Major League Baseball's 2021 season gets underway tomorrow, and its top stars are likely fully embracing the return to playing. In an alternate universe, though, they'd also be excited this year at the opportunity to showcase their sport and represent their home nations at the Olympic Games this summer.
In reality, the vast majority of MLB players will not be in Tokyo. While its "second-tier" players could be available, MLB's elite players will not. And from Barcelona 1992 through Beijing 2008, the last Olympic stretch for baseball before its Tokyo return, they did not, either. Simply put, MLB's team owners and players' union don't like the idea of shutting down the league's summer season for two weeks to accommodate the Games. (Meanwhile, the Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization have committed to the Olympic break.)
South Korea won the last gold medal in the Olympics, at Beijing 2008 (IOC)
For Olympic and baseball (not necessarily MLB) fans, it's incredibly frustrating. The Olympics are the ultimate stage for a worldwide sports audience, and a validation of a sport as globally relevant. Sure, MLB has had the World Baseball Classic - notably, revenue from which it controls - but it hardly compares to the Summer Games.
Outspoken MLB star Bryce Harper puts it frankly, "You want to grow the game as much as possible and you're not going to let us play in the Olympics because you don't want to (lose) out on money for a two-week period? OK, that's dumb". (Um... yes, baseball team owners are more interested to grow their immediate revenue than to "grow the game".)
Baseball may not get the chance again. The sport was not included in the program for Paris 2024, taking women's softball (despite embracing the Olympics) down with it. Very likely, the fact that the sport's biggest power brokers don't have an interest is a key to why baseball isn't a core sport for the Olympics. A return for Los Angeles 2028 is possible, helped by a United States-based Games, but MLB availability may very well again be an issue.
The vast majority of sports do see the Olympics as a unique, elite goal for its players. But MLB is not alone in some recalcitrance. Here is a look at how some other high-revenue professional sports approach the Games.
As the only traditional team sport in the Winter Olympics* since Chamonix 1924, ice hockey has a special position of interest from the International Olympic Committee in ensuring elite players participate. Aside from that background, men's ice hockey's relationship with the Games is similar to baseball's.
The sport's top professional league, the National Hockey League, has a team ownership structure reluctant to stop a season's play and risk revenue and player injury. And, similar to MLB's World Baseball Classic, the NHL has its own contrived international tournament, the World Cup of Hockey.
And also similar, other top leagues make the Olympics a priority. But every four years, there is another round of negotiations, with the NHL's business interests pitched against the IOC's and the International Hockey Federation's interest in presenting a top quality tournament to expand the game. NHL players appeared for the first time in Nagano 1998, and did so through Sochi 2014, but skipped Pyeongchang 2018. Current expectation is that the NHL will return for Beijing 2022. That's due in large part to the players themselves wanting to go.
NHLer Sidney Crosby celebrates a 'golden goal' at Vancouver 2010
I'm also of the mind that Olympic site location has a lot to do with NHL acquiescence. Since Nagano, Salt Lake City (2002), Vancouver (2010), and Sochi (2014) in particular represent nations with significant importance to the NHL. Pyeongchang (2018)? Not so much. That, plus seeing China holding great potential for NHL fans, combined with its beleaguered World Cup stalling, might have made Beijing 2022 more palatable.
*(I'm not counting curling as a 'traditional' team sport. But let's get bandy into the Olympics!)
The National Basketball Association is the ultimate team sport role model for embracing the Olympics. Prior to Barcelona 1992, men's basketball teams from the world's powerhouse, the United States, were purely amateur and from the college ranks. With the IOC loosening restrictions on professionals, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) pushed for NBA players be allowed to participate. No doubt eager to re-establish its basketball dominance after its Seoul 1988 bronze medal disappointment, the United States was enthusiastic - as were other countries' teams looking to play against the best.
The U.S. 'Dream Team' was born: a selection of the absolute best NBA players together to dominate the world. It was a sporting event of legend, the team not only winning gold in commanding fashion, but winning over countless new NBA fans across the globe. The NBA's recognition of the power of a global stage to spur growth was born.
The 'Dream Team' embraced its Olympic opportunity
Since, NBA players have represented various national teams at each Olympics, with each successive U.S. team featuring a strong roster of top players, with visions of legacy at stake. Despite overblown concerns over the zika virus, Rio 2016 still attracted a record number of NBA players. And the U.S. has shortlisted 57 - 57! - finalists for Tokyo 2020's team.
Dissimilar to MLB and the NHL, the NBA's season does not cover the two weeks of the Olympics. That's a big positive for NBA players to participate, as essentially an offseason tournament doesn't immediately affect team owners' pockets. Even when the current Covid-19 pandemic caused concern for this year's Games, the NBA found a way to allow its schedule to accommodate its players.
It's not clear how long the love affair will last. If and when the U.S. doesn't win gold again, favor for Olympic participation by some players may fall. There is also a World Cup, run by FIBA, but so far that hasn't dampened Olympic allure.
