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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. IOC confirms Russian re-entry pathway being “explored”
2. Russia slams IOC’s ideas for re-entry: “unacceptable”
3. Paris 2024 close to sponsorship goal, starts charity ticket program
4. U.S. men’s youth movement falls to Serbia, 2-1, in friendly
5. World Athletics calls for new – paid – content creators!
The International Olympic Committee posted a statement confirming its discussions with other Olympic stakeholders about a pathway to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete internationally again … if they do not support the Russian war against Ukraine. Nothing is decided yet, but the conditions proposed were rejected by Russian sports and political leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked French President Emmanuel Macron not to allow Russian athletes at Paris 2024. The Paris 2024 organizers held a news conference Wednesday, noting that their domestic sponsorship program has surpassed its original goal and will be more than 90% of the new, higher goal by the end of this year. A new program to collect an optional €2 donation from ticket buyers will allow Olympic and Paralympic tickets to be given to low-income area residents who would otherwise not be able to attend the Games. The U.S. men’s National Team played its first match since the 2022 FIFA World Cup, losing to Serbia, 2-1, in a friendly in Los Angeles that featured eight American players making their national-team debuts. World Athletics announced a fresh program to recruit content creators for Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube – who will be paid! – and could end up joining the World Athletics social-media team at this summer’s World Championships in Budapest.
IOC confirms Russian re-entry pathway being “explored”
“A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.”
The International Olympic Committee Executive Board released a lengthy statement on Wednesday, confirming its discussions last week with other IOC members, International Federations, National Olympic Committees and athlete representatives concerning the continuing sanctions against Russia and Belarus.
After the usual recitals of support for Ukraine and a ban on events being organized in either country, no identification of either country at any event and no access for any state officials, then, “the vast majority of the participants in each of the consultation calls” agreed with six points, which included:
● “No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport.
● “A pathway for athletes’ participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored.
● “Such strict conditions being:
“(i) athletes would participate in competitions as ‘neutral athletes’ and in no way represent their state or any other organisation in their country, as is already happening in professional leagues, particularly in Europe, the United States and Canada, and in some individual professional sports.
“(ii) only athletes who fully respect the Olympic Charter would participate. This means in particular: first, only those who have not acted against the peace mission of the IOC by actively supporting the war in Ukraine could compete. Second, only athletes who fully comply with the World Anti-Doping Code and all relevant anti-doping rules and regulations would be eligible. There must be individual checks carried out for all entered athletes.
● “In the event of any athlete failing to respect the eligibility criteria or failing to respect the strict participation conditions as set out above, the IF and/or the sports event organiser concerned should immediately remove them from the competition, suspend them from further competitions and report the incident to the IOC for its consideration for further measures and sanctions.”
Further, the statement expressly noted that the majority agreed to continue “the exploration of the above-mentioned concept by way of bilateral consultation, with each International Federation being the sole authority for its international competitions.”
This last point is critical, as some federations – World Athletics in the forefront – have had Russia on suspension since 2015, when the state-sponsored doping scandal erupted – and has been very careful to have its own standards met for reinstatement.
The statement then went on to quote supportive comments from the United Nations, a reflex especially favored by IOC President Thomas Bach (GER).
So, for now, nothing is going to happen right away and the IOC will continue to try to figure out a way to accommodate its passion of bringing the world together through sport, even during wartime.
Observed: The statement importantly thanked the offer of the Olympic Council of Asia to grant access to its competitions, but did not accept it.
Otherwise, the IOC is following up its Olympic Summit declaration from last December, along the lines suggested previously by Bach earlier in 2022. But there are considerable risks:
● The IOC’s position that re-entry should be possible for Russian and Belarusian athletes who are not “actively supporting the war in Ukraine could compete,” could create a terrible dilemma for athletes in both countries.
How is an athlete supposed to apply for such re-entry and now risk arrest or imprisonment or worse from his or her own national government? Neither the Russian or Belarusian governments would look favorably on such a declaration, and said so on Wednesday.
