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    The Cali-Valle 2021 Junior Pan American Games will now take place between November 25 and December 5.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed yet another victim in the world of international multi-sports games. The 2021 Junior Pan American Games originally scheduled to be held from September 9 to September 19 have been postponed by around two and a half months and will now open in late November. 
     
    According to Panam Sports, the Pan American region has been one of the most affected by Covid-19. While Panam Sports and local organizers were encouraged by the recent progress in vaccinations around the region, they still felt like there was more work to be done in the fight against Covid-19.

    Speaking on the decision to postpone, Panam Sports President Neven Ilic, said the following remarks, “After several months of meetings with the Colombian authorities, we have adopted this measure that we believe is the best option to protect the health of our young athletes. We want to give more time for both the organizing country and the participating nations to advance in their vaccination processes. This will allow more delegations and the largest number of people to be inoculated against Covid-19 when the Games begin.”

    Cali-Valle 2021 Executive Director, Jose Luis Echeverry, also spoke about the decision to postpone. He stated, “The decision we have made is very positive. It will be very beneficial to be able to wait a little longer given the emergency caused by Covid-19 not only in Colombia, but throughout the continent. With this new date, it gives us the possibility of having safer Games for everyone because when the time comes, we will have a higher vaccination rate in the host country.”

    The first Junior Pan American Games of Cali 2021 will bring together more than 3,800 athletes from 41 countries who will compete in 39 disciplines. The gold medalist(s) in each sport will automatically qualify for the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games.

    Further information about the Games can be found at www.calivalle2021.com or www.panamsports.org.
     

    Major League Baseball's 2021 season gets underway tomorrow, and its top stars are likely fully embracing the return to playing. In an alternate universe, though, they'd also be excited this year at the opportunity to showcase their sport and represent their home nations at the Olympic Games this summer.

    In reality, the vast majority of MLB players will not be in Tokyo. While its "second-tier" players could be available, MLB's elite players will not. And from Barcelona 1992 through Beijing 2008, the last Olympic stretch for baseball before its Tokyo return, they did not, either. Simply put, MLB's team owners and players' union don't like the idea of shutting down the league's summer season for two weeks to accommodate the Games. (Meanwhile, the Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization have committed to the Olympic break.)   South Korea won the last gold medal in the Olympics, at Beijing 2008 (IOC)   For Olympic and baseball (not necessarily MLB) fans, it's incredibly frustrating. The Olympics are the ultimate stage for a worldwide sports audience, and a validation of a sport as globally relevant. Sure, MLB has had the World Baseball Classic - notably, revenue from which it controls - but it hardly compares to the Summer Games. 

    Outspoken MLB star Bryce Harper puts it frankly, "You want to grow the game as much as possible and you're not going to let us play in the Olympics because you don't want to (lose) out on money for a two-week period? OK, that's dumb". (Um... yes, baseball team owners are more interested to grow their immediate revenue than to "grow the game".)

    Baseball may not get the chance again. The sport was not included in the program for Paris 2024, taking women's softball (despite embracing the Olympics) down with it. Very likely, the fact that the sport's biggest power brokers don't have an interest is a key to why baseball isn't a core sport for the Olympics. A return for Los Angeles 2028 is possible, helped by a United States-based Games, but MLB availability may very well again be an issue.

    The vast majority of sports do see the Olympics as a unique, elite goal for its players. But MLB is not alone in some recalcitrance. Here is a look at how some other high-revenue professional sports approach the Games.

    Ice Hockey

    As the only traditional team sport in the Winter Olympics* since Chamonix 1924, ice hockey has a special position of interest from the International Olympic Committee in ensuring elite players participate. Aside from that background, men's ice hockey's relationship with the Games is similar to baseball's.

    The sport's top professional league, the National Hockey League, has a team ownership structure reluctant to stop a season's play and risk revenue and player injury. And, similar to MLB's World Baseball Classic, the NHL has its own contrived international tournament, the World Cup of Hockey.

    And also similar, other top leagues make the Olympics a priority. But every four years, there is another round of negotiations, with the NHL's business interests pitched against the IOC's and the International Hockey Federation's interest in presenting a top quality tournament to expand the game. NHL players appeared for the first time in Nagano 1998, and did so through Sochi 2014, but skipped Pyeongchang 2018. Current expectation is that the NHL will return for Beijing 2022. That's due in large part to the players themselves wanting to go.     NHLer Sidney Crosby celebrates a 'golden goal' at Vancouver 2010   I'm also of the mind that Olympic site location has a lot to do with NHL acquiescence. Since Nagano, Salt Lake City (2002), Vancouver (2010), and Sochi (2014) in particular represent nations with significant importance to the NHL. Pyeongchang (2018)? Not so much. That, plus seeing China holding great potential for NHL fans, combined with its beleaguered World Cup stalling, might have made Beijing 2022 more palatable.

