HEARD AT HALFTIME: No protest sanctions for Raven Saunders; Beijing 2022 receives Olympic flame; fifth marathon in 23 days for Flanagan!

Lighting of the Olympic Flame in Greece to begin the journey to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games (Photo: IOC/Greg Martin)

News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:


There were widespread expectations of athlete protests at the Tokyo Olympic Games over the summer, but there was very little protest activity. One of the few actions which drew attention was the post-awards ceremony posing of women’s shot put silver medalist Raven Saunders of the U.S.

After the medal ceremony concluded, she crossed her arms over her head for photographers and later told Lewis Johnson of NBC that “X is the intersection of where all oppressed people meet.”

The International Olympic Committee opened an inquiry, and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee cleared her, stating her gesture was a “peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice [that] was respectful of her competitors.”

Saunders, 25, did not protest during the awards ceremony itself.

The IOC suspended its investigation after news of the passing of Saunders’ mother a couple of days after the event. Asked on Saturday about the status, the IOC indicated that the matter has been concluded, noting:

“The IOC wrote to Raven Saunders and reminded her that such demonstrations contravene the Olympic Charter and go against the clearly expressed wishes of the vast majority of her fellow athletes, as the consultation process before the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has shown. We have asked her, should she qualify for future editions of the Olympic Games, to keep the rules and the wishes of the athletes’ community in mind and to use many opportunities provided in the [Rule] 50.2 guidelines to express her view at the Olympic Games.”


The USOPC has its pre-Beijing 2022 Media Summit online on Monday and today, with the organization’s leadership taking questions on Tuesday morning. Highlights:

● USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons spoke about the Beijing 2022 situation, including virus-prevention: “We await the new Covid playbooks, which will be coming out any day now and we expect that that ‘bubble’ environment that succeeded in Tokyo will be replicated with perhaps even more strenuous measures in Beijing.”

As for the continuing tumult over China’s human rights abuses, she observed:

“We’re not expecting further calls for an athlete boycott. I think that’s been well discussed. But we know there’s still continuing political tension. … We’re trying to stay in our own lane, where we can best support global peace and cooperation through sport.

“We’re sure that our athletes will be safe. We’re taking security very seriously during difficult times in the world.”

Asked about the situation in which U.S. athletes will be plunged:

“We expect that China is going to be a unique situation, to really allow sport to speak for unity and for global peace and for the rights of people around the world. That really is the place where sport can make its stand and we [USOPC] really have no opportunity, since we are not a government, to influence the activities of another country’s rules and regulations and treatment of people within their own country.

“But certainly our athletes will have points of view about that. And it is our job to ensure that they are able to express themselves but also to ensure they are kept safe.”

● Chief Executive Sarah Hirshland added “The focus here is really on, ‘how do we make sure athletes have all the information they need?’, [so] they understand the rules that are set out, they understand the risks, they understand their opportunities and that we give them every opportunity to make choices for themselves with information in hand and make the best choices for them.”


“We are very focused on ensuring that we understand both the laws of the country that we’ll be in, which is always critical, and making those laws – where they are relevant to our delegation – widely known and understood. We’re also focused on making sure that we have the right partnerships in place to ensure that we have resources at our disposal. We always work closely with the embassy, we work closely with the federal government: we’re going to make sure we’re focused on what the country of China and the challenges [that will be] present.”

● USOPC Chief of Sport Performance Rick Adams said the U.S. would field teams of 230-240 for the Olympic Winter Games and 65-75 for the Winter Paralympics.

Bahati VanPelt, the Chief of Athlete Services, described the expansion of services for Beijing that were developed from the Tokyo experience:

“Those include creation of more wellness spaces that better incorporate our mental-health officers and the USOPC clinical team, more domestic engagement with friends and family during the Games, and creating further opportunities to celebrate individual athlete accomplishments and milestones on the ground in Beijing during the Games.

“In Tokyo, we found these simple gestures significantly strengthened interpersonal relationships with the athletes that were there. …

“I think another takeaway I had was just how instrumental the mental-health officers were, being on the ground in Tokyo … just that everyday interaction and the everyday opportunities for those mental-health officers and the clinical team to engage with athletes.”

This was especially important with integrating the severe Covid protocols into a daily routine that helped lessen athlete stress levels and improve performance.


● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● The Olympic Flame was lit at ancient Olympia on Monday and began its journey to Beijing for the Winter Games in February.

