Monday, January 15, 2018

Introduction to Sports Governance: Spring 2018 Syllabus

My spring syllabus for Introduction to Sports Governance (ETHN 3104) at the University of Colorado is now available here as a PDF.

This spring we have another impressive list of guest speakers lined up: Hope Solo, Vitaly and Yulia Stepanov, Kara Goucher, Casey Malone, Mara Abbott, Jim Trotter, Solomon Wilcots, Ceal Barry, Jay Smith, Phil DiStefano, Rick George, Jor Jupille, Mike Macintyre, Tad Boyle, JR Payne, Valerie Simons and several possible surprise guests.

For locals, we will have some evening events associated with the class open to the public, so stay tuned.

We are reading three books:
  • The Edge (by me)
  • The Sports Gene (David Epstein)
  • Cheated (Jay Smith and Mary Willingham)
Lots of other readings - academic, journalism, official reports, etc. We are also watching several films, including Icarus, Venus Vs. and Let them Wear Towels.

It will be a great class - the best ISG so far. I am really excited for the semester. 

Comments welcomed!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Making Sense of USSF Electoral Math

OK, I'm diving into the challenge of trying to understand that incredibly arcane mathematics of the upcoming US Soccer Federation presidential election. As a reminder and disclaimer, I am the co-President of the Board of Directors of FC Boulder, a member of the Colorado Soccer Association, which in turn is a member of USSF. This analysis however is done in my professional capacity as a professor who studies arcane things like US Olympic NGB elections.

The below analysis is preliminary and I welcome corrections or clarifying information. I'll update this post as new information becomes available. Some details on the election process can be found in the Office Election Abstract (here in PDF) prepared by US Soccer. This post by Anthony DiCicco is also a useful resource. Paul Kennedy has some similar data from the 2017 USSF AGM here.

Those eligible to vote in the upcoming USSF election are called "delegates" as members of the USSF "National Council" as defined by the 2017-2018 USSF Bylaws. In 2016 USSF identified 534 delegates eligible to vote, as indicated in the memo reproduced below. These numbers will no doubt be slightly different for 2018, but they give us a basis to explore weightings.

US federal law (Ted Stephens Amateur Athletics Act 1978) under which USSF operates as an Olympic sport governing body requires that athletes have at least 20% of voting authority. To fulfill this requirement USSF employs weights to the votes of its delegates. Not every individual delegate's vote is equal to another's - a shocker, I know.

There are five categories of delegates, listed below with their allocated 2016 delegates, each represents a person:
  • Youth Council (291)
  • Adult Council (191)
  • Professional Council (14)
  • Athletes (4)
  • Other (34)
These totaled 534 delegates. 

Because athletes have only 4/534 of the delegates (0.75%) USSF in 2016 implemented a weighting system that gives 20% of the vote to the athlete delegates as follows (USSF uses two decimal places so I will also). Each number below represents a vote:
  • Youth Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Adult Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Professional Council (291 - 25.64%)
  • Athletes (228 -20.09%)
  • Other (34 - 3.00%)
After the 2016 weighting, there were 1135 possible votes. The three councils each get 25.64% of the vote and are tasked under USSF Bylaws with determining how each allocates the votes of their delegates. 

For the Professional Council's 25.64% share, the vote weighting inside the Pro Council is interesting:
  • MLS 9 - 64.29%
  • NWSL 3 - 21.43%
  • NASL 1 - 7.14%
  • USLPRO 1 - 7.14%
The MLS and its minor league USL together get 71.43% of the 14 votes that it uses to determine the overall Professional Council vote. This means that MLS/USL is responsible for 18.31% of the overall presidential vote (that is 71.43% of 25.64%). The NWSL (the professional woman's league) gets 5.49% of the overall presidential vote (a bias pointed out by Anthony DiCicco among others).

We can do some rough math as to how many other votes are possibly controlled by MLS. 

  • Among the "Other" votes (which include USSF Board members, past presidents, life members etc.) MLS clearly has 3/34 and could easily have half or more of the total, or between 0.26% and >1.5% of the overall presidential vote.
  • Each of the 4 Athlete delegates is responsible for about 5% of the overall presidential vote. There are 8 of 20 members of the USSF Athlete Council who played in the MLS pyramid. While it is not clear how the council allocates its votes or who (or how many) the delegates will be (or who they might vote for), it is reasonable to assume that half or more of the delegates (maybe as much as 15% of the overall presidential vote) will come from former players in the MLS pyramid. It is not difficult to imagine an interest among some in supporting MLS priorities.
So without even considering the Youth or Adult Councils we can estimate that MLS interests control 18.31% + 1.5% + 15% or about 35% of the overall vote (on the lower end this is about 29%).

