Vladimir Putin

Shades of meaning, and a path forward

Shades of meaning, and a path forward

It’s a familiar refrain that in long-lasting marriages the husband wakes up every morning and, first thing, says to his loving bride: I’m sorry. For what? Anything. Everything. Whatever.

In American public life, meanwhile, there is a familiar — more, expected if not demanded — ritual of contrition that must be performed as a condition of potential redemption. First and foremost: there must be an apology. Those two words — I’m sorry — must be said in earnest and, similarly, meant for real. 

This brings us to international relations, in this context sports politics, in particular the sporting authorities who operate in the Olympic space, almost all of whom are connected to their governments in some or significant fashion. Such diplomacy rarely comes packaged in a simple declarative as straightforward as, I’m sorry. Diplomacy relies on semantics, on nuance, on shades of meaning.

These things make the International Olympic Committee go around. They make the World Anti-Doping Agency work, too. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.  

In that spirit, a recent letter sent by senior Russian authorities to WADA president Craig Reedie — with copies to IOC president Thomas Bach and International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons — offers everyone a way forward in a multilayered dispute that has been going on now for years. To pretend otherwise is, similarly, to ignore reality.

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

Prediction: the Russians will be at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, and as Russians.

Assertion: the Russians should be at the PC 2018 Games, and as Russians.

Rationale: the central principle of the Olympic movement is inclusion. 

In which LA karma meets Olympic dogma

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The universe, if you are listening, speaks in whispers. There is karma, and it is real.

For the doubters, the universe offered a jolt of lightning proof Sunday that we are, indisputably, living in Donald Trump’s United States of America. The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in the NFL’s first overtime Super Bowl.

For those who are not within the being-vetted borders of the American enterprise and neither understand the pageantry nor the crash-and-boom of American football: not to worry.

Here’s a primer:

The Patriots play in a stadium outside Boston. Boston and New York, as metropolitan areas, have a longstanding provincial rivalry that the rest of us in the United States could care less about but gets shoved down our throats, anyway. Trump, obviously, is a New York guy.

Even so, he somehow has a very friendly relationship with the Patriots’ quarterback, Tom Brady, who in winning cemented his legacy as the greatest NFL quarterback of all time; with the Patriots’ coach, Bill Belichick, who seemingly smiles about as often as a Democratic presidential candidate wins in Alabama; and with the Patriots’ owner, Robert Kraft, who has long been one of the key behind-the-scene players in the league, which has but 32 owners and is thus a more exclusive club than even the U.S. Senate.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/828447350200926212

Across the 50 states, we have to wait until late August for our next football fix. If you don’t feel our pain, it’s quite OK. We get it.

But you had best take notice that within an hour of the game, Mr. Trump had tweeted out his appreciation for the winners.

The White House press secretary, using Boston slang to describe himself on Twitter as a "wicked"  fan of both the Patriots and the baseball Red Sox, had been hilariously and mercilessly parodied over the weekend by NBC's Saturday Night Live.

https://youtu.be/UWuc18xISwI

Note: after the Patriot victory, Spicer took to Twitter to mix politics and sports.

https://twitter.com/seanspicer/status/828445799981912066

Before the game, to be clear, this is what Mr. Trump had posted to Twitter:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/828375073006444544

Ladies and gentlemen, particularly friends who are members of the International Olympic Committee:

On September 13, at an assembly in Lima, Peru, you are going to be weighing who to vote for in the campaign for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The time is now to start paying careful consideration, indeed the most careful consideration, to the change that has shaken up Washington, our world and, as events proved Sunday, our universe.

There are three candidates in that 2024 race: Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest.

This is not an ordinary race.

It is not going to go down like any of the races of the past 20 years, in particular the campaign in 2005 when New York — after Mr. Trump ran a leg of the Olympic flame relay in Manhattan — got dumped for 2012, London winning, and in 2009 when Chicago crashed and burned for 2016, Rio de Janeiro winning.

This is not to say that Mr. Trump is, or isn’t, or ought to, or not ought not, appear in person in Lima for the IOC session itself.

Not the point.

The point is that there is a new sheriff in town.

If you don’t like it, OK, roger that. I did not vote for Mr. Trump. But he is now my president. That’s the way this works.

So let’s all lose the double standard and the screaming hypocrisy. Like, immediately if not sooner, please.

We over here in the States are super-tired of it, to be honest, and unless we start having an honest conversation about it, it’s not going to go well for anybody. Not for us. Not for you, IOC friends, the majority of you over there in Europe. Not for anyone.

You don’t like it if the conversation turns toward money. You tend to believe that all we think about in the United States when it comes to the Olympics is money. That is a load of crap. We love the Olympic ideals and the Games themselves. Beyond which, American money is what makes the Olympic engine go. Yet when we actually mention that elemental truth, it’s like we passed gas in church.

This has got to stop.

In awarding editions of the Olympic Games, it would be totally and thoroughly hypocritical, sanctimonious and unfair to judge the United States by different standards than others, and in particular Russia and China. These bid campaigns are not designed to be morality plays. They, purportedly, are about what is best for the Olympic movement.

IOC friends, from 2008 through 2022 there are eight editions of the Games. In your wisdom, you awarded three of those eight to Russia and China. Yet the conversation would be about Mr. Trump? Because, exactly, why?

Because he's different? For sure he's different from Mr. Obama, his predecessor. But you made it plain in 2009 that you strongly disliked Mr. Obama, and vice-versa. So, where are we here? You want, or you somehow believe you have the right, to substitute your values and your judgments for those of the American people and our electoral college when it comes our domestic politics? On what grounds? That would be appropriate because -- sorry, same question, exactly why?

Let's try this: you don't like change and Mr. Trump for sure represents change? But you're the group that in recent years took the Summer Olympics to "new horizons" such as China and Brazil and, moreover, the Winter Games to Russia and South Korea.

The disconnect and double standards abound, and they really have to stop.

This is not a high school-style drama about whether you like so-and-so. To reiterate: this is about what is best for the Olympic movement right now. And what is best is Los Angeles.

Sochi 2014: $51 billion. Let's just leave that out there. You were super-cool with Mr. Putin. So if the argument is you plain and simple just don't like Mr. Trump -- let's just leave that out there, and note Mr. Putin.

Those 2008 Beijing Games: $40 billion.

Beijing, for goodness' sake, is now going to stage the Summer (2008) and Winter (2022) Games.

Beijing! Air pollution! Human rights! Literally like no snow in the mountains almost two hours away from the capital!

Two editions of the Games in 14 years!

And — Beijing will be the first city — ever — in Olympic history to stage both the Summer and Winter Games!

Really?

In May 2014, NBC — I am not at this space connected in any way with the network — agreed to pay $7.65 billion for the rights to televise six editions of the Games in the United States, 2022 to 2032.

The deal marked one of Thomas Bach’s first signature achievements as IOC president (he had been elected in September 2013), and the IOC release pointedly noted that it signaled a “major contribution to the long-term financial stability of the Olympic movement.”

Before that, in 2011, NBC had agreed to pay $4.38 billion for four Olympics, 2014 through 2020.

Just a little breakdown of that: $775 million for Sochi 2014; $1.22 billion for Rio 2016; $963 million for Pyeongchang 2018; and $1.41 billion for Tokyo 2020.

For all those billions, NBC — obviously — had to bid blind for many editions of the Games. Its money bought it a ratings-questionable Asian triple in 2018, 2020 and 2022. That is, South Korea, Japan and China.

To be clear, nobody “owes” NBC anything.

At the same time, a little logic, please.

It’s American money that kickstarts — or more — all the things the IOC does, including but not limited to the ability to reach out to other parts of the world, as it has done in moving the Summer Games around in every edition since 1996 in Atlanta.

Truly, the Olympic movement does good work each and every day around the world. But aspirational idealism doesn’t turn into reality because of candy canes, rainbows and unicorns. It takes plans and people and it takes cash.

It’s not dirty to talk about this kind of thing. It’s real. We all should have had this conversation a long time ago, and we should keep having it with each other to and through September 13 in Lima.

Let’s switch over to the IOC’s top-level corporate sponsors.

There are, with last month’s addition of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, 13.

Six are headquartered in the United States: Coca-Cola, Dow, GE, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble and Visa.

Of the others, just to pick two:

Do you think Alibaba got in for the Chinese market? It already dominates that. It wants the United States.

Or Samsung, which is based in South Korea. Maybe, just maybe, it has designs on selling flat-screen TVs in every household in the United States?

Here’s what we Americans find so confounding.

Like any for-profit concern, an American business is in business to make money. Part of that for these corporations is, absolutely, growing the brand in other markets. We get that. They indisputably are seeking a return from connecting with the five Olympic rings, or they wouldn’t do it. That’s business.

