HEARD AT HALFTIME: Florida offers itself as Tokyo replacement (?); new USOPC Board opening; USA Swimming splits Trials in two

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● One of the great benefits of observing the Olympic Movement is the laughs you get from announcements like this, from Jimmy Patronis, the Chief Financial Officer of the State of Florida, in an open letter to International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach (GER), which included:

“Today, I am writing to encourage you to consider relocating the 2021 Olympics from Tokyo, Japan to the United States of America, and more specifically to Florida.

“With media reports of leaders in Japan ‘privately’ concluding that they are too concerned about the pandemic for the 2021 Olympics to take place, there is still time to deploy a site selection team to Florida to meet with statewide and local officials on holding the Olympics in the Sunshine State. I would welcome the opportunity to pitch Florida and help you make the right contacts to get this done. …

“Whatever precautions are required let’s figure it out and get it done. Please contact my office at 850-413-4900 to schedule a meeting.”

Never mind that Florida has had 1.66 million reported cases of the coronavirus and 25,445 deaths compared to 368,143 cases for all of Japan (and 5,193 deaths). But credit Patronis for grabbing a headline and looking out for more tourism for his state.

Maybe he should invite Bach to be his guest on 7 February at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for the NFL’s Super Bowl LV?

More seriously, BBC sports editor Dan Roan considered the actual Tokyo 2020 situation ahead of tomorrow’s IOC Executive Board meeting by videoconference:

“Organisers appear furious with the suggestion that the Japanese government has already secretly decided to cancel the Games, and some insiders insist the motivation of the anonymous source behind the story is to destabilise the country’s coalition government with a general election on the horizon.

“Whether the story proves accurate or not, the problem the authorities have is that last year there were similar denials, and expressions of confidence, right up until the day before a seemingly inevitable postponement was confirmed.”

U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● The USOPC is accepting applications for a suddenly-open Independent Director post after the resignation of Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former Surgeon General of the United States from 2014-17, who has been tapped by U.S. President Joe Biden to serve in the same post once again.

Murthy joined the USOPC Board in February 2020, meaning his term will not expire for another three years. The USOPC invitation to submit applications notes that candidates:

“The Nominating and Governance Committee is seeking candidates with the qualifications described in the “Position Description and Qualifications” document. Qualified applicants must be persons of the highest personal and professional integrity who have demonstrated exceptional ability and judgment and who will be most effective, in conjunction with other members of the Board, in collectively serving the long-term interests of the USOPC and our athletes.”

Applications will be accepted until 1 February.

National Olympic Committees ● The Russian Anti-Doping Agency released an eight-page comment on the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision in its appeal of sanctions from the World Anti-Doping Agency, howling about the outcome, but saying it considers the matter closed and will not appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

“As RUSADA has already stated publicly, it strongly disagrees with the findings in the CAS Award regarding the alleged data manipulations, which – in RUSADA’s view – are based on a flawed and one-sided assessment of the facts and were not sufficiently proven. RUSADA regrets that the Panel did not take into account the detailed submissions and evidence submitted by RUSADA and the intervening parties over the course of the arbitral proceeding. …

“In light of these important rulings by the Panel rejecting or significantly reducing the excessive sanctions requested by WADA, and putting the interests of Russian athletes and Russian sport first, as well as taking into account the need for legal certainty, RUSADA has made the decision not to challenge the CAS Award before the Swiss Supreme Court, despite the fact that it disagrees with many of the central findings and statements contained in the award’s reasoning.”

The CAS Award was published on 14 January 2021 and it appears that there is a 30-day period for appeal; WADA has been silent on whether it will appeal the decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

The Italian government announced Tuesday a decree to assure the autonomy of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) in order to stave off potential sanctions from the IOC:

“In order to ensure the full operation of the Italian National Olympic Committee and its autonomy and independence as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the text gives CONI its own organic endowment of personnel, including management.”

The Italian government had set up a “Sport e Salute” organization in 2019 that was to manage CONI’s finances, among other functions, but this ran afoul of the IOC’s rules on the autonomy of the National Olympic Committee in each country to run its own programs. Possible sanctions could have included a loss of use of national flags and anthems for Tokyo and beyond, as has been done with the Russian NOC due to the suspension of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Alpine Skiing ● Racing continued into the week on the FIS Alpine World Cup tour, with events on Monday and Tuesday.

The men’s Super-G in Kitzbuehel was held on Monday, with Austria’s Vincent Kriechmayr claiming the win in 1:12.58, just 0.12 in front of Marco Odermatt (SUI) and 0.55 ahead of Matthias Mayer (AUT).

A Slalom was held in Schladming (AUT) on Tuesday, with Swiss Marco Schwarz moving from sixth to first on the second run and winning in 1:44.04, a healthy 0.68 ahead of France’s Clement Noel (1:44.72) and teammate Alexis Pinturault (1:44.86).

The women’s World Cup was in Kronplatz (ITA) for a Giant Slalom, with France’s Tessa Worley claiming the victory in 2:11.38, decisively ahead of Swiss Lara Gut-Berhami (+0.27) and home favorite Marta Bassino (+0.73). Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. was fourth, 1.08 seconds behind the winner and missing the podium by 0.35.

Athletics ● The VirginMoney London Marathon announced a massive plan on Monday to create a hybrid race on 3 October with a goal of 100,000 participants.

