:
  • Athletics has few or no significant differences from other artistic or entertainment pursuits.
  • We see value in the study of artistic pursuits despite the long odds of making a living purely on talent in those fields.
  • Increases in injuries, especially concussions, make the study of athletes more important than ever.
  • Elite athletes need education in personal finance, agent and advisor selection, marketing, and interacting with the media.
  • Youth sports need more professionally trained coaches who know both best practices in teaching a sport as well as first aid, CPR, and injury management training.
But athletics majors also address many of the problems identified in Wolverton’s article and make all of his suggestions significantly easier.

If coaches are professors for their athletes, they are integrated into the faculty without needing to find them something to teach. If the bulk of a coach’s teaching responsibilities involve coaching the varsity team, the coaching profession will likely be less resistant to the change. Hopefully as athletically-related majors grow, coaches end up teaching a greater and greater percentage of non-athletes.
Despite the likely negative reaction of many of my faculty peers, I find Infante's argument compelling and worth further discussion.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Tangled Web that is US Cycling

Courtesy of @dimspace, writing at the Cyclismas blog is the incredible flowchart above showing the tangled web of people and companies that comprise the world of US cycling in the Lance Armstrong era. You can click on the image for a larger version, but for a PDF that is readable click here.

Here is an excerpt from the description that accompanies it:
Many questions have been asked recently; how, if Lance did dope, was it so effectively covered up, where did the funding come from, how is what’s written in the media shaped, and who has the most to lose?

This presentation is not an exhaustive list. There are many more relationships – both personal ones, and business ones – to be explored. The reach of the chart is not just restricted to U.S. Cycling, but worldwide. Some of the business relationships are current, some of them are in the past, but every name on the list has at some point influenced not just the way cycling is run, but also influenced our perceptions of it and what we believe to be true.
One point is clearly suggested by the chart -- Armstrong no doubt knows an awful lot about the doping program, who was involved and those who helped him along the way. Whether he chooses to keep all this incriminating information to himself of use it as currency remains to be seen.

As far as Armstrong's strategy going forward, who knows, but this quote from a 2003 profile in The Observer may provide a hint:
I don't like to lose. I just despise it. I mean, if I lost the Tour, I would be incredibly upset.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The US Congress and the Lance Armstrong Affair

The fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair continues. Today, Armstrong was dumped by several of his biggest sponsors, including Nike, RadioShack, Trek and Anheuser-Busch,. Nike alone paid him up to $12 million per year. Armstrong also stepped down from chairman of the board of the Livestrong Foundation, his cancer advocacy organization, a move characterized by the organization's CEO as a "leave of absence," perhaps reflecting an unjustifiable optimism that the storm will pass.

Here I discuss some of the curious actions of several members of the US Congress in a belated effort to protect or defend Armstrong against the accusations that have been leveled against him. There is clearly much, much more to this story than has yet been released publicly, and the whiff of a political scandal is not hard to detect.

Here is a concise run down of publicly available information, which is incomplete, no doubt.

Back in July, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Livestrong Foundation was engaged in lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of Armstrong's battle against the USADA, a potentially illegal activity for a non-profit organization:
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. José Serrano (D., N.Y.), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said his office was visited by a registered lobbyist working on behalf of the foundation, which works to increase awareness of cancer.

The lobbyist's main purpose, the spokesman said, was to talk about the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which enforces rules about performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and which has charged Mr. Armstrong and five others associated with his former cycling team with operating a doping conspiracy in an effort to dominate the Tour de France.
Why Rep. Serrano you might ask? The answer is that he is the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which includes in its portfolio the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has oversight over USADA. In short, Rep. Serrano is a bigwig, and arguably one of the four most important members (of 535) in the US Congress if your goal is to have some influence over USADA.

Not long after, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) sent a letter to the ONDCP expressing a vigorous defense of Armstrong, seemingly taken straight from the arguments advanced from Armstrong's legal team. Following the release of the USADA's "Reasoned Decision" the letter now makes Rep. Sensenbrenner look like - in generous terms - a gullible fool:
The United States Congress has no role in determining whether an individual athlete doped . . . 

