Jacques Rogge

So Brazil is suspended, and the Russians ...

So Brazil is suspended, and the Russians ...

The International Olympic Committee is fed up to here — no, way past that, up to, like, there — with the now-arrested Carlos Nuzman, head of the Rio 2016 Games and the Brazilian Olympic Committee.

In its zeal to appear decisive in the wake of Nuzman’s Thursday arrest in Rio, the IOC on Friday announced it was suspending both Nuzman and the Brazilian Olympic Committee, which goes by the acronym COB.

Zeal is rarely constructive.

Why? When you act in haste, you generally don’t think through all the consequences of what you’re doing.

LA or Paris? The strategic play? Or emotional?

LA or Paris? The strategic play? Or emotional?

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — In a Samaranch-style bit of kabuki theater, the decision itself having been ordained long ago, the full membership of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the double allocation of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games to the last two cities standing in the campaign, Los Angeles and Paris.

In theory, the IOC will announce whether it’s LA first and Paris next, or vice-versa, at another all-members assembly in Lima, Peru, on September 13. In reality, this decision has been ordained as well. Paris almost surely will get 2024, LA 2028. This deal will be done in just weeks, maybe even before the calendar turns to August, and if you have noted that U.S. President Donald Trump has accepted French President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation to visit France on Bastille Day, July 14, well, maybe that is some strategic thinking there.

Tear it up, throw it away, start all over again

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Jacques Rogge served as president of the International Olympic Committee for 12 years, from 2001 until 2013. A key insider during the Rogge years — if not the supremely key insider — was the then-cycling federation president, Hein Verbruggen of Holland.

Verbruggen himself became an IOC member in 1996. In 2001, he led the IOC “evaluation” team for the 2008 Games; the members would select Beijing. Thereafter, Rogge appointed Verbruggen to head what the IOC calls its “coordination” commission — the link between local organizers and the IOC.

All this is to say that Verbruggen was, and is, an expert in the IOC, its culture, its ways and, in particular, Olympic bidding and organizing. He resigned his IOC membership at the end of the Beijing Games but remains an honorary member and a keenly influential voice in the movement. Now, in a new post to his blog, Verbruggen has given voice to the position increasingly resonating within even the most important Olympic circles:

The Olympic bid process is in crisis. That process is fundamentally, thoroughly broken. The IOC must start anew.

In his words: “… The current bidding system for cities vying to host the Olympic Games is totally outdated and must simply be torn up and discarded.”

In a telephone interview Tuesday, he said, referring to the current bid system, “That is 20, 30 years ago. That is over.” Referring to the current voting IOC members, he said, “If they don’t understand that, they have a problem.” He paused, then added, “They do have a problem.”

Though Verbruggen’s emphasis in the blog is on the future, and in particular the process yet to come for the 2026 Winter Games, he also makes in his column this central point, which is relevant to the ongoing process for the 2024 race, featuring Los Angeles and Paris. In the blog itself, these next sentences are all one paragraph. They are broken up here for ease of reading and emphasis:

“A fundamental condition of hosting,” he writes, “must be that a country can organize the Games without making taxpayers fund the investment for additional infrastructure.

“The only infrastructure investments that would be allowed would be those which would be made anyway, irrespective of hosting the Olympics.

“The only costs taken on by a host country’s government, therefore, would be those relating to security (which could be kept to a minimum by using the army, as happened at London 2012).”

Of the two 2024 bids, these words apply directly and forcefully to the privately funded Los Angeles candidacy. The LA bid calls for the construction of no new permanent venues.

The government-underwritten (that is, taxpayer-paid) Paris bid, by contrast, calls for Games-related construction of a new athletes’ village, aquatics complex and media housing, which are projected to cost at least $2 billion. History all but guarantees that would be low.

Government-funded (that is, taxpayer-paid) Games in recent years produced these sorts of outlandish figures: Sochi 2014, a reported $51 billion bill; Beijing 2008, $40 billion; Rio 2016, $20 billion (still awaiting final figures); London 2012 ($15 billion); and more.

Verbruggen is not — this must be acknowledged — a man who shies from battles. His tenure at UCI, the cycling federation, was marked by controversies over, among matters, Lance Armstrong. He and the longtime IOC member Dick Pound, who was also the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, have clashed, and repeatedly, over the years.

Thus the obvious question, and answer:

Will everyone agree with Verbruggen’s position about Olympic bidding? Hardly.

But:

Verbruggen’s position matters, and considerably, not just because he is willing to speak out — but because he understands what it means, as an influential and senior European voice in the movement, to post such comments.

Some if not most of the points that Verbruggen makes, it might be noted, echo observations advanced in this very space over the past few months if not years.

Of course they will be read and understood differently in many Olympic precincts because it is Verbruggen — different, of course, if one might be inclined to dismiss the work of a journalist on principle, and particularly an American, and all the more so one based in California. All good.

Here is the thing: Verbruggen is, as ever, willing to say the things that almost no one else on the inside is willing to say. And for publication.

The blog is actually the second of a two-part series. The first asserts, bluntly and accurately: “the IOC does not have a marketing strategy for its unique product, the Olympics.”

In that first column, Verbruggen also writes, among several memorable passages:

"IOC President Thomas Bach now says we need to change the bidding system because the current system has 'too many losers' (a sentiment that could equally be applied to all gold medalists at the Games). His remark is a bit of an oxymoron given that there are now only two candidate cities. It would be understandable (if the media speculation is correct) if the IOC allocated the 2024 and 2028 Games respectively to Paris and LA. But that would just be an ad hoc solution, born of necessity, and would offer no sustainable way out of the current crisis."

In that Tuesday phone interview, Verbruggen said, “I know very well how many times I told my [IOC] colleagues and also Jacques Rogge — the way that we force countries to organize the Olympic Games, with all the demands that we have, and the host-city contract with all the constraints! There are not more than 15 or 20 countries [in the world] that can do it. They didn’t want to believe me. They said, ‘Oh, we will always have countries.’ But now — the countries we want?”

A moment later, he said, “If you do not see these things happening, if you are not seeing a clear vision and you do not have a long-term strategy — now we are paying the price.”

In the mid-1990s, Verbruggen writes in the first of the two pieces, he served on the “evaluation” commission for the 2004 Games, ultimately won by Athens. In all, that panel visited 11 cities. After that, he chaired the 2008 commission.

“If the IOC had had even a basic long-term marketing plan,” he writes, “we would have realized 10-15 year ago how precarious the situation was becoming and we could have prepared against this eventuality. But, as I said, the IOC has a monopoly and is under no pressure to take these sorts of precautions. Having just signed a nice fat TV contract with NBC,” the most recent extending the network's rights from 2021 through 2032 for $7.65 billion, "it was too tempting for the IOC to just sit back and rest on its laurels. ‘What crisis?’ we would say, not realizing that, while we did indeed have a lucrative TV contract, we also had … no bidding cities.”

Five western European cities dropped out for 2022, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, Beijing winning. Five cities started for 2024; Hamburg, Rome and Budapest have dropped out, leaving only two, LA and Paris.

“Another factor in this crisis,” he says in the first blog, is the “extremely negative ‘reputation’ of the Olympic Games themselves, especially around its astronomic costs and poor legacy. Proactive PR is an essential part of any marketing strategy. For decades now, the Olympic Games have been tainted by extremely negative media reports about the massive investments required to host the event, all paid for with taxpayers’ dollars, not to mention reports of huge losses resulting from hosting the Olympics. (The latter are usually not true but are written to get attention.)”

An interjection: a Games operating budget typically is at or near black. But as Verbruggen points out, it’s the taxpayer-funded infrastructure investment associated with a Games that is the PR killer.

To resume where he left off:

“The IOC has stumbled from denial to denial — in other words, it has been reactive, not proactive — and now the damage is done. If we had had a proper long-term plan, we would also have had a strategy to combat this negative phenomenon. And if we had had a long-term plan, would we have voted so cheerfully to host the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, where almost everything had to be built from scratch? Or would we instead have told the Russians: ‘Start building and we’ll come back in four years’ time and see how you are getting on?’ “

Verbruggen's proposal going forward:

Start with the basics. No more open bid system, in which any country that wants to can launch an Olympic bid. Instead, he writes, “the IOC should take the initiative itself” and reach out to “suitable” host cities or countries. That outreach would produce a shortlist.

Then the final selection should be made rationally, instead of — and this would a radical but welcome change — “the existing voting system by the 115 [IOC] members whose choices are often ‘colored’ by other (often political) motives.”

The system as it is now involves a secret ballot vote. It is well-known in IOC circles that, come voting time, promises are worthless and lies-to-your-face common because — with a secret ballot — accountability is zero.

To draw up that shortlist, Verbruggen writes, the IOC should approach two or three countries. Logically, it should go to preferred Country No. 1 and undertake negotiations. If no agreement, on to No. 2.

“To ensure success,” he says, “the IOC must also be prepared to make the host city contract much, much less onerous. I must say that I have never seen any other contract that is so skewed toward one party (the IOC), something that also makes it a product of a bygone age.”

