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Not just what's happening in and around the Olympic Movement and International Sports but what it all means.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — In September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria ripped through the Caribbean. Only one word describes the two storms: catastrophic.
There is the financial toll. In Puerto Rico, estimates are it may cost as much as $95 billion to recover. That’s billion with a b.
The structural. It’s already three months-plus since September. Yet basics such as electricity and internet service, for instance, are hardly a given in many of the string of islands in the Atlantic Ocean lashed by the storms. The first time Steve Augustine, president of the British Virgin Islands track and field federation, had seen a working television since September was Sunday night here in San Juan, when he arrived for a Monday meeting.
The emotional. Godwin Dorsette, from Dominica, broke down in tears at that very meeting. “I’m a brave man. I’m a very strong person,” he said. “But I was afraid.”
Across the Caribbean, track and field is unquestionably a — if not the — leading sport. With that in mind, the sport’s global governing body, the International Associaton of Athletics Federations, on Tuesday announced a $500,000 “solidarity fund” aimed at helping those member federations that were pounded by Irma and Maria and, as well, by Hurricanes Harvey and Jose.
On Rodney King’s gravestone at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, it says, “Can we all get along,” a reference to Mr. King’s plea amid his early 1990s encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. It’s a very different context but — in just so many words, that is what the Olympic movement, at its best, is all about.
To fulfill the words of the soul poet Rodney King, the movement’s No. 1 mission in our complicated world— its raison d’etre — is not just to be relevant. Or even to remain relevant. It is to assert its relevance.
Over the past many months, the movement has struggled, and mightily, with this notion. A succession of brutal headlines have caused some, if not many, to wonder about the Olympic movement’s place, beset as it has been by Russian doping, sexual abuse and misconduct scandals, skyrocketing cost overruns associated with the Games, diminishing taxpayer interest in staging future editions of the Olympics and more.
Now, though, comes word of a remarkable breakthrough: North Korea will send athletes to February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In the spring of 1974, as the well-told story goes, the music critic Jon Landau saw Bruce Springsteen play for the first time. Thereafter, in Boston’s The Real Paper, Landau wrote these now-famous words: “I saw my rock ’n’ roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.”
To be clear, there is no attempt here to draw any parallel between this space and the success, literary or otherwise, of Jon Landau. All the same: in February of 2002, I saw the future of the Olympic Winter Games and its name was Ross Powers.
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are ongoing this week in San Jose, California. A certain (diminishing) percentage of people remain interested in figure skating. To be forthright once more, the U.S. team — men’s and women’s, women’s in particular — has not been all that good for years; there are a multitude of reasons for that; in part, it has to do with the Vancouver 2010 victory of Evan Lysacek. Not Lysacek himself. He is and always has been a first-rate champion. It’s that Vancouver gold medal and the style of skating it represents — a combination that, it can be argued, has stalled figure skating’s forward path in the United States.
Mostly, though, there is the development of the Winter Games themselves. Once, figure skating held center stage. Now the Winter Games essentially have become a snowboarding festival.
In 1964, the United States Supreme Court decided a case called New York Times v. Sullivan. It established, in libel law matters, what is called the “actual malice” standard.
Before you start rolling your eyes and getting anxious about a bunch of legalese, relax. This is not complicated. Libel, at its core, involves a published statement that damages someone’s reputation. What the Supreme Court said is this: if you publish something about a public official or a public figure, it is “actual malice” if you do so knowing it is false or if you acted in what the court called a reckless disregard for the truth.
This brings us to the American sprinter Justin Gatlin, and the report published Monday in the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. There is zero question Gatlin is a public figure. Can there be any question the lengthy story the Telegraph printed was aimed directly at Gatlin, and his reputation?
In taking action Tuesday on the Russian doping matter, the International Olympic Committee was faced with the delicate task of trying to thread a needle while wearing a pair of those red mittens that were all the rage at the Vancouver Olympics way back when in 2010, which, you know, is more or less when — because the Russian team performed so poorly there — this sordid tale began, right?
The task at hand was to make it seem like the IOC was coming down hard on the Russians — to appease the baying jackals of the western press, in particular the Americans and the Brits — while simultaneously crafting a diplomatic compromise that would serve the IOC’s long-term purposes.
The IOC, seeking to balance a multitude of interests, got what it wanted.
The initial reports screamed out over the news and social media in our 24/7 gotta-have-it tell-me-what-it-means-this-instant world: Ban! Ban! Ban!
Reality: the IOC made a play for what it always plays for, stability.
And the more sophisticated argument, because as always the real work is in the details, is that the Russians are getting off way easier than would seem at first blush.
The lengthy decision posted Monday in the matter of the Russian cross-country skier Alexander Legkov is to be applauded for its extended review of the Russian doping matter.
A three-member International Olympic Committee “disciplinary commission” panel, explaining the rationale for stripping Legkov of the 50-kilometer gold medal he won at the Sochi 2014 Games, found Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director, a “truthful witness.”
It’s also the case that this decision is likely fatally flawed. Legkov ought to proceed directly to the Court of Arbitration for Sport with an urgent appeal -- do not pass go, do not collect $200, all of that.
IOC president Thomas Bach has promised — most recently in a speech last week to European Olympic officials — that the Russians, Legkov and others, would be assured due process. In a news release accompanying the publication of the Legkov decision, the IOC said, "Due process has to be followed, and re-analysis is still underway."
No way did Legkov get due process.
Why? Because Rodchenkov was unavailable for cross-examination.
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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.