Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sunil Gulati Rejects His Own "Indispensable" Advice on FIFA Reform

Andrew Warshaw writes at InsideWorldFootBall (emphasis added):
High-ranking sources have told Insideworldfootball that a ballot was taken at Tuesday's executive committee meeting and that the result was 16-8 in favour of putting off a decision both on an upper age limit for executive committee members and/or the number of permitted terms of office.

Although there were valid and differing opinions within the executive committee over the correct way forward, all eight votes in favour of dealing straight away with the concept of statute-changing age and term restrictions are understood to have come from FIFA's European members who were said to be frustrated that no-one else supported them.
What this means, if accurate, is that Sunil Gulati, recently elected to the FIFA ExCo from CONCACAF, voted against the age limit and terms of office proposal. This is significant because up until being elected to the FIFA ExCo, Gulati was a member of the FIFA Independent Governance Committee which proposed the age and term limits.

Gulati thus rejected advice that he had proposed as "indispensable" as a member of the FIFA IGC (here in PDF).

Warshaw quotes one non-European member of the ExCo as saying the following:
 "It was the right decision," one non-European executive committee member told Insideworldfootball. "It would never have got the three-quarters majority needed and may never have therefore seen the light of day at all. At least this way we have another year to all agree on something concrete."
Given the American colloquialism, I'd wager that there is a good chance that this quote comes from Gulati. If so, then he is arguing that reform proposals should not be brought to the FIFA Congress for the simple reason that they may not succeed. This is a dubious line of argument. The Executive Committee could reintroduce such a measure next year regardless of what happens this year. Instead, Gulati is helping to torpedo reform from within. If the statement does not come from Gulati, then he still should answer why he voted against a reform that he earlier signed on to as "indispensable."

Either way, Gulati's behavior is a huge disappointment. The ExCo vote on the age and term limit reforms, and Sunil Gulati's behind-the-scenes actions at odds with his public recommendations does not suggest that he will be an active champion of reform from within. As president of US Soccer, Gulati operates without term limits. He has not yet said whether he believes they should be instituted.

FIFA Grades Itself on Reform

Earlier today in Mauritius, FIFA President Sepp Blatter presented the following tables to illustrate how FIFA sees the completion of its reform process. Courtesy @danroan and @RobHarris.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dominico Scala on FIFA Reform and Corruption

Dominico Scala, the Chairman of FIFA's Audit and Compliance Committee, met with the media earlier today. He offered these comments on the CONCACAF Integrity Report, as reported by the New York Times:
Former FIFA vice-president Warner from Trinidad & Tobago, who was the president of CONCACAF for 21 years, and Blazer of the United States, his general secretary for most of that time, were both members of FIFA's executive committee.

Warner turned his back on football after being implicated in a bribery scandal in 2011, while Blazer has also left the game although, on a technicality, he is suspended from FIFA's executive committee until Friday.

The two men were vilified in a report commissioned by CONCACAF, the confederation responsible for soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean, and published at their Congress in Panama in April after the examination of 5,000 documents and the testimony of 38 individuals.

"If you read the CONCACAF integrity report it does not say anything positive or polite (about them)," said Scala, a 48-year-old Swiss industrialist who is charged with enforcing new financial controls at FIFA as well as guiding the body's reform process on to the statute books.

"It's a horrible document so therefore whatever they are saying today is frankly useless and worthless because, over an extended period of time, they abused the system.

"I cannot judge on the other cases (of FIFA corruption) as I have no insights but I think it is a stretch to say now that what happened in CONCACAF happened in all the confederations.

"But here we have two individuals who behaved the way they did. Do we have other cases like this at FIFA? Maybe, I don't know, but we have to face facts; we have to be very careful of accusing everybody because we have had 10 years of accusations and allegations and suspicions."
Scala's comments raise some interesting questions, most prominently, why did it take so long for the abuse of the FIFA system to become formally recognized by FIFA? Why didn't FIFA uncover these fact previously, especially as many of the allegations were substantiated for FIFA by investigative journalists?

Also of note is Scala's apparent dismissal of the Warner/Blazer issues as not longer within the purview of FIFA:
"In the case of Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer this has far bigger implications than just (FIFA's) Ethics Committee, or the rules of the game," Scala said at a rare media briefing the day before FIFA's annual congress starts.

"There is sufficient suspicion that they have gone against the law and this will become an issue for the FBI and the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) in the case of taxation.

