Christophe de Kepper

Less rhetoric, more constructive problem solving


Last December, in the second of his two World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned (but, to be clear, independent) reports into allegations of doping in Russia, the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren wrote:

“It is time for everyone to step down from their positions and end the accusations against each other. I would urge international sport leadership to take account of what is known and contained in the [two] reports, use the information constructively to work together and correct what is wrong.”

It is through that prism that one ought to view, one, the love note the International Olympic Committee dropped in classic late Friday afternoon PR-style on what it called “the reform of the anti-doping system” and, two, the sanctimonious political grandstanding sure to be coming at next Tuesday’s U.S. House of Representative subcommittee hearing on “ways to improve and strengthen the anti-doping system.”

The U.S. Congress and the IOC would do well to listen to Mr. McLaren’s wise counsel.

But no.

Turning to Congress first:

One, you might think the U.S. House of Representatives might have better things to do than hold hearings about Russian doping.

Because, like, that is the House of Representatives for the United States and the allegations about doping involve another country. That country is called Russia. Russia is not the United States.

Maybe the ladies and gentlemen of the 115th Congress might have more pressing priorities in regard to American life. Maybe, you know, jobs. Then again, it’s February. This is why Sports Illustrated features swimsuit models this time of year. It’s silly season.

Two, everything you need to know about how dumb, what an absolute waste of time and resource this hearing is going to be, can be explained in the headline to the committee news release: “Gold medal lineup: Tuesday hearing on anti-doping brings together all-star panel.” For emphasis, “gold medal lineup” is in capital letters.

Wow! Sports stars come to Washington! Congresspeople! Staffers! Get out your cellphones so you can get your selfies with witness No. 4 on the testimony list — “Mr. Michael Phelps, American swimmer and Olympic gold medalist”! Let's count! 28 Olympic medals in all! 23 gold!

Get back to me, anyone, when you tell me how many of those 28 medals Phelps — and I have been there for every single one of his Olympic races, maybe even written a best-selling book with him — has lost to a Russian swimmer.

Hint: zero.

If Congress wants to investigate some current issues involving doping in American sports, since it can turn to subpoena power and everything, here are some suggestions:

— Lance Armstrong is facing the prospect of civil trial. In February 2012, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, headed by Andre Birotte Jr., abruptly dropped, without explanation, a two-year criminal investigation into Armstrong’s activities. That October, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency made its case against Armstrong, revealing that he had, in fact, been doping for years. In April 2014, Birotte was nominated to become a federal judge in LA, where he now sits. How does that happen?

— What’s really on that Tom Brady cellphone? Even a sitting U.S. judge on a circuit court of appeals in New York, in oral argument nearly a year ago, said it made no sense whatsoever for Brady to have destroyed the phone. And is there any connection to that phone’s destruction and these kinds of stories?

— What about the extent and scope of the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances in the NBA and NFL, among other U.S. major pro leagues? Or do you, congresspeople, really think, oh, linebackers are built and run like that naturally?

Moving along:

Three: it is the height of hypocrisy for the legislative arm of the United States government to be holding a hearing into ways to “improve and strengthen the anti-doping system” when, as this space pointed out recently, the American government contributed not one penny to either of the two Pound or two McLaren reports, which together cost $3.7 million.

Suggestion: you want to improve the anti-doping system?

Easy. Like most problems, it can be made way better by throwing money at it.

WADA’s 2017 budget is $29.7 million. The U.S. government’s dues are expected to total $2.155 million. That’s by far the most of any country anywhere. Britain, Russia, Germany: $815,630 apiece.

The U.S. money has for the past several years been funneled through a White House agency called the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

But lookee here, according to a Feb. 17 New York Times account: the Trump Administration may be poised to move ahead with elimination of nine programs, most “perennial targets for conservatives.” One of the nine: ONDCP.

Now that would be something to investigate.

Particularly since — lookee over here, too — the very same Republican chair of this very same subcommittee, Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, according to the Wall Street Journal, co-signed a letter sent Thursday to, whaddya know, ONDCP that said:

“On top of opioid overprescribing and heroin overdoses, we believe the United States is now facing another deadly wave: fentanyl.”

The way these sorts of Capitol Hearings hearings typically work is that the members and staffers stroll in, now with cellphones in hand, with a briefing memorandum.

That’s the background they get.

Meaning that’s usually pretty much the sum and substance of what they know about the topic at hand.

These sorts of memos tend to be a matter of public record. This particular memo runs to eight pages and 47 footnotes.

Of those 47, 33 are news stories, press releases, op-eds, TV shows or the Pound or McLaren reports themselves.

A good chunk of most of the others, including a bunch of the first dozen, are who-we-are and what-we-do-documents (No. 2, WADA mission statement, etc.)

So, again, what is this hearing about?

News stories, press releases, op-eds and TV shows.

Not actual reform.

That, to reiterate, would take the one thing the United States government has only marginally been, and may not now at all be, willing to shell out:

Hard cash.

Which brings us to the IOC.

Same issue.

The IOC took in $5.6 billion over the 2013-16 cycle.

In his letter, circulated widely within Olympic circles but not formally addressed to WADA itself, the IOC director general Christophe de Kepper notes that in the first WADA-commissioned independent report, made public last July, Mr. McLaren “describes a ‘state-sponsored system’ whilst in the final full report in December he described an ‘institutional conspiracy.’ "

The IOC panels now studying what’s what, de Kepper said, “will now have to consider what this change means and which individuals, organizations or government authorities may have been involved.”

Oh, please.

If anyone thinks this trail is going to lead to the cellphone of the Russian president, think again. It’s not going to be found, anyway.

Hmm. Weird coincidences, sometimes. Or not. Whatever.

