The romance of the FA Cup: are managers required by regulation to pick full-strength sides?

1899 FA Cup FinalIn the week following Valentine’s Day, the much-vaunted romance of the FA Cup appeared to experience something of a rekindling.  While the fire in the loins of the world’s oldest football competition was subsequently dampened by “Pie-gate” (as to which, Sports Shorts’ thoughts are here), the FA Cup quarter-finals will see their first non-league representative since 1914 following Lincoln City’s defeat of Burnley at Turf Moor.  Together with Sutton United’s courageous efforts against an Arsenal side 105 places above them in the league pyramid and Millwall’s humbling of three Premier League sides in the last three rounds, there appears to be life in the old competition yet.

Despite this, the FA Cup’s detractors still point to the fact that many clubs treat the competition with a lack of respect, playing reserve or youth team players until they reach the latter stages of the tournament, at which point full strength teams are picked.  Long gone are the days when elite clubs would pick their strongest teams in the early rounds of the competition.  While Arsenal fielded a strong (albeit not first-choice) eleven against Sutton, Southampton were eliminated in the previous round after playing a first eleven lacking any recognisable first team players.  Southampton’s team selection raised a number of eyebrows in the football world.  At the time of the Fourth Round fixtures, Southampton were safely ensconced in mid-table safety and had already qualified for the EFL Cup Final.  What would be its reason for picking a weakened team?   Continue Reading

Wayne Shaw – A bitter pie to swallow? Football’s zero tolerance rule on betting bites once again

PiesWith Monday night’s fifth round FA Cup tie between Sutton United v Arsenal entering the 83rd minute, and with the non-league side trailing their Premier League opposition by two goals to nil following a spirited performance by the underdogs, a curious incident took place.

Much to the mirth and delight of TV commentators and social media users alike, Sutton’s substitute goalkeeper, Wayne Shaw (who also acted as the club’s goalkeeping coach and community liaison officer) arose from the home team’s bench and took a hefty bite from what appeared to be a pie. Whilst pies are synonymous with football and enjoyed by many a spectator whilst attending matches throughout the UK, sports nutritionists are extremely unlikely to recommend pastry-based goods as a source of fuel for players, all the more so during an actual game.

However, in the immediate aftermath of Shaw’s mid-game indulgence, most saw it as a harmless and humorous act by an extrovert who revelled in his moniker of the “Roly Poly Goalie”.

Fast-forward just 24 hours, Shaw had resigned from his position at the club, after the Football Association (“FA”) and the Gambling Commission confirmed that they were investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.

This announcement, and Shaw’s subsequent resignation, followed his admission that he was aware of a betting operator offering odds of 8-1 on him personally eating a pie on camera during the game. Shaw stated that “I thought I would give them a bit of banter and let’s do it. All the subs were on and we were 2-0 down…I went and got it at half time from the kitchen, I had it all prepared and ready to go”. When asked whether he was aware if anyone had placed a bet, Shaw went on to note that “I think there were a few people. Obviously we are not allowed to bet. I think a few of the mates and a few of the fans. It was just a bit of banter for them”.

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A loss for Sutton United but a win for 3G pitches (and Arsenal)

Sutton United’s 2-0 loss to Arsenal saw the end of a glorious FA Cup run for the non-league side after wins over the Championship’s Leeds United and League One’s AFC Wimbledon in previous rounds.

Despite their loss there still remains a non-league side in the FA Cup in the form of Lincoln City who must now travel to the Emirates Stadium to play Arsenal for a place in the semi-finals. Who said the romance of the Cup was dead?

Another topic which created a lot of column inches prior to last evening’s game was that of Sutton’s FieldTurf Vertex 3G pitch. Some thought this may level the playing field (sorry) and allow Sutton an advantage over Arsenal who play weekly on grass.

When asked about the topic prior to the match Arsene Wenger acknowledged his concern regarding the pitch but highlighted the fact his team had trained all week on its own indoor 3G training pitch at its London Colney training facilities.

Whilst many may think artificial surfaces are a relatively new addition to football they in fact have a long but varied history in the game having first been used in the 1980s.

QPR was the first club to use an artificial surface when it laid its ‘Omniturf’ pitch in 1981, some 36 years ago; indeed this pitch remained in situ at Loftus Road until 1988. The pitch was often referred to as a “plastic pitch” but would more commonly be recognised nowadays as AstroTurf which had been introduced in American Football in the late 1960s.

