Thursday, December 18, 2014

FIFA 2010 ExCo Scorecard

Above is a scorecard I just made up showing the status of the 2010 FIFA Executive Committee. These are the individuals who selected Russia for the 2018 World Cup and Qatar for 2022.

Some summary stats:
  • Of the 23 members 5 have been suspended or banned by FIFA (in red);
  • 12 others have been accused of corruption of one sort or another (in yellow);
  • 9 of those 12 are current members of the FIFA ExCo;
  • Only 6 of the original 23 (in white) do not face allegations (though some might disagree);
  • Only 3 of these 6 are still on the ExCo, including FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
This is a work in progress, so comments welcomed.

The Difficult Economics of Professional Tennis Players

Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a new analysis by the International Tennis Federation:
The I.T.F. surveyed more than 7,000 players and other stakeholders in the sport and analyzed data from the past 14 years, which revealed differences in expenses incurred by players based on ranking, geography and gender, as well as a falling success rate for players transitioning from the junior level to the professional ranks. According to the federation’s study, the number of ranked players competing in junior tennis has increased, while the percentage of those who achieve a professional ranking has decreased significantly.

The I.T.F. found that the top 1 percent of male players (the top 50) earned 60 percent of all prize money, while the top 1 percent of female players (only the top 26 because of the smaller total number) earned 51 percent.
These numbers are similar to those I discussed at FiveThirtyEight earlier this year in a piece I did on income inequality in professional sports, with a focus on golf. In that piece I noted that three men's tennis players, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, accounted for 20-26% of total winnings on the ATP Tour from 2007-2011.  

The ITF analysis came up with this incredible statistic:
In an I.T.F. calculation that accounted for only minimal expenses, the ranking point at which players could expect to stop losing money on their careers was No. 336 for men and No. 253 for women. Aside from prize-money discrepancies at many levels of the game, female players have fewer tournaments to choose from and therefore travel more, resulting in higher expenses.
Sponsorships are not included, but these numbers suggests that the professional tennis economies can  only sustain a few hundred players on the men's and women's tour. This cannot be a recipe for developing talent or even sustaining the sport.

Both the ITF and the ATP are implementing proposals to increase prize money and balance out its distribution. Yet, there is a continuing debate over how much income inequality is appropriate in tennis. As Eric Butorac, president of the ATP Player Council, noted: "I think it is so important that we continue to build the base of tennis. However, if fans are not paying to watch these levels of tennis, then where does the money come from?"

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Concussion Risks: Adults vs. Minors

Here are some very interesting statements from NFL players about the risks of long-term health issues associated with playing the sport.

First Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte:
“I’d rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life. I don’t really look toward my life after football. I’ll figure things out when I get there. As long as I outlive my parents…. I’m not saying I’m going to go die when I’m 45, 50. I’m fortunate to go out and play football.”
 And also the Seattle Seahawks Richard Sherman:
“Do I think about the consequences 30 years down the line? No more than I think about the food I’m enjoying today, which could be revealed in 30 years to cause cancer or a heart murmur or something else unpredictable. Those are the things you can’t plan for.”
For gridiron football, the existential issues associated with concussions are not primarily with these guys - they are very intelligent adults, well compensated for their work.

The bigger issue is with minors who play the sport - the essential pipeline to the NFL. Can they make similar judgments? Of course not.

Michael Garcia's Resignation Statement

Earlier today Michael Garcia, FIFA's ethics investigator, gave his resignation to FIFA. It was not a surprise. Below is his full statement, which has been reproduced at various media outlets.
"For the first two years after my July 2012 appointment as independent Chairman of the FIFA Ethics Committee’s Investigatory Chamber, I felt that the Ethics Committee was making real progress in advancing ethics enforcement at FIFA. In recent months, that changed.

On September 5, 2014, I and Cornel Borbely, the Deputy Chair of the Investigatory Chamber, sent a “Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 Fifa World Cup Bidding Process” (the “Report”) to the Fifa Ethics Committee’s Adjudicatory Chamber. The Report identified serious and wide-ranging issues with the bidding and selection process. (Mr. Borbely also filed separate reports from his inquiries into the activities of the bid teams from Russia and the United States.)

