TSX REPORT: What about Belarusian athletes? Africa might also welcome Russia; Australia and New Zealand ask FIFA about Saudi sponsorship?

A map of a troubled eastern Europe (Map: Family Search Wiki, under Creative Commons license)

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1. Belarus decathlete Krauchanka asks IOC about repression there
2. Russian Minister says Africa may welcome its athletes
3. Tokyo prosecutors ask 30-month sentence in Tokyo 2020 case
4. Australia and New Zealand ask about “Visit Saudi” sponsorship
5. Is the next geopolitical sports blow-up coming in Turkey?

While the question of whether Russian athletes will be able to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games rages on, the question equally applies to Belarusian athletes, with Beijing 2008 decathlon runner-up Andrei Krauchanka – now living in Germany – asking how the International Olympic Committee squares atrocities against athletes by the Belarus government against allowing those who have kept quiet back into competition. The Russian Deputy Sports Minister said Wednesday that African competitions might also be open to its athletes, in addition to those in Asia. In Tokyo, prosecutors asked for sentences of 12-30 months for three executives of business-suit retailer Aoki Holdings in the Tokyo 2020 sponsorship bribery scandal; all three have already admitted their complicity. The football federations in Australia and New Zealand registered displeasure with reports that FIFA has agreed to a sponsorship for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in their countries from Visit Saudi, the country’s national tourism arm, in view of Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record, notably with women’s rights. The next possible political confrontation leading to non-participation could come at the 2023 European Indoor Championships in Istanbul (TUR) in early March, with the Turkish government complaining loudly about Sweden’s freedom-of-expression laws which have allowed the burning of the Quran. Turkey’s assent is required to allow Sweden to join the NATO military alliance, of which it is a long-time member.

Belarus decathlete Krauchanka asks IOC about repression there

While so much focus has been on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the furor over whether Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at the Paris 2024 Games, athletes in Belarus – Russia’s ally in the Ukraine action – have also been under pressure from that government.

Andrei Krauchanka, the Beijing 2008 silver medalist in the decathlon – now 37 – wrote about the situation, reported on Monday on Twitter:

“In addition to Russian military aggression against Ukraine, the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund together with free athletes must pose another very difficult question to the [International Olympic Committee]: how will the rights of dozens of Belarusian athletes who suffered from political persecution be restored?

“This part of the representatives of the Olympic movement defended the rights of athletes and the Olympic Charter in Belarus, and in response received repression, mockery of propaganda, lost access to sports infrastructure and state material support.

“More than a hundred athletes and representatives of sports cannot return to their homeland, more than 30 remain behind bars. Broken destinies, sports careers, lost nerves, property, the opportunity to perform at the Olympic Games, but preserved human dignity and personal pride. At the same time, the IOC never once inquired about the fate of these athletes.

“It turns out that those athletes who defended the Olympic Charter do not get to the games, and those who refused or supported the inhumane regime will go to the competition in peace.

“How is the IOC going to solve this situation, taking into account its peacekeeping mission, which it declares in the matter of the admission of Belarusian athletes to the Olympics in Paris? How will the losses suffered by the representatives of the Olympic movement due to political persecution be compensated?

“Until the issue of the repressed part of the Belarusian Olympic movement is resolved, no participation of the group of ‘loyalists’ can be allowed, because it is exclusively the national team of the totalitarian regime, and not the national team.”

The Twitter poster, Gabby Pieraccini (GBR), wrote that “After Krauchanka was detained by the authorities for several days, he and his partner, heptathlete Yana Maksimava, moved to Germany with their baby daughter. They are safe now and settled into German life but it is a mark of their bravery that they continue to speak out.” Krauchanka last competed in 2020, and has a best of 8,617 from 2017.

While there is no doubt that Belarusian athletes are largely ignored in the continuing turmoil caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the IOC has not been inactive. The cries of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund concerning athlete abuse in the country was addressed in December 2020 by the IOC, which suspended all payments to the National Olympic Committee in Belarus (except for athlete training funds, to be paid directly), barred NOC officials from the Olympic Games and prohibited Olympic-related events from taking place there.

