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The latest news, notes and quotes from the worldwide Five-Ring Circus:
● Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee disclosed that about 10,000 of its 80,000-strong volunteer corps has resigned their positions, but that there are still plenty of staff to support the Games.
A furor over sexist remarks by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori that led to his resignation as President of the organizing committee led to the exit of some volunteers, but more left as a result of concerns over the coronavirus.
Still, with about 70,000 volunteers remaining, Tokyo’s support staff contingent is more than double the number from Los Angeles in 1984, where the organizing committee had 33,000 volunteers in the first use of the concept in an Olympic Games. By comparison, the Tokyo Games has 57% more athletes than LA84, 53% more events and 43% more sports, but 112% more volunteer staff, which must also support the Paralympic Games (not held in Los Angeles in 1984).
The awards ceremonies podiums for the Games were unveiled in an online ceremony marking 50 days to go to the Games on Thursday. About 24.5 tons of plastic was collected and recycled in the construction of 98 podia, which were designed by artist Asao Tokolo, who also developed the Tokyo 2020 logos.
Some awards 878 ceremonies will be held for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Tokyo 2020 announced that the awards ceremony music was created by Naoki Sato, a popular Japanese composer for films and television. The recordings reportedly used 256 musicians in all.
The Japan Olympic Committee announced that 95% of all of its athletes competing in the Tokyo Games will be vaccinated. About 600 athletes and more than 1,000 coaches and other officials will receive vaccination.
The International Olympic Committee announced it “is in contact with a few NOCs whose athletes are not yet able to access vaccination programmes and who would therefore be eligible to travel to either [vaccination] hub in Doha (Qatar) or Kigali (Rwanda). They have been set up respectively by the Qatar Olympic Committee and the Rwanda Olympic Committee in relation with the relevant government and medical authorities in their regions and with Pfizer’s support. Concerned NOCs can apply for travel support from Olympic Solidarity should they need it.”
In the latest sign of how strongly the Japanese government is determined to host the Games, it announced the cancellation of a special reception for foreign government officials to be held on the day of the Closing Ceremony on 8 August.
These kinds of events are important diplomatic opportunities for the host country and its elimination is a clear response of a “nice–to-have” program in the face of continuing public unease about the coronavirus and the government response to it in Japan.
“You all know well our position in the context of our state symbolic ban at the Olympic Games. We are not simply objecting to it, but we have been protesting and will continue protesting against the process of politicizing the Olympic Games as well as other international sports tournaments.
“We understand that it is an unfair competition. We understand that it is a part of the strategy to contain our country, considering our sports achievements. However, our national [Olympic] team and our athletes are in high spirits and not a single intrigue stands as an obstacle in their set course.”
That’s Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, speaking on Thursday (3rd) at the 2021 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), continuing Russia’s complaints about the sanctions from Russia’s state-sponsored doping program imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency and watered down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
● Games of the XXXIII Olympiad: Paris 2024 ● During the French-language news conference following the IOC Coordination Commission meeting, Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet confirmed that the organizing committee is examining the possibility of possibly holding the Opening or Closing Ceremony in a public location instead of the Stade de France in St. Denis, near Paris.
The decision could be made by the end of the year and is a pet project of IOC President Thomas Bach (GER), who has often insisted, essentially, “we must bring sport to the people instead of making people come to sport.”
The concept, maybe to use the Eiffel Tower as the centerpiece, or perhaps a parade down the Seine River, was endorsed by IOC Coordination Commission chief Pierre-Olivier Beckers (BEL): “Take the ceremonies out of the stadium to bring them to the neighborhoods, in order to share with the population the values of Olympism, would meet the objective of making the Games useful to people. We encourage the Paris 2024 organizing committee to move in this direction.”
The obvious questions of athlete access, security, creating a program which can be appreciated by the worldwide television audience and, of course, the financial impact of losing most (if not all) ticket sales and increased staging costs, have to be factored in.
