SportAccord Convention fills leadership void

June, 25, 2015

Francesco Ricci BittiJohn Berry/Getty Images

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti has been elected the new president of a major sports industry convention.

The Italian will be in charge of the SportAccord Convention, an annual conference that draws hundreds of delegates from around the world.

The convention is organized by the umbrella body SportAccord, which represents Olympic and non-Olympic federations.

Marius Vizer resigned as head of both SportAccord and the convention after facing a revolt from federations over his attacks on the International Olympic Committee.

Ricci Bitti steps down as ITF president in September after four terms in office, but will continue as head of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.

Swiss IOC member Gian-Franco Kasper was chosen last week as interim president of the SportAccord federations' body, pending elections later this year.

2019 bobseld and skeleton worlds to be held in Whistler

June, 2, 2015

Skeleton at WhistlerDerek Leung/Getty Images

GHENT, Belgium -- The 2019 bobsled and skeleton world championships have been assigned to the 2010 Olympics track in Whistler, Canada.

Whistler edged Altenberg, Germany, by one vote -- 20-19 -- at the international federation's congress Tuesday.

St. Moritz in Switzerland was eliminated in the first round of voting.

It will mark the first worlds in Canada since the 2005 event in Calgary.

The Whistler track is where 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a crash during a practice run just hours before the start of the 2010 Games, prompting criticism that the course was too fast.

Luge is not part of the bobsled and skeleton worlds.

Next year's worlds are scheduled for Igls, Austria, with the 2017 event slated for last year's Olympic track in Sochi, Russia.

Olympic venue trash repurposed by artists

June, 2, 2015

Rio water track art AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Forget pricey imported oil paints and exorbitant blocks of marble. Art students at a Brazilian university have taken advantage of one material they have in endless and free supply -- trash -- to create an exhibition that aims to draw attention to the fetid state of Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailing events are to be held next year.

Around 30 students at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University used plastic bottles, tires, old flip flops, plastic helmets, scratched CDs, old tubes and plastic supermarket bags they plucked off a nearby shore to make sculptures of ocean fauna including an octopus and dolphins.

The campus, on Fundao Island in the filthy bay near the international airport, is at the epicenter of Rio's pollution problem. With poor trash and sewage services throughout the city of 12 million people, Rio's waterways are choked with raw sewage and floating garbage. A thick ring of trash surrounds much of Fundao Island, where the stench of raw sewage is often overpowering.

[+] EnlargeRio de Janeiro Federal University
AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

"We went out with the students to collect garbage for the project and I was like, `Let's not take more than we need.' Because there is so much, so much garbage," said Dalia dos Santos Cerqueira, a professor of fine arts and coordinator of the exhibit. "It was scary to see."

Fabio Drumond, an artist who worked on the exhibit, said the project showed how the bay has been transformed over the past decades into a watery landfill.

"Dolls, wood, chairs, tires, televisions -- everything that doesn't work anymore gets thrown into the water," he said. "It's being destroyed by garbage."

Rio authorities had pledged to clean up the fetid bay before the 2016 Olympics, when sailing events are slated to be held there. But with the games just over a year away, both the mayor and the governor have repeatedly said that promise won't be met. Still, Olympic authorities insist the events will be held on the bay despite objections of some sailors, who are worried about falling ill from the water or potentially catastrophic collisions with floating trash.

The art show, called "The Sea's Not Fit for Fish," runs through Thursday at the university campus.

Olympic powerbroker renounces Vizer

May, 26, 2015

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-SabahThananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

LONDON -- A senior Olympic powerbroker distanced himself from Marius Vizer on Tuesday and threw his full support behind IOC President Thomas Bach in the latest backlash against the leader of umbrella body SportAccord.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, president of the Association of National Olympic Committees, said "it is time to put personal matters aside" and stand behind Bach's reform agenda "for the benefit and harmony of the Olympic movement."