But when we Americans say, what would happen to the Olympic movement if the American money dried up or the terms under which those American companies were allowed to seek their Olympic return on investment were subject to change — it’s like we are somehow considered impolite?

That’s what we just don’t get, to be honest.

You want, indeed the IOC needs, our money.

Beyond which, you send your children — and your national Olympic committees typically send their very best athletes — to our universities. Moreover, you make use of our world-class hospitals. And on and on. We generously extend, in almost every case, a gracious American welcome — the kind that makes for lifetime memories, sometimes even the sort that get passed down from generation to generation.

In a spirit of good faith and goodwill, the U.S. Olympic Committee leads spirited campaigns for the Games. We get humiliated. Then we get told that what we need to do is keep that cash from those American companies coming, and thanks for that, you know, but please work on being nicer, building better relationships, maybe being more, you know, European.

Something in all of that doesn’t seem quite right, you know?

Just a small point but maybe not, something telling:

The LA bid file turned in a couple of days ago runs to 110 pages. Paris: 148. Was there an IOC-imposed page limit? If so, did Paris exceed it? Is this evidence of yet another double standard?

Here, in quite another context, is what for sure does not seem right.

New York spent roughly $100 million bidding for 2012. Chicago, $80 million for 2016. Los Angeles will put out in the neighborhood of $60 million for 2024.

All in, that’s $240 million in roughly 14 years, from 2003-ish through 2017.

If LA gets kicked to the curb, too, the USOC ought to preempt any presidential or congressional action and declare, that’s it — we are out. Out for 2026. Out for 2028. Out for a very long time. Like, a very, very long time. Let’s concentrate just on the American mission and re-direct that kind of corporate American money toward the USOC instead of the IOC. Let’s see how the IOC gets along without an American bid for, oh, say, 40 years.

Seriously. Forty years.

Let’s take a poll: how many American athletes would prefer that the likes of $240 million in potential corporate funding be re-directed entirely toward, you know, American athletes?

The cozy secret the IOC has held close for a very long time is that it can keep taking American corporate money but rejecting American bid overtures, secure that the Americans will keep coming back with yet another bid.

That, too, has to stop.

The Olympic movement is genuinely at a tipping point.

It needs the United States after recent editions of the Games that cost $51 billion, $40 billion, $20 billion (2016, Brazil), $15 billion (2012, Britain) and may in Japan soar over $20 billion again.

A Los Angeles 2024 Games is budgeted at $5.3 billion, all in. It would be privately funded. It will be $5.3 billion because, unlike governmentally funded bids, which are the norm virtually everywhere else, including the Paris 2024 bid, it is what it is.

The very thing that has been a purported downfall of prior American bids — that the government is not responsible — is, now, the key to what the IOC needs.

Government-financed Games have, over the past 20 years, proven financially irresponsible. It’s almost certain that another government-financed games in 2024 would be the same, no matter any disputations because that is what happens. Here’s a bet right now that the $3.2 billion Paris says represent its infrastructure costs would balloon to two or three times that much if it wins for 2024.

The IOC cannot afford that, literally and figuratively.

IOC member friends, you can not afford, literally and figuratively, to say no to Los Angeles. We all need to have this direct sort of conversation.

Here's why: we don't know what we don't know. That is, we don't know what would happen afterward in Washington if LA loses.

But even after just a couple of weeks with Mr. Trump in office an informed observation is all too obvious: it very likely would not be positive or constructive.

For context:

IOC friends, you will recall how some if not many of you grumbled when in 2009 Mr. Obama’s security detail kept you waiting in Copenhagen, and the murmurs afterward were that the wait played into Chicago’s first-round exit?

This though Mr. Obama had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize? And became the first sitting U.S. president to pitch for an American bid, on behalf of his hometown? And — again, let’s be honest here — you embarrassed and humiliated him?

It’s not much of a logical leap to see the connection between Copenhagen 2009 and, in sequence, the FIFA indictments and the investigation by the U.S. Justice Department out of Brooklyn into allegations of Russian doping.

Mr. Trump wants Los Angeles to win. Take that to the bank, everyone.

Hypothetical here:

Let’s say the members go for Paris, even though it’s bedeviled by immigration-related security issues — Mr. Trump’s No. 1 priority — instead of Los Angeles.

Do you think Mr. Trump would be inclined to let that sort of slight slide?

Do you think, reminder we’re speaking hypothetically, that he would engage the Justice Department — soon to be led, probably, by Senator Jeff Sessions, the Republican from Alabama — anew?

This space has long maintained that it’s an overreach of American prosecutorial and judicial authority to go after international soccer authorities on a connection, in some cases tangential, to U.S. banking laws. But precedent being what it is — IOC friends, do you really want the FBI looking at you and your dealings?

Moreover:

Mr. Trump is, at least according to (his own) legend, something of a deal-maker.

Mr. Trump’s key advisor is Steve Bannon, who used to be a banker.

There are, as noted above, a lot of deals involving American money that drive the Olympic movement.

Who knows what interesting conversations might or might not be had involving whether those deals ought or ought not to be reviewed?

Maybe, as noted, in concert with the Justice Department. Or maybe a special project just run out of the White House itself. Is this what the Olympic movement wants?

To wrap up, friends, here is another bit of American slang for your careful consideration: karma can sometimes be such a bitch.

Straight talk from SoCal on 2024: it's LA's time

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Dear friends around the world,

Hi from Los Angeles! It has been raining a lot here this winter, which is cool, because we need the water. That drought and everything. We got lucky Thursday morning. It was cool but dry — well, actually cold for us, about 56 degrees Fahrenheit, puffy down jacket weather unless you were dancing — as the local bid committee held a mellow, only-in-California sunrise party at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to mark the coming of the third and final phase of the International Olympic Committee’s campaign for the 2024 Olympics.

They lit the Coliseum cauldron, just like Rafer Johnson did in 1984. This being 2017 and a 2024 thing, there was electronic dance music along with before-dawn fitness, a little sunrise volleyball and, 'cuz this is SoCal, some ginger shots to promote your most excellent vibe and good health. Yo, dude. All good.

Daybreaking in red, white and blue style

Peace and love and the Olympics, people

So along with the mellow, everyone, this third and final phase marks an occasion, and here we have to shift gears, for some serious straight talk. Sure, the scene Thursday at the Coliseum was crunchy groovy and for sure Santa Monica can be, like, zany, and Venice, like, wacky, but, you know, we can be dead serious here, too.

And the time is now to be straight-up.

First, the disclaimer: I have lived in Los Angeles since the end of 1992. If you want to think this column amounts to nothing but a homer talking, go right ahead — there’s likely nothing I can say or do to change your mind and, honestly, I’m not even going to try because that kind of thing gets tiresome. To be abundantly clear: I have no connection, zero, with the LA24 bid committee. We have a normal professional relationship. That’s it.

Here is the truth: I have covered every Olympic bid campaign since 1999. It is crystal clear what is at stake. That is why I was the first journalist, in March 2015, to say that the U.S. Olympic Committee had made an inexplicably bad initial choice for 2024 in Boston and needed, as soon as possible, to get back to LA. Which, later in the year, it did.

So what is at stake?

The Olympic movement, meaning in particular the International Olympic Committee, is at a critical inflection point.

Over the past 20 years, Games costs have become not just gigantic but obscene. In turn, the number of countries — in particular western democracies — willing to spend millions on the chance to win an Olympics has all but evaporated. 

Bottom line: the IOC is facing a grave credibility problem.

This credibility problem makes for a serious threat to the vitality if not the relevance of the movement.

This 2024 race thus offers the IOC a chance to re-calibrate.

The only — again, the only — way the IOC can emerge a winner, however, is if it goes to LA.

At prior moments in its history, in 1984 and 1932, the IOC has faced similar turning points. At these junctures, it also went to Los Angeles. Now, again, for 2024 it must come once more to California.

One more thing, please: this column will take a few minutes to read. No way around it. That's the way straight talk sometimes has to be.

We get that maybe you don't understand us Americans

Even way out here in California, watching the sun set drop each day into the blue Pacific, we get that you maybe don’t understand us Americans.

We get that here in the United States we are surrounded by oceans and just two other countries and our time zones are far away from pretty much everyone else’s and soccer is really not even much of a thing. We even call it soccer, not football. Football is something entirely different here, and we have a super big game, more or less an unofficial national holiday, coming up Sunday.

We get that the way we measure distance and temperature and all that — it’s different (if you’re wondering: 56 degrees F is 13 degrees C, more or less).

We get that you love our movies and our music and especially our money, like when NBC pays $7.65 billion for the U.S. rights to televise the Olympic Games from 2020 through 2032.

Remember, I said this was going to be really straight-up.

In that spirit, we get that sometimes you don’t really like us very much. We’re Americans and for some reason we like ice in our drinks, like a lot of ice, and for many if not most of you that’s just weird.

We get all that.