But that has not halted the continued abuse of Belarusian athletes by the government, as Krauchanka noted.

Russian Minister says Africa may welcome its athletes

“The position of the Ministry of Sports is that the athlete should be in the head and the athlete should compete with the strongest. We will make every effort for that.

“We don’t forget to look towards Asia. China is starting to open up now, I think that by March the [coronavirus] restrictive measures will not be the same as now. There’s going to be a good competitive calendar with Asian countries, we’re working towards that.

“The Association of Asian National Olympic Committees is waiting for us in March. There is the same application from African countries, which are unanimous in offering to compete at their events. We are waiting for a decision from the International Olympic Committee, international federations, what will be the criteria for admission.”

That’s Russian Deputy Sports Minister Alexei Morozov on Wednesday, opening a new front on the Russian reinstatement issue.

The possible admission of Russian and Belarusian athletes to the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou (CHN) caused the Korean Sports & Olympic Committee to send an inquiry to the Olympic Council of Asia, noting that the announcement was made without any consultation of the OCA’s member nations:

“With Russian and Belarusian athletes participating, operating knockout events at the Asian Games can pose some problems. We will ask the OCA how it will handle those situations, and also in what sports Russian and Belarusian athletes will compete at the Asian Games.”

Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova replied Wednesday to the IOC’s statement that the neutral-status sanctions on Russia were “not negotiable” (Deepl.com translation):

“This idea is driven, obviously, by demands that are unacceptable to our country. Such unsightly attempts to squeeze our country out of international sport are doomed to fail. But the problem is not even that, but that by fixating on squeezing our athletes – our sport out of the world sport – all these anti-doers are destroying the world sport movement.

“Those who are now the bureaucracy of world sport, who head the relevant Olympic committees and get paid for this not at all from the pockets of sponsors, should not forget that this is not their private business, not a private shop.”

Tokyo prosecutors ask 30-month sentence in Tokyo 2020 sponsorship case

Prosecutors asked for a 30-month sentence for the 84-year-old former chair of business-suit retailer Aoki Holdings in his sentencing hearing on bribery charges related to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Hironori Aoki was described in the hearing to have “used the Tokyo Olympics for self-interest and trampled the public value of the tournament,” and called his bribery program “an extremely malicious act,” by a man who was “greedy and tenacious.”

Aoki was indicted, along with the company’s former vice-chair, Takahisa Aoki (77) and ex-executive director Katsuhisa Ueda (41) for bribes paid to former Tokyo 2020 Executive Committee member Haruyuki Takahashi, a former senior director of the giant Dentsu advertising agency. The payments totaled ¥28 million (~$217,505 today) between September of 2019 and March 2022. Kyodo reported:

“The three requested Takahashi to select their company as an Olympics sponsor and get them a contract, which would include preferential rights over providing official outfits for the Japanese team’s athletes, according to the indictment.”

The Tokyo prosecutors asked for an 18-month sentence for the younger Aoki and a year for Ueda. All three had admitted to the charges in December; the sentencing decision is expected on 21 April.

Takahashi is alleged to have received as much as ¥198 million (~$1.536 million U.S.) in bribes through five different arrangements.

Australia and New Zealand ask about “Visit Saudi” sponsorship

“Football Australia understands FIFA has entered into a destination partnership agreement in respect to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023.

“We are very disappointed that Football Australia were not consulted on this matter prior to any decision being made. Football Australia and New Zealand Football have jointly written to FIFA to urgently clarify the situation.”

That’s from Football Australia on Wednesday, in response to media reports that the Saudi Arabian tourism company – Visit Saudi – has been signed as a major sponsor of this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup that begins on 20 July.

