Friday, August 31, 2012

Should 45 really be the age cap?

Maybe because I am quickly approaching this age served as my inspiration for writing this article.

Maybe it was watching Jens Voigt win stage 4 of the USA Pro Cycling Tour, or pull on the KOM jersey. He will be 41 Soon.

Maybe it was watching Chris Horner finish 13th in the TdF, 93rd in the Olympics two weeks later, and two weeks after that 13th in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, where he helped RSNT win a the team classification as well. He will be 41 soon too.

I can go on, and on, and on about elite level athletes that are not 20 somethings, or even 30 somethings but take a look here at 40 something Olympic athletes. There were even more than a few medals won by folks in that age range too.

Now you may say that some of these events, almost anyone could compete as there is not a ton of "athleticism" needed. Shooting is a good example where you need to be very skilled, but not particularly aerobically fit. Ah, but what about tennis, equestrian, or yes, soccer.

So, if one can be 40+, or even 50+ and Olympic fit, why does FIFA limit the age of referees to 45?

I don't think it can reasonably be seen as a fitness thing anymore. Take a look at Joel Friel's blog on aging athletes. In particular, The Aging Athlete - My First 68 Years. The data just is not there that after 45, you drop off a cliff in fitness.

Fit is fit, and if you can attain, and maintain it, there should be no reason why a referee should not be able to work matches. US Soccer has actually almost got themselves into some trouble over this from a veteran MLS referee, Marcel Yonan. While that case was tossed (opinion here), as age discrimination is not a factor in dealing with independent contractors, such as referees, it likely sent the correct message to the Federation ... even old referees should be able to work in MLS.

Take a look here for a brief debate on the topic from UEFA:


Then again, and the point is made in the video, 45 may be perfect to "go out on top" as many of us don't know when to quit. Just look at me and my cycling ...

I still think 45 is too young though, and the wily veteran referee has a special place in the international game today. They should not be excluded just because of an incorrect perception that us old folk are not fit anymore.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

MLS In Lance Armstrong's Corner

Donors standing by Lance's foundation

NEW YORK (AP)
Lance Armstrong's reputation may be in tatters but in the eyes of corporate and individual donors, his charity still wears an unsullied yellow jersey.

Armstrong announced last week he would no longer fight the doping allegations that have dogged him for years. He was subsequently stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles and banned from professional cycling. ...

See the whole story here, from Fox Sports.

Kicking Back Comments: From the article:

"And the home of Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City will continue to be called Livestrong Sporting Park. The club, which has promised to donate $7.5 million in stadium revenues to Armstrong's foundation over six years, says it will not consider renaming the Kansas City, Kan., venue."

I had a tough time convincing Anon the other week about how folks would separate the alleged drug cheat from the philanthropist. It would seem form this report, that is exactly is what is happening, and indeed is rallying support for Livestrong.

I'm glad to se it personally, as I have shared here, regardless of if the man cheated, or created a ring of cheaters, he is doing great stuff now, and should be recognized for that.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Qatar in the hot seat

FIFA investigates: World Cup host Qatar in the hot seat

Three major investigations into corruption in global soccer are putting the credibility of major soccer associations and World Cup 2022 host Qatar to the test and could challenge the Gulf state’s successful bid as well as a massive Asian soccer rights contract.

World soccer body FIFA’s newly-appointed corruption investigator Michael Garcia announced this week that he would investigate the controversial awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar as well as the 2018 tournament to Russia. FIFA Independent Governance Committee head Mark Pieth concluded earlier that the awarding of two the events had been “insufficiently investigated." ...

See the whole story here, from playthegame.org.

Kicking Back Comments: Bah. It's not nearly hot enough yet for Qatar, whose average daytime temperature is about 101F this time of year. Great place for a World Cup ...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Uh Oh ...

FIFA to review the awarding of 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar

The new chief of the FIFA Ethics Committee has pledged to put the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar under scrutiny.

The awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany will also be thoroughly analyzed as part of the inquiries. The newly-appointed joint chief investigator of FIFA’s ethics committee Michael Garcia, made the comments on German television. ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of RT.com.

Kicking Back Comments: Interesting, but at the end of the day I think the decisions will stand. I believe these have the best hope of a thorough investigation, and no doubt some noise, and maybe even a Blatter "retirement" will come out of it, but little else.

Too much time will have gone by and money changed hands for FIFA to reasonably yank the tournament certainly from Russia, and likely not from Qatar.

Kudos to the ethics committee of FIFA however, for even being willing to open Pandora's Box with regard to this matter.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lance Armstrong Has Won the War

This one has been stewing in me for the last couple of days. I have gone through a range of emotions from shock and disappointment when Madame X  whispered "Lance quit" in my ear Friday morning, to anger wondering why he quit with Jr. asking me the same thing Friday morning, to elation when I really starting thinking about what the result of Lance refusing to go to arbitration means.

First, let me be clear about my position on steroids, blood manipulation, and the like. They are bad, and even deadly if not used properly. The USADA I believe, serves a legitimate function is assuring that young athletes understand this, and keep those substances and practices out of their growing bodies.

Next, let me equally clear that I believe the USADA has completely exceeded its mandate generally, and with regard to the Lance Armstrong investigation, and is indeed, in Lance's words, on a witch hunt.

