LAST LAP — July/August

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed in these trying times, as the C19 pandemic continues to dominate everyday life on a worldwide basis.

Pre Classic meet director Tom Jordan is a thumbs-up kinda guy, but eventually had to go thumbs-down on this year’s event. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

The Pre Classic Is Canceled

To no one’s great surprise, late June brought the announcement that the only U.S. meet on the Diamond League circuit, Eugene’s Pre Classic, had been canceled. (More major cancellations followed; see On Your Marks for a composite listing of all the high-end shutdowns.)

“We held on as long as possible hoping that circumstances would allow us to hold the meet,” Pre meet director Tom Jordan told Chris Hansen of the Eugene Register-Guard. “But that pandemic shows no signs of abating and there’s no international travel allowed and even national travel might be problematic with hot spots popping up.” He continued, “We still wanted it to be a meet worthy of the name. I’m usually a ‘something’s better than nothing’ kind of guy, and we certainly discussed everything, but what it boiled down to was would it be representative of a Prefontaine Classic?”

Jordan also emphasized the medical aspects of the whole thing, telling Ken Goe of, “Looking at all the factors, it became clear we would not be able to put on anything close to a high-level Prefontaine Classic without seriously jeopardizing the health of athletes, officials, volunteers, spectators, etc. It’s not feasible.”

The State Of The Diamond League

With the cancellation of the Eugene, Gateshead, Paris & Shanghai stops (and the downgrading of Lausanne to “exhibition” status), there are still (as of July 30), 6 meets potentially left in the Diamond League season: 2 in August (Monaco on the 14th & Stockholm on the 23rd), 2 in September (Brussels on the 4th & Rome on the 17th) and 2 in October (Doha on the 9th & a Chinese site—probably Nanjing—on the 17th). In theory, China has canceled all international competition, but the DL continues to list the tentative China host.

But who will be competing? As things currently stand, visitors from only a few nations are being allowed to travel to Europe. Notably not among them are the U.S., Kenya and the Caribbean nations, which would wreak havoc with the star-power aspect in most disciplines.

Great Britain is allowing Americans (and others) in, but they must then sit out a 14-day quarantine. The completion of quarantine isn’t a back-door way to then travel to continental Europe, however. The rules on all this remain very fluid of course, and could change significantly.

No USATF Championships This Year

When the country first started going into lockdown mode, USATF said, “We will have a championship event if it’s possible.” In mid-July, without specifically mentioning a Nationals, a press release from Indy said, citing health concerns, “Plans for a mid-September end-of-season elite event in 2020 have been canceled.”

The release went on to say, “Since the inception of the pandemic, USATF has looked for innovative ways to support our athletes during this crisis. Towards that end, USATF has and/or will:
•Instituted a stipend allowing elite athletes to purchase training equipment to use in homes while “stay at home orders” were in place.
•Provided elite athletes with a monetary stipend.
•Re-modeled budgets in order to provide block-grant support to elite and emerging elite athletes to compete in domestic competitions of their choosing.
•Athlete Tier stipends and benefits, including Elite Athlete Health Insurance and medical support programs, remain unchanged for 2020.
•Developed a national program to provide COVID-19 PCR testing for elite athletes who need clearance to compete.
Partner with regional & local meets in televising/broadcasting these competitions.
•Developed an athlete marketing stipend program to provide financial assistance to elite athletes as they promote USATF.”

Coleman Involved In Another “Where’s Waldo?”

World 100 champ Christian Coleman came close to not winning that title last fall, only being cleared to run in Doha several weeks earlier. The problem? He had missed 3 “whereabouts” tests, which triggers a suspension. He was cleared on what many considered to be a technicality. And now he’s in hot water again, having been unavailable for a test back in December. That, combined with 2 from earlier in the year, put him back at a bannable trio of failures.

He now faces a sit-down that would keep him out of Tokyo, but seems to think he can avoid that, saying on a Flotrack podcast, “I think in the rule book it says 2 years. I think that would be very egregious, I feel that would be overkill. I have seen people be suspended only a year. If that is the case hopefully it can be a situation where I can still be good for the Olympics. I just want to be able to run. I don’t want to have to sit out something I have worked so hard for, to have this opportunity at having a shot making the Olympic team and coming home with a medal. Even if we had to work out some sort of deal or anything, I don’t know, for me to just be suspended a year and still be available for the Olympics.”

