Tag Archives: sport

“I’m finding my experience at Birkbeck studying MSc Sport Management to be precious and valuable”

Ryotaro Tsutsui, MSc Sport Management student and policy maker in the Japanese Government, describes his experiences at Birkbeck as an international student and his aspirations for the future.

Ryotaro Tsutsui with classmates after playing football at the pitch near Birkbeck

Why did you decide to study at Birkbeck? 

I work for the Government of Japan and I’ve been working as a policy maker since 2012. As an opportunity for developing language skills and knowledge which is related to my policy area, I was allowed to study in the UK to get two Master’s degrees. I chose to join sport management courses as I’m interested in sport policy. I knew that Birkbeck is famous for sport management and my supervisor at Loughborough University (I studied at Loughborough University for the first year of my stay in the UK) strongly recommended Birkbeck.

How are you finding your course?

My experience undertaking the MSc Sport Management degree is precious and valuable. I think it is difficult for Japanese people to catch up on the global trends and affairs in the sport community as many of the international sport federations are in Europe and compared to Japan, the economic scale of the sport industry is huge. One of the advantages of the MSc Sport Management degree at Birkbeck is the wider and well-balanced range of global trends and topics covered.

How is the social life at Birkbeck?

Fortunately, I have made a lot of good friends at Birkbeck. I love the ethnic diversity of the students. There was no majority ethnic group in my course, which provided a good environment for students to form friendships. Also, a hidden advantage of life at Birkbeck – students can easily go for drink after evening lectures, which I really enjoyed!

Do you enjoy having lectures in the evening? What do you do with the time you have in the day? 

The evening based educational system suits students who want to explore new things in the day. For most of them, doing an internship in London would be the best choice. In fact, lecturers were willing to introduce various kinds of internship opportunities to students. I wanted to do an internship in the sport sector and I consulted with one of my lecturers; he kindly suggested a non-profit sport organization and I worked there for several months.

What is the best thing about studying in London? 

It was convenient to commute to Birkbeck as it is in the centre of London. There are much more opportunities in London to do internships than any other city.

What do you hope to achieve in the future? 

As a career path, I’m seeking the best way to be a competitive sport policy maker. After studying in the UK for the last two years, I realise how important it is to learn from the UK and other sporting countries about sport policy. In terms of sport policy including international and domestic policies, Japan is still behind the UK, however, this motivates me to develop sport policy in my country. I’m also motivated to keep human connections which I have made in the UK.

Any advice for international students considering studying at Birkbeck?

I’m really confident in recommending Birkbeck to international students. To make the most of studying at Birkbeck, it is important to plan what to do in the day. Mixing both studying in the evening and doing an internship or other social activities makes international students feel extremely productive!

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A ‘merged season’ solution for the Premier League post-coronavirus could be the best for all

Dr Richard Evans is a sports economist and an Associate Research Fellow at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre with a focus on football finance. He discusses a potential solution to catch up the football season post-coronavirus.

It appears from the media that there is an understandable impatience, verging on panic, on the part of the FA and the Premier League to get the remaining games of the 2019/20 season played.  Clearly this would overcome commercial threats, in particular from the broadcast rights holders, and negate problems with player contracts if the season is extended.  However, even if the authorities in the UK go ahead with their preferred solution without alignment with UEFA for international competitions, it may be in the commercial interests of the Premier League to take a longer term view.

If, as seems likely, the coronavirus pandemic has not passed by the scheduled start of next season the effect on that season (and possibly future seasons) will also need to be considered. At present it appears that either this is not being considered or it is assumed that, at that point, new contracts would be negotiated and things would carry on from there as normal.

Consider the (quite likely) possibility that the point when football could continue as normal is not the convenient start of a scheduled season. Perhaps some new competition could be introduced to fill the gap until another season started. But perhaps that period could provide a window for the remaining games from this season to be played. For example, if games could resume sometime before March next year the current and next seasons could be merged into a 2019/21 season and ‘the narrative’ (as the Premier League likes to call it) could be continued to a sporting conclusion. This ‘merged season’ scenario would preserve the integrity of the competition for the Premier League and the fans and thereby be more attractive and consequently lead to a more advantageous commercial resolution with broadcasters, sponsors and players.

 

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2018 World Cup Q&A with Ben Mackriell, Head of OptaPro

OptaPro is a sub-division of Opta, focused on supporting professional clubs with analytics, for example match analyses, players’ and team performance, and scouting reports. Birkbeck spoke to Ben Mackriell, Head of OptaPro, about the 2018 World Cup games and football in a digital world.

Birkbeck and OptaPro have joined forces to deliver a Football Analytics module in 2019.

