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A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘soccer

Hope Solo and misguided legal actions

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It appears that Hope Solo is up to her old tricks again: According to a recent entry on her blog, she is initiating a federal law-suit to get “equal” pay. This in a continuation of an earlier suit ([1]).

These are highly unfortunate developments, which risk setting a damaging precedence, should the suit be successful, removing or weakening the performance aspect of remuneration and risking more “Title IX”-style problems. And that is just in sports: If and when such procedures catch on in the overall economy, there is no telling what the results could be. (I have a number of older texts on related problems, including [2], [3], [4].)

For want of new details, I have briefly looked into the original situation. Going by [1], the (then) complaint alleged that “[t]here are no legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages, nor can it be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any factor other than sex”.

I have already discussed much of this matter in an older post on remuneration in Swedish soccer, and I will not re-iterate the arguments made there. However, I do explicitly note that audience figures are similarly poor among women compared to men in the U.S.: For instance, Wikipedia on MLS attendance and NWSL attendance shows that the MLS for 2017 had a total of 8,270,187 spectators over 374 games, with a mean attendance of 22,113—while the NWSL had 609,960 spectators over 120 games, with a mean attendance of 5,083. In other words, less than quarter per game and less than a third of the games…* (For further reference, a single 17-game round of the Bundesliga often exceeds the above season’s total of the NWSL.) The (international) situation in the men’s World Cup and the women’s World Cup is less extreme, but has the same tendency. For instance, the last four men’s tournaments have averaged roughly 50 thousand spectators at 64 games each. The best women’s average was 37,944 over 32 games in 1999; the highest overall attendance was in 2015 after the number of games had been pushed to 53—but with a mere 26,029 in average attendance.

*A better comparison would take total revenue and/or ticket prices into account, but, with the large difference in spectators, the research would not pay off—even a considerably higher ticket price for women’s games would not make up for this difference. To boot, chances are that the men’s tickets are more expensive due to greater demand; to boot, any difference in ticket price would be reduced by secondary game-visit costs, like overpriced hot-dogs.

The lawsuit appeared to claim that the women’s team would actual earn more money for the U.S. soccer federation than the men’s team. Here I have two objections:

Firstly, if that is the case, the women should have an excellent bargaining position and their first move should be to negotiate (see also an excursion below)—not sue. There might or might not be some deranged Old White Man somewhere who takes a perverted pleasure in keeping women down, but, contrary to Feminist propaganda, this is a rare case indeed. Motivations like a wish for more money and more power are far, far more common, and those who can give them what they want can get something in return. Starving the golden goose is just stupid. However, do not expect to get things without negotiating for them: Big organizations rarely work that way; and there are plenty of both Old White Men and Young Black Women who are more than happy to underpay everyone who lets them get away with it.

Secondly, the claim is at best misleading, as can be suspected from the above. I had a look* at a PDF-report with official numbers that is linked in [1]:

*A detailed interpretation might require more background information or more detailed numbers, and I make reservations for errors of interpretation.

Generally, it is misleading to base comparisons of a single year and a greater time stretch has to be considered: The numbers for each team can vary considerable based on the external circumstances of the year, as when the men’s World Cup in 2014 (fiscal year* 2015) increased the numbers for the men in that year and the women’s World Cup in 2015 (fiscal year 2016) did the same for women in that year. Furthermore, there is often a dependency on short-term success, which also make any short-term comparisons misleading. What e.g. if the U.S. women had missed their mark in 2015 the way they did in the Olympics in 2016?** Indeed, the great budgeted numbers for the women’s team in 2017 include an “Olympic Victory Tour” (chart 2; chart 3 for the men). I do not know what the later real games and numbers were, but I do know that the U.S. Women did not win the preceding Olympics, making this “Olympic Victory Tour” a budgetary distortion.***

*Unless referring to a championship, references to years will be fiscal years below.