If so, this would mean that MLS may only need 24% of delegates among Youth and Adult Councils to secure a 50% majority for its preferred candidate. Put another way, 75% of the Youth and Adult Councils could vote against MLS interests and still lose the election. That is just math.

Some initial conclusions:
  • The USSF election procedure is ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated;
  • There is a huge bias against women;
  • There is a huge bias in favor of MLS;
  • Some of the potential problems in the arcane process could be mitigated with open (not secret) ballots. Let's see who everyone votes for;
  • I'll be surprised if MLS does not get their preferred candidate.
Comments welcomed!

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Case for a Lessons-Learned Review of WADA & Russia

As we move toward the denouement of the IOC's sanctioning of Russia leading up to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, I'd like to raise a broader, and arguably even more significant issue. That is the role that WADA (and IOC, IAAF and other IFs) has played over the past decade with respect to the allegations of institutionalized, systemic or even state-sponsored doping in Russia.

WADA and sport will be improved by an independent look back at what went right, what went wrong and what can be learned.

Consider this partial timeline:
The focus of the Russian doping scandal has been, understandably, on Russia. After the 2018 Olympics it is time to take a step back and take a look at WADA and the sports organizations that it supports. There are lessons to be learned here ... if we actually want to learn them.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Update on NGB Evaluation Project: SGO Criteria and Next Steps

Earlier posts on this project can be found here and here. Now some updates . . .

We employed 36 criteria from the Sports Governance Observer (2015) framework (available here in PDF), to an initial set of 22 US Olympic national governing bodies to arrive at a preliminary governance scorecard for these organizations. You can find our aggregate rankings here and a detailed breakdown by criteria here.

To facilitate understanding the methods and criteria, below please find a summary set of images with the 36 criteria briefly listed (please consult the full SGO 2015 report for considerably more details on the criteria and their application). Each organization is given a score of 1 (poor) to 5 (state of the art) for each of the criteria, which are then aggregated. Each dimension is equally weighted under the SGO scoring methodology.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the evaluation task, consider that there are 72 US NGBs (39 summer, 8 winter and 25 Paralympic federations). Thus, evaluating all of them requires assigning a score across 72 * 36 categories, or 2,592 individual scores. Our methodology requires that two people independently score an organization, and a third performs a final check.

If that process takes, conservatively, an hour of effort, then creation of our overall scorecard is the result of about 2,600 hours of work - or 1.2 years of people-effort. It is a huge task. In the spring will will roll out a website and a mechanism for people (including NGBs to) contribute to or scoring by proposing scoring changes based on evolution in governance. COnsequently, any such scorecard is a snapshot and governance is fluid. So score will (and should) change over time -- ideally towards better governance.

We've been really encouraged by the positive reactions to our project from across the NBGs. In coming weeks we will be announcing additions to the research team, more scores and the dedicated website.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Full Preliminary SGO Rankings: US NGBs

There has been a tremendous amount of interest in our scorecard of the governance of national governing bodies for Olympic sports. This interest has been overwhelmingly positive.

To share further details of our rankings, below is a figure showing the full set of preliminary rankings of 22 national governing bodies for Olympic sports. You can read more about the details of our methods and see my presentation at the Play the Game conference at this post.
You can click on the figure above to obtain a higher resolution image. If you'd like the spreadsheet with those data, that can be found here in XLS. To interpret the rankings, you will need to cross-reference the 36 criteria under the 4 diemnsions (listed by number in the left-most column) developed in the Sports Governance Observer, available here in PDF.

Do note that these are preliminary rankings. In 2018, we expect to complete rankings for all NGBs and develop a comprehensive website with all of the details. It is our hope to produce such rankings periodically to aid in evaluation of governance.

Please share questions, comments, suggestions in the comments below.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An Evaluation of the Governance of US Olympic Sport Federations

Today at the Play the Game conference in Eindhoven, Netherlands I presented our preliminary rankings of the governance of US Olympic sports federations. This post provides a brief overview of our methods and results. You can find my slides here in PDF and also on Twitter. (UPDATE 12/2: Detailed rankings now available here.)

