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Olympics Updates: Sweden Upsets U.S. in Women’s Soccer Opener

The International Olympic Committee also gave the 2032 Summer Games to the Australian city the same day competition started in Tokyo.
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Sweden celebrated its third goal against the United States.
Sweden celebrated its third goal against the United States.Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

United States

CHOFU, Japan — Five years. That is how long it had waited for this game.

Five years since the United States women’s soccer team’s hopes for an Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games were dashed by Sweden. Five years since a defeat that forced the Americans to look in the mirror and ask hard questions about their age, dominance and future.

Five years of waiting, only to end up right back in the same place.

The United States opened the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday exactly where it ended the Rio Games five years earlier: reeling from a humbling, embarrassing defeat to Sweden.

Back then, it was a loss on penalties in the quarterfinals. This time, it was not nearly as close: Sweden dominated the United States, 3-0. Back then, Sweden had bunkered down and frustrated the Americans. On Wednesday, it simply dominated from one side of the field to the other.

“Did we expect this result tonight? No,” U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe said. “It’s frustrating, and it’s frustrating that it’s Sweden.”

“I don’t remember the last time we gave up a goal,” she added. “So to give up three is not great.”

Defender Kelley O’Hara acknowledged before the game that she and her teammates had been pining for another shot at the Swedes at the Games. “It’s what we’ve waited now five years for, to be back here,” she said.

They just never expected it to go like this.

Striker Stina Blackstenius delivered a goal in each half for Sweden, a glancing header in the 25th minute and a point-blank finish in the 54th that felt like a just reward for a dominant performance at the tip of a Sweden attack that had the Americans on their heels almost as soon as the game began.

The United States tried everything to turn the tide. Positional tweaks to try to aid a midfield that was routinely overrun. Substitutions to refashion a largely toothless attack. Reinforcements to bolster a defense that was first stretched and then cut apart.

Even the most reliable of veterans brought on to help seemed to have little effect. Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz — in her first appearance in months — came on at halftime, but Sweden soon doubled its lead. Rapinoe was inserted to offer a bit of menace on the wing, but it never materialized.

Australian Olympic officials during a news conference in Brisbane on July 15. On Wednesday in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee selected Brisbane as the host for the 2032 Games.
Australian Olympic officials during a news conference in Brisbane on July 15. On Wednesday in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee selected Brisbane as the host for the 2032 Games.Credit...Patrick Hamilton/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — As the Summer Olympics stumbled to an unsteady start on Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee took a big step toward crystallizing its long-term future by voting to officially select Brisbane, Australia, as host of the Summer Games in 2032.

Australia is now set to become a three-time Olympic host. It previously held the Games in Melbourne in 1956 and in Sydney in 2000.

The I.O.C. now has the next three Summer Games mapped out: the 2024 Olympics will take place in Paris, while the 2028 Games will be in Los Angeles.

Brisbane was the first city to win a summer bid under a new selection process that was overhauled in 2019 to discourage the organization from pitting cities against one another in expensive bidding wars.

The old bidding process had become increasingly untenable. Candidates frequently pulled out of contention after encountering local opposition. Corruption was a persistent issue.

“This revolution of the bidding process is an essential part of our good governance reforms,” Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., said in an interview before the Games. “With this new process, it’s much less prone to all this kind of lobbying and also corruption that obviously we saw in the past.”

The candidates that did make it through the old process were often flawed.

For the 2022 Winter Games, for instance, candidate cities from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Poland and Switzerland, among others, canceled their bids because of a lack of support at home. The last two bids remaining came from Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan — two places known for human rights issues. Beijing won the vote and the I.O.C. has since been peppered with criticism from human rights activists.

As part of the new process installed two years ago, the I.O.C. created two panels to review potential cities and make recommendations to the organization’s board.

The ultimate selection of Brisbane, then, had felt all but assured since February, when the committee revealed the city was its “preferred partner,” thus initiating discussions about final details. The vote carried out by the I.O.C.’s membership on Wednesday was seen largely as a formality.

Despite its supposed benefits, the I.O.C.’s new approach has raised some concerns. By selecting a host city in committees behind closed doors, the organization has opened itself to questions about conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency in the process.

For example, John Coates, the current president of the Australian Olympic Committee, is also an I.O.C. vice president and a close ally of Bach. The I.O.C. has insisted that Coates, and anyone else who could have a conflict of interest, was not involved in the recommendation process.

Cities in Germany, Qatar and Hungary, among others, also submitted bids for 2032. As part of the new process, these cities can talk with the I.O.C. about potentially hosting an Olympics in the future.

