THE TICKER: Squabbling continues over Tokyo attendance, French government worried about Paris 2024 costs; Houlihan out of U.S. Trials

Will there be any fans at Tokyo 2020's Olympic Stadium for the Games? NOPE. (Photo: Tokyo 2020)

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● There is no let-up in the announcements, pronouncements and posturing about the Tokyo Games, especially now concerning whether spectators will be allowed and if so, how many. The recent headlines:

16 June: The state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures, including Hokkaido, in which Sapporo – site of the marathons and walks – is located, is scheduled to end on Sunday, 20 June. A “quasi-state of emergency” will remain in place until 11 July, 12 days prior to the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Wednesday’s announcement also noted that up to 10,000 spectators would be allowed at sporting events in the “quasi-state,” but this does not apply to the Games.

17 June: Kyodo News reported that the “Japanese government is considering setting a cap of 10,000 spectators” at Olympic venues.

17 June: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters he would like to see spectators at the Games.

18 June: Vaccinations for Olympic staff, volunteers and domestic news media started at multiple centers around Tokyo.

18 June: The Tokyo 2020 organizers said Friday that the number of “overseas-based staff and officials” allowed to come to Japan for the Games will be cut from 78,000 to 53,000, primarily through cuts to “Olympic family members.” If true, the originally-expected total of about 180,000 such visits will have been cut by an impressive by 70.5%.

Comment: This is a signal to future organizing committees of how many people are really needed to organize a Games vs. the usual demands for more and more accreditees.

18 June: An online meeting on Monday (21st) is expected to resolve the policy over spectator attendance at the Tokyo Games.

18 June: The head of the Japanese government committee on coronavirus control advised that holding the Games without spectators is the best way to prevent problems. Shigeru Omi included this recommendation in a set of proposals to the government on further virus control, as the infection rate has seen a recent decline.

Stay tuned.

The International Olympic Committee published the third-edition “playbooks” for both broadcasters and press on Wednesday (16th), outlining many of the same restrictions – and possible penalties – as in the third edition of the playbook for Athletes and Officials.

Media members will be required to observe a limited quarantine for three days after arrival, but can perform their Games-related duties if “You test negative for COVID-19 every day; and you operate under a higher level of supervision by Tokyo 2020, which may involve use of GPS data (subject to your consent) or direct supervision where necessary, to confirm your movements.”

A booking system is required to go to any venue and requests must be made in advance, for up to 10 sessions per day, offering some options for coverage, but not for any breaking news.

The World Anti-Doping Agency noted a significant rise in the number of anti-doping tests now being done as the pandemic recedes in some areas:

“The latest figures … show that 24,430 samples were collected in May 2021 by 152 ADOs, which is the highest number of samples collected since the pandemic started in March 2020.”

Out-of-competition testing is also up, even compared to 2019. Testing in April 2021 totaled 14,560 vs. 12,713 in 2019 and in May, the totals increased to 16,149 vs. 13,691 for the same month in 2019, the highest number of out-of-competition samples collected the prior 29 months.

Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Paris 2024 ● The French government’s Court of Auditors released a summary of its review of the financial standing of the 2024 Games, noting caution over the agreed-to budgets of the Paris 2024 organizers (€3.9 billion, about $4.63 billion U.S.) and Solideo, the government-formed construction unit (€3.4 billion, about $4.04 billion).

It not surprisingly warned that (as translated) “respect for these envelopes is an essential stake, in itself and as one of the criteria for the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in particular in the face of the expectations of public opinion.” The report also worried about ticket revenues and sponsorship sales if Covid-19 issues remain in France.

XXV Olympic Winter Games: Milan Cortina 2026 ● The IOC announced that its Executive Board has endorsed a recommendation from the Milan Cortina organizers to include Ski Mountaineering in the Games, with five events and 48 total athletes within the overall athlete total of 2,900..