Soon after, the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber, Hans-Joachim Eckert, indicated publicly that only limited information from the Report would be made public. Concerned that insufficient transparency would not serve Fifa’s interests, I issued a public statement calling on the Fifa Executive Committee to authorize the appropriate publication of the Report. The Executive Committee took no action on this subject during its September 2014 meetings — other than to refer me to the Fifa Disciplinary Committee for allegedly violating the Code of Ethics through my public comments, namely, my public request that the Executive Committee authorize appropriate publication of the Report and the on-the-record statement Mr. Borbely and I released concerning watches given to certain football officials. The Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee, Claudio Sulser, ultimately rejected the Executive Committee’s referral.

On November 13, 2014, Mr. Eckert issued a 42-page “Statement of the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Fifa Ethics Committee on the Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 Fifa World Cup Bidding Process prepared by the Investigatory Chamber of the Fifa Ethics Committee” (the “Eckert Decision”). In a cover letter, Mr. Eckert described the statement as his “findings, including certain descriptions of the contents of the Investigatory Chamber’s report.”

The issues raised by Mr. Eckert’s selection and omission of material from the Report, and his additional comments, went far beyond the initial transparency concerns. As my public statement at the time explained, the Eckert Decision contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of facts and conclusions.” Accordingly, I appealed.

A brief I filed with the Fifa Appeal Committee on November 24, 2014, outlined the Eckert Decision’s most serious failings. Among other points, the brief explained why, when viewed in the context of the Report it purported to summarize, no principled approach could justify the Eckert Decision’s edits, omissions, and additions.

Yesterday’s decision by the Appeal Committee declined to address these points. Instead, the Appeal Committee rejected my appeal on procedural grounds, concluding that “it is not necessary for the Fifa Appeals Committee to enter into considerations on the substance of the appeal.” The Appeal Committee found that the Eckert Decision was “merely a personal opinion on the Report” and had “no legally binding effect whatsoever.” It reached this conclusion even though, under Article 36 of the Code of Ethics, only “final decisions” may be made public, as the Eckert Decision, which was published on Fifa’s website, obviously was. The Appeal Committee also overlooked the Eckert Decision’s self-described “findings,” including one stating that “the evaluation of the 2018/2022 Fifa World Cups bidding process is closed for the Fifa Ethics Committee.” Fifa President Blatter recently reaffirmed that “finding” during an interview published by Fifa, stating: “Furthermore, there is no change to Judge Eckert’s statement that the investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 Fifa World Cups is concluded.”

I disagree with the Appeal Committee’s decision.

It now appears that, at least for the foreseeable future, the Eckert Decision will stand as the final word on the 2018/2022 Fifa World Cup bidding process. While the Appeal Committee’s decision notes that further appeal may be taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, I have concluded that such a course of action would not be practicable in this case. No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization. And while the November 13, 2014, Eckert Decision made me lose confidence in the independence of the Adjudicatory Chamber, it is the lack of leadership on these issues within Fifa that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end.

Accordingly, effective today, December 17, 2014, I am resigning as independent Chairman of the Investigatory Chamber of the Fifa Ethics Committee."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

You Don't Like FIFA Jurisprudence? Tough Shit

FIFA is an odd, insular organization. As such, it has developed a form of jurisprudence that to an outsider looks amateur, self-serving and inconsistent. But if you don't like it, too bad. Illustrating this, today FIFA released two decisions related to its ongoing investigation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup site selections..

One was a decision on an appeal lodged by Michael Garcia, the lead investigator looking into the 2018/2022 decisions. After submitting his 400+ page report to the FIFA Adjudicatory Chamber, its chairman, Hans Joachim Eckert, released a 42 page statement with four findings (here in PDF):
  • The evaluation of the World Cup bidding process is "closed for thr FIFA Ethics Committee;"
  • The investigation was conduction in "full compliance" with FIFA's Code of Ethics;
  • Eckert supports the recommendations in the Garcia report;
  • The Adjudicatory Chamber will consider "specific cases" of ethics violations if Garcia open proceedings against any individuals.
Garcia protested in the media that Eckert's report "numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts" and lodged an appeal with FIFA. Today FIFA ruled on that appeal (here in PDF). 

