THE TICKER: WTA rocks world sport with suspension of China tournaments; new track coming to the L.A. Coliseum; pentathletes claim Congress victory?

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, to get an asphalt, 440-yard track for February's NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum (Photo: USC Athletics/John McGillen)

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


“I very much regret it has come to this point. The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality and success. However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”

That’s from World Tennis Association chief Steve Simon (USA) on Wednesday (1st) in an announcement on behalf of the women’s tour, which also included:

“[W]ith the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”

Chinese venues, including Hong Kong, hosted nine tournaments in pre-pandemic 2019 and the season-ending WTA Finals are contracted to be held for the rest of this decade in Shenzhen.

Simon’s message doubled down on not just Peng’s current environment, but on her accusation of sexual abuse by a former Vice Premier of the regime:

“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”

For its part, China’s foreign ministry skipped any direct response with spokesman Wang Wenbin replying “We are firmly opposed to acts politicising sport,” to a question from reporters.

The International Olympic Committee issued a detailed statement replying in part to the WTA’s strong tactical stance, which included:

“[J]ust yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with [Peng]. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.

“There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations. We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.”

Observed: Although they seem connected, Peng’s situation is not directly tied to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, which will come and go in 80 days. The issue is more broadly involved with how international sports organizations deal with China so long as Peng (1) remains in China and (2) what happens to her abuse accusations. Every sports organization of any size has important relations with China as a major worldwide market.

Watch closely for future allocations of major events: who will go to China now? And if so, what will be the response of their athletes, especially women?


● XXIV Olympic Winter Games ● China’s national figure skating championships have been postponed, a possible sign of increased difficulty for the Winter Games.

Scheduled for next week in Chengde, about 125 miles northeast of Beijing, the pandemic has imploded the event with just more than a couple of months to go to the Winter Games.

Another sign of difficulty: no ticket sales have been arranged for the Games; one alternative for the Chinese government would be to open events only to selected audiences of its choosing.

● Games of the XXXIV Olympiad: Los Angeles 2028 ● The Olympic running track at the Los Angeles Coliseum was removed in 1993 and the field lowered to bring seating closer to the football field at the behest of the since-moved-on Los Angeles Raiders of the NFL.

For the first time since then, a quarter-mile track will be installed in the Coliseum – slated to be the home of track & field at the 2028 Olympic Games – for the annual season-opening NASCAR exhibition, to be called the “Clash at the Coliseum.”

This non-points event will be held outside of Daytona Beach, Florida for the first time on 6 February 2022, and a temporary asphalt track will be installed beginning later this month. According to Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s senior vice president of strategy and innovation:

“[S]eries officials have considered two or three configurations for the quarter-mile bullring, with iRacing computer simulations helping to determine the track’s real-life profile. Simulated trials have taken place with 5 degrees, 2.5 degrees and no banking in the turns, [Kennedy] says. ‘You can only go so high, just because of the sight lines and the temporary construction, but we’ve played with a few different ones,’ … ‘We’ll have more at a later date on that.’”

The 2028 Olympic track will use polyurethane instead of asphalt and will have no banking, but the installation and removal exercise will be of great interest as an engineering feat well in advance of the temporary Olympic track installation for LA28.

● Games of the XXXVII Olympiad: 2040 ● International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach (GER) said in an interview that he hopes that an African city will come forward as a serious contender for the 2040 Games.

“In my mandate, it was not possible to organize the Games in that continent. Or allocate them to it.

“I hope very much that for 2040 an African country will enter into dialogue with the International Olympic Committee to organize the Olympic Games.

“It’s really important to see the Games in Africa and the ball at moment is in the court of the African countries.”

● Archery ● Does archery suddenly pay?

World Archery announced that its five-stage 2022 World Cup that begins in April will pay out total prize money of CHF 323,600, with CHF 30,400 at each stage and CHF 202,000 at the World Cup Final in September. (1 CHF = $1.09 U.S.)

That’s up about 220% from 2019, and while archery is not going to rival any of the larger sports in terms of athlete prizes, this is another welcome sign from one of the most active and aggressive of all international federations.

● Athletics ● The World Athletics Council met in Monaco and agreed to the number of Authorized Neutral Athletes from Russia able to compete at 2022 World Athletics championship events to 20.

This is not a per-event total, but a total of 20 athletes across six events in 2022, including the 2022 World Indoor Championships (March), the World Championships (July) and the European Championships (August). The limit for the Tokyo Olympic Games had been 10 for that event alone.

Rune Andersen (NOR), the chair of the Russia Task Force, said in a report “the view of the Taskforce is one of guarded optimism. RusAF is making steady progress towards meeting the conditions set for its reinstatement to membership of World Athletics.”

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony announced on Wednesday (1st) that he will not stand in the way of the 2023 World Athletics Championships.

Karacsony had threatened to disallow the event to be held in view of the national government’s transfer of land from a proposed “Student City” to a Hungarian campus for China’s Fudan University, to be built with Chinese funds.

The mayor had demanded that healthcare payments from the national government be made and that the Student City project go ahead (and not the Fudan campus). Both apparently have been agreed to; while not confirmed by the national government, Karacsony said “I know for a fact that the government actually let this Fudan story go long ago. They let it go because the Chinese let it go because it’s not worth this much to them.”

