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Ni hao from the first full day of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, where so far, most of the focus has been the extremely prohibitive Covid-19 restrictions and holding China’s feet to the fire on its human rights abuses (and the extent to which top multinational sponsors are looking the other way).
In a press conference before the opening ceremony this week, I also asked International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach how he reconciles his mission of “bringing the world together” through the Games while several athletes are, quite literally, in isolation for Covid. “For the athletes, it’s terrible. I do not want to ignore it, ”he said. “You’re working for four years for this and then all of a sudden, you are here, and it all collapses.”
Stay tuned for more coverage on all aspects of the Games direct from the Beijing bubble – but first we have a special dispatch from New York correspondent Joshua Chaffin on a devastating lawsuit against the US National Football League. Do read on – Sara Germano, US Sports business correspondent
Brian Flores, the Rooney Rule, and the NFL’s racism reckoning
In many ways, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores‘discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and three of its clubs is a bombshell.
Flores’ complaint – filed on Tuesday, the first day of Black History Month – likens the workings of America’s most popular professional sports league to a “plantation” where black laborers risk their bodies and white owners reap immense profits.
There are the screenshots of the congratulatory – and then apologetic – text messages from the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichickarguably the greatest ever football coach, that serve as a point of intrigue.
And there was the claim that Stephen Ross, the owner of the Dolphins and one of the most powerful New York real estate developers, ordered Flores, his then-coach, to lose games in 2019 to improve the club’s position in the upcoming draft of college players. (Anyone who shelled out for Dolphins’ tickets won’t be happy to hear that).
Yet in other ways, Flores’ claim of racial discrimination is merely stating the obvious: while about 70 percent of the NFL’s players are black, only one of its 32 head coaches is black. This, in spite of the NFL’s effort to redress this 20 years ago with the institution of the Rooney Rule, which obliges clubs to interview at least one black candidate when searching for a new head coach. Clearly, Rooney has not worked.
The nub of Flores’ complaint is that the New York Giants interviewed him in January three days after they had already settled on a new coach. It was, as Flores describes it, a “box checking” exercise – and a humiliation for him.
On an individual level, such discrimination cases can be difficult to prove, according to Beth Bloom, an employment lawyer in Seattle. “You’re talking about proving motive and what was in someone’s mind,” she explained. “There can be countless explanations. . . to muddy the waters. ”
No doubt the Giants, who have denied Flores’ claim, will attempt to do so with help from the NFL, which called the complaint “without merit.”
But Flores is seeking class action status, and thus encouraging other victims of the NFL’s old boys network to come forward. To the extent that they do so in the days ahead, the weight of their claims may be brutal for a league that has belatedly talked up racial justice since the death of George Floyd while, according to its head coaching numbers, making virtually no progress on the matter over the last 20 years.
Fans who are bored by the bloated half-time show at this month’s Super Bowl might take a few minutes to read about that ugly history as it is laid out in Flores’ complaint – from “gentleman’s agreements” among white owners to limit black players to the recent Colin Kaepernick saga, and more.
“Win, lose or draw,” said Bloom, “Brian Flores’ case is an important case.”
While English cricket ponders, India gathers steam
You’d be forgiven for thinking that cricket was a sport in decline. In England, authorities are fighting to prove they can tackle a racism crisis that has rocked the game, while doubts persist about the health of the grueling “Test” format in which matches last for days.
Last year, Azeem Rafiqa former player, lifted the lid on a racism scandal at Yorkshire County Cricket Clubone of the country’s biggest teams, detailing the racial slurs he endured during his career.
British parliamentarians listened aghast and called in Tom Harrisonchief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Boardthe governing body now charged with restoring the game.
On the grass, the England national team lost the Ashes to Australia in humiliating fashion, with the five-day Test format looking staid. The Ashes is not just about tradition: it’s a critical reason why Sky Sports parted with £ 1.1bn for the exclusive right to screen England’s home tests under a wider five-year cricket deal, and why broadcasters have also competed for the away fixtures in Australia.
In contrast to the struggling segments of the sport is the expanding Indian Premier League, a two-month long annual tournament contested by eight franchises. In just over a decade, the IPL has transformed from start-up to a multibillion-dollar contest.
The so-called Twenty20 matches last hours rather than days and the IPL attracts hundreds of millions of global viewers. The next auction for the rights will follow the 2022 season, with the IPL looking for an increase from the $ 2.6bn paid in 2017 by broadcaster Star India – then owned by Rupert Murdoch but since taken over by Disney – for a five year duration.
The prospect of big broadcast bucks is attracting major investors, including private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, which spent $ 745mn on one of two new IPL teams being added to the series. Indian tycoon Sanjiv Goenka bought the other team for $ 945mn.
While IPL benefits from a cricket-mad domestic market, English sports fans are more obsessed with football. Yet the sport’s authorities bet they can grow the game.
One avenue is the ECB’s own shorter format competition in the form of the Hundredthough it’s playing catch-up with the IPL since launching last summer after a one-year pandemic-induced delay.
The early signs are good. But following England’s showing in Australia, critics argue that the ECB is neglecting Test cricket, which they argue should be treated like the pinnacle of the game.
The Hundred may represent the ECB’s best bet to modernize and grow – but failing to address England’s collapse against Australia at the Ashes would be folly for an under-pressure governing body.
Top sponsors of the International Olympic Committeewhich organizes the Winter Games, have kept quiet on how they view China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, even as the Biden administration labels it “genocide” and boycotts the event. This FT Big Read dives deep into the divide between corporate America and its politicians.
IOC chief Thomas Bachhowever, said the Games should never be a forum for “political issues”, stressing that remaining apolitical was vital to ensuring the future of the organization’s international sporting events.
BT abandoned talks with billionaire Leonard Blavatnik‘s DAZN streaming company to enter exclusive discussions with US media group Discovery over a joint venture for its sport arm, which screens English Premier League and Uefa Champions League football matches in the UK. Under the plan, BT Sport would work with Discovery-owned Eurosport UKbroadcaster of the Olympic Games in Europe.
The FT’s Lex Column argues that an outright sale would have been better for BT, potentially bringing in £ 600mn and removing uncertainty. Plus, the Discovery talks might yet fall apart. Still, a deal would widen BT’s sports coverage and make it less reliant on shelling out hundreds of millions of pounds to acquire English football rights.
The Women’s National Basketball Association raised $ 75mn from investors including sports retailer Nike and former secretary of state Condoleezza Riceas backers bet that player marketing can help to grow the sports league.
Hello, I wrote about the EXTREMELY dystopian vibes inside the bubble at the Beijing Olympics. Exhibit A: Hotel bartenders making specialty cocktails in their full PPE gear https://t.co/ENegv4fErt pic.twitter.com/31YP3GsLlz
– Mari Saito (@saitomri) February 3, 2022
Each Olympics has its own quirks, and the Beijing Games are no different with among the most extreme anti-Covid measures in the world. With nearly 50,000 people sequestered in the bubble, even service workers are taking no chances at contracting the coronavirus: some media hotel bartenders are donning full hazmat suits while mixing martinis. Entering the third year of the pandemic, it may not be the Olympics we wanted, but is it the Olympics we deserve?
Scoreboard is written by Samuel Agini, Murad Ahmed and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produces the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualization team