Canada, Australia pull out of 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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Athletes and sports bodies have become increasingly vocal after restrictions imposed because of coronavirus trashed competition schedules and often made training for the Olympics impossible — and risky. (AFP)
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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike arrives to hold a press conference about COVID-19 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

Canada, Australia pull out of 2020 Tokyo Olympics

  • ‘Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games’
  • Canada highlighted the dangers to the broader community as they became the first team to withdraw from the Olympics and Paralympics

TOKYO: Canada pulled out of the Tokyo Olympics over coronavirus fears as Japan’s prime minister Monday admitted a delay may be “inevitable” and the International Olympic Committee said a decision should come within weeks.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) also said it could not assemble a team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus outbreak and that its athletes should prepare for the Games to be postponed to 2021.

Japanese and Olympic officials had stuck resolutely to the line that the Summer Games will go ahead on time, but criticism from athletes and sports bodies has swelled to a crescendo in recent days.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told parliament that Japan was still committed to a “complete” Games, but added: “If that becomes difficult, in light of considering athletes first, it may become inevitable that we make a decision to postpone.”

It was the second major concession in a matter of hours after the IOC said “the scenario of postponement” was one of the options under consideration, with a final decision due within four weeks.

“Human lives take precedence over everything, including the staging of the Games,” IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in an open letter to athletes after emergency talks.

“Cancellation would not solve any problem and would help nobody,” Bach added. “Therefore it is not on our agenda.”

Athletes and sports bodies have become increasingly vocal after restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 trashed competition schedules and often made training impossible — and risky.

Canada highlighted the dangers to the broader community as they became the first team to withdraw from the Olympics and Paralympics, urging a year’s postponement.

“This is not solely about athlete health — it is about public health,” the Canadian Olympic Committee said.

“With COVID-19 and the associated risks, it is not safe for our athletes, and the health and safety of their families and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training toward these Games.”

Canada’s pull-out came despite the IOC promising to hold “detailed discussions” on the “worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement,” with a decision expected “within the next four weeks.”

AOC Chief Executive Matt Carroll said the AOC’s executive board had made its decision without waiting for advice from the IOC due to changing circumstances with the pandemic in recent days.

“We’ve had to make a call now because of the situation here in Australia and other parts of the world,” Carroll told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

“But the IOC is still working through their final decision-making.”


Champions League ready to resume, at long last

Robert Lewandowski, left, and Bayern Munich during their Marseille friendly ahead of the Champions League last 16 2nd leg against Chelsea. (Files/AFP)
Updated 03 August 2020

Champions League ready to resume, at long last

  • UEFA ‘confident’ no more delays despite virus cases among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla

PARIS: After an enforced hiatus of almost five months, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week in order to clear up the last remaining business in a troubled season.

Both competitions were frozen in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the continent, and while European football’s governing body acted swiftly to move Euro 2020 back a year, for a long time it was unclear how it would manage to complete its two landmark club competitions.
In the end the solution was to set up two mini tournaments bringing all teams together in one place from the quarterfinals onwards, with all ties being decided in one-off matches behind closed doors.
And so the Champions League will move to Lisbon for the “Final Eight” starting on Aug. 12 and ending with the final at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on Aug. 23.
The Europa League, meanwhile, will be played to a conclusion at a series of venues in western Germany, with the last eight beginning on Aug. 10 and the final in Cologne on Aug. 21.
“I believed it from the first moment,” said the UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin recently when asked if he ever doubted it would be possible to play the tournaments to a conclusion. “You should always be optimistic, and if something like this crisis happens, you must have a plan ready. “At the present time, we will be playing matches without spectators until further notice. We will not take any risks.”
There is, though, no question of further changes being made to the formats despite concerns about an increase in Covid-19 cases in and around Lisbon, and more recent worries in Germany about a rise in cases there.
UEFA also recently insisted it was “confident” there would be no more delays despite cases of coronavirus emerging among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla. It is, in any case, now or never.
Indeed, the preliminary round of next season’s Champions League begins next Saturday, the same day Bayern Munich entertain Chelsea and Napoli visit Barcelona in their outstanding last 16 second legs.
Before that, Manchester City defend a 2-1 first-leg lead at home against Real on Friday as Pep Guardiola’s side target Champions League glory on the back of the club’s success at getting a two-year ban from the competition overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The winner of that tie will face Juventus or Lyon in the quarterfinals in Lisbon.
It is the Europa League which is first up, though, with the last 16 being completed on Wednesday and Thursday.
Two ties — Inter Milan against Getafe and Sevilla against Roma — will go ahead as one-off ties in Germany as the first legs were never played.
Six second legs will also be played with the winners heading to Germany for the last eight.
Among the ties to be completed is Manchester United’s against Austrian side LASK, which will be a formality for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team after they won 5-0 in the first leg in March.
Their form since the Premier League resumed in mid-June has been excellent and they have already sealed a place in the 2020-21 Champions League, but now they want to finish this never-ending season with a trophy.
“Now our focus is on the Europa League because this is a really good trophy and we want to win,” Bruno Fernandes told MUTV.
“I came to Manchester to win trophies. We need to play every game to win. If we go into the Europa League and win every game, we know we’ll win the trophy.”
United, Europa League winners in 2017, could yet find themselves facing Premier League rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semifinals in Cologne on Aug. 16 should both teams get there.
Wolves entertain Greek champions Olympiakos on Thursday having drawn 1-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie.
Their campaign started more than a year ago now, with a 2-0 win over Northern Irish side Crusaders in the second qualifying round on July 25, 2019.
Extending it by another couple of weeks would do them no harm.