A tribute to Chuck Wielgus

A tribute to Chuck Wielgus

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — In the service of journalism, we are taught early and often that the thing to do is put our emotions far, far away.

Too often, though, this does everyone a grave disservice. Life is about the relationships we build. With those relationships comes all the good stuff and, when someone dies, all the hurt that goes with it, too.

Chuck Wielgus passed away April 23, two Sundays ago. He was 67.

Track geeks: you can't rewrite history


To consider the absurdity of what track and field is considering with regard to its records, let’s turn to baseball. The comparison is apt. Both sports are heaven for stats-freak geeks.

Who holds the Major League Baseball record for most home runs in a career and, as well, most home runs in a season?

Hey, in both categories it’s that guy Barry Bonds. He hit 762 over his career. In the 2001 season, he slammed 73.

Now, does baseball say that Bonds leads the charts for guys whose hat size mysteriously, peculiarly got way, way, way bigger when he played for San Francisco as compared to the years he played in Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Bonds sits there, at No. 1.

Look at No. 4 on the all-time homer list: Alex Rodriguez, with 696. Rodriguez is an admitted user of performance-enhancing drugs. Who’s No. 4? Rodriguez.

People: what happened, happened.

This is the thing about history. It happened. You can’t say in 2017 — whether it’s baseball, track and field, tiddlywinks, whatever — that something didn’t, or arbitrarily propose new rules, like the European Athletics Records Credibility Project Team did on Sunday (the report was made public Monday) in proposing reforms that would wipe out more than half of Olympic-discipline world records from the books.

The European report is being forwarded to track and field's international governing body, the IAAF, which is said to be giving it serious consideration.

To be clear: the contributors to the European committee deserve considered respect for effort. They are good people and they mean well. Officials deserve extra marks for including Gianni Merlo, the longtime Italian sports writer and current president of the International Sports Press Association, in their deliberations. Awesome -- we’re not just running dogs!

As was articulated in the charge to the committee, track and field is purportedly beset by doping issues.


But that is not track and field’s central problem.

Baseball has had huge doping problems, too, and baseball is thriving. Track and field is wallowing. So that makes for a pretty easy conclusion: doping is not track and field’s central problem

Instead, track and field suffers from a multitude of other issues. This is what the very bright minds on that committee, and others around the world who care about track and field, should be focusing on.

For starters:

— Track and field is a professional sport. But the way it presents itself, by almost every metric, is sorely inconsistent, especially when compared against a wide range of other professional products. It is competing against those other entities for sponsor and audience attention and dollars. Pick it: European soccer, American basketball or football. Whatever. Now, how does track and field stack up?

— The best athletes don’t race against each other enough. Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt maybe race each other at perhaps one, maybe two, meets each year. Compare: the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees play each other 19 times each season. Why are the NBA playoffs must-see TV? Because the teams play each other every other day for two solid months, April to June. Real Madrid and Barcelona play each other all the time. In NFL football, Dallas and Washington play at least twice each season. This is a no-brainer, people!

— Track and field is sport at its essence: run, jump, throw. Yet for the average spectator, a track meet is bewildering. It’s confusing. There’s too much going on, often at the same time. And this is an awful secret: a lot of very serious track fans make like super-snobs, which is a complete turn-off to the would-be newbie fan, who just wants to know what’s going on, not get lectured about “negative splits” as if it’s Fermi and Einstein and physics at Princeton. Ugh.

— Meet presentation has barely evolved since the 1970s. There are some genuinely good track announcers out there but the PA systems at many fields are high-school quality, if that.

— Music? Lights? Fan-friendly experience? What?

— The world championships, which this year will be held in London, run from August 4-13. This is awesome for the niche of super-committed track fans, and organizers will justly point out that — just like the 2012 Olympics — the event will be sold out. But a 10-day run is a l-o-n-g deal. The U.S. track nationals are only four days. Why do the worlds run to 10?

Why, with all of that, is track and field obsessed with its records?

From the European committee report:

… The power of any record depends on its credibility.

“If there is suspicion that a record was not achieved fairly or the conditions were somehow not correct, people become skeptical or worse they ignore it.”

Look again at baseball.

Here, for easy reference, are baseball’s top 10 single-season home run leaders. For fun, identify how many may have, you know, taken something stronger than an aspirin and those you absolutely, positively, indisputably, unequivocally know with 110 percent certainty are cleaner than Mr. Clean:

1. Bonds, 73, 2001

2. Mark McGwire, 70, 1998

3. Sammy Sosa, 66, 1998

4. McGwire, 65, 1999

5. Sosa, 64, 2001

6. Sosa, 63, 1999

7. Roger Maris, 61, 1961

8. Babe Ruth, 60, 1927

9. Ruth, 59, 1921

10. Jimmie Foxx, 58, 1932

      Hank Greenberg, 58, 1938

      Ryan Howard, 58, 2006

      McGwire, 58, 1997

Also for fun: name the year Bonds gets elected to the Hall of Fame. Bonds landed on 53.8 percent of ballots this year; that’s up from 44.3 percent in 2016; he has five years of balloting left; historical trends suggest that players who get at least 50 percent almost always end up in the Hall by the end of their eligibility.

Reality suggests that whatever you believe about Bonds’ hat size, 73 and 762 are the numbers and he’s headed for the Hall of Fame. The relevant audience: for those who are not aware, voters for the Hall are from the baseball writers association, meaning the most skeptical running dogs themselves.

If more than half of the skeptics think those numbers are credible, and those cranky skeptics increasingly are proving willing to vote for the guy’s Hall of Fame enshrinement, he is — and the records themselves are — hardly being ignored, right?

Which holds considerable parallels for track and field, and the errant proposal to get rid of half of track and field’s records.

For one, the committee didn’t do the appropriate due diligence.

They did not, before announcing it to the world, secure the buy-in of athletes. Predictably, some of the world’s biggest stars from prior generations — the long jumper Mike Powell, the marathoner Paula Radcliffe, the middle-distance star Wilson Kipketer — were justifiably outraged. So, too, the families of former stars, including Al Joyner, the husband of U.S. sprint star Florence Griffith-Joyner.

“That’s dishonoring my family,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I will fight tooth and nail. I will find every legal opportunity that I can find. I will fight it like I am training for an Olympic gold medal.”

Asked after a seminar Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles if she supported the European proposal, Allyson Felix, the nine-time Olympic medalist, said, "I guess I'm not."

She had said a moment earlier, "You don't want to take away a clean record from a clean athlete. I don't know how you solve that issue."

Further, the basis for the recommendation of this would-be policy rests on a fallacy — that “new” records can be deemed reliable because athletes who set them will be “clean” because they will have passed a certain number of doping tests.

A little background:

Samples are now kept for up to 10 years. The IAAF began storing samples in 2005. Current world records that don’t meet the new guidelines would no longer be called a “world record” but would remain on an “all time” list, according to the European proposal now off to the IAAF.