The Kuwaiti sheikh issued a statement urging unity in the wake of Vizer's attacks on the International Olympic Committee. Nearly two dozen sports have suspended or withdrawn their membership in Vizer's SportAccord, which represents Olympic and non-Olympic federations.

Peruvian organizers have also pulled out of hosting Vizer's multi-sport World Combat Games in 2017.

Sheikh Ahmad and Vizer had been allies until the SportAccord leader challenged the IOC and sought to organize his own multi-sport games.

The sheikh's public statement marked another personal blow for Vizer, who has been left increasingly on his own since delivering a speech criticizing the IOC at the opening of the SportAccord convention in Sochi last month. Vizer called the IOC system "expired, outdated, wrong, unfair and not at all transparent" and said Bach's "Olympic Agenda 2020" reform program was of little use to the federations.

Sheikh Ahmad said Vizer's views "do not represent the view of ANOC and other Olympic movement stakeholders and ANOC is keeping its distance from them."

"The Olympic movement is strongest when it is united," he said. "There are many different stakeholders with the Olympic family but under the leadership of the IOC we must all collaborate in order to provide the best environment for our athletes."

Sheikh Ahmad's support for Bach comes as no surprise. The Kuwaiti, who is an IOC member and head of the Asian Olympic Council, was influential in building support for Bach's successful candidacy for the IOC presidency in 2013. He is also chairman of Olympic Solidarity, the IOC program which distributes revenues to national committees and athletes.

But the sheikh's intervention resonates symbolically, as he represents 205 national Olympic bodies and is considered arguably the second-most powerful official in the Olympic world.

Sheikh Ahmad and Vizer have also skirmished over the launch of a proposed World Beach Games. The two had previously agreed to work together on the project, but Vizer announced in Sochi that SportAccord would launch the event on its own in 2017.

Sheikh Ahmad said Tuesday he is pressing ahead with his own plans for the games.

"Under the leadership of the IOC, ANOC is cooperating and coordinating with other Olympic stakeholders for the new project of the Beach Games," he said. "The project will be launched very soon and will serve our athletes and bring benefits to the wider Olympic movement."

Vizer, who also heads the International Judo Federation, sent Bach his own 20-point "reform agenda" last week as the basis for a proposed meeting with the IOC leader. Vizer's proposals include the introduction of prize money in the Olympics.

Bach kept Vizer waiting, saying he would discuss the situation with the IOC executive board next month. Francesco Riccci Bitti, head of the association of summer Olympic sports, told Vizer he does not represent the view of the federations and has shown a "lack of understanding" of the Olympic movement.

In his statement, Sheikh Ahmad also jabbed Vizer by saying he would like to know how SportAccord shares its income with international federations and how judo distributes money to the national bodies.

SportAccord's Vizer rebuffed again

May, 22, 2015

Francesco Ricci BittiJohn Berry/Getty Images

LONDON -- Marius Vizer's latest foray into IOC politics earned a blunt rebuke from a senior Olympic leader Friday, as more sports suspended ties with his umbrella body.

The head of the association of summer Olympic sports told Vizer in a sharply-worded letter to stop speaking on behalf of the federations, saying he does not represent their views and has shown a "lack of understanding" of the Olympic movement.

Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, rejected Vizer's 20-point plan for changes in the IOC as out of touch and of little, if any, merit.

Vizer heads SportAccord, a body representing Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations. ASOIF covers the 28 sports in the Summer Games.

Ricci Bitti, an Italian, is also president of the International Tennis Federation. A copy of his letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

"I urge you politely to refrain from speaking publicly on behalf of the international federations as they do not feel represented by SportAccord and, more importantly, do not agree with your views or the position you have taken," he wrote.

Vizer has been increasingly isolated since launching a scathing attack on the IOC and President Thomas Bach in his opening speech at the SportAccord convention last month in Sochi, Russia.

