The Sports Examiner

TSX REPORT: IOC’s Esports Series baffles gaming industry; FIFA pressed on possible Visit Saudi sponsoring; Shiffrin seeks record-tying ski win

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1. IOC’s Olympic Esports Series confuses U.S. pro gamers
2. Australia and New Zealand feds shun Visit Saudi sponsorship
3. Stoats top flowers to be Milan Cortina 2026 mascots
4. Shiffrin chasing Stenmark record in his native Sweden this week
5. USOPC receives $10 million gift to support mental health

The “established” esports industry of leagues featuring games like “League of Legends” and “Overwatch” have reacted with confusion to the International Olympic Committee’s new Olympic Esports Series, as they were passed over in favor of electronic versions of existing sports. But as the online business site Digiday reports, that may be exactly the right path for the IOC to take. The chief executives of the Australian and New Zealand football federations both rejected a so-far-unannounced sponsorship of Visit Saudi for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, citing the lack of freedoms for women in that country. Also unannounced are the mascots for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games in Milan and Cortina (ITA), but Italian media reported that the public vote was in favor of the stoat pair offered by a school in Catanzaro, over a flower and snowdrop combo from a Milan school. American ski star Mikaela Shiffrin will try to tie Swedish legend Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86 career World Cup wins this weekend … in Sweden, where a Giant Slalom and Slalom will be held in Are. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee received a sensational $10 million gift to aid its mental-health program from The Rieschel Family Foundation. It’s the largest single donation ever made to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation.

Panorama: Russia (2: chess federation moves to Asia; ITF continues allowing Russians as neutrals) = U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (coaches of the year named) = Gymnastics (furious Russian reaction to Viner suspension) = Wrestling (path for NCAA women’s championship now open) ●

IOC’s Olympic Esports series confuses U.S. pro gamers

While the Olympic sports world is looking on with interest to see how the International Olympic Committee’s stance on electronic sports is evolving, the professional gaming world – at least in the U.S. – may be confused.

The respected online trade site Digiday summarized the situation with a Tuesday look at the IOC’s new Olympic Esport Series that will culminate in June in Singapore:

“[M]any observers in the esports industry felt that the IOC’s announcement missed the mark. The event does not involve any traditional esports, such as ‘League of Legends’ or ‘Counter-Strike,’ nor does it include prominent sports-adjacent competitive games such as NBA 2K, FIFA or Rocket League. Some of the selected titles, such as ‘Tic Tac Bow’ and ‘Tennis Clash,’ are primarily mobile games with little to no structured competitive scene.”

But the story also noted in detail the IOC’s interests in esports which are far removed from the most popular competitive titles:

“As far as the IOC is concerned, all the grousing of esports-industry veterans might be little more than a distraction. Many of the most popular traditional esports are explicitly violent games, replete with guns, terrorists and pitched group combat, and thus inherently a bad fit for the Olympics, which operates on the mantra of ‘peace through sport.’ By focusing on games that emulate traditional sports, it’s more likely that the IOC is using its first esports event to target Olympics fans with an interest in gaming – not hardcore esports fans with an interest in the Olympics.”

This “nonstandard approach to esports” was also lauded for bringing esports closer to mainstream corporate sponsors that are already involved in the Olympic Games, and choosing some games which make sense for play on mobile devices – phones and tablets, making them more accessible worldwide – and not the heavy-duty gaming computers which are standard for the top-tier competitive games and leagues in the U.S.

The story’s bottom line:

“In other words, the Olympic Esports Series isn’t really an esports event – at least not in the sense that the word ‘esports’ has been used by the multitude of stakeholders building the franchised leagues and competing inside them.”

Australia and New Zealand feds shun Visit Saudi sponsorship

FIFA has not announced a much-written-about sponsorship from Visit Saudi, the national tourism organization in Saudi Arabia, for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

But both of the host federations have now offered clear statements against such a commercial tie-in in view of the limits on women’s rights in that country. Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said Monday:

“Football Australia has consulted on this matter with key stakeholders, including government and commercial partners and it was an overwhelming consensus that this partnership does not align with our collective vision for the tournament and falls short of our expectations.

“Whilst the partnership has not been confirmed by FIFA, based on the consultations we have had with our community, key stakeholders and our own position, we would not be comfortable with it.

“While we await further clarity and information as to the details of the partnership from FIFA, we continue to convey this clear message on behalf of Football Australia, New Zealand Football, and our community.”

New Zealand Football chief exec Andrew Pragnell told reporters that a FIFA letter replying to concerns over the possible Visit Saudi sponsorship was hardly clear:

“It didn’t confirm nor deny the potential Visit Saudi sponsorship that has been reported in the media.”

