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.”
With rumours flying around about a possible cancellation, Jacqueline Doorey breaks down what we really know about the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with just 6 months to go. 2:00
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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In today’s links, the hockey world chimes in on the Habs coaching change, Gallagher vents about Tuesday’s disallowed goal, will Price up his game now that there’s fresh blood behind the bench, and more.
The 45-year-old is awake and recovering from surgery after being involved in a serious car accident on Tuesday near Los Angeles.
He suffered serious leg injuries and was trapped but conscious when emergency responders reached the scene of his one-vehicle rollover crash on a stretch of California road known for speeding and accidents, authorities said Tuesday.
“He’s not Superman … He’s a human being at the end of the day,” four-time major winner Rory McIlroy told reporters, ahead of WGC-Workday Championship which begins on Thursday. “And he’s already been through so much.
“At this stage I think everyone should just be grateful that he’s here, that he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad. That’s the most important thing. Golf is so far from the equation right now, it’s not even on the map at this point.”
In the aftermath of the crash, Los Angeles County Sherriff Alex Villanueva told CNN’s Erin Burnett the single-car crash was “purely an accident,” and investigators will not pursue any charges.
He also said Woods told investigators Tuesday at a hospital that “he had no recollection of the crash.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan emphasized that while he’d love to see Woods on the golf course in the future, thoughts should be with his family.
“Tiger’s a human being. Tiger’s had some really difficult injuries — the most important thing is, you know, is his well-being. It’s Tiger recovering, it’s supporting Tiger’s family. The golf — when Tiger wants to talk about the golf, we’ll talk about the golf. All the energy right now is going to be poured into supporting him in the days and months ahead.”
Given the grisly nature of the crash, former world No. 1 Jon Rahm said he is just appreciative that Woods is alive at all.
“Just over a year ago we lost Kobe Bryant out of the blue, and I’m just, if anything, thankful that Tiger’s still here. Hopefully he comes out of this one,” the 26-year-old told the media.
“Hopefully his body’s still good. I don’t necessarily need to see him on a golf course again. I would love to, but I just hope he can live a normal life from here on. He’s given everything to this game, he’s done so much for us, and every day that we’re all out here is going to be a memory of Tiger Woods.
“Luckily he’s got so much impact in this world that even though if he doesn’t hit a golf shot, with his foundation and many other works, he’s still able to make a great impact in this world.”
Dustin Johnson added: “He’s such a big part of the PGA Tour and what it’s become today so, yeah I mean once he’s not playing anymore it definitely, you know, the game will miss him but I feel like he’ll always somehow be around and be involved in the game.”
“I did tell Geoff (Molson) what I was doing and he supported my decision,” GM Marc Bergevin says after firing head coach.
Author of the article:
Stu Cowan • Montreal Gazette
Feb 25, 2021 • 7 hours ago • 3 minute read • 6 Comments
With no fans in the arenas because of COVID-19 and very little revenue coming in, these are not good financial times for any NHL team.
So Canadiens owner/president Geoff Molson can’t be thrilled about having to pay Claude Julien his $5-million annual salary for the rest of this season and all of the next one. Julien, who was fired by GM Marc Bergevin on Wednesday and replaced by Dominique Ducharme, was in the fourth year of his five-year, US$25-million contract. Associate coach Kirk Muller, who was also fired Wednesday, was in the final season of his contract.
“I’m well aware of what you just mentioned,” Bergevin said during a video conference from Winnipeg Wednesday afternoon when Julien’s contract was brought up. “I did tell Geoff what I was doing and he supported my decision. That’s all I could say.”
This is the second time Molson has had to continue paying a fired coach with Bergevin as GM. Bergevin hired Julien on Feb. 14, 2017 to replace Michel Therrien, who still had another two full seasons remaining on his contract.
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The fact Ducharme was already on the payroll as an assistant coach will lessen the financial hit on Molson.
After playing about $8 million under the NHL salary cap for the last three seasons, Bergevin spent right up to the $81.5-million cap with his off-seasons additions and expectations were high coming into this season. The Canadiens got off to a 7-1-2 start, but are 2-4-2 in the last eight games.
“I know what type of team we have,” Bergevin said. “I know what we’re capable of doing.
“The hard thing to watch is the swing from being a really good hockey team that was playing with pace, was engaged, were playing to our identity, which is speed,” he added. “And then going to the other side where the team was looking for anything. The expression we were chasing our tail … we were chasing the puck. We were not in sync and that was frustrating for me. Sometimes you can blame injuries, but we had none. Zero. If the message is the same and they’re acting differently, then the change needs to be made.”
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Bergevin had a sleepless night in Ottawa Tuesday after the Canadiens lost 5-4 to the Senators in a shootout and finally decided it was time for a coaching change. He informed Julien and Muller of his decision Wednesday morning before the Canadiens flew to Winnipeg, where they will play the Jets Thursday night (8 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).
“Yeah, it’s emotional because they’re good people,” Bergevin said. “It’s not fun. It’s a tough part of my job. To walk in these two men’s rooms this morning was not easy.
“I said at training camp we mean business,” the GM added. “We raised the bar. It’s not an easy day for anyone, for me personally to make this decision. … Expectations are high. I expect to tack the boat first and for the players to respond.”
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If they don’t, it could be Bergevin looking for a job at the end of the season. He has one more year remaining on his contract.
“Listen, the day that I took the job here it came with a lot of things, including pressure from the media and our fans,” he said. “I have no problem with that. I make decisions, I live with them and the consequences. But I’m very confident in our team and I’m very confident in Dominique Ducharme.”
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