30 June 2011Walmart’s acquisition of a majority stake in local retailer Massmart raised no competition concerns, while the public interest issues raised were sufficiently addressed by the conditions imposed on the US retailer, says South Africa’s Competition Tribunal.“It does raise certain public interest concerns, but these concerns are adequately remedied by the imposition of the conditions submitted as undertakings by the merging parties,” the tribunal said in a statement on Wednesday on its reasons for approving the deal.The tribunal conditionally approved the deal on 31 May but only gave its reasons for this on Wednesday.“Walmart does not compete with Massmart in South Africa and its only presence in the country is a small procurement arm that sources local products for its stores globally.“In light of the above, we find that the transaction would not substantially prevent or lessen competition in any of the markets that Massmart presently operates in.”Jobs expected to growHowever, the Competition Act says a merger may still be prohibited or subject to conditions, on the grounds of public interest.“Unless the merger is the cause of the public interest concerns, we have no remit to do anything about them. Our job in merger control is not to make the world a better place, only to prevent it becoming worse as a result of a specific transaction,” the tribunal said.In this case, the merging parties offered to undertake various steps to protect the public interest.Unions were concerned that the merger would lead to job losses and that this had already started happening with some retrenchments last year.“There is no evidence from the internal documents of the merging parties that retrenchments at Massmart are contemplated as a consequence of the merger,” the tribunal found.“On the contrary, there is evidence that suggests, given the expansionist ambitions of Massmart, the group expects employment to grow between 2011 and 2013.”The parties, however, gave an undertaking not to retrench staff for two years post-merger.It was also agreed that the status of the SA Commercial Catering and Allied Workers’ Union as the largest representative union within the merger entity would not be challenged for a period of three years.Creating new rights ‘beyond our competence’The tribunal said, although muddled, it appeared the unions were demanding centralised bargaining and a closed shop.However, it found that Massmart’s approach to these two issues was a policy pre-merger and not influenced by a possible merger with Walmart.The tribunal was wary of imposing labour conditions that should “be thrashed out at the bargaining table”.“Protecting existing rights is legitimate, creating new rights is beyond our competence.”Thus it found “the creation of additional rights not presently enjoyed by unions is neither merger specific nor appropriately part of our limited public interest mandate in respect of effects on employment”.Another issue raised during competition proceedings was that Walmart’s substantial bargaining power, and access to cheap imports, could harm local procurement.The tribunal said it was likely that the merged entity would change its procurement patterns, but it was not clear by how much.“The problem is that the concern raised in relation to local procurement/imports is also associated with important benefits for consumers.Consumer interest in lower prices“A possible loss of jobs in manufacturing of an uncertain extent must be weighed up against a consumer interest in lower prices and job creation at Massmart.”The SA Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union proposed that, post-merger, Massmart’s local procurement level should be kept at the same level as it was pre-merger for a certain amount of time.But the tribunal said this would be too complex to implement.“Further the conditions will contradict the major objective of competition regulation – to secure lower prices – the procurement conditions would likely affect the merged entity’s ability to provide customers with the lowest possible prices.”Instead, the tribunal found the merging parties remedy of spending R100-million over three years on a local supplier programme, was more acceptable.“Instead of insulating local industry from international competition for a period, it seeks to make local industry more competitive to meet international competition.”The merging parties made various undertakings about local procurement and labour conditions during the hearings, which they eventually agreed should be made conditions for the approval of the deal.For this reason, the undertakings would be enforceable.“Non-adherence can lead to serious consequences for the merger, which is an illustration of the commitment to them and an indication that it is not in consequence a public relations gesture.”Sapa