In the spirit of gentle and constructive suggestion: you, wherever you are, just have to like us enough right now to give Los Angeles the 2024 Summer Games.

For that matter, the very thing that a lot of you have (in some cases defiantly) held against us for many years — that our governments, local, state and federal, are not underwriting the LA bid — is, in fact, this bid’s strongest asset. That’s because we are American and we do it differently here.

We even get that our new president is like no one you have maybe ever seen before on the world stage. A lot of us didn’t vote for him, especially in California. Mrs. Clinton won the state by 61-33 percent.

We, too, get that Donald Trump is different. You don’t have to like him, either, though to be honest, you might, because he and Vladimir Putin over in Russia seem to get along just fine, and most of you members seem to get along just fine with Mr. Putin’s Olympic vision.

At any rate, Mr. Trump is the president of the United States. And behind the scenes, President Trump has already made it very well known that he wants Los Angeles to win.

This 2024 race, at its core, is — and always has been, from Day One — a referendum on the United States.

Not per se on President Trump.

Again, you have to like us just enough to get to yes. Because, as ever, we will save your bacon.

You may not like hearing or reading that. But, again, it's straight-up time.

Revisiting history, or why the IOC's bacon is in the deep fryer

Here is why the IOC’s bacon is shriveling in the deep fryer, and apologies for the lengthy recitation, but this is the context that makes plain why it must — repeat, must — be LA for 2024:

Athens 2004:

After-Games cost estimates ran to $11 to $15 billion. Security costs for the first post-9/11 Summer Games ran up the numbers significantly. The years since have been punctuated by pictures of the Olympic venues in sorrowful disrepair.

Beijing 2008:

$40 billion, all-in. Nobody really knows. Accounting transparency is not a thing in China, at least for international consumption.

London 2012:

Roughly $15 billion, including infrastructure costs.

Sochi 2014:

A reported $51 billion.

$51 billion?! This is what you get when, like the children of Israel in the Exodus story who built the cities of Pithom and Ramses for the Egyptian Pharaoh, you build two cities literally from the ground up. For the 2014 Winter Games, the Russians built Adler (the ice venues, a few miles away from Sochi itself) and, up in the mountains, Krasnaya Polyana (ski, snowboard, biathlon), from scratch.

Add in some roads, rail lines, electricity, sewage, water and whatever else figures in to the cost of doing business in Russia and there you have it, the reported $51 billion.

Rio 2016:

In December, nearly four months after the closing ceremony in Brazil, the IOC floated a new tagline for South America’s first Olympics: “the most imperfect perfect Games.”

Ha! Here is perhaps a more direct insight, courtesy of Bill the Cat, one of the main characters in “Bloom County,” which in 1987 won Berkeley Breathed the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. Bill pretty much says one thing, and one thing only, in reviewing the many obviously perplexing developments in our crazy world:

“Ack.”

A brief Rio review: did the thousands of us in attendance endure Zika or water poisoning or get mugged in the streets? Largely, no.

Then again, that’s a pretty low bar.

The IOC expects in the coming weeks to release figures showing that the Rio operational budget would come in close to the originally estimated figure, $2.9 billion.

So what?

That number, even if accurate, is both misleading and irrelevant.

When Brazil bid for the Games in 2009, it presented an all-in budget to the IOC of $14.4 billion — operations and infrastructure.

When the Games were awarded to Rio, the Brazilian economy was going great guns. By 2016, the economy had tanked. The government said it would backstop the project. Problem: the government ran out of money.

The final Rio number remains fuzzy. A reasonable estimate: maybe $20 billion.

Tokyo 2020:

Scary budget! Scary like one of those bad black-and-white Godzilla movies from back in the day!

Tokyo won the Games in 2013 promising an all-in budget of roughly $7.8 billion.

Last September, a local review panel said drastic changes had to be made or the whole thing might cost, ah, $30 billion. That would be roughly four times as much as $7.8 billion.

In December, the IOC said it could not, would not accept a revised budget of $20 billion.

Beijing 2022:

See $40 billion, above, and an appreciation of the accounting skills of our Chinese friends, who must, after winning the Games in 2015, build a high-speed rail line from the capital, where the air pollution could choke a duck, up to the mountains two hours away, where there is barely snow but they are nonetheless going to hold the alpine events there because, well, because.

At any rate, the Chinese — having learned from their Russian friends — are not going to count the costs of the railway in their Olympic accounting. Which both in the official records as well as media such as this will, you know, keep reporting of the costs down.

This brings us, naturally enough, to 2024.

But wait.

In December 2014, the IOC passed a 40-point series of purported reforms championed by Thomas Bach, the German elected president the year before, a good number of the 40 aimed at the bid process. The package goes by the name “Agenda 2020.”

The Agenda 2020 vote came amid the 2022 Winter Games bid campaign. That 2022 campaign made it abundantly clear how flawed, if not irretrievably broken, the bid process stands.

Six would-be bid cities in Europe dropped out of the 2022 campaign, five put off to varying degrees by the $51 billion figure associated with the 2014 Sochi Winter Games: Oslo, Munich, Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz and Krakow, Poland. A sixth, Lviv, Ukraine, fell out because of war.

That left Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. The members went for Beijing.

The 2024 race formally began in September 2015, with five cities: Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg, Germany. In a conference call as it launched, Bach said he looked forward to the race, calling it a “very, very strong and fascinating one.”

But wait.

On the very day it began, in this space, I offered these words:

“Would anyone be surprised, really, if as soon as six months from now, this 2024 race is already down to three?

“Or, when it comes to legitimate contenders, practically speaking, two?”

November 2015: Hamburg drops out. Residents vote against hosting the Games.

September/October 2016: Rome, after weeks of dithering, drops out, too, the mayor saying the city has other priorities.

February 2017: in Budapest the locals are gathering increasing numbers of signatures for a referendum as well, so many signatures that the bid is delaying what would have been Friday’s start of its international promotional strategy. It’s unclear when — if — any promotional activity will begin.

That leaves, then, practically speaking, two: Paris and LA.

LA and Paris are both fine cities. But any reasonable observer can see that the Olympic bid process needs a fix.

"Casablanca," Bogart and Bergman are swell but we're taking 2024

All of us will always have Paris.

But Paris is not what the Olympic space needs right now.

What it needs — what Bach needs, what the IOC needs — is for Agenda 2020 to be more than just so much more than lip-service if not outright BS.

Remember: straight up.

As much as this 2024 race is a referendum on the United States, it is almost as much a referendum on Bach, and his ability to deliver on his vision.

Make no mistake: that is why he made a trip last year to California, and in particular to Silicon Valley. He knows all too well that young people are immersed in their phones and screens and the IOC needs to figure out how to merge that world with sport to keep the Olympic Games relevant with the world’s teens and 20-somethings.

This is why, right now, out of the 40 points in Agenda 2024, there’s one — one — that so far has proven meaningful, and that's the launch of the Olympic Channel. This is why there's urgency in linking the 2024 campaign to Agenda 2020.

Back to Paris for the purpose of getting the sentiment out of the way, and quickly.

Paris played host to the 1924 Games; 2024 would be 100 years later.

The IOC, though, is not in the anniversary business. Ask Athens. It sought 1996 after 1896. Those Games went to Atlanta.

The thing about Paris, and sentiment: I lived there for a summer and have been privileged since to visit several times. I have gone for early morning runs down the Champs-Élysées, looping across the Seine and around the Eiffel Tower. Memories. I get it. Totally.

Typically, a major factor in these IOC bid campaigns is where the members’ spouses would like to be for 17 days. There’s a cogent argument to be made that, you know, you could find worse places to be for nearly three weeks than Paris.

But maybe not when the entire nation of France has been under a “state of emergency” since 2015 and anxieties are high at even the most senior levels of government over the risk of another terror attack. Or when one of the attacks was directed at the national stadium in suburban Saint Denis that would be the emotional center of a 2024 Games.

To be truthful, security matters, and it may matter a lot in deciding 2024, but the IOC must itself confront an issue more under its own control.

Take a moment, please, to re-read those dollar figures: $51 billion for Sochi 2014, $40 billion for Beijing 2008, probably $20 million for Rio 2016, an advertised $7-plus billion for Tokyo 2020 already up to maybe $30 billion with the IOC insisting that $20 billion just won’t do.

Take another look at all the cities that have dropped out for 2022 and 2024.

This is why, all around the world, the IOC has a huge or, if you prefer, bigly credibility problem.

Bids want to say, we can do the job for x. Seven years later, reality check: the cost is x-plus-plus-plus and in western democracies there’s taxpayer freak-out, and understandably and appropriately.

LA 2024 is the turnkey solution to the IOC’s credibility problem.

Emotion and math equal LA24

That LA24 is the turnkey answer is so obvious. That solution is rooted in both emotion and logic. Or, if you prefer, emotion and math.