The traditional ceremony was held near the Temple of Hera, with the flame lit by the High Priestess – Greek actress Xanthi Georgiou – and transferred to 2018 Olympic skier Ioannis Antoniou (GRE), who was also the first torchbearer for the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. It was then passed to five-time Olympic speed skating medalist Jiajun Li (CHN).

The official handover to the Beijing 2022 organizers is on Tuesday (19th) at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, site of the 1896 Games. A welcome ceremony in Beijing will be held on the 20th, with details of a tour to be released later.

UPI reported that “Greek police arrested three activists who entered the grounds of the ancient stadium in Olympia, Greece, and unfurled a Tibetan flag and banner reading ‘No genocide games’” outside the ceremony, and another four protesters were arrested on the grounds, but later released.

Two other protesters, both Americans, were detained at the Acropolis in Athens on Monday after they tried to hang banners protesting the Games from scaffolding at the site. Both were from the “No Beijing 2022″ activist group: Tibetan student Tsela Zoksang and Hong Kong activist Joey Siu.

● Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Paris 2024 ● The IOC approved the qualification framework for the Paris Games, with a view to ensuring that all 206 National Olympic Committees enter at least one man and one woman in 2024.

Qualification periods may not exceed two years in any sport and all qualifying events must be completed by 23 June 2024, with the Games to start on 26 July. The sports entry deadline is expected to be 8 July 2024.

International Federations will now design their qualifying programs using these requirements, expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.

The Olympic Village project in Saint-Denis was showcased on 14 October, with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo visiting the site. Work has been ongoing for 18 months and will continue for another 26 months, with the handover expected at the end of 2023. In a statement on the project’s progress:

“In summer 2024, it will accommodate 14,250 athletes, coaches and support staff, and 8,000 para-athletes during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In 2025, it will be redeveloped into a new urban district, including 2500+ new homes, a student residence and a hotel. Two new sets of schools will also be built, catering to the children of the 6,000 new residents; new office spaces will accommodate 6,000 new workers; and three large expanses of green space will offer residents an enriching life.”

The Village is expected to get 70% of its energy from geothermal sources. By February 2022, more than 3,500 people will be working on the site, making it one of the largest single-site construction projects in the country.

France-based facilities and food-service management giant Sodexo, a “Supporter” of the Paris 2024 organizers has been selected as the Olympic Village food-service contractor and the food-service operator at 15 Paris 2024 venues.

At the Village, Sodexo Live! will utilize 1,000 staff per day to prepare and serve 40,000 meals daily over five weeks of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

● International Olympic Committee ● The IOC revealed the record-high candidate list for the two available spots on the IOC Athletes’ Commission, to be voted on by the Games participants at Beijing 2022.

There are 17 candidates – 10 men and seven women – from six different sports, vying for eight-year terms. The elected athletes will replace current member Hayley Wickenheiser (CAN) and fill the spot of the resigned Ole Einar Bjoerndalen (NOR).

The candidates include Olympic medal-winning stars such as France’s Martin Fourcade (biathlon), Czech Eva Samkova (snowboard cross) and Dutch speedskating ace Ireen Wust. No Americans are on the list; cross-county skiing star Kikkan Randall of the U.S. was elected in PyeongChang in 2018, but had to resign from the IOC due to health issues.

The IOC Executive Board met in Athens, Greece over the weekend, celebrating the re-opening of the International Olympic Academy in ancient Olympia. The renovation of the facility, located next to the archeological site of the ancient Games, was made possible by a €12.5 million (~$14.6 million U.S.) grant from the IOC in 2020 and completed in time for the 60th anniversary celebration.

There was also a ceremony at Olympia, in front of the memorial to modern Games founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin (FRA), to mark the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the IOC’s Executive Board. First convened on 7 November 1921, “the minutes of the very first EB meeting say that the raison d’etre of the Executive Commission, which was what it was called at the time, was to ensure the smooth operation of the IOC during periods when the IOC President would be absent. One hundred years ago, the newly created board was responsible for managing the finances and ensuring that the IOC’s rules with regard to the Olympic Games were observed and implemented.”

Not much has changed.

U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee The USOPC’s College Sports Sustainability Think Tank released a list of seven recommendations to help maintain the U.S. collegiate sports system as a pipeline for American Olympic teams in the future.

Sport-specific concepts were noted for swimming and diving for a compacted recruiting calendar and deregulating men’s gymnastics recruiting rules to allow “varsity programs to partner with youth programs and USA Gymnastics to share facilities, streamline expenses and generate revenue through expanded camps/clinics.”

