Category Archives: Uncategorized

IS LUIS SUAREZ NORMAL?

… or is he just like the rest of us, except a bit more competitive?

Q: So Uruguay is out of the World Cup and Luis Suárez has gone back home. That’s the end of that then, eh?
A: Hardly. This is just the start. The Uruguay Football Association is sure to kick up a fuss over what it considers rough justice. My guess is that the governing organization will push the case all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.
Q: They haven’t got a leg to stand on have they? Everyone saw Suárez bite Chiellini.
A: Would a court of law accept this kind of video evidence? I doubt if it would be admissible. I mean, even if you study it closely, it’s impossible to determine whether Suárez intentionally bit his rival.
Q: What about the bite marks on Chiellini’s shoulder?
A: Again, I doubt if it’s probative.
Q: What’s that mean?
A: Is the bite mark conclusive evidence that demonstrates the biting happened? After all, it could be an old wound. Highly unlikely I grant you. But a decent lawyer would expose the frailty of this evidence.
Q: How do you know? You’re a professor of sociology, not law.
A: Anybody who watches  The Good Wife on More4 knows this kind of stuff. It’s elementary.
Q: So why has Fifa given Suárez such a long ban?
A: Why does Fifa do a lot of things that seem to defy commonsense? Suarez is a repeat offender and I guess Fifa think they need to stamp down on him. But I think the Uruguayan FA will take their case apart if they push it all the way to the CAS.
Q: OK, so let’s move on the Liverpool situation. Pretty hard on the club, isn’t it?
A: Not at all. In fact, you could argue that, if the club had acted responsibly, it should have counseled Suárez and made sure he didn’t resort to biting again after  biting Branislav Ivanovic in 2013. All the same, I imagine Liverpool will appeal to Fifa. There’s talk that the club may try to transfer him, but, technically, Surarez’s punishment forbids him from any engaging in any “football related activity” and what else could a transfer be? Even negotiating a transfer would surely be a football-related activity. This is another case of muddled Fifa thinking again. If he can’t be involved in football related activity, he can’t be involved in a transfer.
Q: But Liverpool could negotiate a transfer on his behalf and put together a package, which the club could present to him when the suspension ends, couldn’t it?
A: It could, but then it would depend on whether Suárez finds it acceptable. He’s made it known that he would like to move from Liverpool, but who knows? In any case, I’m not sure Liverpool is in any rush to move him out: he is such a pivotal player and, if he is out of the team for the opening of next season, Liverpool will surely suffer. The club will never replicate last season without Suarez.
Q: Finally, the big question: all the papers have been asking questions about Suárez’s mentality. What are your own thoughts? Is he a psycho? He can’t be normal, can he?
A: Have you heard Arcade Fire’s Normal Person ? There’s a line, “I’ve never really ever met a normal person.” In other words, none of us is actually “normal” – there are parameters of normality and most of us stay inside those limits. I think Suárez is well within the parameters: but he is a highly competitive individual who works in an environment that actually encourages these kinds of violent outbursts.
Q: You mean sport, right? Because anyone who has ever competed knows how frustrating it can be.
A: Precisely. Suárez’s response was the result of frustration. He’d been kicked black-and-blue for most of the Italy game and had been prevented doing what he wanted. The frustration had been boiling up. Similarly, when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield in 1997, he had been headbutted for most of the fight and his appeals to the referee were reaching deaf ears (so to speak!). The ref of the Uruguay-Italy game should have spotted how the Italians were targeting Suarez. Suarez is a singular character, but, then again, exceptional sports stars often are. Look at Eric Cantona: many of us remember how he had also been frustrated for most of the game Man United-Crystal Palace before he blew his top, got a red card, and launched his infamous “kung fu” attack” on a fan in 1995 Competitive sport is an arena in which frustration thrives: you have one individual or team trying to pursue one thing, while another individual or team tries to prevent them. I can go back further and mention Duncan Ferguson, a formidable player, but who tended to get easily frustrated. He ended up doing three months in prison after headbutting a rival player, Jock McStay in 1994. Frankly, if I had the choice, I would prefer to get a nip on the neck rather than feeling the full force of a Ferguson headbutt in the face! Check it out here. .
Q: I’m guessing you think Chiellini was exaggerating a bit.
A: I hate to see players running to the referee urging him to punish an opponent, like children in a playground running to a teacher. It’s one of the most unedifying sights in football. If the ref didn’t see the offence, just get on with it. It’s symptomatic of the modern professional game: players do their utmost to gain an advantage by whatever means they can and, if that means, influencing the referee’s decision-making, then so be it. I just don’t like to see it: if you’re competing, compete: don’t become a supplementary referee. If Chiellini had simply given Suárez a sly dig to remind him that, if he wanted to bite him, he could expect something back in exchange, then the game would have flowed on and we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.@elliscashmore

Could the World Cup be fixed?

… and what about the German fans who blacked-up? Racists?

