Tuesday, 27 December 2011

India out of Touch and Shape on DRS

The Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) was first trialled in the Sri Lanka/India test match series of 2008. Outraged by a number of decisions going against their hero, Rahul Dravid, the Indians have subsequently sought to prevent the use of the system by claiming that it is unreliable. They  believe that the system threatens to create a disadvantage for their 'galactico batsmen'. Since the introduction of the system, it has been statistically proven that umpiring decisions have increased in accuracy. Spin bowlers have been  major beneficiaries of the availability of the technology. The system has shown that many more deliveries would have struck the wickets than had previously been supposed. Umpires have demonstrably been influenced to the extent that the number of successful LBW appeals has dramatically increased. Indian batsmen traditionally counted on the reluctance of umpires to give such decisions and almost routinely defended with their bat behind their pad with insouciance. Suddenly this tactic was no longer working. Batsman were being forced to play at more deliveries with the attendant risks of edges and errors. Is it coincidence that India has sought to block the use of the system in their test matches. UDRS can only be used, at present, with the consent of both teams and accordingly test series involving India are currently UDRS free. The International Cricket Council might be expected to challenge this position in the near future, but the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) is a powerful and implacable opponent on this issue. Watch this space, but don't hold your breath.

UDRS works at present at the instigation of the players. Each team is permitted to challenge umpiring decisions incorrectly on 2 occasions per innings. Within a 'short period' of the umpire's original decision the captain of the 'aggrieved side', or the batsman, must indicate a challenge to the decision. This short delay is intended to prevent the potential challenger from having the benefit of a signal from the dressing room from somebody who has had the opportunity to view a replay. Challenges are referred to a 3rd Umpire who has access to a number of technological aids. These include 'Hawkeye' or variants of it, 'Hotspot' and sound microphones situated within or adjacent to the stumps. Hawkeye predicts the path of the delivery (for LBWs) and can detect edges and show deviations. Hotspot is a thermal imaging device which isolates the point of contact. None are perfect. The 'snickometer' device cannot be used because it requires some 7 minutes to achieve an accurate result (an unacceptable delay to the flow of the game). This can of itself cause controversy when its results subsequently become known, are broadcast to the crowd and occasionally undermine the 'reviewed decision'. The original decision can only be changed when the 3rd umpire has a 'high degree of confidence' that the original decision is incorrect.

Aussie legend Ian Chappell has recently called for a change to UDRS. He wants to remove the right to challenge from the players and return authority to the umpires. The umpires would seek a review whenever they were in any doubt as to the correct decision. This is the system which is currently used for run outs. Umpires now routinely refer all but the most clear cut decisions. This can be somewhat tedious, but is almost fail safe. The beauty of the 'Chappell Proposal' is that umpires would regain their moral authority on the field of play. The unedifying sight of players effectively openly challenging the umpire's decision would be removed. Equally the tactical use of challenges to exert pressure on the umpire or an opponent would disappear. Perhaps strangely a Chappell might be enhancing the 'spirit of the game' with his comments. Not something which has routinely happened in cricketing history.
It is certainly noticeable so far in the latest India v England series which began 2 days ago that the temperature with regard to umpiring decisions has very much dropped as a result of the lack of DRS and thus scrutiny of umpiring decisions, but also due to the ban by the BCCI on broadcasters showing the technology.
 Some food for thought.
UPDATE 17.12.12
As England bat out the last day of the series and remain in command and set for a 2 - 1 series victory, it has become embarrassingly obvious that the BCCI position is untenable. Indian cricket really needs to get a grip. Whilst it has been a riveting series, it has also been riddled with glaring umpiring mistakes the majority of which DRS would have  corrected. Umpires have also reverted to being more cautious about giving batsmen out LBW. The post DRS world is a much better place. Indian cricket seems to be stuck in another time and place. The team's fielding, lack of athleticism and dynamism due to a lack of fitness added to the impression of a nation grown too comfortable with its financial dominance of the game due to, inter alia, IPL. That tournament stands in counter point to this tired Indian cricket team. Meanwhile England took the rough with the smooth and dusted themselves down after the first test and were utterly professional and for 3 tests, a complete team. They also took several steps towards the future with the blooding of Compton and Root, both successful debutants on this tour.

