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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. New L.A. poll shows 57% like Olympics, more than like the city!
2. World Baseball Classic ‘23 shatters all records
3. Ukraine NOC letter makes legal case to keep IOC bans in place
4. Ukrainian fencers will not face Russians, join in protest
5. IIHF continues Russian ban; gym team misses Paris ‘24 qualifier
A new poll for the Los Angeles Times showed that 57% of City of Los Angeles residents think the 2028 Olympic Games will be good for the area, vs. 20% who don’t and 22% who think it won’t matter or don’t care. That’s actually better than city of L.A. residents think of Los Angeles generally, with 48% saying the city is a good or excellent place to live, 33% saying it’s just fair and 18% calling it “poor.” The 2023 World Baseball Classic rewrote the records for attendance and embarrassed the 2022 per-game average turnouts for Major League games at the home parks of the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks. National-team baseball is a hit, but will it expand? The National Olympic Committee of Ukraine sent a 10-page letter to the other NOCs and sports federations, making their case for Russian and Belarus to continue to be excluded from international competition and savaging the opinion of two volunteer U.N. Human Rights Council “Special Rapporteurs” for supporting their re-inclusion, pointing out significant gaps in their analyses. The Ukrainian fencers declared they will not compete against Russians or Belarusians and called on the International Fencing Federation (FIE) members to reverse their recent vote to allow them in, subject to IOC edicts. They also protested at a conference in Germany at which IOC President Thomas Bach was the featured speaker. The International Ice Hockey Federation maintained a ban on Russian and Belarusian teams through the 2023-24 season, while the Russian artistic gymnastics teams are shut out of the European Championships, a necessary qualifying platform for qualifying for Paris 2024. Russia’s coach now hopes for admission to the Asian Championships in June to be able to qualify for the 2023 FIG Worlds (and then qualify for Paris 2024).
● Panorama: Anti-Doping (Steven Ungerleider passes at 73) = Aquatics (World Aquatics completes rules review) = Figure Skating (Sakamoto leads women’s Worlds Short Program) = Gymnastics (U.S. wins men’s & women’s team titles in Germany) = Modern Pentathlon (new brochure aims to recruit obstacle racers) ●
New L.A. poll shows 57% like Olympics, more than like the city!
A new poll for the Los Angeles Times, coordinated by Suffolk University, published Wednesday, showed that 57% believe the 2028 Olympic Games “will be good” for Los Angeles, while 20% do not and 23% say it won’t matter.
The story on the poll offers only some of the data on the survey, with the Suffolk University Political Research Center site offering much more. This poll, taken by telephone of 500 respondents between 20-23 March 2023, was only for residents of the City of Los Angeles (3.85 million population in 2021), and not the much larger Los Angeles County area, which includes 88 cities (9.83 million) or the L.A, metro area (12.49 million).
The last two questions – out of 39 – were asked about the Olympic Games:
“38. The 2028 Summer Olympic Games will be hosted in Los Angeles. It’s estimated that the games will cost nearly 7 billion dollars in private funds and bring thousands of people to the city for a month of events. Do you think that hosting the Olympics will be good or bad for Los Angeles, or will it not matter?”
● 57.4%: Good
● 20.2%: Bad
● 16.2%: Will not matter
● 6.2%: undecided or won’t answer
So those who don’t know, don’t care or think it won’t matter much are ahead of those against the Games by 22.4% to 20.2%.
“39. How excited are you for the city to host the 2028 Olympics?”
● 56.8%: Very or somewhat excited
● 15.4%: Not very excited
● 25.2%: Not excited
● 2.6%: Undecided or won’t answer
About the same response as question 38.
These figures are down from a February 2022 poll by The Times and SurveyMonkey, but spanning a much larger area – 743 respondents from the Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties and the Inland Empire sections of Riverside and San Bernardino counties – that saw 76% in favor of hosting the Games and 16% opposed, and 8% who didn’t care or wouldn’t answer.
Interestingly, the figures for the 2028 Los Angeles Games are much better than Angelenos – City of Los Angeles residents – think about the City itself. Asked to rate Los Angeles “as a place to live”:
● 47.8%: Excellent or Good
● 33.2%: Fair
● 17.6%: Poor
● 1.4%: Undecided
New Mayor Karen Bass, in office barely 100 days, but who has made a push against homelessness a high-profile priority, also failed to excite respondents:
● 50.2% Approve
● 13.8% Disapprove
● 35.2%: Undecided
● 0.8%: Won’t answer
The undercurrent here is that people living in the City of Los Angeles itself aren’t all that happy with it and with what goes on there, now and in the future, including the Olympic Games in 2028. How that changes – for good or bad – in the future will continue to color how the 2028 Games are viewed.
