Key status updates on the urgent stories in Olympic sport:
≡ SPOTLIGHT ≡
On Tuesday, the Chinese organizers of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games in Beijing and surrounding areas put all visitors to the Games – athletes included – on notice:
“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected and anything and any behaviour or speeches that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”
That was from Beijing 2022’s Shu Yang, Deputy Director General of the organizing committee’s International Relations Department, speaking from China during an online news conference organized by the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.
This warning is far more strict than the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for “athlete expression,” which allows for unfettered comments outside of the field of play and the official ceremonies of any Olympic Games.
Yang’s comments came some hours after a Human Rights Watch online seminar about the potential dangers of the Beijing Games, with U.S. cross-country skier and 2018 Olympian Noah Hoffman commenting:
● “Athletes have an amazing platform and ability to speak out, to be leaders in society and yet the team is not letting them field questions on certain issues ahead of these Games. But my advice to athletes is to stay silent because it would threaten their own safety and that’s not a reasonable ask of athletes. They can speak out when they get back.”
● “I feel fear for my teammates going to China, I know my teammates are being shielded about questions on these issues for their own safety. We should never have to protect athletes from speaking out about issues that they think are really important. My hope for athletes there is that they stay silent because they are not only going to be prosecuted by the Chinese authorities, but they could also be punished by the IOC.”
Further questions concerning security were raised concerning the MY2022 mobile phone application to be used by virtually everyone involved in the Games. The Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto, issued a security review of the app on Tuesday, which included:
● “MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.”
● “MY2022 includes features that allow users to report ‘politically sensitive’ content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.”
The IOC responded to the review; its statement significantly noted the limitations which a user can place on the app:
“The user is in control over what the ‘My2022’ app can access on their device. They can change the settings already while installing the app or at any point afterwards. The app has received approval of the Google Play store (Android/HarmonyOS) and the App Store (iOS) too and is available for download. It is not compulsory to install ‘My 2022′ on cell phones, as accredited personnel can log on to the health monitoring system on the web page instead.
“The IOC has conducted independent third-party assessments on the application from two cyber-security testing organizations. These reports confirmed that there are no critical vulnerabilities.
“However, please note that many of the ‘My2022’ app features are used for local Beijing 2022 workforce for time-keeping, task management and instant messaging, hence the app is not only for international users.
“We have requested the report of Citizen Labs to understand their concerns better.”
As U.S. luge Olympian Tucker West noted dryly, “It’s not my job to decide where the Olympics are. So I’m going to show up to Beijing.”
The XXIV Olympic Winter Games will conclude in 32 days.
≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● A Wednesday online news conference from Beijing highlighted the press and photo operations and broadcast preparations for the Games. The explosion of not only digital, but multiple forms of video broadcasting, has tasked the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) with an enormous task. Yiannis Exarchos (GRE), the enthusiastic OBS chief executive explained:
“The total volume of production that we will be doing as OBS will be, here, probably close to 6,000 hours. The total length of the competition of the Winter Games is something short of 1,000 hours. That gives you an idea of the emphasis that we place producing different types of content that are to be consumed today primarily on digital.
“And this, I would say, is every type of content, and every type of length that you can imagine, because different formats, different platforms, have different preferences: from extremely short snippets to longer storytelling and so on.
“The interesting thing with the Olympics which puts a lot of pressure on us – but it’s a great pressure for a TV producer – is that in the Olympics, content is being produced and consumed massively on every possible format. So you have very long watching of people still on linear television; live sports and especially the Olympics is probably the last bastion of traditional linear television. It’s an experience that even young people, even people who normally do not own big TV sets, really enjoy watching on larger screens because of the nature of the event.
“At the same time now, there’s also very, very big consumption on mobile phones, on shorter forms, on interactive forms, on [virtual reality] and so on. So it’s not truly a choice that we have to make for the Olympics, whether we go only digital, or whether we produce only short-form or whether it’s only highlights or it’s only fun stuff, we have to do all of that.”
He also noted that all of the Games will be covered in High Dynamic Range and some of the “main events” will be produced in the “8K” super-high-definition format.
