John Coates

No more 'losers': IOC vows new way to pick Games hosts

No more 'losers': IOC vows new way to pick Games hosts

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach is a winner.

From some, that sentence is likely to draw howls. What? Is this, like, sucking up, or what? 

Please — chill. Any objective, reasonable analysis of the International Olympic Committee president’s record would lead to that conclusion. The man is an Olympic gold medalist. A brainy lawyer. An adept businessman. Now in his sixth year as IOC president, he is all but a shoo-in for re-election to a second four-year term in 2021.

Perhaps twice in Bach’s career has he been a “loser.” Once, when as a champion fencer representing West Germany — he, like the outstanding middle-distance runner Seb Coe in Great Britain — campaigned to go to the 1980 Moscow Games amid the U.S.-led boycott. Britain went. West Germany did not.

The next time came in 2011. On that occasion, Bach was leading the Munich campaign for the 2018 Winter Games. PyeongChang won. And Bach was — not happy.

Of course, Bach rebounded two years later to become IOC president. But as the IOC session on Wednesday approved a plan to re-do the process by which it selects cities for the Summer and Winter Games — driven by Bach’s avowed concern that the current system produces too many “losers” — it’s perhaps worth wondering, why? And what of his own experience?

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

The 2026 election: change or be changed meets put up or shut up

Is Agenda 2020 for real? Or is it really just so much noise?

The 2026 election for the Winter Games, coming right up in just days between Stockholm-Åre and Milano-Cortina, might as well be subtitled: change or be changed meets put up or shut up.

Thomas Bach was elected International Olympic Committee president in September 2013. The next year, in December 2014, the IOC enacted his 40-point reform plan, Agenda 2020, and it has since become – purportedly – the basis of IOC strategic thinking. Layered on top of that came the New Norm in February 2018, 118 more points purportedly designed to effect further change.

Now comes the 2026 election, the first to test the Agenda 2020 blueprint.

The IOC’s difficulty in attracting candidate cities is well known – referendums, anyone? It is enough to note that the IOC almost surely considers it a huge win that for 2026 it has two western European candidates in for a vote. 

That, though, is not enough.

Sport at the crossroads: Seb Coe wins IAAF presidency

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BEIJING — With track and field at a historic crossroads, the IAAF membership on Wednesday elected Great Britain’s Seb Coe president.

Coe defeated Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, 115-92, two great champions of and advocates for the sport facing off in an election that reflected on track and field’s past but, more important, its future.

After the two men exchanged congratulations at the dais, an emotional Coe said, “I think for most of us in this room, we would conclude that the birth of our children are big moments in our lives, probably the biggest. But I have to say that being given the opportunity to work with all of you, to shape our sport, is probably the second-biggest momentous occasion in my life.”

Post-election news conference: IAAF spokesman Nick Davies; president Lamine Diack; president-elect Seb Coe; general secretary Essar Gabriel

Bubka, graceful, said, “I am a happy man and I am sitting in front of you because I love athletics,” what track and field is called everywhere in the world but the United States. “This is my life. Nothing has changed in my life. I will continue to serve athletics with dignity and deep passion, as I did before.”

A few minutes later, Bubka was elected vice president, along with representatives from Qatar (Dahlan Al Hamad, head of the Asian confederation), Cameroon (Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, chief of the African confederation), and Cuba (the legendary Alberto Juantorena, the 1976 Montreal 400 and 800 meters champ, now a key figure in his nation's sport hierarchy).

The 2019 world championships will be held in Doha, Qatar.

In another key development, USA Track & Field president Stephanie Hightower was easily elected to the IAAF’s ruling council. She secured the most votes, 163, for the six seats reserved for women on the board, more even than Olympic gold medalist Nawal el-Moutawakel, the IOC member and overseer of the 2016 Rio Games, who drew 160.

Stephanie Hightower // photo courtesy USATF

Hightower said she was "humbled and thrilled to have been selected to serve."

The 2021 world championships are due to be staged in Eugene, Oregon; the 2016 world indoors, next March in Portland.

“I congratulate Lord Coe on his election as IAAF president, and I am excited to continue to work with him on the important projects that our organization began with president Diack,” TrackTown USA president Vin Lananna said in a statement.

He added, “Together with our friends at the IAAF and USA Track & Field, I am confident that we will create a lasting legacy for the sport.”

Four more Americans won key posts Wednesday, too, signs of emerging USATF strength at the international level: Anne Phillips was elected chair of the federation’s women’s committee, Maryanne Daniel one of the two female members of the race-walking committee. Bill Roe was elected to the cross-country committee, David Katz re-elected to the IAAF technical committee.

In all, USATF went an unprecedented five-for-five -- an emphatic rebuttal to domestic naysayers who had been hugely critical of the nominees put forth last December in Los Angeles by the USATF board.

Hightower, Phillips and Daniel emerged as the top vote-getters in their categories.

“Putting these candidates forward was a strategic decision by our board to be a leader rather than a follower in the IAAF’s new era,” USATF board chair Steve Miller said.

"None of these outcomes was guaranteed. Our election success was the result of a lot of hard work by our candidates, our staff and by our closest colleagues in the IAAF congress. Today’s elections are simply the start of what will be many months and years of hard work at the IAAF level.”