He also says the new system “must allow scope” for a nation’s corporate entities to be “far more involved” in the delivery of a Games, “both commercially as well in the organization” of an Olympics.

The IOC, he writes, must “also assume greater responsibility for the organization of the Games,” adding, “Some tasks that are today blithely passed over to [local organizers] would be better organized by the IOC itself. That is logical: the IOC is deeply involved in every Games and so can make the best use of its accumulated know-how.”

As an example, he turns to 2026 and Switzerland, asking this reasonable question: how has it not played host to the Winter Games since 1948?

St. Moritz staged the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948. Twice in the past four years, voters in the canton that represents Davos/St. Moritz have voted no when asked if they wanted the Games, for 2022 and 2026.

Or, as Verbruggen notes obliquely, “Proposals for a Swiss Winter Games have been made time and again, but most of the time they have prompted a negative reaction from the Swiss population, mainly because of the perceived high costs.”

The Swiss town of Sion bid for the 2006 Winter Games, losing to Torino, Italy. Now it wants to bid for 2026.

“I would encourage the IOC to seize the initiative,” Verbruggen writes, to negotiate directly with Swiss officials, because a “spectacular and successful Winter Games in Switzerland in 2026 would be both a huge boost for winter sports as well as for the IOC.”

Hard to argue with that.

“Lastly,” Verbruggen writes, “I understand that my proposed new system would mean taking away from IOC members the privilege of choosing where to host the Games. But they surely understand that if nothing is done to resolve the current crisis then a time will soon come when they simply do not have any bids to choose from.”

Note the wording: “current crisis.”

No argument there, either.

Real and significant threats to the IOC

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If Frankie Fredericks remains in position as chairperson of the International Olympic Committee’s 2024 evaluation commission past, say, Tuesday, then everybody has a big problem.

At the same time, the real question is whether the IOC itself has big problems.

Very big problems.

Way beyond Frankie Fredericks.

Like whether both the winning Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 bids were fixed.

This represents one of two very real and significant threats not only to the IOC’s traditional way of operation but to the presidency of Thomas Bach, elected in 2013.

The other, little-understood, especially by the IOC itself, is this:

Community organizers, particularly in Europe, have discovered the power of social media to amplify grievance and conflict. Who's to blame? The establishment, not limited to but including the state. In this context, there's a ready target: a government-underwritten and -sponsored Olympic bid.

The IOC is in a jam.

These next few months could be among the most significant in its modern history.

Bach, in a German-language interview last Thursday, appropriately noted that the social media-to-referendum connection is “the target of anti-establishment movements that we have in many European countries,” later identifying, again correctly, that the IOC is “also part of this establishment.” Too, he said, “You can not go through,” meaning make a convincing counter-argument, “with facts.”

A starting place is easy.

At the same time, it’s hard, because it means shaking up that establishment.

The era of Games as government-run infrastructure development model has run its course.

Simply and bluntly put, that needs to change — starting with the 2024 campaign, pitting Paris, more of the same (government-run, history all but guaranteeing gargantuan cost overruns) against the change option, Los Angeles (privately run, just like 1984, which ended with $232.5 million surplus).

From the Paris bid books, and ask this elemental question as you remember that the dorms at UCLA exist right now and are more than suitable while the French authorities propose a 126-acre, 3,500-unit to-be-built athletes' village described, variously, as a "significant catalyst" and an "outstanding urban regeneration project": is this what the Olympics are supposed to be about?

"The construction of private housing for ownership or lease will be funded by private developers and any social housing units will be funded by public entities, under the traditional arrangements of urban development projects in France. Transport and other public infrastructure, such as roads, riverbanks, open areas and public facilities will be funded by the state, the region and local authorities, in accordance with the usual split of responsibilities."

Change is never easy. But it is the IOC’s essential option.

Unless the IOC goes to LA, it can’t make a convincing counter-argument, because it literally cannot come up with the winning facts Bach is seeking.

Example:

Bach, in that very same German Q&A, noted that the IOC gave Rio 2016 organizers $1.5 billion.

Again, absolutely true.

But so what?

For the past 20 years, there have been two separate but intricately related budgets in any Olympics. The first is the organizing committee’s operating budget. That’s where the IOC money goes. For Rio, that made up roughly half the Rio 2016 committee’s revenue.

The second is capital investment. That's why the public authorities are so eager to bring a Games home.

In winning the bid in 2009, the Rio people pegged total costs at $14.4 billion.

So nobody was exactly playing hiding the ball.

The total post-Games Rio 2016 tab is not in but given delays, cost over-runs and the economic crisis that devastated Brazil over the past couple years: probably $20 billion. Maybe more.

Look, $1.5 billion is a lot of money. But everything is context. If the IOC president wants to go through with facts, let's compare apples with apples. To use $1.5 billion when the real discussion is probably $20 billion is disingenuous, at best.

This is the sort of stuff that tends to fuel grievance and conflict with the establishment, you know?

All the while, the newspapers are filled with pictures of decrepit swimming pools and busted-up stadiums in Rio, of horrifying budget woes in Tokyo (bid: $7.8 billion, current estimate $25-30 billion) and stories, like Friday’s in Le Monde, suggesting more to come on a scale perhaps unseen since the scandal in the 1990s over Salt Lake City’s winning bid for the 2002 Winter Games.

Salt Lake City won the Games in 1995 after wooing IOC members and their relatives with more than $1 million in cash, gifts and other inducements.

The Salt Lake crisis led to the expulsion or resignation of 10 members and a 50-point reform plan.

Will more details now under wraps in France become public? When? Unclear all around.

For emphasis, even as his name started popping up Friday around the world in media accounts, Frankie Fredericks is assuredly entitled to the presumption of innocence.

Fredericks is arguably the most famous person to hail from the west African nation of Namibia. He has four Olympic silvers in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. He has both a bachelor’s degree in computer science and an MBA from Brigham Young University.

Now 49, he has always been one of the amiable and approachable guys on the international track and field and Olympic scene. He served as a member of the IOC athletes’ commission from 2004-12 and as that panel’s chair from 2008-12; for those last four years, he was on the IOC’s policy-making executive board, too.

He was made a “regular” IOC member in 2012.

Back to 2009, and the IOC session in Copenhagen. That’s where Rio won the 2016 Games. The others in the race: Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago.

Fredericks served at that IOC assembly as what’s called a “scrutineer.” There typically are three. The scrutineers count the electronic votes before passing the results to the IOC president — then Belgium’s Jacques Rogge.

Friday’s account in Le Monde would seem to establish a timeline for the exchange of money. Connecting the dots: what, if anything, got proven? Not clear.

The newspaper report will now trigger an ethics commission inquiry into what IOC spokesman Mark Adams on Friday called “serious allegations.”

The ethics inquiry is perhaps the least of Frankie Fredericks’ concerns. If he has retained reputable legal counsel, this advice would surely have been forthcoming: don’t set foot in France.

A basic rundown:

Ahead of the Copenhagen vote, a company called Matlock Capital Group paid $1.5 million to Pamodzi Consulting, a company founded by Papa Massata Diack, and transferred another $500,000 to Papa Diack’s Russian bank account.

Papa Diack’s father, Lamine, served from 1999-2015 as president of track’s international governing body, the IAAF. He was IOC member from 1999 to 2013.

The son was a former IAAF marketing consultant.

French prosecutors are investigating Diack, father and son, on corruption charges in a separate scandal — the alleged cover-up of Russian doping cases.

In January 2016, citing the Russian matter, the IAAF banned Papa Diack for life.

Le Monde said Matlock is a holding company linked to a Brazilian businessman, Arthur Cesar de Menezes Soares Filho.

Soares reportedly is close to Sergio Cabral, the former governor of the state of Rio.

Cabral stepped down in 2014. He was arrested last November, after the Rio Games, and is now awaiting charges he diverted millions in bribes for the renovation of Maracanā Stadium before soccer’s 2014 World Cup and two other

The IOC picked Rio on October 2, 2009.

That very same day, Le Monde says, Papa Diack transferred $299,300 to Yemi Limited, an offshore company linked to Fredericks.

In an email exchange with the newspaper, Fredericks said, “The payment has nothing to do with the Olympic games,” explaining he had a marketing contract with Pamodzi from 2007-11.

The IAAF has long had a far-reaching marketing agreement with a Japanese company called Dentsu.

It’s unclear whether or not the Dentsu program is or ought to be at issue.

Also uncertain: if the Dentsu program is relevant or material, why or how Fredericks would undertake independent or even related marketing schemes in Africa, as he suggests in the emails published by Le Monde, much less a program worth $300,000, why such a four-year program would be worth $75,000 per year or, critically, why the payment for such a deal would arrive, perhaps coincidentally, on the very same day the IOC picked Rio.

What is clear:

Chicago got kicked out of the 2016 voting on the first round. The president of the United States had been on scene and he was humiliated.