We have adopted the evaluation metrics developed for the 2015 Sports Governance Observer of Play the Game (here in PDF) and used them as the basis for evaluating US Olympic Sport Federations. Our work here would not be possible without the excellent foundational work of Play the Game in its project on Action for Good Governance in International Sports Organisations supported by the European Commission.

In the SGO evaluation framework there are 36 indicators, across 4 dimensions, which are equally weighted and distilled into a single index. Our preliminary rankings are for 22 of the 47 US summer and winter Olympic federations. In total in the US, there 39 summer, 8 winter and 25 Paralympic federations. Presently there is insufficient public information available to produce meaningful rankings of the 25 US Paralympic sports organizations.

Our results are preliminary. Our next steps will be to share the details of our rankings with the federations for their comment (and possibly, evolution of their governance in response) and completing the rankings for the remaining federations.

Of the rankings, which are expressed on a 100-point scale, the SGO states:
“It must be stressed that the SGO index reflects the presence of basic criteria of good governance. Medium-size federations should be expected to have an SGO index close to 75%, while large federations should achieve a score higher than 75%.”
So expressed as a classroom grade, a 75 is a solid "C". Below are our rankings, with grades provided:

1 Track and Field 79.1 C+
2 Weightlifting 67.8 D+
3 Curling 67.2 D+
4 Ski and Snowboard 66.1
5 Soccer 65.5
6 Hockey 64.7
7 Water Polo 64.5
8 Rugby 64.2
9 Boxing 63.4
10 Rowing 63.0 D-
11 Wrestling 62.1 D-
12 Gymnastics 62.0 D-
13 Baseball 61.4 D-
14 Volleyball 61.0 D-
15 Cycling 59.7 F
16 Triathlon 59.2 F
17 Diving 58.4 F
18 Speed Skating 58.1 F
19 Badminton 55.9 F
20 Swimming 55.6 F
21 Basketball 53.0 F
22 Sailing 50.0 F

Some conclusions:
  • In general US national sports governing bodies are better governed than their international counterparts;
  • Median score 62.0 (US) to 46.3 (international in 2015 SGO)
  • But don’t get too excited, a score of 62 is a D-
  • Only one US organization meets the SGO minimum criteria of 75% - USATF (USA Track & Field)
  • The US Paralympic organizations get a grade of "I" for "incomplete"
  • Much work remains to improve governance
You can find more details in my presentation here in PDF.

Finally, here is an image from the presentation showing the US and international rankings together (blue = US; yellow = international).

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Anti-doping & governance: Time for athletes to take destiny into their own hands

Yesterday at Play the Game 2017 I had the privilege of chairing the opening plenary panel that included Travis Tygart (USADA), Richard Pound (IOC) and Silke Kassner (vice-chair of the German Athletes Commission) -- seen above via @jensweinreich. During our discussion Dick Pound said of the leadership of international sports federations: "Nothing scares these old folks as much as athletes getting organised - so don’t [athletes] stop doing that."

Silke Kassner spoke exactly to this subject and her remarks should be read by all athletes and administrators. She has graciously allowed me to publish them here, lightly edited by me. 

Guest Post

Silke Kassner, Vice-Chair German Athletes Commission, Vice-Chair of “Athletes Germany”, Vice-Chair NADO Advisory Board
Play the Game – Conference 2017

Anti-doping & governance: Time for athletes to take destiny into their own hands 

We ‘Athletes’ are highly motivated to become one of the best in the world in our sport.

On our way to the international top level as a professional athlete, we accept many regulations of the sport structure and sport organisations.

As an athlete I accept and sign the World Anti-Doping Code. This enables me to compete on international level in my sport. Signing the code, I learn to be available – always - for irregular, unannounced doping controls.

I accept cuts into my personal freedom; always provide ADAMS with very private information to secure my whereabouts – all to be available at any time for unannounced doping control. It includes unpleasant procedures in giving blood and peeing in a small cup, pants to my knees, while being watched. In other live situations this would be highly inappropriate.

As athletes, we take the whole procedure into account because we permanently have to prove that our performance is clean. We struggle against a general suspicion day by day. We feel constantly pursued.

That makes the difference between the athlete and the official.

