Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah

Signs, signs, everywhere signs: the esports revolution is coming to the Olympics

Signs, signs, everywhere signs: the esports revolution is coming to the Olympics

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Thomas Bach has been president of the International Olympic Committee for nearly five years now, and one of his pet phrases is thus: “We have to get the couch potatoes off the couch.”

Prediction, and cue the screams of the traditionalists: the couch potatoes are very likely going to shape, perhaps significantly, the 2028 Los Angeles Games. 

The esports revolution is coming, and fast, for it cannot and will not be stopped, and indeed the gamers are almost surely going to help propel a thorough and long-overdue review — if not, indeed, the start of a re-do — of the Olympic program. That next-generation program is coming, in 2028 and LA.

“It’s the passion that really gets us together,” Bach told 21-year-old Jake Lyon, a professional gamer for the Houston Outlaws in the Overwatch League, as part of a Friday and Saturday forum dedicated to esports.  

A gold medalist in fencing at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Bach told Lyon in a remarkable one-on-one, nearly hour-long breakout session Saturday morning at the Olympic Museum, both having shared on stage the emotion that comes with championship and victory, “We feel the same passion for your activity as you feel the passion for our activity.”

Day One, two golds, Ledecky is ... 'incredible'

Day One, two golds, Ledecky is ... 'incredible'

BUDAPEST — It’s only Day One of the swim action of these 2017 FINA world championships, and here is the dilemma.

How many different ways are there to say Katie Ledecky is great?

In the first final in a meet she is expected to — strike that, absent something freaky, will — dominate, Ledecky set a new championship record in the women’s 400 freestyle, winning by more than three seconds.

FINA elections: a power-play clinic

FINA elections: a power-play clinic

BUDAPEST — Here is the short version of a contentious campaign that dragged on for months inside FINA, the aquatics federation, and that culminated in Saturday’s election:

A rival sought to execute an Olympic power play. In the end, though, it was like Milorad Cavic and Michael Phelps. A lot of drama, maybe. But you knew who was going to win.

Because when it comes to executing a show of authority in Olympic circles, you have to go a long way to get past the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, especially when what’s at issue is the power of the IOC president and his key allies.

Not fake news: is IOC looking at real crisis?

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

Talk about fake news.

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

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

Estanguet, to the LA Times:

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

Estanguet, to USA Today, even bolder:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The signs increasingly point to crisis.

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

The sheikh says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few things are clear:

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

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate:

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

Diack and Bach were also allies of longstanding.

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

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

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

To be obvious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where the reasonable person asks the reasonable question:

Why would that be?

An open letter: the White House delegation to Rio

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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.”

Perhaps?

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.

Sincerely,

Alan Abrahamson

3 Wire Sports

Los Angeles, California

An imperfect compromise: IOC mostly gets it right

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When history writes the story of the drama that enveloped the question of what to do about the Russians for the 2016 Rio Games, the imperfect compromise issued Sunday by the International Olympic Committee will come to be seen for what it truly is: a marker for the ongoing vitality and relevance of the Olympic movement in every corner of the world. Make no mistake. The IOC made — mostly — the right call in seeking to balance individual rights against collective responsibility.

If this decision had gone the other way, if the IOC had imposed a wide-ranging ban on the Russians, there very well may have erupted an existential threat to the Olympic movement.

This is not to layer exaggeration or extra intrigue onto a situation that already has generated enormous controversy.

Rather, the mob that has largely looked past the precious value of individual justice in calling for collective responsibility failed, and hugely, to account for the peril inherent in such a decision for the present and the future of the Olympic enterprise.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and IOC president Thomas Bach at the opening last June of the European Games in Azerbaijan // Getty Images

The Russians, however, keenly understood. And they kept saying so — no matter the smugly furious, self-righteous echo chamber banging for wide-ranging sanction.

The IOC listened. It understood, and keenly.

To emphasize:

There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, there is a lot that is right.

In ruling that the international sports federations hold the responsibility to decide whether the Russians could come for each of the roughly two dozen sports on the Olympic program, the IOC underscored not only the place of each and every person in the world but, as well, the possibilities inherent in empowering humanity to effect one-to-one change.

When everything else is stripped away, that is what the Olympics are all about. That is why the modern Olympic movement, a project born in the late 19th century, can still matter in our 21st-century lives.

“Every human being is entitled to individual justice,” IOC president Thomas Bach said after Sunday’s meeting of its policy-making executive board.

Almost immediately, the tennis and equestrian federations released announcements saying to the Russians, see you soon in Brazil. The judo federation put out numbers that made plaln a rigorous testing program aimed at each and every one of the 389 athletes from 136 countries who have qualified for Rio 2016.

Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, said the  organization “commends the IOC for favoring individual justice over collective responsibility and giving international federations responsibility to ensure clean competitions in their sports at Rio 2016.”