[but] . . . USADA’s authority over Armstrong is strained at best. . . USADA has adopted a novel conspiracy theory . . .  Armstrong, however, has never failed a drug test despite having been tested over 500 times . . . Presumably, USADA has offered other athletes inducements to testify against Armstrong, but USADA has no obligation to disclose what those inducements were or whether it offered them.
In an impressive display of clairvoyance, Sensenbrenner even alluded to the fact that Armstrong might decline to participate in the USADA arbitration process:
If Armstrong submits to USADA’s arbitration, he will be in the unenviable position of carrying the burden to rebut testimony from witnesses he cannot even cross examine.
In response to Sensenbrenner's letter, R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the ONDCP, provided a substantive and measured response, explaining the legislative basis for ONDCP and its oversight. He also cautioned that it would be "extraordinary and inappropriate" for the ONDCP to insert itself into an arbitration proceeding (response letter here in PDF), language which might also be applied to the efforts by a U.S. Congressman to influence the USADA process.

Now you may ask, why Rep. Sensenbrenner? The answer is that he is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over ONDCP. It is also worth noting that the district represented by Mr. Sensenbrenner is home to Trek Bicycles, the long-time Armstrong sponsor (which dumped him today).

In response to legislative pressure being directed on USADA by Rep, Sensenbrenner, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) voiced his support for the process:
While the charges are serious, and I expect the process to be fair, I fully support USADA and its right to undertake the investigation of, and bring charges against, Lance Armstrong. USADA is authorized by Congress and provides assurances to taxpayers, fans and competitors that sports in America are clean. USADA’s rules and processes, approved by America’s athletes, the United States Olympic Committee and all U.S. sport federations, apply to all athletes regardless of their public profile or success in sport. This process is the proper forum to decide matters concerning individual cases of alleged doping violations.
Then, just about one month ago, Rep. Sensenbrenner and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the Ranking member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill in Congress to clamp down on the USADA.

Politico reported:
Rep. John Conyers, now the committee’s ranking member, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), on Friday introduced the “Athlete Due Process Protection Act of 2012,” designed to “strengthen the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) ability to ensure a fair playing field in sports.”

Conyers said the legislation would “ensure that our American athletes — just like every other U.S. citizen – [are] accorded the full measure of due process constitutional protections when issues arise surrounding the important drug testing functions of USADA.”
The text of the proposed legislation can be found here in PDF.

Now that the USADA has released its "Reasoned Decision" all of these political machinations appear to be moot, as the cycling world has been turned upside down.  However, there are questions to be raised about the role of U.S. politicians who have sought to insert themselves into the process of sports governance on behalf of Lance Armstrong. Such as: Who? What? Why? When? How?

These are questions that might be asked and answered by investigative journalists or even aspiring politicians. If Mark McGuire can be called before the US Congress, so too can Lance Armstrong and Livestrong executives. Congressional hearings on this affair do not seem unlikely. Stay tuned.

Every indication suggests that there a seamy underside to sport and politics in the U.S. yet to be revealed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mohammed bin Hammam Requests a FIFA Investigation of Blatter

In the latest interesting twist to the ongoing battle between former FIFA official Mohammend bin Hammam and FIFA/Sepp Blatter, bin Hammam has written a letter to FIFA requesting that the organization open up an investigation of Blatter.

The Independent reports:
In the letter, which has been seen by the Press Association, Bin Hammam states: "Complaints have been made both against Mr Blatter and some of his colleagues which would seem to justify a full investigation.

"Whilst I am still suspended my rival in the 2011 presidential election remains in power and office.

"He is not under any investigation or suspension. This is so difficult for me to understand."
In August I observed that the initiation of an investigation was a key gap in the procedures of the new FIFA investigative functions under Michael Garcia, when I suggested that Garcia ought to clarify the following questions:
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?
Now bin Hammam is asking the same questions, which have been raised by others as well.

A few weeks ago I asked FIFA IGC member Michael J. Hershman a question about how the new FIFA ethics committee sets its investigative priorities, and here is how I characterized his response:
Garcia’s committee decides on priorities by majority vote. But because Garcia has plenty of experience in such matters as compared to other members of the committee, the committee seems willing to follow his lead. In response to my pressing him a bit on this point (as Garcia is the only independent member of that committee), Hershman emphasized that Garcia’s committee is not a FIFA committee, but an ethics committee which sets its own priorities.
Hershman further noted that a forthcoming "whistleblower's hotline" will allow allegations to be brought before the FIFA Ethics Committee which can decide if the allegations merit an investigation.