Important cross-institutional ideas include “NCAA championships efficiencies through (1) National Governing Body/NCAA championships hosting partnerships, (2) NGB/NCAA efficiency partnerships and/or (3) NGB/NCAA auxiliary partnerships” and sharing of Olympic and Paralympic content “and develop a recognition program to increase storytelling and elevate national awareness of the role colleges play in developing Olympians and Paralympians. Over time, these efforts may strengthen commercial interest in the collegiate Olympic and Paralympic marketplace.

Observed: The Think Tank program was begun when the NCAA structure was more stable than today; the introduction of athlete earning opportunities for name-image-likeness, the wild shifts in conference affiliations and the impact of a possible spin-off of major-conference football into a separate organization have the entire collegiate sports system in flux. The outlook for NCAA programs as continued incubators of Olympic talent for the U.S. – and other countries – is murky at best.

● National Olympic Committee: China ● The China Media Group announced the launch of an all-Olympics channel in the country, offering 4K Ultra HD service on channel “CCTV16″ and a digital platform:

“The priority of the CMG Olympic Channel is to serve the coming 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, tell quality Chinese stories of the two events in a comprehensive way, continuously create a positive atmosphere and public opinion for the 2022 Winter Games, bring winter sports to 300 million Chinese citizens and provide the most exciting Winter Olympic programs to the whole world.”

In the U.S., NBC began offering its own Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA in 2016 and was later joined by Brazil.

● National Olympic Committee: Russia ● A report from the TASS news agency noted that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has reported 69 doping positives through September of 2021.

It also cited figures of 108 suspected positives out of 8,294 samples collected in 2020 and 202 positives in 2019, out of 11,316 samples.

For comparison, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency completed 14,509 tests in 2019 (75 new or modified sanctions) and 8,599 (59 sanctions) in Covid-impaired 2020. For 2021, only first-quarter testing figures of 3,424 – in line with testing in 2019 – have been reported so far. New or modified sanctions for 2021 through mid-October totaled 35.

Observed: On a raw-data basis, the rates of positives in Russia remains high in comparison with those recorded by the USADA: 379 reported by RUSADA from 2019-20-21 according to TASS vs. 169 from the USADA Web site. Oh boy.

● Alpine Skiing ● During a news conference in advance of the 23 October start of the FIS Alpine World Cup season, American superstar Mikaela Shiffrin told reporters that she would like to compete in all five individual events in Beijing in February.

That includes, in order, the Giant Slalom (February 7), Slalom (9th), Super-G (11th), Downhill (15th) and the Combined (17th).

Shiffrin has an amazing 69 World Cup wins to her credit and has won World Cup races in all of those events: 45 in Slalom, 12 in Giant Slalom, four in Super-G, two Downhills and one Combined. She still has to be chosen to represent the U.S. in these events, but if she can return to her World Cup champion form of 2017-18-19, she could well be picked to ski all of them.

She owns three Olympic medals from wins in the Slalom (2014), Giant Slalom (2018) and a bronze in the Combined in 2018.

● Athletics ● In an at-home marathon in Oregon to take the place of the postponed-until-2022 Tokyo Marathon, U.S. star Shalane Flanagan finished 26.2 miles in 2:35:14, her third completed marathon run in nine days!

She is now 5/6ths of her goal to complete five of the World Marathon Majors plus the Tokyo replacement within 43 days. She has run Berlin (2:38:32), London (2:35:04), Chicago and Boston back-to-back (2:46:39 and 2:40:34) and now the Tokyo replacement. All that remains is New York on 7 November – with three weeks of rest this time – a race which she famously won in 2017.

All this at age 40! Wow!

Ibrahim Rotich (also identified as Emmanuel Rotich), the husband of murdered distance star Agnes Tirop (KEN) was arrested in Mombasa last Thursday (14th), reportedly trying to leave the country. He was arraigned on Monday and will continue in police custody; he will be examined to determine if he is mentally fit for trial.

The Kenyan National Police Service tweeted Thursday that Rotich “was arrested together with Silas Chilla Chellile and are both helping the police with investigations. John Kipkoech Samoe was earlier arrested for complicity in the murder and already arraigned in court for custodial sentence.”

Tirop, 25, a two-time World Championships bronze medalist at 10,000 m, was found stabbed to death at her home in Iten on the 13th.

