Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Football, Leadership and Race - The Debate

On Monday night last I attended the Stephen Lawrence Centre in South London.It was my first visit. I was there to attend a debate organised by Sonia Meggie relating to the issues in the title of this blog. It was a humbling but inspiring occasion. From the moment I walked through the doors and saw the iconic photograph of Stephen in his blue and white striped t - shirt, I knew this evening would have a big impact upon me, a white, middle class male person. I mention that because in the literature about the Centre it reveals that the profession of architecture (Stephen's ambition was to be an architect) has only 2% of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. 'The industry is mainly white, male and middle class'.
Nonetheless my welcome was total. I met the deeply impressive Centre Programme Manager Doreen Thompson - Addo and was welcomed by Sonia with a warm embrace.
A Life Cut Short

It was interesting to be in a minority of about 2 white people. The speakers were all black people. The audience was very engaged and eloquent. Their passion grew, or became more apparent, as the evening went on. The desire for change and action to address racism and opportunities for BAME candidates became more evident and vocal.
There was an evident impression that  insufficient was being done by the football authorities. There was widespread dismay, even derision, at the FA's handling of the John Terry affair and disgust at the stance of Chelsea FC in permitting Terry to continue to captain the club (I cannot think of a single counter argument). The punishment was woeful and it was incomprehensible that the FA had advanced the proposition that Terry was not inherently racist, but had simply used racist language. For my part I do not understand why the FA felt the need to prosecute the case in this manner. It was a judgement for the Panel to make. It felt to me like appeasement. I think the debate agreed.
Iffy Onuora, former footballer and manager and now of the PFA was on the Panel. he spoke forcefully, but with considerable thought. It was apparent that he had found that his experience of the PFA over the last few months had been overwhelmingly positive. Whilst football generally was considered to be institutionally racist, it was hard to argue against, Iffy found the PFA to be genuinely diverse and inclusive. The PFA were responsible for numerous positive initiatives going forward to address the concerns of minorities and to address issues such as the near absence of black managers (see my post The debate and consideration of the Rooney Rule for instance has been going on for a long time now, with Paul Davis pushing for it to be adopted over a year ago. Other football bodies have opposed it. Iffy was of the opinion that the PFA had failed to communicate and publicise its activities, perhaps out of modesty, thereby damaging its standing with minorities in particular. The FA on the other hand is demonstrably unrepresentative and its leaders seem disconnected from the wider community. Their slow and laboured response to the Independent Hillsborough Panel Report was another good example of this.
On the other hand I have it on unimpeachable authority that a tremendous amount of work and research is being done on behalf of the League Managers Association and the PFA to address inequality and discrimination within the game. I hope to develop these initiatives in a future post.
There was lengthy discussion about racial abuse, particularly when coming from the terraces. It was evident that more should be done. A lady involved in the stewarding of matches at Wembley told us that the realities of policing large crowds are that they are instructed to turn a deaf ear to racist abuse rather than confronting it. This is football's great dilemma and failing. The seeming unwillingness to confront the scourge of racism means that those from minorities have become embittered and disbelieving of the will of the game to change. It was striking that when considering that the referee is seemingly empowered to take the players off the field if racist abuse occurs, nobody truly believed that this would happen. Indeed at safety briefings before games, which involve referees, captains the Police and other relevant parties, the power of the referee to take the players off the field is not raised. This seems to demonstrate that nobody truly believes that this is an option.

