The Olympics-are-getting-cancelled report, explained
In short, they're not. For now...
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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
The Tokyo Olympics are still on (for now)
There's a lot of talk right now about the Tokyo Olympics possibly being cancelled. If you're confused about what exactly happened and what it means, here it is:
The British tabloid The Times reported last night that "the Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, and the focus is now on securing the Games for the city in the next available year, 2032."
The story, written by a Tokyo-based journalist, cites only one source — a "senior member of the ruling coalition." This person says that the latest wave of coronavirus infections, which has compelled the Japanese government to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities, has convinced officials that the Olympics are doomed. The source thinks that the defiant statements we've heard lately from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga about the Games going ahead are just a way to convince the International Olympic Committee that Japan tried its best and would still make a good host in the future.
The story quickly went viral — leading to the false impression that "multiple reports" or "multiple" sources" said the Olympics were toast. To be clear, it's still only one report, and that report cites one source.
Nevertheless, the ensuing firestorm — fuelled partly by recent speculation about the Tokyo Games being in trouble — forced the IOC, Japanese politicians, the Tokyo organizing committee and even the Canadian Olympic Committee to issue statements denying or at least downplaying the report.
The IOC's statement referenced a "Japanese government" statement calling the "reports" (even they thought there was more than one) "categorically untrue." The IOC added that it is "fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of" the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics "this year."
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike dismissed the report and was quoted as saying "we should submit a complaint" about it. Japanese cabinet member Manabu Sakai sounded more nuanced. He was quoted as saying there was "no truth" to the idea that a decision has been made to give up on the Olympics. But he didn't rule it out for the future. "We will decide on whether to actually hold the event at some point," he was quoted as saying. "But until then, the Japanese government will do what needs to be done."
The Tokyo organizing committee presented a united front, saying all its "delivery partners" — including the Japanese and Tokyo governments, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee — are "fully focused on hosting the Games this summer."
Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker wrote on Twitter last night that his organization "has confidence that the Games can be staged safely and successfully given what has been learned in sport over the last several months and the emphasis the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have placed on COVID-19 countermeasures." In a letter to national sports organizations last night that was obtained by CBC Sports, the COC said: "We know the IOC was communicating with [Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga] as recently as today and no such signals [about cancellation] were shared." Canadian chef de mission Marnie McBean said she's "confident" the Games will go on.
Suga has repeatedly insisted that the show will go on. Just this week, he vowed to hold the Tokyo Olympics as "proof of human victory against the coronavirus." IOC president Thomas Bach has also projected confidence. Hours before the report was published, he said the IOC has "no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo."
Still, there's smoke. That source quoted in the Times report isn't the first to suggest these Olympics will not or should not happen. A much-cited recent poll in Japan found that 80 per cent of respondents favoured cancelling the Games. And can you blame them? How would you feel about tens of thousands of visitors from all corners of the earth coming to Canada this summer? It's possible the vaccine and the arrival of warmer weather make that a less scary proposition, but who knows? The Japanese government, Tokyo organizers and the IOC could soon find themselves in the same position they were in before the Games were postponed last March — clinging to an event no one else wants to be a part of anymore.
There's no need to rush a decision right now, especially given the higher stakes this time. Everyone involved in staging these Olympics has said another postponement is not an option. But a call will need to be made pretty soon. The Games are scheduled to open six months from tomorrow — on July 23. Last year's announcement that they were postponed came on March 24 — two months from now.
Maybe that's enough time for Japan and the rest of the world to turn things around. Maybe not. So a cancellation can't be ruled out. And this time, as Bach keeps saying, "there is no Plan B."
Hank Aaron died
In sports and in life, we tend to glorify the shooting stars. Better to burn out than to fade away, as the man said. But maybe what we really need is more Hank Aarons.
In his 23 big-league seasons, the unassuming Alabaman won only one MVP award and topped out at 47 home runs. But he hit at least 40 homers eight times, and from his age-21 through age-39 seasons he averaged 37. That's how Hammerin' Hank broke Babe Ruth's revered all-time home run record in 1974 and finished his career two years later with 755. The mark has since been smashed by Barry Bonds, whose desire to be one of those shooting stars pushed him to certain pharmaceutical lengths that render his accomplishment illegitimate in the eyes of some baseball fans.
There were never any such doubts about Aaron, who broke Ruth's record with quiet excellence and grace while enduring disgusting, racist threats. Til the day he died — today at age 86 — Aaron remained a beacon. He made his final public appearance a couple of weeks ago to say he'd received the vaccine and urge Black Americans to do the same. Atlanta, Aaron's longtime team, said he died peacefully in his sleep. Read more about his life and career here.