It should be noted that on the women's side, the WNBA similarly embraces the Olympics. In fact, the league owes its existence to the Olympic tournament at Atlanta 1996. Rio 2016 featured a record 26 WNBA players.
Soccer (football) first appeared as an Olympic sport at Paris 1900, and has consistently been a top audience draw each Games, buoyed by its deep global popularity. But soccer has had its growing pains, too, with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) prioritizing its men's World Cup since 1932.
Today, that means that the men's tournament is only open to players aged 23 and under, which means most top-flight players cannot participate (unless chosen as allowed three-per-team over 23). The restriction hasn't dampened the enthusiasm for Olympic soccer in some key aspects. The sport holds the largest field of of any of the men's team sports (16). And, it is widely seen as a stepping stone to the senior ranks, with numerous budding stars featured on past rosters.
Lionel Messi won gold at Beijing 2008 alongside Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, and Sergio Aguero. Neymar won silver at London 2012 and gold at Rio 2016. Cristiano Ronaldo competed at Athens 2004. The Mexican gold medalists in London featured Hector Herrera and Giovani dos Santos. Carlos Tevez has gold from Athens 2004 (as does Mascherano). Samuel Eto'o played at Sydney 2000, as did Ivan Zamorano (who bronze with Chile). Barcelona 1992's iconic Spanish team featured Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Santiago Canizares.
Spain celebrates the gold medal as the home team at Barcelona 1992
On the other hand, as the United States' recent loss in qualifying shows, professional teams are - similar to baseball - loathe to release players, affecting quality of play certainly at that stage.
Similar to women's basketball, women's soccer powers have no compunction about the Games, or restriction. Despite a growing World Cup and multiple professional leagues, the top stars of women's soccer still very much view the Olympics as a singular goal.
The International Golf Federation may find Tokyo 2020 a crossroads for its growth ambitions through the Olympics. When the sport was re-added to the Olympic schedule in 2009 after more than a 100-year absence, for Rio 2016, organizers surely had dreams of Tiger Woods - by far the sports' biggest star in 2009 - adorning the Olympic Village while wearing a gold medal as the biggest advocate for the Games. Woods pledged his commitment. Fellow superstars Padraig Harrington and Michelle Wie spoke in person about their Olympic dreams. The PGA Tour worked collaboratively to revamp its schedule.
Cut to a few months ahead of the Rio Games. Diverse and prominent men's players Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen, and Charl Schwartzel announced they would not play, followed by even larger names Adam Scott and Jason Day. Then Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson.
Only four of the world's top 10 remained in the men's draw. Credit to the women, though...all of their top 10 players committed, and only one professional woman declined. In any case, Rio 2016 went forward, with an arguably mid-level podium result for the men with Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, and Matt Kuchar. The women, though, had a star-studded medal stand, with Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, and Shanshan Feng.
The LPGA's elite took the podium at Rio 2016
Why weren't the men as enthusiastic as the women? Between the usual complaint of over-scheduling and the aforementioned easy-excuse zika virus, once one prominent player stepped down, others found it easy to follow suit. Why should the #20-ranked player care about the tournament if the #1-ranked one (Day, at the time) doesn't? U.S. star Stacey Lewis puts in bluntly...money. At least they have something in common with baseball and hockey team owners.
So, now Tokyo 2020...and Johnson, currently the #1-ranked man, has announced he'll again skip the Games. While no others - yet - have followed suit, using an overworked schedule or another virus risk as an excuse, the IGF should be working the phones to ensure an elite men's field's commitment. As for the women, Park remains excited. If the defending champion is in, surely the rest will follow.
Although there is always talk about the Olympics adding pressure to a packed schedule every four years, and there is inconsistency on ranking points awarded, both the WTA and ATP tours accommodate the break. Players often see the tournament as a 'fifth Grand Slam event' and consistently are invested.
Witness Novak Djokovic's emotions at his first round loss at Rio 2016. Lisa Raymond took the U.S. Tennis Association to arbitration to fight for a place on the Sydney 2000 team. Venus Williams is pushing her body for another Olympic run. Roger Federer was "crying and crying" as his Sydney 2000 dreams fizzled. Dominic Thiem now claims "a medal is my dream" at Tokyo 2020.
Novak Djokovic's surprising first round loss at Rio 2016 produced tears
At Beijing 2008, Rafael Nadal reveled in the impact beyond tennis. "For tennis, the slams are more important. For sportsmen, the Olympics are more important. I win here for a lot of people, not just for me."
Nadal gets it. Why can't more top athletes and their officials?
A version of this opinion was originally published on GamesandRings.com.
The first day of the 2021 Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament saw athletes from East and South Asia book their spot to the games. The Asian qualifiers differ from other continental qualifiers as each of the five regions along with the highest ranked runner-up (in the April 2021 rankings) are given singles quotas. As a reminder, the West Asian qualifier took place last year. The Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament is currently being held in Doha. Qatar from March 18th to March 20th 2021.
Due to being the only eligible nation from the region to compete Mongolia was ensured to win a quota in the men’s and women’s singles while India was guaranteed to win a quota in the women’s singles. The only question would be who?