Mr. de Kepper further notes that "it was admitted" by WADA that "in many cases the evidence provided may not be sufficient to bring successful cases." This is a pointed note aimed at the WADA position of an all-out Russian ban and the IOC stance in favor of individual justice. This space, almost alone in the western press, has argued that of course every single person in the world deserves to have his or her case heard on the basis of the evidence against him or her -- not a group grope.

At any rate, along with the possibility if even probability of soaring legal principle and individual justice, at issue with Mr. de Kepper's position, without doubt, is the IOC seeking advantage in a push-and-pull with WADA over who is going to control what over what comes next.

Mr. McLaren made clear what “this change means." See the second paragraph of this column: all involved should be invoking less rhetoric and seeking more cooperation.

In that spirit, here are some words of wisdom that won’t be in any of those footnotes and that won’t be referenced in that IOC letter.

They were spoken at a WADA executive meeting in September by the WADA director general, Olivier Niggli, and for sure the IOC is aware of them, or ought to be on what lawyers would call the theory of constructive notice, because an IOC vice president, Turkey’s Ugur Erdener, was in the room listening.

This sort of thing isn’t ripped from the headlines. No cellphones. No news releases touting gold-medal lineups or all-star panels.

This is the nitty-gritty of the anti-doping scene.

To make an anti-doping system work takes tons of hard grinding, along with patience, science, leadership and collaboration from sports officials and earnest government officials, and it takes a lot more money than is right now at anyone's disposal, especially WADA. The inescapable fact is the IOC has to put up that coin. Governments come and go; congresspeople pose and prance and dither; the IOC is the only big-picture revenue source with an ongoing interest in making sure international sport is as clean as can be.

That’s going to take checks and balances along with trust, will and faith.

As Mr. McLaren said, that means constructive problem-solving.

“The report,” Niggli said in September, referring to Mr. McLaren’s July document, “had generated a lot of comments and discussions over the past few months.

“WADA should not lose the focus, which was that it was an issue with Russia, and WADA still had to deal with that issue.

“It was a very important issue, and the fact that Russia had been cheating everybody for a number of years needed to be addressed. That was the key focus, and it probably should have been the focus of the discussion over the past months, too.

“Unfortunately, the discussion had been on trying to attack WADA and blame the anti-doping system, and that had not been helpful. The members should bear in mind that WADA did not operate in a vacuum.

“WADA was made up of governments and the Olympic movement, and the Olympic movement had been around the table from Day One,” in the late 1990s, “and had supported the work of WADA and the revised World Anti-Doping Code, and it had been paradoxical to see how the entire anti-doping system had been questioned after the McLaren report.

“…  The system was [not] the issue; the issue was how the system was being practiced by some, and the members should not forget the fact that the system had been cheated.

“One could design a great system but if those applying it were cheating, it was difficult to achieve success.”


In Lausanne: pics, so it really happened


Not even 48 hours in, and the Los Angeles 2024 bid already has it all over Boston after meetings Thursday in Switzerland with the International Olympic Committee. Compare and contrast: Earlier this year, the world alpine ski championships were staged in Vail, Colorado, the biggest Olympic sports event in the United States in years. The IOC president himself, Thomas Bach, showed up. Did the then-Boston 2024 bid chief, John Fish? No. When Steve Paglicua replaced Fish, he thereafter flew fairly quickly to Switzerland. Did he get a meeting with Bach? No. A photo op with the IOC president? Nope.

On Thursday,  LA mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Olympic Committee board chairman Larry Probst met for about a half hour with the IOC president. Where? In Bach’s private office at IOC headquarters along Lake Geneva, a campus known as the Cheateu de Vidy.

After that, the mayor, Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and LA24 bid chairman Casey Wasserman met for another half-hour with senior IOC officials: Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi; director general Christophe de Kepper; and the head of bid city relations, Jacqueline Barrett.

“Any campaign is about relationships,” Garcetti said in a teleconference with reporters following the Lausanne get-togethers, and perhaps in no sphere is that emphatically more true than in the Olympic bid game.

Photo op? Here you go.

LA mayor Eric Garcetti, IOC president Thomas Bach, USOC board chair Larry Probst // photo LA24

Bid chair Casey Wasserman, Probst, Bach, Garcetti on the Chateau de Vidy grounds // photo LA24

IOC director general Christophe de Kepper, Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi, Wasserman, Bach, Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, IOC head of bid city relations Jacqueline Barrett // photo LA24

There are hardly any guarantees in an Olympic bid race, this one starting formally on September 15, ending in the summer of 2017 with an IOC vote in Lima, Peru. That said, it’s clear, too, that the Olympic side not only wants but welcomes the LA effort.

After Boston withdrew in late July, Bach made it explicitly clear that the IOC expected a United States bid.

Blackmun said on that teleconference, referring to Boston, “Admittedly this was not a direct route we took to getting here,” meaning to LA24. At the same time, he stressed, “We could not be more pleased.”

“Boston made a decision that was probably right for Boston,” Garcetti said. “Los Angeles made a right decision for Los Angeles.”

Before its formal late July withdrawal, it had been clear for months within the Olympic world that Boston was a dead horse. It also had been plain that once Boston went away there would be one week of bad publicity, as the focus turned elsewhere, meaning LA. That is exactly what happened.

Asked if there were any concerns Thursday that LA might be considered a second choice, Garcetti said, “Quite the opposite,” adding, “They universally expressed excitement and enthusiasm about Los Angeles. It was not a backward-looking conversation at all.”

Which should be exactly the IOC’s response — because it offers the chance to prove that Agenda 2020, Bach’s would-be reform plan, is more than just words.

One of the changes Agenda 2020 has brought about is what’s called an “invitation phase” in the bid process; in practice, it affords a national Olympic committee the chance to explore one option and then, if it doesn’t play out, switch to a better one.

Also expected to be in the 2024 race, the first to fully test the Agenda 2020 reforms: Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany. On Wednesday, the French Olympic Committee kick-started its messaging with a campaign called #JeReveDesJeux. That means, “I dream of the Games.” The plan in France is to sell wristbands with that slogan to help finance the Paris campaign.