Observed: From the outside, it would seem strange that 22.4% of the respondents said that the 2028 Games won’t matter, were undecided or didn’t answer. This reflects the state of the city today, but also in part a subtle strategy employed by the LA28 organizing committee.
Unlike some other Olympic organizing groups – Atlanta 1996 comes to mind – the LA28 folks have been quiet. They are selling sponsorships, funding millions of dollars worth of City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks programs for youth and not hiring much.
Yes, there are jobs being filled, but the entire organizing committee so far is only in the 150-plus range, a tiny fraction of the thousands who will be hired by the time we get to 2028. There are no bombastic news conferences, no gaudy advertising campaigns and even a muted selection of 61 items – mostly T-shirts and pins – offered online.
Isn’t this a problem? No. It’s the smart play for now.
First and foremost, the LA28 organizers are keenly aware – minute-by-minute – that the Olympic Games they expected to stage in five years is changing in front of their eyes, daily. What happens to Russia and Belarus going into 2024 and the response from democracies in Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, will shape the 2028 Games just as the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow 1980 Games impacted the Los Angeles Games in 1984.
Beyond the impact of the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine, the questions of what happens to boxing, modern pentathlon and weightlifting, and any sports that the LA28 organizers want to add, are still to be decided, either by the International Olympic Committee alone or in concert with the LA28 organizing committee. That is going to impact the plans for the Olympic Village at UCLA, transportation, hiring, communications, broadcasting and other areas; the decisions are expected by the summer.
Moreover, the LA28 folks know this truth: every dollar they don’t spend on staff, office space and stuff today will be available when the detailed organizing effort is in full speed in 2026, 2027 and 2028.
The Paris 2024 organizers are under severe budgetary pressures brought on by a pandemic they didn’t foresee in 2017 and massive inflation and supply-chain issues that started in 2021. Waiting to see what the 2028 Games has to look like in view of the worldwide, national and local situation closer to 2028 is the right play right now. The time to spend will come and all too soon.
World Baseball Classic ‘23 shatters all records
If you want the quickest possible snapshot of how great the 2023 World Baseball Classic was, just compare the attendance figures from the first edition in 2006 until now:
● 2006: 737,112 (18,900 per game for 39 games)
● 2009: 801,548 (20,549 for 39 games)
● 2013: 781,438 (20,037 for 39 games)
● 2017: 973,699 (24,342 for 40 games)
● 2023: 1,306,414 (27,796 for 47 games)
Looked at another way, the 47-game attendance in Taichung, Tokyo, Phoenix and Miami of 1.31 million topped the 2022 Miami Marlins seasonal total by 44% (907,497), and the per-game average of 31,685 for the 15 games played there was 2.82 times the Marlins’ average of 11,204.
By the way, the 10 Pool C games played in Phoenix averaged 24,265, 22% higher than last season’s average attendance of 19,817.
On television, the 10 March pool-play match-up between Korea and Japan in Tokyo drew 62.3 million viewers in Japan alone (44.4% share of all TV on during the game) and 2.7 million in Korea; it has been pointed out that the 2022 World Series averaged 12.5 million viewers in the U.S.
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player was, of course, Japanese two-star star Shohei Ohtani, who ended with the most innings pitched (9.2), tied for the most runs (9) and was named to the All-Tournament team as both Designated Hitter and Pitcher.
The U.S.’s Trea Turner set a WBC record for the most home runs with five, and Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida set the runs-batted-in record with 13.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has been involved with the tournament since before its 2006 debut, said the next edition is confirmed for 2026, just three years away instead of the normally-planned four, thanks to the pandemic.
The possibilities for national-team baseball are now obvious and it will be interesting to see if new discussions with broadcasters will take place that might change the format. Or if the concept of international baseball creates new showcases, for example, a U.S. vs. World All-Stars game during the All-Star break, or a series after the wild-card playoffs conclude and only eight of 30 teams are still playing.
It’s too good to ignore.
Ukraine NOC letter makes legal case to keep IOC bans in place
The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board will meet in Lausanne from 28-30 March next week, with a four-hour block on the first day devoted to:
“Discussion of the conclusions and review of the feedback from a series of consultation calls held with IOC Members, NOCs, IFs and athletes’ representatives on the topic of solidarity with Ukraine, the sanctions against Russia and Belarus, and the status of athletes from these countries.”
In advance of the meeting, a 10-page letter was prepared by the National Olympic Committee of Ukraine, and sent to the heads of National Olympic Committees, International Federations and members of NOC Athlete Commission. The request is simple, but the implications are dramatic:
“[W]e strongly urged the IOC Executive Board to remain in force [the] Recommendation of the IOC Executive Board of February 28, 2022, to suspend Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in international sports competitions.
“However, should the IOC Executive Committee decide to allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes, all the members of the IOC Executive Board must undertake personal responsibility for all consequences of such decision, including responsibility for safety of all participating athletes and general public and restoration of global peace.”
