Monday, November 13, 2017

A Hyper-linked List of Journals that Publish Sports Governance Research

Impact Factor
International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology 3.353
Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 2.593
Journal of Sport Sciences 2.095
Psychology of Sport and Exercise 1.768
Sport, Education and Society 1.333
Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 1.261
Sociology of Sport Journal 1.125
Leisure Sciences 1.109
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 1.098
Leisure Studies 1.096
Journal of Sport and Social Issues 1.049
The Sport Psychologist 0.933
Quest 0.902
Journal of Sport Management 0.727
International Review for the Sociology of Sport 0.725
European Sport Management Quarterly 0.638
Journal of Leisure Research 0.592
Journal of Sports Economics 0.544
International Journal of Sport Psychology 0.453
International Journal of the History of Sport 0.291
International Journal of Sport Finance 0.179
Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education (open access) 0.062

Inspired by the North American Society of Sports Management (here in PDF), above is a list of journals that publish research related to sports governance. The one's listed above are sorted by the journal's impact factor.

The ones listed below do not have readily-available impacts factors and are sorted alphabetically. This listing is compiled for my own research purposes, but hopefully can be of use to others interested in sports governance.

If you know of any journals that ought to be on the list, just let me know and I'll add.

ABA Entertainment and Sports Lawyer
Applied Research in Coaching and Athletics Annual
Case Studies in Sport Management
Communication and Sport
DePaul Journal of Sports Management and Contemporary Problems
Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University Entertainment & Sports Law Journal
Detroit College of Law Journal of Entertainment & Sports Law
Entertainment and Sports Law Journal
Entertainment and Sports Lawyer
European Journal for Sport and Society
European Sports History Review
Harvard Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law
International Journal of Developmental Sport Management (online)
International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
International Journal of Sport communication
International Journal of Sport Management
International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing
International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation & Tourism (open access)
International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics
international Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship
International Review on Sport and Violence (open access)
International Sports Law Journal
Journal for Sport for Development (open access)
Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education
Journal of Amateur Sport
Journal of Applied Sport Management
Journal of Contemporary Athletics
Journal of Entertainment & Sports Law
Journal of Intercollegiate Sport
Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics
Journal of Legal Aspects of Sport
Journal of Park and Recreation Administration
Journal of Physical Education and Sport Management (open access)
Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports (online)
Journal of Sport and Health Research (open access)
Journal of Sport and Tourism
Journal of Sport Behavior
Journal of Sport History
Journal of Sports Analytics
Journal of Sports and Recreation
Journal of Sports Media
Journal of the Philosophy of Sport
Marquette Sports Law Journal
Mississippi Sports Law Review
Pamukkale Journal of Sport Sciences
Physical Culture and Sports Studies and Research (open access)
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Recreational Sports Journal
Serbian Journal of Sport Sciences
Seton Hall Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law
Soccer and Society
Sport History Review
Sport in Society: Cultures, Politics, Media, Politics
Sport Management Educational Journal
Sport Management Review
Sport Marketing Quarterly
Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal
Sporting Traditions
Sports Historian (currently known as Sport in History)
Sports Law e-Journal (online)
Sports Management International Journal: Choregia
The All Rounder**
The Sport Journal (open access)
University of Denver Sports & Entertainment Law Journal
University of Miami Entertainment & Sports Law Review
Villanova Sports & Entertainment Law Forum
Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal
Women in Sports & Physical Activity Journal

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Girls Youth Soccer and the College Scholarship

For the past several years I've been on the board of FC Boulder, our local youth soccer club, and this fall I became co-president. This vantage point, coupled with my day job, has led me to develop some views on youth sports. But to be perfectly clear, even though I refer to FC Boulder in the post below, the views offered are mine alone and not those of FC Boulder or my colleagues on the Board.

These views are offered to stimulate discussion, ultimately over what is best for our children in youth sports, recognizing that the answer to this question will be different for different families.

With that, let's take a look at girls youth soccer and the college scholarship.

Playing college soccer is an ambition for many girls. For some the opportunity comes with a financial benefit, for others it is simply an opportunity to continue playing the game that they love at a higher level. To understand the challenges faced by a players, their parents and the clubs that they pay for it is instructive to look at some numbers.

There are 333 NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer programs (PDF). Although they average 28 players per team, under NCAA rules, each program only is allocated 14 scholarships. That means that nationwide there are 4,662 total scholarships available. Because scholarships are awarded over a period of 5 years (during which a player is eligible for 4 of those years), that means that there are only on average 930 full scholarships open every year.

Most programs split their scholarships up to distribute them more equitably across their team, so on average, a college player “on scholarship” is likely to be on about a 1/3 scholarship.  Based on its population, Colorado should expect about 30 such partial scholarships to be awarded each year. NCAA Division II schools award about 2/3 of the scholarships of Division I, and Division III does not award scholarships.

At DI, DI and DIII levels there are about 27,000 total college soccer players. There are approximately 5,000 total scholarships. Right away it should be clear that playing soccer in college is not identical to securing a scholarship, much less a "full ride."

Lets look at some specifics. Colorado has more than 60 youth soccer clubs, but if we assume that the 10 biggest clubs are the ones that secure scholarships (not exactly right but pretty close), then just as a proportional average my club-- FC Boulder -- should expect about 5 (partial) Division I and II scholarships to be awarded to girls in the club every year.

But what if we don’t care about scholarships? What if we look to all girls in Colorado who sign with NCAA universities to play soccer regardless of whether they get financial assistance?

Last year the state of Colorado saw 121 girls commit to play NCAA soccer: 69 at D1, 38 at D2 and 14 at D3. Almost 2/3 of these commitments came from three clubs in Colorado:
Not surprisingly, these are also the programs with dedicated elite girls’ programs - specifically the US Soccer Girls Development Academy and ECNL. That means that the other 44 college soccer players came from about 60 other clubs. If we again assume that the top 10 clubs (other than Rush, Real, Storm) produce these athletes, then we should expect FC Boulder to have about 6 commitments per year -- that is less than 1% of girls who play at the club.