In short, FIFA rejected Garcia's appeal. FIFA explained that:
In its assessment of the matter, the FIFA Appeal Committee pointed out that the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee (and not the adjudicatory chamber as such) had released a statement on the Report prepared by the investigatory chamber. In doing so, the chairman had merely commented on the Report of the investigatory chamber on a voluntary basis. 
In other words, FIFA is saying that it has no basis for adjudicating a dispute over a representation of facts. Further, because no sanctions were recommended by Eckert against anyone, then there is no basis for an appeal, which can apparently be lodged only against a sanction of an individual.

In plain English, under FIFA's bizarre jurisprudence, a whitewash (defined as giving a clean bill of health based on factual errors) is simply not appeal-able. (Whether this is in fact a whitewash or not is irrelevant.)

One possible silver lining is that FIFA may have opened the door for Michael Garcia to prepare his own "voluntary" comment on his report. As FIFA notes of Eckert's summary: "the Report, as transmitted by the chairmen of the investigatory chamber to the chairmen of the adjudicatory chamber, is as such not foreseen under the FIFA Code of Ethics." The same presumably goes for any summary that Garcia chooses to release "voluntarily."

The second decision handed down today involved a complaint lodged by two whistle blowers which FIFA had identified in Eckert's "voluntary" summary of the Garcia report. The whistle blowers had been promised confidentiality by FIFA, a promise which was broken. So Phaedra Almajid and Bonita Mersiades lodged a complaint.

FIFA dismissed the complaint. James Corbett observes that the media release by FIFA says something different than the letter sent to the whistle blowers. In the media, FIFA said that the complaint was dismissed because the whistle blowers had already spoken to the media, a claim that Corbett shows to be untrue. Either way, it makes one wonder why FIFA promised confidentiality in the first place, if it had no intention of respecting that promise. But in a letter to Almajid, FIFA says that her complaint was dismissed because she is not a football official, and thus FIFA has no jurisdiction over her complaint.

In other words, FIFA is saying that it has no accountability to its behaviors with respect to anyone outside FIFA. More to the point, FIFA is saying: "Don't like it? So sue us." The next stop for the whistle blowers would necessarily be the Swiss court system, which seems unlikely due to costs and precedent.

For all the absurdities surrounding FIFA's odd style of jurisprudence, there is little point in complaining. FIFA is a non-profit association located in Switzerland. They are not a public body and have essentially no accountability to anyone outside the association. They have every right to make up rules, change them on a whim and ignore them as is convenient. Don't like it? Tough shit. That is the way it is.

For change to occur in how FIFA does business, FIFA will have to be changed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

German Doping Documentary on Russia



Above is the recent documentary produced by German TV station ARD which contain the explosive allegations of systematic doping among Russian athletes (and others). The documentary is in German, but an English script can be found here in PDF.

ARD put out a press release whichstarts out as follows (the whole thing is here):
With a degree of clarity previously never seen, athletes, coaches and other whistleblowers have undermined the reputation of this year’s Olympic and future football World Cup host Russia – before the camera and with plenty of evidence. In the programme “Top-secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners” (Wednesday, December 3rd 18.50 – 19.50 hrs., Das Erste – First German TV Channel), several people involved in Russian sport deliver extensive evidence about state-supported doping and massive corruption and coverups. “You cannot achieve the results that you are getting, at least in Russia, without doping. You must dope. That’s how it is done in Russia. The officials and coaches clearly say by using natural ability you can only do so well. To get medals you need help. And the help is doping, prohibited substances”, Vitaliy Stepanov told the ARD. Stepanov was an employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency RUSADA for three years and even advised the DirectorGeneral. He reports for the first time and openly before the camera about his experiences.
The program is worth watching (or reading) in full.