In a fascinating turn, a look at the IOC’s consultants list, another new facet in the spirit of transparency owing to Agenda 2020, shows that Hamburg has already hired the services of seven — seven! — consultants. Paris: six, including UK-based Mike Lee, whose winning track record includes Rio 2016. Rome: four. The USOC has retained four, all well-known and -respected in the Olympic bid world: Americans Doug Arnot, George Hirthler and Terrence Burns, and UK-based Jon Tibbs.

Budapest: none.

As for what was actually said in Thursday’s meetings? Not much tremendously substantive, really.

Not that anyone should have expected anything fabulous, Probst saying on that teleconference that discussions were intentionally broad, “kept at a really high level.”

Does that matter?


Once more, this was mostly — if not primarily — an exercise in relationship-building and in validation of process, in particular for the USOC and IOC.

In a statement, Probst said, “I would also like to thank the Olympic movement for its patience, as this has been a very important decision for the future of the movement in the United States. The LA 2024 bid enjoys the full support of the USOC -- our athletes, national, state and regional leaders -- and the Los Angeles city council and residents," with a poll showing 81 percent local support for the Games. "Our bid to bring the Games back to the U.S. for the first time in more than a quarter century begins right here, right now."

“This is a new LA,” Blackmun said on the teleconference, reflecting the enormous change in the city and in Southern California since 1984, and that surely and appropriately will be a key messaging point going forward.

The mayor said the idea was to start making the point that — again, completely consistent with one of the drivers of Agenda 2020 — that “we show that exciting Games and sustainability are not mutually exclusive.”

For his part, Bach said in a statement provided to Associated Press by the IOC, "Los Angeles is a very welcome addition to a strong field of competitors.  We have been informed that LA 2024 has already embraced the Olympic Agenda 2020 reforms by making use of many existing facilities and the legacy of the Olympic Games 1984.  Their vision is for the Olympic Games to serve as a catalyst in the development plan for the city."

As was pointed out Tuesday in the news conference on Santa Monica Beach where the mayor, Wasserman and others, including the 1980s and ‘90s swim star Janet Evans, helped launch LA24, 85 percent of the venues for the 2024 Games are already on the ground or are in planning regardless of an Olympics, 80 percent of them new since the 1984 Summer Games.

The operating budget stands at $4.1 billion; because of the way Olympic revenue streams work, including the IOC contribution, sponsorship and ticketing, an LA24 Games would very likely make a considerable surplus.

Also in the budgets, separately: $1.7 billion in non-operating costs — meaning construction, renovation and infrastructure such as planned Olympic Village. A huge chunk of that is expected to be paid for with private funds, including $925 million from a to-be-named developer on the village project.

“First and foremost,” Garcetti said, “my responsibility is to my city through its infrastructure and fiscal health. I would never do anything to endanger that.”

Garcetti, in that teleconference, also said that a central touchpoint Thursday was highlighting the notion that LA 24 is “a bid Los Angeles wants to do, the United States wants to do,” adding “clearly you can do that best in a face-to-face meeting.”

The point about this being not just an LA bid but an American one is — and will become even more so going forward — key.

On Wednesday, President Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Dillingham, Alaska, that “obviously the president and the First Lady are very enthusiastic and strongly supportive of the bid put forward by the city of Los Angeles.”

In an Olympic bid context, it is always entirely and thoroughly appropriate for the head of government or state to offer such support.

But the comments also underscore a key U.S. challenge in the Olympic bid arena.

Again, relationships: since he took office in 2013, Bach has met with roughly 100 national leaders. Obama? No. And there is no indication a meeting is on either party’s agenda. Within the IOC, the president and First Lady are mostly remembered for the way they handled their trip to Copenhagen in support of Chicago’s 2016 campaign; Chicago got bounced in the first round.

Of course, a new U.S. president will have been in office for about eight months by the time the IOC votes in Lima in 2017.

In the more near-term: it matters for LA24, and significantly, that the U.S. government might actually step up big-time in connection with the Assn. of National Olympic Committee meetings to be held in Washington in October, and ensure that the delegates from more than 200 national Olympic committees — dozens will be IOC members — get through customs and border with not just ease but grace.

If you want to win the Olympic bid game, you have to understand the rules.

Like going to see the IOC president.

And the symbolism of the pictures — especially when you do, or don’t, get them.

Don’t be fooled, the pics can be tremendously telling. As the young people in their teens and 20s that the IOC is so keen to reach is always saying: "Pics, or it didn’t happen.”

As the mayor, Wasserman, Probst and Blackmun, head home, pics in hand, they know full well that two years is a long time.

But this, too: it has been a great two days for LA24. The launch probably could not have gone any better.

In a statement, Garcetti said, "It was an honor to meet with President Bach to discuss our initial bid. The Olympics are part of LA’s DNA – and we appreciate the opportunity to share our Olympic passion with the IOC and strengthen a movement that seeks to unite the world in friendship and peace through sport. After visiting the IOC headquarters, we are fully aware of, and ready for, the hard work ahead of us."

Just so, and to be clear, this caution: at the end of the day, this 2024 campaign will end up being about whether the IOC members want the Games back in the United States, or not.

In this dynamic, LA is not just LA. It’s way more. It’s LA representing the United States of America.

“I think it is time for America to bring the Olympics back home,” Garcetti said, adding, “The United States loves the Olympics, and the Olympics loves the United States.”

Now we will get to see — with a world-class bid that is, in theory, everything the IOC could want to fulfill Agenda 2020 — if that is, indeed, true.

The Oslo 2022 conundrum

The International Olympic Committee finds itself early this week in Oslo in a conundrum of its own making. On the one hand, it is assuredly the IOC’s responsibility to encourage strong bids to come forward. Thus Oslo 2022. On the other, in politics – even, perhaps especially, sports politics – perceptions can matter as much as reality. Thus, again, Oslo 2022.

