Mouriniho is sexist. But that is not the only issue

In how many industries can you be punished for obeying the rules of your job? Not many I suspect. But there is one. And surprise surprise its football as Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro has learned.

The background to this shameful affair is this. On the 8th of August near the end of Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Swansea City their star player Eden Hazard went down. The referee Michael Oliver asked Chelsea’s medical staff onto the pitch to treat Hazard which Carneiro and fellow medic Jon Fearn duly did. Turned out that Hazard wasn’t injured but that is irrelevant. They were told to go on to the pitch and they did so. No problem surely?

To a sane human being no. But to Chelsea manager Jose Mouriniho there was. As Chelsea had had goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois sent off earlier in the game the fact that Hazard had to go off for treatment left Chelsea temporarily down to nine men. Reluctant to blame himself or his players for their failure to win a game they were expected to, Mouriniho instead attacked Carneiro and Fearn for being “naive” and “not knowing about football”. And he promptly demoted them saying they would not be on the bench for Chelsea’s future games. They have not been on the bench since and Carneiro has left Chelsea this week. (The affair is in the hands of her lawyers and she may make a claim for constructive dismissal*).

With football’s appalling record on gender equality it is hardly surprising that Mouriniho’s remarks about Carneiro have caused a stink – especially as that has been used as a stick to beat women in football with since time immormorial. As Sierra Williams wrote recently in the London School of Economics Review of Books: “If I am in the pub with my boyfriend and his friends and express an opinion about football it is disregarded immediately.” (That is despite the fact that the likes of Philipa Booth, Carrie Dunn and Amy Lawrence write about football better than the vast majority of men).

And if that wasn’t bad enough a fan has claimed that Mouriniho called Carneiro a ” filha da puta” – Portuguese for “daughter of a whore”. Mouriniho claims he called her “filho da puta” – “son of a bitch” (not much of an improvement to be honest). The FA are investigating which at the speed that organisation works probably means Christmas will have come and gone by the time we find out their verdict. He faces at least a five game ban if found guilty.

The sexism is bad enough. But Mouriniho’s behaviour is disgraceful for another reason. Carneiro and Fearn have been demoted – and in Carneiro’s case forced out – for obeying the rules of their job. For the fact is that once Oliver asked them on to the field to treat Hazard they would have been breaking their medical oath – called the Hippocratic oath – had they not attended to Hazard. What Mouriniho thought was utterly irrelevant. In effect Mouriniho was wanting them to disobey the rules of their own profession just to help Chelsea.

And here is the rub of this messy affair. Mouriniho is not alone. He is typical of an arrogant industry puffed full of its own importance. An industry that thinks the rules of the medical profession should not apply to it. Or indeed the law of this or any other country. A world governing body – the ghastly FIFA – that actually persuaded Brazil and South Africa to change their laws to accommodate the demands of FIFA’s sponsors. An industry that got a clause in the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act effectively banning mixed football (one MP called the clause – which applied to sport – a “football clause”) and an FA that went to court against a 12 year old girl to enforce it. Football is so arrogant I suspect most managers in the Premier League would have behaved towards their medical staff the way Mouriniho did.

So what should happen? Mouriniho should be banned from football for life – regardless of whether or not he made the sexist remarks to Carneiro. He put his medical staff in an impossible position where they had to disobey either Chelsea or their Hippocratic oath. It is quite possible that had Carneiro and Fearn not treated Hazard that day they would have been in trouble with the General Medical Council (GMC) for disobeying their oath. They were put in a Catch 22 that must never happen again.

To solve the problem football clubs should be banned from employing doctors. Instead the GMC should allocate medical staff to each club and the club would have no say in the matter. There are two advantages to this. The doctors would know who they had to obey and they would be accountable to the GMC and not the club. In the Carneiro/Fearn case Mouriniho and Chelsea could not have demoted them as they would not be their employers. Secondly it might mean more women in football. The vast majority of physiotherapy students in the UK are women but they are so rare in football that Carneiro running on to the pitch was a novelty because there are so few women in football. If a body outside the sexist world of football was choosing the medical staff at football clubs it is at least possible that there would be more women doctors/physios in football. And it would mean the abuse Eva Carneiro has suffered –  from her own club’s manager as well as from opposition fans – would not be for nothing if more women followed in her footsteps.