Voting for the IAAF’s 27-member ruling council showed the emerging strength of the Middle East in world sports. In addition to Al Hamad, the IAAF elected representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Ahmad Al Kamali, and Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Nawaf Al Saud.

Spain’s Jose Maria Odriozola, meanwhile, took over as treasurer from Russia’s Valentin Balakhnichev.

The presidential vote total, 34 years to the day after he set a then-world record for the mile in Zurich, 3:48.53, reflected Coe’s strength around the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and North America. South America, with its 13 votes, was always a Bubka redoubt.

Svein Arne Hansen of Norway, president of the European athletics federation, issued a statement that said, “I would like to congratulate my friend Sebastian on bering elected as president of the IAAF. I am looking forward to working closely with him over the coming years for the good of our sport.”

Coe formally takes office on August 31, at the end of the 2015 world championships.

The winning margin, 23 votes, also may prove significant as things go forward: comfortable enough for Coe to claim a commanding mandate but not so large as to, in any way, embarrass Bubka.

Outgoing president Lamine Diack, who served for 16 years, said, “For me, it’s a dream come true that I can pass on the baton to a new generation, to Sebastian, who has been prepared for the job. And I think we can say that our sport is in safe hands …

“The white-haired generation,” Diack said, “has done what it could. Now over to the black-haired generation.”

Track and field has, of course, long been the centerpiece of the Summer Games.

As Coe noted at a post-election news conference, “Track and field is the No. 1 sport. I am absolutely delighted to be president of the No. 1 sport. I will do everything within my human capabilities to make sure our sport maintains the values, maintains the strong legacy and the very firm foundations president Diack has left me.”

At the same time, track is increasingly being challenged by, among others, swimming and gymnastics; moreover, survey after survey suggests young people may increasingly be interested in sitting on the couch and playing video games.

And track seems chronically to be beset by doping scandals — headline after headline in recent weeks, for instance.

During the campaign, Coe aggressively defended the IAAF’s anti-doping efforts.

“As you have seen,” he said to delegates from the more than 200 federations just before ballots were cast, “I will always be in your corner.

“Your fight is my fight.”

This proved consistent with his all-along strategy, which emphasized not only who he was — relationships in Olympic sport can be everything — but, even more so, a plain-spoken program of rich content.

In contrast, Bubka — who also ran a spirited campaign — was more apt to turn to the relationship aspect.

Sergey Bubka, presidential runner-up, IAAF vice president //  Getty Images

Two days before the election, for instance, Bubka sent out an email blast that linked to a photo album from stops along the campaign trail.

There is no question — zero — that Bubka, the 1988 gold medalist in the pole vault who for 10 years has been head of the national Olympic committee of Ukraine, is both personable and eminently likable.

In the end, however, the IAAF decided it wanted, and needed, more.

Time and again, Coe would go back not just to his record of achievement — Olympic gold medalist in the 1500 meters in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984, chief of the enormously successful London 2012 Games — but to the manifesto he put forward several months ago.

Broadly, Coe’s vision sketched out for the IAAF a platform rooted in integrity and credibility; creativity and change; enhanced transparency; the imperative of bringing in more sponsors, and doing more with existing corporate partners; increased financial and administrative support to the members; deeper connection with governments; intensified engagement with track’s current and potential audience, notably young people; and a far more robust communication strategy, both within the federation and out.

“Everything you do in the sport is underpinned by trust,” Coe said at that post-election news conference.

He also said, “This has been a very, very long, hard, tough campaign,” asserting it had “given the sport a chance to pause for breath, to review itself, renew itself, think about what the next 30 or 40 years look like.”

That the time for change is now had become crystal clear.

Even Diack himself said so, in the congress: “Perhaps you shouldn’t have elected me in 2011. I had already decided to leave,” adding a moment later, “But we decided to continue working together, and to pursue the path that we followed.”

That path has been a slow walk, the last few years of Diack’s presidency seeing the sport launch the World Relays in the Bahamas but otherwise stagnate in significant ways; the presentation of a track meet, for instance, pales in comparison to that of a world-class swim meet.

At the same time, Diack leaves the IAAF with what Coe called “an extremely strong foundation.” In 2016, the federation’s revenue projects out to $81.9 million, including a $40 million payout due from the IOC. IAAF reserves at the end of 2014 totaled about $74 million, up $12 million from just four years ago.

That said, as a financial report made public Wednesday underscored, the IAAF is hugely dependent on television rights fees — $27 million of its roughly $59 million in income for 2014 — and needs to figure out how to grow that pie.

Indeed, that’s the apt metaphor for track and field itself: it’s strong but there is so much sleeping potential there.

That, in a nutshell, is the theme Coe tapped into.

As he said at the news conference, “Our product is athletics but our business is entertainment.”

Coe at the IAAF congress // Getty Images

During the campaign, Coe also had some influential help.

It was known in closely held circles that the IOC president, Thomas Bach, would not have minded — not one bit — a Coe presidency, even though Bubka has for several years been a member of the IOC’s policy-making executive board.

