Friday, December 15, 2017

The Case for a Lessons-Learned Review of WADA & Russia

As we move toward the denouement of the IOC's sanctioning of Russia leading up to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, I'd like to raise a broader, and arguably even more significant issue. That is the role that WADA (and IOC, IAAF and other IFs) has played over the past decade with respect to the allegations of institutionalized, systemic or even state-sponsored doping in Russia.

WADA and sport will be improved by an independent look back at what went right, what went wrong and what can be learned.

Consider this partial timeline:
The focus of the Russian doping scandal has been, understandably, on Russia. After the 2018 Olympics it is time to take a step back and take a look at WADA and the sports organizations that it supports. There are lessons to be learned here ... if we actually want to learn them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Update on NGB Evaluation Project: SGO Criteria and Next Steps

Earlier posts on this project can be found here and here. Now some updates . . .

We employed 36 criteria from the Sports Governance Observer (2015) framework (available here in PDF), to an initial set of 22 US Olympic national governing bodies to arrive at a preliminary governance scorecard for these organizations. You can find our aggregate rankings here and a detailed breakdown by criteria here.

To facilitate understanding the methods and criteria, below please find a summary set of images with the 36 criteria briefly listed (please consult the full SGO 2015 report for considerably more details on the criteria and their application). Each organization is given a score of 1 (poor) to 5 (state of the art) for each of the criteria, which are then aggregated. Each dimension is equally weighted under the SGO scoring methodology.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the evaluation task, consider that there are 72 US NGBs (39 summer, 8 winter and 25 Paralympic federations). Thus, evaluating all of them requires assigning a score across 72 * 36 categories, or 2,592 individual scores. Our methodology requires that two people independently score an organization, and a third performs a final check.

If that process takes, conservatively, an hour of effort, then creation of our overall scorecard is the result of about 2,600 hours of work - or 1.2 years of people-effort. It is a huge task. In the spring will will roll out a website and a mechanism for people (including NGBs to) contribute to or scoring by proposing scoring changes based on evolution in governance. COnsequently, any such scorecard is a snapshot and governance is fluid. So score will (and should) change over time -- ideally towards better governance.

We've been really encouraged by the positive reactions to our project from across the NBGs. In coming weeks we will be announcing additions to the research team, more scores and the dedicated website.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Full Preliminary SGO Rankings: US NGBs

There has been a tremendous amount of interest in our scorecard of the governance of national governing bodies for Olympic sports. This interest has been overwhelmingly positive.

To share further details of our rankings, below is a figure showing the full set of preliminary rankings of 22 national governing bodies for Olympic sports. You can read more about the details of our methods and see my presentation at the Play the Game conference at this post.
You can click on the figure above to obtain a higher resolution image. If you'd like the spreadsheet with those data, that can be found here in XLS. To interpret the rankings, you will need to cross-reference the 36 criteria under the 4 diemnsions (listed by number in the left-most column) developed in the Sports Governance Observer, available here in PDF.

Do note that these are preliminary rankings. In 2018, we expect to complete rankings for all NGBs and develop a comprehensive website with all of the details. It is our hope to produce such rankings periodically to aid in evaluation of governance.

Please share questions, comments, suggestions in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Evaluation of the Governance of US Olympic Sport Federations

Today at the Play the Game conference in Eindhoven, Netherlands I presented our preliminary rankings of the governance of US Olympic sports federations. This post provides a brief overview of our methods and results. You can find my slides here in PDF and also on Twitter. (UPDATE 12/2: Detailed rankings now available here.)

We have adopted the evaluation metrics developed for the 2015 Sports Governance Observer of Play the Game (here in PDF) and used them as the basis for evaluating US Olympic Sport Federations. Our work here would not be possible without the excellent foundational work of Play the Game in its project on Action for Good Governance in International Sports Organisations supported by the European Commission.

In the SGO evaluation framework there are 36 indicators, across 4 dimensions, which are equally weighted and distilled into a single index. Our preliminary rankings are for 22 of the 47 US summer and winter Olympic federations. In total in the US, there 39 summer, 8 winter and 25 Paralympic federations. Presently there is insufficient public information available to produce meaningful rankings of the 25 US Paralympic sports organizations.

Our results are preliminary. Our next steps will be to share the details of our rankings with the federations for their comment (and possibly, evolution of their governance in response) and completing the rankings for the remaining federations.

Of the rankings, which are expressed on a 100-point scale, the SGO states:
“It must be stressed that the SGO index reflects the presence of basic criteria of good governance. Medium-size federations should be expected to have an SGO index close to 75%, while large federations should achieve a score higher than 75%.”
So expressed as a classroom grade, a 75 is a solid "C". Below are our rankings, with grades provided:

1 Track and Field 79.1 C+
2 Weightlifting 67.8 D+
3 Curling 67.2 D+
4 Ski and Snowboard 66.1
5 Soccer 65.5
6 Hockey 64.7
7 Water Polo 64.5
8 Rugby 64.2
9 Boxing 63.4
10 Rowing 63.0 D-
11 Wrestling 62.1 D-
12 Gymnastics 62.0 D-
13 Baseball 61.4 D-
14 Volleyball 61.0 D-
15 Cycling 59.7 F
16 Triathlon 59.2 F
17 Diving 58.4 F
18 Speed Skating 58.1 F
19 Badminton 55.9 F
20 Swimming 55.6 F
21 Basketball 53.0 F
22 Sailing 50.0 F

Some conclusions:
  • In general US national sports governing bodies are better governed than their international counterparts;
  • Median score 62.0 (US) to 46.3 (international in 2015 SGO)
  • But don’t get too excited, a score of 62 is a D-
  • Only one US organization meets the SGO minimum criteria of 75% - USATF (USA Track & Field)
  • The US Paralympic organizations get a grade of "I" for "incomplete"
  • Much work remains to improve governance
You can find more details in my presentation here in PDF.

