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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Poll says Paris 2024 tickets too expensive (so far)
2. Paris Mayor adamant: no air conditioning in Olympic Village
3. Russia pushing ahead with possible IOC rival group
4. Fifth World Baseball Classic gets underway Wednesday
5. USOPC review commission asking for documents
Poll findings published over the weekend showed 82% dissatisfaction with the cost of tickets made available so far for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and the complexity of the initial “ticket pack” sales program. More tickets will be available later in the year. While the Paris 2024 organizers have suggested that National Olympic Committees willing to pay for air conditioning at the Olympic Village could do so, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has objected on environmental grounds and says she will not permit it. Russian plans to form a new “association of sports organizations” based on a Russia-China alliance is moving ahead, with a first test of interest in a summertime university sports festival in Yekaterinburg. The fifth edition of the underrated, but always exciting World Baseball Classic starts Wednesday in Chinese Taipei, then in Tokyo a day later. Four groups of five teams will play a round-robin, with the top two in each group heading to the quarterfinals. The Dominican Republic, the U.S. and Japan are considered the favorites. The Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympics is getting going and has asked for documents to be forwarded that relate to its wide study mandate over reforms, participation and finances of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the U.S. National Governing Bodies.
● Panorama: Paris 2024 (poll favors Russian participation in 2024) = International Olympic Committee (2023 Session dates) = African Games (Accra 20213 moved to 2024) = Athletics (USATF 15 km nationals) = Curling (Thiesse and Dropkin win U.S. Mixed Doubles title) = Figure Skating (judging criticism in Russia too) = Football (NFL-style referee announcement trials continue) = Golf (Ko wins second straight World Champs) = Ice Hockey (wrong anthem played for Hong Kong at IIHF Div. III Worlds) ●
Poll says Paris 2024 tickets too expensive (so far)
A poll taken last week of 1,005 French adults showed 82% consider the currently-available ticket prices for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games “not accessible in terms of price” and 79% found the ticketing process “complicated.”
The survey reflected the first phase of the ticketing program, in which buyers had to purchase three-event “packs” from a menu of events and price levels that did not include all events, or the major ceremonies. Agence France Presse reported:
“Successful applicants have been obliged to buy places for three events at the same time, with many finding sports priced at a minimum 80 euros [~$80 U.S.], meaning a family of four could face a bill of nearly 1,000 euros [~$1,069].”
Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet had previously noted on RTL Radio, “We’re not more expensive than London in 2012. It’s the same for the football and rugby World Cups. These are the prices.”
The Paris organizers are facing financial headwinds from inflation and supply-chain issues with only about a year to go and ticket and hospitality revenues are the last major segment of revenue to come in.
The organizers expect to have 10 million tickets available for the Games and promoted one million – 10% – to be available for 24 euro (~$26) and about half to be offered for 50 euro or less. But only 30% of the ticket stock is available in the first phase, which began on 15 February.
Phase two will begin in May, with all sessions promised to be available, and can be purchased individually. The last scheduled offer will come at the end of the year, to be followed by the inevitable sales of seats not purchased by sponsors and teams in 2024.
The poll continued to show good support for the Games overall, with 69% in favor of the event, and 64% expecting that it will create new economic opportunities. However, 64% believed that the organizing committee may not be able to put on the Olympic and Paralympic Games and come through without a deficit.
Paris Mayor adamant: no air conditioning in Olympic Village
The newest argument about the Paris 2024 Games is over the lack of air conditioning built into the Olympic Village, now under construction in the Saint-Denis area. The issue arose in January, with SOLIDEO construction chief Nicolas Ferrand explaining:
“We are building rooms where it will be six degrees cooler than the outside temperature.
“It’s a question for society. Do we collectively accept being at six degrees less and having an excellent carbon footprint, or do we say it’s not okay, and we’re ready to downgrade the carbon footprint?”
Ferrand said if the requirements were changed, air conditioning could be added. The geothermal cooling plan is touted to save 45% on emissions compared with air-conditioned spaces.
Last week, a story in the French newspaper, Le Parisien, noted that the Paris 2024 organizers would be fine with teams installing their own cooling facilities, at their own expense. But Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo (Socialist Party) came out against the idea last Friday, insisting “that the Games of Paris are exemplary on the environmental level.
“The buildings were designed to face the climate of 2050. I will not go back on these ambitions and, as president of the SOLIDEO, I can guarantee that we will not change trajectory and that there will be no changes in the construction program of the village regarding air conditioning.”
The worry is that a summer heat wave could send temperatures as high as 40 C (104 F) during 2024. Expect this debate to either warm up or cool down this summer.
Russia pushing ahead with possible IOC rival group
While still mostly barred from international competition thanks to a February 2022 request from the International Olympic Committee, the Russian government continues to talk up the creation of a rival “association of sports organizations” anchored by Russia and China.
