HEARD AT HALFTIME: Bach re-election coming Wednesday; China offers vaccines for Olympians; $21,343 for a Lillehammer torch!

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang promises Covid vaccine for Olympians! (Photo: Chinese Foreign Ministry)

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

International Olympic Committee ● The 137th Session of the International Olympic Committee will be held by videoconference over three days from Wednesday through Friday of this week, headlined by the re-election of Thomas Bach as President.

The agenda runs from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Lausanne time on each day, which will make for some bleary-eyed members in some parts of the world. Wednesday has a long list of Commission reports and the re-election of Germany’s Bach – running unopposed – for a four-year term into 2025. For those interested, the Sessions can be viewed on the IOC’s YouTube channel.

Thursday will have reports on upcoming Games, including Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and Paris 2024. No reports are scheduled for Milan-Cortina for the 2026 Winter Games or for Los Angeles 2028. A report from the Future Host Commissions is expected.

Friday’s program is dominated by Olympic Agenda 2020+5, essentially Bach’s blueprint for the next four years. It is expected to be approved, of course.

At Monday’s IOC Executive Board meeting, there were further, provisional sanctions approved against the National Olympic Committee of Belarus, specifically not to recognize the election of Viktor Lukashenko as the new NOC President. Lukashenko is the son of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, whose electoral victory last year has been continuously protested. Further, the IOC has – in response to numerous complaints from athletes in that country – “requested” that:

“[T]he NOC of Belarus and its member federations to ensure that there is no political discrimination in the participation of the Belarusian athletes in qualification events, and in the final selection of the team of the NOC of Belarus, for all Olympic Games.”

The Session program does not include any specific consideration of the status of the International Boxing Association (AIBA) or the International Weightlifting Federation.

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The biggest news concerning the Tokyo Games came from Beijing (CHN) on Sunday, from a news conference held by Chinese Foreign Minister Yi Wang (family name: Wang), in which he declared:

“China is a steadfast advocate for equitable vaccine distribution. We have joined COVAX, under which China has undertaken to provide an initial 10 million doses for emergency use in developing countries. So far, China has donated or is donating COVID vaccines to 69 developing countries in urgent need, and is exporting vaccines to 43 countries. Responding to a U.N. appeal, we have donated vaccines to peacekeepers from various countries. We are also ready to work with the International Olympic Committee to provide vaccines to Olympians. It is our hope that Chinese vaccines will inject more confidence and hope into the global fight against the virus.” (Emphasis added)

This is a new development and a new offer from China, and sure to be discussed with Bach at his scheduled news conference on Wednesday evening (also available on the IOC’s YouTube channel). While the IOC and the Tokyo organizers have encouraged vaccination, it is not being required to compete at the Games.

Basketball ● NBA star Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers confirmed over the weekend that he plans to play for the U.S. at this summer’s Tokyo Games.

My plan is to go,” he said, adding “If I feel up to it and feel ready to go around that time, then I’m going to play.” Leonard would be reunited with Gregg Popovich, his coach at San Antonio, on the U.S. Olympic Team.

The issue is scheduling. The Games begin on 25 July, and Leonard could be playing with the Los Angeles Clippers teammates as late as 22 July if in a seven-game NBA Finals. USA Basketball is asking for flexibility in substituting players during the Games, a possible benefit not only to the U.S., but to other teams with NBA players.

But where the U.S. had trouble fielding a quality team for the FIBA World Championships in 2019, the cream of the American NBA talent appears ready to go for Tokyo … schedule permitting.

Curling ● A world championship has returned from the dead, as the World Curling Federation announced that the Women’s World Championship will be held after all.

Originally scheduled for Schaffhausen (SUI) from 19-28 March, the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus, but now re-scheduled for 30 April-9 May at the WinSport Arena in Calgary, Canada.

A sequestered format for the men’s World Championship in Calgary from 2-11 April will be extended to include the women’s event, with significant 2022 Olympic Winter Games implications:

The LGT World Women’s Curling Championship 2021 will feature 14 teams – Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, The Russian Curling Federation Team, Scotland, Sweden, reigning champions Switzerland and United States competing for the world title. The six highest ranking National Olympic Committees will earn their place in the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games women’s team competition.

As a result, the World Mixed Doubles Championship, scheduled for 24 April-1 May, will be moved to 16-23 May, at a venue to be named. But this is good news for women’s curling, reinstating the key event in the selection of much of the 2022 Beijing field.