AIRBORNE: M.S.Dhoni’s power to finish matches with sixes has India in thrallIn Ranchi, they already have some heavy duty heroes, you know. The airport is named after Birsa Munda, a tribal freedom fighter.The town’s main road pauses at Albert Ekka Chowk, where the lance naik who won the Param Vir,AIRBORNE: M.S.Dhoni’s power to finish matches with sixes has India in thrallIn Ranchi, they already have some heavy duty heroes, you know. The airport is named after Birsa Munda, a tribal freedom fighter.The town’s main road pauses at Albert Ekka Chowk, where the lance naik who won the Param Vir Chakra stands in bronze readiness. As these are not such conflict-ridden times, inspiration is found in less lofty things. Broken windows for instance. “You see them. That’s him,” says Sambhav Diwan, final year BCom student pointing to rows of shattered glass panes on one flank of the DAV Shyamali School. It seems impossible. The building is 250 m hit from the centre of the MECON cricket ground near it. How could anyone keep targeting it, smashing one pane in three?MANIA: M.S.Dhoni’s first pitchActually, it hardly matters whether it’s one window or twenty-one. What matters is how Mahendra Singh Dhoni, for it is his handiwork that is being discussed, did it at all. Got from here to there. The school’s cricket practice area, a long patch of mud outside the MECON ground, cannot possibly be a springboard to the India blue and all that it brings. Screaming crowds, stardom, Man of the Series, even a plasma TV. Somehow, from these safe, nondescript lanes that his father Paan Singh, retired pump operator, still cycles through, a cricketer of brightness, boldness and vigour has emerged. To metropolitan India, watching open-mouthed as one-day matches are finished with sky-ripping sixes, Dhoni is the team’s new find.To the place where he came from and others like it, Dhoni has become an idea so powerful that nothing can stop it. Not even the minefield of international cricket that lies ahead of the man himself.advertisementA six year old traineeCricket’s growing foot mark across India is reflected in the fact that the ODI team that thrashed Sri Lanka featured cricketers born in Allahabad, Kothamangalam, Rae Bareilly, Vishakhpatnam, and of course, Ranchi. S.S. Rao, Dhoni’s teammate in Jharkhand’s Ranji Trophy team says, “It doesn’t matter where you come from anymore, all that counts in cricket is performance.”Ten years ago, it would have been hard to find such assurance in the unfashionable backwaters of Indian cricket. Today, the unfashionable backwaters are crucibles of ambition and Dhoni is a prototype.A chatty, engaging 24-year-old Dhoni is aware how he and others like him have made all handicaps, like the lack of good wickets or year-round nets, irrelevant. “Guys from smaller places are tougher than those from the metros,” he says. Where he grew up, there was only one turf wicket, no big ticket academy, high-profile coach or modern gymnasium. In Ranchi, progress was always just around the corner. If you really wanted to progress, you went elsewhere.Dhoni has returned again and again to the town that the young usually leave. With his 650cc Yamaha Thunderbird motorcycle, bought secondhand. To cruise around in his new Scorpio with its black tinted windows. Or to inaugurate Ranchi’s first Subway outlet and Swift dealership. Every time he steps onto the field for India, it is an invigorating homecoming. Ranchi’s celebrationsThe day her baby brother scored his first ODI century, Jayanti Gupta recalls TV reporters stormed into his home. “They stood on the bed. We didn’t see a single ball after his 50,” she says. After Dhoni’s 183, Jharkhand selector and former India under-25 Pradeep Khanna says, “it was Holi-Diwali ek saath (together)”. Every time he plays, Dhoni’s parents lock up their little flat and go elsewhere to escape the arrival of the TV vans.In cricket, only the stardom is sudden. For most, careers move slowly. When switching from goal-keeping to wicket-keeping in school, Dhoni spent a year learning to keep without playing in a single match. As an 18-year-old he played matches during his Standard XII Board examinations. Gupta would read chapters out aloud to him at night and Dhoni would appear for the paper the next day. Often a car would be waiting outside the examination hall to take him to the railway station and his next match. Dhoni spent five seasons playing domestic cricket for before he was picked for India-A. Promoted to open on a tour in Zimbabwe, he made those watching sit up, including former India players Javagal Srinath and Saba Karim. “His ability to finish off matches is exceptional,” says Karim.m.S.Dhoni’s friends’ watchHis teammates reckon that Dhoni hits the ball harder than Virender Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar. His school games teacher Keshab Banerjee had often to assure the principal that he would do “halka” practice because the people living in nearby buildings complained about balls landing in balconies and hitting walls.Banerjee reads out an inter-school scorecard: chasing 378 in 40 overs, Dhoni scored 213 not out in 150 balls with 26 fours and seven sixes. He once sent a six into his Sanskrit teacher’s house. In the Ranji Trophy Plate semi-final against Haryana last season, the ball had to be changed eight times because it kept landing outside Chandigarh’s Sector 16 Stadium. In Bangalore earlier this year, scooterists on Cubbon Road outside Chinaswamy Stadium gave thanks for their helmets as three monster hits cleared the stadium roof and its compound and crashed onto the road.advertisementIt is even said that when he was not picked for an under-19 World Cup camp, he sent the ball sailing through a window near where a selector was sitting.Where such power