Tag Archives: Olympics

Life in Tokyo offers no hint of doubt that Olympics will happen

Less than six months to the start of the postponed Summer Olympics, Tokyo finds itself in its second state of emergency in the past 10 months.

Life, though, remains remarkably normal for most residents.

Businesses and schools are open, athletic clubs are operating, trains are running and restaurants are conducting business daily (though they are requested to close at 8 p.m.). This emergency is far less strict than the first, which ran from April 7 to May 25 last year. The current emergency is slated to end on Feb. 7, though it might be extended until the end of the month. 

The contradiction between appearance and reality were visible recently on an afternoon in Yokohama, where diners at a restaurant could look out the window and see the roller-coaster and carousel at a local amusement park operating on a sunny afternoon.

Since the second emergency, which included the prefectures of Tokyo, Kanagawa Saitama and Chiba, began on Jan. 8, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the greater metropolitan Tokyo area has dipped below 1,000 per day. They were twice that at the beginning of the year.

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has been on the job for just a few months, is trying to balance criticism from those who say his administration is not doing enough to prevent new infections during the pandemic, while also trying to keep the Tokyo Olympics on track for their scheduled opening on July 23. 

This week, the International Olympic Committee released its “playbooks” for how the Tokyo Olympics might operate, with guidelines on testing and vaccinations.

WATCH | Olympic Playbooks explained:

With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37

Pandemic fatigue is increasing with each passing month. Suicides among young women increased in Japan in 2020, with experts saying that being cut off from spending time with their friends was a big contributor to the rise. 

At the outset of this second state of emergency, national broadcaster NHK was running continuous graphics about it in an attempt to influence people from leaving home unnecessarily. Terrestrial television still retains significant influence in Japan, but after so many months of dealing with the pandemic, it is unclear how many are actually heeding the suggestion. 


Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been insistent that the Olympics will open as scheduled on July 23. (Associated Press)

The story about the possible cancellation of the Olympics by the Times of London in January rattled the nerves of athletes and officials outside of Japan, but had little impact within the country. Suga’s cabinet and Tokyo Olympics organizers both quickly dismissed the possibility and said plans were moving full steam ahead for the Games, despite public opinion polls showing a large majority want them postponed or cancelled.

But it seems there is just too much money on the line for that to happen. The Japanese government is estimated to have spent $ 23 billion US of taxpayer money preparing for the Games, and the International Olympic Committee, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and TV rights holders have huge financial stakes in the Games going forward.

That being said, as the big extravaganza draws nearer, the likelihood that full venues will be the norm is hard to envision. The reality is that reduced capacity at stadiums and arenas is more likely. In a worst-case scenario, the Olympics could be staged with no spectators, essentially becoming a TV-only event.

The Japanese government is not expected to begin vaccinating the general public for COVID-19 until May, which is just two months before the Olympic flame is set to be lit. It also seems likely that many of the athletes, coaches, trainers and technical people associated with the Games will be vaccinated prior to arriving in Japan, though the IOC has said it will not make it mandatory. But with variants of the virus now appearing, the question of foreign spectators wanting to come and/or being allowed to remains up in the air. As with everything else, it is wait and see.


Roller-coasters and other attractions in the suburban Tokyo area of Yokohama are in operation despite the area being in a state of emergency. (AFP via Getty Images)

Veteran sports writer and Toronto native Jim Armstrong, who has worked in Japan for more than 30 years, believes the prospects of fans attending the Games is pretty grim.

“I would say it is almost zero,” Armstrong said. “If they have the Olympics, I would say it’s almost certain it will be without fans. At least from overseas.”

Organizers admit everything is on the table at this point regarding fans.

“Naturally, we are looking into many different scenarios, so no spectators is one of the options,” Tokyo 2020 organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said last week following a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach. “We don’t want to hold the Games without spectators, but in terms of simulations we are covering all the options.”

Of greater concern in the short term is the effect the second emergency is having on training for the Games. The Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to host 11,000 athletes competing in 33 different sports. Foreign athletes are not being allowed into the country now and when they will be again is unclear.

Training for those outside Japan has become a psychological battle as the rumours swirl about the fate of the Olympics. Trying to stay motivated and in condition in what has to be the toughest situation possible, short of war, must be a monumental task.

“All these speculations are hurting the athletes in their preparations,” Bach was quoted as saying by AP after an IOC executive board meeting last week. “We want not to destroy any Olympic dream of any athlete. For all these reasons we are not losing our time and energy on speculations.”

Meanwhile, Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, reiterated that all of the bodies representing the 33 different sports are firm in their desire to hold the Tokyo Games following a meeting last week.

“All of them,” Ricci Bitti said. “It’s unanimous. They all want the Games.”

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CBC | Sports News

Canada to face England in friendly in April in preparation for Olympics

Canada will play England in a women’s soccer friendly on April 13 as part of its preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

Canada Soccer called it an away match but said location will be announced at a later date. The game falls during the April FIFA international window.

