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.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Lovely Cricket



As I’m trying to write a book on Sports Criminology I’m sometimes asked - and not just by publisher’s reviewers - what I mean by the term.  Worse I don’t always use the term consistently myself, sometimes speaking of Sport Criminology.  Perhaps, I should speak of Sports Criminologies as both are very diverse.  I’ve played Criminology and studied Sport so should know.

A couple of stories have recently reminded me I’ve not posted here recently and they also illustrate the issue.  Those stories are the ongoing and wide-spread discussion of corruption of sport occasioned by sports betting (latest being fears about potential match fixing in the Scotland v Nigeria football friendly) and the more recent controversy over the run out of Jos Buttler.

But first some ‘gripes’.  As one of the first criminologists to write about ‘green criminology’ - though I called it eco-criminology then - I have seen my call to bring green perspectives to criminology ignored in favour of a criminology of green topics, principally pollution and crimes against animals.  My chapter, 'Matter All Over the Place: Litter, Criminology and Criminal Justice' in Routledge International Handbook of Criminology, talks about litter but also what constitutes 'green criminology’.  I’ll be revisiting this in a paper in Special Edition of Radical Criminology next year.  

Second gripe: I am now positioned by some as a pioneer of Queer Criminology.  I’ve come out and moaned about that here.  In essence my perverse criminology sought to drag discussion of sexualities - gay/straight, cis/trans, polymorphous etc - into criminology and, to an extent versa vice; but this queered criminology appears to have become concerned largely with the wrongs done to LGBTQ peoples at the hands of individuals and the State.

I support the intentions of those green/GBTQ academics and activists but wish some wider work had arisen. What connects these and Sport Criminology is that I already foresee - indeed, have already experienced - a similar fate for it.

When I try to explain Sport Criminology to people they either don’t get it or get it right away.  That is get it wrong, right away.  I’m not surprised that people don’t get it.  A google search on the term ‘Sport Criminology’ finds only this blog and some joint honours courses in Sport and Criminology, that is in studying sport half the time and criminology the other half without any connection.

Those who get it wrong immediately make connections to things like match fixing, crowd violence or off-field crimes of violence by sports stars.  All important but these seem to be well covered already within criminology and journalism.  Hillyard and Tombs (2004: 11) argue ‘Crime has no ontological reality’, I would argue equally that sport too is equally social constructed and therefore sport criminology is doubly impossible.  Those who get it wrong latch on to common-sensical ideas of what crime is and what sport is (they don’t suffer my ontological doubts) and land on obvious crimes obviously associated with obvious sport.  Hence the match-fixing and violence.

So I fully recognise that my purist vision of a criminology(ies) or even a zemiology of what occurs within sport will, for most, become about the corruption and violence that harms the pure notion of sport without examining the harms of sport (though see Brohm’s marxist-inspired Sport, a prison of measured time and Perelman’s coruscating condemnation Barbaric Sport: a global plague).  I hope to encompass all - for and against. 

But turning from my gripes about what has become of green and queer criminology and fears for sports criminology let’s look at something I see as squarely within my purview - recent events in cricket.  Famously cricket is difficult to explain to foreigners and Pippa Middelton’s efforts in Vanity Fair seem to owe much to this tea towel.

These ‘attempts’ to explain cricket can’t come close to explaining the expression, ‘It’s just not cricket!’, which the Urban Dictionary claims is Australian (!) slang for:

Having something that is unjust or just plain wrong done to someone or something.This come from the game of cricket which is regarded as a gentleman’s game were fairplay was paramount.

Its most recent outing relates to the dismissal of Buttler.

Stephen Brenkley says - on the Independent website - Do not say 'it's not cricket' - moral grey areas define the game.  He positions the run out of Buttler as an ethical issue.  Since it involves the Laws it is a legal and, therefore for me, a criminological one.  But the MCC mixes these matters up in its declaration that it, ‘has been the owner of the Laws of Cricket since the 18th century and continues to be a robust law-maker and guardian of the Spirit of Cricket today’.  It is interesting that the section of the website devoted to ‘The Laws in the News’ makes no mention of this ‘news’ as of 5 June 2013.  This may be because the legal position is clear and therefore officially no story.

What do the Laws say?  Rule 38 says: 1. Out Run out

  1. Either batsman is out Run out, except as in 2 below, if, at any time while the ball is in play, (i) he is out of his ground and (ii) his wicket is fairly put down by the action of a fielder.
  2. (a) above shall apply even though No ball has been called, except in the circumstances of 2(b)(ii) below, and whether or not a run is being attempted.

Buttler was out of his ground and the bowler, Sachithra Senanayake, (a fielder) fairly within the law  - but not, many allege, within the spirit - ‘put down’ the wicket.  Brenkley makes no firm conclusion but teases us with discussion of sledging (verbal abuse, that may be illegal on the street) and failing to walk (knowing one was out but in the absence of the umpire’s decision or the growing technology of sports surveillance standing ones ground).  There are clearly ethical, legal and criminological arguments about the comparabilities of these ‘crimes’, ‘breaches’.


