Nick Butler

The last 12 months in sports politics has perhaps not quite hit the heights of the year which preceded it, but it has contained plenty of excitement nonetheless. 

The first half was dominated by Paris, Los Angeles and the drawn-out decision to simultaneously award the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games. 

The second half was all about doping, deals and denials building-up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision to make Russian compete neutrally - sort of - at Pyeongchang 2018.

In the spirit of Christmas and end-of-season award shows, I have compiled a list of some of the best, the worst and the outright bizarre moments of 2017 in our strange world of Olympic administration.

Person of the Year: No real contest here. Whether you consider him a reformed sinner, a traitorous slanderer in the pocket of the United States or simply a mad scientist of the sort usually left for fiction, there is no doubting that the revelations of Grigory Rodchenkov has shaped the agenda in sport over the last 18 months more than anybody else. The anti-doping saga has now transcended sport and is becoming a major part of the "new Cold War" between Russia and the West.

An honourable mention too for Paris and Los Angeles Mayors Anne Hidalgo and Eric Garcetti for almost making the Olympics seem worth bidding for again.

Dealmaker of the Year: Thomas Bach has got things wrong as IOC President and I am still not sure he is the right person to lead the modernisation of world sport. But you have to respect his political deal-making skills in forcing through the 2024 and 2028 "win-win-win" on an initially sceptical audience. He then walked the tightrope again in negotiating the compromise solution of having an "Olympic Athletes from Russia" team at Pyeongchang 2018. Time will tell whether it proves similarly effective.

Thomas Bach is not a universally popular figure, but has to be admired for his political skills in forcing through the 2024 and 2028 plans on an initially sceptical IOC membership ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach is not a universally popular figure, but has to be admired for his political skills in forcing through the 2024 and 2028 plans on an initially sceptical IOC membership ©Getty Images

Biggest U-turn of the Year: Who can forget those IOC members and, particularly, its three vice-presidents, who went from publicly criticising the joint-awarding plans to unanimously supporting them within about a four-week period, capitulating quicker than an England batting line-up in the face of a Bachean onslaught of pace and spin?

A close second place for National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka secretary general Maxwell de Silva, who had acquired a reputation as the only person brave enough to interject with anything other than platitudes during an Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) General Assembly. It came as a slight surprise, then, when he was the first to launch into a gushing tribute of the body’s President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah when he was "cleared" of all wrongdoing after being implicated in a United States Department of Justice corruption probe.

It seemed more than a coincidence that de Silva had been awarded the prestigious OCA Merit Award earlier in the day.

Sporting event of the Year: Budapest, despite the suspiciously quick collapsing of its Olympic bid in February and March, went on to show its star quality as a sporting venue with successful World Championships in aquatics and judo. 

Of those I have attended, the highlight was the men’s 4x100 metres relay at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Athletics Championships in London, where Usain Bolt was left prostrate on the track in the final race of his career while Great Britain celebrated a shock victory.

But in terms of the event itself, it has to be the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo. Thick and proper snow, freezing cold weather, flawless organisation and almost all venues close together. Yes, it would be a third successive Asian Winter Olympics, but the IOC could still do worse than select the Japanese city for 2026.

Quote of the Year: Always a tough category and, despite sitting on opposite sides of the anti-doping debate, Richard “Dick” Pound and Vitaly "everyone is worse than Russia" Mutko went at it like Ali and Foreman for much of this year. Mutko took the early lead by claiming that Russian hockey players may have obtained male DNA in urine samples through sexual intercourse before Pound hit back by doubting the IOC ability to discover whether "Captain Oleg from the FSB is guilty, but that Corporal Dmitry is not".

Mutko’s problem was that by the end of the year he had almost become a caricature of himself, carping on and on through his greatest hits of "British and Norwegian doping offences" rather than creating anything original. Pound, meanwhile, was urging Thomas Bach not to "stuff it up" while insisting that International Federations "think only with their wallets". A clear win for Canada.

Richard Pound proved ever-so-slightly more quotable than Vitaly Mutko ©Getty Images
Richard Pound proved ever-so-slightly more quotable than Vitaly Mutko ©Getty Images

Best job juggler? This could also be known as the "Francesco Ricci Bitti" award given how many positions the Italian veteran seems to accumulate each year. The 75-year-old was at it again in 2017, acquiring new positions on IOC Coordination Commissions and Independent Testing Authorities with consummate ease. Fiji’s Robin Mitchell is also a strong contender after responding to a corruption-related question at the Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly by claiming he was not appearing with the "right hat on" to answer. Another is former IOC director general François Carrard, who seemed to be providing "independent" legal advice to his former employers on virtually every issue we covered this year.

The new kid on the block, however, is Patrick Baumann. Not content with merely leading GAISF (the organisation formerly known as SportAccord) and the International Basketball Federation, the wily Swiss spent the middle part of the year leading IOC Evaluation Commission inspections to Los Angeles and Paris. He also answered a phone call from his "real boss" - his wife - during a press briefing and managed to effortlessly juggle languages from German to Spanish mid-call.

