THE TICKER: Tokyo spectator decision postponed; A$1 billion for Brisbane ‘32 stadium? USOPC ticket seller sued; IOC now seriously into eSports!

Will there be any fans at Tokyo 2020's Olympic Stadium for the Games? (Photo: Tokyo 2020)

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The question of whether there will be any spectators at the Tokyo Games is being asked again, with the announcement that the decision on the number of spectators to be allowed may be put off until June.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto told reporters on Wednesday (21st) that a “basic policy” regarding spectator capacities is still hoped for by the end of this month, but that a final decision may take some time.

Japan’s incidence of the coronavirus is quite low compared with many other countries, but there is public reluctance to have thousands of Olympic athletes, staff and officials coming into the country this summer.

At Wednesday’s news conference following the IOC Executive Board meeting, President Thomas Bach (GER) reiterated his firm belief that the extensive countermeasures being taken at the Games will make it safe for both the participants and the host country:

“This will be about the creation of different bubbles, this will ensure the direct transport to and from the venues. This will also include the interaction between the [Olympic participants and the public] and, you know, we have seen that this works, that there have been 340 world championships and world cups being organized, with the participation of – cumulatively – far more than 40,000 athletes. And none of these events has been a virus-spreader. And they did not even have the benefit of the vaccines. But there in Tokyo, we will have on top of this, the benefit of the vaccine, and again, we can be very confident that it will be a high number of people being vaccinated.

“And taking all this together, the very strict measures, the reduction of the days of staying in the Village, which will allow to lower the capacity of the Village, which is allowing social distancing much better, the regular testing, these bubbles, and-and-and, all these, and on top, high vaccination rate, I think will really make the Olympic Village a pretty safe place for everybody.”

The Kyodo News Agency reported Wednesday that athletes at the Games will be tested for the virus daily, using saliva tests, in order to stay on top of any potential outbreak.

The test event for track & field, scheduled for 9 May, will be held, but without spectators and possibly with only Japanese athletes.

Comment: Pushing a decision on spectator attendance as far as June – for a Games which will begin on 23 July – is cause for concern. At that late stage, the logistics of ticketing, seating and informing people where they will enter and sit for hundreds of sessions of sports could be overwhelming.

Japan already has significant experience with managing crowds for professional baseball games, so the issue may be more political than logistical. All of this might be a set-up to declare that no spectators will be allowed, a decision which will be welcomed by many Tokyo residents already frayed by worries about the virus.

Wednesday’s announcement of the IOC Athletes’ Commission findings that Games protests during the Opening Ceremony, competitions and on the victory stand are highly unpopular – by 69%, 71% and 67% – in its poll of 3,547 athletes from 185 National Olympic Committees brought the expected rebuke from the so-called “Global Athlete start-up” which included: “We acknowledge that the IOC conducted a survey among athlete groups,” then called the survey flawed and quoted Irish karate athlete Caradh O’Donovan:

“One cannot survey how people feel about human rights and freedom of expression.”

On Thursday, the World Players Association, a Swiss-based “union” which says it represents “85,000 players across professional sport through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countriespromised to provide legal support to any athlete who protests at the Tokyo Games.

Comment: The IOC Athletes’ Commission report and recommendations left the entire question of sanctions up to the IOC Legal Affairs Commission, which is now on the clock to determine possible penalties. But it is clear that the vast majority of athletes don’t want their moment on the field of play, during the Opening Ceremony or on the podium to be hijacked.

It will be fascinating to watch the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee reaction to all of this, as the new Chair of the Athletes Advisory Council is Bree Schaff, 40, a former bobsledder and skeleton racer. According to the announcement of her election, “Schaaf works professionally as the program manager for Global Athlete, a progressive athlete-led startup movement.”

Does that mean the USOPC will adopt the Global Athlete position and thumb its nose at the IOC Athletes’ Commission and the worldwide polling? Worth noting: 53% of U.S. athletes polled were against podium protests, 61% were against protests at the Opening Ceremony and 62% against protests on the field of play. Watch this one closely.