● Fencing ● Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov announced his candidature for a fourth term as President of the Federation Internationale de Escrime (FIE), which is a good thing for the federation. Elections are scheduled for 27 November.

Usmanov, with interests in mining, metals and telecommunications, has been the financial backbone of the FIE since he became its President in 2008. Based on a review of the FIE financial statements posted on the federation’s Web site, he has donated more than CHF 75.624 million, or about $82.055 million U.S. – at current rates – to the FIE during his term as President, through the end of 2019:

2019: CHF 4,854,500
2018: CHF 16,335,000
2017: CHF 4,950,000
2016: CHF 4,850,000
2015: CHF 7,312,400
2014: CHF 1,000,000 (last six months)
2013-14: CHF 4,310,751
2012-13: CHF 9,976,749
2011-12: CHF 5,326,004
2010-11: CHF 6,201,500
2009-10: CHF 4,916,000
2008-09: CHF 5,591,000


● Football ● The fight over having the FIFA World Cup every two years is now boiling over.

Of special note was the announcement on Saturday that the IOC Executive Board “takes note of FIFA’s plans to change the football competition schedule and to hold the World Cup every two years” and after listing the primary counter-arguments – the move “would undermine the diversity and development of sports other than football,” would retard gender equality in football itself and a strain on the players – added:

“The IOC shares these concerns and supports the calls of stakeholders of football, International Sports Federations and major event organisers for a wider consultation, including with athletes’ representatives, which has obviously not taken place.”

In other words, the IOC is against the idea; it was widely reported that FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) did not discuss the concept with IOC chief Thomas Bach (GER), even though Infantino is an IOC member!

Further, the European Football Union (UEFA) is trying to block the concept, apparently due to be voted on by the entire FIFA membership – 211 national associations – in December. In addition to the Europeans, the South American federation (CONMEBOL) has come out against the concept and it would impact domestic clubs and leagues around the world by requiring major changes to the annual calendar of when club matches would be played and when national-team games would be mandated by FIFA for qualifying purposes.

FIFA, meanwhile, is conducting “consultations” this week with the head coach of every men’s national federation team. At the same time, a 21-member Women’s Technical Advisory Group is being led by Jill Ellis, who coached the U.S. to two Women’s World Cup titles, and will consider having a Women’s World Cup every two years. Her 21-member committee includes Americans Lindsay Horan, Kristine Lilly and Alex Morgan.

Infantino is promoting the concept more strongly, saying during last week’s visit in Israel:

“Precisely because it is a magic tournament is perhaps why it should happen more often. The prestige of an event depends on its quality, not its frequency. You have the Super Bowl every year, Wimbledon or the Champions League every year, and everyone is excited and waiting for it.”

The future of FIFA and online football gaming is up for grabs after announcements from EA Sports on 7 October and FIFA on 15 October about the future of the mega-popular “FIFA” game, produced by EA Sports beginning in 1993.

EA Sports Group General Manager Cam Weber wrote in a Web post, “As we look ahead, we’re also exploring the idea of renaming our global EA SPORTS football games. This means we’re reviewing our naming rights agreement with FIFA, which is separate from all our other official partnerships and licenses across the football world.”

The company licenses FIFA’s name, but also has to get licenses from more than 300 other partners for the use of player names and likenesses, team names and so on. Would the franchise be just as valuable without FIFA’s name?

FIFA replied it’s time to end the EA Sports monopoly:

“FIFA will adopt a new commercial positioning in gaming and eSports to ensure that it is best placed to make decisions that benefit all football stakeholders.

“FIFA is bullish and excited about the future in gaming and eSports for football, and it is clear that this needs to be a space that is occupied by more than one party controlling all rights. …

“Consequently, FIFA is engaging with various industry players, including developers, investors and analysts, to build out a long-term view of the gaming, eSports and interactive entertainment sector.”

Sounds like a divorce in process.

The continuing fallout from the player abuse and working conditions complaints within the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) saw Washington Spirit controlling owner Steve Baldwin agree to sell his stake in the club.

Reported last Friday (15th), Baldwin was being pressured by the Spirit players to sell his stake amid the removal of former coach Richie Burke (GBR) on abuse allegations.

On Tuesday, the NWSL announced that Marla Messing, who memorably led the organizing committee for the transformative 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, will serve as interim commissioner, following the resignation of Lisa Baird over the abuse scandals. Messing was most recently the chief executive of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Southern California office.

