Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Interview with Simon Kuper

Simon Kuper, co-author (with Stefan Szymanski) of Soccernomics and award-winning columnist for the Financial Times, has a new book out in the United States -- Ajax, the Dutch, The War: The Strange Tale of Soccer During Europe's Darkest Hour. I interview Kuper on the book below. First, a quick capsule review.

The book is not really a book about soccer, but a book about people in remarkable times viewed through a lens of soccer. I found the book engrossing for this reason. Almost everything you read about World War II is (understandably) about the war itself: the battles, the leaders, the Nazis, the Holocaust. But for most Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s -- most non-Jewish Europeans, Kuper tells us -- the War was taking place against the backdrop of normal life. Sport is a part of that backdrop. How the war influenced and often remarkably did not influence soccer (mainly in Holland, but Kuper also discusses Germany and the UK in some depth) provides a canvas on which Kuper has written a truly unique history.

One other aspect of Kuper's book stands out for me and that is the ephemeral nature of the material he works with. In an afterward Kuper lists many of those whom he interviewed who have since passed away. World War II is quickly fading into history, though legacies remain. Kuper has written a book that helps us keep touch with that history through some of the last voices left who can tell us what happened based on their actual experiences. Ajax, the Dutch, the War is highly recommended for those interested in history and people first, soccer second. That said, no understanding the history of modern European football will be complete without reading this book.

Now, on to my interview with Kuper.
RP: In your book you observe that the day that Germany invaded Russia, 90,000 people attended the German league final. You ask “What were they thinking?” You also observe “how little the game was disrupted” during the War in Great Britain. What do you take from the apparent resilience of soccer?
SK: The main thing I learned is that the war didn't occupy most of people's attention most of the time in most of Europe. Yes, if you were Jewish or otherwise in imminent danger, then your life was the war. But in most of western Europe, most people just didn't live like that from 1939-45. I was very struck by another story that I tell in the book: at a racecourse in England in June 1940, the announcer tells the crowd that France has just surrendered. It's pretty clear that the UK might be next; Germans could start arriving any day; much of the British army is trapped in France, at Hitler's mercy. But the racing just continues! What the book showed me was that the notion we have of people's states of minds in much of Europe in this period just isn't right. Many of them weren't living the war at all.
Of course the book is also a story about the power of soccer. In 1920, soccer was still a pretty small-time upper-class pastime in most of Europe. By 1940 it's a kind of essential of life.
RP: Elsewhere you write of Holland, “If people don’t stop playing sport when their country is occupied by Nazis during World War II, when do they?” Yet, sport is generally absent in our scholarly histories (and not just in WWII). What can we see looking at history through a lens of sport in society?
SK: What sport gave me was a kind of window onto ordinary life, away from high politics and great battles. Sport is what lots of people, particularly of course men, are doing and thinking about. It's a great banal activity. Walter Benjamin talks about this sort of thing: about how the observer should look in all directions, not just upwards towards high culture and politics. That's what I was trying to do in the book.
RP: Throughout you express considerable disappointment about the differences between the Dutch history as it is told and the somewhat less romantic reality -- in places you seem even angry. Is this a fair reading of your views? Was this disappointment developed as you researched the book? How have your views evolved since?
SK: Yes I was angry. It was while researching the book that I realized that a lot of the stuff I had been taught at school and through popular Dutch books and movies in the 1970s and 1980s, the whole story of a country where everyone was in the Resistance, was false. I had been lied to. That was shocking to me because I'd always had - and still have - a lot of faith in the Dutch system. I mean, this wasn't the USSR. In the intro to the US version I describe driving through California with a friend of mine who tells me I shouldn't be surprised, all countries lie about themselves. He's quite right and during the writing of the second, British version (the first version of the book was in Dutch) I came to terms with my anger to some degree and was able to write more dispassionately. But not totally dispassionately. This is a subject I feel emotionally involved in. It's my most personal book so far.
RP: You compare soccer in Holland before World War II to the status of ping pong today. Today, soccer has achieved something that politics or economics has not – a true European union. How did this happen and what does it tell us about both Holland and broader Europe?
SK: It's true that in Europe we play soccer against each other all the time, and some teams, like Chelsea or Manchester City, are positive European unions in miniature. And people all over Europe (and the world) support e.g. Barcelona and Man United. Even when European countries play against each other, in world cups or Euros, we accept the same set of rules, and mostly these matches now pass off in a friendly atmosphere; even Germany is no longer anyone's enemy. So I think soccer has done a little to create a shared European cultural sphere. Soccer is one of the new transnational communities that lots of people belong to: e.g. on Twitter people from all over the world will support a particular club, and will discuss together the latest incident in big soccer, e.g. the Clattenburg affair. So soccer - despite the nationalist carnival of the world cup - does help break down national boundaries.