“It did allude to the importance of treating all member associations equally and the importance of engagement as opposed to isolation. Other than that, it stated that they’d be reaching out through their media and partnerships team for further conversations.”

FIFA, for its part, continues to be quiet.

Stoats top flowers to be Milan Cortina 2026 mascots

Again, no official announcements, but Italian reports confirm that the Milan Cortina 2026 Olympic Winter Games mascots are expected to be the stoats created by primary school students at the Istituto Comprensivo di Taverna in Catanzaro, in the south of Italy.

The stoats – ermines, related to badgers, otters and wolverines – received 53% of the public vote over a snowdrop and an edelweiss flower offered by the Istituto Comprensivo A.B. Sabin of Segrate in Milan.

The design contest was popular, with about 400 applications and 1,600 project ideas submitted, from 681 classes from 82 schools.

If confirmed, the as-yet-unnamed stoats will be the fifth straight Winter Games with animal mascots:

2010 Vancouver: Miga (sea bear), Quatchi (Sasquatch), Mukmuk (marmot)
2014 Sochi: Bely Mishka (polar bear), Snow Leopard, Zaika (hare)
2018 PyeongChang: Soohorang (tiger)
2022 Beijing: Bing Dwen Dwen (panda)

The Turin 2006 mascots were Neve and Gliz, a snowball and an ice cube.

Shiffrin chasing Stenmark record in his native Sweden this week

Of course, it had to be: American skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin possibly equaling or passing Swedish skiing legend Ingemar Stenmark’s record for career World Cup wins … in Sweden.

The FIS Women’s Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit is in Are for races in Shiffrin’s two best events, the Giant Slalom and the Slalom. Those two comprise 71 of her 85 total World Cup wins (84%), and, really, 76 when counting the City Events and Parallel Slalom victories (89%):

● 52 Slalom
● 19 Giant Slalom
● 5 Super-G
● 3 Downhill
● 1 Combined
● 3 City Events (slalom-style)
● 2 Parallel Slalom

The races in Are are slated for Friday (Giant Slalom) and Saturday (Slalom), with Shiffrin needing one win to catch Stenmark – now 66 – who won 86 World Cup races from 1974-89. He was also a technical racer, winning 40 Slaloms and 46 Giant Slalom events. He was the 1980 Olympic champion in both events in Lake Placid (USA).

Stenmark has the all-time record for most World Cup medals with 155; Shiffrin has 134 so far.

Are is a special place for Shiffrin: she won her first World Cup race there, the Slalom in December 2012, and she added wins in 2014-15-18. She owns 11 World Cup golds this season: five of the eight Giant Slaloms and five of the nine Slaloms to far, plus one Super-G.

If she misses out this week, there’s the World Cup Final series in Soldeu (AND) from 15-19 March, which will include the full program of Downhill, Super-G, Slalom and Giant Slalom.

Already the overall World Cup and seasonal Slalom points champion for 2022-23, she can also wrap up the Giant Slalom title, currently leading Swiss star Lara Gut-Behrami, 600-482, with two races left.

USOPC receives $10 million gift to support mental health

“The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, in partnership with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Foundation, today announced that Yucca and Gary Rieschel have committed $10 million in support of Team USA’s mental health program. The donation, made through The Rieschel Family Foundation, is the largest standalone gift in foundation history.”

The Reischels have been mental health supporters of the USOPC since 2020 and were the organization’s first Mental Health Ambassadors. Funding from the Reischels and others have allowed the USOPC to engage the services of more than 200 service providers across the U.S. in the mental-health sector and provide on-the-ground mental-health specialists for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams at Tokyo 2020 and Beijing in 2022.

Gary Rieschel is a leading technology venture capitalist, and the Founding Managing Partner of Qiming Venture Partners, a Shanghai-based firm launched in 2006. He helped develop the venture capital sector in China during stints as a senior executive at Intel, Sequent Computer, Cisco Systems, and Softbank Corporation.


● Russia ●We won’t be able to play under the flag at FIDE competitions. There is no such ban in the Asian Chess Federation. If the Asian Championship is not a qualifier for the World Championship, we will play under the flag and with the anthem.”

That’s Russian Chess Federation Executive Director Alexander Tkachev, following the move of the Russian federation from Europe to Asia that was concluded in 28 February. The International Chess Federation (FIDE), which has a Russian President in Arkady Dvorkovich, is maintaining the IOC’s sanctions, which grudgingly permits Russian and Belarusian participation, but as neutrals, with no flag or anthem use.

Chess is not on the Olympic program, but is an IOC-recognized federation.

