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Volume 6 No. 216

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Sport in Scotland could be transformed in September if Scottish voters decide to vote "yes" for an independent Scotland, ending more than 400 years of ties with England. Should they vote "yes" -- polls suggest it is still in the balance -- then a new Scottish Olympic and Paralympics team would be formed -- though Scottish athletes would have the choice of whether to compete for Team Scotland or Team GB. Some Scottish athletes believe they would lose prestige by only competing for Team Scotland while critics of an independent Scotland suggest that if the majority of Scottish athletes opt to stay with Team GB then it could render Team Scotland uncompetitive, which could negatively impact future generations. The counterpoint is that Scottish athletes would have a greater chance of getting to an Olympic Games as part of Team Scotland than they would Team GB. In the 2012 London Olympics, Chris Hoy and Andy Murray helped Scotland win 13 medals -- including seven Golds -- out of a total haul of 65 medals won by Team GB.

TRAINING CENTERS IN QUESTION: Just about all of the top Scottish athletes, around 100, train in top class English “centers of excellence,” such as swimmer Michael Jamieson, who trains in Bath, competing with other Team GB athletes. The only Scottish center is for curling. According to the Scottish government, Scottish athletes would be able to continue to train outside of Scotland and vice-versa, if Scotland became independent. A spokesperson for the Scottish government said, “We envisage working in partnership with agencies from other countries to provide training facilities that will be of interest to athletes across the world.” However, to entice foreign athletes to Scotland, significant extra investment is needed from the Scottish government to grow its number of centers of excellence.

COST OF EXCELLENCE: Currently, Sport Scotland -- the government agency which has responsibility for sport in Scotland from grassroots upwards -- has an annual budget of around £75M ($125M), around £19.5M ($33M) of which is spent on top-level sport in Scotland. On top of that, Team Scotland would hope to receive the 8% share of UK Sports’ £350M ($582M) budget, £28M ($46.5M), that it currently receives for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Overall, this would mean Team Scotland would have £106M ($176M) to spend on top-level athletes over a four-year Olympic cycle, which is unlikely to be enough to fund new infrastructure and performance given that there will likely be more Scottish athletes to fund.

COMMONWEALTH BOOST: However, Scottish Olympic athletes will benefit from the sporting infrastructure and facilities which have been built for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, such as the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. But for those sports which are not part of the Commonwealth Games, such as rowing, Scotland does not have the required training facilities, so investment would be needed in these areas. One other factor is that Team Scotland would have to be formally ratified by the IOC, which in previous cases has taken as long as a year for a new country. There are pluses and negatives to both sides of the argument, but the Scottish government thinks an independent Scotland offers plentiful opportunities for athletes. A Scottish government spokesperson said, "There can be no prouder moment for any athlete than representing your country on the international stage. Independence would increase the opportunities for exceptional Scottish athletes who are missing out on places to compete at the top level. Athletes are currently free to choose which county they represent proving they meet that country’s relevant qualifying criteria. Whilst we hope that all athletes who are qualified to represent Scotland will do so, this is a personal decision.”
John Reynolds is a writer in London.

Australian Football League CEO Andrew Demetriou has admitted that "he could have played a more meaningful role in the prolonged and compromised negotiations with Essendon that included the administrative oversight that allowed suspended coach James Hird to be paid in advance" for the '14 season, according to Caroline Wilson of THE AGE. Demetriou revealed that "a commission-led review into the Bombers' supplements scandal will scrutinise the AFL's handling of the long-running drama, which led to a bitter falling-out between that club and head office." Essendon Chair Paul Little said early this month that "negotiations had been frustrated by Demetriou's back-seat role in talks between the two parties." Demetriou: "It's a point of view that's been put forward several times and it's a view that I think will be fed into the process we are undertaking." Demetriou said that "he hoped his reputation had not been tarnished" and refused to be drawn on whether the chances of AFL Deputy CEO Gillon McLachlan succeeding him had been hurt. But he added, ''It's not about Gill and it's not about me" (THE AGE, 2/21). In Melbourne, Wilson also wrote predicting the timing of Demetriou's departure "from a job that his influence and pay packet suggests is the most powerful in Australian sport has been a fruitless game that has accompanied the start of at least the last five AFL seasons." The fact Demetriou and the game "are still recovering from its annus horribilis has fuelled speculation on the timing of any exit announcement." Surely "he has some bedding down to achieve." The AFL and Essendon and all the major players therein "are still picking up the pieces of a scandal that Demetriou admitted this week had tested football fans and long-term relationships in the game to an unprecedented level." Demetriou also came under fire "for his initially soft response to the Eddie McGuire racial insult to Adam Goodes, and later more generally when he laughed uncontrollably on Channel Seven upon learning that a St. Kilda footballer had set fire to a dwarf" (THE AGE, 2/21).

