Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rio troubles; Pistorius trial resumes

This morning, we start with two news articles about Rio. First, the IOC has grave concerns about the extraordinary delays Rio continues to experience in stumbling through its inadequate preparations for the Summer Olympics in 2016. Olympic officials compare Rio’s troubling delays to the struggles Athens 2004 suffered. Athen’s problems were notably worse than Rio’s thus far, as Athens drew a “yellow card” from the then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch as a warning. While Rio has yet to reach Athen’s levels, such a reprimand certainly exists within the realm of possibility…and soon. “In the past week alone, the head of Olympic planning for Rio’s municipal government resigned, more than 2000 construction workers went on strike, and Brazilian soldiers stormed a Rio slum in a bid to improve security before the World Cup.” Work has yet to begin on the Deodoro complex, which will serve as the second-largest “cluster of Olympic venues.” The golf course preparations remain behind schedule – at this rate, Rio will cancel its planned tournament to test the course. The crippling pollution problem casts doubt on whether the sailing venue will be ready to go. All these factors look like the ingredients for a massive catastrophe. At this rate, a warning may not be enough to put Rio back on schedule.

The second article highlights a conflict that occurred between the workers and the security guards that erupted into gunfire at Rio’s Olympic Park. No injuries were reported at the site of where the gunshots occurred, which is about 15 miles west of central Rio. The violence caused nearly 2,000 workers to stop working last Thursday, and it remains a mystery when the workers will resume. in addition, another set of laborers working on the site for the track and field venue of the Olympics went on strike yesterday. Workers are demanding better working conditions and benefits, in addition to other unmentioned disputes among labor unions. The IOC will have to step in soon if matters continue to worsen. However, the sole comment I have on this is the IOC president, Thomas Bach’s numerous urging statements that Rio “does not have a day to lose.” If this is true, and the president has knowledge that matters continue to worsen, then I think one of two things needs to happen: 1) Bach needs to step in and take control of the situation, or 2) stop repeating comments that they don’t have “a day to lose” because each day Bach lets them try to fix it is another lost day that cannot be retrieved. Moreover, the repeated comments dilute the urgency, especially if nothing is done to fix the problem.

On Friday, USATF released a statement based on the controversies of the US Indoor National Championships, as well as other issues involving its athletes. The statement says absolutely nothing; it simply reaffirms statements people already know, and offers no answer as to why its organization remains silent on its past evident mistakes. It takes no responsibility for its actions – rather, it puts the onus on TFAA and the Professional Athletes Association (PAA) to “vote for changes in the structures that affect them.” TFAA and PAA do not need any pushing from USATF to represent the athletes, as their high activity level speaks for itself. It’s a pathetic attempt to ease the mounting pressue upon it, and it presents a colossal failure to address a single problem or answer lingering questions people have over the past 40+ days. The statement, devoid of any real substance, will only push TFAA and PAA even more to bring the necessary justice for its athletes.

In continuing news, Oscar Pistorius’ trial resumed yesterday. The article discusses how he took the stand to testify, where part of that testimony described his childhood and the important role his mother played in his upbringing. There isn’t much for shock value here, but it’s worth glancing at just to see.

Finally, here’s some interesting news about how a remote-controlled helicopter collided into a triathlete during the Endure Batvia Triathlon in Geraldton, Western Australia. The hit caused a serious enough injury to send competitor Raija Ogden to the hospital, and required stitches.

 

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Pro US track and field problems, USATF problems become widespread

International Sponsors Clueless About US Track and Field

Today, we start with some upsetting news over the lack of awareness in the general international community with regard to professional US track and field. The author attended an annual IEG Sponsorship Conference, where he learned that despite the substantial success US track and field achieves, it is globally unknown (outside of the track and field world). The conference, full of ” sports executives, marketers, sponsorship agency professionals, event producers, non-profits and corporate sponsors,” was equally filled with people who had no idea professional track and field existed in the United States. I find it a little ridiculous that nobody knew about US track and field – after all, the U.S. Indoor National Championship controversies lit up sports news for the past month. In fact, you’ll see in the next article that the Wall Street Journal finally picked up the story (although they did not get it all correct). Moreover, the continuing feud between USATF and the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) provides more opportunities for US track and field to remain in the news (albeit negative). What’s going on here?

