Nick Butler

I found myself re-reading a somewhat over-ambitious article I wrote almost exactly two years ago looking ahead to some expected and hoped-for Olympic developments in 2016. A few, such as a strong Paris 2024 bid, were realised while most others occurred belatedly or not at all. This inspired an urge to compile a similar list on the first day of what should be a quieter year on the administrative front in 2018, but probably won’t be.

A limited neutral/Olympic Athletes from Russia team at Pyeongchang 2018: It seems the only fitting place to start after a tumultuous end to 2017. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) have just about got away with their compromise/fudge on neutral participation in South Korea but a decision on which Russian athletes are eligible is still to be made, and both sides are planning to fiercely contest the choices. 

Given the seriousness of the now-proven sample tampering programme at Sochi 2014, along with the IOC decision to fully back the testimony of whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, more stringent criteria must surely be adopted than those proffered before Rio 2016. An IOC reasoned verdict published last week, for instance, referred to "concerns about the high levels of haemoglobin for the biathlon team in 2013 and 2014". Does this mean the entire biathlon team? And, if so, why should any of those still competing now be deemed eligible?

The next month should also be dominated by Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cases brought by Russian athletes and officials against the IOC decision. It’s really anybody’s guess what will happen here, and some still maintain that the IOC are deliberately setting themselves up to fail, but my gut instinct is that this time the cases will hold. It will certainly be a unprecedented test both for the legal might of both CAS and the IOC. It is also important that Rodchenkov himself provides some sort of direct testimony.

Drama and sporting excitement at Pyeongchang 2018: Russia aside, I expect that many of the problems surrounding Pyeongchang 2018 will ease somewhat once action begins. In a way, the experience for those of us there matters far less than what is seen on television - remember Rio 2016 - but it would be nice if there was a decent atmosphere and a good number of spectators cheering on the athletes.

In terms of sporting moments, it would be nice to see United States snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis finally secure Olympic snowboard cross gold 12 years after she finished second due to a crash incurred when stupidly attempting a trick on the final jump at Turin 2006, squandering a huge lead in the process. She is a 10-time world champion but failed to make the final following more crashes at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. At the age of 32, this could be her last chance.

The snowboard cross competition has regularly been highlight of the Winter Olympic Games ©Getty Images
The snowboard cross competition has regularly been highlight of the Winter Olympic Games ©Getty Images

Less politics and some genuine anti-doping work from IOC and WADA: In theory, this did happen in 2017 with the creation of the Independent Testing Authority. Many people still worry, however, that this was more an IOC strategy to bring back power into the hands of those they trust rather than dangerous anti-doping obsessives. The choice of chair, France's Valérie Fourneyron, seems to be liked by all sides and should prove key in ensuring the success of the body in conjunction with the yet-to-be-appointed director general. Questions still to be answered concern whether the CAS will assume responsibility for all sanctions.

It will also be interesting to see whether the IOC will try to position a successor to replace Sir Craig Reedie in 2019 other than current vice-president Linda Helleland, the Norwegian Minister of Culture, who they despise.

A genuine enquiry into allegations of Chinese doping: Doping problems clearly exist in many places other than Russia and it is clearly important that the authorities continue looking into allegations in places like Great Britain and the United States. But the response to suggestions by a Chinese whistleblower that 10,000 athletes from her country may have been involved in a compulsory doping programme in the 1980s and 1990s in October typified all that is wrong with sports administration. 

Chinese sports bodies ignored all questions, WADA claimed to have set-up an "investigative process" which has so far seemingly done nothing and the IOC referred us only to the WADA response. Yes, it is hard to prove any sweeping allegations, let alone historical ones. But I cannot be the only person who also has suspicions about many Chinese performances in more recent times. It would be nice if authorities would lend some assistance to journalistic investigations rather than acting in a "zero tolerance" mode only when the evidence is so insurmountable they have no other choice.

