NBBF Boss Thankful To D’Tigers For Representing Nigeria “Very Well”

 

Musa Kidda, the caretaker president of the Nigerian Basketball Federation, has expressed his gratitude to the men’s national basketball team for representing Nigeria “very well” at the ongoing Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

D’Tigers, on Saturday, lost 80-71 to Italy to crash out of the men’s basketball event of the Tokyo Olympics.

They had lost earlier in the tournament to Australia and Germany, but the performance in general from D’Tigers, a team comprised entirely of players making their debut at the Olympics, gives cause to hope of greater things to come from the African champions.

“D’Tigers, it’s been such a long journey in such a short time,” began a message from the NBBF boss Kidda. “You have all done very well as athletes, coaches, and technical staff within the context of challenges we had to overcome.

“As President of NBBF, I would like to personally say thanks to all of you for representing your country Nigeria very well and assure you that Nigeria is proud of your efforts and staying power as a group.”

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He added: “We need to stay together and continue building on what we have done here as African representatives. We shall definitely do better as we are stronger. Stay safe and strong guys.”

In a similar vein, the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, has expressed his thanks and appreciation to the players and technical crew of Nigeria’s national men’s basketball team after the team’s campaign at the Olympic Games came to an end on Saturday.

“My thanks and appreciations go to the players and coaching staff of the D’Tigers,” said the Minister. “They represented Nigeria impressively and we thank them for their resilience, efforts, and their patriotic commitment.”

D’Tigers lost 80-71 to Italy to crash out of the men’s basketball event of the Tokyo Olympics but their performances before and during the Olympics give room for many to be optimistic about the future of the team led by United States-born coach Mike Brown.

D’Tigers comprised entirely of players making their debut at the Olympics, while some were participating in an international championship for the first time.

“They came and gave a good account of themselves to the world that Nigeria will compete amongst the best basketball nations,” continued the Minister. “And to Mike Brown and the coaching staff, thank you for building this team and your faith in the team.”

He added: “You have performed tremendously well and Nigerians thank you sincerely.”

Simone Biles Out Of Two More Olympic Finals

 

 

Simone Biles has pulled out of two more Olympic finals at the Tokyo Games, USA Gymnastics said in a statement on Saturday, with her entire campaign now in serious doubt.

The 24-year-old gymnastics great came to Tokyo seeking five gold medals to equal the Olympic all-time career record of nine, but withdrew during the women’s team competition and also skipped her all-around title defence, citing mental health issues.

That left Biles, who won four gold medals at the 2016 Rio Games, with a potential four more medal events in Tokyo, but she pulled out of two of those on Saturday.

“After further consultation with medical staff, Simone Biles has decided to withdraw from the event finals for vault and the uneven bars,” the USAG statement said.

“She will continue to be evaluated daily to determine whether to compete in the finals for floor exercise and balance beam.”

Biles said on Friday she was struggling with the “twisties”, the mental block that has sidelined her in Tokyo.

The US federation said MyKayla Skinner would compete in the vault finals alongside Jade Carey.

“We remain in awe of Simone, who continues to handle this situation with courage and grace, and all of the athletes who have stepped up during these unexpected circumstances,” the statement said.

Biles posted video on Instagram on Friday of her landing on her back in training, on cushioned pads, and wrote that she was having problems “literally on every event, which sucks”.

She said previous bouts of ‘twisties’ had taken two or more weeks to pass, but there was “honestly no telling (the) time frame”.

Biles, who was bombarded with messages of support after her earlier pull-outs, also hit back at critics, saying: “For anyone saying I quit, I didn’t quit. My mind and body are simply not in sync as you can see here.”

Biles won a silver medal in the women’s team event because she started the final.

Kenyan Sprinter Barred From Olympics After Testing Positive

Kenyan sprinter Mark Odhiambo has been suspended after testing positive for steroids.

