Sunday, 21 April 2013

Suarez Biting the Hand that Feeds

Epilogue 26.4.13
Suarez received a ban of 10 games from the FA Independent Regulatory Commission (IRC). Suarez was immediately said to be considering his future in the English game notwithstanding that the ban is likely to be effective worldwide.
NB The FA can apply to FIFA under the FIFA Disciplinary Code to make the ban apply equally in each and every country if the infringement is 'serious' (examples of which include doping and match fixing, but clearly conduct attracting a 10 match suspension is 'serious'). Perhaps they wont in the hope that Suarez may leave English football.
The IRC clearly decided to make an example of Suarez and took account of his appalling disciplinary record. The reasoned decision has just been published. Suarez and Liverpool publicly stated before the verdict that they did not believe that there were grounds for departing from the usual 3 match ban for violent conduct. If so, they got it badly wrong. They somewhat acknowledged this by deciding not to appeal. Whoever is in control of LFC PR needs a long hard look at themselves.
Brendon Rodgers suggested that the IRC had been unduly influenced by adverse comments by the Prime Minister. This is both irresponsible and absurd. Action should be taken. Mr Rodgers' judgement as a manager must also be called into question.
Original Story
 I have no idea how much Luis Suarez has earned from football. I accept that he is a very talented player. I was slightly perturbed that he was recently named as a candidate for PFA Player of the Season. I was appalled by the way Liverpool FC under Kenny Dalglish's management supported a player accused of racist abuse by wearing the infamous training t - shirts before a match see here.
Perhaps it is true that you reap what you sow. Although they deny it and state they want Suarez to stay, Liverpool may now be in possession of an asset they feel they have to sell, but which has become tainted goods.
What am I talking about? Yesterday Suarez quite deliberately bit the arm of Chelsea player Branislav Ivanovic during the Anfield EPL clash. Why? Heaven knows, but the video footage did not seem to suggest any reason whatsoever (hard to come up with a good reason in any circumstances!)
On Friday at the PFA Awards Dinner will Suarez show up in case he wins? What an appalling embarrassment for the Player's Union that would be. Let's hope for everybody's sake that the votes go in another direction (Bale or Van Persie perhaps).
Suarez subsequently apologised and Liverpool called his conduct 'unacceptable'. For stating the obvious they were said to have handled the situation well. Their every utterance since seems to have undermined that position. Suarez requested that the fine meted out to him by the club should go to the Hillsborough Families Support Fund. One cannot but feel the hand of the PR department behind that pronouncement. Of course Suarez shamed the club again on the day that Liverpool fans were paying their respects to the indomitable Hillsborough Mum, Anne Williams, after she lost her fight for life this week.
Suarez's career has been littered with unsavoury incidents including incredibly another biting incident (he went for the neck that time) whilst playing for Ajax in 2010. He received a 7 match ban from the Dutch FA.
The referee at Anfield on this occasion missed the incident. This was forgiveable given that it was a sly off the ball attack on the Chelsea defender. As I have argued elsewhere these incidents could be resolved swiftly by the use of video technology and an official in the stands see here. Although a sending off would not meet the justice of the case.
It opens up the necessity for further action by the FA. Suarez has tonight been charged by the FA with Violent Conduct and can expect to appear before an Independent FA Disciplinary Panel. He knows what that feels like. They will have to take into account the player's terrible record. Only last season he was banned for 8 games for the Evra racism incident and for a rude gesture at fans. The likelihood is that Suarez will be banned for more than the 7 games he received in Holland.
Should he be prosecuted? In the UK criminal prosecutions for acts on the field of play are reserved for those situations where the 'conduct is sufficiently grave to be properly categorised as criminal'. Relevant factors according to Woolf LJ in Barnes might include, inter alia, the nature of the sport and level of the participants involved, the nature of the act, the degree of force used, the resultant injury or consequent risk of injury, and the intention of the perpetrator. Prosecutions are rare. Nonetheless those engaging in off the ball incidents are flirting with a danger which goes beyond the wrath of the governing body.
 In my view Suarez would have escaped criminal prosecution anyway, but as it transpired his victim Ivanovic, when spoken to by Merseyside Police yesterday, indicated that he did not wish to make a formal complaint. No doubt he was utterly baffled by what Suarez did. Suarez clearly has psychological flaws in his make up. Nonetheless Ivanovic's calm non reaction on the field helped to defuse the situation. Praise where praise is due.
An ordinary person who bit somebody in an unprovoked attack would expect to be prosecuted, potentially find themselves in the Crown Court and conceivably receiving a custodial sentence. Sporting specificity indeed.
Suarez on the other hand should be made an example of by the footballing authorities. And Liverpool Football Club should ask themselves whether they have their priorities right.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Turning Point for Recruitment of Black Coaches

'Instead of getting somebody you know, you should strive to get somebody who is the best. The way to do this is to cast a wide net, interview several candidates including people of different backgrounds and including people who are overlooked, both black and white'. Cyrus Mehri.

I am tired of the merry go round of familiar faces switching Premier League and Football League jobs amongst themselves. I have written elsewhere ( Rooney Rule ) railing against the injustice that is the absence of opportunity for potential black coaches or managers. Nothing very much seemed to be changing and I seriously questioned the will of those in a position to make meaningful changes.

But nothing bad lasts forever. A similar situation pertained in NFL a decade ago. NFL teams commonly interviewed only one or 2 candidates for vacant positions before declaring the position filled. Unsurprisingly few of these coaches was from a minority background notwithstanding that when, occasionally given an opportunity, minority coaches had excelled.

Cyrus Mehri in conjunction with 'OJ Simpson Lawyer', the late Johnnie Cochrane, came up with a simple but impressively effective answer. The NFL was persuaded that clubs should be compelled to interview more candidates for posts and the rules decreed that minority candidates should be amongst this wider pool.

Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, advocated the plan and it became effective from 2003 'The Rooney Rule' was born. It is not a quota system, but a rule of equal competition.

The effects were fairly stunning and later in the decade black coaches or General Managers appeared in 6 consecutive Super Bowls.

English Football has thus far proved a tougher nut to crack. Amongst the contrary arguments were that  time was of the essence, the wider the pool the longer the process, and that clubs could not afford to be without a manager for such a period of time. There were fears of tokenism.

Is that about to change? Following collaboration between the PFA (advised by Mehri) and the Football League, a proposal named 'Coaching Fair Play' is to be put to the 24 Division 2 Chairmen in June 2013. Hiring clubs will be required to interview at least one individual from a 'ready list' of minority coaches. The scheme is backed by Football League Chairman Greg Clarke and Richard Bevan of the LMA. It is hoped that this will be in place for next season and will in due course be adopted by the Premier League. By that point there should be many more experienced minority candidates than is presently the case.

PFA Chief Gordon Taylor said 'If we are to encourage players to stay in the game...you need to give people a belief that having qualified they will be given a fair chance to get employment'.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Rugby's Disciplinary Priorities Askew?

I sometimes wonder how Sporting Bodies and their disciplinary panels arrive at some of their decisions and I have to question the guidelines which they purport to follow.

Stade Francais scrum half Jerome Fillol was cited after video footage incontrovertibly showed him spitting directly in the face of Peter Stringer his Bath opponent during an Amlin Cup European match at the Recreation Ground 2 weeks ago. Fillol was at risk of a ban of between 4 and 52 weeks pursuant to IRB regulations. His action generated widespread revulsion and was described as the lowest of the lows. Stringer himself stated on Twitter that there was no place for such action in any walk of life. Brett Gosper CEO of the International Rugby Board also proclaimed on Twitter that Fillol should be punished to the 'full extent of the Law'.
Fillol duly appeared before the IRB Panel in Dublin today and received a 14 week suspension. The Panel decided that the entry point was 26 weeks and reduced that for 'genuine remorse, exemplary record, and strong character references'. Via Twitter rugby pundit and ex England hooker, Brian Moore, described the ban as 'hard but fair' and stated that the entry point could not be said to be 'unreasonable'.
Fillol's action infringed IRB Regulation 10.4 (m): A player must not do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship in the enclosure'. The sanction for such conduct depends on the starting point: Low end 4 weeks, Mid Range 7 weeks, Top End 11 + up to 52 weeks.

Opinions certainly varied as to the appropriate penalty.

