The Sports Examiner

TSX REPORT: Paris 2024 opening ceremony crowd to be 300,000; Putin says ROC and Sports Ministry will decide if Russians go to Paris

The Paris 2024 concept for the Opening Ceremony on the Seine (Image: Paris 2024)

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1. Paris 2024 opening to host 300,000-plus spectators
2. Paris 2024 details “Marathon Pour Tous” for 40,048 during Games
3. IOC knocks Italian plan for Cortina sliding center
4. Putin says ROC and Sports Ministry will decide on Paris
5. Tokyo 2020 bribery defendant Takahashi begins defense at trial

● The French Interior Minister said that the crowd for the opening ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games on the Seine will be about 300,000, down from the once-projected 600,000 for security and transport reasons.

● The Paris 2024 “Marathon Pour Tous” program will welcome more than 40,000 runners on the Olympic marathon course on the same day as the men’s event will be held. Both a full marathon and a 10 km race will be held.

● The International Olympic Committee once again panned the Italian plan to rush ahead with the building of a new sliding track for bob, luge and skeleton in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026. But the issue is now political in Italy; the organizers will keep back-up plans in place.

● Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the decision on what to do about participation at Paris as “neutrals” is up to the Russian Olympic Committee and the Sports Ministry. Questions are also being asked about who gave skater Kamila Valieva the Trimetazidine that caused her doping positive; no one knows.

● The man at the center of the Tokyo 2020 sponsorship pay-to-play scandal, Haruyuki Takahashi, appeared in court in Tokyo for the first time on Wednesday. His lawyers insisted that the money he received was for legitimate consulting work. Meanwhile, a dozen others have admitted guilt and have received suspended sentences.

Panorama: Vox Populi (Sobering essay on conflict and Olympic hopes from Prof. Helmut Digel) = Los Angeles 2028 (L.A. City report says LA28 funding has increased sports participation) = World Anti-Doping Agency (Olympic Council of Asia confirmed compliant) = Athletics (big opener for World Champ Mahuchikh in Cottbus!) = Boxing (USA Boxing confirms Olympians, named Olympic qualifier entries) = Fencing (U.S. wins three bronzes at Qatar Epee Grand Prix) = Shooting (Simonton takes Skeet title at ISSF Grand Prix in Egypt) ●

Paris 2024 opening to host 300,000-plus spectators

Finally, an actual number for the spectators who will be watching the Paris 2024 Olympic opening ceremonies along the Seine River in Paris: “around 300,000.”

That’s from French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin, from a television interview on Wednesday, ending months of speculation on what the finalized limit will be. The logistical plan remains the same:

● About 100,000 spectators will be seated close to the water, on the lower quays; these tickets are being sold by the Paris 2024 organizers.

● Another 200,000 or so will be able to watch the ceremony from the upper quays; they will be required to obtain tickets, which will be free and distributed by the government.

● There will be no restrictions on watching the event from home for those who live along the route.

The 300,000 figure is half what was originally projected as the capacity for the ceremony, with the same 100,000 close to the water, but as many as 500,000 on the upper banks. But this total was seriously opposed by public transportation officials as far more than it could handle.

Darmanin did not explain when or how the final figure was arrived at, but transport and security concerns have been paramount, and a plan by the Paris police to remove hundreds of the river-side second-hand bookseller boxes has been fiercely opposed by the booksellers and their allies.

Darmanin was optimistic, if also realistic about the risks involved:

“I know that we have the best security forces in the world and that we will succeed in showing not only that we can win medals [at the Games] but that we can play host to the world without any problems.”

Ile-de-France regional President Valerie Pecresse, also in charge of the transport authority, welcomed the lower figure:

“It seems to us to be a much more reasonable level that provides security and safety for spectators as well as for travellers on public transport.”

Darmanin acknowledged that “The terror risk is extremely strong,” and the organizers have said that they have contingency plans in development that will maintain the ceremony on the water, but could modify the show to protect athletes and performers in case of a security alert.

The Paris 2024 organizers said that the exact numbers are still to be worked out:

“As the French government has indicated, the final decision on the size of the stadium will be taken at the end of the consultation process in spring 2024.

