Seiko Hashimoto

Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the Tokyo Olympics speaks during a press conference in Tokyo. Kyodo News via AP

OLYMPICS

Japanese residents with tickets to the Tokyo Olympics may not know until weeks before the games open if they’ll be allowed to attend.

Fans from abroad have already been barred, and on Wednesday organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto said a decision on venue capacity – or if there will be any fans at all, or just empty venues – may not be made until June. She had previously promised that decision for this month.

“We are still studying the timing,” Hashimoto said at a news conference in Tokyo after she and CEO Toshiro Muto finished an online, closed-door briefing with the IOC executive board in Switzerland. She confirmed that June “was an option. I guess we need a little more time to make a proper judgment.”

Government minister Taro Kano, who is in charge of the vaccine rollout in Japan, hinted last week that empty venues seemed likely as COVID-19 surges across Japan. Hashimoto’s backpedaling is typical of the ever-changing planning as virus cases rise in Japan with Tokyo’s postponed Olympics set to open in three months in the midst of a pandemic.

Hashimoto acknowledged the low public support in Japan for going ahead with the Olympics, particularly since less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated. Polls repeatedly show 70-80% are opposed to going ahead with the games.

“In local municipalities the situations are rather dire,” Hashimoto said. “And in this context, Japanese citizens and residents have worries and concerns. I know that. … For the safety and security of the games, we must contain the spread of the virus as soon as possible.”

SOCCER DRAWS SET: The United States will open the women’s Olympic soccer tournament on July 21 against Sweden, the team that beat the World Cup champion Americans in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

The two teams were drawn into Group G on Wednesday and will also play Australia and New Zealand at the Tokyo Games. The Oceania neighbors will also play on July 21, two days before the Olympics officially open. Defending champion Germany did not qualify. Host nation Japan was put into Group E with 2016 bronze medalist Canada, Britain and Chile. The Netherlands, which reached the 2019 World Cup final, will face Brazil, China and Zambia in Group F.

In the men’s tournament, Olympic champion Brazil will face silver medalist Germany in Group D on July 22, one day before the opening ceremony. The group also includes Ivory Coast and Saudi Arabia. Japan’s men’s team was drawn into Group A with South Africa, Mexico and France, while Spain will face Argentina, Australia and Egypt in Group C. South Korea will take on New Zealand, Romania and Honduras in Group B.

The men’s tournament is for under-23 players, but teams can select three overage players.

SOCCER

BUNDESLIGA: Schalke has condemned the fans who police in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, said pelted players with eggs hours after the team was relegated from the Bundesliga. Fan groups confronted the players in the early hours of Wednesday morning when the team returned from its 1-0 away loss at Bielefeld which confirmed Schalke would drop out of German soccer’s top tier for the first time in 30 years.

“During this encounter, so far unidentified individual people from the crowd crossed lines which FC Schalke 04 considers non-negotiable,” the club said. Schalke added that it understood the anger but “the club will never accept the physical welfare of its players and staff being endangered. That is exactly what happened last night due to the actions of individuals.”

Police in Schalke’s home city of Gelsenkirchen said up to 600 people, some with pyrotechnics, gathered at the club’s stadium to await the team’s return. When the team left the bus, “the players had eggs thrown at them and were verbally attacked.” Police said they intervened to stop the incident escalating further. There was no immediate report of arrests but police are still investigating. No injuries were reported.

Relegation follows a dramatic decline for Schalke, which played in the Champions League knockout stages two seasons before. The club is in deep financial trouble and has won only two Bundesliga games all season.

GOLF

LPGA: Jessica Korda birdied three of the final four holes for a 7-under 64 and a one-stroke lead after the first round of the HUGEL Air Premia LA Open.

Korda had eight birdies and a bogey at Wilshire Country Club. She won the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January for her sixth LPGA Tour title, and sister Nelly Korda followed with a victory a month later in the Gainbridge LPGA in the second event of the year.

Tiffany Chan and Moriya Jutanugarn were a stroke back.

Nelly Korda was two strokes back at 66 with Dana Finkelstein, Su Oh, Carlota Ciganda and Austin Ernst.

Michelle Wie West matched Lexi Thompson with a 70.

FOOTBALL

CFL DELAYS SEASON: The Canadian Football League is pushing back the start of its 2021 season and reducing the number of games played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league announced Wednesday that it plans to kick off the season Aug. 5, nearly two months later than originally planned. The original schedule was slated to open June 10 with each team playing a full 18-game regular season, but with Canada dealing with a third wave of the virus, the CFL board of governors also decided to reduce the schedule to 14 games. The decision also pushes back the Grey Cup game three weeks, to Dec. 12 in Hamilton, Ontario.

The league stressed that the schedule revision is merely a target date because of the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.

TENNIS

BARCELONA OPEN: Rafael Nadal needed three sets to beat his 111th-ranked opponent in his first match at the Barcelona Open on Wednesday, while Fabio Fognini was disqualified for alleged verbal abuse.

Fognini was defaulted while trailing 6-0, 4-4 against qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain, after a line judge told the chair umpire that the ninth-seeded Italian had used foul language. Fognini denied wrongdoing and was upset as he left the court, breaking his racket after hitting it at the net post on his way out.

Nadal had to overcome a slow start to defeat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 at the clay-court tournament. Nadal is seeking a record 12th title in the Barcelona tournament. He won the event six times in its last nine editions. The Barcelona Open was not played last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Andrey Rublev advanced in Barcelona by defeating Federico Gaio 6-4, 6-3, while second-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas – who beat Rublev in the Monte Carlo final – cruised past wild-card entry Jaume Munar of Spain 6-0, 6-2. Sixth-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta defeated Australian Jordan Thompson 6-4, 6-0, while Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada rallied to beat Italian Lorenzo Musetti 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

CYCLING

FLECHE WALLONNE: Julian Alaphilippe earned his third victory in the Flèche Wallonne one-day classic on Wednesday, overtaking Spanish Vuelta champion Primoz Roglič on the final ascent to the finish line in Huy, Belgium.

Roglič, the Tour de France runner-up, attacked up the grueling Mur de Huy about 350 meters from the finish but couldn’t hold off the 28-year-old Frenchman, who also won in 2018 and ’19. The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider finished the 194-kilometer (120-mile) course in 4 hours, 36 minutes, 25 seconds. Roglič was credited with the same time and 40-year-old Alejandro Valverde of Spain was third, six seconds back.

Before the race, Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar and defending champion Marc Hirschi were last-minute withdrawals after their UAE Team Emirates team had two positive coronavirus tests, even though the team was previously vaccinated.

In the women’s race, world champion Anna van der Breggen won for the seventh straight time by outclimbing Kasia Niewiadoma on the final ascent.

Last year’s Flèche Wallonne was pushed back to September because of the coronavirus pandemic.


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