Fredericks was one of the guys counting votes — in position to know, even before Rogge did, what was what. This is fact, not the suggestion of anything amiss. The scrutineers know before the IOC president does.

The Americans were so stung by Chicago’s exit, which followed New York’s loss for 2012, that they sat out the 2020 election — won by Tokyo.

Now come Los Angeles and Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

Who, at least until Friday’s Le Monde report, is sitting as the chair of the IOC committee evaluating the candidates’ so-called “technical” readiness— that is, inspecting factors as sports facilities, roads, airports, hotels and more?

The guy who at the very least knew before almost anyone else that Chicago was out in the very first round is now due to be passing judgment on Los Angeles?

Even if he spent college and grad school in Utah, and is super-familiar with the way things work over here in these United States, how can the IOC allow that?

Isn’t that just a big-time optics problem?

If Frankie Fredericks doesn’t do the right and honorable thing, let’s say by Tuesday latest, you’d have to think it’s going to be done for him.

Meanwhile, stay tuned.

This is, all things considered, preliminary skirmishing. The IOC may yet be looking at very big problems.

Very big.

Bolt the "legend," and the joy of six

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MONACO — Once again, here was a pack of journalists circled around Usain Bolt. Here came the familiar sorts of wacky questions: Was he interested in doing bobsled like the Jamaican “Cool Runnings” team that went to the 1988 Winter Games? (No.) Could he see himself playing NFL football? (No.) And more.

Bolt, the self-proclaimed "legend," has said — many times — that he intends to retire after the 2017 International Assn. of Athletics Federations world championships in London. If so, the clutch gathered Friday around Bolt at the Fairmont Hotel, in advance of the evening’s IAAF awards gala, where he would — for the sixth time — take home the trophy as best male athlete, was both familiar and melancholy.

Track and field has a storied history that stretches back into the dawn of time. Even so, it is quite possible there has never been anyone quite like Usain Bolt. As Seb Coe, the IAAF president, said at Friday night's awards shoe, referring to Bolt's third Olympic sprint triple in Rio this past summer, "Usain Bolt dazzled us with his brilliance once more."

For his part, Bolt said, "I live for moments when I walk into the stadium and there's a loud roar."

Will such brilliance -- will anyone quite like him -- pass this way ever again? Will that roar ever be the same? Can it, without Bolt?

Bolt on Friday in Monaco // Getty Images

“If you accomplish your goals, there’s no reason to stay around,” Bolt observed Friday. “You got what you wanted. Let’s move on.”

It has been Bolt’s destiny to stand as the upside of the sport in an era in which so much has gone bad — the sport beset by, in particular, chronic doping and staggering allegations of corruption within the prior generation of the sport's top international governance circles. Indeed, the IAAF is due Saturday to convene a special assembly at which Coe, elected IAAF president in 2015, is pushing a wide-ranging reform plan.

To be blunt, track and field needs that reform.

It also needs more joy. It needs more Bolt, and the way he plays to and with the crowd, almost all of whom invariably have come to see one guy, and one guy only: him.

Asked Friday night what his next act could be, he said maybe TV, adding with a smile, "I look good in a suit."

Or maybe the big screen. "I definitely think," he added, "that I would be a great action star. The next Jason Bourne.

"I'm not," he said, "a Bond guy," and the crowd ate it all up.

Too bad. Bolt in a re-make of "The World is Not Enough," the 1999 Bond flick? Can someone take a meeting?

In the meantime, there's track and field, at least for one more season. And then? When Bolt steps away, who -- if anyone -- can take over his role as the sport's leading man?

Maybe the South African Wayde van Niekerk, winner in Rio of the men’s 400 in a stupendous world-record 43.03 seconds, who has trained with Bolt and observed Friday, “We are all just people wanting to achieve a dream out there.”

This, in essence, is what Bolt — along with Michael Phelps — brought the world: the idea that you not only should but can dream big and that big dreams can become real.

There are similarities and parallels but, of course, distinct diversion in what they have done and what they stand for.

For one, as Bolt said Friday, he absolutely, positively will not retire and then un-retire, like Phelps. This even though Bolt has those nine Olympic golds,  and Carl Lewis has 10, nine gold and one silver, and would it really be all that hard for Bolt to take a little time off, then come back and run, say, the relays in Tokyo in 2020?

No way, Bolt said, declaring his longtime coach, Glen Mills, had warned him about just this sort of thing.

Mills, Bolt said, told him, “ ‘Do not retire and come back to the sport. Don’t ever do that. You have to make sure you’re [ready] to retire.’

“This is why,” Bolt said, “I’m taking it a year a time to make sure I’m ready when I’m ready,” adding, “For me, I think track and field is very difficult, you know what I mean? If you leave track, you put weight on, you pretty much do no running — to come back two years from that and compete, it’s not going to be the same.”

Phelps is living proof that hard work — super hard work, ragingly difficult — can make your dreams come true.

The difference between swimming and track, however, is elemental. For literally millions of people, swimming remains foreign. That is, they can’t swim. Often, they can’t possibly imagine how people move through water.

In contrast, virtually everyone has run. And so almost everyone on Planet Earth has felt at least a glimmer of what it must be like to be Bolt — to feel the wind on your face, the pain in your legs as you try for that top gear.

Bolt, though, doesn’t make it seem like work. He is emblematic of pure joy.

This was what the former International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, didn’t quite understand when Bolt burst onto the Olympic scene in Beijing in 2008, saying, "I understand the joy. He might have interpreted that in another way, but the way it was perceived was 'catch me if you can'. You don't do that. But he'll learn. He's still a young man."

Bolt turned 30 on August 21, the day before the close of the Rio Games.

There he gave us all more joy — not just the three golds, wrapping up that neat nine in all since Beijing, but the fantastic moment in which, during a men’s 200 semifinal, he and Canada's Andre de Grasse chatting and laughed it up as they crossed the finish line, just two dudes running faster than everyone else but looking for all the world like they were hanging out together at Starbucks.

Just out for a happy little jog, Rio men's 200 semifinal // Getty Images

After the Rio 200 final // Getty Images

And then the selfies with the fans -- all of whom were screaming like Usain was the 2016 version of John, Paul, George or Ringo.

Who in the sports world does that?

Bolt. Only Bolt.

“That’s who I am,” he said Friday afternoon, adding a moment later, “It’s just my personality. It just comes out. People really enjoy it. I can be myself.”

The thing is, Bolt, like Phelps, has worked like a dog to do what he has done. He acknowledged as much Friday in saying that he learned a hard lesson after the 2007 IAAF worlds in Osaka, Japan, where he was beaten by Tyson Gay. There he asked Mills what he had to do to get better. Get stronger, Mills said.

Let’s be candid here. Because of his outsize personality and super-big fun quotient, Bolt has largely gotten a free pass from much of the media, and the big world beyond, in regards to doping. If it were anyone else saying this Friday, alarm bells would go off, Mills telling Bolt as Bolt relayed the memory, “You’re slacking off at the gym. If you want to win you have to get stronger,” Bolt adding, that “from then on” he got after it. How, exactly?

Over the years that Bolt has been on top, Jamaica’s anti-doping protocols have been laughably weak. He has gotten hurt, a lot, and made quick recoveries. The sport has been riddled with doping, the men's sprints in particular, and yet Bolt is by significant measure better than everyone else.

All this is by way of observation, not -- to repeat for emphasis, not -- accusation. Bolt has, for the record, been strident in his remarks about the Americans Gay and Justin Gatlin, both of whom have done doping-related time off, even if he has been far more gentle in matters involving allegations around other Jamaicans.

At the same time, it’s also the case that time reveals all and it’s best — particularly in the case of super-human exploits — to be cautious.

Even if Bolt makes anyone reasonable jump up and go, wow — did you just see that?

With the exception of Bolt’s first world record breaker, a 9.72 in the 100 in New York in June 2008, it has been a great privilege to sit on press row for every one of Bolt’s records — indeed, all his Olympic and world championship moments.

For that matter, there was the quiet time spent with him in 2006, in and around Kingston, when Asafa Powell was the Jamaican sprint star and Bolt, barely 20, was the farthest thing from a big name. No pressure. Bolt played soccer with school kids. He goofed around. He readily agreed to pictures up in the hills. He was new to this whole interviewing thing, a game at which he has come to excel, revealing just as much as he wants and no more, when -- as was the case in London in 2012 -- he partied after one victory with three women from the Swedish handball team and was then asked at a news conference if he might be interested in meeting some of the Norwegian women's handball players. (Like, that's a question?)

Bolt in 2006 in Jamaica -- identified in the photo records as a "200 and 400 sprinter" // Getty Images

At his peak, on the blue track at the 2009 IAAF worlds in Berlin, Bolt — 9.58 in the 100, 19.19 in the 200 — simply re-invented the limits of what human beings had thought possible. 

In Daegu, South Korea, at the 2011 IAAF worlds, Bolt was memorably disqualified for a false start in the 100. Since then, his races have followed a familiar pattern — a careful start, the long stride opening up and then thanks for coming, everyone, it’s over, let's get ready for the signature to-di-world pose. In the 100, Gatlin in recent years has proven a tough challenger over the first half of the race but Bolt just too strong over the final half. In the 200, there is no one — no one — who has ever run the curve better than Bolt.