In recent years, the numbers suggest that FC Boulder has punched above its weight, for instance in the class of 2017, 9 FCB girls signed with colleges. FC Boulder does this even though it does not offer the formalized, elite-level programming offered by other clubs in the state. While that is great, even if we wanted to, FC Boulder could not replicate the programming at the bigger clubs because FC Boulder simply does not have the size or resources to offer such programs. Most clubs in Colorado (and every state) are face similar limitations based on their size and programming.

Given these realities, should there come a time when the best advice a local club can give an outstanding player is that there will be better opportunities for development by moving on to specialized elite programs at other clubs? Of course we should!

Advice to move on can be tough to hear for parents (trust me), and also for a club. Moving to a bigger, non-local program with elite programming might mean a commute to practices of an hour or more. It could mean more expenses. It will inevitably mean that your daughter (or son) no longer plays with her friends of many years in order to seek new opportunities. From the club standpoint, they lose one of their very best players. It might also mean giving up the chance to play in high school, which I fully endorse (but I know many do not).

Moving on is exactly what happened with FC Boulder (boys) player Shane O’Neill, who played for FC Boulder and then moved on to the Colorado Rapids Development Academy, then the US U-20 MNT and a professional career.

It is also what happened with Colorado standout Mallory Pugh, who went from training with an elite girls’ program to training with a boy’s US Soccer Development Academy when her growth as a player exceeded what was available on her team. She recently de-committed from UCLA to pursue a pro career and US WNT service when it became apparent that college soccer wouldn’t serve her developmental needs and career ambitions.

Youth soccer clubs serve their players well by helping them to identifying when it may be time to “graduate” to the next level. They also serve them well by being realistic with parents about the opportunities to play in college. The fact is, only a small percentage of girls (and boys) go on from youth sports to play in college. However, these numbers are of limited value because we all think our kids are special, and some parents (and kids) suffer from a form of "scholarship derangement syndrome." 

So what advice would I give to the parent (and kid) who wants to play in college?
  • If the ambition is financially motivated, understand that the typical scholarship to play girls soccer is valued at about $70,000 (assuming a 1/3 scholarship for 5 years and a full annual scholarship worth $40,000). With youth soccer costing as much as $5,000 to $10,000 per year (equipment, club fees, tournament travel, etc.), a family could save $70,000 over 18 years by socking away half this much each year by cutting soccer in half. The pay-to-play model for US soccer is much discussed these days (and some families can't afford soccer or college), but for now, its the way the game is played. Bottom line: The parent-provided "scholarship" is always going to be a far better way to pay for college than an athletics scholarship.
  • If the ambition is athletically motivated, understand that there are many different options for playing soccer beyond youth sports. The more prestigious D1 scholarships in the power conferences are few and far between, and go to the exceptionally talented players - its just a fact. Talk to coaches inside and outside your club and ask for the straight scoop. But for most girls, the opportunities will be found at smaller programs. There are also university club programs and intramurals. The opportunities to play beyond youth soccer are much broader than scholarship opportunities, and each girl and her family needs to find the right balance of education, soccer and life. But make no mistake, playing high level sports in college and succeeding academically is a lot of work.
The United States is unique because Title IX has created many opportunities for girls to move from youth sports to women's ports in college. But the number of girls playing soccer has increased much faster than have college opportunities. That is great news for soccer programs in college because the talent pool is deepening, but might not be great news for your daughter, as it means that competition for roster spots is tough.

As with most topics, the best advice to to get educated. Seek different points of view. Ultimately, recognize that soccer is a beautiful game that can be played by both men and women for many decades after youth sports, high school and college are in the rear view mirror. As we say at FC Boulder -Soccer for life.

Friday, October 13, 2017

US Soccer MNT Performance Under USSF Presidents Since 1974

The data in graph above comes from Wikipedia and It shows the improvement or decline in the ELO ratings of the US men's national team for each USSF president. The ELO rating is a measure of relative team strength based on performance.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Coaching Position at FC Boulder

Monday, October 2, 2017

Saudi Athlete Learns He Was Cleared of Doping 6 Years Later

This is an emerging story, but here is what I've been able to piece together.

Saudi Arabian footballer Al Kowaibki was suspended for 1 year in 2010 for doping. The WADA lab under which he was suspended (Malaysia) was subsequently suspended by WADA for having false positives. The Malaysian lab then filed a CAS case against WADA to protest the suspension.

WADA entered into evidence in the case the example of six athletes wrongly accused, including Al Kowaibki as a false positive. WADA won the CAS case. (Details here in PDF)

However, apparently no one - not WADA not SADO - ever notified the athlete that his sample was considered a false positive. He has lived the past 6+ years as a convicted doper. Remarkably, just recently the athlete just recently learned that he was cleared years ago. WADA is apparently investigating.

How can it be that an athlete was cleared of doping but no one told him?

This case was brought to my attention by legal researcher Ahmad Alamir, who has offered details in Arabic on his Twitter feed. We are working on translations at which point I'll revisit this issue.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Has the United States Reached Peak (American) Football?

At Play the Game I have a new column up that asks and answers the question whether the US has hit "peak football"?

Here is how it starts:
Last month my son’s middle school principal announced that there was not enough interest among students for the school to form an (American) football team to compete in 8th grade interscholastic competition. On the one hand, this seemed notable, as playing youth football is a cherished American tradition and football is what Gregg Easterbrook has called the King of Sports. On the other hand, I live in Boulder, Colorado – an environmentally-friendly, health-conscious, exercise-crazy college town -- an American outlier in many respects.

So, to assess whether my son’s school is an oddity or part of a larger trend, I decided to look into the state of American football, and this essay reports what I’ve found.
Head over to read the rest. I welcome comments.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NASL and Jeffrey Kessler Take on US Soccer

The North American Soccer League has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation and the lead counsel for NASL is Jeffrey Kessler, a leading anti-trust lawyer often involved in sports litigation. The lawsuit itself can be found here and a nice overview here. I discussed some of the earlier tensions between NASL and MLS in a blog post 2 years ago, here.