Tariq Panja contributed reporting.

Lucy Bronze of Britain took a knee before a match with Chile in Sapporo.
Lucy Bronze of Britain took a knee before a match with Chile in Sapporo.Credit...Masashi Hara/Getty Images

Britain’s women’s soccer team became the first athletes to take advantage of the loosening of the International Olympic Committee’s decades-long prohibition against expressions of protest.

Just before kicking off their 2-0 win over Chile, players on Team GB dropped to one knee in a protest to promote racial justice in a manner that has become common places on soccer fields in the United Kingdom and elsewhere over the past year. Chile’s players joined the demonstration as well, and players from the United States and Sweden also knelt before Sweden’s 3-0 win later Wednesday.

Such an action would have led to severe sanctions had the rules not been changed in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

The gesture, which spread across the sporting scene after the killing of George Floyd 14 months ago, is likely to be repeated throughout the games as athletes across the spectrum have pushed for greater rights of expression. Those calls led to the organizer of the Olympics to water down Rule 50 of its charter that banned any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda.”

Still, for some athlete groups the I.O.C.’s change of stance has not gone far enough. Athletes will not, for example, be able to express their protests on the medal podium. The I.O.C.’s rules also allow individual sports federations to retain the ban. FIFA, soccer governing body, has said it has no problems with player protests at the Games. The same goes for track and field. However, swimming’s leaders have said they will not countenance any form of protest on the pool deck which, according to the president of its governing body, should remain “a sanctity for sport and nothing else,” where there should be “respect for the greater whole, not the individual.”

The hodgepodge of regulations raises the possibility of some athletes being sanctioned for gestures that others will have made.

“There is not really a ‘one size fits all’ solution,” I.O.C. President Thomas Bach said before the Games.

Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raised their gloved hands in protest at the 1968 Olympics. 
Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raised their gloved hands in protest at the 1968 Olympics. Credit...Associated Press

When the American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal stand at the Mexico City Games in 1968 to protest the oppression of Black Americans, they gave voice to generations of the athletes eager to speak their minds, even as the International Olympic Committee and athletic federations try to curtail what they consider political demonstrations.

While the U.S.O.P.C. said in December that it will no longer penalize athletes who protest, the I.O.C. reaffirmed that protests during Olympic events or the medal stand are prohibited. That rule will be tested when the Tokyo Games open on Friday, Smith said in a recent interview, because athletes everywhere have been awakened in the year since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Women’s soccer players for Britain, Chile, Sweden and the United States knelt before their games on Wednesday, which fell under a relaxed I.O.C. rule that allows for demonstrations before the start of competition.

In a wide-ranging discussion following the release of “With Drawn Arms,” a documentary about his life, Smith said it was fruitless for the I.O.C. to try to muzzle athletes.

“It’s a rational thought that there’s going to be some type of change,” he said. “I think within the next three weeks, we’re going to see some change in something. I don’t know from who. That’s why the future is so important.”

Cat Osterman, who played in the last Olympic softball tournament in 2008, was back on the mound Wednesday.
Cat Osterman, who played in the last Olympic softball tournament in 2008, was back on the mound Wednesday.Credit...Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

United States

TOKYO — The U.S. softball team, behind the pitching of the ageless Cat Osterman, defeated a tenacious Italy team, 2-0, as softball returned to the Olympics on Wednesday for the first time since 2008.

Earlier, Japan, another contender for gold, got the Tokyo Games started with an 8-1 win over Australia.

Osterman, 38, who won a gold medal in 2004 and a silver in 2008, came out of retirement for these Games. She threw six of the seven innings, giving up just one hit and striking out nine.

Monica Abbott pitched the seventh and final inning for the United States and struck out the side.

Though Italy could not muster much offense, the pitching of Greta Cecchetti and Alexia Lacatena kept the game close. The United States got only five hits and scored its runs in the fourth and fifth innings on a single and a sacrifice fly.

The Japan-Australia game began with a ball and ended with a home run.

Michelle Cox, the leadoff hitter for the Australian softball team, took a low pitch from Japan pitcher Yukiko Ueno in an empty stadium in Fukushima on Wednesday in the first competitive act of the Tokyo Olympics.

The pitch — after a bit of pregame pageantry that included the introduction of several officials and dignitaries — officially kicked off an edition of the Games that was years in the making and one year delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yukiko Ueno pitched the first inning for Japan.Credit...Jorge Silva/Reuters

It was also the last offensive highlight for Australia. Japan responded with a run of its own in the bottom of the first, two in the third and three in the fourth. And when Yu Yamamoto hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning, Japan’s lead was 8-1 and the mercy rule was invoked, ending the game.