“When it comes to security, the Minister of the Interior is in the best position to take the right decisions. As you know, it is the State that is responsible for security and for welcoming the spectators who will attend the opening ceremony free of charge on the upper quays.

“Paris 2024 has been working for many months in close collaboration with the public authorities to calibrate the capacity, for which we are taking many parameters into account. Consultations are still underway, under the authority of the chief of police.”

Paris 2024 details “Marathon Pour Tous” for
40,048 during Games

One of the true innovations of the Paris 2024 organizing plan is to offer an opportunity for non-elite runners to be part of the road-running experience on the same day as the men’s Olympic marathon: the “Marathon Pour Tous.”

On 10 August, the men’s marathon will begin at 8 a.m. with an expected field of 80. But in the evening, more than 40,000 runners will take over all or part of the course:

9:00 p.m.: The same marathon course will be open to 20,024 runners – half men, half women – who will run the full distance, beginning at the Hotel de Ville and finishing at the famed Esplanade des Invalides.

11:30 p.m.: Another 20,024 runners will run in a 10 km race, also starting and finishing in the same locations as the marathon, but with a much shorter route in between.

Some 35,000 entries were allocated out of the 40,048 total to the public, with the right to run won by varying events across France, and registrations from outside the country. In all, entries will come from 110 countries, with the highest registration numbers from France (of course), the U.S., Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.

The marathon entries range from 20-85 years, with a quarter trying the distance for the first time. The 10 km starters range from 16-95.

This is a first-time concept and could become of the signature legacies of the Paris 2024 Games, especially with the nighttime program and a planned showcase of multiple landmarks lit up as the runners pass them during their run.

IOC knocks Italian plan for Cortina sliding center

“The IOC firmly believes that the existing number of sliding centers, globally, is sufficient for the current number of athletes and competitions in the sports of bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton.

“[Only] existing and already operating tracks should be considered due to the very tight timeline remaining.”

The Associated Press reported the International Olympic Committee’s statement on Wednesday, continuing to insist that an existing venue should be used for the 2026 Olympic Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

The IOC’s statement also noted that it has been “unequivocal that no permanent venue should be built without a clear and viable legacy plan.”

Confidence in the Italian plan to build a sliding venue in about a year is tempered by the reality that the Cesara Pariol venue for the 2006 Turin Winter Games closed in 2012 as it was too expensive to operate and had drawn little tourism interest.

But the building of a site in Cortina to replace the famed Eugenio Monti track used for the 1956 Winter Games – in Cortina – had become a national political issue, as expressed by Deputy Prime Minister Antonio Tajani on Tuesday on X (ex-Twitter):

“Today the Council of Ministers will approve regulations on the 2026 Winter Olympics. It is not acceptable for the bobsled races to take place outside Italy. The choice is forced: either Cortina or Cesana. We will do everything to achieve the goal. I support Italy!”

After attracting no bids at all for the project last summer, one bidder has come forward, the Parma-based Impresa Pizzarotti & C., at €81.6 million ($88.27 million U.S.), and would be contracted by the Italian government’s infrastructure authority, known as SIMICO. The track has to be completed in a year in order to be tested and certified in the season prior to the 2026 Winter Games.

Just in case the track cannot be finished in time, the Milan Cortina organizers are maintaining contacts with four other possible sites for bob, luge and skeleton: Innsbruck (AUT), Koenigssee (GER), St. Moritz (SUI) and Lake Placid in the U.S.

Putin says ROC and Sports Ministry will decide on Paris

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped into the Olympic controversies surrounding Russia, placing the responsibility of deciding whether any Russian athletes will compete in Paris on others. Speaking at a campaign event, he explained:

“I understand everything that is connected with participation or non-participation, discrimination of our high-achieving athletes in international competitions.

“Now, it seems to me, there is no need to talk about this. It is our Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Sports that must finally decide what to do and what not to do in this regard.”

He added:

“Today’s major international competitions within the framework of the Olympic movement, of course, are becoming flawed. In some sports, without our athletes, competitions become uninteresting. It’s just that our athletes are leaders in many areas.”

