Pierre de Coubertin

Olympics: once more 'a symbol of hope and peace in our troubled times'

Olympics: once more 'a symbol of hope and peace in our troubled times'

On Rodney King’s gravestone at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, it says, “Can we all get along,” a reference to Mr. King’s plea amid his early 1990s encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. It’s a very different context but — in just so many words, that is what the Olympic movement, at its best, is all about.

To fulfill the words of the soul poet Rodney King, the movement’s No. 1 mission in our complicated world— its raison d’etre — is not just to be relevant. Or even to remain relevant. It is to assert its relevance.

Over the past many months, the movement has struggled, and mightily, with this notion. A succession of brutal headlines have caused some, if not many, to wonder about the Olympic movement’s place, beset as it has been by Russian doping, sexual abuse and misconduct scandals, skyrocketing cost overruns associated with the Games, diminishing taxpayer interest in staging future editions of the Olympics and more. 

Now, though, comes word of a remarkable breakthrough: North Korea will send athletes to February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

LA for 28, Paris for 24: how it came to be

LA for 28, Paris for 24: how it came to be

For weeks now, Olympic insiders have known that Paris would get the 2024 Games and Los Angeles 2028. On Monday, it happened.

Simply put, there was too much win-win-win at stake.

This phraseology is how the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, had come recently to term the 2024/2028 double — as a triple play, really, a win for the IOC, for Paris and for LA.

The full IOC membership must ratify this arrangement at an assembly September 13 in Lima, Peru. That will be a formality.

Of course, in 2017 we don’t know whether by summer 2028 that triple play will have come true. As ever, time will be the measure of all things.

What did de Coubertin know for 2024?

What did de Coubertin know for 2024?

PARIS — Welcome, members of the International Olympic Committee evaluation commission and, incidentally, jackals of the press following behind at a respectful distance and, please, do keep it respectful. This is where it all began, on June 23, 1894, the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin proclaiming to a gathering of swells, “I … lift my glass to the Olympic idea, which has traversed the mists of the ages like an all-powerful ray of sunlight and returned to illumine the threshold of the 20th century with a gleam of joyous hope.”

Here we are in 2017, and the IOC has its backside in a bind. The baron, more than a century ago, could have predicted this very thing.

Guilt by association is not cool


When Brock Turner was convicted of sexual assault, were the other swimmers on the Stanford men’s swim team sentenced to jail, too?

When Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 of the just-concluded NBA Finals, were Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and their other Golden State Warriors teammates told to sit out, too?

On Monday, the Somali track coach Jama Aden was arrested in Spain after police raided his hotel room near Barcelona and, Associated Press reported, found traces of the blood-booster EPO and other banned substances. He coaches, among others, the Ethiopian star Genzebe Dibaba, the women’s 1500 world-record holder; London 2012 London men’s 1500 champ Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria; and Beijing 800 men’s silver medalist Ismael Ahmed Ismael of Sudan. Should each or all of them be held out of the Rio Olympics? Or everyone on the Ethiopian, Algerian and Sudanese teams?

These examples — and there are many, many more — underscore the complexities of the legal, ethical and moral dilemmas now on the table amid the scandal sparked by allegations of state-sponsored or -sanctioned doping in Russia.

The scene at Tuesday's IOC "summit" // IOC

What about double Olympic champ Mo Farah, the British distance star? As the running-themed website Let's Run points out, he has a documented relationship of some sort with Aden. What is Farah guilty of? Anything?

These examples also make clear why the International Olympic Committee did what it did Tuesday in declaring, in a key clause, that every international sports federation “should take a decision on the eligibility of … athletes on an individual basis to ensure a level playing field in their sport.”

Everything else — everything — is just noise.

Or, maybe worse, piggy-backing for political advantage or leverage.

Last Friday, track and field’s international governing body, announced — to great self-congratulation — that it intended to sustain the ban on the Russians imposed months ago. In response, Russian president Vladimir Putin countered with this:

“Responsibility must always be individual and those who have no connection with these violations should not suffer.

“We ourselves are outraged when we’re faced with doping problems and we work to ensure that those guilty are punished. But the clean athletes, as they say, why should they suffer? I really don’t understand.”

At Tuesday's IOC meeting, Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said, “We consider it unfair on the vast majority of our athletes who have never doped and have not violated any rules. They will be punished for the sins of others.”

Zhukov also said, “Banning clean athletes from the Rio Olympic Games contradicts the values of the Olympic movement and violates the principles of the Olympic charter. It is also legally indefensible and devalues their competitors’ success.”

In a preface to the new novel, The Idealist, by the American George Hirthler about Pierre de Coubertin, widely credited with being the founder of the modern Olympic movement, the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach writes that the book “reminds us of the soaring idealism that motivated one relentless aristocrat to create a celebration of humanity the entire world could embrace.”

That’s not, for emphasis, the entire world except for the Russian track and field team.


If the prelude to this geopolitical play with multiple dimensions was the imposition of the ban, Act One amounted to that IAAF meeting last Friday, in Vienna. Afterward, IAAF leaders promoted the notion that the federation's move amounted to an act of great courage. That is nonsense. It was political expediency. IAAF president Seb Coe did what he had to do — make it look like the IAAF had some backbone, which got the baying hounds of the press off his back, at least for a moment. All the while, the IOC kicked the decision upstairs, if you will, to the IOC.

Act Two: Tuesday’s IOC decision amid a so-called “summit” in Lausanne, Switzerland. It opens the door, the IOC emphasizing that any Russian who competes would be there as, you know, a Russian, not wearing the virginal white of some Olympic “neutral.”

Act Three: the rounds of forthcoming litigation, presumably before the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe at news conference last Friday in Vienna // Getty Images

To be clear, the allegations involving the Russians are dead serious.

And the intensity of the matter is all the more likely to ratchet up even higher next month, when a World Anti-Doping Agency-appointed commission led by the Canadian expert Richard McLaren releases a report into allegations of state action in connection with results from the Moscow lab.

McLaren has already reported a “preliminary finding” of “sufficient corroborated evidence to confirm … a mandatory state-directed manipulation” of results at the lab from 2011 through the world track and field championships in Moscow in 2013.

Systemic cheating is as bad as it gets.

Anyone proven to have cheated justifiably deserves sanction.

But, and this is the big but, right now what we have are allegations, not adjudicated proof.

Damning allegations, for sure. But, still — allegations.

Sanction rooted in allegation, not tried proof, is mob justice, fundamentally flawed. It's shameful. And on the wrong side of history.

What we also have is that worst of all situations: officials trying to make reasoned, calm decisions when time is short, the shouting from the media and from online trolls is intense and politicians of all sort are weighing in.

The Rio Olympics start August 5. That’s not anywhere near enough time to sort all this out.

In theory and in practice, too, some number of Russians may well be dirty. Some may be clean. But proving that you are “clean” is itself problematic if not impossible because, as the Americans Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong made abundantly clear, you can pass hundreds of tests and still be juicing to the max.

As the IOC noted Tuesday, the presumption of innocence from Russia and Kenya, in particular, where the national anti-doping agencies have been deemed non-compliant, has been “put seriously into question.”

