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Olympics notebook

Letter urges IOC not to punish athlete activism, medal stand demonstrations

US athletes Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right), raising a fist during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, were among 150 athletes and activists who signed a five-page letter urging the IOC to allow Olympians in Tokyo to demonstrate the way they did at the Summer Games in Mexico City.
US athletes Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right), raising a fist during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, were among 150 athletes and activists who signed a five-page letter urging the IOC to allow Olympians in Tokyo to demonstrate the way they did at the Summer Games in Mexico City.Associated Press

Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Gwen Berry were among more than 150 athletes, educators and activists who signed a letter Thursday urging the IOC not to punish participants who demonstrate at the Tokyo Games.

The five-page letter, published on the eve of the Olympics, asks the IOC not to sanction athletes for kneeling or raising a fist, the way Smith and Carlos did at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Berry, the American hammer thrower who triggered much of this debate, has said she intends to use her Olympic platform to point out racial inequality in the United States. She turned away from the flag when the national anthem played while she was on the medals stand at the Olympic trials last month.

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The IOC has made changes to its Rule 50 that bans political demonstrations at the Games, and has said it will allow them on the field, so long as they come before the start of action. Players from five Olympic soccer teams took to their knees Wednesday before their games on the opening night for that sport.

But the IOC did not lift the prohibition on medals-stand demonstrations, and has left some of the decision-making about punishment up to individual sports federations.

“We do not believe the changes made reflect a commitment to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right nor to racial and social justice in global sports,” said the letter, which was posted on the website of the Muhammad Ali Center and also signed by Ali’s daughter, four-time boxing world champion Lalia Ali.

The letter disputed the IOC’s long-held position that the Olympics should remain neutral, arguing that “neutrality is never neutral.”

“Staying neutral means staying silent, and staying silent means supporting ongoing injustice,” it said.

Among the others to sign the letter were fencer Race Imboden, who, along with Berry, was placed on probation by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee for demonstrating on the medal stand at the Pan American Games in 2019. The USOPC later changed its stance and will not sanction athletes who protest in Tokyo.

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US volleyball player Crabb out after fourth positive

American beach volleyball player Taylor Crabb is out of the Olympics after four positive COVID-19 tests, and Tri Bourne will take his place as the partner of four-time Olympian Jake Gibb when the competition begins this weekend.

Tri Bourne, seen here in action in 2014, will take the place of Taylor Crabb when it comes to beach volleyball action at this year's Olympics.
Tri Bourne, seen here in action in 2014, will take the place of Taylor Crabb when it comes to beach volleyball action at this year's Olympics.KYUSUNG GONG,/Associated Press

Crabb confirmed his withdrawal in a statement to The Associated Press, noting that he was vaccinated and tested negative before he left the United States but tested positive when he arrived in Japan.

“I’m symptom-free, thankfully, but deeply disappointed to not be able to join Jake on the sand and compete as a member of Team USA,” Crabb said. “I want Jake to play in his fourth Olympic games and I want him to bring home a medal. Tri Bourne, an incredible athlete, person and close friend will be competing alongside Jake and filling my spot on Team USA.”

Despite Crabb’s positive result at the Tokyo airport and follow-up tests that confirmed it, he remained hopeful that subsequent tests would clear him to play. Those results continued to come back positive — including one on Thursday, just hours before the deadline for the national governing body to replace him on the Olympic roster.

The Olympic beach volleyball tournament begins Saturday at Tokyo’s Shiokaze Park, with Gibb and Bourne scheduled to play their first match on Sunday night against Italy.

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“While there is no question that I’m devastated to not be competing, I’ve now taken on a new role — supporting my new team [coach Rich Lambourne], Jake and Tri Bourne,” Crabb, 29, who was looking to make his Olympic debut, told the AP. “I want to send positive vibes and negative test results to all athletes here in Tokyo — stay healthy and enjoy every moment.”

Bourne, a 32-year-old from Hawaii, was on the Southern California team that reached the 2009 NCAA finals in indoor volleyball and was the 2014 rookie of the year on the international beach tour. He was officially added to the US roster, shortly after Crabb texted to let him know he would be making his Olympic debut.

“It’s truly disappointing to hear that my dear friend will not be playing in the Tokyo Games,” Bourne said in a statement released by USA Volleyball. “Taylor is one of the world’s best and he earned this Olympic spot. . . . I’m very honored to be filling in for him and what he represents: his team, family friends and community back home.”

