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.
 


Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

Updated 1 min ago

Howay the lads: A new era begins for Newcastle

  • Football club set to play first match since $410 million takeover by Saudi-led consortium

LONDON: After decades in the football wilderness, a new era of hope begins on Sunday for the long-suffering fans of Newcastle United football club.

Tens of thousands of “Toon” devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Sunday’s challenge could hardly be tougher. The visitors are Tottenham Hotspur — and a win would take them into the Premier League’s top 5, while Newcastle languish third from bottom with just three points all season.

HIGHLIGHT

Tens of thousands of ‘Toon’ devotees will pack the club’s famous old St. James’ Park stadium for the team’s first match since this month’s $410 million takeover led by the Public Investment Fund.

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce is looking forward to it. “The most important thing for the fans is to see their team win a game and I know they’ll be right behind the players in an atmosphere which I doubt we’ll have witnessed at St. James’ Park in a long time,” he said.

Although most observers expect Bruce’s 1,000th match in charge to be his last, as the new owners rebuild Newcastle, new club director Amanda Staveley — a prime mover behind the takeover — gave him her backing for now.

“Change does not always happen overnight,” she said. “It demands time, and that we follow a carefully considered plan and strategy. Steve has been very professional in our dealings with him and he and his coaching team will take the team
on Sunday.”

Newcastle fans, meanwhile, will be hoping Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s judgment is correct.

“In the long term, of course, we have to say that they are going to be a superpower,” Klopp said.


Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

Updated 16 October 2021

Azarenka books spot in Indian Wells final against Badosa

  • Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net

INDIAN WELLS: Victoria Azarenka, who is hoping to become the first three-time WTA winner in Indian Wells, punched her ticket to Sunday’s final by rallying to beat former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka continued her solid play in the California desert as she goes for her first title of 2021 and 22nd of her career.

The 32-year-old arrived in the semifinals without dropping a set and after losing the first one to Ostapenko she settled in and found her form.

Azarenka will face Spaniard Paula Badosa, who defeated Ons Jabeur in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.

Azarenka is seeking to win the tournament for the third time after victories in 2012 and 2016.

She is the only former champion left in either the women’s or men’s field, and with another victory can separate herself from the list of women who have won the trophy twice — which includes Martina Navratilova, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Azarenka clinched victory on her first match point when Ostapenko slammed a forehand into the net.

This was the second career meeting between the two but the first on hardcourt, so it took Azarenka time to feel her opponent out and figure out her weaknesses.

“She was playing really incredible in the first set, not giving me much,” said Azarenka.

“I was just trying to find an opportunity — actually create an opportunity — for me to get back into the match and take a little bit more control. I really had to fight for every ball.”

Ostapenko controlled most of the first set, breaking Azarenka in the second game to go up 2-0. She then held serve to jump out to a 3-0 lead using her powerful ground strokes to move the Belarusian around the court.

Azarenka went down again 2-0 in the second set but then caught fire while holding serve in the third game.

That started a run of five straight games to take a 5-2 lead. Ostapenko held serve once more but Azarenka served out the set to level the match.

Azarenka raised her level another notch in a hard-fought third set, winning the final three games to get to the final where she will face Badosa for the first time.

Meanwhile, Badosa has reached the final in her first appearance in Indian Wells, cooling off Jabeur, who has been one of the hottest players on the Tour with 48 wins in 2021.


Ten-match win streak in UAE gives Pakistan edge over India — Babar

Updated 16 October 2021

Ten-match win streak in UAE gives Pakistan edge over India — Babar

  • The arch-rivals will meet in Dubai on October 24
  • Pakistan have never won a World Cup match against India

DUBAI: Pakistan have won their last 10 Twenty20 internationals in the United Arab Emirates and captain Babar Azam claims that will give his men the edge over India in their World Cup opener.
The arch-rivals will meet in Dubai on October 24 in what will be the biggest clash of the tournament that starts Sunday in Oman and the UAE.
Pakistan have never won a World Cup match against India, but that does not bother Babar who believes familiarity with the UAE pitches will help them break the jinx.
“Definitely we have played a lot of cricket in the UAE,” Babar said in a captain’s press conference when asked about his team’s dismal 0-5 record against India in T20 World Cup clashes.
“These conditions suit us and we know how to play here. We need to keep things simple in all the departments.”
The UAE was Pakistan’s home base after the deadly terror attacks on the visiting Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 forced cricket out of the Asian nation.
Pakistan, who are third in the T20 rankings behind England and India, also have Afghanistan and New Zealand in their group at the World Cup.
Babar acknowledged that captaining the team in the 16-nation tournament was indeed an honor and said his recent form will give him confidence.
“Good performances give you confidence,” Babar, who has hit two T20 centuries this year, said.
“I am in form, hence it will benefit me.”
Babar, who has over 2,000 T20 runs, tipped Kiwi skipper Kane Williamson to stand out as the tournament’s best batter and Pakistan speedster Hasan Ali as the premier bowler.
Meanwhile, India captain Virat Kohli played down the famous rivalry, describing the match with Pakistan as “just another game“
“I have always approached this game as just another game of cricket. I know there is a lot of hype created around this game more so with ticket sales and the demands for tickets,” said Kohli.
“Right now the value of those tickets is ridiculously high. So that’s all I know, friends asking me for tickets left, right and center, I refused.
“Yes, the environment, you can say, is different. From the fans’ point of view it is definitely louder. From the players’ point of view, we stay as professional as we can.”