In February 2012 Uttoxeter winger Paul Milward received a 12 month suspension from an RFU Disciplinary Panel after he spat at a female spectator during a bad tempered altercation. The match itself was eventually abandoned. The Disciplinary Panel found that this was a deliberate 'assault'. The spit struck the coat of the victim. She described herself as 'humiliated'. The Panel, headed by Judge Sean Enright, found that Milward's actions were more serious than those relating to merely spitting at a player and that 10.4 (m) did not cover spitting at a spectator. Milward was charged pursuant to RFU Regulation 5.12 ('conduct prejudicial to the interest of the Union'). The Panel referred to the interests of the game and made reference to, inter alia, the effect upon the image of the game and the response of potential sponsors. Milward denied the allegation at both the original hearing and a subsequent appeal, but lost on the facts. The Appeal Panel found him guilty, but reduced the ban to only 9 weeks. This case perhaps demonstrates the difficulties in fixing the level of penalty. The Appeal Panel's decision is strangely not available on the RFU's website or seemingly anywhere else.
Looking back at previous incidents in American sports suggests that perhaps this spitting offence is not quite viewed with the same degree of abhorrence as in Europe. Blue Jays second baseman, aggrieved at being struck out by the umpire in 1996 proceeded to spit in his face. He was banned for 5 games and resolved the matter with the umpire by means of a handshake.
Basketball superstar Charles Barkley was racially abused by a 'fan'. At the end of the game Barkley rounded on the spectator and spat at him. Unfortunately he missed and hit a young girl instead. He was banned for one game. He later stated that this was the one incident he regretted in his career.
In football Patrick Vieira became so enraged by Neil Ruddock's taunts that he gave him a 'mouthful' back and received a 6 game ban as a result. Fabien Barthez playing for Monaco spat at a referee and received a 6 month ban (of which 3 suspended).
I am sure we all feel the revulsion. However where does Fillol's  offence sit alongside gratuitous acts of violence such as stamping on a helpless player (Cian Healy for instance - 2 week ban)? Moreover when you consider that UEFA has just announced 10 game bans for racist abuse, which side of that line would spitting fall? The spit does not hurt or truly harm, it just shows complete and utter disrespect for the victim (and the sport in general). It says an awful lot about the perpetrator.
Meanwhile rugby referee Hugh Watkins has just been banned for 12 matches. His crime? Watching the Hong Kong 7s on TV he wrote on Twitter about a refereeing decision
 "Sorry that's a shocker. Had to be a red no other option. we need referees to be consistent in this"
Now of course it was unwise and a breach of WRFU Code of Conduct to publicly criticise another referee, but a 12 week ban? Watkins has quit the game in disgust after 20 years service. Now that is a shocker!







Monday, 25 March 2013

Nirvana - How to Combat Racism in Football?

What happened to Rio Ferdinand yesterday ('sick racist chanting about burning people on bonfires') amply demonstrates that the positive cause I write about below could not be more valid and urgent. The total inability of the English FA to react appropriately speaks volumes. I haven't been a victim of racism my whole life, but I am beginning to understand how easily many are and how easily it is ignored by the rest of us.
Nirvana
Although Nirvana is a magical word with many different meanings and important spiritual connotations, for present purposes I am going to use just 2: liberation and salvation.
Last week  I attended an inspiring and moving event in Leicester entitled 'Race for Football - National Road Show 2013'. It was organised by Leicester Nirvana FC and supported by The Voice newspaper, Society of Black Lawyers and Black and Asian Coaches Association (BACA).
The very first person that I spoke to at the event said that he had attended in order do 'his bit' to try to improve or remove issues of racism in football. Sadly however he also remarked that he had been talking about this subject for 20 years (his whole adult life essentially) and not a great deal had changed for the better.
Regrettably I also spoke to one attendees who seemed to only want to be seen to be doing the right thing, but who clearly had no desire to embrace multi culturalism at all.
According to recent research at Loughborough University (Dr Jamie Cleland and Professor Ellis Cashmore), racism in British football is 'rife'. Surveys of fans had revealed that the problem was believed to be 'endemic'.
At the Road Show all bar one of an audience approaching 100 people indicated that they had directly experienced racist abuse. Very few had made an official complaint, but if they had the outcome had been considered 'poor' in the majority of cases.


We watched a video presentation during which black and asian children spoke articulately about their experiences of being verbally abused on football pitches and from the touchline - often by adults. The Loughborough research seemed to be echoed at the Road Show. My predominant impressions were that the overwhelming majority of the audience felt that not enough was being done by the authorities and various anti racism campaigns within football to address this, particularly for them, very real and painful issue.
Roisin Wood Chief Executive of Kick It Out was a member of the Panel and she spoke very passionately. However as she told me during a break, KIO is caught on the horns of a dilemma, funded by the FA, and to a degree by the PFA and the Premier League, and therefore has its independence questioned. Remove FA support however and the charity would be obliged to seek commercial support which would almost certainly compromise its independence further. I say funded, but that budget is approximately £440,000 per annum, the equivalent of the weekly wages of perhaps 4 premiership players, and KIO numbers just 7 people. Having met Roisin I am convinced that KIO could achieve so much more if it were given adequate and meaningful funding. I would have liked to develop that discussion. Why does the football community think that its lead anti racism charity is only worth a minute fraction of the vast sums of money pouring into the game? Criticism of KIO for not having sufficient impact or for not doing enough, often expressed as 'just handing out t - shirts', cannot be justified given that level of resources. KIO is non investigatory and non sanctioning. Its role is education, advocacy and support. I would like to help KIO.
The prevailing mood of the gathering was that the football authorities remain very unrepresentative, predominantly white, male institutions. The pace of change is glacial and, as Colin King of BACA observed, it can take a whole career to progress through an organisation like the FA before acquiring the appropriate blazer (usually from somebody who has passed to another life - he was only partly joking!) The mismanagement of the John Terry Case had given many the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the FA's main priority had been to ensure that Terry was available for Euro 2012. The woefully inadequate punishments handed out for racist chanting across Europe reinforce the view that there is insufficient will in football governance to address the need for change, and that any action is merely window dressing.
The FA's representative on the Panel, Jonathan Mills, was at pains to emphasise the FA's FA's Anti Discrimination Action Plan. The audience were dubious and particularly sceptical about the likely benefits of the initiative. Keith Murdoch of Leicestershire County FA seemed very willing to engage with minority community groups and responsive to Leicester Nirvana's cause of 'removing racial discrimination wherever it exists'. At a local level it was encouraging and seemed feasible that better representation and enlightenment could be achieved. However the stories of the abuse suffered by ethnic minorities whilst playing a sport in Leicester were dispiriting.
Nirvana FC was formed in 1982 to enable young black and Asian children from Inner city Leicester areas to have a sporting opportunity in a positive and supportive environment. In spite of tremendous hurdles and some needless obstacles, the club has thrived against the odds. Youngsters have progressed to the professional game and there are approximately 50 Nirvana players who have gone through professional football academies.
Nirvana seek the following reforms to football governance:
*FA to invest in and work with grassroots clubs to tackle racial discrimination
*Local FA to develop transparent disciplinary procedure to address racial discrimination and abuse
*A compulsory module to be integrated in all FA coaching, managerial and refereeing qualifications that addresses multi cultural issues to develop participants cultural learning
*FA to provide a diversity breakdown of the distribution of facilities and funds at all levels
* FA to commit to addressing all racist incidents, involving Police and having a zero tolerance approach to repeat offenders.
I met a lot of fantastic people that night. There was no hostility towards me as a minority person amongst that audience. I found that everybody wanted to engage and to learn. The event was full of hope and ambition. It is just a beginning, essentially driven by ordinary (but also extraordinary) people.
To my mind the goals are Nirvana - the liberation of all people to enjoy 'the beautiful game' equally, and the salvation of the true essence of that sport cleansed of the curse that is racism.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Taking on the IOC at CAS