Ambassador-at-Large of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bakhtiyor Khakimov, briefed reporters on Monday following his return from meetings in Beijing:
“The proposal to create an association of sports organizations was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit in Samarkand. Now work is underway to implement this idea. In principle, the reaction of the partners is positive, we are expected to make appropriate conceptual considerations, as is customary in the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organisation].
“Member states oppose violations of the principles of Olympism, and this is a clear common position. At the same time, partners, and this is logical, would not like to be the objects of some unfriendly, albeit indirect, actions. All these nuances must be taken into account in the work to create conditions for promoting cooperation in this area, given the unifying power of sport.”
The first test of the concept will come this summer, as the Russians organize an “International University Games” in Yekaterinburg, which was supposed to host the World University Games in 2023, but saw it removed by the International University Sports Federation (FISU) following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
(Adding to the irony is that the FISU President is Russian Oleg Matytsin, now the Russian Sports Minister, but who stepped away from his FISU role in view of the sanctions on Russians that would have made his position impossible.)
Founded in 2001, the SCO’s full members include China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia as observers and other Asian and Muslim-majority countries as “dialogue partners.” Khakimov also projected that the “BRICS” countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – would participate.
Fifth World Baseball Classic gets underway Wednesday
One of the best international team-sport competitions that nobody talks about is the World Baseball Classic, created in 2006 to showcase national team play, but which has suffered from a lack of enthusiasm and promotion from co-owners Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
National-team play is almost unknown in professional baseball, save for the annual Caribbean Series. And while it is pretty much irrelevant in the U.S., it is a huge deal in Japan, where the “Samurai Japan” squad enjoys a huge following and will include Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani.
The 2023 edition starts on 8 March in Asia, with a record 20 teams in the tournament this time, playing a round-robin within four groups of five:
● Group A in Taichung (TPE): Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Italy, Netherlands, Panama
● Group B in Tokyo (JPN): Australia, China, Czech Republic, Japan, South Korea
● Group C in Phoenix (USA): Canada, Colombia, Great Britain, Mexico, United States
● Group D in Miami (USA): Dominican Republic, Israel, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Venezuela
The 10-game round-robin series in each group will run through 12 March in Taichung, 13 March in Tokyo and 15 March in the two U.S. cities. The top two teams in each pool will advance to the quarterfinals: two in Tokyo and two in Miami. The semifinals and finals will be played in Miami on 19-20-21 March.
Japan won the first two Classics, in 2006 and 2009; the Dominican Republic swept through the 2013 Classic and the U.S. won in 2017. The coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2021 edition and postponed it to this year.
In the U.S., the games will be shown on FOX, FS1. FS2, Fox Deportes or Fox’s Tubi streaming service, a considerable exposure boost from the prior Classics, when the games were solely on the MLB Network.
The sharpies have the Dominican Republic (+200), U.S. (+250) and Japan (+350), as the favorites, with Puerto Rico (+1100) and Venezuela (+1600) next in line.
USOPC review commission asking for documents
The Commission on the State of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympics, formed by the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2020, is finally getting going.
A one-page circular has been sent to various sports governing bodies, reviewing the Act’s listed areas of review and stating:
“The Commission welcomes the submission of any information that is relevant to the areas of study. Please follow the instructions provided in the submission form.”
The 16-member body is chaired by former U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee Athletes’ Advisory Council chair Han Xiao and University of Baltimore law professor Dionne Koller, and includes a mix of former athletes, sports administrators, ex-public sector officials and policy experts.
The Act requires that at least one public hearing be held and the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. The concept came from a bill introduced by former Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, to review the reforms made at the USOPC and National Governing Bodies level in view of the Larry Nassar gymnastics abuse scandal, but will also cover an analysis of participation, the functions of the National Governing Bodies and the USOPC finances.
One area where the USOPC should get an A+ is for “ongoing efforts by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to recruit the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the United States,” with the Los Angeles 2028 Games on the horizon and Salt Lake City poised to be named host for the 2030 or 2034 Olympic Winter Games.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Paris 2024 ● The French all-sports newspaper L’Equipe reported Sunday on more questions from the Odoxa poll which also covered ticketing issues. Of note was a question on Russian participation, with 28% favoring Russians competing under their own flag, but 44% preferring a neutral status.
● International Olympic Committee ● The dates for the postponed 140th IOC Session in Mumbai (IND) have been set for 14-17 October 2023.
While no longer expected to select the host for the 2030 Olympic Winter Games, the Session will likely approve or amend the final sports program for Los Angeles 2028 and could vote to remove boxing from the Paris 2024 Games. The matters to be determined will be proposed by the IOC Executive Board, which will next meet at the end of March.
● African Games ● After a lengthy tug-of-war on marketing issues and whether preparations for the 2023 African Games in Accra (GHA) can be completed on time, the event has been set for 8-23 March 2024, in Accra.
The African Union, the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa and the Association of African Sports Confederations agreed on the new dates and to remain in Accra. The placement of the event in 2024 itself will create a scheduling and training challenge for athletes trying to qualify for Paris 2024 via the event and then peaking again four months later.