A 'CONTROVERSIAL YEAR': Also in Melbourne, Mark Robinson wrote Demetriou revealed what he learned from "footy’s most controversial year."

Q: Is AFL’s brand arguably at its lowest point in your time in charge?
Andrew Demetriou
: There’s no doubt it has been tested. There’s no doubt there weren’t any winners out of 2013. We shouldn’t sugar coat and pretend it wasn’t a year that affected the brand on a lot fronts. But our supporters are resilient, our game is incredibly resilient. I think the finals restored a lot of faith in the game. But of course the brand was damaged so it’s imperative we rebuild, move forward and try to put the past behind us.

Q: Can you move forward without acknowledging the mistakes?
: You can always move forward and you can always learn from mistakes you might’ve made. Not everyone gets it right all the time.

Q: What did you learn?
Demetriou: It only takes the action of one person which can cause significant damage to the game, to clubs and to individuals. There are people who seek to infiltrate the game, so I think one of our key learnings, and despite having an integrity unit which was established in 2008, probably one of the wake-up calls was we needed to do more. So despite thinking we weren’t in bad shape, we were exposed.

Q: You were one of the sport heads in Canberra on the “blackest day in Australian sport." Did the Federal government, ASADA [Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency] and ACC [Australian Crime Commission] blow it out of proportion?
Demetriou: There are two things about that. The issue was a serious issue and it needed to be addressed.

Q: So dramatically?
Demetriou: Should it have been done in that public forum with this broad press conference? I think that did some serious damage to sport in Australia. For a few days there it was on a global scale, the world thought most, if not all, sportspeople in this country were tainted with corruption and drugs. It was unfair on sport in general and athletes.

Q: People are arguing you should resign, people are saying you handled the investigation badly at the end. Do you feel you have been hurt by the supplement saga?
Demetriou: First of all, I don’t think about myself. Do I think at the end of the year, particularly around the issue of the pay, that that wasn’t received or handled well ... I think that’s a fair and legitimate position being put (HERALD SUN, 2/20).

Australian Football League side Collingwood President Eddie McGuire has "lashed the AFL Players Association for proposing a single cap on football spending, saying that the parlous state of club finances and ridding clubs of debt should be the priority, rather than giving players a greater share," according to Jake Niall of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. McGuire said that the clubs, which were "not in great shape," needed to be "thriving" and that the players' demands for a "greater share of the pie -- via a single cap on football spending, with no cap on players" -- would "put a bullet through" their future employment prospects. McGuire added that it was time to "look after the clubs, which were the AFL's shareholders, not mere stakeholders." McGuire: "Let's sort out the economy of football, so that everybody continues to have a job and that we have a great competition" (SMH, 2/20).