 

 

Kenyan sprinter Mark Odhiambo, who was to have lined up for the heats of the men’s Olympic 100 metres on Saturday, has been suspended after testing positive for steroids, officials said.

“The athlete… has been informed of the case and has been provisionally suspended until the resolution of the matter in line with World Anti-Doping Code and the IOC Anti-Doping Rules,” the International Testing Agency (ITA) said in a statement.

Odhiambo, who has a best time of 10.05sec, has challenged the result and the case has been referred to the anti-doping division of the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

It was announced earlier Saturday that Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare has been barred from taking part in the semi-finals of the women’s 100m on Saturday after she tested positive for human growth hormone.

Okagbare, who won her heat on Friday, failed the test on July 19, four days before the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.

Ogunbanwon Smashes Nigerian Olympics 100m Freestyle Swim Record

photo of Abiola Ogunbanwon representing Nigeria at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics

 

Nigerian Swimming representative, Abiola Ogunbanwon made history at the Tokyo Olympics by smashing the Nigerian Women’s 100m freestyle rcord.

Ogunbanwon bested the rest of the field in 59.74 seconds with Antunovic Andela of Montenegro coming in second in a time of 1:00.01 minutes.

The 17-year-old became the first Nigerian woman ever to finish this event in less than one minute.

She also surpassed Ngozi Monu’s record of 1:15 m achieved at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

 

 

Despite the historic feat, her winning time fell short of the best 16 times required to progress into the semi-final.

Ogunbanwon came on the scene representing Nigeria at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships held in Gwangju, South Korea.

She also competed in the women’s 100 metre freestyle and women’s 200 metre freestyle events. In both events, she failed to advance to the semi-finals.

 

‘So Proud’: Philippine Weightlifter Diaz Hailed For Historic Olympic Gold

An overview shows Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz competing in the women’s 55kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Chris GRAYTHEN / POOL / AFP)

 

 

With their eyes glued to a television in the southern Philippines, the family of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz yelled “push, push, push!” as she hoisted the bar to win the country’s first Olympic gold medal.

“Then we erupted in joy — we were shouting, some shed tears of joy,” Emelita Diaz told AFP Tuesday, a day after watching her daughter’s historic performance in Tokyo — far from her hometown of Zamboanga.

“We didn’t know what to feel because we were extremely happy.”

After nearly 18 months training in exile in Malaysia because of Covid-19 restrictions, Diaz smashed her personal best and won gold with a final clean and jerk of 127kg in the women’s 55kg class.

The 30-year-old’s triumph — which followed her silver medal in Rio five years ago — has made her a national hero, alongside the likes of boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.

“Thank you, Hidilyn Diaz, for the first-ever Olympic Gold for the Philippines! We are so proud of you!” Pacquiao tweeted from the United States where he is training for his upcoming fight against American Errol Spence.

The feat is also a life-changing windfall for Diaz, the daughter of a tricycle driver on the southern island of Mindanao.

 

(From L to R) Silver medallist China’s Liao Qiuyun , gold medallist Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz and bronze medallist Kazakhstan’s Zulfiya Chinshanlo stand on the podium for the victory ceremony of the women’s 55kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

 

As a reward for winning gold, Diaz will receive at least 33 million pesos ($655,000) from the government and private sector, as well as a house.

Property developer Megaworld Corporation also announced Tuesday it would give the Philippine Air Force woman a residential condominium worth 14 million pesos.

It could also prove a “game-changer” for other Filipino athletes, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Tuesday, acknowledging government financial support was insufficient.

“It’s as if our athletes are only getting minimum wage,” he said.

– ‘We feel empowered’ –
Diaz’s stunning victory was splashed across the front pages of Philippine newspapers and dominated internet platforms.

The Philippine Star’s headline “Finally, Olympic Gold” reflected the collective relief of Filipinos at winning their first gold medal after 97 years of Olympic competition.

Diaz’s win was an inspiration for other women, said Karen Afurong, an instructional designer in Manila.