Finally one thing I don’t understand is the attitude of Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea unsurprisingly have had a lot of bad press over this affair. Why did he not give Mouriniho orders to apologize to Carneiro? Even better why did he not sack Mouriniho and reinstate Carneiro to the Chelsea bench? Mouriniho might think he is god’s gift to football but he is not the only good manager out there. In fact Chelsea and Real Madrid – both of whom Mouriniho managed – won the Champions League under other managers. He is not irreplaceable. And if I was Chelsea’s owner I would not want my club dragged through the sewer and made utterly toxic by the antics of an egomaniac. After all don’t they say that “No man is bigger than the club”?.

*”Constructive dismissal” means “action by an employer which leaves an employee no alternative but to resign”. Carneiro would need to convince a court that by demoting her Mouriniho was forcing her out.

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A feat you will never see again

Forty years ago today – September 15 1975 – a sporting feat occurred that hadn’t been done before – and won’t be done again. On that day Chris Balderstone played cricket for Leicestershire against Derbyshire in the County Championship at Chesterfield and ended the day on 51 not out.

So far so normal. It is what happened next that makes Balderstone’s day unique. At the close of play he was met by the manager of Doncaster Rovers Football Club Stan Anderson who drove him up the M1 to play in a Fourth Division (now League Two) football match against Brentford – and he played the full 90 minutes. The next day he went back to Chesterfield to continue his innings – and complete a century (116). He became the first – and only – man to play professional cricket and football on the same day. And because the seasons overlap so much his achievement will never be repeated.

But Balderstone’s story is even more remarkable than that day. To appreciate Balderstone’s career you first have to go back a year – to August 24th 1974. Now 1974 – the year of two General Elections – was also a silly year in football too. Not only were Scotland the only unbeaten team in the 1974 World Cup – but Manchester United were relegated to the Second Division (now the Championship) and replaced by Carlisle United who were promoted to the First Division (now the Premier League). Like Bournemouth today they were given no chance of staying up. But they won their first three games – including victories over Chelsea and Tottenham – to go top of the table. And the goal that took them there was a penalty by midfielder Chris Balderstone. The same guy who played cricket and football 40 years ago today. (By the way reality returned in April 1975. Carlisle finished bottom and were relegated while Manchester United won the Second Division and where promoted – never to be relegated again).

Now we go forward a year to July 22nd 1976. The England cricket team for the fourth Test against West Indies included two new caps. One of them was Chris Balderstone – the same man who was playing for Carlisle in the top division of English football less than two years earlier. He was a not a success – his Test scores were 35, 4, 0 and 0 as he was overwhelmed by the rampant West Indian fast bowlers – but it was an amazing achievement to play top division football and Test cricket within two years. Because of the increased professionalism and overlap of the seasons the idea of someone playing Premier League football and Test cricket in less than two years would be seen as absurd today.

And yet at the time while Balderstone’s feat of playing professional football and cricket on the same day was unique men having parallel careers in cricket and football was not. Twelve men have played cricket and football for England – the last one being Arthur Milton who played one football match (1951) and six cricket Tests (1958-59) for England. And plenty of English cricketers played professional football – including Brian Close who died yesterday – but the last Test cricketer who played professional football was Arnie Sidebottom (1985).

But now increased professionalism and the overlap between seasons makes it impossible. Jeff Wilson of New Zealand played one day cricket and rugby union for New Zealand in 1993 but had to choose between the two sports and as most people in New Zealand would he chose to play for the rugby team the All Blacks.

This of course also applies to US sport. Bo Jackson for four years (1987-90) played in the National Football League (NFL) for the Los Angeles (now Oakland Raiders) and in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Kansas City Royals. Like Balderstone’s feats the idea of someone having parallel careers in baseball and grid iron football is absurd.

