Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Why I’m declaring myself ‘Professor of Criminology in the Twitterverse’.

I can see why Chris Parr (‘A lifetime’s worth of insight in 140 characters max’, 19 Feb 2015) opens with a ritual nod to popular views of Twitter as ‘a frivolous tool for procrastination’ but it would be nice if we could move on.

He moves on to discuss the value to young academics of Twitter.  I want to emphasise the potential benefits for older academics such as myself.  As part of my commitment to ‘Public Criminology’ I tweet as @criminology4u to 5571 followers.  Only professors David Wilson and Tim Newburn have higher profiles. I once crowned David Britain’s foremost Criminologist in the THE (‘CSI: crime story interpreters’ 23 July 2009). His media output is controversial (Bring Back Borstal met with mixed reviews and many brickbats from criminologists on Twitter) but it brings undergraduate students - and their parents - to Birmingham City University.  Tim’s work on the Riots and all-conquering textbook are only part of his many talents.  Both tweet.

My Twitter following rests entirely on building it up over many years.  I like to think I retweet colleagues generously and take issue politely and appropriately.  It has lead to some invitations to events where professors proliferate and some invites to guest lecture due to pressure generated by student Twitter followers anxious to hear me.  But I want to illustrate the impact this can have with an ironic tale.  My published, peer-reviewed work is eclectic but includes two specifically on public criminology.

I recently found these denounced along with the work of other, better known academics.  I invited the author to do shorter version for my public criminology blog.  He declined and I wrote up the ‘dispute’ myself for my blog as Nic Groombridge, ‘Public Criminologist’ and ‘Master of Truth’ where I suggested he was the elitist not public criminologists.  I noted that in the week of 15 November 2014 my tweets received 3,809 views, that I had 55 new followers with 74 visits to links that I had posted. My most popular tweet that week accounted for one third of those link visits; with one in ten of those viewing visiting the link to his article in Radical Criminology.

I, and he, probably got more coverage from that tweet than any amount of journal publishing which brings me back to my own frivolity and procrastination.  I like to think that if I’d published more I’d be a Professor by now.  But I want now to argue that such is the reach of social media it should be taken into account in selection for titles.  Whilst I wait for the Academy to catch up I’m declaring myself ‘Professor of Criminology in the Twitterverse’.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Book Review: Rosie Meek's Sport in Prison

Encyclopaedic knowledge of vast material and scrupulous concern for what might and might not be said vis-a-vis whether sport works and what constitutes working and how it might be measured.  However, it usefulness is severely reduced by the poverty of the index.

In this review I concentrate upon the conclusion and one particular chapter that fully discusses her work rather than that of others.  I may return to this book again and post further, or revised, reviews.  I have provided links where possible.  Do suggest more.

Round 1

For every boxer who claims that without the sport he would have ended in prison (for instance Luis Collazo) we might find lists of the ten best boxers who ended up in prison.  And yet we also have Prison Fight a charity which claims world connections but seems only to be Thai-based and uses Thai boxing as rehabilitation and holds out the possibility of amnesty; but to my untutored eye it looks exploitative.

Yet boxing rates only 3 mentions in Meek's book: one to note that in her survey boxing was the favoured activity for inmates though banned at the time (p109); that it had recently been approved for use with non-violent offenders (p33) and that it was now offered in a number of establishments (p28).

In ITV’s Bring Back Borstal the ‘boys’ play a game of Rugby Union against a local team and go on cross country runs - shades of the book and film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - but they do not box.  Several fights break out and a punch ball takes a hammering in Episode 3 to allow one young man to ‘let off some steam'.  In Meek’s mentions and more generally it is not clear whether boxing training - i.e. pad work, speed ball, skipping or running - is meant or more serious sparring or even a boxing match - with headguards and gumshields.  Organisations like Boxing Academy and Fight for Peace use ‘boxing training’.

The playing fields of Portland

But back to Rugby (the RFU) and Association Football (Chelsea) ; which are the subject of Chapter 8 and of her earlier work evaluating the Second Chance Project which with the two boxing projects mentioned above are amongst a number of sports projects further evaluated by Project Oracle. (Stereotypically one might assume an Australian interest in sport and their Institute of Criminology does not disappoint.  And in the UK New Philanthropy Capital has sought to evaluate some of these projects.)

In a piece of Reality TV/public criminology Sky showed Football Behind Bars in 2009 on this subject and at the same institution, HMYOI Portland.  I know full well the problems of such ventures (see ‘I’m Making a TV Programme Here!’ Can Reality TV’s Banged Up and Public Criminology? with Prof David Wilson) but am surprised she does not seem to mention the TV series.  It does receive a mention in the free standing evaluation of the report mentioned above and I know he attended the launch at Twickenham Stadium.