Still, without direct or circumstantial proof that is tested by cross-examination and that rises to the level of a preponderance of the evidence if not more, in the instance of each and every individual athlete, it is very difficult — for emphasis, very difficult — to make the case that he or she, or for that matter an entire team, ought to be banned.


Other bans in sport, even in Olympic sport, simply are not on-point.

For sure, if one runner on a medal-winning relay team gets busted, the entire relay squad is apt to lose those medals. But that doesn’t mean that a javelin thrower loses hers, too.

Why not? Because, obviously, the javelin thrower can’t be held to answer for the conduct of others.

Two real-life on-point examples:

The American sprinter Tyson Gay admits to doping. The U.S. team’s London 2012 4x100 relay medal? Oops. But does that mean that, for instance, the bronze medal that Justin Gatlin won in the men’s open 100 should be stripped? Of course not. Or that the entire U.S. track and field team ought to be DQ’d? Of course not.

If it turns out that Jamaica’s Nesta Carter really did test positive, as news reports have suggested, that might well mean the return of the Jamaican men’s 4x1 gold medal from Beijing 2008. But should Usain Bolt turn back his other five Olympic medals as well? Should he be banned by association from Rio 2016?

Yes, in weightlifting, bans can be applied to an entire squad. (See: Bulgaria.) But — and this is the big condition — only after a series of escalating, and well-known, preconditions are first met.

In the United States, it is true, the NCAA can impose, say, a post-season ban or strip scholarships for the infraction of a single athlete. But the team still gets to play, at least the regular season. (See: USC.) The lesson of the SMU football team from the 1980s has made plain the institutional distaste for the so-called "death penalty" — which in the case of most Olympic athletes is essentially what a ban from the every-four-years Summer Games would amount to. Beyond which, there is this key distinction: Olympic athletes are professionals, not college "amateurs."

So why the hue and cry, particularly in the United States, Britain and Germany, to ban the entire Russian track and field team?

Because it’s Russia, man.

It’s that simple.

And that profound.

Elementally, many people in the west simply do not like Putin. Probably, they fear the man.

“The overwhelming consensus among American political and national security leaders has held that Putin is a pariah who disregards human rights and has violated international norms in seeking to regain influence and territory in the former Soviet bloc,” the Washington Post wrote in a recent report on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s financial ties to Russia.

Is that purported American standard the measure by which Putin ought to be judged? Within Russia, he seems awfully popular. There, for instance, the action in Crimea is widely hailed as the righting of a historical wrong.

To believe that this isn’t in many influential quarters all about Putin, in some fashion, is to beg credulity. The New York Times, for instance, is on something of a crusade about the Russians. Of the several stories it published after last Friday’s IAAF ruling, a featured column started out this way, “So the bear will be left to wander the athletic wilderness this August.”

The “bear”? What, are we back in the Cold War? Should we expect to see more of Boris and Natasha as part of a retro promotion of the 1960s hit cartoon, "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show"?

The Times is so bent on its perspective that it took until the 10th and 11th paragraphs of the story about Tuesday’s IOC action to get to the point, sort of — the concept of individual scrutiny.

Associated Press? First paragraph, appropriately: “Some Russian track and field athletes could be competing under their own flag at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after all.”

This matters because, for all the changes affecting daily journalism, the Times still tends to set the tone for a great many people. Especially in Washington.

On Monday, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee sent a seven-page letter to WADA president Craig Reedie demanding answers to all sorts of questions involving the agency and the Russians.

Current and former WADA presidents: Craig Reedie, left, and Dick Pound // Getty Images

Putin, whatever you may think of him, does not typically spend his time telling Americans how America should be run. Yet in the sport sphere the United States keeps trying to impose itself on him, and Russia — Democrats and Republicans alike, President Obama making a political statement in the choice of his delegation to the Sochi 2014 Games and, now, this letter from the Republican-led Senate.

This is the same committee, by the way, that used to be run by Arizona Republican John McCain, who every now and then finds international sport a compelling vehicle by which to try to score domestic political points. Now it’s overseen by John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota.

If you don’t think it’s exceedingly likely that McCain (standing or re-election in November) and, for that matter, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart had some influence over the sending of that letter, then — to quote from the 1980 movie classic “Airplane” — you picked a bad week to stop sniffing glue.

The purported rationale for the letter is that, since 2003, the U.S. government has provided $25 million to help fund WADA.

For fiscal 2016, per WADA accounting, the United States contributed $2.05 million.

How you view that $2.05 million depends, as ever, on your point of view.

No question, $2.05 million marked the largest contribution from any government anywhere in the world to WADA’s budget, about $26 million. All of Africa contributed $27,888. Jamaica, among the Americans’ top rivals in track and field, ponied up all of $4,638.

Britain put up $772,326. Germany: $772,326. Russia: the exact same number, $772,326.

For a different comparison: the 2016 U.S. federal budget spells out expenditures of roughly $3.54 trillion. Not billion, trillion.

Let’s not make the math too complicated: $2 million equals 0.000002 trillion.

The Senate can’t take gun-control action even in the aftermath of 49 murdered at a gay bar in Orlando but finds it worthwhile to expend time and resource chasing answers in connection with an enterprise worth a barely-there fraction of the 2016 federal budget?

Here it is worth recalling what Bach said upon the opening of the Sochi Games, in an indirect but obvious reference to Obama, “People have a very good understanding of what it really means to single out the Olympic Games to make an ostentatious gesture which allegedly costs nothing but produces international headlines.”


At the same time, it should be noted that Putin has used sport as an instrument of soft power — that is, to assert Russian standing in the international community and, probably even more importantly, at home.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and IOC president Thomas Bach at the closing ceremony in 2014 in Sochi // Getty Images

The Russians spent a reported $51 billion on the 2014 Sochi Games. The track and field championships in 2013, the swim championships in 2015 in Kazan, soccer’s World Cup in 2018 and more — under Putin, Russia is indisputably one of the most influential destinations, and Putin himself one of the most important personalities, in world sport.

There are more than 200 national Olympic committees across the world. The U.S. Olympic Committee funds itself. Everywhere else, sport is typically an arm of the federal government, often its own ministry.

Who wants to believe that Russia might be the only place in the entire world where there might be a connection, provable by the weight of the evidence, to state-sanctioned doping?

For the sake of argument: let’s say, hypothetically, the Kenyans have had a thing going on. As the IOC noted, the Kenyan and Russian national anti-doping agencies are non-compliant. Is it fair to boot all the Russians but let in all the Kenyans? On what theory?

Further: who is to say that cheating in a country like the United States on a grand scale, like that perpetrated by Jones and Armstrong, isn’t all the more serious than cheating — again, if proven — in Russia?

When it comes to the use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs, concepts of “free will” and “choice” may mean one thing in the west and quite another in a place like Russia, given different expectations of and experience with compliance when it comes to "suggestion" or otherwise.

Cheating, ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between, is part of the human condition. If we — the worldwide “we” — want to rein in doping in the Olympic movement, the constructive thing is not seven-page letters looking backward in pursuit of blame.

This is another significant component of what happened Tuesday at that IOC meeting — the forward-looking call for an “extraordinary” world conference on doping matters, in 2017.

No. 1 on the agenda ought to be how to make WADA truly independent. That’s going to take real money, way more than $26 million. Something on the order of 10 times more, as Reedie has said in suggesting that perhaps a fraction of the television revenues supporting Olympic sport ought to go toward the anti-doping campaign.

