Real culture change, real funding, less rhetoric

Real culture change, real funding, less rhetoric

Takeaways from Wednesday’s hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sparked by the Larry Nassar case:

— The NFL anthem protest policy was announced literally in the middle of the Congressional hearing. So no matter how important this hearing, it was immediately dwarfed by the NFL. That is a hard truth in the American sporting and cultural landscape. 

— The cues were clear before Wednesday’s session that Congress seems remarkably disinclined to undertake a wholesale restructuring of the Olympic system in the United States. To reiterate a point made over and again in this space: the U.S. Olympic Committee is not boss of 49 national governing bodies. Instead, the USOC and NGBs are affiliated.

— What’s also crystal clear is that sexual abuse is a serious problem in Olympic sport. No one should pretend otherwise. It’s a problem in society at large. It would be the height of naivete to think that sport should be immune. 

— What’s equally, profoundly clear is that it’s going to take real money to address this very serious issue. So who has stepped up? The USOC. Anyone else? 

Common sense, please, about the USOC

Common sense, please, about the USOC

Common-sense test here. If, as a publicity-seeking lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver alleges, the U.S. Olympic Committee had been engaging in “commercial sex trafficking,” and that was even in the slightest bit true, wouldn’t every single one of the USOC’s corporate partners have fled like rats on a sinking ship?

That lawsuit was filed May 4, a Friday.  

I have deliberately waited a full business week — five full days, Monday through Friday — to see whether even one corporate entity, super-sensitive to such matters in this #MeToo era, would take action. The USOC’s sponsors include some known for wholesome family-style branding campaigns; there’s also Nike, itself wrapped up in harassment allegations.

How many have said as much as boo?


A new normal: Israel and the business of Olympic sport

A new normal: Israel and the business of Olympic sport

TEL AVIV — One of my brothers lives in Northern California, a few miles away from Apple’s new circular spaceship-like campus. A few days ago, hanging out, we ate one of his favorite spots, Falafel Stop.

First, the falafel was amazing. If you’re ever there, seriously — awesome.

Second, Falafel Stop is the sort of place that would make Trump World supporters go berserk. Here was America in the 21st century for real: two Iranian-American couples who’d driven down from San Mateo on a double date because the Yelp reviews made Falafel Stop out to be so good; a pair of Indian-American families at one of the tables, each with a 3-year-old boy; a couple of gearhead car dudes wrapped up in a discussion over whether a 2004 Lexus i300 is the best used-car buy, like, maybe ever. 

Third, all this was because the Israelis had made it very cool to eat — and hang out — there. For anyone and everyone. 

Which is the point. 

In tech, medicine, beauty and skin care, food, all kinds of things, Israel is increasingly one of the world’s cool brands.

Now — what about sports?

Lance Armstrong settles, and wins big

Lance Armstrong settles, and wins big

What a joke.

“No one is above the law,” Chad A. Readler, the acting assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department’s civil division, said Thursday in a statement that went out as the federal government settled its case with Lance Armstrong for $5 million.

“A competitor who intentionally uses illegal PEDs not only deceives competitors and fans, but also sponsors, who help make sporting competitions possible. This settlement demonstrates that those who cheat the government will be held accountable.”

No, it doesn’t. It shows just the opposite, and — though many of you think the the U.S. government is some big, bad beast that is intent on cleaning up the world of sports — this marks yet another episode where the feds are revealed to be, in a word, losers. 

The big winner here? Lance Armstrong. 

A Duke tennis player's case and fairness for Justin Gatlin

A Duke tennis player's case and fairness for Justin Gatlin

A few days ago, the International Tennis Federation announced that Spencer Furman, a top player at Duke, had been cleared in a doping case leveled after he tested positive last September 9 in the qualifying draw of the Atlantic Tire Championships, an ATP challenger, in Cary, N.C.

Long story short: Furman was using a prescribed ADHD medicine “to help him concentrate while studying at university,” according to the ITF release. This medicine, Vyvanse, contained a stimulant, D-amphetamine, on the banned list. Oops. He applied for a retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption. 

When agreed by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the anti-doping agency at issue, a retroactive TUE may be granted “on the grounds of fairness.” WADA so agreed. The charge was dropped.


So what?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is exactly — exactly — the fact pattern that got the sprinter Justin Gatlin a one-year suspension when he was a college kid at Tennessee in 2001. 

