TSX REPORT: FIFA World Cup furor continues, in Tunisia and Germany; 2023 World Relays in China collapse; Miller on Putin, Russia and Olympism

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1. FIFA warns Tunisia on World Cup spot due to government issues
2. Storm over German Interior Minister complaint on Qatar hosting
3. Ukraine asks FIFA to exclude Russia, remove Iran from World Cup
4. Pandemic postpones 2023 World Athletics Relays in China to 2025
5. Australian Olympian Watson launches UIPM President campaign

Never underestimate the power of football to create headlines, especially right in front of a major event like the FIFA World Cup. Even with less than three weeks to go to the start of the 2022 World Cup, Tunisia has been threatened with the potential loss of participation in the tournament due to government interference with the operation of its national football federation. Comments by the German Interior Minister critical of the choice of Qatar as the World Cup host on human rights issues touched off a furor, with the Qatari Foreign Minister calling in the German ambassador for “clarification,” in advance of a trip by German officials to Doha. The Ukrainian Football Association asked FIFA to suspend Russia for claiming authority over teams and matches in Ukrainian territory it has “annexed,” and to remove Iran from the World Cup for its assistance to Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. China’s immovable anti-pandemic rules have forced the postponement – to 2025 – of the 2023 World Athletics Relays that were scheduled for Guangzhou. Australia’s three-time modern pentathlon Olympian Alex Watson opened his “longshot” campaign to be UIPM President on Monday, seeking to lead the sport back onto the Olympic program for 2028.

Long-time British Olympic historian and observer David Miller has shared a brilliant guest column, “While Putin exists, Russian Olympism perishes,” which can be read here.

FIFA warns Tunisia on World Cup spot due to government issues

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar begins on 20 November, but the BBC reported that FIFA is concerned over possible government interference with the operation of the Federation Tunisienne de Football (FTF) that could jeopardize its place in the World Cup.

FIFA’s Chief Member Associations Officer, Kenny Jean-Marie (FRA) wrote to the FTF Secretary General, Wajdi Aouadi last week, explaining that the Tunisian body is “legally obligated to conduct their affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties.

“Any failure to comply with these obligations may result in the imposition of penalties under the FIFA laws, including suspension of the relevant association.”

The BBC reported that FIFA expects a reply by Friday, to resolve worries about possible actions by Tunisian Youth and Sports Minister, Kamel Deguiche, who has indicated that the government has the authority to “dissolve federal bureaux,” taken by the FTF as a direct threat against it.

Tunisia qualified for its sixth World Cup and was drawn into Group D, with defending champion France, Australia and Denmark; its first match is against the Danes on 22 November.

FIFA, like the International Olympic Committee, is highly sensitive to government control or interference with its national federations. The BBC story noted that Kenya and Zimbabwe are both currently on suspension.

Storm over German Interior Minister complaint on Qatar hosting

“For us as the federal government, this is a very difficult award. … There are criteria that have to be adhered to and then it would be better if it weren’t awarded to such countries.”

That’s German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser in an interview with the ARD newsmagazine show “Monitor” last week, expressing displeasure with the awarding of the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar.

Faeser said that the placement of major events should take into account “compliance with human rights and sustainability principles” and “No World Cup takes place in a vacuum. Human rights always apply everywhere – and now the whole world is paying special attention.”

This set off a furious reaction from the Qatar government, with the Foreign Ministry calling her comments “unacceptable and provocative” and asking for a meeting with the German ambassador in which he was given a letter. Per the Foreign Ministry:

“The memo expressed the State of Qatar’s complete rejection of those remarks made towards a country whose hosting of the World Cup was justice done to a region suffering from an unjust stereotype for decades.”

On Monday, Faeser, German football federation President Bernd Neuendorf and others traveled to Qatar for meetings concerning the World Cup, reportedly including FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI).

However, the German Commissioner for Human Rights, Luise Amtsberg, did not go and told the ARD “Sportschau” program:

“The developments this weekend made it clear to me how difficult it is in the current situation in the run-up to the soccer World Cup to hold the open and critical talks I planned about the human rights situation in Qatar with the Qatari government.”

Neuendorf told the German ZDF channel that football itself has been changed by the experience of placing the FIFA World Cup in Qatar:

“It has become much more political. And we will – I don’t think – experience an award without taking into account issues such as sustainability and human rights – I don’t think – any more. You have to discuss these things in advance.”

The 2022 FIFA World Cup opens on 20 November.

Ukraine asks FIFA to exclude Russia, remove Iran from World Cup

“I would like to urge UEFA and FIFA to take a step further and cancel or suspend Russia’s membership in their ranks.

“In the 70s, South Africa was expelled from FIFA for the policy of apartheid, and Russia should be expelled for the policy of genocide of Ukrainians and the bloody war they unleashed in our homeland.”

