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First event of troubled Tokyo Olympics gets under way – Al Jazeera English

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Softball match takes place two days before the official opening ceremony of the COVID-hit 2020 Games.

Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno delivered the first ball of the pandemic-hit 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday morning amid continuing doubts about the wisdom of holding the event at a time when the fast-spreading Delta variant is driving a resurgence of COVID-19 in Japan and around the world.

Japan are taking on Australia in softball, with two more softball games, as well as women’s football matches scheduled for Wednesday.

Olympics and Japanese officials have pushed ahead with the Olympics despite persistent opposition in the country to hosting more than 11,000 athletes, staff and media that come with them, given the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Tokyo is currently in a coronavirus state of emergency.

Coaches for the six countries competing in the softball tournament applauded organisers on Tuesday for creating a safe environment and said their players particularly appreciated the Olympics not being cancelled.

Japan’s starter Yukiko Ueno pitches in the first inning during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games softball opening-round game between Australia and Japan at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium in Fukushima, Japan, on July 21, 2021 [Kazuhiro Fujihara/AFP]

Softball was revived for the Tokyo Games after being dropped after 2008. The initial two days of games are being held at a baseball stadium in Fukushima, a region badly affected by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

The Tokyo Games were postponed last year shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic over the spread of the coronavirus. More than 4.1 million people have died from the disease since, and while vaccinations have helped some countries deal with the health crisis, vaccine inequity and the rise in new variants are creating new problems for a world desperate to return to some kind of normalcy.

Organisers have promised a “safe and secure” Olympics, but many Japanese are sceptical.

The country’s vaccination programme has lagged behind that of many other developed nations, and Tokyo is seeing a new surge in cases with 1,387 people diagnosed on Tuesday. In total, Japan has recorded more than 840,000 cases and 15,055 deaths.

Dozens of cases linked to the Olympics, including some athletes, have further undermined public trust in coronavirus mitigation efforts.

On Tuesday, the chief of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said cancellation could not be ruled out if COVID-19 cases spiked.

Toshiro Muto told a news conference that he would keep an eye on infection numbers and liaise with other organisers if necessary.

“We will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” Muto said.

“We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”

A spokesman for Tokyo 2020 later said organisers were “concentrating 100 percent on delivering successful Games”.

Coronavirus rules mean teams are competing without any fans to cheer them on [Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Network via Reuters]

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Canadiens’ salary cap situation heading into the draft & free agency – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Some of the biggest stories of the off-season so far have revolved around the Montreal Canadiens. First, Shea Weber’s hockey future was thrown into doubt by reports of a serious injury, and the belief now is that his career is “probably” over, according to general manager Marc Bergevin.

The key bit of news when the Seattle Kraken expansion draft was approaching was that Carey Price was dealing with a less serious injury, but would nevertheless potentially miss the start of the new season. As a result he waived his no-movement clause and was available to be selected by the new team.

Seattle shied away from the $10.5-million cap hit, however, leaving Price unclaimed and free to re-enable his NMC to stay in Montreal.

Salary cap information via CapFriendly
Justin Blades/EOTP

That cap hit remains the largest on the team. Technically Weber’s is the second-highest on the books at almost $8 million, but he will likely be put on long-term injured reserve. For the intents and purposes of this graphic, removing his slice from the chart serves the same purpose; that cap space is free to be spent on other players.

There are six defencemen under contract for next season who played on the team in 2020-21, but Bergevin will want someone more of Weber’s calibre to take top-four minutes. Expect that to be one of his top priorities, and the first-round pick in tonight’s draft could be in play to acquire such a blue-liner.

He also needs to get a centreman to take big minutes against top players, because it’s sounding like Phillip Danault won’t be back with the team. Nick Suzuki has established himself as the top offensive option down the middle, but the team will be trying to add a number-two to back him up.

We also heard on Thursday that Jonathan Drouin is expected to play next year, so there are now eight forwards signed for next season, with five to six more to go. Restricted free agents Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Artturi Lehkonen can probably be re-signed relatively inexpesively, the former getting a birdge deal hoping to cash in a few seasons from now, and the latter a reliable bottom-six player. Corey Perry may also be offered a deal, but his interest in sticking around may depend on how Bergevin is able to restore the team’s contender status via his other moves.

