Rio 2016

So Brazil is suspended, and the Russians ...

So Brazil is suspended, and the Russians ...

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

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

Zeal is rarely constructive.

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

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?

Once again, the Olympic disconnect

Once again, the Olympic disconnect

Do you want to know why nine cities have dropped out of the running for the 2022, 2024 and 2026 races for the Olympic Games?

Why only Los Angeles and Paris are left for 2024 and the International Olympic Committee is all but certain this summer to award both the 2024 and 2028 Games to those two, order yet to be determined?

Because the 2016 Rio Games are just the latest super-expensive Olympics and because the IOC, in attempting to explain billions in spending tied to an Olympic Games, issues a statement that’s filled with inconsistencies and double-speak.

An open letter: the White House delegation to Rio


President Barack Obama

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

August 2, 2016

Dear Mr. President:

Coming up on three years ago, I wrote you an “open letter” critical of your decision to send to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games an official White House delegation that did not include yourself, the First Lady, the vice president nor, indeed, any member of your cabinet.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will head the White House delegation to the Rio 2016 Summer Games.

Mr. President, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much I respect you personally as well as the office you hold. I voted for you twice. If I could, I would vote for you again this November. I believe history will treat you kindly — that, with time, you will come to be seen as what you truly are and have been, one of our greatest presidents in more than 200 years.

With all that said, sir:

Please permit me the opportunity to address you in another “open letter,” mindful that I am grateful to call home a country where I may give voice to criticisms and that, as well, any such criticisms relate solely to matters of policy. In no way are they personal.

Time shows how we all change over seven years: President Obama in 2009 addressing the IOC on behalf of Chicago's 2016 bid // Getty Images

The tennis star Billie Jean King at the Sochi 2014 men's ice-hockey bronze medal game //

The announcement that Secretary Kerry will lead the 2016 delegation underscores the futility and hypocrisy inherent in what the White House tried to do — with, at best, limited impact — in connection with the Sochi Games.

Can we — you, me, all of us — acknowledge now the truth of the matter?

That what the White House sought in 2014 was to leverage the spotlight of the Olympic Games to exploit the American position in dealing with the Russians, in particular Mr. Putin, while simultaneously expressing considered frustration, if not more, with the International Olympic Committee?

And to what purpose?

The record is plain.

In October 2009, you and the First Lady went to Copenhagen to lobby the IOC for Chicago’s 2016 Summer Games bid.

In retrospect, we can perhaps observe it might be all to the good that Chicago did not win. Imagine, Mr. President, the worldwide media uproar in anticipation of a 2016 Chicago Games over the murder rate in Chicago and, by extension, American gun-control policies. Not to mention the national embarrassment that is Mr. Trump, whom you appropriately described on Tuesday as “unfit” and “woefully unprepared” for the presidency.

At any rate, you went to Copenhagen — the first sitting president, ever, to lobby the IOC in such a fashion.

The members not only awarded the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro, they booted Chicago in the very first round. Tales still circulate within Olympic circles of the IOC members idling on buses while waiting for your security detail to give the all-good to come in to the convention hall.

Since then, the White House’s — by extension, the federal government’s — relationship with the global Olympic movement and, more broadly, international sport, has deteriorated to the point of dreadful, and that is being generous.

Maybe you have forgiven if not forgotten. But it’s something of an open secret that your trusted advisers may hardly have done so.

Who brought the indictments against FIFA? The U.S. Justice Department, headed by Ms. Loretta Lynch. Assuredly, the Attorney General wields considerable latitude in her prosecutorial choices. At the same time, who does the Attorney General report to? That would be you.

Before you named her Attorney General, Ms. Lynch served as U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, for five years heading the office for the Eastern District of New York. This past May, it was the Eastern District that opened an inquiry into allegations of state-sponsored Russian doping — as if a Russian matter should, on some theory, be a matter for American law enforcement.

Imagine, sir, if the tables were turned. The American court system, indeed the federal courts with their limited jurisdiction, are filled with allegations of wrongdoing each and every day. Are the Russians weighing in to impart their view of justice on our behalf? Are they mounting a campaign to convince Americans and others around the world that, for instance, the death penalty, legal in several U.S. states, is illegal it not immoral?

Perhaps there is this: at least you didn’t try to stick it further to the Olympic scene by naming Ms. Lynch to the 2016 delegation. Just Secretary Kerry; the U.S. ambassador to Brazil; three other federal officials, and the swim legend Mark Spitz.

The disregard with which your administration views the Olympic scene could hardly have been more apparent when, last October, the Association of National Olympic Committees held its annual meeting in Washington, just blocks from the White House.

Since becoming the IOC president in 2013, Thomas Bach has met with more than 100 heads of government or state. But, notably, not you.

Indeed, at the Sochi opening ceremony, Mr. Bach, obviously if indirectly referring to you, said the Olympics should not be “used as a stage for political dissent or for trying to score points in internal or external political contests.”

Mr. Bach also said in opening the Sochi Games, “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes.”

