Yiannis Exarchos

Einstein's very definition of insanity


RIO DE JANEIRO — Amid the seemingly imminent apocalypse about to erupt with holy fire all over everything connected with the 2016 Summer Games, one might think that the collapse of a boat ramp over the weekend at the sailing venue would be comparatively insignificant.

It’s not.

The ramp collapse is profoundly symptomatic and symbolic.

It underscores the lack of controls — and control — that has dogged preparations for the 2016 Games since the get-go, a long seven years ago.

Of course such a collapse is unacceptable.

Of course it needs to get fixed, and immediately, and a Rio 2016 spokesman says the repairs will take just days.

The IOC president. Thomas Bach, at Sunday's news conference and, snark aside, he is looking out through the lights to try to see who is asking him what // Getty Images

The boat ramp fail follows the buckling of a seaside bike path here in April.  No one was hurt over the weekend at the sailing venue. Two people died when the bike path fell, pulverized by a huge wave. The timing: just hours after the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece.

Together, these two incidents spotlight the need for a thorough and fundamental review of the very way the International Olympic Committee delegates, assigns and joins with local organizers in getting ready for a Games.

This is way beyond Rio, though Rio should be the catalyst for the wide-ranging discussion that needs to be held about how to bring the organization and operation of a Games into the 21st century.

After Rio, the IOC should convene an “innovation group” — or whatever it wants to call it — made up of forward-thinkers from anywhere. The mandate: new and creative solutions in accord with a reconsideration and reallocation of local and IOC roles and responsibilities. If there are 10 ideas, and nine suck, so what? There needs to be freedom to think out of the box about how to make this, you know, actually work, and without so much drama.

Olympic veterans might recall that during the 2009 bid phase for 2016, Rio didn't even make the initial technical grade but was nonetheless passed through for, um, other reasons. Given that, who can be all that surprised now?

Here is the starting premise for discussion:

The Olympic Games are a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

With that in mind, it is insanity to keep turning over the organization of the IOC’s franchise to newbies, and expect things to run in a world-class manner.

What business does that? Nobody. Well, no one except the IOC.

As Albert Einstein reportedly said, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

This, though, is exactly what the IOC does. Seven years beforehand, It awards some place a Games. Then it sits back and holds twice- or three-times-per-year inspections — in Olympic jargon, “coordination commissions” — while allowing the locals to run things as the locals see fit.

Typically, this means senior-level management shuffles and re-shuffles and, as well, political or government interference that, to put it gently, is not helpful. Look at Rio. Or the next Games, in Korea in 2018. Or Tokyo, in 2020.

Sometimes, as was the case in Korea, the IOC lucks out and gets someone like Y.H. Cho, the Korean Air chief who ran the winning Korean bid and knew how to maneuver between east and west as well as the elements in Korea itself — business, government, politics.

His case is fully instructive, however: a few months ago, the Koreans opted to go in a different direction. Who was the most surprised when it happened? The IOC.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out a fix.

Start with the FIFA approach.

In some IOC circles, the idea that it could learn from FIFA might be considered heresy.

For sure, there are many, many, many things one could observe about FIFA that would not be positive.

But it must be said that FIFA knows how to run its soccer tournaments.


Because that is what it’s in the business of doing. It runs the show, thank you.

Same idea for the IOC, and the Olympics.

The IOC should have a Games team — or teams, Winter and Summer — who go from locale to locale. How many people? Unclear. Six? Ten? Twenty? Whatever.

All of this can be imagined in a way that actually jibes with Agenda 2020, the IOC's self-proclaimed 2014 reform plan, and easily. Agenda 2020 can be the blueprint, in the same way that the U.S. Congress passes laws that then need rules and regulation -- back to the Olympic context, whatever the "innovation group" comes up with -- to implement.

Will there be conflict with the locals? Undoubtedly. Might the locals resent the IOC influence? Probably. Are these kinds of things capable of solution? Absolutely, and this is why the rights and responsibilities should be examined anew, now.

Indeed, in other areas, the IOC has already recognized the issue, and done what needs doing, what is elegantly obvious — assign a cadre of professional experts to run things.

The Olympic Broadcasting Service, which supplies the video and more for each edition of the Games? They are maybe the best in the world, based in Madrid under the uber-competent Yiannis Exarchos, in charge of the host feed and more from Games to Games.

On a smaller scale — and this is something of inside baseball but the point is the same — each Games features a service for the media called Olympic News Service. In London four years ago, ONS ran to more than 500 people. Here, after a thorough review (disclaimer: I was invited to be part of the working group involved in that review), more like 50, all professionals.