Life is not binary. It is not black and white, yes or no, a collection of 1s and 0s. Life is made up of shades of grey, and nuance, and compromise — especially in the pursuit of both a practical reality and a noble ideal.

Life is better when we — the collective we — are not implementing blanket action against a group of people. This is a basic of history. And the Olympic movement is, at its essence and at its best, not about being moralistic or sanctimonious. It appeals to our better selves.

As Anita DeFrantz, the long-serving IOC representative to the United States who sits on the executive board, said Sunday afternoon, “It takes courage to do the right thing.”

Even if it is imperfect.

Life is imperfect, you know? The Olympic scene is an imperfect vessel for our hopes and dreams.

The important part: the IOC action likely paves the way for most Russian athletes to march behind the Russian flag at the opening ceremony on August 5.

At the same time:

The IOC said the whistleblower Yulia Stepanova —  a middle-distance runner who along with her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, sparked the controversy by alleging state ties to doping — is not eligible to run in Rio. There simply isn’t a vehicle to permit a “neutral” athlete to take part, the IOC said, and that’s true. It’s a fundamental that athletes compete as national representatives at a Games.

Except that there will be a “refugee team” in Rio made up of athletes from different countries.

And, perhaps more important, the symbolism of having Stepanova on the Rio track would have gone far in promoting the notion that anyone and everyone has to speak up when something might be amiss; overcoming the culture of keeping silent has proven a significant challenge in the anti-doping campaign.

Yulia Stepanova at the European championships earlier in July // Getty Images

Also, the IOC said that any Russian athlete who has ever done time for doping is ineligible for Rio. This misplaced notion is the 2016 version of what in Olympic jargon is called the “Osaka rule,” a notion advanced by none other than Bach nine years ago, when he was IOC vice president. It sought to ban a doper from the next edition of the Games on top of however many years he or she got in sanction.

The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport said, no dice — the Osaka rule amounted to double punishment.

The IOC, and the president, know all of this. A recent reminder: the case of South Korean swimmer Park Tae Hwan, a 2008 and 2012 medalist who tested positive in 2014 for testosterone and got 18 months. The Korean Olympic committee tried to tack on another three years. No go.

The Osaka rule could have been incorporated in the version of the World Anti-Doping Code that took effect this past January 1. But no. Instead, the code now calls for a standard doping ban of four years instead of two.

It’s now up to an individual Russian, if he or she wants, to go to CAS to challenge the IOC move regarding eligibility after a prior ban. There should be a rush to the proverbial courthouse steps; any such case would be a slam-dunk winner; all the IOC is trying to do is effect an end-around a play that already has been shut down.

More: the assertion that no already-served Russians can go — even though athletes from other countries who have served doping bans can, and will, be in Rio — cuts directly against the very thing the IOC sought Sunday to preserve: in Bach’s words, “individual justice.”

The remaining problematic element is the ban imposed on Russia’s track and field team by the IAAF, track’s governing body. It stands.

As Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, noted as part of a lengthy presentation Sunday to the IOC board:

“… We can never accept a decision that allows any international federation to legally force athletes to move from their native country in order to train abroad, so they can participate in international competitions. This contradicts basic human rights and essential freedoms. And it strays very far from the real anti-doping fight.”

Russia'Olympic committee president Alexander Zhukov at a meeting last week in Moscow // Getty Images

This will be part of the historical legacy. And it won’t be pretty.

Sergey Shubenkov, the Russian champion in the 110-meter hurdles at last year’s world championships — “an absolutely clean one,” Zhukov asserted — can’t run in Rio. His mother, heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova, missed the 1984 Los Angeles Games because of the Soviet-led boycott, reprisal for the U.S.-led action against the 1980 Moscow Games.

“Now his dream is ruined and this ruin is dismissed,” Zhukov said, “simply as an ‘unfortunate consequence.’ ”

Hurdles gold medal-winner Sergey Shubenkov at last year's track world championships in Beijing // Getty Images

This, of course, is a  reference to the answer given last Monday by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren when, in making public his World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned inquiry into accusation of state-sanctioned doping in Russia, he was asked about guilt by association.

In 1980, the Australian IOC member R. Kevan Gosper supported the U.S.-led Moscow boycott. He says now he “wouldn’t have made that decision.” A silver medalist in track and field, Gosper served as an IOC member from 1977 to 2013 and retains considerable influence.

The McLaren Report allegations, Gosper said, make for a “very, very serious problem.” Even so, given the IOC’s turbulent history, in partiular the 1980 and 1984 Los Angeles Games boycotts, Gosper said, “To take a collective decision against Russia in a world that is very uncertain, I think, would be very wrong.”

This is what the Russians kept saying.

The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin himself, in a statement released last week by the Kremlin:

“Today, we see a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport. Yes, this intervention takes different forms today, but the essence remains the same; to make sport an instrument for geopolitical pressure and use it to form a negative image of countries and peoples. The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division.”