“Do we really believe,” Radcliffe wrote in a lengthy Twitter post, “a record set in 2015 is totally clean and one in 1995 not?”

Radcliffe’s opposition is particularly notable. She is close to IAAF president Seb Coe.

Indisputably, technology has advanced since October 6, 1985, when East Germany’s Marita Koch set the women’s 400-meter world record, 47.6, running in Lane One in Canberra, Australia.

But this is ever a cat-and-mouse game, and to build on Radcliffe’s notion, who is to say that someone somewhere is not using some 2017 variant of THG — the designer steroid at the core of the BALCO scandal 15 years ago. You can’t test for something if you don’t know it exists. Again, logic.

This is the flaw with reliance on any system that turns to testing. It creates in the public mind the illusion of confidence in that system. But, and this is critical, that confidence is only an illusion. That confidence is wholly false.

Look at Lance Armstrong. Consider Marion Jones. Each passed hundreds of tests.

Tests maybe can deter. But they do not prove with 100 percent certainty that an athlete is innocent of anything.

One final point.

Let’s say that track officials disregard the world’s best athletes and common sense and make this proposal the rule in track and field.

It’s not going to do what officials want. Indeed, it would do exactly the opposite. All it would do is sow confusion, which — right now, when track and field needs to simplify things and find ways to market itself to a new generation of fans — ought to be the very last item on its agenda.


For reference, Powell’s long-jump world record, set in 1991, is 8.95 meters. That’s 29 feet, 4 1/2 inches.

Let’s say, under this would-be policy, that at some meet somewhere someone jumps 8.90, 29-2 1/2. Let’s also say that’s deemed the new “world record.”

Any report from that meet — indeed, any report going forward about that 8.9 jump — would inevitably include a reference to Powell’s 8.95.

One would thus be called a “world record” when it really isn’t and one would be called a mark from the “all time” list when, in fact, it is the “world record.”

This is what happens when you try to re-write history. It can’t be done.

Track and field, you know, needs smarter thinking under that hat size, whatever it might be.

Not fake news: is IOC looking at real crisis?


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

Talk about fake news.

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

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

Estanguet, to the LA Times:

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

Estanguet, to USA Today, even bolder:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The signs increasingly point to crisis.

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

The sheikh says he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few things are clear:

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

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate:

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

Diack and Bach were also allies of longstanding.

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

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

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

To be obvious:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is where the reasonable person asks the reasonable question:

Why would that be?

An idea not completely baked: medals for coaches


This summer’s world track and field championships in London is due to see coaches get medals along with athletes.

The intention here — it comes from the local organizers — is to do right by those doing well.

But this idea is going to come back, and sooner than later, to bite even well-meaning people in the backside.

Unfortunately, the world of sports is awash in stories of doping as well as improper sexual or other abusive relationships. All it’s going to take is one such story — or more, and there are inevitably going to be such stories — and this well-intentioned idea is going to explode.

It’s just not clear that all the angles have been thought out.

Or, for that matter, the wide array of cultural differences explored.

Starting place: what we seemingly have here is a cultural dissonance, a British sensibility of how things are and maybe even ought to be.

Reality: that’s not the way they are everywhere in our big world.

Here is a sample paragraph from a USA Track & Field news release from last weekend’s IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas:

“In a race of attrition, the United States emerged as the fastest and most successful of a harrowing men’s 4x100. In the final race of the night, Leshon Collins (Houston, Texas) got out well in lane 5 and Mike Rodgers (Round Rock, Texas) opened a bit of a lead. Ronnie Baker (Ft. Worth, Texas) cruised around the curve and gave Justin Gatlin (Clermont, Florida) the baton in the lead.”

Here is the way UK Athletics did it — same meet, different race:

“The women’s 4x400m selections continued with the team wide philosophy of trying out new combinations ahead of the London 2017 World Championships, with Emily Diamond (Jared Deacon) moving from third leg in the heats to starter in the final and Laviai Nielsen (Frank Adams) making her senior relay team debut on leg two.  Eilidh Doyle (Malcolm Arnold) moved from leg one to leg three and Olympic gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu came in to anchor the team home.”

In the American explication, the parentheses get the athlete's hometowns. The British style tells you who the athlete’s coach is. The big-picture point: the British tend to think of athletic success as a group project. UK Athletics makes up the local organizing committee for the 2017 worlds in London. There's the logic circle, such as it is.

Mr. Arnold, for those who don’t follow track and field religiously, is -- among other things -- widely regarded as one of the finest hurdles coaches, ever. He has been in the game for so many years that he coached Uganda's John Akii-Bua to gold in the 400-meter hurdles in 1972 in the Munich Olympics.  

This underscores the kind of thing the London 2017 organizers are trying to do.

The problem is this: not everyone is perhaps as highly regarded as Mr. Arnold. And not everything is so sunny as gold medals.

When you're in the event business and you're thinking gestures, it's common-sense obvious that you have to ask, just like you have to in almost every walk of life -- what could go wrong?

This is where the entourage problem comes in. Coaches are often if not typically at the heart of the entourage. Even the International Olympic Committee recognizes there’s an entourage problem. The IOC athletes’ entourage commission is headed by none other than Sergey Bubka, who is also a vice president of track’s international governing body, the IAAF.

The Olympic world is awash, nearly daily, with stories of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs.

Where do you think those athletes learn about, or even get, or get directed to particular substances? Friends? Teammates? The internet? Doctors? Coaches?

Just to grab from the headlines: why do you think the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency or other interested authorities are perhaps so intrigued?

Beyond drugs, there is the issue of abuse.

Physical, mental, emotional and sexual.

When it works, the coach-athlete relationship can be extraordinary. When the relationship is sour or toxic, and let’s not pretend or be naive, venerating coaches would be the last thing a reasonable person would want to do.

To be clear, this is a London 2017 organizing committee initiative.

But if — when — things went bad, fingers would be pointed at the IAAF as well. Because that’s the way things inevitably go.

To its credit, it is encouraging that officials at the IAAF would not themselves introduce such a proposal without far-reaching debate and discussion. There, such a notion would go, for instance, to its coaches commission — and the prediction here is that those coaches would hate this proposal. What if, for instance, an athlete gets tagged for doping and a coach genuinely knew nothing about it?

The IAAF has already had a rough couple years grappling with allegations of corruption tied to its former president, Lamine Diack, connected to accusations of widespread doping in Russia.

Further to its credit, the IAAF has taken significant reform steps.

The IAAF is to be praised for launching a portal — six languages — for the reporting of doping.

It is to be praised for launching an integrity unit. That unit is charged with dealing with, among other issues, anti-doping, bribery and corruption, age manipulation, betting, competition results and transfers of allegiance.

It is to be praised for a newly launched “integrity code of conduct.” That code directs that “applicable persons” …  “safeguard the dignity of individuals” and not “engage” in “any form of harassment, whether physical, verbal, mental, sexual or otherwise.”

