Troubled Tokyo Olympics set to open under Covid cloud

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Rowers Hannah Osborne and Brooke Donoghue of New Zealand in action as they approach the finish line to win their heat. (REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw)
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An Australia women's field hockey player walks beneath a sprinkler during a training session ahead of the the 2020 Summer Olympics on July 23, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Updated 23 July 2021

Troubled Tokyo Olympics set to open under Covid cloud

  • Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium 
  • Opening ceremony is at 8 p.m. local time (1100 GMT)

TOKYO: The most troubled Olympics in modern history finally get under way in Tokyo on Friday, struggling to emerge from the clutches of Covid-19 after a one-year postponement following a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.
Eight years after gold ticker tape rained down as Tokyo celebrated winning the right to stage the Games, Friday’s opening ceremony will take place with the Japanese capital in a state of emergency.
Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could trigger a colossal super-spreader event have prompted organizers to clamp the Games in a biosecure straitjacket.
Pandemic restrictions mean that for the first time in Olympic history, no domestic or overseas spectators will be allowed to attend the Games.
Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.
Sightseeing trips are forbidden, meaning that for the most part, athletes will be prevented from straying outside their accommodation or competition venues.
Public opinion has consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.
The most recent poll from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found 55 percent of respondents were against holding them this summer.
“I’m losing interest altogether. I feel like I can’t really whole-heartedly welcome the Olympics and I just don’t really feel any joy in it,” Tokyo resident Seira Onuma told AFP.
“I’m even not sure if I will watch the Games on TV.”

Friday’s opening ceremony — traditionally a highlight of any Summer Games with the parade of nations and lighting of the Olympic flame before several thousand athletes — will be drastically pared back.
Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the traditional extravaganza, which gets under way at 8pm local time (1100 GMT).
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will be chief among the VIPs, along with a smattering of world leaders and senior figures including US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, who country will host the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
But in a sign of the antipathy toward the Olympics, several top sponsors including Toyota, Panasonic, Fujitsu and NEC will not be sending executives to the ceremony.
“It is turning into an Olympics that cannot get understanding (from the public) in various ways,” Toyota’s operating officer Jun Nagata said.
Japan’s emperor meanwhile acknowledged the difficulties of laying on the Games in a pandemic, describing it as a “far from easy task” in remarks to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
Naruhito’s remarks came as Tokyo registered a further 1,979 infections on Thursday, the highest figure since a winter surge of the disease.
IOC chief Bach, who for months has batted away calls to postpone or cancel the Games, insists the Olympics can be held safely.
“Over the past 15 months we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds,” Bach said this week. “We had doubts every day. There were sleepless nights.
“We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel. Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes... we did it for the athletes.”


There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been canceled.
Olympic organizers meanwhile will be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief as attention finally shifts to sporting action after a turbulent road to the Games.
The build-up has been dogged by scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.
The controversies rumbled up to the eve of the Games, when on Thursday the opening ceremony’s director was sacked for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a 1998 video.
Back in the sporting arenas, the Games could see a new generation of Olympic stars emerge after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.
In the swimming competition, which gets under way on Saturday, Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals.
In track and field, the likes of Norway’s 400 meters hurdler Karsten Warholm and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin will be among those hoping to emerge as household names.
Both Warholm and McLaughlin have set world records in the 400m hurdles this year.
Gymnastics meanwhile will see Simone Biles attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.
The 24-year-old American gymnast is one of the few returning superstars from the Rio Olympics.
New Olympic sports will also be on display in Tokyo, with surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate all making their bow.
 


New Zealand Cricket silent on security threat ending Pakistan tour

Updated 18 September 2021

New Zealand Cricket silent on security threat ending Pakistan tour

  • The foreign ministry in Wellington says the country’s cricket board makes its own security decisions for foreign tours
  • New Zealand Cricket had said on Friday it was abandoning the Pakistan tour following its government’s ‘security alert’