The former Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote a letter last week to Bach that said, in part:

“The principle of collective punishment is unacceptable for me. I am convinced that it contradicts the very culture of the Olympic movement based on universal values, humanism and principles of law.”

Zhukov’s presentation to the IOC board cautioned against what he called a “rush to judgment.” He said:

“Please allow me to begin by saying that I understand you will make today a fateful decision, which will determine the fate of not only Russian sport, but also of the international Olympic movement, of our Olympic family.

“The recent events have caused a significant split to open in the world of sport. We must remain united in our efforts to ensure integrity, united against the pressures that aim to replace constructive unity with destructive confrontation.”

Nearing the close of his remarks, he said:

“I urge you to consider this case independently of the mounting pressure from certain nations to issue a collective ban in relation to Olympic Team Russia.

“The calls for Russia to be banned from Rio 2016, before the McLaren Report was even published, clearly demonstrate that this goes beyond sport.

“I therefore urge you not to fall victim to geopolitical pressure.

“You can all be confident that Russia will change for the better and Russian sport will emerge cleaner.

“But that can only happen through engagement.”

Precisely.

Not through a far-reaching ban.

In noting “certain nations,” make no mistake about which nations those might be.

The calls for a ban, spun up by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in particular, beg fundamental questions about its role: Is USADA supposed to engage in such lobbying? Or Is it merely a provider of services — if you will, a contractor?

Too, the hypocrisy of certain political leaders in reacting to the IOC’s decision Sunday could not be more evident. The U.K. sports minister, Tracey Couch, said the “scale of the evidence arguably pointed to the need for stronger sanctions.”

This makes for empty rhetoric if not unintentional comedy — coming from a country where the government announced earlier this year it was cutting its 2016-17 contribution to WADA by roughly $725,000.

As for no-question irresponsibility — the Daily Mail reported late Saturday that the entire Russian team would be banned.

For a while, that Daily Mail story was the No. 1 story sweeping Reddit.

Oops.

And then there was the New York Times, in its reporting Sunday, saying the IOC move “tarnished the reputations and performance of all Russian Olympic athletes” while serving as a “strong affirmation” that Russia had cheated “under government orders.”

History will tell if that’s anything more than journalistic bravado — if ever the allegations delivered by Mr. McLaren lead to testimony under oath and thorough cross-examination of all the principal actors.

In the meantime:

No matter the circumstance, and especially in this one, groupthink can prove very, very dangerous. Turning toward reason and away from emotion, the way the IOC did Sunday, is almost always a way better option.

As Bach put it, “An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” adding, “This is not about expectations. This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world.”

Even if justice is, as history teaches, often imperfect.

Ten deep (sort of, maybe) thoughts

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Not everything that happens is itself worth a stand-alone column, even on the space-aplenty internet.

To that end, some recent news nuggets:

-- U.S. Olympic athletes send letter asking for other Russian sports to be investigated. Reaction: 1. There’s obviously a huge difference between state-sponsored or -sanctioned doping, and what has gone on, and for sure absolutely is going on, here. (If you think there are zero U.S. athletes engaged in the use of performance-enhancing substances, please send me a bank draft for a bridge in Brooklyn I would be delighted to sell you.) 2. The First Amendment says you can say almost anything you want. Have at it. 3. The risk, of course, is that such a letter — in the international sphere — appears completely, thoroughly sanctimonious. Lance Armstrong? Marion Jones? BALCO? Major League Baseball and the steroid era (probably the primary reason baseball is not back in the Olympic Games)? 4. With Los Angeles bidding for 2024, with every IOC member’s vote at issue, does it ever work for Americans to assume a position of such seeming moral superiority?

-- Premise: doping in Russia is bad and something has to be done. Not just in Russia. Everywhere. Reaction: 1. Obviously. 2. Seriously. 3. Now -- who's going to pay to put together a worldwide system that can really be way more effective? Let's start with $25-30 million, enough to more or less double the World Anti-Doping Agency's annual budget to the ballpark of $50-55 million. Where's that coming from? If you are an international sports federation, you don't have that kind of scratch. 4. Not even combined, the federations don't have it. 5. Governments? In virtually every country but the United States, funding for sport is a federal government function. 6. The IOC?

-- LA 2024 drops plans for an Olympic village near downtown, says if it’s picked that UCLA dorms would serve as athlete housing and USC would play host to a media village. Reaction: 1. This saves LA 2024 lots of money and removes an element of uncertainty from the bid file. 2. The biggest knock on LA is that it has played host twice to the Summer Games, in 1932 and 1984. In 1984, athletes stayed in the dorms at UCLA and USC. 3. Sure, the dorms at UCLA are better than you would find at universities in Europe. 4. The trick is convincing the European-dominated International Olympic Committee that 2024 is not a been-there, done-that. Going back to UCLA elevates that risk and is, frankly, going to require a major sales job. 5. The housing at USC is going to be really nice. Like, really excellent. The university is in the midst of a huge construction project that promises a thorough gentrification in its near-downtown neighborhood. But no one cares about the media. Clarification: none of the IOC members do, at least enough to swing a vote one way or the other.

