Rio 2016

Lochte gets 10 months: big whoop


Ryan Lochte gets a 10-month suspension. To share the insight offered by a teen observer: big whoop.

You know who the big winner here is? Ryan Lochte.

That conclusion is as undeniable as it is undesirable. It is also, despite the best intentions of Olympic and swim officials, the most profoundly disappointing part of this entire episode — all of it, from start to finish.

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke in this week's DWTS publicity tour // Getty Images

From Ryan Lochte’s perspective, it was all about Ryan Lochte on that boozy night in Rio. For the next week, it was all about Ryan Lochte instead of the scores of other athletes, American and otherwise, chasing their own Olympic dreams in Brazil.

Even since then, too. Since being back in the States from Rio, there have been only two main questions — one, how was it and, two, what about Ryan Lochte?

On Wednesday night, in the hours after TMZ broke the story of the 10-month suspension, it was still all about Lochte — instead of the athletes on U.S. Paralympic team or the Paralympic opening ceremony back in Rio.

And it was all about Lochte on Thursday, when the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming formally announced the sanction. The USA Today headline: “Lochte’s Brazil gas station pals also suspended.”

Dude seriously could not have scripted this any better in advance of being on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Think about this:

In Rio, Lochte put the USOC and USA Swimming between a rock and a hard place. Then he did the exact same thing this week — those sports officials caught between wanting to impose sanction and the deadline of wanting to make that sanction public before next Monday’s season premiere of DWTS.

For that matter, the USOC and USA Swimming were in the same sort of rock-and-hard place dilemma in making it plain Lochte and the three others — Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger — had to be expecting a formal response. In embarrassing themselves, they also embarrassed the USOC and USA Swimming. So something had to be done. But what should that something be, and to what purpose?

Lochte also loses $100,000 in medal bonus money. That’s inconsequential in comparison to the four sponsors who have dropped him. But another has already said it intends to pick him up so he is clearly the farthest thing from radioactive.

The other three got four months away from the U.S. national team. Big whoop.

Bentz is back in college at Georgia. Conger is at Texas. They still can swim for their college teams.

Clockwise: Feigen, Lochte, Conger, Bentz // Getty Images

Lochte has to do 20 hours of community service, Bentz 10 for violating the Olympic Village curfew rules for athletes under 21. As swimming’s world governing body, FINA, pointed out, the International Olympic Committee insisted on a community service element.

Bottom line:

It’s all profoundly disturbing.

Lochte is not a bad guy. Indeed, he can be a very good guy — always willing to sign autographs, especially for kids. He is personable. He can be very likable.

On the theory that everyone has to navigate his or her own path in this life, let’s be honest: there have to be moments when it can’t be easy being Ryan Lochte, with 12 Olympic medals, when Michael Phelps has 28.

Even so, there is so much that remains so troubling.

In late June, GQ magazine published a feature entitled “The De-Broing of Ryan Lochte,” in which he avowed that the 2016 version of himself that would be on display in Rio would be “more mature.”

After Rio, this from Lochte in People magazine:

“I made things up. I didn’t tell the truth.  And that’s on me. I messed up and made a big mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Even if you want to believe him — and there is, again, a lot of good in Lochte — it’s wholly unclear that he gets it.

To be clear: that is not a referendum on Lochte’s intelligence. He is not dumb. Really, he is not.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I have a big heart, and I feel like [I] let down a lot of people,” he also told the magazine. “I feel bad that I have let people down.”

All good. Except for what he said next:

“It sucks that it was one of the main focuses of the Olympics. That’s what stinks. The media blew it up and talked about it. It got out of control, and this was all anyone could talk about.”

The media blew it up? Hello?

“Everyone started watching it and they didn’t watch the athletes. That’s another reason why I’m so hurt by it, because it took away from the Games.”

Ryan Lochte is hurting?

Where is the responsibility and accountability?

That whole actions-matter-more-than-words thing, you know.

The straight line from peeing on a gas station wall to lying about it to abandoning your teammates to deal for themselves with the consequences to being featured on one of America’s most popular television shows makes for a discordant message — a bad, very bad disconnect — when it comes to the values the Olympic movement, the USOC and USA Swimming purport to stand for.

Here was Lochte, in Rio, before the partying but after his last race, fifth in the 200-meter IM, off the podium:

“In life, in swimming, in sports, there are always ups and downs. It is what you do when you have those downs who make you what you are.”

Actions, words, etc.

It’s not that Lochte is going on DWTS. It’s that he’s going now — without taking a hard look at who he is and, in particular, the role alcohol plays in his decision-making.

At 32, he knows the bro thing comes with a sell-by date. But talking about it is one thing and acting like the mature role model he should be apparently another. The question he has yet to examine, and far away from the spotlight: why is he saying one thing and doing another?

For the sake of discussion, which requires in this context putting aside for a moment the peeing and the lying — it’s also a fair question to ask whether Lochte should have stuck around Rio. That is, should he have left Brazil when he did?

Should he, in essence, have kept to his regularly scheduled programming?

Or is the idea of “justice” in Brazil so fundamentally different that he did the right thing by getting out of dodge?

Here’s what Lochte should have done:

The moment Conger and Bentz were dragged off a plane, that is the instant Lochte should have called the USOC and USA Swimming and asked, what can or should I do?

Did he?

Looking at this from another angle:

Lochte didn’t hurt anyone. When Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence, it was because he was deemed a menace to the public health. So: why is Lochte getting more?

Because this is apples and oranges. Luckily, Phelps didn’t hurt anyone. And what’s at issue here is reputation and credibility — for Lochte, the USOC and USA Swimming.

In a statement sent to USA Today, Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, said, “We accept the decision as [we] believe it is in everyone’s best interest to move forward, adding in the next paragraph, “That said, in my oinion, while the collective sanctions appear to be harsh when considering what actually happened that day — Ryan did not commit a crime, he did not put the public safety at risk and he did not cheat in his sport — we will leave it to others to evaluate the appropriateness of the penalties.”

That sort of thing is called advocating for your client.

Back to reality: Phelps got six months. U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo got six months, too. So six was a starting place for Lochte.

And yet — 10 months away from competition won’t achieve anything, practically speaking.

Frankly, it’s laughable.

Yes, it’s 10 months, ending in June 2017, with a plus — just the way Phelps had to stay away from the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, Lochte will now be ineligible for the 2017 worlds in Budapest next July.

So what?

The 10 months is time Lochte would have taken off, anyway.

He was never going to be serious about 2017. In Rio, after that 200 IM, he said:

“It has been a long journey. I think now it is time for me to take a break, mentally and physically, to just get myself back to when I was a little kid having fun again. i can’t say this is my last time swimming. So we will see what happens.”

Ryan Lochte in Rio, before it all blew up // Getty Images

For two, as the Wall Street Journal reported in a story midway through the Rio Games, Phelps’ lengthy post-London break may now well serve as a template for others, especially older athletes such as Lochte, who is now 32. Why grind away for four solid years when, as Phelps proved conclusively, you can train less — push for maybe 18 months — and still win bunches of medals? For his part, Phelps turned 31 in late June.

For three, in keeping Phelps away from the 2015 Kazan worlds, USA Swimming could not have been any more clear about how it views what is purportedly the marquee event on the FINA calendar in odd-numbered years. Same for Lochte and 2017 in Budapest.

A note: Lochte will now lose out on the chance to win a fifth straight 200 IM worlds gold. Same theme: so what? He already has four, and fifth at the 2016 Olympics hardly makes him the odds-on 2017 favorite.

For four, and this is a nugget that swim geeks would understand immediately but takes just a few words of explanation for a wider audience:

Leaving U.S. college racing aside, because it is measured in yards, there are two kinds of racing at the world-class level, both in meters: long-course events, such as the Olympics or the (2017 Budapest) worlds, which take part in a 50-meter pool, and short-course, over a 25-meter set-up.

Lochte has for years been one of the few U.S. swimmers to excel at both, a mainstay of the U.S. short-course team.

Anytime Lochte wants, he can start racing short-course to get himself back up to speed. So it’s way off the mark, as some might suggest, that Lochte’s career is at a dead-end for two or maybe even three years, until the 2019 long-course worlds, now set for Gwangju, South Korea.