It is otherwise silent on matters of safe sport, which have been a considerable focus in recent years in the United States. The IAAF, like a great many international federations, has been slow to recognize the many issues around safe sport, much less take action. Perhaps this world championships medals proposal can help serve as a jump-start to proactive consideration before a crisis dumps the IAAF into reactive mode.

In the meantime, and to reiterate: the owners of the idea to recognize coaches at the London 2017 world championships are London 2017 organizers.

Maybe before it sees the light of day this August those London 2017 organizers ought to do just a little bit more background work. There’s a big world out there beyond London, and a lot of issues to consider.

Stockholm for 2026: IOC, go freeze yourself


If you are hung up on figure skating, OK, but maybe get with the program: the Olympic Winter Games has indisputably become a ski and snowboard festival.

Next February in South Korea, there will be 102 medal events. If you don’t count biathlon, 50 will be on skis or snowboards. Add in the biathlon ski-and-shooting combo, and you’re up to 61.

All of this is hugely interesting when considering Stockholm’s announcement Wednesday that, in considering the 2026 Winter Games, the International Olympic Committee can go freeze itself. Stockholm is out before it ever got in. Just like 2022. It’s out.

Our European friends keep telling the IOC versions of this. They’re out.

"Why,” the IOC vice president Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr. was quoted as saying about a month ago by the Spanish news agency EFE, “is it so difficult for us to get the message out that the Games are something positive?”

The answer is simple: taxpayers don’t believe it.

More to the point: they don’t believe the IOC.

Even more bluntly: to a great extent, they just don’t trust the IOC.

If they did, cities and nations would be lining up for the chance to stage the Games. Instead, they’re dropping like flies — dropping out midway through the campaigns, like candidates have done through the 2024 Summer and 2022 Winter Games derbies, or bowing out now, as Stockholm did Wednesday for 2026.

It’s ugly and painful and awful for the IOC.

It’a also reality, and the sooner the IOC admits this reality, acknowledges beyond just words that it has a problem, the sooner it can confront it and take up the change that, whether it likes it or not, must be implemented.

Stockholm’s decision came just a day after IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking at a meeting in Uruguay of the Pan American Sports Organization, pointedly noted that the IOC has fat sponsor deals that run into the 2020s and 2030s even as he said the IOC “cannot ignore that we have an issue with the candidature process.”

He added a moment later:

“… The good old times are over with regard to [the] candidature procedure.

"Today hardly any mayor or political authority can go to their population and say, 'Let's try again, and maybe we will win,’ after spending millions on an unsuccessful bid.

"Maybe it will change back in five or 10 years. But it is not possible today."

There is a remedy, which involves coming to the United States, and Los Angeles, for 2024. If only the IOC will listen.

It’s not clear that it will, LA and Paris the only two cities in the 2024 race, purportedly to be decided later this summer.

This is a logic problem, and it is easy to solve, because the IOC — more than anything right now — needs seven years of peace amid every red warning sign taxpayers in western democracies, particularly in Europe, the IOC’s traditional base, keep handing up.

Like the one Wednesday in Sweden.

From several insider accounts, though, the IOC is apparently having a very difficult time grasping the logic of the logic.


Because IOC leadership, members and staff tend far too often to live in a bubble in which the change they need to effect — and that change manifestly is unequivocally necessary — gets wrought amid crisis instead of the way it should come about, through best practice while its key franchise, the Summer Games, sits in calm, solid hands.

As it would be in a privately run LA 24 — away from the government-financed, cost overrun-plagued editions in recent years that have gotten the IOC in the existential moment it faces now (Sochi 2014 at a purported $51 billion the loss leader).

Speaking of crisis:

Now that the first round of the French presidential elections is over, would the authorities there  investigating the former president of the international track and field federation, Lamine Diack, have renewed interest — or not — in making public what they have learned over these past several months?

If gossip is to be believed and the names of this important IOC member from country x or that influential one from country y are ever leaked to the French press, what then?

What if the French authorities, knowing what is believed they know, sit on that information until after the September 13 vote for 2024? What then?

You want more credibility problems? You want yet more crisis?

To be clear:

The Olympic movement inevitably carries with it any number of problems. Any enterprise its scale and scope does. But right now, it is confronting a grave threat to its credibility if not its very existence.

In general, this space is not — repeat, not — anti-France or anti-Paris. Just the opposite. I lived in Paris in 1984; I was not even in Los Angeles during those Summer Games but, yes, in Paris. Above my desk in suburban Los Angeles is a picture of Mont Blanc, commemorating the IOC evaluation visit there in February 2011 for the 2018 Winter Games; I look at it each and every day.

Again, I love Paris and I love France. But 2024 is not the time for the IOC to go there. And as our friends in Sweden made plain, 2026 is not the time for them, either.

At issue is the ongoing relevance and vitality of the Olympic enterprise. Our broken world is so much better with the Olympics in it, even if the Games and the movement are — of course they are — flawed.

All of that has its roots in the bid system. Because it produces the cities, and the cities are the stage upon which the athletes star. Those athletes inspire kids all over our world to dream big dreams.

To that end, the IOC has got to fix — that is, scrap and start all over with — its bid process. That process used to work. It does not now.

And the signals have been there for years.

For 2024, Budapest, Rome and Hamburg have all dropped out.

In the 2015 race for the 2022 Games, five European cities pulled out along the way: Stockholm, Davos/St. Moritz, Oslo, Munich and Krakow. Taxpayers or officials would have nothing to do with it.

For 2022, voters in Davos/St. Moritz said no via referendum by 53 percent.

This winter, asked about 2026, voters in Davos/St. Moritz said no via referendum by 60 percent.

That’s a bad trend line.

If you are the IOC, here is the really discouraging part: that 2026 vote in Davos/St. Moritz came as the 2017 world championships in alpine skiing were going on there.

So everything was set up for success: the ski world championships — again, the sport that is now the core of the Winter Games — were a party, the après-ski was all the more so and … voters said no, in a blowout.

Stockholm? Same kinda deal. Except for maybe the après-ski.

Are, Sweden, is the site of the 2019 alpine world championships. In any Stockholm Winter Games bid, Are would figure to play a major role.

Here’s the thing that underscores in no uncertain terms the IOC’s credibility challenge:

For Sochi, the IOC announced, and many times, it would give local organizers $800 million. In fact, it ended up giving the organizing committee $883 million. The Sochi operating budget, to be clear, is a fraction of the $51 billion commonly associated with the Games.

The IOC has failed miserably at communicating that basic fact.

It also has failed abjectly at communicating the fact that it currently gives organizers of a Winter Games somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 to $900 million — once more, for clarity, toward operating budgets typically in the $2 to $4 billion range.

Indeed, for the PyeongChang 2018 Games, though the exact number will remain uncertain, the working figure is $850 million.

For the 2022 Beijing Games, the IOC’s announced figure is $880 million.

For all that, the mayor of Stockholm, Karin Wänngard, who also oversees municipal finances, said Wednesday the city had no choice but to back out of 2026 because the IOC is not able to immediately say how big the financial contribution to the host city will be, according to an Associated Press report.