So members of the media with the ability to ask Garcia questions might add the following:
  • Have you asked the full Ethics Committee to vote on opening an investigation of Sepp Blatter? If not, why not?
  • If so, what was the resulting vote?
The Independent reports further details from the bin Hammam letter:
"I do appreciate that Mr Garcia has a job to do but... why should others not be suspended pending investigations in the same way that I have been?

"How can there ever have be a fair and open election in FIFA against an incumbent president? There are no rules and therefore no level playing field.

"Whilst my time to stand on a change agenda may have passed I would hope that others will follow.

"If they do so they should not be at risk of the fate that has occurred to me."

Bin Hammam, who was Asian Confederation President (AFC) and a FIFA executive committee member until his ban, said the allegations had been "a nightmare".

"I have now been kept out of football for nearly 16 months," he said in the letter. "Apart from my personal position, my family have endured the nightmare of one set of allegations after the other being made against me.

"I also have to witness the AFC, which I spent such a big part of my time and life putting into a secure financial position, beginning to crumble before my very eyes."
Setting aside issues of the possibility of ethical violations made by either bin Hammam or Blatter, FIFA has set itself up for legitimate claims of violations of due process, selective administration of its new ethics guidelines and arbitrariness in the use of its investigative resources.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport has already come down hard on FIFA once before for violating bin Hammam's due process rights. Now bin Hammam is setting FIFA up for a similar outcome.

Summary of Responses from FIFA IGC to my Interview Requests

Last month I emailed 5 (of the 12) members of the FIFA Independent Governance Committee to request an opportunity to conduct an on-the-record interview. Michael J. Hershman was the only member to agree to an interview, which I published here on October 1.

The results of my requests (which I followed up on several times over a period of weeks) for the other four members (chosen because I could easily find their email addresses) are as follows:
  • Sunil Gulati -- Initial agreement to speak off record, then declined after seeing my questions.
  • Peter H. Goldsmith -- Initial agreement to be interviewed via email, no response after receiving questions
  • James M. Klotz -- Declined to be interview
  • Alexandra Wrage -- No response to interview request
Now, I'm no one important or special, however the 20% response rate from the FIFA IGC does not lend me to conclude that the IGC is operating under a spirit of openness and transparency. I've not seen interviews with real members of the media of anyone on the IGC aside from Mark Pieth (and once Wrage), so perhaps I am not alone.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking into the Soul of Sport

Last week in my graduate seminar on science and technology studies we had a chance to sit down (virtually) with Brad Allenby and Dan Sarewitz, professors at Arizona State University and the authors of The Techno-Human Condition (MIT, 2011). In it they explore the consequences of the continuing integration of human beings and our technologies (a review here). Their book raises some difficult questions about what it means to be human in our modern, technological era. They argue that there is no sharp line distinguishing the human from the technological -- whether vaccines, eyeglasses, Google or any other technologies, humans and technologies are one.

Early on they invoke sport when they write:
The Tour de France has become as much a race that pits the latest doping techniques against the newest detection technologies as a contests amongst the cyclists.
In our class discussion last week Allenby raised the possibility (not the preference, I should note) that athletics might just do away with the fiction that top athletes today are anything other than techno-human hybrids, regardless where the rules draw imaginary lines.

Allenby is not alone with this suggestion. In the aftermath of the USADA report on Lance Armstrong's doping practices, Malcolm Gladwell offered a similar reaction:
"Here's my thing about Lance, and that is, our paradigm is wrong for biking. What if we thought about bicycling as just the equivalent of auto racing. It's Formula 1.

"What is Formula 1? It's the combination of a car, so an instrument. A driver, and the driver's skill. And science. So Formula 1 teams compete on these three levels simultaneously. We compete to see who has the fastest driver, we compete to see who has the best car, and we also compete in our ability to innovate within the rules, to use science to further the performance of our driver within those constraints.

"So, what if we thought about Lance and competitive cycling as auto racing. It's on three levels: you got a bike, you got a driver, and you got science. When you look at what Lance is alleged to have done, basically he was better than everyone else at using PEDs. He was the guy who sat down and was rigorous and focused and thoughtful and intelligent and cutting edge in how to use them, and apply them and make himself better. Like, I don't know, so is that a bad thing? He's being rewarded for being the best at his game. It was an element in the competition, and he used that element better than anyone else.