Last week the Court of Arbitration for Sport finally delivered its verdict in the case of Mu Yen Chu and Chinese Taipei Olympic Cttee v The International Olympic Committee. The IOC managed to carry the day and thereby maintain the status quo with regard to their London 2012 Athlete's Commission Election result. The IOC had disqualified Chu and the Japanese athlete Murofushi for breaches of the election rules regarding campaigning. The rules effectively outlaw campaigning. There seems little doubt that the rules place lesser known candidates at a disadvantage. This may have some relevance to CAS' ultimate conclusions.
 The merits of the rules for this particular election are dubious, although this was not the point of the case before CAS. Chu denied breaching the rules. The case had originally hit the headlines because Chu was accused of handing out lollipops to athletes in order to, supposedly,  entice them to vote for him. The source of this allegation only became known during the course of the appeal proceedings. The Australian Chef de Mission, Fiona de Jong, had emailed the Election Committee complaining that she had been told that Chu had been handing out the aforementioned candy in the Athletes' Village. It transpired that she had not witnessed this herself, had not identified any athlete who had in fact witnessed this and could supply no other evidence of its ever having taken place. De Jong was not called by the IOC at CAS, and although they maintained the allegation throughout the appeal, the IOC produced no further 'evidence' beyond the original second hand De Jong hearsay email. Unsurprisingly CAS found that there was insufficient evidence to 'confirm Chu distributed lollipops'.
 It may not be that surprising that the Australian delegation did not wish to further involve itself in this matter by appearing at CAS.  During the Games a photograph had been published in the media showing the Australian Election candidate, James Tomkins (he was elected), walking around the Village next to a giant 'kangaroo'. This might have been extremely awkward for the IOC and the Australians given that, unlike the case of Chu, there was actually photographic evidence of the activity, but nothing had happened to Tomkins. It might have been suggested that this was overt campaigning  of the kind outlawed by the IOC's rules. CAS commented (the matter was not directly relevant to the Appeal) that 'the photograph proved nothing in the absence of evidence that he deliberately posed with the kangaroo'. See for yourselves.


The appeal ultimately came down to the question as to whether there was evidence that Chu had further transgressed after he was given a written warning on the 26th July 2012 (following the De Jong email). The only evidence called by the IOC on this point was that of the Zimbabweans, Kirsty Coventry (travelled and appeared in person) and Busi Chindove (Chef de Mission of Zimbabwean team - by mobile telephone from Zimbabwe - incredibly and perfectly audibly). Interestingly Miss Coventry had lost the original election, but following the disqualifications of Chu and Murofushi she found herself in 3rd place and accordingly elected. Whilst acknowledging that Miss Coventry was 'de facto interested in the outcome' the Panel accepted her evidence, supported by her colleague Chindove, that Chu had campaigned in restricted areas after the warning letter of the 26th July, notwithstanding that she only complained about these transgressions after the vote had ended, and when the results of the election were certainly known to some, according to some unchallenged witness statements.
An interesting aspect of the case was the position of the Chair of the Election Committee, Anita De Frantz, a very senior and longstanding member of the IOC. De Frantz had caused the original warning letter to be sent to Chu. She was present at meetings with Coventry and Chindove, conducted the 'Investigation meeting' with Chu and presented a 'comprehensive oral report' to the Executive Board. The Appellants wanted to question her about the process by which it was decided that Chu had transgressed ie about the nature of the evidence and how it came to her attention and how the decision that Chu should be disqualified was arrived at.
De Frantz seemingly refused to play any part in the proceedings and the IOC proceeded without her, calling other witnesses in her stead, but never providing the answers that the Appellants were seeking. The Panel were of the opinion that the 'De Frantz argument' was not relevant as this was a hearing de novo, and accordingly it was for the them to decide whether the IOC had proved its case, and if so, whether the sanction imposed was within the appropriate range of proportionate responses.  The Panel never did hear what was contained within De Frantz's 'comprehensive oral report' for which there was no written record.
Reputation Intact

Mu Yen Chu had set out to clear his name. He had been stained with the label of 'lollipop man'. Although ultimately the Panel found against him in the appeal, it was interesting that they chose to specifically characterise him as being guilty only of 'excessive zeal rather than of a desire to cheat'. His  actions were 'overt rather than covert' and 'they should not be equated with dishonesty'. According to the Panel, Mu Yen Chu's 'reputation and integrity as a sportsman remain untarnished'. Vindication of sorts.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Liar, Liar - Should Polygraph Evidence be used in Sports Tribunals?

The use of polygraph or lie detector evidence in Sports Law cases has been much debated. Given that evidence beyond adverse analytical findings is being used more frequently to prove doping violations pursuant to the WADA Code, there are calls for the use of such evidence, both to prove cases against and to exonerate athletes accused of doping. In cricket, in a bid to fight corruption, Steve Waugh, ex Australian captain, has led calls for the use of lie detectors. He 'convincingly' passed a test to 'demonstrate' that he had never been involved in match fixing. The MCC released a statement "The World Cricket Committee accepts that the use of polygraph tests is a sensitive subject but their potential use should now be widely debated in the game".

Waugh Advocates Use

There is considerable disagreement as to the accuracy of polygraph testing. Claims as to its reliability seem to range from 60 - 95% accuracy. In the CAS case of Alberto Contador, the Panel heard evidence from 2 leading professors who suggested an accuracy of 95% with 5% false positives ie people said to be lying who were not in fact. Nonetheless there must always be a degree of self interest in assessing the validity and value of one's own expertise.
 In the UK polygraph evidence is not used in courts, but it has begun to impact upon other legal procedures. The use of lie detector tests for certain criminals subject to  licence conditions has been legalised and sex offenders can now be assessed for release based in part on such investigations. Polygraph evidence is used in criminal proceedings in some US states although it is often said that the role of the jury in deciding the truth should not be usurped by scientific devices and the like.
The polygraph measures a person's physiological responses (eg pulse, respiration, blood flow etc). The theory is that a person's natural fear of being caught out in a lie will result in increased physiological responses when answering the relevant questions as opposed to when answering the control questions.
Opponents of the testing suggest that it can be defeated in a number of ways including by the adoption of 'counter measures' (such as the use of drugs and hypnosis) to reduce the variance in physiological response, but also by the self infliction of pain to derail the control response. Indeed Lance Armstrong's lawyer's statement in 2012 that the cyclist would be willing to take such a test to prove his innocence suggests that he was massively confident of successfully defeating it. Armstrong nemesis Tyler Hamilton even admits in his book 'The Secret Race' to having beaten the lie detector machine.
The position of CAS with regard to the admissibility of this type of evidence has shifted. In 2008 the Swiss athlete Daubney sought to rely upon a successful polygraph test to prove his innocence of knowingly taking cocaine. CAS ruled that such evidence ws inadmissible under Swiss law and accordingly any statement made to the expert by Daubney was purely admissible as a personal declaration. The expert scientific evidence was not admissible. Subsequently in the case of Alberto Contador, he successfully argued that, pursuant to WADC Article 3.2 'facts relating to an anti doping violation may be established by any reliable means' which had not been in force at the time of Daubney, such evidence was admissible. The admissibility was not challenged by the other parties. CAS ruled that the evidence added  'some force' to Contador's 'declarations of innocence, but do not, by nature, trump other elements of the evidence'.
The Chinese judoka Tong Wen also sought to rely upon polygraph evidence at CAS. Both Wen and Contador were represented  by Mike Morgan. The Respondent objected, but CAS did not ultimately make any finding about this aspect of her case. They ruled that the Respondent had not proved the doping violation because the B sample had been tested without the athlete being present and accordingly the adverse analytical finding was inadmissible.
Mike Morgan has reportedly made the point that such evidence should only be admissible where the athlete has consented to the procedure. Compulsion to take the test is, he argues, likely to skew the results of the test and accordingly render it unreliable in any event.
It is therefore more than likely that this type of evidence will prove more useful, but to a limited degree, to the accused athlete, than the prosecuting authority.




Thursday, 7 March 2013

Can Danish Kaneria Evade Ban?