There was a show of hands about the proposal to set up a Black PFA. Peter Herbert, Chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers was present. He has featured prominently in the media in recent days involving himself in several high profiles race related issues. His interventions have not always been welcomed and his motivation has been questioned by some. His stance is that black people need to assert themselves, to be organised and to demand what is rightfully theirs. There was initially considerable reluctance within the room to support a breakaway group, but this changed within the course of the evening. It became apparent that there is frustration within the black community at the failure of prominent players etc to speak out about issues of race and inequality. It was felt that Anton Ferdinand and his family were not shown sufficient public support during the over lengthy course of the Terry Proceedings. What people need is support and organised campaigning from within the black sporting community. The non wearing of Kick It Out t - shirts by certain players was generally supported. It had brought all the issues to the surface and into the public domain, to the point where even Match of the Day was moved to debate them. I got the impression that the black sporting community had remained too respectful for too long. Now was a potential watershed moment.
Iffy Onuora pointed out that whilst the PFA's '6 Point Plan' was released this week and thereby handled in a clumsy fashion, seeming to be a kneejerk reaction to events, in fact the points had been developed after lengthy consideration. Politically the release was perhaps mishandled, but the desire to achieve a more just environment for black players etc was not.
As I boarded the train for the lengthy late night trip back to Leicester my conclusion was that there is considerable hope for a better future. This group is fantastically well equipped to bring about change. A co - ordinated action plan to utilise the available talent and forces is what is required.
I was particularly struck by the expression of sheer pride that the NFL game at Wembley this weekend featured 2 black head coaches. It was pointed out that without the Rooney Rule none of that would have been possible.
Newsflash 9.11.12
It is to be announced shortly that Paul Elliott, ex Chelsea defender, will become the first black Football League Chairman joining Chris Powell (manager) at Charlton in the Championship. Progress!

Sunday, 28 October 2012


A pulsating European tie heading the way of Man Utd at Old Trafford has been turned on its head after the referee sent off Nani for a 'dangerous high challenge' in the second half. Within minutes Real Madrid came from 1 - 0 down and a losing aggregate position to a 1 -2 advantage. Uts are down to 10 men and suddenly need 2 goals without reply to progress. Most observers expected at worst a yellow card for Nani. Yet again a controversial decision, which might have been avoided with a moment's pause for thought and a swift review of the video footage, has marred an excellent match. How does football benefit from the current state of affairs?
The following article discusses the issue in more detail.
UPDATE 19.2.13
FIFA has announced that goal line technology will be available for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Whilst this is of course welcome, it is only step one in the very necessary upgrading of football's use of technology so that in future we can concentrate on the merits of the football rather than endlessly debating the errors and transgressions which currently litter our national game.
Below is a discussion on the benefits of wider introduction of technology.
Technology Needed
English Football has some problems right now. Some of those could be addressed by a grown up and rational decision about the use of technology. Every week the game is assailed by controversies about refereeing decisions, but also other issues (eg Clattenberg) which could mostly be swiftly resolved by instant reference to technology and in particular TV evidence. Last week the debate was all about whether the ball had crossed the line. This week, and it gives me no pleasure to write this, the pundits were enraged by blatant diving by Santi Cazorla of Arsenal, for which he was rewarded with a game changing penalty. What he should have got was at the very least a yellow card and no penalty. Technology, delivered in seconds, would have seen justice done. There are further arguments about retrspective bans (3 games for cheating?) The rise of simulation needs to be addressed in 2 ways. By ensuring it does not succceed and by making sure it is properly punished.
Guilty as Charged?

Below are my thoughts as this situation has developed over recent weeks.

Football in Chaos
The first proper Super Sunday of the season, with a Merseyside Derby and Chelsea v Man Utd, should have been an occasion to showcase the English Premier League. There were in fact many things to admire about both games. Unfortunately we will not hear much about them now. The post match analysis and all the headlines relating to both matches will be all about the refereeing decisions which effectively decided the outcomes and seemingly created injustice. 606 on the BBC tonight is full of embittered fans complaining about the rights and the wrongs. The errors can make us all bitter and twisted.
It seems that some key decisions relating to goals, offsides and a sending off for 'diving' were wrong. There are many mitigating circumstances to excuse the referees, not least the speed of the game and the intensity  of the occasion, but also the constant cheating (simulation) by players. I can forgive the referees. They can be improved, but I doubt very much that anybody else would be much better. As an aside England provided the referee for the last World Cup Final. I doubt this would have happened unless English referees were very well respected and as capable as anybody of doing the job.
There is less mitigation for the Football authorities. Technology to assist referees to get the right decision more often (even if not faultless) is urgently required. European leading figures Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini (UEFA President) both argue in favour of the retention of a 'human element' and would have linesmen behind the goals or in a line of sight with the goal. They flatly refuse to contemplate technology for goal lines, but also within the wider context of the game for other important decisions.


