Los Angeles 2024
LA 2024

LA 2024 Olympic bid gets lots of Facebook likes … from Pakistan

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PARIS (AP) — More than a million Facebook users like the idea of hosting the 2024 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Many of them, oddly enough, from Pakistan.

A report prepared for The Associated Press says most of LA’s likes have come in the past six weeks from far away from Southern California.

“The fan growth evolution for the LA2024 Facebook page does seem suspicious,” said analyst Michaela Branova, whose Prague, Czech Republic-based firm, Socialbakers, drew up the report. “Countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan suddenly spike from almost zero to tens of thousands of fans within a few days in February.”

LA campaign spokesman Jeff Millman said there was nothing suspicious about the figures. He said LA kicked off a series of Facebook advertisements starting Feb. 3. The scale and the mechanics of the advertising campaign weren’t made clear – Millman declined to divulge how much LA 2024 had spent on promotion – but he noted that Facebook ads were “more efficient in countries where there are fewer competing brands.”

He argued that it made sense to seek fans internationally.

“We are a global campaign, as the Olympic movement is global,” he said.

Socialbakers’ figures, which were commissioned by the AP, give some insight into the dynamics of both the Paris and Los Angeles’ social media campaigns.

By the end of 2016, Los Angeles had 209,000 or so likes, nearly all of which came from the United States, according to Socialbakers. Paris had 62,000 or so fans, 80 percent of which came from France.

By last week both sides’ figures had grown. Paris’ Facebook page tripled its following, but four out of five endorsements came from France, with many of the others originating in Algeria and Tunisia, former French colonies.

Los Angeles saw an explosion in support from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Egypt, India, Afghanistan and other low-income countries, according to Socialbakers’ research. In Bangladesh alone, the number of supporters of the U.S. Olympic bid rose from a few dozen to 113,335 in a month-and-a-half. In Pakistan, the number of supporters leapt from 55 to 99,336 over the same period.

Socialbakers’ report said that more than 700,000 of the 1 million accounts that liked LA 2024’s Facebook page had done so within the past six weeks. The surge helped LA blow past Paris (about 235,000 likes) and hit the million mark at an opportune moment. An Olympics conference started Tuesday in Denmark, the first of three events between now and September, when the International Olympic Committee is scheduled to pick one city over the other.

Socialbakers said it wasn’t working for the LA or Paris bid, and that its work was transparent.

“It’s all publicly available, taken directly from the Facebook API,” said spokeswoman Claire Wilson, referring to Facebook’s data interface.

Branova and outside experts said it was possible that a large chunk of LA’s social media support was drummed up by advertisements or other paid methods.

“It’s consistent with what you’d expect to see from paid endorsements,” said Daniel Mochon, who teaches social media marketing at Tulane University’s A. B. Freeman School of Business. “They tend to come from developing countries … You’re going to see sudden spikes that are not necessarily tied to anything external.”

Social media support has been invoked as a selling point by the LA bid, which islocked in competition with Paris for the chance to host the Summer Games. On Monday, LA 2024 released a statement crowing about how its campaign had passed the 1 million follower mark.

That was endorsed by Nathan Cowan of Seattle-based digital marketing analytics firm Rival IQ, which wasn’t involved in the report. Cowan said that while hadn’t seen the raw data, Socialbakers’ work “appears to be entirely accurate.”

Cowan echoed Socialbakers’ suspicions about LA’s numbers, noting the “extreme spike in followers” and their unusual geographic breakdown.

Paris 2024 officials declined to comment. Facebook declined comment, saying in an email that it was up to advertisers to disclose how they promoted their pages. The IOC did not offer any comment, but the group’s rules of conduct note that promotion of a city’s bid must take place “with dignity and moderation.”

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Lawmakers choke back tears, scream at Olympic sport leaders for sex-abuse scandal

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The tears and anger this time came from lawmakers who spent the day fuming over a growing sex-abuse problem in Olympic sports that leaders have taken too much time to solve while devoting too little money for the fixes.

“I just hope everyone here realizes the time to talk is over, and you need to walk your talk,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Wednesday shortly after choking back tears while questioning leaders of the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The hearing of the House subcommittee was filled with both substance and spectacle — the latter coming mostly courtesy of a five-minute burst from Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., who told the USOC’s acting CEO, Susanne Lyons, “you should resign your position now,” and tore into USA Gymnastics CEO Kerry Perry and the rest of the panel for not uttering the exact words: “I’m sorry.”