UCLA dorm life // photo LA24

-- LA 2024 gets a $2 billion stadium for the NFL Rams (and maybe another team). For free. Also, pretty much all major venues, and all hotels, are in place. And there’s a multibillion dollar-transit plan in the works that’s going to happen regardless of the Olympics. Reaction: 1. Is any city anywhere better-suited for the Summer Games? 2. Is the IOC ready — finally? — to embrace the Americans again? 3. If IOC president Thomas Bach really wants Agenda 2020 to be relevant, here is a world city that, as he has put it, not only talks the talk but walks the walk. 4. This is the most-important host city election in the modern era, determining the course of future bids. If the IOC keeps rewarding stupidity and waste, you have to ask, seriously, about its direction.

The Rams might -- stress, might -- play temporarily at the Coliseum. This is an artist's rendering of the new Inglewood facility // HKS

-- A Danish survey, measuring and comparing national representation from 2013 to 2015 in international sport, declares the United States is far and away the most influential nation in the world. Reaction: 1. Is this a cosmic joke? 2. No U.S. Olympic bids for 2020 or 2022. Why? 3. Chicago 2016. 4. New York 2012. 5. That soccer World Cup bid for 2022? How'd that work out? 6. The United States is seriously lacking in top-level representation. Everyone in the Olympic world knows this. You've got the newly elected head of the International Tennis Federation, and one member of the IOC executive board -- and a handful of others who are, say, technical directors or even a secretary general. Because of the way IOC rules work, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors, Larry Probst, is hugely unlikely to himself ever be on the IOC board. 7. The survey methodology: "The data behind the index consists of a total of 1673 positions across 120 international federations. Each position is weighed between 1 and 10 based on the level of sports political power. As an example, the president of the IOC scores 10, whereas a board member in a non-Olympic European federation receives the minimum score of 1." 8. There's an enormous difference between quantity of influence, which this survey purports to measure, and quality. To reiterate, see No. 3 and 4, which is why the USOC, with Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun in particular, has spent the past six years rebuilding relationships internationally, including the resolution of a revenue-sharing deal with the IOC that had made it all but impossible for the U.S. to consider a bid.

-- Voters in Iowa due to caucus in the next few days, followed by balloting in New Hampshire, and we're off to the races. Reaction: 1. If you want the Olympic Games back in the United States in 2024, you want Hillary Clinton to win in November. 2. Say what? 3. Yep. 4. You really think that Donald Trump, who advocates walls and bans, is remotely on the same page as the Olympic spirit? 5. Hillary Clinton, when she was senator from New York, went to Singapore in 2005 to lobby for New York City’s 2012 bid. In 1996, President and Mrs. Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Atlanta Games, and Bill Clinton formally opened those Olympics. In 1994, Hillary Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. 6. Bill and Hillary Clinton have a longstanding relationship with LA 2024 bid chairman Casey Wasserman.

From February 1994: First Lady Hillary Clinton, right, and daughter Chelsea at the Lillehammer Games' opening ceremony // Getty Images

-- Five days in Cuba for the first Olympic sports event there since President Obama’s announcement of a new normal between the U.S. and the island nation. Reaction: 1. You can see how Havana was once lovely. 2. Now it’s just mostly crumbling. Dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of concrete buildings are literally falling apart in the salt air. 3. You want potholes? You have maybe never seen roads so torn-up. It’s a wonder all those classic cars don’t fall into some of these potholes, which resemble nothing so much as sinkholes, never to plow forward again. 4. Big cars with fins are awesome. No seat belts — not so much. 5. My room at the Hotel Nacional was once the site of a mafia meeting. A plaque on the wall said so. 6. Frank Sinatra once stayed in the room next door. Another plaque. 7. If you get the chance, go to Havana now, before the flood of Americans — and all the corporate investment dollars — show up. It’s incredible in 2016 to go someplace and find no McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Walmart. Not saying those brands are the zenith of American culture. But, you know, they're almost everywhere. Not Cuba. 8. It rained cats and dogs one night and seawater washed up nearly five blocks inland. Cuba is rich with potential but the infrastructure needs — the basics — are almost staggering: water, sewage, electricity, telephone, internet, roads, bridges and more. 9. U.S. mobile phones work pretty much everywhere in the world now. Not Cuba.