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Lift the Weight – a positive approach to tackling mental health problems in rugby

Three-Rugby-Players-Holding-BallOn Sunday 19 February 2017, the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) launched ‘Lift the Weight’, its online hub and campaign, that ‘aims to help remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues and offer the necessary tools and support to enable our members to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life, both on the field and off it.’.

The campaign is being supported by high profile former and current England players, including Jonny Wilkinson and James Haskell, who share their own experiences of mental health issues in a series of videos on the RPA’s hub.

In its press release, the RPA highlighted a sobering statistic: one in four people in the UK will be affected by mental illness in any particular year.  The RPA also explained that its counselling service had seen a 130% increase in calls from players following a former campaign fronted by the Bath and England prop Duncan Bell who gave an open and courageous interview in 2012 telling of the severe (and character altering) depression that he had suffered throughout his life. That is a staggering increase and suggests there may be many rugby players suffering mental health problems in silence.

In this author’s opinion, this is hardly surprising. When we watch the Six Nations this coming weekend, or any sporting event for that matter, it is all too easy to forget the person behind the player and to focus on (and delight or despair in) their performance. That is, of course, natural human behaviour. In many cases we, as fans, judge athletes solely on those performances and fail to accept that they are first and foremost human beings. We are not alone. Many athletes define themselves and base their self-worth entirely on how they have performed on a particular day or in a particular match. Anyone who has been an athlete (of any level) will understand the euphoric highs or terrible lows that such an approach can result in; your moods and your opinion of yourself become solely dependent on whether you have won or lost. Continue Reading

RFU announces Arscott decision and deems tactical leak to be “Inside Information”

Confidential Shredded FilesLast month, Sports Shorts considered Tom Arscott’s sacking by the Aviva Premiership Rugby side Sale Sharks.  Not only was this a fairly novel occurrence of a member of a sports team being sacked by their current employer for a breach of confidentiality, it also served to highlight, in a broader employment context, the obligations of confidentiality that an employee owes to their employer.

In addition, Sports Shorts also considered the potential sanctions that the Rugby Football Union (“RFU”), the governing body for rugby union in England, could impose on a club that was found to have breached the RFU’s Rules and Regulations (“Rules and Regulations”) in relation to the alleged leaking of information that could be regarded as “confidential”.

To quickly re-cap of the events leading up to Arscott’s sacking:

  • 1 January 2017 – the home side, Sale Sharks, lose a tightly-fought match, against fellow strugglers Bristol Rugby, 23-24, with the visitors mounting a stirring fight-back from 15 points down.
  • 4 January 2017 – days after the game, members of Sale Sharks’ squad approach director of rugby, Steve Diamond, with allegations that Arscott had passed “information” to Bristol in advance of the game. Arscott is suspended by Sale Sharks and internal investigations commence.
  • 16 January 2017 – media report first emerge that the RFU is investigating a complaint from Sale Sharks’ that “tactical information” was leaked to their opponents in advance of the fixture and that Tom Arscott met his brother Luke (who plays for Bristol Rugby) at Bristol Rugby’s team hotel the night before the game.
  • 19 January 2017 – with the RFU investigation still in progress, Sale Sharks confirm that Tom Arscott has been sacked following the conclusion of an internal disciplinary investigation and hearing.

The RFU has now confirmed the outcome of its investigation in a statement released earlier this week. Whilst it was unclear from media reports at the time, it is now apparent from the statement that Sale Sharks lodged their complaint to the RFU on the basis that the leaked “confidential tactical information” had been passed to coaches and players at Bristol Rugby and had subsequently been used by their opponents for their own benefit during the New Year’s Day fixture. Moreover, the RFU’s statement confirms that this leak was alleged to have amounted to a breach of Regulation 17 of the Rules and Regulations, which relates specifically to Anti-Corruption and Betting.

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Football club badges: the legal implications of misuse

Football Club PagesIn January 2017, the Italian football club Juventus unveiled a new club crest.  The familiar silhouette of a charging bull against the fabled black and white stripes will now be replaced by a black and white letter J in the shape of a shield.  Speaking about the new crest, Juventus’ club president, Andrea Agnelli, stated that: “this new logo is a symbol of the Juventus way of living.  We spent a year trying to find out what the new markets want, but also to show a sense of belonging and looking to the future.”

Yet the new badge has not proved to be universally popularMany questioned why the club needed to replace its present badge, the constituent elements of which have been used since the 1930s (save for a period in the 1970s and 1980s when the iconic bull – a symbol of Turin – was replaced on the shirts of La Vecchia Signora by a zebra).