I'll leave the matters of law to the lawyers, but in this post I offer some thoughts on the lawsuit in the context of the governance of US Soccer. The lawsuit reveals some broader problems in the governance of US Soccer, ones that I have discussed at various times in the past (e.g., here and here). These broader problems focus on, what else, money and the use of soccer organizations to cash in.

The NASL characterizes US Soccer, Major League Soccer, Soccer United Marketing and (to a lesser extent) the United Soccer League as inter-related parts of a "conspiracy" to protect the monopoly status of the MLS. The lawsuit explains:
"By promulgating a changing portfolio of so-called “Professional League Standards” and regulations to protect MLS, and now USL, from competition, the USSF enriches itself and protects MLS as the only top-tier Division I men’s professional soccer league located in the U.S. and Canada, immune from competition from new entrants and potential rival leagues even though the USSF is a private organization and has no legal authority to confer immunity from competition to anyone."
The basis for the lawsuit is NASL's interest in its survival as a league and ability to compete fairly against the MLS to provide professional soccer in the United States.

But more generally, what the NASL lawsuit describes is a money machine. US Soccer, MLS and SUM have created a highly opaque, financially interdependent set of institutions legitimized by FIFA that would appear to benefit not just the individual team investors in the MLS, but also other (largely unknown) owners of SUM and MLS. Some of these individuals may include USSF officials. As the lawsuit explains:
"Upon information and belief, SUM is controlled by MLS or by the owners of MLS. SUM has entered into commercial relationships with USSF that are designed to align the economic interests of the USSF to favor MLS and protect its monopoly position."
The lawsuit further explains:
"103. The economic motivation for the USSF to use its Professional League Standards to maintain the MLS Division I monopoly, in concert with MLS, is evident from the series of commercial arrangements that the USSF entered into with MLS under which the USSF profits (notwithstanding its putative non-profit status) from the monopoly status it maintains for MLS. Most prominently, the USSF’s commercial rights have been pooled together and sold jointly with the commercial rights of MLS in “Soccer United Marketing” (“SUM”), a marketing company that, upon information and belief, is owned and controlled by MLS or its owners.

104. Acting in concert with the USSF, MLS has sought through SUM to control as many of the commercial rights relating to top-tier men’s soccer leagues located in the U.S. and Canada as possible, and thereby ensure that the fruits of any efforts to promote top-tier men’s soccer in the U.S. and Canada jointly flow to MLS and SUM’s stakeholders. Their objective to concentrate the revenues from top-tier men’s soccer in the United States in a single company is aptly summarized by SUM’s slogan: “One Sport. One Company.”"
What kind of money are we talking about?  The NY Daily News provided some insight in a 2016 article, which discussed the role of MLS president Don Garber and USSF president Sunil Gulati in the context of the organizations' rarely discussed finances:
In the early 2000s, [Don] Garber and the owners wanted to get the fledgling MLS on television to build a fanbase and sponsor interest, but broadcasters weren’t interested — a lure would be required to entice them. When Garber noticed the U.S. broadcast rights to the 2002 and 2006 World Cups had not yet been picked up, he found his bait. The league acquired the potentially lucrative property and created SUM to serve as its business arm. SUM shopped the World Cup rights to television networks but with one condition: they also pick up MLS games, terms that ABC and ESPN ultimately accepted.

Through that kind of packaging and “one-stop shopping” for sponsors, SUM is able to pool revenues fairly quickly. By 2011, when SUM sold a 25% stake in the company to Providence Equity Partners, a private-equity investment firm, Major League Soccer’s “commercial arm” was estimated to be worth $600 million.

According to US Soccer president Sunil Gulati, SUM pays an annual guarantee to US Soccer — in 2004 it was $3.5 million; by 2014 it had grown to $8.25 million — in exchange for most sponsorship, television, licensing and royalty revenues. Not only does SUM benefit through financial remuneration, it allows it to package the gold-plated national team brand with other SUM properties — such as MLS — when selling rights to sponsors and broadcasters.

Once SUM reaches an undisclosed amount of profit on these commercial rights, it splits the rest with US Soccer, with 30% going to SUM. Financial statements ending in March 2015, the most recent available, show that SUM paid a total of $18.3 million to US Soccer. What is not indicated is how much of US Soccer’s potential revenue SUM retains. For example, of the eight-year, $720 million broadcast deal SUM recently inked for MLS and national team games, neither SUM nor US Soccer publicly discloses how much makes its way back to the federation. (Dan Courtemanche, senior spokesman for SUM and MLS, would not comment on business arrangements, citing SUM’s status as a private company. SUM president Kathy Carter declined to be interviewed, and Garber did not respond to interview requests.)
There is a lot in there (a lot of dollars too), so let me summarize:
  • SUM was worth a reported $600 million in 2011.
  • SUM paid USSF $8.5 million in 2014 in annual guarantees
  • SUM paid an additional $18.3 million to USSF in 2015, implying a profit of $7.8 million retained by SUM (i.e., $18.3/0.7)
There is more. According to the NY Post, MLS president Garber has a conflict of interest when it comes to SUM:
According to US Soccer, Garber recused himself from voting on its financial arrangement with SUM, standard protocol for someone who has interests with both parties. 
It also appears that USSF president Sunil Gulati is a shareholder in SUM, because he reportedly also recuses himself from USSF discussions of SUM, based on what USSF told me in an interview for this article last year.

If that is the case then that would mean that both Garber and Gulati have a piece of the $600 million of equity (in 2011) represented by SUM. Just as interesting, some fraction of SUM's television rights packages were helped along by none other than the late Chuck Blazer, who was caught up in and helped to move along the US DOJ investigation into corruption among FIFA, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL officials.

The conflicted roles of Garber and Gulati quickly descend into a situation of endemic conflict of interest, as literally every decision made by US Soccer related to professional or international soccer has implications for the SUM bottom line. I discussed the problematic nature of US soccer's lack of a conflict of interest policy at some length at Soccernomics last year. Are there other US Soccer officials with similar conflicts? We don't know.