Overheard in a pub during a World Cup game: “Technology is killing football; it is a sport by humans for humans, and humans err.” How would you respond to this statement about the beautiful game, in an era of big data and digital technology?

This is understandable – ultimately, football is a game played by people, and people make majority of the key decisions.  I would say that data and technology are additional strands of information to players, coaches, analysts, and managers, in the same way a scouting report or physio assessment would be considered. With data, there is a challenge to ensure that what is produced is tactically relevant and can help inform decision-making. “How will this information help me win?” is a key question that should always be asked when conducting, producing, or presenting data-driven analysis.

People talk about the “World Cup champion’s curse” – what does OptaPro’s data analysis say about this? Does it exist, and if so, what are the factors involved?

We must remember that a World Cup is played over a very small number of games – a winning team will play seven matches. In such a small sample, random events that can affect the score may happen, and the impact is magnified because of the small sample, as well as there being hardly enough time to revert to underlying form.

Take Germany for example – despite their performances, they still created enough high-quality chances that would often see them win the matches they lost (Their expected goals (xG) totalled 5.59 – the highest in their group). While there are of course many factors that contribute to their early exit, in such a small sample it is possible that these chances could have gone in and this narrative would not exist.

The world cup can potentially affect a player’s reputation and value. How are clubs using data from the World Cup in their player targeting and acquisition strategies?

This is something clubs are extremely careful about, and this particular landscape has very much changed over recent tournaments. The World Cup is useful in that it provides a unique scenario for players to showcase their talent, and that can be valuable. However, tournament football brings such a small sample that it can be extremely difficult to draw any firm conclusions. Clubs would be considering this information of course, but they would also look beyond World Cup performance to investigate how a player has performed over a longer period.

What kind of information are football clubs most interested in receiving, and how has Opta’s research helped coaches and football teams?

Every football club is different. Some will be in the early stages of the journey with data, and others will have full analysis teams across different age groups.

A good example of the information clubs might look for is consistency. 99% of clubs cannot simply scout every player in South America – it is too expensive and too time consuming. A consistent dataset provides a club with player information which they know they can compare with more familiar players. This comes down to consistent definitions when we collect data, ensuring that a right winger in Brazil can be accurately compared with a right winger from the J-League.

This year, we saw the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR), which fans continue to discuss. Does OptaPro have any data on player performance following VAR decisions? For example, does VAR slow the game down or potentially increase the risk of injuries?

It is still very early days with VAR, and more research needs to be done in this area. It is an interesting question to understand how breaks in play may impact performance. A lot of work is being done across VAR to ensure delays are minimal, and I think that this is a trend we will see continue.

What makes Opta unique, compared to other organisations providing performance data?

Opta data has been part of the football conversation for years – be it through OptaJoe on Twitter, or data appearing on Match of the Day, or more recently, Monday Night Football. The detail of this data – every ball touch is collected live – is what makes Opta data unique. Having to capture this information to this level of accuracy in real time is certainly not easy, and in a fast-moving media and professional football world, live collection is essential.

Regarding OptaPro, it is all about how we apply this data. We’ve built bespoke tools that are tailored for professional clubs, allowing them to apply this data to inform their decision-making across performance analysis, recruitment, and even with their strategic planning, where teams will be using data to help bring through academy players, for succession planning with squads, and for recruiting managers.

How might someone interested in a career in sports analytics get involved?

There are many ways for people to get involved. In recent years, we’ve seen people enter the industry through presenting at our OptaPro Analytics Forum – an event that allows amateur analysts the opportunity to present detailed analysis to the professional football industry. The key is to not only understand how to work with data and maximise its impact, but also to understand how the game is played and what coaches are looking for in the information, which is arguably more crucial.

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Reflections on the European Association for Sports Management (EASM) Conference 2017 (Maggligen and Bern, Switzerland)

Bob Olukoya is an MSc Sport Management graduate of Birkbeck, University of London and the inaugural head of the Birkbeck Sport Business Society. Bob practised law in the United Kingdom and later Nigeria before deciding to pursue a career in sport. 

Bob is a member of the European Association for Sport Management (EASM) and attended the 25th annual conference in Biel and Bern, Switzerland where he made presentations with other participants.

He has documented his experience below and made a case for more delegates from Birkbeck at the 26th edition in Malmo, Sweden.

Picture of Bob smiling.