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, at the Sochi 2014 opening ceremony // Getty Images

Bach with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Games

Vice president Biden at last October's ANOC meeting // Getty Images

At the ANOC event, no senior U.S. official had the courage to show until several days into the event when — your White House obviously alerted that this show of American defiance might not reflect well on a Los Angeles bid for the 2024 Summer Games — Vice President Biden appeared from behind the curtain.

Mr. Biden stayed for all of seven minutes.

As for LA, and its 2024 contest with Paris, Rome and Budapest: the heads of state or government of France, Italy and Hungary have all said they are coming to Rio for the Games opening ceremony.

But not you.

“It is absolutely normal that participating countries at major events such as the Olympic Games, being organized every four years, are represented by high-level state leaders,” the Hungarian release, issued Tuesday, said. “This is especially true for countries that have bid to host the Olympic Games.”

It’s in this full, indeed rich, context that one has to view the 2014 Sochi White House delegation — as one of a series, since that 2009 Chicago defeat, of provocations.

Perhaps it is the case that the dots don’t connect. But it plainly looks like they do. And we both know this truism: in politics, perception is as important than reality, if not more so.

To be honest, of course, in our popular culture, the Russians make for excellent villains. Think only of Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV," or the bad guys in James Bond movies, or even Boris and Natasha from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”

Mr. Putin, right or wrong, fair or not, plays the role for many of the arch-villain of our time.

How easy was it to tap into all that sentiment while amplifying a disregard for the Olympic scene?

The White House said in 2014 that your schedule simply didn’t allow you to travel to Sochi.

This, Mr. President, begs credulity.

The central issue was the controversy that you latched onto sparked by the Russian anti-gay propaganda law. A couple months before the Games, you remarked, “Nobody is more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia.”

For the opening ceremony, you named two openly gay athletes: Billie Jean King, the tennis star, and skating gold medalist Brian Boitano.

A tennis player — at the Winter Olympics?

For the closing, you threw a little more gas on the fire by naming Caitlin Cahow, winner of Olympic silver and bronze medals in ice hockey, another gay athlete, to the closing ceremony delegation.

You might remember that Ms. King ended up going to the closing ceremony; her mother passed away the day of the opening ceremony. Ms. Cahow took part in the opening ceremony.

You might recall, too, that in a commentary for CNN published a few weeks before the 2014 Games, Ms. King had said, in part:

“Is our nation making a statement on Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law by sending gay men and women to represent us in Sochi? Perhaps we are.”


The right answer to Ms. King’s rhetorical question: obviously.

In that same piece, she also said:

“… I hope these Olympics will be a watershed moment for the universal acceptance of all people.”

That for sure has not happened. We all have a long way to go. Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has since made same-sex marriage the law of our land. But that has hardly triggered a rush in other countries to follow our lead.

Ms. King also said in her piece:

“I have a saying that 98 percent of winning is showing up. So we will show up in Russia. We will support our athletes and cheer them as loudly as possible. And we will keep the equality conversation alive.”

When she got home from her White House-sanctioned Sochi-related activism, Ms. King, in an Associated Press feature, said she would like the IOC to add sexual orientation to the list of protections in its charter and to consider the issue when deciding host countries for future Olympics.

The IOC did add sexual orientation to its list of protections, as part of its Agenda 2020 “reforms” enacted in December 2014. But it would have done so regardless of Ms. King. Or anyone from the United States.

As for the second point: not so much. The IOC competition for the 2022 Winter Games got down to Kazakhstan and China. Neither can boast about its human-rights record. In 2015, the IOC went for Beijing.

And if it were the “equality conversation” that was the true impetus for the composition of the Sochi delegation, Mr. President, that imperative would hold even more validity in connection with Rio and 2016.

As the New York Times reported on July 5, Brazil is arguably the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

Over the past four-plus years, the newspaper reported, citing Grupo Gay de Bahia, an advocacy group, nearly 1,600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks. That means a gay or transgender person is killed almost daily in Brazil.

The Times story quotes the advocacy group’s manager as saying that the numbers represent “only the tip of the iceberg of violence and bloodshed,” since police here often, as the paper reported, “omit anti-gay animus when compiling homicide reports.” An Amnesty International Brazil official, the paper further reported, said, “Homophobic violence has hit crisis levels, and it’s getting worse.”

So much outrage over a Russian propaganda law in the run-up to Sochi 2014 but, in comparison, comparative silence in these weeks and months before Rio 2016 about horrific violence in Brazil?

Mr. President, you proved eloquent, as usual, in decrying the June massacre that took 49 lives at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Yet nothing about the slow, steady and awful rate of homicides in Brazil?

The Olympics are assuredly imperfect. But there is no other institution in our fragile world that offers the very notion you have spent much of your time in office promoting — we are all better when we stand, in peace, together.

With that in mind, please allow me to close with an unsolicited suggestion.

Next year, at an assembly in Lima, Peru, the IOC will decide the 2024 Summer Games site.

By then, you will be out of office. We can all hope that Ms. Clinton — an avid public supporter of the Olympic notion — is your successor. At any rate, if you were to appear in Lima, and once again address the IOC on behalf of an American candidate city, it might be therapeutic all around.

It also could be awesome.