What's fundamentally at issue is the tension-laden relationship between sport and government, as well as the corollary, the subject that's super-boring until it explodes, like now, in scandal — governance. Sport wants to be autonomous. In every country but one, though, sport largely depends on government funding. Sometimes that money maybe comes with some very complicated strings.

As Bach said Tuesday, referring specifically to the anti-doping campaign in remarks that apply fully in the most general context, “It has to be more transparent. Everybody has to understand better who is doing what and who is responsible for what and this needs a full review.”

Agenda 2020 change: for real, or not so much?


MONACO — From the department of the obvious: no one spends $601 million over seven years unless they’re serious. The International Olympic Committee is dead-bang serious about the digital television channel its members approved Monday as part of president Thomas Bach’s 40-part “Agenda 2020” plan. As for the other 39 components, which call for shifts in the bid process and the Olympic program? History and common sense teach that expectations ought to be tempered.

The IOC is now 120 years old. For all the talk — big talk among some here in Monaco — about how Agenda 2020 is revolutionary or radical, the blunt reality is that the IOC has talked this sort of talk many, many times before.

The issue now is whether it’s going to walk the walk.

From the back of the room, almost at the end of the  127th IOC session in Monaco

To be clear:

Bach deserves significant credit for putting the IOC to and through a year of asking — with the help of considerable number of world-class advisers — what it is and what it wants to be in these early years of the 21st century.

The IOC absolutely, positively needs to innovate.

Just as an example of the kind of comparison that’s readily out there, one that gets almost no attention in the mainstream media but that draws intense focus within the Olympic sphere because the numbers show so plainly what’s what:

The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi: 88 nations (and one independent Olympic participant), about 2,850 athletes. Cost: widely believed to be $51 billion.

The 2014 Asian Beach Games, just a few weeks ago in Phuket, Thailand: 43 of the 45 national Olympic committees showed up (only North Korea and Saudi Arabia did not), about 2,300 athletes. The entire thing — test event, training, competition, demolition — proved a temporary put-up and take-down that required all of one month. Cost: not anywhere in a galaxy near $51 billion.

A consequence, perhaps intended, because sports politics is not a game for the naive, is that this year bought Bach buy-in from virtually every corner of the Olympic firmament — the dozens of international federations, all 205 national Olympic committees, the IOC athletes’ commission and more.

This stakeholder consensus enabled Bach to run the table Monday — to see Agenda 2020 go a perfect 40-for-40, with the IOC members voting “unanimously” for each and then at the end for the entirety of the resolutions, there being zero no votes even though perhaps not all hands were raised at all times.

The only time the members were not in unanimity was mid-afternoon Monday, when maybe five or six said they might like to take a coffee break but Bach opted to push through.

The last time the IOC went through such a far-reaching institutional exercise was under duress, amid the late 1990s Salt Lake City corruption scandal, which saw 10 members resign or be expelled. That prompted the IOC to enact a 50-point reform plan.

It was all this that Bach assuredly had in mind when, at the opening of the 127th IOC session here in Monaco, he made a play on Shakespeare and Hamlet, saying the IOC had to change or be changed.

The TV channel marks such a change. That’s $601 million talking, and that is big money.

Everything else is incremental change, at best, until proven otherwise.

Because the IOC has been there, done that, many times before.


“It would be very unfortunate, if the often exaggerated expenses incurred for the most recent Olympiads, a sizable part of which represented the construction of permanent buildings, which were moreover unnecessary — temporary structures would fully suffice, and the only consequence is to then encourage use of these permanent buildings by increasing the number of occasions to draw in the crowds — it would be very unfortunate if these expenses were to deter (small) countries from putting themselves forward to host the Olympic Games in the future.”

That is from Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron widely credited as the founder of the modern Olympic movement, and those are words he penned that were published in the Olympic Review magazine in April 1911.

Fast-forward to 2002 and 2003.

Under the direction of Jacques Rogge of Belgium, who had just taken over as president from Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, the IOC dialed up an in-depth report, what came to be called the “Olympic Games Study Commission.”

Under the direction of longtime Canadian member Dick Pound, a former vice president who himself had run for the presidency, losing out to Rogge, the panel — just like Agenda 2020 — solicited public input, taking in thousands of suggestions. More than half related to the Olympic program; others were directed to the format of the Games, the bid process, TV coverage, the extravagance of the opening and closing ceremonies and more.

The IOC, according to the report, produced for the IOC’s session in Prague in July 2003, sought “to ensure that the host cities and their residents are left with the most positive legacy of venues, infrastructure, expertise and experience.”

In all, the document contains 117 specific recommendations, each aimed at managing the “inherent size, complexity and cost” of the Games. The IOC adopted all 117.

The upshot:

Beijing 2008 ($40 billion, at least). Sochi (that $51 billion).

And the 2022 Winter Games bid race (numerous cities drop out, only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, still in and not clear Almaty will stay in).

Monday’s action includes a provision in which the IOC created an “invitation” stage at which applicants will now be urged to discuss how their bids might be a more holistic fit with the Olympic universe.

OK, but look — this is going to take time, probably seven to 14 years, minimum, to figure out thoroughly.

Also, it’s one thing to say, all dreamy-like, you propose, you candidate city you, whether your butterflies and rainbows fit into your vision of the Games. What happens when that lovely little dream gets put to the acid test of a secret IOC vote?

This is the realpolitik of Agenda 2020.

Bach has, on numerous occasions, referred to Agenda 2020 as a “jigsaw puzzle” or “white paper.”

In a news conference here Saturday, before Monday’s discussion and votes, he called it a “strategy paper,” or “wishes for the future of the Olympic movement,” explaining, “We will not be discussing semicolons and bullet points.”

Now, though, the time has come to punctuate the conversation.

For all the headlines that rocketed Tuesday around the world about countries mounting dual-nation bids, those would be allowed only in “special circumstances.” Such circumstances would be few and far between and, again, the odds of any such bid winning a campaign for the Games — even more remote.

A real-life Agenda 2020 circumstance has already emerged, and it’s not pretty: the pushback in moving the bobsled run out of South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games?  Already intense. And so predictable, the governor of Gangwon province, Moon Soon Choi saying in a televised address Tuesday, “Sharing the competition with another city is not an option we can consider. The South Korean people would never accept it.”

When they were bidding, and they bid three times for the Winter Games, x million for a bobsled run and y million in annual maintenance expenses were legacy costs the Koreans knew they were confronting. The political and cultural costs of asking them to do something else — how much is that worth? Is that somewhere in Agenda 2020?

Just as challenging, albeit in a different context: the real-world hard work that lies ahead in re-shaping the Olympic program now that the IOC has shifted the focus from “sports” to “events.”

IOC policy, renewed Monday, calls for a cap of 10,500 athletes except in “special cases.” This begs the obvious question: which of the established sports now figures to give up spots to sports such as surfing, skateboarding, climbing or others seeking to gain entry into the Olympic program?

Consider track and field.

Seb Coe and Sergey Bubka — Coe has already declared — are going to be the two candidates for the IAAF presidency. Under what theory does it serve either to suggest, before the presidential election next Aug. 19 in Beijing, that track and field should give up even one slot from its Olympic quota?

