Japan opens baseball season after 3-month coronavirus pandemic delay

Japan opens baseball season after 3-month coronavirus pandemic delay
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Japan’s professional baseball regular season kicked off Friday without fans in attendance because of the threat of the spreading coronavirus. (AP)
Japan opens baseball season after 3-month coronavirus pandemic delay
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Empty seats with orange jerseys are placed prior to an opening baseball game between the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome on Friday, June 19, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 19 June 2020

Japan opens baseball season after 3-month coronavirus pandemic delay

Japan opens baseball season after 3-month coronavirus pandemic delay
  • All games in Japan will be played without fans until at least July
  • There will be periodic testing and quarantines

TOKYO: Japanese baseball managed to do what American baseball has not — play ball.
After a three-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the world’s second-most famous baseball league opened a season Friday that will be shortened from its regular 143 games to 120. That, of course, is twice as many as MLB figures to play — if it plays at all.
The regular season is to end on Nov. 7, followed by post-season play.
It wasn’t a perfect start, but all 12 league teams were scheduled to play. Two of the games were in open-air stadiums in Tokyo and Yokohama, where rain was threatening. The other four were in domed facilities in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Saitama prefecture northwest of Tokyo.
“I’m very happy, very excited about today’s game,” said Venezuela-born Alexander Ramirez, the manager of the Yokohama BayStars. “Just to think about all the time we’ve had to wait, and stuff like that. It’s just the best feeling.”
All games in Japan will be played without fans until at least July. The league has also revised the schedule to limit travel. There will be periodic testing and quarantines and, according to league guidelines, players will be banned from spitting.
Teams can dress 26 players and choose from 31 players on an active roster. Non-baseball staff will wear masks.
In the Tokyo Dome, the local Yomiuri Giants faced the Hanshin Tigers. The orange seats in the dome were empty, save for messages in large, block letters across the seat that read: “Tokyo Pride” or “With Fans.”
The stadium in Yokohama, which is the venue for next year’s Olympic baseball final, was typical of the atmosphere. Seats behind the plate and down the baselines were covered with 5,000 large panels, most carrying faces of fans with various goodwill messages.
“I have been waiting for such a long time,” a note on one panel read, written in Japanese.
Another said: “My heart is always here.”
Michael Peoples, an American who was scheduled to start for Yokohama on Saturday against Hiroshima, moved this season as a free agent from the Cleveland Indians organization.
“Obviously it’s a new environment, but one thing I think I can speak volumes about,” Peoples said. “Even with the layoff we had and the rough times around the country — and all around the world — I know the support I felt and a bunch of other players have felt from the fans and staff has been unbelievable.”
Japan has recorded almost 1,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19. That compares to almost 120,000 in the United States, which has 2.6 times the population of Japan but about 120 times more deaths.


Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani
Updated 04 August 2021

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

Exclusive: Israeli judoka Raz Hershko lauds ‘brave’ Saudi opponent Tahani Al-Qahtani

DUBAI: Two female judokas, one mat, one Olympic contest. That the two athletes competing, Tahani Al-Qahtani and Raz Hershko, happened to be from Saudi Arabia and Israel, made the recent first round of the women’s judo 78-kilogram-class meeting at Tokyo 2020 more than just an ordinary bout.

The two countries have no formal relations and no history of sporting competition to speak of. Furthermore, regional politics and boycotts movements have made it a norm that Arab athletes refuse to take part in any match opposite an Israeli counterpart in fear that this might be interpreted as a form of recognition.

This is why, in an exclusive interview with Arab News, Israeli judoka Hershko had made it a point to praise the bravery of Al-Qahtani. Not only did the Saudi judoka defy popular calls by hatemongers to boycott the match, but she participated knowing very well that Hershko has far more international experience and was clearly the likely winner.

The 23-year-old Israeli said: “I think it is amazing that we both put politics aside to do something we love. I was super excited that anything can happen at the Olympics.