Texas resident Suzanne Caruso filed a class-action complaint on 16 April in U.S. Federal Court against the USOPC Authorized Ticket Reseller, New Jersey-based CoSport, for breach of contract and fraud. The complaint states:

“Plaintiff brings this class action lawsuit on behalf of all people who purchased tickets and accommodations for the Summer Olympics through CoSport, which is the sole entity authorized to sell tickets to the American public. … [and as] the Japanese Olympic Committee recently announced that no international spectators will be allowed to attend. As a result, the Olympic tickets and accommodations purchased by Plaintiff and the putative class through CoSport are worthless.

“Regardless, Defendant CoSport refuses to grant Plaintiff and the class a full refund under its Terms and Conditions. Instead, CoSport only offers a partial refund (75%) IF the customer elects her refund by the eight (8) day deadline and the customer agrees to hold CoSport harmless for retaining the remainder of their refund (25%). This conduct not only constitutes a breach of contract, but it is also unfair and deceptive in violation of the New Jersey [Consumer Fraud Act] and [Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act].”

Caruso purchased a package of tickets, accommodations and meals totaling $16,375, apparently for five days stay at the Games; the complaint cites the terms of the purchase contract, which included:

“If a Customer is actually charged by THE COMPANY for any Product(s) (including but not limited to accommodations, transportation, Tickets or any combination thereof) without their respective order(s) being completed as detailed above, THE COMPANY will refund Customer in full by crediting their respective Account at the earlier of either THE COMPANY detecting the error or Customer notifying THE COMPANY of the error.”

The suit asks for damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and other relief; the case is Caruso vs. Jet Set Sports, LLC d/b/a CoSport, case no. 3:21-cv-9665 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Watch the timing in how this suit progresses, as this is another headache for the USOPC. CoSport is already deep into planning for packages to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing and the Paris 2024 Games are only three years away. A significant judgment against CoSport could leave the USOPC looking for another solution for 2024, and impact what everyone expects to be a bonanza for the Los Angeles Games in 2028.

Games of the XXV Olympiad: 2032 ● Brisbane is the IOC’s preferred target for the 2032 Olympic Games, and despite its pledges to host the event with minimal financial impact, the Queensland Premier is already touting a major renovation of the Brisbane Cricket Ground, known as The Gabba.

Premier Annastacia Palasczuk released a statement on Wednesday noting:

“Every games needs a home. The Gabba has been home to our sport since 1895. A home for the 2032 Olympic Paralympic Games could be its crowning glory.”

The stadium, build in 1895, would be expanded to 50,000 seats for the Games, with a major upgrade to the surrounding area, such as a pedestrian plaza to connect it to the Cross River Rail transit station. The cost? Reported as up to A$1 billion (~$771 million U.S.).

The IOC’s Future Hosts Commission has asked the Brisbane bid group for documentation to be completed this month, with the actual selection of Brisbane for 2032 possible at the IOC Session in Tokyo this summer. Watch to see if there is any pushback against this project – and its cost – beforehand.

XXV Olympic Winter Games: Milan Cortina 2026 ● The IOC’s Coordination Commission praised the Milan Cortina 2026 organizing committee for its work so far, after an online meeting on 19 April.

However, a continuing push for economy by the IOC has met with resistance regarding the historic bobsled & luge track on Cortina, which was built and used at the 1956 Winter Games:

“[T]he Coordination Commission once again expressed its concerns with regard to the legacy of the track. It was pointed out that the IOC had made a number of proposals for alternative tracks, none of which were accepted.

“On the other hand, the Commission took note that the final plans for the venue are not an investment in a sliding track for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games but are part of a wider entertainment park project that is completely unrelated to the Games. The IOC is therefore not in a position to go any further in this discussion, as this is a sovereign decision of the Veneto Region.

“It has been confirmed to the IOC and the Organising Committee that this outlay will not form part of the investment budget for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Milano Cortina 2026. The track will therefore only be used by the Organising Committee for the duration of the Games. Before and after the Games, the venue will be under the sole authority of the region and will not be run by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) or the Milano Cortina 2026 Organising Committee.”

