Lamine Diack

And now: the latest, greatest IOC corruption scandal

And now: the latest, greatest IOC corruption scandal

The International Olympic Committee is meeting in Peru at what should be a moment of triumph, the awarding of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympic Games to Paris and Los Angeles.

Instead, the news cycle is dominated by headlines trumpeting seemingly more of the same: corruption in the Olympic scene.

Is it really so difficult to understand why taxpayers are so fed up?

A SoCal-style, must-see Trials: Trackchella!

A SoCal-style, must-see Trials: Trackchella!

All along, the good people in Eugene, Oregon, have said that the dream has been to grow the sport of track and field in the United States of America. Follow the logic. That means: Eugene as the base but, you know, get it out of Eugene.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Track & Field made it emphatic: dreams can come true.

The 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in track and field will be in Los Angeles, at Mt. San Antonio College, the USOC and USATF announced.

Not fake news: is IOC looking at real crisis?

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The Paris 2024 media team, in anticipation in the coming days of both the French presidential election and the International Olympic Committee’s evaluation visit, undertook a media blitz of sorts, with bid leader Tony Estanguet quoted Monday in leading U.S. newspapers.

Talk about fake news.

There’s a (huge, and perhaps two-pronged) scandal perhaps waiting to erupt in the Olympic world, the latest twist possibly involving one of its most influential power brokers.

Olympic stories hardly take up newsprint in off years. Yet this is what’s being fed to readers as what matters?

Estanguet, to the LA Times:

“ … We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. But we decide where to put the Olympic village. We decide the global concept that has been there since the beginning.”

Estanguet, to USA Today, even bolder:

“We want to reduce the involvement of the political world. They are there to support. They are there to be tough. But we decide where to put the Olympic village. The sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.”

It’s easy enough here to knock the newspapers. Due diligence, please.

Beyond which, it’s the job of journalists to hold people in positions of authority accountable.

In that spirit, Mr. Estanguet’s remarks are good for a laugh.

It’s all well and good to say the “sport movement will be responsible for delivering the Games.”

Except for the basic fact that in France the sport movement is the government.

Even the bid itself is, you know, a government project.

If Mr. Estanguet is trying to draw a distinction — oh, look, the badminton team and his beloved canoers will be responsible for delivering the Olympic village — that would just be silly.

Indeed, as even the bid book points out, if Paris were to prevail there would be a delivery authority. It would be called SOLIDEO.

From the second of three books in the Paris 2024 candidature file:

“The delivery of the venues and other infrastructure projects needed to stage the Games will be the responsibility of an Olympic and Paralympic Delivery Authority (SOLIDEO). The SOLIDEO will also plan for the legacy of infrastructure investments. It will take the form of a public entity, reflecting the role of public authorities in funding and underwriting Games capital investments.”

Wow — a public entity. Not “the sport movement.”

All these things, and what’s really amiss in these stories is that while they may scratch a seeming mainstream media itch — oh, look, LA and Paris are involved in a bid race, and there’s that news hook in the May 7 French presidential race and the IOC visit in mid-May to both cities — these stories do little to no journalistic service whatsoever.

Because the news that matters in Olympic bidding circles is not whether Marine le Pen wins in France. The days of the head of state carrying an International Olympic Committee election — Putin in Guatemala in 2007, Tony Blair in Singapore in 2005 — are seemingly long gone.

The issue on the table now is not who is head of state of country X or Y. Instead:

It’s whether the IOC wants to keep going back to government-run bids that inevitably 1) produce cost overruns and 2) bad press for seven years, which then 3) further erodes taxpayer and official trust in the IOC and the broader movement, 4) which leads to the spectacle of cities dropping out repeatedly, 5) just like they have done over the past few years for the 2022 and 2024 bid cycles, 6) just like Stockholm did last week for 2026.

But, again, even that’s not the most pressing news.

For sure the bid process is broken and needs to be fixed. At issue is whether the IOC is going to do it — indeed, address all its business — in a calm fashion or amid crisis.

The signs increasingly point to crisis.

Over the weekend, stories flashed around the world suggesting that the influential IOC member Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait is co-conspirator No. 2 in the criminal case of United States v. Richard Lai. The matter is in the Brooklyn federal courts.

The sheikh says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Lai case directly relates to FIFA. Co-conspirator No. 1, as described in the court document, would appear to be Mohammed Bin Hammam, a Qatari billionaire who ran for the FIFA presidency in 2011.

The document describes co-conspirator No. 2 as a “high-ranking official of FIFA.” Since the document has become public, Sheikh Ahmad has resigned his FIFA posts.

According to the court document, co-conspirator No. 2 was also a high-ranking official of the Olympic Council of Asia. The sheikh heads OCA.

The sheikh is also president of the Assn. of the National Olympic Committees. Through that role, he oversees the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in what are called Olympic Solidarity funds — that is, monies that go from IOC headquarters to developing nations.

The sheikh travels within a closely held circle of trust. The court document describes co-conspirator No. 3 as a “high-ranking official of the OCA” as well as an official of the Kuwaiti soccer association.

Co-conspirator No. 4 was an OCA employee and No. 3’s assistant, the court document says.

The court document describes the transfers of a lot of money. Intriguingly, paragraph 31 describes wire transfers from accounts in Kuwait controlled by co-conspirator No. 3 or his assistants at the OCA.

A few things are clear:

— Prosecutors now hold the cards in dealing with Mr. Lai.

— The court file is mysteriously thin for a case that has come to resolution with a guilty plea. Mr. Lai has yet to be sentenced. He clearly has a significant incentive to tell what he knows.

— The obvious question: what does he know, and in particular about co-conspirators No. 2 and 3?

In Olympic circles, the sheikh is believed to have played a key role in helping to orchestrate the triple play that marked the 2013 IOC assembly in Buenos Aires — the elections of Thomas Bach as president and Tokyo as 2020 site plus the return of wrestling to the Olympic program.

In the American courts, the FIFA matter has for months now been that — a FIFA matter. Now it threatens to slide into the Olympic space, and in a powerful way.

The FIFA inquiries, it is important to note, were launched during the Obama years. The Brooklyn office used to be headed by Loretta Lynch. Ms. Lynch went on to be the attorney general. It’s fascinating that this matter has not drawn the significant attention of the Trump people in their first 100 days, and worth asking if it will now — or anytime soon, because if it the status remains quo prosecutors in Brooklyn will likely just keep keeping on.

At any rate:

Already in recent weeks, the IOC member Frankie Fredericks has been connected to the inquiry being led by the authorities in France tied to Lamine Diack, the former head of the international head of the international track and field federation.

Diack and Bach were also allies of longstanding.

Diack was known to have remarked before the assembly in Buenos Aires that the triple play was going to happen just as it did — Bach, Tokyo, wrestling.

It is believed in Olympic circles that the French authorities know more, and about more IOC members. Unclear is whether whatever they know will become public in the weeks ahead.

Uncertain, too, is what is known at the Chateau de Vidy, the IOC’s lakeside headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, about the scope and nature of the inquiries in France and Brooklyn and how, if at all, the two mesh. The Fredericks matter suggests that the Americans and French are sharing, at the least, wire transfer records.

To be obvious:

The Salt Lake City scandal of the late 1990s came about because IOC members could literally get their hands on what we in the journalism business called “inducements” — that is, anything and everything from college scholarships for their kids to parts for cars to cash and much, much more.

The investigations in France and Brooklyn threaten the IOC, and far more insidiously. As the Lai case underscores, a forensic accountant and a wire transfer record make for black-and-white reading.

In this context, yet again, it is worth recalling what the then-president of the organization, Marius Vizer, said at the 2015 SportAccord conference in Sochi:

"History demonstrated that all the empires who reached the highest peaks of development never reformed on time and they are all headed for destruction. The IOC system today is expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent."

The first person to lead the charge against Vizer then was — Diack.

It is worth emphasizing that co-conspirators No. 2, 3 and 4 in the Lai matter have not been charged with anything, and that in the American system the vigorous presumption of innocence prevails.

It is also worth emphasizing that optics matter, particularly in the Olympic space, which is why the likes of Stockholm are out for 2026, because the IOC has over the past several years considerably forfeited the trust of taxpayers and officials.

Here is where the reasonable person asks the reasonable question:

Why would that be?

Stockholm for 2026: IOC, go freeze yourself

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If you are hung up on figure skating, OK, but maybe get with the program: the Olympic Winter Games has indisputably become a ski and snowboard festival.

Next February in South Korea, there will be 102 medal events. If you don’t count biathlon, 50 will be on skis or snowboards. Add in the biathlon ski-and-shooting combo, and you’re up to 61.

All of this is hugely interesting when considering Stockholm’s announcement Wednesday that, in considering the 2026 Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee can go freeze itself. Stockholm is out before it ever got in. Just like 2022. It’s out.

Our European friends keep telling the IOC versions of this. They’re out.

"Why,” the IOC vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. was quoted as saying about a month ago by the Spanish news agency EFE, “is it so difficult for us to get the message out that the Games are something positive?”

The answer is simple: taxpayers don’t believe it.

More to the point: they don’t believe the IOC.

Even more bluntly: to a great extent, they just don’t trust the IOC.

If they did, cities and nations would be lining up for the chance to stage the Games. Instead, they’re dropping like flies — dropping out midway through the campaigns, like candidates have done through the 2024 Summer and 2022 Winter Games derbies, or bowing out now, as Stockholm did Wednesday for 2026.

It’s ugly and painful and awful for the IOC.

