HEARD AT HALFTIME: IOC’s Bach: “I can admit that we did not know how complex this would be”; expert says Covid positives “are actually extremely low”

IOC President Thomas Bach during his remarks to the 138th IOC Session (Photo: IOC)

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The International Olympic Committee’s 138th Session began in Tokyo on Tuesday, with President Thomas Bach (GER) thanking the Japanese government and the organizing committee for their “determination and dedication in these challenging times.”

In his report to the Session, Bach recounted the emotional roller-coaster of the last year:

“We faced a choice: cancellation or postponement. There was nothing in between. … Cancellation would have been the easy way forward. We could have drawn on the insurance that we had at the time and moved on to Paris 2024. But in fact, cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes.

“Therefore, we took the unprecedented decision to postpone the Olympic Games. Today, I can admit that we did not know how complex this would be. The only certainty we had was rather than cashing in on the insurance, we would have to invest much more, to make these Olympic Games possible.

“There was no blueprint. Nobody had ever done this before. We could only take this decision because of the full, mutual trust between our Japanese partners and us. In fact, we came to an agreement with then-prime minister Abe Shinzo in a phone call which lasted only about half an hour. This agreement still stands today. … We did it together. We did it for the athletes.”

Bach also explained why he never wavered or expressed any doubt about making the Games a reality in 2021:

“How could we have convinced all the other stakeholders to remain committed to the Olympic Games if if we would have even deepened their already-serious doubts. Our doubts would have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Olympic Games could have fallen to pieces. This is why we had to keep these doubts to ourselves. And this, today I can admit and say it, these also weighed on us. It weighed on me.

“And in order to arrive at this day today, we had to give confidence . We had to show a way out of this crisis. We had to provide stability. We had to build trust. We had to give hope. … And today I would like to thank all our stakeholders for having indeed trusting in us.”

Bach recounted the IOC’s $800 million in additional spending on the postponed Games and its $1.7 billion contribution of cash and services to the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee.

The Session has a long, two-day agenda, but IOC Director General Christophe de Kepper (BEL) outlined the progress being made already on the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 program approved earlier in the year.

Specially noted was the creation of a IOC-controlled, centralized ticketing and hospitality program through On Location beginning with Paris 2024, and a promise that IOC programs to provide centralized planning in technology, transportation, venue planning and management and perhaps other areas are under development.

Reports from the future organizing committees and IOC elections will take place tomorrow.

Covid-19 is very much the pre-Opening story of the Tokyo Games, and the IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizers staged a one-hour news conference on Sunday at the Main Press Center in Tokyo concerning the Covid-19 and heat countermeasures amid reports of additional infections among Olympic-related personnel.

Hide Nakamura, head of the Main Operations Center for the Tokyo organizers explained:

“No matter how well we are prepared, every once in a while we will find some people being tested positive. We don’t think we will be able to avoid that. But what’s important is that when we face that situation systematically, we introduce isolation so that spreading will not occur.”

IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi (SUI) followed up on the procedures:

“This is rigorous. This is thorough. This is very strict. … Testing is the way to avoid any spread. Testing is the way to ensure safety for all of us. There is no such thing as zero risk; on that, we all agree. At the same time, the mingling and crossing of populations is incredibly limited. And we can ensure that transmission between the various groups is almost impossible. We keep the risk to an absolute minimum level. That is the core of our message. …

“Once a case is identified, there is a whole procedure to ring-fence that individual and the potential other individuals, so that when the new athletes are coming in or those that are already in the Village, know that the situation is under control. This is how we build trust and confidence is by action, extensive actions, demonstrating that there is no stone uncovered. It’s a Covid-safe environment.”

Pierre Ducrey (SUI), the IOC’s Olympic Games Operations Director, noted that more than 30,000 screening tests have been completed since 1 July and that “This is probably the most controlled population at this point in time anywhere in the world.”

