Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some News

I'm thrilled to be joining Nate and the excellent team @FiveThirtyEight!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Two US Senators Write to FIFA, Ask for Russia to be Suspended

Two US Senators, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Dan Coats (R-IN) have written to Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, asking for FIFA to suspend Russia . Here is the letter in full:
March 6, 2014

Joseph S. Blatter
President, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)
FIFA-Strasse 20
P.O. Box
CH-8044 Zurich

Dear Mr. Blatter:

In light of Russia’s military occupation of a sovereign Ukraine, we respectfully ask that you urgently convene an emergency session of FIFA to consider suspending Russia’s membership in FIFA, stripping Russia of the right to host the 2018 World Cup, and denying the Russian National Team the right to participate in the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

According to Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes: “[d]iscrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

As you know, there is ample precedent for suspending or expelling a FIFA member, such as when FIFA denied the then-Yugoslavia the right to participate in both the 1992 European Championship and the 1994 World Cup.

Since Russia has similarly displayed a brazen disrespect for fundamental principles of FIFA and international law, I hope you will agree that it does not deserve the honor of either hosting the World Cup or participating in one. We ask that a more deserving World Cup 2018 bid should be re-considered instead.

We look forward to your timely action on this matter.


Senator Mark Kirk

Senator Dan Coats
The action by FIFA in the early 1990s against Yugoslavia only took place after the UN Security Council had voted to place sanctions on the nation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Doping in Sport from PTG 2013

Today in ETHN 3104 we'll be watching selected presentations from PTG 2013, including Pound, Bock, Perikles and Palmer, to conclude our unit on doping in sport.

You can find those presentations in the video above at about

Pound = 1:34
Bock = 1:54
Perikles = 2:43
Palmer = 3:02


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Some Things I did not Blog on This Week

Here are a few items that caught my eye this week:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Money Predicts in Olympic Hockey

Once again, NHL salaries have proved to offer a tough naive prediction-to-beat for Olympic hockey. The final four are Canada, US, Sweden and Finland. Russia is actually fourth in the NHL money table shown above as compiled by the NHL, but essentially in a tie with Finland.

In Vancouver in 2010 the teams with the higher NHL salaries went 26-4. So far in Sochi, the teams with the higher NHL salaries are 22-4.

Wanna show skill in prediction? Good luck.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's a Drag: Those USA Skating Suits

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that the disappointing results of the US speed skaters in the Sochi Olympics may originate in the hi-tech suits that the athletes are wearing. This post takes a look at some data to see what it might tell us about the effects of the suits.

The suits are being worn for the first time in Sochi, but that is not the only variable we have to think about. Speed skating takes place at different tracks in different places (and elevations). Athletes have better and worse days and aim to peak at important events (like the Olympics) and so on. So disentangling the effects of the new suits in performance data is not an exact science. But the data can tell us something.

As a starting point, the graph above shows the difference in times for the top 3 finishers in the 500M and 1000M Sochi Olympics long track skating events for both men and women, for the USA and Netherlands. (Note that the 500M times are actually the sum of two 500M races.) The data comes from the excellent and Sochi 2014.

The graph shows that for all 12 USA finishers their times were substantially above their Olympic qualifying times. Netherlands had 5 above their qualifying times and 7 below.

Looking at the graph above you might think that there is good evidence that the suits have slowed down the USA skaters. But it is not so simple. The USA qualifications took place in Salt lake City which is at altitude, and has a notoriously fast track which means faster times.

The graph below shows the same analysis, but compares the difference between times at Sochi and a December, 2013 event in Berlin, the Essent ISU World Cup. Berlin and Sochi have comparable altitudes so that can be factored out. Note that 3 athletes who represented the USA in Sochi did not have relevant times in Berlin, so there are only 9 values shown here for the USA.
Here the data appears a bit more equivocal. However, the USA times in Sochi are on average 0.21 seconds slower than their comparable times in Berlin with only 2 of 9 skaters improving their Berlin times in Sochi, whereas the comparable 9 Dutch times are on average 0.21 seconds faster than their qualifying times (for the median it is +0.15 USA, -0.12 NED).

In a sport where hundredths of a second can mean the difference between winning and losing, clearly something is going on with Team USA. The suits in question have never before been worn in competition and were tested in a wind tunnel on mannequins, not actual people. Rolling out a fancy new innovation for the first time in competition is a big mistake, as was the testing in conditions that were not actually those identical to how the suit would be used. Regardless of the final judgments on the suits, that should be one big lesson from the skaters in Sochi.

What is clear from the data is that Team USA has -- in the 500M and 1000M so far -- under-performed itself. That is, given its past performance it has systematically done worse with respect to time, generally but not universally. Are the suits part of the problem? Is it the meals at the team dinners? Something else?

Perhaps more data from more events will paint a clearer picture, but the evidence collected here leads me to believe that the suits are a leading candidate for the under-performance. No doubt Team USA will get to the bottom of it.

FIFA Scraps ExCo Bonuses

Bloomberg reported last week that FIFA has decided to terminate bonuses for its Executive Committee members:
Domenico Scala, appointed head of a new audit and compliance body in 2012, said executives agreed to scrap the bonuses after he argued that they created a risk of unethical behavior. FIFA, a not-for-profit organization, doesn’t publish compensation details. In its 2012 financial report FIFA said it paid $33.5 million to “key management personnel,” who included the executive board and finance committee.

“FIFA’s executive committee is an oversight and decision-making body, they are not responsible for sales,” Scala said in a telephone interview. “From a governance perspective we don’t want to provide a bonus to people overseeing the operations.”
How much were the bonuses? A 2011 report in Sports Illustrated said that in 2010, a World Cup year, they were 200,000 Euros ($281,000).

I used this info last summer as part of a guesstimate at Sepp Blatter's FIFA salary:
In 2010, if 24 Executive Committee member, minus Sepp Blatter, each made $281,720 then that totals $6,479,560, leaving about $28 million to be allocated among 10 management officials. The average is $2.8 million. If we assume that Sepp Blatter makes twice the average then that would place his salary at ~$6 million per year (or at least, in 2010).

To one significant digit, I'll offer that as a first best guess at Sepp Blatter's salary. Any takers on the over/under?
Now that FIFA is not paying bonuses to its ExCo it looks like it will have about $6.5 million extra dollars. I wonder if that means Blatter will get a raise. We won't know because FIFA does not release its salary information.

Class Assignment - Group Project

Students in ETHN 3104 -- The Governance of Sport -- were given their first big project today. The assignment, due in two weeks, is to come up with a policy recommendation in two different contexts.

The first topic has to do with what I am calling "technological augmentation" in sport and draws upon the case of Oscar Pistorius running in the 2012 Olympics. The two groups with this topic are asked to develop a policy to govern technological augmentation under the Olympic movement.

The second topic focuses on the case of Caster Semenya, the South African sprinter, who was the subject of a gender controversy following the 2009 IAAF championships. The two groups with this topic are asked to develop a policy to govern participation in women's events under the Olympic movement.

Here is what the students are asked to deliver:

A. A <10-paper report on their policy.
B. An executive summary
C. A PowerPoint presentation
D. A 6-7 minute (no more, no less) presentation to the class

There are 2 groups under each topic and I explained to the class that we will collectively evaluate which group comes up with the better policy (and also, what it even means to say that one policy is "better" than another).

The initial readings for these projects are here and I told the students that they will want to go further in their own research. They are a smart and engaged bunch, and I am looking forward to what they come up with!