Joel Matip – International retiree or African Cup of Nations absentee?

Joel Matip was left out of Liverpool FC’s squad for the 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Sunday afternoon following confusion as to his status with the Cameroon national team. Although Matip was not selected for Cameroon’s final 23-man squad for the African Cup of Nations, and purportedly retired from international duty after his last appearance in 2015, his club are yet to receive confirmation as to whether it would be on the receiving end of sanctions should it choose to select him.

The rules governing the release of players to association (international) teams are found in Annexe 1 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players.

The starting point is that clubs are obliged to release their player if they are called upon by the association concerned:

“Article 1 – Principles

  1. Clubs are obliged to release their registered players to the representative teams of the country for which the player is eligible to play on the basis of his nationality if they are called up by the association concerned. Any agreement between a player and a club to the contrary is prohibited.”

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Social media in sport: top tips

Social media network concept.It seems there is seldom a time when social media is not in the spotlight one way or another and the sporting world is no exception.  Most recently, we have seen incidences of athletes falling foul of their governing body’s social media policies, such as Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown who earlier this week found himself in hot water after posting a live Facebook video of coach Mike Tomlin’s post-game locker-room speech.  Brown’s post breached the NFL’s social media policy, which prohibits players from posting during a blackout period lasting from 90 minutes before until 90 minutes after the game. Brown has since acknowledged his error and apologised, saying that he mistakenly let his “genuine excitement” and “desire to share that moment with our fans” get the better of him.  In many ways, this example neatly encapsulates both the power and the pitfalls of social media in sport.

Indeed, since its inaugural post in August last year, Sports Shorts has covered all manner of topical issues linked to the use of social media in sport, from restrictions on publicising Olympic athletes’ successes, to the  rise in live streaming of games, the approach of sponsors towards morality clauses, the reaction of athletes to ill-considered tweets by sponsors, and the potential perils of sharing sports clips online.  The pitfalls are numerous. Yet, the power of social media is immense and, used wisely, can have a hugely positive impact from both a social and commercial perspective.

With all of this in mind, Sports Shorts looks at three key things to consider (whether you’re an athlete, brand or sports fan) before you hit the “post” button.
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Chinese Football Association moves to curtail ‘irrational investment’ – are foreign player quotas or ‘home grown’ rules the solution to national team success?

European Football TrophyOn Monday 16 January 2017, the Chinese Football Association (the “CFA“) announced a raft of measures designed to carry out the requirements of the ‘Overall Plan for Reform and Development of Chinese Football’, as issued by the Chinese State Council General Office in March 2015. That plan had a long term goal to see the CFA and Chinese football become a ‘world soccer powerhouse’ to ‘[achieve] the ‘soccer dream’ for the entire nation’ by 2050.

The CFA made the announcements during its 10th General Assembly in Wuhan with the measures understood to include:

  1. A restriction on clubs fielding more than three non-Chinese players per match; and
  2. Each club’s starting team sheet must include at least two Chinese players under the age of 23.

The previous iteration of point one above was known as the ‘four plus one’ rule: four foreigners plus one Asian player had to feature in the match day squad with ‘three plus one’ on the field at any one time.

The CFA went on to state that the changes had been made as they were ‘…conducive to the development of Chinese football and the training of local players, which is conducive to the promotion of the national team and the healthy, stable and sustainable development of a professional league.Continue Reading

Transfer Window Drama – when your player goes on strike…

January, you may agree, is not the most fun of months. With the come-down from the festive period, the introduction of diets/exercise regimes and (certainly in the UK at least) cold, dark and wet days, it can all feel a bit dreary.

However, since the 2002/03 season, January has also held a mixture of excitement, rage and despair for football fans as the ‘transfer window’ allows their clubs to buy and sell players at the mid-point of the season (see here for a report on the Summer’s spending spree).  The January Sales of sport, if you will.