Saturday, 24 December 2011


John Terry just about did his job against Tottenham this week, he gave away one goal and saved another. At the end of the game he stripped off his shirt and threw it to his adoring fans in the Away end. He sought to perpetuate the 'Terry Myth' of the unshakeable rock. Newspaper reports the following day described his performance as 'heroic'. What an insult to true heroes, our veterans, firemen, nurses to name a few. The unsung.What is so heroic about playing football? What would be heroic, at least within the tabloid definition, would be if Terry had the guts to resign from the England team and captaincy with immediate effect until he 'clears his name' in the criminal proceedings early next year. England could then go about its business and preparation for Euro 2012 without the 'Terry Circus'. Meanwhile the FA wrings its hands. Familiar territory.
Luis Suarez is found guilty of racist abuse following a lengthy and detailed hearing by an independent tribunal. Liverpool FC, one of the biggest and most famous clubs in the world, react by sending their players and manager into the warm up to their next game wearing t - shirts proclaiming their support for Suarez. The t - shirts might just as well have said 'Suarez is innocent'. What message does this send out save one that shows total disregard for the organs of football governance.
From time to time football brings out respect campaigns. These are usually utterly undermined by the actions of those within the game.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Taekwondo in a Spin

Taekwondo has forced its way into the headlines over the past year with selection and technological issues.
With regard to the vexed subject of technology in sport,. this always arouses strong passions, particularly as technology equals change. Britain woke up to Taekwondo and passions became inflamed when during Beijing 2008 our Taekwondo star, Sarah Stevenson, landed a telling blow to the head, but it was 'missed' by the judges, initially depriving her of a semi final spot. Eventually justice was done by an appeal panel, but the initial subjective error raised alarm bells.
The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) has now addressed these concerns by introducing an electronic scoring system. Sensors are fitted to the athlete's body armour and socks. A number of systems had been tried and many previously found wanting. The 4 judge button pressing panel system has been consigned to history.
The new system requires competitors to make clean  contacts to automatically score points. Furthermore there is a video replay system which allows players to instantly challenge 'errors'. Athletes now score more heavily for head contacts and in particular for spinning kicks. This is designed to appeal to spectators. Kicks to the head apparently are more exciting. This is apparently a factor in the huge controversy now surrounding Team GB's selection for 2012.
I doubt if Taekwondo has ever previously enjoyed the level of media interest in this country which broke out in the build up to the Games. British Taekwondo nominated Lutalo Muhammad rather than Aaron Cook, current European Champion, in the Under 80kg category. Cook is ranked World Number 1. Muhammad is ranked 7, but in the under 87kg category which is not an Olympic event. Many prominent figures voiced their support for Cook. On the other hand Stevenson stated that World Rankings are irrelevant in Taekwondo.

Spinning Head Kick

The OQS Panel (Olympic Qualifying Standards) comprising, inter alia Team GB boss Andy Hunt and Clive Woodward ordered British Taekwondo to review the decision and to specifically reconsider certain criteria applied in the decision making process.
OQS's remit is to scrutinise the use of Host Nation Qualification Places, to ensure that agreed performance standards have been met and that the process of nominating athletes has been consistent with the agreed selection criteria and procedures, The OQS Panel can only accept or reject nominations, it does not have the remit to select individual athletes. 
In the background is the fact that Cook quit the GB Development Programme last year preferring to train alone and has seen a marked improvement in his performance. Cook has been in the European top 20 consistently whereas Muhammad has not. British Taekwondo seek to justify their decision partly by reference to perceived changes in the head kick marking system which they claim advantages Muhammad. However there is considerable disagreement as to whether the changes have any real effect. OQS is seeking clarification from the WTF.

Muhammad for his part has quietly kept his own counsel. It is known though that he has been the subject of abuse for 'depriving Cook of his rightful place'.
Meanwhile Sarah Stevenson is safely selected for her 4th Olympics.
Now I just have to get my head round the sport. Come on GB!
UPDATE 9.8.12
Britain's 19 year old Jade Jones nicknamed the 'Head Hunter' and coached by Sarah Stevenson, has won the 57kg category gold medal at the Games. She is the first former Youth Olympic Games gold medallist (Singapore 2010) to win senior gold. She fulfilled a prediction made by Dame Kelly Holmes some months ago. Aaron Cook was amongst the public cheering her on. Notwithstanding the controversies of selection in the lead up to the Games, Taekwondo is now hitting the public consciousness in a big way. Lutalo and Sarah are still to come with more potential medals on the line. #legacy.
UPDATE 10.8.12
Lutalo Muhammad wins bronze! Aaron Cook was not present.

