HEARD AT HALFTIME: Covid variant causes Winter WUG cancellation 13 days out; 1980s star sprinter Emmit King killed; U.S. women end 2021 with 1-1 tie in Oz

News, views and noise from the non-stop, worldwide circus of Olympic sport:


In the age of Covid, nothing is certain. On Monday, just 13 days prior to the start of the 30th Winter World University Games in Lucerne (SUI) came this announcement from the International University Sports Federation (FISU):

“Following meetings of the Executive Committee of FISU and the Board of Directors of the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade Association, FISU and Lucerne 2021 have announced with deep regret that the Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade scheduled for 11-21 December will no longer take place. Restrictions on international arrivals have been announced by Swiss authorities with regard to a number of countries where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been identified. Many more restrictions are expected in the coming days. Similar restrictions are also being announced by national authorities elsewhere, and the first case involving the Omicron variant has already been identified in Switzerland.”

Said FISU Acting President Leonz Eder (SUI): “The new travel restrictions mean that staging the event has now been made impossible.” This applied not only to athletes, but also to the television production teams, timing and scoring operations and many other elements.

The Lucerne Winter WUG was originally scheduled to be held in January 2021, but was delayed due to the pandemic conditions then. Now, the event is canceled altogether and the next Winter WUG will be in Lake Placid, New York (USA) – pandemic permitting – from 12-22 January 2023.

There is considerable concern now about the 9-12 December ISU Figure Skating Grand Prix Final in Osaka (JPN), as the Japanese government announced a one-month ban on all foreign entries into the country on Tuesday due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, “When dealing with an unknown risk, it’s best to take every precaution.”

The event could be cancelled, held in a sequestered format or moved. But the clock is ticking.


● Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The wrap-up of the Tokyo Games continues, with Kyodo News reporting that some 28,000 volunteer uniforms for city staff – not the organizing committee – went unused as people pulled out due to the pandemic.

“Tokyo has about 21,000 pairs of shoes and 23,000 polo shirts left unused. Meanwhile, Saitama has unused uniform sets for around 2,000 people, followed by Chiba with at least 1,200. In Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in northeastern Japan, there were some 1,000 and 800 unused uniform sets, respectively.”

The total value of the goods is estimated at $15 million (¥1.7 billion), with 11 municipalities holding unissued kits, all purchased from Japanese manufacturer Asics. The uniforms were purchased with public funds.

● XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● The war of words over the Beijing Games and the Chinese regime’s actions in sports is continuing as the February events comes closer.

Last week, the bi-cameral U.S. Congressional Executive Committee on China sent letters to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (GER) and Athletes’ Commission chair Emma Terho (FIN). The letter to Bach referred to the IOC’s video call with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and included:

“Your video call with Peng shows that you can in fact use the power of your office to weigh in on a human rights concern inside China. It further shows that you, as IOC President, personally can cooperate with Chinese authorities to address a human rights concern. Therefore, we once again reiterate the request that you use the IOC’s substantial leverage to demand that the Chinese government improve human rights prior to the start of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games.”


“With these concerns, we respectfully make two requests:

“● That you schedule a video call with us as soon as possible so we can hear from you directly about whether you will use the power of your office to address human rights concerns in China in the lead-up to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games; and

“● That you arrange, using your demonstrated connection with relevant Chinese interlocutors, a video call between Peng Shuai and a small set of journalists from independent international media outlets in order to provide Peng an opportunity, should she choose of her own free will, to speak out over the censorship levied against her and her story by Chinese authorities.”

Neither is likely to happen. The letter to Terho was just as direct, including:

“Further, the silence on the IOC’s announcement on Ms. Peng’s accusation of sexual assault raises concern about the IOC’s sincerity in supporting its community of athletes. Given who the accusation was levied against, Ms. Peng’s decision to do so publicly exhibited not only bravery but a manifestation of her agency as a human being with rights. There is no indication that Chinese authorities are pursuing an investigation of Ms. Peng’s claim, and the censorship suggests they are trying to bury it. The IOC has an opportunity to validate the agency Ms. Peng has expressed and which Chinese authorities are refusing to recognize.

“Therefore, we ask you and the IOC leadership to take a more active role in defending Ms. Peng and her assertion of her rights, both in demanding that the Chinese government conduct a diligent and fair investigation of her allegations and ensuring that she has access to any psychosocial support services that she may require.”

