HEARD AT HALFTIME: Tokyo 2020 to elect 12 women to board; massive changes to Olympic TV coverage; Russia’s 20-step path to T&F reinstatement

Technology is bringing major changes to the way the Olympic Games are broadcast worldwide (Photo: IOC)

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

Games of the XXXV Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee voted Tuesday (2nd) to expand its executive board from 35 to 45 members, accepted one resignation and then nominated 12 women to fill the open spots.

Once confirmed – the advisory committee vote is expected on Wednesday – the new members will bring the total number of women to 19 out of 45, or 42.2%, slightly ahead of the 40% goal set by new organizing committee chief Seiko Hashimoto.

She noted “We need to deal with the issue quickly to restore (public) confidence in the organizing committee and to produce results.” Reported as among the nominees are 2000 Sydney Olympic marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi and two-time Paralympic alpine skiing champion Kuniko Obinata.

A major change in the way the Olympic Games are televised is underway as the combination of new technologies and the pandemic is shrinking one of the biggest users of space, power and people.

The IOC Web site posted an important story on Tuesday (2nd), entitled “Olympic Games broadcasting via the cloud: technology at the service of storytelling,” underscoring the massive changes taking place in Tokyo.

Key to this is the introduction of a cloud-based signal distribution (noted in detail last October), which eliminates the need for a broadcaster to actually be on-site in Tokyo to produce live coverage of the Games.

Said Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) Chief Executive Yiannis Exarchos (GRE):

“We were lucky in the sense that we have the TOP partnership with Alibaba. Alibaba is one of the key players in the world in cloud technology, and together with them we developed what we call the OBS Cloud, which is a platform which allows broadcasters to receive content remotely on the cloud and even to work on this content remotely on a cloud basis.

“The major thinking, and what we want them to do and help them to do, is reduce the presence [of broadcast staff] that can happen anywhere in the world. To be shipping servers and setting up equipment in a city for things that can happen on the cloud is one of the things we want to avoid.

“If you have a journalist in the mixed zone you can receive everything [else] back in your home country.”

This is a major change in Games organization and will have far-reaching impacts:

● The massive amount of space, time and money needed to assemble an International Broadcast Center in the host city will be dramatically reduced. This is a benefit to the organizers, to the broadcasters and to fans, who will be able to access thousands of hotel rooms used by broadcast technicians.

● The space needed for broadcast commentary positions inside stadia will be markedly reduced over time, again freeing up hundreds of seats for spectators at most sites. Broadcasters pay for these positions to be installed and each one takes up 6-12 spectator seats, depending on the configuration in each venue. The experience of commentators calling events remotely during the pandemic will be a permanent change for many Olympic events that will now be available in real time anywhere in the world.

● The “mixed zone” area, where media can meet athletes as they exit the field of play, will become increasingly important. Introduced on a Games-wide basis in Los Angeles in 1984, the space needed for this function, and for formal news conference-style settings, will now increase exponentially, especially for Paris 2024 and beyond.

The IOC story notes:

“The International Broadcast Centre (IBC) in Tokyo is going to be 25 per cent smaller than the Rio IBC, with 27 per cent fewer broadcasters present. This trend is going only one way. The IBC for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 is already small enough for the Organising Committee to have combined it with the Main Press Centre.”

All of this opens substantial new opportunities for Games coverage, and the rights-holders, press, photographers and non-rights-holding broadcasters will be scrambling to take advantage. How future organizers and the IOC are able to adapt to this could allow for a huge expansion of the impact of the Games worldwide; it’s one of the most exciting changes to Games coverage ever.

Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● The Los Angeles City Council tabled until 17 March discussion of the “2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games Public Safety Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2028 (LA 2028), and the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to establish the California Olympic and Paralympic Public Safety Command (COPPSC).”

The memorandum spends no money and authorizes nothing except to have the City join the new COPPSC to begin joint planning and collaboration on public safety for the 2028 Games. Four public comments were posted on this item – three of which were anonymous – all repeating what will be a recurring theme of trying to use the 2028 Games as a straw man for protests on other issues. The most pithy: “Do no [sic] support, Defund the police.”

National Olympic Committees ● Last December, the IOC sanctioned the NOC of Belarus, with IOC chief Thomas Bach stating that “The IOC has come to the conclusion that it appears that the current leadership has not appropriately protected the Belarussian athletes from political discrimination within the NOC, their member federations or the sports movement.” It banned then-NOC President Alexander Lukashenko – also the country’s President – and his son, Viktor, from attending any Olympic functions.

Last Friday (26th), Alexander Lukashenko left his NOC post with Viktor appointed in his place. The father has been under pressure from political protests against him following elections last fall, which have been criticized as unfairly held; the results gave him a sixth term. The IOC is sure to be irritated by the results and further sanctions may be forthcoming.

In the U.S., 19 National Governing Bodies, including USA Archery, USA Artistic Swimming, USA Baseball, USA Bobsled & Skeleton, USA Cycling, USA Diving, USA Fencing, USA Field Hockey, USA Football, USA Gymnastics, USA Hockey, USA Karate, US Lacrosse, US Ski & Snowboard, US Soccer, US Speedskating, USA Taekwondo, USA Triathlon and USA Wrestling, have signed on for the new CrashCourse Concussion Story Wall produced by the Brain Injury Association of America.

