HEARD AT HALFTIME: Tokyo spectator decision to reflect baseball & soccer situation; Australian gymnast abuse documented; Judo suspends Iran

The Olympic Rings (and a friend) at Mt. Takao outside of Tokyo (Photo: Tokyo 2020)

(For our updated, 506-event,
International Sports Calendar for 2021, click here)
(For our Highlights of the weekend’s competitions, click here)

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● Japan’s former Olympics minister and now a Tokyo 2020 Vice President projected confidence in a television interview that the Olympic Games will be held this summer.

Toshiaki Endo, a Liberal Democratic Party member of the Japanese Diet, said:

“In case [the virus] is widespread in the society, it’s not impossible that we could decide they can’t be held, but we’re preparing thinking we can definitely hold them given Japan’s situation and countermeasures.”

Asked about possible cancellation, he replied, “We’re not considering that” and also responded to the call from an infectious disease expert interested in discussing it, saying the comments were “reasonable from the standpoint of an expert’s opinion,” but that the organizers are continuing toward hosting the Games.

As for spectators, Endo noted:

“It’s easier to prepare for no spectators but we’ll decide based on [what is permitted for] professional baseball and J-League. [A decision] could be made in May should the situation permit.”

Tokyo 2020 reported that six traffic control officers were diagnosed with Covid-19 while involved with the Olympic Torch Relay on 27 April.

Three were in Amami and the other three in Kirishima, both in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima. The relay continues on.

“We all certainly wish to hear our beautiful anthem being played, but the most important thing now is for our athletes to win. Their wins will compensate for everything.”

Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters last week that although the Russian anthem cannot be played at the Tokyo Games – due to the World Anti-Doping Agency sanctions – winning, in the end, cures all.

The International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced on Saturday that a “celebratory half-marathon event” would be held in Tokyo in the fall of 2022.

The event will “be an occasion for the IOC to express its gratitude to the Japanese people for their support in playing host to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

That’s it? You get a half-marathon for all that trouble?

Athletics ● Ethiopia held its Olympic marathon trials on Saturday in Sebeta, with the distance fixed at 35 km instead of the full 42.2 km as an accommodation to the 2,200 m altitude, and the race produced a full complement of medal contenders for Tokyo.

In the men’s race, 2020 London Marathon champion Shura Kitata pulled away at the end, winning in 1:46:15 to 1:46:16 for 2019 World Champion Lelisa Desisa, with 2019 Berlin Marathon bronze medalist Sisay Lemma close behind in 1:46:19.

Due to injury, three-time Olympic gold medalist – in the 5,000 and 10,000 m – Kenenisa Bekele did not run in the race, but it was reported that he could be placed on the Olympic team at the discretion of the Ethiopian federation. Stay tuned on this one.

The women’s race ended with a surprise winner in Tigist Girma, 27, who has a marathon best of 2:19:52 from 2019, and finished in 1:59:23. Birhane Dibaba, a two-time Tokyo Marathon winner, was second in 1:59:45 and Roza Dereje, the 2018 Chicago runner-up, was third in 2:00:16.

Long-time observers of Ethiopian distance running will note that coach Haji Adilo is the coach of four of the six qualifiers: Kitata and Desisa for the men and Girma and Dereje among the women.

One more world leader from the weekend, from the Trials of Miles meet in Leavenworth, Kansas. Mexican Jose Lopez won the 800 m in a lifetime best and national record 1:44.40, taking the world outdoor lead for 2021. Still just 23, he smashed his old best of 1:45.03 from 2019.

The Associated Press reported that the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the decathlon, Andrei Krauchanka, is now on a hunger strike in his native Belarus in protest against the government’s persecution of political protestors.

This is a continuation of the protests against Alexander Lukashenko, who won a sixth term as the country’s President last August amid questionable circumstances. The AP reported, “Police cracked down harshly on the protests, arresting more than 34,000 people and beating many of them. Krauchanka was among those detained and beaten.”

