Saturday, June 22, 2013

NYT on Sunil Gulati

It is encouraging to see the mainstream media paying attention to FIFA governance and the role of Sunil Gulati in it. A few days ago the NYT did an analytical piece on Gulati's new role. Here is an excerpt:
Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, was elected to the 25-member executive committee of FIFA, soccer’s governing body, in an 18-17 vote by members of Concacaf, the regional organization consisting of countries from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

On the surface, this is positive: the United States now has a seat at the table, as Gulati said, in the group that makes most of the important decisions in global soccer, including selecting the dates and sites for major tournaments. That presence is no small development for a country that has problems related to its own professional league. Major League Soccer does not have a promotion-and-relegation system, unlike most of the rest of the world, and it does not play its season in the traditional international window; having FIFA’s approval for these idiosyncrasies, Gulati noted, is important.

So from that perspective, Gulati’s election is encouraging. But it also feels a bit as if a child has put on a crisp white suit just before going out to play beside a giant mud puddle.

Global soccer is, at present, a quagmire of corruption. Bribery, blackmail and cronyism are rampant, and in recent years as many as 10 members of the executive committee have been linked to venalities of varying degrees.
Read the whole piece here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Grant Wahl Interviews Sunil Gulati: Welcome to the Real World

Sports Illustrated has posted an valuable interview with Sunil Gulati, president of US Soccer and newly elected representative of CONCACAF to the FIFA Executive Committee. In the interview Grant Wahl asked lots of questions about FIFA governance.  Here are some excerpts and my commentary.

It is interesting to learn the amount of information that Gulati did not have. For instance, here are some examples excerpted from the interview:
Wahl: [Which] FIFA committees are you on right now?
Gulati: I don't know yet. That's to be determined

Wahl: You're unpaid in your position as U.S. Soccer president. You will be paid as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee. How much?
Gulati: Formally, I haven't been told that yet. I'm sure I'll find out in the weeks to come and I'll find out the rules and regulations about disclosure.

Wahl: Is there a specific FIFA policy that prohibits disclosure?
Gulati: I've asked that question and I don't know the answer to that.

Wahl: Do you know how much Blatter receives in compensation?
Gulati: No.

Wahl: Should members of the FIFA ExCo know such a thing?
Gulati: I'm sure some members of the FIFA ExCo do. I don't.
Gulati explained what it means to be on the ExCo:
Gulati: What does [the FIFA ExCo spot] mean? It's a seat at the table of essentially the board of directors of the body that governs soccer throughout the world. So whether it's discussions about the long-term growth of the game or changes to the laws of the game, which eventually go to the IFAB, or the use of funds from the World Cup and how those are divvied up, development funds, all those things. It's a normal board of directors, so having a voice there is certainly positive.
A member of a board of directors ought to know many of the things that Gulati does not, so hopefully Wahl or other reporters will follow up with many of these same questions in the fall.
Wahl asked Gulati about the recent CONCACAF Integrity report, and the limited answer provided by Gulati suggests that he was without much information at all about CONCACAF governance in recent years as a member of its Executive Committee:<
Wahl: The CONCACAF Integrity Report came out and there were some staggering examples of improper behavior by former leaders Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner in the report. You served on the CONCACAF Executive Committee during their time in power. Were you aware of their activities in that report?
Gulati: The answer is no.

Wahl: There was good journalism done — admittedly not enough by me, but by others — revealing improper behavior that ended up in that Integrity Report. Do you feel like you should have done more?
Gulati: There are two things. One can always say one should do more in certain situations. But secondly, and more importantly, in the midst of various legal proceedings, I'm not going to talk about this. I'm not involved in any legal proceedings, but I think it would be inappropriate to say very much about that given FIFA proceedings and other potential proceedings.

Wahl: Are we looking at FBI and IRS investigations into Blazer and Warner, as has been reported?
Gulati: Given various proceedings, I'm not going to comment on anything else here.
It is of course fair enough and to be expected that Gulati does not want to discuss the issues associated with corruption in CONCACAF. However, it is remarkable that as a member of the CONCACAF Executive Committee (that organization's "board of directors") Gulati was completely unaware of the finances of the organization -- which as we have learned were often co-mingled with the personal finances of Jack Warner an Chuck Blazer. 