For all these moments, perhaps the most iconic is the 100 at the Moscow at the 2013 IAAF worlds. At the precise instant Bolt crossed the finish line, a lightning bolt flashed in the sky outside Luzhniki Stadium.

100 final, Moscow, 2013 // Getty Images

Who does that happen to?

Bolt. Only Bolt.

With Bolt, the unthinkable has played out for the world to bear witness.

“Not to brag or anything but a lot of people at 30 have not accomplished everything I have accomplished,” Bolt said Friday, adding, “For me, I’m going to end my career at 31. That’s pretty good.”

Did he ever think, Bolt was asked, about being literally the fastest person on Planet Earth? In all of human history?

He laughed. Of course. Here came the joy, the fun, all of it that will be so absent when he steps off the stage:

“Not at that level,” he said.

“But I always make fun with my friends of such things. One thing I try to do is, if someone tries to run [away] from me," as if anyone could make like a cheetah, maybe, and get away from the one and only Usain Bolt, "I look at them weird — like, what are you doing?”

Congress, yet again, proves Mark Twain right

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“Suppose,” the American author and humorist Mark Twain once said, “you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” The United States House of Representatives, which can’t agree on gun control legislation or pretty much anything, makes it a priority in the doldrums of a Washington summer to weigh in on issues sparked by allegations of doping in international sport?

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce sends a letter to the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, just days before a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report into allegations of state-sanctioned doping in Russia? For what purpose?

The IOC president, Thomas Bach // IOC

Here is the answer: once again, to highlight the ridiculous inconsistencies and political posturing all around, and in particular from the committee, chaired by Representative Fred Upton, a Republican from Michigan.

Mr. Upton represents Michigan’s 6th District, in the southwestern corner of the state. His district includes Berrien County. At that county courthouse on Monday, according to authorities, an inmate grabbed a deputy’s gun and shot four people, two — both retired police officers — fatally.

On Tuesday, Mr. Upton sends out a letter to the IOC president?

From the letter: “Athletes worldwide, including those that will participate in the upcoming Rio Olympic Games, must have confidence that their sports are completely free of doping and that all governing bodies in international sport are doing everything possible to ensure that result.”

This is wishful thinking. Completely free of doping is never going to happen. Repeat, never. “Zero tolerance,” like Nancy Reagan’s “just say no,” is empty rhetoric, for two reasons: one, doping works and, two, elite athletes want to win. Including Americans. See, for instance, Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong, among many others.

At any rate, who appointed the U.S. House the moral, legal and ethical guardian of “athletes worldwide”?

Next sentence: “To ensure the integrity of the Olympic Games, we need assurances from sports’ international governing bodies in the form of decisive actions, not just words. The failure to do so is simply irresponsible and we will not remain silent.”

For sure, when it comes to being irresponsible, sanctimonious and hypocritical, Congress has that down. An awful shooting on Monday. The “decisive action” of a letter to the IOC president on Tuesday.

Left to right, in May at the U.S. Capitol: Michigan congressman Fred Upton; his niece, model Kate Upton; and her fiancee, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander // Getty Images via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Beyond which, and again — it is not, repeat not, the mandate of the United States Congress to “ensure the integrity of the Olympic Games.” Anymore than it is the province of the Japanese Diet, Russian Duma or Israeli Knesset.

If Mr. Upton or his committee might ever seriously be inclined to take “decisive action,” here’s a concrete suggestion:

Stop talking the talk and start walking the walk: find some real money to advance the anti-doping campaign, either within the United States or, on the spurious grounds that this particular House committee has any extra-territorial reach, with its friends (or not) in other governments.

WADA’s 2016 budget is $26.3 million. The United States government contributed $2.05 million. That’s not even 10 percent. Yet Congress wants to play big dog? Absurd.

For 2016, the U.S. federal government expects to take in $2.99 trillion and spend $3.54 trillion. Whichever number you want to use as the denominator — $2 million is an almost infinitesimal fraction.

Here are some other numbers:

Major U.S. college athletic departments run with revenues way, way, way bigger than WADA. Texas A&M, for instance, took in $192 million in operating revenue during its 2014-15 fiscal year. Oregon reported $196 million in 2013-14.

A real difference-maker would be to get that kind of money for the anti-doping effort.

China gave all of $286,365 toward WADA’s 2016 revenues. The United States led the London 2012 medal count. Second? China. The Chinese can’t give more than $286,365?

Kenya, the powerhouse of distance running, also now under keen suspicion for doping issues? The Kenyan government gave WADA a grand total of $3,085. That’s three-thousand-eighy-five. Not $3.085 something. Exactly $3,085.

That Usain Bolt guy? Jamaica contributed precisely $4,638.

Peru? Where, in Lima, the IOC is due to hold its general assembly next year? WADA has invoiced the government of Peru $20,853 for 2016. Total received, as of July 8: zero.

Qatar? Where the 2022 soccer World Cup is going to be staged? Where natural gas made Qatari citizens the world’s richest in a generation, and where a number of leading U.S. universities now have branch campuses? Qatar was invoiced $70,438. They have paid.

The Japanese government contributed $1.5 million, in the ballpark with the American contribution. Do you hear the Japanese — hosts of the 2020 Tokyo Games — writing a same or similar letter to the IOC? Curious.

The governments of Germany, France, the United Kingdom and, yes, Russia contributed the exact same amounts: $772,326 apiece.

The British, too, have a tendency to hold Parliamentary hearings on matters that do little but serve as kabuki theater — for instance, hauling Seb Coe, the president of track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, into Westminster in a bid to score political points.

As for the French and Germans? Their legislative bodies have more important things to do. Like, maybe, in the wake of Brexit, keeping the European project together.

A letter like the one from Mr. Upton accomplishes precisely nothing.

At least nothing constructive.

To be brutally frank, it holds the risk for real damage in potentially undercutting the Los Angeles bid for 2024, the very thing that actually could effect real change if not bring a well-deserved spotlight throughout the United States, and beyond, to the many ways the Olympic movement — and the anti-doping campaign in particular — could be improved by reform.

To be clear: there has not been a Summer Games in the United States for 20 years now, since Atlanta in 1996. The last Winter Games? Salt Lake City, 2002.

If LA wins, it will be a generation since the Games came to the United States.

And yet Congress is playing busybody?

The only good news: there haven’t been demands for congressional hearings.

This is something of a change.

Because this, for those with a ready sense of history, and rest assured there are many members of the IOC with a keen sense of history indeed, is not Mr. Upton’s first go-around in seeking to leverage the Olympic movement for headlines and political attention-seeking.

He and Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona who for years has been the leading force on the Senate’s Commerce Committee — the two panels with oversight over the U.S. Olympic Committee — pop up with regularity, like whac-a-moles at the county fair, when it’s seemingly to their advantage to put the Olympic rings is in the spotlight.

A June 20 letter from that Senate committee to WADA president Craig Reedie went out from the current chairman, John Thune of South Dakota. But you have to be naive to the max to think that McCain wasn’t involved.

And why wouldn’t he be?

McCain is up for election in November. The Olympic movement makes for a convenient target.

Since McCain is himself an avowed student of history, you’d think maybe he would understand that all actions carry consequences.

Let’s dial the wayback machine to the late 1990s, and the scandal tied to Salt Lake’s winning 2002 bid.

According to published minutes from the IOC’s policy-making executive board, its members often expressed considerable friction when it came to Congress and, by extension, the USOC.

As well, and in the context of the current focus on Russia, it’s something of a case of pot, kettle, black or, if you prefer, glass houses — the minutes showing the United States being accused of being inconsistent in the fight against athletes’ use of illicit performance-enhancing substances.

A number of IOC members and staffers, to quote from the story that I wrote on this very issue for the Los Angeles Times in February 2002, said they believed U.S. officials had not been forthcoming in disclosing positive drug tests — in particular, the matter of a U.S. track star allowed to run at the 2000 Sydney Games despite a positive test for a banned steroid. It wasn’t until 2003 that the LA Times reported that athlete was the 400-meter standout Jerome Young.

Indeed, at the public IOC session immediately before the opening of the Salt Lake Games, here was the longtime Canadian IOC member Dick Pound calling on international track and field officials to expel USA Track & Field for refusing to disclose the names of athletes with positive tests. What do you know? U.S. officials consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Former WADA president and IOC member Dick Pound // Getty Images

Sir Craig Reedie, WADA president and longtime IOC member // Getty Images

In the 2016 context, it is well worth noting what Bach said Wednesday when asked about the Russians. He observed, “The right to individual justice applies to every athlete in the world.”

He also said, and if anyone in Congress would pay attention amid what increasingly seems like a rush to demonize everything Russian, Bach was essentially espousing one of the fundamental principles of American justice: “Everybody not implicated cannot be made responsible for the misbehavior of others.”