At the DWTS “cast reveal” party this week in New York, Lochte also told People, “I’m excited for, not only myself, but everyone else to forget about what happened and to move forward. I think that’s what the biggest thing is — what we’re gonna do is just move forward and show off my dancing skills.”

Just — so troubling. All around.

Recalibrating the apocalypse narrative


From the Department of the Obvious: many if not most pre-Games reports of the 2016 Rio Olympics bore the tone of prophecies signaling the Biblical end of days.

From the same department: this did not happen.

It is now a week since the 2016 Games came to a close. Thus the logical follow-up question: why, before the August 5 opening ceremony, did Rio produce so many projections if not outright declarations of imminent doom?

Closing ceremony at the Rio 2016 Games // Getty Images

And the corollary: going forward, isn’t it worth serious reflection and reconsideration from the many who predicted the sky would fall — not just about what they produced but about the role and value of the Olympics in our fragile world.

To be clear, the Olympics do not represent, nor have they ever, an exercise in perfection. That is not possible nor even in the least bit desirable. What the Olympics stand for is an appeal to our better selves and the notion of certain ideals, in particular friendship, excellence and respect.

To be even more clear, the Olympic movement is itself full of imperfections. This is natural. We are all human, and we are flawed. All the more so the International Olympic Committee.

Yet a Games produces a moment — 17 days, really — when athletes from all over the world, young people in the main, gather and don’t kill each other. This is not meant to be glib. The timeline of human history is replete with conflict over connection. The Olympics provide a way and a means for all of us to explore the things we have in common rather than exploiting our differences.

This is a unique thing in the annals of the human experience. It is worth celebrating.

And yet.

The IOC for sure can, and should, do a better job both of acknowledging its shortcomings and of explaining the constructive things it does, and why. Bid committees, and the follow-on organizing committees, absolutely can and should be held accountable when they over-promise and under-deliver -- see, for instance, the Rio 2016 bid's assertion that it would clean up the local bays and beaches.

Of course, it's news -- appropriately so -- when the oceanfront bike path in Rio collapsed because of high surf, killing two people.

In that spirit, it's also more than legitimate to observe that infrastructure projects in Rio, and in other recent Games cities, were either designed to or in practice have benefitted primarily the affluent. Too, Olympic-related projects have often seen the authorities push people out of their homes. Here is a key example where bid and organizing committees -- pushed by the IOC -- ought to be on the hook from the get-go, required to state in bidding documents what, if any, relocations will be required to deliver promised construction.

For all that:

No one likes criticism, least of all my colleagues, friends and otherwise in the media.

But — to the collective you:

Your scare stories were absurd. Your level of expectation: ridiculous. Your predictions of far-reaching calamity: 100 percent wrong.

The developed world’s assessment and pre-Games judgment of developing Brazil smacked, in many instances, of smug privilege if not the very worst strands of colonialism and imperialism. Why expect Rio to be London or Vancouver?

Social media amplified the predictions of catastrophe. A threat on Reddit was dedicated to the “Apocalympics.”

Consider the Zika thing — which, among other consequences, purportedly led to the withdrawal of many top male golfers from golf’s debut at the Olympics.

The World Health Organization said last Thursday that no one appears to have caught Zika at the Games. That means, according to WHO, “spectators, athletes or anyone associated with the Olympics.”

To be even more direct — not one worker at the Rio golf grounds.

Yet the world’s top guy pros wouldn't or couldn’t go?

Hello, everybody — when did it dawn on you that August in Brazil is like February in the northern hemisphere and the mosquito populations in Rio would be way, way down? I was in Rio from July 28 through August 22 and literally did not see, hear or feel even one mosquito.

For that matter — what of the onset of the virus in Puerto Rico? Or South Florida?

As an entirely reasonable pre-Games CBC story pointed out, there was entirely more risk in Rio from street crime, getting hit by a bus or developing a sexually transmitted disease than from Zika.

Translation: life. Like being out and about in any big city anywhere.

Would you know that from the hysteria level of the reportage?

Which leads, in a direct line, to this kind of abject stupidity from the likes of U.S. women’s soccer team goalie Hope Solo:

Not sharing this!!! Get your own! #zikaproof #RoadToRio

A photo posted by Hope Solo (@hopesolo) on

To be clear, accounts of this challenge or that attending an edition of the Olympic Games have been a constant for more than a century. So that’s hardly new.

Twelve years ago, things before the Athens Olympics were in such a state of unease — the first post-9/11 Summer Games — that the Los Angeles Times, where I was then a staff writer, ordered us all to undergo gas-mask and terrorism-response training before flying to Greece.

As if journalists were suddenly going to become first-responders.

Even by Athens standards, however, what was new this time was both the depth and the breadth of it all — the sustained ferocity of the pack and its collective narrative.

Many people don't like change and, by extension, anything new. These were the first-ever Games in South America. A therapist might say these Games represented a variation on the classic "other" -- a source of concern, if not fear, since the dawn of time.

As Oliver Holt of the British outlet Mail on Sunday (his reporting was thoroughly reasonable throughout) observed in a Twitter post:

Consider the 90-minute HBO “Real Sports” evisceration of the IOC.

Here was the opening sentence of an early July opinion piece in the New York Times:

“It’s official: The Olympic Games in Rio are an unnatural disaster.”

Here was, as the promo blurb for his new book about the Olympics called him, “the renowned sportswriter” David Goldblatt, on July 26 in the Guardian:

“In the face of such multiple disasters and injustices, history seems to offer Rio wriggle room. It can claim that Athens was more last minute and produced more white elephants, Sochi was as least as corrupt and wasteful, Beijing was more repressive, Seoul’s displacements were more widespread and viscous and Atlanta’s social cleansing more thorough. However, Rio is giving all of them a run for their money and adding its own unique injustices and shameful dissembling.”

Here was a history professor in the July 19 issue of Time magazine:

“The Rio Games will be a failure, no matter how successful they might be in terms of athletic accomplishment and spectator enjoyment, because our global sense of an international order has failed. It is a divided, distracted and even defeated international community that is slouching towards Rio.”

Do the Olympics deserve scrutiny? For sure. And for emphasis: journalistic responsibility and holding accountable those in positions of authority is wholly appropriate.

But — what’s also appropriate in the big picture is a more appropriate measure, please, of balance and perspective.

The New York Times' Chris Clarey, in a column published last Friday, summed up aptly:

"Rio deserved a more balanced, less hysterical prologue, just as it deserves a more balanced, less triumphal epilogue."

Is it realistic to expect an Olympic Games to solve every social problem in successive cities? Not in the slightest. The better question: why is that the question in the first instance?

A fair judgment on any Olympics takes 20 years. Look at Barcelona before 1992, and now. The place is totally transformed.

Athens has a ways to go before history can be in any way fair in rendering a verdict on those 2004 Games. Are there sports facilities that are just sitting now in the sun? For sure. At the same time, did the Games bring a new airport and new metro lines — and have they enhanced life, generally speaking?

Same in Rio. New transport lines. New waterfront park makeover. As the New York Times observed in a story published last Sunday, Rio "is altered if not reborn."

In the meantime, it's a real question why the ladies and gentlemen of the press, who are free with criticism when it's someone else,  don’t do the one thing they ask of the people they cover — that is, to be consistent.


How many stories were produced before the Sochi 2014 Games about Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law? And after?

How many reports were published before the Beijing 2008 Games about China’s human rights record? And after?

The good news about Rio is not just that disaster was, in fact, averted. It’s not even that a whole bunch of people wrote “gee, I guess that was OK” stories upon their Rio departures.

It’s that Rio has confirmed for increasing numbers within the IOC the realization, after 30 years of the Games as catalyst for wholesale public-policy makeovers, that it really is in a different game. It’s not in the infrastructure business. It’s in the inspiration business.

The consequence: the IOC needs — not should, but needs — to go for the 2024 Games to a city where the sports venues, the transport, the overall logistic package already exist. Essentially, this means either Paris or Los Angeles. Rome and Budapest are also in the race. The IOC will pick next September.

The IOC is recalibrating.

Time for the press to do the same.

