Have you caught the election bug? We are not talking Cameron v Miliband here, that messy political punch-up which seems to be heading for a bore draw, or at best a split decision, when Great Britain goes to the polls on May 7.
After several attempts at arriving in Sochi yesterday were halted by uncompromising weather, our plane was forced to land 200 kilometres to the west in the wonderfully named Mineralnye Vode airfield, before resuming its journey four hours later once the conditions had calmed.
Wang Anshun: Beijing 2022 is an excellent stage for the Winter Olympics - and the catalyst for the future of winter sports
As representatives of 109 International Sports Federations gather this week in Sochi for the SportAccord Convention, one question is likely on all participants’ minds: how to ensure that, at a time of pressing economic and political issues, their sports keep developing in a sustainable and healthy way?
Perhaps the very same question was among those that prompted the International Olympic Committee members to unanimously vote in favour of the Olympic Agenda 2020, a strategic roadmap focused on bringing the Games back to what they should be about: sport - while ensuring sustainability and cost-efficiency of all Olympic projects.
A long-term strong and clear business plan and a genuine passion for sport are two non-negotiable requirements in order for any major sports project or event, let alone an event on such a grand scale as the Olympic Games, to be successful and to continue to address challenges and bring positive sustainable changes to our societies.
A determination to bring the best conditions and first-class services for both athletes to shine and fans to enjoy the thrill of sport has been a core driver of Beijing 2022’s planning since the bid’s inception, additionally boosted by the rich experience that Beijing acquired through hosting the Games in 2008. It will also continue to guide our planning and delivery of the Games. To plan this experience for the athletes, we have carefully considered and laid out the “end-to-end” athlete journey, including pre-Games, Games-time and post-Games.
In line with our athlete-centred core value, Beijing 2022 has been actively engaging with athletes by bringing a number of Chinese winter sports stars - including Yang, Li Nina, Zhang Hong and many more - on board, ensuring they are involved in the Games plans development all the way since the very beginning of the bid. We will continue to do so, if our bid is successful, by establishing early on an Athletes’ Commission involving athletes from every sport on the programme, which will help ensure that all athletes’ needs are fully met. We are also keen on granting National Olympic and Paralympic Committees access to all venues for their athletes to train and get familiarised with the fields of play prior to the Games - all in consistent coordination with the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and the International Federations.
In order to create an overall 2022 Games experience with sport at its core combined with great fun, entertainment and cultural opportunities that the cosmopolitan city of Beijing offers, we have carefully designed and will keep adjusting the athlete experience throughout all aspects, from venues to cultural activities, and from medical services to transport.
Our venue plan successfully ensures that the distance and travel time between each venue and its corresponding Olympic Village is as short as possible. All 12 competition venues are within a 15-minute drive from the Olympic Village in the corresponding cluster. All venues and services of the Beijing 2022 Games will be accessible and inclusive. Paralympic athletes will be provided barrier-free facilities and services that meet the standards of the IPC, ensuring that they will be able to once again inspire the world with their outstanding achievements that remind us that nothing is impossible.
The Olympic Villages themselves will reflect athletes’ own visions about what an ideal Olympic Village should deliver in terms of living space, environment, fitness and sporting facilities, food and beverages, accommodation and services. We plan to carefully combine a relaxing environment perfect for competition preparation and a fun, cultural and high-tech environment. As the Olympic Winter Games coincides with the Chinese Spring Festival (also referred to as the Chinese New Year - arguably the liveliest time of the year in China), a large variety of festive and recreational activities, including music, dance and other art performances, will be offered in the Olympic Villages.
Beijing 2008 Games’ experience and legacy will be put to full use in order to provide the athletes with the best experience, all while ensuring sustainability and cost-efficiency of the 2022 Games. This includes eleven out of the twelve competition and non-competition venues in the Beijing Zone, but also broader city and regional infrastructure and a pool of high-level professionals across a number of areas regarding Games operations.
