HEARD AT HALFTIME: Some doctors say cancel Tokyo, others sign up to help; 4,000 J&J doses for PanAm athletes; Cheer Cards return for Canada

"Cheer Card" versions of Cheerios on sale in Canada! (Photo: Business Wire)

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, which represents about 6,000 physicians, sent an open letter last Friday to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asked the government to convince the International Olympic Committee to cancel this summer’s Olympic Games.

On Monday, Kyodo News reported that the organizing committee’s call for 200 volunteer physicians to help with the Games has now had 395 doctors sign up to help.

The current state of emergency in the Tokyo area and other prefectures in Japan is expected to last through the end of this month.

PanAm Sports announced an agreement on Tuesday to provide 4,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to athletes and officials in the Pan American region headed for Tokyo, including the cost of airfare to come to Miami, Florida for the injection.

The shots will be provided under an agreement with the University of Miami and the Consulate General of Mexico in Miami. The announcement noted that “The NOCs must send their request listing the athletes and officials they wish to be vaccinated as soon as possible so they can be inoculated at least 30 days before entering Japan.”

Comment: Wow; very impressive achievement by PanAm Sports.

Not everyone is unhappy with the plans for an austere Games in Tokyo. New Zealand’s two-time Olympic 1,500 m medalist Nick Willis, 38, told Reuters:

“I actually think people are going to perform at a really high level and a greater depth because there won’t be the same distractions that athletes from all the different sports face.

“Track and field, it can be quite challenging because we’re in the second half of the Games. So you get all the swimmers partying it up in the second week of the Games, and coming home from the parties at 4 a.m. outside of your apartments, making a hell of a noise.

“So there’s not going to be any of those distractions this time round so that will be quite nice.”

Further to our 6 May story on British sprinter Adam Gemili, who intends to protest at the Tokyo Games because “We are not in the public eye that often,” are parallel comments from Olympic icon and triple gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA).

Last week, Joyner-Kersee, 59, told Fox2Now in St. Louis:

“For a lot of athletes, really, the Olympic movement is the only time they can really know that the world is watching, and so you can say it is a political stance, but I think it is people just fighting for their own civil rights.

“I think the most important thing is for the athletes is to get out there and to perform well. And once they perform well, now whatever place they decide they are going to be on the podium then what comes after that, that’s up to the athlete. And then it will be left up to the judge and jury.”

Reporter Katherine Hessel asked her about the 1968 Mexico City protests by Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos after the men’s 200 m final. Joyner-Kersee observed:

“That expression, they were talking about hunger and poverty and equal opportunity for all. It’s still some of the same issues we are facing today.”

As noted in the story on Gemili, what does this say about so many Olympic sports that have modest, little or no worldwide impact?

A unique Canadian promotion by General Mills has returned for the Tokyo Games: Cheer cards.

Created in partnership with the Canadian Olympic Committee, the program offers “Cheer Cards” on boxes of Honey Nut, Multi-Grain and Yellow Box Cheerios, for a limited time (of course). The process is simple enough: get a “Cheer” box of Cheerios, cut out the postcard from the box, write a message to the team or a favorite athlete and “MAIL the postcard at any Canada Post mailbox or post office. No stamp is necessary as postage is pre-paid.”

More than 100,000 such Cheer cards have been sent to Canadian athletes over the past 10 years while the promotion has been used. General Mills has partnered with Canadian stars Andre De Grasse (track & field), Penny Oleksiak (swimming), Rosie MacLennan (trampoline), Matt Berger (skateboarding) and Jennifer Abel (diving). Nice.

XXIV Olympic Winter Games: Beijing 2022 ● The Associated Press reported Sunday (16th) on a new call by eight groups representing activists in Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan and the Uyghurs for a full-scale boycott of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

“‘The time for talking with the IOC is over,’ Lhadon Tethong of the Tibet Action Institute said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press. ‘This cannot be games as usual or business as usual; not for the IOC and not for the international community.’”

The groups have posted a Web site called BoycottBeijing2022.net, including:

“We call on all governments and people, including all National Olympic Committees and Olympic athletes, to boycott the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. The Chinese government is committing genocide against the Uyghur people and waging an unprecedented campaign of repression in East Turkistan, Tibet and Southern Mongolia, as well as an all-out assault on democracy in Hong Kong. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a merciless crackdown on Chinese human rights defenders, activists, faith communities and journalists, and implementing an intense strategy of intimidation and geopolitical bullying against Taiwan.