Women’s sport – as it has until recently been amateur – still allows people to have parallel careers in two sports. The first England team to play in a Women’s Football World Cup – in 1995 – included Claire Taylor who was also part of the England women’s cricket team who won the 1993 World Cup. And Australian Ellyse Perry an all rounder (in both senses of the word) played in the 2011 Women’s Football World Cup and also in the Australian team that won the 2013 Women’s cricket World Cup.

But Perry’s career shows the problems of parallel sports careers. The football World Cup and the cricket Ashes for women were both held this year (the football in June/July the cricket in July/August). There was no way Perry could play in both and – unfortunately for England – she chose to play in the Ashes and was a key contributor to Australia regaining the Ashes. This just proves that as women’s elite sport becomes professionalised the chances of women having parallel careers in different sport will go the same way as men’s sport has and Perry will be the last of a dying breed.

That doesn’t mean people can’t play two sports professionally. But the only way it will be done in future is for people to start in one sport reach elite level and then switch sports. For example Rebecca Romero of Britain won a silver medal in rowing at the 2004 Athens Olympics switched sports to cycling in 2006 and at the Beijing Olympics won a gold medal at her new sport – thus becoming the first British woman to compete in two different sports at the Olympics. Her fellow cyclist Victoria Pendleton retied from that sport after the 2012 Olympics and is now starting a second career as a jockey in horse racing. While across the Atlantic Lolo Jones competed in both the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In London she competed in the 100m hurdles and in Sochi she competed in the bobsleigh as a break woman.

Michael Jordan’s brief (1994) career in Minor League baseball – he played for the Birmingham Barons the AA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox  – was only possible because he (temporarily as it turned out) quit the National Basketball Association (NBA). He could not have had parallel careers in the NBA and Minor League (never mind Major League) baseball because the seasons overlap too much.

So any child who is talented at say football and cricket – or in the US – baseball and grid iron football – now has to make a choice which sport to pursue as a career. He/she has no chance of emulating Balderstone, Jackson or Perry and have parallel careers in two sports. That is a result of sport for men (and more recently women) becoming professionalised thus making parallel sporting careers impossible. No one said progress is fair..

Can Corbyn become Prime Minister?

A party who had suffered two bad General Election defeats elects a new leader. Everybody reckons the party has made a terrible mistake. The MPs and party members are at loggerheads. The Government thinks it is on easy street. Some of its members say – in private – “That’s it we’re home and dry. No need to worry about the next election.”* Despite the fact that the Government has a small majority and a lot of its policies are unpopular. While members of the new leader’s own party are unhappy describing their leader as “a dud, an aberration, an error crying out for correction” and reassuring themselves that their leader will be “out by Christmas”.**

Am I writing about Labour’s shock new leader Jeremy Corbyn? No. I’m writing about Margaret Thatcher’s election to the Conservative Party leadership in 1975. Ridiculous as it seems now Thatcher was seen as an unelectable extremist who would drive the Conservatives too far to the right – and her gender didn’t help – the Economist magazine said that she was unelectable because she was a woman. Conservative voters and activists wanted Edward Heath re elected but the MPs – who were the electorate – wanted change.

Today of course Corbyn is regarded as too extreme and the party members (who elected him) are at odds with the MPs (the vast majority of whom are against him). And Thatcher’s election could be seen as a backlash against unpopular former Prime Minister Edward Heath just as Corbyn’s election is a backlash against unpopular former Prime Minister Tony Blair. So can Corbyn emulate Thatcher and win the next UK General Election? (to be held in May 2020).

The omens are not good. Thatcher was never popular as leader of the Opposition. But for two events she would be but a footnote in history.

The first event was Prime Minister James Callaghan’s failure to call a General Election in October 1978 when everyone thought he would. He didn’t because some polls had the Conservatives ahead by 2% – although others had Labour narrowly ahead. But opinion polls can be wrong – as happened in 1970, February 1974, 1992 and of course 2015. And I suspect had he held an election in 1978 fear of Thatcher’s gender – the 1970s were a very sexist decade in the UK – plus fear of Thatcher’s perceived right wing polices – would have produced a similar result to 1992 or 2015 – a small Government majority of between 11 and 21.