Not-uncommon Havana street scene

George Washington slept here? No, Frank Sinatra

Cuba's Alberto Juantorena // Getty Images

-- Alberto Juantorena, the track and field legend (gold medals, Montreal 1976, 400 and 800 meters), has for years now been a senior figure in Cuban sport. As of last August, he is also one of four vice presidents of track's international governing body, the IAAF, now headed by Sebastian Coe. (Historical footnote: it was Coe who, in 1979, broke Juantorena's world record in the 800, lowering it from 1:43.44 to 1:42.33. David Rudisha of Kenya now owns the record, 1:40.91, set at the London 2012 Games.) Two events in the next few weeks require Juantorena to pass through U.S. customs, one a meeting in Puerto Rico of what's called NACAC, an area track and field group, the other the indoor world championships in mid-March in Portland, Oregon. Juantorena has been granted one (1) visa by the U.S. authorities. That's good for one entry, not two. Reaction: 1. Someone in the U.S. government has to fix this. 2. And, like, immediately. 3. Juantorena or Antonio Castro, one of Fidel's sons, an activist in seeking the return of baseball to the Games, figure to be in the mix when the IOC gets around to naming a new member from Cuba. 4. Nothing will destroy the LA 2024 bid faster than word that it is difficult -- still, 14-plus years after 9/11 -- to get into the United States.

Nick Symmonds at last June's US championships in Eugene, Oregon // Getty Images

-- Run Gum, owned in part by U.S. 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds, files suit against the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Track & Field, alleging an antitrust claim in connection with logo and uniform advertising rules at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Reaction: 1. Run Gum is a great product. The new cinnamon flavor is excellent. Recommendation: the gum is also great for people with migraines for whom caffeine is, as doctors like to say, medically indicated. Take it from someone who knows. 2. Why, though, the headache of a lawsuit? 3. The antitrust issues are nominally interesting but in the sphere of the Olympics the IOC's rules and, as well, the 1978 Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act almost always control. 4. So why a lawsuit? You file lawsuits when a) you profoundly disagree about something, b) you negotiate but can't reach agreement and/or or c) maybe you're just looking for publicity. 5. USATF, under the direction of chief executive Max Siegel, has made tremendous efforts in recent months to not only reduce friction at all levels but to actively promote collegiality. The annual meeting in December was all but a love-fest. Last September, USATF and its athletes advisory council agreed on a revenue distribution plan that will deliver $9 million in cash to athletes over the coming five years. 6. It's all good to make a living at track and field. Every athlete should be able to do so. That's not the issue. 7. Again: it's why a lawsuit and what's the motive? Symmonds, asked about that Thursday, said with a laugh,"I think Nick Symmonds going on a date with Paris Hilton -- that's a publicity play," adding, "Engaging in litigation -- engaging in litigation with the people putting on the freaking Olympic Trials that I have to compete at -- all that pressure on my shoulders, why would I want to do that, unless I care about the sport?" 8. No question Symmonds cares about the sport. Even so, whatever disagreement you might have, you couldn't talk it out? It's January. The Trials run July 1-10. That's more or less six months away. 9. Symmonds, asked whether there had been an in-person meeting or extensive negotiation on the issue before the filing of the case, said, no. He said he had sought via email only to "engage in dialogue" with Siegel and with USOC marketing guy Chester Wheeler but that was "months ago." He asserted, "The goal is to level the playing field. Whether that's done through [pre-trial] resolution or ultimately to trial, I’m not sure. I just know it seems so unfair that only apparel manufacturers, only registered apparel manufacturers, are allowed to bid on that space. It just seems so grossly unfair. We are just trying to level the playing field." At the same time, he said, referring to litigation, "This option allows me to stay in Seattle and focus on training and and focus on making my third Olympic team, and allows lawyers to have that conversation for me. That's a conversation I don't have the time or energy or resources to have. I know my limitations. I'm not equipped to have that conversation." 9. It's intriguing that the case includes the same lawyers that pursued the O'Bannon antitrust matter against the NCAA. Because you're going for scorched-earth or because you're trying to reach a just result? 10. Symmonds likes to say that he is all for advancing athlete interests. Taking him at face value, because he assuredly has great passion about a great many things, it's also the case that lawsuits cost money. This particular lawsuit asks for triple damages and attorney's fees. As for damages -- who would that benefit? As for attorney's fees -- same question. In the meantime, the dollars it's going to take to defend this case -- whose pocket, ultimately, is that money going to come out of? Big-time lawyers don't come cheap. Try $600 an hour, and up. If you were on the USATF athletes' board, wouldn't you want to ask about that element -- in the guise of finding out who, ultimately, is being served?

-- Kuwait appeals court acquits Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of charges, overturning six-month jail sentence. The sheikh is a major powerbroker in Olympic and FIFA circles. Reaction: 1. What's going on in Kuwait, with various twists and turns, can all be tied to friction between Sheikh Ahmad and the Kuwaiti sports minister, Sheikh Salman al-Sabah. Sheikh Salman ran in 2014 for the presidency of the international shooting federation. He lost. 2. Never bet against Sheikh Ahmad.