Messing posted an introductory note on the NWSL site, which included:

“As I step into this interim role, I fully recognize the meaningful change that still needs to occur, the trust that needs to be rebuilt and the accountability that must be enforced. I can assure you that while I am in this role, I am committed to working closely with the board of governors, the players and all of you to make important changes across the league that will allow us to emerge as a stronger, more inclusive organization where player safety, welfare and respect are central to everything that we do.”

Observed: The NWSL made a good choice here. A lawyer by trade, Messing is calm, insightful, a good listener, but not afraid to make hard decisions. She will lower the temperature among the players and work to find workable solutions to the abuse and workplace issues which are plaguing the league.

Do not be surprised if she becomes the permanent Commissioner.

● Gymnastics ● The Federation Internationale de Gymnastique will be holding elections for its Athletes Commission in Kitakyushu. One spot each is available for men’s Artistic, women’s Artistic, Rhythmic and Trampoline, with a total of 15 candidates for terms from 2022-25.

The U.S. has no candidates in these elections.

The FIG Congress will be held from 5-7 November and features an actual contest for President between incumbent Molinari Watanabe (JPN) and challenger Farid Gayibov (AZE). There are also elections for:

Vice President (3), with two incumbents – Nellie Kim (BLR) and Vassily Titov (RUS) – running among the seven candidates.

Executive Committee (7), with six incumbents running and 21 total candidates, including USA Gymnastics chief executive Li Li Leung.

Council (21), with nine incumbents (no Americans).

Technical Committees will also be elected. American Butch Zunich is a candidate for the Men’s Technical Committee; Lori Laznovsky is running for a seat on the Gymnastics For All committee.

Observed: These positions are where power within federations is developed. Given the enormous impact that the U.S. women’s Artistic team, especially, has made on the sport over the last decade, it’s unfortunate that no current or former American gymnast is running.

Leung, despite only joining USA Gymnastics in February 2019, has jumped right into the fray, a worthwhile step in trying to give the U.S. a seat at the table in the FIG’s central committee.

● Swimming ● More infighting to report, this time within the European Swimming League (known as “LEN” by its initials in French), the confederation of national aquatics federations in Europe.

During its 25 September Congress in Budapest, significant unhappiness with the reports of President Paolo Barelli (ITA) and the LEN Bureau reports was registered and the financial report was accepted by only 46-44 with two abstentions.

Then, 24 member federations petitioned for the holding of a LEN Extraordinary Congress next February to consider:

“Dismissal of actual LEN Bureau and Election of a new LEN Bureau as per FINA Constitution article C 17.5.2, including LEN continental members to the FINA Bureau and LEN General Secretary.”

The confederation has not acknowledged the request or the scheduling of the Extraordinary Congress, reportedly required to be called when 20 or more member federations request it. The petition offered by the 24 national federations listed complaints including:

● “The lack of integrity, transparency and good governance in LEN, without any information to general assembly regarding the financial problems, under investigation by Swiss prosecutor”;

● “The constant oppression, and punishing behaviour from LEN President against whom express different opinions;” and

● “And finally the lack of confidence on the President, Treasurer, General Secretary and Bureau members.”

Observed: This is not a happy family.


● Gymnastics ● The 2021 FIG World Artistic Championships started on Monday in Kitakyushu, Japan and will continue through Sunday (24th).

Russia’s Olympic All-Around bronze medal winner Angelina Melnikova led the women’s All-Around qualifying at 57.065, trailed by two Americans: Leanne Wong (55.749) and Kayla DiCello (55.700).

In the individual event qualifying:

Vault: Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, the Olympic All-Around silver medalist, led at 14.800, ahead of Elze Guerts (NED: 14.350).

Uneven Bars: Andrade led again, scoring 15.100, with China’s Xiaoyuan Wei second (14.733) and Rui Luo (14.500) third.

Beam: China’s Luo had the top score of 14.566, with Melnikova second (14.033). Wong qualified for the final in fourth (13.700) as did DiCello in seventh (13.500). Konnor McClain of the U.S. was eighth (13.466), but did not advance as the U.S. already had two qualifiers.

Floor: Tokyo Floor Exercise bronze medalist Mai Murakami (JPN) led all qualifiers at 14.166, with Melnikova second (14.100), Wong third (14.000) and DiCello fourth (13.800). American eMjae Frazier was ninth (13.166) and did not advance.

Competition continues with men’s qualifications on the 19th and 20th and the All-Arounds on the 21st (women) and 22nd (men). Apparatus finals will be held on 23-24 October.

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