Monday, 17 October 2011

Mud Slinging

Patrice Evra (Man Utd and France defender) alleges that Liverpool's Luis Suarez racially abused him on numerous occasions during last Saturday's Liverpool v Man Utd Premier League clash which ended 1 - 1. Uruguayan Suarez denies the accusation stating on Twitter that he was 'upset' by the allegations. The FA  are investigating and will need to interview Evra first to establish precisely what he is alleging. If there is a case to answer, Suarez will then be interviewed. Referee Andre Marriner was made aware of the accusations, but did not hear any abuse himself. Evra suggested that TV cameras would have picked up what Suarez was saying, but thus far no such footage has been made available.
Evra has been involved in a number of previous allegations of racism. In April 2008 he was involved in an altercation with a Chelsea goundsman and it was alleged by United staff that he had been called 'a fucking immigrant'. An FA inquiry did not find this accusation to be substantiated due to inconsistencies in the witness accounts of those staff. Evra was also previously alleged to be the victim of racist abuse by then Liverpool player, Steve Finnan. Deaf TV viewers suggested that Finnan had used racist language to Evra, but again this was never substantiated and Evra himself did not pursue this.
Liverpool have suggested that Evra himself should be banned if these new allegations prove to be false.
There are no time limits on the FA inquiry, but both clubs will be hoping that this matter is swiftly dealt with to avoid an escalation of ill feeling at a moment when both clubs were trying to foster a more healthy atmosphere of mutual respect. Whether true or not, the unsavoury side of the game has dominated the headlines and diminished the sport.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

An Englishman Abroad

Wayne Rooney's latest show of petulance sets up the prospect of another international tournament dominated by the player's, at least initial, absence. Just when things seemed to be rosy for Team England, 1 - 2 ahead away in Montenegro and with automatic qualification seemingly in the bag for Euro 2012, for reasons known only to Rooney, he lashed out at an opponent who had the temerity to dispossess him legitimately. The inevitable and unarguable red card followed immediately from referee, Wolfgang Stark. Rooney went quietly.

Rooney's case will now be considered by the UEFA Disciplinary Committee tomorrow (13th October 2011). It is understood that both the English FA, in the shape of Manager Fabio Capello, and Rooney himself have made written submissions requesting leniency. Team England fear a 3 match ban which would rule Rooney out of all 3 tournament qualifying matches and even, arguably, put his inclusion in the tournament squad at risk. It would of course be a serious blow to Rooney, but also to the team. Rooney though only has himself to blame for this latest bout of unjustifiable violence. It is difficult to see what would justify a lenient approach from UEFA. This was petulant, unprovoked violence. As usual the English authorities are indulging this behaviour for short term gain rather than making an example of the player.

The Player Misconduct disciplinary regulations of UEFA (Article 10 sub paragraph (e)) state that the 'standard sanction' for assaulting another player at a match is a suspension for 3 competition matches. Sub paragraph (f) allows for a standard sanction suspension of 5 matches for 'serious assault'.

Rooney's action could not realistically be categorised as 'serious assault', but it certainly falls squarely within subsection (e) (standard sanction 3 matches). At the discretion of the disciplinary panel this sanction can be reduced or increased according to the individual circumstances of the case (Article 17 (2)) i.e. the aggravating and mitigating factors.

Through a combination of factors, Rooney's last 2 major tournaments have been disastrous affairs. In 2006 Rooney barely recovered from a broken metatarsal injury in time to participate in WC Germany2006. He was out of form and possibly fitness. Eventually his frustrations boiled over in an assault upon a Portuguese player during the quarter final. He received a straight red card. At WC South Africa 2010 Rooney fared little better. Entering the tournament again without form or true fitness due to injury, Rooney performed badly throughout and even delivered an on camera tirade to the fans.

Rooney can be a joy to behold as a player, but indiscipline risks tarnishing his reputation for all time. Time is short for Rooney to redeem himself.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Lifetime ban for UK Dopers?