In tennis, International Tennis Federation President David Haggerty of the U.S. told Kyodo News that while the Russian and Belarusian federations have been suspended by the ITF, Russian and Belarusian players continue to be allowed to play as neutrals by the men’s and women’s professional tours (ATP and WTA). Haggerty said, “The current policy is balanced.”

● U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee ● Bobby Kersee, the legendary track & field coach of Allyson Felix and now Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Athing Mu and others, was honored on Monday as the USOPC’s Olympic Coach of the Year.

Kersee, who rose to national acclaim during his time as the UCLA women’s coach in the 1980s, has coached superstars such as Gail Devers and Jackie Joyner, whom he later married in 1986. His Los Angeles-based training group now includes hurdler Taylor McLaughlin (Sydney’s brother), Brandon Miller (800 m), sprinter Jenna Prandini and former 100 m hurdles world-record holder Keni Harrison.

David Hoff (sled hockey) was selected as Paralympic Coach of the Year. Mike Peplinski (curling) was honored as Developmental Coach of the Year and Jacob Roberts (speedskating) as Volunteer Coach of the Year.

Ryan Martin (wheelchair basketball) was named College Coach of the Year, and Jose Polanco, the USA Boxing Assistant Director of High Performance, as Service Provider of the Year.

Dr. Christine Brooks, a USA Track & Field sport science instructor, was tabbed as Coach Educator of the Year and Tom West (USA Rowing) won the Doc Counsilman Science & Technology Award winner for his development of specialized equipment for Paralympic rowers.

● Gymnastics ● “Furious” is perhaps the best way to describe the Russian reaction to the two-year suspension of famed Rhythmic Gymnastics coach Irina Viner by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG).

FIG announced Monday that the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation Disciplinary Commission had suspended Viner for two years, to be served AFTER the current sanctions on Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine have concluded (whenever that will be). The issues:

“The proceedings related to the alleged retaliatory withdrawal of Ms Nataliya Kuzmina’s candidacy for the 2021 elections to the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee, public statements made in media following the defeat of the Russian rhythmic gymnastics team at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which were deemed abusive and in violation of FIG Rules, as well as the Respondents’ failure to duly cooperate with the investigation.”

The genesis was the Tokyo 2020 competitions, in which Bulgaria snapped a five-Games win streak for the Russian women in the Group All-Around, 92,100 to 90.700, and Israel’s Linoy Ashram won the women’s All-Around individual gold, 107.800 to 107.650, over favored Dina Averina (RUS). Viner called the silver-medal scores “a disgrace” and then blocked Kuzmina’s re-election bid to the Rhythmic Technical Committee; Kuzmina had oversight of the Olympic judging panel in Tokyo.

The reaction came quickly on Tuesday, with the Russian federation stating it is considering an appeal. And:

● State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin visited a rhythmic gymnastics training facility named for Viner and told her and other coaches and athletes:

“People like you have already written themselves into history. … No one will be able to erase your name, the names of our athletes. There is no rhythmic gymnastics in the world without you. …

“Everything the U.S. is doing now to maintain its hegemony, to keep power in its hands, it is, of course, unfair, dishonest, and will eventually lead to their collapse. The world should be a just, multipolar world.”

Dmitry Svishchev, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Physical Culture and Sports, told TASS:

“Considering how much Irina Aleksandrovna Viner has done for the development of rhythmic gymnastics, FIG should have at least take this fact into account. Especially in such a sport, where, in fact, Russia has always been ahead of the rest of the planet, and everyone else has already followed it. And here it is – the gratitude of colleagues, so to speak. We, of course, never expect that they are kind, but to do this with the actual founder of modern rhythmic gymnastics is already too much. I think that we need to consider the option of appealing this decision. It does not at all correspond to the era that Irina Viner personifies in world sports. I think that this punishment is directly related to her position on matters of principle.”

Alexander Zhukov, honorary president of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC):

“I regard this as yet another example of political interference in sports. Irina Alexandrovna was punished for criticizing refereeing at the Olympic Games, which was absolutely fair. The contribution that Viner made to the development of rhythmic gymnastics cannot be compared with someone else. The International Gymnastics Federation, having removed the Russians from their competitions a year ago, chopped off the branch on which it sat. And after the decision to disqualify Viner, another step was taken towards the abyss.”

● Wrestling ● In a major move forward for women’s wrestling, the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship group announced that the NCAA’s requirements – across Division I, II and III – to make women’s wrestling a championship sport have been met.

NCWWC Executive Committee Chair Lisa Goddard McGuirk, noted, “With the help of our coalition partners, Wrestle Like a Girl, USA Wrestling, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Coaches Association we are proud to share that 43 teams have reported meeting their divisional Bylaw goals.”

Assuming the NCAA approval process moves ahead without incident, it is possible that national championships in women’s wrestling could come as soon as two years from now.

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