Back to the NASL lawsuit -- the desire for a monopoly position among US Soccer might not simply be a matter of the desire to promote the fortunes of the MLS at the expense of other leagues. It may also have something to do with the fact that the USSF, MLS and SUM have created a fantastically lucrative arrangement involving TV and other marketing rights, international friendlies and other matches, as well as a stranglehold on professional soccer in the United States.

This arrangement sounds ... FIFA-esque.

The NASL lawsuit thus threatens to blow all of this wide open. Of the three organizations -- USSF, SUM and MLS -- the USSF is putatively a non-profit sports organization under US law. As such it is right to ask the organization to provide a much greater degree of transparency and to implement basic conflict of interest provisions.  It would also be appropriate to ask US Soccer to clearly separate from the for-profit enterprises in MLS and SUM. As things currently stand all that looks very unlikely.

The NASL lawsuit threatens the entire superstructure of US Soccer. That might be a good thing.

For further reading:

Farrell, J., & Clopton, A. W. (2015). Re-Evaluating Major League Soccer (Mls)'s Claim as a Single-Entity League: 10 Years after Fraser V. Major League Soccer. Journal of Contemporary Athletics, 9(3), 173.

Jakobsze, M. J. (2010). Kicking single-entity to the sidelines: Reevaluating the competitive reality of Major League Soccer after American Needle and the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement. N. Ill. UL Rev., 31, 131.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Inconsistencies Between Johaug vs. Sharapova at CAS

I've had a close read of the CAS decisions on the doping violations of Russian tennis superstar Maria Sharpova (here in PDF) and Norwegian nordic superstar Therese Johaug (here in PDF). The cases are remarkably similar in many respects. Both involve an athlete who was given bad advice by a trusted advisor -- an agent in Sharpova's case and a doctor in Johaug's case. Both were judged to have committed an anti-doping violation with "no significant fault" (NSF). Both admitted to taking substances on the WADA prohibited list by mistake.

However, the CAS decisions are remarkably different. Sharapova received a reduced sanction which allowed her to pick up her professional career with minimal impact. In contrast, Johaug saw her sanction extended, resulting in her missing the 2018 Olympics, arguably with near maximum impact on her career (were she to qualify in 2022, it would be past the peak of her career). Further, CAS went out of its way to characterize Sharapova as deserving of sympathy and Johaug as not deserving such sympathy.

One CAS arbitrator sat on both cases. Below I've excerpted some of the key passages from each judgment. Have a look, and see whether you think there is consistency here. If you are interested, I'd encourage you to read both judgments in full. In my opinion there is a troubling degree of arbitrariness in the CAS sanctions between these two athletes that should be viewed as problematic by anyone who cares about athlete due process under lex sportiva.

Is the athlete ultimately responsible?

CAS on Johaug:
"it is an athlete’s primary duty of care to read the packaging of products and to double-check with a medical person if the information refers to a prohibited substance"
CAS on Sharapova:
"an athlete can always read the label of the product used or make Internet searches to ascertain its ingredients, crosscheck the ingredients so identified against the Prohibited List or consult with the relevant sporting or anti-doping organizations, consult appropriate experts in antidoping matters and, eventually, not take the product. However, an athlete cannot reasonably be expected to follow all such steps in each and every circumstance."
Can an athlete delegate some responsibility to a professional on their team?

CAS on Johaug:
"the Panel finds it striking that Ms Johaug did not perform the most important of them. She was given the packaging of the Trofodermin but did not conduct even a cursory check of the label. . . It follows that a top athlete must always personally take very rigorous measures to discharge these obligations. The CAS has specifically noted that the prescription of medicine by a doctor does not relieve the Athlete from checking if the medicine contains forbidden substances or not" 
CAS on Sharapova:
"even though, under the TADP, it is the Player’s personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his/her body (Article 2.1.1) and it is the responsibility of each player to be familiar with the most current edition of the Prohibited List (Article 3.1.2 in fine), nothing prevented the Player, a high-level athlete focused on demanding sporting activities all over the world, from delegating activities aimed at ensuring regulatory compliance and more specifically that no anti-doping rule violation is committed" 
Should an athlete trust their doctor?

CAS on Johaug:
"It is not appropriate for an athlete, without any substantiation, to draw a conclusion that her doctor has carried out his responsibilities properly, and subsequently adjust her own level of diligence according to what she thought the doctor could have done."
CAS on Sharapova:
"The Panel wishes to emphasize that based on the evidence, the Player did not endeavour to mask or hide her use of Mildronate and was in fact open about it to many in her entourage and based on a doctor’s recommendation" 
What was the level of fault?

CAS on Johaug;
"the appropriate level of fault is No Significant Fault (“NSF”)"
CAS on Sharapova:
"the Panel concludes that the Player’s claim of NSF can be accepted"
What is the appropriate sanction?

CAS on on Johaug (increased sanction from 13 to 18 months):
"Ms Johaug’s overall circumstances place her level of fault in the middle of the 16 – 20 month range"
CAS on Sharapova (reduced sanction from 24 to 15 months):
"the Panel has determined, under the totality of the circumstances, that a sanction of fifteen (15) months is appropriate here given her degree of fault" 
How should we think of this athlete?

CAS on Johaug:
"Considering Ms Johaug’s extremely high level of experience and success as an international athlete, her failure to conduct a basic check is very surprising. Throughout her ten-year career as a professional cross-country skier she has been subject to approximately 140 doping control tests. As such, she should have been very familiar with the rigorous standards expected of an athlete such as herself." 
CAS on Sharapova:
"The Panel wishes to emphasize that based on the evidence, the Player did not endeavour to mask or hide her use of Mildronate and was in fact open about it to many in her entourage and based on a doctor’s recommendation, that she took the substance with the good faith belief that it was appropriate and compliant with the relevant rules and her anti-doping obligation"

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: How to End “Sex Testing” in International Athletics

I am happy to report that my academic paper on "sex testing" in elite sport has passed peer review and in now in press. The paper has been several years in the works and totals more than 10,500 words. Whew.

