2017 Autumn Internationals – Yet more games for elite rugby players.

This weekend sees the opening of World Rugby’s Autumn International window where the top teams from both the Northern and Southern hemisphere will do battle in various ‘friendlies’ in order to better their standing in the World Rankings. Rugby has become increasingly professional over the last decade as a result of which there is a greater demand to see the best teams go head to head in an already congested season.

This Autumn is no different with Wales competing in four tests against Australia, Georgia, New Zealand and South Africa over the course of 4 weekends and New Zealand going further by cramming in their four tests in only 14 days; indeed the All Blacks play France twice in the space of only four days.

Whilst the Autumn International window will satisfy the fans, it will no doubt have a different appeal to those elite players for whom this is a yet further intense period of training and playing after an already long year that included an intense 5 week tour of New Zealand for those selected for the British & Irish Lions.

In recent weeks, concern has been voiced by professional rugby players as to the amount of games making up their fixture lists and a growing injury crisis. This is mainly due to plans to extend the English Premiership Rugby season to 10 months, starting at the beginning of September and finishing at the end of June.

Premiership Rugby say that the extended 10 month season, announced in response to changes recommended by World Rugby in respect of the global rugby calendar,  will allow clubs to be “more sophisticated” in their management of players. However, players have commented that extending the season will only leave a two month off-season, which would also need to include pre-season training. Premiership Rugby’s argument that pre-season could be shortened is rejected by players and coaching staff alike who say that pre-season is a vital tool in conditioning squads in order that they do not suffer from long term injuries once the season starts.

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Phillip Ivey v Genting Casinos UK Limited t/a Crockfords Club – The Supreme Court considers “honest cheating”

Late last year, Sport Shorts brought you a case note involving Phil Ivey, “the world’s best poker player”, advantage play and the disputed recovery of £7.7 million of winnings from Crockfords Club casino in London (“Crockfords”). Following our review of the background, first instance and Court of Appeal rulings, the Supreme Court has now settled the matter.

Supreme Court

Last week, the Supreme Court also unanimously dismissed Mr Ivey’s appeal. You can read Lord Hughes’ judgment here.

The court summarised Mr Ivey’s submissions as follows [37]

“(a) the test of what is cheating must be the same for the implied term [that neither of the parties to the gambling contract would cheat] as for section 42 [of the Act]

(b) cheating necessarily involves dishonesty;

(c) the judge found that Mr Ivey was truthful when he said that he did not consider what he did to be cheating; therefore dishonesty and in particular the second leg of the test established in R v Ghosh [1982] QB 1053 had not been demonstrated;

(d) it follow[ed] that what was done was not cheating, and Mr Ivey ought to have recovered the £7.7 million.”

Taking the issues in turn: Continue Reading

Patrice Evra dismissed for attack on fan: criminal consequences?

UEFA today announced that former Manchester United player Patrice Evra has been charged with violent conduct and suspended for at least one game after he was sent-off for kicking a fan in the head before Marseille’s Europa League match against Vitoria Guimaraes.

Evra is not the first French ex-Manchester United footballer to go in with a high-foot on a spectator. After being sent from the field during a league match between United and Blackburn in 1995, Eric Cantona famously delivered a similarly acrobatic kick to a spectator. Cantona initially received a prison sentence of two weeks after pleading guilty in front of the magistrate, but on appeal the sentence was revised to 120 hours of community service (ironically, the same fan who was targeted by Cantona was himself fined and sentenced to community service for punching the coach of his son’s football team in 2011).

In Evra’s case, the incident occurred before the match had even kicked-off. Marseille fans had managed to scale the barriers to get to the players (for which the club has been charged), and proceeded to taunt Evra for his recent performances on the pitch.

A formal decision is due to be made by UEFA’s disciplinary body on 10 November, but in the meantime Evra has been suspended for at least one game in accordance with Article 48 of the UEFA rules, which states that:

“As a rule, a player who is sent off the field of play is suspended for the next match in a UEFA club competition (i.e. UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League or UEFA Super Cup).” Continue Reading

Queens Park Rangers and the Football League Financial Fair Play Regulations

It was reported on Tuesday 24 October 2017 that an arbitration panel has dismissed Queens Park Rangers’ claim that the English Football League’s 2012 Financial Fair Play Regulations (the “2012 Regulations”) were unlawful and that the sanction imposed by the Football League on QPR for its breach of those Regulations was disproportionate.