It’a also reality, and the sooner the IOC admits this reality, acknowledges beyond just words that it has a problem, the sooner it can confront it and take up the change that, whether it likes it or not, must be implemented.

Stockholm’s decision came just a day after IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking at a meeting in Uruguay of the Pan American Sports Organization, pointedly noted that the IOC has fat sponsor deals that run into the 2020s and 2030s even as he said the IOC “cannot ignore that we have an issue with the candidature process.”

He added a moment later:

“… The good old times are over with regard to [the] candidature procedure.

"Today hardly any mayor or political authority can go to their population and say, 'Let's try again, and maybe we will win,’ after spending millions on an unsuccessful bid.

"Maybe it will change back in five or 10 years. But it is not possible today."

There is a remedy, which involves coming to the United States, and Los Angeles, for 2024. If only the IOC will listen.

It’s not clear that it will, LA and Paris the only two cities in the 2024 race, purportedly to be decided later this summer.

This is a logic problem, and it is easy to solve, because the IOC — more than anything right now — needs seven years of peace amid every red warning sign taxpayers in western democracies, particularly in Europe, the IOC’s traditional base, keep handing up.

Like the one Wednesday in Sweden.

From several insider accounts, though, the IOC is apparently having a very difficult time grasping the logic of the logic.

Why?

Because IOC leadership, members and staff tend far too often to live in a bubble in which the change they need to effect — and that change manifestly is unequivocally necessary — gets wrought amid crisis instead of the way it should come about, through best practice while its key franchise, the Summer Games, sits in calm, solid hands.

As it would be in a privately run LA 24 — away from the government-financed, cost overrun-plagued editions in recent years that have gotten the IOC in the existential moment it faces now (Sochi 2014 at a purported $51 billion the loss leader).

Speaking of crisis:

Now that the first round of the French presidential elections is over, would the authorities there  investigating the former president of the international track and field federation, Lamine Diack, have renewed interest — or not — in making public what they have learned over these past several months?

If gossip is to be believed and the names of this important IOC member from country x or that influential one from country y are ever leaked to the French press, what then?

What if the French authorities, knowing what is believed they know, sit on that information until after the September 13 vote for 2024? What then?

You want more credibility problems? You want yet more crisis?

To be clear:

The Olympic movement inevitably carries with it any number of problems. Any enterprise its scale and scope does. But right now, it is confronting a grave threat to its credibility if not its very existence.

In general, this space is not — repeat, not — anti-France or anti-Paris. Just the opposite. I lived in Paris in 1984; I was not even in Los Angeles during those Summer Games but, yes, in Paris. Above my desk in suburban Los Angeles is a picture of Mont Blanc, commemorating the IOC evaluation visit there in February 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games; I look at it each and every day.

Again, I love Paris and I love France. But 2024 is not the time for the IOC to go there. And as our friends in Sweden made plain, 2026 is not the time for them, either.

At issue is the ongoing relevance and vitality of the Olympic enterprise. Our broken world is so much better with the Olympics in it, even if the Games and the movement are — of course they are — flawed.

All of that has its roots in the bid system. Because it produces the cities, and the cities are the stage upon which the athletes star. Those athletes inspire kids all over our world to dream big dreams.

To that end, the IOC has got to fix — that is, scrap and start all over with — its bid process. That process used to work. It does not now.

And the signals have been there for years.

For 2024, Budapest, Rome and Hamburg have all dropped out.

In the 2015 race for the 2022 Games, five European cities pulled out along the way: Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz, Oslo, Munich and Krakow. Taxpayers or officials would have nothing to do with it.

For 2022, voters in Davos/St. Moritz said no via referendum by 53 percent.

This winter, asked about 2026, voters in Davos/St. Moritz said no via referendum by 60 percent.

That’s a bad trend line.

If you are the IOC, here is the really discouraging part: that 2026 vote in Davos/St. Moritz came as the 2017 world championships in alpine skiing were going on there.

So everything was set up for success: the ski world championships — again, the sport that is now the core of the Winter Games — were a party, the après-ski was all the more so and … voters said no, in a blowout.

Stockholm? Same kinda deal. Except for maybe the après-ski.

Are, Sweden, is the site of the 2019 alpine world championships. In any Stockholm Winter Games bid, Are would figure to play a major role.

Here’s the thing that underscores in no uncertain terms the IOC’s credibility challenge:

For Sochi, the IOC announced, and many times, it would give local organizers $800 million. In fact, it ended up giving the organizing committee $883 million. The Sochi operating budget, to be clear, is a fraction of the $51 billion commonly associated with the Games.

The IOC has failed miserably at communicating that basic fact.

It also has failed abjectly at communicating the fact that it currently gives organizers of a Winter Games somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 to $900 million — once more, for clarity, toward operating budgets typically in the $2 to $4 billion range.

Indeed, for the PyeongChang 2018 Games, though the exact number will remain uncertain, the working figure is $850 million.

For the 2022 Beijing Games, the IOC’s announced figure is $880 million.

For all that, the mayor of Stockholm, Karin Wänngard, who also oversees municipal finances, said Wednesday the city had no choice but to back out of 2026 because the IOC is not able to immediately say how big the financial contribution to the host city will be, according to an Associated Press report.

She said the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November,” adding, “This means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

One, if Stockholm wanted to get in, it surely could, because November 2017 is a long way from 2026.

Two, even a sports writer can figure this out. If it was $800 million in 2014, $850 million in 2018 and $880 million in 2022, odds are pretty good you’re looking at, hmm, $900 or maybe $920 million for 2026.

What, you need it down to the penny? Ballpark me for now — let’s say $900 million, cool — and get back to me by November.

But no. Freeze off, IOC.

Why?

In Europe, the evidence is clear: the IOC has significantly forfeited that level of trust with officials and the taxpayers those officials represent.

So the mayor of Stockholm used the “we don’t know how much money we might get” dodge to tell the IOC that in Sweden there isn’t enough interest or political capital to risk Olympic business.

Don’t kid yourself and think that the situation is, would be, will be or ought to be different in France. The Budapest situation — killed in just weeks by a referendum driven by social media, even though every level of government backed the bid — ought to serve as a major warning to the IOC.

In that same speech Wednesday in Uruguay, Bach also said:

“What we have seen is a change in the decision-making procedures in different countries, particularly in Europe but also elsewhere.

“I do not need to go into detail about how the Olympic Games is used for political purposes by groups in some countries.

“We have to understand that our candidature procedure is giving arguments for this, as it is too expensive and too complicated …”

This, then, is the hole the IOC has dug itself.

To reiterate: LA24 is different. It is privately funded. There’s no agitation to get agitated about when it comes to government funding.

That’s why LA offers the IOC, right now, the one calm, rational pathway: peace for seven years — stability and time to bring in the world’s best minds to think about how to fix a broken bid process.

Alternatively, there’s the other path for the IOC.

It’s called crisis.

Real and significant threats to the IOC

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

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

Very big problems.

Way beyond Frankie Fredericks.

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

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

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

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

The IOC is in a jam.

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

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

A starting place is easy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example:

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

Again, absolutely true.

But so what?

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

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

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

So nobody was exactly playing hiding the ball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A basic rundown:

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

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

The son was a former IAAF marketing consultant.

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

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

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

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

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

The IOC picked Rio on October 2, 2009.

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

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

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

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

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

What is clear:

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

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

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

Now come Los Angeles and Paris for the 2024 Olympics.

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, stay tuned.

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

Very big.

Olympic scene: reform plans, fairy tales and more

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Stuff happens. A lot isn't by itself enough to justify its own column. Here goes a collection of stuff:

— From the department of decoding news releases:

The International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, and the World Anti-Doping Agency president, Sir Craig Reedie, held a meeting Monday at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, after which the IOC issued a statement that included remarks from both men. From Bach: “There was a very positive atmosphere in our meeting today, and I am very happy that any perceived misunderstandings could be clarified. We agreed to continue to work closely together to strengthen the fight against doping under the leadership of WADA.”

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie at a meeting last month in Scotland // Getty Images

Translation: Consider this a real step forward because it looks like WADA has been asked to drive how doping reform gets delivered.

— News: IAAF enacts wide-ranging reform plan at Saturday vote in Monaco. The count: 182-10.

The IAAF reform vote may have looked like an election result from the Communist days, with 95 percent in favor, but reality is that what the vote does is give IAAF president Seb Coe time and some structure to begin what is sure to be a lengthy, arduous and contentious process of reform.

The IAAF amounts to a classic business-school case — better, a book waiting to be told — about how to rip up one structure, the president-as-unchallengeable-king model by which the federation was run for more than 30 years, and replace it with a 21st century model featuring a president, an empowered chief executive officer and more. Change is never easy, no matter the scene, and it won’t come easily to the IAAF.

— How do you know change is going to be a slog? Because of the finest part of the IAAF meeting: the moment when the delegates realized that, yes, their votes were going to be made public and they were going to be accountable for pushing the electronic vote-system button. Yikes!

Even better: Ukraine abstaining. Home of Sergei Bubka, whom Coe defeated in 2015 for the IAAF presidency. Senegal abstaining. Home of Lamine Diack, the former IAAF president, now under criminal investigation in France. Jamaica abstaining? Seriously? When anyone with an ounce of common sense knows that doping protocols in Jamaica have over the years been, at best, lackluster? If you were a Jamaican representative to some IAAF commission or another, please consider handing in a resignation letter, and pronto. Before you get, and appropriately, kicked off.

— For the history books:

Coe at one point before the vote made like Winston Churchill or something, declaring, “The greatest symbol of hope for our future is the civilized discourse we have had, its firmness of purpose and its sense of justice.”