'Iconic' or not, Rio sighs to close


RIO de JANEIRO — Imperfect for sure, like life itself, the Rio 2016 Summer Games sighed Sunday to a close, an Olympics likely to go down in history for first-rate sport that offered a break from a welter of financial, logistical and political challenges or perhaps served merely to underscore just how difficult it is, now, to put on an Olympic Games.

For every Michael Phelps, there was the story of green water in the diving pool. For every Usain Bolt, there was the stray bullet that pierced the tent at the equestrian center. For every Simone Biles, there were the winds that ripped an overhead television camera from its cable at Olympic Park, injuring seven people, two of them children.

Gold medalist Carmelo Anthony celebrates with the crowd after the U.S. men's 96-66 victory over Serbia // Getty Images

To draw an analogy from golf, which made its Olympic debut here with many of the world’s top male professionals opting out: these Games were a grind, hazards everywhere, the kind of round where any reasonable player would, upon sinking that last putt on 18 to complete a round pocked with bogeys,  pause to look around and go — whew.

Made it. Somehow.

“I am the happiest man alive,” the president of the Rio 2016 organizing committee, Carlos Nuzman, said at Sunday’s closing ceremony, a moment later calling these Games “a great challenge but a great success.”

The Rio Games may not have been the biggest, or the smoothest, or the most significant or, hardly, the best. But they were the first-ever in South America. And considering the political and economic upheaval buffeting Brazil, the assessment rendered Saturday at a news conference by the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, seems worth reviewing:

“An iconic Games but it is also a Games in the middle of reality,” he said, adding, “It has not been organized in a bubble but in a city where there are social problems and social divides, where real life continued.

“This was very good for everybody — to be close to reality and not in a bubble for 16 days and isolated from society.”

In 2009, when the IOC awarded these Games to Rio, over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo, Brazil’s economy was booming. Party! Like the percussive dance jam that pumped through Sunday night’s closing ceremony at the famed Maracanã Stadium, accented by the return of the shirtless, oiled-up, buff opening ceremony flag bearer from Tonga, the taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua.

You wish you could be like him but you can't: Pita Taufatofua of Tongo

Problem is, between 2009 and Sunday night, the Brazilian economy crashed.

This made plain the No. 1 issue that bedeviled these 2016 Games. It was not lack of planning or late planning or attention to detail, though those were concerns. Instead, when issues stemming from planning or detail would arise, there simply was not sufficient money to make it 100 percent right. This reality, when the Paralympics open in just a couple weeks amid deep budget cuts, will be even more manifest.

Meanwhile, Brazil has been buffeted by political corruption and turmoil. The country is, even now, in the midst of a presidential impeachment drama.

Then, in the weeks before the Games, the headlines elsewhere frequently trumpeted fears of Zika, of scary water, of the street crime and way, way more, including outrage — from all sides — over reports of state-sanctioned doping in Russia.

It is worth noting that, before Brazil, the only nation to have put on both the soccer World Cup and the Olympics in a two-year span is the United States, soccer in 1994 and the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Those 1996 Games are not remembered fondly — with transit, technology and security woes.

The 2014 World Cup happened. And the many predictions of colossal disaster for Rio 2016: averted.

Zika: swarms of mosquitoes did not appear. Water: rowers, sailors, swimmers did their thing. Security: a lot of armed soldiers but, to be honest, that is now reality everywhere post-9/11.

Indeed, as soon as the sport itself got underway, the spotlight shifted to the athletes of the world, and their struggles and accomplishments.

To quote the American Sam Kendricks, bronze medalist in the men’s pole vault: "The Olympics is like high tide, it raises all boats and brings the best out of all of us."

The Russian ban meant its usually-strong track and field team — with the exception of one long jumper, Darya Klishina — didn’t travel. She finished ninth in the women’s long jump.

That helped open the door for the United States, in particular, to record its best medal count since the boycott-marked 1984 Los Angeles Games — 121 overall, 46 gold. Second depends how you count, by gold or overall. The American way prioritizes the overall count. China had 70, 26 gold. The rest of the world goes by the gold standard. Great Britain finished with 27 gold, 67 overall.

The Russian team finished with 56 and 19.

In 1984, the Americans won 174 total. In London four years ago, 103.

The U.S. swim team won 33 of the 121 medals. The track team, 32, Galen Rupp running Sunday morning to bronze in the men’s marathon.

Some stalwarts produced as expected.

Katie Ledecky won four gold medals (and a silver), setting two world records.

Phelps, five gold medals (and a silver). He now has 28 career Olympic medals, 23 gold.

Biles, the world’s best gymnast: four gold medals (and a bronze). She carried the U.S. flag into the  closing ceremony.

Usain Bolt completed the triple-triple, winning the 100m, 200m and taking part in the victorious 4x100m relay for a third straight Games — after London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008.

The U.S. women’s basketball team cruised to a sixth straight gold.

On Sunday, in one of the final contests of the Games, the U.S. men’s basketball team completed a three-peat under coach Mike Krzyzewski, defeating Serbia, 96-66, for gold. The NBA star and USA Basketball stalwart Carmelo Anthony won his third gold medal— the only male basketball player in Olympic history with three golds.

Before the game, Krzyzewski was asked about the 2016 Games. He said, “We’ve been treated in just amazing fashion and the care, the security, the friendliness, just the hospitality of the Brazilian people, have been spectacular. I hope we win but I’ll tell you what — we’ll go away with a great feeling about Rio. We’ve loved being here. We could not have been treated better.”

“This is still a magic city and a magic place,” Nuzman insisted Sunday night.

Kim Jong-un impersonator at the closing ceremony // Getty Images

Some performances, even if unexpected, proved thrilling — the magic, perhaps, of the Olympic experience.

Brazil gained a measure of revenge for the 7-1 2014 German World Cup semifinal beatdown by defeating Germany to win gold in men’s soccer, 5-4 on penalties after tying 1-1 in regulation.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk not only won gold in the men’s 400m, he set a new world record, 43.03 seconds — obliterating Michael Johnson’s 1999 mark, 43.18. Britain’s Mo Farah completed the distance double-double, winning the men’s 5000m and 10000m runs, just as he had in London. Matthew Centrowitz of the United States won the men’s 1500m at the track, the first gold for the United States in that event since 1908 — a signal of karma, perhaps, for Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.

The American swimmer Anthony Ervin, 35 years old, won the men’s 50m free a full 16 years after he had done the very same thing in Sydney. The U.S. track standout Allyson Felix won three medals, two gold in the relays, and now has six golds overall — most of any female track athlete in Olympic history.

If the essence of that Olympic experience, meantime, is the gathering of the world’s young people, there was more, way more, in the unexpected category.

The Fiji men’s rugby sevens team won that island nation’s first-ever Olympic medal. It was gold. 

Kosovo judoka Majlinda Kelmendi won that eastern Europe nation’s first-ever Olympic medal. It was gold. 

Singapore swimmer Joe Schooling won that small Southeast Asian nation’s first-ever Olympic gold. He won the men’s 100m butterfly, with Phelps, South Africa’s Chad le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh forging a three-way tie for silver.

The 10 members of the refugee Olympic team didn’t win any medals - not hardly. 

No matter.

“I hope,” swimmer Yusra Mardini, who escaped the war in Syria, said after the heats of the women’s 100m freestyle, “refugees are not refugees any more and they have their hope to continue their dreams after they see us."

At the beach volleyball venue, in an early-round women’s match, Egypt played Germany, Egyptian Doaa Elghobashy fully clothed and her head covered in a hijab, the German duo in bikinis.

Before the Brazil-Argentina men’s basketball game last weekend, a thrilling affair that went to double overtime, Argentina prevailing, 111-107, Brazil’s Marcelo Huertas and Argentina’s Luis Scola addressed the crowd to make a plea for the key Olympic values: friendship, excellence and, most of all, respect.

“We’re Latin American brothers,” Huertas said, “and we are counting on you to have a celebration."

Scola said, “On behalf of my team, I want to ask you to cheer for your team, to have fun in a civilized manner and with a lot of respect."