comes from is not clear. Genes say some, lots of school sport, suggest others but it might just be the milk. Till he was 18, Dhoni consumed a litre of milk a day, at various meals-as breakfast, as lunch with rice or with chapatis in the evening. Yet, he is neither the “orange-haired rustic” as one paper painted him, nor the “instinctive” player he may seem.Dhoni has never been formally coached by any single cricket guru but worked with a sampling of several. He would listen politely to everything said and then, he says, “choose what I wanted to follow”.Yet his improvisational shotmaking is based on precise thinking. The scoop shot to the fast bowlers is played when the fine leg is up and bowler is trying a yorker. He advises sagely, “I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, you know. If you get it wrong you could get hit in the face because you’re leaning forward.”M.S.DhoniHe may be a small town boy but like his peers Dhoni is in sync with big-city ideas through school, TV and an alert mind. What about the city slicker hair-do? Dhoni knows about Samson from school and the circulating cliche makes him roll his eyes. It’s not about the coiffure. “Confidence is the key to my game,” he says.In the past, says Karim, through personal experience, the hinterland cricketer felt alienated and unwelcome in the Indian team due to the coldness of its seniors. Today the dressing room is a more democratic place and the playing field is finally very level.At the St Xavier’s School Ground, with its matting wicket and patchwork outfield of ankle high grass and bare mud, the Ranchi Cricket Academy is in session. This summer the coaches introduced a 10-overs-a-side format with their own rules. Three dot balls and you’re out. In the first 10 balls, two fours or a six was mandatory. “That’s the kind of player in demand today,” says coach Mohammed Wasim as one of his wards sends a six over the treeline.Coach Chanchal Bhattacharya has watched the A-Division league club teams increase from 30 to 40, within a year there will be a C Division opening up. In his camp, at least three youngsters in the first XI have stopped going to barbers.The word is spreading. In Kolkata, a mother checking her child’s Hindi homework was puzzled. In the middle of neat letters and pictures to go with them, among lotuses (ka for kamal) and rabbits (kh for khargosh) was a face framed by long hair.advertisement”What’s this?” the seven-year-old was asked. “Dh”, he replied, “For Dhoni.”
OTTAWA – The federal government ran a deficit of $2.7 billion in the first five months of its fiscal year compared with a deficit of $5.4 billion in the same period last year.In its monthly fiscal monitor, the federal Finance Department says the smaller deficit for the year so far came as revenue grew more than spending.Revenues were up $6.3 billion, or 5.3 per cent, as income tax revenues and excise taxes and duties rose, partially offset by lower EI premium revenues and other revenues.Program spending was up $4.2 billion, or 3.7 per cent, due to increases in major transfers to persons and other levels of government and direct program expenses.Public debt charges were down $700 million, or 6.1 per cent.In its fall fiscal update this week, the government said it’s expecting a shortfall of $18.4 billion in 2017-18, compared with a projection of $25.5 billion outlined in the spring budget.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – A new report released today by BC Hydro finds most British Columbians still think Earth Hour is important despite four years of declining participation.The report entitled “Lights out: Why Earth Hour is dimming in B.C.” found British Columbians reduced their electricity use during Earth Hour – an annual global event hosted by the World Wildlife Fund that encourages turning off the lights for an hour to raise awareness around combatting climate change – by just 0.3 percent in 2017, or 15 percent of the savings achieved in 2008.The decline comes despite 7 in 10 British Columbians surveyed for the report saying they intend to participate in Earth Hour this year. The findings suggest BC Hydro’s largely hydroelectric generation may account for the lack participation in Earth Hour. Electricity generation accounts for only 1 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. “While Earth Hour may have lost some of its momentum in B.C. in recent years, we still see this as a symbolic event – a way to raise awareness about energy conservation,” said Chris O’Riley, BC Hydro’s President and Chief Operating Officer. “That’s why we are encouraging British Columbians to turn off unnecessary lights and electronics from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Saturday in support of Earth Hour.”BC Hydro customers can view an hourly breakdown of their electricity use for Saturday evening by logging onto their online MyHydro account to see how much they saved.The Northern Environmental Action Team is hosting an Earth Hour Run on Saturday night to help encourage conservation. The 5k run will start at 8 p.m. and the kids 1k will start at 7 p.m. Both runs will start at Northern Lights College. You can still register online at www.energetictickets.ca or from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday at Northern Lights College.