Q: That question in the headline: you’re kidding, right?
A: Who knows? If you saw the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme earlier this week, you’d wonder if anything in football is genuine. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned how Fifa, the organization that runs the game, is corrupt and many of its officials have taken bribes. We also know that referees have been straightened in Europe and probably beyond. Add to this the stories involving Asian betting syndicates, players who have taken money and managers who have taken “bungs,” and you get the picture: this is not a sport where fair play rules.
Q: But surely not at the World Cup?
A: It’s devastating to think that the most prestigious tournament in the sport would be susceptible to corruption, but ask yourself how difficult it would be to do it. The team that wins the World Cup needs to play a total of six games. That means that you would need to straighten six referees. A penalty, a red card, a disallowed goal. It’s not inconceivable that a few key decisions can influence the destiny of the trophy.
Q: That’s preposterous. Referees are upright people.
A: Referee Robert Hoyzer wasn’t: in 2006, he confessed to taking bribes. He actually went to prison as a result. It’s naive to assume he is the only one. And the Italian scandal that resulted in some big clubs, including Juventus, being punished, exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in football. So even if the vast majority of referees are honorable people, it only takes a few to destroy the entire spirit of fair play.
Q: You seem to take delight in spoiling it for us football fans; I mean, you’re always putting a damper on things.I’ve been reading your new book Football’s Dark Side in which you and your co-author Jamie Cleland take apart the sport piece-by-piece and show that’s it’s corrupt, pockmarked with racism, homophobia and violence. Why?
A: Because I’m a realist: I don’t get carried away with myths and fairytales: football is a professional game and wherever there’s money, there’s corruption. That’s as sure as night follows day. If you and fellow sports fans want to believe the fantasy that sport is pure and untainted, go ahead. But I have pretty convincing evidence that that isn’t reality. I prefer truth to falsity.
Q: OK, while we’re on the subject of football, what did you make of the German football fans who blacked-up when Germany played Ghana?
A: It shows you just how behind-the-curve some nations are. For some reason, these white fans thought they were being amusing by blacking their faces like the old minstrels. Maybe they didn’t understand how crude, insulting, offensive, abusive, objectionable and provocative their behaviour truly was. I know we always see fans ribbing each other and this is part of the cut-and-thrust of football; but this wasn’t amusing; it just caused other people, particularly black people, to feel resentful, annoyed and justifiably upset.
Q: Oh, you’re taking this too seriously.
A: If you think that, ask yourself: what’s funny about it? I doubt if any of the African nations, their players or fans, thought this was anything but an insult.@elliscashmore

 

Should taxpayers pay for football clubs?

Q: I notice Coventry City Football Club has been involved in a long-running legal case to determine whether a £14.4 million Coventry City Council loan to the 32,000-seat Ricoh Arena operators ACL amounted to unlawful state aid. What’s all this about?
A: Coventry City was formed in 1883 by workers at Singers’ cycle factory and is now owned by a company called Sisu, which bought the financially troubled club in December 2007. Presumably, the company believed that the club could win promotion to the Premier League and would then start prospering. The club’s previous owners had sold the club’s old Highfield Road ground but then spent all the proceeds. So Sisu club rented the Ricoh stadium in Coventry, which is run jointly by Coventry City’s council with the Alan Edward Higgs Charity as Arena Coventry Limited (ACL). The council spent £14.4m of council taxpayers’ money building the arena. So all parties were satisfied with the arrangement: Sisu could afford the rent, the city got a revenue stream, and the citizens of Coventry got a club playing at a terrific brand new stadium. But things didn’t go according to plan and Sisu lost about £36m on players’ wages, transfer fees and other losses. Then worse: the club got relegated from the Championship. Then the £1.2m annual rent for using the Ricoh started to feel unaffordable and Sisu went back to the council to ask for a renegotiation. These took place with ACL and the Higgs charity, but no deal was done. Then in March 2012, Sisu said it couldn’t afford to pay the rent and just stopped paying it.  To stabilize the position, the council borrowed money to pay off ACL’s mortgage, effectively becoming ACL’s banker itself. Here’s where it gets complicated: Sisu actually sued the council, arguing it had acted illegally.  This claim was thrown out when the judge said Sisu “had caused rent to be withheld as a means of exerting pressure [on ACL] in their commercial negotiations”. ACL sued for the £600,000 owed; then, when Sisu still did not pay, applied for the club to go into administration. Sisu were by far the largest creditor due to the hedge fund millions they had put in as loans, and so were able to buy the club back from administration. Last year, ACL offered Sisu dramatic rent reductions, but Sisu refused and instead decided to move Coventry City to Northampton where it rents a smaller ground for its home games.
Q: Hang on! So Coventry City has been playing its home games in Northampton, which is 35-miles away?
A: Yes. And the fans have been boycotting them. With attendances plummeting from an average of 10,900 at the Ricoh Arena to 2,348 at Northampton, the financial losses are punishing. I hear the club has committed itself to playing at least two more seasons there.
Q: So the club will go under, right?
A: Not so quick: we’re now waiting for a legal decision that will determine the future of the club. Sisu have requested the judge orders another hearing to allow the club to seek damages from Coventry City Council. There’s just been a three-day hearing at Birmingham High Court to determine whether the £14.4million Coventry City Council loan to Ricoh Arena operators ACL amounted to unlawful state aid. Taxpayers could be hit with a bill for millions of pounds if the owners of the Sky Blues have successfully proved their case.
Q: But why should taxpayers get stung for the bill if the football club loses money?
A: Well perhaps they shouldn’t: if you think the club is just like any other business, it should stand on its own two feet. If, on the other hand, you think a football club is an organic part of the local community and contributes to the cultural life of the city, then you could argue that the residents should chip in.
Q: I’m guessing people who take the latter position would point to the jobs created by a football club, the tax revenues it generates and the civic pride it brings. Is this a legitimate argument?
A: Again, it depends on your perspective. In the USA, cities clamour for prestigious sports clubs and are often willing to build state-of-the-art stadiums and training facilities to attract them. And we’ve seen something like this in Manchester where the stadium built specifically for the Commonwealth Games was rented out to Manchester City at a knockdown rate. Nobody in Manchester has ever complained about this, presumably because the city has thrived and the club has won the Premier League title a couple of times. In fact, Manchester City are the current champions. You can imagine this row in Coventry wouldn’t be happening had the club gone from strength to strength. But it’s grown weaker. That’s happened in many American cities where taxpayers have discovered their hard-earned money has just been sucked into a black hole of debt. Aggravating the situation is the fact that the players, whether baseball, football, basketball or hockey players, all earn huge wages, whether the club loses money or not.
Q: I’m still not getting a straight answer from you. Should taxpayers contribute to a football club?
A: Sorry to be evasive. I guess my answer is: ask the citizens. We’re going to see a referendum in Scotland soon, so it seems logical to stage a vote among taxpayers for a direct decision. You could ask, for example, are you willing to have an extra £5 per week added to your council tax if we promise to spend it on the football club?
Q: A Sky Blues Tax?
A: Effectively, yes. You can’t assume everyone would vote in favour. Sport is popular, but maybe not as popular as we think. I mean, we all loved the London Olympics. But I wonder how we would have voted if, we had been asked in, say, 2002: are you prepared to pay £200 to bring the Olympics to London? That’s about what it cost taxpayers. I’d like Coventry to get its club back. I think the club has been part of the city’s identity and I can remember back in 1987 when the club won the FA Cup. But equally, I’m not from Coventry, I don’t live in Coventry and I don’t pay my taxes to the city; so I don’t count. I think it’s the responsibility of the club’s owners to run the club in a way that doesn’t lean on taxpayers. Equally, I think the Ricoh owners have to be realistic and realize that the club is struggling so badly that it needs an even bigger discount on the rent, even if only for the short term. One thing is for sure: the club can’t possibly survive for much longer if it continues to play its home games at Northampton. Fans are alienated already and are showing no signs of changing.                                                                                          Q: Knowing what a media whore you are, I’m surprised you haven’t been on tv talking about this subject.
A: Er, I’m afraid you spoke too soon. I’m on this week’s Sunday Politics at 11.00am on BBC One, Sunday 22 June 2014. Sorry about that.