Introduction

The European Association for Sports Management IEASM) annual conference (https://www.easm2017.com/) is the gathering of the great and the good in European sports administration, academia and beyond. Current and former athletes; sport administrators; sport governing bodies; international sport federations; students, the academia, sports equipment manufacturers, non-sport related professionals such as economists, accountants, bankers, etc were all brought together for the 25th edition of EASM. The first 5 days called ‘Students Seminar’ were dedicated to Masters (49 students) and PhD students (19) from all over the world (I met people from Australia, Brazil, Morocco, New Zealand and South Africa) while the remaining 4 days were dedicated to the Association’s business.

Student Seminar – Maggligen, Switzerland

This part of the conference started on 1st September 2017 at the prestigious Swiss Federal Institute of Sport in Magglingen, Biel, Switzerland. The Institute is situated 2,000 metres above sea level in the Jura Mountains accessible by either walking (1 hour – longer going up); driving or by cable car (funicular). The first evening started quietly with students getting to know each other; the impressive facilities at the Institute, the staff, and of course the bar! It was immediately obvious that representatives from British universities would be in the minority (1 representative each from Bournemouth University and Birkbeck, University of London). The Dutch were in the majority followed by the Germans; Belgians, Finns and Swedes. The rest of the weekend was spent preparing group presentations on why particular sports should remain in the Olympic programme for the 2020 and 2022 summer and winter games. In between these preparations and presentations, we made a road trip to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne with stop-overs at the Olympic Museum, Stade Pierre de Coubertin and Mason du Sport International (home of International federations). The highlights of the trip to Lausanne were the presentation by C. Dubi (Executive Director, Olympic Games); P. Fratter-Bardy (Head of summer sports) and N. Puig (Head, External Relations). Representatives of World Archery and International Bob and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) delivered other International Federation (IF) specific presentations. I presented a paper titled: “why Swimming should remain in the 2018 and 2020 Summer and Winter Olympics” together with Michelle Van Grefen, Peter Schreuder and Felix Schimanko

EASM Conference – Bern, Switzerland

The conference started with the well attended opening ceremony, keynotes speeches and get-together on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 at the impressive University of Bern auditorium and conference centre. It continued the next day at the same venue with more keynote speeches and parallel break-out sessions. The parallel nature of the presentations made it a difficult task to choose which to attend as all the sessions were relevant. However, for the first day, I choose the Sport Governance and Policy session with specific focus on the persistent failure of interventions to increase national sport participation levels, with England as the case study. The paper was delivered by Mike Weed of Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom. It was very enlightening especially as the topic was a recurring theme in our discussions here at Birkbeck.

The second day highlight for me was the Sport Facility Management session with specific focus on Venue Legacy of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.  This was delivered by Se Hee Choi of the Korea University, Republic of South Korea.  This was immediately followed by the EASM General Assembly where the new president of the Association was elected (Mr. Vassil Girginov of Brunel University). There were several relevant presentations on the third and final day but the highlight for most people, especially the students, was the workshop on ‘Swissness’ and the closing banquet which took place in the town of Gurten high up in the mountains. It took a 15 minutes ride in the cable car to get to the top of the mountain with impressive facilities.

It was a high value event especially for first timers with lots of intellectual, cultural, social and professional networking opportunities.  The 26th EASM will be hosted in 2018 by the city of Malmo in Sweden. The plea from the Swedish organizers is that more British representatives especially from Birkbeck will be appreciated. It is my candid opinion that Birkbeck students will benefit from this event especially as Brexit looms. The Students Union, Birkbeck Sport Business Society (BSBS) and the University authorities will do well to work out a funding regime to finance students’ participation just like the Dutch, Germans, Swedes and Belgians did.

Final note: My birthday was on 7th September, a day before the end of the conference. The students; tutors, delegates and organizers made it a memorable one for me despite their very tight schedule. I am grateful.

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Finding the balance between work and study

Sports Management 2017 graduate Bethan Taylor reflects on her time at Birkbeck and shares her top tips on how to find a balance between your job and your studies.

Image: Anna Rachel Photography

I studied MSc Sports Management at Birkbeck from 2015-2017, taking a special interest in women in endurance sport. I’m a civil servant working in the Ministry of Justice, and I also write for a range of publications including my own blog A Pretty Place To Play which features my new podcast The Mental Health Podcast. When I’m not working or writing, I like to run and am currently training for my first ultra-marathon – 56 miles from London to Brighton next year.

There are lots of reasons why I decided to go back and study for an MSc – I’d been working in financial services for around five years and while I loved my job, I wasn’t finding it that intellectually stimulating. At the same time, I’d become really involved in running and was writing for various print and digital publications on the topic of women in sport, which really peaked my curiosity. I decided that I wanted to be able to talk with authority on the social issues in sport, and in my mind, the best way to do that was through postgraduate study.