Closing ceremonies fireworks // Getty Images

This, in the end, is the enduring lesson of the Olympics — one the American swimmer Ryan Lochte is sure to have considerable time to mull over in the aftermath of his purported robbery story, a tale that hijacked considerable focus the second week of the Games away from the hopes and dreams of the many athletes still here.

The IOC has opened a review of the matter. The U.S. Olympic Committee, in a news conference Sunday, said disciplinary action of some sort is forthcoming, chief executive Scott Blackmun saying of Lochte and three other swimmers, “They let down our athletes. They let down Americans.”

Meanwhile, Ireland’s Patrick Hickey, a member of the IOC’s policy-making executive board, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a ticket scam. If Monday is travel day for most who were here, the 71-year-old Hickey’s immediate future remains entirely unclear. He reportedly was locked up in the maximum security Bangu Prison here while the wheels of Brazilian justice start to spin.

Because of the way the Olympic cycle works, it’s now roughly 17 months until the next edition of a Games — the 2018 Winter Olympics, in the hamlet of Pyeongchang, South Korea. This past Tuesday, Taylor Fletcher won his first U.S. national title in Nordic combined; in warm weather, they substitute roller skis for the waxed winter kind. 

In between Rio and Pyeongchang, at an assembly in September, 2017, in Lima, Peru, the IOC will make its 2024 pick. Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Budapest are in the hunt.

Tokyo will put on the 2020 Games. The IOC here affirmed the introduction of new sports at those 2020 Olympics, among them surfing, skateboarding and rock climbing. Late Sunday, as Rio came to a close, the Olympic Channel went online — the Olympic movement’s digital effort to make the Games more relevant than a thing every two weeks every two years, to highlight the stories of the athletes who, despite everything, can and do provide inspiration to the little kids they used to be and, as well, the grown-ups trying to make sense of our imperfect world.

As Bach said in opening these Rio Olympics, “We are living in a world of crises, mistrust and uncertainty. Here is our Olympic answer."

Further crises and uncertainties assuredly await. The next editions of the Olympics, too, “iconic” or not.

Let's get this festa started


RIO de JANEIRO — If ever there was a Games that cried out for the glow of a lit cauldron, these are those Games.

If ever there was a Games that presented to so many the deep fear of the unknown, these are those Games: the first-ever Olympics in South America, Rio and Brazil depicted far and wide as danger writ large.

Finally, the familiar symbols of the Olympic movement took hold Friday night and with them, perhaps, a reprieve. If tradition holds, the next 17 days promise more — way more — of a focus on the inspirational ideal that the best in each of us makes all of us better.

The greatest Olympic athlete of all time in Friday's parade of nations // Getty Images

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An open letter: the White House delegation to Rio


President Barack Obama

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

August 2, 2016

Dear Mr. President:

Coming up on three years ago, I wrote you an “open letter” critical of your decision to send to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games an official White House delegation that did not include yourself, the First Lady, the vice president nor, indeed, any member of your cabinet.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will head the White House delegation to the Rio 2016 Summer Games.

Mr. President, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I respect you personally as well as the office you hold. I voted for you twice. If I could, I would vote for you again this November. I believe history will treat you kindly — that, with time, you will come to be seen as what you truly are and have been, one of our greatest presidents in more than 200 years.

With all that said, sir:

Please permit me the opportunity to address you in another “open letter,” mindful that I am grateful to call home a country where I may give voice to criticisms and that, as well, any such criticisms relate solely to matters of policy. In no way are they personal.

Time shows how we all change over seven years: President Obama in 2009 addressing the IOC on behalf of Chicago's 2016 bid // Getty Images

The tennis star Billie Jean King at the Sochi 2014 men's ice-hockey bronze medal game //

The announcement that Secretary Kerry will lead the 2016 delegation underscores the futility and hypocrisy inherent in what the White House tried to do — with, at best, limited impact — in connection with the Sochi Games.

Can we — you, me, all of us — acknowledge now the truth of the matter?

That what the White House sought in 2014 was to leverage the spotlight of the Olympic Games to exploit the American position in dealing with the Russians, in particular Mr. Putin, while simultaneously expressing considered frustration, if not more, with the International Olympic Committee?

And to what purpose?

The record is plain.

In October 2009, you and the First Lady went to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC for Chicago’s 2016 Summer Games bid.

In retrospect, we can perhaps observe it might be all to the good that Chicago did not win. Imagine, Mr. President, the worldwide media uproar in anticipation of a 2016 Chicago Games over the murder rate in Chicago and, by extension, American gun-control policies. Not to mention the national embarrassment that is Mr. Trump, whom you appropriately described on Tuesday as “unfit” and “woefully unprepared” for the presidency.

At any rate, you went to Copenhagen — the first sitting president, ever, to lobby the IOC in such a fashion.

The members not only awarded the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro, they booted Chicago in the very first round. Tales still circulate within Olympic circles of the IOC members idling on buses while waiting for your security detail to give the all-good to come in to the convention hall.

Since then, the White House’s — by extension, the federal government’s — relationship with the global Olympic movement and, more broadly, international sport, has deteriorated to the point of dreadful, and that is being generous.

Maybe you have forgiven if not forgotten. But it’s something of an open secret that your trusted advisers may hardly have done so.

Who brought the indictments against FIFA? The U.S. Justice Department, headed by Ms. Loretta Lynch. Assuredly, the Attorney General wields considerable latitude in her prosecutorial choices. At the same time, who does the Attorney General report to? That would be you.

Before you named her Attorney General, Ms. Lynch served as U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, for five years heading the office for the Eastern District of New York. This past May, it was the Eastern District that opened an inquiry into allegations of state-sponsored Russian doping — as if a Russian matter should, on some theory, be a matter for American law enforcement.

Imagine, sir, if the tables were turned. The American court system, indeed the federal courts with their limited jurisdiction, are filled with allegations of wrongdoing each and every day. Are the Russians weighing in to impart their view of justice on our behalf? Are they mounting a campaign to convince Americans and others around the world that, for instance, the death penalty, legal in several U.S. states, is illegal it not immoral?

Perhaps there is this: at least you didn’t try to stick it further to the Olympic scene by naming Ms. Lynch to the 2016 delegation. Just Secretary Kerry; the U.S. ambassador to Brazil; three other federal officials, and the swim legend Mark Spitz.

The disregard with which your administration views the Olympic scene could hardly have been more apparent when, last October, the Association of National Olympic Committees held its annual meeting in Washington, just blocks from the White House.

Since becoming the IOC president in 2013, Thomas Bach has met with more than 100 heads of government or state. But, notably, not you.

Indeed, at the Sochi opening ceremony, Mr. Bach, obviously if indirectly referring to you, said the Olympics should not be “used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests.”

Mr. Bach also said in opening the Sochi Games, “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, at the Sochi 2014 opening ceremony // Getty Images

Bach with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Games

Vice president Biden at last October's ANOC meeting // Getty Images

At the ANOC event, no senior U.S. official had the courage to show until several days into the event when — your White House obviously alerted that this show of American defiance might not reflect well on a Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Summer Games — Vice President Biden appeared from behind the curtain.

Mr. Biden stayed for all of seven minutes.

As for LA, and its 2024 contest with Paris, Rome and Budapest: the heads of state or government of France, Italy and Hungary have all said they are coming to Rio for the Games opening ceremony.

But not you.

“It is absolutely normal that participating countries at major events such as the Olympic Games, being organized every four years, are represented by high-level state leaders,” the Hungarian release, issued Tuesday, said. “This is especially true for countries that have bid to host the Olympic Games.”

It’s in this full, indeed rich, context that one has to view the 2014 Sochi White House delegation — as one of a series, since that 2009 Chicago defeat, of provocations.

Perhaps it is the case that the dots don’t connect. But it plainly looks like they do. And we both know this truism: in politics, perception is as important than reality, if not more so.

To be honest, of course, in our popular culture, the Russians make for excellent villains. Think only of Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV," or the bad guys in James Bond movies, or even Boris and Natasha from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

Mr. Putin, right or wrong, fair or not, plays the role for many of the arch-villain of our time.

How easy was it to tap into all that sentiment while amplifying a disregard for the Olympic scene?

The White House said in 2014 that your schedule simply didn’t allow you to travel to Sochi.

This, Mr. President, begs credulity.

