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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Brittney Griner’s appeal in Russia turned down
2. Ex-IOC marketing director Payne sees Olympics on TV … for a while
3. Qatar’s Emir questions campaign against it as World Cup host
4. Russia sees new sports organization four times bigger than IOC
5. U.S. skater Bates frustrated over Valieva verdict secrecy
A Russian court turned down U.S. women’s basketball star Britney Griner’s appeal on her sentence for “drug smuggling,” with the WNBA Players Association stating “she is very clearly a hostage.” Former International Olympic Committee marketing chief Michael Payne said at the SPORTEL Conference in Monaco that he foresees the Olympic Games remaining on “free-to-air” television for years to come, but that there is a place for subscription streaming services for some special coverage. The Emir of Qatar said in a televised address to the national legislature that the country has been subject to an “unprecedented campaign” that has included “fabrication and double standards,” such that questions can be raised about the “real reasons and motives behind this campaign.” In Moscow, the Deputy Prime Minister told Russia President Vladimir Putin that a new sports organization led by China and Russia could have an audience of four billion people and would be much larger than the Olympic Movement, led by the International Olympic Committee. As the figure skaters involved in the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games Team Event continue to wait for the resolution of the Kamila Valieva doping case, American Ice Dance star Evan Bates expressed frustration at the delay and the announcement that the Russians will not reveal the outcome of Valieva’s hearing, saying “I think we’ve been pretty respectfully quiet through these months.”
Brittney Griner’s appeal in Russia turned down
Although not surprising, two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner’s appeal against a nine-year sentence for “drug smuggling” was turned down in Moscow on Tuesday.
The Associated Press reported that Griner was not present in the courtroom, but watched the court action online “from a penal colony outside the capital where she is held.”
One of Griner’s Russian attorneys, Alexander Boykov, told the three-judge panel:
“No judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law. The severity and cruelty of the sentence applied to Griner shocks people around the world.”
Her attorneys told the AP that Griner’s “punishment is excessive and contradicts to the existing court practice.
“Brittney’s biggest fear is that she is not exchanged and will have to serve the whole sentence in Russia. She had hopes for today, as each month, each day away from her family and friends matters to her.”
With credit for time already served since she was detained on mid-February, Griner still has eight years to go if she were to serve her full sentence. The U.S. government has held that she is “unlawfully detained” and has made a prisoner swap offer for Griner and another American also held in Russia, Paul Whelan, to which no “serious” response has been made.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement on Tuesday, “We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today.”
The WNBA Players Association posted a lengthy statement that included:
“This appeal [result] is further verification that BG is not just wrongfully detained – she is very clearly a hostage. … No athlete should be used as a political pawn.”
Ex-IOC marketing director Payne sees Olympics on TV
… for a while
/Updated/The annual SPORTEL Conference in Monaco has been an intersection of sports media and technology and an opportunity to get a glance at the future.
Michael Payne, the now-Irish sports marketing savant who was the International Olympic Committee’s marketing director from 1988-2004, was asked whether the future of Olympic viewing will be online as opposed to over-the-air and on cable:
“First of all, with regard to the Olympics and television, the IOC is already got – pretty well – all the contracts in place for still another decade. So, they’re only going to be looking at the future of television for the Games of 2032 or 2034.
“And, I think, a fundamental principle that has always been there and I don’t believe will change, is to ensure you have the widest possible audience. And I think the IOC will continue to ensure that the basic coverage is free-to-air.
“But, there is so much coverage; I mean, in a summer Games, in two weeks, there’s 10,000 hours, 30 sports. So, So the opportunity for specialist coverage – OTT [Over-the-Top, i.e., streaming] – will grow, but I hope it never replaces the basic free-to-air.”
In the U.S., NBC has secured rights to the Olympic and Winter Games through 2032.
On the media build-up – and heavy criticism – of Qatar as the host of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, he spoke from experience:
“I think all major competitions are taken hostage by the media in the last two or three months before the event. Whether it’s the Olympics or the World Cup, whether it’s held in China, Asia or the Middle East …
“The media is dealing with an event that is being taken over by other players in the world. You have a big debate about politics, about human rights … But if the event didn’t take place, nobody would have talked about it.
“One thing is certain: as soon as the first ball rolls, the focus is on soccer. At the Olympic Games, as soon as the torch is lit, the focus is on sports. Today, the build-up has been greater and the media has become more aggressive on every issue, somewhat because of social networks. But even if sometimes people lack a little perspective, as soon as the sport starts, the sport becomes the hero.”
