David Owen

And so, after much palaver, the main takeaways regarding the Paris 2024 sports programme boil down to this: breakdancing is in; cross-country running isn't.

On the former, I wish I could work up some sort of reaction, if not an enthusiastic welcome, then at least an indignant tirade.

But in all honesty, what I feel is essentially, meh.

So I will concentrate on the latter, which, as an old fogey, is terrain where I feel instinctively more at home.

Quite apart from it being an activity that even the most reluctant Olympic viewers will have been dragooned into at least once or twice, there would have been a certain historical logic to restoring cross-country racing to the sports programme at Paris 2024.

After all, it was at Paris 1924 that it last featured, with celebrated Finn Paavo Nurmi retaining his Olympic title.

But, on the whole, I am glad that Games organisers decided against it.

As I have been arguing for maybe a decade, cross country is one of those disciplines that it would make much more sense to include in the Winter Olympics, in order to give this struggling event a genuinely global dimension.

History teaches us, moreover, that the French capital in midsummer is far from an ideal setting for such a gruelling contest.

Breakdancing has been added to the Paris 2024 Olympic programme ©Getty Images
Breakdancing has been added to the Paris 2024 Olympic programme ©Getty Images

According to the 1924 Official Report, the temperature was a sweltering 45º in the sun, which - it said - "produced accidents which could have ended tragically".

Along one sunken road, the Report claims, the temperature rose to a scarcely believable 60º "at least".

Of 38 starters, 23 failed to finish, while some, the Report goes on, "were victims of serious sunstroke".

Unfortunately, as I am reminded frequently when suggesting switching other events, such as handball and track cycling, to the Winter Olympics, these are the Games of snow and ice - which I might accept more readily were it not for the supremely political origin of the definition.

Basically, it stems from a successful campaign by former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch in the early 1980s to de-fang the body then known as the General Association of International Sports Federations.

As a minute of then International Ski Federation President Marc Hodler's comments to Samaranch records:

"In the name of the six winter sports federations, Mr. Hodler…wished to add his thanks…to the IOC President…for the positive reaction with which the few requests expressed by the winter sports federations, especially with regard to the Winter Games, had been received.

"They were particularly happy to note the clearer definition of the Winter Games as the Games of Snow and Ice."

Be that as it may, the rejection of cross country also feeds into an aspect of 21st century sports politics that I am starting to find ever more fascinating.

This is the relationship between IOC President Thomas Bach and his World Athletics counterpart Sebastian Coe.

It is, one need hardly say, one of the most important relationships for determining the broad direction of the sports movement over the next 10 or so years.

Cross country running last appeared at the Paris 1924 Games but will not return a century on ©Official Report
Cross country running last appeared at the Paris 1924 Games but will not return a century on ©Official Report

These two go back a long way - coincidentally, about the same length of time as that "Games of Snow and Ice" definition.

I well remember beginning a piece about the hugely significant Olympic Congress of 1981 in Baden-Baden, the German spa town, at which both men spoke, by describing how they refer to each other as "Shakespeare" and "the professor".

In recent years, however, going back at least as far as the Russian doping fiasco, this relationship seems to have deteriorated.

While not overtly hostile to each other, these two Big Beasts of the Olympic Jungle seem to be indulging in frequent point-scoring, like bull wildebeest jostling over a favoured spot at the communal water-hole.

Apart from the whole Russian doping thing, I would add to the list of irritants the inordinately long time it took the IOC to elect the President of its bedrock sport a member, the cross country rejection and the conspicuous enthusiasm with which Coe has taken the side of athlete-protesters in the general debate over Rule 50.

First, in October, Coe used a visit to Tokyo - which I remember noticing he got to before Bach - to underline his support for athletes taking a knee on the Olympic podium.

Then last week he bestowed World Athletics' annual President's Award on the most famous athlete-protesters of all - Tommie Smith, John Carlos and the late Peter Norman.

In light of all this, it was fascinating to observe how, in response to a well-directed question from my insidethegames colleague Liam Morgan, Bach on Monday segued away from the main subject matter of a press conference devoted to Paris 2024, Belarus and another Tokyo 2020 update, to administer an evidently pre-prepared, and impeccably lawyerly, putdown to his old pal.

The relationship between Sebastian Coe, left and Thomas Bach, right is worth a keeping an eye on ©Getty Images
The relationship between Sebastian Coe, left and Thomas Bach, right is worth a keeping an eye on ©Getty Images

I would stake good money on this being the first time that section 1.3.5 of World Athletics' marketing and advertising rules has been read out at an IOC function, or indeed any public forum. 

The German did not quite say "I rest my case" at the end of his reply, but he might just as well have done.

If I am not much mistaken, the two men, both weighed down by the burdens of office in challenging times, are getting under each other's skin.

And, while Bach is poised to secure a further four years as IOC President without the inconvenience of a challenger, it is not too much to say that the future evolution of this relationship could yet have a substantial bearing on who comes next.

In mainstream political terms, we are a long way away from Blair versus Brown, Hawke versus Keating, or even Bernie Sanders versus Joe Biden.

But these manifestations of rising tension between old allies are worth keeping a close eye on.