“We feel empowered,” the 29-year-old told AFP.

Emelita said the family spoke with Diaz Tuesday morning and congratulated her.

“I told her… ‘It’s a big honour to our family that you brought another honour to the country’,” Emelita told AFP via telephone.

More than 20 relatives, including nieces and nephews, crowded onto the porch of the family home to watch Diaz’s performance, using a smartphone connected to their television.

“We were nervous,” said Emelita.

“They were shouting ‘push, push, push’, get it, Haidie!’. They were shouting and jumping for joy.”

 

Gold medallist Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz holds her medal on the podium for the victory ceremony of the women’s 55kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

 

Diaz has not seen her family since December 2019 and has spoken openly of the sacrifices she has made in pursuit of her dream.

But after a sleepless night, Diaz said Tuesday she was already thinking about the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“Qualifying will be difficult, but if my strength is there I will continue,” she told reporters on Zoom.

“I cannot quit after winning. I need to continue until someone succeeds me.”

Osaka Crashes Out Of Olympics As Bermuda Celebrate Historic Gold

Japan’s Naomi Osaka leaves the court after being beaten by Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women’s singles third round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

 

 

Japanese star Naomi Osaka crashed out of the Olympics tennis competition on Tuesday after Flora Duffy delivered gold for  Bermuda for the first time in the tiny island’s history.

Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron in last week’s opening ceremony, produced an error-strewn performance in losing 6-1, 6-4 to Marketa Vondrousova, ending her cherished dream of winning on home soil.

The 23-year-old — one of the faces of the Tokyo Games — had not played since May, when she walked out of the French Open saying media commitments were harming her mental health.

The second seed, who was broken five times in the match, will be bitterly disappointed at missing out on a chance of Olympic gold, especially as world number one Ashleigh Barty lost in the first round.

Triathlete Duffy won the first gold of the day in the women’s event, making Bermuda the smallest territory or nation in terms of population to win a gold medal at a Summer Games.

The 33-year-old timed 1hr 55min 36sec to come home more than a minute ahead of Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown, with American Katie Zaferes taking the bronze.

For Duffy it was a welcome reward after persistent injuries and a diagnosis of anaemia in 2013.

“I have achieved my dream of winning a gold medal, but also winning Bermuda’s first gold medal,” she said.

“It’s bigger than me and that’s a really cool moment. That was the longest kilometre of my life (the final one of the run).”

– Pool duel –
Elsewhere, swimming powerhouses Australia and the United States won one gold medal each in the morning pool session and are on three golds apiece.

Australian world-record holder Kaylee McKeown upstaged American arch-rival Regan Smith to claim the women’s 100m Olympic backstroke crown as Russia and Britain also won golds.

McKeown, who shattered Smith’s world record last month, flew through the water at the Tokyo Aquatic Center to touch in 57.47 seconds, a new Olympic record and only fractionally outside her own world best.

Smith had to settle for third behind Rio Olympic bronze medallist Kylie Masse of Canada.

McKeown, who lost her father last year to brain cancer, said: “It’s not necessarily what I’ve been through. Everyone has a journey of their own and it just so happens that mine’s been a really tough one.”

On a day of upsets, American women’s 100m breaststroke world-record holder and defending champion Lilly King was beaten, and teammate and 100m backstroke champion Ryan Murphy also tasted defeat.

King was stunned by 17-year-old compatriot Lydia Jacoby, who swam a scintillating final 50m to touch in 1:04.95 and edge her into bronze, with South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker taking silver.

Russian swimmers Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov took gold and silver in the 100m backstroke, pushing Murphy into third place.

Britain’s Tom Dean came back from two bouts of coronavirus to edge out team-mate Duncan Scott and win the 200m freestyle.

“I contracted Covid twice in the last 12 months,” he said. “It’s unheard of. When I was sitting in my flat in isolation, an Olympic gold seem a million miles off, but here we are.”