The answer to the question posed above was delivered today 26/4/13.
Kaneria lost his appeal against the findings of match fixing. Surprisingly the appeal against the sanction of a life ban is to be heard later. Once the ECB secured a High Court summons against key witness Mervyn Westfield, and in the spite of the bluster of Kaneria's legal team, the writing was on the wall for the Pakistani. This was a very good day for cricket.
The Original Story
In 2012 Danish Kaneria was found guilty by an independent ECB anti corruption panel of inducing another player (Mervyn Westfield) to under perform and of bringing the game into disrepute and consequently given a life ban. Because of reciprocal arrangements throughout cricket his ban is enforceable worldwide. Kaneria has not been able to play cricket since because notwithstanding an appeal the ban took immediate effect. The finding against him was largely based upon the testimony of Mervyn Westfield, a colleague at Essex County Cricket Club. Westfield himself was imprisoned for 4 months and banned by the ECB for 5 years although he can return to club cricket after 3 years. The Police also investigated Kaneria, but, given that they could not rely upon Westfield as a witness at that time, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
The ECB Panel accepted Westfield's testimony before them and found Kaneria to be lying and giving an implausible account.
Kaneria is now appealing the ECB's finding against him. The hearing should have taken place in December 2012, but was postponed until April 2013 due to the unavailability of Westfield. It is believed that Westfield has withdrawn his co - operation and is refusing to attend. It was widely believed that Westfield could not be compelled to attend. Given that he cannot get his own ban reduced by continuing to co - operate, he appeared to have lost any desire to assist the ECB. When deciding upon the sanction in his case, his ban could have been mitigated by 'substantial assistance', but there is no provision to enable his sanction to be revisited in the light of subsequent co - operation. The time limits to appeal his original ban expired 21 days after the Panel's decision. There appears to be no discretion to allow Westfield to appeal out of time. Accordingly the ECB has no incentive to offer Westfield for his co - operation and testimony.
Nonetheless in a sensational development on the 11th April 2013 the ECB successfully obtained a witness summons from the High Court compelling Westfield's attendance before the Disciplinary Appeal Panel. Pursuant to Practice Direction 34A
 A witness summons may be issued in the High Court or a county court in aid of a court or tribunal which does not have the power to issue a witness summons in relation to the proceedings before it.

Escape?

 Kaneria had been looking to profit from the absence of the ECB's star witness, but this is a potentially devastating blow to his hopes? The ECB may have turned the tables on the Pakistani cricketer at the eleventh hour.
The appeal is not ordinarily by way of a de novo rehearing. There is a presumption within the regulations that the appeal will look at the 'reasonableness of the original decision' rather than hearing evidence afresh.

Regulation 7.4.2
Where required in order to do justice (for example to cure procedural errors at the first
instance hearing), the appeal shall take the form of a re-hearing de novo of the issues
raised by the case. In all other cases, the appeal shall not take the form of a de novo
hearing but instead shall be limited to a consideration of whether the decision being
appealed was “Wednesbury unreasonable”.

 The legal arguments will turn on the interpretation of the phrase 'where required in order to do justice'.
Kaneria will argue that he is entitled, and that it is necessary, to cross examine Westfield (again) in order for justice to be served. Those acting for the ECB will contend that there is a full record (indeed an audio recording should exist) of Westfield's evidence and that it was fully tested at the original hearing by prominent Queen's Counsel and sports lawyers. Unless there have been significant developments since the original testimony and there are fresh matters that should be put to Westfield which undermine his credibility, the ECB's standpoint may prevail. Furthermore  I cannot see that Kaneria has any prospect of persuading the appeal panel that the original decision was 'Wednesbury unreasonable' ie perverse and contrary to the evidence.
Those acting for Kaneria have recently been loudly expressing their position in the media and asserting that a significant claim for compensation against the ECB for worldwide  loss of earnings will follow. They further suggest that they want Westfield to attend the hearing and for the 'truth' to emerge. They argue that any future hearing should be held in public knowing that ECB rules state the contrary. Somehow I doubt very much that Kaneria's team would greet an appearance by Westfield at the eventual appeal hearing with open arms. They may have to suffer it anyway and get what they 'publicly desired'.
The Daily Mail (22.3.13) floated the prospect of a rapprochement between the ECB and Westfield and perhaps some mitigation of the length of his ban. It does not identify the mechanism by which this would be achieved. Of course it would be very attractive to the cricket authorities to secure the co - operation of Westfield in an attempt to maintain the ban on the much bigger fish which is the Pakistani cricketer. In addition it claims that Westfield testified at the Old Bailey during criminal proceedings. In fact he pleaded guilty. Any observations there about Kaneria came from his defence Counsel and the sentencing judge. Kaneria of course was not ultimately prosecuted in the criminal courts due to lack of evidence.
Following Day 1 of the hearing Kaneria and his team were less ebullient than previously, claiming that the evidence was 'not strong' and that you cannot take away somebody's livelihood on the word of one person. This suggests that whatever misgivings Westfield has about his presence at the appeal his testimony continues to damn Kaneria.


Rugby - Breach of Natural Justice?

The Rugby Football Union is under fire this week following the case of Milton Keynes number 8 Stuart Tomkinson. He was found guilty by an RFU Independent Appeal Panel of racially abusing Slough's Gavin Connor. Tomkinson, who is 39 years old, was banned for 12 weeks.
Tomkinson was cited by Slough, but he was cleared last October at the original hearing. The match referee, who was close to the action, stated that he did not hear the alleged abuse.
 Slough exercised their right to appeal as they were entitled to do under RFU Regulations if they were 'dissatisfied' with the original decision. They sought and were allowed to introduce fresh evidence, the testimony of other Slough players.
The decision of the RFU Independent Panel, which was comprised of 3 independent lawyers is final meaning that Tomkinson has no further right of appeal within the RFU regulations even though this was the first time a panel had found against him.
The reason why the case is controversial is because Milton Keynes RUFC and Tomkinson accuse the  RFU of taking sides. Under RFU Regulations they appointed the independent lawyers who made up the Panel. However the RFU also appointed Slough's legal representatives claiming that'it was in the interests of the game to have Slough's case 'professionally represented' given the seriousness of the allegation'.
Milton Keynes Chairman John Theobald has resigned in protest accusing the RFU of taking sides. The RFU claimed that it was a 'complex case' and that 'slough needed support in their case'. This statement suggests that Milton Keynes may have some cause for their argument.
Stuart Tomkinson was said to be considering whether to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and ask them to consider the appropriateness of the whole RFU disciplinary process. However any such appeal is out of time and in any event in the absence of a specific arbitration clause granting CAS jurisdiction, and without RFU agreement, the CAS route is closed.
Perhaps it is time for the RFU to consider removing itself from its role in appointing the members of its disciplinary panels, and most certainly from involving itself in the provision, in any way whatsoever, of legal representation. A proper right of appeal would be appropriate as well.

Pistorius and Press Reporting

UPDATE
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the allegation, Oscar Pistorius has now successfully challenged his bail conditions on appeal and is free to travel abroad to compete again. Whether he is physically and psychologically fit to undertake such activity is another matter, although making the application suggests that Pistorius has been able to shrug this matter aside. What he may well not have bargained for is the level of hostility towards him overseas. It will be interesting to see whether any promoter is ghoulish enough to want to benefit from the 'notoriety' now attached to this athlete. It looks like another media fest is about to begin.
This article first appeared in the Leicester Mercury on the 2nd March 2013.

Oscar Pistorius was abusive and possessive, his paranoia fuelled by illegal drugs. He snapped reading texts from his pregnant girlfriend’s former Springbok boyfriend, smashed her skull with an implement before shooting her four times as she cowered behind a bathroom door. 

This is the sensational story presented to the world via the media months before his trial. The true facts will only be known at a future date.

If Oscar Pistorius was being tried in this country, I would be able to tell you what the charges were, of his denials, that he had been granted bail, when he was next due in court and his likely trial date.

By contrast in South African almost any information is fair game, every titbit of speculation placed in the public forum, whether true or not.
As the world learnt of the fate of Reeva Steenkamp, Police were openly rubbishing press suggestions that Pistorius had accidentally shot his girlfriend mistaking her for an intruder, publicly calling this a case of premeditated murder.



Shattering my London 2012 glow, I was dismayed to ‘learn’ that illegal steroids had been recovered, that Reeva’s skull had been caved in and that a ‘bloodied cricket bat’ was present at the crime scene.
The steroids evidence was presented at the bail hearing, but unforgivably it was erroneous. Police had not done their homework; the drugs were neither steroids nor illegal. For three days I had believed that Pistorius was a drug cheat and accepted the theory that the steroids had turned him into an aggressive killer.
Magistrate Nair broadcast his bail decision to the world including his serious misgivings about the credibility of Pistorius’ case. I am incredulous that the defence had put their case in the public domain, and that the judge had publicly expressed misgivings about it, at such an early stage of the process.


