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Not just what's happening in and around the Olympic Movement and International Sports but what it all means.
The prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has declared that the two Israeli swimmers who have applied for visas for the World Paralympic Swimming Championships scheduled for the island of Borneo this summer cannot compete there: “We will not allow them to enter. If they come, then it is an offense.”
Meanwhile, the International Judo Federation next week kicks off its 2019 world tour in Tel Aviv. It’s a big meet, a Grand Prix with more than 50 nations and over 400 athletes, as well as the start to a key season aiming toward the world championships in late August in Tokyo, at the legendary Nippon Budokan, site of the first Olympic judo tournament in 1964.
The contrast could not be more obvious, nor more vivid.
The contrast comes after developments in 2018 that again saw judo, under the steady direction of the IJF president, Marius Vizer, take a lead in doing what sport should be doing: make sure the door is open, the rules are equal and nobody gets turned away simply because of who they are or what the flag on his or her uniform looks like.
In Russian doping saga news: the 50-kilometer cross-country skier Alexander Legkov gets to keep his Sochi 2014 gold medal and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency almost certainly will not be declared non-compliant after World Anti-Doping Agency investigators finally retrieved computer data from the Moscow lab.
When the history of this Russian saga is wrapped, it really ought to be weighed against the sage counsel of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the U.S. Supreme Court justice, who in her 2016 autobiography wrote, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance anyone’s ability to persuade.”
There has been so much — entirely too much — rhetoric in, around, enveloping this Russian saga, a great deal of it from people who know, or ought to know, the value of process but who have turned time and again to inflammatory bombast, pomposity and hyperbole in seeking to advance politically charged positions.
Not to mention just yelling at each other. Or someone.
As the Legkov case and the retrieval of the lab data prove, process — way more than rhetoric — matters.
Process often isn’t fun, or sexy, or thrilling, particularly in our world now, when it can seem so much more entertaining, or cavalier, or satisfying to the echo chamber to zip off a blasting tweet.
But process matters, and a lot. It matters to work through it. Heads-up: that’s what this column is about.
Time flies. It was September 2017 when the International Olympic Committee made the dual award of the 2024 Games to Paris and the 2028 Games to Los Angeles.
In essence — nearly 11 years ’til the Olympics came back to LA, in July 2028.
Last week, it was exactly 2024 days until the start of the 2024 Games in Paris. A typical Olympic countdown clock ticks down from roughly seven years. The year marker for Paris is already at five.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, 11 years has turned to nine-plus. Of course nine-plus is a long time. But look how many months have already passed so quickly.
Unlike every other Games in modern Olympic history — the LA 84 Games the exception and thus the model, turning a $232.5 million surplus — LA28 offers a chance to do it differently, differently in this case meaning better, because in LA everything is built, meaning the LA 28 organizing committee has the extraordinary opportunity from the get-to to focus on what the Games ought to stand for and be about.
LA28 does not have to wait until after a Games for new buildings built as part of an Olympic-related infrastructure boom to secure a legacy.
Instead, it can and should use the Olympics — because there is no construction need — to redefine, indeed reimagine, legacy.
No disrespect to Serena Williams — this space wrote 20 months ago that she ought to light the cauldron for a Los Angeles Olympics, and that was before the International Olympic Committee picked LA for the 2028 Olympics — but the fact that Serena Williams didn’t win a Grand Slam in 2018 and Mikaela Shiffrin on Saturday capped her best year ever by becoming the most successful slalom skier in the 52-year history of the World Cup, and Serena Williams was named Associated Press female athlete of the year and Shiffrin didn’t even crack the top five is just plain …
Reading the more than 200 pages of the Ropes & Gray report into the “constellation of factors” underlying Larry Nassar’s abuse of gymnasts, it’s evident there is abundant blame to go around beyond the obvious — Nassar was a monster.
For the U.S. Olympic Committee, this crisis marks a signal moment.
Whether or not one might dispute some of the considerable blame leveled the USOC’s way in the report, especially given still-unexplained FBI inaction, it’s crystal-clear the time is now for the USOC to undertake its own far-reaching review of its mandate and governance, in particular its relationships with and the oversight it exercises — or should, or doesn’t — over the 50 national governing bodies.
Hence this call:
The USOC should empower a special blue-ribbon commission aimed at assessing — to use the language from Ropes & Gray, pages 162 and 163 — the USOC’s “structural challenges” in “reorienting from a service- to an oversight-centered approach and moving the NGBs away from an ingrained interpretation of the [1978 Amateur Sports Act] that was based on protecting athletes’ right to compete.”
The very first, and most pressing, matter is elemental: how much oversight?
Who run the world, as Beyoncé so eloquently puts it?
Can there be any doubt that the International Olympic Committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations are in the midst of undertaking the most emphatic efforts to put talented, sophisticated, deserving women in positions of leadership?
Thus the question: under what theory can Willie Banks’ candidacy for the USA Track & Field position to the International Association of Athletics Federation governing Council be effective?
Particularly when USATF already has, in Stephanie Hightower, a senior executive who has given USATF a much-bigger voice, presence and influence within the IAAF than in some time and who, as well, commands the respect and trust of the most important person at the federation, its president, Sebastian Coe.
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About Alan Abrahamson
Alan Abrahamson is an award-winning sportswriter, best-selling author and in-demand television analyst. In 2010, he launched his own website, 3 Wire Sports, described in James Patterson and Mark Sullivan's 2012 best-selling novel Private Games as "the world's best source of information about the [Olympic] Games and the culture that surrounds them." Read full bio.