‘Gatland’s Law’: Playing for your country or securing your family’s financial future?

It is a stark choice but one that is faced by an increasing number of professional rugby union players around the world.

Many of the top rugby nations have adopted explicit rules around the selection of players based abroad for the national team and others utilise similar, albeit unwritten, “guidelines” in order to maintain the strength of their domestic rugby clubs and teams.  As financial muscle in the game increases, pay packets for players also increase and clubs understandably want to attract the best players to boost their squads.  Therefore, where a top player is attracted to a club in a different country, he is potentially putting his international career at risk depending which nation he represents.

This is by no means a new issue.  New Zealand have adopted a policy of only picking players based in New Zealand for many years.  At times, this has been questioned, although their recent dominance over the international arena would suggest that they certainly have not been adversely affected by ignoring players outside the country.  However, to a greater or less extent, Australia, England, Ireland, Wales and Argentina follow a similar school of thought and none of these can boast the dominance that the All Blacks can.

The point has hit the headlines again this week as Wales have publicly changed their selection policy – which looks to have already claimed its first high profile casualty.  To recap, over the last few years, Wales adopted what was commonly dubbed ‘Gatland’s law’.  Effectively, this meant that only a specified number of Welsh qualified players based abroad (who had rejected deals in Wales) could be selected to play for the national side.  It was introduced to try to prevent player drain to England and France where stronger financial deals were on the table.  A total selection ban on players abroad would have cut out high profile players like Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Taulupe Faletau and so Gatland’s law was the compromise.

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FA makes maiden “Successful Deception of a Match Referee” charge

As readers of Sports Shorts will remember, the FA council approved the retrospective “Successful Deception of a Match Official” offence earlier this year. You can read our thoughts on the subject here.

While the offence has been in force since the start of the 2017/18 season, yesterday, Carlisle United’s Shaun Miller became the first player to be charged by the FA.

Miller has been accused of simulation (colloquially known as diving) after controversially winning a penalty against Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night. Wycombe’s Daniel Scarr was subsequently booked for the challenge before Jamie Devitt stepped up and converted the penalty. The match ultimately finished 3-3. Continue Reading

World Cup qualifying: ethics, controversy and covered mouths

With only the FIFA World Cup play-off matches left to play, we are now close to knowing the final line up of teams that will appear in Russia in 2018.

The final round of group qualification matches led to drama around the world.  While Ireland’s 1-0 defeat of Wales meant that the Irish would qualify for the play-offs, by the same stroke it consigned the Welsh to another summer spent watching the World Cup from home.

Yet the drama in the Wales v Ireland match did not compare to the scenes in Egypt, where an injury time penalty secured the Egyptians’ place in Russia and prompted wild celebrations among the Pharoahs’ fans.

The qualification story in South America also proved intriguing.  It has been reported that Colombia striker Radamel Falcao admitted discussing playing for a draw with his Peruvian opponents in Colombia’s 1-1 draw with Peru, a result which saw both sides progress in World Cup qualifying.  This alleged behaviour led to suggestions in the press of match-fixing.

With results elsewhere going in their favour, Colombia knew that a draw with Peru would mean that they would finish fourth in their qualifying group and that they would therefore qualify automatically for the World Cup.  That result would also mean that Peru would qualify for a play-off against New Zealand, after finishing fifth in the group.   If either side had lost the match, Chile would have overtaken them to secure a place in Russia.

As the match between Colombia and Peru neared its end, footage appeared to show Falcao energetically speaking to a number of his opponents, with his hand covering his mouth.  It is of course impossible to know what was said by the players, but some reports noted that the two teams appeared then to slow the pace of the game.  Continue Reading

Tim Cahill – A celebration too far?

Picture the scene.

It is the 109th minute in extra time of a decisive World Cup Qualifying Play Off. You are captaining your country against a team fuelled by the dream of reaching a World Cup in what would be extraordinary circumstances given the turmoil that the nation has faced throughout its campaign.

‎You score the winner, your second of the night (a neat header into the far corner) and your 50th goal for your country.

Do you:

  1. execute your trade mark knock out celebration with the corner flag?
  2. Run towards and celebrate with teammates and/or family? or
  3. Coolly remember that you have struck a lucrative deal to promote a new sponsor (an online travel store) and forgo the above in order to pretend you’re an airplane before making a T sign with your arms in reference to the company in question, TripADeal?

In Australia’s recent match against Syria, Tim Cahill stands accused of choosing option 3 and has faced criticism from fans and commentators as a result‎.

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UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations: Neymar, Mbappe and PSG’s transfer policy – “Financial Doping” or Market Forces?

Paris Saint Germain’s summer transfer activity came to an end in (Seine)sational style!

The facts speak for themselves:

  • The two largest football transfer fees in history – £366M combined spending on Neymar da Silva Santos Junior and Kylian Mbappe;
  • Combined wages of a reported £700k/week (both on 5 year contracts).