Same for another key personality in the Olympic and international sports scene, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

John Coates of Australia, an IOC vice president, issued a statement calling the vote a “great day for athletics and international sport,” adding, “Seb was clearly best qualified for the presidency as not only an Olympic champion, businessman and politician but as a person of the very highest integrity and character who has organized a most successful Olympic Games.”

The British government assuredly played a role in supporting Coe’s campaign. Hugh Robertson, the 2012 Olympics minister, served as a lead advisor.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, took to Twitter:

Diack, at least publicly, remained studiously neutral during the race. But it was an open secret that he had been piqued two years ago when Bubka ran for the IOC presidency that Bach won; Bubka’s candidacy prevented Diack from publicly supporting Bach. Did any of that linger?

Coe logged over 700,000 kilometers in the air since Christmas, criss-crossing the world several times over to meet with track and field officials virtually everywhere.

On the flight to Beijing for this history-making 50th IAAF congress, three members of his team were asleep “before the wheels left the tarmac,” Coe said. A flight attendant said to Coe, wow, they sure seem relaxed. He said, “No, no, no — they’re absolutely knackered.”

He also said Wednesday about the marathon effort: “I would also like very briefly to thank my teams — because when I was asleep, they were still working hard into the night,” including the veteran strategist Mike Lee, who can now claim another victory.

Coe went on to note that credit was truly due his wife, saying she had "borne the brunt of most of this over the last year." He quipped, "I will be meeting her outside the main congress hall with a photograph of me, just to remind her what I look like.”

Coe gambled big-time Wednesday, standing only for president. Bubka put his name in for both the top spot and for vice-president.

Everyone thus understood at the core that if Coe lost, he was out of town on Thursday, and very likely out of the sport for good. Did track and field want to run the risk of losing his experience, expertise and more?

“Congress, friends,” Coe said in remarks before the balloting that would name just the sixth president in IAAF history, dating to 1912, “there is no task in my life for which I have ever been better prepared, no job I have ever wanted to do more and to do with greater commitment.

“With confidence and affection, my friends, I place myself in your hands today. If you place your trust in me, I will not let you down.”

The IOC's big bid problem

One of two Norwegian government parties voted Sunday against supporting Oslo’s bid for the 2022 Winter Games, Associated Press reported, in a three-paragraph story likely to be buried in the back pages of newspapers and de-emphasized by analytics monkeys at websites around the world. It’s 2014. It’s eight years until 2022. The International Olympic Committee isn’t even going to vote for the 2022 city until next year. Who could possibly care?

Everyone should care.

IOC president Thomas Bach leading the session in Sochi two days before the start of the 2014 Games // photo Getty Images

To put it another way — if you have even the most remote interest in the ongoing vitality of the Olympic movement, you should care.

To put it yet another way — the IOC has an enormous problem on its hands.

One notion here is to use the connotatively more neutral word “challenge” — as in,  the IOC has had a huge challenge for the last few bid cycles, and in particular Winter Games bid cycles, attracting enough interested and qualified cities.

Let’s be real, and the language has to reflect that reality.

The IOC has an enormous problem.

This big problem is of its doing, and is many, many years in the making.

The problem is complex.

It is various parts finance, governance, perception and (lack of, by the IOC) communication — with cities, states and nations saying the Games have become way, way, way too expensive; or they don’t like or don’t trust the IOC; or both.

Indeed, a 2008 survey by the British think tank One World Trust found that when looking at 30 corporations, inter-governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations, the IOC ranked 30th in what it called “accountability indicators,” suggesting it was the least accountable and transparent.

Ahead of the IOC on this ranking were such institutions as the International Atomic Energy Agency (29), NATO (28), Halliburton (26), Goldman Sachs (20) and Royal Dutch Shell (12).

In South Korea last Monday, at a good governance forum sponsored by the International Sport Cooperation Center, a Seoul National University professor, Min-Gyo Koo, reminded the audience of that survey, which in Olympic circles strangely has gotten little attention.

One of the panelists at the conference, Anita DeFrantz of the United States, now on the IOC executive board, a member since 1986, told the audience, “I cannot accept that we were behind Halliburton and Shell. That is not acceptable.”

Another panelist, Ivan Dibos of Peru, an IOC member since 1982, said, “”That No. 30 ranking could be looked at positively or negatively,” adding a moment later, “I take it as something positive and I rather prefer it that way.”

In the IOC’s defense, Koo said, at least the IOC made the top 30. Soccer governing body FIFA, he observed, didn’t.

This, then, is what it has come to — at least the IOC is on the list.

What it should be is this, as Koo also pointed out, the new IOC president, Thomas Bach, reminding one and all last December, albeit in the context of a dispute involving India’s national Olympic committee, “It’s about the principles … good governance for the IOC is a key issue. We need to be strict and to make sure the rules of good governance are applied.”

Governance is not sexy. But it is essential. And this should be a key focus of the IOC’s “Olympic Agenda 2020” process now working its way toward Monaco and the extraordinary session in December.