Sponsors care about Fifa’s corruption. Do fans?

FOOTBALL IS MORE ADDICTION THAN ATTRACTION

Qatar 2022: Fifa partner Sony call on governing body to investigate World Cup corruption claims

Q: Sony is demanding that Fifa “appropriately investigate” the corruption claims that have been flying about lately. What authority has Sony got?
A: The authority that comes when you pump $305 million per year into football, that’s about £182 million, enough to buy a pretty decent Premier League club, every year. So Fifa will take notice of this.
Q: I guess Fifa depends on corporations like Sony for sponsorship money then, eh?
A: And how. Coca-Cola and adidas have pumped money into Fifa for years. And more recently credit card giant Visa and Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, and Hyundai, the car manufacturer have joined them. They each sponsor Fifa. Collectively, they contribute probably close to £1 billion per year. The World Cup alone is expected to fetch Fifa $730 million, or about £445 million, in sponsorships. So Fifa will not want to get on their wrong side.
Q: But the sponsors have made noises before, haven’t they?
A: Yes. In 2011 when Fifa was in the middle of another corruption scandal, Visa said: “The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that Fifa take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised.” Coca-Cola, the single biggest sponsor, released a statement: “We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.” That was three years ago, remember. So they must be thinking Fifa have not just failed to resolve the matter, but have become involved into an arguably more serious episode — this one, as we know concerning the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. There could come a point at which the likes of adidas and Hyundai ask themselves: “Are we doing the image of the company any good by associating ourselves with a sport that is tainted?
Q: I suppose so, but, so far, only Sony has spoken up and the electronics giant hasn’t threatened to pull its money, has it?
A: No. That’s because Sony, Coca-Cola and the others are confident football is so incredibly popular that, by the time the World Cup is over, everyone will be feeling so jubilant that they’ll have forgotten about how dirty Fifa is.
Q: Are they right?
A: I suspect they are: Fifa has a habit of riding out these scandals and stay in tact. The reason is simple: fans don’t much care.
Q: You’re kidding, right? Fans surely care that the game they love is riddled with corruption, bribery, matchfixing, bungs and all sorts of other skulduggery.
A: Well, they know association football is endemically bent. But I’m not sure they care that much. I mean, once the big games start on Thursday, this crisis will vanish and all the fans will care about is the tournament. Tom Peck, of the Independent, wrote a biting story the other day, in which he suggested: “When the whistle finally blows in Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on Thursday night, a football-addicted planet will get its first sweet quadrennial pull on the World Cup crack pipe and all will be right again.” And I think he’s right. I’m not sure his conclusion is accurate: “It is this addiction that hides from the football fan the extraordinary truth.” Fans know the truth; they just don’t care that much.
Q: That’s a bit of a compliment with a criticism inside it, isn’t it?
A: Let’s put it this way: fans are clued-up, they know about the politics of the sport; but they also realize that, in practical terms, there isn’t much they can do about it.
Q: But, as we both know, there is.
A: I see what you’re getting at. Imagine if football fans decided to boycott, say, Budweiser beer, McDonalds, or Johnson & Johnson products. They’re all sponsors and stand to benefit from football’s greatest tournament. They could force change in the way in which the global game is run. Sony is probably aware of the potential impact of negative publicity and that’s why it’s put out this statement. Remember: some sponsors are quick to sever links with athletes who are convicted of doping offences: they think their brand will suffer by association. Others just ride out the storm, assuming sports fans are just not motivated enough to put their convictions into action. Are they really going to stop buying adidas gear or scissor their Visa cards?
Q: I’m asking the questions … are they?
A: No. I’m afraid I agree with Peck: football is more of an addiction than an attraction. I hate to say it, but I think this scandal will have been forgotten by the time the whistle blows to end England’s first game. All the same you have to wonder if anyone benefits from all this. I bet Nike, Pepsi, Toshiba, Burger King and the other rivals of Fifa’s main sponsors are having a quiet laugh. Nike, in particular, has opted to capitalize on the World Cup and other Fifa tournaments with ambush marketing and sponsoring national teams, like Brazil’s. But, as Nike has no direct link to Fifa, it won’t incur collateral damage. The others’ reputations are vulnerable.

Is it time for football to dump Fifa?

Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice, say fans


World Cup: FIFA in spotlight at first conference since corruption claims

The latest scandal to engulf Fifa is the most damaging in a long series of calamities that has underlined what most people already knew: that this is the most corrupt, venal, amoral, unprincipled sports organization in the world, staffed by mendacious, self-serving officers who prioritize their personal interests over those of the most popular game in the world – a game they are meant to govern with integrity.