I though am with  Patrick Barclay, formerly of the Times and now the Evening Standard. He has consistently argued that goal line controversies are extremely rare, and that FIFA should in fact have a 'video referee' (what does the 4th Official currently do?) in the stands providing assistance to the referee generally rather than limiting it to a very rare and isolated function. One of the attractive aspects of this would be that this official would be removed from the field of play and he could thus go about his business calmly without the hindrance of player protest. Players and club officals do not have access to the man in the 4th offical room.
This 4th (5th?) official should have a constant link with the referee and could provide vital information to allow decisions to be correct more often. It need not be used for every decision, but for those where there are significant consequences ie where goals are scored or cards will result if the decision goes the wrong way. There is a sour taste in the mouth when a 'goal' is score which was not in fact a goal for whatever reason. What can feel worse than being sent from the field of play for something you have not done. Imagine Laurent Blanc in the World Cup semi final 1998. Sent off and missing the World Cup final because of appalling simulation by Slaven Bilic. It would not have happened if we had technology. That technology exists now which is why we all know that certain decisions are wrong.
Incidentally Mark Clattenberg's current 'difficulties' could be swiftly resolved if he was miked up and everything was recorded, even if not disclosed. Although to be honest, if we got to hear what was said on a football field the game would be cleaned up in record time or there would be no sponsors left! Clattenberg was connected to his assistant referees and the 4th Official. None of them heard him utter anything untoward. Chelsea's case is limping badly already. For the protection of officials, the technology must be introduced.
With technology  we could tackle simulation at the same time by demonstrating where it has incontrovertibly taken place. Red cards could immediately follow. Divers would swiftly be a dying breed.

Dying Swan (Breed)
UPDATE 12.11.12
Mark Clattenberg will not referee this weekend for the 3rd straight week. It is said to be for his own good. I doubt it. If the technology had included recorded audio feeds from the officials a) Clattenberg would possibly have missed no matches at all (or never refereed again!) and b) player behaviour would have already dramatically improved.
UPDATE 13.11.12
The Metropolitan Police have tonight announced that they are no longer investigating Mark Clattenberg. There is no evidence to justify a charge and 'no victim'. The complainant was Peter Herbert (Society of Black Lawyers). This complaint has seemingly not been backed up by  Chelsea or its players. Although a complaint was made by them to the FA, Chelsea did not complain to the Police. According to reports, all the match officials supported Clattenberg in stating that no such abuse was heard. All the
available evidence for the Police accordingly exonerated Clattenberg.
The FA now need to bring their investigatory process to a rapid conclusion and to make a decision. The end of this particular affair may well be approaching.
Thereafter protocols need to be agreed with the Police with regard to how to proceed in future. The unhappy intervention of outside parties needs to be looked at and another protocol established.
UPDATE 22.11.12
The FA has announced today that there is insufficient evidence to charge Mark Clattenberg. I am not remotely surprised given that the other 3 officials who were all linked up with him heard no abusive comments. Only one Chelsea player (and not the alleged victim) heard anything allegedly untoward. The broadcasting and recording of what is picked up by the referee's microphone would undoubtedly have spared Clattenberg this anguish and media trial. It would also dramatically clean up the game.
In a fast moving story it has now been decided that the referee link up will be recorded although kept confidential - football's authorities fear the embarrassment of the reality of on field goings on becoming public. One additional benefit will be that the monitoring of referee's performance will now have some powerful evidence to go on.
Meanwhile John Obi Mikel has been charged with threatening and abusive behaviour towards Clattenberg following the fateful match after an altercation.

UPDATE 6.12.12
Chelsea's Mikel admitted an FA charge of Threatening Behaviour relating to referee Mark Clattenberg behind the scenes after the Chelsea v Man Utd game.  He requested a persona\l hearing and today it was announced that he will serve a 3 game suspension. The Independent Regulatory Commission Chairman made it clear that they accepted that when he made the threats Mikel genuinely believed (as a result of what he had been told by colleague Ramires) that Clattenberg had racially abused him. Otherwise the ban would have been much longer.
What follows is the background and build up to the Mikel suspension.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Lanced - Glasnost not Omerta