– Biles pressure –
Later, all eyes will be on US gymnastics star Simone Biles in the women’s team final as the 24-year-old four-time Olympic champion seeks to erase the memory of an uncharacteristically error-strewn qualifying competition.

Biles made mistakes on floor and vault  on Sunday and the other Americans followed suit as they failed to post the top score of the day for the first time at a world championships or Olympics since 2010.

The US women came to Tokyo as firm favourites but Biles admitted to feeling the pressure in an Instagram post on Monday, saying “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”

With spectators banned from the gymnastics and most events at the Games to protect the Japanese public from coronavirus, Biles does not have a crowd to inspire her.

But it would be a huge shock if she failed to win a fifth gold to kick off her attempt to equal or surpass Soviet great Larisa Latynina’s record of nine gymnastics titles.

Swimmer Comes Back From COVID-19 To Win Freestyle Gold

Britain’s Tom Dean (R) celebrates with Britain’s Duncan Scott after winning the final of the men’s 200m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)

 

 

Britain’s Tom Dean came back from two bouts of COVID-19 to claim Olympic gold in the pool on Tuesday, edging out team-mate Duncan Scott to win the 200m freestyle in Tokyo.

Dean said a gold medal seemed “a million miles away” when he was consigned to isolation in January after contracting the virus for the second time in five months.

But the 21-year-old swam the race of his life at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre to lead the first British one-two since 1908, which was also the last time the team won gold in the event.

“It’s amazing, a dream come true having a gold around my neck,” said Dean.

“I contracted Covid twice in the last 12 months. It’s unheard of. When I was sitting in my flat in isolation, an Olympic gold seemed a million miles off, but here we are.”

 

Britain’s Tom Dean reacts after winning the final of the men’s 200m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

 

 

Dean, whose 1min 44.22sec broke a British record, also needed time to recover from the illness before he could resume high-intensity training.

“It was tough having a long time out of the water and it obviously requires a slow build-up because of the nature of the disease you can’t go straight back into full training,” Dean said. “It was tough, it was a very bumpy ride.”

Dean came from behind in the final 50m to reel in world junior record holder Hwang Sunwoo of Korea, with Scott taking silver (1:44.26) ahead of Brazil’s Fernando Scheffer (1:44.66).

Hwang torched the first 150m in world record pace and Dean, placed next to him in lane six, seemed to benefit as he kept in touch with the Korean, pushed past him, and then resisted a late Scott surge to hold on.

“It’s the single greatest achievement of my life,” Dean said.

Scott and Dean are roommates in the Olympic village and the pair came into the event ranked number one and two in the world respectively.

The greater expectation though weighed on Scott, the top seed who chalked up the best time in the semi-finals.

 

Gold medallist Britain’s Tom Dean poses with his medal after the final of the men’s 200m freestyle swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)

 

“Duncan and I are great mates,” said Dean. “He’s an absolute class act and I’ve looked up to him for a long time. To share a podium with him is amazing.”

Scott, who won two silver medals in relays in Rio, will have another chance of gold in the 200m individual medley, which starts on Wednesday.

“Massive credit to Tom there, that was unbelievable,” said Scott. “He’s a good mate out of the pool and it’s great to be able to compete against him. I’m delighted with that and I’m buzzing for Deano.”

Tennis Star Osaka Lights Tokyo Olympics Cauldron As Games Open

An overview shows Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka standing after lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by Antonin THUILLIER / AFP)

 

 

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron as the Tokyo Games opened on Friday after a year’s pandemic delay and lingering coronavirus threats.

Osaka lifted the torch to the gleaming cauldron, which had unfurled at the top of a ramp representing Mount Fuji, in the highlight of a ceremony that was stripped back over virus fears.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito officially opened the Games in an eerily empty Olympic Stadium, after Covid-19 forced organisers to ban spectators at all but a handful of venues.

“I declare open the Games of Tokyo,” said the monarch, wearing a white surgical mask, in Tokyo’s 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium.