[+] EnlargeMarius Vizer
AP Photo/Dmitry LovetskyFormer SportAccord president Marius Vizer's verbal barrage at the IOC has put the umbrella body's future in doubt.

At least 20 Olympic sports have suspended or withdrawn their membership in SportAccord since then, with the international cycling and fencing federations becoming the latest to announce their departures Friday.

Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born billionaire who heads the fencing body, said Vizer "caused harm to international federations and has not taken their interests into account." He said SportAccord should issue an official apology to Bach.

The international swimming federation, known as FINA, confirmed for the first time that it had suspended its membership on April 22.

Vizer wrote to Bach and Ricci Bitti earlier this week seeking separate meetings with them to clear the air "for the benefit and the unity of the sports movement."

Bach kept Vizer waiting, saying he needed to discuss the invitation with the IOC executive board at its next meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, next month. ASOIF proposed a meeting with Vizer in early June.

On Thursday, Vizer sent Bach a 20-point "reform agenda" ahead of their proposed meeting. Among other things, he calls for the introduction of prize money in the Olympics, a 50 percent stake for federations in the new Olympic television channel and a slot for non-Olympic federations to demonstrate their sports just before and after the games in host cities.

"Your agenda, if needed at all, once again confirms the ambiguity between your roles as president of the International Judo Federation and your wish to represent other international federations as president of SportAccord," Ricci Bitti said in his letter to Vizer. "It also displays a lack of understanding of the governance and functioning of the Olympic movement."

The Italian said many of the issues had already been addressed within Bach's reform program and that Vizer had been fully involved in the consultations.

"It seems from subsequent remarks and correspondence that apparently you failed to represent your views and opinions on those occasions," Ricci Bitti said.


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Rome wants Olympic medal ceremony in the Colosseum

May, 22, 2015

Colosseum Tiziana Fabi/Getty Image

ROME -- Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino proposed Friday that medal ceremonies be held at the Colosseum if the Italian capital wins the bid to host the 2024 Olympics.

Marino was meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach and bid committee officials, as well as Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Giovanni Malago, president of Italy's national Olympic committee.

"I have a dream: if we manage to have the Olympics in Rome, I would like the medal ceremonies to take place at the Colosseum," Marino said. "We want to rebuild the arena of the Colosseum so that the athletes can be lifted in like the gladiators in the Roman times."

Bach liked the idea, but joked "as long as the lions don't then arrive."

The bid committee is also looking into the possibility of having the finals of various sports at other historic locations, including the Circus Maximus.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi announced Rome's cost-conscious Olympic bid in December, two years after Italy scrapped plans to bid for the 2020 Games because of financial concerns.

Bach believes Rome now has a good chance of bringing the games back to the Italian capital for the first time since 1960 -- the former fencer's first Olympics.

"Italy's candidacy is a strong one because of its history, that of the country and its sporting one," Bach said. "I wish you good luck with the bid, congratulations on your good work, continue like this.

"I see that there is a lot of unity behind Rome's bid. From the president Mattarella to CONI to the mayor Marino. This is very important and gives strength to the Italian project."

The IOC will select the host city in 2017.

Hamburg, Germany, and Boston are the only declared candidates. Paris and Budapest, Hungary, are expected to enter the race soon.

"In its candidacy, Roma is the only one to bring together art and culture, sporting tradition, innovation and technology," said bid leader and former Ferrari president Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo. "That is one of our strong points, together with a powerful team spirit.

"Bach himself made us understand that occasions have been lost in the past because of a lack of unity in the world of sport and the country in general. It's a great opportunity for Italy, something we mustn't lose."

John Coates wins re-election to sports arbitration council

May, 22, 2015

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Australian Olympic official John Coates has been re-elected president of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport.

Coates, a Sydney-based lawyer, will serve a second term from 2015-18. He became the third ICAS president in 2010, after Senegal's Judge Keba Mbaye from 1994-2007 and Italy's Mino Auletta from 2007-10.