The East Asian women’s singles qualifier was won by Mongolia’s Batmonkhiin Bolor-Erdene whom defeated her compatriot Batbayaryn Doljinzuu 4-1. On the men’s side it was Mongolia’s Enkhbatyn Lkhagvasuren who won in straight sets over his compatriot Jargalsaikhan Munkhzorig.
In the South Asian women’s singles qualifier India’s Sutirtha Mukherjee won over her compatriot Manika Batra 4-2. Batra however, will still qualify to the Olympics as she will be the highest ranked runner-up.
The men’s South Asian qualifier saw three athletes compete in a round-robin tournament. The first match was a see-saw event where India’s Sathiyan Gnanasekaran won the first two sets against his compatriot Sharath Acanta. Acanta would win the next three to take a 3-2 lead, but Gnanasekaran was able to close out the match by winning the next two sets in a 4-3 set thriller. Both Indian players would go on to win straight sets over Pakistan’s Muhammad Rameez. This meant Gnanasekaran won the South Asian men’s quota. Acanta will also qualify due to being the highest ranked runner-up.
The Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament continues tomorrow with more matches in the other regions along with the mixed double qualifier.
* To be confirmed upon publication of April 2021 rankings
Four men and five women booked their spots to the 2020 Olympics after their performance at the World Singles Qualification Tournament. The event took place in Doha, Qata from March 14th to March 17th 2021.
The women were split into four brackets where the winner of each qualified to the Olympics. The first knockout bracket was won by top seed Britt Eerland of the Netherlands who needed all seven sets to defeat Chile’s Paulina Vega and then defeated Spain’s Galia Dvorak 4-0 in the finals. The second bracket was won by Sweden’s Linda Bergstrom whom defeated top seed Margaryta Pesotska of the Ukraine 4-1. Joining her from the third bracket was second seed Polina Mikhailova of Russia as she defeated top seed Suthasini Sawettabut from Thailand 4-2. The final for the fourth bracket went to a seventh set as Monaco’s Xiaoxin Yang won as the top seed over Spain’s Maria Xiao.
The losing finalists were then placed into a final bracket to determine the final quota. Xiao booked the first spot to the finals by defeating her compatriot, Dvorak 4-2. She was joined by Sawettabut whom defeated Pesotska 4-1. The fifth and final quota was won by Sawettabut thanks to a 4-1 victory over Xiao.
The men were split into three brackets where the winner of each qualified to the Olympics. The winner of the first knockout bracket was won by the Czech Republic’s Lubomir Jancarik whom defeated Ukraine’s Lei Kou in straight sets. Hungary’s Bence Majoros won the second bracket by defeating Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu 4-3 in the semifinals and Belgium’s Florent Lambiet 4-1 in the finals. The third bracket was won by second seed Yang Wang of Slovakia who won over Greece’s Panagiotis Gionis 4-2.
The losing finalists and semi-finalists were all placed into a final bracket to determine the final quota. The final came down to Great Britain’s Liam Pitchford whom needed seven sets to defeat Gionis and Russia’s Kirill Skachkov whom won in straight sets against Lambiet. The final quota was won by Skachkov as he defeated Pitchford 4-1.
There are still a couple more opportunities for athletes to qualify in the singles events. Four out of six continental qualifiers remain with the Asian qualifier beginning in Doha tomorrow while all remaining nations can still qualify via the World Rankings.
World Athletics announced the launch of a 3D virtual museum of athletics today.
Known as MOWA, the Museum of World Athletics™ is the first sports museum to be established solely in the digital world. It offers visitors an interactive journey through the history of athletics and the sport’s flagship World Athletics Championships, highlighting many of the legends of the sport.
The museum gives visitors a unique online experience, highlighting key athletics champions from each continent, and celebrating each edition of the World Athletics Championships, through realistic interactive content, including items donated by the athletes which help to tell the story of the sport.
Among the exhibits are items owned by many of the greatest athletes in history, including Paavo Nurmi, Jesse Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Irena Szewinska, Carl Lewis, Marie-Jose Perec, Jan Zelezny, Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt.
World Athletes also highlighted how the museum demonstrates the universality of athletics, claiming that athletes from more than 30 countries and all six continental areas are represented. The six areas of World Athletics (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, Oceania, and South America) each have a section devoted to the history of athletics in their region as well.
World Athletics also noted that the museum includes other carefully thought out details such as the lines of an athletics track on the virtual floor to guide visitors, and the shadows of the objects, providing a convincingly immersive experience for sports and museum fans.
Speaking about the launch of MOWA, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said, “We are delighted to be the first international sport federation to bring a 3D virtual sports museum to a global audience. Through MOWA, sport and museums fans from around the world will, without the geographical limitations of a physical location, be able to discover the fascinating history of athletics, and the amazing achievements of our athletes. It is particularly exciting to launch this project at a time when the pandemic has limited the ability of fans to attend sporting events or visit museums in person.”
