Leonard Chuene survives (for now), but SA Cricket does not - random musings
Well, it's been five days since the Council of Athletics South Africa decided to give their President Leonard Chuene a vote confidence to continue to lead the federation. Yes, you read that right, a vote of confidence, which effectively means condoning his actions leading into Berlin and the subsequent lies to the President of South Africa, the IAAF, various political parties, the media, the public, Caster Semenya and the rest of the world. When one puts it that way, it suddenly doesn't seem so bad...
On a serious note, Chuene remains in power, much to the consternation of the South African public (and the bewilderment of the world, I would imagine) and media. It's still unclear exactly what went down at the meeting last Thursday. I have it on good authority that there was no secret ballot, no anonymous voting process, but rather a very open, very transparent, and very intimidating environment, which effectively said to all Chuene's opponents on the ASA Council "Come and get me, but you'll face a challenge if you do". Rather than offer Council members the opportunity to vote on the matter, they were invited to come forward, into a potentially hostile environment, and the entire meeting was controlled from inside.
And, sadly, in the South African sporting landscape, the whole is never bigger than the sum of its parts (it's not even close), and political and personal agendas supersede those of performance (and, in this case, it would seem, ethics and competence) . The result is that the small voice that may have wanted Chuene out was silent, and we were instead told a "unanimous decision" was reached to keep Chuene in power. Television pictures revealed Chuene supporters driving away holding up posters saying "100% Chuene" and "Hands off our president", which typifies the atmosphere of the meeting and the partisan environment in which "mature adults" discussed a very serious issue.
What next? Quiet before the next announcement
In response, the ANC and Cosatu (a powerful trade union in SA) have voiced displeasure, as have a few other political parties. SASCOC, our Olympic Commission, have already begun investigating, and may take action. Newspapers yesterday reported that Caster Semenya's lawyers have requested transcripts from ASA meetings, where it is believed Chuene will have disclosed far more than he has in the media.
These transcripts, and whatever arises from them, probably hold the key to the next steps in this drama, which will now be a little quieter.
More questions than answers
It emerged last week on 3rd Degree that Leonard Chuene DID in fact agree to withdraw Semenya based on the medical advice, but then changed his mind and consulted a politician before deciding to go ahead and let her run, dealing with the repercussions later.
This revelation suggests that Chuene had more than a "rumor" from his doctor to act on, as he has claimed. It was alleged that Chuene sent ASA's Vice-President to tell Semenya that she would NOT be running, and that she wept when she received the news.
It's quite clear that there is a LOT MORE that we don't know - what was Semenya told, both at the first medical tests and on this occasion? Why did Chuene change his mind? Who did he consult with? What happened to the medical report that ASA produced after doing the testing? Why did the IAAF not insist that this report be made available, since they had access to Dr Harold Adams themselves? Was he silenced by forces high up?
More questions than answers, and some may never be answered. As I said, I think the story will be quiet for a while, possibly until November, when the IAAF will make some kind of statement. If anything does come up, I'll be sure to post. But I guess to leave this issue for now, maybe the biggest question of all is: What would a sports administrator actually have to do to be relieved of his position in South Africa? We've seen failure at global competition, which is enough in most countries, where people are employed to achieve high performance. We've seen financial irregularities, lying, corruption and who knows what else. Seems a fair question to me...
Cricket news - SA out of their home tournament...again
Then, in news more relevant to those in the "Commonwealth" (apologies to US readers), South Africa crashed out of the ICC Champions Trophy last night, losing to England.
Cramp - fatigue and conditioning in play
The match was eventful for a number of reasons, the most relevant (to us at The Science of Sport, anyway) being the cramping of SA's captain Graeme Smith near the end of the match. Smith is prone to cramping, it has happened before. What made last night intriguing is that Smith requested a runner, and England's captain Andrew Strauss turned him down.
The way it normally works, for those not in the know, is that when a batsman picks up an injury during the innings, he can request that a team-mate come down and run on his behalf. The opposition captain has to approve, and this is where Strauss declined, forcing Smith to finish his innings hobbling around with what seemed to be hamstring cramp.