What does this save? Time, resource and, crucially, money.

Let’s be totally frank:

You know the old saying about stuff flowing downhill?

Which entity, more than any, is the one at the bottom of that proverbial Olympic hill? The local organizing committee, which has a temporary lifespan? Or the IOC, which endures and thus makes itself the fat, easy target?

Since that is so clearly the case, why wouldn’t the IOC take proactive steps to ensure the ongoing integrity, vitality and relevance of its brand — instead of being subjected every two years to the predictable sky-is-falling reportage?

The IOC actually has a great story to tell: no other institution in the world brings thousands of people together in a celebration intended to promote the best of each and all of us.

Far too often, however, that message gets obscured by, or lost in, too much of the stuff running downhill.

When you think of Sochi, as a for instance, what are the two things that come immediately to mind for most people? Well, now three, given allegations of state-sanctioned Russian doping — one, the hotels not being done when multitudes of reporters arrived and, two, the $51 billion overall cost associated with those Games, right?

The scene at the sailing venue // Getty Images

Waves battering the incline near the collapsed bike path // Getty Images

It’s now five short days before the 2016 opening ceremony. This week the bulk of roughly 15,000 media people are going to descend upon Rio.

You can believe that there is still painting, wiring, hanging, building all over the place.

Reports from the press already here of imminent disaster are now so widespread that there has developed in recent days a Reddit subgroup called apocalympics2016.


Fire, hail, locusts, frogs, cattle disease — these and the other plagues from the Biblical Exodus— are nowhere in evidence in Rio. As the sages teach, this is welcome news indeed for those of us who are first-born males.

As for bugs: now that Zika is in Florida, it might even be asked if there is quite another reason so many of the top male golfers aren’t here. Like: drug testing, maybe?

There is one overriding problem in Rio, and one problem only:

There is not — and has not been — enough money.

The problem is both overall budget, and cash flow.

The organizing committee’s operating budget figures out at about $2.3 billion.

The shortfall, now, is reportedly about $70 million.

Amid a severe economic depression, that kind of money literally isn’t here to be had in Brazil.

But it’s got to come from somewhere.

This is why the IOC president Thomas Bach, at a news conference Sunday marking the end of the policy-making executive board’s pre-Games get-together, announced the IOC would be stepping in to help — though he did not detail by how much, instead saying the IOC "is helping the organizing committee to make sure that these Games will be the success we all want it to be.”

The back story of these Games is that the IOC recognized the enormity and complexity of the Rio challenge in 2014, when it assigned the-then Games executive director, Gilbert Felli, to work more or less full time on 2016 preparations.

Thus it has been running on either — choose your perspective — an ad hoc or emergency basis the very solution that must present itself looking ahead to Pyeongchang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and beyond.

Let's face it: chronic triage is a bad way to go through life.

Agenda 2020 goes 40-for-40


MONACO — To much self-promotion and -congratulation, the International Olympic Committee on Monday “unanimously” enacted all 40 points of president Thomas Bach’s review and potential reform plan, dubbed “Agenda 2020.” The potential game-changer: approval of a digital TV channel. Other significant elements: shifts in the bid process as well as to the Olympic program.

The action Monday gave Bach what he craved, approval of what he has variously described as a "jigsaw puzzle" and a “white paper.” Now comes the hard work: implementation.

IOC president Thomas Bach  // photo Edward Hula III

How to balance considerations such as finance and the essence of Olympic tradition? Should the bobsled track for the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea be moved to save money? Isn’t it ridiculous — or worse — to pressure the Koreans to give up building a track to move the event to, say, Japan, when, for instance, the matter of the 1936 Berlin marathon, won by Korean Kee Chong Sohn, who had to compete under the Japanese flag, is still very much alive in Seoul and precincts beyond?

To move it to, say, the United States? Canada? Europe? Wouldn’t that make the Olympics something of a united world championships, the very thing Sport Accord and international judo federation president Marius Vizer had proposed just last year?

The Koreans bid twice for the Games, for 2010 and 2014, before winning for 2018. It’s not as if they didn’t know the Winter Olympics included a bobsled run, right?

More of the struggles to come:

Yay for a move from “sports” to “events” if that means the possibility of fresh additions to the program, and particularly in the Summer Games — say, for instance, surfing.

But with a cap of 10,500 athletes except in “special cases,” the policy affirmed anew Monday, which of the established sports can be counted on to give up spots to newcomers? Track and field? Swimming? Shooting? Rowing?

