HEARD AT HALFTIME: Tokyo 2020 could reduce spectator capacities or just ban everyone; Russian Lysenko banned four years; gymnastics bankruptcy case slowing?

The Olympic Flame inside the new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo (Photo: Tokyo 2020)

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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 Tokyo 2020 organizers are postponing the decision on spectators at the Games as far as possible after announcing that the results of a new ticket lottery to select domestic spectators will be released on 10 July instead of 4 July as expected.

Continuing concern over the coronavirus in Japan continues to pressure the organizing committee, with the governor of the Hokkaido prefecture – which includes Sapporo – asking to ban outdoor spectators for the marathons and race walks.

Further consideration is being given to reducing the latest spectator allowance of 50% of venue capacity with a cap of 10,000, to a maximum of 5,000. Another proposal, for a ban on spectators for events ending after 9 p.m. would result in about 40% of the sessions being without fans. A meeting on this could be held on Thursday.

Athlete delegations continue to arrive in Japan; so far, two Ugandan delegation members and a Serbian rower have tested positive for Covid-19 in testing made upon arrival. All were immediately isolated.

The athlete delegations and other organizations at the Games will be overseen by a corps of some 3,000 CLOs – Covid Liaison Officers – who are expected to ensure compliance and coordinate responses to the coronavirus control measures.

Responding to the need for flexibility at the Games, the International Olympic Committee announced a change in roster management for football, handball, hockey, rugby sevens and water polo. Team “alternates” were previously allowed to participate only a permanent replacements for another athlete, but will now be able to be used on a match-by-match basis.

The announcement did not say if these added athletes will also receive medals, but this is the procedure for athletes in swimming and track & field – for example – who participate in the preliminaries of relay events.

The Russian Olympic Committee announced that it expects to send a 335-member team to Tokyo, significantly bigger than at Rio in 2016, but still not of the size it had in 2008 or 2012.

Still under sanction by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the “Neutral Athletes from Russia” squad is larger than the 282 allowed to compete in Rio under the shadow of the exploding state-sponsored doping program from the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. But even with 335 athletes, the total is far smaller than the 455 sent to Beijing in 2008 or the 436 for London in 2012.

How tough will it be in Tokyo? Russian Olympic Committee chief Stanislav Pozdnyakov told TASS:

“Our vanguard is already there and has informed us about the strict measures regarding personal movement. Almost all of the safety measures are already in place and all surveillance cameras are operating.

“Any person leaving the territory of the so-called ‘bubble’ is immediately approached by a special service staff requesting that he or she return back to the original premises. I want to call on everyone and all athletes to follow all of the previously issued directives.”

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putinpromised to pay special attention to legal support for Russian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics, because the issue of politicization in sports is still high on the agenda.”

This is a barely-veiled reference to the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act of 2019, which was signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump in December 2020 and which gives U.S. authorities extra-territorial jurisdiction to go after doping violations in events in which American athletes compete.

Said Putin, “The interests of our athletes must be protected from any arbitrariness, including decisions that some countries try to impose on the whole world far beyond the bounds of their national jurisdictions.”

In contrast, Japan will have its largest-ever team at the Games, with an expected 582 athletes in all.

Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold won a reprieve from the Court of Arbitration for Sport to compete in Tokyo after she missed part of the qualifying period due to pregnancy.

Bujold competes in the 51 kg (Flyweight) division and was on her way to compete in Tokyo in 2020 when the Games was postponed. Due to the continuing effects of Covid-19, the Americas Qualifying Tournament in 2021 was canceled and the IOC’s Boxing Task Force used a ranking system based on 2018 and 2019 results … when she was off for maternity. Refused special entry by the Boxing Task Force, she appealed to the CAS and will be added to the field.

The Boxing Task Force has not indicated how it will handle a field of 26 entrants instead of 25.

The U.S. Equestrian Team announced its Jumping team for Tokyo, including veteran medal winners McLain Ward (2004-08 gold, 2016 silver), Kent Farrington (2016 silver), Laura Kraut (2008 gold) and Jessica Springsteen. The latter was an alternate in 2012 but will make her Olympic debut in Tokyo. Oh yes, she is also the 29-year-old daughter of rock & roll star Bruce Springsteen.

European Championships ● The 2022 edition of the multi-sport European Championships has been finalized for Munich (GER) as a 50-year celebration of the 1972 Olympic Games there, which was overshadowed by the massacre of 11 members of the Israeli delegation.