"Why don't we just make that a part of the definition of what it means to be a great bicyclist?"
Armstrong clearly violated the letter of the law insofar as the rules of USADA have been promulgated. But one has a harder case arguing that Armstrong violated the de facto norms of his sport. The contemporary institutional arrangements were obviously not up to the task of (publicly) identifying Armstrong's violations much less sanctioning them.

Further, Armstrong's violations of the formal rules has landed him a net worth of a reported $125 million and annual sponsorship deals worth more than $15 million. He has been handsomely rewarded for his violation of the formal rules and despite the evidence against him, his sponsors Nike, Radio Shack and Anheuser-Busch are all standing behind Armstrong. Nike explained, "Nike plans to continue to support Lance."

Armstrong's sponsors are operating under a different set of values and norms than those expressed by WADA. Professional cycling -- but also international federations, governments, sponsirs and the public -- remains of two minds on our techno-human condition. On the one hand the ideals of health, fairness and equality embodied in the WADA Code have been formally adopted by 127 international sporting federations and every country in the world. On the other hand, the case of Lance Armstrong shows that there is not a shared view in practice on the ideals set forth by WADA. The existence of rules absent shared norms is a recipe for a muddled mess.

Modern athletes are in fact techno-human hybrids. Absent bright lines between the human and the technological, if we are going to draw lines then we must draw them based on shared values and, yes, difficult political negotiations. If the formal guidelines come into conflict with the operating norms of sport, then situations like that of professional cycling will remain common. While much of the discussion of the Lance Armstrong case focuses, as it should, on the personalities involved, the issue should also prompt a deeper debate about the very soul of sport itself.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lance Armstrong and USADA's 'Reasoned Decision"

I have just started reading the magnum opus that is the USADA's "Reasoned Decision" justifying its actions against Lance Armstrong. You can find it here in PDF and here with supporting information. I will post up some thoughts before long. Here is a nice NYT overview of the report.

In light of the report, the comments by Armstrong in the video above as part of a lawsuit over his possible violation of a contract by cheating, are a bit chilling and raise the specter of possible perjury.

Here is an excerpt from a statement by George Hincapie, Armstrong's longest-serving team mate, on why he came forward:
Because of my love for the sport, the contributions I feel I have made to it, and the amount the sport of cycling has given to me over the years, it is extremely difficult today to acknowledge that during a part of my career I used banned substances. Early in my professional career, it became clear to me that, given the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete at the highest level without them. I deeply regret that choice and sincerely apologize to my family, teammates and fans.

Quietly, and in the way I know best, I have been trying to rectify that decision. I have competed clean and have not used any performance enhancing drugs or processes for the past six years. Since 2006, I have been working hard within the sport of cycling to rid it of banned substances. During this time, I continued to successfully compete at the highest level of cycling while mentoring young professional riders on the right choices to make to ensure that the culture of cycling had changed.

About two years ago, I was approached by US Federal investigators, and more recently by USADA, and asked to tell of my personal experience in these matters. I would have been much more comfortable talking only about myself, but understood that I was obligated to tell the truth about everything I knew. So that is what I did.
Lance Armstrong's lawyer released a statement in advance of the report's release:
"[T]he alleged 'reasoned decision' from USADA will be a one-sided hatchet job - a taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories ...

USADA has continued its government-funded witch hunt of only Mr. Armstrong, a retired cyclist, in violation of its own rules and due process, in spite of USADA's lack of jurisdiction, in blatant violation of the statute of limitations."
It is ironic to see Armstrong complaining about a violation of due process when he gave up his right to contest the charges via the USADA arbitration process.

The New York Times has an overwhelming amount of additional information and commentary for those wanting to dig in. Much more to come on this, no doubt.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How Match Fixing is Defined in European Institutions

One of the challenges in dealing with match fixing is that the concept is not precisely defined. As a matter of jurisprudence, match fixing necessarily must be defined precisely if it is to be governed. A standard of "I know it when I see it" (PDF) may work for obscenity laws in the United States, but cannot work for match fixing. 