She said the figures “will arrive at the earliest in November,” adding, “This means that time will be too short to get enough analysis for the issues raised by several actors.”

One, if Stockholm wanted to get in, it surely could, because November 2017 is a long way from 2026.

Two, even a sports writer can figure this out. If it was $800 million in 2014, $850 million in 2018 and $880 million in 2022, odds are pretty good you’re looking at, hmm, $900 or maybe $920 million for 2026.

What, you need it down to the penny? Ballpark me for now — let’s say $900 million, cool — and get back to me by November.

But no. Freeze off, IOC.


In Europe, the evidence is clear: the IOC has significantly forfeited that level of trust with officials and the taxpayers those officials represent.

So the mayor of Stockholm used the “we don’t know how much money we might get” dodge to tell the IOC that in Sweden there isn’t enough interest or political capital to risk Olympic business.

Don’t kid yourself and think that the situation is, would be, will be or ought to be different in France. The Budapest situation — killed in just weeks by a referendum driven by social media, even though every level of government backed the bid — ought to serve as a major warning to the IOC.

In that same speech Wednesday in Uruguay, Bach also said:

“What we have seen is a change in the decision-making procedures in different countries, particularly in Europe but also elsewhere.

“I do not need to go into detail about how the Olympic Games is used for political purposes by groups in some countries.

“We have to understand that our candidature procedure is giving arguments for this, as it is too expensive and too complicated …”

This, then, is the hole the IOC has dug itself.

To reiterate: LA24 is different. It is privately funded. There’s no agitation to get agitated about when it comes to government funding.

That’s why LA offers the IOC, right now, the one calm, rational pathway: peace for seven years — stability and time to bring in the world’s best minds to think about how to fix a broken bid process.

Alternatively, there’s the other path for the IOC.

It’s called crisis.

Who should light an LA 2024 cauldron? Serena? Venus? Both?


There can be little doubt that Serena Williams is the best women’s tennis player of this and maybe any era.  

There could be no finer choice than Serena Williams to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony if Los Angeles wins the 2024 Summer Games. Now the dilemma. By herself? Because maybe there could be an even better choice: with sister Venus, too?

Both are Olympic champions. More, both have shown not just great but unwavering commitment to the Olympic movement and, indeed, the Olympic spirit. Most important: the Williams sisters are proof positive that you can dream and big dreams can take you anywhere and everywhere. Isn't that what the Olympics are about?

Serena Williams confirmed Wednesday she is 20 weeks pregnant. That means she was already close to two months pregnant when she won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, the Australian Open on January 28.

Understandably, the cauldron suggestion is maybe getting just a little ahead of things, because the International Olympic Committee won’t select the site of the 2024 Summer Games until September 13, Los Angeles and Paris the two contestants, and it’s hardly an overhead slam that LA will prevail.

But if LA wins:

The opening ceremony would be July 19, 2024. That's a Friday if you're, you know, a planner.

It would begin with a torch relay down the row of columns of the LA Memorial Coliseum, which played host to the 1932 and 1984 Games. About 70,000 people would likely be in the Coliseum for a Hollywood-style spectacle and virtual reality experience of what’s to come next.

Which is:

The relay would pass landmarks on the streets of LA until it reaches the new NFL stadium, which would hold 100,000 people.

Who, at the end, would light the cauldron?

Surely there are many — for emphasis, many — luminaries deserving of consideration.

Just for starters: Magic Johnson. Allyson Felix. Kerri Walsh. Michael Phelps. Ashton Eaton. Katie Ledecky. Mia Hamm. Abby Wambach. Apolo Ohno.

Serena and Venus Williams grew up Compton, California. The LA84 Foundation — the legacy initiative from the 1984 Games, which funds youth sports in Southern California — has underwritten the exact kinds of programs that helped give the Williams sisters their start.

Playing doubles together, Venus and Serena Williams won gold at the 2000, 2008 and 2012 Games.

Anyone who saw Serena Williams power to gold in the Olympic women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 2012 will tell you: it was a virtuoso performance.

In the final, Serena Williams thrashed — just crushed — Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-1.

The London 2012 victory made Serena Williams only the second woman to achieve a Golden Slam. Steffi Graf won at the Olympics in 1988 after sweeping all four major titles.

Remember the dance Serena Williams danced at that medal ceremony after she put on her Team USA jacket?

"I don't think I've ever danced like that," she said then. "I don't even know where the dance came from."

Remember last year in Rio? When a number of the world’s top golfers were, like, nah, don’t want to go? Serena Williams battled injuries throughout 2016. Where were the Williams sisters during the Rio Games? In red, white and blue, in Brazil, representing the United States. Where, it should be noted, Venus Williams won a silver in mixed doubles with Rajeev Ram, her fifth Olympic medal. Venus Williams is the Sydney 2000 women’s Olympic singles winner.

Serena alone at the cauldron? Serena and Venus together?

Both are great, and deserving, champions.

Both have answered the call for their country.

If this moment goes from possibility to reality, and again the disclaimer, it's right now just an if -- it would be a great call for their country, in service to the Olympic dreams of little girls and boys everywhere, to do the right thing on that Friday night seven years from now in July.

Enough already with the many bid hypocrisies


Let’s have fun with French. You don’t even need to speak French — much — to play along.

I will play the part of a voyeur, someone who has spent nearly 20 years reporting, writing and observing about the Olympic movement, in particular the bid process for the Games. You can be the public. In French, that translates into the word “audience.” Even when it seems all by itself like an English word.

Those wacky French — they have a different word for everything.

Well, kinda. In that spirit:

In English, we say hypocrisy.

In French, hypocrisie.

In the Olympic world, there are many varieties of hypocrisie worth examination.

Here, as in the brilliant John Oliver takedown of the forthcoming French presidential elections, let us light a Gauloise (hey, no smoking in California!), pour a lovely red and consider:

Is the International Olympic Committee spitballing — or more — a double-double that would send the 2024 Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles?

Is that already a fait accompli? Is that (oops, a little Latin here but credit, please, for sticking with the European thing) IOC president Thomas Bach’s modus operandi?

If it’s a done deal, why go through with the charade (oh, hey, same word!) of a bid race?  If it’s signed, sealed and delivered and it's only April, what precisely would be an LA24 raison d’etre?

Why go through an expensive campaign just to get to September and have the IOC announce, oh, toutes nos félicitations — or, you know, congrats, we’ve got this covered!

Maybe nothing is really done until the IOC, like everyone, sees in May the results of the French presidential race, in particular whether Marine le Pen prevails.

For 2024, this space has made the point repeatedly that the IOC cannot afford — literally, figuratively, PR-wise and social media-wise — to rely on yet another government-backed bid that brings the unwarranted risk of huge infrastructure projects. Particularly in Europe. European taxpayers have made plain they don't want that right now. Besides, the future of the European Union is perhaps, to be gentle, wobbly. Why place a multibillion-dollar bet in 2017 on the stability -- financial, political, security-wise -- of France in 2024?