She mentions the controversial Thorn Cross High Intensity Training Centre and the ‘glasshouse’ experience offered by Colchester Military Corrective Training Centre which have some of the intensity which she talks of.  She notes the mixed success both had (Farrington et al).  Indeed much of what follows in the Chapter (as in the whole book) can be seen as falling under the ‘mixed success’ banner, from which might be intuited, ‘occasional or frequent failure’.  And Meek does not shy away form the difficulties of doing good evaluation and the consequent lack of a single good narrative to give to the media, Ministers or public.  However she frequently allows  some hope, for instance suggesting, that the Duke of Edinburgh Award ‘offer some promise’ citing evaluation by Dubberley and Parry.

Moving on to her work she describes the 4 academies over 2 years accepting 79 young men (46% White, 33% black and 21% mixed race, Asian or ‘other’.  On average they were just under 20 years old and the mean for offence category showed 40% were for violence against the person with a wide range from 24 to 63%.  Though self-selected they were ‘broadly representative of the national young adult population according to sentence category’ (p92).  Their Offender Group Reconviction Scale scores ranged widely from 10-85.  Of the 411 prisoners released from Portland in 2010 50% reoffended within one year against the national score of 53%.  And given all the appropriate proviso and health warnings does conclude, ‘this suggests that academy  participants are less likely to reoffend than those who haven’t participated in the academy’ (p94).

At point 5 in ‘Punditry’ blow I mention a table potential indicates of effectiveness.  In this chapter she adumbrates the ‘Intermediate measures of the impact of the sports initiative’ (p94) in the same spirit of more ways to evaluate the skin of act.  These are: Beliefs about Aggression (Farrell, Meyer and White, 2001); Use of non-Violent Strategies (Farrell et al, 2001); Self-esteem (Weinburger and Schwarz, 1990);  Self-concept (Phillips and Springer, 1992); Impulsivity (Bosworth and Espelage, 1995); Conflict Resolution, Impulsivity and Aggression Questionnaire (CRIAQ) (Honess, T., Maguire, M., & Vanstone, M. (2001) and Attitudes towards offending (CRIME PICS II).

As a qualitatively-orientated sociological criminologist I’ll merely advert to my queasiness about trying to put numbers on these matters but must ask the extent to which sportspeople have been subjected to the same tests?  Clearly some have been tested against wider populations.

A quick search of Google Scholar on the list ‘and athletes’ for 2015 reveals:

‘Beliefs about Aggression and athletes’ revealed 542  with doping and sexual violence prominent;

‘Use of non-Violent Strategies and Athletes’ produced only 38 results with Nigeria and Kenya apparently using sport against violence

‘Self-esteem and athletes’ found 673 with work on Obesity, Self-compassion and a meta analysis of the ‘Relationship between self-esteem and aggression amongst Chinese students’;

‘Self-concept and athletes’ returned 237 results with similar mix to ‘self-esteem’;

‘Impulsivity and athletes’ only returned 58 results but the top one, ‘Risk-taking and impulsive personality traits in proficient downhill sports enthusiasts’ by Maher et al, speaks to some of my concerns that sport and crime/deviance not something in a cause effect relationship but dialectically fused.

‘Conflict Resolution, Impulsivity and Aggression Questionnaire and athletes’ produces 58 results but seem mostly to pick up on the words ‘aggressive’ and ‘impulsivity’ but CRIAQ and athletes produced no results.  Clearly plenty of scope for work here.

Of the 270 results for ‘Attitudes towards offending and athletes’ top is one on ‘not-doping’ amongst sports people and the second about students attitudes to cheating!


From Chapter 14 Conclusion I take and discuss a number of points: 

1 “like music and art sport can be used as a ‘hook'" (p170).  She does not use the term 'bait' but acknowledges that a, ' direct research implication of the recognition of the varied uses and different effects of sport and physical activity across the secure estate is the need to make greater efforts to determine which types of sport are most effective in meeting specific aims ... (p179/180).

Note she does not say 'sports' but 'types of sport', so not rugby, soccer, badminton or tiddlywinks but say team versus individual and contact versus non-contact.  Given the class background  of the Borstal pioneers Rugby Union and cross country running might have been their ‘bait’ but soccer or boxing might make for a more attractive hook for inmates now.  She returns to this in her final conclusions, ‘research also needs to concentrate on establishing which sports are more or most useful in prison’.  She seems to mean to the authorities and not to the sports participants.