While the participation of Russian teams is already banned, Serhiy Palkin, chief executive of the Shakhtar Donetsk club, in agreement with the Ukrainian Football Association, has asked the worldwide and European football governing bodies to remove the Russian Football Union from membership in the organizations.

The Russian news agency TASS reported that the Russian Football Union will include teams from the “annexed” regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye going forward and that teams from Crimea and Sevastopol will join in 2023-24. All of these areas are legally part of Ukraine, but have been invaded by Russia, in 2014 (Crimea) and 2022 (Luhansk and Donetsk).

The Ukrainian Football Association also asked FIFA to remove Iran from the 2022 World Cup in view of its “systematic manifestations of human rights violations” and “probable involvement” in the invasion of Ukraine.

Palkin added:

“[T]the only way to defeat Russian aggression is to combine our efforts. It’s necessary to tighten the sanctions against Russia in all possible directions. It is important to limit Russia’s resource and information capabilities so that they feel isolated and stop.

“What can we do in the field of sports? To isolate Russia from participation in international sports competitions, and this, by and large, has already been done. But I would like to urge UEFA and FIFA to take a step further.”

Pandemic postpones 2023 World Athletics Relays
in China to 2025

China’s zero-tolerance policy on Covid-19 has struck again, as World Athletics announced the postponement of the 2023 World Athletics Relays, in agreement with the Chinese Athletics Association.

The event was slated to be held in Guangzhou on 13-14 May, but will now be held sometime in 2025. No replacement event will be arranged, which means that a change in relay qualifications for Paris 2024 was needed; now:

“[T]he World Athletics Competition Commission, upon approval of the Council, has revised the qualification system to include the top eight teams from the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 and the top eight teams from the performance lists.”

The cancellation of the 2023 World Relays quickly brings into question whether China can host either of the two Wanda Diamond League meets scheduled for 27 April in Shenzhen and 06 May in Shanghai. China was scheduled to host two Diamond League meets in 2022, but both were scrubbed due to the pandemic.

At present, the Diamond League schedule still shows both Chinese meets.

Australian Olympian Watson launches UIPM President campaign

“I’m not confident at all. If I said it would be easy, I’d be lying. No, it’s going to be tough, and the reason it’s even tougher is that so many of the national federations are frightened to stick their head out.

“They have been so used to this style of leadership , that if you don’t agree, you get intimidated, that they’re really nervous. So, we need to change that culture, and yes, it’s a longshot.”

Three-time Australian modern pentathlon Olympian Alex Watson told a London news conference on Monday that he wants to be the new leader of the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM). To do so, long-time UIPM chief Klaus Schormann (GER) would have to resign, as he was re-elected for an eighth term in 2021. Said Watson:

“I’m not going to underestimate the odds, but I like tough odds, and I think if history goes the right way, and the athletes remain behind what we’re doing – it will be, inevitably – there must be change.”

Modern pentathlon has been in crisis after the horse-punching incident at the Tokyo Games last year, when the horse Saint Boy refused to jump for German star Annika Schleu and was punched by her coach. The UIPM Executive Board announced that it would replace riding with a different discipline, settling on obstacle course racing and to propose approval at the upcoming UIPM Congress – to be held online – on 12-13 November.

The International Olympic Committee, not only distressed by the Tokyo incident, but by the small participation numbers in the sport and its low public profile, left the sport off of its initial sports program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

The UIPM Congress agenda includes a motion for a vote of no-confidence in Schormann, but as Watson noted, its passage is chancy at best.

Watson was the competition manager for the sport at the Sydney 2000 Games, and has produced a 21-page manifesto, and a 10-page question-and-answer document, which includes:

“It recently came to light that in 2016 UIPM was in advanced discussions to merge with World Obstacle, despite this never having been minuted at the [Executive Board] or discussed at Congress. A fully negotiated legal merger agreement between the two international federations was disclosed. …

“In January 2017 UIPM committed to campaign for the inclusion of obstacles in pentathlon. This does not appear to have been discussed at Congress. … It appears that this long standing agenda from certain members of the EB is the reason that obstacles were chosen.”

● “There has been no test of how obstacles could be combined into a 5-discipline pentathlon, and not even a proposal for how that could happen. A proper test would require that the actual format of the discipline had been decided, and was being properly tested under international competition conditions, as part of a 5-discipline pentathlon. None of that has yet happened.”

● Watson noted the heavy push beginning in 2015 to increase the number of national federations from about 60 to 131 today. But: “Around 50 NFs have not hosted or had any athletes at all compete in any official UIPM competition in the last 4 years in any of the sports in the UIPM sports pyramid. A large proportion of those NFs didn’t even have any athletes licenced or registered on the UIPM website as at mid-September this year.”