You could even start by saying something like, “Sorry about that last time. I for sure didn’t mean to make you sit around for a few minutes just on my account.” Take it from there, sir. There’s a powerful argument that the world needs what Los Angeles, what California and what our great country can — in service and humility — offer.

As you have proven repeatedly, such humility, as well as considered doses of humor and empathy, can often achieve great things, particularly in the pursuit of pluralism and tolerance. Being strident rarely gets us anywhere.

Thank you, sir, for your attention and consideration. And for your years of leadership. Godspeed.


Alan Abrahamson

3 Wire Sports

Los Angeles, California

$50 million profit on $51 billion is 0.098 percent


With so many positive stories to tell, it can be so mystifying to read what the International Olympic Committee considers the most important bits of its news in its releases. The IOC likes to say that athletes are at the core of everything it does. On Thursday, at a meeting of its policy-making executive board, it modified provisions together known as Rules 40 and 50 so that athletes can sport “generic” or “non-Olympic advertising” during the Games. If ultimately approved by the full IOC, this will likely amount to a major step forward for athletes, especially in track and field, who had protested over prior restrictions that had stopped them from mentioning their sponsors.

Instead of trumpeting this news in its release, what did the IOC lead off with?


The Sochi 2014 Games made an operating profit of $50 million.

The IOC executive board meeting in session Thursday in Rio de Janeiro // photo courtesy IOC

In its release, the IOC for sure did not mention that the $50 million figure is way below the $261 million surplus reported last June by the Russian organizers.

That drop can at least in part be explained by the ruble’s drop in value against the dollar.

Just a little math: $50 million is about a fifth as much as $261 million.

Just a little bit more math, and it’s only because the IOC brings this on itself: $50 million equals what percentage of $51 billion, the reported cost of staging the 2014 Winter Games?

That would be 0.098 percent.

This is the news the IOC seeks to spotlight for the world?

When it genuinely has good news about the athletes, its purported raison d’être?

Of course, there’s more. The IOC gets 20 percent of the $50 million surplus. Math: $10 million. It said it would transfer that $10 million to the Russian Olympic Committee for sports development, the newly approved Olympic Channel and an Olympic Museum in Russia.

Yay for Russia!

Imagine if the IOC gave the U.S. Olympic Committee $10 million just like that. How would that go over around the world?

But I digress.

In all, the IOC said, it contributed $833 million to the Sochi 2014 operating budget, which ultimately roughed out at a total of about $2 billion. This contribution marked an increase of $83 million over previous estimates.

The IOC then spent two full paragraphs agreeing that there remains a “misconception” around the costs of the Games — that is, what it costs to run them and all the stuff that gets built around them or because they came to town.

All recent editions of the Games have made an operating profit, it pointed out.

It also — correctly — noted that the operating budget of an Olympic Games, Summer or Winter, is privately funded, with a significant contribution from the IOC. For the Rio 2016 Games, that contribution will be on the order of $1.5 billion.

But then:

The “other part of the budget” is the “investment the host city authorities decide to make,” the IOC said.

This is where the IOC gets it totally, fundamentally wrong.

It’s not the “other part of the budget,” and this is why the IOC is saddled with the perception that Sochi cost $51 billion.

This perception is the thing that has dragged at the 2022 Winter Games race and is more or less the first thing almost anyone anywhere thinks about when they think about Sochi. Or, pretty much, the Games in general -- whoa, the Olympics are cool but, holy smokes, they are really, really expensive!

Here is the thing:

The infrastructure cost is totally, fundamentally separate.

It’s why for decades cities and countries all over the world have sought the Olympic Games — as a catalyst to get public policy works done in the hard-deadline of seven years, the date from which the IOC awards a Games to opening ceremony, instead of 20 or 30, which is what it would otherwise take if roads, bridges, sewage pipes, metro lines, airports and whatever else could even get done in the first instance.

For years and years, however, the IOC has allowed the infrastructure budget misconception to hang around.

The IOC says it’s too difficult to explain otherwise.

It’s not.

There are two distinct budgets. One is the operating budget. The other relates to the infrastructure numbers.

Is that difficult?


But even in Thursday's official IOC release, the IOC gets it wrong. Little wonder why when the IOC complains that Sochi didn’t really cost $51 billion, no one wants to hear it. Because it’s just “the other part of the budget.”

There’s so much more to chew on in this IOC release — for instance, the IOC executive board opting not to go in April to the SportAccord convention in Sochi, a clear slap at Marius Vizer, the key figure in that organization, and for what purpose?

The release ends, meanwhile, with a paragraph that aims to pay tribute to Mario Vazquez Raña, the longtime IOC member from Mexico who for more than 30 years also served as president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees. He died earlier this month. The executive board, the release said, ended its meeting with a minute of silence in his memory.

Nowhere in that paragraph does it also mention that Vazquez Raña also served on that very same IOC executive board for a dozen years.

Back to the real lead — as we would say in journalism terms — of the day, and an observation.

The Olympic movement genuinely does good work all over this world. Much of it is not front-page stuff nor perhaps should it be. Much is one-to-one change. Plenty is the stuff of inspiration and dreams.

At the same time, the IOC itself has a huge image problem. Thursday's release from the executive board meeting in Rio de Janeiro is emblematic of this problem.

