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Not just what's happening in and around the Olympic Movement and International Sports but what it all means.
The United States Olympic Committee has been all but consumed for months by the fallout from Larry Nassar’s crimes.
Virtually every single person in the Colorado Springs leadership team is new. The focus has seemed to be primarily if not entirely on gymnastics and on other domestic matters.
Now comes a reminder that a significant part of the USOC’s work is outward-facing, too. And here it has a huge mountain to climb, complicated by factors both of its own doing and by those beyond its control — in particular to policy and perceptions attributable to the 45th president of the United States.
Indeed, huge might be an understatement.
In the aftermath of last week’s World Youth Weightlifting Championships in Las Vegas, shadowed by visa issues that complicated entry into the United States for some and in other cases all but made entry impractical or impossible, USA Weightlifting has announced it is — at least for the near future — out of the bid game for high-level championships.
When the Olympic Games are on, Summer or Winter, it’s easy to declare that they are not just relevant but material — that is, they matter, and a lot.
The challenge for everyone involved with the Olympic movement around the world is when the Games are not on, and that challenge is elemental: being relevant, especially to young people, and making a difference in their lives.
When a teen activist from Swedish can inspire far-reaching school climate strikes — and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination — is it really too much to ask the International Olympic Committee as well to seek to make a difference, a really big difference, in our broken world?
Coming together in peace and unity — that is the entire point of a Games’ opening ceremony. It’s why it is the highlight of any Olympics, the world’s athletes gathering in what is both an expression of hope and a longing for peace — that maybe, just maybe, as the inadvertent soul poet Rodney King once put it, we can all get along.
The Games and the values for which the Olympics purport to be about — excellence, friendship, respect and, by extension, tolerance — are the very thing that stand in marked contrast to an abhorrent shooting spree like the one that ripped Thursday across two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll now stands at 50.
Thus, this call for change:
At the Olympics, the guns have to go — that is, be gone.
In September 2016, this column was first in the world to declare that the International Olympic Committee ought to declare a historic two-fer and allocate the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at a single stroke.
The IOC did just that in 2017, though it reversed the order of the suggestion first made here — LA for 2024, Paris for 2028, instead awarding 2024 to Paris, 2028 to LA, the IOC’s Eurocentric sensibilities coming once more to the fore after a three-Games Asian swing (2018 South Korea, 2020 Tokyo, 2022 Beijing) even though LA is and will be all the more ready. In exchange for waiting for ’28, LA struck a killer financial deal.
Now the IOC’s so-called evaluation commission is on the ground this week in Sweden, the first of the two remaining candidates for the 2026 Winter Games — Milan is yet to come — and thus it is time for this column, taking stock of what is going on in Stockholm and beyond, and more generally in the Olympic bid process, to yet again be first-in-the-world with another so-clearly-obvious take of what-should-be:
Salt Lake City for 2034.
Not — repeat, not — 2030.
This after the IOC picks Stockholm for 2026.
And with Sapporo poised to emerge as front-runner for 2030.
Roughly 18 months ago the International Olympic Committee made a historical double allocation for the Summer Games, Paris for 2024, Los Angeles getting 2028.
LA and Paris were the last two left in what had originally been a race only for 2024. Budapest withdrew earlier in 2017 amid local political complexities, clearing the way for the IOC’s 2024/2028 double-double, and ever since those in the know have wondered, because Budapest rocks: what if?
On Monday, it was announced that the 2019 World Urban Games, which last fall were said to be going to Los Angeles, would instead be held in — Budapest. When? September 13-15. GAISF, the umbrella organization that represents international sports federations, said Budapest had also been offered the 2021 edition of the Urban Games, touting “both the city’s enthusiasm and its readiness and capability.”
The project is likely to feature 3x3 basketball and BMX freestyle, both of which will be on the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games program, as well as breakdancing, the hit of the 2018 Youth Games in Buenos Aires that probably will be featured at Paris 2024, along with a full program of music, art and street-inspired culture.
Monday’s announcement resolves a drama that for months has been playing out behind the scenes. Big picture, first and foremost, it must be understood for what it is, a huge victory — another, that is — for Budapest, for Hungary and for Balázs Fürjes, state secretary for the development of Budapest and major sports events. He resolutely continued to press the case on behalf of his city and nation. Now all three — him, city, country — are big winners. OK, for emphasis, because it’s appropriate: really big winners.
For many people, the announcement Thursday that Paris 2024 seems set to to include breakdancing as an Olympic sport was met with — say what?
No, for real.
Let’s get real.
If you are complaining that “breaking,” as it’s called in Olympic jargon, doesn’t belong on the Summer Games program but you swoon every Winter Games when the ice dancers do their luscious thing — come on.
Beyond that, and finally — the French finally did something right.
Let’s give credit where it’s due: the French got this totally right.
The prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has declared that the two Israeli swimmers who have applied for visas for the World Paralympic Swimming Championships scheduled for the island of Borneo this summer cannot compete there: “We will not allow them to enter. If they come, then it is an offense.”
Meanwhile, the International Judo Federation next week kicks off its 2019 world tour in Tel Aviv. It’s a big meet, a Grand Prix with more than 50 nations and over 400 athletes, as well as the start to a key season aiming toward the world championships in late August in Tokyo, at the legendary Nippon Budokan, site of the first Olympic judo tournament in 1964.
The contrast could not be more obvious, nor more vivid.
The contrast comes after developments in 2018 that again saw judo, under the steady direction of the IJF president, Marius Vizer, take a lead in doing what sport should be doing: make sure the door is open, the rules are equal and nobody gets turned away simply because of who they are or what the flag on his or her uniform looks like.
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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.