Today’s Daily Telegraph features an interview with a female tennis player who served a ban for a positive drug test and made her comeback at the indoor clay event in Stuttgart. No it’s not the one you’re thinking of (I’ll get to her later…).
The player I’m talking about is Barbora Strycova the World number 20 from the Czech Republic. Strycova is a member of the successful Czech Fed Cup team who have won the Fed Cup in five of the last six years. Not as famous as her compatriots Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova she was still an important part of the team and in the last two years she played in the final decisive doubles rubber which clinched the title for the Czechs.
But she wasn’t always as highly regarded. In 2012 she tested positive for the banned stimulant sibultramine as a result of consuming a dubious weight-loss supplement called Acai Berry Thin. On April 22 2013 she made her comeback in the first qualifying round of Stuttgart (I’ve emphasised qualifying quite deliberately) losing to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. After Stuttgart she played in a humble $25,000 ITF tournament in Wiesbaden Germany which is the lowest level of the women’s professional game. She lost in her first match. She had to qualify for all the Grand Slams – two of them successfully – and play more ITF tournaments. She was given no favours which having served a drug ban she should not have been. But to her credit she grafted and at the end of 2013 she had got back into the World’s top 100.
Four years later, on April 26 2017 another female tennis player will make her comeback from a drugs ban – a fifteen month drugs ban. This is of course Maria Sharapova. Sharapova like Strycova will make her comeback in Stuttgart. But that is where the similarity ends. First of all the tournament starts on April 24 but Sharapova’s ban ends on the 26th. But shamefully Sharapova will be allowed to play in Stuttgart despite this and she will be given the right to start on the 26th – a Wednesday – while players like Strycova who will be playing for the Czech Republic in the USA the week before – have to start on Monday or Tuesday.
Even worse Sharapova has been given a wildcard straight into the first round of Stuttgart. And not only Stuttgart. She has also been given wildcards into the first round of the Madrid Open and the Rome Masters. Remember Strycova had to start in the qualifying of Stuttgart and play humble ITF events. Why shouldn’t Sharapova? After all she failed a drug test too and her ban was longer than Strycova’s.
I should stress I’m not blaming the tournaments in question as Sharapova is a draw and the tournaments are out for their own interests. I am blaming the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). This gutless spineless excuse for a governing body should make sure all players are treated equally. If Strycova had to start in the qualifying round of big tournaments and in humble ITF events so should Sharapova. So should anyone who fails a drug test. Now if a player is a victim of a stabbing (like poor Petra Kvitova was before Christmas) or if a player falls pregnant and has a child (as Victoria Azarenka did last year) they are fully entitled to wildcards and having their ranking protected. But a player who failed a drugs test should not be given preferential treatment either to clean players or to other players who failed drug tests.
Hopefully the Grand Slams behave differently. Sharapova will definitely either have to qualify for the French Open or rely on a wild card. She might have to do likewise for Wimbledon if she has not accumulated around 600 ranking points by May 22. The French Open and Wimbledon must NOT reward a player who failed a drug test. Sharapova is entitled to attempt a comeback. But the French Open and Wimbledon must do what the WTA did not have the guts to do. They must not give her a wildcard. Sharapova and all other drug test failures should be told they must restart at the bottom. Just like Barbora Strycova had to…
The Paralympics ended last Sunday ending Brazil’s two year spell in the spotlight. The country had hosted the 2014 men’s World Cup and Rio hosted the recent Olympic and Paralympic games. Whether it was a good idea for Brazil to host the two biggest events in sport back to back only that country can answer. But it is interesting that the number of cities willing to host the Olympics is falling.
An example of this happened this week. The city of Rome withdrew it’s bid for the 2024 Olympics when newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi refused to support the bid. Rome is the third city to withdraw from the race to host the 2024 Olympics. In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid citing a lack of public support. In the same year the German city of Hamburg withdrew after 51.6% of the city’s voters rejected the bid in a referendum.
But it is not just the 2024 Summer Olympics that suffered from a lack of bidding cities. The 2022 Winter Olympics suffered from the same problem. Four out of six bidding cities ended up withdrawing (Lviv, Stockholm, Oslo and Krakow). The latter withdrew after the bid was rejected in a referendum – just like Hamburg – while Stockholm and Oslo withdrew because of public opposition. Lviv withdrew because of the Ukrainian crisis and intends to bid for 2026. For the 2022 games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were left with only Beijing – the eventual winners – and Almaty in Kazakhstan.
But why are cities queueing up NOT to bid for the Olympics? The reason is fairly simple – cost and the building of new “white elephant” sporting facilities. The recent Rio Olympics cost $12 billion. The last Winter Olympics in Sochi cost an eye watering $31 billion. The 2004 Olympics in Athens cost €9 billion and is reckoned to be a factor in Greece going bankrupt. This is nothing new. Montreal finally paid for the 1976 Olympics in 2006! Most host cities – the exception being Los Angeles in 1984 – make a loss.
But why is that when the Olympics make a profit? The answer is fairly simple. The host city has to pay the costs of the games not the IOC. But of course the host city does not get any of the profits the IOC does. And after the disaster of 2004 cities are beginning to learn this. Twelve cities bid for the 2004 Olympics. After Rome’s withdrawal only three cities are still in the race for 2024 – Los Angeles , Paris and Budapest – and the Hungarian capital is considered very much the outsider in the race. It is clear that politicians and voters have rumbled the Olympics realising that a successful city gets 16 days of a sporting party and a debt hangover that lasts for years and even decades.
So what needs to happen? The answer is fairly obvious and applies to both the Olympics and the men’s football World Cup. If FIFA and the IOC want to have these big parties they should pay for them – and give half the profits to the host city/country. Since both FIFA and the IOC say they are non profit organisations why can’t they pay for their parties? They also need to moderate their demands. FIFA forced both South Africa and Brazil to change their laws to accommodate their sponsors. Meanwhile the IOC’s list of demands for Olympic host cities was leaked to Norwegian newspaper VG before Oslo withdrew its bid. The number of demands ran to 7000 pages and included such gems as meetings with the King and a VIP cocktail party! No wonder the Norwegians baulked – most countries would at this arrogant nonsense. No wonder the IOC could not get a democracy to bid for 2022 and had to choose between China and Kazakhstan. No wonder three cities have pulled out of the race for 2024.
It’s time that arrogant FIFA and IOC were chopped down to size. And the only way to do it is for Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest to withdraw from the race for 2024 leaving no bidders to host them. The West should announce that if FIFA and the IOC do not pay for the events and give the host city/country a share of the profits not only will Western countries not bid to host the Olympics or World Cup but they will not take part in them. That would be a disaster for FIFA and the IOC as it could mean that their sponsors – mainly Western companies – pull out and if they do the whole house of cards could collapse.
More and more voters and politicians realise that all they get from hosting the Olympics or the World Cup is a mountain of debt. Therefore they don’t want to host the biggest events in sport. Unless FIFA and the IOC realise that and start coughing up for their parties and giving the hosts a piece of their profits they might find out that only dictatorships like Russia, Qatar, China and Kazakhstan are willing to host them. And quite frankly if that becomes the case it serves them right.