Juan Antonio Samaranch

'Unity in diversity,' and other wintry musings

'Unity in diversity,' and other wintry musings

For the last month, it has been all Winter Olympics in South Korea. Now, amid a blowing snowstorm in Birmingham, England, the world indoor track and field championships are on. All this cold, wind and snow — there’s time to think about this and that:

1. Of course the Russian Olympic Committee was reinstated just days after the close of the PyeongChang Games. 

To reiterate a point made in this space frequently, sports doping is bad. But sports doping is not the measure of all things. Also, sports doping happens in every country. 

It is way more important to the International Olympic Committee, and has been since the days when Juan Antonio Samaranch was president, to keep the so-called Olympic family together. This proposition is key. Indeed, when he was running for the office, the current president, Thomas Bach, made it his motto: “Unity in diversity.” 

Congress, yet again, proves Mark Twain right


“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.”

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


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.”


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:


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.


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.


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.

Sepp Blatter is resigning -- or is he?


Way back when in journalism school at Northwestern, they taught us to be entirely skeptical about a great many things. The lesson they taught us in Evanston went like this: if your mother says she loves you, check it out. This maxim comes to mind now in assessing the state of soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, and in particular the status of its president, Sepp Blatter. Thousands upon thousands of words have been written since he purported earlier this month to be resigning. Yet among all those words, perhaps the most relevant seem to be missing amid that “resignation”: a resignation letter.

It’s axiomatic that a genuine resignation leads to the execution of such a document. Has one surfaced?


Sepp Blatter during the June 2 news conference at FIFA headquarters // Getty Images

Or, perhaps, not really, not if you believe that Blatter never had any intention of resigning and, all along, his “resignation” has been the first step in an elaborate dance that he concocted to buy time.

And why not?

After all, he got 133 votes in that election on May 29.

Who then can really be surprised at reports this week that maybe, just maybe, Blatter might not really be out the door?

To be clear, and for maximum emphasis: allegations of systemic corruption have shadowed FIFA for years, and now the time would seem to be upon it for change. But simply shouting, over and over, loud and louder, for Blatter’s head, is not necessarily in and of itself change.

A journalistic mob brandishing the digital equivalent of pitchforks and torches is not helpful. It might feel swell to be part of the mob. But it’s empty.

The serious questions that need to be asked are these: what kind of hard change needs to be effected, and who are the right people to effect that change?

A few years after journalism school, I went to law school, to the University of California’s branch in San Francisco. I graduated and even (first try!) passed the California bar exam. Maybe, over the years, I have proven to be a better journalist than a lawyer. But along the way I did manage to pick up a few lawyering tips. Here’s one:

The rules matter.

At the San Francisco law firm where I worked after graduation, a senior partner once advised that it was a good idea at the start of each calendar year to review the particular statutes of each and every area of what lawyers like to call “subject-matter jurisdiction.”

To make it easy, in the case of FIFA the relevant statutes at issue are Articles 22 to 24.

Article 24 lays out who can be a candidate for president. Blatter knows this one well.

Article 23 details the one-country, one-vote rule that is so essential to the 209-member FIFA system, and that assuredly has to be a focus of the moment for reformers and conservatives alike.

It’s already common knowledge in international sport circles that Michel Platini, the UEFA president, met last week in Lausanne, Switzerland, the International Olympic Committee's base, with Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, the president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and, as well, a new member of FIFA’s executive committee, which in soccer circles is commonly called the ExCo. All anyone had to do was be at the plaza bar at the Beau Rivage hotel to see what was what.

Platini’s name keeps getting floated as a Blatter successor, as if Europe is somehow entitled to get its way next, again, after 17 years of the Swiss Blatter. The sheikh, meanwhile, who has a way of making things happen in whatever arena he plays in, has been mentioned as a potential successor as well, even though he is likely far more interested in ANOC, and in particular the promise of a Beach Games project.

At any rate, for Blatter’s purposes going forward, it is Article 22 that is most essential.

In theory, that would be as a predicate to revisiting Article 24.

The issue is, how does Article 22 relate in practice to Article 24?

Because it would appear there's a serious disconnect.

Recall that on June 2, when he said he was resigning, Blatter said he was calling for an extraordinary congress. Or, maybe, he was calling on the ExCo to set up such a congress.

Blatter exiting the stage after announcing June 2 he was out // Getty Images

The distinction is rather important.

Here was Blatter at the news conference that day: “Therefore, I ask to convene an extraordinary congress as soon as possible.”

Here was Blatter in the same-day news release from FIFA: “The next ordinary FIFA Congress will take place on 13 May 2016 in Mexico City. This would create unnecessary delay and I will urge the Executive Committee to organize an Extraordinary Congress for the election of my successor at the earliest opportunity.”

According to multiple reports, including the BBC, FIFA appears inclined to schedule the extraordinary congress for Dec. 16 in Zurich. An ExCo meeting, at which the date of the congress would obviously be high on the agenda, is set for July 20.

Back to the rules.

Article 22 says clearly that the ExCo may convene an Extraordinary Congress “at any time.”

But not at the president’s request.

Only if “one-fifth of the members make such a request in writing.”

One-fifth of 209 is 41.8.

Thus 41 or 42 nations, depending on whether you’re rounding up or down, have to ask — in writing — for an extraordinary congress.

In an era of purported transparency and ferocious interest in its business, doesn’t FIFA owe it to the world to make public the list of the nations requesting this extraordinary congress?


“An Extraordinary Congress shall be held within three months of receipt of the request.”

The ExCo meeting is scheduled for July 20.

Three months past July takes the calendar to, at the latest, October.

Further complicating matters, a FIFA statement issued June 11 — announcing that July 20 ExCo meeting — said, “During the meeting, the agenda for the elective Congress will be finalized and approved. The extraordinary elective Congress will take place in Zurich between December 2015 and February 2016 as announced by the FIFA president on 2 June 2015.”

So what’s going on?

Dec. 16? When the rules clearly say three months max after, in this instance, July 20?

Here’s a theory, with several layers:

There’s going to be a fall guy, for sure, and despite the rush to judgment in the mainstream press — in the United States, in Latin America and in western Europe — who is to say it’s going to be Blatter?