Finally, here is an image from the presentation showing the US and international rankings together (blue = US; yellow = international).

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Anti-doping & governance: Time for athletes to take destiny into their own hands

Yesterday at Play the Game 2017 I had the privilege of chairing the opening plenary panel that included Travis Tygart (USADA), Richard Pound (IOC) and Silke Kassner (vice-chair of the German Athletes Commission) -- seen above via @jensweinreich. During our discussion Dick Pound said of the leadership of international sports federations: "Nothing scares these old folks as much as athletes getting organised - so don’t [athletes] stop doing that."

Silke Kassner spoke exactly to this subject and her remarks should be read by all athletes and administrators. She has graciously allowed me to publish them here, lightly edited by me. 

Guest Post

Silke Kassner, Vice-Chair German Athletes Commission, Vice-Chair of “Athletes Germany”, Vice-Chair NADO Advisory Board
Play the Game – Conference 2017

Anti-doping & governance: Time for athletes to take destiny into their own hands 

We ‘Athletes’ are highly motivated to become one of the best in the world in our sport.

On our way to the international top level as a professional athlete, we accept many regulations of the sport structure and sport organisations.

As an athlete I accept and sign the World Anti-Doping Code. This enables me to compete on international level in my sport. Signing the code, I learn to be available – always - for irregular, unannounced doping controls.

I accept cuts into my personal freedom; always provide ADAMS with very private information to secure my whereabouts – all to be available at any time for unannounced doping control. It includes unpleasant procedures in giving blood and peeing in a small cup, pants to my knees, while being watched. In other live situations this would be highly inappropriate.

As athletes, we take the whole procedure into account because we permanently have to prove that our performance is clean. We struggle against a general suspicion day by day. We feel constantly pursued.

That makes the difference between the athlete and the official.

Three years ago, the world got to know about a state sponsored doping system in Russia - for sure, the greatest doping scandal in sport history.

As athletes representatives in Germany we followed up the entire McLaren Report, the independent Pound Commission results and the journalistic investigation. As German Athletes, we were really shocked and felt concerned about the health and the rights of the Russian athletes, who cannot be blamed in what system or country they were born.

The sports organisations, especially the IOC then were in the role to decide weather a Russian Team may compete or not at the Olympic Games in Rio. Among all research and evidence, the IOC decided not to exclude the Russians. Furthermore they called two commissions, to examine the given information about the Sochi Games.

This decision was based on that athletes couldn’t be blocked on a collective punishment but only by individual justice. And that’s it.

Reflecting this and the current step-by-step publications by the Oswald Commission, we understand that the IOC is keeping distance from applying the core principle of the WADA Code: the strict liability.

In the retrospective Russian athletes were not requested to be available for unannounced doping controls or any documentation of their testing by their Anti-Doping Organisation.

Until today it seemed that our general accepted & unique regulations to keep a doping free sport are not applied in Russia. But on the other hand athletes, NADOs and countries world wide, keep their daily sport & anti-doping business.

It is a fact that no one is talking about the strict liability and the reversal of evidence anymore. In view of:
  • an enormous sanction catalogue by the WADA Code and 
  • a national Anti-Doping Law, 
  • and questioning former results at the Olympic Games
We took initiative as German Athletes to approach the IOC with several statements and position papers – we even gave offer to speak in person.

We described our view on a future anti-doping system which is free from conflict of interests. Since August 2015 we claim an independent anti-doping system, a stronger position for WADA and even a three-power separation in anti-doping management.

Three years following the whole scene, we do not feel accepted by the IOC as the main stakeholders in sports. We don’t feel protected as athletes able to compete in clean competitions, we feel powerless and frustrated, unable to act and not being heard.

The WADA Code is the principle and the requirement to protect clean sports.

We want a worldwide binding regulation that provides international equality in the fight against doping. We want everybody and every institution that the rules are respected and applied.

Otherwise, we will shut down the strict liability, the WADA Code and close the WADA in Montreal.

If the application of the rules is not guaranteed, we close our national court of arbitration and the CAS as well and bring all the cases before our ordinary public courts.

Then all this is no longer needed.

But, these are all achievements that distinguish sport from other laws and rules. This all makes entirely sense to ensure a clean level playing field. It is – at present - without alternative.

Coming from this, German Athletes discussed the entire situation and the future in sports. We believe in the unifying power of sports. But the credibility of the sport is severely damaged and we lost confidence in the international sport system. We can see that the public is turning back from the organised sport and the Olympic movement.