The conclusion is clear: USATF has not done enough for its athletes in terms of transparency and its promotion of the sport. USATF is content with where it is at, and it will stay at the status quo because it has done little to change anything significant. This explains why it continues to employ the silent treatment (or cookie-cutter responses that say nothing) to TFAA and any media outlet looking for answers. The recent controversies provoked US track and field athletes to question “whether competing in a national championship meet is really worth it,” and is questioning their sponsors as well. Obviously, competing in any national championship has amazing benefits. “But creating the infrastructure of a professional track & field industry – e.g., marketing, events, strategic relationships, owned media, consumer-fans – will alter the power structure in three key ways:

  • The disproportionate role of national championship events will be reduced through more events featuring more athletes engaging more fans.
  • A professional track & field industry will sever the influence of the national governing body over professional athletes because – by law – the NGB has no authority over professional athletes, sports or events.
  • Teams and athletes will be able to offer their partners the continuous, performance-indepdent engagement that is essential to connect brands, properties and audiences. No more 4-year cycle that benefits 3 athletes per event. No more “non-world’s” year caveats. Fans and partners will experience the sport the way we do: Day-in, day-out. Every. Damn. Day.”

The author learned that in order to bring in more fans, attract more sponsors and maintain the “professional sport worthy of our athletes,” a new creation must occur. I have read about discussions and meetings to address this “new creation” for the past few years – last year, there was talk of including betting and alcohol at track meets – but so far, nothing groundbreaking occurred. US track and field has a world of success few know about, even in our own country. Perhaps creating a new track and field industry that better caters to athletes’ needs will convince USATF to become a better national governing body, or to shut it down completely and begin anew. It will take work, but it is possible to bring greater focus and attention on the sport, both nationally and internationally.

USATF Incompetence Makes WSJ, But Makes Crucial Error

The Wall Street Journal made a grave error in its title, “Nike Runs Into Trouble on the Track” in its paper yesterday when describing the controversies of USATF’s disqualifications of Gabe Grunewald and Andrew Bumbalough at the most recent US Indoor National Championship in March. The writer’s title suggested that the controversy saw it as a Nike issue, when in reality it is a USATF issue. An article in letsrun.com corrects WSJ by rephrasing the issue as “USATF not caring about the integrity of the sport and not having a system that treats all athletes and coaches equally at national championships.” The sole statement USATF made on the incidents that happened over a month ago was this: “the topics related to Alburquerque are not quick fixes.” The article vehemently opposes this comment by contrasting the simple mistake USATF made with the way the NBA handled its recent mistake. Here’s the comparison: “2 nights ago, the NBA refs made the incorrect call on a goal tending call in overtime of the Dallas Mavericks – Golden State Warriors game with huge playoff implications. The NBA the next day issued a statement saying it was the wrong call.” It was a short statement which acknowledged fault – they might receive a little heat for the bad call, but you won’t see people dwelling over the problems dramatically for over a month…because the problem is solved.

It has been 40 days since the two incidents occurred at the 2014 US Indoor National meet, and the track and field world will not give up until justice occurs. The article notes that WSJ’s picking up of the story may provoke USATF to “get its act together” now that the article debuted in a widely read newspaper. Shamefully, if USATF does act after this negative publicity, it will further demonstrate their disconnect with its athletes, and that it only cares about itself. Threatened boycotts achieved nothing thus far; there is no word on boycotting the USATF National meet, but the possibility lingers.

Turning to some positive news this morning, we learn that the IOC’s Coordination Commission is very pleased with Tokyo’s preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Perhaps they should teach Rio how to adequately prepare for the Olympic Games.

The IOC has conducted some serious reshuffling of its executives thanks to its president Thomas Bach. His initiatives will hopefully lead to better international sporting events.

The 2022 Olympic race has become riddled with controversy since Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, “a close ally of Vladimir Putin,” was appointed to head the IOC Evaluation Commission responsible for choosing the 2022 Winter Olympic host. I guess that means Lviv in the Ukraine can kiss its bid good-bye, since Zhukov already expressed his negative sentiment toward Lviv…not to mention the recent events between Russia and the Ukraine still ongoing.

Finally, here’s an interesting piece on how the Boston Marathon received its name (spoiler alert: nobody really knows for sure).