“Participating in the Beijing Olympic Games at this time would be tantamount to endorsing China’s genocide against the Uyghur people, and legitimizing the increasingly repressive policies of the totalitarian Chinese regime.”

On Tuesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) called for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games in comments during a program hosted by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and Human Rights Commission, including:

“Let’s not honor the Chinese government by having heads of state go to China to show their support for their athletes. For heads of state to go to China in light of a genocide that is ongoing while you’re sitting there in your seats, really begs the question, ‘What moral authority do you have to speak about human rights anyplace in the world if you’re willing to pay your respects to the Chinese government as they commit genocide.’”

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) brought up the concept in a 15 March editorial, emphasizing pushback against the Chinese government and not placing athletes in the middle of the issue.

World University Games ● The 2021 World University Games in Chengdu (CHN) has had its new dates confirmed for 26 June to 7 July of 2022.

The International University Sports Federation (FISU) announced its 2025 World University Games hosts as Rhine-Ruhr, Germany (summer) and Turin, Italy (winter).

With the 2023 World University Games set for Yekaterinburg in Russia, look for the U.S. to be awarded the 2027 WUG for the Raleigh-Durham region. It would be the second time the summer University Games would be held in the U.S., after the 1993 WUG in Buffalo.

World Anti-Doping Agency ● Even with a change of administrations, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (US ONDCP) is withholding the U.S. dues payment of $2.93 million to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

A new report concerning WADA was delivered by the US ONDCP to Congress on Monday, continuing to call for reforms. Much less confrontational than the prior report last June, it still asks for “fundamental change” in the organization.

Importantly, however, the report does not repeat the “we pay, so we must play” stance of the June 2020 report, which essentially demanded seats on the WADA Executive Committee in proportion to its dues commitment. Instead, the new report states “we would welcome a dialogue with WADA colleagues that would result in a predictable process through which we would get a fair chance to represent the U.S. on the Executive Committee.”

(Comment: One way would be to show up and get nominated, which the U.S. failed to do the last time an opening for the ExCom was available at the Pan American level.)

Conversely, the report demands more independent voices within WADA, not tied to any other body: “Progress may be difficult to achieve until WADA decides as an institution to empower enough independent voices inside the organization to represent a voting majority on important decisions.”

The report lists “Ten Challenges” for WADA, mostly in governance, asking for “fully independent” WADA appointees, “independent athletes,” more participation by national Anti-Doping organizations, make the Executive Committee more “independent,” remove “potential undue influence by the Olympic Movement,” and, as expected, given its decision in the Russian doping scandal case:

“The Court of Arbitration for Sport lacks transparency and independence and has failed to adequately sanction state-sponsored doping – WADA’s voice is needed to help address this.”

As to funding, the report notes that “no decision on paying all, or a portion of WADA dues, will be made until after those meetings in May.”

WADA posted a reply the same day, with President Witold Banka (POL) quoted: “WADA takes note that the ONDCP recognizes the hard work and considerable progress achieved by the Agency during the past year” and “I look forward to welcoming the Acting Director of the ONDCP, Regina LaBelle, to her first meeting of the Foundation Board later this week. Indeed, I have personally invited Acting Director LaBelle to play a leading role in WADA’s development of a Code of Ethics and formation of an independent Ethics Board.”

However, after seeing the lengthy lecture from the US ONDCP on WADA’s shortcomings, Banka also got in the agency’s regular dig at the U.S. sports system and anti-doping:

“In addition, WADA continues to offer its support to the U.S. Government, the ONDCP and the United States Anti-Doping Agency in their efforts to strengthen the fight against doping in their country. Currently, approximately 90% of American athletes do not compete under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Code, with the main professional leagues and college sports so far operating outside that protection.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, WADA announced a new contribution of C$936,108 (~$748,390 U.S.) from the government of Canada on Tuesday. This “will be dedicated primarily to the Agency’s scientific research and intelligence and investigations (I&I) activities.”

This is in addition to Canada’s $1.47 million (U.S.) contribution to the WADA budget for 2021. The WADA headquarters are in Montreal.

WADA’s campaign for additional fund for its investigatory arm has now received $7.07 million in donations and pledges from governments in China, Cyprus, Greece, India, Poland and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, and now Canada.

