Connect with us

Sports

Troubled Tokyo Olympics set to open under Covid cloud

Published

on

The most troubled Olympics in modern history finally get under way in Tokyo on Friday, struggling to emerge from the clutches of Covid-19 after a one-year postponement following a build-up marred by scandal and controversy.

Eight years after gold ticker tape rained down as Tokyo celebrated winning the right to stage the Games, Friday’s opening ceremony will take place with the Japanese capital in a state of emergency.

Fears that the global gathering of 11,000 athletes could trigger a colossal super-spreader event have prompted organizers to clamp the Games in a biosecure straitjacket.

Pandemic restrictions mean that for the first time in Olympic history, no domestic or overseas spectators will be allowed to attend the Games.

Athletes, support staff and media are subject to strict Covid-19 protocols, including regular testing and daily health checks.

Sightseeing trips are forbidden, meaning that for the most part, athletes will be prevented from straying outside their accommodation or competition venues.

Public opinion has consistently found a majority of Japanese are against the games, with opinion ranging from weary indifference to outright hostility.

The most recent poll from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found 55 percent of respondents were against holding them this summer.

“I’m losing interest altogether. I feel like I can’t really whole-heartedly welcome the Olympics and I just don’t really feel any joy in it,” Tokyo resident Seira Onuma told AFP.

“I’m even not sure if I will watch the Games on TV.”

Friday’s opening ceremony — traditionally a highlight of any Summer Games with the parade of nations and lighting of the Olympic flame before several thousand athletes — will be drastically pared back.

Fewer than 1,000 dignitaries and officials will be present at the 68,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the traditional extravaganza, which gets under way at 8pm local time (1100 GMT).

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will be chief among the VIPs, along with a smattering of world leaders and senior figures including US First Lady Jill Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, who country will host the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

But in a sign of the antipathy toward the Olympics, several top sponsors including Toyota, Panasonic, Fujitsu and NEC will not be sending executives to the ceremony.

“It is turning into an Olympics that cannot get understanding (from the public) in various ways,” Toyota’s operating officer Jun Nagata said.

Japan’s emperor meanwhile acknowledged the difficulties of laying on the Games in a pandemic, describing it as a “far from easy task” in remarks to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

Naruhito’s remarks came as Tokyo registered a further 1,979 infections on Thursday, the highest figure since a winter surge of the disease.

IOC chief Bach, who for months has batted away calls to postpone or cancel the Games, insists the Olympics can be held safely.

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

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

There are also hefty financial incentives in play. Insiders estimate the IOC would have been on the hook for around $1.5 billion in lost broadcasting revenues if the Games had been canceled.

Olympic organizers meanwhile will be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief as attention finally shifts to sporting action after a turbulent road to the Games.

The build-up has been dogged by scandals ranging from corruption during the bidding process to plagiarism allegations over the design of the Tokyo 2020 logo.

The controversies rumbled up to the eve of the Games, when on Thursday the opening ceremony’s director was sacked for making a joke referencing the Holocaust in a 1998 video.

Back in the sporting arenas, the Games could see a new generation of Olympic stars emerge after a decade dominated by the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps.

In the swimming competition, which gets under way on Saturday, Caeleb Dressel could target seven gold medals.

In track and field, the likes of Norway’s 400 meters hurdler Karsten Warholm and the USA’s Sydney McLaughlin will be among those hoping to emerge as household names.

Both Warholm and McLaughlin have set world records in the 400m hurdles this year.

Gymnastics meanwhile will see Simone Biles attempt to crown her dazzling career by equalling Larisa Latynina’s record of nine Olympic gold medals.

The 24-year-old American gymnast is one of the few returning superstars from the Rio Olympics.

New Olympic sports will also be on display in Tokyo, with surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing and karate all making their bow.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

PSG coach Pochettino must work on weaknesses as stars flop

Published

on

By

Paris Saint-Germain was able to start its superstar attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for the first time on Wednesday in the Champions League.

Instead of fireworks, though, they only produced a big thud as PSG drew 1-1 draw against modest Belgian side Club Brugge.

“Fantomatique” — or “Ghost-like — was the headline in French sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday.

While 2020 champion Bayern Munich and last season’s runner-up Manchester City won and scored freely, PSG’s performance highlighted that the team still has glaring shortcomings despite being able to field three of the world’s best forward.

The fact that Keylor Navas was the busier goalkeeper on the night — and PSG’s best player — should be of concern to coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead of playing much tougher teams in the competition.

“We’ve got a magnificent squad, but we need to find balance,” Pochettino said.

But given PSG’s remarkable summer recruitment drive, Pochettino knows he has little room for error in a season where the Qatari-backed club has been touted by many observers as the favorite to win the Champions League.