As for Blatter himself being a “focus” of the Justice Department case: Blatter presumably learned after the ISL mess some years ago not to leave his fingerprints on anything substantive.

And as for that DOJ case:

Any evidence that Chuck Blazer might have to offer might well have to be submitted by deposition because by the time these cases make it to trial Mr. Blazer might or might not still be with us on this earthly coil. Feel free to ask a more experienced lawyer than me whether such evidence is in the first instance admissible in federal court or, next, liable to amount to a winning strategy.

As for Jack Warner — again, ask a more experienced lawyer whether he or she would relish the opportunity to cut Mr. Warner up on cross-examination. The very first item would be Mr. Warner’s video brandishing The Onion, the satirical newspaper, and let’s take it from there.

If one reads the FIFA website carefully, one would have noted on June 4, just two days after his “resignation,” a release touted Blatter’s proclamation that meaningful reform was already underway.

So, again, why Dec. 16?

Recall that the Swiss authorities have launched their own investigation into FIFA’s affairs.

In these sorts of things, June to December can be a long, long time.

What if, say, by December, that Swiss inquiry turns up nothing of significance?

You don’t think so? The European legal system can be very different than the American. The U.S. system, for instance, is premised on plea-bargaining, and such deals are typically used to pressure those caught in the system to sing in an effort to nail those higher up; it often doesn’t work that way in Europe, where singing is thought to be a means of inventing. Also, the emphasis in Europe is typically in “keeping your collective nose out of other nations’ legal affairs,” according to a quote to be found in no less than the Economist, which assuredly has been zealous in its anti-Blatter reporting.

If Blatter gets a free pass or its equivalent from the Swiss inquiry, he would then be able to appear before the extraordinary congress and say, 133 of you voted for me in the spring — would you like me to continue my mandate?

Who’s to say the members wouldn’t — in December, just nine days before Christmas — be feeling the holiday spirit?


Really? Any more than winning re-election just days after the U.S. indictments themselves?

Remember, some 15 years ago Juan Antonio Samaranch led the IOC through the Salt Lake City scandal.

Don’t fall into the “Samaranch was a fascist loser” trap that is the trope among many on the outside looking in. Within the IOC, Samaranch was, and remains, revered. The issue is, how within FIFA is Blatter viewed?

The answer is pretty obvious: 133 votes from the delegates. And that widely reported standing ovation from the staff.

To those who insist soccer needs an outsider: recall the U.S. Olympic Committee’s experience roughly six years ago with Stephanie Streeter as chief executive. It simply did not work. She and it proved a bad fit, and anyone who would come in from outside to try to run FIFA almost surely would prove the same, and for the same reason — culture. You have to know soccer to run soccer.

You can like it or not. But you can almost hear Blatter saying just that, can’t you?

Of course, maybe FIFA is, actually, committed to fantastic reform.

Back to the future: Sepp Blatter said June 2 he is resigning. Do you believe him?

The IOC president as Action Man


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.”

Mario Vazquez Raña dies: the passing of an era


Mario Vazquez Raña of Mexico died Sunday. He was 82. With him goes an era. Don Mario was indisputably the most important man in the Olympic movement in the entire western hemisphere. His ways may have been old-fashioned but his love for the movement and the so-called “Olympic family” were unquestioned. His counsel served International Olympic Committee presidents Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge. His jet, too.

Unclear now is who is positioned to take Vazquez Raña’s place in the Americas, if anyone. The 2016 Summer Games are of course in Brazil. The United States is bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, with that election in 2017. The 2015 Pan American Games are in Canada.

There are four primary languages at issue — Spanish, English, Portuguese and French.

The central issue is that there is no one — no one— quite like Don Mario.

Mexico's Mario Vazquez Raña // photo courtesy OEM

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told Associated Press “we will always remember him as a great Olympic leader,” declaring the Olympic flag at IOC headquarters at the lakeshore Chateau de Vidy would be flown at half-mast in his honor.

"The Olympic family in Mexico and indeed the world are mourning this loss,” the president of the Mexican Olympic Committee, Carlos Padilla Becerra, said in a statement.

U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst said he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Vazquez Raña’s passing. “Mario,” he said, “served the Olympic movement for the majority of his adult life, and advanced Olympic sport in the western hemisphere like few before him.”

“Mario was a legendary leader, a dear friend and an esteemed colleague,” added Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Vazquez Raña was much-misunderstood by many.

In part, that is because he preferred to operate almost exclusively in Spanish. In part, that is because he was an operator, in every sense of the word. In part, it is because — though he was a media magnate and himself interviewed hundreds if not thousands of world leaders, dignitaries and celebrities, enough to fill a nine-volume set of hardbound books and more — he permitted only a handful of English-speaking reporters, if that many, into his inner circle.

When he was in Mexico City, that circle invariably met for lunch every day in his offices. This was where the matters of the world, the state, the Olympic movement, the Olympic family and, perhaps most important, family were discussed.

To Don Mario, if you were in his circle of trust, you were in.

Criticism was OK — it was a part of life, as long as it was fair, reasoned and straightforward. He knew and accepted criticism.

Indeed, he sometimes sought criticism. Only fools, he would say, did not want criticism. Nobody got along with just yes people.

Trust — now trust was a commodity to be earned, over time.

Don Mario had the trust of Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980-2001, and then Rogge, president from 2001-13.

Samaranch used to say that the harmony of the Olympic movement used to depend on three “pillars” — the IOC itself , the international federations and the national Olympic committees. But when Vazquez Raña took over the Assn. of National Olympic Committees in 1979, that third pillar was comparatively weak.

Under his leadership, it became a force. Him, too.

For years he oversaw the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity commission, which oversaw the disbursement of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to developing nations in a bid to get promising athletes to the Games.

He served as ANOC head for 33 years.

“An anecdote may illustrate his love for sports,” said Eduardo Palomo, president of the El Salvador Olympic Committee.

Just two years ago, on a tour of four South American countries in six days to evaluate sites for the 2019 Pan Am Games, Palomo said, Vazquez Raña “shared his middle school years.” He told how when “during recess he went to his family’s store to work, his classmates made fun of him.