Pound, meanwhile, served as the first WADA president. Now there are cries that Reedie has a conflict of interest because, just like Pound, he is a senior IOC member and serving WADA as well? Where were those conflict cries when Pound was president?

The reason men like Reedie and Pound serve interlocking directorates within the Olympic sphere is simple: it takes years to understand the politics, finance, diplomacy and culture that attends international sport, in particular the Olympics. Evidence? The USOC hired an outsider, Stephanie Streeter, as CEO in 2009. She stayed for a year, forced out because she didn’t — couldn’t — understand.

When Pound a few months ago delivered the independent WADA-appointed commission report accusing the Russians of multiple wrongdoings, he was widely hailed as a hero. No thorough examinations of the potential for conflict because of his IOC and WADA ties? Curious.

Amid the Salt Lake scandal, both McCain and Upton formally demanded that then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch testify before Congress.

An influential Belgian IOC member at the time, Prince Alexandre de Merode, for years a leader in the anti-doping effort, declared McCain’s letter “extremely arrogant,” saying, “The IOC did not have to justify itself to the United States.”

The then-senior Chinese IOC delegate He Zhenliang, according to those IOC minutes, said he did not wish to “comment on [Upton’s] knowledge about the contemporary world nor pass judgment on his IQ. But what [He] could not ccept was the manner in which [Congress] was treating the IOC, a supranational organization, namely as if they were servants in his house. Such arrogance was unacceptable.”

Jacques Rogge, also of Belgium, said Samaranch ought not testify voluntarily “under any circumstances.” He said, “Despite good preparation and support, this would be bad PR and would be an ambush by the USA.”

Jacques Rogge, the IOC president from 2001 until 2013, and his wife, Anne, at the 2016 Wimbledon women's final // Getty Images

Juan Antonio Samaranch, IOC president 1980-2001, with Rogge at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games // Getty Image

Samaranch did end up testifying, in December 1999. It proved not an ambush. He played wise international diplomat.

Rogge went on to become IOC president in 2001, serving until 2013. What happened to American interests in the Olympic movement during his 12 years? Politically, the U.S. was marginalized. Economically, a huge rift erupted over USOC shares of Olympic revenues. Baseball and softball? Axed from the Games. New York’s bid for the 2012 Games? Lost big, in 2005, to London. Chicago’s 2009 bid for 2016? Lost big, in 2009, to Rio.

Bach has been president now for nearly three years. He learned a great deal about how the IOC works from observing, and working closely with, none other than Samaranch.

“We look forward,” Upton’s letter concluded, “to working closely with IOC, WADA and others toward this end,” a reference to the call for “assurances” regarding Olympic integrity.

Good luck with that, congressman. Olympic integrity is assuredly a good thing. But why would the IOC want to work with you? Better you should brush up on your reading before you prove the master right again, for Twain also observed, “All congresses and parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, and a compassion for them, on account of personal experience and heredity.”

#Followthesun, and other hot (maybe) takes

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-- In advance of the publication in the coming days of highly technical planning details, it’s far-more-interesting logo-unveil time in the 2024 Summer Olympic bid game. Paris, for instance, came out a few days ago with a stylized Eiffel Tower. On Tuesday,  Los Angeles unveiled its logo and the tagline, “Follow the sun.” Reaction: let’s be honest here and admit that logos and slogans rarely play a huge role come voting time, with the exception perhaps of the incredibly on-point Pyeongchang 2018 tag, “New Horizons.”

The LA24 logo

The Paris logo

Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, with swim star Janet Evans and others applauding for LA24 bid leader Casey Wasserman

Following the sun: the wow factor from the 30th floor, looking west

At issue in this 2024 campaign is nothing less the fundamental direction of the Olympic movement: whether the International Olympic Committee is prepared to take LA mayor Eric Garcetti and bid leader Casey Wasserman up on what they said Tuesday to a fired-up crowd on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, the sun setting gloriously to the west. The mayor: “Imagination is critical because it leads to hope. Hope leads to dreams. Dreams lead to innovation. That is the story of our city.” Wasserman said a "sense of relentless reinvention and new beginnings” anchor “LA2024’s distinctive value proposition for the good of the Games and the Olympic movement,” a bid with 97 percent of the venues already in place or planned (canoe slalom still to be figured out).

Let’s be honest some more, because at some point there has to be plain talk about this campaign, and it ought to start now, even though the vote isn’t until 2017 and lots can, and will happen. Right now, Europe — pretty much all of it — is a big question mark. As former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in Tuesday’s Washington Post, “These are difficult times in Europe with the refugee crisis, economic weakness, security issues and the rise of populist movements.” There’s LA, and then there’s Paris, Rome and Budapest. This campaign will doubtlessly feature any number of references to Paris mounting a fourth bid. At the same time, it needs to be understood that the LA effort is not just an LA, or SoCal, thing; it is America’s third bid, after New York in 2005 for 2012, Chicago in 2009 for 2016.

Straight talk, continued: logic and common sense say the IOC can hardly run the risk of turning down the three biggest cities in the United States in succession. (Of course, it can do so, and an IOC election can typically prove volatile.) But if LA does not win for 2024, it would be exceptionally problematic — and that is putting it gently — for LA to come back for 2028, or to see any other American city step up. It takes millions of dollars to run a bid, and in the United States that money has to be privately raised. The money is here and now for LA24. Imagine a 2024 loss — and then Wasserman going back to all those he hit up for $1 million apiece and saying, looking at 2028, something like, oh, well, now the IOC is going to treat us fairly. Not going to happen. The time is now.

-- IOC president Thomas Bach was in LA earlier this month, making the rounds after prior visits to Paris, Rome and Budapest, the other cities in the 2024 race. Bach then went up to Silicon Valley for talks.

Reaction: so curious that the far more important purpose of Bach’s California trip, the excursion to Silicon Valley, drew  minimal press attention. He met with representatives of Visa, Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others. The IOC needs big-time help in reaching out to young people; it is focused in particular on the launch of the Olympic Channel. If you’re an IOC member, looking at that line-up in California, and there’s a California bid, doesn’t that too comport with logic and common sense?

IOC president Thomas Bach, center, at Google HQ // photo IOC

-- One more LA note. The U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon went down Saturday on a course that wound around downtown and the University of Southern California campus. Galen Rupp won on the men’s side. Many in the running press (there is such a thing) immediately pointed to the possibility of Rupp, silver medalist in the 10k in London in 2012, running both the 10k and the marathon in Rio.

Reaction: let’s wait to see what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has to say in the coming months, if anything, about Rupp and his coach, Alberto Salazar. As Kara Goucher, the women’s fourth-place finisher, said after the race, "Justice is coming."

Kara Goucher near the finish of Saturday's U.S. marathon Trials // Getty Images

-- Speaking of the IOC’s purported youth outreach: the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer are on.

Reaction: did you notice? Did anyone — like, any teens or 20-somethings? The very best part about the YOG experiment is the Young Reporters program, which has produced a number of promising young stars. There’s also an argument that the Youth Games serve as a petri dish of sorts, allowing the IOC and, perhaps more important, the international sports federations to check out without real peril events such as skateboarding (Nanjing YOG, 2014) and, now in Lillehammer, parkour. Fine. But that’s not the point of YOG, expressed by former IOC president Jacques Rogge in launching it. It’s to connect meaningfully with young people. How’s that going?

-- Speaking of a way that actually works in reaching young people: kudos to organizers, and especially the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., for the Big Air event a few days ago at Boston's Fenway Park. It featured jumps and tricks off a 140-foot ramp set up on the field at the iconic baseball stadium.

Reaction: terrific idea, terrific execution. Great stuff, especially on TV.

Women's winner Julia Marino, 18, of Westport, Conn., during the Big Air event at Fenway Park // Getty Images

-- USA Swimming announces a contract extension, through the end of 2020, for executive director Chuck Wielgus.

Chuck Wielgus // photo USA Swimming

Reaction: USA Swimming is one of a handful of well-run national governing bodies, and that is in significant measure due to Wielgus, who is a fundamentally decent human being. Anyone who knows USA Swimming knows Wielgus has wrestled for years now with cancer; he deserves widespread admiration and respect for the soft-spoken courage he has repeatedly shown in public in dealing with significant medical issues. Switching gears: the well-publicized challenges sparked by sexual abuse of young swimmers are not — repeat, not — Chuck Wielgus’ fault. Six years ago, in particular in regard to the comments he made on an ABC 20/20 investigation, was Wielgus at his best when he said he didn’t feel the need to apologize? No. Does an 18-year tenure deserve to be judged by one moment? No. And, now, USA Swimming is way ahead of the curve with its SafeSport program. If you want to criticize Wielgus, he deserves credit, too, for realizing, perhaps belatedly, what was wrong and helping to craft an industry-standard response. What should be Wielgus’ next goal: effecting fundamental change in the USA Swimming governance structure. Simply, the board of directors has too many people; it’s too big and unwieldy. Better for USA Swimming to do what it does best, and be a leader in the field, meaning slim down the board, before something happens — whatever that might be — to compel change under pressure.