Lutalo Bronze Medal
UPDATE 7.12.12
Snubbed by Team GB Aaron Cook has now decided to try his luck representing the Isle of Man, declaring that he will never work with 'them' again. Cook can represent IOM in European and world Championships and hopefully accumulate enough ranking points to qualify for the Olympics under a new system to be introduced by the governing body. Fighting for IOM allows Cook to retain the possibility of competing for Team GB at Rio 2016. Mark Cavendish is somebody who has previously followed this route. Good Luck Aaron you were wronged!! 
UPDATE 9.2.13
Cook's first competition in IOM colours is this week. A new beginning. For their part the BOA and UK Sport have vowed to compel governing bodies to draw up more transparent and objective selection criteria ahead of Rio 2016. Cook has been led to believe that the WTF will ensure that its world rankings will count for more in determining selection for the Games.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Perils of Promotion

The 2012 Olympic Sailing  medal races will take place at Weymouth Harbour. This will enable 4,600 spectators paying good money to watch the event, but many argue that the best sailing conditions are out at sea. Meanwhile the latest furore involving superstar Olympian Ben Ainslie perhaps highlights the increasing conflict between traditionalists and the marketing men trying to make sailing more attractive to television. At the World Championships in Perth, Australia Ainslie was disqualified by the International Jury after he was found guilty of gross misconduct. Ainslie took exception to the close attentions of a media boat which got so close that its wash impeded the 3 time Olympic gold medallist. Ainslie leapt into the sea and boarded the media boat and at the very least remonstrated with the crew. He later apologised for his uncharacteristic loss of cool, but it was too late. As Simon Barnes puts it 'Who runs sport - sport or television?'
Meanwhile there are similar disagreements rumbling through the snooker world. Barry Hearn, Chairman of World Snooker, and to some its saviour, has come under attack from Mark Allen, finalist this weekend at the UK Championships. Allen was unhappy that the second most important tournament of all had reduced matches from best of 17 frames to best of 11. He felt that this undervalued the tournament. Hearn counters that since his return to centre stage in the sport, the number of spectators, sponsorship and tournaments, as well as prize money, have all increased significantly. Both the fans and television want to be able to see a result within a session. Hearn says that the bottom line is giving his 3 customers, fans, sponsors and television what they want. Now even the World Championship may not be safe from innovation.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Deep Breath

North Korea's women's football team coach initially blamed his team's poor performance at the Women's World Cup 2010 in Germany upon the fanciful claim that a number of their players were struck by lighting. They finished 13th. At the first game 2 of their players tested positive for a banned performance enhancing substance steroid. Before the final group game further tests were carried out and 3 further players were caught in relation to the same substance. The Koreans now blamed an alternative remedy Chinese medicine - the extract of a gland from the musk deer for this further mishap. The Koreans were fined the equivalent of their prize money for the tournament and banned from the World Cup until 2015. Individual players received lengthy bans.
Nonetheless North Korea have qualified at the expense of Australia for London 2012. The key match took place just weeks after the ban was imposed upon North Korea in respect of the World Cup. How can this be? Apparently and according to FIFA this is because bans relating to teams only relate to the competition in which the infringements occurred. So the players are banned and miss the Olympics. The team does not. Australia has nowhere to appeal and WADA, who do, have chosen not to do so arguing that it is a matter for FIFA. This represents a nadir in the fight against drugs. One would hope for a noisy unwelcome for the Koreans in London, but given the restrictions on protest at the Olympics this is unlikely to discomfort them greatly. At least the coach was suspended for 6 years.

Political Protests at the Olympics

A recent interview with John Carlos long ago hero of the Civil Rights movement in America  made me wonder what might happen at next Summer's London 2012. At the last Olympics in Beijing in 2008 human rights activists urged athletes to demonstrate support for Tibet by forming a 'T' using both their hands.The Olympic torch relay was also marred by worldwide protest and by attempts to suppress it. 
There are strict rules about the use of political banners and flags within Olympic venues. Athletes are banned from any kind of 'demonstration or political, religious or racial propoganda'.
There is little that the authorities could do however about athletes making demonstrations outside of Olympic 'accredited areas'.A demonstration of the John Carlos kind on the medal podium itself would undoubtedly fall foul of the rules.
In 1968 at the height of the civil rights protests in the USA Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their defining protest in support of equal rights for black people in America. They became heroes to millions of their compatriots, but also hounded by the FBI. They were punished by the IOC with suspension from the American team and banishment from the Olympic Village.
They were effectively ostracised from mainstream athletics until 1984.
Have times changed? Not a great deal I suspect.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Rooney Rule

This is the subject that will not go away. Surprisingly for a Sports Law Blog, this is not another post about our pug faced sometime England star striker. With racism stories swirling around English Football and various summit meetings being promised to address the rifts and conflicts which appear to trouble the game, attention is increasingly focussing on the lack of 'ethnic' representation in the management of the game.