**Note that I am not arguing that their success should be discounted—they did win and do deserve the credit (and any bonuses they might have negotiated in advance). What I do argue is that differences from one tournament to another (especially, when combined with the question of what tournaments are available in the given year) make it important to be cautious with prognoses for the future. They won in 2015, but flopped in 2016. The German men won the World Cup in 2014 (and were Olympic runner-ups in 2016), but were last in their group in 2018. Keep in mind particularly that there is always an element of chance involved and that even the best team of the tournament is unlikely to win it without at least some luck.

***Interestingly, per game, the men’s budget had both higher average attendance and higher average ticket-prices, making it reasonable with higher per game rewards for the men. (Per game rewards appearing to be one of the main bones of contention. I make no claim as to how much higher would be reasonable at this stage, however.) Note that the overall numbers are further distorted by the greater number of “away” games for the men.

Further, the numbers are not that flattering for the women. True, page 68 shows a projected income from “Men’s National Team Events” of 21,047,216 for 2016 compared to 23,570,326 + a World Cup 3,234,600 for the women—leaving the women almost six million ahead.* However, actual numbers for 2015 show 14,867,576 + 12,892,819 for the men, reaching higher than the women in their World Cup year—and the overall for the women in 2015 is a mere 3,160,386… 2014 tells a similar story—men clearly ahead. The budget for 2017 would show women ahead again, but here we have the influence of the “Olympic Victory Tour” (cf. above). (No other years are listed.) The tentative** conclusion is that the men’s team brings more money and/or that we have to wait and see what happens with future revenue, before judging*** what would, in some sense, be fair.

*There are some other entries with no obvious sex relation, including “International Games”. I have not attempted to investigate their nature.

**A longer time series would be interesting and could alter this conclusion.

***But not before negotiating: The time for the team to hit the negotiating table, and to do so hard, was immediately after the 2015 gold.

It is true, however, that the men’s team also has had higher expenses (cf. page 71), implying that its profitability relative the women’s team might not have been as good as the revenue indicated. Then again, in the budget for 2017, this is changed and the women have about five million more in expenses… (Likely, the “Olympic Victory Tour” again.) To boot, the demands by Solo et al. would drive the women’s expenses even higher.

A point where the women’s team might* have an argument is the area of publicity and sponsorships. However, if so: (a) The continuation of this is contingent on continued success. (b) The individual players should already have been benefactors through their own sponsorship deals. (c) The better solution would be to generally pay out more of “central” sponsorships to the players instead of fattening the federation. (d) If there really is a long-term effect, this should manifest in better attendance numbers, which can then be used for negotiations and/or will lead to semi-voluntary increases by the federation. (e) Strong publicity and sponsorship effects are a perfect base for negotiations—so negotiate.

*This is not unambiguously clear from the parts of the report I have read.

Excursion on Hope Solo:
As for Hope Sole herself, I have done a bit of reading today, and note that, in addition to her dubious legal actions and payment stance, she is alleged to have badly physically abused several relatives (and threatened police officers, and whatnot), and has been referred to as a “piece of work” by Pia Sundhage* (re-quoted through the New York Times). She has been mentioned on this blog before ([5]), that time in her defense. While I stand by my defense in that issue,** I have at least heard the claim that her suspension was based more on prior behavior than the incident at hand. (But this should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that misrepresentations by the other party are not unusual.) The bearing of this on her payment case is at most circumstantial; however, it is interesting how often Feminist activists (and similar people) have similarly shady behavior patterns and personalities.

*In addition to being a former long-time U.S. national-team trainer with considerable exposure to Solo, she was also one of the best player’s in the world in the early years of women’s soccer. The latter implies both that she is not a bureaucrat talking down a player without understanding her situation and that she is likely to have encountered more unwarranted sexual discrimination than Solo.