The fall out is likely to be more arguments this summer between the parties.  Time will tell if any corrupt practices are behind them.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Best ever excuse for losing a football match? And other thoughts about problems in football.

Cardiff's 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace in early April should not be allowed to stand, the Welsh club have said in a five-page letter seen by the BBC. The document, sent by club lawyers to the Premier League, alleges Palace boss Tony Pulis knew sporting director Iain Moody was trying to obtain Cardiff's starting line-up before the game. (David Bond on BBC Sport website)

As a criminologist I incline to the view that one of the causes of crime is the tendency to make more and more things criminal and that what is and isn’t criminal can change over time.

Crimes may be committed within sport but much of what this blog is about is those things that are breaches of the Laws/Rules of the Game or those of the organising Association.  Matters are further confused in English football by the existence of the Premier League with its rules.  Some breaches of the rules might be seen to be akin to crime, for instance a foul may be criminal in the eyes of English Law - though arrest, prosecution or conviction are rare - but summarily dealt with under Law 12 by the Referee.  Interestingly the Laws speak of ‘offences’, for instance listing the ten that can lead (sentence, if you like) to a direct free kick (the punishment) and the FA has its own judicial panel!

Former players now employed as commentators might complain that ‘in their day’ or, even, ‘in this country’ a more robust style was permitted but guess that none are calling for the return of ‘hacking’ as allowed by the earliest complete formulation of the laws of Association Football and common practice in the many versions of the game before:

X.  If any player shall run with the ball towards his adversaries' goal, any player on the opposite side shall be at liberty to charge, hold, trip, or hack him, or to wrest the ball from him, but no player shall be held and hacked at the same time.

So the problem of fouling could be ended legally - if not medically - by legalising it.  I’m still trying to work out how to deal with diving (see Sam Allardyce on the topic) but a technological solution involving GPS, gyroscopes and chipped players may be necessary crime prevention devices in which honesty will be redundant.  Clearly the close surveillance of super slow mo HD cameras, match officials, crowd and ‘the man in the pub’ is insufficient to deter the practice.  And yet we place great trust in CCTV to do on the streets what it fails to do on pitch.

Off field issues however are covered by the meta rules or written Constitutions of sporting organisations.  

The Premier League’s rules make it clear (L21) that ‘at least one hour before the time fixed for the kick-off of a League Match’ the Referee, opposition and media will be provided with a team sheet on a specified form (Form 9).  There is no commentary on why this stipulation and time limit but the need to check that players are properly registered and not under suspension suggests itself.

What Cardiff’s lawyers are said to be claiming is that knowledge in advance of the team and formation materially influenced the match, which they lost 3-0.  This is quite a counter-factual.  It is not clear how much they think they would have won by.

Quoting the BBC’s story again:

Specifically, Cardiff say Palace have broken three Premier League rules: B15, B16 and B17. Of these, B17 is potentially the most serious as it states that no club shall disclose or divulge confidential information.

Rather than ‘crimes’ these appear to be contractual matters - as are most of the Premier League’s rules (relations between clubs, between clubs and player, and provision for media etc).  These matters may go to civil law courts or to arbitration but first we await the Premier’s League response - to date (18 April 2014) its website has been silent on the matter.

Clearly if such rules did not exist then it could not have been breached.  But whilst criminologists may recommend decriminalisation for the benefit of society the money in football means that commercial interests will be paramount not good sense.


And it interesting that much mid week media speculation is on who will be selected and what formation will be used.  Some of those predictions will be right - some lucky guesses, some horses-mouth tip-offs? - many will be wrong.  Next thing you know there’ll be a betting scandal!  You seem to be able to bet on anything from results to in game incidents to numbers of players leaving during transfer window.  Why not team selection?

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Just added this 'juvenilia' to my website

The London Marathon 1985 - an essay - typed! - I did that year for the Open University Module on Popular Culture.  Apologies for crude Gramscianism but I stick to much of it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Football's Crime Stats

There have been some recent think pieces in the media about the 'fall in crime' around the world.  Here the Guardian (25 April 2013 'Crime rate keeps falling despite austerity') finds criminologists 'surprised' but willing to offer a variety of  potential solutions.


This article from the Wall Street Journal runs through some: no lead in petrol, improved policing and use of prison.  Other suggestions are that the rise in legalised abortion to falls in crime (the Freakonomics argument) and more recently some suggest that playing video games leads to fall sin crime.  This blog post emphasises the empathic possibilities and my own work suggests the preferability of people stealing cars online in VL rather than in RL.  Others suggest games players are simply 'too busy' to commit crime.