"So here the Ethics Committee and the world of FIFA stops - and people who have gone against the law will have to deal with the law."
FIFA's rush to move from largely ignoring the corruption within its Executive Committee to declaring the issues now to fall outside of its purview, and into the hands of US law enforcement, simply adds to the perception that FIFA is not yet fully serious about its reform agenda.

Perhaps tellingly, FIFA's official press release on Scala's press interview failed to report his remarks on Warner and Blazer. Instead FIFA emphasized Scala's defense of the now completed FIFA reform process:
“A two-year process to overhaul a global organisation like FIFA is quite ambitious, and normally corporate organisations – and I have worked for a few which are similarly complex – do not achieve this in such a limited timetable” continued Scala. “More than twenty of the recommendations for reform proposed by the IGC have been approved, but till now, this hasn’t been fully recognised or appreciated” he added.
In the interview, Scala also demonstrated another example of FIFA run-around, when asked about Sepp Blatter's salary:
[Scala] knows Blatter's salary. However, he says it's ''not my role to disclose.''

Blatter has reportedly referred questions over his earnings and bonuses to Scala.
He also hinted at problems in the allocation of FIFA development monies, but did not provide details:
Scala revealed to reporters that FIFA's finance committee had blocked projects in seven countries because of accounting concerns - though he would not identify them.
Scala's interview is welcome (and "rare" according to Andrew Warshaw) but it mainly serves to further illustrate how far FIFA has yet to go to achieve even basic standards of due diligence an transparency.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

FIFA ExCo Tables Age and Term Limits

In an official interview, FIFA President Sepp Blatter yesterday said this of the two top-line agenda items for reform -- an age limit and term limits for FIFA leadership -- being considered at the FIFA Congress this week:
I’ve already said I was against the age limit as I believe it is not a relevant criteria, not everyone is the same at 60, 70, 80, etc. It could even be seen as discriminatory. Passion makes the difference. However I am not against a limitation of a number of mandates, this rule applies in many democracies in fact. But then it should apply to everybody.
Today, FIFA's Executive Committee tabled both proposed reforms until at least next year, according to Kier Radnedge:
A decision on the contentious issues of age and term limits for members of the FIFA executive has been put back at least a year – by the executive itself.

The reform issues both featured on the agenda for the world football federation’s congress here on the Indian Ocean island in Mauritius later this week.

However the inability of senior figures – including president Sepp Blatter – to reach agreement on either issue prompted the exco to push the issue back until next year’s congress in Sao Paulo.

Blatter himself, maybe with an eye on his own possible pursuit of re-election in 2015 when he would be 80 – had already expressed a personal opposition to age limits.

Several of the six regional confederations disagreed on term limits. Several were also concerned by Blatter’s caution that he would expect age and term limits to be mimicked down through the confederations and national associations.
The official interview appears to have served a purpose beyond simply sharing information, but also sending a message. That message was apparently heard loud and clear.

The age and term limits were already leftovers from a watered-down reform agenda. Some interesting questions result -- What will the FIFA IGC do next? How did Sunil Gulati vote on the tabling motion? Where is Mark Pieth?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blatter Declares Victory, End of FIFA Reform Process President, just before the FIFA Congress 2013, do you consider the reform process is now over?
In fact, we are exactly following the road map which was established at the FIFA Congress 2011. Since then, we have been transparent on what was done and we have followed the majority of the recommendations made by the Independent Governance Committee in this two-year process. So I’m extremely proud to say this process will conclude at the 2013 FIFA Congress. However, this does not mean that FIFA will stop adapting and taking measures with regards to governance, and in regards sport politics.

What about the measures which are still under review?
Ten reform areas identified by the Task Force Revision of the Statutes are on the agenda of this year’s Congress. There has been an extensive consultation process observed in order to receive input from the member associations, who ultimately are the ones voting. We have a democratic process in place, we follow it. Between 2011 and 2013, I made a lot of effort to take this reform process as far as I could, but it is now up to the FIFA Congress to decide on these measures.
Mark Pieth, chair of the FIFA IGC, has in the past expressed an intention for the reform work of the IGC to continue. It won't according to Blatter. How that resolves itself bears watching.

Also, Blatter's claim that FIFA has followed the majority of IGC recommendations is something that can be verified empirically.  This analysis will be included in my paper prepared for the upcoming 2013 Play the Game conference in Aarhus. Stay tuned.