To better understand how match fixing is presently definined in Europe I emailed several officials in the European Commission who are looking at this subject and here is what they reported back to me. (I appreciate their quick and substantive replies!)
The EU institutions do not precisely define 'match-fixing'. In its Communication 'Developing the European Dimension in Sport', adopted in January 2011 (http://ec.europa.eu/sport/news/communication-on-sport-adopted_en.htm), the Commission states the following:
'Match-fixing violates the ethics and integrity of sport. Whether related to influencing betting or to sporting objectives, it is a form of corruption and as such sanctioned by national criminal law. International criminal networks play a role in match-fixing associated with illicit betting. Due to the worldwide popularity of sport and the trans-frontier nature of betting activities, the problem often goes beyond the remit of national authorities. Sport stakeholders have been working with public and private betting companies to develop early warning systems and educational programmes, with mixed results. The Commission will cooperate with the Council of Europe in analysing the factors that could contribute to more effectively addressing the issue of match-fixing at national, European and international level. Integrity in sport is also one of the issues that will be addressed in the forthcoming Commission consultation on the provision of online gambling services in the EU.'
More broadly:
At European level, a definition of match-fixing has been agreed by the Council of Europe in its Recommendation on the promotion of the integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match-fixing (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/epas/resources/texts/CM_Rec_2011_10_en.pdf), which includes the following definition:
'The expression “manipulation of sports results” covers the arrangement of an irregular alteration of the course or the result of a sporting competition or any of its particular events (such as matches, races) in order to obtain an advantage for oneself or for others and to remove all or part of the uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition.'
As you may know, the Council of Europe will soon launch the negotiations for a possible Convention against the manipulation of sports results. The question of defining what match-fixing is will undoubtedly be central in the framework of these negotiations. 
I have a few thoughts in response:

1.  If the EU is to move forward on a harmonized approach to match fixing, it is going to have to define what is meant by "match fixing." As we'll see, developing a definition that leads to effective governance is no simple task.

2. The definition offered by Council of Europe has the advantage of seeking to define what is meant by "match fixing" but it is problematic in several respects.

First, the notion of "irregular alteration" simply replaces "match fixing" with another imprecise and undefined concept. For example, is the purposeful losing of a match to gain a better seed in a two-stage tournament (group/knockout) an "irregular alteration"? Does, for instance, one set of rules apply to badminton and another to football? The notion of "irregular alteration" forces a discussion of player/coach/referee intent/motives and ventures into territory that would be difficult if not impossible to regulate.

Second, and perhaps more problematic, is the notion of "uncertainty normally associated with the results of a competition." Academic literature suggests that uncertainty in results has been overplayed as an important factor in policy making (see Szymanski 2003), as the evidence is equivocal as to how much fans actually value uncertainty. Of course, if it is indeed uncertainty that really matters, then the simplest response would be to not investigate match fixing, and leave it as just another unknown variable affecting sporting outcomes. Surely, what matters to fans is their subjective uncertainty about the outcome, not objective uncertainty. In the end a metaphysical discussion of the ontological status of uncertainty in sporting events probably is not the direction to go to better govern match fixing.

The CoE definition thus restates the problem in different language and invokes a value (preservation of uncertainty) that is of dubious stature in competition.  The governance of match fixing will require some further consideration of what exactly it is that is problematic about match fixing, and the practical steps that might be taken to regulate it. This is no easy task.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"How Can FIFA be Held Accountable?" now In Press

I am happy to report that my academic paper titled, "How Can FIFA be Held Accountable?" has been accepted, pending minor modifications, for publication in the journal Sport Management Review. I have some revisions and updating to do over the next few weeks, based on some excellent suggestions from peer reviewers.

Meantime, anyone interested in the version submitted to SMR should drop me an email and I'll gladly share a copy.

Here is the paper's abstract and introduction:
How Can FIFA be Held Accountable?

 Roger Pielke, Jr.
in press, Sport Management Review

Abstract: The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, in a non-governmental organization located in Switzerland that is responsible for overseeing the quadrennial World Cup football (soccer) competition in addition to its jurisdiction over other various international competitions and aspects of international football. The organization, long accused of corruption, has been increasing criticized by observers and stakeholders for its lack of transparency and accountability. In 2011 FIFA initiated a governance reform process. This paper draws on literature in international relations to ask and answer the question: how can FIFA be held accountable? The paper's review finds that the answer to this question is "not easily." The experience in reforming the International Olympic Committee (IOC) more than a decade ago provides one model for how reform might occur in FIFA. However, any successful reform will require the successful and simultaneous application of multiple mechanisms of accountability. The FIFA case study has broader implications for understanding mechanisms of accountability more generally, especially as related to international nongovernmental organizations.