In a word: ha.

To be sure, Monday ushered in evolution, not revolution.

In a style that can only be described as only in the IOC, the 40 measures were voted on one by one and by a show of hands, the 96 members in attendance passing each resolution in what was described from the head table as “unanimously,” even though it was sometimes plain not all hands went up.

To be abundantly clear: no hands went up to register a vote against.

Why did the IOC not register the votes on each measure through electronic ballots, which — in December 2014 — would be simple enough? Which the IOC actually does (though it does not attribute votes cast to individual members) for its bid-city ballots?

For those who might be befuddled, it must be understood that what transpired Monday is, in its way, progress.

In IOC terms, it amounted to something that might be termed transparency. The votes were shown on closed-circuit television that was beamed out to the internet. Thus some — if not all — the members could actually be seen raising their hands.

Moreover, the IOC is not, repeat not, a democracy.

Here is another fundamental principle:

The IOC works best when the president is firmly in control.

Bach, who is German, was elected in Buenos Aires in September 2013, replacing Jacques Rogge of Belgium.

Rogge served from 2001. He took over from Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, who served for 21 years.

Rogge sat Monday at the head table. Bach referred to him, among others, in the ceremonial introductions of the address that opened Sunday night’s 127th IOC session. That was, well, it. Not a word from the former president.

Since being elected in Buenos Aires, Bach has clearly sought to model himself after Samaranch, who operated with a direct yet deft touch.

For more than a year, Bach has worked energetically to secure buy-in across, within and without the Olympic movement for Agenda 2020. Though Rogge was not invited Monday to speak, Didier Burkhalter, president of the Swiss confederation, was — the IOC, of course, based in Lausanne. Agenda 2020, Burkhalter said, would enable the movement to “be proactive and change rather than be changed.”

The key item on the docket was always the creation of the digital TV channel.

To get there, though, the IOC had to work through hours of agenda items.

First up Monday morning: changes to the bid process, including a provision that in exceptional circumstances would allow events to be held outside host cities or countries.

Insiders noted that many of the bid changes, aimed at streamlining and reducing the cost of campaigning, evoked the Madrid 2020 bid that lost out to Tokyo, also in Buenos Aires.

It takes nothing away from the winning Tokyo bid to note that with as with many things in the Olympic universe, it can be a matter of timing: Madrid’s bids, particularly the 2020 campaign, its third in a row, may well have articulated an apt strategy but caught the IOC at a wrong time.

Around lunch time Monday in Monaco, the IOC moved to change the Olympic program from its traditional focus on “sports” to “events,” a potential boon for sports such as surfing, skateboarding, cricket, climbing and, as soon as the Tokyo 2020 Games, baseball and softball — again, if that is, spots can be found around that 10,500 cap.

“This is really a major step forward in the modernization of the Olympic Games,” Bach said as it passed, of course unanimously.

By mid-afternoon, the members affirmed their support for what’s called “Principle 6,” including non-discrimination on sexual orientation, a response to the firestorm over legislation in Russia before the 2014 Games.

“This is a very important step,” Bach said. “Congratulations.”

Approval of the TV channel came right after that.

Bach, speaking from the head table, called such a channel “crucial” for Olympic athletes and values between editions of the Games.

Yiannis Exarchos, head of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said it would be “the always-on, multimedia platform,” aimed at being the “ultimate” Olympic content source, initially digital only.

“This will be a truly collaborative effort [among] the Olympic family,” he said, also calling it “a challenge of Olympic proportions.”

“This will be a historic step in our existence and one we should embrace,” he urged the members.

Start-up costs were fixed at roughly $446 million euros, plus a 10 percent cushion, meaning $490 million euros all-in, or $601 million at current exchange rates.

Ser Miang Ng of Singapore, a former vice president who now chairs the IOC finance commission, said the channel represented a “substantial but necessary” investment. Break-even, he said: seven to 10 years.

“These figures are more than achievable,” said Bach, who chaired the TV channel working group.

“I think this is an excellent concept and the sooner we can launch this the better,” Larry Probst, the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman and new IOC member, said from the floor.

After the channel was approved, once more unanimously, Bach said, “This is a great, great step forward. I wish all the ones who will be involved in making this happen really good luck. This is really a historical step for the IOC an the Olympic movement. Thank you very much for your approval.”

Richard Peterkin, the witty IOC member from the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia, tweeted early in Monday’s session:

A few minutes later, he posted another tweet:

After lunch, yet again:

From the floor in the afternoon, Peterkin said, speaking directly to Bach, “Like President Obama, you are a strong proponent of change. I hope you have more success than he has.”

