Snow angels, spikes, and The Worm: putting the fun back in football

Touchdown CelebrationThe NFL has announced that it is “putting the fun back in football” by relaxing the rules governing touchdown celebrations, to allow players “more room to have fun after they make big plays”.  The letter to fans from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell promised (with the help of some illustrative GIFs) the return of snow angels, group demonstrations, use of the ball as a prop, and other “spontaneous displays of emotion”.

Article 1, Section 3, Rule 12 (Player Conduct) of the NFL Rulebook, which governs “unsportsmanlike conduct”, includes the following restrictions:

“There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct.  This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship.  Such acts specifically include, among others:

                …

  1. Prolonged or excessive celebrations or demonstrations by an individual player. Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.  A celebration or demonstration shall be deemed excessive or prolonged if a player continues to celebrate or demonstrate after a warning from an official.
  2. Two or more players engaging in prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebrations or demonstrations.
  3. Possession or use of foreign or extraneous object(s) that are not part of the uniform during the game on the field or the sideline, or using the ball as a prop…”

Various penalties apply on a breach of these rules, including the loss of 15 yards from the succeeding spot (or whatever spot the Referee deems equitable) and players may also be individually fined.

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FA Introduces new offence of “Successful Deception of a Match Referee”

In January of this year Sports Shorts wrote about the possibility of the introduction of a retrospective diving ban. At the time of writing it was unclear whether the FA would be able to convince its various stakeholders this was a good idea.

Ahead of the culmination of the Premier League season on Sunday, the FA announced that it would be extending its powers to punish “simulation” (diving to you and I) retrospectively from next season and that a new offence of “Successful Deception of a Match Official” was approved at last Thursday’s FA annual general meeting.

The FA further confirmed that:

Where there is clear and overwhelming evidence to suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation, and as a direct result, the offending player’s team has been awarded a penalty and/or an opposing player has been dismissed, The FA will be able to act retrospectively under its Fast Track system.

A panel consisting of one ex-match official, one ex-manager and one ex-player will be asked to review all available video footage of the incident independently of one another and then advise The FA as to whether they believe it was an offence of ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official’. Only in circumstances where the panel are unanimous would The FA charge the individual concerned.

This process would be similar to the one used now for a red card offence [violent conduct/serious foul play/spitting at an opponent] which was not seen at the time by the match officials but caught on camera. In this situation, three ex-elite match officials review all the available video footage independently of one another and then advise The FA as to whether they believe it was an offence worthy of instant dismissal.

In accepted and/or proven cases of simulation and/or feigning injury, the offending player would receive a two-match suspension.”

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The British and Irish Lions and the trouble with team selection

Three Rugby PlayersThe British and Irish Lions Tour 2017 is nearly upon us, kicking off on the first weekend of June this year.

As with other traditions associated with the Lions, such as the youngest player in the squad having to look after the Lions’ mascot for the duration of the Tour, selection of the Lions squad seems to cause controversy no matter what the outcome is and it is almost certainly impossible to please everyone.

Warren Gatland had a tough job on his hands for the 2017 squad selection and, thankfully, much angst and speculation came to an end on 19 April 2017, when Gatland revealed the names of the individuals tasked with taking on back-to-back World Cup winners New Zealand on their home turf.

Unsurprisingly Gatland received immediate backlash for the obvious lack of Scottish players selected, despite Scotland’s most successful Six Nations in a generation. Even Brian O’Driscoll conceded that Scotland was unlucky not to have more players in the touring party: “Beat Ireland, beat Wales—if I was Scottish I would feel hard done by. It’s the first time since 1908 they haven’t had a representative in the pack”.

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Magnificent flying machines? The growing role of drones in sport

DroneOnce thought of as weapons of war, commercial use of drones is now on the rise, with companies like Amazon jostling to position themselves at the forefront of the market (launching futuristic initiatives such as Prime Air and filing patent applications for inventions like flying warehouses). In the medical industry, drones have been trialled for the delivery of blood and medicines to remote areas, including in Rwanda and the US.  But what, if anything, might drones bring to the sports industry? Do they have more to offer than the – admittedly appealing but arguably impractical (at least from a safety point of view) – idea of having a beer delivered to you in your seat at the stadium?

Whilst many wrote off the ‘flying bar’ concept as a gimmick, it was a very real venture and its refusal by the US Federal Aviation Administration is a good example of the current confines around the expansion of commercial drone use. The challenge is to capitalise on the commercial and technological potential of drones whilst navigating a complex and developing area of law.