In the end, because of the USADA's Travis Tygart singular focus, and what would appear to be personal axe to grind, Lance by refusing to enter arbitration has dealt a death blow to the USADA and Mr. Tygart.

Now a bunch of the bobble heads out there, aside from getting the reporting all wrong, have stated that by Lance not going to arbitration, is an admission of guilt. Some would say implied, some say directly. Some even say stupidly, like the WADA chief John Fahey, who frankly should know better, or if not should really be relieved of his post.

All are wrong, and here's why.

One of the largest arguments that Lance has made all along is regarding the procedure which the USADA follows ... arbitration, and how he believes it is fundamentally unfair.

Well, as the Hon. Sam Sparks held, it is not. There are enough due process safeguards that allow it to pass muster as protecting the process that is due. Is it robust? No, certainly not as the USADA's record in arbitration is 58-2 as I talked about in Back to Arbitration?

Here's the kick about arbitration though ... you don't have to go. The USADA has exactly zero ability to compel (in the legal context) someone to appear before them to give evidence. I think lots of folks are confused, or just don't know, the difference between a criminal court, and a government organization that has limited powers. While Congress created the USADA, it did not make them a "court of sport." By Lance not appearing, it is not a nolo contendere plea, which is generally seen as an admission of guilt. It is just a choice not to appear.

I wonder if Mr. Tygart is having CAS envy?

Not only can the USADA not compel Lance to appear and give testimony, but they can not relive Lance of his TdF titles. That folks is in the sole purview of the UCI, and from what I have heard (plant tongue in cheek because everyone has heard it) the UCI and USADA are not exactly getting along these days. How likely do we really think it is the UCI will enforce a USADA request?

Even past rider Indurain is saying "... the tour victories are his ... " and are seeing the USADA's investigation as many have ... being "... without scruples ... ."

So now what? Why do I think that Lance has won the war? It comes down to a few simple points.

1. He provides no further information (note I do not say evidence) to the USADA regarding the matter.
    This has the following beneficial effects for Lance and team:
  • Without this information, the case against Johan Burynell get's much thinner, and may indeed fall apart without it. If there was any actual physical evidence, Tygart would have delivered it personally to folks "... like a grim little Santa Claus ... ."
  • It keeps longtime teammates off the stand, and out of trouble. Guys like Big George, Levi, DZ who would have been slapped with a minor sentence for doping as quid pro quo for testifying against Lance. Let's face it, it would have really killed everyone to see that, and frankly Tyler and Floyd are not credible even in USADA's eyes to make this case. It's not going to happen now.
2. He can stop spending money on the matter as there is nothing left for him to do, and again as the
    USADA is essentially toothless to bring an action to Lance, it is the end of the litigation line.

3. He can get on with his life. Litigation take a toll folks as many of us know. It would seem, Lance
    is more at ease now than ever before.

4. He may not, and in my opinion, will not, lose his TdF titles as the UCI will steer clear of that. Not
    only because of the tiff with the USADA, but all the 2nd place riders from those 7 TdF have doping
    issues of their own ... and it is reasonable to ask ... where is the USADA enema on those guys?

5. It denies the media more red meat. To say that the media have generally been unkind is an
    understatement. They have been in some cases, just down right grizzly and hide under the "well
    he's a cheat now" blanket to bash him senseless. Some of the best ones are slightly more neutral such
    as that from Samuel Abt, in "Rip Lance Time."

6. It denies Ahab his whale. By walking away, Lance has won the war because Mr. Tygart is toothless
    to do anything else. It very simply will never come out. So all this time Ahab has been chasing that
    whale is for naught. No ticker tape parade, no head on a mantel, nothing. Even as the camera lights
    dim on Mr. Tygarts 15 minutes, he continues to try to make deals with Armstrong to "go easy" on
    on him. What do you think Lances' reaction is to that?

7. While reaction from the media has been negative, reaction from us common folk has been positive,
    in the majority. Heck, most folks don't care if he doped, or the ring of doping he was accused of
    setting up. They care that his is a cancer survivor, and is helping people through Livestrong, and
    will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

So with all of this, Lance has won the war. It may be uncomfortable for a bit, and his image may take a hit for a short time, but I don't think it will be too long.

At the end of the day, he's just a man that rides a bike, who has survived cancer, and absolutely no one can take that away from him, not even Ahab.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

On Means In ?! It Just Might Work

For those of who who know him, or know of him, George Cumming lead the FIFA referee program, lead and consulted on several Olympics and World Cups, and oh yeah, help revise the Laws Of The Game in points of his career.

It suffices to say he is an expert, renowned, and respected on The Game.

In his blog George Cumming's Football Blog, he writes about a variety of topics about The Laws, various incidents, and soccer pop culture in general. His writings are very good, and his site is also linked to the right, as I have noted before.

Recently with all the discussion of GLT and FIFA stating they will adopt it, he came out with a couple of posts that I thought were really insightful, and one that was way out of the box thinking, that was really, really clever.

His first, Goal line technology for .01% of world football, I think is a simple, yet eloquent recitation of the reality of FIFA's decision is on GLT.

His second, Is it time to think outside the box?, is a devilishly clever idea to twist The Laws slightly to possible avoid much of the controversy. It is "out of the box" as he says, but worth considering.