Of course the European identity itself remains quite weak and isn't represented in soccer - there isn't and there never will be an EU team. I wrote in the FT on Saturday that "nobody ever ran out of the house drunk waving an EU flag". So it's not so much that soccer makes us all into EU citizens. Rather, it does something to break down national identities, to make them less significant. E.g. even at a world cup many Liverpool fans, say, might be more sympathetic to Luis Suarez than to Wayne Rooney.
Pictured above: English football squad giving Nazi salute in Berlin, May 14, 1938. English diplomats pressured the team to make the salute. Described in Kuper's book.

RP: You write that “World War II was becoming like the American Civil War” as it fades from sight and fewer and fewer from that era are still with us. Yet, an understanding of, say, US college football is incomplete without understanding the continuing legacy of the Civil War. Similarly, you make a case that legacies of the War still exist in Dutch football (and I presume, throughout Europe). Why is it important to continue to recognize these legacies?
SK: I think these legacies are now waning, as everyone forgets the war. For decades WWII shaped life in Europe. E.g. Germans had seen that inflation had contributed to the rise of Hitler, and so first the Bundesbank and later the European Central Bank (created in the Bundesbank's image) were very tough on inflation. The very EU project was an attempt by everyone including Germany to tie Germany into a united Europe to prevent a recurrence of world war. And because of memories of Auschwitz, overt racism wasn't tolerated in European political life until after 9/11/2001.
But now all that is lifting as the world war becomes ancient history. So I think those legacies of WWII in Europe are dying.
RP: What about scenes like have been reported from West Ham-Tottenham over the weekend or the bizarre attack of Tottenham fans in Rome?
SK: I think that in the antisemitic chanting at West Ham, or the attack on Spurs fans in Rome, the thugs are using Holocaust references chiefly to give colour, excitement, to a current soccer rivalry. I.e. they are much more interested in being anti-Spurs than in pursuing neo-Nazi policies. The talk of war/Holocaust makes today's match more thrilling, to these people. I think they seize on Holocaust rhetoric because that is the ultimate form of transgression in our society - it's the easiest way to be naughty, in other words. I don't think there's any genuine desire/plan there to have another Holocaust. It's horrendous behaviour but not actually dangerous, is my take.
RP: You write that “Foreigners know little about the Netherlands, and nothing about what is sung at its soccer matches.”  Today, what little Americans know about Dutch soccer might include that they play a rough game (whether accurate or not – many saw Nigel de Jong and his World Cup judo kick) and that Jozy Altidore plays for AZ Alkmaar. As more and more Americans become soccer literate, what should they know about Dutch soccer?
SK: The Dutch gave us the dominant mode in global soccer today: the Spanish passing game. It can be dated back to Cruijff's arrival to play for Barcelona in 1973. (I go into detail on this in the new Soccernomics, the one published earlier this year.) Barcelona and particularly Guardiola evolved Dutch total soccer of the 1970s, added modern pace and defensive nous; but as Guardiola says, 'Cruijff built the cathedral'. That was one of the ironies of the world cup final: Holland were beaten by their better selves, a Dutch-inspired Spain. It's something for us Dutch fans to be proud of: we don't play the best soccer today, but we helped create it.

Oh, there's a million more things I could say about Dutch soccer. I still love it. The only team I really support in soccer is Holland - except perhaps in that embarrassing world cup final.
Thanks Simon!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

So You Fired the Coach, Now What?

So the University of Colorado did fire its football coach, despite academic research that shows that coaches don't matter. CU has faced a barrage of criticism for its firing of Jon Embree over the weekend, after just two years on the job.

Now comes the even harder part. What next?

