Wednesday, April 14
OLYMPICS: 100 Days Out, Olympians and Paralympians Coming to Terms with Restrictions
The Olympic Summer Games are 100 days out today, a milestone that at one point seemed like it might never get reached. But the Games are continuing, the torch relay is already underway (even if some stops have had to limit spectators after concerns over COVID-19 outbreaks) and athletes from around the world are preparing for their trips to Tokyo.
Those trips will of course look different this year than they have at previous Games. The recently announced ban on foreign spectators is likely to mean a ban on the family members of athletes themselves, something Olympians and Paralympians are coming to terms with accepting.
At the Team USA Media Summit last week, athletes largely were accepting of the restrictions and understood why they will be in place. But there is disappointment nonetheless.
“It’s definitely been a hot topic in my family,” said Stephanie Roble, who has qualified for the Games in sailing. “My parents were looking forward to coming over and celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary during the Olympics, so obviously they’re very bummed. But we’re just accepting that that’s where the world is right now. And I think sailing is unique in the sense of we aren’t really a spectator sport. It’s quite hard to see us out racing. So I guess in one sense, it doesn’t really affect us, but it would mean a lot to me to have my family and friends there.”
Nathaniel Coleman, who will be one of four U.S. athletes competing in climbing in the sport’s Olympics debut said his family was also disappointed not to come. “They love to watch me compete whether it’s a local event or at an Olympic event,” he said. “But I’ve come to terms with it and they’ve come to terms it with. They’ll be watching live and giving me support from afar. So I think it’s just what has to be done.”
Even Olympic veterans felt uneasy about the situation. Allyson Felix, who is trying for her fifth Games, would be making her first appearance since the birth of her daughter, Camryn. She said she always envisioned having her daughter in Tokyo but that the circumstances may not present that opportunity if she qualifies. “It’s not an ideal situation,” Felix said. “For me, you know, my family will just have to adjust to whatever that means.”
Others were matter of fact about their training. McKenna Greer, a Paralympian shooter, said there were mixed emotions when the announcement was made but that she intends to be so focused on competing that she wouldn’t have time for family that made the trip.
“For me, I’m a little bit different I guess,” she said. “My parents were able to come to Rio (in 2016) and support me and that was huge for them, especially for my dad since he helped me get started in the sport. But I consider what we’re doing at the Games kind of like a job. We’re there for our sport. We’re there to represent our country, and a lot of people within my community have thought it’s a little weird that I didn’t necessarily want my husband there, but it would be spending a lot of money for him to watch me shoot and we wouldn’t even really get to spend any time together.”
While athletes may be traveling alone, most of the athletes that appeared at the Media Summit said they have already been vaccinated or plan to get an appointment. And for those that have been vaccinated, the overriding theme was that they didn’t want to let years of training potentially get ruined if a vaccine can help prevent COVID-19.
“I’m doing it for the safety of myself and others,” said Carlin Isles, a member of the U.S. rugby team. “I don’t want them telling me I can’t play after all these years of hard work. So I’m definitely going to get that (vaccine) so the percentage of getting COVID is very low.”
But USOPC officials were quick to say that while they are encouraging vaccines for athletes and are providing as much information as they can including webinars on the benefits of the available vaccines, the question of whether athletes take one will be up to them. “We’re fortunate in what’s happened over the last couple of months that the vaccine has become pretty readily available,” said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland. “And it’s looking like by early May that the vaccine will be available to anybody who chooses to take it. So we’re feeling really optimistic at this point.”
Regardless of the travel restrictions or the vaccination opportunities, officials at the USOPC said athletes are training without any question as to whether the Games would take place at all. At 100 days out, the event, both on the Olympic and Paralympic side, is full steam ahead.
“I can tell you that the athletes are trying very hard not to focus on any changes in the plan,” USOPC Chair Susanne Lyons said. “They are absolutely 100 percent focused on preparation for Games that should happen as they believe will happen and we hope will happen. We’re realists, and we understand the health situation is not in anyone’s hands, but we believe this can be responsibly and safely accomplished.”