Now, aquatics:

FINA launched high-diving at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona to great acclaim. It is experimenting with mixed-gender relays. It is promoting men in synchronized swimming, and has changed the name of that discipline — said to be at the urging of Bach himself — to “artistic swimming.” There’s urgency, in the name of gender equality, to put the women’s 1500 freestyle on the program.

So where does it seem likely that FINA wants to bend?

This can go on and on. Shooting. Rowing. And more.

Actually, there is an elegant solution — if, that is, the IOC wants to confront it.

The Olympic accreditation system gives athletes a placard with a capital letter “A” on it. Some of these “A” placards can feature a lower-case letter as well for others in the athlete camp; there are a variety of different letters. Altogether, the different “A” placards total roughly 10,500.

One of the secrets within the Olympic world is that perhaps 900 of those 10,500 “A” accreditations have not over the years belonged to, well, athletes. They have been assigned over the years to sponsors or, very quietly, to security personnel.

If the IOC wanted to take all of those 900 and move them to a new category, voilà! Problem solved.

Even a third, 300, would go far in addressing the practicalities.

Moving on, because the 2022 campaign remains a real challenge, and Agenda 2020 may well accentuate the matter.

One of the 40 resolutions affirms the IOC’s support for non-discrimination.

“It is not only with regard to sexual orientation,” Bach said at a Monday news conference, referring to the firestorm of controversy triggered by Russian legislation in advance of the Sochi Games. “We will be looking for the guarantee of the host country that the principles of the Olympic charter apply to all the participants during the Olympic Games.”

This ought to go over just swimmingly in either Beijing and Almaty.

Who remembers the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Games? The protests over human rights that marred the 2008 torch relay in London, Paris and San Francisco?

Pound, as the session was drawing to a close Tuesday, dropped the bomb of suggesting the IOC re-open the 2022 race with the newly enacted Agenda 2020 procedures, declaring it would be “leveling the playing field” and “doing our best to promote the Olympic movement.”

No, Bach responded immediately, the IOC’s policy-making executive board had decided a couple months ago that the only cities that could be in the race were those that had applied earlier. “There will be no change in this procedure,” he said.

Thus: the first post-Agenda 2020 Games are now destined to go a non-democratic nation; western protests over human rights would seem an inevitability; and more.

Bring it on, all of you who believe the IOC signed on Monday for big change.

That change, again, is going to take time, and lots of it — if, indeed, it ever manifests itself at all.

The TV channel — that absolutely is for real. Anything else?

Time is the measure of all things.

At that Monday news conference, Bach was asked what he hoped 20 years from now how he would feel about the passage of Agenda 2020.

“When I look from above — this is difficult to say. I hope very much that this then will prove to be an important and positive day for the Olympic movement. I hope very much, I’m confident, I’m sure that today we took the right decisions with a vision for the future of the Olympic movement that we are getting the Games and the Olympic movement closer to the youth and to the people.

“We with this day today and with the Olympic Agenda 2020, we are also fostering our relationship with society at large. I hope in 20 years that I can still live it, first of all. I can look back to this day with satisfaction and happiness and maybe a little bit of relief.”

Bach's Agenda 2020 revival meeting


MONACO — Proclaiming, “We are successful,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said on the eve of a potentially historic session convened to consider a review and potential reform plan he has dubbed “Agenda 2020” that “success is the best reason for change.” “If we do not address [upcoming] challenges here and now,” Bach told the more than 100 IOC members at the seaside Forum Grimaldi, “we will be hit by them very soon. If we do not drive these changes ourselves, others will drive us to them. We want to be the leaders of change and not the object of change."

Mindful that he was speaking Sunday evening not just to the IOC membership but via the internet to a worldwide audience, Bach sought to turn the opening of the 127th IOC session into something of a revival meeting before the committee gets down to the hard work Monday morning of considering the 40 bullet points that make up Agenda 2020.

IOC president Thomas Bach meeting the press in Monaco // photo Edward Hula III

In all, the plan amounts to the most wide-ranging action since the IOC enacted a series of moves in late 1999 after the Salt Lake City corruption scandal. The IOC will debate and vote, one by one, on each of the 40 recommendations; debate and voting are expected to carry through Monday and Tuesday.

This assembly comes as several countries, all European, have been scared off by the costs of hosting the Games, in particular by the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. A number withdrew from the 2022 Winter Games contest, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, and it is far from clear that Almaty will stay in the race through the finish line next summer.

The key Agenda 2020 item: creation of a digital Olympic television channel.

Also on the docket: shifts in the bid process, a transition in the Olympic program from its current focus on “sports” to “events,” a renewed commitment to non-discrimination and a number of elements dealing with financial transparency and governance.

Bach said in a news conference Saturday that he heads into the two-day workshop confident he has the support of key stakeholders for all 40 points.

Anything, though, is possible at an Olympic session. At the Sochi get-together last February, there were 211 “interventions,” as comments and questions from the floor are called in IOC-speak.

Behind the scenes, however, it was thought that the only one of the 40 that might draw real pushback is Recommendation 37, which calls for the full IOC session — upon the recommendation of the policy-making executive board — to allow for a one-time extension of an IOC member’s term beyond the current age limit of 70, to 74. The extension would be allowed for a maximum of five cases at any given time.

The issue? There might be some significant number of members, well beyond four, who are turning 70 who want to stay on beyond 74.

The other complication bubbling backstage Sunday night?

The second piece to air on German television alleging doping and other serious irregularities rooted in Russian sport, particularly track and field.

The airing of the production can hardly be seen as accidental. After all, it's on German television, in the days before and, now, during what should be the big moment for Bach, the German IOC president.

At issue, potentially: after a year pressing Agenda 2020, would potential misconduct somewhere in the reaches of the so-called "Olympic family" steal or dim the spotlight?

The first show aired last Wednesday; the next day, track's governing body, the IAAF, put out a news release saying it noted "grave allegations" and the federation's ethics commission had already launched an investigation. Late Sunday, the IAAF put out another release, this one saying an English-language transcript from Sunday's show would be forwarded to the ethics panel.

Bach made no mention from the lectern of such matters. Instead, he sought Sunday evening one final time to press his case for Agenda 2020.

“If I would deliver this speech in a theater,” he said, making like Hamlet, “I would say with an ironic smile, of course: to change or be changed, that is the question.”

Of course, in that scene, a despondent Hamlet is contemplating suicide.

On Sunday evening in Monaco, Bach — since he chose Hamlet, and now if we move just a few lines down in the scene, the president cheerfully bearing “the insolence of Office’’ — proved relentlessly upbeat.

“Whenever you initiate change,” he asked rhetorically, “you have to answer three questions: Why? What? How?”

To begin, he answered, “We need to change because sport today is too important in society to ignore the rest of society. We are not living on an island, we are living in the middle of a modern, diverse, digital society.”

And more, here speaking in French, with this fascinating, never-before-spelled out explication: “If we want our values of Olympism — the values of excellence, respect, friendship, dialogue, diversity, non-discrimination, tolerance, fair play, solidarity, development and peace — if we want these values to remain relevant in society, the time for change is now.”

This, too, back in English: “For us, change has to be more than a cosmetic effort or a procedure. Change has to have a goal. This goal is progress. Progress for us means strengthening sport in society by virtue of our values.”