The doping scandal, corruption affairs and the half-full audience during the Rio Games was a distraction from competition and the actual reason why athletes going to the Olympics. This all shakes our confidence in the values of the sports.

The structure is the problem. The entire construction of the sport system is a pyramid - the much broader bottom is the athlete, the protagonist of the competition. But, we are far away from decisions that affect us.

Today we conclude that many former decisions cannot be explained to an athlete. Because of that, we want to be significantly involved, demand more documentation and transparency in any decision making process that affects our lives and our sport.

For this, it is important that athletes stand in solidarity and represent their concerns professionally.

Therefore, the German Athletes and the Athletes Commission had the urge to empower the solidarity in founding an independent organization in Germany. That all happened today six weeks ago.

The new institution "Athleten Deutschland" / “Athletes Germany”:
  • is the foundation for a professional network of German Athletes 
  • shall become a service institution for athletes related issues 
  • shall be the centre to organise the athletes involvement in all athletes related processes and decision from the start.
We want no decision without the athlete!

We are
  • nearly 9.000 athletes 
  • on the international level 
  • listed at NADO Germany, 
  • Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic elite sport 
and we will grow step by step.

We no longer want to be a fig leaf in a statute or a insignificant minority in a board. As the central stakeholder in sport, we want to play the role we deserve. That's our right, according to democratic principles.

We encourage athletes worldwide to do the same – to show solidarity and to speak up for their rights.

We really thank Yulia & Vitaly Stepanov – they encouraged us, Richard McLaren for his work and investigations in Russia, Beckie Scott & WADA AC as well as the iNADO community for their leadership in anti-doping.

Thanks for your attention.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Hyper-linked List of Journals that Publish Sports Governance Research

Impact Factor
International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology 3.353
Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 2.593
Journal of Sport Sciences 2.095
Psychology of Sport and Exercise 1.768
Sport, Education and Society 1.333
Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 1.261
Sociology of Sport Journal 1.125
Leisure Sciences 1.109
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 1.098
Leisure Studies 1.096
Journal of Sport and Social Issues 1.049
The Sport Psychologist 0.933
Quest 0.902
Journal of Sport Management 0.727
International Review for the Sociology of Sport 0.725
European Sport Management Quarterly 0.638
Journal of Leisure Research 0.592
Journal of Sports Economics 0.544
International Journal of Sport Psychology 0.453
International Journal of the History of Sport 0.291
International Journal of Sport Finance 0.179
Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education (open access) 0.062

Inspired by the North American Society of Sports Management (here in PDF), above is a list of journals that publish research related to sports governance. The one's listed above are sorted by the journal's impact factor.

The ones listed below do not have readily-available impacts factors and are sorted alphabetically. This listing is compiled for my own research purposes, but hopefully can be of use to others interested in sports governance.

If you know of any journals that ought to be on the list, just let me know and I'll add.

ABA Entertainment and Sports Lawyer
Applied Research in Coaching and Athletics Annual
Case Studies in Sport Management
Communication and Sport
DePaul Journal of Sports Management and Contemporary Problems
Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University Entertainment & Sports Law Journal
Detroit College of Law Journal of Entertainment & Sports Law
Entertainment and Sports Law Journal
Entertainment and Sports Lawyer
European Journal for Sport and Society
European Sports History Review
Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law
International Journal of Developmental Sport Management (online)
International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
International Journal of Sport communication
International Journal of Sport Management
International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing
International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation & Tourism (open access)
International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics
international Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship
International Review on Sport and Violence (open access)
International Sports Law Journal
Journal for Sport for Development (open access)
Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education
Journal of Amateur Sport
Journal of Applied Sport Management
Journal of Contemporary Athletics
Journal of Entertainment & Sports Law
Journal of Intercollegiate Sport
Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics
Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport
Journal of Park and Recreation Administration
Journal of Physical Education and Sport Management (open access)
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports (online)
Journal of Sport and Health Research (open access)
Journal of Sport and Tourism
Journal of Sport Behavior
Journal of Sport History
Journal of Sports Analytics
Journal of Sports and Recreation
Journal of Sports Media
Journal of the Philosophy of Sport
Marquette Sports Law Journal
Mississippi Sports Law Review
Pamukkale Journal of Sport Sciences
Physical Culture and Sports Studies and Research (open access)
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Recreational Sports Journal
Serbian Journal of Sport Sciences
Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law
Soccer and Society
Sport History Review
Sport in Society: Cultures, Politics, Media, Politics
Sport Management Educational Journal
Sport Management Review
Sport Marketing Quarterly
Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal
Sporting Traditions
Sports Historian (currently known as Sport in History)
Sports Law e-Journal (online)
Sports Management International Journal: Choregia
The All Rounder**
The Sport Journal (open access)
University of Denver Sports & Entertainment Law Journal
University of Miami Entertainment & Sports Law Review
Villanova Sports & Entertainment Law Forum
Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal
Women in Sports & Physical Activity Journal

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Girls Youth Soccer and the College Scholarship

For the past several years I've been on the board of FC Boulder, our local youth soccer club, and this fall I became co-president. This vantage point, coupled with my day job, has led me to develop some views on youth sports. But to be perfectly clear, even though I refer to FC Boulder in the post below, the views offered are mine alone and not those of FC Boulder or my colleagues on the Board.

