The Sports Examiner

HEARD AT HALFTIME: It’s 2021 or bust for Tokyo; LA28 sponsor agency sold; fabulous mascot for troubled IHF Worlds in Egypt; Shiffrin wins again!

Horus, the mascot for the 2021 IHF men's World Championships in Egypt!

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● It’s 2021 or bust for the Tokyo Games, as organizing committee chief Yoshio Mori – a former Prime Minister of Japan – said on Tuesday that it is “absolutely impossible” to consider a further postponement due to the coronavirus.

Kyodo News reported Mori explaining that “putting off the games again is not an option because many officials who have played a key role in the preparations are loaned from other organizations, including the Tokyo metropolitan government.”

“I think we will have to make a very difficult decision from February to March,” said Mori, adding that “Having even a slight sense of uncertainty impacts everything. All I can say is that we will go ahead with our preparations. There will always be morning even after a long night. Let’s work together to overcome this major challenge.

“Believing in that, to give joy and hope to many people, we will do our best until the end.”

Mori has been consistent in saying that the Games must be held in 2021, or be cancelled.

A Kyodo poll over the new year showed continued anxiety over the Games in Japan, colored by a surge in Covid-19 infections in the country. Some 14.1% supported the Games being held in Tokyo in 2021, with 44.8% preferring postponement and 35.3% suggesting cancellation.

Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● A 51% interest in the sports hospitality, sales and sponsorship firm Legends is reportedly being sold to private equity firm Sixth Street.

Sixth Street’s total stake will be valued at more than $685 million, with original owners the New York Yankees and Jones Concessions, affiliated with the Dallas Cowboys. The management at Legends is expected to remain in place.

Legends is part of the sponsorship sales team for the 2028 Olympic Games, in an agreement with the 2028 organizers in Los Angeles and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. According to the October 2018 announcement, Legends will help “develop, identify, and secure sponsorship opportunities for the Los Angeles 2028 and Paralympic Games” and create “a comprehensive sales and marketing plan for LA28 and Team USA.”

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Properties joint venture between LA28 and the USOPC has announced one sponsorship, from Delta Airlines, so far. The pandemic has significantly set back the pace of announcements, although sponsorship discussions have continued.

Los Angeles lost one of its most devoted promoters and a key supporter of the city’s Olympic history with the unexpected passing of former City Councilman Tom LaBonge on 7 January.

Just 67, LaBonge was a key behind-the-scenes player in the run-up to the 1984 Olympic Games as the chief deputy to Councilman John Ferraro, who served as City Council President during that time. The two worked quietly to ensure consistent City planning and operations support – reimbursed by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee – for the organization of the Games, often made difficult by bombastic statements and requests from then-Police Chief Daryl Gates.

LaBonge succeeded Ferraro as Council member for the Fourth District, serving from 2001-15 and was a proud booster of his city and its activities locally, nationally and internationally. He vibrantly supported Los Angeles bids for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games – both shot down by the U.S. Olympic Committee – and the 2024 Olympic bid that eventually turned into the award of the Games of the XXXIV Olympiad in 2018.

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, who knew LaBonge well, wrote that “For LaBonge, every day in Los Angeles was a touchdown pass” and “In Tom LaBonge’s mind, the city was the center of the universe, with more niceties than negatives, a place full of hope.

Special thanks to reader Patrick Escobar, a fellow LAOOC alumnus, who wrote of LaBonge, quite rightly, “He loved this City and its people and will be greatly missed.

XXV Olympic Winter Games: Milan-Cortina 2026 ● Former RAI television executive Antonio Marano has joined the Milan-Cortina Foundation 2026 and will take over the commercial marketing division. reported that “sales of sponsorships would be sold not just on their commercial value, but based on the values that Olympism and the Paralympics represent to modern Italy.”

The 2026 domestic sponsorship target is currently shown as €500 million (~$607.7 million U.S.) with three levels of participation expected. This compares with the much larger summer Games sponsorship targets of €1.1 billion (~$1.34 billion U.S.) for Paris 2024 and about $2.5 billion for Los Angeles 2028.

Alpine Skiing ● American superstar Mikaela Shiffrin was back in the winner’s circle on Tuesday (12th) with an impressive win in the Slalom at Flachau in Austria.

She screamed through the Hermann Maier Weltcupstrecke on the first run, clocking the fastest time in the field at 54.04, although just 0.08 ahead of Swiss Wendy Holdener. Shiffrin had to pour on the gas to win, however, as Austrian Katharina Liensberger took the lead with a 53.74 second run.

