THE TICKER: Olympic Torch Relay is off and running; Brisbane City Council approves 2032 bid; Hanyu superb, Chen falls at ISU Worlds

The start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay (Photo: Tokyo 2020)

The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The Olympic Torch Relay began on Thursday in Fukushima prefecture, site of the devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and follow-on nuclear disaster.

Members of the Nadeshiko Japan football squad that won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup started the 121-day run at the J-Village sports complex, with defender Iwashimizu Azusa the first torchbearer. The relay will hit 859 cities and towns while touching all 47 of the country’s prefectures.

Kyodo News reported:

“[T]he relay might be suspended, or some routes of the program may be skipped, if too many people gather on roadsides. Fans are encouraged to turn to live online broadcasts and refrain from traveling outside of their home prefectures to watch the relay.

“Spectators must wear face masks and are also urged to clap rather than cheer. The runners, who will each carry a cherry blossom-motif torch over a distance of about 200 meters, are required to log their health information and asked not to dine out with others.”

The Torch Relay is being counted on as a rallying point for the Games. A Kyodo News poll conducted over last weekend saw only 23.2% in favor of the Olympic and Paralympic Games moving ahead as scheduled; 39.8% thought they should be canceled.

The Russian Olympic Committee has asked the International Olympic Committee for permission to use a one-minute segment from iconic Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in place of its national anthem at the Tokyo Games.

This music is being used this week at the International Skating Union’s World Figure Skating Championships, as the Russian anthem has been barred through 2022 according to the sanctions imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Games of the XXXV Olympiad: Brisbane 2032 ● In its first closed-door meeting since 2007, the Brisbane City Council approved the city’s bid for the 2032 Games. The eight-hour session included presentations by Australian Olympic Committee chief (and IOC member) John Coates and the Queensland tourism authority, among others. Council members were required to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to the meeting.

Only one of the 27 council members voted against the proposal.

The bid file, including government guarantees, is expected to be completed in April and forwarded to the International Olympic Committee. If properly submitted, Brisbane (and Queensland) could be formally selected to host the 2032 Games as early as the IOC Session in Tokyo in July.

World University Games ● The sanctions against Russia imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency – as modified by the Court of Arbitration for Sport – has required the Russian Minister of Sport, Oleg Matytsin, to temporarily resign as the head of the International University Sports Federation (FISU).

The Russian news agency TASS reported, “Switzerland’s Leonz Eder was appointed the acting president of FISU until December 17, 2022, the year when Matytsin is expected to take the FISU presidential seat again.”

Several Russian officials have been required to step away from International Federation posts per the sanctions, which do not allow sitting government officials – like Matytsin – to serve during the penalty period.

Figure Skating ● The ISU World Championships are underway in Stockholm (SWE), but despite the best intentions, the federation announced on Wednesday (24th):

“During the rigorous testing procedures in place, a second positive case was identified. The ISU and Organizing Committee will respect the privacy of the respective person and inform the remaining Event Participants internally of the situation.

“The ISU can confirm that both cases were detected following the PCR test upon arrival on site prior to accreditation. Consequently, neither person obtained an accreditation nor were they included in the competition bubble which remains secure.”

The women’s and Pairs Short Program was held on Wednesday and the men’s Short Program on Thursday morning. The remaining schedule:

25 March: Pairs Free Skate
26 March: Ice Dance Rhythm Dance, Women’s Free Skate
27 March: Men’s Free Skate, Ice Dance Free Skate

The men’s Short Program belonged to two-time Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu, who scored a sensational 106.98 – one of the highest scores ever – more than six points clear of teammate Yuma Kagiyama (100.96) and more than eight points ahead of defending champ Nathan Chen of the U.S. (98.85), who suffered a fall early in his program. Jason Brown of the U.S. was seventh at 91.25.

The women’s Short Program was won by Russia’s Anna Shcherbakova at 81.00, ahead of Rika Kihira (JPN: 79.08) and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS: 78.86). The top Americans were Karen Chen in fourth place (74.40) and Bradie Tennell in seventh (69.87).

Russian entries were 1-3-4 in the Pairs Short Program, led by Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii at 80.16, ahead of China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (77.62). The U.S. entries were 6-7 with Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc (64.94) and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier (64.67).

Look for complete results here.

Football ● Competition in Group A of the CONCACAF men’s Olympic (U-23) Qualifying Tournament in Mexico concluded on Wednesday, with the hosts converting a U.S. error into a 1-0 win.

The game went back and forth during a scoreless first half, with the U.S. having 54% of the possession, but Mexico getting the better chances. But with only 30 seconds remaining, a poor clearance by U.S. forward Sebastian Soto led to a hard strike and a goal by Mexico’s Uriel Antuna from the left side of the box and that proved to be the difference.

While Mexico out-shot the U.S. in the first half by 8-1, there was better play from the Americans in the final half, but no goals. The U.S. got four shots on goal – as did Mexico – in the last half (12-5 for the game), but Mexico had control of the match at the end and finished with 51% of the possession time.