If there is to be a two-fer: LA for 24, then if Paris wants it for 28, sure, that's a discussion for another day.

Since the essence of any Olympic competition is supposed to be fair play:

The U.S. Olympic Committee has gotten itself bashed, justifiably and relentlessly, both by the press and, more importantly, inside the Olympic movement, and at the highest levels, for the role it played — a poor partner, it was said, not nearly as supportive as it could be, it was alleged — in the New York 2005 for 2012 and Chicago 2009 for 2016 campaigns.

Since the Chicago debacle in Copenhagen in October 2009, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun and chairman Larry Probst have re-dedicated themselves to the cause. They have traveled the world in humble and gracious support of and service to the movement. Four years ago, the USOC did not even put up a candidate for 2020, on the grounds that fence-mending and relationship-building was more of a priority.


Because, one, it was the right thing to do and, two, it was what the right people in the right places at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, were telling Blackmun and Probst was the right thing to do.

Maintenant, let’s have a look at the situation in France.

In particular, let's compare the USOC with the French national Olympic committee, which goes by the acronym CNOSF, and especially the way the two committees have responded since both came up short in 2005, the USOC with New York, CNOSF with Paris, for the Summer Games in 2012.

A newsletter published in Germany, called Sport Intern, remains mandatory reading within the Olympic scene. Wednesday’s editions contains a column written by a veteran French writer, Yannick Cochennec.

That piece, for those not up to speed on the potential impact of the French presidential elections on a Paris bid, asks this question: will a sports ministry at full capacity survive?

Understand that in France the state is part of sport in a way that Americans would find almost incomprehensible. It's not just a Games that would be a state project. The national federations are, for the most part, a state project as well.

As Cochennec notes, both of le Pen’s presumed major rivals, Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon, keep saying that if they win on May 7, they will form a smaller government. When you have security to enforce and trains to run, where is money for sport?

The current CNOSF president, Denis Masseglia, says not to worry, telling the daily Le Parisien two weeks ago, “If we get the Games, it will be easier to sell, to the political class, the idea that sport needs to be a social issue.”

Masseglia is one of three candidates in a contentious CNOSF presidential derby. That contest is to be decided four days after the French presidential elections, three days before the IOC “evaluation” visit to Paris.

The others: Isabelle Lamour, from the French fencing federation, and two-time Olympic judo champion and former French sports minister David Douillet.

Last week brought this tweet featuring Paris bid leader Tony Estanguet:


Back to 2005, and that Paris bid for 2012. Also in the race: New York, Madrid and Moscow. In the final round, Paris lost by just four votes to London.

Per Cochennec, referring to CNOSF:

"Its lack of independence from the French political power -- whatever the color of the government --  is still problematic in the homeland of [modern Olympics founder] Pierre de Coubertin and the institution has not evolved significantly since 2005 and the failure of the 2012 Paris bid in Singapore. For example, almost no diversity at the top of the 36 [French] Olympic federations: only one woman — Isabelle Lamour — as president in the company of 35 men.” Lamour is not the only female president but, as well, the only female candidate from among all 36 federations in their 2016-17 elections, Cochennec notes.

France stands for égalité, or equality. Purportedly. So does the IOC. Twelve is a lot of years to make substantial progress in leadership positions. The United States is admittedly far from perfect. At the same time, two American women, Anita DeFrantz and Angela Ruggiero, sit on the IOC’s 15-member policy-making executive board.

Yet — Paris for 2024?

Cochennec notes France has had no one — not one member — on the EB since Jean de Beaumont in 1980. That’s 37 years. If that was the case for the United States, the protests would be incroyable -- imagine how everyone would be screaming that the Americans, across the two big oceans, were insular and uncaring.

Yet — Paris for 2024?

Further, this:

Imagine, just imagine, if the USOC were the invisible presence in the 2024 bid race that CNOSF has proven to date as a “partner” with Paris. Again, per Cochennec, quoting from the insightful French analyst Armand de Rendinger ’s 2014 book, “La tentation olympic française” (“The French Olympic temptation”):

“Without a powerful CNOSF, embodied by a president valued by his peers and the French community, it is hard to succeed in the competition played by different countries to get the Games.”

None of those conditions are evident.

Even so: a distant national Olympic committee, not close to the bid, is a decided negative for Chicago but not for Paris?

Yet, somehow, still, Paris for 2024?


In English, we have a saying: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

In French: ce qui est bon pour l’un est bon pour l’autre.

Let’s play fair, IOC. What’s right is right. This sort of thing went on during the New York bid years. It went on during Chicago’s time, too.


If you want to bang on the Americans, that’s cool. Just — let’s hold everyone to the same standards.

Because otherwise what we have here is a word that everyone understands. It’s called a façade.

Voilà, dudes.

Tear it up, throw it away, start all over again


Jacques Rogge served as president of the International Olympic Committee for 12 years, from 2001 until 2013. A key insider during the Rogge years — if not the supremely key insider — was the then-cycling federation president, Hein Verbruggen of Holland.

Verbruggen himself became an IOC member in 1996. In 2001, he led the IOC “evaluation” team for the 2008 Games; the members would select Beijing. Thereafter, Rogge appointed Verbruggen to head what the IOC calls its “coordination” commission — the link between local organizers and the IOC.

All this is to say that Verbruggen was, and is, an expert in the IOC, its culture, its ways and, in particular, Olympic bidding and organizing. He resigned his IOC membership at the end of the Beijing Games but remains an honorary member and a keenly influential voice in the movement. Now, in a new post to his blog, Verbruggen has given voice to the position increasingly resonating within even the most important Olympic circles:

The Olympic bid process is in crisis. That process is fundamentally, thoroughly broken. The IOC must start anew.

In his words: “… The current bidding system for cities vying to host the Olympic Games is totally outdated and must simply be torn up and discarded.”

In a telephone interview Tuesday, he said, referring to the current bid system, “That is 20, 30 years ago. That is over.” Referring to the current voting IOC members, he said, “If they don’t understand that, they have a problem.” He paused, then added, “They do have a problem.”

Though Verbruggen’s emphasis in the blog is on the future, and in particular the process yet to come for the 2026 Winter Games, he also makes in his column this central point, which is relevant to the ongoing process for the 2024 race, featuring Los Angeles and Paris. In the blog itself, these next sentences are all one paragraph. They are broken up here for ease of reading and emphasis:

“A fundamental condition of hosting,” he writes, “must be that a country can organize the Games without making taxpayers fund the investment for additional infrastructure.

“The only infrastructure investments that would be allowed would be those which would be made anyway, irrespective of hosting the Olympics.

“The only costs taken on by a host country’s government, therefore, would be those relating to security (which could be kept to a minimum by using the army, as happened at London 2012).”

