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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Watanabe for Russia return, but waits for “verification” process
2. Van der Vorst steps out, calls for support of World Boxing
3. Cort wins in the rain, Thomas leads as Giro d’Italia resumes
4. List of top T&F athletes on Instagram has some surprises!
5. USL announces second tier-1 women’s football league
The head of the International Gymnastics Federation, Morinari Watanabe of Japan, has made no secret of his desire to see Russian and Belarusian athletes return to international competition. But the federation’s Executive Committee put the brakes on at its latest meeting in the absence of any consensus on what constitutes a “neutral” athlete according to the recommendations of the International Olympic Committee. In boxing, Dutch federation president Boris van der Vorst has been quiet since the formation of World Boxing, but has begin tweeting again and beginning to lobby support for the new federation. At the Giro d’Italia, riding resumed after race leader Remco Evenepoel of Belgium had to withdraw due to a positive Covid-19 test. Dane Magnus Cort won Tuesday’s wet and cold stage, with Britain’s Geraint Thomas holding on to the overall lead. An Indian sports site compiled a list of the most popular track & field athletes on Instagram, with four Americans on the list, but the “world’s sexiest athlete” – from Germany – at no. 2 and an Indian star – of course – at no. 1. The United Soccer League (USL) announced the formation of a second, first-tier women’s pro league in the U.S., to begin in August 2024: the USL Super League.
● Panorama: Athletics (McLaughlin-Levrone out of L.A. Grand Prix) ●
Watanabe for Russia return, but waits for “verification” process
It was something of a surprise that the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) Executive Committee did not vote to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competition at its meeting in Antalya (TUR) on 14-15 May.
That’s because second-term FIG President Morinari Watanabe of Japan had repeatedly indicated his desire to have them back. But after it didn’t happen, Watanabe posted an extended statement on the matter on the FIG Web site on Tuesday, which included:
● “The crimes of the war lie with the government and the soldiers. People who are not involved in the war are not blamed for these crimes. This has been demonstrated in past war crimes trials.”
● “[F]ollowing the IOC recommendations of 28 March 2023, I firmly believe that all athletes, regardless of their nationality, have the right to be treated without discrimination. The same also applies to athletes from Russia and Belarus.”
● “I would like to follow the IOC’s recommendations and accept such ‘individual neutral athletes’ who are not involved in or supporting the war at international Gymnastics events.”
OK, he’s being clear enough about his view, which has been quite consistent for months. But then comes the point of departure:
“However, as pointed out by the IOC, the neutrality with regard to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus is a strict and essential requirement for any participation in international competitions. At this stage, I believe that the definition of ‘neutrality’ must be clarified by a dedicated independent body, which should also be responsible for the verification of such neutrality.
“Until the definition of neutrality and the method of verifying the neutrality are clarified, the FIG will maintain the extraordinary measures adopted by the FIG Executive Committee. As always, the FIG is continuously monitoring the overall situation and, in particular, the FIG position on the ‘neutrality’ requirement for athletes will be discussed at the next EC meeting in July.”
On that basis, it’s going to be a while before any Russian or Belarusian gymnasts are competing internationally again, since:
(1) There is no agreed-upon definition of what a “neutral athlete” looks like, and
(2) There is no “dedicated independent body” to adjudicate whether a specific athlete is “neutral” or not.
The last month has shown wide differences in approach between different International Federations. The FIE Congress voted in March to allow “neutral” Russian and Belarusian athletes – following the IOC’s recommendations – but agreed to permit only 11 of the requested 24 Sabre fencers (men and women) to compete. This so angered the Russian Fencing Federation that it sent none.
By contrast, the International Judo Federation held its World Championships last week and swept in 19 “Individual Neutral Athletes,” including two from Belarus and 17 from Russia, reportedly rejecting just two.
Last weekend’s Athletes for Peace and Freedom International Sports Conference released a three-page statement which allowed for Russian and Belarusian athletes to return, but only for those who sign an anti-war declaration, make a donation to Ukraine, are not publicly funded, and are not part of their nation’s military or national security agencies!
There could be some movement on 30-31 May at the Council meeting and General Assembly of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), mentioned by the IOC on its 28 March recommendations on re-entry as a possible coordinating body for neutrality regulations or processes.
But for now, it’s chaos.
