Playing soon in Tel Aviv: an extraordinarily normal tour stop

Playing soon in Tel Aviv: an extraordinarily normal tour stop

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. 

Less rhetoric. More rational, calm process. For everyone's sake

Less rhetoric. More rational, calm process. For everyone's sake

In Russian doping saga news: the 50-kilometer cross-country skier Alexander Legkov gets to keep his Sochi 2014 gold medal and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency almost certainly will not be declared non-compliant after World Anti-Doping Agency investigators finally retrieved computer data from the Moscow lab.

When the history of this Russian saga is wrapped, it really ought to be weighed against the sage counsel of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice, who in her 2016 autobiography wrote, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance anyone’s ability to persuade.”

There has been so much — entirely too much — rhetoric in, around, enveloping this Russian saga, a great deal of it from people who know, or ought to know, the value of process but who have turned time and again to inflammatory bombast, pomposity and hyperbole in seeking to advance politically charged positions.

Not to mention just yelling at each other. Or someone.

As the Legkov case and the retrieval of the lab data prove, process — way more than rhetoric — matters.

Process often isn’t fun, or sexy, or thrilling, particularly in our world now, when it can seem so much more entertaining, or cavalier, or satisfying to the echo chamber to zip off a blasting tweet.

But process matters, and a lot. It matters to work through it. Heads-up: that’s what this column is about.

Reimagining Olympic legacy

Reimagining Olympic legacy

Time flies. It was September 2017 when the International Olympic Committee made the dual award of the 2024 Games to Paris and the 2028 Games to Los Angeles.

In essence — nearly 11 years ’til the Olympics came back to LA, in July 2028.

Last week, it was exactly 2024 days until the start of the 2024 Games in Paris. A typical Olympic countdown clock ticks down from roughly seven years. The year marker for Paris is already at five.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, 11 years has turned to nine-plus. Of course nine-plus is a long time. But look how many months have already passed so quickly.

Unlike every other Games in modern Olympic history — the LA 84 Games the exception and thus the model, turning a $232.5 million surplus — LA28 offers a chance to do it differently, differently in this case meaning better, because in LA everything is built, meaning the LA 28 organizing committee has the extraordinary opportunity from the get-to to focus on what the Games ought to stand for and be about.

LA28 does not have to wait until after a Games for new buildings built as part of an Olympic-related infrastructure boom to secure a legacy.

Instead, it can and should use the Olympics — because there is no construction need — to redefine, indeed reimagine, legacy.

Add it up: Shiffrin's 15, 36, 51 deserving of recognition

Add it up: Shiffrin's 15, 36, 51 deserving of recognition

No disrespect to Serena Williams — this space wrote 20 months ago that she ought to light the cauldron for a Los Angeles Olympics, and that was before the International Olympic Committee picked LA for the 2028 Olympics — but the fact that Serena Williams didn’t win a Grand Slam in 2018 and Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday capped her best year ever by becoming the most successful slalom skier in the 52-year history of the World Cup, and Serena Williams was named Associated Press female athlete of the year and Shiffrin didn’t even crack the top five is just plain … 

Wrong. 

And stupid.

A call to assess the USOC's 'structural challenges'

A call to assess the USOC's 'structural challenges'

Reading the more than 200 pages of the Ropes & Gray report into the “constellation of factors” underlying Larry Nassar’s abuse of gymnasts, it’s evident there is abundant blame to go around beyond the obvious — Nassar was a monster.

For the U.S. Olympic Committee, this crisis marks a signal moment. 

Whether or not one might dispute some of the considerable blame leveled the USOC’s way in the report, especially given still-unexplained FBI inaction, it’s crystal-clear the time is now for the USOC to undertake its own far-reaching review of its mandate and governance, in particular its relationships with and the oversight it exercises — or should, or doesn’t — over the 50 national governing bodies. 

Hence this call:

The USOC should empower a special blue-ribbon commission aimed at assessing — to use the language from Ropes & Gray, pages 162 and 163 — the USOC’s “structural challenges” in “reorienting from a service- to an oversight-centered approach and moving the NGBs away from an ingrained interpretation of the [1978 Amateur Sports Act] that was based on protecting athletes’ right to compete.”

The very first, and most pressing, matter is elemental: how much oversight?

Who run the world? Beyoncé knows. The IAAF, too

Who run the world, as Beyoncé so eloquently puts it? 

