Archive | December 9, 2015

Taking Another Look: Rugby’s Video Refereeing Problem

December 9, 2015

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By Christopher Gall – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

Rugby is a sport on the rise. It has benefited immensely from rejoining the Olympic Games after a 92-year absence. This has provided the sport additional funding from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and improved its credibility with government agencies. Further, Rugby is reaching out to build its fan base beyond its core markets. An excellent example is that the 2019 Rugby World Cup will be hosted by Japan.

One serious problem the sport faces currently, centers around video refereeing. Back in 2013 the administrative body World Rugby expanded the domain of the Television Match Officials (the fancy title given to instant replay staff) to include defensive infringements and serious fouls which is a significant move beyond disputable tries. While the policy has had the positive outcome of bringing more accurate calls on to the field, it comes at a steep cost—further inhibiting the sluggish pace of the game.

To break down the actual numbers, reviews used to average 85 seconds with 0.75 plays reviewed per match. So far this year that figure has more than tripled to 2.41. No other team sport outside of the competing rugby league (known as rugby league) comes anywhere close. The opening match of the World Cup on 18 September 2015 utilized six referrals and paused play for close to ten minutes while decisions were contemplated. As a result, the league faced significant criticism and issued an official statement on September 21st defending the replay policy.

Rugby 1Fast forward a little over a month, and the discussion is heating up again—this time with a push in the opposite direction. Senior officials are in an uproar, crying for increased video review.

To set the stage: During a quarterfinal match where Australia knocked Scotland out with a provocative penalty kick. The official, Craig Joubert, awarded the penalty after witnessing a Scottish player fumble the ball forwards into the open arms of a teammate. Unfortunately, what he missed in that fraction of a second was a deflection off an opposing player—which should have resulted in a scrum. The ref was prohibited from consulting with Television Match Officials as no foul play was involved. Unfortunately, the 80,000 fans in attendance and Mr. Joubert had to watch his mistake in slow motion as it was broadcast on the jumbotron.

Employing human referees always will result in a margin of error with the officiating. Rugby would do well to take note of other governing bodies who have banned the showing of replays on contentious calls inside the stadium—especially if the official has not had the benefit of viewing the footage themselves. There is an important balance to be struck between transparency and maintaining fair play. Officials can often feel pressure to provide a makeup call to the team who was slighted by the initial bad call thereby only compounding the issue.

Rugby 2

Rugby could benefit from a single replay center as is found in many North American sport leagues and has been adopted by Australasia’s National Rugby League (which has been able to halve its review time). Maintaining the flow of play is critically important. One way to do this that has been successfully utilized elsewhere is to employ challenges where a captain can request a second opinion until the decision is upheld upon review, whereby the right to further challenges is then forfeited.

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Hope for Russia in 2016 Olympic Games: ‘The greatest investigation in the history of WADA’

December 9, 2015

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By Jasmine Dhillon – Thompson Rivers University JD Student
An unprecedented sanction in Olympic movement has befallen. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) voted 22-1 in favour of suspending the Russian Athletics Federation for alleged ‘state-sponsored doping’. The 323-page WADA Independent Commission report outlined several accusations, which include the Russian doping lab destroying more than 1400 blood and urine samples, and taking money to cover up positive tests.

According to Travis Tygart, CEO of US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), it’s the greatest investigation in the history of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which formed in 1999. He stated to BBC Sport, “are we going to end up regulating ourselves to be a toothless bureaucracy or are we going to roll up our sleeves and get into the field of play and win this fight for clean athletes? The eyes of the clean athletes are watching.”

Tygart’s concern is for the athletes who may not get the chance they deserve to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. “All my victories are honest, ‘clean’ and deserved,” says Yelena Isinbayeva, the world-record holder in the women’s pole vault and a two-time Olympic champion. “I have always followed and am following all the anti-doping rules precisely. To ban innocent and not connected to that doping scandal athletes from competing in international events and Olympic Games in Rio is not fair.” Athletes like Yelena and dedicated fans across the nation are hopeful that the situation will be resolved in time to see Russia compete in Rio.