Both are good reads to put GLT into perspective that we will start to see soon around the globe.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Should We Punish the Undeserving?

So for today, take a look at the NYT article, "Soccer Punishment That Is Undeserved."

It details the return of David Villa, and his return from a broken leg last December. In doing so however, Rob Hughes, reporting for the NYT, takes a somewhat circuitous route through the referee José Luis González, and FIFA.

He describes the incident from the recent Barcelona and Real Sociedad match where, Villa scored, removed his jersey, and displayed a touching sentiment to his family with their picture, and the words "Impossible Without You", clearly referring to his time recuperating from injury.

Villa wanted to make that statement, and knew that González would caution him for it as required by FIFA under Law 4, IBD 1, which states in whole:

Decision 1
Players must not reveal undergarments showing slogans or advertising. The basic compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements. A player removing his jersey or shirt to reveal slogans or advertising will be sanctioned by the competition organiser. The team of a player whose basic compulsory equipment has political, religious or personal slogans or statements will be sanctioned by the competition organiser
(sic) or by FIFA.

Clear enough, as is FIFA's stance that such offenses will be cautioned by the referee. This is not a suprise to anyone, FIFA, Villa, González, me, or Hughes, who clearly does not call for blaming the referee, but FIFA. His comment, I found rang of some truth:

"It all smacks of a game ruled by people who never played, or forgot how it felt to do so."

Now, for those who read me here, you know I'm not a fan of zero tolerance anything. I do feel for FIFA on this one however as without the very tough stance on this topic, I think it could run away from them significantly. I can see it now, a FIFA blue ribbon panel who has to meet every Monday to decipher what was shown on various T-Shirts around the globe.

Yes I am being a little silly, but there may be some reality in there. It is easier to ban it outright than clean up the mess after. Now there was another part that was interesting to me on another level. From the article:

"Villa, now age 30, could miss a vital game later this season if he receives another yellow card."

Hmmm ... this works on (2) levels. First is that FIFA would be absurd if they held Villa to task for such a gesture. Understanding what it was about ... and who wouldn't, FIFA should see fit to waive any such possible punishment understanding the extraordinary nature of the comment Villa was making. If FIFA does not, shame on FIFA.

On another level, remember those speculative cautions we were talking about earlier in "Should We Punish the Innocent?" Now we see that such speculative cautions can have such an impact (not that this one was ... it was an earned caution) are we as referees willing to guess at what may or may not have been a dive, and book a player for their acting?

I am still very unsure about that, and don't believe referees should guess given the dire consequences players can face if we as referees get it wrong.

That said, I think FIFA, or the relevant competition authority should have the ability to correct such decisions  after the fact (e.g. waive the caution to make a player eligible, or in the alternative, add points if a player dove), and take consideration of incidents such as Villa's where the caution was required, but the man should suffer no other ill effects from such a warranted emotional display.

In that way, as referees are asked to "feel the game", so to should the competition authorities, and on that point I am in Mr. Hughes corner that many on such disciplinary committees have no sense at all what Feeling The Game is all about.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should We Punish the Innocent?

To put this in context, take a look at, "Keep the heat on cheats", from Mirror Football.

It details that to wrongly book players who may not be actually cheating is alright, so long as it is done for the "right reason" of doing so for The Game.

I'm not so sure I agree with this personally.

Trust me, I get that a referee can make mistakes. I have made whoppers throughout my career from the local U6 match, all the way up to the international friendlies I was involved in. Making mistakes in a match is unavoidable, and I found an attitude of "try your best, and fix the rest" was particularly helpful. One can always get better.

There is nothing wrong in my estimation to book a player for something, like a dive, when you genuinely believe in your heart of hearts the player dove. In my career I found myself asking these players often, after the match, if it was, or was not a dive. Some answered honestly, some did not, some declined to answer fearing it would taint my opinion the next time I saw them. In all cases I was trying to learn what goes into a good dive.

If however you are not sure, bringing out a "speculative caution" is a big risk. It alters the management of the match in a big way, and if not really earned, places an undue burden on the cautioned player. Let's face it, a player generally plays differently when playing with a caution, than without.

This also does not take into consideration, at some levels, fines, sanctions, or even suspensions that can occur to a player who has accumulated "points" by so many cautions. Is that fair to punish a player for something they may or may not have done?

Where I believe however, this is at its most dangerous, and referees will not go, is if a player is already under a cation in a match, and commits an offence that, without the previous caution, would have resulted in one, but now with a caution already, a "speculative caution" will likely fail to appear. I just don't think referees will go there.

Where is the consistency there? If a player should be booked, book them. Even if this "speculative booking" should take place, send them off. Right?

I don't think they will because a send off materially changes the match, and to speculate, even for noble reasons, about a players motive, is not appropriate.

In short, the ends (of eradicating diving in players by cautioning) do not justify the means (of speculatively cautioning, or sending off these players).

It's a laudable goal, but I think to guess, and have a handy excuse from the league, is intellectually lazy in this case. If you think they dove, caution them. If you don't know, let them be. If you make a mistake in judging, shame on the player, not the referee. But, the referee should learn form it, not just duck under a handy made excuse.

Now, in speaking out the other side of my mouth, there are times when I think this IS appropriate. Particularly, in offside decisions that are just that close.