On a charge of murder in England, the Crown Court bail hearing would have been held in private, lasted, at most, 30 minutes to an hour, and would not have been the subject of detailed press reporting.
Owing to our Contempt of Court Act little more would be known by the time the matter came before a jury here, leaving them genuinely in a position to honour their oath to try the case according to the evidence presented in court. The jury system in the UK is honest, not easily abused and has withstood the test of history. It is the proper way to do justice. South Africa abolished jury trial in 1969. One judge will have to perform the mental gymnastics required to sift the evidence from the prejudicial pre trial chatter.
UPDATE 11.3.13
The BBC plan to broadcast a programme examining the events surrounding the death of Reeva Steenkamp this evening. Pistorius is described by a close family friend as a 'broken man' and 'possibly suicidal'. He is also said to be selling off assets, such as racehorses, to fund a 'war chest' for his legal fees. Incredibly he is reported as saying to Police officers upon arrest 'I will survive. I always win'.
 The media fest continues!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Pistorius - A Most Sensational Case


Latest 22.2.13
Pistorius was in court this morning hoping to hear that he will get bail. His coach was already planning the resumption of light training next week. This seemed to  be premature and optimistic at best. Meanwhile interest could not be greater.
The answer re bail eventually arrived at about 1330 our time. Pistorius was bailed with conditions including surrender of passport and guns and payment of a surety. The Magistrate concluded that the State had not satisfied him that any objections to bail could be made out. The case remains nonetheless a Schedule 6 premeditated murder case. The Magistrate expressed serious reservations about the Pistorius account.
The decision and the whole process seems pretty incredible to an English Criminal lawyer. I cannot believe that Pistorius would have been bailed here. A young woman senselessly lost her life at his hands. He fired a weapon several times when it was impossible to argue that there was sensible justification. He was also in possession of an illegal weapon and would be facing a serious sentence here for that alone.
I doubt very much that Pistorius will be able to resume training. The psychological difficulties and the  public scrutiny will make this immensely difficult. It is hard to imagine that the Paralympian can resume his career in any event. For me, its over. His moment is gone.
The Arguments
The world is coming to terms with the ever more sensational and horrifying details emerging from South Africa with regard to the killing of Reeva Steemkamp, seemingly at the hands of Oscar Pistorius, early Police reports leaked to and published by the media, and myself,  asserted that  illegal steroids had been recovered from the Paralympians home address where the killing took place.
The South African Police Service  (SAPS) has not been slow to disclose evidence to the media and indeed seems to be conducting a mini trial in front of the world's press. Speculation was rife initially that Pistorius may have killed Miss Steenkamp accidentally. SAPS were very quick to refute that possibility. Pistorius had not even appeared in court at that stage. Police and consequent Press reports  indicated that he had been drinking heavily, had rowed with his girlfriend in the hours before the shooting (possibly, according to South African press reports about texts to Miss Steenkamp from Francois Hougard, a Springbok rugby player and former boyfriend of the victim), had fired a number of shots through a locked bathroom door hitting his victim a number of times. The case then took an even more lurid turn when a bloodied cricket bat was allegedly recovered from the scene. It was suggested that Miss Steenkamp's skull had been damaged by something other than a bullet. Miss Steenkamp's family were told by the Police that Pistorius had smashed her skull with the bat prior to the shooting. They say that they witnessed horrific head injuries before her body was cremated. This will undoubtedly form a major plank of the prosecution case at trial. It was not revealed at the bail hearing. Whilst this assisted the athlete in getting bail, he was forced into making a sworn declaration which may come back to haunt him. The bloodied bat is likely to become as synonymous with the case as OJ Simpson's 'bloodied glove'. The defence tactic of attacking the investigating officer, Botha, was, in part, an early attempt to cast doubt upon the integrity of the crime scene, the very same ruse employed by OJ's lawyers in respect of avowedly racist cop, Mark Fuhrman.
 It is hard to imagine that so much detail would be available so quickly in the UK and it certainly could not be published.
SAPS were keen to stress at an early stage that Pistorius would be undergoing psychiatric evaluation, but also that drug tests were being carried out.
The defence countered today at the bail hearing which is now adjourned into a 3rd day that the 'steroids' are in fact a herbal remedy delivered in syringes called Testo compositum (little known). The truth will undoubtedly be established on this point in due course, but for now the whole case seems to be about points scoring re bail (perhaps the only victory that Pistorius could hope for (not to go to a prison where his prostheses would be removed as potential weapons and he would be helplessly confined to a wheelchair). The defence also discredited claims that witnesses heard a lengthy shouting match. They were seemingly some distance away. The Investigating Officer Botha, seemed hesitant and ill prepared for interrogation in court. This is hardly surprising. The case is being conducted like a full scale trial before the evidence has been properly considered. In the UK I suggest that such a bail hearing would last about half an hour, be held in private and would almost certainly consider the current state of the prosecution case at its highest. Pistorius would not get bail here.
Breaking news this morning 21st February 2013 is that yesterday Botha was informed that SAPS are reinstating Attempted Murder charges against him in relation to an incident in 2011 when he and other officers fired at a taxi. Even less surprising that he performed so badly yesterday, but one can only wonder at a decision to place him in charge of such a high profile investigation when he is under such an enormous cloud himself. They certainly do things differently in South Africa.
The fact remains that Pistorius' story is incredibly weak and implausible on many levels. Putting so much of his case in the public domain at this stage in a sworn affidavit in an attempt to get bail is a high risk strategy. Robert Shapiro, the man who defended OJ Simpson in another notorius case involving a sporting superstar, declared that the defence tactic of declaring there hand in writing at this early stage was unprecedented in his experience and dangerous, because Pistorious would now be effectively held to that declaration. For instance claiming that he was not wearing his prostheses when he fired the shots (why did he ever need to?) can easily be disproved by firearms experts unless true. It was pitch black, he claimed, so he did not see  his girlfriend was not in bed, but he managed to arm himself with a lethal weapon and discharge it several times without bothering to 'find out' who was the other side of a locked door. Presumably the lights worked in his luxury house. His defence counsel has a far bigger battle to fight in future than bail. The prosecution suggest flight risk. Certainly  Pistorius might find that attractive given his trial prospects.
The World is in shock because Oscar Pistorius represented an almost entirely positive image for sport, for disabled persons and for South Africa. He has frequently been described as a national hero and beacon of hope. He first appeared at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens aged 17. His legend has grown ever since. His progression through Beijing to London 2012, his achievement in breaking down barriers by being the first disabled man to compete at the Olympics against able bodied athletes, has seen him rise to become a global icon. This has been coupled with an explosion in commercial opportunities for Pistorius himself and the accumulation of substantial wealth. He is said to have earnt £5m from commercial endorsements last year.
This week Nike has been forced to withdraw an ill fated and ill advised advertising campaign which featured the athlete as the 'bullet in the chamber'. Nike has suffered a series of high profile disasters amongst its stable of sporting superstars (Armstrong and Woods) and currently appears jinxed.
Pistorius has found himself under unbelievable pressure to continue to improve and to aspire to new heights. He did not in fact meet the qualifying standards for the able bodied 400m individual event, but the South African authorities and the IOC, perhaps mindful of his commercial and marketing value, value let him compete anyway (he reached the semi finals where he came 8th in his race). With the able bodied World Championships this year and the Comonwealth Games in 2014 Pistorius would be expected to push for qualification for the finals. Pistorius needed to keep the story moving forward.
Within South Africa he has been identifed as a rare unifying force, but there have reportedly been signs that the role model mask has been slipping in recent times. The World's first glimpse of a less heroic side to Oscar Pistorius came during the London 2012 Paralympics.