These views are offered to stimulate discussion, ultimately over what is best for our children in youth sports, recognizing that the answer to this question will be different for different families.

With that, let's take a look at girls youth soccer and the college scholarship.

Playing college soccer is an ambition for many girls. For some the opportunity comes with a financial benefit, for others it is simply an opportunity to continue playing the game that they love at a higher level. To understand the challenges faced by a players, their parents and the clubs that they pay for it is instructive to look at some numbers.

There are 333 NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer programs (PDF). Although they average 28 players per team, under NCAA rules, each program only is allocated 14 scholarships. That means that nationwide there are 4,662 total scholarships available. Because scholarships are awarded over a period of 5 years (during which a player is eligible for 4 of those years), that means that there are only on average 930 full scholarships open every year.

Most programs split their scholarships up to distribute them more equitably across their team, so on average, a college player “on scholarship” is likely to be on about a 1/3 scholarship.  Based on its population, Colorado should expect about 30 such partial scholarships to be awarded each year. NCAA Division II schools award about 2/3 of the scholarships of Division I, and Division III does not award scholarships.

At DI, DI and DIII levels there are about 27,000 total college soccer players. There are approximately 5,000 total scholarships. Right away it should be clear that playing soccer in college is not identical to securing a scholarship, much less a "full ride."

Lets look at some specifics. Colorado has more than 60 youth soccer clubs, but if we assume that the 10 biggest clubs are the ones that secure scholarships (not exactly right but pretty close), then just as a proportional average my club-- FC Boulder -- should expect about 5 (partial) Division I and II scholarships to be awarded to girls in the club every year.

But what if we don’t care about scholarships? What if we look to all girls in Colorado who sign with NCAA universities to play soccer regardless of whether they get financial assistance?

Last year the state of Colorado saw 121 girls commit to play NCAA soccer: 69 at D1, 38 at D2 and 14 at D3. Almost 2/3 of these commitments came from three clubs in Colorado:
Not surprisingly, these are also the programs with dedicated elite girls’ programs - specifically the US Soccer Girls Development Academy and ECNL. That means that the other 44 college soccer players came from about 60 other clubs. If we again assume that the top 10 clubs (other than Rush, Real, Storm) produce these athletes, then we should expect FC Boulder to have about 6 commitments per year -- that is less than 1% of girls who play at the club.

In recent years, the numbers suggest that FC Boulder has punched above its weight, for instance in the class of 2017, 9 FCB girls signed with colleges. FC Boulder does this even though it does not offer the formalized, elite-level programming offered by other clubs in the state. While that is great, even if we wanted to, FC Boulder could not replicate the programming at the bigger clubs because FC Boulder simply does not have the size or resources to offer such programs. Most clubs in Colorado (and every state) are face similar limitations based on their size and programming.

Given these realities, should there come a time when the best advice a local club can give an outstanding player is that there will be better opportunities for development by moving on to specialized elite programs at other clubs? Of course we should!

Advice to move on can be tough to hear for parents (trust me), and also for a club. Moving to a bigger, non-local program with elite programming might mean a commute to practices of an hour or more. It could mean more expenses. It will inevitably mean that your daughter (or son) no longer plays with her friends of many years in order to seek new opportunities. From the club standpoint, they lose one of their very best players. It might also mean giving up the chance to play in high school, which I fully endorse (but I know many do not).

Moving on is exactly what happened with FC Boulder (boys) player Shane O’Neill, who played for FC Boulder and then moved on to the Colorado Rapids Development Academy, then the US U-20 MNT and a professional career.

It is also what happened with Colorado standout Mallory Pugh, who went from training with an elite girls’ program to training with a boy’s US Soccer Development Academy when her growth as a player exceeded what was available on her team. She recently de-committed from UCLA to pursue a pro career and US WNT service when it became apparent that college soccer wouldn’t serve her developmental needs and career ambitions.

Youth soccer clubs serve their players well by helping them to identifying when it may be time to “graduate” to the next level. They also serve them well by being realistic with parents about the opportunities to play in college. The fact is, only a small percentage of girls (and boys) go on from youth sports to play in college. However, these numbers are of limited value because we all think our kids are special, and some parents (and kids) suffer from a form of "scholarship derangement syndrome." 

So what advice would I give to the parent (and kid) who wants to play in college?
  • If the ambition is financially motivated, understand that the typical scholarship to play girls soccer is valued at about $70,000 (assuming a 1/3 scholarship for 5 years and a full annual scholarship worth $40,000). With youth soccer costing as much as $5,000 to $10,000 per year (equipment, club fees, tournament travel, etc.), a family could save $70,000 over 18 years by socking away half this much each year by cutting soccer in half. The pay-to-play model for US soccer is much discussed these days (and some families can't afford soccer or college), but for now, its the way the game is played. Bottom line: The parent-provided "scholarship" is always going to be a far better way to pay for college than an athletics scholarship.
  • If the ambition is athletically motivated, understand that there are many different options for playing soccer beyond youth sports. The more prestigious D1 scholarships in the power conferences are few and far between, and go to the exceptionally talented players - its just a fact. Talk to coaches inside and outside your club and ask for the straight scoop. But for most girls, the opportunities will be found at smaller programs. There are also university club programs and intramurals. The opportunities to play beyond youth soccer are much broader than scholarship opportunities, and each girl and her family needs to find the right balance of education, soccer and life. But make no mistake, playing high level sports in college and succeeding academically is a lot of work.
The United States is unique because Title IX has created many opportunities for girls to move from youth sports to women's ports in college. But the number of girls playing soccer has increased much faster than have college opportunities. That is great news for soccer programs in college because the talent pool is deepening, but might not be great news for your daughter, as it means that competition for roster spots is tough.