Payne also noted the critical change in the way fans are now part of the and not simply quiet observers, as in the role of social media:
“It’s incredibly important. It allows fans to express their opinions, connect with other fans or friends, respond and participate. They are no longer passive, but become active participants in the debate.
“This is very interesting for the media in particular. Fans can react and comment not only on sports but on all aspects of the media. This is positive!”
Payne sees the future for all forms of media to work toward a closer link with their audiences, to become more involved and therefore more attached to the medium or outlet which has drawn their interest.
Qatar’s Emir questions campaign against it as World Cup host
On Monday, the Human Rights Watch organization posted a lengthy story starting with “Qatar Preventive Security Department forces have arbitrarily arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention.”
On Tuesday, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, called into question the continuous criticism of the country in a televised speech to the national legislature, including:
“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced.
“We initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects of ours that need to be developed.
“But it soon became clear to us that the campaign continues, expands and includes fabrication and double standards, until it reached a level of ferocity that made many question, unfortunately, about the real reasons and motives behind this campaign.”
“This is a great test for a country the size of Qatar that impresses the whole world with what it has already achieved and is achieving.”
This includes significant labor reforms, but activists have been calling for many more changes in Qatari law, procedures and compensation for the impact of laws that have been changed, as well as injuries to workers on the World Cup construction projects.
Sheikh Tamim’s comments mirror those of Nasser Al Khater, chief executive of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for the Delivery and Legacy of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, from a mid-October interview with Sky News. Asked if he thought the unending criticism of Qatar since its selection was racist, Al Khater replied, rather diplomatically:
“I’m not going to get into what the intentions of other people are, I’m not going to get into the minds and souls of other people. But you know, who knows? Possibly.”
The Associated Press reported Tuesday on a one-man protest by a British activist against jailing of gays, and subsequent claims that “he was arrested but later acknowledged that police had only briefly questioned him on the sidewalk.”
The Qatar authorities said the arrest claim was “completely false,” and that “An individual standing in a traffic roundabout was cordially and professionally asked to move to the sidewalk, no arrests were made.”
The FIFA World Cup begins on 20 November.
Russia sees new sports organization four times bigger than IOC
Russian chatter disparaging the Olympic Movement and talking a new sports organization to challenge the International Olympic Committee continues non-stop, with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko saying Monday in a meeting with President Vladimir Putin:
“Also as part of your [16 September] proposal is the creation of an association of sports organizations [of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation].
“You see the number of participants, the potential audience of the population involved is four billion people – just our future audience – not the segment that serves the International Olympic Committee, about a billion.
“It’s a shame, of course, but I think everything will go back to normal.”
The SCO was founded in 2001 as an economic and security collective, with Russia and China as the prime movers, but also including India, Pakistan and the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia are “observers.”
The chorus singing the praises of the idea of an anti-IOC sports organization was added to by Irina Viner, head of the All-Russia Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, who told the Russian news agency TASS (DeepL.com translation):
“We have a change of focus now. We are rearranging our work for interaction with members of the SCO, BRICS [Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa] and other countries that treat us in a friendly and respectful way. We need to host as many competitions as possible in our country, and we are doing so. All the World Cups that we had in the past years, we now make in Russia. They are open, they have a pretty decent representation of different athletes from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, India, China, Mexico, Syria, Belarus.
“In addition, all regions of our country cultivate and do rhythmic gymnastics. We’ve never had so many countries at the World Cup, and every region of Russia is like a whole country in terms of both territory and skill level. When we have the Cup of Russia, Russian Championship or club competitions, we have a huge representation of different regions, it’s comparable to the world championship. The competition is very big, and if we have different countries at these competitions, it will be the Olympic Games. We can call them something else: the SCO Games, the BRICS Games, the Games of another community, which we will be related to, but they will not be at a lower level than the one where we are not allowed to go now.”
Fact check: Contrary to the silly “a billion” comment about the reach of the Olympic Games were the recently-released reports on the actual viewing audiences for the Tokyo 2020 Games – held in 2021 – of 3.05 billion, and February’s Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, which drew 2.01 billion.
U.S. skater Bates frustrated over Valieva verdict secrecy
Amid the furor over Russian star skater Kamila Valieva’s positive drug test reported during the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games last February, the results of the Team Event in figure skating were not finalized and no medals were awarded.
