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Monday, September 28, 2009

Chuene's survival and South Africa's cricket exit

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."

I agree.

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.



Loui said...

Another exellent post Ross, good read as always.
I too have been wondering if Sememnya was told WHY she couldn't run in Berlin (before Chuene changed his mind) or just that she could not run and they did not give a clear reason as to why. After reading that she wept (and this is the same person who reportedly did not cry when she got kicked of the girls soccer team - for good) my best guess is that they did tell her about the tests and that there were "problems", and that's mostly why she wept, fearing for her whole career.

It will be interesting to see what comes to light in the next coupple of months. ASA SHOULD be shaking in their boots, those lawyers helping Caster in getting to the bottom of this, are collecting ALL transcrips, documents and tests done by the ASA and the IAAF, basically anything to do with this case. The s#it is about to hit the fan!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I recently read your series on hydration, and I was wondering if you had seen this "field study" from Garmin at the TDF:


It seems to follow the "salt loss" thinking, but is a bit more complex bringing in thermoregulation as well.


Oliver said...

I think its pretty obvious to most people, except those peddling salt tablets, that cramp is due to lack of fitness and is not an injury...even if due to electrolytes.

Reminds me of when former Sri Lankan captain Ranatunga, who got under the skin of Aussies, requested a runner when he got tired and cramped.

The Aussies laughed at him with Healy saying " Being fat and unfit is not an injury".

That was more than ten years ago...they knew it then already.


David Barry said...

The opposition captain has to approve

This isn't correct. It is convention that the opposition captain can give his opinion, but there is no mention in Law 2 of the opposition captain having any say about runners. The only time the captain is mentioned is in the related topic of a substitute fielder, and there the Law is explicit - "The opposing captain shall have no right of objection to any player acting as a substitute on the field".

Certainly in the case of a torn hamstring (say), the umpires would immediately over-rule any fielding captain who wanted to deny the batsman a runner.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,
Please this posting and think again.


I have read this piece in allafrica and I think a lot of the stuff said there make sence. After all people did not consult sociologists and religious experts in all of this. Is she to compete with men then? No? who then should she compete with? She was raised a woman, its not like she did a sex change or anything like that (it was most probably the midwife or the nurse that helped in the delivery of the child that assigned her the female sex the mother accepted it and had to be consistant with it. I think the rest of us should respect her choice (Caster's mother's choice of sex or gender for Caster) ). She (Caster) is a creation of God and she deserves all the rights that are granted all human beings in this world, including the right to exploit her potential.No wonder the poor girl cried when she was told she couldn't run. After all she is a child of God too just like you and I and she is not an animal. We need to be more enlightened,spiritual and compasionate. And where the hel did you get that she was kicked of the girls' soccer team, the saying is that "she loved athletics better". Don't be so mean and bitter.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

I have to disagree, purely on the basis that your position is irrelevant to this particular argument. Nobody here is judging her or saying that her "choice" is wrong. It's a matter of the management and admin of this issue by ASA, that's what this post and the one before it are about.

You're raising points that are irrelevant to the current argument, a 'phantom' debate. So you're not wrong, and of course, one should not judge. But you also can't just let things go on the basis of "freedom for all", because what do her competitors say? Do we even care what her competitors say? If you say no to that last one, then why care about Semenya's choice?

And with respect, not a single argument anywhere implies that she is not a child of God - I feel you are gratuitously spiritualizing the debate. If you can explain to me how this is relevant to the particular issue, then I'll listen, but it's not. This is about management, and it's about equality and fairness of competition, not phantom arguments. You can't just have an "everything goes" attitude because people believe it. Many people who dope believe they are not doping, should they be allowed - after all, they're just "exploiting their potential" in another way?

So I must disagree.


Loui said...

To anonymous at 6:47

Caster was kicked of the girls soccer team for playing too rough, not beacuse they thought she was a boy, even tho there was cetantly doubts back then too. Soccer was her first love back then, so yes, I think it takes a tough kid not to cry when you are told you can't play anymore.  It was after this she deceided to get serious about athetics and running.

Here is the exact quote from the article: 

But her powerful physique quickly started to cause problems. She was disqualified from playing women's football by the age of 14 - the coaches said she was too rough with the other girls.
'She was heartbroken,' says her father. 'Up until that point, Caster had lived for football and she was desperate to play the game. The coaches said she was a "hard mama" - too tough and too big to play.
They disqualified her from the women's team and she couldn't play with the men, so her career was over. She was upset, but didn't cry.'

The full article:

John said...

Hi Ross

I think all of us who have lived in SA under this administration and the the pre 92 one can answer your question!
Competence was never a criteria when the broederbond ran SA rugby. It clearly isn't a criteria in SA Athletics now.

Zoe Brain said...

Oi Vey iz Mir

From The Star:

ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema has called on society to "teach Nedbank a lesson" for withdrawing its sponsorship of Athletics South Africa.

Malema said the bank had used the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya's sex as an excuse to hide its "real agenda".