Coates is president of the Australian Olympic Committee and a vice president of the International Olympic Committee.

Elected as ICAS vice presidents were Michael Lenard of the United States and Tjasa Andree-Prosenc of Slovenia.

ICAS is composed of 20 international lawyers. It manages the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the highest appeals body in international sports, and sets up special CAS panels at the Olympics and other major events.

Olympic rings ceremony marks nearing games

May, 22, 2015

RingsMatthew Stockman/Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO -- This is a sure sign the 2016 Olympics are getting close.

Officials of next year's games in Rio de Janeiro stood by Wednesday evening as fireworks exploded above a huge version of the symbolic five Olympic rings.

These rings were displayed in the northeastern city of Newcastle, England, during the 2012 games in London.

The rings were installed in Madureira Park in northern Rio, far from the heart of the Olympics in the western suburb of Barra da Tijuca. The large city park will be a viewing center during the games with free broadcasts on giant television screens.

Rio's city hall says other live viewing sites are planned in Rio's port area with another in the western zone of the city.

The Rio Olympic Games open Aug. 5, 2016.

Stabbing near Olympic venue highlights security concerns for Rio

May, 21, 2015

Rio BalloonYasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Mayor Eduardo Paes said Wednesday he was confident in security arrangements for next year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a day after a cyclist was stabbed to death near the main venue for rowing and canoeing at South America's first games.

The cyclist was identified by police as 55-year-old Jaime Gold, who was stabbed in the early evening Tuesday while cycling near the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in the most upscale neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro.

"This is not an issue about the Olympics," Paes said. "It's an issue about us Cariocas (Rio residents) and the way we conduct our lives."

Paes spoke at Rio's Olympic headquarters after meeting with top members of the International Olympic Committee, who began two days of meetings to examine the city's readiness to host South America's first games.

Paes described crime as a social problem in Rio, hoping to distance it from Olympic preparations.

The city was criticized a year ago by a top IOC member who said Rio's preparations were the "worst" in recent history. Organizers seem to have those preparations back on track, but still face very tight deadlines and rising costs to be ready for the opening on Aug. 5, 2016.

According to recent statistics, the state of Rio de Janeiro, which includes the city of Rio, saw a drop in murders in 2012. But homicides began rising again, jumping 21 percent to 4,939 people killed in 2014.

"Security is an issue for our everyday life," Paes said. "We had something yesterday at (the lagoon), and I mean we have more than we should."

Paes highlighted last year's World Cup, in which at least 150,000 soldiers and police were on duty across the country, as an example of Brazil and Rio's success in organizing large events and keeping the peace.

"Rio has a great experience of hosting big events," Paes said.

IOC officials also began their meetings as a brief labor strike has prevented work at some Olympic venues and also infrastructure projects being built for the Olympics. A labor judge is to rule this week if the strike can continue or must end.

"It's a democratic country," Paes said. "It's a right of the laborers, the people that work, to discuss their salaries with their bosses. I mean this is a regular discussion. I don't see it as a big issue and it's not delaying anything."

IOC officials in Rio for the scheduled "Project Review" included Nawal El Moutawakel, the head of the inspection team that periodically visits the city, and Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games Executive Director.

They did not make themselves available for comment.

Leonardo Espindola, the No. 2-ranking official in the Rio state government, said he was confident the severely polluted Guanabara Bay, the venue for sailing, would be ready for a test event in August.

Last month, an official of sailing's world governing body threatened to move all sailing events out of the bay to open water in the Atlantic. Rio officials had promised to clean the bay in their Olympic bid in 2009, but now acknowledge they will resort to stop-gap measures in the 147-square-mile body of water.

"The races will be in Guanabara Bay," Espindola said. "There is no chance to change the field of play. The sailing will take place in Guanabara Bay."

Espindola said 10 so-called eco-boats, used to collect floating garbage, will be back in the water "one or two months" before the August test event. He said five boats might also be added to the fleet.