WA head Seb Coe reacted by saying, “I would be very surprised if there was any thought that a deal is going to be struck here or in any of these cases. It’s just not the system. That is not what the AIU does.”

While not mentioning Coleman by name, Coe also admitted his surprise that anyone with two strikes already was not more careful: “I don’t think it is that complicated, I really don’t. The athletes are asked to give their whereabouts for one hour a day, and there is plenty of scope if that one hour suddenly becomes a problem. It’s not arcane maritime law. You don’t need a degree in logistics from Cambridge to figure that out. It’s what you are expected to do.”

Coleman’s defense is that he was out Christmas shopping and would have expected the tester to call him if he weren’t home during his scheduled hour.

Thomas Cleared, Stevens Suspended

As noted in this space last month, World Ranked U.S. sprinters Deajah Stevens and Gabby Thomas were provisionally suspended by the AIU for whereabouts failures. Thomas was spot-on when she said, “I am confident that at least one of these missed tests is not valid and that I will be completely cleared.” Several weeks later, that she was, being able to establish that on one of her “failures” she was where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be there.

Stevens wasn’t’ so lucky, the AIU confirming in mid-July that she would be suspended for 18 months with a start date of February 18 of this year, which would bar her from any hopes of Olympic participation in Tokyo.

The 200 For Miller-Uibo In Tokyo?

Shaunae Miller-Uibo would love to emulate Michael Johnson and Marie-Josée Pérec and win an Olympic 200/400 double, but the Tokyo timetable—one made even more complicated by the invention of the mixed-sex 4×4—just doesn’t allow for it. So the Bahamian superstar is making noises about opting for the shorter race, where she has been No. 1 in the World Rankings the last 3 years in a row.

“As it is now, the schedule isn’t set up for me to do two events, so I would have to choose one event and we’re leaning more toward the 200m seeing that we already have the 400m title,” the Rio gold medalist told the Nassau Guardian.

“We wanted to do both—I wanted to go after the 200m title and also wanted to defend my 400m title, but the way the schedule is set up, it would be difficult to do both. It’s been that way for a few years now. When they didn’t change the schedule, we had to make some decisions and right now, we’re leaning toward the 200. Nothing is finalized as yet, but that’s the way it is right now.”

Said Bahamas Olympic Committee President Romell Knowles, “We understand that the Olympic schedule is a very complicated one, but exceptions have been made in the past where the schedule was changed to accommodate an athlete or two and we’re simply asking for the same treatment. We have made an appeal to have the schedule changed. We’ve not received a positive response as yet, but we remain hopeful.”

WA Says Keep Politics Out Of Meet Hosting

In early July long jumper Tyrone Smith tweeted, “I am calling on @WorldAthletics to use its influence to help end the human rights violations in Hong Kong by refusing to host @Diamond_League meets in China until the new so-called national security law for Hong Kong is repealed! Hit them in the National pride and wallet.”

In responding to the Bermudan Olympian’s message, WA said, “If World Athletics changed its competition hosts based on shifting political landscapes it would become impossible to maintain a global sporting calendar for our athletes, and a community of 214 Member Federations. World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has a strong belief in the ability of sport to build bridges and exercise soft international power for the good of communities around the world, by engaging with all of its member countries.”

Subsequently, Coe blogged, “I know my conversations with political leaderships are often more acute and possibly uncomfortable than those they have with my counterparts in other walks of business and life.

“Sport could and should be asked to play a more hands-on role. It is the most potent social worker and the deftest of soft international power out there. If some of those agencies vilifying sport for expanding its global footprint into countries that don’t always meet with our liberal democratic mores realize they could join forces with sport to become collaborators, rather than competitors, we could achieve much.

“If we predicate our sporting relationships on political systems and their fault lines, international sport will wither on the vine.”

Verdict In Diack Trial To Be Revealed In September

After years of investigation and legal maneuvering, the trial of former IAAF head Lamine Diack (and his son Papa Massata Diack) was held in Paris in early June. Diack the elder was charged with corruption, influence-trafficking and money laundering and has been under house arrest in the French capital since November ’15. His son, who has been living back home in Senegal—which refused to extradite him—was charged with corruption, money laundering and breach of trust.

