By Ken Stone
Willie Banks won no Olympic titles during his triple-jump heyday, when he was world record holder. But for the next two years, he’ll help rake in the gold for San Diego.
On Wednesday, Banks was introduced as president of the team organizing the inaugural ANOC World Beach Games, coming here in October 2019.
With a far smaller budget than first envisioned ($50 million instead of $135 million), the still-ambitious event aims to draw athletes from 206 nations — member countries of the Association of National Olympic Committees. They’ll compete in 19 sports not contested in the Summer Games.Included are three-on-three basketball, four-on-four volleyball, beach versions of handball, soccer, tennis and wrestling, plus BMX “Big Air,” surfing, triathlon, marathon swimming, water polo, windsurfing, ocean canoeing, wake board and karate.
A plan to stage video games as an official sport was zapped, but so-called E-Games may be held in the run-up to the event, organizers said.
San Diego was awarded the games a year ago, with a fall 2017 debut. But ANOC pressed San Diego to delay the event expected to draw 100,000 spectators to Mission Beach.
With a packed international sports calendar, including Rio 2016, “our partners needed longer prep time,” Banks said of the group led by a Kuwaiti sheikh. Hence an “agreed move” to 2019. “We had our permits [for 2017]. We had our plans set.”
In early August, ANOC leaders meeting in Rio de Janeiro pushed the event back two years. San Diego won a major concession, however, landing the four-day ANOC General Assembly — just in front of the Oct. 10-20 games.Also new: San Diego will own 100 percent of commercial rights, said Vincent Mudd, chairman of the San Diego Exploratory Committee (originally mulling an Olympic bid), the entity that won the beach games. Profits will be split with ANOC, he said, but finding domestic sponsors will be a priority.
“We’re now relying on our own group to shape these games,” Mudd told 60 people at an outdoor “update” event in the courtyard of the County Administration Center facing cruise ships across Harbor Drive. “Help open that door for us.”
Mudd introduced other full-time members of his team, including Los Angeles lawyer Jeffrey G. Benz, former U.S. Olympic Committee general counsel, and Dave Stow, associate director of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, where beach games entrants will practice.[contextly_sidebar id=”Pe53GJdQVu4OsPjuiTpYMmK1ZRJFtbbX”]Also on the local organizing staff: Feben Yohannes, chief marketing and public relations officer, who will be in charge of marketing and sponsorship strategies; Steven Grooms, San Diego Exploratory Foundation board secretary, in charge of volunteer efforts; and Sandi Hill, CEO of the California State Games, whose title is senior executive.
“You only get one shot at a great first impression,” Mudd said after the hour-long update. “[ANOC] even asked about doing a small version in 2017. We decided against it. You have to do it right the first time around.”
When local organizers travel in mid-November to the ANOC General Assembly in Doha, Qatar, they’ll make a pitch to host the 2021 beach games as well, the group of civic volunteers and officials was told.
“The entire world is going to walk in here,” Mudd said, “and on the [last day], they’re going to say: ‘That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.’”
Banks, a former member of the USA Track & Field Board of Directors, has plenty of experience organizing international sports events. He was deputy events director of the monthlong FIFA World Cup in the United States in 1994. He directed athlete services at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and was a consultant to the Olympic bid cities of Stockholm and Osaka. He also helped with Chicago’s bid for the 2012 Games, which went to London.
In his full-time job as president of the WBG organizers group — its name isn’t formally set yet — he’ll guide a team that hopes to recruit 5,000 volunteers, including some who can be dispatched anywhere on 24 hours’ notice.
He vows no taxpayer money will be used, saying: “We will be using our funds for all functions.” But city, county and state offices will be drawn in to coordinate traffic, etc.
Banks, 60 and a Carlsbad resident, said his group has entered a “three-month bubble” for gathering sponsors by the end of the year.
Olympic sponsors such as Coca-Cola will have first shot at helping underwrite San Diego events, or even individual sports. The only prohibitions: No tobacco ads. And no sponsor logos on athletes’ uniforms.
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Mudd of the exploratory committee recently returned from the Asian Beach Games in Danang, Vietnam, where he learned ways to save money on the San Diego event. (A close examination by his team devised other cost efficiencies, such as confining events to Mission Beach instead of duplicating bleachers on various downtown piers. It helped bring down transit costs as well. The decor budget was slashed.)
The ANOC World Beach Games won’t build an athletes village — the problem-plagued one in Rio cost $1 billion. Instead, athletes will get a taste of San Diego culture by staying in Mission Valley motels. (Organizers secured deals for 5,000 rooms for the 2017 event, but will have to put out a new request for proposals.)
Where will VIPs stay?
Mudd said the San Diego Tourism Marketing District will help sort out which prestigious hotels will be home to ANOC delegations and headquarters to ANOC’s president — Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah.
“Any of these guys could absorb [all rooms] at the Bahai [Resort Hotel] in a minute,” he said.
The original idea of having cultural events downtown remains part of the 2019 games, using the slogan “Hot by day, cool by night.” Every month leading up to October 2019 will feature a WBG-related event to stoke public and commercial interest.
Mudd told the gathering he wants visitors not to see it as a first-time event but: “My goodness, how long has this been going on?” He also called for volunteers to use their Web networks.
“We will not be successful unless we are your social media platform” and yours are ours, he said.
Opening ceremonies are planned for Petco Park, pending a deal with the Padres and Major League Baseball.
Banks said tickets will be sold as packages that include transportation between venues and places to park. Reserved grandstand seating will be extra, but most people may watch from the sand.
Mudd said he was startled to learn in his Vietnam trip that only 30 leaders of the 206 ANOC nations had been to San Diego, and “I tell you what — that’s going to change.”
The ANOC General Assembly is set for Oct. 7-10 in San Diego, leading to the Oct. 10 opening.
“We want athletes to fall in love with San Diego, move here, move their companies,” Mudd said.
Looking forward to the event is Michael Hinson of Irvine, head coach of the U.S. men’s beach handball team — a four-on-four sport with squads of 10, where substitution takes place during a game like ice hockey. Brazil is the perennial power, but Croatia won the most recent world title in July.
“We were just in Budapest for the world championships,” Hinson said, “and all the coaches were … coming up to us, talking about the San Diego World Beach Games. They’re all very excited. They want to know more details.”
Updated at 12:55 p.m. Oct. 21, 2016
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