Building off of the 37,966 who completed the “virtual” race in 2020, plans for a 50,000-person race on the streets will be complemented by a 50,000-person “virtual” race for a total of 100,000.

The largest-ever in-person race was in 2019, with 42,549 finishers. Some 457,861 applied to run in 2020, with the in-person race scratched due to the pandemic. But given the number of “virtual” runners in 2020, a 100,000-finisher total appears to be within reach.

The New Balance Grand Prix indoor meet, always held at the Reggie Lewis Center in Roxbury, Massachusetts, is being moved this year since the venue is being used for Covid-19 vaccinations. The new site for the 13 February event is now the Ocean Breeze Track & Field Athletic Complex in Staten Island, New York. At least for now.

Gymnastics ● The USA Gymnastics bankruptcy case has moved into its fourth calendar year, with total legal fees in the case now at $13,063,518 as of 31 December 2020.

Of this total, some $7,297,803 in fees and $252,383 in expenses have been paid by USAG’s insurers, with no end in sight.

A court-ordered settlement conference is ongoing under the supervision of Bankruptcy Court Judge James Carr, but with no breakthrough as yet.

At the end of 2020, USA Gymnastics showed (not including its insurance receivable to cover sex-abuse claims) $10.4 million in assets, including $7.3 million of cash on hand.

Handball ● The 27th IHF men’s World Handball Championship is now ready for the knock-out round, with the quarterfinals to start tomorrow (27th):

Upper bracket: Spain (4-0-1) vs. Norway (4-1) and Denmark (5-0) vs. Egypt (3-1-1)
Lower bracket: France (5-0) vs. Hungary (4-1) and Sweden (3-0-2) vs. Qatar (3-2)

The semifinals will be played on the 29th and the final and third-place matches on 31 January.

The top scorers in the tournament so far include Qatar’s Frankis Marzo with 53 goals, followed by Sander Sagosen (NOR: 50) and Andy Schmid (SUI: 44).

Modern Pentathlon ● Just days after the UIPM removed the 2021 World Championships from Minsk (BLR) due to the continuing political unrest in the country, the event was awarded to Cairo (EGY), already a popular World Cup host city.

The dates of 7-13 June remain the same, and Egypt will host the World Junior Championships in Alexandria in July.

Swimming ● USA Swimming announced that the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska will be split into two “waves” due to the continuing pandemic:

“As of January 20, 2021, 1,305 (unique) athletes had qualified for the Olympic Trials since the qualifying window opened on Nov. 28, 2018. Given the current environment, and the need to address concerns related to over-crowding in the athlete areas, warm-up pool and athlete seating areas, the decision was made to divide the event into two.”

The first section of the Trials will be held from 4-7 June 2021 and the second from 13-20 June.

Essentially, the new format creates a qualifying event for the main Trials, with new qualifying standards posted for each. Those swimmers who have reached the “Wave II” standard will compete directly in the second meet, while those who have reached the “Wave I” standard will compete for two spots in the Wave II competition in each event.

The new format will add perhaps “50-60 athletes per event in the four months leading into the Olympic Trials, generating a final field of approximately 750 total athletes.”

Weightlifting ● The under-siege International Weightlifting Federation has postponed its planned revision of its constitution from late March of this year to 29-30 April 2021 in order to debate and vote on an entirely new constitution:

“In place of the constitutional amendments originally envisaged, the independent members of the Reform and Governance Commission have now proposed an entirely new document that replaces the current IWF Constitution. This approach has been welcomed by the IWF Executive Board.”

“Based on a comprehensive look at the IWF’s governance by the independent members of our Reform and Governance Commission, it became clear that amendments would not be enough to bring us up to the highest standards and meet the targets suggested to us by the IOC. Instead, complete revision is called for and that is what we will now deliver,” said IWF Interim President Dr. Michael Irani (GBR).

The elections for new officers will be held as scheduled on 26-27 March 2021. American Ursula Papandrea, who was briefly the federation’s Interim President after the resignation of former long-time chief Tamas Ajan (HUN), is running for President, and there are reports of Jinqiang Zhou, head of the Chinese Weightlifting Federation, also running, but a confirmed list of candidates has not yet been released.

The International Olympic Committee has indicated its disapproval of the IWF’s financial, governance and anti-doping situation and is reviewing its place on the 2024 Olympic program.

At the BuZZer ● The NBCSN cable sports channel will be shuttered at the end of 2021, according to an announcement by NBCUniversal last Friday (22nd). The announcement included:

“The company said programming that aired on the cable channel will eventually be broadcast across other platforms within NBCUniversal, including the cable channel USA Network and the streaming platform Peacock. As part of the change, USA Network will air NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games and NASCAR races.”

No mention was made about the extensive coverage of European football matches, or cycling events such as the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, or occasional coverage of the Wanda Diamond League track & field events.

What does that mean for NBC’s “Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA”? Its ratings are certainly much lower than NBCSN, but one long-time observer felt that the channel will survive, at least for now: “Not about the ratings in this instance.”

NBC has been clear since the launch of the Olympic Channel on cable in July of 2017 that the goal was to support the network’s Olympic commitment. Mark Lazarus, then head of NBC Sports said at that time, “The launch of the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA reinforces our unwavering commitment to the Olympic Movement and our valuable relationships with the IOC and USOC.” Lazarus has since been promoted to Chairman, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming.

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