Math:

The LA24 budget calls for $5.3 billion of revenue and costs, with a $491.9 million contingency stash.

With the exception of a slalom canoe venue (no big deal), everything is built. The bid gets the use of an about-to-be-built, privately funded $3-billion stadium for the NFL’s Rams and Chargers. Southern California is — Olympics or no — in the midst of a massive public transit upgrade, with $88 billion in ongoing public transit investment as well as a $14 billion modernization of LAX (thank the lord) in addition to $120 billion in funding that LA County voters (me among them) approved in November.

Read that last bit again: $120 billion in transit funding that’s happening without reference to the Olympics. 

The Paris 2024 people say, ”95 percent of our venues will be existing or temporary facilities.”

Indeed, as Table 22, “Venue Funding and Development,” in Part 2 of its Candidature File delivered last October to the IOC makes clear, the Paris 24 bid calls for just three new items to be built.

The catch is that these three items are, with the exception of what would be the Olympic Stadium itself — standing, as noted above — pretty much the most expensive things there could possibly be:

A new athletes’ village. A new media village. And a new aquatics palace, for swimming, synchro and diving.

Just to take the last of those three:

With all due respect to friends at the international swim federation, which goes by the acronym FINA, a new structure for swim sports, even if not really a "palace," is gonna cost a ton of money and be about the most unsustainable venue you might ever want to build.

There are two events in which you draw sustainable numbers of people (that is, say, 15,000 or more)  to watch swimming: the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Games. OK, maybe three: perhaps the evening finals of the FINA world championships, and then if someone like Michael Phelps is on the blocks.

Get back to me if the U.S. Trials are going to be in Paris in 2024.

This elemental math is why USA Swimming has, for its last three Trials, plunked a temporary pool in an already-built basketball arena in Omaha, Nebraska.

This is why FINA, at its last worlds, in 2015 in Kazan, Russia, plunked a temporary pool inside a soccer — er, football — stadium.

This is why the LA24 plan is to plunk a temporary pool on a baseball field at the University of Southern California.

This is why the LA24 bid abandoned its initial plan to build a new (would have cost $1-billion) athletes’ village in downtown LA in favor of (already there) dorms at UCLA.

Our French friends might say, OK, but the government guarantees the costs, and we promise to keep them down.

Of course.

They say the Paris 2024 infrastructure budget would be 3 billion euros, about $3.2 billion USD at current exchange rates.

Of that 3 billion euros, they say, the national government would pony up 1 billion; the city of Paris, 145 million; the Paris regional government another 145 million; the region of Seine-Saint Denis 135 million. That totals 1.425 billion euros.

The remaining funds — easy math, 1.575 billion euros — is, according to Paris 2024, “already secured and guaranteed by various other public authorities and institutions.”

For purposes of discussion, let’s take our French friends at their word.

Here, though, is the lesson from prior Games that are not the model of Los Angeles 1984 — that is, that are not privately run and that depend in part or, more likely, in significant measure on government dollars, as a Paris 2024 Games would, and this is why the IOC needs Los Angeles now and not Paris.

As London 2012 and Rio 2016 proved and Tokyo 2020 is proving again, if the government is a democracy and not a more authoritative if not autocratic institution — think China or Russia — commitments change. 

It may be worthy of an academic or journalistic panel in these early days of 2017 to have a discussion about what is a “fact” and what makes for the “truth,” but it is a damn fact and that is the straight-up truth: commitments change.

That is what the past 20 years have proven, and unequivocally.

The consequence of that fact and that truth is the follow-on taxpayer freak-out.

There is the equation.

That equation needs to be broken.

That's what a private-sector bid like Los Angeles — in 2024 just as in 1984 — does. 

In LA, 2024, 1984, math is math.

What does that mean?

It means, simply, the math is certain. There is no other option because there is no government money. For taxpayers, that means there is no risk of having to siphon off monies that would otherwise be designated for, say, some social service.

Thus: no freak-out.

The LA24 plan says $5.3 billion. It will be $5.3 billion.

Actually, costs probably won’t even reach $5.3 billion. They probably will total less. And the “fact” is, which the bid committee can’t say for political reasons but this space can because it’s patently obvious: the Summer Games haven’t been in the United States since 1996 in Atlanta, which means pent-up sponsor demand. That means all involved are virtually certain to make tons of money.

IOC friends, to reiterate: all involved are likely to make money instead of reading bitter news reports about overruns and deficits.

Again, even if you might be inclined not to like us Americans all that much, everyone can get behind certainty and surplus.

Relevance is good

Which brings us to the next element:

Along with certainty and surplus, you also get everything that makes California, the world's sixth-largest economy, so relevant. The IOC’s No. 1 objective is to be relevant with young people. What, especially, do they like? Tech and media. That’s why the IOC launched the Channel. California means tech and media like nowhere else. Here, then, is the opportunity to combine tech and media with sport. So obvious.

Hollywood. Facebook. Apple. Snapchat. Google. Twitter.

These companies and industries, genuinely, want to get involved. Why? An Olympics in Los Angeles in 2024 would not only be prestigious, interesting and unusual. It’s a vehicle though which these companies could reach literally billions of people. In Olympic speak — they could grow not just the IOC brand but, as well, the individual sports themselves that make up the Olympic Games.

Straight up: it's not just the companies and industries of California but the people of LA who would like to have you. Like nine of 10 say, yay for the Olympics! In a democracy, those numbers are all but unheard-of. 

More, and IOC friends: you really do want to be on Mr. Trump's good side. Because if you turn down Los Angeles after dinging Chicago for 2016 and New York — Mr. Trump’s kind of town — for 2012, it really might not go so well for you. This means you and the IOC itself.

Just something to think about.

While you wonder why we like ice so much. We're different. Different doesn't need to be better or worse. Just different. 

By 2024, it will have been 28 years since Atlanta, 40 since the last time you were at the Coliseum like the daybreakers were at sunrise on Thursday.

Straight up: it’s time to come to California. Dude, kind of a no-brainer, really.

On Mr. Trump and double standards: let's all chillax

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Everybody: chillax.

And while you’re at it, the time has come for everybody — this means you, you and especially you — to start thinking, and hard, about why it is that there’s such an obvious, ridiculous and totally unfair double standard when it comes to evaluating American bids for events such as the Olympics and soccer’s World Cup.

In the aftermath of President Donald J. Trump’s executive order on Friday imposing travel restrictions on certain countries, you might have thought — especially reading Twitter and the mainstream media Kool-Aid — that the freaking sky was falling.

The Los Angeles 2024 Summer Games bid: imperiled if not dead.

The notion of an American bid for the 2026 soccer World Cup: wounded, maybe fatally.

These assertions betray a wild miscalculation if not a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s at issue.

Moreover: a fevered rush to judgment never serves anyone or anything.

Deep breath.

First things first: the International Olympic Committee vote on the 2024 race isn’t until September 13 in Lima, Peru. Paris and Budapest are also in the race. Eight months from now is an eternity.

To speculate now, in January, about what might happen in September because of what Mr. Trump did in January is pointless.

Let’s all remember that our French friends have their own national elections in the spring. If Marine le Pen wins, will there be similar freak-out? If François Fillon wins, will the French trade unions go berserk and the threat of trade union uprisings threaten a Paris 2024 candidacy? Look, will Mr. Fillon even stay in the race? He has said in recent days he would drop out if he were criminally investigated over allegations, much reported on in the French press, that his wife was paid for parliamentary work she did not do.

Let’s say Madame le Pen wins. Just for the hypothetical. Is that the reason to vote up or down on Paris?

Or Viktor Orban, the populist prime minister of Hungary. He has said, “We have to change and make Europe great again.” That verbiage sounds — vaguely familiar. Does that make him the devil? Is he the reason a Budapest bid ought to soar or go down in flames?

If not — why is Mr. Trump being held to a different, and entirely unfair, double standard?

Here are Mr. Trump's words from his January 20 inauguration:

"We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world -- but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first," and that is an unchallengeable truth.

He followed, "We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow."

Let’s put the core of this right out there: you don’t have to like Mr. Trump. It does not matter whether you, you or especially you like the new president.

Repeat, and for emphasis: it does not matter.

Here is what matters:

Many of the members of the IOC like, or are inclined to like, Mr. Trump. Especially the IOC president, Thomas Bach. He likes Mr. Trump just fine.

Whoa.

While you are processing that, this:

Mr. Trump is the duly elected president of the United States. Advice: if he’s not your cup of tea, pour yourself a shot of bourbon or vodka or, if you prefer, pop a Xanax and proceed, quickly, through the five stages of grief and get to acceptance. Like, now.

Repeat: Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States. The American people elected him.