Some 2,800 writers, photographers and technicians are expected to cover the Games, and perhaps up to 10,000 broadcast staff, including OBS. Exarchos said that close to 2,000 people are already working on the ground in Beijing on the broadcast side, of which 1,200 are from the OBS team and about 800 from the rights-holding broadcasters of various countries.
The IOC issued a statement on Wednesday in reply to U.S. Congressional inquiries about the source of materials for the apparel provided to IOC staff from Chinese suppliers for the Beijing Winter Games. It included:
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) conducted third-party due diligence on suppliers that produced its own branded products for the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. This work, which started in September 2021 and is aligned with the IOC’s Supplier Code, did not find any forced, bonded, indentured or child labour.”
A specific question had been asked about cotton for the apparel possibly being produced in the Xinjiang Province, home to the oppressed Uyghur Muslin population; the IOC’s note stated that the cotton used was not from China at all.
Korea’s twice Olympic Short Track relay gold medalist Suk-hee Shim will not compete in Beijing, after the Seoul Eastern District Court rejected her appeal to lift a two-month ban imposed in December by the Korea Skating Union.
Shim was suspended for text messages sent during the 2018 Winter Games indicating she might have been considering trying to crash during a race to help a teammate, as well as disparaging remarks about other athletes and coaches.
She was suspended from the national team last October and did not appear on the ISU World Cup circuit this season.
● Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● Reuters reported that the U.S. government “is reviewing [Chinese] e-commerce giant Alibaba’s cloud business to determine whether it poses a risk to U.S. national security.” The concern includes the security of personal information and intellectual property.
This is an Olympic-related issue not simply because Alibaba is an IOC TOP partner through 2028, but because it has deployed its enormous cloud-computing assets to assist OBS in the distribution of Games broadcasts to rights-holders in their own countries in essentially real time. This is expected to be a very significant part of the 2028 Games broadcasting infrastructure.
The “Olympic Cloud” program debuted in Tokyo and was considered a success. French authorities are already concerned about Alibaba’s cloud security for the Paris 2024 Games; look for much more scrutiny of these issues once the Beijing Games are concluded.
The Covid pandemic and high infection rates due to the Omicron variant have led to the cancellation of the World Beach Ultimate Championships scheduled for 2-9 April in Huntington Beach, California.
The World Flying Disc Federation had hoped that the tournament would be a showcase for the sport right in the backyard of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic organizers; the WFDF is lobbying to be included as an added sport for 2028. Flying Disc will be part of the 2022 World Games to be held this summer in Birmingham, Alabama.
The federation indicated that 100% of all players fees will be refunded and “a very high percentage of the team fees back to all teams that had previously committed.”
● International Olympic Committee ● The business of international sports is pretty big in Switzerland, according to a study released Tuesday from the International Academy for Sports Science and Technology (AISTS).
In the third study of international sports organizations “that had a physical presence in Switzerland” from 2014-19, the 53 entities had an average annual economic impact of CHF 1.68 billion (~$1.84 billion U.S.), with CHF 550 million (~$600.8 million) for the Lausanne region alone. Employment by these 53 organizations totaled 3,343 people, up 49% over the 2014 total.
An important element of the impact of this activity was CHF 1.10 billion (~$1.2 billion U.S.) in direct spending by the 53 organizations and their visitors.
● U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act describes the responsibilities of national governing bodies for individual sports in the U.S., but does not require that the USOPC designate an NGB for every sport (36 U.S.C. §220521).
So, although unusual, the USOPC and USA Surfing issued a statement this week including:
“The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and USA Surfing have mutually agreed that USA Surfing will no longer serve as the national governing body for the sport of surfing.
“Collectively the organizations believe USA Surfing can best serve the sport by focusing on growth opportunity and youth talent development.
“The USOPC will assume management of the Olympic High Performance Program for surfing, with the financial and operational support for elite athletes remaining the same. The USOPC is proud of Team USA surfing athletes and looks forward to supporting them in the lead up to Paris 2024.”
USA Surfing announced last week that chief executive Greg Cruse will leave the organization and that Brandon Lowery, the head of the Global Action Sports Foundation, will become its chief executive.