So should PR. The members of the IOC know it is a pass-through that keeps some percent of the money it takes in. Can they all say immediately what percent, to refute the perception the IOC is not some avaricious money-sucking beast? (It keeps roughly 10 percent, perhaps a touch less.) How many know the quadrennial Solidarity budget, which sends dollars back to developing countries for athlete development? (It’s $438 million for 2013-16.)

The same goes for finance — and the issue of how much the Games should cost.

The Sochi Games were, in hindsight, a success — but.

The $51 billion price tag for those Games is, in significant measure, its primary legacy, at least when it comes to the next couple bid cycles.

It does not matter — again and for emphasis, it does not matter one bit — whether that figure is true or not.

That is the number that is out there, and so that is the number everyone around the world believes.

It also does not matter — again, it simply does not matter — that the Games’ organizing budget was roughly a couple billion dollars and the rest went toward infrastructure.

The general public does not understand the difference between operating and infrastructure budgets. They don’t want to hear it. It’s all just money.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia had no winter sports facilities. Russia bid for the Games, and won. To get the job done, the Russians had to start from nothing. The short story of Sochi 2014 is that the Russians built two new cities, Adler and Krasnaya Polyana, from scratch.

That cost $51 billion.

The $51 billion question: who besides Russia has that kind of money?

China does. The 2008 Summer Games in Beijing purportedly cost roughly $40 billion.

This, then, is the problem.

Who in the world besides Russia or China has $40 or $51 billion just lying around? For a sports event that lasts 17 days -- even if, as the IOC consistently says, and virtually no one hears, most of that money is going toward roads, airports, metro lines, that kind of thing?

Big money. Big issues. Big problem.

It for sure does not help that Rio for 2016 is a hot mess.

Rio, too, is way, way, way over the initial infrastructure projections.

And despite the backtracking that IOC vice president John Coates engaged in after his initial comments last week — he’s now saying that, sure, Rio can “indeed deliver excellent Games” — it’s worth noting that in law school, they teach you in evidence class to pay attention to what people say when their message isn’t at risk for being shaped.

Coates, being an excellent lawyer, would surely know this.

What he said initially, of course, was that preparations for Rio — which he has visited six times as part of the IOC’s inspection team — were the “worst I have ever experienced.”

Sochi and Rio are the triggers.

The big problem facing the IOC, however, has been simmering for a long, long time. It is now finding increasing expression not just in Oslo but across western Europe, the IOC’s once and forever soul, which makes it all the more problematic.

In February, 2012, Rome withdrew from the 2020 campaign, the then-premier, Mario Monti, saying that a projected $12.5 billion was too much. Rome put on the 1960 Games.

In the afterglow of a European Summer Games in 2012, in London, arguably the best-ever Summer Olympics, voters in four -- and, now, maybe five -- separate countries have shot down Games bids:

In March, 2013, voters in Switzerland ended a 2022 bid for St. Moritz and Davos. St. Moritz staged the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948.

A few days later, voters in Austria rejected a Vienna 2028 plan. Innsbruck put on the 2012 Winter Youth Games; it staged the 1976 and 1964 Winter Games. And Salzburg bid for the 2014 and 2010 Winter Games.

Last November, balloting in Germany killed a Munich 2022 bid.

Munich would have been the presumptive 2022 favorite. The city played host to the 1972 Summer Games; it had bid for and lost (to Pyeongchang) for 2018; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, about an hour south, had staged the 1936 Winter Games.

Ludwig Hartmann, a Greens Party lawmaker and a leader of the movement, called “NOlympia,” that led the opposition to the plan, said, “The vote is not a signal against the sport but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC.”

Meanwhile, a leading German newspaper, Süddeutschen Zeitung, had run a column comparing the IOC to the mafia and the “North Korean regime.”

This past January, Stockholm pulled the plug on a 2022 bid, the City Council saying the project was too expensive. Stockholm staged the 1912 Summer Games.

Now, Oslo.

Nearby Lillehammer staged the 1994 Winter Games, lauded by many as the best-ever. And Oslo itself put on the 1952 Winter Games.

The global economic situation has already affected the 2024 Summer Games race, too: Mexico City, Toronto and two Russian cities, Kazan and St. Petersburg, have already pulled back for a variety of finance-related reasons.

This is not just an Olympic Games problem. This is an Olympic movement problem. Last month, Hanoi dropped out of staging the 2019 Asian Games, the once-every-four-years event attracting thousands of athletes, citing financial concerns.

In theory, there are five applicants still in the 2022 Winter Games contest: Oslo; Beijing; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Krakow, Poland.

Polish voters are due to vote later this month about the Krakow bid. Polls suggest a difficult situation.

Lviv is in western Ukraine; the eastern sector of that country is being ripped by armed conflict and the fate of the bid is highly uncertain.

That might leaves only three for 2022. Or would it be two?

AP reported the Progress Party vote Sunday against supporting Oslo’s bid is “likely” to put the city out of the race. In Norway, the Conservative and Progress parties rule in a coalition government; Progress Party members said the Games would affect the government’s ability to fund infrastructure projects, education, health care and tax cuts.

For 2018, the IOC managed only three Winter Games candidates: Pyeongchang, Munich and Annecy, France. And in the end, Annecy managed only seven votes.