The CU Athletic Director Mike Bohn (pictured above listening to Emree's post-firing press conference) has reaffirmed, if in a backhanded sort of way, the university's commitment to big-time athletics and a corresponding pursuit of excellence:
"If I say a 6-6 record is good enough at Colorado, what chance do we have? If I don't set the bar high, what coach is going to want to come here?"
Of course, a 6-6 record would have Embree still in his job and Bohn off the hot seat. Defending the firing, but perhaps also providing a warning about the future, the CU Chancellor provided a bit of understatement:
"It's not an exact science as far as hiring coaches"
Bohn expressed a similar sentiment:
"I can't give you a formula for success"
He'd probably better come up with one as the next coaching decision will likely cost the university many more millions of dollars. As a CU faculty member I'd feel more confident in the oversight of our football program if I had a sense that they know what they are doing. Unfortunately, I do not.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Loneliness of the Investigative Sports Reporter

The exchange in the video clip above between Lance Armstrong and Paul Kimmage from a few years back  is a must see.

While it tells us something about Armstrong, more fundamentally, it says something about the broader sports media: Why was Kimmage (mostly) alone?

Hat tip to Joe Lindsey, see this nice blog post.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Emirates Expresses Skepticism about FIFA Reform

Emirates Airlines, based in the United Arab Emirates, has expressed disappointment in FIFA's reform efforts. The Washington Post reports:
Emirates airlines wants evidence FIFA is eradicating corruption and the scandal-hit organization’s public image is improving before renewing its sponsorship.

The Dubai-based carrier’s $195 million, eight-year sponsorship of world soccer’s governing body expires in 2014.Emirates senior vice president Boutros Boutros said Friday the airline has yet to see enough progress since FIFA President Sepp Blatter instigated a reform drive to prevent a repeat of scandals that have damaged the credibility of the organization in recent years.

“So far they talk a lot about them, but we are yet to see,” Boutros Boutros said. “They look serious about it and we are optimistic. We hope they will work on it and do what the public want ... we are waiting until after 2014 to evaluate.”Asked if Emirates will ensure FIFA is no longer perceived to be a tainted organization before agreeing on a new deal, Boutros responded: “Definitely."
It is not the first time that Emirates has expressed disappointment in FIFA governance. In May, 2011 on the occasion of FIFA's 61st Congress Emirates expressed similar sentiments, along with several other major sponsors of FIFA:
Visa Inc and Emirates Airlines were the latest of FIFA's most important sponsors, or Partners as the governing body calls them, to express disquiet at recent allegations of corruption.

"The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that FIFA take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised," Visa Europe said in a statement.

Emirates airline expressed its concern saying it was "disappointed with the issues that are currently surrounding the administration of the sport."

Earlier, Coca-Cola said the allegations were "distressing and bad for the sport." German sportswear maker Adidas also said the controversy had hurt soccer.

The other two members of the six-strong group of Partners, Sony and Hyundai-Kia, had made no comment on the recent claims of bribery in the presidential election campaign and in last year's World Cup vote. 
Despite the expressed concerns, the sponsors have exhibited minimal public pressure on FIFA. The general perception among those in sports marketing is that such expressions of concern are simply that -- for instance:
FIFA's major sponsors are talking tough over corruption allegations that are rocking soccer's governing body, but marketing experts doubt their words will translate into actions that could cost the organization lucrative deals.

"Based on history, one would not expect the sponsors to do much more than issue statements in favor of ethical behavior and opposed to unethical behavior," said Marc Ganis, president of consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd.
It would indeed be a major action if a FIFA sponsor walked away from sponsorship due to unhappiness with reform efforts. At this point it also seems highly unlikely.

Friday, November 23, 2012

More Thoughts on Firing the Coach

In the Boulder Daily Camera today, @BrianHowell33 has an in-depth look at college football programs who have struggled under the first two years of a coaching regime. The topic is of course on people's mind here in Boulder because the Colorado Buffaloes football team is suffering through its worst season ever and 7 seasons without a winning record. So a question faced by the University administration is what, if anything, to do about it?

Howell writes:
Today, Colorado (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12) will put an end to a miserable season when it hosts Utah (4-7, 2-6) at Folsom Field. If the Buffs lose, they'll finish with the worst record in school history. They are 0-5 at Folsom Field and face the prospect of losing every home game for the first time since 1891 -- CU's second season of football and a year that included just two home games. The current Buffs have been pounded week after week for the past two months.