He said 11 so-called eco-barriers, to block garbage from flowing into the noxious waters, would also be in place.

"The big problem for us is the floating garbage," he said.

Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon are both beautiful venues with filthy water and are among Olympic organizers' biggest problems.

Rio lacks basic sanitation, a decades-old problem for the poor in hilltop slums, and also for many well-off residents who live in suburban apartments that flush their sewage untreated into the sea.

Matt Smith, who heads the World Rowing Federation, was asked earlier this month by The Associated Press if he would swim in the rowing venue.

Smith replied: "I don't think I would go swimming in that lagoon."

Rio officials also confirmed Wednesday that water polo will be moved from a central venue near the Maracana stadium to one of two swimming venues at the Olympic Park, the heart of the games in western Rio. Officials said it could also wind up in Deodoro, the second largest cluster of venue.


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Tokyo 2020 Olympic stadium plans scaled back

May, 18, 2015

TOKYO -- Japan plans to scale back the main stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the government runs short of money and time, the country's sports minister said Monday.

Hakubun Shimomura said a planned retractable roof wouldn't be built in time for the games, and some of the 80,000 seats would be temporary ones, according to Japanese media reports.

Shimomura, whose ministry oversees sports, education and science, made the remarks in an exchange of views with Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe.

He asked if the city of Tokyo could shoulder 50 billion yen ($418 million) of the 169 billion yen construction cost. Masuzoe was non-committal, Kyodo news service said.

Plans for the new stadium have been criticized by some prominent architects, who say the design is too big and expensive. It is due to be completed in time to host the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019.

Shimomura told Masuzoe that Tokyo would benefit from the stadium and that the roof would be installed after the games, public broadcaster NHK said. The sports minister said further details of a final estimate for the stadium construction will be out later this month.

Tokyo Olympic organizers have been looking for ways to reduce costs. The IOC executive board gave them the go-ahead in February to change three venue locations to save money and said it was weighing more. The 2020 Olympics will make more use of existing venues than initially proposed.

The IOC said Tokyo has saved more than $1 billion so far in costs.

Triathlon latest sport to leave SportAccord

May, 18, 2015

Marius VizerAP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Triathlon has joined the exodus from umbrella body SportAccord following Marius Vizer's attack on the International Olympic Committee.

The International Triathlon Union says its executive board voted unanimously to suspend its membership in SportAccord, which represents Olympic and non-Olympic sports federations.

The ITU says "we are looking forward to seeing this issue resolved in the near future in the best interest of sport."

Triathlon follows wrestling, taekwondo, boxing, athletics, archery, canoeing, shooting and bobsled in suspending or cutting relations with SportAccord. The Association of Summer Olympic International Federations has also suspended ties.

Vizer, president of SportAccord, blasted the IOC and President Thomas Bach in a speech at the SportAccord convention in Sochi, Russia, last month. Vizer said the IOC system was "outdated" and Bach's reform program was of no use.

Kiprop upset by implied link to doping

May, 13, 2015

Asbel Kiprop Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar -- Two-time 1,500-meter world champion Asbel Kiprop said Wednesday he feels personally offended by his name being linked in the media with doping after Kenya's athletics federation suspended the management company that represents him.

Italy-based Rosa & Associati was one of two European athlete management companies to be suspended in April from working in Kenya for six months pending an investigation into alleged doping.

Rosa also managed drug cheats Rita Jeptoo and Mathew Kisorio. But both companies were suspended before an investigation and without any evidence against them being presented by Kenya's athletics federation or other authorities.

That was "not a good move," Kiprop said, because it cast doubts over the credibility of other, clean athletes connected to the agencies.

"The athletes working under Rosa management, I am included," Kiprop said. "And I'm thinking, what is the world thinking about me? They might be thinking, `OK he is suspicious'.

"When you read an article that says that Rosa manages the likes of Asbel Kiprop, you find my name there, then I feel offended to read my name under an issue like that."