As with most topics, the best advice to to get educated. Seek different points of view. Ultimately, recognize that soccer is a beautiful game that can be played by both men and women for many decades after youth sports, high school and college are in the rear view mirror. As we say at FC Boulder -Soccer for life.

Friday, October 13, 2017

US Soccer MNT Performance Under USSF Presidents Since 1974

The data in graph above comes from Wikipedia and It shows the improvement or decline in the ELO ratings of the US men's national team for each USSF president. The ELO rating is a measure of relative team strength based on performance.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Coaching Position at FC Boulder

Monday, October 2, 2017

Saudi Athlete Learns He Was Cleared of Doping 6 Years Later

This is an emerging story, but here is what I've been able to piece together.

Saudi Arabian footballer Al Kowaibki was suspended for 1 year in 2010 for doping. The WADA lab under which he was suspended (Malaysia) was subsequently suspended by WADA for having false positives. The Malaysian lab then filed a CAS case against WADA to protest the suspension.

WADA entered into evidence in the case the example of six athletes wrongly accused, including Al Kowaibki as a false positive. WADA won the CAS case. (Details here in PDF)

However, apparently no one - not WADA not SADO - ever notified the athlete that his sample was considered a false positive. He has lived the past 6+ years as a convicted doper. Remarkably, just recently the athlete just recently learned that he was cleared years ago. WADA is apparently investigating.

How can it be that an athlete was cleared of doping but no one told him?

This case was brought to my attention by legal researcher Ahmad Alamir, who has offered details in Arabic on his Twitter feed. We are working on translations at which point I'll revisit this issue.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Has the United States Reached Peak (American) Football?

At Play the Game I have a new column up that asks and answers the question whether the US has hit "peak football"?

Here is how it starts:
Last month my son’s middle school principal announced that there was not enough interest among students for the school to form an (American) football team to compete in 8th grade interscholastic competition. On the one hand, this seemed notable, as playing youth football is a cherished American tradition and football is what Gregg Easterbrook has called the King of Sports. On the other hand, I live in Boulder, Colorado – an environmentally-friendly, health-conscious, exercise-crazy college town -- an American outlier in many respects.

So, to assess whether my son’s school is an oddity or part of a larger trend, I decided to look into the state of American football, and this essay reports what I’ve found.
Head over to read the rest. I welcome comments.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NASL and Jeffrey Kessler Take on US Soccer

The North American Soccer League has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation and the lead counsel for NASL is Jeffrey Kessler, a leading anti-trust lawyer often involved in sports litigation. The lawsuit itself can be found here and a nice overview here. I discussed some of the earlier tensions between NASL and MLS in a blog post 2 years ago, here.

I'll leave the matters of law to the lawyers, but in this post I offer some thoughts on the lawsuit in the context of the governance of US Soccer. The lawsuit reveals some broader problems in the governance of US Soccer, ones that I have discussed at various times in the past (e.g., here and here). These broader problems focus on, what else, money and the use of soccer organizations to cash in.

The NASL characterizes US Soccer, Major League Soccer, Soccer United Marketing and (to a lesser extent) the United Soccer League as inter-related parts of a "conspiracy" to protect the monopoly status of the MLS. The lawsuit explains:
"By promulgating a changing portfolio of so-called “Professional League Standards” and regulations to protect MLS, and now USL, from competition, the USSF enriches itself and protects MLS as the only top-tier Division I men’s professional soccer league located in the U.S. and Canada, immune from competition from new entrants and potential rival leagues even though the USSF is a private organization and has no legal authority to confer immunity from competition to anyone."
The basis for the lawsuit is NASL's interest in its survival as a league and ability to compete fairly against the MLS to provide professional soccer in the United States.

But more generally, what the NASL lawsuit describes is a money machine. US Soccer, MLS and SUM have created a highly opaque, financially interdependent set of institutions legitimized by FIFA that would appear to benefit not just the individual team investors in the MLS, but also other (largely unknown) owners of SUM and MLS. Some of these individuals may include USSF officials. As the lawsuit explains:
"Upon information and belief, SUM is controlled by MLS or by the owners of MLS. SUM has entered into commercial relationships with USSF that are designed to align the economic interests of the USSF to favor MLS and protect its monopoly position."
The lawsuit further explains:
"103. The economic motivation for the USSF to use its Professional League Standards to maintain the MLS Division I monopoly, in concert with MLS, is evident from the series of commercial arrangements that the USSF entered into with MLS under which the USSF profits (notwithstanding its putative non-profit status) from the monopoly status it maintains for MLS. Most prominently, the USSF’s commercial rights have been pooled together and sold jointly with the commercial rights of MLS in “Soccer United Marketing” (“SUM”), a marketing company that, upon information and belief, is owned and controlled by MLS or its owners.