Recall that Blazer and Warner appropriated approximately $88 million of football funds for personal use. How does that go unnoticed by the CONCACAF Board? Should a member of the CONCACAF ExCo have known more? I would expect that Gulati will face -- appropriately so -- further questions about what he did and did not know, from the media and various investigators.

Wahl asked Gulati about his views on the FIFA reform process and the criticisms that former FIFA IGC member Alexandra Wrage made about the process (she ultimately resigned from the committee in April):
Wahl: You just got back from the FIFA congress in Mauritius. How would you grade the FIFA reform process and what it's accomplished so far?

Gulati: Well, since what I do for a living is grade students, I'd say incomplete. What's been done up to now, I think, is a long way toward addressing some of the issues, but I think more needs to be done. So setting up independent chambers on the ethics panel for adjudicating and investigating, that's a big plus. Setting up the external audit and compliance group under Domenico Scala is a great advance. And the people that are in charge of those three groups, from everything I've seen, read and witnessed and talked with them about, are highly qualified and highly professional. That's a big plus.

The rewriting of the ethics code is a big plus. It's pretty clear what's happened the last few years with seven, eight, nine people who've left the ExCo either by their own decision or by formal investigation or some combination of both. That doesn't happen if people are just saying let's forget about the past and move on. Some of those things happened a long time ago. Under the new code of ethics they can be investigated and disciplined for that. Those are all pluses.

There are any number of other things, in terms of the funding of programs, the audit and compliance area, the transparency of funding development projects, external bids within the general area of finance the whole bidding process has changed. I'm not talking about the World Cup bidding process, but the bidding process for contracts with FIFA for business.

The changes are incomplete in my view on the World Cup [host] decision-making. The only formal decision to be made so far is the final decision will be made by 209 countries.

Wahl: Alexandra Wrage resigned from the IGC and had a very public critique of the IGC's work. Do you think her criticism was off the mark?
Gulati: I don't agree with Alexandra's comments. I think much was accomplished in the process and much still needs to be done. To the extent she believes other things still need to be done, that's fine. To the extent she believes the 18 months didn't accomplish anything, I think that's off the mark. Frankly, I think [her criticism] was unfair to the three people that are now in charge of the adjudication, investigation and audit/compliance [bodies], all of whom to me are highly qualified, highly independent and have done from what I've seen so far a commendable job on the issues.
Gulati's optimistic view of the reform process jibes with FIFA's own view, but is hard to square with an objective evaluation.

Finally, one of Gulati's comments was revealing for what it says about how those who govern football view the world. When Wahl asked Gulati about US support for Blatter in the 2011 FIFA election, noting that he was the only one on the ballot. Gulati replied:
Gulati: [F]rankly I'm not sure what world you live in. I live in the real world.
At some point Sunil Gulati will have to choose between the red pill and the blue pill. He is not quite there yet. As Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix, "Welcome to the real world."

Analysis: A Report Card on FIFA Reform

Over at Play the Game I have a new analysis up focused on a (somewhat) objective evaluation of the FIFA reform process. Here is how it begins:
Last month at the FIFA Congress in Mauritius FIFA President Sepp Blatter declared that the governance reform process that he had initiated two years earlier had come to a close, "We have been through a difficult time. It has been a test for football and those who lead it. As your captain, I can say we have weathered the storm." 

Mark Pieth, a professor at the Basel Institute of Governance and the man hand-picked by Blatter to lead the FIFA Independent Governance Committee to advise the reform process, said of the two-year effort, “In a relatively short space of time, it's quite spectacular so far what has been achieved.” FIFA announced that the process had been a resounding success: “the majority of the reform recommendations by the IGC were implemented.”

Such comments are difficult to reconcile with the perspectives of other close observers. One member of the FIFA IGC, Alexandra Wrage, a governance expert and president of TRACE International, resigned from the committee just over a month before the Congress in Mauritius, explaining, “It’s been the least productive project I’ve ever been involved in. There’s no doubt about that.”

Following the Congress, Guido Tognoni, former FIFA Secretary General, told a Swiss television station that, “Mark Pieth has good intentions but to me he’s like Sepp Blatter’s poodle. He must bark loud but he’s not allowed to bite. He had a promising approach but, of course, he’s banging his head against a block of granite.”