The Olympic scene drops in on the USA

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WASHINGTON — What got done here this week at the Assn. of National Olympic Committees meeting was not nearly as noteworthy as two other essentials: the fact that the meeting was held in the first place in the United States and that delegates from 204 entities were on hand.

As the session gaveled to order on Thursday, there in their place in the rows of seats were, for instance, representatives from North Korea.

From Syria.

Russia.

Everywhere in the world, including two new national Olympic committees, Kosovo and South Sudan.

There are actually 206 national Olympic committees. The Republic of Congo didn't make it. And elements of the government of Kuwait are involved in a fight with the IOC, meaning the national Olympic committee is now suspended, for the second time in five years, amid political interference; moreover, on Thursday, the IOC announced it had revoked the Olympic qualifying status of a shooting championship in Kuwait, due to begin next week, because an Israeli official was denied a visa for the event.

The North Korean delegation Thursday at ANOC, perusing the magazine from the Olympic publisher Around the Rings

The assembly marked the first time the ANOC session has been held in the United States since 1994, two years before the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games.

With Los Angeles now bidding for the 2024 Games, the stakes were high here for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

As the familiar saying goes, LA surely could not win anything here -- but a poor performance could cost it and the USOC, even though the 2024 race is still in its early stages.

The International Olympic Committee won’t pick the 2024 winner until September 2017. Five cities have declared for the 2024 race: LA, Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany.

The tentative verdict: no major missteps. All good.

"No problem with [U.S. entry] visas. It was fantastic," the ANOC general secretary, Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, said Friday, adding of the assembly and related events, "The organization went really well. I heard only positive comments."

Does that mean LA is on course to a sure victory?

Hardly.

Indeed, by most accounts, Paris is considered the 2024 front-runner.

"Two years is a long time," Paris 2024 chief executive Etienne Thobois said. "It's a long journey ahead. 'Favorite' doesn't mean anything."

The calm here simply mean it's on to whatever the future holds, with both the strengths and the challenges underscoring the American effort here this week on full display.

A clear and undisputed strength: Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti, bid chairman Casey Wasserman and Janet Evans, the 1980s and 1990s Olympic swimming champ, make up the public face of the LA 2024 bid. The Olympic movement in recent years has rarely seen a personality like Garcetti: a mayor who leads from the front and in a style that is both fully American and decidedly international.

LA 2024 bid chief Casey Wasserman, Olympic swim gold medalist and LA 2024 vice chair Janet Evans, ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah and LA mayor Eric Garcetti as the ANOC meetings got underway on Tuesday // Getty Images

Garcetti got to welcome to the United States, among others, Tsunekazu Takeda, the Japanese IOC member and Tokyo 2020 leader who for the past year has also been the IOC’s global marketing commission chair.

Takeda speaks English. But no. Garcetti spoke with him in Japanese. When they parted, the mayor passed to Takeda a business card — in Japanese.

Meeting Julio Maglione, the IOC member from Uruguay who is president of both the international swimming federation, FINA, and PASO, the Pan-American Sports Organization, Garcetti spoke in Spanish.

South Sudan? Garcetti, a Rhodes Scholar some 20 years ago, knows the region; he said he lived in East Africa, studying Eritrean nationalism, in the mid-‘90s.

The mayor’s back story — which surely will become ever more widely known — is, truly, remarkable.

Garcetti served for years on the LA city council before becoming mayor. As LA Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote the week before that 2013 mayoral election:

“[Garcetti] seems to have done everything in his 42 years except pitch for the Dodgers and kayak to Borneo,” adding later in the column, ”He’s George Plimpton, Bono and Seinfeld’s Mr. Peterman all rolled into one. When he says: ‘And then there was the time I commandeered a snowmobile at the North Pole while on a climate-change fact-finding mission and located Salma Hayek’s lost purse in the frozen tundra,’ he’s not kidding. He actually did that. And Hayek said he’s a great dancer.”

It was salsa dancing, for the record. And one small correction: the dancing took part in Iqaluit, the provincial capital of Nunavut, Canada.

More from Lopez on Garcetti:

"He was a cheerleader, led his Columbia U. literary society, headed a discussion group on gender and sexuality and served the homeless while composing musicals. He went on to conduct research or serve humanitarian causes in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Burma, worked for Amnesty International and became a university instructor. And did I mention that he speaks fluent Spanish and currently serves as a Naval Reserve officer?"

At Wednesday evening's USOC-hosted reception, left to right: USOC board chair Larry Probst, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun, IOC president Thomas Bach, LA mayor Eric Garcetti, LA 2024 bid chief Casey Wasserman

Larry Probst, the USOC board chair, said of Garcetti, "That guy is our secret weapon." After this week, "He's no secret anymore."