England is ranked sixth in the world while the Canadians are tied for No. 8 with Brazil.

The match will be a reunion of sorts.

Bev Priestman, an English native who took over the Canadian team in November, left Canada Soccer in August 2018 to become an assistant coach with England under Phil Neville.

Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson, meanwhile, left her job as Canadian youth coach and senior assistant coach last month to become an assistant coach job with the English women.

Canada is 6-7-0 all-time against England. The Canadians won the last meeting between the two, in April 2019 in Manchester, England, on the strength of a Christine Sinclair goal in the 80th minute.

That 1-0 win avenged a 2-1 quarterfinal loss to the Lionesses in Vancouver at the 2015 World Cup.

Canada has won two of their last three meetings but lost four straight to the English prior to that. The teams first met in June 1995 in Helsingborg, Sweden, in the World Cup debut for both. England won 3-2.

Return to the pitch

The Canadian women return to action later this month at the four-country SheBelieves Cup in Orlando. Canada opens Feb. 18 against the top-ranked U.S before facing No. 31 Argentina on Feb. 21 and No. 8 Brazil on Feb. 24.

Canada last played March 10, 2020, when it tied Brazil 2-2 at an international tournament in France.

A growing number of Canadians now play in the FA Women’s Super League in England. They include Janine Beckie (Manchester City), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea), Rylee Foster (Liverpool), Adriana Leon (West Ham) and Shelina Zadorsky (Tottenham).

The Canadian women won bronze at the last two Olympics. England will be part of a Great Britain entry in the Olympic soccer tournament slated to run July 21 to Aug. 6.

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CBC | Soccer News

Tokyo Olympics chief apologizes, but won’t resign over sexist comments

Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori on Thursday apologized for making sexist remarks about women, saying he retracted the comments and would not resign, despite calls for him to step down on social media.

The hashtag “Mori, please resign” was trending on Twitter in Japan on Thursday morning and some users on the platform were calling on sponsors to pressure the Tokyo organizing committee into dropping Mori from the top post.

The 83-year-old Mori, a former Japanese prime minister and head of the Tokyo organizing committee, acknowledged that his comments that women board members talked too much were “inappropriate” and against the Olympic spirit.

Mori made the sexist comments at a Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board of trustees meeting this week, according to a report in the Asahi newspaper.

“If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying,” said Mori, according to the Asahi report.

WATCH | Understanding the Tokyo Olympics’ pandemic ‘playbook’:

With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37

“We have about seven women at the organizing committee but everyone understands their place.”

The JOC decided in 2019 to aim for more than 40 per cent female members on the board, but there are just five women among the board’s 24 members.

Japan persistently trails its peers on promoting gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 nations surveyed in the 2020 global gender gap report of the World Economic Forum.

In a hastily called press briefing, Mori tried to explain himself, at first apologizing, then later saying that he did not necessarily think that fretting over the number of women in high-ranking positions was what was important.

“I don’t talk to women that much lately so I don’t know,” Mori said, when asked by a reporter whether he had any basis for saying that women board members talked too much during meetings.

Mori’s defiant response is unlikely to tamp down public criticism, and anger over his comments is likely to further alienate a Japanese public that has grown wary of Tokyo’s attempts to hold the Games during a pandemic.

Nearly 80 per cent of the Japanese public opposes holding the Games as scheduled in July, according to the most recent poll.

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CBC | World News

Tokyo Olympics chief faces storm over comments about women

Derogatory comments about women made earlier in the week by Yoshiro Mori, the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and a former prime minister, could force him to resign.

It’s one more problem the postponed Tokyo Olympics don’t need as organizers and the International Olympic Committee try to pull off the games in the midst of a pandemic. They are to open on July 23.

The organizing committee said Thursday it did not have a statement but expected to have one later in the day.

In an online meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee board of directors earlier in the week, Mori was reported by the daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun saying women talk too much in meetings. His comments have created a storm in Japan where women are grossly under-represented in politics and in board rooms.

In an interview with the Japanese newspaper Mainichi published on Thursday, the 83-year-old Mori apologized and suggested he could resign.

“I had no intention to disrespect women,” Mainichi reported him saying. “I believe I must carry out my responsibility, but if calls for my resignation grow, I may have to resign.”

He added: “It was careless of me, and I would like to apologize.”

WATCH | Understanding the Tokyo Olympics’ pandemic ‘playbook’:

With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37

On Tuesday in a online meeting, Asahi reported him saying: “Women are very competitive. When one of them raises her hand, they probably think they have to say something, too. And then everyone says something.”

His comment came when he was asked about the presence of few women on the board of the Japanese Olympic Committee.

“If we are going to have more women directors, someone has remarked, then meetings go on for a long time unless we restrict the comments. I’m not saying who that is.”

The Tokyo Olympics he leads are already swamped with problems.

About 80 per cent of Japanese in polls says the games should be postponed or cancelled in the midst of a pandemic. They also have spoken out on rising costs that may total more than $ 25 billion US to put on these Olympics.

