/It’s a pleasure to present this guest column by one of the most knowledgeable observers of the Olympic Movement, Britain’s David Miller. For more than 50 years, the former English footballer has covered the Olympic Games and the sports within it, including 15 years as the Chief Sports Correspondent of The Times of London, with stints at the Daily Express and the Daily Telegraph. Author of books on athletics, football and the Olympics, he was Official Historian of the IOC from 1997-2018. His opinions are, of course, his own alone./
The renewed aspiration of the International Olympic Committee for maintaining ‘universality’ with ideological integration at the Paris Olympic Games 2024 – embracing drug-free athletes from Russia and Belarus uninvolved in Ukraine atrocities – could be spectacularly counter-productive. Evidence is accumulating that IOC imagined ethics will become not peaceful leadership but fatal cancer of Paris’s long-awaited third Games next year.
Aware that not only much of NATO – Ukraine themselves anxious candidates – but indeed world equilibrium is under threat from Putin’s demonic empire lust, Western nations are known to be considering a boycott of Paris rather than competing against an alien state. Fourteen effective neighbours of Ukraine were among the top 45 medal-winning nations at Tokyo’s suspended Summer Games of 2021. Their absence from Paris would be catastrophic: winners of a third of 900 medals at Tokyo.
“The plan to devise acceptable conditions for inclusion of Russian athletes is far too early, Ukraine’s allies indeed all of Europe, is wholly justified in their concern,” affirmed Gerhard Heiberg, veteran retired Norwegian IOC Member and industrialist who masterminded Lillehammer’s Winter Games of 1994; subsequently IOC financial director.
“More information is needed on Putin and his military leaders, still formidably aggressive. It is much too soon for leaders of the Olympic Council of Asia to be investigating possible loopholes for Russian integration. Yes, neighbours of Ukraine may well resort to boycott. The West should lie low for the moment and not venture in this false direction. Putin is obsessed with sporting triumph that Russia’s exclusion from Paris might force his hand in concluding rampant terrorism.”
The purported ‘Olympic Summit’ called by President Bach, on the contrived initiative by the Olympic Council of Asia to extend ‘investigation’ of IOC’s bureaucratic yet morally fraught compromise would make founder Pierre de Coubertin of France wince in his grave. Norway has conspicuously been the contemporary ethical flag of Olympism, seeking financial rationality of any Games, yet sadly self-destructed – through internal political confusion – when being the outstanding bid for the Winter Games of 2022, thereby opening the door for Beijing’s technically excellent but socially corrupt Chinese festival.
Alarm in Paris is on full alert. Alain Lunzenfichter, doyen Olympic commentator for French sports daily L’Equipe, is shrill in his condemnation. “The IOC’s attitude is not intellectual… it’s crazy, this plan would kill the Paris Games. Our ambition could instead become not the Olympic Games, but The War Games. The Olympics do not need Russia, not when we consider the horrors in Ukraine.” Lunzenfichter speaks for de Coubertin.
European wisdom is uniform. For the moment, Tony Estanguet, multiple canoe Olympic champion and maitre’d of the Paris 2024 festival, is holding his tongue, awaiting IOC reconsideration. Craig Reedie, chairman of the British Olympic Association for London’s third Games in 2012 – when Russia was hell bent on drug abuse – subsequently became head of World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA’s prolonged pursuit of Russia’s doping evils, added his disapproval for IOC ‘sanitation’, shortly before leaving for his winter retirement golfing holiday in California. “[President] Thomas [Bach] is well aware of my view on what is not a wise direction.” Several months ago, fellow IOC senior retiree from Canada, Dick Pound, emphasised this principle: that illegal nations are unwelcome. Thomas Bach’s initiatives for fundamental revision of the host city election process and introduction of new sports has been overdue and welcome: not so liaison with gangsters.
Following the World Wars, Germany and Austria were suspended from Antwerp’s Olympics of 1920, likewise Germany and Japan from London ’48. The symbol of Greece’s ancient wartime truce during a Games was admirable in an era of spears, not now with exploding drones and missiles. Beijing ’22, with Ukraine’s invasion imminent, exposed Putin as a lying criminal… hardly someone we need as an honourable sporting companion. One International Federation remains entrenched: World Athletics, led by Britain’s Sebastian Coe, rootedly excludes Russia/Belarus from any competition.
/David Miller’s biographical account of Thomas Bach’s presidency, ‘Igniting the Games’ is available from Pitch Publishing, £12.99/