THE TICKER: USOPC provides $525,000 for Athletes’ Advisory Council, NCAA allows more Olympic-athlete support

Athletes' Advisory Chair Han Xiao

The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:

United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● Another of the urgent desires of the USOPC’s Athletes’ Advisory Council was fulfilled under an agreement announced Thursday to provide an annual budget of $525,000 and access to USOPC shared services.

The Memorandum of Understanding provides funding that will be used for staffing – including the hiring of an Executive Director – programs and travel for AAC members, with the AAC retaining full control of the budget. The AAC will further have access to USOPC administrative services such as human resources, information technology and finance support, at no cost to the Council.

This is another step by the USOPC to demonstrate its commitment to athlete services, aimed both at supporting current and future American athletes and at the U.S. Congress, which is considering legislation to require other actions. Those could include a significant expansion of the USOPC’s Athlete Ombudsman program. In his Congressional testimony in 2018, AAC Chair Han Xiao asked for the Ombudsman position to essentially become an on-demand legal resource for athletes and further requested the creation of an Inspector General over the USOPC and the U.S. National Governing Bodies. The AAC funding program is a clear show of good faith by the USOPC to use its resources for direct athlete support.

Collegiate athletes who are contenders for the U.S. Olympic Team got a major boost on Thursday with the passage of legislation by the Division I Council of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) that:

“Athletes designated as elite by nationally recognized groups may receive additional developmental training expenses from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee or national governing bodies, including travel for parents, guardians, coaches, training partners, training partners and sport experts.”

This is a crucial relaxation of the tight coaching and support rules that would prohibit such added help as “extra benefits” until now. Additional coaching beyond the current limits is also approved, as long as “the workout is initiated by the student and doesn’t cause missed class time.”

This is very good news for collegiate stars, especially in this Olympic year of 2020.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed $134.5 million in capital expenditures to update the Olympic facilities in Lake Placid, New York. The proposed state budget allocation includes funding for “a strategic upgrade and modernization plan to support improvements to the Olympic facilities and ski resorts.”

The arena and speed skating oval would be refurbished, along with trail upgrades, snowmaking facilities and a lodge at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg cross-country skiing course. Most of these upgrades will be the first since the 1980 Olympic Winter Games took place there.

Lake Placid is a crucial eastern training facility for American winter-sport athletes, and hosts a bevy of international world cup and national competitions annually.

Russia ● A major shift in the leadership of Russian sport was made on Tuesday, with the appointment of Oleg Matytsin as Sports Minister of the Russian Federation.

He replaces Pavel Kolobkov, a six-time Olympic medalist in fencing, who had been an unapologetic booster of Russia’s place in Olympic sport, including against the recent, heavy sanctions imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Since 2015, Matytsin has been the head of the Federation Internationale de Sport Universitaire (FISU), which holds worldwide university championships annually and the World University Games every two years. His work there has been highly respected and he has met with NCAA President Mark Emmert about how to further expand the world university sports programs to better include U.S. collegiate athletes. He was re-elected as President last year, but will have to give up the post now.

Matytsin said in a statement that “In consultation with colleagues and key stakeholders, I am currently determining the best way forward to ensure that FISU continues to go from strength to strength. I remain fully committed to keep doing my best to support the international university sports movement.”

His new task will be to try to smooth a pathway for Russian reinstatement by the World Anti-Doping Agency as soon as possible; the Russian appeal of the WADA sanctions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be heard soon.

More bad news for Russia came on Wednesday, as the World Anti-Doping Agency provisionally suspended the new National Anti-Doping Laboratory of Moscow, as a follow-up to the sanctions against Russia announced in December. However, the suspension is limited:

“This provisional suspension prohibits the Moscow Laboratory from carrying out any work related to the analysis of blood samples in connection with the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) program and will remain in place pending disciplinary proceedings to be carried out by an independent Disciplinary Committee.”

Testing of other samples has not been prohibited, but a WADA disciplinary committee will be empaneled to make a recommendation on further actions, if any.

Athletics ● British distance superstar Mo Farah said on Tuesday he has no issues with re-testing of any stored doping samples from the period he was part of the Nike Oregon Project.

Writing on Twitter, he noted “I’ve seen reports of my name in connection to Ukad and Wada about sample retesting. Just to be clear, I was not consulted about this and as I’ve said many times, I am happy for any anti-doping body to test any of my previous samples anytime.”

Tiger Woods is one of history’s outstanding sports champions, but when GolfWorld asked him about the winning streak in sports that impressed him the most, it wasn’t in golf.

“As far as streaks, I think probably one of the all-time best when I was growing up was Edwin Moses.”

Of course, Moses won 122 straight races – with 107 straight finals – in the 400 m hurdles from 1977-87 and won Olympic golds in 1976 and 1984 and set four world records. He not only revolutionized the event, but made it a must-see at any meet he was in.

“You’ve got to lose one of them, right?” Woods continued. “Clip your foot on a hurdle or something, but nothing happened.”

Nothing except winning. Give Woods credit for being quite a sports fan; he wasn’t even two years old when Moses started his streak!

Football ● Shocking as they may seem, FIFA President Gianni Infantino actually said these words at a Tuesday evening dinner at the World Economic Forum in Davos (SUI):

“[T]here are at least three main reasons why it is the right thing that the President of FIFA tonight is introducing the President of the United States. …

“The second reason is the United States and soccer. And I have to inform you that the United States is on the verge of becoming the soccer power in the world. You don’t know it yet, but it’s coming faster than you think. We will organize the World Cup — the FIFA World Cup — in 2026, in North America. And President Trump has been in this venture from the very beginning. He wanted it to be organized, together with Canada and Mexico, in prelude of the great trade agreement that you just signed last week. So, soccer is in advance of trade as well.

“And if — I don’t know, in Italy, 250,000 jobs are created with soccer. In Spain, 185,000 jobs. In the U.S., President, in a view of the World Cup 2026, we have to create at least 1 million jobs for American citizens involved in soccer.”

The U.S. women are, of course, the world’s pre-eminent football team already, but the American men have a ways to go.