IAAF president Seb Coe at last Friday's federation awards ceremony in Monaco // Getty Images for IAAF

— That 95 percent vote? That is in large part due to Coe’s political skills. He knows how to close a deal. He also knows how to delegate his proxies, chiefly among them the American delegate Stephanie Hightower. He, she and others were working it, and hard, at the IAAF gala Friday night before Saturday’s vote.

Looking ahead: the IAAF is now mandated to have female vice presidents: at least one by 2019, two by 2027. In this context, it is worth remembering the — use whatever descriptive you want — observation of the-then IAAF vice president Bob Hersh at a public USA Track & Field board meeting not so long ago that it was unlikely a woman could be elected an IAAF vice president. He also said, “We need a seat on the executive board and I have a better chance of getting that seat than Stephanie and by a large, large margin.” As ever, time reveals all things. At the IAAF elections in 2015, Hightower was elected to the council as the highest vote getter for one of six seats designated to be filled by women. She got 163; next best, Nawal el Moutawakel of Morocco, an IAAF council member for 20 years and IOC member since 1998, with 160.

— It’s also worth recalling all the senseless outrage that attended the USATF board decision to put forward Hightower, not Hersh. The time is now for Mr. Hersh, as well as all the complainers, and in particular those in the media who gave undue weight to those complaints, to apologize — to say to Stephanie Hightower, hey, sorry, we were dead-on wrong.

Let’s review:

"But I do know that at this meeting she was full of shit, so that’s not a good start. She completely disregarded the wishes of the people she is meant to represent. She did not lose honorably" -- Lauren Fleshman in a post on her blog about the December 2014 USATF annual meeting, referring to Hightower.

For emphasis, more from Ms. Fleshman:

https://twitter.com/laurenfleshman/status/541051730016743424

So over the weekend Ms. Fleshman was voted onto the USATF board, as an athlete advisory committee member. Congrats to her. Maybe while on the board she will find renewed purpose in collegiality and an understanding that perhaps things aren't always as black and white, and given to outrage on Twitter, as they might seem.

Then there was this, from the distance runner David Torrence, part of a lengthy message string he put out on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/David_Torrence/status/541045226408665088

This would be the same David Torrence who ran for Peru in the 5000 meters at the Rio Olympics rather than take his chances at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In Rio, Torrence finished 15th. Behind three Americans, among them silver medalist Paul Chelimo.

As this space has advocated on many occasions, the level of civility in and around USATF needs to be ratcheted way up and the volume on complaints turned way down. This episode — Hightower and Hersh — offers compelling evidence why, and on both counts, civility and volume.  It's just way better policy for everyone to talk to and with each other instead of resorting to insults or epithets. As Coe put it: "civilized discourse."

— Mr. IOC President, please institute an IAAF-style transparent vote system for the bid-city balloting, and do so in time for the 2024 Summer Games election next Sept. 13 in Lima, Peru.

Otherwise, despite your assertions that the IOC’s own reform package, Agenda 2020 (approved by the members in December 2014, also in Monaco), is indeed meaningful, reality suggests its impact is minimal, and particularly if it can't own up to the acid test. What good is purported "reform" if  the most important election in the IOC system is consistently underpinned by a culture and protocols in which everyone lies, cheerfully, to everyone else, knowing there’s zero accountability?

— The IOC president, meanwhile, is now on record as saying that without Agenda 2020 there would have been no, zero, bids for 2024. This is absurd. Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest would all still gladly be bidding.

A skeptic might say: five cities started the 2024 race and, amid Agenda 2020, only three remain.

Hamburg’s voters turned down a bid. Rome is now out, too.

Meanwhile, a Tokyo government panel has said costs for the 2020 Games may exceed $30 billion, roughly four times the bid projection, unless cuts are made. At a conference last week, the IOC declined to sign off on a $20 billion Tokyo 2020 budget, seeking a lower number.

— Both Etienne Thobois and Nick Varley were key players in Tokyo’s winning 2020 bid. Nick was the 2020 messaging guy. Etienne served on the IOC’s evaluation team for 2016 — a race in which Tokyo came up short — before switching to the bid side and being involved on behalf of the winning Tokyo 2020 project in many key elements, including the bid’s finances and budgets.

Both now serve in key roles for the Paris 2024 campaign. Varley is playing a significant role in seeking to craft a winning Paris 2024 message. Thobois is the bid’s chief executive officer.

Here is where things get awkward.

Tokyo’s bid was centered on a plan to keep most of the competition venues within five miles of the athletes’ village. Confronted with spiraling costs, the organizing committee has since done a massive re-think, and several venues may now well move outside the city.

Thobois, in a story reported a couple days ago by the Japan Times, said this:

“I think Tokyo tried to win the Games at a time when Agenda 2020 was more or less not there. So you were trying to build some kind of fairy tale.”

What?! Fairy tale?! Seriously?

He went on:

“That concept that everything was within eight kilometers was leaning into a lot of constructions, and venues that turned out not to be needed. In our case it’s very different. So the delivery model is definitely very different and I don’t think you can compare the two situations.”

Actually, yes you can. And it’s illogical not to do so. The two guys who played leading roles in selling a “fairy tale” three-plus years ago are now trying to sell — what?

“We are talking about $3 billion for the Games, infrastructure-wise,” Thobois also said about the Paris 2024 bid, according to the Japan Times, “which is very modest.” The Paris budget proposal: $3.4 billion for operations, $3.2 for infrastructure.

Who can believe those figures? If so, why?

There’s also this, from a lengthy November 2013 Q&A with both Varley and Thobois, Etienne observing about the winning 2020 vote:

“Tokyo were able to secure some really heavyweight, influential votes — to me that was the key. Once you secure those big leaders, those influential voters within the IOC, then things start going your way quite quickly. [Olympic Council of Asia president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad] al-Sabah is obviously a very influential vote to get, but on the doping issue a guy like Lamine Diack, president of arguably the biggest federation [the IAAF], quite a senior, well-respected figure, and he was clearly supporting the Tokyo bid and that was a very strong asset. There were others like that, too.”

Uh-oh.

Again on Diack, that "senior, well-respected figure":

Diack is now the target of a French criminal investigation, and primarily because of “the doping issue.” The authorities allege that as IAAF president he ran a closely held conspiracy designed to, among other things, collect millions of dollars in illicit payments in exchange for making Russian doping cases go away.

Another thought on Paris 2024:

If you asked someone, hey, do you want to go to Paris for, say, the weekend, the answer would of course be yes. Who wouldn’t? Look, I had one of the most glorious summers of my life there, as a student in the 1980s. But in the bid context, that’s not the central question. It’s, do you want to go to Paris and turn over your life — oh, and by the way, the future of the Olympic franchise — to the French authorities for 17 days? Answer away. No fairy tales, please.

Last Friday, the LA2024 bid committee released a new budget plan. It’s $5.3 billion with no surplus and a $491.9 million contingency.

Easy math: $5.3 billion is roughly one-tenth the figure associated with the Sochi 2014 Games. It’s maybe a quarter of what may be on tap in Tokyo.

A first pass at the LA 2024 budget, prepared in the summer of 2015, called for a $161 million “surplus.” That is Olympic talk for “profit.”

Let’s be real. Even if the bid committee can't and won't say so, any Games in Los Angeles is going to make a boatload of money. The only thing that needs to be built is a canoe venue. Everything else already exists; this means infrastructure costs would be super-minimal. The 1984 Games made $232.5 million. The last Summer Games in the United States was 1996. Economics 101: there’s huge demand, especially from corporate sponsors, and the supply has been cut off for going on 20 years now.

Further, California is now the world’s sixth-largest economy, with a gross state product of $2.5 trillion in 2015 — up 4.1 percent, when adjusted for inflation, from 2014. In August, California added 63,000 new jobs — that represents a whopping 42 percent of new jobs added in the entire United States.

This new pass at the budget eliminates the $161 million surplus. It throws all of it into “contingency.”

Now some first-rate analysis from Rich Perelman. Rich’s background in Olympic stuff goes back a long way. In 1984, for instance, he ran press operations at the Los Angeles Olympics; he then served as editor of the Games’ official report. This summer, he launched a newsletter called the Sports Examiner. In Monday’s edition, he offered this take on the LA 2024 plan:

“This is incredibly smart for several reasons. First, it eliminates any plans by outside groups to spend that surplus in 2025 and beyond before it is earned. Second, a zero-surplus budget looks good to the State of California, which has guaranteed to pick up any deficit of up to $250 million at the end of the Games. Third, having no announced surplus allows a clever organizing committee leadership to leverage the need to keep expenses down and obtain maximum outside support from both the private and public sectors in the run-up to the Games.”

Flashback to the SportAccord convention in Sochi in 2015. Then then-president of the organization, the International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer, called the IOC system “expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

Bach’s IOC proxies, led by Diack, mounted a furious response, and Vizer resigned from the SportAccord job about six weeks later.

Vizer, as many have since said quietly, was 100 percent right. And Diack now?

The anti-doping system currently allows athletes to use otherwise-banned products with a doctor’s note and official approval. That approval is called a TUE,  a therapeutic use exemption. The Fancy Bears hack suggests TUE use has been exploited if not manipulated.

Speaking to the British website Inside the Games amid the weekend Tokyo judo Grand Slam, Vizer suggested a novel approach to athlete TUE use — if you have one, you can’t compete.

“My opinion,” he said, “is that those athletes which are using different therapies should not be accepted into official competition during the effect of these products.”