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Cricket officials on Saturday threw a veil of secrecy over the security threat that forced the abrupt cancelation of their Pakistan tour.
According to Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Pakistan leader Imran Khan that the team feared an attack outside the stadium.
The cancelation is a huge setback for Pakistan, which has been trying to revive tours by foreign sides after home internationals were suspended in the aftermath of a terror attack on the Sri Lankan side in 2009.
The announcement on Friday that the series had been called off came just as the first one-day international was due to start at Rawalpindi Stadium, 10 kilometers (six miles) from the team hotel in Islamabad.
In a brief public statement, Ardern said the New Zealand government supported the cancelation as “player safety has to be paramount.”
The foreign ministry, which has been in contact with New Zealand Cricket, said there was an “ongoing and significant threat from terrorism throughout Pakistan” but would not comment on specific security concerns.
“New Zealand Cricket makes its own security decisions and has its own security arrangements in place for all international tours,” a ministry spokesman said.
When New Zealand Cricket first announced it was abandoning the Pakistan tour, it said the decision followed “a New Zealand government security alert” and advice from its own security advisers.
The side previously cut short a tour in 2002 after a suicide bombing outside their team hotel in Karachi killed 14 people, including 11 French naval engineers.
A New Zealand Cricket official told AFP no further comment was planned “at this juncture” and would not say if the security threat that caused the cancelation had been passed to the Pakistan Cricket Board or any other cricket-playing nation.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has said it will decide in the next 48 hours whether to withdraw from a tour planned for next month, while the West Indies and Australia are also scheduled to tour in the next six months.
Pakistan’s interior minister Ahmad was adamant there was “no threat to cricket in Pakistan, there was no threat to New Zealand and there is no threat to England.”
New Zealand were in Pakistan for the first time since 2003 and were due to play three ODIs, followed by five Twenty20 matches.
 


Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

Updated 17 September 2021

Guardiola defends his plea for ‘more fans’ at Man City game

  • A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton
  • The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062 and the Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000

MANCHESTER: For Pep Guardiola, it was a rallying cry ahead of what he expects to be a tough game.
For some Manchester City supporters, it was an ill-timed comment that questioned the loyalty of the club’s fan base.
A clash has broken out between City’s esteemed manager and a section of the team’s followers after Guardiola’s plea for “more people” to attend City’s Premier League home match against Southampton on Saturday — three days after a hard-fought 6-3 win over Leipzig in the Champions League at Etihad Stadium.
The attendance against Leipzig was 38,062. The Etihad’s capacity is about 55,000.
One of the people unhappy with Guardiola’s remarks was Kevin Parker, general secretary of City’s official supporters’ club, who accused the Spaniard of failing to understand the difficulties of attending games on a midweek evening and playing into the hands of opposition teams’ fans who often taunt City for not having capacity crowds at some matches.
“He’s absolutely the best coach in the world but, in the nicest possible way, I think maybe he should stick to that,” said Parker, who described Guardiola’s comments were “disappointing and uncalled for.”
Guardiola responded to Parker on Friday in a news conference ahead of the Southampton game, saying he would “definitely not” be apologizing for his comments and that there had been a “misunderstanding.”
“Don’t misunderstand or put words in my mouth that I didn’t say,” Guardiola said. “That’s what I don’t like. I never will be a problem for my fans. If I am a problem for my fans, I will step aside. Not a problem for me.”
Guardiola said he had seen his players look “exhausted” in the locker room after the end-to-end game against Leipzig and quickly realized they would need fans to get behind them against Southampton, given the quick turnaround of the games and Southampton’s pressing game and energetic style.
“When you play in the Champion League, it’s so demanding on your physicality, and mentally, when they (Southampton) have a long week to prepare the game,” Guardiola said. “So that’s why we need to be all together — the players, the supporters, everyone, to help us to do our best. I know exactly our fans will be there tomorrow to support, and hopefully Mr. Parker can come to watch us.
“Mr. Parker,” Guardiola added, should “review his comments.”
City has struggled to fill the Etihad for some home games in the Champions League, especially in the first one of each season’s group stage. It has led to some rivals fans using the nickname “the Emptyhad.”
There are some reasons given for the lower European attendances — some fans’ disaffection with the tournament organizer, UEFA, for what they perceive as unfair sanctions handed to, or affecting, City in the Champions League; City being involved in games in so many competitions that fans pick and choose matches; the pandemic affecting fans’ finances; a digital ticketing system that doesn’t allow fans to transfer tickets to others if they can’t attend a midweek game.
The fan bases of City’s main rivals in English soccer, including Manchester United and Liverpool, are far bigger globally.
“We are who we are. We are proud of who we are,” Guardiola said. “I know the history, I learned about the history of this club when it was in the lower division, and what it means to travel and follow the team. I respect it a lot.”
City has had near-capacity crowds for its first two home matches of the Premier League season — 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal.


Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic

Updated 17 September 2021

Juventus reports 210 million euros in losses amid pandemic

  • Revenue from player registration rights (transfer market) dropped 129 million euros from 2019-20
  • Ticket sales fell more than 41 million euros from the year before

TURIN, Italy: Juventus reported a loss of 210 million euros ($250 million) for the 2020-21 financial year on Friday, attributed mainly to the pandemic’s effect on the transfer market and ticket sales.
Revenue from player registration rights (transfer market) dropped 129 million euros (more than $150 million) from 2019-20, while ticket sales fell more than 41 million euros ($48 million) from the year before.
While the drops were offset in part by a rise in TV rights income, overall losses were still more than twice as much as in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, Juventus said it was still clinging to the European Super League project promoted by club president Andrea Agnelli, despite the quick collapse of the plan unveiled in April when nine of the 12 teams involved withdrew after a public backlash.
“As at today, it is not possible to predict with certainty the outcome and future development of the Super League project, of the legitimacy of which Juventus remains confident,” the team said.
Juventus’ legal case with fellow Super League rebels Real Madrid and Barcelona challenging what they say is UEFA’s monopoly control of competitions is with the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. A deadline for submissions to the court is next month.


New Zealand PM told Khan cricket team would face attack outside hotel – interior minister

Updated 17 September 2021

New Zealand PM told Khan cricket team would face attack outside hotel – interior minister

  • Sheikh Rashid Ahmed describes New Zealand’s decision as part of a ‘conspiracy’ against Pakistan
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she fully supports the decision of her country’s cricket authorities

ISLAMABAD: New Zealand’s prime minister informed her Pakistani counterpart on Friday her government had received intelligence that her country’s cricket team would be attacked if it left the hotel to play its first match in Pakistan, Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told a news conference in Islamabad.
Ahmed briefed the media only a few hours after New Zealand Cricket (NZC) announced it was abandoning its series with Pakistan “following a New Zealand government security alert.”
The visiting team was to face Pakistan today at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in the first of three one-day internationals (ODIs). The Black Cap squad, which returned to Pakistan for the first time since 2003, was staying at an Islamabad hotel guarded by a heavy contingent of police.
“We spoke to Prime Minister Iman Khan in Tajikistan and alerted him about the situation,” said the interior minister. “He then called New Zealand Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] and gave her guarantee there was no security issue here. However, she said her government had received information that her country’s team would come under attack if it went out to the stadium.”
He said the decision was made at a time when Pakistan was playing a crucial role in establishing peace in the region.
“The tour has been cancelled on the basis of a conspiracy,” he continued. “To undermine Pakistan’s efforts for peace in the region, hidden hands conspired for the cancellation of the tour.”
Ahmed said New Zealand had no solid evidence that its cricket team was under threat in Pakistan.
“The security team sent by Kiwis had checked all the arrangements well before the arrival of the team and found no issue,” he added. “Pakistan also offered to organize matches without audience, but it was all in vain.”
According to Reuters, New Zealand’s prime minister said she fully supported the decision to pull out the team from Pakistan since safety of the players was paramount.
“When I spoke with the Prime Minister of Pakistan I conveyed our thanks for taking care of the New Zealand Cricket team,” Ardern said in a statement. “I know how disappointing it will be for everyone that the game hasn’t gone ahead, but we totally support the decision that’s been made. Player safety has to be paramount.”
Pakistan’s interior minister, however, said his country had taken solid measures to protect the visiting team.
“The Pakistan army, security forces, and 4,000 police personnel were deployed for the Kiwis’ security,” he told the news conference. “Our strong intelligence agencies did not have any threat alert or information.”
Asked who was behind the conspiracy to undermine international cricket in Pakistan, Ahmed said he was representing a responsible state and would not name anyone.
Responding to social media speculations, however, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner said in a Twitter post it was not right to blame his country’s diplomatic mission in Islamabad for New Zealand’s decision.
“Speculation that British High Commission was involved in PakvsNZ tour being called off are untrue; this was a decision for the New Zealand authorities & taken independently,” he wrote.


Discussing England cricket team’s forthcoming tour to Pakistan, the interior minister said all arrangements were complete and there was no security threat to any visiting team.
“I was informed that England team is also thinking along the similar lines [as New Zealand] and will decide [the fate of the tour] in the next 48 hours,” he said. “I want to make it clear to them there is no security threat in Pakistan for any team.”
Earlier in the day, NZC announced its decision to call off the Pakistan tour in a statement.
“Following an escalation in the New Zealand Government threat levels for Pakistan, and advice from NZC security advisers on the ground, it has been decided the BLACKCAPS will not continue with the tour,” NZC said. “Arrangements are now being made for the team’s departure.”
NZC chief executive David White said “we believe this is the only responsible option.”
New Zealand Cricket Players Association chief executive Heath Mills echoed White’s sentiments.
“We’ve been across this process throughout and are fully supportive of the decision,” he said.

 


FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

Updated 16 September 2021

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

  • In its latest survey, FIFA players all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period
  • Staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, says FIFA chief

GENEVA: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.
The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by FIFA. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.
FIFA claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.
A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, FIFA said.
European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members — fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.
The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.
The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.
The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.
Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.
European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.
The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.
Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.