The next – and decisive – event was the “winter of discontent”. That was the name given to a wave of public sector strikes in January/February 1979 that led to among other things rubbish lying uncollected and the dead going unburied. This turned the people against the trade unions and by extension the Labour party since Labour depended on the unions for their funding (as they still do). The Conservatives took advantage of this and when the Government lost a vote of no confidence on March 28th 1979 and was forced to call a General Election on May 3rd the Conservatives won. But even then most pundits thought they won the election despite Thatcher rather than because of her.

The precedent of the 1970s suggests that Corbyn will only win the next election if there is some crisis that discredits the Conservative Government or say a banking or an economic crisis. If the next election is fought in normal circumstances the conservatism (as in fear of change/the unknown) of the UK people will take over. Add to that boundary changes which could increase the Conservative majority from 12 to 50 and Corbyn’s task gets even harder.

In fact he will do well to survive to lead Labour into the 2020 election. While Thatcher at least had the support of the majority of her party’s MPs only a tiny majority of the Labour MPs he has to lead voted for him today and at least nine Labour MPs have refused to serve in his Shadow Cabinet.

I suspect most Labour MPs – aware that he won today with 59.5% of the vote – will hold their fire until the party’s first post election test which will be in May next year with Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and London Mayoral elections. Of those the London Mayor election is by far the most important. First of all Corbyn’s Islington North constituency is in London.  Secondly London was just about the only part of the UK where Labour did well last May. Add to that the fact that current London Mayor Boris Johnson – who is more popular in London than his party – is standing down and it is clear Labour candidate Sadiq Khan should win. If Labour do not win the mayoral election it will be a disaster for the party – and Corbyn’s leadership.

Back in 1975 Thatcher won her first electoral test – a by election in marginal Woolwich West turning a Labour majority of 2,382 into a Conservative majority of 3,541 – which bought Thatcher time. Labour winning the London Mayoral election would do the same for Corbyn. But if they did not win in Corbyn’s own backyard Labour MPs could panic and do to him what the Conservatives did to Iain Duncan Smith back in 2003 and overthrow him.

Labour members by electing Corbyn have gambled that public opinion could swing in his favour. But the history of the UK suggests that that will not happen unless events go his way. And relying on events going in your favour is a very risky tactic…

*Dominic Sandbrook “Seasons in the Sun The Battle for Britain 1974 – 1979” page 252.

**ibid. page 259.

Change post season rules to stop injustice

I spotted an article on Fox Sports.com saying that the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Neal Huntingdon is not as big a fan of the second wild card rule in Major league Baseball (MLB) as he was when it was introduced back in 2012. Hardly surprising as if the MLB season ended today his franchise would be playing in the single elimination wild card game for the third year in a row. Whereas in 2013 and if this season ended now his franchise would be straight into a best of five Division Series (last year they were tied with the Giants so under the old rules they would have had a one game play off for the wild card which happened anyway) instead they will face a winner take all game – what Fox Sports called “a crap shoot” – which if the season ended now would be at home to the Chicago Cubs.

Now you might expect a guy whose team – the Texas Rangers –  was a victim of the one game play off to have sympathy with Huntingdon but I don’t. This is partly because in 2012 we were tied with the Orioles in the wild card race so we would have had to play them in a one off game for the wild card under the old rules anyway. Secondly any team who only had to win one of its last three games to win the division and can’t even do that does not deserve much sympathy. While I would tweak the system so that the wild card game becomes a best two out of three series – second wild card hosts game 1 first wild card hosts game 2 and 3 – the second wild card is a great idea that makes winning the division more important. For example my team have the second wild card but we are only 2 games behind the Astros in the AL West race and I would far rather win that than take my chances in a wild card game – even though after being the worst team in the AL last year any post season action would be a fantastic achievement – especially with our ace Yu Darvish having not thrown a pitch all season.