After Oscar Pistorius was, perhaps surprisingly, beaten in the T44 200m final by Alan Oliveira of Brazil, he complained bitterly about his opponent's blades, suggesting that Oliveira had crucially and unfairly increased his stride length. It is right to say that he had also raised the issue in advance of the race. Nonetheless this was a side to Pistorius at odds with his public image as the pin up boy of both Paralympism and the Olympics. There was also a certain irony about the South African complaining of unfairness given his own battle to be allowed to compete in able bodied events against protests of an unfair advantage from his blades (see  Court of Arbitration for Sport here). A slightly touchy side to Pistorius was revealed during a BBC interview with Rob Bonnet in September 2011. When pressed about his desire to compete in able bodied events and about criticism from Dame Tanni Grey Thompson that he was somehow devaluing the Paralympic event, he terminated the interview abruptly listen here


Fallen Icon

Details are now emerging of some less than savoury moments in the Pistorius biography. Hints of previous domestic violence and Police reports of Pistorius being let off with  a warning by SAPS after a female complained of assault and other slightly wild behaviour. None of that though comes close to explaining this tragic tale.
However the theory of 'steroid abuse' or 'roid rage' remains a possibility (although the hard evidence does not seem to exist contrary to what was originally suggested by SAPS). Did Pistorius succumb to the temptation of illegal doping through the use of steroids in order to maintain his stellar progression and iconic status in World Sport? He has never failed a drugs test, indeed he passed 2 tests during the Summer of 2012 but then that can be said of many of the previous fallen (Armstrong, Marion Jones et al). Drug testing rigour throughout the world is currently under severe scrutiny with widespread doubts about its ability to compete with the dopers through lack of resources.
There is plenty of evidence of the dangerous side effects of steroid abuse. Pistorius is said to have revealed a number of worrying traits in recent times including possessiveness in relation to Miss Steenkamp, notwithstanding their short relationship, but also an obsession with security issues, and more seriously with guns (he was in possession of an illegal weapon).
Steroid abusers are known to be subject to mood swings and to tend towards increased aggressiveness. The drugs can provoke overreactions and extreme aberrations of behaviour (even suicide). The abuse of steroids may also unmask an underlying psychiatric disorder.
There is no evidence yet that this can explain even to a degree the terrible events of last week, but if this proposition proves to be correct, then the world of sport and society as a whole will be forced to confront an even more urgent need to address drug abuse in sport.





Saturday, 9 February 2013

Death of Democracy

In 1980 Zimbabweans celebrated as their country emerged from British white rule and UDI  to become independent. Hopes for a new and prosperous nation were short lived however.

Hopes Dashed
The regime of President Robert Mugabe, which endures to this day through brutality, corruption and repression, has brought nothing but misery to the country.
The following statistics perhaps more than any demonstrate the sorry decline in living standards.

Life expectancy at birth for males in Zimbabwe has declined from 60 years to 42 years. A Zimbabwean can hope to enjoy good health for only 39 years. Infant mortality has risen from 53 deaths per 1000 children to 81. By 2009 1.2 million Zimbabweans had HIV. 

10 years ago this week during the 2003 Cricket World Cup Andy Flower, now England Cricket Director, but then a Zimbabwean legend nearing the end of his cricket career and Henry Olongo, a young black fast bowler, united to stage a dramatic protest. They issued the following statement:

"In all the circumstances, we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup. In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. In doing so, we pray that our small action may restore sanity and dignity to our Nation".

Both players sported black armbands in a World Cup match in Zimbabwe.
In so doing they effectively ended their international careers and both were forced to leave their homeland. Neither has returned.
Little has changed in Zimbabwe over those last 10 years, but the 'Black Armband Protest' demonstrably cast a spotlight on the injustice wrought upon the people of Zimbabwe,

Few sportsmen have entered the political arena in such stunning fashion. There are of course parallels with Tommie Smith and John Carlos' Mexico Olympics Black Power Protest. Their exile calls to mind Basil D'Oliveira.
In 2009 at the height of political resistance to the 're - election' of President Ahmadjinedad in Iran, 7 Iranian national team players wore green armbands, symbolising solidarity with the Opposition, during a World Cup qulaifier in Seoul, South Korea. In a demonstartion of the power of a simple gesture, the live TV coverage was blacked out in Iran. The players were ordered by their coach to remove the armbands at half time. The captain Mehdi Mahdavikia retained his throughout the game however. The Government later announced that the players 'had been retired'.


Player Solidarity with Opposition Protest

Henry Olonga, who forfeited a career which might have endured for years,  has since forged a new life as a musician and public speaker in the UK. 
Asked about his motivation, Olonga stated that he wanted to be 'the slave who defies the emperor'. It had been Flower's idea after he read about the torture of a prominent opposition politician. Flower knew that the protest needed a black figurehead and that Olongo could be that man. The pair were not personally close, but united behind a common cause.
Flower of course has been as successful as a coach as he once was as a player. He averaged 51 as a test player.
He has coached England to 2 successive Ashes series victories. He has raised significant sums for Zimbabwean charitable causes and to fight melanoma.


United Against Injustice
Regrets? Olonga summed it up best "if I hadn’t embraced the moment, I could have been a nobody, had a mediocre World Cup, and no one would have remembered. Now I’m remembered as the guy who wore a black armband".
Breaking News 12.2.13
Sout Korean footballer Park Jong Woo has been allowed to receive his Olympic Bronze medal from London 2012 in spite of breaching the Olympic Charter by holding up a banner at the end of an Olympic match which proclaimed 'Jokdo is Ours'. The IOC Discipline Commission has let him off with a severe warning and South Korea has been obliged to introduce an education programme.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gazza - Tears for a Clown

Desperate news today that Paul Gascoigne has seemingly fallen off the wagon and plunged back into alcohol having checked himself out of the Sporting Chance clinic. He had seemingly been doing so well until he made an unfortunate public appearance in Northampton last week where he was said to be shaking and rambling about whisky. Gazza's Agent Terry Baker has called for help saying Paul's life is constantly in danger. The PFA however publicly stated today that they have frequently tried to assist the former England player including by paying for rehabilitation. They cannot however help somebody who will not be saved.
Whenever I read these headlines I feel guilty.
Memories of Gazza nearly always make me smile. But frequently he fades from my and public consciousness until we are prodded back into reality by some such similar headline, and I remember his now desperate situation.
I am also reminded (by Twitter today) that there is an unsavoury side to Gazza's history (domestic violence) which should not be pushed to one side.
The last time I saw Gazza live was when he was playing in Martin Keown's testimonial at Highbury in 2004. In many ways it was a sad and poignant occasion (no disrespect to Keown). Gazza was really up for it and displayed many of his old skills, but this was a friendly at best and meaningless. The real show was over. Highbury too was on its way out, faded, falling down and soon to be effectively demolished. Remembrance of Things Past was the theme. Gazza seemed to need the limelight and the adulation a little too much.

Unfulfilled Talent

Gazza's career is full of regrets. His peak was 1991, but only because after an outrageous cup run during which he decimated Arsenal in the semi final (the free kick) he injured his knee with a ludicrous tackle on Gary Charles and was never the same again. Self inflicted disaster is the theme of his life.
Gazza emerged in World Cup 1990 against Holland when he showed himself capable of playing with the best. His brilliance nearly carried England to the Final, but ended in penalty tears.
The Roman years with Lazio brought Italian football to the consciousness of many English fans, including myself, and also demonstrated the technical gulf between Serie A and the EPL. Gazza though was perfectly at home in technical terms in that footballing environment.
Gazza's greatest moments thereafter were during Euro 1996 when England, inspired by Gascoigne's inate ability to keep the ball,  played with an unforgettable swagger and came within a Gazza toe poke of reaching the Final. Nobody who witnessed it will ever forget our 4 - 1 destruction of Holland.
During the 1997 World Cup qualifier against Italy in Rome, Gazza, in company with Paul Ince, orchestrated a 0 - 0 draw which secured qualification for the World Cup in France, but sadly Gascoigne failed to make the Finals. His demons had taken over by then and he was in no fit state, per manager Glenn Hoddle to perform.

Star Emerges Italia 90

After that tearful exit, Gascoigne was never really the same again.
I remember another testimonial in Leicester in 1998 when Gazza was said, by Chris Evans who shared the dressing room for the match, to be smoking like a chimney and shaking like a leaf.
I just wish it could all be different and that the the seemingly inevitable never in fact happens. So if anybody can talk Gascoigne back into the clutches of Sporting Chance please do so quickly.