If you think Trump is the antichrist, you have a very short memory when it comes to Barack Obama in the international sports sphere, starting with that disaster of a show in Copenhagen in 2009 on behalf of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid followed by the delegations to Sochi 2014 led by gay athletes including the tennis star Billie Jean King and, in short order, the overreach of American executive power in the form of the FIFA indictments and an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn of doping by Russian athletes, as if the United States would or should have any interest whatsoever in doping in Russia.

Imagine if the tables were turned and the Russian federal police and prosecutors launched a purportedly doping-related investigation there of American athletes on the grounds that, say, American high jumpers had violated Russian banking laws. That’s a laugh.

At any rate:

Do you like Vladimir Putin?

What about Xi Jinping?

Do you like the Russian system of government? What about the way they do things in China? Would you consider China, even as “open” as it is now, autocratic or not? For that matter, Russia?

Let’s have a little straw vote here: would you rather, all things considered, live in the United States, Russia or China?

The 2014 Winter Games went to Sochi, with Mr. Putin making a personal appearance before the voting members of the IOC at an assembly in Guatemala.

Beijing is the first city on Planet Earth that will play host to both the Summer Games, 2008, and the Winter Games, 2022.

So — pretty clear that being Mr. Putin or Mr. Xi is not a bid killer. Yet being Mr. Trump ought to be?

Let’s have another little vote.

Would you rather, all things considered, live in Russia, Qatar or the United States?

Soccer’s World Cup will be in Russia in 2018.

And in Qatar in 2022.

Back to the news — because the president, who campaigned on a promise to implement immigration reform, took a first step in so doing, the United States is suddenly a pariah?

That logic does not hold.

To be clear: the order suspends entry of all refugees to the United State for 120 days, bars Syrian refugees indefinitely and blocks entry into the country for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

https://twitter.com/rncpeterkin/status/825462271971323904

This is why maybe just pausing before hitting that “send” button can sometimes be helpful, even for someone as thoughtful and well-intentioned as Mr. Peterkin, who is an IOC member from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia.

As the Washington Post reported Saturday, “Officials tried to reassure travelers and their families, pointing out that green-card holders in the United States will not be affected and noting that [homeland security officials are] allowed to grant waivers to those individuals and others deemed to not pose a security threat.”

The story adds, noting that details were for sure still being worked out and waivers would be “evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” and quoting an unnamed official, “If you’ve been living in the United States for 15 years and you own a business and your family is here, will you be granted a waiver? I’m assuming yes, but we are working that out.”

Wait — amid the tweets and corresponding rip jobs of the president of the United States, who was elected first and foremost to secure the safety and well-being of the people, and moved Friday to implement an initial, temporary strategy that he and his advisors deemed appropriate, this:

Where are the similarly heated complaints or observations about — just to pick one — France?

France has been under a “state of emergency” since the attacks in Paris in November 2015 that killed 130 people. Last month, the French parliament last month extended that state of emergency through July 2017, the interior minister warning ahead of the parliamentary vote that the country faced an “extremely high” risk of another attack.

Why not the same — or worse — outrage about a “state of emergency” now lasting almost two full years? In a western democracy?

Beyond which:

What does any of this, in theory, have to do with sport?

Answer: zero.

For those of you who would prefer to be idealists: isn’t the whole notion of the Olympics that sport can bring the world together, at least for 17 days?

“We are working closely with the administration to understand the new rules and how we best navigate them as it pertains to visiting athletes,” U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said Saturday. “We know they are supportive of the Olympic movement, and our bid, and believe we will have a good working relationship with them to ensure our success in hosting and attending events.”

Would you know that from reading, for instance, the New York Times?

In a story published Saturday, the Times’ Jere Longman, an excellent newsman and a longtime colleague, quotes the historian David Wallechinsky, also a longtime colleague, as saying that Mr. Trump is perceived in Olympic circles as “anti-Muslim, anti-woman and anti-Latino.”

Wallechinsky then goes on to say of the president’s executive order, “This is worse. I would consider it a blow to the Los Angeles bid — not fatal but a blow.”

Oh — as if Mr. Putin, who has waged a war in Chechnya, is considered pro-Muslim?

Or Qatar or China, just to pick two, are havens for women’s rights?

Admittedly the United States is imperfect. Any country is. But which country has maybe, just maybe, made more progress in advancing the rights of women in the workplace and other spheres — China, Russia, Qatar or the United States?

As far as the IOC goes:

Right now the United States has three IOC members. There’s Larry Probst. And then there are Anita DeFrantz and Angela Ruggiero, and she is the current chair of the athlete’s commission.

France, two members, both men: Guy Drut. Tony Estanguet.

Hungary: two men. Pal Schmitt. Daniel Gyurta.

Would it maybe have been relevant, journalistically speaking, if Longman had mentioned that Wallechinsky, who is assuredly one of the world’s foremost Olympic historians, is also a noted compiler of published lists such as “world’s worst dictators”? Maybe an informed guess how Wallechinsky views the new president?

Beyond which:

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had a phone call on Saturday — initiated by Mr. Putin, according to the White House. The call lasted for an hour. Mr. Trump also spoke Saturday with leaders of Australia, France, Germany and Japan.

Where was the major diplomatic blowback? Hello?

Just to name one: did the prime minister of the United Kingdom criticize Mr. Trump? Uh, no.

Sure, the president of France did. But who cares? He’s about as popular in France as an “I’m with Her” button would be a White House staff meeting, and everybody knows it.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Saturday to meet with Mr. Trump during a visit to Washington on Feb. 10. The next Summer Games are in Tokyo, in 2020. So interesting.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Bach have — since the November election —already spoken by phone. Mr. Bach, since taking office in September 2013, has met with more than 100 heads of government of state — but did not meet with Mr. Obama. Odds are good that Mr. Trump will meet, and probably sooner than later, with Mr. Bach.

Mr. Bach is, of course, on good terms with Mr. Putin.

Mr. Bach knows full well that the Olympic movement needs the United States right now. That’s why he made a trip to California last year, to Silicon Valley. The movement needs the creativity of California to reach the youth audience that keeps the Olympics relevant and material. What is the IOC’s major initiative right now? The Olympic Channel. Who produces more influential content than anyone anywhere? California — Hollywood, Snapchat, Google, Facebook, Apple.

Mr. Bach knows, too, that with recent budget headaches — Rio, Sochi, London, Beijing — the IOC has to take a very, very considered look at a Los Angeles Games for 2024, where everything is mostly built, the city has a two-time legacy of producing big-time and inventive Games, the locals want the Olympics and absent colossal and unpredictable disaster the Games will make everyone involved, as Sean Penn’s character said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, beaucoup dollares.

Mr. Bach knows, too, that this is LA’s time. Bid leader Casey Wasserman scared up $35 million to fund a 2024 bid. He can’t go back to those donors if the IOC turns LA down for ’24 and say, let’s try again. Won’t happen.

Beyond which:

Let’s say you’re Mr. Trump. Let’s say the IOC turns LA down the way it did Chicago for 2016 and New York for 2012.

It would state the obvious to note that the new president has shown he is plainly willing to play hardball.

Repeatedly, too, he has expressed interest in the tax scheme.

It is not hard to figure out, not difficult indeed, that if the IOC shoots down LA for 2024, there might well be an inclination at the White House to say, OK, let’s take a very hard look, right now, at the tax status of all the IOC’s American-based top-tier sponsors.

Everybody: chillax.

Like life itself, no one owes you anything

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Welcome to 2017. My friend of many years, Gianni Merlo, the Italian president of the international sportswriters association, keeps telling me to write shorter. In that spirit, here are 12 three-sentence nuggets (OK, some of them are long sentences):  

1. The 2016 and 2012 Olympic decathlete champion Ashton Eaton and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the Rio heptathlon bronze medalist, announce their retirement. Great athletes, better people and congrats to them and their world-class coach and first-rate human being himself, Harry Marra. The hug Ashton and Brianne shared after she won the pentathlon at the 2016 IAAF world indoors in Portland, Oregon, is the moment of the year in the sport, if not the entire Olympic scene.

2. Nick Symmonds, the U.S. 800-meter runner, announces he’s going to retire, too, and the likes of my longtime colleague Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated assert Symmonds’ activism will be missd in a sport that “has been ruled by bureaucrats and shoe companies that have successfully suppressed athletes’ earning power and voices,” Tim adding that Nick has been “the most willing to place his career and earnings at risk.” That’s one point of view, along with Tim’s assertion that Nick, sponsored by Brooks, was “excluded” from the 2015 Beijing worlds team amid a dispute over when and where to wear Nike gear. The truth: Nick opted out because he refused to sign and it’s far from clear how far, age 31 that summer, he would have made it in the 800 rounds at the Beijing championships.