But there could be an injustice in the MLB post season this year – and the victims would not be the Pirates but the NL Central leaders – with the best record in MLB – the St Louis Cardinals. If the season ended today the three NL Division winners would be the Cardinals (won 87 lost 50) the Los Angeles Dodgers (79-58) and the New York Mets (76-61). The wild card game as mentioned above would be the Pirates (81-55) v the Cubs (79-57).

So far so straightforward. It is what happens next that in my opinion is the injustice. If the post season started today the NL Division series would be the Cardinals v the Pirates/Cubs and the Dodgers v the Mets. This is because the team with the best record gets the wild card. But here is the anomaly. As – if the season ended now –  whoever won the wild card would have the second best record in the League. The Cardinals reward for having the best record in the League would be to play the team with the second best record in the League. How is that fair?

Pre 2012 this would not have happened because the team with the best record did not play the wild card if the latter came from the same division. If that was still the case if the season ended now the NL Division series would be Cardinals v Mets and Dodgers v Pirates/Cubs – which to my mind is far fairer on the Cardinals who get the post season qualifier with the fewest wins  – which is surely what the team with the best record in the League deserves. If the current system applied pre 2012 the classic Yankees-Red Sox American League Division Series of 2003-4 would not have happened as they would have met in the Division Series instead as the Red Sox were the wild card.

But that system was also unfair because  – again – it sometimes meant the team with the best record did not meet the team with the worst in the Division Series. An example was in 2004 when the Cardinals were victims again. The wild card team – the Astros – were the fourth ranked of the post season teams and the Cardinals has the best record. But because the Astros were in the same division the two did not meet in the Division series and the Cardinals played the Dodgers instead. They went on to meet – and beat – the Astros in the NLCS which by the way is a classic series which in my opinion is underrated in baseball history because of the Red Sox comeback from 0-3 down to beat the Yankees in the same year.

So if I were making up the post season rules this is what I would do. The wild card team would not automatically be ranked fourth. It should be ranked according to its win-loss record. If it has the second best record in the league it should play the third ranked team not the first. Same if it is the third ranked. It should only play the top ranked team if it has the worst record.

Some might argue I’m being unfair to the third ranked division winner but they would still have the advantage of going straight into the Division Series. Even if a second placed team has the second  best record in the League it still has to go through the wild card play in game and burn its ace pitcher. Also – even if the wild card was the second best team – I would still give the division winner home field advantage – games 1,2 and 5 of a Division Series at home. So in my NLDS draw – which would as written above be Cardinals v Mets and Dodgers v Pirates/Cubs – the wild card team would still have to go through the play in game and still start the Division Series with two road games – two disadvantages. Plus the Cardinals would be rewarded for having the best record in the League by playing the play off team with the worst record – which is only fair.

I should also mention another anomaly I think is unfair. In the Division Series and Championship Series the wild card team cannot get home field advantage. Yet in the World Series the wild card can get home field advantage. To my mind that is unfair. If the World Series is between a division winner and a wild card the former should get home field regardless of the result of the All Star Game. This time I will admit bias in that if that had been the rule the Rangers would have had home field advantage in the 2011 World Series instead of the wild card Cardinals but come on I’m entitled to one moan. Aren’t I?

Scrap the window – and transfer fees

So today is the bi annual farce that is Transfer Deadline Day – the last day this side of 2016 that clubs in the UK can buy or sell players (the deadline was yesterday in Europe but is today in the UK  – presumably because yesterday was a bank holiday in England). Personally I hate this day – and not only because you have to suffer the annoying Jim White on the useless Sky Sports News (as I wrote in an earlier post the name of that channel is an oxymoron) but because the day shouldn’t exist at all.

In fact in the UK we didn’t have one for years. It wasn’t brought in until 2002 when FIFA insisted on it. Until then clubs in the UK could buy/sell players right up until March. FIFA probably insisted on it because European countries had a window for years but so what? Shouldn’t each country be allowed to run its own affairs the way they want to. FIFA should only control transfers between countries not within them. Transfers between UK clubs should not be affected unless we in the UK decide it for ourselves.

