By Ken Stone
North Korea won’t have a June summit with President Trump, but its athletes may grapple in San Diego in October 2019 — if they qualify.
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“You may see some North Koreans in [beach] karate. You may see North Koreans in beach wrestling,” said Olympian Willie Banks, CEO of the local organizing committee.
Whether the Hermit Kingdom sends young stars to the inaugural beach games of the Association of National Olympic Committees may be up to the international sports federations.Friday and Saturday, federation chiefs staying at the Bahia Resort Hotel will decide on how their sports will choose entrants for the Games, and are expected to announce procedures in June.
But North Korea will be represented at the 206-nation ANOC General Assembly set to meet during the Oct. 10-15 Games, convening at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego.
“So far, North Korea has always been present” at such assemblies, said Gunilla Lindberg of Sweden, ANOC’s secretary general and a vice president of the International Olympic Committee. “We count on North coming.”
Any visa problems expected — especially for potential “travel ban” nations?
“No,” said Lindberg, making her seventh trip to San Diego. “If we face a problem, we will solve it together with the U.S. Olympic Committee.”
Said Banks: “The good thing about sport is that we have a special dispensation when it comes to travel” by working with the USOC. “It seems like there’s very little problems getting the athletes and the teams in. Where there’s a problem is when the team has a special official that is not really tied to sport. And that sometimes raises an issue, a red flag.”
- Listen: Vincent Mudd, Gunilla Lindberg, Lorie Zapf, Mike McDowell et al
- Listen: Questions at ANOC World Beach Games press conference
- Listen: Willie Banks on the 2019 ANOC World Beach Games
It wasn’t immediately known whether Russia would be invited — although its IOC ban for a state-sponsored doping program has been lifted. Some Russians cleared of suspicion competed as “neutral” athletes in the recent PyeongChang Winter Games.
In any case, Lindberg said: “This is a peace movement. It’s not a war movement. And we are all friends and working together. And that’s very important for us.”
Vincent Mudd, head of the local organizing committee, boasted that the Games will probably see the largest one-time influx of international visitors in San Diego history, “and that includes the world fair 101 years ago” — referring to the Panama–California Exposition in Balboa Park.
The number of athletes will be modest by Olympic standards, though.
“We have 1,364 athletes,” Lindberg said, noting that ANOC has given sports federations quotas. “That’s how it works. It works in the Olympics…. I would guess around 80 countries [are] really competing.”
Banks estimated “somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 100 different countries … will be here,” with Eastern Europe likely to dominate beach basketball, South and Central America excelling in beach soccer and volleyball and Asian and Middle East squads superior in beach wrestling.
(The 2016 Rio Games had more than 11,000 athletes from 205 national Olympic committees.)
When first announced three years ago, San Diego expected as many as 5,000 athletes and a budget of $135 million. The event also was set for fall 2017. But ANOC and San Diego organizers decided to push the Games back two years.
They also pushed down the budget, which Mudd recited Thursday from memory: “38 million, 955 thousand, 888 dollars.”
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About 20 percent of the budget has been raised, Mudd said — which will help jump-start marketing, “which we’re going to start after this press conference.”
He says he’ll take time to select the “right sponsors. … Let’s get past December 2018, and by then selection of [sponsors] you want to be involved in the Games is going to get larger and larger.”
Most of the budget will pay for flying in — and housing and feeding — athletes and officials, along with the national Olympic committee reps and “IOC folks,” Mudd said.
Other money will go to building temporary structures, including a modular skateboard park.
At the press conference — with cyclists, skateboarders and joggers passing in the background — Mudd parried a question about the possibility of volleyball courts being left at Mission Beach a la the famed facilities in Huntington Beach.
“When we leave (Mission Beach), we’re going to leave it better than we found it,” Mudd said. “We won’t be leaving anything behind. … However, we’d love to work with you to make sure we are able to amplify your message. And maybe there is someone out there who will support you as well.”
Several speakers stressed the environmental sensitivity of the beach games. (Slogan: “clean water, clean games.”)
Others — including San Diego Councilwoman Lorie Zapf and Mike McDowell of the San Diego Tourism Authority — hailed the economic impact.
Wearing two hats (McDowell also is president and CEO of the San Diego Lodging Industry Association), he said: “I’m at the epicenter of enthusiasm.”
Zapf, whose District 2 includes Mission Beach, matched McDowell for excitement: “The world games are going to be a page-turner for San Diego,” she said. “I’m totally looking forward to being a part of this” — especially if she’s re-elected in 2018.
The councilwoman greeted several dozen officials and observers by noting to out-of-towners “this weather is normal for May. It is called ‘May Gray.’ So don’t be concerned. October is awesome. The sun will be out.”
Potential broadcasters are hoping for sun — and stars.
Mudd said he had “multiple” bidders for TV and digital rights — and has been been in “extensive contact” with them.
“This weekend’s a big deal because having the 17 international federations here, when they show the qualification schedule, that means a lot to some of these folks. They want to know: Who’s playing here?”
In other words — which athletic stars?
— ANOC (@ANOC_Olympic) May 24, 2018
Banks, the former world-record holder in the triple jump, said his role is to make sure the athletes, and their families, have a great time, “and that the whole city of San Diego gets behind this thing and is supportive.”
He said he’s putting together a plan that turns Mission Beach into a “giant sports carnival with a huge festival that will match some of the best festivals that we have in California, like Coachella.”
Lindberg, the Swedish IOC official, offered her personal hope for the first-ever World Beach Games.
“I would like to see this beach full of athletes,” she told Times of San Diego. “I would like to see all the inhabitants of San Diego watching them here, having a party and really make this a fantastic event.”
Banks, a former president of the U.S. Olympians Association, returned to a central theme: “Sport, to me, has to be a peace movement.”
“In order to have peace,” he said, “people need to get in front of one another and see that we’re all human beings and we’re all trying to survive and live on this one earth together.”
He said he hoped athletes qualify from countries that are “not necessarily politically friendly to the United States.”
“We would love to have the people come see what we’re all about,” Banks said, “so that we will eventually have peace throughout the world.”
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