HEARD AT HALFTIME: Russian strategy for doping case now plain; Women’s World Cup could be held biennially

Pierre de Coubertin's 1892 Olympic manifesto: the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia in history! (Photo: Sotheby's)

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

Doping ● What appears to be a coordinated Russian strategy to contest the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions saw the appointment of two sets of lawyers and a projection that the appeal could take so long that Russia could compete under its own flag in Tokyo.

The Russian news agency TASS quoted Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyzkov on Tuesday:

“Regulations do not state in particular the timeframe for WADA to turn to [the Court of Arbitration for Sport], but the previous experience shows that it should take the period of between one and two weeks.

“The question about the timeframe of the appeal can be answered by lawyers, who will be representing our interests in CAS. There are preconditions indicating that the whole story would be over either on the brink of the [2020] Olympics or after the Games. It will take approximately three months after the appointment of CAS arbitrators before the verdict is announced.”

The Russian Olympic Committee and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency have hired different attorneys to handle their interests in the appeal, a signal that delays, objections and requests for extra time will be forthcoming to slow the process.

Jonathan Taylor, the British lawyer who heads the WADA Compliance Review Committee, said earlier this month that the four-year sanction period could be moved forward. “If they drag it out so that it doesn’t cover Tokyo [2020], it will cover Paris [2024]. They have to decide which we want to do, which athletes they want to suffer.”

In the meantime, the head of the Russian modern pentathlon federation told TASS that the sanctions could lead to Russian athletes changing their nationality in order to compete.

Gunter Younger, the head of WADA Intelligence & Investigations unit, said earlier this month that a report is being prepared for the International Olympic Committee indicating that a witness who helped acquit 28 of 39 Russians of doping accusations at the 2014 Winter Games was involved in tampering with the Moscow Lab data and that these cases could be reopened.

Athletics ● Russia’s two-time high jump World Champion Mariya Lasitskene continues to be the outspoken voice of Russian track & field athletes in the face of the doping sanctions.

She told Radio Kosomolskaya Pravda that “We were admitted to the World Championships in neutral status. I won the last two Championships in neutral status. The national team is small, but these are the people who were allowed.

“In connection with the latest events that took place in our Federation [World Athletics], this was taken away from us. That is, the actions of the leadership of our [Russian] Federation have led to the fact that we even had their neutral status recalled.

“For four years, this somehow continued and went even worse.”

Lasitskene referenced the latest action of World Athletics, which has withdrawn its program of approving “Authorized Neutral Athletes” from Russia to compete internationally, based on a review by a three-person board. World Athletics was reacting not only to the WADA sanctions and its finding of manipulated data, but also to obstruction of an investigation into “Whereabouts” violations by 2018 World Indoor High Jump Champion Danil Lysenko via “false explanations and forged documents.” The head of the Russian Athletics Federation, Dmitry Shlyakhtin, was specifically identified for a provisional suspension for tampering or complicity in the matter. Shlyakhtin subsequently resigned.

The Athletics Integrity Unit has given the Russian federation until 2 January 2020 to answer its charges, announced on 21 November.

The annual Bowerman Awards for the top collegiate performers of 2019 were announced on 19 December, with Florida’s Grant Holloway and LSU’s Sha’Carri Richardson taking the honors.

Holloway won the 110 m hurdles in a world-leading 12.98, breaking Renaldo Nehemiah’s 1979 record of 13.00 along the way. Richardson won the women’s 100 m in a stunning 10.75, the world-leading mark at the time. Both turned professional after the NCAA Championships, with Holloway going on to win the World Championships in October.

Figure Skating ● In the category of “all glory is fleeting,” 17-year-old Alina Zagitova announced earlier this month that she is taking a time-out in her figure skating career.

After rocketing to fame as the winner of the 2018 Olympic Winter gold and then the 2019 World Championship, she fell to second and third in her ISU Grand Prix appearances in the 2019-20 season and finished sixth in the Grand Prix Final. She could not keep up with new Russian stars Alena Kostornaia (16), Anna Shcherbakova (15) and Alexandra Trusova (15), who finished 1-2-3 in the Grand Prix Final.

Is she done?

Olympic Ice Dancing bronze medalist Maia Shibutani is recovering after the removal of what turned out to be a cancerous tumor on one of her kidneys.

