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Commonwealth Games gold medalist and Canadian Olympic swimmer Richard W. “Dick” Pound became a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1978 and has been one of the most important, influential and consequential players in international sports ever since.
In a story posted on Friday (8th) by Steve Keating of Reuters, he dropped a bomb on the U.S. Olympic Movement and potentially the hosting of the Games of the XXXIV Olympiad in Los Angeles in 2028:
“We will have to wait and see but at some point if the U.S. becomes a rogue state I think we will start looking at whether the Games in Los Angeles should proceed.
“They are not performing their obligations under the convention and they’re trying to destabilize not only the structure but funding of WADA and that’s not acceptable behaviour especially since they participated in all the decisions for continental funding right from the beginning.”
When Pound speaks about Olympic matters and especially about doping, listening is required. Not only is the senior member of the International Olympic Committee, but was one of the architects of the World Anti-Doping Agency [WADA] when it was formed in 1999, through 2007, with its headquarters in his hometown of Montreal, Quebec.
His reference to U.S. obligations not being followed stems from a report last June by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy which openly suggested that American representation on the WADA Executive Committee should be calibrated to its 2020 dues contribution of $2.71 million, which is the largest annual dues payment by any government (the IOC pays 50% of WADA’s annual budget, matching the combined governmental dues dollar-for-dollar).
WADA’s reply pointedly noted: “In February 2020, nations of the Americas region met in Ecuador for their annual inter-governmental meeting American Sports Council (CADE) to discuss mutual anti-doping interests, including representation on WADA’s Board and ExCo for the two-year period following the meeting. Unfortunately, the U.S. chose not to attend that meeting.”
“WADA cannot be governed solely by the few richest countries. Athletes who compete against U.S. athletes come from all over the globe and in fairness to U.S. athletes, we want to ensure their competitors are subject to the same stringent rules as they are. To make sure that happens, there needs to be representation from all regions of the world.”
The U.S. ONDCP report was issued under the authority of Jim Carroll, who was Acting Director of the $35 billion agency from 2018-19 and Director since 31 January 2019. As a Trump appointee, his future is unclear at best.
Pound also brought up the recently-passed “Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020,” which includes sec. 220552:
“Effective on the date of enactment of a joint resolution described in section 220551(2)(A) with respect to the board of directors of the [U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee], such board of directors shall be dissolved.”
The Congress can also, by the same means, de-certify a U.S. National Governing Body [NGB]. Pound remarked:
“The Congressional legislation focusing on the U.S. Olympic Committee gives Congress the power to rule over the board of directors is on the statute books and is clearly a violation of the Olympic Charter, kind of like it is in Italy at the moment.
“All these things are not just going to go away just because it is the U.S.”
The Italian reference is to laws being considered in that country to take control of the Olympic-sport finances away from the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and given to a recently-formed government agency. IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) told reporters last September, “At the beginning of the month we had to write a letter to the minister of sport expressing these serious concerns. With this law CONI is not compliant with the Olympic Charter,” which insists on the autonomy of National Olympic Committees to operate Olympic sport in their countries.
Further in the doping context is the recently-passed Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019, which establishes U.S. criminal penalties for those assisting doping, but which also allows for “extra-territorial jurisidiction,” allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to go after violations of the law taking place anywhere in the world. This is an issue for WADA, which issued a strong statement against this provision after passage in November.
But Pound did not mention this in his comments to Reuters.
The threat against the 2028 Games in Los Angeles is hardly imminent. Said Pound:
“Not so much at this point because the principal effort now is trying to make sure that we find a way to have the Games in Tokyo. But as that picture evolves this kind of thing [about LA28] is going to bubble up to the surface.”
Let’s be clear, the Los Angeles organizers are not only completely innocent in all this, they are little more than bystanders. Pound’s concerns are with the U.S. government on both the WADA dues and Congressional power to vaporize the USOPC Board, as well as the Rodchenkov Act.
Under enormous pressure from the U.S. Congress over the Nassar abuse scandal in gymnastics, the USOPC has been publicly supportive of the “Empowering Olympic” Act, although chief executive Sarah Hirshland sent a letter to the Senate Committee considering the bill in November 2019 that included:
“The USOPC should be the sole entity with authority to terminate NGB recognition in order to eliminate any confusion surrounding NGB accountability. Additionally, the International Olympic Committee has made clear that Congress assuming the power to dissolve the USOPC board would violate the Olympic Charter and endanger our recognition by the IOC as a National Olympic Committee.”
A proposed amendment to remove the offending language was defeated, but the fight may not be over. Pound is nothing if not clever, and his comments – given the timing – may be aimed at the in-formation Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics. Only six members of this group have been named – out of 16 – and its report is due, under the statute, by the end of July 2021! It could recommend a change to the statute, and the power to displace the USOPC Board will only be activated on 30 October 2021.
Naysayers will point out that Pound, now 78, will retire from the IOC at the end of the year in which he turns 80, which is 2022. IOC chief Bach will be re-elected in 2021 – he is running unopposed – and will serve into 2025, at which point it would be too late to do anything about the 2028 Games. However, Bach has shown little tolerance for national governmental breaches of the Olympic Charter, but there are many who believe the U.S. – as the IOC’s key commercial partner – would not be touched.
Unlikely? Yes. Certain? No, especially since the issue could be taken up by the IOC in the fourth quarter of 2021 – post-Tokyo – with, astonishingly, another “safe hands” host city likely available in the Queensland (Australia) 2032 bid, already well advanced and which could possibly be activated for 2028. And penalizing the U.S. with the loss of an Olympic Games would send an in terrorem message to the rest of the Olympic Movement which will be remembered for generations.
As for the IOC’s finances, they would be untouched by the removal of the 2028 Games from Los Angeles to elsewhere, and could open the door for a consolation prize of a Salt Lake City hosting of the 2030 Olympic Winter Games, to be decided in 2022 or 2023.
Shaking your head in disbelief? Don’t; this is the Olympic Movement, where the unbelievable, the unthinkable and the impossible – whether on the field or off – is commonplace.
For our 709-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!