Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Taken / Athletes of Bahrain - Documentary

Compare and contrast with this from the BBC today.

Anti-Doping Research Question

Motivated by discussions and presentations at #PTG2015

Height and Weights of Premier League Players 2014/15

This comes from Objective-Football and was pointed to me on Twitter by @CB4Luke. I post it here because it is super cool.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Political Power in International Sport

The National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark has developed a metric to measure political power in international sports. The metric, called the Sports Power Index, is based on weights given to various positions in the sports world and summing the weights by nationality of the holder of the position. The assignment of weights is of course a judgment.

Here are the rankings for 2013:

Rank Country Points
1 United States 257
2 United Kingdom 189
3 France 183
4 Italy 182
5 Switzerland 173
6 Spain 173
7 Australia 172
8 Russia 171
9 Germany 151
10 China 141
11 Canada 130
12 South Korea 122
13 Egypt 99
14 Japan 96
15 New Zealand 92
16 Sweden 82
17 Brazil 81
18 Mexico 76
19 Argentina 71
20 Hungary 66
21 Finland 66
22 Turkey 65
23 Belgium 65
24 Netherlands 64
25 Thailand 55
26 Qatar 52
27 Poland 52
28 South Africa 48
29 Norway 48
30 Kuwait 47


Saturday, October 24, 2015

A New FIFA Whistleblower Emerges

With three Tweets yesterday, Scott Burnett, a former FIFA employee, alleges that while he worked at FIFA and had responsibility for writing the minutes of FIFA ExCo meetings,he was instructed to "misrepresent discussions."

Burnett's name appears on FIFA documents, such as this one from 2004 (in PDF), where he is identified as a translator. He later worked as an assistant to FIFA's Secretary General, Jerome Valcke. Overall, Burnett was a FIFA employee from May, 2001 to July, 2010.

If his allegations bear out, then it would implicate in some degree of wrongdoing every FIFA ExCo member of the period who voted to approve official minutes which misrepresented ExCo activities. The exact nature of any such wrongdoing, as is often the case with FIFA, is likely to be complicated by the fact that FIFA had various ethics guidelines during the period and is incorporated as an association under Swiss law. Under US law for non-profits organizations, accurate meeting minutes are an important part of an organizations fiduciary duty (see, e.g., this blog post).

With his three Tweets, Burnett has called the attention of the world's media and various FIFA investigators. Other FIFA whistleblowers have not had it easy, and he is likely not the last one we will see.

Stay tuned . . .

(HT @sportingintel)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wall to Wall Coverage of PTG 2015

Starting Sunday, you can find wall-to-wall coverage of Play the Game 2015 here at The Least Thing. Requests and comments welcomed.

Here is the detailed agenda in PDF.


FIFA ExCo 2010: Where Are They Now?

Updated, based on recent events (with Twitter help of Simon Evans, Dan Roan and Bonita Mersiades - Thanks!).

Click on to embiggen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

USADA Should Appear Before Congress Once a Year

Well out of the public eye, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or USADA faces a crisis of confidence. USADA operates under special recognition by the US Congress and most of its funding comes from the US taxpayer. USADA has lately been pressing for the US government to broaden its mandate into horse racing.

The crisis of confidence stems from USADA's involvement in boxing and other combat sports, which goes beyond its Congressional mandate. USADA contracts with individual athletes to provide anti-doping services, much like a private company. This secondary activity, unlike its role providing services to Olympic athletes, has been accompanied by various allegations of missteps and even wrongdoing by USADA.

The crisis of confidence in USADA is not simply that these allegations might be true, but rather, that we have no way of knowing whether they are true, and USADA has adopted a fortress mentality inconsistent with a public agency.

Here is just one example.

The most prominent boxer with whom USADA has contracted with is Floyd Mayweather. Rumors have dogged Mayweather and USADA for years that he failed three doping tests for which USADA after-the-fact granted exemptions.  This matters because anti-doping tests are supposed to mean something, and not offer simply a fig leaf of due diligence. If Mayweather was in fact granted such exemptions, it would raise some important questions about the integrity of USADA's forays into boxing. If Mayweather was not granted these exemptions, then it is important to dispel the rumors with facts.

This was the line of thinking that Michael Woods, a reporter, had when he approached USADA asking for clarification. He asked USADA a simple yes or no question, whether Floyd Mayweather tested positive three different times.

USADA refused to answer the question, and instead pointed Woods to a 10,000 word response to an article critical of USADA, which was non-responsive to Woods' query.

