Tokyo 2020 Olympic Aquatics Centre
Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Tokyo 2020 Olympic swimming venue stays, but volleyball could move

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TOKYO (AP) — Olympic organizers agreed Tuesday to keep the rowing, canoe sprint and swimming venues at their planned sites in Tokyo for the 2020 Games, while postponing a decision until Christmas on a possible switch for volleyball.

Representatives of the International Olympic Committee, Tokyo organizers and Japan’s central and city governments have been discussing ways of reducing costs, including possibly moving three sports from planned new venues to existing ones.

The group was established in October after a Tokyo government panel said the Olympics cost could exceed 3 trillion yen ($27 billion) unless drastic cuts were made.

At Tuesday’s four-party talks, Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto proposed putting a 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) cap on total Olympic costs. A final budget has yet to be released.

IOC vice president John Coates, who heads the international body’s coordination commission for Tokyo, said the ceiling was too high.

“The IOC has not agreed to that amount of money,” Coates told reporters.

“We believe the cost can be significantly lower than that,” he added, citing “high figures” on the rent. “We can make some savings on those figures.”

The Tokyo panel had initially proposed moving the rowing and canoe sprint venue, currently planned at the Sea Forest in Tokyo, to Miyagi prefecture, 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Tokyo, after its cost estimate soared to nearly 50 billion yen ($450 million). A new feasibility study shows the cost could come down to around 30 billion yen ($270 million).

“Considering the cost, location and various other factors, we have decided to hold (the rowing and canoeing) at the planned Sea Forest site,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said.

Koike proposed using the Naganuma boat facility, which she had considered as an option, as a training facility ahead of the Tokyo Games. Koike had pushed for the Naganuma facility, which is in the area still recovering from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as a symbol of reconstruction, which she says gives significance to holding the Olympics in Japan in 2020.

A new swimming facility at its planned location, Tatsumi in eastern Tokyo, will have seating capacity reduced from 20,000 to 15,000, saving 14 billion yen ($125 million).

Koike said she still needs time to decide whether to move indoor volleyball to Yokohama Arena instead of building a new arena in Tokyo’s coastal Ariake district. She said the estimated 40 billion yen ($360 million) cost of the Tokyo venue is “still very high,” promising a decision by Christmas — a delay the group accepted.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, said a venue change would require a lot of work and would be “ambitious,” hinting the likelihood of volleyball also staying in Tokyo.

Cost estimates at a number of venues have surged since Tokyo was awarded the games in 2013, in part due to rising construction costs related to disaster reconstruction.

Koike repeatedly cited the IOC’s “Agenda 2020” reforms that seek sustainable Olympics and encourage the use of existing venues, not just in Japan but universally, saying her effort is fully in line with them. Concerns over costs have discouraged some cities from bidding.

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President of National Olympic Committees association leaves FIFA post amid bribery claims

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GENEVA (AP) — FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC (Asian Football Confederation) and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator #2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator #3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.

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AVP set to start season without Kerri Walsh Jennings

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BOSTON (AP) — The AVP said it has reached an agreement with “practically all the players” on a contract that will carry it through the 2020 Summer Games, even as a holdout by five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings threatens to deprive the domestic beach volleyball tour of its biggest name.

“I respect her decisions, and I wish her well,” AVP owner Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”

Walsh Jennings did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. But she told the AP in March that negotiations were “a work in progress” and that the two sides were “pretty far off.”

She also boycotted an AVP event last summer over experimental rules that she said weren’t discussed with the athletes.

Each of the other seven Americans who went to the 2016 Olympics has signed, Sun said, except for Brooke Sweat. Sweat, who failed to make it out of group play in Rio de Janeiro with teammate Lauren Fendrick, also did not respond to a request for comment.

Sun told the AP that the tour has “a four-year agreement with practically all the players, which is awesome.” The deal includes a minimum of eight events per season and prize money minimums that will increase by at least 50 percent over the term of the deal, he said.

“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun said. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”

Well, not everyone.

The rift with Walsh, a three-time gold medalist who won bronze with April Ross in 2016, was exposed when the tour released its 2017 schedule in March and her name wasn’t among the list of those expected to participate.

Sun told the AP this week that the tour is prepared to proceed without Walsh Jennings, who has missed events previous summers because of injury, childbirth or to play on the international tour that determines Olympic qualification.

“It didn’t seem to affect attendance, TV ratings, or viewership on line,” Sun said. “The AVP is not just one person or one athlete; if it was, it would be a very challenging business model.”

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