    *(I'm not counting curling as a 'traditional' team sport. But let's get bandy into the Olympics!)

    Basketball

    The National Basketball Association is the ultimate team sport role model for embracing the Olympics. Prior to Barcelona 1992, men's basketball teams from the world's powerhouse, the United States, were purely amateur and from the college ranks. With the IOC loosening restrictions on professionals, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) pushed for NBA players be allowed to participate. No doubt eager to re-establish its basketball dominance after its Seoul 1988 bronze medal disappointment, the United States was enthusiastic - as were other countries' teams looking to play against the best.

    The U.S. 'Dream Team' was born: a selection of the absolute best NBA players together to dominate the world. It was a sporting event of legend, the team not only winning gold in commanding fashion, but winning over countless new NBA fans across the globe. The NBA's recognition of the power of a global stage to spur growth was born.   The 'Dream Team' embraced its Olympic opportunity   Since, NBA players have represented various national teams at each Olympics, with each successive U.S. team featuring a strong roster of top players, with visions of legacy at stake. Despite overblown concerns over the zika virus, Rio 2016 still attracted a record number of NBA players. And the U.S. has shortlisted 57 - 57! - finalists for Tokyo 2020's team.

    Dissimilar to MLB and the NHL, the NBA's season does not cover the two weeks of the Olympics. That's a big positive for NBA players to participate, as essentially an offseason tournament doesn't immediately affect team owners' pockets. Even when the current Covid-19 pandemic caused concern for this year's Games, the NBA found a way to allow its schedule to accommodate its players.

    It's not clear how long the love affair will last. If and when the U.S. doesn't win gold again, favor for Olympic participation by some players may fall. There is also a World Cup, run by FIBA, but so far that hasn't dampened Olympic allure.

    It should be noted that on the women's side, the WNBA similarly embraces the Olympics. In fact, the league owes its existence to the Olympic tournament at Atlanta 1996. Rio 2016 featured a record 26 WNBA players.

    Soccer

    Soccer (football) first appeared as an Olympic sport at Paris 1900, and has consistently been a top audience draw each Games, buoyed by its deep global popularity. But soccer has had its growing pains, too, with the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) prioritizing its men's World Cup since 1932.

    Today, that means that the men's tournament is only open to players aged 23 and under, which means most top-flight players cannot participate (unless chosen as allowed three-per-team over 23). The restriction hasn't dampened the enthusiasm for Olympic soccer in some key aspects. The sport holds the largest field of of any of the men's team sports (16). And, it is widely seen as a stepping stone to the senior ranks, with numerous budding stars featured on past rosters.

    Lionel Messi won gold at Beijing 2008 alongside Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano, and Sergio Aguero. Neymar won silver at London 2012 and gold at Rio 2016. Cristiano Ronaldo competed at Athens 2004. The Mexican gold medalists in London featured Hector Herrera and Giovani dos Santos. Carlos Tevez has gold from Athens 2004 (as does Mascherano). Samuel Eto'o played at Sydney 2000, as did Ivan Zamorano (who bronze with Chile). Barcelona 1992's iconic Spanish team featured Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Santiago Canizares.   Spain celebrates the gold medal as the home team at Barcelona 1992   On the other hand, as the United States' recent loss in qualifying shows, professional teams are - similar to baseball - loathe to release players, affecting quality of play certainly at that stage.

    Similar to women's basketball, women's soccer powers have no compunction about the Games, or restriction. Despite a growing World Cup and multiple professional leagues, the top stars of women's soccer still very much view the Olympics as a singular goal.

    Golf

    The International Golf Federation may find Tokyo 2020 a crossroads for its growth ambitions through the Olympics. When the sport was re-added to the Olympic schedule in 2009 after more than a 100-year absence, for Rio 2016, organizers surely had dreams of Tiger Woods - by far the sports' biggest star in 2009 - adorning the Olympic Village while wearing a gold medal as the biggest advocate for the Games. Woods pledged his commitment. Fellow superstars Padraig Harrington and Michelle Wie spoke in person about their Olympic dreams. The PGA Tour worked collaboratively to revamp its schedule.

    Cut to a few months ahead of the Rio Games. Diverse and prominent men's players Vijay Singh, Louis Oosthuizen, and Charl Schwartzel announced they would not play, followed by even larger names Adam Scott and Jason Day. Then Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson.