Sunil Gulati Should Prepare for More Scrutiny

At Grantland, Noah Davis (@Noah Davis) asks, Can Sunil Gulati Reform FIFA? Davis writes rather gently:
The ExCo is a group massively in need of cleaning up. Since October 2010, more than 10 of its members have been accused of some type of corruption. Gulati is saying all the right things, including expressing his desire for FIFA to disclose the notoriously secret compensation of its directors. But the question is how much impact the American can have. I asked Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated’s soccer writer who drew attention to corruption within FIFA with his 2011 presidential campaign, for his thoughts.

"Sunil clearly chose to work within the system. That's why he's on the reform committee. He's chosen that instead of publicly shaming FIFA for a lot of the corruption that has happened over the years and has taken down so many of the members of the Executive Committee," he said. "Sunil could have abstained from voting for Sepp Blatter in 2011 just as England did, but he chose not to. He chose to vote with Blatter, and I think Blatter repaid that by putting Sunil in a very good position."

While Gulati's desire to reform FIFA appears genuine, it's simply not possible to fix all that ails the organization while Blatter, the man who has been in charge since 1998, remains on top.
 In contrast, Davis quotes Andrew Jennings being not so gentle:
Andrew Jennings, a Scottish investigative reporter and one of the leading figures in tracking FIFA corruption, has further concerns about the USSF president. In a long post, he outlines how Blazer and former CONCACAF president Jack Warner defrauded Australia and other nations, and argues that Gulati, the Columbia economist, should have been able to see evidence of the fraud while looking at the confederation’s balance sheets. Jennings, who has an air of conspiracy theorist about him but boasts an impressive background in investigating FIFA, has a point.

He also raises another good question about Gulati's statement that he would reveal compensation only if allowed to do so by FIFA's laws: "[Why can't] Little Sunil say to FIFA, 'Listen you jerks, I've been elected from my continental region and I'm going to tell them how much I'm making'?" (Later in our conversation, the outspoken and outraged Jennings added, "Who the fuck are these toe rags in Switzerland to tell a proud American what information he can give to the American people?")
Gulati should be prepared for much more scrutiny that he has received in the past - of both the gentle and not-so-gentle varieties.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wrap Up: Season Long EPL Prediction Contest Results

As an exercise in humility and illustration of the concept of skill in forecasting I have run a few small prediction contests here over the past few years.

Here are the final standings of the 10 participants for 2012-2013:
Elijah 17.4
Megan 17.5
SKILL 17.8
Calvin 19.0
itzik 19.0
n-g 19.3
dave tombs 19.5
keeperusa 23.1
Arthur 23.2
Max 23.9
Pielke 24.0
Congrats to Elijah and Megan, the only two participants whose picks improved upon a naive baseline.  

The numbers above represent the square root of the sums of the mean-squared errors in the predicted standings. The biggest collective errors: West Brom (picked too low) and Newcastle (picked too high). Smallest errors: Man City, Arsenal and Reading.

What does this exercise tell us? The most important lesson, one that is learned in many walks of life, is that a naive prediction methodology can be very hard to beat. Only two entries outperformed an entry based on last year's final table.

The far more difficult question to answer, and one with an answer that has a lot of significance to decision making in areas far more important than sports prognostication -- are those 2 skillful entries showing skill because the forecasts had skill, or just luck?

For a discussion, see this post on hot hands and guaranteed winners.

Thanks all and congrats to the winners!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Goldblatt on the FIFA World Cup in Global History and Culture

David Goldblatt, the author of The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, recently gave a keynote address at the FIFA World Cup Conference in Zurich. He talk was titled, "The FIFA World Cup and its Impact on Global History and Culture” (here in PDF, courtesy Peter Alegi's course, History of Soccer).

Here is how Goldblatt describes his focus:
Such is the global reach and cultural significance of football that the history of the World Cup provides an increasingly powerful lens for examining the course of globalization and global history over the last one hundred and twenty years. At the same time the history of the tournament allows us to see the dynamic of politics in individual nations and the construction of their national identities – all have been encoded in the ways in which the tournament has been staged, played, reported, celebrated and cursed.

To see the relationship between the World Cup and globalization more clearly, we need to divide our narrative into four eras: first, the prehistory of the tournament particularly football’s relationship with the Olympic movement and the Olympic games; second, the short inter war era of the World Cup between 1930 and 1938 played alongside a fragmenting global order; third, the World Cups of the long post war boom and the slow regulated globalisation that accompanied the Cold War; and finally, since 1982, the World Cups of the most recent era of globalization characterised by new geographies of global power and the unprecedented scale, size and significance of global financial and media networks.
Read the full lecture here in PDF.