 

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka holds the Olympic Torch before lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP)

 

Osaka was handed the torch by a group of children from the region around Fukushima which was devastated by a tsunami and a nuclear disaster in 2011.

It was an uplifting moment in a low-key ceremony that unfolded in front of fewer than 1,000 VIPs and several thousand athletes.

In another high point, nearly 2,000 synchronised drones formed a revolving globe over the stadium, to a cover version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

A reduced parade of about 5,700 athletes, far lower than the usual numbers, filed into the stadium, not all of them socially distanced but all wearing masks.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach acknowledged the Games would be “very different from what all of us had imagined”.

But “today is a moment of hope”, he said in an address.

 

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka holds the Olympic Torch before lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP)

 

The 16-day Games, with 339 gold medals across 33 sports, have a surreal air after the pandemic compelled organisers to make this the first Games with virtually no spectators.

Athletes are tested daily but they are performing on the biggest stage under the constant risk that a positive test could wreck their Olympic dreams.

– New era starts –
Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could become a super-spreader event have made the Games deeply unpopular in Japan, where polls have shown opposition for months.

But hundreds of people gathered outside the stadium cheered and applauded as the fireworks exploded overhead.

Mako Fukuhara arrived six hours before the ceremony to grab a spot.

“Until now it didn’t feel like the Olympics, but now we are by the stadium, it feels like the Olympics,” she told AFP.

 

A torchbearer carries the Olympic torch in the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

 

Japan has spent nearly $15 billion on the Games, including $2.6 billion in extra costs after they became the first to be postponed in modern Olympic history in March 2020.

Tokyo is also battling a surge in virus cases, and is under emergency measures though they fall short of a strict lockdown.

Organisers will hope public opinion turns when the full sporting programme starts on Saturday, with swimming, gymnastics, road cycling and tennis among the top attractions.

Attention will focus on a new generation of Olympic stars who are looking to shine after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

US swimmer Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals and 400 metre hurdlers Karsten Warholm of Norway and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin are among those hoping to emerge as household names.

In gymnastics, Simone Biles will attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.

Surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate are all making their Olympic debut, while New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the Games’ first transgender athlete.

 

Fireworks light up the sky over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

 

The pandemic has not been the only hiccup, with scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

The controversies kept coming right up to the eve of the Games, with the opening ceremony’s director sacked on Thursday for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a video from 1998.

Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been cancelled.

 

Japan’s tennis player Naomi Osaka carries the Olympic Torch before lighting the flame of hope in the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by HANNAH MCKAY / POOL / AFP)

 

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka poses after lighting the Olympic Cauldron with the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at the Olympic Stadium, in Tokyo, on July 23, 2021. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

Olympics Chief Admits ‘Sleepless Nights’ Over Troubled Tokyo Games

In this file photo taken on January 10, 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach attends a press conference in Lausanne. Bach will stand unopposed to serve a second term as International Olympic Committee president, the body said on December 1, 2020.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

Olympics chief Thomas Bach revealed “doubts” and “sleepless nights” over the postponed Tokyo Games on Tuesday as the opening ceremony nears after a year’s delay and coronavirus chaos that has made them deeply unpopular with the Japanese public.

Bach, speaking at the International Olympic Committee session in Tokyo, said the unprecedented step of postponing the Games “weighed on me” as it proved more complicated than he thought.

The build-up to Friday’s opening ceremony has been exceptionally rocky, with Tokyo still under a state of emergency and public opinion consistently against the Games, which will be held largely without spectators.

“Over the past 15 months we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds. We had doubts every day. We deliberated and discussed. There were sleepless nights,” said Bach.

“This also weighed on us, it weighed on me. But in order to arrive at this day today we had to give confidence, had to show a way out of this crisis,” he added.

Bach has drawn scattered protests during his visit to Japan, where the latest poll in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed 55 percent of respondents oppose holding the Games now.