Football New Zealand posted:

“New Zealand Football have been made aware of media reports suggesting that Visit Saudi, the official Saudi Arabia tourism authority, are set to be announced as an official sponsor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the largest women’s sporting event in the world.

“If these reports prove correct, we are shocked and disappointed to hear this as New Zealand Football haven’t been consulted by FIFA at all on this matter.

“As FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 co-hosts, New Zealand Football and Football Australia have jointly written to FIFA to urgently clarify the situation.”

FIFA has said nothing about the matter, but coming little more than a month after the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the reports have inflamed its critics, who are railing against Saudi involvement over “concerns over human rights in the country, women’s rights and the use of the death penalty.”

The BBC reported comments by Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White, including:

“It would be quite the irony for Saudi’s tourism body to sponsor the largest celebration of women’s sport in the world when you consider that, as a woman in Saudi Arabia, you can’t even have a job without the permission of your male guardian.”

Reports note that the Visit Saudi sponsorship would provide significant new funds for women’s football development, a key FIFA goal.

Is the next geopolitical sports blow-up coming in Turkey?

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday:

“Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed Wednesday that Turkey won’t allow Sweden to join the NATO military alliance as long as the Scandinavian country permits protests desecrating Islam’s holy book to take place.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom noted that Turkey will hold a Presidential election in May that is expected to be hotly contested, and “in election campaigns many things are said.”

Turkey has been amenable to Finland’s admission to the NATO alliance, but has had reservations about Sweden, despite the two Scandinavian countries having jointly agreed to become members. This brings up the question, noted by Olympedia.org statistician Hilary Evans (GBR) about whether Swedish participation in the 2023 European Indoor Championships, to be held in Istanbul from 2-5 March might be in danger:

“The Swedish national team may miss the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Turkey due to the political situation between the two countries.”

Nothing is easy. Stay tuned.


● Olympic Games 2024: Paris ● Not quite final yet, but the French Senate approved on Tuesday – by 246-28 (and 64 abstentions) – a bill on Olympic security which will allow surveillance cameras to be used to alert authorities to crowd movements during the Games and into 2025 as an experimental measure.

Body scanners were also approved, but require permission of the person being scanned. Penalties were set for trespass into venues, with fines of €3,750 for the first offense and €7,500 for repeat offenses.

The law also reinforces the penalties in the event of intrusion into sports venues, with a fine of 3,750 euros in the event of intrusion committed by “a first-time offender“, but 7,500 euros in the event of a repeat offense.

● Russia ● It often takes weeks or months for athletes to get prize money from competitions and Russia is no different. Payments from last summer’s Spartakiad (August through October) still have not been made, but TASS reported that this is being resolved now.

Total prizes of RUB 620 million (~$8.87 million U.S.) are to be distributed, with 358,400 RUB to winners (~$5,125 U.S.), RUB 179,200 for silver (~$2,563) and RUB 107,500 for bronze (~$1,537). Smaller amounts were also made available for coaches.

Prizes for Russian national championships were RUB 125,000-75,000-37,500 for the top three places (~$1,787-893-447), with smaller amounts for coaches.

● Memorabilia ● The February auction from Laguna Nigel, California-based SCP Auctions includes some Olympic-sport items, notably a 1980 Olympic gold medal for ice hockey won by U.S. center Steve Christoff of the “Miracle on Ice” team.

Offered with a minimum bid of $75,000, it has already reached $258,926 with the auction closing on Saturday (4th). A Tokyo 2020 bronze medal is also on offer, with the winner’s identity only to be disclosed to the buyer. The minimum bid was $5,000 and it is currently at $6,655.

Most of the items are from Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA, although the 1941 Heisman Trophy won by Minnesota halfback Bruce Smith is available and has drawn $177,157 so far!

● Archery ● Voting for the World Archery Athletes of the Year has begun, with fans able to cast ballots through the end of February in six categories, including the Recurve (Olympic) division.