World Athletics confirmed its approval of four Russians as Authorized Neutral Athletes last Friday (30th), including two reigning World Champions:

● Ilia Ivanyuk, men’s high jump ~ 2019 Worlds bronze medalist
● Aksana Gataullina, women’s pole vault ~ 2019 European Junior Champion
● Mariya Lasitskene, women’s high jump ~ 2019 World Champion
● Anzhelika Sidorova, women’s pole vault ~ 2019 World Champion

The World Athletics Doping Review Board declined to consider a quick-turnaround application from 14 race walkers who wanted to compete on 16 May in the European Team Championships, but applied after the 8 April deadline.

The World Athletics Council agreed to a maximum of 10 Russian entries at this summer’s Olympic Games, but no limited on the number of “ANA” athletes in other events.

Gymnastics ● A 110-page report by the Australian Human Rights Commission on gymnastics in Australia found widespread abuses of athletes – some as young as eight or nine – by coaches and others. The Australian reported:

“Australian sport’s worst secrets are now out in the open and they are a national disgrace.

“For decades, young Australian gymnasts, mostly girls, were molested, abused and bullied by the same people who were supposed to protect them.

“For reasons that still haven’t been properly explained, taxpayer sporting authorities didn’t intervene.

“The accusation is that they either turned a blind eye to the abuse because they were so obsessed with winning, or they didn’t know it was happening even when it was taking place right in front of them.”

The report made five findings and 12 recommendations for the future; the findings start with “Current coaching practices create a risk of abuse and harm to athletes.” The recommendations focus on more coaching education, a bigger voice for athletes and easier ways for athletes to report possible abuse and concerns.

Britain’s Daily Mail reported that Olympic icon Nadia Comaneci – immortalized by scoring the first “perfect 10″ in Montreal in 1976 – and other Romanian gymnasts were allegedly “beaten, starved, and denied medical treatment to girls at their training camps” by coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi.

The revelations came from a new book published in Romania by Stejarel Olaru, based on “old files from the Securitate, Romania’s communist-era secret police, who kept a close eye on the Karolyis because of the importance of Romania’s gymnastics team to state propaganda efforts.”

The Daily Mail story noted that Comaneci was aware of the project, but did not participate in it and that her side of the story was in her 2003 book, “Letters to a Young Gymnast.

The Karolyis continue to be involved in litigation in the U.S. around the Larry Nassar abuse scandal, now tied up in the USA Gymnastics bankruptcy case.

The latest report of operations from the ongoing USA Gymnastics bankruptcy proceedings at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana shows total legal fees approaching $14 million at $13,909,469. However, only $8,099,991 has been paid so far – that’s 58.2% – and the rest is being paid slowly by the USA Gymnastics insurers.

A hearing last week on whether cases filed in New York against the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee resulted in requests for more information from the parties, due in two weeks.

Judo ● The Court of Arbitration for Sport finally published its 40-page decision of the appeal by the Iran Judo Federation against the International Judo Federation’s suspensions in 2019, following the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo in which Saeid Mollaei, Iran’s 2018 World 81 kg Champion, was directed to lose a match in order not to face Israel’s Sagi Muki, who ended up winning the class. The decision concluded in part:

“The Panel also considers that by instructing the Athlete to deliberately lose a contest in order to avoid competing against an Israeli athlete, the Appellant caused the Israeli athlete to be treated differently from other athletes solely because of his nationality or religion. Such a conduct would clearly constitute a discrimination based on nationality or religion, which is expressly prohibited under Article 1.2.4 of the IJF Statutes and the Fundamental Principles of Olympism as provided under the Olympic Charter. …

“The Panel therefore concludes that by instructing the Athlete to deliberately lose his contests at the 2019 Judo World Championship Senior, the Appellant breached the principles of political neutrality and non-discrimination as provided under the IJF Statutes and the Olympic Charter.”

Mollaei fled the event after his competitions concluded and now wrestles for Mongolia.

While the arbitration panel upheld Iran’s contention that the IJF’s suspension of the Iranian federation until such time as it guaranteed that its fighters would compete against Israelis was not in line with the IJF’s own sanctions statutes, the IJF’s later provisional suspension of the Iranian federation was proper.