Tuesday, April 13
SOCCER: Three Stadiums Ready to Open for MLS but Pandemic’s Economic Impact Stalls Sacramento’s Bid
Major League Soccer’s sustained expansion success may have hit a pandemic-related roadblock ahead of the league’s 2021 season beginning on Friday.
The proposed team in Sacramento, California, may not be able to continue going forward after lead investor Ron Burkle pulled out of the deal last month, although MLS Commissioner Don Garber said during his season preview press conference on Monday that the bid could still be revived if they are able to find more investment.
“I’d call this expansion project there leading up to this season as a COVID casualty,” Garber said. “But there’s still a lot of energy in Sacramento, it’s a good soccer market. The mayor is very focused on trying to put another ownership group together. We’re going to work with him to see what can be achieved.”
But given the uncertain status of Sacramento’s group, Garber said the league has moved forward on alternative options for its 30th team, namechecking three cities that showed previous interest in Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.
Phoenix and Las Vegas are both sites of longtime USL Championship teams that have had success in the past; a USL Championship team in San Diego started last year with MLS legend Landon Donovan as a part-owner and coach. ESPN previously reported that MLS has had initial discussions with San Diego State University to see if an MLS expansion team could play in 35,000-seat Aztec Stadium, projected to open in September 2022.
While Sacramento’s financing for a new stadium could prove its downfall in the quest to join MLS, the league will unveil three new stadiums this season; FC Cincinnati’s West End Stadium opens May 16, expansion team Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium is scheduled to open June 19, while Columbus’ New Crew Stadium opens July 3.
“Every year the stadiums get taken to a new level,” Garber said.
For MLS to get to a new level itself, one of the things it needs to do is finally end its decade-plus long quest to have a team win the CONCACAF Champions League. Since the competition to find the best club team in the region expanded in 2008, a team from Mexico’s Liga MX has won the title every year; only four times has an MLS team even reached the championship game.
“We’ve got to win that tournament,” Garber said.
The two leagues were supposed to have All-Star teams meet at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles in 2020 and plans are still to have the event in 2021. The annual single-elimination Leagues Cup and third annual Campeones Cup will also be held.
“The momentum isn’t impacted by pandemic, we’ve been working on it for so long,” Garber said. “The future is bright. We’re going to be continuing to working together.”
Competition with Liga MX continues to increase for Major League Soccer, which for fans of both leagues has continually led to theories about an eventual merger after the 2026 FIFA World Cup is held in North America.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino surprisingly raised the idea of an eventual merger being positive earlier this season and Liga MX President Mikel Arriola told The Athletic on Monday, and Garber also said it during his Monday press conference, that the leagues will follow CONCACAF’s lead on any future talks.
But Arriola also admitted “I believe we can imagine playing fixtures (between MLS and Liga MX clubs). But we don’t have that level of detail at this time to say anything beyond that. However, there are several models that can be considered.”
PARALYMPICS: IPC Moves to Limit Delegations
The Paralympic Summer Games are following a similar move as the Olympic Games in limiting the size of international contingents that otherwise would be traveling to Tokyo this summer. The International Paralympic Committee has announced it will limit its accreditations in response to requests from local hosts to limit the number of visitors to the event, including the prohibition of accompanying guests for all its accreditation categories.
“The decision follows clear direction from the Japanese government that it requires a very significant reduction in the numbers of accredited participants who do not have essential and operational responsibilities at the Games,” the IPC said in a statement. “The IPC fully respects this decision and endorses the approach to take all necessary measures to ensure safe and secure Games this summer.”
In addition to accompanying guests, the groups that will see limits on access to the event include:
• No IPC Honorary Board members, with the exception of international dignitaries
• No guests of International Organizations of the Disabled (IOSDs) or IPC Regional Organizations
• No participants from the 14 recognized International Sport Federations (sports that are currently not on the Paralympic program) including presidents or secretaries general
• No participants from Winter Sport International Federations, including presidents or secretaries general
• No IPC Standing Committee Chair and members, with the exception of the ones of the IPC Medical Committee and IPC Anti-Doping Committee who have operational roles at the Games
• A significant reduction in the number of IPC Honoured Guests, Distinguished Guests and IPC Guests
• NPC Guest Passes providing access to the Paralympic Village have been canceled