Coe continued, “Athletics is the most accessible and diverse sport in the world and we were keen for the museum to reflect that by making the platform accessible to everyone, no matter where you are and what device you use.”
World Athletics worked with digital sport company dcSPORT, led by Olympic gold medallist and 2004 world indoor 60m champion Jason Gardener, to create the museum.
Through the use of cutting-edge 3D technology, MOWA is designed to look and feel like a real building.
A visitor’s journey begins by entering through a large reception hall, which features the six continental displays, before moving through an ‘Origins Tunnel’ which follows athletics’ 3000-year journey from antiquity to the modern day, and arriving at the ‘World Championships Room’, which features all 17 editions of World Athletics’ flagship championships.
Visitors can roam around the museum freely and interact with more than 60 exhibits and more than 400 items of supporting content: text, photos and video.
World Athletics claims the project took six months to bring to life, and was designed with the capacity to evolve over time. World Athletics will continue to add new features and galleries regularly, beginning with an Olympic exhibition, which will open in July, before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
MOWA is hosted by the official World Athletics website and can be visited for free by clicking here.
The final six men’s handball teams have booked their spot to the 2020 Olympics after their performances at the Olympic Qualification Tournaments. Three tournaments were held concurrently where four teams played a round robin. The top two teams from each tournament qualified to the games. The tournaments were held from March 12th to March 14th 2021.
The first tournament was hosted by Podgorica, Montenegro who stepped in after Norway withdrew. The 2019 World Championship silver medalist Norway was still able to win the group as they defeated Brazil (32-20), Chile (38-23) and South Korea (44-31).
Brazil recovered from their first day loss to post wins over South Korea (30-24) and Chile (26-24), though the team was down 17-11 against the latter after the first half. South Korea finished third as they won 36-35 over Chile on the first day thanks to building a nine-point lead and preventing a feverous comeback by the Chilean team.
This will be Norway’s second appearance in the men’s tournament at the Olympics with the first being back in 1972 while for Brazil this will be their sixth tournament where they last competed in Rio as hosts.
The second tournament was hosted by Montpellier, France. The first day began with Portugal securing a 34-27 victory over Tunisia while the second match between France and Croatia saw the latter build up a five-point lead early into the second half, but France persevered and came back at the halfway point only to build their own lead to win 30-26.
Croatia had another suspenseful match on the second day where they fell behind by six goals to Portugal early in the second half. They spent the rest of the match catching up to win 25-24 thanks to a goal by Luka Cindric with 20 seconds remaining. France won their match 40-29 against Tunisia.
The final set of matches saw another close event involving Croatia as they went even with Tunisia for most of the first half. Croatia was able to take control of the match in the second half and put some distance against Tunisia to win 30-27 and finish with two victories.
The final match of the group between France and Portugal saw the former jump up to a six-point lead only for Portugal to close the gap down to a 1 goal French lead at the end of the half. The second half was a close affair though Portugal barely took possession of the lead. Going into the final minutes France held a three-goal lead. Portugal however would pull off a miraculous comeback including scoring the game winning goal during the final two seconds to win the match 29-28. This caused a three-way tie with Croatia, France and Portugal finishing with four points. Going by goal differential between the tied teams, France and Portugal qualified to the Olympics, leaving Croatia as the odd team out.
This will be France’s eighth Olympics in a row. They also won three medals over the past three games (gold in 2008 and 2012 and silver in 2016). Portugal on the other hand will be making their handball Olympic debut.
The third tournament was hosted by Berlin, Germany. The first match of the tournament between Germany and Sweden was intense. In the first half, Germany was never behind, but Sweden always kept it close with the half ending 14-13 German lead. The second half it was Sweden’s turn to never fully relinquish the lead, but never having full control of the match. A goal in the final two seconds by Germany’s Marcel Schiller allowed the match to end with a draw. In the other match Slovenia won over Algeria 36-28.
Germany and Sweden showed they were on another level against their competitors on the second day as they defeated Slovenia (36-27) and Algeria (36-25) respectively. The pair would clinch Olympic qualification on the final day with Germany defeating Algeria 34-26 and Sweden winning over Slovenia 32-25. Sweden finished first overall thanks to a better goal differential.
Sweden has won four silvers in its Olympic history with the most recent one being in 2012. Germany has also won four medals and is the current defending bronze medalist.
This is the final opportunity for nations to qualify in the men’s handball tournament. The final women’s teams are set to be decided at their own Olympic Qualification Tournament to be held next weekend.
Two pairs of world champions were crowned today with the conclusion of the 2021 470 World Championships. Additionally, this event doubled as the European qualifier for the 2020 Olympics. The highest ranked eligible boat in the men’s and women’s event qualified to the games. The 470 World Championships were held in Vilamoura, Portugal from March 5th to March 13th 2021.
The men’s 470 began with 2019 world silver medalists Jordi Xammar and Nicolas Rodriguez of Spain taking an early lead. Trouble first appeared during the fifth race where the pair finished 19th, making it the dropped score.