 

Illegal agent-athlete relationships revealed, Poland to hold referendum

Former Top UCLA Basketball Player Accepted Payments From Agent

This morning, we start with some news that adds another perspective to the continuing debate of whether collegiate athletes ought to receive payment for their “services” to the university. Noah Lookofsky, a sports agent who “has represented athletes and entertainers” for the past eight years, finally grew weary of the “backroom handshakes” in dealing with high school and collegiate athletes wrought with potential NBA prospects. Recently, he chose to bring to light some of the dark underpinnings of collegiate athletics even though his revelations would open him up to litigation (Note: I think both sides should take responsibility for their actions). The article is thorough in painting a picture of how the relationship began, the astonishing amount of times the athlete accepted gifts, airline tickets and rent for his mother’s home (all of which seriously violate the NCAA), so I’ll leave you to read the intimate details. Here, I’ll simply focus on the bare bones and incorporate a few “shocking” comments and remarks.

The cycle begins with agents “funding” collegiate athletes. Agents provide money athletes with strong NBA drafting potential need in order to get through school, as well as providing luxury amenities (airfare for family, rental cars during away games, etc.) with the hope that their investment will lead to substantially more money once the athletes are drafted and sign with a team. Here, “mutual relationships had led Honeycutt…to Lookofsky,” and their relationship came to fruition when Honeycutt met Lookofsky at a Fourth of July party in 2008.  Lookofsky’s perspective, their relationship would carry through the NBA draft, with Lookofsky representing him as a professional player. However, Honeycutt “signed with another agent — Jason Martin — and was drafted by the Sacramento Kings…in 2011.” According to Lookofsky, athletes often pull this stunt – and Honeycutt’s maneuver finally convinced him to stop doing it.

Rule 12.3.1.2. of the NCAA Division I manual specifically prohibits athletes from accepting any monetary benefits (or transportation) from an agent, or anyone who “represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability.” A violation of that nature is certainly present here, making Honeycutt’s NCAA competitions illegal. In total, Lookofsky invested approximately $55,800 in the former UCLA forward “while Honeycutt was in high school and college.” The expenses include, but are not limited to the following list:

  • $340 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the Dec. 2, 2010, game at Kansas.
  • $175 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the Jan. 13 and 15, 2011, games at Oregon State and Oregon.
  • $179 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the Feb. 17 and 20, 2011, games at Stanford and California.
  • $186 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the March 3 and 5, 2011, games at Washington and Washington State.
  • $1,530 for two Alaska Airlines roundtrip tickets to the March 17 and 19, 2011, NCAA tournament games in Tampa, Fla., against Michigan State and Florida. The second ticket was for Stazel’s [Honeycutt’s mother] sister.

Lookofsky provided SB Nation with approximately 56 pages of documents which outlined the expenses and dealings between them. It includes bank account deposit slips, promissory notes, and payments for other expenses and “gifts” – all of which are illegal for athletes to accept (or even to deal with an agent while in high school or college, unless they go straight to the NBA). Lookofsky comments on the NCAA’s willful blindness to the clandestine dealings “until something is forced in their face that they have no choice but to deal with.” The article mentions further that Lookofsky believes “that over 60 percent of elite-level college basketball players have been paid by an agent either before or during their NCAA careers as incentive to sign with the respective agents.” Wouldn’t that be some irony if some of these same players are the ones fighting for unionization? While that is unlikely the case (and if it is, then the overwhelming hypocrisy should influence appeal boards’ decisions), one thing is true: something must be done to right these egregious wrongs.

Poland Weighs Winter Olympics 2022 Bid

Turning to some international news, Kraków will hold a referendum on May 25 in conjunction “with the European Parliamentary election…so as to ensure a high turnout” to decide, inter alia, whether Kraków should bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. . If Kraków wins the bid, its intention is to become the first Winter Olympics to be held across two countries – Poland and Slovakia. However, unlike Kraków, it appears that Slovakia will not poll its citizens to determine whether they desire an Olympic bid. Moreover, Kraków is the only city voting in this fashion. While Kraków continues to encourage other cities to follow through in polling its citizens, doubts of their inquiring of its citizens linger. Kraków, Almaty, Beijing, Lviv and Oslo are also contenders for the 2022 hosting spot. The IOC will make its decision during its Executive Board meeting in Lausanne on July 8-9.

According to the article, reports show that Almaty remains as the early front runner. However, Kraków has become the “potential dark horse” to “upset” Almaty in winning the bid. Lviv and Oslo are two contenders that are the most unlikely candidates to receive a bid. Ukraine continues to experience wide unrest, and the questionable public support for Oslo hosting the Games caused its government to withhold its endorsement.

