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2020 Olympics Will Be Postponed, IOC Member Says

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  • An International Olympic Committee member told USA Today on Monday that the 2020 Tokyo Games will be postponed.
  • Facing a surge of pressure amidst the worsening coronavirus pandemic, the IOC announced Sunday that it was considering this move.
  • Shortly after the announcement, Canada said it’s pulling its athletes from the Games if they take place this summer.
  • Australia made a similar move, saying it is not ready to assemble a team considering the current circumstances.
  • The IOC as a whole has not officially announced the postponement or details but said it would finalize decisions in the next four weeks.

IOC Considers Postponement

Pressure has been mounting against Olympic officials to reconsider the July commencement of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as the deadly coronavirus continues to infect populations around the globe. 

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said it is considering postponing the Games. This announcement came after Norway’s Olympic Committee, Brazil’s Olympic Committee, USA Track and Field, USA Swimming, and others pushed for the delay as the public health crisis grows. 

“The IOC will, in full coordination and partnership with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee, the Japanese authorities and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, start detailed discussions to complete its assessment of the rapid development of the worldwide health situation and its impact on the Olympic Games, including the scenario of postponement,” the committee said in a statement

The committee said it would finalize these decisions within the next four weeks.  

The IOC also noted that they are ruling out the option of canceling the Games altogether, saying that doing so “would not solve any of the problems or help anybody.”

In a letter to the athletes around the globe, IOC President Thomas Bach reiterated this sentiment, saying a total cancellation would destroy their Olympic dreams. Bach also outlined some of the hardships the Olympics community would face if the Games were delayed.  

“A number of critical venues needed for the Games could potentially not be available anymore. The situations with millions of nights already booked in hotels is extremely difficult to handle, and the international sports calendar for at least 33 Olympic sports would have to be adapted,” he wrote. “These are just a few of many, many more challenges.”

Canada and Australia Pull Out

Following the IOC’s news of possible postponement, Canada made a big announcement of their own on Sunday, becoming the first nation to pull its athletes from the Olympic Games this summer.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) announced their joint decision in a press release late Sunday night, urging for the Games to be postponed one year. 

“While we recognize the inherent complexities around a postponement, nothing is more important than the health and safety of our athletes and the world community,” the Canadian committees said.

The COC and CPC added that they are grateful for the IOC’s decision to not cancel the event entirely. 

The Australian Olympic Committee swiftly followed suit after their executive board members held a virtual conference on Monday and unanimously agreed that “an Australian Team could not be assembled in the changing circumstances at home and abroad.”

“We have athletes based overseas, training at central locations around Australia as teams and managing their own programs. With travel and other restrictions this becomes an untenable situation,” AOC CEO Matt Carroll said. 

The committee said that Australian athletes should prepare for the Olympics Games in the summer of 2021. 

Uncertainty Carries On

Though Canada and Australia are calling for the Games to be pushed back a year, it’s not yet clear if that will be the case if there is a postponement at all.

Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori implied that he wasn’t considering a very long delay for the Games.

“Whether it’s delayed by one month, three months or five months, we need to run simulations of the impact,” Mori said at a press conference on Monday.

“We are 2020 so that is the direction for now,” he added. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe weighed in on the topic during a parliamentary session on Monday.

“If it is difficult to hold [the games] in a complete way, a decision of postponement would be unavoidable,” Abe said, adding that he hopes the IOC comes to a decision soon.

On Monday, USA Today reported that International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound confirmed that the Games would indeed be postponed. 

“On the basis of the information the IOC has, postponement has been decided,” Pound said in an interview. “The parameters going forward have not been determined, but the Games are not going to start on July 24, that much I know.”

Pound said the announcement of the next steps will be rolled out. 

“It will come in stages,” he said. “We will postpone this and begin to deal with all the ramifications of moving this, which are immense.”

When USA Today asked for an IOC response and referenced Pound’s remarks, a spokesperson said: “It is the right of every IOC member to interpret the decision of the IOC executive board which was announced yesterday.”

The IOC has not officially added to their news of considering postponement and hammering out details over the next month.

Some have expressed their unhappiness with the projected decision timeline of 4 weeks. Among these people was Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association.

“We urge rapid decision-making for the sake of athletes who still face significant uncertainty,” Robertson told The New York Times. “Restrictions now in place have removed the ability of athletes to compete on a level playing field, and it simply does not seem appropriate to continue on the present course toward the Olympic Games in the current environment.”

The IOC’s decision affects many parties who have shared concern about how they can adequately prepare for the Games if the dates are up in the air. This includes sponsors who are spending millions of dollars on advertising, broadcasting networks who plan to air the events, and players in the travel and hospitality industries who are organizing people’s trips and stay in Tokyo. 

And as Robertson emphasized, as the heart of the Games, athletes want a decision as soon as possible. Some Olympic training facilities have closed as the coronavirus worsens and major qualifying events have been canceled. Athletes are facing the conflicting decision of continuing their rigorous training or heeding orders to stay home. 

“So many people feel that if there was an answer then we would know what to do,” Kathleen Baker, a gold and silver medalist in swimming at the 2016 Olympics, told The New York Times.

Baker is not the only Olympian demanding answers. Lolo Johnson, a U.S. Olympic hurdler, is among those urging the IOC to make a decision. 

“It’s tearing athletes apart,” Jones told the Associated Press. “We want to be like everyone else. We want to be healthy, responsible citizens. But we’re also afraid the IOC is going to say, in a month, that the games are on, and, what, hopefully you’re going to still be in shape?”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)

International

U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.

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The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.


New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle

A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.

Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.

In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.

The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.

Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.

However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased. 

In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.

High Court Ruling

The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.” 

“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”

Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.

If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.

Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.

U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe

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The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.


More Information About Omicron

Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.

One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.

Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa —  where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.

Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.

In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.

Studies on Vaccine Efficacy 

Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.

On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.

According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses. 

By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.

Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.

Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)

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40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox

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The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.


Camels Booted From Beauty Contest

More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.

The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.

However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”

Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.

An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.

In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (The Guardian) (ABC News)

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