With such claims and counter-claims flying about, colored by interests and personalities, it can be very difficult to get a sense of what was actually accomplished in the FIFA reform process. In order to provide a somewhat more objective basis for evaluating the process, I have undertaken a formal evaluation, with a first look at the results presented here.
To see how the evaluation comes out, both for FIFA and for its IGC, head over here. Comments welcomed here or by email, as this is a work in progress.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Further Thoughts on Sepp Blatter's FIFA Salary

A few months ago I offered a guesstimate at Sepp Blatter's FIFA salary of $6 million. I have just read through the 2012 FIFA Financial Report which was released a few weeks ago in Mauritius (here in PDF) and have a few additional thoughts.

In 2012 FIFA had total personnel expenses of $90,649,000 covering 412 employees, for an average of about $220,000 per employee (from p. 73). However, the report also notes that "key personnel" received $33,500,000 in compensation in 2012 (from p. 94). These "key personnel" include members of the FIFA Executive Committee, Finance Committee and management.

If we subtract the compensation of the "key personnel" from the total and also the 38 personnel who fall in that category, we find that the average salary of a non-key FIFA employee is about $153,000.

There are 25 members listed on FIFA's Executive Committee (let's set aside those who are suspended or otherwise outcast) including FIFA President Sepp Blatter. The Finance Committee is comprised of member of the ExCo, but for salary purposes, let's treat them as separate salaries. We do not know how much compensation these 25 receive, we just have a snippet of information from Mohammed bin Hammam in 2011 who revealed the ExCo compensation in 2010 to be 200,000 Euros, or about $280,000.

Since 2010 was a World Cup year FIFA's revenues were high and the pay to the ExCo was apparently high as well:
"We don't get any salaries," Bin Hammam said. "We are only getting bonuses [and FIFA expense reimbursements]." One FIFA source told that personal bonuses for the executive committee are larger in years when FIFA's profits are higher, as was the case in 2010.
For simplicity sake and to likely err on the over, let's go with $250,000 as the average compensation of the 24 members of the Executive Committee (minus Blatter) including whatever bonuses are received by those 6 ExCo members who put in additional duties on the Finance Committee. That totals $6 million.

If we subtract that total from the $33.5 million that leaves $27.5 million to be allocated across FIFA management, shown in the organization chart below from the FIFA website showing its administration:
That means 13 individuals average annual compensation of $2.12 million each. I see perhaps 5 or 6 organizational levels in the organization chart. Assuming a simple rule that salaries double from one level to the next, and that the lowest "key personnel" makes $400,000 per year implies that Blatter makes >$12 million per year. That seems high. You can play around with the allocation of the $27.5 million in any number of hypothetical ways, of course, and unless FIFA has a somewhat flat salary structure, it is hard to come up with an allocation to Blatter of $6 million or less, which would be 2-3 times the average of the "key personnel." The alternative of course is that the "key personnel" are very handsomely paid.
So right now, I'm taking the over on my April guesstimate as a slightly better than 50-50 proposition. I am pretty confident that (let's say 95%) that Blatter's 2012 salary falls into the range of $2.12 million ("key personnel" average) and $12 million (~6 times the "key personnel" average). That's my guesstimate for today.

Analytics Advice for Phil: Putt for Show, Drive for Dough

If you have another look at the title of this post you'll see that it flips on its head conventional wisdom about golf scoring, where it is almost an article of faith that matches and tournaments are won via the short game. Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia Business School, published a paper in 2011 (here in PDF) which took a look at 8 years of data (2003-2010) on the PGA Tour to rigorously evaluate where the pros gained the most shots.

What he found was surprising:
Many people claim that the short game and putting are the most important determinants of golf scores. For example, Pelz (1999, p.1) writes, “60% to 65% of all golf shots occur inside 100 yards of the hole. More important, about 80% of the shots golfers lose to par occur inside 100 yards.” Several academic studies have reached similar conclusions. In contrast, strokes gained analysis of PGA TOUR data shows that the long game is the most important factor explaining the variability in professional golf scores. . .

