HEARD AT HALFTIME: NWSL cancels weekend matches, commissioner resigns; USA Gymnastics settlement plan 75% funded; Dake strikes wrestling gold

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

National Women’s Soccer League in turmoil 

A stunning turn of events led to the postponement of all five weekend matches in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) as the players reacted to a report posted last Thursday by The Athletic of allegations of “of sexual coercion spanning multiple teams and leagues since 2010” by now-former North Carolina Courage coach Paul Riley.

Riley denied the accusations, but the NWSL Players Association tweeted on Friday:

“Yesterday was a profoundly painful day for us, as players, and so many. For many players, the pain gas stretched across years …

“Last night, we made the difficult decision to ask NWSL to postpone this weekend’s games to give players space to process this pain.”

The league agreed, posting:

“The National Women’s Soccer League announced today that given the gravity of the events of the last week, matches scheduled for this weekend will not occur.”

But that was only the beginning:

● NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird, who served as the head of marketing for the United States Olympic Committee from 2009-18 and was hired by the NWSL in February 2020, resigned on Friday. Her recruitment was considered a major success for the league to increase its finances and profile.

● NWSL legal counsel Lisa Levine, who came from the U.S. Soccer Federation, also left.

● On Sunday, the NWSL Board of Governors appointed a team of former Commissioner Amanda Duffy, Angie Long and Sophie Sauvage to handle league management until new leadership is named.

● The U.S. Soccer Federation, which has strongly supported the NWSL’s finances, tweeted Friday that it “will immediately launch an independent investigation” and on Sunday tweeted that Sally Q. Yates, an Atlanta-based partner of King & Spalding LLP, would lead the inquiry. She is a former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Attorney General.

FIFA posted a notice Friday that “FIFA’s judicial bodies are actively looking into the matter and have opened a preliminary investigation” and emphasized that “anyone found guilty of misconduct and abuse in football shall be brought to justice, sanctioned and removed from the game.”

The accusations against Riley came after a 29 September firing of Washington Spirit coach Richie Burke (GBR) for harassment, the 31 August firing of Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly (IRL) “for cause” and OL Reign coach Farid Benstiti (FRA)’s departure on 2 July for “inappropriate comments” to one or more players. Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue left the club on 9 July, “fired for violations of the league’s Anti-harassment policy.”

That’s five people from five different clubs – half the league – in the last three months.

Now in its eighth season, the NWSL schedule continues through the end of October, with playoffs in November. Regular-season games are shown online on Paramount+ and Twitch; the playoffs are scheduled to be shown on the CBS Sports Network with the final on CBS.

Comment: This is likely only the beginning of inquiries into abuse in football, not just in the U.S., but with FIFA’s involvement, this could spread to many other countries. Watch not only for the facts uncovered by Yates, but reports of abuse at clubs in other countries that will inexorably be drawn into the discussion.

Horrifying? Yes. More sordid details to come? Yes. Will this overshadow play on the field for the rest of the season? To some extent. Could the league fold? Possibly.

Best possible outcome: NWSL management, the Players Association and U.S. Soccer working together to keep the league alive. That will not be easy, but it is essential; fans of U.S. women’s football remember all too well that four women’s national professional leagues folded before the NWSL formed as the fifth entity in 2013.


● Athletics ● The International Olympic Committee and the Athletics Integrity Unit jointly announced a formal investigation into the incident involving sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya (BLR), who criticized the team’s coaches and was ordered home. She instead sought refuge with Japanese police at the airport and was eventually provided with a humanitarian visa by Poland.

Belarusian coaches Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich had their accreditations revoked by the IOC in Tokyo and both were sent home. The inquiry will focus on their behavior and the instructions they were given. The Belarus NOC is already under scrutiny by the IOC for political interference from its government.

Kyodo News reported Saturday that the Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF) has proposed Tokyo’s National Stadium as the site for the 2025 World Athletics Championships.

Tokyo hosted the 1991 Worlds in Tokyo at the old National Stadium, used for the 1964 Olympic Games. The deadline for submissions was 1 October, with the decision to be made by next March.