That was the why.

He turned to the what.

“We are living in a world more fragile than ever,” Bach said, one beset by “political crisis, financial crisis, health crisis, terrorism, war and civil war,” one in which the “Olympic message is perhaps more relevant than ever.”

But: people not only have to “hear our message, they have to believe in our message, they have to ‘get the message.’ “

Thus the dozens of action points in Agenda 2020, he said, adding what has become over the past year one of his favorite taglines: “We have an interest and a responsibility to get the couch potatoes off the couch. Only children playing sport can be future athletes. Only children playing sport can enjoy the educational and health values of sport.”

The digital channel, he said, is intended — in part — to give Olympic athletes and sports the “worldwide media exposure they deserve” between editions of the Games.

“This modern world,” he said, “demands more transparency, more participation, higher standards of integrity. This modern world takes less for granted, has no place for complacency, questions even those with the highest reputation. This world takes much less on faith.”

Agenda 2020, he declared, takes on these matters under the broad themes of sustainability, credibility and youth.

In another of his favorite lines, Bach said, Agenda 2020 is “like a jigsaw puzzle,” adding, “Every piece, every recommendation has the same importance. Only when you put all these 40 pieces together [do] you see the whole picture. You see progress in ensuring the success of the Olympic Games, progress in safeguarding the Olympic values and progress in strengthening sport in society.”

Which led him to this third, and final, question — how to achieve such progress?

It needs, he said, cooperation.

Since being elected IOC president in September 2013, he said, he had met with 95 heads of state or government, declaring, “In most of these meetings the Olympic Agenda 2020 and our relations with the world of politics played a major role.”

Unsaid: he has not met with President Obama, and seems unlikely to take such a meeting before Obama’s term expires in January 2017, the White House still frosty over Chicago’s first-round 2009 exit in the 2016 Summer Games vote won by Rio de Janeiro — though the U.S. Olympic Committee has, to its credit, made great strides in repairing many “Olympic family” relationships since.

Bach, as expected, touted what he called a “new sense of cooperation and partnership” with the United Nations.

As he neared the end of his remarks, Bach said:

“Dear friends and colleagues, now this Olympic Agenda 2020 is in your hands. Now it is up to you to show that this is our vision for the future of the Olympic movement.

Referring to the French baron widely credited with founding the modern movement some 120 years ago, Bach said, “Our founder Pierre de Coubertin, I am sure, is following us closely these days and with great sympathy, because he was always a man of reforms.

“He said, ‘Courage … and hope! … charge boldly through the clouds and do not be afraid. The future belongs to you.’ “

Bach added a moment later, turning to his catchphrase from last year’s presidential election, “Let us demonstrate the true meaning of unity in diversity. Let us together shape an even brighter future for this magnificent, truly global Olympic movement.”

The vexing Iran conundrum

With leadership comes responsibility. At wrestling’s freestyle World Cup Sunday in Los Angeles, the Iranian men’s wrestling team asserted it is, once again, best in the world. Now the challenge facing it — as well as everyone connected to the sport, indeed the broader Olympic movement — is as simple and elegant as it is vexing.

Are the Iranians — that is, its government, through its wrestling program — prepared to step up and show they will fully engage with the world?


If not, what is to be done?

Jordan Burroughs, the American champion, said these words after wrestling Sunday night, and while they were uttered in a slightly different context, they apply here as well: “I just want our sport to be great. I want people to give us the respect we deserve.”

There was great solidarity and sportsmanship on display over the weekend as wrestlers from Iran and the United States, from Ukraine and Russia, from Turkey and Armenia competed on the mat. There were handshakes. There was talk, meaningful talk, of “family.”

For that talk to be fulfilled, the Iranians have to wrestle all comers. Everyone. That means, should they appear, the Israelis.

In addition, for the sake of credibility and for the growth of wrestling, the Iranians must field a women’s wrestling team. Right now, they don’t.

These issues are vital. Wrestling last year escaped the death knell in a vote by the International Olympic Committee. It has a window — and that window is short — to keep proving to the IOC it is relevant in our 21st-century world.

In significant ways, wrestling advanced its case in this weekend’s action at the World Cup in Los Angeles, so much so that word is the 10-team World Cup is due back in LA in 2015.

At the same time, when your best team in your most important discipline is the projection of a state policy that is exclusionary and discriminatory — there’s no other way around it — that is a matter that calls not just for serious reflection but action.

“The challenge for us — not just for the Iranians — is that we are coming together not just for sport but for the betterment of mankind,” said Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling, evoking the aspirational ideal of the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, widely acknowledged as the founder of the modern Olympic movement.

“How do we do that?”

As a starting place:

If next year the World Cup is indeed back in Los Angeles, how about organizers pair up all 10 teams with area middle-schools and, as part of the program, organize a mandatory excursion for everyone — repeat, everyone — to the Museum of Tolerance on LA's Westside?

At every big-time soccer game, you see the players lining up at the start with kids. Pairing up with local schools would be a great way for the wrestling community to create outreach all kinds of different ways: it would help build needed community buzz around the World Cup, maybe jump-start a fund-raising opportunity for the schools and, along the way, raise awareness among everyone — again, everyone — of tolerance.

Who is opposed to tolerance?

If it’s the Iranian government, how does that position jibe not only with the ideals of the Olympic movement but with the Olympic charter? With the rules of FILA, the international wrestling federation?

Iran's Reza Afzalipaemami, in blue, on his way to a 6-0 victory over Parveen Rana of India // photo Tony Rotundo, FILA-Official.com

No one outside Iran knows, for instance, why the Iranian wrestling team — due to come to LA last year immediately after an appearance in New York amid the Olympic reinstatement campaign — suddenly flew home. Or why it was OK this year to come to LA.

The Iranian athletes and coaches have, typically, been circumspect.

Further: no one on the outside knows whether the Iranian wrestlers were frustrated or upset — or otherwise — when denied the opportunity to come to LA last year.

Just like outsiders have no clue what is really going on when, as has been the case over the years at various events, Iranian athletes don’t show up to swim or suddenly fall ill at a taekwondo match when an Israeli is involved. Are the Iranian athletes themselves just as frustrated as anyone would seemingly be in that sort of situation?

Referring to last year’s planned trip to LA, Iranian wrestler Masoud Esmailpour Jouybari, who competes at 61 kilograms/134 pounds, speaking Saturday through a translator, said, “We were supposed to come last year but under some circumstances it didn’t happen.

“This is a place where many Iranians live, so the World Cup came here,” he said, meaning Southern California. “Hopefully, if it’s a great event, it can ease problems between the two countries.”

The axiom is that sports and politics are supposed to stay separate.

Reza Yazdani, the Iranian 2013 world champion at 97 kilos/213 pounds, had said Saturday, “It’s best if sports and politics don’t mix. In wrestling, it’s best if the politics stay out of the sport itself and people are able to appreciate the sport for what it is.”

This, though, is where they intersect.

FILA has done a commendable job of promoting the work of female referees, even — especially — at a male-only event such as the World Cup. The Iranians? They’re OK if a woman works as what’s called the “mat chairman” — that is, the official who sits table-side in the shadows and confirms the on-mat referee’s scores. But they “request” that a woman not work as the referee, as one did Sunday night in Burroughs’ 15-4 victory in the 74 kilogram/163-pound class over Ukraine’s Giya Chykhladze.