The IOC says it wants to be transparent and accountable. It wants to reach out to young people so they can understand what it is and what it does.


Here is a challenge. Read these paragraphs from the release and — no fair if you have had years of experience in the Olympic scene — decipher them.

“Proposed advertising changes

“The EB agreed to two proposals regarding changes to Rule 40 and Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, both of which will be presented to the next IOC Session this July in Kuala Lumpur for final approval.

“In regard to the application of Rule 40, the IOC would, following Session approval, allow generic (non-Olympic) advertising during the period of the Games. The change to Rule 50 would increase the maximum size of a manufacturer’s identification while respecting the clean field of play to prevent conspicuous advertising.”

Seriously, there has to be a better way. It's athletes first. At least if the IOC genuinely means it: explain what Rules 40 and 50 say, in plain English, and what these changes — assuming a forthcoming OK in Kuala Lumpur — would mean for the athletes. It’s not difficult.

And put all of that first, ahead of stuff that translates to 0.098 percent. That should not be difficult to figure out, either.

Hey, IOC, let's go surfing -- now


Hard to believe but snowboarding, which is basically now the it-sport of the Winter Games, has been on the program only since 1998. It has really been a big deal only since 2002, when halfpipe took off. The International Olympic Committee has had one undisputed big winner in recent years at the Summer Games: beach volleyball. BMX? Kinda. The real ticket is at the beach, with the hard bodies in their bikinis or board shorts and the California-cool, surfer-dude lifestyle.

This is the farthest thing from rocket science. With the IOC in the midst of a potentially far-reaching review and reform program — all the members meeting in Monaco in December to debate President Thomas Bach’s so-called “Agenda 2020” program — the time is right to figure out how, or better yet how now, to get the sport that’s at the core of it all into the Games: surfing.

Parade of nations at the 2013 ISA juniors opening ceremony // photo courtesy ISA

Again, this is super-obvious.

There’s nothing like surfing on the program. (Windsurfing is totally different. It’s a sailing sport.) And if you think beach volleyball is a hot ticket, the sort of thing that has proven its appeal to the very demographic the IOC is trying to reach — hello, surfing?

Think again what snowboarding has done for the Winter Games. Now imagine what surfing could do for the stagnant Summer Games.

You think, just as a for instance, the IOC would be delighted to count on super big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton as an ambassador?

In considering surfing for the Games, what’s different from prior years is the advent of artificial wave technologies. That makes the sport far more accessible and controllable — and thus do-able in an Olympic context. Translation: surfing no longer has to rely -- indeed, should not have to count on -- having a nearby ocean.

Big, big, big picture: surfing right now is practiced by about 35 million people worldwide, according to estimates. Artificial wave technology is likely going to explode the sport’s potential, bringing it to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people everywhere on Planet Earth, people not lucky or wealthy enough to live by the sea. The IOC is often at the forefront of showcasing precisely this sort of growth (see Summer Games Rio 2016 — first time in South America, Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, first Winter Olympics in South Korea).

Currently, the International Surfing Assn. counts 89 member nations. For 2015, it plans to rocket past 100; 20 more nations are in the pipeline.

As this space has pointed out before, it’s skateboarding’s time in the Games, too. For many if not all the same reasons.

The thing that makes surfing such a remarkably easy sell is the guy at the top — Fernando Aguerre, 56, the ISA president, who is up for re-election next week at the federation’s meetings in Peru.

ISA president Fernando Aguerre

Aguerre, born and raised in Mar del Plata, Argentina, has lived in the seaside San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla for roughly 30 years. The story is perhaps well known about how he and his brother, Santiago, started Reef Sandals from scratch; they sold the company in 2005.

What is not as well known, maybe, is that Aguerre starts every day by surfing. Still. Typically, at 8:05 in the morning — his favorite spot is a break known locally as Windansea.

Name another international federation president who does that.

Aguerre and Nenad Lalovic, the president of the international wrestling federation, which now goes by the name United World Wrestling, are examples of the new faces — with first-rate passion, energy and ideas — who have arrived, and can be expected to be important for years, within the Olympic scene.

So, too, Marius Vizer, the International Judo Federation and SportAccord president.

Last year, when Aguerre was given the “Waterman” award — the surf industry’s highest honor — Bob McKnight, the executive chairman of the surfwear maker Quiksilver, referring to the way Aguerre views each day, said, “He’s always in attack mode,” adding, “He understands the business, understands the people, the culture, what we do, where it’s at, why we do it.

“I think he just looks at himself in the mirror every morning and asks, ‘Who am I? I’m Fernando, and I’m the man. I go attack!’ That’s how he has always been.”

Added pro big-wave surfer Greg Long, “I tell you one thing: Fernando loves to have a good time. That’s one of the first things I remember about him — his contagious energy and excitement. There’s the whole business side to him. Everybody knows that. They’ve seen that. They have seen what he has created — time and again in this industry. But, more importantly, the guy loves life.”

The IOC members see a lot of BS, a lot of false smiles. In Aguerre — who walked into his first Olympic meeting in 2007, not knowing a soul — they have seen authenticity.