We have heard it before, if there is doubt, leave the flag down. This is to promote the attacking nature of The Game.

One in the same? Maybe.

One big distinction to me is that a speculative caution causes harm to individual players that is unrecoverable in the course of the match, where allowing a goal can certainly be harmful to a team, but is generally recoverable in a match.

A fine line distinction ... yes. One I personally can live with though as I have a very difficult time justifying booking a player when I am not really sure if they did it or not.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Henery : Liverpool == Soros : ?

Man U?!?!?

George Soros Is Manchester United’s Latest Fan

Kicking Back Comments:
You have to read it (from the WSJ) to believe it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Back to Arbitration?

In a non-suprise of a result, as I opined here in "USADA in trouble on Armstrong?", that Hon. Sam Sparks would rule on procedure, and not on merits.

In his 30 page ruling, that is exactly what he did, and set up the case of the century on jurisdiction between the USADA and UCI, which is likely to wind up in CAS lap later this year.

One aspect that surprised the crap out of me was US Cycling seeming about face in agreeing that UCI should have jurisdiction on the matter, not USADA. This was filed as a late information to the case before Judge Sparks ruled on it August 20.

That said, there was plenty to go around in the ruling for both sides.

The Court indicated in its ruling that it did not want to interfere with an organization that Congress put in place for the express reason that it was acting on. Also any "irreparable harm" that Lance would have suffered as a part of the process was not proven to be there as USADA follows procedures similar to the American Arbitration Association.

The Court was clear this was enough to proceed without due process concerns.

I'll bet Lances' attorneys don't see it that way, particularly in light of the USADA record of 58 wins, 2 losses in arbitration. That's even with each side picking an arbitrator, and agreement on a third for the panel that decides the matter. Strong evidence, or slanted process ... these are the real results the USADA has.

It also does not take into account the very, very relaxed standards of evidence that exist in arbitration as opposed to that in a federal court. I say this knowing that Armstrong's team will at least get to see and cross examine evidence and witnesses in the matter. It is far from a court of law as far as what can be introduced.

Both sides certainly had a bunch to say after the ruling. The USADA heralded the decision as correct and thanked The Court for keeping the US Courts out of the mix, and forcing the matter to arbitration to the USADA, assuming Armstrong's team does not appeal the ruling from The Court, which I do not think it will do.

Armstrong's legal team picked up on a particular damning comment from The Court regarding the USADA promising lesser sanctions to other riders who allegedly doped for their testimony against Armstrong, saying:

"... it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that USADA is motivated more by politics and a desire for media attention than faithful adherence to its obligations …"

The Court and I seem to agree on this one.

Even further:

"Despite its many misgivings about USADA's conduct leading up to and during this case, the Court is bound to honor Armstrong's agreement,"

Ouch. Misgivings about conduct?

Throw on top of that Sparks calling the USADA charging letters "woefully inadequate", and I till think the USADA is in deep crap in a court of law ... or CAS.

Now while his comments are not actionable per se, he took the time to make them part of the judicial record, and I would be very surprised if we did not see or hear them again from Armstrong's legal team in the future as part of a disclosure to CAS.

At the end of this, the USADA won the day no question in getting Armstrong to arbitration. I don't think he is going to appeal the ruling as the USADA has never, as in never ever, lost a jurisdictional fight.

If I had to guess, Armstrong's team is going to choose the USADA route, and may even first, seek CAS interference to get the UCI back in the mix so the matter won't even go that far. I am still shocked about US Cycling going with UCI.

I think both parties will fight to the end now. I don't see that either has a choice based on what he has done to date. Whomever loses at the USADA is going to go to CAS.

It's going to make for an interesting off season, that's for sure.

Monday, August 20, 2012

I'll Believe it When I see it ...

FIFA president Sepp Blatter warned to clean up football's governing body or put his job at risk

German judge Joachim Eckert, chairman of the committee's adjudicatory chamber, told Focus news magazine that FIFA members should be obliged to co-operate and sanctions could range from fees to exclusion from FIFA. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of Fox Sports.

Kicking Back Comments: As I have opined here in the past, we are around the bend when this action needs to happen. That being said, I will still welcome his resignation, should it come as Sepp, I believe, has done irreparable damage to a once prestigious organization.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Of Course They Are Trumped Up ...

Bin Hammam accuses FIFA of trumped-up charges, says payments came out of personal accounts

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Mohamed bin Hammam said accusations he enriched his family and supporters while president of Asian soccer are politically motivated and that he plans to fight “this clear abuse of power and process at the hand of FIFA.”

In a letter to 20 Asian associations, bin Hammam confirmed he made payments to soccer officials and others but said they came out of his own bank accounts and were driven by a desire to help those in need — including Zhang Jilong, the current AFC president who ordered the PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit that instigated the investigation by FIFA’s ethics committee. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Kicking Back Comments: Uh ... of course the charges are trumped up. This is far more about a PR campaign than anything else. FIFA will try to make an example of Bin Hammam to make themselves look better. FIFA needs the image lift, but I am unconvinced this is the way to do it.

Now, I don't think this will go to a trial of any sort as  it gives Bin Hammam and equal opportunity to decry FIFA's behavior, and something tells me FIFA will not be happy about that. If I had to guess, this will eventually "just go away" which will ultimately suit FIFA just fine.