Should we be surprised? Only if we are pathologically gullible. Fans are certainly not. My recently published book, with Jamie Cleland, Football’s Dark Side collects the views of over 10,000 fans on a variety of football related subjects, particularly corruption and bribery in the sport. Their conclusion is “Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice.”
With this in mind, fans have little hope that Fifa can ever reform. Is it beyond redemption? The timing of the latest leak could not be more damaging for Fifa, coming as it does barely a week before the opening of arguably the most prestigious tournament this side of the summer Olympic Games.
Illicit payments and underhand accounting involving present and former Fifa officials have now become commonplace. Fans have practically accepted that men they despise run the sport they love. But the latest vote-rigging story is breathtaking. Think about it: if true, it means that the destination of the World Cup is decided by a group of people, many of whom weigh up the alternatives purely by asking one question: “What’s in it for me?”
Everyone in and out of football knows that Qatar is wholly inadequate for staging a tournament such as the World Cup, no matter what time of the year. Russia too is woefully inappropriate in the light of its antigay legislation, which sits oddly and contradictorily with Fifa’s own equalities policies. Evaluated objectively and with a rational mind, neither bid would have progressed any further than the first round.
Now Fifa faces the prospect of re-voting. The likelihood of this happening is, actually, remote. After all Fifa is not subject to any overarching judicial panel or answerable to any other organization: it is a self-perpetuating club and can, if it wishes, ignore the scandal. Fifa’s President Sepp Blatter is well versed in the art of scandal management: he has navigated his way through many calamities over the years and emerged with his reputation in ruins, but his power base intact.
But this time is slightly different: he faces the probability that Fifa itself is shown to unequivocally corrupt. Even in the administration of its most prized tournament, it has abandoned integrity and awarded the tournament to the country that has greased most palms.
Of course the official report will not be published for about seven months and we should remind ourselves that we are dealing with leaked information. As such this information is still conditional. But the likelihood is that the leak is reliable and that Fifa will have to respond quickly. Resignations, forced or voluntary, are most probable. Blatter himself could theoretically order another vote. But what rational voter would change? It would almost be an admission of guilt. Chances are the voting would still yield the same result.
One thing is certain: Fifa is not, to use a phrase of today, fit for purpose. Other sports have created new governing organizations either to replace or as alternatives to existing regulators and this is possible. But the omens are not good: think about boxing, which now has several competing governors, all with their own champions. Tennis too has threatened to splinter at some points in history. Frankly, any organization that rose up in the wake of the latest scandal would be welcomed. But corruption follows money with the same inevitability as night follows day. It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine any organization charged with the responsibility of governing a major professional sport in which revenues are measured in billions will remain pure for long.

Have Fifa and Qatar done the rest a favour?

Qatar World Cup 2022 ‘revote’: Now Australia’s bid could face ethics investigators as Fifa rocked by corruption allegationsShould it go ahead the proposed World Cup will cost Qatar more than US$200 billion. Read it again: $200 billion, that’s £120 billion, or 147 billion euros. This by far eclipses the record-busting $57 billion Russia spent on the recent Sochi Winter Olympics. Even allowing for the fact that Qatar’s climate and its lack of football stadiums means additional spending, a World Cup tournament would cost any successful bidder about the same as the total trade between China and Africa for 2014.There is a widespread myth that global tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympic Games are valuable to a nation. Correction: they are valuable to strategically placed people who stand to profit either in terms of personal prestige (like Lord Coe) or from the political uplift (David Cameron et al.) and the heads of corporations, including construction companies, hotel chains and, of course, the media organizations that carry the events.But since 1976, when Montreal hosted the Olympics – and incurred a debt that took 30 years to pay off – global sports tournaments have hurt rather than helped the economies of host nations. Athens, for example, went broke shortly after the 2004 Olympics and needed the scale back dramatically spending on hospitals, schools and roads.The London Olympics cost … well, actually no one knows for certain, probably not even Lord Coe; but the most recent estimates suggest about £9 billion – an appreciable amount, but still only 4.5% of the 2022 World Cup. Host nations can’t possibly get close to breaking even and, even if sports fans argue there are intangible benefits, such as national pride, export boosts, infrastructural improvements and that old saw the “feelgood factor,” the price is often ruinously high. Add to this the security issues typically associated with high-profile events such as World Cups and you begin to understand why the negatives far outweigh the positives.So maybe the Aussies, Americans and English should be thankful that they were the victims of what now appears to have been a seriously flawed and apparently corrupt bidding process. Sometimes a cynic like me is forced to wonder if there is divine retribution.