This is, to put it mildly, both remarkable and unacceptable. USADA requires that athletes under its purview (except those that it contracts with independently) disclose their whereabouts 24/7/365. These athletes are required to be 100% open. It is not too much of a logical leap to think that the agency that demands such individual accountability follows with accountability and openness in its own practices.

Sports bodies have been criticized of late for leadership that is too entitled, not transparent and unresponsive to public or athlete accountability. USADA has given the public impression of adopting these imperious ways. If I had a dollar for every time that USADA officials mention Lance Armstrong, I could fund my own anti-doping agency. Catching Armstrong was important, to be sure, but it does not mean that the agency does not still have a job to do and a public to serve.

One recommendation is that in exchange for the almost-$10 million in public support that USADA receives, and before Congress expands its mandate, that the agency adopt some common sense governance reforms. Among these might be leadership term limits, an independent external board comprised of elected officials and other independent individuals, and a requirement that the head of USADA testify before Congress at least once a year, under oath.

It is true that boxing is a niche sport followed by a few and even then fewer still care much about USADA's role in boxing. USADA has avoided greater scrutiny because it mostly flies under the public radar. But this issue should be of importance to all athletes, especially those who, in principle, USADA is supported to serve first.

To read more:

Thomas Hauser on USADA's failings (here)
USADA response to Hauser (here)
Hauser rejoinder to USADA (here)

Me on USADA's accountability problem (here)
Frank Short's response to me on behalf of USADA (here)
My rejoinder to Shorter (here)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Distance Between Germany and USA in Soccer

The graph above shows the distance in ELO points between the US and Germany from 1990 and 2015, based on ELO rankings in June of each year. (the y-axis values represent Germany minus USA, Data)

In the early 2000s, the USA had just about caught up with Germany (due in part to Germany slipping, but also the USA improving). Since that time, Germany has surged ahead.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

CU-Boulder Screening of DOPED and All-Star Panel Discussion

Register here!

The Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Department of Athletics will be hosting a screening of the documentary DOPED:  The Dirty Side of Sports on Tuesday, October 13. The one-hour film will be followed by a panel discussion, which will include the film’s director, Andrew Muscato.

The film discusses the real-world challenges of addressing doping – the use of prohibited performance enhancing drugs – in college, professional and international sport. Several recent studies have indicated that among elite athletes as many as 40% may engage in doping. Yet, anti-doping agencies routinely sanction about 1% of athletes. The difference between these numbers is troubling.

Also on the panel are, Maureen Weston, professor of law at Pepperdine University; Shanon Squires, coordinator of the Human Performance Lab at CU Denver’s Health and Wellness Center; and Walter Palmer, former NBA player and advocate for athletes’ rights.

The event begins at 7pm on Tuesday, October 13 and will be held in the Champion’s Center auditorium of the new CU Athletics facilities.

The event is free and open to the public. Because seating is limited, advance registration at this link is required.

The screening is the first public event of the Department’s new Center for Sports Governance, an initiative led by CU-Boulder Professor Roger Pielke, Jr. and Athletic Director Rick George. Pielke says that the SGC “intends to create a safe space for difficult conversations, in which people do not necessarily have to agree on everything, but are willing to openly and respectfully share different points of view.”

Pielke adds, “The issue of doping in sport is not only challenging, but it is one where people have strong feelings and deep emotions. We hope to add to the conversation by engaging some of leading experts on the topic, in the open, among the Boulder community.”

The SGC will be holding more such events on a range of issues where sport and governance meet.

Soccer in Boulder

From last week's Boulder vs. Fairview soccer game.

Via @PanthersBHS

Monday, October 5, 2015

Masking the Pain: Denver Fox31 on Toradol Use in College Sports

This investigative piece takes a close look at Colorado university athletic programs and their use of a potent pain killer - Toradol. The drug is not in wide use here at CU-Boulder.

Chris Halsne of Fox 31 followed up on the original report in a piece that aired last night. He reports that Oklahoma extensively uses the drug:
New records from the University of Oklahoma prove that since 2012, student-athletes were given 4,086 doses of Toradol. The distribution covered athletes in nearly every men’s and women’s sport: baseball, track, gymnastics, tennis, basketball, wrestling, rowing, softball and volleyball, with football players receiving the most (1,490 doses.)
Last spring, the University of Southern California settled a lawsuit with a former football player over alleged Toradol abuse leading to his health problems.