In an inauspicious coincidence, May 31, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic and it was also the date on which Joseph “Sepp” Blatter the much-criticized president of FIFA (the Fédération Internationale de Football Association)1, announced that he would see the organization through the latest charges of corruption that had been leveled against it, declaring, “I am the captain, we will weather the storm together” (Hughes, 2011a). Less than one year later, Blatter continued the metaphor, declaring that the storm had subsided, “we are back in the harbor…and are heading to calm, clearer waters" (Collett, 2012).

Despite Blatter‟s reassurances a storm of controversies continues to surround FIFA, which is the international non-governmental, non-profit organization responsible for governance of global football. The controversies included allegations of corruption such as bribery in the selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup venues (chosen as Russia and Qatar), allegations of payoffs for votes in advance of the 2011 FIFA presidential election -- complete with a sordid story of bribes delivered in brown paper bags (Kelso, 2011).

Accountability of FIFA matters for the governance of the sport, the business of football and to the larger issue of the accountability of international organizations. Football brings together people and nations in a manner arguably not seen in any other area of global society. While football itself is not necessarily big business, increasingly football has implications for big business, particularly in the consequences of the periodic decisions associated with hosting the World Cup, which is often tied to large programs of government investment in infrastructure, television rights and sponsorship deals. The governance of FIFA is also a case study in the governance of international organizations, which includes a large class of governmental and non-governmental organizations that justify their legitimacy in terms of serving broadly shared interests. Effective governance of such institutions is thus a matter of common interest (Pieth, 2011).

This paper asks and seeks to answer what seems to be a straightforward question, how can FIFA be held accountable? I answer this question by drawing on the broader academic literature on the governance of international organizations from the problem oriented perspective of the policy sciences. Specifically, I use “seven mechanisms of accountability in world politics” (Grant and Keohane, 2005; Jordan and van Tuijl, 2006) to structure an appraisal of alternative ways in which FIFA might be held accountable.2 Data on FIFA used in the appraisal, a notoriously secretive organization, comes from publicly available documents and media reports. The paper begins with short discussions of accountability and international organizations, FIFA and international football and the current crisis surrounding FIFA.

The paper concludes its survey of mechanisms of accountability with a discussion of the prospects for holding FIFA accountable in practice, drawing on the precedent of the reform of the International Olympic Committee. While the answer to the question posed in the title of this paper is that there are numerous and powerful mechanisms through which FIFA might be held accountable, such mechanisms are indirect and difficult to implement. Direct accountability of FIFA appears unlikely. Holding FIFA to account will require a degree of leadership in international sports governance that has only been hinted at to date.
Full the full pre-final-revision, send me an email request. Thanks! 

Zwanziger and Pieth at EASM 2012

Courtesy Play the Game, Speakers:
  • Theo Zwanziger, Dr., member of FIFA's Executive Committee
  • Mark Pieth, professor, University of Basel, and president, Basel Institute on Governance, Switzerland
  • Chaired by: Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor, IDHEAP (Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration), Lausanne, Switzerland

Monday, October 1, 2012

An Interview with FIFA IGC Member Michael J. Hershman

Earlier this evening I caught up by phone with Michael J. Hershman as he awaited a flight to Malaysia from JFK. Hershman is President and CEO of the Fairfax Group and a member of FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee.

Here is how his homepage describes his expertise:
Michael Hershman is an internationally recognized expert on matters relating to transparency, accountability, governance, litigation and security. The Fairfax Group, founded in 1983, has been retained by governments, corporations, law firms and international financial institutions to assist on matters relating to the conduct of senior-level officials and/or the entities with which they do business. 
I asked Hershman a set of questions that I had earlier shared with him by email. He was generous with his time and took the questions straight on, offering lengthy answers. Below are my notes of the conversation, which should be interpreted as my paraphrasing of his responses. I have offered to Hershman to correct anything that I may have gotten wrong in my relating of our conversation.
1. What has been your role in the FIFA IGC? 
Hershman explained that he was one of 6 compliance experts on the committee, which now totals 12 members, down one after Lydia Nsekera assumed a role on the FIFA Executive Committee. He explained that the job of the IGC is to propose rules, regulations and policies for FIFA governance and especially the aiding in the writing of new rules.