**Even assuming that the secondary, vague, allegations are true and refer to something less forgivable: Prior behavior might very well have an influence on the degree of punishment; however, it must not make things illegal that are legal for someone with a better background. (Excepting cases where there is a strong reasonable connection and where the consequences are public knowledge well in advance, e.g. that someone convicted for a felony might be forbidden to own a gun. Even here, however, it is better to err on the side of “too little”.)

Excursion on negotiation:
Should negotiation fail, we have to consider the “why”. It could, for instance, be that the parties involved simply see the world so differently that no mutually satisfactory agreement is possible, in which case the sides need to consider their alternatives (up to and including a refusal to play, in the current case). It could be that the party requesting a change does not make its argument effectively, in which case it might hire a professional negotiator (or a better one, should one already be present). It could be that the one side holds out in the belief that the other side will cave, and then the other side needs to prove the opposite.

It could also be that the one side has a so disproportionately better situation that it can more-or-less dictate terms—which might very well be the case here, and would be well in line with some of my other writings (e.g. in [5]). If, as here, this party is a sports organization dictating to its athletes, however, we have another and more urgent matter—making the organization a tool for the athletes, not the athletes tools for the organization. Focus on that and the issue of negotiation will resolve it self; neglect it and other actions are tantamount to Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill. (Had this been Solo’s complaint, she would have had my support.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

August 30, 2018 at 5:55 pm

German World-Cup debacle / Follow-up: Poor decision making

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As I wrote recently concerning the World-Cup game between Sweden and Germany:

As can be seen, the correct decision/the ideal outcome of the game cannot be determined without information that is not knowable at this time. In effect, this game is “unrootable” for me, and the interesting events will largely take place in the respective last of the three games each team plays.

(What is the most likely scenario? Well, on paper Germany is a clear favorite against Sweden, and will likely end up second in the group, behind Mexico, while Sweden and South-Korea are eliminated. How it plays out in real life is yet to be seen.)

By now I am left almost shocked: Germany very, very barely defeated the Swedes, on overtime—but…

…Sweden won the group and Germany ended up last(!), something almost inconceivable before the tournament.*

*Germany is not only the defending champion, but also came of a long line of good results (until the last few preparation games, where things started to fall apart).

That Sweden, in today’s third round, could beat Mexico was not entirely unexpected, after the two teams having similar showings against Germany* and South-Korea; however, the 3–0 was highly surprising. Germany, in turn, should have beaten South-Korea, and that would have made the dream scenario of both “my” teams advancing come true—a scenario that seemed quite unlikely after the initial German failure against Mexico. Unfortunately, Germany continued a trend of not actually scoring, even being the superior team in terms of play; the result at 90 minutes was 0–0; and during the desperate** German attacks during stoppage time, South-Korea scored twice…

*While Mexico won, it was mostly a matter of luck; while Sweden lost, it was on a last minute action during stoppage time.

**Even a one goal victory, given the Sweden–Mexico result, would have been enough for advancement; any non-victory implied non-advancement.

This leaves us with an absurd situation, with Germany trailing even South-Korea and having the likely worst result in its World-Cup history—despite beating the eventual group winner and despite being the better team in all three of its matches.

As for Sweden, I note that it has now been part of the elimination of three supposedly strong teams: After beating out the Netherlands (2014/“reigning” World-Cup third-placer) for second place in its qualification group, multiple champion Italy was beaten in a play-off, and now reigning champion Germany is gone too. (Although, admittedly, Sweden was the only team not to beat the Germans…)

An interesting observation is that Sweden has mounted reasonably successful teams before and after the national-team career of Zlatan, but not during it. Unlike some other greats, he never really delivered in the national team, and the depth behind him appears to have been lower than before and after.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 27, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Follow-up: Poor decision making

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Sometimes it is impossible to make a good decision, even with a sound attitude and complete knowledge of the knowable facts. My current dilemma regarding the FIFA World Cup is a good example*:

*Except in as far as following sports and/or basing team favoritism on factors like nationality can be considered irrational: I could always decide to not care at all…

My native Sweden and my adopted Germany are in the same group and will presently play each other. Which team should I root for?