In the paper I critique:
  • Fears of fraud in elite sport (men posing as women)
  • Concerns about fairness (the need to protect women from other women)
  • The idea that science can solve this issue (It can't)
I also offer a suggested way forward based on a procedural approach to classification rather than a substantive approach. Nationality classification shows that this can be done.

Here is the abstract:

In many settings, decision makers look to science as the basis for making decisions that are made difficult by their social or political context. Sport is no different. For more than a half century sports officials have looked to science to provide a clear distinction between men and women for purposes of determining who is eligible to participate in women’s athletic competitions. However, the science of sex provides overwhelming evidence that there is no such clear biological demarcation that differentiates men and women. Despite this evidence, the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2011 implemented a form of “sex testing” based on androgens, and specifically, testosterone levels in females. This paper evaluates this policy, finding it contradictory to scientific understandings of sex and counter to widely-held social norms about gender. The paper recommends an alternative approach to determining eligibility for participation in women’s sports events, one more consistent with the stated values of sports organizations, and more generally, with principles of human dignity.
Here is the citation:
Pielke, Jr., R. 2017, in press. Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: How to End “Sex Testing” in International Athletics, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics.
If you would like a pre-publication copy as accepted, just send me an email. The page proof version should be online in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Should IOC Members be on the WADA Athlete Committee?

Last week a dispute between WADA and the IOC became public. The Chair of the WADA Athlete Committee Beckie Scott told the BBC that she did not believe that a monetary fine would be a sufficient basis for allowing Russian athletes to rejoin international competitions. The interview came after the WADA Athlete Committee issued a statement following its meeting in London last week. That statement included 8 outcomes, one of which was: "The Committee requested that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) improve and strengthen its independence and continually strive to increase the quality of its arbitrators."

CAS is closely related to the IOC and its independence has been the subject of considerable debate over the years (here is a good overview in PDF). CAS is overseen by officials of the IOC and its related sports bodies.

Then just a few days later, two members of the WADA Athletes Committee who are also the chair and vice-chair of the IOC Athletes' Commisstion (Angela Ruggiero and Tony Estanguet) issued a hard-hitting rebuke of Beckie Scott . They wrote:
"We believe the comments made by the chair of WADAs Athlete Committee are inappropriate at this time. We do not wish to speculate, and we hope that other Athletes’ Commissions will refrain from comment until the full facts of the case emerge and the investigations are completed."
The full IOC Athletes' Commission issued a further statement that took issue with the statement of the WADA Athletes Committee:
“As the IOC Athletes’ Commission and also members of the WADA Athlete Committee, we believe the comments questioning the independence of CAS and the quality of the arbitrators is misguided. A number of highest courts of different countries have confirmed the independence of CAS and such comments only lead to mistrust and confusion. We support CAS in its ability to fight for clean sport and want to reassure the athletes of the world in this regard.”
The WADA Athlete Committee has 18 members (here in PDF), five of which are also members of the IOC Athletes' Commission. The members of the IOC Athlete Commission are also full members of the IOC.

Those five members have signed onto a statement that calls for improving and strengthening the independence of CAS and they have also signed on to a statement that contradicts the earlier statement that they signed onto, defending the independence of CAS.

Confusing?  Perhaps.  But there appears to be a simple explanation of why these 5 athletes would sign onto to different statements saying opposite things just a few days apart, the first from WADA and the second from IOC.

They have a conflict of interest.

As IOC members they are representatives of the IOC's interests, which do not always coincide with the objectives and policies of WADA. The five athletes who signed on to the WADA statement last week were obviously shown the error of their ways in the days that followed, upon which they issued their corrective statement.

This is a problem.

Earlier this year, in testimony before the US Congress, Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, characterized the role of IOC officials in WADA governance as "the fox guarding the hen house" (here in PDF).  He explained of IOC officials ("sport members"):
"These sport members are not mere figureheads but are lifetime sport executives with strong incentive to influence WADA decisions to advance their own sport interests. . . Unfortunately, WADA’s governance structure, lacking any meaningful conflict of interest policy to separate sport interests from WADA governance"
Tygart suggested that there is a quick fix:
The good news is that WADA’s conflicted governance model could be easily solved by removing sport leaders from the WADA governance and implementing a proper conflict-of interest policy which prohibits governing members from simultaneously holding a governing role within a sports organization under WADA’s jurisdiction. 
WADA does have a conflict of interest policy (here in PDF) which states:
"Every person who is subject to the Policy shall, in the exercise of his or her functions on behalf of WADA, be free of undue influence or other factors which may give rise to a conflict between his or her own interest or the interest of any other person and that of WADA."
We have clear evidence that five members of the WADA Athlete Committee have a clear conflict with respect to their IOC roles. What is the WADA procedure for dealing with such a situation?
The WADA President with the Director General or if the President is not available the Vice President with the Director General, and any other person that the President may from time to time designate for this purpose, shall take all appropriate measures to ensure compliance with this Policy, including the determination of appropriate preventive measures, the determination of whether there has been a breach of the Policy and the determination of sanctions where there has been a breach of this Policy.
Easy then, right?

The WADA President simply needs to say that this situation is ridiculous and remove (or ask to resign) the athletes with a clear conflict of interest. The IOC athletes could then speak for the IOC from their commission and the WADA athletes could speak from their committee. Conflict removed. Mixed messages cleaned up.

Who is the WADA President? Craig Reedie, member of the IOC since 1994.


Let me answer the question I posed in the title: Should IOC Members be on the WADA Athlete Committee?  

No, of course not. But when you dig into this a bit you see clearly how WADA is compromised by IOC members participating in its governance. This should be fixed.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Vojtěch Sommer Doping Case: More Bad Science?

Vojtěch Sommer is a Czech triathlete who has been sanctioned for using synthetic EPO. The short film above provides a brief introduction to his case and the science issues at play.  You can find extensive documentation about this case here, Sommer's blog, where he has been documenting his case.

