TSX REPORT: IOC’s Bach insists sport must engage with politics, that digitalization is the future; Johnson & Kahn both eye big-pay T&F concepts

U.S. weightlifter Hampton Morris celebrating a world record in the 61 kg class Clean & Jerk at the IWF World Cup in Thailand (Photo: USA Weightlifting)

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1. Bach: “I hope we will always have issues with politics”
2. Bach: digitalization “will determine the future of sport”
3. Court of Arbitration throws out IBA appeal vs. IOC
4. Johnson and Kahn talk up big-money track & field events
5. Albuquerque says $3.4 million in direct spend from indoor track

● International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach gave a groundbreaking speech before the General Assembly of the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) last week in Fiji, saying that sport and politics do mix and that sport must engage with politics, but retain its autonomy.

● Bach told the delegates that the single most important force they must deal with for the future is digitalization. The two prime areas of interest today are engagement with eSports to maintain the interest of youth, and with artificial intelligence. He said the IOC would start an AI vision project in April.

● The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed the appeal by the International Boxing Association of the withdrawal of recognition by the IOC in 2023. The arbitrators reinforced the idea that the IOC can run its Olympic Games – within reason – how it wants, with who it wants and its own terms.

● Atlanta Olympic star Michael Johnson and former Cornell distance runner and software entrepreneur Barry Kahn are both working – separately – on high-profile, high-paying track & field meets. Johnson’s project is a multi-meet package aimed at 2025, but Kahn wants to stage a $1 million extravaganza later this year, limited to the men’s and women’s 100 meters.

● Visit Albuquerque reported that eight indoor track & field meets at its convention center provided a direct-speed boost to the region of $3.4 million! It’s part of a 16-event program expected to bring $18 million in spending in 2024.

Panorama: Olympic Games 2036 (Indonesia confirms interest in bidding, will observe in Paris) = International Paralympic Committee (IPC moving into new home in Bonn) = Swimming (2: Bowman to continue training elite swimmers in Austin; Singapore’s Schooling retires at 28) = Weightlifting (records galore at IWF World Cup, including first by a U.S. man since 1969) ●

Bach: “I hope we will always have issues with politics”

A new formula for engagement between sport and politics as intertwined and essential was described last week by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) in an important, 48-minute keynote address to the General Assembly of the Oceania National Olympic Committees, meeting in Fiji.

Bach spoke directly to the issues between the IOC, representing world sport, and governments around the world that have their own issues and interests. It’s easily the most exacting description of how any IOC President has ever seen the intersection of sport and politics:

“When speaking about good governance and promoting the relevance of sport in our society, then it’s also about respecting the different roles of the actors in society.

“And that is, in particular, true for politics. We will, hopefully, always have issues with politics.

“Because if we don’t have issues with politics any more, it means we are not relevant any more.

“Politicians are only interested in successful organizations. If we are not successful, if they don’t have the feeling that we have access to so many people in society, that we can contribute something, they will not be interested.

“So, I hope we will always have issues with politics, but what we need to do is that we can address these challenges in the right way and that means that we have to deal with politics in mutual respect.

“It means for us, in the world of sport, we have to respect that the world is run by politicians, and not by us. Unfortunately. But we also have to make politics understanding, in politicians understanding that we can only contribute to society, if they respect our autonomy.

“If they want to politicize us, if they want us to use as political tools, we cannot contribute any more, because then we are losing our values.

“Politics is always divisive. You always have different opinions, you also always have confrontation, you always have a clash of interests. Sport is unifying. Sport is the contrary of being divisive. Sport is the glue which holds our societies together.

“To mention only one example, for the differences between sport and politics. So we have to defend by all means our autonomy. And I say it here – I don’t know for how many times I’ve said it already, but it needs, apparently, to be repeated – that does not mean that we are apolitical, that we behave as if we would live on an island of the Saints, and that we would not acknowledge that also our actions have a political impact, and should have a political impact.

“Because otherwise, again, we would not be relevant. But, and that’s the difference, we have to be politically neutral. That means, for you as an NOC, whoever is in government, always realize that tomorrow they can be in opposition. And the ones who are in opposition can be in government tomorrow.

“And that they have, by nature, different interests than we have and must have in sport. So, keep your neutrality, work closely with them, as long and as much they respect your autonomy. But draw the line when you feel they want to take you over and they want to absorb you into their political field.