The IOC has noted that while the number of competitors in the Olympic Games must be controlled at 10,500, it feels there is room to expand the Winter Games. The proposal for Ski Mountaineering is for 2026 only, as the sport is quite popular in Italy, and must be approved by the IOC Session in Tokyo.

Athletics ● It wouldn’t be the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials if there wasn’t some controversy and Thursday brought considerable drama around American 1,500 m and 5,000 m record-holder Shelby Houlihan.

She announced on an Instagram post that she had been suspended for doping due to a finding of nandrolone in her system – a prohibited substance – during a test last December, possibly from eating a burrito with tainted pork. She appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which informed her that her suspension was upheld, for four years from 14 January 2021.

Houlihan can appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, which has only limited jurisdiction to modify or overturn a decision and on this basis, USA Track & Field allowed her to run at the Olympic Trials, tweetingGiven there is an active appeal process, USATF will allow any athletes to continue competing until the process is completed.”

This brought a furious reply from the Athletics Integrity Unit, which included:

“[A] final and binding CAS decision confirmed that Ms Houlihan committed Anti-Doping Rule Violations… Ms Houlihan’s status during the period of ineligibility means that participation in any Competition or activity authorised or organised by a World Athletics Member Federation, such as USATF (i.e., the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field) is strictly prohibited.”

USA Today reported that the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee “stepped in Thursday evening” to assure adherence to the CAS decision. Houlihan was removed from the start list from Friday’s heats of the women’s 1,500 m.

It’s worth noting that this is different than the case of 2016 Rio women’s 100 m hurdles champ Brianna McNeal, who was also suspended for “Tampering with any part of Doping Control” back in April. In her case, the suspension was imposed by the AIU Disciplinary Tribunal and is under review by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Houlihan’s suspension was confirmed by CAS and is considered “final and binding,” even with the limited appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal available.

The Olympic Trials at the rebuilt Hayward Field at the University of Oregon will be allowed to host about 9,000 spectators according to announcements earlier in the week. Tickets are still available, running from a low of $52 to a high of $175 for the best seats on the final day.

On the track, Nigerian star Blessing Okagbare sizzled at the Nigerian Championships in Lagos, winning the women’s 100 m in a startling 10.63, but with a +2.7 m/s wind, over the allowable for record purposes.

That’s the same time as the wind-legal 10.63 for Jamaica’s Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce earlier in the year and the fastest time – under any conditions – since world-record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner back in 1988. Rosemary Chukwuma was second in 11.07 and Grace Nwokocha third in 11.11. Wow!

In Nairobi (KEN), Geoffrey Kamworer, the world record holder in the Half Marathon and 2015 Worlds 10,000 m silver medalist, won the Kenyan 10,000 m title in 27:01.06 to punch his ticket to Tokyo. It’s the fastest time ever run in the event in Kenya, and at 5,495 feet above sea level no less!

Rodgers Kwemoi was second in 27:05.51, his second-best time ever, and Weldon Kipkirui Langat was third in 27:24.73 and also qualified for Tokyo.

In the women’s 5,000 m, reigning World Champion Hellen Obiri qualified for Tokyo, but finished second to Lilian Rengeruk in another fast final, 14:52.18-14:52.51. Twice World Championships medalist Agnes Tirop was third in 14:53.91 as seven runners broke 15 minutes at high altitude.

Rio Olympic silver medalist and 2017 World Long Jump Champion Luvo Manyonga was suspended for four years from 23 December 2020 for “whereabouts” failures, his second such violation of the World Anti-Doping Code.

This is a decision of the AIU Disciplinary Tribunal and is appealable to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Manyonga had previously been suspended in 2012-13 for methamphetamine use and has battled drug addiction and depression. Even with these problems, he still finished fourth at the 2019 World Championships in the long jump and his seasonal best of 8.37 m (27-5 1/2) ranked sixth in the world. He has not jumped in a competition since the 2019 Worlds.

Basketball ● The FIBA Women’s AmeriCup has rolled into the semifinal round, after disqualifying Argentina on Tuesday for multiple positive Covid-19 tests and cancelling its games against Venezuela and the U.S.