Kenyan authorities have said foreign management companies are partly to blame for the country's recent spike in doping cases, with nearly 40 athletes failing doping tests in the past few years.

High-profile marathon runner Jeptoo was banned for two years in January for testing positive for EPO in an out-of-competition test in Kenya. The IAAF wants Jeptoo's ban increased to four years because of "aggravating circumstances," according to an appeal by the world athletics body to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Kisorio served a two-year ban for steroids.

The other agency to be suspended is Volare Sports of the Netherlands, which represents top male marathoners Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang.

Neither athlete has been accused of doping offenses.

Kenyan authorities and the federation have struggled to uncover the cause for the rise in cases.

Kiprop said as far as he knew the investigations into Rosa and Volare announced by Athletics Kenya last month hadn't progressed.

"The thing is, we're waiting to know when are they going to take this action?" Kiprop said.

Table tennis wants mixed event in 2020

May, 13, 2015

Olympic Table TennisFeng Li/Getty Images

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Table tennis is lobbying for the inclusion of a mixed doubles or mixed teams event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The International Table Tennis Federation says its president, Thomas Weikert, raised the proposal during a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach.

Table tennis currently has four medal competitions in the Olympics: men's and women's singles and men's and women's team events.

Weikert says "we have tried in the past to get the mixed doubles or mixed teams in the table tennis Olympic program."

He says "my conversations with President Bach were positive, so we hope that we will have a fifth table tennis gold medal added by Tokyo 2020."

Under Bach, the IOC has approved changes to make the Olympic program more flexible and move from a sport-based to an event-based system.

Johnson-Thompson pulls out of Hypo Meeting with injury

May, 12, 2015

Katarina Johnson-ThompsonAlexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

LONDON -- European indoor pentathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson has pulled out of this month's prestigious Hypo Meeting in Gotzis, Austria, because of a knee injury.

The 22-year-old British heptathlete was injured following her European title in Prague in March, and has not recovered sufficiently to compete in the combined events meet in Gotzis from May 30-31.

Johnson-Thompson finished second in a 200-meter hurdles race at the Great City Games in Manchester on Saturday. But her coach, Mike Holmes, said on Tuesday that "much of the preparation necessary to compete across all events has been lost."

Holmes says the athlete's focus will be on the world championships in Beijing in August.

Johnson-Thompson has established herself as the world's top heptathlete over the past 12 months, winning in Gotzis last year.

In March, she broke Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill's British indoor pentathlon record. It's uncertain whether Ennis-Hill will compete in Gotzis.

Lavillenie withdraws from Diamond League opener

May, 12, 2015

Renaud Lavillenie Reuters/Andreas Hillergren/TT News Agency

DOHA, Qatar -- Pole vault world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie withdrew from the season-opening Diamond League meet in Doha on Tuesday after injuring his right shoulder while running in a 4x100-meter race for his club in France.

Lavillenie hurt his shoulder when he fell at the finish line running the anchor leg at the national club championships in Lyon on Sunday, Diamond League organizers said in a statement.

Lavillenie's manager, Rene Auguin, said the Olympic and European champion was out for 10 days and couldn't compete in Doha on Friday. There was no serious damage to Lavillenie's shoulder, Auguin said, but the injury comes at the start of an important season for the Frenchman, who is aiming to win his first title at the world championships in Beijing in August.

"Thankfully he had not suffered any severe injury," Auguin said in the statement.

Lavillenie was the IAAF athlete of the year and the Diamond League's top pole-vaulter for the fifth straight season in 2014.

He said last month that he wanted to break the Doha meet record of 5.82 meters to kickstart his season. A gold medal at the world championships is the only major title missing from his collection.

"I was feeling fit and ready for the first real challenge of the season," Lavillenie said.

Auguin said in a text message that Lavillenie should be ready for his next scheduled Diamond League meet, the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, on May 30.