The lessons from the USA with regard to attempts to address similar problems in the NFL are increasingly being raised here.
The Rooney rule, which came into effect in the USA in 2003 was named after Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who advocated it . The rule was brought in by the National Football League (NFL) and was designed to proactively address the near total absence of ethnic minority coaches in the league. Until 2003 only 8 ethnic minority coaches had held senior positions.
 The rules requires ethnic minority coaches to be interviewed for vacant positions of Head Coach or for Senior positions within the operation of the team. Since the advent of the rule the percentage of ethnic minorities in such positions has risen from 6 to 22%. Affirmative action is nonetheless controversial and may well infringe equality laws in this country. There are nonetheless many things which could be done to address the current situation.
In England of the 92 fully professional clubs, only Chris Hughton (Norwich), Chris Powell (Charlton) and Keith Curle of Notts County (but sacked since I wrote this article) hold Head Coach or managerial positions (you can add in Edgar Davids from Holland who recently took over at Barnet).
Paul Ince has also got back in at Blackpool in the Championship.
In a surprise move last season Wolves sacked Mick McCarthy and replaced him with Terry Connor, his assistant. I say surprisingly, because although this might appear to show enlightenment on the part of a Premier League club, in fact Wolves trawled through a list of the 'usual suspects' all of whom rejected the opportunity, before looking within their own staff. Nonetheless the appointment was initially greeted by many with enthusiasm. It did however beg the question as to why Mick McCarthy was sacked if he is only to be replaced by his number two. Steve Morgan, chairman, proclaimed that Wolves had nothing to be embarrassed about. Fair enough, but if so why was he making that statement at all? We all know that this 'experiment' ended in tears with Wolves relegated and Connor sacked. This should not in any way reflect upon the issues here, Connor was simply not ready or perhaps suited to the particular role of manager and Wolves evidently were a club in crisis well before before he took the helm.

The Professional Footballer's Association is very much in favour of our own Rooney Rule, but the Premier League is resistant. Richard Scudamore, Head of the Premier League  stated last season that with only 20 managerial places available there is no place for quotas. He believes that a meritocracy will address the issue. The facts seem to disprove this. Paul Davis, former Arsenal midfielder, and now PFA representative, believes that the rule would encourage black candidates to step forward and enable them to have a chance. At present there is a merry go round with the same (white) faces being put forward for every job. When Steve Bruce was sacked last season at Sunderland , the club immediately identified Martin O'Neill as their desired replacement. He came from the pool of proven and safe talent. Whilst O'Neill may well have proved to be the best candidate in any event, the process itself acts against any fresh blood entering the fray. O'Neill more than demonstrated the wisdom of his appointment by leading Sunderland away from a relegation struggle and towards the upper reaches of the Premier League. The recycled merry go round however ultimately leads to a certain staleness and English football management no longer reflects its players and fans. 25% of players are now from ethnic minorities. England is undoubtedly a successful multi cultural society. Steps should now be taken to bring this success and diversity of approach into the national sport.
With the controversies of recent months and multiple calls for dialogue, the latest by the Ferdinand brothers, now is the perfect time for decisive action. Lawyers however suggest that the Rooney Rule is incompatible with English Equality laws.

