A strange phenomenon seems to have struck the IOC since the end of the health crisis. It has been putting off the decisions most eagerly awaited by the Olympic movement, without giving the impression that it feels the need or the desire to speed things up.
The Olympic body has postponed the announcement of the host of the 2030 Winter Games, originally scheduled for this autumn, until next year. For several months now, it has been repeatedly postponing its decision on the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Paris 2024 Games. And now it is adopting the same wait-and-see stance on the sports programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Games.
The subject was high on the agenda for the Executive Committee meeting on Friday 8 September. It was withdrawn at the last minute. The IOC explained in a terse press release that the issue would be “discussed at a subsequent meeting of the IOC Executive Board, to be held at a date to be determined.”
At the time, it seemed obvious, or at least appropriate, that the meeting in question should be held before the end of September, or at the very beginning of October at the latest. In time for the decision to be validated by the next IOC Session, scheduled for 15-17 October in Mumbai, India. But today, nothing is less certain.
Sarah Hirshland, the Chief Executive Officer of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), told a press conference call that no date had yet been set for the resumption, and ideally the conclusion, of discussions on the sports programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Games.
“This discussion has been delayed and postponed, at this stage indefinitely,” she explained, quoted by the GamesBids website. While these conversations are ongoing, we do not yet have a date for future decisions and discussions“.
The American said she had not taken part in the discussions between the IOC and LA 2028. However, she is directly involved in the subject, as a member of the Olympic body’s Programme Commission.
“This work has been underway for some time and the IOC Executive Board was initially due to consider the recommendations last week,” continued Sarah Hirshland. The Programme Commission has been working on the basis of a set of principles, one of which is gender equity and another is the 10,500 athlete limit. I don’t know what stage discussions are at on this last point. But I expect that, as things settle down, we will have more visibility on the motivation or the proposal to modify this athlete quota.”
Sarah Hirshland’s statements confirm that negotiations between the IOC and Los Angeles 2028 over the inclusion of team disciplines among the additional sports are proving difficult, if not extremely delicate. The two parties are reportedly unable to reach agreement, which is why the final decision has been postponed indefinitely.
On the Californian side, it would be obvious, and even natural, to bring baseball and softball back into the Olympic fold. The LA 2028 team is also lobbying for the addition of flag football, whose bid campaign is massively supported by the powerful NFL.
The IOC, for its part, is said to be pushing for cricket, with the tantalising prospect of television rights soaring in India. And, when the time comes, audiences for the Olympic tournament will reach record levels in what is now the world’s most populous country.
This news is anything but anecdotal: the new US ambassador to India is none other than Democrat Eric Garcetti, former mayor of Los Angeles and one of the key players in the Californian city’s bid for the 2024/2028 Games. Eric Garcetti was present last June at an official dinner given by Joe Biden for Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister. He was accompanied by… Casey Wasserman, President of Los Angeles 2028. Nita Ambani, the Indian billionaire who has been an IOC member since 2016, was also among the guests.
Between the two parties, the discussion is taking on the appearance of an arm wrestle. At the heart of the debate is the sacrosanct quota of 10,500 athletes, now enshrined in the Olympic Charter. With at least one team sport added to the programme, if not two or three, staying within the quota would be mission impossible. This would mean sacrificing all the other candidates, as well as the individual disciplines that require far fewer athletes. A highly unlikely scenario.