-- Michael Phelps shows up in a swim brief and has fun with the Arizona State basketball-game "Curtain of Distraction."

Phelps doing his thing at the ASU basketball game // screenshot Pac-12 network

Reaction: you can just tell the guy is happy. Which means: watch out, world. Prediction, absent a huge surprise at the U.S. Trials: five Rio gold medals (200 IM, 200 butterfly, 100 fly, 800 relay, medley relay), and that is no knock on his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. As long as Lochte continues to pursue the 200 backstroke — at the Olympics, the 200 back final goes down before the 200 IM final on the same night — it’s a lot to ask, particularly of the legs, to go for gold in the 200 IM, too. As for the butterfly events, Chad le Clos of South Africa is a major talent. But in saying last summer after winning the 100 fly at the world championships (Phelps did not swim at the 2015 worlds) that Phelps could “keep quiet now,” le Clos awoke the tiger, and probably foolishly. Phelps has always done best when someone goes and trash talks — ask, in sequence, Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, of course, Milorad Cavic. The x factor for Phelps in Rio: the 400 free relay, one of the signature moments at the Beijing 2008 Games, when Jason Lezak turned in an otherworldly last leg to beat Alain Bernard and the French. For the past couple years, the French have been the world’s best in that event, and it’s not clear, at least yet, that even with Phelps the U.S. has what it takes.

-- The Zika virus takes over the Olympic news cycle, and U.S. soccer women’s national team goalie Hope Solo, among others, expresses concern about being part of it all in Rio.

Prediction: Solo goes to Rio.

-- Two former officials with the Russian anti-doping agency, which goes by the acronym RUSADA, die within two weeks. Founding chairman Vyacheslav Sinev, who left RUSADA in 2010, died Feb. 3. Then this past Sunday, Feb. 14, the former RUSADA executive director Nikita Kamaev, died, just 52, of a “massive heart attack,” the agency said. Kamaev had resigned just two months ago, amid the doping scandal that sparked suspension of the Russian track and field program. That scandal is tied, in part, to a November report from a World Anti-Doping Agency commission that suggested state-sponsored doping. On Feb. 11, three days before Kamaev’s death, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office (predictably) rejected the WADA commission report, saying it held no concrete facts proving state-sponsored doping.

Reaction: it's like a Russian novel, full of twists and turns and who knows what. For that matter: who knows, really, what is believed to be real in Russia, and what is not? This prediction, though: like Hope Solo, the Russian track and field team will be in Rio. The IOC is super-big on a concept called “universality,” which means everyone in the entire world coming together. It’s actually a fundamental rationale for the Games. Given that, how possibly can officials — in particular track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, or more, the IOC — keep the Russian track and field team away? Also: who really wants to challenge Vladimir Putin, given the potential for many uncertain ramifications?

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies over the weekend at a ranch in Texas.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia // Getty Images

Chuck Blazer, once a senior soccer executive // Getty Images

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the FIFA matter last December in Washington // Getty Images

Reaction: what might that have to do with sports? Turn to a case called Crawford vs. Washington, decided in 2004. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that in a criminal case, the defendant “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” What does that mean when someone makes a “testimonial” statement out-of-court but doesn’t (that is, can’t, for instance because of illness, or won’t, because of the assertion of privilege) testify in court itself? Writing for a unanimous 9-0 court, Scalia said the “testimonial” statement can’t be admitted as evidence — unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the person who made that statement.

So, again: sports? The U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into corruption at FIFA centers on Chuck Blazer, the American who was formerly a high-ranking soccer-world executive. Blazer reportedly has been ill for years with colon cancer. What if he dies before any trial? Would anything he had to say be admissible? For that matter, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has already been prominently mentioned as a potential Scalia replacement. Would the Justice Department be so interested in aggressively pursuing soccer stuff if someone else took over?

Walking the walk, Part 2: what new sports for the Olympics?

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KAZAN, Russia -- This week in Tokyo, eight sports are making their pitches to be part of the 2020 Olympics. For those eight, being part of the Olympic program would mean hundreds of millions of dollars, particularly as governments around the world look to develop athletes, coaches, facilities and grass-roots participation structures. Understanding just how much interest there is in what might be added to a future Olympic sports program, the chairman of the Tokyo 2020 coordination commission, John Coates, said back in February: “The whole world is looking at this process, not just the people of Japan. Many sports are interested and this is going to be a very transparent process.”

Transparency.

That’s a buzzword that features strongly in the IOC’s would-be reform plan, dubbed Agenda 2020.

President Thomas Bach mentioned it eight times in his opening speech last week to the 128th IOC session in Kuala Lumpur. He said, in part: “People today demand more transparency and want to see concrete steps and results on how we are living up to our values and our responsibility. We need to demonstrate that we are indeed walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”

Just in case that wasn’t clear enough, the word came up again several times in remarks to the IOC members from their invited keynote speaker, Sir Martin Sorrell.

It would be naive to imagine the IOC didn’t have some advance idea of what Sir Martin was going to say: “You have to run your operation, totally, on a transparent basis because there’s no other way that you can do it… Sunlight is good.”

So in the spirit of transparency, what do we know about what’s being pitched in Tokyo?

Very little.

Sure, we know the names of the federations invited to pitch. But precious little else.

The pitches took place behind closed doors: no media in the room and certainly no online livestream. Representatives of the international federations making the pitches held up copies of their bid books for the media to see but don't try downloading them from the federation websites. They’re not there.

Compared to the IOC’s own existing standards—for cities bidding to win the Olympics—things in Tokyo are looking, well, opaque.

Some of the sports pitching for 2020--skateboarding and surfing spring to mind--have entrenched internal opposition to being included in the Olympics. Opponents like that don’t just go away because you try to do things quietly: the lesson of Boston’s Olympic bid should be clear.

Back to last week in Kuala Lumpur. Like all great advertising execs, Sir Martin has a keen sense of what his clients want to hear. He made a lot of sense while making it plain that a multi-faceted attempt to distribute Olympic video content in a social way online is vital to maintaining relevance. Sir Martin backed up his assertions with clear and compelling data. The Olympic Games need to reinvent themselves for generations of young people who themselves have been reinvented by new technology.

Sir Martin spoke at length about YouTube, about millennials and about even younger users who consume most of their video online through mobile devices. This was exactly dead-on right. YouTube has exactly the kind of user age the IOC would love to be engaged with the Olympics:

Source: ComScore

To reach these young people, though, the Olympic product itself has to change, and not just the way that product is distributed.

This is fundamental.

There is, as ever, talk about this. But talking the talk and walking the walk are two very different things.

Here was Coates, speaking this past February: “Universality and gender equality are key in selecting new sports or events but the IOC will also consider an up-and-coming sport that is gaining in popularity especially with youth.”

Bringing in the new will, however, be genuinely very difficult.

Changes to the Olympic program marked the biggest test of Jacques Rogge’s presidency, which ran from 2001 to 2013.

The absence of transparency over additions to Tokyo 2020 suggests changes to the Olympic program are already becoming the biggest test of Bach’s presidency, too.

The Tokyo 2020 battle, meanwhile, will be nothing in light of the real fight to come — when the Olympic sports incumbents fight to stay on the program for 2024, to keep every last part of their medal and athlete quotas.

A taste of what’s in store: existing sports have proposed some novelties for the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympics. But there are no new sports on the program.

At the same time, it is not particularly difficult to see what is up-and-coming, gaining popularity with young people. Google will tell you what works for the YouTube demographic just by typing in the search terms. Consider the options for martial arts:

GoogleTrendsMartialArts

Even with the benefit of incumbency on the Olympic program, taekwondo and judo just aren’t as interesting to YouTubers as karate and muay Thai. So it makes sense, of course, that karate would be on the short list for Tokyo 2020. But where is muay Thai? It isn’t even "recognized." as the term of art goes, by the IOC. And only recognized sports (including tug-of-war and polo) were invited to apply. Wushu, however, is also recognized. So it made the shortlist, too. For the record, arm wrestling is bigger on YouTube than wushu.

The social media platforms and behaviors that Sir Martin Sorrell detailed for the IOC are responsible for popularizing new sports at previously unimaginable speeds. The heavy hitters of this new generation of sports, like parkour and obstacle-course racing, were barely known 10 or even five years ago. There are others, too.

Take calisthenics and street workout. It’s already bigger on YouTube than equestrian. The sport’s biggest star, Frank Medrano, has a third as many Facebook fans as the entire Olympics and twice as many as the world’s best-known surfer, Kelly Slater.

StreetWorkoutTrends

Finding out what the youth of the world wants to engage with is easier than ever. But the challenge confronting the IOC is twofold: 1. Can it can keep up with the ever-increasing pace of change? 2. Does it have the will to do so?

It is clearly possible — under a strong leader — to bring new things into the Olympic movement. Medals were being handed out for modern pentathlon five years after the French baron Pierre de Coubertin dreamed the sport up. Under Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980-2001, triathlon’s governing body was established and recognized, the sport then given full medal status, all within a few years. No one can possibly doubt that triathlon has become a fine addition to the Olympic program.