Van der Vorst steps out, calls for support of World Boxing
Dutch Boxing Federation chief Boris van der Vorst had been largely absent from Twitter or other media in recent weeks, as USA Boxing withdrew from the International Boxing Association, and the IBA men’s World Championships got underway in Uzbekistan.
But van der Vorst, who will retire from his Dutch post at the end of the month at the federation’s general assembly, got back into gear last week on Twitter, noting a report from the German ZDF channel and asserting:
● “Sanctioned international boxing association is desperate to maintain its authoritarian grip on the sport. We’ve witnessed attacks on officials & boxers in recent months. Sports journalists are now feeling the effects of the oppressive regime”
● “I urge fellow boxing leaders, Presidents, & Secretaries General of boxing NFs to stand up to IBA leadership’s illegal & unethical actions with confidence. Let’s work towards a sustainable, democratic, & professional approach to developing boxing. It’s time for WORLD BOXING!”
Van der Vorst ran against IBA President Umar Kremlev (RUS), losing in the fourth round of voting in December 2020 and then being suspiciously disqualified prior to a one-on-one rematch in May 2022, then being reinstated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, only to see the IBA Congress vote not to hold the election in September, confirming Kremlev in office.
The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly voiced its concerns over IBA finances, governance and refereeing and judging processes, to which the IBA sent a 400-page reply on 5 May. As of now, the sport is not on the Los Angeles 2028 program and the IBA has been suspended by the IOC since 2019.
The real possibility that boxing could be left off of the program for 2028 led to the formation of World Boxing, announced on 13 April, with van der Vorst as a founding Board member, along with athletes and officials from Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sweden and the U.S.
So far, only USA Boxing has withdrawn from the IBA.
Van der Vorst also noted a unique boxing tournament held in Ukraine, which did not attend the IBA Worlds in view of its admission of Russian and Belarusian fighters:
● “Allow me to draw your attention to an exceptional boxing event that took place last weekend in Kharkiv – a wonderful city in Ukraine that has been under siege for many months and still suffers from regular missile attacks.”
● “Ukrainian boxers, forced by the IBA to miss the World Championships, stepped into the underground ring & showcased their true fighting spirit. Held in a metro station & streamed live, this was the 1st sports competition held in Kharkiv since the start of the invasion.”
● “The Dutch boxing community stands firmly in solidarity with the Ukrainian Boxing Community & we look forward to welcoming Team Ukraine to the Eindhoven Box Cup soon!”
Expect to hear a lot more from van der Vorst after his term with the Dutch federation is ended later this month.
Cort wins in the rain, Thomas leads as Giro d’Italia resumes
After the shock of losing race leader Remco Evenepoel (BEL) to a positive Covid test – along with Colombian star Rigoberto Uran and 2020-21 World Time Trial Champion Filippo Ganna (ITA), masks were required again for those coming in contact with the athletes as riding in the 106th Giro d’Italia resumed on Tuesday.
The conditions were cold and wet for the 196 km tenth stage from Scandiano to Viareggio, with the imposing 34 km climb up the Passo della Radici – from 398 m to 1,598 m – dominating the first half of the race, and then a fairly flat last half. A mass sprint was expected for the finish, but instead a small group broke away early.
With 75 km to go, only Alessandro di Marchi (ITA), Derek Gee (CAN) and Magnus Cort (DEN) were in contention and they raced to the line with Cort getting the win in the rain in 4:51:15, ahead of Gee (same time), with di Marchi two seconds back. The rest of the field followed some 49 seconds later.
In the overall race, Britain’s Geraint Thomas maintained his two-second lead on Primoz Roglic and five seconds on fellow Brit Tao Geoghegan Hart. Stage 11 on Wednesday features two stiff climbs in the first half, but ends with a long descent into Tortona, which should result in a mass sprint to the line.
The weather is playing a larger role in this year’s Giro, with the organizers fearing snow at the top of the 207 km 13th stage – to 2,469 m at the top of the Great St. Bernard Pass – and then finishing at the Swiss ski resort of Crans-Montana:
“Given the exceptional snowfall, and in the light of the avalanche danger, it is announced that the race will not pass over the Great St. Bernard Pass, but through the tunnel.
“As a result of this change, the stage will have a length of 199 km.”
List of top T&F athletes on Instagram has some surprises!
KhelNow.com, an Indian sports news site headquartered in Singapore, published a list of the top 10 most-followed track & field athletes on Instagram. Most are familiar names, but not all. From no. 10 to no. 1:
● 10. 806,000+ for Trayvon Bromell (USA: 27), the two-time World Championships men’s bronze medalist at 100 m.