Athletics ● The 2021 USATF Open in Ft. Worth, Texas had to deal with swirling winds, but that did not stop some excellent marks from the strong fields assembled.

In the men’s 400 m, Michael Cherry exploded to a lifetime best of 44.37, no. 2 in the world this year; his prior best of 44.66 came in 2017. In the field, world leader Rudy Winkler won the men’s hammer at 79.69 m (261-5), further than anyone else has thrown so far this year.

Allyson Felix won the women’s 400 m in an encouraging 50.88, the no. 12 mark in 2021 and no. 7 among Americans. It was her first open 400 m since 2019 and her fastest since 2017.

The sprint races were hampered by headwinds and the times reflected this: Ronnie Baker won the men’s 100 m in 10.39 (wind -3.2 m/s); Mikiah Brisco won the women’s 100 m in 11.42 (-3.3); Aaron Mallett won the men’s 110 m hurdles in 13.64 (-1.9) and Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn took the women’s 100 m hurdles in 12.84 (-2.1).

The Pac-12 Conference championships were held at USC in Los Angeles last Friday through Sunday, with the most notable mark coming from Trojan senior Anna Cockrell. She won the 100 m hurdles in 12.79 (wind 0.0), then took the 400 m hurdles in a lifetime best of 54.77, moving her to no. 3 on the world list for 2021. Her prior best was 55.14 from 2017.

One of the less appealing aspects of the meet, and another sign of disrespect for distance running, was the 5,000 m. The men’s race had 55 starters (yes, 55!), to which Pac-12 Networks announcer Jim Watson, asked “Does the health department know about this?,” followed by 46 starters in the women’s race. Ridiculous.

Strong running at Sunday’s Generali Milano Marathon in Italy, with world-leading marks in both the men’s and women’s races. Kenya’s Titus Ekiru won the men’s race with a lifetime best of 2:02:57, followed by Reuben Kiprop Kipyego (2:03:55) and Barnabas Kiptum (2:04:17). That places Ekiru – with a prior best of 2:04:46 – equal-5th on the all-time list and one of only six men to break 2:03 on a record-legal course. He’s also on a five-marathon winning streak from 2018 on.

The women’s winner was Ethiopian Hiwot Gebrekidan, who ran away from the field to win in 2:19:35, more than three minutes clear of Racheal Mutgaa (KEN: 2:22:50) and Eunice Chumba (BRN: 2:23:10). Gebrekidan’s prior best was 2:23:50 from 2019, so the questions start with (1) was she drug-tested and (2) what shoes was she wearing?

American triple jumper Omar Craddock, 29, the 2019 Pan American Games champ and the 2013 and 2015 U.S. champion, was suspended for 20 months from 13 November 2020 to 13 July 2022 and will miss the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Games (if qualified).

Craddock was held responsible for “whereabouts” failures, and given his prior cooperation with testing, had his suspension reduced from 24 months to 20. He missed doping tests on 20 August 2019, a failing failure effective on 1 April 2020 and a third missed test on 29 July 2020.

The decision is appealable to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The New York Road Runners Club confirmed that it will hold the 50th New York City Marathon on 7 November with a field of 33,000 runners. This is a reduced-size field from the 53,640 finishers in 2019, but was worked out in cooperation with the State of New York and the City of New York.

Lee Evans, the 1968 Olympic 400 m champion and long-time world-record holder at 43.86, suffered a traumatic stroke in Nigeria last week (13th) and has been hospitalized in Ilishan-Remo, Nigeria.

A long-time coach in Nigeria, Evans is now 74 and being treated at the Babcock University Teaching Hospital. Chief Segun Odegbami, writing on the Vanguard news site, updated Evans’ situation over the weekend:

“If there is any doubt in my mind that America is the greatest country in the world, the last ounce evaporated with the developments on the Lee Evans’ matter in the past 24 hours.

“With the help of some Nigerian former athletes living in the United States, all of whose lives were impacted by Lee, I made contact with two of Lee’s children. They have swung into action immediately.

“I also reached out to the American embassy in Lagos ( and they have also reached out to me too since then) and had a robust conversation with the officials who left an indelible impression on me. …

“A whole army of Lee’s friends, former athletes, and colleagues in various countries around the world have risen and are aligning with the plans being put in place by the family, his siblings in America, and the American embassy in Nigeria.