The program features an interactive database of 700 individual’s stories relating to how a brain injury occurred, the symptoms experienced, and personal suggestions from those who have been injured by a concussion (also known as a mild traumatic brain injury). It is intended as a comprehensive resource to help develop an understanding of the injury and appreciation for the whole person for the many who are impacted (athletes, parents, coaches, officials, teachers and military veterans).

It’s free to access here.

Alpine Skiing ● The brutal injuries to alpine skiers Kajsa Vickhoff Lie (NOR) and Rosina Schneeberger (AUT) during the Super-G races at Val di Fassa (ITA) last weekend are healing, according to reports.

Vickhoff Lie suffered a broken left leg from her crash and had surgery on Sunday in Innsbruck (AUT). The Federation Internationale de Ski Alpine Twitter feed noted:

“[A]fter yesterday’s crash, Rosina Schneeberger was diagnosed with a fracture of the right tibia and fibula. She was successfully operated in the evening in Innsbruck. The fracture was stabilised with an intramedullary nail.”

Both are recovering in the same room!

Athletics ● The World Athletics Council approved a detailed program for the reinstatement of the Russian Athletics Federation on Monday (1st), including a 31-page plan with dozens of requirements to be met. The Plan reviewed the situation, noting:

“A history of extensive and sometimes blatant anti-doping rule violations involving athletes, coaches and officials is acknowledged. The root causes of an extensive doping and covering-up culture involving athletes, coaches and officials arose from inheriting a post-Soviet doping culture aimed at winning by all means including doping.”

“The Strategic Plan, together with the Operational Roadmap that supports the Plan, are designed to deal with the root causes of previous systemic and systematic doping issues and achieve positive changes in both culture and practice regionally and nationally. To do this, the entire system of RusAF’s operations and Russian athletics must be changed, with core integrity-based behaviours and anti-doping values at its heart and at all levels within the sport.”

“Pathways for clean athletes to come to the fore must exclude old coaching approaches based on doping practices. Measures to reward regions changing to clean athletics are required, and to punish those regions resisting changes. Increased athlete representation to support clean athletics must occur.”

“It would be extremely erroneous to suggest that RusAF reinstatement per se is the ultimate goal of the Plan. Indeed, RusAF reinstatement is an important landmark, but it is merely a step towards a better future for Russian athletics. The main goal of this plan is to ingrain the sustainable change in culture throughout RusAF’s processes and decision-making and rehabilitate RusAF’s management and oversight of athletics in Russia so that doping no longer occurs in a systemic and systematic way in Russian athletics, and through its emphatic actions to deal with doping violations RUSAF becomes a trusted ally of World Athletics in the fight for clean sport.”

The plan explains that “[t]he consequences of ‘the Lysenko case’ were almost fatal for RusAF” and that the prior plan to reinstate the federation collapsed under the cover-up of “whereabouts” failures for former World Indoor High Jump champ Danil Lysenko. So, everything started over.

The new project specifies goals in nine groups are required to be met by 1 April, 1 September and reviewed with an audit by 2 March of 2022. There are 20 items with specific deadlines to be implemented – in the anti-doping and governance areas – by 1 April (8 items), 1 June (6), 1 July (1), 1 August (3) and 1 September (2).

The question on reinstating the “Authorized Neutral Athlete” program in time to allow some Russian athletes to compete in Tokyo will be considered by the World Athletics Council at its meeting from 17-18 March. In terms of incentive to implement the Plan requirements, perhaps provisional approval of Authorized Neutral Athletes, conditioned on meeting the 15 requirements for April, June and July, could be adopted.

The USA Track & Field National Championships in the men’s 50 km walk and women’s 35 km walk were held in Santee, California on Sunday. Nick Christie, 36, won the men’s 50 km race for what is believed to be his 18th national title at various distances in 4:10:53, ahead of A.J. Gruttadauro (4:19:18) and Joel Phahler (4:47:45), with 1992 and 1996 Olympian Allen James fourth (4:52:00). Defending champion Andreas Gustafsson was disqualified.

The women’s 35 km walk was taken by 37-year-old Robyn Stevens for her third straight national title, this time at the new distance, in 3:01:11. Stephanie Casey was second (3:05:21) and Amberly Melendez was third (3:23:14). The top finishers in each race received $8,000-6,000-4,000-3,000-2,000-1,000-1,000 for the top eight places, but only six men and five women finished.

(Thanks to U.S. Olympic walker and sharped-eyed reader Elliott Denman for a correction on A.J. Gruttadauro’s name and spelling!)

USA Track & Field announced a 10-meet “Journey to Gold” spring series from April into June, with six events already specified with a date and location. Three of those will be held at Prairie View A&M on 3 April, 25 May and 6 June. Prize money totaling $1 million is promised for the series, with details to come later.

