The sporting year 2014 will be remembered, depending on what sport you are a fan of, for the odd moment of individual brilliance, a dramatic team collapse and the enduring excellence of a couple of veterans. The thing is, examples of achievement and failure can of course be found in every sport, almost every year. But 2014 will also go down as the year of sporting mismanagement.
The perceived failure of the various authorities and governing bodies to make the right decisions, encourage excellence and balance the soul of sporting competition with their commercial realities has always been a constant, low-level grumble among sports fans. We all think we could do a better job than FIFA, the IOC or the NFL in making sport what it should be. Some of that is conservatism, or a misplaced yearning for the games to be as they were when we were kids: simple, untarnished, meritorious. But some of it is genuine grievance.
Here, a timeline of how the year has unfolded in the world of sports administration:
•The year began with a leak of a draft document from the International Cricket Council, which proposed that the three biggest Test-playing members—India, England and Australia—receive a larger share of global revenue and be removed from the obligation of playing smaller teams regularly. It also argued for a two-tier Test league with promotion and relegation—but with the ‘Big 3’ exempt from relegation. The Indian board, the BCCI, threatened to withdraw its team from ICC events if the proposal was not supported by other members.
•The head of the BCCI, N Srinivasan, was ordered to step down temporarily by India’s Supreme Court, as it investigated 12 allegations made against him in connection to a match-fixing probe. While still under investigation, he was later appointed as chairman of the ICC and became the most powerful figure in world cricket.
•Ray Rice, a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, was given a mere two-game ban by the NFL, after an videotaped altercation with his then-fianceè and now wife, Janay Rice, who he knocked unconscious.
•The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, confessed that he “didn’t get it right” when punishing Rice, and belated announced a tougher domestic violence policy. After a video of the Rice incident emerges, he is sacked by his team and banned indefinitely by the NFL.
•The ICC’s restructure WA confirmed, with minor changes. The two-tier league system was scrapped, but redistribution of revenue in favor of the Big 3 and their greater control of administrative and financial affairs was upheld.
•Oslo followed in the steps of Krakow, Stockholm and Kiev by announcing that it was withdrawing its bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. The Norwegians cited “the hopeless pampering requirements of International Olympic Committee” as a motivation. A list of these demands soon surfaced and revealed the IOC required (among other things) a cocktail reception with King Harald, meeting rooms kept at exact temperatures, Samsung phones and separate traffic lanes. The eye-watering cost of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and public protests against the World Cup in Brazil have cooled the interest of many governments in hosting international sporting events.
•Two Formula 1 teams, Marussia and Caterham, entered into administration (bankruptcy). Both joined the Formula 1 paddock only in 2010, when the then-president of the FIA, Max Mosley, promised a budget cap in an attempt to maintain the sport’s competitiveness. It never arrived.
•In the latest instalment of a long-running saga, FIFA cleared the Russian and Qatari teams, to whom it had awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, of allegations of corruption. FIFA noted that Russian computers and paperwork had been destroyed and that aspects of Qatar’s bid were concerning, but that they did not warrant further investigation. However, hours later, FIFA’s own ethics investigator, Michael Garcia, disowned the report and claimed it contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts”.
•N Srinivasan was cleared of match-fixing allegations by an independent committee, but his son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, still faces a criminal case for illegally betting on matches.
•Ray Rice’s suspension was lifted by a neutral arbitrator following an appeal. The investigation cast doubt on Goodell’s testimony that Rice had been ambiguous in describing the severity of his attack on his fianceè, which meant that the extension of his ban constituted double jeopardy. Soon after, the president, Barack Obama, said the NFL had been “behind the curve” on the affair and had behaved like “an old boys network”.
•FIFA dismissed Michael Garcia’s appeal against the contents of its investigation into Russia and Qatar. In a highly twisted piece of logic, it said that its summary of Garcia’s report was an opinion, and therefore not legally admissible, despite the fact that it representing FIFA’s position on the subject. The following day, Garcia resigned, citing “a lack of leadership”, and the “edits, omissions and additions” made to his report.
•A German documentary was screened that alleged widespread doping by Russian athletes and the complicity of International Association of Athletics Federation officials. Among the most specific allegations was that an elite marathon runner had paid a bribe to her association to ensure that a suspicious biological passport did not reach the IAAF. The Russian treasurer of the IAAF called the documentary “a pack of lies”, but still tendered his resignation. In a separate case, the son of the IAAF president also resigned, after the Guardian alleged he requested cash from Qatar as part of its unsuccessful bid for 2017 World Athletics Championships.
•Obscured by this wave of impropriety, both proven and alleged, was the significant news at the end of the year that legislation has been passed in Switzerland to tighten regulation of bank accounts held by international sports bodies and their officials. Switzerland is home to the IOC, FIFA and over 50 other sports associations, drawn by the light tax regime and loose regulation. If Swiss legislators and police are committed, then there is hope that the quality of sports administration will improve. This in turn would fulfill a new year’s wish from this sports writer—that we can all get back to reporting the sports we love, and write less on the off-field shenanigans of those that run them.