2 She is very clear that, 'sport in prison can and does offer numerous possibilities and opportunities but that there are also complexities associated with developing, implementing and evaluating sports-based programmes ...' (p171)

She fully understands that these cannot be a 'solution in themselves' (p171)  they must be 'a vehicle by which to implement social, psychological and physical change'.  I incline to the view that sport in prison, like art in prison like sport and art anywhere should be autotelic but see why some might seize on them as 'solutions'.  Indeed both PE/gym staff and sporting organisations (p181) have reason to make claims for the efficiency, effectiveness and economy (As a one-time Home office civil servant I cannot avoid the 'value for money' triple E.)  And she emphasises throughout, 'the importance of robust evaluation' (p178).

3 2 things I didn't know.

I admit I'd not heard of the Council of Europe's Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport or its designation of 2014 as the year of sport in prison (p171). And the internet offers little more information beyond some statements and conferences. Nor did I know of the Rugby Football Union's 'Prison to Pitch' initiative (p175) and there own website only offers a couple of stories about Rugby and Prisons.  But I do know my own club Saracens work with Feltham YOI with their Get Onside initiative. 

4 Turning specifically to the 'negative aspects of prison sport' (p180) she mentions, ‘narcissism, which is associated with anti-social characteristics such as low empathy (Watson & Morris, 1991), exploitativeness (Campbell, Bush, Brunell & Shelton, 2005) and aggressive reactions to threat (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998)’ as having potential for investigation.  Here, narcissism has a specific psychological meaning but its broader, but still psychologically inflected, meaning might have lead us in the direction of masculinities research into homosociality etc or the body, but gender (though women and girls the subject of chapter 5) and sexuality make no appearance in the index though Messerschmidt rates a bibliographic reference.  So no mention of Featherstone or Foucault on ‘the body’.

5 Fascinating in boiling down so much material is Table 14.1 (p182/3) on suggested indicators of effectiveness beyond reoffending with a bibliographic entry for each.  The 17 sections (many have subsections) range from ‘disruption in prison’ to ‘anxiety in sport’.  If only all Government policy were subject to such rigour.

It should be clear that I found this book very valuable and sparked many thoughts which it would be unfair to expect the book to answer all.  It is meticulous in use of academic material and Meek’s concern to track down so many papers and to air so many views is laudable.  It should be of particular interest beyond prison students and administrators to a wider sports world and to evaluators and policy makers.  It is psychology and evaluation heavy quite appropriately but as my comments suggest some sociology, philosophy and gender studies might have broadened its appeal.  However, the index is very poor; there are only 38 entries with multiple undifferentiated entries for the main sports.  This seriously reduces the value of the book to those looking for ‘answers’.

There is enough material in the book to support sport in prison but also to turn against it as 'not proven'.  However, those who would do that might consider the far more expansive and expensive claims made for the Olympics (see for example, the non-hyperbolic Levy and Berger, 2013) and not ask, 'Does sport (or art or faith etc) work?' but ask the autotelic question, 'Are they worth doing in their own right?.  Obviously the answer may still be, ‘no'.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Cheating - what sports scandals can tell us about rules in sport and more widely

Speaking to the Guardian Mario Andretti, said:
Formula One should loosen up a bit. I think they’ve gone slightly overboard with the technical side of the engine. And we saw in Sochi, teams backing off for fuel reasons, just to make it to the end

There are ways of using a little bit of creativity to enhance and increase the interest. It’s all there for the taking. It’s just a question of looking at some of the stranger rules they have in F1.

I can’t claim to know exactly what he meant and the rest of the article suggests that some of it is off-track issues around marketing and use of social media but guess some of it surrounds the technical and safety issues that may have reduced some of the chance and danger in the sport.  In a rather more admiring way (of Lewis Hamilton) Stirling Moss says:
The cars are that reliable these days, therefore one can judge a man by his talent - his enormous talent. He's exciting to watch.
Hamilton may be exciting but the motor-racing is not (now is not the time to argue my green objections to it) and both Andretti and Bernie Eccleston (I may tackle the issue of his governance of the sport at another time) are grappling with that.  Andretti clearly thinks some changes to the rules are required.

As a criminologist I’m interested in rules though these are often framed as laws, sanctions, regulations, norms or even censures (hat tip to Colin Sumner) and their breaches known as crimes, infractions, deviance etc.  So now we turn to cheating, fouling etc.

I’ve been trying to write about the subject of in-sport, on-field ‘crime’, ‘deviance’, which I see as central to Sports Criminology when I came across this article ‘Cheating in sport: is increased regulation the answer?’ in Sport and Law Journal Volume 21 (2).  It is particularly useful as the majority of the examples she gives were know to me and on my hitlist.

