Ty Votaw

Rio Olympic golf course progress speeds up

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Rio Olympic organizers have significantly increased development of the first Olympic golf venue since 1904 in the last two months after previous delays, but it probably would not be able to hold a test event until less than a year before the Games, International Golf Federation officials said Thursday.

“I wouldn’t say that more work has been done in the last 45 days than in the previous six months, but I wouldn’t be too far off if I said that,” IGF vice president Ty Votaw said at The Players Championship.

The faster pace and greater man power came after a dissatisfied IGF president Peter Dawson said in late March that course construction progress was behind schedule.

“We are going to struggle to get a test event a year before the Games,” Dawson said then. “I’m not writing that off completely, but we have to recognize that might be difficult. However, I still think it will be ready in time for the Olympics.”

Two weeks after Dawson’s comments, the International Olympic Committee announced it would send executive director Gilbert Felli to Rio de Janeiro several months earlier than scheduled to oversee day-to-day business as part of a series of emergency measures to address delayed preparations in several areas. IGF officials said the golf course is one of about 10 venues Felli is working on.

The Rio Organizing Committee is responsible for delivering the Olympic golf venue. The IGF is responsible for approving it.

The next step for the development of the Rio Olympic golf course is for it to be grassed, hopefully by the end of 2014, Votaw said. Even if that target is hit, holding a test event in August 2015, one year before the Olympics, on a course with eight months of grass maturation “wouldn’t be a good step forward for us,” Votaw said.

“The likelihood of a test event a year out continues to be improbable, and how much further within that year out we go all depends on our grassing schedule and how much the golf course matures,” Votaw said.

About 10 members of the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee have been at TPC Sawgrass this week, observing operational setups for one of the biggest tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule — from security to catering to hospitality to ticketing. They’re taking lessons to use in planning in Brazil, a nation without a long-standing golf tradition.

“For some of them [Rio organizers in Ponte Vedra Beach], this is a very big event and bigger than what they’ve worked on,” IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said. “It gives them a bit of size and scale of what they’re facing. For others, this is what they expected.

“This is a sport that’s not very large in Brazil. The proximity of the players to the public is something that most security agencies are concerned by, and the great expertise that the PGA Tour has here is allaying their fears and helping them with their fans.”

One question yet to be answered two years out is how big the crowds will be at the Olympic golf tournaments. The Players Championship is equipped to handle 50,000 fans per day. Rio organizers have also visited the British Open and World Golf Championships events.

“To the extent that [Rio organizers] are going to be prepared for ’16, they’re going to need to be exposed to the biggest possible crowds and the biggest possible logistics and the biggest possible security issues,” Votaw said. “When you have a stadium-like golf course like this and this amount of a crowd, we thought this would be a good event for them to at least get that exposure.”

Votaw and Scanlon said IGF officials will next be in Rio in June as part of an IOC venue construction review team.

“It’s been a great partnership with Rio,” Scanlon said. “That’s why [Rio organizers] are here [in Ponte Vedra Beach].”

Another publicized issue is the status of Rory McIlroy and other players whose Olympic nationality isn’t cut and dry. McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, but there is no Northern Ireland team at the Olympics. It’s been reported he could represent Great Britain, or he could be tied to represent Ireland because he competed under an Irish flag as recently as the 2011 World Cup of Golf.

The IGF hopes to finalize the nationality policy by July, two years before the Olympic golf fields of 60 men and women are determined. The fields are set by world rankings, which take into account players’ results over the previous two years.

That would make it clearer not only for a player like McIlroy, currently ranked No. 11 in the world, but also for other players from Great Britain and Ireland observing rankings to determine their chances of making the Olympics.

“If there’s a dual nationality player before the eligibility starts [in July 2014], it’s equitable for every other player from each of those countries to know who is ahead of them on the world rankings from that country,” Votaw said.

The Olympic golf field will invite everybody from the world top 15, with no more than four players per nation. Beyond the top 15, the field will be filled according to the rankings with a maximum of two players per country that does not already have two or more in the top 15.

How the IOC-NBCUniversal Olympics deal came about

Gary Bettman not bullish about NHL participation in 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman
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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The NHL remains open to continuing to send its players to the Olympics, just so long as it doesn’t have foot the bill.

“Our teams are not interested in paying for the privilege” of Olympic participation, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.

NHL players have been a fixture at the Olympics since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, thanks in large part to significant financial support from the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which have handled most of the travel costs, accommodations and insurance for league owners.