In the four-team group with two teams advancing, the ideal would be that both “my” teams advance. However, this is tricky: Germany unexpectedly* lost against Mexico, while Sweden expectedly won against South-Korea. Should Mexico (as expected) win against South-Korea**, the only way to get both teams in would be for Germany to win both its remaining matches (including against Sweden), Sweden to win against Mexico, and having the goal difference play out fortunately between the three 6-point teams. More likely, considering the presumed weakness of the South-Koreans, one of the teams will make it and the other fail.

*In such statements, I go by the official seeding, which had Germany 1st, Mexico 2nd, Sweden 3rd, and South-Korea 4th.

**The match was completed during my writing: Mexico did win.

In that scenario, however, which team would I rather see advancing? Sweden is a little bit closer to my heart, but Germany has a far better chance at being successful in the knock-out phase. What if Sweden were to advance, only to lose immediately in the next first knock-out round?

Also, if Sweden* is the team that advances, it would beneficial to be the group victor. For that to happen, a loss against Germany would be very problematic. On the other hand, if Sweden were to beat Germany, the dream scenario of both teams advancing is pretty much ruled out. A draw is not that good either, because it (a) means that only two points (instead of three for a victory) are awarded, (b) could lead to Sweden simultaneously missing the group victory and Germany being eliminated.

*Ditto for Germany, but their chances of a group victory are currently smaller.

Then again, should South-Korea upset Mexico, we have a completely different set of scenarios to look into.

As can be seen, the correct decision/the ideal outcome of the game cannot be determined without information that is not knowable at this time. In effect, this game is “unrootable” for me, and the interesting events will largely take place in the respective last of the three games each team plays.

(What is the most likely scenario? Well, on paper Germany is a clear favorite against Sweden, and will likely end up second in the group, behind Mexico, while Sweden and South-Korea are eliminated. How it plays out in real life is yet to be seen.)

Written by michaeleriksson

June 23, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Censorship of opinion, disgraceful sports organizations

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I have complained repeatedly about censorship, shunning, forced apologies, whatnot directed at athletes who express other opinions than what disgraceful and unethical sports organizations consider acceptable, or where athletes are otherwise forced into certain behaviors, e.g. with regard to when they are allowed to show the logos of their sponsors. Whether someone is allowed to compete should be a matter of accomplishment and ability—not opinion. With a recent incident involving Hope Solo, we have reached a point where the athlete basically becomes a rightless tool, who has to do what (in this case) she is told and otherwise keep her mouth shut—or she risks seeing her sports career severely damaged, without any regard to actual accomplishments within the sport. This to a point that she has effectively lost the right to freedom of speech and opinion.

To make matters worse, this is just a piece of a larger puzzle, where having the “wrong” opinions is increasingly becoming one of the worst conceivable sins (“crimethink” and so on), where people have to watch what they say online lest they be fired, where scientists supporting the “wrong” hypothesis, even on plausible grounds and a fair chance of being objectively correct, have their funds canceled or are refused publication*, where most politicians are too cowardly to deviate from the established “truth”, but more than keen on attacking others who do, …

*Note that I am not talking about pseudo-scientists with a professorship, legitimate scientists who cling to disproved theories, or the mere incompetent. That these eventually lose funding, and so on, is in order—if they have been given a fair chance to prove their theories and have been rejected on scientific (!) grounds. I am talking about legitimate, competent scientists who are attacked solely for expressing an opinion which is not sufficiently politically correct.