The signings of Neymar and Mbappe are an extraordinary statement for a club competing in Ligue 1; a league not considered to be the wealthiest of leagues comparative to its leading European competitors (Premier League, Bundesliga, La Liga, and Serie A).

This highlights the resources available to PSG’s Qatari owners and the expenditure that they are prepared to incur to put PSG at the head of European club football’s top table. PSG are owned by Oryx Qatar Sports Investments, an arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund with access to £194 billion.  And the financial juggernaut shows no signs of easing up as recent reports suggest that PSG are lining up a £135M bid for Philippe Coutinho in the January transfer window.

But this has given some within football’s family reason for concern, particularly European football’s regulatory body, UEFA, who launched a formal investigation on 1 September 2017 into PSG over their compliance with UEFA’s break-even requirements.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations (“FFP”)

Football has historically as a sector struggled to balance its finances, despite ever increasing levels of revenue.

Of those clubs currently competing in the Premier League, the richest football league by revenue in the world, 20% have been in administration at some point in time. That percentage rises to 29% in the Championship. In Spain, the EU had to intervene over huge unpaid tax liabilities of some clubs at a time when the Spanish government was seeking financial support from the EU. Italy has been no stranger to high profile football insolvencies with Parma and Fiorentina both going under, and the stories go on and on across Europe. In addition to the financial woes seen in football, there have also been concerns over the relatively recent dawn of the super-rich acquiring clubs and those clubs becoming dependent upon the finances of their owners to cover future commitments.

As a result, football’s regulatory bodies have in recent years introduced financial control regulations aimed at ensuring a sustainable financial footing for clubs operating within their competitions.

UEFA introduced the FFP Regulations in 2011 to improve the overall health of European club football. Since 2013, clubs that have qualified for UEFA competitions have been assessed against break-even requirements which require clubs to balance their spending with their revenues and restrict clubs from accumulating unsustainable debt. Each season an independent body assesses three years’ worth of club financial figures for all clubs in UEFA competitions. Clubs can spend up to €5M more than they earn per three year assessment. However, the acceptable deviation can exceed this by as much as €30M if this extra amount is entirely covered by a direct contribution/payment from the club’s owner or a related party. This is designed to prevent the build-up of unsustainable debt, although interestingly there is no bar on an owner injecting the excess amount into the club as debt. In PSG’s case, there are few suggesting that their spending is unsustainable given the resources of their owners. But the level of spending has asked questions as to whether PSG are complying with rules designed to apply to all clubs to preserve a stable financial environment for UEFA competitions.

UEFA have confirmed that “the investigation [into PSG] will focus on the compliance of the club with the break-even requirement, particularly in light of its recent transfer activity.” In response, PSG said they were “very confident in its ability to demonstrate that it will fully comply with Financial Fair Play rules for the fiscal year 2017/2018.

As you would expect from a club of PSG’s stature, all appears to be in order. So why have UEFA launched an investigation?

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Tackling infringing content online: the latest development in EU policy

FlagOn 28 September, the European Commission released a Communication on tackling illegal online content, under the heading “Towards an enhanced responsibility of platforms”.  The communication sets out (non-legally-binding) guidelines for online platforms to move to “step up the fight” against illegal online content.  Tackling infringing content online is a well-recognised problem for the owners of rights in sports events and a topic which has been extensively covered by Sports Shorts in the past (from the Commission’s September 2016 proposed copyright Regulation to the Premier League’s blocking injunctions, the commitment of search engines to reduce the visibility of illegal content in search results, and the UK IPO’s recent report on the challenges of social media and online IP infringement).  The Commission’s communication represents the latest development in this area and, as is evident from its very title, one which will be welcome news to rights-holders.
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Ricky Garard: CrossFit’s First Major Drugs Casualty

In August, Sports Shorts wrote about the updated 2017 CrossFit Games drugs policy (the “Policy”).

In the final paragraph, we noted that it was hoped that the low level of breaches would continue and that the Policy would only truly be tested in the event a ‘big name’ athlete was found to have breached it.

Fast-forward two months and, unfortunately, the Policy has indeed found its first ‘big name’ casualty as a result of the failed drugs test by Australian, Ricky Garard, who was crowned the “Third Fittest on Earth” in the men’s open category at the 2017 CrossFit Games.

When assessing the Policy, Sports Shorts noted the need for any decision and appeal made, to be properly communicated and publicised for all to see.

In an open and revealing interview, Justin Bergh, General Manager of the CrossFit Games, discussed at some length the process followed and the grounds of Garard’s appeal.

Bergh confirmed that Garard was selected for testing as a result of finishing on the podium at the CrossFit Games. He failed that test and was notified in accordance with the Policy. Garard used the 10 day period to prepare and submit his appeal, which according to Bergh was made on two grounds:

  1. the result of his A sample test was incorrect; and
  2. alternatively, he had mistakenly taken supplements containing banned substances.