Three years ago, the world got to know about a state sponsored doping system in Russia - for sure, the greatest doping scandal in sport history.

As athletes representatives in Germany we followed up the entire McLaren Report, the independent Pound Commission results and the journalistic investigation. As German Athletes, we were really shocked and felt concerned about the health and the rights of the Russian athletes, who cannot be blamed in what system or country they were born.

The sports organisations, especially the IOC then were in the role to decide weather a Russian Team may compete or not at the Olympic Games in Rio. Among all research and evidence, the IOC decided not to exclude the Russians. Furthermore they called two commissions, to examine the given information about the Sochi Games.

This decision was based on that athletes couldn’t be blocked on a collective punishment but only by individual justice. And that’s it.

Reflecting this and the current step-by-step publications by the Oswald Commission, we understand that the IOC is keeping distance from applying the core principle of the WADA Code: the strict liability.

In the retrospective Russian athletes were not requested to be available for unannounced doping controls or any documentation of their testing by their Anti-Doping Organisation.

Until today it seemed that our general accepted & unique regulations to keep a doping free sport are not applied in Russia. But on the other hand athletes, NADOs and countries world wide, keep their daily sport & anti-doping business.

It is a fact that no one is talking about the strict liability and the reversal of evidence anymore. In view of:
  • an enormous sanction catalogue by the WADA Code and 
  • a national Anti-Doping Law, 
  • and questioning former results at the Olympic Games
We took initiative as German Athletes to approach the IOC with several statements and position papers – we even gave offer to speak in person.

We described our view on a future anti-doping system which is free from conflict of interests. Since August 2015 we claim an independent anti-doping system, a stronger position for WADA and even a three-power separation in anti-doping management.

Three years following the whole scene, we do not feel accepted by the IOC as the main stakeholders in sports. We don’t feel protected as athletes able to compete in clean competitions, we feel powerless and frustrated, unable to act and not being heard.

The WADA Code is the principle and the requirement to protect clean sports.

We want a worldwide binding regulation that provides international equality in the fight against doping. We want everybody and every institution that the rules are respected and applied.

Otherwise, we will shut down the strict liability, the WADA Code and close the WADA in Montreal.

If the application of the rules is not guaranteed, we close our national court of arbitration and the CAS as well and bring all the cases before our ordinary public courts.

Then all this is no longer needed.

But, these are all achievements that distinguish sport from other laws and rules. This all makes entirely sense to ensure a clean level playing field. It is – at present - without alternative.

Coming from this, German Athletes discussed the entire situation and the future in sports. We believe in the unifying power of sports. But the credibility of the sport is severely damaged and we lost confidence in the international sport system. We can see that the public is turning back from the organised sport and the Olympic movement.

The doping scandal, corruption affairs and the half-full audience during the Rio Games was a distraction from competition and the actual reason why athletes going to the Olympics. This all shakes our confidence in the values of the sports.

The structure is the problem. The entire construction of the sport system is a pyramid - the much broader bottom is the athlete, the protagonist of the competition. But, we are far away from decisions that affect us.

Today we conclude that many former decisions cannot be explained to an athlete. Because of that, we want to be significantly involved, demand more documentation and transparency in any decision making process that affects our lives and our sport.

For this, it is important that athletes stand in solidarity and represent their concerns professionally.

Therefore, the German Athletes and the Athletes Commission had the urge to empower the solidarity in founding an independent organization in Germany. That all happened today six weeks ago.

The new institution "Athleten Deutschland" / “Athletes Germany”:
  • is the foundation for a professional network of German Athletes 
  • shall become a service institution for athletes related issues 
  • shall be the centre to organise the athletes involvement in all athletes related processes and decision from the start.
We want no decision without the athlete!

We are
  • nearly 9.000 athletes 
  • on the international level 
  • listed at NADO Germany, 
  • Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic elite sport 
and we will grow step by step.

We no longer want to be a fig leaf in a statute or a insignificant minority in a board. As the central stakeholder in sport, we want to play the role we deserve. That's our right, according to democratic principles.

We encourage athletes worldwide to do the same – to show solidarity and to speak up for their rights.

We really thank Yulia & Vitaly Stepanov – they encouraged us, Richard McLaren for his work and investigations in Russia, Beckie Scott & WADA AC as well as the iNADO community for their leadership in anti-doping.

Thanks for your attention.