Now, what did Hope Solo say? According to e.g. USA Today:

“We played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

This after having lost a chance at an Olympic gold in an upset loss—on penalties. The U.S had four golds and one silver in five attempts, won last year’s World Cup, and won their group without loss prior to this quarter-final; Sweden did not even have an Olympic medal, lost in the round of 16 at the World Cup, and finished third in its group after being smashed 5–1 by Brazil…

To which U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, according to the same source, claimed:

“The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our national team players”

“Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect. We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions”

Speaking as a Swede and country man of the “insulted” team: The only thing unacceptable here is the behavior of Gulati. Not only are Solo’s statements legitimate personal opinions, not only could they have been made in the heat of the moment, not only are they well within what can be expected by quite reasonable sports people having a bad day—but even if they had been unacceptable, there is no reasonable way this should have resulted in more than a slap on the wrist, say an informal warning between four eyes. Instead, she was publicly denounced—and received a six (!) month (!) suspension! Where is Gulati’s own sense of fair play and respect? (Or do only athletes need to prove these characteristics?)

To repeat: A six month suspension over a more-or-less harmless remark. There will be thousands of television viewers who said far worse…

This is the point were athletes and their managers need to start to consider refusing interviews or otherwise making public statements without the pre-approval and supervision of a lawyer—but, of course, if they do refuse, they will likely violate rules about post-event interviews, publicity appearances, and the like, and be suspended for six months…

There may well be remarks that are worthy of suspension, but, frankly, I am hard-pressed to think of anything not actually relevant for the (legal) courts that would warrant a six (!) month (!) suspension. Yes, had her team lost under similar circumstances against the Germans (who defeated Sweden in the Olympic final) instead and had she then made claims about “Nazis” or “doped-up East Germans”, then a suspension could have been quite legitimate, but even then six months seem excessive to me, considering the exceptional situation and the potential emotional turmoil. However: She said nothing of the kind. Her two sentiments were that the Swedes were cowards* and that the better team did not win**.

*They may or may not have been. I did not see the game, but it is almost becoming a problem that a considerably weaker team does nothing but defend and hope for a lucky counter when the stronger team slips or for a decision on penalties (as was the case here). This is a common scenario for e.g. FC Bayern. (We can, of course, discuss whether this is cowardice or a sensible strategy. Good sportsmanship, it is not.)

**Happens quite often, with many elements of chance being present—and even when it does not happen, the losing team and its supporters often have exactly that opinion. Certainly, the opinion that the U.S. team was better, would have been entirely uncontroversial before the game.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 25, 2016 at 11:22 pm

Lack of perspective on men and women in sports

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A very sad example of how easy people lose perspective can be found in a recent debate in Sweden:

In a short time-span male soccer player Anders Svenssonw and female soccer player Therese Sjögranw set new records for most games played in their respective national team. The former was rewarded with a car; the second was not. The predictable Swedish sexism debate started…

What few people considered was that the female soccer players are on a very different level from male players when compared on equal levels of “numerical” accomplishment. Its not just a matter of men being bigger or having other physical advantage—but the competition in and development of women’s soccer is far weaker. Women should have equal pay for equal accomplishment—not for a considerably weaker accomplishment.

For instance, the Swedish Wikipedia page on women’s soccerw:sv claims that women make up 29 % of all Swedish players. In other words, there are more than twice as many male players and the competition for spots on the national team is more than twice as hard. (Factoring in that men tend to be relatively more competitive and women relatively more interested in playing “for the fun of it”, the numbers likely understate the difference on the level of the national team.)

According to the same page, only one in 12 (10 million out of 120 million) players is a woman world-wide. This has at least two important implications: Firstly, women’s soccer is not competitive with men’s soccer even after correcting for physical differences between the sexes. Secondly, the far higher proportion within Sweden puts the successes of the female national team and individual female players in perspective: They are internationally successful because the rest of the world lags in the relative size of the women’s soccer sector—not because they would be truly great players.

However, women’s soccer trails men’s soccer by even more than these numbers imply: Watch a few games and compare the way the play, even natural physical differences aside. To say that there is a difference of one “league” would be extremely kind, even in Sweden two or three could easily be the case—world-wide there is no comparison. In contrast, female tennis players often have a technique and “feel” for the game that is comparable to male players, losing ground through their smaller stature, weaker arms, etc. Conversely, male athletes in sports that are considerably smaller globally than soccer are still more accomplished: In a match-up facilitated by magic, the Swedish national team in bandyw would likely have an easy time against the women’s national soccer team.