Bach had predicted at a news conference Saturday that all would go smoothly here.

Of course he did. He had lined everything up in advance, Samaranch-style.

It was “very encouraging,” he said at that news conference, “to see that all the stakeholders of the Olympic movement are actually supporting this Olympic Agenda 2020,” including representatives of the international sports federations, summer and winter, the national Olympic committees and athletes committees.

Beyond which, as longtime IOC member and former vice president Dick Pound pointed out in an interview Monday, the topics themselves lent themselves to an easy show of hands in favor of yes votes.

“It’s pretty much motherhood and apple pie,” Pound said, adding, “These things are obvious. Friction will be in the events. What does athletics,” meaning track and field, “have to give to create some space for new sports? What does shooting have to give? What does swimming have to give? And there will be a lot of wailing about that,” down the line.

“You look at the team sports. Do you cut a 14-team draw down to 12? There are lots of ways to slice the pie.”

Pound served as IOC vice president under Samaranch. The comparisons between Bach and Samaranch seemed manifest.

Referring to Bach, Pound said, “He’s well prepared. You look at those committees, especially the outsiders. He has got good traction there. So you’re getting a lot of good thought having gone into it. Things have been circulated. You read them — there’s very little there that has a big hook out there that you want to grab onto and want to fight. I think it has been well-managed, well-directed, well-meaning."

Pound continued: “… I’m trying to think, somebody raised the visit issue, very tentatively,” meaning whether the members could visit cities bidding for the Games, a notion Bach had emphatically shot down before all arrived in Monaco.

“There may be people with hair my color who may object to having to retire before the age of 70 or something. We’ll see. I don’t think anyone will throw themselves in front of the train for that purpose.”

The image of whether to tinker in any significant respect with the age limit didn’t even begin to come up until 5:45 p.m. — too late in the day, really, for anybody to do anything about it, given that Bach had determined mid-afternoon that he was going to hustle the members through all 40 bullet points in one day.

As the clock ticked toward 6 p.m., Bach did call on Vitaly Smirnov, the Russian member who holds a special place in the IOC, what is called the doyen, the longest-serving member. Smirnov, carefully reading from a script, backed the measure on the table that would allow for a one-time extension of a member’s term beyond age 70, to 74, for a maximum of five cases at a given time.

So deft.

So Samaranch-like, really.

“Even in, as you say, my wildest dreams, I would not have expected this,” Bach said in a wrap-up news conference Monday night, referring to the 40-for-40 unanimous yes votes, going on to deflect credit away from himself and onto the members, just the way Samaranch used to:

“It showed the great determination of the members for these reforms to make this progress and to make this happen.”

Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the international tennis federation and the association of summer Olympic international sports federations, said, “We did open today a big window but most of the work still needs to be done. That’s the most difficult part of our job. It’s a historical day.

“Now we have to proceed step by step. If someone has signed a contract like Tokyo, they cannot change everything. There must be a balance.”

Olympic TV: the time is now


Based in Los Angeles, KIIS-FM — OMG, Ryan Seacrest, he hosts the talent show American Idol, too! — is a pop culture powerhouse that unabashedly plays a loop of hit songs its teenage listeners want to hear, over and again. This summer, as I know well, what with three teens in the house (disclaimer: the oldest turned 20 in April), one of those songs is Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda.” If you are not in the know, let us just say that “Anaconda” is salacious. My 15-year-old daughter, who is a straight-A student and gives her parents zero problems, knows all the words. These include rhymes and riffs that veer from Eiffel to Nyquil to others that are for sure not printable in a family newspaper. The video, with Minaj and a posse of backup dancers twerking and then twerking some more, makes the whole thing all too clear.

When I was 15, Karen Carpenter was making big hits.

Times change.

OBS  chief executive Yiannis Exarchos

Which leads — yes, it does — to the prospect of an Olympic TV channel. To quote Karen Carpenter, we’ve only just begun. You don’t think so? Rewind to the Sochi 2014 opening ceremony. There was the Russian Police Choir covering Daft Punk’s dance floor anthem, “Get Lucky.”

The International Olympic Commitee — indeed, the entire Olympic movement — is trying to figure out how to reach the emerging demographic that is teenagers and 20-somethings.

There are two universal languages spoken around the world.

One is music.

The other is sports.

To be candid, the notion of an Olympic TV channel is an idea that should have come to fruition already.