Some 1200 people were accredited for the ANOC assembly, filling a huge hall on the lower level of the Washington Hilton. Garcetti called it “breathtaking” to see such global diversity on display.

Throughout his several days here, Garcetti played it very low-key, saying repeatedly he was here to listen and learn.

After the failures of Chicago 2016 and New York 2012, it’s abundantly plain that any American bid must walk a fine line between boldness and, probably even more important, humility.

As Garcetti told Associated Press, ”People want us to be assertive and brave about the Olympic movement but not to tip over to being arrogant. It’s like, 'Win it on your merits, be a good team player. We already know how big you are, how many athletes and medals you have. Just be one of us.' "

The USOC has in recent years been oft-criticized for not playing a role commensurate with its standing — or its expected standing — in the movement. To that end, Probst said at a Wednesday night welcome gala, no fewer than 10 world championships have been or will be staged in the United States this year alone.

Upcoming: the international weightlifting championships in Houston next month. Just past: the world road cycling championships in Richmond, Virginia, which attracted 640,000 people over nine days.

The USOC, Probst said, was “delighted” to play host to the ANOC meeting, part of a plan to “become a full partner in the Olympic family and appropriately engage everywhere we thought we could make a positive difference.”

ANOC president Sheik Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait, a major Olympic power-broker, said time and again this week how important it was to gather on American soil.

At a Tuesday dinner, he said, “I just want to [emphasize] that we are back in the United States,” he said. At Wednesday’s gala, he said, referring to the Americans, “You are a main stakeholder in the Olympic movement,” adding, “Come back,” and, “You are most welcome and a big part of this family.”

ANOC president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah speaks at Wednesday's USOC welcome reception at the National Building Museum // Getty Images

A key ANOC initiative: the development and staging of the so-called Beach Games, a bid to reach out to and more actively engage with teens and 20-somethings, arguably the key demographic in the Olympic sphere. The full ANOC assembly on Friday approved the awarding of a first Beach Games, to be held in 2017, to San Diego, at a projected cost in the range of $150 million; some 20 sports are to be on the program, including surfing, volleyball and triathlon.

Just two hours, maybe less, from Los Angeles?

To avoid conflict with the IOC rule that bars members from visiting bid cities, the San Diego event is due to be held in the days after the 2024 vote.

Like that is going to stop site visits by influence-makers in the Olympic world.

What? If someone is in San Diego, are they going to be fitted with five-ringed ankle-monitors to track them from making the short drive north to LA? Are trips to Disneyland, in Orange County, halfway between San Diego and LA, off-limits?

Silly, and, again, another reason why the no-visits rule ought to be dropped, even acknowledging all IOC paranoia about sport corruption, a topic that IOC president Thomas Bach visited at length from the dais Thursday in remarks about the FIFA scandal in which he did not even once mention the acronym “FIFA.”

“Follow the news,” Bach said, adding, “Think about what it means for you: it means for you that if you do not follow these basic principles of good governance, your credibility is at risk, that the credibility of all you may have done in the past and all the good things you are doing is at risk.”

The FIFA matter, sparked by a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, clearly poses an uncertainty for any American 2024 effort. What will the status of that matter be by September 2017? And the status of would-be systemic FIFA reconstruction?

The sheikh, who also serves on the FIFA executive committee, sought here to strike a light tone. “FIFA — we believe FIFA needs a lot of reforms,” he said at Tuesday night’s dinner to laughter.

Also a U.S. challenge: how effective can any American delegation prove at lobbying the IOC for the big prize? There are three U.S. IOC members: Probst, Anita DeFrantz, Angela Ruggiero.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and Probst have worked diligently for six years at relationship-building, and Blackmun is likely to assume an ever-wider role as the bid goes on. He struck exactly the right tone at Wednesday’s gala in exceedingly brief remarks: “It’s great to have you here in the United States.”

Meanwhile, the scene at that gala, and indeed for most of the week, highlighted a significant American challenge.

It’s typical at a large-scale Olympic gathering such as an ANOC assembly for a senior federal official from the host country, typically the rank of a president or prime minister, to make -- at the least -- an appearance at which all are welcomed to wherever and wished a good time.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, for instance, opened last week's World Olympians Forum in Moscow, with Bach and Monaco's Prince Albert on hand, calling for the "de-politicization of sports under international law."

Roughly half the 100 or so IOC members were here for the ANOC proceedings -- "almost ... a quorum," as the sheikh quipped. Thus: a major opportunity.

Tuesday? Wednesday? Thursday? No senior U.S. officials.

The mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, offered Thursday’s welcoming remarks. Washington and San Francisco were also in the U.S. mix for 2024 along with, of course, Boston.

"As you consider future sports event, please consider Washington, D.C., a worthy option,'' Bowser said, adding later, "See you in 2028."

Talk about off-message.