A good read, and gives some context as to the depth of the controversy.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

"The answer is to never give them the option."

How to Get Doping Out of Sports

WHY does an athlete dope? I know why, because I faced that choice.

My life on a bike started in middle school. When the buzzer on my Goofy clock snapped on at 5:30 a.m., I popped out of bed with excitement and purpose. Rushing down the stairs, I stretched 20 some odd layers of still baggy spandex onto my 90-pound skeleton and flew out of the garage. Into the dark, freezing Colorado morning I rode. For the next 30 miles, I pushed my heart rate as high as it would go and the pedals as fast as they would go, giving various extremities frostbite and giving my parents cause to question my sanity. ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of the NYT.

Kicking Back Comments: Here is a preview from Sundays OpEd in the NYT.

A very eloquent admission from one who knows. This is truly the way to end doping, and Jonathan cuts to the heart of it. He recognizes it's a choice. Illegal, not illegal, that won't matter to someone who wants that "2%" as he details it. His IRS analogy is spot on.

Where I think he misses in the article, is where he has flourished as a manager. Garmin takes great steps within the team itself to assure that there is no doping going on by entering ACE, and maintaining a "biological passport" for each rider. They know upfront if they dope, they are out.

This to me is far more of an incentive than USADA or UCI punishments. It allows the free choice, up front, and a clear path otherwise. Like the IRS, the USADA just does not put fear into the hearts of some as the molecular biologists designing this stuff are better than the enforcement ever can be.

Business spend millions every year in accountants that find ways to twist the IRS code to save the companies billions of dollars. People will continue to do so regardless of the regulation.

I still contend, it is the individuals who choose not to dope, or condone it that make the biggest impact. People who are determined will always find a way around the rules.

Think about this in a soccer context. Do players behave themselves during a match just because FIFA is looming, or US Soccer?

Nope.

Players will do what they want, and suffer the consequences if they do. It's all about personal choice and responsibility. Jonathan in his article made it clear the failing to dope was his, and I give him great credit for the admission. He also allows his riders to make a choice, in the most positive of ways. Not under threat of sanctions or dismissal, but with the simple choice of riding for Garmin or not. For any who want to be at that level with that team, it is a Hobson's choice.

Friday, August 17, 2012

From Humble Beginnings

Zimbabwe: Fifa Hail Local Refs

FIFA have hailed the development of younger referees in Zimbabwe and believe the country could soon scale the heights it reached at the turn of the millennium when it supplied officials for the World Cup and Confederations Cup tournaments.

The World soccer governing body's instructors - Carlos Henriques and Felix Tangawarima - are in the country for an Elite referees course which began in the capital last Friday and has been running at Prince Edward School.

Another course for the match assessors also ran concurrently with that of the referees but it ended on Sunday night.

Fifa referees development officer Henriques who is no stranger to Zimbabwe having been in the country on a number of occasions on the mission to improve the standards of officiating yesterday expressed satisfaction with the 34-member class of elite referees they have been taking through their paces since Friday. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of AllAfrica.com.

Kicking Back Comments: I have to say this article gave me great pause. It is one thing to work toward an Olympics or a World Cup within a program like US Soccer which is very well established, very well funded, and very well recognized around the world.

It is quite another to build a program from the ground up having nothing established, little money, and even littler recognition on the world's stage.

Big kudos to these folks whose big dreams, will certainly flourish into big reality in the years to come.

 


Thursday, August 16, 2012

USADA in some trouble on Armstrong?

Judge questions USADA, Armstrong lawyers

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - A federal judge had tough questions for U.S. anti-doping officials about the fairness of their effort to prove seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong cheated, grilling them at length in a hearing Friday.

But U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks also asked attorneys for the cyclist why the federal court should step into an arbitration process already set up to handle doping cases in sports.

In a 2 1/2-hour session, Sparks criticized USADA about the vagueness of its charges and wondered whether Armstrong would get a legitimate chance to defend himself against allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs throughout his career.

Sparks also questioned USADA officials about why they don't turn their evidence over to the International Cycling Union, which has tried to wrest control of the Armstrong case from USADA in recent days. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Kicking Back Comments: Reading between the lines, this is not great news for the USADA. In particular when a judge starts asking questions about vague evidence, or turning over evidence or jurisdiction to another, there are some serious procedural questions in play.

Justice Sparks is said he will rule before the 23rd. If I had to guess, he will push the matter to arbitration as all the other options would seem less tenable legally.

I found the prepared remarks from the USADA amusing. From the article:

"Mr. Armstrong agreed to play by the same rules that apply to every other athlete and we believe he should not be allowed to create a new set of rules that apply only to him,'' Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA said in a prepared statement. "From the beginning our investigation has been about ridding sport from anyone in the system that uses their power or influence to encourage or assist athletes in using dangerous performance-enhancing drugs.''

Hope Solo; 1 positive test; public reprimand; competed in 2012 Olympics.

Lance Armstrong; 0 positive tests; state, federal, and international tribunals; DQ'd from IronMan and faces a lifetime ban from sport.

Ahab needs to get his Whale.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

There is a positive test explanation I'd never heard before

There is a positive test explanation I'd never heard before

''I took a medication prescribed by my personal doctor for pre-menstrual purposes that I did not know contained a diuretic,'' Solo said in a statement.