With his brother, he started a company from scratch. They made it, and made it big. But — always — there is for Fernando Aguerre the memory of his grandmother in Argentina, who worked as a maid, and his grandfather, a taxi driver.

When Fernando was 15, his grandmother gave him a parka, which had to have cost her a big piece of that month's paycheck.

“She said,” he recalls, “you are too young to understand -- but giving is better than receiving. If you give a lot, you have a chance to be a better person.”

Later, when she was getting on in years, he said to her, what kind of flowers do you want for your funeral?

She said, “I want the flowers now because when I am dead I won’t be able to smell them,” and he says, “Appreciate what you have now. If you take that to the relationships with people then you have a richer relationship with the people in your life.”

Surfing — if you have ever done it — is huge fun. The only thing like it, of course, is snowboarding.

For Aguerre, however, it’s also about one-to-one change, and the way that change ripples out throughout our world.

There are the ISA scholarships aimed at helping kids in places such as Namibia and India.

There are stories like the one of Bali’s only 20-year-old female pro surfer — who says she is inspiring other girls to take up surfing.

Of a woman paralyzed in a car crash 18 years ago who had always dreamed of surfing — and went, duct-taped to the back of a big-wave rider.

Sands of the world -- a key feature of an ISA opening ceremony // photo courtesy ISA

There are the conversations Aguerre has had with presidents, prime ministers, tourist ministers and other leaders — in Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, among other places. In Costa Rica, the official numbers last year showed 2.4 million visitors, of whom 10 percent were surfers, or 240,000. Their average expenditure: $1440. The math: $345 million.

“For Costa Rica, that’s not small change,” Aguerre said.

“For me,” he said, “I feel like my role as an international federation president is not just to develop the sport or run high-quality world championships — to be sure there is fair play and no doping, all the things a president must do.

“It’s also to educate leaders about the powerful relevance of surfing as a social and economic force. That is probably what catches most people by surprise.”

Really, it’s time. Surfing in the Games. As soon as possible.


Tokyo 2020: "Hugely impressed" or lost in translation?


TOKYO -- There is no question, absolutely none, that Tokyo could put on the Summer Games in 2020. They have the technical know-how. They proved that here, again, this week. They're certain to get a good write-up when the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission releases its formal report, in July.

"We have been hugely impressed by the quality of the bid preparations," the head of the commission, Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, told a jam-packed news conference Thursday, adding a moment later, "Across the board, it has been excellent in every way."

As always in Olympic bidding, for all the complexities, there are -- to paraphrase Sebastian Coe, who championed London's 2005 winning campaign and then served as London 2012 chairman -- only two questions, how and why.

Having manifestly established the how, the challenge now facing Tokyo before the IOC vote Sept. 7 -- Madrid and Istanbul are also in the 2020 race -- is the why.

Can Tokyo craft a compelling story?


History shows they know what to do when they get big events in Japan.

The 1998 Nagano Winter Games? The 2002 soccer World Cup, shared with Korea? The 2007 Osaka track and field world championships?

All successes.

And yet recent years have also seen a profound disconnect in Japanese bids for the Olympics.

In 2001, Osaka's bid for the 2008 Summer Games got six votes out of 112, out in the first round.

In 2009, Tokyo's bid for 2016 -- which scored high in the evaluation report -- had to scrimp for votes  to get out of the first round, just to save face. That helped knock Chicago, which got a mere 18 votes in Round One, out. Tokyo then promptly went out in Round Two, with just 20.

They decided after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northeastern Japan to bid for 2020.

Next week will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster.

"Tokyo does not face a big issue of radiation -- that was explained," Tsunekazu Takeda, president of Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese Olympic Committee as well as the lone IOC member in Japan, said.

And saying that the water in Tokyo is clean enough to drink from the tap, which they made a point of doing to the evaluation commission -- that's not a story. That's just normal.

So what is the story?

At a gala dinner Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe started his remarks to the commission by saying, "Japan is an aging society; that's why we hope Tokyo will be chosen." With all due respect to the prime minister, the IOC is relentlessly seeking to appeal to a younger demographic. How does his observation help?

Thursday's wrap-up Tokyo 2020 news conference showcased bid officials and athletes, eight personalities in all. On stage, among others: Takeda; Masato Mizuno, the Tokyo 2020 chief executive and a JOC vice president; and Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose.

There is a tendency here for sartorial conformity, the bid uniform a blue suit and white shirt. That monochromatic vision calls to mind the image the Pyeongchang bid team put forward in 2007 for 2014. Note: that bid did not win.

It was only when Pyeongchang injected more verve and dash in its clothes and its presentations -- and, not incidentally, switched almost entirely to speaking English, which the IOC moves mostly in now -- that it rolled to a landslide victory in 2011 for 2018.

Already some of the more sophisticated souls working on the Tokyo team have recognized the danger in the parallels to Pyeongchang's unsuccessful efforts -- because, too, the IOC would have to be convinced to come back to Asia in the summer of 2020 after being in Korea in the winter of 2018.

There were blue shirts on stage Thursday, not just white. And grey suits, not just blue. And Gov. Inose started the conference by saying, "I have really enjoyed this week," and he spoke in English.