The availability of detailed golf shot data makes it possible to create golf measures that allow consistent comparisons between different parts of the game. Using the starting and ending locations of each shot, strokes gained gives the number of strokes a golfer gains or loses relative to an average PGA TOUR tournament field. Analysis of over eight million shots on the PGA TOUR in 2003-2010 shows that the long game (defined as shots starting over 100 yards from the hole) accounts for more than two-thirds of the scoring differences between PGA TOUR golfers.
Of the three components to the game -- long (>100 yards), short, and putting -- the contribution of the long game to shots gained (over the average player) is huge:
Using data from 2003-2010 for golfers with at least 120 rounds, the contributions to total strokes gained are 72%, 11% and 17% for the long game, short game and putting, respectively. By this measure, the long game explains more than two-thirds of the variation in total strokes gained.
So when Justin Rose won the US Open yesterday, what you saw was the consequence driving in the fairway and long irons to the green, just as Broadie's research indicates is most important. Mickelson falling short resulted not from his short game -- though missed putts and a thin sand wedge from the green made for good TV -- but his inability to hit the fairway and the poor position that placed him in for his long approaches.
Based on the data that Broadie provides for individual players we can look at this another way. If Mickelson improves his putting and short game by another 20% (from his 2003-2010 average) he would gain an additional 0.12 strokes per round over his competition. In contrast, were he to improve his long game by 20%, he would gain 0.24 strokes per round - or a stroke per tournament.

The data show that Mickelson was 12th overall in both the long and short game and 95th in putting.  This would suggest that he has the most to gain in improving his putting. However, when looked at in terms of strokes gained, Mickelson was almost a full stroke behind the Tour leader in the long game, 0.22 in the short game and 0.57 in putting.

If these findings hold today (would need updated data to determine) then this suggests that Phil has a lot more room for relative improvement in the long game than in putting and the short game combined.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The BCCI's "Operation Clean Up": Governance not Cheerleaders

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has announced a 12-point plan to address the fixing scandal that threatens the Indian Premier League. First, some background courtesy of the WSJ:
Shoving a towel into their waistbands, fiddling with a necklace, untucking their shirts; these are signals that investigators allege three Indian cricketers used to communicate with bookmakers across India in an attempt to fix parts of matches for illicit financial gain.

Delhi Police said Thursday they had arrested three players from the Rajasthan Royals cricket franchise for allegedly spot-fixing—trying to arrange a predetermined outcome in certain key moments—in the Indian Premier League. The league is a hugely popular annual tournament involving many of the best cricketers from

Spot fixing in cricket occurs when a player deliberately rigs part of the game, for example by bowling a poor delivery from which a batsman can easily score runs. Several high-profile international convictions have tarnished the sport in recent years, which resulted in fines, player bans and even jail time.
The scandal has already led the head of the BCCI, which oversees cricket in India, to step aside. The BCCI 12-point plan is a further response to the scandal.

The 12-point plan is as follows:
1. Removal of sleaze; no cheerleaders, no after-match parties for players and support staff.
2. Strict code of conduct to be followed by players, support staff and franchise owners.
3. Restriction of movement in players’ dug-out and dressing room. The owners from now on will be restricted from entering the dug-out and dressing room during matches.
4. All players and support staff of franchises need to furnish their telephone numbers with the BCCI before the start of the tournament.
5. Adequate number of ACSU officials in the team hotel as well as the ground to supervise the proceedings.
6. Jamming of cell phone towers at the ground during matches.
7. Captains’ meeting to be held in order to get more suggestions and prepare elaborate blueprint.
8. No national selector will be allowed to get associated with any franchise in any capacity.
9. All the players need to disclose every financial transaction they are carrying out with any particular organisation or person.
10. Franchises need to furnish all details of the remunerations and contractual obligations of players and support staff.
11. Players from now on will be prohibited from using ear plugs and microphones.
12. Security control policy will be formulated soon.
These proposals range from the farcical (no cheerleaders as a way of addressing fixing?!) and the just plain dumb ((jamming of cell phone towers?) to the profoundly innovative (player disclosure of financial transactions). Journalists, professors (me included) and politicians routinely have to disclose remuneration which falls outside of their professional contracts. Why not athletes?  In the US the NFL has already adopted a similar set of policies.

Reform is likely going to have to go deeper. In a 2011 submission to an inquiry on governance of the International Cricket Council, Transparency International made recommendations for the harmonization of governance standards across ICC member federations. These were as follows:
30. The ICC should require, as a condition of membership, that domestic boards have in place codes of conduct and procedures that reflect the global best practice that TI recommends ICC itself puts into place.

This would include:

• Tone from the top and ethical leadership
• Code of ethical conduct covering all relevant areas including conflicts of interest
• Risk assessment
• Best-practice policies and procedures and their independent monitoring and review
• Creation of an Anti-corruption Tribunal at domestic level to hold individuals and organisations to account, if existing anti-corruption mechanisms are inadequate.