It is not uncommon for Olympic competition to begin before the opening ceremony, a consequence of a tight schedule and expanded tournaments that can require longer than the Games’ official 17-day window to complete.

Alicja Tchorz, who represented Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, was one of the six swimmers sent home.
Alicja Tchorz, who represented Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, was one of the six swimmers sent home.Credit...Tobias Schwarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

TOKYO — Six Polish swimmers were sent home from the Olympics this week after the country’s swimming federation arrived in Japan with too many competitors.

Poland originally selected 23 swimmers for the Tokyo Games but had to trim its list to 17 based on world swimming’s qualifying rules. Since the team had already arrived in Japan, that meant the disqualified swimmers — who had been feted on their departure and had taken the Olympic oath — had to fly back to Warsaw on Sunday, only days before the opening ceremony.

One of the swimmers, Alicja Tchorz, expressed outrage at the fiasco in a Facebook post and demanded the resignation of the federation’s leadership.

“Imagine dedicating 5 years of your life and striving for another start at the most important sporting event,” wrote Tchorz, who swam for Poland at the 2012 and 2016 Games. “Giving up your private life and work, sacrificing your family, etc.”

Her frustrations were amplified, she said, upon learning “6 days before the grand finale, it turns out that you were denied your dreams because of the incompetence of third parties.”

In an interview after returning to Warsaw, she said she and her teammates were planning to file a lawsuit and demanding the removal of the officials responsible for the mistake. “The absolute minimum is the resignation of the board,” Tchorz said. “Any dignity requires it.”

The other swimmers informed they could not compete were identified in news reports and social media posts as Bartosz Piszczorowicz, Aleksandra Polanska, Mateusz Chowaniec, Dominika Kossakowska and Jan Holub.

A video shared on social media by a Polish journalist showed the swimmers who had been ordered to return home sharing hugs and saying goodbye to other members of the Polish delegation before their departure last weekend.

In a lengthy statement explaining the error, the president of Poland’s swimming federation, Pawel Slominski, expressed regret for the mistake but also attempted to assign some of the blame to swimming’s qualifying rules and to Poland’s Olympic committee.

“I express great regret, sadness and bitterness about the situation,” Slominski said in the statement. “Such a situation should not take place, and the reaction of the swimmers, their emotions, the attack on the Polish Swimming Federation is understandable to me and justified.”

On Instagram, Chowaniec railed against “the incompetent people” leading the swimming federation.

“I am deeply shocked by what happened and this is an absurd situation for me that should never have happened,” he wrote. “In fact, I hope to wake up from this NIGHTMARE eventually!”

Hector Velazquez, along with another teammate, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. They are asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the Mexican baseball federation said in a statement.
Hector Velazquez, along with another teammate, tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday. They are asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the Mexican baseball federation said in a statement.Credit...Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Mexican national baseball team is in quarantine after two players tested positive for coronavirus ahead of traveling to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, Mexican baseball federation officials announced.

Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis, both 32-year-old pitchers, were tested on Sunday in Mexico City as the team gathered to begin practice. They were asymptomatic and isolating in their hotel rooms, the federation said in a statement. As a result,national federation officials said practice on Monday was canceled and the rest of the team was quarantining in its hotel awaiting results from further testing.

Over the weekend, players and coaches reported to Mexico City and had begun training ahead of their departure to Japan. Mexico’s first game in the Olympics is scheduled for July 30, against the Dominican Republic, at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Solis and Velazquez — both former Major League Baseball players — play for the same team in Mexico’s top professional league.

“Honored and excited to announce that I will be representing #TeamMexico at the Olympics in #Tokyo2020!!!!,” Solis said earlier this month, when the Mexican team was announced. “Being named an Olympian is a lifelong dream! Time to chase that.”

The news was a blow for fifth-ranked Mexico, which had qualified for the first time for the Olympics in baseball, a sport making its return to the Summer Games after a 13-year hiatus.

With games beginning on Wednesday and the opening ceremony on Friday, nearly 60 people connected to the Tokyo Games, from athletes within the Olympic Village to Japanese residents working at the events, have tested positive. Organizers are struggling to manage public anxiety as many thousands more athletes, coaches and other officials arrive in Japan for the Games.

The Mexican baseball team was the latest Olympic team to be disrupted by the virus. The United States’ men’s basketball, women’s 3x3 basketball and the women’s gymnastics teams have had to reshuffle their rosters after athletes either tested positive or entered virus health and safety protocols.