Vizer’s comment is significant for any number of reasons. Here’s the most important collection: he’s almost always right, he isn’t afraid to speak out and, unlike many who just complain, he is consistently in search of and willing to suggest solutions.

News item: American and other athletes weigh boycott of 2017 world bobsled and skeleton championships set for Sochi.

Responses:

1. William Scherr, a key player in Chicago’s 2016 bid, said this the other day on Facebook, speaking generally about the Olympics, and it’s spot-on:

“The Olympics are the only time where the world gathers together, puts aside differences and celebrates those things that make us similar. We learn about people and cultures that we otherwise would never know, and we learn that despite being separated by distance, ethnicity and beliefs that we run, fight, swim and jump the same way.”

A boycott is just dumb. History has shown that the only people a boycott hurts are athletes. Those athletes weighing their 2017 worlds options might want to consider history.

2. No matter the context, neither sanctimonious righteousness nor rush to judgment rarely make for a winning play. If the Americans, for instance, think that doping is only going on in Russia — that’s funny. If the Americans, for instance, think that there is no link in many minds elsewhere between, on the one hand, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones and many more and, on the other, U.S. sports success — that’s funny. That we in the United States might go, wait, the allegation is that in Russia it was state-supported — that’s a distinction that in a lot of places many would find curious. The fact is, we don’t have a state ministry of sport in the United States. So of course world-class cheating would be undertaken in the spirit of private enterprise.

3. The allegations involving the Russian system are extremely serious, and the report due out Friday from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, with yet more accusation, is likely to be even more inflammatory. But accusation without a formal testing of the evidence is just that — accusation. All the Americans claiming the moral high ground right now — if you were accused of something, wouldn’t you want the matter to be tested in a formal setting, meaning in particular by cross-examination? Let’s just see, for instance, what comes out — whether Friday, before or after — about the credibility of Grigoriy Rodchenkov, the former Russian lab director now living in the United States.

IAAF, and an open vote for reform

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MONACO — Transparency. What a concept.

The reform plan put forward by International Assn. of Athletics Federation president Seb Coe, so overdue, is full of common sense. It’s just the thing to start moving track and field, in particular its long-convoluted governance structure, ahead in the 21st century. "Transparency sits at the heart of everything we've been talking about," Coe would say late Saturday.

Like, for instance, an open vote. In which every yes, no and abstention was not just tallied but shown up on the big screen Saturday at a special IAAF congress held here in a ballroom at the seaside Fairmont Hotel.

Take note, International Olympic Committee and others. Transparency surely changes the way you approach the whole voting thing.

IAAF president Seb Coe amid this week's federation meetings // Getty Images for IAAF

Thanks to an open vote and Coe's political skills, the IAAF reform package passed, 182-10, a "ringing endorsement of our commitment to do things differently," he said afterward but one that now -- given the backstage drama that attended the run-up to the balloting and, despite the landslide, remains very much a vital part of the IAAF scene -- raises the pressing question of real-life implementation.

Coe now has authority and real room to maneuver. But don't anyone be fooled that it will all be roses and sunshine.

The former IAAF president, Lamine Diack? From Senegal. Senegal, as was made plain because the ballots were transparently on display, abstained in Saturday's voting.

The runner-up in the 2015 election that made Coe president, Sergei Bubka? From Ukraine. Ukraine abstained.

"We made a decision today but it will be very important to fulfill that with real life," German delegate Dagmar Freitag observed after the vote. "Work begins today."

It actually began months ago, after last Christmas, and culminated late Friday, amid the IAAF awards ceremony, where word was the reform package’s fate remained highly uncertain.

Why is easy to explain:

Big-picture reform? Check. The sport's future on the line? Check. But what about the import of reform on matters such as personal agendas, perks of membership and, of course, individual advancement?

Translation, and cutting right to the core of the thing: what’s in it for me?

This of course is what drives critics of international sport — where considerable lip service is paid to the notion of athletes at the core of the enterprise — up the wall.

Maybe rightly so.

But it also is what it is, and to ignore that reality is unquestionably naïve.

Naïveté is not a helpful thing in the context of IAAF politics and culture. Particularly in 2016.

Track and field arrived at Saturdays moment after a grim 16 months. That's how long Coe has been president.

It was always clear that Diack, president from 1999 until 2015, ran the IAAF as his personal fiefdom — a model he learned from the president before him, Italy’s Primo Nebiolo.

What had been hidden, and for obvious reasons, according to accusations from the French authorities, is that Diack ran a closely held conspiracy — involving just a few senior officials — that aimed, among other things, to collect illicit payments in exchange for hiding certain Russian doping matters.

As for Russian doping — the IAAF banned the Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Games in the aftermath of allegations of state-sanctioned doping. A second report on the matter from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren report is due to be made public Friday.

If ever a sport and a situation were ripe for reform, this would seem to be the moment. Right?

As Usain Bolt said Friday, "I know Seb Coe is trying to make track and field more transparent so everyone can see what's happening, so one person is not pulling control. That's a bold move for him, a bold move for the IAAF president."

As Coe himself said in Saturday's opening remarks, “The walls of the organization were too high to see over and too much power rested in the hands of too few people,” adding, “We should have known more.”

He asserted, “We can not let this happen again,” adding, “It’s bad enough that any of this happened. But it can not happen for a second time. Not on our watch or anyone else’s watch."

In general, the IAAF proposal sketches out four areas of focus:

1. Independent anti-doping, integrity and disciplinary functions, the idea to launch an integrity unit in April 2017

2. A better gender balance

3. A bigger voice for athletes

4. A redefinition of roles and responsibilities for each national federation with the concurrent idea of strengthening what in IAAF terms is called “area representation,” broadly speaking the continents.

The proposal further suggested that IAAF business decisions be delegated to an executive board that would meet regularly, roughly once a month. The IAAF council would set policy. The congress, with a registry of more than 200 national representatives, would continue to be the federation’s “supreme authority,”meeting annually.

The idea, per the working paper, was to cast one vote Saturday on the adoption of two — count them, two — constitutions. One set of rules would take effect in 2017, the other in 2019. The 2017 plan revolved mostly around the integrity plank. The rest — a new structure for vice presidents, council and executive board — would take effect in 2019.

As Coe put it in the forward to the working paper, “Now is the time for change. The time to rebuild our organization for the next generation. To be the change we want to see.”

Svein Arne Hansen, president of the European Athletics Federations, wrote in a statement posted to the federation’s website: “To be clear, our sport’s reputation has already been damaged and failure to pass these reforms will do further damage in the eyes of the public, with governments and with partners in ways we can only imagine at this time. It will hurt the federations and it will hurt the athletes at all levels.”

That elicited on Twitter this response from Paula Radcliffe, the British marathon standout:

https://twitter.com/paulajradcliffe/status/804734851635093504

In remarks that helped to open Saturday’s session, Haile Gebrselassie, the distance champion who is now head of the Ethiopian track and field federation, said, “Billions of people around the world, they have to trust us.”

Echoed Andreas Thorkildsen, the Norwegian javelin champion: “It’s transparency and trust — what I believe is very important for us going forward.”

A few moments before, Prince Albert of Monaco had told the audience, “Today is a pivotal moment for the future of athletics,” meaning track and field, “and the hopes and dreams of clean athletes worldwide.”

The prince added, “Sport has the unique capacity to transcend borders, to build bridges between populations, to ease tensions within societies. We all need to make sure it remains a force for good a beacon of hope for generations to come. We need to rebuild this trust.”

All this uplifting stuff. All this excellent theater. All good.

Now let’s talk straight.

“Today is the day we must bury our own interests for the greater good — to do what is right,” the chair of the IAAF athletes’ commission, Rozle Prezelj of Slovenia, said.

As always, the devil lurks in the details, and in the difference between theory and practice.

Coe acknowledged from the head table that he had gotten pushback before the meeting about bringing in new people and new teams, including chief executive Olivier Gers. Referring to the clear concern underpinning that pushback, was it because “I want to ditch responsibility?”

He answered the rhetorical question: “Simply not true. Given the year that our sport and I personally have gone through, I hope all of you in this room will agree that is ridiculous,” even though obviously some in the room had been the ones making that “ridiculous’ suggestion and such pushback  revealed the concern if not fear of moving from president-as-king governance structure that had long held at the IAAF.

That gender balance thing:

The IOC has for years pushed those in the Olympic movement to not just promote but welcome women at executive and leadership positions.

Progress has been halting.

The IAAF proposal perfectly illustrates why.

It calls for the number of vice presidents to stay at four with the proviso that by 2019 there be one of each gender and by 2027 two of each.

Let’s say you were one of the four men currently holding a vice-presidential seat. How inclined would you be to robustly agree to such a proposition if such agreement put you at serious risk of losing your position?

And what about section 3.6 in the proposals, relating once more to those vice presidents. It says a vice president can’t simultaneously serve as an area president.

Such “interlocking directorates” have long been a mainstay of Olympic sport despite the potential for conflict of interest, the rationale behind 3.6. It’s nonetheless easy to see why, in real life, such a change would mean a significant diminishment of authority and influence for someone who might currently occupy both spots.

As for the image of the sport and the ability to instill trust:

In theory, very few dispute the notion that stuff failing the smell test shouldn’t happen.

In practice, however, what smells in one part of the world maybe doesn’t in another.

For instance, explain this, and it’s not like it’s a secret, because anyone can read all about it right there on the internet:

The Assn. of Balkan Athletics Federations is a thing. It has 17 members. From, mostly, the Balkans — you know, the likes of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro.