Last week’s announcement by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency that it would not be announcing the verdict of its Disciplinary Committee continued leaving the skaters who represented Russia (first in the standings), the U.S. (second) and Japan (third), plus Canada in fourth, in limbo.
American Evan Bates, who with Ice Dance partner Madison Chock, won the Free Dance segment of the Team Event, told reporters after their win at last weekend’s Skate America:
“It’s been so frustrating. Extremely disappointing to be at this point, eight months later, and to still have it so shrouded in secrecy. And I feel like, you know, as a base line we should hope for transparency, and not only for the public but especially for the athletes involved. It seems only right.
“[The RUSADA announcement] was hugely disappointing, but it seems to be growing and becoming exponentially more disappointing as the days and months go by and there’s no resolution, and the most recent release by RUSADA about not making anything public compounds the frustration quite a bit. We’re just waiting like the rest of us to hear.
“Again, like, 19 athletes or however many are waiting for their medals all competed clean, and I think we’ve been pretty respectfully quiet through these months.”
The Skate America opener of the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix circuit drew modest U.S. television audiences on cable last weekend. While most of the coverage was on NBC’s Peacock streaming service, the television broadcasts on cable drew (per Nielsen):
● 200,000 on Friday night for the Short Program for Men and Pairs, on USA Network;
● 233,000 on Saturday evening for the Free Skate for Men and Pairs, on USA Network, and
● 200,000 on Sunday afternoon for the women’s Free Skate and Free Dance on E!
Showing once again the continuing power of the over-the-air network, the Saturday afternoon show on NBC with the Rhythm Dance and women’s Short Program drew 760,000, more than the three cable shows combined.
≡ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP ≡
● Rugby ● The 15-a-side Women’s Rugby World Cup has reached the playoff stage in New Zealand, with the hosts, Canada and England all undefeated in pool play.
The quarterfinals will pit France (2-1) against Italy (2-1) and New Zealand (3-0) and Wales (1-2) in the upper half of the bracket on 29th October, in Whangarei. The bottom of the bracket – in Auckland on the 30th – has England (3-0) against Australia (2-1) and Canada (3-0) playing the 1-2 U.S. team that finished third in Group C. The Canadians already beat the U.S., 29-14, in group play.
The semifinals will follow on 5 November and the medal matches on 12 November, all in Auckland.
Attendance in the group phase – 18 games – was 34,235, or an average of 1,902 per match.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Paris 2024 ● French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told a French Senate committee that the Opening Ceremony on the Seine River will host the promoted 600,000 spectators.
Some 100,000 will be able to watch from the river banks and will purchase tickets for their places, while the other 500,000 will be able to watch for free from the street level.
Security will be provided by 35,000 guards, plus 3,000 private security provided by the Paris 2024 organizing committee. During the Games proper, “an average of 30,000 police and gendarmes” will be on duty daily.
● Alpine Skiing ● The back half of the daring, across-two-countries World Cup Downhill to start in Zermatt (SUI) and finish in Cervinia (ITA) was canceled due to a lack of snow and the resulting safety concerns.
After the men’s 29-30 October races were called off last week, FIS announced Tuesday that the 5-6 November women’s races in the “Matterhorn Cervino Speed Opening” had to be canceled and will not be replaced.
● Football ● As part of a plan to return Chinese women’s football to elite status, the country’s General Administration of Sport announced its intention to bid for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2031.
China has hosted the event twice, starting with the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and also in 2007. The Chinese women placed fourth in 1995, won Olympic silver in 1996 in Atlanta, and famously made the 1999 Women’s World Cup final against the U.S. in 1999 and played to a scoreless tie at the Rose Bowl, but lost on penalty kicks, 5-4.
The new plan, called the Chinese Women’s Football Reform and Development Programme, aims for a top-eight finish at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, then in the final four at the 2027 Women’s World Cup and 2028 Olympic Games and as medal winners in a home 2031 World Cup and at the Brisbane 2032 Olympics.
● Skating ● Buried at the bottom of a summary of the International Skating Union Council meeting in Geneva (SUI) that finished on 12 October was the flip side of the continuing ban on Russian and Belarusian skaters:
“Further to the support for the Ukrainian Skating Federations and their members announced in Communication No. 2466, the Council has decided to secure an additional budget of Swiss Francs 200’000 with the purpose of supporting the Skaters from Ukraine who are living and training outside Ukraine.”
This is about $200,882 U.S.; the exact distribution between the disciplines will be determined in cooperation with the ISU’s Development Commission.
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