From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for a virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for the Olympics. Plus learn about the sports new to the Games through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore, skateboarders Zion Wright and Jordyn Barratt, and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.

The World Health Organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, left, received the Olympic torch from Thomas Bach of the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The World Health Organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, left, received the Olympic torch from Thomas Bach of the International Olympic Committee in Tokyo on Wednesday.Credit...Greg Martin/OIS/IOC/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images

In a world divided by access to vaccines, social restrictions aimed at limiting human contact, and an ever-changing maze of border closures that continue to keep people apart, the head of the World Health Organization said he hopes the Olympic Games in Tokyo could represent a moment of global solidarity.

“The Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what’s possible,” the agency’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday.

Holding an Olympic torch aloft, he sought to strike a note of optimism even as the world confronts yet more waves of infection and uncertainty.

“May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world,” he said.

But even as he spoke, the virus continued to stalk the sporting contest.

A Chilean taekwondo athlete, Fernanda Aguirre, was ruled out of action after testing positive for the virus, according to a statement from Chile’s National Olympic Committee. A Dutch skateboarder, Candy Jacobs, also announced on Wednesday that she had tested positive and was out of the Games.

With the opening ceremony still two days away, thousands of athletes, coaches, referees and other officials have poured into Japan in recent days. More than 70 people affiliated with the Games have tested positive, according to organizers, including five within the Olympic Village.

With less than a quarter of the Japanese public fully vaccinated, there is intense opposition to the Games in a nation that fears the competitions could turn into superspreader events.

Tedros said that it was always highly unlikely that there would be no infections at the Olympics, only that the spread of the virus could be mitigated.

Success did not require “zero cases,” he said. “The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible, and onward transmission is interrupted. That is the mark of success for every country.”

Even as he warned that the world was “now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths,” Tedros said that stopping the worst ravages of the epidemic would take greater political unity than governments have so far mustered. He called the world’s failure to more equitably distribute vaccines “a moral outrage” and “epidemiologically and economically self-defeating.”

But the gathering of athletes in Japan, he said, could perhaps provide some inspiration for a divided planet.

“It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed,” he said.

Jamie Kermond was set to participate in the show jumping event in what would be his first Olympics appearance.
Jamie Kermond was set to participate in the show jumping event in what would be his first Olympics appearance.Credit...Erik S Lesser/EPA, via Shutterstock

An equestrian athlete from Australia was provisionally suspended on Wednesday after testing positive for a metabolite of cocaine.

The rider, Jamie Kermond, was suspended by the Australian equestrian federation. He tested positive in late June, the federation said. The suspension is provisional while a second sample is tested. Should it also be positive, he would miss the Games.

Kermond, 36, was to participate in the show jumping event, both as an individual and part of the Australian team. This would have been his first Olympics appearance.

Kermond is not a top-ranked rider, and the Australian team is considered a long shot in an event likely to be dominated by Switzerland, Britain and a United States team that features Jessica Springsteen.

Credit...Irene Rinaldi

It’s been a rocky road to the 2021 Tokyo Games, which, after being delayed a year by the pandemic, will now take place (beginning Friday) without any spectators. Uncertainty and controversy, and a rising number of Covid-19 cases in the city, have increasingly overshadowed the preparations for the Summer Olympics, and early events like the ceremonial torch relay have felt subdued.

But despite the circumstances, the Games will (almost certainly) go on. Whether you’re a dedicated Olympics fan or a casual viewer, these podcasts will get you in the mood.

‘Blind Landing’

This compelling new investigative podcast series tells the little-known true story of one of the biggest mistakes in Olympic history. Women’s gymnastics got off to a rough start at the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, marred by controversies over substance use and falsified ages — and then, during a competition vault event, things really got weird. One by one, with the whole world watching, elite gymnasts kept falling off the vault, in ways that were embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst. By the time somebody figured out what was going on (no spoilers here), the damage was done. In this five-episode series, through interviews with athletes who were there, Ari Saperstein delves into the bizarre back story of what happened.

Starter episode: “Episode 1”

‘Beyond the Games’

When a city wins its bid to host the Olympics, the implications go way beyond the single summer (or winter) when the ceremonies took place. Using the city of Sydney as its test case, this six-episode show explores what happens once the last medal has been awarded and the crowds have dispersed. Twenty years after the Sydney Olympics, the journalist Mark Beretta interviews the organizers and officials who were responsible for fulfilling the pledge to make it “the greenest Games ever” and how that decision inspired urban transformation and environmental progress throughout Australia.