Behind the veneer of Messi’s arrival, the reality is that the midfield and defense still look very vulnerable, and allowed a modest side like Brugge to muster 16 shots at goal.

That is alarming considering that City is PSG’s next opponent in the group stage. Pep Guardiola’s side visits Parc des Princes on Sept. 28, giving Pochettino little time to make his team more solid.

PSG has a home game against Lyon in the French league on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to Metz before hosting Montpellier.

Pochettino also has a thorny goalkeeping dilemma to resolve — whether to stick with Navas or start Italy’s European Championship star Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Last season, Navas rescued PSG with outstanding performances against Barcelona and Bayern in the knockout stages before PSG’s limitations were exposed by City in the semifinals.

PSG would likely have lost against Brugge without Navas who, through no fault of his own, now finds himself fighting for the No. 1 jersey. Pochettino sounded evasive when asked after the Brugge game if Donnarumma would play against Lyon.

“Anything’s possible,” Pochettino said. “Decisions will be made game after game with regards to the performances.”

But rotation could also work against Pochettino, for he needs a settled goalie to take command of a brittle defense that was too easily exposed by Brugge.

Even the signing of Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Italian league champion Achraf Hakimi at right back did little to stop the waves of Brugge attacks.

Wijnaldum lost a surprising number of tackles and was not helped by Leandro Paredes, who failed to control a simple pass early on as it rolled under his foot and led to a yellow card as he then fouled a Brugge player breaking through.

Wijnaldum and Paredes were both replaced by Pochettino, whose midfield clearly struggles when Marco Verratti is absent. The Italy star’s ball retention and distribution is superior and takes pressure off his teammates.

With Messi and Neymar up front, PSG also has a forward line that isn’t known for tracking back to defend, which can lead to the midfield getting overrun and the defense being exposed as a result.

Central defenders Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe looked exhausted at the end on Wednesday, as they often did last season when PSG lost eight games and the league title to Lille.

Messi’s positioning on the right of the three-man attack offers little protection to the midfield or to Hakimi, who by nature is a very attacking player and leaves space behind him where the opposition is free to counter.

Continue Reading

Sports

Boateng appeals assault verdict, 1.8 million euros fine

Published

on

By

Germany’s 2014 World Cup winner Jerome Boateng has filed an appeal against his conviction for assault and 1.8 million euros ($2 million) fine, a court official in Munich confirmed Thursday.

A spokesperson for Munich regional court told AFP subsidiary SID that both Boateng’s lawyer and the state prosecutor have contested the verdict.

A week ago, Boateng looked visibly shocked after being found guilty of assaulting and insulting his former partner, the mother of his twin daughters, during a Caribbean holiday in 2018.

The prosecutor had asked the court to give Boateng a suspended 18-month prison sentence and a fine of 1.5 million euros, but the former Bayern Munich defender avoided a custodial sentence when the judge gave his verdict last Thursday.

The 33-year-old Boateng, who left Bayern Munich to sign for French club Lyon at the start of the month and made his debut off the bench last Sunday, denied the allegations.

Continue Reading

Sports

Haaland scores as Dortmund beats Beşiktaş 2-1 away in opener

Published

on

By

Erling Haaland scored again to help Borussia Dortmund to a 2-1 win at Turkish champion Beşiktaş in their Champions League opening game on Wednesday.

The 18-year-old Jude Bellingham was outstanding as he scored the opener and set up Haaland for the Norwegian’s ninth goal in six games across all competitions this season. Haaland scored 10 in eight Champions League games for Dortmund last season.

Beşiktaş made the much better start, roared on by vocal supporters, while the visitors seemed to struggle with the soft playing surface.

Former Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi almost scored in the sixth minute when he drew a good save from Gregor Kobel.

It took 17 minutes before the visitors first showed a threatening sign, but the move between Marco Reus, Julian Brandt and Haaland lacked precision and broke down.

Bellingham scored three minutes later when he took Thomas Meunier’s cross on his chest before firing the ball through goalkeeper Ersin Destanoğlu’s legs.

From then on it was all Dortmund, though the visitors had to wait before Bellingham set up Haaland for the second just before the break. The England midfielder moved past a defender by switching the ball from his right foot to his left before he picked out Haaland for an easy finish.

Destanoğlu stopped a central shot from Bellingham early in the second half, before Kobel did well to deny Batshuayi again at the other end.

Dortmund coach Marco Rose made three substitutions at once with 20 minutes remaining, with Bellingham among those to go off, before Destanoğlu saved another good chance from Haaland.

Ansgar Knauff came on for Haaland with five minutes of normal time remaining and grazed the crossbar in injury time.

Francisco Montero scored Beşiktaş’ consolation goal in the fourth minute of injury time with a header off Miralem Pjanic’s free kick.

Continue Reading

Trending