A brief background to financial fair play

The concept of financial fair play was first established by UEFA (the governing body for football in Europe) in 2009.  The goal of financial fair play was to prevent professional football clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success and, in doing so, getting into financial problems that might threaten their long-term survival.  The financial fair play principles were incorporated into UEFA’s Club Licensing and Fair Play Regulations (the “UEFA Regulations”), which apply to any club wishing to apply for a licence to participate in UEFA competition (i.e. the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League).

The principles set out in the UEFA Regulations were then imposed into the rules and regulations of the European countries’ domestic football leagues, including the Premier League and the English Football League (i.e. the Championship, League One and League Two).  This means that, in short, any club playing in these leagues must comply with the financial fair play rules imposed upon them, absent which they could expect the imposition of a sanction of some nature.

The QPR case

In 2014, QPR were fined an undisclosed amount by the English Football League (it has been suggested that the fine may be as much as £58 million) for its breach of the spending limits set out in the 2012 Regulations.

Under the 2012 Regulations, football clubs participating in the Championship were allowed to make a maximum loss of £8 million in the 2013-2014 season without sanction.  If a club’s losses exceeded that maximum threshold in that playing season, they would be the subject of a player transfer embargo or, if promoted to the Premier League, to a fine. The 2012 Regulations provided a sliding scale of fines for losses between £8 million and £18 million, while losses that exceeded £18 million would be punished by a fine that would be imposed on a pound-for-pound basis.

It was reported at the time that QPR had made a loss in the 2013-2014 season of £9.8 million, though the club had also written off £60 million in loans as an “exceptional item”.  This was the reason for the size of the fine that was imposed on the club by the English Football League.

QPR sought to appeal the Football League’s decision, alleging that it was unlawful and that the sanction imposed upon it was disproportionate.  That appeal has now come to naught, with the arbitration panel reportedly upholding the lawfulness of the 2012 Regulations and the proportionality of the fine imposed on the West London club (note that the content of the decision of the arbitration panel remains confidential and has not been published). Continue Reading

Sports team initiations: when a culture problem becomes a legal problem

GrassToday, the RFU has reportedly attributed to “initiation ceremonies” huge drop-offs in participation in the sport by university age players.  According to the RFU, the reputation of initiations has led to up to 10,000 players leaving the sport between school age and university.  Stories reported by the Times range from players having to fish dead rats out of buckets with their mouths, to the application of chilli powder to sensitive body parts, and excessive forced alcohol consumption.

Most universities and student unions already ban initiations per se.  Yet the rituals remain widespread, often under the guise of “welcome drinks” events.  The culture problem, and discouragement of participation, is concerning but should clubs, universities and governing bodies be concerned about more than that?  The possibility of injury, distress or even death (thanks to potentially tortious or even criminal acts) is clear from the stories reported.  So when does a culture problem become a legal problem?

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I am not a role model: player punishment

In June and July, Sports Shorts considered whether the law has any business punishing athletes for violent offences committed in the course of sport. This article asks the inverse: should sports teams and governing bodies wield any power to penalise athletes for their actions outside of sport – can this ever be justified and are athletes unfairly characterised as “role models” in this context?

Sports players in the headlines

Ben Stokes, the vice-captain of the English cricket team, was recently involved in an altercation during a night out. CCTV Footage shows him throwing a flurry of punches at two men, one of whom he knocks to the ground. His place on the upcoming Ashes tour is consequently in doubt, with the English Cricket Board yet to make up its mind and a police investigation ongoing.

Of course, Stokes is not the first sports star to attract media attention for reasons unrelated to sport; cases in point are plentiful across a variety of disciplines. Footballer Joey Barton has something of a reputation for his on and off-the-field antics, which include a breach of the FA’s betting rules for which he was given an eighteen-month ban reduced on appeal by almost five months. Swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have each previously been suspended from competition for drunken behaviour. A few weeks ago, All-Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith received a one-match ban in response to revelations about an incident last year when he was caught on CCTV with a woman – who was not his partner – entering a disabled toilet in Christchurch airport ahead of the team’s flight to South Africa.

On occasion, athletes use their status to weigh-in on current affairs. Recent examples include Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Pique’s public support of the controversial Catalonian independence referendum, for which he was booed at national team training and jeered by Atletico fans in their team’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona. Another example, which cannot quite be described as an off-the-field incident so much as a “before-the-first-whistle” incident, is the choice of NFL players not to stand for the USA’s national anthem at the start of games.

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‘Gatland’s Law’: Playing for your country or securing your family’s financial future?