The real reason Nedbank had withdrawn its sponsorship was because it was disappointed that the three medals won by South Africans at the World Athletics Championships in August were won by blacks, he said yesterday.

SIGH. More of the usual. Political claptrap that you find in most countries. But it gets far worse...

"What does the youth league know about hermaphrodites? The imperialists must not impose this on us if they have hermaphrodites where they come from. They must enjoy living with their hermaphrodites, because in South Africa there are no hermaphrodites."

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Zoe

Saw this article, extra=ordinary. It's almost funny that anyone with public voice can say things like this. A lot of people just laugh at this Malema character, he's said many things like this in the last few years. Yet he's an incredibly dangerous character, and it's a sad indictment on our country that he still has a voice, and a support base.

That last quote betray a big part of the problem - ignorance. Whether it's willful or not, I don't know. It's beyond belief though.


Anonymous said...

It is very unfair that you should dismmiss my argument as a phantom argument while it was you who had been had been an admant proponent for the banning of Catser from competing with women. You even went as far as recommending that South Africa be forbiden from competing in a subsiquent international meet.
Any whow to spell out the relation of my point to that of Mr Chuene's lieng, all I'm saying is that, he probably was sensing that there was more to the issue than just the scientific evidence that was presented to him at the time. Not knowing axactly what it was that was bothering him about this thing, when connered he lied (Sometimes humans do that when in a fix, you probably have done it also one time or another in your life). The guy said he was sorry for having misled everyone. And he was repentant. Surely even you believe in forgiveness.

I had hunch you would consider the the religion (God)irrelavent.In all of this the fact that Caster is created as she is by God is not at all important to you. Or perhaps you are not understanding my whole point at all. Or you are choosing not to want to understan.
"the other competitor.....?", you ask. Its compettion Ross, in competition the strong survive.. with waht they were naturall y given... The reason why I say you do not want to understand is that you are equating Caster's condition to doping.....??How??? is that related.. ?? Dopers bring into themseves something from outside. All of Caster's capabilities are natural. She was born with them. Surely I should not be spelling all this out to you.If you intend to be reasonable then you can respond to, oherwise please don't bother. Its not worth it anymore (arguing with you).

To Oliver...
I am sorry, so it was the Media that misled you. From Caster's mom (the horse's mouth so to speak) that is not the case. Caster was never kicked out of any women soccer team. It was her choice to leave. Don't believe everything you read.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Thanks for returning. I'm sorry you feel that way. Your blind belief in Chuene points to why he may still be in power, to the detriment of athletics in this country, seeing as they've now lost a massive sponsor. Ultimately the athletes will fail, and if you wish to condone that kind of management, go ahead. I prefer to condemn it. That is the reason I have said that ASA should not compete - not because of Semenya, but because of management. You have the facts wrong again.

As for the ban, if you can find one occasion where I have said Semenya should be stripped of her medal, please point it out. But in terms of banning her in the future, absolutely, if it is shown she has an advantage. Your blindness to the big picture makes you incapable of seeing that other women will NOT want to race when the gender situation is not controlled.

and what is this about a hunch I would consider it irrelevant? Please, don't preach to me - you know nothing of my beliefs. I'm trying to stick to facts, you're judging, which makes you part of the problem. My religious beliefs are not relevant to this debate. When did I equate Caster's condition to doping? You read one word in each sentence and reach a conclusion - listen, read, think, then speak.

Please, I'm all for debate, but this is going nowhere, because you're making things up.


Anonymous said...

Dear Ross,
Adios my friend. Actually it is you who is getting ruffled up and now you are starting to fling accusations and soon you will insult me I am afraid. Perhaps the debate is getting a bit too strong for you. I suspect. I still have more of my argument/points to put forward only if I could find a level headed opponent that does not get angry and through insults.

You say I am making up stuff, you go back and re-read your own postings

actually let me assist you

"But you also can't just let things go on the basis of "freedom for all", because what do her competitors say? Do we even care what her competitors say? If you say no to that last one, then why care about Semenya's choice?" This is what you wrote.

When they don't have it, they dont have it. These other women...... yade yade yada....

You also wrote this
'You can't just have an "everything goes" attitude because people believe it. Many people who dope believe they are not doping, should they be allowed - after all, they're just "exploiting their potential" in another way?'

Dopers will not be exploiting teir potential when on dope, if anything they will be exploiting the potential of the drugs they will be on, (anyone would know that). I take this as an insult of my interlect for you to even put something like this in front of me.

And you say I am making up things. You are not a worthy debator.

So bye bye!

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi again

I don't know if I've ever heard anyone end a debate with "bye bye". That says a great deal.

Thanks for visiting and for putting your opinion out there. You may wish to contact Julius Malema to find a debating ally.


Jules said...


I came across this site by way of the Semenya case and have really appreciated your coverage of it and also enjoyed going through the archives.

Off topic for this post but about South African sport in general -

I was wondering what had happened with the SA netball team (apart from us Kiwis poaching players)?

The World Netball Series line up for this weekend is apparently the top six teams in the world and that includes Samoa and Malawi but no South Africa.