A high-powered IOC delegation, led by the president himself, Thomas Bach, visits Norway Monday and Tuesday for a series of meetings revolving primarily – there are other sessions – around preparations for the 2016 Winter Youth Games in Lillehammer.

Norway's Anette Sagen during a 2013 FIS World Cup ski jump event at the famed Holmenkollen venue // photo Getty Images

The timing comes at a fraught juncture for the Oslo 2022 bid, which all involved are keenly aware.

Thus the dilemma:

Is this good for the IOC? For Oslo 2022? Or, owing to layers of complexities, is this trip ultimately not likely to prove helpful for an Oslo 2022 campaign?

To set the stage:

The IOC agreed to these series of meetings in Norway weeks if not months ago.

As the longtime Olympic British journalist David Miller spelled out in the newsletter Sport Intern in a column published Saturday, the two-day itinerary begins Monday with meetings at the Olympic Sports Center and the Norwegian School of Sports Science.

The IOC president is due thereafter to take lunch with Norway’s King Harald at the Royal Castle along with Norway IOC member, Gerhard Heiberg. After that, Miller reports, the IOC delegation – which includes the likes of senior IOC member Ser Miang Ng, who is the new finance commission chair as well as Singapore’s ambassador to Norway for many years, and Angela Ruggiero, chair of the Lillehammer 2016 coordination commission – is due to “exchange ideas” with Norway’s culture minister, Thorhild Wedvey, and Oslo’s mayor, Stian Berger Rosland.

More meetings Monday are due to follow, with three NGOs, with four labor groups and, finally, with members of parliament.

On Tuesday, the scene shifts to Lillehammer itself, Miller reports, for a series of meetings, including with Ottavio Cinquanta (head of the skating federation), Rene Fasel (hockey federation chief) and Gian-Franco Kasper (ski and snowboard federation No. 1).

Also due to be on-hand from the IOC side, according to Miller: the outgoing Olympic Games executive director, Gilbert Felli, and the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper.


Assuming, indeed, that everyone shows up -- that is some serious IOC star power.

A bit more background:

There are five applicant cities in the 2022 bid race: Oslo; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland.

It’s not clear Krakow will make it past a May 25 referendum.

Lviv, of course, is struggling with enormous turbulence in the eastern part of the country. The IOC last week gave Ukraine’s national Olympic committee $300,000 just so its athletes could make it to training camps and meets this year.

The IOC’s policy-making executive board is due in early July to decide which of the five “applicants” will become “candidate” finalists. The IOC will pick the 2022 winner in July, 2015.

Almaty and Beijing would seem to be shoo-ins. They are both, of course, from Asia.

So who is going to make it from Europe?

It’s not exactly a secret that Norwegians love winter sports, indeed the Winter Games. The 1994 Lillehammer Games are often cited as the “best-ever.” Norway leads the overall Winter Games medal count, with 329, and the gold count, too, with 118 (the U.S. is second in both categories, 282 and 96).

The athlete who has won the most Winter Games medals? Biathlon king Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway, the new IOC member, with 13. He won two gold medals in Sochi in February -- just a couple weeks after turning 40.

Next? Cross-country ski god Bjorn Daehlie of Norway, with 12, eight gold.

Next, three athletes, one of whom is female Norwegian cross-country ski legend Marit Bjorgen, with 10 Olympic medals, six gold. In Sochi, age 33, she won three gold medals, among them the grueling 30-kilometer event.

Look, any Oslo bid for the Games would understandably be taken very seriously. For obvious reasons.

Two weeks ago, however, one of two Norwegian government parties voted against supporting Oslo’s 2022 bid. At issue now is whether the government will offer the needed financial guarantees.

The imperative – at least for now – is that the IOC would seem to need Oslo for the 2022 race more than Oslo needs the Winter Games. That is the box. And everyone in Olympic circles knows it.

At the same time, while Norwegians may love the Winter Games, it’s pretty clear there are some strong feelings about the bid, and they may be directly tied to the IOC. And those feelings may not be so positive.

A new poll conducted by the research firm Norstat for NRK, the Norwegian Broadcast Corporation, suggests that 60 percent of the Norwegian public is against an Oslo 2022 bid – with only 35 percent in favor.

“No, it is a considerable skepticism, and I think a lot of the information that has been around the IOC has increased that skepticism,” Christian Democratic Party leader Knut Arild Hareide said.

Bach has been in office for about nine months. He has shown an inclination to lead in a style that evokes some of the ways of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980-2001, who understood – appropriately – that the IOC is not just a sports institution but one that moves with nation-states and with influential political leaders.

Thus, for instance, the lunch with the Norwegian king as well as the exchanges with, for instance, the culture minister.

Too, Bach is possessed – this is meant to be a compliment – of first-rate confidence. You have to have such confidence to direct the IOC, a global institution with a multibillion-dollar budget. By definition, the position lends itself to high-pressure decision making. Bach took a decision to have this two-day meeting, and it is on.

He is also riding a wave of can-do. Sochi is in the rear-view mirror. The IOC and NBC just struck a $7.75 billion deal through 2032.

Even so, does the IOC president himself need to assess what’s going on in Lillehammer with regard to the 2016 Youth Games, when those Games are nearly two years away -- Feb. 12-21, 2016 -- and, besides, it’s well-known the Youth Games are way down the IOC priority list?

For this purpose, doesn’t he already have a coordination commission? And the chair of that commission is, you know, in Norway for this trip?

If this trip were just about Lillehammer, why meet with the mayor of Oslo?

It is also the case that the Norwegians doubtlessly would have some interesting – perhaps even some constructively provocative – ideas to offer regarding Olympic Agenda 2020, the far-reaching IOC study program the IOC president has launched that is now working its way toward the all-members session in Monaco in December. That would explain the sessions with the NGOs and the other Monday afternoon meetings, for instance.