Yesterday the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling in the Lashawn Merritt case (IOC v USOC) decided that the IOC's rule making drug banned athletes ineligible from the following Olympic Games was 'invalid and unenforceable' as it was contrary to the IOC's own charter which incorporates the WADA Code. The ordinary maximum ban under the WADA Code is 2 years although in 'aggravating circumstances, such as the use of 2 anabolic steroids, the length can be extended to as much as 4 years. The IOC's policy had meant that in effect athletes faced sanctions of more than the ordinary maximum. Lashawn Merritt committed a doping offence and has just finished serving a 21 month ban. He is now eligible to run at next year's Olympics in London.
The CAS decision places the spotlight firmly back upon the British Olympic Association's Bylaw which bans those British Athletes convicted of doping offences from the Olympics for life. The legality of this Bylaw has never been fully tested in court (although Dwain Chambers did at one unsuccessfully seek to obtain an interim injunction in respect of the ban prior to the Beijing Olympics). The Bylaw was introduced in 1992 largely at the instigation of athletes themselves in order to protect clean athletes and to attempt to deter the ever increasing instance of doping in sport. The Bylaw has continued to enjoy overwhelming support amongst British athletes ever since, as demonstrated by athlete surveys after the last 4 Olympiad. The BOA has vowed to defend its policy.
The problem with the Bylaw is that it is unique to the British Olympic Squad. Other countries have not chosen to follow the same path and there is little prospect (especially now) that any will ever do so. Accordingly Lashawn Merritt will defend his Beijing gold medal in London, but David Millar and Dwain Chambers, inter alia, will not be allowed to compete. Thus far the likes of Millar and Chambers have not indicated whether they will now seek to appeal the Bylaw. Millar, in particular, has had a largely successful rehabilitation from his ban and is admired by many within the cycling community for his part in addressing the issues of the past and working towards a cleaner sport. Nonetheless he appears to fear a backlash if he attempts to challenge something which is so deeply supported. I suspect that he will sacrifice his own Olympic ambitions for the greater good and his continued respect within the sport.
There is a sense in which the BOA policy discriminates against British athletes vis a vis their international counterparts. It is argued by some that all athletes should be subject to one regime ie the WADA Code. If it is felt that the WADA sanctions are insufficient then it is that Code that should be changed for all rather than for an individual country to unilaterally make further sanctions. British athletes are currently subject to double jeopardy. They are subject to a sanction deemed commensurate with the offence, but are then given another sanction that others do not face. The BOA argue that it is for them to decide who is eligible and that there is a right of appeal. Of those appealing only 3 have failed in that appeal. However the whole process is messy and conflicting. Christine Ohuruogu succeeded in her appeal in spite of missing 3 drug tests because she had not actually been found to have taken drugs. The distinction is seemingly slight although the CAS finding in respect of Ohuruogu is interesting. They found her to be naive rather than cynically manipulating the testing system. Millar and Chambers were, of course, caught cynically cheating.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Tevez - striker? Hero to Zero.

Worn down by living in Manchester (albeit at £200k per week), unable to get the 'agitated for move' and now rendered surplus to requirements by countryman, Sergio Aguero, and fellow striker Edin Dzeko, Carlos Tevez cracked. He 'allegedly' refused to play for MCFC and admittedly 'refused to continue to warm up' as he admitted at the club's internal tribunal recently. City fans have reacted with outrage and moral indignation. Hardly surprising when one considers that some may have spent about £1000 travelling to Bayern Munich for the Champions League tie in question.
Manager Roberto Mancini swiftly vowed that Tevez would never appear in City colours again. Understandable sentiments perhaps, but a position which presents the club with some troublesome issues. It is not 100% certain that City could summarily dismiss Tevez for his act of disobedience. Some, perhaps surprisingly, argue that, though serious, his behaviour does not amount to gross misconduct. The facts of the matter are already proving difficult to establish. However failing to do your best for your club might justify summary dismissal and, assuming they could dismiss Tevez, City would then have the not inconsiderable problem of trying to recoup his transfer value from the player. Some years ago Chelsea achieved judgement against Adrianu Mutu, but never recouped the money from the player in an analogous situation, after he was sacked for using cocaine.
The options for City notwithstanding their immense wealth are not attractive. Simply fining Tevez would be meaningless. Standard maximum fines of 2 weeks wages would be a drop in the ocean to the player. In exceptional circumstances, fines representing much longer periods have occasionally been allowed as in the case of the sanction handed out to Lee Bowyer by Leeds Utd after his conviction for a racially aggravated affray. The sums nonetheless represent no kind of sanction at all to a Tevez. City must ensure that any penalties are just and proportionate and follow a fair and unbiased hearing and potentially appeal process.
City could let Tevez rot in the reserves. There are a number of unwanted side effects. The player's transfer value declines rapidly in a situation where the selling club cannot wait to be rid of the player. In addition Tevez could invoke Article 15 of Fifa's Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players. Tevez would become 'an established professional' who had appeared in less than 10% of the club's competitive games during the season. At that point Tevez might be able to legitimately terminate his contract for 'sporting just cause'. 
Keeping a dissident player within the ranks however is surely not an option. City will be looking for a face saving deal in the January transfer window. It should be remembered however that nobody expressed any concrete interest in the player this Summer just past, leaving Tevez and City wedded together in a loveless marriage.