104. Acting in concert with the USSF, MLS has sought through SUM to control as many of the commercial rights relating to top-tier men’s soccer leagues located in the U.S. and Canada as possible, and thereby ensure that the fruits of any efforts to promote top-tier men’s soccer in the U.S. and Canada jointly flow to MLS and SUM’s stakeholders. Their objective to concentrate the revenues from top-tier men’s soccer in the United States in a single company is aptly summarized by SUM’s slogan: “One Sport. One Company.”"
What kind of money are we talking about?  The NY Daily News provided some insight in a 2016 article, which discussed the role of MLS president Don Garber and USSF president Sunil Gulati in the context of the organizations' rarely discussed finances:
In the early 2000s, [Don] Garber and the owners wanted to get the fledgling MLS on television to build a fanbase and sponsor interest, but broadcasters weren’t interested — a lure would be required to entice them. When Garber noticed the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups had not yet been picked up, he found his bait. The league acquired the potentially lucrative property and created SUM to serve as its business arm. SUM shopped the World Cup rights to television networks but with one condition: they also pick up MLS games, terms that ABC and ESPN ultimately accepted.

Through that kind of packaging and “one-stop shopping” for sponsors, SUM is able to pool revenues fairly quickly. By 2011, when SUM sold a 25% stake in the company to Providence Equity Partners, a private-equity investment firm, Major League Soccer’s “commercial arm” was estimated to be worth $600 million.

According to US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, SUM pays an annual guarantee to US Soccer — in 2004 it was $3.5 million; by 2014 it had grown to $8.25 million — in exchange for most sponsorship, television, licensing and royalty revenues. Not only does SUM benefit through financial remuneration, it allows it to package the gold-plated national team brand with other SUM properties — such as MLS — when selling rights to sponsors and broadcasters.

Once SUM reaches an undisclosed amount of profit on these commercial rights, it splits the rest with US Soccer, with 30% going to SUM. Financial statements ending in March 2015, the most recent available, show that SUM paid a total of $18.3 million to US Soccer. What is not indicated is how much of US Soccer’s potential revenue SUM retains. For example, of the eight-year, $720 million broadcast deal SUM recently inked for MLS and national team games, neither SUM nor US Soccer publicly discloses how much makes its way back to the federation. (Dan Courtemanche, senior spokesman for SUM and MLS, would not comment on business arrangements, citing SUM’s status as a private company. SUM president Kathy Carter declined to be interviewed, and Garber did not respond to interview requests.)
There is a lot in there (a lot of dollars too), so let me summarize:
  • SUM was worth a reported $600 million in 2011.
  • SUM paid USSF $8.5 million in 2014 in annual guarantees
  • SUM paid an additional $18.3 million to USSF in 2015, implying a profit of $7.8 million retained by SUM (i.e., $18.3/0.7)
There is more. According to the NY Post, MLS president Garber has a conflict of interest when it comes to SUM:
According to US Soccer, Garber recused himself from voting on its financial arrangement with SUM, standard protocol for someone who has interests with both parties. 
It also appears that USSF president Sunil Gulati is a shareholder in SUM, because he reportedly also recuses himself from USSF discussions of SUM, based on what USSF told me in an interview for this article last year.

If that is the case then that would mean that both Garber and Gulati have a piece of the $600 million of equity (in 2011) represented by SUM. Just as interesting, some fraction of SUM's television rights packages were helped along by none other than the late Chuck Blazer, who was caught up in and helped to move along the US DOJ investigation into corruption among FIFA, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials.

The conflicted roles of Garber and Gulati quickly descend into a situation of endemic conflict of interest, as literally every decision made by US Soccer related to professional or international soccer has implications for the SUM bottom line. I discussed the problematic nature of US soccer's lack of a conflict of interest policy at some length at Soccernomics last year. Are there other US Soccer officials with similar conflicts? We don't know.

Back to the NASL lawsuit -- the desire for a monopoly position among US Soccer might not simply be a matter of the desire to promote the fortunes of the MLS at the expense of other leagues. It may also have something to do with the fact that the USSF, MLS and SUM have created a fantastically lucrative arrangement involving TV and other marketing rights, international friendlies and other matches, as well as a stranglehold on professional soccer in the United States.

This arrangement sounds ... FIFA-esque.

The NASL lawsuit thus threatens to blow all of this wide open. Of the three organizations -- USSF, SUM and MLS -- the USSF is putatively a non-profit sports organization under US law. As such it is right to ask the organization to provide a much greater degree of transparency and to implement basic conflict of interest provisions.  It would also be appropriate to ask US Soccer to clearly separate from the for-profit enterprises in MLS and SUM. As things currently stand all that looks very unlikely.

The NASL lawsuit threatens the entire superstructure of US Soccer. That might be a good thing.

For further reading:

Farrell, J., & Clopton, A. W. (2015). Re-Evaluating Major League Soccer (Mls)'s Claim as a Single-Entity League: 10 Years after Fraser V. Major League Soccer. Journal of Contemporary Athletics, 9(3), 173.

