THE TICKER: Coronavirus kills FIS Alpine finals; Russian athletics finally contrite; more Nassar abuse tug-of-war

Kenyan women's Flyweight boxer Christine Ongare, who "punched her ticket" to Tokyo with a third-place finish at the African qualifiers (Photo: IOC)

The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:

Alpine Skiing ● The coronavirus danger in Italy has cancelled the FIS Alpine World Cup Finals. The Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) announced today (Friday) that “The recommendation of the FIS Council was made during an emergency conference call where the latest information and recommendations from the Italian, International and National Health Authorities of participating nations were presented. The main issue that steered the recommendation of the Council affecting the organisation of the Finals in Cortina was the travel restrictions imposed by an increasing number of National Authorities, which would have likely limited the participation of several athletes.”

This means the men’s World Cup schedule is down to two events, in Kvitfjell (NOR) this weekend (Downhill, Super-G) and Kranjska Gora in Slovenia on 14-15 March (Giant Slalom, Slalom). The women’s World Cup has only one event remaining, in Are (SWE) on 12-13-14 March (Parallel Slalom, Giant Slalom, Slalom).

The women’s Downhill and Super-G seasons are thus completed, with Corinne Suter (SUI) winning the Downhill over Czech star Ester Ledecka and overall leader Federica Brignone, 477-322-320. Suter also won the Super-G over Brignone, 360-341, with Nicole Schmidhofer (AUT, 217) third.

Brignone leads the overall standings, 1,378-1,225-1,189 over Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. and Petra Vlhova, but with three races left, the race is still up for grabs. Shiffrin announced on Instagram that she will race in Are, but wrote “I have no promises if I’ll actually be able to race when the time comes, and I don’t really even have goals. I just hope to make a few good turns. I think that would make my dad happy.”

The men’s World Cup chase is tight, with France’s Alexis Pinturault leading Norwegians Alexsander Aamodt Kilde and Henrik Kristoffersen, 1,148-1,122-1,041.

Athletics ● World Athletics postponed its World Half Marathon Championships, scheduled for 29 March in Gdynia (POL) to 17 October in light of the coronavirus.

An important break in behavior was noted in the continuing suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation. On Monday (2 March), the newly-elected head of RusAF, Yevgeny Yurchenko, admitted that the federation has submitted false paperwork to try and preserve the eligibility of 2018 World Indoor Championships high jump gold medalist Danil Lysenko for “whereabouts” reporting failures in 2018.

The Associated Press reported Yurchenko’s comments, including “’I have fully accepted the charges’” against the federation “’related to the actions of the previous leadership in the Lysenko case.’

“Yurchenko said the federation apologizes for its conduct.

“‘I very much hope that, even belatedly, our actions make it possible to remove from the agenda the matter of expelling RusAF from World Athletics, and will make it possible to start the procedure of reinstating RusAF in World Athletics as a full member, and also to resume the process of issuing neutral status to our athletes.’‘

Yurchenko said on Wednesday that “I am planning soon to send to international member federations of World Athletics official letters in a bid to present them a new stance of RusAF’s new administration over the recent developments in the Russian track and field athletics in order to establish a trustworthy and constructive dialogue.”

There are significant additional issues beyond the Lysenko case that will have to be dealt with, but this is a change in tone from Russia, notably since the appointment of FISU head Oleg Matytsin as sports minister in February.

There was some serious business at the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), which announced a long-expected four-year ban on 2016 Olympic Champion and former world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain (formerly of Kenya).

She tested positive for erythropoietin (r-EPO) in an out-of-competition sample on 1 December 2017. She contended that she did not ingest any prohibited substance with any intention to dope, but the Disciplinary Tribunal found that Jebet did so and confirmed a four-year suspension as of 4 February 2018.

This immediately lit a fire on social networks, especially from Rio Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn of the U.S., on Twitter:

“1/The Olympic Gold Medalist is now serving a 4 year ban for using EPO. I won Bronze that day. She tested positive in 2017 so Rio results still stand. Sometimes if a performance seems too good to be true, it is. My Bronze will shine brighter than her Gold.

“2/In the 18 months prior to her positive EPO test, Ruth Jebet cost me $100,000 in bonuses & prize money. In the 18 months prior to her positive EPO test, she set the WR twice, won Olympic Gold & was 5th at Worlds 2107 [sic].

“3/I’m not bitter, I am not broken by this, but I wanted to show the real financial consequences that clean athletes face when its not a level playing field.”

Other commenters noted that Jebet ran 9:15.40 for the Steeple in 2015, then exploded for a world record of 8:52.78 in 2016 and the Olympic gold medal.

The AIU also announced a suspension of Kenyan marathoner (2:10:19 ‘19) Peter Kwemoi for the use of EPO, based on an in-competition test in November of 2019. He is suspended, subject to appeal, for four years from 17 December 2019.

Finally, the AIU published its annual classification of national track & field federations according to their “obligations” under the World Anti-Doping Code. The list of category “A” federations considered most susceptible to doping violations was enlarged from five to seven, with the addition of Morocco and Nigeria. The existing five federations already included are Bahrain, Belarus, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ukraine.

Category B includes 15 federations, among them the U.S. and Canada and most of the larger European countries. Category C includes the 155 others that are part of World Athletics.

Baseball ● An agreement between the World Baseball Softball Confederation, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association announced on Tuesday (3rd) will allow all players not on the active, 26-man rosters to compete in both the Olympic qualifying tournaments and in the Olympic Games this summer in Tokyo.