He said that one of the roles of the IGC is to assess FIFA’s implementation of IGC proposals. I pressed him on this issue as the IGC has no real authority or sanctioning power, and he explained that the role is primarily advisory. The IGC has met with the heads of FIFA’s new ethics and judicial mechanisms to ensure independence and resources. I take it that such assurances are entirely in the reporting of performance back to FIFA leadership.
2. Mark Pieth has said that his role as IGC chair will end May, 2013. What will be the fate of the IGC and its other members after that? What would you like it to be? 
Hershman explained that no one knows the fate of the IGC after May, 2013. In fact, he is unclear when the committee's term of service actually ends. When he was first invited to participate he was told that he was being invited to serve through 2013, which he took to be the end of the year. He is not sure where the May date originates. He also does not know what will happen when Pieth steps down. There has been no discussion of a new chair following Pieth. It is his preference, which he believes is widely shared, that the committee continue its work until the job is completed. Pieth was quite explicit in Denmark that his term would be up in May, 2013.
3. How would you assess the state of FIFA’s reform process? 
Hershman told me that slowly but surely, progress is being made. Working from a blank sheet of paper, he said, takes time. Putting policies in place is half the battle, in addition, the will to change has to be in place. For FIFA to change will require a change in culture.

I mentioned Mark Pieth’s comments at the EASM last week and his apparent negative assessment for the prospects for change. Hershman cautioned that one of the jobs of the IGC is to keep the pressure on FIFA, which I understood him as saying that that Pieth’s remarks may have been as much strategic as substantive (Note: See here for a related discussion). On the other hand, Hershman explained that many of FIFA’s leaders come from cultures and societies where such change is not readily accepted.

He explained that as a consequence of the difficulties in securing change, the IGC has to accept compromises. He cited the recommendation of the IGC for independent members to be appointed to the FIFA Executive Committee. Instead, the new independent chairs of the Ethics and Judicial committees will sit as non-voting members on the Executive Committee when relevant matters are discussed. But the IGC wanted more than this.

He volunteered that he was skeptical at the beginning about the IGC mix of compliance experts and subject matter experts (which I would characterize as outsiders and insiders). But this skepticism has proven unfounded as the committee has worked well together and all recommendations have been unanimous. Hershman explained that when appointed he didn’t know FIFA from a hole in the wall and understood the game from kids soccer. So the presence of insiders has helped to educate him about FIFA and allowed for more intelligent recommendations.
3. Lord Triesman, former FA president, said earlier this week in Aalborg, Denmark that "FIFA as it stands is incapable of cultural change, its current leadership will have to go." Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? 
Hershman explained to me that he has done a lot of work in this area and has worked for many organizations with real problems. He has yet to find an organization that cannot change its culture, which I took to mean that he does not believe that leadership change in FIFA is necessary.

He said that FIFA is under intense pressure and recognizes that they have no choice but to change. As long as the IGC believes that Sepp Blatter is truthful in his commitment to reform -- and they do -- then the IGC is confident in the prospects for change. Blatter wants to leave a legacy of good governance and really has no choice in reform.

He knows that a lot of people believe that change would happen faster with different FIFA leadership, but the IGC has to work with the FIFA leadership as it exists, which means working with the current leadership. That said, Hershman said that the IGC has met face-to-face with Blatter on many occasions and he has given them no indication other than that he is dead serious about his commitment to reform.
4. Under its new investigative mechanism, FIFA has opened an investigation of Mohammed bin Hammam as part of an ongoing dispute. Are there other issues that should be formally opened to investigate? How does an investigation become formally initiated within FIFA anyway? 
Hershman explained that Garcia has formally opened an investigation of Mohammed bin Hammam and has re-hired the firm of Louis Freeh to conduct the investigation. That said, Hershman does not believe that Garcia does not have all the resources that he will need to do his work. There will soon be a whistleblower hotline which will bring more allegations directly to Garcia’s attention.
Garcia’s committee decides on priorities by majority vote. But because Garcia has plenty of experience in such matters as compared to other members of the committee, the committee seems willing to follow his lead. In response to my pressing him a bit on this point (as Garcia is the only independent member of that committee), Hershman emphasized that Garcia’s committee is not a FIFA committee, but an ethics committee which sets its own priorities.

In conclusion I asked Hirshman about how often he personally speaks to the media and the fairness of coverage. He singled out Graham Dunbar of the AP as a fair and accurate reporter. I asked if he had any interaction with strong FIFA critics such as Jens Weinreich or Andrew Jennings. He said not much, but that Jennings had helpfully shared some useful information early on in the process.

