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Not just what's happening in and around the Olympic Movement and International Sports but what it all means.
MONTREAL — It was a hot and humid late afternoon 4th of July but no matter, because Nadia Comaneci was in town, and wherever Nadia Comaneci goes, there is light and love and joy, and people are drawn to her and she to them, and especially here in Montreal, because it was here, as a 14-year-old, way back in 1976, that she executed the Perfect 10, and nothing has been the same since, not gymnastics, not the Olympics and for sure not Nadia and the very many people who want to be around her.
Which is, truth be told, pretty much everyone.
Nadia was out for a brief stroll on what is now named Nadia Comaneci Plaza. Of course it is named Nadia Comaneci Plaza. She says now that she had no idea they were going to name it after her when they did so 18 or so months ago, and it was a huge honor because usually — in her telling — they only name things like plazas after people when such people are dead.
Nadia is not only very much alive, she is a life force, and that is just one of the reasons people — in every country — want to be near, to feel what it must be like to be perfect, if even for a moment, because life is not perfect, as fate is glad to remind us all but, then again, as Nadia observes, if you work hard, maybe, just maybe, you, too, can be great, because everyone has it in them to be great.
You know what great means? It hardly has to mean you are going to qualify for the Olympics, or even win a gold medal. Great means today is a little bit better in some way than yesterday, and by that same measure tomorrow is better than today. That for sure is great. Just ask Nadia.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach is a winner.
From some, that sentence is likely to draw howls. What? Is this, like, sucking up, or what?
Please — chill. Any objective, reasonable analysis of the International Olympic Committee president’s record would lead to that conclusion. The man is an Olympic gold medalist. A brainy lawyer. An adept businessman. Now in his sixth year as IOC president, he is all but a shoo-in for re-election to a second four-year term in 2021.
Perhaps twice in Bach’s career has he been a “loser.” Once, when as a champion fencer representing West Germany — he, like the outstanding middle-distance runner Seb Coe in Great Britain — campaigned to go to the 1980 Moscow Games amid the U.S.-led boycott. Britain went. West Germany did not.
The next time came in 2011. On that occasion, Bach was leading the Munich campaign for the 2018 Winter Games. PyeongChang won. And Bach was — not happy.
Of course, Bach rebounded two years later to become IOC president. But as the IOC session on Wednesday approved a plan to re-do the process by which it selects cities for the Summer and Winter Games — driven by Bach’s avowed concern that the current system produces too many “losers” — it’s perhaps worth wondering, why? And what of his own experience?
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — As expected, the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday gave approval to four sports to join the Paris 2024 program: surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and, quelle horreur for traditionalists, breakdancing, or in IOC jargon, breaking.
“More youth, more urban, more women,” Paris 2024 president Tony Estanguet said of the organizing committee’s goals for its program — the four sports a one-time add not guaranteed to be listed as part of the so-called “core” Olympic program.
Surf, skate and climbing will feature at Tokyo 2020, along with karate and baseball/softball. Breakdance made a breakthrough at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The International Olympic Committee turned 125 on Sunday. It celebrated by opening a new, $145-million headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva.
In a news release commemorating the occasion, the current IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he saw “direct parallels’ between the IOC then and now.
“When Pierre de Coubertin founded the IOC, his vision and values at the time went against nationalism, against aggressivity among nations. It was about friendship and understanding. It was about bringing people together. It was about making the world less fragile.
“This is somehow a position we are in this moment with regard to the Games. We see this zeitgeist of rising nationalism. We see this zeitgeist of aggression. It is a great opportunity because we can demonstrate how relevant, how important our values are. We have to fight even more for understanding, for dialogue, for respect.”
On Monday, the IOC confronted its most consequential bid-city election in years, choosing the site of the 2026 Winter Games: Stockholm-Åre in Sweden or Milano-Cortina in Italy. A swirl of complicated dynamics framed the vote, including rising nationalism and aggressive anti-immigrant politics in Italy and, within the IOC itself, purported reforms designed not just to bring the organization into the 21st century but to underscore the import of its values.
In a verdict seemingly at odds with all that lofty rhetoric, one that worldwide could well send taxpayer perceptions of the IOC’s self-proclaimed reforms — dubbed Agenda 2020 and the New Norm — all the way back to the last century, the members picked Milano-Cortina. The vote was not even remotely close: 47-34.
Is Agenda 2020 for real? Or is it really just so much noise?
The 2026 election for the Winter Games, coming right up in just days between Stockholm-Åre and Milano-Cortina, might as well be subtitled: change or be changed meets put up or shut up.
Thomas Bach was elected International Olympic Committee president in September 2013. The next year, in December 2014, the IOC enacted his 40-point reform plan, Agenda 2020, and it has since become – purportedly – the basis of IOC strategic thinking. Layered on top of that came the New Norm in February 2018, 118 more points purportedly designed to effect further change.
Now comes the 2026 election, the first to test the Agenda 2020 blueprint.
The IOC’s difficulty in attracting candidate cities is well known – referendums, anyone? It is enough to note that the IOC almost surely considers it a huge win that for 2026 it has two western European candidates in for a vote.
That, though, is not enough.
To be honest, this space is having a very hard time understanding why Beckie Scott complained about being “bullied” and Edwin Moses said he was told to “shut up,” allegations found to be without merit in a lengthy report made public Wednesday about backstage World Anti-Doping Agency politics.
Politics involves some measure of rough and tumble. Sports politics is for sure politics.
As a graduate of the Northwestern journalism school whose first jobs in the business were in Chicago, where politics are not for the meek, this whole thing has seemed like one big episode from the theater of the absurd.
This episode at WADA has drawn worldwide headlines for months.
It simply does not reflect well on what in a related context in the report, issued Wednesday by the Covington and Burling law firm, is called the “North American” perspective on the long-playing Russian doping saga.
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About Alan Abrahamson
Alan Abrahamson is an award-winning sportswriter, best-selling author and in-demand television analyst. In 2010, he launched his own website, 3 Wire Sports, described in James Patterson and Mark Sullivan's 2012 best-selling novel Private Games as "the world's best source of information about the [Olympic] Games and the culture that surrounds them." Read full bio.