    Only four of the world's top 10 remained in the men's draw. Credit to the women, though...all of their top 10 players committed, and only one professional woman declined. In any case, Rio 2016 went forward, with an arguably mid-level podium result for the men with Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, and Matt Kuchar. The women, though, had a star-studded medal stand, with Inbee Park, Lydia Ko, and Shanshan Feng.    The LPGA's elite took the podium at Rio 2016   Why weren't the men as enthusiastic as the women? Between the usual complaint of over-scheduling and the aforementioned easy-excuse zika virus, once one prominent player stepped down, others found it easy to follow suit. Why should the #20-ranked player care about the tournament if the #1-ranked one (Day, at the time) doesn't? U.S. star Stacey Lewis puts in bluntly...money. At least they have something in common with baseball and hockey team owners.

    So, now Tokyo 2020...and Johnson, currently the #1-ranked man, has announced he'll again skip the Games. While no others - yet - have followed suit, using an overworked schedule or another virus risk as an excuse, the IGF should be working the phones to ensure an elite men's field's commitment. As for the women, Park remains excited. If the defending champion is in, surely the rest will follow.

    Tennis

    Although there is always talk about the Olympics adding pressure to a packed schedule every four years, and there is inconsistency on ranking points awarded, both the WTA and ATP tours accommodate the break. Players often see the tournament as a 'fifth Grand Slam event' and consistently are invested.

    Witness Novak Djokovic's emotions at his first round loss at Rio 2016. Lisa Raymond took the U.S. Tennis Association to arbitration to fight for a place on the Sydney 2000 team. Venus Williams is pushing her body for another Olympic run. Roger Federer was "crying and crying" as his Sydney 2000 dreams fizzled. Dominic Thiem now claims "a medal is my dream" at Tokyo 2020.   Novak Djokovic's surprising first round loss at Rio 2016 produced tears   At Beijing 2008, Rafael Nadal reveled in the impact beyond tennis. "For tennis, the slams are more important. For sportsmen, the Olympics are more important. I win here for a lot of people, not just for me."

    Nadal gets it. Why can't more top athletes and their officials?   A version of this opinion was originally published on GamesandRings.com.

    The first day of the 2021 Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament saw athletes from East and South Asia book their spot to the games. The Asian qualifiers differ from other continental qualifiers as each of the five regions along with the highest ranked runner-up (in the April 2021 rankings) are given singles quotas. As a reminder, the West Asian qualifier took place last year. The Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament is currently being held in Doha. Qatar from March 18th to March 20th 2021.


     
    Due to being the only eligible nation from the region to compete Mongolia was ensured to win a quota in the men’s and women’s singles while India was guaranteed to win a quota in the women’s singles. The only question would be who?


     
    The East Asian women’s singles qualifier was won by Mongolia’s Batmonkhiin Bolor-Erdene whom defeated her compatriot Batbayaryn Doljinzuu 4-1. On the men’s side it was Mongolia’s Enkhbatyn Lkhagvasuren who won in straight sets over his compatriot Jargalsaikhan Munkhzorig.


     
    In the South Asian women’s singles qualifier India’s Sutirtha Mukherjee won over her compatriot Manika Batra 4-2. Batra however, will still qualify to the Olympics as she will be the highest ranked runner-up.


     
    The men’s South Asian qualifier saw three athletes compete in a round-robin tournament. The first match was a see-saw event where India’s Sathiyan Gnanasekaran won the first two sets against his compatriot Sharath Acanta. Acanta would win the next three to take a 3-2 lead, but Gnanasekaran was able to close out the match by winning the next two sets in a 4-3 set thriller. Both Indian players would go on to win straight sets over Pakistan’s Muhammad Rameez. This meant Gnanasekaran won the South Asian men’s quota. Acanta will also qualify due to being the highest ranked runner-up.


     
    The Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament continues tomorrow with more matches in the other regions along with the mixed double qualifier.


     
    Qualified Nations


     
    Men's Singles



      India   India*
      Mongolia

     
    Women's Singles

      India
      India*
      Mongolia


     
    * To be confirmed upon publication of April 2021 rankings
     

    Four men and five women booked their spots to the 2020 Olympics after their performance at the World Singles Qualification Tournament. The event took place in Doha, Qata from March 14th to March 17th 2021.


     
    The women were split into four brackets where the winner of each qualified to the Olympics. The first knockout bracket was won by top seed Britt Eerland of the Netherlands who needed all seven sets to defeat Chile’s Paulina Vega and then defeated Spain’s Galia Dvorak 4-0 in the finals. The second bracket was won by Sweden’s Linda Bergstrom whom defeated top seed Margaryta Pesotska of the Ukraine 4-1. Joining her from the third bracket was second seed Polina Mikhailova of Russia as she defeated top seed Suthasini Sawettabut from Thailand 4-2. The final for the fourth bracket went to a seventh set as Monaco’s Xiaoxin Yang won as the top seed over Spain’s Maria Xiao.