For 2014, the IOC deemed only three bids worthwhile enough to pass along for a vote: Sochi, Pyeongchang and Salzburg, Austria.

The Oslo bid’s immediate future depends perhaps on whether it can still get the government to underwrite the needed financial guarantees, and whether those guarantees can be offered before the IOC’s July 8-9 executive board meeting. That’s when the 2022 list will be cut to the finalists — the cities that will actually go to a vote in July, 2015.

The IOC — and let’s also be clear about this — has a huge interest in seeing Oslo stay in the race. If the Polish referendum goes badly and if the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate, Oslo would be it for Europe for 2022.

For now, though, there’s this, from Atle Simonsen, the head of the youth wing of the Progress Party, speaking to Norwegian public broadcaster NRK: “Believing that the Oslo Olympics would cost under 50 billion kroner,” about $8.4 billion, ”is like believing in Santa Claus, when the Sochi Olympics cost 500 billion.”

 

A stealth Olympic summit

The International Olympic Committee held something of a stealth meeting of key power-brokers Sunday at its lakefront headquarters in  Lausanne, Switzerland, a move that illuminates the who's who and what's what behind the developing agenda of the recently elected president, Germany's Thomas Bach. Bach convened the meeting, not widely publicized beforehand and in an IOC release termed an "Olympic Summit," to address "the main topics of interest and concern" confronting the movement.

These the statement identified as the campaigns against doping and match-fixing, regulation of the sports calendar, autonomy of the sports movement and, finally, governance issues.

The scene Sunday at the IOC "summit" // photo courtesy of IOC/Richard Juilliart

Here, then, is a catalogue of how the new president intends to operate, his key list of action items and, perhaps most fascinatingly, a collection of advisers -- a kitchen cabinet, if you will -- that the release identified as "the senior representatives of the Olympic Movement's key stakeholders."

Like any list, it's not just who is on it but who is not that makes for the tell.

Among those who were there:

The three IOC vice presidents: Craig Reedie of Great Britain; Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco; John Coates of Australia.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, of course. Marius Vizer, the International Judo Federation and Sport Accord president, naturally. Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president. C.K. Wu, the head of the international boxing federation.

In May, the aquatics and gymnastics federations were elevated to the top tier of Olympic revenues, joining the track and field federation, the IAAF. The IAAF president, Lamine Diack of Senegal, was there Sunday; so was Julio Maglione of Urugay, president of FINA, the aquatics federation. The gymnastics federation president, Italy's Bruno Grandi? No.

The entire winter sports scene was represented solely by René Fasel, president of both the ice hockey and winter sports federations.

More: the heads of the national Olympic committees of the United States, China and Russia were invited to the meeting. But -- not France. Hello, Paris 2024?

Beyond that, the important take-aways from the meeting are these:

Reasonable people can quibble with the notion of whether doping, match-fixing, the calendar, autonomy and governance make for the spectrum of pressing issues facing the movement.

The new president, for instance, is keenly aware that the Olympic Games are the IOC's franchise and that keeping the franchise relevant to young people has to be the IOC's No. 1 priority. Nowhere on that list, moreover, is an exploration of the values central to the Olympic movement and how they might, should or do play out in today's world.

The president "invited the participants to share their ideas on these subjects," and a wide range of others, "and to be part of the permanent dialogue and ongoing reflection that the IOC wishes to increase with its main stakeholders," according to the release.

Bach is super-smart. He understands concepts such as "relevance" and "values." For sure.

But the action-item catalogue clearly and unequivocally demonstrates -- as Bach suggested during the presidential campaign, which ended with his election Sept. 10 in Buenos Aires -- that his focus is in problem-solving.

That means: solving the problems, or at least trying to, that are there, directly and identifiably, in front of him and the IOC.

Look at what the release says:

-- The IOC will set up a task force to coordinate efforts against match-fixing and illegal betting.

-- The participants agreed to set up an "experts' network" that will focus on issues of autonomy and governance.

-- The IOC will set up a "consultative working group" to deal with the calendar.

This calendar group, and it should be highlighted that this panel will be "under the leadership of the IOC," obviously has two unspoken priorities:

One, for those thinking long-range, is the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and whether -- as FIFA has been mulling, or not -- it can or should be moved to the winter. Such a move could well be problematic for a 2022 Winter Olympics. The IOC statement Sunday noted that the working group will discuss "the priority of current and future sports events within the global calendar."

Two, there's Vizer's suggestion, made when he was running last spring for SportAccord president, for a "Unified World Championships" that would feature 90-plus sports all going on at the same time. The group Sunday, Vizer included, the IOC statement said, agreed that "any new initiative has to respect the uniqueness of the Olympic Games."

Then there is the campaign against doping.

The release affirms the movement's "zero-tolerance" policy against drug cheats and backs the IOC's candidate for the presidency of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Reedie, who is expected to be affirmed at a meeting this month in South Africa. At the same time, it calls for WADA to become more of a "service organization," reflecting tensions with some international sports federations, who have suggested that the agency has been telling them what to do instead of serving their needs.

Whether this proves, in the long run, to actually be a good thing or not, and whether it actually gets played out, particularly with such real-world challenges such as the testing of Jamaican and Kenyan athletes now making headlines, remains to be seen.