Lots of Action: A Sports Governance Run Down

There is an awful lot of stuff going on in the world of sports governance. I'd like to devote a post to each of these, but a listing will have to do for now.
  •  Ary S. Graça, president of the FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) faces accusations by the Brazilian government of financial improprieties while serving as the head of the Brazilian Volleyball Federation (CVB). Meantime the president of Polish Volleyball Federation is accused of accepting bribes.
  • The Swiss government has passed new legislation that defines sports executives (and their staffs and families) as what is called "politically exposed persons." The legislation, part of what's called "Lex FIFA,"creates new authority to look into the financial transactions of these individuals. It represents a significant step by the Swiss government and is reportedly not the last legislative action that will be taken.
  • Some materials from Michael Garcia's investigation of FIFA's World Cup 2018/2022 process have been leaked to Andrew Jennings. James Corbett explains that the materials show FIFA vindictiveness at those who it has judged to violate its culture of omerta. This leak is probably of interest to those paying close attention, and lacks any sort of bombshell revelation.
  • The IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) is facing what could be a monumental scandal. A German TV documentary has alleged that the IAAF has participated in covering up institutionalized doping by Russia and the son of the IAAF president sought a bribe from Qatar. The IAAF official in charge of its anti-doping program resigned after being interviewed by its ethics committee. Lots to play out in this story.
  • In Italy, an investigative report by a public prosecutor looking into the affairs of Dr. Michele Ferrari (yes, the same guy who was Lance Armstrong's associate) has been leaked. The report (leak to La Gazetta della Sport) contains the names of 38 cyclists and other athletes who allegedly used banned performance enhancing drugs. At least one of these athletes is British, and Twitter chat I've seen suggests it is a big name. Stay tuned.
Each of these are big, big stories. More to come on each.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Against the Autonomy of Sport

I have a piece in the FT today arguing that conventional wisdom of the "autonomy of sport" has been taken too far. Exactly how governments might play a constructive role in the governance of international sports is a topic for another time. This piece argues that they must.

Comments welcomed.
Sport, it is often said, should be free to govern itself. That is a principle endorsed by no less an institution than the UN, which in October passed a resolution supporting the independence of sport.

Thomas Bach, the former Olympic fencer who now runs the movement’s organising body, goes so far as to call athletic competition “the only area of human existence which has achieved universal law”, arguing that it is incumbent on politicians to respect the autonomy of sport.

Yet for all these lofty words, experience tells us that leaving sport to govern itself is a bad idea.

Politics and sport are inextricably mixed. They always have been. We have learnt over and over that corrupt practices in sport can easily spill over into more combustible areas of international politics and business. It is time for governments to take a much bigger role in governing sport.

Kowtowing to the autonomy of sport means stopping governments from doing their jobs. In 2011 Fifa, the organisation that oversees world football, suspended the Football Federation of Belize, citing “severe government interference” in the national football body. Yet it was surely the prerogative of the courts, rather than Fifa, to decide whether the government had overstepped its bounds.

It is both sensible and practical for governments to stay out of disputes involving what happens on the pitch or in the arena. That is what happened during the World Cup in Brazil this year, when Luis Suárez took a bite out of the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. The Argentine football star’s ensuing suspension was delivered by the sporting bodies, which also handled the appeal and enforced the ban. In another setting, the assault would probably have been a matter for the police. The autonomy of sport is best thought of in terms of what happens in competition.

The deeply unsatisfying process employed by Fifa to select World Cup venues for 2018 and 2022 illustrates what can happen when sports and politics mix at the highest levels, especially when accountability is lax. The alleged misdeeds go far beyond a few shady individuals taking bribes for votes, and in some instances may involve state-sponsored corruption. Allegations of impropriety surround the bids submitted by Russia, Qatar and the UK, among others.

If governments do not step in to help govern sport we may well find that global sporting events continue to gravitate to poorly governed places where corruption can flourish autonomously. Norway recently dropped out of the running to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, citing unreasonable costs. That leaves only Kazakhstan and China in the running. On the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Norway ranks fifth. China ranks 100th, and Kazakhstan 126th.

Mr Bach is right to say that sport has developed one of the best examples of universal law. That can be found in the institutions which oversee doping, the use of prohibited performance-enhancing substances in international competitions.

In a conspicuous exception to the notion of the autonomy of sport, the relevant agency operates under the provisions of a UN treaty ratified by more than 170 governments. It is overseen by representatives drawn, in equal number, from the Olympic movement and public authorities.

Observers of Fifa are right to complain about its failure to meet basic standards of governance and its ossified, insular leadership. However, little will change until we bring the games we love inside the ambit of the governance mechanisms we use in just about every other area of modern society.

That will not make problems in sport go away. But it will give us a better way to deal with them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

College Football is Uneconomic

The University of Alabama-Birmingham is reportedly to shut down its college football program. This is big news, because college football programs are rarely terminated. Since 1920 only 9 other universities (in the highest division) have dropped their football programs(Clotfelter 2011, p. 50).