To ensure the delivery of a Games-time atmosphere charged with excitement and rife with cheering fans, Beijing will build on its already strong public support (over 90 per cent of Chinese citizens currently support the Games) to inspire more people to become involved in the Games. As it already stands, the Chinese Government has successful programmes such as the “300 Million People Winter Sports Plan” aimed at enhancing public knowledge about and participation in winter sports, as well as the “One Million Youth on Ice and Snow Programme” which provides free or low-priced access to winter sports facilities and competitions. Furthermore, a tailored Beijing 2022 Educational Programme will be launched for the young people in China with a particular focus on citizens in Beijing and Zhangjiakou.
Educational activities revolving around Olympic and Paralympic values and winter sports knowledge will be launched across China, particularly among over 300 thousand primary and secondary schools as well as universities. This widespread campaign includes a nation-wide Olympic Winter Games education resources platform that integrates Olympic-themed education websites, social media platforms and micro-lectures.
Igniting a winter sports passion amongst the multitudes of Chinese youth represents an unprecedented opportunity for the sustainability of the Olympic Movement. By bringing the Olympic Winter Games directly to Chinese residents, Beijing 2022 will also bring these people into the Olympic Movement. The Chinese Government has declared the development of the country’s sports industry a top priority, setting a goal for the sector to grow to $800 billion (£535 million/€740 million) by 2025 through promoting sports businesses, developing sport facilities and further expanding an already robust sports market for consumer products and services.
Beijing 2022 will also provide an unprecedented opportunity for Olympic sponsors, as the broadcast potential of the Games in China is immense. Take the following example as evidence of China’s growing interest in winter sports: This season, 1 million Chinese people followed the matches of the National Hockey League thanks to an agreement between the NHL and CCTV - almost as many as in Canada. And recent NBA matches have been watched by no less than 10 million television viewers in China. Imagine what these numbers could become if we brought the world’s best hockey players to compete head-to-head with China’s own rising ice hockey stars at the Chinese fans’ doorsteps…
Finally, Beijing 2022 will have no problem to ensure full stadia through the comprehensive sport promotion programmes in the lead-up to the Games. Beijing 2022 and the Ministry of Education will launch the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Experience Camp, as well as various educational projects, instilling millions of kids and young adults in China with a passion for winter sports and giving them the opportunity to engage with athletes. Also worthy of note, the dates proposed for the Games coincide with schools’ winter vacations, which will enable more kids to enjoy the competitions and to become engaged as volunteers for the Olympic Winter Games.
From cultural traditions cultivated for over five thousand years, to cosmopolitan and world-renowned contributions to hospitality, entertainment and cuisine, right down to a beautiful natural setting, Beijing 2022 offers an all-inclusive proposition.
Many of you already experienced Beijing through the unforgettable Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Having witnessed it myself, I can say with confidence that the Olympics significantly helped transform Beijing into the international, vibrant metropolis it is today. Beijing has continued to rank among the fastest-developing cities on the planet and in 2022, I would like to invite you to come and re-discover our dynamic capital. Take it from me: This will be a Beijing that you would not recognise, a city that takes delight in constantly exceeding expectations.
With winter sports at its core, spiced with virtually unlimited, world-class entertainment, shopping and hospitality options, as well as cultural and sport activities, Beijing 2022 would be a truly joyful Games experience for all those involved. What’s more, a sporting event staged at the foot of the iconic Great will set a stunning backdrop to showcase Olympic and Paralympic Winter sports to the world, both to spectators in the stadia and at the outdoor venues - not to mention all fans around the world.
To conclude, a sporting event should not simply strive to put together a successful competition for the world to see; it is also about making the world want more after the event has finished. Overall, our vision can be summarised as: to create a win-win environment both for the development of sport in China, as well as for the development of the Olympic Movement and the International Sport Federations. Through this, Beijing and China can make a historical contribution, one that ensures sport remains a powerful and inspirational endeavour, and that the legacy of the Games endures in the hearts and minds of people around the world for years and years to come.
My history teacher way back in my high school days taught me not just about Henry VIII’s six wives and what happened in 1066 - he also taught me some of my early life lessons.
David Owen: Turnip greens and a rocking chair on the porch - how Middle America uses sport to evoke an age of innocence it still yearns for
What does Keeneland horseracing track in the bluegrass country of Kentucky have in common with Boston?
So it’s official. Swimmers make the best lovers. (That is, according to the latest research published by the British Heart Foundation.)
