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.


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?