A few people wrote in this morning, asking my impression of this, and I must say, I was always going to post something on it when I watched it.
The fact of the matter is that a cramp is NOT an injury. Andrew Strauss was 100% correct to deny the runner - maybe he knows something the SA team apparently doesn't (maybe he even reads The Science of Sport), because he must know that a cramp is primarily caused by fatigue, and is thus influenced by conditioning, where the fatigued muscle goes into spasm, possibly as a result of reflex neural stimulation.
This is a complex subject, make no mistake, and generally, there are two schools of thought for what causes cramp - it's either the "Dehydration and heat model", or the "Fatigue and reflex disinhibition". We covered these models in a post almost two years ago, which you can read here.
There is controversy around which you believe - read the entire cramp series and you'll see what I mean. Some say that electrolyte loss (particularly sodium) is the cause, despite the fact that no evidence exists for this, and no one has ever managed to show that people who cramp are deficient in anything (either fluids or electrolytes). There is also a major theoretical problem with that argument, because when you sweat, your electrolyte concentration goes UP, not down. Therefore, if a cramp is caused by electrolyte loss in sweat, it's hard to explain when sweat loss doesn't cause electrolyte levels to fall.
So rather, the fatigue theory is interesting - a tired muscle loses the ability to control the reflex activity, and a cramp occurs as a result. You can read more about this here.
I joked earlier that maybe Andrew Strauss knew this, and his quote below seems to bear this out:
"The umpires were not particularly keen to give him one. I felt that at the end of a long game, after a long innings, you're going to be tired. Cramping to a certain extent is a preparation thing. To a certain extent, it's a conditioning thing. I didn't feel that he merited having a runner at that stage."
As for SA cricket, I don't think that Smith's cramp impacted on the overall outcome of the game. He batted brilliantly, but it was a lone-hand and I think they may well have found the target a bridge too far, even without the cramp.
For the team, it's another disappointment, and all the more disappointing given that some of the team-members were quoted as saying that they were "unbeatable" prior to the tournament (Dale Steyn, that is).
And finally, is the team fit enough? That's a matter of opinion of course, and "fitness" is difficult to quantify, a lot depends on where you set the benchmark. Fitness is also contextual, with a gymnast having a different level of fitness to a marathon runner, simply because its parameters differ. There is cause for speculation, questions have been raised, and I know a good many people who do not believe that cricketers, in general (not specific to any team) are comparable to the athletes who play sports like rugby, soccer or maybe NBA basketball. Exceptions exist, of course, in both sports and so it would be generalizing to answer that question.
What I will say is that if a runner cramped in the final 5km of a marathon, my first area to investigate is whether they were adequately prepared for the pace, the distance (and obviously the combination of pace and distance) and the nature of the course (hills, that is). The same logic, applied to cricket, suggests that cramp (a function of fatigue, if you follow that model) is a function of conditioning to the same extent.
So I don't know the answer on the fitness issue - I have it on authority that the players have done substantial fitness work and are fit enough, and I won't question that. I must therefore retract what was written earlier that the players are not fit enough, and apologize for any offense caused. Of course, these are my personal opinions, but I realise the possibility that they'll be taken as representing an 'official' position. So I apologize for any unfair criticism on my part.
Upcoming travels to the USA
And finally, to end, I am building up for a trip to the USA, which starts next week this time (in fact, I land in Washington in exactly a week from now). Six weeks, seven cities, and a lot of work mixed with recreation awaits.
I'll post some details a little later. Don't worry, it's not that I want to give you all my "Dear Diary" entries, but a lot of the trip is related to sports science - there is a visit to the US Olympic Centre, a conference, research trials at the Chicago Marathon, some media work, a visit to Boulder, a trip to Harvard and a meeting with some great scientists and coaches.
All of which should make for some great posts in the coming weeks. I'll post more on this later this week.
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Monday, September 28, 2009
Leonard Chuene survives (for now), but SA Cricket does not - random musings