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Poppies and politics revisited

Lest we forgetAlmost a year ago, Sports Shorts first wrote about FIFA’s decision to refuse a request made by the English and Scottish Football Associations for their players to wear armbands featuring poppies in the match they were due to play on Armistice Day in 2016.  The English and Scottish football associations ignored FIFA’s decision and allowed their players to wear armbands featuring the symbol, while the Welsh and Northern Irish matches played in the same week also contained displays on the pitch or in the stands to mark the event.

As a result of this disobedience, FIFA fined the English FA CHF 45,000, while the Scottish and Welsh football associations each received a fine of CHF 20,000.  The Northern Ireland football association was fined CHF 15,000.

The basis of FIFA’s decision is found in Law 4 of FIFA’s The Laws of the Game, which states as follows:

“Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer`s logo. For any infringement the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or to be justified by FIFA.”

Law 4 therefore prohibits football players from wearing any equipment (including undergarments) that features political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images.  The provision is broadly worded and is not designed solely to prevent political messages from entering the field of play.

It is worth noting that Law 4 has not been amended since FIFA fined the home nations in 2016 for their acts of remembrance.  Yet FIFA’s stance on the issue appears to have mellowed.  It has been reported that FIFA is prepared to lift its ban on the home nations teams wearing poppies on their shirts or armbands in time for England’s proposed friendly against Germany on the evening before Armistice Day.  Continue Reading

Squire Patton Boggs @ the Law Society Rugby 7s and Netball Tournament

Yesterday saw Squire Patton Boggs lawyers compete in the first combined Law Society rugby sevens and netball tournament, sponsored by Marston Holdings, in the glorious sunshine at the Richmond Athletic Ground.

With the sevens team completing the grand slam of City Sevens and Law Society Sevens titles in 2016, hopes were high for another strong performance whilst the netball team entered their tournament after a series of strong performances in their league.

In the sevens, and despite only having 6 players for the first game, the boys won each of their group games against Burges Salmon, CMS Cameron McKenna and Watson Farley & Williams to advance to the knockout stages of the main draw as group winners. A quarter final victory over Berwin Leighton Paisner was followed by a convincing semi-final win against a strong team from La Fosse Associates, setting up a showpiece showdown with Goldman Sachs.

In the final, Goldman Sachs scored three unanswered tries in the first half to take a 19 point lead into the break. But with rugby sevens nothing is certain until the final whistle has blown and with Squire Patton Boggs taking the upper hand against a Goldman Sachs team (which had received a bye straight into the knockout stages of the Cup) it looked like an upset was on the cards. Ultimately, two converted tries were not enough for Squire Patton Boggs who ended up runners-up on the day after losing 19-14.

This year also saw the inaugural Law Society Netball Tournament in which total of 15 firms, plus the Law Society, entered teams.  Following group stage wins against Mishcon de Reya and Burges Salmon, but a 10-6 loss to Simmons & Simmons, Squire Patton Boggs finished second in their group and progressed to the plate play-offs. The afternoon brought a hard-fought semi-final against Addleshaw Goddard, which Squire Patton Boggs won 9-6, closely followed by a second semi-final (thanks to a mathematical error at the group stage which meant Squire Patton Boggs had been pitted against the wrong team in the semis) against Baker McKenzie, which Squire Patton Boggs won 11-9.

Finally, Squire Patton Boggs found themselves facing Freshfields in the plate final.  A shaky first half left the half-time score at 8-3 to Freshfields, with the result looking like a foregone conclusion. However, the team returned to the court for the second half with a renewed determination and calmly netted 8 goals in quick succession whilst turning over almost every ball that reached Freshfields’ attacking end. This made for an exciting second half, which ultimately saw Squire Patton Boggs come out on top with an 11-10 win to take home the plate.

Both teams will look forward to returning next year with their eyes on the cup!

Chris Froome wins the Vuelta a España but does he get the plaudits he deserves?

A review of yesterday morning’s sports pages revealed turmoil at Crystal Palace (Frank de Boer subsequently became the Premier League’s first  managerial casualty of the season after only 77 days in charge), continuing debate over Sadio Mane’s red card and analysis of a convincing Series win for the English cricket team‎ over the West Indies, leading many to consider them favourites ahead of this winter’s Ashes Tour of Australia.

However, if you looked hard enough you could also read about the stunning and unprecedented success of Chris Froome who won his fifth Grand Tour, by adding the Vuelta a España to his four Tour de France titles, the last of which was won only 27 days before the start of the Vuelta.

It is possible that Froome will be getting used to being overlooked when it comes to sporting accolades with his third Tour de France win in four years not being considered good enough even for a nomination for the 2016 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, normally a good barometer of the nation’s sporting heroes.

Some attribute this to the fact Froome was born in Kenya, lives in Monaco and spends little time in the UK.‎ ‎Others say he is collateral damage resulting from allegations concerning Team Sky’s conduct in the recent past.

But where should Froome’s sporting achievements rank?

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