● The IOC’s position that not allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete “based on their passport” is discriminatory appears to be nonsense, as nearly all such athletes are state-sponsored or even government employees in the guise of being in the civil service or the armed forces. How can the IOC say “No Russian and Belarusian Government or State official should be invited to or accredited for any international sports event or meeting” and allow athletes who are essentially (if not actually) state employees, to compete?
● The continued use of United Nations references and statements as mandatory guideposts is, in itself, a violation of the Olympic Charter in that the IOC is ceding its autonomy to another body and allowing its edicts to interfere with its independence.
It’s a cafeteria-style attempt to take the proof quotes it likes and use them in support of a position which is in conflict with some of the IOC’s own precedents. Russian politicians regularly point out that Yugoslav athletes were allowed to compete in the 1992 Barcelona Games after its civil wars began in 1991 and the country broke apart.
True, although they were under U.N. sanctions and competed as individuals and not for their “new” countries. But it is also true that Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were banned by the IOC from the 1920 Antwerp Games on account of World War I, and Germany and Japan were banned by the IOC from the 1948 London Games after World War II. South Africa was banned by the IOC due to its apartheid policies from 1964-88, in violation of the Olympic Charter (among other things), and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was held out of the Games in 1968-72-76 for its internal political situation. Is the slaughter of innocent Ukrainians and the collapse of its home sports infrastructure in an unprovoked territorial aggression any less brutal – even if not on the same scale (yet) – than these IOC precedents?
In fact, the IOC already has the tools it needs to accommodate Russian and Belarusian athletes ready to recuse themselves from their governments: the Olympic Refugee Team. Created under Bach’s leadership for the Rio 2016 Games, its mission is to support who are displaced from their native lands, exactly as those Russians and Belarusians who repudiate their government’s position on the war against Ukraine will be.
Russia slams IOC’s ideas for re-entry: “unacceptable”
There was no shortage of unhappy Russian reactions to the IOC’s statement, starting with Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin:
“The IOC, in its decision, speaks about the possibility of admitting athletes, demonstrating the political flexibility of its position. At the same time, we consider it unacceptable to determine special conditions for participation for athletes that are inconsistent with the Olympic Charter, the principles of equality and fairness. No policy can and should not interfere in sports, there is no place for speculation about the [‘special military operation’ in Ukraine].
“It is an honor and pride for our athletes to play for their Motherland, it has always been so. The main task of the state is to provide the necessary conditions for the training and competitive processes of athletes, to form the ideology of pure peacekeeping sports; external pressure has given us another opportunity to evaluate our own resources and to do everything possible to strengthen the national system of sports.”
Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov wrote on his Telegram page:
“Today’s statement is an attempt to correct a mistake that has already resulted in groundless restrictions for Russian and Belarusian sports for almost a year and caused great damage to all international sports. The voice of common sense was heard. However, at the same time, we still categorically refuse to agree with any restrictions, additional requirements and sanctions that relate to the nationality of our athletes and are again offered to us as a condition for returning to the international arena.
“Now we will make an appropriate legal assessment of the theses that are set out in today’s information. Based on legal expertise, we will build further interaction with international sports organizations and federations. The priority for us is the same – ensuring the rights and interests of our athletes. On an equal footing, without discrimination.”
Dmitry Svishchev, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Physical Culture and Sports, told the Russian news agency TASS:
“On the one hand, we can take positively the IOC’s movement towards the admission of athletes. This decision is long overdue, although our sport has suffered some damage because of the politicized recommendations previously made by the International Olympic Committee.
“But at the same time they propose to check every athlete, they deprive them of their national identity. On the one hand, the IOC declares unacceptability of discrimination based on nationality, but offers to check every athlete, depriving Russian athletes of the flag and anthem.”
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said:
“I consider it impossible to comment before consideration. We need to see what will be adopted. So far, one thing is striking – even in the wording of the initiative there is too much politics, which should be alien to the ideas of the Olympic Family.”