“I knew it was rare for an (Arab) to accept to fight like this, but I was so excited when she accepted. Both of us put politics to the side and did what we loved together in the match.”

Algerian Fethi Nourine and Sudan’s Mohammed Abdalrasool had withdrawn from the judo men’s plus-73-kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete. But Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Hershko, a decision that drew praise from Japanese media and prompted a wave of support from high-profile figures and sports fans in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qahtani was the last of the Kingdom’s 33 athletes to confirm her place at Tokyo 2020, her wild card selection making her only the second female judoka from the country to participate in the Olympics since the 2012 London Games. The two women had walked out side-by-side onto the mat ahead of what turned out to be a tough match for the inexperienced 22-year-old Saudi. As the fight progressed, Hershko racked up the points, eventually beating Al-Qahtani 11-0.

“It was a tough fight in the beginning. She (Al-Qahtani) was brave to take on the fight despite pressure from hatemongers about her decision to fight me,” Hershko added. The victor pointed out that she and Al-Qahtani were simply human beings, females from different countries, playing in a match. “I don’t think it was different from fighting someone from the US or South Africa. It was great that Al-Qahtani bravely accepted and let politics stay out of the picture.”

After Al-Qahtani’s loss, some questioned whether the pressure of the situation had affected her performance.

While Al-Qahtani was not available for comment, Hershko noted the importance of the match and how sport could be a uniting force at a time when politics in the Middle East continued to be a hot topic, even after several countries had normalized relations with Israel.

“Politics has nothing to do with it, it was a good match,” said Hershko.

In a statement after the bout, the International Judo Federation said: “This game shows that sports can transcend political and external influences.”

Al-Qahtani’s courageous performance on and off the judo mat demonstrated a notable shift in Saudi Arabia, and an openness to rise above current geopolitics in the realm of sports and culture, both avenues that could bring people from opposing nations together.

On whether she would accept an invitation to compete in Saudi Arabia, Hershko said: “Of course, why not?”


Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
Updated 04 August 2021

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo

Qatar beats Italy to reach men’s beach volleyball semifinals in Tokyo
  • Duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan are now on a five-match winning streak ahead of tomorrow’s clash with Russian Olympic Committee team

TOKYO: Qatar has reached the Tokyo 2020 beach volleyball men’s semifinal after beating Italy in straight sets at Shiokaze Park on Wednesday evening.
The Qatari duo of Cherif Younousse and Ahmed Tijan put on an impressive display to defeat the Italian team of Paolo Nicolai and Daniele Lupo 2-0 (21-17, 23-21) in the quarterfinal.
The Qatari athletes, both 26, will now take on Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on Thursday afternoon (from 4pm KSA).
On Sunday, Younousse and Tijan defeated the US 2-1 (14-21, 21-19,15-11) in the round of 16 to reach today’s last-eight match.
Qatar’s beach volleyball team is now on a five-match winning streak at Tokyo 2020.
The started their Olympic campaign on July 25 by beating Switzerland 2-1 (21-17, 21-16) in their preliminary round — Group C match.
They followed that up with two more group victories; a 2-1 win over Italy three days later, and a 2-0 against the US last Friday.


Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
Updated 04 August 2021

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition

Syrian Man Asaad wins bronze in Tokyo 2020 weightlifting competition
  • Total score of 424 was enough to see 27-year-old finish behind Lasha Talakhadze, Ali Davoudi
  • Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition

RIYADH: Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad on Wednesday picked up an Olympic bronze medal in the men’s plus-109-kilogram competition at the Tokyo International Forum.

The 27-year-old posted a 190 in the snatch category and followed that with a clean and jerk best of 234, for a total of 424.

Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia won gold with a new Olympic and world record 488, while silver medal winner Ali Davoudi of Iran managed a score of 441.

Asaad had finished 15th at Rio 2016 with a score of 400 in the 105kg competition, while his best performance at an international tournament remains a silver in the 109kg at the 2020 Asian Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, when he managed to total 433.


Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
Updated 04 August 2021

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final

Egyptian riders fall short of medals in Tokyo 2020 jumping individual final
  • In a strong field of 30, Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar finished 19th and 24th

TOKYO: The Egyptian equestrian athletes Mouda Zeyada and Nayel Nassar failed in their quest for Olympic gold at the jumping individual final at Tokyo’s Equestrian Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Their times of 86.63 and 89.63 left Zeyada and Nassar in positions 19 and 24 respectively and out of contention for the medals.


In the jump-off to decide the winner after six competitors shared top spot, the gold medal eventually went to the British rider Ben Maher (37.85), the silver to the Swede Peder Fredricson (38.02), and bronze to Maikel van der Vleuten of the Netherlands (38.90)
On Tuesday, a near-faultless ride had seen 30-year-old Nassar progress to today’s final, where he was joined by 26-year-old compatriot Zeyada among the competition’s top 30 qualifiers.
Nassar in particular has been the center of attention since the weekend after Bill Gates, father of his wife Jennifer Katharine Gates, sent him a message of good luck on social media that went viral in the days before the start of the competition.


Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
Updated 04 August 2021

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot

Star-studded teams confirmed for 2021 Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot
  • 3 riders will represent each team of Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, Rest of the World
  • Dubai Duty Free CEO Colm McLoughlin: The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events

DUBAI: A star-studded field of jockeys will line up for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot this year with four new-look teams set to do battle in the 20th running of the event on Saturday.

Teams will comprise of three riders representing Great Britain, Ireland, Ladies, and Rest of the World contesting six valuable handicaps each worth £42,000 ($58,500).

Dubai Duty Free chief executive officer and executive vice president, Colm McLoughlin, said: “The Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our horseracing sponsorship portfolio and one of Ascot’s most popular events.

“Unfortunately, the ongoing (coronavirus disease) COVID-19 travel restrictions will prevent us from being there in person this year, but we will be following all the action closely from Dubai as the day unfolds and we wish all the jockeys and the horses’ connections a great day.”

Great Britain will be captained by Adam Kirby, this year’s Epsom Derby winning jockey who will be making his second appearance in the competition. He will be joined by top international jockey James Doyle, and one of this year’s Royal Ascot-winning riders Cieren Fallon, best known for his association with high-class sprinter Oxted.

Doyle will be making his third appearance in the competition having ridden a winner on both previous occasions in 2012 and 2013. It will be Fallon’s Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup debut, but he will be looking to maintain a strong family tradition on the day after his father, Kieren, won the Alistair Haggis Silver Saddle in 2003 and was on the winning team in 2001 and 2002.

This year’s Ascot Gold Cup-winning jockey Joe Fanning will captain the Ireland team and he will have the help of rising-star David Egan who has enjoyed big-race success in Saudi Arabia and Dubai this season. The Ireland team is completed by Tadhg O’Shea, the most successful jockey of all-time in the UAE having ridden more than 600 winners and won the UAE jockeys’ championship for the ninth time this season.

A formidable Ladies team will be captained by Hayley Turner, the most successful jockey in the history of the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup with eight winners and 297 points from 13 appearances. Turner’s team will also feature globe-trotting sensation Mickaelle Michel from France and Scotland’s Nicola Currie.

Sean Levey will lead the Rest of the World team and the Swaziland-born Classic-winning jockey will be joined by Kevin Stott who became the first Dane to win a British Group 1 when victory in last year’s Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot initiated a memorable double on the day. Subject to being released by his retainer, three-time champion jockey Silvestre de Sousa, who has one previous Shergar Cup appearance in 2016, will complete the Rest of the World team.

Nick Smith, director of racing and public affairs at Ascot Racecourse, said: “We’re thrilled with the jockey lineup for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup this year. Obviously COVID-19 has made international travel very difficult, so to pull together such a strong set of teams that still has a global feel is really pleasing.

“It should be a great day’s racing and another thrilling renewal of the competition which sadly didn’t take place last year, but we look forward to building the day back up in the years to come.”