In which Nenad Lalovic tells it straight up

In which Nenad Lalovic tells it straight up

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach of Germany, was elected in 2013. His term is for eight years. The rules allow him a follow-on term of four more years. Presumably, he will win four more years. Thus he will be IOC president until 2025.

If you think it’s too early for the who-will-be-the-next-IOC president parlor game, you picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue. Be assured the politicking and positioning is already well underway — just as it was with Bach during the years that Belgium’s Jacques Rogge was IOC boss. 

The IOC is a European institution. Thus odds are its next leader will be European, just as — again — Bach succeeded Rogge, and Rogge succeeded Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain. For now, keep your eyes on, in no particular order: Switzerland’s Patrick Baumann, secretary general of the basketball federation FIBA and head of the LA 2028 coordination commission; Belgium’s Harvard MBA-trained Pierre-Olivier Beckers-Viejant, head of the Paris 2024 coordination panel; the increasingly influential Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., currently the IOC first vice president; and Nenad Lalovic, head of the wrestling federation UWW and, now, like Samaranch, a member of the IOC’s policy-making executive board.

Keep in mind that just four-plus years ago, wrestling’s future as an Olympic sport was in serious doubt.

Now Lalovic, a businessman from Belgrade, Serbia, who orchestrated its return to the fold, is a member of the IOC’s most powerful inner circle — as the representative of the more than two dozen Summer Games sports. 

On the USOC: more patience, less hyperventilating

On the USOC: more patience, less hyperventilating

A few days before the start of the 2018 Winter Games, the Dalai Lama, who runs a fascinating Twitter account, put this out there:

“Many people,” his holiness said to his 18.2 million followers, “think that patience is a sign of weakness. I think this is a mistake. It is anger that is a sign of weakness, whereas patience is a sign of strength.”

These words of wisdom carry particular resonance now amid what is — let’s be blunt here — the rush to judgment in some quarters directed at the U.S. Olympic Committee sparked, of course, by the horrific crimes committed by Larry Nassar.

All institutions can be better. For sure the USOC can be. 

Anger, though, is not helpful. Patience — and a regard for the facts — is, as ever, the sign of real strength. 

Waiting for CAS, and the crucible of cross-examination

Waiting for CAS, and the crucible of cross-examination

In his under-appreciated gem of a 1982 song, “Highway Patrolman,” Bruce Springsteen offers this memorable line: “Man turns his back on his family, he just ain’t no good.”

It’s worth considering these words anew as we wait for the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport to release its “reasoned decision” in the cases of 28 Russians cleared of doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, because that tribunal is the first to get to weigh fully the cross-examination of star witness Grigory Rodchenkov.

Rodchenkov is also one of the stars of Icarus, recently awarded an Academy Award. And the star of much of what has been reported for more than two years now in the New York Times about the Russians.

A wave of DQs: why does track and field insist on such self-inflicted buzzkill?

A wave of DQs: why does track and field insist on such self-inflicted buzzkill?

BIRMINGHAM, England — The men’s 400 meters here Saturday night at the 2018 world indoor track and field championships was awesome. Until, suddenly, it was not.

Spain’s Oscar Husillos crossed the line in a championship-record 44.92, followed by Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, the London 2012 400 silver medalist. Husillos was instantly met with precisely the sort of joyous theater that track and field needs: a rooting section made up of dudes in costumes, a banana, a cow and (Batman sidekick) Robin, who dashed to the grandstand railing and threw him a Spanish flag.

Great stuff.

And then it was announced that both Husillos and Luguelin had been disqualified for lane violations — the latest victims in a tsunami of ticky-tack DQs that have swept over these championships. 

Why does track and field insist on such buzzkill? 

Track and field already has great stories. It doesn't need a savior

Track and field already has great stories. It doesn't need a savior

BIRMINGHAM, England — Predictably, the American sprinter Christian Coleman is already being hailed as the next this, the next that, already being asked if he can run 100 meters faster than 9.58 seconds.

What is it about track and field, this almost-desperate need -- in some if not many quarters -- to anoint someone as savior?

No one is savior. No one needs to be the almighty. It’s an unfair ask. Who, alone, carries a sport in baseball, basketball, football, hockey or soccer? Why, then, track and field?

Coleman, just 21, is an outrageous talent. A few weeks ago, at the U.S. nationals, at altitude in Albuquerque, he broke the world indoor record for 60 meters, running 6.34 seconds. On Saturday night, here at the 2018 world indoor championships, he went a championship-record 6.37, five ticks faster than Mo Greene's 6.42 from 1999.