Last week’s football fiasco meant that the latest Rule 50 news did not quite get the attention it deserved; so let’s try to make up for that now.
It is going to be vital in the long run for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to manoeuvre itself onto the right side of history regarding human rights/freedom of speech/anti-racism issues.
This is for hard-nosed commercial reasons as well as matters of morality.
Agenda 2020+5 spells things out with laudable clarity.
"The IOC continues to provide a very attractive proposition to commercial partners thanks to the Olympic values on which the Olympic Movement is based," the new pathway document states.
"We know this brand association continues to be a valuable component and a driving element behind leading global companies’ desire to be associated with us."
Translation: if the values attached by consumers to the five rings are sub-optimal, it will cost the Movement sponsorship dollars.
However, if I may be permitted a quaintly archaic metaphor, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
Athletes too can become brands in their own right nowadays.
One of the more obvious examples from recent times, for a British observer at least, is that of Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford with his efforts on behalf of hungry children.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Olympic and Winter Olympic athletes scarcely register in the public consciousness.
If they want to stand out from the crowd and not only do what many would see as the right thing but also boost their marketability, well, under current conditions, staging a podium or field-of-play protest to support freedom of speech or oppose racism/discrimination might well be a better bet than winning a gold medal.
If you doubt me, how many of Great Britain’s 23 (I think) Olympic gold medal-winning rowers since 2008 can you name?
If you want to blunt the effectiveness of podium protest, the best way to do so is, of course, to allow it.
That is why I think that the IOC will eventually pare back most of Rule 50, except insofar as it protects its commercial sponsors.
They dare not do this though before Beijing 2022.
Hence, their present difficulties.
The other aspect of last week’s Rule 50-related news I want to dwell on is the quantitative research which told us that, in the words of an IOC news release, "a clear majority of athletes said that it is not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play (70 per cent of respondents), at official ceremonies (70 per cent of respondents) or on the podium (67 per cent of respondents)".
It so happens that in a former life I was a market researcher; there are few things I like better when time permits than sinking my teeth into the minutiae of a good quantitative survey.
Here are a few things I picked up.
1. I was surprised by the wording of the key question, question 11, which read: "In Olympic venues, during the Olympic Games, how appropriate do you think it is for athletes to have an opportunity to demonstrate or to express their individual views on political issues and other topics, in the following places?"
I would have thought it more apposite to ask about "human rights issues" rather than "political issues", a phrase which some might interpret as, say, sporting a Vote Conservative badge.
While there is obviously a big overlap - human rights issues can be profoundly political - I suspect that my preferred wording might have yielded a rather different result.
2. According to the sample make-up, 14 per cent of respondents were from China.
Chinese athletes, clearly, have as much right to contribute to such a survey as those from anywhere else.
Nevertheless, when I came to check, I found that the proportion of athletes at Rio 2016 who were Chinese was about 3.7 per cent and at Pyeongchang 2018 about 2.7 per cent; to be fair, the proportion at Beijing 2022 will probably be higher.
Given that the very great majority of this Chinese cohort did not think it appropriate for athletes to have an opportunity to demonstrate or to express their individual views on political issues and other topics in any of the designated places (yes, I was shocked), this overweighting of respondents from the 2022 Winter Games host had quite an impact on the results.
I attempted to calculate the outcome of a couple of the question 11 options using what I would regard as a fairer weighting of 3.5 per cent of the sample being from China, while replacing the other 10.5 per cent with respondents whose views tallied with the overall findings.
By my calculations, this would have increased the proportion of respondents believing podium protests appropriate from 16 per cent to 17.5 per cent, and "in the media" protests from 42 per cent to 46 per cent.
3. Still with China, I was intrigued to note how keen the country’s skiers and skateboarders apparently were to ensure their views were included.
According to the breakdown, 16 per cent of Chinese respondents practiced this group of sports.
While a glance at the record-books confirmed my hunch that skating was China’s most successful Winter Olympic sport, it also told me the country had won 12 skiing and skateboarding medals over the years, mainly in freestyle skiing.
Nonetheless, for 78, or 2.2 per cent, of the overall 3,547-strong sample to be comprised of Chinese skiers/skateboarders seems a touch excessive.
4. I was also surprised to see that the average age of respondents to what I had understood to be an athletes’ survey was 33.
While subsequent reading revealed that the aim was to reach "as wide a group of Olympians and elite athletes as possible", the sample make-up still saw fit to flag that "62 per cent of the sample will, or hope to be participating in the next edition of the Olympic Games".
I was still more surprised to be informed in a series of National Olympic Committee overviews that 32 per cent of Australian respondents - almost one in three! - were 55 years of age or older.
The same applied to 23 per cent of respondents from Great Britain.
Given that five per cent of German respondents fell into this age bracket, it even crossed my mind to wonder whether IOC President Thomas Bach, a fencing gold medallist from 1976, had completed the survey.
Does this age thing matter?
Well, Oscar Swahn, Joshua Millner, Hiroshi Hoketsu et al are going to have to forgive me, but given that public interest in this exercise, such as it is, was always going to focus on its findings on podium and field-of-play protests, you would have thought it might make sense to concentrate on those likeliest to be in a position to make such protests in Tokyo or Beijing.
5. If I might finish with a more personal observation: I wish the survey had taken the opportunity to ask these respondents whether they feel it was right for United States sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith to have been expelled from the Games for their podium protest in Mexico City.