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New sports center symbol of Haiti’s recovery

by Ed Odeven

Haiti’s recovery from the 2010 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation is a slow, difficult process.

But part of that recovery involves sports and Olympic-related opportunities. And the IOC has made a commitment to work with Haitian leaders and the international community to help sports grow and develop athletes for the future.

In Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, the new $18 million Sport for Hope Centre was unveiled on Tuesday at a ceremony attended by IOC president Thomas Bach, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Haiti President Michel Martelly.

The multipurpose complex is designed to be used for 14 Olympic disciplines, including soccer, rugby, athletics, volleyball, basketball and boxing, with a seating capacity of 2,500 in a main gymnasium, plus two large indoor practice gyms and several outdoor courts and fields. The Haitian government provided the land for the complex’s construction.

“The Sport for Hope Centre is open to all Haitians — from the young to the old, and from professional athletes to beginners,” Bach said. “It offers open access to a variety of sports thanks to the generosity and commitment of a number of our stakeholders; but just as importantly, it offers access to cultural, educational and social development programs and the Olympic values.

“During the course of our Olympic Agenda 2020 discussions on Olympism in Action, including our Youth Strategy, heavy emphasis has been placed on the important role sport can play in terms of education and social issues. The opening today of the Sport for Hope Centre here in Haiti is an example of how we can work successfully with other organizations to contribute to building a better world.”

Making a splash: When super swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals (18 golds), ended his retirement this spring, global attention gave the sport a big boost.

And did Phelps’ return also trigger increased sales of swimming magazines and an uptick in swimming website viewership?

That question was recently posed to Swimming World magazine managing editor Jason Marsteller, who also oversees the magazine’s website.

“We can’t divulge specific numbers, but yes, there’s been a bump since Phelps has been back. And, mainstream media is covering the sport at a much higher level again,” Marsteller told The Japan Times earlier this week. “The Bulldog Grand Slam (in Georgia), which wasn’t even a big deal of a meet until two months ago when SwimMAC (a Charlotte, North Carolina, aquatics club) and NBAC (North Baltimore Aquatic Club) decided to bring their elites, had ESPN-level coverage of whatever Phelps did.

“This is 2014, not 2016 (Olympic year). That’s not usual.”

Call it the Phelps factor.

And the run-up to the 2016 Rio Games will only provide increased interest in Phelps, his rivals and the sport.

Indeed, Phelps has made a big media splash. That’s good news, of course, for Swimming World Magazine and the sport in general.

Big possibilities: Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Organizing Committee, was credited with leading the way for what many pundits considered a terrific 2012 Summer Games.

The legendary runner, who took home the gold in the 1,500-meter race in the 1980 and ’84 Olympiads, is also a man with two intriguing job prospects for the future. First, he is mentioned as a leading candidate to be the next president of the IAAF, track and field’s world governing body, replacing Lamine Diack in 2015. (He has been an IAAF vice president since 2007.) Second, BBC economics editor Robert Peston considers him a “virtual shoo-in” to be the next chairman of the BBC, according to The Guardian.

Coe, 57, has expressed keen interest in the latter position.

“It is a very meaty job and I’m passionate about public-service broadcasting. But the honest answer is I probably have a few weeks to think about it,” he told The Guardian, according to a July 11 article.

The 2020 countdown: A daily countdown chart is now featured in Nikkan Sports to mark the number of days remaining until the start of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

The newspaper’s Wednesday issue featured a small box that noted the Tokyo Olympics commence in 2,200 days.

Free tickets: After seeing that the recent World Cup featured crowds of mostly wealthier spectators, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes aims to make the 2016 Summer Olympics crowds become a more representative mix of people.

Bloomberg reported that for Brazil’s June 28 match against Chile, 90 percent of the crowd came from the nation’s “top two economic classes.”

“What we will do is give some subsidies for some of the tickets,” Paes was quoted as saying in Rio. “We will try to do something more democratic (at the Olympics).”

Distributing free tickets to Brazilians of various economic backgrounds would do that — a step in the right direction.

Miscellany: No place is too remote for competition. The Northern Mariana Islands has been chosen to host the 2021 Pacific Mini Games, a potential proving ground for future Olympians.

According to published reports, the Pacific Mini Games will consist of athletics, badminton, baseball, canoe racing, golf, sailing, swimming, tennis, triathlon, volleyball, weightlifting and wrestling.

Golf rankings: The International Golf Federation this week introduced an Olympic golf ranking system to be used at the 2016 Rio Games.

As summarized by golfchannel.com, “it will provide a weekly snapshot of the developing 60-player fields until the teams are finalized on July 11, 2016.”

The aim, though, isn’t to just look at the top rankings. “We want to be sure it wasn’t just the golf nations involved,” said Ty Votaw, an IGF vice president. “We want a much broader field and we think that is good for the growth of the game all around the world.”

Golfchannel.com reported the new rankings compiled for the men’s field would likely include golfers in the top 300, with women from the top 450 considered in order to attain that goal.

Lofty ambition: With back-to-back NBA Draft No. 1 picks in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, Canada’s national basketball team’s prospects may be on the rise. A recent Globe and Mail story (“Canada has hoop dreams for its Olympic future”), highlighted the team’s goal to contend for a 2020 Olympic title.

“This group of Canadians wants to represent and has the chance to do something very special,” Canada coach Jay Triano, who’s also a Portland Trail Blazers assistant, told the Globe and Mail.

Canada last appeared in a gold-medal game in 1936. The U.S. won that contest, 19-8, on an outdoor court.

Aiming for the top: Judoka Francesco Aufieri, a 17-year-old from Malta, exemplifies the competitive spirit of countless athletes around the world. In an interview with Olympic Review, an official IOC publication, Aufieri stated, “I want to be an athlete who actually wins something for Malta because I would be the first one.”

His target: A winner’s prize at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, in August.

Did you know?: The IOC’s International Coaching Enrichment Certification Program (ICECP) had coaches from 24 nations earn certifications for the 2013-14 program.

The ICECP began six years ago based on curriculum designed by the United States Olympic Committee along with the IOC and the University of Delaware. Since its inception, 161 coaches from 84 countries in 23 sports have completed studies, Olympic Review reported.

The program “aims to assist national-level coaches in developing proficiency in the areas of sport sciences, talent identification, athlete development, safe sport, coaching education, coaching management and grassroots sport development,” Olympic Review stated.

Training took place at the University of Delaware, U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in Lausanne, Switzerland (IOC headquarters), plus various apprenticeship sites in the U.S.

As expected: Japanese judoka collected five gold medals at the Tyumen Judo Grand Slam last weekend in Russia.

Masato Nakamura, a 2008 Beijing Olympic bronze medalist, earned Japan’s first gold there, beating Yulia Ryzhova for the women’s under-52 kg top prize. Japan also grabbed three silver and six bronze in preparation for the 2014 IJF World Championships, which will be held Aug. 25-31 in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

The last word: “We want to inspire the new generation with the Olympic spirit. They are the future of our nation; that’s why we want them to be actively involved in our preparations. It is of crucial importance to make young people realize that this is also their games and they have a key role to play throughout the entire process of our preparations and during the games themselves. . .” — Tokyo 2020 sports director Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Olympic hammer throw gold medalist, speaking about the “Creating Tomorrow Together” initiative, which encourages Japan’s youth to provide ideas for the Tokyo Games.