“And what is true on a national level is also true in an international level. This is why the IOC Executive Board just last week, together with [IOC Vice President] John Coates [AUS] and [ONOC President] Robin Mitchell [FIJ], we passed a declaration against the politicalization of sport, which is about the international level, where we can see such kind of efforts by or the other governments trying to start organizing purely politically-motivated games and sports events without any respect for our values and for our rules.”

Observed: So we can say that, as of 25 March 2024, any further discussion of sport being separate from politics must be dismissed. Bach has worked tirelessly – and to the distress of many observers – to further embed the IOC in United Nations projects, which he also spoke to during his ONOC address.

By following this path, Bach believes that it is better, in today’s ultra-connected world, to be engaged than apart. So far, he is pulling it off, but it is an open question how well any concept of comity amidst a deeply divided and increasingly hostile world can survive, let alone thrive, now, or for his successor.

Bach: digitalization “will determine the future of sport”

IOC President Bach, now in his 12th year at the helm of the Olympic Movement, also spoke passionately and in deep detail about staying current and getting ahead of the digital future, and promised a new initiative from the IOC:

I would like to encourage you to stay ahead of the curve in particular with regard to the one topic that will determine the future of our lives, of our personal lives, that will determine the future of our societies, and which will also determine the future of sport and this is digitalization.

“The ever-accelerating development of digitalization will, within a couple of years, change our world. And this, when it comes to sport, true, in particular with regard to two work streams.

“The one is with regard to eSports and eGames, where we cannot ignore that about three billion people on this planet are familiar with these games, and are not necessarily familiar any more in the young age with sport and physical activity. Therefore, we have to look into this area. We cannot ignore it; if we just ignore it, we will lose with we have, with hard work, got back in the last couple of years and what we can see from the numbers and figures in [social-media] followership for games and for sports [by] the young generation. …

“We have gained them back. But we will not maintain it, again, if we do not change, if we do not address their areas of society, if we do not address their lifestyle, if we do not address their interests, and there, eSports and eGames is a very important factor. This is why I’ve asked, there at the latest IOC Session in Mumbai last November our Esports Comission to study the establishment of Olympic Esports Games, where we want to make an effort in this respect, while, of course, always respecting our values, our values of nonviolence, of non-discrimination, of respect and tolerance. These will not be given up, but we have to go, we have to approach this community, to win them over for us, and to keep them interested in us.

“And the other, even more overwhelming development is artificial intelligence, which has the potential to start to change sports in every respect, from the training of the athletes to judging and refereeing and the fight against doping, to the experience of spectators, be [it] live – where it will be more immersive – be [it] on the screen, where everybody can be there own director in the future and has not to rely on the directors of the broadcasts and so on.

“There is a huge potential, related also with an imminent risk, like every new technology has risks, which have to be addressed, but there again, sport is different. Not from all other areas of society, but from most of the other areas of society, because there they discuss whether AI will take over their areas. Whether AI will take over human beings, whether AI will replace human beings, and there, for not being alleged of something, let’s take our profession, John [Coates, IOC Vice President], we remember that once we have been lawyers, where many people are saying in 10 years you don’t need lawyers any more, maybe already in five years.

“This is different in sport. The 100 meters will always have to be run by an athlete. They will be run by a robot, it’s not sport any more.

“So in sports, this principal question is answered: there in sports, AI can help, can assist, can support, but cannot replace the athlete.

“And it can help all of us organize sport in a more efficient, in a more sustainable, in a better way.

“There, you will see next month [in April], already in a couple of weeks – mid of next month – an initiative of the IOC where we will present such a project which brings together a vision of artificial intelligence in sport, and I can only encourage you maybe at your conference preceding your general assembly next year, maybe to dedicate to this topic of AI, in follow-up and implementation of this vision of AI in sport because, again, this will be the main challenge, and, you know me, I’m not so much worried about challenges. I always like to look at the bright side of life, to look at the opportunities AI is offering for us and to do it at the right time, again, before others are taking us over in this respect.”

Court of Arbitration throws out IBA appeal vs. IOC

“The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed the appeal filed by the International Boxing Association (IBA) against the decision taken by the IOC Session on 22 June 2023 withdrawing the IOC’s recognition of the IBA as the IF for the sport of boxing.”

Tuesday’s announcement was likely the end of a long-shot attempt by the IBA to overturn what was essentially a expulsion from the Olympic Movement. The matter was heard in November and the statement noted:

“The Panel determined that these three elements justified the IOC Session’s decision to withdraw recognition of the IBA and emphasized that the IOC’s right to control the circumstances in and the conditions on which it confers recognition outweighed the IBA’s personality rights.” The specific elements included:

● “The IBA had not increased its financial transparency and sustainability including through diversification of revenues.”