Some CU fans are hopeful that second-year head coach Jon Embree, who is 4-20 since taking over in 2011, will be cleaning out his office before the two-year anniversary of his hire date, on Dec. 6.
Last week I discussed an academic paper that looked at the fortunes of college football programs that fired their coaches (ironically enough, with a lead author from Colorado). That paper -- Adler et al. --  suggested that programs that replace their coaches due to poor performance in general do not see improvements when a new coach is hired. Adler et al. conclude:
[A]t least with respect to on-field performance, coach replacement can be expected to be, at best, a break-even antidote.
Data provided by Howell supports the conclusions of Adler et al. but also suggests a slightly different take:
Since the 2000 season, 26 other [than Colorado's Embree] FBS coaches have won five games or less during their first two years on the job. Another 32 won fewer than nine games.

Among those 58 coaches, just eight were fired at the end of their second year. In most cases, schools gave their coaches several years to try to get it right.

That group of coaches includes several that never did -- or have yet to -- get their teams on a winning track. Duke's Ted Roof went 6-45 in four-plus seasons. Greg Robinson went 10-37 in four years at Syracuse. Stanford's Buddy Teevens was 10-23 in three years, Mississippi's Ed Orgeron was 10-25 in three years and Washington's Tyrone Willingham went 11-37 in four years.

That group also includes 18 coaches that eventually led their team to at least one bowl game (San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre will join that list this year).

Tommy West of Memphis (five bowls), Kentucky's Rich Brooks (four bowls), Kansas' Mark Mangino (four bowls), Arizona's Mike Stoops (three bowls), Ron Zook of Illinois (three bowls) and Ball State's Brady Hoke (two bowls) all led their teams to success after a poor first two seasons on the job.
Those 58 coaches represent just about half of all coaches replaced since 2000. If the other half won 9 games or more in their first two seasons, then we can conclude that "success" is indeed just about a break even proposition.

That said, the success stories are worth noting:
Of the 58 coaches since 2000 to win eight or fewer games through two years, just 18 (31 percent) of them eventually took their team to a bowl game. That includes Embree's predecessor, Dan Hawkins, whose tenure at CU would hardly be considered a success.

Of the 18, just 10 went to multiple bowl games, so clearly the odds are against Embree.

The good news for Embree and the Buffs, however, is that it can be done and when it is done, the taste of success is so sweet.

Within four years of Sports Illustrated profiling its retched program, Rutgers played in two bowl games, vaulted into the top 10 of the national rankings and gained a major victory in recruiting by beating traditional power Ohio State for tackle Anthony Davis, one of the top prep players in New Jersey. Davis was an All-American at Rutgers and became the No. 11 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson (4-20 through two years) led the Commodores to a bowl game in his seventh season. It was Vandy's first bowl appearance in 26 years.
So based on history, Colorado's Sean Embree has about a 17% chance of taking Colorado to multiple bowl games from this point in his career. At the same time, the record of coaching replacement presented by Howell gives about a 50% chance of 9 or more wins over the next 2 seasons, or about double what the Buffs have seen the past two seasons. Of course, given that the Buffs on-field performance can only improve, whatever decision that Colorado administrators make about the coaching staff, it will probably look like a good one for the next year or two.

More generally, are the experiences of Rutgers, Memphis, Kentucky, Kansas, etc. simply a consequence of the statistics of hindsight? Or is there actually an art to turning around football programs? If so, then Colorado might apply a bit more statistical insight into its coaching decision. The conclusion they should reach is not that the head coach doesn't matter (an implication of Adler et al.) but instead, picking the right coach makes all the difference. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Coaching Changes and the Limits of Social Science

A new paper has been published in Social Science Quarterly on the performance consequences of college football coaching head changes by a team of authors, including several from the University of Colorado (my university).