The Sommer case is being explored by a group of top Norwegian scientists who are unaffiliated with WADA but are recognized as exceptional scientists. This is the third case involving synthetic EPO that these scientists have raised questions about, the other two being the cases of Erik Tysse and Steven Colvert.

Here in PDF is their evaluation of the Sommer positive doping test. They do not mince words:
We have carefully evaluated the documents that report the tests performed on Vojtěch Sommer's A‐  and  B‐samples  and  also  additional  explanation  from  the  Dreden  laboratory.  We find no scientific evidence in these documents which proves the presence of rEPO in Sommer's urine.. .

The laboratory‘s treatment of the analysis results is superficial, and illustrates again that all too many  WADA  accredited  laboratories  produce  sub‐optimal  work  that  fall short  of  quality  standards  expected of analytical laboratories (see references 1‐8). Such behaviour clearly jeopardizes the rights of athletes and can in some cases best be characterized as abusive . . 
These cases each raise important questions about justice for these athletes, but more generally, they illustrate the pressing need for independent scientific expertise in anti-doping.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Makwala's Involuntary Medical Disqualification

UPDATE: As I completed this post I see that Makwala has been given an extraordinary opportunity by IAAF to compete in the 200m via a time trial (solo) sprint. This story continues to develop. Official IAAF statement here.

The video above shows sprinter Issac Makwala, a sprinter from Botswana and one of the world's fastest runners, being turned away involuntarily from the athlete's yesterday at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.

This post seeks to document what appears to be a gross violation of a athlete's due process rights with profound and irreversible consequences for his career as a professional athlete. I'll update as new information is available and am happy to take comments or critique.

This episode involves an outbreak of norovirus, a high contagious gastrointestinal bug that broke out among athletes and their entourages who were reportedly staying at The Tower Hotel in London (the hotel denies any responsibility). Some 30 people were reportedly affected. Norovirus causes vomiting and diarrhea but is not generally viewed to be serious, with symptoms going away after a few days with no treatment.

On 6 August the IAAF shared advice with athletes and their entourages staying at the hotel (emphases added):
To contain the situation and protect your athletes, we strongly request you
comply with the following directions

1. Report to the Guoman Tower Hotel Medical Room (430) as soon as possible any episode of diarrhoea and vomiting. This report should include the name, category of the person and the room number 2. The person must be isolated and hotel staff will assist in allocating another room. 3. Recommendations from Public Health England say the affected person must remain isolated for 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting or diarrhoea and therefore, the person will need to take their meals in their room.

The Hotel have applied Public Health England’s recommendations on enhanced cleaning procedures and will support all measures in relation to these matters.

Individuals must be vigilant on personal hygiene and apply the following:

1. Wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, using soap, hot water and clean towels. 2. Wash your hands before having a meal or a drink. 
There was nothing in the advice about disqualification. In fact, over the weekend athletes diagnosed with Norovirus continued to participate in the events, such as Germany's Neele Eckhardt, shown below.

The advice from Public Health England being referred to by the IAAF can be found here (and highlighted below).
According to reports, over the weekend, Makwala was observed to have thrown up, barfed, puked (though details here are contested as well). On 7 August Makwala was disqualified ("withdrawn" in the IAAF parlance) from the 200m by the IAAF, which stated, "Isaac Makwala (BOT) was withdrawn from the men’s 200m (1st Round) due to a medical condition on the instruction of the IAAF Medical Delegate (Rule 113)."

Rule 133 refers to the IAAF Competition Rules, and it states:
The Medical Delegate shall have ultimate authority on all medical matters.
As Michael Johnson noted, soon thereafter things started getting weird.
Makwala claimed he was perfectly healthy and ready to run. But the IAAF was prohibiting him from participating. That led to the situation shown in the video above where Makwala was forcibly prevented from entering the venue.

According to the official Twitter account of the government of Botswana (yes, this is serious), Makwala represented to officials that his forced withdrawal was a legal matter under UK law.
In its 8 August statement on the situation, the IAAF used language indicating that they were following "UK health regulations":
As per UK health regulations, it was requested that he be quarantined in his room for 48 hours, a period which ends at 14:00hrs tomorrow (9 Aug). 
This statement is -- in measured language -- disingenuous. There are no such UK "heath regulations" related to a "quarantine." In fact, the Public Health England statement released by the IAAF makes absolutely no mention of regulations or quarantine:

In fact, the statement notes that the virus is "rarely serious."

So here is how the situation looks:
  • The IAAF made a decision with profound, career-altering impact on an elite athlete;
  • This decision was made with no apparent due process, very little reliance on evidence and ambiguous criteria for the forced disqualification;
  • The athlete and his medical team reject the diagnosis made by the IAAF;
  •  Even if he was infected, was the DQ necessary? Some experts think not (e.g., here and here);
  • At least one other athlete with the same alleged symptoms was allowed to participate;
  • The IAAF falsely suggested that UK law or regulation triggered the decision. 
At a minimum the IAAF (or some other body) should empanel an independent investigation into this situation, including the decision and the communication associated with it. Clearly things can be much improved.

Finally, below is a lengthy BBC interview with Dr. Pam Venning, head of the IAAF medical services for the World Championships and the authority with the power to disqualify an athlete involuntarily under IAAF Rule 113. (Note: Some people can't see the video, which may be due to your point of access or a geoblock, try this link also.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Errani Doping Case: An Embarassment

Today it was announced that Sara Errani, a top women's tennis player (currently 98th, but has been as high as 5th), has been suspended for 2 months for doping. The case illustrates much about what is wrong with anti-doping and the profound consequences that the failures of anti-doping have on elite athletes.

The ITF announced today:
An Independent Tribunal appointed under Article 8.1 of the 2017 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (the "Programme") has found that Sara Errani committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme and, as a consequence, has disqualified the affected results and imposed a period of ineligibility of two months, commencing on 3 August 2017.