Henderson said that the city’s other bridges and culverts, including the one that was famously overtopped two years ago on 8th St., are currently faring well with the high water levels. He said that officials have so far not had any reports of damage to residents’ property. Henderson added however that the situation may change as water levels tend to peak in the late afternoon due to the warn daytime temperatures.As another precautionary measure, the City of Dawson Creek is handing out free sand bags for residents. The sandbags and sand will be made available at the west side of Kitchen Park, at the corner of 18th Street and 109th Avenue. Henderson said that although the creek is not expected to reach levels seen in prior floods, there may be some residents who could use sandbags to divert runoff.Updates can be found on the City’s Facebook page. DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — The City of Dawson Creek has closed the 17th Street Bridge because of rising water levels in the city’s namesake, though officials don’t believe that the water will rise to levels last seen two years ago.Dawson Creek’s General Manager of Development Services Kevin Henderson said the City decided to close the 17th Street bridge earlier today as a precautionary measure. Henderson explained that the water in Dawson Creek did overtop the bridge for a short time this morning, though it has since receded to approximately a foot below the road level.The bridge was one of several that were closed during the floods of June 2016, though it reopened a short time after.
Shares of Canada’s largest auto parts company, Magna International Inc., closed up 2.2 percent at $69.36, while Linamar Corp. was up 6.3 percent to $63.26 and Martinrea International Inc. was up 10.5 percent to $14.57.U.S. President Donald Trump had threatened to impose punishing auto tariffs on Canada if it didn’t reach a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.As a side deal to the new pact, called U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, or USMCA, the Trump administration has agreed to exempt Canada if the United States imposes 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles and auto parts.Excluding energy, the TSX likely fell as information technology led sectors on the downside with BlackBerry shares falling 5.1 percent. “It’s got to be good news for just about everybody but it is a bit of a muted response,” Michael Currie, vice-president and investment adviser at TD Wealth, said of the reaction to the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.The energy sector led the market, rising two percent on the back of a 38-per-cent increase in MEG Energy Corp. shares following a hostile takeover offer by Husky Energy Inc. valued at $6.4 billion, including the assumption of $3.1 billion in debt.On top of that, reports have suggested LNG Canada, an estimated $40-billion gas liquefaction plant and pipeline that was delayed in 2016, could be officially sanctioned shortly.“We haven’t seen many deals out of the energy patch of this size in quite a while,” Currie said in an interview.Crude prices gained almost three percent Monday with the November crude contract up US$2.05 to US$75.30 per barrel.“If you are in the oilpatch you couldn’t ask for a better day.” TORONTO, O.N. – The price of oil hit a four-year high and the Canadian dollar rose to its highest level since May on Monday, but the reaction in North American markets to a tentative trade deal to replace NAFTA was pretty subdued.After rising sharply in early trading, markets ended the day moderately higher mainly due to the performance of the important energy sector in Canada and of General Electric Co. in the U.S.The S&P/TSX composite index hit a high of 16,193.06 but closed up just 31.29 points to 16,104.43. The loonie was trading at an average of 78.11 cents US, up from an average of 77.25 cents US on Friday. That’s the highest level since May 22.The increase is directly attributable to the trade deal involving Canada, the United States and Mexico, said Currie, who noted that bank economists are predicting the loonie could head to the 80-cent range.Removing the trade uncertainty likely also means the Bank of Canada will increase its interest rate by 0.25 percentage.“It looks like full steam ahead for a rate hike this month and that pushes up the Canadian dollar too.”Meanwhile, in New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 192.90 points to 26,651.21. The S&P 500 index was up 10.61 points at 2,924.59, while the Nasdaq composite was down 9.05 points to 8,037.30.The November natural gas contract was up 8.6 cents at US$3.09 per million BTU’s.The December gold contract was down US$4.50 at US$1,191.70 an ounce and the December copper contract was down 1.75 cents at US$2.79 a pound.By Ross MarowitsTHE CANADIAN PRESS