● “The IBA had not changed its process relating to referees and judges to ensure its integrity, including a monitoring period for IBA’s own competitions ahead of the Olympic Games Paris 2024.”

● “The IBA had not ensured the full and effective implementation of all the measures proposed by the ‘Governance Reform Group’ established by the IOC, including a change of culture.”

In other words, the decision reinforced the IOC’s position – as owner of the Olympic Games – that it can choose – within reason – whomever it wants to be in charge of any sport on its Olympic Games.

A further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal is possible, but the review there is extremely limited.

During his ONOC address on 25 March, IOC chief Bach told the delegates that unless the world’s national boxing federation coalesce around a new International Federation (such as the new World Boxing group), boxing will not be included at the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He said that the IOC will not serve as the boxing organizer beyond Paris 2024, having already managed the sport at Tokyo 2020.

Johnson and Kahn talk up big-money track & field events

A Sports Business Journal story on Monday profiled two concurrent development projects in track & field, one headed by Atlanta Olympic icon Michael Johnson and the other by former Cornell distance runner and later software entrepreneur Barry Kahn.

Johnson had previously announced an agreement with Winners Alliance, the for-profit agency founded in 2022 as part of the Professional Tennis Players Association, to create a series of meets in 2025. These would have larger prize purses than the current Diamond League meets ($10,000 winner’s prize); although no schedule or other details have been posted, Johnson shared his formula for success in a 2022 Twitter thread that included:

● “I asked what sport represents a successful example of what track & field could be or should be. In the thread below I have listed my response to some of the replies, and end with my opinion what the sport needs to achieve its potential.”

“Tennis/Golf. Individual sports, most comparable to track. 4 ‘Majors’ every year serve as the pinnacle. T&F calendar is confusing & crowded. Olympics, World Champs, 14 Diamond League events. All presented as major, but Olympics is ‘The Major’, and not controlled by the sport.”

● “Team sports. Make T&F a team sport. Sports fans identify with teams. NFL, NBA, EPL, etc. To successfully transition to a team sport or add a team element requires a well orchestrated approach that won’t create more confusion with athletes sometimes team and sometimes not.”

Kahn proposes a different kind of project, a single-event extravaganza that would be held over two or three days. His Duael Track concept is hoped to launch after the Paris 2024 Olympic Games; the story explained:

“Duæl Track will hold head-to-head matchups in the 100 meters and, ultimately, the mile as well. It will launch with Duæl 100 in September in Jamaica, though the exact date and location have not been finalized. The three-day event will feature 10 men and 10 women, racing head-to-head in heats of two until a winner stands atop the bracket.”

The program is built for television and could expand to 40 athletes in 2025 and an event for the mile could launch in 2026, with more added in the future.

The 100 meter event is slated to have a $1 million prize pool, with $500,000 to be paid to the two winners.

Both groups are looking for television and sponsorship agreements, as well as venues.

Albuquerque says $3.4 million in direct spend from indoor track

Eight indoor track & field meets drew about 9,000 athletes, coaches and fans to the Albuquerque Convention Center in January and February, resulting in direct spending of $3.4 million in the region.

Visit Albuquerque said in a statement that the events are part of a larger program of sports events attracted to the area, which are expected to bring in more than 35,000 attendees and more than $18 million in direct spending.

Scheduled events for the remainder of the year are in archery, boxing, cycling, gymnastics and volleyball, addition to track.

The first-quarter track events included the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Indoor Track Invitational, University of New Mexico Team Open, New Mexico Collegiate Classic, Don Kirby Elite Invitational, Mountain West Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships, Great Southwest Track & Field Indoor Meet and Western Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships. Indoor track events have contributed $10.4 million in direct spending over the last three years in Albuquerque.

The USATF Indoor meet produced a direct-spend in the region of $700,000, but was expected to be the second-largest indoor track event of the season, at 1,500 total attendees. The annual Don Kirby Elite Invitational, held the week prior, was expected to host a total of 1,600.


● Games of the XXXVI Olympiad ● Indonesia confirmed that it is in discussions with the IOC concerning a future Olympic hosting – possibly for 2036 – and will send an observer delegation to Paris for this summer’s Olympic Games.

In addition to representatives from the Indonesian Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ministry of Public Works and Public Housing will be included in the Paris delegation.

