The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:
● Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● Just when it seemed like the Tokyo organizers could take a deep breath and start to re-set their plans for 2021, a lengthy Reuters story re-surfaced questions about how Tokyo was awarded the event back in 2013.
Former International Assn. of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President and International Olympic Committee member Lamine Diack of Senegal is to be tried on bribery, extortion and money-laundering charges in France in June, after a January trial start was delayed due to new information received from a Senegalese court procedure involving his son, Papa Massata Diack.
One of the allegations in Diack’s trial is receipt of more than $2 million just days in advance of the vote on the 2020 Games, suspected to part of a bribery campaign run by Diack and funded by the Japanese bid committee through a consulting contract with a firm in which the younger Diack had an interest.
The Reuters story revealed that Hariyuki Takahashi, a former senior managing director of the Japanese advertising giant Dentsu, was paid $8.2 million by the bid committee for lobbying activities, which included contacts with – and gifts for – Diack. According to the story:
“He said he urged Diack to support the Tokyo bid and denied any impropriety in those dealings. He said it was normal to provide gifts as a way of currying good relations with important officials like Diack. He said there was nothing improper with the payments he received or with the way he used the money.”
Reuters also reported that “The Tokyo bid committee also paid $1.3 million to a little-known non-profit institute run by former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, a powerful figure in Japanese sports and the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee.”
The news agency stated that while the banking records that included these payments were sent to the French investigators, no one has been asked about these payments.
As for Takahashi’s $8.2 million payment, “Nobumoto Higuchi, the secretary general of the bid committee, said Takahashi earned commissions on the corporate sponsorships he collected for the bid. ‘Takahashi has connections,’ Higuchi said. ‘We needed someone who understands the business world.’”
The Tokyo organizers sent a message to its ticket buyers on Wednesday that included:
“The Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 has been postponed as was announced on 24 March 2020, and the new dates for the Games have now been confirmed. In light of this, we would like to state that the tickets that have been already purchased will be valid for the same session on the new date where possible, in accordance with the following policies:
“∙ Your tickets will be refunded if you will not be able to visit the venue on a new date and wish to get a refund.
“∙ In case it is not possible to honour your tickets due to the change in competition schedule or venue, your tickets will be refunded.
“∙ Previously, we planned to deliver the Games tickets in June, but we will reschedule it for a later date.
“*If you have requested a full refund of your tickets for Men’s Marathon and/or Women’s Marathon, we will proceed with your request as we announced earlier.
“The tickets that have been already purchased will be handled in line with the above principles. We will make a further announcement once the details of the Games are decided.
“Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused. We are currently working hard to finalize plans and will provide more information as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
None of this is surprising, considering the organizers can sell any tickets they can get back to the domestic market, which has shown overwhelming demand for the Games. But just days after the Games were postponed, the organizers are already in touch with those who have purchased tickets already; that’s very good.
● Gymnastics ● One of the difficult aspects of the Olympics moving to 2021 is that some athletes were ready to retire after the 2020 Games. That includes superstar Simone Biles.
She told the Associated Press of the change of date, “It’s a letdown. It’s hard to keep looking at that like, ‘We have another year.’
“Well, nothing is really set in stone yet. We’re trying to figure out the right training [regimen] just so mentally and physically we can try and stay on top of our game. We’re just playing it by ear and really just listening to my body. …
“I was just mentally battling my mind and I was so ready and not mentally checked out, but I was ready after three months to be done. That’s a lot to take mentally.”
● Rugby ● On Monday, USA Rugby filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, a move toward a reorganization only partly due to the coronavirus epidemic.
“The current suspension of sanctioned rugby activities caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the existing financial challenges facing the Union, and a reorganization process will now be progressed with input from World Rugby. …
“Given the ongoing financial challenges following a 2019 budgetary overspend, the unplanned loss of income advanced an insurmountable cashflow deficit and immediate action needed to be taken in order to sustain operations within USA Rugby and the rugby community.”