But why has the world focused its eyes on Russia alone? Several other countries were found to be ‘non-compliant’ of the WADA code and are also currently suspended from international competition. Argentina, Ukraine and Bolivia were all found to be using non-accredited laboratories and Andorra and Israel lacked having correct rules in place.
Perhaps it’s because Russia is and has always been a major player in sport. Or maybe, to paraphrase Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s America’s attempt to subdue Russia. The main reason however is due to a German documentary titled “Top-secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners” that was made public last year. It laid out the institutionalized nature of doping in the country compelling WADA to investigate.

Russia’s Olympic committee pledged to collaborate with IOC, WADA and other national Olympic committees in the drive to “eradicate doping.” Russia’s Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko said Russian athletics will cooperate in “any way” to prove it’s clean. He is determined to comply with the IAAF rules and states, “we are ready to rebuild our whole anti-doping system.” IOC President Thomas Bach said Russia’s track and field athletes would be eligible for the Olympics only if the country falls into line with all global anti-doping rules and the reforms are verifiable. “The goal has to be Russia being compliant again with all the international anti-doping regulations. That is the important thing, so that we have an even playing field for all the athletes.” Although the IAAF and IOC have cracked down on Russia specifically, who is to say athletes from other countries aren’t doping? The hopes for an even playing field may remain uneven and ironically enough pose a disadvantage to Russian athletes.

If the suspension is not lifted in time for Brazil, there is still hope for clean athletes to participate under the Olympic flag as opposed to the Russian flag. This was an option provided to Indian athletes in last year’s Winter Olympics after their national Olympic committee was suspended for government interference.

Sadly, Bach quashes this hope by stating, “This is mere speculation. I cannot see this situation at the moment.” Even then, would an athlete really want to participate alone? Is the same sensation to win without your country’s flag wrapped warmly around your shoulders? The Olympic Games are unlike any other sporting event. It’s a patriotic phenomenon. In a quest to win an Olympic medal, to fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nation, athletes are put under tremendous pressure to perform, which often leads to succumbing to the use of performing enhancing drugs. In a regime such as Russia, I can only imagine the potential consequences of failing to meet these aspirations.

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Antitrust in Mixed Martial Arts

December 9, 2015

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By Edward Hulshof – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

The UFC’s legal woes continue as the Le et al v. Zuffa antitrust lawsuit enters discovery. Zuffa, LLC (“Zuffa”), the corporate entity who owns the Ultimate Fighting Championship brand, has been the subject of staunch criticism for anticompetitive practices and the use of coercive adhesion contracts for several years. Zuffa recently lost a motion to stay document discovery proceedings – the document production obligations a part of the normal course of litigation – and with it, potentially, the shroud of mystery ensconcing its promotional and venue agreements with fighters and event hosts. If the antitrust lawsuit is successful, Zuffa could see fundamental reforms to its UFC brand and increased competition from market competitors such as Bellator MMA, a competing MMA promoter.

At issue is whether or not Zuffa’s business practices amount to “anticompetitive, illicit, and exclusionary acts,” which illegally acquire, enhance and maintain its dominant position in the market for promoting elite level professional MMA bouts as well as its control of MMA fighters. The Antitrust Class Action Complaint, filed December 16, 2014, (the “Complaint”) hinges on economic considerations, namely Zuffa’s control of “output markets,” that is, promoting MMA events, and “input markets,” fighter contracts.

