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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Japan wins Tokyo Olympics softball opener as Games get underway amid COVID-19

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Japan’s women’s softball team got the Tokyo 2020 Olympics off to a winning start for the hosts on Wednesday, a boost for the pandemic-postponed Games that the World Health Organization sees as “a celebration of hope” even as COVID-19 cases surge.

Olympics and Japanese officials have forged ahead with the sports spectacle despite opposition in the country to hosting more than 11,000 athletes, staff and media.

But spectators have been barred and restrictions imposed in host city Tokyo in an effort to minimize health risks and contain a mounting number of infections.

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Games should go ahead to demonstrate to the world what can be achieved with the right plan and measures.

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“May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world,” he said, holding aloft an Olympic Games torch as he addressed the International Olympic Committee members at their session in the Japanese capital. “It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed.”

But Tedros warned the world was in the early stages of another wave of infections and criticized the vaccine discrepancies between countries.

“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it. It is in our hands,” he said. “We have all the tools we need. We can prevent this disease, we can test for it and we can treat it.”

2:30 Team Canada names flag-bearers for Tokyo Olympic Games

Team Canada names flag-bearers for Tokyo Olympic Games Japan, with about 34% of the population having had at least one dose of the vaccine, has been concerned the Olympics could become a super-spreader event.

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In a recent poll in the Asahi newspaper, 68% of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organizers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead.

Japanese domestic media reported that government adviser Shigeru Omi said Tokyo daily COVID-19 infections may spike to a record level of 3,000 in first week of August.

That would cause an extremely high risk of pressuring on the already-stretched medical system.

Underscoring the downsized Games due to the pandemic, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will only meet with less than 20 country leaders on the sidelines of the Olympics, down from as many as 120 originally scheduled, the Mainichi Shimbun daily reported.

Japan clinches 8-1 win over AustraliaThe softball match between a gold-medal contender Japan and Australia was held amid buzzing cicadas and polite applause from a few hundred staff as a trio of two-run homers cleared the fence after spectators were banned at the stadium.

“I feel relieved,” said Japan’s starting pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who surrendered just two hits over 4-1/3 innings, but saw her team easily prevail with a trio of two-run homers toward an 8-1 win.

Ueno, ace of the softball team’s 2008 gold medal run, struggled to throw strikes early and hit two Australians.

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Coach Reika Utsugi said Ueno was too cautious after the pandemic had limited scrimmages. Ueno blamed her excitement on the “very long time” between Olympics – a remark she illustrated for reporters by outstretching her arms.

Ueno quickly bounced back. Australian designated player Tarni Stepto said her side failed to exert patience at the plate, leaving bases loaded in the first after scoring the game’s initial run.

The game ended after five innings due to a mercy rule.

Players standing along the benches under the scorching sun – 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) by midgame – shouted at the hitters all morning, giving the game a Little League feel.

The players needed ice water poured on their necks to help them stand the heat, Stepto said.

The six competing softball teams will face each other once over six days before the top four head to bronze and gold medal games.

4:35 Final countdown to Tokyo Olympics riddled with uncertainty

Final countdown to Tokyo Olympics riddled with uncertainty Two more softball games as well as the first six women’s soccer matches are scheduled for later Wednesday. The opening ceremony is Friday.

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The initial two days of games are being held at a baseball stadium in Fukushima, a region badly affected by the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

After the 2008 Beijing Olympics featured a softball-specific venue, the temporary fencing in the outfield and an electronically-lowered pitching mound in Fukushima have attracted scorn from fans.

There was at least one hiccup. Though rules require one, a chalk pitching circle was not laid until the fourth inning.

To offer some semblance of fan support, concourses at stadiums including the one at Fukushima have been lined with young peach trees and other plants bearing messages from local children urging athletes to “go for gold”.

Two more softball games as well as the first six women’s soccer matches are scheduled for later Wednesday. The opening ceremony is Friday.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave and Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting and writing by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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