HEARD AT HALFTIME: Tokyo 2020 announces “simplification” measures; IOC concerns mount on Italian government meddling; more time for Russia on re-entry plan

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee jointly announcedover 50 measures have been designed to maximise cost savings and increase efficiencies in Games delivery” last Friday.

An actual list of the 52 items decided upon during the latest meeting of the IOC’s Coordination Commission was not provided. The most important was a 10-15% reduction in the number of “stakeholder” officials, with an accompanying reduction in amenities, such as hospitality and transportation. That alone will shave several millions from the cost of the event.

In addition, Village welcoming ceremonies for the teams are to be eliminated, fewer complimentary tickets will be available for the major ceremonies (and therefore more public tickets), plus reductions in transportation support for officials, reductions in civic and venue decor (which had been previously decried by some International Federations as insufficient already), later opening dates for training sites and the Main Press Center, reductions in Village cleaning frequency, trimming of spectator festivals and venue activity options, holding some pre-Games meetings remotely, and reviews of lighting and temporary power at venues. The total number of volunteers will be reviewed, perhaps filling more shifts with existing staff instead of bringing in replacements.

No specific amount of cost savings was announced, yet. The Tokyo organizers have promised to provide a revised estimate of the total cost of the Games as soon as solidified.

The president of the Tokyo organizing committee, former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, told a group of Liberal Democratic Party on Monday that “No matter what happens, we will be able to hold the Olympics.”

Last Friday, new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the United Nations General Assembly – in a pre-recorded address – that

“In the summer of next year, Japan is determined to host the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic. I will continue to spare no effort in order to welcome you to Games that are safe and secure.”

On the sustainability front, Tokyo 2020 announced the collection of more than 24.5 tons of recycling plastics for use in the creation of the medal podiums:

“Launched in June 2019, the Recycled Plastic Victory Ceremony Podium Project mobilised citizens to donate used household plastics for recycling, with the cooperation of major retailers and 113 schools from across Japan and the active participation of P&G Group offices and organisations.”

This program extends the organizing committee’s manufacture of the more than 5,000 medals for the Games from the recycling of used mobile phones and similar devices from the Japanese public.

XXV Olympic Winter Games: Milan-Cortina 2026 ● While the U.S. Congress is considering legislation which could lead to a suspension of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee has signaled its continuing, grave concern over the Italian government’s control of the country’s sports funding via a new agency, Sport e Salute.

The Italian all-sport newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport reported (in English via Google Translate) reported the explicit comments of IOC President Thomas Bach to reporters at the UCI World Road Championships in Imola, Italy over the weekend:

“We are very worried about the situation of the CONI [Italian National Olympic Committee] and its functioning according to the new reform requested by the politicians. A National Olympic Committee that does not function and is not independent, and which is subject to orders from external bodies, does not respect the Olympic Charter. I had a meeting scheduled for October 15 with the Minister of Sport, [Vincenzo] Spadafora, but frankly at the moment I do not see the conditions for this meeting. Earlier this month we wrote a letter to the Ministry of Sport expressing our concern but we have not received any answers.”


“The general secretary of CONI needs to be put in a position to work in full capacity. Now, however, the general secretary is subject to the instructions of companies outside the CONI.”

Spadafora dismissed Bach’s comments, saying that “Bach is in an unusual and non-institutional way talking about a draft law that frankly I can hardly believe he personally read.” Spadafora believes there is no conflict, said there is no meeting scheduled and does not believe that the current dust-up even merits discussion of any suspension of the CONI, which would result in Italian athletes competing in Tokyo next year under the Olympic flag.

Bach also noted IOC concerns over the plans for the bobsled, luge and skeleton run and the speedskating venue for 2026, to be discussed further.

Athletics ● World Athletics extended the deadline for the Russian Athletics Federation to submit a comprehensive plan to 1 March 2021. The federation’s Russian Task Force noted:

“Although the draft plan was better than what has come before (in particular, in acknowledging the doping culture in Russian athletics, and in identifying some of the systemic issues that have to be addressed to change that culture), it is nevertheless seriously deficient and does not meet most of the requirements set out in Council’s decision, particularly in relation to details of how RusAF’s strategic goals will be implemented and in relation to identification of the performance indicators to be used to assess progress towards those goals.”

And added:

“This failure appears to be due not to a lack of willingness but rather a lack of knowhow and resources. There is currently a void at RusAF – they have no board, no senior management, and very few experienced staff. They need to fill that void urgently with people who share the vision to change the culture of the organisation and the sport, and who have the skills to do so. We understand they are in the process of organising the election of a new President and management board, which will obviously be an important step.”

The World Athletics statement further specified the needed program for reinstatement must include:

“These requirements are: to ingrain throughout Russian athletics (including coaches and other support personnel employed by the Centre for Sports Preparation and/or through regional Ministries of Sport) a culture of zero tolerance for doping; and to rehabilitate RusAF so that it becomes a trusted ally of World Athletics in the fight for clean sport.”

The World Athletics Council will take up the question of re-authorizing the Authorized Neutral Athlete program – previously used to allow some Russian athletes to compete internationally – in December.