Five people have tested positive in the Olympic Village, heightening fears that the influx of thousands of athletes, officials and media will add to a spike in cases in Japan.

The latest case in the complex, Czech beach volleyball coach Simon Nausch, came a day after one of his players also tested positive.

 ‘Dark tunnel’

Olympic and Japanese officials have staunchly defended the Games, which are being held in a strict biosecure “bubble” with daily testing. About 80 percent of athletes have been vaccinated.

“We can finally see at the end of the dark tunnel,” said Bach, adding: “Cancellation was never an option for us. The IOC never abandons the athletes… we did it for the athletes.”

Delegates unanimously approved an update of the Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, to “Faster, Higher, Stronger — Together”, to reflect global solidarity during the pandemic.

“We see everywhere the collaborative effort bringing faster and better solutions than working in silos,” said Bach.

Ski mountaineering, where competitors race up a mountain on foot and ski down it, was also approved as a new sport for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan-Cortina.

The changes were waved through at an unusual IOC session, where mask-wearing delegates sat socially distanced at individual desks and the podium microphone was wiped after each speaker.

On Wednesday, World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will make a keynote address, and preferred bidder Brisbane — the sole candidate — is expected to be handed the 2032 Summer Games.

“This is not a done deal because it’s still up to the session to decide,” insisted IOC communications director Mark Adams.

“They can decide to put the issue back in the pot — there are still a number of interested cities.”

The session precedes an Olympics which will mainly take place in empty stadiums to the sound of recorded crowd noises, starting with the opening ceremony in the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium.

The ceremony will go ahead without its planned opening music after composer Keigo ‘Cornelius’ Oyamada quit following an outcry over past interviews where he described bullying disabled schoolmates.

Major sponsor Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker, also scrapped plans to run an Olympic-linked brand campaign in Japan, as a top official said the Games lacked “understanding” from the public.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will attend the opening ceremony, but an official from the Imperial Household Agency said it was not known if he will speak at the event.

-AFP

Olympic Staff, Volunteers Vaccinated As Tokyo Games Near

A lone protester (L) holds up a sign in reference to recent comments made by Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, next to a display of the Olympic Rings outside the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo on February 11, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

 

 

Thousands of Olympic volunteers and officials began receiving vaccines in Tokyo on Friday, five weeks before the Games, as experts warned it would be safest to hold the event without fans.

With just over a month until the July 23 opening ceremony, organisers are in the home stretch and scrambling to finalise virus rules and get participants vaccinated in time.

They also face a controversial and difficult decision over how many domestic fans, if any, will be in the stands for the pandemic-postponed Games.

Japanese Olympic athletes have already begun receiving vaccines, and the rollout expanded on Friday to Olympic staff, volunteers and others who will interact with overseas participants.

The International Olympic Committee has donated enough Pfizer/BioNTech doses for 40,000 people, including airport staff, local media and Olympic referees.

Chika Hirai, director of doping control for Tokyo 2020, was among those being vaccinated on Friday and said she had some niggling concerns about virus risks before getting jabbed.

“Now that I will be vaccinated, I will feel a little more reassured doing my job,” she told reporters.

“Many people from abroad, including inspectors from my field, are coming to Japan after having been vaccinated themselves. I feel more relieved that we also won’t be the source of the virus spread.”

The jabs are separate from those being used in Japan’s national vaccine rollout, which began slowly but has picked up pace lately, with over six percent of the population now fully inoculated.

The vaccinations come as organisers work to convince a sceptical public that the biggest international event since the pandemic began will be safe.

This week they have rolled out new virus rulebooks, warning athletes they could be barred from the Games if they violate regulations on mask-wearing or daily testing.

But they face a difficult decision over whether to allow spectators into the stands, with a group of leading medical experts who advise the government saying Friday a closed-door Games would be safest.

“Having no spectators would create the least risk in terms of the spread of infections inside venues, so we think this would be ideal,” they wrote in a report submitted to Tokyo 2020 organisers and the government.