The IOC announced it has taken over the on-site hospitality sales – travel, accommodations and ticket packages – for the Paris 2024, Los Angeles 2028 and Milan-Cortina Winter Games in 2026 and has contracted with New York-based On Location as “Official Hospitality Provider.”
On Location is primarily owned by Beverly Hills-based Endeavor, which is itself a conglomerate including the venerable William Morris Agency and the IMG sports agency and events firm. On Location is especially known for its work at the NFL Super Bowl and the National Football league is reportedly a minority owner of the company.
This IOC initiative was telegraphed in Olympic Agenda 2020+5, and ticket sales will be the next area to be absorbed as noted in the announcement:
“The reform is part of the Olympic Agenda 2020+5 vision to deliver long-term turnkey solutions that are provided over several editions of the Olympic Games with the aim of simplifying operations and driving efficiency in delivery, as well as driving new revenue sources.
“In addition, and separate to the agreement with On Location, a new, integrated approach regarding global ticket sales will also be introduced from Paris 2024 onwards. It will provide secure, seamless access to Olympic and Paralympic tickets directly via each Organising Committee at standardised prices for each Games for fans in all corners of the world.”
What does this mean for fans interested in going to the Games in 2024, 2026 or 2028? The price just went up, again.
● Aquatics ● The FINA Congress will be held on Saturday (5th) with a rare hybrid of live and online delegates, as the federation reported:
“119 National Federations, represented by 189 delegates will physically be attending the Congress in Doha, respecting a robust and safe COVID-19 protocol, while another 102 National Federations (202 delegates) will be following the programme via a live stream and cast their vote through a highly secured online system. Some NFs will be represented both on-site and online.”
In addition to the usual reports, elections will be held with Kuwait’s Husain Al Musallam running unopposed for President and long-time American member of the FINA Bureau Dale Neuburger running unopposed as Treasurer.
The candidates for Vice President are also running unopposed: Sam Ramsamy (RSA) from Africa, Juan Carlos Orihuela (PAR) from the Americas, China’s Jihong Zhou from Asia, Italian Paolo Barelli from Europe and Matthew Dunn (AUS) from Oceania.
American Bill Hybl, a former head of the United States Olympic Committee, is also running for a seat on the independent FINA Ethics Panel.
● Archery ● World Champion Brady Ellison and teen sensation Casey Kaufhold have qualified as U.S. Olympians for Tokyo, but hope to have two more teammates each with them if the Americans can qualify full teams for the Tokyo Games.
USA Archery concluded a four-stage Trials process last weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, with four different events in the final stage alone. Ellison, however, persevered and was easily the winner of the Trials program, piling up 169.00 total points to 129.50 for Jack Williams and 126.00 for 2012 Olympic Team silver medalist Jacob Wukie.
They will have a last chance to qualify a full team of three at the World Archery World Cup in Paris (FRA) beginning on 21 June.
The women are in the same situation, with 17-year-old Kaufhold winning the trials with 181.25 points, well ahead of Rio 2016 Olympian Mackenzie Brown (158.25) and Jennifer Mucino-Fernandez (105.75).
● Athletics ● Kahmari Montgomery, the U.S. national champion in the 400 m in 2018, was suspended for one month, from 30 April, due to a positive test for THC above the disciplinary limit. Per the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency:
“The 2021 World Anti-Doping Code newly classifies THC as a “Substance of Abuse” because it is used outside the context of sport. If an athlete who tests positive for a Substance of Abuse establishes that their use of the substance occurred out of competition and was unrelated to sport performance, the athlete will receive a three-month sanction. If the athlete satisfactorily completes a Substance of Abuse treatment program approved by USADA, the sanction may be further reduced to one month.”
As his suspension period has concluded, he should be eligible to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials later this month.
A new world outdoor leader for Burkina-Faso’s Hugues Fabrice Zango in the men’s triple jump in Montreuil (FRA) on 1 June at 17.67 m (57-11 3/4). He set the world indoor record in mind-January, reaching 18.07 m (59-3 1/2).