Of the two 2024 bids, these words apply directly and forcefully to the privately funded Los Angeles candidacy. The LA bid calls for the construction of no new permanent venues.

The government-underwritten (that is, taxpayer-paid) Paris bid, by contrast, calls for Games-related construction of a new athletes’ village, aquatics complex and media housing, which are projected to cost at least $2 billion. History all but guarantees that would be low.

Government-funded (that is, taxpayer-paid) Games in recent years produced these sorts of outlandish figures: Sochi 2014, a reported $51 billion bill; Beijing 2008, $40 billion; Rio 2016, $20 billion (still awaiting final figures); London 2012 ($15 billion); and more.

Verbruggen is not — this must be acknowledged — a man who shies from battles. His tenure at UCI, the cycling federation, was marked by controversies over, among matters, Lance Armstrong. He and the longtime IOC member Dick Pound, who was also the first president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, have clashed, and repeatedly, over the years.

Thus the obvious question, and answer:

Will everyone agree with Verbruggen’s position about Olympic bidding? Hardly.


Verbruggen’s position matters, and considerably, not just because he is willing to speak out — but because he understands what it means, as an influential and senior European voice in the movement, to post such comments.

Some if not most of the points that Verbruggen makes, it might be noted, echo observations advanced in this very space over the past few months if not years.

Of course they will be read and understood differently in many Olympic precincts because it is Verbruggen — different, of course, if one might be inclined to dismiss the work of a journalist on principle, and particularly an American, and all the more so one based in California. All good.

Here is the thing: Verbruggen is, as ever, willing to say the things that almost no one else on the inside is willing to say. And for publication.

The blog is actually the second of a two-part series. The first asserts, bluntly and accurately: “the IOC does not have a marketing strategy for its unique product, the Olympics.”

In that first column, Verbruggen also writes, among several memorable passages:

"IOC President Thomas Bach now says we need to change the bidding system because the current system has 'too many losers' (a sentiment that could equally be applied to all gold medalists at the Games). His remark is a bit of an oxymoron given that there are now only two candidate cities. It would be understandable (if the media speculation is correct) if the IOC allocated the 2024 and 2028 Games respectively to Paris and LA. But that would just be an ad hoc solution, born of necessity, and would offer no sustainable way out of the current crisis."

In that Tuesday phone interview, Verbruggen said, “I know very well how many times I told my [IOC] colleagues and also Jacques Rogge — the way that we force countries to organize the Olympic Games, with all the demands that we have, and the host-city contract with all the constraints! There are not more than 15 or 20 countries [in the world] that can do it. They didn’t want to believe me. They said, ‘Oh, we will always have countries.’ But now — the countries we want?”

A moment later, he said, “If you do not see these things happening, if you are not seeing a clear vision and you do not have a long-term strategy — now we are paying the price.”

In the mid-1990s, Verbruggen writes in the first of the two pieces, he served on the “evaluation” commission for the 2004 Games, ultimately won by Athens. In all, that panel visited 11 cities. After that, he chaired the 2008 commission.

“If the IOC had had even a basic long-term marketing plan,” he writes, “we would have realized 10-15 year ago how precarious the situation was becoming and we could have prepared against this eventuality. But, as I said, the IOC has a monopoly and is under no pressure to take these sorts of precautions. Having just signed a nice fat TV contract with NBC,” the most recent extending the network's rights from 2021 through 2032 for $7.65 billion, "it was too tempting for the IOC to just sit back and rest on its laurels. ‘What crisis?’ we would say, not realizing that, while we did indeed have a lucrative TV contract, we also had … no bidding cities.”

Five western European cities dropped out for 2022, leaving only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, Beijing winning. Five cities started for 2024; Hamburg, Rome and Budapest have dropped out, leaving only two, LA and Paris.

“Another factor in this crisis,” he says in the first blog, is the “extremely negative ‘reputation’ of the Olympic Games themselves, especially around its astronomic costs and poor legacy. Proactive PR is an essential part of any marketing strategy. For decades now, the Olympic Games have been tainted by extremely negative media reports about the massive investments required to host the event, all paid for with taxpayers’ dollars, not to mention reports of huge losses resulting from hosting the Olympics. (The latter are usually not true but are written to get attention.)”

An interjection: a Games operating budget typically is at or near black. But as Verbruggen points out, it’s the taxpayer-funded infrastructure investment associated with a Games that is the PR killer.

To resume where he left off:

“The IOC has stumbled from denial to denial — in other words, it has been reactive, not proactive — and now the damage is done. If we had had a proper long-term plan, we would also have had a strategy to combat this negative phenomenon. And if we had had a long-term plan, would we have voted so cheerfully to host the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, where almost everything had to be built from scratch? Or would we instead have told the Russians: ‘Start building and we’ll come back in four years’ time and see how you are getting on?’ “

Verbruggen's proposal going forward:

Start with the basics. No more open bid system, in which any country that wants to can launch an Olympic bid. Instead, he writes, “the IOC should take the initiative itself” and reach out to “suitable” host cities or countries. That outreach would produce a shortlist.

Then the final selection should be made rationally, instead of — and this would a radical but welcome change — “the existing voting system by the 115 [IOC] members whose choices are often ‘colored’ by other (often political) motives.”

The system as it is now involves a secret ballot vote. It is well-known in IOC circles that, come voting time, promises are worthless and lies-to-your-face common because — with a secret ballot — accountability is zero.

To draw up that shortlist, Verbruggen writes, the IOC should approach two or three countries. Logically, it should go to preferred Country No. 1 and undertake negotiations. If no agreement, on to No. 2.

“To ensure success,” he says, “the IOC must also be prepared to make the host city contract much, much less onerous. I must say that I have never seen any other contract that is so skewed toward one party (the IOC), something that also makes it a product of a bygone age.”

He also says the new system “must allow scope” for a nation’s corporate entities to be “far more involved” in the delivery of a Games, “both commercially as well in the organization” of an Olympics.

The IOC, he writes, must “also assume greater responsibility for the organization of the Games,” adding, “Some tasks that are today blithely passed over to [local organizers] would be better organized by the IOC itself. That is logical: the IOC is deeply involved in every Games and so can make the best use of its accumulated know-how.”

As an example, he turns to 2026 and Switzerland, asking this reasonable question: how has it not played host to the Winter Games since 1948?

St. Moritz staged the Winter Games in 1928 and 1948. Twice in the past four years, voters in the canton that represents Davos/St. Moritz have voted no when asked if they wanted the Games, for 2022 and 2026.

Or, as Verbruggen notes obliquely, “Proposals for a Swiss Winter Games have been made time and again, but most of the time they have prompted a negative reaction from the Swiss population, mainly because of the perceived high costs.”

The Swiss town of Sion bid for the 2006 Winter Games, losing to Torino, Italy. Now it wants to bid for 2026.

“I would encourage the IOC to seize the initiative,” Verbruggen writes, to negotiate directly with Swiss officials, because a “spectacular and successful Winter Games in Switzerland in 2026 would be both a huge boost for winter sports as well as for the IOC.”