However, a 20th place finish on the seventh race held on the third day meant the duo had to take on the 19 points from the previous day. This forced them to drop to fourth at the time and allowed for 2019 world bronze medalists Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergstrom of Sweden and Russians Pavel Sozykin and Denis Gribanov to take a joint lead.
Dahlberg and Bergstrom took sole possession of the lead by the end of the fourth day and was able to extend their lead to 11 points going into the medal race. The pair sailed a safe final race to win their first world title with a net score of 52 points. The silver medal was won by Portugal’s Diogo and Pedro Costa (73 points) whom also won the Olympic quota for their nation while the bronze medal was won by Xammar and Rodriguez (78 points).
The women’s 470 similarly saw 2019 world bronze medalists Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz of France take a first day lead. A relatively poor third and fourth races allowed Spain’s Silvia Mas and Patricia Cantero, 2018 world silver medalists to take the lead by five points.
The Spanish pair remained consistent, but were challenged by Afrodite Zegers and two-time Olympic medalist Lobke Berkhout of the Netherlands. Despite being behind by 21 points after the sixth race, the pair made a comeback over the next five races to cut the lead down to three.
The medal race saw Mas and Cantero take the shadow strategy where they remained closely behind Zegers and Berkhout to prevent them from finishing two places ahead. This allowed Mas and Cantero to win the gold medal by a single point (75 points) ahead of Zegers and Berkhout. The bronze medal was won by Italy’s Elena Berta and Bianca Caruso (84 points). The Olympic quota was won by Turkey’s Beste Kaynacki and Okyanus Arikan.
This completes the 470 class line-up for the Olympics. All that remains is for all nations to accept their quotas. Should a nation decline a quota, the next eligible nation at the 2019 World Championships will then be offered a spot to compete.
As the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing approach, scrutiny on China as a host is back in focus. Its on-going record of human rights abuses - most recently, between the treatment of its Muslim minority to the subjugation of Hong Kong - is depressing. And, it's a legitimate question on whether such a regime should be showcased as host of a "sportswashing" event like the Olympics.
That this conversation is happening shouldn't come as a surprise. It was certainly previewed in the contest to host these Games. As more palatable candidates dropped out of the bidding race, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was left with two options in 2015: Beijing and Almaty. Despite experiencing similar concerns ahead of its hosting of the 2008 Summer Games, China really was seen as the lesser of two evils...Kazakhstan was and is no humanitarian state, either.
July, 2015: Thomas Bach announces Beijing as the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
So, Beijing it is, unless the IOC inconceivably decides to move the event. So, the calls for an Olympic boycott have happened. Some of it is political grandstanding - in the United States, at least, an easy way to pressure the current administration while preaching righteousness. But athletes are chattering, too, while China remains defiant. For now, the U.S. Olympic Committee has reiterated its stance against a boycott.
Which begs the question...do Olympic boycotts even work? Let's look at history.
Multiple nations stayed away from Australia's first Summer Games, for a variety of reasons. In response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary just before the start of the Games, Spain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands pulled out. Egypt, Lebanon, and Iraq boycotted as a result of the Suez Crisis with Israel. And, China (the Peoples Republic) officially boycotted since China (Taiwan) was allowed entry.
At that time, probably only the Netherlands' absence affected general competition quality. And, decades later, it's viewed by the Dutch as "the black page in the Olympic history for the Netherlands". It's hard to argue that the boycott influenced outside events, as the trajectories of the Cold War, Middle East crisis, and Chinese territorial fights continued well past 1956.
Due to political discrimination at the separate Games of New Emerging Forces (GANEFO) in 1963, those participating athletes were barred from the 1964 Games. Thus, Indonesia and North Korea pulled all their athletes from the Olympics.
The resulting legacy of the 1964 boycott is simply a missed opportunity to see North Korean Sin Kim-Dan, then the world record-holder, compete in the women's track 800 meters. That had promised to be one of the more intriguing events on the track.
As for GANEFO? Built as a direct competition to the Olympics by Indonesia, it was officially dead by 1970.
Cartoonist Eric Heath pondered a separatist future of the Games in 1976
In 1976, New Zealand's rugby team toured South Africa despite an international sporting embargo on the apartheid-led nation. In response to New Zealand not being expelled from the 1976 Games later in the year - and despite rugby not being an Olympic sport - more than 20 African nations led a boycott. By far the most prolific multinational political effort at the Games, the success of the effort is nuanced.
Some argue that the massive boycott did help repeal apartheid in the longer end, as it shined a wider light on South Africa's racist policies (and Black African unity against it), as well as spearheading immediate resistance to rugby's friendliness with South Africa within New Zealand itself.
On the other hand, by far the lasting commentary of a Montreal 1976 retrospective is the massive debt incurred in staging the Games, not the boycott. And, track fans (again) were deprived of potentially stirring matchups, particularly from East African runners.
Note, Taiwan also boycotted these Games, as a result of not being able to use the moniker Republic of China, in IOC deference to the People's Republic of China (who again didn't even enter).