Against more discussion in the West of a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Games, the state-controlled Global Timesreported”:

“The Global Times has learned that as the host country of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, China never plans to invite US and Western politicians who hype the ‘boycott’ topic to attend the Games and experts said that their so-called boycott is nothing but self-deception. …

“The ‘boycotts’ of US and certain countries are in essence a smear campaign under the guise of “human rights” to politicize sports events, the spokesperson said. Their move is also a clear violation of the Olympic Charter, especially the principle of political neutrality of sports events.”

By the way, the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games will be over in 83 days.

● XXVI Olympic Winter Games: 2030 ● The planned visit of a delegation from Salt Lake City and the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee to Lausanne to discuss the city’s bid for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games has been postponed to 6 December and will now be held online.

A small group from Utah is expected to attend the Beijing Games to see the current state-of-the-art in the staging of the Winter Games.

In Japan, the bid from Sapporo unveiled a revised, smaller budget. The 2019 estimate was ¥310-370 billion yen (about $2.7-3.3 billion U.S.), but the new projection was a cost of ¥280-300 billion yen (about $2.4-2.6 billion U.S.).

This will help to make Sapporo’s bid more competitive with Salt Lake City’s, with the latter’s budget estimate expected to be just over $2 billion.

● Athletics ● Terrible news that 1983 NCAA 100 m champ and two-time World Championships medalist Emmit King, 62, was shot and killed during an argument in Bessemer, Alabama on Sunday.

King and Willie Wells, 60, were in an argument and both drew guns and shot each other. Both were taken to a nearby hospital and King was pronounced dead.

King was a star sprinter at Alabama in the 1980s, had a best of 10.04 from 1988 and won the bronze medal in the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 behind Carl Lewis and Calvin Smith of the U.S. King then led off the U.S. 4×100 m, handing to Willie Gault, followed by Smith and Lewis, setting a world record of 37.86. He competed in the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing sixth in the 100 m final, and in the 1988 Trials, finishing seventh.

● Boxing ● The International Boxing Association (AIBA) is holding an Extraordinary Congress on 12 December and has published a set of constitutional amendments and governance reforms aimed at retaining boxing’s place on the Olympic program and returning AIBA as the governing body of the sport at the Olympic level.

Its Governance Reform Group’s 38-page report included in its introduction:

“AIBA’s management of integrity issues needs to improve dramatically. A complete restructuring of the bodies competent to deal with integrity problems is required.”

Among the recommendations are for the abolishment of the inefficient, 22-member AIBA Council and its replacement with an 15-17 member Board of Directors, further noting “A ‘fresh start’ is needed in relation to membership on AIBA’s Board of Directors. Such a ‘fresh start’ requires that a clear majority of the current members of the Board of Directors be replaced.” Half or more of the members of a new Board should be specially selected based on their skills and expertise which can help the federation.

In addition, a fully separate “Independent Integrity Unit,” similar to that started by World Athletics and now being copied by other federations should be created and a special “Liaison Officer” be installed solely to coordinate communications with the IOC.

The report also – notably – recommends a single AIBA office and not a separate “President’s Office” as has been the case in the past; the report states that a “shadow headquarter” is not compatible with good governance procedures.

These are good concepts and will be well received by the IOC if approved and implemented. Whether that keeps AIBA and boxing within the Olympic program is another matter.

● Fencing ● On Saturday, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov was re-elected – without opposition – as the head of the Federation Internationale de Escrime (FIE) for a fourth term.

This is good news for the FIE, as Usmanov has kept the federation financially afloat, donating more than CHF 75.624 million from 2008-19 and an additional CHF 5.0 million in 2020 for a total of CHF 80.624 million (~$87.75 million U.S.).

● Football ● The African Football Confederation (CAF) voted last Friday to support the FIFA concept to stage the men’s World Cup every two years, becoming the first continental group to publicly support the plan.

The European (UEFA) and South American (CONMEBOL) confederations have come out strongly against the plan, as have other groups. But promoters of the idea are hoping for support from Asia and the Americas to help approve the idea. A worldwide conference on the topic is scheduled for mid-December.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi won the prestigious Ballon d’Or trophy, awarded by France Fotball, for the seventh time on Monday, adding to his awards from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019. His highlight of the year as leading his team to the CONMEBOL title, his first international trophy with his national team.