Svetlana Zhurova, now a State Duma member, but also the Turin 2006 gold medalist in the women’s 500 m in speed skating, told TASS:
“We don’t know the criteria that will be presented to athletes. First they will say one thing, then they will tell them to sign a paper that they are against it. And how will our fans look at those who go to the competition? The IOC is trying to divide us with ambiguous criteria.
“It was also with our athletes before the 2018 [Winter] Olympics in South Korea. They either allow or they don’t. [Speed skater] Viktor Ahn still doesn’t understand why he wasn’t allowed to compete then.”
(Ahn was refused entry into the 2018 Winter Games over the continuing doping concerns in Russia.)
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky chimed in Tuesday about Russians and Paris 2024. France 24 reported:
“Russian athletes should have ‘no place’ at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday as his country marked 11 months of war.
“‘I particularly emphasized that athletes from Russia should have no place at the Olympic Games in Paris,’ Zelensky wrote on Telegram following a telephone call with Macron.”
Paris 2024 close to sponsorship goal; starts charity ticket program
In a “state of the Games” news conference on Wednesday, the Paris 2024 organizers noted the success of the domestic marketing program, which is expected to close in on its expanded goal by the end of 2023.
The original domestic sponsorship target was €1.1 billion (about $1.20 billion U.S.), but this was increased late last year to €1.226 billion (~$1.34 billion). Now, a total of €1.127 billion (~$1.23 billion or 92%) is expected to be raised by the end of this year, with additional opportunities to be sought in 2024 as well.
In terms of ticket sales, for which the process is just beginning, the organizers explained that 2.5 million accounts had been created by potential ticket buyers, with 10 million tickets to be available for the Olympic Games and 3.5 million for the Paralympics. Also:
● About 45,000 volunteers are expected to be used for the Games, with 10,000 of these coming from the national federations.
● Supplier contracts are expected to total €2.5 billion (~$2.73 billion U.S.), to about 1,634 vendors, 90% of whom will be from France and 85% from the Ile-de-France region.
● From July through September 2023, 17 test events are expected to take place, only three of which will be full competitions. Nine will be “operational tests” carried out by Paris 2024 and five will be events held by International Federations.
Paris 2024 also announced a program to collect funds from ticket buyers to provide tickets for those who would not otherwise be able to attend:
“Every purchaser will be invited to make a fixed donation of €2 when they pay for their tickets. The money donated will be used to pay for the tickets and travel costs of the scheme’s beneficiaries.
“The funds collected will be given to the French charity ‘Secours populaire’, which has had close links with sport and experience of charitable ticketing programmes over many years. ‘Secours populaire’ widens access to sport by covering the cost of annual registration fees, sports equipment, swimming lessons and sports holidays. It also enables thousands of people to attend major sports events, giving them the chance to make lifelong memories and discover new passions and vocations.”
Paris 2024 has already committed to providing 100,000 tickets for “disadvantaged members of society” and up to one million tickets will be made available for local authorities of areas with Paris 2024 venues to be linked to social projects.
Said three-time Olympic canoe slalom gold medalist Tony Estanguet, President of Paris 2024: “We want as many people as possible to be able to experience the Games and to feel the emotions and sense of togetherness that they bring. To achieve this goal, Paris 2024 has launched a number of initiatives to enable people living in low-income households, who are often excluded from major sports events, to attend the Paris 2024 Games in person.”
The first sales of ticket “packs” will begin on 15 February.
U.S. men’s youth movement falls to Serbia, 2-1, in friendly
The first match by a U.S. men’s National Team since the FIFA World Cup in Qatar came Wednesday night in Los Angeles with a 46th-minute goal giving Serbia a 2-1 win in a friendly at the BMO Stadium in Exposition Park.
These were two young teams, with no club call-ups, that bore little resemblance to their World Cup teams of last November; the U.S. started eight players in their first national-team appearance and two more enjoying their second. But there was lots of speed and aggressiveness, that made for an entertaining game and a look at the future rosters of both countries.