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CBC | World News

3 takeaways from the Tokyo Olympics ‘Playbook’

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The IOC started rolling out its ‘Playbooks’ for the Tokyo Olympics

The main purpose of these documents is to convince the public and everyone with a stake in the Games that they can be pulled off during a global pandemic. The “game plans,” as the IOC describes them, are being released a couple of weeks after a British newspaper reported that the Japanese government has quietly resigned itself to the likelihood that the Tokyo Olympics won’t happen. They also follow a poll in Japan that found 80 per cent of respondents think the July 23-Aug. 8 Games should be cancelled or postponed again.

Separate Playbooks will soon be released for athletes, officials, broadcasters and other media, but the rollout began today with the one for “international federations.” This mostly means the world governing bodies that oversee different sports and are responsible for putting together the competitions at the Olympics. World Athletics, for example, organizes all the track and field events you’ll see in Tokyo. But we can assume that many of the guidelines in this document will end up applying to athletes and anyone else going to the Games.

As a public service to you, I read the whole thing. It’s long on colourful graphics and common-sense health and safety measures and short on details. We still don’t know, for example, whether spectators will be allowed. But the IOC says the Playbooks will be living documents, updated as the global COVID-19 situation evolves.

Three things that stood out in the first Playbook:

There’s no mandatory quarantine period before travelling to Japan, or upon arrival. Instead, everyone is being asked to “monitor” their health daily for the two weeks prior to their trip, report the results (including body temperature) in an app, and show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their flight.

It’s unclear how often people will be tested once they arrive. The Playbook only says that “you will be tested for COVID-19 regularly during the Games depending on the nature of your role.” Also, body temperatures will be checked at the entrances to venues.

Vaccination is not required. Who should get the vaccine and when is a hot-button issue at the moment, and the IOC is cannily staying in the middle of the road. The official line is printed in the Playbook: “The IOC continues to strongly support the priority of vaccinating vulnerable groups, nurses, medical doctors and everyone who is keeping our societies safe. When vaccinations are made available to a broader public, the IOC calls for Olympic and Paralympic teams to be vaccinated.” For now, though, this is only a request. “You will not be required to have received a vaccine in order to participate in the Games,” the document reads. Then comes this disclaimer on the final page: “… you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games at your own risk.” Read more about the Playbooks and what’s next for the Tokyo Olympics here.

With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37

Quickly…

The National Women’s Hockey League “suspended” its season. Even though two of the NWHL’s six teams had already dropped out of the league’s Lake Placid hub due to coronavirus issues, the remaining four were set to play in the Isobel Cup semifinals tomorrow. But the NWHL announced today on Twitter that the league and local officials have agreed “due to new positive COVID-19 tests and the resulting safety concerns for the players, their respective staff & the community that the remainder of the 2021 NWHL Season in Lake Placid have been suspended.” It’s a big blow for the league, which had a deal with the NBC Sports Network to broadcast the semis and Friday’s final live. At our publish time, it was unclear whether an attempt would be made to complete the playoffs at some point. Read the latest here.

St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong is in charge of Canada’s next Olympic men’s hockey team. With the stipulation “if NHL players are able to participate,” Hockey Canada named Armstrong GM of the men’s team for the Beijing Games. Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland was appointed the associate GM, and the assistant GMs are Ron Francis (GM of the expansion Seattle Kraken), Don Sweeney (GM of the Boston Bruins) and Roberto Luongo (an advisor to the Florida Panthers’ GM). Luongo, who retired from playing two years ago, will be in charge of “goaltender evaluation.” The NHL skipped the previous Olympics, in 2018, but is expected to participate in 2022 after the league and the players’ association agreed to work toward it as part of their new collective bargaining agreement. A deal with the International Olympic Committee and hockey’s world governing body must still be made. Read more about Canada’s men’s hockey management team here. And read about how Canada’s curlers and hockey players hope to rebound from their disappointing 2018 Olympic results here.

Fred VanVleet scored a Raptors-record 54 points last night. That broke the old mark of 52 set by DeMar DeRozan in an overtime win over Milwaukee three years ago. VanVleet didn’t need OT, just a hot hand that saw him drain 11 of his 14 three-point attempts, 17 of his 23 shots  from the field overall and 9 of 9 free throws in a 123-108 win at Orlando. Besides the Raptors record, VanVleet set a new single-game high for anyone who wasn’t picked in the NBA draft. Previous record holder Moses Malone, who was drafted out of high school by the ABA and joined the NBA when the leagues merged, scored 53 for Houston on Feb. 2, 1982 — exactly 39 years before VanVleet’s big night. Read more about it here.

All of tomorrow’s Australian Open tuneup matches were cancelled. A worker at a hotel in Melbourne where some 600 players and support staff are quarantining tested positive for the coronavirus. So play was suspended for at least a day at the six warmup events currently taking place ahead of the Feb. 8-21 Grand Slam. Everyone is being tested before organizers decide what to do next. Read more about the potential disruption to the Aussie Open here.