New Delhi: Shares of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) plunged 10 per cent Wednesday amid concerns over stake sale by its promoters. The scrip tumbled 9.72 per cent to close at Rs 333.30 on the BSE. During the day, it dived 12.66 per cent to Rs 322.45.On the NSE, shares plunged 10.05 per cent to close at Rs 332.05. In terms of traded volume, 30.75 lakh shares were traded on the BSE, while over 6 crore shares were traded on the NSE during the day. Also Read – Commercial vehicle sales to remain subdued in current fiscal: Icra”The Subhash Chandra led Zee Entertainment Limited fell today for the fifth day in a row as speculations are ripe that the stake sale process is undergoing some hindrance. But the panic bitten stock is in no mood to turnaround despite the company’s clarification that the process is at an advanced stage and making steady progress,” said Umesh Mehta, head of research, Samco Securities. In five days, the scrip has tumbled 22.89 per cent on the BSE. Meanwhile, ZEEL Wednesday said its board will consider standalone and consolidated results for fiscal 2018-19 on May 27, scotching “market rumours” that raised concerns about audit of the company’s financial statements. Also Read – Ashok Leyland stock tanks over 5 pc as co plans to suspend production for up to 15 daysThe company said, in a regulatory filing, it has been informed that “there are certain rumours floating in the market raising concerns about audit of the financial statements of the company for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2019.” “We deny the above rumours floating in the market relating to audit of the financial statements of the company,” it said. In a separate filing, the company said it was not in a position to provide any comment or clarification regarding the stake sale process by its promoters, Essel Group. On Tuesday, Essel promoters had said its stake sale process in ZEEL is at an advanced stage. Last year in November, the promoters had stated that they planned to divest up to 50 per cent of their stake in ZEEL to a strategic partner.
So far in 2016, Harper’s exit velocity is down almost two and a half mph from his average last season — even as MLB’s overall exit velocity has spiked this year. Alongside that decrease in exit velocity has come a sharp increase in launch angle. Harper’s typical batted ball in 2015 ranged between a launch angle of about 13 to 16 degrees, giving him a line drive swing conducive to a high batting average. Harper started this season in a similar range, but he’s seen his game-by-game average creep up to a 20 degree launch angle in the last few weeks. Pop-ups have come along with that elevated launch angle, as he’s seen his infield-fly percentage almost double from 5.8 percent in 2015 to 10.7 percent in 2016. That subset of his batted balls are certain outs, so they explain a significant fraction of the decline in his batting average on balls in play.And it’s not a product of pitchers approaching Harper differently this season. Usually, balls thrown higher in the zone tend to get hit along higher trajectories as well; it’s one of the reasons high-ball hurler Chris Young leads the league in homers allowed. So it’s conceivable that pitchers had adjusted to Harper’s power by getting him to chase pitches high in the zone, causing more glancing contact. Yet Harper’s average pitch height in 2016 is only a tenth of an inch higher than in 2015, and his horizontal pitch location hasn’t changed either.Instead, the culprit for Harper’s problems seems to be genuinely diminished power. Let’s zoom