- 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)
100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says
- On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
- Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
- Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard.
- The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.
Some Americans Left Behind
A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.
When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.
While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.
The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.
On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”
“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.
“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.
The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.
The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.
The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.
While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.
While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.
Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
- Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Growing Violence Across Myanmar
Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.
According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.
The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.
Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.
Sanctions May Not Work
The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.
At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.
Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”
“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.
See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.