Ms. Errani, a 29-year-old player from Italy, provided a urine sample on 16 February 2017 as part of an Out-of-Competition test under the Programme. That sample was sent to the WADA-accredited laboratory in Montreal, Canada for analysis, and was found to contain letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor that is included under section S4 (Hormone and Metabolic Modulators) of the 2017 WADA Prohibited List, and therefore is also prohibited under the Programme.
Wow, that sure sounds serious! Another cheating athlete, it seems.

But lets take a closer look. All is not that it seems.

The drug that Errani is suspended for is call letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor meaning that it suppresses aspects of the human hormonal system.  In this case the thinking is that the drug increases the presence of testosterone in the human body, which may aid performance. Here is what the ITF says about the drug in its judgment on Errani (here in PDF):
There has been concern on the part of WADA that some bodybuilders were abusing letrozole and there was some anecdotal evidence online that female bodybuilders used it for that purpose. The substance has been banned for men since 2001 and for everyone since 2005, both in competition and out of competition without a valid TUE. 
Contrary to the thin "anecdotal evidence" cited here, the scientific literature on letrozole and aromatase inhibitors more generally published since 2005 indicates that these drugs do not offer a performance enhancing benefit to women.

For instance, Handlesman (2008) concludes, emphases added:
In summary, there is no convincing evidence that oestrogen blockers cause any consistent, biologically significant increase in blood testosterone concentrations in women. In the absence of direct testing of ergogenic or myotrophic properties, using blood testosterone as a surrogate marker suggests that drug-induced performance enhancement is most unlikely from oestrogen blockade. Nor is there any reason to believe that oestrogens have any other ergogenic effect whether directly on muscle, haemoglobin or indirectly via motivational effects in healthy pre-menopausal women. Finally, as oestrogen blockade for various indications is in wide, regular clinical use and poses no unusual medical risks to female athletes, there is no basis to ban oestrogen blockade in female athletes.
Handlesman (2006) concluded similarly:
In conclusion, there is no convincing evidence that either hCG or estrogen blockers (antiestrogens, SERMs, aromatase inhibitors) cause any consistent or biologically significant increase blood testosterone concentrations in women. In the absence of direct testing of ergogenic or myotrophic properties, blood testosterone is a reasonable surrogate maker, suggesting that drug-induced performance enhancement is most unlikely.

Both classes of agent are in regular clinical use and neither poses sufficient safety risks sufficient to warrant banning in sports on the basis of protecting female athletes safety.

Finally, the adverse privacy implications of hCG testing and the unjustified workload of extra TUEs for estrogen blockers in women suggest that the prohibition of these classes of agents should be restricted to men in whom they are well justified.
The peer-reviewed science is clear enough, but here is where things are a bit strange. The ITF agrees with these conclusions, writing in its Errani judgment (here in PDF), emphasis added:
However there is no evidence that letrozole would enhance the performance of an elite level tennis player. There is no evidence of any significant usage of letrozole amongst athletes in general and none was identified in respect of tennis players.
So we have a drug that no one is taking, that everyone agrees does not have performance-enhancing effects -- a conclusion which is well-supported by scientific research -- and yet 12-year old regulations based on out-dated assumptions are the basis for sanctioning an elite athlete.

Seriously, what are we doing here?

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Review of Bermon and Garnier 2017 (the new IAAF T Study)

Here are some comments on Bermon and Garnier (2017), which is the new study of the effects of testosterone levels of female elite athletes, commissioned by the IAAF in the aftermath of the 2015 CAS decision on Dutee Chand.

The paper is:

Bermon, S., & Garnier, P. Y. (2017). Serum androgen levels and their relation to performance in track and field: mass spectrometry results from 2127 observations in male and female elite athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine. (available here non-paywalled)

These comments are in the form of bullet points, more or less following the flow of the paper:
  • The paper opens by discussing testosterone as something abused by athletes, especially female athletes. This comment seems completely out of place in a paper supposedly about natural testosterone levels (but read on).
  • The paper notes the "virilised phenotype" of "some female athletes." In plain English that means that they have physical characteristics found in stereotypes of men, and not in stereotypes of women. This sort of policing of women's bodies is ever-present in these discussions.
  • It acknowledges the Chand vs IAAF 2015 CAS decision as the motivation for the research, but does not acknowledge the quantitative conclusion of that ruling which indicated that the CAS decision was based on a supposition that T levels in women might account for a ~3% difference in performance but not a ~12% difference common to males vs. females.
  • The analysis looked at female and male athletes participating in the 2011 (female) and 2013 (female and male) IAAF World Championships. 
  • The study, oddly, includes independent results for athletes who participated in both 2011 and 2013 World Championships. It appears that these athletes were thus double-counted. The paper says that it is not an issue, so why do it at all?  It is inelegant at the least and problematic at worst.
  • The study focus on the athlete's single best performance in the competition, not overall performance. It would have been nice to see the sensitivity of the results to this methodological choice.The paper also aggregates all athletes' times into averages, another important methodological choice.
  • So, rather than present the data as a scatter plot (time/distance vs. T), which would allow a sense of variation in any possible relationship, the analysis used "tertiles" (thirds) and compared time/distance of the bottom third (in T) with that of the top third. It is an interesting methodological choice, as it all but eliminates the possibility to see and understand individual variation, e.g., in technical terms, least squares regression vs. Chi-Square test. 
  • The paper appears to include athletes who doped in the analysis of athletes with naturally high T. It thus mixes known doped athletes into the results, without quantifying the impact of this methodological choice. This is remarkable. The paper states:
    • "Among the 1332 female observations, 44 showed an fT concentration >29.4 pmol/L.17 Twenty-four female athletes showed a T concentration >3.08 nmol/L which has been calculated to represent the 99th percentile in a previous normative study in elite female athletes.13 Among these 24 individuals, nine were diagnosed with a condition of hyperandrogenic disorder of sex development (DSD), nine were later found to have been doping, and six athletes were impossible to classify."
  • The paper says that "In male elite athletes, no significant difference in performance was noted when comparing the lowest and the highest fT tertiles." This overall aggregation is not quite accurate. For instance, for the men's 5000m the lowest T third ran 822.96 seconds and the highest third ran 812.89, a difference of more than 10 seconds. Maybe high T men should be excluded from the 5000m? (I jest, but that is the logic at work here.)
  • The paper concludes, accurately, "Our study design cannot provide evidence for causality between androgen levels and athletic performance"-- this is both the nature of statistics, but also a consequence of the methodological issues this paper has.
  • Interestingly (and a side note to the focus of the paper), the paper notes that some of the observed low T numbers among male athletes could represent the results of previous doping, implying that these results are in some way contaminated by doping in a different way than the female results.
  • This is a remarkable admission: "we deliberately decided not to exclude performances achieved by females with biological hyperandrogenism and males with biological hypoandrogenism whatever the cause of their condition (oral contraceptives, polycystic ovaries syndrome, disorder of sex development, doping, overtraining)."  The Chand 2015 CAS ruling applies to women with high natural T, not doping or medical consequences (e.g., possible TUE). The study consequently mixes in some apples and oranges. This alone undercuts this study in the context of the Chand ruling.
  • The paper appears to address Caster Semenya directly when it states: "In female athletes, a high fT concentration appears to confer a 1.8–2.8% competitive advantage in long sprint and 800 m races." Interestingly, despite the paper's methodological issues, this is just about exactly the range postulated in the 2015 Chand CAS decision.
My bottom line: The paper has some significant methodological issues, most notably the inclusion of female athletes who doped with those with naturally high levels of T. There is some double counting of athletes in 2011 and 2013. There is also speculation that the male findings are contaminated by doping. Methodological issues notwithstanding, the paper nonetheless strongly reinforces the 2015 CAS Chand decision. There is nothing here that would provide any empirical basis for revisiting that decision. We might quibble about the methods, but the significance for the CAS decision seems unimpeachable.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Curious and Complex Case of Alex Schwazer