World Athletics confirmed the final points standings of its World Indoor Tour and the event winners who earned a wild-card entry into the 2022 World Indoor Championships in Belgrade (SRB) and $10,000 prize money:

Men/400 m: Pavel Maslak (CZE)
Men/1500 m: Selemon Barega (ETH)
Men/60 m hurdles: Grant Holloway (USA)
Men/High jump: Gianmarco Tamberi (ITA)
Men/Long jump: Juan Miguel Echevarria (CUB)

Women/60 m: Javianne Oliver (USA)
Women/800 m: Habitam Alemu (ETH)
Women/3000 m: Lemlem Hailu (ETH)
Women/Pole vault: Iryna Zhuk (BLR)
Women/Triple jump: Liadagmis Povea (CUB)
Women/Shot put: Auriol Dongmo (POR)

Cycling ● The organizers of the 2023 UCI all-disciplines World Championships in and around Glasgow (SCO) are working with the UCI to market “purpose-led sponsorships” which bring companies together with “key societal themes and outcomes.”

In an interview with SportBusiness, organizing committee commercial director Jonathan Rigby (GBR) explained, “So if we want to get more people on bikes more often, then there’s a fantastic opportunity for a mobility partner to work with us and identify how cars and bikes can co-exist in future cities.”

A technology partner could focus on second-screen engagement with the races and encouraging participation in cycling. An automaker could showcase electric or hybrid vehicles and/or promote road safety with cyclists. Whether this is the future of sponsorship or more of an experiment to yet to be seen.

The report noted that “Ahead of Scotland being awarded the hosting rights, it was forecast that the hosting budget would be £45.8m (€53m/$64.8m), with Glasgow City Council providing £15m in support.”

Judo ● The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision in the appeal of sanctions by the Iran Judo Federation “concluded that the kind of sanction (unlimited suspension) imposed in the challenged decision of 22 October 2019 had no legal basis in the IJF regulations. Accordingly, the Panel partially upheld the appeal and annulled the decision taken by the IJF Disciplinary Commission on 22 October 2019. The matter has been referred back to the IJF Disciplinary Commission for its eventual further.”

The International Judo Federation posted only a short note on its Web site in reply that the federation “is currently considering what further action and decisions will be taken.”

One item clearly on the agenda of a future IJF Congress is to amend its rules to allow indefinite suspensions for political interference.

Volleyball ● An in-depth review of the massive investment in the creation of a new “Volleyball World” commercial agency to promote the sport worldwide by SportBusiness revealed that $100 million was contributed to the new venture by Luxembourg-based CVC Capital Partners, which represents one-third of the ownership of the new entity.

FIVB Secretary General Fernando Lima (BRA) explained that volleyball has huge opportunities for growth based on its enormous viewership at the Olympic Games, a metric which other sports have tried to leverage but found difficult. Said Lima: “Most international sport federations, like basketball and football, or even market-specific sports like rugby and cricket, found ways to connect with fans in the last century via different platforms and media. Volleyball missed that trajectory – its mission was to deliver the events and competitions, hand out the medals and then we’d all go home. We didn’t create a strong brand.”

The revenue opportunities targeted to start will include events, the fan experience, media rights strategies, data/digital opportunities and sponsorship.

Weightlifting ● While the International Weightlifting Federation immediately conceded to the IOC demands for athlete representation on the Executive Board and the re-scheduling of the Congresses for adopting a new constitution and then for elections, the IOC’s letter also included other matters that can have a long-lasting impact. The letter, from IOC Director General Christophe de Kepper (SUI) objected to:

● “The large number of candidates for the upcoming elections that have been involved with the IWF leadership over the recent period”;

● “Lack of any age restrictions or restrictions on candidates from suspended or sanctioned national federations” and

● “The lack of engagement with the elected athlete representatives …”

The letter also notes concerns with the anti-doping program for the upcoming Olympic qualification events and the resolution of issues raised by the McLaren Global Sport Services Report and ongoing investigations by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Testing Agency and Hungarian police!

As the IOC’s dealings with the AIBA over boxing have shown, the IWF’s path out of the Games is clearer than its path to staying in.

Wrestling ● USA Wrestling has re-scheduled its Olympic Trials for Ft. Worth, Texas for 2-3 April, moving it from its original site at Penn State due to the pandemic. In that announcement was some good news for wrestling fans: “there were 12,000 tickets sold for the Olympic Trials at Penn State before the pandemic began.”

That’s good news for wrestling in the U.S. and not to be taken lightly for the future. The new capacity at the Dickies Arena will be limited to 4,900.

At the BuZZer ● A significant auction of sports memorabilia is scheduled for Paris on 6 March called “SPORLYMPIQUE VI.”

On offer are 471 lots, with some significant Olympic items including two participation medals from the 1896 Athens Games (expected to sell individually for €400-800 each) and Olympic torches from Tokyo 1964 (expected €2800-3000), Montreal 1976 (€2500-3500), Moscow 1980 (€1500-1800), Lillehammer 1994 (€20,000-30,000!!!), Sydney 2000 (€2500-3500), Athens 2004 (€1800-2000) and London 2012 (€2500-3500).

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