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Kodi Boxes and Apps Targeted by Premier League in Efforts to Reduce Illegal Streaming

remote-and-tvA high court decision in March granting the Football Association Premier League (“FAPL”) an injunction has marked the latest stand by the Premier League against illegal streaming of matches in the UK. The judgment is both a response to, and made possible by, technological advances and allows for real time blocking of streams accessed via apps and Kodi Boxes which are growing sources of broadcasting illegal content.

Background

Licensing of rights in football is a multi-billion pound industry and as such, licensors and licensees have an obvious interest in taking steps to protect those rights. In March for example, BT Sport beat Sky to the exclusive rights to show European football until 2021 in a deal worth around £1.18 billion.

Illegal streaming of sports is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. In July 2013, another FAPL action was brought against First Row Sports, a website designed to broadcast illegal streams of football and other sports. In that judgment, also delivered by Mr Justice Arnold, it was noted that:

“The scale of FirstRow’s activities is very large. There are a large number of links listed on the site at any one time. FirstRow was ranked by Alexa as the 268th most popular website in the UK in January 2013 and the 239th most popular in April 2013. To put that in perspective, FirstRow was on that basis more popular, in January 2013, than both www.lastminute.com and www.ft.com. In April 2013 alone, FirstRow received 9.98 million unique user hits worldwide.”

Since then, a significant development in illegal streaming has been the use of Kodi Boxes which is a catch-all term for any TV box that is capable of being connected to the internet and is usually designed to be used with the ‘Kodi’ application (in most cases the boxes are pre-loaded with the app). The Kodi app allows users to access streaming servers that broadcast copyright content such as sports, but also other paid for services such as TV and film. This means that users are moving away from streaming content from web browsers, in favour of an easier to use service that mimics subscription services like Sky and BT.

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Sometimes, it’s the taking part and not the winning that counts.

MoonWalk2017Not a phrase this author ever thought she would utter. However, participation in the London MoonWalk 2017 convinced me that (in some circumstances) it is 100% accurate.

During the course of Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 May 2014, a 22 strong Squire Patton Boggs’ team (a motley crew comprising lawyers, support staff, clients, friends and family) participated in the London MoonWalk 2017 to raise funds for WalkTheWalk, the breast cancer grant making charity.  Our team was aiming to raise a total of £15,000 by either completing the Full Moon (a 26.2 walk) or the Half Moon (a 15.6 walk).  What sets the MoonWalk apart from other challenges of this type is that it takes place through the night (the earliest walkers depart at 10.30pm) and that walkers (male and female) are encouraged to walk while displaying their bras decorated using any number of glitter, feathers, tassels or sequins to suit that year’s theme (or personal taste).

What does the MoonWalk have to do with Sports Shorts? A valid question.  It is clear that this is not an Olympic or professional sporting event: there are no points available for participating (other than for style), participation does not offer an opportunity to qualify for a ‘Champions League’ of MoonWalks (though that is an idea), and preparation need not be too (read ‘at all’) strict (one member of our team prepared by attending Secret Cinema Moulin Rouge the night before – at least it prepared them for dealing with the sleep deprivation!).  Notwithstanding, it struck this author (between the very trying hours of 3 and 4am on Sunday) that what the MoonWalk does represent are the positive values inherent in sport and sports participation.  Following a weekend where the integrity of FIFA was again called into question and a year where scandal after scandal seemed to hit sport, this seemed a good opportunity to remind ourselves of why sport matters, only some of which is a little tongue in cheek: Continue Reading

Will World Rugby’s reforms to international eligibility make a difference?

It has been a busy few days in the world of Rugby Union.Two Rugby Players

On 10 May 2017, the draw for the pool stage of the 2019 World Cup in Japan was confirmed during a ceremony in Kyoto, with England once again finding themselves placed in the dreaded “pool of death”, along with France and Argentina.

At the same time, the World Rugby Council gave its unanimous blessing to long-mooted reforms to increase the period of time a player has to be resident in a country before becoming eligible to represent it in international competition.  The revised eligibility requirements mean that Regulation 8, which governs eligibility to play for national representative teams, will be amended so that:

  • a player must have lived in the country for 5 consecutive years, rather than the current period of 3 consecutive years, immediately preceding the time of playing of the national side (effective from 31 December 2020); and
  • The addition of a new residency criteria, which permits players who have 10 years of cumulative residency to be eligible to play for national representative teams (immediately effective, from 10 May 2017).