in on a 1.5-foot wide, 6-inch tall rectangle at the center of the strike zone. Hitters normally punish the ball here, hammering balls in that region with an average exit velocity of 90.7 mph — and Harper did even better than that in 2015, hitting batted balls out of that area at 96 mph. (Fourteen of Harper’s 42 homers came from that region.) But in 2016, he’s barely exceeding the league average with an exit velocity of 90.8 mph. So far this season, he’s already made more outs in this central part of the strike zone (57) than he did in all of 2015.Pitches that Harper was punishing before are now leaving his bat more weakly, and turning into outs more often. Harper’s raw power — once his calling card — has diminished to near league-average levels, and not as a result of bad luck or a new approach from pitchers. Harper’s track record — and the projections informed by it — suggests his slugging will return eventually, but it’s impossible to say whether he needs a simple mechanical tweak or extensive time to recover from a hidden injury.Even without 450-foot home runs, this diminished version of Bryce Harper remains a good ballplayer, a testament to the breadth and depth of his skills. But at the same time, this just isn’t the Harper we were all expecting to see after the historic performance he produced last season.Check out our latest MLB predictions. Just 10 months ago, Bryce Harper was putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest position-player performances of all time. Harper slugged his way to 9.5 wins above replacement1According to FanGraphs, though Baseball-Reference.com’s version had him recording a 9.9 WAR. last season, largely on the basis of the best single-season offensive campaign since Barry Bonds broke baseball in 2004.2Among qualified hitters. But this year, Harper’s hitting numbers have slipped, and his overall value has suffered as a result.Sometimes drastic drop-offs like these are the result of bad luck, or even opposing pitchers changing their approach. But with the help of data from MLB’s radar-tracking Statcast system, we can see that Harper’s slump is a consequence of diminished power, which might be a more difficult fix.Harper’s eye-popping .330/.460/.649 triple-slash line in 2015 was driven by patience and power. He walked 0.95 times for every strikeout, the sixth-best ratio in baseball, and led MLB in isolated power (ISO) with a .319 mark. Between intentional walks, Harper managed to drive 42 home runs, making monster blasts a regular occurrence in Nationals Park.Some of that magic carried on into the first half of 2016, but lately Harper’s stats have taken a tumble. Although his walk-to-strikeout ratio has improved, his ISO is down more than a hundred points, to .209. As a result, his overall production has dropped to a pedestrian (at least by Harper’s standards) 115 Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), from 197 the year before.Statcast has tracked Harper’s decline in real time. It monitors the exit velocity and launch angle every time a player makes contact, characteristics which can be used together to predict a batted ball’s value in terms of runs.3I built a Random Forest model to predict the value of each batted ball, as described in an earlier article. By looking at changes in Harper’s underlying Statcast metrics, one can judge whether he has been merely unlucky, or if he’s truly experiencing a decline in skills. In 2015, the actual value of Harper’s batted balls exceeded what we would have expected, given their exit velocity/launch angle combinations, by a significant margin. Given available data, we can’t say what combination of foot-speed and luck drove that divergence, but so far this year his actual production on batted balls has declined precipitously — even going below what the model predicts.More tellingly, Harper’s predicted batted-ball value has fallen substantially as well. Much of that reduction is owed to a decrease in exit velocity, one of the biggest components of hitting skill. Hit the ball harder, and it’s more likely to go past fielders or over fences; softer, and those same fielders can throw you out, or a would-be home run turns into a warning-track flyout instead.
