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MLB players may balk at Olympic baseball

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Baseball appears set to return to the Olympics for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Major leaguers may balk.

“It’s not going to happen. I don’t think it’s fathomable,” Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa wasn’t sure he’d play for a gold medal even if he could.

“2020 will be my year before free agency,” he said. “We’ll see in 2020 what my situation is, and we’ll go from there.”

Baseball became a medal sport for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but was dropped for the 2012 London Games and won’t be played this year in Rio de Janeiro.

With the 2020 Games in Japan, where baseball is popular, the International Olympic Committee executive board voted this week to support a six-nation tournament that year in both baseball and women’s softball. The full IOC is to vote in August.

Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant is torn.

“I wore ‘USA’ across my chest one time in college, and it was an awesome experience. It’d be fun to do that again,” he said. “But baseball season’s so long the way it is. You play 162 games and to add another two weeks, I don’t know if it would be the best decision for ourselves and our bodies.”

Because the Tokyo Olympics are from July 24-Aug. 9, Major League Baseball would have to interrupt its schedule, a 162-game-in-183-day grind that has little flexibility unless owners and the players’ association are willing to cut games — and lose revenue.

“I will not comment until I have a chance to review the recommendation,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday.

Speaking to the Associated Press Sports Editors in April 2015, Manfred sounded reticent.

“The Olympics are a challenge because of the calendar,” he said then. “They are particularly a challenge when the site is halfway around the world and the date falls in the middle of our regular season.”

He urged the World Baseball Softball Confederation to push for inclusion in multiple Olympics, which could become a bargaining position in negotiations among MLB, the MLBPA and the IOC.

“Conceptually, I think it would be good for our game, for baseball generically defined, to be an Olympic sport,” Manfred told APSE. “I think it would be a mistake for our sport to make an arrangement with the Olympics whereby we go in for Tokyo and not have some commitment that the Olympics were going to commit to baseball over the longer haul.”

The IOC wants the top players to appear in the Olympics. The NBA has sent its players since 1992 and the NHL since 1998 — although the NHL has not yet committed for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

At the 2008 Olympic baseball tournament, only those not on 25-man big league rosters as of late June were allowed to compete. The American prospects there included Jake Arrieta, who struck out seven over six innings to beat China. Stephen Strasburg defeated the Netherlands and lost to Cuba, which eliminated manager Davey Johnson‘s team in the semifinals.

“With regard to professional players competing in the games, as we have stated publicly in the past, we are committed to finding the best possible and most reasonable solution for 2020,” union head Tony Clark said.

Wedded to routine and used to the comforts of spacious big league clubhouses, baseball players are reluctant to divert from their norm. It has taken effort from management and the union to persuade them of the benefits of regular-season games that have been played in Australia, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

“You could get a quality representation of each country if you were open to it,” San Francisco catcher Buster Posey said. “I think that would be the problem, getting everybody on board. I think it’d be pretty difficult — not just players obviously, but owners and management.”

MLB and the union are partners in the World Baseball Classic, a quadrennial tournament for national teams whose fourth edition is scheduled for next March. But with the Olympics, they wouldn’t split any revenue. And teams likely would lobby for certain players not to risk getting hurt while with national teams.

And then there is the problem of inactivity for players who don’t go to Japan during an Olympic break.

“It depends on if the players not playing with those national teams would be OK with it, having those two weeks off,” said Minnesota outfielder Max Kepler, who has played for Germany. “They’d probably be a little rusty from all that.”

Baltimore’s Adam Jones thinks there are just too many obstacles for major leaguers to participate.

“I think it would have to be Triple-A guys,” he said.

MORE: Best baseball players to play in Olympics

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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