The cost of the event will likely be around $90 million, which will be an issue in the aftermath of the 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games, but having more major events in Tokyo will be a welcome tourism bonus after the spectator-free Games.

There has much speculation that the 2025 Worlds might go to Africa, specifically Nairobi (KEN). But there would be much goodwill associated with a Tokyo Worlds in 2025 and the 2027 Worlds could be held in Africa.

● Football ● The swirl around FIFA’s study of changing the World Cup cycle from every four years to every two years continues to churn harder and harder. In response, the football confederations for Europe (UEFA) and South America (CONMEBOL) – with the leading national teams in the sport – are making moves toward closer cooperation.

The two announced a match between Italy and Argentina, the winners of this year’s Euro 2020 and Copa America titles to be held in 2022 and a direct working relationship:

“The agreement reached by the two organisations currently covers three editions of this match between the respective continental winners, and also includes the opening of a joint office in London, which will be in charge of coordinating projects of common interest.”

It’s not hard to see the two powerhouses working together more and more, – including their stated opposition to the biennial World Cup idea – and ignoring the other confederations in the Americas (CONCACAF), Asia, Africa and Oceania.

As ordered by the Madrid Commercial Court no. 17, UEFA has ended its disciplinary proceedings against the three unrepentant European Super League club founders – FC Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid – but is fully active in trying to reinstate them, including:

“UEFA has filed a motion for the recusal of the judge presiding over the current proceedings as it believes there are significant irregularities in these proceedings. In line with Spanish law – and in the fundamental interests of justice – UEFA fully expects the judge in question to immediately stand aside pending the full and proper consideration of this motion.

“Further, UEFA shall also be making a formal appeal to a higher court, the Provincial Court of Madrid (Court of Appeal).”

There continues to be widespread concern over the Super League concept and UEFA is determined to kill it, but it will be a long road through multiple courts to untangle the legal ties that still bind the 12 clubs who initially agreed on it together.

CONCACAF confirmed the schedule, venues and times for the October and November matches for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament. Five games will be played by each team with the U.S. schedule including:

● 07 Oct.: Jamaica at U.S. in Austin, Texas
● 10 Oct.: U.S. at Panama in Panama City
● 13 Oct.: Costa Rica at U.S. in Columbus, Ohio

● 12 Nov.: Mexico vs. U.S. in Cincinnati, Ohio
● 16 Nov.: U.S. at Jamaica in Kingston

The U.S. went 1-0-2 in the September matches; for the full schedule of games and times, click here.

● Gymnastics ● In advance of Monday’s hearing on the proposed Disclosure Statement for the re-organization plan in the USA Gymnastics case before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana, another insurer has joined in agreement with the distribution plan.

Great American Assurance Company, which had $41,287,985 in coverage outstanding, has agreed to be part of the settlement plan put forward by USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the Survivors’ Committee. Only TIG Insurance Company, with listed exposure of $106,201,818 – or 25% of the targeted $425 million total – has not agreed so far.

The new plan documents show TIG to have 18 claims against it.

Having all but one (very large) insurer as part of the settlement agreement is a strong argument for the plan to be approved, but there are technical objections to it which will be heard on Monday. No allocation plan of who would get how much money has been filed yet.

● Luge ● Olympic silver medalist Chris Mazdzer suffered a broken right foot during pre-season training runs at the 2014 Olympic sliding track near Sochi, Russia, last week.

He hit a chunk of ice while on a run and had multiple injuries to the foot, causing him to return to the U.S. Mazdzer is also part of the U.S.’s top Double team with Jayson Terdiman, meaning that both entries at the Beijing Games could be in jeopardy depending on how Mazdzer’s recovery comes along.

● Weightlifting ● More bad news for a sport which does not need it, with two major doping sanctions announced by the International Testing Agency, which is now handling doping control for the International Weightlifting Federation.

On Thursday (30th), the ITA issued an eight-year sanction against Boyanka Minkova (AZE), winner of the 2021 European Championship in the women’s 59 kg division. She was tested at the Euros in April and tested positive for the steroid stanozolol. As she was previously sanctioned from 2016-18 after a re-test of her London 2012 sample – and then came back to win the 2021 Europeans – she now gets an eight-year ban, that began on 10 May 2021.