The next stage of the Lamine Diack saga in the French court is underway, as the former IAAF President and IOC Member was “interviewed” last Thursday (24th) concerning bribes in the IOC’s selection of the hosts of the 2016 Rio Games, 2020 Games awarded to Tokyo and the 2015, 2017 and 2019 IAAF World Championships. According to Agence France Presse:

“With his son, Diack is suspected of taking bribes, some disguised as lobbying contracts, in return for lending support to the host cities.

“French authorities are probing payments of $1.197 million and $1.685 million by the Tokyo bid committee to Black Tidings, a Singapore-based firm linked to Papa Massata Diack, before and after the Japanese capital was awarded the 2020 Games in 2013 by the International Olympic Committee.”

An NBC News analysis of banking records “include a spreadsheet listing 112 transactions totaling more than $55 million flowing in and out of bank accounts linked to the Diacks, including accounts tied to the Russian doping scandal.”

/Updated/ It’s been a tough year on the track and infield, but you wouldn’t know it from American Nick Ponzio after his win in the Diamond League meet in Rome on 17 September:

“I am on cloud nine! A win is a win, no matter if it is not a season’s best. I makes me feel amazing: This is my first Diamond League meeting and it is my first victory. I switched coaches, now I train with Ryan Whiting. I owe him everything.

“It is my first competition in Italy; it made a lot of sense to me to compete here. Hopefully I will get Italian citizenship. My mom and dad are Italian. Given the hard competition in men´s shot put in the U.S., I really would love to compete for Italy in the future. But I will continue to train in the U.S. with my coach.”

With a lifetime best of 21.72 m (71-3 1/4) this season, Ponzio, 25, ranks no. 4 on the world list for 2020. But matched against the full-season list in 2019, his mark would have ranked 11th worldwide but fourth in the U.S. He would easily have been the best in Italy last year, but second in 2020 to Leonardo Fabbri (no. 2 worldwide at 21.99 m/72-1 3/4).

(Thanks to Mel Watman of Athletics International for noting Fabbri’s superb 2020 performance.)

Gymnastics ● Stung by revelations of athlete abuse, mostly in Artistic Gymnastics, the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) announced an online conference for 26-27 October “to encourage and reinforce the safeguarding of everyone involved in Gymnastics.”

The FIG announcement noted:

“A global reflection is all the more necessary in light of numerous testimonies from athletes, not only in Gymnastics but also in many other elite sports, revealing how mistreatment, intimidation and even physical and psychological abuse are considered, in many regions, to be an integral part of the experience of high-performance athletes.

Although methods differ according to traditions and countries, and what might be considered as controversial methods in one country could be accepted in others, the FIG intends to set up global norms in the world of Gymnastics, inviting everyone interested to contribute towards improving the sport and making it safer.”

Weightlifting ● The controversies over the activities of former International Weightlifting Federation chief Tamas Ajan (HUN) are expanding.

The InsideTheGames Web site reported Friday that 130 doping samples – unprocessed and collected over a period of years – were “hidden” at the IWF headquarters in Budapest. The World Anti-Doping Agency is aware of the issue and the federation’s anti-doping activities are now carried out by the International Testing Agency.

XXII Commonwealth Games: Birmingham 2022 ● A unique sponsorship agreement was announced for the 2022 Games, with the University of Birmingham (England) becoming a commercial partner of the event.

Universities are usually contracted venues for major Games, but the school – founded in 1825 and with 35,445 total students – sees outreach possibilities in an event which has a high profile in the 72 Commonwealth countries.

The agreement will make the university the lead sponsor of the international legs of the 21022 Queen’s Baton Relay, and offer volunteer opportunities for staff and students. The school will provide the largest share of the athlete housing for the Games and be the competition venue for field hockey and squash.

At the BuZZer ● Sunday marked the 32nd anniversary of one of the low points in Olympic history, but perhaps the true start of the anti-doping movement. The tireless Walt Murphy, who was the in-booth statistician for NBC at the Seoul Games recalled in his daily “This Day in Track & Field”:

“[T]he off-day was going to offer those of us who were working on the NBC production crew a chance to get an extra hour or two of sleep and maybe take care of some laundry needs.

“But that all changed in the early morning hours as the word started to spread that [Canada’s 100 m winner Ben] Johnson had failed his drug test and would be disqualified! I received a call at about 6 a.m. from Pete Cava, who was working with NBC as an Olympic researcher.

“Announcers Charlie Jones, Frank Shorter, and Dwight Stones were going to discuss the breaking news with Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley, who were serving as the hosts for NBC’s broadcast, and I needed to be with them to offer any background information if the need arose.

“When we arrived on the set, Gumbel, realizing the gravity of the situation, put everyone at ease by saying, ‘All right, boys and girls, let’s have some fun with this.’ The segment went as well as could be expected, but there was no fun on the minds of those of us who were deeply involved in the sport.

“This would turn out to be our ‘Day of Infamy.’ a day when the general public’s perception of our sport was changed forever. Up until this point, most people looked upon T&F as a pure amateur sport, one in which athletes did all the right things as they pursued their Olympic dreams. Johnson’s subsequent trial and admission of guilt meant that things would never be the same again.”