One of the reasons that UAB has given for ending football is the dismal finances of the program. According to USA Today, in 2013 the school's athletics program required a subsidy of more than $18 million representing about 64% of its total budget (with "subsidy" defined as "students fees, direct and indirect institutional support and state money").

Interestingly, of the top 230 schools 33 schools required a greater subsidy than UAB in absolute dollars and 124 in terms of percentage. So from a comparative perspective, UAB's finances do not appear particularly unusual in the context of college sports.

More generally, of those 230 schools, their athletic programs received revenues of more than $8.1 billion, mostly from football and basketball. Of this total, more than $2.4 billion, about 30%, was subsidized. College sports, overall, are simply uneconomic. They require socialized support to sustain. Historically, securing such support has not been difficult, as big-time athletics is valued on college campuses and communities.

In 2013, only 7 schools (of the 230 in the USA Today survey) received no subsidy for their programs. Given this state of affairs, losing money is probably not going to fly as a good reason for terminating the UAB program. I'd expect a vigorous debate to ensue on the UAB campus and in the Birmingham community.

Monday, December 1, 2014

State-Sponsored Corruption of the World Cup Bidding Process

Last week, The Sunday Times continued its heroic work investigating FIFA by submitting a brief to the UK Parliament on its ongoing analysis of the so-called FIFA Files which a whistle blower shared with the paper.

The most important new revelations in the submission, published here, are that the allegations of corruption involving FIFA and the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups involve much more than just individuals selling votes. As one source told the Sunday Times:
“We did have intelligence that states paid bribes to Fifa members"
State-sponsored corruption of FIFA, which is probably an surprise to no one, makes the issue even more difficult. The new revelations originate in an intelligence-gathering effort by the England 2018 campaign which apparently spied on its competitors and assembled a yet-to-be-released dossier on what it found. It is alleged that the British government aided in the spying campaign.

The Sunday Times explains of the Russian bid:
Sources said Putin was understood to have summoned a select group of oligarchs and tasked them with doing whatever was necessary to ensure the victory of the Russia 2018 bid, including striking personal deals with voters. The ex-MI6 source said: “What you need to remember about this is the way this was done in Russia is that nothing was written down. Don’t expect me or anyone else to produce a document with Putin’s signature saying please X bribe Y with this amount in this way. He’s not going to do that.” He explained: “Putin is an ex intelligence officer. Everything he does has to be deniable.” He said that the deals with voters “would have been strategic level but not state to state because of the need for deniability. That’s why the oligarchs were brought in”.  He added: “Sochi was a complete pigs’ trough in terms of corruption and the World Cup is five times as big.”
The currency of corruption was allegedly gas deals brokered by energy rich Russia and Qatar. The Sunday Times provides what appears to be a smoking gun linking a gas deal between Qatar and Thailand to the World Cup (reported here last June and then denied here immediately thereafter).

One remarkable allegation involves Michele Platini, head of UEFA, and widely expected to run for the FIFA presidency when Sepp Blatter finally step down in 2068. The Sunday Times reports that Platini was given a Picasso painting by the Russian government, even Putin himself (Platini denies this and has threatened a libel suit). Other FIFA officials are also accused of accepting gifts of art from Russian vaults, with Michel D'Hoogh of Belgium, confirming that he was indeed given a painting. Platini was also alleged to have been pressured to vote for the Qatar bid by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president at the time, to facilitate political relations between France and Qatar.

The individuals named in the Sunday Times briefing to the UK parliament include Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and refers to government officials of other countries as well. If you want to understand why it is that FIFA cannot handle this issue on its own, you need look no farther than this.

To reform FIFA will require the involvement of governments, and at the highest levels. With David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy looking at upcoming elections, it would be hard to imagine either taking an interest in FIFA reform. Perhaps current French President Hollande might see an advantage in raising the issue, but I doubt it. It is hard to imagine other footballing nations or those involved in the 2018/2022 bidding process taking an interest either (probably ruling out Germany and Holland).

So that most likely leaves the US and its FBI, which is apparently looking into FIFA for yet-to-be-released reasons. The incoming Republican Congress might appreciate a chance to focus attention on foreign governments involved in corrupt practices. While possible, both seem like long shots, especially the interest of the US Congress. The more likely outcome is lots of outrage and indignation followed by World Cups in Russia and Qatar in 2018 and 2022. But I'd like to be proven wrong.