The whole experience at Birkbeck was amazing! I loved that I was able to study an academically rigorous and challenging course while still progressing my career. The academics I worked with in Birkbeck Sports Business Centre were really open and supportive, encouraging us to question everything and to challenge each other, which I really enjoyed.

Being able to work while I studied meant I could pay my course fees without worrying about debt. Academically, it was great studying over two years – it meant that I could really take advantage of everything Birkbeck had to offer, simply because I was there longer! It also meant I had more time to think about what I wanted to research for my dissertation, which meant I got to dig deep into issues that really fascinated me.

There were challenges, of course, one of the biggest being that I felt like I was constantly saying no to social events and letting people down. That was really hard. Thankfully my friends and family were all really supportive and totally understood when I had to decline a dinner invite again, or sloped off home after one drink to study!

Between working and training for a marathon and a couple of half marathons my time at Birkbeck was pretty busy, and it did mean that I didn’t get involved in any societies or clubs. However, I did have a mentor and she was fabulous – it was great to be able to sit down with someone and discuss my career and direction really frankly.

I think it’s really important for people in the sports/fitness industry to really understand the unique nature of their business, as well as the social issues that surround people’s engagement in sport (my area of interest). Courses like the MSc Sports Management are helping to develop a new generation of professional sports administrators, as well as the academics who’ll be thinking about how we can challenge ourselves and develop the industry in the future.

I think education is a life-long pursuit, and I was really lucky to have great role models in my parents who both studied while working throughout my childhood (in fact my Dad was also at Birkbeck last year!). Learning new things helps to boost your creativity, enhances your problem-solving skills and challenges your perceptions – it makes life a lot more interesting! I also believe that life shouldn’t be all about work, you need some challenges that are just for you, whether that’s studying for an MSc in a subject that fascinates you or running a marathon (or both!).

If you’re thinking of studying at Birkbeck, don’t question whether you can do it, as you absolutely can! You’ll need to be super organised both at work and with your studies, and there will be some sacrifices, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

Before you start your course it’s worth chatting to your employer about flexible working – I always kept my boss in the loop with my timetable so she knew why I was bolting out the door at 5pm. Also make sure you talk to your friends and family, as you will need their support and understanding because there will be times when things feel tough.

When I was studying, being organised was essential! You cannot over-plan when it comes to studying while working. Make sure you leave lots of contingency time, just in case something kicks off at work or you get sick.

Looking back on my time at Birkbeck, I can honestly say it’s one of the best places in the world to study sports management – but beyond that, there’s so much more! Studying while working is a great way to demonstrate to employers a whole range of desirable skills, like time management, organisation and dedication. It really illustrates how dedicated you are to your subject – you have to really want to do something if you’re going to sit through three hours of lectures after a full day at work! Beyond that, I’ve had the opportunity to carry out brand new research on a topic that hasn’t been explored much in-depth before, and I think this contribution to my subject really sets me apart.

Looking forward, I would love to become an expert in my field, specifically focusing on women in sport. The dream is to be cited as an ‘expert’ in a Runner’s World investigation. In the meantime, I am working on building my experience and thinking hard about a PhD (possibly at Birkbeck…).

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Sport Management at Birkbeck: Innovative perspective on the sport industry

Natalie Gedra at a sports stadium.

Over the past 30 years, there has been significant growth in the number of sports management programs offered by Higher Education institutions, from undergraduate level courses to MBAs with a focus on sport business. These courses aspire to provide students passionate about sport with the experience, management and leadership skills required for career success in this expanding and varied sector.

As a respected academic research centre, the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre in the Birkbeck Department of Management, offers a range of programmes to help students delve deeper into the business management, marketing and governance of the sports’ industry. Natalie Gedra, who was awarded a prestigious Santander Scholarship in 2016/17, recently featured in a short video outlining her positive experience of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, where she studied an MSc in Sport Management:

Before coming to Birkbeck, Natalie obtained a BA in Journalism and worked for 6 years as a sports reporter in Brazil, most recently with GloboTV. When she chose the Master’s programme in Sport Management, she hoped to pursue a role in the third sector related to sport. She says that studying sport management at Birkbeck has allowed her to step back from her industry position to view and assess the organisation, structure and behaviour of the sport industry from a broader, more detached perspective. These insights have enhanced her overall understanding of the sector:

“I’m already seeing a professional benefit from my Master’s; I already see sports in a different way.”

To find out more about the academic postgraduate programmes in Sport Business and Sport Management, please visit the Birkbeck website.

To keep up to date with Natalie’s sport journalism, you can also follow her on Twitter.