The paper, "Pushing “Reset”: The Conditional Effects of Coaching Replacements on College Football Performance" by Adler et al., concludes:
We find that for particularly poorly performing teams, coach replacements have little effect on team performance as measured against comparable teams that did not replace their coach. However, for teams with middling records—that is, teams where entry conditions for a new coach appear to be more favorable—replacing the head coach appears to result in worse performance over subsequent years than comparable teams who retained their coach.
They draw some practical conclusions from their study:
Our findings have important practical implications for the high stakes environment that is contemporary college football. When a college football team's performance is disappointing, the first and often only remedy administrators, fans, and sports writers turn to is firing the coach. This is usually an expensive approach to solving the problem.12 In fact, the concern of sky-rocketing head coaching salaries was the key finding in a 2009 Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics report based on interviews with 95 FBS university presidents (Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, 2009). Despite the fanfare that often accompanies the hiring of a new coach, our research demonstrates that at least with respect to on-field performance, coach replacement can be expected to be, at best, a break-even antidote. These findings, coupled with the significant costs universities typically incur by choosing to replace a head football coach, suggest that universities should be cautious in their decision to discharge their coach for performance reasons.
A big problem with this paper, which is endemic across social science research, is the making of a connection of a "Large N" study to particular policy contexts, that is, a single N. Let me explain.

The paper looked at 263 coaching changes form 1997 to 2010 and performed a range of statistical tests on the data, and concludes:
[T[he key findings are that coaching replacements, on average, appear to provide short-term benefits to teams that are performing extremely poorly. However, if anything, they have a deleterious effect on performance among teams where entry conditions are most favorable. Importantly, this dispels the common rationale used by university athletic directors when firing the head coach, namely, that replacing the incumbent coach is a necessary step to improve on-field performance. Our findings demonstrate that the actual effects of such replacements are generally the opposite of what is intended.
The key phrases here are "on average" and "generally." The data shows a distribution of outcomes, from a degradation of performance to an improvement.

When universities replace coaches, they are not making a "Large N" decisions, but a N=1 decision. The important policy question is not "what happens in general?" but "how do we arrive on the right side of the performance distribution?"

Individual coaches are not "unique trials" in a random statistical distribution, but living breathing humans with unique characteristics and skills. We know from other research that individual coaches can add value to a team's performance. The key is context -- what coaches in what settings with what resources?
Would anyone like to argue that Bill Snyder at KSU was not key two different times to improving Kansas State football performance? or Bill McCartney in the 1980s here at Colorado?

To be fair, Adler et al. do recognize this possibility in the paper, writing:
As with any statistical analysis, we cannot rule out the possibility that some specific instances of coaching replacements truly benefit a team. This is certainly a possibility and there is little doubt that many commentators, school administrators, and other observers believe that coaching changes are often responsible for turnarounds in team performance. However, it is important to bear in mind that the fact that a team’s performance improves following a coaching replacement does not necessarily mean that the coach should be given credit for the improvement.
However, the paper does not tell us from its analysis what factors are correlated or otherwise connected to performance improvement. What they have told us is that in aggregate, coaching changes don't work out. Fair enough.

However, that Large N finding tells us very little about particulars and is far from the sort of information that can help a particular struggling program decide whether a coaching change might be a key factor contributing to improved performance.

A Review of Domestic Anti-Doping Legislation

A recent study by Barrie Houlihan and Borja Garcia of the University of Loughborough in the UK has surveyed UNESCO countries for the presence of anti-doping legislation governing sport (or PEDS, performance enhancing drugs).

They explain their focus (here in PDF) as follows:
The intention was to obtain responses from those in government directly responsible for ensuring their country’s compliance with its commitments under the terms of the UNESCO Convention Against Doping in Sport.
They only received responses for 55 of 153 UNESCO countries, of which 51 were substantive enough for analysis. That leaves about 100 UNESCO countries unsurveyed by this paper. More than 200 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympics. A summary of their findings appears in the table below.
Only 18 countries have PEDS-specific legislation. An additional 25 have relevant, but not focused, legislation.

