NEWS

Around the world, and back in time

A world anti-doping code, a new TV contract for the US, an important meeting in Prague, an OK for Beijing, good news for Canada, outrage in Scandinavia, local politics in Spain and Korea: There is no shortage of Olympics-related news in the past few weeks, the world over. Some of it even relates directly to Athens 2004, especially changes in the Olympic medals design, but all of it demonstrates how deeply entrenched the Olympics movement is in the social, economic, political, and cultural fabric of our world, while it harks back to much earlier times for motivation or inspiration. In fact, the world’s oldest profession even reared its head as the newest, unexpected twist for the Athens preparations. The International Olympic Committee just held a busy 115th session in Prague, the Czech Republic, about eight months after its 114th in Mexico City. It received numerous recommendations for cutting the size and cost of future Games and adopted an important anti-doping code agreed upon in March, with blanket two-year suspensions against athletes caught doping and punishment of countries that don’t pay their dues to WDA, the doping agency. It also awarded the 2010 Winter Games to Vancouver, in western Canada, just 22 years after Calgary, also in western Canada, hosted them. Apart from recognizing a solid bid that saw off competitors in Salzburg, Austria, and South Korea’s Pyeongchang – the latter a surprisingly close second which might even have won had some not mistaken it for North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang – it showed the critical importance of the North American television market to the Olympics overseers and sponsors. Act globally, think locally This importance was, in turn, reconfirmed by the awarding (before Prague) to the US network NBC the rights to broadcast those Games and the Summer Games of 2012, for a combined total of around $2 billion. The procedure used is both shrewd and correct: The IOC requires sealed bidding among several competitors, driving up the price and income for the Olympics movement overall, and this is done before the venues are announced, minimizing the possibility of tainted bids (NBC would be much happier with Vancouver than with half a world away in Korea). As about half the IOC’s revenues come from the US television market, which, in turn, funds Olympics organizers, this is key to a whole chain of interested parties. But these decisions didn’t play too well in the losing country. The bitter bidders of Pyeongchang proceeded to blame a high Korean official, newly elected IOC Vice President Kim Un-yong, for surreptitiously sabotaging the Korean bid to advance his own personal ambitions in aiming for that post, one of four VPs in the Olympics hierarchy. Kim was a strong candidate for IOC presidency a couple of years ago and so knows the ropes, but he also protested that he had spent his life working for Korean sports and didn’t appreciate the accusation. In turn, Muju, another Korean ski resort that stood aside this time around but will now bid for the 2014 Games, accused Pyeongchang bidders of reneging on an agreement by saying they’ll try again for 2014. It makes the politics of Athens 2004 look like an English tea party, yet it only concerns a sports event that might or might not happen there more than a decade from now. Meanwhile, in Madrid, reflecting what happened in Athens in 1997, the head of the bid effort, Ignacio del Rio, was forced out due to local politics (as was Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki after she had headed up the successful Athens bid), as apparently he did not mesh well with Madrid’s mayor, who has his own Olympic ambitions. The other interesting note here was that all this was within the local center-right government; the opposition Socialists didn’t care one way or the other. When cities and individuals pick fights with each other and local ruling parties tear themselves apart while the opposition blithely stays out, you know there is a strange dynamic going on: the Olympic movement happily at work. Redressing history In Prague, before the IOC’s executive board, the Athens organizers gave an update of progress on venues and infrastructure, and described the operational plans for the «last lap» before the Games. Much has been done but much must still be done, was the response in essence. The IOC’s Jacques Rogge said three years ago it was «scorched earth» in Athens but that «remarkable» progress has been made since. And the Athens 2004 chief noted, accurately, that «works speak better than words.» There are enough works around Athens these days to move mountains. Athens 2004 also pulled off quite a coup by engineering the first change in Olympic medal design since 1928. Many times at previous Games, host countries are given an opportunity to innovate; Tokyo introduced judo into the program in 1964, for example. But this was also a case of rectifying a past injustice and lingering embarrassment over some apparent earlier confusion about the ancient Romans and Greeks. That had led to an Olympics medal design harking back to Rome’s Colosseum – where among other entertainments Christians were fed to lions – rather than to a Greek-style arena, where the real idea for peaceable Games was nurtured. The new obverse (front) of the medals – which will be retained in future Games – will feature the fourth-century BC Panathenaic Stadium in Athens and Winged Victory, a statue created by Paeonius a century earlier than that which stood on a high pedestal at Olympia. Host countries will keep the right to design their own reverse (back) sides of medals. Now that the Panathenaic Stadium is being featured anew, it seems a perverse time to be tearing it apart. Yet that seems to be happening, as the lovely, if cracked, old marble seats on the upper tiers are being demolished as part of the facility’s ongoing renovation. Spectators are apparently not high on the priority list for the test event (in archery) coming up next month in that very arena. Then again, there were no spectator seats at Olympia either, so maybe this is another, offbeat way of playing up to tradition. Alternative entertainment And for those bored by the Olympics prospect next August, there is always another diversion. Apparently Athens City Hall got the brilliant idea of adding 30 more (legal) brothels to the city’s considerable existing total, perhaps to boost revenues during the Games, with all those visitors looking for alternatives to sun, sand, sea and sport. Feminist groups and government officials in the Nordic region, especially Iceland and Sweden, in a sort of holy alliance with the Greek Orthodox Church, were up in arms and demanded that the IOC intervene. And with an international uproar already growing over the serious Balkans problem of human trafficking for sex purposes, the timing was particularly atrocious. City Hall claimed it was totally misunderstood, that it merely wanted to regulate a massive expected influx of prostitutes, not encourage the practice or link it with the Olympics. Talk about screaming into the wind. On the other hand, Athens 2004, ever attuned to the public ear, said, «This issue is not of our concern.» It has enough to do already.