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On FA Cup final day, homophobia is still a problem for English football

This post was written by Dr Andy Harvey – a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. His PhD thesis was on the history of homophobia in sport. A monograph derived from his thesis, Boys will be boys? An interdisciplinary study of male sexuality and homophobia in football fiction, is due to be published by Fisher Imprints in 2015.

Dr Andy Harvey is a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre

Dr Andy Harvey is a Researcher at the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre

As millions of people across the globe switch on their televisions to watch the FA Cup final on Saturday 17 May, the match happens to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) that is marked on 17 May every year. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, IDAHOT is a worldwide campaign that aims to bring attention to the problem of homophobia and transphobia that persists across the world.

No British sport has been associated with homophobic attitudes as much as football. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme, Undercover: Hate on the Terraces, broadcast on 3 March 2014, reinforced the idea that English football remains a potent site of discriminatory chanting by significant numbers of fans. The documentary showed how such chanting was often carried out in full view and earshot of stewards and police with little action taken by them or the football authorities. The programme confirmed a 2013 study by the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) that showed how Brighton fans were the target of regular and persistent homophobic abuse from opposition supporters. The perpetrators of abuse have not been confined to fans: in April 2014 former Blackburn Rovers player, Colin Kazim-Richards, was found guilty of making an “utterly disgusting” homophobic gesture at Brighton and Hove Albion fans.

From the playing side of the professional game, it is now commonplace to mention that no professional footballer has ‘come out’ as gay while still playing in the English game. The fate of Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide after declaring his homosexuality in 1990 to a barrage of homophobia from the media, has acted as a warning to other gay professionals not to follow in his footsteps. In February 2013 the former Leeds United player, Robbie Rogers, ‘came out’ as gay in the same breath as announcing his retirement from professional football because he could not conceive of continuing to play due to the homophobic atmosphere of the dressing room and terraces. Earlier this year former German international and Premier League star, Thomas Hitzlsperger, announced he was gay after he had retired from the game, although the positive public reception he received stands in stark contrast to Fashanu’s experience.

A famous victim of football’s inability to accept sexual diversity was Chelsea and England defender, Graeme Le Saux, who, although known to be heterosexual, became the target of homophobic abuse during his playing career in the 1990s. Le Saux’s case graphically illustrates one of the little-mentioned aspects of homophobic behaviours: the vast bulk of homophobic abuse is aimed at straight men. No-one actually believes that Brighton fans are gay (although, as with any other club, some of them may be), or that a player who falls down rather easily is ‘a poof’. Opposing fans sing ‘does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ in order to call into question the gender credentials of the opposition supporters as a means of reinforcing their own ideas of a masculine heterosexuality. In other words, homophobic ‘banter’, whether perpetrated on the terraces or in the dressing room, acts as a mechanism for policing straight men’s sexuality.

In contrast to racist abuse where no-one would think of calling a white person by the ‘n’ word, homophobia relies on the assumption that being thought of as gay is a culturally demeaned identity that needs to be constantly repudiated at all times. The argument that homophobia is ‘like’ racism may be useful tactically to promote the importance of tackling homophobia. However, it is not the case that homophobia is ‘like’ racism since it works in very different ways.

The fact that straight men experience the negative consequences of homophobia should not in any way be taken to mean that gay men do not suffer from homophobia. The tragic consequence of the cultural regime that devalues gay lives is that homophobia is not confined to the football arena but is present in every city, town and community in the country. Homophobic attacks are a more violent means by which some men (it is usually, although not invariably, men who are the perpetrators) shore up their own narrow notions of their heterosexuality, or even attempt to deny their homosexuality. From personal testimony, I have had two acquaintances murdered in violent homophobic attacks and many LGB&T people still lead lives that are saturated in fear and anxiety due to their experience of persistent homophobia. This is what sets homophobic abuse apart from the other ‘banter’ of football: homophobia has disastrous impacts well beyond the football terraces.

Understanding that homophobia is steeped in the culturally demeaned status of sexual minorities is crucial if effective strategies to tackle it are to be developed. To do so successfully will mean challenging the notion that football is a ‘man’s game’ with all the gendered and cultural freight that is loaded on to that term. The work that the FA has commenced in opening up participation in the game will be crucial in this endeavour. Despite worrying levels of discrimination that still persist in Britain, there is evidence that, in some places, homophobic attitudes may be receding: after all we now live in a country where there are openly gay Conservative members of the government. Football has the potential to make a significant contribution to the shift against homophobia. The task is to work on the cultural regime of football in order to end forever the idea some forms of masculinity are superior to others or that football can only be played by a certain type of ‘man’.

A longer, and fully referenced, version of this article can be found on the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre web site.

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