31. All of the above would need to be underpinned by greater transparency and independence, with the ICC having oversight of each domestic board’s adherence to these requirements. The ICC should be able to review whether domestic boards are adhering to these codes of conduct and procedures, and should have strong sanctions, including financial sanctions, available to it if member countries’ boards or federations are judged to have infringed the rules. For example, ICC should be empowered to exclude a member nation from competing in international matches if fails to adopt and enforce an approved Anti-Corruption Code in its own jurisdiction.

32. This will undoubtedly represent a significant change in the governance of world cricket, and inertia or vested interests may cause there to be opposition. However, TI considers it vital that if a message of zero tolerance for corruption is going to be taken seriously, the managers, administrators and leaders of the game operate to the highest standards of ethics and integrity.
As with FIFA and its various scandals, effective reform will necessarily result from the adoption of standards of good governance and best practices which have been developed in contexts outside of sport. So far, FIFA has been resistant. Perhaps the BCCI and ICC can do better. To do so, however, it is probably best to focus on the governance, not the cheerleaders. 

Financial Fair Play, the English Language and Legal Standing

At Stefan Szymanski has a delightful essay on the offense to the English language that is UEFA's Financial Fair Play. Stefan has kindly posted up the original English version at Soccernomics. Here is an excerpt:
Whenever Financial Fair Play is mentioned the names of Roman Abramovitch and Sheikh Mansour are quoted- what they are doing to football, it is alleged, is unfair. Yet in reality they are convenient scapegoats for a political deal that UEFA has stitched up between football’s rich and poor.

The economic reality is that most clubs do not have a sugar daddy and a very large fraction are insolvent. According to UEFA 55% of clubs in Europe’s top divisions reported a net loss in 2011, 38% of clubs reported negative net equity, and 16% of club accounts reviewed contained a qualification expressed by the auditors as to financial viability of the company. This does not make UEFA look like a good housekeeper, so they want to impose tighter regulations. However, since almost all of the insolvent clubs are minnows, it might look as if they were doing the bidding of the big clubs. UEFA would not dare to restrict the freedoms of the established powers and by focusing on sugar daddies they are actually helping them by ensuring that no currently small club will ever pose a serious challenge. Voila, call it Financial Fair Play, and who could disagree?

This was Orwell’s point. The decline of English, he thought, was a political phenomenon. “Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”, and if we allow this to go unchallenged we will indeed fall into slovenly thought. UEFA, with the support of many politicians, want us to use warm phrases emptied of their original meaning as camouflage for the pursuit of an agenda which has little to do with fair play and much to do with the exercise of power. But if we listen to Orwell, we need not be fooled. All we have to do is to ask what the words really mean.
It is safe to conclude that Szymanski is not a fan of FFP. Here is the conclusion of a recent academic that Sztmanski collaborated on with Thomas Peeters, which explored the effects of FFP on the EPL via an economic model (Vertical Restraints in Soccer: Financial Fair Play and the English Premier League, here in PDF):
[W]e find that had the Financial Fair Play regulations applied fully in the English Premier League in the 2009/10 season, wage to turnover ratioswould have fallen by as much as 15%, which is in line with the theoretical predictions of Dietl et al (2009). As such, the FFP break-even rule will in many ways resemble a North American salary cap, although the latter applies the same spending cap to all teams. In other words, our paper shows that in this context a vertical restraint may restrict competition in exactly the same way as a horizontal agreement between competing firms. Salary caps have been justified in US courts under the theory that they promote competitive balance among the teams. On top of this, they are agreed upon in a system of collective bargaining with unions representing the players, and such agreements are exempt from antitrust. The break-even rule under FFP has not been negotiated as part of a collective bargaining agreement with unions, and furthermore such agreements are not exempt from competition law in the EU. Therefore, analyzing the impact of FFP on competition in national leagues is important to assess whether it complies with EU competition law.