Observed: Beyond the questions of venues, villages, transportation and so on, Indonesian officials will have to explain to the IOC why they should be considered after the cancellation of the ANOC World Beach Games in 2023 and forfeit of the FIFA men’s U-20 World Cup because the government would not allow Israel to participate. Although FIFA withdrew the men’s U-20 World Cup over the rejection of Israel – which eventually won the bronze in the relocated tournament in Argentina – it awarded its men’s U-17 World Cup to Indonesia, held in November and December last year (Israel did not qualify).

● International Paralympic Committee ● Headquartered in the same building in Bonn (GER) since 1999 – its first central office location – the IPC closed the doors on 28 March and is moving to a new home just about 500 m away.

From its initial 10 staff members in 1999, the IPC’s 130-strong staff will soon occupy the former State Representation building in Bonn, close to the Bonn World Conference Center. The German State of North Rhine-Westphalia decided in 2019 to provide the facility at Dahlmannstrasse 2 in Bonn for IPC use beginning in 2020, but subsequent events – like the Covid-19 pandemic – put everything on hold.

The IPC had staff in multiple buildings in Bonn, but all will now be under one roof.

● Swimming ● New Texas coach Bob Bowman was introduced in Austin at a news conference on Tuesday and said that the swimmers who are training with him for the U.S. Trials and the Olympic Games will continue to do so.

That includes French star Leon Marchand, who led Arizona State to its first NCAA men’s swimming title in March and is expected to be a gold-medal contender in multiple events in Paris, and Hungarian backstroke star Hubert Kos, the 2023 World Champion in the 200 m Back.

Bowman’s American post-collegiate trainees, such as Rio Olympic women’s 100 m co-champ Simone Manuel, Tokyo Olympic men’s 400 m Medley gold medalist Chase Kalisz and others, will train with Bowman for a few more days at Arizona State. After the Tyr Pro Swim Series meet in San Antonio, Texas next week, Bowman will split time between Tempe and Austin, then go to a training camp in Colorado in May and then coach his swimmers in Austin up and through the U.S. Olympic Trials in June.

Singapore’s Joseph Schooling, a 12-time NCAA swimming gold medal winner and the 2016 Olympic 100 m Butterfly winner, announced his retirement on Tuesday at age 28.

Schooling, now 28, will be remembered most for his startling upset win at Rio in an Olympic record of 50.39, destroying a fine field that included American superstar Michael Phelps, who tied for second with Chad Le Clos (RSA) and Laszlo Cseh (HUN) at 51.14. Schooling received a reward of S$1,000,000, or about $739,810 U.S. today; the NCAA allowed him to keep the money since he was a foreign student.

● Weightlifting ● The record books are being rewritten at the IWF World Cup in Phuket (THA), with two men’s marks and North Korean women claiming seven records in the first three classes!

In the men’s 61 kg class on Tuesday, China’s Tokyo Olympic champ Fabin Li set a world record of 146 kg in the Snatch and won the overall competition at 312 kg, but not far behind was American Hampton Morris. Still just 20, Morris was only seventh in the Snatch (127 kg), but set a world record for the Clean & Jerk at 176 kg and vaulted up to second overall at 303 kg.

He broke Li’s world C&J mark of 175 kg from 2022. This was the first world record by an American man since 1969 when Bob Bednarski set marks for the Snatch and total at 110 kg. Morris also got U.S. records for the Snatch and total at 61 kg and now ranks no. 2 in the IWF’s Olympic rankings.

North Korea is dominating the women’s lifting, with Hyon Sim Won taking the 45 kg class with 87 kg (Snatch) ~ 109 kg (Clean & Jerk) ~ 196 kg (total), setting world records in all three segments! Siriwimon Pramonghkhol (THA) was well back in second at 176 kg (total).

PRK teammate Song Gum Ri won the women’s 49 kg division over China’s Tokyo Olympic champ, Zhizhi Hou, 221 kg to 217 overall. Hou started with a world record of 97 kg in the Snatch, but Ri lifted 97/124/221 and took the world mark for the total. (Hou got the world mark for the Snatch over Ri because she lifted it first.)

At 55 kg, Hyon Gyong Kang (PRK) continued the sweep, lifting 103/131/234 to win easily against Romanian Mihaela-Valentina Cambei (91/110/201). Kang got world records in the Clean & Jerk (131 kg) and total (234 kg), in both cases breaking her own marks from the 2023 Asian Games.

The competition – the last Olympic qualifier – continues through the 11th.

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