The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan reiterated on Friday their commitment to hosting the Tokyo Olympics this year and denied a report of a possible cancellation.
"Some news reports circulating today are claiming that the Government of Japan has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. This is categorically untrue," said the Japanese government in the statement.
"At an IOC Executive Board meeting in July last year, it was agreed that the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 would be held on July 23 this year, and the program and venues for the Games were rescheduled accordingly. All parties involved are working together to prepare for a successful Games this summer.
"We will be implementing all possible countermeasures against COVID-19 and will continue to work closely with the IOC, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in our preparations for holding a safe and secure Games this summer."
The IOC said "together with its Japanese partners and friends, the IOC is fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year."
Just about everybody, especially the organizers in Japan and Switzerland, want the Tokyo Olympics to open on July 23 — as scheduled.
And yet, 2021 is starting on a similar path that led to the decision last March to postpone the games for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee moved quickly Friday to dismiss a report by The Times of London that quoted an anonymous government official claiming it has been concluded the games will be canceled.
“Categorically untrue,” Japan’s government said in a statement endorsed by the IOC.
The same unidentified government official said Tokyo could instead host in 2032, after Paris and Los Angeles take their turns in 2024 and 2028, respectively.
It follows surveys suggesting Japanese people feel less and less enthusiastic about an Olympics already costing the host nation about $25 billion of mostly public money.
When will the Tokyo Olympics be held, if at all?
Speculation was fueled this month when Japan’s government put Tokyo under a state of emergency order to curb a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The virus is resistant to being brought under control worldwide. Its future path is uncertain as more transmissible mutant strains emerge.
Vaccination programs have been slower than hoped for in some wealthier countries that secured significant numbers of doses.
If an unwanted cancellation decision must be made, it should be led by Japanese authorities. The United Nations could be asked to help, a veteran IOC official suggested this month.
If clarity is needed soon, with more than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes due to compete in Tokyo, March has key dates in the Olympic calendar.
The IOC has meetings scheduled March 7-12 in Athens, Greece, if such gatherings are possible. The full membership is set to re-elect Thomas Bach unopposed for a second presidential term.
On March 25, the torch relay is due to start in Japan. It will involve 10,000 runners across the country.
The postponement last March was announced two days before the torch relay was to start.
It’s this year or never: So runs the consistent message out of Tokyo and the IOC’s home city of Lausanne, Switzerland.
“There is no Plan B,” Bach told the Japanese news agency Kyodo on Thursday.
However, he also insisted last year there would be no postponement, and it soon became inevitable.
For the games to go ahead as planned, the travel, quarantine and safe conduct rules will be strict. These would apply also to any fans allowed to enter venues.
Organizers plan to publish within weeks “Playbooks” that “outline the personal responsibilities each person attending the games must follow,” the International Paralympic Committee said Friday. The Tokyo Paralympics start Aug. 24.
There was support last year in Japan for a two-year postponement direct to 2022.
One factor tempts some to think 2022 is open: There is no soccer World Cup in its usual June-July slot.
The other global sports behemoth was moved in 2015 by FIFA to play in Qatar from Nov. 21-Dec. 18 next year.
Postponing again would inconvenience two key Olympic sports that already moved their 2021 world championships to make space for Tokyo.
The swimming worlds are now in May 2022 in Fukuoka, Japan. Track and field’s worlds are now in July 2022 at Eugene, Oregon.
A bigger barrier to this option is the extra costs and fatigue in Japan of extending contracts for one more year. For staff, venue rentals, hotels and, crucially, the athlete village.
Owners of pre-sold apartments in the 5,600-unit complex are already being compensated for waiting one more year to access their property.
The next available slot in the four-year Summer Games cycle is 2032, after Paris and Los Angeles.
Could Tokyo be offered it to cancel this year and re-start in several years’ time? That would upset would-be hosts already talking to the IOC.
An Australian bid centered on Brisbane is a front-runner in a new process that aims to be more pro-active and cut costs. The is promoted by Australian Olympic official John Coates, a key Bach ally.
Financial implications for Olympic stakeholders of canceling Tokyo are huge though likely not crippling.
The IOC earned $5.7 billion in the four years to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and would have expected more from Tokyo.