Reedie, it should be noted, has consistently proven himself to be a shrewd player in sports politics across many constellations.

In the near term, meanwhile, all this shows conclusively that Bach is not only consolidating but demonstrating his own authority while simultaneously showing if not a bent, then at least a nod, toward collaboration.

It's of course absolutely a good thing that Bach seek the input of key constituent groups. In about a month, he will lead not only an executive board meeting in Lausanne but immediately afterward an EB retreat. Of course, how the EB and this new kitchen cabinet will mesh -- there is some overlap -- remains to be seen.

At the same time, as Jacques Rogge before him and Juan Antonio Samaranch before that proved, while the IOC is something of a democracy, the institution has traditionally functioned best when the president demonstrates a clear and decisive hand.

It took Rogge some time to figure this out. He made a show at the beginning of his first term of wanting the IOC to be far more democratic. The 2002 Mexico City session, which devolved into hours upon hours of democracy -- the members voicing all manner of opinion about baseball, softball and modern pentathlon, and their roles in the program, with nothing getting done -- put an end to that. After that, he started acting way more presidential.

Bach, it appears, gets from the start that he is the man. That's the way it should be.

One other thing that is notable is that the IOC, at the end of this one-day summit, had this multi-point action plan more or less ready to go. Anyone who has done committee work knows that committees don't do action work readily or easily. So this was already well in the works -- the deal points already hammered out, apparently via pre-meetings -- well before the new president summoned all "the senior representatives" to Lausanne for the face-to-face summit that produced the news release.

Note, by the way, the careful use of language. These were not "some senior representatives." The release pointedly makes use of the definite article, the word "the," before "senior representatives." The new president is by nature precise -- that's how that list of people got invited Sunday.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is called leadership.

 

How to decode IOC news releases

The headlines Wednesday were all about Richard Carrión stepping down from his senior positions within the International Olympic Committee in the aftermath of his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency. Carrión, a banking executive from Puerto Rico, resigned from his "different positions within the IOC," the organization said in a news release, in particular his role as chairman of the finance commission. Under his watch, IOC reserves grew to more than $900 million, ensuring the IOC's financial security.

Carrión also resigned as the IOC's point man on TV rights deals outside of Europe but agreed to stay on in that position through the Sochi Games, which end Feb. 23, to afford the IOC -- and new president Thomas Bach -- continuity.

Carrión will remain a regular IOC member. But he will also step down from his position as chair of the audit committee and walk away from his spot on the coordination commission for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

IOC member Richard Carrión

That's the news that went around the world on the wires Wednesday, and it is 100 percent accurate.

But, as ever, the back stories are way more interesting.

Bach is in the first stages of team-building.

Carrión, meanwhile, runner-up to Bach in the September election, did the honorable -- and classy -- thing by tendering his resignations. It's that simple.

He and Bach met last Friday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Any effort to suggest that Carrión is resigning out of anger or spite would be just way off base.

Indeed, Carrión put out a statement that said, "It has been an extraordinary privilege and experience to have chaired the IOC finance commission for the past 11 years and to have fulfilled agreements that have helped secure a solid financial foundation for the Olympic movement.

"I have always thought that a new leader needs room to set a course and select his team. As such, I submitted my resignation for President Bach's consideration. I look forward to continuing my service as an IOC member, and help in any way with the new leadership's transition."

Bach won the Sept. 10 election, at the IOC's landmark 125th session in Buenos Aires, with 49 votes in the second round; Carrión came in second in the six-man field with 29. Also at that session: Tokyo won for 2020 and the IOC reinstated wrestling to the Summer Games program for 2020 and 2024.

Singapore's Ser Miang Ng, another of the candidates, will chair the next meeting of the finance commission in December, the IOC said in that release.

To find the news that Carrión was stepping down from his various positions -- and that Ng would be handling the December meeting -- you had to read all the way down to the fourth paragraph in that release.

The third: Arne Ljungqvist of Sweden, Gerhard Heiberg of Norway and Hein Verbruggen of Holland would continue in their roles as chairmen of the medical commission, marketing commission and Olympic Broadcasting Services until after Sochi 2014, again for the sake of continuity; their terms had been due to run at the end of the Buenos Aires meeting.

Up top: John Coates of Australia will chair the Tokyo 2020 coordination commission, and Frankie Fredericks of Namibia the 2018 Buenos Aires Youth Games, and this is where you start to see Bach's team-building start to take shape.

Concentrating here on Tokyo 2020 because one of Bach's campaign suggestions is a review of the Youth Games project, an initiative launched by his predecessor, Jacques Rogge:

Make no mistake -- Coates is a shrewd pick as coordination chair, absolutely qualified on any number of levels. He is a super-smart lawyer; veteran international federation official (rowing); has experience helping to oversee a Games (Sydney 2000); and has service on two other coordination committees (London 2012, Rio 2016).

Beyond all that, during the campaign season, Coates was well-known to be a Bach supporter. Further, Coates is himself a newly elected IOC vice president with no upward IOC political ambition. The new president can absolutely, totally count on Coates' loyalty.