Like many things in our world, however, this is one of those that is a matter of timing.

Five years ago, the idea of such a channel was floated by Comcast and the U.S. Olympic Committee but then abandoned weeks later when the IOC and NBC demurred.

That was then.

Now, Comcast has acquired NBC, and Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts — who, it should be said, was supportive of the 2009 concept — recently played a key role in the $7.65 billion deal that gives NBC the U.S. rights to the Olympics through 2032.

Now, Thomas Bach is the IOC president instead of Jacques Rogge, and Bach has signaled unequivocally that the idea of an Olympic channel is a priority. Indeed, of all the working groups in his “Agenda 2020” review and potential reform plan, the channel is the one working group that Bach himself is chairing.

The Agenda 2020 process is working toward an all-members session in Monaco in December. There, the channel — along with other items on the agenda — will come up for review.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that the members will approve the channel. Nothing in the IOC is ever such a thing.

But if ever the timing is right — it’s right, right now.

“You mention the example from five years ago and the example from the United States,” said Yiannis Exarchos, the chief executive officer of Olympic Broadcasting Services. “In the last five years, we have seen changes from a century.

“We have seen changes and movements that are really seismic,” he said, adding a moment later, “Everybody in the movement started realizing the importance of coming together under a powerful brand. It adds value to all the efforts, which has a proven record of providing a robust platform for the partners to grow.”

Timo Lumme, the managing director of IOC TV and marketing services, added, “An Olympic channel is not going to solve everything at a stroke. But what it does is put a marker down and put a destination down for what we stand for.

“It’s not just the notion of the Olympic Games — but the values and everything we stand for. And hopefully we can get in there and stretch the Olympic brand beyond the two weeks beyond the huge spike of the Games, and leverage that spike.”

This is it, exactly.

Since early indications are the channel is not about rights fees, there isn’t likely to be a problem with NBC, the BBC, CBC, CCTV or others.

Also, it is going to be— by design — a global entity. NBC, just to pick one, serves the terrestrial interests of U.S. viewers, and is in business to make money. The point of the channel is very different. It’s to enhance the Olympic brand — to make it a 365-day-a-year proposition.

If done right, the channel not only could but should boost the quality and level of corporate partnerships, potentially meaning revenue over the longer term.

But that is not the outset goal.

What is, is telling the Olympic story, Exarchos said: the thousands of hours of sporting excellence already on file in the archives along with promoting the values of friendship, excellence and respect; adopting healthier lifestyles; organizing community events in a sustainable way; social inclusiveness; and more.

“Obviously, we do not believe television should be didactic,” he said, adding, “It should be exciting, moving and engaging.”

He said planners see sports as the “core,” as the “human stories,” ones with “moral paradigms that carry emotions and so on,” adding, It’s a more fuller world we see [with] sports as the moving heart of it, the core of it.”

He also said that while there should be “reference to the big stars and the big stories in the Olympics,” as with “everything in broadcasting … you have to make things locally.” He said, “I strongly believe in the incorporation of locally produced programming so that it can become far more relevant.” While this is “complex,” he said, this factor “will be the key to its success.”

Assuming the members give the go-ahead in December, the channel is likely to get up and running as early as 2015.

Back to Nicki Minaj, and for this reason. At the end of “Anaconda,” she sings about other women she meets in clubs. She is dismissive — I am being gentle here — about these other women.

For those of you who might take offense to Minaj and her lyrics — I direct you to Led Zeppelin and “Whole Lotta Love,” which essentially covers some of the same ground, only 44 years prior. Now that song is considered “classic rock.”

But I digress.

What Minaj creates in her song is a world that teenagers want to be part of. She’s so cool that she shows up on TV with Ellen DeGeneres — host of this year’s Academy Awards, hello selfie shot, which was apparently good enough for the IOC at the Youth Games in Nanjing — and DeGeneres makes a parody video that reduces Minaj to hilarious laughter.

Teens aren’t old enough to go to clubs, at least — in many countries — not legally. But they yearn to be part of something bigger, something so intrinsically awesome that they say, I’m in.

This is what the Olympic Games are about.

This is where the Olympic channel comes in.

Because aside from the two weeks every two (or four) years, the movement is very good at ceding the spotlight to the likes of Nicki Minaj.

And while she has something to say, the movement does, too.

To be obvious, it needs somewhere to say it.

“We have an opportunity right now to build something,” Lumme said, Exarchos adding, referring to the prospect of an Olympic channel, “In today’s day, it would be hard to do it in any way other than this.”