“Later, he hired them to work for him.”

The intensity of the four-countries-in-six-days trip, Palomo said, “left no room for mistakes or leisure.” Vazquez Raña was “always punctual, always focused on demanding excellence for the Games in the same proportion he was giving of himself.”

Two and a half years ago, the winds of change finally caught up with Don Mario. He gave up control of ANOC; it is now headed by Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, who is arguably now the consummate IOC insider.

Vazquez Raña, meanwhile, stayed on in the Olympic world as head of the Pan American Sports Organization.

Recently, he missed a PASO meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — a sign he truly was ailing.

Jimena Saldaña worked with Don Mario for — to be precise — 30 years and two months. She is now first vice-president of the Mexican Olympic Committee, secretary-general of PASO, a member of the executive committee of PASO and a member, too, of the IOC Solidarity Commission.

When Vazquez Raña could not go to Puerto Vallarta, she said, he “called me and said, how is everybody, are they happy with their accommodations, that kind of thing — the Olympic family, is the transportation doing fine, the little details.

“I don’t think that in his mind anything gave him such satisfaction as the Olympic movement.”

She had last seen him, along with her husband, on Friday.

“He woke up and greeted me. We shook hands, he smiled. We said it was such a beautiful day, said we were happy he could look out on such a beautiful garden. We asked how he was doing. He said, ’So-so.’

“I kissed him and said, ‘See you tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Come back tomorrow.’ ”

“I was happy I could see him again.”

Don Mario died at 1 p.m. Sunday.

A wink, a nod, an op-ed, insurance, so many questions


Give the U.S. Olympic Committee credit. For years, as the dismal results from the New York 2012 and Chicago 2016 votes proved, it simply was not effectively in the Olympic bid game. What it needed was a wink and a nod, a high sign if you will, from the International Olympic Committee, that the IOC not only wanted a city to bid from the USOC, but which city. The USOC got that last week when IOC president Thomas Bach wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe two days before the USOC picked its city for the 2024 Summer Games. It picked Boston.

The fascinating question now is whether it’s genuinely in the IOC’s interest, in signaling that choice, for Boston to win.

Or whether in seemingly directing the USOC to pick Boston, the IOC is only playing the USOC — manipulating it so that the IOC gets as strong a field as possible for a 2024 race designed to attract maximum worldwide attention after the debacle that is the 2022 Winter Games race, which has devolved into a two-city derby, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The IOC won’t make its 2024 choice until the summer of 2017, two-plus years from now.

USOC board chairman Larry Probst at Friday's news conference in Boston // Getty Images

A lot can, and surely, will happen. Bids are possible from Rome; Paris; Germany; and elsewhere.

If the South Africans finally prove serious about getting in for 2024, they will run Durban. Because of the IOC’s stubborn refusal to allow bid visits — a plank that didn’t make it into the so-called “Agenda 2020” reforms, Bach’s 40-point plan approved last month in Monaco — the members will not be allowed to visit Boston. But most of the members will have been to seaside Durban, because that was where the IOC held its assembly in 2011.

To be perfectly blunt: IOC campaigns are not for the faint of heart or the politically naive.

So many variables.

What if, as is now the talk in some circles, FIFA, the international soccer federation, awards its 2026 World Cup in 2017 — in, say, May 2017? That is, just before the IOC vote.

Wouldn’t US Soccer love to get back on the opportunity it missed out on for 2018 and 2022, won by Russia and Qatar, respectively? Wouldn’t FIFA love to capitalize on the purportedly growing U.S. interest in soccer? Don’t think for a second, by the way, that there is much love lost between FIFA and the IOC.

What then for an American Olympic bid?

While Bach and FIFA’s Sepp Blatter — assuming Blatter is re-elected — sort things out, both for 2022 and 2026, this much is elemental: the way Bach runs the IOC is in many ways evocative of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the IOC president from 1980-2001.

Samaranch knew what he wanted. Bach seems to be following the same path.

As an example: in Monaco, Bach allocated two days for passage of Agenda 2020. Just like Samaranch would have done, however, he clearly had worked things out beforehand via personal meetings or on the phone (or, now, via email). All 40 measures got passed in just one day.

That is why the Bach op-ed piece in Tuesday’s Globe is so telling.

By itself, it was anodyne, a recitation of the passage in Monaco of the 40 Agenda 2020 bullet points.

The issue here is context.

The other three cities competing against Boston for USOC consideration: San Francisco, Washington, Los Angeles.

Did Bach’s op-ed run in the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times? No.

Did it run in the New York Times, the de facto paper of record in the United States? No.

USA Today? No.

Let’s not be obtuse.

When unusual things present themselves, reasonable people are given to ask, what’s going on?

In this instance: why did the IOC take the unusual step of interjecting itself into the USOC’s domestic bid process?

Theory 1:

Last May, NBC paid $7.65 billion dollars (plus an extra $100 million “signing bonus” to be used for “the promotion of Olympism”) for the right to televise the Games in the United States from 2021 through 2032. The first Summer Games: 2024.

NBC has never -- and would never -- exercise its influence to lobby for a particular city. The network does not do that. That's the gospel truth.

However, this much is not rocket science: an East Coast time zone amounts to a home Games for NBC Olympics, which is based in Stamford, Connecticut.

Washington was never going to get 2024. Never. So that leaves Boston.

If this theory is plausible, then the Globe op-ed signals that what you see is what you get — Bach has given the USOC the wink and the nod and the rest of the next two-plus years is pretty much for show. Hey, Paris, Rome, Durban, whoever: thanks for playing and see you in Boston in 2024.

So is it really that simple? Or are things more layered?

Theory 2:

Everyone connected to the process knew Los Angeles had the best bid. Even the oddsmakers, who made it an even-money choice.

Indeed, the LA bid contained surprises that may never become public, including a big bang that unequivocally wowed everyone at the USOC and would have gone far to enhance the IOC’s furtherance of sustainability and legacy.

Further, the choice of Boston is layered with contradictions.

“Bostonians are well known for their enthusiasm for sport and the city has a great heritage in sport, science and education,” Bach told Associated Press after the selection.

Like Los Angeles doesn’t?