What follows takes Naidoo’s structure and subjects her analysis to a critical engagement. Despite being an ex sports administrator, CEO of the International Netball Federation*, Naidoo recognises the difficulty of simply regulating more, or attempting to do so.  However, I believe she is prone to some naivety in her reference to ethical issues.  After this intro/standfirst the next paragraph says:
The IOC Code of Ethics lays down the principles that “fairness and fair play are central elements of sports competition. Fair Play is the Spirit of Sport and the values of respect and friendship shall be promoted.”
I think I play fair in my sport and think that many others do too but for sceptico-cynical reasons I hold professional sports people to lower standards.  I don’t expect them to be ‘role models’.  They are sports workers and sometimes celebrities.  They may ‘justify’ or ‘neutralise’ (Sykes and Matza have that covered and Kevin Young cites them in Sport, Violence and Society) but the competitiveness of sportspeople and the structural pressures of media and owners render them little agency save in choice of tattoo.  They are in a business with a star economy and limited narratives.  I expect to be entertained, to enjoy the spectacle, for them to be the circus while I scrabble for bread.

I may come back to Naidoo’s introduction and wider discussion but let’s turn now to the case she cites:
EarGate and

Googling the term brings up the story but also - and close to my own intentions of using sport to illustrate wider issues and vice versa - this blog which argues:

Sport, like law, is an intensely rule-bound activity. It wouldn’t work without clear interpretation and rigid adherence to the rules. These eight players played within the rules, but were nonetheless censured for subverting the game by not playing by its spirit. It seems to me the same could be said of tax avoidance. Interestingly, the Players' Code of Conduct of the Badminton World Federation even has a kind of catch-all anti-avoidance regulation! The disqualified players were censured for "not using one’s best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport" – arguably the badminton equivalent of the proposed General Anti-Abuse tax Rule that the UK is mulling over this autumn.
Pleasingly for a sociological criminologist the Guardian article cites Lin Dan, world No1, blaming the organisers for setting up a playing schedule that opened the door to manipulation:
Whenever they set the rules they should take that situation into consideration," he said. "I don't understand why there is a group situation [rather than a straight knockout competition].
Naidoo notes a number of past and contemporary examples of ‘not trying’ from cycling and women’s football and a case of ‘cheating’ in the swimming (Von Burgh 100m breaststroke undetected by officials for want of underwater technology) which involved trying and winning.

I had not known about this case of the NFL New Orleans Saints Pay-to-Injure ‘Bounty’.  Naidoo’s description of the events concentrates almost exclusively on the bounty, which would have breached the NFL’s strict salary cap, the fallout and governance failures.  As she says:

the NFL had no clear process in place to handle this sort of allegation as it could have been dealt with as a breach of the salary cap or it could have been dealt with as an on field breach of the rules.


the farce around how the players were disciplined and the flawed governance process actually became a bigger story than the cheating.

‘Cheating’!  The events she describes involving over 20 players, coaches and manager suggest a conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm on the face of it.  The only harm appears to have been to the reputation of the game not the players (though see ‘progress’ on the NFL concussion issue).  Just about anything other than the targeted players appears to be her or the NFL’s concern:

The Bountygate case publicly played out the very interesting conflicts involving due process rights of individuals, collective bargaining agreements, and private disciplinary procedures against the highly visible tapestry of professional sports. The federal judge who heard the case questioned the fairness of the process, but chose not to rule in part because it was unclear if she had the power to do so.

I incline to the arguments of Paul Tagliabue as reported by Time the former NFL commissioner appointed to hear the appeals about the use of discretion and not being over punitive but again it is interesting that no thought is given to the victims but to the politics and processes of the NFL.

When I played rugby no substitutes were allowed, only replacements and then only for medical reasons and at our level effectively there’d be no available replacement.  Indeed we played a full fixture list of friendlies and might even lend each other players.  Injuries to a front row forward - I was a prop, then hooker  - inevitably led flankers being shoe-horned in.  Non-Specialist front rows are not allowed now and substitutions are.  In 2009 in a cup quarter final Harlequins were narrowly losing to Leinster and had used all their players and had no specialist kicker on field.  With 5 minutes to go they wanted one on.  Tom Williams, their last substitute, came on armed with a fake blood capsule (and not the first occasion when a ‘Quins player had done so) and with the collusion of the physio and club doctor faked the injury that allowed the specialist kicker on.

The team still lost, were fined and the player, coach and medics were all punished.  Naidioo makes something of the different punishments - all appealed - but nothing of the reasons for the ‘conspiracy’.  In American Football offence and defence and specialist teams come on and off at the dictates of the play and the Coach’s strategy.  In Basketball and Ice Hockey rolling substitutions occur.  In Rugby Union the numbers of substitutions depends on the level being played and the player substituted has to stay on unless replaced for blood or front-row reasons whereas in Rugby League the squad of 17 players can be interchanged up to ten times.