The core of the three-page primary letter and a seven-page annex is a detailed explanation of why the U.N. Human Rights Council volunteer “Special Rapporteurs” position that Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials should be allowed to compete is so wrong, and that the IOC’s heavy reliance on their position is so badly misplaced.
In short, the U.N. volunteer opinions do not take into account the IOC’s responsibilities to holdings of the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the European Court of Human Rights. The Ukrainian letter cites a Court of Arbitration for Sport holding that “the right to participate in competitions is not absolute” in an appeal by the Russian Football Union to participate in UEFA events. The letter states that the European Court of Human Rights has “recognized the difference in treatment and limitation of individual’s rights and freedoms may be a justifiable measure if it pursues a legitimate aim, such [as] the aim of ensuring public safety, restoration of peace, protection of national security. In such cases, a measure is not considered discriminatory.”
The letter states:
“[T]he interests of the organizers of sports competitions in their smooth conduct and the general goal of ensuring the safety of all participants (both participants and the public) is a legal non-discriminatory measure that takes precedence over the right of Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in such competitions.
“It is appalling that the above-mentioned report of UN Special Rapporteurs, which served as a foundation of the IOC’s renewed position, did not take into account the relevant CAS and ECHR jurisprudence at minimum, ignored non-absolute nature of the rights involved and of the prevailing circumstances arising from the Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is therefore unacceptable that the fragmented and unsubstantiated conclusions of the UN Special Rapporteurs serve as a ground for any [of the] IOC’s further decision.”
Ukrainian fencers will not face Russians, join in protest
“It was decided not only not to go to duels at competitions of any level directly with Russian and Belarusian athletes, but also for our athletes, coaches, judges not to participate in competitions in which Russian or Belarusian athletes will participate …
“The presidium decided to create a working group that will determine the specific plan and content of the active actions of Ukrainian athletes and coaches at the upcoming competitions at which an attempt will be made to return Russian and Belarusian athletes.
“In addition, specific actions aimed at challenging the illegal and shameful decision of the Congress of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) dated March 10, 2023 regarding the return of representatives of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus to international competitions under the auspices of the FIE were also discussed.”
A Monday meeting of the National Fencing Federation of Ukraine was held online, with a statement (partially quoted above) released to confirm a boycott of any competition which includes Russian or Belarusian fencers. The FIE Congress decision to potentially include Russian and Belarusian fencers after 15 April could be allowed or foreclosed by the IOC Executive Board next week.
A protest was staged by Ukrainian and German fencers on Wednesday in Essen (GER) at the Congress of the Ruhr Political Forum, with IOC President Thomas Bach (GER) the key guest in a discussion of the “Olympic Games in the zone of tension between sports and politics.”
A statement from the protesters included:
“Meanwhile, as Ukrainian defenders, including athletes, defend Ukrainian land and die at the hands of an aggressor, the IOC allows the participation of Russians and Belarusians in the Olympics in Paris under a neutral flag, thus tolerating the war. But we are against it and loudly declare it!”
Bach’s remarks at the Forum did not stray his from prior statements and included:
“If politics decides who can take part in a competition then sport and athletes become tools of politics. It is then impossible for sport to transfer its uniting powers.
“We must be politically neutral but not apolitical. We know well that politics rules the world. We know well that our decisions have political implications and we have to include that in our thinking.
“But we should not make the mistake to raise ourselves to referees of political disputes because we will be crushed by these political powers. …
“Ukraine wants, and this is a direct quote, ‘the total isolation of all Russians’.
“We are in a dilemma. We feel, suffer with and understand the Ukrainian people and athletes. On the other hand, we have, as a global organisation, a responsibility towards human rights and the Olympic Charter.
“Both do not allow such a total isolation of people with a specific passport.”
IIHF continues Russian ban; gym team to miss Paris ‘24 qualifier
Against some movement in favor of Russian and Belarusian re-admission in other sports, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced Wednesday:
“Based on a detailed risk assessment from a renowned company that specializes in assessing risks due to various global challenges, the IIHF Council determined that it is not yet safe to reincorporate the Russian and Belarusian Teams back into IIHF Competitions, and that it will not be safe for the upcoming 2023/2024 IIHF Championship season. Therefore, the IIHF will move forward with the 2023/2024 IIHF Championship season without the Russian and Belarusian Teams.”
The Russian reaction included: “The removal of the Russian team from participation in world championships and other competitions for the far-fetched reason of ‘safety of the participants’ is a decision that is neither constructive nor beneficial to world hockey.”
NBC Sports reported that according to the Paris 2024 qualifying process for artistic gymnastics, the Russian men’s and women’s teams may be out:
“Gymnasts from Russia, and other European nations not already qualified, need to compete at next month’s European Championships to stay on the path toward Olympic qualification in the men’s and women’s team events.”