Shiffrin was quite as fast, but her 53.88 finish was second-fastest on the second run and gave her a 1:47.92-1:48.11 win over Liensberger, with Holdener third (1:48.35). American Paula Moltzan was ninth (1:50.71).

Every time Shiffrin wins, she writes history. This was her second win of the season and 68th of her career, keeping her to third all-time in total wins behind Ingemar Stenmark (SWE: 86) and American Lindsey Vonn (82). It also extends Shiffrin’s all-time record for most Slalom wins, now 45. It was also her 100th World Cup medal.

“I definitely wasn’t thinking about records today,” said Shiffrin. “I just wanted to ski well. This slope has kind of tripped me up the last several years. I just wanted to ski strong. It was really fun.”

Athletics ● Ukraine’s 2019 Worlds silver medalist Yaroslava Mahuchikh, still just 19, got her 2021 season off to a great start by equaling her World U-20 Record at 2.02 m (6-7 1/2) in an indoor meet in Kiev (UKR) last Saturday (9th).

Teammate Yulia Levchenko was second at 1.95 m (6-4 3/4). Also on the books for 2021 is a 2.30 m (7-6 1/2) world-leader indoor for Russia’s Mikhail Akimenko in Yekaterinburg (RUS) on the seventh of January.

Suspensions of quality Kenyan runners for whereabouts failures continues with sanctions against 24-year-old Alfred Kipketer, the 2014 World Junior Champion and a 2016 Olympic finalist, who ran 1:42.87 in 2016 and 1:44.50 in 2019.

Kipketer missed four tests in less than 11 months between 27 November 2018 and 11 September 2019. It’s his first doping suspension and he will be ineligible to compete for two years, from 26 November 2019 to 25 November 2021.

Badminton ● While doping gets most of the attention concerning “integrity” in sports, the spectra of match-fixing is very much on the minds of law enforcement and federation officials.

The Badminton World Federation made a significant statement last Friday, announcing decisions arising from whistleblower complaints.

Eight Indonesian players who competed at lower-level tournaments were investigated for match-fixing, with three banned for life – Hendra Tandjaya, Ivandi Danang and Androw Yunanto – and the other five were suspended from six to 12 years each, and fined between $3,000 and $12,000 each.

The allegations stemmed from activities at the 2015 Scottish Open and the 2017 New Zealand Open and 2017 U.S. Open and bribes were accepted for matches at the 2016 Hong Kong Open and Macau Open and the 2017 Syed Modi International Championships in India, Thailand Open, Chinese Taipei Open, New Zealand Open and Vietnam Open. The bribe amounts varied from 4 to 14 Indonesian rupiah, worth $284 to $995 U.S.

The sentences were handed down on 22 December 2020 and can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days.

Football ● Former U.S. World Cup star and interim U.S. Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone will run unopposed for a final year of the term started by Carlos Cordeiro in 2018.

The USSF Annual General Meeting will be held online on 27 February. Parlow Cone was elected as Vice President on February of 2019, then moved up to President when Cordeiro resigned last March. An election for President is required under USSF rules at the next annual meeting following a non-elective change. A vote for a four-year term will be available in 2022.

Parlow Cone has been working to settle the suit between the U.S. Women’s National Team and the federation and closed the working conditions portion of the dispute at the end of 2020. But the USWNT is now appealing the judgement against it by the U.S. District Court over its “equal pay” action.

Further, the collective bargaining agreement between the USSF and the women’s team ends late this year and the men’s team has not had a new work agreement since 2018. But having continued stability with a former star player at the helm is a clear benefit for the federation.

The 2021 schedule continues to expand, as the USSF announced the dates and teams for the sixth SheBelieves Cup, to be held in February in Orlando, Florida.

Brazil, Canada and Japan will join the U.S. in playing six matches at Exploria Stadium from 18-24 February, to be televised on FS1 and TUDN.

Handball ● The 27th IHF World Championship for men begins on Wednesday in Egypt and runs through the end of January, with 32 teams from five confederations set to play at four different venues.

European teams are expected to dominate the tournament, with defending champ Denmark a slight favorite over 2019 runner-up Norway, 2020 European Champion Spain, a French squad which has won four of the last six World titles, 2020 European runner-up Croatia and 2007 World Champion Germany.

The organizers have bowed to pressure from the European Handball Players Union and are allowing no spectators at any games and no live coverage by news media!

This is the first world championship competition being held since the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia were trimmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Far from removing Russia from competing, the Russian team is in Egypt – as a wild-card selection – and ready to start its first match on 14 January. However, its uniforms will only include the Russian Handball Federation logo, without any text and it will be recognized as the “Russian Handball Federation” instead of “Russia.”