A Canadian diver lost her three Olympic medals — and pretty much everything else she owns — in a condo fire. Meaghan Benfeito was home alone last Thursday evening when a barbecue propane tank exploded on the balcony of the unit directly below hers. She got out safely, but not before the third-floor unit she shared with her CFL-player boyfriend Alexandre Dupuis burned to the ground. Among the possessions lost were the three bronze medals Benfeito won in 10-metre diving events at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. The IOC will eventually replace those, and a GoFundMe page set up by one of Benfeito’s former teammates has already raised more than $ 31,000 for her and Dupuis. But the couple is still coming to grips with this life-changing event. Read more about the fire and how Benfeito is coping with it in this story by CBC Sports’ Doug Harrison.

Mikael Kingsbury is back. The 2018 Lou Marsh Trophy winner will make his season debut at Thursday’s World Cup moguls competition in Utah. Kingsbury missed the first two events after fracturing two vertebrae while training in November. But the reigning Olympic and world champion is now recovered and ready to add to his record 63 career moguls and dual moguls World Cup wins. Read more about Kingsbury’s comeback here and watch him compete live Thursday at 4 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

And finally…

Tyler Toffoli is killing the Canucks. It’s bad enough that he leads the NHL with nine goals after Vancouver allowed him to leave for Montreal in free agency last fall. But eight of those have come against the Canucks — including a pair in last night’s 5-3 Habs win. Toffoli is the first player in the NHL’s expansion era to score at least eight goals against a team he played for during the previous season. And he’s done it in only five games, with four Montreal-Vancouver matchups still to come this season.

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Canada might face the Dream Team at the Tokyo Olympics

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Canada could face the Dream Team in Tokyo

The draws for the Olympic basketball tournaments took place today and the NBA-star-studded U.S. men’s team landed in a group with France, Iran and the winner of this summer’s last-chance qualifier in Victoria. That’s the one Canada is in. So winning the event will not only clinch the Canadian men’s squad its first Olympic berth in more than two decades, but also its first-ever Olympic showdown with America’s best players.

The NBA started participating in the Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona, where Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley headlined the original (and still greatest) Dream Team. But the Canadian men’s squad has reached the Olympics only once since then — in 2000 in Sydney. Future NBA MVP Steve Nash led Canada to a first-place finish in a group that did not include the U.S., and they didn’t cross paths in the knockout round either. Canada fell in the quarter-finals to France, which went on to lose to the Americans in the gold-medal game. Vince Carter (at the peak of his powers that summer — just ask Frederic Weis) co-led the U.S. with 13 points in the final.

In order to earn a date with the Americans — which would happen on July 31 — Canada must first get out of Victoria. The June 29-July 4 qualifier has six teams in it, and only the winner gets to go to Tokyo. One of the countries Canada has to beat is Greece, which could be led by two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo — if his Milwaukee Bucks are eliminated from the playoffs in time.

And, of course, all this comes with the caveat that some NBA stars (not to mention the teams that pay them millions of dollars a year) might not be too keen on the idea of travelling to Japan after a long, compressed season… during a global pandemic. So this could be the softest Dream Team in quite some time, though other countries could lose NBA players too.

The Olympic women’s draw was also held today. Canada, which has already qualified for the third straight time, avoided the mighty U.S., which is heavily favoured to win its seventh straight gold. But the fourth-ranked Canadians still drew a tough-looking group that also includes No. 3 Spain, No. 8 Serbia and No. 19 South Korea.

Both the women’s and men’s tournament are made up of three groups of four teams. The top two from each group advance to the knockout stage, plus the two best third-place teams. Canada hasn’t won an Olympic basketball medal since the Hitler-hosted 1936 Games in Berlin, where a men’s tournament (and only a men’s tournament) was played on an outdoor dirt court.

Read more about the draws for Tokyo here, and read about the “virtual” training camp the Canadian women’s team is holding this week here.

Jevohn Shepherd talks with some of the biggest names in Canadian basketball about how the culture of the sport has changed over the past two decades, and if this is only the beginning of developing NBA stars. 7:18

Bianca Andreescu delayed her comeback again

She was supposed to play her first match in 15 months at the Grampians Trophy — one of the Australian Open warmup events happening in Melbourne. Andreescu was seeded No. 1, which entitled her to a first-round bye. After that, she was scheduled to meet the winner of a match between former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and Canadian teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez. But Andreescu pulled out last night, saying in a statement that she and her “team” have “decided to focus this week on training for the Australian Open,” which starts Monday.

It’s a curious move, considering Andreescu has said she’s fully recovered from the knee and foot injuries that have contributed to her being sidelined since October 2019. She indicated in an interview a few months ago that it was more than just physical issues that kept her off the court, saying “the virus kind of pushed me back, and some little personal things here and there.” But she described herself at the time as “perfectly healthy” and said she’d “100 per cent” be at the Australian Open.