After surgery on 14 December to remove what had been identified as a “mass,” Shibutani was told that it might be cancerous. She wrote on her Instagram account on 20 December:

“I got my pathology report back – the tumor that was successfully removed on Saturday was unfortunately malignant (cancer). (SDH)-deficient renal cell carcinoma. This wasn’t the news I was hoping for, but I am beyond thankful that it was detected early and that my surgery went well. No further treatment is required at this time – the next steps are for me to continue focusing on recovering and healing.”

Shibutani and her brother and skating partner Alex have been away from international competition since winning a bronze medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Their plan has been to recharge and concentrate on an even better placing at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Football ● Four countries have come forward to bid for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, including Brazil, Colombia, Japan and joint bid by Australia and New Zealand. The winner will be announced in June 2020.

However, the tournament will not only be expanding to 32 teams in 2023, but may be played every two years instead of four. FIFA chief Gianni Infantino (SUI) told reporters on 20 December:

“With France 2019, we had more than 1 billion viewers around the world and some incredible figures in countries where normally women’s football is not anywhere close to the men’s game, such as Italy, Brazil or England.

“This tremendous success triggered a few proposals, on which we are already working. Besides, [French Football Federation] president [Noel] Le Graet came up with a proposal that went a bit unnoticed: of playing the FIFA Women’s World Cup every two years instead of four. This would generate benefits and momentum that fit exactly with what the women’s game needs right now. It is something we should put up for discussion.”

Swimming ● The dual lawsuits against the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA) by the International Swimming League and three swimmers representing a class of elite athletes avoided dismissal on 16 December, thanks to a ruling by a U.S. District Court/Northern District of California Magistrate in San Francisco.

Mag. Jacqueline Scott Corley kept the suits alive and required that FINA file an answer to both in January. The federation is accused of being part of a “global anti-trust conspiracy” in the area of professional swimming.

Because of the circumstances of the case and the specific actions of FINA that are being contested, it’s unlikely that the case – if decided in favor of ISL or the athletes – will have much of an impact on other sports, despite the gleeful predictions of some of the plaintiffs. But that has not stopped overheated commentaries that this suit somehow threatens the IOC’s ownership of the Olympic Games or the way international sports are organized. But FINA itself will now be spending considerably more on legal fees as it contests both suits.

Four-time Olympic champion Roland Matthes, who swam for East Germany, died on Friday, 20 December in Wertheim, Germany, at age 69.

He won eight Olympic medals in a career that spanned the 1968-72-76 Games, winning the 100 m and 200 m Backstrokes in Mexico City and Munich. He won a bronze in the 100 m Back in the Montreal Games and three other relay medals. In fact, he was undefeated in any Backstroke event from 1967 to 1974!

SwimSwam.com noted that “While Matthes swam in an era where many East German swimmers have later admitted to participation in a systematic state-sponsored doping system, Matthes denied his involvement, saying that his club was too small to participate in the scheme.”

Commonwealth Games ● In case you’ve missed it, there is a serious battle going on over India and the 2022 Commonwealth Games to be held in Birmingham, England.

The organizers did not include shooting in its list of 21 sports to be contested, raising the ire of India, which has had notable success in the sport at the Commonwealth Games. In fact, India has threatened to boycott the Games on that account!

Now, discussions between the Commonwealth Games Foundation, the International Shooting Sports Federation and India have led to a unique proposal to include shooting … sort of.

A Commonwealth Games shooting competition would take place in India in March, well ahead of the 27 July-7 August dates for the full Games in England. The costs would be underwritten by the National Rifle Association of India, but the results and medals would be included as part of the Commonwealth Games program.

The next step is for the proposal to be approved by the Indian Olympic Association on 30 December and then sent to the Commonwealth Games Federation for consideration.

At the BuZZer ● The most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever sold is now the original manuscript of Pierre de Coubertin’s speech to the Union des Societes Francaises de Sports Athletiques [French Athletics Association] in Paris on 25 November 1892. In it, de Coubertin proposed the revival of the ancient Olympic Games, leading to the formation of the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and the first modern Games in Athens, Greece in 1896.

Expected to bring from $700,000-$1 million, the 12-minute auction at Sotheby’s New York sales room on 18 December quickly zoomed into the stratosphere. Two buyers vied for the item, with the final price ending at $8,806,500 for the 14-page document. The identity of the final buyer has not been revealed.

The final price shattered the record for a sports memorabilia item of $5.4 million paid for a New York Yankees baseball jersey worn by icon Babe Ruth earlier this year.