Bach was asked about this during his news conference and explained:

“[T]he region of Veneto will and has decided to build an entertainment park. And one part of this entertainment park will be an installation which will be used – one part only; it’s all over an entertainment park – it will be used in summer for all sorts of sports activities, and then in the winter also for leisure activities, with regard to luge and others.

“This is a sovereign decision of the parliament of the region of Veneto. There, the IOC cannot tell the region of Veneto, ‘you are not allowed to build an entertainment park in your region.’ So then, the question for the Coordination Commission was, what to do? And there, the least-costly alternative, then, was to say, ‘OK, if this is there, then we can use it and can use it on the spot rather than taking the event to another country or to another place. But maintaining there the concerns for the purely sporting legacy of this installation, and this is why it was made very clear that this is not an Olympic project, and this is not a project for the Games but that there the organizing committee will benefit from this overall investment.”

Discussions are continuing about the speed skating oval. Stay tuned.

International Olympic Committee ● “Worldwide Olympic Partner Airbnb, in partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has announced the launch of a new initiative that will provide elite athletes, Olympians and Paralympians with Airbnb accommodation credits.

“Over the next eight years, the Athlete Travel Grants programme will offer up to 500 athletes per year a USD 2,000 Airbnb credit to use for travel-related accommodation costs linked to their sporting careers.” That’s $1 million a year, for eight years.

This is an extension of Airbnb’s “Olympian & Paralympian Online Experiences” program which offers direct-contact programs with athletes – for a modest fee – that began in 2020. Airbnb signed a nine-year TOP sponsorship agreement in 2019.

All of this is another step in direct-athlete support from the IOC, which does not yet include participation honoraria at the Olympic Games or prize money, but which continues to rise over time.

The IOC has been asked once again to take action against Iran, with the UnitedForNavid group posting an appeal after sending a new list of violations of the Olympic Charter by the Iranian government.

Sardar Pashaei, coordinator of the campaign, said “By opening an investigation on athlete abuse in Iran, the IOC will send a strong message that they are first and foremost an athlete-centered organization. The Games cannot go on if athlete rights are not upheld.”

Formed in the aftermath of the imprisonment and then execution of Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in 2020, the organization is lobbying for Iran to be excluded from international sports competitions. Iran has a long history of, among other incidents, requiring its athletes to lose matches in order not to compete directly against Israeli athletes.

The IOC made a major announcement on Thursday (22nd) with the launch of its first eSports venture, the “Olympic Virtual Series.”

This program partners five International Federations – for baseball, cycling, rowing, sailing and auto racing – with game publishers for Olympic-licensed events that mimic physical sports.

This is in line with the IOC’s announced policy to support electronic versions of actual sports and staying away from the often-violent world of competitive gaming. It’s worth noting that two of the five federations included in the first group are for non-core sports of the Olympic Games: baseball (WBSC) and auto racing (FIA), both of which are Recognized International Federations.

Promotional support is promised through the IOC’s Olympic Channel and the statement also noted future interest in joining this program from FIBA (basketball), FIFA (football), ITF (tennis) and World Taekwondo.

Comment: This is an enormous first step for the IOC, but seeing the breadth of sports involved and ready to be involved, it’s not hard to imagine a new concept which does not place eSports as part of the Olympic Games, but in a stand-alone, multi-eSport event as a digitally juiced-up version of the Youth Olympic Games, to hype interest in eSports as a gateway for youth to get involved in enhanced physical fitness.

World Anti-Doping Agency ● The Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations (iNADO) issued a statement on Monday (19th) following its Annual General Meeting, urging the World Anti-Doping Agency to promptly adopt three major reforms:

“(1) The Foundation Board must be representative of a wider group of stakeholders.

“(2) The Executive Committee should be composed of more independent experts.

“(3) An independent monitoring mechanism should be established. For the Foundation Board to conduct this task with credibility, a strict separation of the roles and people between the Foundation Board and Executive Committee should be implemented.”

The call for greater independence in the anti-doping movement sounds fine on the surface, but the details of how such independence also offers accountability has not yet been detailed.

Beach Volleyball ● The first of three FIVB World Tour competitions in a sequestered environment in Cancun, Mexico saw familiar faces on the podium once again.