In the first quarter of a scoreless 2016 AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos faced third-and-6 from their own 44-yard line. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas ran a 15-yard out, breaking toward the Broncos’ sideline. He did not catch Manning’s wobbly throw, but there was contact on the play, and Denver’s players and coaching staff appealed to the official for a pass interference call on Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan. They got one, and the Broncos got a first down, scoring the game’s opening touchdown four plays later.On the ensuing drive, the Patriots faced third-and-3 at their own 27-yard line. Rob Gronkowski ran a wheel route up the Broncos’ sideline with T.J. Ward in coverage. As the Patriots tight end turned to look back for the ball, the defender made contact and shoved him, preventing a catch. Both Gronk and Tom Brady yelled for a penalty. The flag did not come, and the Patriots were forced to punt.Similar plays led to different outcomes that benefited the team on the sideline closest to the on-field action. Most NFL refs would likely say they are immune any sideline bias. “If I make a call because a coach is screaming at me on one side of the field and it’s wrong, that’s a bad day for me,” former NFL official Scott Green told us. (The NFL declined to comment.)But as it turns out, a sideline bias in the NFL is real, and it’s spectacular. To prove it, we looked at the rates at which refs call the NFL’s most severe penalties, including defensive pass interference, aggressive infractions like personal fouls and unnecessary roughness, and offensive holding calls, based on where the offensive team ran its play.1Some of this research was published in March in Economic Inquiry.For three common penalties, the direction of the play — that is, whether it’s run toward the offensive or defensive team’s sideline — makes a significant difference. In other words, refs make more defensive pass interference calls on the offensive team’s sideline but more offensive holding calls on the defensive team’s sideline. What’s more, these differences aren’t uniform across the field — the effect only shows up on plays run, roughly, between the 32-yard lines, the same space where coaches and players are allowed to stand during play.The following graphs show the penalty rates per 1,000 plays for defensive pass interference and aggressive defensive penalties, which include unnecessary roughness, personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct, and horse-collar tackles.2The data includes regular-season games between 2010 and 2014, and uses coin-toss information provided by Football Outsiders and play-by-play data from Armchair Analysis. To estimate penalty rates, we used a model of penalty outcomes that depends on yard line and which sideline (offensive or defensive team’s) the play was closer to. Additional methodological details can be found here. So what could be causing this phenomenon?Refs are faced with a near-impossible task. They make judgment calls in real time, relying on just their eyes and their experience. Deprived of the advantages, like instant replay, that we enjoy from the couch, refs have less information to help them resist the normal subconscious urge to draw on external cues for assistance in making borderline calls. In psychology terms, this process is called cue learning. It’s why we laugh longer in the presence of other humans laughing,4Which, in turn, is the reason that many TV comedies use a laugh track. why we eat more in the presence of overweight company, and why our judgment of persuasive speeches is influenced by the audience’s reaction.The most common cue in sports is crowd noise, and because crowd noise almost always supports the home team, the way the fans sway the referees is the No. 1 driver of home-field advantage in sports. And one notable experiment suggests that how loud a crowd is helps refs decide whether an interaction should be penalized. A pair of German researchers showed actual referees old video clips of possible soccer infractions, with crowd noise played at high or low volume. Refs looking at the exact same interactions were more likely to hand out a yellow card when they heard a lot of crowd noise than when the volume was low.It follows, then, that screaming and hat-throwing football personnel may also have an effect on referee choices. In football, this sideline bias even seems to supersede refs’ tendency to support the home team: The differences in the penalty rates from sideline to sideline are several times larger than the differences in penalty rates between the home and away teams.That bias can affect the outcome even when officials have time to confer. In a 2015 playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions, Matthew Stafford threw a third-and-1 pass to Brandon Pettigrew. Officials initially called defensive pass interference on the Cowboys’ Anthony Hitchens.But the flag occurred right in front of the Cowboys sideline. This led to some confusion. It also led to a helmetless Dez Bryant yelling at the official.After conferring with each other, the officials picked up the flag, a decision that Mike Pereira, Fox Sports’ rules analyst and the NFL’s former vice president of officiating, said was incorrect. Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics calculates that when the official picked up the flag, the Lions’ chances of winning that game dropped by 12 percentage points.Dallas won 24-20.Check out our latest NFL playoff predictions. Refs throw flags for defensive infractions at significantly higher rates when plays are run in the direction of the offensive team’s sideline; near midfield, defensive penalties are called about 50 percent more often on the offensive team’s sideline than the defensive team’s. Close to the end zone, where the sidelines are supposed to be free of coaches and players, these differences are negligible.For offensive flags, that association is reversed, at least on holding penalties.3Offensive pass interference calls didn’t vary by proximity to either team’s sideline. Here’s the rate of holding calls made on outside run plays, which shows how the defensive team’s sideline can help draw flags on the offense. Around midfield, offensive holding gets called about 35 percent more often on plays run at the defensive team’s sideline.