The Complaint specifically alleges that “[t]he UFC has used the ill-gotten monopoly and monopsony power it has obtained and maintained…to suppress compensation for UFC Fighters in the Bout Class artificially and to expropriate UFC Fighters’ identities and likeness inappropriately.” This isn’t the first time Zuffa has been called to answer for its use of career suffocating fighter contracts.
Indeed, in 2008, well-renowned UFC fighter Ken Shamrock sued Zuffa for breach of contract when, it is alleged, Zuffa refused to extend Shamrock’s contract when he returned from retirement. (The court ruled against Shamrock, interpreting a key provision in the contract as providing Zuffa with the right to suspend and terminate the contract.)

More recently, Zuffa underwent intense media scrutiny when its confidential fighter contract with Eddie Alveraz was produced in a New Jersey lawsuit. The contract provided for extensive ancillary rights to Zuffa for the purposes of promoting the UFC brand and bouts. Additionally, and more troublingly, the contract granted Zuffa certain exclusive rights in perpetuity for promotional purposes, closing the door on Alvarez’s right to exploit and promote his own image outside the octagon and with other MMA promoters. Zuffa’s fighter contracts, it appears, choke the supply of inputs into competing MMA promoters.

It should come as no surprise then that MMA fighters are contemplating unionizing in an effort to strengthen their bargaining position with Zuffa and the UFC. The movement is a reflection of the repetitions of history, being reminiscent of the movement in boxing in the 90s which ushered in the Mohammed Ali Boxing Reform Act, legislation designed to rectify anticompetitive practices and coercive contracts between boxers and promoters. With Zuffa as the most powerful MMA promoter with a collection of fighters signing contracts with renewal options in favour of Zuffa, it is not surprising that many fighters are seeking to regain control of their careers. Zuffa, it appears, likes control. Even if the antitrust lawsuit is unsuccessful, it should serve as a signal to Zuffa to reform its contract practices and marketplace strategies ahead of the shifting balance in power that has been the source of tension between promoters and athletes for years.

 

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More Clarity is Needed Regarding Substance Abuse in the NHL

December 9, 2015

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By Nathan MacDermott – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

In early October the NHL and the NHLPA acknowledged that there is a cocaine problem among NHL players. With NHL drug arrests on the rise, the league has asked the NHLPA to allow cocaine to be added to the list of substances regularly monitored within the league’s testing program under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
If it is truly on the rise, what effects may it have on the league and its players?

Given the nature of the drug, one could argue that it is a performance-enhancing drug in a sport like hockey where aggressive play is an asset. But the true implications could be more to do with the image of the players, teams and the league as a whole.

There is a need for clarification within the CBA as to what impacts substance abuse will have on players and their contracts. Currently the substance abuse program is the place for players who are found to have a problem, but the recent case of Mike Richards may have changed that somewhat. The Los Angeles Kings recently terminated his contract after a drug related arrest, and eventually the parties reached a settlement. On its face it appeared that he should have been placed into the leagues substance abuse program before the Kings took any action regarding his contract. The Kings however stated that they terminated his deal because he did not tell them of the arrest, and not because of his drug use or the arrest itself. This shows that more clarity is needed within the CBA to protect players from similar outcomes.

If the league’s policy is to attempt to assist players with their addictions quietly before further action is taken, then there should be further clauses within the CBA to limit team action around such cases. Page 2 of the Standard Player Contract (SPC) states that the player agrees “to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally.”

This leaves the door open for clubs to penalize players or even terminate contracts for a myriad of reasons, and it appears that this could include drug use if any of the criteria in the SPC are met. A drug related arrest or simply being found in possession of an illicit substance could violate the contract and leave the player open to reprimand if pursued under the guise of another violation.

The NHL and the NHLPA need to get together to amend the language to avoid conflicts in these situations. If they left substance abuse related incidents outside the realm of ‘conduct detrimental’ etc., then players would truly have more security when dealing with substance abuse. The league may even find that players would be more willing to come forward and enter the program of their own volition, knowing that the contract repercussions were limited in this regard. As the setting in which these contracts function changes, so should the terms within the CBA and the SPC to better reflect the current state of affairs within the NHL.

 

 

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