But are the Norwegians the only ones in the entire world with suggestions so potentially clever that the president has to hear them in person?

And, this, coincidentally enough, before the July meeting at which the 2022 applicants are going to be passed through?

Earlier this year – the deadline was April 15 – the IOC took email submissions from anyone, anywhere who wanted to weigh in relating to Olympic Agenda 2020. Yet the Norwegians get an in-person audience with the IOC president himself?

Over the years, the IOC has gone to great – some would say extraordinary – lengths, particularly in the aftermath of the late 1990s Salt Lake City scandal, to keep its distance from anything that sniffed of even the hint of the appearance of conflict of interest in the bid cycle.

For instance, the IOC would not entertain sponsorship discussions from the Russian concern Gazprom while Sochi was bidding for the 2014 Games. Similarly, when Doha was trying, it would not entertain an approach from Qatar Airways even between bid cycles.

No one has suggested misconduct or wrongdoing in the slightest by either the Norwegians or the IOC. To repeat: nobody has said anybody is doing anything wrong.

And nobody is likely to.

The only people who would be likely to complain would be rival bid teams, in this instance most likely Almaty or Beijing.

How do you think it is going to go over when they read that the IOC president is in Oslo, and before the July executive board pass-through meeting?

If you were them, how would you react?

In private?

Now – what would you do about it?


Isn’t this, too, the dilemma?


Special Olympics send-off: feeling the joy


Next week, there's a super little event down in New Orleans that will occupy thousands of reporters, camera crews and beignet-consuming, bead-throwing party-goers. You won't be able to escape it. Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, another major sports event will be going on, too. If you read anything about it in your local newspaper, however, it's likely to be buried back in the very back pages. It's unlikely to command a fraction of the television time, if that, that Ray Lewis or Colin Kaepernick will.

Jim and John Harbaugh against one another for Vince Lombardi's trophy makes for a great tale, for sure. But you want a story? On display Thursday night at a Los Angeles hotel were  hundreds  -- literally -- of  stories of pride, perseverance, dedication, discipline and overcoming the odds.

Indeed, it was all genuine emotion and heartfelt enthusiasm as the 150 Special Olympics athletes of Team USA made their way down a red-carpet introduction  before a send-off dinner.

"To see the joy -- it makes me want to cry," said Julie Foudy, the soccer star turned television analyst, who was on hand to help the athletes cruise the carpet.

"And," she said, "scream, 'U-S-A!'"

Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City, Special Olympics snowboarder

Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., Special Olympics snowboarder

Some 2,300 Special Olympics athletes from more than 110 nations are due to compete in Pyeongchang in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, short-track speedskating, figure skating, floor hockey and the demonstration sport of floorball.

Organizers expect perhaps 15,000 fans and family to attend.

Just like the Olympic Games, the Special Olympics run on a two-year cycle. The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles.

In Pyeongchang, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge is due to attend some of the Special Olympics action while checking out some of the already-built venues for the 2018 Winter Games; he will be joined by Gunilla Lindberg, head of the IOC coordination commission for the 2018 Games. They are set to be briefed by, among others, Pyeongchang 2018 chief Jin Sun Kim.

Also traveling to Korea with Rogge are the IOC director general, Christophe de Kepper, as well as IOC Games executive director Gilbert Felli and sports director Christophe Dubi.

Rogge is also due Feb. 1 to meet with South Korea's president-elect, Geun Hye Park.

That's obviously big stuff.

But one wonders -- bigger, really, than what awaits, say, U.S. snowboarders Daina Shilts, 22, of Neillsville, Wis., or Chase Lodder, 25, of Salt Lake City?

Perhaps more than anything, the Special Olympics is about breaking down stereotypes. Yes, they rip it on snowboards at the Special Olympics World Winter Games, and in disciplines such as slalom, giant slalom and super-G.

"A lot of people don't know that," Lodder, who has been boarding for five years, said.

"When I work at Home Depot and I tell them I am in the Special Olympics," he said, a smile across his face, "they are really supportive. They are really good about it."

Shilts -- the others uniformly said she was fastest on the American team -- has been snowboarding for six years.

At first, she said of learning to ride, "It was rough. It was hard." She quickly added, "But if a sport is not hard, it's not a sport."

A substitute aide for special-needs children, Shilts said this would be her first trip overseas. "I just say this will be challenging and fun and new and exciting," she said.

And one other thing. She said, "I'm going to win."












USOC's Probst: "We do want to bid ..."

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The glow from the London Games still fresh in the minds of everyone in the audience, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee's board got right to the question on everyone's minds right away. "Make no mistake," Larry Probst told the USOC's annual assembly here at the Antlers Hilton Hotel, "we do want to bid, and we do want to win.

"But we will only bid if the business logic is as compelling as the sport logic."

Probst's comments highlighted the remarks at a markedly low-key assembly in the wake of the high-octane American performance in London -- the 46 gold medals and 104 overall, both best in the world.

All along, Probst -- and USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun -- had been quietly confident that American athletes would perform well at the 2012 Olympic Games. Probst said Friday that "despite the naysayers and predictions of the end of Team USA's preeminence, our athletes rose to the challenge and demonstrated, once again, just how deeply the pursuit of excellence is ingrained in our character."

He said that one of his favorite in-person London moments was getting to watch Serena Williams defeat Russia's Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon for the women's singles gold medal, and said that Williams represents the "heart and soul" of the USOC's mission, to "produce sustained competitive excellence over time."

The obvious question, Probst said, having seen the excitement that the Games brought to London and Britain, is when the United States will be back in the bid game.

For those unfamiliar with the story, he reminded everyone that when he became board chair four years ago, the USOC was, as he put it, "engulfed in a period of challenge and turmoil."