FILA officials are acutely aware of all of this. Rest assured Iran would otherwise have had the world championships by now.

It is reportedly the case, for instance, that official policy in Iran bars women from being spectators at events such as wrestling and soccer matches.

This is why Iran has been relegated to events on the calendar such as the 2013 World Cup, held in Teheran.

It’s also why there is no one from Iran on FILA’s ruling council, its bureau. Including the honorary president, a Rio 2016 coordinator, continental presidents, even a member suspended until next year, it features 24 personalities — and yet no one from Iran. It’s obvious why.

It's entirely uncertain whether isolation is the answer.

And the corollary — whether the regime believes it has sufficient leverage, confident the Olympic world would not want to do with Iran what was done years ago with South Africa over apartheid.

What to do about a country that has such passionate fans? If your metric is Facebook and Twitter, the United States is wrestling’s No. 1 fan base. No. 2? Iran. Measured by comments and shares, Iran is far and away your leader. The No. 1 city in the world for fan involvement? Teheran.

USA Wrestling sponsored the first American sports team to compete in Iran after the 1979 revolution. A U.S. freestyle team competed in the 1998 Takhti Cup in Teheran. Afterward President Clinton hosted the five wrestlers — Zeke Jones, Kevin Jackson, Melvin Douglas, Shawn Charles and John Giura — at the White House, with presidential spokesman Mike McCurry saying, “People-to-people contact is something useful for both nations.”

Jones is now the U.S. freestyle coach. He led the team to a third-place finish at the LA World Cup.

An American Greco-Roman team is due to go to Iran in May. The Americans have been to Iran 11 times since the revolution.

Iran’s LA World Cup delegation marked its 13th time a wrestling delegation has come to the United States since 1979.

Of course the stands Saturday and Sunday included plenty of women. No issues. The Iranian wrestlers waved to all in attendance. Some of the wrestlers even blew kisses.

As for people-to-people understanding, Iranian wrestler Hassan Rahimi, the 2013 world champion at 57 kilograms/125 pounds, said Sunday, “I have great memories from being here and being amongst Iranians. This is the first time our team has come to Los Angeles. We were supposed to come last year but some things came up and we couldn't make it.

“We're going to leave with a lot of really good memories and we hope to return. There's a lot to see in Los Angeles, Hollywood – for the worlds, it's one of the leading tourist destinations.”

On the mat, there can be no question of Iran’s dominance.

Iranian coach Rasoul Khadem Azgadhi, right, during World Cup action. He is a 1996 Atlanta gold and 1992 Barcelona bronze medalist // photo courtesy Tony Rotundo FILA-Official.com

Iran won the 2013 freestyle world championships. Coming to Los Angeles, the Iranians had finished first or second in the last five World Cups, seven of the last eight.

In Saturday’s pool action, the Iranians were so much better than everyone — except for the Americans — that it was like watching a Mack truck square off in a demolition derby against a VW bug.

With rowdy — and knowledgeable — fans blowing horns and yelling “Iran!” the Iranians took it to Armenia, 8-0, and Turkey, 7-1. Then they defeated the Americans, 5-3.

On Sunday, the Iranians made short work of India, 8-0.

The domination of India was so thorough the Iranians did not give up a single point.

Against Turkey, three of the matches were 11-0; another was 11-1; a fourth was 10-0.

Two of the eight matches against Armenia ended in pins.

After rolling through Pool B, the Iranians met Russa — which had cruised undefeated through Pool A — in Sunday night’s finals.

Christakis Alexandridis, the Russian coach, had said Saturday that while he had a strong team, he also had a young team.

The Iranians, buoyed by the crowd, prevailed, 6-2. Four of the matches were shutouts.

Iran technical manager Ali Reza Rezaie said afterward, "We're really happy with the result. We're so glad we were able to make our fans here and in Iran proud. We plan to keep the success going."

For sure. Right?


Ng's moment: symbolism, vision

In a moment rich with symbolism, Singapore's Ser Miang Ng announced Thursday he is a candidate to become the next president of the International Olympic Committee. Ng, 64, made the announcement in Paris, at the Sorbonne, the university where in 1894 Pierre de Coubertin and his invitees met in the Salle Octave Gréard to revive the Olympic Games. There began the audacious idea of making this modern Olympic committee something that might someday be truly, indeed profoundly, international.

Now the movement includes more national Olympic committees, 204, than the United Nations has member states, 193.

The "values of sport," Ng said Thursday, "are tomorrow's living Olympic legacies." At the same time, he said, "The world is changing -- and the movement must evolve with it."

Singapore's Ser Miang Ng // photo Getty Images

Ng's candidacy makes two now in the presidential race. He joins Germany's Thomas Bach, who jumped in last Thursday.

Others expected to make announcements in the coming days include Ukraine's Sergei Bubka, Puerto Rico's Richard Carrión and C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei.

The deadline for declaring is June 10. The vote is due to be held Sept. 10 at the IOC's all-members assembly in Buenos Aires. The new president will replace Jacques Rogge, who has led the IOC since 2001; Rogge replaced Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, who served for the 21 years before that.

With one exception, American Avery Brundage, who served from 1952 to 1972, all the IOC presidents have been European.

Even now, the IOC remains traditionally Eurocentric -- 43 of the current 101 members are European -- and Bach is widely presumed to be the front-runner in the campaign.

That said, Ng has for months been traveling the world, quietly sounding out the membership.

Ng's resume, briefly: Successful businessman and diplomat. Former vice president of the international sailing federation. Chair of the organizing committee of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, in Singapore in 2010. Member of the London 2012 and Beijing 2008 coordination commissions. IOC member since 1998 and its current first vice president.

Ng set the stage for Thursday's announcement by meeting Monday with Rogge at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. To then seize the moment by invoking de Coubertin and what Ng called this "historic, sacred place where I am inspired by our past and encouraged for our future" -- it ought to be plain that Ng is savvy, indeed, and can be expected to be a formidable candidate.

Ng said in an interview, "The IOC is strong and on sound footing thanks to the leadership of President Rogge. But definitely we live in fast-changing times, with economic challenges around the world. A lot more can be done; there is a lot more we can do. It will take discussions with members to reach a shared vision; we can go from there. Definitely we are on a shared foundation, a shared footing."

The vision thing is one of three notes that came through loud and clear from the Sorbonne:

One, Ng's emphasis on Olympic values. Young people need to be "at the center of the movement," he said, and the IOC members themselves, "blessed with a wealth of experience and knowledge," must be empowered to work with other stakeholders to "share our strengths."

He talked, too, about "silent heroes" such as Games volunteers and organizing committee staff -- with "inspiring Olympic stories to share," and said the IOC should "help them do so."

Two, while some press accounts will inevitably try to portray him as an "Asian candidate," as if that was some sort of one-dimensional thing,  he said, "I am proud to be Asian but I am also a global citizen."

Ng is Singapore's ambassador to Norway, its former ambassador to Hungary and chaired IOC commissions that chose African and South American cities to host IOC assemblies.

He added, "I understand that the strength of the movement lies within its diverse interests and perspectives -- all of which are valuable -- now more than ever."