Can there be any doubt that the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations are in the midst of undertaking the most emphatic efforts to put talented, sophisticated, deserving women in positions of leadership?

Thus the question: under what theory can Willie Banks’ candidacy for the USA Track & Field position to the International Association of Athletics Federation governing Council be effective?

Particularly when USATF already has, in Stephanie Hightower, a senior executive who has given USATF a much-bigger voice, presence and influence within the IAAF than in some time and who, as well, commands the respect and trust of the most important person at the federation, its president, Sebastian Coe.

No surprise, none whatsoever: buh-bye, Calgary

No surprise, none whatsoever: buh-bye, Calgary

Big picture: in the wake of yet another failed Olympic referendum, this one Tuesday in Calgary, the result eminently predictable, the sky is not falling. The International Olympic Committee is not imploding like some death star. There will be Olympic Games in 2020, 2022, 2024, 2026, 2028 and beyond.

Indeed, scoreboard says Olympic sponsorship revenues are obscenely healthy — see, for instance, what’s going on in Japan for 2020, where the incoming revenue ledger for corporate sponsorships is on the order of $3 billion.

For that matter, there remains extraordinary magic in the five Olympic rings. The most recent evidence: last month’s Youth Games in Buenos Aires, where thousands of people jammed into the streets not just to be part but to feel, soulfully, part of the experience.

Can we be honest with each other? No matter the referendum, Calgary was never going to win an IOC vote. The IOC would strongly prefer a European winner for 2026 after Games in Asia in 2018 (PyeongChang), 2020 and 2022 (Beijing). For 2026, Stockholm and Milan are, in theory, still alive. So the melodrama that played out in Calgary over the past several months amounted to much ado over exactly nothing, and it fizzled Tuesday to the logical end, the polite Canadian no-thank you camp winning, 56-44 percent. 

In memory of Patrick Baumann

In memory of Patrick Baumann

We all know what awaits us at the end. What we don’t know, can never know, is when the end comes for each and every one of us. This is why, despite the considerable rancor and conflict in our world, the better path forward is to listen a little bit more, to be just a little more gentle in your words and your manner, a little more kind, to always work toward solution.

This was Patrick Baumann’s way.

It is why his sudden passing at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires has not just stunned but shaken the Olympic landscape. Baumann died from a heart attack, according to FIBA, the international basketball federation. He was just 51.

Baumann served as FIBA’s top administrator for 15 years. He was the key figure behind, among other things, the introduction of its so-called urban discipline, 3x3 ball, into the Summer Games. It will debut in Tokyo in 2020.

And so much more. 

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

IOC drops to three for 2026 while signaling clearly: it wants Stockholm

The International Olympic Committee, in moving three — not four — candidates along Thursday to the final stage of its 2026 Winter Games process, also signaled unequivocally where it wants those Games to go: Stockholm. 

Will Stockholm actually stage the 2026 Winter Olympics? Is there government will in Sweden for this thing? Magic 8-Ball says — what?

This is why Milan and Calgary were also moved along.

Erzurum, Turkey, the fourth entry nominally still in the hunt before Thursday’s policy-making executive board meeting, was always going to get cut. For 2026, it had zero chance. Not fake news.

Also not fake: none of these three may yet make it to the finish line. In which case, what then, Magic 8-Ball? 

Is it, “Cannot predict now”? Or, “Outlook not so good”? 

As ever, meanwhile, the IOC like Magic 8-Ball speaks in code, and in decoding the announcement that Stockholm, Milan and Calgary were your finalists, it’s 100 percent obvious that the IOC wants to go back to Scandinavia, which after all is the the heart and soul of the Winter Games experience and, indeed, sought to use Thursday’s announcement as a means to deliver this shout-out to the political and governmental authorities in Sweden:

Hey, play ball with us. Because if you do, you’re gonna win.

With Baku worlds as a springboard, judo on the rise

With Baku worlds as a springboard, judo on the rise

BAKU, Azerbaijan — These 2018 world championships underscored why judo already is one of the best sports in the Olympic landscape: easy-to-understand action, gender equity, universality, an honor code that promotes if not demands respect for each other as well as the rules and the sport. Further, when it comes to putting on the show itself, and this was richly evident here at what colloquially is called MGA Arena: the shine of world-class production values.

For those who don’t already understand the secret that Olympic insiders do:

Judo is already rising fast. These championships, which wrapped up Thursday, were not just a showcase but a springboard. This whole thing is gonna take off over the next six years, and those years are likely just the start of something really big.