To take another perspective: Cars cost money. Which of the two is the better money maker? (And therefore the more reasonably rewarded from an economic point of view.) Comparing individuals could be very tricky; however, if we look at groups we can get at least a good indication. In 2012, the highest Swedish men’s divisionw:sv had a per game average number of visitors of 7210; the highest women’s divisionw:sv just 836.

Very recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world’s most successful soccer players in recent years and the team captain of the Swedish national team, spoke out about this affair, correctly pointing out that women’s soccer is not comparable to men’s and that there is no unfairness in giving only the male player a car. He also correctly points out the absurdity that he is internationally compared to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo but nationally to female players of a far, far lesser calibre.

The result (and what prompted me to write this post): He is attacked from every direction and seen as a sign of how unfairly maligned women’s soccer would be or how much undue prejudice there would be. (Cf. e.g. one of many Swedish news itemse). In the defense of his detractors, he could have formulated himself more diplomatically; however, that does not change the underlying issues or that he is correct in these underlying issues.

This debate points very clearly to some recurring problem with the current Swedish attitude towards “gender issues”:

  1. Actual accomplishment and equality of opportunity is less important than equality of outcome and a highly subjective and extremely superficial take on “fairness”.

  2. There is little will and/or ability to actually think an issue through. Instead reactions are based on emotions, what people want the world to be like (as opposed to how it actually is), simplistic assumptions, …

  3. Criticizing attempts to create or assert pseudo-equality borders on a crime—even when the criticism is objectively justified.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Freakish coincident in soccer (and Sweden wins a medal)

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Soccer is normally a sport I find boring and tend not to follow. However, the ongoing U17 World Cup has caught my attention through the rarity that my native Sweden has done exceedingly well—the bronze medal here is arguably the best a Swedish team has managed since 1994. (When they won a bronze in the, obviously far more prestigious, “adult” World Cup.)

Now, this would not be of any major interest to most non-Swedes—but the almost absurd circumstances could be:

The tournament was divided into two stages: First, a group stage where twenty-four teams divided into six groups tried to qualify for the next stage. Second, a knock-out stage between the twelve teams who placed first or second in their respective groups supplemented by the four best third-placers.

Sweden did poorly in the group stage, scoring one victory, one draw, and one loss—and qualified as one of the best third-placers.

In the knock-out stage, they met Japan in the round of sixteen—a team coming of a flawless 3–0 record in the group stage. To everyone’s surprise, Sweden won 2–1.

This was followed by a quarter-final where Honduras was beaten 2–1. (While Honduras’ record was no more impressive than the Swedish, they had at least been second in their group, trailing only Brazil.)

Combined with the success of the other two teams (Mexico, Nigeria) from Sweden’s group, this led to the very weird situation that all three teams stood in the semi-final—three out of four, while the other five groups between them had one team left (Argentina, an undefeated group winner).

After a 3–0 semi-final loss against Nigeria (following a group-stage 3–3 draw), the Swedes went on to take their clearest victory of the tournament against Argentina (4–1)—ensuring that all three medals landed in the same group, eventually in the exact order of the group placings. I cannot recall seeing something like this ever happening (although it bound to have over the many championships in various sports). The most I have seen is two teams from the same group going in the medals on a few occasions. (Which in a weird coincidence was the case in 1994, where Brazil and Sweden finished first and second in the same group and went on to win Gold and Bronze respectively—Sweden’s only loss in the tournament being against Brazil. Other parallels include the easy, 4–0 instead of 4–1, Bronze-match victory, and that the respective tournament winner only ever failed to win one match—drawing against Sweden in the group stage.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 9, 2013 at 12:39 am

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