Some of us of a certain age, not just living in the UK or United States but worldwide, grew up inspired by the witty, crazy and often insightful comedy of Monty Python. For many, being at that “certain age” means we are now around the peak of our careers with the power to influence decisions which will last beyond our lifetimes.
Back in boxing’s 80s heyday - though the battered old game is enjoying a something of a comeback now - one of the most in-demand characters in the business was a Runyonesque New Yorker they called "The Gravedigger".
It was interesting to read the recent report to the effect that European Club Association (ECA) head Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes that football’s perennial club-versus-country tug of war is now receding.
“I’m quite optimistic that in FIFA things are changing in a good way,” the German, once an international player of considerable stature himself, was quoted as saying.
“We’re still totally ready to support national team football and, in exchange, we are getting this kind of money and governance back, which is a huge step for the recognition of club football in Europe.”
From where I am sitting, Rummenigge’s satisfaction seems a reflection of the fact that clubs have had the upper hand in club-v-country skirmishing for the past 12-15 years now.
I can remember, in the wake of Italian centre-back Alessandro Nesta’s tournament-ending injury against Austria at the 1998 World Cup, raising the question, “How much longer will decision-makers at leading clubs be prepared to lay their most valuable assets on the line without adequate compensation?”
The issue was underlined by a representative of a leading club with several players on show at that competition.
“There cannot be many organisations that are willing to give up assets worth millions of pounds without getting anything back and with a chance they may come back damaged,” he observed.
The obvious retort was that some of the “assets” might perform so brilliantly that their value was considerably enhanced.
But the point was that it was a lottery - and not one that the biggest clubs, by and large, would want to buy a ticket in, if they had a choice in the matter.
Consider what has happened since then.
• FIFA has started to pay clubs for the players selected for World Cup duty.
What is more, the total of these payments is set to more than quintuple - from $40 million (£27 million/€38 million) to $209 million (£143 million/€197 million) - in less than a decade.
• FIFA has also introduced, at a cost to itself of $88.5 million (£60 million/€83 million) over three financial years, the Club Protection Programme (CPP) to compensate the employers of players, like Nesta, injured on international duty.
• Under a deal announced last week, the European body UEFA has agreed to hand over at least €200 million (£137 million/€189 million) from Euro 2020 revenues to the clubs for releasing their players, an increase of €50 million (£34 million/€47 million).
As explained by ECA, which represents more than 200 clubs: “In the future, the clubs’ financial benefits from UEFA Euro will be calculated as a percentage of the total gross revenue.
“In 2020, clubs will receive 8 per cent of income from broadcast, commercial and ticketing/hospitality, with the minimum set at €200 million (£137 million/€189 million). ”
• Though it is not directly related to club-versus-country, even UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) initiative – its attempt to save clubs from the consequences of their own actions – appears to be working with all the potency of a Bondi Beach lifeguard.
Coupled with a bumper broadcasting deal, it has helped to transform the financial fortunes of clubs in the richest league of all, England’s Premier League, with astonishing speed.
The combined pre-tax profits of the 20 clubs which played Premier League football last season is now assessed by accounting specialist Deloitte at £190 million ($278 million/€262 million), almost four times the previous record.
With their financial dials now well on the way to being reset, English clubs are probably in a position to push player transfer fees – in other words, the explicit market value of football clubs’ most marketable assets - to new heights this summer.
Meanwhile, with the image of top-tier club football ever more glamorous and ever more prominent in an ever-growing number of countries, there is a strong chance that this new-found profitability of even mid-level Premier League clubs will attract the eye of new investors and push up the value of the clubs themselves, enabling current owners, should they so wish, to sell down their stakes, or even exit entirely, at significant financial gain.
It is worth remarking that whereas the Premier League has achieved colossal increases of around 70 per cent in each of its two latest domestic broadcasting deals, my analysis of recent FIFA financial reports indicated that revenue from television broadcasting rights to the latest World Cup, Brazil 2014, crept ahead by just 0.9 per cent compared with South Africa 2010 - from $2.405 (£1.642 billion/€2.269 billion) to $2.426 billion (£1.658 billion/€2.289 billion)
For all the thrills and spills of the Brazil 2014 group stages, meanwhile, some experts argue that top club football is also now of better quality than its international counterpart.