Three, Ng for sure can rattle off details of what he would want to do, and in the "manifesto" -- Olympic jargon for to-do plan -- he is already sending to the members there absolutely are details. Some would seem obvious, and he talked about them Thursday: review the size and cost of the Games as well as the sports on the Olympic program.

That Ng's manifesto is already in the mail stands as an immediate, and intriguing, point of campaign contrast with Bach. Bach said he plans to wait until next month to make his platform available to the members.

At the same time, Ng played Thursday to the big picture -- to "goals not yet realized ... summits not yet reached ... and vistas not yet seen."

He said, "The Olympic movement faces an increasingly interconnected world.

"This will require a leader with an inclusive leadership style and worldview based on collective input and decision-making.

"And, this will require a leader who can empower the Olympic movement behind a unifying vision."

In an interview, he elaborated: "I believe this competition is not about me. It's about vision and style of leadership. I believe we need inclusion and a universal leader who is able to take into account all the different views and to empower members to be involved. The movement is bigger than one. The movement is bigger than one's self."

Back to his remarks at the Sorbonne. He closed by saying: "At every Olympic Games, the world comes together in a celebration of what it means to be human, what it means to strive and what it means to share in each other's dreams.

"…The future of the Olympic movement is written in the dreams of young people around the world. It is my most sincere desire to help all young people, everywhere, make those dreams come true. Thank you. Merci beaucoup."


2020 race takes shape

For two weeks in the summer of 2004, Olympic Park in Athens seemed like the center of the world. Now the park is mostly empty, the buildings and the flies together under the Greek sun. Authorities in Italy built a new bobsled run for the 2006 Winter Games up in the mountains near Torino. Now that track, which cost $100 million to build, $2 million annually to operate, is due to be torn down.

In 2008, the Bird's Nest in Beijing was where Usain Bolt burst to worldwide fame. Now the stadium draws the occasional tourist or two. It's a long time until its next meaningful date, the 2015 world track and field world championships.

The International Olympic Committee likes to talk about legacy, the notion that venues built for a Games will have utility afterward. It costs tens of millions of dollars to bid, billions to then get ready. The race for the 2020 Summer Games, which formally hit the start line Tuesday, highlights that notion even as it underscores the dramatic choice facing the IOC.

Like perhaps never before.

The IOC will choose Sept. 7 at a meeting in Buenos Aires from among three cities: Madrid, Tokyo and Istanbul.

At this early stage, it is far too premature to declare any a favorite. All three cities have upsides. All three have flaws.

It's laughable, even, to note the odds from the British bookmaker William Hill: Tokyo the 4-6 favorite, Istanbul at 5-2 and Madrid at 3-1. Based on -- what?

Tokyo barely made it out of the first round in voting for 2016. Madrid, if anyone at William Hill wants to look it up, finished second to Rio de Janeiro; moreover, Madrid was essentially one vote shy of making it into the final round of voting for 2012.

Tokyo's 2020 bid is likely to draw rave technical reviews from the IOC. It did in 2016.

This 2020 Tokyo bid was launched to remind the world, in the wake of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, that the country is not only safe and welcoming but open for business.

Istanbul is in many ways the most intriguing choice. It represents the IOC's recent expansionist turn.

One must always, however, remember that the IOC is an institution historically dominated by European interests. The only traditionally European city in the race is -- Madrid. The only major European capital never to have hosted the Games is -- Madrid.

The IOC works on personalities and relationships. Last summer, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. -- who will be playing a key role in Madrid's campaign -- stormed to a powerful win for an IOC executive board seat.

Just last month, the Olympic committee in Panama held successful elections, ending a nearly five-year power struggle. Who helped them get there? Alejandro Blanco, the president of the Spanish Olympic Committee and the Madrid 2020 bid.

In 2003, the IOC commissioned a report -- led by Canadian member Dick Pound -- that among other matters, urged caution and restraint in the building of Games venues.

Indeed, the report begins with a quote from the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, decrying the "often exaggerated expenses" incurred in readying for the Games, a "sizable part of which represented the construction of permanent buildings, which were moreover unnecessary."

That was in 1911.

Since that 2003 report, which the full membership adopted, the IOC has nonetheless gone on to endorse mega-projects.

To be clear: The IOC avows one thing. And then it goes and does the other. The issue is when -- if ever -- the IOC is going to get serious about what it says it's serious about.

Because the warning signs are there. Rome pulled out of this 2020 race last February, saying it was too expensive -- in its case, $12.5 billion -- to play.

London's 2012 Games ran to more than $14 billion in public funding.

Sochi for 2014? The Russians started from scratch in transforming a Black Sea summer resort into a Winter Games destination. Who knows how much it will cost? Public accounting -- in Russia? Really?

Rio de Janeiro for 2016? Billions. Stay tuned. Last month, the IOC cautioned that "time is ticking" and the Brazilians have to move "with all vigor." Does anyone think that moving vigorously under deadline pressure is now going to cost less money than more?

Pyeongchang for 2018 represents the IOC's latest move into "new horizons," the Koreans' brilliant tagline. The Koreans also budgeted -- this was figured in 2010 dollars -- $6.3 billion for capital improvements tied to the Olympics.

Now the 2020 numbers:

In 2012 dollars, Istanbul's infrastructure and public services budget for 2020 totals $19.2 billion.

Tokyo's capital improvements budget: $4.7 billion. Of that, $1.47 billion is marked for a wholesale renovation of  Olympic Stadium, which would also be ready for the 2019 rugby World Cup.

Madrid: a mere $1.9 billion. Most of its infrastructure is already in place. What a concept.

The Turkish strategy is transparently in line with what the IOC has been doing in recent elections. Simply put,  it's go big or go home, and the Turkish economy, which has been booming, right now can absolutely can handle $19.2 billion. Or more.

With Istanbul, meanwhile, there's not only a double but a triple play at work. The IOC could not only go to a Muslim county for the first time; by doing so, it would take Doha out of the bid game for probably 20 years. The IOC -- looking at soccer's World Cup there in 2022 -- has been, shall we say, skeptical of the impact Qatari money might have if Doha were allowed as a full-on candidate, cutting it early from the 2016 and 2020 IOC races.

So is it a slam dunk for Istanbul?


The ongoing violence in Syria -- which borders Turkey -- remains a serious IOC concern. Moreover, already there's noteworthy talk about Istanbul's traffic and other "technical" problems. In that vein, there was this Twitter post last month at the short-course world championships from U.S. swimmer Jessica Hardy:  "Good job Turkey for hanging our flag backwards in every medal ceremony. And for filling the stands for 1 night of world champs!"

So it's Tokyo, right?

Everyone who counts within the Olympic movement is clear that Tokyo and Japan would put on well-run Games. Not the issue. Tokyo is a cool city, too. So that's not it.

And neither is the risk of an earthquake in Tokyo, despite questions from some Tuesday. That's just silly.

The Games are going to be in Korea in 2018. China is suddenly making noise about the Winter Games in 2022. Does the IOC want to go back to that part of the world again in 2020?

Also, and of perhaps more significance: the IOC wants to feel welcomed. Like, really wanted. A recent poll by Tokyo organizers fixed public support at 67 percent. That was behind Madrid and Istanbul. An IOC poll last year put it at 47 percent -- and 47 percent is not going to get it done. Neither, frankly, is 67 percent.

