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 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!