The window itself arises from Regulation 6 of FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players which provides for only two periods during which a player may be registered at the relevant national association to play for a club, effectively limiting the transfer of players to these two periods (subject to exceptions).  The periods are:

  • a maximum of 12 weeks between seasons (normally to end before the following season starts, although this is not the case in England); and
  • a maximum of 4 weeks in the middle of the season.

In England, this year’s transfer window opened on 1 January and will close at 23:00 GMT on 31 January.

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The demise of Canadian football: the problem with the MLS Player Roster Rules and Regulations

The time of year where football managers most readily lament fixture congestion is again upon us.  The 2016/2017 Premier League season saw 40 Premier League games over the festive period, with each club playing four fixtures between Saturday 17 December 2016 and Wednesday 4 January 2017.  Those fixtures were played on twelve separate match-days, with at least one Premier League fixture played on every day bar one between 26 December and 4 January.  While this extravaganza of football may be welcomed by the football fan, managers tend to be less enamoured with the fixture pile-up.  That displeasure is only likely to increase in the coming year, with the Premier League’s confirmation that its draft fixture schedule for the 2017/2018 season could see six rounds of matches over the festive period.  That would mean clubs playing six games in 17 days from 16 December 2017 to 1 January 2018.

Yet while many Premier League managers seek to juggle their squads in order to avoid player fatigue, there are a number of leagues across the world that are in the middle of their off-season, with their players resting up.  One such league is Major League Soccer (“MLS”), the highest professional football league in the United States.  The 22nd league of the competition is not due to kick-off until 3 March 2017 and, with the conclusion of the MLS Cup in December 2016, fans of MLS football are presently enduring the fallow period between seasons.

This lack of action does not mean that talking points have disappeared.  Many fans will be excited to see the expansion of MLS, in particular by reference to the performances of the league’s two new franchises (Atlanta United and Minnesota United).  Other fans, particularly those that live north of the U.S. border, are less focused on the expansion of the league. They are instead concerned by the existing structure of the league and the rules and regulations in place, which they feel treat Canadian footballers unfairly. Continue Reading

Glenn promises governance reform but can the FA deliver?

Soccer_Football_PlayerIn October, Sports Shorts covered the release of UK Sport and Sport England’s Governance Code for Sport, which seeks to set the gold standard for sport governance.  Subsequently, In the weeks following the Code’s release, we noted that much of the media focus fell on the Code’s gender diversity targets.  This focus has continued and, in some respects, narrowed in the intervening months to a small number of governing bodies deemed in particular need of reform. Unsurprisingly, there has been particular media scrutiny of the FA.

In December, Sports Minister Tracey Crouch warned in clear terms that the FA risked losing £30 million of funding if it failed to reform by April 2017, even postulating that the government would consider legislating to force through the reform if the FA failed to do so itself.  Viewed in light of the open letter sent by five former FA executive expressing serious concerns over the body’s ability to reform of its own initiative, and the subsequent move by the Culture, Media & Sport Committee to call for a vote of no confidence, there can be no doubt that this warning carries weight.

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World Rugby – Is a tougher approach to head contact enough to tackle the growing issue of concussion?

Rugby CarryBack in November 2016 World rugby announced the introduction of a new tougher approach to accidental and reckless head contact through two new categories of dangerous tackle within the laws of the game.

The effect of these changes is to promote and encourage a lower height in the tackle situation which in turn it is hoped will lead to a lower number of head injuries, in particular concussion which is a growing concern within the game.

This approach was adopted by World Rugby having been informed by data from some 1,500 elite level matches, identifying the most common situations leading to head injuries and which identified that 76% are caused in the tackle.

Players, coaches and match officials have, as a result, been urged to be proactive in changing the culture of the tackle throughout all levels of the game.

The new categories which relate to dangerous tackles within ‘Law 10 – Foul Play’ came into with effect from 3 January this year and state:

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The liquidation of Bradford Bulls: a red rag to financial mismanagement?