As of Tuesday (20th), a total of 71 Games-related coronavirus positives had been reported since 1 July, with 15 reported on Saturday (17th) and 10 on Sunday (18th). Of these, half (36) are Games contractors, 19 are “Games-related personnel” such as coaches, team officials and sports officials, five are media, four are Tokyo 2020 staff and seven are athletes. Several of these positive results were from testing upon arrival in Japan; only 31 of the 71 total are from outside of Japan.

South African football players James Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi as well as a team video analyst were identified as Village Covid-positive cases and were being isolated according to plan; their “close contacts” are being tested and will only be able to compete if they test negative just prior to their events. IOC member Seung-min Ryu of South Korea was also identified as Covid-positive from his arrival test and is being isolated.

The IOC held another Covid information session on Monday featuring Dr. Brian McCloskey (GBR), chair of an independent panel advising the IOC on Covid-19 mitigation measures for Tokyo, who had a message for those expecting no cases in Tokyo:

“What we’re seeing is what we expected to see, essentially. If I thought all the tests we did were going to do were going to be negative, then I wouldn’t bother doing the tests in the first place. We do the tests because they are a way of filtering out people who might be developing infections, who might become a risk later, to identify them early. We take them apart from other people, we monitor and look after them and we look after the contacts.

“So it is expected as we go through the different layers of filtering, we see cases coming out. … Each layer of filtering is a reduction in risk for everybody else, and that’s what we expect to see. And the numbers we’re seeing are actually extremely low. They’re probably lower than we expected them to be, if anything.”

As for an athlete missing the Games due to a positive test in Tokyo: “It’s something that could happen. We try very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen; we manage it as well as we can. … There are no absolute certainties in this world.”

Is the Olympic Village safe? “Yes.”

The U.S. team has also been hit with Covid positives for athletes not yet in Tokyo, including:

● Men’s basketball guard Zach LaVine was placed into USA Basketball’s protocol on Monday and will not travel with the rest of the team to Tokyo, but could join in a few days.

● 3×3 Basketball player Katie Lou Samuelson was placed under USA Basketball’s health and safety protocol on Saturday and will not go to Tokyo. She will be replaced by Jackie Young of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, who was part of the U.S. 3×3 team at the 2019 World Beach Games.

● Women’s artistic gymnastics alternate Kara Eaker (18) tested positive at the team’s pre-Games training camp, despite reportedly being vaccinated two months ago. Fellow alternate Leanne Wong has also been isolated as a precaution.

● Tennis player Coco Gauff (17) announced on Twitter that she has tested positive and withdrawn from the Games.

● Track & field’s Katie Nageotte, the U.S. Trials winner in the women’s pole vault, has contracted food poisoning and had an allergic reaction to antibiotics, but will apparently be OK for the Games.

Elsewhere around the Games:

● Per Kyodo News: “Japanese musician Keigo Oyamada resigned on Monday from the creative team for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics after admitting that he bullied children with disabilities many years ago.” A four-minute piece composed by Oyamanda that was slated to be included in the early part of the ceremony will not be used.

● Toyota Motor Corp., an International Olympic Committee TOP Partner, announced it would not be airing commercials related to the Games in Japan during the Olympic period for “various reasons.” A spokesman noted that “We will fully support the athletes and contribute to the games by providing vehicles and through other means”; Toyota is supplying 3,340 vehicles for the organizing committee.

Basketball: The Court of Arbitration for Sport has declined the appeal of U.S. players Nneka Ogwumike and Elizabeth Williams to play for Nigeria in Tokyo. The international federation for basketball, FIBA, “declined under the applicable rules” and added, “In any event, the players would have to wait for a three-year period since their last game with the USA to be eligible to play at the Olympics, as per Bye-law to Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter.”

Football: The German men’s football team walked off the field during a Saturday practice match, with a team tweet stating “The game has ended 5 minutes early with the score at 1-1. The Germany players left the pitch after [defender] Jordan Torunarigha was racially abused.”

The Honduran twitter response: “Game ended in the 87th [minute] due to abandonment because of a German player alleging a racist insult from a Honduras team member. Regarding this matter, the Honduras Football Federation states that the situation was a misunderstanding on the pitch.”