UPDATED JUL 9, 2012 6:55 PM ET

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. (AP)
U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo received a public warning Monday from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after she tested positive for the banned substance Canrenone in a urine test.

Solo has accepted the warning and will still play for the United States in the Olympic tournament.

The 30-year-old Solo tested positive for Canrenone in a test on June 15. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of Velo news.

Kicking Back Comments: Here is the official press release from the USADA and no doubt a flurry of lawyers. I have to admit the excuse is pretty weak, but that is a far cry from Hope doping.

I do have to say though, she is the ONLY soccer player in the last decade with a sanction (not that has been accused) of doping. USADA stats are here (right from the USADA) and have sanctioned over 300 athletes since 2001. 

A little more smoke maybe? At the very least following her (not unreasonable) excuse, her doc, and her teams docs failure to understand what prescriptions she was taking as such a substance should be well understood, unlike picking up a substance "off the street" as some Mexican players did, blaming tainted beef, which was later dropped by USADA.

My thoughts here go more to the USADA and their inequitable treatment of athletes in their sanctions, and also some of the really unexpected (to me) stats they produce regarding doping.

Take a peek here regarding their testing numbers. Pretty incredible stuff ... no wonder they need $9M in US Tax payer funding.

More on this soon as the Armstrong case (who has even less positive test results than Hope Solo with ZERO) continues to heat up.

Again, let me be clear, I don't know if Hope or Lance doped. Part of me does not care. I am more worried about the USADA pendulum of justice being completely out of whack.
 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

While we're on the topic ...

... of Law 12 and things the GK can not do. The first of course being from "6 Second Mania", here is bullet (3) from the law:


Indirect free kick

An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following four offenses:


  • touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate

(Other 3 bullets omitted)

This one came up recently in Euro 2012 between Portugal and Spain, and a spectacular analysis was  performed by HK referee, which can be read at Backpass Has To Be Deliberate Kick To Keeper.

A must read!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Hope Spouts Eternal

In a twist from "An Essay on Man", we again see the loose cannon, Hope Solo.

I have written about this in the past with, "What Will Solo Do?", regarding her seeming inability to curb her virtual and actual tongue. I guess it is time again for a reminder.

She is at it again recently with her comments slamming Brandi Chastain stating in several tweets that Chastain (stats here) made in her role as analyst for the media while commenting on a WNT Olympic match.

Further, she recently has made recent comments regarding the lack of league in the US and would seem to figure if she whines loud enough a new women's league will suddenly appear to appease the 31 year old goalkeeper.

Don't get me wrong, she is a tremendous talent on the soccer field, I'm just not quite sure if Solo should be the spokeswoman for the USWNT. She can be somewhat ... polarizing ... to be kind.

Others have noted this recently too.

Julie Foudy (a former teammate of Chastain, and analyst for ESPN) took polite note of it in her reaction to Hope Solo's tweets.

Sally Jenkins writing for the Washington Post I think comes closer to reality with her piece of
"Hope Solo could learn a few things from Brandi Chastain".

Her comment regarding that both nature and Hope Solo abhor a vacuum, is particularly insightful, as is her conclusion in the article:

"The most disappointing aspect of Solo’s behavior is that it suggests she hasn’t learned as much as she could have from players like Chastain. The real inheritance from that squad wasn’t fame, or the chance to make a great living. It was a sense of mutual indebtedness, and a brand of solidarity that prevented these sorts of spats. There was a striking lack of ego; they weren’t particularly conscious of their stardom or specialness. It was their most pleasant quality. And Solo could do with a little of it."

I think Ms. Solo forgets she represents the US with her antics, silly tweets inclusive. For a 31 year old, she is stringily immature in this regard based on her comments and the context they are placed in.

Maybe it's the comments. Maybe it's the antics like showing up drunk on national TV. Maybe it is the "do as I say, not as I do" attitude when she is getting slapped for things like a positive drug test by the USADA. Heck not even Lance tested positive that much. (Where is her lifetime ban?)

At the end of the day, for me, I think we can do with a better role model, and spokeswoman for the Women's Game.

Enjoy the Gold Hope, then I hope you start growing up.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The man has good credentials ... let's see what he's got

New Audit and Compliance Committee holds first meeting

The new FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee held its first meeting under the chairmanship of Domenico Scala at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich today. The creation of this committee and the appointment of Scala as its chairman were approved by the FIFA Congress held in Budapest on 25 May 2012.

After the meeting, Domenico Scala said: “I am very pleased that we have started to work today in this committee, which has an important role as an independent monitoring and oversight body. The aim is to ensure the accuracy of the control mechanisms related to financial reporting, audits and internal controls, as well as compliance, something which will in turn enhance the integrity of the organisation. In particular, the various proposals established during the reform process to enhance governance and compliance are now being implemented through this committee, including for example increased transparency and control of the various development programmes.” ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of FIFA.

Kicking Back Comments: Mr. Scala has very good petigree which can been seen here (.pdf). My jury is certainly out if he is able to do something with them however. We will see, or not, in the months ahead.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Don't get on Sepp's bad side

FIFA prosecutor Garcia opens formal probe into Mohamed bin Hammam bribery allegations
ZURICH — FIFA prosecutor Michael Garcia has formally opened investigations into bribery and financial misconduct allegations against former presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.