WE’RE NOT AS RACIST AS NEW SURVEY SUGGESTS

Q: So, the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey has discovered nearly a third of people in Britain admitted being racist on some level. In 2001, that figure was just 25 per cent and researchers believe little headway is being made to tackle bigotry. Quite a sharp rise, eh?
A: Wait a second: always look at research carefully before you accept its findings. This is poorly-designed research. For a start, it’s a survey: a blunt instrument to try to explore what is, after all, a complex aspect of social life. And look at the question: “Would you describe yourself as very prejudiced/a little prejudiced against people of other races?” This is like something from a not-very-good research project in the 1960s. For a start, the concept of “race” has been so thoroughly discredited that it has no place in a serious research project. Then there is the phrase “prejudiced”: again, this is a term that seems seems straight from a time capsule.
Q: So you don’t like the way the research has been designed?
A: It’s not so much me: this research would not get past a peer review on a scholarly journal.
Q: What do you make of its major findings though? I mean, even if we substitute racism in place of “prejudice” would you agree with its conclusions in the broadest sense — are we becoming more racist?
A: Who are “we”? I suspect, when people ask the question, they mean whites. But the UK is not a white society: it is a genuinely multicultural society. OK, I know people will rush for my jugular and point out that whites dominate the major institutions in British society. They might also point out that most of the key positions are held by white men. I’m not naive enough to think racism and, for that matter, sexism are vestiges of the past. They continue to affect modern Britain, even in the 21st century. But do they affect society in the same way, with the same impact as thirty years ago?
Q: I see what you mean: 30 years ago, young African Caribbeans were rioting on the streets, weren’t they?
A: Yes, and there were what were called “Sus laws” that allowed for stop-and-searches that amounted to what we now call “racial profiling.” And Britain responded to this. I know equal opportunities policies were not perfect; but they did have some effect. And then there is the human rights legislation from Europe. It’s absurd to assume these have not changed British society.
Q: But the Stephen Lawrence enquiry in 1998 exposed institutional racism in the police, didn’t it?
A: Absolutely. As I said, I’m not denying racism exists. But its impact is diminishing. After the Lawrence case, Britain went through years of hand-wringing. There were improvements in policing: not the kind of improvements that were going to make all traces of racism disappear. But improvements just the same.
Q: You sound like a bit of a liberal. This is a surprise because I always associate you with cynicism.
A: But I think is ridiculous to keep repeating the same criticism. The world changes and we have to remain critical; but this means we have to change the critique to reflect the world. There isn’t such a thing as racism: there are several different racisms. I made this point way back in 1986 in my book The Logic of Racism (which, if I may offer a shameless plug, has just been re-published, though at a crazily high price). My point was that we were labouring with a misleading concept: racism was not a thing, it was a style of reasoning that, sometimes, affected the way people behaved. We can’t control human thoughts but we can manage behaviour and that’s what policies are designed to do. I’ve no doubt racisms still affect the way people behave, and I include language as a form of behaviour. But the negative consequences of that behaviour on people’s lives have been lessened. Anyway, the evidence of our senses tells us that people of different faiths, different cuisines, different lifestyles and so on, get along much more freely than they did even as recently as ten years ago. We now have a generation of people who are not afraid of cultural difference as their forebears were. They actually welcome difference. Cultural differences have enriched, not diluted British society.
Q: In sum, you completely dismiss this survey.
A: I do. I think it’s fatally flawed. It is like a study from another age. We shouldn’t take any notice of it. Don’t bury your head in the sand and kid yourself racism has vanished. But don’t be alarmed by this survey: it presents a distorted image of what Britain is like today. @elliscashmore

WORLD CUP WILL BE A MONTH-LONG ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Q: What’s this? The first World Cup ad?
A: Yes, adidas has launched the first commercial of its campaign and, as you can see, it’s provocative.
Q: Why provocative? I can recognize Kanye West on the soundtrack, but so what?
A: Because adidas have edited the track so that the references to “cocks” and “muthfuckas” and so on have been expunged.
Q: Perhaps that will make adidas appear edgy and appeal to the demographic they want. But, hang on a minute: doesn’t Kanye do something similar for adidas’s arch rivals Nike?
A: He did. Last year, he switched to adidas: the terms of the new deal mean that, just after the World Cup, there will be a new lines of shoes and apparel bearing the Kanye West imprimatur.
Q: Eh? What’s an imprimatur?
A: A sort of personal guarantee. West licences out his name. Most A-list celebs do this sort of thing nowadays. It’s pretty standard practice: you’ll notice Kanye West-themed adidas gear everywhere.
Q: I can see the logic of this if an athlete endorses the clothes and shoes. I mean, Nike and Michael Jordan was the most productive marketing tie-up in history. But Kanye West is a musician. What’s he got to do with sportsgear?
A: The only thing that matters is that consumers know and identify with West. Precisely what he’s known for is irrelevant. Sports stars are used to advertise all sorts of products that have nothing to do with sport. Musicians can reverse the process. Anyway adidas has done its homework: the company will know its customers like and follow West.
Q: It’s clever marketing for West too, I suppose.
A: Definitely. He’s trailing the new track “God Level” in an ad that is going to be seen and heard globally. So it’s effective advertising for him as well as adidas. It’s called cross-promotion. Advertising today combines products in such a way that the consumer isn’t expected to know it’s actually an ad at all: they just immerse themselves in the video. In this sense, I think you’d have to conclude the new ad is successful.
Q: This is the first seriously big ad campaign, isn’t it?
A: Yes, over the next couple of months, we are all — and I mean everybody in the world — going to be bombarded with ads for so many products it will make our heads spin. The World Cup is, on one level, a sports tournament; on another level, it is an marketing extravaganza. It has become such a globally popular event that advertisers know they can get the attention of literally millions. Fifa has been criticised for inflating viewing figures, but there is still nothing to touch the World Cup when it comes to bringing viewers to their screens; and remember people will be watching on portable devices too this time. You also have to remind yourself that the advertising doesn’t stop when the whistle goes. Hoardings will display ads for the whole game, players will wear branded footwear and, on commercial tv, halftime breaks will be crammed with advertising. Britain’s ITV will probably charge £300,000 for 30-second slots during the pregame, halftime and postgame intervals.
Q: I hate to bring this up, but it strikes me that when we are watching the games, the advertising will still be working on us.
A: Which leads us to ask: are we being entertained by the competition, or are we being sold stuff? The answer is, as you’ve already guessed: both. Everything comes with a price tag, right? Even watching a game on commercial-free BBC will implicate you in an advertising interaction. Consumption doesn’t just mean buying products for their use: it’s become a relationship through which we gratify ourselves and, strange as it seems, make our selves. Things are parts of our identities. adidas may sell products, but they also provide identity accoutrements.
@elliscashmore

 

Sport’s Doping Problem: A Rational Solution — Allow Drugs

Time: July 13, 1967. Place: Mont Ventoux, southern France. Event: Tour de France. Twenty-nine-year-old British rider Tom Simpson was lying seventh overall when the 13th stage of the race set off from Marseilles. The temperature was well over 40°C (105°F) but Simpson was an experienced competitor, having turned professional 10 years before, and would presumably pace himself. Unexpectedly, he slowed almost to a halt, wobbled and veered to his right. Helpers, sensing his distress, rushed to help as Simpson fell from his cycle (footage of the fall is still viewable at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=e4viqf-qL9I).