“If you don’t want to say you’re sorry, I don’t want to talk to you,” said Carter, who represents the district where a lawsuit that triggered the mushrooming scandal in gymnastics was filed.

In fact, members on the panel of U.S. sports executives did apologize to the victims, whose numbers grow almost daily and whose pain was most heart-wrenchingly displayed during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, the Michigan State doctor who also worked for the U.S. gymnastics team.

But set against the USOC’s slow-moving reforms, to say nothing of the raw numbers presented by SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl, some of the apologies felt hollow.

The USOC started talking about reforming its sex-abuse policy in 2010 after a scandal was exposed inside of USA Swimming. From then, it took seven years to open the SafeSport center to independently investigate sex-abuse claims made by Olympic athletes. Pfohl described an office that has been overwhelmed in the 14 months it has been in business.

— When it opened in March 2017, Pfohl said the center received 20 to 30 calls a month. In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the Nassar case, that has increased to about 20 to 30 calls per week.

— SafeSport operates on a budget of $4.3 million a year, $1.55 million of which was recently added as part of the USOC’s mission to bolster its response to the abuse issue. That brought the USOC’s contribution to $3.1 million. (By comparison, the USOC gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in charge of Olympic drug testing in the United States, $3.7 million in 2016. Its budget is more than $19 million.)

— The budget is enough for 14 full-time employees, which includes five full-time investigators. Seven additional investigators work on a contract basis. The center has fielded 840 reports over 14 months. Reports have come in regarding 38 of the 49 national governing bodies.

— Part of the delay in opening the SafeSport center came because the USOC met reluctance from almost everyone in funding, both from outside and inside the Olympic movement. The NGBs are charged on a sliding scale, depending on their size. USA Swimming contributed only $43,000 this year, “but we’re one of the larger NGBs, and based on who we are, we could provide more resources,” CEO Tim Hinchey said.

Pfohl said she wouldn’t turn it down.

Meanwhile, she is still waiting for paperwork to apply for a $2.5 million grant the government wrote into this year’s budget. (The government gave $9.5 million to USADA in 2016.)

The witnesses testified to a continued lack of uniformity in sex-abuse policies among the NGBs, despite efforts that date to at least 2013. Some publish full lists of banned coaches and athletes. Some distribute them only to members of the organizations. Under terms of a recently passed law to protect athletes, the NGBs are supposed to be audited randomly by the SafeSport center, but that project is hamstrung because resources do not exist.

Meanwhile, the role of the USOC in overseeing it all remains confusing.

Brought up more than once was an exchange during a deposition for a sex-abuse lawsuit in which a USOC lawyer was asked if protecting athletes was a top priority for the federation.

“The USOC does not have athletes,” answered Gary Johansen — speaking to the reality that, except during the Olympics, athletes technically fall under the umbrella of their individual sports.

Lyons said that mindset will change.

“We do hold ourselves responsible, and if there’s a failing, it’s from not properly exercising our authority,” she said.

One of the best examples of the USOC using that authority has been the top-to-bottom housecleaning it demanded from USA Gymnastics.

Most news about the federation’s changes, however, has been delivered in long news releases. Wednesday marked the first time Perry has made public comments since her hiring in December. She left after the hearing without taking questions.

“I’m glad you’re here today, but a lot of people have wanted to hear from you since you took the job,” Dingell said.

But Dingell didn’t really like what she heard — “I don’t hear a sense of urgency,” she said — and she was not alone.

“As compared to how much money a district attorney’s office has, or how much money a Title IX office has at a school, it’s not in the same ballpark at all,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimmer and outspoken critic of the USOC’s efforts, said of the SafeSport budget. “Shellie desperately needs more money.”

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Lindsey Vonn, Ronda Rousey among athletes featured on Shark Week

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Olympic medalists Lindsey Vonn and Ronda Rousey headline an athlete roster appearing on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in two months.

They follow Michael Phelps‘ much talked about Shark Week shows last year.

Vonn will appear on a show called “Monster Tag.” Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski are also included.

They “will join forces with top shark scientists to learn crucial information about the ocean’s top predators,” according to Discovery Channel.

Rousey, a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist, will dive with a mako shark in “Uncaged: Shark vs. Ronda Rousey.” The title is similar to “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White” from last year.

“First, Rousey, in a cage, dives into the ring with several lightweight shark species in the waters off Fiji and then moves onto the main event in New Zealand where she’ll ‘free dive uncaged’ with the heavyweight mako shark,” according to Discovery Channel.

More on Shark Week from Discovery Channel is here.

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