Brazil defeated Croatia 3-1 in the opening match of the World Cup on Thursday — while looking about as bad as it could while winning by that scoreline. Its go-ahead goal came on a penalty kick following a dubious call by referee Yuichi Nishimura. Its third goal perhaps ought to have been stopped by Croatian goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa. And the one it conceded was an own goal by Marcelo.FiveThirtyEight’s World Cup forecasts have been updated to reflect the results of the match, as they will be at the conclusion of each game. The projections don’t account for style points — it’s the scoreline that matters — so Brazil won’t be harmed by winning ugly.A bit more about how these updates work in a moment, but one soccer-related thought first. Some of Brazil’s edge — it had an 88 percent chance of beating Croatia in our pre-match predictions — was because of home-field advantage. Some of that advantage, as Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim have found, comes because home teams are more likely to benefit from refereeing decisions. Soccer has an especially large home-field advantage, in part because the officiating plays such a large role in the sport, especially in calling penalties and issuing red cards. Would Nishimura have made that (mistaken) penalty call had the game been played in Dubrovnik, rather than Sao Paulo? We’ll never know for sure, but the odds say it’s less likely.Back to our forecasts: Technically speaking, there are two programs that our colleagues at ESPN Stats & Info run to generate our World Cup forecasts. One program is a match simulator that plays out the results of the rest of the tournament 10,000 times. The other is the Soccer Power Index algorithm itself, which informs the match simulator’s estimate of how strong each team is.We’ll be running the match simulator at the end of each game (there will usually be a lag of 20 to 30 minutes before we get the new results on the site). However, the Soccer Power Index (SPI) program, which is computationally intensive, runs only once per day, overnight after all games have concluded.I’ll explain why this distinction matters by asking you to imagine that Brazil had drawn 1-1 with Croatia, rather than pulling out the win. This would hurt Brazil in two ways: First, it would increase the odds that it would fail to advance from its group. (Granted, Brazil’s odds would still be very high.) That change would be reflected immediately in our forecasts based on the match simulator.But a draw would also have lowered SPI’s estimate of Brazil’s strength. (SPI rates recent matches heavily, and it regards Brazil very highly, so a draw might have had a fair amount of impact.) That change, however, would not be reflected until our overnight update.There are also some other, more subtle things that can go on with SPI in the overnight updates. It’s learning more about which players a team has in its starting lineup, which reflects the player-rating component of the model. It also learns more about the relative strength of the continents. A draw for Brazil, for instance, would have (very slightly) lowered SPI’s estimate of the chances for Argentina, Colombia, and so forth, as the match would represent one data point showing that South America was not quite as strong as assumed.As far as the actual scoreline goes — Brazil 3, Croatia 1 — it won’t do much to improve SPI’s view on Brazil, either, since SPI had Brazil winning against Croatia by slightly more than two goals on average.Based on the results of the match simulator, however, Brazil’s odds of advancing from Group A have risen to 99.8 percent from 99.3 percent before the match. It’s usually not worth sweating the decimal places since there can sometimes be noise introduced by the match simulator — 10,000 simulations is a lot, but not enough to entirely remove the margin of error. In this case, however, the match simulator is just pointing out the obvious: It was going to be really hard for Brazil to fail to advance, and it will be even harder now that it’s picked up three points.How much were Croatia’s advancement odds hurt? They weren’t, actually — instead, they rose slightly to 37.5 percent from 36.6 percent. Some of this probably reflects the statistical noise that I referred to earlier. However, there is one way in which the match helped Croatia: Losing to Brazil by only two goals is not such a bad result. Mexico and Cameroon, the other two teams in Group A, could lose to Brazil by larger margins. In fact, SPI has Mexico as a 2.6-goal underdog, and Cameroon as a 3.2-goal underdog. That could make a difference if the second advancement position from Group A comes down to a tiebreaker based on goal differential, as it might. And FIFA’s next tiebreaker is based on goals scored, so losing 3-1 is better than losing 2-0. I doubt the Croats will be happy with the result of Thursday’s game, however.