Rule 40: the debate resurfaces in Singapore

The Rule 40 debate (covered by Sports Shorts last year) has resurfaced in recent weeks, this time in the context of the upcoming South East Asia Games (“SEA Games”), which will be taking place in Kuala Lumpur later this month.  This time, the subject is Singaporean marathon runner Soh Rui Yong who has been issued with a formal warning by the Singapore National Olympic Council (“SNOC”) following a series of heated Facebook posts.  Soh Rui Yong has since issued an apology to SNOC and has removed the offending posts.

Protecting official sponsors: what is “Rule 40”?

In order to protect the investment of official Olympic sponsors who have shelled out hundreds of millions for the privilege (90% of which is reinvested into the Games according to the IOC), the IOC uses two key tools.

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Pay dispute – Australian cricket back on track?

Last month, Sports Shorts wrote about the pay dispute between the Australian cricket governing body, Cricket Australia (CA), and the players.  At that time, deadlock prevailed and the Australian players were refusing to play as they were effectively unemployed when the old Memorandum of Understanding (which governed matters such as pay) expired.

At the beginning of this month though, it appears that good news has replaced some of the negative headlines – at least, good news to those who did not hope for the Ashes to simply be handed to England by default!  Agreement has been reached between CA and the players’ body (ACA).  While it is not entirely signed, sealed and delivered, it seems that a compromise on pay has been reached, such that Australian cricket can forget about pickets and return to wickets.

In short, a revenue-sharing model has been retained, albeit a slightly different one to before.  I will avoid going into the finer detail on the differences to the old model, because many argue there aren’t any and I do not have my magnifying glass with me.

Instead, I want to focus on the fallout and the wider issues for cricket.  Neither side have come away from this saga particularly happy.  The ACA have said never again and CA have said that neither side got everything they wanted.  David Warner regretted how it had played out in the media, although he had been the one to drop the possible Ashes strike bomb into an interview.

It is not often good practice to determine which side ‘won’ in such a situation.  Strained relationships, damaged reputations and financial losses normally limit a ‘win’.  However, there are many, including Australian legend Allan Border, that believe the players have struck a win.  It was the revenue model which CA wanted to get rid of and that has not happened.  CA had also wanted an increase in funding for grass roots cricket which it looks like it has done, but the status quo looks largely unchanged considering months of bitter dispute.

So it looks like a win for player power.  If that is the case, it could be argued that much of that power stems from T20 cricket and the revolution that it has generated in the game.  As a format (for professional cricket), it has only been around for about 15 years.  However, in that time, the game has developed hugely, with both batters and bowlers devising new methods to suit the shorter, faster game type.  It is almost unrecognisable to players of a different era.  You wouldn’t have caught Geoffrey Boycott playing a ramp shot over his own head!

It is not just the players’ methods which have developed, but the commercial landscape too.  The speed and ferocity of the cricket action in a T20 match has lent itself to slightly more proactive marketing campaigns than the more attritional test matches.  This attracts more sponsors, which in turn leads to more cash in the game.

A prime example is the IPL, recently celebrating its 10th season.  The glitz and glamour is something to behold and the money, in cricketing terms at least, has been growing at a rate of knots towards eye-watering levels.  In the most recent season, England’s talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes was bought for an incredible £1.7 million.  OK, not exactly Neymar levels, but that is not a transfer fee.  Subject to relevant deductions, that is effectively money paid to him for his services for that IPL season (a period of about 6 weeks).

Stokes is not the only player who can attract large fees.  Six-hitting machines like Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum and AB de Villiers are stardust to T20 clubs and franchises, helping to win matches but also attract sponsors and gain social media exposure.  As the number of T20 competitions around the world increases (Sports Shorts wrote a few months ago about the plan for two T20 competitions in England in a season), there is a greater need for players to fill those competitions and so those players need to be attracted.  Therefore, sums in the T20 game may not slow down for some time yet.

And this is where the player power lies.  Years ago, a top cricket player needed to play at international level in order to earn the best salary as a cricketer.  There were no other options and so it would have been very difficult to hold a governing body over a barrel.  However, the top players now could (and some do) earn equivalent money playing in domestic T20 competitions around the world.  Suddenly, governing bodies face their best players refusing to play international cricket for various reasons, as they know they can earn their corn elsewhere.

For wider sport, this is not a new phenomenon and cricket has had revolutions in the past (see Kerry Packer).  The question here is whether this is a bubble preparing to burst or whether we are witnessing a permanent change in the game.

It’s Just Not Cricket: Amateurs and Immigration

For the last seven years, the UK government has made it a key priority to reduce the UK’s net migration figure.  Measures to that end have included making the ability to employ a non-EEA national exceptionally expensive (currently, for a five year visa, the figure stands at in excess of £7,000 purely for visa fees and “surcharges”) and restricting the ability to rent a property or open a bank account without whipping out your visa.  However, a recent article in the Guardian newspaper has highlighted a furore in the most unlikely of bodies, the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The point of contention is recently updated government guidance on how Immigration Officers should define “amateur sportspeople” and “professional sportspeople”, in particular sports visitors.