The central issue was the controversy that you latched onto sparked by the Russian anti-gay propaganda law. A couple months before the Games, you remarked, “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia.”

For the opening ceremony, you named two openly gay athletes: Billie Jean King, the tennis star, and skating gold medalist Brian Boitano.

A tennis player — at the Winter Olympics?

For the closing, you threw a little more gas on the fire by naming Caitlin Cahow, winner of Olympic silver and bronze medals in ice hockey, another gay athlete, to the closing ceremony delegation.

You might remember that Ms. King ended up going to the closing ceremony; her mother passed away the day of the opening ceremony. Ms. Cahow took part in the opening ceremony.

You might recall, too, that in a commentary for CNN published a few weeks before the 2014 Games, Ms. King had said, in part:

“Is our nation making a statement on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law by sending gay men and women to represent us in Sochi? Perhaps we are.”


The right answer to Ms. King’s rhetorical question: obviously.

In that same piece, she also said:

“… I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.”

That for sure has not happened. We all have a long way to go. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has since made same-sex marriage the law of our land. But that has hardly triggered a rush in other countries to follow our lead.

Ms. King also said in her piece:

“I have a saying that 98 percent of winning is showing up. So we will show up in Russia. We will support our athletes and cheer them as loudly as possible. And we will keep the equality conversation alive.”

When she got home from her White House-sanctioned Sochi-related activism, Ms. King, in an Associated Press feature, said she would like the IOC to add sexual orientation to the list of protections in its charter and to consider the issue when deciding host countries for future Olympics.

The IOC did add sexual orientation to its list of protections, as part of its Agenda 2020 “reforms” enacted in December 2014. But it would have done so regardless of Ms. King. Or anyone from the United States.

As for the second point: not so much. The IOC competition for the 2022 Winter Games got down to Kazakhstan and China. Neither can boast about its human-rights record. In 2015, the IOC went for Beijing.

And if it were the “equality conversation” that was the true impetus for the composition of the Sochi delegation, Mr. President, that imperative would hold even more validity in connection with Rio and 2016.

As the New York Times reported on July 5, Brazil is arguably the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

Over the past four-plus years, the newspaper reported, citing Grupo Gay de Bahia, an advocacy group, nearly 1,600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks. That means a gay or transgender person is killed almost daily in Brazil.

The Times story quotes the advocacy group’s manager as saying that the numbers represent “only the tip of the iceberg of violence and bloodshed,” since police here often, as the paper reported, “omit anti-gay animus when compiling homicide reports.” An Amnesty International Brazil official, the paper further reported, said, “Homophobic violence has hit crisis levels, and it’s getting worse.”

So much outrage over a Russian propaganda law in the run-up to Sochi 2014 but, in comparison, comparative silence in these weeks and months before Rio 2016 about horrific violence in Brazil?

Mr. President, you proved eloquent, as usual, in decrying the June massacre that took 49 lives at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Yet nothing about the slow, steady and awful rate of homicides in Brazil?

The Olympics are assuredly imperfect. But there is no other institution in our fragile world that offers the very notion you have spent much of your time in office promoting — we are all better when we stand, in peace, together.

With that in mind, please allow me to close with an unsolicited suggestion.

Next year, at an assembly in Lima, Peru, the IOC will decide the 2024 Summer Games site.

By then, you will be out of office. We can all hope that Ms. Clinton — an avid public supporter of the Olympic notion — is your successor. At any rate, if you were to appear in Lima, and once again address the IOC on behalf of an American candidate city, it might be therapeutic all around.

It also could be awesome.

You could even start by saying something like, “Sorry about that last time. I for sure didn’t mean to make you sit around for a few minutes just on my account.” Take it from there, sir. There’s a powerful argument that the world needs what Los Angeles, what California and what our great country can — in service and humility — offer.

As you have proven repeatedly, such humility, as well as considered doses of humor and empathy, can often achieve great things, particularly in the pursuit of pluralism and tolerance. Being strident rarely gets us anywhere.

Thank you, sir, for your attention and consideration. And for your years of leadership. Godspeed.


Alan Abrahamson

3 Wire Sports

Los Angeles, California

Einstein's very definition of insanity


RIO DE JANEIRO — Amid the seemingly imminent apocalypse about to erupt with holy fire all over everything connected with the 2016 Summer Games, one might think that the collapse of a boat ramp over the weekend at the sailing venue would be comparatively insignificant.

It’s not.

The ramp collapse is profoundly symptomatic and symbolic.

It underscores the lack of controls — and control — that has dogged preparations for the 2016 Games since the get-go, a long seven years ago.

Of course such a collapse is unacceptable.

Of course it needs to get fixed, and immediately, and a Rio 2016 spokesman says the repairs will take just days.

The IOC president. Thomas Bach, at Sunday's news conference and, snark aside, he is looking out through the lights to try to see who is asking him what // Getty Images

The boat ramp fail follows the buckling of a seaside bike path here in April.  No one was hurt over the weekend at the sailing venue. Two people died when the bike path fell, pulverized by a huge wave. The timing: just hours after the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece.

Together, these two incidents spotlight the need for a thorough and fundamental review of the very way the International Olympic Committee delegates, assigns and joins with local organizers in getting ready for a Games.

This is way beyond Rio, though Rio should be the catalyst for the wide-ranging discussion that needs to be held about how to bring the organization and operation of a Games into the 21st century.

After Rio, the IOC should convene an “innovation group” — or whatever it wants to call it — made up of forward-thinkers from anywhere. The mandate: new and creative solutions in accord with a reconsideration and reallocation of local and IOC roles and responsibilities. If there are 10 ideas, and nine suck, so what? There needs to be freedom to think out of the box about how to make this, you know, actually work, and without so much drama.

Olympic veterans might recall that during the 2009 bid phase for 2016, Rio didn't even make the initial technical grade but was nonetheless passed through for, um, other reasons. Given that, who can be all that surprised now?

Here is the starting premise for discussion:

The Olympic Games are a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

With that in mind, it is insanity to keep turning over the organization of the IOC’s franchise to newbies, and expect things to run in a world-class manner.

What business does that? Nobody. Well, no one except the IOC.

As Albert Einstein reportedly said, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

This, though, is exactly what the IOC does. Seven years beforehand, It awards some place a Games. Then it sits back and holds twice- or three-times-per-year inspections — in Olympic jargon, “coordination commissions” — while allowing the locals to run things as the locals see fit.

Typically, this means senior-level management shuffles and re-shuffles and, as well, political or government interference that, to put it gently, is not helpful. Look at Rio. Or the next Games, in Korea in 2018. Or Tokyo, in 2020.

Sometimes, as was the case in Korea, the IOC lucks out and gets someone like Y.H. Cho, the Korean Air chief who ran the winning Korean bid and knew how to maneuver between east and west as well as the elements in Korea itself — business, government, politics.

His case is fully instructive, however: a few months ago, the Koreans opted to go in a different direction. Who was the most surprised when it happened? The IOC.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out a fix.

Start with the FIFA approach.

In some IOC circles, the idea that it could learn from FIFA might be considered heresy.

For sure, there are many, many, many things one could observe about FIFA that would not be positive.

But it must be said that FIFA knows how to run its soccer tournaments.


Because that is what it’s in the business of doing. It runs the show, thank you.

Same idea for the IOC, and the Olympics.

The IOC should have a Games team — or teams, Winter and Summer — who go from locale to locale. How many people? Unclear. Six? Ten? Twenty? Whatever.

All of this can be imagined in a way that actually jibes with Agenda 2020, the IOC's self-proclaimed 2014 reform plan, and easily. Agenda 2020 can be the blueprint, in the same way that the U.S. Congress passes laws that then need rules and regulation -- back to the Olympic context, whatever the "innovation group" comes up with -- to implement.

Will there be conflict with the locals? Undoubtedly. Might the locals resent the IOC influence? Probably. Are these kinds of things capable of solution? Absolutely, and this is why the rights and responsibilities should be examined anew, now.

Indeed, in other areas, the IOC has already recognized the issue, and done what needs doing, what is elegantly obvious — assign a cadre of professional experts to run things.

