THE TICKER: Tokyo 2020 status now a circus; AIBA vaporizes $10 million debt; Belarus flag removed from ice hockey worlds amid protests

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

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

Games of the XXXII Olympiad: Tokyo 2020 ● The International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 organizers have no doubt that the Tokyo Games will, in fact, open on 23 July, but outside groups continue to complain, moan and groan. On Wednesday, SportBusiness.com reported that organizing committee chief executive Toshiro Muto told reporters:

“‘There has been some feedback pertaining to potential cancellation or postponement, but nobody has explicitly mentioned that we should cancel or postpone the Games,’ he said. ‘Rather, the board members mentioned that Tokyo 2020 has come this far and things are being properly managed. We need to communicate that to the Japanese people.’”

Also on Wednesday, the Asahi Shimbun, a major daily newspaper and one of a half-dozen Tokyo 2020 newspaper sponsors, posted an editorial headlinedPrime Minister Suga, please call off the Olympics this summer” and including:

“Of course, there is always the possibility of everything turning out fine. But staging the Olympics requires multiple layers of risk-minimizing preparations that must function properly.

“If problems arise because of hasty decisions, made even though the preparations were known to be insufficient, who should, or can, take responsibility?

“The organizers must understand that gambling is not an option.”

In its report, The Associated Press noted why the call to cancel is subject to scrutiny: “Asahi is typically liberal-leaning and often opposes the ruling party led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.” Said Muto later on Wednesday:

“Different news organisations have different perspectives on matters and that is very natural given their role in society. With regard to our [other] partners, they are giving us their commitment in continuing to support the Games.”

In the meantime, Nippon Professional Baseball league games played during the current emergency conditions on Thursday showed 4,879 in attendance at the Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo as Yakult defeated the Nippon Ham Fighters, 5-2, and 8,953 at the Tokyo Dome as Rakuten beat the Yomiuri Giants, 2-0.

On Thursday, the European Union announced a major vaccine relief effort for Japan at the conclusion of an online summit meeting, promising 100 million vaccine doses for the country as a direct step toward supporting the Games.

Another wild economic projection was released on Tuesday, with the Nomura Research Institute suggesting the possible loss from a cancellation of the Games would be about $16 billion, or one-third of one percent of Japanese Gross Domestic Product from 2020.

The continuing state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures has had a much greater impact on the economy than any issues related to the Games.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel advisory on Wednesday that Americans should not travel to Japan, but it was also explained:

“The advisory is based on a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notice that was triggered when Japan met the criteria that its current coronavirus incidence rate reached more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 28 days.”

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee issued a statement noting:

“We have been made aware of the updated State Department advisory as it relates to Japan. We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer.”

World Anti-Doping Agency ● The long-awaited delivery of the “dried blood spot” technology for doping tests is getting closer, as the WADA Executive Committee approved the technical specifications for the new process.

This new testing program will begin on 1 September of this year and has multiple benefits, including easy sample collection (e.g. finger or upper arm prick); less invasive methods than current urine and blood collection and therefore, a better athlete experience; the test requires only a very small volume of blood; less expensive collection and transport of samples; less space needed to store samples; and possible benefits with regards to sample stability.

Following up on the multiple cases of positive doping tests due to the ingestion of meat that contains prohibited substances, WADA also approved new technical standards “to provide guidance on the management of clenbuterol cases and to assess the risks of contaminants appearing in natural and unprocessed foodstuffs, in particular with meat in certain regions of the world.”

On Russian sanctions: “In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, WADA’s Legal Affairs Department and independent Intelligence and Investigations Department are focusing all their energy to prevent athletes or athlete support personnel who were identified as part of Operation LIMS from participating in the Games.”

Athletics ● Greek long jumper Miltiadis Tentoglou took the world lead with a stunning win at 8.60 m (28-2 3/4) win in a meet at Kallithea (GRE) on Wednesday (26th).

His prior outdoor best had been 8.32 m (27-3 3/4) from 2019, but his new mark places him no. 16 on the all-time list. Amazingly, it’s not a national record, as Louis Tsatoumas reached 8.66 m (28-5) back in 2007!

On Tuesday, the USATF Invitational at Prairie View A&M was truncated by rain and lightning, but not before some good marks were recorded. Rachel McCoy won the women’s high jump with a lifetime best (and Olympic qualifying height) of 1.96 m (6-5), while Morgan LeLeux won the women’s vault at 4.60 m (15-1).

The men’s vault was moved indoors and Chris Nilsen won at 5.90 m (19-4 1/4), with Kyle Pater second at 5.80 m (19-0 1/4).

The Wanda Diamond League opener in Gateshead (GBR) last Sunday (23rd) will be remembered as much for the windy, rainy and difficult conditions as for the competition. Said women’s triple jump winner Shanieka Ricketts of Jamaica: “It was brutal. I am just so happy I didn’t end up injured.”