Hard to argue with that.

“Lastly,” Verbruggen writes, “I understand that my proposed new system would mean taking away from IOC members the privilege of choosing where to host the Games. But they surely understand that if nothing is done to resolve the current crisis then a time will soon come when they simply do not have any bids to choose from.”

Note the wording: “current crisis.”

No argument there, either.

Why do the Olympics generate such bad press?


The Olympics can and should be a wonderful thing. Further, the International Olympic Committee naturally wants to be viewed in a positive light for the Games and for the many good things it does each and every day around our world. But increasingly the Olympic movement generates — day after day, week after week, year after year — negative headlines. Why?

Corruption allegations tied to recent editions of the Games (Rio, Sochi). Government-underwritten cost overruns tied to recent editions of the Games (Rio, Sochi, London, Beijing, Athens). Stadiums and sports venues abandoned to rot in the sun (Rio, Athens). And more, way more. What kind of business model is that?

“Celebrate Olympic Games,” the IOC says. Right now, taxpayers — and particularly in western Europe, the Olympic movement’s longtime base — seem more apt than not to say, are you kidding?

This is of the IOC's doing.

The time has come to break this cycle. Like, now.

Any individual or entity in the public space can expect some measure of negative press. But the drumbeat now is relentlessly, almost uniformly, negative; social media amplifies the negativity; the negativity brings with it an associated risk; that risk cuts to the core, indeed the soul, of the Olympic enterprise.

The movement has arrived at one of those moments where it must confront reality. Wishes and sentiment can be lovely. But not now. It's reality time.

IOC leadership and the members, both, must recognize and acknowledge, both, that they have to wean themselves off government money.

At least for this current bidding cycle, meaning for the 2024 Games.

Because it’s government money that has them in this predicament.

Going to Los Angeles for 2024, a privately funded bid and (if it wins) organizing committee, will buy the IOC needed time and stability. The other 2024 option is Paris, a continuation of the very thing that has gotten the IOC in this jam, a government-underwritten bid and (if it wins) organizing committee.

Stability will buy time. With that, the IOC can (and should) engage some of the world's most creative minds to apply needed innovation to the next Winter and Summer Games bid rounds.

Stability in particular means the construction of no permanent venues. It means a focus on what the Olympics should be about -- sports, not soil remediation or sewer pipes or light-rail lines.

Stability will also, and this is just common sense, ease one twist on the bad press: seven years of pre-Games sky-is-falling headlines.

Consider what's happening in Japan with Tokyo 2020: a steady spotlight on finances, construction and bricks-and-mortar legacy issues. Back to the run-up before Rio: recall Zika, pollution, security, construction and more.

None of that is remotely "celebration."

Here’s a really easy segue:

The central concept animating far too much of the process now is trusting politicians. That's funny. Because who trusts politicians? The IOC, apparently. Anyone else?!

A short recap (could be a lot, long longer) about trusting politicians with a short (also could be a lot longer) note about what the next few weeks might have in store:

— Days after the Rio Games ended, Rio Mayor Eduaro Paes was awarded the IOC’s highest honor, the “Olympic Order.” Now he is being investigated for allegedly accepting $5 million in bribes tied to Games-related construction projects. His spokeswoman called the accusations “absurd and untruthful.”

— The former governor of the state of Rio, Sergio Cabral, who helped win the Games in 2009, was arrested last November with authorities saying he led an organized crime ring that diverted roughly $64 million in bribes for the renovation of Maracanā Stadium and two other projects.

The stadium staged the 2014 soccer World Cup final as well as the 2016 Olympic opening and closing ceremony. Photos of its decay post-closing ceremony have flashed around the world.

— Federal prosecutors filed corruption charges last September and again in December against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president who played a key role in Rio’s winning 2009 bid. The charges were not Olympic related. Authorities allege that Mr. da Silva oversaw a far-reaching system of kickbacks and more.

— Mr. da Silva’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, was in limbo during the Games, her powers and duties suspended May 12 for six months. On August 31, 10 days after that closing ceremony, she was removed from office.

- Reports last week tied Ms. Rousseff’s successor, the current Brazilian president, Michael Temer, to a deal involving a $40 million bribe. Mr. Temer, in an emailed statement to the Wall Street Journal, called the allegation an “absolute lie.”

— Switching to South Korea, site of the next Games, the Winter Olympics next February:

The National Assembly voted in December to impeach the president, Park Geun Hye. Last month, a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court formally ousted her, determining that she not only had conspired with a confidante to extort money but had tried to conceal her misconduct.

-- Switching to Japan:

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's two immediate predecessors — Naoki Inose and Yoichi Masuzoe — resigned over funds-related scandals, both since Tokyo won in 2013. The Tokyo bid book said costs would, all-in, total $7.8 billion. Working figures now are in the $15 billion range -- this months after a government panel warned it could be $30 billion.

— Switching to France, with an eye toward the coming weeks:

The country’s two-stage presidential election is coming up. Most believe Marine le Pen will win the first round. After that, who knows?

Whether she prevails in Round Two or no, this thought:

Last month, Le Monde reported that a company with ties to the IOC member Frankie Fredericks of Namibia received a roughly $300,000 payment from a business owned by Papa Massata Diack, the former marketing director for the IAAF, track and field’s worldwide governing body, on the day the IOC selected Rio for 2016.

Fredericks had been chairing the IOC 2024 “evaluation commission.” He stepped down and has been replaced by Patrick Baumann of Switzerland. The commission is due to tour LA and Paris next month.

The former IAAF president Lamine Diack is currently under arrest in France as authorities investigate money laundering and bribery accusations tied to allegations he helped cover up positive Russian drug tests. Papa Massata Diack, his son, is wanted by Interpol on bribery and Interpol accusations.

It is believed the French authorities by now know more about considerably more IOC and IAAF members. Whether what they know becomes public — particularly after the rounds of the French elections — remains a matter of keen speculation. One school of thought: left-leaning French judges would have more reason to leak to Le Monde or elsewhere after the Socialists, if predicted, get humbled in the French presidential elections? Stay tuned.

Now, after that recap, to close the circle:

The Olympic world has, for years, tied itself to public-sector spending. In years past, there may have been a sound argument to be advanced for such spending. A project the size and scope of an Olympic Games is about mitigating risk, and having what amounts to an unlimited government bank account may seem like a sure way to mitigate risk.

The past few years have proven that's not true.

Public-sector spending is still incredibly risky.


Because you are completely dependent on politics.

That is, you are putting your faith in the political dynamic.

And that dynamic is shifting. Every which way. Any which way.

A project that might be important to one political party — say, an athletes’ village, which Paris has to build, at a cost already projected over $1 billion — might, or might not, be so important to the next. That is a considerable, and unforeseeable, risk.


In our social media age, perception is as important as reality. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, said exactly this, at the SportAccord conference two weeks ago in Denmark, in a different context, the anti-doping sphere. Even so, his words resonate:

"In a world where the integrity and credibility of sport is scrutinized by a skeptical public like never before, perception sometimes and even more often becomes reality."