There has been a seismic shift in the landscape of professional cycling in recent days. Since my earlier  post  all doubts about the nature of Lance Armstrong's astonishing success story have been swept away.
 It was a fraud.
I listened to Alistair Brownlee, gold medal triathlete, expressing his disappointment as the truth about Armstrong emerged. Brownlee idolised the Texan and used him as a source of inspiration in his formative years. Brownlee now calls for Armstrong to be banned from his new choice of sport - triathlon. How many million others must be undergoing a similar psychological transformation? It does feel somewhat deflating.
A new hero is required desperately.
And yet as I wrote in my piece on David Millar this is not necessarily a time for sorrow, but a golden opportunity for an entire sport to save itself. Almost the entire modern history of cycling is utterly tainted by drug abuse. From the late 1990s right up to, but not including, 2012, it is difficult to think of a champion (certainly in TdF terms) who has not failed a significant drugs test or been implicated in one of the many drugs scandals.
It is Just About the bike
Nothing that was witnessed was truly believed in. The sport was potentially great, but its participants were not. There is nothing to compare with the Tour de France, yet it could leave you cold.
Now a new mentality is taking hold. Glasnost rather than Omerta.
Team Sky, reacting appropriately to the revelations, have introduced a strengthened anti doping policy for all members of the outfit, riders and support staff. All will be required to sign a pledge declaring that they have not been involved in doping in the past and obviously will not be in the future. Anybody failing to sign up will be required to leave the team. Anybody subsequently proved to be involved in doping will leave. Michael Barry left the team this Summer. He has now admitted involvement in the Armstrong doping system. He has retired and may now be heading for obscurity. There are of course questions for Team Sky, not least about Sean Yates who worked with Armstrong at Astana and Motorola. Yates will sign the pledge. Yates has now 'retired'.
Matt White, a former team mate of Armstrong at US Postal, who this week admitted doping during that period in the early 2000s, has been sacked by Cycling Australia. They called the conduct 'morally reprehensible'. Levi Leipheimer, one of those who testified against Armstrong for USADA, and accepted a shortened ban of 6 month has been sacked by Omega Pharma Quick Step. and so it goes on.

The long overdue backlash against Armstrong gathers pace. Nike has finally bowed to the inevitable and 'Just Done It' ie dropped its sponsorship of the cyclist.  Anheuser Busch (Budweiser) and Trek followed suit. In a personally traumatic move, Armstrong has stepped down as Chairman of Livestrong, his redeeming cancer charity. Happily the charity seems to go from strength to strength, there are no serious questions about its positive effect on cancer treatment. Armstrong's move allowed Nike to maintain its support for the charity. Interestingly, call me a cynic, Nike has 98 different 'Livestrong' products on sale in the US. Its 'moral clause' re behaviour likely to tarnish the brand, no doubt made divorce from Armstrong more straightforward.
Returning to David Millar, now regarded as something of a crusader for anti doping following his ban in 2004, he has not ruled out one day seeking the Presidency of the UCI - cycling's international federation. It is the governing body's regressive approach to the affair which is the single most negative factor about the situation today. Hein Verbruggen, former President of UCI, is just today quoted in De Telegraaf as stating that there is no evidence against Armstrong. It perhaps beggars belief, but if you have spent the last 10 years denying something, looking the other way and refusing to contemplate it, let alone challenge it, then perhaps less surprising.
As this story twists and turns I for one cannot but think that the future is brighter (and cleaner) than the past.
It has been announced that Lance Armstrong will appear on the Oprah Winfrey show next week. Speculation is rife that this will be his mea culpa moment. Why else put himself in the spotlight? More lame denials would invite ridicule and close the door on any 'attractive rehabilitation confession scenario'. So it could be quite a week for professional cycling, indeed professional sport. It could in fact be the ultimate sporting 'glasnost moment'.