Jakobsze, M. J. (2010). Kicking single-entity to the sidelines: Reevaluating the competitive reality of Major League Soccer after American Needle and the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement. N. Ill. UL Rev., 31, 131.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Inconsistencies Between Johaug vs. Sharapova at CAS

I've had a close read of the CAS decisions on the doping violations of Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharpova (here in PDF) and Norwegian nordic superstar Therese Johaug (here in PDF). The cases are remarkably similar in many respects. Both involve an athlete who was given bad advice by a trusted advisor -- an agent in Sharpova's case and a doctor in Johaug's case. Both were judged to have committed an anti-doping violation with "no significant fault" (NSF). Both admitted to taking substances on the WADA prohibited list by mistake.

However, the CAS decisions are remarkably different. Sharapova received a reduced sanction which allowed her to pick up her professional career with minimal impact. In contrast, Johaug saw her sanction extended, resulting in her missing the 2018 Olympics, arguably with near maximum impact on her career (were she to qualify in 2022, it would be past the peak of her career). Further, CAS went out of its way to characterize Sharapova as deserving of sympathy and Johaug as not deserving such sympathy.

One CAS arbitrator sat on both cases. Below I've excerpted some of the key passages from each judgment. Have a look, and see whether you think there is consistency here. If you are interested, I'd encourage you to read both judgments in full. In my opinion there is a troubling degree of arbitrariness in the CAS sanctions between these two athletes that should be viewed as problematic by anyone who cares about athlete due process under lex sportiva.

Is the athlete ultimately responsible?

CAS on Johaug:
"it is an athlete’s primary duty of care to read the packaging of products and to double-check with a medical person if the information refers to a prohibited substance"
CAS on Sharapova:
"an athlete can always read the label of the product used or make Internet searches to ascertain its ingredients, crosscheck the ingredients so identified against the Prohibited List or consult with the relevant sporting or anti-doping organizations, consult appropriate experts in antidoping matters and, eventually, not take the product. However, an athlete cannot reasonably be expected to follow all such steps in each and every circumstance."
Can an athlete delegate some responsibility to a professional on their team?

CAS on Johaug:
"the Panel finds it striking that Ms Johaug did not perform the most important of them. She was given the packaging of the Trofodermin but did not conduct even a cursory check of the label. . . It follows that a top athlete must always personally take very rigorous measures to discharge these obligations. The CAS has specifically noted that the prescription of medicine by a doctor does not relieve the Athlete from checking if the medicine contains forbidden substances or not" 
CAS on Sharapova:
"even though, under the TADP, it is the Player’s personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his/her body (Article 2.1.1) and it is the responsibility of each player to be familiar with the most current edition of the Prohibited List (Article 3.1.2 in fine), nothing prevented the Player, a high-level athlete focused on demanding sporting activities all over the world, from delegating activities aimed at ensuring regulatory compliance and more specifically that no anti-doping rule violation is committed" 
Should an athlete trust their doctor?

CAS on Johaug:
"It is not appropriate for an athlete, without any substantiation, to draw a conclusion that her doctor has carried out his responsibilities properly, and subsequently adjust her own level of diligence according to what she thought the doctor could have done."
CAS on Sharapova:
"The Panel wishes to emphasize that based on the evidence, the Player did not endeavour to mask or hide her use of Mildronate and was in fact open about it to many in her entourage and based on a doctor’s recommendation" 
What was the level of fault?

CAS on Johaug;
"the appropriate level of fault is No Significant Fault (“NSF”)"
CAS on Sharapova:
"the Panel concludes that the Player’s claim of NSF can be accepted"
What is the appropriate sanction?

CAS on on Johaug (increased sanction from 13 to 18 months):
"Ms Johaug’s overall circumstances place her level of fault in the middle of the 16 – 20 month range"
CAS on Sharapova (reduced sanction from 24 to 15 months):
"the Panel has determined, under the totality of the circumstances, that a sanction of fifteen (15) months is appropriate here given her degree of fault" 
How should we think of this athlete?

CAS on Johaug:
"Considering Ms Johaug’s extremely high level of experience and success as an international athlete, her failure to conduct a basic check is very surprising. Throughout her ten-year career as a professional cross-country skier she has been subject to approximately 140 doping control tests. As such, she should have been very familiar with the rigorous standards expected of an athlete such as herself." 
CAS on Sharapova:
"The Panel wishes to emphasize that based on the evidence, the Player did not endeavour to mask or hide her use of Mildronate and was in fact open about it to many in her entourage and based on a doctor’s recommendation, that she took the substance with the good faith belief that it was appropriate and compliant with the relevant rules and her anti-doping obligation"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: How to End “Sex Testing” in International Athletics

I am happy to report that my academic paper on "sex testing" in elite sport has passed peer review and in now in press. The paper has been several years in the works and totals more than 10,500 words. Whew.

In the paper I critique:
  • Fears of fraud in elite sport (men posing as women)
  • Concerns about fairness (the need to protect women from other women)
  • The idea that science can solve this issue (It can't)
I also offer a suggested way forward based on a procedural approach to classification rather than a substantive approach. Nationality classification shows that this can be done.