The one person who wasn’t freaked out by the weather was Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who won the men’s 1,500 m in 3:36.27:

“This is normal weather back in the west coast of Norway. It’s really tricky to run fast in these conditions and it turned out to be a tactical race. Today really didn’t have anything to do with the times, racing in these conditions, because all of a sudden if you get a sudden gust of wind then everything is ruined.

“I feel that spectators are eager to see some athletics live and they’re really cheering us which helps push us further. We needed to race to prepare ourselves for Tokyo.”

Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis settled for second in the men’s vault and summed up the feelings of most of the athletes: “It wasn’t ideal, but what can you do about it? I’m ok, I’m healthy, that’s the main thing.”

On the other hand, American Sam Kendricks – the vault winner at 5.74 m (18-10) – was all smiles:

“That was the most fun I have had all year! You had people, you had rainy conditions and we all had a good old rousing time out there. …

“I haven’t beaten Mondo since the [2019] World Championships but I would never aspire to say we are on an even footing – but he is on another level but perhaps the conditions brought us to the same level. I just need to be consistent and to be consistent on a rainy day as I am on a sunny day. That may be my only chance, but he is too good, too talented.”

Fellow American Kenny Bednarek, the men’s 200 m winner (20.33) left full of confidence:

“I feel happy with my performance; I am in a really good place at this point in the season. I am heading back after Doha for the U.S. trials and I have some things to work on now. I believe the only thing that will stop me making the team is me.”

World Athletics announced approval of 23 Russian athletes – including eight race walkers – to compete as neutrals, bringing the 2021 total to 27.

The list included 2019 World Championships medal winners Vasily Mizinov (men’s 20 km walk silver) and Mikhail Akimenko (men’s high jump silver), plus 2017 Worlds medalist Valeriy Pronkin (men’s hammer silver).

The statement also noted: “Council agreed that for the remainder of 2021, no more than 10 Russian athletes will be granted eligibility to compete as authorised neutral athletes at any championship competition, including the Tokyo Olympic Games, World Athletics Series events and the 2021 European U23 Championships.”

The lowlight of the 19 May Golden Spike meet in Ostrava (CZE) was the right Achilles rupture suffered by Olympic and World Champion triple jumper Christian Taylor. He was on Twitter a few days later:

“I strive to lead, inspire, motivate, encourage, challenge, and entertain. You all have shown me that my career has been more than merely jumping in a sandbox and for that I dry my eyes and push forward. My Olympic dream has been lost but my purpose remains. Thank YOU for that.”

He is now pointing for a recovery in time for the 2022 World Championships in Eugene.

Badminton ● The Badminton World Federation met online last Saturday (22nd) and considered a major change in scoring that was very narrowly refused by the membership.

The proposal was to change match scoring from three sets to 21 points to five sets to 11 points, similar to that used for table tennis. Per the BWF announcement:

“The proposal put forward by the Indonesian Badminton Association and the Badminton Association of Maldives, and seconded by Badminton Asia, Badminton Korea Association and Chinese Taipei Badminton Association, received 66.31% for and 33.69% against, falling just short of the two-thirds majority required.”

That means it passed, 187-95, falling literally one vote short of passage. Said BWF President Paul-Erik Hoyer (DEN):

“While the proposed scoring system change has been part of my vision to make badminton more exciting and to increase the entertainment value for stakeholders and fans, this will not deter us from continuing our efforts to increase excellence in badminton for all concerned in line with our Strategic Plan 2020-2024.”

Hoyer was re-elected unopposed, so look for the scoring issues to come up again.

Boxing ● The plagued-by-debt International Boxing Association (AIBA) stunningly announced on Wednesday that it “has paid in full its outstanding $10 million USD debt to Azerbaijani company Benkons LLC, which was the main loan for the organization and which had been at the heart of a period of financial instability, as well as other existed debts from the past. The biggest loan had been part of an unsuccessful venture, the World Series of Boxing.

“The settlement of the loan marks the fulfillment of an election promise by AIBA President Umar Kremlev to return the International Federation to financial stability. It is accompanied by a $7 million round of development funding which will see grants issued to National Federations (NFs) and continental Confederations.”

Where did $17 million come from? The notice specifically mentions AIBA’s new, “significant sponsorship” from the Russian energy giant Gazprom and commented:

“AIBA hopes its settlement and the resulting stability will now prove to be a significant step towards resolving the IOC’s concerns.”

Kremlev, formerly the Secretary General of the Russian Boxing Federation before being elected as AIBA President, has apparently cleared AIBA’s debt issues, but the IOC’s monitoring committee will be asking questions about exactly what the relationship with Gazprom is about.