Friday, 5 October 2012

FA Regulatory John Terry Decision

The FA's Independent Regulatory Commission today published its written reasons for the decision in the John Terry racial abuse case. There are a number of interesting revelations, both about the events themselves and with regard to the process and reasoning. The key participants, Terry and Ferdinand, but also Ashley Cole, emerge with little credit intact.
The incident itself demonstrates the childish and ignorant behaviour which sometimes blights professional football. Terry and Ferdinand engage in a running dispute during which they verbally abuse each other, exchange shoulder barges started by Terry, who then tries to kick Ferdinand, and culminates with Terry racially abusing Ferdinand. All of this because Ferdinand believes that Terry has tried con the referee over a penalty and because Terry is upset that Chelsea are losing. Its pretty pathetic stuff. Terry's view of such goings on is revealed in comments to Ferdinand post match which  demonstrate football's unending dilemma with player behaviour "It's handbags init, it's what happens on the pitch, it happens". It should not.
Terry's defence team argued abuse of process and also that the FA was barred from proceeding by its own regulations. The arguments about abuse of process were rejected. The FA was perfectly entitled to pursue the regulation of the sport notwithstanding the outcome of the criminal proceedings. FA Regulation 6.8 created a presumption in Terry's favour because previous findings (the criminal case) were presumed to be correct. The FA were required to rebut that presumption by 'clear and convincing' evidence. The FA were entitled to rely upon the existing evidence and were not required to produce new or fresh evidence to succeed.
'Improbable, implausible and contrived'

The FA answered my previous question as to why Ferdinand (and in similar circumstances previously, Patrice Evra) was not charged with misconduct. The referee did not apply an on fiels sanction and it is FA policy not to take retrospective action with regard to abuse simpliciter under Regulation 3 (1) unless that abuse is directed at a match official or a 3rd party such as a spectator. There is a different policy in place in respect of the more serious 3 (2) charge which Terry faced. so if Terry had not used the word 'black' he would not have been charged at all.
Contrary to media reports, the FA did not invite a guilty verdict unless the Commission found that Terry had used the offending words as an insult. If Terry's defence was accepted the FA did not seek a finding in their favour. The verdict is accordingly a complete rejection of Terry's version of events.
There was legal argument about the standard of proof, resolved in Terry's favour. Interestingly the FA's own rules on this matter have changed since the incident and prior to the hearing. The standard is now 'the civil standard of proof''. Until 1.7.12 the standard was 'the flexible civil standard of the balance of probability, the more serious the allegation, taking into account the nature of the misconduct alleged and the context of the case, the greater the burden of the evidfence that is required to prove the matter'. This undoubtedly made it more difficult for the FA to prove its case.
Terry did not give evidence, in other words he declined to expose himself to the risks of cross examination. We do not of course know precisely why, but it as undoubtedly a factor in his defeat (an error?) even though the Commission expressly stated that they came to their conclusion without even applying any adverse inference in this regard. Even more surprisingly Anton Ferdinand was not cross examined.
The Commission concluded that Ferdinand did not accuse Terry of calling him a 'black c...'. Terry did not hear, or believe he heard, the word 'black'. In a damaging conclusion the The Commission found aspects of Terry's defence 'improbable, implausible and contrived'. It was much more likely that Terry was angry and that his words were an angry reaction to Ferdinand's provocation and the way that the match was going (Chelsea were losing and down to 9 men). The film footage does not support the Terry 'it was questioning' version of events. Terry only sought out Ferdinand an hour after the game and then probably because he realised that his words may have been witnessed or caught on camera. He asked Ferdinand 'what happened?' because he needed to know what Ferdinand knew or had heard.
The Commission found 'no credible basis' for Terry's defence and were 'quite satisfied' that the words were an insult.
New evidence was introduced. Terry's appalling behaviour (red card for off the ball assault) in the Champions League semi final v Barcelona came back to haunt him. Terry had given an account of the incident upon leaving the pitch which he was forced to retract later. It as argued that he had a propensity to be untruthful about what happened on football pitches. The Commission exercised its discretion under 6.8 to admit the evidence in theory, but found that there was no reliable evidence, before them, as to what Terry had said. This is nonetheless an important precedent for future use, players beware of microphones!
Coming Back to Haunt You

The Barcelona footage did though undermine key Terry character evidence that Terry possesses 'preternatural reserves of self control'. The Barcelona footage clearly showed that Terry was capable of losing that self control.
The only saving grace for Terry was that the neither the FA nor the Commission were saying that Terry was racist. There was a large body of evidence that Terry was not inherently racist.