Hirshman concluded by making a case for the critical importance of academics to get more involved in sports management as they have been late to this area. The sports community has very little training in ethics or governance.

I thank Michael for his time and candor!

Blatter Scolds Pieth

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, was apparently not happy with the recent remarks made by Mark Pieth at the EASM in Aalborg, Denmark. Graham Dunbar reports (see also World Football Insider):
Criticized on all sides after a series of scandals, FIFA's executive committee members should not be publicly targeted by the governing body's anti-corruption advisers, President Sepp Blatter said Friday.

Blatter said at a news conference that a reform drive was working and restoring FIFA's credibility. He renewed FIFA's call for world soccer to fight match-fixing and illegal betting, and added the body would seek to protect players who reported attempts to fix games.

"We are not a corrupt, or a mafia organization," he said. "It is always a question of perception and the question of reality. We are in a good mood and in a good moment, and I am sure that we will be able to succeed."

Blatter said he met the expert panel led by Mark Pieth on Thursday and corrected remarks the Swiss law professor made in Denmark last week.

Pieth had told a sports governance conference that "older" FIFA elected officials were resisting the reform proposals that Blatter invited his group to propose after bribery and vote-buying allegations damaged soccer's governing body.

Blatter said several colleagues objected to the criticism when they discussed his reform mission Friday.

"They were not happy about some declarations made by this independent committee or other officials involved there," the FIFA president told reporters, insisting: "There is no opposition in the FIFA executive committee towards the reform process."
Mark Pieth, who strongly defended Blatter in his remarks in Aalborg, has not responded to the rebuke.

What is Missing from the Nicosia Declaration

On September 20, 2012 the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commissioner responsible for Sport and the participants in the EU Sport Forum 2012 issued a joint declaration on match fixing - called the Nicosia Declaration:
Match-fixing constitutes one of the most serious threats to contemporary sport, undermining the fundamental values of integrity, fair play and respect for others. It is a growing and pressing problem affecting many Member States and many sports. Addressing the issue requires urgent, concerted, and coordinated efforts from public authorities, the sport movement and betting operators.
The short declaration highlighted five areas of emphasis:
  • Education, Prevention and Good Governance
  • Monitoring
  • Sanctions
  • Cooperation
  • International coordination
While the declaration is of course welcome, it has a large oversight in that it does not define "match fixing" in any way that would have meaning in policy making. Does match fixing only refer to associations with gambling? With a violation of fair play? Is match fixing a substantive problem? Or is it procedural?

The lastest allegations of high-profile match fixing come from French handball:
Olympic gold medallists who thrilled London crowds with their skill over the summer were among 12 French handball players arrested over match-fixing allegations today.

In dramatic scenes in Paris, they were stopped by plainclothes police during a game before being driven away for questioning.

Among them was Nikola Karabatic, the 28-year-old originally from Serbia who moved to France when he was three and is now Olympic, World and European champion.

All are suspected of getting family members, including wives and girlfriends, to place money in betting shops across France during key games.

There is little financial reward in a sport like handball, and investigators believe they may have been fixing bets to rake in thousands of euros.
The Nicoisa Declaration is a small step towards recognizing the importance of dealing with match fixing in sport, but the design and implementation of effective procedures, particularly in an international context, is going to require a lot more.

Writing at Transparency International, the always smart Sylvia Schenk offered a largely compatible analysis:
In the past two years, the world of sport and politics finally woke up to the fact that match fixing is a serious threat to the integrity and popularity of sport and the livelihoods of all those involved in sport, especially professional and amateur athletes.

The result is a flurry of international dialogues and initiatives, including a number of law enforcement partnerships and the “Nicosia declaration on the fight against match-fixing” just approved by the European Union-Sportforum under the Cyprian Presidency.

These are welcome steps. We now have serious political muscle brought to bear on a problem that has mushroomed globally, primarily because of the massive increase in sports revenues, international betting and the growth of organised crime in this area.

But sometimes I fear that many of these efforts are primarily focused on blaming the athletes, without enough attention given to the problematic circumstances they face in their respective sports and that this focus distracts from the continued lack of good governance at the top of sport organisations.
I have set forth on an academic paper on match fixing as a policy problem, so there will will more here as that goes forward ... stay tuned.