In by far the biggest Olympic boycott effort, the United States led more than 60 other nations, including Canada, Japan, and West Germany, to skip the Games in order to voice opposition to the recent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and to not use Games participation as "implicit approval" of Soviet aggression.
With many leading nations absent, and many individual athletes from participating nations similarly staying home, competition was hit hard and the host nation was seemingly chagrined. But not chagrined enough to change its Afghanistan policy: the Soviet Union remained in the country until 1989.
In the U.S., the boycott is very much seen as ineffectual, and devastating for the more than 400 American athletes prevented from competition. Even the U.S. Olympic Committee weighed in last year against boycotts after continued remembrance of 1980.
1984 Los Angeles
Announcing a distrust of security for its athletes, the Soviet Union led a boycott of the Los Angeles-hosted Games in 1984. rather acknowledged as a tit-for-tat move for 1980, it is also widely seen as having failed. While 13 other Soviet-tied nations also stayed home, the Games most certainly persevered.
Buoyed by excited media coverage, Los Angeles 1984 is as well-known for who did compete as much as who didn't. Romania and Yugoslavia bucked the Soviet block and thrived. P.R. China appeared for the first time since 1952.
The Games were also a financial hit, providing a funding model that is today's top sports sponsorship property.
The Soviets and friends didn't come? The hit to competition didn't seem to matter to the massive audiences in the end, as Los Angeles brought the party back to life.
Despite not having official diplomatic relationships with the communist bloc at the time, South Korea managed to avoid a significant boycott effort. North Korea, after being denied an unlikely request to co-host in a significant manner, stayed home, along with their ally Cuba.
Otherwise, Seoul 1988 set a record for participating nations (159) and, with all sporting world powers (sans Cuban baseball players and boxers) present, full competitive action was restored
One take on whether this boycott was a success is looking at when South Korea again hosted a Games with Pyeongchang 2018. Then, in order to ensure North Korean participation, a series of "unity" measures were integrated. Some might argue that a line might be drawn back to the lessons of 1988's failed negotiations, but the Olympic concessions proved only a temporary respite, as any goodwill generated in 2018 is certainly forgotten now. Plan on another round of North Korean angst if and when South Korea hosts again.
Beijing is hoping it's hard to boycott mascot Bing Dwen Dwen
So, where will today's boycott talk go? There are a lot of beginning similarities to the U.S. approach with Moscow 1980. A call to move the Games, then to boycott by determined politicians. A president increasingly scrutinized for how hard-line he is with a geopolitical enemy. A legitimate humanitarian transgression by the host, deserving of significant and perhaps symbolic international reaction.
Too often, though, those championing a boycott overlook those directly affected, the athletes. And athletes remain the heart of the Games; despite any fanfare and ceremony, it's about the ultimate camaraderie of competition. If 1980 is a guide, one should expect the significant public relations risk of a litany of athlete disappointment stories.
And, times have changed. The Games are bigger, and athletes and sport federations have much more at stake commercially. Although there are a myriad of world championships, world cups, and grand prix events in any given sport, the Olympics remain the ultimate opportunity for an athlete to showcase their hard work and career.
What to do? Though some individuals may be at peace with making a personal choice to not compete, it would be a tough call today to to ask an entire delegation to step down. Athletes deserve to be the priority, and not victims of political retributions.
Perhaps the focus should be to pressure the IOC to not award the Games to questionable spots in the first place. That certainly may be one purpose behind the IOC's targeting a single "preferred" future host for the next few summer editions. While Beijing 2022 will probably proceed as planned, at least there's a blueprint to better avoid a problem in the future.
A version of this opinion originally appeared on gamesandrings.com.
Panam Sports and the Cali-Valle 2021 Organizing Committee have announced the final sport to be added to the official sports program for the 2021 Junior Pan American Games.
Women’s Softball has been announced as the final addition to the sports program for the Games. The sport will feature eight teams with a maximum of 16 players each, adding 128 more athletes to the continental event.
The participating players must be in the Under-20 age category (athletes born between 2002 - 2005) between 16 and 19 years old. Therefore, the 2019 U-17 Pan American Championship held in Barranquilla will act as the qualification tournament for the Games. The qualified countries include the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and the host country Colombia.
Panam Sports reached an agreement with WBSC Americas Softball for the Qualification System and with the National Olympic Committees for the financing of the airfare.
Women’s Softball will be held in Barranquilla along with Men's Baseball. The city has agreed to take care of all of the accommodations and food expenses for the participating delegations of these sports.
“This is great news. Softball, like baseball, is a sport that has achieved significant development in the region, that is why we are very happy with the agreement reached with the city of Barranquilla, with the Pan American Confederation and with the National Olympic Committees,” said Panam Sports Secretary General, Ivar Sisniega.
“We’ll have more than 3,800 athletes for the first edition of these Games, and I’m sure that they will transform them into the most important and massive sporting event for young people in the world this year, which leaves us very proud and motivated to continue working hard from now until September to make this party an unforgettable experience for everyone,” added the former Mexican Olympic pentathlete.