Ronaldinho: Clever or Uncool?

Some fodder for debates about norms of the game.

H/T Ricardo.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: A Man in a Hurry

Before there was the English Premier League, before the NFL, there was the brief moment in the spotlight for pedestrianism, an early form of competitive walking that became very popular in the 1860s and 1870s in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Pedestrianism first started out as a trial of distance – sometimes vast -- against the clock and then evolved naturally into a race between men. The pedestrian movement saw a great rise and then all but disappeared, supplanted by contemporary competitions such as the marathon and the modern Olympics.

Fortunately, Nick Harris, Helen Harris and Paul Marshall have collaborated to stitch together what is a relatively thin historical record to provide a highly readable account of the life of Edward Payson Weston, the original and most famous pedestrian. Weston’s 90 years spanned 1839 to 1929, a time of enormous change, in the world and in sport and is chronicled in A Man in a Hurry: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Edward Payson Weston, The World’s Greatest Walker.
Weston’s competitive career was largely of his own creation; it began as a bet and turned into a business opportunity that he would exploit repeatedly such that it became a career and a calling. At the peak of his popularity more than 20,000 people turned out in London in 1876 to watch him walk around a track in a 6-day race in which he took on all comers. It may sound a bit odd to hear of 20,000 people turning out to watch men walk around a short oval track, yet today not far away from the location of Agricultural Hall in Islington 60,000 people turn out regularly to Emirates Stadium to watch 22 men kick around a ball on a rectangular pitch. Many years later, when Weston had become famous mostly just for being famous, he drew a reported half-million people to the streets of New York to watch him conclude a cross-country walk which had started in California.

The thinness of the historical record makes it difficult to get a good reading on who Weston actually was. Much more is known about the competitions that he participated in and walks that he took on, and so the book emphasizes these events in its recounting of Weston’s life. There are hints of snake oil salesman in Weston’s character, with tantalizing but ultimately unverified associations with illegal gambling and political corruption in the form of what today would be called match fixing. Weston preferred to walk in finely tailored and distinctive clothing, adding to the spectacle of the event. He made and lost several fortunes across his long life and throughout there were hints of a playboy lifestyle. In most respects none of this would be surprising to observers of star athletes today.

At his peak form Weston was known for his stamina and remarkable powers of recovery with little or no sleep. During Weston’s first visit to the UK, the British Medical Journal reported that he had been chewing coca leaf, from which cocaine is distilled, while he walked. The negative reaction and quick denials by Weston of more general usage illustrates that even at this time the notion of doping – a word that had yet to be invested – was a concern in sport. Weston’s use of the drug led to a spat among experts on the pages of the BMJ (another dynamic familiar to modern observers of sport) leading the journal to opine quite presciently:
“Pushed to excess, coca is said to become a narcotic; and we shall, no doubt, hear a great deal about its use and abuse. Possibly we may be indebted to Mr. Weston for the introduction of a new stimulant and a new narcotic: two forms of novelty in excitement which our modern civilization is likely to highly esteem.” 
Weston was no fool and quickly embraced science as a route to legitimacy, first presenting himself as a subject for scientific research and later extolling the virtues of walking for health and serving as one of the first anti-smoking advocates.

Pedestrianism’s moment in the spotlight did not last long. The automobile, organized sport and age saw Weston fade from public view. When he died senile and poor few turned out for his funeral. But over his 90 years he never stopped walking. Thanks to A Man in Hurry, this delightful part of sport history has been brought back into view.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The FA Cup and US Hurricane Damage

In a 2009 paper on the ability (actually, lack thereof) to predict US hurricane landfalls or damage on time scales of 5 years or less, I illustrated the perils of correlation shopping with the data shown in the graph above (paper here in PDF).

Over the period 1950 to 2007, in years which the score of the FA Cup final totaled 3 goals or greater, US hurricane damage in the subsequent season (June through December of the same year) was 31% greater than average. In years which saw 2 goals or less scored in the final, hurricane damage was 33% less than average. The relationship is remarkable. Chance you say? I once thought so too.