By way of context, the vast majority of visitors coming to the UK are limited to staying for up to six months and their activities here limited to those in the UK Immigration Rules. To help decipher these Rules, the government issues accompanying “guidance” to Immigration Officers.  The guidance can only expand on the Rules and cannot impose more restrictive terms than the Rules themselves. Continue Reading

Esports – one step closer to Olympic medal status?

People who are gamersIn April, following the announcement by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) that eSports was to become an official medial sport at the 2022 Asian Games in China, Sports Shorts asked “does eSports have a place in the Olympic movement?”  Today, the answer seems to be inching further towards ‘yes’, as Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic bid committee confirmed that he will be discussing the possible inclusion of eSports within the 2024 Games.

Following the OCA’s announcement, IOC president Thomas Bach appeared to express a degree of scepticism both as to whether eSports “is really a sport, with regard to physical activity and what it needs to be considered a sport” and, in any event, whether it truly belongs within the Olympic movement.  His particular concerns included the absence of an international federation “or a structure that will give us confidence or guarantee that… the Olympic rules and values of sport are respected and in place”.  Concerns were also raised regarding the significant focus on violence and physical destruction of one’s opponents within many esports and the extent to which these features are incompatible with the values of the Olympic movement.  According to insidethegames, Bach has referred specifically to a visit to Silicon Valley in early 2016 where a representative of one game boasted of being “very proud that since the invention of the game, something like 400,000 cars have been destroyed”. Understandably Bach and others have expressed concern that this type of mentality does not make for happy marriage with Olympic values.

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An Italo-Celtic League, now with added Springbok – the Pro 14 is born

It all happened rather quickly in the end.  It was confirmed last week that the old Pro 12, the rugby union league comprising teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, would be expanded to 14.  Nothing too outlandish in that, however, something a little bit different is that the two expansion teams come from a little further afield than the old strongholds.  Welcome then to the Toyota Cheetahs and Southern Kings of South Africa.

It has been known for months that the Super Rugby competition in the southern hemisphere was going to lose three teams.  SANZAAR (the body operating Super Rugby) decided that two of the South African teams would be cut, along with one from Australia.  The decision as to which teams would go was left up to the relevant unions.  The choice in Australia has been getting messier and messier over recent times, with the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels fighting tooth and claw to remain in the competition.

The South African equivalent was relatively clean in comparison, with the announcement last month that the Cheetahs and Kings would both lose their Super Rugby status.  It was already clear that the apparently magnanimous reaction by the two teams was tempered by the possibility of joining another competition.  The suggestion of joining the Pro 12 had been around for a number of months and it was common knowledge that the Pro 12 wished to expand to new markets.  So it was maybe one of the more poorly kept secrets of recent times that a European league could be about to have a sprinkling of Springbok added to the mix.  Continue Reading

The Neymar Transfer: An Analysis of Buy-Out Clauses – Part 2

Since part 1 of this blog series was published, the Neymar transfer saga moved to a denouement.  Overnight, FC Barcelona were reported to have accepted the buy-out fee and today (4 August 2017), Neymar was officially unveiled as a Paris Saint-Germain player.

In the case of Neymar, the inclusion of a buy-out clause in the player’s employment contract worked to Paris Saint-Germain’s advantage.  They were able to use it to poach Neymar from FC Barcelona, against their European rival’s wishes, and to force through a transfer.  It is the perfect case-study of how buy-out clauses in contracts can cut both ways.

As discussed previously, a buy-out clause is a type of penalty clause.  Another area in which penalty clauses are applied in Spain is in contracts entered into by clubs with minors.  A typical contract between a Spanish club and a player will oblige the young player to enter into a professional contract with its training club upon the completion of his training.  If that player chooses not to enter into the agreement, the club will require the player to pay it a sum (often in excess of €3 million).

The size and frequency of the penalties included in these contracts were in evidence in the Provincial High Court of Barcelona decision in Futbol Club Barcelona v José Raul Baena Urdiales (Case No: 476/2009-C AB&L 59087A). According to a report from the National Professional Football League dated 12 August 2008, of the penalty clauses included in contracts and pre-contract agreements for players aged under the age of 18 and registered with the Spanish national league since 1 January 2004, 28 contracts contained penalty clauses of €3 million while 86 contracts or pre-contract agreements contained penalty clauses exceeding €3 million, the highest of which was €10 million. Continue Reading

The Neymar Transfer: An Analysis of Buy-Out Clauses – Part 1

Undoubtedly the biggest story of the present transfer window (or perhaps any transfer window ever) is the proposed transfer of Neymar from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for a reported €222 million.

To date, the largest transfer fee ever paid for a player was the €105 million Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba in the summer of 2016.  The fee that Paris Saint-Germain intend to pay to FC Barcelona to secure the services of the Brazilian captain is more than twice that amount.  As part of the deal, Neymar will reportedly be paid €30 million a year after tax – equivalent to around £520,000 a week.