Manchester United lose at Leicester, City roll on as five-star Liverpool go top

Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday. (AP/Action Images via Reuters)
Updated 16 October 2021

Manchester United lose at Leicester, City roll on as five-star Liverpool go top

  • Mohamed Salah again took most of the plaudits for another stunning solo goal

LONDON: Manchester United succumbed to a first away league defeat for 30 games by losing 4-2 at Leicester as Liverpool stormed to the top of the Premier League with a 5-0 demolition of Watford on Saturday.
Manchester City moved into second with a 2-0 win over Burnley, while Chelsea can move back to the top of the table when they travel to Brentford later in the day.
But the focus will fall on United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after his side failed to win for the third consecutive Premier League game.
United led at the King Power thanks to Mason Greenwood’s spectacular strike, but were quickly pegged back by Youri Tielemans’ dinked finish beyond David de Gea.
A flurry of four goals in the final 12 minutes then condemned Solskjaer’s men to a first defeat on the road since January 2020.
Caglar Soyuncu put Leicester in front before Marcus Rashford equalized on his first appearance of the season after shoulder surgery.
Straight from kick-off, United’s leaky defense was breached once more as Jamie Vardy smashed home and Patson Daka’s first Leicester goal in stoppage time sealed a much-needed win for Brendan Rodgers’ men.
Roberto Firmino scored his first hat-trick since 2018 as Liverpool ran riot at Vicarage Road in Claudio Ranieri’s first match as Watford boss.
But it was Mohamed Salah who again took most of the plaudits for another stunning solo goal to take his tally for the season to 10 in as many games.
“In this moment it is clear that there is no one better than him,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp of the Egyptian.
Salah helped open the floodgates with a defense-splitting pass that teed up Sadio Mane to score his 100th Premier League goal.
Firmino would have been unavailable due to a late return from international duty but for an injury that forced him to withdraw from the Brazil squad.
He tapped home his first goal from James Milner’s cross before half-time and took advantage of another open goal after Ben Foster parried Craig Cathcart’s attempted clearance.
Salah left four Manchester City defenders trailing to score in a thrilling 2-2 draw before the international break and pulled off a similar feat before curling into the far corner.
Firmino then completed the rout in stoppage time.
City did not need to hit top gear to see off Burnley at the Etihad and remain one point behind Liverpool at the top of the table.
Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were on target either side of half-time for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Wolves produced a miraculous comeback from 2-0 down with 10 minutes remaining to win 3-2 at Aston Villa.
Danny Ings and John McGinn had put the hosts in a commanding position at Villa Park.
But Romain Saiss, Conor Coady and Ruben Neves handed Bruno Lage’s men a dramatic three points.
Southampton got their first league win of the season thanks to Armando Broja’s goal to beat Leeds 1-0.
Norwich remain winless and bottom of the table after a 0-0 draw with Brighton.


Faf du Plessis stars as Chennai Super Kings down Kolkata Knight Riders to win fourth IPL title in Dubai

Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)
Updated 16 October 2021

Faf du Plessis stars as Chennai Super Kings down Kolkata Knight Riders to win fourth IPL title in Dubai

DUBAI: Faf du Plessis smashed an attacking half-century to help Chennai Super Kings thrash Kolkata Knight Riders by 27 runs and clinch their fourth Indian Premier League title on Friday.
Du Plessis’ 86 off 59 balls guided Chennai to 192-3, a total their bowlers defended by restricting Kolkata to 165-9 in the final in Dubai.
Opener Venkatesh Iyer hit a 32-ball 50 but the knock was not enough to stop Chennai’s M.S. Dhoni from a landmark win in his 300th match as T20 skipper.
“We had match winners coming game after game and doing really well,” said Dhoni who also praised Kolkata for reviving their fortunes in the tournament’s second leg.
“Every final is special, if you look at the stats, we may say we’re the most consistent team to lose the final too. I feel it’s important to come back strong, especially in the knockouts.”
Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians who failed to defend their title this season.
Shardul Thakur took three wickets including twin strikes in one over to hurt two-time champions Kolkata who came into the final on the back of four successive wins.
Spinner Ravindra Jadeja and pace bowler Josh Hazlewood took two wickets each.
Eoin Morgan’s Kolkata won the toss and elected to field but their bowlers failed to get a wicket until the ninth over and took a hammering in Dubai.
Ruturaj Gaikwad fell for 32 off spinner Sunil Narine but Du Plessis kept up the charge to raise his fifty with a six amid raucous support for Chennai at a nearly packed stadium.
The South African veteran smashed seven fours and three sixes and put on key partnerships with Robin Uthappa, who made 31, and Moeen Ali, who hit an unbeaten 37 off 20 balls.
“That was a great day. It was also my 100th game in the IPL,” said man of the match Du Plessis who scored 600 runs this season.
“I have loved my time here. I have done almost ten years here — two seasons were a bit of a break. Number four in the trophy cabinet is really good.”
Du Plessis was all praise for his opening partner Gaikwad who topped the season’s batting chart with 635 runs and named emerging player of the tournament.
Du Plessis was out on the final ball off pace bowler Shivam Mavi. Narine was Kolkata’s best bowler with figures of 2-26.
Kolkata started strongly with Iyer and Shubman Gill, who made 51, putting on a quickfire opening stand of 91.
But Chennai hit back with Thakur’s twin strikes in one over including Iyer’s key wicket as wheels came off the Kolkata chase.
“We are extremely proud of the fight we have shown. The character and fight is trademark,” Morgan said of his side that bounced back from a seventh place in the first leg to storm into the playoffs and then the final.
The tournament was halted midway due to a surging pandemic in India in may and resumed in the United Arab Emirates last month.