– ‘Stricter standards’ –
The number of fans at the Games will be limited by government virus measures, which in Tokyo currently cap spectators at 5,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is smaller.

That rule is scheduled to stay in place until July 11, even though a virus state of emergency will end on Sunday.

After July 11, the cap will be raised to 10,000 people or 50 percent capacity, but the experts urged Olympic organisers to “impose stricter standards” if they allow fans.

They also want limits on spectators from outside the area.

And they warned organisers should be prepared to reverse course and ban fans if the infection situation or pressure on the medical system worsens during the Games.

A final decision on local fans is expected next week, with local media reports saying a 10,000-person cap was most likely.

Overseas fans have already been barred from attending for the first time in Olympic history as organisers try to tamp down infection fears.

Tokyo 2020 said Friday they have further slashed the number of overseas participants coming to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympics to 53,000, not including around 15,500 athletes.

That is down from original plans for 177,000 people, including officials, sponsors and media, they said.

Tokyo 2020 also said Friday they had received offers from more than 100 overseas volunteer medical staff.

The foreign volunteers facilitated by the IOC are meant to help ensure the Games do not place extra pressure on Japan’s medical system.

Japan’s Olympic Host Towns Pull Out Over COVID-19 Pandemic

The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

Hundreds of Japanese towns and cities have been forced to rethink plans to host Olympic teams because the coronavirus will prevent public appearances and require costly safety measures.

The western town of Okuizumo spent more than $5 million preparing to welcome India’s hockey team for a pre-Games training camp, only to scrap the visit because of Covid-19.

After sinking money into upgrading sports facilities, Okuizomo balked when it became clear it would have to provide bubble-like biosecurity measures with regular virus tests and medical care.

“We wanted to have one of the world’s top tier teams visit our town and show their skills to local children,” town official Katsumi Nagase told AFP.

“But that seems impossible now.”

More than 500 municipalities signed up to host athletes and officials in a scheme aimed at broadening the Olympics’ benefits beyond Tokyo.

Some, like Okuizumo, have already scrapped plans to host overseas athletes, while others are devising careful programmes they hope will keep everyone safe.

Instead of giving residents the chance to meet elite athletes and try out new sports, towns will have to ditch any physical contact, school visits and public training sessions.

Kurihara city in northern Miyagi prefecture was planning to host South Africa’s hockey team, but decided the expense was no longer worth it given the limitations imposed by virus measures.

“It’s a project that will use our tax resources,” Hidenori Sasaki, an official with the local board of education, told AFP.

“If it becomes just athletes holding a training camp without any exchanges with local residents, local citizens won’t enjoy the benefits.”

In some cases, Olympic teams have cancelled, worried about the risk of infection before the Games.

Australia’s swimming team ditched its plan to train in Niigata’s Nagaoka city, its mayor told  media in March.

And Canada’s table tennis team will no longer go to Nagano’s Okaya city, which instead plans to put posters of athletes around town, said Tomoko Hirose of the city’s planning division.

“Our cheering may become a one-way engagement, without physical exchanges, but given the situation, we just have to move on,” she told AFP.

– Limited contact –

Not all host towns have given up on their plans.

Tsuruoka city in northern Yamagata prefecture will host several dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials from Moldova and Germany.

The city has had ties for years with Moldova, said Takayuki Ito, an official with the city’s board of education.

“What’s important for us is to continue our exchanges,” Ito told AFP, describing recent online archery competitions held with Moldovans.

“There are things you can do without spending a lot of money,” Ito said. “We have a good feeling about our programme.”

But it won’t be simple. The athletes will stay in their own dormitory and move only along designated routes to gyms and training fields, avoiding contact with residents.

In western Tottori, Yonago city will host several dozen people from Jamaica’s swimming, gymnastics and Paralympic boat teams.

The city has had ties with Jamaica since 2015, and believes its host duties will strengthen that bond, said Kyohei Takahashi at the city’s sports promotion division.