The first half was a back-and-forth, attack and counter-attack affair, with both sides getting good chances, but failing to score early. U.S. keeper Gaga Slonina – at 18 years old, the youngest ever to start in goal for the American men – had to make an early save in the fourth minute off of Nemanja Stojic, but then the U.S. attack took hold. Serbian keeper Dorde Petrovic was under pressure from Brandon Vazquez, Cade Cowell and Aidan Morris, and then Vazquez – in his first match for the national team – scored a brilliant goal in the 29th, heading in a cross from the far right side from Julian Gressel for a 1-0 lead.
Slonina was quickly under attack in the U.S. goal and made a brilliant, back-to-back save in the 31st and another in the 36th. Serbia evened the match when Luka Ilic sent a free kick through the U.S. wall and right into the net in the 43rd minute. The half ended tied, with the U.S. enjoying 56% of possession and an 8-7 edge on shots.
Serbia struck right away in the second half, as striker Veljko Simic took charge of a loose ball above the box and raced toward the U.S. goal, sending a right-footed rocket past Slonina for a 2-1 lead in the 46th. Another Serbian score in the 51st minute was called offside as the U.S. defense looked shaky, but then Cowell hit the post twice inside of a minute in the 56th and just missed a goal in the 59th as the American offense came to life.
But the game became more static as the Serbs backed in the defense, and substitute keeper Dragan Rosic saved a 79th-minute attempt from U.S. sub striker Paul Arriola that was the best American chance in the final 30 minutes. The U.S. fell to 0-3-1 against Serbia all-time, even with 62% of possession and a 20-10 advantage on shots.
The U.S. will finish its January camp program on Saturday (28th) with a match against Colombia in Carson, California.
World Athletics calls for new – paid – content creators!
Now this is pretty wild and could be a road to places where track & field hasn’t been yet. On Tuesday, World Athletics posted:
“World Athletics is looking for talented and enthusiastic individuals to create TikTok, YouTube and Instagram content for its platforms. We’re seeking out of the box ideas – unlike anything you’ve seen on World Athletics channels before – from creatives, presenters, editors, videographers, stats geeks, pundits, designers and more.”
Although no numbers were shown, the bottom line – yes, literally the last lines of the announcement – stated:
“This is a paid programme*
“*Depending on the proposal. Creators will be paid based on whether it’s a one-off piece of content or a series. Subject to contract between World Athletics and the selected creators.”
Now you know it’s serious. Some of the types of content that could be interesting were listed, including but not limited to:
“● Competition hype videos
“● Talking heads
“● Opinion pieces
“● Competition reviews
“● Athlete fan-cams
“● Statistical analysis”
In addition to money, it is also possible for one or more of those chosen to work with the World Athletics social-media team at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest this summer.
The post included a short hype video from world-record holders Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (USA) and Mondo Duplantis (SWE) and World 200 m champ Noah Lyles (USA).
In the new BCW rankings of Olympic-sport social-media followers across six top platforms in 2022, World Athletics ranked fourth at 9,975,413, up 23% from its totals in 2021. This might be a way to move up.
≡ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS ≡
● Handball ● The semifinals are now set for the IHF men’s World Championship being held in Sweden and Poland, with Spain to meet defending champs Denmark in Gdansk on Friday and France to play host Sweden the same day in Stockholm.
In Wednesday’s quarterfinals, Denmark hammered Hungary, 40-23, in Stockholm, with Mathias Gidsel getting nine goals for the winners and moving up to fourth in the tournament scoring rankings (and is the only one of the top four still playing).
Spain needed extra time to edge Norway, 35-34, in a game that required two extra periods. Tied at 25 at the end of regulation, the first overtime ended 4-4, with Spain winning, 6-5, in the second. Kristian Bjornsen had nine scores for Norway, but it wasn’t enough; Angel Fernandez Perez led Spain with eight.
Sweden controlled its game with Egypt, taking a 14-9 halftime lead on the way to a 26-22 win, led by Niclas Ekberg with six goals. A big crowd of 16,215 came to the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm to cheer the home team.
