Technology in Sport: is football lagging behind?

Together with the usual transfer speculation this week’s football news has been dominated by the introduction of Video Assistant Referees (“VARs”) in England.

VARs have slowly been introduced into the sphere of football. Rugby union has implemented television match officials (TMOs) since 2001, cricket has benefitted from Hawk-Eye since 2001 whilst the 2006 US Open was the first grand-slam tennis tournament to use Hawk-Eye. Football, however, has only recently started to accept this role of technology within the sport, but it is likely to stay.

What is VAR?

Sports Shorts has previously published a guide to the VAR technology and how it can be used and will continue to track developments during the initial stages of its introduction into the English game.

To summarise, Video Assistant Referees are trained match officials who review incidents on a screen and report to the match day referee as to the outcome of the incident. VARs can only be used in four “match-changing” situations: goals, penalty decisions, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity by the referee.

However, VARs can only review an incident where the match day referee draws the outline of a TV screen to notify the VAR, players and spectators that an incident will be reviewed. The VAR then assesses the incident via a monitor and reports back to the referee who will make a decision based on this assessment. Players may be booked if they aggressively mimic the referee’s gesture to implore him to call for a VAR decision.

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French referee faces red card for ‘kicking’ player after accidental collision

We’ve seen Eric Cantona kung-fu kick an opposition supporter. We’ve seen Patrice Evra kick a supporter of his own team. Now we can add to the list another Frenchman, only this time it’s not a player but referee Tony Chapron, and it wasn’t a fan he kicked but a player.

Football fans are accustomed to controversy when it comes to tackles and refereeing decisions. Rarely does weekend go by without discussion over whether it was or wasn’t a penalty, whether he got the ball, whether it was a deliberate foul etc. One thing that is for certain is such controversy almost invariably arises from tackles by players, not referees. In what could therefore a footballing first, last weekend’s Ligue 1 fixture between Nantes and PSG saw the referee in charge kick a defender.

Chapron, an experienced match official who has officiated in Ligue 1 since 2006, and Nantes defender Diego Carlos were running in the same direction when Carlos appeared to accidentally clip Chapron’s heels, sending him tumbling to the floor. It’s what happened next that attracted most attention: Chapron, seemingly out of frustration, reacted by swinging his leg out at Carlos, whom he then booked for dissent. It may not have had the acrobatic quality displayed by Cantona or Evra, but it’s no less controversial.

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Andre Villas-Boas: from football manager to driving in the Dakar Rally

Red Racing CarAndre Villas-Boas, the former football manager, has transcended the sport he knows so well, and stepped into the world of rally driving. On 29 November 2017, Villas-Boas announced his departure as manager of Shanghai SIPG FC to participate in the 40th edition of the Dakar Rally, driving with Team Overdrive.

The Dakar Rally

The Dakar Rally is an annual off-road endurance motor-race, consisting of 14 stages. The race used to start in Paris and the drivers would cross the finish line in Dakar, Senegal. However, due to security concerns, the event has been held in South America since 2009. This year, the race started in Peru on 6 January and is due to finish in Argentina on 20 January via Bolivia, requiring drivers to endure arduous terrains and driving conditions: using off-road vehicles to cross sand dunes, mud and rocks.

How did Villas-Boas become a Dakar Rally driver?

Andre Villas-Boas has won the UEFA Europa League with Porto, and achieved an unbeaten season with the same club; he has won the Russian Premier League with Zenit St. Petersburg and had a stint managing in the Premier League.

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Contracts in football – the unconventional, bizarre and shocking

The first of January saw the opening of the 2017/18 winter transfer window. Clubs have until 11pm on 31 January to conclude their business for this season. As ever, transfer windows bring with them much speculation about potential moves and the terms of new contracts signed by players.

Speculation that Lionel Messi would leave Barcelona was at its peak last summer. FC Barcelona announced that an agreement was being pursued between the parties but it was yet to be agreed with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. Had he not signed a new deal, Messi would be eligible to leave Barcelona as a free agent in the summer of 2018. If Messi was ever – realistically – to leave Barcelona, this seemed like the opportune time, perhaps the only time.

After four months of discussion and negotiation, Lionel Messi signed a new, lucrative contract with FC Barcelona in November 2017, committing him to the Nou Camp until the end of the 2020-21 season. The club confirmed that Messi’s new buyout clause is set at €700 million, more than double his previous release clause. This will certainly deter any approaches from other clubs whilst the superstar is under contract with Barcelona.

It has recently been speculated that a peculiar release clause operates, allowing the Argentine to leave the club for free in the event that Catalonia is granted independence. Before Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain fans become too excited, Messi’s agent and father Jorge Messi confirmed that a clause to this effect does exist but only in the event that Barcelona would no longer compete in a top league. The possibility of independence did cast some doubt over Barcelona’s eligibility to compete in La Liga (the domestic league of Spain) and the Champions League but Barcelona has since confirmed that its participation in La Liga is guaranteed regardless of whether Catalonia achieves independence.

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New Year, New Rules: the Introduction of Video Assistant Referees in English Football.

A Happy New Year to all our readers.

The New Year is traditionally a time to get into shape and commit to new resolutions and it would appear the FA is no different by confirming that Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system technology would be utilised for the first time in last night’s FA Cup 3rd round match between Brighton and Crystal Palace and in one of the Carabao Cup semi-final ties and the subsequent final.

A VAR is effectively an assistant referee who has the ability to review and replay elements of a match on a computer screen.  The VAR can then assist (or overrule) the referee in order to reach the right decision.

Sport Shorts has previously published a guide to the VAR technology that can only be used in respect of four “match-changing incidents”, namely:

  • The award of goals;
  • Penalty or no penalty;
  • Direct red cards (not for second yellow cards); and
  • Cases of mistaken identity.