The vice-chair of the Tokyo 2020 CoCom: Alex Gilady of Israel.

This is a no-brainer, and for three reasons.

One, Gilady is one of the world's foremost experts on television and the Olympic Games.

Two, he has served -- or serves still -- on the Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 CoComs.

Three, it is the fortunate soul who gets the counsel of Alex Gilady. He was there always and in all ways for Rogge and the IOC president before Rogge, Juan Antonio Samaranch. Now, Thomas Bach.

Also on the 2020 CoCom:

Two up-and-comers, the swimming great Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, and Mikaela Cojuangco-Jaworski of the Philippines, who is a champion equestrienne and an actress.

Also: Anita DeFrantz of the United States, elected in Buenos Aires to the IOC's policy-making executive board, with the backing of Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah. After 12 years of being largely on the sidelines, she clearly is seeking a more dynamic role like the one she had during the Samaranch years.

As of Sept. 10, so that it is clearly understood, this is the power structure of the IOC: Bach is, indisputably, at the top;  the sheikh is his ally;  and, in perhaps the most intriguing piece of news in that IOC release, in a note far down that has received almost no attention whatsoever in all the stories that ricocheted around the world, there is the undeniable emergence of Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation.

Vizer, last spring, was elected head of SportAccord, the umbrella federation for the international sports federations.

The IOC release, of course without comment, noted that he, too, would be part of the Tokyo 2020 CoCom, representing ASOIF, the federation of summer sports federations.

His appointment shows how quickly things can change.

Vizer and the sheikh are known to have an excellent relationship. The same, obviously, for the sheikh and the new president.

When Vizer was running for the SportAccord post, he suggested the notion of a "United World Championships" for all federations every four years. That could be seen as a direct challenge to the Olympics.

Bach, months ago when announcing his presidential candidacy, without referring directly to Vizer or Vizer's proposal, emphasized the IOC must work to keep the Olympics the "most attractive event in the world."

He added, "We must ensure that the uniqueness of the Olympic Games is not diluted by other events and that other incentives to not distract the athletes from viewing the Olympic Games as the real peak and ultimate goal of their efforts."

That was then. This is now.

Like a lot of other people in Olympic circles who at first wondered about Vizer but have come to know him better over the spring and summer, the judo federation president has gained a considerable following. They say now he is sophisticated, innovative and backs up his talk when it comes to putting athletes at the center of the experience.

Also, the IJF media output could teach much-larger federations a thing or two, particularly in our digital age.

Further, there's this:

There were many forces -- the sheikh, of course, and more -- that helped secure Bach's election. The dynamics at work in Buenos Aires included wrestling's push to get back into the Games over squash and a combined bid from baseball/softball as well as Tokyo's 2020 showdown with Madrid and Istanbul.

Russian interests in particular, it was said quietly in Buenos Aires, were keen to see what proved to be the winning triple play -- Tokyo, wrestling, Bach -- and it takes literally less than a second's search on the internet to produce a photo of Vizer together with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Russian state is overseeing the spending of more than $50 billion to prepare Sochi for 2014. Putin's influence in the Olympic movement is, in a word, profound.

The absolutely reasonable -- and undeniable -- conclusion to draw from the Tokyo 2020 CoCom list is this:

It's nothing less than a trial balloon for Marius Vizer's name as a candidate for IOC membership.

This is the way these things get done. See Japan's Tsunekazu Takeda, who served on the Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 CoComs. He was made an IOC member in 2012 and in September led Tokyo to victory for 2020.

Marius Vizer a member, and sooner than later. Remember, you read it here first.

 

Bearing down, Sochi-style, for volunteers

SOCHI, Russia -- For those of us lucky enough to live in Los Angeles,  it's both normal and yet incredible what inevitably happens when there's some sort of Olympic-themed event in town. It has already been 26 years since the 1984 Summer Games. And yet, whenever there's something Olympic going on, it's all but guaranteed that someone in the crowd will, unprompted, announce both that he or she was a volunteer at those 1984 Games and that it still ranks way up high there on the list of life's great experiences.

Which is why being here, in Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Games, is -- among many reasons -- so intriguing.

There's no real volunteer culture in Russia.

And that's a fact they're trying to change -- indeed, already making some small headway -- with the Sochi Games as catalyst. A "new page in our country," Dmitri Vityutnev,  the Russian official overseeing the volunteer effort, said in a speech  here Thursday.

 

 

That there is a Russian ministry official in charge of volunteering speaks to the nature of how things are different here than in, for instance, the United States, where the tradition is firmly established and is hardly considered a state function.

That there is a Russian ministry official in charge of volunteering also speaks, loudly and clearly, to how an Olympics can produce a legacy that extends beyond the construction of, say, a ski jump ramp -- and how that legacy doesn't have to wait until a Games is over to become real.

"The volunteers are a new generation -- like the generation in the mid-'60s called the baby boomers," said a 19-year-old university student, Ekaterina Tskhakaya, a volunteer at a 10-day workshop here for what's called Generations for Peace.