FIFA says Garcia has launched official cases after provisionally suspending bin Hammam for 90 days last month to “prevent interference” while he builds a case. ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Kicking Backs Comments: The first of many or the one who most opposed Sepp?

Friday, August 10, 2012

You know you made it big when ...

... Google makes a cartoon for you.

Congratulations to the US WNT, Bibiana STEINHAUS and her whole team, for their outstanding performance.


Match Officials
Referee
Bibiana STEINHAUS (GER)
Assistant Referee 1
Marina WOZNIAK (GER)
Fourth Official
Jesica DI IORIO (ARG)
Assistant Referee 2
Katrin RAFALSKI (GER)
Fifth Official
Maria ROCCO (ARG)


Match report and stats are courtesy of FIFA.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

"There's a lot of money at stake for the players," Gulati said.

Gold medal will bring more green to U.S. women's soccer team

LONDON – How much does U.S. soccer value gold in these London Olympics? More than you might guess.

The color of the medal will determine the payout for the women's soccer team.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati says the women's team will split a $1.5 million bonus if the Americans beat Japan in the final here Thursday, which is more than they would earn with a loss, though Gulati declined to specify how much more. The expectation is that the money will be split by the 18 players on the current roster, a pool of about a dozen reserves and training staff. Not every person may receive a full share or a share at all. ...

See the whole story here, from USA Today.

Kicking Back Comments: Puff Daddy has it right. Now one thing that was not detailed in the article is how much US Soccer stands to gain in the process as well. I don't know if US Soccer gets a direct payout from the IOC, or if US Soccer takes a cut from each athletes award.

I would be very surprised if it did not as, lets face it folks, US Soccer is a business. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

6 Second Mania

Boy oh boy.

Looking around the web over the last couple of days after the women's US v. Canada Olympic match has been interesting. I have seen everything from a full blown US payoff to Norway for the win, to FIFA payoff of the referee to get the "final they really wanted", to it's FIFA's fault for having a neutral referee in there, to it's Canada's fault for not putting more goals in the nest than the US.

I'm not going to speculate on all the nonsense (just a little), but stick more to the heart of the 6 second rule, and some interpretations.

So where do we start? Yep, with the LOTG, which states in relevant part in Law 12:

Indirect free kick

An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following four offenses:

  • controls the ball with his hands for more than six seconds before releasing it from his possession
(Other 3 bullets omitted)

Okay, simple enough. One may ask then, what is control.

Anything in the 2012/2013 Amendments to the LOTG? Nope.

US Soccer position papers? Nope.

How about the advice to referees that has been so widely cited in news articles? This states in whole:

12.18 THE "SIX-SECOND" RULE
The goalkeeper has six seconds to release the ball into play once he or she has taken possession of the ball with the hands. However, this restriction is not intended to include time taken by the goalkeeper while gaining control of the ball or as a natural result of momentum. The referee should not count the seconds aloud or with hand motions. If the goalkeeper is making a reasonable effort to release the ball into play, the referee should allow the “benefit of the doubt.” Before penalizing a goalkeeper for violating this time limit, the referee should warn the goalkeeper about such actions and then should penalize the violation only if the goalkeeper continues to waste time or commits a comparable infringement again later in the match. Opposing players should not be permitted to attempt to prevent the goalkeeper from moving to release the ball into play. 


Okay, that helps a bunch. Now sprinkle on top that referees should not punish trifling offenses and what do we have?

For the media I think it could have been a bit of a red herring.

Why?

Because this is a FIFA match, not a US Soccer match. So regardless of how US Soccer interprets this situation, it has no import. This is totally a FIFA deal.

That said, this last comment may be moot in this case as US Soccer and FIFA seem to align. I make the point as people are immediately jumping to the conclusion that if US Soccer says this is so, it is what happens. Not true in all cases with regard to FIFA matches.

So now what, was it a violation or not?

By the letter of the Law, in the 78th minute, my answer is yes as the keeper held the ball for about 10 seconds, 4 seconds longer than the proscribed time.

That said, I offer the following as thoughts for how to manage this situation (in general), without coming to the same (controversial) result, or even a need for that decision.

1. Nip it in the bud early.

Let's face it, Canada was time wasting. The Canadian coach proclaiming his teams innocence in this regard is BS. This is a coached tactic, a well known tactic, and one to time waste, plain and simple. A referee needs to know when this is going to happen, and deal with it through presence. In this case there were similar incidents in the 58th and 61st minute from the Canadian GK ... this was even after a talking to by the AR at halftime. Start dealing with it when it first comes up.

2. Make a show of it.

Players know how to waste time, and are coached to do so. There is nothing wrong with a referee very publicly showing their displeasure with the tactic and making a show of it. Yes this goes against the grain of being invisible, but it serves to not only put the GK on notice ... who already was in this case ... but also to put the entire stadium on notice the referee with deal with this.

Consider it in the context of a hard foul. A referee will whistle hard, go over, talk and usually gesture about this incident. Often times a "no more" sign language is used. Many times to great effect. Why not do the same here? At a goal kick or other stoppage near an incident with time wasting, go to the GK and gesture "no more", or "hurry up" or something to put the stadium on notice you are going to take action next time. In that way, when the referee does make that decision, the reaction is not, "did you see that!", it is one of "well, the referee told them to hurry up."