New faces in sports administration: There are not too many elections scheduled in 2018 and the prospects for change do not seem too high for those that are happening. Switzerland’s Gian-Franco Kasper celebrates his 74th birthday this month but is expected to receive another term as International Ski Federation President. The 83-year-old Mexican Olegario Vázquez Raña, meanwhile, is also up for another term at the International Sport Shooting Federation. A process is already underway to manufacture a new President of the International Boxing Association following the resignation of C K Wu. They will have all sorts of problems to mop-up so it must be someone who is capable both in terms of politics and administration.

We will also lose some of the most publicly in-touch IOC members in 2017 as Great Britain’s Adam Pengilly and St Lucia’s Richard Peterkin reach the end of term and age tenures. It would be good if they could be replaced by others capable of making a principled stand against the leadership rather than just meekly submitting for political gain.

A high-quality replacement must be found for C K Wu at the International Boxing Association ©Getty Images
A high-quality replacement must be found for C K Wu at the International Boxing Association ©Getty Images

Political games at FIFA during World Cup: Like with Pyeongchang 2018, I expect the World Cup in Russia will go okay once the focus turns from doping and politics onto football itself. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has not endeared himself to too many people in the wider world over the last year but it is those within football circles who matter as he prepares for a re-election bid in 2019. If a rival is to emerge, it is likely they will do so over the next few months. The success of Russia 2018 could be vital to Infantino’s attempts to consolidate his stronghold over the FIFA fiefdom for a generation.

Repercussions for Rio 2016 and Olympic bidding: The IOC have attempted to forget all about the "perfect imperfect" Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In the interests of "transparency", though, it would be nice if we could hear some more details about Rio 2016 contracts and finances. It would also be nice if we could hear exactly who else was involved in the alleged bidding bribery scandal which has already implicated IOC member Frankie Fredericks and bidding and former Organising Committee President and IOC honorary member Carlos Nuzman. There is also no timeframe yet on when more information will emerge from the French investigation into bidding concerns surrounding the 2016 and 2020 races with rumours that the IOC are deal-making behind the scenes to prevent any further developments.

What other corruption scandals will also emerge in 2018?

IOC governance improvement: A review carried-out by a Lausanne-based governance school published a review of the IOC in July in which various areas for improvement were outlined on areas including their ethics processes. As of yet, none of their recommendations have been acted upon and the IOC are now attempting to spin the line that their current system is adequate. This is not the case and the approach at the moment seems more suited to concealing problems than doing anything about them. It would reflect well on the IOC if they introduced genuine independence and structured accountability and encouraged other sporting bodies to do the same.

The IOC under President Thomas Bach and director general Christophe De Kepper still seem reluctant to introduce genuine governance changes, despite recommendations that they should ©Getty Images
The IOC under President Thomas Bach and director general Christophe De Kepper still seem reluctant to introduce genuine governance changes, despite recommendations that they should ©Getty Images

Successful sporting Games to encourage future bidders: There are lots of other multi-sports Games scheduled for 2018. The Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April, the Asian Games in Jakarta Palembang in August and September and the third Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in October, to name but three. We also have the first unified set of European Championships taking place simultaneously in Glasgow and Berlin in August. Success at these events is vital if future bidders are to be found.

A choice of genuine bids for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games: Speaking of bidding races, the 2026 race is expected to bubble and simmer over the next 10 months before officially beginning in October. Ideally, I think the IOC would choose somewhere in North America or Europe for the next edition before going to Sapporo in 2030. Potential bids from Sion in Switzerland, Calgary in Canada and Stockholm in Sweden are still hazardous, however, and could easily collapse before the startline. Several American attempts are also now rumoured, but this is hardly ideal given how Los Angeles is hosting the 2028 Summer edition.

It is vital that the IOC provide more support in helping their candidates deal with opposition and, if required, referendum campaigns. They must also do more to improve their image if an Olympic Games is to become something desirable again.

Happy New Year!