“We are very pleased to host Softball in Barranquilla, especially the women's tournament. The capital of the Atlantic has so much passion for this sport and baseball, disciplines that are in their blood. This is a magnificent opportunity for 'la arenosa' to be seen as a venue for the I Junior Pan American Games Cali-Valle 2021. This union of efforts between cities shows that Colombia is a country that works as a team, knows about camaraderie and is ready for great things,” said Cali 2021 Executive Director, Jose Luis Echeverry.
The sports program of the First Junior Pan American Games of Cali-Valle 2021 is now composed of the following 28 sports: Aquatics (Artistic Swimming, Diving, Swimming), Archery, Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Boxing, Canoeing, Cycling (BMX, Mountain, Road, Track) Fencing, Gymnastics (Artistic, Rhythmic, Trampoline), Handball, Judo, Karate, Modern Pentathlon, Roller Sports (Artistic, Skateboarding, Speed), Rowing, Shooting Sport (Pistol, Rifle), Squash, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Triathlon, Sailing, Volleyball, Weightlifting, Wrestling (Freestyle, Greco-Roman) and now Baseball/Softball.
Olympic champion Thomas Bach has been re-elected for an additional four-year term as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the 137th IOC Session held virtually today.
Thomas Bach, who won gold with the German foil fencing team at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, was elected as IOC President at the IOC Session in 2013 in Buenos Aires for a first eight-year term. This term will finish on the closing day of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on 8 August this year. His second term as IOC President will start immediately after, and will conclude in 2025. Bach received 93 votes in his favor of his re-election, and 1 vote against.
Reacting to his re-election, Bach said, “Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart for this overwhelming vote of confidence and trust. For me, this is even more overwhelming considering the many reforms and the many difficult decisions we had to take, which affected all of us. You know that this touches me deeply. It also makes me humble. When you elected me for the first time as your President in 2013 in Buenos Aires, I said that I wanted to lead the IOC according to my campaign motto ‘Unity in diversity’ and be a President for all of you and for all our stakeholders. This commitment is also true for my second and last term. My door, my ears and my heart remain open for each and every one of you. I hope that I can count on your continued dedication, support and friendship also during these four more years.”
In his acceptance speech addressing the IOC Members, Bach said, “In the meantime, you know me well enough that I would also like to look forward and continue to achieve ambitious goals with you also in the post-coronavirus world. We learned during this coronavirus crisis, the hard way, that we can live up to our Olympic slogan ‘faster, higher, stronger’, in sport and in life, only if we are working together in solidarity. Therefore, I would today like to inspire a discussion – a discussion with you and everybody interested in the Olympic community – on whether we should not complement this slogan by adding, after a hyphen, the word ‘together’: ‘Faster, higher, stronger – together’. This could be – from my point of view – a strong commitment to our core value of solidarity, and an appropriate and a humble adaptation to the challenges of this new world.”
As an athlete, Thomas Bach was a world-class fencer, winning an Olympic gold medal. He also won two gold medals with the German foil fencing team at the World Championships in 1976 and 1977. He was a founding member of the IOC Athletes’ Commission in 1981, on which he remained until 1988. In 1991, he became an IOC Member and sat on the IOC Executive Board between 1996 and 2013. He served as IOC Vice-President from 2000 to 2004, 2006 to 2010, and from 2010 until his election as IOC President in September 2013.
During his presidency, Thomas Bach received the prestigious Seoul Peace Prize and was awarded the Cem - Papandreou Peace Award. He was also the main driving force behind Olympic Agenda 2020.
Bach has proven to be a polarizing figure outside of the International Olympic Committee. His reforms of the Olympic Movement have found both avid supporters and vocal critics. With his re-election, the International Olympic Committee has reaffirmed their commitment to Bach’s agenda, and his reforms for governance, gender equality, and sustainability.
Update March 18th 2021
The second of four rowing continental qualifiers has been completed with the conclusion of the 2021 Americas Olympic Qualification Regatta. In terms of Olympic qualification, five single sculls boats and three lightweight double sculls boats were set to be awarded. An additional rule was implemented for the continental regattas where nations can only qualify one boat (the highest ranked boat) or two if both boats finished first. The Americas Olympic Qualification Regatta was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil from March 4th to March 6th 2021.
The men’s single sculls were won by the host nation’s Lucas Ferreira whom won all three races he participated in including a time of 7:24.86 in the final. This was one second ahead of Chile’s Felipe Cardenas (7:25.90) while the bronze was won by Argentina’s Axel Haack.
The Olympic quotas were awarded to Brazil, Peru, Bermuda, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
2019 Pan American Games women’s lightweight single sculls gold medalist Kenia Lechuga of Mexico showed she is just as talented on the regular weight boats by winning the women’s single sculls event with a time of 8:04.62. Lechuga is no stranger at this boat class as she has competed at the 2019 World Championships and at the 2016 Olympics. She finished ahead of Paraguay’s Alejandra Alonso (8:09.82) and 2019 Pan American Games silver medalist Felice Chow of Trinidad and Tobago (8:13.91).