Starter episode: “How the Green Games Influenced a National and International Environmental Movement”

‘Sasha Sessions: A Team U.S.A. Podcast’

The first podcast from Team U.S.A. debuted less than a year ago, in November of 2020, and it’s sure to whet your appetite for the long-awaited Games. Hosted by Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist in figure skating, the show features weekly conversations with guests who are mainly fellow Olympians, including several Tokyo-bound athletes like the gymnast Yul Moldauer, the Paralympic basketball player Matt Scott and the softball player Haylie McCleney. Because the show began during the pandemic, many of the interviews touch on subjects like mental health and staying motivated in a time of uncertainty, which are just as relevant to nonathletes. The show just wrapped up its first season at the start of July, but there are plans for it to return in the future.

Starter episode: “Tokyo Bound”

Israel’s national baseball team is headed to the Olympics in Tokyo. On an American tour, the team recently played in Pomona, N.Y.
Israel’s national baseball team is headed to the Olympics in Tokyo. On an American tour, the team recently played in Pomona, N.Y.Credit...Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

Shortly before the start of a recent exhibition game, the members of Israel’s national baseball team assembled along the third-base line at Maimonides Park in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn and replaced their baseball caps with skullcaps in preparation for the singing of the Israeli national anthem.

But only a few players knew enough Hebrew to sing along.

The team, currently on tour in New York, has only four players who are native to the country. The rest of the 24-player roster mostly consists of American players whose Jewish roots allow them under Olympic rules to play for the team. It’s also a ragtag assemblage of retired major leaguers, current minor leaguers and even some weekend warriors with day jobs.

Four years ago, the team was ranked 48th in the world, but it shocked the baseball world by qualifying for the World Baseball Classic, making it into the tournament’s second round. In 2019, it continued its surprising run by qualifying for the Olympics.

Team Israel will compete in Tokyo against five other qualifying countries: the U.S., Japan, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Mexico.

At Maimonides Park on July 11, some fans waved Israeli flags. Others wore hats and shirts bearing the Star of David. One fan wore a T-shirt showing a rabbi slugging a baseball along with the words “Jew Crew,” a reference to the national team, which was wearing crisp blue uniforms also featuring the Star of David.

The squad probably has more fans in New York than in Israel, said Peter Kurz, the team’s general manager.

Brandon Lakind and his friend Cameron Johnson, high school students from Randolph, N.J., said they had been following the team.

“It’s crazy to see that they made the top six teams in the world,” Brandon said. “That alone is pretty cool.”

Olivia Breen, a Paralympic bronze medalist, in 2018.
Olivia Breen, a Paralympic bronze medalist, in 2018.Credit...Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Olivia Breen, a two-time Paralympic world champion for Britain, said she was “speechless” and “gobsmacked” when an official at the English Championships told her on Sunday that her competition bottoms were “too short” and “inappropriate” after she competed in a long jump event.

In a tweet afterward, Breen wrote that she had been wearing these types of shorts, designed for competition, for years and hoped to wear similar ones when she competes in the Paralympics in Tokyo next month.

After the episode, Breen questioned whether male athletes would be subjected to the same scrutiny, joining an array of female athletes speaking out against uniform double standards that can result in fines against women.

Breen said that it was extremely hot on Sunday and that many male long jump athletes took off their shirts but were not approached by any officials. But after her event, when Breen was chatting with a teammate, she said an official asked to speak with her.

“She was just like, ‘I think your briefs are too revealing, and I think you should consider buying a new pair of shorts,’” Breen said. “My first response was, ‘Are you joking?’”

Breen, 24, has cerebral palsy, hearing loss and some learning difficulties. She has won gold twice at the I.P.C. World Championships — in the T38 long jump in 2017 and the T35-38 100-meter sprint relay in 2015 — and bronze in the 4×100-meter relay in the 2012 Paralympic Games.

Breen said lightweight briefs — in this case, Adidas official competition 2021 briefs,which she later posted a photo of online — gave her an advantage. The bottoms complied with regulations, she said, adding that she filed a formal complaint to England Athletics, the organization running the competition.

Since posting about the episode, Breen said she had heard from other female athletes who have had similar experiences and said she thought women had a right to feel comfortable while competing.

“It just made me so angry,” Breen said. “We shouldn’t be told what we can wear and what we can’t wear.”

England Athletics said in a statement that it would investigate the matter.

“The well-being of all participants in athletics is of the utmost importance, and everyone should feel comfortable to compete and participate in the sport,” the statement said.

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