We return to the debate about college athletes unionizing. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown voiced his opinion in favor of unionization, directly opposing Ohio State University’s football coach Urban Meyer’s comment that athletes are not employees under federal labor laws. “College athletes dedicate the same hours to their sport as full-time employees and deserve the same protections,” Brown said. I suppose that Brown is of the mindset that big college athletic programs are meant only to protect athletes’ ability to practice and play more, not to keep them in classrooms more often. I hope he will not feign surprise when these athletes leave school and complain to individuals about the lack of protection and their lack of job prospects.

The IAAF imposed a four-year ban on “disgraced Belarussian shot putter Nadzeya Ostaphcuk” after she failed her second positive drug test for performance enhancing drugs. Athletics New Zealand may appeal the decision because it believes that the IAAF’s failure to impose a lifetime ban was done in error. Ostapchuk’s ban ends during the second week of the Summer Olympics (August 14, 2016), meaning that she will be ineligible to compete in the upcoming Olympics since she cannot qualify.

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will begin the ceremony this July 23 by destroying “several high-rise buildings that dominate the Scottish city’s skyline.” A new study that debuted recently shows that people who participate in cardio fitness during their mid-20s will likely experience “lower cognitive decline 25 years later.”

And, just for fun, here’s an article about how humans are better at getting faster than horses. The article can be a little misleading at first. Initially, it seems that humans were beating horses at races, which is clearly not the case. Rather, the article suggests that with technology, scientific study and evolution, humans are better at breaking the “fastest speeds” in certain distances. The reason for that is likely due to how much horsebreeders spend on making the “perfect specimen.” In short: humans have yet to reach their maximum potentials, while horses may be nearing their maximum potential.

 

Coaching ban, more Rio 2016 problems and Commonwealth Games bid

400 Meter Legend Suffers Four Year Coaching Ban

This morning, we start with some news out of Nigeria. A couple days ago, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria imposed a four-year coaching ban on legendary 400 meter American runner Lee Edward Evans for giving a minor athlete performance enhancing drugs. Evans, the first human to run under 45 seconds in a 400, won two Olympic gold medals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. His fame does not exonerate his behavior; the ban prevents Evans from coaching any athlete for the next four years.  Abass Rauf, another coach involved with the incident, will suffer a lifetime ban from coaching track and field. The panel found direct evidence tied to Rauf, while only circumstantial evidence points to Evans. A third coach, Tony Osheku, was accused as well, but the panel agreed that he was unaware of Evans or Abass giving substances to a minor athlete.

Recently, the athlete (a minor, so her name remains anonymous) tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. She challenged it, arguing that she had no intention to take the drugs, and that the reason she tested positive was due to her coaches. At the panel hearing, she testified that “Abass took her to a medical doctor who injected her with an unknown substance despite the fact that she was not sick.” She testified further that the injection caused her to collapse. Subsequently, she inquired of Rauf why she needed an injection. He asked her to trust him, and also “not to disclose what happened to anyone.” Fortunately, she did reveal the information to her mother.

Evans admitted that he provided her with supplements (amino acid complete and metabolic infusions) between February and March of last year. His reasoning for giving her supplements is suspect: “he gave the athlete the substance because women need supplements for their health and that the [substances] given were not prohibited.” The article does not differentiate how Evans’ admission and direct involvement with the athlete’s positive test led to a four year ban and not the lifetime ban Rauf suffers.

It did not take much for the panel to find that both Evans and Rauf were guilty of providing performance enhancing drugs which caused the athlete’s positive drug test. On cross examination, “Abass contradicted himself by saying that the injection was given in the doctor’s apartment and not in the hospital.” Moreover, the panel found that Evans’ provision of the supplements to the athlete was “without the knowledge or consent of the medical doctor and assistant coach attached to the Lagos State Athletics team.” Since the evidence against Evans is only circumstantial, there is a small possibility Evans may appeal the panel’s decision. However, given the facts of the article, it is unlikely an appeal would succeed.

Top Official Resigns; Preparations for Rio 2016 Worsen

We turn from the problems in Nigeria to the rising maelstrom of problems in Rio, Brazil. Maria Silvia Bastos Marquez, president of the Municipal Olympic Company (EOM), announced her resignation yesterday, which becomes effective next month. Since 2011, Marquez took responsibility over “all city-level projects associated with the Games.” In stepping down from this position, she will return to her work in the private sector. However, given the extensive knowledge she acquired throughout the past few years, she will continue to provide guidance as an unofficial consultant.