Lowery was deeply involved in the 2021 pre-Olympic training camp for Olympic surfers, skaters and snowboarders to better prepare them for the Games experience. He will focus on youth development and the Toyota USA Surfing Prime Series, as well as the continuing progress of the World Champion U.S. Para-Surfing squad.
But at least for now, the preparation for Paris is in the hands of the USOPC in Colorado Springs.
● Football ● FIFA announced the opening of the ticket application process for November’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Fans can buy up to six tickets per match and up to 60 tickets throughout the tournament. Decisions on ticket applications will be made by 8 March.
ESPN reported that ticket pricing is all over the place, with three categories of international-sale tickets and a fourth category for Qatar residents. The least expensive tickets run $220-165-69-11 for categories 1-2-3-4 for many group-stage matches.
The most expensive, of course, as for the championship match, at $1,607-1,003-604 and $206 for local fans.
● Modern Pentathlon ● The New 5th Discipline Working Group met online on 13 January with what the UIPM characterized as a “a hugely productive first meeting.”
No details were provided, of course, other than that Britain’s 2018 World Champion James Cooke made a well-received proposal, a timeline was adopted and that an in-person meeting will be scheduled for April.
● Swimming ● “[T]he repeated failure of the Mexican Swimming Federation to comply with FINA’s good governance standards” has caused the international federation to create a Stabilization Committee to oversee the Mexican federation.
Effective immediately, “the Stabilization Committee will ensure that the Mexican Swimming Federation adheres to the highest standards of good governance and transparency.”
Observed: This is another in a series of reform steps for FINA, which for decades had been accused of lax oversight of multiple aspects of its operations. The hire of anti-doping lawyer Brent Nowicki (USA) as federation chief executive was a surprise to long-time FINA observers; now, it is putting pressure on a significant national federation to adhere to the conduct standards that FINA is requiring. What next?
● Weightlifting ● The International Testing Agency reported two more Russian doping positives from 2012 from its re-testing program.
Aslan Bideev (94 kg) and Andrey Kozlov (+105 kg) had their samples test negative at the 2012 European Championships in Turkey, but the re-analysis showed steroid use. “The athletes have been informed of the cases and have been provisionally suspended until the resolution of the matter.”
Bideev won the silver medal at 94 kg, while Kozlov was third in the Clean & Jerk portion of the +105 kg event. Both are retired from competition.
≡ SCOREBOARD ≡
● Athletics ● While the headlines from last weekend were the American Records in the women’s half-marathon (by Sara Hall), women’s marathon (Keira D’Amato) and 35 km walk (Miranda Melville), indoor action has already started in earnest, with some noteworthy results.
The 2019 World Champion in the men’s 100 m, American Christian Coleman, re-appeared on a track for the first time since early 2020 in a meet in Lexington, Kentucky in the 300 m. Running on an oversized track, Coleman was second in 33.20.
At the Clemson Invitational in South Carolina, Jacory Patterson of Florida set a Collegiate Record of 31.99 in the 300 m, moving to no. 7 on the all-time list. At the same meet, Georgia sprinter Matthew Boling won the 200 m in 20.49 and scored a lifetime best 8.25 m (27-0 3/4) win in the long jump, both world-leading marks in the early season.
Texas Tech frosh Terrence Jones of The Bahamas won the Corky Classic men’s 60 m in Lubbock, Texas in 6.45, equaling the collegiate mark held by Leonard Myles-Mills (BYU) from 1999 and Coleman (Tennessee) from 2017.
≡ THE LAST WORD ≡
The Commonwealth Games Foundation has had a terrible time trying to find a site for the 2026 Commonwealth Games, but may have a possible savior in the state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne.
Reports indicate that the CGF approached Victoria about 2026, after local cities had already begun organizing a bid for the 2030 Commonwealth Games. Melbourne hosted the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympic Games.
Former Victoria Sports Minister Justin Madden said during a radio interview that the 2006 effort might have cost A$1 billion, but “it also generated probably twice as much as that.
“It allows you to invest heavily in new infrastructure that might be needed. It sort of brings forward some expenditure and you get to do it all at once.”
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