World Rugby is supporting the federation to the tune of $1.09 million (€1 million) plus administrative assistance, according to chief executive Brett Gosper, and the reorganization could conclude in as little as 30 days.
National federations in Australia and England have also reported financial losses and Gosper noted that “The various World Cups, as well as the very interesting financial outlook of the 2023 World Cup in France, put World Rugby in a favorable position. I’m not saying we have unlimited funds, but we can borrow to help federations that are, or will be, in great financial difficulty.”
● Swimming ● Of all the sports dealing with the postponement of the 2020 Games, swimming might be the most impacted.
At the top is what to do about the 2021 World Aquatics Championships, scheduled to be held in Fukuoka (JPN) in the last two weeks of July. That’s in direct conflict with the 2021 Olympic dates.
The obvious choice would be to go to 2022, but there are reports that FINA is also considering moving the event to mid-August of 2021 (or a little later), right after the Games, or to the springtime, to maintain the event in 2021. But – paralleling its objection to holding the Olympics in 2020 – Swim Canada has come out against a 2021 date. According to Swim Canada’s Head of Performance John Atkinson:
“Having the two premier Games and championships staged close together in the same year would create many challenges. From budgets to program planning, to timing, to the risks of athletes being overloaded, there are so many unknowns. As we continue to navigate the uncertainty of this current global situation, we encourage FINA and World Para Swimming to choose 2022 as the best alternative for the world championships.”
Now the German Swimming Federation has declared its preference for 2022 as well. Its performance director, Thomas Kurschilgen told Swimming World Magazine:
“We consider staging two absolute highlights on a global scale in one year as a challenge that [the sport] would struggle to cope with. Beyond the additional stress of peak performance for the athletes, the economic stresses that would be placed on national associations would further strain the federal budget and that needs to be taken into account.
“It is also important to ask whether a World Championships n the Olympic year would have the resonance it normally enjoys.”
The clear answer is that a FINA Worlds held after the Games would be an afterthought.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Sweetenham (AUS) told Swimming World that the Olympic Games need to be the priority:
“The Olympics is the only competition that matters, the rest are pretenders! They should prioritise the Olympics first and foremost as, historically, no-one, but no-one, recognises or remembers any other result or competition.”
He added later in the story:
“Remember, only the Olympics count! Forget FINA or any associated events. Maintain focus; handle distractions; manage emotions; and … instill all advantages in place for the athletes in your care.”
Already deeply impacted by the move of the Olympic Games to 2021 is the International Swimming League, which had promised to expand its post-2020 Games program to 27 meets held from September 2020 through March 2021. That’s clearly not viable now, with swimmers focused on training for Tokyo during much of this time. ISL will need a new strategy to figure out how to work around the Tokyo Games schedule and then the FINA Worlds, whenever it is.
● U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● Almost lost in the hubbub over the movement of the Tokyo Games to 2021 was a modest new set of bylaw amendments proposed by the USOPC Board.
The new language, now available for public review, raises the level of representation for athletes to 33.3% with at least 20% for athletes who have represented the U.S. within the past 10 years and 13.3% (or more) for athletes who represented the U.S. more than 10 years ago.
There are also a large number of technical changes listed, and further changes coming. A third set of revisions is in discussion, which could include raising the athlete representation on National Governing Body boards and committees to 33.3% as well, and more specificity on NGB oversight from the USOPC Board and committees.
● The Last Word ● It’s not all gloom and doom. U.S. Figure Skating reported a major change in the Americans Pairs scene, with Chris Knierim deciding to retire, but his wife Alexa, continuing to compete. The two were three-time U.S. Pairs champs.
Haven Denney and long-time partner Brandon Frazier, the 2017 U.S. champs, decided to split up, and a few days later, Frazier and Alexa Knierim announced that they would skating together going forward.
The story added that everyone is fine with the decisions, and that “The team includes coaches Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, as well as Chris, who will join the pair’s primary coaching team. Chris was present for the tryout, offering both technical advice and more emotional support for his wife and old friend [Brandon].”