The Ballon d’Or Feminin went to Barcelona Femeni and Spain midfielder Alexia Putellas, leading her team to the national league title and the Women’s Champions League trophy in 2021.

● Gymnastics ● The deadline for objections to be filed to the USA Gymnastics reorganization plan before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana is coming up on Friday, 3 December.

On Monday, TIG Insurance Company, the lone hold-out among the USA Gymnastics and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee insurers – but with about 25% of the payment burden – filed a motion to compel USAG to respond seriously to its requests for documents and statements and asked for a hearing on Wednesday, 1 December.

The plan could be confirmed as soon as 13 December, but TIG is a major player in the drama. The Court has yet to rule on TIG’s motion as of 12:30 p.m. Pacific time.

● Modern Pentathlon ● Outfought at the UIPM Congress, which approved the removal of riding as a discipline, the athlete group championing the retention of riding has opened a GoFundMe page to raise money for the pursuit of their case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The “Save Modern Pentathlon” campaign has a goal of £25,000 (~$33,257 U.S.) and is being run by British pentathlete Kate Allenby, the women’s Olympic bronze medalist from 2000. Created on 16 November when the CAS appeal was filed, the effort has raised £13,679 or 55% of its goal so far.

● Rugby ● World Rugby announced that England is the “preferred candidate” for the 2025 women’s World Cup and that Australia is preferred for the men’s World Cup in 2027, with the U.S. identified as the “targeted” site for the 2031 men’s World Cup.

The men’s Rugby World Cup is a major event on its own, lasting for more than a month. The last edition, in 2019 in Japan, drew almost 1.7 million fans across 45 matches. The 2015 tournament in England drew almost 2.5 million, and generated a surplus at the end of more than £150 million!

The World Cup has been a sport-building idea for the U.S. for some time. World Rugby noted:

“As an emerging rugby market with a 10-year runway to the 2031 tournament, the USA will require a unique and extended approach that will require extensive further dialogue with key stakeholders. This dialogue will take place with a view to developing the most effective hosting model for a Rugby World Cup in North America and the global game in the long-term.”

The final approvals of these recommendations will come next May.

● Tennis ● The Peng Shuai story has not gone away, even after the video call with International Olympic Committee officials. A Women’s Tennis Association statement from last Saturday (27th) noted:

“[WTA chief executive] Steve Simon has reached out to Peng Shuai via various communication channels. He has sent her two emails, to which it was clear her responses were influenced by others. He remains deeply concerned that Peng is not free from censorship or coercion and decided not to re-engage via email until he was satisfied her responses were her own, and not those of her censors. The WTA remains concerned about her ability to communicate freely, openly, and directly.”

● Weightlifting ● The federation that can’t seem to get anything right has postponed its Electoral Congress because it could not meet its own internal deadlines.

The International Weightlifting Federation announced last Friday that “the proper legal foundations for the planned IWF Elections had not yet been fully complied. Due to this reason the IWF Executive Board decided, that the Electoral Congress, scheduled for 20-21 December, will not therefore see voting take place on those days.”

A new date for the IWF elections, on which its place on the Olympic program may rest, has not yet been determined. The IWF’s Legal Commission noted that the Eligibility Determination Panel was not ratified by the IWF Congress under the federation’s own rules and therefore was not properly established. So the process has to begin again.

Another Russian doping positive from 2014 was announced by the International Testing Agency, based on data from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s retrieval of data from the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s Moscow Laboratory earlier in 2021.

Lifter Kseniya Kozina – then a teenager – was identified for a positive test for anabolic steroids and is now provisionally suspended until the matter is concluded. Kozina won the 2021 European women’s 49 kg U-23 title earlier this year.


● Basketball ● Mexico defeated the U.S. men, 97-88, in Chihuahua in the second game of the FIBA Americas qualifiers for the 2023 men’s World Cup.

The U.S. team, made up of G League players and free agents, led 57-48 at halftime, but Mexico came on in the third quarter to take over, outscoring the Americans, 31-12 for a 10-point lead and held on for the win to go to 2-0 in Group D.

Mexican guard Orlando Mendez led all scorers with 27 points with fellow guard Paul Stoll scoring 18, with 11 assists. The U.S. was led by guard Isaiah Thomas with 21 points, and forward B.J. Johnson added 15.

The first window of games saw Mexico finish 2-0, with the U.S. and Puerto Rico at 1-1 and Cuba at 0-2. Each team will play six games in this round, the next coming in February.