At the Stumptown Twilight in Portland, Oregon on Thursday night, Britain’s Josh Kerr, 23, won the men’s 1,500 m in the no. 2 time of 2021, 3:31.55, a lifetime best and no. 7 in British history.
● Beach Volleyball ● Sarah Sponcil and Kelly Claes have clinched the second U.S. spot in the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball tournament following their win at the FIVB World Tour 4-star event in Sochi, Russia last week and the elimination of contenders Brooke Sweat and Kerri Walsh Jennings in the qualifying round of this week’s Ostrava Beach Open in the Czech Republic.
Sponcil and Claes have 7,120 Olympic ranking points, sixth overall, and cannot be caught by Sweat and Walsh Jennings, currently at 6,960 and seventh.
USA Volleyball noted that “Claes/Sponcil will become the youngest beach duo to represent the United States in the Olympic Games. They have an aggregate age of 49 years (Claes: 25 years old; Sponcil 24), and Sponcil will become the second-youngest American beach Olympian after Misty May made her Olympic debut at age 23 in Sydney 2000.”
Americans April Ross and Alix Klineman are currently top-ranked in the FIVB Olympic rankings with 9,400 points, just ahead of 2019 World Champions Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes (CAN).
Walsh Jennings, now 42, was trying for a sixth U.S. Olympic Team after playing on the fourth-place U.S. indoor team in 2000, then winning beach golds with May-Treanor in 2004-08-12 and a bronze medal with Ross in Rio in 2016. The U.S. and Brazil both have four teams that could have qualified for the Games based on their rankings points, but only two per country are allowed.
● Boxing ● At a time when the International Boxing Association (AIBA) does not need any more issues, it got a new one after a controversial final at the just-completed Asian Boxing Championships in Dubai (UAE), in the men’s 52 kg/Flyweight division between reigning Olympic champion and 2019 World Champion Shakhobidin Zoirov (UZB) and India’s Amit Panghal, the 2019 Worlds runner up.
Zoirov was declared the winner by 3:2, but Panghal told the Times of India that the match was fixed:
“The scoring was rigged … the judging was unfair. I was robbed of a deserved win … This was deliberately done to make him the champion. The coaches and the people who know boxing told me that I was the deserved winner. That’s why the decision was contested.”
The jury refused to review the fight, after an inquiry by India. AIBA posted a notice yesterday (2nd) that “AIBA is aware of potential issues and allegations concerning the judging of certain bouts at the Asian Boxing Championships held in Dubai. AIBA takes such allegations very seriously.
“After liaising with several National Boxing Federations, AIBA anticipates the Refereeing and Judging (R&J) Committee will conduct an immediate investigation into the work of all relevant appointed officials and report their findings to the AIBA Disciplinary Committee as soon as possible, to determine whether there is a case to answer or not.”
The IOC has been highly critical of AIBA’s inability to install and maintain credible refereeing and judging at its events, and this is an area which will have a bearing on whether the federation is reinstated after the Tokyo Games.
● Football ● The inaugural CONCACAF Nations League semifinals were held in Denver on Thursday evening, with the U.S. and Honduras testing each other for the full 90 minutes in the opener.
Both had excellent first-half chances, with Gio Reyna missing an open net for the U.S., and the Americans holding 65% of the possession and a 6-3 edge in shots. The second half went back and forth inconclusively, with the U.S. looking ready to score, but then Honduras threatening on counterattacks.
The U.S. was again setting up in front of the Honduran goal near the end of the match, with defender John Brooks on the ball a few yards above the box. His pass to the right side was to Wes McKennie, with space as two American strikers ran toward the goal and McKennie’s header flew past Brenden Aaronson and found the second man, Jordan Siebatcheu, for a header that found the back of the net in the 89th minute for a 1-0 lead that stood up as the final.
It was Siebatcheu’s first-ever goal for the U.S., as a sub for starting striker Josh Sargent. U.S. keeper Zach Steffen was sharp in goal when it counted, collecting his 10th career shutout.