Los Angeles has three top-25 universities: Cal Tech, USC and UCLA. Boston has two: Harvard and MIT.

You want championships: Lakers? Kings? USC in college football? UCLA in college basketball?

The very thing that supposedly worked against Los Angeles in recent bid efforts — that the dorms at USC and UCLA served as housing in 1984 — is now a big plus for Boston’s 2024 bid? College dorms in Boston are a plus but a minus in LA? Say what?

There are dozens of universities in and around Boston. That’s the key demographic the IOC is seeking, and supposedly a big Boston plus. What about all the Cal State schools (LA, Northridge, Dominguez Hills, on and on), the Claremont colleges, the dozens and dozens of community colleges in and around Los Angeles?

The IOC, in Agenda 2020, talks big about sustainability. Yet Boston 2024 has to build an Olympic stadium while Los Angeles is home to the iconic Coliseum.

How much will that Olympic stadium cost? Let’s see. LA has been without an NFL team for 20 years. Last Monday, the owner of the St. Louis Rams — the Rams used to play in Southern California — announced plans to build a stadium in Inglewood, California, the LA Times noting that new stadiums tend to run to $1 billion or more. How is a new Olympic stadium in Boston going to prove in line — in any way — with the Agenda 2020 call for enhanced frugality?

And this: “I knew that Boston was destined to win this,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said after the USOC decision. As the Boston Globe reported, Boston 2024 paid about $1 million for an insurance policy of up to $25 million to protect City Hall “from any liabilities associated with the bid,” signing off on the policies Wednesday — that is, the day before the USOC decision.

So interesting. The standard USOC bid city agreement between calls for a city to pay $25 million in “liquidated damages” to the USOC if for some reason something freaky happens and the city drops out. For those not familiar with the term, “liquidated damages” is fancy lawyer talk for “cash money.” Essentially, if indeed that is what the policy went for, what Boston 2024 did was shift it so that $25 million is now some insurance company's worry.

But why?

And why Wednesday, the day before the USOC meeting?

The Globe report also said that Boston officials were the only group from among the four bid cities that insisted on buying this kind of insurance. Why? Also, you know, this kind of insurance takes a little bit of time to line up. It's not like you go down to your neighborhood insurance agent and say, hey, I'd like to lay down $1 million for $25 million, assuming again this is what it was for. Did Boston get a wink and a nod from the USOC in advance, and if so, when?

So many questions.

Good thing Boston officials have pledged transparency. For the sake of Journalism 101, let's hope it's retroactive, not just going forward.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at the Friday news conference // Getty Images

More questions: what was at the basis of all that vigorous debate the USOC said it went through?

The USOC has suggested it will explain why Boston -- perhaps as soon as early this week.

In the meantime, to stick to the core of Theory 2, is it that the IOC could prefer Boston because Los Angeles — especially with the support of key Olympic insiders — might well have been a sure winner?

Did Bach, in any event, want Boston to assert primacy over those others, who were known to prefer LA?

There is this, though, which is easy: it’s in the interest of the IOC president to secure as many cities as possible for whatever race is being run.

No question Bach wants a U.S. bid.

Even so, does he also have a counter-interest for 2024, to make Europe look good, particularly after six European cities dropped out for 2022?

The first European Games, in Baku, Azerbaijan, are due to be held this summer, and will almost surely be a success, giving renewed momentum to that continent’s bids. Always, always, always remember, too: the IOC is Eurocentric.

At most, Bach got three U.S. votes in 2013 for the presidency (there were then three U.S. IOC members, now four, with the addition of USOC board chairman Larry Probst). There are 40-something IOC members from Europe.

Do not be fooled, not even for a second, by the statement from the White House, which said President Obama and the First Lady “strongly support” the Boston bid. Even if the president does, and let's assume for argument he really does, for the sake of securing 55 or so IOC votes, the president's words are -- sorry to say -- dust in the wind.

Note: Bach has visited more than 90 heads of state since being elected IOC president in September 2013. President Obama is not among them.

Note, too: the statement was issued by the White House press secretary. When the president wants to emphasize something, as he did when California Sen. Barbara Boxer last Wednesday announced her impending retirement, that comes out as a different kind of statement — that’s from Obama himself.

These things matter a lot in politics, and they matter for a White House that, as the IOC will readily recall, sent a delegation to Sochi only last February that absolutely was designed to signal a protest about the Russian anti-gay law.

It's instructive to observe that Bach deliberately made public the official letter of support and sympathy he wrote to French president François Hollande after last week's terror attacks in Paris. One can argue whether such a letter is eminently decent as well as a show of humanity or treads dangerously close to the kind of thing you might see from a head of state, which Bach assuredly is not. At any rate, several world leaders attended Sunday's massive rally in Paris, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The United States? Represented by its ambassador to France, Jane D. Hartley.

In the Olympic world, where protocol is hugely significant, appearances matter, too. And can be long remembered.

The White House statement about Boston 2024 also said, “The city has taught all of us what it means to be Boston Strong,” a reference to the 2013 marathon bombings.

Bach, in his comments to AP, said, “The Boston bid will be a strong one.”

With profound and enduring respect for the victims of the marathon attacks, this gentle note: the New York 2012 bid was launched after the Twin Towers went down. The IOC was not sufficiently moved, nearly four years later, when the 2012 vote was taken, to award the Games to New York; they went to London. By the time the 2024 vote is taken, the events that shook Boston near the finish line of the 2013 marathon will similarly have been four years prior.

Bach also told AP about Boston, “The bid also has the great potential to build on the strength of the athletes from the U.S. Olympic team,” adding, “U.S athletes have a worldwide reputation and will be a huge asset for the bid.”

This, to be diplomatic, is phraseology that Bach has borrowed from his predecessor, Jacques Rogge, when Rogge was asked by reporters to asses Chicago 2016 and New York 2012. Recall how those worked out.

To be clear: the USOC has, since 2009, made great strides in building relationships internationally. There seems to be zero question Bach has taken an interest in Boston.

There are also so many questions yet to be answered about why.

And about whether the time is right for the USOC, and Boston, and whether together they can craft a winning narrative to an IOC membership that is no longer widely hostile to American interests, as was the case during the Rogge years, but perhaps still wary and likely knows not very much about Boston.