So why was the “6th Balkan Athletics Gala,” according to the internet, held Nov. 19 in that bastion of Balkan-ness, Dubai?

Where the presidents and general secretaries of those member federations were invited to “share the excitement of the glorious moments”?

Hypothetically: what if a key player in Dubai had regional if not global ambitions? Would such a person stand to gain influence with some number of potential voters by inviting them out of the chill of the autumnal Balkans down to sunny Dubai?

Oh, the currents -- and thus the genuine concern from many of the reform-minded on Friday night.

The IAAF, meanwhile, made life all the more difficult for itself Saturday by insisting on what per the rules was called a “special majority” to enact its reforms — in essence, a two-thirds majority.

In all, 197 delegates (up from an initial count of 196) were on hand. Two-thirds meant 132 (if no abstentions).

A test question highlighted the obstacles: are you happy to be in Monaco? 177 said yes, 17 no, a couple had no opinion. Seventeen people were not happy to be on an expenses-paid trip to one of the world’s fanciest destinations? A second run-through of the test question, after the number of delegates was fixed at 197, gave these results: 156-37, 81 percent to 19 percent, with four abstentions.

Later, the Portuguese representative observed that such transparency was highly unusual at a sports function, and that many delegates had taken a cellphone picture of the results up there on that big screen. Would the real votes be displayed as well?

Yes, Gers said.

“For those who don’t want the vote to be transparent: make the right choice,” Radcliffe said from the floor, her hands quivering with emotion as she clutched the microphone.

Saturday's vote for everyone to see -- Panama voted 'yes,' as is evident in a close review, but an apparent computer glitch mistakenly shows it as a red 'no'

In the end, that very transparency unquestionably helped seal the deal. No question by Saturday morning the Coe political operation meant the package would have passed the two-thirds threshold. But, also unquestionably, there would have been considerably more no votes. It’s another for everyone in the “family” — as that word was used many times in the 42 pre-vote floor comments — to talk the talk. It's quite another to see a very public “no” vote on a matter of such import.

No votes came from, among others, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.

Immediately after, Bobby McFerrin came on the audio feed: “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Another choice might well have been Johnny Nash's 1972 No. 1 hit -- or if you prefer, the 1993 Jimmy Cliff version on the soundtrack of the Jamaican bobsled flick Cool Runnings. It famously proclaims, "I can see clearly now."

Next votes. Because there are plenty yet to come.

"Look," Coe said in a post-vote news conference, "I hope the public perception of our sport is helped by what they’ve seen today but that isn’t primarily why we did it. We did it because we were in need of change."

The Olympics as canary in coal mine

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If English is not your first language, or you have forgotten or never learned about the dangers inherent in mining, or you have (inexplicably) little to no regard for “Zenyatta Mondatta,” the classic 1980 album from The Police, herewith an appreciation of the phrase “canary in a coal mine.”

And why, like the canary, the Olympic movement is an eerily prescient predictor of change buffeting our uncertain, if not broken, world — the kind of change that produced Brexit, the vote Thursday that will now lead to the United Kingdom’s self-inflicted divorce from the European Union.

Brexit makes for nothing less than a seismic event in the history of all of our lives.

17782679296_eb71733763_m

At the same time, the very same forces that came together to usher Britain out of the EU have been vividly on display for the past several years in any reasonable assessment of international sport, and particularly in reference to the International Olympic Committee: disdain if not outright rejection of political elites, bureaucracies and institutions, most if not all of it animated by grievance along with its historically volatile corollary, fear of the “other.”

Indeed, the evidence makes a strong case that the Olympic scene is arguably nothing less than a — if not the — leading indicator of big-picture trends in an increasingly globalized world.

That is, a canary in a coal mine.

The first coal mines did not feature ventilation systems. The legend goes that miners would bring a caged canary down with them. Why? Canaries are sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide. As long as the bird sang, the miners knew their air was safe. A silenced canary meant it was time to move, and fast.

Consider any number of recent IOC host city elections in the early years of the 21st century — indicators, all, of intensifying interconnected-ness:

— The tacks to China (2001 in 2008), Russia (2007 for 2014) and Brazil (2009 for 2016).

— The Olympic telegraph of the rise of Asia, both acknowledging and accelerating its economic and political might, with the awarding, after 2008, of three Games in a row there -- 2018 Winter (South Korea), 2020 Summer (Tokyo), 2022 Winter (Beijing).

Beijing will be the first city in Olympic history to stage both Summer and Winter Games, and China re-emerged on the Olympic stage only in the 1980s.

Beijing won for 2022 in an election last summer, defeating Almaty, Kazakhstan. Here was the flip side.

Six cities in Europe dropped out, five put off to varying degrees by the $51 billion figure associated with those 2014 Sochi Olympics: Oslo, Munich, Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz and Krakow, Poland. A sixth, Lviv, Ukraine, fell out because of war.

Just two candidates for the Winter Olympics?

And maybe now just three for the ongoing campaign for Summer 2024?

The original 2024 list of five — Hamburg, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Budapest — is already down to four, German voters having rejected Hamburg. Four very well may soon shrink to three amid this week’s election of a new mayor in Rome, Virginia Raggi, for whom the Olympics is not a priority: "Already with 13 billion euros ($15 billion) in debt, Rome can't permit taking on more debt to make cathedrals in the desert."

Déjà vu all over again, maybe: in 2012, the then-prime minister of Italy called off Rome’s 2020 bid, citing uncertain [read: too high] costs.

And Los Angeles, of course, took over for Boston when locals objected vehemently to the notion of an Olympic invasion.

As telling as the Olympic indicators have been for the wider world, those same markers are equally if not more on-point for the Olympic movement itself and, especially, the IOC.

The collision of interests that gave rise to Brexit leads now suddenly if inevitably to the logical and legitimate Olympic question:

Can the structure of a club born in the 1890s and driven for most of these past 130 years by Europe find, by itself, a way to engineer an appropriate 21st-century governance that will help sustain its position in the world?

Or will change — in a form the IOC might or might not like — be imposed upon it?

In the way that it has been imposed, thanks to the FBI and Swiss authorities, on scandal-plagued FIFA?

In December, 2014, the IOC membership unanimously voted for a 40-point reform plan, dubbed “Agenda 2020.” Within the Olympic bubble, Agenda 2020 has become a ready point of reference — a talking point but, let's face it, lip service, really.

IOC president Thomas Bach at this month's meeting of the committee's policy-making executive board // IOC

In the real world, Agenda 2020 has offered little if anything in response to the onslaught of challenges playing out in real time.

Any Games is supposed to be a celebration of possibility. With roughly six weeks to go, and keeping in mind that perhaps all will be steady once the Olympic cauldron is lit in Rio, those Games are on course to possibly be the biggest cluster of all time:

Where to begin? There's Zika and the withdrawal from the Games of golf and basketball stars, bad water, the collapse of political and economic institutions as well as even a showpiece beachfront sidewalk, allegations of major governmental corruption, street crime, uncertainty among the locals and, the latest, the shut-down of the Rio anti-doping lab.

And, of course, accusations of state-sponsored doping in Russia.

And more. Like, maybe the subway to Olympic Park gets finished. Or maybe not.

As it was winding around Brazil, the Olympic flame relay seemed to be the sole beacon of sanity — until someone had the dumb idea of using a chained jaguar, an endangered Amazonian jungle cat, as a relay prop. It somehow escaped its army handlers. An army officer thereupon shot and killed it.

For those looking deeper into the symbolism: the jaguar is the official mascot of Brazil’s Olympic team.

So, as NPR pointed out, they sort of went and killed their own mascot in Brazil.

This can lead to all manner of deep thoughts about existentialism. Such thoughts are perhaps better reserved for philosophy, and what-if’s.

What's real is relevance.

And the IOC’s No. 1 challenge, always, is to remain relevant in a changing world — to reach out to young people in hopes of serving as a bridge to connection and inspiration. To celebrate humanity, as one of its better marketing campaigns years ago put it.

Swinging away from the jaguar and back to the canary: if it were singing an Olympic song, it would ring out all about the three core Olympic values -- friendship, excellence and respect.

Where is that song?

Is it even being hummed amid the cha-ching that is Olympic cash flow?

Make no mistake: 21st-century sport is not just dreams and inspirations. It is also big business.

It is, at a very real level, institutional.

Perhaps at no time in its history has the acronym “IOC” served as an illustration of the contrast between what those inside the Olympic bubble believe it to be and, more important, those without.

There are, indeed, fascinating comparisons to be drawn between the IOC on the one hand and, on the other, Brexit and the EU.

Some observations from Friday’s reporting, and just substitute in “IOC” where appropriate:

Financial Times -- "Political elites are under pressure everywhere in the west. Donald Trump is a candidate for US president. Marine Le Pen is bidding for France’s Élysée Palace. But who would have thought pragmatic, moderate, incrementalist Britain would tear down the political temple? This week’s referendum result was a revolt against the status quo with consequences, national and international, as profound as anything seen in postwar Europe."

Washington Post -- “We are in the midst of a worldwide sea change regarding how people view themselves, their government and their countries. The Brexit vote and the rise of Trump — while separated by thousands of miles and an ocean — are both manifestations of that change. There will be more."

Another from the Post, and the strikethroughs are in the original -- “As Trump himself notes, the issues that dominated the Brexit campaign and his own campaign are similar: hostility to immigration, resentment at cosmopolitan elites, frustration with unelected officials telling ordinary citizens how to live, and a persistent perception that the status quo favors minorities layabouts over white ordinary, Anglo-Saxon decent, Christian hard-working citizens.”