But is crime falling?  As a criminologist Marion Fitzgerald is less sure that crime is falling; and, for other reasons, neither is the right, with accusations (Daily Telegraph, 12 May 2013) that the police have been keeping figures down for political reasons.  I too place little confidence in the accuracy of the figures, not because of cock-ups or conspiracies - though there have been examples of both - but because crime is a malleable social construct.

So it is with some interest that the 'fall' in crime appears to have been mirrored by fouls in football.  As the BBC say, 'The number of fouls committed by Premier League players has dropped by 22% since 2006, according to figures released for the first time'.  Obviously some suggestions are made for why this might be.  Since the definition of a foul is a very subjective matter I can't agree with Mark Riley of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (BBC 8 March 2013 'Can football learn from rugby union's attitude to referees?')
that "The referees at Premier League level get 95% of their decisions right, the assistant referees get 99% of their decisions right".

Interestingly just as fouls have fallen so has punishment.
Referees issued 52 red cards, the same as in 2006-07 and the joint lowest since 1996-97 when there were 44 dismissals. In 2011-12 there were 66 sending-offs, with a record 73 being shown in 2005-06.
And, again this should be of interest to criminologists and penal reformers education and self-policing seem to be cited as reasons!  What next restorative cautions? Are players routinely tested for lead?  We know many play soccer video games.  Has this made them less aggressive?

Friday, 12 April 2013

We’ll gesticulate how we want to: semiotics for cops


Not sure this sports criminology but involves sport and crime and policing!

When reading Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style I was never entirely convinced of the links he saw between punk and reggae though I listened to a bit of both and still enjoy the Clash.  I think he was correct in arguing that Punk’s use of the swastika was meant to shock or to imply ‘Berlin’ (and therefore Bowie etc) but feel he and his respondents were too naive in thinking they had succeeded.

For instance, Wallach notes (in Duncombe and Tremblay (eds) White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race) how the transposition of punk to Indonesia meant that its earliest adherents didn’t even know these shock or hip references.  It just meant punk.  But quite quickly a more political punk (he cites, for instance, the Dead Kennedy’s ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’) is seen to chime with their own position under Suharto’s dictatorship.

And Hamm (in American Skinheads: The Criminology and Control of Hate Crime) notes the outgrowth of skinhead Oi music from some of the same roots which did fully embrace the Nazi regalia and ideology without robbing Wagner’s music box.  And Thompson (Punk Productions: unfinished business) is right to argue that punk may have attempted to empty Nazi symbols (and bondage gear for that matter) of their signifying power but failed to do so.  Yet whenever I happened across any punk wearing a swastika the bricolage of their clothing (see also Punk & the Swastika) and other accessories (Malcolm and Vivien’s Accessories franchise anyone) meant I never felt I was dealing with a Nazi.  Though I have felt that when dealing with others more conventionally dressed.

So am I easily reassured by a torn neon jumper and multi-dyed hair as counters to the message of the swastika?  Or is it too much cultural studies and semiotics and knowledge of Hindu (mention of Prince Harry in this BBC story) and Roman (was hoping to find a Mary Beard ref but here Hull Museum pitch in) uses of the swastika.  Or would anyone easily recognise that however offensive, they were not Nazis?

megan ruminates on “Can you accidentally do a Nazi salute?”, the case of Giorgos Katidis a 20 year old Greek footballer now banned for life for celebrating a goal with a nazi salute.  He claimed not to know its significance.  He may want to know about Basil Fawlty’s knack of not ‘mentioning the war’.  Not that this was much assistance to Mark Bosnich, the Aston Villa goalkeeper, who in 1996 was fined £1,000 for what he said was a Basil Fawlty impression in front of Spurs fans.

And talking of my team.  Whilst I don’t chant ‘Yids’ or ‘Yiddo’ on my rare visits I’d happily admit to being one, particularly to a non-threatening Arsenal fan in a solidaristic Spartacus sort of way.  Been known to let people think I’m gay (and certainly sung along with Tom Robinson Glad to be Gay) in the same spirit.  But I know full well that some do find the chanting offensive.  We’ll ignore the ironic potential of David Baddiel using the Daily Mail to argue it sustains anti-semitism.  And apparently the club has defended supporters against similar complaints from the Society of Black Lawyers.

Just as I know that no offense is meant to the jewish supporters of Spurs by the chants I suspect little support for them or wider Jewry either which is why I decline to join in.  Which brings me to the upcoming NE derby between Newcastle and Sunderland.  Northumbria Police have apparently decided that this is no Twitterjoke and intends to use CCTV to collect evidence should any Newcastle fans seek to mock the Sunderland manager’s alleged fascism with nazi salutes.  The BBC says, ‘Northumbria Police said such gestures would not be treated "as a joke".  Spurs fans sensitive to the criticisms and proud defenders of free speech now chant ‘We’ll sing what we want to’.  Will the Toon Army now chant ‘We’ll gesticulate what we want to’?  Or all turn up in Hitler moustaches or chant ‘Yiddos’ perhaps?