The U.S. ended with 65% of the possession and a 10-7 edge in shots in a game which became increasingly physical as it wore on, with a total of 25 fouls and five yellow cards issued (including one to U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter.) The two sides hadn’t played since a 1-1 tie in FIFA World Cup qualifying in September 2017.
Mexico and Costa Rica played to a scoreless tie through regulation time, despite Mexico having 58% of the possession and 13 shots to six. The penalty shoot-out was just as close, tied 4-4 after the first five tries. Jesus Gallardo made the sixth try for a 5-4 Mexico lead, then Allan Cruz’s shot was saved by keeper Guillermo Ochoa and Mexico advances to play the U.S. on Sunday.
Amid an local outcry due to a heavy toll from the coronavirus, the South American confederation CONMEBOL announced four host cities in Brazil for the Copa America, due to open on 13 June.
Rio and Brasilia will host eight matches each, with Goiania hosting seven and Cuiaba holding five. No spectators will be allowed in any of the stadia, and the famed Macarena Stadium in Rio will host the final on 10 July.
The tournament was originally supposed to be held in Argentina and Colombia, but both renounced the event due to the pandemic.
● Ice Hockey ● The U.S. and Canada will meet in the semifinals of the IIHF men’s World Championship after both won their quarterfinals, while defending champion Finland will play Germany.
The U.S. slugged Slovakia in its quarterfinal, 6-1, taking a 3-0 lead in the first period and getting two goals each from Conor Garland and Colin Blackwell. Canada got an overtime score from Andrew Mangiapane at the 2:12 to eliminate Russia.
Finland squeezed by the Czech Republic, 1-0, and Germany upset the Swiss in a shoot-out by just 2-1 as Marcel Noebels got the winner.
Both semifinals will be held at the Arena Riga in Latvia on Saturday with the medal matches on Sunday.
● Judo ● International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer (ROU) was unanimously re-elected for a fifth term at the IJF Congress on Thursday (3rd). He ran unopposed.
Vizer has drawn widespread praise for his condemnation of discrimination in the sport, especially in the case of former World 81 kg Champion Saeid Mollaei, who was instructed by his Iranian coaches to lose matches so as not to meet Israeli Sagi Muki during the 2019 World Championships. Mollaei, feeling under threat, left the event and went to Germany with IJF help and now competes for Mongolia. The IJF suspended the Iranian federation indefinitely, and then – under instruction from the Court of Arbitration for Sport – fixed the suspension period at four years.
● Skiing ● After 23 years, there will be a change at the top of the Federation Internationale de Ski, where Swiss Gian-Franco Kasper is stepping down at age 77. The FIS Congress will meet online on Friday (4th), with elections to take place in addition to a lengthy agenda of other business, including the election of the FIS Council.
The election has been enthusiastically contested by four candidates: former FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis (GBR), Swedish Olympic Committee President and FIS vice-president Mats Arjes (SWE), former World Downhill Champion Urs Lehmann (SUI), and Head equipment chief executive Johan Eliasch (SWE).
Each will make a 10-minute presentation to the Congress and winning requires an absolute majority of votes, thus making multiple rounds likely. At the end of each round, the candidate with the fewest votes will be eliminated.
Arjes has proposed a deep review and consultation on the right way forward, not only for elite competitors, but for skiing as a whole. Eliasch wants to grow the sport’s global participation and make the professional competitions more compelling for viewers through better technology and presentation. Lehmann, as head of the Swiss skiing federation, has overseen a renaissance both in terms of results on the snow, but also at the bank and promises to bring that expertise to FIS. Lewis promotes her deep understanding of the sport from 26 years as a FIS staff member with a view to bringing skiing forward through new investment from the private sector and an evangelical approach to promotion and support for skiers and federations.
The FIS Congress will be livestreamed here with the election expected around 2 p.m. Central European Time.
● Tennis ● After the withdrawal of Japan’s Naomi Osaka from the French Open after skipping her news conference following her first-round match, the Grand Slam tournament organizers released a second statement on Tuesday (1st), expressing support for Osaka’s mental-health challenges, but also amplifying their first notice. It included:
“Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media. Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another.