Post Script 6.2.13
Gazza has now gone to a rehabilitation facility in America. Friends such as Gary Lineker and the aforementioned Chris Evans are said to have paid for this treatment. Sheryl Gascoigne is also said ot be helping the former star.
Update 9.2.13
Reports tonight that Gazza is in intensive care in Arizona where he has travelled to enter a rehabilitation facility - say it ain't so!
Better News 11.2.13
Apparently Gazza was admitted to hospital and into intensive care as a precaution following a severe reaction to detoxification treatment, but he is now on the right track and it is hoped he can leave hospital shortly and resume treatment at the Arizona facility.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Sisterhood Trilogy (Part 3 Women's Football)

Last night at the FA Awards England's Women's Football team was given the Club EnglandTeam Award. Suddenly the profile of the female version of the game is soaring.
If I look back a year it is very hard to remember exactly where we were with Women's Football (except that a year ago Women's 'soccer' probably resonated more than 'football'). Since then I have been compelled to fall in love with the 'even more Beautiful Game' and to be amazed at the rapid and worldwide progress of the women's version. Here are some personal thoughts on the last 12 months.
 Meeting Lianne Sanderson (my hero), watching Women's Super League games live, admiring the utterly unfussy competence of referee Sian Massey, being stunned by the crowds and play at the Olympics, were some of the highlights. The atmosphere at Coventry Stadium as fans from Canada, Japan, South Africa, Sweden and football lovers generally, converged for a double headed football fiesta was joyous. The football was good too and it was quite easy to predict that Canada would go far (they reached the Semi Final losing controversially to USA). The Japanese were technically adroit, the Swedes physically dominant, the Africans raw but skilled and the Canadians an very effective combination of all the above.
Quietly Competent

 Football in the Middle East continues to grow and barriers are coming down albeit slowly and in spite of conservative opposition. There are more games, tournaments and opportunities. More of this in a future post when hopefully I will be able to report directly. The health benefits to nations with inactive population time bombs are obvious and the need to get people exercising will overwhelm the 'religious objections'. What is required is an imaginative commitment to funding. Some vested interests are standing in the way and protecting the status quo.
Women's Super League is expanding to 2 divisions from Summer 2014. Broadcasters are planning terrestrial (essential) and satellite coverage. In my view this factor alone will take Women's Football interest and participation to a whole new level. For Gary Lineker read Jacqui Oatley. The Women's Game can only benefit by comparison with some of the more tawdry elements of the Men's game. Sponsors are inevitably going to be attracted by a cleaner, but no less competitive environment, as yet unsoiled by the commercialism and materialism of the male version. There are role models aplenty.
Clare Balding is quoted as saying:
 "Women's football has massive advantages – players aren't abusive to referees, they don't spit, swear or dive and there is no racist abuse. It is a very clean sport as well as being skilful and I think its moment is here."
I have seen all this for myself. There were no Bales or Suarez in the WSL.
Meanwhile New Women's Soccer League (NWSL) has announced the latest rebirth of US Women's Pro Soccer. This model seems more considered and mature, compared to previous incarnations, with the US, Canadian and Mexican Soccer Federations financing 24 international players, thus guaranteeing a quality league whilst reducing club costs and financial exposure. The league is phasing its filling of 'rosters' with the 8 teams gradually acquiring the star names which will eventually thrill the fans. This slow burning PR exercise is frustrating some whilst wetting the appetites of others. It will soon be with us, the kick off is mid April (22 games to end August) .
I already know where Ms Sanderson will play, but cannot say, sorry. Newsflash its Boston Breakers!
Secret Location Revealed

 A stunning example of the development of the game is tiny Montenegro. UEFA reports that since the Former part of Yugoslavia joined UEFA in 2007 the number of registered female players has increased by 400%. There have been competitive debuts at junior and senior levels in European events.
Women's sport gets about 5% of media coverage and 0.5% of corporate sponsorship. Only 4 players per team can earn more than £20,000 in the WSL. England players recently got their salary package upped to a paltry ('embarrassing' per PFA Chairman Gordon Taylor) £20,000. International players supplement their income working 2 jobs. However the money will follow as the transition gathers pace. 75,000 people attended Team GB's first Olympic match last Summer. Still Birmingham v Arsenal Ladies in WSL in September attracted less than 1000 fans so there is of course a long way to go.
The FA has announced a 5 year plan to turn Women's Football into the second most popular sport in England after the men's game but in front of men's cricket and rugby. This is a wholly realistic target.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Court of Arbitration for Sport

Off to the pinnacle of International Sports tribunals. Snow capped mountain views from the airport at Geneve then avoid the rip off taxis at Lausanne Gare because the hotel (Alpha - Palmier) is only in fact 2 minutes walk away (and last time I spent CHF 20 having a lovely tour of the one way system). Last minute case revision (what has the Opposition got that I have missed? Nothing really) and up at crack of dawn (no problem brought full tanks of adrenalin) for prompt arrival at the Chateau de Bethusy mansion where CAS/TAS sits. The hearing is scheduled for 0830 hours, unheard of back home. This being Switzerland you cannot afford to be a minute late or you'll miss a crucial argument and face time penalties. Although I am aware of the famous CAS chess clock system, introduced to shut down verbose counsel, there is in fact no clock in the hearing room at all - I find this somewhat disconcerting. The immediate sense is of purposeful order. The building is staffed by ultra capable and scrupulously (and inscrutably) independent staff who are no doubt highly qualified as well.  Panel Housekeeping begins at 0830 hours on the dot. We emerge from our own Appellants' bomb shelter where we can psychologically prepare our clients (slightly awed by the surroundings) for the intrigues to come.


 Then the call and we enter the chamber. Appellants to the right, respondents to the left and Panel before us, some of the greatest legal minds on the planet (I know they are not reading this). An incredible diversity in 3 people you simply could not make up. For a moment I wonder how it would to be a witness confronted by all of us - daunting (I hope!)
There are friendly greetings and introductions (in English) as the Panel Chair sets the tone and urges rigour and focus on the issues. But this is battle and other considerations must apply (and there are, maybe, old scores to be settled).
The best jokes, the one liners come from the doyen Mr Maitre for the Respondents. He's seen it all before and there is a playful, disdainful glint in his eye, that I can't help but  admire, whilst longing to extinguish it. He will not be cowed in this place. He is surrounded by his acolytes, keen, serious, but anxious. As an archetypal Swiss, his description of his countrymen is extraordinary, not entirely complimentary, and yet brilliant. He knows what I mean for at one moment our eyes locked on across the narrow no man's land between us..
So do not be fooled. The schedule says 5 mins for direct and 5 mins for redirect. Easy to scrupulously follow the rules and get left behind. Here the golden rule is to get the key points out in oral testimony. Though the Panel takes everything into account, the written statements seem to provide but mere background to the cut and thrust of rapier questioning which comes from all sides.
Do not also count on the etiquette of not being interrupted. The spears are soon unleashed from across the table aiming to unsettle (they failed in my view) and the Panel cut to the chase making it clear what interests them.
Truthful or not, the witnesses are impressive. They are successful people, even famous. They wear the sheen of living in a specific world, part of an exclusive club.
It is intense, an 11 hour hearing this time (representing 6 months intense activity), followed by a quick dash for some to the airport and for others to a bar.
Suddenly left alone, the building strangely empty, clients take 5 to gather souvenir photos in the chamber and outside in the snowy grounds of the chateau. All slightly surreal and eerily still after the noise and hustle of the day, but with a whiff of cordite still in the air.



Next day check out the Olympic Museum in Lausanne especially if you do not plan on returning. I didn't visit. Plenty of time.
So this time I hugged an Olympic Gold medallist who travelled halfway round the world and became a friend. And I fought with a double Olympic Gold medallist and World Record holder, 'an Olympic darling'. The Panel will ultimately decide  to who came off best, but it was I am certain, an experience perhaps neither of us will ever forget, and that 'darling' will never want to repeat.

The decision in Mu - Yen Chu and Chinese Taipei National Olympic Committee v International Olympic Committee will be released in the coming weeks.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Truth and Reconciliation

Like many people I am suffering from information overload today. In the past weeks I have read much of the USADA report (I know I have no life), Tyler Hamilton's 'Secret Race' and David Walsh's 'Seven Deadly Sins' Now I am absorbing the 2 part  Lance Armstrong 'Oprah Confessional' aired over the last2  nights on, ironically, the Discovery Channel. So many thoughts come to mind, here are some. Why did I want to believe so badly? I took no heed of David Walsh etc, I actually remember feeling annoyed when I read his pieces in the Sunday Times. I spent most of my summer holidays in France glued to Eurosport and the Tour and wanted, deeply, Armstrong to win. When Hamilton tested positive, I spurned him, but I never questioned Lance. I did not think about the people, the true heroes, beyond the names, Emma O'Reilly, Betsy Andreu, Stephen Swart and particularly Bassons. I wanted to believe an impossible lie so I ignored them. I feel bad for them (and for a part of my more naive self that is now lost). I now have to view all athletic achievement with a certain queasiness. I even question the Olympics which I loved so much - that is the legacy of people like Armstrong - you cheat the just!