The US does not have PEDS-specific legislation, and the paper notes:
The United States, which has made considerable progress in tackling doping in sport in recent years, is a good example. PEDS trafficking falls under the remit of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), but ‘there is not a comprehensive set of PEDS chemicals included within the purview of the CSA; rather, only those PEDS which have additional characteristics of abuse potential or health risk are listed under CSA’. While anabolic steroids, for example, are covered and traffickers can receive a prison term ‘many substances of concern for PEDS are not addressed under CSA scheduling’ and are unlikely to be addressed as ‘the criteria for inclusion of any particular substance under CSA and scheduling purview are distinct from their impact on performance-enhancement, per se’
More generally, the paper concludes:
The research identified two broad approaches to tackling the issue of the production, movement, importation, distribution and supply of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. The first approach was to introduce laws specifically designed to address PEDS trafficking and the second was to utilise and/or amend existing legislation concerned with recreational drugs. Successful sporting countries were more likely to be found among the former group. More importantly countries which had introduced PEDS-specific legislation were more likely to have a NADO which is actively involved in the investigative process concerning PEDS trafficking. In addition, countries which had introduced PEDS-specific legislation appeared to be more likely to pursue cases through to conviction. However, two caveats are required, first, where PEDS-specific legislation is absent identifying PEDS cases from among the range of general drugs cases is not easy and second, much of the PEDS-specific legislation is relatively recent and there is often a time-lag between the introduction of new legislation and its incorporation into the routines of the police, the prosecution services and the courts.
Such reviews are incredibly important for mapping the policy terrain of sports governance, especially as greater integration and harmonization becomes important.

Reference: Barrie Houlihan and Borja García, 2012. The use of legislation in relation to controlling the production, movement, importation, distribution and supply of performance-enhancing drugs in sport (PEDS), Institute of Sport and Leisure Policy School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK. (PDF).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Has Switzerland Finally Woken Up?

Last week the Swiss Federal Council issued a report on match fixing and corruption in sport. A press release can be found here in English and full report here in French (PDF).  Play the Game offered a summary of the report:
Switzerland is a preferred place for sports organisations to be based due to a favourable legal framework, now the Swiss Council of States Science, Education and Culture Committee, under which sport is categorised, has requested a report from the Federal Council looking into how corruption and match-fixing in sport can be effectively combated.

The Federal Council, which constitutes the federal government in Switzerland, was asked to do an examination of the current measures and to consider possible new legislation on the area.
The report names five measures for the state to examine:
  1. the strengthening of international cooperation
  2. a tightening of the Swiss corruption legislation
  3. making fraud in sport a criminal offence
  4. making new criminal dispositions for companies
  5. the adequacy of criminal procedures following offences
The Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports issued a press release characterizing the significance of the report, and suggested that it could be quite significant indeed:
The report concludes that anti-corruption measures currently taken by international sports associations are insufficient. Sport has to take more robust action against corruption in its own ranks. Harmonised and binding good governance systems are required at all levels of organised sport. At the same time, the government is also under pressure to act. What is at stake is not just sport's integrity but also Switzerland's reputation as the home to numerous international sports associations.

Switzerland is currently examining other measures such as making fraud in sport a criminal offence. The tightening of Swiss corruption legislation must be addressed as well. Here the issue of whether members of national and international sport associations based in Switzerland should be made subject to the Swiss criminal law on corruption must be examined.

An aim will also be to promote closer international cooperation, since these unfair practices have become global phenomena.

In a joint effort, the FDJP and DDPS will take a closer look at the potential solutions outlined in the Federal Council report. The Federal Council has requested both departments to draw up specific regulatory proposals.
Kier Radnedge offered an optimistic view on the significance of the report, suggesting that Swiss politicians have finally "woken up"::
This is a remarkable state of enlightenment after decades of virtually non-existent regulation suggested that Switzerland acquiesced in a sports authority culture which believed in encouraging interests (personal, financial) rather than guarding against their conflict.
In my recent analysis of the opportunities to hold FIFA accountable, currently in press, I identified Swiss law as one of the mechanisms through which FIFA could be held accountable. Most international sports associations are incorporated in Switzerland. But I also noted the long-standing reluctance of Swiss officials to exercise that authority.

With FIFA closing down its reform process with, arguably, only partial success, continued motivation for change will have to come from somewhere. Perhaps the Swiss government has indeed finally woken up.

Friday, November 9, 2012

FIFA Begins Closing Down its Reform Process

The four FIFA Task Forces which were created at the request of the FIFA Executive Committee in October 2011 have all concluded their mandate to propose reforms, as part of the process which was launched during the FIFA Congress in Zurich on 1 June 2011.