Previously, the entire 40-man rosters had been off-limits to Olympic play. The Americas qualifier comes up from 22-26 March in Arizona and the final qualifier is in June in Chinese Taipei. This is not the same as having Major League players in the Olympic Games, but it is a significant step closer and will increase the talent level in the qualifiers and at the Games.

Boxing ● An International Olympic Committee task force is overseeing the regional qualification tournaments in boxing for the 2020 Tokyo Games and someone had a really fun idea.

The oft-used phrase of an athlete or team “punching their ticket” in qualifying for an event was taken literally at the African Qualifying Tournament in Dakar (SEN). There, the top three finishers (in most weights) qualified for Tokyo, including Kenyan women’s flyweight bronze medalist Christine Ongare (pictured above).

After winning her third-place bout, she was indeed presented with a “ticket” stating “You have qualified for Tokyo 2020.” That’s one of the best tickets anyone can hope to receive!

Cycling ● The coronavirus is shredding the worldwide cycling calendar, just as the European season gets underway.

The spread of the disease in Italy has led to the postponement, possibly until October, of major races including the Strade Bianche (Siena) scheduled for this weekend, as well as the seven-stage Tirreno-Adriatico (11-17 March) and the famed Milan-SanRemo (21 March).

The 78th edition of Paris-Nice from 8-15 March is expected to be held as planned, but future events in Italy – which has been hit hard by the virus – will be scrutinized. The first of the annual Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia, is not until 9 May.

Football ● The SheBelieves Cup started on Thursday in Orlando, Florida, with Spain defeating Japan, 3-1, and the U.S. earning a 2-0 win over England.

The no. 1-ranked American women created the most chances in the first half, but neither side could score. From the start of the second half, the U.S. kept the pressure on and Christen Press scored in the 53rd minute to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead off an assist from Carli Lloyd. Continued pressure led to a Lloyd goal just two minutes later, off a cross to the mouth of the goal by Lindsey Horan. The English mounted multiple attacks in the final half-hour, but were unable to convert; the American women outshot the English, 22-8 for the game.

The U.S. and Spain will meet on Sunday in Harrison, New Jersey at 5 p.m. Eastern time and telecast on ESPN, and TUDN in Spanish. Spain gave the U.S. its toughest game at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, with the Americans winning, 2-1, in the Round of 16 thanks to two penalty kicks by Megan Rapinoe.

The third matches will be played on Wednesday, 11 March in Frisco, Texas (8 p.m. Eastern) with the U.S. playing Japan and England facing Spain.

Gymnastics ● The Nassar-abuse legal proceedings in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana have continued to heat up. A very well-coordinated series of public appearances and tweets by Survivors Committee member Aly Raisman pounded the proposed USA Gymnastics reorganization plan as inadequate, complaining vociferously that it did not address her questions about the entire issues:

“How’d it begin? WE DON’T KNOW! Who looked away? WE DON’T KNOW! Why’d they stay? WE DON’T KNOW! Who tried 2 help & got pushed out? WE DON’T KNOW! Who didn’t try & just snuck out? WE DON’T KNOW! They come, they go. What did they know? Where’d they go? WE DON’T KNOW! WE DON’T KNOW!”

Scott Reid of the Orange County Register wrote in a 4 March story that “Attorneys for 512 of the 517 survivors who said they were sexually abused by former U.S. Olympic and women’s national team physician Larry Nassar and other USOPC and USA Gymnastics national team coaches and officials told [Southern California News Group] this week that none of their clients would vote to accept the proposed settlement.”

That was, however, hardly the last word on the subject. Two more filings were made with the Bankruptcy Court on Friday. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee filed a statement to “correct errors and misstatements” in the Survivors Committee request. USA Gymnastics objected to the appointment of a financial advisor for the Survivors Committee to evaluate how much money could be taken from the USOPC and still allow it to operate.

The USAG motion noted Reid’s article and others like it, and stated that:

“In light of the recent public statements by counsel representing nearly half of the sexual abuse claimants, as well as by Committee members themselves, that the Plan’s Settlement Election is unacceptable and should be rejected, it makes little sense for the Committee to spend estate resources evaluating third-party releases that exist only under the Settlement Election.”

A footnote added that “Collectively, two firms represent at least 256 of the 517 sexual abuse claimants (excluding sexual abuse claims that are duplicative, withdrawn, disallowed, or subject to pending objection).”

The next step is a hearing on Monday concerning the proposed reorganization plan from USA Gymnastics. Stay tuned.

Weightlifting ● The International Weightlifting Federation postponed the 2020 Asian Championships, to have been held in Tashkent (UZB) from 16-25 April and canceled the 2020 World Junior Championships in Bucharest (ROU) from 13-21 March.

In the meantime, the independent inquiry into the corruption allegations made in an ARD television (GER) documentary by the Canada-based McLaren Global Sport Solutions has opened a Web site for whistleblower reporting, with communications support for 108 languages.

The first progress report to the IWF Council on the investigation is expected later this month.

The Last Word Michael Payne was the IOC’s marketing chief for 17 years and knows a whole lot about companies and why they commit to sponsorships. He was bemused by a stunning 4 March tweet from the IOC’s Athlete365 account:

“Do you need help securing a sponsor? Look no further for expert advice

“1. Understand why companies sponsor
“2. Prepare by building an audience
“3. Decide what kind of sponsorship you want
“4. Figure out who to contact
“5. Make contact

“Learn more:”

His reply, firmly tongue-in-cheek:

“Now we see how IOC sells TOP programme. Real simple.”

As anyone who has sold sponsorships can tell you, there is nothing easy or simple about it. The IOC’s Athlete365 group should know better, much better.