A more joyous program is expected next year, with 4,700 athletes from 50 countries competing in 176 medal events over 11 days from 11-22 August. The sports include athletics, beach volleyball, sprint canoeing, cycling, gymnastics, rowing, sport climbing, table tennis and triathlon.

World University Games ● The International University Sports Federation (FISU) announced that its bidding process for future events, starting with the 2027 World University Games would be an open competition.

FISU had adopted a more informal approach since 2016 “because of the high demand to host the events – previously known as Universiade – which led to many cities being rejected despite their strong efforts in producing a good bid.”

Now, any city or region which wishes to bid can do so, with a deadline of 31 January 2022 for the 2027 and 2029 World University Games and Winter World University Games. This directly impacts the North Carolina bid for the 2027 WUG, which is already well advanced and offers the FISU further access to the U.S. market after the 2023 Winter WUG will be held in Lake Placid, New York. A Korean bid for 2027 is being prepared; it is unknown whether other cities will jump in.

Athletics ● The Athletics Integrity Unit won a four-year suspension of Russian high jumper Danil Lysenko, a former World Indoor Champion, for whereabouts failures and tampering with the “results management process” by submitting false documents.

The total suspension was six years from 3 August 2018, but was reduced by two years in a Court of Arbitration for Sport holding for his cooperation against other Russian officials. Lysenko will be banned from both the Tokyo Games and the 2022 Worlds in Eugene.

Lysenko and his late coach Evgeniy Zagorulko – who passed away in April – cooperated against five other officials of the Russian Athletics Federation, who received suspensions from four to eight years.

The AIU has also provisionally suspended Ecuadorian sprinter Alex Quinonez as of 25 June for “whereabouts” failures, with the case referred to the AIU Disciplinary Tribunal. The 2019 World Championships bronze medalist in the 200 m, with a best of 19.87, appears now to be ineligible for Tokyo.

U.S. sprint star Wallace Spearmon has retired at 36. Athletics International noted that he achieved lifetime bests of 9.96, 19.65 and 45.22 and won World Championships medals in the 200 m in 2005 (silver), 2007 (bronze) and 2009 (bronze).

The World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meet, the Istvan Gyulai Memorial in Szekesfehervar (HUN) is on today; the live timing site is here.

The U.S. national 10 km championships were held in Atlanta on Sunday in conjunction with the famed Peachtree Road Race, with Sam Chelanga breaking away from a half-dozen others in the final 800 m, winning in 28:44 over Fred Huxham (28:45) and Clayton Young third in 28:48.

The women’s race belonged to Sara Hall – the 2019 champion – who dueled with Emily Durgin into the final 1,500 m, then surged away to win in 31:41. Durgin was second in 31:49 and Anne Frisbie was third in 32:06.

Boxing ● The International Boxing Association (AIBA), suspended by the IOC, has announced that it is expanding its weight classifications from 10 to 13 for men and from 10 to 12 for women.

Said AIBA President Umar Kremlev (RUS): “I truly believe we must deliver more opportunities to our athletes; the new divisions will encourage more people from various countries to take up boxing, and allow more nations to win medals. The more medals we have, the more governments will pay attention to our sport and fund it around the globe.”

In the meantime, when the IOC stepped in to manage the Tokyo boxing program after suspending AIBA, the men’s weight classes for the Games were cut from 10 to eight and women’s classes were expanded from three to five. How do these match up?

Cycling ● Dutch star Anna van der Breggen, 31, has said she will retire at the end of this season, but she is determined to go out on top. Already a two-time winner on the UCI Women’s World Tour, van der Breggen is dominating the 32nd Giro d’Italia Internazionale Femminile, winning her second stage in the first four on Monday.

This was the 11.2 km individual time trial on an uphill course ending at the Cascate Del Toce in Formazza in the Italian Alps. Van der Breggen aced it, crushing everyone and winning by 1:06 over countrywoman Demi Vollering and 1:17 over Australia’s Grace Brown. After four of the 10 stages, van der Breggen has a monstrous 2:51 lead over Ashleigh Moolman (RSA), 3:03 over Vollering and 5:53 over British star Lizzie Deignan. If she can hang on, van der Breggen would enjoy a fourth win at the “Giro Donne,” and tie for the most ever. But the race will continue through Sunday.

Football ● The U.S. Women’s National Team posted a second straight 4-0 win over Mexico on Monday before 27,758 fans in East Hartford, Connecticut, with all of the scores coming in the first half.