A London High Court judge has dismissed a $140M damages claim against F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone and three other defendants from German media company Constantin Medien, according to Tom Cary of the London TELEGRAPH. However, Justice Newey said in his judgement that he found it "impossible" to regard Ecclestone "a reliable or truthful witness" and ruled that payments Ecclestone made to German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky "did constitute a bribe." Ecclestone and three other parties were accused of paying Gribkowsky, formerly the chief risk officer of Bavarian state-owned bank BayernLB, $44M in bribes to "undervalue its shares in the sport" when it was sold to present owners CVC Capital Partners eight years ago. Constantin Medien, a former shareholder in F1, claimed it "lost out on a huge commission" as a result of Ecclestone’s actions (TELEGRAPH, 2/20). In London, Kevin Eason reported the judge found that Ecclestone "did bribe Gribkowsky but not for the reason of undervaluing F1, as alleged by Constantin." The Constantin case "is the first in a series and will be seen as something of a test" for two other damages claims as a result of the sale of F1 in '06. BayernLB is claiming about $400M in damages in the High Court and a similar claim brought by American private equity group Bluewaters "is thought to be at the appeal stage after being thrown out by a New York court." Ecclestone "will still face a criminal trial in Germany in April." This "is the case on which Ecclestone’s career will turn." At 83, he "wants to remain in charge of the sport he virtually created over four decades," but the prosecutors in Munich "have been determined to bring him to trial." If found guilty, Ecclestone faces a maximum jail sentence of 10 years, although it is "unlikely he would serve a sentence of that length" (LONDON TIMES, 2/20).

CLOSING ARGUMENTS: In London, Paul Weaver reported Ecclestone "had waited two months for the verdict" following the civil case in London at the end of last year. Newey said, "No loss to Constantin has been shown to have been caused by the corrupt arrangement with Dr. Gribkowsky. That fact is fatal to the claim." Constantin "are expected to appeal the decision" (GUARDIAN, 2/20). Newey: "The payments were a bribe. They were made because Mr. Ecclestone had entered into a corrupt agreement with Dr. Gribkowsky on May 2005 under which Dr. Gribkowsky was to be rewarded for facilitating the sale of BLB's shares in the F1 Group to a buyer acceptable to Mr. Ecclestone. Even ... making allowances for the lapse of time and Mr. Ecclestone's age, I am afraid that I find it impossible to regard him as a reliable or truthful witness." BBC Chief Sports Correspondent Dan Roan said, "This will be a bitter-sweet victory for Bernie Ecclestone -- his reputation called into question, his integrity called into question too by a High Court judge" (BBC, 2/20).

F1 RESPONSE: F1 has said that Ecclestone "remains in day-to-day charge of running the business," which has an annual turnover of around $1.5B, but he has "stepped down as a director pending the outcome of the German trial." Ecclestone "will also face tighter supervision" from a F1 board that includes prominent businessmen including Nestle Chair Peter Brabeck and CVC co-Founder Donald Mackenzie. The uncertainty over Ecclestone's future "makes it hard to revisit stalled efforts to launch an initial public offering" of a sport that attracts hundreds of millions of TV viewers to its series of grands prix held around the world (REUTERS, 2/20).

The National Rugby League is "considering assisting clubs to recruit players from outside the competition -- even if they can't fit them in their salary cap," according to Brad Walter of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. While the "radical proposal would not have helped South Sydney retain Sam Burgess," it would have prevented Israel Folau being "lost to rugby union after Parramatta were unable to accommodate him in their salary cap." The idea was one of "nine possible changes to salary cap rules discussed" at a meeting of club bosses. The others included:

  • Centrally contracting big-name players through "ambassador" payments from the NRL.
  • Including transfer fees, such as the A$300,000 ($269,400) Brisbane paid Canterbury to release fullback Ben Barba, in the cap.
  • Rolling the existing marquee player allowance into an increased salary cap.
  • Clubs putting up a A$10,000 bond to appeal salary cap rulings and a further A$30,000 bond to take the issue to a hearing.
  • Lifting the second-tier salary cap to A$440,000 to avoid situations such as Luke Brooks and Matt Moylan being prevented from playing NRL last year.
  • Extending the long-serving player allowance to include those who had played six years with a club (SMH, 2/21).

The Argentine National Basketball League will hold its 26th annual All-Star Weekend from March 12-13 in Buenos Aires, "returning to Argentina's capital after 24 years." Fan voting to determine who participates in the game opened on Saturday and will run through March 2. The weekend will also include a 3-point contest and dunk contest (CLARIN, 2/19). ... The governing body of Super Rugby "plans to expand the 15-team competition by adding two more sides, including one from Argentina." The southern hemisphere tournament "currently includes five teams each from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia" (REUTERS, 2/20).