Nick Symmonds after taking silver in the men's 800 at the 2013 IAAF world championships in Moscow // Getty Images

3. Symmonds is a relentless self-promoter and provocateur who has failed significantly at the core notion some percentage of those who cover track and field for some bizarre reason seemingly keep wishing (or at least suggesting) he is something of a success at: getting other national-team athletes to go along with his act or significantly and constructively influencing corporate or federation policy. Tim writes, “There is not another Symmonds on the horizon, and that is an enormous loss.” Hmm — maybe if more people thought Nick had a point worth pursuing, there would be lots and lots more Nicks on the way, the 2004 Athens shot put champion Adam Nelson telling the New York Times, “It would have been great if he had found more ways to involve more athletes.”

4. In 2014, when he switched from Nike to Brooks, Nick wrote this in a piece that was published in Runner’s World: “In the past few years I have been very vocal about athletes’ rights, and Brooks’ support of professional runners for the health of competitive running is squarely in line with what I have been advocating.” Fascinating — tell that to Jeremy Taiwo, the U.S. decathlete. In March 2016, Brooks announced it had signed Taiwo to a deal, declaring Taiwo was part of the company’s “Inspire Daily” program, a “group of athletes and coaches around the country who lead by example and inspire the love of running every time they lace up and head out”; after the U.S. Trials in July in Eugene, the company hailed “Brooks Beast Jeremy Taiwo” for his second-place finish, behind Eaton, saying, “Brooks sponsors athletes like Taiwo to inspire runners everywhere, and supporting them on and off the run is central to that goal"; in Rio, Taiwo finished 11th; a few days ago, Brooks acknowledged it had dropped its sponsorship of Taiwo, declaring it was a “running-only company.”

5. Here is the unvarnished truth about the economics of track and field (and by extension the Olympic movement) in the United States, as popular or not as it may be: like life itself, no one is owed anything. The athletes are independent contractors, there is no union, no collective bargaining agreement, no teams, no league. Indeed, track and field is the essence of what most Americans say since kindergarten is what they believe in: self-determination, becoming what you dream you want to be, in short the ability to make money off your own talent, skill and enterprise.

6. Track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, says the new “Nitro Athletics” meet next month in Australia, featuring “Usain Bolt’s All-Stars” and other teams, is destined to be “the innovation [track and field] needs.” For sure the presentation of track and field needs innovation. Not clear if a Team Tennis-style format is going to be it.

7. The gymnast Simone Biles is fabulous. But how did the swimmer Katie Ledecky not win every U.S. female athlete of the year award for 2016? She won the 800-meter freestyle in Rio by 11 seconds!

8. The European Olympic Committees is due to make a decision soon on whether to keep next month’s Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (that’s the name) in Erzurum, Turkey. The concern, obviously, is the security situation in Turkey, which really makes it not a difficult decision. If you were a parent — under what theory would you permit your kid to go?

9. Ban Ki Moon steps down as UN Secretary General. He and the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, are close. Is Ban the next president of scandal-wracked South Korea, and just in time for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games?

10. A U.S. intelligence assessment says Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, asserting one of the motives was payback for, among other things, allegations of widespread Russian athlete doping, the report asserting that from a Russian perspective the doping scandal and Panama Papers were seen as “U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia.” This is the best intelligence the U.S. can produce? Maybe this is why President-elect Trump has been publicly so unimpressed: pretty much everything in that report has been public knowledge for weeks.

11. Thousands of words in that report, yet not even one about President Obama’s politically driven move to very publicly stick it to the Russians on the occasion of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, nominating to the formal U.S. delegation a number of gay athletes amid the furor over the Russian anti-gay legislation? That is a material omission. Who are the geniuses, exactly, working for these “intelligence” agencies?

12. Here’s what, if you are American, you really ought to be upset about, and it’s not Russia and Putin, because you have to assume hacking is, and has been for years, a fact of life, and it goes both ways. Getting all sanctimonious over a Russian “influence” campaign, meanwhile, willfully ignores the many times the U.S. government has sought to “influence” affairs in other nations. Here’s the dilemma: are the Russians really that much better at cyber stuff than the Americans?

McLaren part 2: answers but more questions

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Here is the classic formula. A utility owns a water pump. The pump is accidentally left on. The pump floods a house. The homeowner is out of town. Who’s responsible?

Obvious, right?

Clear, too, with a nod to first-year drudgery in law school, is the difference between a prima facie case, evidence that's enough to lay out a case, and the notion of res ipsa loquitur, Latin for "the thing speaks for itself," evidence that by itself is so obvious that it not just states a matter but, right there, ends it.

In his extensive report made public last Friday, Canadian professor Richard McLaren delivered part two of what serves as a prosecutor’s brief alleging profound irregularities in Russia's anti-doping protocols. In essence, he made a prima facie case.

You would think, however, reading the news reports that McLaren 2 by itself spoke loudly and plainly enough not just to assign but prove liability for anyone and everyone involved.

That’s just not so.

The Moscow lab run by Dr. Grigoriy Rodchenkov // Getty Images

Going forward, the report seemingly answers a great many questions even as it raises significant new ones.

And, as ever is the case in regards to Russia, the pertinent question was delivered not last Friday but by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov -- you know him as Lenin -- in 1901:

What is to be done?

Any and all of you who want to engage in over-heated politically charged rhetoric, or threaten boycotts, or proclaim that Russia ought to be banned — less rhetoric, please, and more reasoned discussion that works toward solution.

Same: any and all of you who believe the current Russian president to be a threat to life as we know it on Planet Earth. Your therapist would tell you that what you’re doing is transferring onto the Russian sports system whatever emotion you hold for Mr. Putin. Not constructive.

There are three essential issues on the table.

One, what is to be done about the global anti-doping system?

Two, what is to be done with Russia?

Three, what is to be done about individual Russian athletes?

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One:

The fundamental challenge confronting the system has nothing to do with the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency or whether the Russians went to the Summer Games in Rio in 2016 or go to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018 or whoever goes to the world bobsled championship in Sochi in 2017.

It’s the same thing that made such a mess of the Rio 2016 Games themselves — money.

Simply put, there isn’t enough.

This is on both the sports movement and, critically, governments.

Often lost in all the shouting is that by design governments have been, since the late 1990s creation of a world agency designed to take the lead in dealing with doping in international sport, key players.

But in a world buffeted by war, famine and virtually every other calamity that can be conjured by the human imagination, stopping doping in sports ranks pretty low on the priority list for most governments.

The evidence is right there in black and white:

Kenya, winner of 13 medals at Rio, all in track and field, contributed $3,085 to WADA in 2016. Premise: that’s absurdly low. Problematic conclusion: where in Kenya are you going to find more money?

The United States contributed $2.05 million. That’s less than spare change when it comes to the overall U.S. federal budget, which runs to about $3 trillion.

Pick a country. Any country.

Let’s say you’re in charge of a federal government budget somewhere on our big blue ball. You suddenly find yourself with a cozy $1 million to spend. Are you better off spending it on programs that might help contain, say, HIV or malaria … or paving roads … or fixing bridges … or funding elementary schools … or throwing it at anti-doping in international sport?

Everywhere in the world but the United States — repeat, everywhere — there is a government ministry of sport.

So to rage against the machine and cry that it needs to be fixed — OK, got it.

Solutions, please.

WADA’s annual budget is $26 million. That’s something of a joke when compared against athletic department revenues at top U.S universities, which are five to seven times as much.

If you want to throw in the anti-doping programs of major international federations and make the argument that there’s really twice as much money at hand — cool. You’re still only at one-quarter of what Texas A&M or Oregon bring in, each year.

Consider: most of the international sports federations tied into the Olympics get considerable funding, if not the bulk of it, from the IOC. Which derives it from broadcast revenues. What is the chance any particular federation, confronting financial existentialism, is likely to give up its share? (Answer: zero.)

So — the logical next step is to make the anti-doping thing a priority among governments, or deal with the consequence that it’s not. Because absent dedicated government involvement, or a siphoning off of IOC broadcast revenues (as if) or a new tax on sporting events themselves, this problem is apt to remain just that.

It’s not rocket science that the two organizations that moved to ban Russia from Rio — track and field, and the International Paralympic Committee — are both led by officials from the United Kingdom. The British press has been screaming about the Russians and doping so loudly you would think all the reporters there were all staring at a lunch of polonium-laced sushi. The head of the British Olympic Assn. said Monday he would support the skeleton champion Lizzie Yarnold and the British bobsled federation if they opted to stay away from those 2017 worlds in Sochi.

History is clear that boycotts only end up hurting athletes.

Maybe a better use of time and energy would be to convince Westminster to up the UK contribution to WADA. In 2016, it was $772,326. Same as Russia.

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Two:

It’s not a workable plan to ostracize Russia.

There may be short-term gains — see Seb Coe, head of track’s international body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, who earlier this month saw through a wide-ranging reform plan.

But this is a long-term play.