New York was put forward in 2005 for the 2012 Summer Games. Chicago was the candidate in 2009 for the 2016 Games. Both lost, and lost big, because of the USOC's relationship with the wider Olympic movement.

As Probst put it Friday, the USOC needed a "major course correction."

That course correction came this past May, when the USOC and International Olympic Committee struck a deal that resolved a longstanding dispute over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue shares.

Friction over the current deal played a key role in the wider bad karma that helped sink the New York and Chicago bids.

The new deal runs from 2020 until 2040, and gives the USOC removes "the largest single impediment to building the kind of international partnerships we have always desired with the Olympic movement," Probst said.

The deal was negotiated by Blackmun and Fraser Bullock on the USOC side and by IOC members Gerhard Heiberg and Richard Carrion and IOC director general Christophe de Kepper. Probst said all "approached the final discussions with openness and an honest desire to move beyond the conflict."

A USOC working group on the bid process is due to report back to the full board in December. Up for study is either the 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Games; the smart money, ultimately, would seem to be on a 2024 Summer bid, with San Francisco and New York atop the list of possible cities and Chicago sure to be mentioned again.

At a news conference later Friday, both Probst and Blackmun cautioned that the working group is not -- repeat, not -- going to come back with specific recommendations, Summer or Winter, this city or that.

Probst said it would focus on "guiding principles around the bid or next steps," with Blackmun emphasizing that budgets, economics and due diligence in a variety of areas are a must.

The IOC demands certain guarantees from a bid city. The nature of American federalism -- with the national government traditionally not involved in the bid business, leaving state and local governments on the hook -- makes those guarantees particularly difficult to satisfy. Both Probst and Blackmun said that issue deserves renewed study.

Both also cautioned repeatedly that a bid simply has to make sense, Blackmun saying at that news conference, "If we don't think we will win, we will not bid."

What they didn't say is what they didn't have to. The resolution of the revenue dispute, as well as the geopolitics of the 2000 (Sydney), 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing), 2012 (London), 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) Games and the 2020 campaign (Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul) mitigate strongly in favor of a first-rate bid from the United States for 2024.

"We want the Games back in the United States, and we have a number of friends in the international community who want us to host the Games as well," Probst told the assembly, adding, "That's perhaps the best news I could possibly give you today."

"Hello, partner": USOC, IOC resolve financial differences

QUEBEC CITY, Canada -- It was about an hour after the U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee had announced they had signed the agreement that had ended seven years of talks over how to split certain key revenues, and USOC board chairman Larry Probst was standing in the hall of the sprawling convention center here when up came Thomas Bach. An IOC vice president, the president of the German Olympic committee, Bach is one of the most influential senior officials in the movement.

As he approached Probst, Bach had a big smile on his face. He said, simply, "Hello, partner."

Such a remark would have been literally unthinkable a few years ago -- as recently as October, 2009, when Chicago was unceremoniously booted out of the voting in Copenhagen for the 2016 Summer Games, won by Rio de Janeiro.

But not Friday. Bach wasn't the only one seeking out Probst and, as well, Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the USOC. Here was Rene Fasel, the Swiss president of the international ice hockey federation, sliding up to Probst to talk up the Stanley Cup finals and to inquire whether Probst -- who lives in Northern California -- might be around because Fasel was for sure going to be down in L.A. to catch the Kings.

It has been said many times before when explaining the way the Olympic movement really works but on the occasion of the deal signed Friday that re-arranged the financial ties between the USOC and IOC it bears repeating: relationships are everything.

The USOC and IOC jointly announced Friday that they had signed a new revenue sharing agreement between them that runs from 2020 until 2040.

The deal resolves a longstanding dispute over the USOC's share of television and marketing revenues that had undermined the American committee's standing in the Olympic movement and played a key role in sinking Chicago's 2016 and New York's 2012 bids.

Now the USOC will weigh whether to bid for the 2022 Winter or 2024 Summer Games.

New York and San Francisco would seem to top 2024 possibilities, with Chicago of course under consideration as well, maybe even Los Angeles. Though Dallas and Houston have floated interest, there's little to no suggestion they can win internationally.

Denver, Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City and Bozeman, Mont., have indicated 2022 interest.

There are arguments to be made for 2022 or 2024. That said, it's plain the Summer Games are, and always have been, the IOC's big prize.

The USOC board intends to meet next month in the Bay Area, and the bid game figures to be a big topic. "Our strategy is to develop a strategy at this point," chief executive Scott Blackmun said at the  news conference announcing the revenue deal.

Rogge was at that conference, too. He said, "This is a very happy moment for the IOC as well as for the USOC. This agreement will definitely strengthen both sides."

The genesis of Friday's announcement is a deal that was signed in 1996 designed to run for -- honestly -- forever. It gives the USOC a 12.75 percent share of U.S. broadcast revenues and a 20 percent cut of Olympic top-tier marketing revenues. Over time, key IOC officials came to believe the USOC share was excessive. That led first to resentment and then outright hostility.

Talks aimed at striking a new deal began in 2005.

In reality, this deal started on Oct. 3, 2009, the day after Chicago got smacked down in Copenhagen, and Probst was left to figure out how the situation had gotten this bad, why no one on the American side had seen a first-round exit and, maybe worst of all, why the president of the United States had been invited to stump for Chicago in person, President Obama's hometown, only to have the IOC reward the Americans with a mere 18 votes. Four years before, New York had gotten 19.

Probst vowed to become more engaged, and did. He hired Blackmun. The two said they would work at the relationship thing. They did. Big-time. They traveled the world. They didn't ask for anything special. They played it humble and low-key and said the USOC was simply trying to be one NOC among many, just another member of the Olympic family.

It took some time, naturally, for Blackmun and Christophe de Kepper, now the IOC director-general, to get to know and trust each other. They emerged as the point people on the deal, which essentially got done in a marathon session in recent days.