At the heart of the case is that Lamine Diack took payments to defer drug sanctions against Russian athletes. Allegations leveled at the Diacks also include that they were involved in corrupting the Olympic bid process by accepting cash to help influence the decisions to award the 2016 Games to Rio de Janeiro and 2020 to Tokyo.

During the course of the trial, pressed by the chief judge about his son’s role, Diack at first gave an inaudible response before saying, “He conducted himself like a thug.”

Prosecutors are seeking a 4-year jail term for Lamine and 5 years for Papa Massata. The verdicts are due to come down on September 15. Lamine’s lawyers said that he would die in jail if sentenced to a prison term.

193 Athletes To Get Athlete Welfare Fund Grants

In this space last issue we noted that WA and the IAF had set up a $500,000 fund to aid financially struggling professional athletes. “Generous contributions” enabled that sum to swell to $600,000 and Monaco will be providing $3000 apiece to 193 athletes from 58 nations.

In reporting the awards, WA noted the requirements to gain one of the grants: “To be eligible athletes had to be qualified for selection for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (by entry standard), had to be able to demonstrate a justifiable welfare need through significant loss of income in 2020 compared to 2019, and must never have had an anti-doping violation. Athletes ranked in the top 6 on the World Rankings, those who finished in the top 6 in any Gold Label Road race in 2019—and those who earned more than US$6000 in prize money from the 2019 Diamond League—were not eligible to apply in order to help focus support to those most in need.”

Provisional Suspension For Naser

Salwa Eid Naser made one of last year’s most notable breakthroughs, running 48.14, the No. 3 time ever, to win the World Champs 400 crown. Naser was apparently under investigation by the Athletics Integrity unit for whereabouts failures at the time she won the gold in Doha, but notification of a suspension wasn’t announced until early June.

“I’ve never been a cheat. I will never be,” responded the 22-year-old Bahraini on Instagram. “I only missed three drug tests, which is normal. It happens. It can happen to anybody. I don’t want people to get confused in all this because I would never cheat.”

The AIU was not pleased and quickly upped the ante, saying, “The investigation into Ms. Naser’s three whereabouts failures in 2019 was ongoing at the time of the Doha World Championships and she was not provisionally suspended at that time. Following conclusion of the investigation and a fourth whereabouts failure in January 2020, a notice of charge was issued and Ms. Naser subject to an immediate provisional suspension. The disciplinary process is ongoing.”

Statute Of Limitations Coming Up On ’12 Samples

Apparently we still haven’t heard the last of potential doping suspensions related to the ’12 London Olympics. The 8-year statute of limitations in force then (it’s now 10 years for samples from ’15 on) expires on August 12.

The International Testing Agency (ITA), which was designated by the IOC to do re-testing work in ’18, told that it had finished the London job and that “more than a dozen” doping-violation cases are being pursued in advance of the deadline. There was no hint as to which sports (or if any medals were involved) the positive tests came from.

Why No Berry On Foundation Grants List?

Gwen Berry was not pleased when she wasn’t listed among the USATF Foundation’s 25 recipients of a $20,000 Schwarzman Grant (see sidebar). She blames it on her Pan-Am Games victory ceremony protest last year.

“I know for sure that I wasn’t chosen because of my stance on the podium,” Berry told Yahoo Sports, “because I was told that.” A USATF Foundation official, she says, called her a couple days later, “and told me I better not do it again, or else I’ll lose funding.”

The Foundation disputes the claim and issued a statement which said, in part, “The USATF Foundation has supported Gwen Berry since 2012 with $91,000 in grant support, including 2 grants totaling $5500 in 2019–after her protest at the Pan Am Games. Additionally, Gwen was originally included in our press release today to receive another $5000 grant—a decision that was made a week ago. We contacted Gwen yesterday to inform her of the award but she declined to accept it. We will however hold the grant for her through the rest of the year should she change her mind.

“While we understand Gwen’s disappointment with not receiving our largest grant award this year, there are only 25 of them for over 40 events. In a perfect world, the Foundation would give all of our grantees more money but the demand exceeds the need at this point as we have over 250 applicants. Gwen’s allegation that her stance on the podium at the Pan-Am Games adversely affected our grant-making decisions in 2020 is inaccurate.”

WA Formulates A 4-Year “Strategic Plan”

Getting more and more corporate all the time—we’ll leave it to you to decide whether you think hat’s a good or bad thing—World Athletics has announced a protocol “designed to harness the power and accessibility of athletics to drive growth in the sport and create a healthier and fitter world.”