FIFA is not going to take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia. Russia is very likely to be at the Winter Olympics that same year. For that matter, it would not be a surprise if key sports conferences end up in the coming years back in Sochi, St. Petersburg, Kazan or Moscow.

Simply put, Russia is way too important.

Beyond which, moralizing and self-righteousness get tiresome quickly, particularly when those moralizing come from a country with its own doping history (attention, United States) and when time is likely to show that Russia is hardly the only country in the world where clever souls have been trying to find an advantage.

It’s evident that Professor McLaren has come to a published understanding of political nuance.

For one, as he said, there is no direct evidence that the Russian Olympic Committee was involved in what he called a “conspiracy.” If you are the IOC and there’s no direct evidence that ties the ROC, what are you to do? This is where the conversation must switch from sanction to reform.

Professor McLaren’s July report, meanwhile, is chock-a-block with terms such as “state directed oversight,” a “state-dictated failsafe system” and the like.

Friday’s report refers repeatedly to “institutional control.”

Big difference semantically, and you can bet it’s on purpose.

As Professor McLaren’s Friday report says, on page 31, “I would urge international sport leadership to take account of what is known and contained in the [July and Friday] reports, use the information constructively to work together and correct what is wrong.”

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Three:

In the interests of transparency and of proving his points, Professor McLaren made public what in the acronym-heavy world of doping he refers to as the EDP, the evidence disclosure package. Here is the link.

Kudos to the professor for the documents.

The thing is, they prove everything and nothing simultaneously.

A document, to be sure, says what it says. But — this is why lawyers make the big bucks — it doesn’t speak for itself.

Whenever a document is to be used to prove a point in a legal setting, it needs to be — to use legal jargon here — “authenticated.” That means someone needs to be sworn to tell the truth and that person tells the truth (purportedly) about the context and circumstance of the document. How it came to be. How it might or might not relate to other documents. How it might or might not be accurate. And so on.

The fundamental issues with Friday’s McLaren 2 — despite the professor’s declarations to the contrary — remain fundamentally the same as McLaren 1 in July, and these issues make plain the problematic nature of sanction in favor of constructive solution.

First, as the professor says, page 30, he has painted a “detailed but not fully complete picture of the doping control process in Russia.” It's not fair to issue sanction based on incomplete evidence. That's obvious.

Moreover, to a significant extent, the evidence — all those documents and more — has yet to be tested in a formal legal setting and, crucially, subjected to cross-examination.

Without a full picture and without such a test, it goes to the core of fundamental notions of fairness and individual justice to impose blanket bans on individual athletes, particularly when the focus of Professor McLaren's two reports has been collective responsibility.

To be clear:

It may well be that the evidence turns out to be sufficient in most if not many cases to assign liability.

But that demands process, and even if process doesn’t make for screaming headlines it is essential.

In support of his prosecution-style brief, for example, Professor McLaren notes that his July report accounted for 312 positive initial screens reported negative into the WADA system; now he says the number is “more than 500.” Things just take time. A rush to judgment, as urged by many appalled or provoked by the news, is rarely constructive.

If the complaint from many in the west would be that the playing field wasn’t level because the Russians were cheating on a grand scale — OK, what about any notion of a level playing field within Russia itself? Were top-level Russian athletes knowingly part of this alleged conspiracy? Was there coercion, or worse, to get such athletes to take part? Any athletes? What about the medical or health impact on some if not all  the Russians (and others) who may have been involved? Where is the empathy from athletes in the west for their counterparts?

Hand in hand go concerns about Professor McLaren’s key witness, the former lab director Dr. Grigoriy Rodchenkov.

It would seem eminently appropriate, for instance, to condemn in the strongest terms possible the use of illicit substances on five blind powerlifters, a kind of weightlifting. As Dr. Rodchenkov wrote to Alexei Velikodny of Russia’s Sports Training Center, according to a story Monday from Associated Press, “It’s a disgrace,” adding that coaches were “picking on the blind (who) can’t even see what people are giving them.”

Yet this is the kind of thing that would lead the Paralympic organization to issue a blanket ban? When the poor lifters can’t even see the stuff? They’re the ones being punished? Where is the condemnation of that kind of thinking?

Or this:

That Monday AP story comes from a Russian-speaking correspondent. He writes, "Despite repeated cases involving GW1516, a substance not considered fit for human consumption because of repeated cancer cases in animal testing, none of the emails contain any suggestions of discouraging its use.”

Professor McLaren notes, page 47, “It is unknown whether athletes knowingly or unknowingly participated in the processes involved.”

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote in a column from last Friday, and this is dead-on, "It’s not that Russia federalized cheating to create an uneven playing field — lots of government-sponsored federations have systematically doped in Olympic history. It’s not even that some innocent athletes were deprived of medals they might otherwise have won. They aren’t the real victims. The ultimate victims are the Russian athletes who were forced by their government to ingest substances against their will and without informed consent or to leave their country or to submit to blackmail by strongmen. Those aren’t sporting violations. They are human rights violations."

Friday’s McLaren 2, meanwhile, says (pages 18 and 32) that 695 Russian athletes and 19 foreign athletes can be identified as part of the manipulations to conceal potentially positive tests. Stop — 19 foreign athletes? Just for starters: if the Russians were doping others — to what purpose? To help some other country win?

As for Dr. Rodchenkov:

Professor McLaren notes, page 63, that in 2011 Dr. Rodchenkov endured what in the report is called an “illness.” Russian media reports suggest it was much more, and that Dr. Rodchenkov’s mental state was at issue. If it was then — what about during the course of the alleged “conspiracy,” 2011 to 2015? And now?

On page 12, Professor McLaren avows that one of the reasons to believe Dr. Rodchenkov is telling the truth is “the possibility of deportation from the United States should he be shown to have been untruthful” in speaking with the professor.

You can make just the opposite argument. If Dr. Rodchenkov wants to stay in the United States, wouldn’t he be inclined to say anything to save his backside?

Further, about that deportation thing: it’s straightforward that it wouldn’t be sports authorities in the United States but, rather, the U.S. government that would take any such action. The government controls customs, entry and visa requirements.

Maybe it seems far-fetched that the U.S. government would somehow be involved in all this.

Then again,  consider — if you wrote a movie script about what Professor McLaren reported has happened in Russia, could you make even a prima facie case for a single reputable Hollywood studio to believe it was anything but straight-out fiction?

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.

Purposely, door still wide open for Russia

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The most important note from the compelling report released Monday in a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned inquiry into allegations of Russian doping is super-clear and, because of that, all the more striking: there is no recommendation about what, as Lenin might have put it, is to be done.

This means the door has, purposely, been left wide-open for Russian athletes to take part in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. As they should.

To be clear:

The report, produced by respected Canadian law professor and anti-doping expert Richard McLaren, offers evidence that strongly — reiterate, strongly — suggests the involvement of the Russian state in promulgating a program designed to evade anti-doping controls.

Over its 103 pages, the report offers up a narrative of holes in walls, disappearing positives and more.

At the outset of the Toronto news conference at which Richard McLaren delivered his report // WADA

But — and this is the key — the report does not tie specific athletes to specific misconduct. At least yet. Without that, it fails law, ethics, morality and common sense to bar anyone from Rio.

The report also — and this is essential, too — asserts, and repeatedly, that the evidence it is offering up is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

If only that were the case.

Instead, the report is rife with internal contradictions and more that demonstrate in a vivid fashion the glaring conflict in trying to ban anyone on these grounds.

In sum, the McLaren report amounts to a prosecutor’s brief. A solid salvo. He and his team deserve considered respect. And WADA deserves applause for commissioning his inquiry.

Even so:

There has not yet been any sort of cross-examination, in a formal setting under oath, of considerable chunks of the evidence offered up in the report.

Thus calls for bans or more sparked by the McLaren report amount to howling from the mob. Not justice.

The Olympics are better than that.

The Olympics, at the core, are about fair play.

If the argument is that the Russians corrupted that ideal, the response is elemental: two wrongs do not make a right.

Neither the International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board nor the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport -- both meeting this week to consider the Russians -- are obliged in any way, shape or form to dish out collective responsibility when every principle of fairness calls out for individual adjudication.

WADA, upon the release of the report, put out a statement urging that Olympic authorities “decline entries” from Russia for Rio. WADA is under intense geopolitical pressure. Such a statement is super-cool PR, enabling WADA to play CYA in advance of reviews from the IOC and CAS.

The close reader will also note the disclaimer in the “preamble” to the WADA statement, from president Craig Reedie. WADA, he expressly notes, “does not have the authority or remit in respect of entries to competitions.”

There are now two probable paths ahead:

One, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, has already done a deal in Russia to effect a ban for one Games. This would, among other things, serve as protection for the next major summertime sports event involving the Russians, the 2018 World Cup.

This seems unlikely.