Cycling ● Colombian star Egan Bernal already owns a Tour de France victory from 2019 and appears to be on his way to a second Grand Tour title after his Stage 16 win in the 104th Giro d’Italia.

Monday’s route was originally set for more than 200 km with four high-mountain climbs, but bad weather required trimming the stage to 153 km from Sacile to Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Alps that finished with a misery-inducing 50 km climb from 376 m to 2,225 m at the top of the Passo Giau before a downhill finish.

Bernal, 24, attacked the field with 4 km remaining before the top of the Passo Giau and 21 km remaining in the race. He was never headed and cruised home with an impressive win in 4:22:41, a full 27 seconds up on Romain Bardet (FRA) and Damiano Caruso (ITA).

The victory extended Bernal’s overall lead to what appeared to be a decisive 2:24 over Caruso, 3:40 over Britain’s Hugh Carthy and 4:18 over Aleksandr Vlasov (RUS). Britain’s Simon Yates was fifth, 4:20 behind the leader.

Tuesday was a rest day, and Wednesday’s difficult, double-climb route from Canazei to Sega di Ala (193 km) saw Bernal give back some time, as he finished seventh, 1:23 behind winner Dan Martin (IRL). Yates finished third and grabbed back almost a minute, but Bernal still led Caruso by 2:21 and Yates by 3:23 overall.

Thursday’s Stage 18 from Rovereto to Stradella was a long 231 km on a hilly course, but good for sprinters. Italy’s Alberto Bettiol and Simone Consonni went 1-2 (5:14:43 and +0:17), but there was no change in the leaderboard.

Friday’s stage to the Alpe de Mesa features a significant uphill finish and Saturday’s 164 km race to the Alpe Motta features three climbs, with an uphill finish, before Sunday’s flat ride into Milan. Bernal would have to collapse to lose now.

Football ● The U.S. Women’s National Team booked two games with Mexico for its “send-off series” prior to heading to Tokyo for the Olympic Games.

The matches will be played on 1 July and 5 July, both in East Hartford, Connecticut. Mexico is not participating in the women’s Olympic tournament.

Ice Hockey ● The IIHF men’s World Championship continues with group-stage games in Riga, Latvia, with the U.S. defeating Kazakhstan (3-0) on Tuesday and Latvia on Thursday (4-2). Through Thursday’s games, Finland leads Group B at 3-1 (overtime loss) while the U.S. and Germany are 3-1. Russia, Switzerland and Slovakia are all 3-0 in Group A.

The tournament took a political turn this week when the Belarus flag – of the country which was originally a co-host of the event – was taken down at the direction of the Latvian Foreign Minister and the Mayor of Riga. The IIHF protested in a statement:

“The actions of the Belarus government are separate from the players who are competing under the Belarus flag at this tournament. The players have been welcomed to Latvia as guests and should not have to see their flag removed without their consent from the public display of the 16 participating countries. …

“Therefore, the IIHF has asked the Mayor of Riga to urgently take down the IIHF flag from the same area, as well as the World Championship flag which bears the IIHF name. In accordance with the IIHF Statutes, we are an apolitical sports organization, and are demanding that the IIHF is removed from any association with the political statements the Mayor and Foreign Minister have made by changing the flag of our Member.”

The Russian news site Tass.com reported:

“The state flag of Belarus, raised near the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija in downtown Riga, accommodating the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship national teams, was replaced on May 24 by the white, red and white flag, which symbolizes the political opposition in Belarus. According to earlier local media reports, the flag was replaced personally by Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics and Riga Mayor Martins Stakis.

“After the flag was replaced, Mayor of Riga Stakis announced on his Twitter account: ‘We raise the flag of the free Belarus, entrusted to me by Belarusian political refugees, among the Hockey World Cup flags. There must be no flags in Riga that symbolize a regime that engages in state terrorism, so we took it off.’”

The flag incident reflects international outrage over the forced landing of a Ryanair civil aircraft flight from Greece over the past weekend. It was required to land because of a supposed bomb threat, but was in fact a ruse to arrest Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, a co-founder of the Nexta Telegram Channel, sparking protests worldwide.

The Last Word ● The Belarus situation has now spread beyond the IIHF men’s World Championship. On Thursday, the European Cycling Union announced that its 2021 Elite Track Cycling Championships would not be held in Minsk, but at another venue.

“In light of the current international situation, the Management Board has decided to cancel the 2021 Elite Track European Championships scheduled in Minsk (Belarus) from 23 to 27 June 2021.”

UEC Vice President Alexander Gusyatnikov (RUS) said, “Political motivations were not behind this decision since we made it proceeding from present-day options of transporting the participating teams to Minsk. This was the main reason while the rest of the reported reasons are speculations.”

Really? Yeah. Right. Sure.

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