To be plain, 2020 offers Tokyo a far better chance for victory than 2016.

There are only three cities in this 2020 race, not four as in 2016. And there's only one -- Istanbul -- that, like Rio, offers the IOC the expansionist strategy that has dominated recent bid contests.

Meanwhile, it's plain the issues around which the 2020 race will turn are, first, whether the IOC wants to keep heading toward new shores and, second, whether it wants another huge urban makeover construction project.

The strategy here -- and, in measure, in Madrid, too -- has to go like this:

Sochi, the 2014 Winter Games host, is already is known to cost more than $50 billion. Work is still not done.

Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 Summer Games site, is so bedeviled by delays that the IOC has been saying, albeit in IOC code, to hurry up with a multiplicity of projects. Time "is of the essence," the Brazilians were told when an IOC team was there just last month.

Istanbul's construction budget weighs in at $19.2 billion, and history has shown that figures provided in bid books tend to be understatements.

Madrid has yet to make its case to the evaluation commission; that four-day visit begins March 18.

Here, the venue plan calls for 28 of the 33 competition venues to be within five miles of the Olympic Village; the village would be built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay.

Though they have a $4.9 billion infrastructure budget, 40 percent of which will be directed for a make-over of the national stadium, they also have plenty in the bank, the money just sitting there, the commission heard.

Japan has a $5.9 trillion economy, the world's third-largest. Abe, moreover, has shown signs that he is willing to make market-opening changes that Japan has resisted for nearly 20 years.

If Tokyo were itself a country, the commission was told, its economy alone would almost make the top 10 in the world.

Even the Tokyo polling numbers are up: 70 percent of locals want the Games, an IOC survey disclosed. That's up from 47 percent last year.

Reflecting on the four days with the evaluation commission, the governor, still speaking in English, said, "I believe we have shown the best of Tokyo. All those assets that will underpin the smooth delivery of Tokyo 2020 -- for example, our exceptional transport infrastructure, our cutting-edge technology and the very high levels of safety and security in Tokyo."

That has the makings of a story: Tokyo as reliable, fun and interesting choice. Bring on the sushi. It just needs to be told, and votes asked for.

Unclear -- given history, personality and temperament -- is whether it can be done.

The governor, as he was wrapping up the news conference, suddenly found himself telling roughly 1,000 journalists about the work of the former Harvard professor and political scientist Samuel Huntington, who died in 2008, and Huntington's focus on the competing cultural identities in the world of perhaps seven or eight "civilizations." Japan, as the governor noted, is one.

"Because of the maturity of this civilization, we will have a situation where we can 'discover tomorrow,' " Inose said, now in Japanese, slipping in the bid's catchphrase.

"By 2020, we can show that to the world by hosting the Games."

In Tokyo, the risk is that the story -- the why -- keeps getting lost in translation. They have six months to try to figure it out.


Challenges await IOC's next president

Regular readers of this space know I now have the privilege of teaching at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism in Los Angeles. One of the things about being a university professor -- my formal title, by the way, is "lecturer" -- is that for each class they make you write a syllabus. It's not easy. You have to read a lot of books to decide which books you want to use in your class.

Before heading off this week to cover the U.S. Olympic Trials in track and field and then swimming, I have been at work drafting the syllabus for a graduate-school spring 2013 course tentatively entitled "Sports and Society." A book I've run across, and like, comes from two Australian professors, Kristine Toohey and A.J. Veal, "The Olympic Games: A Social Science Perspective," because it not only provides a broad sketch of the movement but also provides excellent context for the issues likely to confront the next IOC president.

This week, it's true, the IOC seems wholly enmeshed in a black-market ticket scandal. But that is temporal. As the book makes plain, the ticket issue will -- like many others -- be confronted, and the IOC will move on.

The IOC has been in existence since 1894. In all those years, remarkably, it has had but eight presidents.

I have been covering the IOC since late 1998. I have known but two presidents: Juan Antonio Samaranch, who held the job from 1980 until 2001, and Jacques Rogge, who has been president since.

Rogge will, by term limit, step down in September 2013. The IOC will elect his successor at a regularly called election at its annual convention, called a session. The location of the session rotates around the world; this session will be held in Buenos Aires.

In about a month, when the IOC gathers in London for the Games, the world will watch Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps and the others who will make the XXX Olympiad what it will be for the history books. The IOC will hold a session in London as well and the members will stay on for the Games. Rest assured: the politicking, looking ahead to Buenos Aires, will be just as intriguing.

The list of potential candidates for the presidency is unannounced but fairly obvious. It's a once-every-12-years-opportunity, and the maneuvering has been going on for months now, if not years.

In alphabetical order, and it's important to note that being interested in running does not necessarily mean electable: Thomas Bach of Germany; Richard Carrion of Puerto Rico; Anita DeFrantz of the United States; Rene Fasel of Switzerland; Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; Denis Oswald of Switzerland. There may yet be others.

No Asian candidate has ever been elected IOC president; indeed, with the exception of Avery Brundage, the American who served from 1952-72, every IOC president has been European. Soft-spoken, well-connected, diplomatic, Ng oversaw the enormously successful 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games.