The rationale advanced by UEFA for its regulation is not the promotion of competitive balance, but “discipline and rationality” in club finances. Considered as a vertical restraint, this might be deemed to have pro-competitive properties if the rules help to preserve the integrity of the competition and the financial stability of the clubs. On the other hand, our results demonstrate that the break-even rule could be construed as a means to raising profitability and therefore an anti-competitive vertical restraint under EU competition law.
The Swiss Ramble recently offered a deep dive into the economics of FFP, and like Szymanski, offers a fairly negative evaluation:
While the majority of clubs are in favour of FFP’s attempts to tackle football’s economic woes, there is a concern that far from making football fairer, all this initiative will achieve is to make permanent the domination of the existing big clubs: survival of the fattest, if you will. The argument goes that those clubs that already enjoy large revenue (like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich) will continue to flourish, while any challengers will no longer be able to spend big in a bid to catch up.
However, more fundamental than the policy effectiveness of FFP is likely to be its legality under European law. The regime has already been challenged, here is The Guardian reporting:
UEFA's financial fair play regulations face a legal challenge in the European courts after a players' agent argued the rules will unfairly restrict the amount of money he can earn. Daniel Striani, an agent registered in Belgium, has lodged a formal complaint with the European commission against the rules, which require clubs in European competitions from 2011 to move towards breaking even financially.

Striani is represented by Jean Louis-Dupont, a lawyer who in 1995 successfully challenged football's contract rules on behalf of a Belgian player, Jean-Marc Bosman, a legal victory which allowed players to move for free at the end of their contracts. Dupont argues that, as in the Bosman case, he will defeat Uefa's FFP rules even though they are supported by the European Commission.

He argues that Uefa's regulations, which prevent clubs making heavy financial losses whether backed by an owner or not, will have five separate consequences he claims are anti-competitive. The first is that they will restrict investment in a club by no longer allowing them to run at a loss.

The second is the key concern being voiced particularly in England, that it will lock in the power of the already rich clubs, whose dominance will no longer be able to be broken by the odd club like Manchester City or Chelsea which has losses supported by a mega-rich owner.

He then argues that the aim of FFP to dampen down players' wage and transfer fee inflation is "anti-competitive", a breach ofEU law. This is because FFP will lead to a "reduction of the number of transfers, of the transfer amounts and of the number of players under contracts per club", and will have a "deflationary effect on the level of players' salaries".

In conclusion, Striani argues that FFP will be "anti-competitive" because it will affect his own ability to earn agents' fees from players' wages and transfer fees.
Stay tuned, more action to come at the lex sportiva frontier!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Iran Job

I saw The Iran Job on my flight back from London last week. It is a really neat documentary about US basketball player Kevin Sheppard's journey to Iran to play basketball (Sheppard also has the distinction as being capped for the US Virgin Islands football squad).

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article on the film:
Iranian teams offer lavish salaries to foreigners willing to play there, and every year a handful of Americans are scattered through the country’s basketball league. The idea for the film was to find an American “who would go into Iran with a lot of the same perceptions and misperceptions as a lot of us,” said Till Schauder, who wrote, produced, directed and shot it.

Sheppard, born in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1979 — the year that Iranians staged a revolution and occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — fit the bill. He said he knew little about Iran before going there.

In the film, Sheppard teaches the Iranians how to raise the level of their play and pump themselves up, and the Iranians teach him about Persian politeness and subtle ways of circumventing government oppression.

Along the way, Sheppard’s views on Iran evolve. “I had all the preconceptions that people were on camels, that they were terrorists, that they were probably making bombs,” he said in a telephone interview from the Virgin Islands, where he runs a basketball camp for disadvantaged youths.

Instead, he finds teammates who confide in him about girl troubles and refuse to let him pay for dinner. He meets women who express their frustration with state-imposed restrictions and young fans who shyly ask for his do-rag as a memento.

Sheppard said he hopes the film, expected to be released next year, will alter U.S. perceptions of Iran at a time when diplomacy is at a low. “I think that once you get an opportunity to see it, you must have a change of heart about the Iranians because you’re going to see real live people, with real lives and real struggles,” he said.

The film is full of funny moments, such as when Sheppard enlists his baffled building manager to help him find a Christmas tree, or when an elderly man selling antiques eagerly tells Sheppard that he smoked marijuana in the United States.

Schauder and his wife and co-producer, Sara Nodjoumi, who is of Iranian descent, said an Iranian government official was initially supportive but then abruptly changed his mind and told them the project was “garbage.” They were denied journalist visas, so Schauder, a German citizen, went on a tourist visa and shot with a small hand-held camera. Eventually authorities caught on, and he was barred from entering Iran. By then, he had shot most of the film.