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The unbroken 2: a pair of Nikes, an unofficial record, and the age-old question of technology’s place in sport

Stop WatchOn Saturday 6 May 2017, Olympic Gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge donned a pair of Nike ZoomX VaporFly Elite shoes (containing a specially designed carbon fibre plate promoting a forward-tilt of the feet) and ran 17 laps of the Monza Italian F1 track, surrounded by a troupe of 30 fellow elite pacemaker runners, running behind a car, and tended by mopeds carrying  water and energy drinks.  This was the culmination of Nike’s much-hyped Breaking2 initiative, announced in December 2016 which aimed to achieve the world’s first sub-2 hour marathon.  The result was the world’s fastest marathon time on record at 2:00:25 – a mere 25 seconds shy of the elusive 2 hour mark.

It is, in many ways, fitting that Nike, Kipchoge and his teammates attempted to ‘break 2’ 63 years to the day after Roger Bannister ‘broke 4’ by running the first sub-4 minute mile at Iffley Road, Oxford.  Indeed the rhetoric employed by Nike in its marketing build-up to the race on 6 May 2017 is reminiscent of Bannister’s account of the race he ran on 6 May 1954.  According to Bannister “the four-minute mile had become rather like an Everest – a challenge to the human spirit… an irksome reminder that man’s striving might be in vain… the “Dream Mile”.” And as Nike put it, “for decades, the two-hour marathon has been a dream” and Breaking2 represented “an innovation moonshot designed to unlock human potential” and “challenge the perception of what is possible in sport”.  

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Will this season see a Premier League Play-Off?

Soccer StadiumIn the immortal words of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Premier League season is now reaching squeaky-bum time”.  While Sunderland and Middlesbrough have both been relegated, virtually everything else remains up for grabs.  The title has not yet been won (though that must surely be only a matter of time), the third relegation spot has not yet been filled and there are a number of clubs still vying for qualification into European competition for the 2017/2018 season.

With most clubs having only three fixtures remaining, there is still plenty to play for.  In particular, it is very difficult to say with any certainty which clubs will qualify for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League and which club will fill the final relegation spot.

In terms of the race for Europe, at the time of writing, Liverpool sit in third place with 70 points, having played 36 matches.  Manchester City are in fourth place, one point behind but having played one game fewer.  Manchester United are in fifth place, having played the same number of games as Manchester City but presently sitting on 65 points.  Arsenal are in sixth place, having played 34 matches and having accumulated 63 points.  For the clubs that finish in first, second, third and fourth places, qualification for the UEFA Champions League beckons.  For those in fifth, sixth and seventh places, qualification for UEFA’s secondary pan-European tournament, the Europa League, will be the prize.  Matters may however be complicated by Manchester United’s involvement in the latter stages of this season’s UEFA Europa League.  If Manchester United were to win that tournament but to finish outside of the top four in the Premier League, they would also qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

At the other end of the table, things are equally tight.  At the time of writing, Hull City and Swansea City have both played 36 matches.  Hull are presently on 34 points, while Swansea sit outside of the relegation zone, only one point ahead.

At this stage of the season, every point and every goal counts.  Given the proximity of clubs in terms of points, there is a real possibility that some of the clubs involved will finish on the same number of points as one or more of their rivals at the end of the season.  If such an eventuality were to transpire, how would those teams’ final league positions determined?  The answer lies in Premier League Rules C.4 – C.7: Continue Reading

Does Southern hemisphere rugby have a recreational drug problem?

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Another week, another drugs scandal in Southern Hemisphere rugby. Or more accurately another four scandals.

On Monday, it was announced that New Zealand rugby league captain Jesse Bromwich and international teammate Kevin Proctor would not be selected for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup having breached the team’s code of conduct following allegations that both took cocaine during a night out following last week’s defeat during the final ANZAC test at the hands of Australia’s Kangaroos.

Together with the punishment handed out by New Zealand Rugby League (“NZRL”) both players’ clubs also announced internal disciplinary action. Bromwich has been suspended by his club, the Melbourne Storm, for two matches and ordered to attend counselling and treatment courses. In the meantime Proctor has stepped down as co-captain of his club the Gold Coast Titans and from playing duties whilst it investigates the allegations.

The stances taken by the player’s club and country have been markedly different. Whilst the NZRL was quick to make clear that the behaviour alleged to have taken place was unacceptable and placed their international careers on indefinite hold, the players’ clubs have been less damning. Indeed the Titans have gone so far as to say that due to the “high level of stress and anxiety about the consequence of [Proctor’s] actions, we are of course providing him with the best possible welfare and support to ensure his general well-being is the overriding priority.”

Whilst some may say such an approach is commendable, especially during mental health awareness week, should clubs stand by employees who find themselves in these sorts of situations?

One difficulty may be the fact that the issue of cocaine and recreational drug use would appear to becoming a serious issue within the NRL. Not only has it been forced to introduce a specific rule to tackle the issue, the Illicit and Hazardous Drugs Policy, but this approach appears not to be working.

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