The Olympic Broadcasting Service, which supplies the video and more for each edition of the Games? They are maybe the best in the world, based in Madrid under the uber-competent Yiannis Exarchos, in charge of the host feed and more from Games to Games.

On a smaller scale — and this is something of inside baseball but the point is the same — each Games features a service for the media called Olympic News Service. In London four years ago, ONS ran to more than 500 people. Here, after a thorough review (disclaimer: I was invited to be part of the working group involved in that review), more like 50, all professionals.

What does this save? Time, resource and, crucially, money.

Let’s be totally frank:

You know the old saying about stuff flowing downhill?

Which entity, more than any, is the one at the bottom of that proverbial Olympic hill? The local organizing committee, which has a temporary lifespan? Or the IOC, which endures and thus makes itself the fat, easy target?

Since that is so clearly the case, why wouldn’t the IOC take proactive steps to ensure the ongoing integrity, vitality and relevance of its brand — instead of being subjected every two years to the predictable sky-is-falling reportage?

The IOC actually has a great story to tell: no other institution in the world brings thousands of people together in a celebration intended to promote the best of each and all of us.

Far too often, however, that message gets obscured by, or lost in, too much of the stuff running downhill.

When you think of Sochi, as a for instance, what are the two things that come immediately to mind for most people? Well, now three, given allegations of state-sanctioned Russian doping — one, the hotels not being done when multitudes of reporters arrived and, two, the $51 billion overall cost associated with those Games, right?

The scene at the sailing venue // Getty Images

Waves battering the incline near the collapsed bike path // Getty Images

It’s now five short days before the 2016 opening ceremony. This week the bulk of roughly 15,000 media people are going to descend upon Rio.

You can believe that there is still painting, wiring, hanging, building all over the place.

Reports from the press already here of imminent disaster are now so widespread that there has developed in recent days a Reddit subgroup called apocalympics2016.


Fire, hail, locusts, frogs, cattle disease — these and the other plagues from the Biblical Exodus— are nowhere in evidence in Rio. As the sages teach, this is welcome news indeed for those of us who are first-born males.

As for bugs: now that Zika is in Florida, it might even be asked if there is quite another reason so many of the top male golfers aren’t here. Like: drug testing, maybe?

There is one overriding problem in Rio, and one problem only:

There is not — and has not been — enough money.

The problem is both overall budget, and cash flow.

The organizing committee’s operating budget figures out at about $2.3 billion.

The shortfall, now, is reportedly about $70 million.

Amid a severe economic depression, that kind of money literally isn’t here to be had in Brazil.

But it’s got to come from somewhere.

This is why the IOC president Thomas Bach, at a news conference Sunday marking the end of the policy-making executive board’s pre-Games get-together, announced the IOC would be stepping in to help — though he did not detail by how much, instead saying the IOC "is helping the organizing committee to make sure that these Games will be the success we all want it to be.”

The back story of these Games is that the IOC recognized the enormity and complexity of the Rio challenge in 2014, when it assigned the-then Games executive director, Gilbert Felli, to work more or less full time on 2016 preparations.

Thus it has been running on either — choose your perspective — an ad hoc or emergency basis the very solution that must present itself looking ahead to Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and beyond.

Let's face it: chronic triage is a bad way to go through life.

The Russians are coming! Or should be


Prediction: the Russians will be at the Rio 2016 Summer Games. Reality check: they should be there.

Fundamental fairness dictates that the Russians must be allowed to compete in Rio.

Pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Russian sport minister Vitaly Mutko on a Sochi 2014 tour // Getty Images

To start with the obvious, amid allegations that state-sponsored or -sanctioned doping pervaded the Russian sports system:

It’s between a rock and hard place for track and field’s governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, in trying to decide whether to allow the Russians — the track team is currently suspended — into the 2016 Games. A decision is due June 17 at a meeting in Vienna of the IAAF’s policy-making executive council.

Similarly, it’s between that same rock and that same hard place for the International Olympic Committee, which is then going to be charged with reviewing whatever the IAAF decides, and maybe other federations do, too.

Never — repeat, never — has the IOC banned a nation for doping violations.

The IOC has, of course, banned countries from editions of the modern Games. But only for geopolitical concerns:

Germany and Japan didn’t get invites to the London 1948 Summer Games. South Africa’s apartheid policy kept it out of the Games between 1960 and 1992. Afghanistan didn’t go to the 2000 Sydney Games because of Taliban discrimination against women.

To ban a country for doping — especially a country as important in the Olympic landscape as Russia — would set a volatile new precedent.

Improbable, at best.

That said: no matter what decisions ultimately get taken, there’s going to be criticism.

Such criticism is likely to be amplified if the rumor now circulating in Olympic circles turns out to be true — that as many as half of the 31 2008 Beijing positives just announced come from Russia. Again, for now and for emphasis — just rumor.

Look, criticism comes with life in the public sphere. Whatever. If you are Seb Coe, the IAAF president, or Thomas Bach, the IOC president, that’s why you got elected — to demonstrate leadership, to make tough decisions.

Honestly, this one is really not that tough.

The bottom line, and back to fundamental notions of fairness:

You can’t assign collective responsibility in matters — like this one — that demand individual adjudication.

Let’s say that the explosive allegations advanced in the New York Times by Grigoriy Rodchenkov, director of the Sochi 2014 anti-doping lab, turn out to be true: that he substituted dirty samples for clean ones in concert with other Russian anti-doping experts and the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, purportedly having found a way to break into supposedly tamper-proof bottles.

What bearing would any of that, particularly in the Winter Games context, have on athletes due to compete in the Summer Olympics?

Even Bach has been hinting this way, if you stop and parse what he has been saying amid his predictable rhetoric reiterating the IOC’s absolutely ridiculous assertion of a “zero tolerance” policy.

There is no such policy. There never has been. Never will be.

Life is not susceptible to a reduction of simple black and white, of “zero tolerance,” especially in the doping sphere, which is layered with nuance and based on individual determination.

Is American 400-meter star LaShawn Merritt’s 21-month bust for the sexual performance-enhancer ExtenZe, containing the banned substance DHEA, the same as the U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay’s one-year ban for a positive test for an anabolic steroid? Consider: Merritt was hardly secretive in buying ExtenZe; he got it at a 7-Eleven store. Gay voluntarily came forward with evidence against others.

The American swimmer Jessica Hardy got a one-year suspension — missing the 2008 Beijing Games — after a positive test for a banned substance that, the evidence shows, pointed to a tainted dietary supplement. Is that the same as the sprinter Marion Jones using steroids extensively and lying about cheating for years until finally confessing and forfeiting her five Sydney 2000 medals?

Lashawn Merritt anchors the U.S. team to relay gold at the 2015 world championships in Beijing // Getty Images

American swimmer Jessica Hardy at last summers world championships in Kazan, Russia // Getty Images

Obviously not.

Everyone’s case is distinct if not unique.

In a conference call last week with reporters, Bach, asked if the Russian Olympic Committee could be suspended, said, “I will not speculate because there comes a decision we have to make between collective responsibility and individual justice.”

He also said the IOC wants “individual justice for the concerned athletes but also for the clean athletes around the globe.”

It’s that basic, and that was precisely the point the Russian pole vault diva, Yelena Isinbayeva, made in an interview Monday arranged by national track and field officials. Waving forms documenting four recent drug tests she said she had passed, she said this about the idea that she should be forced to stay out of the Games:

“It’s a direct violation of human rights, discrimination.”

If the IAAF or IOC were to move against Russian participation in Rio?

"In the case of a negative ruling for us,” she said, “I will personally go to an international court regarding human rights. And  I'm confident that I'll win."

She is right. She would win. It’s a slam-dunk.

Start wth Rule 44 of the Olympic Charter. It says, “Nobody is entitled as of right to participate in the Olympic Games.”

At the same time, Rule 40 says that to be eligible for participation in the Games, “a competitor” must respect and comply with the charter and with the World Anti-Doping Code, and “the competitor … must be entered by his NOC,” or national Olympic committee.

In 2011, international sport’s highest court, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, was presented with what was widely called the "Osaka rule" case. The IOC executive board had sought (meeting in Osaka, Japan, thus the reference) to ban an athlete from the next edition of a Games if he or she had served a doping-related suspension of more than six months.

