The International Olympic Committee is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as it comes to its decision on the potential Russian Olympic ban for Rio 2016.  It’s one thing for the U.S. to lead a multi-nation boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, and for the Soviet Union to reciprocate four years later in L.A. But it is quite another for the IOC itself to say, you’re out, because who knows what may come from that?

Yet the likelihood of just such a decision was given impetus today when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the IAAF banishment of 68 Russian track and field athletes not implicated in a state-supported doping program uncovered in a series of independent investigations. The International Olympic Committee said earlier this week that it would use Thursday’s CAS ruling as a guideline on a total Russian Olympic banishment from Rio.

There is no easy solution here, and the IOC is trying to thread the needle between who it is and who it was, between just desserts and just money (cynical me). In a last ditch move Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the scrum yesterday.

‘Now we’re observing a dangerous relapse into the interference of politics in sport,” he said in a statement.  “Yes, the form of that interference has changed but the essence is the same, to make sport an instrument of geopolitical pressure and the formation of a negative image of countries and peoples.  The Olympic movement, which plays a colossal unifying role for humanity, could again wind up on the edge of schism.”

Really?  The old KGB operative is interested in a unifying movement?  Who knows. His recent annexation of Crimea sure unified some folks. But there is certainly no self-reflection about the mind-numbing corruption in his Sports Ministry, just indignity once they’ve been caught.

There are so many competing interests at play here. From a purely moral standpoint banning the entire Russian Olympic team for their uber-cynical doping program in Sochi 2014 and beyond seems like a no-brainer. Come on, let the punishment fit the crime.

But who amongst nations is innocent?  One would have thought, too, that some executives involved in the financial collapse of 2008 might have been brought before the bar and their institutions appropriately down-sized to avoid another such meltdown in the future. Yet as we soon found out too-big-to-fail meant just that. So how much weight does Russia still have left to push back with?  Continue reading


Fix it!

Fix it!

Holy Cow, they did it!  The IAAF voted unanimously today to bar the Russian track and field team from the Rio Olympics.  It’s an extraordinary move, for sure, but one the Russian federation almost dared the governing body to make after it was caught in a cycle of state-supported doping, the most cynical violation of the letter and spirit of fair play imaginable.

Afterwards, the Russian federation said they would appeal the ruling to members of the IOC, the final arbiters of all things Olympic. Their argument, such as it is, says that keeping them out of the Games wouldn’t just have a negative effect on Russian athletes, but would do damage to the Olympics itself.  That’s the spirit we’re looking for. No contrition, mind you, just “we’ll take you down with us”.

This has been coming for quite some time. The Russians were suspended from international competition last November after a damning WADA report uncovered an elaborate state-run doping program. And now this, a real dagger to the heart, perhaps (unfortunately) even to some innocents. But maybe a necessary message, nonetheless.

The Russian federation made a last ditch attempt to persuade the IAAF to allow their athletes who hadn’t been sanctioned for drug use to compete.  But the level of doping skullduggery was so deeply imbedded, that failing to be caught was no guarantee of innocence at all. Sorry kids, a little too little too late. Besides, we’ve had Olympics without the Russians before  (LA ’84), and without the USA for that matter (Moscow ’80).  And no harm done — or, at least no changes made. So now we’ll just have more medals to go around. Continue reading


WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

So on the same day that WADA unanimously declares Kenya non-compliant with its anti-doping code, thereby threatening the East African running juggernaut with exclusion from this summer’s Rio Olympics (along with Russia, which was also declared non-compliant last November) we also have word that  organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bid were alleged to have made a “seven-figure payment” to an account controlled by the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who, himself,  was arrested last year by French authorities on corruption and money laundering charges, over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheaters.  And the beat just goes on and on and on.

Sebastion Coe Rebuilding Trust

IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Images)

I don’t know, maybe Sebastian Coe is the IAAF’s last best chance.  But these latest two bombshells make you wonder if anyone involved in this filthy sport can truly be the cleansing agent needed to disinfect the body politic?

And perhaps that reflects how bad the situation really is. Looking at the entirety of the WADA Independent Commission report, along with Commission chair Dick Pound’s subsequent public support for Seb Coe as new IAAF president, the only judgement one can make is that there seems to be little appetite for the kind of wholesale reconstruction that these reports suggest is necessary.  Continue reading



The Dark Side

The Dark Side welcomes tennis

Forget it, it’s all the same. As John Manyama, manager of 1989 New York City Marathon champion Juma Ikangaa lamented after visiting a big time Manhattan disco then comparing it to the one he’d built back home in Arusha, Tanzania with lights he bought at Home Depot, “we have only just been kidding ourselves”.

Well, we have only just been kidding ourselves, too. After all the rigmarole about the two WADA-commissioned Independent Committee reports outlining corruption, extortion and willful blindness in the IAAF, now we hear that 16 players who have been ranked in the top 50 in tennis have been fixing matches or sets or games over the last decade, with the outcomes determined by Mafioso in Russia and Italy.

Come on, people, it is officially over. First FIFA, then IAAF, now tennis? And before that MLB and its complicity with steroids, and football’s case with concussions, lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan water supply?  Kids, this is who we are. Not that we don’t try to keep things above board, but how can we not see all of this as anything other than the human condition regardless the sport, regardless the national origin, regardless the political affiliation?

Put a lot of money on the line in a competitive arena, and the sharks and short-cutters begin to circle like the water has been chummed. It’s in their DNA, and too good to pass up.  The only thing that can’t be fixed is the human drive to beat the system. Continue reading


IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Image)

IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Image)

And so it begins, the inevitable PR moon walk by the new IAAF president as he tries to draw back from the cliff of doom that revelations of corruption and greed have brought his organization to as 2015 bleeds into 2016.

Yesterday, IAAF president Sebastian Coe offered a road map for Rebuilding Trust in a press statement released from IAAF headquarters in Monaco. In it Coe commented: “Be under no illusion about how seriously I take these issues.”

Continue reading


Star Wars The Force Awakens Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (sub-head: “The Vault Opens”) smashed all box office records this past weekend.  Hopefully, that news might open the eyes of the leaders of the sport of athletics as they enter  2016 fresh on the heels of their worst year in recent memory – which is saying something.

Remember, it’s been a year starring institutional corruption and widespread drug charges that have drawn a dark cowl across the face of a once passably respected sport.

“The studios finally seem to be remembering, after years of over-reliance on visual effects, that moviegoers like a story,” Jeanine Basinger, a film studies professor at Wesleyan University told the New York Times for a piece that ran this past Sunday. “It can be a story we are familiar with. It can be a serialized story. But give us, please, we’re begging you, a story of some kind.”

Get it, IAAF? Stories are what move and engage people, not simply performances, which are track & field’s versions of special effects. Performances are great, but they should come in the service of a larger narrative. That means good guys and bad guys, high stakes and cliff-hangers, not an endless series of athletic exhibitions by athletes running around in shoe company gear that never add up to anything. Continue reading



As the 2015 running year comes to its rather sad conclusion we find a sport existing, barely, on life-support, reeling from the toxic shock of massive internal corruption at the governance level, and widespread performance enhancing drug use at the sporting level.

But let’s not feel too aggrieved.  The self-inflicted wounds suffered by the sport of athletics in 2015 fit neatly into a world at-large now forced to come to terms with an apocalyptic nihilism that doesn’t share the basic assumptions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And without such common assumptions and goals mankind will never fully reconcile the fratricidal tendencies that have emerged and now play out with an increasingly alarming frequency in regions both near and far. Continue reading