At the Olympics: no more guns

At the Olympics: no more guns

When the Olympic Games are on, Summer or Winter, it’s easy to declare that they are not just relevant but material — that is, they matter, and a lot. 

The challenge for everyone involved with the Olympic movement around the world is when the Games are not on, and that challenge is elemental: being relevant, especially to young people, and making a difference in their lives. 

When a teen activist from Swedish can inspire far-reaching school climate strikes — and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination — is it really too much to ask the International Olympic Committee as well to seek to make a difference, a really big difference, in our broken world?

Coming together in peace and unity — that is the entire point of a Games’ opening ceremony. It’s why it is the highlight of any Olympics, the world’s athletes gathering in what is both an expression of hope and a longing for peace — that maybe, just maybe, as the inadvertent soul poet Rodney King once put it, we can all get along.

The Games and the values for which the Olympics purport to be about — excellence, friendship, respect and, by extension, tolerance — are the very thing that stand in marked contrast to an abhorrent shooting spree like the one that ripped Thursday across two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The death toll now stands at 50.

Thus, this call for change:

At the Olympics, the guns have to go — that is, be gone.

What IOC should do: Salt Lake City for 2034, not 2030

What IOC should do: Salt Lake City for 2034, not 2030

In September 2016, this column was first in the world to declare that the International Olympic Committee ought to declare a historic two-fer and allocate the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at a single stroke. 

The IOC did just that in 2017, though it reversed the order of the suggestion first made here — LA for 2024, Paris for 2028, instead awarding 2024 to Paris, 2028 to LA, the IOC’s Eurocentric sensibilities coming once more to the fore after a three-Games Asian swing (2018 South Korea, 2020 Tokyo, 2022 Beijing) even though LA is and will be all the more ready. In exchange for waiting for ’28, LA struck a killer financial deal.

Now the IOC’s so-called evaluation commission is on the ground this week in Sweden, the first of the two remaining candidates for the 2026 Winter Games — Milan is yet to come — and thus it is time for this column, taking stock of what is going on in Stockholm and beyond, and more generally in the Olympic bid process, to yet again be first-in-the-world with another so-clearly-obvious take of what-should-be:

Salt Lake City for 2034.

Not — repeat, not — 2030.

This after the IOC picks Stockholm for 2026.

And with Sapporo poised to emerge as front-runner for 2030.

No surprise, none whatsoever: buh-bye, Calgary

No surprise, none whatsoever: buh-bye, Calgary

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

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

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

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

WADA reinstates Russia: the time is now for solution

WADA reinstates Russia: the time is now for solution

For all the noise in some quarters of the press and from some athletes’ groups, the World Anti-Doping Agency on Thursday did the right thing and reinstated Russia. 

Yes, the right thing.

This drama has been going on long enough. At some point there needs to be closure. That time is now. 

Of course, the Olympics are rooted in a set of ideals. But the Olympic movement operates in the real world. The real world is about more than just morality. It’s also about all the things that make our world go around, especially where sport and and government intersect, a myriad of interests that include politics, diplomacy, business and hard cash, and to pretend otherwise is silly.

Death, taxes and the crash-and-burn Olympic referendum

Death, taxes and the crash-and-burn Olympic referendum

As it is the year 2018, three things in life are certain: death, taxes and defeat by referendum of a proposal to stage an Olympic Games.

Whoops. Strike that. Make that four: the International Olympic Committee’s consistently tone-deaf response to voters’ rejection.

Make no mistake:

For the IOC, rejection Sunday by voters in the Swiss canton of Valais of a potential bid for the 2026 Winter Games by Sion — very near the IOC headquarters in Lausanne — amounts to a full-on crisis.

Waiting for CAS, and the crucible of cross-examination

Waiting for CAS, and the crucible of cross-examination

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

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

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

It's over: a low-key Games on a far more human scale

It's over: a low-key Games on a far more human scale

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The 2018 Winter Olympics shivered Sunday to a close, surely defined by cold and wind but destined — just as in Seoul 30 years before — to mark a key chapter in history on the Korean peninsula.

These Games are likely to be recalled as an inflection point in Olympic history, too. After logistical dramas and more at Rio 2016 and Sochi 2014, the Olympic scene needed a Games at which the venues were built, the buses ran on time, security was subtle, the volunteers were super-friendly -- organizationally, everything more or less just worked -- and the spotlight shone on the athletes and their stories of inspiration.

That’s what PyeongChang delivered.

A low-key Games on a far more human scale.

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IOC assembly as taxi confidential

IOC assembly as taxi confidential

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Pretty much every culture has a saying that goes something like this: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 

There’s a corollary that goes like this, courtesy of the late and very excellent American comedian George Carlin: let’s not have a double standard — one standard will do just fine.

So it was especially rich to listen to the International Olympic Committee, at its 132nd session, its annual congress, carry on at length Tuesday over the Russian doping saga, in particular the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision last week to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Games and free 11 other Russians of life bans. 

The outrage! The frustration! The rancor! The conflict! And it was all on television, or Twitter, or Periscope, for everyone. Such theater!

Frosty in PyeongChang

Frosty in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ryan Bailey is an American sprinter. 

He won a silver medal in the 4x100 relay at the London 2012 Summer Games. But he had to give it back because of teammate Tyson Gay’s doping conviction. Like many sprinters, Bailey then gave bobsled a go. Last January, Bailey tested positive himself for a stimulant in a case involving a dietary supplement called Weapon X. Based on a "light degree of fault,” a three-member American Arbitration Assn. panel gave him a mere six months off.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. In December, in a decision little noticed except in track and field and bobsled circles, in the arcane world of sports lawyering and of course in Ryan Bailey’s entourage, CAS slapped Bailey with two years — a signal to one and all not in the United States that anti-doping jurisprudence in the United States might well be considered, well, weak.

What in the world does this have to do with the CAS decision last Thursday to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympics? The prospect of an appeal from that decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal? Tensions between the World Anti-Doping Agency, CAS and the International Olympic Committee? 

Pretty much nothing, and at the same time — it's a riff on everything.


Who wants to blame the USOC? Exactly -- why?

Who wants to blame the USOC? Exactly -- why?

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, opened a news conference here Sunday by reading a prepared statement that declared the IOC’s policy-making executive board was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the “abuse scandal” rocking USA Gymnastics and Michigan State.

The board also, Bach said, expressed its “moral support for the victims and applauded the courage of the victims who gave testimony.”

The IOC, Bach further said, “took note of the ongoing independent investigation,” the U.S. Olympic Committee announcing Friday it had selected New York law firm Ropes & Gray LLP to conduct the inquiry, and “hopes that this will also give clarity to the responsibilities of the different parties.”

USA Gymnastics clearly has a lot to answer for.Michigan State as well.

The FBI, too, as the New York Times made plain in a blockbuster account published over the weekend, the agency taking a year to pursue the case — the paper identifying at least 40 girls and young women who say Larry Nassar molested them between July 2015, when the matter was first reported to the FBI, and September 2016, when the Indianapolis Star published its first accounts.

For all that, an issue for many, including on Capitol Hill: what about the USOC? 

Everyone, it seems, is looking for someone to blame. It’s entirely unclear, however, that — without more — it should be the USOC.