All six prior Generations for Peace workshops -- the outreach project aims to use sport as a means to defuse conflict -- have been held in the Middle East. The program was launched by Prince Feisal of Jordan and his wife, Princess Sarah, a couple increasingly influential in International Olympic Committee circles.

This seventh workshop is here, in Sochi -- in part a reflection of the growth of the Generation for Peace brand and in part a mini-model for some of the initiatives the Russians aim to promote before, during and after the 2014 Games.

Like the concept of volunteerism.

Most people in the world will never attend an Olympic Games in person. For that matter, even in a city staging the Games it may not be all that easy to score a ticket.

Those two reasons explain why the reach of the movement arguably finds its greatest one-to-one in-person connection in one of two ways:

The journey of the Olympic flame relay.

And volunteering.

An Olympics, Summer or Winter, is now such a grand-scale undertaking that it would be impossible to run a Games without volunteers. The London 2012 organizing committee volunteer effort, for instance, makes for Britain's biggest post-World War II volunteer recruiting campaign.

London 2012 organizers need 70,000 volunteers. They announced Thursday that more than 100,000 have already applied, 2012 Games chairman Seb Coe telling the Associated Press he is "thrilled with the response we've had."

A volunteer force that's sub-par can make for a major Games buzz-kill. On the other hand, a great volunteer crew indisputably makes a great Games great.

Wilfried Lemke, the United Nations' special advisor on the use of sport as a development and peace-building tool, said here earlier in the week amid a presentation to the Generations for Peace group -- 57 delegates from 11 nations -- that what he recalls most about the 2008 Beijing Games is the volunteer spirit.

"I might forget who won the 5,000 meters in track and field. But," he said referring to an 18-year-old volunteer, Wang Yang, who helped look after him in Beijing, "I will never forget the kindness of how she welcomed me with a ni hao every morning," Chinese for hello and welcome.

It's foolish to pretend that such one-on-one goodwill doesn't hold the potential for positive political, diplomatic and business consequences.

There are roughly 20-some million Australians and before the 2000 Sydney Games there were doubts in some quarters about the ability of a nation that small to pull it all off. Now those Games are remembered as one of the best-ever, if not the best, and in significant measure because the volunteers were so incredibly friendly and helpful.

"I've had successive prime ministers tell me that when they travel other world leaders want to talk to them about the Sydney Games," the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, said in an interview last month marking the tenth anniversary of those Games.

Vityutnev on Thursday handed out a passport-sized booklet to the Generations for Peace audience, and for the six Russians among the 57 it probably held extra significance -- Vityutnev saying the idea is that volunteers will fill the booklet just like you fill a real passport, and that a record of such volunteer service will be promoted as a career-builder.

Russia is hardly the only country in this part of the world confronting -- in some cases again, in some anew -- the concept of volunteerism.

In Serbia, "we have had to build it up again like a phoenix," said Andrej Pavlovich, one of the 57 in the audience. A 30-year-old English teacher, he served as a supervisor in the organizing of more than 10,000 volunteers for the 2009 University Games in Belgrade. A "milestone," he said.

They're looking for 25,000 volunteers for the Sochi 2014 Games.

There were 10 on hand here Thursday at the Generations for Peace workshop, identifiable in their white T-shirts with black sleeves or blue polo shirts.

"Hey, every1! I'm a Volunteer!" Dana Vorokova wrote in the volunteers' newsletter (already -- a volunteers' newsletter). "It's G8!"

Ekaterina Tskhakaya also contributed to the newsletter. She wrote, "The obligations of volunteers have no limits. You can never know what kind of situation you will face, and when.

"You must always be ready to take on any job and this is what makes our work exciting. It starts from stuffing refrigerators with water and providing delegates with pens to helping the lecturers make their presentations and translating to royal highnesses.

"You know, when sending applications to participation in the event you never know what surprises are waiting for you. I love this feeling of getting involved in all sorts of activity, gaining all-around experience, investigating and which is more important -- making your own contribution to the event."

Sydney: still the best-ever

The night that Cathy Freeman won the 400 at the Sydney Olympics, some 118,000 people jammed into Olympic Stadium. Down on the field, she would later say, the sound and light and noise was almost overwhelming. So, too, the expectation. She said it was like trying to get your bearings and finding yourself in electric jello. Just off the track, in a VIP box near the finish line, the chief organizer of those 2000 Sydney Games, Michael Knight, was sharing the evening with a number of influential aboriginal activists, among them Lyall Munro, a campaigner for aboriginal rights since the 1960s.

Cathy Freeman, in Lane Six, was not first as the field swung around the final turn, the stadium keening with sound. But then she turned on the jets. She won convincingly. And as she crossed the line, as all those in Knight's box gave in to cheers and hugs, they noticed that Lyall Munro had tears in his eyes. They were tears of joy.

"In 50 seconds," Lyall Munro told Michael Knight that night, a rough estimate of how long it took Cathy Freeman to complete one revolution around the track, "that young woman has done for my people than I've done in a lifetime."

The tenth anniversary of the Sydney Olympics arrived Wednesday. Already so long ago -- there have been five editions of the Games since, Summer or Winter -- and yet those 2000 Games remain for many the best Olympics ever.

Click here to read the rest at TeamUSA.org.