When projects go sour, when you’re talking about corruption, money has to come from somewhere. In a developing country such as Brazil, the optics are made all the worse. If the argument is, OK, but Japan is not a developing nation (neither is France), so why use Brazil? Answer: because the images from Brazil are the ones freshest in the public mind, and when the members vote for 2024 at the IOC assembly on September 13 (assuming there is a vote -- that is, no 2024/2028 deal), it will be those Rio images that will be the easiest, most convenient and, let's be honest, most provocative from which to draw.

Remember this airport banner last year in Rio?

Again, public money has to come from somewhere. Is it coming from the police, the firefighters, the schools, hospitals or some other institution that provides for the public welfare?

This, in a nutshell, is why the Olympic movement is so uniquely vulnerable — to proof or even allegation of public corruption.

Social media -- which zaps images, memes and provocations across the world in an instant -- ramps up the intensity attached to that vulnerability. The IOC is as establishment as it gets. It tends to be traditional, conservative and cautious. It apparently has developed no articulated strategies -- none -- to deal with the fast pace of aggressive, unapologetic social media and to confront this vulnerability. As a sign of how like a battleship (takes a long time to turn) the IOC moves: it took two years to hire a new director of strategic communications, a move announced within the past few days.

The IOC needs stability. It needs time.

Even 10 years ago, this vulnerability and these sorts of risks confronting the IOC weren't anywhere near the same.

That summer, 2007, the members elected Sochi for 2014.

Sochi led to a reported $51 billion bill.

That $51 billion bill got the IOC where it is now -- along with $40 billion for Beijing, $20 billion (who knows, really) for Rio, $15 billion for London, $11 to 15 billion for Athens and on and on.

Of course it's not risky, financially, for the IOC to go to totalitarian/authoritarian countries. That’s the situation it confronted two years ago in the race for the 2022 Winter Games, when it could attract only China and Kazakhstan, Beijing (no snow in the mountains) winning, 44-40.

Going to totalitarian/authoritarian countries entails an entirely different category of risk.

One is manifestly plain: the IOC can’t go, one Games after another, to totalitarian/authoritarian countries.

And taxpayers in western democracies have had enough of corruption and cost overruns.

The solution is obvious.

What would Jackie Robinson want us to do?


A very few moments in sports have sparked change well beyond. For starters: Jesse Owens in Berlin, Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier and Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medals stand in Mexico City.

Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of Robinson’s Major League Baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now it’s time to pay it forward, and do the right thing by Robinson and get more young men, and particularly young men of color, back into the game.

A little personal history.

I grew up in Ohio, northwest of Dayton. This was Cincinnati Reds territory. My childhood hero was Pete Rose. Perhaps there's a direct line to becoming a skeptical sportswriter when, as a kid, Pete Rose is your idol — but I digress.

No. 42 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, 1947-56 // Google Images

In the 1970s, the Reds and the Dodgers (by then well-established in LA) were rivals. I was all Big Red Machine. Even so, I knew all about Jackie Robinson, who had retired years before. If you know anything about baseball, and in southwestern Ohio it was a mark of respect to know baseball history, you especially knew about Jackie Robinson.

You knew, for instance, how in 1947, at a game in Boston, the opposing team’s players were heckling the Dodgers and in particular Pee Wee Reese, the stellar Dodger shortstop, for playing ball with a black man. Reese said nothing. He walked over to Robinson and put his hand on Robinson’s shoulder. That shut everyone up.

Reese was from Louisville, Kentucky. That was the South. But Louisville was also Reds territory. The people I was going to high school with often had relatives — if not parents — who came from Kentucky or Tennessee. Dayton is roughly 50 miles north of the Ohio River. (For those not familiar with American geography, the Ohio River separates North from South in the United States.)

Jackie Robinson’s story — the Dodger story in those years — is superbly told in Roger Kahn’s 1972 “The Boys of Summer.”

That book was the most excellent inspiration for a teen-age boy in the cornfields of southwestern Ohio who could only hope, one day, to be a sportswriter.

The book was published in February 1972. I read it and re-read and re-read it all that spring and summer. Jackie Robinson died that October, three days after my birthday.

“A life is not important,” Robinson once said, “except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Martin Luther King Jr. once told the pitcher Don Newcombe, another Dodgers star and, like Robinson, a former Negro League standout, “You’ll never know what you and Jackie and Roy [Campanella, the Dodger catcher] did to make it possible to do my job.”

Fast forward:

Every April 15, every Major League team honors Robinson, with every player on every team wearing his jersey, No. 42. On Saturday, the Dodgers unveiled a statue at Chavez Ravine.


It’s not much of a reach to suggest that it is because of Robinson's influence that baseball ultimately went global, why baseball (and softball) are back in the Olympics for 2020, why the president of the World Baseball Softball Confederation, the Italian Riccardo Fraccari, was recently in the east African nation of Mozambique for talks aimed at setting up a national federation there.

You know the saying: act global, think local?

Much has been written about the declining percentage in recent years of black players in the majors.

That percentage grew steadily from Robinson’s 1947 debut until the 1970s. At that point it stayed steady — about 16 to 19 percent — for about 25 years, 1972 to 1996. Since then, it has dropped significantly. In the 2016 season, the figure was 6.7 percent.

It is worth pointing out that for the past dozen or so years, more than half of all players in the major leagues have been pitchers — and there are now 10 times as many Latino pitchers as there are African-Americans.

It’s also worth pointing out something else.

If you are a talented 13- or 14-year-old African-American athlete, and you — and, especially, your folks — are looking up and out, there’s an elemental question: which sport offers the most economic opportunity?

Sifting the numbers and weighing the options, ask, too: isn’t there something pretty obvious that ought to be done here?

— Football.

Football is what’s called a “headcount” sport. One scholarship equals one guy. Math: 129 Division I schools, 85 full scholarships per school. Here you can read this, and more: the average FBS scholarship during the 2015-16 academic year amounted to just over $36,000.

— Basketball

Men’s Division I is also a headcount sport. A men’s team gets 13 full scholarships. There are 351 Division I schools.  The value of an average basketball scholarship: again, just over $38,000.

— Baseball

There are 299 Division I baseball programs. Each team can offer a maximum of precisely 11.7 scholarships. Baseball, however, is not a headcount sport. It is instead what is called an “equivalency” sport. This means those 11.7 scholarships can be divided between a maximum of 27 players, with all players on scholarship receiving at least a 25 percent scholarship.

This quickly becomes a math problem. Emphasis on problem.

With the increasing focus on concussions and other potential health issues in football, baseball has a huge opportunity to sell itself to young men and their parents. But only if some forward-thinking grown-ups at the NCAA, MLB, the Olympic world and private sector come together to figure out how to do what might right now might seem impossible.

Of course that’s what was facing Jackie Robinson in 1947, too.