The USOC is in the 2024 game with one objective only — to win. That has been made abundantly clear, time and again.

In that spirit, this: the Agenda 2020 rules now allow for five exceptions to the rule that IOC members must retire at age 70. In Monaco, one of the five exceptions was immediately granted to Gian Franco Kasper, who is Swiss and the head of the international ski federation.

This is what Kasper told AP about a U.S. 2024 bid, and this is what the USOC is still very much up against:

“Times have changed a little bit, but it depends how they will present their candidature. If they,” meaning the Americans,” come back with the old arrogance they had before, then of course it will not be helpful. But I think they have learned the lesson, too.”

The legacy of China's He Zhenliang


The Olympic movement is all about changing the world. Very few people actually effect such change. Everything you see now that reflects China the important player on the world sports stage — all of that is, in some piece big or small, the work of He Zhenliang, a former International Olympic Committee vice president who died Sunday at age 85. Mr. He, as it seemed everyone in Olympic circles called him, was a remarkable man. He was not only the bridgehead, as David Miller pointed out Monday in the Olympic newsletter Sport Intern, but then the bridge between China and the world outside. There have been tributes, and appropriately, from around the world. Yet those tributes have missed, or glossed over, the tribulations and complexities that helped shape Mr. He.

And without those it is impossible to fully appreciate not only his story but China’s ongoing story in the Olympic movement and our world, which is entirely appropriate as the Beijing bid committee prepares Tuesday to lodge its 2022 Winter Games file with the IOC.

He Zhenliang, the former IOC vice president, in 2008 // Getty Images

There are only two 2022 candidates: Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. If Beijing wins, it would be the first city to stage both the Summer and Winter Games.

Mr. He would doubtlessly find that amazing.

To be honest, everyone ought to find that amazing.

The modern Olympic movement has been around since 1894. The People’s Republic of China, since 1949. The team that we call China — as a point of contrast to the team from “Chinese Taipei,” and by reference this is not intended to be a political discourse — has been back in the Summer Games only since 1984, the Winter Games since 1980.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, said in a statement issued Monday, “Mr. He was a man of culture and art. He was a true advocate of the social values of sport and of our movement and I would like to pay tribute to the passion and energy he deployed over the years to fulfill his mission as an IOC member in China. He also helped our movement better understand his country, its people and outstanding culture. The Olympic movement has lost one of its most fervent ambassadors.

“For me personally, he showed me true friendship and gave me invaluable advice from very early days as an IOC member. I will always remember this with great gratitude.”

Wei Jizhong, a former secretary general of the Chinese Olympic Committee, told China Daily, “China’s current major-member status in the IOC is inseparable from He’s hard work for decades. His strong enthusiasm and responsibility to China’s sports development as well as improvement of its international image truly impressed me.”

Added Yang Yang, the short-track speed skating star who is now an IOC member, “His fruitful work in the IOC earned a positive impression from the world about Chinese sports, which inspired me and guided me to continue my work as a sports official.”

There will doubtlessly be smiles for the camera Tuesday at the Chateau de Vidy, the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

That’s appropriate.

Mr. He knew great happiness on the Olympic stage. He played a key role in Beijing's win — at the IOC session in Moscow — for the 2008 Summer Games.

He knew disappointment as well. In 1993 — at the IOC session in Monaco — Sydney defeated Beijing for the 2000 Games, literally by a couple votes. Wei said Mr. He wept privately.

Just imagine, though, and it is difficult now, all these years later, having seen the bang of the 2,008 drums in the 2008 opening ceremony, to have seen Michael Phelps go 8-for-8 in the pool at the Water Cube, to have seen Usain Bolt set world records on the track at the Bird’s Nest — imagine what must have been going through Mr. He’s mind.

Mr. He had been exiled to the Chinese countryside during the Cultural Revolution. He literally did hard labor.

During those years, which saw ping-pong diplomacy, the authorities would sometimes call him in from the countryside. Why? Because he spoke French and English, and knew not just how to translate but, even more important, how to conduct himself with the people from overseas. When the foreigners would leave, Mr. He was sent back to the countryside, there to await a next round of ping-pong and artful finesse.

Mr. He had come from Shanghai, and the French Concession there. He earned a degree from Aurora University in Shanghai in electric mechanics in 1950, the year after the revolution. In 1952, he was part of the formal mainland Chinese delegation to the Helsinki Summer Games; to reiterate, there would not be another team from “China” at the Summer Olympics until Los Angeles in 1984.

In the mid-1950s, Mr. He was an international communications official in what was then the National Sports Commission. In the 1960s, he was a senior official for organizations such as the Chinese gymnastics and table tennis federations.

Then, though, came the Cultural Revolution.

“Along with his colleagues [at the sports commission], he was doing hard labor,” said Susan Brownell, a professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis who is not only an authority on China and the Olympics but translated into English the story of Mr. He’s life, “He Zheliang and China’s Olympic Dream.”

The book is written by Mr. He’s wife, Liang Lijuan, and Brownell said of the years when Mr. He was in exile, “He would see his wife and children for a short time and then disappear again,” adding, “His partnership with his wife is inspiring, just a really great story of loyalty.”

In 1979, Mr. He was made deputy secretary general of the Chinese Olympic committee; in 1982, its secretary general.

That, though, was not his real break.

That came in 1981, when then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch worked it so that Mr. He became an IOC member.

This had two results.

One, it helped to significantly advance China’s cause within the IOC. Three years later, in Los Angeles, there was China back at the Summer Games. The next few bid cycles would see it emerging as a serious contender, and then a winner, for the Summer Games — with the bang of those 2,008 drums, it has been said, perhaps signaling the onset of the Chinese century.

Two, Mr. He’s IOC membership gave him a standing within China that would help him navigate any number of shifting domestic political currents. In 1981, Mr. He was still in his early 50s; he would be an IOC member until 2010, which Samaranch and others in the IOC hierarchy knew full well.

Mr. He would serve 16 years on the IOC’s policy-making executive board, four as a vice president.

Even as China increasingly engages with the world, there remains — and sometimes at the highest levels of government — a lingering xenophobia, or as Brownell put it, “a distrust of people seen to be too internationalized, or not Chinese enough.”