On Friday (1st), former Thai weightlifting federation team doctor and coach Ling Niu was banned for life by the ITA after being linked to doping positives from 10 different Thai athletes competing at the 2018 IWF World Championships and the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Per the ITA:

“[A]ll 10 athletes stated that the source of the prohibited substances in their respective samples was though a pain-relieving gel administered directly and/or given to them” by him.

The European Weightlifting Federation Congress met in Finland and produced a no-confidence vote against interim president Maxim Agapitov of Russia by 29-4, with an Extraordinary Congress to be held as soon as possible to elect a successor.

Agapitov has been a center of controversy, as the International Olympic Committee revoked his accreditation from the Tokyo Games due to a doping sanction during his competitive career. Agapitov appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won, leading to a change in the Olympic Charter to clarify the IOC’s absolute authority over who is accredited for the Games.

The IOC has further noted its unhappiness that Agapitov is a member of the IWF Executive Board and has stated that the continued presence of individuals who were part of the IWF governance structure while corruption and fraud were going on at the federation will be a factor in determining whether the sport continues on the Olympic program.

The EWF hurt the sport’s cause further by stating that Dr. Hasan Akkus (TUR) “can come back before Congress and continue with president position.” He had stepped down after an ITA report charged him with a doping violation in June; if he re-assumes the presidency of the IWF, the IOC will certainly take notice.


● Archery ● Just three days after the closure of the 2021 World Championships came the World Archery World Cup Final, also held in Yankton, South Dakota.

The men’s Recurve final was an all-U.S. affair, with Jack Williams upsetting 2019 World Champion Brady Ellison, 6-5 in a sixth end shoot-off, where Williams shot 10 to Ellison’s 9. Olympic champ Mete Gazoz (TUR) won the bronze.

Germany took two medals in the women’s competition, with 2016 Olympic silver winner Lisa Uhruh winning the final over Elena Osipova (RUS) in a shoot-off, 6-5, with both shooting 10s in the sixth end, but with Unruh closer to the center. Michelle Kroppen (GER) won the bronze, also 6-5 in a shoot-off Deepika Kumari (IND) with a 9-6 edge on the final arrow.

● Athletics ● Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma and Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei powered to wins at the London Marathon, winning in impressive times of 2:04:01 and 2:17:43, respectively.

Lemma made his definitive move at 24 miles to distance himself from Vincent Kipchumba (KEN: 2:04:28) and Mosinet Gerenew (ETH: 2:04:41). It was Lemma’s second-fastest time ever and ranks him no. 3 on the 2021 world list (and Kipchumba, no. 5).

Jepkosgei broke away after 22 miles and crushed an excellent field. Her 2:17:43 moves her to no. 7 all-time and is the world-leading mark for 2021 by almost two minutes, and Degitu Azimeraw (ETH: 2:17:58), Ashete Bekere (ETH: 2:18:18), world-record holder Brigid Kosgei (KEN: 2:18:40) and Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (ISR: 2:18:54) rank 2-3-4-5 for the year.

American star Shalane Flanagan, 40, continued on her quest to run all six World Marathon Majors within seven weeks and all under 3:00, finishing 19th in the women’s division in 2:35:04. Next up: Chicago and Boston back-to-back on 10-11 October next week!

Tokyo Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Kalkidan Gezahegne (BRN) grabbed a win and the world record at The Giants Geneva 10 km in Switzerland on Sunday (3) in 29:38.

That lowered Joyciline Jepkosgei’s 29:43 mark from Prague (CZE) in 2017. Kenyan Agnes Tirop was well back in second in 30:20, with Celliphine Chespol (KEN) third in 30:28.

The men’s division was won by world Half Marathon record-holder Kibiwott Kandie (KEN) in 26:51, ahead of fellow Kenyans Felix Kipkoech (26:57) and Boniface Kibiwott (27:13).

● Badminton ● China defended its title in the 17th edition of the BWF Sudirman Cup for mixed teams in Vantaa (FIN).