Norwegian stars Anders Mol and Christian Sorum, the 2018 World Tour Final winners, triumphed in the men’s division, winning their 11th World Tour event together. They defeated Qatar’s Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan, 21-19, 22-20 in the final. Czechs Ondrej Perusic and David Schweiner took the bronze medal.

Brazil dominated the women’s competition, finishing 1-3 in two marathon matches. Taiana Lima and Talita Antunes took the title with a 19-21, 24-22, 15-10 victory over Canada’s reigning World Champions, Saran Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes. Agatha Bednarczuk and Duda Lisboa won the bronze by 37-35, 21-16 over Germany’s Chantal Laboureur and Cinja Tillmann.

The second event started today (Thursday) and will run through next Monday (26th).

Boxing ● The International Boxing Association’s report on its 21 April meeting of the Board of Directors asserted that the organization’s financial problems – with debts of $16 million or more – are behind it:

“A finance report was presented to the Board of Directors, reflecting the financial independence that has been secured through the signing sponsors agreements. A plan for the settlement of AIBA’s outstanding debts was approved as part of this report. …

“‘Before my election, I promised to ensure that AIBA’s debts would be settled through my efforts,’ said President [Umar] Kremlev [RUS]. ‘As the leader of AIBA’s team, I am very proud to welcome a company, Gazprom, that has a track record of prestigious sports sponsorship. This partnership is more than financial and AIBA is grateful that Gazprom will also provide the expertise that comes with its status as a world leader in a vital area of the global economy, together with its and its social responsibility support and participation in social projects.’ Moreover, all National Federations will be provided with annual financial and equipment support. The Board of Directors approved criteria and procedures for this assistance.”

That the sponsorship is ”more than financial” will be of interest to the IOC’s oversight committee, which is considering what to do about the federation, which has been stripped of its responsibility for the 2020 Tokyo Games tournament. As a further indication that AIBA’s problems are not behind it was this:

“The AIBA Board of Directors discussed the previous investigation by AIBA officials into the conduct of those involved with judging and refereeing at the boxing tournament of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. President Kremlev proposed that a fresh investigation be conducted by an Ad Hoc Investigation Committee, this time with independent oversight and involvement.”

Cross Country Skiing ● Estonia’s Andrus Veerpalu, now 50, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from 2002 and 2006, was suspended by the Federation Internationale de Ski for two years for aiding and assisting in the Operation Aderlass blood-doping scandal.

Veerpalu was a coach for Estonia at the time of the 2019 Nordic Skiing World Championships in Seefeld (AUT). Raids by police of athlete accommodations turned up a wide-ranging doping program among several countries, including Estonia. Four other Estonians – three athletes and a coach – have already been suspended, including Veerpalu’s son, Andreas.

Football ● The draw for the Olympic football tournament was held on Wednesday, with the U.S. women getting a tough assignment in Tokyo.

The men’s groups:

A: Japan, South Africa, Mexico, France
B: New Zealand, South Korea, Honduras, Romania
C: Egypt, Spain, Argentina, Australia
D: Brazil, Germany, Cote d’Ivoire, Saudi Arabia

The women’s groups:

E: Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Chile
F: China, Brazil, Zambia, Netherlands
G: United States, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand

The American women will face tough opposition against the Australians and Swedes; the U.S. was fortunate to come out with a 1-1 draw against Sweden on 10 April in Stockholm.

Real Madrid President Florentino Perez said on Thursday that the European Super League “is on standby,” even after nine of the initially-disclosed 12 teams have publicly withdrawn.

He noted, “You cannot get out of the contract like this – they are binding contracts. …

“I’ve been in football for 20 years and I’ve never seen threats like this. It was like we killed someone. It was like we killed football. But we were trying to work out how to save football.”

All six English Premier League teams withdrew after furious reactions from fans about the proposal, along with Athletico Madrid from Spain and AC Milan and Inter Milan from Italy.

The Super League may be dead as planned, but the interest of Europe’s super clubs for more revenue is not going to be ended any time soon.

Ice Hockey ● The coronavirus has struck down the IIHF Women’s World Championship tournament, to be held in Halifax and Truro, Canada from 6-16 May.