Lindsay Horan scored in the sixth minute, Carli Lloyd scored in the 11th minute and the U.S. could have had two more goals before a Christen Press shot was blocked, but then ricocheted off Mexican defender Reyna Reyes for an own goal in the 37th minute. Tobin Heath concluded the scoring two minutes later with a twisting shot that made it 4-0. The U.S. ended with 72% of the possession and a 27-5 edge on shots.

The win gives the U.S. women a 44-game unbeaten streak heading into the Tokyo Games and “new” coach Vlatko Andonovski is 22-0-1 in his first 23 games as U.S. head coach since the end of 2019.

When the Copa America tournament was moved from expected hosts Argentina and Colombia to Brazil, the expectation was of course that the home team would make it to the championship match.

That has happened with Brazil’s 1-0 win over Peru in Rio de Janeiro on Monday (5th). Lucas Paqueta scored in the 35th minute on a volley from 10 meters, off an assist from Neymar for the only goal of the game, advancing Brazil to Saturday’s final in Rio.

It’s fitting that the original hosts – Argentina and Colombia – will meet in the second semifinal on Tuesday (6th) in Brasilia. The third-place game will also be in Brasilia, on Friday (9th).

The legal fight over sanctions from the implosion of the European Super League continues, as the Madrid Commercial Court/17th Chamber ordered UEFA to cancel all sanctions against the unrepentant Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Juventus clubs.

The court further ruled that UEFA cannot force the dissolution of the Super League and ordered sanctions by the English and Italian leagues against the participating clubs dropped.

The next stop is the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Gymnastics ● USA Gymnastics filed its report of operations for May, as its proceeding at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana drags on. Thus far, the case has resulted in $14.116 million in legal fees, of which $8.485 million (60.1%) has been paid. Unpaid invoices go as far back as February of 2019.

The case has slowed precipitously in the last four months, with total legal billings of “just” $378,605 during that time. The parties – USA Gymnastics, its insurers, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and the Survivors’ Committee – have been engaged in court-ordered settlement discussions with Judge James W. Carr since last year, but without resolution.

SwimmingEddie Reese, the famed head coach of the University of Texas, announced last Friday that he would not be retiring and will return to coach the Longhorns for a 44th season in 2021-22.

He had announced his retirement in March, after coaching his team to a 15th NCAA team title, but changed his mind and will stay. Wyatt Collins, who was going to take over, will remain as Reese’s assistant at Texas, no doubt with a pay raise.

Three of Reese’s swimmers – Townley Haas, Drew Kibler and Gunnar Bentz – made the U.S. team for Tokyo. Reese has coached 22 Olympic gold medalists to date.

Weightlifting ● The IOC released an unhappy statement on Monday noting the results of the International Testing Authority report about doping cover-ups at the International Weightlifting Federation and the inability of the IWF Constitutional Congress to agree on a new governing document.

“The IOC EB expressed its concern on both issues and decided that these developments, along with other concerns previously noted, would be addressed during a meeting planned for after the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. A letter to this effect was sent to the IWF.”

At stake is weightlifting’s place on the program for Paris 2024. And the stake is being sharpened.

More doping positives mean more sanctions and the IWF announced Tuesday that an independent disciplinary panel has issued decisions against the national federations of Vietnam and Colombia.

Regarding Vietnam, four athletes tested positive and received four-year suspensions and because of this, Vietnam’s Tokyo Games entries were reduced from eight to two (one male, one female).

Regarding Colombia, three athletes registered positives in January 2020 and received four-year bans. So, Colombia’s Tokyo entries were reduced from eight to three (two male, one female).

In addition, the national federation of Turkey was also reduced to two entries for Tokyo as a result of the International Testing Agency report on cover-up activities alleged against federation chief Hassan Akkus. This action is ongoing.

The IWF has re-allocated the quota places left open by these penalties here.

At the BuZZer ● The Commonwealth Games Archery and Shooting Championships, to be held in India next January, separately from the main Commonwealth Games program in Birmingham (GBR), has been canceled due to the “uncertainty” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is unfortunate, but ironic in that India threatened to boycott the Birmingham event if shooting was not included. Shooting is an optional sport for organizers and not included by Birmingham in its program proposal.

India withdrew its threat by agreeing to stage the shooting events at its own expense, so long as the medal tally was included as if the competitions were being held in Birmingham. The archery events were added later. But they’re gone now.

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