So, to return to the question Naidoo’ poses, Rugby Union could prevent faking incidents, not by greater regulation but through regulating differently like other sports - decriminalising if you like.

As Naidoo baldly states, ‘Nelson Piquet Junior crashed into a wall during the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 to allow his teammate Fernando Alonso to win the race.’ before discussing the potential and repetitional dangers involved.  The absence of ‘team orders’ in the current Mercedes F1 team means that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are contending wheel to wheel which may too have its dangers.  More recently the manner of Mo Farah’s victory in the Great North Run has been called into question.  Was he paced and then allowed to win by his fellow PACE Sports Management athlete, Mike Kigan?  If so they should practice more as I was disappointed by the spectacle (GatesheadGate?).


Actually Naidoo runs out of ‘gates’ and calls this section ‘Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield’, describing how in their 1997 fight Tyson bit off a part of Holyfield’s ear.  They are apparently reconciled and Holyfield declined to press criminal charges at the time.  Naidoo opined Tyson:
would clearly have been guilty of a criminal assault as the action was intentional and it was not within the rules and the wound inflicted could have been described as serious.

Again, fresh out of gates, she prosaically opts for ‘Tonya Harding’ as her heading to describe the off rink assault on her rival Nancy Kerrigan that Harding and her husband arranged.  Kerrigan recovered and won silver at the 1994 winter Olympics. Harding went to law overturn a US Olympics and Skating ban but came eighth and was eventually banned from skating for life.  It is interesting that Naidoo calls this ‘cheating’.  It is not clear whether the scare quotes shows she knows it is not cheating in the sense that it occurred outside the sport or to minimise the clear criminality.  And you have to look elsewhere for the Harding’s ongoing denial/minimisation and criminal justice punishment: three years probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160,000 fine for hindering the investigation.

Cheating lawyers

After outlining these various ‘gates she asks why people cheat and, appropriately for her audience,  ‘what is the role of the sports lawyer’.  Pretty much all of criminology is dedicated to asking whey people cheat or don’t though it’s not usually put that way.  And clearly one use for a sports lawyer is defend your ‘cheating’.

On cheating she speculates about:

desire to win;
financial rewards and 
Tysonian ‘sport rage’

Both the sociology of sport and criminology could provide more and back up her synopsis of Rowbottom on the difficulty of:
attempting to identify a dividing line between gamesmanship, mental intimidation, the manipulation of rules and out-and-out dishonesty, 
and that:
every game has an unwritten etiquette alongside its formal rules, and what is acceptable in one sport is taboo in another. For instance, while in rugby the odd punch-up has traditionally been regarded as part of the fun, tripping an opponent is deemed disgusting.
Similarly in Ice Hockey a fight is great and acceptable and even expected as part of the match but using your stick to hit someone is definitely abhorrent.

Few criminologists would disagree with her conclusion where she quotes Max Duthie**, ‘Regulations alone won’t combat cheating’

but many might baulk at: 
… the relevant sporting authorities need to have the necessary will to enforce them. Federations and governing bodies have to be prepared to investigate and prosecute suspected wrongdoing, even if it means some short term pain, like loss of sponsors or star teams/players being suspended or withdrawn.

and not have the faith she places in ethics reemphasised in her conclusion in respect of the lack of ‘Sports Culture’ these cases showed.  Less and more rational rules might make the 'getting tough' easier too.

As a critical sociological criminologist I incline to the belief that neo-liberal capitalism supplies the sport we ‘deserve’ and that ancient greeks nor the ‘blazers’, and now the ‘suits’, seem likely to save us from the cheats - which include ourselves - any time soon.  Best solution participate in own low-level sport for fitness and don’t watch high level sport for anything other than spectacle.

* Noting only in a footnote ‘Writing in a personal capacity and not on behalf of current employer the University of Warwick. Previous employment: 2002 Salt Lake Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games; the International Cricket Council and the International Netball Federation. Co-author of 4th edition of Sports Law, Gardiner et al. Currently sits on Disciplinary Panels of Badminton England and England Netball and the FIH Judicial Commission.

** A partner in the sports group at Bird & Bird LLP. He prosecuted the misconduct complaints against Harlequins and others in the ‘bloodgate’ case and advises ERC, Six Nations, the International Cricket Council, World Snooker and others on their respective regulations and disciplinary procedures

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Dumb sports law

Along with ‘Dumb Criminals’ ‘Dumb Laws’ are an internet staple.  I do not know the source for these Daily Telegraph ones but suspect some are wrong or misunderstandings and am confident that some of these are definitely wrong.

So let’s add some Dumb Sport’s Law to the mix.  Sport is often accused of being behind the curve - and never likely to catch up - on doping.  As a criminologist I’m inclined to a harm reduction perspective on drugs in society so would be for sport too.