The provincial government of Nova Scotia would not allow the event to proceed; the IIHF’s statement noted that “the IIHF and Hockey Canada have pledged to work towards finding new dates for the tournament, with the goal to host the event in the summer of 2021.”

Sailing ● A major issue for World Sailing has developed with the implosion of its proposal for an open-ocean race as part of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

The IOC informed World Sailing that its review of the proposed Mixed Two-Person Offshore Keelboat Event of significant concerns regarding “Field of Play security, scope and complexity, broadcast cost and complexity and World Sailing not having the opportunity to deliver an Offshore World Championship” in this class.

Moreover, World Sailing was requested to offer an alternative event instead. A deadline of 26 May must be met, for consideration at the IOC Executive Board meeting of 8 June. The federation has called for submissions from 10-14 May and a decision by the World Sailing Council on the 14th. Any event submitted must have an equal number of male and female sailors. If not handled deftly, it is possible that sailing’s 10th event at the Games could disappear.

Swimming ● The newest wrinkle in the International Swimming League program is to stock its 10 teams through a draft process, similar to that of the National Football League.

ISL announced that each team will be able to retain 15 swimmers from their 36-person roster from last season, with all others combined in a draft-eligible pool. Fans will be able to vote on one additional swimmer that each team can retain.

Each team will then select, in reverse order of their final standings from last season, 11 swimmers to bring the team total to 27. Teams can then sign their last nine swimmers from the remaining free agents and swimmers not on any team.

The draft is scheduled for the week of 21 June 2021.

Weightlifting ● The International Weightlifting Federation announced a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision to “largely uphold the suspension of the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Federation.

“The suspension followed extensive anti-doping rule violations by Thai weightlifters in 2018. One Thai weightlifter at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games tested positive for exogenous testosterone in October and nine tested positive for exogenous testosterone at the IWF World Weightlifting Championships in November of 2018. Twenty targeted tests conducted at a training camp in October 2018 returned no fewer than fifteen adverse analytical findings.”

The Thai federation was suspended for three years through 1 April 2023, no Thai lifters can participate in Tokyo 2020, but junior lifters are allow to compete in IWF events after a five-month moratorium and others after an 11-month moratorium that ends on 18 June 2021. The Thai federation was also fined $200,000 and ordered to pay $6,000 in court costs.

It’s another doping story for the IWF which it does not need, but does clear the air regarding Thailand, which was heavily embarrassed by the ARD documentary on the sport aired in 2019.

The Last Word ● An 459-lot auction of Olympic memorabilia is underway online, headlined by a solid-gold participation medal from the 1912 Stockholm Games, with a floor bid of $300,000.

The auction closes on Saturday and includes medals from 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920, 1924 Winter, 1932, 1932 Winter, 1936 Winter, 1952 Winter, 1956 Equestrian, 1956 Winter, 1960 Winter, 1968 Winter, 1972 Winter, 1980 Winter, 1984, 1984 Winter, 1988, 1992 Winter, 2004, 2006 Winter, and the 2014 Winter Games.

Olympic torches include 1936 ($5,000 minimum), 1952 Winter ($70,000 minimum), 1964 ($12,000 minimum), 1968 ($2,400 minimum), 1972 ($2,000 minimum), 1972 Winter ($28,000 minimum), 1976 ($2,600 minimum), 1980 ($2,800 minimum), 1984 Winter ($4,500 minimum), 1988 Winter ($30,000 minimum), 1988 ($6,000 minimum), 1992 ($5,000 minimum), 1994 Winter ($22,000 minimum), 1996 ($2,400 minimum), 1998 Winter ($6,000 minimum), 2000 ($3,500 minimum), 2002 Winter ($2,800 minimum), 2004 ($2,800 minimum), 2006 Winter ($1,800 minimum), 2008 ($5,500 minimum), 2010 Winter ($1,800 minimum), 2012 ($5,000 current bid), 2014 Winter ($2,800 minimum), Rio ($3,500 minimum) and even Tokyo 2020 ($12,000 minimum)!

And there is a lot more. Bidding ends on Saturday (24th).

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