The redesign showed the perils of football clubs departing from tradition, particularly where the club crest is concerned.  Popular opinion may, however, be the least of a club’s concerns.  A number of cases show the importance of bearing in mind the legal implications that may arise as a result of the use, or change of, a football club’s crest. Continue Reading

GolfSixes: are shorts and selfies soon going to be synonymous with golf?

vintage-poster-of-golf-club-playerOn Sunday 12 February 2017, golf’s European Tour unveiled a ‘revolutionary and novel short form of the game’ which is designed to ‘embrace innovation and originality in professional golf’.  The first GolfSixes event will take place in North West London on 6-7 May 2017 and will feature two-man teams from 16 European nations.  The teams will compete in an initial group stage on the first day that is ‘similar to the UEFA Champions League football group stages’ followed by knock-out stages on the second day.

Golf is a sport that is famous for respecting and protecting its origins; the current form of the game is believed to have originated from a game played in Scotland during the 15th Century.  As a result, golf has become known for its long-standing  (and sometimes peculiar) traditions, both on and off the greens.  See, for example:

  • Rule 23/10 of the R&A’s Rules of Golf & Golf Equipment which provides that if your ball gets embedded in a piece of fruit you must play the ball/fruit as it lies or declare it unplayable i.e. the fruit is not a ‘loose impediment’ for the purposes of Rule 23; and
  • The fact that, since 1952, the previous winner of The US Masters has hosted (and paid for) a ‘Champions Dinner’ on the Tuesday before the next edition of the tournament begins.

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IFAB: The introduction of the Sin Bin in Football?

Pop quiz.

Who is in charge of the laws of the game of association football?

If you said FIFA, you would be wrong. It is in fact the International Football Association Board (“IFAB”) which determines the rules of the world’s most popular sport and has done since its formation in 1886. FIFA, which was not even established until 1904, has always recognised the IFAB’s jurisdiction over the laws of the game.

The mission of the IFAB is “to serve the world of football as the independent guardian of the Laws of the Game”.

The IFAB’s membership is made up of each of the British home associations (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) who each have one vote together with FIFA which has four votes.

Any change to the laws of the games must be approved by at least three quarters of the vote which means, given all members must be present for a vote to be binding, all changes must be approved by FIFA. At the same time FIFA alone cannot change the laws of the game; at least two other IFAB members must also agree to any proposed modification.

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The 2017 6 Nations Championship – The Year of the Bonus Point?

For some, mainly rugby fans, the 6 Nations Championship truly represents the most wonderful time of the year.

15 test matches played over 7 weekends provide an opportunity to renew sporting and national rivalries in one of sports great annual competitions.

In the last 2 years the rugby has culminated in nail-biting finishes with Ireland’s triumph on a “Super Sunday” in 2015 and England’s first Grand Slam since 2003 last year.

The Rules of the 6 Nations Championship are very simple indeed, covering only 5 paragraphs. The 2017 Championship will be the first played under a new bonus point system introduced, albeit on a trial basis, at paragraph 3 of the Rules which states:

“3. The following points will be awarded based on the results of each Match (such points to be referred to as “Match Points” to distinguish them from points scored on the field of play):

(i) The Union that wins the Match shall be awarded four Match Points or (if it scores four tries or more in the process) five Match Points.

(ii) The Union that loses the Match shall be awarded no Match Points or (if it scores four tries or more in the process or loses by a margin of seven points or fewer) one Match Point or (if it scores four tries or more in the process and loses by a margin of seven points or fewer) two Match Points.

(iii) Unions that draw a Match shall each be awarded two Match Points and any of them that scores four tries or more in the process shall be awarded a further one Match Point.

(iv) A Union that wins all five of its Matches (a “Grand Slam”) shall be awarded a further three Match Points.”

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The Texas Rangers are on the trail: Tom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey and other sporting mysteries

magnified-footstepsTom Brady’s Super Bowl jersey, worn as he carried the New England Patriots to a stunning victory in Houston last Sunday, has gone missing.  Brady says he put it in his bag after the game, turned around, and the next minute it was gone. No one knows where.

Press conferences have been held, statements have been issued, and the Texas Rangers (responsible for major incident crime investigations in the state) have now been put on the case.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this is something of a palaver over a few square metres of sweat-soaked material.  Yet not only is Brady’s shirt possibly the most valuable NFL collectible in existence, (worth in the region of $500,000, according to some estimates) but it also carries significant historical and sentimental value. Indeed, Dan Patrick, Texas’ lieutenant governor, confirmed in a statement on Monday:

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