World Athletics named Olympic 400 m champion and world-record holder Karsten Warholm (NOR) and 100/200 m Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson-Herah (JAM) as its World Athletes of the Year on Wednesday in Monaco.

Two U.S. athletes won the “Rising Star” awards: men’s 200 m Olympic finalist Erriyon Knighton and Olympic 800 m gold medalist Athing Mu. The Inspiration Award was given to the Tokyo co-gold-medalists in the men’s high jump, Mutaz Essa Barshim (QAT) and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi.

The Coaching Achievement Award went to American Bobby Kersee, whose Tokyo medal winners included the iconic Allyson Felix and women’s 400 m Olympic champion and world-record holder Sydney McLaughlin.

The President’s Award was bestowed on retired American television executive Peter Diamond of NBC, with World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe (GBR) noting:

“Athletics owes Peter a massive debt of gratitude. Peter has worked alongside us for effectively 40 years and has been a constant source of great advice and wise counsel, and occasional humor that has softened the edges of any particular situation. And he has made athletics a lot better.”

The Woman of the Year award went to India’s Anju Bobby George, a former international long jump star, but now the Senior Vice President of the Indian Athletics Federation, who opened a training academy for girls in 2016 and continues to mentor women in the sport.

Sad news that former shot put World Champion C.J. Hunter (USA) passed away at age 52 on 29 November. A controversial figure, he was banned for steroids after testing positive weeks prior to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney (AUS). The cause of death has not been specified.

Married to Marion Jones at the time, they divorced in 2002 and both became headliners in the BALCO doping scandal which unraveled in 2004. Jones admitted to doping in 2007.

Ken Goe of The Oregonian reported today that the University of Oregon “strengthened protocols in late October to prohibit athletic programs from requiring athletes to be tested for body fat percentage.”

This became an issue in an October story by Goe in which such scans were routinely used at Oregon with the results provided to coaches; a half-dozen former Oregon women’s track & field athletes said the tests led to regimens that resulted in eating disorders.

The new regulations allow such tests to be done, but with the results distribution limited to medical and fitness staff only and not coaches.

● Figure Skating ● No great surprise, but the ISU Grand Prix Final expected to be held in Osaka (JPN) from 9-12 December has been canceled due to new restrictions on entry due to Covid-19/Omicron. Per the International Skating Union:

“Unfortunately, considering the complicated epidemic situation involving travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, safety concerns and logistical challenges, the organization of the event was extremely challenging. The Japan Skating Federation and the Local Organizing Committee tried their best to find solutions but ultimately concluded that, regrettably, they are unable to organize and hold the event as planned.”

● Modern Pentathlon ● The athlete group Pentathletes United is declaring victory at the last weekend’s UIPM Congress, saying that the federation’s news releases were in error in not announcing:

“The UIPM Constitution and Statutes and were not amended and horse riding remains a part of the Modern Pentathlon, for now”.

The three-page letter document included, “We understand that there is confusion and concern about what happened at the UIPM Congress on the weekend, particularly given the misleading press release the UIPM put out.”

It notes specifically that on Sunday (28th), “The [UIPM Executive Board] withdrew the proposal from the German [national federation] to remove riding.” This was not included in the UIPM news release and was one day after this proposal was carried, 66-15, by the Congress despite obvious procedural defects in its introduction. And:

“It’s disappointing that vote was passed to confirm the EB decision to remove horse riding, because it gives an appearance that most of the modern pentathlon community wants riding removed. We know this isn’t true. However, this Congress vote is meaningless because (i) the EB decision on 31 October is invalid, and (ii) Item 17 is illegal because the EB did not give Congress 30 days of notice. This will be part of our case at [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] and we expect to win.”

Based on the governance regulations, this issue can come up again only at a UIPM Congress, which means in 2022. Stay tuned. The GoFundMe page to “Save Modern Pentathlon” has raised €13,944 of its €25,000 goal (55.8%) for funding for its CAS case and other expenses.

● Weightlifting ● With new Covid-19 restrictions in place in Uzbekistan thanks to the Omicron variant, the World Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent from 7-17 December are in danger.

The International Weightlifting Federation has not announced a change in the program, but Uzbekistan has banned flights from multiple countries. Stay tuned.


● Swimming ● USA Swimming’s U.S. Open is underway in Greensboro, North Carolina, with Olympic icon Katie Ledecky showing that she is already in strong form after her move to coaching and training at the University of Florida.

She won the first night’s women’s 800 m Free in an outstanding 8:12.81, just 0.24 off her Tokyo winning time of 8:12.57. It’s no. 2 performance of the year in the event … in December!

Bobby Finke, the Olympic 800-1,500 m gold medalist, won the men’s 800 m in 7:54.07.

The meet continues through Saturday.


“The International Esports Federation (IESF) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Esports World Federation (ESWF) to work together on the development and unification of Esports around the world.”

Announced Thursday, this development is not to be underestimated in the advancement of eSports into more international, Olympic-related competitions in the future. One of the issues which can keep a sport out of a continental Games or the Olympic Games itself is the lack of a unified governance structure for the sport.

The beginning of a working relationship between the IESF and the ESWF can only advance the video-game attractiveness for the IOC and other organizations.

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