Rugby PostsLast week, the world of Rugby League was rocked by the news that Bradford Bulls, one of the giants of the game in the UK, had been placed into liquidation with reported debts of £1m and funding shortfall of a further £1m.

On a purely financial front, the liquidation may not have come as a huge surprise, given that the Bulls had, as recently as November 2016, been placed into administration in order protect them from a winding-up petition brought by HMRC for unpaid taxes, the third time that it had occurred in just 4 years. Despite reported interest from different consortia, and the appointed administrator rejecting a recent bid to purchase the club, Bradford Bulls (as was) has now ceased to exist.

Indeed, in reaction to the news, the Rugby Football League (“RFL”), the governing body of Rugby League in the UK, noted in a statement that, whilst the news was “terribly disappointing and sad, it is not an entirely surprising development given the scale of debt incurred by the previous management of the club and the debilitating level of financial commitment already entered into for 2017“.

However, on a sporting front, the Bulls’ predicament has grabbed the headlines. A team that dominated the early years of Super League, and were crowned world club champions as recently as 2006, has suffered a spectacular (and saddening) fall from grace. Having endured the ignominy of relegation in 2015, the first time the club had been out of Rugby League’s premier division in 40 years, Bradford had failed to regain its place in the Super League, further exacerbating the club’s already precarious financial state.

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Usain Bolt, Nitro Athletics, IAAF and breakaway leagues

Geometric running man in vector on white background.

In November 2016, the launch of a new athletics team event, Nitro Athletics, was announced.   The inaugural event will be held in Melbourne on three evenings in February 2017 and promises to ‘revolutionise’ track and field.  Fronted by global superstar Usain Bolt, six teams will take part: the ‘Bolt All-Stars’, Australia, England, New Zealand, Japan and China featuring 24 athletes (12 women and 12 men) in total.  The teams will compete in 12 events on each night of the competition with the events being chosen to test the ‘athlete’s ability to apply speed and power, technique, endurance and team strategy’.

It is clear that Nitro Athletics is aiming to be a different type of athletics event and that it is aimed at a different type of athletics audience. Indeed, Nitro Athletics’ website states that it is ambitious and that it is ‘aiming to recondition the way fans view competitive athletics in order to increase commercial success and support the future of Athletics beyond the finish line’.  It is also clear that, in the context of, amongst other things,: (A) its recent corruption scandal, (B) the extended ban on its Russian athletes and other doping scandals, (C) the loss of its key sponsor, Adidas, and (D) the IOC’s Agenda 2020 that will introduce an event-based programme over the traditional sport-based programme, athletics has urgently needed to find a way to re-engage and grow its existing fan base, regain public trust and increase the commercial attractiveness of the sport. Continue Reading

Has Johan’s Goosen been cooked?

Rugby_PlayerLast month, my colleague Rosie Duckworth wrote a great blog about the Denny Solomona situation following his ‘retirement’ from rugby league to pick up a contract with rugby union side, Sale Sharks.  Rosie referenced another brewing situation and now the Johan Goosen story is simmering towards boiling point.

Goosen is/was a South African international rugby union player who played domestically for Racing 92 in the top French league (Top 14). Racing 92 are the current champions of the Top 14, were the beaten finalists in last year’s European Rugby Champions Cup and boast a certain Mr Dan Carter among their squad.  A pretty serious outfit!

Goosen himself is/was a well-regarded player, having earned the prize of best player in the Top 14 last year and winning 13 Springbok caps with 3 tries, most recently in the 2016 November internationals.

However last month at the age of 24, Goosen suddenly retired from rugby, reportedly to take up a Commercial Director role in South Africa.

Racing 92 were rather upset and this week released a strong statement making clear that they are taking legal action.  Racing 92 allege breach of contract (similarly to the Solomona case), giving particular reference to the apparently generous wage packet and 4-year term of Goosen’s contract.  The club effectively argue that Goosen is still their employee, although the coach has separately suggested that Goosen has no future there.  Racing’s statement even suggests the possibility of criminal proceedings arising from the contractual documentation.

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