The Olympic quotas for this event were awarded to Mexico, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
The largest upset occurred in the men’s lightweight double sculls where Uruguay’s Bruno Cetraro and Felipe Kluver came back from a defeat by Chile’s Cesar Abaroa and Eber Sanhueza during the heats to win in the final by 0.32 seconds with a time of 6:37.97. The bronze medal was won by Brazil’s Evaldo Morais and Emanuel Borges (6:40.36).
The Olympic quotas were awarded to Uruguay, Chile and Venezuela.
The women’s lightweight double sculls were won by Argentina’s Milka Kraljev and Evelyn Silvestro whom finished with a time of 7:30.21, more than four seconds ahead of Brazil’s Isabelle Camargos and Vanessa Cozzi (7:34.62). 2019 Pan American Games silver medalists Yoselyn Carcamo and Isidora Niemeyer of Chile won the bronze medal with a time of 7:43.27.
The Olympic quotas were awarded to Argentina and Guatemala. However, due to no other eligible nations taking part in this event the quota will be reallocated to the next highest ranked boat at the final qualification regatta.
Two more continental qualification regattas remain. Unqualified Pan American nations will have one more opportunity to qualify to the Olympics via the final qualification regatta to be held in the coming months.
Men's Single Sculls
Women's Single Sculls
Trinidad and Tobago
China’s Yang and Hu finished ahead of their compatriots to win the 2021 Nacra 17 Asian Championships. By winning they have also qualified a quota for China to compete at the Olympics in this event. The Nacra 17 Asian Championships was held in Shanghai, China from March 1st to March 6th 2021.
The first two days saw China’s Shi Junjie and Zhang Yingying with the lead thanks to winning five of the first seven races. Behind them by three points were Yang Xuezhe and Hu Xiaoxiao. However, by winning all three races held on the third day Yang and Hu took the overall lead by a single point. The pair continued their strong performance by winning four out of the five final races to win with a net total of 19 points. Shi and Zhang won silver (24 points) while their compatriots Mao Hui and Zhou Qianqian won bronze (38 points).
This was the final opportunity for Asian nations to qualify in the Mixed Nacra 17 Foiling event. Two more quotas remain set to be awarded to an African and European nation. Asian nations still have opportunities to qualify in 6/10 sailing events set to be held in the coming weeks.
Four-time Olympic Gold Medalist Serena Williams as the Greatest Of All Time?
Olympic tennis great Serena Williams' Australian Open run earlier this month certainly inspired talk on her status as a Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.) contender. While I generally don't pay much attention to such discussions - too many variables in such different eras to be fair - the chatter inspired me to revisit the HBO Sports documentary mini-series Being Serena from 2018.
Produced in part with Williams' business partner IMG Entertainment, Being Serena was never going to be an in-depth, impartial look at one of history's greatest athletes. But it is a revealing reminder of her unique position today and drive. Too often, we see a star athlete or celebrity as one dimensional, as just the person on the court or on stage. Williams has surely been subject to this - having seen her win 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles (out of 14 finals!), 7 WTA Tour Championship titles, and 4 Olympic gold medals, we had been lulled into a sense of her invincibility. But Being Serena shows that Williams is human, after all, perhaps even setting us up to temper expectations going forward.
Being Serena shows us Williams facing real world, outside of tennis, moments from a roughly 15-month period starting with her early 2017 pregnancy announcement to child birth, to subsequent grave medical concerns, and her wedding. There is a refreshing quality seeing her face these life events. She has legitimate concerns aside from the playing court, and she faces them with as any of us would - at times emotional and vulnerable. No matter that the documentary comes across as too polished for some critics. What we do see is earnest and sincere.
Seeing her in this human light actually does support Williams as the G.O.A.T. Coming back to elite competition, in serious contention to build upon her 23 Grand Slam titles...who else has been that strong to come back from such a complicated birth and perilous recovery so well? It's a unique, daunting challenge fit for a fierce competitor. Note when her husband Alexis jokingly suggests their daughter's potential as a Grand Slam winner years in the future, Williams is whip-quick with a "not if I'm still playing" retort. Brash, sure...but it should not be unexpected from someone as career-determined as she is.
Between her return in May 2018 and today, she's made four Grand Slam finals. Four! Never mind that she hasn't won one of them, just having the tenacity to make it through to four finals - and this last Australian semifinals - would be a beyond outstanding record for anyone. And she's largely done it on her terms, juggling motherhood and marriage while on the road. It's a unique challenge, it should noted, to female athletes.
She doesn't need a 24th title to justify her legacy (though I am rooting for it). The fact that she's still sharing her tennis with us should a joy. In retrospective, Being Serena helps us to appreciate just how special a competitor Williams is. Here's hoping she provides us more highlights still.
A version of this opinion piece appears on gamnesandrings.com. Follow GamesandRings.com for more on Olympic sports athletes.