The U.S. is playing in the IHF Worlds for the seventh time, but for the first time since 2001, but is in a difficult draw in Group E with Norway, Austria and France.

About the only happy thing about the 2021 IHF Worlds is the use of the ancient Egyptian deity Horus as the tournament mascot. A familiar figure in Egyptian commercial usage, the mascot uses a falcon’s head; worshipped into the Roman period, Horus was the god of kings and the sky.

Ice Hockey ● The question of what to do about Belarus as a co-host of the 2021 IIHF men’s World Championship tournament was front-and-center on Monday as a federation delegation met with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Said IIHF chief Rene Fasel (SUI): “The situation today is different than it was in 2014 when we despite some resistance had a perfectly organized World Championship. We were all there and can remember it well. The circumstances in Belarus have been different since last summer. We are here to address the situation and to find constructive solutions.”

Protests against Lukashenko started before the 2020 elections last August and intensified after Lukashenko was declared the winner for a sixth consecutive, five-year term. The European Union imposed sanctions last October against government officials accused of political repression and vote rigging. Marches have continued into 2021 and Latvian officials – co-hosts for the 2021 IIHF Worlds – have said they will not co-host the tournament with Belarus.

Fasel is leading an International Ice Hockey Federation delegation to Minsk – planned as the site of the games in Belarus – and said on Monday:

“As part of a careful evaluation of Minsk’s capability to co-host the World Championship, we are discussing the issues with different groups and are grateful for the possibility to meet with representatives of the Belarusian government and the Organizing Committee to hear their inputs to ensure a balanced approach. The process has started this morning and will be continued with more meetings in Minsk and with discussions within the IIHF Council.”

The IIHF Worlds are scheduled for 21 May-6 June 2021. Belarus athletes have also sounded the alarm on political interference with their training and competition programs related to the protests against the government and the International Olympic Committee is investigating the issues with concern.

Nordic Skiing ● Further to the issue of Russian participation in world championship events, the Russian Ski Federation told the Russian TASS news agency that for the upcoming Nordic Skiing World Championships – Cross Country, Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping – in Germany in late February and early March, Russian athletes would compete under the flag of the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS).

Further, Russian competitors will wear uniforms designating them as “National Athletes of Russia” and if a Russian wins an event – highly likely in cross country – the FIS anthem will be played instead of the Russian anthem.

This is not what the World Anti-Doping Agency had in mind with its sanctions against Russia, but these were trimmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Wrestling ● Another Iranian wrestler may be executed for alleged crimes in 2015.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Mehdi Ali Hosseini, 29, was charged with murder during a brawl in 2015 and may be executed shortly. This follows the killing of Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in September for crimes allegedly committed during an anti-government protest in 2018.

Protests against an execution of Hosseini have come from inside Iran; organizations outside the country have asked United World Wrestling and the International Olympic Committee to ban Iran from international competition. Neither has done so, in part because these actions are not directly related to sports but to civil or political issues.

A United World Wrestling statement posted on Monday (11th) included:

“We are currently still gathering information. At this stage, it appears that this a criminal case only, with no sports-related background. So far, we have learned from the Iranian Wrestling Federation that Mehdi Ali Hosseini was a regional level wrestler, who did not participate in national or international level competitions. United World Wrestling will not comment on this case before it has a clear picture of the situation.”

At the BuZZer ● The World Anti-Doping Agency issued a “Guidance Note” concerning “substances of abuse” – recreational drugs – in conjunction with the 2021 World Anti-Doping Code.

Bad news for fanciers of cocaine, heroin, meth-amphetamine and THC, the active element of marijuana, as the Code states:

“if the Athlete can establish that any ingestion or Use occurred Out-of-Competition and was unrelated to sport performance, then the period of Ineligibility shall be three months Ineligibility. In addition, the period of Ineligibility calculated under this Article may be reduced to one month if the Athlete or other Person satisfactorily completes a Substance of Abuse treatment program approved by the Anti-Doping Organization with Results Management responsibility.”

That’s hardly the same as a four-year sanction for steroids, but much more than simply inconvenient. Much more.

On Tuesday (12th), the Court of Arbitration for Sport held that a doping specimen from Canadian equestrian athlete Nicole Walker which showed positive for a metabolite of cocaine at the 2019 Pan American Games was grounds for her disqualification and of her fourth-place squad in the Team Jumping competition.

Now she knows, and you do, too.

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