The athletes will be on a designated floor and use a staff elevator of their hotel, avoiding the lobby and main entrance to limit contact.

They will also be offered frequent virus testing, as well as designated routes to gyms and pools.

“We planned very early,” Takahashi said.

“We won’t be able to have exchanges with athletes this time. But the legacy will remain,” he added.

Tokyo 2020 Boss Resigns Over Sexism Row, But Successor Unclear

 

(FILES) Mori resigns over sexist comments on February 12, 2021. (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP)

 

Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori bowed to mounting pressure and resigned Friday over sexist remarks, but his replacement was not immediately clear after opposition emerged to his favoured successor.

The resignation and the leadership vacuum left by the controversy add to the woes of organisers struggling to win over a sceptical public less than six months before the virus-delayed Games.

Mori, 83, sparked outrage by claiming last week that women speak too much in meetings, with officials, sports stars and Olympic sponsors slamming the remarks as inappropriate.

On Friday he announced he would step down, effective immediately.

“My inappropriate statement has caused a lot of chaos. I would like to express my sincere apologies,” he told a meeting of Tokyo 2020’s executive board and council called to discuss his remarks.

“What is important is to hold the Olympics from July. It must not be the case that my presence becomes an obstacle to that.”

There was confusion about who would succeed Mori, who had initially selected well-known sports administrator Saburo Kawabuchi, 84, to replace him.

The transition had appeared a done deal, with the former footballer granting interviews to local media describing his planned priorities in the new job.

But opposition to the selection of another octogenarian, and Mori’s control over the process, quickly mounted.

Hashtags opposing Kawabuchi’s appointment trended on Twitter in Japan, and the country’s Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto insisted “nothing has been decided”.

By Friday afternoon, local media reported Tokyo 2020 was under pressure to reverse the appointment and that Kawabuchi had decided to turn down the job.

 

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori arrives at a meeting with council and executive board members to announce his resignation over sexist remarks, at the committee headquarters in Tokyo on February 12, 2021. (Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / POOL / AFP)

 

Leadership vacuum

Mori’s resignation caps over a week of uproar after he told members of Japan’s Olympic Committee that women have difficulty speaking concisely, “which is annoying.”

He apologised but then defended his remarks and told reporters: “I don’t speak to women much.”

The comments drew fire at home and abroad. Several hundred Olympic volunteers have since withdrawn and a petition calling for action against him gathered nearly 150,000 signatures.

On Friday Mori said he does not “look down on women”, and had tried to amplify their voice, including the seven women on the 35-member Tokyo 2020 board.

“They hesitated to raise their hand to speak up. I even called out their name to encourage them,” he said.

Tokyo city governor Yuriko Koike, who had condemned Mori’s remarks, offered tribute after his resignation “to all the work president Mori has done”.

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons also thanked Mori and said he hoped the reaction to the comments would “be harnessed so that society places greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.”

The race to fill Mori’s former post is now wide open, with reports suggesting Hashimoto — a former Winter and Summer Olympian and one of just two women in the cabinet — was a leading candidate.

The fallout comes with organisers already battling public doubt about holding the huge international event this summer.

Around 80 percent of Japanese polled in recent surveys back either further postponement or an outright cancellation.

 

A lone protester (L) holds up a sign in reference to recent comments made by Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, next to a display of the Olympic Rings outside the Japan Olympic Museum in Tokyo on February 11, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

 

Organisers have tried to quell the disquiet by releasing virus rulebooks for athletes, officials and media, including restrictions on movement and regular testing.

But with Tokyo and other regions under a virus state of emergency, doubts persist about the event’s viability.

The first Olympic test event of 2021 has already been postponed because of Japan’s strict entry rules.

Japan’s first vaccine approval is expected over the weekend, with thousands of medical workers first in line to be inoculated, likely by the end of February.

But the broader rollout will move slowly, with vaccination of the elderly not set to start until April.