As Watson said, it is hard to see the UIPM Congress removing Schormann. But he has the backing of the Pentathlon United athlete group, and that group’s efforts has energized some of the national federations, but how many is yet to be seen.

The UIPM posted a statement on Monday that included, “UIPM is a democratic membership organisation and the will of its National Federation members will be fully respected at the upcoming UIPM 2022 Congress.”


● Gymnastics ● The men’s qualifying was held Monday at the FIG World Artistic Championships in Liverpool (GBR), with six-time Team winner Japan leading the parade.

The Japanese, who last won the Team title in 2015, were solid throughout and ended with a commanding lead at 260.695, ahead of Great Britain (252.793) and the U.S. (252.295).

Japan’s Tokyo Olympic Team silver medalist Wataru Tanigawa and Olympic All-Around champion Daiki Hashimoto were 1-2 in the All-Around qualifying, scoring 84.731 and 84.665, ahead of Carlos Yulo (PHI: 84.664) in third. The U.S. also qualified two for the final, with Asher Hong in sixth (83.299) and national champion Brody Malone in eighth (82.631).

On the individual apparatus, the leaders included 2019 World Champion Yulo on Floor (15.266), Rhys McClenaghan (IRL: 15.233) on Pommel Horse, Courtney Tulloch (GBR: 14.666) on Rings, Armenia’s Tokyo bronze medalist Artur Davtyan on Vault (14.900), China’s Tokyo Olympic champ Jingyuan Zou on Parallel Bars (15.700) and Olympic gold medalist Hashimoto on the Horizontal Bar (15.100).

The U.S. qualified defending World Champion Stephen Nedoroscik on the Pommel Horse: (2nd: 15.233); national champion Donnell Whittenburg on Rings (8th: 14.333); and 2021 Worlds medalist Malone on the Horizontal Bar (5th: 14.433).

Tuesday has the women’s Team final, with the U.S. in good position to win its sixth straight title. The men’s Team final comes on Wednesday.


● International Olympic Committee ● The IOC reported that the first 70,000 seedlings of a planned 590,000 trees in Mali and Senegal have been planted as part of its Olympic Forest project. Scheduled over four years, the concept is to re-forest parts of the Sahel region and restore as much as 5,000 acres of forest and farmland.

The project is designed to capture the equivalent of 200,000 tons of carbon, to allow the IOC to become carbon-neutral or better by 2024.

● Russia ● The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Dmitry Chernyshenko, announced that the second Friendship Games, focused on aquatics, will draw athletes from 23 countries.

Russia’s response to its ban in almost all international sports, the next Friendship Games will be held in Kazan, a popular venue for major swimming competitions, from 10-25 November, with swimming, diving and artistic swimming events. Said Chernyshenko:

The government has developed new formats for competitions in various sports with the participation of representatives of friendly countries. In November, the second stage of the Friendship Games international competitions is scheduled to be held in Kazan. Compared to the first stage, which took place in July and August this year, we have expanded the geography of participants – from 16 to 23 countries. Over 100 sets of awards will be played among 800 athletes.”

The countries were not named.

● Athletics ● Another step in the move to streaming coverage of track & field was last week’s announcement of a new mobile application for the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon, “with a groundbreaking Second Screen feature that will transform the marathon experience for runners and fans alike.

“For the first time in the history of major marathons, the professional men’s and women’s wheelchair and open division races will be livestreamed on the app in their entirety, empowering fans to swipe between feeds and watch the race of their choice.”

The race, coming this Sunday (6th) will still be shown locally on WABC and nationally on ESPN, but the app brings more data and video to spectators:

● “The app allows spectators to track the elapsed time and pace of an unlimited number of runners.

● “The first of its kind Course Camera feature lets fans watch a live feed of their favorite runners at five key points along the course – at the start, mile 8 in Brooklyn, mile 17 in the Upper East Side, mile 20 in the Bronx, and at the finish.”

There’s more: “cheer cards” on social media, a live race leaderboard, a tracking device for individual runners and more. A next step.

● Cycling ● British Cycling’s chief executive, Brian Facer, resigned after heavy criticism directed at the federation after multiple controversies, including environmentalist anger at a major sponsorship agreement with Shell UK, a dip in revenues and membership totals and a reversal by the Union Cycliste Internationale of the British federation’s lenient policy on competition opportunities for transgender athletes.

British Cycling also requested that people not ride bicycles during the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, but had to recant, with some embarrassment.

The deal with Shell UK was blasted by environmental groups as “greenwashing,” especially after British Cycling had touted its commitment to low emissions in its annual report.

Facer may be gone, but the British Cycling Board confirmed that the eight-year Shell UK agreement – with its badly-needed funding – will continue. Fascinating.

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