And he insisted that “respected individuals in this sphere, athletes, realize what is really going on and regret the current developments.”

Of course, Putin did not say that he would not be discussing the issue with both the Sports Ministry and the Russian Olympic Committee.

As for sports today:

“International sport is a sport of high achievements – it is very commercialized. Everything there, every step, depends on advertisers, on sponsors. Sponsors, in turn – these are large companies – depend on the political elites of their states. So the circle is closed, and so everything, all problems stem from this, around this.”

In the wake of the Court of Arbitration for Sport holding that Russian skater Kamila Valieva was doping based on her positive test on 25 December 2021, calls have come quickly for further inquiries into who provided her with the prohibited substance Trimetazidine.

The question of investigations into her “entourage” was noted by Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) head Veronika Loginova, who said her agency will not pursue it:

“We have investigated the athlete’s entourage within the authority that RUSADA possesses in line with Russian law and the regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We believe that the authority of anti-doping organizations is not always sufficient to prove the involvement of an athlete’s entourage in doping cases.

“RUSADA has no power of law enforcement bodies to resort to operative investigative measures. We have repeatedly stated this. Unfortunately, in most cases our investigative activities are limited to voluntary participation and subsequent analysis of the gathered information.

“WADA stated that the investigation could be resumed after the agency studied the reasoned text of the CAS verdict. We are ready to provide them with all the necessary assistance within the framework of our authority and powers.”

Loginova said she would like to find the person responsible for Valieva’s doping positive:

“If there is a person who acted as an accomplice or even the initiator of taking a prohibited substance to Kamila, who at that time was only 15 years old, then this ‘criminal’ – there is no other way to call him, must be punished, including criminal liability for inducing a minor athlete to violate anti-doping rules. In Russia, unlike most, even the most advanced in this area of countries, criminal liability for this was introduced in 2016.”

The Times (London) reported that while all three arbitrators in the Valieva case agreed that a sanction was called for, two were in favor of the four-year ban that was imposed and one preferred two years.

Tokyo 2020 bribery defendant Takahashi begins defense at trial

Former Dentsu senior director and Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizing committee board member Haruyuki Takahashi appeared in a Tokyo District Court on Wednesday, with his attorneys claiming that the funds he received from sponsors and ad agencies were for legitimate consulting work.

Takahashi, 79, has been at the center of the pay-to-play sponsorship bribery scandal disclosed after the Games were concluded, with 15 people indicted in all and about 12 already entering guilty pleas and receiving suspended sentences. They admitted that their payments to Takahashi were intended as bribes to assure that they would be selected as Tokyo 2020 sponsors or licensees.

Prosecutors say that he received payments – either directly or through third parties – to help arrange for Olympic sponsor, supplier and licensee designations for various businesses, as well as to recommend ad agencies to work with sponsors. The total payments are alleged at ¥196 million, or about $1.33 million U.S. today.

Takahashi, a Tokyo 2020 Executive Committee member, is said to have made arrangements to assist Official Supporters Aoki Holdings (¥51 million payment total) and Kadokawa Corp. (¥76 million), licensee Sun Arrow, Inc. (¥7 million) and ad agencies ADK Holdings (¥47 million) and Daiko Advertising (¥26 million). He was assisted by two consulting firms through which the monies were routed.

Takahashi’s attorneys told the Court that the payments were for legitimate consulting work, and that Takahashi could not have had so much authority over sponsor marketing since the solicitation of sponsors was outsourced to ad giant Dentsu. The prosecution contends that as a former Dentsu senior director, he had a central role in the selection of sponsors and suppliers.

The trial is to be continued on 22 February.


● Vox Populi ● A very sobering guest essay on conflicts in today’s world and a possible contribution to the idea of peace by the Olympic Movement by Prof. Helmut Digel, the long-time former World Athletics Council member and head of the German track & field federation.

● Olympic Games 2028: Los Angeles ● A good report from the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, filed last week, that despite lingering Covid issues, participation was well ahead of the pre-pandemic baseline totals.