Costa Rica downed the Dominican Republic, 5-0, to finish third in the group at 1-2, with the Dominicans at 0-3. Mexico and the U.S. will move on to face the tournament semifinals and have the top two in Group B, to be decided on Thursday.

Honduras (1-0-1: 4 pts.) and Canada (1-0-1: 4 pts.) will face each other for the group title; El Salvador (0-1-1: 1 pt.) and Haiti (0-1-1: 1 pt.) will play in the opener. The semifinals – with the winners qualifying for Tokyo – will play on 28 March.

The U.S. Men’s National Team was in action against Jamaica on Thursday – in Wiener Neustadt, Austria of all places – in a friendly featuring American players who are part of European teams. It’s the first of a two-match schedule, with a match against Northern Ireland coming on the 28th.

In today’s match, the U.S. controlled most of the action, with 70% of the possession in the first half and 11 shots to four for Jamaica, but only one that really counted. That was a 35th-minute lob by left back Sergino Dest over the head of Jamaican keeper Jeadine White for the only goal of the first half (and Dest’s first goal for the U.S.).

The U.S. was back on offense to start the second half and a brilliant run down the left side of the Jamaican defense by Josh Sargent was followed by a perfect cross to a sprinting Brenden Aaronson in the 52nd minute for the second score. The American offense swarmed around the Jamaican goal almost continuously, but then the Reggae Boyz got back in the game in the 70th minute.

A run by Andre Gray on the right side led to a brilliant through-pass to a streaking Jamal Lowe, who lifted the ball over American keeper Zack Steffen from the right side of the goal to bring the Jamaicans close.

But the U.S. put the game away in the 83rd minute with a right-footed strike from a charging Sebastian Lletget, rushing to meet a well-timed cross at the top of the box from striker Nicholas Gioacchini.

Steffen made two saves on Jamaican chances in the 89th minute to keep the U.S. on top and then Lletget rushed forward for a final goal off a cross at the top of the box from midfielder Luca de la Torre in the 90th minute.

The U.S. finished with 68% of the possession and a 27-9 advantage on shots.

FIFA’s Ethics Committee, an group independent of the federation itself, returned guilty findings and imposed bans on former FIFA President Sepp Blatter (SUI) and former FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke (FRA). According to the FIFA statement:

“The investigations into Messrs Blatter and Valcke covered various charges, in particular concerning bonus payments in relation to FIFA competitions that were paid to top FIFA management officials, various amendments and extensions of employment contracts, as well as reimbursement by FIFA of private legal costs in the case of Mr Valcke.”

Both received sanctions – bans from all activities related to football – of six years and eight months and are required to pay a fine of CHF 1 million. And:

“As the previous bans from taking part in all football-related activity imposed on Messrs Blatter and Valcke by the independent Ethics Committee in 2015 and 2016 have not yet been purged, the bans notified today will only come into force upon the expiry of the previous bans (i.e. on 8 October 2021 and 8 October 2025, respectively).”

SpeedskatingThe Washington Post reported Tuesday that Dutch coach Wilma Boomstra was fired by U.S. Speedskating for a lack of achievement against the goals set for the Short Track team she was hired to guide since 2018.

Boomstra was the subject of three complaints by athletes during the past year and an inquiry ended with Boomstra being found to have bullied athletes. The Post story noted that “in an interview this month with Dutch newspaper Friesch Dagblad, Boomstra expressed no remorse and defended her coaching style while placing blame on the skaters.

The U.S. will now need a new coach with 11 months remaining prior to the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

Swimming ● The International Swimming League announced the first details on its pivotal third season, with a 10-team, six-week, 10-match schedule foreseen in late August and September – after the Olympic Games are concluded – in a sequestered format as was held in 2020.

The second phase will be a three-week, eight-team, six-match “playoff” program to select four teams for the ISL Final, which will be held in December.

The 10 teams will stay the same as in 2020 and the meet locations are still to be identified.

This is a far less ambitious program that has been proposed by ISL in the past, but in the still-uncertain atmosphere of the pandemic and the need to better control the multi-million dollar losses of the first two seasons, a shorter and more intense schedule makes a lot of sense.

Interestingly, the ISL schedule concept appears to be fully compatible with the FINA World Cup calendar. That program has two meets in early-to-mid August, then is off until October (and ends on 30 October). The FINA World 25 m Championships will be in Abu Dhabi (UAE) from 16-21 December.

Table Tennis ● The leadership of the International Table Tennis Federation continues in chaos after the ITTF Executive Committee approved the reinstatement of Qatari Khalil Al-Mohannadi as Deputy President and declared:

“[T]he majority of the [Executive Committee] members informed the President that he had unfortunately lost their trust, confidence and support and accordingly it was agreed that all decisions should be made by majority within the EC until the next [Annual General Meeting].”

The ITTF President, since 2014 and elected in 2017 for another term, is German Thomas Weikert. His statement “announced legal action before the respective sports courts against the majority decision of the Executive Committee, calling it an ‘unauthorized interference with his rights and a blatant violation of the ITTF Constitution’.”

The Executive Committee statement emphasized that its assumption of more authority was “in order to unify the Executive Committee in the best interest of the ITTF.”

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