HEARD AT HALFTIME: DeFrantz on spineless USOC ‘80 boycott vote; Bach slaps critics; is IWF’s Ajan out this time?

Olympic bronze medalist and U.S. IOC member Anita DeFrantz (Photo: anitadefrantz.com)

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

Games of the XXII Olympiad: Moscow 1980Anita DeFrantz was a 1976 Olympic bronze medalist in rowing, made the 1980 U.S. team, and later became a member of the International Olympic Committee. She composed an open letter to Olympic fans on yesterday’s 40-year anniversary of the USOC vote not to attend the Moscow Games:

The Modern Olympic Games started in 1896, and since then, the only Olympic Games cancellations were for WWI and WWII. Now for the first time there has been a postponement of the Games. The Tokyo Olympic Games scheduled for this year will instead take place in 2021.

As an IOC member and Olympian, I know how difficult this postponement is for the host city and certainly for the athletes training to compete in those Games. No one knows how adding a year to the quadrennial effort will affect athletes. I know that athletes will find some way to train. Although some may lose their chance to be known as Olympians.

Forty years ago, I looked at April 12 as my date with destiny. And that day certainly changed my path in life. April 12, 1980 was the date for the USOC House of Delegates meeting which would vote on the US athletes’ right to compete in Moscow. It was crushing for me to know that only 30% of the assembled delegates voted to support the athletes’ right to compete. The others I called medical miracles because they could walk without a spine.

They knew that every athlete had found their own way to an Olympic sport and that we had to finance all our training. Not a penny of federal, state or local taxpayer funds supported the US athletes training with the goal of becoming a member of the 1980 US Olympic Team.

As an attorney, I knew that our only chance was to sue the USOC. Spoiler alert, we lost at both the district level and on appeal. During one of the administration’s briefings held at the State Department, I asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, General David C. Jones, USAF, if our staying at home would save at least one life. His response was, “No.”

The IOC supported the 1980 Moscow Games, as we do for each Host City. Documents from the Carter Presidential Library reveal the Carter Administration’s wish to destroy the IOC. In addition to the U.S., Canada, Japan, West Germany and others, kept their teams at home. Many others, to avoid governmental embarrassment, competed under the Olympic Flag, not their national flag.

Much has changed in 40 years. Today, of the 15 members of the IOC Executive Board there are eight Olympians, four women and four men. Two of us suffered through political machinations of 1980 and we have firsthand knowledge of the how that affected the rest of an athlete’s life.

I admire today’s athletes and hope they will stay safe and healthy. Unlike 40 years ago, it is abundantly clear that through this postponement, countless lives will be saved.

Anita L. DeFrantz
IOC Vice President
1976 Olympian
1980 U.S. Olympic Team member

DeFrantz’s note that two members of the current IOC Executive Board were impacted by the 1980 Olympic boycott include her and IOC President Thomas Bach of Germany.

If you’re interested in DeFrantz’s lawsuit, you can find the decision in DeFrantz vs. United States Olympic Committee, 492 F.Supp. 1181 (D.D.C., 1980) here. The decision was affirmed, without opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit at 701 F.2d 221.

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● If you were worried about the beating that Bach has been taking on social media and in the German, Canadian and American media, don’t be. Because he isn’t.

In a lengthy interview in the German newspaper Welt on Sonntag, Bach responded to a series of sharply-worded questions as if the reporter was trying to jab him with a paper airplane. A sampling:

Q.: Herr Bach, how does it feel to be the bogeyman of world sport?

Bach: You could perhaps get that impression from a certain section of the German press, but in reality I think it’s far from being true. When you consider that the postponement of the Games was supported by all 206 National Olympic Committees, all the Summer Olympic Federations, all IOC members and the athletes’ representatives elected by their peers, then the situation is pretty clear. It took us just three days to get agreement for the postponement of the Olympic Games and another six to announce a new date. That speaks for itself.

Q: How do you explain the especially harsh criticism you’ve received in your home country?

Bach: As ever, we can’t speak of “the” German media, since there have also been examples of balanced reporting. It’s a well-known fact, though, that there are a handful of people in the media who make no secret of their personal animosity towards me. So far as they are concerned, I haven’t made a single good decision in over ten years. This animosity finds particularly forceful expression on social media, with the people in question sometimes even resorting to defamatory statements in their attempts to intimidate those who express a different view.

A few more Bach quotes worth noting:

● “There have been all kinds of conspiracy theories. The facts paint a completely different picture.”

● “[U]nlike cancellation, [postponement] was not a decision the IOC could take on its own. And to counter the conspiracy theories on this point, too, I want to make it clear that the IOC’s insurance would have covered cancellation, but does not cover postponement. But postponement required the agreement of the Organising Committee, which needed to be prepared to carry on for another year; and the Japanese government also had to be willing to go on supporting the preparations.”

● “We really cannot be accused of either undue hesitation or a lack of consultation or transparency. The process was simply the result of consultations with our Japanese partners, which progressed much faster than our initial discussions on 22 March had led us to expect.”

● “In critical situations like this, you can’t expect universal support. You can’t satisfy everyone. The support that really counted was the trust that the Olympic Movement placed in its leadership. This support never wavered, even when some of the critical voices were at their loudest and most public. The many personal messages I have received from all over the world in the last three or four weeks have also been very uplifting.”

In response to a question about Canada declaring it would not send a team to Tokyo in 2020, Bach noted “Under the terms of the Olympic Charter, every NOC is obliged to send a team to the Olympic Games. This rule was put in place in the wake of the boycotts of 1980 and 1984″ and added “It is our view that no group, however constituted, can override the right of the individual athlete to decide. We would even take any necessary steps to assist individual athletes in the exercise of this right,” setting up the hypothetical possibility that an athlete could compete from an NOC that refused to attend the Games! Watch for that comment to be activated in the future.

This was by far Bach’s most pointed response to criticism he has received. While some will continue to dismiss him, he will get high marks for taking the interview and then taking on the interviewer. Whether you like Bach or not, this was an impressive performance.

Weightlifting ● The situation within the International Weightlifting Federation has come to a head. In the aftermath of the German ARD television documentary on weightlifting and its president, Hungary’s Tamas Ajan, he “stepped away” from his duties and Ursula Papandrea, head of USA Weightlifting, was installed as acting president.

But in a letter circulated to the other members of the IWF Board last week and promptly leaked to ARD’s Hajo Seppelt – Papandrea detailed a series of actions showing that rather than releasing his position, Ajan has continued almost as usual, in charge of IWF finances, representing the IWF on teleconferences with the IOC and more.

Papandrea further stated that she was “explicitly threatened to be arrested among other insults and implicit threats,” and resolved: “I feel you are no longer suited to either represent or lead this organization in accordance with the Terms set forth by the IWF Executive Board and continue to violate them.”

She then asked the Executive Board members to vote on her motion to expel Ajan as a member of the Executive Board until the matter can be voted on by the IWF Congress.

The votes were to be made in response to Papandrea’s e-mail, with the results expected in the next few days. Stay tuned.