● Football ● The U.S. women concluded their two-game trip to Australia with a 1-1 tie with the Matildas in Newcastle (AUS) on Tuesday.

Ashley Hatch got another quick score for the U.S., this time in the fourth minute, and it looked like the 1-0 lead might hold up for the entire match. While the U.S. continued to create chances for scores, the home team was shut down and had just one shot on goal until the final minutes, when star striker Sam Kerr passed to Kyah Simon, whose shot was reflected and skipped past U.S. keeper Casey Murphy for the equalizer in the 88th minute.

The U.S. had 64% of the possession and had 16 shots to eight for Australia, but had to settle for the tie in its final game of 2021. The American women finished 17-2-5 for the year and won the Olympic bronze medal (over Australia) in Tokyo.

● Table Tennis ● The first ITTF World Championships held in the U.S. concluded on Monday at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, with superpower China winning four of the five events.

In the men’s Singles, China’s Olympic silver medalist Zhendong Fan won his first individual world title with a 4-0 sweep of surprise finalist Truls Moregardh of Sweden. The all-China women’s Singles final saw Manyu Wang win her first individual Worlds gold over Yingsha Sun, 4-2, as China swept all four medals, including both bronzes.

The men’s Doubles was the only event the Chinese did not win, as Sweden’s Mattias Falck and Kristian Karlsson won, 4-0, over South Koreans Woo-jin Jang and Jong-hoon Lim. China’s Sun and Wang teamed up to take the women’s Doubles gold over Japan’s Mima Ito and Hina Hayata, 3-0.

The Mixed Doubles final, held on Sunday, was the first medal for Sun, partnered with Chuqin Wang, who swept aside Hayata and Tomokazu Harimoto, 3-0.

The tournament was noteworthy for two special Mixed Doubles teams with players from China and the U.S. together to mark the 50-year anniversary of the “ping pong diplomacy” matches between China and the U.S. in 1971. The idea was developed and petitioned for by the national federations in China and the U.S.

China’s Wang and American champ Kanak Ja won their first two matches, but lost in the third round. The pairing of American women’s champion Lily Zhang and China’s Gaoyuan Lin did better, reaching the semifinals, but ended with bronze medals as they lost to Japan’s Harimoto and Hayata, in five sets.

China lodged a complaint with the ITTF concerning a taunt from an unidentified spectator at men’s Singles player Jingkun Liang, who reached the semis and lost to eventual winner Fan. The ITTF has said it will investigate the incident further.

● I Junior Pan American Games ● The 3,500-athlete Junior Pan American Games is underway and continuing in Cali, Colombia through 5 December. Competitions are being held in 25 sports (33 disciplines) for athletes under age 23.

Through roughly the halfway mark, Mexico leads with 90 medals (28-41-21), followed by Brazil (80: 30-21-29) and Colombia (78: 26-19-33). The U.S. is fourth at 65 (28–16-21).


The International Committee for the Mediterranean Games signaled grave concerns last week about the preparations for the 2021 Mediterranean Games in Oman (ALG), with committee head Davide Tizzano (ITA) urging “immediate solutions” to multiple delays in the organization of the event, slated for 25 June-5 July 2022.

A report to the ICMG noted “concern and worries about the delays in construction, the completion of international contests and the implementation of technology and transport programs.

“During the meeting, the scheduled communication with the General Manager of the Organizing Committee Salim Iles did not [occur] and for that reason, it was not possible to have answers on issues that ICMG wanted to discuss with the Organizing Committee. The suffocating time margins, the delays in the projects and the apparent deviation on the agreed schedule make necessary, the immediate and continuous cooperation of ICMG with the Organizing Committee. …

“It was also agreed to request meetings on the highest state level in Algeria, namely with the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Sports and Youth, as well as the National Olympic Committee in order to provide immediate solutions to the problems that have arisen regarding the progress of the works.

“ICMG President Davide Tizzano stated: ‘We respect the Algerian people and its efforts, we respect the Government for the great expenditure that has been made on the construction of the projects, but we must preserve the prestige and the name of the Mediterranean Games. We all want for the Games to be held in Oran, we will help in every way, but we cannot put in risk the top sporting event of the Mediterranean.’”

The Mediterranean Games date back to 1951 and the 2022 edition is expected to host 4,500 athletes from 26 countries, competing in 24 sports. This is the second hosting for Algeria, after Algiers held the event in 1975.

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