Carrion moves fluidly and fluently between the worlds of business and sports, in Spanish, English and, increasingly, French. In a world buffeted by economic crisis, the IOC has not only weathered the storm but is positioned strategically, thanks in significant measure to Carrion, its banker, a key player in the $4.38 billion rights negotiation with NBC through 2020, and other deals.

Bach comes from an Olympic background; he is a gold-medalist (fencing, 1976). He is a national Olympic committee president (Germany). He has done it all in a long and distinguished career that includes ties to business, law and the Olympics.

The IOC is always about personalities and relationships. One wonders, however, if at some level the 2013 presidential election has to be as much about the issues confronting the movement -- this is why the book is so interesting as background -- and whether the personalities of the potential contenders are best-suited to dealing with those issues.

An explanation:

There are always recurring issues in the IOC scene. For instance -- stadium elephants.

That said, certain issues emerge at particular elections as defining issues in the moment.

In 2001, when Rogge was elected, succeeding Samaranch, the issues confronting the IOC were very different from now.

When the IOC convened for that 2001 session in Moscow, the events preceding and enveloping  that election were largely based on transparency and the dispersion of power.

Rogge won in the wake of the 1998 corruption scandal in Salt Lake City, which then prompted a 1999 50-point IOC reform plan, and in the aftermath of a number of doping scandals, in particular at the 1998 Tour de France, which helped create the World Anti-Doping Agency.


The challenges are not internal but external.

That is, the next president must be prepared to deal with events that come at him (or her) not from an internal sphere (doping, member corruption) but, indeed, from the outside world.

Indeed, the context and speed at which world events are happening is perhaps the No. 1 challenge to the movement.

Just to rattle off a few items: the global recession and euro sovereign debt crisis, the geographical expansion of the Games (2014 Sochi, 2016 Rio, 2018 Pyeongchang, bids for 2020 from Doha and Baku), the growing threat of illegal sports betting.

It is absolutely true that under Rogge the IOC has seen its financial reserves grow from $105 million in 2001 to $592 million in 2010. The IOC is well-positioned to weather one four-year downturn. This largely unheralded, and under-appreciated, development may be one of Rogge's shrewdest plays as president.

The obvious big-picture question is -- what next?

How much debt, for instance, can you throw at the Olympic scene before something goes amiss? How many countries can keep picking up the tab? Was the decision by the Italian government earlier this year not to push Rome forward for the 2020 Games, citing the ongoing European financial crisis, a signal of things to come -- or was it just an aberration?

Eventually, and most likely during the 12 years of this next presidency, some very hard decisions are going to have to be made, and that will have repercussions for everyone, including the Olympic movement.

A corollary:

It would seem readily apparent that the size and expansion of the movement demand greater partnerships. There are bigger opportunities out there. But also bigger potential pitfalls.

Again, any IOC election is at its core about relationships. But this one has to be about more than schmoozing. There's too much at stake for the members to be looking for more than just comfort. The world we live in can often be not a comfortable place.

Three bids, 88 members, 49 days to go

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Two years ago, Rio de Janeiro's bid team came here and put up a map that showed the Summer Games had never been to South America, a remarkably clever piece of stagecraft that separated Rio from four other contenders and, ultimately, made the case for its stunning win for the 2016 Summer Games. The three cities for the 2018 Winter Games came here Wednesday with movies and charts and Olympic medalists by the score, the two perceived chasers, Munich and Annecy, France, looking for a similar breakout moment to make up ground against the favorite, Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The Koreans came Wednesday with the admittedly "nervous" but nonetheless impressive Yuna Kim, the women's 2010 figure skating gold medalist. And they have their own world map.

That map shows that the Winter Games have been held in Asia only twice, and both times in Japan, in Nagano in 1998 and Sapporo in 1972.

This is the underlying dynamic of this 2018 race, and unless the others wield a compelling argument to the contrary, it's why this arguably is -- and always has been -- the Koreans' race to lose. The IOC will vote July 6 by secret ballot in Durban, South Africa.

The essential 2018 question is whether the forces of history, economics and demographics are -- or are not -- on Korea's side.

To frame it another way: Is the sports world still in the expansionist mode of recent years? Or is 2018 the campaign in which the IOC takes a break and opts for a more traditional locale before venturing forth anew in 2020, 2022 and beyond?

To be clear: The Koreans have a lot going for them. Then again, if they could win, of course they could lose. They have bid twice before for the Winter Games, for 2014 and 2010, and lost both times. Moreover, it's an International Olympic Committee election; by definition, the only thing predictable about an IOC campaign is that it's unpredictable.

Indeed, sometimes it's just flat-out unusual.

One such moment:

At the session Wednesday, held at the Olympic Museum, and formally dubbed a "technical briefing," with each city given a 45-minute presentation window followed by a question-and-answer session, Hicham el Guerrouj, the great Moroccan middle-distance runner who since 2004 has been an IOC member, posed a question during Annecy's time about the arrest in New York on sexual assault charges of French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

IOC president Jacques Rogge promptly ruled the question out of order.

Rogge was not asked about that question at an end-of-the day news conference.