So where are the new Agenda 2020-era additions to the Olympic movement? The World Flying Disc Federation and its main sport, Ultimate Frisbee, were recognized last week in Kuala Lumpur. That’s a 50-year-old sport with the same level of YouTube interest as wushu.

UntitledTrends

Youth engagement, flexibility and transparency are admirable goals. But if Agenda 2020 is to work, to be more than just talk, then those ambitions needs to drive processes and events, not the other way around.

It’s time to walk the walk, bring in the new and tell the whole world about it.

The IOC president as Action Man

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SOCHI, Russia — There are apples. And there are oranges. The International Olympic Committee this week put out a news release, amid the provocation launched by SportAccord president Marius Vizer, that all but begs any and all to make the comparison. IOC president Thomas Bach, the release noted, enjoyed “another full week” that included meetings around the world with world leaders and dignitaries — and kids! — “championing the importance of sport in society and its ability to spread peace.”

Draw your own conclusions, the IOC seemed to be suggesting as it (finally) ramped up its communication machinery, the release including a video and eight — count them — photos of the president in action.

After just over a year and half as president, this — Bach as Action Man — has come to be his meme.

This hardly — ask Vizer, among others — makes Bach perfect.

At the same time, it makes for a marked contrast to Bach’s predecessor, Jacques Rogge, who assuredly preferred a different pace and style, particularly in the countdown of his 12 years in office.

The dignitary count for the one week on Bach's agenda, according to the IOC release, included United Nations secretary-generals (one), presidents (four), prime ministers (two), ministers (various) and more.

The eight pictures included one of Bach with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

IOC president Thomas Bach meets in Sochi with Russian president Vladimir Putin

Vizer and Putin have long enjoyed a close relationship. Then again, the very first telephone call Bach received after being elected IOC president, and within just minutes -- from Putin. Here in a country where Kremlinology was once -- and is maybe again -- something of a science, the symbology could hardly have gone unnoticed for close watchers of the Olympic scene.

Also this, from the release: “The President held a number of discussions with the Russian Minister for Sport, Tourism and Youth, Vitaly Mutko, about the legacy of the Sochi Games and the development of sport in Russia. He also held talks with President Putin’s key advisor, Igor Levitin.”

This mention, too, that Bach was accompanied by IOC members Vitaly Smirnov and Alexander Zhukov — Smirnov the IOC doyen, that is, its senior member, and Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic committee, a deputy prime minister and, left unsaid, chairman of the 2022 evaluation commission.

Later, this, from Bach’s meeting with Putin: “The Russian President emphasized that the Russian authorities continue to work closely with the IOC, and he praised the ‘excellent relations’ with the IOC as ‘leader of the Olympic Movement.’ “

How about them apples?

From Day One, Bach has set out to reshape the IOC presidency, operating in a style evocative of Rogge’s predecessor, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Samaranch served as president from 1980 until 2001, Rogge from 2001 until September 2013.

One key difference between Bach and Samaranch, perhaps: Samaranch preferred a big-tent approach in which someone like Vizer would have been brought in closer to IOC circles, maybe even made an IOC member. Vizer noted in his address Monday that he had repeatedly sought dialogue with the IOC but gotten no response.

The next chapter in the relationship between Vizer and Bach, of course, is yet to be written. And Vizer declared Thursday, “I don’t give up.”

Rogge was often more into process. Bach gets and respects process. But what he wants is getting stuff done — as he said in his remarks here Monday, in response to the provocative “Welcome Address,” as the IOC release put it, delivered by Vizer that opened the SportAccord convention.

“Let me summarize,” Bach said in closing his response. “Our doors are open to each and every one of you. We are making this offer of cooperation and support to each and every one of you. I thank you for having taken it already in the last one year and a half and having contributed to this effort of open dialogue and concerted action within the sport movement.

“And when making this offer, and when taking this offer, we should always consider that sport at the end is about results. It’s in the competition but it’s also in the work we are doing. This is not about plans and projects in sports. It’s about results and actions. And when taking these actions we have to be efficient …”

Bach speaking Monday at the SportAccord convention // screenshot courtesy IOC video

In an interview here, Bach paid tribute to Rogge even as he made clear that the challenges the two men face are at the same time similar yet very different.

“We’re different types. And it’s a different style. He had his way to approach issues. I have my way. He had his challenges. I have my challenges. It’s different times.

“He had his mandate … my task is to consolidate the success left by Samaranch and then at the same time to address the issues of good governance and anti-doping. This [Rogge] did in an outstanding way. Now the world is different.

“As I said in Monaco,” at the session last December at which the full IOC approved the 40-point Agenda 2020 reform plan that Bach championed, “now today the people are asking more and other questions than five years ago.”

For those interested in another comparison, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s compensation package in the 12-month period that ended March 31, 2013, totaled $44.2 million.

Bach is technically a volunteer who earns no salary.

That said, the IOC, as part of the Agenda 2020 view toward enhanced transparency, recently announced it would provide an annual 225,000 euro — about $242,000 — “indemnity” to reimburse Bach for his 365-day-per-year IOC mission.

“It is not a salary,” he made clear, adding a moment later that the IOC ethics commission “fixed the amount” and, “I accept it. There was no discussion or whatever about this.”

The IOC also covers Bach's living expenses in Lausanne, Switzerland, which in Rogge’s last years ran to about $700,000.

By these standards Bach is an outrageous bargain.

The IOC presidency is a 24/7/365 job. The travel, stress and criticism — all of which Bach knew going in, so for sure no pity party — can be relentless.

The challenge is elemental: to try to make a difference in a world in which a lot of people wonder what the IOC, and the Olympic movement, are all about.

It’s clear, for instance, that in the most-successful recent editions of the Games — among them, London 2012, Vancouver 2010, Sydney 2000 — there ran through those cities, indeed those countries, an intangible but for-sure there feeling. Maybe, at the risk of being geeky, that’s the Olympic spirit.

In those places, there was something of a real commitment, beyond just words, to the Olympic values — often defined as respect, excellence and friendship — and beyond just the 17 days of a Games.

This is not to diminish other recent Games hosts. Or to question the wisdom of taking the Games to places such as China, Russia, Brazil and elsewhere. Hardly. The movement is, after all, worldwide.

The issue is how to integrate the Olympic values both locally and globally in a way that ties in with a particular edition of the Games — and even before, in the bid process.

It’s a question that is both simple and incredibly complex.

“With the Games,” Bach said, “you’re not bringing the values only to the host countries. You show the values to the world. It is the message coming from the Olympic village and from the ideals of the Games. They do not stop at the boundaries of the host country. They go to the world. This is the strong message.

“Therefore the host country is important, is the focus. But our message is not only addressed to the host country.”

He added:

“I think the overarching challenge” of the movement, often spotlighted on the IOC presidency, ”is to define the values for today’s world.

“I can give you an example. You spoke about the fight against doping or match-fixing. This for me is not the value. The value is the protection of the clean athlete. This is I think the definition for today in this respect.

“Then we also see that we have been speaking about other values and the definition for today — we needed to have another definition of non-discrimination. It was needed 10 years ago. This is what the Olympic Agenda [2020] is also about.

“When changing the fundamental principles of the charter — the fundamental principles mean something … they are not foreseen by change every year. This is the overarching challenge and then it comes to your question to disseminate it, and to promote it.”

Back to Bach’s closing remarks at the opening of SportAccord. There he said:

“… What we all need for our sports, if we want to promote our values, if we want to be a respected part of society, if we want to grow our sport, if we want to attract young people, if we want to show to the world that sport has values and can do something for society, if we want to do all this, if we want then there to achieve our mission of organizing sport and to put at the same time sport at the service of society, then what we need all together is credibility.

“And this credibility we can only achieve if we have some unity in all our diversity,” he said, turning once more to his familiar slogan from his 2013 campaign for the IOC presidency.

“And in this respect and in this sense I invite you all to bring your diverse opinions to the table, to bring your diverse projects, your diverse goals to the table. But then be united in our concerted and common effort for the growth of sport and a better society for sport.”

Game of Thrones, Olympic style

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SOCHI, Russia — Lost for almost everyone in the provocative speech that SportAccord president Marius Vizer delivered here earlier this week was a Latin phrase at the very end, one that — now that the Assn. of Summer Olympic International Federations predictably rallied on Wednesday around the International Olympic Committee — sums up the contentious state of world sport politics. Fine primo tempo, Vizer said in closing his remarks Monday: “the end of the first season,” or, better, the end of the first chapter. If this were television drama, the second, or even the third, will surely make for even better stuff.

This was Vizer Wednesday morning, before the ASOIF meeting got underway: “I am ready to fight until the end. I have nothing to lose.”

SportAccord president Marius Vizer in the halls of the convention

The American television show “Game of Thrones,” which has resumed its on-air run, has nothing on what is going down this week in Sochi — and what promises to be forthcoming. Because Vizer believes in both words and, better, action. So, too, IOC president Thomas Bach.