● Athletics ● Multi-time U.S. champions Hillary Bor and Emily Sisson added to their trophy cases on Saturday with wins in the USATF 15 km national championships in Jacksonville, Florida.
Bor, a three-time national champion and two-time Olympian in the Steeple, won his second career USATF road title by breaking away from the field with Asfaha Mekonen after 8 km. Bor shook his challenger at about 12 km and cruised home in 43:11 for his fifth national title. Mekonen was passed by Leonard Korir and Brian Shrader, with Korir sprinting home for second (44:51), Shrader third (43:59) with Mekonen fading to sixth.
Sisson entered as the two-time defending champion in this race and was never really challenged, winning in 48:26. Emma Grace Hurley was also running by herself in second (50:04), with Jessa Hanson also alone to finish third in 51:15.
● Curling ● The vastly experienced, but new pair of Cory Thiesse (nee Christiansen) and Korey Dropkin took their first title together at the USA Curling Mixed Doubles National Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan over the weekend.
The pair raced through both the round-robin and the playoffs and finished with a perfect 9-0 record after an 8-3 win in the final over Sarah Anderson and Andrew Stopera.
Thiesse had previously teamed with 2018 Olympic champ John Shuster in Mixed Doubles, winning the 2019 national title and the U.S.’s last Worlds Mixed Doubles medal, a bronze in 2019. This was Dropkin’s third Mixed Doubles U.S. win and will be his third trip to the Worlds. He teamed with Anderson to finish fifth in 2015 and 13th in 2018.
● Figure Skating ● Even in Russia, there are complaints about judging in figure skating. Famed coach Tatyana Tarasova complained to the Russian news agency TASS about the results of the junior women’s competition at the Russian Grand Prix last week:
“The whole room is screaming: ‘Shame on the judges!’ They want them to wait to have rotten tomatoes thrown at them. The girl [runner-up Daria Sadkova] fell twice, and according to the technical evaluation she beat [fourth-place Sofia] Titova – who did quads, skated perfectly – unfairly. All lies, there were no short cuts, I’m sitting near the rink, a rare disgrace. They say that the judges are professional, but it’s not true.”
Some things are the same the world over.
● Football ● The International Football Association Board (IFAB), the rule-setting body for football worldwide, approved the continuing trial of NFL-style announcements of video-review outcomes to both the in-stadium and viewing audiences:
“The 12-month trial exclusively relating to VAR decisions at FIFA tournaments began at the FIFA Club World Cup 2022 in Morocco earlier this year, and it will also be implemented at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia in May to June 2023. A decision will then be made as to whether the trial will be continued at other FIFA tournaments later this year.”
The development of a less-expensive video review system was also endorsed so that all matches could benefit from the technology. After more ugly scenes at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year:
“It was also agreed to establish a working group to focus on further ways of improving discipline and reducing aggression towards match officials, players and team officials at grassroots and amateur level. In this regard, The FA reported on a trial approved by The IFAB and implemented at grassroots level, where referees wear body cameras that record all communications with players and coaches.”
● Golf ● The LPGA’s HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore closed Sunday with a rain delay, but finally a second straight win for Korea’s Jin-young Ko, again by two strokes.
After only a par 72 in the opening round, Ko took over, shooting 65-65-69 to finish – for the second year in a row – at -17 or 271, two shots better than American Nelly Korda (-15) and three better than Americans Danielle Kang and Allisen Corpuz, and Japan’s Ayaka Furue (-14).
It’s Ko’s 14th LPGA Tour win, but her first since winning the 2022 World Championship.
● Gymnastics ● The International Gymnastics Federation confirmed no change in sanctions against Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials at its Executive Committee meeting last Friday in Lausanne (SUI):
“Unfortunately, the conflict in Ukraine, which started just over a year ago, is still going on. Considering the exceptional circumstances related to this conflict, the FIG Executive Committee has decided, based on the new Article 13.3 of the FIG Statutes in force since 1 January 2023, to confirm the measures taken on 26 February 2022 and on 4 March 2022, in particular the measure according to which Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials, including judges, are not allowed to take part in FIG competitions or FIG-sanctioned competitions until further notice.”
● Ice Hockey ● Most folks don’t think about protocol until it goes wrong. So it was at the IIHF men’s Division III World Championship Group B tournament in Sarajevo (BIH) after Hong Kong defeated Iran, 11-1 on 28 February.
Instead of the Chinese anthem, now required by the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, a song linked with public protests of the Chinese takeover in 2019 was played for about 10 seconds before being changed. The government-approved anthem was then played. The IIHF’s statement explained:
“The IIHF has interviewed the necessary organizing committee staff/volunteers involved in the incident and have determined that the incident was not intentional, but rather an inadvertent error.
“An apology was made to Team Hong Kong representative at the [post-game] directorate meeting, and it was immediately accepted.”
Apparently, the song initially played had been selected based on an online search.
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