The Plan’s 3-Part Mission:
•Grow the sport and make it relevant in people’s lives and the lives of their communities.
•Inspire by creating globally appealing and accessible competitions, events, and activities so our talented athletes can entertain and inspire the world.
•Lead by being the best example of a well-governed sports federation taking brave leadership decisions and valuing partnerships that deliver athletics around the world.

And The 4 Priority Goals:
•Participation and events—delivering more events at every level of the sport.
•People—celebrating, supporting and developing the people who deliver our sport throughout the world, at every level.
•Fans—encouraging fans to watch our athletes compete, getting to know and engage with them through new platforms and initiatives.
•Partnerships—increasing our current number of meaningful commercial and non-commercial partnerships to generate new financial and activation opportunities for our sport.

U.S. Government & WADA Feuding?

With an annual contribution of $2.7M, the United States is the biggest single-nation contributor to WADA’s budget, but that funding may be in jeopardy. In late June the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) threatened to pull the support unless the international body undergoes serious reform.

A report to Congress said, “For years the United States has provided the World Anti-Doping Agency with millions of taxpayers’ dollars in annual dues—far more than any other nation in the world. We do so with an expectation that WADA will operate in a transparent, accountable, and independent manner that is above all else fair to athletes. America’s athletes devote years of effort and passion preparing to represent the United States in international competition. They deserve a fair shake and a WADA committed to guaranteeing competition on a level playing field.”

A particular area of concern is apparently WADA’s handling of the Russian doping scandal, but the ONDCP outlined several benchmarks by which WADA’s top leadership bodies “should be proportionate to financial contributions,” including better representation from the U.S.

USADA head Travis Tygart, who has been critical of WADA in the past, said, “Let’s hope this is the final wakeup call to the IOC and the public authorities at WADA to fix these problems before it’s too late.”

WADA president Witold Bańka expressed “disappointment” at what WADA says are factual inaccuracies in the ONDCP report as well as a lack of consultation as it was compiled. The international body cited the report as having “multiple inaccuracies, misconceptions and falsehoods.”

Tygart was unyielding in his reaction, telling Agence France-Presse, “The promises of reform have been unfulfilled. Athletes are frustrated and governments who are paying attention are frustrated.

“We want a strong independent WADA. But WADA made it clear in its response that they’re going to retaliate if the money stops and they’re going to kick the U.S. out of WADA. At the end of the day, the U.S. doesn’t have a seat on the Executive Committee so it’s not going to matter.”

Another U.S./WADA Point Of Contention

Back in March a Senate committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation voted to approve the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019 for referral to and consideration by the Senate.

At the time, WADA president Witold Bańka claimed, “The bill in its current form could lead to overlapping laws in different jurisdictions that would compromise having a single set of rules for all athletes, all sports and all anti-doping organizations that are subject to the World Anti-Doping Code.

In July, Ulrich Haas, a Zürich law professor who was a co-drafter of the World Anti-Doping Code chimed in, saying, “Be careful what you wish for. Designed to protect clean sport, the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act will have the opposite effect.” Haas said that more than 80% of WADA investigations were instigated by whistleblowers, but that under Rodchenkov, “There is no legal security for these whistleblowers in exchange for coming clean and providing valuable intelligence. The effect of the Rodchenkov Act will be to discourage people from coming forward with information.”

He continued, “Some of the flaws in the bill are most likely due to the fact that no real public debate has taken place around it. The bill has been approved… without proper hearings being conducted, without the elected members having heard the views of WADA, the global regulator in this field, and without any formal consultation with the international community of stakeholders who will be negatively affected and a number of whom have expressed great concerns towards the bill.

“Before enacting the bill into law, one would expect that a careful analysis be conducted about how this proposed law will impact other nations and what the consequences might be to the global anti-doping framework.”

Bach Doesn’t Want A No-Spectator Olympics

Although many pro sports at professional level have resumed behind closed doors, IOC head Thomas Bach doesn’t see Tokyo headed for that route next year, saying, “An Olympic Games behind closed doors is clearly something we do not want. So we are working for a solution which on the one hand is safeguarding the health of all the participants and on the other hand is also reflecting the Olympic spirit.”