Unfortunately, Marquez’ departure marks the second “key Games administrator to stand down” after the President of the Olympic Delivery Authority (APO) Marcio Fortes resigned last August. Her departure, coupled with the unsettled government in allocating responsibilities for the Games, creates another large hole to a slowly sinking ship. The precarious disaster is exacerbated by the “fundamental” meeting among the three levels of government (municipal, state, federal) scheduled to take place today, but it has been postponed indefinitely. I guess maintaining grudges and pointing fingers is far more important than reaching a common ground. The IOC can entertain its patience for so long, and it is disconcerting that it allowed Rio’s procrastination to last this long.

South Africa and Canada Make 2022 Commonwealth Bids

Staying with international news, Durban, South Africa and Edmonton, Canada made announcements this week that “they intend to bid for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.” Individuals associated with these Games voiced their fears about the lack of bidding “because all the competitors speak English and because the atmosphere is less intense than the Olympics.” The Olympics is the most intense event for the majority of athletes, and it is challenging to match that type of competition. The Olympics do not happen often, its standards are among the most difficult to attain, and it is unique in that a large portion of the world focuses on those athletes during the competition.

The intensity for the Commonwealth Games has suffered more oversight due to the increase in world championships in individual competitions. What is interesting is that the article does not mention how it will attract more individuals to compete, nor does it offer an explanation as to how it will raise higher interests in the Games overall. It does not help thac ountries looking to host the Commonwealth Games must endure similar problems countries have in hosting the Olympics: proper venues, space to house the athletes, etc. Some fear that the investment may not be worth it; requiring Olympic-level hosting abilities without the benefits and rewards that the Olympics bring to a country asks much of a country. However, South Africa never hosted a Commonwealth Games before, so its potential newness to the mix may make the Games more appealing. No decisions will be made until the Federation’s General Assembly congregates in New Zealand in September 2015.

In Olympic news, bidders for the 2024 Olympics do not have to worry about Mexico vying for a hosting opportunity – it is unlikely it will not submit a bid. In IOC news, Ser Miang Nd and Takeda will head up the IOC Finance and Marketing Commissions. Finally, find out what changes will occur at this year’s Boston Marathon.

April Fool news (and some real news)

It seems that most news sources today are playing along with the “April Fools” spirit, so I’ll write less today and focus on the more important ones tomorrow. There are a few articles at the end that are real, though.

First, we start with some news that USATF will become a subsidiary company to Nike. The duo joining together will create “100% transparency” in USATF officiating, and will allow USATF to spend a substantial amount of money elsewhere. Of course, is completely untrue, but I imagine the intent was to take some heat off USATF. Recently, USATF has been under major fire over controversies from the 2014 U.S. Indoor National Championships. Here are a few comments from Warren Buffet – some of which may convince you to at least skim the article: “I don’t really care about the track and field competition. It’s all about the money and Brooks has been on fire in recent years, marketing itself as the anti-Nike. The interesting thing we’ve found is you can market yourself as the anti-Nike for basically peanuts. The entire Brooks Beasts budget might be less than Andrew Wheating made at his peak in a year.”

A second article that screams “duh, this isn’t real” features the headline, “USATF Fires All Coaches, Hires Twitter.” The article satirizes the relationship between the media and USATF coaches in describing how social media (aka twitter followers) would produce better professional athletes if they coached them over their actual coaches. Again, note that this is just an April Fool’s joke riddled with hyperbole.

Turning to some sad (but real) news, Howard Schmertz, director of the famous Millrose Games from 1975-2003, died last Thursday due to “complications of congestive heart failure.” He was 88 years old. Schmertz first became involved with the Millrose Games in the 1950s, when he served as the assistant director under his father. Both men were later inducted in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2012. Thanks to Schmertz’ efforts, the Millrose Games has grown to be the most prestigious indoor track and field meet in the world.

We have some updates about the Ugandan women who alleged sexual harassment complaints against their coach. Unfortunately, the situation continues to deteriorate for the women runners: the police ignored them, and continues to do so. The local university police were handling a strike, and were unavailable to help. Assistant Director General of Police Andrew Sorowen promised to handle the situation, but his absence continues. Frustrations continue, and an intervention from Ugandan forces seems unlikely. Hopefully, international acknowledgement, as well as pressures from other governments will raise more attention to this grievous harm.

Finally, American Leo Manzano, Olympic silver medalist in the 1500 meter run, turned down a 7-figure deal with Oiselle to sign with Hanes. The decision represents a growing trend of companies outside of the track and field world choosing to sponsor such athletes.