Despite rising tensions between the United States and Iran, Sheppard said he never had a problem on either end during the two additional seasons he went on to play there. Entering Iran, “I would say, ‘Bazi [play] basketball!’ and they say, ‘Great!’ and let you go. It’s like athletes transcend political pressures. We’re entertainers; we kind of take them away from the problems.”
It is due to be out in the US soon. Check it out, highly recommended.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Technology Aids in Referee Decision Making

Over at the Guardian's Political Science blog I have a commentary up extolling the use of technological aids in referee decision making. I open the piece as follows:
Writing in Nature last week, Nic Fleming argues that "the introduction of goal-line technology to football is likely to perpetrate a mass deception on television viewers." He further worries that, "It will miss a huge opportunity to educate people about the role of uncertainty in science. And it will exacerbate the approaching danger of fake computer-generated video footage."

Here I take the other side. People, especially the sports-viewing public, understand uncertainties just fine. Contrary to Fleming's concern, the opportunities that may actually be missed here include the chance to educate scientists that the public are far more sophisticated than experts generally believe, and the fact that the introduction of technological aids may actually make sports better.
Have a look at both Fleming's Nature piece and my reaction. Is there a dangerhere related to public understanding of uncertainties? I don't think so, but I welcome hearing other views.

Several people have mentioned the Collins/Evans papers on the use of the Hawkeye system in tennis and cricket. I included a link to them (thanks to a suggestion by @AliceBell), though I only agree with parts of their argument.

The parts that I agree with have to do with the central-ness of of legitimacy derived through an alignment of outcome as judged by the officials and as judged by the spectators (this is my jargon, Collins and Evans have their own). I also agree with their conclusion that such technological aids offer much in the way of positive benefits to decision making in sport.

The parts that I disagree with focus on the supposed new-ness of technologies in sport and a corresponding risk to public understanding of uncertainties. My view is much more aligned with Allenby and Sarewitz in that refereeing systems are what they call techno-human systems. The technologies of refereeing sporting events have been evolving for a long time. I would argue that the addition of the Hawkeye system -- or for that matter more, or less officials, instantaneous communication among officials, video replays, heat sensors, doping tests, timing devices, photo finish cameras, changes to the guidelines for adjudicating contingencies and so on -- represents the evolution of a techno-human system that has been under constant evolution, not something so fundamentally new.

Collins and Evans (and Fleming in Nature) worry that the results from Hawkeye (and the like) are presented to viewers without accompanying statistics on uncertainty. However, this is no different than the fact that lines calls have always been presented to viewers without accompanying statistics on uncertainty (such as the number of chair overrules in tennis or missed given goals).

The presentation of such apparently deterministic information has not prevented the public from concluding that uncertainty nonetheless remains -- at least in the context of weather forecasts where there has been a great deal of investigation of public understanding of uncertainties (e.g., here in PDF). Based on that large literature I'd think it likely that people are pretty sophisticated when it comes to sport as well, as it shares many of the same characteristics as weather forecasts (i.e., especially the fact that there are many chances to observe expert judgment and real-world outcomes).

At a minimum, those expressing concern about a danger to the public from increasingly sophisticated techniques of arbitrating sporting events should provide some empirical evidence in support of that danger. As I see it, such sophistication in adjudication simply parallels increasing sophistication in our ability to view the games. Our techno-human systems are evolving. And that is a good thing.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Which Way for Sunil Gulati?

I have a commentary up at Play the Game on Sunil Gulati, head of US Soccer, and his new role on the FIFA Executive Committee. Here is an excerpt to whet your interest:
Gulati, who has not commented on the alleged corruption at CONCACAF which took place while he helped govern the organization, served on the FIFA governance reform committee until his recent election to the FIFA Executive Committee. Thus he helped to develop its recommendations aimed at improving the governance of the organization. Now as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, Gulati found himself last week in the odd position of receiving advice that he has helped to prepare.

Gulati and colleagues identified as “indispensable” several of the recommendations that the reform committee has proposed to FIFA, but which have not yet been adopted. These include a call for independent integrity checks, term limits in office and full disclosure of compensation.

Surely, as one who helped develop the “indispensable” advice, Gulati might have been expected to be a vocal champion for implementation of the proposals at last week’s FIFA Congress, right? Think again. Since joining the FIFA Executive Committee, Gulati has been almost entirely invisible on issues related to FIFA reform, and based on his actions last week, perhaps even an obstacle.
Go here to read the whole thing, and feel free to come back and comment.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Wise Words from @ChangeFIFA