President Obama, of course, made a trip to the IOC session in Copenhagen in October 2009 to pitch for Chicago, which got booted in the first round of voting. Since then, the Obama White House has played it decidedly cool with the Olympic scene.

Within the IOC, Obama is typically mentioned in discussion either with the security-related logistics of that 2009 Copenhagen visit or his decision to politicize the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Sochi Games opening ceremony as a response to the Russian law banning gay “propaganda” to minors. He selected the tennis star Billie Jean King and two other openly gay athletes for the U.S. effort. (King ultimately made it to the closing ceremony; she was unable to attend the opening ceremony because of her mother’s death.)

In just over two years as IOC president, Bach has met with roughly 100 heads of government or state. Obama? No.

On Wednesday, while ANOC delegates gathered in DC, the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, met with Britain's Prince Harry in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, not far away, to promote the 2016 Invictus Games. The Paralympic-style event, to be held next May in Orlando, Florida, is intended to raise awareness for wounded service members.

“OK, ladies, Prince Harry is here. Don’t act like you don’t notice!” Mrs. Obama said, adding at another point to laughs, “I’d like to apologize for all the gold medals we will win in Orlando.” The prince said in response, “You better bring it, USA!”

Later Wednesday, the prince met President Obama in the Oval Office, again to promote the Invictus project.

Jill Biden, Prince Harry, Michelle Obama Wednesday at Fort Belvoir, Virginia // Getty Images

Prince Harry and President Obama Wednesday at the White House // Getty Images

U.S. vice president Joe Biden on the final day of the ANOC session, with Bach and the sheikh looking on // Getty Images

So -- on Friday morning, while the Rio 2016 delegation was already in the midst of its presentation to the assembly, what was this? A surprise appearance from vice president Joe Biden, the Olympic equivalent of a protocol drive-by.

The sheikh literally had to ask producers to stop a Rio 2016 beauty video as Biden stepped up to the microphone. There, flanked by the sheikh, Bach and Probst, Biden said he'd had breakfast earlier in the week with Garcetti, who had said it was an "oversight" that "no one from the administration has been here."

"He was right," Biden said. "It was an oversight. For that, I apologize. I am a poor substitute, and I am delighted to be here." He also called the Olympics the "single unifying principle in the world.''

More Biden: "I will be the captain of the U.S. Olympic team. I'm running 100 meters. Don't I wish I could! I bet every one of you here wish you could, too."

And this: "I am not here lobbying for any city. Though I do love Los Angeles. All kidding aside, Garcetti is my friend and he won't let me back in LA unless I say something nice."

Biden closed with a note that he intended to attend the Summer Games and that when he did, "I hope when I come up to you and say, 'Hello,' you won't say, 'Joe who?' "

And then he was gone, out of the big hall.

In all, just over seven minutes.

Did Biden -- like Putin -- say anything substantive? No.

Then again, the vice-president did show up. So, ultimately, the big-picture argument can be made, Probst calling Biden's appearance "incredibly important," adding, "The message is our government at the very highest levels cares about the Olympic movement, and I hope that's a message that will resonate."

Patrick Hickey, the IOC executive board member who is also head of the European Olympic Committees, called Biden's remarks "most charming" and his appearance a "superb move," observing that "lots of people" had remarked about the prior absence of a ranking administration official.

And security? This was not Copenhagen in 2009. No disruptions. The room wasn't suddenly cleared and swept. There were no -- there have not been all week -- airport-style metal detectors.

This, then, is perhaps the ultimate take-away of this week, one likely to emerge as a key talking point for LA24 and the USOC: the United States is different. Yes, there are 206 national Olympic committees. The way stuff gets done in the U.S. can often be different than anywhere else. Not better, not worse. Just different. But, for sure, it gets done.

For emphasis: different does not mean better or worse. It's just -- different.

Come January 2017, meantime, the issue of U.S. federal involvement may prove a minor footnote in the 2024 Olympic story. That's eight months before the IOC election. That's when a new U.S. president takes office. Maybe even sooner -- whenever it will be in 2016 that the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees assume their roles.

For now, Probst said, referring to Garcetti, "We're thrilled this guy is here."

Sport at the crossroads: Seb Coe wins IAAF presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Hightower // photo courtesy USATF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your fight is my fight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coe at the IAAF congress // Getty Images

During the campaign, Coe also had some influential help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sepp Blatter is resigning -- or is he?

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

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

Curious.

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

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

And why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rules matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it would appear there's a serious disconnect.

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

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

The distinction is rather important.

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

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

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

Back to the rules.

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

But not at the president’s request.

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

One-fifth of 209 is 41.8.

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

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

Next:

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

The ExCo meeting is scheduled for July 20.

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

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

So what’s going on?

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

Here’s a theory, with several layers:

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

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

And as for that DOJ case:

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

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

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

So, again, why Dec. 16?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanciful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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