New York Times:  “The European Union hasn’t done a good job of explaining its purpose — it’s too opaque, too bureaucratic, too confusing — and its slow handling of the debt crisis, especially in Greece, where it acted fast so French and German banks could cut their losses, but left Greece asphyxiated, had devastating consequences for all. Decisions made for short-term financial stability have led to long-term political instability.”

It’s all reminiscent of what the former IOC Games director Gilbert Felli said amid the 2022 drop-outs: “We lost good cities because of the bad perception of the IOC, the bad perception of how the concept could be done.”

At one point before Oslo formally pulled the plug, a poll suggested that 60 percent of the Norwegian public was against a 2022 bid, with only 35 percent in favor. Oslo! The very soul of winter sports, where Norwegian news outlets ran gleefully with reports about perceptions of the special privileges that would be afforded IOC members at a Games — including cocktail protocols, stocked hotel bars, even hotel room temperatures.

The IOC’s response when Oslo pulled out? It lashed out, saying politicians were misinformed, “left to take their decisions on the basis of half-truths and factual inaccuracies.”

Last November, voters in Hamburg became just the most recent in a succession of ballot initiatives to shoot down the IOC.

Why? A few weeks later, a local dentist told the Guardian, the British newspaper, “I think the people of Hamburg are fed up [at] being short-changed by private companies when it comes to major public projects.”

When voters in Bavaria said no the year before to Munich 2022, here was the key take-away, from Ludwig Hartmann, a Greens Party lawmaker and leader of the movement, called “NOlympia,” that led to the opposition to the project: “The vote is not a signal against the sport but against the non-transparency and the greed for profit of the IOC.”

The IOC, to be clear, is not a for-profit institution.

In other respects, it has real work to do.

It’s not that this is a secret in the Olympic world, either. At the SportAccord conference in Sochi in 2015, Marius Vizer, the-then SportAccord president who is also head of the International Judo Federation, called out the IOC in his usually direct way, accusing it of running a system that had become sclerotic.

In his words: “History demonstrated that all the empires who reached the highest peaks of development never reformed on time and they are all headed for destruction. The IOC system today is expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent.”

In effect, Vizer was the Olympic canary in the coal mine.

The IOC response: kill the canary -- er, the messenger.

Lamine Diack, the-then president of the IAAF, the track and field federation, served as the primary IOC proxy, taking the IAAF out of SportAccord and calling Vizer a “chief coming from nowhere.”

To make a long story short, Diack is now under criminal inquiry in France, suspected of accepting more than $1 million in bribes to help Russian athletes evade sanctions for tests.

Moreover, Tokyo’s winning 2020 bid is now under suspicion. In the months immediately before and after the 2013 vote for 2020, $2 million is thought to have been transferred from Japan to an account in Singapore controlled by a close friend of one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack, long an IAAF “marketing consultant.”

Vizer, in Sochi in 2015: “I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for sport. I mean sacrifice in the way of dedication. And in my eyes,” now referring to Diack, he is “a person who sacrifices sport for his family.”

Friday’s New York Times also included a column in which a reporter recalls being on assignment in Russia and, while there, hears a film producer make this sardonic observation: in Russia, “the future has become unpredictable — and so has the past.”

Substitute “IOC,” again.

And here, too, from the final paragraph of that same column — once more, plug in “IOC” or “Olympic movement” in place of the proper nouns: “Who inherits England? It’s a question that has obsessed British novelists for decades. And who inherits Europe? Today in Europe the past is equally unpredictable, and the path ahead looks very uncertain.”

WADA did not just sit idly by

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Fat headlines are fun. A rush to judgment can feel so exhilarating. Yet serious decisions demand facts and measured judgment.

To believe the headlines, to take in the rush, one would believe that the World Anti-Doping Agency sat around for the better part of four years and did nothing amid explosive allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia sparked in large measure by the whistleblower Vitaliy Stepanov, a former Russian doping control officer, and his wife, Yulia, a world-class middle-distance runner.

That’s just not true.

Yulia Stepanova, competing under her maiden name, at the 2011 IAAF world championship 800-meter semifinals // Getty Images

WADA, like any institution, can be faulted for many things. But in this instance, WADA officials did what they could when they could, and with a greater degree of sensitivity and attention to real-life consequence than the story that has dominated many mainstream media accounts and thus has started to take on a freight train-like run of its own.

“WADA’s foot-dragging has raised serious questions about the agency’s willingness to do its job,” Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, wrote in a May 25 op-ed in the New York Times.

Tygart assuredly knows the rules perhaps better than anyone else. In a passage that curiously ignores the fact that WADA itself had no investigative authority until the very start of 2015, the op-ed also says: “WADA knew of the Stepanovs’ accusations for years; Mr. Stepanov was offering evidence of extensive doping in Russia since 2010. Yet the agency was moved to act only after the German documentary,” a December 2014 production on the channel ARD led by the journalist Hajo Seppelt. It was that documentary that broke the Russian scandal open.

An email that circulated this week from John Leonard, a leading U.S. swim coach, opened this way: “Did you see that WADA and Mr. Reedie knew about the entire Russian/ARD issue for 2.5 years before they finally told the whistleblowers to go to ARD?”

It added in a reference to Craig Reedie, the current WADA president, “Reedie is WADA chair and an [International Olympic Committee] VP, that explains the why they sat on it. Direct conflict of interest. He needs to go, now, from WADA.”

This expressly ignores three essential facts:

One, Reedie didn't take over as WADA president until January 2014. To ascribe responsibility to him for something that happened before that is patently unfair. How would he have known? Should have known?

Two, as anyone familiar with the Olympic scene knows well, interlocking directorates are a fact of life in the movement. Dick Pound, the long-term IOC member from Canada, served as WADA’s first president — and he is now, again, a champion to many for being outspoken on the matter of Russian doping after serving on a WADA-appointed independent commission that investigated the matter.

By definition, it can’t be a conflict of interest when there’s full disclosure that Reedie is both IOC vice president and WADA president. Moreover, to assert that Reedie would be acting in his role as WADA president with anything but the best intent assumes facts not in evidence.

WADA president Sir Craig Reedie, right, speaks beside Japanese deputy Education, Culture, Sports and Science Minister Hideki Niwa during a 2015 news conference // Getty Images

Third, from the outset, as a report published last November from that WADA-appointed commission makes plain, the global anti-doping agency has been met in many quarters with considerable reluctance: “WADA continues to face a recalcitrant attitude on the part of many stakeholders that it is merely a service provider and not a regulator.”

WADA’s incoming director-general, Olivier Niggli, emphasized Friday in a telephone interview, referring to the Stepanovs, “We respect them for having been courageous.”

Niggli also said, “We are not the organization we are being portrayed as at the moment. It’s nothing against Vitaliy and his wife.” Amid a doping ban, Yulia Stepanova emerged as a star witness for that WADA-appointed commission.

“I understand,” Niggli said. “It’s not easy for them.”

Olivier Niggli, WADA's incoming director general // WADA

Nothing right now in the anti-doping movement is easy. Perhaps that’s why, amid the storm sparked by the accusations of state-sanctioned doping, the time is right to take a step back and consider what might be done to make the anti-doping campaign that much more effective.

What’s at issue now is hardly solely of WADA’s doing. And none of this is new.

To be frank, it is — and always will be — part of human nature to want to cheat. The challenge in elite sport is how best to rein in that tendency.

In 2013, for instance, in the weeks and months leading up to the election that would see Reedie take over at the start of the next year as WADA president from the Australian government official John Fahey, all this was going down:

Revelations of teens in Turkey being doped. Allegations that West Germany’s government tolerated and covered up a culture of doping among its athletes for decades, and even encouraged it in the 1970s “under the guise of basic research.” Positive tests involving American and Jamaican track stars, including the leading sprinters Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell. And, of course, Lance Armstrong’s  “confession” to Oprah Winfrey.

Was anyone then braying for the U.S. cycling team to be banned wholesale from the Olympics — which, it should be noted, was underwritten for years by the U.S. government’s Postal Service?

The distinction between the Turks then and the Russians now is — what? That Vladimir Putin is the Russian president?

The Russian allegations are extremely serious. But for the moment, they are just that — allegations, without conclusive, adjudicated proof.

WADA, created as a collaboration between sport and governments, is now roughly 17 years old. Without government buy-in of some sort, the whole thing would probably collapse and yet there’s a delicate balance when it comes to the risk of government interference. Why? In virtually every country except for the United States, responsibility — and funding — for Olympic sport falls to a federal ministry.

WADA’s annual budget is roughly $26 million.

This number, $26 million, forms the crux of the challenge. Most everyone says they want clean sport, particularly in the Olympic context. But do they, really?

Niggli said, “People need to understand the expectation put on us. If they want us to deliver, that is going to take more resources.”

Context, too. An athlete who can pass even hundreds of tests is not necessarily clean, despite the public tendency to want to believe that a negative test result means an athlete is positively clean. Ask Armstrong. Or Marion Jones.

Referring to widespread perceptions of the anti-doping campaign, Pound said in an interview this week, "If you were to ask me that about the NFL or Major League Baseball … I would say they don’t really care. These are professional entertainers. If people are suspended for 80 games or whatever, nobody really cares.”

Indeed, three players — the major leaguers Daniel Stumpf of the Phillies and Chris Colabello of the Blue Jays and the minor leaguer Kameron Loe — were recently suspended for taking the anabolic steroid turinabol, the blue pill at the core of the East German doping program in the 1970s.