I’m amazed the system has survived for thirteen years but I suspect it won’t survive for ever. The system goes against the principles of free trade that most countries believe in. Football of course thinks it is above the law but as Grahame Wright wrote in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1988 (page 50) “it is common practice for an employee to move on to a new employer once he has gained training and experience”. In any other industry there would be no restrictions on free movement so why should football get away with it?

Of course arrogant football wants freedom reduced not increased. Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants the window shut when the season starts because he fears losing star player John Stones (and yet he said on TV he wanted to sign more players. Hypocrite, You can’t complain about someone trying to sign one of your players while you want to sign players yourself. Practice what you preach. You don’t have to sign players once the season starts) . Not only is Martinez’s idea even more restricting on free trade its impossible to do with one transfer window for everybody because seasons start at different times (and in the US, Sweden and Norway to name but three examples the season is going on right through the window).Just proves how stupid a universial rule is. To enforce Martinez’s plan you’d either have to have all the seasons of every league in the world played at the same time –  a practical and climatic impossibility – or have separate transfer systems for different countries – which is where we were back in 2002!

The case that has really annoyed me in football this year is David de Gea. Manchester United’s goalkeeper wanted to join Real Madrid because his girlfriend Edurne Garcia wants him in Madrid and he wants to keep her happy. Now I suspect in every other industry he would have been sent on his way with his employer’s best wishes – surely employee happiness is the most important thing – but this is arrogant football. United played hardball first wanting Madrid player Sergio Ramos and then when that fell through insisted on a big transfer fee and then froze the poor guy out of the first team. Finally they saw sense and agreed a deal yesterday – only for the Spanish FA to receive the papers a minute late thus scuppering the deal. I also suspect their might be an undercurrent of sexism here (with football that would not surprise me) in that United probably think that Garcia should just be a nice little girl and go where her man goes. An attitude that is woefully out of date and is stuck in the 1970s.

If I were de Gea I’d take FIFA to court. Why should his girlfriend suffer because two big clubs mucked up trying to beat an artificial deadline? It is true the clubs are partly to blame for leaving it so late but it is human nature to leave things to the last minute as anyone who has ever gone to the shops on Christmas Eve will testify. The transfer window is a restraint of trade and I suspect if someone challenged it in court FIFA would get a sharp lesson that football is not (and should not) be above the law. Just like UEFA learned in the Bosman case (1995) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) learned in 1977 when it tried to ban players for the hideous crime of signing for another employer and the High Court in London told them it was a restraint of trade and they couldn’t ban the players football might have to learn the same lesson again.

One reason I suspect United played hardball over de Gea was the fact they could get a transfer fee.To my mind transfer fees are an abuse of human rights and must go. Football is the only industry where human beings can be bought and sold in a market like animals. Even other sports like cricket and baseball don’t have transfer fees for heaven’s sake. Needless to say the world outside sport doesn’t have them. There is no reason for football to have them. Football moans that clubs would go out of business but cricket and baseball clubs seem to survive perfectly well without them. in fact if you had no transfer fees it is at least possible players might move less. Some agents I suspect encourage players to move because they get a cut of the transfer fee. If their cut was 5 % of nothing there would be less reason for them to encourage their players to move. Also I think clubs might sign more UK players than they do now. A lot of clubs buy foreign players because they are cheaper (£49 MILLION for Raheem Sterling. I rest my case). I suspect if the players were equally priced at zero most clubs would go for the UK player. Not for racist nationalist reasons but because someone who speaks the language and knows the league is less of a risk than those who don’t and since they are the same price the cheapness argument in favour of gambling on a foreigner would go.

There is no reason – except for football’s arrogance – that these ideas of free trade and no transfer fees can’t be implemented. Football’s argument that it would be ruined is nonsense. How on earth then does every other industry survive without transfer windows and transfer fees then? It is time – as with so many other issues  – to tell football that to be a part of society you have to play by the rules of society. Every rule. And that includes free trade and no transfer fees.