So -- it has to be Madrid?

Who wouldn't want to spend 17 days in Madrid? The food. The museums. The street life.

That, though, is actually one of the challenges: the IOC moves now increasingly -- sometimes almost exclusively -- in English, and the Madrid team's strength is still mostly in Spanish.

And for a country beset by an unemployment rate of one in four, the natural play in handing over the bid book this week at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, would have been to have had on hand a charismatic player in finance, the same way Brazil's central banker played an outsized role in Rio's winning 2009 bid.

He or she could have pointed out, after all, that the Madrid campaign -- with only $1.9 billion in capital costs -- is precisely in line with the strategy the IOC has said since 2003 it wants to enforce. At least in theory.

Madrid sent a team of nine to Lausanne. But not one such individual.

It's a long, long road from January until September in Buenos Aires. The IOC evaluation visits take place in March -- Tokyo first, then Madrid, then Istanbul. In July, at a meeting in Lausanne, the IOC will hold an all-members briefing to review the three files.

By then, perhaps, someone else will have noted that $19.2 billion is slightly more than 10 times $1.9 billion. The question is not whether it matters. It does. It's whether that's a good thing, or not.

What now, France?

DURBAN, South Africa -- Guy Drut, one of France's two International Olympic Committee members, called it a "very, very cold shower," and that was the headline all over Thursday's editions of the French newspaper Le Monde. L'Équipe, the French sports daily, offered up the "autopsy of a failure."

In the Tribune de Genève, which can be read not just in Geneva but in Annecy, the French town just down the road that got spanked in Wednesday's IOC vote, receiving just seven votes, it was, "Disappointed."

"We console ourselves as we can," L'Équipe said, and with all due respect, that's not it. Now is not the time for consolation.

Now is the time for a wholesale re-think of what is going on over there in France.

That's what's going on in the United States as the U.S. Olympic Committee tries to rebuild its financial and political relationships with the IOC.

And that's what is manifestly called for now in France.

If that's not obvious, every single person in position of leadership in French sport ought to be replaced.

There have now been four French bids for the Olympic Games in the past 14 years -- Lille for 2004, Paris for both 2008 and 2012 and, now, Annecy for 2018. By common reckoning, the French have spent a combined 130 million euros on the four bids, about $185 million at current exchange rates.

What do they have to show for it?

Absolutely nothing.

It's pretty plain that Annecy's performance here in Durban ranks at the bottom of any bid city's effort over the last 20 years. To recap it all is to wonder how a country that has so much going for it can get it all so very wrong:

From the start, the bid proved a complicated tangle between a national Olympic committee and the central government in Paris and the locals in the far-off mountains. Jean-Claude Killy, the French ski legend and acknowledged authority in IOC circles on Winter Games, kept his distance from the campaign; he would ultimately make only three live appearances on behalf of the bid, one here in Durban.

Moreover, and crucially, the bid was under-funded from the get-go.

Because of those funding concerns, bid chief Edgar Grospiron resigned last December. No one wanted the job. Entrepreneur Charles Beigbeder was finally convinced to take it. At that point, the technical plan was a mess. There was no narrative -- that is, no story about why anyone should want to vote for Annecy.

It proved remarkable how many times one heard bid officials mention the name "Annecy" once in a briefing and then go on to mention "the French Alps" thereafter.

A little brand-management, please. Frankly, the bid should always have been called "Chamonix." There's a name that's globally recognized and might have excited people.

For his part, Beigbeder was put in a hugely untenable position. On the one hand, he had to try to keep everyone around him motivated. On the other, he had to confront the reality he had inherited.

Reality check:

If the IOC vote had been held when Beigbeder took over, it's quite possible -- as even bid insiders now acknowledge -- Annecy might have gotten no votes.

From there, things did pick up. Well, some. The technical plan was improved. A creative team -- Lucien Boyer, Andrew Craig, Nick Varley, Dan Connolly -- developed a story and hammered it until journalists could recite it by heart. That's a good thing. It meant the team had done their job. The tagline: "an authentic Games in the heart of the mountains."

Even so, it remained clear Annecy still had no chance to win. The only issue was how many votes it could get. Like, double digits?

The French were counting on African votes -- in particular, Francophone votes -- to get there. As if.

If you know how the game works, it's quite possible the French got no African votes. There were those here who knew Francophone voters were still incredibly angry for promises made in 2005 in the course of the Paris 2012 campaign that they felt had never been fulfilled. No way were they going to be voting for Annecy now.

Here's the bottom line:

In general, as a country, France does have so much going for it. The French Olympic committee is not -- as is the USOC -- locked in a revenue dispute with the IOC. So, at a macro level, what's the problem?

That's what the re-think has to be about.

France has not been able, for instance, to take the momentum of the multiculturalism that was 1998 and the winning World Cup in Paris and translate that into a winning Olympic bid. Why is that?

The Annecy campaign? Not one person of color in any leadership position.

Moreover, France's Olympic bids keep getting stuck in some weird sense of entitlement rooted in the fact that Pierre de Coubertin was French, and de Coubertin is the man who in many ways got the modern Olympic movement going. Our French friends need to get over that. Like, now. Take soccer. Modern-day soccer has its roots in Britain. Did England win the 2018 World Cup because of that? Hardly.

Sorry to say this, too, but while the French did a much better job speaking English in the Annecy presentation Wednesday to the IOC -- about 40 percent of it was in English -- they need to ramp it up even more. They can like that, or not. But they have to accept it, or at least think long and hard about the consequences of not accepting it. The language of international business has become English and the language of the Olympic movement is, practically speaking, English.

Here is indisputable proof:

At every Games, the IOC makes available a database in both English and French to the thousands of writers and broadcasters from around the world. The usage stats from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics: 96.4 percent of the hits were in English, 3.6 percent in French.

In the first of their losing bids eight years ago, Pyeongchang's team spoke almost exclusively in Korean.

What the Koreans have learned and what the French now have to study is how to play to your audience. On Wednesday, Pyeongchang's 45-minute presentation went down almost entirely in English.

You'd like to think that in Beigbeder and in the French sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, the French now might have a team that has endured a brutal learning curve and could put what they've learned to use long-term. Because this has to be a long-term play.

Then again, given the French way, it's not clear how long Jouanno can stay in her position.

Just one more thing for them to think about.

This, too:

L'Équipe's two standout Olympic correspondents, Alain Lunzenfichter and Marc Chevrier, published a lengthy feature Thursday entitled, "Objective Paris 2024!"

It seems almost inevitable. They'll be lusting after those 2024 Games in Paris because they staged the 1924 Games there.

The IOC will pick the 2024 site in 2017. That gives the French six years to get their act together, as the story points out.

Just to be blunt: that 100-year thing is no guarantee of anything. Ask Athens. They lusted for 1996 after staging 1896. The 1996 Games went to Atlanta.

Carlos Nuzman, the 2016 Rio bid leader, now its chief organizer, held a casual briefing Thursday afternoon with some reporters.  Asked what he might suggest to his French friends, he said, "You need to evaluate a lot of things. You need to put on paper or [sit] around a round table. Maybe you will think and some momentum will come.

"It's very important to understand bids nowadays are different from the past. This is one special lesson."