Broadcast and sponsor deals are at risk, though the IOC has strong relationships with long-term commercial partners.
The most consequential deal, NBC’s broadcast rights in the United States, is worth $7.75 billion through the 2032 Summer Games.
The IOC was insured against a cancellation in 2020 but that policy did not cover a postponement.
It does have substantial reserves, including an Olympic Foundation portfolio worth $989 million according to the published accounts for 2019. The fund’s purpose includes “to cover the IOC’s operating cash requirements in the event of a cancellation of any future Olympic Games.”
The IOC is due to share about $600 million among 27 sports as their share of its Tokyo Olympics revenue.
Canceling Tokyo is a big hit for some of those governing bodies, though most have their own reserves. They also had access to loans from the IOC and government of Switzerland, where most are based.
The National Sports Council (NSC) has decided to rename the National Tennis Complex at Ramna after Bangabandhu’s son Lt Sheikh Jamal.
It will be called ‘Lieutenant Sheikh Jamal National Tennis Complex’ from now on, according to a handout from the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
NSC Chairman and State Minister for Youth and Sports Zahid Ahsan Russel said each family member of Bangabandhu was a light bearer in the sports arena.
“Sheikh Jamal himself was a tennis player and a pioneer of sports. To commemorate his martyrdom and contribution to the nation's sports we decided to name the tennis complex after him,” he said.
The tennis complex has eight new courts with floodlights, a gymnasium, and media centre with residential facility. Necessary reform, renovation and revamping of other buildings have been completed.
Three-day Bangabandhu 44th National Athletics Championship, arranged on the occasion of the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, concluded on Sunday at the Bangabandu National Stadium here, featuring two new national records.
President of Bangladesh Athletics Federation and Chairman of National River Conservation Commission ASM Ali Kabir declared the meet closed at a simple ceremony in the afternoon.
Bangladesh Navy clinched the top slot in the three- day meet securing 21 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze medals, Bangladesh Army finished 2nd collecting 13 gold, 20 silver and nine bronzes while Bangladesh Ansar & VDP became distant 3rd with one gold and five bronze medals.
Zahir Raihan and Shirin Akhter of Bangladesh Navy secured four gold medals each.
Later, Zahir Raihan of Bangladesh Navy was adjudged the best male athlete while Ritu Biwas of Bangladesh Army named the best female athlete of the national meet.
SM Sarafat Hossain of Sheikh Sarafat Academy of Jashore, was named as the best organiser.
The meet featured two new national records.
Ritu Akhter of Bangladesh Army made the meet's first new national record in the women's high jump on Friday, jumping a height of 1.70 meters to better previous national mark of 1.68 meters, made by Umme Hafsa Rumki of Bangladesh Jail in 2019.
Rinki Biwas of Bangladesh Navy made the meet's 2nd national record on Saturday in the women's 3000-meter run with a timing of 10:44.30 minutes to batter the 17 years old event's record of 11:08.15 minutes made by Halima Khutun Bithi in 2003.
Earlier on the first day (Friday), Ismail Hossain and Shirin Akhter retaining the country's fastet man and woman crown by winning their respective 100-meter sprints titles.
M Ismail Hossain of Bangladesh Navy retained the country's fastest man crown with a timing of 10.55 seconds while Shirin Akhter, also from Navy, clinched the fastest woman crown for the eleven times in a row in the national & summer athletics with a timing of 11.80 seconds.
Some 438 male and female athletes from 34 districts and divisions, four universities, one education board and 45 organizations including Bangladesh Army, Navy, Air Force and Ansar & VDP competing in 36 events-- 22 for the mens and 14 for the women's.
A further 25 tennis players were forced into quarantine in Australia ahead of the season's first tennis major after another positive coronavirus test on a charter flight, taking the total number of competitors isolating in hotel rooms to 72 on Sunday.
The positive test came from a passenger who was not a member of the playing contingent, Australian Open organizers said. But all 58 passengers, including the 25 players on the flight from Doha, Qatar that arrived in Melbourne on Saturday, now cannot leave their hotel rooms for two weeks.
Organizers had previously announced that 47 players had to quarantine after four COVID-19 cases emerged from two other charter flights bringing players, staff, officials and media to Australia.