“There is no lack of anything needed to take care of Lee’s present and future state.”

Cycling ● Monday’s Stage 10 of the 104th Giro d’Italia was a hilly course that wound down to a long downhill finish after 139 km in Foligno, perfect for sprinters and especially for Slovakian superstar Peter Sagan.

He managed to get to the line ahead of Fernando Gaviria (COL) and Davide Cimolai (ITA) in the mass finish, claiming his second career Giro stage victory, after also winning stage 10 in 2020!

The overall leaders did not change, with Egan Bernal (COL) leading Remco Evenepoel (BEL) by 14 seconds and Russian Aleksandr Vlasov by 22 seconds.

The UCI Track Champions League was formally announced in an online event from France and Great Britain on Tuesday, promising six events in a streamlined format from 6 November to 11 December.

The racing will be held each week for six weeks – a perfect format to develop fan interest – and will be staged in velodromes in Spain, France, Lithuania, Israel and two in Great Britain. Just four events will be held: Sprint and Keirin in the Sprint category and Elimination and Scratch races in the Endurance category. Prize money of more than €500,000 will be available, with payouts for the individual races as well as seasonal standings.

The project is part of an important partnership between the UCI and American television powerhouse Discovery, which owns Eurosport and is now trying to acquire the Time Warner media assets from AT&T.

Football ● North Korea pulled out of the Asian World Cup 2022 qualifying tournament and will miss the World Cup Finals in Qatar.

This throws Group H of the second round of the Asian qualifiers into trouble, with the North Koreans having played five (2-1-2) and still due to play Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka.

Judo ● USA Judo competed its 2021 National Championships over the weekend in Reno, Nevada, crowning national champions in a slew of categories. Among the seniors, only two repeated as champions from 2019: Adham Ramadan in the men’s Open weight category and Nina Cutro-Kelly in the women’s +78 kg class.

There were four women who moved up from silver to gold from 2019 to 2021, including Jeannette Hong (48 kg), Mariah Holguin (57 kg), Sara Golden (63 kg) and Melissa Myers (70 kg).

Swimming ● The European Championships are on in Budapest, Hungary and the first two days of swims saw two world records from Russia’s Kliment Kolesnikov in the 50 m Backstroke.

Already the record holder at 24.00 in 2018, he zoomed 23.93 to win his semifinal, and then did it again in the final, lowering the standard to 23.80! He crushed the field, with Romania’s Robert Glinta second in 24.42.

Dutch sprinter Ranomi Kromowidjojo won the women’s 50 m Free in 23.97, taking over the world lead for 2021. It’s her second European title, also in 2016.

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, the European record holder won the 400 m Medley in a world-leading 4:34.76.

Russia got a second world-leader in the men’s 400 m Free, with Martin Malyutin closeing hard to win in 3:44.18 to 3:44.63 for Austrian Felix Auboeck.

British star Adam Peaty won his fourth straight European title in the 100 m Breaststroke in 57.66, ahead of Arno Kamminga (NED: 58.10). Peaty’s mark is the no. 9 time in history.

Collegiate Sports ● After seeing some $30 million in contributions to support the retention of 11 varsity sports set to be cut, Stanford agreed to reinstate all 11 varsity sports set to be ended last July.

The official announcement noted: “Stanford leaders announced today that while the structural financial challenges facing Stanford Athletics remain very real, changed circumstances including newly galvanized philanthropic interest have provided a new path to support the 11 sports.”

An activist group, 36SportsStrong had been lobbying the school to reinstate the sports for five years in order to allow fund-raising of $200 million to endow the sports in perpetuity. It appears they will get their chance.

The sports include men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling.

At the BuZZer ● Toyota made a major commitment to U.S. Paralympic sport, announcing on Monday that it will contribute “nearly $5 million in stipend and sponsorship opportunities that will directly impact the lives of eligible U.S. Paralympic athletes aiming to compete at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 or the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.”

A one-time stipend of $3,000 will be made “to all eligible Team USA Paralympic athletes who are currently training and in contention to represent the United States at the Tokyo and Beijing Games.”

Toyota will also sponsor some individual Paralympic athletes for Tokyo and Beijing. It’s another expansion of Toyota’s involvement with Paralympic sport, both as a sponsor of the International Paralympic Committee, but also many of the U.S. Paralympic national governing bodies.

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