From the archive, 14 July 1967: Simpson dies after collapse on Tour

Simpson appeared to lose consciousness as he fell; he never recovered and died. Three tubes were found in Simpson’s pocket, one full of amphetamines, and two empties. The British team’s luggage was searched and more supplies of the pills were found. At the time, the drugs element did not cause the sensation that might be expected today: the death itself was of most concern. In continental Europe, there was substantial and open advocacy of the use of stimulants to alleviate the strain of long-distance cycling. There is little doubt that many of the leading contenders in the 1967 and other tours were taking amphetamines. Seven years before, in a less publicized tragedy, another cyclist, Knut Jensen collapsed during an Olympic race and later died in hospital where amphetamine was found in his system. (His was the second Olympic death after Portuguese marathon runner Francisco Lazaro died from heatstroke in 1912.)

Simpson’s death occasioned soul-searching among Tour organizers. It was not the first time they had considered the use of stimulants. A tentative attempt in the previous year to introduce drug testing was opposed by leading cyclists, including the five-times Tour winner Jacques Anquetil, who told the publication France-Dimanche: “Yes, I dope myself. You would be a fool to imagine that a professional cyclist who rides 235 days a year in all temperatures and conditions can hold up without a stimulant” (see Mignon, 2003). Interestingly, Simpson was not denounced as a cheat at the time; his death opened up a rather different discourse about the perils of drug taking rather than the morality of it.

The case presaged a new era in sport: 2 years later, limited drugs testing was trialed at the Mexico Olympics and, during the 1970s, track and field and other sports introduced penalties for those who fell foul of the new rules. Antidoping policies have since been adopted by every major sport. As a measure of their effectiveness, consider the Tour de France results 52 years after Simpson’s death. The winner of the race Alberto Contador was subsequently banned for 2 years and stripped of his 2010 Tour title for a doping violation. The third placed rider was Lance Armstrong. The lesson is unambiguous: doping control has failed. A more rational approach, one that is more congruent with the reality of sports in the twenty-first century and one that would make sports immeasurably safer is to permit doping. Competitors could then be treated as rational decision-makers, capable of evaluating evidence and making informed choices—rather than internees.

The Fallout from Corporatization
After the Simpson tragedy, cycling’s governing body the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) might have sought a way of distinguishing the illegal recreational substances that have little or no relevance to sport from the performance enhancing materials that were thought to promote athletic performance. They could have accepted that the substances used by athletes were a response to the changing demands of professional sport and sought policies that attempted to safeguard the welfare of competitors without trying to extirpate the use of what later became known as performance enhancing substances. Instead, it continued to lump them together under the rubric of “drugs”—a term that still evokes images of crack-addicted mothers who sell their babies and murderous Medellín cartel dealers operating in a continent of violence.In the decades that followed—particularly after the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles—commercial sponsors increasingly used sports as marketing vehicles, inviting some to coin the term corporatization to describe the hijacking of what was once a wholesome competitive endeavor. So reliant were many sports on the largess from sponsors, that a withdrawal could have been ruinous. Brands such as McDonalds and Coca-Cola paid generously to have their names associated with a pursuit that resonates health, cleanliness, and purity. How would they have reacted if sport allowed “drugs”? When sports governing bodies resolve to clamp down harder on drug users, it is for the benefit of its sponsors more than either the competitors or the fans. Antidoping policy is expensive, ineffectual, unproductive, futile, and a denial of the athletes’ freedoms. Athletes from across the spectrum have made their intentions signally clear: they will continue to defy the most stringent tests and stay ahead of the curve, always leaving testers lagging in their quest to eliminate doping. A sensible response and one that would render sport safer and consistent with competition today is: to remove the banned substances list and allow athletes to make informed and intelligent choices as to whether or not they wish to take performance-enhancing substances. After all, sport practically incites competitors; let me explain.Typically, athletes use dope not to cheat but to remain competitive. Andrea Petróczi and Eugene Aidman submit: “Athletes today are expected and encouraged to seek every possible way to improve their performance, including specialized training, hi-tech design of equipment and apparel, scientific and medical support, including the use of nutritional supplements” (Petróczi & Aidman, 2008: pp 2).Petróczi and Aidman’s research moves beyond this, however. Among the reasons cited for taking performance-enhancing drugs (not recreational) are: perceived external pressure, suspicion that rivals are using something, painkilling, meeting the physical demands of training. Most competitors would prefer to compete drug-free; many are still prepared to use drugs, provided the substance is undetectable. Some do not see drugs in sport as being a problem and accept that drugs are part of their training regime. Petróczi and Aidman conclude that athletes typically agonize over whether to dope, trying to anticipate what their rivals will do. Their findings find support from the Olympic discus thrower Werner Reiterer, who, in his (2000) autobiography, reflects on how he found himself caught on the horns of the same dilemma: “The minority of athletes who are natural are at a disadvantage,” Reiterer believes. “You must adapt to an environment as it is, not as you think it should be.” His adaptation was to use.

The framework proposed by Petróczi and Aidman makes this type of adaptation intelligible. “Doping practices grow out of habitual engagement in a range of acceptable performance enhancement (PE) practices, such as physiotherapy, advanced nutrition, training techniques, specialized equipment and apparel” ( Petróczi & Aidman, 2008: pp 3). They also happen in a particular kind of environment in which there are effective, pharmaceutically produced drugs that are easily available and in which people habitually use “drugs to assist with aspects of life.” They presumably have in mind drugs that work on the body’s neurotransmission system: the most widely prescribed antidepressant is fluoxetine, better known by its commercial name Prozac. The ethos of organized sport is also part of the environment and, when Petróczi and Aidman point out, “the aim is winning, being the best or setting/breaking a record,” they might also add: making money and becoming a celebrity.