Accused US men’s fencer kept apart from team

Alen Hadzic, 29, of Montclair, N.J., will serve as an alternate in the men’s épée event with the US Olympic fencing team after having his temporary suspension on accusations of sexual impropriety overturned by an arbitrator June 29. While the accusations, which he denies, remain unsolved, Hadzic will have to remain apart from his US teammates in Tokyo.

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Hadzic, who had to fly separately to Japan, will compete as a replacement in the individual or team épée competition if a teammate gets hurt or becomes ill. He will not be permitted to stay in the Olympic Village; and must train and reside at a remote hotel as a precaution for the safety and well-being of other American fencers who expressed concerns about Hadzic’s presence and a desire to minimize distractions, according to USA Fencing.

Hadzic faces accusations of sexual impropriety by three women in incidents that occurred from 2013-15. At least two of the women were fencers who knew Hadzic during their college careers at Columbia University.

After he was temporarily banned from any fencing activities June 2 by the US Center for SafeSport, an independent agency created in 2017 to safeguard athletes in Olympic-related sports from sexual, emotional and physical abuse, Hadzic’s chances of participating in the Tokyo Games appeared to be done.

But Hadzic appealed and an arbitrator ruled that his suspension was “inappropriate to the allegations” and found that his participation on the Olympic team would not be “detrimental to the reputation of the United States or his sport.”

Guinea reverses decision to pull out of Tokyo Olympics

The West African country of Guinea has reversed an earlier decision to pull out of the Olympics and will send a delegation of five athletes to the Tokyo Games.

Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow made the announcement after national and international outcries that followed an earlier declaration late Wednesday that Guinea would not send athletes to Tokyo, blaming the coronavirus and its variants.

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Only days before the statement, Guinean Olympic committee secretary general Ben Daouda Nassoko had told The Associated Press funds had been released for the delegation to go to Tokyo.

Fatoumata Yarie Camara, a freestyle wrestler, was one of the five athletes affected by the decision.

She confirmed, through tears of joy, that she would be departing for Tokyo. She will be joined by other Guinean athletes, including swimmers Mamadou Tahirou Bah and Fatoumata Lamarana Toure, 100-meter runner Aissata Deen Conte and judo competitor Mamadou Samba Bah.

Guinea has participated in the Olympics 11 times but has never won a medal. North Korea is the only country to pull out of the Tokyo Olympics, also citing concerns related to COVID-19.

Australia upsets Argentina in men’s soccer

Two-time Olympic men’s soccer champion Argentina was stunned 2-0 by Australia in their opening game of Group C stage play at the Tokyo Games. The Argentines won Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008, while Australia’s best showing was fourth place in 1992. In its first Olympic game since 2008, Australia took the lead through Lachlan Wales’ tap-in the 14th minute at the Sapporo Dome. Argentina’s Francisco Ortega was sent off after being booked twice late in the first half. Marco Tilio then secured the victory in the 80th, just a minute after coming off the bench. Australia leads Group C, ahead of Egypt and Spain, who drew 0-0 in the other game . . . Romania made a winning return to Olympic men’s soccer after 57 years with a 1-0 victory over Honduras. The victory was clinched by Elvin Oliva’s own goal at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium. In the other Group B game, New Zealand beat South Korea 1-0 . . . Richarlison showed just why he was so determined to be allowed by Everton to come to Japan and make his Olympic debut for Brazil, the 24-year-old forward scoring a hat trick in the opening half hour of a 4-2 victory over Germany in Group D. After netting the rebound in the seventh minute after his initial shot was blocked by Germany goalkeeper Florian Müller, Richarlison didn’t have to wait long to lead his team’s conga dance, heading past Müller in the 22nd and curling in a third in the 30th. Richarlison’s enthusiasm was much-needed as players attempted to create as much atmosphere as possible with only artificial crowd noise as the pandemic shut out spectators from Yokohama’s 70,000-plus capacity stadium . . . In Group A, Mexico beat France 4-1 with four second-half goals. Alexis Vega headed in Mexico’s opener in the 46th minute and Sebastian Cordova doubled the lead with a volley in the 55th. France striker André-Pierre Gignac, who plays in Mexico’s top division with Tigres, pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 69th. Uriel Antuna and Eduardo Aguirre extended Mexico’s definitive lead in the final 10 minutes.