● 9. 856,000+ for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (JAM: 36), the two-time Olympic and five-time World Champion in the women’s 100 m.
● 8. 1,000,000+ for Yulimar Rojas (VEN: 27), the Olympic and three-time World Champion, and world-record holder, in the women’s triple jump.
● 7. 1,000,000+ for Fred Kerley (USA: 28), the Olympic silver medalist and 2022 World Champion in the men’s 100 m.
● 6. 1,100,000+ for Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (USA: 23), the Olympic and World Champion, and multi-time world-record setter in the women’s 400 m hurdles.
● 5. 1,100,000+ for Lamont Marcell Jacobs (ITA: 28), the U.S.-born, but Italian-raised Tokyo Olympic Champion in the men’s 100 m.
● 4. 2,200,000+ for Eliud Kipchoge (KEN: 38), the two-time Olympic Champion in the marathon and the multi-time world-record setter at that distance.
● 3. 2,200,000+ for Sha’Carri Richardson (USA: 23), the 2019 NCAA women’s 100 m champion and 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials winner, who was disqualified for marijuana use.
● 2. 3,700,000+ for Alica Schmidt (GER: 24), a national-class women’s 400 m runner with a lifetime best of 52.21 from 1980. She ran on the sixth-place German 4×400 m team at the 2022 European Championships in Munich but has been described as “the world’s sexiest athlete.”
● 1. 6,700,000+ for Neeraj Chopra (IND: 25), a sensation for his Tokyo Olympic triumph in the men’s javelin, followed up with a silver medal at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene. He was the first Indian track athlete to win a gold and only the second Olympic gold winner in India’s history, after Abhinav Bindra in shooting in 2008.
Had to be an Indian angle to this, right? But it’s nonetheless fascinating to see Chopra’s enormous popularity in a country which is hoping for more sports heroes on the international scene.
Breaking down the top 10 – according to KhelNow.com – four are from the U.S. (and all in the sprints and hurdles), with one each from Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Venezuela and, of course, India.
USL announces second tier-1 women’s football league
The drive to expand women’s football in the U.S. got another boost with the announcement of what may be a second first-tier league: the USL Super League.
The United Soccer League, originally founded in 1986 as a men’s indoor soccer minor league, now operates three men’s leagues in the U.S. and Canada, the USL W women’s amateur league and two youth leagues, and says it will begin a women’s professional league in 2024, with teams in:
● Charlotte, North Carolina
● Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
● Lexington, Kentucky
● Phoenix, Arizona
● Spokane, Washington
● Tampa Bay, Florida
● Tucson, Arizona
● Washington, D.C.
Additional teams, subject to stadium completion, are expected in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Indianapolis, Indiana; Jacksonville, Florida; Madison, Wisconsin and Oakland, California.
Play is expected to begin in August 2024, with 10-12 teams, with a fall-to-spring schedule, in contrast with the 12-team National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which plays from March to October.
The new league seeks Division I status, the same as the NWSL. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s Professional League Standards require a launch with at least eight teams in two different time zones, 75% or more must play in markets of 750,000 or more and stadiums must be of 5,000 seats or more. There are increased requirements for succeeding years.
Each principal owner must have a net worth of $15 million or more and the combined net worth of the ownership group must be $25 million or more.
It’s an interesting concept and another step toward the expansion of women’s professional football in the U.S. … if it succeeds.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Athletics ● Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone will not be running in the women’s 400 m at the L.A. Grand Prix at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on 21 May, according to a Tuesday announcement:
“Regrettably, I won’t be competing in the LA Grand Prix due to my coach’s decision. I trust his judgment and will be cheering on my fellow athletes. Excited to see my fans! Thanks for your support.”
McLaughlin-Levrone trains at UCLA with legendary coach Bobby Kersee, himself a former UCLA head women’s coach, and one of the organizers of the L.A. Grand Prix meet.
After her world-record win in the women’s 400 m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon last year, McLaughlin-Levrone was asked if she would be turning to the 400 m in the future. Her reply to NBC’s Lewis Johnson was a classic, modern-day one-liner on her relationship with, and trust in, Kersee:
“I just do what Bobby tells me.”
For our updated, 651-event International Sports Calendar (no. 2) for 2023 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!