3. Be consistent (with tradition).

Much has been written about the "tradition" (my word) of how this particular aspect of Law 12 is enforced. Frankly, history is not on the side of this particular referee as it is rarely enforced through a free kick. The history of the Law points to the egregious abuses where GKs would hold the ball for minutes (!) and have no resulting free kick for time wasting. One thing a referee must consider is what do the players expect not just within a particular match, but from match to match.

Like anything else, tradition (or consistency from match to match for the sport as a whole) is critical for professional and international players. To divert from that tradition is asking for trouble.

Some have said this law has outlived its usefulness. I don't go that far as abandoning it would revert us back to the basketball era goal keepers who dribble around the 18 yard box like Larry Bird. Keep the law, we still need it as is well demonstrated in this match.

4. Don't send your AR in this case.

It has also been widely reported that the AR spoke to the Canadian GK about the time wasting, but the GK did not consider it a "warning" of sorts. She spouted some nonsense like "it was an informal warning" or "it didn't count."

This too is BS as the Canadian GK knew exactly what she was doing. Otherwise she would not be playing at that level. Believe me, I didn't question when a vice principle warned me about discipline in school. It certainly was NOT informal because I knew what was going to happen next. Both GKs should have as well here.

That said, and with all due respect to the ARs out there, it needs to come from the referee in these cases. Its not that an AR is not allowed to do so, or is empowered to do so ... in fact I am certain that the refereeing team was aware and spoke to BOTH GKs about it. In this case however it needs to come from the person who is going to make the decision, not their assistant.

So while the Canadian GKs "excuse" is weak ... it is best hearing this from the referee, and there is no harm in a follow up ... or many ... from the ARs.

5. Silence the dissenters.

If you are taking care of all of the above, and a player (like Wambach) dissents by action in counting in front of you, book them for the dissent.

Her farcical excuse of "I was just counting" is just crap. She baited the referee and knows it. This is not "heads up play", it's gamesmanship and needs to be dealt with. If you experience the same, consider a caution if you are doing what you must to avoid the time wasting.

6. Look for help.

Don't be afraid to get help form the ARs and 4th in dealing with delays as well. Their presence, as well as your words and presence will show that you, as a team, are on top of the issue.


In that way, when the whistle needs to come for delaying the match, it will be far better received.

Take it for what it is worth.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The OTHER, other US teams in London

So while I have been whining over the last couple of posts about the MNT and the lack of (US) soccer enthusiasm in general, there are a couple of other US teams worth noting over in London now.

The refereeing teams.

Sometimes in all the fanfare of the WMT doing as well as they have, we have forgotten about our brother and sisters in arms.

You can check out what is going on in their own words at http://usaolympicreferees.blogspot.com.

A worthy read for all.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What the f@$k??

FIFA 13 cursing without repercussions

When we have been playing the current FIFA game there are times when swearing occurs, although this is normally due to frustration and not directed at anyone personally. It seems that when EA launch FIFA 13 they will offer Xbox 360 Kinect users the ability to curse the referee, which will result in no bookings or major repercussions, although this hadn’t been the expected outcome a few weeks ago when we first saw a promotional video. ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of PR.net.

Kicking Back Comments: This was interesting to me on many levels, none the least of which was the technology.

There have been times in my career that I have booked, or sent off players for dissent and foul and abusive language (respectively) that may had been in error. I don't hedge to make it appear that I have not made mistakes ... I have ... it is just hard when a player has such a self interest to not poison the pool after the fact.

Language is such a precise construct. Some curses are easy to spot as dissent of FAL, others are not. In fact, the most cunning, and most hurtful, rarely have no curses in them at all.

As a referee, we have to be aware of where the line is for the day ... and when to just suck it up as The Game does not need to caution or send off. The developers at EA need to teach Kinect this as well before we humans have any fear of being supplanted by a robot referee.

BTW, there is no truth to the rumor that FIFA is funding EA to do so, dispute their recent appetite toward technology.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Couldn't have said it better

Olympic Soccer 2012: No US Men's Team, No American Interest

I'm as active a proponent of rational discussion as you'll find, and yet in the wake of Team USA's failure to qualify for the 2012 Olympic soccer tournament, even I'm left wondering: Where's the outrage?

Where's the prideful resentment? Where are the pitchfork demands for retribution?

More than that, did anyone even notice?

Let's revisit the facts. ...

See the whole story here, from Bleacher Report.

Kicking Back Comments: Where I depart company with the article (and I think the only part) is that the US Women are insanely popular (by US standards). So it would seem less about good soccer v. bad soccer (the US women while winning are not playing real attractive soccer), it would seem more about winning v. losing ... which was at the intended heart of my article, Where are all the men?

Obviously by not qualifying the men are de facto losers, but I will be curious to see what happens if the women get anything but gold.

I am guessing it will not be happy.

I don't disagree with the article that the US base is becoming more discriminating in its tastes for The Game, and the international game is plainly much better.

I still hone in on the fact though that America likes winners of all walks, and the US Men just will not get it done. Obviously not in the Olympics (as they did not qualify), but far beyond that.

It is interesting however, and I agree straggly here, that the media will make or break professional soccer in the US ... and right now an irony is by making the international game more popular, it has made the US version pale in comparison.