"Do they realise they are part of the plot against AS and the potential consequences for them?"

This statement, by an IAAF official to a to an attorney representing the IAAF refers to an athlete  - Alex Schwazer, AS -- who WADA and IAAF are collaborating together to convict of a doping offense. The "them" that is being referred to here is the WADA laboratory in Cologne. The "plot against AS"?  Well, that is a curious phrasing.

This statement can be found in a tranche of emails involving the Schwazer case released by Fancy Bears earlier this week.

Even before the leaked emails, the Schwazer case has been much discussed as problematic in many respects.  Here I'll list some resources for this case as a starting point for discussion.  The case is complex, involves many personalities, agendas and accusations. It also has a history going back many years, centering on Schwazer's coach, Sandro Donati.

I don't understand all the ins and outs, but I'd sure like to.

What else should I list here?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Guest Post: The "Arnie Effect" vs. The "Tiger Effect" on PGA Purses

This is a guest post by Bill Mallon, former PGA Tour professional and current surgeon and Olympic historian. Find him on Twitter @bambam1729.

Roger Pielke has written of the “Tiger Effect,” in this case defining it as the increase in purses on the PGA Tour after Tiger’s ascension to the top. Roger and I had emails back and forth on this as I said I thought the “Arnie Effect” may have been just as large in the 1960s, if not bigger.

Frank Beard, leading money winner in 1969, once said that all pro golfers should give Arnold Palmer 25 cents out of every dollar they earned, because he had gotten at least that much for them. A disclaimer here – in the 1970s, I was one of those pro golfers who owed Arnie a part of my winnings, playing from 1975-79, and if you want to know how much purses are different now than then, in 1977 I was 96th on the money list, with just under $24,000 official earnings. In 2016, the 96th player on the PGA Tour money list (Brett Stegmaier) earned $1,086,714. (Note: I am not bitter.)

So, I decided to look at the stats on this to see how much effect Tiger and Arnie had on PGA Tour purses. I chose to look specifically at the 10-year period starting when they first became the leading players on the tour. For Arnie that was 1958, while for Tiger it was 1997.

In the accompanying table [displayed below this post], you can see the PGA Tour total purses and how much they won going back to 1938, the first year that was recorded, as well as the number of events held. Because total purses are dependent on the number of events (take a look at the war year 1943 when there were only 3 events), the next column lists the average purse per event, which is a better statistic to use. Finally, to effectively use the same dollar values, this number is corrected for inflation, listed in the 5th column from the left.

The next column, P/E Adjusted, lists the Purse/Event Adjusted for inflation. This is the number we want to compare, but I went a bit further. Because there are some slight yearly deviations, I then created a 5-year rolling average of the Purse/Event Adjusted for inflation. Finally, the right-most column is what we are comparing – this is the 10-year increase in Rolling Average of the Purse/Event Adjusted for inflation.

The pertinent 10-year periods, the Tiger Era, and the Arnie Era, are marked in bold and highlighted in orange. You will note that during the Tiger Era, from 1997-2007, actual purses/event increased to 284.2%, which is quite good. In fact, the increase was even more than that in 2004-06, reaching 289.6% in 2005. In the Arnie Era, 1958-68, the actual purses/event increased even more, to 325.7%. Further, this increase continued into 1969-71, and topped out in 1970 at 355.3%.

Also of note, there is no other 10-year era that approaches the effect that Arnie and Tiger had on PGA Tour purses. The closest thing to it comes in 1992-95 when the 10-year actual purse increase was up to 218.2%. What could explain this? If anything, this should probably be called the Deane Effect, in honor of Deane Beman, then the PGA Tour Commissioner. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Deane started building Tournament Player courses, popularizing stadium courses, most notably at TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship. He deserves a lot of credit for starting the increase in PGA Tour purses that has continued, led by Tiger’s popularity, into the 21st Century.

So my original suspicion, that Arnold Palmer affected purses even more than Tiger Woods did, was somewhat correct, although the differences between the two eras were not that large – maxes of 325.7% vs. 284.2%. They both had profound, and close to equal effects on PGA Tour purses, but Arnie remains “The King.”