The final semifinal spot went to France in a 35-28 victory over Germany in Gdansk. The French won the second half by 19-12 after a 16-all tie at halftime; Ludovic Fabregas and Nedim Remili both had five goals for France.
Amazingly, these are the exact same semifinals as at the 2021 IHF Worlds, held in Egypt! Denmark edged Spain, 35-33, and Sweden beat France, 32-26, to meet in the final, won by the Danes for their second straight title, 26-24.
● Hockey ● Germany and the Netherlands advanced to the semifinals of the FIH men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar (IND), to meet Australia and Belgium on the 27th (Friday).
The Dutch, who lost to Belgium in a penalty shoot-out in the 2018 World Cup championship match, qualified for their fourth straight semifinal appearance with a convincing, 5-1 win over South Korea, breaking open a 1-0 game at half with three goals in the third period for a 4-0 lead and cruising in.
The Germans, winners in 2002-06 and runners-up in 2010, got back to the semis only via a penalty shoot-out against England, winning 4-3 after a 2-2 game at the end of regulation time. The Germans converted all four shots in the shoot-out, by Niklas Wellen, Hannes Mueller, Thies Prinz and Jan Ruhr to advance.
The last six World Cups have been won by the semifinalists: Netherlands in 1998, Germany in 2002-06, Australia in 2010-14 and Belgium in 2018. The most impressive streak belongs to Australia, which made the semis for the 12th straight time, dating back to 1978!
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Athletics ● If there is a poster girl for the impact that Russia’s 2011-15 doping scheme and its war in Ukraine has had, it might be high jumper Mariya Lasitskene.
Now 30, she was the Tokyo Olympic champ in 2021 and won World Championships golds in 2015-17-19. But she has also has had to sit out the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the World Championships and European Championships in 2022 and the Diamond League circuit.
She jumped 1.96 m (6-5) on Wednesday to win the Russian University title in Moscow, then told reporters:
“My long-term experience of communicating with World Athletics says that you don’t need to set yourself up for a certain date now.
“I just set myself up for what I should do to do my best and be ready for any moment to return. If I determine for myself the date of an approximate return, then this will not make it easier for me.”
Asked if she is following the results of other star jumpers:
“I don’t follow. I didn’t even know what the best result of the season in the world was until I heard what the announcer said at the tournament in Chelyabinsk. I take care of myself, my results. I go from myself.”
Her 1.96 m clearance ranks her equal-third on the 2023 indoor world list, topped by Ukrainian star Yaroslava Mahuchikh at 2.00 m (6-6 3/4). Lasitskene ranks no. 5 all-time with her 2017 personal best of 2.06 m (6-9) outdoors.
● Beach Volleyball ● The World Beach Pro Tour Finals will be held in Doha (QAT) this weekend, with a unique trophy to be awarded, that extends the recycling theme that was jump-started at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
There, the medals were principally made from materials recycled from discarded mobile phones, tablets and computers, and the awards podiums from 24.5 tons of recycled plastic.
The Beach Pro Tour trophies are also made from recycled plastics collected from beaches worldwide; according to the FIVB:
“The trophy is designed by The New Raw, a [Dutch] design firm that specialises in transforming plastic waste into meaningful products that are 100 per cent circular. Representing the dynamic nature of volleyball, the trophy is sculpted with flowing curves and a sense of movement. The colour scheme represents the natural elements of the sport the sand and sea.”
● Figure Skating ● The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are ongoing in San Jose, California, with cable television coverage starting on Thursday with the Rhythm Dance on USA Network at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the women’s Short Program at 10 p.m.
On Friday, USA will have the men’s Short Program at 5 p.m. and NBC will carry the women’s Short Program at 8 p.m. Saturday has NBC showing the Free Dance at 2:30 p.m. and USA showing the Pairs Free Skate at 8 p.m. On Sunday, the men’s Free Skate will be on NBC starting at 3 p.m.
For our updated, 929-event International Sports Calendar for 2023 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!