She said, “It was really interesting to watch him move among IOC members. The first time I had dinner with him, in 2000, I was watching him converse in French with his IOC colleagues, managing conversation and pouring out wine, and I was thinking I had never seen a mainland Chinese do that.

"He could also manage western facial expressions. I had never met anybody like that — never met anybody who could move in both worlds.”

The last time she had dinner with Mr. He and Ms. Liang was in 2012. “After that time,” Brownell said, “I knew I would never see him again. Sure enough, that was the last time.”

She said, giving voice to an emotion felt by many within the Olympic movement, “I really admired him. He was a really inspiring and admirable person,” a man whose work and legacy will live on, in China and well beyond — perhaps to 2022, perhaps far, far longer.

Agenda 2020 goes 40-for-40


MONACO — To much self-promotion and -congratulation, the International Olympic Committee on Monday “unanimously” enacted all 40 points of president Thomas Bach’s review and potential reform plan, dubbed “Agenda 2020.” The potential game-changer: approval of a digital TV channel. Other significant elements: shifts in the bid process as well as to the Olympic program.

The action Monday gave Bach what he craved, approval of what he has variously described as a "jigsaw puzzle" and a “white paper.” Now comes the hard work: implementation.

IOC president Thomas Bach  // photo Edward Hula III

How to balance considerations such as finance and the essence of Olympic tradition? Should the bobsled track for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea be moved to save money? Isn’t it ridiculous — or worse — to pressure the Koreans to give up building a track to move the event to, say, Japan, when, for instance, the matter of the 1936 Berlin marathon, won by Korean Kee Chong Sohn, who had to compete under the Japanese flag, is still very much alive in Seoul and precincts beyond?

To move it to, say, the United States? Canada? Europe? Wouldn’t that make the Olympics something of a united world championships, the very thing Sport Accord and international judo federation president Marius Vizer had proposed just last year?

The Koreans bid twice for the Games, for 2010 and 2014, before winning for 2018. It’s not as if they didn’t know the Winter Olympics included a bobsled run, right?

More of the struggles to come:

Yay for a move from “sports” to “events” if that means the possibility of fresh additions to the program, and particularly in the Summer Games — say, for instance, surfing.

But with a cap of 10,500 athletes except in “special cases,” the policy affirmed anew Monday, which of the established sports can be counted on to give up spots to newcomers? Track and field? Swimming? Shooting? Rowing?

In a word: ha.

To be sure, Monday ushered in evolution, not revolution.

In a style that can only be described as only in the IOC, the 40 measures were voted on one by one and by a show of hands, the 96 members in attendance passing each resolution in what was described from the head table as “unanimously,” even though it was sometimes plain not all hands went up.

To be abundantly clear: no hands went up to register a vote against.

Why did the IOC not register the votes on each measure through electronic ballots, which — in December 2014 — would be simple enough? Which the IOC actually does (though it does not attribute votes cast to individual members) for its bid-city ballots?

For those who might be befuddled, it must be understood that what transpired Monday is, in its way, progress.

In IOC terms, it amounted to something that might be termed transparency. The votes were shown on closed-circuit television that was beamed out to the internet. Thus some — if not all — the members could actually be seen raising their hands.

Moreover, the IOC is not, repeat not, a democracy.

Here is another fundamental principle:

The IOC works best when the president is firmly in control.

Bach, who is German, was elected in Buenos Aires in September 2013, replacing Jacques Rogge of Belgium.

Rogge served from 2001. He took over from Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, who served for 21 years.

Rogge sat Monday at the head table. Bach referred to him, among others, in the ceremonial introductions of the address that opened Sunday night’s 127th IOC session. That was, well, it. Not a word from the former president.

Since being elected in Buenos Aires, Bach has clearly sought to model himself after Samaranch, who operated with a direct yet deft touch.

For more than a year, Bach has worked energetically to secure buy-in across, within and without the Olympic movement for Agenda 2020. Though Rogge was not invited Monday to speak, Didier Burkhalter, president of the Swiss confederation, was — the IOC, of course, based in Lausanne. Agenda 2020, Burkhalter said, would enable the movement to “be proactive and change rather than be changed.”

The key item on the docket was always the creation of the digital TV channel.

To get there, though, the IOC had to work through hours of agenda items.

First up Monday morning: changes to the bid process, including a provision that in exceptional circumstances would allow events to be held outside host cities or countries.

Insiders noted that many of the bid changes, aimed at streamlining and reducing the cost of campaigning, evoked the Madrid 2020 bid that lost out to Tokyo, also in Buenos Aires.

It takes nothing away from the winning Tokyo bid to note that with as with many things in the Olympic universe, it can be a matter of timing: Madrid’s bids, particularly the 2020 campaign, its third in a row, may well have articulated an apt strategy but caught the IOC at a wrong time.

Around lunch time Monday in Monaco, the IOC moved to change the Olympic program from its traditional focus on “sports” to “events,” a potential boon for sports such as surfing, skateboarding, cricket, climbing and, as soon as the Tokyo 2020 Games, baseball and softball — again, if that is, spots can be found around that 10,500 cap.

“This is really a major step forward in the modernization of the Olympic Games,” Bach said as it passed, of course unanimously.

By mid-afternoon, the members affirmed their support for what’s called “Principle 6,” including non-discrimination on sexual orientation, a response to the firestorm over legislation in Russia before the 2014 Games.

“This is a very important step,” Bach said. “Congratulations.”

Approval of the TV channel came right after that.

Bach, speaking from the head table, called such a channel “crucial” for Olympic athletes and values between editions of the Games.

Yiannis Exarchos, head of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said it would be “the always-on, multimedia platform,” aimed at being the “ultimate” Olympic content source, initially digital only.

“This will be a truly collaborative effort [among] the Olympic family,” he said, also calling it “a challenge of Olympic proportions.”

“This will be a historic step in our existence and one we should embrace,” he urged the members.

Start-up costs were fixed at roughly $446 million euros, plus a 10 percent cushion, meaning $490 million euros all-in, or $601 million at current exchange rates.

Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, a former vice president who now chairs the IOC finance commission, said the channel represented a “substantial but necessary” investment. Break-even, he said: seven to 10 years.

“These figures are more than achievable,” said Bach, who chaired the TV channel working group.

“I think this is an excellent concept and the sooner we can launch this the better,” Larry Probst, the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman and new IOC member, said from the floor.

After the channel was approved, once more unanimously, Bach said, “This is a great, great step forward. I wish all the ones who will be involved in making this happen really good luck. This is really a historical step for the IOC an the Olympic movement. Thank you very much for your approval.”

Richard Peterkin, the witty IOC member from the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia, tweeted early in Monday’s session:

A few minutes later, he posted another tweet:

After lunch, yet again:

From the floor in the afternoon, Peterkin said, speaking directly to Bach, “Like President Obama, you are a strong proponent of change. I hope you have more success than he has.”

Bach had predicted at a news conference Saturday that all would go smoothly here.

Of course he did. He had lined everything up in advance, Samaranch-style.

It was “very encouraging,” he said at that news conference, “to see that all the stakeholders of the Olympic movement are actually supporting this Olympic Agenda 2020,” including representatives of the international sports federations, summer and winter, the national Olympic committees and athletes committees.

Beyond which, as longtime IOC member and former vice president Dick Pound pointed out in an interview Monday, the topics themselves lent themselves to an easy show of hands in favor of yes votes.

“It’s pretty much motherhood and apple pie,” Pound said, adding, “These things are obvious. Friction will be in the events. What does athletics,” meaning track and field, “have to give to create some space for new sports? What does shooting have to give? What does swimming have to give? And there will be a lot of wailing about that,” down the line.

“You look at the team sports. Do you cut a 14-team draw down to 12? There are lots of ways to slice the pie.”

Pound served as IOC vice president under Samaranch. The comparisons between Bach and Samaranch seemed manifest.

Referring to Bach, Pound said, “He’s well prepared. You look at those committees, especially the outsiders. He has got good traction there. So you’re getting a lot of good thought having gone into it. Things have been circulated. You read them — there’s very little there that has a big hook out there that you want to grab onto and want to fight. I think it has been well-managed, well-directed, well-meaning."

Pound continued: “… I’m trying to think, somebody raised the visit issue, very tentatively,” meaning whether the members could visit cities bidding for the Games, a notion Bach had emphatically shot down before all arrived in Monaco.

“There may be people with hair my color who may object to having to retire before the age of 70 or something. We’ll see. I don’t think anyone will throw themselves in front of the train for that purpose.”

The image of whether to tinker in any significant respect with the age limit didn’t even begin to come up until 5:45 p.m. — too late in the day, really, for anybody to do anything about it, given that Bach had determined mid-afternoon that he was going to hustle the members through all 40 bullet points in one day.

As the clock ticked toward 6 p.m., Bach did call on Vitaly Smirnov, the Russian member who holds a special place in the IOC, what is called the doyen, the longest-serving member. Smirnov, carefully reading from a script, backed the measure on the table that would allow for a one-time extension of a member’s term beyond age 70, to 74, for a maximum of five cases at a given time.

So deft.

So Samaranch-like, really.

“Even in, as you say, my wildest dreams, I would not have expected this,” Bach said in a wrap-up news conference Monday night, referring to the 40-for-40 unanimous yes votes, going on to deflect credit away from himself and onto the members, just the way Samaranch used to:

“It showed the great determination of the members for these reforms to make this progress and to make this happen.”

Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the international tennis federation and the association of summer Olympic international sports federations, said, “We did open today a big window but most of the work still needs to be done. That’s the most difficult part of our job. It’s a historical day.

“Now we have to proceed step by step. If someone has signed a contract like Tokyo, they cannot change everything. There must be a balance.”

IAAF 2019, IOC 2022: why so different?


The International Olympic Committee’s Winter Games bid 2022 process is, to put it charitably, struggling. Six cities have dropped out. Just two are left, Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. At the very same time, the IAAF’s bid contest for the 2019 track and field world championship seemingly couldn’t be going better. On Friday, an evaluation commission, headed by Sebastian Coe, the 1980s track star who is an IAAF vice president and of course oversaw the 2012 London Summer Games, wrapped up a worldwide tour that took it across the world to the three cities in the race: Barcelona; Eugene, Oregon; and Doha, Qatar.

It’s almost impossible not to compare and contrast, and to wonder what the IAAF is obviously doing so right.

Because it’s not just 2019.

On scene in Doha with the IAAF evaluation commission // photo courtesy Doha 2019

The 2013 world championships were in Moscow, at Luzhhniki Stadium, site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1980 Summer Olympics; 2015 will be in Beijing, back at the Bird’s Nest; 2017 in London, at Olympic Stadium. There’s a good case to be made that the 2021 worlds will likely fall in Tokyo, to make use of the new Olympic Stadium there after the 2020 Games.

Absolutely, the IAAF is not perfect. Far from it. The 2013 worlds, in particular, were marked by attendance woes early in the championships. The 2011 worlds were in Daegu, South Korea, hardly one of your must-see tourist hot spots.

But even significant glitches such as these have hardly stopped some of the world’s great cities from lining up to bid for what is, after the Summer Games and FIFA’s World Cup, indisputably one of Olympic sport’s glamour events — a nine-day run featuring some of sport’s great stars, including the likes of sprinters Usain Bolt of Jamaica and American Allyson Felix and the French pole-vaulter Renaud Lavillenie.

If 2011 was in Daegu, remember, 2009 was in Berlin, at historic Olympic Stadium. And it was in 2009 in Berlin, on the blue track, that Bolt ran his signature world records: 9.58 in the 100, 19.19 in the 200.

Even the United States wants in for 2019, with Eugene launching the first American bid since Stanford’s 1999 and 2001 unsuccessful efforts.

No way Eugene is one of the world’s great cities. Absolutely it is one of the world's great college towns. It is also home to one of the most famous track facilities anywhere, venerable Hayward Field. This summer, it put on the IAAF junior championships.

Barcelona of course staged the 1992 Summer Olympics. More recently and relevantly, it played host to the 2010 European track and field championships and the 2012 IAAF juniors.