Has that, compared to the saga of the Russians, dominated the headlines? Hardly.

The first WADA president and longstanding IOC member Dick Pound at last November's news conference announcing the findings of a WADA-appointed independent commission // Getty Images

Pound continued: “But you watch each time there’s a positive test in the Olympics. That affects people. They kind of hope the Olympics are a microcosm of the world and if the Olympics can work, then maybe the world can work.

“If something goes wrong at the Olympics, there’s inordinate disappointment. If that happens too often, it will turn people off.”

At the same time, when it’s time to put up or shut up — is there genuinely political and financial will across the world to make Pound’s words meaningful?

Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star busted for the heart-drug meldonium, herself has enjoyed annual revenues more than than WADA’s $26 million per-year budget. Forbes says Sharapova, the world’s highest-paid female athlete for the 11th straight year, made $29.7 million between June 2014 and June 2015.

Tennis star Maria Sharapova announcing in March in Los Angeles that she had failed a doping test for meldonium // Getty Images

Big-time U.S. college athletic department budgets can run to five, six or more times WADA’s $26 million. Texas A&M’s revenue, according to a USA Today survey: $192 million. The ranks of those whose annual revenues total roughly $26 million: Illinois State and Toledo.

Down Under, in a long-running saga, 34 past and present Australian Football League players have been banned for doping. Just last week, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, which in 2014 initiated action against the players, confirmed its budget was being cut by 20 percent. In fiscal year 2014, ASADA boasted a staff of 78. By 2017, that figure will be 50, the cuts affecting “all of ASADA’s functions, including our testing, investigative, education and administrative units,” the agency told the Australian broadcast outlet ABC.

The World Anti-Doping Code took effect in 2004. After lengthy consultations, a revised Code came into being in 2009. A further-revised version took effect, again after considerable discussion, in January 2015.

Per its new rules, it was only then — January 2015 — that WADA finally obtained the authority to run investigations.

But even that authority is necessarily limited.

Critically, WADA does not still — cannot — have subpoena power, meaning the authority under threat of sanction to compel testimony or evidence.

Moreover: who is going to pay for any and all investigations?

Suggestions have been advanced that perhaps a fraction of the billions in Olympic-related broadcast fees paid to the IOC ought to go to WADA. Or leading pharmaceutical companies or top-tier Olympic sponsors not only could but should contribute significantly as a matter of corporate social responsibility.

All this remains to be hashed out.

Meanwhile, it is without dispute that any meaningful investigation takes time, resource, patience, planning and, in the best cases, sound reasoning.

As Niggli put it, “The message is that these investigations — this is one example — take time. If you want to get something, you can’t react emotionally and throw everything out. In this case that would have been the end of the story.”

Stepanov first approached WADA officials at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“It’s not that in 2010 Vitaliy came to us with a file, a binder, and said, ‘This is what is happening in Russia,’ and we sat on that,” Niggli said.

“At first he came to us and said he had some worries about what was going on. He maybe had some information from his job and potentially some information from his wife.

“This was a conversation for a number of years.”

In 2010, Niggli said, there were “two emails exchanged,” the substance of both was, more or less, let’s meet again and find a way to communicate. In 2011, there was another meeting, in Boston — the thinking that a get-together would hardly attract attention because Stepanov was there to run the marathon. In 2012, more emails. “All this time,” Niggli said, Stepanov had “not told his wife he was talking to us.”

Why? “She was competing and doping, as we now know. He was worried about her and protecting her.”

The Stepanovs in a recent appearance on '60 Minutes' // CBS News

Niggli also said of the period from 2010 to 2013: “That was not at all a stage where we had corroborating evidence.”

The “game-changer,” as Niggli put it, came when Yulia Stepanova was busted for doping, formally announced in February 2013: “They together decided they would do the right thing.”

It was about this time that, according to the WADA-appointed independent commission, Stepanova started making secret recordings with Russian coaches and officials. The recordings would carry on through November 2014; she made them at places as varied as Moscow’s Kazinsky rail station and a hotel in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet satellite.

On Feb. 10, 2013, Stepanov sent an email to a WADA contact. It read, in part:

“After thinking for another few hours and talking to my wife, to try to make a bigger impact we need more evidence. We will not hide anything from you … it’s not really my wife’s fault she is being punished but we feel we can get more evidence. To get more evidence we need more time.”

Two days later, another Stepanov email: “I spoke to my wife and here is what we think right now … we think right now that probably there is no reason to really rush everything.”

The next month, WADA organized another meeting — the Stepanovs and Jack Robertson, a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer who was hired in 2011 as WADA’s chief investigative officer (the argument: the agency pro-actively trying to make advancements though it then had no authority to conduct its own investigations).

Robertson was “very careful to make sure this was confidential, to make sure they would not be put in danger,” Niggli said.

“Obviously, we would not want to share [what it might be learning] with Russia. We did not share with the IAAF,” track and field’s international governing body, “which now looks like a good and prudent decision,” given that then-IAAF president Lamine Diack is alleged to have orchestrated a conspiracy that took more than $1 million in bribes to keep Russian athletes eligible, including at the London 2012 Olympics.

In 2013, WADA went to the Moscow anti-doping lab, hoping to find corroborating evidence. “We found some but not as much as we hoped to,” Niggli said. The agency opened a “disciplinary commission” and for some months it remained uncertain if the Russians would keep the lab, and the Sochi 2014 Winter Games satellite, accredited.

“With the information we had,” Niggli said, “we asked whether this was not putting the whistle-blowers,” the Stepanovs, “in danger.”

The Stepanovs, along with their young son, are now out of Russia, in an undisclosed location.

It was in early 2014 that Robertson sent an email to Stepanov suggesting he get in touch with Seppelt, the German reporter and filmmaker.

The ARD broadcast aired that December.

Just a few weeks later, at the start of 2015, WADA, with investigative authority, commissioned the three-member independent panel: Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, German law enforcement official Günter Younger and Pound.

“That is the big picture,” Niggli said. “It’s not something that happened on Day One. It built over time. It was long work. It was done the right way, to protect [the Stepanovs] and make sure they would not lose the benefit of all that has been done.

He added a moment later, “I’m sure that if we had acted earlier, there would be no result. It would have been dimmed or killed. It would have been Vitaliy and his wife alone, with the denial of a state such as Russia. That,” he said, “would not have held much weight.”

The incredible Aries Merritt, and more

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A dozen musings on track and field, on the 2024 Summer Games bid race and more:

1. At a news conference Friday in Eugene, Oregon, before Saturday’s line-up of events at the 42nd annual Prefontaine Classic, the question went out to Aries Merritt, the 2012 London men’s 110-meter hurdles champion who is also the world record-holder, 12.8 seconds, in the event: on a scale of one to 10, where did he fall?

Heading toward the U.S. Trials in a month and, presumably, beyond to the Rio 2016 Summer Games, Merritt has probably the most unbelievable, incredible, authentic story in track and field. He had a degenerative kidney condition. With almost no kidney function, he somehow won a bronze medal in the hurdles at the 2015 world championships. Thereafter, with his sister as the donor, he underwent a kidney transplant. It required not just one but two surgeries.

Aries Merritt showing off his kidney transplant scar at a pre-Pre news conference

So — one to 10? “Ten,” he said. Which means that the hurdles, always one of the best events at the track, figures to be that much better. And, America and beyond — get ready, via NBC and every outlet out there, for the Aries Merritt story. He deserves every bit of good publicity he gets.

2. With all due respect to the sainted Steve Prefontaine — no snark or sarcasm intended, only a full measure of respect — a significant chunk of the problem with track and field in the United States is Steve Prefontaine.

Every sport needs heroes. Not just legends.

The elements of the Prefontaine story have been well-chronicled: the U.S. records at virtually every middle- and long distance event, the fourth in the 5k at the Munich 1972 Games, his life cut short in a car crash at 24.

The legend of Prefontaine, and appropriately, has had a longstanding hold on the U.S. track and field imagination.

Steve Prefontaine racing in London in September 1972 // Getty Images

But imagine if, say, baseball was stuck in the Roberto Clemente era. Or the NBA fixated on Reggie Lewis, Len Bias, Malik Sealy or, for that matter, Drazen Petrovic. Or the NFL on Junior Seau and others.

One of the major challenges with track and field now is that there is no 2016 version of larger-than-life Prefontaine. No one is that guy (or that woman). Ashton Eaton could be and maybe should be. But who else? Merritt? It's anyone's guess.

Most Americans, asked to name a track and field star, will answer: Carl Lewis.

It has been roughly 20 years since Lewis made any noise on the track itself, more than 40 since Prefontaine was alive. Meanwhile, fourth-graders all around the 50 states can readily debate (pick one) Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, whether Derek Jeter was the best Yankee ever, whether they would start an NBA team with (pick one) LeBron James or Steph Curry.

Every sport, to repeat, needs heroes. Not just legends.

3. Earlier this year, the former 800-meter world champion Caster Semenya made even hardened track geeks go, whoa. She raced, and won, three events — on the same day — at the South African national championships, the women’s 400 (personal-best 50.74), 800 (1:58.45) and 1500 (4:10.93, outside Olympic qualifying time).

So much for the theory — oft-advanced by track freaks who never bother to, say, watch swimming — that a world-class athlete can’t race, and win, multiple events on the same day.

From start to finish, Semenya ran the three races in about four hours.

She went 1:58.26 to win the Doha Diamond League meet in early May, winning by nearly an entire second.

