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Volume 6 No. 212

International Football

The Premier League "has a new breed of observer: sophisticated data firms that meticulously track every movement, using statistics to discover the best way to win," according to THE ECONOMIST. Since the team-sheet "can mean the difference between glory and insolvency," clubs employ talent spotters "who travel the globe to find the right players at the best price." Until recently, their intelligence gathering "was pretty old-fashioned." Scouts "would spend hours watching matches in the lower leagues in the rain." Now, however, companies such as Opta and Prozone "collect reams of helpful data, selling them to the clubs and media for a fee." Pitch-side analysts log every tackle, pass and goal, typically collecting information on 2,000 or so "events" per match. Above the stadium, "arrays of cameras track players’ movements, logging their distance, speed and acceleration." Still, computers "are not about to oust scouts entirely." Opta analyst Sam Green points out that human observers "take into account contextual details that computers don’t." Untangling skill and context "is something a computer cannot yet do" (THE ECONOMIST, 8/17).

Former FA Chair David Bernstein said that FIFA "should consider a re-bidding process for the 2022 World Cup rather than move the competition to winter," according to Martyn Herman of REUTERS. A move from summer to winter "would have severe consequences for the world's biggest domestic leagues such as the English Premier League which has already voiced fears over a winter World Cup." Bernstein: "My end view is either that it should be left where it is or there should be a re-bidding process. It was a strange award in the first place, we all know that." Bernstein said that "he was against the idea of the tournament being moved as Qatar won the right to host the World Cup on the basis of a summer bid, using air-conditioned stadia" (REUTERS, 8/18).

'SERIOUS BUSINESS': The BBC reported Bernstein's successor FA Chair Greg Dyke suggested that FIFA could either change when the tournament is played or change the location, adding "that the former is more likely than the latter." However, Bernstein -- similarly to the EPL -- "opposes a change of dates." He said, "It's a huge issue. My personal view on this is unchanged. In 2010 FIFA awarded two World Cups at the same time. It was a controversial thing to do and I believe that FIFA regret doing it now. Bidding for a World Cup is a serious business. There is a lot of money and national prestige involved" (BBC, 8/18). INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL's Paul Nicholson reported Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has added his voice to the Qatar 2022 debate, saying that "he is confident that Qatar will host a 'magnificent' World Cup." A statement issued via the AFC media office, however, "stops short of entering the Winter vs. Summer discussion, saying he is confident that FIFA will make the best decision for all" (INSIDE WORLD FOOTBALL, 8/16).

EPL CEO Richard Scudamore said that more Premier League clubs are poised to follow Chelsea and Stoke City in "offering free and subsidised travel to their away fans," according to Rob Draper of the London DAILY MAIL. Scudamore said that the clubs have agreed to put aside £4M ($6.3M) a season "specifically to help fans travel away from home because the Premier League fears that declining away support is jeopardising the unique atmosphere that makes the competition so attractive." Scudamore: "In the past five years we’ve seen a 10% decline in away attendance. Even though attendances are up to record highs and the occupancy rates of stadia are up to 95.3%, away attendances are down. In the past six months we’ve put a lot of effort into what can be done for away attendance. One of our unique selling points is the away attendance because it creates the tension, the passion, the show" (DAILY MAIL, 8/18).