The IOC made this argument: “The objective of the IOC Regulation," meaning the Osaka rule, "is to protect the values of the Olympic Movement and the Olympic Games from the threat and scourge of doping and to encourage potential participants in the Olympic Games to adhere strictly to the applicable anti-doping programs.”

The IOC also asserted that the rule was “proportionate to the important aims the IOC pursues and does not infringe personality rights as there is no such right to participate in a single event.”

Nope. These did not fly. CAS ruled for the plaintiff, the U.S. Olympic Committee, which had, among other cases, cited Hardy and Merritt. In 2012 in London, Hardy and Merritt won Olympic medals.

“… The Olympic Games are, for many athletes, the pinnacle of success and the ultimate goal of athletic competition,” the panel wrote. “Being prevented from participating in the Olympic Games, having already served a period of suspension, certainly has the effect of further penalizing the athlete and extending that suspension.”

In essence, that’s double jeopardy — being penalized twice for the same thing.

Extending the reasoning:

If since 2011 there is on the books CAS language explicitly saying that being denied participation in the Games amounts to “penalizing the athlete,” it logically follows that it would be impossible to penalize individual athletes who have not been found guilty of anything.

Incidentally, it’s also worth recalling that in its case before CAS, the USOC obtained friend-of-the-court briefs — that is, supporting its position — from around the world. These included the anti-doping agencies of Denmark, France, Norway, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States; the Dutch and Hungarian Olympic committees; the Spanish Professional Cyclist Association; and the Russian Biathlon Union.

In 2012, in a follow-on case, the same three-member CAS panel struck down a British Olympic Assn. guideline that sought to impose a lifetime Games ban for anyone found liable of doping.

There, it said: "By requiring consistency in treatment of athletes who are charged with doping infractions or convicted of it -- regardless of the athlete’s nationality or sport -- fairness and proper enforcement are achieved."

It's extremely difficult to be consistent in applying the doping rules if the doping rules aren't applied to clean athletes, "regardless of the athlete's nationality or sport," in the first instance.

To go further:

Suspicion, even widespread, is one thing. Definitive proof is another. Anyone in that situation, no matter what it was, would want — indeed, expect — that before judgment got passed.

Indeed, Article 10.4 of the current World Anti-Doping Code says that if an athlete "establishes in an individual case that he or she bears no fault or negligence," then there can be no "period of ineligibility."

All of this, by the way, completely ignores the role of personality and relationship in the Olympic movement.

The chairman of the USOC “Osaka rule” panel? Canadian law professor and anti-doping expert Richard McLaren. The BOA case? McLaren.

The WADA-appointed independent commission that was announced last week — to investigate allegations from Rodchenkov and others about Sochi 2014? McLaren heads it.

That WADA-appointed three-member independent commission that issued two reports, one last November, the other in January, about the scope and nature of doping in Russia? McLaren was one of the three (along with Canadian IOC member and first WADA president Dick Pound and German law enforcement official Günter Younger).

That’s not to say or even suggest that McLaren has a conflict of interest. It’s to point out that he understands the layers and the law.

Putin, meanwhile,  is one of the key figures not just in world politics but in the Olympic and international sports scene. That’s what you get when you spend a reported $51 billion for an Olympics, obviously. But more: 2013 world track and field championships in Moscow, 2013 Summer University Games and 2015 world swim championships in Kazan, 2018 World Cup all over the country.

The very first phone call Bach got upon election to the IOC presidency in September 2013? From Putin.

Putin and Isinbayeva, meanwhile, have had a longstanding and obviously constructive relationship. She is the 2004 and 2008 gold medalist, the 2012 bronze medalist. In speaking Monday, it is absolutely the case that she stepped forward as a Putin proxy.

You want evidence? Beyond the fact that her entire interview Monday was specifically arranged so she could make her central point?

Look back at photos from 2014, in Sochi. Who, as a Summer Games star, served as the politically connected “mayor” of the Winter Olympic athletes’ village?

Putin and Isinbayeva in Sochi // Getty Images

Or look at a revealing photo from the Laureus World Sports Award from 2008. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words.

Isinbayeva, right, fixes Putin's collar at the 2008 Laureus awards. At left: Finnish former Formula One driver Mika Hakkonen // Getty Images

The key position of chief of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games coordination commission? That was announced this past February, amid all the headlines screaming Russian doping: it’s the head of the Russian Olympic committee, Alexander Zhukov. He is a close Putin ally. Who else is on that 2022 commission? Sochi 2014 president and chief executive officer Dmitry Chernyshenko. He, too, is close with Putin.

Coe and Bach go back to 1981, to the IOC Congress at the German resort of Baden-Baden. There they made some of the presentations that would lead to the creation of the very first IOC athletes’ commission.

When Coe ran last year in a hotly contested race for the IAAF presidency, who could he count among his key supporters? You figure it out.

For all this, there is the core argument advanced by those who believe the Russians ought to stay home: the allegations of doping are state-supported.

That, they say, makes it different, akin to the 1970s and East Germany.


For one, the allegations involving the Russians are, in many cases, still just allegations. The November WADA report suggests clearly that Rodchenkov has issues: “The [commission] finds that Dir. Rodchenkov’s statements regarding the destruction of [1,417] samples are not credible.”

It also says, “There is insufficient evidence to support the figure of 99 percent of members of the Russian national [track and field] team as dopers.”

For another, a huge number would now appear to involve meldonium — a substance about which even WADA has already changed its guidelines. Sir Craig Reedie, the WADA president, says 47 of the 49 positive tests in Russia between last November and May 5 were for meldonium.

Of more import is this: people in glass houses should not throw stones. As the November WADA report makes crystal clear: “… Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping in sport.”

Just 12 years ago, the Olympic world was consumed with the United States-based BALCO scandal — which ultimately would ensnare Jones and multiple others with Olympic appearances and medals. Did anyone scream and yell that the entire American track and field team ought to be banned from the Athens 2004 Games?

Three-plus years ago, Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal team finally went down — after years of outright lying and bullying. The U.S.Anti-Doping Agency's “Reasoned Decision” goes on for hundreds of pages in detailing what it called a “massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history.”

Just to be clear: the publication of the Reasoned Decision, in October 2012, and Armstrong’s “confession” to Oprah Winfrey, in January 2013, would put his case squarely within the current four-year Olympic cycle.

Curious that no one is arguing that the entire U.S. cycling team ought to stay home. Or, by extension, the entire American Olympic team.

If it’s state-sponsored doping that is the problem — there’s a very good argument to be made that the American way, with its emphasis on the enormous profit motive inherent in successful doping, is even more perilous.

Which all leads to this:

The reason so many people in so many places don’t want the Russians in Rio is, again, fundamental.

It’s Putin.

Lots and lots of people don’t like, mistrust or, at the core, fear Putin.

But that, in and of itself, is not reason enough to move against the entire Russian track and field, or Olympic, team.

And as the Olympic movement learned painfully a generation ago, with boycotts of the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Games, the notion of punishing athletes for political purposes is wholly unfair, maybe even cruel.

See you along with the Russians in Rio. Maybe even Putin will be there.

Like a plague of locusts, so predictable


Like one of those locust cycles that erupt with scientific predictability, here we are five months before an Olympic Games and, just on schedule, there’s an outbreak among the ladies and gentlemen of the press of OMG the-sky-is-falling. What, you say? These Rio Games are on track to be a disaster! Zika! Water pollution! Slow ticket sales! Ack! Danger, Will Robinson! Or maybe, you know, not.

It’s so foreseeable. It’s also eminently tiresome. This happens every single Olympics.

Here’s a call for reasonableness, a major dose of perspective and some balance. Not everything is a crisis, or needs to be treated that way.

It's elemental that there's no need to be Pollyanna.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun addresses the media at the USOC Olympic media summit at The Beverly Hilton hotel. To his right: USOC board chair Larry Probst // Getty Images

At the same time, in advance of every single Olympics in recent memory, the press stirs itself — and consequently readers and viewers — into a gloom-and-doom, bad news-mostly frenzy.

Then the Olympic cauldron gets lit and, what do you know — the spectacle if not miracle that is the Games takes over and the next 17 days are predictably magic.