German coach Stefan Kuntz said that the Honduran team came over the German bench and apologized, saying that the matter was closed.

Swimming: The Court of Arbitration for Sport reinstated Russian swimmers Veronika Andrusenko and Aleksandr Kudashev, saying the FINA suspension for doping based on evidence from the Moscow Laboratory data recovered by WADA covering the period of 2011-15. This will allow Andrusenko to compete in the women’s 200 m Free and Kudashev in the 200 m Butterfly.

Tunisian open-water star Ous Mellouli, slated to swim in the 10 km in Tokyo, announced on his Instagram account (translated from the original French):

“After a month of ordeal, I lose all hope of reconciliation or of winning my case. So I decided to retire from international competitions and boycott the Tokyo Games.”

He had been in a dispute with the Tunisian swimming federation with allegations of forgery and theft, and a formal hearing. Mellouli was the 2008 gold medalist in the men’s 1,500 m Free, then won the 2012 10 km open-water event and a bronze in the 1,500 m Free in the pool. Tokyo would have been his sixth Olympic Games!

XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● Former Vice President Mike Pence challenged the Biden Administration to demand that the Beijing Winter Games be relocated.

Speaking at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday, Pence said:

“President Biden should make a clear and unequivocal demand that the 2022 Winter Olympics be moved from Beijing unless China comes clean on the origins of COVID-19 and immediately ends persecution of the Uyghur people.

“The Olympics should only take place in countries that respect fundamental human rights and the well-being of mankind.”

Athletics ● The all-time U.S. men’s and women’s javelin lists were shaken by sensational American throwing on Saturday at the American JavFest in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Michael Shuey, second at the Trials, came from behind on his final toss to reach a lifetime best of 85.67 m (281-1), moving him to no. 9 on the 2021 year list and no. 4 on the all-time U.S. list. Trials winner Curtis Thompson was second at 81.04 m (265-10).

American Record holder Maggie Malone, already no. 3 on the 2021 world list, extended her own record to 67.10 m (221-1) on her first throw, adding almost two feet to her 66.82 m/219-3 from earlier this year. That keeps her third on the year list, but underscores her as a serious medal contender.

How about something fun for a change?

If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you can check out U.S. Olympic steepler Mason Ferlicunboxing” his Tokyo gear … and it’s quite a haul!

The coronavirus claimed another event as a victim, as the Kenyan government announced that the World U-20 Championships in Nairobi (KEN) next month will not allow spectators to attend.

This is an especially devastating situation for Kenya and Nairobi, which has been speculated as a possible site for the 2025 World Athletics Championships, with the 2021 U-20 meet as a measure of the possibilities.

Football ● The concept of holding the FIFA World Cup and Women’s World Cup every two years instead of every four got a vote of confidence from the Confederation of African Football. Although the concept is only to be studied by FIFA, the CAF is already an enthusiastic backer.

Rowing ● The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has commission a high-profile law firm to conduct an investigation into the U.S. Rowing men’s national team program and in particular, complaints about the style of coaching by longtime head coach Mike Teti.

The Associated Press reported considerable conflict among the men’s rowers about Teti, whose approach has been called both “intense” and “intimidating.” US Rowing chief executive Amanda Kraus said that the review “is not an investigation of any particular coach at US Rowing. It is a high-level assessment of the culture of our men’s and women’s training centers in an effort to ensure that our athletes’ concerns are being addressed and that fairness and transparency are always at the core of how we operate.”

Teti, now 64, is a member of the National Rowing Hall of Fame as both a rower and a coach.

At the BuZZer ● Another major auction of Olympic and other sports memorabilia is getting set for 22 July (Thursday) in France.

The 581-lot Sportlympic VII offer includes 10 official torches, from Berlin 1936, London 1948, Rome 1960, Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, Moscow 1980, and Athens 2004, with expected pricing from €2,000-8,000.

Of special interest is a winner’s medal from the 1920 Antwerp Games, with a projected sale price of €16,000-20,000.

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