The proposals of the Task Force FIFA Ethics Committee and the Task Force Transparency and Compliance, in particular with regards to the creation of the two-chamber Ethics Committee and the creation of the Audit & Compliance Committee, in both cases with independent chairmen, were already approved by the FIFA Congress in Budapest on 25 May 2012. Additionally, the new FIFA Code of Conduct and the appointment of a woman for the first time in the FIFA Executive Committee were also approved that day.
FIFA says that the reform effort officially ends next May, according to Sepp Blatter:
"But our work does not end here. The reform process will continue, as planned, until the 2013 Congress."
How did they do?  Here is my earlier report card.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

UCI's Legal Woes

The international body which governs cycling -- the Union Cycliste Internationale or UCI -- continues to face fallout from the Lance Armstrong affair. Today the WSJ reports that the UCI has been sued by a Swiss-based clothing company, Skins:
Sportswear group Skins International Trading AG is seeking damages from cycling's governing body in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Skins, an official clothing supplier and sponsor to national federations including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand; and professional teams such as RabobankEuropcar and NetApp, sent a letter to the Union Cycliste Internationaleor UCI, Friday claiming its brand reputation has been harmed.

In a letter, Cedric Aguet, Swiss-based attorney for Skins claims that the way the UCI, former president Hein Verbruggen and current President Patrick McQuaid handled the case surrounding Mr. Armstrong was the main cause for the "total loss of confidence" in professional cycling and so harming Skins and other brands that support the sport.
The full letter from Skins to UCI can be found here in PDFWriting on his blog at the Skins website, CEO Jamie Fuller explains their actions as follows:
The events of the last several months or so have made it abundantly clear that world cycling has not been the sport the general public and the corporate partners thought it was. Consequently, as Chairman of a company that has made a significant financial and emotional investment, I am acting in order to send a message to the UCI and its senior office bearers that gross mis-management and betrayal of trust is completely unacceptable.

The recent report from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which blew the lid off Lance Armstrong’s systematic control of widespread doping, proved that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and its two leading figures, President Pat McQuaid and Honorary President For Life, Hein Verbruggen, have failed to eradicate cheating within the sport. In fact, Mr. McQuaid and Mr. Verbruggen refused to even acknowledge that the problem was so entrenched until USADA forced them into submission. In short, we say that the UCI, Mr. McQuaid and Mr. Verbruggen have failed us, the sport and the public who love cycling. We also believe the USADA revelations of widespread doping activity have raised wider, cultural issues within the UCI relating to an apparent inability to rid the sport of doping over an extended period of time.

Consequently, it is now clear that Skins’ financial and emotional investment into cycling has been damaged and our legitimate commercial expectations have been betrayed. If the public no longer have confidence that cycling is ‘clean’ they may question those who support its existence.

The UCI’s decision to uphold the USADA report and strip Lance Armstrong of his 7 Tour de France titles, was proof of their acceptance that he cheated in order to be successful. As a sponsor and commercial partner in the sport, and as a company that produces high performance sports compression wear off the back of cycling’s supposedly clean, vibrant and healthy image, our trust in those at the top has been crushed. Our credibility as a company that promotes true competition, fitness and overall health and wellbeing has been affected by our own promotion of its ‘virtues’.
It is not clear what legal basis under Swiss law Skins is filing the lawsuit, however a successful judgment would have broad implications for all of sports governance.

The lawsuit follows one filed by a journalist, Paul Kimmage, against UCI by the same Swiss law firm. A press release described the suit as follows, as summarized by Play the Game:
According to the press release, Kimmage has sent a “criminal complaint and denunciation against Hein Verbruggen, Pat McQuaid and unknown persons against whom Paul Kimmage requests the opening of a criminal investigation for slander/defamation, denigration and for strong suspicions of fraud.”

The press release further states that Kimmage has initiated the proceedings in honour of the whistle-blowers, who have been “dismissed as ‘liars’, ‘cowards,’ or ‘scumbags’ by Hein Verbruggen and/or Pat McQuaid.”
The resolution of these lawsuits will bear watching.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Doping Era Climb Times for Alpe d'Huez

The graph above shows average winning climb times for the famous Alpe d'Huez ascent in the Tour de France (data comes from Wikipedia, note that not all years are represented). The degree of improvement in a short time period is evocative of East German swimmers of the 1970s.

It is routinely and correctly stated that performance improvements are not sufficient evidence of doping violations, but the Alpe d'Huez performance shown above sure should have raised some eyebrows. I have long wondered why the Tour did not publish a readily accessible time series of rider times. Perhaps this is why.

Thanks to @ReinerGrundmann for the inspiration and link to data for this post!