The deal essentially features three component parts:

- The USOC will pay a share of what's called Games costs;

- The USOC will take a lower share of incremental revenues for top-tier marketing revenues, 10 percent, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the figure.

- Same for TV, 7 percent, according to AP.

A working example:

Let's say the baseline television revenues for the four-year Olympic period, which in Games-speak is called a quadrennium, are $250 million. Let's also say inflation bumps that up to $270 million. The USOC will take its usual 12.75 percent share up to that $270 million. That would equal $34.425 million.

If, however, revenues for the quad actually end up being $300 million, the USOC will take that lower percentage, 7 percent, of the difference, the $30 million. That would equal $2.1 million.

Total (again, these numbers are totally made up): $36.525 million.

What isn't made up is that NBC paid $4.38 billion to broadcast the Games from 2014 to 2020. The USOC gets 12.75 percent of that. Do the math.

This is critically important to understand: the USOC is the only Olympic committee in the world that is self-sufficient. Everywhere else, the Olympic committee gets government funding. Not the USOC. Through the 1978 law that set it up, Congress said the USOC must be self-sufficient. That's why the USOC can't -- and couldn't -- give up its broadcast or marketing revenues.

Philosophically, the IOC understood all along that the USOC is a leading contributor to the Olympic scene. It also understood that NBC agreed to pay $4.38 billion in part because the U.S. team wins a boatload of medals and because the likes of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White plant viewers in front of television screens. That's inarguable.

At the same time, the IOC might now go about and make deals in emerging market -- China, India, Brazil. It's fair for the USOC to give on those deals.

The obvious question: why did it take seven years to get to Friday?

Because Probst and Blackmun inherited ill will and, as Blackmun put it, "It's all about relationships, and you can't build relationships overnight."

Probst on Friday recalled his first meeting with Puerto Rico's Richard Carrion, who along with Gerhard Heiberg of Norway and de Kepper formed the IOC's negotiating team. This was at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. "More of a lecture," Probst said, laughing, saying that since then he and Carrion -- and their wives -- have become genuine friends: "It's all about friendship, partnership, relationship."

"In Copenhagen," Probst said, "I was a deer in the headlights. Things have changed."

In Copenhagen, many of the words directed at and about the Americans were unpleasant. Things have changed.

Another IOC vice president, Singapore's Ser Miang Ng, called Friday's announcement a "historic moment," saying it was the "start of a new relationship between the USOC and the Olympic family, not only the financial aspect but the goodwill it is creating and the opportunities it is creating for everybody."

Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer who is on the 15-person IOC executive board, declared, "It's very important. It was our wish that the USOC comes back as a full member of the family and understands they have to be a part of it. I think it's a good solution."

"It's a real milestone," Bach said.

"It's a win-win situation. For everybody. For the IOC, for the USOC, for everybody. It's a great success for Jacques Rogge," Bach said, adding a moment later, "For him personally, it's a great day. Now the way is free for many things."

IOC hit by alleged embezzlement at Olympic Museum

The International Olympic Committee has been rocked by the discovery that as much as $1.85 million has allegedly been embezzled from the accounts of the Olympic Museum, multiple sources confirmed Thursday. Swiss police and prosecutors in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's base, have launched an investigation, targeting the former head of the boutique at the Olympic Museum, Hiroshi Grieder. He is believed to be in custody, a source close to the investigation said.

The IOC has fired the three people who oversaw the museum's financial controls. The money -- somewhere between 1.4 to 1.7 million Swiss francs -- was tied to a scheme that dated back to the late 1990s, multiple sources said, speaking for publication on condition of anonymity.

The IOC's director of finance and administration, Thierry Sprunger, who had been on sick leave since Nov. 1, returned to work Thursday. He tendered his resignation to IOC president Jacques Rogge a few days ago; a formal announcement will be forthcoming in the next few days, amid meetings of the IOC's finance commission and policy-making executive board.

Sprunger, a member of the IOC staff since 1994, has not been accused of misconduct.

In an unrelated development, the IOC's protocol director, Paul Foster, also left the committee.

The discovery of something potentially amiss at the Museum has posed one of the most significant tests to the IOC leadership since the Salt Lake corruption scandal of the late 1990s; it revolved around revelations that IOC members or their relatives had been given more than $1 million in cash, gifts and other inducements by bidders for Salt Lake City's winning campaign for the 2002 Winter Games.

That affair saw the resignation or expulsion of 10 IOC members, and the enactment of a 50-point reform plan that included a ban on visits by IOC members to cities bidding for the Games.

This shows just how different the IOC is now than it was then.

Now institutional mechanisms are in place for the IOC to deal with a potential crisis, and in an intelligent manner.

"This is not Salt Lake City," a senior IOC source said, adding, "There is full transparency. We could have tried to hide the facts. We decided to address it. Let's get to the bottom of it. Let's clean it up. Let's take the consequences. All that has been done."

When he assumed the IOC presidency in 2001, Jacques Rogge -- like everyone in Olympic circles -- was keenly aware of the Salt Lake affair, and the stain of corruption. He has spent his two terms in office trying to put all that behind the IOC.

The IOC calls its CEO job "director general." Christophe de Kepper took the post earlier this year.

This, then, marked one of his first serious challenges -- and just as an Olympic year, with the London 2012 Games, is just about to start, with the world's attention turning relentlessly again towards the IOC.

De Kepper, who had previously been Rogge's chief of staff, has long been a formidable executive. Getting this wrong could undermine him. But getting it right, of course, could make him even stronger.

The alleged embezzlement was discovered in September, when there was a change in management at the Museum boutique. The books didn't seem to match up; de Kepper launched an audit, then an investigation that pointed toward fraud.

Details remain to be made fully public. But, sources said, it appears that the long-running scheme involved either cash advances on an IOC-issued credit card that were misappropriated, or false invoices to companies that never existed.