It was China’s 12th win in the series, defeating Japan, 3-1, in the final. China’s Yuqi Shi defeated world no. 1 Kento Momota (JPN) in three sets in the men’s final, while Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi defeated Olympic champ Yufei Chen in straight sets in the women’s singles.

● Cycling ● Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli, 31, won the biggest race of his career in the 118th edition of a rainy and muddy Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, outsprinting Florian Vermeersch (BEL) and Mathieu van der Poel (NED) in the final 100 meters of the 257.7 km ride.

All three were timed in 6:01:57, with only Gianni Moscon (ITA) anywhere close, finishing 44 seconds behind the leaders. The conditions were so bad that only 96 of the original 173 starters finished within the time limit and 67 did not finish at all.

British star Lizzie Deignan won the women’s division on Saturday, breaking away from the peloton on a solo attack from 81 km from the finish on the 116.4 km route. She won by an impressive 1:17 in 2:56:07. Marianne Vos (NED) was second and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini (+1:47) was third.

● Equestrian ● The FEI Nations Cup Final in Jumping concluded in Barcelona (ESP), with the Netherlands winning for the third time in the last seven editions.

Using the best three of four scores, the Dutch compiled a perfect final round with 0 penalties, to edge defending champs Ireland (1) and Belgium (4). The U.S. finished fifth. Maikel van der Vleuten, Willem Greve and Harrie Smolders each had perfect rides for the winners; the Dutch victors shared the first-place prize of €417,000 (about $483,321)!

● Swimming ● A busy weekend in the water, with the start of the FINA World Cup series in Berlin (GER), in a short-course (25 m) pool.

In the men’s competition, Australia’s Matthew Sales took four events: the 200 m Free and the 100-200-400 m Medleys! Kyle Chalmers (AUS) won the 50-100 m Frees and a silver in the 200 m Free. Germany’s Christian Diener won the 50-100-200 m Backstrokes and Arno Kamminga (NED) took the 50-100-200 m Breaststrokes. American Tom Shields won the 50-100 m Butterfly events.

Australia’s Emma McKeon won the women’s 50 and 100 m Freestyles; Dutch star Kira Toussaint took the 50 and 200 m Backstrokes, and Anastasia Gorbenko (ISR) tripled in the 50-100 m Breast and 100 m Medley. Americans Cavan Gormsen won the women’s 800 m Free and Tess Howley won the 200 m Fly.

The 11th match of ISL season three was a play-in match for the ISL playoffs, with four teams competing for two slots. D.C. Trident (USA) and Iron (HUN) moved on, scoring 506.0 and 497.0 points, ahead of the New York Breakers (388.5) and Tokyo (385.5).

Dutch sprint star Ranomi Kromowidjojo (Iron) won the women’s 100 m Free and 50 m Fly; Australian Brendon Smith took the men’s 400 m Free and 400 m Medley.

The playoffs will start on 11 November.

● Wrestling ● The UWW World Championships are on in Oslo (NOR), with American Kyle Dake scoring his third career World Championship gold in the men’s Freestyle 74 kg final.

Dake stopped 2019 World bronze medalist Tajmuraz Salkazanov (SVK), 7-3, in the final for his first 74 kg gold; he had won twice previously at 79 kg.

The U.S. men also won two silvers on the first day of finals, with Daton Fix losing in the 61 kg final to Abasgadzhi Magomedov (RUS), 4-1, and Iran’s Hassan Yazdani defeating David Taylor in a re-match of the Olympic final – won by Taylor – by a 6-2 score.

American Nick Gwiazdowski finished fifth at 125 kg, losing in his bronze-medal match with two-time World Champion Taha Akgul (TUR), 6-4.

Americans Tom Gilman (57 kg) and Jordan Burroughs (79 kg) advanced to the gold-medal finals in their classes for Monday, with J’Den Cox to wrestle for bronze at 92 kg. Burroughs is going for his fifth career World Championships gold.

The Worlds continue all this week, with the women’s Freestyle and men’s Greco-Roman tournaments to come.

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For our 743-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!