On Sunday, and she wasn’t even really going all out, Semenya ran 1:56.64 for the win at the first IAAF Diamond League meet in Africa, in Rabat, Morocco. She won by more than a full second.

For comparison: on Friday night, on Day One of the 2016 Prefontaine Classic at historic Hayward Field, American Alysia Montaño-Johnson won the women's 800 in 2:00.78.

 Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrates her May 6 victory in the women's 800 at the Doha Diamond League event // Getty Images

Semenya doesn’t deserve to do anything but get to run, and run as fast as possible. At the 2009 world championships in Berlin, she ran away with the 800, in a crazy-fast 1:55.45. Then it was disclosed that she had elevated testosterone levels. The gender testing — and, more, the shaming — that she endured thereafter proved unconscionable.

The rules are the rules. The rules say she can run in women’s events.

The real question is: what should be the rules?

Because it’s perhaps not that difficult to explain why Semenya is — after silvers in the 800 at the 2011 worlds and 2012 Olympics and then injuries and subpar performances since — running so fast again now.

It’s all about testosterone levels.

Because of Semenya, track and field’s international governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, as well as the International Olympic Committee, put in place a new policy: you could run in women’s events if your testosterone levels fell under a threshold of 10 nanomoles (that’s what it’s called) per liter. In scientific jargon: 10 nmo/L.

Context: as the South African scientist and writer Ross Tucker points out in a brilliant Q&A on what is called “hyperandrogenism” with the activist Joanna Harper, 99 percent of female athletes registered testosterone levels below 3.08 nmo/L.

From the science department, part I: “hyper” is science talk for what in ordinary speech might be described as “way, way more.” The primary and probably most well-known “androgen” is testosterone.

Part II, simple math: the upper limit of 10 is more than three times higher than for 99 in 100 women.

Last year, in a decision that pleased human rights advocates but left knowledgable track observers puzzled (to say the least), sport’s top court, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, ruling in the case of sprinter Dutee Chand from India, said the IAAF (and IOC) could no longer enforce the testosterone limit.

In real life, and particularly as we look toward Rio, this means what?

The IAAF and IOC are trying to come up with a new policy.

In the meantime, Semenya, “plus a few others,” as Tucker writes, “have no restriction.” The erasure of the limit has “utterly transformed Semenya from an athlete who was struggling to run 2:01 to someone who is tactically running 1:56," Tucker goes on to say, adding, "My impression, having seen her live and now in the Diamond League, is that she could run 1:52, and if she wanted to, would run a low 48-second 400 meters and win that gold in Rio. too.”

He also writes that Semenya is “the unfortunate face of what is going to be a massive controversy in Rio” — my words here, not his, about who is a “female” and gets to run in “women’s” events. He writes, "It won’t be any consolation to Semenya, [that] the media, frankly, have no idea how to deal with this – nobody wants it to be about the athlete, and it certainly is not her fault.  However, it is a debate we must have, and I want to try to have it from the biological, sporting perspective, and steer clear of the minority bullying that so often punctuates these matters.”

Tucker is right. The debate — calm voices only, please — needs to be held, and in short order.

4. UCLA, per a report first from ESPN, landed the biggest college sports apparel deal ever, with Under Armour. Terms: 15 years, beginning in July 2017. The deal is believed to be worth $280 million.

Biggest-ever is likely to be relative, depending on what comes next.

Because, in recent months:

Michigan, 11 years (option to extend to 15), Nike, $169 million,

Texas, 15 years, Nike $250 million.

Ohio State, 15 years, Nike, $252 million.

Boosters of these schools, and others, typically tend to react with glee at these sorts of numbers.

Rhetorical question, part I: why, when USA Track & Field chief executive officer Max Siegel scores a $500 million, 23-year deal with Nike, do some number of track fans bemoan Nike’s influence as a death star of sorts and claim the federation is verging on stupidity if not recklessness?

Rhetorical question, part II: how is it that dismissive claims about the USATF/Nike deal become gospel among the disaffected when track athletes actually get paid to run for a living but college athletes, as UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen noted in a Tweet that quickly got deleted, don’t — and likely won’t —get to see a dime of any of those millions?

Just a thought here: maybe Siegel was, you know, ahead of the power curve.

5. More on USATF, now on the dismissal this week per 11-1 vote of the federation’s board of directors of the Youth Executive Committee and its chairman, Lionel Leach:

Many, many things could be said here about Leach and the conduct that led to this action.

For now, this will suffice:

This is a movie whose ending we can all know, and now.

Why?

Because it’s a re-run.

What’s at issue, at the core, is a power struggle between the volunteers and professional staff.

Here’s news: the professional staff is going to win. As it should.

It used to be that the U.S. Olympic Committee found itself consumed by precisely this sort of petty, personalized politics. That changed when governance reforms became real; when the board empowered the chief executive to run the show; and when the chief executive proved professional and hugely competent (USOC: Scott Blackmun, USATF: Siegel).

It's a fact that USATF has a long and contentious history. But this is a fact, too: Siegel's first four years have shown dramatic, and consequential, improvement for the federation, and the sport.

6. Moving along, to an international sports federation president who also gets it, even if the IOC often doesn't want to admit so: Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation.

Vizer, in advance of the start Friday of a major IJF event in Guadalajara, Mexico, spent about two hours doing a live Q&A on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/MariusVizer/status/736270089708703744

Imagine: actually doing exactly what the IOC says it wants to do, to reach out to young people in those ways, like Twitter, by which young people connect with each other.

Far too many federation presidents might have something resembling a panic attack at the thought of entertaining questions about whatever from whoever. Vizer, who has never had anything to hide and has consistently been a forceful voice for accountability and change (to the IOC's chagrin), made it plain: bring it on.

Indeed, Vizer ended by saying more such Q&A's would be forthcoming.

https://twitter.com/MariusVizer/status/736291453161246722

7. Switching to 2024 bid news:

If you might be tempted to look past those potentially significant developments related to the allegations of Russian doping — first, a potential U.S. Justice Department inquiry and, second, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart’s bombshell of an op-ed in the New York Times — it was otherwise a good week for the LA24 bid committee, at least for those things it could and can control.

Los Angeles, behind a bid headed by Casey Wasserman, who is also in charge of LA24, won the right to stage the 2021 Super Bowl.

Plus, a rail line from downtown to Santa Monica opened, to real excitement and big crowds. Roll that around in your head: LA. Rail. It’s real. Really.

8. Still a long way to go in the 2024 race, which the IOC will decide by secret ballot in September 2017 at a meeting in Lima, Peru. Three others are in the race: Paris, Rome, Budapest.

It’s a proven that what wins Olympic elections are, first, relationships, and two, telling a story that will move IOC members emotionally.

Right now, only two of the four are telling a real story: Los Angeles. And Budapest.

9. Turning to the 2020 Summer Games campaign, won by Tokyo:

The Japanese Olympic Committee announces a three-person investigation of allegations of bribery. This from the same place that brought you the burning of the Nagano 1998 books so as to avoid embarrassing the IOC.

Let’s all wish for really good luck in getting a genuine answer.

Why in the world would you need to send $2 million to Ian Tan Hong Han, a consultant based in Singapore, who is close friends with Papa Massata Diack, son of Lamine Diack, the then-president of the IAAF, when virtually no one in the Singapore international sports community knew of Han or his firm, Black Tidings?

Black Tidings had precisely what know-how to provide such high-level consultancy services?

More: those who were there for the Singapore 2010 Youth Games know there had to be external help when Singapore was bidding for YOG. Curious.

10. Russia uses sports as an instrument of what’s called “soft power,” meaning president Vladimir Putin has sought to use sports to project a Russian image of strength, not only abroad but, crucially, within Russia itself.

The United States, which under President Obama has clashed with the Kremlin over issues ranging from the disclosures of the activist Edward Snowden to the composition of the formal U.S. delegation to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, has if not unparalleled then at least significant resource available to its spy agencies.

How is it that Sochi 2014 lab director Gregoriy Rodchenkov could flee Russia and end up so quickly in the United States? No one in the American spy apparatus would want to embarrass the Russians, would they?

Again: just curious.

11. What a surprise! The London 2012 doping re-test positives became public on a Friday!

The numbers: 23 athletes from five sports and six countries, based on 265 re-tests

More numbers, 32 doping cases from London 2012, 57 for Beijing 2008. Previous high, according to IOC figures: 26, Athens 2004.

To reiterate a central point: you have to be frighteningly stupid to get caught doping at the Olympic Games themselves.

It’s one thing to be caught in no-notice, out-of-competition testing. But at the Games?

You know there are going to be drug tests. You know the samples are going to be kept in the freezer for (at least) 10 years to allow for advances in testing.

It has been said many times but is still worth repeating: failing a drug test at the Olympics is like failing an IQ test.

Stupid.

12. If you’re thinking of going to Rio, don’t. Sorry to say so but — don’t. Watch on TV.

The pictures will be beautiful and the only danger in overloading on TV is breathing in that funky orange-red Doritos powder.

In Brazil, meanwhile:

The case of the Spanish sailors getting held-up at gunpoint, lucky to escape with their lives, underscores the No. 1 challenge ahead of these Games. More than dirty water, or maybe even Zika, or presidential politics, or corruption scandals. More than anything. To compete, or to be at, the Games in Rio, you have to deal with life in Rio as it is. Maybe — maybe even probably — it will be fine. But one wrong misstep, even with no fault, and you might well find yourselves in a scene evoking Tom Wolfe’s 1987 masterpiece, “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

Who wants that? Be a master of your TV universe.