“We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements. As Grand Slams, we aim to create the stage for the players to achieve the highest accolades in our sport.”
Comment: It’s worth commending Osaka for withdrawing from the tournament and not putting other players in the difficult position of deciding whether to support her by also skipping the obligatory post-match news conferences, and then be fined or risk other sanctions. That in itself showed a respect for the sport and for her fellow players which will help everyone’s attitude in looking for a solution that meets the needs of players, media and professional tennis, which needs all the promotion it can get.
● Triathlon ● World Triathlon, which is not one of the wealthier federations in the Olympic world, is spending $100,000 to provide $3,000 or more in financial support to athletes from multiple countries in advance of Tokyo 2020.
This “support fund” is designed “to provide financial assistance to those athletes from National Federations with the greatest needs in order to help them compete at Continental and World level over the Olympic and Paralympic Qualification Period.”
World Tri received 28 applications for support from 14 countries in its first round of requests and a selection panel from the federation’s Executive Board selected 23 triathletes and para-triathletes from 11 countries: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Morocco, Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.
The remaining $31,000 of the fund will also be distributed to these athletes, but at the end of June, according to individual needs for travel for qualification purposes.
Comment: This is pretty impressive for a federation with limited resources, especially due to the pandemic; same for United World Wrestling (see next). If there was ever an example of “athlete-centric” focus by International Federations – notably for Paralympic athletes by World Triathlon – this is it.
● Wrestling ● United World Wrestling detailed its own program of direct athlete support for Tokyo, with €180,000 (~$218,325 U.S.) distributed to 121 athletes and coaches from 43 countries through the federation’s Technical Assistance Program, with five of the recipients qualifying for the Tokyo Games from Armenia, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.
UWW was also able to obtain support from the IOC to fund €40,000 of the total spend.
● The Last Word ● The often acerbic, sometimes insightful and occasionally entertaining of the editorial cartoonist is being celebrated in a unique look at the Olympic Games.
Michael Payne (GBR), best known as the IOC’s marketing director from 1988-2004, used his enforced idleness during the pandemic to put together a 500-page, large-format look at the Olympic world called “Toon In!”
(The image above is by U.S. cartoonist Jim Thompson from 2016 about Russia’s response to sanctions imposed on it for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.)
There are more than 1,200 cartoons from some 360 cartoonists from 47 countries. Payne researched more than 3,000 works from all five continents before finally making his selections.
He added more than 100,000 words of back stories and commentary, mixing in context, memories and little-known incidents of his Olympic career that stretches back to 1983.
He said it’s quite a different take on the Olympic Movement than his 2006 work Olympic Turnaround:
“’Olympic Turnaround’ effectively told the story of how the Olympics transformed from bankruptcy prior to the Los Angeles ‘84 Olympic Games to the multi-billion-dollar event that it is today. So ‘Turnaround’ was talking of the business journey on the creation of the modeling of the TV rights, the creation of the TOP program, the development of ambush marketing thinking and strategies.
“’Toon In!’ is a very different book. It’s certainly not a business book. It’s, on the one hand, much more light-hearted. It’s, I think, a very easy read, looking at the cartoons and the stories that go with it. But then when you get into the chapter of the Rio Games and all the challenges that it took in the staging those Games, or you look at the sports program and how the hell was wrestling thrown off the Olympics and other sports try to get on the Olympics: how does it all work?
“So, in some ways, it’s sort of, probably, light-hearted primer on the Olympic world, but a tremendous amount of research, intelligence, putting stories into context.”
Printed on heavy paper, the profits from the $95 work will go to four charities, including Cartooning for Peace, a network of 200+ cartoon artists from 60 countries committed to freedom of speech. A special “collector’s edition” of 250 copies, signed by Payne, is available at $250 each.
For our updated – as of 1 May – 506-event International Sports Calendar for 2021 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!