Fate of Olympic torch relay in balance as virus worsens

The torches for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are manufactured at a factory in Tokyo in this photo taken on Jan, 31 and released by Kyodo on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 March 2020

Fate of Olympic torch relay in balance as virus worsens

TOKYO: The Olympic torch relay, due to begin Thursday from a symbolic site in Fukushima, will proceed as scheduled but organizers said they would reassess in the coming days given the “worsening” coronavirus situation.

“The torch relay will start on March 26 in Fukushima, the plan has not changed,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters, a day after the International Olympic Committee said it was considering postponing the Games due to the pandemic.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” admitted Muto, but he added: “For now, the decision made one week ago (to proceed as planned) is still appropriate.”

The coronavirus has already had a major impact on the torch relay. In what they described as a “heartbreaking” decision, organizers downscaled a ceremony on Friday to welcome the flame from Greece, keeping 200 children away.

They have also urged people following the torch to avoid forming crowds, and closed daily welcoming and departure ceremonies to the public.

The nationwide torch relay begins on March 26, starting from the J-Village sports complex in Fukushima that was used as a base for workers during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.




The torch for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is manufactured at a factory in Tokyo. (Kyodo/via REUTERS)

Muto said organizers would learn from the experience of this weekend when tens of thousands flocked to see the Olympic flame on display — forming exactly the sort of crowds they had hoped to avoid.

On Saturday, more than 50,000 people queued to watch the flame displayed at Sendai station in Miyagi, with some lining
up for several hours.

“This is evidence of interest from residents, so in one sense we were delighted,” said Muto, adding that their priority was to prevent the virus from spreading and putting in place “advanced countermeasures.”

Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said: “We still have three days until the grand start on the 26th, so I told (IOC chief Thomas Bach) that we’d like to consult (with the IOC) while discussing with related parties. Mr. Bach said he will let us handle this.”

He said even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had voiced doubts over whether it was appropriate for him to attend the start of the relay.

“I said it is not our position to tell the prime minister if he should come or not, so please make a decision as the government.”Later Monday, US-based footballer Nahomi Kawasumi announced she was pulling out of the torch relay as she did risk potentially spreading the coronavirus.


City lacking usual spark amid injuries, fixture pile-up

Updated 26 October 2020

City lacking usual spark amid injuries, fixture pile-up

  • Sympathy is usually in short supply when it comes to Man City and the debate over workload

LONDON: Manchester City’s weary players boarded a plane to France on Monday, the southern city of Marseille being the latest stop on their grueling and seemingly interminable fixture schedule in a pandemic-disrupted season like no other.

There will have been no senior strikers on the flight, with Sergio Aguero injured again and joining Gabriel Jesus back in the treatment room.

Star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will be on board, recently back from injury and fresh from protestations about the workload being forced on soccer players this season.

Whether Aymeric Laporte, City’s defensive lynchpin, will play in the Champions League match at the Stade Velodrome on Tuesday is in the balance after his run of fitness issues.

“I try to demand everything from my players,” City manager Pep Guardiola said at the weekend, “but there is a limit for human beings.”

Sympathy is usually in short supply when it comes to Man City and the debate over workload and fixture congestion.

“It’s the richest club in the world,” is a typical retort. And most would say it’s a perfectly reasonable one, given City spent more than £100 million  ($130 million) on two center backs in the offseason, one of whom is purely seen a backup.

Yet, it is hard to escape the fact that City’s performances have rarely looked flatter and more predictable under Guardiola than they have since the start of the season.

In short, being the busiest team in English soccer in recent years appears to be taking its toll.

A 1-1 draw at West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday has left City in 13th place and on eight points — their lowest tally after five games since 2014.

Only five teams have scored fewer goals in the Premier League than City’s eight, so even an attack that season after season creates more chances than any other team is misfiring by its usual high standards.

Of course, it doesn’t help when Guardiola is without a recognized striker — Jesus got injured in the first game of the season, and Aguero has broken down three games into his return from four months out — but there’s more to it than that.

“We don’t have enough preparation in our legs throughout the whole squad,” the City manager said, referring to the fact his players had an offseason just two weeks long owing to the late finish to last season because of their involvement in the last eight of the Champions League in August.

“Of course, it’s too much,” Guardiola added while raising concerns about the “mental state" of some of the players. “It’s not more difficult to understand than this.”

City are coming off a 54-week campaign in the 2019-20 season that was interrupted by the three-month suspension of soccer because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Over the past two seasons, the team have played 120 games in all competitions — more than any other in England’s top flight. This season, which started a month later than normal, City have been playing a match every three or four days aside from the international breaks, and will continue to do so until January. Even when club soccer stops for internationals, players can feature in as many as three games for their countries, potentially in a six-day span.

“Your body is screaming out for a rest but nobody listens to the players,” De Bruyne said in an interview with Sky Sports during the most recent international break, when he picked up a muscle injury. “Everyone says, ‘They earn good money, they’ve just got to manage.’ And that’s it, I can put up with those comments.

“(But) I can see a wave of injuries coming for a lot of players, trust me. I always give 100 percent, I can’t play at 80 percent.”

De Bruyne said he had just “eight or nine days off” in the offseason and was unable to take a holiday because his wife was pregnant.

“If I keep going until the end of the season,” he said, “I will have been playing for two years without a rest.”

It begs the question why Guardiola chose to field an unchanged starting team — the first time he has done so since October 2017 — against West Ham on Saturday lunchtime, given the fixture congestion and his concerns over workload.

After all, City had to work hard for their  3-1 win over Porto on Wednesday evening. Raheem Sterling, for example, has played 90 minutes in each of City’s last three games and is set to be relied on heavily as a makeshift striker in the absence of Aguero and Jesus.

City have at least made a winning start to its Champions League group. And, despite their slow start in the league, could only be two points off the lead if the team win their game in hand.

Guardiola is into his fifth, and possibly last, year in charge and hasn't given any clues over whether he intends to stay beyond his season.

If he is to add to his collection of trophies won at City since 2016, don’t expect them to come easily this season.