Over the years, IOC internal controls failed to pick up any discrepancies; de Kepper moved decisively to dismiss the three officials.

A few days ago, de Kepper wrote IOC staff in an e-mail, "I regret to inform you that we have discovered financial irregularities in the management of the Olympic Museum shop."

That e-mail goes on to say, "We have undertaken a full and immediate investigation of the facts, and already taken a number of measures, including dismissals and the launching of a criminal complaint against a former IOC employee. Transitional measures will be put in place for the management of the sections impacted.

"Whilst these facts are clearly not good news for the IOC, they should remind us all of our duties in terms of responsibility, efficiency and transparency and underline our strong determination to deal effectively with any matters that could damage the organization."

The Museum developments may yet hold consequences for IOC politics, in particular the race -- just now developing -- to succeed Rogge. The IOC presidential election will be held in September, 2013, in Buenos Aires.

A short list of expected candidates would include, among others, Thomas Bach of Germany and Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico.

Earlier this year, Carrion led the negotiations that brought the IOC the $4.3 billion NBC TV rights deal that runs from 2014 through 2020; that deal secures the IOC's financial base. At the same time, he is also chairman of both the IOC finance and audit commissions, and it's inevitable questions will now be asked about what he knew, and when, if anything, about the Museum finances.

Carrion said Thursday, "When this came up, we said, 'Let's investigate.' The investigation went on. We took action right away. The director general took strong and decisive action."

At the IOC's annual assembly this past summer in Durban, South Africa, longtime member Dick Pound of Canada suggested that -- strictly as a matter of best governance practice -- the chairmanship of the audit and finance commissions ought to be split between two people. That issue probably will now be put to renewed review.

The Museum, situated on a rise overlooking Lake Geneva, opened in 1993 and is consistently ranked among Europe's top tourist attractions.

In an unrelated development, the IOC said Thursday the Museum will offer free admission until the end of January before closing for a long-planned facelift. The renovation is due to last 20 months.

IOC's Urs Lacotte resigns

The press facilities at the Chateau de Vidy, the International Olympic Committee's lakefront headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, used to be an after-thought. Whatever little closet they could squeeze us into -- that's where we went. Now, though, thanks to a recent remodel at Vidy, there's a real press room, with pretty much everything you'd want, even space to just hang around after the news conferences that are held there break up, and that's what the IOC director general, Urs Lacotte, and I were doing after the most recent executive board meeting, this past January.

For a good long while, he and I talked about matters philosophical. Lacotte, and this may surprise anyone who doesn't know him well, who knows only that he came to the IOC after years at the top echelon of the Swiss military, can be a surprisingly gentle, indeed soulful, guy. He cares deeply about the values that underpin the Olympic movement.

We talked about the ancient Games, and then generally about the state of the movement now, about threats such as doping and gambling, and then about the IOC's myriad social responsibilities. Then, though, he excused himself because he had another meeting to make, and as I always did after such conversations, I thought it a very good thing indeed that someone with such conviction played such a central role in IOC decision-making.

The IOC on Monday announced Lacotte would be resigning from his post, effective Thursday, for health reasons.

The bad news is that his day-to-day counsel will surely be missed.

“Urs Lacotte has performed his functions with competence, integrity and loyalty, and the IOC looks forward to benefiting from his commitment and experience in the future," the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said in a statement, adding, "The IOC thanks Urs Lacotte and extends its best wishes for his health.”

The good news is that Lacotte will continue to serve. In that same statement, the IOC said the position would be called "assignments adviser." In a phone call, Lacotte said his new role might best be described in French as chargé d'affaires, in English as special adviser.

It is certainly a positive that Lacotte will continue to be around, in his low-key way.

"I have tried," he said, "to manage the organization from the backstage."

Lacotte joined the IOC in 2003, taking over from François Carrard. The director general's job is to oversee the IOC's administrative offices in Lausanne.

Carrard served as something of a highly visible prime minister in the presidency of Juan Antonio Samaranch -- that is, Carrard was often in front of the cameras and microphones, in measure because Samaranch was far more shy, because the IOC during those years could be less press-savvy and because Carrard was not only fluent but fluid in American-style English. Also, as a general rule, Carrard kind of liked hanging out with the press gaggle, and vice-versa.

Lacotte, from the outset, was far more of a -- as he aptly put it -- backstage presence. He would seek you out to talk one-on-one, quietly.

And make no mistake. He was, and is, a man of distinct values.

To be sure, the IOC president and others in his cabinet, among them Christophe de Kepper, arguably Rogge's key adviser, understand fully and wholly, with moral and ethical certainty, the raison d'être of the Olympic movement. So did Samaranch. So, too, does Carrard.

To offer praise of Lacotte is by no means to diminish Rogge or anyone else, even by implication.

"Let's face it," Lacotte said in our phone call Monday. "The Games are the engine of the movement. We need a healthy Games. It's a big business," meaning the movement.

"But for me, it's absolutely clear the movement survives when we are clear and credible," in particular on challenging issues such as those he and I discussed in that quiet corner of the press room in January, doping and gambling.

The reason for the IOC's announcement Monday was hardly a surprise. In 2007, Lacotte underwent bypass surgery. The next year a neurological issue emerged.

Lacotte is 58. He and his wife, France, have two children, a 27-year-old son who is an engineer, and a 24-year-old daughter who restores antique furniture. They were trying to balance his work life with his health and their personal lives.

"I didn't imagine to step down," he told me. But in the end, he said, "I had no choice."

De Kepper will take over Lacotte's duties, and it's unlikely Lacotte will make an appearance at SportAccord, the convention at which the IOC's executive board will next convene, in London early next month.

He may well be afforded the opportunity to address the IOC session in Durban, South Africa, in July.

If so, and for the record, I will be among those keenly interested in what he has to say that day from the lectern. The wisdom he has offered in those quiet corners fully deserves that wider audience.