What we have here are two strong personalities. Both are very, very smart and, as well, exceptionally strong-willed.

Bach’s background, remember, is in fencing.

Vizer is in judo. Moves and counter-moves.

The Putin factor

The first person to call Bach moments after he was elected IOC president in September, 2013, in Buenos Aires? Vladimir Putin. What country is now a strong supporter of SportAccord? Russia. Moreover, who came here at the start of SportAccord and exchanged toasts with Vizer? Putin.

The IOC put out a news release here from Sochi noting that Bach and Putin on Monday held an hour-long meeting celebrating the "legacy" of the 2014 Sochi Games.

IOC president Thomas Bach, Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Monday // photo IOC

For those skeptics who would focus only on the $51 billion figures associated with Sochi 2014, the IOC noted, apparently via Putin:

"This winter the local authorities say that all the hotels in the mountain cluster were fully booked from the beginning of November until mid-January. Traffic-calming measures even had to be put in place to cope with the numbers. Summer bookings for the hotels in the coastal cluster are said to be equally as successful."

The IOC release also said that Putin praised the “excellent relations” with the IOC president as “leader of the Olympic Movement.”

Back to you, Mr. Vizer, and this photo from SportAccord:

Vladimir Putin addressing the SportAccord general assembly

And, for good measure, these words from a SportAccord release:

"Congratulating Marius L. Vizer upon his re-election as SportAccord President, Mr. Putin said, 'Russia has worked very well with SportAccord and we are happy that the election has taken place in our sports capital. Sochi has given us the platform to organize big events and exhibitions. I hope that you will have a chance to enjoy all that is on offer.' "

And that's not all:

“Let me emphasize," Putin said, "that the support of SportAccord and IOC means a lot to us. We will continue to work together and promote peace and sport. I am convinced that the sports movement should be united and not divided by contradictions.”

ASOIF meeting

ASOIF represents the 28 sports on the Summer Games program. This is where things stood after Wednesday's meeting, and going forward:

Vizer is also president of the International Judo Federation. In front of all of his Olympic sport colleagues, he offered an apology for the speech Monday in which he, among other things, described the IOC system as “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

Vizer said Wednesday, “I regret to create inconvenience … regarding to my way and moment to choose this opportunity. But regarding the content, I expressed my voice and that is my opinion. For the rest, I am sorry. But I think everybody in the world of sport is free to express the opinion, to have vision, to have attitude. That is the world of sport.”

The ASOIF assembly on Wednesday, by a show of hands, ratified the statement adopted Tuesday by its council — suspending relations with SportAccord pending further review.

Twenty-seven of the 28 summer sports signed the petition. ASOIF chief Franceso Ricci Bitti, who is president of the International Tennis Federation, said it was super-easy to imagine which was the hold-out. Moves and counter-moves.

Despite the suspension, Ricci Bitti said, the door was still open for reconciliation.

This poses the question:

Really?

IOC system: how the millions go to sports

Putting a different spin than the one offered by Vizer on the IOC: it is for sure a traditional, indeed conservative, system. It works best when the president is firmly in control — a lesson the former president, Jacques Rogge, learned to his dismay after an exercise in “democracy” at the session in Mexico City in 2002.

That 2002 session was a watershed for Rogge — it marked the end of his honeymoon. He had been elected in Moscow the year before.

Perhaps this Sochi SportAccord convention will, in time, come to be seen as the end of Bach’s honeymoon as well.

It was altogether predictable that the summer sports would rally, and fiercely, around Bach and the IOC. They live in — if you will — a closed system, many hugely dependent on the IOC for financial and creative survival.

These distributions largely tell the story:

After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the summer sports got $296 million to split up; after London 2012, $515 million, thanks to enhanced broadcast revenues; projected revenues to Rio 2016 are $550 million.

Track and field got $29 million in 2008; $45.2 million in 2012; and is projected to get $40 million in 2016. (The IAAF, incidentally, is working, and hard, for that $5 million back.)

It was the IAAF that bolted SportAccord first, with its president, Lamine Diack, on Tuesday declaring, “What was said by Mr. Vizer was unacceptable.”

IAAF president Lamine Diack meets children before Nestle Kids track and field  demonstration event in Sochi // photo IAAF and Getty Images

Swimming got $14.3 million in 2008; $25 million in 2012; and is due to get $32 million in 2016.

FINA president Julio Cesar Maglione on Tuesday, to Associated Press: “The international federations are independent and they make their own job.”

Track and field and swimming (along with gymnastics) are what are called group A federations.

Even smaller federations can hardly say no to the IOC. Basketball is in B; it got $14.3 million in 2008, $25 million in 2012 and stands to get $25 million in 2016. Rowing is in C; it got $9.6 million in 2008, $17.7 million in 2012 and is due for the same, $17.7 million in 2016. Table tennis is in D; it got $8 million in 2008, $15.3 million in 2012 and stands to take in $17.3 million in 2016.

Ricci Bitti could hardly have been more clear in explaining, ostensibly for the benefit of all involved but really for Vizer, there in the audience, how things work.

“We believe the IOC is not a perfect organization but we can try to improve from the inside,” he said, and he hardly needed to add that for those in the bubble it has never been so financially secure.

And, a few moments later, specifically regarding “our relation with the IOC”:

“Our vision, the vision of the majority … is we can change if possible from inside our world in which we work, which we spend, because [we are] a major stakeholder of the IOC. ASOIF is a major stakeholder of the IOC, together with the [national Olympic committees]. We believe the IOC is a cornerstone machine with very important tools in the world of sport.

“It is a waste of time to make a war, in our opinion, from outside or to try to destabilize the system as your position unfortunately as expressed on Monday.”

A matter of perspectives?

Here is the thing about making "a war," though.

One man’s terrorist is, as the saying goes, another man’s freedom fighter.

There were many in the audience — and, indeed, around the world — who know in their hearts that there was more than just a little truth in what Vizer had to say Monday. As with many things, is it a matter less of what he said than when and how he said it?

“He has a lot of sympathy from a lot of people,” said the president of one Summer Games sport, referring to Vizer, asking not to be identified.

“This was not the right occasion,” the president of another Summer Games sport said, also asking to remain anonymous. “On the right occasion, Thomas will listen.”

There are 28 Summer Games sports and seven Winter. There are more than 100 international sports federations in SportAccord. What about the others not on the Olympic program? What about their financial considerations? Late Wednesday, ARISF, a group that represents 35 non-Olympic sports -- everything from baseball/softball to sport climbing to cricket -- issued a statement calling for "continued constructive dialogue between the IOC and SportAccord."

The fact that there was a break in high-level Olympic politics made news — fodder for sports-talk shows and the like — back home in the States. This is noteworthy. An Olympic story making general-news headlines in an off-year? For all the wrong reasons? Now the altogether foreseeable reaction of the federations rallying around Bach is for sure going to feed into the perception, right or wrong, that the federations (read: IOC members for those who make no distinction) are limousine-riding fat cats who care only perpetuating their own secretive, overblown caste.

You don’t think the opponents of the Boston 2024 campaign are going to seize on this sort of thing as evidence of how the IOC protects its own? Don’t be naive.

In his remarks Monday, Vizer said that in more than 100 countries, sport is “in misery,” with athletes “lacking the necessary basic elements — food, medication, equipment, preparation facilities and possibility to participate to competitions.”

This is, undeniably, true, everywhere in our world, from Laos — where this space has seen a would-be marathon runner running on shoes four years old — to the United States, where the struggle can prove ongoing to find a sponsor to fund the Olympic dream.

Financially speaking, the IOC is essentially a pass-through. For every dollar it takes in, roughly 90 cents go back out. Even so, it is nonetheless incredibly difficult to explain to ordinary folks how an organization that took in — according to tax filings — $5.37 billion for the years 2009-12 can not afford to find enough money to pay for a pair of decent running shoes.

Sometimes it takes someone to speak out to effect change.

Whether or not Vizer — and SportAccord — are appropriate vehicles for such change are, of course, matters for legitimate debate.

In the meantime, sometimes the IOC responds to calls for change. In March, it announced proposed tweaks to Rules 50 and 40, which would relax advertising rules during the Games — a victory for U.S. athletes who were campaigning for such reform.

It was in that same announcement that Bach disclosed the IOC executive board, which for a dozen years has held its spring meeting in line with SportAccord, would not be making the trip this year to Sochi.

Vizer said Wednesday he wrote a long letter to Bach last July. He got nowhere.

So now we are somewhere.

Where depends on your point of view.

The literalist would say, Sochi. Two more days of SportAccord 2015. What could possibly come next?!

The therapist would ask, have we made progress? “We have a conflict between all sport family,” ASOIF vice president Hassan Moustafa, the International Handball Federation chief, said Wednesday from the dais. “How we can solve this problem? We have to sit and we have to discuss.”

The script writer would say, and back to Latin of course: primo enim in capite duo — at the start of chapter two.