That left the U.S. – playing with an all-collegiate team – as the winner of Group B with a 3-0 record, trailed by Puerto Rico (2-1), Venezuela (1-2) and the Dominican Republic (0-3). Canada won Group A at 4-0, followed by Brazil (3-1), Colombia (2-2), the U.S. Virgin Islands (1-3) and El Salvador (0-4).

In the quarterfinals, Canada crushed the Dominicans, 90-53; Puerto Rico edged Colombia, 77-69, the U.S. stomped the Virgin Islands, 97-46 and Brazil defeated Venezuela, 90-59. That leaves Canada and Puerto Rico and the U.S. and Brazil in the semis to be played later today (Friday). The medal matches will be on Saturday.

Boxing ● The crazy, uneven process of selecting boxers for the Tokyo Games reached the U.S. team, with three more athletes added last week … and all professionals.

A lengthy notice was posted by USA Boxing, explaining the process of selection which was thrown into disarray by the coronavirus.

After USA Boxing held its Olympic Trials in 2019, the winners were supposed to move on to an Americas Olympic Qualifying tournament in April 2020 that was canceled. A World Olympic Qualifier tournament was also canceled. So the IOC’s Boxing Task Force changed the qualification program to use ranking points based on past competition results.

This allowed only six of the 13 U.S. Olympic Trials winners to be eligible for selection, essentially those with international competition records prior to late 2019. An added quota was created to assign places to individual boxers – not countries – based on their ranking points from 2017-19.

USA Boxing asked to allow countries to name their fighter rather than using rankings from fighters no longer in Olympic boxing. The Boxing Task Force refused, a filing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport did not succeed and so USA Boxing accepted the naming of three current professionals to the U.S. team for Tokyo:

Duke Ragan (57 kg/125 lbs., now 3-0); 2019 Pan American Games silver medalist

Keyshawn Davis (63 kg/138 lbs., now 4-0); 2019 Worlds silver medalist

Troy Isley (75 kg/165 lbs., now 1-0); 2017 Worlds bronze medalist

USA Boxing noted that while its rules do not allow professional boxers to be part of its national teams, the IOC’s rules prevail in this instance. But seven boxers – Anthony Herrera (men’s 52 kg), Andrea Medina (women’s 57 kg), Bruce Carrington (men’s 57 kg), Charlie Sheehy (men’s 63 kg), Joseph Hicks (men’s 75 kg), Rahim Gonzales (men’s 81 kg) and Darius Fulghum (men’s 91 kg) – never got the chance to get to Tokyo.

Football ● The U.S. Women’s National Team finished up its “Summer Series” with a 2-0 win over an athletic Nigeria team in the new Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas on Wednesday (16th).

The Americans dominated the game, with 72% of the possession, but had a hard time with the Nigerian defense and some athletic defending, especially by keeper Tochukwu Oluehi. The U.S. got 14 shots to seven for Nigeria, but could only score in extra time at the end of each half.

Christen Press sailed a shot in at the 45+2 minute mark for a 1-0 lead and Lynn Williams finally got around a tired Nigerian back line to line-drive a shot for the 2-0 final at 90+4, with an assist to Press.

Trying to get ready for Tokyo, the U.S. defeated Portugal, Jamaica and Nigeria from a combined 7-0 as coach Vlatko Andonovski considered the selection of the 18 members of the Olympic squad. The U.S. women will have two more tune-ups, both against Mexico, on 1 and 5 July, both in East Hartford, Connecticut.

U.S. Soccer Federation chief Cindy Parlow Cone, a former U.S. Women’s National Team member, told reporters during a Tuesday news conference:

“You all know that largest hurdle is the massive and frankly unfair difference in FIFA World Cup prize money for men and women, a funding source that U.S. Soccer does not control. It’s solely controlled by FIFA. As it stands, the women’s team wants U.S. Soccer to pay for past and future discrepancies in FIFA prize money. This is well over $50 million for the past two World Cups and an unknown amount for the future.”