Halsne reports that the head NCAA's chief medical officer, Dr.Brian Hainline, says that things must change:
“We must shift the culture on painkillers. I think the culture now that it’s too easy to give a pain medicine. It’s too easy when an athlete is sore, to say well, why don’t you take this, you’ll feel better before the game.”
I think it is safe to conclude that we should be expecting to hear lots more about painkillers as performance enhancers in the near future.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Frank Shorter Responds to my Op-ed on USADA

Frank Shorter, the Olympic gold medalist and Boulder hero, has written an op-ed in response to mine on accountability in anti-doping agencies.  I encourage you to read his piece in full here at The Denver Post. It is an important conversation and I am glad that Shorter is engaged.

Below are my responses to Shorter's piece, embedded as italics within Shorter's op-ed.
A guest commentary writer in the Sept. 20 Perspective section made an inaccurate and misinformed assertion that the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is "falling down on the job."
The "falling down on the job" quote does not come from my piece, but from The Denver Post headline writer. 
As an Olympic gold medalist and passionate advocate for clean sport, I was directly involved in the creation of the USADA. Having remained involved with the group and the anti-doping movement in general for the last 12 years, I feel compelled to correct some of the misperceptions. USADA conducts its work with the highest level of integrity.
Effective mechanisms of accountability will help us move away from attestations of integrity. I assume that everyone in USADA works with integrity. That does not make accountability unnecessary.
In 2000, the USADA stepped into a sports-testing world rampant with conflict of interest, and was tasked with independently and without bias enforcing the global anti-doping rules of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympic Movement.

The USADA was created with the goal of having absolutely no conflict of interest. Its sole mission is to protect the integrity of clean competition and the rights of clean athletes, and its carrying out of this mission is directed by an independent board of directors specifically created to be free from conflicts of interest.
Saying so doesn't make it so. USADA has placed itself into a clear situation of conflict of interest in boxing. More broadly, WADA also has some challenges with following its own COI guidelines.
Imagine that a big part your job each day is to hold America's sports heroes like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones accountable, and to protect the integrity of clean competition by making sure everyone plays by the same rules, no matter how famous.
The recitation of superstar athletes who were caught breaking rules is not a magical elixir that means that institutional accountability is unnecessary.
Then imagine receiving death threats against you and your family because some fans are unwilling to accept that sometimes sports figures are not actually heroic at all. For the hardworking USADA staff, this unwarranted backlash is a reality, because they must stand up for what is right regardless of what is popular.
Tell me about it. I've been in the climate debate for years. 
The opinion piece claims that "taxpayers provide the USADA with more than $10 million per year." This is false. The government grant to the USADA is less than that and is easily verifiable by checking USADA's website.
Here is my math.
It also implied that the overall money USADA receives is an immense amount. This is not true. In fact, the amount provided to USADA to carry out a national anti-doping program is less than half of the yearly earnings of many professional athletes.
It is common fallacy to assert that a relatively small amount of public funding means that accountability is unnecessary. That is wrong. USADA is an institution recognized under an international treaty by the US Congress and is overwhelmingly publicly funded. Therefore, it should be accountable to the public. Full stop.
The opinion piece also implied that the USADA has stepped outside its authorized role by assisting non-Olympic sports with anti-doping programs. The suggestion that there is something unethical about the USADA accepting such engagements, and the attempts to belittle this work as "moonlighting," demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of anti-doping and the important role that the USADA serves as a resource for sports entities wanting to implement similar anti-doping programs.
"Implied" -- "suggestion" -- "belittle" I'll focus instead on what I wrote.
I did ask USADA some questions that can help observers to clarify its roles and responsibilities. After several weeks, I am still awaiting a response.
I am exceedingly proud that the agency has chosen not to turn its back on athletes in non-Olympic sports. Because of that, athletes in a growing number of sports have the opportunity to compete in sport played fairly.

Congress provides the USADA with an annual grant, subject to renewal. The continuation of that funding recognizes and affirms the overwhelming success the USADA has achieved. If the USADA earns any money by taking on additional responsibilities to help advance anti-doping in other sports, these funds are channeled right back into the organization's efforts.
Greater transparency, rather than assertion, will help to resolve these questions.
There will always be conflicts of interest whenever the promoters of a sport attempt to police the athletes they represent. This is why the USADA is a much-needed, shining example of the model anti-doping solution.
For better or worse, sports institutions do not have the best reputation these days. That is unfortunate for those who are doing everything right. But that is the way that it is. Consequently, in such a context, public trust will be reinforced by openness and transparency, and not defensiveness at being asked challenging questions.
Frank Shorter is an Olympic gold and silver medalist and former chair of the USADA board of directors.