Putin, in a statement put out Monday by the Kremlin, after noting the 1980s-era boycotts led by the United States of the Moscow Games and, then, in reprisal, by the Soviet Union in 1984 in Los Angeles:

“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.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin at an Olympic meeting last October in Moscow // Getty Images

If you're going to ban Russia, you might want to ban Kenya while you're at it. Unlikely? If so, how is it remotely fair to ban Russia?

And this: eight years ago, literally during the 2008 Beijing Games, Russia and Georgia fought a brief war. If neither was kicked out of the Games then, and people were actually dying, the IOC would now take the step of implementing a ban (against Russia) because of -- allegations of doping?

Option Two, and far more likely:

The IOC board meeting Tuesday produces rhetoric but no more. CAS issues its decision later this week, perhaps Thursday. The IOC waits after that to “process” (pick your word) everything that’s going on. Then it waits a little bit more. The next thing you know, the IOC says it really needs more information, the sort McLaren makes plain that he has or has access to but has not yet himself processed and, oh, by the way, it’s now too late — see you in Rio, Russians.

One thing that has not been super-cool: the aggressive push from Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and others in the United States and Canada to keep the Russians out.

Their statement over the weekend, calling for a ban on the Russians, suggested — rightly or wrongly — that the McLaren report had been leaked to Tygart, and others, in advance. It had not.

Everyone gets the right, at least in the United States and Canada, to speak their mind. That’s not the issue. The issue is that actions lead to consequence. And — you can believe — many important and influential people in the broader sports movement are irritated, big time, and at Tygart in particular.

It’s not only that such banging-the-drum has not been helpful. Believe it — again — it actually has intensified the risk of seeing happen the exact opposite of what has been asked for.

You can like Putin, or not. Fear the Russian president. Loathe him. Respect him. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Putin is arguably on the top-three list of most important personalities in the Olympic movement. Putin matters. And Russia matters.

More from Putin in Monday’s statement:

“The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and several anti-doping agencies in other countries, without waiting for the official publication of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s commission, have hastened to demand that the entire Russian team be banned from taking part in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“What is behind this haste? Is it an attempt to create the needed media atmosphere and apply pressure? We have the impression that the USADA experts had access to what is an unpublished report and have set its tone and even its content themselves. If this is the case, one country’s national organization is again trying to dictate its will to the entire world sports community.”

Uh-oh.

Putin goes on to say:

“Russia is well aware of the Olympic movement’s immense significance and constructive force, and shares in full the Olympic movement’s values of mutual respect, solidarity, fairness and the spirit of friendship and cooperation.

“This is the only way to preserve the Olympic family’s unity and ensure international sport’s development in the interest of bringing people and cultures closer together. Russia is open to cooperation on achieving these noble goals.”

Make of that whatever you will. The important thing is that, unprompted, these last two paragraphs also found their way into the Kremlin release.

As Olivier Niggli, the new WADA director general, noted in the agency’s news release: “...senior Russian politicians have started to publicly acknowledge the existnce of longstanding doping practices in Russia, and have conceded that a significant culture change is required.

“The McLaren Report makes it ever more clear that such culture change needs to be cascaded from the very top in order to deliver the necessary reform that clean sport needs.”

That’s going to take time, and money. WADA needs way more than the $26 million a year it gets now, and any number of the roughly 200 nations in the world need to step up big time if the campaign against doping in sports is to become, truly, a priority.

In the meantime, there remains the pressing question: what is to be done?

IOC president Thomas Bach, left, and WADA president Craig Reedie, right, at a meeting last month in Switzerland // Getty Images

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, observed a few days ago in an interview with Associated Press and other wire services:

“It is obvious that you cannot sanction or punish a badminton player for infringement of rules or manipulation by an official or lab director in the Winter Games,” the keen student noting that Reedie is a former badminton champion who went on to be president, in the 1980s, of the international badminton federation.

“What we have to do,” Bach said, “is to take decisions based on facts, and to find the right balance between collective responsibility and individual justice. The right to individual justice applies to every athlete in the world.”

Just to take one of many examples from within the McLaren report:

A graph, page 41, shows the number of “disappearing positives” in various sports.

Russian sport graph

The Russian synchronized swim team is a powerhouse. Is there any mention of synchro on that list? And yet the Russian synchro team should be banned? On what grounds?

Gymastics — where is “gymnastics” on that list? Answer: nowhere.

This is why — shortly after the release of Monday’s report — Bruno Grandi, president of FIG, the international gymnastics federation, put out a statement declaring that clean Russian gymnasts must be allowed to compete in Rio.

He said, ”The rights of every individual athlete must be respected. Participation at the Olympic Games is the highest goal of athletes who often sacrifice their entire youth to this aim. The right to participate at the Games cannot be stolen from an athlete, who has duly qualified and has not be found guilty of doping. Blanket bans have never been and will never be just."

Even McLaren himself, in the report, observes, at page 4, and “IP” in this context refers to McLaren, the “independent person” commissioned by WADA:

“The third paragraph of the IP’s mandate, identifying athletes who benefited from the manipulations, has not been the primary focus of the IP’s work. The IP investigative team has developed evidence identifying dozens of Russian athletes who appear to have been involved in doping. The compressed timeline of the IP investigation did not permit compilation of data to establish an antidoping rule violation. The time limitation required the IP to deem this part of the mandate of lesser priority. The IP concentrated on the other four directives of the mandate.”

Elsewhere, the report asserts, and repeatedly, that evidence rises to meet the law’s most demanding standard, that required for conviction of a criminal case in the United States, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Here, a refresher basic: that is for a jury or a tribunal to decide, not the investigator.

Assume, though, that everything in the report is dead-bang true. It's easy to point a finger at "the Russians." It's a little different to say -- more, to prove -- that Igor, or Sasha, or Svetlana, or whoever had his or her sample swapped. Even if you can prove that, does that mean Igor or Sasha was doping? Did he or she know the sample was being swapped?

At page 87 of the report, McLaren notes, "The Moscow Laboratory personnel did not have a choice in whether to be involved in the State-directed system."

By the same logic, did athletes in this system have a "choice" in alleged use of illicit performance-enhancing substances? The report, page 49, details the concoction of a doping cocktail -- the Russians called it "the Duchess" -- that consisted of the steroids oral-turinabol, oxandrolone and methasterone. These were dissolved in alcohol -- Chivas for the men, vermouth for the women -- and swished around the mouth for ready absorption.

It doesn't take much imagination to conjure up a situation in which a Russian coach approaches Igor, Sasha, whoever with a glass of the Duchess and says, more or less, "This is your treatment." In such a situation, would an individual athlete feel he or she had the "choice" to say no?

For sure, whatever is in the system is an athlete's responsibility. This is a fundamental premise of the anti-doping rules. But the rules also now expressly acknowledge that intent to cheat -- or not -- matters, too.

As for further specifics that cut to the credibility of what's at issue:

McLaren “did not seek to interview persons living within the Russian Federation. This includes government officials,” page 8. So the report is deliberately one-sided?

“I am aware,” McLaren writes at page 21 in reference to the principle witness, Dr. Gregoriy Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab, “that there are allegations made against him by various persons and institutional representatives. While that might impinge on his credibility in a broader context, I do not find that it does so in respect of this report.”

Of course broader allegations might significantly impinge on Rodchenkov’s credibility. That’s another basic. Putin goes on for an entire paragraph in his statement about such allegations. Yet these assertions are not explored in any detail? Moreover, just to play common sense — how is it that Rodchenkov finds himself now in Los Angeles? From what source or sources might he have money to, you know, pay rent and buy dinner?

At page 25-6: “The compressed time frame in which to compile this Report has left much of the possible evidence unreviewed. This Report has skimmed the surface of the data that is available or could be available. As I write this Report our task is incomplete.” By definition, “incomplete” means exactly the opposite of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Page 56, and a reference to the FSB, the Russian security service: “… it was not possible to fully determine the role of the FSB in sport and doping. The IP has only gained a glimpse into the FSB’s operations.” A “glimpse” does not make for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

More of the same at page 59, referring to a specific FSB agent: “Were FSB [agent] Blokhin’s actions approved at the highest level of the FSB and the State? The IP cannot say.”

Without being able to say, there is a hole in this well-meaning report big enough to drive a truck through. About, oh, the size of the tunnel underneath the stadium in Rio from which the athletes enter for the opening ceremony.

See you there, Russian delegation. Behind your red, white and blue Russian flag.

Guilt by association is not cool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything else — everything — is just noise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— A THREE-ACT PLAY —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systemic cheating is as bad as it gets.

Anyone proven to have cheated justifiably deserves sanction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— OTHER BANS ARE NOT THE SAME —

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

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

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

Two real-life on-point examples:

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

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

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

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

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

Because it’s Russia, man.

It’s that simple.

And that profound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— "... THIS NEEDS A FULL REVIEW" —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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