The deadline for inclusion for the 11-16 April event in Antalya (TUR) was Tuesday’s draw (21st), now completed, with Russia and Belarus not included.
However, according to Russian national team coach Valentina Rodionenko, it’s not over yet:
“We have long understood that we will not be able to compete at the European Championships, so the draw that took place without us was not a surprise.
“Let’s hope that we will be given the opportunity to take part in the June [10-18] Asian Championships in Singapore, which will be the only chance to qualify for a very important World Championships for us.”
The top nine team finishers at the 2023 FIG World Artistic Championships in Antwerp (BEL) – starting on 30 September – will qualify for Paris 2024.
The “Russian Olympic Committee” won both the men’s and women’s Team titles in Tokyo in 2021, but might be excluded from Paris in 2024. If so, and the ban on Russian and Belarusian gymnasts is lifted later, there may be time for individual gymnasts to qualify through the 2024 FIG Apparatus World Cup series.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Anti-Doping ● The author of a crucial book that described the workings of the state-sponsored East German doping machine, Dr. Steven Ungerleider, passed away on 18 March at age 73, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Ungerleider, a gymnast in his youth, was a founder of the Foundation for Global Sports Development and co-founded its film-making arm, Sidewinder Films. Author of multiple books, he received wide praise for his 2001 work, Faust’s Gold: Inside the East German Doping Machine.
A sports psychologist by trade, he was the producer of the acclaimed “At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal” that appeared on HBO in 2019. He produced multiple films with Olympic and Paralympic themes, including “Munich ‘72 and Beyond” shown on PBS in 2016 about the families of the murdered Israeli team members, the 2020 PBS documentary “Positive All the Way” about International Paralympic Committee President Phillip Craven (GBR) and many others.
● Aquatics ● World Aquatics announced the completion of a comprehensive revision of its competition rules, including a regulation requiring a minimum of “three years of residence” to consider a change in national affiliation.
For swimming, the new rules allow full submersion under the surface of the water in the final 5 m of the backstroke. Something about this sound familiar? At the 2022 World Championships, Justin Ress out-touched fellow American Hunter Armstrong for the victory at 50 m, 24.12 to 24.14, but was disqualified for submersion at the finish. After a protest and a video review, Ress was reinstated, but now the issue won’t surface again (pun intended).
For Open Water swimming, the grueling 25 km distance has been eliminated from the World Aquatics Championships, leaving the 5 km and 10 km events.
● Figure Skating ● The first sessions of the 2023 ISU World Championships were completed in Saitama (JPN), with the home team taking charge of both the women’s and Pairs competitions.
Japan’s defending champion, Kaori Sakamoto, skated to a commanding lead in the Short Program with a score of 79.24, with Korea’s Haein Lee second (73.62). Mai Mihara (JPN) was third at 73.46, with U.S. champ Isabeau Levito fourth (73.03, in her first senior Worlds), Bradie Tennell eighth (66.45) and Amber Glenn 10th (65.5), all qualifying for the Free Skate.
In Pairs, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara – the 2022 silver medalists – led the Short Program at 80.72, with a healthy lead over defending champs Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier (USA: 74.64) and Italy’s Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii (73.24). Two other U.S. entries advanced: Emily Chan and Spencer Howe in fifth (70.23) and Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea in ninth (63.40).
Skating continues through Sunday.
● Gymnastics ● Strong performance by the U.S. teams at the DTB Pokal Team Challenge in Stuttgart (GER), with the men’s and women’s senior teams both winning their competitions.
The men’s team, with familiar stars including Brody Malone, Yul Moldauer, Shane Wiskus, Asher Hong and Fred Richard scored 258.800 to win over Japan (253.950). The women’s squad of Nola Matthews, Zoe Miller, Joscelyn Roberson, Ashlee Sullivan and Lexi Zeiss routed the field, scoring 162.300 to 155.950 for runner-up Belgium.
● Modern Pentathlon ● Having made the change to eliminate riding and concentrate on an obstacle course discipline in its bid to remain on the Olympic program for Los Angeles in 2028, the Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne created a 12-page brochure to try and entice obstacle-course athletes to expand to five events.
“Get Started With The New Modern Pentathlon” doesn’t flat-out promise that the sport will be contested in 2028, but says “Obstacle will be integrated into Modern Pentathlon for the first time in 2023, and the journey to Los Angeles 2028 starts HERE AND NOW!”
Page nine notes, however, “No, this doesn’t have to be all about LA28. If you already have Obstacle experience, you can choose any combination from the UIPM Sports Pyramid and take a longer-term approach to your Pentathlon journey(the Olympic is every four years, but the Pentathlon circuit is annual and we have opportunities for all ages.)”
The decision on whether Modern Pentathlon will be included in the LA28 program will be made later this year.
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