Barcelona had previously stated that the player was not for sale.  Yet the player’s employment contract contained a buy-out fee of €222 million, which Paris Saint-Germain has agreed to pay on the player’s behalf.  A statement on the FC Barcelona website confirmed the position:

“Neymar Junior, accompanied by his father and agent, has this morning informed FC Barcelona of his decision to leave the club during a meeting held in the club’s offices. Given this position, the club referred them to the buyout clause stipulated in his contract, which since 1 July stands at €222m and must be paid in its entirety.” 

The plot thickened this morning (3 August 2017), with reports that the Spanish league (La Liga) has refused to accept a cheque for €222 million, which was presented to it by a lawyer acting on behalf of Paris Saint-Germain.  La Liga is reported to have concerns that the mooted deal would infringe UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules and has argued that its regulations only provide Spanish clubs with the guaranteed right to buy out a contract.

While the proposed transfer is intriguing for a number of reasons, it is the application of the buy-out clause that has received the most attention.  This two-part blog entry explains the background to these clauses and how they are used in Spain, a country in which they are particularly prevalent. Continue Reading

The CrossFit Games 2017 Drugs Policy – Fit for purpose?

The 11th annual CrossFit Games begins on Thursday this week at the Alliant Energy Center, Madison, Wisconsin. This is the first time the event has been held outside of California after 7 years at the StubHub Center in Carson.

The top 40 male and female qualifiers from the CrossFit Open, together with athletes competing in team events and age groups will compete over 4 days’ worth of workouts, one of which would be near impossible for most mortals.

As discussed previously on this blog, the CrossFit Games has come a long way since 2007 with prize money this year of US$275,000 on offer to the winner of the men’s and women’s open event. Sadly with the increased money, profile and sponsorship opportunities that come from winning there also comes an increased incentive to cheat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then the event organisers have introduced for 2017 an updated  Drug-Testing Policy (the “Policy”).

Testing Pool

In recent years CrossFit introduced an out-of-competition drug testing programme in order to allow greater scrutiny of those athletes selected for the “Registered Athlete Testing Pool”. Those athletes selected for the testing pool must provide complete and accurate contact and whereabouts information quarterly, no later than one day prior to the beginning of each quarter and keep this updated throughout the year in much the same way as other elite athletes.

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Premier League scores second ‘live’ blocking injunction

Pirate Key on a KeyboardIn May 2017, Sports Shorts covered the first ‘live’ blocking injunction ordered by the High Court in favour of the Premier League – a decision which represented a win not only for rightsholders but also, unusually, for the defendant ISPs in their capacity as Premier League rightsholders.  The order, which applied during the final weeks of the 2016/17 season – a ‘test period’ of sorts – required UK internet service providers (“ISPs”, such as Sky, BT, etc.) to block specified providers of copyright infringing streams of Premier League matches and (most importantly) to do so effectively on a ‘live’ basis.

This week, the Premier League announced that, following the “highly effective” first order, pursuant to which “more than 5,000 server IP addresses blocked that had previously been streaming illegal Premier League content”, it has secured a second live blocking order from the High Court.  The second order will apply for the entirety of the 2017/18 season.

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Keaton Jennings: a case study on cricket eligibility

Ahead of the start of the third test between England and South Africa on Thursday, many a column inch has been devoted to the apparent fragility of England’s batting line-up and discussion has inevitably turned to whether personnel changes are necessary.  In particular, questions have been asked about whether England should persevere with 25 year-old opener Keaton Jennings, whose run totals of 8330 and 3 in the first two tests have not convinced his critics that he is the right man to accompany Alastair Cook to the crease.

Jennings will know better than anyone else that he will have to improve his run tally in order to be certain of his place in the side.  Keeping that place will surely be incentive enough for Jennings to put in a strong performance against the Proteas but, if he needed any additional motivation, Jennings will surely wish to show the South Africans what they are missing.

Jennings was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 19 June 1992.  He is the latest in a line of an impressive South African cricket dynasty – he is the son of Ray Jennings, the former South African test cricketer and coach, while his uncle (Kenneth Jennings) and brother (Dylan Jennings) both played first class cricket in South Africa.  Keaton himself has continued the family tradition, making his first-class debut for Gauteng in December 2011 against Free State, before captaining the South Africa Under-19 cricket team on its tour of England in 2011.

While Jennings could have made himself available for selection by South Africa at international level, in 2012 he took the decision to represent England instead.  Jennings has explained the decision as follows:

“I have always said since I was small that if I make it in cricket that is brilliant, if I don’t then I want to know I have given it my best shot.  At the time I sat down with my Dad and I felt it would be my best opportunity to live my dream in the UK and I’m very glad as I sit here now to have made that hard decision.”

While Jennings is certainly not the first South African-born cricketer to play for England, his route to international cricket represents an interesting case study on the application of the relevant eligibility criteria. Continue Reading