The fiscal year 2022-23 plan showed a projected total of 145,991 participants in the myriad of programs funded by LA28 organizing committee monies advanced by the IOC. Instead, the total enrollment was 176,596, a 21% increase. Even better: the budget of $17.53 million was underspent by 23%, at $13.55 million.

The heaviest users by age were children from 5-13, although the program reached down to a few as young as one, and as old as 17. Compared to the baseline participation total at the start of the program – 148,274 from 2018-19 – the project’s participation was up by 19% for 2022-23. Funding by LA28 will continue through the middle of 2028.

Also noteworthy was support for this project provided by other organizations such as the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, Los Angeles Clippers Foundation, Angel City FC, Kaiser Permanente, the LA84 Foundation, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nike.

The PlayLA report was actually completed in September, but not forwarded to the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Olympic and Paralympic Games until now.

● World Anti-Doping Agency ● WADA confirmed that the Olympic Council of Asia paid its $500,000 fine for allowing the North Korean flag to be used at the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou (CHN).

North Korea was deemed compliant in the last week, but was not compliant during the Asian Games; both matters are concluded, at least for now.

● Athletics ● A big seasonal opener for Ukraine’s women’s high jump World Champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh in Cottbus (GER) at the annual Internationales Springer-Meeting, winning with a world-leading 2.04 m (6-8 1/4).

She cleared on her second try, but did not attempt a higher height. It ties her third-best performance ever, and is her second-best mark indoors.

● Boxing ● Following the end of the USA Boxing selection camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA Boxing confirmed five Olympians-to-be already qualified and identified seven fighters who will compete at the 29 February-12 March World Qualification Tournament I in Busto Arsizio (ITA).

The five already going to Paris, thanks to their performance at the 2023 Pan American Games, include Jahmal Harvey (57 kg) and Joshua Edwards (+92 kg) in the men’s classes and Jarjaira Gonzalez (60 kg), Morelle McCane (66 kg) and Jennifer Lozano (50 kg) for the women.

Selections for the Worlds qualifier include 2021 World Champion Robby Gonzales (80 kg), 2021 Worlds runner-up Omari Jones (71 kg) and 2022 Americas confederation champions Jamar Talley (92 kg) and Roscoe Hill (51 kg).

Naomi Graham, the 2018 Worlds bronze medalist (75 kg) and national tournament champions Alyssa Mendoza (57 kg) and Shera Mae Patricio (54 kg) will compete for spots in Paris for the women.

● Fencing ● A surprise win for Israel and three bronze medals for the U.S. at the FIE Grand Prix in Epee in Doha (QAT) for men and women.

The men’s final was won by Yuval Freilich of Israel, who had previously taken one World Cup medal in his career, back in 2016. But he overcame 2018 World Champion Yannick Borel (FRA) in the quarters (15-9) and dispatched Federico Vismara of Italy in the final, also by 15-9. Americans Yeisser Ramirez and Sam Imrek took the bronzes.

The women’s title was the second career Grand Prix gold for top-ranked Man Wai Vivian Kong (HKG), who outlasted Guilia Rizzi (ITA) in the final by 14-13. Two-time Worlds bronze winner Kong has – at 29 – won 13 career Grand Prix or World Cup medals. Hadley Husisian of the U.S. lost to Kong in the semis, 15-14, and shared the bronze medals with Darja Varfolonyeyeva (UKR).

All three Americans won their first major international medals!

● Shooting ● American Sam Simonton, the 2022 Worlds bronze medalist in women’s Skeet, won the ISSF World Cup in Cairo (EGY) for the only U.S. medal of the competition. She defeated Italy’s Martina Maruzzo, 50-47, for the gold.

Eleven different countries won events across the Olympic event program, with Greece’s 2016 Olympic 25 m Pistol winner Anna Korakaki taking the women’s 10 m Air Pistol gold, and the silver at 25 m, losing to 2023 World Champion Doreen Vennekamp (GER), 39-37, in the final.

Worlds bronze winner Azmy Mehelba (EGY) won for the home team in men’s Skeet, and India led the overall medal count with six.

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