The trip has been a tough one, though. Andreescu was among the 72 players forced to endure a two-week, solitary quarantine in their hotel rooms after arriving on one of three contaminated charter flights. Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in Melbourne on one of those planes. He said the rest of his “team” tested negative, and there has been no indication that Andreescu tested positive. Read more about her withdrawal from the Aussie Open tuneup here.

Quickly…

The baseball season will be normal. That’s a relative term these days, but the players’ association rejected the owners’ interesting proposal for a modified season that would see spring training pushed back from Feb. 17 to March 22, opening day from April 1 to April 28, and each team’s schedule cut from 162 games to 154. The offer also included expanding the playoffs from 10 teams to 14, extending the DH to the National League and putting a runner on second base to start extra innings, which was first tried last year. Plus, this fun wrinkle: the higher-seeded teams involved in the first round of the playoffs would get to pick their opponents — and the choices would be announced on a television show. But, in classic baseball fashion, the offer was swiftly rejected. So we’re back to the old 162-game season, starting around the usual time. Read more about the rebuffed proposal here.

The National Women’s Hockey League lost another team. Last week, the Metropolitan Riveters dropped out of the NWHL hub in Lake Placid, N.Y., after several team members tested positive for the coronavirus. Now the Connecticut Whale have bailed for reasons unstated, leaving only four teams. They all advance to Thursday’s semifinals, which pit the top-seeded Toronto Six vs. the Buffalo Beauts, and the Boston Bride vs. the Minnesota Whitecaps. The winners of those games play for the Isobel Cup on Friday.

And finally…

A defenceman who almost never scores beat one of the NHL’s best goalies — from the far blue-line. Calgary’s Chris Tanev racked up exactly two goals in each of the past four seasons. Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy last year. So, naturally, Tanev put one past him from about 115 feet away last night:


Watch a better video of the blooper and read more about the game here.

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$1 billion in TV money is what ensures the Tokyo Olympics will happen

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In December, a football game between the University of Michigan and its biggest rival, Ohio State, was cancelled after a coronavirus outbreak on Michigan’s team. If you can’t conceive how big that decision was, imagine Real Madrid and Barcelona calling off El Clásico, or pulling the plug on a gold-medal women’s hockey game between the U.S. and Canada.

Or consider that cancelling the game cost Fox, the game’s broadcaster, a reported $ 18.5 million US in ad revenue.

Now contrast that with the NFL’s insistence on continuing with a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers even though COVID-19 outbreaks among the Ravens had already triggered a string of postponements. The six-day delay led to a rare NFL game on network TV on a Wednesday afternoon, but salvaging the matchup made financial sense. Cancelling could have cost NBC an estimated $ 71 million in ad sales.

If you’re a big fan of the Summer Olympics, concerned they won’t take place this July, rest easy. The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to collect a reported $ 1 billion in broadcast rights fees tied to this summer’s event (the CBC holds the Canadian broadcast rights), and tied to that sum is a long list of broadcasters eager to recoup that money through ad sales or streaming app subscriptions.

Cancelling or delaying Tokyo 2020 again might make sense while we grapple with a global pandemic, but staging the Games makes too many dollars for too many people to consider anything else. So, if you’re worried the Olympics will press ahead during a public health emergency, you should decide whether you’ll object on ethical grounds, or watch despite reservations.

I’ll join that second group, following the Olympic Games with feelings as mixed as the messaging pro sports are sending about their commitment to COVID-19 safety.

Consider the NBA, which set the gold standard last summer, setting up a secure campus on a Disney resort, and conducting a post-season free of outbreaks. For the current season, every team except the Raptors returned to its home market and resumed a normal, if shortened, schedule of home and road games.

Predictably, infections have followed. The Washington Wizards paused activities for more than nine days after an outbreak within the team. Earlier this month Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns, whose mother is among six relatives to die from COVID-19, tested positive. He hasn’t played since Jan. 13.

WATCH | Bring It In: Remembering Kobe and Gianna Bryant:

Host Morgan Campbell speaks with Meghan McPeak and Dave Zirin, as they examine the legacy and impact of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, on the one-year anniversary of their tragic passing. 6:36

Yet the league still wants to host its all-star weekend in Atlanta in March, even though it means more travel when most experts are telling us to limit our movement. We can’t expect the NBA to seal all its players inside a COVID-free bubble from its tip-off in December until the playoffs end in July, and we knew proceeding with a season entailed risk. But we can also recognize that, even by pro sports standards, all-star games aren’t essential and that the league’s best players would benefit more from a weekend off work than from a detour that could expose them to the virus.

And look at Arizona, where COVID-19 case counts are swelling, and where officials in cities with MLB team complexes want the league to delay spring training until the number of new infections recedes. Except MLB and its players’ union can’t make that decision until they haggle over it. Part of the problem, according to published reports, is that delaying spring training pushes back opening day, which could cause the World Series to bleed into mid-November, which might displease the league’s broadcast partners.