     
    The losing finalists were then placed into a final bracket to determine the final quota. Xiao booked the first spot to the finals by defeating her compatriot, Dvorak 4-2. She was joined by Sawettabut whom defeated Pesotska 4-1. The fifth and final quota was won by Sawettabut thanks to a 4-1 victory over Xiao.


     
    The men were split into three brackets where the winner of each qualified to the Olympics. The winner of the first knockout bracket was won by the Czech Republic’s Lubomir Jancarik whom defeated Ukraine’s Lei Kou in straight sets. Hungary’s Bence Majoros won the second bracket by defeating Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu 4-3 in the semifinals and Belgium’s Florent Lambiet 4-1 in the finals. The third bracket was won by second seed Yang Wang of Slovakia who won over Greece’s Panagiotis Gionis 4-2.


     
    The losing finalists and semi-finalists were all placed into a final bracket to determine the final quota. The final came down to Great Britain’s Liam Pitchford whom needed seven sets to defeat Gionis and Russia’s Kirill Skachkov whom won in straight sets against Lambiet. The final quota was won by Skachkov as he defeated Pitchford 4-1.


     
    There are still a couple more opportunities for athletes to qualify in the singles events. Four out of six continental qualifiers remain with the Asian qualifier beginning in Doha tomorrow while all remaining nations can still qualify via the World Rankings.


     
    Qualified Nations

     
    Men's Singles


      Czech Republic   Hungary
      Russia
      Slovakia

     
    Women's Singles


      Monaco   Netherlands
      Russia
      Sweden
      Thailand

    World Athletics announced the launch of a 3D virtual museum of athletics today.
     
    Known as MOWA, the Museum of World Athletics™ is the first sports museum to be established solely in the digital world. It offers visitors an interactive journey through the history of athletics and the sport’s flagship World Athletics Championships, highlighting many of the legends of the sport.
     
    The museum gives visitors a unique online experience, highlighting key athletics champions from each continent, and celebrating each edition of the World Athletics Championships, through realistic interactive content, including items donated by the athletes which help to tell the story of the sport. 
     
    Among the exhibits are items owned by many of the greatest athletes in history, including Paavo Nurmi, Jesse Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Irena Szewinska, Carl Lewis, Marie-Jose Perec, Jan Zelezny, Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt.
     
    World Athletes also highlighted how the museum demonstrates the universality of athletics, claiming that athletes from more than 30 countries and all six continental areas are represented. The six areas of World Athletics (Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, Oceania, and South America) each have a section devoted to the history of athletics in their region as well.
     
    World Athletics also noted that the museum includes other carefully thought out details such as the lines of an athletics track on the virtual floor to guide visitors, and the shadows of the objects, providing a convincingly immersive experience for sports and museum fans.
     
    Speaking about the launch of MOWA, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said, “We are delighted to be the first international sport federation to bring a 3D virtual sports museum to a global audience. Through MOWA, sport and museums fans from around the world will, without the geographical limitations of a physical location, be able to discover the fascinating history of athletics, and the amazing achievements of our athletes. It is particularly exciting to launch this project at a time when the pandemic has limited the ability of fans to attend sporting events or visit museums in person.”
     
    Coe continued, “Athletics is the most accessible and diverse sport in the world and we were keen for the museum to reflect that by making the platform accessible to everyone, no matter where you are and what device you use.”
     
    World Athletics worked with digital sport company dcSPORT, led by Olympic gold medallist and 2004 world indoor 60m champion Jason Gardener, to create the museum. 
     
    Through the use of cutting-edge 3D technology, MOWA is designed to look and feel like a real building.
    A visitor’s journey begins by entering through a large reception hall, which features the six continental displays, before moving through an ‘Origins Tunnel’ which follows athletics’ 3000-year journey from antiquity to the modern day, and arriving at the ‘World Championships Room’, which features all 17 editions of World Athletics’ flagship championships.

    Visitors can roam around the museum freely and interact with more than 60 exhibits and more than 400 items of supporting content: text, photos and video.
     
    World Athletics claims the project took six months to bring to life, and was designed with the capacity to evolve over time. World Athletics will continue to add new features and galleries regularly, beginning with an Olympic exhibition, which will open in July, before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
     
    MOWA is hosted by the official World Athletics website and can be visited for free by clicking here.
     

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