“Club football outstripped international football in terms of quality around four decades ago - something that has become increasingly obvious over the past 10 years or so,” Jonathan Wilson, a football tactics specialist and editor of The Blizzard, a football quarterly, told me.
Set against that, the decision, however tortuously arrived at, to play a World Cup in the northern-hemisphere winter, is going to pose the club game some logistical issues.
Indeed, if Qatar 2022 does show it is feasible to play a World Cup over a somewhat shorter period than recent predecessors, who is to say that this span, albeit in June/July, might not be adopted as the norm, creating a little bit more room for club football?
So the club-v-country balance has been shifting.
And now, with the object of financial compensation to the clubs for supplying the stars of the international game (ie their employees) having been attained, it seems we are moving to the next stage: overt participation in the most refined decision-making machinery.
As the recent ECA announcements revealed, two European club representatives have secured the right to sit on UEFA’s Executive Committee, the European body’s top table.
ECA described this as “a major achievement for ECA and a strong statement of UEFA’s commitment to modern and dynamic governance models”.
Will it lead to better governance of European football? Maybe, but I don’t think this is guaranteed.
It is certainly a development whose consequences are worth watching very closely.
With a new competition - the UEFA Nations League - in the pipeline, one prediction I would make with some confidence is that a new stream of revenue will before long be wending its way to the clubs that will provide its chief entertainers.
I have few major issues with the changes effected so far.
The situation prevailing in 1998 was plainly no longer sustainable.
That said, I do worry that it might result in more and more of the money generated by football being channelled into the coffers of the sport’s ‘haves’ at the expense of its ‘have-nots’.
I would make two observations in support of these misgivings.
First, FIFA’s preliminary budget for its 2015-2018 business cycle, published in 2014, earmarked an increase of 12.5 per cent for development projects.
This sounds fine until you compare it with hikes of 55.5 per cent for FIFA’s glitziest competition, the World Cup, and of 69.2 per cent in “operational expenses and services”.
This is FIFA’s best guess-timate, as opposed to what will actually happen.
Even so, I thought it was quite revealing as an indication of the governing body’s priorities.
Second, Europe is virtually monopolising CPP payments, absorbing 98 per cent of the €39.4 million (£28.5 million/$41.8 million) disbursed in the scheme’s first two years and four months of operation.
While the pendulum has of late been swinging in favour of clubs, there have been times when employers of the sport’s stars wielded considerably more power than they have at present.
Ireland had to play the most important match of its early footballing history - the 1914 clash with Scotland that delivered its first Home International Championship title - without ace striker Billy Gillespie, who was required by his club Sheffield United because an FA Cup tie had gone to a second replay.
The situation in some of the biggest US sports tends, furthermore, to underline that soccer’s approach to this age-old problem remains relatively balanced.
In American football, a huge commercial success-story, international matches, certainly in the top echelons of the sport, scarcely exist.
As for baseball, one of the reasons why the sport lost its place on the Olympic programme (it now looks temporarily), was that the stars of the Major Leagues by and large could not attend.
Seen in a broad context then, the present club-country balance in football still strikes me as a generally acceptable compromise.
But it is an area where the status quo seems seldom to prevail for long - hence the need for continued vigilance.Nick Butler is away
Time after time, you’ve heard me bang on about the power of sport, so I’m delighted to reflect some positive news that has the International Olympic Committee (IOC) seemingly at its core.
Last week China promised to lift its outright ban on Facebook and Twitter if it wins the right to stage the 2022 Winter Olympics. A simple, social premise perhaps, but for me this was an example of pro-active negotiation that’s so often been missing from bidding processes when there are far more damaging consequences at stake.
Cricket has not been part of the Olympic Games for over 100 years now.
Mike Rowbottom: Bubka and Coe on common territory in quest for IAAF Presidency. But who will travel better?
Sergey Bubka’s manifesto, launched this week ahead of his challenge for the Presidency of the International Association of Athletics Federations, features key policies including greater funding for National Federations, particularly the needier of them.
Drugs and athletics, athletics and drugs. Like death and taxes, or so it has seemed over the last few weeks.
Remember Jen Offord, the young woman who grew up in East London totally disinterested in sport but was so seduced by London 2012 that over the following year she had a crack at every one of the 26 sports in that Olympic programme?