The first match in this country to have the use of VAR available was not without incident after Brighton’s Glenn Murray bundled in an 87th minute winner with a number of Palace player’s protesting to the referee that Murray had handled the ball in the process of scoring.

As such it was open to referee Andre Mariner to discuss the decision to award the goal with the VAR, which he did, through his earpiece. VAR Neil Swarbrick, sitting in the headquarters of Premier League Productions, was satisfied that the goal should stand and as such, no ‘official review’ using the pitch side monitors was required.

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Last Post of 2017

Today marks the end of a busy year for the Sports Shorts team.

2017 has seen us cover a multitude of topics from Joey Barton’s gambling habits to Matthew Rees’s selfless act at the London Marathon. From the World’s most expensive player transfer to the British and Irish Lions Tour in New Zealand.

2018 looks set to be an equally busy sporting year with highlights including the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, an even more competitive Six Nations Championship and the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

During all of this, Sports Shorts will be here to cover events and offer our expert opinion and analysis.

Until then, we wish our readers season’s greetings and best wishes for a prosperous New Year.

Geoblocking regulation rejected by European Parliament

FlagThe European Parliament has voted to reject proposed legislation designed to prohibit ‘geoblocking’.  The vote represents a major set-back in the European Commission’s “Digital Single Market” strategy (covered by Sports Shorts previously).

The vote comes only weeks after the European Commission announced an agreement with the European Parliament and member states to allow online subscriptions (including for sports events) to be subject to cross border portability from 2018.  The prohibitions on unjustified geoblocking were contained in what has become known as the Sat-Cab Regulation, first proposed in December 2015, the majority of which has been rejected by the Parliament.

The Commission’s rationale for the DSM strategy, including its proposals to restrict geoblocking, is that the practise artificially carves up the European market in a way that is contrary to the central principles of the EU (i.e. the notion of free movement of goods and services across a single market).  However, as Sports Shorts has noted previously, sports rights holders have traditionally relied on the ability to distribute content in numerous distinct markets as a way of maximising value in their digital and broadcast assets. The Premier League, for example, generates huge amounts of revenue from sale of rights on a market-by-market basis, although it has also pointed out that it is already offering aspects of portability (in response to the demands of the market rather than any legislative initiative).

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Marginal Gains in the NBA: Veganism – A new lease of life for athletes?

At least 542,000 vegans live in the UK. This is a remarkable 360% increase in those adopting a vegan diet in 2017 compared to that of ten years ago. Now, athletes are starting to join the trend and they are seeing direct benefits as a result.

Kyrie Irving, now at the Boston Celtics, has had an incredible opening 27 games to the NBA season, averaging 23.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3 rebounds per game. He has led the Boston Celtics to the top of the NBA Eastern Conference standings with a record of 23 victories and only 6 losses so far.

The NBA refers to ‘clutch’ situations. These are the last five minutes of the game where both teams are within five points of one another. Playing 27 games, Irving has scored 77 points this season in clutch situations, second in the NBA clutch-time standings. Last year, in 72 games Irving scored 110 clutch points and the year before he scored 58 clutch points in 53 games. Here, we see a clear improvement. Irving is exploding in the final minutes of basketball matches. When his opponents may be growing tired, Irving has a new lease of life.

Over the summer, Irving became vegan. He chose to stop eating animal products and this is his first season playing basketball as a vegan. He attributes this season’s achievements to his new vegan diet:

been on more of a plant-based diet, getting away from the animals and all that… My energy is up; my body feels amazing”.

The Boston Celtics coach, Brad Stevens, has also stated:

the nutrition side [for Irving] has been huge”.

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A Bridge too far: English Bridge Union loses VAT appeal to European Court of Justice

The Court of Justice for the European Union ruled at the end of October that the trick card playing game duplicate bridge should not be considered a sport for VAT purposes.

The English Bridge Union (EBU) charges participants of its competitions entrance fees, paying VAT on these fees. The body sought to challenge this VAT imposition in the UK’s Upper Tribunal Court, who referred to the Court of Justice whether duplicate bridge should be considered a sport for VAT purposes.

The supply of certain services closely linked to sport by non-profit making bodies to participants is exempt from VAT under Article 132(1)(m) Directive 2006/112/EC. The EBU argued that bridge constitutes a sport for reasons including its competitive nature and the fact that the activity was beneficial for mental and physical health. Indeed, this approach was adopted and endorsed by Advocate General Szpunar who suggested that sport was intended to be understood as the ‘training of mental or physical fitness in a way that is generally beneficial to the health and well-being of citizens’.

The Court of Justice, however, focused on the negligible physical element involved in competing in bridge. The court held that, if there does not appear to be a physical element to the activity, its benefits and competitive nature, whilst important, are not sufficient in establishing the activity as a sport.

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PACE adopts draft resolution on sports governance: a warning signal for the autonomy of sport?

In February 2017, Sports Shorts looked at the EU angle on sports governance, particularly the European Parliament’s Resolution on an “integrated approach to Sport Policy: good governance, accessibility and integrity”.  That resolution included a call upon EU member stated to introduce governance conditions on funding, similar to those contained in UK Sport and Sport England’s Code for Sports Governance. In the last week, there have been further developments on sports governance in Europe, as the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (“PACE”), unanimously adopted a draft resolution based on the report “Working towards a framework for modern sports governance”.

The 24-page draft resolution (“DR”) opens with a stark statement that “the crisis in confidence seems nowhere near the end” to the extent that “the sport movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”.  The DR expressly “upholds the importance for sports to enjoy autonomy; yet autonomy triggers responsibility and should be allowed to flourish only where there is good governance in practice”.  Key points in the DR include:

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