A non-baseball fan could simply conclude that, when balanced against a public health emergency, a delayed baseball season barely qualifies as an inconvenience. But MLB is the same outfit that pulled Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner from the field late in the final game of the World Series over a positive COVID-19 test, then did nothing after he returned to the diamond to celebrate with his teammates, maskless and maybe contagious.

Or we could return to the University of Michigan, where first-year track standout Ziyah Holman erased her team’s 25-metre deficit in the final leg of a 4×400-metre relay, passing two runners to seal a Michigan victory. For the track aficionados, Holman ran her split in 51.79 seconds, the fastest segment of any runner on any team competing. And for everyone else, the feat went viral, giving track and field a rare moment in the mainstream sports spotlight.


The Olympic Stadium is pictured as a man wearing a face mask takes a photograph of the Tokyo skyline from the Shibuya Scramble Square viewing area. Recent surveys by Kyodo News and Tokyo Broadcasting System found that over 80 per cent of people in Japan who were questioned believe the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled or postponed or that the Olympics will not take place. (Getty Images)

Virus is relentless and versatile

A week later, the school announced a two-week moratorium on sports after a COVID-19 outbreak within its athletic program. The case count included a variant of the virus, which has been spreading in the community beyond the campus.

The dilemma in Ann Arbor tells us the novel coronavirus possesses traits coaches treasure in athletes.

It’s relentless, spreading in all but the most controlled environments, ripping through communities where COVID-fatigued people are relaxing their defences.

It’s versatile, with enough new variants to keep drug companies adjusting vaccines.

And it’s opportunistic, mutating into new varieties because unchecked spread gave it a chance to.

The more people infected, the more likely that we will see new variants.– Dr. Michel Nussenzweig

“The more people infected, the more likely that we will see new variants,” Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York, told the New York Times. “If we give the virus a chance to do its worst, it will.”

Wrestling the pandemic into submission in time for a relatively safe Summer Games is less about billions of us producing Holman-type heroics, than about governments providing something else coaches love.

An effective game plan we can adjust on the fly.

Ontario’s government instituted a province-wide state of emergency, and is urging residents to stay at home. But a stay-at-home strategy likely works better alongside paid sick leave, so essential workers don’t have to choose between spreading a virus and courting financial disaster.

Meanwhile, across Canada where the pandemic has halted cross-border pro sports, just less than two per cent of residents had received a vaccine as of Tuesday morning. That rate trails even the U.S., where ex-President Donald Trump and other Republican officials all but actively sabotaged efforts to fight the virus’ spread.

Anheuser-Busch is on board even if some elected officials aren’t. The brewer opted out of Super Bowl advertising, instead spending that money on a campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccines.

“We are eager to get people back together, reopen restaurants and bars,” said Budweiser’s VP of marketing, Monica Rustgi, in a statement explaining the move. “To bring consumers back into neighbourhood bars and restaurants that were hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic, we’re stepping in to support critical awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

But if an Olympic bubble isn’t feasible, the road to a normal sports landscape, and guilt-free Olympic watching, likely goes through widespread vaccine uptake.

Or we can wait until next year.

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‘Focused on hosting’: Tokyo Olympics, IOC refute report of cancellation

The head of the International Olympic Committee and local organizers are pushing back against reports that the postponed Tokyo Olympics will be cancelled.

Now set to open July 23, the Tokyo Games were postponed 10 months ago at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and now the event appears threatened again.

The Times of London, citing unidentified government sources, reported that the games will have to be cancelled. It quoted an unidentified senior member of the ruling government coalition.

“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” the source said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

In a statement Friday, the local organizing committee did not address directly the Times story, but said the Olympics were going forward and had the support of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] are fully focused on hosting the games this summer,” the statement said.

“We hope that daily life can return to normal as soon as possible, and we will continue to make every effort to prepare for a safe and secure games.”

Following the initial Times report, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker said the organization was unaware of any decisions made by the Japanese government.

The committee “has confidence that the Games can be staged safely and successfully given what has been learned in sport over the last several months and the emphasis the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have placed on COVID-19 countermeasures,” Shoemaker wrote on Twitter.

The Canadian Paralympic Committee added in a statement it has not received any official word from the IPC about the Tokyo Games. 

“At this time, we continue to plan for the Paralympic Games this summer with a focus on the health and safety of the entire Canadian team,” it said. 

The Times said Japan hoped to land the 2032 Olympics. The IOC has already awarded the 2024 Olympics to Paris and the 2028 version to Los Angeles.

The idea of Tokyo waiting a decade seems unlikely, given the cost of maintaining venues, negotiating new leases, and so forth. Tokyo has already spent about $ 25 billion US to organize these Olympics, most of which is public money.


Several reports of a cancellation began to surface this month when the Japanese government put Tokyo and other prefectures under a state of emergency order to counter a surge of rising COVID-19 cases.

“We have at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo,” IOC president Thomas Bach told the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Thursday. He also said there is “no Plan B.”

Senior International Olympic Committee member Richard Pound said earlier in the week that the Olympics may be held largely without fans, making it a mostly television event.

