Stop the clock: Japan awakes to reality of Tokyo Games postponement

Two women take a selfie with a Tokyo 2020 countdown clock displaying the current date instead of the countdown days. (AP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

Stop the clock: Japan awakes to reality of Tokyo Games postponement

  • Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe contacts Trump to explain decision

TOKYO: Japan awoke on Wednesday to the deflating reality that the Olympics they had hoped to host in Tokyo this summer were now probably 16 months away after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis forced organizers into an unprecedented postponement.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government finally succumbed to intense pressure from athletes and sporting bodies around the world on Tuesday when they agreed to put back the Games until 2021.

It was a huge blow to Japan, which has invested $12 billion in preparations, but also for the prestige of the Olympic movement and its leader, Thomas Bach, who had come under fire for not reacting sooner in the face of the global health crisis.

Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) President Yasuhiro Yamashita said that the decision had come earlier than he thought it would, but that he was determined the host nation’s athletes would be ready to compete in 2021.

“Now that the decisions have been made, let’s take this positively, reset our mindset,” he told a news conference.

“With a fresh mind, not giving up, I want to go through this challenge heading into next year.”

NUMBER

122 - Days that countdown clock stopped.

Japanese government officials said Prime Minster Shinzo Abe had phoned US President Donald Trump to explain the postponement as they sought to further cushion the economy from the twin blows of the coronavirus and the delayed Games.

Tuesday’s decision came 122 days before the planned opening ceremony at Japan’s newly built National Stadium, which was to usher in the 16-day event featuring 11,000 athletes from 206 nations and territories.

The clock in front of Tokyo Station, which had been displaying the number of days until the Games, ceased its countdown and reverted to Wednesday’s date and time.

Although 14 major corporations have indicated they would remain in the IOC’s global partnership program despite the delay, local organizers might have some negotiating to do to retain their own Games-specific sponsors.

Tokyo Gas Co. Ltd. said it would decide whether to continue sponsorship for another year depending on conditions, including cost.

“We don’t have an answer to whether or not we will continue our sponsorship as we have just heard about the postponement,” Tokyo Gas President Takashi Uchida told a news conference on the company’s new business plans.

“We will make a decision after we learn about details.”

Athletes around the world, many struggling to train because of restrictions put in place to contain a virus that has killed more than 17,200 people, have expressed disappointment but largely welcomed the decision.


FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

Updated 07 April 2020

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

  • Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded Qatar's bid

LONDON: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has become the focus of fresh FIFA corruption allegations after the release of a new US Department of Justice indictment which says bribes were paid to football officials to secure their votes for hosting rights.

Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations down in print.

According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial decision of world football’s governing body.

FIFA and the Qatar World Cup organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids have always denied paying bribes.

Although FIFA has reacted to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the USallegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the tournament, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.

The indictment states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive — Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator — took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

“Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz and co-conspirator #1 were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favor of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup,” reads the indictment.

Teixeira, the former son-in-law of long-time FIFA boss Joao Havelange and ex-head of the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF), was not immediately reachable for comment.

The DOJ also alleges that then FIFA vice president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.

Warner has been accused of a number of crimes in the long-running USprobe and is fighting extradition from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, who was not immediately reachable for comment, has always denied any wrongdoing.

Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organizing committee for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, told the Interfax news agency: “This is only the opinion of lawyers. We have repeatedly said that our bid was transparent.

“At the time we answered all questions, including from the investigation branch of FIFA and from the media, we handed over all needed documents. We have nothing to add to this and we will not respond to attempts to cast a shadow on our bid.”

Asked if the Kremlin was aware of the US indictment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We read the media reports. We don’t understand what they refer to.

“Russia received the right to host the World Cup completely legally. It is in no way linked to any bribes. We reject this. And Russia hosted the best soccer World Cup in history, which we are proud of.”

The Qatar World Cup organizers have been fending off allegations of corruption ever since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the 2022 tournament.

In 2014, FIFA, then under the control of former President Sepp Blatter, cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup after an investigation.

Blatter was banned from football by FIFA along with scores of other officials following internal ethics investigations, promoted by the arrests of seven FIFA officials on UScorruption charges in Zurich in May 2015.