Bettman pointed to IOC President Thomas Bach‘s stated resistance to providing subsidies for any sport as a major stumbling block to having the league stop in the middle of the 2017-18 season so over 100 players can head to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games.

Bettman said if the issue remains unresolved “I have no doubt it will have significant impact on our decision.” He described the potential cost as “many, many millions of dollars. This is no small-ticket item.”

The Olympics has helped the NHL expand its global footprint while providing a series of iconic moments, including Sidney Crosby‘s golden goal on home soil in the 2010 final and T.J. Oshie‘s shootout performance while leading the U.S. to a victory over host Russia in Sochi two years ago.

Yet with the NHL-backed World Cup of Hockey coming to North America this fall, the league may no longer need the Olympics as much as it once did. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to speculate whether the World Cup would become a more frequent event if the NHL pulled out of the Winter Games.

“The World Cup is not going to be an isolated event, it’s something we’re committed to,” Daly said. “It’s part of a series we want to do, events we want to create that adds to international presence of NHL.”

The biggest issue concerns insurance premiums required to cover NHL players during Olympic competition. Owners want protection should one of their players get hurt during the games, an injury that could have both short- and long-term ramifications on the team and the player’s future. With salaries skyrocketing, providing coverage for 150-plus NHL players is a major financial commitment, one the IOC and IIHF appear to be in no rush to cover.

There remain other issues the league would have to work out with the NHL Players’ Association, and Bettman said there have been no “substantive” talks with the union about 2018, though if the financial specifics with the IOC and IIHF aren’t worked out, it probably won’t matter.

“It almost becomes an easy showstopper, and you don’t have to get into the other discussions,” said Bettman, who expects there to be some sort of final decision by December.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups announced

IPC president: Now is the right time to have Paralympics in Brazil

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International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven said the upcoming Paralympic Games, which open in 100 days, could not be going to a better city than Rio de Janeiro.

“Many people might think that it’s not the time to go there now with the economic and political problems,” Craven said in a phone interview last week. “But is that not just the right time to be going, to just show what sport can truly do to mobilize and galvanize a people?”

And the Zika virus?

“We believe that the measures that have been communicated on a regular basis, reiterated to our member nations, will be effective, and the Zika virus will not have a major effect on the Games,” Craven said.

The Paralympics will visit South America for the first time in their 15th edition. The Rio Games, which run from Sept. 7-18, will have more broadcast coverage than ever and an expected record number of athletes and nations in the largest number of sports on a single Paralympic program.

NBC and NBCSN will air a record 66 hours of coverage of the Games. The USOC will provide live coverage at TeamUSA.org, too.

How the Paralympics will deal with the well-known issues facing Brazil will be largely impacted by how the preceding Olympics handle them.

But one issue unique to the Paralympics came to light four weeks ago.

A British Paralympic champion swimmer was disqualified from a European Championships event because his Olympic rings tattoo was not covered (he later competed at the meet with the tattoo covered).

An International Paralympic Committee swimming rule states, “body advertisements are not allowed in any way whatsoever (this includes tattoos and symbols).”

The rule will cover all sports at the Rio Paralympics. Craven said he has not heard of any appeals by para-athletes to change the rule.

The IPC will take a “common-sense approach” to enforcing the rule in Rio to make sure there are no disqualifications by communicating thoroughly to national committees, Craven said.

“IPC has got very strict rules for the Paralympic Games and for other events prohibiting body advertisements, and this includes tattoos for commercial brands and non-IPC symbols, such as the Olympic rings,” Craven said. “These rules were emphasized, re-emphasized to all competing teams and swimmers at that particular event, and, similarly, we’ll be doing so prior to the Games in Rio.”

Some Paralympians identify themselves as Olympians, too — some have event competed in both Games — but Craven made the difference clear.

The 65-year-old, five-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player likened Olympic rings tattoos at the Paralympics to an NFL player with an NBA team tattoo.

Craven added that there has been no pressure from the IOC regarding the rule and that he would expect a hypothetical Paralympian competing at the Olympics to cover up a tattoo of the Agitos, which is the Paralympic logo.

“We want Paralympic athletes to show pride in promoting the Paralympic movement, including our symbol, which is the Agitos, which is very different from the Olympic rings,” Craven said. “When you have a Paralympic athlete, a para-athlete sporting a branding from another event, then it just creates confusion. It creates confusion for the IPC. It creates confusion for the IOC.”

MORE: Paralympic champ long jumper still hopes to be allowed into Olympics