Following the completion of the CAS decision on 1 March 2021 and its public publication, the IJF announced last Thursday (29th):

“The IJF Disciplinary Commission pronounced against the Iran Judo Federation a provisional withdrawal of its status as IJF member and all its affiliated components for four (4) years, from 18 September 2019 until 17 September 2023 …

“The Disciplinary Commission considers that this sanction, especially given the backdating and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic (which led to no competition being organised for most of 2020), is proportionate to the extremely severe offenses committed by IRIJF.”

Sailing ● World Sailing, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee to come up with an alternative to its proposed Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat, confirmed three possibilities based on 26 submissions from interested classes:

● Men’s and Women’s Individual Kiteboard
● Men’s and Women’s Two-Person Dinghy (470)
● Mixed Team Racing (ILCA 6)

The World Sailing Council will meet on 14 May and submit its top two proposals to the IOC, which has a 26 May deadline.

Weightlifting ● The International Weightlifting Federation’s Constitutional Congress is coming on 30 June 2021, and the federation has now released both the draft constitution as well as 102 pages of comments from 43 national federations and one continental federation, plus the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Testing Agency and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF).

The ASOIF’s comments included:

“Overall, we believe that adopting the draft Constitution would represent a significant step forward for the IWF. There are numerous positive proposals in the draft, including on reforming the composition of the Executive Board with the introduction of athlete representatives, independent members and increased gender balance. Other important measures which ASOIF welcomes are the introduction of term limits (plus staggered terms), eligibility and vetting rules, the out-sourcing of investigations to an independent body, and provisions to ensure greater transparency.”

However, the ASOIF letter also raised some concerns about the amendment process, which requires a 75% vote at an IWF Congress!

Many national federation comments debated the provisions concerning doping suspensions. Russia asked for no sanctions to be imposed by the IWF Board, with the entire doping program outsourced to the International Testing Agency. USA Weightlifting, on the other hand, asked for a re-write of the sanctions section that would implement penalties after just two doping violations from a single country at international competitions, on a rolling, four-year average!

Lots of debate coming on this; one thing that all of the IWF federations know for sure is that the IOC is watching, closely.

World University Games 2027 ● The North Carolina bid committee for the 2027 World University Games issued its April e-mail update, noting its proposed sports program:

“There are currently 15 sports required to be held in the Summer World University Games. Those required sports are Archery, Artistic Gymnastics, Badminton, Basketball, Diving, Fencing, Judo, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Track & Field, Volleyball, and Water Polo. This lineup includes a number of more high-profile sports that you would typically expect to see in an Olympic sports event, such as Basketball, Diving, Gymnastics, Swimming, Track & Field, Volleyball, and Tennis, but actually every one of the required Summer WUG sports is an Olympic sport that will be contested in this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“In addition to those 15, the Local Host can recommend up to 3 additional sports for the Games. Our North Carolina Bid Committee is proposing Baseball, Rugby 7s, Soccer, and Softball,” explaining that baseball and softball are part of the same International Federation and therefore count as “one” sport.

The selection process with the Federation Internationale de Sport Universitaire (FISU) for the 2027 Games is expected to take about another year. Support for the bid is continuing to expand, with the newsletter presenting 14 partner logos, most from the Research Triangle area in North Carolina, but also … Wasserman, the Los Angeles-based talent, branding and properties firm, headed by LA28 organizing committee chief Casey Wasserman!

At the BuZZer ● May Day was the 81st anniversary of the final, certain cancellation of the 1940 Olympic Games. But the cancellation was made by the Finnish Olympic Committee in Helsinki, not the Japanese.

Tokyo was awarded the Games of the XIIth Olympiad in 1936, and was the first Asian city to be selected to host the Games. But Japan went to war against China in 1937 and the Japanese government renounced the event on 16 July 1938. The International Olympic Committee turned to Helsinki, which was the second choice to Tokyo.

The Finns were preparing to hold the Games from 20 July-4 August 1940. But with the outbreak of World War II in Europe in September, 1939, it became impossible to hold the event. But the Finns did not formally renounce the Games until 1 May 1940.

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