Olympic Day Follies -- OpEd

(ATR) Fun runs and lawsuits mark Olympic Day 2016. Around the Rings Editor Ed Hula has more in this OpEd.

(ATR) Olympic Day 2016 wraps up with fun runs around the world, promotions from the 2024 Olympic bids and sports demonstrations like those hosted in Canada, the U.S. and other countries.

Optimism is the rule on this annual commemoration of the founding of the IOC on June 23, 1896. Certainly Baron Pierre de Coubertin and his colleagues brimmed with optimism on this day 120 years ago at the Sorbonne for IOC Session #1. They had hopes this revival of Olympic culture would lead to something big.

Has it ever.

But with the big sometimes comes the bad. And this year in particular, the Olympic Movement might need a bigger dose of optimism than usual to help conquer some really tricky problems.

On this Olympic Day, the IAAF released the three-page, 11-question document that athletes from Russia and Kenya will have to complete if they want to compete in track and field at the Rio Olympics.

These athletes are banned from Rio by the track and field federation as a result of systemic problems with anti-doping practices in both countries. The IOC has made it possible for some athletes to compete if they can be proven clean by the IF. So the race is on, with just weeks to certify those who would apply. There could be more than 100+ applications. IAAF must get something right that’s never been done before – something that also likely is fraught with the possibility of error and legal challenges.

For the IOC it’s the first major test of the new paradigm it’s applying in the fight against doping. Dropping terminology officially in Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC now prefers to refer to "protecting clean athletes".

IOC President Thomas Bach is calling for an Extraordinary Congress in 2017 to address deficiencies in the current system. It was put in place in 2000 after doping scandals wracked professional cycling and the Tour de France.

A deficient system to combat doping in sport? On this Olympic Day comes word that weightlifters from Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus face suspension from the Rio Olympics for doping violations.

On Olympic Day 2016, Rome may be scrambling to keep its bid alive for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Only yesterday, the newly-elected mayor of the city reiterated her lack of interest in bidding for the Games, despite a bid that's now more than a year old. She is worried about the Olympics fueling the city debt. She says local sports facilities used by the people need to be renovated ahead of building new venues for the Olympics. And she brought up the biggest Olympic devil of all -- the notorious debt for the 1976 Olympic Stadium that Montréal took years to repay.

The objections of the new mayor show that the IOC still seems unable to communicate the value an Olympics can bring to a city. In recent years, city after city has gone to the sidelines of the race to host the Olympics.It is usually the result of public and government opposition over the cost and complexity of the Games.

The IOC has developed talking points but no real strategy to shift attitudes towards the Games. Montréal is still an issue 40 years after the Games and long after the stadium bill was paid. Misconceptions remain in the public and the press that the IOC requires extraordinary hospitality when it comes to town for the Olympics and other prissy niceties.

The IOC is patting itself on the back for a strong field of candidates for 2024 that includes Budapest, Los Angeles, Paris and Rome. Let’s see if all four make it to the finish line in September 2017. Maybe there is a Cicero in the ranks of the IOC who is able to convince the Romans to stay in the race.

In Rio de Janeiro where bad news occurs with the regularity of sunrise and sunset, this Olympic Day brought a comforting tour for the media of the Olympic Village. Ready for 10,000+ athletes, the village officially opens at the end of July.

The village tour is a respite from the otherwise unsettling news from Brazil.

A bikeway collapses into the ocean, killing two. The zika virus scares away athletes and visitors. The state government of Rio de Janeiro has declared a state of economic distress because it doesn’t have enough money to carry out its responsibility for Olympic security.

What else could go wrong?

This week a mascot jaguar in Manaus was shot and killed shortly after the animal was used as a prop in an Olympic torch relay ceremony.

The IOC says it is expecting spectacular Games in Rio.

The cap on this Olympic Day 2016 comes from our friends in Kuwait.

The government announced today that it will sue the IOC for $1 billion in damages. It’s the latest salvo from the Kuwait government in a battle over the independence of the Kuwait National Olympic Committee.

Suspended by the IOC for the third time in six years, the Kuwait NOC is subject to interference from the government, say the IOC, FIFA and other federations. The suspension means Kuwait athletes cannot compete in Rio de Janeiro under the flag of their country.

This international sports struggle is said to be rooted on personal animosities, not real matters of sport. It’s a family spat involving politics and grudges among the ruling family of Kuwait aimed at one of their own, IOC member Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah.

The government insists the IOC is ignoring the Kuwait side of the story, despite meetings between government leaders and the IOC. Perhaps a billion-dollar lawsuit will provide some leverage, if the Kuwaitis can only convince a Swiss court that this is anything more than a frivolous suit.

Maybe next year they should try an Olympic Day Fun Run instead.

Written by Ed Hula.

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