Justice Denied

The Oprah interview is clever, very clever, and seemingly utterly cynical. It is beyond superficial. Just like the lip service apologies thus far. It is political and there is, but one  goal, a highly professional, if extremely difficult, PR job, it seeks to set up the next stage of LA's life. This 'show' is nowhere near enough. The calculation is that enough people will buy into this new Armstrong 'product' to justify the hit of the limited confession. For me the only satisfactory way forward would be for Armstrong to confess in full, preferably on oath, and accept all his punishments saying  'I fully deserve it' and for him to determine to do something else, other than competitive sport, with the rest of his life to make amends - educate others perhaps? He has poisoned so many lives, compromised so many people so that he, alone, could achieve his goals,'glory and riches'. He could smash cycling's 'omerta' code of silence, but only if he is unsparing on himself. To say that he still believes Dr Michele Ferrari to be a 'good man' beggars belief. The evidence seems uncontrovertible that Armstrong doped on his comeback, yet he denies it still. Is this for reasons of judicial self preservation? If so, spare us the half truths. The whole sorry mess of professional cycling could be laid bare and a cleansing process of renewal could truly begin 14 years after the joke that was the 1999 Tour de France ('The Tour of Renewal').
Livestrong? You cannot argue with raising millions of dollars for the benefit of others in need, but in what position is that cancer charity today, does it have any viable future? Something else that people invested themselves in now taken away. Hope based on inspiration and example dashed away.

Truth

I want justice for the 'heroes. Why did Christophe Bassons have his career destroyed? How many countless others were denied the fruits of their talent and hard work? Armstrong whines about losing $75million  when the sponsors finally made a commercial decision and deserted, but what of those simply trying to survive and to pay the modest mortgage? This invalid fraudulent culture was spread far and wide throughout the sport by the example of its Leader, somebody who embraced and enforced the 'totalitarian lie', hence his 'treatment' of, inter alia, Bassons. What a joke to call it 'a level playing field for all'. In a 'Tour a deux vitesses' there are 2 types of rider. That second category represents the true victims of doping.
Dont get me wrong, this is not all about Lance Armstrong. It seems as though a significant percentage, but not all of the other riders in the peloton,  were doing something similar, maybe in a less organised and systematic fashion, and not for them the spoils. So many have piggy backed on the Lance Armstrong story, from their proximity to him. So few were prepared to compromise their enhanced position by asking questions and finding answers. David Walsh raised and continues to direct some very uncomfortable questions at those surrounding the Armstrong circus. The Tour organisers, the supine fawning press, UCI, the book authors etc etc. The vested interests.
The trial of the the Spanish doctor at heart of Operacion Puerta starts Monday 28th January 2013. Many more 'unsporting secrets' may be revealed, and not just relating to cycling.Maybe the dopers are on the run. Let Armstrong come forward and on oath reveal all. True redemption means taking your punishment. Time to man up Lance. Time to set that example finally to your children.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Reaching the Olympic Promised Land

12th February 2013 Newsflash
The IOC Executive Board met today in Lausanne to consider the performance of the 25 sports in the London 2012 Olympic Games. The Board had to decide which sport to select for potential exclusion from the 2020 Olympics. In the event, by a secret ballot having whittled down the 5 candidates for exclusion to one, Wrestling has been nominated for the guillotine. Huge sighs of relief for Taekwondo, Badminton and Modern Pentathlon (and deplorably Hockey - who could have contemplated ditching hockey?) in particular. A secret ballot means that there is little accountability (plus ca change!). The Executive Board is shrouded in secrecy and hardly reflective of the modern world. I doubt that any detailed record or note of the proceedings will emerge. Certainly my last encounter with the IOC Executive Board, when it met to decide to exclude Mu Yen Chu and Murofushi from the Athletes' Commission, producing no minutes and an invisible comprehensive report from a personage who did not grace CAS with her attendance, does not bode well for fairness and accountability.
Wrestling supplied medallists from more countries than Modern Pentathlon had participants. Modern Pentathlon had a significantly less significant TV rating and it is a sport practised in far fewer countries than wrestling's 180. However, and here's the rub, Modern Pentathlon has as its Vice President, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr (sound familiar? Son of a less than gloriuos IOC President) - need I say more?
Wrestling has suffered a huge blow. The influence of India (a country with a significant involvement in the sport) but a negative current relationship with the IOC should not be overlooked. Wrestling can now regroup and attempt to retain its position by its selection as the replacement sport in competition with, inter alia, Squash. The final decision rests with the IOC Session in the Autumn.
 The Squash Bid for Olympic Inclusion
 In December 2012 the World Squash Federation launched its presentation to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne for inclusion as a Summer Sport in the Olympic Games 2020. This followed an IOC Inspection visit to the Hong Kong Open in December. The event featured an all glass show court with panoramic visibility for spectators located on the spectacular waterfront. The beauty of this court is that it can be relocated to the most fantastic and iconic locations. It has previously surfaced beside the pyramids in Egypt where the sport is hugely popular.

Sensational Setting


The WSF video presentation features Egyptian World Number 1 Ramy Ashour and Malaysian superstar Nicol David, also world ranked 1.
It is well worth a look at here
The Olympic Charter caps the number of Summer Olympic sports at 28. There were 26 sports at London 2012 after the exclusion of baseball and softball following a vote in 2005 (these sports are trying to get back in for 2020). The participating sports have to be decided 7 years in advance of the event and are announced at the same time as the Host City. 2020 is between Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul.  Golf and Rugby Sevens were voted into the Olympics in 2009 for 2016 at which point Rio 2016 will have its full compliment of 28 sports.


7 sports including Squash are seeking to gain entry in 2020. The admission of any will require the exclusion of an existing Olympic sport.
 In order to qualify for admission into the Olympic Games the sport must have its governing body (International Federation) recognised by the IOC. All its events must be sanctioned by one governing body. The Olympic Charter states that the statutes, practices and activities of the International Federation must be in conformity with the Olympic Charter and this includes the implementation and adoption of the WADA Anti Doping Code.
The sport must be widely practised around the world: the sport must be played by men in 75 countries and 4 continents and by women in 40 countries and 3 continents.
Once recognised by the IOC, the International Federation requires a recommendation from the IOC Olympic Programme Commission and then a decision is made by the IOC Executive Board which must be ratified by an Olympic Session. Squash has already been recognised by the IOC, but failed to gain entrance in 2012 and 2016. 3rd time lucky?

Nicol David

Squash meets the participation criteria. It is played in 185 countries across 5 continents, indeed there have been World Champions from 5 continents. There is a global coaching programme and the sport embraces change and innovation in court technology and in broadcasting. The televised sport is unrecognisable from the days of my youth. The beauty of the glass court is that it could be set up at any location desired by the Host City. Imagine Squash outside Buckingham Palace during London 2012 for instance. In fact it looks absolutely breathtaking. Squash entered a new phase in its destiny with the invention of a glass covering which would allow spectators to see into the court, but would make the players view more opaque enabling them to clearly see the ball within the court without it being lost in the spectator background. Nowadays the 'covering' is built into the glass and accordingly does not require changing. For more on the technology click here. Squash, having learnt from 2 failed Olympic bids, has also introduced under floor lighting, music, referee video review and Hawkeye. In straitened times when the IOC is looking to economise an Olympic Squash event would only require 64 athletes, 20 officials and 2 of those very special glass courts.

Hong Kong
The IOC Executive Board (with which I have some familiarity given the IOC v Mu Yen Case heard at CAS recently) will meet next week to consider detailed reports on all the sports which featured at London 2012. The assessments are based upon 30 different criteria including ticket sales, TV audience, anti doping policy and global participation. A number of sports are reported to be in danger of being dropped for the 2020 Games. Amongst these are Badminton (very unlikely to be removed in my opinion), Modern Pentathlon (quirky, with historical links to Modern Olympic Games founder Baron De Coubertin - but is at risk which is a pity because Team GB often medal in this sport -particularly the women's event!), but also Table Tennis, Taekwondo and Wrestling.
My prediction is that Squash will triumph ultimately, but at the expense of which current Olympic sport?