Claiming a harm reduction motive as well as seeking to prevent performance enhancement WADA are now seeking to get in front of the curve by banning the gases xenon and argon.  As the BBC news website points out in its headline, this despite having no test for the gases!  Obviously outside of sport we’ve had subjective tests for sobriety but these have been replaced by accurate measures of alcohol in breath or blood - not same thing, as drunk drivers argue.

The BBC article points out that some doubt the benefits. They quote Dr Ben Koh who notes they are not banning the use of hypoxic tents and suggests the gases may be safer.  Moreover, Dr Chris Cooper suggests any benefit may not work in the way WADA suggest.  However, Russian medicine seems very keen on the benefits and the BBC noted the approval then of the Russian Olympic committee.

Also as a relativist, sceptic and low level athlete I incline to the view that if you take vitamins or pray because you believe it will help your performance then you are attempting to cheat.  Athletes try all the latest training methods, supplements etc.  Some are legal, some are illegal and some are legal but become illegal and less often vice versa.

If WADA could throw its weight behind proving the inefficacy of vitamins or banning them for efficacy that might be interesting.  And a test for the power of prayer?

no word yet on Krypton.

How do we get men to talk about rape? Might the issue of consent in sport be a way in?

For very good campaigning reasons many feminists argue that ‘rape is rape’.  Despite being a supporter of feminism, I cannot, as a criminologist, accept that any crime is exactly the same as any other crime.  Moreover, I understand, and am uncomfortable with, arguments like MacKinnon’s (Feminism Unmodified ) that under the patriarchy all heterosex is non-consensual.  Here I want to illustrate differences in crimes and attitudes to them through a discussion of assault by men on other men; mostly in sport.

The link is the tricky one of consent, where sports law texts find themselves quoting the Spanner case (R v Brown) which involved sado-maschistic practices. That case necessarily has much discussion of boxing and fights in the street in seeking to discuss consent before finding against the men.  Reflecting on the case Carol Smart compared consent in rape and homosexual acts noting that women’s ‘no’ is taken for ‘yes’ and homosexual men’s ‘yes’ for ‘no’.

But to sporting consent.  This post is inspired by the recent case of Ben Flowers and a reminder from Christopher Matthews of the violence in Ice Hockey which reminded me of the violence of professional wrestling which Corteen and Corteen cover.  I rely on Matt Rogers for the facts and some of the law and can recommend his extensive analysis of ‘implied sporting consent’

Flowers received a six month ban from Rugby League Football (RFL) at the hands of the its match-review panel.  It represents potentially missing 13 games and is the most severe option open to the panel.  Interestingly the Sky sport website offers a feedback poll on the question. 

This is how matters stood on 3 November 2014. 

More interestingly the question might have been should his actions have been subject to police action - perhaps, there and then.  It would seem that Greater Manchester Police propose not to disturb the RFL’s jurisdiction but are investigating threats of summary informal justice on social media against Flowers.

As a one-time Rugby Union player, and more occasional informal soccer player, and largely TV viewer I’m aware of the cultures of such sports.  I believe I’ve received more violence than given in my sporting career but make no claims to sainthood.  The odd kick in the face is the price of entry for an open water swim triathlon.  I’ve received some and must have unintentionally given some.

We might construct a continuum of consensual violence for different sports with Ice Hockey and Professional Wrestling at one end where illegal moves - often punches - are expected and tennis or golf at the other end.  Indeed the crowd would be disappointed if violence did not occur at Ice Hockey or Pro Wrestling.  In boxing structured violence is de rigur but hitting below the belt, mauling or fighting at the weigh in (think Haye v Chisora in what the BBC call a ‘brawl’) is penalised as is ‘not trying’ British Board of Boxing Control rule 3.38 (g).

The audience for boxing goes for the formal violence of the sport but may be happy to see some additional informal violence, may even participate in some (on behalf of their man).  Rugby and football crowds often enjoy a little ‘handbags’ (the feminised disavowal of the violence is interesting). Ed Smith suggests that wider society has fallen out of love with boxing as we have become less tolerant of violence (an Elisian thought?).  He muses on whether American football might decline in popularity because of on- and off- pitch violence.  Perhaps we might ask the same of Ice Hockey and Pro Wrestling and has a distaste for cheats - the simulation of fouls etc - reduced the popularity of soccer?