Ice Hockey ● The coronavirus is playing havoc with the IIHF Women’s World Championship, which had been scheduled for 7-17 April in Nova Scotia, Canada (in Halifax and Truro). Now the event has been pushed back to 6-16 May, pending approval of the federal and provincial governments.

Nova Scotia has a low incidence of the coronavirus and a full set of precautions are planned:

“In order to eliminate any negative impact on the epidemiological situation and health care system in the province, participants travelling to the province will have to go through a thorough quarantine and COVID-19 testing process prior to travel to Canada. The tournament will be operated in accordance with Nova Scotia Government mandated protocols which will include but not be limited to regular COVID-19 testing, quarantine, masking and physical distancing.”

Sad news from Minnesota on 5 March, with the passing of American legend Mark Pavelich, one of the members of the 1980 Olympic “Miracle on Ice” champions. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted:

“Pavelich, who turned 63 a week ago, died at Eagle’s Healing Nest [in Sauk Centre, Minnesota], according to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office. He had received mental health treatment there for the past several months. At the time of his death he was under civil commitment for a violent assault on a North Shore neighbor nearly 1½ years ago.”

A star at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, he played seven seasons in the National Hockey League following his Olympic season, a part of one season in Great Britain and two seasons in Bolzano, Italy. He was a land developer after his hockey career ended, but suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and after injuring a neighbor, was confined by a judge for treatment, including in Sauk Centre. The specific cause of death has not been announced.

Speed Skating ● Good news from the 2021 ISU World Cup and World Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen (NED), with no Covid-19 infections reported during the five-week sequestration period.

In order to salvage some portion of its 2020-21 season, the International Skating Union created a five-week program of two World Cups, the European Championships and the World Championships across 38 days. With more than 2,000 coronavirus tests administered during the period, none came back positive from the 196 athletes, plus coaches and officials.

There will be more to come on the achievement, as the ISU noted:

“A documentary was filmed to capture life in the bubble and document this unforgettable and unique situation. It will be released in due time as part of the ISU’s #UpAgain campaign and will serve as a memento of all these weeks that the Speed Skating community showed the World that it is possible to overcome life’s challenges to achieve ones full potential.”

Weightlifting ● Score another first for USA Weightlifting, which just concluded a first-of-its-kind “hybrid” competition for the North American Open and National University Championships, with both in-person and online lifting as part of the same event!

USA Weightlifting announced that about 400 athletes were present at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake City, Utah and about 600 competed at home via the online Zoom meeting platform. The North American Open included youth, open and masters divisions for men and women; it’s more a development meet than a championship, but a key step toward national class.

Said USA Weightlifting chief executive Phil Andrews (GBR): “We made the decision back in December to run this as a hybrid event without spectators and I believe that we’ve shown that it can be done.

“The initial survey feedback shows that the event was well received by everyone involved and I anticipate that hybrid events will become a key part of the weightlifting calendar moving forward.”

It was not lost on the competitors or the federation that having remote lifting allowed many athletes to participate without the cost of travel and accommodations, a possibly important opportunity for further expansion of the sport in the future.

At the BuZZer ● Lots of action at Saturday’s “SPORLYMPIQUE VI” auction by Vermot & Associates in Paris (FRA), with 471 lots available, including multiple Olympic torches:

Tokyo 1964:, expected to bring €2,800-3,000, did not sell.
Montreal 1976: expected to bring €2,500-3,500, sold for €4,000 (~$4,742).
Moscow 1980: expected to bring €1,500-1,800, sold for €1,600 (~$1,897).
Lillehammer 1994: expected to bring €20,000-30,000, sold for €18,000 (~$21,339).
Sydney 2000: expected to bring €2,500-3,500, sold for €4,000 (~$4,742).
Athens 2004: expected to bring €1,800-2,000, sold for €4,200 (~$4,979).
London 2012: expected to bring €2,500-3,500, sold for €4,500 (~$5,335).

Two participation medals from the 1896 Athens Games went for €750 (~$889 U.S.) and €1,100 (~$1,304). An non-inscribed bronze medal from the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal – meaning it may not have been awarded – sold for €2,800 or about $3,319 U.S.

Perhaps the most amazing sale was for a medal-and-cloth badge from the 72nd IOC Session in Sapporo (JPN) in 1972, in good condition, expected to sell for €200-300, but which ended up selling for €1,500 (~$1,778). Really?

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For our 649-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!