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.

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?