Little did I know that I had stumbled on to a  major scientific breakthrough. Since 2007, the FA Cup hurricane damage predictor (FACHDP for short) has correctly predicted 3 of the 5 seasons damage correctly. By contrast, sophisticated catastrophe models used in the financial world to assess risk correctly anticipated only 2 of those 5 years. Obviously, they have not yet caught up with the implications of this remarkable new discovery.

The mechanisms underlying the surprising predictive ability of the FA Cup are still being explored, but they are no doubt reflective of what some have called "a new normal" in hurricane behavior.

US coastal residents, Bermuda reinsurers and City financiers await today's match with great anticipation.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jens Sejer Andersen: FIFA’s New Ethics Committee Fails First Test

Over at Play the Game, Jens Sejer Andersen takes a clear-eyed look at the recent report of the FIFA Ethics Committee on the so-called ISL case and finds it to be a failure.  Andersen summarizes (but do read the post in full):
In its totality the report of judge Eckert is a disappointing piece of work, and as long as the public is prevented from studying the investigations of Michael J. Garcia, Eckert has to carry the full responsibility for the flaws that can be summarized as follows:
  1. Out of the 142 million CHF handed out as bribes by ISL, more than 100 million are still unaccounted for. Eckert does not mention this fact at all. Did FIFA’s Ethics Committee forget to ask those people in FIFA and around FIFA who are likely to know more about this huge sum of unidentified bribes. If the committee did ask, but without success, shouldn’t the public know about this culture of denial?
  2. As earlier stated, Blatter and other FIFA officials are cleared of several charges only on the ground that FIFA regulations were unsatisfying or non-existent at the time of events. Thereby the new, independent Ethics Committee fails to meet the expectations that the outside world has rightly had of decisions based on independent consideration of ethical questions and not only on well-known legal formalities.
  3. The Ethics Committee has an unclear stand on the key question if it was ethically ok for Sepp Blatter as FIFA Secretary General to watch passively in the 1990ies while the biggest corruption scandal in sport unfolded among his closest allies.
  4. Eckert does not lay out the premises behind his few assessments of ethical character – for instance the description of Blatter as “clumsy”.
  5. The Ethics Committee declares this case for closed without dealing an inch with the fact that Sepp Blatter over ten years, from 2001 to 2011, used all his powers to keep the ISL-affair secret with lies, threats and manipulation. This happened also after the introduction of an Ethics Code in 2004. Why has the Ethics Committee not pronounced itself on this behavior?
  6. Especially big sums of FIFA money were used by Blatter on lawyers’ fees to make the courts ensure that nothing came out about the persons involved in the post-bankruptcy negotiations or about the settlement that ended the ISL case in the Swiss legal system. Was this an ethical use of FIFA’s resources, or an unethical attempt to cover it all up?
  7. Sepp Blatter avoided over two years, from 2010 to 2012 – to publish the ISL settlement, although he was free to do so and although he said from October 2011 that he would like to. He claimed in contrast to the truth that the other parties in the case prevented him from doing so. Proper ethics, Mr. Eckert?
  8. Although judge Eckert recognizes that key persons in FIFA have rejected to cooperate in the investigations, that FIFA investigators do not dispose of the same powerful tools as the real police and that various important case facts remain in the dark, he chooses on this fragile foundation to wipe all doubts aside, declare case closed and exonerate all FIFA officials in the future. Effective, perhaps. But ethically sustainable?
So much for the failed responsibilities of the Ethics Committee. The real responsibility rests of course with the political level of FIFA, with Blatter, with the ExCo and with the general assembly. If FIFA leadership believes that the Ethics Committee has done an excellent job, why not support this evaluation by publishing all papers produced by investigator Garcia?
 Andersen points to the IOC and US authorities as possible venues for further investigations of FIFA. For its part, FIFA clearly hopes that the sham report will serve to sweep the ISL case under the rug. Perhaps so, but I am skeptical.

The work of FIFA reform has a long way to go.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Slightly Higher Salaries, More Equity in the MLS

Last May I showed that the income distribution in Major League Soccer was akin to that which might be found in Haiti -- that is to say, lots and lots of people at the low end of the income scale and a few at the top. The league has just released its 2013 salary information (H/T @FutbalIntellect).

I can report that the MLS Gini Index (a conventional measure of income inequality) has decreased (become more equal) from about 57 to 53 -- so rather than Haiti as an analogue, think Panama. The graph at the top of this post comes from this nifty online calculator.

Some other facts:
Obviously, the MLS has a long way to go to be able to afford top talent from top to bottom.