The Switzerland-based IOC gets 73 per cent of its income from selling broadcast rights and has seen its main revenue source stalled by the Olympic postponement. A largely TV-only event would suit the IOC better than a cancellation.

‘Sacrifices will be needed’

Unlike other sports businesses that offer hundreds of games, the IOC has only two main events to sell — the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Bach hinted that radical changes may be needed to pull off the Tokyo Olympics, which involve 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches, officials, judges, VIPS, media and broadcasters.

About 4,400 athletes will attend the Paralympics, which are set to open Aug. 24.

“You may not like it but sacrifices will be needed, ” Bach said. “This is why I’m saying, safety first, and no taboo in the discussion to ensure safety.”

WATCH | Olympian DeBues-Stafford talks importance of vaccines:

Jacqueline Doorey speaks with Canadian middle distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, how it can affect the Olympics, and whether athletes deserve to cut the line. 5:51

Japan has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths from the coronavirus and has handled the virus better than most countries. But the surge is not tapering off in Tokyo, a sprawling metropolitan area of 35 million.

Public opinion in Japan has also turned against the games with 80 per cent in several polls saying they should be postponed again or cancelled.

Bach said organizers were in a better position to hold the Olympics now than they were 10 months ago when the games were postponed.

“First of all, let me be clear that you cannot compare March 2021 with March 2020 because there is such great progress in science, medicine, vaccination and [virus] tests,” Bach told Kyodo. “All this was not available in March last year. Nobody knew yet how really to deal with the pandemic, and now we know much more.”

Japan is experiencing a slow roll out of vaccines. However, the IOC has said its measures against the virus will focus on testing, quarantines, social distancing and keeping athletes largely isolated.

It has encouraged athletes to be vaccinated but will not require it.

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COVID-19 cases rise just months ahead of Olympics, Tokyo residents at odds with whether Games should proceed

Fifty-seven years ago, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics signified the rebirth of a nation that had risen from the ashes of the Second World War. Those Games helped launch the beginning of an extended expansion that turned Japan into an economic superpower. 

But with the rescheduled 2020 Games set to begin July 23, the story is much different. The contrast is ironic.

“Most people are against it because of coronavirus issues, restrictions, costs in economic downturn, etc. If no COVID-19, then the majority would be for it,” said Robert Whiting, a Tokyo resident and an author and journalist who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture. 

Back in the early 1960s, most Japanese were initially opposed to hosting the Olympics, but ultimately came to cherish the symbolism of the event.

More than a half-century later, the population appeared ready to back staging the Summer Games again, only to have a pandemic derail the event and flip public opinion in the process.

“When Japan won the bid in 1959 most people were against the idea,” said Whiting, who in 2018 published “The Two Tokyo Olympics 1964/2020.” “The cost was too high and Tokyo had a lot of problems.”

Whiting noted a litany of issues that organizers were confronted with ahead of Japan’s first Olympics as the host nation.

“There was only one five-star hotel — the Imperial — which was falling into disrepair, no highway system, you couldn’t drink the tap water and only one fourth of structures in the city had flush toilets,” Whiting said. “But the city put up eight new expressways, two subway lines, five new five-star hotels, a monorail to and from Haneda Airport and a bullet train.”

The transformation of Tokyo in five years was nothing short of phenomenal.


An elevated expressway was built in the Akasaka-mitsuke area of Tokyo in preparation for the 1964 Olympics. (Getty Images)

1964 a ‘huge success’

“Life Magazine called it the ‘best Olympics ever’ [at the time] and the Games were a tremendous source of pride for Japanese, symbolized their re-entry into the global community after defeat in war,” Whiting said. “It was a huge success.”

In the leadup to the 2020 Games, most polls showed a majority of Japanese were in favour of hosting another Summer Olympics, but once the COVID-19 crisis began and persisted, the pendulum began to swing the other way.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, the same day the city reported a record of 2,447 new cases of COVID-19. Japan has attributed over 3,500 deaths to COVID-19, relatively low for a country of 126 million.

But two polls in recent months illustrated the sentiments as the rescheduled Games draw closer. Sixty per cent of those who responded to an Asahi TV poll in November wanted the extravaganza postponed or cancelled outright, while a Kyodo News poll in July found that just 24 per cent supported holding the Olympics as scheduled.

The ever-increasing cost of staging the Games has soured many and made the athletic part of the Olympics almost an afterthought.

I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held.– Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, Olympic gymnastics gold medallist

Japan’s National Audit Board released a report in December that estimated costs for the 2020 Olympics would run to $ 28 billion, with only $ 5.6 billion coming from private funds. 

“I don’t believe this is an efficient use of taxpayer money,” said Sanae Tanaka, a Tokyo resident. “This could be spent in more useful ways. Do we really need to use it for the Olympics?”

“I am worried about holding the Tokyo Olympics in this situation,” added Yuriko Komiyama. “I wonder if the situation will get better before next summer.”

The negativity that has begun to envelop talk of the Games has even trickled down to the athletes. In a recent interview, gymnastics legend Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in the men’s all-around discipline and a six-time world champion in the event, cited his concerns.