She was clear that “to make up the difference in FIFA prize money is untenable, and would likely bankrupt the Federation.”

The women’s team sued in a class action filing under the U.S. Equal Pay Act, but the action was dismissed by summary judgement in May 2020 by U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner; this is now under appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The U.S. women’s team’s collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the year and the men’s national team has been playing without one since 2018 (which has continued in operation since). USSF chief executive Will Wilson indicated that good progress has been made on both agreements.

One of the most anticipated games at Euro 2020 was the Germany-France match in Munich (GER) on 15 June, won by the World Cup Champion French by 1-0 after an own goal by Mats Hummel in the 20th minute.

But the match almost got stopped before it started as a publicity stunt by Greenpeace went all wrong and a paraglider trying to fly over the stadium with an anti-oil message instead lost control and ended up flying into the stadium, hitting two camera guide wires, then falling towards the stands and finally on the field. Two stadium workers were slightly injured, but it could have been much worse.

The flyer was arrested and removed from the field and later released while charges are pending against him. Security measures for the tournament were beefed up. Greenpeace, in a rare action, apologized.

Meanwhile, a smaller uproar has been caused by the removal of bottles of sponsor drinks – Coca-Cola and Heineken – from the dais at post-match news conference. Last Tuesday, Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo removed two bottles of Coke and held up a bottle of water instead. On Wednesday, French star Paul Pogba removed a Heineken bottle, noting that he does not drink as a practicing Muslim, and Italian midfielder Manuel Locatelli moved the Coke bottles aside and put his own water bottle on the table.

UEFA released a statement noting, “UEFA has reminded participating teams that partnerships are integral to the delivery of the tournament and to ensuring the development of football across Europe, including for youth and women.” Any sanctions against the players would be made by the national federations, not UEFA.

As of Thursday, the number of Covid-19 cases at the Copa America tournament in Brazil has risen to 66. The Brazilian health ministry stated that 6,521 tests had been made, with 27 team members (players and officials) and 39 tournament staff infected. Teams with positives apparently include five of the 10 teams: Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Chile. No matches have been canceled as yet.

Weightlifting ● Doping continues to dog the International Weightlifting Federation, which announced actions against two national federations:

11 June: The International Testing Agency – which manages the IWF’s anti-doping program – asked the IWF’s Independent Sanctioning Panel for action on the national federation of Colombia, after three athletes tested positive for steroids on 20 January 2020. All three received four-year suspensions and Colombia could be banned from weightlifting at the Tokyo Games.

17 June: The Independent Sanctioning Panel suspended Romania for one year, which will keep it out of the Tokyo weightlifting competition. Five doping violations from 2012 were cited, uncovered only in 2019 as a result of the IOC’s re-testing program.

On a positive note, the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s suspension of Thai weightlifters was lifted, due to their compliance with a number of conditions. The Thai federation remains suspended into 2023 and cannot participate in the Tokyo Games.

The Last Word ● It doesn’t have anything to do with the Olympic Games directly, but the International Olympic Committee announced details of its Olympic Forest project in Mali and Senegal:

“It will involve planting around 355,000 native trees across approximately 90 villages in Mali and Senegal – host of the Youth Olympic Games Dakar 2026 – and will cover a combined area of around 2,120 hectares (~5,239 acres).”

This is part of the “Great Green Wall” initiative in the Sahel region, and is a key element of the IOC’s program to be “climate positive.” Its statement notes:

“The IOC has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 30 per cent by 2024, and by 45 per cent by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement. By compensating for more than 100 per cent of the IOC’s residual emissions, the Olympic Forest will help the organisation become ‘climate positive’ by 2024. The Olympic Forest is expected to sequester 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (t CO2e), which is more than the IOC’s estimated emissions for the 2021-2024 period.”

It’s an important program and a worthwhile contribution to the often-less-attended African continent. But let’s not say that the IOC has “eliminated” its emissions, but is compensating for them by activities elsewhere.

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