It is a stark choice but one that is faced by an increasing number of professional rugby union players around the world.

Many of the top rugby nations have adopted explicit rules around the selection of players based abroad for the national team and others utilise similar, albeit unwritten, “guidelines” in order to maintain the strength of their domestic rugby clubs and teams.  As financial muscle in the game increases, pay packets for players also increase and clubs understandably want to attract the best players to boost their squads.  Therefore, where a top player is attracted to a club in a different country, he is potentially putting his international career at risk depending which nation he represents.

This is by no means a new issue.  New Zealand have adopted a policy of only picking players based in New Zealand for many years.  At times, this has been questioned, although their recent dominance over the international arena would suggest that they certainly have not been adversely affected by ignoring players outside the country.  However, to a greater or less extent, Australia, England, Ireland, Wales and Argentina follow a similar school of thought and none of these can boast the dominance that the All Blacks can.

The point has hit the headlines again this week as Wales have publicly changed their selection policy – which looks to have already claimed its first high profile casualty.  To recap, over the last few years, Wales adopted what was commonly dubbed ‘Gatland’s law’.  Effectively, this meant that only a specified number of Welsh qualified players based abroad (who had rejected deals in Wales) could be selected to play for the national side.  It was introduced to try to prevent player drain to England and France where stronger financial deals were on the table.  A total selection ban on players abroad would have cut out high profile players like Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Taulupe Faletau and so Gatland’s law was the compromise.

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FA makes maiden “Successful Deception of a Match Referee” charge

As readers of Sports Shorts will remember, the FA council approved the retrospective “Successful Deception of a Match Official” offence earlier this year. You can read our thoughts on the subject here.

While the offence has been in force since the start of the 2017/18 season, yesterday, Carlisle United’s Shaun Miller became the first player to be charged by the FA.

Miller has been accused of simulation (colloquially known as diving) after controversially winning a penalty against Wycombe Wanderers on Tuesday night. Wycombe’s Daniel Scarr was subsequently booked for the challenge before Jamie Devitt stepped up and converted the penalty. The match ultimately finished 3-3. Continue Reading

World Cup qualifying: ethics, controversy and covered mouths

With only the FIFA World Cup play-off matches left to play, we are now close to knowing the final line up of teams that will appear in Russia in 2018.

The final round of group qualification matches led to drama around the world.  While Ireland’s 1-0 defeat of Wales meant that the Irish would qualify for the play-offs, by the same stroke it consigned the Welsh to another summer spent watching the World Cup from home.

Yet the drama in the Wales v Ireland match did not compare to the scenes in Egypt, where an injury time penalty secured the Egyptians’ place in Russia and prompted wild celebrations among the Pharoahs’ fans.

The qualification story in South America also proved intriguing.  It has been reported that Colombia striker Radamel Falcao admitted discussing playing for a draw with his Peruvian opponents in Colombia’s 1-1 draw with Peru, a result which saw both sides progress in World Cup qualifying.  This alleged behaviour led to suggestions in the press of match-fixing.

With results elsewhere going in their favour, Colombia knew that a draw with Peru would mean that they would finish fourth in their qualifying group and that they would therefore qualify automatically for the World Cup.  That result would also mean that Peru would qualify for a play-off against New Zealand, after finishing fifth in the group.   If either side had lost the match, Chile would have overtaken them to secure a place in Russia.

As the match between Colombia and Peru neared its end, footage appeared to show Falcao energetically speaking to a number of his opponents, with his hand covering his mouth.  It is of course impossible to know what was said by the players, but some reports noted that the two teams appeared then to slow the pace of the game.  Continue Reading

Tim Cahill – A celebration too far?

Picture the scene.

It is the 109th minute in extra time of a decisive World Cup Qualifying Play Off. You are captaining your country against a team fuelled by the dream of reaching a World Cup in what would be extraordinary circumstances given the turmoil that the nation has faced throughout its campaign.

‎You score the winner, your second of the night (a neat header into the far corner) and your 50th goal for your country.

Do you:

  1. execute your trade mark knock out celebration with the corner flag?
  2. Run towards and celebrate with teammates and/or family? or
  3. Coolly remember that you have struck a lucrative deal to promote a new sponsor (an online travel store) and forgo the above in order to pretend you’re an airplane before making a T sign with your arms in reference to the company in question, TripADeal?

In Australia’s recent match against Syria, Tim Cahill stands accused of choosing option 3 and has faced criticism from fans and commentators as a result‎.

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