There is a bit more than $21 million available to make this all happen. A small portion of the available space is eaten up by a bonus overage penalty the Canadiens were handed, but having your young players perform too well in the post-season is far from the worst problem an NHL team is facing. There are more young prospects who could step into lesser roles without needing big financial commitments, so there could be a major splash — or two — made in the coming days.

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Down Goes Brown: Let's painstakingly build the worst possible team-by-team first round in NHL Draft history – The Athletic

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Last year, in the aftermath of the NHL Draft, I took on a challenge from a reader. They wanted me to come up with the ultimate first round, one where I’d use one pick from each team to create the best possible list of 31 choices. I threw in a bunch of rules to make it overly complicated and got to work, and this was the final result.

People seemed to like it. We debated the picks in the comments, readers argued about which teams got shafted, and a few of you even tried to make your own version.

And then, as always, came the request: OK, now do the same thing but for the worst picks.

Yeah, I knew this was coming. So now, as we count down to the first round of the 2021 draft, that’s what we’re going to do.

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Tokyo Olympics officially begin under spectre of pandemic – Al Jazeera English

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The opening ceremony marks the beginning of the Summer Games, delayed by a year and held under unprecedented restrictions.

The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games has begun in Tokyo, with a blaze of white and indigo fireworks officially kicking off the quadrennial international sporting event being held under the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach were followed by a small delegation carrying the Japanese flag as they entered Friday’s ceremony, which was initially scheduled to be held about a year earlier before its postponement due to surging COVID-19 infections across the world.

The procession was followed by a moment of silence for victims of the pandemic, as well as Israeli Olympians killed during the 1972 Munich games, before the first of an expected 5,700 athletes began streaming into the ceremony.

Only a few hundred dignitaries and special guests, including French President Emmanuel Macron and US First Lady Jill Biden, were allowed into the 68,000-capacity New National Stadium after games officials decided to largely bar spectators. International and domestic fans have been banned from all venues in Tokyo.

Top sponsors, including Toyota and Panasonic, also opted not to send their representatives to the opening event, with polls showing the Japanese public remaining largely against moving forward with the sprawling gathering in which about 11,000 athletes will contest 339 medal events across 50 disciplines in 33 sports over two weeks.

Japan’s flag is carried during the opening ceremony. [Leah Millis/Reuters]

Days preceding the ceremony have been defined by positive tests among athletes, officials and their small teams of support staff amid fears the games could become a super-spreader event.

On Friday, the number of Olympic-related infections since July 1 stood at 106, dashing the hopes of some athletes who have trained for years to qualify and forcing some events to already dip into carefully tailored contingency plans designed to assure the competition can proceed.

Concerns of further infection were on full display on Friday, with some country’s teams, notably Brazil, opting to send only their flagbearers as representatives at the ceremony.

Nevertheless, hundreds of people began gathering outside the Olympic Stadium on Friday hoping for a glimpse of what is usually an opportunity for the hosting country to offer an elaborate spectacle highlighting their history and culture to audiences watching around the world.

A small group of protesters also gathered outside of the event.

Anti-Olympics protesters gather outside the opening ceremony. ‘[Issei Kato/Reuters]

Reporting from outside the ceremony, Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson said, “There’s a sense of almost disbelief hanging around this stadium.”

“There has been so much talk about this over the last 12 months – but here we are,” he said, adding that the planners of the event have said the programme will be “sombre and in sync with the sentiment of today, what this country and the world is going through with the pandemic.”

“The opening ceremony has always been a pretty integral part of the Games in showcasing the country’s national identity, but I don’t think many host cities have had to pull off quite such a balancing act to win over such a sceptical public,” he said.

Performers are seen during the opening ceremony. [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]

Meanwhile, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sought to frame the games as the beginning of a return to normalcy after a year and a half of global uncertainty as he urged the athletes “to fully demonstrate their abilities and show us their very best performances”.

“The sight of athletes aiming to be the very best in the world gives dreams and courage to young people and children and deeply moves them,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.

Still, questions over the wisdom of moving forward with the games were not the only cloud to loom over Friday’s event.

In a last-minute scandal, the opening ceremony’s director, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired on Thursday over jokes he made in the 1990s about the Holocaust.

Officials said the dismissal would not affect the programme.

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