Tokyo Olympics hit by trifecta of discouraging news amid Covid fears

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NBC News 19 July, 2021 - 12:40pm 9 views

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Coco Gauff, shown here at Wimbledon earlier this month, will not be compete at the Tokyo Olympics due to a positive coronavirus test. TOKYO — U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff will no longer lead the U.S. tennis team at the Tokyo Olympics. NPRU.S. Tennis Star Coco Gauff Tests Positive For Coronavirus And Will Miss Olympics

First, Toyota Motor Corp., the biggest car company in Japan, announced it was pulling its domestic television advertisements for the duration of the games. Then, a teenager who is an alternate member of the United States women’s gymnastics team tested positive for Covid. And finally, a Japanese musician who composed some of the score for Friday’s opening ceremony resigned after coming under fire for his past history as a bully.

And all of this happened as a new poll published by Asahi Shimbun, one of the largest national daily newspapers, reported that despite the best efforts by local organizers and the International Olympic Committee, much of the Japanese public continues to oppose the games.

“There is a mixed public sentiment towards the Games,” Masa Takaya, a Tokyo Olympics spokesperson, said, according to The Associated Press.

Jeremy Fuchs, the author of a book about the history of the Olympics, said that it is important to remember that "there's never been an entirely happy Olympics," and the games are sometimes overshadowed by contentious debates about human rights, political gestures or excessive spending.

"But this much controversy I think is really unprecedented, and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an example in history where citizens of a host country are this unhappy," he said.

Toyota isn’t just Japan’s biggest carmaker, but it’s also one of the Tokyo Games’ biggest benefactors and the supplier of thousands of vehicles that the athletes and organizers have been using to get around. But with much of the public opposed to the games because of fears that the arriving athletes and others could inflame the pandemic, Toyota decided to remove the ads it produced for its domestic audience.

“It’s becoming an Olympics where a lot of things are not understood,” Jun Nagata, a spokesman for the car company, said and added that neither Toyota’s president nor other top executives will be attending the opening ceremony.

Asked about Toyota’s decision, Takaya said: “I need to emphasize that those partners and companies have been very supporting to Tokyo 2020. There are passionate about making these Games happen."

Gymnastics are a marquee Olympic event and the U.S. women's team members are a top draw. So word that a gymnast had tested positive quickly dominated the headlines.

“We can confirm that an alternate on the women’s artistic gymnastics team tested positive for Covid-19,” the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a brief statement. “In alignment with local rules and protocols, the athlete has been transferred to a hotel to quarantine.”

The alternate, Kara Eaker, tested positive at a training camp, her coach told The Associated Press.

Even more worrisome, another teammate who had been in “close contact” with Eaker had been placed “on standby,” the authorities said.

In a separate development, the teenage tennis player Cori "Coco" Gauff announced Sunday that she has tested positive for Covid and will not compete in the Tokyo Olympics, where she was expected to lead Team USA.

"I am so disappointed to share the news that I have tested positive for COVID and won't be able to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo," she wrote on social media. "It has always been a dream of mine to represent the USA at the Olympics, and I hope there will be many more chances for me to make this come true in the future."

Keigo Oyamada, better known to his legions of fans as Cornelius, is a maverick musician who has been dubbed the “Japanese Beck” and who has been likened to Brian Wilson, the genius behind the Beach Boys.

In Japan, Oyamada was best known as one of the originators of the kitschy Shibuya-kei sound.

With that kind of résumé, Japanese organizers were eager to tap him to contribute to the score of the opening ceremony.

But back in the 1990s, Oyamada sounded some discordant notes when he boasted in several magazine interviews about how in grade school and high school he tormented fellow students. In particular, he described how he made a disabled classmate eat his own feces and masturbate in front of the class.

When word of the interviews got out, he publicly apologized. The Tokyo Olympics organizers said they had no idea the musician had acted like a monster but initially said they hoped he would continue to participate in the festivities.

On Monday, Oyamada announced on Twitter that he had “submitted my resignation to the organizing committee.”