Here is the abstract:

In many settings, decision makers look to science as the basis for making decisions that are made difficult by their social or political context. Sport is no different. For more than a half century sports officials have looked to science to provide a clear distinction between men and women for purposes of determining who is eligible to participate in women’s athletic competitions. However, the science of sex provides overwhelming evidence that there is no such clear biological demarcation that differentiates men and women. Despite this evidence, the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2011 implemented a form of “sex testing” based on androgens, and specifically, testosterone levels in females. This paper evaluates this policy, finding it contradictory to scientific understandings of sex and counter to widely-held social norms about gender. The paper recommends an alternative approach to determining eligibility for participation in women’s sports events, one more consistent with the stated values of sports organizations, and more generally, with principles of human dignity.
Here is the citation:
Pielke, Jr., R. 2017, in press. Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: How to End “Sex Testing” in International Athletics, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics.
If you would like a pre-publication copy as accepted, just send me an email. The page proof version should be online in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Should IOC Members be on the WADA Athlete Committee?

Last week a dispute between WADA and the IOC became public. The Chair of the WADA Athlete Committee Beckie Scott told the BBC that she did not believe that a monetary fine would be a sufficient basis for allowing Russian athletes to rejoin international competitions. The interview came after the WADA Athlete Committee issued a statement following its meeting in London last week. That statement included 8 outcomes, one of which was: "The Committee requested that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) improve and strengthen its independence and continually strive to increase the quality of its arbitrators."

CAS is closely related to the IOC and its independence has been the subject of considerable debate over the years (here is a good overview in PDF). CAS is overseen by officials of the IOC and its related sports bodies.

Then just a few days later, two members of the WADA Athletes Committee who are also the chair and vice-chair of the IOC Athletes' Commisstion (Angela Ruggiero and Tony Estanguet) issued a hard-hitting rebuke of Beckie Scott . They wrote:
"We believe the comments made by the chair of WADAs Athlete Committee are inappropriate at this time. We do not wish to speculate, and we hope that other Athletes’ Commissions will refrain from comment until the full facts of the case emerge and the investigations are completed."
The full IOC Athletes' Commission issued a further statement that took issue with the statement of the WADA Athletes Committee:
“As the IOC Athletes’ Commission and also members of the WADA Athlete Committee, we believe the comments questioning the independence of CAS and the quality of the arbitrators is misguided. A number of highest courts of different countries have confirmed the independence of CAS and such comments only lead to mistrust and confusion. We support CAS in its ability to fight for clean sport and want to reassure the athletes of the world in this regard.”
The WADA Athlete Committee has 18 members (here in PDF), five of which are also members of the IOC Athletes' Commission. The members of the IOC Athlete Commission are also full members of the IOC.

Those five members have signed onto a statement that calls for improving and strengthening the independence of CAS and they have also signed on to a statement that contradicts the earlier statement that they signed onto, defending the independence of CAS.

Confusing?  Perhaps.  But there appears to be a simple explanation of why these 5 athletes would sign onto to different statements saying opposite things just a few days apart, the first from WADA and the second from IOC.

They have a conflict of interest.

As IOC members they are representatives of the IOC's interests, which do not always coincide with the objectives and policies of WADA. The five athletes who signed on to the WADA statement last week were obviously shown the error of their ways in the days that followed, upon which they issued their corrective statement.

This is a problem.

Earlier this year, in testimony before the US Congress, Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, characterized the role of IOC officials in WADA governance as "the fox guarding the hen house" (here in PDF).  He explained of IOC officials ("sport members"):
"These sport members are not mere figureheads but are lifetime sport executives with strong incentive to influence WADA decisions to advance their own sport interests. . . Unfortunately, WADA’s governance structure, lacking any meaningful conflict of interest policy to separate sport interests from WADA governance"
Tygart suggested that there is a quick fix:
The good news is that WADA’s conflicted governance model could be easily solved by removing sport leaders from the WADA governance and implementing a proper conflict-of interest policy which prohibits governing members from simultaneously holding a governing role within a sports organization under WADA’s jurisdiction. 
WADA does have a conflict of interest policy (here in PDF) which states:
"Every person who is subject to the Policy shall, in the exercise of his or her functions on behalf of WADA, be free of undue influence or other factors which may give rise to a conflict between his or her own interest or the interest of any other person and that of WADA."
We have clear evidence that five members of the WADA Athlete Committee have a clear conflict with respect to their IOC roles. What is the WADA procedure for dealing with such a situation?
The WADA President with the Director General or if the President is not available the Vice President with the Director General, and any other person that the President may from time to time designate for this purpose, shall take all appropriate measures to ensure compliance with this Policy, including the determination of appropriate preventive measures, the determination of whether there has been a breach of the Policy and the determination of sanctions where there has been a breach of this Policy.
Easy then, right?

The WADA President simply needs to say that this situation is ridiculous and remove (or ask to resign) the athletes with a clear conflict of interest. The IOC athletes could then speak for the IOC from their commission and the WADA athletes could speak from their committee. Conflict removed. Mixed messages cleaned up.

Who is the WADA President? Craig Reedie, member of the IOC since 1994.


Let me answer the question I posed in the title: Should IOC Members be on the WADA Athlete Committee?  

No, of course not. But when you dig into this a bit you see clearly how WADA is compromised by IOC members participating in its governance. This should be fixed.