The men’s Recurve candidates include the medal winners from the World Cup Final: Korea’s Woo-jin Kim (gold), Spain’s Miguel Alvarino (silver) and Tokyo Olympic champ Mete Gazoz (bronze). The women’s choices include the World Cup medalists San An (KOR: gold and Tokyo triple gold medalist), Mi-sun Choi (KOR: silver) and Chinese Taipei’s Chia-mao Peng (bronze).

The inaugural class of the World Archery Hall of Fame will also be selected, but by a special committee. All 10 of the initial candidates are worthy, with two to be honored. The list includes four Americans, led by Doug Easton, who founded an arrow and supply company a century ago that was turned into a sporting goods giant by his son, Jim Easton, later an important FITA (later World Archery) President who brought the elimination-round format to the sport. 

John Williams and Doreen Wilber, the two Americans who won the Munich 1972 Olympic golds in the sport’s return to the Olympic program, are nominated, along with Darrell Pace, the only two-time Olympic champion in the sport, in 1976 and 1984.

Britain’s Inger Frith, the FITA President who helped get archery back onto the Olympic program, is nominated, as is Korean Soo-nyung Kim, now 51, who won more Olympic medals than anyone else (so far), with six medals from 1988-2000 (4-1-1).

● Athletics ● The Athletics Integrity Unit posted its sanctions list for January 2023, with 22 athletes shown, including nine Kenyans, four Americans, two Chinese, two Russians, two from Kazakhstan, and one each from Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria.

The American penalties, all previously announced, were handed out to 400 m stars Gil Roberts (16 months ineligibility) and Randolph Ross (3 years) and distance runners Hassan Mead (3 years) and Lindsey Scherf (4 years).

● Modern Pentathlon ● The “UIPM Obstacle Catalogue” that sets out the options for obstacle courses to be introduced in 2023 was released on Wednesday, offering 14 different choices for the eight obstacles to be included in a 60-70 m course for U-19, U-17 and Junior (19-21) competitions only.

The listed options include Steps, Big wheel, 1.5 m wall, Over-under, Over-under-through, Rings, Balance beam, Giant steps, Lisbon steps, Wheels, Monkey bars, Swinging globes, Tilting ladders and Finish wall. For championship competitions in 2023, six obstacles are fixed and the local organizers can choose two others to complete the courses.

The instructions direct construction of the obstacles with aluminum trusses for safety and reliability and:

“Obstacles must be subject to a risk assessment created and written by a Qualified Risk Assessor [an engineer] in coordination with the competition medical team before the course is open for training and/or competition. The risk assessment must identify general hazards and hazardous obstacle elements, evaluate the probability and severity of a potential injury, and develop risk mitigation plans associated with the use of obstacles by participants.”

The variety of different courses that the instructions allow will, of course, eliminate any possibility of record-keeping since each course is likely to be unique, eliminating a promotional angle for the sport.

● Swimming ● University of California women’s swimming coach Teri McKeever, who led four teams to NCAA team titles across 29 seasons, was fired on Tuesday following the referral of a report which included 147 interviews and reviews of 1,700 documents, and found “by a preponderance of the evidence that Coach McKeever discriminated against certain student-athletes, in certain instances, on the basis of race, national origin and disability” and that her behavior “toward some, but not all, student-athletes in some instances was abuse and violated University policy.”

Reporting by Scott Reid of the Southern California News Group found that 42.6% of Cal women’s swimmers who joined the team between the 2013-14 season and 2020-21 left before their eligibility was completed. McKeever was accused by multiple swimmers of bullying on a daily basis and being pressured to practice or compete despite injuries or sickness. She had been on paid administrative leave from 25 May 2022.

McKeever, 60, the U.S. Olympic women’s coach at London 2012, said in part in a statement:

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation. There were and should be consequences for violating team rules, not showing up for scheduled appointments, misusing resources, not giving an honest effort and behavior that was not congruent with their individual or our team goals. But those consequences were not applied because of who someone was, only for what they did or didn’t do that hurt the team and the culture we were working hard to sustain.”

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