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude for all the comments and suggestions, and I will reflect on them in my future actions and thoughts,” he wrote. “I sincerely apologize for this incident.”

Games organizers also released a statement that said Oyamada's bullying was "absolutely unacceptable."

"In light of his sincere apology, we expressed a willingness to allow Mr. Oyamada to continue his work on preparations in the short time remaining before the Opening Ceremony," the statement said. "However, we have come to believe this decision was wrong, and we have decided to accept his resignation."

David Wallechinsky, one of the founding members of the International Society of Olympic Historians and the organization's former president, said that despite the wave of bad headlines "these Olympics will probably come off well on television."

"Keep in mind that something like 98 percent of people around the world follow the Olympics on TV or online," Wallechinsky said. "It will look fine to them. My experience is that once the competitions begin, the media and the public overwhelmingly shift their attention to the competitions and the athletes."

NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the U.S. broadcasting rights to the Games.

Arata Yamamoto has been a NBC News producer in Tokyo since 1993.

Read full article at NBC News

The brutal story of the 1936 Popular Olympics: a boycott of fascism and Hitler

National Geographic 19 July, 2021 - 03:01pm

Athletes took up arms when alternative games protesting the Olympics in Nazi Germany were overtaken by war.

On July 3, 1936, a month before what’s come to be known as the Nazi Olympics in Berlin, a group of American athletes boarded a ship bound for Europe. The U.S. team included Black sprinters from Harlem, Jewish gymnasts from Manhattan, and a biracial boxer from Pittsburgh. Their coach was Abraham Alfred “Chick” Chakin, an immigrant whose family had fled pogroms in Russia. Chakin, retired from wrestling, had returned to the mat to lead the athletes, but they weren’t going to the official games in Germany. They were headed to Spain for the inaugural Popular Olympics, which promised to be the “greatest anti-fascist spectacle yet seen.” 

While the 1936 Olympics is remembered as the games where Black American sprinter Jesse Owens undermined Nazi racist ideology by winning the most gold medals, the Popular Olympics athletes hoped their games would demonstrate the strength of the antifascist movement. They quickly discovered that the contest against fascism was going to be far more brutal than they’d expected.

The Popular Olympics, scheduled to open July 19, 1936, arose out of the global movement to boycott the event in Germany, the first such boycott attempt in Olympic history. But this wasn’t the first time that the Olympics had been engulfed by world events. The games had been canceled in 1916 during World War I; they’d be canceled again during World War II and postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. By the summer of 1936, many people could no longer ignore what was happening in Germany: Hitler had remilitarized the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles treaty that ended World War I and had begun rounding up Jews, Roma, leftists, men accused of being gay, and people with disabilities and sending them to concentration camps. (Learn about the dark history behind the Olympic games.)

Still, the boycott campaign failed to convince countries to keep their teams home. The International Conference for the Respect of the Olympic Ideal, held in April in Paris, came up with another plan—an alternative event that would showcase the Popular Front, the broad alliance of leftists, liberals, communists, and socialists that had come together to prevent the spread of fascism. The Catalan government in Barcelona offered to host, even though Spain was spiraling toward conflict. Earlier that year, Popular Front governments had been elected in Barcelona and Madrid—a call to arms for monarchists, fascists, Catholic extremists, and landowners on the right. Even so, some 20,000 anti-fascist athletes and fans decided to attend the games.

Alternatives to the Olympics weren’t a new idea. The International Workers’ Olympiad had been held every four years since 1921 to counter the official game’s perceived aristocratic bent, but the socialist effort excluded anarchists and other members of the Popular Front. The Maccabiah Games launched in 1932 and continue to this day, but that competition was primarily for Jewish and later Israeli athletes.