Bet that’s what happens in Rio, where the Games start on Aug. 5, roughly 150 days away.

In the meantime, and for entertainment purposes only of course, here’s a take on an old game — instead of a bean in a jar for every time a newlywed couple celebrates being married, put a dollar into a jar at each mention in the media between now and then of Zika and the Olympics.

By Aug. 5, you’d have enough to buy — well, so many mosquito nets you might do the honorable thing and send stacks to Africa.

"World Malaria Day" this year is April 25, aimed at focusing attention on that silent, relentless killer: 214 million cases of the disease in 2015, 438,000 deaths globally, 90 percent of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, 78 percent children under 5.

About 3.2 billion people are at risk, a little under half the world’s population, for malaria.

For sure not to dismiss anyone's suffering anywhere, but what's at issue is a major discrepancy in scale: 1.5 million cases against 3.2 billion people at risk. Why no slew of journalistically responsible stories about malaria?

For emphasis: Zika is assuredly important. Too, it is newsworthy.

Typically, Zika leads to a few days of aches and fever. But it has been linked to brain damage in roughly 650 babies. And a very few with the Zika virus also develop a paralysis called Guillain-Barré syndrome (the paralysis is normally reversible).

But, as the opening of the pre-Games U.S. Olympic Committee’s media summit Monday in Beverly Hills, California, underscored, the relentless focus on Zika is at least one and probably several degrees too many.

As things opened Monday, with a session involving several U.S. swim stars, including Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin, the first question — with so many amazing stories sitting on stage — was about Zika.

Right after that came a session with USOC chairman Larry Probst, chief executive Scott Blackmun, high-performance chief Alan Ashley and marketing boss Lisa Baird — and a half-dozen questions about Zika.

The leadership group also got questions about doping in Russia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Including: what level of confidence does the USOC have that American athletes, particularly in track and field, will compete on a level playing field? And as a leader in the Olympic movement, does the USOC have any role in trying to shape a fix?

Hello? Don’t such questions pre-suppose that we in the United States are sporting the white hats and everyone everywhere else is not? Talk about short memories. It was only 12 years ago, before the Athens 2004 Games, that the United States, and in particular the U.S. track and field program — in the midst of the sordid BALCO mess — served as world poster child for dirty play.

Or maybe everyone has already forgotten that it was just three short years ago that Lance Armstrong, arguably the king of doping, had his memorable “confession” with Oprah Winfrey.

Oh, and inevitably, here came a question to the USOC leadership about whether the International Olympic Committee ought to consider an “alternate bid city” if “things start to fall apart.”

As if.

The USOC, remember, put Chicago up for the 2016 Games. It did not win. Rio did.

Just try to imagine the diplomatic, political and economic consequences of, for instance, yanking the Games away from their first edition in South America. Or, two years ago, amid the Sochi-is-not-ready whining and wailing, taking the Games away from Russia and Vladimir Putin.

The welcome turn finally came Monday afternoon with a group of track and field stars: Aries Merritt (looking healthy after a  kidney transplant), Meb Keflezighi (the marathon star still going strong in his 40s), Allyson Felix (trying to run both the 200 and 400), Alysia Montaño (a champion pre-, during and post-pregnancy), Dawn Harper-Nelson (thoughtful, eloquent gold-medal hurdler) and Ashton Eaton (decathlon champion and world record-holder who is, simply, one of the truly great guys in Olympic sport).

The track and field group got questions about doping, for sure (Montaño: “not really confident” the playing field is clean). But for the most part the questions were about the athletes, and their stories (who knew Felix loves Beyoncé tunes?).

There are way, way, way more things going on in advance of these Olympics than Zika.

Like Paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden, who — take that, Galen Rupp, with talk of a 10k and marathon double — said from the stage that she intends in Rio to go for seven golds on the track: the 100, 400, 800, 1500, 5k, marathon and relay.

Tatyana McFadden on stage Monday // Getty Images

"You have to transform perceptions," the head of the International Paralympic Committee, Sir Philip Craven, said from two places away. "You only do this with positive experiences."

"I think we have to recognize what our role is," Blackmun had said earlier on the stage. "We're one of 200 countries that participates in the Olympic Games. By definition, you have to have someone in charge of the overall project. Every single Games brings its own unique set of challenges that causes people to question whether the Games should've been awarded to 'X.' "

Fact: it’s going to be winter in Brazil during the Olympics. Zika risk will thus likely be way, way down.

Fact: after the Olympic circus packs up, the people who live in Brazil are still, for the most part, going to be living in Brazil. You want to talk about Zika? No problem. You want to do a story now? Sure. But — make a commitment to get back to the story in a year or two, when the Olympic spotlight is not on.

(Query: last story earning front-page attention about LGBT issues in Russia was — when?)

As Adeline Gray, the female U.S. wrestling world champion who took part in a test event in Rio in January, said afterward, referring to the threat of the virus, "It’s part of traveling. This is something that the people of Brazil have to deal with on a daily basis. The fact that I’m only here for a short time. It’s not really fair for me to freak out about it to that extent. I think if I was planning to have a child in the next month, I would be extremely uneasy about this.”

American Adeline Gray (blue) wrestling Erica Wiebe (red) of Canada during a January test event in Rio // Getty Images

Fact: as the USOC’s leadership made plain on Monday, it’s up to every single athlete to decide for him or herself whether to go to Rio. Prediction: every single eligible athlete will go. That’s what Olympic athletes do. We all live in a world of risk; they live for a moment that comes only once every four years, and maybe just once in a lifetime.

Blackmun said he was not aware of “any single athlete” making the decision not to go.

It was up to Coughlin, the versatile and veteran U.S. swimmer, to put things in some perspective. She took that first question Monday morning about Zika, answering from the stage, “There are always things that are beyond our control at the Olympic Games. This is just one of them.”

Natalie Coughlin posing Monday for the camera // Getty Images

Let us review many of the recent pre-Games hysterias:

Sydney 2000: calendared for September, not July or August. Would anyone watch? Well, yes. Remember Cathy Freeman? Lighting that cauldron of fire? And her 400-meter victory, just one race on what was an amazing night on the track? How quickly the narrative turned — Sydney, best Summer Games ever.

Salt Lake 2002, the first post-9/11 Games: terrorism. Everything turned out just fine.

Athens 2004, the first Summer Games after 9/11: again, terrorism. Many media concerns even put reporters and crew through gas-mask training. Everything turned out just fine.

Beijing 2008: Human rights. Cost overruns. And air quality, with a tornado of stories warning that the skies were going to be filthy and the athletes might not even, you know, breathe. The skies were mostly blue. As for athletic performance: Michael Phelps, eight gold medals. Too inside for you? Outside: Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru winning the men’s marathon (on a hot, sunny morning) in an Olympic-record 2:06.32.

London 2012: again, terror (the July 2005 underground attacks). Cost overruns. General angst from the “forensic” British press, to use the term favored by now-IAAF president Sebastian Coe. Now London is, in the minds of many outside Australia, considered the best Games ever.

Sochi 2014: LGBT issues. Black Widow bombers. Putin. $51 billion. Hotel rooms not quite ready a few days before opening ceremony. Everything turned out fine.

No less an authority than the Economist — Nelson Mandela’s magazine of choice during his 27 years of imprisonment at Robbin Island — published a feature a few days ago under a headline that declared, “An Olympic oasis,” and, underneath, asserted in plain terms that Zika “will not be much of a threat to the Rio Games.”

It went on:

“There is already much to celebrate about the Rio Olympics, though with their city turned into an obstacle course of road works for the new metro and bus lanes, cariocas” — what the locals call themselves — “may not yet feel like cheering. There has been no obvious waste or corruption. The city has used the Games as a catalyst for a wider transformation.”

The mayor since 2009, Eduardo Paes, “tore down an elevated motorway that scarred the old port, burying it in a tunnel. The port area now hosts new museums and public spaces; next month a tramway will open there. Apart from better public transport, the Olympics may bequeath an overdue revival of Rio’s decayed and crime-ridden historic centre. If urban renewal were a sport, that would win a gold medal.”

You want a story, ladies and gentlemen? That’s a story.