In mid-July he also said, “We want these Olympic Games to be frugal Games, concentrating on the essentials and the spirit and the message… The spirit of the Olympic Games is about the athletes and sports excellence. It’s about unity. It’s about bringing the entire world together.”

Rule 50 In The Crosshairs

In January’s Last Lap we noted that IOC head Thomas Bach, citing the organization’s Rule 50, had warned athletes against using the Olympics as a forum for political or cultural protests, saying the Games “are not, and must never be, a platform to advance political or any other potentially divisive ends.”

In the wake of all that has happened on the social front in the months since, pressure is building against such a hardcore stance. The advocacy group Global Athlete has called for the rule to be scrapped, saying, “Athletes have had to choose between competing in silence and standing up for what’s right for far too long. It is time for change. Every athlete must be empowered to use their platforms, gestures and voice. Silencing the athlete voice has led to oppression, silence has led to abuse, and silence has led to discrimination in sport. The current governance of the global sporting movement has placed athletes in a powerless position.”

Subsequently, USOPC’s Athletes’ Advisory Council called on the IOC to scrap the controversial rule, saying that the IOC “cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism,” and went on to call for “a new structure that celebrates athletes who speak about issues in alignment with human rights.”

USOPC Launches Athlete Assistance Fund

“In communicating with Team USA athletes and their families, we have learned of the profound impact many are facing as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic and the Tokyo Games postponement,” said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland in late July. “We have heard loud and clear there is a heightened need to help alleviate the financial burdens many are facing, and it is an opportunity for us to help and further support athletes during this unprecedented time.”

An anonymous long-time supporter of the USOPC’s Foundation has made an initial contribution of $500,000 to help launch the fund, and Ralph Lauren, an official Team USA Outfitter since ’08, is committing 25% of the purchase price from each unit from its Team USA One-Year-Out Collection to this effort.

Russia Misses WA Payment Date, Gets Extension

The deadline of July 01 came and went without the Russian federation paying fines imposed by WA in the wake of breaches of anti-doping rules. In March, Monaco had levied a $10M charge, with the first $5M due by the beginning of July. Additionally, the Russians were billed $1.31M in administrative costs incurred in pursuing the case.

Explaining the failure to pay, Russian federation president Yevgeniy Yurchenko said, “RusAF does not have the money to pay the fines,” even though it “did everything possible” to come up with the money. A couple of weeks later, after less than 5 months on the job, Yurchenko resigned.

Said WA head Seb Coe, “We recognise these are difficult times, but we are very disappointed by the lack of progress made by RusAF in terms of the requirements set in March.”

Subsequently, the WA Council staged a virtual meeting on July 29–30, with Russia prime on the agenda. Russian Taskforce chief Rune Andersen expressed his disappointment that they had seen “very little in terms of changing the culture of Russian athletics” in the past 5 years. He said the Taskforce had spent “an enormous amount of time and effort trying to help RusAF reform itself and Russian athletics, for the benefit of all clean Russian athletes” but the response had been inadequate.

Russian Minister Of Sport Oleg Matytsin sent a letter which promised payment of the overdue amounts by August 15. Should the payments not be made, Council has recommended the convening of a Special Congress to “consider and vote on the proposal to expel RusAF.”

Russian Stars To Cross The Border?

Belarus says it may consider granting nationality to athletes from neighboring Russia who face dire career consequences if the Russian Federation is kicked out of WA. Said Belarusian head guy Vadim Devyatovski, the ’08 hammer silver medalist, “It’s too early to talk about any decisions and steps but we are closely following the development of events and if we receive offers from Russian athletes, of course, we will consider them. They are not strangers after all. If these athletes are forced to miss the Olympics or, moreover, finish their careers, this will be a loss not only for the Russians, but also for world athletics.”

Russian vaulter Timur Morgunov is one of many elite Russians who isn’t happy with the continuing ban. He didn’t mention Belarus by name, but said, “I think almost all our leading athletes have not ruled out a switch to other nations. What else remains? There is anger at the federation. I do not love athletics and my homeland any less; Chelyabinsk will always be my native city. But we are left with no choice. I do not hide: if there is an opportunity to play for another team, I will leave. They just didn’t give a damn about us.”

Morgunov isn’t alone. Teen vault star Matvey Volkov, 16-year-old son of Konstantin Volkov, the ’80 silver medalist, is applying to represent Belarus. In February, while still 15, he cleared a world age-record 18-½ (5.50). ◻︎

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