Canada's speed skaters under-promised and over-delivered
A delayed and condensed long-track season opened today in the Netherlands, where skaters are bubbled for two World Cup meets and the Feb. 11-14 world championships.
This should have been a promising season for Canada, which won nine medals — including three gold — at the world single distances championships last February in Salt Lake City. But the team cautioned us to not expect much in the Dutch bubble — it's been close to a year since Canadians last competed, and the pandemic also curtailed their ice time. The Calgary oval where they normally train has been closed since September, forcing Canadian skaters to get their workouts in on short tracks and an outdoor oval in Alberta. A two-week training camp in northern B.C. in November was the team's only chance to skate on a proper surface before the season.
But, to everyone's surprise, Canada won medals in both of the medal races held today: gold in the women's team pursuit and bronze in the men's team pursuit. Read more about those results here.
Thirteen Canadians are competing in the Dutch bubble, including two of the country's three gold medallists from last year's worlds. Ivanie Blondin is the reigning world champion in the women's mass start, and Ted-Jan Bloemen is the reigning men's 5,000-metre world champ and 10,000m Olympic champ. Graeme Fish, who won the men's 10,000 at last year's worlds (Bloemen took silver) decided to skip this season.
Blondin was part of today's women's team pursuit victory, along with Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais. That trio took bronze in this event at last year's worlds. Bloemen teamed with Jordan Belchos (the mass start silver medallist at last year's worlds) and Connor Howe for the men's bronze today.
You can watch Canadian skaters go for more medals live Saturday from 8:15-11:50 a.m ET and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. The World Cup event also leads off Saturday's edition of Road to the Olympic Games, which you can watch from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network and CBC Sports' digital platforms. Read more about how Canadian skaters are approaching the bubble here.
Conor McGregor is back in the octagon Saturday night. The UFC's biggest star has fought only five rounds since his loss to Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring in August 2017. Khabib Nurmagomedov tapped him out in the fourth in 2018 and, a year ago, McGregor knocked out Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds. After the UFC returned from its (briefer than most) pandemic pause, McGregor couldn't get a fight to his liking and "retired" for the third time. To no one's surprise, he's back and will take on Dustin Poirier, who he KO'd in the first round in 2014. McGregor is expected to beat him again, but the ultimate goal (for both McGregor and the UFC) is to lure Khabib out of retirement for what would be one of the biggest MMA bouts ever.
The Super Bowl matchup will be decided Sunday. Green Bay hosts Tampa Bay in the NFC championship game at 3:05 p.m. ET, and Kansas City hosts Buffalo for the AFC title at 6:40 p.m. ET. Quick storylines: K.C. should have reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes (concussion protocol) at quarterback after he practised for the third consecutive day today. Buffalo is looking for its first Super Bowl appearance since it lost its fourth in a row in 1994. Green Bay is trying to make it for the first time since 2010, when Aaron Rodgers won the only ring of his brilliant career. If the Buccaneers win, they'll be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And there will be fans. The NFL announced today that it will allow 22,000 people into Tampa's open-air venue. 7,500 of those tickets will be set aside for vaccinated health-care workers. Read more about that here.
Us waiting for Sunday:
Things to watch and read on CBC Sports
Oral history of the Sale-Pelletier screwjob: The Canadian figure skating pair was robbed of a gold medal by corrupt judges at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The injustice was later corrected and they got their gold, but not before the scandal became an international news story of near Kerrigan/Harding proportions — complete with Jay Leno jokes and everything. Rediscover one of the most infamous moments in Olympic history through the words of the people who lived it in this piece by Vicki Hall. You should also watch this wonderful video treatment of the saga by CBC Sports' Steve Tzemis.
Winter Olympic sports: In addition to the speed skating World Cup event already mentioned, this weekend's live-streaming menu features the second of two men's downhills on the famed (and feared) Streif course in Kitzbühel, Austria on Saturday, plus a super-G on Sunday. There's also World Cup competition in women's alpine skiing, luge, bobsleigh, ski cross, snowboard cross, aerials and snowboard halfpipe. See the full schedule here.
Road to the Olympic Games: Saturday's show features speed skating, a women's downhill, snowboard halfpipe, ski cross, bobsleigh, skeleton and a men's downhill at Kitzbühel. Watch from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Sunday's show features ski cross, bobsleigh and skeleton. Watch it from noon-2 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app or check local listing for TV times.
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