Saturday, May 30, 2015

A pinch of Salt Lake City

Earlier this week the U.S. Department of Justice announced its investigation into alleged corruption, indicting nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives.

Comparisons with Salt Lake City's Olympic bidding scandal in 1998-99 soon emerged, including NPR's Howard Berkes who contrasted FIFA's response with that of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and compared Sepp Blatter with the then IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch.

The comparisons are nothing new, as Reuters reported four years ago.

Looking further back, many of the circumstances are similar with sponsors such as Visa, McDonald's and Coca-Cola raising concerns about FIFA, as UPS, Home Depot and Coca-Cola (they have history) did about the IOC in 1999.

The scandal prompted significant changes in the IOC's host city election process, changes that many would welcome in FIFA, but what happened to the two leaders of the Salt Lake City bid?

Following investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, Thomas K. Welch and David R. Johnson were charged in July 2000 with one count of conspiracy, five counts of mail fraud, five counts of wire fraud and four counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.  The pair were finally acquitted in December 2003 after the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

This week's indictments may be a catalyst for change in football but history suggests that we should take them with a pitch on Salt (Lake City).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

2013 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix - Preview

The flying Finn Kimi Räikkönen will seek to build on his win in Australia last week as the Formula 1 championships moves to Malaysia.  Räikkönen has a solid record in the Asian country with two wins and another podium finish.

Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso boast the best records though with five podiums and three wins each.  Alonso can also point to remarkable reliability where he has won all 11 Malaysian Grand Prix he has started.

England's Jenson Button has four podium finishes (including one win), double the number of his compatriot and former team mate Lewis Hamilton.
World Champion Sebastian Vettel also has a good record in Malaysia and he trails only Alonso in terms of form over the past year.  However, Alonso's remarkable consistency - 14 podium finishes from 20 starts - has been outdone by Vettel's winning ways.
Alonso, Räikkönen and Vettel look a step ahead of the rest and any one could win in Malaysia.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Will the Australian GP winner win the World Championship?

The Formula 1 year starts later than most.  St Patrick's Day in Melbourne brought the first race of the 2013 season:  the Australian Grand Prix.  But how good a guide is this GP, or for that matter, any one GP, as to who will be the Champion come November?

The map below seeks to answer that question.  We look at what percentage of the winners of each GP go on to win the Championship between 1991 and 2012.  Then we we map the results by host country.

The results range from 100% in India, where Sebastian Vettel has won both GP, to 25% in Abu Dhabi, where only one of the four Grand Prix have been won by the eventual champion.

In Australia, only 55% of GP winners became World Champions.  But Australian GP winners should take heart from the fact that, since 2000, the proportion has jumped to 69%.  So the winner on Sunday may be on the right road to becoming the 2013 F1 World Champion.  By comparison, 50% of Malaysian GP winners have been crowned champions.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

US sports could learn from Australia's anti-doping efforts

This week an Australian Crime Commission (ACC) said widespread use of performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) has been identified, or is suspected, in professional sport in Australia.  In the report "Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport", the ACC notes:
"Despite being prohibited substances in professional sport, peptides and hormones are being used by professional athletes in Australia, facilitated by sports scientists, high-performance coaches and sports staff."

The ACC said it has also identified the involvement of organised crime in the domestic distribution of PIEDs, and warned of the danger to professional sports' integrity should organised crime increase its presence in the distribution of PIEDs and exploit their association with professional athletes or their teams to facilitate other illegal and profitable activities such as match-fixing.

The government responded by pointing to new legislation it had introduced to strengthen the powers of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) and highlighting work done by the major professional sporting bodies, such as the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League, on maintaining the integrity of their sports.

Contrast that with recent coverage in the US where Major League Baseball which announced in January that random, in-season testing for human growth hormone would start this year but the NFL and the NBA have separately indicated this month that HGH testing might start in American football and basketball next season.

The central role played by collective bargaining arrangements between owners and players in US sports appears to be a major drag on efforts to combat doping there.  However, in the wake of the United States Anti-Doping Agency's report which found that the "US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team ran the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen", pressure has grown on US sports to protect their integrity and reputation.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Belgian blues for Alonso?

As the Formula One season resumes, Belgium could be the place for Fernando Alonso's rivals to close the gap on the leader.

The Spaniard leads the world championship by 40 points from Australian Mark Webber.  He is also the leading driver over the past year, averaging 14.7 points per race with ten podium finishes.

However, Belgium has been an unhappy hunting ground for Alonso.  Mr. Consistency has finished only four of his seven Grand Prix there.

So who could take the initiative?  Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen are the only current drivers with multiple wins, but the bigger threats are likely to be Lewis Hamilton (starter from pole in 2008 and winner in 2010) and Sebastian Vettel, who won from pole last year.  Mark Webber may be second in championship but his wins in Monaco and Great Brtain were his only podium finishes this year.

A pole start may help in other Grand Prix but in Belgium it counts for little with only five of the 18 races having been won from pole but a top three start could be crucial.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Gold rush drives Olympic success

When it comes to the Olympic Games it's not taking part that counts, it's winning.  And it's not the silver or bronze medals for also-rans that drive nations to invest in their athletes and teams, but the allure of gold.

A look back at the post-boycott Games covering the period 1992 to 2008 shows that the most successful nations have a higher than average proportion of goals and among their medals (32% of medals in those Olympiads have been gold).

Digging deeper at trends over time, it's clear to see the nations on the rise:  China, Germany and Great Britain, with Australia getting a boost from hosting in 2000.

The contrast between China and the USA highlights the shift in power.  Only 32% of China's medals were gold in 1996, but by 2004, the proportion had increased to 51%, while the USA went from 44% to 33% over the same period.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Vettel's mettle faces German test

Sebastian Vettel will aim to do something he has never in Germany - win a Formula 1 Grand Prix.  In four attempts, Vettel has not finished better than second, though he started from pole once.

Grid position is crucial in Germany with twelve of the past twenty races won from pole - and eleven of 18 races in Hockenheim.

Vettel inconsistent performances so far this season contrast with his dominance last season.  Three pole positions have yielded only one race victory, while his three podium finishes are surpassed by Lewis Hamilton (four) and championship leader Fernando Alonso (five).

Looking back over the past year though Vettel remains the top driver, with eleven poles, eleven podiums and six wins over the past twelve months.

He will need another strong finish in Germany, against strong opposition from Alonso, Hamilton and teammate Mark Webber, to maintain that advantage.  Clinching pole position today could be key,