Doha put on the 2010 IAAF world indoors. It finished second, behind London, in the race for the 2017 outdoor worlds, and is due in the coming months and years to host any number of other championships, including short-course swimming (December), team handball (early 2015), gymnastics (2018) and, certainly, soccer’s World Cup in 2022.

Barcelona assuredly can count on support from track and field’s European center; Eugene would refurbish “iconic” Hayward; Doha would present the championships not in August but in late September and early October and, moreover, run the marathon at night under floodlights, conjuring up memories of Abebe Bikila at the Rome 1960 Summer Games.

To be clear, there are manifest differences between an Olympic Games and a track and field world championships.

An Olympics features multiple world championships all going on at the same time; an IAAF worlds is just one. An Olympics runs for 17 days; an IAAF worlds, only the nine. And so on.

Even so, an IAAF worlds — especially in comparison to a Winter Games — is still a pretty darn big deal. There were roughly 2,850 athletes from 89 countries at the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Moscow 2013, meanwhile, saw 1,974 athletes from 206 nations.

To underscore: a track world championships typically means an assembly of more nations than anywhere but a Summer Olympics.

The track championships are hugely international but manageable, not the sort of thing that requires a city or nation to undergo a perceived onerous investment. In short, it doesn’t cost, just to pick a number out of the blue sky, $51 billion.

Which everyone knows is what a Winter Games costs, right?

Oh, wait.

The IOC now stands poised in Monaco at an all-members session in December to assess president Thomas Bach’s review and potential reform session, dubbed “Agenda 2020.” That $51 billion figure, widely associated with the Sochi Games, is the number believed to have played a role, big or small, in scaring off the six cities now out of 2022 — Lviv, Stockholm, St. Moritz/Davos, Krakow, Munich and, most recently, Oslo.

Of course It’s more than that.

It is absolutely the case that in this last year of his presidency, the IAAF, under Lamine Diack, is in something of a holding pattern. It is also undeniably true that over the past 15 years track and field has seen more than its fair share of doping-related scandals, some involving its biggest stars.

The latest, which dropped Friday: a reported positive A test for Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo, winner the last two years of both the Boston and Chicago marathons.

None of this, however, has stopped cities from wanting its biggest event — including the robust campaign going on now for 2019.

Why? Because for all its flaws, and there are many, track and field is and forever will be the sport, the one nearly everyone can do, the one that despite its highly professionalized nature remains the “vintage” sport — if you will — of the movement.

It is, despite everything, elemental.

All of this is part and parcel of the underlying contest within the 2019 contest, which all involved with track and field are keenly aware — one for 2019, the other the looming contest for the IAAF top job.

Coe has been the point man for the evaluation commission.

Meanwhile, his presumed rival for the IAAF presidency, Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, the 1980s and ‘90s pole vault star, himself another IAAF vice president who is also a member of the IOC executive board, has been simultaneously traveling the world.

While Coe was in Doha, there was Bubka in Algeria, meeting with top African Olympic and track officials and tweeting about it.

When Diack -- who is from Senegal -- approached Coe to head the evaluation commission, meantime, close observers took that as an unmistakable signal about what in the world of track and field is what. For his part, through the October tour of Spain, Oregon and Qatar, Coe has stressed time and again that he is fulfilling this role in service to the IAAF.

For those who wondered if this world tour was going to be all about Coe -- no. To reframe Meghan Trainor’s hit song — it’s all about the bids.

To be honest, Coe has to do it this way, all the while being completely upbeat about all three cities — because, at the 2019 election Nov. 18 in Monaco, there is going to be one winner and two who go home empty-handed. Any perceived negativity anytime, anywhere — that wouldn’t serve anyone in that position well for the presidential election next August in Beijing.

This shadow dance is reaching a stage where the two undeclared candidates, Coe and Bubka, should soon be publicly forthcoming about their intentions — perhaps at the IAAF gala in Monaco in November, the same week as the 2019 elections, or soon thereafter.

Which leads back to the IOC.

The fix the IOC has got itself in has to be seen big picture.

When Juan Antonio Samaranch was president, from 1980 until 2001, one of the most clever — and under-appreciated — aspects of his tenure was to “hide” the Games themselves behind the concept of the movement.

The movement was all. The Games, while essential, were simply part of the overarching movement.

Under Jacques Rogge, whose term stretched from 2001 until 2013, this scenario switched.

The Games achieved primacy.

The unintended consequence:

By putting the Games first, the IOC is now increasingly seen worldwide as an event-maker — to take it further, an event-maker in a business where money, not the stories of the athletes, has become a central concern.

This was perhaps unavoidable after Games in Beijing ($40 billion-plus) and Sochi ($51 billion).

Regardless — it is profoundly unfortunate.

Money, though necessary, is not at all the IOC’s mission: it is to move the world forward, little by little, piece by piece, day by day, through one-to-one change via the athletes and the young people of the world. The shorthand for all this is expressed through the key Olympic values: friendship, excellence, respect.

A few voices would be eager — who are even now trying — to say what the IOC is truly about.

Why are those voices not being heard? Because the IOC is an easy target. And because the IOC is not telling its side of the story clearly, concisely or even well.

In politics, especially sports politics, it’s a raw truth that the truth matters — but what matters more is perception.

Perception is what is dragging at the IOC.

The IOC has a chance to effect significant change at that Monaco session, though with Bach announcing recently that bid-city visits by the members won’t be considered anew it’s not clear how far any real reform might stretch.

In the meantime, the IAAF — despite its figurative hurdles — heads into its November election for 2019 in a position of considerable strength. And seemingly poised, with a new generation of leadership at the ready, to grow the sport further.

At the closing news conference Friday in Doha, Coe was naturally asked about 2022, and the many allegations around the soccer tournament there.

“We came here to make a judgment about the worthiness of the city to stage a track and field championships,” he said, “so our focus has been entirely of this city and the other two cities to deliver this championships.

“We haven’t spent, and nor should we spend, any time worrying about other sports and other situations."

Coe praised each of the three 2019 cities. He also said the one that wins will be “the one in position to present the sport in the best possible light,” adding, “We are looking for a city that understands why it wants to host [the championships]."