He declared the day a big success: "It was a very good day for the International Olympic Committee because whoever wins will definitely be able to stage very good Games."

He also said, and perhaps he's absolutely right about this, perhaps he's just practicing diplomacy: "It's going to be a close race."

The Koreans, with their tagline about taking the Games to "new horizons," would appear in many regards to be driving the campaign. At the least, the other two bids have felt compelled to respond to the Korean narrative.

"When you choose the Olympic host city, it is about more than just geography," Katarina Witt, the chair of the Munich bid, stunning as ever in a low-cut dress by the Berlin designer Michalsky, told the 88 IOC members on hand, stressing that Munich would deliver full stadiums and "the single greatest experience" of each athlete's life.

It's not just about geography, of course.

Even so, the broad theme of the era in which we are living is writ large.

The nations that through the 1990s played host to major sports events have been giving way in recent years to countries and regions that, logically enough, are saying, it's our turn now.

As a for instance, this is why -- despite what is shaping up to be a comparatively weak field for 2020 -- the U.S. Olympic Committee, even if its revenue and marketing issues with the IOC are resolved, ought to give serious, serious pause before considering an entry.

One theory holds that after ranging afield to new locales -- such as Rio for 2016 -- the IOC needs to park in a safe harbor, such as the U.S., for 2020.

Applying that theory now would deliver 2018 to Germany or France -- after 2014 in Sochi, Russia, where they're building a brand-new Winter Games destination from scratch.

The competing theory is that the Olympic and international sports world is still very much in the midst of turning away from what was and toward what's next.

See, for example: Russia 2014; Brazil 2016 (and soccer's World Cup in 2014.)

Russia, again, for the World Cup in 2018. Qatar, for the World Cup in 2022.

Qatar, again, for the men's team handball world championship in 2015 -- chosen this past January over three European bids, from France, Norway and Poland.

Our world is changing all around us. Just a couple days ago, in an event that went virtually unnoticed in the United States but is big stuff in Europe, with more than 100 million people tuned in to watch the final episode, Azerbaijan, one of the former Soviet republics, won the Eurovision song contest.

Germany was 10th; Britain, 11th. Spain and France finished farther still down the list.

Azerbaijan winning Eurovision -- that underscores a major cultural and economic shift.

Here's another huge economic shift in the making, a point the Koreans have underscored time and again during this 2018 campaign:

By 2030, according to an Asian Development Bank Study, Asia will make up 43 percent of worldwide consumption. From 1990 to 2008, the middle class in Asia grew by 30 percent, and spent an average of an additional $1.7 trillion annually. No other region in the world comes close.

Complicating the 2018 Olympic dynamic, though, is the factor of personality politics.

Thomas Bach, the vice president and presumed IOC presidential candidate in 2013, is leading the Munich bid. He observed Wednesday that "there are cycles of life," a time where "you go to new shores" and another "where you cultivate your foundations."

While the presentations Wednesday were important, the behind-the-scenes politicking now begins in earnest.

"This is a marathon race," Bach said at a news conference. "It's of no importance whether you lead at 22k or 35k or 40k. The only thing that counts is to cross the finish line first, on the 6th of July. After today's presentation and the response, which we can feel, we go into this final stretch of this very special Olympic marathon with full confidence and with all the determination and with all the passion we can have for the Olympic Games in Germany and for winter sports in particular."

Asked where Munich stood at this point in the "marathon," Bach answered, "I don't care. This is, as I said, about winning."

For their part, the French team includes Jean-Claude Killy, the triple 1968 Games ski champion turned sports administrator. Arguably no one within the Olympic movement carries more credibility within winter sports circles. "We think we have nothing to envy the other two propositions," he told reporters after the French had briefed the 88 members.

Later, he said that he supported the bid "very strongly." He also, reading from a paper left over from the German news conference, said, "It says here that 'Munich loves you.' So I just want you to know that we love you, too."

The chairman of the Korean bid, Yang Ho Cho, met reporters immediately after the Pyeongchang presentation ended. In keeping with the Korean message of humility, he said, "The decision is up to the IOC members. We did our best," adding a moment later, "We sent a message of new horizons."


A quickie and by no means exhaustive summary of the three bids:

-- Munich: One of the world's great cities. Re-purposed 1972 Summer Games venues. Big crowds. Fantastic guaranteed atmosphere. German business underwrites 50 percent of the revenues of the seven sports on the Winter Games program. Germany hasn't hosted the Winter Games since 1936.

-- Annecy: The IOC has had a penchant for staging recent Winter Games in big cities -- Vancouver, Torino, Salt Lake City. What about the mountains? "Authentic" Annecy, amid the world's most iconic mountain range and with a sustainable development plan in mind, is uniquely positioned to take the Winter Games, and mountain communities worldwide, into a 21st-century future.

-- Pyeongchang: Time is not only ripe but right to go to Asia and South Korea to grow the Winter Games, and in a big way. 87 percent national support for 2018 Games. Major national priority. Two prior bids, spent $1.4 billion to build first-class Alpensia resort in what used to be potato fields. "We are keeping our promises to the IOC," former provincial governor and bid leader Jin Sun Kim stressed at news conference.