Time for Creative Thinking

Whilst quotas cannot be set for interviewing black or ethnic candidates, clubs and governing bodies can adopt measures to encourage the participation of groups of candidates who are (demonstrably here) under represented. Positive action is different from positive discrimination. The EU has ruled that positive action is not unlawful unless it requires automatic and unconditional preference.
A wider pool of talent needs to be considered for managerial positions. This programme needs to start with existing players being encouraged and facilitated to participate in coaching programmes (take their UEFA badges)  and to be permitted to genuinely believe that their prospects are equal to those of others. 'Encouragement' can take many forms.
It is significant to note that Hughton, Powell, Curle and Connor have come through the PFA and LMA’s Certificate course for football managers at Warwick University (my thanks to Dr Sue Bridgewater). 
Although it does not get the recognition it deserves, the PFA and LMA are doing constructive things behind the scenes. The LMA has been an active member of the PFA’s Black Coaches Forum for nearly 10 years now. Black coaches or potential black coaches are encouraged and assisted to apply for positions with clubs. They are able to attend FA and PFA coaching and  management courses to facilitate this.  There is a  Black Coaches Forum which regularly gathers to pool its experiences and to promote the development of black coaches and to assist them to find management roles in professional football (thanks again to Dr Bridgewater, Warwick University, for the insight).
Clubs need to advertise and to specifically welcome applications from under represented areas, although of course the final decision has to be based upon objective criteria.
A very welcome development  is anticipated this week. Paul Elliott, ex Chelsea and Celtic amongst others, is set to become the first black Chairman of a Football League club at Charlton Athletic (they are now in the vanguard of this issue). Many black players/potential coaches have felt that the composition of the FA and boardrooms ('white, old and conservative') constitutes a bar to their advancement. This move can only be applauded as a first step in the right direction.
If black candidates believe they will be given opportunities they will participate.
Rio and other high profile figures please step forward.
At a recent debate http://gibbsbarrister.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/football-leadership-and-race-debate.html I was particularly struck by the pride with which black people spoke of the recent NFL game at Wembley where both Head Coaches were black.
UPDATE 17.3.13
Brian Deane (ex Leeds and Sheffield Utd striker amongst others) has annmounced that he is leaving English football and trying his luck in Norway with Sarpsborg. He is reported as saying 'It's a closed shop in England. No one is willing to embrace new ideas or give new people a chance. I'm not the kind of person to get a job off my reputation as a player'.
What position have we reached where a well respected English professional feels he will be better off and find a more receptive audience abroad than at home?

Friday, 2 December 2011

What the Hell is a 'Fit and Proper Person'?

Football has never exactly been a shining example of good governance when it comes to the running of clubs (FA Governance is for another day!). The past is littered with examples of 'blatant crooks' or 'either robbing clubs blind or mismanaging them to the point of disintegration (administration and points deductions . For a good example just take a look at Darlington FC's folly of a football stadium opened in 2003 - a 25,000 seater stadium although capacity now reduced to 10,000 due planning regulations - average home gate less than 2,000. Then owner George Reynolds was arrested for money laundering and went bankrupt.
Although we will shortly arrive at  2012  these past few days I have been confronted with 2 staggering news stories on this same subject. Firstly poor old Portsmouth FC. If ever a club was caught on the ups and down of a rollercoaster its Pompey. And right now they are on the most vertical of downward descents. Their owner and chairman, Alexander Antonov, 'a russian banker' is the subject of a European arrest warrant amid allegations of fraud and multi million pound asset stripping. He would not be allowed to operate a bank here, but he can own and run a football club. Meanwhile Craig White,  Chairman of Glasgow Rangers, admitted this week that he had previously been disqualified  from acting as a company director for 7 years and that this ban only ended in 2007. One of the Scottish Football Association's criteria in assessing whether an individual passes their 'fit and proper person' test for owners and directors is whether they have been subject to such a disqualification during the past 5 years. How difficult would it have been to ascertain that White had been so disqualified and yet the SFA claim that they were unaware of this matter and had not been informed appropriately. It is evident that the authorities either lack the will or the means to conduct any true scrutiny of such individuals and that the FAPPT as it is sometimes known is little more than window dressing. What would the SFA's stance have been if they had been aware of White's past? It is hardly surprising that the Government has begun to involve itself in these matters and to call for fundamental changes in the way that football governs itself. The Department for Culture Media and Sport has responded to a Select Committee report into the governance of football by requiring proposals for reform from the football authorities by February 2012.
You might ask yourself how on earth some of these 'characters' were ever able to take control of football clubs in the first place??? Obviously there are rules and regulations which are designed to prevent this kind of fiasco. The FAPPT is described as a set of objective criteria, and yet it is interpreted and operated in a manner which seeks essentially to avoid costly legal disputes. The authorities fear that tough interpretation of the rules will lead to endless costly legal disputes with individuals who are refused permission to involve themselves in clubs and that consequently there will be an enormous drain on resources.
Football clubs are community assets cherished by their supporters. They are embedded in the fabric and history of their location. The fans of both Portsmouth and Rangers see their clubs teetering on the verge of administration and even, in Pompey's case, potential extinction. Will it take a few high profile casualties before football acts, or before the government forces them to do so? Of course the losers are, as always, the supporters.