Some players have expressed anger at being classified as close contacts merely for being on board those flights with people who later tested positive and, therefore, forced into a harsher quarantine than the broader group of players who’ll be allowed out of their rooms to practice for up to five hours per day.
But local health authorities have said all players were warned of the risks in advance. And any players considering bending the rules have been warned. Breach quarantine regulations and there’s the prospect of heavy fines or being moved to a more secure quarantine complex with police stationed at their doors.
Three cases were announced Saturday and Victoria state’s COVID-19 quarantine commissioner Emma Cassar told a news conference on Sunday that there’d been a fourth positive test involving a person flying in for the Australian Open. So far, none has involved a player.
Three cases emerged from the flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, officials said, including a member of the air crew, a coach and the latest being a member of the TV broadcasting team. The other case was a coach who took the charter flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne.
All four had tested negative before boarding their flights to Australia. All four have now been transferred to a health hotel.
Sylvain Bruneau, who coaches 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, posted on social media to say he was on the flight from Abu Dhabi and had tested positive.
Two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka and the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori were reported to be on the flight from Los Angeles. All passengers from both of those flights are in hard lockdown.
Cassar, who is also in charge of the state’s prisons, said there’d been cases of people “testing” the quarantine procedures, triggering a warning and a conversation with the state’s police, but no attempts to escape quarantine.
“There’ll be zero tolerance for that behavior,” Cassar said. “This is designed to make people safe. We make no apologies for that.”
Several players in quarantine, including Sorana Cirstea of Romania, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan complained in social media posts that the rules seemed to have changed between what they saw before traveling to Australia and what was being imposed in Melbourne.
Cirstea posted on Twitter: “If they would have told us this rule before I would not play Australia ... I would have stayed home. They told us we would fly at 20% capacity, in sections and we would be a close contact ONLY if my team or cohort tests positive.”
But government officials have rejected those claims.
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“There’s no other way you can consider this. If you’re on a plane 16-24 hours, with air that circulates throughout the plane, you are a close contact,” Cassar said. “This was made very clear and nothing has changed.”
Tennis Australia confirmed there were 24 players on the flight from Los Angeles and 23 on the flight from Abu Dhabi. Those were among 17 charter flights from seven international destinations bringing up to 1,200 players, coaches, staff and officials into Australia for the tournament.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said organizers and players were forewarned there'd be a “significant risk” of restrictions being imposed on players if there were positive COVID-19 cases.
“We did make it very clear in the beginning,” Tiley told Australia’s Nine Network. “Now we have to manage an environment over the next 14 days for those who won’t be able to practice.
“It’s a tough situation. We’ve got to do whatever we can to make it as fair as possible for those players that are in lockdown."
British player Heather Watson said on Twitter that she and others who arrived from Abu Dhabi "are NOT allowed out (of) our rooms.” She posted the notification that she and others who were on the flight received informing them of the quarantine.
Being unable to leave their room would mean the only workouts they'd be able to have would be on exercise equipment left in the rooms of all of the players.
Other players will be allowed to train under strict conditions and with supervision, although those practice sessions in Melbourne had been delayed while health authorities waited to receive all the coronavirus tests.
Five-time Australian Open finalist Andy Murray and American Madison Keys haven't traveled to Australia after testing positive in mandatory pre-flight checks.
Tiley said there were no plans to delay the Australian Open any further — it’s already starting three weeks later than usual — although organizers were reviewing the schedule for the warmup tournaments starting Feb. 1 to find ways to make it easier for those players in strict quarantine to prepare.
Tickets are on sale for the tournament, although the crowd capacity at Melbourne Park will be limited.
Australia's international borders are basically closed to travelers, although there are exemptions in special circumstances. Each of Australia's states and territories has its own border and quarantine rules, and those can change on very short notice.
Victoria state, which has as its capital Melbourne, accounted for 810 of Australia's 909 deaths from COVID-19, most of those during a deadly second wave three months ago which resulted in curfews and lockdowns for the city.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams are among a group of players involved in an exhibition event in Adelaide, South Australia state, on Jan. 29. Those players flew straight to Adelaide to begin their hotel quarantine period. So far, there's been no COVID-19 cases reported from the quarantine in Adelaide.