The Dilemmas of Rational Calculators
Petróczi and Aidman’s research alerts us to the culture and mentality of competitors, who strive to achieve and habitually face the decision about whether to engage in “functional drug use,” which “refers to a strategic use of substance to achieve a set goal (i.e. to improve a function or skill)” (Petróczi & Aidman, 2008: pp 6). As such, functional use should not be confused with “experimental, recreational, or dependent use (abuse/addiction).” Petróczi and Aidman’s approach highlights the “vulnerability” of athletes as they progress through a sports life-cycle: at various stages, they make key choices, commitments about goals, investments in training and comparisons, asking themselves questions such as, “have you got what you hoped for?” “has the plan worked?” and “what is next?” At every stage, influences from coaches, friends, fans, and perhaps the media shape decision-making. Remember the background: a highly competitive and possibly remunerative, win-oriented culture in which supplements and pharmaceuticals are habitually used. Not even the most stringent antidrugs policy can remove this.Research by Peter Strelan and Robert J. Boeckmann is also predicated on the assumption that competitors, like most humans, are “rational calculators who, with the benefit of time and reflection, make decisions designed to be of net benefit to themselves. Most athletes’ decisions to use banned substances are presumably rational” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2912)Strelan and Boeckmann found that half of athletes in their study indicated there was some likelihood that they would use a performance-enhancing drug for rehabilitation purposes” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2923). Their commitment was so strong that they believed using a banned substance was a “viable response to a career-threatening situation.” Viable is an interesting choice of word: it suggests that the response was regarded as workable, a feasible way out of a tough predicament.So what are athletes thinking when they make their decisions? Moral beliefs and health concerns, according to Strelan and Boeckmann. The deterrent effect of legal sanctions and the disgrace involved is not nearly so effective as WADA and sports governing organizations apparently assume. The proliferating number of undetectable or designer drugs means that laws against drugs are impossible to fully implement and “unenforceable laws are less able to convey the moral or social threats required to inhibit behavior” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2926).But, if competitors are “most likely to be deterred by their moral beliefs,” as Strelan and Boeckmann contend, where do those moral beliefs come from? Conceptions of rightness and wrongness are variable: they change over time and through space. Strelan and Boeckmann answer: “The ban on performance-enhancing drugs in sport reflects society’s view that performance-enhancing drug use in sport is both morally wrong and potentially harmful to the individual” (Strelan & Boeckmann, 2006: pp 2925).But, this is easily changed: if the laws against drug use did not exist, then athletes would know they could use performance-enhancers with impunity and would not believe they were engaging in an act that violated morality.

While the governing bodies continue to outlaw pharmaceutically produced substances, athletes are forced to engage in clandestine arrangements, procuring “doping agents” from unknown sources and taking them in amounts and for periods that may prove detrimental to their health. A morally honest policy would permit doping, but invite athletes to disclose whatever substances they have used. Sports organizations could then commission research and advise athletes on what is most effective and in what quantities and at what intervals it can safely be ingested. Remember: antidoping policies were initially designed to protect the health of athletes.

The Protean Concept of Fair Play
There are no moral absolutes in sport. Definitions of cheating and fair play are protean: they change perpetually. Today’s athletes use air-inflated soles on their spikes, rather than flats; they run on fast artificial surfaces, not cinders; they wear aerodynamic body suits rather than baggy shirts. And, of course, they train; this would have been tantamount to cheating in the early nineteenth century. Polyurethane swimwear was fair, at least until 2009 when Fina (Fédération Internationale de Natation), aquatic sports’ governing federation, declared it unfair and illegal.Even today, there are mystifying contradictions. For example, in December 2013, the football player Jan Vertonghen, then playing for London’s Tottenham Hotspur, used a legal technique, known as PRP (platelet-rich plasma): a sample of his blood was taken to remove the platelets—the cells that assist the healing process–and then injected them back into his injured ankle (Hirst, 2013). Tiger Woods and Rafa Nadal have also used this “blood spinning” technique. But the injection of their own oxygenated blood into athletes before an event, a process known as blood doping, is a punishable violation. There appears to be little consistency.We contentedly allow, even recommend some types of aids to today’s athletes, yet instantly condemn those athletes if traces of a banned substance are detected. Yet the inconsistencies multiply. If an Olympic archer uses contact lenses to assist his or her performance, we let it pass. If he or she takes a beta-blocker to steady their nerves, we suspend them. The hypocrisy of track and field, in particular, is apparent every season when athletes are given huge cash incentives to break records or remain unbeaten on the Diamond League circuit, yet denied the right to maximize their athletic effort. The kind of “dope” favored by athletes is not some sort of magic elixir: it merely enables them to train harder and for longer and so become more adept at a discipline.Doping of some kind has been commonplace since the inaugural Olympics of 776 BC. “While the violation of Olympic rules was dealt with harshly in the ancient games, it does not appear that the use of drugs and other substances to improve athletic performance was considered cheating,” write Yesalis and Bahrke (2002: pp 43). It was probably going on during the early twentieth century, an age about which many rhapsodize. But the chariots of fire have long since bolted. The joy of competing for competition’s sake has ceded place to a winner-takes-all mentality, cultivated by professionalism. This has been made possible by corporate sponsorship on a scale that makes the World Bank envious. One of the reasons corporate sponsors turned to sport from the mid-1980s was because rock stars and movie actors were too prone to embarrassing transgressions. That must be a question that weighs heavily on the minds of sport’s administrators. Somehow, they must persuade sponsors and the public that the pharmaceutical materials typically taken by athletes are not drugs, at least not in the way they are popularly conceived.1The alternative is to persist in the self-defeating search for ever more sophisticated and comprehensive tests to detect substances that probably do not even have a name at the moment. Already, the costs of detection are punishingly high. There will come a point at which the kind of surveillance and inspection required to monitor athletes will be just too expensive; the corporations will have to be persuaded that radical change is the only way forward.This provides little comfort to idealists who still hark after the amateur ideals. They may abominate the prospect of their children aspiring to achieve in a profession in which doping is extensive. I sense that parents today are no longer dissuading their kids from going into sport. The lure of lucre has made it appear to be a feasible and rewarding career. Would they think twice if they anticipated their offspring would soon be using performance enhancers, if only to remain competitive in an environment in which athletes have carte blanche?