The Popular Olympics would be different, especially from the official events in Berlin. During the opening ceremonies, exiled Jews from Europe and colonized people from North Africa would enter the stadium with teams representing both nation-states and stateless nations, accompanied by a song composed by an exiled German Jew with lyrics written by a Catalan poet. The crowd would be drawn from 21 nations, and the first athletic event of the games would be the 10x100m relay, a 10-person relay race designed to reward nations for elevating the fitness of their working people rather than for celebrating individual talent. (Read about the Iroquois’ quest to compete in Olympic lacrosse.)

Women would be competing, too, with more opportunities to demonstrate their skills than the International Olympic Committee allowed in Berlin. “The picture of the Peoples’ Olympiad would not be complete if woman did not take her due place in it,” proclaimed the organizers, among them the Catalan Feminist Sports Club.

The Popular Olympics, planned in just three months, couldn’t offer the luxuries of the official games. Berlin athletes stayed in the newly built Olympic Village (after they left, the village housed the Condor Legion, the German military unit that would go on to bomb the Basque town of Guernica a year later, killing hundreds of civilians). Athletes in Barcelona stayed in homes, hostels, and the recently re-appointed Hotel Olympic. In the weeks before the games, Catalan officials dashed around the city desperately trying to find more lodging due to the unexpected appetite for an antifascist Olympics. When the games were extended from four days to one week, posters that had already been hung had to be individually updated.

The U.S. team arrived in Barcelona on July 15. They’d heard rumors of unrest in Spain—whispers of a coming coup—but sprinter Dot Tucker, the team’s only woman, later recalled that “we had no fear.” Chakin struggled in vain to keep the athletes out of Barcelona’s bars and nightclubs. The night before the games, however, they retired early.

A few hours later, sprinter Frank Payton woke to “the rumbling of cannon, several thousand machine guns and rifles, and the sound of marching feet.” From their hotel windows, the athletes watched men and women tearing up cobblestones and filling sandbags to build barricades. Soon, the Spanish army came marching into the city, intent on overthrowing the Catalan government.

The civilians at the barricades fought back. “Socialists, communists, and unionists united to eradicate fascism,” Payton later told an interviewer. “Women held barricades; some women even led detachments of workers against the fascists.” Many of those same women had formed the Feminist Sports Club, which had invited young Catalan women to compete, and fight, as men’s equals. In one instance, Catalan anarchists advanced on the military with their hands in the air, spoke to the soldiers, and convinced them to turn their artillery pieces on their officers.

The battle made a huge impression on the young Americans. Charlie Burley, a national champion boxer from Pittsburgh, rushed outside with his teammates as soon as the shooting stopped and grabbed a shovel to reinforce the barricades. They were joined by exiled Germans and Italians, who knew that the only way they could ever return home was to defeat fascism, first in Spain and then in Berlin and Rome. Throughout the city, workers armed themselves with weapons from raided armories and managed to repel the best efforts of Spain’s professional military.

In a few short hours, antifascism went from an idea to an action to a resounding victory in the Catalan capital. The coup was defeated, for the moment, but there would be no Popular Olympics. The Spanish Civil War had begun.

After the battle was over, the teams marched through the streets singing the left-wing anthem “The Internationale” in their own languages. One French athlete had been killed, the first of more than 15,000 international casualties in the conflict. Many athletes left later that week. “You came for the games and stayed to see the victory of the Popular Front,” the organizers told them. “Spread through the world news of what you have seen in Spain.”

Not every athlete would stay home for long. Chakin was haunted by what he had witnessed in Barcelona. The following year, he and his wife, Jennie Berman Chakin, returned to Spain. She established an art therapy program for children displaced by the war, while he set off for the front where he served as a quartermaster in the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. In March 1938, Chakin was captured by the Nationalists and executed.

Two hundred athletes who’d intended to compete in the Popular Olympics fought with the Republicans in Spain. Most of them were killed. George Orwell, who also took part in the conflict, once said that sports was “war without the shooting,” but for the antifascists who came to Barcelona for the games in 1936, they really were playing a life and death match.

James Stout is the author of The Popular Front and the Barcelona 1936 Popular Olympics: Playing as if the World Was Watching.

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