The opening ceremony of the 1964 Olympics. (AFP via Getty Images)


International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach (centre) wears a face mask as he visits the National Stadium in November. The venue is scheduled to host the opening ceremony on July 23. (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Caution and safety

“I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held,” Uchimura said. “I would like everyone to think, ‘What can I do?’ and change their mindset in that direction. I know it is very difficult, but I wonder if the athletes will be able to perform unless they have the same feelings.”

Two-time Olympic figure skater (1976, 1980) and TV personality Emi Watanabe thinks caution and safety should be prioritized with regard to the Games.

“I know the pandemic has changed training schedules and many athletes in the world are suffering because they are not able to practice because of lockdowns,” Watanabe said. “We all have to sacrifice what is best for the human race rather than rush to hold the Olympics until COVID-19 disappears from our planet. I think it should wait until the world is a safe place again.” 

The Tokyo-based anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai, which participated in a protest during a visit by IOC president Thomas Bach to Japan in November, made its feelings known in written responses to a series of questions submitted to them.

Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.– Anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai

“Our mission is to stop the Tokyo Olympics and have the Olympics abolished,” the group, which was formed in 2013, wrote. “The IOC and Tokyo Olympics organizers have never tried to meet with us.”

Hangorin No Kai indicated that the overwhelming majority of the public they have conversed with are concerned about long-term issues and how hosting the Olympics will impact society.

“Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.”

When asked if their views would be different if the Olympics and surrounding costs were entirely privately financed, the group didn’t hold back.


A Tokyo streetscape in 1964 heralds the Games. (Getty Images)


A large screen shows Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday as he declares a state of emergency in Tokyo because of rising cases of COVID-19. (AFP via Getty Images)

Novelty worn off

“We have already lost public spaces and services, including the privatization of public parks due to privatization for the Olympics,” Hangorin No Kai said. “At present, the promotion of the Olympics has even invaded public education and has caused great damage like brainwashing and mobilizing students to support the Olympics. In addition to these, there is concern that the privatization of public education will be accelerated if the event is held with private investment.”

Whiting believes the novelty of hosting the Olympics, which the country has done three times previously (Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, Nagano 1998), had worn off for the Japanese ahead of the Tokyo 2020 bid.

“Now, people are more blasé. Been there, done that,” Whiting said. “Many think the Games are too expensive and money should have been spent on the March 11, 2001, [earthquake and tsunami] recovery. Businesses were against it.”


Robert Whiting is the author of A Tale of Two Olympics, a comparison of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo and the Games scheduled for this summer. (Courtesy Robert Whiting)

Whiting pointed out that despite several missteps early on, most people did support hosting the Games again after the bid was secured.

“When Japan won the bid in Buenos Aires [in 2013] attitudes began to change,” Whiting said. “People got behind it despite embarrassments like the flawed National Stadium design, vote-buying scandal, plagiarized logo, e-coli in Tokyo Bay, where water events were to be held, and holding the Games in the brutal summer heat. The 1964 Games were held in October because the [Japan Olympic Committee] said summer was too hot.”

Japan-Forward.com sportswriter Ed Odeven, who has lived in the country for 14 years and covered multiple Olympics, believes there is still hope for the 2020 Games.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all opinion about the likelihood of Japan staging the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” Odeven said. “Plenty of people have doubts, but many observers within Japan can point to the successful completion of the Nippon Professional Baseball season, with gradual increases in maximum spectator capacity up to 50 per cent of venue capacity by season’s end.

“Other pro sports circuits, including soccer’s J. League and basketball’s B. League, and big competitions such as multiple Grand Sumo Tournaments have also adjusted to playing during the global pandemic, adhering to government health experts’ advice,” Odeven said. “This includes frequent COVID-19 testing for athletes, social distancing for fans in the overall seating setup and face masks for venue workers, media and fans.”


Olympic super-fan Kyoko Ishikawa in front of the National Stadium. The Tokyo resident has attended every Summer Olympics in the past 30 years and doesn’t plan on missing out on a Games in her home city in 2021. (AFP via Getty Images)

Odeven cited the recent approval of vaccines as being significant. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine now starting to be administered could reduce fears about international travel to Japan for the Olympics if the efforts show a significant reduction in coronavirus cases,” Odeven said. “And that viewpoint would spread considerably among Tokyo 2020 organizers, athletes, coaches, etc. if other nations can demonstrate that the vaccine is working.

“People don’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic about anything set for next summer,” Odeven said. “Everyone is just eager for [the pandemic] to end and for the massive impact of the pandemic on their lives — and all of the disruptions to normal routines — to go away as soon as possible.”

Odeven thinks the vaccines are the silver bullet that could restore faith in holding a massive sporting event in one of the biggest cities in the world in the wake of a pandemic.

“The vaccines are the real litmus test,” Odeven said. “If they can make a real impact in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus around the world, I think people’s expectations about the Olympics will rise.”

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