My feeling is that it would not make any difference. After all, the only reason we regard performance enhancement as dirty is because we have rarely been encouraged to question the present policies. Many of the products on the banned list are available over the counter and most are accessible with a prescription. They are no dirtier than the kind of products the nation is habituated to taking every day. Those parents who insist they would not, need to remind themselves that the future they deplore is actually already with us. Sanctimoniously denying it by claiming, “we are winning the war on drugs” remains a deception. This is no policy of surrender, only an acknowledgement that, like every other feature of culture, sport changes and develops.

  • (2013) Tottenham to use controversial blood-spinning technique to speed Jan Vertonghen return. Independent (UK) December 11. Retrieved February 26, 2014, from ind.pn/1k6IIgx
  • (2003). The Tour de France and the doping issue. International Journal of the History of Sport, 20(2), 227245.
  • , & (2008). Psychological drivers in doping: The life-cycle model of performance enhancement. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 3(7), 112.
  • (2000). Positive: An Australian Olympian reveals the inside story of drugs and sport. Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia.
  • , & (2006) Why drug testing in elite sport does not work: Perceptual deterrence theory and the role of personal moral beliefs. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(12), 29092934.
  • , (2002). History of doping in sport. International Sports Studies, 24(1), 4276.

1Editor’s note. There have been and are many definitions of “drugs” throughout history; religious (sacramental substances), social (recreational drugs), medicinal (consensualized medicines for treating and/or preventing consensualized conditions or diseases), legal (“dangerous drugs”), economic (commodities), political (“War on Drugs”), and scientific-pharmacological (any active chemical which effects the functioning or structure of a living organism) amongst others. Each is based on its own criteria, used by their stakeholders with targeted populations, for specific agendas and goals and with particular implications and consequences.

Read More: This article will be published in the next issue of Substance Use & Misuse http://informahealthcare.com/eprint/wghAT4X43AiArd27MsXv/full#_i5

Q: How should we deal with racism in sport? A: Learn from the NBA

Q: So what’s all the fuss about with the National Basketball Association and this guy Don Sterling?
A: Sterling is the owner of the NBA club Los Angeles Clippers. He has a supermodel girlfriend (pictured with him above), who apparently invited African American friends to games. Sterling, it seems, told her not to bring them. The league got to hear about this and took a very dim view.
Q: I guess the NBA punished him, eh?
A: And how! The league hit him with a $2.5 million (about £1.5m) fine and banned him for life. So he can’t go near his own club now. The NBA also says he must sell the Clippers.
Q: What’s the club worth?
A: $575 million, according to Forbes magazine.
Q: Wow! Can the NBA actually force him to sell?
A: This remains to be seen. Remember: this is the land of the free and home of the brave and private property is at the heart of the American ethos. Sterling’s lawyers will be preparing to challenge the NBA’s decision. He can afford the fine, but he’ll almost certainly want to keep his club. There is bound to be a long legal struggle ahead.
Q: Does the punishment fit the crime?
A: It’s certainly an extremely harsh punishment, unparalleled in sport history. His comments are not directly abusive, but they are racist by inference. Compared to some of the incidents we’ve seen in football, they are relatively mild. Don’t get me wrong: you can extrapolate the racism from his remarks, but in Europe players and fans openly mouth racist language and use Twitter to convey racist epithets. The nearest case to this one was in 2007 when Spain’s head coach Luis Aragonés was caught on camera referring to the then Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as “that black shit.”
Q: And how did Uefa, football’s European governing organization, react?
A: A £2,000 fine, which Aragonés later successfully appealed.
Q: But that was seven years ago. Uefa and football’s world governing federation Fifa are tougher on racism now, right?
A: Last October, Uefa ordered the partial closure of CSKA Moscow’s stadium for one game following racist chanting directed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. Only last week, Uefa said it wasn’t able to take action against a fan who threw a banana at Barcelona player Dani Alves because it was up to the Spanish federation to act.
Q: This sounds almost unbelievably soft in comparison with the NBA approach.
A: It is. You have to remember: nearly 77% of the National Basketball Association’s players are African American. The league is embarrassed because only one club has an African American owner.
Q: That would be Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, right?
A: Correct. Nearly half the coaches in the league are black, but the NBA would like more ownership profile to look a bit more like the player profile. You also have to think that a lot of basketball fans are black. So the NBA is understandably sensitive about any hint of racism, especially at the top.
Q: Finally, do you think football has anything to learn from this?

A: Racism has been in football since the late 1970s and the sport has never successfully managed to rid itself of what has become its most bedevilling problem. No other sport has struggled with racism in the same way as the so-called beautiful game — which is the most multicultural sport in history, of course. The NBA’s approach seems to be this: stamp down hard on the first evidence of racism in the most dramatic, emphatic way it legally can, and this will send out a clear message. Football has been lily-livered and the message it’s been sending out is: “racism is unpleasant, but we have other priorities; so we’ll dole out minor fines or close parts of stadiums and hope this will suffice.” It won’t. I’m not saying it should take clubs away from owners, but a fine of £1.5m for a first offence and perhaps suspension from European competition for a few years might have the required effect.