The shadow of simulation (and an implicit censure of soccer?) fell over Rugby Union recently in the suggestion that recent interpretations by officials of violent incidents would lead to diving.  As the Mail Online Headline has it:

Blair Gowan of London Irish is said to have punched Leicester Tiger’s Jamie Gibson in the face but received no yellow card.  Leicester’s complaint to the RFU was met with the answer that the player had not gone to the floor or needed treatment and that the penalty awarded was sufficient punishment.  The concern is that, knowing this rugby players will go to ground and pretend to be hurt (and here is a Samoan player attempting to do just that).  Note that for Rugby Union and in the  Ben Flowers’ case a punch is not a punch but in soccer it would be irrespective of effect.  And on the street it would be too.

Glenn Hoddle made exactly such a point in discussing Luis Suarez’s dental incontinence.  He suggested prison.  Clearly biting is beyond any implied consent and is seen to be unmanly, even childish.  This reminds us that in addition to the law of the land, the code of the game there are gender codes at work too.

The London Irish captain’s take on the punch was:

It’s rugby. If you pull up every incident like that and make a thing about it the game is going to go soft.

Soccer seems to have survived the ‘softness’ of banning hacking in 1863.

But to turn to Sport and Rape we might find MacKinnon in Ched Evans’s corner when she notes:  

Since rape is difficult to talk about, but men need to talk about it perhaps discussion of consent in sport might be a way in.  Just as a rapist may feel he was doing what any man would do so the on-pitch punch thrower may feel he too is only doing what any man might do.  Indeed he may have been the victim of punches in the past, including the immediately preceding past.

I am not so naive to imagine that by changing the way we talk about things will change matters but perhaps the sports authorities and media might use terms like victim and offender in these circumstances.  Should sport point out to players explicitly the issue of consent before each match?

Stepping on to the pitch does not mean you consent to being punched.  Stepping out does not mean you consent to rape and harassment - see Shoshana Roberts.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

TV refs/ the very definition of justice?

In his back page essay in today’s Observer (web version here) Andrew Anthony uses his visit to the NFL’s Gameday Central Studio in New York to argue for the greater use of technology in football.  I’ll be looking at, and agreeing with much of, what he says but also seeing what lessons this might have for wider society and vice versa.

Tennis players have an unlimited right to challenge decisions that can be reviewed by the technology but once they get three wrong in a set they can make no more challenges - imagine losing the right to appeal in Cricket or real life!

In the NFL, Anthony tells us, coaches have the right to make two challenges a game (three if they get both right) about refereeing calls (as long as it’s not a scoring play or a turnover), which are then sent to review and the replay official subjects every scoring play and turnover to review.

He mentions that on his arrival the most played video was of an NFL star, the CCTV footage of Ray Rice beating his fiancee.  He contrasts ‘the forensic analysis’ of NFL games with ‘almost criminally lenient’ punishment of Rice.  Here I only note the deployment of criminological/criminal justice metaphors and the part played by CCTV/video ‘surveillance’ in all such cases to concentrate on the justice and technology issues.

He notes we are used to analysis of soccer by TV pundits of FIFA’s foot-dragging on the issue of the use of technology and sets out the four arguments that have traditionally been employed against using technology in soccer are:

a) it would slow the game down; b) it would undermine the position of the referee; c) it would drive a wedge between the professional and amateur game; d) it would remove the element of human fallibility that is a key talking point.

He seeks to rebut all in quick order but let’s unpick them.  First the charge of slowing the game down.  He notes players feigning injury to which we might add really being injured (and note proposals in Rugby Union for TMOs to judge the offenders punishment from the victim’s reaction make some fear this will lead to soccer-style ‘simulation).  Secondly he sees this as adding suspense.  He doesn’t use the term ‘gamification’ or cite games theory but clearly these will be issues (see here for analysis of strategies for the use of challenges in tennis).  Athletes have in the past been accused of using the old false start rules to unsettle their opponents; though it too might add suspense.  It is said that the dictates of TV had something to do with the change from each runner being allowed one false start to each race being allowed one, and the NFL’s intimate embrace with broadcasters and advertisers indicates the utility of slowing the game down.  Elsewhere in the article he acknowledges the very different tempos of association and american football which means that the technology cannot be imported wholesale - or indeed human based judgement and punishment systems.

He rightly argues that TV - those pundits and everyone in the pub - is now used to show that the referee is wrong so why not use it to show when they are right.  This chimes some of the arguments about CCTV and surveillance more generally - and what of all those dressing room and bench cams now?  Might we relate some of the arguments about the trend towards body-mounted cameras for the police with their use by rugby and ice-hockey referees.  Here’s former Rugby Union star and solicitor Brian Moore on the subject, though he reviews it more as a viewer .

He is again right about the void that exists between levels in the game and might have mentioned that this existed long before the introduction of technology.  Thus ‘amateur’ tennis players still have to rely on the honesty of their opponents but the professionals had an army of linespeople, referees and Umpire long before the arrival of Hawkeye.  Indeed, given the ubiquity and growing cheapness of technology might an App be developed that set all the players phones to police the game?