Press conference of the Year: Mutko is also a strong contender here after hijacking a FIFA World Cup draw event to deliver a 77-minute rant about the injustice of the Russian doping scandal which left every journalist present writing about this issue rather than the footballing one at hand. But for sheer weirdness, it has to be the OCA press conference during the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The room was full of "journalists" not seen before or after at the event who would cheer wildly whenever the country was praised and then created the frostiest of atmospheres when one reporter dared to question human rights standards.

Journey of the Year: I’m going to shamelessly pick myself here after journey from Peru to Ashgabat which began on Wednesday evening and ended on Saturday morning. After transiting through Toronto, Frankfurt and Baku, I eventually arrived in the luxurious Ashgabat International Airport to discover that I had no visa to enter the country. It eventually transpired that I had been rejected for a "bad article" written two years before. I was taken to an ominously named "interrogation room" and given boarding passes to return to Europe before, hours later, a change of mind occurred and I was miraculously allowed in.

Ashgabat International Airport was the setting I spent my first night in Turkmenistan ©Getty Images
Ashgabat International Airport was the setting I spent my first night in Turkmenistan ©Getty Images

Unanswered questions of the Year: Just what did happen when Thomas Bach met US President Donald Trump at the White House in June? No pictures were taken, and no detailed account was provided. Rumours surfaced - mainly from Parisian sources, to be fair - that the meeting had not actually taken place. Others maintained it did, but that it did not go well… One day, we may hear the full story. 

It would also be interesting to know which IOC members are accused of receiving bribes to vote for Rio 2016 and why it took the IOC 11 years to complete their retests of Turin 2006 doping samples. And then only to announce that no-one had tested positive.

Most confusing decision-making process of the Year: No shortage of contenders here. Winter sports, including skiing and bobsleigh, have constantly lifted and imposed suspensions on Russian athletes in recent weeks as different lawyers and panels have their say. The Commonwealth Games Federation deserve a mention for a re-opened bidding process for 2022 which became more and more confusing in terms of deadlines and conditions before they chose Birmingham, the city everyone thought it would be anyway. 

But the winner has to be World Rugby for a 2023 World Cup voting procedure which ended in a surprise recommendation for South Africa and then an ever-more surprising win for France.

Best innovation of the Year: We’re still not sure about some of the IOC’s bidding reforms, but they do deserve credit for their effort to freshen-up the Olympic sports programme. Some of my - older - colleagues disagree, but I think that the addition of new and innovative disciplines like 3x3 basketball and mixed relays will add excitement while other sports have been persuaded to improve the presentation and excitement levels of their events.

That said, I still feel that the skateboarding competition at Tokyo 2020 could be an absolute disaster considering the lack of interest, the lack of organisation and the shortage of drug of testing in the sport so far.

Best lobbying effort of the Year: The racewalking community who, within hours of rumours surfacing that one of their events may be a casualty of Olympic programme reforms, had launched a series of social media driven petitions with the sort of speed which would have meant certain-disqualification for running in a race. It worked, and the plans were swiftly shelved.

The worst, incidentally, goes to the unidentified - Russian - person who tried to ring up the International Paralympic Committee and pretend to be Sir Philip Craven amid the anti-doping scandal. The plan quickly unraveled as Sir Philip was, in fact, sitting listening to the call. 

Sir Philip Craven was the would-be victim of a bizarre prank call attempt in December ©Getty Images
Sir Philip Craven was the would-be victim of a bizarre prank call attempt in December ©Getty Images

Clumsiest analogy of the Year: Bach features once again here for his convoluted "two birds in each hand" German-saying which may have made some sense but still invited ridicule, particularly when he decided to repeat it for a second time. There are several International Ski Federation officials who could take note of the rule to think very carefully before comparing anything with World War Two and Nazi Germany. 

But the win goes to World Olympians Association chief executive Mike Miller for his left-field idea to treat athletes "like dogs" and fit them with microchips to track them and deter doping. Not a completely terrible proposal, but certainly presented the wrong way.

Most boring story of the Year: No contest here. It has to be "security concerns before Pyeongchang 2018". There seems to have to be an "Olympics is going to be cancelled story" before each edition which gains particular traction in the United States. Before Rio 2016 it was Zika and now it is North Korea. Let’s hope this remains scaremongering, but Pyeongchang currently remains one of the safest places for hosting a major sporting event, even if it is not the most accessible.

Best election winner of the Year: It was a year largely for the experienced sporting official. Julio Maglione, John Coates and Tamás Aján all used every trick in the book to be successfully re-elected as respective Presidents of the International Swimming Federation, Australian Olympic Committee and International Weightlifting Federation. 

Lassana Palenfo went a stage further and got his opponent disqualified before the vote in the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa race. There was a change at the International Cycling Union, where David Lappartient defeated the likable but politically unsavvy Brian Cookson, and C.K. Wu was forced out in an coup d'état from the International Boxing Association. 

But the one real sign of change came when Neven Ilic won a thrilling one-vote contest over rivals including the soon-to-be-charged Carlos Nuzman to win the Pan American Sports Organization Presidential race. Here, finally, was a figure who seemed to be selected for his ability rather than his political skill and already PanAmSports - as it is now called - is seeming more modern and effective than many other sporting bodies. In fact, of all the events I have covered this year, this contest was the most uplifting and therefore the "feel-good" moment of the year.

Happy Christmas, and let’s hope for more sporting drama in 2018.