THE BIG PICTURE: 2020 Games postponement confirmed; the back story behind the decision; USOPC asked $200 million for NGBs; more Russian doping

There’s no let-up in the stories – and intrigue – with the Games of the XXXII Olympiad and the decision to postpone to 2021:

● The International Olympic Committee held teleconferences with the 33 International Federations involved in the Tokyo Games, as well as with most of the IOC members on Thursday, confirming the movement of the Games to 2021.

The IOC also released a five-page letter sent by President Thomas Bach (GER) to the membership on Wednesday, which described the sequence of events that led to the agreement with the Tokyo organizers and Japanese government for the Games to be held in 2021.

During the previous call to the IFs about the Games, Bach had proposed – and all agreed – that those athletes already qualified for the 2020 Games would have that status continued for 2021. That’s about 57% of the total of more than 11,000 athletes expected, but some of those spots are not guaranteed to individual athletes, but are quota allocations for countries, which can substitute other individuals to compete in the Games. The remaining 43% are not allocated as yet and will be the subject of either further qualifying events, or decisions by the International Federation on selection procedures from rankings or from prior competitions.

● The venerable e-mail newsletter SportIntern carried a story today (Friday) by David Miller (GBR) with more details on how the decision was reached to postpone the Tokyo Games. Miller, the former long-time Chief Sports Correspondent for the British newspaper The Times, has enjoyed close contacts with the IOC for decades, so when he writes, it’s worth reading.

Miller writes that IOC chief Bach was well aware of the need to move the Games from its 2020 dates – ostensibly by mid-March – but “was being stalled” by those in Japan who hoped the crisis would pass in April. After all, there was not even a national-emergency declaration in Japan as yet.

But a former IOC staff member who is now an “agent” for two IOC sponsors, suggested that the change had to be made and quickly, far faster than the four-week timeframe to be suggested in the IOC’s 22 March news release.

To speed things along, IOC member – and Bach confidant – John Coates (AUS) “negotiated” the declaration of the Australian Olympic Committee that it would not send a team, which also appeared on 22 March, following a no-go statement from Canada. Rather than embarrass the Japanese by a unilateral declaration that the Games must be postponed, senior IOC member Dick Pound of Canada told USA Today on 23 March (last Monday) “On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” to which the IOC’s official response was that this was his opinion only.

According to Miller, these developments then placed enough pressure on the Tokyo organizers and the Japanese government to have both agree to a postponement.

How true is all this? It rings at least partly right, as there are some holes in the timeline, and the aggressive spread of the virus in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere is not mentioned, and clearly was a factor. It paints Bach in a more favorable light, which Miller and his sources would clearly prefer. But it is spot-on that the Japanese organizers and government very much wanted to wait as long as possible to see if the Games could be held as scheduled. But they preferred a postponed Games to no Games at all and agreed with the IOC to go to 2021.

● The Washington Post reported that the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee made an ultimately unsuccessful request to the U.S. Congress for $200 million in stimulus funds for American athletes and U.S. National Governing Bodies suffering from the business interruption caused by the coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal carried a story with a USOPC estimate that the NGBs could see combined losses of up to $800 million from the business effects of the coronavirus and the postponement of the Games. According to USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland:

“We did a survey of (national governing bodies) and asked the NGBs a couple of questions about what the financial implications of Covid-19 would be to them as a result of all the canceled events and things. And the NGBs in turn gave us what I would describe as a back-of-the-napkin assessment. We rolled up that assessment and sent something to Congress saying, ‘This is going to have significant impacts on the NGBs and we would love to be considered in some of the stimulus package or some of the funding support that you’re offering’.”

The stories indicated that of the $200 million requested, $50 million would be for direct payments to athletes who are suffering severe income losses due to event cancellations and the move of the Games to 2021, and $150 million to support the NGBs. The USOPC did not request any money for its own operations.

Veteran commentator Alan Abrahamson sees this request as piercing the USOPC’s self-support narrative, a possibly damaging event with major changes to USOPC and NGB governance still on the table for the Congress in the future. In any case, it didn’t make it into the final relief bill that was signed into law today.

Aquatics ● According to NBC’s Olympic Talk site:

“Cornel Marculescu, FINA’s executive director, said there is no chance of the next worlds being bumped back to 2022.

“‘No, no, no, no, no, no,’ he defiantly told The Associated Press by phone.”

The 2021 World Aquatics Championships are scheduled to be held in Fukuoka, Japan, from 16 July-1 August.

Said Marculescu (ROU), “If they do it in summer, then we (will have to change) the dates. If they do it at the beginning of the year, maybe we don’t need to touch the dates. The only thing we do, we wait to see what is the IOC decision.”

What he didn’t say is that the Japanese government may have its own view about holding an event like the FINA Worlds in 2021, when it is also hosting an Olympic Games.

Athletics ● World Athletics announced the postponement of all of its Wanda Diamond League meets through the end of May. This now includes the 24 May Bauhaus-Galan in Stockholm (SWE), the 26 May Golden Gala in Naples (ITA) and the 31 May meet in Rabat (MAR). The first meet now on the schedule is the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon on 7 June, but that’s subject to the completion of the new Hayward Field, as well as the worldwide coronavirus situation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit lowered the boom on four more Russian doping cases, three of which are based on evidence collected in the McLaren Reports:

Natalya Antyukh (now 38) ~ 2012 Olympic 400 m hurdles champ; bronze in 2004 (last competed in 2016)

Oksana Kondratyeva (34) ~ Fifth in 2013 World Champs hammer (last competed in 2016)

Andrey Silnov (35) ~ 2008 Olympic high jump champ; 2006 European champ (last competed in 2016)

Yelena Soboleva (37) ~ 2006 World Indoor 1,500 m silver (last competed in 2016)

The listings in the AIU’s roster of “Pending First Instance Decisions” did not specify the period of ineligibility or the dates of nullified results; the Russian doping program investigated in the McLaren Reports was from 2011-15. All of these cases will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Ex-Kenyan Albert Rop (BRN), a 2016 Olympian in the 5,000 m, was suspended for two years for whereabouts failures” from 24 September 2019 and nullifying his results from 11 April 2019. His last competition was a 27:31.01 lifetime best in the 10,000 m on 31 August 2019.

More to come, no doubt.