Finally the issue of the ‘talking point’.  Whilst sport might once have been undertaken for social or cultural reasons much sport now occurs in front of and specifically for the media.  What Anthony does not mention in his article is that Dean Blandino the NFL’s ‘vice-president of officiating’ ‘talks’ through controversial points of ‘law’ each week in a video.  Clearly something for soccer and justice more generally to consider?

Anthony’s article is headlined: ‘Decisions made from on high and far away’ to note that the next NFL match at Wembley will ultimately be ‘meta-refereed’ from New York (how far is it to San Francisco?).  He is discussing technology and sport but my argument is that there are crossovers not only between sports as he argues but also into and from ‘real’ life.  Might we see the substantive, if not yet formal, downgrading of refs in all sports as bringing sport more in line with life.  In this argument referees become more police officers than the Judge Dredd position they once held of being judge and jury.  This removes, in part, ‘justice’ from the hurly-burly of the field to a sufficient height and distance.  Whether that is to the cool of the court or the heat of the studio is another matter.

Friday, 15 August 2014

IAAF's Broken Windows Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad's Broken Dreams?

Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is a steeplechaser.  His crime was to remove his shirt whilst completing the last part of the race, including one hurdle.  He was initially shown a yellow card before being disqualified.  One reason for the rule - and I’ll touch on others - is the need to correctly identify the runner; and the shirt carries the number.

I have been an official at fun runs and been annoyed that a runner has pinned their number to the back of their vest - despite the clear written instructions to the contrary.  I had no means, nor desire, to punish them and the ‘karmic’ punishment was that they might fail to appear in the official results.

I was astonished to see him strip his vest off as I knew this endangered his medal but after the antics of Cooly the official mascot - of whom they seem quite proud - thought it would end at the yellow card.
Interestingly the mainstream media have covered it extensively but you have to search on his name on the websites of: Athletics Weekly and European Athletics where the news is buried in reports of the whole evening.  Thus we eventually find on the EA site, this report:

There was more shock and surprise at the end of the evening as the disqualification was announced of France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad from what would have been his third consecutive European gold in the 3000m steeplechase.
The Frenchman removed his shirt as he rounded the final bend and encouraged the crowd to respond with upward hand gestures before jamming the shirt into his mouth and clearing the final barrier to finish well clear of the field 8:25.30.
His celebrations all the way down the finishing straight infringed the IAAF rule 125.5 concerning “acting in an unsporting or improper manner”, and he received a yellow card for this from a track official before he started his lap of honour. 
But his victory was annulled after a successful application from Spain, whose athletes finished fourth and fifth, to the Jury of Appeal citing IAAF Rules 143.1, 143.7, relating to “clothing, shoes and bibs”. A French counter-claim was dismissed.

Whilst running nude might have been the classical Olympic way (and I am pleased to remember my old colleague Stephen Instone here) the desire to avoid mechanical inefficiency and the gasps of the prudes means we now have somewhere to put our numbers.  Though the growing use of micro chips to record times in mass participation races may remove that use for clothes.  This, and the increasing use of self-tracking apps like Map My Run and Garmin, brings us into the territory of Surveillance Studies.   
It would be nice to think the IAAF’s rules were some nod to feminism, ensuring that men be subject to the same restrictions as women.  When she took off her top in celebration for ‘winning’ the USA the Women's’ World Cup in 1999 Brandi Chastain became ‘iconic’.  Now it is routine for such celebrations to receive a yellow card.

And it is to such penalties we return.  Some commentators accuse Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of ‘preposterous showboating’ (@oliverbrown_tel in the Daily Telegraph) and IAAF Rule 125.5 like many similar rules in sport goes beyond the law of the land in insisting on a higher and subjective standard.  We may tut at the improper or unsporting behaviour of our friends and enemies alike but rightly cannot sanction officially sanction them.
If there is any ‘preposterous showboating’ it is by the athletic authorities in punishing such low hanging fruit when they can’t sort out doping or corruption.
In policing/criminology there is a set of theories known as Zero Tolerance or Broken Windows.  Not quite same but essentially it argues for crackdowns on minor infringements to prevent major ones.  Other criminologists argue that such punitiveness is counter-productive and triggers a cycle of crime and punishment that does not address the original issue.
I had hoped that Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad might have been making a political point - even if I’d not agreed with him - akin to the now acclaimed Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

But no; Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad is not the Devil he’s just a naughty boy!

This blogpost might be seen as a taster/first draft of Chapter 6 (Sport, Justice and Social Control) of my book on Sports Criminology to be published by Policy Press in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics.  I’m not expecting an invite from the International Olympic Committee anytime soon.